No Little Women by Aimee Byrd

No Little WomenNo Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God

by Aimee Byrd
Paperback, 278 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2016

Read: February 12, 2017

This book is — by and large — an examination and critique of contemporary Women’s Ministries, and the materials marketed towards women in a Christian context. Byrd doesn’t call for an abolition of Women’s Ministries — but does want to encourage women and the churches that they’re members of to evaluate these with a greater level of discernment, for churches to work at cultivating and equipping female members the same way they seek to for the males in the congregation.

Byrd examines the warnings Paul gives about those seeking to deceive and lead away women — and the impact that would have on the churches of the First Century (and today!) when they succeeded in drawing away women from the truth. Why does Paul focus on women in this context? Should pastors today do the same? Which leads to a discussion of the proper means and motives for educating the females in a congregation, and the roles that women (and laymen) should have in the ministry of the Church.

Byrd discusses (and critiques) the contemporary concept “ministries” of the Church in contrast to The Ministry of Word and Sacrament. And in that light, examines the role of “Women’s Ministries” (even if she finds the term problematic, it’s what everyone uses, so her discussion needs to use the term) in the Church today. So much goes on in even conservative, confessional churches under the umbrella of Women’s Ministry that diverges from — even flat-out contradicts — the teachings from the pulpits. How did we get to this point, and how does the Church respond to this in ways that will lead us all to maturity without causing harm and disunity in a local congregation?

Byrd doesn’t claim to have all the answers here, but she has some good places to start. One of the biggest ways is to improve the level of involvement from Church Leadership in the Women’s Ministries/Initiatives. Another is to improve discernment in women when it comes to dealing with books/teachings marketed toward them. Byrd devotes a chapter to citing problematic (and worse!) passages in popular books targeted to the Christian Woman Non-Fiction audience, with questions that discerning (or would-be discerning) readers should be asking. She even includes questions that people should be asking about No Little Women!

It should be noted — and stressed — that nowhere does Byrd argue for a change in the Church’s teaching on male/female relationships and roles, female ordination, or anything along those lines — she does argue that we might not be the best at applying those teachings right now.

What makes this book poignant is Byrd’s repeated call — maybe pleading would be a better way of putting it — for Church Officers (Pastors, Elders) to pay attention to the theological and spiritual development and education of the women in their congregations (and the never stated, but obvious, indictment of the all-too-frequent abandonment of their call in this regard). Yes, when it comes to the official and regular Ministry of Word and Sacrament, these officers are doing their duty — but when it comes to the books (and other materials) marketed towards them, the studies they use, the “Women’s Ministries,” etc. — all too often, it’s ignored. Byrd asks for Shepherds and Leaders to step up and help the women in their congregations — and even gives some tips for how they can effectively relate to these oft-neglected parishioners. Do I think most of the men she’s addressing here think they’re ignoring any part their flocks? No (and I doubt Byrd does either), but they sure appear to be.

A quick digression: At one point, Byrd cites statistics saying that Women buy 72% of the Christian Fiction sold and 59% of the Christian Non-Fiction, and another survey stating that Women read twice as much Christian Non-Fiction as men. Seriously? This is rather disheartening. What do Christian men read? Are we (on the whole) an illiterate group? This blog isn’t the proper setting for this question — and I’m sure not the one to answer it, but I hope someone takes this up (Sinclair Ferguson helps to remedy the problem in this small [and 15-year-old] booklet).

Byrd writes in her typical straight-forward manner, in a prose that’s smooth and easy to read. Despite challenging her readers, she never comes across and condemnatory or anything but encouraging. There’s a call to action (sometimes implicit, frequently explicit), but consistently done in a positive manner. Byrd’s seeking to improve how the Church — women, pastors/elders, and laymen — carries out Her mission, not to tear down.

Ultimately, I’m not one of the main target audiences — women and Church Officers — so I had a hard(er) time really getting into sections of this book than I’d like. But as a husband, father of a daughter, and layman concerned with the theological education of his fellow laity — a lot of this book was alarming, yet encouraging. Someone’s taking this seriously — and hopefully she’s raising enough awareness that others will follow suit. You don’t have to be a feminist or ecclesiological revolutionary to be concerned with the state of theological training of Christian women (and everything she says about Women goes for our teens and children) — it’s a matter for all laity to take up. This is as close to a must-read as I can think of.


4 Stars

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett

God's Word AloneGod’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Matthew Barrett
Series: The 5 Solas Series

Paperback, 374 pg.
Zondervan, 2016
Read: January 8 – 22, 2016

For this installment in The 5 Solas Series focuses on the material principle of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura. Despite being almost 200 pages longer than VanDrunen’s entry in this series (the benefit of being the series editor is that you get more space?), this book is too short for what it tries to accomplish. Which is really the long way around for me to say that this book tries to do too much — and ends up giving shallow presentations to things that deserve more.

Part 1 is an exploration of the understanding of — and challenges to — Biblical Authority around the time of the Reformation and through history since then. While Barrett gives a strong and competent explanation of these themes, I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve read them before — frequently — by other authors.

