Knowing Christ by Mark Jones

Knowing ChristJones, Mark. Knowing Christ. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 256 pp. $16.00. Purchase at Amazon or Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

Mark Jones has been the minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Canada since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein) and Lecturer in Dogmatic Theology at John Wycliffe Theological College, in association with North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus), South Africa.

Mark is a lover of the Puritans, and has written or co-authored a number of books on the Puritans.

Watch this 16 minute conversation between Mark Jones and JI Packer (author of Knowing God).

Summary

Divided into 27 chapters, Mark looks at differing aspects of who Christ is. Among the obvious of Christ’s divinity, Incarnation, and resurrection, the reader will also look at Christ’s faith, His emotions, His reading, and His prayers.

Following is a complete list of the chapters (all preceded by “Christ’s”:

  • Declaration
  • Dignity
  • Covenant
  • Incarnation
  • Divinity
  • Humanity
  • Companion
  • Faith
  • Emotions
  • Growth
  • Reading
  • Prayers
  • Sinlessness
  • Temptations
  • Humiliation
  • Transfiguration
  • Miracles
  • Sayings
  • Death
  • Resurrection
  • Exaltation
  • Intercession
  • People
  • Wrath
  • Face
  • Names
  • Offices

Review

This is as close to an exhaustive treatise on the doctrine of Jesus Christ, or Christology if you prefer, as I have read. I genuinely had to read it one chapter a day for fear of being overwhelmed by the information. The chapters are not very long, but will have you meditating and thinking on Christ all day long.

The end notes will point the reader where they can read more in depth on each one of the twenty-seven aspects of Christ discussed in the book. Let’s be honest, we will never exhaust our understanding of Christ or God or the Holy Spirit for all eternity. We can, however, get a good running start!

Mark’s ability to weave history and Scripture together to show the importance of a right understanding of who Christ is and what He accomplished. I found myself feeling like a first grader reading some of these chapters. I could not believe I had either missed so much of who Christ was or had so many misunderstandings myself. Keep in mind, none of them were heretical, but they were all less than what the Bible teaches.

You can take this quiz that was posted by Challies a while back to see how much you know (or do not know about Christ).

This is a well-researched and well-written book that, in my opinion, is already a classic. It will become one of those indispensable resources that every serious believer will want to have for their own library as well as to be able to give away copies.

Recommendation

I have read/skimmed over a 1,000 books for this website. I have offered a qualified positive recommendation for most of them (a conscious choice I made years ago). There are many I have declared to be “must reads” for various reasons or another. I have only read two other books (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Knowing God), save the Bible, that became foundational to my understanding of theology and the Christian life. Knowing Christ is now the third. This book will challenge what you think you know about your Savior and Lord and will lead you to worship your Lord and Savior.

Idols of the Heart by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Idols of the HeartFitzpatrick, Elyse M. Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for the Heart of God Alone – Revised and Updated. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2016. 240 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Westminster for less.

Introduction

I have reviewed a few different titles by Elyse Fitzpatrick and found everyone to be a worthwhile read. You can find those reviews here.

This particular book is a revised and updated edition of her original 2001 book of the same name. You can download a free 50-page study guide as well. This study guide is in addition to the “For Further Thought” questions found at the end of each chapter.

Summary

Divided into twelve chapters, Elyse looks at various idols we as Christians wrestle with each day…or at least hopefully we wrestle with each day. She does this through the lens of biblical men and women.

From one description of the book:

Do you feel discouraged, even defeated, in your battle against habitual sin? Are you dismayed or surprised by the situations that bring out your fear, anger, or distress? Elyse Fitzpatrick delves into the heart of the problem: deep down, we’re all idol-worshippers who put our loves, desires, and expectations in God’s place—and then suffer the consequences of our misplaced affections. Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. Fitzpatrick shows us how to better search and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods.

Review

For many Christians (dare I say all?), wrestling with sin can be so consuming that we begin lose sight  of Christ and quit relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. Elyse Fitzpatrick helps us to right this ship so to speak as she takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of sinful tendencies seen in the characters of Scripture. I say this first because when we are wrestling with our own habitual sin we tend to think and believe that we are the only ones wrestling with a particular sin.

What Elyse does so well is point the reader to Christ. I like what she says in her note for the second edition: “Over the years since I wrote the original manuscript for this book, I’ve become more and more aware of God’s great love for me in Christ.”

