Results tagged “review” from Reformation21 Blog

Giving the Devil His Due

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Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky

By Jessica Hooten Wilson

Cascade Books, 2017

156 pages, paper, $21.00

It is a sad and tragic irony that many private Christian schools do not teach Flannery O'Connor. I say it is sad and tragic because O'Connor was one of the very few major American authors who was an orthodox, Nicene Christian. As far as I can tell, not a single canonical American poet or fiction writer between the Puritan period and O'Connor could have signed a statement affirming their belief in the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and/or Resurrection.

I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I do not believe that it is. Consider the roll call of the American literary pantheon: Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Poe, Faulkner, London, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Henry James, William James, Longfellow, etc. Not a true believer in the lot. Granted, the authors of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur were strong Christians, but neither is considered a member of the pantheon. T. S. Eliot did mature into a Christian, but only after he left America for England, Toryism, and the Anglo-Catholic Church.

In sharp contrast, O'Connor's faith in the Incarnate and Risen Christ who died for our sins is as evident in her novels and stories as it is in her letters and essays. Why then do many Christian schools shy away from her? Part of it is her use of the "n" word, but that is not the whole story, since that forbidden word crops up in other authors.

The deeper reason why O'Connor is left off Christian reading lists is that her work is dark, pessimistic, and unsettling. Evil is just too real, too tangible in her stories, and that disturbs students, parents, and teachers alike. Never mind the fact that Christian parents allow their kids to watch truly despicable, utterly non-redemptive movies and television shows about serial killers. Somehow, that's OK, but O'Connor . . . well, best not to upset and confuse the laity.

Of course, by that logic, Christians should also avoid the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, for his stories are as dark, pessimistic, and unsettling as those of O'Connor. "O'Connor and Dostoevsky," writes Jessica Hooten Wilson in her new book, Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky, "both created deformed characters--prostitutes, idiots, holy fools, and social pariahs--to explore such problems as the suffering of children as a refutation to God's existence, the moral bankruptcy of modern atheism, the universal parricidal impulse, the demonic as a real force, and the potential for grace to manifest itself in the natural realm" (11).

Wilson, Associate Professor of Literature and Creative Writing and associate director of the Honors Scholars Program at John Brown University, is certainly not the first critic to forge a connection between O'Connor and Dostoevsky. But she has done something both original and admirable in drawing out for her readers the dialogue with evil--not abstract but personal evil--that gives such resonance to Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and O'Connor's Wise Blood, The Violent Bear it Away, and stories like "The Displaced Person," "A Good Man is Hard to Find," "A View of the Woods," and "The Lame Shall Enter First." Dostoevsky and O'Connor, Wilson explains, are unique among modern writers in that "they give the demonic a fair hearing, and make evil appear powerfully real" (14). Indeed, she argues that "[n]othing frustrates first-time readers of O'Connor and Dostoevsky as much as their convincing portrayals of the demonic" (14).

Why is it vital that Dostoevsky and O'Connor give the devil his due? Because at the core of their work lies a choice, an either/or choice between following Satan and his Kingdom of Violence or yielding to the authority of Christ and embracing his sacrifice and mercy. Ivan and Rayber, the chief voices of atheism in The Brothers Karamazov and The Violent Bear it Away, refuse to accept the reality of the Christian God because they are tormented by the evil and suffering in the world, particularly that inflicted upon innocent children. And yet, for all their passionate outrage, the suffering innocents remain to them but abstractions. Neither evil nor goodness touches them as an incarnate reality.

Their rejection of God prevents them from feeling any active kind of love or compassion toward those who suffer. Worse yet, it prevents any possibility of hope for the sufferers or meaning in their suffering. "Although Ivan and Rayber desire to save the victims of the world, they are removing themselves from the opposition to violence, the source of protection, the foundation of individual worth, the only God who suffers, the origin of love itself. And thus, their love is nothing but mere fantasy" (33). The stories Ivan recounts about abused and terrorized children are disturbing to read, but we should be even more disturbed by Ivan's unwillingness to consider the only possible solution.

Dostoevsky and O'Connor's focus on innocent suffering makes their works hard to read, but that pales beside an even more disturbing element of their fiction: their frequent recourse to parent-child strife, often resulting in parricidal violence. Wilson argues effectively for the centrality of such strife and violence to the spiritual message of her authors. There is a direct link between the desire to kill one's father and the desire for there to be no God; both desires promise autonomy to the one who frees himself from the tyranny of the father/creator.

The overbearing mothers who populate O'Connor's fiction are often there, Wilson explains, to "prompt their children to recognize that they are not self-begotten creatures, that they have an origin apart from themselves. For similar reasons do people reject God--he reminds them of their origin and asks them to renounce their self for the good of others. O'Connor reveals autonomy as the identifying feature of many of her characters, so any relationships that disturb this autonomy are intolerable" (69). Like Milton's Satan, who claims that he begot himself, the human being who chooses Satan rather than Christ as his model will fall, with equal folly and destruction, into the false lure of autonomy.

Wilson does a fine job explicating this spiritual-emotional-ethical agon, this struggle over whom we will imitate in our search for self-identity, but she does not do it alone. In keeping with a much-needed revival of interest in the work of René Girard that has been sweeping through the Academy, particularly the Christian Academy, Wilson couches her analysis in the terminology of such incisive Girard studies as Violence and the Sacred, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, and Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky.

According to Girard, "all human beings are essentially mimetic creatures who imitate the desires of others" (2). Our first mimetic desire is directed toward our parents, particularly our father, but it later spreads to include others in the community. This does not pose a problem in and of itself until two people desire the same thing, causing them to become rivals, and leading ultimately to violence. Throughout history, communities have dealt with the problem of mimetic rivalry through the ritual of scapegoating. Indeed, the role of sacrifice is, and has always been, to redirect violence into safe, non-destructive channels.

But Ivan Karamazov refuses to accept the divine scapegoat who would save him from the destructive potential of his mimetic rivalry. As a result, his desire becomes violent, leading not only to the murder of the father but to his own psychological and intellectual suicide--for to kill the father with whom one identifies is to kill oneself as well.

Piggybacking off Girard's analysis of Dostoevsky, Wilson maintains that this dual relationship between father and son, murder and suicide "parallels that with the divine creator in whose image we are made. . . . in an effort to project ourselves as autonomous individuals, we necessitate the disposal of those who begot us. Thus, the rejection of supernatural authority or metaphysical origin corresponds with the rebellion against earthly authority and origin" (52).

