NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible – Zondervan Publishing

Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Craig S. Keener, John H. Walton, editors. Nashville: Zondervan Publishing: 2016. 2,400 pp. Hardback – $49.99; Imitation Leather – $79.95. Purchase at Amazon for much less or on Kindle for an even greater savings.

Introduction

I have reviewed and even given away a number of various study Bibles (you can read these here) and while I typically do not care for niche Bibles, I am becoming a collector of study Bibles. This particular study Bible is published by Zondervan and uses the New International Version translation.

Check out this video for an introduction from the editor of The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

Summary

While including the entire text of the New International Version (2011), this study Bible is full of many additional features. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Targeted book introductions explain the context in which each book of the Bible was written
  • Insightful and informative verse-by-verse study notes reveal new dimensions of insight to even the most familiar passages
  • Key Old Testament (Hebrew) and New Testament terms are explained and expanded upon in two helpful reference features
  • Over 300 in-depth articles on key contextual topics
  • 375 full-color photos, illustrations, and images from around the world
  • Dozens of charts, maps, and diagrams in vivid color
  • Additional study Bible tools: cross references, a concordance, indexes and other helps

The edition I have is also a red-letter edition meaning the words of Jesus Christ are in red.

Review

First, while I prefer the ESV translation personally, I will not comment on the NIV translation in this particular review.  This review will look at what separates this study Bible from the others.

First, one of the most striking aspects of this study Bible that is noticeable the moment you open it and flip through its pages are the full-color pictures, timelines, maps, and even the beige coloring of the center-column cross references. Also, each chapter and subject heading is set apart in color and quickly helps the reader to scan for a particular section or passage of Scripture.

Second, the study notes do not offer any theological insight or information because, quite frankly, that is not the nature of this particular study Bible. Rather, it offers the cultural insight of the time and place from when the particular text was written. For example, when Israel first took over the Promised Land to when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem, there was much change in the culture and that is highlighted throughout this study Bible.

The reader will see how Israel functioned as a theocracy (during the time of Moses and the Judges) became a monarchy ruled by kings and later became a conquered nation ruled by many different nations through the years. What is more, the study notes bring this history to life and offer deeper understanding for the events taking place.

Third, the Hebrew to English and translation chart and Key New Testament Terms dictionary prove invaluable to the reader as not many will ever take a Biblical languages course or seek to read technical commentaries. Having these key resources at your fingertips proves to be a great aid in understanding the original meaning and intention of the authors.

Fourth, this one study Bible replaces two other resources by John Walton and Craig Keener: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament and The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. It is my understanding that the New Testament volume, originally published in 1994 is no longer in print though it can still be purchased on Kindle or Amazon.

Personally, these two resources are indispensable to my sermon preparation each week and consequently are placed on a shelf immediately behind where I stand at my desk. Even though I will keep both of the aforementioned resources in my library, I will also keep this study Bible readily available as I am sure it will be used as frequently as the other two.

Finally, the tag-line in much of the advertising by Zondervan is “Context changes everything.” While I do not think that a student of Scripture will have any doctrinal beliefs radically changed by understanding the cultural background (I may be wrong on this), I do believe that learning this information will take one’s faith to a much deeper level as they strive to understand how the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17) even today across time and cultural boundaries.

Recommendation

If you are a student of Scripture and want to learn more about the authorial intent of a passage in order to better understand its intended purpose for your life in the 21st century, then you can not do much better than owning a copy of The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Remember, this is not theological insight (though a case can be made that all Bible study is theological); rather, it is cultural information meant to help the reader better understand what was taking place when the text was written. I highly recommend this resource to every Christian.

Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 3

SibbesV3_scan-203x320Sibbes, Richard. Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 1. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001. 550 pp. $27.00. You can purchase Volume 3 at The Banner of Truth for $24.30. You can purchase the complete set of 7 volumes for $162.00 at Westminster Books or for a mere $10.00 on Kindle.

Introduction/Summary

I have reviewed a few other titles by Richard Sibbes (read those here and am currently working through the 7-volume set of the Works of Richard Sibbes.

Sibbes was a surgeon when it came to expositing Scripture. This third volume of the seven volume Works is a case in point. The entire volume is a commentary on 2 Corinthians 1. That is it. 550 pages covering 24 verses.

