Christianity and Liberalism: Legacy Edition by J. Gresham Machen: A Timeless Classic is Given a New Edition with Some Nice Bonuses

Christianity and Liberalism

Christianity and Liberalism: Legacy Edition

by J. Gresham Machen

Paperback, 266 pg.
Westminster Seminary Press, 2019

Read: October 20-27, 2019


Man…this is hard. Back in 1995, I heard a reference on a radio show to this book, and the hosts talked about how even though it was written over 50 years ago, it felt like it was written for the Church today. I figured I’d give it a whirl (not sure if I read it in 1995 or ’96, it was one of the two). I still remember being blown away by it, and wondering why I never heard anyone talk about it. I’ve since found myself in circles where people are familiar with it—but still not enough talk about it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this book. I know I’ve talked before about the author here, but not as much as I should/could have. Anyone who’s read what I’ve written about my son’s kidney transplant will have noticed that he was named after Machen. It’s because he’s a great writer, but it’s Who and what he writes about that makes me such a fan. Sure, he’s a fallen man, and has feet of clay (at the best of times), but he’s one we should all heed.

So clearly, there’s no illusion of a hint of objectivity to be found here.

Machen’s essential argument is this: Liberal Christianity is a different religion. It’s not the faith once handed down, it’s not that which was defined in the Ecumenical Creeds, it’s not that communicated by the Church Fathers, nor the Reformers, nor anyone else with a legitimate claim to Christian. It’s rank unbelief that isn’t honest enough to call it that. He’s clear—he wouldn’t waste as much time talking about them and their teaching if they’d just be honest about their goals, ends and beliefs. But as long as they persist in claiming they belong in the Church, he can’t do anything but oppose them.

Having set forth his thesis, he goes on to demonstrate it looking at the teachings of both Christianity and Liberalism as they are seen in the central areas of God and Man, The Bible, Christ, Salvation, and The Church. He doesn’t just lay out the problems of Liberalism, it’s not just a critique—he presents a positive case that the Bible teaches Christianity. While his criticisms still hold in Liberal Christianity (and can easily be applied to much of “Evangelicalism” today), it’s in his positive presentations where the text comes alive. The closing paragraphs of his chapter on The Church felt like they were written just for me (this time through the book anyway, other passages had that impact previously). For any part of a book to have that kind of impact after reading it (at least) a dozen times? That’s something special.

Machen has a tendency in his writing to lay things out in a pattern. My opponents say this thing over here, most of their critics say something over there, and all act like those are the two positions; but I propose to you a third way to look at the idea. But he doesn’t do that once in these pages. It’s very cut and dry—there are these men (theological liberals) teaching something they call Christianity, but it’s not it. On the other hand, there are actual Christians—yeah, there are important differences (and Machen has no problem identifying and discussing them), but on these issues we’re united. Unbelief vs. belief, period.

Each time I’ve read it, it feels fresh. Not like I’ve read it for the first time, but there’s something about his style that just jumps off the page. Yes, despite being 96 years old, it might as well have been published for the first time in 2019 (although the theological schools might have to get a new name). Clear, thoughtful, persuasive, it’s everything you should want (and get) in a book of this nature.

So aside from putting it out in a new, attractive cover, what’s the Legacy Edition have to offer? Seventeen brief essays about Machen, this book and how they live on in the work of Westminster Theological Seminary (which was founded by Machen and others as a result of the controversies addressed in this book which made it impossible to remain at Princeton Theological Seminary). This edition was produced both in the ninetieth year of the seminary and the first year that the book entered the public domain. So these essays commemorate both the book and the institution. My only complaint about them is the way that some shoehorned both the school and the book into the same essay, it just felt awkward. Most of the time that wasn’t a problem, but when it was . . . bleh. Other than that, these essays are helpful and good reading (some more than others, but none are bad). As I said, these essays are brief—I’ve written longer blog posts than some of them, so don’t let the number of them intimidate you. Also, it’s very possible to read the book and ignore them if that’s your thing.

This book has had such an impact on me and continues to do so, it’s really unfair to try to assign it stars. Five isn’t enough. The new essays are a nice little bonus, but it’s not like they improve on the classic, but they might help the reader appreciate what they read a little more. Get this edition, the older edition from P&R, or find an old, used copy. Just get it and read.


5 Stars5 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

Beyond Authority and Submission by Rachel Green Miller: Starting-Point for a Discussion the Conservative Church Should’ve Already Had

I feel compelled to repeat the disclaimer I threw on a book last week—and I should probably throw this on a lot of theologically-oriented works. This is another one of those works that I feel really unqualified to discuss. So, know that this is from the perspective of an opinionated and semi-(formally)educated reader and occasional armchair theologian. Not the reflections of an ordained minister or professional theologian.

Beyond Authority and Submission

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society

by Rachel Green Miller

Paperback, 259 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2019

Read: September 22-29, 2019

Contrary to what popular culture states, women and men are not from different planets. We’re complementarymore alike than different. Without denying the differences, we need to stop defining women as the polar opposite of men and vice versa. Such divisive definitions create and encourage unnecessary conflict and set up unrealistic and unbiblical expectations for how women and men should behave.

Paul frequently refers to fellow believersboth men and womenas co-laborers. The word he uses, sunergos, means “a companion in work.” As we will see in the next sections, co-laborer captures the sense of what we were created to be and what we are called to be in Christ.