The unitarians, transcendentalists, deists, and atheists who make up the American literary pantheon rarely confront us with our own mimetic rivalry against authority figures, whether human or divine. Indeed, most exalt the formation of the autonomous individual as an absolute good. Sadly, there are many Christian writers today who share in that exaltation. Like their skeptical counterparts, they would rather not be challenged by Girardian writers like O'Connor and Dostoevsky who remind us that the temptation to shake off all social and moral codes and limitations often proceeds from a very real, very personal devil.


Louis Markos (www.Loumarkos.com), Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his books include From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, Literature: A Student's Guide, and Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition.

An Analysis of "Deviant Calvinism" (Part 1)

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The question of how diverse the Reformed tradition is is an important topic of consideration. I have co-edited a volume on Reformed diversity in the seventeenth century, and later this year I have another co-edited volume coming out on Reformed diversity in the eighteenth century. Professor Oliver Crisp has written a book, Deviant Calvinism, that deals with questions related to the diversity of the Reformed tradition. In the near future, I hope to interact a little with the book myself, but also with the topic in general. Paul Helm has reviewed the book here. Below is an analysis of the book by a Dutch scholar, Gert van den Brink, who has published widely on these topics. 
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When are you a Calvinist, and when are you no longer a Calvinist? In this book, the English - now a Professor at Fuller Seminary - Calvinistic philosopher of religion, Oliver Crisp, claims that the space (i.e., diversity) which Calvinism offers is much wider than many presume. Too often, according to Crisp, Calvinism is identified with some narrow-minded conviction regarding predestination and limited atonement, which hinders the persuasiveness of Calvinism and gives us an unfair picture of its historical pedigree. In his book, Deviant Calvinism, Crisp stresses the doctrinal variegation in the Reformed tradition, and hopes that, by renewed interest for this diversity, Calvinism may be a serious dialogue partner in the field of dogmatics. 

Crisp discusses in this book several topics, investigating how wide the boundaries of Calvinism stretch. He pleads for "Deviant Calvinism," in an attempt to broaden Reformed theology. Crisp focuses mainly on two things: the issue of determinism (predestination and free choice), and atonement (whether it is hypothetical, limited or universal).

I have appreciation for this book, but also points of criticism. My appreciation concerns the fact that, with his publication(s), Crisp brings attention to the intellectual component of Reformed Theology. The questions he asks have the same character as the questions asked and debated by theologians in former days. Doing theology in the Reformed tradition does not mean that a given, immutable doctrine is repeated without one's own intellectual effort, but it is an ongoing intellectual conversation with voices from the present and the past. The diversity in historical Calvinism is a consequence of the intellectual independency of many Reformed thinkers. Therefore, the questions Crisp raises have much in common with the way of doing theology in (e.g.) the seventeenth century. Crisp himself can, from this perspective, be regarded as somebody in this tradition. His book shows his acuteness and sagaciousness.  

Nevertheless, I have several criticisms. Let me mention five objections. 

The first I mention, is the intermingling of a historical with a systematic approach (though there is a lack of biblical interaction). This flaw lies also at the bottom of the other four points. Normally, Crisp's approach is as follows: he claims that in the history of the Reformed tradtion there were one or more people who took a certain position, and because they did so in the Reformed context, the specific position can be regarded as a Reformed one, being within the bounds of Calvinism. In this way he mentions the fact that Arminius lived in a Reformed context, and subsequently he argues that Arminius's views can be seen as Reformed. However, such an approach is a categorical mistake. From the fact that somebody worked in a specific context, we should be careful about their theological leanings of proclivities. Not everybody in Rome is Romish. Crisp's claim that Arminius's views were "merely controversial; they were not unorthodox" (p. 82) is apparently wrong: on the Synod of Dordt, not only the opinions of his followers, the Remonstrant party, but also Arminius's own views were labelled as heretical. 

Secondly, Crisp's book is very weak in digesting the historical material. In his argument for justification from eternity, he mentions the names of William Twisse, Herman Witsius and Thomas Goodwin as theologians who were sympathetic toward that position. Further, he makes mention of Tobias Crisp, John Gill and John Brine. However, mentioning these names is problematic. The information is sometimes inaccurate (Crisp, Witsius and Goodwin rejected eternal justification); Gill and Brine were hypercalvinists. Moreover, Crisp does not at all even allude to the historical discussion, let alone that he is in dialogue with the positions. Even if he cites Reformed authors, they are seldom from the seventeenth century. There is a lack of interaction with the Latin sources from the seventeenth century, which would have helped his discussion immensely. Most of the times, he quotes from later authors who reflect on the earlier debates (so, he notices the names of John Gill [18th century], Cunningham [19th century] and Berkouwer [20th century]), but these later names have the difficult job in sustaining Crisp's claim that the discussed position has a Calvinistic character, historically.

Thirdly, when Crisp seeks for a historical defence, he should make use of the historical data. But now he discusses the topics without always giving evidence of enough knowledge of the detailed debates of former ages. For those who have knowledge of the historical debates about justification from eternity, the treatment of that topic in Crisp's book is meager. The treatment by Reformed divines in the seventeenth century was much more profound than it is in Deviant Calvinism. That could be because this book is only introductory; but the impression is difficult to avoid that Crisp simply has no knowledge of earlier discussions. Crisp's distinction between formal and material justification is not a historical one, nor is the difference between justification in eternity and from eternity (p. 44). And the suggestion that God's (eternal) act of eternal justification is incomplete (p. 45), is thoroughly un-Reformed, historically speaking. It is, therefore, unclear which historical proponent of each of the two views Crisp could have in mind.

Fourthly, Crisp chooses to let the borders of Calvinism coincide with the content of the official confessions. Especially the Westminster Confession is his reference. He suggests that his own view on the liberty of the human will (the libertarian view, freedom as indifference) can have a place within these boundaries. Libertarianism is the view that, given all preconditions as predestination, regeneration and the working of the Holy Spirit, the human will has still the opportunity to choose a or b. But, again, if he had given more attention to the historical settings, different results would emerge. If Crisp had given weight to the Canons of Dordt, he should have to acknowledge that his own libertarian view is repudiated there (Canons III/IV.14; rejection III/IV.6,8). Crisp relies on Reformed Thought on Freedom of the Dutch research group Classic Reformed Theology, but wrongly. In that book (to which I contributed myself) there is certainly not a defence of libertarian Calvinism, as Crisp wants to have it (p. 96). Libertarianism was strongly repudiated by Reformed authors, as Reformed Thought on Freedom shows. Additionally, those who read the confessions with knowledge of the convictions of the writers and the subscribers, shall understand that the space that Crisp seeks, was certainly not intended. In short: those who want to give themselves a name which is historically laden, shall have to deal with the history of that name. In other words: is it fair to call myself a Calvinist, if I know that my dogmatic position would definitely be regarded as un-Reformed by the Calvinists of the sixteenth and seventeenth century?

