Foundations: No.72 Spring 2017

Book Reviews

The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption

John V. Fesko, Christian Focus (Mentor), 2016, 436pp, £19.99

The stated goal of this book is to recover the doctrine of the covenant of redemption. Granted, this may come as something of a shock to readers who were not aware the covenant of redemption was in need of being retrieved. I must confess I reacted in that way myself initially. However, the preface to the book makes a rather startling statement when the writer points out that there have only been three monographs on the subject of the covenant of redemption in the past 325 years.

This book is the first in a project that envisions two further volumes to complete the set. The volumes to follow are to be on the “covenant of works” and the “covenant of grace”. This pattern instantly puts him on a collision course with several Reformed writers and schools of thought who have “either rejected or redefined the covenant of redemption and outright rejected the covenant of works” (Preface, xviii). However, he is happy to engage with these views and seeks to assert the validity of the three-fold scheme he refers to as the classic covenant theology.

The book splits into three uneven parts; historical, under fifty pages, exegetical, around seventy pages and dogmatic, well over two hundred pages.

Part 1, “Historical Origins and Development”, consists of an historical survey of the matter in an attempt to set the matter in the context of the church’s engagement with this doctrine. This involves two chapters. In the first he seeks to show that, rather than being the product of “gross speculation”(4), the covenant of redemption is the fruit of sound biblical exegesis. At the same time he asserts the consistent and orthodox Trinitarian nature of the doctrine, despite the claims of some that the covenant of redemption assumes a sub-Trinitarian or tritheistic (18) position.

The second chapter sees Fesko bringing out the importance of the covenant of redemption in relation to the matters of predestination, justification, the order of salvation and love. He ably defends the theology of the Westminster doctrine of predestination against the accusation of positing a “bald choice” from the likes of Karl Barth and J. B. Torrance. He shows that predestination was “always a decision made within the context of Christ’s covenantal appointment as mediator” (43). His section dealing with the covenant and its relation to love is both warm and persuasive, freeing the doctrine from the criticisms of its detractors (40-43).

Part 2, “Exegetical Foundations”, deals with a more extended exegesis of several of the key texts. He engages with Zechariah 6:13 first, as he sees this as unfairly targeted by opponents of the doctrine. He quotes Eichrodt approvingly when he says, “God’s eternal kingdom and its future ruler were typified in Zechariah’s day by the crowning of Joshua the high-priest”. He then goes on to note that, “Zechariah not only points to the eschatological advent of Christ but also notes that He will sit and rule by Yahweh’s throne” (76).

He then concludes that,

Yahweh and the Messiah made a covenant in eternity, which was revealed in God’s temporal promise to David. And the typological crowning of Joshua the high priest points forward to the ultimate eschatological fulfilment of this intra-Trinitarian covenant (76-77).

Fesko then unpacks the covenantal content of Psalm 2:7 and 110:3. In Psalm 2:7 he asserts that “Christ’s inauguration and God’s decree is not a bald declaration but rather is enrobed in the covenant” (93). As he turns to Psalm 110 he affirms that,

it is one of the clearer pieces of evidence for the pactum salutis. Yahweh swears a covenant-oath to Christ in eternity which establishes His priestly office according to the order of Melchizedek and appoints Him the guarantor or surety of the new covenant (106).

He completes his exegetical section with a short overview of Ephesians 1 and 2 Timothy 1:9-10. Having sought to establish the exegetical legitimacy of the doctrine he proceeds to define the matter in the last part of the book.

Part 3, “Dogmatic Construction”, takes the remaining two thirds of the book to consider its subject. He opens with a chapter in which he sets forth a “Statement of the Doctrine”. Here we have a clear statement of the matter in the language of an intelligent but warm Calvinism:

At its most fundamental level, the covenant of redemption is the pre-temporal, intra-Trinitarian agreement among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to plan and execute the redemption of the elect (131).

He adds later that,

The covenant of redemption, therefore, is a manifestation of the intra-Trinitarian love that the triune God decreed to bestow upon sinful and fallen creatures in spite of their rebellion. The pactum salutis is the eternal love of the triune God for the elect, the Son’s bride (141).

The second chapter of this third part of the book deals the doctrine of the Trinity in connection with this subject. The author handles the subject well and takes the reader through the various theological ideas that have arisen since the Reformation on the matter of the Trinity. His assessment of these movements is made all the more powerful by his careful and measured approach:

The categories of covenant, love, and obedience find their origins in the pactum salutis in the Father’s command, the Son’s obedience, and the outpouring of the Spirit to redeem fallen sinners. Far from a cold piece of business, moving numbers from one side of the ledger to the other, the Father sends the Son in love, and the Son obeys the Father in love, and the Spirit applies the Son’s work in love (192-3).

The third chapter takes up the matter of predestination at length. He states that the doctrine of predestination is “one of the key elements of the pactum salutis, since it entails the election of the Son as covenant surety and His particular bride” (243). His dismantling of Barth’s criticisms of the Reformed doctrine of election is most helpful, in particular Barth’s reliance on the work of Heinrich Heppe:

Reading primary sources through Heppe distorted Barth’s understanding. What some theologians connected in their own systems, such as predestination and the pactum, was separated in Heppe’s presentation. One of the glaring effects of Barth’s mediated access to the primary sources is his claim that Reformed orthodoxy posited an abstract doctrine of predestination devoid of Christ (206).

The fourth chapter of this part deals with imputation and its close connection to the Reformed understanding of the pactum salutis. Fesko takes up the various departures from the traditional Reformed view. Once again he provides an informative and careful analysis of these ideas. He confronts Kant, Schleiermacher and Bultmann initially. However, he then brings matters right up to date with critiques of the New Perspective on Paul advocated by N. T. Wright and the “Theo-Drama” of Von Balthasar. He looks at several Old Testament passages in order to consider this doctrine: Achan’s sin (Joshua 7), David’s numbering of Israel (2 Samuel 24), Daniel’s son of man (Daniel 7) and the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) and follows with consideration of some New Testament passages.

The final chapter on the Ordo Salutis again emphasises “how the intra-Trinitarian processions and missions frame redemption” (353). He then goes on to assert that,

The ordo salutis is not, therefore, the foreign and alien imposition of logic upon an ineffable redemption but is rather a reflection of the biblical idea that God first loved us so that we might love Him in return (353).

Whatever the world imagines about ministers only working one day a week, those who are in the ministry know it is a very different story. Perhaps even more so those longsuffering wives and families of diligent ministers know how hard it can be to get quality time with them. The result is that when a minister takes time to read a book, he wants to be sure it will be of benefit to him and, hopefully, through him, to others.

Perhaps a book will spark the thoughts that will issue in a series of sermons that will enlighten his congregation in the truths of the word and bring them into a closer walk with God. Alternatively another book may help to answer some knotty pastoral dilemmas, turning the lives of people under his care from troubled to triumphant. It may be by means of a practical volume an overstretched minister can start to work more efficiently and effectively. These aims are right and proper and we should take time to study books able to bring about such practical and laudable goals. Sadly, this book is unlikely to produce many of these results.