We all need to learn this lesson and I believe it comes in ebbs and flows. This sentence is a clear indication of this truth as Elyse, who wrote this some fifteen years ago is still learning the lessons of what she wrote. We must understand that sanctification is a process and allow that to be of some encouragement. All the while, we must, as Elyse points out, strive to look to Christ and trust Him.

Review

Elyse’s humility is evident in this revised and updated edition. I personally believe that makes this particular edition more valuable than the first. All Christians everywhere will benefit from reading Idols of the Heart. I highly recommend it.

Joel & Obadiah by Iwan Rhys Jones

Joel and ObadiahJones, Rhys Iwan. Joel & Obadiah – Disaster and Deliverance. Scotland: Cross Focus Publications, 2015. 128 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Iwan Rhys Jones is Director of Postgraduate Studies and Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Wales Evangelical School of Theology in Bridgend, Wales. He also serves as an elder in his congregation.

The Focus on the Bible commentary series  “are popular level commentaries especially useful for pastors and small group leaders. They are useful for personal devotions and spiritual growth. Many of the authors of the commentaries are leading expositors of God’s Word on their speciality subjects. The series holds to the inerrancy of scripture and the uniqueness of Christ in salvation.”

Summary

Quite simply, this book is a commentary on the Old Testament books of Joel and Obadiah. As such, it is organized in chapter and verse format offering somewhat extensive introductions to both books.

From the back of the book:

Disaster and Deliverance, these two words sum up something of the message of both Joel and Obadiah. In Joel, the prophet begins by announcing a disaster in terms of a locust invasion, which has affected Judah. This, however, is but the pretext for warning of an even greater disaster on the horizon for Judah. Nevertheless, the prophet holds out the prospect of deliverance. In the case of Obadiah, the focus is on Edom. Edom’s pride and longstanding hostility against the people of God has led her to be party to an attack upon them, and as a result, she is threatened with disaster. The people of God, meanwhile, are assured of better things at the hand of the LORD.These two prophets and their message of disaster and deliverance will both challenge and reassure all who have ears to hear.

Review

This is a very readable commentary that is not dry nor insulting. There is much information to be gleaned from these books (as there is in all of the Bible!) that Jones does a phenomenal job of writing a commentary that offers an excellent introduction while also helping the reader to begin to plumb the depths of the riches of both.

This book can be used a simple commentary looking microscopically at the individual verses, but I believe there is something lost in using it only as such. The strength of this commentary is its devotional aspect. Jones tells the story with content and historical and theological insight lacking in many resource. He strikes a perfect balance of disaster and deliverance. Hence, the appropriate subtitle to the book.

As the name of the series is Focus on the Bible, you will want an open Bible next to you as you will want to know what the Word says and what Jones is saying about the Word. In the end, you will find that your focus will be entirely on the subject of the Bible…God.

Recommendation

If you are looking for a solid commentary that is both informational and not too academic, you will greatly appreciate Joel & Obadiah. If you are looking for an introductory academic commentary,  you will appreciate Joel & Obadiah. I highly commend this commentary to all Christians looking to engage the Bible with a more informed mind.

The Works of John Newton Volume 2

Works of John NewtonNew Edition – The Works of John Newton: Volume 1. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 766 pp. 4-Volume set – $150.00 Purchase the entire set from The Banner of Truth Trust for much less.

Introduction

From the dust jacket:

When John Newton, ex-sea captain and, as yet, unsuccessful candidate for the Church of England ministry, finished his first book (an autobiography) in 1762 there was no ready publisher. Any thought that he was destined to become one of the best known authors of his age would have been as fantastic as the last 37 years of his life. But in both cases the improbable came about. Becoming curate of Olney, a small village in the south of England, in 1764, Newton there laid his reputation as an evangelical writer, pre-eminently by his published letters and by the Olney Hymns (including ‘How Great the Name of Jesus Sounds, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and ‘Amazing grace’). Before the end of his subsequent pastorate at St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807), his writings were prized around the world from America to Australia.

Newton has a firm place in the classics of Christian literature. While his style is strong and clear, it is the spiritual attractiveness and importance of his main themes which secure the permanent value of his writings. Most of his books came, unpremeditated, out of a need to help his congregation or individual hearers, and it is in practical helpfulness towards Christian living that he excels. If he is loved rather than admired, it is for this reason. Conformity to Christ is the one subject upon which his themes finally focus (‘It will not be a burden to me at the hour of death that I have thought too highly of Jesus, expected too much from Him myself, or laboured too much in commending and setting Him forth to others’). Not surprisingly, Alexander Whyte could write, ‘For myself, I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books: by far the best kind of books in the whole world of books.’

