Richard John Neuhaus by Randy Boyagoda

NeuhausBoyagoda, Randy. Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square. New York: Image, 2015. 480 pp. $30.00. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Randy Boyagoda is a Canadian writer, intellectual and critic best known for his novels Governor of the Northern Province and Beggar’s Feast. He is also President of PEN Canada.

Summary

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was one of the most influential figures in American public life from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror. His writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history.

William F. Buckley, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith are comparable — willing controversialists and prodigious writers adept at cultivating or castigating the powerful, while advancing lively arguments for the virtues and vices of the ongoing American experiment. But unlike Buckley and Galbraith, who have always been identified with singular political positions on the right and left, respectively, Neuhaus’ life and ideas placed him at the vanguard of events and debates across the political and cultural spectrum.

For instance, alongside Abraham Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, Neuhaus co-founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, in 1965. Forty years later, Neuhaus was the subject of a New York Review of Books article by Garry Wills, which cast him as a Rasputin of the far right, exerting dangerous influence in both the Vatican and the Bush White House. This book looks to examine Neuhaus’s multi-faceted life and reveal to the public what made him tick and why.

Review

Having come to faith in 2001 and then joining the Southern Baptist Convention by conviction in 2003, I was not familiar with the life of Richard John Neuhaus. While I obviously would not have agreed with him much theologically, I found his political views and stances extremely thought provoking.

His transition from Lutheran to Roman Catholic made sense to me as I watched it unfold through the lens of Boyagoda. His transition from liberal to conservative, however, was not as evident to me. His propensity for social justice would have seemed to keep him a life-long liberal given his political leanings. In the end, it was obvious his theology drove his politics and not vice-versa.

I though Boyagoda did a masterful job of telling the life of this lightning rod of a theologian. He was sympathetic to the subject, Neuhaus, and allowed him to speak for himself wherever possible. In most other cases, he would let close friends speak when they could. With over forty pages of end notes, this biography is well researched in addition to being well-written.

Recommendation

If you are looking for an interesting biography to read on an influential theologian in the public square in the 20th century, then you will thoroughly enjoy this biography. It is lengthy, but a good story of a thought-provoking life takes time to tell. I recommend this biography to all.

The Works of John Knox Volume 6

Works-of-John-Knox-Volume-1Edited by David Laing. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014. 564 pp. Purchase the 6- Volume set for $139.00 or get it on Kindle for $2.99.

Introduction

This is the final volume of the six volume The Works of John Knox. You can read the previous reviews on the individual volumes here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Ultimately, this republication in hardback is of monumental importance in the life of the Christian church, specifically in Scotland. Regardless, these six volumes are a treasure trove for the Christian today both scholar and non-scholar alike.

Summary

This final volume is full of miscellaneous letters, sermons, prayers, and even David Laing’s memoir of John Knox from 1864. David Laing was the first to translate these works and make them available to the English speaking world.

Review

What can I say that has not been said already concerning this six-volume set? Rather than review just this volume, I would like to look at the entire set as a whole. Even a cursory glance through the six volumes will show the importance of knowing church history as well as the necessity of encouraging one another in the Lord.
Furthermore, the reader will see how important it is to exhort with the gospel as well as rebuke fellow believers, as well as unbelievers, with the Scriptures. Perhaps the most striking element of these volumes is the saturation of Scripture throughout. We see Knox quoting Scripture as often as necessary and even striving to conform his own thoughts and deeds to the Word.
In the end, Knox is not without his flaws and we see some of his overreactions to various situations and such. This shows us today that though we often swing too far in one direction or another in response to current trends in the church or the culture, God still uses his saints. John Knox was one such saint that the Lord chose to use on a grand scale. Though most of us reading this review and maybe these works will never be used on such a national stage as John Knox, we all have arenas of influence in our life. May we learn from the life of John Knox to be the most effective instrument of reformation here and now wherever the Lord has us.

Recommendation

While I realize that not everyone will spend $150 on this beautifully crafted 6-volume set of the works of John Knox, I do think it is worth the $2.99 on Kindle to at least explore this man’s ministry. If, however, you are one of those who would like to better understand the Reformation in Scotland and in the church universal during the 16th century, you will do no better than this set of books. I highly recommend the series to all Christians.

Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

Praying the BibleWhitney, Donald S. Praying the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015. 112 pp. $13.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or on Kindle.