However, there are other things we need from our reading. Ministers need to delve deeply into the doctrines of the faith, and that includes things that rarely or only tangentially intrude into our sermons but that nevertheless underpin a sound biblical theology. We also need to clarify our thinking in areas of profound doctrinal and philosophical controversy to keep us careful and consistent in our thinking. As pastors we desperately need to deepen our understanding of scriptural doctrines that may seldom be of any great use in our pastoral visitation and counselling but that will stretch our minds and sharpen our reasoning, so increasing our overall usefulness in the ministry. It is in these areas that this book will be of great benefit to any careful reader. The interaction with current theological trends and writers makes this book essential reading for pastors keen to have an able and trustworthy guide through these debates. I heartily commend the book and thank the author for a most helpful addition to the literature on the covenant of redemption.

Rev. Timothy. J. McGlynn
Minister, Aberdeen Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)


A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament

Miles V. Van Pelt (ed.), Crossway, 2016, HB, 610pp, £39.00 (currently only £6.71 on Kindle)

What a great joy this book is to read. Theologically solid, clear and faithful academic work, but most lucidly and helpfully opening the door to each book of the Old Testament. Here is a collection of articles, carefully edited by Miles V Van Pelt, that belongs on the shelf of any serious Bible student. This, and its sister volume, “A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament” are a thank you present for fifty years of Reformed Theological Seminary in the USA. The contributors are all past and present lecturers of the seminary. Van Pelt says the two volumes are an effort to pass on “world-class, faithful, consecrated scholarship to the next generation”.

As the preface makes clear, “Preachers, ministry leaders, Bible teachers, students and others engaged in Christian discipleship are in view” in the preparation of the text. You need to be ready to engage with a significant amount of academic discussion of authors, archaeology, etc. if you are going to get everything out of this book. Having said that, it is not a difficult book to read. The contributors have written in an easy-to-read style and they take you on a journey through the sweep of the Old Testament and into some of the detail in a way that is not simply academic, but that lifts up Christ and warms the heart. The whole volume does not have to be read in a couple of sittings; it can be dipped in and out of and selected parts chosen with great profit, especially if you are about to embark on preaching an Old Testament book.

The introduction sets the trajectory for all the contributions that follow: In making clear the shared convictions of the contributors, Van Pelt has given a wonderful introduction to Biblical Theology and how it is worked out across the entire Old Testament. The heart of those convictions is the straight outworking of the New Testament’s use of the Old. As Van Pelt says,

The New Testament provides the final, authoritative context from which God’s people can rightly understand the message and design of the Old Testament… Jesus constitutes the sum and substance of the biblical message. He is God’s gospel and the theological center for the whole of the Christian Bible.

With Christ as the theological centre, Van Pelt describes the thematic framework of Scripture as the kingdom of God and this framework, centred on Christ, is organised in a covenantal structure in both Testaments. He does a good job of showing how these three elements interact with one another and do so in a way that will greatly bless your reading and teaching of Scripture. In my view, the book is worth the price tag for the introduction alone!

With the theological direction and purpose of the book set, various contributors then take the reader through each book of the Old Testament (taking the twelve minor prophets in one chunk). Each section is divided up into Introduction, Background Issues, Structure and Outline, Message and Theology, Approaching the New Testament and finally a Selected Bibliography. This organisational structure is helpful, giving each chapter of the book a sense of unity. It means the engagement with different academic approaches to each book can be dealt with carefully and up front, leaving room for a substantial summary treatment of the text of God’s word. The style of the different contributors is distinct, which is not a surprise, however the quality of the material is excellent all the way through.

I greatly appreciated reading a proper treatment of each book in its Old Testament context. As a Bible teacher the constant temptation is to run to Christ as fast you can. But in doing so we may miss the richness and depth of the theology, and often the punch of the text, as the original context still has so much to speak into our lives today. As the apostle says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:11). So this book is a reminder that Biblical Theology works backwards as well as forwards. Each chapter does an excellent job of locating the book in the canon and tracing the biblical-theological lines to see more clearly how all the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus.

There are one or two points where I needed a little more convincing as I read. For instance, John Scott Redd, who writes on Deuteronomy, suggests a structure to the book, argued for by Stephen Kaufman among others, based on the ten commandments. I need to read and think a little more about that before I am entirely convinced. But even wondering about a specific issue here or there, there is no doubting the quality and usefulness of this volume. So often we read the Old Testament and find ourselves a little lost, knowing that it links to Christ but unsure exactly how. This book is an enormous help in seeing him in all of Scripture, not in a trite or crowbar kind of way, but so that the theology of the Old Testament is made clear. Time and again I found myself praising God for our great Saviour.

RTS has put together a real gem in this book. They have done us a great service in passing on “world-class, faithful, consecrated scholarship” to us in this volume. It will prove to be a great companion in Bible reading and invaluable to preacher and Sunday School teacher alike. Whenever I come to look at a particular Old Testament book, this will be an ever-present companion from now on.

 

Chris Hawthorne
Pastor, St John’s Wood Road Baptist Church, London


The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures

D. A. Carson (ed.), Apollos, 2016, 1240 pp, HB, £44.99

The question of Satan, “Has God said?” launched the attack upon the veracity of God’s word. It has raged ever since, and continues today with many books being published, either questioning or defending the authority of the Bible. Therefore, one could justifiably query the need for yet another book on the doctrine of scripture. But this is not just “another” book; it is a significant book, because of the theological standing of its editor, D. A. Carson, and of its contributors and also because of the sheer breadth of this volume in its subject matter.

Carson provides the opening chapter entitled “The Many Facets Of The Current Discussion”, which consists of a 40-page sweep through the material published since around 1980. This serves as a detailed overview of all the various elements of the debate, and it is worth reading in itself in order to get a clearer perspective on contemporary scholarship and issues that bear upon the issue at hand, namely Biblical authority.

At the time of publication Carson was interviewed by Fred Zaspel, who asks the questions “Why this book? Why now?” Carson responded by saying that behind all the varying sections of the book, there is the question: “What authority does the Bible have?” Carson goes on to say,

And the notion of the enduring authority focuses on the fact that some people think that notions like authority of Scripture is passé, while others say that the present configuration of the doctrine of inerrancy is a late addition. And to both we want to say, No we’re talking about the enduring authority of Scripture, grounded first and foremost in its revelatory status, something given by God and utterly reliable, and that this is the enduring conviction of the central confessionalism of the Church of Jesus Christ across 20 centuries in virtually all denominations and it is not to be overturned. It’s tied finally to what Jesus himself thinks of the Scriptures that were already present in his own day and if we bow to his Lordship that we must bow also to his view of Holy Scripture.

With this in mind, Carson has brought together some thirty-six authors, each writing substantial chapters on their particular area of expertise as it bears upon the authority of scripture. In fact, I suspect that it is even an eye-opener to many well-read Christian leaders to see how wide-ranging the issues now are. The chapters are grouped under four main topics – Historical, Biblical and Theological, Philosophical and Epistemological, and Comparative Religions.