From The Banner of Truth Trust,

More than anything else, Richard Sibbes was a great preacher. He never lost sight of the fact that the best Christian counselling is done through the patient and enlivening exposition of the Word of God. Sibbes excelled as a comforter of the troubled and doubting, but he also possessed the rare gift of illuminating every passage of Scripture he handled by drawing out its significance for his hearers and readers. The republication of the Nichol edition of his complete works is a notable event for all who have an appetite for helpful and faithful biblical preaching.

Review

It is fascinating to me that Thomas Manton was the original editor of this particular volume. In fact, the original title as written by Manton offers more insight into why this is so long: “A Learned Commentary or Exposition upon [2 Corinthians 1] being the Substand of many Sermons formerly preached at Grayes-Inne, London…by Richard Sibbs.”

As you read this commentary you find that you are sitting in the pew listening to Sibbes as it were exposit week in and week out the Word of God – specifically, this one chapter of 2 Corinthians. The first chapters are typically introductory material with greetings and some groundwork for the occasion of the letter.

Sibbes, however, finds this first chapter fascinating and offers many doctrinal insights and personal applications and exhortations in what many might gloss over as being “unimportant” in the context of the entire letter.

For example, in dealing with 2 Cor. 1:11 where Paul writes, “You also must help us by prayer” (ESV), Richard states prayer “is not a work of gifts, but of grace. It is a work of a broken heart, of a believing heart” (p.183). In fine puritanical fashion, he continues on for seven plus pages on the doctrine of prayer.

Every phrase in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians is treated as such. It is no wonder this volume is 550 pages.

It is no wonder Dr. Sibbes was noted as one of the greatest preachers of the Puritanical era.

Recommendation

If you are looking for an example of what biblical meditation looks like, you need to read this particular volume. If you are looking for what in depth Bible study and exposition looks like, you need to pick up this volume. If you are looking for a quality devotional, you need to pick up this volume.

In other words, Volume 3 of The Works of Richard Sibbes is must reading for most Christians. I highly recommend this volume (as well as the entire set) to all Christians.

Reformation Commentary on Scripture OT Vol. V: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles Edited by Cooper and Lohrmann

OT 5Reformation Commentary on Scripture Old Testament Vol. V: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles. Edited by Derek Cooper and Martin J. Lohrmann. General Editor, Timothy George, Associate General Editor, Scott M. Manetsch. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. 799 pp. $50.00. Purchase at Westminster for less. You can purchase for Kindle for much less.

Introduction

I have reviewed a number of the commentaries in this series already. You can read those here.

The editors seek to introduce readers to the depth and richness of the minds of the Reformation era.  The four goals are, 1) enrichment of contemporary biblical interpretation through exposure to Reformation-era biblical exegesis, 2) a renewal of contemporary preaching and 3) a renewal of biblical interpretation through exposure to Reformation-era exegesis, and finally 4) a deeper understanding of the Reformation itself.

Summary

This particular volume looks at the historical books of the Old Testament that detail the prophetic reign of Samuel to the fall of Jerusalem. Herein we find many of the beloved stories of the Old Testament as found in children’s Bibles the world over.

The commentators, too numerous to list individually, offer their thoughts and insights on Scripture during an era of church history that is noted for having been rigorous in Biblical study and application.

Review

In lumping six of the largest historical books in the Old Testament canon, this particular commentary is quite large at 800 pages. This may be too much for some or too little for others.

For example, only 6 1/2 pages are exhausted with comments on 2 Samuel 7 – arguably one of the most critical chapters in these 6 books of Scripture and perhaps all of the Bible. There are only 5 pages for the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 18).

Perhaps the one of the best features, that I have yet to discuss in my reviews, is the general introduction found in every volume that offers a brief introduction to the many traditions of the Reformation. For example, the Anabaptists, the Zurich Reformers, the Genevan Reformers, and even the historical context (very important!) in which these men wrote. This all helps to give today’s reader a bit more of an understanding of what influenced their interpretations and applications of Scripture.

Most of the time these Reformers simply stuck to the Scriptures. Sometimes, however, they would make a point about how the Catholic Church violated Scripture. Still other times, their own framework for learning, a humanism that is not what it is today, would bleed through and lead them on a somewhat errant path…by today’s understanding and application.

Regardless, their is a treasure trove of insight in these pages.