The text of this new four-volume edition of The Works of John Newton has been entirely reformatted, producing a clear and easily navigable set of documents for today’s reader.

Summary

Volume 2 continues where volume 1 left off with more letters followed by an appendix for all the letters.

Next, in this volume is six sermons Newton intended for the pulpit. These include a look at the deceitfulness of the heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10) and all things being given to us with Christ (Romans 8:32). The third section is comprised of twenty sermons delivered at his church in Olney. Part of the allure here is also the addition of the hymns sung at Olney that conclude this particular volume.

Also included is a two-part “review of ecclesiastical history” that is more than 200 of the over 750 pages of the book.

Review

This particular volume introduces the reader to the Pastor Newton who preached in the pulpit. With over 26 sermons, you will be able to see what made John Newton tick. His proclamation of the gospel as a pastor is, in my estimation, one of the most lacking areas of information the church has today on this giant of the faith. He is known primarily as a hymn-writer with a wonderful gospel testimony.

While his letters are of inestimable value, I have found his sermons to be of even greater value. This may be due to my being a pastor, but it helps to explain a lot of the theology behind the hymns and such. Also, it shows that a pastor who loves his congregation (and Newton certainly did if the letters are any indication) is able to speak with great boldness in the pulpit. This is to be emulated today though it is too much work for too many pastors…unfortunately.

Recommendation

As the larger portrait of John Newton unfolds in these 4 volumes of works, I am finding each particular volume is excellent in its own right. Yet, when you bring them all together, you have one excellent picture of a godly man who loved His Lord more than anything else. I highly recommend this 4-volume set to all Christians.

Introducing the Old Testament Books by Paul D. Weaver

Introducing the Old Testament BooksWeaver, Paul D. Introducing the Old Testament Books: A Thorough but Concise Introduction for Proper Interpretation. CreateSpace, 2015. 308 pp. $11.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Paul Weaver is the Director and Professor of Bible and Theology at the Word of Life Hungary Bible Institute as well as the the Associate Director of Word of Life Hungary Foundation. You can read more about him and support his missionary work at his webpage.

Summary

This is one of those books you can judge by its title. There are 39 chapters that introduce each individual book of the Bible. Each introduction includes a section for the title, the author,  who the original intended recipients were, the date and location of the writing, the purpose, and the central message.

Also included is a brief statement on the theology of the book as well as what archaeology has shown us regarding the historical nature of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a suggested outline of the book being considered.

Review

Quite honestly, I am impressed with the breadth and depth of these introduction. Weaver does not shy away from controversial aspects of the academic side of these introductions nor does he really seem to take a side so to speak. He simply presents the appropriate information needed to help the reader come to an informed view of the book of the OT they are studying.

Each chapter can easily be read in one sitting. This helps the reader to quickly ascertain the context of the book of the OT before they begin to read and study it. Obviously, this is only meant to be an introduction and is therefore limited by design. That being said, this is truly one of the nicer introductions to the books of the Old Testament I have read. It is neither too academic or too “dumbed-down” that it is over the head of the lay person or insulting to the pastor.

Recommendation

As far as introductions to the books of the Bible are concerned, there are many high profile names out there that written on the topic. Those books cost quite a bit more than Introducing the Old Testament Books. You can get quality information for a very inexpensive cost. I recommend this resource to all Christians and even pastors looking to better understand the world of the Old Testament one book at a time.

The Works of John Newton Volume 1

Works of John NewtonNew Edition – The Works of John Newton: Volume 1. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 636 pp. 4-Volume set – $150.00 Purchase the entire set from The Banner of Truth Trust for much less.

Introduction

From the dust jacket:

When John Newton, ex-sea captain and, as yet, unsuccessful candidate for the Church of England ministry, finished his first book (an autobiography) in 1762 there was no ready publisher. Any thought that he was destined to become one of the best known authors of his age would have been as fantastic as the last 37 years of his life. But in both cases the improbable came about. Becoming curate of Olney, a small village in the south of England, in 1764, Newton there laid his reputation as an evangelical writer, pre-eminently by his published letters and by the Olney Hymns (including ‘How Great the Name of Jesus Sounds, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and ‘Amazing grace’). Before the end of his subsequent pastorate at St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807), his writings were prized around the world from America to Australia.

