Review: A new introduction to Luther’s 95 Theses (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Oct 26, 2016 in Book Notes, Book Reviews, Matthew Barrett | No Comments
Review: A new introduction to Luther’s 95 Theses (Matthew Barrett)

9781451482799Timothy J. Wengert. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses with Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

If you are unfamiliar with the events leading up to October 31, 1517, then Wengert’s brief introduction will prove to be a helpful and insightful guide. Wengert is a leading Luther scholar and the historical clarity and perceptivity he brings to this short account certainly is rewarding. I especially appreciated his clear definitions of indulgences, penance, purgatory, etc. And though brief, his short history of indulgences leading up to 1517 sheds illuminating light upon Luther’s growing frustration with their abuse.

I do wish Wengert would have devoted more space to Luther’s own crisis and conversion, especially as it relates to his lectures on the Psalms (1513-1515) and Romans (1515-1516); yet at the same time I understand that Wengert probably wanted to keep the focus on the 95 theses in particular. With that in mind, Wengert provides an overview of the theses, expositing the theology behind them, as well as providing a broad outline of them all. Furthermore, the theses themselves are included in the book with countless footnotes where Wengert explains what certain phrases mean, connects the theses to Luther’s other writings, cites scriptural references Luther may have had in mind, and much more.

I also appreciated the balance Wengert brought to the historical discussion. For example, I often see authors go out of their way to explain that the posting of the theses was merely an academic affair, utilizing the “bulletin board” to invite debate. That is certainly true and it helpfully avoids the sometimes popular caricature that Luther’s theses were dramatically posted with the town standing behind him. At the same time, I worry that scholars swing the pendulum too far. After all, there are signs that Luther’s theses were different, not necessarily for academic eyes alone.

Luther clearly composed the Ninety-Five Theses as theses for debate. Yet, when compared to other theses that he and other professors were composing at around the same time, the Ninety-Five Theses contain some turns that were decidedly not intended for classroom debate using logic and syllogisms. They have a far more rhetorical flare than one finds in other university theses, both before and after 1517. Indeed, it may help to consider this document as a mixture of logical argument and impassioned speech, as Luther addresses what he viewed as a looming pastoral and theological problem in the church. His defense of the Theses published in the summer of 1518 contains lengthy arguments, gleaned from Scripture, the church fathers, papal decrees, and canon law, and thus takes the form of an academic debate. But the Theses themselves, the letter to Albrecht, and the Sermon on Indulgences and Grace aim at both the head and the heart of the reader (although Luther would hardly have made the same distinction between the two that today’s readers do). [5]

Wengert is balanced in this historical observation and I hope it influences others to be just as balanced. On the one hand, we don’t want to overly dramatize the theses, infusing myth into the story. At the same time, there can be a tendency to remove Luther’s personality, his frustration and anger at the abuse he saw, as well as his intention not only that these theses hit academics over the head but that they move beyond the classroom, a point often denied or overlooked.

Finally, I really appreciate that Wengert took the effort to include at the end of the book Luther’s letter to Albrecht as well as Luther’s sermon on indulgences and grace. The theses themselves so often get all the attention, but the surrounding documents and the writings that immediately left Luther’s pen shortly thereafter prove to be extremely critical in the future development of Luther’s theology and eventual excommunication from Rome.

While I hope churchgoers will dig into longer books on the Reformation, this will be one of my top books to recommend to those just starting out. And given the study guide at the end, I imagine it is a book pastors could utilize in their church small groups as well.

Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by GraceOwen on the Christian LifeGod’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture,  and Reformation TheologyCurrently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more about Barrett at


My Favorite Book for Discipling New (and Old) Christians (Timothy Raymond)

Posted by on Jul 27, 2016 in Book Reviews | 2 Comments
My Favorite Book for Discipling New (and Old) Christians (Timothy Raymond)

rsu_2The other day one of my church members asked me for recommended resources for grounding new and young Christians in both basic Bible doctrine and practical Christian living.  I mentioned a few different resources which had different strengths.  For example, one was strong on theology but didn’t happen to address Christian living.  Another was helpful for Christian ethics but thin on theology.  Another was strong on the spiritual disciplines but was ambiguous on issues of sexual ethics.  There seemed to be no one resource which seemed to cover all the bases.  That was until I remembered one book that I believe does a superb job covering everything you’d want a new and young Christian know.  It’s the book Right Side Up: Life as God Meant it to Be.  And let me share with you why it’s my all-round favorite book to use in discipling new Christians, and with those who may have been Christians for decades but just never learned the basics.