Recommendation

The historical books are fertile ground for sermon illustrations and even applications to sermons not to mention numerous sermon series. This commentary is an excellent resource to add to your personal library as it will undoubtedly aid you in your understanding of historical Christianity and the applications for these texts to our lives even today.

 

Biblical Tranquility: An Adult Coloring Book

Masing, Marguerite. Biblical Tranquility: An Adult Coloring Book – 21 Inspirational Scenes to Color and Frame. Los Angeles: Judy O Productions, Inc., 2016. $8.99. Purchase at Amazon.

Introduction/Summary

From the Preface, “What is it about coloring that releases a creative energy within us? Could it be because it is how we were designed?”

“God created man; then God inspired man to create. Biblical Tranquility is a beautiful adult coloring book that offers the faithful a dynamic way to express creativity through intricate images bursting with spirit and allegory. This devotional book for coloring enthusiasts features 31, detailed scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Moses Parting the Red Sea, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, and more. Enjoy hours of quiet contemplation and meditation on Holy Scripture while adding color to scenes from the Bible’s most iconic passages.”

Each coloring page fits nicely into an 8 1/2′ x 11″ frame.

Review

Um…I never thought I would be reviewing a coloring book…for adults. While I am not a fan of coloring, I can see the allure of spending time quietly coloring. You can hear the sound of the colored pencil scraping over the page.

There is nothing earth shattering about the scenes depicted as most of them are what people grew up reading about in Children’s Bibles. I do appreciate the Biblical references at the bottom of each page.

I also think it is drawn with a Roman Catholic audience in mind given a few of the titles and the use of halos around  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s heads.

Recommendation

If you enjoy coloring or are more artistic than I am (that would pretty much be anyone older than 5!) then you would enjoy this coloring book. At only $9, it seems like it would provide hours of quality entertainment and even possibly be a platform for solid meditation on Scripture though I do not recommend meditative coloring!

 

 

The Beauty and Glory of the Father by Joel R. Beeke

The Beauty and Glory of the FatherBeeke, Joel R., ed. The Beauty and Glory of God the Father. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2013. 156 pp. $25.00. Purchase at Westminster Books and for the Kindle for less.

Despite the prominence of God’s fatherhood in Scripture, few books explicitly concentrate on the beauty and glory of God as Father, or what it means to experientially know God as Father. Yet these are the twin themes running throughout The Beauty and Glory of God the Father. The purpose of the book is to not only explore the theme of God’s fatherhood Scripturally, but to move the reader to worship and delight in God as Father. Each essay in the book, focusing on a distinct aspect or implication of God’s fatherhood, accomplishes this purpose.

The first two chapters of the book lead us to see God the Father’s glory in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The opening essay is an exposition of John 3:35, which tells us that the Father loves the Son. Bartel Elshout demonstrates how all theology flows from this wonderful truth, from creation to redemption, and how we must continually examine ourselves to see if we love the Son as the Father does. This love of the Son brings the Father glory, and causes him to set his love upon us (John 14:21). The second chapter, by Jerry Bilkes, draws out several aspects of God’s Fatherhood from the original Exodus and then from the decisive Exodus in Christ. As in the first chapter, powerful application calling for a response to the Father’s call in Christ closes this chapter.

The next three chapters focus on three attributes of God the Father. In chapter three Derek Thomas describes God the Father’s holiness based on Isaiah 6, which he argues is as much about the Father as it is the Son. William VanDoodewaard meditates on the Father’s mercy from 1 Peter 1:3-5 in chapter four, and in chapter five Paul Smalley describes how Richard Sibbes understood the mercy and faithfulness of the Father. Smalley’s essay is a departure from the first four in that it is more a work of historical theology rather than an exposition of Scripture, but it is just as practically oriented.

The third section of the book contains two chapters highlighting God the Father’s role in salvation. Chapter six, also written by Derek Thomas, describes how we see the Father in the face of Jesus. I found this essay to be the most profound in my walk with Christ, particularly in its emphasis on the Christ-likeness of the Father and how the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we are to the Father and his glory. Chapter seven, by Joel Beeke, is the longest essay in the book and presents the Puritans’ teaching on the doctrine of adoption. Beeke clearly demonstrates with an abundance of quotations how the commonly accepted notion that the Puritans did not say much about adoption is simply not true. For all of its value historically, however, Beeke is careful to maintain a practical tone that fits with the rest of the book. The Puritans’ understanding of adoption is not explored for its own sake, but to move the reader to see the transforming power, blessings, and responsibilities of this amazing doctrine, that in Christ we are children of God.

