Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Intimate Jesus by Andy Angel

Book Review: Intimate Jesus by Andy Angel                                    

2017; SPCK; 160pp

I have been waiting for this book to come out for at least a year now, having sat in the author’s New Testament lectures in theological college, and I was not disappointed. The book sets out to answer the question “how did God experience human sexuality?” With immensely popular books such as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci code’ propagating the myth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, the responses of orthodox Christians could often lead one to think that Jesus did not experience any form of sexuality whatsoever. Angel seeks to dispel this notion by way of examination of passages from the Gospel of John. However, the tendency of modern culture could lead someone to grab the idea that Jesus experienced sexuality and run with it in licentiousness, so Angel is careful to demonstrate just how Jesus experienced sexuality. He recognises that the idea of God experiencing human sexuality may prove controversial or even uncomfortable for some, but posits that the truth of the incarnation is too precious to allow our own presuppositions to dictate what Jesus could and could not have experienced.

The first chapter, entitled ‘Asking the question’, sets the scene from the woman at the well in John 4. After making much of the unasked question on the mind of the disciples in John 4:27, which the author translates “What are you after?”, he comments that, “it becomes very difficult to believe that John could possibly have described Jesus as the Word become flesh without realising that others would naturally hear this in terms of Jesus’ physicality and sexuality.” This sets the tone for the rest of the book; here we have the assertion that Jesus did experience human sexuality, the rest of the book explores how that worked out in practice. There is an extended discussion of the historical context of Graeco-Roman baths, with which the Apostle John would have been familiar, in order to build up a picture of the kind of physicality and sexuality John’s readers would have assumed was being evoked. While the length of this discussion was perhaps unnecessary, it was helpful in terms of context.

Chapter two, ‘Word became flesh’, is a discussion primarily of the Christology behind the author’s thesis; “if we are to understand how John pictures Jesus’ sexuality, we need to see it as part of his wider portrait of Jesus: God made human, word made flesh.” Angel begins with a discussion of what it meant for Jesus to be described as the Word, and shows that in the context of Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, this would have included a sexual component. The tracing of these ancient perspectives on wisdom and the following discussion of the relationship between the Father and the Son is meticulous and extensive. However, if the author had not included the above quote about needing to understand the wider Christology, one would be left to wonder what relevance this had to the topic at hand. After this discussion of the deity of Christ, there is discussion of His humanity. Here we have the assertion that “John presents Jesus as having a normal human body with normal human needs”, and this is again meticulously traced and accounted-for. Finally there is a discussion of the implications of ‘the Word became flesh’, in John 1:14. This is set in the context of John 1:13, wherein sarx (flesh) appears to be referring to sexual desire (and reference is made to interpreters from church history, such as Calvin, to substantiate this). The chapter rises to a climax in discussing the remainder of 1:14 and the glory of God; “Given the connotations of sarx in this context, making Jesus the place where people see God’s glory suggests that the glory of God is visible in the way Jesus lives out his sexuality – as part of his life and works more generally.” There is an acknowledgement that this would have been controversial to any Second Temple Jewish readers, who sought to keep the Temple free from sexual defilement, with a discussion of the role of sex and wisdom in Second Temple literature. This is an incredibly dense chapter, with much reference made to ancient literature and writers. However, the light it sheds on the incarnation and glory of God make it worth the read.

The third chapter, ‘A Samaritan bride and her Jewish groom’, expands greatly on the discussion of the woman at the well from John 4. This chapter was the highlight of the book for me, as it sought to demonstrate just how Jesus glorified God in the exercise (or non-exercise) of his sexuality. We are told that “John uses a standard plot which was familiar to ancient Jewish audiences, namely ‘guy meets girl at well and they get married’, to tell the story of the God who woos humanity back into relationship with him.” The author is (simplistically) describing a Betrothal Narrative, perhaps the purest form of which in Scripture can be found in the story of Issac and Rebekah. The chapter opens by establishing Jesus as the Bridegroom, from the wedding at Cana in John 2, and John the Baptist’s exaltation of Christ in John 3. In this context of a Bridegroom and a betrothal narrative, there is exploration of “the divine marriage of God and the people he calls into relationship with himself.” There is extended exploration of the narrative of John 4, detailing how everyone involved (namely the woman and the disciples) appear to have interpreted Jesus as having sexual motives (“the disciples read Jesus as having the same sexual desires as the next man”), whereas Jesus clearly had salvific motives. These salvific motives become important when we see how broken the Samaritan woman was as a result of her sexual history. Angel posits that it would have been easy for Jesus to take advantage of the woman, as one would expect from a Graeco-Roman hero or god. However, “he chooses not to, and acts in a way that avoids either of them doing anything they could (or should) regret. He puts her long-term spiritual need before any short-term physical desire he might have.” This, asserts Angel, is how Jesus displayed the glory of God in his sexuality: “Jesus preferred to bring healing to the sexual life of another rather than seeking pleasure for himself in fulfilment of his own desires.” Angel is adamant that the self-control Jesus exercised over his sexuality in no way diminishes that sexuality. Rather, it shows the way of true sexuality.