Introduction

I have reviewed a number of books by Dr. Donald Whitney. You can read those reviews here. Specifically, you will want to read the review of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life if you are not familiar with this foundational book to his ministry – The Center for Biblical Spirituality.

Summary

Put plainly, this book will teach you pray through the Bible.  With only 85 pages of text, he moves from the problem we encounter in prayer to the solution to the method in which we can pray. He then offers examples of praying through Psalms as well as other parts of the Bible like the epistles of Paul or the prophets.

He concludes the book with examples like George Muller, Jesus on the cross, and the Christians in the book of Acts. Two appendices offer a handy “Psalms of the Day” chart as well as some instruction on praying the Bible with a group.

Review

Having sat through his class on this topic when I attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I am overjoyed that this is now in print. Like a surgeon, Whitney cuts through any and all excuses the Christian may have for not praying and shows how it is not as self-defeating as we think. Rather, he argues, it is our method.

Once he has laid that foundation, he is off to the races in sharing what he knows to be profound and true – God has given us a prayer book and we should use it. He writes with heartfelt conviction and over 30 years of experience living and praying what he preaches.

In the end, this book may take 90 minutes to read but will, if you apply the principles, radically change your life assuming you are a Christian.

Recommendation

Having experienced first hand the paradigm-shifting teachings of this book in a seminary classroom, I know the impact this book will have on Christendom. If you are a Christian and you are looking to revitalize your prayer life and have never heard about or been taught praying through the Bible, then I would recommend you pick up a copy today. Right now, even. Read it and allow the Holy Spirit to work through Don’s teaching to enable you to pray daily, regularly, and without ceasing. I can promise that if you are a believer and you apply these principles of prayer to your life, you will grow in your walk with Christ.

The Works of John Knox Volume 5

Works-of-John-Knox-Volume-1Edited by David Laing. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014. 564 pp. Purchase the 6- Volume set for $139.00 or get it on Kindle for $2.99.

Introduction

As I continue through the works of John Knox (you can read the reviews of Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4) we come to the fifth volume. Again, we are able to witness from Knox’s own pen how he interacted with his peers as well as his countrymen.

Summary

In this volume, we are treated with a letter to John Foxe (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) in addition to his treatise on predestination. Two other letters are included: An Epistle to the Inhabitants of Newcastle and Berwick and a Brief Exhortation to England for the Speedy Embracing of the Gospel. At the end of this volume is a list of names. These are not just any names but a list of those Christians who were martyred in England. This list is some twenty-four pages long and includes the dates on which they were martyred. These took place from 1554 through 1558 – roughly the same period these works were penned.

Review

This is the shortest volume in the set though it includes pure gold in the letter from Knox to Foxe (2 pages) as well as his treatise on predestination. Those two alone comprise some 468 of 539 pages of this volume. The letter to Foxe may be of most interest to the modern reader as Foxe is known largely today for his book of martyrs.
A special surprise awaits the reader inside the back cover of this particular volume. There are 10 different facsimile pages of Knox’s works. For example, the fourth page is part of the letter he wrote to John Foxe. What we see here is not only the strokes of Knox’s quill, but also the need for the translation that took place by David Laing in the 19th century. For the serious scholar of Knox, these would be nice framed though they will suffice to remain in the back cover just as well.

Recommendation

If you are looking for Knox’s theology on predestination, then this is the volume for you. The letter and exhortations are an added bonus. If you decide to purchase one volume of the six, I would recommend you purchase this volume.

The Works of John Knox Volume 4

Works-of-John-Knox-Volume-1Edited by David Laing. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014. 564 pp. Purchase the 6- Volume set for $139.00 or get it on Kindle for $2.99.

Introduction

I have reviewed the first three volumes of this six volume set here, here, and here. The first two volumes comprise the history of the Reformation in Scotland while the third volume began the chronological writings and sermons of John Knox. Volume 4 continues in this same vain.

Summary

This fourth volume focuses; it seems to me, on ecclesiological issues more than sermons and letters to others. The first selection looks at the proceedings and troubles of an English Congregation which is followed by an appendix containing extracts of letters on this same issue.
Of particular interest to some will be his letter to the Queen Dowager who was Regent of Scotland. This letter shows how intense Knox was regarding the complete reformation of Scotland. This is followed by a sermon on Matthew chapter four.
He also, at this time, seeks to answer questions concerning Baptism as well as writing numerous letters to his brothers in Christ as well as the Queen Dowager and even simply the “commonalty of Scotland.” All of these letters and expositions took place between 1554 and 1558.