First, like I mentioned, the book really does cover all the basics.  Not only does it include a section on taking up the cross and following Jesus, but also a section on why we can trust the Bible.  Not only are the topics of Bible reading and church involvement covered, but also Christian sexual ethics and financial practices.  The book includes teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit, the role of feelings in the Christian life, prayer, choosing a church, how to interpret the Bible, what to do after you’ve committed some heinous sin, marriage, relationships, evangelism, persecution, and more.  It also includes some useful practical tools which could be returned to regularly for reference, such as a short summary of the Bible’s story line and a suggested Bible reading plan with helps.  It really is a one-stop-resource for all you’d want the new believer to know.

The second reason I love Right Side Up is because the book is down-to-earth and surprisingly easy-to-read and understand, especially for young hipsters in their 40’s and younger (probably because the author is a young Australian who specializes in university outreach).  Its language and metaphors are the vernacular of the Facebook generation.  Not too long ago I read the book with a somewhat rough dude who had essentially no previous Bible knowledge and had just been converted in his 30’s.  He had no difficulty whatsoever understanding the book and, in fact, he loved it. He told me his favorite parts were the testimony excerpts of new Christians interspersed throughout the text describing what it’s like to follow Jesus in our world today.  This is a book you could easily hand to or read with a young, postmodern millennial and they’d understand it completely.

The last reason I heartily recommend Right Side Up is because it is under-girded by careful exegesis and responsible biblical theology.  If you’re familiar with the resources of Matthias Media, you’ll know this is true of all their books, workbooks, tracts, and videos (and by the way, I have no connections with Matthias Media and am not getting paid to say this).  All of their materials hit that perfect balance of being theologically-rich and exegetically-responsible while engaging the concerns of today’s world.  Right Side Up does this remarkably well.  Even as a seminary-trained pastor, I learned some helpful things about the Bible and Christian living.  Moreover, Right Side Up is not one of those generic, wishy-washy discipleship resources written not to offend anybody within broader Christendom but is manifestly evangelical and Calvinistic with a strong emphasis on the essentiality of the spiritual disciplines and the local church.  If you’re into the type of theology and ministry we emphasize here at Credo, you’ll love Right Side Up.

Do you have one book use with people who are not Christians but are open to considering the gospel?  Do you have one book to use for grounding new Christians in the faith?  Do you have one book to use with people who’ve been Christians for years but don’t seem to be growing?  If not, then you need Right Side Up, for this one book is all that and more.  The wise pastor will buy several copies, give them away freely, and read them with others.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.


A Pastor’s Reading Plan

Posted by on Apr 21, 2016 in Book Reviews | No Comments
A Pastor’s Reading Plan

So you’re a pastor. You might be interested to know that the Schleitheim Confession, an early Anabaptist creed, specified that the first duty of the pastoral office “shall be to read.” The Anabaptists were right. Nearly everything a pastor does in shepherding the flock—preaching, instructing, encouraging, admonishing, counseling—depends upon his growth through reading. That remains as true today as it was in 1527.

As a pastor, you need to have a profound grasp of the Scriptures. That kind of grasp comes only by repeated and detailed reading. A man who is not reading the Bible habitually is not equipped to pastor effectively. In fact, you ought to be reading the Bible at least two ways at once. One way is to read through the entire biblical text fairly rapidly, covering chapters each day. The other way is to study particular texts in detail, probably coordinated with your weekly preaching.

But you ought to read more than the Bible. You need to read materials that directly provide you with information and skills for ministry. You also need to read works that will improve you as a human being, helping you to become more thoughtful, knowledgeable, and interesting.

Most pastors know that they ought to read, but they don’t know what an effective reading program looks like. They need a method or plan that will help to guide them. I want to focus on just one part of that method, namely, a plan for reading books.

You should have goals in reading, just as you should in every area of ministry. Tracking progress toward a goal can help you to balance reading with other pastoral duties. An average pastor with a college and seminary education can comfortably complete about one ordinary book every week. By “ordinary book” I mean a book written in non-technical, discursive prose, with average page and print size, running about 250 pages. Some books can be read faster, some slower. Some books are longer, some shorter. Some pastors sprint through books like cheetahs after antelope, while others just lope along. But every pastor should be able to read a book per week.

If that seems challenging, then a few tips might help. First, force yourself to read rapidly. You can almost certainly read more quickly than you already do, and rapid reading is a skill that can be learned. Second, set aside blocs of time for reading. As a pastor, I would do much of my reading on Mondays, and then take a different day off when I felt less drained. Third, always have a book with you to read in odd moments. You can read in the airport until your flight boards. You can read at the mall while you’re waiting for your wife to come out of the shoe store. You can read while you’re stopped by a train crossing the road. Fourth, choose to read instead of getting trapped in time sinks like television, social media, or computer games. Fifth, join a reading group. Start one if you need to.