Chapter four, ‘Male intimacy’, explores Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, especially John, the beloved disciple. There is much discussion of the position of the beloved disciple at the Last Supper, laying in the breast/lap (kolpos) of Christ; “this disciple is portrayed in the strongest possible terms as being intimate with Jesus.” This is set within the context of the discussion of the relations between Father and Son seen in Chapter 1, and the assertion made here is that the beloved disciple shows us that humanity is invited to share the kind of intimacy seen between the Father and the Son. Following this is a lengthy discussion setting the Supper in the context of an ancient Greek symposium. While it is interesting to read that Greek teachers would have their favourite pupils (Socrates and Plato being a prime example), it was occasionally difficult to see the direct relevance of this discussion to the matter at hand, other than to note that Greek teachers had sex with their favourite pupils, and Jesus didn’t have sex with John the beloved. Angel acknowledges that the relationship between Jesus and John the beloved has often been misconstrued as homosexual, and the Greek context may not help in that matter. Angel laments that our modern culture has lost any idea of this kind of close intimacy shared between two men without assuming there must be some sexual component. The standout quote of the chapter was, “This love which the Father and the Son share is too good not to talk about it. Arguably the whole Gospel is about this love. If the intimacy of passionate sexuality is the only image which gives adequate expression to it depths (even if this love does not express itself sexually), then John seems to have been willing to take the risk of disapproval in order to tell the world about it.” I greatly appreciated this conclusion, even if I didn’t always follow along with how the author got there.

The fifth (and final full) chapter, entitled ‘Peter, Mary and the woman caught in adultery’, explores mainly the ways in which Jesus did not exercise his sexuality, by examining the stories of Peter, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the woman caught in adultery. These appear to have been chosen mainly due to the fact that there has been rife speculation throughout the centuries as to the nature of their relationship with Christ. I appreciated how adamant Angel was that there is no textual support for a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. However, the chapter continues; “While there may be nothing in John to suggest there was ever anything between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the same cannot be said for Jesus and Mary of Bethany.” Angel then goes on to detail some of the sexual tension (or “frisson”, to use his term) he sees between Jesus and Mary of Bethany, especially in the anointing of Jesus’ feet and the scene at Lazarus’ tomb. This was certainly an interesting proposition, and put a new spin on a familiar story. Following this is a discussion of Jesus’ relationship with Peter, and the latter’s apparent envy of the beloved disciple. While this is all solid material, it’s unclear why it wasn’t dealt with in chapter four. Finally the chapter discuss the notorious story of the woman caught in adultery. While brief mention is made of the arguments surrounding the canonicity of this story, these arguments are not why Angel has included it. While the story does not address Jesus’ sexuality directly, Angel posits that it tells us rather a lit about Jesus’ attitudes towards sexuality, namely that Jesus offers a second chance to those who have made mistakes in their sex lives, but he expects obedience as a result; “Jesus may not condemn her but he certainly instructs her to live life in obedience to his commands.” All-in-all this was an enjoyable chapter, but it felt a bit more disjointed than the others.

