The Glory of Grace, an Introduction to the Puritans in Their Own Words by Lewis Allen and Tim Chester

There has been a renewed interest in the lives and writings of the Puritans in recent years.  But, for most Christians, actually diving into their literature is an overwhelming task due to archaic language and intensity of their theology and writing style.  For those who nevertheless would like to dip their toes into Puritan waters this little volume is an excellent start. In the Introduction the authors give a brief history of the Puritans, show why they are still important today and outline their distinctions. Allen and Chester aim to allow the reader to hear the Puritans in their own words.  They have also modernized some of the language to make it easier for the 21st century reader to comprehend. In doing so the authors have chosen 11 Puritans to showcase: Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, Samuel Rutherford, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burroughs, Anne Bradstreet, John Owen, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan,...

The Lord’s Supper Part 2

(Volume 25, Issue 3, May/June 2019) The Supper in Practice If you visited a variety of local churches of various denominational stripes, you will find that the Lord’s Table is practiced in many different ways. In some congregations, believers remain seated while the elements are brought to them. In other assemblies, believers come forward to receive the elements from the pastors or priests, or serve themselves, and then return to their seats.  In a service I attended a few years ago, the congregants stood up during the Lord’s Supper while the elements were rapidly dispensed and consumed.  The service presented the feel that the Breaking of Bread was a necessary ritual that should be celebrated as quickly as possible so that they could get to the “praise music.”  These are just some of the ways in which the Table is practiced by Christians. Also, different traditions observe communion at...

The Lord’s Supper Part 1

(Volume 25, Issue 2, April 2019) During the formative days of the Reformation, when Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli were at the height of their influence, they came together to discuss some of the theological differences that had surfaced between the various leaders of the movement.  As they sat down to hammer out these matters they would check off doctrine after doctrine in which they were in basic accord. The two men were in agreement concerning salvation by God’s grace through faith alone, that the Scriptures were the only authoritative revelation from God, and the issues of eternal life.  As a matter of fact, they could join hands over virtually all the essential beliefs – what have been termed the non-negotiables of the faith.  The discussion came down to one final issue that of the Lord’s Table.   Zwingli went first, laying out a very detailed formation of his understanding...

Subversive Sabbath, the Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda

Subversive Sabbath won Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year award in the spiritual formation category, and thus represents well spirituality as understood by mainstream evangelicalism today. Written by a pastor and seminary professor, the book’s strength lies in its reminder of the believer’s need for rest as grounded in the Sabbath principle and modeled by the Lord Himself in the creation account. If the Lord rested after His work of creation, the author insists, so should we (pp. 5, 7, 15).  Taking Sabbath rest seriously will result in better health, more productivity and freedom from a messiah complex in which many Christians seem to believe they are essential to the continuation of the universe (pp. 46, 58).  God has embedded Sabbath rest into the rhythm of life so that we recognize only the Lord is necessary and therefore we can learn to trust in Him, rather than ourselves...

Called to Be Saints, An Invitation to Christian Maturity by Gordon T. Smith

Called to Be Saints seeks answers to three substantive questions: What is the beginning of the Christian life? What is the character of Christian maturity? What is the approach and means of formation so that we may grow up in our salvation (p. 9)? In response to the first question, Smith, who is president and professor of systematic and spiritual theology at Ambrose University College and Seminary, writes, “What makes a Christian a Christian is participation in the life of Christ Jesus, or union with Christ. One is a Christian because one is ‘in Christ’” (p. 37 cf pp 38-61). The remainder of the book addresses the final two questions developing what the author sees as the four essentials of Christian maturity (pp. 36, 184-185, 221-222).  Holy people: Are wise (chapter three; pp. 63-87) Do good work (chapter four; pp. 89-125) Love others (chapter five; pp. 127-152) Have joy...

Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says About Gender Roles by Bill Rudd

Bill Rudd recently retired after serving as a pastor in four conservative churches over a period of 50 some years.  He has also been an adjunct professor in two seminaries.  Toward the end of his pastoral ministry Rudd shifted from the complementarian to the egalitarian position on the role of women in the church and in the home.  This book chronicles that journey, defending egalitarianism through his new interpretations of pertinent scriptures and support of modern egalitarian scholarship (for example, N.T. Wright is quoted often, pp. 38-39, 104-106, 179, 233-234, 261, 263-264, 274, 341, 343, 345). This is a long book which details many reasons for the author’s radical shift in theology but, when the smoke has cleared, three biblical arguments and one prominent motive emerge.  In my reviews I virtually never ascribe motives, but Rudd reveals his own repeatedly.  He believes complementarianism, often referred to as patriarchy (and...

For Thou Art With Me, Biblical Help For The Terminally Ill and Those Who Love Them by Bruce A. Baker

Bruce Baker is a pastor, theologian, author and a personal friend of mine.  In August of 2017 he was told he has ALS and only a short time to live.  So far he has lived longer than expected and continues to minister as he can.  For Thou Art With Me is a product of his life and ministry during this time of illness. Baker is a man of the Word.  He studies and teaches it with accuracy.  When he comes to the subject of death I am not surprised that he provides biblical insight and sound teaching.  Couple this with the fact that he is facing death himself and is personally seeking answers to many related questions, and the expectation is an excellent, helpful, practical and theologically sound treatise for those who are terminally ill and those who love them.  Baker does not disappoint. He covers, in readable fashion,...

The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing with Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr has written a fascinating book on the effect of the internet on lives and, in particular, our way of thinking.  The author’s thesis is that modern technology, especially the internet, is rerouting our brains (p. 77), changing the way we think (p. 18) and the way we read (p. 90), is designed to divide our attention (pp. 115-116, 136-143, 194) train us to multitask (pp. 113-114), and “pay attention to crap” (pp. 142).  Carr contends that net reading is, by design, distracting and superficial; it seizes our attention only to scatter it (pp. 115, 118).  Thus large chunks of information is gained at the expense of concentration, contemplation (p. 5), and linear thinking (p. 10).  Google, for example wants to digitize all information including books (pp. 152, 163), but has designed its system such that the reader moves from site to site quickly.   The more clicks the...

Social Justice: Modern Roots and Promoters

(Volume 25, Issue 1, February 2019/March 2019) As we attempt to evaluate the social justice movement, especially in light of the debates within evangelicalism surrounding the publication of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, it would be helpful to trace its roots.  The emphasis on social justice that is now all but omnipresent within Christianity did not appear out of thin air; there are predecessors and forerunners who have paved the way for comingling of the biblical gospel with a social agenda producing a hybrid gospel and mission for the church.  In two earlier TOTT papers, “The Social Gospel” Parts 1&2, the development of the 19th century Social Gospel movement which led to theological liberalism was detailed. In those articles, it was documented that German rationalism, higher criticism, Enlightenment and Romanticist thought were interlaced and embraced by first European and later American Protestantism. When the dust had...

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry

Written in 1947 by new-evangelism’s most influential theologian, The Uneasy Conscience was a watershed book pushing evangelicals toward social engagement.  Henry believed that Fundamentalists (used interchangeably with evangelicals at the time) had withdrawn from challenging and leading culture. Fundamentalists were concerned, he complained, almost exclusively with individual sins, not social evils (pp. 3, 7, 39). What evangelicals lacked was a developed organized campaign against injustice (p. 11). They needed to reclaim their seat at the table dealing with cultural ills and not leave the efforts to non-evangelicals, and whenever possible, Fundamentalists should unite with non-evangelicals for social betterment (pp. 78-80).  Henry admits that for the most part the non-evangelical had already dismissed the Fundamental voice and reacted with either denunciation or silence (pp. 21, 34).  However, it is time, he thought, to get back in the game and take a front row seat in the battle for justice. To...