The opening section on historical issues include nine chapters. Charles E. Hill presents a fascinating overview of the authority of Scripture in the Patristic Period to Augustine, while Robert Kolb looks at “The Bible in the Reformation and Protestant Orthodoxy”. In “Natural Philosophy and Biblical Authority in the Seventeenth Century”, Rodney L. Stiling provides an enlightening (no pun intended) insight into the approach taken by Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle and others, and the growing emphasis on the authority of Natural Philosophy as “a valuable resource for Scripture interpretation”, no doubt heralding the century to follow. John D. Woodbridge next writes on “German Pietism and Scriptural Authority: The Question of Biblical Inerrancy”, which is particularly helpful.

I was particularly interested to see the chapter on “The Answering Speech of Men: Karl Barth on Holy Scripture”. Some 33 years ago, as a fairly new Christian feeling called to the pastoral ministry, I was duly sent for interview to a theologically liberal denominational college. I had been helped by reading books such as “Authority” by D. M. Lloyd-Jones. When I asked the Principal what the position of the College was on the doctrine of Scripture, he rebuked me by saying “Some people would have Christ imprisoned in the scriptures”. I did not understand a great deal, but I understood this to be Barthian, and have had an aversion to Barth ever since. For this reason, I cannot agree with the author that Barth has “no modern peers” as an exegetical dogmatician. I do, however, concur with his perception of the problem with Barth: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the material he considers is commandeered too quickly toward his own dogmatic ends.”

The second section, “Biblical and Theological Topics” contains fourteen chapters – too many to mention individually. There are some notable offerings. For example, Peter J. Williams writes on Bart Ehrman’s “Equivocation and the Inerrancy of the Original Text”, which is timely. Graham A. Cole considers the canon of scripture and addresses the questions “Why a Book? Why This Book? Why the Particular Order within This Book?” There is a superb and important chapter by Peter F. Jensen, “God and the Bible”. Henri K. Blocher contributes “God and the Scripture Writers: The Question of Double Authorship”, while Bruce K. Waltke gives a clear-headed explanation of what we mean by “myth” in “Myth, History and the Bible”.  Craig Blomberg and also Douglas  Moo and Andrew David Naselli discuss the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament and in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, an area of continuing challenge from biblical critics.

The third section, “Philosophical and Epistemological Topics”, includes a wonderful chapter by Paul Helm on “The Idea of Inerrancy”. Potentially one of the most debated chapters (and I would say rightly so), within Reformed evangelicalism at least, would be the inclusion of Kirsten Birkett’s “Science and Scripture”.

The fourth and final section on comparative religions is much needed in the present global village in which we live and move and have our being. Once again, there are excellent contributions by the likes of Timothy C. Tennent on current challenges from Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.   

The whole work is brought to a satisfying conclusion with Carson’s own response to some “FAQs”. With a work of this size, running to some 1,200 pages, it is useful to be able to reflect with Don Carson on just a few of the many questions that arise in response to the authority of Scripture .

For those in ministry or theological education, this book is essential, albeit disciplined, reading over a long period of time. And for those like myself, who have been in Christian ministry a good length of time, it is helpful to grasp the much wider breadth of the discussion.

Paul Williams
Pastor, Swindon Evangelical Church


The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

Peter Harrison, Cambridge University Press, 2007, 313pp, £30.99

“Science” – that short but big word. Christians – I mean everyday, ordinary, evangelical Christians among whom I happily belong, including many who are in Christian ministry of one kind or another – sometimes feel themselves on the defensive: The apparent size and age of earth, humanity and the universe; the barely disguised religious sub-text of the work of some scientists; the possible undue readiness of some scientific Christians to concede the authority of all or most of contemporary mainstream science; the suspicion that the foundations of modern science were laid more on Greek philosophy than Christian and biblical positions on human nature and capacity.

It is on this last thought that Peter Harrison’s work on “The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science” enables us to take pause. A decade old it may be but, guessing it may not have crossed the paths of Foundations readers, a familiarisation with this scholarly but readable argument by an eminent historian of science and western religion may pay dividends.

The Introduction sets out his case in a (fairly large) nutshell. He takes us to a sermon by Robert South in 1662 at St. Pauls on “those intellectual perfections that attended our nature in its time of innocence” (1). The Royal Society was founded the same year and had high beliefs in humanity’s capacity to regain the knowledge Adam lost. South did not share this optimism. “Indeed one of the major themes of South’s sermon was the disparity between the ease with which Adam had acquired knowledge and the difficulties encountered by his latter day progeny” (2). But all were agreed that those seeking the advancement of knowledge “needed to reckon with Adam and what befell him as a consequence of his sin” (2). The different strategies for this “can be accounted for largely in terms of different assessments of the Fall and its impact on the human mind” (3).

Harrison sets out four aspects. First, in the realm of epistemology, error was often equated with sin.

The priority accorded to proposed sources of knowledge – be it reason and innate principles; the senses, observation, and experimentation; or divine revelation through the scriptures or personal inspiration – were intimately related to analyses of the specific effects of original sin (6).

Second, the solutions were closely related to beliefs about the exact physical and cognitive depredations of the Fall. If one believed the Fall had effaced the divine image,

if knowledge were possible at all, it would be painstakingly accumulated through much labour, through trials and the testing of nature, and would give rise to a modest knowledge that did not penetrate to the essences of things and was at best probable rather than certain [leading to] mitigated scepticism (6f).

Third, solutions were related to the religious positions held by their advocates. Reformation positions led to “mitigated scepticism”; Catholics held Thomist relative optimism regarding human nature, though there were exceptions on both sides. Scholastic Puritanism grew up as did Jansenism in Catholicism. It was the Jansenist Pascal who said “We desire truth, and find within ourselves only uncertainty… This desire is left to us to punish us, partly to make us perceive from whence we have fallen” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées). Francis Bacon “raised as he was in a Calvinist environment, thought that knowledge would be accumulated gradually and only with meticulous care” (7).

It may be worth borrowing a set of distinctions Francis Schaeffer used in a different context when talking about “Art and the Bible” (Art and the Bible, InterVarsity Press, 2006). Indeed, he also cites Francis Bacon saying “Man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences” (Schaeffer, 18). “Christian” is used by Schaeffer in two senses: First, someone who has accepted Christ as Saviour. But if there are a number of such Christians in any one period and place, there may emerge a kind of Christian framework and consensus such that non-Christians write and paint within it. Thus, he says, there are four kinds of people in the realm of art:

  1. The born-again person who writes and paints with a Christian worldview.
  2. The non-Christian who paints/writes with his non-Christian worldview.
  3. Someone who is not personally a Christian but who works within a Christian consensus.
  4. The born-again Christian who does not understand the Christian worldview and produces work that represents a non-Christian worldview.

