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The Foundation of Communion with God edited by Ryan M. McGraw

The Foundation of Communion with GodProfiles in Reformed Spirituality – The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen edited by Ryan M. McGraw. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. 136 pp. $10.00. Purchase at Westminster Books or on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Ryan McGraw is pastor of First Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA as well as serving as a research associate at the University of the Free State.

John Owen is known the world over for his works on sin and temptation. In this resource, McGraw seeks to show how Owen’s Trinitarian understanding of how one can cultivate a deeper communion with God.

Summary

He opens with a lengthy apologetic of John Owen’s theology and life and explains how his piety was peculiarly one rooted in the Triune Godhead.  From there, the work is divided into three parts: Knowing God as Triune, Heavenly-mindedness and apostasy, and covenant and church.  There are forty-one choice selections grouped together according to these three sections.

He ends the work with a suggestion on how to read this most difficult of Puritans. Interestingly enough, he does not recommend immediately the reading of Mortification of Sin (or volume 6 of his Works). Rather, he suggests starting with volume 9 (a selection of various sermons) and then moving back to volumes 2-4 in order to read Communion with God and his treatises on the Holy Spirit.

Review

I have reviewed most of the works in the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality set and have found each one to be beneficial both to my soul and to the introducing of these men of God to a newer generation. Ryan almost does the impossible when he takes the writings of Owens and arranges them in such a manner that they are readily understandable.

His ability to arrange them topically in the three categories he did helps the reader to understand Owen’s foundation for pretty much everything he wrote. Reading this work first may be the best way to slowly wade into the deep sea that is the writing of John Owen.

Recommendation

As I stated above, I really enjoy this series and have found each one to be excellent in its presentation of the particular theologian from years gone by. In this case, I highly recommend The Foundation of Communion with God to all Christians yearning for a deeper relationship with the Lord.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Kostenberger and Kruger

Heresy of OrthodoxyKostenberger, Andreas J. and Michael J. Kruger. The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity has Reshaped our Understanding of Early Christianity. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010. $19.99.  Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for less.

Introduction

Andreas Kostenberger is professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written a number of books. Micheal Kruger is President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary. HE blogs at Canon Fodder.

Summary

Divided into three parts, the authors begin with a look at the origins of the New Testament and how today’s understanding of diversity and pluralism are impacting our view on early Christian tradition.

The second part traces the development of the New Testament Canon.  Here they spend three chapters explaining the historical evidence as understood by the historical time and place of the actual occurrences of the formation of the Bible.

The third part explains how the Bible was copied through the years before the printing press and now, the digital age.  Throughout this section, they offer an apologetic for a right understanding of textual criticism and the importance of ones presuppositions.

Review

This book is not going to be for everyone. It is fairly technical in its jargon and study.  It predominantly takes on the Bart Ehrman and is a solid response to his work Misquoting Jesus.  Ultimately, The Heresy of Orthodoxy is yet another book that seeks to answer the challenges of the validity and authenticity of the Bible.

Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun.  This conversation will never end as long as Christ tarries.  I found that this work was extremely concise and and informational as to the nature of the argument in denying the authenticity of Scripture. The author’s make the case that it boils down to one’s worldview. The effects of higher criticism notwithstanding, Kostenberger and Kruger successfully show how one can be critical of the Bible while maintaining an orthodox view of its writing.  Furthermore, they detail with great accuracy the historical context from which it was written and came to be accepted as the final 27 books of the New Testament.

Again, this work is heavy on technical language, but is necessitated by the technical language espoused by those who profess to be scholars.

Recommendation

If you are questioning the authenticity of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, then this book is for you.  If you are a pastor or a budding theologian, then you ought to read this book.  We must be able to engage the charges leveled at the Bible especially when there are “innocent bystanders” in the cross-hairs.

 

The Gospel-Centered Life for Teens by Robert Thune and Will Walker

Gospel Centered Life for TeensThune, Robert H. and Will Walker. The Gospel-Centered Life for Teens – a 9-week Study.  Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2014.  Leader’s Guide – . Participant’s Guide – . Purchase for less at Amazon or Westminster Books.

Introduction

This is a companion to The Gospel-Centered Life at Work also published by New Growth Press.  This is the second resource by Thune and Walker. I reviewed The Gospel-Centered Community about a year ago.