The sixth chapter, ‘Intimate Jesus’, serves as a helpful conclusion to the whole work. The importance of recognising how Jesus exercised his sexuality, according to Angel, is thus;

Those of us for whom questions about faith, sex and sexuality arise from our experience can heave a sigh of relief: the God whose commands we struggle with, and to whom we pray in and about our difficulties, understands sexual desire from experience. He is not only ‘gentle and humble in heart’ as he disciples us, but he has more than a rough idea of what we are going through.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this work. It demonstrates both an orthodox understanding of sexuality and a commitment to the biblical text under consideration. Angel refuses to countenance and argument if there is no textual warrant for it. However, he is unafraid to explore uncomfortable or controversial avenues and conclusions if that’s where he feels the text is leading. This is a book for anyone who has ever wondered how their sexuality fits into their spirituality.

Book Review: The Creedal Imperative Written by Dr. Carl R. Trueman

By Dominic Silla

 

Well here it is! The first book review of the summer of 2017! With a book like this, I can honestly say that my summer is off to a great start! The Creedal Imperative, written by Dr. Trueman was published in 2012 by Crossway books, and running just short of 200 pages, is a very well written tour of and apologetic for the use of creeds and confessions within the Church down the centuries to the modern day. As the holder of the Paul Woolley Chaired professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, he seems uniquely situated to comment on this topic and his insights are in fact, helpful.

The book contains six chapters and an appendix on precisely how creeds have come about in the Church, how they are not just historical but biblical and necessary to the life of the Christian church, and ultimately useful as a tool to promote theological orthodoxy and sound doxology. In other words, to promote right belief in God, and right praise of who God is. This insightful piece of wisdom noted in the text is who God has revealed Himself to be, or how we view how God has revealed Himself will determine how we worship Him. This theme remains constant throughout the entirety of the text. It is also of note to define what exactly is a creed or a confession, and Dr. Trueman furnishes us with the following definition, “Creeds and Confessions are human attempts to summarize the basic elements of the Christian faith.”[1]

Within the pages of the book, one is also painfully aware, as it makes up the first chapter of the text, that the arguments against the use of historical creeds and confessions are incapable of standing the attack Trueman brings to bear on them. Dr. Trueman goes so far as to argue that creeds and confessions are foundationally Biblical[2] and that to not be subject to one is to be slave to ones own interpretation. An example used within the text is that the church who has no confession or creed, but holds to a “no creed but the Bible” stance is enslaved to the particular preacher’s interpretation of that morning text. Ultimately, Trueman argues, and I think rightly, that everyone is confessional, but the difference is between a confession that is written down and one that is not. Those who have a written confession are more able to keep their ministers and elders in check by appealing to the confessions as Biblical summaries and expositions within that church. The church that does not have a creed/confession is bound to what the preacher speaks on that morning and if their opinion changes from one week to the next, the congregation is along for the ride. In this way, Trueman argues, confessions are quite useful in acting as a check on individualistic interpretations and more.

If you are looking for a good book summarizing the need for creeds and confessions, of even simply want to know what all the hubbub has been about lately with a growing return and movement toward “” or “Reformed theology” I heartily recommend Dr. Trueman’s book to you as a good resource to and starting point to work from. Additionally, Dr. Trueman includes a “For Further Reading” section in the back. Take it from someone who has taken his classes, this has always been one of my favorite parts of his syllabi and books. You can find the book here at the Westminster book store. If you can’t afford the book right now, feel free to peruse my own small essay on the subject, though I confess openly that it pales in comparison in both accuracy and depth to Dr. Trueman’s great work on creeds and confessions and why the Church ought to make them an imperative.

 

 

[1] Pg. 65

[2] Not that they are on the same level as the Bible, but that they ought to be accurate summaries of the systematic doctrines contained within Scripture

Book Review: St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography Written by: Dr. Philip Freeman

 

By: Dominic Silla

 

This semester, as jam packed as I was with my schedule, I tried to carve out a little bit of time for some personal reading. As St. Patrick’ day rolled around, I told my annual joke, reminding my friends that St. Patrick was not an Irishman…pointing out that he was in fact, a Roman, and therefore of an Italian ethnicity. Beyond this I did not know a great deal about Patrick as a person. This troubled me a little bit and decided to pick up something on the topic from my local library[1]. I settled on “St. Patrick of Ireland” by Philip Freeman. This short book runs 193 pages and is a wealth of information and primary source material[2]. Simon & Schuster Inc. published the book in 2004.[3]

The problem facing any historian and biographer regarding St. Patrick and pre-medieval Ireland is the fact that information is scarce, and on top of the information are legends, myths, and changes to historical accounts by later scribes to make the accounts seem larger than life. This is a difficulty that Philip Freeman wrestles with in this particular book. Dr. Freeman is currently the chair for the classical department at Luther College, gaining his doctorate from Harvard University.[4] Dr. Freeman does very good work in not only giving us the fact we know about the life of St. Patrick, but he fills in the gaps of time with what Patrick might have or was likely to experience as a Roman boy of a minor aristocrat, a slave in Ireland, to a returning young man to Roman Britain, and so on.

