Worship by Faith Alone: Thomas Cranmer, the Book of Common Prayer, and Worship by Liturgy

Worship by Faith Alone: Thomas Cranmer, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Reformation of Liturgy by Zac Hicks is published by Intervarsity Press.

Several loves merged with the reading of this book. First of all, I have a decades old love of the Protestant Reformation. This year, I began my Bible class with a series of spontaneous, impromptu lectures about Martin Luther, his spiritual struggles, the conditions of the 1500s, and his embracing of Sola Scriptura.

In my American history class, we studied a chapter (from my book) about the Protestant Reformation and its spillover into the American colonies.

Usually such studies and teachings at the high school (and perhaps college survey) levels tend to focus on Luther and Calvin with a few side references to some of the other players in that century of drama. The English story is no less thrilling than those which took place in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Ranking right up there with Calvin, Luther, John Knox, Zwingli, Beza, Farel, and those other 3 men is the name of Thomas Cranmer. His story is filled with drama, spiritual travails, political intrigue, long sessions with kings and pastors, lonely vigils of the soul, and finally with martyrdom.

We don’t readily associate him with a book, like Calvin’s Institutes or Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or with a dramatic event like the posting of the 95 Theses, or with the episodes that characterize the adventures for Christ that his contemporaries experienced. Of course, his death at the stake, with his recanting that moment of weakness when he compromised his position, and his nobility of faith when it finally counted most is highly honored.

Cranmer was, like Thomas Becket and Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, a theological office holder who had to have political saavy to survive. Church and State relations were neither clean nor neatly exercised in those days. Cranmer was also a theologian of emerging Puritan sensibilities and he was a writer with exactitude.

His greatest literary legacy is The Book of Common Prayer.

Another plug for IVP: The 1662 Book of Common Prayer (International Edition), edited by Samuel L. Bray and Drew N. Keane is a beautifully done reprint.

This work carefully provided tools for liturgical and personal devotional use. Its Scripture selections, words for various Christian services and needs, and its prayers contain language that has permeated our culture. The marriage ceremony as found in the BOCP is that which is so often heard in ceremonies to this day.

Concerning Zac Hicks’s book: This is a serious study. Anyone wanting to know what happened during the English Reformation or wanting to know about the life of Thomas Cranmer will need to begin elsewhere. This is not a scholarly treatise so technical that only 5 other Cranmer scholars living today can understand it, but Mr. Hicks is not writing for Charles Swindoll readers.

It’s what Otto Scott referred to as a “middling book.” It is scholarly, yet readable. I read it during my morning hours, and I confirm that strong, black coffee is needed to help weigh in on some of the concepts.

“Faith Alone” is one of the 5 slogans of the Reformation. The 5 Solas, like the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other bullet-point summary of serious issue serves as a useful teaching and learning tool. But just as tools can be misunderstood or misused, so can the Solas. The place of faith in the salvation and sanctification of a believer involves some careful walking, studying, and discerning. Consider how many get tripped up with Paul’s discussion of “faith without works” and James’s “faith with works.” (And I am one of those who gets tripped up.)

Cranmer in both this work (The Book of Common Prayer) and his collection of homilies was trying to grow the larger congregation of God’s people in England, but also model instruction for the pastors. We can easily imagine young men who grew up Catholic tossing everything overboard once they got on the Reformation ship. But unlearning is never simple.

I would recommend this book to all of those, who like me, have been reading works from and about the Reformation for a long time. Certainly Anglican/Episcopal friends would glean much out of the book. But I am Presbyterian and, by a set of various circumstances, a member of a reformish Baptist church. And I found the book useful.

It is a good model to consider that Cranmer and other Reformers, although often whipping out books, treatises, and sermons by the dozens, were really insistent of using the most precise and careful language and formulations in their theological pronouncements.

This book is a part of a series called Dynamics of Christian Worship. So much, too much, is written about worship with the wrong emphases. If this book is any indication of the series as a whole, it is much needed. I don’t think you will find anything in this book that will fill your pews or create a mega-church (neither of which I oppose per se). But I do think this book will make its readers more appreciative of a great man and his labor and more careful in his and our labors.

W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology

There is likely a strong link between the reading of yuge, hefty, weighty theological tomes and body building. The books are daunting to tackle, demanding of discipline to read from start to finish, and impressive on the shelf. They can also be used for curls and tricep exercises.

For those of us who struggle to get a page of paper covered with words, it is amazing to think about those who have written books that surpass the 500 page or even 1000-page mark. One such volume in our time is Dogmatic Theology, Third Edition by W. G. T. Shedd, which is published by P&R Publishing.

Any such weighty book needs to be viewed not as a book that absolutely has to be read from start to finish, but as one that can be used, dipped into, scanned and skimmed, and occasionally read in large chunks. Of course, it can be read all the way through.

I first developed a “must have” connection with this book when I stumbled across copies of it for student use for a class at John Brown University. (I had sneaked into the textbook section of the student bookstore, and I think that mere mortals were not to be in that area.)

I had long heard of William Shedd and could connect his name with the Reformed giants of the past. But concerning theological works, I purchased such stalwart Calvinists as Charles Hodge, Louis Berkof, Robert L. Dabney, and a few others along the way. Shedd, by my impressions, was, perhaps, on the second team, rather than the starting line-up.

Now the competition for shelf space and reading time is even more fierce. A whole shelf of books by Herman Bavinck are top priority items with more translations coming out ever few months. Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley now have three large volumes of a projected four volume work titled Reformed Systematic Theology completed. Geerhardus Vos, whose works are labeled as Biblical theology, now has more translated works available in English, just like Bavinck.

Douglas Kelly has a third volume for his Systematic Theology, of which I only have the first two volumes.

Then there is John Frame’s wonderful Systematic Theology, which complements four volume “Theology of Lordship” series. Baptists are happy to join in on the race for bigger and broader books with Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which has the attributes of being a popular read, a Reformed-leaning work, and a book admired by many who differ from Grudem over details.

Time and my own limited book collection does not allow me to delve into the Puritan and Continental European books from the past centuries.

So, why Shedd? Meaning, why not one of the Reformers? (I am really wanting Henry Bullinger’s Decades.) Why not Puritan studies? Why not Calvin’s Institutes? Why not some of the books mentioned above, plus others I have overlooked?

I am sure that there are plenty of professional, pastoral, and lay theologians who can aptly recommend or dismiss which books one ought or ought not to read. And I have been told that we will not live long enough to read all the books we want to read (and here’s hoping to a great library in the life beyond.).

Shedd’s book is a vital work for several reasons. (For the record: My reading of it is still in the early stages.)