Harrison, while not carrying over these distinctions to the history of science, may be speaking at any one time of Christians in either of senses 1 or 3 and perhaps 4. This digression is important for weighing especially the work of Francis Bacon. Bacon had a Puritan mother (Anne Bacon)[1] though was not a Puritan himself. But his “Confession of Faith” (1602) closely mirrors the “Institutes” despite him being critical of some aspects of Puritanism. He attacked Aristotelian university culture, for having “given the first place to Logic, supposing that the surest helps to the sciences were found in that”. He saw this as a “remedy… altogether too weak for the disease” (173). “The root cause of nearly all evils in the sciences” is that “we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind” (173). But for him the “inherent infirmities” of the mind “have their foundation in human nature itself” (174). For him “by far the greatest hindrances and aberration of the human mind proceeds from the dullness, incompetency, and deceptions of the senses.” They fail in two ways in that “sometimes they provide no information, sometimes they provide false information” (174). He saw the answer as lying in “experimentation”, “For the subtlety of experiments is far greater than that of the sense itself, even when assisted by exquisite instruments” (176), by which he meant telescopes and microscopes.

The fourth aspect Harrison pursues is how the major philosophical projects of the 17th century can be seen as developments of different aspects of Augustinianism. In contrast to some scholars, Harrison suggests how Augustinian and Calvinist views of human nature and original sin point towards an experimental position in science. Hence epistemology was secondary to anthropology.

The main body of the book is given to substantiating this argument and to dealing both with arguments to the contrary and to the gradual writing out of the narrative of the Fall as a justification for scientific practice in the work of Boyle, Locke and Newton. As the 17th century went on, “increasingly the Bible ceased to be regarded as a significant repository of scientific information” (137).

The argument starts from the contemporary weight placed on arguments about Adam’s original wisdom – a point that rarely appears in current Reformed or evangelical argument. From passages such Gen 1:26, 28; 2:19 and Ezek 28:13-15, the naming of animals was seen to reflect an understanding of the nature of things. Bacon linked knowledge and power/authority – “whensoever he shall be able to call the creatures by their true names he shall again command them” (27).[2] Paul’s teaching on the Fall’s effect on human nature in Romans 5 was drawn on but also how Paul also speaks of its epistemological consequences (Rom 1:18-22).

By contrast the early church fathers took a mild view of the Fall – as a “cause for regret rather than extravagant self-condemnation” (29), later perpetuated in the minimalist view taken by the Council of Trent. In Calvin’s words on Genesis, “The corruption of our nature was unknown to the philosophers who, in other respects, were sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, acute” (52). Richard Baxter was later to allude to “that opinion wherein the Papists differ from our Divines; viz that Grace was supernatural to Adam; and original sin being nothing but the privation of that Grace or Rectitude” (1675, here 142). It fell to Augustine to emphasise the fact that

Adam’s lapse was not merely a moral loss but one that had plunged the human race into irremediable epistemological confusion. As a consequence of original sin, individuals not only habitually make wrong moral choices but consistently confuse error for truth (32).

But Augustine did not fall into radical scepticism. Harrison quotes Augustine (on “The Trinity”) saying: “Nobody surely doubts… that he lives and remembers and understands and wills and thinks and knows and judges... You may have your doubts about anything else, but you should have no doubts about these; if they were not certain, you would not be able to doubt anything” (37-8).

The capacity to doubt and question can only stand if vestiges of the divine image still remain in the fallen mind. Augustine’s position stands in contrast to Aquinas who believed the capacity for natural reason was a natural gift and “is never forfeit from the soul” (43), taking his anthropology more from Aristotle than from the Bible. Calvin saw Aristotle as “a man of genius and learning” yet also a “heathen whose heart was perverse and depraved” (63). The Reformation witnessed the revival of Augustinianism. Harrison repeats the famous words of Warfield that “the Reformation inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church” (52). The seventeenth century was “the age of Augustine” (53) especially among English Calvinists.

Calvinists differed in not regarding human ignorance as our natural condition. Hence Luther and Calvin criticised sceptics for seeing “human ignorance as essentially incorrigible” (81). Whether Adam’s knowledge was natural or supernatural was an issue of great significance. “The contemporary significance of this recondite theological issue should not be underestimated” (158). If supernatural, then the prospects for its recovery would be slight. If natural, then ignorance is the result of corruption of human nature (this is the Lutheran v Tridentine difference). From this perspective,

if the flaw of Aristotle had been an uncritical assumption of the reliability of the human mind, scepticism was equally deficient in assuming that the natural condition of the human mind was ignorance (81).

Pascal nicely captures (the) dual aspect in his assertion that “men are at once… unworthy through their corruption, capable through their original nature”. It follows for him that we are “incapable of certain knowledge or absolute ignorance” (84).

Harrison takes us through the ideas of Melanchthon, Kepler, Galileo and the search in Geneva for a Christian philosophy from a basis of Calvinist scepticism regarding natural light. What was needed was a reformation of natural philosophy that would complement a Reformed theology. Calvin compared scripture to spectacles that augment the dim remains of natural light.

There was much talk in in the seventeenth century of the loss of Solomon’s works of natural history and whether he drew on a lost antediluvian science of Noah, Seth, Enoch and Adam. Bacon referred to the “house of Salomon” (i.e. Solomon) for the ideal institution of knowledge, though he retained ambivalence towards knowledge – “an admiration of the wonders of nature and a reputation for intimate familiarity with its workings, combined with counsels concerning the ultimate vanity of human learning” (122). Later it was Newton who became seen as heir to the wisdom of the ancients. Something Harrison wryly remarks was “entirely in keeping with Newton’s own conception of his achievements” (124)! He suggests there were plausible links between experimental religion and experimental natural philosophy, e.g. in the Calvinist refusal to accept the authority of the church compared with the Royal Society’s motto “Nullius in Verba” (“On no man’s word”). So belief in the role of divine inspiration is “not… completely inimical to the spirit of scientific investigation” (134). Hence “virtually everyone who made knowledge claims in the early modern period took pains to attribute at least some of their achievement to the grace of God” (134). Examples of this can be seen in the life of Galileo (D. Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter, Bloomsbury, 2011).

In sum,

(a) premise of the experimental approach to natural philosophy that developed in England over the course of the seventeenth century was the idea that certainty could never be achieved in the sciences, and that investigators of nature needed to lower their sights (138).

Science in the Baconian tradition “was to be a long-term and probabilistic enterprise” (138).

The seventeenth-century quest to re-establish human dominion over the natural world – often associated with that exploitative stance thought to typify the modern West’s attitude towards nature – was thus originally conceived as a restorative project designed to return the world to its prelapsarian perfection (183).

It is the Reformation position that this is always unachievable. But “the key feature of this approach is that it strikes a balance between scepticism on the one hand, and, on the other, the optimistic assumption that the acquisition of knowledge is simple and unproblematic” (184).

With Robert Boyle, John Locke and Isaac Newton the biblical rationale gradually faded.