Serge means “joining together rough edges to form a smooth seam.” Serge (formerly World Harvest Mission) is a ministry that sees God weaving together the ragged parts of a fallen world with his goodness, making the tattered beautiful. This grace compels his people to go, to join their lives with the communities Serge serves around the world, as Christ makes all things new. This is God’s grace at the fray. Serge’s work consists of sending and caring for missionaries, discipling people around the world, and developing resources for spiritual growth. Learn more about our work worldwide at Serge.org.

Summary

From the back of the book:

Techie? Jock? Class Clown? You Can’t Build a Life on a Label.

Something or someone will always try to define you. Maybe others call you the “techie,” the “jock,” the “class clown,” or the “smart kid.” It’s easy to think that those labels sum up who you really are, express what really matters in your life, and define the things you should pursue.

But your identity goes far deeper than the positive or even the negative labels people use to define you. There is something at the core of a satisfying and meaningful life that can’t be summed up by any label. The Gospel-Centered Life for Teens offers you the chance to center your life on the only thing in the universe that actually has the power to define you, give your life meaning, and shape how you live each day.

This 9-lesson Bible study, adapted from The Gospel-Centered Life by Bob Thune and Will Walker, gives teens and young adults a road map for living a life centered on God and the gospel. Each lesson is self-contained, featuring clear teaching from Scripture, and requires no extra work outside the group setting. The self-explanatory Leader’s Guide helps small group leaders with discussion questions and background material that clearly explain and apply the gospel truths from each lesson.

Review

As with the previous review, this is a 9-week study that is extremely important as we continue to strive to decompartmentalize our Christianity.  Though this study is geared towards the teenager, I believe that many adults, who are “like newborn babies” in Christ will learn much from this study.  Further, I can see how this would be a great college campus ministry tool as well.

The 9 weeks are extremely practical and offer tips on how to incorporate gospel living in every day life.  Chapter 2 on pretending, is a very poignant chapter as there are a number of youth who do not believe what they claim to profess.  This is a difficult chapter to teach, but one that, if it hits the mark well, could change the hearts of many supposed Christians so that they see their need to be truly born again of God.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this resource to all parents and all youth pastors/leaders.  I am grateful for gospel-centered, Christ-exalting resources like this that New Growth continually publishes.

 

The Name Quest by John Avery

Name QuestAvery, John.  The Name Quest: Explore the Names of God to Grow in Faith and Get to Know Him Better.  New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2014.  394 pp.  $24.99.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

John has been in the ministry over 30 years as pastor, small group leader, and missionary.  He has lived in Israel, England, Africa, and the USA.  He writes a regular Bible devotional at BibleMaturity.com.  You can also find out more about the names of God at NamesforGod.net.

Summary

Divided into 23 chapters over 394 pages, John Avery offers us a deeper look at the names, or as he correctly says, titles, of God in order to enable us to begin to understand our Creator at a deeper level.  This is not a simple work whereby the names or titles of God are listed.  Rather, this is a study that looks at the various names from differing perspectives and strives to link together the various names in order to give a more complete picture of God.

Review

Because this is not a simple exegesis of the names and titles of God, you are going to get much of John’s interpretation on the application and importance of the various names and titles of God.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as it does serve as a means for the reader to begin considering, as Paul says in part, “the depths and riches of God.”

You will probably not agree with everything he says but it will not be for a lack of biblical support.  In reading this work, you will need to have your Bible sitting open and at the ready.  As you progress through the (seeming) random assortment of names of God, you will begin to draw lines from one name to the other and, in the process, your knowledge of God and your awareness of your limited ability to understand the infinite will become crystal clear.

Recommendation

I can recommend this resource to anyone serious about studying the names of God.  In essence, you will be studying God Himself through His revealed Word.  In the end, you may disagree with some of John’s assessments, but you will have arrived at your own.  This is always for the edification of the believer.

 

Gospel Powered Humility by William P. Farley

Gospel Powered HumilityFarley, William P.  Gospel Powered Humility.  Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2011.  224 pp.  $12.99.  Purchase at Westminster for less.

Introduction

William Farley is senior pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, WA.  He has written a couple of other books centered on humility and mercy.  His writings certainly deserve your interest as you seek to understand the importance of the cross in your life.

Summary

Divided into three parts, Pastor Farley looks first at the problem of a lack of humility in the world as well as the local church.  In part two, the main thrust of the work, he argues that it is the gospel alone that humbles even the proudest of individuals.  In this part, he offers five ways how the person is humbled: by the wrath of God, by the reality of the final judgment, by the sinfulness of sin, by faith alone and by preaching.  In other words, the gospel.  He concludes the work in part three with a look at how one who is humble becomes a powerful leader.