Review

The old English notwithstanding, this is a fascinating read that enables us to peer behind the curtain as it were and see the inner workings of the continual Reformation of Scotland. This is an essential aspect of understanding who Knox really was according to his own writings rather than reading how others interpreted him.
To read his exposition on Mt. 4 is to really get at the root, I think, of how Knox viewed what was happening in churches all around him. In essence, he likened the temptations of Christ by Satan to be just as prevalent in his day and time as they were in 1st century Palestine. That is to say, the Christian in the 16th century was as tempted to trust in the worldly manners and customs that would lead to denying Christ as Jesus Himself was in the desert.
The reader truly begins to understand that it is the kingdom of Christ, not the land of Scotland, which drives him to do what he did.

Recommendation

As a stand-alone volume, I fear that much would be lost on the reader today. Regardless, as a pastor, I found his exposition on Mt. 4 to be of extreme help and his pastoral letters to be instructive even today. If you are interested in the history of this man, John Knox, then I highly recommend this resource to you in order that you may come to know him in his own words.

You Must Read – Books that have Shaped Our Lives

You Must ReadYou Must Read – Books that have Shaped Our Lives. Compiled by The Banner of Truth Trust. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 307 pp. $18.00. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what influences have shaped the preachers, teachers and authors you respect? You Must Read brings together more than thirty well-known Christian leaders and gives them the opportunity to talk about a book that has made a lasting impact on their lives. Their personal narratives and recommendations of the literature that has moulded and matured them combine to produce a book full of interest from start to finish, but also one that can be ‘dipped into’ for occasional reading. Best of all, You Must Read will be an indispensable guide to some of the truly great books that have transformed, encouraged, instructed and challenged countless Christians’ lives.

Summary

A total of 35 individual chapters (3 “chapters” comprise the epilogue) are written by 35 different men and women. Each chapter looks at that contributor’s most influential book they have read published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

Review

This is an unusual book in that it is a book about books. The draw will not necessarily be the books discussed. Rather, the draw is the many “heroes” today sharing why a particular book resonated with them and how it has shaped their respective ministries. To that end, this book is extremely fascinating.

Perhaps a critique of the book may be that all of the books that have been influential have been published by The Banner of Truth Trust. This is to be understood, however, since this book was compiled by the Trust itself. That being said, not all of these books were originally published by the Banner.

The end goal according to the introduction is an eagerness “that others will discover what we have been privileged to discover.” In essence, then, this work is not only about how particular books, now published by the Banner influenced some of the greatest Reformed minds today, but also how the Banner has selected what works to bring back into publication in order that others may be influence.

Recommendation

If you are Reformed in your thinking at all, or have been influenced by any of those who contributed to this resource at all, you will want to read this book. If you were to begin a library consisting of You Must Read and then adding to it the books discussed, you will find that your library will have one of the most solid foundations for a library ever. I highly recommend You Must Read to all interested in quality resources about the Christian faith.

Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory Edited by Michael A.G. Haykin

Joy Unspeakable and full of gloryJoy Unspeakable and Full of Glory: The Piety of Samuel and Sarah Pearce. Edited by Michael A.G. Haykin. Ontario: Joshua Press, 2012. 248 pp. $21.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

The Classics of Reformed Spirituality series is a series designed to provide choice selections from various Reformed writers, rich in spiritual nourishment, to stir deeper insight into the Bible and to cultivate a greater desire to seek after Christ’s glory and blessed presence. The series is edited by Michael A.G. Haykin.

Summary

Samuel Pearce, a young eighteenth-century English pastor, was described by his friend and biographer Andrew Fuller as “another Brainerd”—a reference to the celebrated American missionary David Brainerd. Pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, England, during the tumultuous 1790s, and a close friend of pioneer missionary William Carey, Pearce played a key role in the early days of the Baptist Missionary Society. In the providence of God he died at just thirty-three, but in the eyes of many of his contemporaries, he seemed to have condensed a lifetime of holy and joyful ministry into a single decade.

His marriage to Sarah Hopkins was one of deep love and mutual respect, and she joined him in his passion for the salvation of sinners—both at home and abroad. Through excerpts from Samuel and Sarah’s letters and writings, we are given a window into their rich spiritual life and living piety.

