Rescuing the Gospel, The Story and Significance of the Reformation by Erwin W. Lutzer

Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has written an excellent overview dealing with the principle personalities and events surrounding the Protestant Reformation.  The book is written with the layman in mind, with simple language and an abundance of full-color pictures and maps.  In a short 200 pages, everything the average person would want to know about the Reformation is covered, beginning with the pre-Reformation reformers John Wycliffe and John Hus. Martin Luther draws most of the attention with 10 of the 17 chapters devoted to him.  While his contribution to the Reformation is given much space, not everything Lutzer says about Luther is positive.  Luther’s passion for truth is evident, but his stubbornness, anger, unnecessary battles and hatred for the Jews is detailed as well.  Huldrych Zwingli receives a chapter, as do the Anabaptists, while John Calvin gets two.  The closing chapter, “Is the Reformation Over?”, is…

2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, A 21st Century look at Church History from a Pentecostal/charismatic Perspective by Eddie L. Hyatt

Eddie Hyatt writes a very fine overview of the history of Pentecostal/charismatic beliefs and practices throughout church history. As a historical account this volume is accurate and helpful to anyone desiring to understand the roots and developments as well as the present manifestations of charismatic Christianity. But the reader needs to understand that Hyatt is extremely sympathetic to the movement. As a result, his interpretation of historical events, rather than the events themselves, is often questionable and could be challenged by anyone knowledgeable of the issues. He writes in glowing praise concerning prophecies, miracles, tongues, leaders, and happenings, but leaves out the “rest of the story” including the destruction often found in their wake. Nor does the author interact with Scripture. To Hyatt virtually any Pentecostal phenomenon recorded in church history is legitimate and of the Spirit, no matter how bizarre, unbiblical or destructive. Even though the book is supposed…

The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity by Todd Hartch

Christianity is on the rise in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and in decline in Europe and North America (pp. XIII-XIV, 1). But what form of Christianity has emerged in Latin America and what has shaped it during the past 60 years? Answering these questions is the mission of Todd Hartch’s book. Hartch believes that Latin American Christianity has been reborn during the last six decades and as a result Christianity in Latin countries is vastly different from the 1950s and before. There have been five forces behind this rebirth: This book argues that Christianity in Latin American was reborn in five ways reminiscent of the vital church of the early colonial period: (1) as a movement of witnesses and evangelists, (2) as a prophetic movement committed to the poor and the oppressed, (3) as a Pentecostal movement oriented toward spiritual and emotional religious experience, (4) as a lay movement,…

Fire on the Altar, A History and Evaluation of the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival by Noel Gibbard (Wales, UK: Bryntirion Press, 2005) pp. 244, paper $7.99

Fire on the Altar is a account of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. Gibbard recognizes a number of influences upon the revival including the Keswick Movement in England (pp. 24, 168-169, 190), Holiness theology (p. 108), and the writings of Henry Drummond (pp. 168-169) and Andrew Murray (pp. 26, 34, 168, 172). The precedent set in the 1859 revival, in which preaching shifted from doctrinal to experience, was followed in 1904-1905 as well. The result was what Peter Price, a spiritual leader of that day, saw as two revivals—one of God, the other a sham (pp. 46, 153-154, 192-193). That the Spirit of the Lord was at work in a remarkable way during the revival is challenged by few. But the excesses, strange behavior, and doctrinal errors demonstrate that much of the revival was not of God. For example: Visions, prophecies, trances, claims of seeing the Shekinah Glory (p. 65)…

Church History: An Essential Guide, by Justo L. Gonzalez (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996); 95 pp., paper $12.00

Church History is a short overview of the history of the church designed to give believers a glimpse of the essential events related to the church since its beginning. The author begins with an eleven page introduction that maps out the highlights of various stages of church history, then uses individual chapters to fill in the details. Gonzalez has broken church history into nine periods: the Ancient Church, the Christian Empire, the Early Middle Ages, the High Point of the Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages, Conquest and Reformation, the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, the Nineteenth Century, the Twentieth Century and the End of Modernity. The periods are a bit arbitrary, and other historians recognize different stages, but what Gonzalez offers is helpful and gives him good handles to explain the development of the church over the last two millennia. It should be noted that since the book was published…