My last point has to do with the coherence of the book as a whole. Crisp pleads for justification from eternity, salvation for all people, universal efficacy of Jesus' sacrifice, but also for more room for the freedom of the human will, [as allowable views within the Reformed tradition, not as his own personal views] (updated to clarify). For each of these points, he mentions the names of Reformed authors, but it is clear that, historically speaking, there is nobody who (as Crisp wants now) pleads for these positions together. Furthermore, it is logically impossible to combine freedom as indifference with the absolute predestination of all people. Crisp does not answer the question why the position he defends did not become accepted in the Reformed tradition. The answer, however, is obvious: it is not a coherent position. And for those who even now wish to be regarded as Reformed and as Calvinistic, this is a weighty argument. 

Gert van den Brink, The Netherlands
PhD student Evangelical Theological Faculty Leuven (Belgium)

Logos 6 arrives

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The friends at Faithlife were kind enough to send me an advance copy of Logos 6 to play around with. Current users of Logos will already have a pretty good notion of what they are dealing with. New or prospective users might consider the composite review of Logos 5 here, here and here for a basic overview, with thoughts on its utility here.

So, what's new in Logos 6? Of great relief might be the answer, "Not too much that's too obvious!" The overall appearance is similar, the home page has been redesigned, and there are a few new gizmos, but - while it's a smooth new look, and as attractive as ever - I do not spend much of my time on the front page. There, options to strip down some of the extraneous detail and advertising can be well-employed. It is in the meat and bones that the real benefits are found, and there are plenty of them. I may get round to putting some pictures up, but the Logos website has temporarily folded under pressure, and they are hard to bag! Until then, here's a video.

I confess that there are some interesting perspectives that lie behind the intended use of some of the tools provided. For example, I am not sure in what way Logos 6 will enable a pastor to 'take back his Friday,' as the press releases encourage us to believe. From what, I ask, and for whom or what, and to what ends? It strikes me as a somewhat empty statement that betrays a rather narrow perspective on the world of re pastoral labour. Means are provided to jazz up your presentations - there is a danger that the preacher might be envisioned as an unpleasant amalgam of a busy CEO, a cheesy marketer, and a third-rate motivational speaker. Sermon preparation or even effective Bible teaching is not just a matter of efficient collection and slick communication of data. No user of Logos can ever afford to forget that. It is, perhaps, a more minor gripe, and a shame, because Logos really markets itself without much need for that kind of guff.

So, if you get away from such perspectives and assertions, there is much to appreciate and enjoy - truth made readily available to soak in, that it might soak into you, with a view to its accurate and earnest and prayerful communication. As I go on using Logos, I am increasingly impressed by some of the technical tools available to me, tools that I am still discovering. These add, if not vast swathes of usefulness to my study processes, at least some real and helpful insights and nuances. On principle, I almost never use audio-video aids in a sermon. Even so, some of the materials available for Bible study and lectures are breathtaking in their scope and facility, and a real aid to preachers in quickly discerning helpful historical or technical or geographical detail during the preparation process. In addition, there are no end of forums in which such aids might be appropriate and helpful, such as Sunday School classes, Bible studies or academic lectures. For those who never had or who have lost some of the more technical skills of scriptural exploration, Logos goes some way to making up the lack.

Among the new tools, the new Atlas feature is great for checking out the precise locations and physical dynamics of certain events and episodes. The potential when considering the life of Christ, for example, is great. I am also hoping that we will soon be able to track the journeys of Paul (though that may be in another volume). Also fascinating are the before and after shots of locations, with sliders overlaying graphic representations of historical buildings on to the present-day environment. Other new features include the Factbook, a powerful collation of all the data relating to individuals, events or objects. Using this tool, you can follow any number of connections to develop or trace a full-orbed perspective on a person or place or thing. Again, there is a lot useful here in providing short-cuts to a fairly complete study. There is a new top-level search that, as far as I can tell, prioritizes results to give you an overview of a topic. Inline search of individual resources adds an extra dimension to grappling with a particular text or pursuing a particular phrase or section. There are new datasets within the programme itself (e.g. Cultural Concepts) and new collections, libraries and bundles readily available on the main Logos site. Some of them will feel delightful, others will take a little getting used to. Those who keep wishlists of material on the Logos site might need to do a little reviewing and assessing to see what's still current and what needs to be adapted.

Factbook.jpgWorking with a beta version, I had a few issues in the download, and a few rough spots with what was, perhaps is, a work in progress (e.g. copy and paste, smart tags), but I hope that these have been and will be ironed out. As ever, much helpful advice was available on the Logos forums and through the Logos technicians, for those with the technical expertise and time to faff around behind the scenes of our computer screens.

The connections woven into the text will always need carefully employment. Self-control is required to remain undistracted by the sheer wealth of information available. Logos is sufficiently extensive, especially with some of the bigger packages, that it can become a little like the web itself, with all kinds of enticements to draw you aside from your chosen track. It is important to be travelling and not merely wandering if you want to use your time and your energy wisely.

For committed Logos users, Logos 6 is, on one level, more of the same, and that will probably be exactly what they are after. On another level, it continues to add facility and flexibility, streamlining what already exists and providing more and more readily-accessed material produced to a high standard, with tools to handle it. It looks as clean as ever, and feels even slicker in performance. For me, Logos helps primarily in Bible study that is profitable and fascinating in itself, study that forms an element of sermon preparation. It is not, in and of itself, a complete sermon preparation tool, because it cannot supply the fruit of prayer and meditation. It also puts at my immediate disposal a vast range of material that I can read, search, copy and - most of all - appreciate, profiting from the labours of some of my most treasured friends, mainly past, but occasionally present. These are the things that lie back of any given sermon, the steady accumulation of truth and wisdom over time.

In sum, and taking into account all the pros and cons, profits and dangers of this kind of resource, this is as good a time as ever to plunge into Logos Bible Software with Logos 6. To be sure, there may be a few glitches to iron out as the whole thing beds down, but existing Logos users will doubtless be delighted with some new and effective tools, and new users will find much to instruct and assist as they get to grips with the Word of God. So long as the technical never overwhelms but rather informs the spiritual, it is likely to be of profit. Dive in to Logos 6, and I trust you will find and store up treasures galore.