The fourth and final section has three chapters that mean to lead the reader to trust the Father. VanDoodewaard’s second essay in chapter eight presents Jesus’ teaching about God the Father from the Sermon on the Mount. David Murray looks at the impact of God’s fatherhood on biblical counseling in chapter nine and surveys several specific counseling problems, explaining how God’s fatherhood impacts each one of them. This survey, including situations like abuse, single parenthood, assurance, anxiety, and bitterness, would serve as an excellent reference for the counselor or pastor helping people through those circumstances. Burk Parsons exposits Hebrews 12:1-13 in chapter ten and explains how we can see and experience the glory of God the Father even through his chastisement. A concluding chapter by Ryan McGraw explains the need to approach God with a purposeful, Trinitarian piety.

The Beauty and Glory of God the Father comes after The Beauty and Glory of Christ (2011) and The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit (2012, both of which are also edited by Joel Beeke. Each of these books is based on a yearly conference at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand, Rapids, MI (2010-12). As the third book exploring this Trinitarian theme, The Beauty and Glory of God the Father is most profitably read along with these other two books (though it doesn’t have to be), which consistently move the reader to worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in light of his overwhelming beauty and glory. Readers should be aware that all of the essays are written from a confessional, Reformed perspective, which is not argued for or defended, but assumed throughout the book.

Though the book is a solid biblical and theological work, its purpose is primarily doxological. The historical treatments in particular are academically rigorous, but readers looking for an academic treatment of God’s fatherhood will be disappointed. Pastors especially will find material to help in sermon or worship preparation, and students of Trinitarian theology or Puritan history will also especially benefit from the book. All readers looking to grow in their love of God through an appreciation of an underemphasized aspect of God’s person will find much in these essays to help them glory in the Father’s person and work.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Beyond Smells and Bells by Mark Galli

Mark Galli. Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2008. 148 pp. $16.95. Purchase at Amazon or for Kindle for much less.

Note: This review is written by Dr. Gary Shultz.

As a Southern Baptist pastor I am as far away as I could be from Mark Galli’s intended audience, those in or exploring Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches. I have never been a member of a church that worshipped through the liturgy or followed the liturgical calendar. Yet I benefitted from this book in a number of ways. While it did not convince me to embrace liturgical worship, it did lead me to a deeper appreciation for why so many Christians do practice liturgical worship. I was encouraged by its emphasis on the biblical basis of worship and how each element of the liturgy contributes to a robust understanding of the gospel. I even found myself considering how my Baptist church could incorporate some of these high-church prayers and emphasize the different times on the liturgical calendar so that our weekly and yearly worship would not only be more explicitly gospel-centered, but more in tune with the church of which we are all apart in Christ.

Mark Galli, currently a senior managing editor of Christianity Today and member of an Anglican congregation in the greater Chicago area, formerly an Anglican pastor, writes to explain how the liturgy shapes us to be like Christ, with the goal of leading people to participate in liturgical worship. Over fourteen chapters he explains the basic outline of the liturgy, the purpose of the liturgical calendar, and the counter-cultural relevance of the liturgy. Weaving together Scripture, personal illustrations, and a few quotes from theological and liturgical works, Galli makes the case that sustained participation in the liturgy helps us meet God, learn the core doctrines of our faith, and experience community together. Above all, Galli stresses the transforming power of the liturgy, including chapters on how the liturgy changes our sense of time, our sense of place, our imaginations, and how we keep one foot in this world while awaiting the fullness of the kingdom. He closes the book with three appendices aimed at people wholly new to the liturgy, explaining terms and dates and charting some of the differences and similarities across traditions.