Part 2, an exploration of the doctrine of Scripture/The Word of God throughout Redemptive History, I thought was very promising. This could be the backbone of a very compelling study, and I hope someone takes Barrett’s work here and builds on, expands and deepens it (if someone has already written this book — please tell me!). It’s probably here most of all, that I noticed how much space forced Barrett to stick to the surface of this subject rather than exploring it in the depth it asks for.

Part 3 was a more polemical/apologetic focus — discussing challenges to the Authority of God’s Word. This was probably the strongest part of the book — in particular, I thought his chapter on Innerrancy was pure gold. Nothing new or particularly insightful was offered in this section, but there seemed to be a bit more passion, a bit more energy to this Part.

This is the second in The 5 Solas Series that I’ve read, and the second that I was underwhelmed by. It’s good, but does little to commend it above many other titles on the subject. Barrett knows the subject, explains it well, but doesn’t inspire the reader to anything. I don’t mean to suggest by my frequent notes that “there was nothing new” that I need novelty — I prefer a lack of novelty to my theology. But I do want something about a book to stand out in the way it discusses things before I can really get excited about/impressed with a book.


3 Stars

The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee by R. David Cox

The Religious Life of Robert E. LeeThe Religious Life of Robert E. Lee

by R. David Cox
Series: Library of Religious Biography

PDF (will be published as paperback), 259 pg.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017

Read: December 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017

I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.

So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man’s theology in 3 sentences, that’s a decent one to have.

Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn’t a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could — and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing).

By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee’s life, what’s going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members — particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It’s not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee’s perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those.

I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn’t that much material — Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that’d certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn’t like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book — there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book.

One of the drawbacks of this book is the author’s perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I’m not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There’s an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis’ phrase) here when reflecting on Lee’s racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee’s religious views. But this didn’t crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It’s a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It’s just that 2% or so . . .

This is a part of Eerdman’s Library of Religious Biography series — which I hadn’t heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn’t realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to “link the lives of their subjects – not always thought of as ‘religious’ persons – to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon.

This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither’s bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn’t make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox’s attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That’s still a recommendation, and I’ll gladly tell anyone to read it — believer or nonbeliever — if they want to understand Lee better, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


3 Stars

Sons in the Son by David B. Garner

Sons in the Son Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ

by David B. Garner

eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017

Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016

At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.

I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.

You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.

He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.

Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.

In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.

Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).

It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


5 Stars

War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (2nd. Edition) by James E. Adams

War Psalms of the Prince of PeaceWar Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms, Second Edition

by James E. Adams

eARC, 176 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016

Read: December 18, 2016

This is the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book — revised and expanded, no less. I was so glad to get the opportunity to read this one — I’ve got a copy of the original edition, which I’ve read 3 or 4 times, and referred to often. So to get to read a new edition — and to have an excuse to revisit the book — I had to jump at the chance.

Adams begins by reassuring Twentieth Century Christians (and I assume those of us in the Twenty-First Century, too) that the Imprecatory Psalms do belong in Scripture, are just as inspired as the rest, and have a place in the life and piety of his readers. Imprecatory Psalms, I should probably mention, are those Psalms that call for the destruction or judgment of the psalmist’s enemies. From there, Adams argues that no only do they belong in our Bibles, but (like the other Psalms) they belong in Christ’s mouth. To prove this, he compares the Imprecatory Psalms to the Psalms of Repentance — if Jesus Christ can say/sing the latter properly, then it’s fitting for him to sing/pray the former. I’m not positive that’s the best argument he could make, but I tell you, Adams makes it work (it helps that he spent far more space than I just did).

Given that they’re part of the Bible, and that if they’re fitting to be used by Christ, then they have a place in the life of the New Testament saint — but what is that place? How are we to use them? Do we get to call down the wrath of God on our enemies? (Short answer: NO).

This here is the heart of the book, and where Adams is at his best. Yes, we are to pray these prayers, sing these psalms —

You may say, “This is the last thing my church needs! If our hearts are too lazy and cold to pray for those we love, how can we think of praying for enemies, as we find in the Psalms?” But I would challenge you, isn’t this the cause of our lack of prayer? We have not learned from the Lord Jesus how to pray!

Learning to pray these psalms is a theme he returns to time and again —

Without assistance how can we ever righteously pray this prayer? I answer this question unequivocally: We never can! We cannot pray this prayer on our own . . . not because we are too good, but rather because we are too prone to evil! Yet we must learn to pray it.

But why are we to pray these prayers?

Why are we taught to pray for God’s judgment on the enemy? So that they will be converted! Nothing could be clearer from this prayer [Ps. 83].

That’s the core of the book, right there — I’ll let you read his explanation, but that’s the ballgame.

On the whole, I can’t tell you what was revised, nor can I say exactly how it was expanded — and there’s just no way I’m going to break out my original and read them in parallel to give you the list. What this primarily tells me is that what he did to improve the book came in fairly seamlessly. So I’m guessing that means we’re talking about minor tweaks and clarifications — no major new sections or anything. Would I have preferred a new chapter or two? Some more in-depth explorations of particular psalms? Yes. But the book didn’t need a new chapter or two, and it wasn’t intended to be that narrow in focus, so that kind of material would’ve felt out of place.