  1. Shedd lived and wrote in the 1800s. Many particular issues that he confronted will differ from those of our time. We don’t read him for prophetic prophecies, even though we often stumble upon quotes that are several centuries old that aptly describe out times.

C. S. Lewis described the benefits of reading old books, including the fact that they are describing a set of conditions different from out times and they force us to think beyond today’s newest trend or most disturbing issues. Most of today’s hot topics will be off the front burners in a few generations. (“Gay Marriage” has many evil ramifications, but like the Shakers of old, they can’t reproduce, so they are on a scale of diminishing influence. Gender “fluidity” is more stupid than phrenology.)

2. Shedd was, to use the term often repeated about such theologians, a high Calvinist. Calvinism, or Reformed Theology, has its waxing and waning periods, its defining and redefining, and its fans and critics. Shedd is standing in the trenches alongside such stalwart Reformed theologians as Hodge, Dabney, and Warfield.

In some ways, and in ways that I have witnessed changes in my own nearly 50 years of Calvinistic ties, it is easy to use the title in our days. Whether one prefers to say Calvinist, Reformed, Sovereign Grace, or whatever else, there are lots who rally behind the flags. By God’s grace, there are fine writers who have boldly asserted the Five Points and more. And they have produced books for the reader in the pews.

But there is a good reason to trace the flowing waters back up the stream a good distance. “Go to the sources.” To borrow again from Lewis, this doesn’t always mean that Shedd and company are going to be right, but they are going to be right or wrong for a different set of reasons than we are right or wrong today.

3. A third reason that attracts me to Shedd is the promise of the editor’s preface. he says, “Shedd cites such poets as Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton. He also quotes the standard Latin authors, such as Cicero, often in the original.” Prior tothat, he promises that “a large number of literary and classical allusions appear in Dogmatic Theology–many more thanone would typically find in a work of systematic theology.” (Alan Gomes, editor’s preface)

I am more skilled and experienced in literature than in theology. I have been (for a time of at least 30 and maybe even 55 years) been trying to remedy the literary ignorance that is common today. The assumed knowledge of language and literature of men of the past drives me mad to furious in a quest to recapture our educational heritage.

Shedd offers some help. After all, if we were to recapture the literary attainments of the past and lose our souls, the gains would be loss. Shedd has the right priority and the literary attainments.

I will keep you posted on my reading adventures.

2022 “Best Of” Reading Experiences–Theological Books

My career as a pastor/elder was never very successful by the standards most use. It certainly wasn’t successful by my own standards. But reading for ministry purposes was an enjoyable aspect of those years. The enjoyment began long before I was ordained in a start-up Presbyterian work and has continued since I left that church, the ministry, and other clerical duties.

I have loads of books, even bookcases, weighed down with books that I will never read from cover to cover. In many cases, these are books that I occasionally pull off the shelves and use for a reference, a chapter, paragraph, or only a hint while working on a message or a heart condition.

But I do read books of a theological nature from start to finish. The soul hunger that really began back around 1974 or ’75 when I read Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand and a few other books has never ceased to drive my appetite for spiritual growth. And spiritual growth for me has never bypassed mental/intellectual/weighty matters of the mind.

The Whole Counsel of God: God’s People in the Western World by Richard Gamble, published by P&R Publishers.

I felt like I should have received a college diploma after finishing this weighty, lengthy, jam-packed book. This is a course in Western Civilization, intro to philosophy, and historical theology all wrapped up and summarized in a mere 1200 page work. The book took me a long time. I am still needing more review and instruction on most of the people, ideas, and events that were covered. But it was a good read.

I hope pastors actually read books like this. I hope that I can read the two previous volumes by Richard Gamble. I would not hesitate to call this the best theological book I read in 2022. (And in the interest of full disclosure, the author’s perspective is Reformed, Presbyterian, Van Tillian, theologically conservative, and faithful to most other “isms” with which I agree. And I received the book as a free review work for which I was not obligated to praise, but I have done so anyway.)

Christ Our Salvation by John Webster is published by Lexham Press.

I first learned of this book after reading a quote from it posted by Cody Howard, pastor of Church Under the Bridge in Texarkana. I was not familiar with John Webster at the time. These are rich and nourishing sermons on different aspects of the Christian life. This is a favorite or preferred type of devotional to me. I don’t want fluff in the early morning reading time, nor do I initially feel up to a theological mountain scaling venture. I want sound doctrine delivered in a readable way.

This book could be read repeatedly with profit.

Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job by Eric Ortlund is published by InterVarsity Press. It is a selection from the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series.

I have read or read from several volumes of the NSBT series from IVP. As with any series, some are more engaging than others, but I have found them all to be quite stirring.

In the case of this volume on Job, I have been reading books about Job for the past couple of years. After going through some really difficult times in 2020 and 2021, I felt like I could identify (although on a much lighter scale) with that suffering saint. Also, I have been intrigued about how one could go about preaching through the 42 chapters with an expository approach.

This book is neither a series of sermons nor a commentary on Job. After a few chapters dealing with the trials and troubles Job experienced (all made worse by his so-called friend group), Ortlund develops his thesis of what Leviathan actually is. I think I will not include spoilers here. But the book is well written and convincing. But I think if one were not convinced, he or she would still profit from the perspective.

Other books I read regarding Job were Christopher Ash’s Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job. I have, but did not (yet) read Ash’s volume of sermons on Job.

Also useful is Owen Anderson’s Job: A Philosophical Commentary, which I have read twice.

Not yet in my library and weighting down my shelves, but in my “hoped to acquire” list, is John Calvin’s three volumes of sermons on Job, published by Banner of Truth.

Covenants Made Simple by Jonty Rhodes is published by P&R Publishing.

In some unrecollected book I read a few years ago, Covenants Made Simple was recommended. I bought the short book, glanced at it approvingly, and settled it somewhere in the shelves, stacks, and boxes of books. For random reasons, I picked it up late in 2022 and began reading it.

This book is a wholehearted defense of covenant theology. It is Reformed and solidly Presbyterian in its perspective. Jonty was preaching to the choir for me when I read it. (I became convinced of Covenant Theology somewhere around 1993. After a series of unfortunate events landed us in a helpful non-covenantal, baptistic, small “r” reformed-ish church, I have become more and more convinced of Covenant Theology.)

This is an excellent work to ground church members in Reformed doctrine. As someone who has transitioned from layman to clergy and back to layman, I found it clarifying and affirming. Great study. Don’t know if it would convince the hostile, but it would be of help to those who are weighing such issues.

The Biblical Structure of History by Gary North is published by Axehead Press.

What a fitting and amazing close to a lifetime of writing this book is. Dr. Gary North began writing books that created connections between the Bible and economics, culture, and history way back in the late 1960s/early 1970s and penned over 50 books before his passing in February of 2022.