Newton has a firm place in the classics of Christian literature. While his style is strong and clear, it is the spiritual attractiveness and importance of his main themes which secure the permanent value of his writings. Most of his books came, unpremeditated, out of a need to help his congregation or individual hearers, and it is in practical helpfulness towards Christian living that he excels. If he is loved rather than admired, it is for this reason. Conformity to Christ is the one subject upon which his themes finally focus (‘It will not be a burden to me at the hour of death that I have thought too highly of Jesus, expected too much from Him myself, or laboured too much in commending and setting Him forth to others’). Not surprisingly, Alexander Whyte could write, ‘For myself, I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books: by far the best kind of books in the whole world of books.’

The text of this new four-volume edition of The Works of John Newton has been entirely reformatted, producing a clear and easily navigable set of documents for today’s reader.

Summary

This first volume is comprised of some 165 letters written by John Newton. These letters are grouped according to subject matter. The first 14 letters are more biographical in nature while the next 41 all deal with various subjects that are religious in nature.  While the final 110 letters are simply correspondence with a number of different people that offers a look at the thinking of John Newton in various circumstances.

Many of the letters have a short introduction in order to help the reader understand the greater context of the letter.

Review

We have lost the art of writing a letter. That is what I learned from reading through this volume of Newton’s Works. Many biographies abound concerning John Newton which are drawn from many of these letters, I am sure. To read his own writings, however, elevates the biographical information to whole new level.

Through these letters, we see the heart of a pastor to be sure. More importantly, we catch a glimpse of just how amazing the grace was that saved a wretch like John. To read these letters is to be taken to a depth of pastoral concern and care that is sadly missing in today’s age of text messages and blogs. There is depth to theology and an obvious care for the love of those who are pilgrims in this life.

These letters would serve as a phenomenal daily read which would most certainly aid today’s Christian to navigate the stormy sea that never seems to abate.

Recommendation

While I cannot find the individual volumes on sale at this time, nor can I find these works available on Kindle, I can say that this first volume is so rich with pastoral care and biblical theology that every Christian would do well to read it. I highly recommend this particular volume to all and look forward to reviewing the next three.

Equanimity by Samuel D. Bartoli

EquanimityBartoli, Samuel D. Equanimity: The Spirit Within. Houston: Halo Publishing, 2014. 326 pp. $21.95. Purchase at Amazon and on Kndle for much less.

Introduction

Sam is a former Southern California Golden Gloves Boxing Champ. in 1993 he felt the calling to leave the sport and return to writing both non-fiction and and fictional novels in addition to screenplays.

Summary

Divided into twenty-one chapters, Bartoli offers a look into his own spiritual boxing match. After hanging up his gloves due to an illness, Samuel embarked on a spiritual journey unlike anything he had ever experienced.

Each chapter is a conglomeration of biblical sayings and quotes from other thinkers throughout history.

From the back of the book:

This voyage led him through a trial by fire where he was face to face with the Devil himself in a battle for his soul. Samuel was a former amateur boxer who had spent the last five and a half years of his life trying to make it from the local boxing scene to the big time as a professional prizefighter. After developing a form of Pugilistic Dementia which he can only classify as a first stage impairment of the mental senses he began to develop: Slowed motor skills, impaired speech, lack of concentration while communicating along with shaky hands and blurred vision. Eventually knowing that this battle was going nowhere he could hear the final bell. Calling out to God, the Creator (Father Almighty) comforted and protected Samuel leading him away from the enemy and into Christ’s saving light. The book is a form of rebirth for any person looking for not only a new way in which to handle their fears or problems but to grab hold of life and truly enjoy it for its beauty and grace for which God has so richly blessed them with.

Review

While the subject matter is of great interest to pretty much every human being, I would caution the reader of the extreme eclectic nature of the book. To add quotes from atheistic philosophers and thinkers in line with Biblical text and other believers is to create a shade of gray when it comes to thinking biblically about life’s situations.

That being said, to read this work at face value – a biography of a man who wrestled with the devil and offers the details of how he overcame – would be beneficial for many. Samuel shows himself to be an over-comer in the pages of Equanimity. After all, “equanimity” means “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” That is exactly what Bartoli shows in this appropriately titled book. Gratefully, he also explains the essential nature and importance of Christ.

Recommendation

While the book would most certainly be enjoyed by many, I can only recommend this resource to the discerning Christian given the eclectic quotations used throughout.