With Locke, two of the fundamental characteristics of Calvinist and Lutheran versions of Christianity – the principle of sola scripture and a strong commitment to the doctrine of original sin – became disengaged (231f).

In Newton’s writings, unlike Locke, there are almost no references to the Fall, original sin, or in any detail to the limitations of human knowledge.  It is well known he was passionately opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity. As such philosophies carried over to other fields such as economics, in Adam Smith the Fall becomes a “fortunate flaw” (255).

‘The twentieth century witnessed the final stages of the secularisation of scientific knowledge, along with the development of a degree of historical amnesia about the role of religion in its early modern origins’ (245).

Though he knows that “faint reverberations of these early modern ideas about the debilitation of reason by original sin have persisted in the thinking of some influenced by Reformation theology even in the twentieth century” (246). He cites Abraham Kuyper and Alvin Plantinga as instances and says it is significant that “the only surviving traces of the early modern doctrine of epistemic impairment are to be found in some present-day manifestations of the Dutch Reformed tradition” (253).

In Calvinist thinking an “apparently pessimistic assessment was combined with a remarkable optimism about what could be achieved if limited human capabilities were acknowledged… It is thus the recognition of the radically circumscribed nature of human knowledge that has made possible the advances of modern science” (249).

He brings together his convictions as follows:

The birth of modern experimental science was not attended with a new awareness of the powers and capacities if human reason, but rather the opposite – a consciousness of the manifold deficiencies of the intellect, of the misery of the human condition, and of the limited scope of scientific achievement... Science, for many of its seventeenth proponents… was devoted to the generation of a makeshift knowledge that would alleviate some of the burdens of the human condition in the hope of a better future in both the present world and that which was to come (258).

 

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Bacon

[2] Forgive me for wondering if this same thought is echoed in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Man gave names to all the animals”. https://bobdylan.com/songs/man-gave-names-all-animals/ 

Dr Ian Shaw
S. R. Nathan Professor of Social Work, National University of Singapore


Knowing Christ

Mark Jones, Banner of Truth, 2015, 256pp, £8.25

Nearly fifty years ago the great evangelical theologian J. I. Packer wrote “Knowing God”. That book, thanks to the grace of the God it honours, has had a profound and wide influence. It is with an awareness of that, then, that I begin my review of a new book, by an emerging new voice in evangelical theology, which has a foreword by Packer. “Knowing Christ” by Mark Jones seeks to carefully explore what it might mean to know Christ, through the lens of the New Testament and with assistance from the Puritans of the Reformed tradition. Whilst this may come across as an over-technical proposition for a popular level paperback, it is in fact a tour-de-force, with some surprises, that offers a heart-nourishing feast of exposition and inspiration.

‚ÄčAt the outset of this review, it is worth noting the scope and style of book. Jones is keen to honour the legacy of Packer’s “Knowing God”, but with a particular focus on Jesus, one of the three persons of the Trinity. Lest accusations be levelled at the author and publisher for ignoring the Trinity, it is this reviewer’s opinion that “Knowing Christ” is a thoroughly Trinitarian piece of historical, devotional and biblical theology. This is a book that weaves together a deep engagement with Scripture (Both Old and New Testaments, echoing a proper understanding of Christ and the Trinity) with a robust and careful reading of key Puritan and Reformed voices. In the former, the book echoes the author’s present pastoral ministry, and in the latter it showcases some of his academic interests. In the bringing together of these two strands, the reader is richly fed.

In his generous foreword, J. I. Packer writes: “Have we ever, up to now, worked our way through any book that fully displays our Saviour as the brightest lights in the historic Reformed firmament have viewed him? Here is such a book” (ix). This question accurately reflects the way that Jones “uses” the Puritans and other Reformed voices. As the author explores what the Scriptures say about Christ, he invites us into a library, pointing at particularly well-observed expositions from the past. Jones engages with what the Puritans and others are saying – and this reviewer has now found many rich seams of devotional gold to pursue at a later date.

A book like this, of course, cannot fully ignore some of the contentious issues raised around discussion of the person and work of Christ. Three areas of particular interest stand out for this reviewer: Christological orthodoxy, the miracles of Jesus, and the treatment of emotions. This book stands firmly within the stream of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, providing a helpful riposte to some understandings of the person of Christ that emerge, in every age, like weeds. Further, this book surprised this Reformed Charismatic reviewer in its treatment of Jesus’ miraculous ministry. The emphasis is thoroughly on Christ himself, as Jones notes in his treatment of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1): “Christ’s role at this wedding reflects his role in history – indeed, even into eternity. He showed his glory by taking centre stage… The miracle was the announcement of a new age” (136).

The Resurrection is discussed, with the real impact of that miracle on the life of the believer discussed powerfully. The topic of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ raises a range of questions, not least among them the place of emotions in his life. Jones deals sensitively with this, challenging the reader that “one of the problems in the church today is not that we are too emotionally driven, but that we are not sufficiently such after the pattern of Christ” (70). The emphasis here, on the church today following the pattern of Christ, is exactly right, and part of what makes this book so helpful.

The title of this book, the foreword by Packer, and the study questions (found at the back – an editorial choice I have mixed feelings about, as it made the book flow beautifully, but may be less helpful for regular study) all point to the pastoral focus of this book. Rooted in the academy – Jones’ work on the Puritans is helpful, and partnered with careful and informed exegesis – but aimed at the heart of the regular believer in the local church, this is a very helpful book. I foresee a few potential key usages, however. Firstly, for personal discipleship, the readability and depth of this book would lend itself to personal study or one-to-one ministry. Secondly, and particularly of interest to this reviewer, is the strength and emotional intelligence of the presentation of Christ. This would make the book invaluable for those seeking to pastor people coming to Christ from hyper-Charismatic, Roman Catholic, and other backgrounds where the gospel invites the individual into a real and transforming personal encounter with the Christ of Scripture. Thirdly, this is a book for more mature Christians whose beatific vision can be ever expanded, as Jones covers topics like the Wrath of Christ.

A particular strength of this book is that it engages carefully and without sensation with the important but complex issue of the present state of Christ. Much of our focus, echoing the majority of the narrative of the Gospels, is on Jesus’ ministry and the Easter weekend – Jones encourages us in a number of chapters to consider and enjoy the truth of knowing where Christ is now, and what he is doing for us. Christ now sits, exalted, enthroned at the right hand of the Father. And here, as Jones rightly and forcefully reminds us, Christ is at work. Indeed,

We must remember that Jesus is not seated in glory only as king, but as prophet and priest as well. His enthronement speaks not only of his power and majesty, but also of his grace and willingness to bless his people” (173).

One of the primary ways that Christ is presently at the work of blessing his people is through his intercession, to which Jones devotes a particularly powerful chapter. This chapter is one of the shortest in the book, yet utterly rich. The tension of the present age is illustrated in beautifully Trinitarian language: “By interceding, he not only draws our names up before his Father, but also sends down his Spirit in order to bless us” (183).