Review: "Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons"

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Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons
Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Crossway (IX Marks), 2012, 176pp., paperback, $10.99
ISBN 978-1-4335-2992-4

Although the lion's share of this book is devoted to the eldership, the valuable space afforded to the diaconate is much appreciated, if only because helpful treatments of this office are much rarer. Anyabwile offers an antidote to the deacon as ornamental or obstructive, providing a template for a robust and meaningful contribution to the life of the church. The office of the elder is developed at greater length (although the language of "senior pastor" is employed, the underlying assumption seems to be that elders and pastors are one and the same). The author considers both the Scriptural qualifications and duties of the two offices in language that is simple, clear and warm. Those seeking a fairly full but accessible outline for officebearers in the church will appreciate the solid, Scriptural common sense of this volume, making it helpful as a checklist not only for churches seeking officers but also for men assessing themselves in or for office, whether already holding it or being considered for it. Evidently a horse out of the 9 Marks stable, this book is worthy of broad reach and careful consideration, especially as a fairly thorough introduction to the topic.

Review: "What is the Mission of the Church?"

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What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission
Greg Gilbert & Kevin DeYoung
Crossway, 2011, 288pp., paperback, $15.99
ISBN 978-1-4335-2690-9

Contributing to the ongoing debate in the "young, restless and reformed" movement about the nature and scope of the gospel, this book is very much of its time, place, and sphere. Written in a chatty and popular style, and assuming a fair amount in terms of the buzzwords, personae, and tensions of the discussion, it attempts to ground, explain and defend the mission of Christ's church as requiring her "to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father" (62). Given this conclusion, there may be some who - already so persuaded - find this book substantially redundant or simply irrelevant. The fact that it is written out of a specific milieu and addresses a specific issue limits it somewhat, given the assumptions that underlie so much of its discussion (for example, the different British social, political, religious and cultural perspectives - class? Anglicanism? - simply find no equivalent here). For all that, many of the questions raised and issues addressed need always to be considered, and for some already rightly persuaded, the authors' sensitive and carefully-qualified acknowledgement of their opponents' concerns make us ask whether or not, in embracing a particular notion, we may have missed other elements of the life of the church in the world. With plenty of insightful exegesis to support their assertions, attempts to define key terms, and helpful applications (especially to those still wrestling with these questions), there is much here to commend. Some up-front discussion and statement of the ecclesiological and eschatological perspectives and categories that so influence such discussions might have helped. Overall, those enmeshed in this debate as it is being worked out in 21st century America ought to read this book; those outside this sphere might find it a helpful prompt and reminder, but it will not be so essential.

Review: "Developing a Healthy Prayer Life"

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Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God
James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke
Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, 99pp., paperback, $10 / £7.50
ISBN 978-1-60178-112-3

This is the first in a planned series of volumes providing 31 meditations on a given subject. Each portion consists of a verse or two from the Word clearly dealing with the topic followed by no more than two or three pages of lucid and warm comment. There is a measure of development throughout the volume, giving the sense that if one were to use this as a daily devotional help over the course of a month, there might be genuine progress in understanding and engagement with God. A book like this cannot make us pray, nor will reading it instantly solve all our problems in prayer, but as a guide in the intentions and substance of prayer, gratefully received and earnestly practiced, it may be of much help in teaching us this holy discipline.

Review: "Pastors in the Classics"

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Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature
Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken & Todd Wilson
Baker Books, 2012, 192pp., paperback, $16.99
ISBN 978-0-8010-7197-3

This is an odd book. It is not a bad book, but it is hard to categorise. Divided into two parts, the first consists of twelve fairly detailed considerations of literary representations of pastoral ministry, drawn from a reasonably wide sweep. The second contains 58 précis of other such representations. It is difficult to gauge for whom and for what this book exists: from the blurb and endorsements one is clearly meant to come to the book as a pastor and here find prompts to profound self-awareness together with penetrating insights into the pastoral calling. Frankly, this was not my experience. For Christians (not least pastors) with a literary bent it might provide an interesting reading list or a stimulus for study and discussion. However, as a means of getting to grips with the challenges, demands and struggles of pastoral ministry, I think that there are far better lessons to be drawn from life than art: this is one area where reality trumps realism. I am not suggesting that this is a worthless book, but I think it will sit more readily in the literary theory than the pastoral theology section of the library.

Review: "The Public Ministry of Christ"

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The Public Ministry of Christ
William G. Blaikie

This volume, first published in 1883, bridges the disciplines of Christology and pastoral theology, and its author will need no commendation to those who value Scriptural studies that blend scholarship and devotion. Blaikie's contention, argued in the opening chapter, is that it was a deliberate intention of Christ to teach and leave an example for his disciples, and that gospel ministers are not only able but obligated to follow that example as far as gift and grace permits.

This established, we then begin to unpack the elements of our Lord's public ministry. We begin with the preparation for his ministry, in which - to develop the one as a sample of the whole - Blaikie considers the purposes of God in making Nazareth the scene of development, with its relative isolation and solitude, together with the discipline of subjection (to the will of his heavenly Father, lawful human authority in the form of his parents, and the requirements of his official position as our representative) under which the Lord Jesus came. The thirty years give way to forty days in which that cultivated spirit of obedience is tested, with comparisons to and lessons for men who seek to follow Christ's example. Such thoughtfulness and meditation might make many ministers pause and ponder again the circumstances of our own preparation for the ministry, even though we must be careful not to presume upon definitive interpretations of providence.

Blaikie then moves on through the inner spirit of Christ's ministry in which he considers his entire consecration to his work, a then a section contemplating the outer features of Christ's ministry in its Judean, Galilean and post-transfiguration phases, with their general tenor and specific concerns. Christ's labour as a teacher then comes to the fore, and this is developed at some length, with a careful consideration first of its essential qualities, careful structures and striking illustrations. Our guide then consider the parables and some of Christ's longer public discourses and his more private investment in his disciples over the period of his public ministry. A different tack then develops as Blaikie looks at our Lord's dealings with those outside, on the borders of, and within the kingdom. All of these elements are considered in themselves and carefully explained and applied in their relevance to those who walk in the Master's footsteps.