As a reader, there sometimes seemed to be bits and chunks of information used to fill those gaps that edged closer to educated guesses, based on information we have from the time around the life of Patrick. The author, in the introduction, confesses that “The details that Patrick gives us of his life are few and often tantalizingly vague…”[5] however the author goes onto say that “Taken together with his letters, these sources[6] tell the story of an extraordinary man living in a tumultuous age.”[7] Finally, there is certainly a moving away from the religious history and an attempt to get at the actual life of Patrick beyond all the possible additions, exaggerations and fabrications that have crept in over the centuries.

In addition to the life of St. Patrick, Dr. Freeman also covers background information of the Ireland from the early 2nd century B.C. to the first two centuries after Patrick, bringing to bear all sorts of different accounts, from Greeks and Romans to archaeological evidence from the ancient Mediterranean, Britain and Ireland itself. Dr. Freeman covers succinctly the length and breadth of culture, politics, religion, history, and more in this book. In order to do this however, toward the middle of the book, the author momentarily breaks from the narrative of St. Patrick that we have been tracking with and delves into these subjects to give the reader a broader understanding of early Irish culture and obstacles that Patrick would have encountered.

As a point of interest, shortly before coming to seminary I read another book about the Irish by Thomas Cahill called, “How the Irish Saved Civilization”[8] In that book, Mr. Cahill argues that if it were not for the Irish a great deal knowledge and culture would have been lost, and that it was in fact Irish Christianity that saved the day by planting monasteries and copying vast amounts of text to be reintroduced to the continent of Europe at the close of the dark ages.[9] Whether purposefully or indirectly or by mere happenstance, Dr. Freeman attempts to refute this idea. Dr. Freeman states that,

“The Irish did not save civilization-it had never been lost. The vibrant monasteries and learned nobility of western Europe, not to mention the entire eastern Roman Empire, would have laughed at the notion that the Irish were rescuing them from barbarism.”[10]

Dr. Freeman goes on to note that the Irish were most likely respected for their strict monastic adherence and scholarship[11] but beyond this, the Irish were not the saviors Thomas Cahill makes them out to be, at least this is the inevitable conclusion a reader familiar with both of these works must draw.

In conclusion I would say that this book is certainly worth the read and it is quite entertaining and informative. However, as I would recommend with any work that has at its core the intention to inform the, look to additional sources and take the time to read other books and compare the information received. Be Bereans about it! I for one will certainly be reading more of Dr. Freeman’s books! Check them out at your local library!

 

[1] Shameless plug, use your local library! It is totally worth using to find little gem’s like this one.

[2] The Author considers the two works considered to have been written by St. Patrick in the rear of the book, “Confessions” and “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus”

[3] https://www.amazon.com/St-Patrick-Ireland-Phillip-Freeman/dp/1439164797/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493935710&sr=8-1&keywords=st.+patrick+of+ireland

[4] http://www.philipfreemanbooks.com/author.html

[5] Pg. XVIII, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[6] Listed above this quote, “Archeological excavations and discoveries”, “Greek and Roman writers” and “Later Irish Traditions…” which “…preserve bits and pieces of genuine information.” – Pg. XIX, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[7] Ibid

[8] https://www.amazon.com/How-Irish-Saved-Civilization-Irelands/dp/0385418493/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493935737&sr=8-1&keywords=how+the+Irish+save+civilization

[9] If I am mischaracterizing Mr. Cahill’s thesis, I apologize as it has been some time since I read his book.

[10] Pg. 159, “St. Patrick of Ireland”

[11] Ibid

Book Review: Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher

The revival and resurgence of Calvinism within evangelical christianity is a amazing thing. A shallow and superficial evangelicalism have come to embrace solid biblical theology and the fact that theology matters. Much ink has been spilled on this subject both lauding the resurgence and also pointing out its problematic sides. Greg Dutcher postulates that there is a danger that we Calvinist ourself can run the risk of killing Calvinism.