The Old Evangelicalism, Old Truth for a New Awakening, by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 2005, 226 pp., $19.50

Iain Murray is one of the finest conservative church historians and theologians writing today. He warns early of the danger of romanticizing some period in church history (p. 3). But without question he sees a time, from the Puritans to Spurgeon, in which truth and holiness play a far more dominate role in the church. For Murray “old evangelicalism” is early Reformed Christianity, with the Puritans at the zenith. As such, this book is filled with many excellent quotes and insights from this particular era and theological emphasis. Murray is clear about his Reformed views, championing limited atonement (pp. 106-107, 132), regeneration before faith (pp. 18, 45, 56-57, 62), election (pp. 126) and the necessity of the Law for sanctification (pp. 52-54, 91). Yet he brings balance to these views by curbing the extreme ideas often found in some forms of Calvinism. For example, Murray makes clear that God does…

The Book of Books, The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton 2011), 347 pp., hardback 18.99

Bragg has written a fascinating book describing the development, importance and influence of the King James Bible.  The first several chapters deal with the translation of the KJV, especially detailing the debt owed to William Tyndale.  A very nice overview of Tyndale’s life is given (pp. 12ff) and reference is made to approximately 80% of the KJV actually being Tyndale’s translation (pp. 45, 141), although 54 scholars, a quarter of them Puritans, produced the final product. The impact of the KJV can hardly be overstated.  It helped standardize the English language, especially the spelling of words (pp. 120-124, 134), it changed cultures, brought social reforms, encouraged education and of course helped spread Christianity.  Bragg details all of these and more.  The author’s esteem for the KJV is immense which is surprising given that Bragg is not a Christian (see pp. 200, 294-295, 304-309).  He writes as a nostalgic and appreciative…

Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall

This volume is the second in a three book series dealing directly with the writings of the church fathers.  The first in the set is Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and the final is Praying with the Church Fathers. For an individual to be considered a father of the church he had to meet four qualifications:  Antiquity (from A.D. 96 to John of Damascus (750)), holiness of life, orthodox doctrine and ecclesiastical approval (pp. 20-21).  Hall’s approach in his series is not a hop-skip through ancient church history taking a quote here and there from numerous fathers, but rather a focus on a few (primarily Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome) as they were specifically involved in various issues.  With this approach in mind Hall deals with several theological issues:  Christ, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, salvation, God’s providence, the Scriptures,…

Without Sin, the Life and Death of the Oneida Community by Spencer Klaw

Klaw has written a very informational book describing one of the most intriguing religious experiments in history.  In the wake of the revivalism of the so-called Second Great Awakening in America some 40 utopian societies were founded.  Almost all of these (Brook Farm being a notable exception) were spiritual communities, many looking for, or attempting to establish, the kingdom of God on earth.  It was as if the revivalistic fires that were best represented by Charles Finney had destroyed true Christian fervor, leaving behind scorched ground ripe for strange movements to spring to life.  The “Burnt Over District” of New York State was home to more than its share of these movements, cults and utopian experiments.  Of utopian communities none was more successful than Oneida.  Founded in 1848 by perfectionist proponent John Humphrey Noyes, it would continue until 1880 when it voted itself out of existence and became the Oneida…

Who are the Puritans? by Erroll Hulse

This is a wonderful primer on the life and beliefs of the early English Puritans. The book is broken into thee parts. Part 1 gives a brief history of the Puritan movement. Part 2 contains a great number of short biographies of the prominent Puritans. This is an invaluable resource. The final part deals with the beliefs of the Puritans from the Westminster Confession to marriage and the family. Beyond question the Puritan era is one of the most fascinating in church history. This book will go a long way towards helping the reader get a handle on these committed people of God.