Review

Throughout his writing, he draws from a deep tradition of Christian piety.  Men like John Flavel, Jonathan Edwards, and William Plumer are sprinkled throughout the work.  Those are the saints from of old.  Men of today include D.A. Carson, C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, and others.  He brings all of them together and adds to a foundation of Biblical principles to offer a theology of what genuine humility looks like and what it leads to in the end.

It is always difficult to write a book on humility, but Farley does an excellent job.  Lewis stated humility is not thinking less of yourself but think of yourself less.  Farley does this extremely well by pointing everyone, himself included, to the cross.  In the end, and from historical examples, he shows how living a life of gospel powered humility makes on greater than he ever could have been on his own accord.

Recommendation

In this day of social media platforms and the ever increasing ideology that we must make a name for ourselves, Farley gives us an antidote.  He points us to the cross and to a life that is well lived in light of the power of the gospel of salvation.  I recommend this resource to everyone…especially those in the ministry who lead more by example than in the pulpit.

I AM that I AM by Judy Azar LeBlanc

I am that I amLeBlanc, Judy Azar. I AM that I AM: Tracing the Footprints of God.  Rapid City: CrossLink Publishing, 2012.  493 pp.  $29.95.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle starting at $2.99.

Introduction

Judy has written a number of resources including Theology 101 i Bite-Size Pieces. She currently resides in East Texas where she is blessed to be able to devote her time to writing and research.

Summary

At over 490 pages, this is no small book.  The promotional video below is a great introduction to the book itself.

The book is divided into four parts.  The first parts looks at the Covenants of God. The second part teaches on the parables of Jesus Christ while part three looks at the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.  The fourth and final part looks at the name of God (I AM THAT I AM) and how Christ is God Incarnate and identifiable as such because of these names.

Review

The breadth and depth of this book is breath taking.  This is nothing short of a systematic theology on the covenant keeping God as revealed to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.  She lays a solid foundation in the first section when she describes in great detail the God who makes and keeps covenants with His people.  Her research is extensive and she uses many solid resources to aid her findings.  She includes maps and graphs to aid the reader in understanding what is being said, and perhaps more importantly, what is not being said.

I do not find this to be a book that you read cover to cover.  Rather, it seems to me, it becomes a commentary in and of itself.  As with any work of theology, you will not agree with everything, but Judy does a wonderful job of presenting various perspectives as well as not be dogmatic except on the essentials.  Keep in mind that the subject matter, God, is so infinite that even a book as seemingly exhaustive as this one is nothing more than a tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Perhaps the best thing a reader could do with this particular resource in the print and Kindle version is to become familiarize with the table of contents.  In so doing, you will have a ready resource as you seek to study the Word in these particular areas.

Recommendation

While Judy Azar LeBlanc is not a common name in theological circles, her work I AM THAT I AM is worth your time and your money.  I have placed her work on the shelf next to my other systematic theologies and will be using it as a reference resource in the years to come.  Also, at only $2.99 on the Kindle, there is hardly a reason not to purchase this resource and have it at your disposal.

Acts of the Spirit-Filled by Johnnie R. Jones

Acts of the Spirit FilledJones, Johnnie R.  Acts of the Spirit-Filled – A Novel of the First Century. Volume 1.  Rockwall: CrossHouse Publishing, 2013.  322 pp.  $19.95.  Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Johnnie Jones currently serves as a revivalist preacher traversing America exhorting thousands to call out to Christ and trust in Him for salvation.  He as authored several other books though his greater joy is spending time with his bride, Diane, two children and eight grandchildren in McKinney, Texas. You can learn more at his website, HisAboundingGrace.

Summary

From the back of the book:

Martyrdom. Fraud. Stoning. Beheading. Miracles. The early church experienced it all!

The Bible’s Book of Acts includes page after page of high drama, yet the average reader can’t help but be struck with the gaps that exist in this New Testament account of the early believers. What happened to those individual, unsung followers who risked their lives to participate in the birth of the church? What pain and crises occurred among those who gave their all to advance the cause of Christ?

In his dramatic novel, Acts of the Spirit-Filled, Johnnie R. Jones helps the reader envision how common, oppressed people became empowered by God’s Spirit and turned their world upside down with a powerful Gospel. Interweaving fictional dialogue, narration, and historic events, Jones paints a graphic picture of the struggles, trials, and passions that propelled Christianity forward during a dark and dangerous time.

This theatrical account of the early church is the first volume in Jones’ Acts series and is based on events described in Chapters 1-12 of the New Testament Book of Acts.