What should you read? Since you work directly with Scripture, a good bit of your reading will obviously focus upon biblical studies. You will read commentaries as part of your sermon preparation. You should also read works dealing with biblical history, Bible backgrounds, archaeology, biblical theology, and critical issues.

Furthermore, you should read systematic theology regularly. Ernest Pickering used to recommend that pastors read fifty pages of theology every week. That would only be ten pages a day. Three or four years of this kind of reading will help a young pastor prepare for his ordination council, particularly if he keeps his doctrinal statement open on his computer screen while he reads.

Works of philosophy should also be part of your regular reading—especially if the word philosophy is understood rather broadly. Philosophy includes not only metaphysics, epistemology, and logic (though pastors should have more than a passing acquaintance with these disciplines), but also esthetics (the study of the nature of beauty and, more broadly, art) and ethics. These days it arguably includes hermeneutics. Philosophy of religion and its cousin, apologetics, also comes under this rubric.

A grasp of history is important for many reasons, and especially for understanding how Christianity has developed and spread. Of course you should read history, and not only church history. Political history, social history, intellectual history, and biography should be a regular part of your reading cycle.

Some of your reading ought to help you improve your gifts for ministry. In seminary you probably read lots of books on administration, counseling, preaching, evangelism, and other areas of pastoral labor. You ought to keep on reading those books as long as you hope to become more skillful.

As a pastor, you are a communicator. In your preaching and teaching you should aim not only to impart information but also to shape affection. To reach the affections you must pass through the gate of imagination. You must be a sufficiently competent student of the imagination to distinguish legitimate from manipulative appeals. Consequently, you will be well served to study works of imagination, which means that you ought to read a certain amount of poetry and belletristic literature. You should pay special attention to those who have used storytelling to communicate Christian ideas and sensibilities. Authors like MacDonald, Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien deserve whole shelves in your library.

Do not neglect your own devotional life in your reading. Some works you should read, not because they help you to know more about God, but because they help you to love God better. As a pastor, part of your job is to confront, correct, and encourage others. You also need to be confronting, correcting, and encouraging yourself, and the right kind of reading will help you do that.

Finally, you ought to read widely. Part of your planned reading ought to include books that fit none of the above categories. You should read books of math and science, books on sailing and aviation, books about hunting, art criticism, home repair, and automotive maintenance. You should aim to be able to converse intelligently on as many topics as possible.

How will you stay on track with such a variety of reading? You will almost certainly need to keep a log of what you have read. You can list your reading in a notebook or journal, keeping track of the number of books and pages you are reading. You should also keep track of the categories from which your reading comes. If you see that you are neglecting a category, you’ll know that you need to do your next reading there.

I’m always surprised when I meet pastors who read only a book or two each year. I wonder what their congregations must be hearing from their pulpits. So, you’re a pastor? Read.

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary


“Even if all, not I” – The plot to kill Hitler (Michael Haykin)

Posted by on Mar 15, 2016 in Book Reviews, Michael Haykin | No Comments
“Even if all, not I” – The plot to kill Hitler (Michael Haykin)

5176585The plethora of books about the Second World War, and especially Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, is indicative of an ongoing fascination with this subject by both modern readers and authors. Far too many of these books, however, make the facile equation of ‘German=Nazi’. Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler (Phoenix, 2009) is a crisply written memoir of Philipp von Boeselager (1917–2008), published in the year after his death, and is a helpful reminder that there were some in Germany who refused to go along with the crowd during the Nazi era and sought to live honorable lives (p. 166). Hence the motto of the group of Germans with which Von Boeselager came to identify himself: etiam si omnes, ego non! “Even if all, not I!”—a motto drawn from Matthew 26:33 in the Vulgate.

Born to Roman Catholic nobility in the Rhineland, Von Boeselager details the way that growing up he was particularly close to his older brother Georg (1915–1944). In fact, in some ways, this book is a panegyric of Georg, whose tremendous bravery as a soldier is variously depicted—for which he was decorated with the Iron Cross with oak leaves—and who possessed a deep sense of loyalty to the soldiers under his command. But Philipp’s own bravery under fire is also quite remarkable: he was wounded five times in battle, once quite seriously that he nearly died and had to endure weeks of convalescence (p. 46–48). And he was quite prepared on occasion to speak his mind publicly about his disagreement with Nazi policies (p. 71–74, 158).