In conclusion, this book is a feast. Robust in its exegesis and synthesising a range of notable Puritans and Reformed theologians, it combines a pastors heart with a scholar’s mind in a way that is both readable and deep. The structure of the book, building as it does through a large number of relatively short chapters, is tied together by the author’s obvious passion for the Christ of Scripture, and his appreciation of the Puritans as particularly helpful guides. I noted earlier in my review a number of particular uses I could imagine for this book – as well as the way the author engages with some contentious subjects. Overall, I would commend this book to those in pastoral ministry as both nourishing food for themselves and a helpful tool for discipleship. I hope that this book receives the wide readership it deserves.

Thomas Creedy
South West London Vineyard


Catching the Wave: Preaching the New Testament as Rhetoric

Tim MacBride, IVP, 2016, 192pp, £11.99

Expository preaching is driven more by convictions regarding the biblical text than by a commitment to a certain sermonic style. Those convictions revolve around the authorial intent of the biblical text. To put it another way, the expository preacher is concerned to both understand and communicate what God intended us to hear from the preaching text.

Understanding any biblical text involves wrestling not only with its content, but also with its form. God inspired not only the content of the Bible, but also the human author’s choices relating to genre and form. The more we are convinced of God’s intentionality in inspiring the Bible, the more concerned we will be to not only say what a text says, but also seek to do what a text does. That is the concern of this book by Tim MacBride.

The subtitle is “Preaching the New Testament as rhetoric” although it should really be more specific – preaching New Testament epistles as rhetoric. MacBride legitimately views the epistles essentially as written speeches and demonstrates throughout how effective analysis of the rhetorical intent of the author can lead to more effective explanation and application by the contemporary preacher.

The book is not really seeking to convince the reader of the benefits of rhetorical analysis – this is assumed throughout – but it is consistently demonstrated nonetheless. The book is not focused on the “should we” question, but rather, how can we use rhetorical analysis to more effectively understand and communicate the epistles?

Classic Graeco-Roman rhetoric was a staple of education for centuries, but today many are as likely to identify Ethos, Pathos and Logos as the three musketeers rather than the modes of rhetorical persuasion. Nevertheless, MacBride explains terminology as he progresses and it is not difficult to track with his presentation throughout.

Overview

The book is broken down into three sections.  The first section addresses the broad goals of the three genres of rhetorical speech: the courtroom speech of attack and defence, the festival speech of praise and blame, and the democratic speech used to give persuasive advice. Identifying the type of speech used in an epistle enables the preacher to keep the purpose of the sermon in line with the purpose of the epistle. This leads to helpful preaching insights such as,

Many sermons on epideictic texts begin with the assumption that their hearers are not displaying the value being discussed in the text. They then proceed with a tone of chastisement rather than celebration. In other words, they run counter to Paul’s rhetorical strategy right from the beginning. (43)

The second section of the book focuses on rhetorical form, engaging with the specific elements within a speech. MacBride consistently explains the form, not as a straitjacket restricting the biblical authors, but as a guide that gives the contemporary preacher insight into the all-important intent of the original author. The introductory remarks, the circumstances of the author, the central thesis, the main argument, the overcoming of objections, and the closing argument are all considered with numerous examples from various New Testament epistles throughout. Just one example of a helpful insight comes in relation to the circumstances of the author (the narratio, such as in Philippians 1:12-26). MacBride urges the preacher to preach the narratio, not as a moral object lesson (as Old Testament narratives are often preached), but by recognising the rhetorical need of the original audience as compared to ours, and by understanding the importance of the narratio in light of the propositio, the central thesis of the book (67-68). MacBride covers most elements of a speech, but the main argument of the epistles is withheld until the third and final section.

In the third section MacBride zeroes in on the three types of proof that are used in the main argument of epistles. Here we find the classic persuasive modes of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. MacBride rightly identifies the complexities in each area and offers helpful suggestions. How are we to preach a text that seems to primarily establish the apostolic authority of a man who has long since been promoted to glory? Since “the New Testament model is to engage the heart as well as the head” (108), how should a contemporary preacher aim at the emotions of the listener without crossing the line into manipulation? And we may be most comfortable with rational arguments, but are we able to offer reasoned support for biblical instruction that will effectively connect with our audience rather than simply restating what was intended to persuade a very different original audience?

The book concludes with some helpful appendices, including a guide to the rhetorical genre of each New Testament epistle and some suggested commentaries that utilise rhetorical analysis.

In the Q&A section of the book, MacBride offers a helpful suggested path to applying the book to one’s preaching. We can start by matching the function of the rhetorical genre of the epistle to the function of the sermon.  The next step would be to identify the central thesis of the epistle and preach every section in light of it. After that would come the identification of each part of the speech and allow the function of that part to inform each specific sermon in a series. The final step would be to ponder and apply the more technical challenges relating to ethos, pathos and logos. The author rightly suggests that these lessons are best learned in the trenches, week-by-week, rather than just by reading a book and pondering the theory.

Evaluation and Conclusion

MacBride writes with consistent focus on his purpose throughout the book – it will help any preacher to consistently preach specific texts in line with the purpose of the book in which each text is located. He shows good sensitivity not only to biblical texts, but also to contemporary audiences, a vital ingredient in effective communication. The author’s sometimes subtle humour is very welcome in a book of this nature.  

Perhaps the most difficult element in writing any book on preaching is the inclusion of sample sermons. It is always easy to pick holes in a sample sermon since no sermon can equally demonstrate every lesson being taught in a book. I found some of the sermons more helpful than others, but the notes throughout each sermon certainly help the reader understand how the points in the book could make a difference in both explaining and applying epistle texts.  

This book does a specific job and it does it well. It would not be fair to criticise the book for not engaging with issues such as preaching Christ, how the gospel changes people, how to deliver sermons effectively, or whatever else the reader might be seeking. There are good books for those needs.  “Catching the Wave” is about how to apply rhetorical analysis to the preaching of New Testament epistles, and MacBride achieves that goal admirably.

Peter Mead
Elder, Trinity Chippenham


Satisfaction Guaranteed

Jonathan Berry and Rob Wood, IVP, 2016, 192pp, £9.99

I’ll tell you something encouraging. It has taken a long time, but the evangelical church has finally begun to get to grips with the sexual revolution. For many years, the only response we seemed to be able to find was moral outrage. We knew the gospel, but somehow we did not know how to speak it into the new situation. Thankfully there are now models, ministries and resources that can help us to engage much more constructively. This book is one of those resources.

I like this book. I like it a lot. I think you should read it. The style is easy, informal and conversational. It blends together relevant autobiography, popular culture references, good biblical exposition, accessible theological reflection, and wise, practical, pastoral counsel. It does a lot with a light touch.

That pastoral focus is central. The book is aimed at helping same-sex attracted believers to hold on to a biblical, orthodox view of sexuality, and to walk that narrow way. The book does this by showing that Christ is our greatest treasure and that no life lived with him is a half-life, or a lonely life, or an impossible life. The way may be narrow, but he walks with us, and it leads to abundant life.