He was a bold, often original, intellectual and yet practical author. With a PhD. in history, he mastered the fields of economics (both by making money and writing about money) and theology. He could be quite curt in his responses to people and his rhetoric could be quite bombastic. And as all of us remember who were stocking up barrels of flour in anticipation of Y2K, he could be quite off the mark when it came to predicting and forecasting societal events.

Okay, the man made some mistakes. But he was a monumental gift to the Kingdom of God. He wrote on topics and issues where angels feared to tread. He promoted, clarified, defended, and sometimes attacked the theonomic and Reconstruction views touted by his brilliant father-in-law R. J. Rushdoony.

There are two types of people who I fear will never touch this book: One is pastors. Lots of pastors like history. They find church history, biographies of famous Christians, and heroic tales all quite enjoyable for reading and useful for sermon anecdotes. But they often do not, post-seminary assignment days, read serious theological texts and especially those that deal outside of the range of next Sunday’s sermon. This book is a theological study. It is not just a book about history with some Bible references and a “Christian Worldview,” but rather it is a challenge to see the structure, big picture, metanarrative of how God has worked and continues to work in time and history.

The other group of people who will probably not look at this book are historians. For one thing, historiography is rarely taught in either undergraduate or graduate schools, (Please prove me wrong!) When it is taught, the concept of Christian history or religious history is politely sidestepped. Granted, many Christians have ventured into history topics with more zeal than knowledge and “proven” things from history that are superficial, misleading, or incorrect.

This book is not an easy, breezy affirming case for a connection between faith and academic study. This is an academic study. I wish I had read this at the earlier stages of my career as a history teacher. Neverthless, it is the final testimony from a man whose books have helped me quite often through the years.

My apologies for not commenting more fully on these books:

Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners by Dane Ortlund. This is a sequel of sorts to Deep and Lowly.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom by Andrew Abernethy. This study is one of two on Isaiah by Dr. Abernathy that I read this past year. He is a professor at Wheaton College. His studies on Isaiah are topical works, not commentaries. This book is useful for getting the big picture and themes of Isaiah.

What Grace Is: Meditations on the Mercy of Our God by Craig Evans, published by Lexham Press. Another fine and short book of enriching, soul-nurturing readings on central Christian doctrines.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman. Many people have praised this book, and I affirm whatever praises others have made. Not an easy or soft book, but a real diagnoses of some of the cultural calamities we live amidst.

God Dwells Among Us by G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. This work distills and restates some of Beale’s recurring themes about all of the Bible and Christian life reconnecting us to the Garden of Eden and paradise.

Jesus the Great Philosopher by Jonathan Pennington and The Philosophy of Jesus by Peter Kreeft. These two books, despite similar titles, offer complementary and useful studies into the teachings of Jesus, whose words surpass the philosophies of the world.

The Certainty of Faith by Herman Bavinck. A theologically enjoyable and short work by the late Dutch Rock Star of Reformed Theology.

On Worship by H. B. Charles, Jr. Unexpectedly good. I would like to read it along with others in a Sunday school class.

An Explorer’s Guide to John Calvin by Yudha Thianto, published by InterVarsity Press. This book gives a good and short biography of Calvin and a manageable look into his major writings and theology.

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, published by Intervarsity Press. A reprint of a good, short, and instructive work on why we Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity and how that doctrine enriches our lives.

Calvinism for a Secular Age, edited by Jessica Joustra and Robert J. Joustra. This is a collection of essays about the legendary classic book Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper. The ripple effect of Kuyper’s lectures, initially spoken to rather small audiences, still reverberate across the Christian world.

Knowing Sin by Mark Jones. The author is a Facebook friend and a writer whose books are always weighted down with quotes from the Puritans and insights from the Bible.

The Heavy Laden History Reader

The thirst is unquenchable. Even after more than 5 decades of reading and studying history, I am still consumed with the quest. Quite often, I am content with recovering old and familiar territories, meaning that I like to read about the same people and events over and over again. There are, along the way, new and different angles to pursue. Recent readings have only continued that process.

Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh by Thomas Kidd is published by Yale University Press.

It is amazing that in spite of many letters and documents being lost to history, biographies of Jefferson abound. I am guessing that I have over 25 books about Jefferson. Add to that the books that are written about Jefferson and ——, meaning Jefferson and his many contemporaries, I probably have another half dozen or more volumes. My Jefferson collection is, nevertheless, small when it comes to the vast array of studies of the man, his thoughts, and his times.

Thomas Kidd’s biographical study is a great one volume work on the man’s life. One would have to venture elsewhere to read a more complete account of Jefferson’s many faceted life and career. The focus of this book on how Jefferson’s views on faith and religion impacted his thoughts and actions.

My first draw to the book was the author Thomas Kidd. I have been following, reading, and buying his books for the past several years. A history professor at Baylor University, he is one of the best Christian historians of our time. I have most of his books and am determined to get all of them read. He is the model of a serious academic scholar with Christian commitments that pervade, but not warp his writings. (Admittedly, other Christians and I who have written on Christian topics have been a bit tilted toward making our case rather than with writing solid history.)

Jefferson himself, as I hint in my boasting of personally owned volumes, was the second draw in the acquiring and reading of this book. And when history meets theology, I am often standing anxiously on the sidelines wanting to watch the game.

Thomas Jefferson was a very religious man. He was well read in many respects and areas, with religious readings not being off the grid. He rubbed shoulders with solid Christians, ardent unbelievers, and dedicated Deists. He often relied on religious language, concepts, authorities, and ideas. He was, in some respects, far more Christian than some of our current “devoutly religious” political leaders.

He did, as every modern historian bemoans, much entangled with southern slavery. One can imagine African Americans cleaning his house, cooking his meals, tending his fields, and taking on all manner of tasks while he sat in his study thinking and writing about rights and liberties. Thomas Kidd in no way excuses the inexcusable, but he does give context and reveals the complexities of the situation. I have a rather indefensible opinion myself: I think that without Jefferson’s radical push of the envelope of rights and freedoms in his time (which were on behalf of white males), further freedoms we all now take for granted would not exist. He worked within the parameters of the possible. He was primarily a political doer, rather than a political thinker.

Jefferson was blessed with a good marriage to Martha. That marriage was cut short by her untimely death which occurred around the time of the Declaration of Independence’s birth. Martha, on her deathbed, extracted a promise from Thomas that he would not remarry. He kept that promise, although the keeping of it was far less pure than his actions. Thomas Jefferson had a long-time affair with Sally Hemings, a slave he owned who was also a half-sister to his late wife. In our times, we could accept white Thomas Jefferson marrying black Sally Hemings, but that was unthinkable in his world.