Philipp’s realization of the depth of evil within the Nazi regime began when he had a conversation in June of 1942 with an SS commandant named Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski (1899–1972), whom Von Boeselager does not hesitate to describe as ‘truly a creature of the Devil’ (p. 65). When Bach-Zelewski casually mentioned his killing of five Roma simply because of their ethnicity and then went to stress that ‘Jews and Gypsies are among the Reich’s enemies. We have to liquidate them’ (p. 66–67), Von Boeselager states that this conversation ‘changed my view of the war. I was disgusted and afraid’ (p. 67). This incident made Von Boeselager more than ready to join a circle of conspirators around General Hermann Henning von Tresckow (1901–1944), who were plotting to kill Hitler and stage a coup d’état, a circle that also included his brother George.

After the Allied invasion of France in the summer of 1944, it was obvious to men like Von Boeselager that the war was lost. Nonetheless, as Von Tresckow noted, the attempt to assassinate Hitler had to go ahead, for it was vital to ‘show the whole world and History that the German resistance movement dared to gamble everything, even at the risk of its own life’ (p.142–143). It is noteworthy that Von Tresckow is depicted as a man ‘constantly admiring the work of his Creator’ and a committed Christian (p. 81–82). Von Boeselager also reveals a genuine love for nature and animals (see, for example, his endearing discussion of the horses in his cavalry unit on p. 90–91).

The decision to assassinate Hitler was not taken lightly, but involved lengthy discussions of the legitimacy of the act and ‘the justification for murder—for an assassination, even of a tyrant, remains a murder’ (p. 87). It also meant breaking with a long tradition of total obedience to the government, which was especially prevalent among the Prussians—which was the regional background of Von Tresckow and a number of the conspirators (p. 83). Due to training that Von Boeselager had been given with explosives and his subsequent access to them, he became the ‘conspiracy’s chief explosives expert’ (p. 86). It was thus he who supplied the explosives used in the July 1944 attempt to kill Hitler (p. x). Explosives were eventually deemed necessary since Hitler used to wear a thin bulletproof vest and a cap lined with metal, making assassination with a pistol difficult (p. 100–101).

The only Bible text explicitly cited in the memoir is from the Latin Bible that Von Boeselager regularly carried with him: ‘that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear’ (Luke 1:73). With the failure of the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler, most of the conspirators were arrested and subsequently executed after frightful torture. Despite their being centrally involved, however, the Von Boeselager brothers escaped the notice of the SS. On one occasion, though, in the month after the failed assassination, Philipp was ordered to come to Army headquarters. He expected to be arrested and was understandably quite nervous. As he was boarding the plane to fly him back from the Eastern Front, his Latin Bible fell from a bag he was carrying. Stooping to pick it up, Von Boeselager saw the verse noted above, and seems to have taken it as a sign that God would protect him, as he said to himself, ‘By the grace of God’ (p. 155).

And in some ways, this last phrase can be seen as a theme of Von Boeselager’s entire memoir as he gives elegant witness to those who refused to acquiesce to the diabolical regime of Hitler and stood up for what was just and right.

Michael A. G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, from which this post originated.


Recommended Resources on Exodus, Part 4: Exegetical Commentaries (Timothy Raymond)

Posted by on Feb 16, 2016 in Book Reviews, Timothy Raymond | One Comment
Recommended Resources on Exodus, Part 4: Exegetical Commentaries (Timothy Raymond)

I continue to labor away, preaching though the book of Exodus.  I’ve passed the one year mark and am still in chapter 20, and while that may seem like a long time in one book, both my congregation and I have found the series incredibly helpful and edifying.  I’m convinced that Exodus is one of the most important books to master in the entire Bible, as it sets the stage for the entire story line of Scripture and gives us all the major categories for understanding the work of Jesus. (In case anybody is curious, here’s a link to all my sermons thus far.)

9781783970124mIn preparing this series, the Lord’s enabled me to do an unusual amount of research into Exodus and I’m sharing the fruits of my studies with you, my brother-pastors, in the hopes of equipping you to more effectively preach this pivotal book of the Bible.  Today I’ll be pointing you to the most helpful exegetical commentaries I’ve discovered on Exodus.  (For previous installments in this series, go here, here, and here).

EP Study Commentary: Exodus, Volumes 1 & 2 by John D. Currid

While better known for his works on archaeology and ANE backgrounds, Currid, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, is a very competent commentator, especially on the Torah. When I preached through Genesis several years ago, his volumes on Genesis became my go-to commentaries for understanding and applying that book.  The situation is similar with Exodus in that Currid has produced a commentary which excels in exegesis, cultural background, theological reflection, and practical application.  Had I not discovered Mackay’s commentary (see below), this would be my favorite all-round Exodus commentary.