The first half of the book sets out the “narrow way”. It is a good exposition of sanctification contextualised to this specific issue. It goes deep; getting under the surface to address the issues of the heart. It is real; addressing our fears that maybe we have sinned too much to be restored. It is wise; sharing pastoral instruction on living by grace in the midst of ongoing temptation and failure. It is uncompromising; sensitively making the case that God really does say “no” to same sex relationships. It is Christ-centred; giving us a vision of the sufficiency of Christ in his divinity and humanity and redeeming grace, and, crucially, emphasising our union with Christ and our new identity in him.

The second half of the book picks up several ways in which we can enter into abundant life even while we are on the “narrow road”. There are liberating things said about body image and about God using us in our weakness. There are powerful things said about pursuing intimacy with God, and important things said about friendship. An especially important chapter for every church to take to heart is the one on singleness entitled “the gift of being unmarried”. The final chapter is an important reality check that manages our expectations for the “here and now”. It is about the fact we live in the “now” and the “not yet” of 1 John 3:2. It warns of the dangers of an over-realised eschatology.

My favourite aspect of the book is the autobiography and testimony that runs through it. Both authors have struggled with same-sex attraction and been involved in same-sex relationships. They write with honesty, insight, humility, wisdom, power and courage. Their stories give us a lot that is helpful, but that is not the best thing about them. They are also modelling something: being so secure in Christ that you are able to make yourself vulnerable before others, for their good, and for his glory. That is a powerful thing to be able to do. It would good if we learned from them how to go and do likewise.

Ian Parry
Mission Director, European Mission Fellowship


For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell, from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr

Duncan Hamilton, Doubleday, 2016, 372 pp, £9.99

Any well-written biography of Eric Liddell is to be welcomed, and Duncan Hamilton’s contribution adds helpfully to the already fine set of biographies that have been produced to date. The subject is compelling, especially for those who have an interest in sport (particularly athletics and rugby union) and a desire to read of an exemplary Christian life. Into the mix can be added the dynamics and practices of early twentieth-century Christian mission, as well as the recent history of the Far East, and the ups and downs of real Christian lives (and a loving family), lived out under the severe strains and stresses of war. These and other themes emerge in this biography.

Perhaps a word regarding my own context: my first full-time employment was as a teacher of Science and Games at a boys’ secondary school, the Games being mainly rugby union and athletics. Sports Day was traditionally held in the Oval Sports Stadium (on the Wirral), the stadium used in the film, Chariots of Fire, to represent the 1924 Olympic Stadium in Paris, in which Eric Liddell ran. I began teaching in September 1980, just after the filming of Chariots of Fire had finished; parents of boys I taught helped to make up the crowd! It was of enormous help to me when I told the Games department that I would rather not participate in sports activities on a Sunday that they already had the precedent of Eric Liddell. In an unusual sort of way, I am indebted to him for the stand he famously took not to run in the Olympics on the Lord’s Day and also for the challenge his life has consistently presented to me since.

Sally Magnusson’s The Flying Scotsman, makes an excellent introductory biography to the life of Eric Liddell. David McCasland’s Eric Liddell: Pure Gold is beautifully written, a very human biography, and a must read for all Liddell “aficionados”. The best volume for those who like sports details has to be John W. Keddie’s Running the Race, probably the definitive work on the earlier part of Liddell’s life. And so, in addition to D. P. Thomson’s and others’ accounts of the life of Eric Liddell, we come to Hamilton’s contribution.

Hamilton’s book is well presented. Its 320 pages are divided roughly into three equal-length sections. The first concentrates on Liddell’s birth, early life and athletic achievements. The second describes his marriage and missionary labours in China before and during China’s conflict with Japan. The third depicts the forced separation from his family and his internment in Weihsien, and premature death. The book closes with a time-line of Liddell’s life and substantial notes (for a popular biography).

Hamilton begins the book vividly describing an event that took place near the end of Liddell’s life and unravels the significance of that event towards the close of the book. He ends by describing the impact his own visit had upon him when he visited Liddell’s memorial stone in Weihsien. His near final conclusion is

[Liddell]… grasped only for the things that mattered to him: worthwhile work and the care of his family. He’d once – on that hot July evening in Paris – grasped for an Olympic title as well, knowing nonetheless even as he won it that the glory of gold was nothing in his world compared to the glory of God (321).

The book is full of accurately-recorded detail. But the author writes clearly and from within the twenty-first century. The book scores highest in its chronicling and description of Liddell’s life in his last years, that is, in the Weihsien labour/concentration camp in which he died in 1945 from a long-undiagnosed brain tumour. Hamilton conveys intensely what life can be like for missionaries in times of severe conflict. This section occupies about half the book. The author’s respect for Liddell at this phase of his life is tangible. His descriptions of life in the growing Liddell family through this period convey real and appropriate emotion.

Hamilton seems to want to write a critical biography, leaving no stone unturned, and yet he is honest enough to admit that he can barely find a thing in his subject to comment negatively about. And he is not afraid to criticise, not least the London Missionary Society and certain governmental practices during the time of Liddell’s missionary labours. For me, Hamilton’s negatives here look too filtered through a twenty-first century grid, over-stretched from their original context. And Hamilton does not put D. P. Thompson (a mentor of Liddell) in a particularly positive light either. Thomson has had a varied press, but Hamilton’s assessment feels a bit over-psycho-analysed. One line in the whole book – the only one – conveys shock (and it was not about Liddell); it adds no substance to the work, and would have been better left out. But these are details, and the picture of the main subject remains clear; the book is worth reading.

The blurb on the back of the book makes a big claim: “The Definitive Biography of the Hero of Chariots of Fire”. Compared with the other writings to date, this may be true for the latter years of Liddell’s life. But it is not true for the earlier part of his life. Playing Rugby Union for Scotland’s national side, for example, receives a cursory mention, glossed over in a couple of pages. And, then, the most important issue… If we proceed on the premise that “it takes grace to see grace”: that is, it takes the grace of God in one person to see the grace of God in another, Hamilton falls somewhat short. He exalts Liddell’s life and lifestyle, he stresses the consistency of Liddell’s beliefs and principles worked out in practice, and he links Liddell’s outward integrity with his core Christian values, all highly appropriately, but he fails largely to attribute Liddell’s many virtues to Liddell’s God. He does not convey sufficiently that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ enables a believer to attribute the glory of a life lived for Christ to Christ Himself. In fact, Christ’s name is mentioned relatively infrequently in the book. Perhaps the general audience at which this biography is aimed would prefer to attribute Liddell’s virtues solely to Liddell himself. So, for a secular audience, the work may be deemed definitive, but if the source of Liddell’s motivation (the Lord Jesus Christ) is partly air-brushed from the picture, the Christian reader will detect the vacuum and find themselves saying, “but there’s more!”, leaving in question the epithet “definitive”.