Beyond Smells and Bells is an introductory work, and Galli succeeds with a non-technical and engaging style. He touches on important doctrines related to liturgy, Word, and Sacrament, but he doesn’t delve deeply enough to scare anyone unfamiliar with those doctrines. Galli is also persuasive. Readers unfamiliar with the liturgy, or newly introduced to it, will find a compelling argument for why liturgical worship is important and worthwhile. However, much of what Galli says about liturgy is true of worship in general. As a pastor of a non-liturgical church I couldn’t help but think again and again that what I just read applied to any gospel-centered worship service. All true worship begins with the triune God as he has revealed himself to us in his word, and all true worship leads us to focus on his transforming grace. All true worship draws us out of ourselves and our culture and leads us to true community before God. All true worship brings order our lives and makes sense of our time, place, and vocation. All true worship engages us body and soul, teaches us the faith, and inculcates an authentic sense of mystery and transcendence. Galli emphasizes the importance of repetition in the liturgy and the historical precedent for it, and he also comments on the drawbacks of many contemporary churches seeking to be “relevant” in their worship, but he never makes an explicit case for why liturgical worship should be preferred and practiced over non-liturgical worship. This is not necessarily a failing of the book. Galli is clear about his intended audience, and I was left with a clearer sense of the biblical and practical nature of the liturgy. Yet I was never convinced that liturgy is the only way, or even the best way, to worship.

I would recommend Beyond Smells and Bells as a resource that pastors in liturgical traditions could give to their congregants or visitors. Those who read it in that context would most likely have a deeper grounding and appreciation for liturgy after reading this book. I would also recommend it for non-liturgical pastors and students who want an introduction to a tradition with which they are unfamiliar. I believe those who read it with a spirit of charity, whether liturgical or not, will be encouraged to worship our triune God.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Second Take: Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

Praying the BibleWhitney, Donald S. Praying the Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 112 pages. $13.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or on Kindle.

Prayer is talking with God, and as Christians we have the unimaginable privilege of talking with God whenever we want to because Jesus Christ has granted us access to the Father. The Holy Spirit continually moves us to pray and grants us the assurance that our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us. As those in Christ we get to experience the joy, peace, and glory that come with prayer. We get to experience the grace of answered prayer and the wonder of seeing God work in us and around us as we communicate with him.

Yet almost every Christian struggles to consistently pray. We don’t always feel like praying, and even when we do it’s easy to bore ourselves after a few minutes, to find our mind wandering, or just not know what to say after awhile. Then we get discouraged about feeling this way, begin to wonder if God really wants to hear from us, and start to think there must be something wrong in our relationship with God. Don Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote Praying the Bible to help Christians overcome this struggle and the guilt that comes with it.

Whitney maintains that the reason so many Christians get bored or discouraged when they pray is not because there is something wrong with them, but because there is something wrong with their method. We tend to pray the most about the most important things in our lives, such as our families, future, finances, work, Christians concerns such as our church or ministry involvement, and current crises in our lives. According to Whitney that is normal and good, we are called to pray about our lives, and our lives are made up of those things. The problem is not that we pray for the same old things, but that we pray for the same old things in the same old way. We pray the same things over and over, leaving us bored, frustrated, and feeling like there is something wrong.

The solution to praying the same prayers over and over is to instead pray through the Bible. You choose a passage of Scripture and “simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text” (33). If you don’t understand a particular verse, or nothing comes to mind when you read it, you simply move on to the next one. As you read the Word, you talk to God about everything and anything that comes to mind. Whitney explains that this works particularly well with the Psalms, which were designed to be prayed, but can work with any passage of Scripture.

The most helpful thing about Praying Through the Bible is that it doesn’t just explain and defend this method of prayer, but actually helps you do it. Chapter Seven is entitled “The Most Important Part of This Book.” In this chapter Whitney tells you to stop reading the book, pick up a Bible, and pray through a psalm, because this book won’t be of any help unless you actually apply its teachings to your life. The next chapter then helps you to evaluate your experience once you have actually done it. The book even ends with an appendix that explains how this method can be practiced in a group or at church.

As we begin a new year and commit to improving our lives, it’s an appropriate time to consider how we can pray better. Whitney’s method will help you do that. To anyone looking to strengthen his or her relationship with God, I recommend giving it a serious try.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Onward by Russell Moore

OnwardMoore, Russell. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B&H. 224 pages. $24.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less. Or, you can purchase for Kindle for more than half off.

Note: This review is written by Dr. Gary Shultz. Read previous reviews of Russell Moore’s books.

We live in a time when fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as Christians, and more and more Americans are explicitly rejecting Christian values. Christian understandings of sexuality, marriage, the sanctity of life, gender, and religious liberty are increasingly seen as outdated, if not dangerous. Younger people especially are rejecting religion in general and Christianity in particular as lifestyles of intolerance and even oppression. The idea of America as a Christian nation, or even a nation committed to Christian principles, is no longer tenable.