From the Pen of Pastor Paul by Daniel R. Hyde

From the Pen of Pastor PaulHyde, Daniel R. 1-2 Thessalonians: From the Pen of Pastor Paul. Welwyn Garden City: Evangelical Press, 2015. 336 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Amazon.

Introduction

Rev. Daniel R. Hyde has an eclectic past: he was baptized Roman Catholic, was converted in a Foursquare church, attended an Assemblies of God college where he flirted spiritually with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism before he discovered the riches of the historic Protestant and Reformed Christian faith. All of this prepared him to minister in the diverse religious culture of Southern California. He planted the Oceanside United Reformed Church (United Reformed Churches in North America) in Carlsbad/Oceanside, California in 2000 where he still serves as pastor.

Summary

This expositional commentary looks at the books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians through the sermons preached by “Pastor Danny” from September 2010 through July 2011.

From the back of the book:

We hear about it regularly: pastors resigning the ministry, people leaving their churches, churches splitting because of internal discord, and Christians fighting against one another. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians open up his pastoral heart and theology in a way that addresses contemporary church life. Believers who read through these letters together with this exposition will be shown the Lord Jesus Christ on every page as our chief pastor; you will have your heart warmed with love for fellow Christians; and you will be challenged to live life together with your pastor.

Review

It is important to first understand that these are sermons in a particular local church context. While the principles will certainly be the same, the context will always differ. In other words, you will not always agree with the application or see the importance of a particular doctrine being emphasized in the course of a sermon.

That being said, there is much to glean about church life from reading these sermons. Daniel Hyde proves himself to be a sound exegete and a compassionate pastor to the flock God has entrusted to him. His sermon style, and consequently his writing style, is easy to follow and packed with the depth that many expect from a Reformed-minded pastor.

Another quality of this particular resource is that while it is 336 pages, there are no chapters that are more than 12-pages long making this a wonderful devotional style read for the serious minded Christian.

Recommendation

If you are wanting to study 1&2 Thessalonians, you would do well to purchase a copy of From the Pen of Pastor Paul. I recommend it to all believers as a great start in understanding how the Bible, specifically, these two books in the Bible, speak to us today.

The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes

The Pastor's BookHughes, R. Kent. The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015. 592 pp. $45.00. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Dr. R. Kent Hughes is a well-known figure in the Christian publishing world having written and edited a number of commentaries. He has also published a number of other books for Christian leaders and and laymen. He is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois and a visiting professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He and his wife, Barbara, have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.

Summary

Divided into three parts, Dr. Hughes offers an in-depth look at the duties of a pastor. The first part is a manual for various Christian gatherings. The first chapter, looks at the weekly Sunday (Lord’s Day) worship service as well as annual gatherings, funerals, and weddings.

The second part dissects the worship gathering. Here, we find the importance of the public prayer, the historic Christian creeds, and the hymns and worship songs that we sing, He finally looks at the two ordinances given to the church by Christ Himself: baptism and Lord’s Supper (or communion).

The final part consists of only two chapters and explains the extent of the duties of the pastor. Specifically, he looks at counseling and hospital visitation. At the end of the book he offers wedding services from various Christian traditions as well as a recommended print resource list and even a downloadable resource list of free downloads mentioned in the book.

Review

Wow! Where was this resource when I first started in the ministry? Dr. Hughes offers on one hand a seminary class on pastoral ministry in book form while on the other hand he is in essence sitting down over a cup of coffee with a young minister explaining to him the intricacies and expectations of the calling before him.

This book is nearly 600 pages and therefore is meant to be as close to an exhaustive guide as is practically possible. After all, he offers two tables of contents! The first is just the chapters. The second is comprised of all the subsections and is eight pages long!

He offers Scriptural support for everything the pastor does as well as some historical reasoning for why he does it. Each chapter is a how to with many examples of what has been used in the past. Ultimately, he shows that the wheel does not need to be reinvented by each pastor. Rather, you can truly stand on the shoulders of others who have gone before you.

This resource is breathtaking in scope and what it seeks to accomplish. The truth is, Dr. Hughes has accomplished his goal of offering a single resource to give to any aspiring pastor, or any pastor in the ministry regardless of age and experience, a handbook that will not leave their side. In time, I believe The Pastor’s Book will stand next to Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers and Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students as a go-to resource for all pastors.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this invaluable resource to all pastors. Specifically, to all those who are aspiring to be pastors. This book will be one that will be passed on for generations to come.

 

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books