Blaikie closes by considering Christ's last acts toward, words addressed to and prayers for various classes of men, closing with his post-resurrection appearances, in which, for example, emphasis is thrown on the prominence which Christ gives to his sufferings:
In the centre of the solar system, the sun occupies the best position for influencing every planet, but his rays go forth quite readily to the furthest outskirts of the system. "Christ crucified" in the centre of the Gospel firmament, is fitted to irradiate the whole sphere of moral and spiritual truth, and increase the power of every motive, and elevate the aim of every project that seeks to advance the true welfare of man. (339)
Neither does Blaikie lose sight of the very obvious fact that in these interviews the Lord was giving explicit direction to the disciples for the establishment and extension of his visible kingdom on earth, assuring us in his own final words that
If only we would take up the posture of servants, executing the designs of a heavenly Master, relying on the grace of His Holy Spirit, and giving ourselves soul, body, and spirit to His work, results not inferior to theirs [i.e. the disciples] would crown our labours, and of our work as of theirs it would be written, -  "So mightily grew the word of the Lord, and prevailed." (346-7).
In my limited experience I have yet to come across another volume with the distinctive blend and tone of Blaikie's study of the Lord Jesus' public ministry. On one level it would be valuable for anyone studying the life of the Lord and seeking to obtain insights into his labours; when to that is added the deliberate attempt to draw appropriate lessons for the followers and proclaimers of a crucified Christ, another layer is added. In this regard there is a particular freshness as Blaikie gives practical lessons concerning both character and conduct, blending insights into the disposition of Christ in his work and the work itself. The sections on teaching are very different from some of the "how-to" homiletical helps of the present day, focusing on illustrative principles rather than mechanical practices (though see also the same author's For the Work of the Ministry [A.com/A.co.uk]). For younger men wishing to grasp more of what it means to follow Christ in their own roles as under-shepherding preacher and teacher, this would be a provocatively different and thoroughly engaging source of instruction. For older ministers, a work like this might serve as a glass of cold water, a tonic to refresh and revitalize, stimulating new perspectives on their service for the Lord. To either group, and others besides, the benefit of a book so thoroughly focused upon and breathing the Spirit of the person and work of Christ Jesus would be no small blessing in itself, as filling our eyes and our hearts with delightful views of his character and purposes.

[Readers might also wish to consult, as a companion volume dealing with different themes to different ends, but equally profitable, Blaikie's Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord.]

Review: "The Gospel Ministry"

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The Gospel Ministry
Thomas Foxcroft
Soli Deo Gloria (RHB), 87pp, hbk
ISBN 978-1-56769-061-3


This unusual but highly profitable little volume is a preacher's own ordination sermon. It was preached in 1717 by Thomas Foxcroft as he set out to demonstrate to the congregation which he was to serve the minister that he ought to be, to impress upon himself and others the standard which he ought to be pursuing and which the church ought to be demanding.

Taking Colossians 1.28 as his starting point - though ranging far and wide through the Scriptures - Foxcroft sets out four key doctrines: that Christ is the one grand subject which the ministers of the gospel should mainly insist upon in their preaching; that the ministers of the gospel need to be very wise and prudent in all their administrations; that laborious diligence, fervour, and indefatigable application should be the character of every gospel minister; and that, in all their ministerial labours, pastors should make the conversion and edification of men in Christ their governing view and sovereign aim.

Even taking into account that this portrait of a pastor takes a few minutes to delineate and a lifetime to cultivate, happy indeed the congregation whose young preacher set out this model at the beginning of his ministry as his goal, in dependence on God's Spirit!

The book is full of that earnest, earthy pastoral theology that is so much bypassed in our day. It is written by a man who intends to know, love and serve Christ's people with a Christlike spirit and through a Christ-soaked ministry. There are high points of insight and fervour throughout the work (look out for a couple of nuggets in coming days), and a thoroughly evangelical tone permeates the whole. The author determines to put Christ at the centre of his work by putting him at the centre of his life. Christ is not only the topic of the minister, but the source of all his power. The congregation is enjoined to earnest prayer for those who seek so to serve them.

Pastors will find this a short, sharp shock, and yet also eminently sweet: a powerful, brief reminder of what we are about, of whom we serve and how we serve. The teaching is mainly positive, and so the rebukes are incidental, and yet they hit home as we see how far short we fall of the standard of diligent godliness and sincere and outworked care that the Scriptures establish. At the same time, there is encouragement, both with regard to the first things of pastoral ministry and its development over time, with instruction along the way.

Congregations will also find here an outline of the kind of ministry that they should pursue and expect. The standard is not impossibly high, but the goal is distinct and the flavour clear. Not only will this book be helpful in that respect, but it is also a call to intelligent prayer for the gospel ministers who already serve the churches, and for more men of this stamp to be raised up and thrust out by the Lord of the harvest.

Review: "Lectures to my Students"

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Lectures to my Students
C. H. Spurgeon
Various publishers and editions

Every Friday afternoon Charles Spurgeon would head down to the Pastors' College - of all the institutions in which he was involved, the one that was perhaps dearest to his great heart - and attempt to put an edge and a point on the blades that had been tempered in the fires of the college forges all the week long. This is not the place to discuss the peculiar features and particular excellences of Spurgeon's plan for pastoral training, but it shows Spurgeon's sensitivity to the needs of his students that those Friday afternoons found him at his most deliberately engaging and his most transparently personal as he sought to put a little fire in their bellies before the Lord's day.

It is at this point that many current scholars will, perhaps, huff about a Baptist pietist, even a mere activist or enthusiast, given to taking gross liberties with the text - a genius, we grudgingly admit, but a fairly vulgar and far from polished tool in the Master's hands, and not quite the thing as far as exposition is concerned. Others will give you Spurgeon re-made in the image of Stout's Whitefield, a great advertiser and a pulpit actor of the first water, perhaps even a man who ought to be appreciated as an early model for the megachurch pastor. Please ignore such flawed assertions and myopic perspectives; pick up this book and read it for itself.

The full version of this volume (which is heartily recommended) is divided into four sections, the last of which (though the second in the original publishing sequence) is Spurgeon's infamous Commenting & Commentaries (which is where most of the reprinted commentaries with Spurgeon's endorsement find their - often, it must be said, selective - phrases of commendation). Our primary interest is in the first three sections of the full collection.

Of these, the first two seem to be constructed without the intention of progress that is apparent in many others of the older pastoral theologies. So, for example, Spurgeon plunges into his material with four chapters on 'The Minister's Self-Watch,' 'The Call to the Ministry,' 'The Preacher's Private Prayer' and 'Our Public Prayer.' And yet, as we begin to jump from topic to topic, we find each one not so much following on from the last as setting out another anchor point. In this way, as we proceed we find our souls both stretched in various directions and, at the same time, firmly held within a developing web of healthy principles and practices that give us a measure of establishment with the aim of stable development and genuine ministerial usefulness.