This current cultural situation has left many churches struggling to respond. Some have jettisoned or downplayed certain aspects of biblical morality in an attempt to stay relevant, while others have adopted siege mentalities and walled themselves off from the culture at large. Still others seem to have given up the fight, preaching the gospel as a private experience separate from life in the secular realm. However, the Bible doesn’t call us to compromise or privatize our faith in order to be engaged citizens, and it doesn’t call us to wholly separate ourselves from society in order to be faithful Christians. Instead God calls us to embrace the truth and implications of the gospel and to engage the culture from the perspective of the gospel.

Explaining this biblical vision of Christian cultural engagement is the point of Russell Moore’s book, Onward. Moore, who currently serves as the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, understands that American culture no longer assumes that Christianity is a social good. He doesn’t see this situation as a threat or a call to change what we believe, but instead as an opportunity. For too long Christians have assumed that our culture shared our understandings of faith, family, and morality, when at best this has been a superficial agreement. We now have the chance to clearly articulate what we believe and why, not as a majority standing up for American values, but as a minority pointing toward the kingdom of God.

Moore calls the church to what he calls “engaged alienation,” which means staying faithful to the distinctiveness of the gospel while also staying faithful to our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens. The biblical basis of engaged alienation is our understanding of the kingdom of God. In Christ, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and we are called to live as citizens of God’s kingdom even as we look forward to the fullness of the kingdom to come. This means seeking God’s righteousness and justice as we seek the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). It means embracing our status as strangers and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:9-11) while also staying on mission to bring people to Christ and make a kingdom difference in the culture (e.g., James 1:27). In our culture today it also means paying particular attention to human dignity, religious liberty, and family stability, all with the conviction kindness that flows from the gospel.

In this season of primaries, polls, and presidential candidates, we as Christians are once again faced with the question of how we will choose to engage our culture with our faith. Onward gives us a clear biblical picture of where we need to go and how we can get there. As Moore concludes his book, “It’s our turn to march into the future. And we do so not as a moral majority or a righteous remnant but as crucified sinners, with nothing to offer the world but a broken body and spilled blood and unceasing witness” (222). So in Christ’s name, let us go and let us make a difference.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

Zeal Without BurnoutAsh, Christopher. Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. Purcellville VA: The Good Book Company, 2016. 128 pages. $12.99. Purchase at Westminster books for less. Or, you can purchase on Kindle.

Note: This review is by Dr. Gary Shultz 

God calls every Christian into ministry. Every believer in Christ is called and equipped to serve their local church. God calls some to serve in vocational ministry as a way to make a living, but he calls most to serve him in addition to working at a job. Our entire lives are meant to be lives of ministry; our specific responsibilities or locations might change, but our calling to please God as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) never does. God expects us to serve him in ways that only we can from the moment we are saved until the moment he calls us home.

We all know that it is possible for Christians to neglect this calling. Some Christians refuse to serve at all, while others only serve if and when it suits them, never making ministry a priority. While there are several reasons for this, one of the most pressing reasons is burnout. Many Christians who start off strong in their spiritual lives, zealous for God and the things of God, have gotten to a point where they no longer want to serve or feel capable of serving. Some wear themselves out so completely they are unable to serve. Ministry is never-ending, serving others can be hard, and balancing different responsibilities at church, work, and home can be stressful. Unfortunately, serving God is often the first thing to go when this happens.

Christopher Ash, who has served as a pastor and ministry administrator, believes there is a sustainable path for believers that “combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully on year after year” (14). Ash is not unsympathetic or unfamiliar with burnout, and throughout the book he shares his own personal experience as well as the stories of several other faithful believers who “hit the wall” in their ministries. More than that, however, he goes to the Bible to share a neglected truth as well as several keys to avoiding burnout while continuing to live a life of sacrificial service.

The foundational truth for avoiding burnout that we too often neglect as followers of Christ is that we are embodied creatures. God made us out of dust (Gen 2:7), and one day he will turn us back into dust (Ps 90:3). Even in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the body is still dead because of sin (Rom 8:10). We must be diligent not to separate our spiritual lives from what is happening to our bodies. Even when healthy, we are no more than a few particles of dust into which God has breathed the breath of life.