1857926145mExodus: A Mentor Commentary by John L. Mackay

In preaching through books of the Bible, I almost always find myself drawn to one commentary in particular as a must-read, foundational commentary, one that I’ll always peruse no matter how pressed for time I may be. For Exodus, this is the one.  Mackay, former Principal of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, professor of Old Testament, and author of several commentaries on Old Testament books, has written a volume on Exodus which is clear, unashamedly evangelical, gently Calvinistic, supported by the best scholarship, attuned to contemporary application, interestingly written, and about perfect length.  If you’re only going to buy one exegetical commentary on Exodus, make it this one.

The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentaryby Brevard Childs

Some of you may be surprised to find Child’s name included in this list. Childs wasn’t an evangelical but apparently a very conservative mainline Protestant who worked amongst liberals (sort of like a Bruce Metzger-type).  This commentary on Exodus is one of the most impressive commentaries I’ve ever used of any kind and covers just about everything you could ever imagine: exegesis, linguistics, various types of criticism, inter-canonical connections, biblical theology, systematic theology, New Testament trajectories, even summaries of post-biblical history of interpretation (from both Jewish and Christian perspectives).  It’s hard to believe one man created such a vast work.  Be careful of the sections entitled “Literary and Traditio-Historical Problems” (I just skip over those), but I’ve found this commentary a joyto read, thoroughly helpful, and have quoted it to my congregation more than once.  (If you’re curious why I’d recommend Childs but not Peter Enns on Exodus, see this post.)

Lord willing, in my next installment in this series I intend to recommend a few pastoral/applicatory commentaries on Exodus. After that, I intend to conclude this series with a post on some resources on the Tabernacle.

I’ll close today by reiterating my invitation. If there are resources on Exodus (i.e., lectures, commentaries, books, etc.) you’d recommend or would like me to review, leave them in the comments below and I’ll consider including them.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.


What is the Incarnation? (Michael A.G. Haykin)

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Book Reviews, Michael Haykin | No Comments
What is the Incarnation? (Michael A.G. Haykin)

9781596388291mI have a long-standing tradition of reading a book relating to Christology around the time of Christmas. This year it was a booklet rather than a book, a part of the series Basics of the Faith, whose general editor is Sean Lucas, namely, What is the Incarnation? (P&R), by William B. Evans, the Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts Professor of Historical Theology at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina.

Evans covers a tremendous amount of ground in the small compass of this booklet (a mere 26 pages): from the integral links between the person of Christ and his work (p.6–8), in which he draws upon insights from Athanasius and Anselm, to the sinlessness of the humanity assumed by the Son of God (p.24–25). Along the way, he delineates the biblical witness to the person of Christ (p.10–12), rightly pointing out that “the incarnation is a foundational assumption of the New Testament writers” (p.12), discusses the question of images of Christ (p.25–27), and summarizes six major Christological positions that Christian thought and reflection ruled to be heretical—Ebionism (the denial of the deity of Christ), Docetism (the denial of the humanity of Christ), Arianism (the reduction of Christ to a the rank of a “lesser” god, who is in fact a creature), Apollinarianism (which affirmed that the second person of the Godhead took the place of the human mind and soul of Christ), Nestorianism (the failure to maintain the integral unity of deity and humanity in the person of Christ), and Eutychianism (which so identifies the deity and humanity of Christ that Christ’s humanity is all but swallowed up by the deity) (p.13–16).

Evans identifies the creedal statement issued by the Council of Chalcedon (451), “one of the great watersheds in early church history” (p.16) as the Ancient Church’s definitive statement on the incarnation. This statement, which essentially affirmed the reality of the two natures, divine and human, in the one person of Christ—a union “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”—held sway among Western theologians to the time of the early modern era in the seventeenth century (p.18). It was only then that theologians proposed radically different conceptions of the incarnation like the “kenotic” theory, which employed Philippians 2:7 to argue that Christ gave up all of his divine attributes when he became man.

All in all this is an extremely helpful summary of key details and issues relating to what Paul calls “the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16), a work that would be ideal for a series in Sunday School or a mid-week Bible study.

Michael A. G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church and Owen on the Christian LifeHaykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.



Book Review: Candle in the Wind (Paul Helm)

Posted by on Nov 5, 2015 in Book Reviews, Paul Helm | No Comments
Book Review: Candle in the Wind (Paul Helm)

Gary Brady is a present-day John Flavel. Like Flavel the Puritan, a minister in Dartmouth, Gary has been the pastor of an urban church for many years, and as Flavel became used to the ups and downs of such a life so no doubt has Gary. He has been pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church in north west London since 1983. And like Flavel he is a considerable author, with five books already, and now a sixth, Candle in the Wind – Understanding Conscience in the Light of God’s Word (EP Books, 2014). This post is by way of a modest celebration of it, and of Gary’s gifts as an author on this great but neglected topic.