Most of the time, each element is essentially self-contained, although some topics do break over two or more chapters (the main exception is the third section, of which more below). Each chapter is fairly brief, and marked by typically Spurgeonic arrangements of the material, with thoughtful and engaging headings guiding us progressively through the matter at hand. The style is homely, full of quotations broadly drawn from various authors, marked by humour and practical insight. These 'lectures' very quickly turn into sermons - you can almost feel the momentum building in some of them - and so illustrate the very craft they are intended to illuminate. Each is generally marked by holy wit and sanctified common sense.

There are several specific blessings and some particular challenges from reading Spurgeon on pastoral ministry. One blessing is that these chapters are never mere 'how to' guides. To be sure, they are always practical, but they are never merely a set of mechanical rules for this and for that - for sermon construction, for prayer, and so on. Such technical discussions have their value, but Spurgeon does not so much give you a classroom discourse on the nature and excellence of the instrument as get the machine going and take you into the field to use it.

Again, our author covers topics not always covered elsewhere, and rarely with the kind of knockabout pungency found here. He speaks to us about getting the attention of our congregation, about the minister's fainting fits (if you have never had one, read this before you do - it will save you much grief), on choosing a text, on open-air preaching, on the voice, on posture and gesture. Such material digs up the heart and prompts careful reflection about the ways and the means in which we invest our pastoral energies and the manner in which we employ the tools and opportunities we have been given. Spurgeon will nudge you into rooms of experience you might never have visited and open windows for you to look out on views you might never have contemplated.

Furthermore, Spurgeon is always stimulating, even when provocative or plain misguided. For example, his chapter 'On Spiritualizing' is perhaps the one which is invariably singled out as worthy of being dismissed. I honestly wonder if some who speak so quickly have read perhaps a couple of his more extravagant sermons (remembering that, even if you cannot follow him in everything, he usually takes pains to demonstrate a proper understanding of almost every text he treats, albeit sometimes followed by a phrase like, "However, this morning we are going to take our text as . . .") and presumed that they know what is coming. However, the first third of the chapter is on abuses of the principle. Only then does he turn to the types, metaphors, allegories of Scripture, with further thoughts on generalizing universal principles, preaching on parables and miracles, before some further cautions on the kind of men who can employ such an approach wisely, and those who cannot, the whole illustrated with some judicious quotations and thoughtful comments. I am not saying that I can follow everywhere Spurgeon leads here, but he will make you ask yourself whether or not you have made the Scriptures too much of a dry stick and wrung out a little more sap than you might have intended.

The material on illustration - the entire third section - is worth a mention in its own right. Are you weary of those sermons and commentaries which open each chapter with some strained connection to some situation or event in the real world, or which offer the example of "Algernon (not his real name), a basket-weaver from Clapham, raised by wolves and incapable of eating vegetables," only to have Algy's case fully resolved by the close of the chapter by the penetrating insights and applications of our preacher/author? Spurgeon will help you think through the purpose, value, collections, selection and employment of illustrations, helping us to really enliven our sermons and put hooks in the ears of those who hear us.

I would not wish to ignore the spirit of consecration that pervades the whole. There is nothing here that is dry or dull, but it is all carried along by a man who demonstrates the very earnestness he encourages, characterised by a burning desire to see God glorified in salvation, in the fullest sense of the word. You are never allowed the sense that these are treasures for mere display; each is a tool for use in the great business of seeking and saving the lost in the declaration of the gospel. Overall, the volume is marked by a concern for character as well as capacity, for substance rather than style, for spirit as well as form in service to aim.

But there are a few notes of caution which ought to be sounded. Perhaps first and foremost is the fact that Spurgeon often forgets that you are not Spurgeon. This can be the case even when he is making allowances for us. For example, in the chapter on choosing your text he acknowledges that his strength comes from variety rather than profundity, and that he could not announce a series on a topic or sustain one on a book if you paid him to do so. However, there are few others who would feel well able to wait until Saturday evening before thinking of their morning sermon, or Sunday afternoon before sitting down to prepare for the evening, which was effectively what Spurgeon ended up doing, and pretty much where he sends you.

This then bleeds into a tendency to absolutism at certain times (a tendency by no means confined to Spurgeon's pastoral theology) and to make a general principle from a personal preference or habit. For example, Spurgeon says here that unless you already have conversions to show for your labours, you are not called to the ministry. Had he lived at another time, or in another place, he might have been a little more wary or balanced, or spoken more generally of fruitfulness. The same applies to some of the comments about text selection and the like.

The volume is, as it must be, of its time. Some of the comments, asides and applications will need to be adapted (for example, the kind of pulpit cant against which Spurgeon rails is just as current, although it finds slightly different forms and environments today). However, we do this with anything else from another time and place, and it should prove no great difficulty for the wise.

Finally, in this regard, we have mentioned already that there are some topics which you will have to wrestle with. You are not obliged to agree with everything that even a Spurgeon says, but you will need good and sound reasons to disagree, and may even find your own perspective improved and enriched even if not fundamentally altered by the process.

So, let me urge you, if you have not already done so (and even if you have), to get to grips (perhaps, again) with Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students. To open the pages is to walk into a family gathering, and to listen to a spiritual father among his labouring sons, an older pastor among his younger brothers. It will not be long, I hope, before you are made to feel thoroughly at home, and - listening in to that rich voice from a warm and full heart - start to obtain a blessing.

Review: "Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty"

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Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty
Edward Donnelly
Banner of Truth, 1998, 160pp., paperback, £6.50
ISBN 0-85151-744-7

We might imagine that we know Simon Peter. His character seems to lie splayed on the pages of the New Testament. Yet, at the same time, we may think that a few bold strokes capture him entirely, leaving us with a limited, one-dimensional, perhaps too-readily-dismissed caricature. Here, Ted Donnelly provides a corrective, surveying the Scriptural data to give us a portrait of Peter as disciple, preacher and pastor. In this way, the author draws out principles and applications for all believers: any Christian will appreciate the realism and encouragement of the first section, while the latter two shine light on the role of pastors and preachers in a way that helps both those who labour in the pulpit and listen in the pews. Exegeting insightfully, as well as extrapolating sensitively from the white spaces in the Biblical narratives and epistles, with penetrating applications, here is a book which models the very truths and virtues it declares. It is not an easy volume to classify: you will not, for example, find it in many lists of pastoral theology, and yet the portions on Peter as preacher and as pastor would certainly merit its place. It is more than a mere character study, and yet you come away appreciating Peter better. It is not just a work on discipleship, although you understand better what it means to follow Christ having read it. Simple in its style, sweet in its tone, sweeping in its reach, substantial despite its brevity, it is an excellent book for any believer, and might be especially well-placed in the hands of any man entering or exiting seminary, or engaging in any form of pastoral ministry.