Religious issues swirled around in Jefferson’s lifetime. He was opposed to the idea of a state church in his native Virginia and was opposed to religious interference in national affairs. It was not a deep hostility to Christianity per se, but a real conviction that church and state boundaries were fixed. And it is always vital to remember that the whole concept of “a wall of separation between church and state” was a phrase from a letter Jefferson wrote and not from an official document.

This book is the ideal read for someone who has already read one of the many biographies of Jefferson. On that note, I thought Jon Meacham’s biography was good one. Dumas Malone’s multi-volume work is highly praised, but reading six volumes takes some real commitment. Every decade produces new and varied biographies of the third president. But this one is for a deeper look at the spiritual concerns, religious convictions (or lack thereof), and theological beliefs the man had.

Fire & Steel: The End of World War Two in the West by Peter Caddick-Adams is published by Oxford University Press.

This 688 page book on World War II was just as good as I expected and hoped it would be. A few years ago, I read and reviewed Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by the same author. I read many books on the World Wars, and I am now convinced that Caddick-Adams is one of the top current authors. (And yes, I am working to acquire all of his books.)

Quite often, one gets the impression that the Third Reich was a spent force by the time that the December 1944 Ardennes Offensive was repulsed. A study of the maps shows an ever increasing Third Reich beset by enemies on all sides. Also, the Germans and their failing allies were still contesting every inch of ground in the east against the Soviet juggernaut. The only holdup to a western push to finish off the Germans was a lack of gas and supplies. Both Montgomery on behalf of the British forces and Patton for the Americans favored strong, bold singular thrusts right into the heart of Nazi Germany. General Eisenhower favored a simultaneous approach.

The Germans were surrendering in large numbers. Both young boys and old men were being whipped together into units to slow the Allied advance. Some German soldiers were hoping to reach the Allied side to surrender to rather than facing the severe mercies of the Russians.

The last 100 days or so of the war was, in some senses, a mopping up operation. The impression, usually formed by reading accounts of the last phase of the war, is that everything was winding down, cooling off, easing toward a close.

This book demonstrates that there was still an incredible amount of fight in the German armies. Sure, some units collapsed, folded, and gave in. But not all. There were plenty of die-hard Germans, SS units, Nazi fanatics, and martyrs for the evil cause that were giving all they had to taking as many Allied lives as possible.

One of the most saddening recurring stories concerned German mayors and political officials who saw clearly that Germany had lost. They would take great efforts to reach out to the Allies and protect their cities from a street-by-street destruction. The Allies were more than willing; however, SS units were quick to step in, murder the political officials, and attempt to prolong the fighting.

People will not compromise for a cause they are totally committed to. A type of insanity sets in. Rather than counting their loses and trying to reconfigure their futures, they were committed to follow the Fuhrer all the way to the grave.

The destruction that resulted from World War II continues to overwhelm me. Destroyed buildings, wrecked infrastructure, and whole communities demolished are hard to fathom. The older I get and the more I read on the Second World War, the more I wonder how it could have ever happened.

But it did. It was not a good war. The issues were more clear-cut than some wars. I am glad that the Nazis were crushed, but the war was still overwhelmingly huge. This is the fourth or fifth huge book that Peter Caddick-Adams has written on that war. I hope he can continue writing many more.

Two great histories read and reviewed. Several more coming soon.

On Worship: A Short Guide by H. B. Charles, Jr.

On Worship: A Short Guide to Understanding, Participating In, and Leading Corporate Worship by H. B. Charles, Jr. is published by Moody Press.

“Why did I get this book?” I asked. A few years ago, I was pastoring a church. After I stepped down as pastor, I retained a job of being the person who put the worship service together. I also continued to do some of the preaching. Life brings changes and those changes bring further changes. That meant changing churches for me and becoming a pew sitter rather than a pastor/elder/worship organizer.

The change also took me from being in a Presbyterian church with lots of liturgical patterns and traditional hymns to a setting that had far less (though a few) of those elements. A number of factors and experiences have caused me to be a critic, cynic, and skeptic about worship. On the one hand, I was hesitant and unwilling to go all the way toward adopting robes and some of the higher church (more Anglican-like and Lutheran-like) practices of some of my fellow Presbyterian colleagues. On the other hand, I find the loose, casual, sloppy, non-traditional, non-denominational, non-conformist (and yet imitative of every other non-conformist), feelings oriented, concert performance type of worship irritating.

And I didn’t want to wade once again or ever into the issue of worship wars. I am Reformed in theology and life, so I am part and parcel of a whole host of fight-to-the-death advocacies of what to do and not do in worship. High church, low church, two office leadership, three office leadership, paedo-communion, wine or that other syrupy stuff, leavened or unleavened bread, one cup or many, lectionary readings or expository preaching, exclusive Psalmody or hymns, choirs or only congregational singing, seasonal observances or recognizing the Sabbath as the only prescribed Holy Day, and on and on it goes. Or for me, on and on it went.

Then I had another hesitation about the book On Worship by Pastor Charles. I tread carefully here. He is African-American and I am Caucasian. It is not racism or prejudice to note that Christian brothers and sisters in black churches worship in ways that are different from white Presbyterian folks. Yes, I am often encouraged by the emotional, vibrant, responsive actions of my African-American brethren. Yes, I am often deeply moved by their singing, and I often listen to Shirley Caesar’s powerful voice in recordings. But culturally, environmentally, and whatever else makes me who I am causes me to want to appreciate the African-American worship traditions from a distance.

Having no good reason to read On Worship, I began reading it. I guess I did have a couple of good reasons. I was obligated to review it after having received it free from Moody. (But obligated to review does not mean obligated to approve.) Also, the book was short and easy.

This book is a real delight. It has 30 relatively short chapters, so it works well for a month-long devotional or family reading. Charles is not dealing with the details of what to do in worship; rather, he is dealing with the heart of the worshipper. I assure you (as well as myself) that God is more pleased with those who worship in spirit and in truth out of love and dedication than He is with the technicians of “doing it right” who are hard-hearted, judgmental, exacting at the cost of being merciful, and mean.

Worship is a practice, a work-out, a training ground. Sunday’s hour of confinement is not the beginning and ending of worship, but rather the template for the rest of the week. Prayers, thanksgiving, confession, praise, and hearing God’s Word speak to us is to be going on in our lives 24-7.

This book is also heavily weighted in Reformed theology. (If you are not Reformed, air brush the previous sentence from your mind and read the book calmly.) While we Reformed folk can get a bit too carried away on certain beautiful features of theology, there are plenty of examples of our fathers and brothers who were tractor-beamed in on heart worship. The footnotes in the book cite Abraham Kuyper, Charles Spurgeon, Edmund Clowny, John Piper, and Bryan Chappel. (A. W. Tozer is repeatedly quoted for those of you who are gasping over the previous list.) The recommended readings include works by D. A. Carson, Philip Graham Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and R. C. Sproul. Sorry, but Joel Osteen and others of that flavor didn’t make the cut.