In eight chapters he take on the subject:
1. By Loving Calvinism as an End in Itself
2. By Becoming a Theologian Instead of a Disciple
3. By Loving God’s Sovereignty More Than God Himself
4. By Losing an Urgency in Evangelism
5. By Learning Only from Other Calvinist
6. By Tidying Up the Bible’s “Loose Ends”
7. By Being an Arrogant Know-It-All
8. By Scoffing at the Hang-ups Others Have with Calvinism

Greg writes in a warm and down to earth way and builds his arguments in both biblical and historical ways. Greg seem to have a heart for theology and life being in harmony and that bleeds into his writing. This little book is a labour of love Greg has made for his fellow Calvinist which also is noticeable when you read it. It’s not just tender though, the warnings he give are a real and present danger. Each chapter ends with a written prayer related to the subject he just dealt with. So true to its intent the book is not merely head knowledge but also practical. I recommend the book to any Calvinist, particularly those of us who love filling our heads with knowledge from our huge stacks of books. The book deserves a resounding 10/10.

Book review: Sanctification in the everyday By John Piper

This book is the transcription of three sermons by John Piper on sanctification. It is abundantly made clear is that sanctification is the result of justification. In the preface one of Pipers quotes is highlighted to point to this:

“The only sin we can defeat is a forgiven sin”

In this there sermons Piper delivers four acronyms that are worthwhile sharing.

ANTHEM – For fighting lust
Avoid
say No
Turn to something magnificent
Hold the pure thing in mind

APTAT – For the everyday challenges
Acknowledge that apart from Christ you can’t do anything of eternal value
Pray to God for help for loving others and that grace may reign in me
Trust in the promises of God
Act in obedience to God’s word
Thank God for whatever good may have come through me

IOUS – For reading the Bible
Incline, my soul needs a inclination towards God and his Word
Open, pray for a open heart
Unite, unite my fragmented heart
Satisfy, I want to be satisfied by God

AIMS – For Christ-consciousness throughout the day
Alive – Jesus is alive!
In – Jesus is in me!
Mighty – Jesus is mighty!
Satisfying – Jesus is satisfying!

These sermons are absolutely good, sound and biblical. The acronyms are helpful, though the two middle ones sound more like something from a military command center than something to memorize. Piper is to be lauded for in his ministry reminding God’s people of the satisfaction in God and this runs through these sermons. But the question is what the purpose of this book is. It’s three sermons stitched together with only being the same theme. This could have been done better. The sermons could have been used as a source material for a short book on sanctification. The material is good but the execution is lacking.

Therefore i give it 6/10. The book is free for download at Desiring God. Despite the low grade i recommend it if you have the time since the content is good.

Book review: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz [Spoiler alert]

I read this book as part of the Challies reading challenge for 2017. Go search for it if you’re unaware of it, it’s a great thing for book lovers. Quo Vadis is historical fiction at its best. This is a thrilling historical novel with strong biblical strokes.

It takes place in Rome during the 60 A.D. The main character is Vinicius, a young Roman patrician who falls in love with the Christian girl Lygia. When you know whats gonna happen historically the question is whats gonna happen to the main characters.  Vinicius is drawn to the Christian faith because of Lygia and will eventually become Christian. But he will still struggle with his earlier life as Roman patrician. Emperor Nero is a autocratic demagog that goes deeper and deeper into madness. These character arcs is one of the greatest strengths of this book.

We get to see different struggles and tensions within the church but also we get to see the gospel proclaimed in ancient Rome. Vinicius eventually get to meet both Peter and Paul. Their lines are in big parts based on what they say in the Bible in the gospels and letters. For example as Paul is taken to be executed he rejoices to have finished his race. Before we get to know the Christians we get to see them from Roman perspective with all the myths and prejudices surrounding the early church. But eventually Vinicius will end upp thinking:

“What kind of God is this, what kind of religion is this, and what kind of people are these?”

Nero -the ruler of the world- tries to annihilate the church. But he dies and the church lives on. This becomes the climax of the book.