This is an easy read — clear, crisp writing that is deep enough to make you think, but written in a way that you don’t notice that you’re dealing with weighty theology. Adams writes with conviction, passion, and care – which is always helpful but particularly so with a topic like this. You don’t want a dry dissertation here, you need heart to go with the thinking. There’s a sensitivity here, which is needed, but more than anything a desire to treat the Bible (and the Spirit who inspired it) as it ought to be.

This is a gem — it was a gem 25 years ago when it was published, and it’s a gem today.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


4 Stars

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus

by L. Michael Morales
Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology, #37

Paperback, 306 pg.
IVP Academic, 2015

Read: October 16 – November 27, 2016

So this is another one of those books that I’m not really qualified to talk about, but . . . whoops, here I go.

Morales doesn’t give us what you typically find/look for in a study of Leviticus — detailed explanations — or dodges — of the various purity laws and other commands and regulations contained in it. Instead, he begins by explaining his conclusion that Leviticus is the center of the Pentateuch, and that Chapter 16 is the center of it. Beginning in Genesis, everything is leading up to the Day of Atonement, and then everything from that is to be seen as the result of, or in light of that day.

That’s a lousy summary, but that’s the best you’re going to get from me in a couple of sentences. The argument is so detailed, so complex that I can’t really do much better without spending a few pages on it — and no one wants to read that (especially since you can read Morales doing a better job). At first, I thought that it was an interesting idea, but it really didn’t matter much. But as I read on and understood what he was doing better, it started to capture my imagination and draw me in. This was well argued, well researched — and well explained for even non-technical types like me.

But when it comes to Biblical Theology, the proof in the pudding comes from tying in his theses to the unfolding story of redemption — first in Israel’s story and then showing how it leads to Christ and His work on earth, His Ascension and pouring out of His Spirit to prepare a people to meet with Him on Mount Zion. The last two chapters were fantastic — and I’m going to have to reread them a few times to really wrap my brain around it all. There were moments of beauty here — it’s hard for an academically-inclined work to inspire and touch the emotions of a reader, but Morales did it.

This volume is the first I’ve read in New Studies in Biblical Theology (I believe it’s the first I heard of it, too) — the series is edited by D. A. Carson. The series aims “to simultaneously instruct and to edify, to interact with current scholarship and to point the way ahead. . . While volume notes interact with the best of recent research, the text of each work avoids untransliterated Greek and Hebrew or too much specialist jargon. The volumes are written within the framework of confessional evangelicalism, but they also engage a variety of other relevant viewpoints and significant literature.” If this is a representative volume, it won’t be my last in the series. If I can just pick another — the list of 41 is daunting — just too many choices.

Anyway, Who Shall Ascend was a challenging, interesting, educational and inspiring work — there’s not much more that you can ask for. If you’re up for the work, I heartily recommend it.


4 Stars

John Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing God by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley

John Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing GodJohn Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing God

by Joel R. Beeke, Paul M. Smalley

eARC, 160 pg.
P & R Publishing, 2016

Read: October 2 – 9, 2016

This brief book is a look at the life — spiritual and natural — of John Bunyan and his understanding of the fear of the Lord as traced through his writings.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have only the most basic understanding of Bunyan beyond The Pilgrim’s Progress and that quotation from John Owen about his preaching (only cited twice in this book), so I can’t judge the scholarship of Beeke and Smalley when it comes to that. I can say that I thought their approach to both the man and the material could’ve been deeper. The brief biographical material did everything it needed to — it wasn’t too long and it covered the bases, giving an understanding of what he went through and his historical context.

After the biographical section, the authors turn to the Fear of God, and soon lay out this distinction:

…Bunyan deduced that God forbids some fear as ungodly, but commends another kind of fear. This distinction proves to be crucial for Bunyan’s theology, allowing him to differentiate unhealthy, sinful fear from the spiritually sound and fruitful fear of the Lord.

They examine the ungodly fear some more and then look at various spiritually sound fears — and the ways that is can promote growth in holiness and perseverance.

A lot of this material was helpful — I’m not sure if it was because of the way that Beeke and Smalley compiled it or Bunyan’s insights that helped me the most, but I don’t think I understood any of the ideas the way I wanted to. Yes, the authors would point me at Bunyan and the Bible as a resource, but I think they could’ve helped me more.

I thought the evangelical appeal at the end of the book a little out of place — it didn’t seem to fit the intentions or voice of the book up to that point — and I can’t imagine that anyone who isn’t a convert reading this book. I hope I’m wrong and that this is an effective tool, I should stress — but it seemed inorganic.

This isn’t a bad book, it’s just a slight one. It’s too much of a survey, not an examination or an explanation. There’s no depth to the look at Bunyan, while there certainly appears to be breadth. I might have walked away with a better understanding of what kinds of things Bunyan wrote and when — but I don’t think it furthered my understanding of the man or his writing beyond that. If the authors had given use another 100 – 150 pages and I think I’d be writing something very positive.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


3 Stars