Along with having short, readable chapters, with being written in a non-technical, very casual style, the book is heart convicting. It feels like it grew out of sermons. It has the flavor of a true pastor’s heart. Believe it or not, we who are or have been pastors would like bigger and fuller churches, but even more, we would like to see our flocks growing closer and closer to God. We want to have good worship services, but services that are primarily God-honoring which means that they are also changing the lives of the participants.

Let the worship wars continue. God’s blessings on those who are contending in those conflicts. But let none of us overlook the real purposes and benefits of worship.

This book was provided to me free of charge by Moody Publishers for reviewing purposes. And I am under no obligation to endorse or commend its contents, but am glad that I can do so anyway.

Catchup on Book Reviews, Not Fries

A student of mine recently said that she didn’t get a book finished because she didn’t have much free time. Hmmm. There are a number of problems with that statement. For one, time is never free. Second, one should not relegate reading to the leftover time we have after the “important” stuff is done. Third, students should get their assignments done.

And I have failed on that third point. I am hopelessly behind on writing and posting book reviews. This sweep of books and titles will be my effort to try to get caught up, even if points are taken off for the work being done late.

It was over a month ago that I ventured to review all of the books in the picture above. I only succeeded in getting the top four from the stack covered. So, let’s get after the rest.

Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job by Eric Ortlund is published by InterVarsity Press.

In the summer of 2021, I had a mild case of the Job experience. Okay, it actually started in 2020 and continued through to the beginning of 2022. But, unemployment, health issues, and other crises brought me to consider our brother in suffering, patient and righteous Job.

I read Christopher Ash’s book Trusting God in the Darkness: A Guide to Understanding the Book of Job sometime over the last year. Ash has a fine commentary on Job, but this work is a short and easy study. I also read Job: A Philosophical Commentary by my friend Owen Anderson. Ash’s book is strong on the devotional side of Job, while Owen’s book helps differentiate the approaches that Job’s misguided friends gave him. And as the subtitle A Philosophical Commentary says, this book rightly puts Job in the field that those pesky Greeks think they should dominate.

Piercing Leviathan is neither a commentary nor a chapter-by-chapter survey of the book. The primary aim is to deal with the issue of what the oft mentioned Leviathan in the book is. Sometimes, commentators and readers have concluded that Leviathan was a whale or a dinosaur or a rhinoceros. But in the last chapters of Job, where God speaks and settles the issues that have been swirling around for nearly 40 chapters, the power of God’s creation has already been stated and presented as Exhibits A-Y. Just adding this big animal as Exhibit Z would not be the capstone, clinching argument. (Yet, I would affirm that if Ortlund is wrong, whatever God says is right.)

Piercing Leviathan is not a case of God telling the story that Melville will repeat and expand (and expand and expand and expand) in Moby Dick. In other words, it is not about the yuge task of actually subduing a white whale. Leviathan represents the forces and power of evil, the kingdom of Satan, the world that has been in rebellion against God since the beginning of time.

Job hears God’s presentation and is more than satisfied. Even though he gets full payment for damages incurred in the events, Job’s bowing before God was done in worshipful awe and not in a hope to gain some favor. One can realize that he was ready to go on with life as he had recently experienced it, full of confidence in the Goodness, Power, Holiness of God. Job had a glimpse of Ultimate Reality: God wins, Satan and evil lose. Cosmic war ends in no arbitration or settlement, but rather in total victory.

To be blunt: I now NEED the 3 volumes of Calvin’s Sermons on Job that is newly published by Banner of Truth. And, yes, I would not mind the John Calvin tumbler as featured and included in the Reformation Heritage deal.

You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World by Alan Noble is published by InterVarsity Press.

There is a bit of a reformation/renaissance going on at Oklahoma Baptist University these days. The first time I heard of that university, it was from a couple of friends who were swindled in attending what was supposed to be a college that was faithful to the doctrines and teachings of Southern Baptists. They were getting strong doses of liberal theology without the benefit of even a Karl Barth-corrective.

Reformation happens. Unbelief falters and stumbles and doesn’t deliver. God is faithful. A movement is sweeping across quite a few Christian campuses that is restoring the rightful places of Christian views of literature, philosophy, history, and even…theology.

Dr. Alan Noble and Dr. Ben Myers are two of the leaders of these efforts at Oklahoma Baptist University. Myers has written some fine works of poetry and about poetry. Noble has written several books about Christian living.

This book springboards off of the Heidelberg Catechism’s opening answer to the question “What is our only comfort in life and death?” Among other things, that answer states, “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

The world always, and for certain in these times, asserts that we are our own. Political liberals state that mantra even as they ease our ownership titles over to state control. But on the political right, Randians, Libertarians, and others, in an effort to preserve individual freedoms, push the idea that we are our own.

Noble’s book uses the theme that we are not our own for some 230 pages. The applications and examination of the theme is far ranging. This is a useful book for discussion or even for some sermon preparation and use. As with Noble’s other works, it is written by an academic, but it is written for all types of readers.

Covenant and Election in the Reformed Tradition by David J. Englesma is published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Engelsma has written an incredible number of books published by RFPA.

This is one of two books by Pastor Engelsma that I received and am duty bound to review and am hopelessly behind on getting to. The other book is Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root.

I woke up one day in the middle of a pastors’ conference years ago and discovered that there was a movement called Federal Vision. The duties I had as a pastor of a church, the administrator of a school, the Humanities teacher at the same school, the husband and father at home, etc. kept me from getting involved and informed in the issues.

This theological tete a tete quickly became too heated, too involved, too loud, too distracting, too bizarre for me to wade into. I found it more my style to press on with my too many tasks until I suffered a full blown, much deserved physical and mental breakdown.

You can find more than enough attacks and defenses of Federal Vision online. I have a small stack of books that present defenses and rebuttals, and most are unread.

So, on the one hand, I simply do not and maybe cannot understand what is going on.

On the other hand, I did read a book by Gene Eward Veith on Lutheran theology that sounded almost identical to what I thought the FVers were saying. This led me to wonder why most Reformed and more Presbyterian folks who oppose FV views would possibly accept Lutherans (and Arminians and Dispensationalists and Charismatics) as brothers? I am assuming that they do accept them as such.

The driving gist of this book is that the most trusted, reliable, faithful Reformed approach is that Election precedes Covenant. I was swirling around and sinking during this whole discussion.