•    Westminster Books
•    Amazon.co.uk
•    Amazon.com

Review: "Pillars of Grace"

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A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 2, AD100 - 1564): Pillars of Grace
Steven J. Lawson
Reformation Trust, 2011, 543pp., hardback, $28.00
ISBN 978-1-56769-211-2

Volume One (Foundations) in this series concentrated on the doctrines of sovereign grace as displayed through the entirety of the Bible. This volume (Pillars) picks up the threads in the days of the (post-)apostolic church and traces it forward into the sixteenth century. The aim and approach are simple: to demonstrate the continuity of the teaching of the doctrines of grace through the history of the church. To this end, our author is deliberately selective, identifying a series of figures who - despite some particular aberrations at certain points - nevertheless upheld gospel truth in some form and to some degree. Different figures receive differing degrees of concentration and emphasis, and their weaknesses and errors are not overlooked, but the point is to show the light shining, and shining increasingly brightly as we march toward the Reformation. Each figure is put in context, then we are given a brief biography, an outline of key writings, a review of theology, a concluding assessment, and a page of study questions. In reading, it stands out that the theme of double predestination (specifically, reprobation) receives sufficient attention (given that it is not often addressed in works of this kind) as to almost feel like an emphasis. Taking into account how easy it is to mishandle the issue, this is worth noting. Written with warmth and pastoral insight, all-in-all this is a fascinating volume dealing with a profitable theme in stimulating fashion: here Ignatius, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Isidore, Gottschalk, Bradwardine, Hus, Tyndale and Calvin - with others - rub shoulders, each more or less preaching the wonders of redeeming grace. In considering that theme through the ages of the church, this is a grand resource.

Review: "The Intolerance of Tolerance"

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The Intolerance of Tolerance
D. A. Carson
IVP, 2012, 200pp., paperback, £12.99 (UK) / Eerdmans, 2012, 196pp, hardback, $24 (US)
ISBN 9781844744053 / 9780802831705

The central premise of this book is that a true and proper tolerance defends both the right of others to hold views other than one's own together with one's own right to challenge those views. However, tolerance as commonly understood has come to mean the conviction - strongly held in the name of tolerance - that any strongly-held convictions which cut across the convictions of others are intolerable. In the course of this book, these straightforward and easily observable propositions are beaten rather thin and embossed with some intricacy. The reason for this may be that the material has its origin in an academic environment. Along the way, some useful points are made, including cogent warnings concerning the tyranny of democracy and the subtle progress of this intolerant tolerance, particularly as Christianity - with its exclusive claims - comes under increasing fire in the West. At this point, perhaps, a treatment of the natural man's incapacity for and antagonism to the truth might have been enlightening. Carson closes with ten counsels, in the course of which he urges Christians to demonstrate true tolerance in their engagements with one another and with the world at large, while exposing the new and flawed tolerance for the dangerous nonsense it is. Not a groundbreaking analysis, but a useful one for those engaging with the issues, especially in the more public intellectual sphere.

Review: "Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr."

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Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr.
Grant Gordon (ed.)
Banner of Truth, 2009 (428pp, hbk)
ISBN 9781848710535

Almost every young minister of the gospel could do with a Newton. They may not always realise that they need a Newton, but they probably do. To be blunt, they may not always want a Newton; those are the times when they need one most.

In Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, young preachers and pastors at least get the benefit of peering over the shoulders of a Newton as he writes to his young friend, John Ryland Jr.. Thanks to the editorial comments, we also get at least a brief glimpse over the shoulder of Ryland as he reads and ponders those letters.

The friendship between Newton and Ryland spanned four decades and crossed the twenty-five years that divided them in age. They first met in 1768 when Ryland was only fifteen and Newton was forty-three. The first letter in this volume was written in 1771 and the last in 1803. Both the length of correspondence and the increasing range of topics indicate a genuine, deepening and developing friendship, without any ingratiating sycophancy from the younger man nor any pompous pontificating from the elder. Instead, there is honesty, sincerity, tenderness, directness, and sympathy, which we see flowing mainly in the direction of Newton to Ryland (the younger man's contributions to this flow of reason and feast of soul are currently lost to us).

The arrangement of the volume is obvious, but little embellishments make the reading experience a delight. A few pages of introductory material, including a foreword by Michael Haykin, set the scene and sketch the characters, giving us a little grounding to appreciate the letters themselves. There are eighty-three of these altogether, each followed by a brief editorial contribution that ties up loose ends, explains particular details, and prepares us for the next epistle in the sequence. At the end of the book, together with a brief but helpful index of persons and topics, a few pages bring the stories of Newton and Ryland to a close. Scattered very occasionally through the volume, and bringing snatches of historical colour, are copies of a page from a diary or letter. Footnotes (we are mercifully spared exposure to the quite reprehensible endnote) provide helpful cross-references within the volume, as well as an unobtrusive wealth of historical and scholarly detail for those wishing to follow up particular elements. The text is clear and spacious, and the whole volume well bound.

However, and rightly so, the letters themselves are the undoubted and worthy centrepiece of the feast, and here we must recognise Newton's singular gifts as a correspondent. Of all those mercies of God that marked the man as a minister, it is perhaps his warmth and understanding as a correspondent that set him apart. The collected letters (WTS, Amazon.co.uk and .com) demonstrate that talent (and, indeed, contain some written to Ryland but published with the preservation of anonymity), but here we are allowed to see the sustained investment, tender concern, and pastoral insight that made his correspondents treasure his letters as genuine marks of Christian love. When one reads the letters, one wishes one might have known the man (and received a few notes oneself), and looks forward even more to meeting him in glory. There is a delightful turn of dry humour, a refreshing if sometimes blunt earthiness, a sturdy and sanctified common sense, in what he writes. So, when writing of marriage and money, after a few friendly jibes, he tells Ryland,
I see this will not do; I must get into my own grave way about this grave business. I take it for granted that my friend is free from the love of filthy lucre and that money will never be the turning point with you in the choice of a wife. Methinks I hear you think, 'If I wanted money, I would either dig or beg for it; but to preach or marry for money, that be far from me.' I commend you. However, though the love of money be a great evil, money itself, obtained in a fair and honourable way, is desirable, upon many accounts, though not for its own sake. Meat, clothes, fire, and books, cannot easily be had without it. Therefore, if these be necessary, money which procures them must be necessary likewise. (73-74)
He can be at once humble and powerful, searingly honest about his own sins and struggles and therefore both deeply sympathetic and pointedly searching when dealing with the sins and struggles of others. His concern for peace and unity, his fixation on the avoidance of controversy at every available opportunity, also come to the fore repeatedly. One develops the sense of a hearty and full-orbed humanity alive with love to God and his fellow men pouring out through his pen as he counsels, encourages, rebukes and exhorts.