Conscience is a permanent resident in every person, a personal, moral and spiritual reflex of that very person that it is the conscience of. You have your conscience and I have mine, and mine does not throw a light on you, nor yours a light on me. Properly understood, it is the voice of God, which can be fine-tuned (sometimes too finely) or almost drowned out. It can excuse or accuse. It can thunder or whisper.  Whisperings can become full-throated. But it can be almost subverted by the culture, by upbringing, by friends or by the boss, by what we read and by the media.

Candle_In_The_Wind_1024x1024A strong conscience, how about that? This is a conscience informed by the word of God. God is Lord of the conscience. Gary thinks that Christians with such a weapon, who know what they believe and what and what not to do, should be careful of not bullying the weaker brethren. That is, those sincere believers whose conscience is ill-informed in some way. But a sound conscience is nevertheless a great good. There is a greater thing than parading your conscience, however, and making a thing of it, and that is love or concern for the weaker brethren. ‘…If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing’. This is the best section of the book, thoughtful and wise.

Here are some questions which I don’t think Gary touched on, though he touched on most things, I reckon: The question of whether the operation of conscience leads or follows what we do. Conscience seems to behave in either of these two ways. When you consider doing something, the conscience kicks in, telling you that this is the right thing to do, and so you do it, or at least try to do it. At other times it is like a rear-view mirror, telling you that what you did was or wasn’t OK. Whether this is before – or after – behaviour proves significant? Or does it simply show dull or quick wittedness, as the case may be? The Christian’s conscience, like other things, is imperfectly regenerated, subject to ignorance, bias and weakness. The Christian is a ‘wretched man’ who has a conscience, he or she does not yet possess a perfectly judging and operating moral sense.

Most of Gary’s concerns are with the conscience as it operates within the sphere of the church. Here very definitely God is ‘Lord of the Conscience’, as Perkins and Ames and the Westminster Confession had it. But what about Gary’s hearers when they are at work or at leisure? If things are operating as they should then one cannot expect the same standards at meetings at work to the meetings at church. Ought conscience to operate differently in different circumstances? Is this dangerous, like having double standards? In one place Paul writes ‘I wrote to you in my letter [which unfortunately we do not possess] not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually Immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, nor idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.’ As Augustine might have put it, church and world are two ‘cities’. Ought a Christian to have two sets of standards, two consciences, one for each city? Don’t we in practice have two standards? When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Is this the place for some casuistry?

As a Baptist, Gary has an interest in liberty of conscience. He notes its development in England in the seventeenth-century. Particular Baptists have a confessional position advocating such liberty from the beginning, though in a restricted form. (Of course as he notes, any freedom of expression must have restrictions.) In this Independents and Baptists were distinct from the Presbyterians and Anglicans, who edged their way to social liberty as it became clear to the powers that be that good Christian people could differ from each other on various matters which did not imperil the integrity of the state. (Socinians and Roman Catholics were another question!) Gary is quite keen on Roger Williams. Gary is uncertain about whether liberty of conscience is the teaching of the New Testament. But surely it can be considered as an application of the principle of ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets’. Indeed it might be argued that freedom of conscience is like sanitation and public hygiene, an obvious good. But, alas, a good that it is hard for societies who enjoy it to retain, as we are currently seeing.

What Gary mainly does in his book – tho’ he does not say that he is doing it – is to treat the Christian life from the vantage point of the conscience. In conviction of sin, the voice of conscience is the voice of God. In penitence and faith, the troubled conscience, troubled by sins, can through exercising the faith which justifies, come to enjoy a good conscience, not a witness to failure but to Christ’s victory. But even then it can lapse through carelessness into an ill-formed conscience, a seared conscience, unfeeling. Watchfulness is needed. A Flavelian theme.

Gary takes us through all this in a clear, unassuming style. He has a light touch, chatty and unpretentious. Bags of quotations, and much good sense. His favourite writers on the theme seem to be Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), and John Bunyan in his Holy War. Thanks, Gary, for a wholesome, entertaining and insightful read. May you continue preaching and pen-wielding for many years to come!