When the Fire Fell by R. Maurice Smith

The last great revival in the Western world recognized by non-charismatics was the Welsh Revival of 1904. Many longingly look back to that “outpouring of the Spirit of God” and cry out to God for something similar today. With this in mind I have recently begun a study of the Welsh Revival, this being one of the volumes that I have read. Smith defines a “revival” as, “An out-pouring of the Spirit of God at a time and upon a people of God’s own sovereign choosing, resulting in the spiritual renewal of believers and the evangelization of unbelievers” (p.22). The Welsh Revival has been called the “Singing Revival.” Three-fourths of the meeting consists of singing” (p.88). “Evan Roberts himself felt singing to be of massive importance for the release of God’s power (p.78).” The Revival, “followed the line of singing, not preaching” (p.78). For the most part the author tells…

Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George M. Marsden

Marsden lays out the thesis of his book in its opening sentence: “This book provides an overview of the history of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism plus interpretations of some important themes.” As promised, much of the book (part one) is an excellent historical account of the origins and development of both the fundamental and evangelical movements in America. I found this section extremely valuable and filed away for future reference many important pieces of information. On the other hand, part two, dealing with interpretation, was somewhat disappointing. While still packed full of helpful historical data, the problem lay in the interpretation. Marsden is considered one of the foremost authorities on fundamentalism and has written a number of books on the subject. However, he is not himself a fundamentalist and his perspective as an evangelical peering into the fundamentalist camp is often evident. This is especially obvious when he attempts to…

The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark A. Noll

The Rise of Evangelicalism is the first in a series of five volumes dealing with the history of evangelicalism since the Great Awakening. Each volume will be authored by a different scholar and should be a valuable tool toward the understanding of recent church history in Great Britain and North America. In this particular volume Noll centers on the time of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Wesleys. He by no means fixates on these men alone, exploring many trails that help to define and shape what we call evangelicalism today. Noll is a careful church historian and an excellent writer. Great profit can be found in reading his works and this is no exception. I look forward to the next four volumes in the series, the second of which (The Dominance of Evangelicalism) is now in print.

The Quest for Revival by Ron McIntosh

The thesis of this book, written by a Pentecostal evangelist with strong ties to Oral Roberts, is that we can learn much, and be empowered by, the revivals of the past. The “revivals” that McIntosh has in mind, however, are the healing revivals of the twentieth century, principally those of the 1940s and 50s. The Quest for Revival chronicles the lives of the healing evangelists and gives brief histories of strong movements within Pentecostalism. While the book is a tragedy with regards to biblical truth there are two areas in which I give the author high marks. First, he provides an interesting, if biased, study of people and events related to the revivals under consideration. Secondly, McIntosh is willing to expose the failures of his heroes, even if his explanation for their failures misses the mark. Unless someone is doing research on this subject, The Quest for Revival can be…

The Fundamentalist Movement 1930-1956 by Louis Gasper

Gasper has written a very useful and accurate description of the early years of the Fundamentalist movement spanning from the Fundamentalist-Modernists Controversy to the raise of evangelist Billy Graham. This volume explains well the issues, personalities, divisions, and evolution of the first three decades of Fundamentalism. It certainly filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of the movement.

The Awakening in Wales by Jessie Penn-Lewis

Jessie Penn-Lewis was one of the major players during the Welsh Revival of 1904. While still in the wake of that movement, Penn-Lewis writes this account to chronicle what she believes was an incredible working of the Holy Spirit. In our day many look back on the Welsh Revival with awe, believing that it was an outpouring of God second only to The Great Awakening. But a careful examination of The Awakening in Wales shows it to be not dissimilar to the Brownsville Revival of our day. Both are filled with bad theology, emotional and physical excesses, demonic activity, and false signs and wonders. The connection between the birth of the Pentecostal movement in America and the Welsh Revival is obvious but usually ignored by modern revivalists. What disappoints me the most about such literature is the blatant dishonesty. Penn-Lewis does not record the fallout from this Awakening. Nor does…