One has sympathy with Hamilton; of course, he’s not writing an overtly Christian biography (which we may think he should have done) but a book that will be read by many and reveal to many some of the praiseworthy qualities and sources of inspiration possessed by an iconic sporting individual. It probably would not have helped the book’s sales for Hamilton to have given much space to Liddell’s theological position! Certainly Hamilton presents Liddell as a man of principle and faith, with a robust conscience, and depicts well Liddell’s desire to serve people. The Christian, however, would like to have read more of Liddell’s devotion to God, of his “surrender to the will of God”, of his love for 1 Corinthians 13 and the Sermon on the Mount, which gave practical shape to his missionary service. Liddell wrote “The Disciplines of the Christian Life”, a practical guide to helping Christians grow through the daily practice of prayer, Bible study and Bible reading structured around key topics he believed to be basic for every Christian (though the work may lack – or presume – the priority of “grace”). Hamilton speaks of Liddell being influenced by E. Stanley Jones (227-228, 231), an American Methodist missionary (who sought to contextualise Christianity into India through “indigenisation”; the process of opening up nations to receive Christ in their own framework), and the relatively “unorthodox” Frank Buchman (50, 156), founder of the Oxford (or Moral Re-Armament) Group (someone also drawn to inter-faith dialogue and cross-cultural mission). Liddell believed that Buchman’s four absolutes – honesty, purity, unselfishness and love – “clarified the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount” (156), but we are not told how Liddell construed this. Maybe this only serves to show that overtly Christian biographies are not for today’s mass market!

Hamilton’s book brings a helpful realism to those of us who become misty-eyed when reading the biographies of yesteryear’s inspirational saints. It communicates the truth that here we have no lasting city, that the work of missionaries is not easy and that they need prayer support from many. So, a good book; highly informative, worth reading, but yet leaving the Christian reader with a sense that there’s something more. I would sooner give one of the above mentioned other books to either an unbeliever or a young believer, and this one, perhaps, to a more mature believer who is able to reflect thoughtfully upon it.

Gareth E Williams
Pastor, Bala Evangelical Church


Zeal without Burnout

Christopher Ash, Good Book Company, 2016, 130pp, £7.99

The subject of burnout amongst Christian leaders and workers is emotive and difficult to address. Many have been through painful and humbling experiences where they “hit the wall”, and were unable to cope, needing rest from, and perhaps even to withdraw altogether from ministry. Many know what is to be on a ministry treadmill, aware that overwork is taking its toll but just not sure what to do about it. Still others may be concerned about the tendency to overreact to the stresses of ministry and try and make a “safe” version of it, where they end up not committing or caring. Whatever stage you are in Christian service, you will inevitably need to address this subject, either in your own life or the lives of others. To that end, Christopher Ash has done us a great service in providing an accessible and thoughtful book, which is a great conversation partner as we grapple with what fruitful and sustainable ministry looks like.    

Ash’s contention is that there is a different way to do ministry than just one that hurtles towards inevitable burnout: “one that combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully year after year” (14). The first chapter outlines the scale of the problem of burnout, drawing heavily from Ash’s own experience and that of others. Throughout the book there are helpful personal testimonies from men and women in a variety of ministry settings.  Ash emphasises that none of us can neglect this issue of self-care: “none of us thinks we are on the path to burnout until we are nearly burnt out; it is precisely those of us who are sure we are safe, who are most in danger” (19). In the second chapter Ash seeks to clarify what the difference between godly sacrifice and needless burnout is. He is careful to emphasise he is not peddling a “soft” option and wants to encourage wholehearted sacrificial living: “It is a great mistake if you get to the end of this book and resolve to live an easy life!” (27). The book is more concerned with unnecessary burnout that has a harmful effect on others: spouse, family, church and colleagues.

The centre of the book’s content is a rediscovery of the biblical doctrine of humanity – that we are embodied creatures; dust. Ash wants to avoid a false spirituality that separates our spiritual lives from who we are as frail and finite physical creatures. From this humbling perspective, Ash proceeds to give us seven keys that draw the distinction between who we are as finite creatures and who God is as our infinite Creator. Sleep, rest, friendship and inward renewal are all dealt with. Ash also warns of the dangers of an inflated view of ourselves, invites us to celebrate the grace of God more than our own achievements, and encourage us that our “labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

I liked the book for its brevity and simplicity. One can imagine someone on the verge of exhaustion being able to read without being intimidated. I appreciated Ash’s handling of Scripture, particularly the way he applies the house building and city watching in Psalm 127 to kingdom work. I found the tone of the book to be measured and thoughtful, and found the muted and unsensational applications very helpful.  A couple of friends in the ministry have spoken of the help the book has been to them, and I have heard of a large church whose leadership team read it through together. Perhaps the highest commendation I can give is that when I came to review it, I found that I had given my copy away!

Pete Campbell
Pastor, Capel Fron Evangelical Church, Penrhyndeudraeth


I shall not die, but live: facing death with gospel hope

Douglas Taylor, Banner of Truth, 2017, HB, 360pp, £13.00

We live in the age of the blog (or weblog). A popular form of website, all sorts of things, good and bad, get blogged on the worldwide web. When Douglas Taylor was told in 2011 that he had incurable cancer he began a blog. You can still access it today (http://worksworthdeclaring.blogspot.co.uk).

Douglas worked as an assistant editor for the Banner of Truth Trust from 1997 until 2011. Following his death in June 2014 his Banner colleagues felt it worth disseminating Douglas’s blogs in printed form and so have assembled a large number of them (about 250) with a brief foreword by Walter Chantry and a short autobiographical entry penned by Douglas himself in 2013.

This beautifully-produced hardback book would make an excellent present for any Christian, especially one facing something similar to the author. Each entry has a heading and date and is somewhere between 300 and 600 words. It is especially useful for someone unable to read for long.

You may get the flavour from these quotes. One entry begins with a reference to the “Diary of Kenneth MacRae”:

Mr MacRae is described, during his last illness, as dreading the night, with its sleeplessness and loneliness. “Oh, the night, the night”, he said wearily on one occasion. His wife Cathie tried to comfort him: “There are songs for the night, too, my dear. He will compass you about with songs of deliverance”. I can very much identify with this. During sleepless periods lately, I have dreaded the night too. I think Mrs MacRae must have had in mind such scriptures as Psalm 42:8: “In the night his song shall be with me.” Or perhaps Psalm 77:6, or Job 35:10…

He goes on to recommend songs of gratitude, confidence and praise for salvation for those in such a position.

Elsewhere he writes,

It would be interesting to know when the expression, “the intermediate state”, was introduced, and by whom. It certainly seems inadequate to express the ideas of paradise (Luke 23:43), of being with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23), of being absent from the body and present [or, “at home”] with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6), or of being received to glory (Psalm 73:25). Not to mention the very clear testimony of Calvin, of the Reformed confessions and the Shorter Catechism, and of some of the best Reformed writers, like Rutherford and Boston, which are far removed from the concept we are considering.

Gary Brady
Pastor, Childs Hill Baptist Church, London

  

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