“And so Nero passed, as a whirlwind, as a storm, as a fire, as war or death passes; but the church of Jesus Christ rules until now, from that city, every city, and throughout the world, for all eternity.”

Amen!

The book gets a solid 10/10

Book Review: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practices in Defense of Our Faith By. Dr. K. Scott Olphint

Reviewed By: Dominic Silla

 

When I saw that I had to take Principles of Apologetics this semester and that this book was one of the required books on the list, I decided then and there to try to get a jumpstart on my schoolwork. As any good Seminarian knows, you start the semester two weeks behind and have to try to catch up from there![1] I have a unique privilege here in reading this particular book, as its writer is also my instructor for this class! This book was published in 2013 by Crossway Publishing and is roughly 262 pages in length. The author is Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology here at Westminster Theological Seminary. [2]

This is my second time going through this book, as the first time was a miserable failure, as I tried to juggle it with all my other middle of the semester work and could not give it the proper attention it deserved. Being able to have hours at a time to delve into the text this time around has been a privilege and I would recommend the same to you before jumping into it. Though admittedly, I tend to take a bit longer making my way through them.

The work itself is startlingly deep and yet quite applicable to the Christian life. Writing from a Reformed position, Dr. Oliphint gives a breathtaking view of an apologetic method that is both effective and is consistent with the revelation of God. The first apologetics professor at Westminster, Cornelius Van Til,  developed the method that came to be known as “Presuppositional apologetics.” This method is, simply put, “is naturally and centrally focused on the reality of God’s revelation in Christ, including, of course, the good news of the gospel.”[3] However, Dr. Oliphint makes a distinction early on, he dislikes the term “Presuppositional” and instead recommends the term “covenantal” as a more consistent, fitting and Biblical term. I am inclined to agree with him on this point.

Reading through this book, Dr. Oliphint is constantly looking back to the Scriptures in order to craft an apologetic method, giving to the reader apologetic principals, and putting into practice an apologetic that is thoroughly consistent with Biblical revelation. Key to this is Joshua’s encounter with the Commander in the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15), Paul’s address on Mar’s Hill (Acts 17:22-31), and several other points within the text of Scripture. Though Dr. Oliphint admits several times, that his book is only a short foray and could not possibly cover all the Scripture that could be applied. To aide in this reality, Dr. Oliphint proposes the Ten Tenets at the start of the book. These ten tenets give a way to asses our apologetic method in a way so as to make sure that it is consistent with what we derive from Scripture. The book is worth the buy just to take a look at these ten short tenets, so the rest of the material, I can assure you, is certainly worth the time it takes to study through it.

In closing, I would say that this book, though incredibly helpful to the believer and helpful in crafting a foundation for a solid apologetic method, is deep and complex at times. My recommendation to anyone who reads this book would be that it is important to stay in Scripture. Keep your Bible close to you as you go through this book. It would also be helpful to have a dictionary handy as well! But all in all this book is a solid read in terms of helping one understand a covenantal apologetic and for pointing them toward additional resources that would be a help in this journey. Grab a copy and get started!!!

[1] This is a joke…

[2] http://faculty.wts.edu/faculty/oliphint/

[3] Pg. 25, Covenantal Apologetics

Book Review: “The Church in History” By B.K. Kuiper

 

 

Reviewed By: Dominic Silla

 

Upon the recommendation of my pastor, once he learned of my avid interest for the history of the Church, he recommended to me this book as a well written, comprehensive, yet brief (only 400 Pages in total) overview of the historical life of the Christian Church! Written by Mr. Barend Klaus Kuiper in 1951, this high school textbook has seen an number or revisions, corrections, and new editions since then, (six in total I believe) with the most recent reprint in 2000 (at least the copy I have was reprinted then). Published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. the text itself is supported and promoted by the ‘Christians Schools International’. The book was published in Grand Rapid’s, Michigan and it’s price runs between $8 and $20 on Amazon.

There are hundreds of texts on Church history, probably dozens that could be used for a teaching a high school class, so why should one recommend or use this one? Why read this particular text? Being a Reformed Christian myself, the first part that influence me to recommend this book to other readers is that it is history written from a Reformed perspective. Considering the author was a professor of “Dutch Calvinist History” at Calvin College, this is unsurprising to me. While attempting to represent history fairly and honestly, there is no doubt that the author of this text pays special attention to and records a definite Calvinistic bent to history.