And what wise counsels they truly are! Again, the advantage of watching the relationship and the correspondence develop is that we can see the ebb and flow of the lives being lived, and the issues that Ryland and Newton faced over time. We are therefore able to range over the life of a man and a minister, from the gracious reigning in and redirecting of youthful zeal to the heavy deliberations of elder statesmen in the church of Christ. Along the way, Newton and Ryland wrestle together with the desire for marriage and the challenges of courtship, with the death of wives and children, with the difficulties of esteemed but awkward parents and gifted or sensitive offspring, with controversy at home and abroad, with learning and academia, with calls to remove from one sphere of service and influence to another of different and perhaps wider opportunity, with the writing of books and poems, with suffering and sorrow and sanctification and death itself, with theological truth and error and with the use of the imagination, with the issues of Conformity and Dissent and the relationship between church and state. This last is especially curious. Newton was an Anglican, but seemingly without much conviction about ecclesiology except that it did not matter half as much as some believed it did. Among those with stronger feelings on the matter was Ryland himself, a Particular Baptist, and - while appreciating Newton's irenic pleas - some today may find that they differ with him about the importance of these matters, while they will continue to find Newton's observations piquant:
Indeed the Congregationalists and Baptists, who are both equally satisfied that they possess the perfect model of the tabernacle to a single loop or pin, need a double portion of grace to prevent their over admiring the supposed excellency of their forms. There are a few of them however who know that the best forms are but forms still and remember that the Lord abhorred his most express and positive institutions, when the worshippers rested in them. (128)
In such a context, insights into the times in which these men lived, and particularly some of the challenges that stirred and vexed the church in matters of faith and life, seem like almost incidental benefits, though they are certainly there. Consider that these men were movers and shakers in circles alive with missionary zeal, wrestling with the challenges of bringing the good news of Christ to the wider world, and you will immediately become alive to the subtext of some of the later letters as they swap news and encouragements and discouragements, and seek favours of each other in advancing the kingdom of God.

Apart from some of this historical grounding, it is worth noting just how relevant so much of Newton's advice remains. To be sure, time has passed and circumstances have changed, but the enduring principles and Biblical sense upon which Newton built his counsel has not shifted, and so the reader can readily transpose the guidance and warnings that Newton issued across three hundred years and still find much that will strike and stick at the most appropriate points. It is here that modern men and ministers can derive so much benefit from the wise counsel that God enabled Newton to issue. The dress may be different, but the demands have changed little. Here is the benefit of the younger (or, indeed, older) minister taking the opportunity to peer over the shoulders of the original correspondents as they read and write these heartfelt letters as true companions in Christ.

In a world of texts and tweets, in which Facebook updates can be the only link between alleged friends, and longer emails are copied to lengthy and sometimes indiscriminate lists of more-or-less distant associates, the craft of the personal correspondent is in danger of being lost. Newton and Ryland remind us of its enduring value. What may be lost in immediacy is more than compensated for by depth of thought, balance of phrase and individuality of touch.  To be sure, you can accomplish the same ends electronically, but it does require something of a shift in attitude and expectation. After reading this book - and I hope you will - you might not be moved to break out the parchment and quill, or even the sheet and fountain pen. But perhaps you should. You may simply sit again in front of the keyboard and screen, but ponder a different approach and purpose. Whatever the medium, the richness and clear value then and now of such a friendship maintained by such means ought to call older men of God to consider whether or not there are people - perhaps especially younger pastor-preachers - in whom they might invest in this way, and to give younger men an appetite for the cultivation of a relationship with the wise old owls whose experience has given them a fund of insight and understanding to transmit to those who come after them. In the absence of such relationships, or until they develop, we would do well to enjoy the privilege of leaning over Newton's shoulder as he writes, and Ryland's as he reads, and soaking in and sucking up this wise counsel.

Review: "Am I Really A Christian?"

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Am I Really A Christian?
Mike McKinley
Crossway, 2011, 160pp., paperback, $12.99 / £8.99
ISBN 978-1-4335-2576-6

We must be able to give the right answer for the right reasons to this all-important question, because heaven or hell hang upon that answer. Mike McKinley's book is designed to guide us away from false notions and to equip us to make a Scripturally-informed analysis. Written in a laid-back style with a blend of pastoral honesty and sensitivity, he strips away false notions of Christianity and introduces Biblical tests in their place. The book hits hard where needed, offers comfort where appropriate, and speaks directly with consistency. The negatively-titled chapters ("You are not a Christian if . . .") contain much positive truth, and prompt a well-instructed self-examination. Perhaps most useful in any environment in which nominal Christianity appears to be a significant problem, this is a helpful book for those who hope that they are Christians (or fear that they are not) trying to answer this question carefully and accurately, those who are seeking to help such, and others who need to understand and address the issues involved.

Review: "Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence"

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Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence
Allan Harman
Christian Focus, 2012, 208pp., paperback, £8.99
ISBN 9781845507831

While Matthew Henry's commentary, though sneered at in some quarters, remains rightly esteemed, the man himself is often little more than a cipher. Though in a style that is not always lively, Allan Harman puts that right in this accessible biography by putting the writing in the context of the life. A good two thirds of the book is devoted to the life, with a fair amount of weight on the relationship Matthew had with his father, Philip. Philip's household provided the environment in which Matthew flourished as a Christian and as a scholar, and we trace Matthew through his early life, his call to preach, and his ministries at Chester and Hackney. It is occasionally disconcerting in this section to have the author follow a tangential theme to its chronological end before returning to the main chronological stream of the central narrative, but not so much as to wreck the flow. The last third of the book is more analytical, considering Henry as preacher, commentator and writer, together with his legacy as a whole. This is a thorough, insightful and helpful section. In the 350th anniversary year of Matthew Henry's birth, we would do well to consider his life and draw from it the valuable lessons to which Harman points us.