Review

One must keep in mind that this is a work of historical fiction.  It is divided into 12 chapters and covers the Book of Acts from 1:1 through 12:2.  Johnnie does not claim to have any personal knowledge of the characters he develops other than what he has been able to learn from historians about the time period.  What he does attempt, however, is to add depth to the characters and personalities found in the Scriptures.  He offers thoughts and actions and conversations that could have legitimately taken place “in the gaps” in the Book of Acts.

While not adding to the Word of God, Jones does add to our ability to relate in a more understanding way the lives of those found in first century Israel as the followers of Jesus grow from a movement to a sect to a full-fledged, recognizable faith that is to be reckoned with by all.  He develops different characters not mentioned in the Bible in order to remind us that this is indeed a work of historic fiction.

Perhaps the most questionable element would be the prayers of the Apostles and the “talking” of Christ with them through these prayers.  It is always a difficulty to place words in the mouth of Jesus Christ and not ruffles feathers.  Johnnie does this in a manner that I believe will not upset many.  Yes, there will always be those who decry such practices, but one can tell that Johnnie does not do this to detract from Biblical doctrine or to add weight to his won theological convictions.  Rather, he is offering an interpretation of what very well could have happened.

Furthermore, he offers the resources from which he based his characters in the bibliography section.  In other words, this is not something just made up in his own mind. Rather, this is something he has researched and attempted to base his characters and story telling on historical fact.

Recommendation

If you enjoy historical fiction, you will enjoy Acts of the Spirit-Filled.  I can recommend this resource to all believers and even all those who enjoy works of history.  There is much here that will help the 21st century reader better understand the 1st century Christian.  Kudos to Johnnie Jones for writing this novel.

Discovery in the Desert by Tom Thiele

Discovery in the DesertThiele, Tom.  Discovery in the Desert: It Will Shake the Nations.  The Jesus Solution Media, 2011.  228 pp.  $9.99.  Purchase at Amazon or for the Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Tom Thiele is a native of Houston, Texas. He attended Texas A&M University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Petroleum Engineering, graduating cum laude. Tom has worked in the oil & gas industry since 1983 and has traveled the World. He lived in Indonesia for four years and has visited Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Canada. Tom is married with six children and currently lives in Houston, Texas.

Tom began writing books for his Christian fiction Discovery Series in 2010. He recently published the second book in the series, “Discovery of Eternity.” You can read more ItWillShakeTheNations.blogspot.com.

Summary

From the back of the book:

David Hart is a young, bright NASA physicist who is chosen to join a team of other NASA scientists assigned to a Classified Military Project. The team has been formed to bring a new, cutting edge technology to the United States military–Time Travel. The team initially makes great strides in developing a time travel capsule, and then they hit a brick wall.

Once the obstacle becomes common knowledge at NASA, the project transforms from one of prestige and glamour to one of embarrassment. The slowed progress grates on David’s patience. Then he decides to do the unthinkable!

Join David on this adventure of a lifetime as he realizes that not only has he been chosen to be on this NASA team, but he has been chosen for a much more significant task. A task, that once accomplished, will change David’s life forever.

Review

Given the self-publishing nature of books these days, one assumes a certain level of editorial work wanting in most books. This one is similar.  What sets this work apart from others is the author’s knowledge of scientific theory and ability to tell a believably fantastic story.  Further, his zeal for the sharing the gospel is to be commended.  As David, the main character from the 21st century, encounters the physical Jesus that he had only read about in the Bible, he is in for quite a trip.

There will be some things Tom wrote that will not sit well with all readers, but, then again, when you discuss secondary and tertiary issues, you are bound to upset someone.  Regardless, I believe Tom takes great care as what he attributes to Jesus when David is talking with Him.  At the very least, his exhortation to read Scripture is prevalent and much needed today.

Recommendation

You can get this book for $1.99 on Kindle.  At that price, you would do well to add this to your reading list.  It is a fun story that will leave you thinking about your need for Christ as well as your need for reading His Word more regularly.

My Modern Woman by Giscard Nazon

My Moden WomanNazon, Giscard. My Modern Woman: For Men and Women. Self-published, 2012. 60 pp. $12.95. Purchase at Amazon.

Introduction/Summary

My Modern Woman is a poetic essay whose aim is to reaffirm Christian principles while bringing awareness and emphasis on current issues and challenges inherent to both human life and the Christian faith.
This work is one long poetic essay that can be divided into individual poems but when combined teaches one great lesson about life.