Gary’s other books are – Heavenly Wisdom, The 1662 Great Ejection, What Jesus is Doing Now, The Song of Songs and Being Born Again

Paul Helm was appointed J.I. Packer Chair of Philosophical Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, in 2001. He is presently a Teaching Fellow there. Among his many books are Calvin and the Calvinists, Faith and Reason, The Trustworthiness of God, The Providence of God, Eternal God, The Secret Providence of God, The Trustworthiness of God (with Carl Trueman), John Calvin’s Ideas, Calvin at the Centre, and Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 


Recommended Resources on Exodus, Part 2: Resources on the Decalogue (Timothy Raymond)

Posted by on Nov 2, 2015 in Book Reviews, Timothy Raymond | One Comment
Recommended Resources on Exodus, Part 2: Resources on the Decalogue (Timothy Raymond)

As part of my perpetual sermon series through Exodus, I’m currently preaching through the Ten Commandments and so far have had a glorious time proclaiming the gospel from the Decalogue. (In case anybody is curious, here’s a link to all the sermons thus far.) In preparation for this part of the series, I read several books on the Ten Commandments and below are my comments on a few resources which you may find helpful (for part 1 of this series, go here).

51NcVY6mfML._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Toward Old Testament Ethics (Ethics – Old Testament Studies), by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

As the title suggests, this is not a study of exclusively the Ten Commandments but of the ethics of the first 77.2% of the Bible. But as you’d imagine, the Decalogue functions as the backbone of those ethics, and much of this book is devoted to expounding the meaning and implications of the Ten Commandments. I find myself in great sympathy to Kaiser’s approach to Old Testament ethics but I really wish he had done more by way of contemporary application. This is a good resource to have on the shelf, simply as a one-stop comprehensive exposition of all the ethical texts in the Old Testament. But if you’re looking for how this shapes and guides life today, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

419iMTTLr0L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church, by Patrick D. Miller

This is the best book I’ve ever read that I simply cannot recommend. It’s by far the best book I’ve read on the Decalogue and one of the most informative books I’ve ever read of any kind. It’s essentially a whole-Bible biblical theological organized around the Ten Commandments and excels in exegesis, biblical theology, theological reflection, and contemporary application. The author’s learning is astounding and has left no stone unturned in exploring the meaning and implications of Decalogue. At nearly 500 pages, it is truly a comprehensive study. Furthermore, the author writes in a very engaging and easy-to-read style. Why then can’t I recommend it? The author, who is a professor of Old Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, is theologically liberal and of all places, this is most problematic when it comes to contemporary ethics (for example, Miller actually defends same-sex marriage on pages 292-295). I really wish there were a sort of “revised evangelical version” of this book, for it’s incredibly helpful about 95% of the time. But since the remaining 5% is explosive heresy, I can’t commend it to any except the most careful of pastors who have the time and patience to wade through a minefield.

The Ten Command41k6FKK9xSL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_ments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology), by Mark F. Rooker

Truth be told, I was rather disappointed by this book. It’s very, very good, but far too brief to be completely helpful to the preacher. Its strength is in its careful exegesis of the text of Exodus 20 in light of its ANE context. Its weakness is that it includes almost nothing by way of contemporary application. It’s really more designed for the Bible translator than the pastor. While it’s a useful tool for understanding the meaning of the text, it must be supplemented with other resources which explore the gospel, lifestyle, ecclesiastical, and worldview implications of the Decalogue.

The Prager University Videos on the Ten Commandments

If you’re not familiar with Dennis Prager, he’s perhaps the most erudite social commentators on the radio today. He’s also a very conservative Jew who unashamedly believes the Torah comes from God. In these eleven 5-minute videos, Prager explores the massive implications of the Ten Commandments on society, politics, culture, and the family. I don’t think I’ve seen a better resource for exploring the worldview implications of the Decalogue. And they’re completely free! However, since they’re coming from a Jewish perspective, there’s no gospel here, and Prager adopts a distinctively Jewish interpretation of the text in a couple places. I’d heartily recommend you use these videos for preaching the Decalogue, but supplement them with good evangelical resources.

Lord willing, in my next installment in this series I intend to recommend a few exegetical commentaries on Exodus. After that, I hope to follow up with posts on commentaries for preachers and possibly some resources on the Tabernacle. If there are resources on Exodus (i.e., lectures, commentaries, books, etc.) you’d recommend or would like me to review, leave them in the comments below and I’ll consider including them.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.


Bonhoeffer’s Letters to London (Michael Haykin)

Posted by on Jun 23, 2015 in Book Reviews, Michael Haykin | No Comments
Bonhoeffer’s Letters to London (Michael Haykin)

41yp0Av2lCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters to London: Bonhoeffers Previously Unpublished Correspondence with Ernst Cromwell, 1935-1936. Ed. Stephen J. Plant and Toni Burrowes-Cromwell. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014.