Obviously, from some of the reviewers who I have glanced at, this book is well done and a sound refutation of the position they oppose. Obviously, if you are reading what I have said, I am completely muddled as a reader. But here are my thoughts:

  1. I think Pastor Englesma should have focused the book on the topic of why he believes and affirms those confessional statements that say that election precedes covenant. Teach that truth as found in those statements.
  2. Potshots taken at FVers were usually in the form of jibs and jabs and insults. Insulting words do not an argument make.
  3. In the cases of Reformed people in the past, like Klaas Schilder, whose views Englesma opposes, he should have carefully stated their views and why he thinks they are in error.
  4. Above all, the book should deal more directly with what is plainly taught in the Scriptures rather than what is plainly stated in the historic confessions. Lest I be misunderstood, I love Reformed confessions. I have been using them to teach my evangelical, more fundamentalist, most likely Arminian students in the Bible class I have. But the confessions often build upon theological controversies of the days of yore and sweep past the reader of our times.

Okay, I have grown soft in my older years. Maybe I am embracing heretics, theological deviants, and corruptors of the Faith. Maybe I need to start denouncing someone. I did that for years. I was confrontational for years. I am either wiser now or wearier of battle or just off the grid theologically.

If one is wanting to wade into the Federal Vision versus Reformed Orthodoxy debate, here is a good book. As for me, let me try to explain and share the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question and answer with my students.

Knowing Sin by Mark Jones

Knowing Sin: Seeing a Neglected Doctrine Through the Eyes of the Puritans by Mark Jones is published by Moody Publishers.

Both in the academic world and the Christian community, Puritan studies have been on a rising trajectory for quite a few years now. Gone are the days when the history class stereotypes branded the Puritans as a fun-hating, dreary, morose, judgmental group of religious fanatics. Gone, hopefully, are the days when Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter was read as an historical document revealing the hypocrisy and meanness of the Puritans. Gone are the days when Puritan ways were celebrated for being eclipsed by the Enlightenment thought of their scientific and open-minded descendents.

I don’t want to suggest that all have climbed aboard the bandwagon. I am strongly suggesting that access to the riches of the Puritans is engulfing us.

The tidal wave of Puritan works has its own liabilities. I have gleefully placed quite a few sets of Puritan works on my heavy-laden bookshelves. Puritans were typically exhaustive (and exhausting) when dealing with spiritual topics. They wrote pages on what some modern might try to say in a sentence. They wrote whole books over what today’s preacher might reduce to three simple/simplistic points.

Wordy, yes. Endless, maybe. But it was not just flowery talk and verbal padding. They really studied, dug at, expanded, examined, meditated on, and applied passages and doctrines to the Christian life. They treated the Scripture as though its teachings really mattered. Hence the value of the Puritans.

“What Puritan books do you recommend?” “What should I read first?”, and similar questions often come up. I would mention that the serious reader rush over to see what Banner of Truth has reprinted and what Reformation Heritage Books is currently pushing. Just pick one or ten and start reading. I might be inclined to recommend Thomas Watson first or that so often read book The Pilgrim’s Progress. And if one wants to tackle Jonathan Edwards, there is plenty to choose from in very readable editions (unlike my two weighty small print Banner editions).

But the best way to meet the Puritans is through a mutual friend, or a mediator, if you wish, between us and those grand theologians. In the past years, two men who were legends in the Christian community were key modern Christian writers with Puritan connections. They were Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer. They were both digging up and gleaning from Puritans back when the books were not easily found.

Along with them, and still living, is Iain Murray. Murray has helped promote Puritan writings and reprints for year at the Banner of Truth Trush. I am sure that there are quite a few others who have labored to put Puritan theology back on the shelves of pastors and serious Christian readers today.

Mark Jones is currently, perhaps, the best Puritans quoter, promoter, and expert. Theologically and academically, he has the tools to write those scholarly journal articles that most of us would never know existed. He has a PhD. from Leiden University, after all. But he writes for…me. (Maybe he has a picture of me at his desk to use when writing.) He knows I love books, love Puritans, love theology, and love to read, but that I am also untrained, a novice, and a man who would readily attain a 12 volume set of the works of Thomas Goodwin, but keep hesitating to take the plastic shrink wrap off of the books.

Knowing Sin is not just a handy collection of great Puritan quotes. The Puritans are called in a supporting witnesses to a number of areas that Jones focuses on in regard to the doctrine of sin.

Yet, we all know sin, right? Or we can answer as Calvin Coolidge did when he referred to his pastor’s sermon on sin: He was against it. And we routinely pray for God to forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses as we…this is the hard part…forgive others. And we can often name our sins: I got mad today; I spoke rudely to my wife; my mind wandered off when I was praying; or maybe it wandered off instead of me praying.

Key problem is that we deal with sin (and hence salvation) superficially. I can actually give some pretty good explanations and excuses for my sins. They really aren’t so bad, if only you knew my challenges. I confess I am a sinner, but I also profess to be living a relatively good life.

Puritans are surgeons. They don’t traffic much in Band-Aids and simple surface remedies. They hurt you. And Mark Jones doesn’t enter the operating room without a support staff of scalpel wielding Puritans.

There are 18 chapters to this book. Many of the chapter titles are witty plays on song titles and familiar sayings. Jones is pastoral and humble. He does not seek to set us straight, but rather he takes us along with him as he explores this really serious disease we have been forgive for and that still lingers.

Good and fast readers could probably knock this book out in a day or two. I strongly advise against that. One chapter a day is sufficient. Add thought. And prayer. And application.

Side note: Mark and I are not personal friends, but I have, many times, been uplifted by his delightful family posts on Facebook. He has strong views, as we Calvinists are prone to, but a gentle spirit. He has a beautiful family and a great ministry through writing and preaching. We are living in a great era and are also enjoying the past eras that had their own accomplishments.

Disclosure Statement: I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for a review.

Hodge and Dabney–Read Them While You Can

The 1800s in American history was a time of great Presbyterian theologians and preachers.  Most history surveys overlook these men and their messages.  Historians adopt the view of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes whose poem “The One Hoss Shay” attempted to mock the demise of Jonathan Edwards’ theology.  Quite often Ralph Waldo Emerson is treated as though he were a deeply profound American born and raised philosopher.  His buddy Henry David Thoreau is likewise hailed as one of the bright lights of American history.

The final nails are put into the Presbyterian coffin during the Scopes Trial.  Less often noticed is the battle for Princeton Theological Seminary.  Mark Twain, who was often better than the historians at noticing the things that mattered, took more than a few swipes at Presbyterians.  Take down the massive pillars of American Presbyterian theology and the rest of the edifice of American Protestant Christianity would follow.

I am not, at this moment, out to blame the historians.  No one or no one thousand histories can cover everything.  Of course, the perspective of the historian does determine what to include and what to exclude.  This point still remains:  Anyone serious about understanding American history from a Christian viewpoint must go beyond the best known texts and authors.