Beginning with the foundation of the Christian Church, the author carefully takes the reader through both the timeline of events in the history of the Church and the rise of specific doctrines that have arisen within Christendom down the centuries. From the creedal definitions of the Trinity at Nicaea, to the rise of the doctrine of purgatory; from the popularization of Arminian theology under John and Charles Wesley to the fight to the death between orthodoxy and modernism, this text covers the breadth and width of the history of the Church.

While obviously not every single event, character, or doctrine that one could learn about within the confines of the history of the Church can be covered I would say this text is an excellent primer to anyone seeking to find a place to begin in the study Church history. While many greater texts in Church history can be found, many going into much greater depth than this history, one could do a much worse job. My only two criticisms of this work would have to be first that the text is somewhat dated. Most of the statistics specifically mentioned in the later parts of the book dealing with the modern age are pulled from the 1980’s and the USSR is mentioned as still being a problem. As a result of the dating there arise several numerical errors, and dating errors where the wrong date is mentioned, but these are not pervasive throughout the book.

Secondly, the textbook seems at times to be somewhat culturally insensitive. What do I mean? At times the language used to describe other cultures or persons as inferior or not so important to the grand stage of history comes across as somewhat offensive. In this modern age, where racial and ethnic tensions are very near the surface, if any revisions are to take place in the future, a more attentive hand could be used to fix some of the language and how the general reader would perceive it. However, this may just be the result of importing my modern ideals into the text.

In closing, I would say that this book is worth the read, even as just a primer, but one should not stop here but carry on in their study of Church History! Many more texts, many more in-depth studies remain to be seen. Off the top of my head, Philip Schaff’s 8 volume series “History of the Christian Church”, though dated, is a careful and extensive study of the history of the Church. Another fine work is “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Studying Church history, tells us where we come from and helps point out to us where we might or ought to go, and I think this book is a great place to start!

 

 

Book Review: John Knox and the Reformation by D.M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain Murray

This book review is by Dominic Silla, an M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Banner of Truth, 2011, ISBN: 978-1848711143, 132 pages.


As of October 31st of this past year we entered into the 499th anniversary of the Reformation begun by Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Though a towering figure, Martin Luther is hardly the only figure of importance in this period as regards the movement known as the Reformation. I find myself seeking to understand in greater detail the people involved in the Reformation, not just their history but also their importance and their contribution to the Church, as it exists today. This was the reason for originally picking up this text, and I have not been disappointed in doing so.

Published in 2011 by Banner of Truth Trust, the book runs 130 pages long and is split fairly evenly into three sections. The first two sections are addresses given by “the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones” revolving around the importance of looking back to the Reformation and the importance of John Knox to the Reformation movement internationally and not just in Scotland. The final address is “a biological sketch of Knox by Iain H. Murray” (x). Though a short book, it packs a punch in terms of content and its emboldening of the reader to see the contributions of John Knox as a truly international contribution to the Church.

This is my first time reading any content by either author and I am overwhelmed at their understanding and weaving of the story of John Knox throughout the text. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones masterfully addresses the need of his time and of our own as well of the importance of looking back to not just the Reformers like John Knox, but to do as the Reformers did, to look back to the Scriptures. He writes, for example, “the great thing that stands out about the Reformers was that they were men who went back to the Bible” (19). Dr. Jones, though giving this address in 1960, speaks inspirationally to our own time as the teachings of the Reformation become ever more important distinctive of orthodox Christian teaching, as separated from liberal doctrines that would compromise the integrity of the faith.[1] In a world where secular voices seem to be becoming louder, Dr. Jones words are a comforting reminder and instruction to look to the roots of our traditions and teachings.

Following through, in the second section, Dr. Jones gives the reader a view of the character and certain views of the Reformer John Knox, giving us a handle on what type of man he is. In the closing section however Iain H. Murray, a former assistant to Dr. Jones [2], gives a biographical sketch of the life of John Knox, closing with “What We May Learn from John Knox” (x). This is the icing atop of the cake as I find Rev. Murray closes things and pulls things together quite well as we come to the end of John Knox’s life. The book closes with in its final pages with a quote from John Knox that I find most encouraging and needed today.