Review

First, it must be stated that I am not a huge fan of poetry. This is for no other reason, than I just don’t care to read poetry. That said, Giscard has written a nice little work that will cause the reader to think afresh about issues we all face in this world. The author not only challenges but exhorts the reader through poetry that can both sting and heal. It reminds me of the lyrics from Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman where the woman hurts and heals at the same time.

Recommendaton

This may be a good book to read for those who enjoy poetry and want to be stimulated to think. You can purchase through Amazon though if a digital edition were readily available for less, it would be read and, therefore enjoyed, by more.

The Doctrines of Grace and the Christian Minister in the Search for New Lambs by Jeremy Jessen

Jeremy Jessen, pastor at Heartland Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo will be speaking on The Doctrines of Grace and the Christian Minister in the Search for New Lambs.

Jeremy’s dad, Jerry, leads us in worship every year at the Founder’s Conference Midwest and is the worship leader at First Baptist St. Peters.  The joy of seeing your son preach the word must be beyond description.

Why do Reformed Baptists have a poor reputation for evangelism?  Is Calvinism anti-missionary? The problem I think Calvinists have with evangelism is the same as everyone else – we are selfish and lazy.  I think it is mostly because we are not committed enough to the Doctrines we claim.

God didn’t send Jesus to make people saveable.  He sent Him to redeem the lost.  Jesus was the Good Shepherd we are the sheep.

If the Holy Spirit is calling, we know that calling is effectual.  We also know that they will come.  The Holy Spirit has never failed.  Just because someone has walked an aisle does not mean they will walk on golden streets.

A robust commitment to these doctrines, limited atonement in particular, will ignite a passion for evangelism to the nations. We will approach this through the head, the heart and the hands. I pray we will see real change.

1) Head

When we say limited atonement, we are not saying anything about the sufficiency of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement.  The issue is not extent.  It is intent.  We also are not saying that the benefits go only to the elect.

What we are saying is that Christ died for the purpose of actually and intentionally saving the elect.  This is extremely important.  We see this testified in the scriptures everywhere.  The atonement has a specific purpose.  We see this in the OT.  The priests in the OT served only Israel.  The Day of Atonement were only for those in the covenant community.  There is nothing general about the sacrifices in the OT.  Those were a type and a foreshadowing of Christ.

Because of the time constraint we will focus on the NT.  First, let’s look at John 10:11ff.  Verse 26, Jesus says they do not believe because they are not part of His flock.  He does not say the reverse that so many claim.  Now, John 17:9.  The “them” is the elect.  Jesus was not praying for the world, but for those who God gave Him.

When Jesus is named by the angel, it is because He will save His people.  Notice the language.  Romans 8:32 talks of God’s elect for whom Jesus is interceding.  Al l f these passages point to God’s elect. Ephesians 5:25 we see that Jesus died for his bride, the church.  He died to secure and actually save His church.

The intention of the atonement was to save the elect.  It actually was accomplished when Christ died not when you accept Jesus into your heart.

The cross procures all that is necessary for salvation.  The language of scripture demands this.  Jesus died for and was ransomed for the elect.  Genesis 22 is a beautiful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus didn’t die so that you could potentially come to salvation but that you, as one of the elect, could be saved.

2) Heart

How should these truths ignite a passion for evangelism?

1) A passion for evangelism in general should be ignited.  If God died for the elect, then our evangelism will succeed.  Jesus has already done the work of atonement.  All we are doing is announcing that the work is finished.

2) There should be an ignition of passion over the sufficiency of the evangel.  We do not have to add to the gospel.  We don’t need to make Jesus cool.  He doesn’t need any help from us!

3) The ignition of evangelism should ignite the evangelist.  To realize that Christ died for “me” is life altering.  As a believer, you can say that Christ died for me with absolute certainty.  It is not in how you signed a card or walked an aisle.  We don’t share the gospel with passion because we don’t love the gospel with passion.

3) Hands

How does this become action on your part?  First, you will be preaching life to those who are converted.  Secondly, it means you will be preaching condemnation to those who are not converted.  It still means that you have to preach to them both.  We believe in Limited Atonement and universal proclamation.  The plan has always been that we go to all the nations.  No, we do not know who will be saved, but we do know that people will be saved.

Good news is better than motivational speech.  Victory in Christ is good news.  Every man for himself is motivational speech.  Preach the good news.  Jesus actually won victory on the cross.

Finally, how does this change what we do as Christ followers?  It doesn’t change what you do at all.  You preach the gospel over and over again.  You scream victory over and over again.  It changes the fire for what we do.  If this message is true then you know you cannot fail in the proclamation of the gospel.