In short, Presbyterian theologians were some of the most dominant thinkers of the 19th Century.  That dominance continued on into the 20th Century, but their voices and impact became less and less known.  But just as one would not attempt to understand the Age of Elizabeth I in English history without taking note of the Puritan movement, one should not attempt to understand American history without studying the Presbyterians of the 1800s.

This study and emphasis, however, is not just a topic for intellectual historians who are trying to fill in gaps or connect the pieces of the puzzle.  It is not what the Presbyterians said in the 1800s that concerns me most.  Rather, it is what they are calling us to hear in the 21st Century.

We need the old Presbyterians now more than ever.  Sad to say, after being ignored or glanced over for a long time, they are currently being excommunicated from Presbyterian thought and studies.  Especially disliked are those who not only had the “misfortune” of being born in the South, but who defended the South and the Southern Confederacy on a number of very nuanced and profound ways.

The reading list I would like to give on this topic is long and involved.  There are nearly 30 books that I call attention to in one of my past book reviews that dealt with Columbia Theological Seminary.  That review can be found HERE.

For now, I would like to recommend two books written by two of the great Presbyterian theologians from the 19th century.  I will struggle to avoid both being overly biographical or full of praise for these men.  Just know that these are two of the pillars of American Christian Reformed and Presbyterian orthodox thought in the 1800s.

First, Charles Hodge and Exegetical Lectures and Sermons on Hebrews.  This book is published by Banner of Truth.

The pastor, student, or teacher who needs an all purpose commentary on Hebrews needs to look elsewhere.  The Hodge reader who is familiar with his incredible commentary on Romans should know that this work is not in the same category.  It does contain comments on the text, and it is classic Hodge theology from beginning to end.

The first part of this book is exegetical notes on Hebrews.  Hodge is not giving exhortation or application, but is working through some of the Greek grammar details and other points of exegesis, or drawing out the meaning of the text.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how exacting, careful, and learned the Presbyterian ministers were in Hodge’s day.  For me, it was yet another reminder of how far my own education is from the standards of that time.

Non-Greek New Testament students like me will find this section interesting, but not fulfilling.  Greek students would likely be crying out “More! More!”  As a student and teacher of history, it is more confirmation of the education found at Princeton and the scholarship standards of the time.

The following section gives a number of sermon outlines.  A few if the outlines, but not all, come from another Banner publication called Princeton Sermons.  I believe that preachers and students can learn quite a bit from studying these outlines.  A similar work can be found in the B & H series called The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854.  

Reading a sermon outline is a bit of a challenge.  It can be read quickly if one is simply trying to cover pages.  But I think the greater task would be to spend some time thinking on each of the outline points.  I think it would be a great lesson for aspiring preachers to take these outlines and fill in the gaps.  (But give credit to the original writer.)  Side note:  Hodge’s outlines are not bullet points.

The absolute best part of the new Hodge book is the all too few complete sermons from various Hebrew texts.  I remember thinking while reading one of these: “There is no way I could pack this much content into a single sermon.  There is no way I could grasp this much content in a single sermon.”  I am not speaking about merely being full of facts and theological information.  I am referring to the fact that these sermons were rich with content.  As Wesley said in another context, “I felt my heart warmly moved.”

One quote that I posted recently is worth repeating:  “It was the Spirit who made the sound ring in your ears long after the speaker’s voice had ceased, and which brought back the sound in the stillness of the night and repeated in a small, still voice the admonitions of the pulpit.”

The sermons themselves are worth the price of the book.  But the other parts are also helpful in giving both spiritual guidance and a standard to aspire to.  By the way, Banner of Truth has continued to put out or reprint books by Charles Hodge. His commentaries on Romans, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians and his book The Way of Life are both available, as is a biography of Hodge by his son A. A. Hodge.

Dabney on Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government is edited and introduced by my friend Zachary Garris.  This book can be purchased from Amazon.

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The books by Robert Lewis Dabney are many, usually lengthy, and now often highly priced and out of print.  Thankfully, Zach Garris has made a handy, short, readable, and very pertinent collection of Dabney’s writings available in this book.

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One of the many strengths of R. L. Dabney was his ability to see the direction that the culture and world was headed in.  I think this insight, often called prophetic by those who study him, came from his Presbyterian worldview, vast scholarship, and personal experiences in being on the losing side of a major war.  I have heard many literary figures explain Southern literature as being the result of the South losing the War Between the States.

Let us sidestep, for the moment, the issues and controversies related to that war.  Often the greatest examples of human writing and thought come from people who have experienced the greatest hardships.  Arguably, any soldier from World War I could have written All Quiet on the Western Front, but the fact that Erich Maria Remarque was a soldier on the German side increased the power of that novel.

The War Between the States was followed by the period known as Reconstruction.  The standard history book then follows up with a period called “The Gilded Age.”  That catchy phrase refers to the surface appearance of gold on an object that is not gold.  Just as the world after World War I was not “safe for democracy” and the world after World War II was full of tragic courses, so that must be said about post-bellum America in the 1870s and beyond.

Dabney saw some bad consequences of ideas that were gaining the high ground in his time.  Repeatedly, his warnings about education have been mentioned, quoted, and listened to by many, except those in the educational establishment.  American education is in a crisis.  Right now, the crisis is centering around school closures and possible inability to open in the fall.  This is not to demean good teachers, faithful parents, or good effects stemming from the modern education system.  But Dabney was looking beyond just a few symptoms to the greater problems.  For Dabney, the problems stemming from a secular agenda would be astronomical.  Be warned:  He is not going to be nice in these essays.  But carefully consider all of what he says.

Dabney was also concerned about feminism.  It is routine to mock nearly all males from the 1800s regarding their views of women.  Granted, they were not perfect in their understanding of this or other issues.  I am thankful for the changes in culture and society that have granted greater opportunities for women in all areas of life.  I have recently read books by one of the best literary scholars of our time, Jessica Hooten Wilson, who was a student of THE best literary critic of our time, Dr. Louise Cowan.  I have been reading The Great Society by Amity Shlaes, who ranks among the greatest historians of our time in my thinking.

But feminism was in some of its root and is in some of its modern day fruit more than just a case of righting some societal wrongs.  We have found ourselves in a world of gender insanity in these days.  Hence, again there is the need to return to Dabney.

Concerning government, Southern Presbyterians had an oddly workable theological position.  Pastors did not see that their task was to instruct the government from the pulpit, but they were pastor/scholars and public intellectuals.  Hence, men like Dabney and his colleagues James Henley Thornwell and Benjamin Morgan Palmer used a variety of formats, usually written articles or public lectures, to address the government.