This truth has several implications. Ash explores four of these: we need sleep, we need Sabbaths (or days off from work), we need friends, and we need inward renewal. God needs none of these things. We must intentionally make time for sufficient sleep, regular days off, relationships, and the hobbies and habits that renew us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. These things do not keep us from ministry (and should never replace ministry), but are necessary for sustainable ministry.

Ash closes with a warning, an encouragement, and a delight. We must beware ministering for celebrity or notoriety, remember that serving God is always worth it, and delight above all in God’s grace in Christ and not our gifts. A chapter on burnout from a medical perspective, written by a doctor, concludes the book. No matter where we are in our walk with God, serving faithfully or struggling to serve at all, we need to “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Burnout is a possibility, but God’s grace can and does sustain us, even for a lifetime, when we depend on him and not our own strength.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

 

Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 2

Sibbes 2Sibbes, Richard. Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 1. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001. 550 pp. $27.00. You can purchase Volume 2 at The Banner of Truth for $24.30. You can purchase the complete set of 7 volumes for $162.00 at Westminster Books or for a mere $10.00 on Kindle.

Introduction

I have reviewed a few other titles by Richard Sibbes (read those here and am currently working through the 7-volume set of the Works of Richard Sibbes.

Sibbes was appointed a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. Later, through the influence of friends, he was chosen to be the preacher at Gray’s Inn, London, and he remained there until 1626. In that year he returned to Cambridge as Master of St Catherine’s Hall, and later returned to Holy Trinity, this time as its vicar. He was granted a Doctorate in Divinity in 1627, and was thereafter frequently referred to as ‘the heavenly Doctor Sibbes’. He continued to exercise his ministry at Gray’s Inn, London, and Holy Trinity, Cambridge, until his death on 6 July 1635 at the age of 58.

Summary

There are only five books included in this particular volume. They are Bowels Opened (Sermons on the Song of Solomon 4-6), The Spouse’s Earnest Desire After Christ, A Breathing After God, The Returning Backslider (a commentary on Hosea 14) and the Glorious Feast of the Gospel.

Review

As with most writers and pastors of the Puritan age, I believe they go to far with their allegorical understanding of the Song of Solomon, but the practical aspects and conclusions are extremely helpful. Specifically due to the modern-day relaxing of the view of the church.

For most Puritans, the Song of Solomon was meant to be read as a description of Christ and His relationship with the church. While that may be true today, it certainly was not the authorial intent of Solomon when he wrote it. Regardless, Sibbes makes some most comforting claims for the comfort of the believer throughout his sermons on these four chapters of Scripture. For example, God makes us good and stirs up within us holy desires.

His second book in this volume is a short look at the second verse of the first chapter of Song of Solomon and offers a treatise on the Christian’s need to earnestly desire after Christ.

The third book is an exposition on Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Being the great surgeon he is, Sibbes offers an in depth look at how our every living moment ought to be consumed with Christ. He states that Christ is the object of the Christian’s desire and that we ought to be continually in prayer if we are to persevere in our desires.

In a poignant, and perhaps much needed look at Hosea 14, Sibbes looks at the way in which a backslider should return to the faith and also how we, as believers, ought to receive them. Perhaps Sibbes offers us a different perspective on Hosea, but one thing I  know, is that this particular book of the Bible is a bomb waiting to go off in many churches and Christian lives due to its portrayal of radical grace.

The final book in this second volume looks at the Gospel and is an exposition of Isaiah 25:6-9.  Of all of the books I have stated that the church needs today, it may be this book in this volume that is most needed. To understand just what a feast this gospel message truly is cannot be overstated. In just under 100 pages, Sibbes draws the reader into the beauty of the gospel and helps us to see how we have been starving ourselves with the modern gospel presentations and offering we regularly serve up to others.

Recommendation

In all honesty, I approached this volume as being one of the weaker volumes in the whole set. Turned out, I could not have been more wrong. Though I disagree with his understanding of Song of Solomon, I found his application to be appropriate. His look at Hosea 14 is a sweet balm for those weary souls looking to return to Christ. Christian, you should read that in order to be better equipped to minister to those who are hurting.

The final book, however, is  most needed. We need to know what the gospel is (ALERT! Most Christians can’t articulate it!) and know that it is the greatest offering we can give to anyone in the world today.

I do recommend this volume by itself if you are struggling with your affections for Christ or need to meditate on the necessity of the gospel. Ultimately, Richard Sibbes has never failed to offer me help and hope through his exposition of the Word of God.

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books