The discovery of this bundle of letters written in the years 1935 and 1936 from the justly-famous German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) to a then-young Anglo-German by the name of Ernst Cromwell (1921–), now in his early nineties and bearing the anglicized name “Ernest,” does not materially add an enormous amount to what we know about the thought of Bonhoeffer. We see themes found elsewhere—his distrust of pietism (p.66), his emphasis on humility (p.69), his delight in the gift of friendship and community (p.73–74), the vital importance of living in the truth and cleaving to Christ (p.74–75)—but these are interwoven with other remarks of less import though vital to the developing friendship between Bonhoeffer and young Ernst.

What we especially see in these letters is Bonhoeffer the pastor, seeking to offer encouragement and guidance to a young man living in England, whom Bonhoeffer was preparing for confirmation during his ministry at the German-speaking congregation at St. George’s, Sydenham. Given the fateful and horrific events transpiring in Germany in the mid-1930s, we also have some fabulous insights into Bonhoeffer’s determination to be faithful to his Christian calling amidst such days. In one letter, he tells Ernst that he has made himself “pretty unpopular over the issue of the Jews” (p.66). In another, he informs his young friend that he has been forbidden by “the Ministry of Culture…to lecture” (p.72).

A helpful introduction, “A friendship to be grateful for: Bonhoeffer’s letters to Ernst Cromwell,” sets the letters in context (p.1–27). There is also an interview with Ernest Cromwell (p.29–46), and an excellent “Afterword” by Toni Burrowes-Cromwell, Ernest’s daughter-in-law, in which she draws out the significance of these letters for Christian life today (p.77–100).

Michael A. G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His most recent book is Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011). Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. This review was first published at Books At a Glance.


Loving the Old Testament by Alec Moyter (Timothy Raymond)

Posted by on Jun 18, 2015 in Book Reviews, Timothy Raymond | No Comments
Loving the Old Testament by Alec Moyter (Timothy Raymond)

9781781915806mI knew I was going to be reviewing Alec Moyter’s Loving the Old Testament before I began reading it, so upon commencing this book I started scribbling down points in the very back which I considered “particularly helpful parts”.  I wasn’t far into the book before I realized that I would have to essentially jot down every major point as particularly helpful.  In nearly every conceivable way this little book is outstanding to the point that I can hardly believe so much useful content is concentrated into so few pages.  If your typical book is coffee, Loving the Old Testament is expresso.

Loving the Old Testament is a bit difficult to describe.  Try imagining a miniature overview of the Old Testament.  Now blend it with a brief biblical theology in the tradition of Vos or Clowney.  Now add several asides inserted at helpful points where Motyer devotes special attention to exegeting selected texts.  Round it off with a hearty dose of practical pastoral applications peppered throughout and add a forward by Tim Keller and an afterward by Don Carson.  If you could imagine all of this in 130 pages of 4 ½” by 7”, you’ve got Loving the Old Testament.

As far as the strengths of this book, they are legion.  It’s clearly written, interesting, supported by meticulous and creative scholarship, not infrequently humorous, reverent and pious (in the best sense), and very practically applicable especially to a local church context.  Furthermore, if you know anything about biblical studies from the last 100 years, you’ll know that Moyter’s is essentially the evangelical Gandalf.  (And anybody who is still living who used to hang out with Martyn Lloyd-Jones must be as old as Gandalf.)  I can enthusiastically recommend Loving the Old Testament as an ideal book to give to an interested layman or to use in a discipleship course.  It also might make a useful tool for Sunday school classes, Wednesday night Bible studies, or even with a sharp youth group.

Since all proper book reviews comment on a book’s weaknesses, here are three, purely because they’re compulsory.  First, the book includes a small handful of curious typographical errors.  These obviously don’t detract from the overall message or content, but might make you smirk occasionally.  Second, the book is remarkably brief, really more in the booklet category.  There’s obviously nothing wrong with brevity, but at retail of $6.39, you may feel as if you want “more for your money.”  Lastly, Moyter does assume a fairly traditional covenant theology and an amillennial hermeneutic of the Old Testament prophets, which will delight some of our readers while irritating others.

These perfunctory weaknesses out of the way, I don’t think I could recommend Loving the Old Testament highly enough.  In a day when the vast majority of our teaching and preaching almost completely neglects the first 77.2% of the Bible, this book could result in a revival of learning the whole counsel of God, and even a revival of the spiritual life of the church.  Loving the Old Testament is really a delightful little book in every day.  If you’re a pastor, I’d encourage you to buy a couple dozen copies and keep them on your free book table or stocked in your bookstore.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.