Review

With the 42-page biography of Samuel and Sarah Pearce beginning the work, the reader is introduced to a largely forgotten, though very influential man of God in his life time. By looking at the chronology of his life, we quickly understand how much he accomplished in his short 33-years on this earth.

Where the work really strikes a chord is in the selections from his letters and writings which comprise the majority of the book. Here we see that his flame burned brightest for Christ and His church but also for his beloved bride, Sarah. Further, we read of Sarah’s devotion to the same.

Though there is a slight language barrier for today’s reader, one quickly adapts to the writings and finds himself immersed in the life of Samuel Pearce from his own perspective through his pen. Though most would not know much about the wives of the great men of history, Haykin has done a huge favor for the church today by including her own correspondence because she was “deeply interested in all that interested” her husband.

These letters will take you to another place and time though they spring from a love and passion for the timeless truths as found in the Word of God.

Recommendation

If you are not familiar with Samuel Pearce, I highly recommend you begin with this work. Unfortunately, not many will read this because he has largely been forgotten. To read Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory is to peer through the corridors of time and see what a genuine Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated piety looked like.

Seven Last Words by Terry Minchow-Proffitt

Seven Last WordsMinchow-Proffitt, Terry. Seven Last Words. West Union: Middle Island Press, 2015. 64 pp. $15.00. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Terry Minchow-Proffitt is a retired pastor who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arkansas Review, Big Muddy, Christian Century, decomP magazine, Deep South Magazine, Desert Call, Freshwater, Hash, Mud Season Review, OVS Magazine, Oxford Magazine, Penwood Review, Pisgah Review, Prick of the Spindle, St. Ann’s Review, Tower Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Wild Violet, Words and Images Journal and The Write Room.

Summary

Christ’s final words from the cross—the seven sayings from the Gospels—have a compelling resonance. They have been pondered anew throughout the millennia by Christians and non-Christians alike the world over. Forged within the crucible of suffering, they have the capacity to awaken, to transform our way of beholding God and one another. In Seven Last Words, poet and pastor Terry Minchow-Proffitt gives us seven poems based on these sayings, along with an in-depth interview with Mud Season Review. With brevity that begs to be savored, Seven Last Words renders a powerful portal into the love that continues to radiate during the darkest of times.

Review

We are quick to shy away from the humanity of Jesus especially when we are discussing His Passion Week and the consequent crucifixion that saved the redeemed from sin and reconciled them to God the Father. Terry offers us a poetic perspective that helps to bring the reality of the humanity of Jesus Christ to the fore while all the while we are aware that He is indeed the Son of God sent to take away the sin of the world.

There is obvious talent and meditation in these poems. Terry has blessed us with sharing his gift in this publication. As with all works of poetry, we must understand that creative license is used freely. That does not take away, however, from the meditative qualities of the work of the poet.

In the end, Terry helps us to look at a unique facet of what Christ said on the cross. In so doing, we are able to see as if for the first time the agony he faced.

Recommendation

If you are into poetry, you will enjoy this work. The interview included at the end is more a bonus and “page-filler” in my estimation. Regardless, it is worth owning and reading around Easter.

Rid of My Disgrace Small Group Discussion Guide

Rid of My Disgrace SGRid of My Disgrace Small Group Discussion Guide. Justin S. Holcomb, Lindsey A. Holcomb, and Stephanie R. Hurter. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2015. 96 pp. $14.99. Get if for less at Westminster Books.

Introduction

Back in 2011, Crossway released a book entitled Rid of My Disgrace which dealt with victims of sexual assault. I reviewed that book and would highly recommend you read that review before continuing reading this review.

Summary/Review

This study guide is designed to be an 8-week course in a group setting. The aforementioned book will be needed as the weekly readings will come directly from there.

The first week looks at Disgrace followed by weeks focused on grace, denial, self-image, shame, guilt, anger and fear, and hope. By the end of the study, the participant will be brought face to face with the necessity of the gospel over and over.

Sexual assault is becoming more and more a reality in our porn-saturated culture today. Many churches are not equipped to deal with these situations. Thankfully, Crossway and New Growth Press as well as the Holcomb’s and Stephanie Hurter have written this study guide that is pointed and full of love and compassion for the hurting.