“Live in Christ. Live in Christ, and then flesh need not fear death – Lord, grant true pastors to Thy Church, that purity of doctrine may be maintained.”-Pg. 129-130

In a time such as our own, I think the life, the words, and the inspiration presented to us by Dr. Jones and Rev. Murray from the life of John Knox do a great service to the Church itself as we look back over this coming year to the time of the Reformation. May we continue to give glory to God “for his wondrous works to the children of man” (Psalm 107:31b ESV)!

Semper Reformanda!

You can find a copy of the book at the Westminster Bookstore!

[1] This point was specifically driven home to me toward the end of this book as I came across an article in the Washington Post discussing the growth of conservative/orthodox churches and the shrinking sizes of more liberal churches.

[2] George, Timothy (2009). J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought. Baker. p. 1905. As found on Wikipedia entry under his name (accessed 6 January, 2017)

[6] Psalm 107:31b ESV

Book Review: Scottish Theology by John Macleod (Part 2 – Biographical Sketches)

This book review is by Zack Groff, an M.Div. student and Director of Advancement & Admissions at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS).

Banner of Truth, 2015, ISBN: 978-1848716155, 400 pages.


As seen in the first part of my review, the Banner of Truth has done a great service to the Church by making available Dr. John Macleod’s Scottish Theology to today’s Reformed readership.  Some of the most delightful aspects of Macleod’s historical narrative are the biographical sketches inserted into the narrative. Some of these sketches extend for but a sentence or two. Macleod devoted much more space – pages, in some cases – to others in accordance with their respective literary impacts. In this (somewhat) shorter part of my review, I will highlight a few of these significant figures from Scotland’s ecclesiastical history.

Macleod’s treatment of Knox runs for a mere two pages, though we feel the force of Knox’s ministry throughout the entire tome, and especially the first half of the volume. Truly, “Knox was a man mighty in words, and not less mighty in deeds” (5).

Yet Knox has also proven to be one of those rare figures in the history of the Church who is referenced by theologians of both sound and unsound convictions. For example, the Scottish Church Society in the nineteenth century sought to use Knox’s Scots Confession to advance an unbiblical view of the sacraments that is not truly advocated for in the Confession itself (26).

Samuel Rutherford’s legacy warrants 11 pages of text dedicated solely to his significant theological output. His devotional Letters and political Lex Rex have proved themselves to be supremely valuable to the Church. As observed by Macleod, “The fervid piety, the burning zeal, the love to his Lord, the loving response to his Lord’s love, and the lively figurative dress given to all these in the Letters exhibit the workmanship of a spiritual genius whose branches ran over the wall” (71).

In like fashion, Thomas Halyburton receives eight pages of treatment. As one of the ablest defenders of biblical Christianity against the Deism of his time, Halyburton wrote “carefully into the proof of the insufficiency of Natural Religion in regard to its discoveries of a deity, its defectiveness as giving direction to the worship of God, and in its discussion of where man’s true happiness is to be found” (128).

By contrast to these great theologians and men of letters, Thomas Chalmers, perhaps one of the most colorful churchmen in Scotland’s history, received but one paragraph on page 281 dedicated solely to him. This is because the Church has felt his influence not so much in the expansion of its library, but in the practical impact of his pastoral ministry in his local parish setting. Rather than concentrating the relevant material on Dr. Chalmers in one section of the book, Macleod mentioned his impact throughout the book to better illustrate his influence on various areas of Scottish church life.

One of the later figures introduced in Macleod’s work was the erudite and vigorous guardian of the Faith, Dr. Hugh Martin. Macleod’s description of Dr. Martin exemplifies the “grit” and “ruggedness” of Scotland’s Reformed community. His writing was that “of a man who felt intensely the power of the doctrine that he taught” (339). This quality of his mirrored that tradition out of which he emerged, a tradition that Macleod described in the following terms: “They aimed in their Reforming activities at getting down to bedrock and, when they reached it, they sought to build upon it” (7).

My hope is that this short appendage to the first part of my review shows that like Hebrews 11, this book is a veritable “hall of faith.” There are so many Scottish divines who are worthy of emulation in Macleod’s historical register. In the spirit of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1, churchmen ought to imitate the men whose lives are detailed in Macleod’s account insofar as these men imitate Christ.