Dabney’s thought was conservative, but if a modern reader spends some time with Dabney’s writings, he will not find much to connect him to modern day talk radio “conservatism” or Republican party conservatism.  Once again, Dabney will make us uncomfortable.

Zach Garris gives a fine introduction that provides pertinent biographical and theological details about Dabney.  That is followed by reprints of four articles by Dabney on the topics listed in the subtitle.  This is a great way to get introduced to a man who will not be often mentioned in today’s culture–secular or Christian.

There is your assignment:  Get to know Charles Hodge and Robert L. Dabney.  Here are two books that will enable you to go well into that task.



“What a Piece of Work is a Man”–Studies in Theological Anthropology



What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.

Psalm 8:4-6

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act 2, Scene 2

Truly the study of humans is among the most profound, deep, enriching, challenging, and worthwhile pursuits.  Most of us in our professional lives as well as our day to day living are continually studying both ourselves and others. At every stage in life and family, the topic is renewed and expanded and the perspective is widened.  Marriage changes our understanding drastically.  Children expand that understanding in even more ways.  Self-reflection involves a series of affirmations or denials that all contribute to the topic.

The term “Theology” means the “study of God.”  Much of theological study involves in depth examination of Scripture and historical theological developments regarding who God is.  But in the broader sense, we use the word theology to refer to a series of studies that include not only God Himself, but the created order.  Highest in that order is man, meaning in the older sense, mankind or people.  The beautiful opening line of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

I have recently been blessed by the challenge of working through three outstanding studies on the doctrine and nature of human anthropology.  First of all, I recommend all three books highly. They are not repetitions of one another, but the contents complement one another.  I did not set out to read these three books in an academic quest for studying humanness.  My reading plan is far too haphazard to be the result of a logic on my part.  But it has happened to me, and I could wish it to happen to others.

Reenchanting HumanityA Theology of Mankind

Reenhanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind by Owen Strachan is published by Mentor, which is an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

This book is very basic, sound, and suited for regular readers, laymen, high school students, and perhaps college students in their first couple of years.  Topics include creation, fall, and redemption, as expected, but also particular subjects including work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, and justice.  Each of those latter topics are hot spots in modern discussions.  Obviously, there are a wide range of views and speculations on these issues, but that does not mean that there are not basic and foundational truths to start with.  Strachan neither skirts the controversial issues nor does he waver from having a solid and traditional Biblical defense.

Some friends criticized this book as being a bit shallow.  Well, maybe.  But that depends on who the audience is.  I found the book to be both informative and spiritually moving.  In other words, theology and devotional reading met and ministered to me as the reader.  And there is always the need for good statements of basic truths and teachings.

This is a book that I would love to teach to a high school group or a Sunday school class.  At the same time, it was a very enjoyable morning read.

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck is published by Baker and is the first of three volumes.

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Herman Bavinck is currently a rock star among Reformed readers.  His books are being published, republished, translated, discussed, and promoted with unwavering zeal.  Now, along with the books by Bavinck, there are a number of studies appearing where scholars are analyzing and discussing him.  While he was never completely disregarded in the Reformed world, the degree of attention he is now getting is amazing.  I have previously posted a discussion of him and some of the many books that are now available.  I am currently reading off and on from The Wonderful Works of God, and it may well be the best Bavinck book to start with.

Bavinck is weighty and scholarly, but not impossible to read.  All he calls for is a bit of patience, a reasonably slow pace, strong hot coffee, and a mind ready for work. This first volume is…no surprise here…on ethics.  But such a topic so overlaps the study of man, mankind, humanity, people-persons that it is worthy to be used alongside the other two books listed here.

Any study of anthropology from Christian foundations has to examine what we were created to be like, how that changed due to the Fall, and how that has changed again due to redemption.  This is not ivory tower philosophy or dry-as-dust theology.  These matters are the nuts and bolts of Christian life and thought.  From here, one gets an understanding that should emanate from the pulpit, define the Humanities, impact the social order, and permeate every area of life and thought.

As my previous post indicates, one ventures here not just in reading some old dead Dutchman named Herman Bavinck, but in “Scaling Mount Bavinck.”

An Introduction to Theological Anthropology:  Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris is published by Baker. Academic.

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When I first received my review copy of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology, I began second guessing myself for requesting it.  I really try to avoid asking for review copies of books that I think I will find too shallow, too technical, or disagreeable.  I thought this book would be way over my head, far above my reading ability, too deeply theological for my tastes, and too unfamiliar as a topic.

I was right.  And I am loving this book.  Yes, at times my comprehension of the discussion falls to a flat zero while Dr. Farris buzzes right on along tossing out terms and views that I know nothing of.  Some mornings, the caffeine in the coffee cannot quite energize me to the level of the book.  But so often, I have found myself very moved in the heart and challenged in the mind to think on topics that have never resonated quite this way before.

One of the saddest parts (and don’t bother to mourn for me) of being a book reviewer is that there is a drive to finish and post a few comments.  But this is a book that a reader needs to go through from start to finish, and then start over again with a pen and paper in hand.  Or he or she needs a group to study with.  Or maybe, one should just pay Dr. Farris to give lectures and reading assignments from the book.

One of my recurring thoughts on this book is about how vital this topic would be not just to a trained or aspiring theologian, but to a trained or aspiring student of philosophy.  I have spoken, as an outsider, about the need for, the growth of, the advance of Christians in philosophy and Christian approaches to philosophy.  And humans are central to our study of philosophy.  One thing that has dawned more slowly on me is that it is not just theologians and philosophers who should study “Humans, both creaturely and divine,” but also historians, literary scholars, psychiatrists, teachers, business people, and everyone else whose lives touch humanity.

What about preachers?  One of the questions I keep asking while reading this book is the old saying, “Will this preach?”  I don’t think, on the one hand, that many preachers will be stealing long passages from this book to incorporate into their sermons.  But the book’s discussion of the Incarnation worked me over.  I would not dare read those portions on the morning before giving an Advent sermon.  If I did read them at that point, I would not step into the pulpit.  But I would read and reread and think on these passages in my own study, which should be filled with sermons directed to my own mind and heart.

This is rich stuff. I have no doubt that some scholars and students more familiar with the sources cited and the topics addressed will have some fascinating tug of wars with this book.  “Farris did not adequately address such and such.”  “His treatment of this or that did not reflect a proper understanding of the whatever position.”  That is fine, for that is the world of some people, and such clashes of iron sharpens the clashed against iron.  But that is not my world.

For me, this book is once a again a work that impacts both head knowledge and heart direction.

Great books–all three.  Certainly, different strokes for different folks.  All three are evidences of God’s abundant blessings via the publishing world for us today.




Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.


Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.



Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.