The participant will answer a number of questions from the reading and will be assigned a journaling topic along with a suggested Scripture to memorize. Then, during the support group or group study time, there are guidelines to follow and Scripture to discuss in addition to the times of meditation to cultivate in a group setting in order to bring it home for personal meditations.

This study is designed to encourage genuine gospel healing for victims of sexual assault. It is centered squarely on the participant’s need of Christ and grace. It is not, however, centered on the participant. Rather, the author’s recognize the problem that the participant has dealt with and helps them to focus outward on Christ and others, as commanded in Scripture, rather than internally and spiraling down into depression or worse.

Recommendation

If you are looking for a resource to minister to victims of sexual assault or are in need of ministering as a victim of sexual assault (first, contact your pastor or another trusted Christian!) then  you have found your resource. I recommend this resource to all pastors to have on hand and ready to use. This may be a ministry that is desperately needed in your congregation or community and you are not aware of it. Read the book and equip yourself to become more aware.

 

thE unannOunCed cHristmas visitor by Patrick Higgins

The Unannounced Christmas VisitorHiggins, Patrick. The Unannounced Christmas Visitor. For His Glory Publication, 2014. 170 pp. $11.95. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Patrick Higgins was the author, “A Grateful Believer” behind The Pelican Trees I reviewed back in 2011. He has also written Coffee in Manila. You can find out more about him and his writing ministry at his website, For His Glory Production.

Summary

From their website:

This story was partly inspired by a Christ-based feeding ministry in Orlando, Florida, but mostly inspired by Hebrews 13:2, which states, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

What if angels really did come from the most unlikely of places? That’s exactly what happens in this heartwarming story, set in a homeless community in Anywhere USA. Sent to Planet Earth by his Maker, disguised as a homeless person, Enoch was on a mission: to rescue a man whose life was slowly but steadily spiraling out of control.

Up until seven months ago, John Jensen was a responsible, churchgoing, happily married man and father of two. Then the slow fade began and John went from living life passionately to questioning everything he once thought important, deeming much of it utterly meaningless.

The only place his wife, Lydia, could go to escape her ongoing marital struggles was the church she attended the past seventeen years. But even there it seemed her desperate cries to God for help always went unanswered. That is, until Enoch appeared one Sunday morning, hair unkempt, wearing ragged clothing.

To Lydia’s great dismay, the old man was mocked and ridiculed by so many of her fellow believers, ultimately banished to the last row of the sanctuary simply because of his untidy appearance. One week later, after church service, Lydia and her two children, Matthew and Grace, spotted the old man walking to the city park where he lived among many other homeless people.

Later that night, Lydia felt God’s strong urging to introduce herself to the man she still did not know had been sent as her Christmas miracle. In the days following her first visit to the homeless community in which the old man served as spiritual mentor, Lydia and her two children learned more about what it means to be true servants of God than she did in seventeen years at her church.

But with John Jensen being Enoch’s chief reason for coming to Planet Earth, would the severely depressed, apathetic man submit to the pulling of God’s Holy Spirit, or was he already too far gone to be rescued?

Review

It is obvious to those who have read Higgins’ previous two books, he has matured as a writer with this novel. His style is very straight-forward and his clarion call for the plight of the homeless is needed today.

On one hand, we are all captivated by a story of those helping the less-fortunate. More often than not, this is because we can easily see ourselves as the hero in the story. Patrick shows, however, that it is usually when seek to serve others we wind up finding the answers needed in our own difficulties in life.

The story is real to life and will speak to many men and women suffering through life and not looking to Christ as their all in all. The prospect of having entertained angels is always of interest to us, but we ought to be more reticent to help those in need because of what our Lord ans Savior said in Matthew 25:31-46.

Perhaps the greatest negative is found in the last paragraph of the description; “…Would the severely depressed, apathetic man submit to the pulling of God’s Holy Spirit, or was he already too far gone to be rescued.” Look, if God is calling you to salvation, you will come. Passages like John 6:37, 39 clearly indicate this biblical truth.

The problematic premise to all of this is the deification of free-will. That being said, from a human perspective the story plays out as though this is the question that we all must answer. The biblical truth is found in another passage in Hebrews, this time in chapter 3, the 13th verse: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Recommendation

Despite the criticism, I can commend this book to the readers. If you would like a heart-touching story that speaks to a prevalent need today, The Unannounced Christmas Visitor will be worth your time.

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books