So Great Salvation by Charles G. Finney

So Great Salvation is a collection of evangelistic sermons by the famous nineteenth century revivalist Charles Finney. As might be expected his passion for the lost is clearly demonstrated. Unfortunately, Finney is not a careful student of Scripture and his sloppy exegesis is apparent throughout the book. Finney was well known for his promotion of extreme Arminianism which appears often (pp. 13, 14, 25, 41, 57-58, 108, 126). Finney’s theological perspective led to the creation of a host of methods designed to persuade people of their need for Christ. Under Finney’s system the proclaimer of the gospel needs to use whatever means possible to “make his moral nature sensitive…” “This is the true secret of promoting revivals” (p. 126). Finney would take this so far as to believe that revival was the result of using proper technique, not necessarily springing from the power of God. Much of Finney’s legacy lives…

Puritans and Calvinism by Peter Toon

There are six characteristics of a true Puritan according to our author: a commitment to the Bible as the Word of God; a commitment to Reformed theology (not necessarily 5-point Calvinism); a desire for a reformed, national Church of England; a belief in the necessity of personal regeneration; a need of reformation at the national, local and domestic level by means of legislation, catechizing, religion in the home and fervent prayer and fasting; a strong sense that the last days had dawned or were about to dawn. By this definition Puritans are only truly to be located in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Puritans and Calvinism traces the roots, victories, defeats, developments and divisions of Puritanism. Some of the many things that I learned from this book are: The difference between Presbyterian and Congregationalist Puritans; many of the issues that motivated the Puritan movement revolved around ritualistic observances that they…

Josephus, the Essential Works by Paul L. Maier

The historical accounts of ancient Jewish history written by Flavius Josephus have long been recognized as invaluable resources to those wanting to understand biblical times. Josephus is undoubtedly the most reliable (but not infallible) extrabiblical author of Jewish antiquity. He lived during the first century, having been born shortly after the time of Jesus. He wrote numerous volumes which were eventually organized into two great books; the first, entitled The Jewish War, chronicles the war with Rome that resulted in the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people in A.D. 70. The second is called Jewish Antiquities and covers many events from creation to the outbreak of war with Rome. While extremely valuable for the understanding of biblical times, few Bible students have actually read these volumes due to the great length, redundancy, overlap with Scripture, tendencies to exaggerate, and sheer weight of peripheral details and matters…

Fire on the Altar by Noel Gibbard

Fire on the Altar is a brief historical account of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival. The Welsh Revival is of particular interest because it is considered by many to be the last great evangelical revival in the Western world. Many today desire and pray for this very kind of revival. So what was it like? Was it a true revival from the Spirit of God or a sham? Unfortunately Gibbard’s account did not answer these questions. It reads more like a newspaper documentation detailing the where, what and when but seldom dips below the surface. What were the leaders of the Revival, especially Evan Roberts, really like? We discover that he was a recent convert (p. 30), was quite eccentric (pp. 44, 46, 76-80, 85-87, 153) and suffered a nervous breakdown toward the end of the Revival (p. 190), but little more. What was the theology behind the Revival? Once again…

Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 by Iain H. Murray

One of the finest Christian historians/theologians writing today is without a doubt Iain Murray. He researches thoroughly, is solidly biblical and is not afraid to write the truth. Evangelicalism Divided, A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 is an excellent example of his work. Of particular interest to many will be the record of Billy Graham’s slide from a biblically fundamental position to that of ecumenicalism and inclusiveism (pp. 28ff, 58-78). This is of special help because Murray is not writing from a “fighting fundy” position, but as a Reformed conservative from Great Britain. His warning to present day compromisers is sharp and painful. “No one thought that the sending of the names of those who made ‘decisions’ back to Roman Catholic Churches would lead to Billy Graham being prepared to share a platform with the Pope, but it did” (p. 304). Of course, Billy Graham…

Defence of the Truth by Michael Haykin

This is a marvelous little book (only 129 pages) which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today. Some of the key characters found in Haykin’s book include those we term the “Church Fathers:” Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, Athanasius, Augustine and Patrick. The value of the book is multi-facet. We are provided with: • Information concerning some of the heresies and challenges which faced the early church. • Sketches of the lives of several Church Fathers, as well as their antagonists. • Details of how some important doctrines (the Trinity in particular) were debated and ultimately accepted. • A general history of the first centuries of Christianity. I particularly found the story of the ebb and flow of premillennialism very interesting, The Defence of the Truth is an excellent…