I can’t get where this is controversialI’m definitely not the kind of guy to say “in this day and age” when it comes to this kind of thing, so please don’t hear me saying that. In any day and age where someone’s thinking is shaped more by the Bible than it is by the surrounding culture (either of the moment or by some version of a historical point of view). I don’t get where this is controversial. Sadly, it is. But as long as that’s Rachel Green Miller’s controlling thought (and I firmly believe it is), I’m on board with this book.

So I should say at the outset, I’ve appreciated Miller’s writing for years now and am very sympathetic to Miller’s general perspective on the issues she tackles in the book. I came into it expecting a useful and beneficial book for those wading through issues relating to the relation of the sexes to each other from a Christian worldviewand I got it. I didn’t expect a book to settle arguments, or a panacea to problems churches/ministries/individuals are having on this frontwhich is good, because she doesn’t try.

After setting the stage for what she wants to discuss in the book, Miller goes on a brief historical survey of views of men and women in the Greco-Roman World and Victorian Era (which she posits have more of an influence on conservative Christianity than we realize), and then she looks at First, Second and Third-Wave Feminism and how the Church has reacted to each. I think her book would be better served if this section were expanded and depended less on secondary sourcesbut given space limitations, I can live with it. From there she explores Biblical teaching on the Nature of Men and Women, how the two should relate in marriage, the Church, and society. In these chapters, she tries to show how current understandings are (too) frequently largely molded by a reaction to a political movement or values imported from a historical context (that needed Biblical reform). Each section here could be a book unto itselfand maybe should bebut Miller’s treatment is a good starting point for discussion.

If you see the book as thata starting point for conversation, with a lot of very helpful things to bear in mind, this is a very commendable and worthwhile read. If you’re thinking of it as definitive in any sense of the word (and I think Miller would warn against that herself), the book will not come close to living up to expectations.

Miller critiques both the foundation of the worldviews she disagrees withancient pagan cultures or recent/contemporary naturalistic views. Latter feminism, as well as godless patriarchal views, are her targetsas are the ways those presuppositions or their expressions are imported into the Church.

Where I think this book stumbles is in the positive case for what she believes. Miller is very clear on what she’s not trying to say (though many aren’t paying attention to this), she’s also clear on what she disagrees with (no one would deny this)but she’s too unclear about what she’d like people to think. I think I just did the same thing hereso I’m going to resort to metaphor. Most of what I talk about here is fiction, so I’m going to employ that for a minute. If Andy Carpenter, Eddie Flynn and Mickey Haller (various fictional defense attorneys) have taught me anything, it’s that while it’s all well and good for a defense attorney to poke holes in a prosecution’s case, what will really turn a jury around is a good alternative suspect, someone to blame, to hold accountable for whatever crime is in question. Miller’s done a great job in showing problems with the prosecution’s case, and we know she doesn’t want us to find her client guiltybut I don’t have anyone else to hold accountable/punish for the crime.

Now, the problems with that metaphor are plain enough, but I think my point is clear (clearer than I could’ve made it earlier). For what it’s worth, I think she’s dead to rights on what she’s not wanting to say, and by and large, she’s right on what she’s critiquing. I just wish I had a clearer notion of what she wants readers to think in a positive sense. Also, while I agree that we need to do more than talk about the relationship between the sexes in terms other than “authority” and “submission” we still need to have clear ideas about how those roles should function (if we’re going to understand the Bible), and Miller should have addressed that.

This book has, regrettablyyet not at all unsurprisinglykicked up a hornet’s nest of controversy. Sadly, it seems that most of the reviewers have dug into two hard-and-fast camps: the “this is a load of drivel that Miller and P&R should be ashamed about” camp on the one hand, and the “this is the greatest thing since the Institutes” camp on the other. Neither is even close to right. This is a good book (with clear flaws) and deserves to have its good points, flaws, and pushes to conversation discussed without vitriol. Sadly, I can’t see that happening, which is probably why books like this are needed.

Honestly, if we can’t deal charitably with each other on this kind of thing, how can we expect a lost and dying world to listen to us at all?

I know that more than a few reviewers have taken issue with the way that Miller treats some of the sources she’s citing and critiquingand there were a couple of times I wondered if she and I had read the same article/chapter/book, because I didn’t come away from it with the same ideas she did. At timesand more often than should be acceptableshe comes across as saying that “Writer X is problematic on these issues and therefore everything they’ve ever said about them is wrong.” I don’t think that’s her intention, but I do think that she gives that impression. But on the whole, I think there’s a lot of straining at gnats by her critics when it comes to her treatment of sources.

I think I’ve lost the thread a bit here. Such is the nature of the tempest in the conservative Christian teapot, that I can’t really think about the content of the book without thinking about the reaction to it. I wish I’d found/made the time to write about this book before I read about it. That’s on me.

Let me try to get back on track. I liked this book. It made me re-examine a lotand will probably continue to do so as I mull on what she has to say (and I’ll probably find a lot to disagree with ultimately, and a lot to agree withas it ought to be). How much of what I think about how women and men should interact with each other (in the home, Church and society) comes from Scripture and how much from the culture? How much of what I think it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman has more to do with Ancient Greek culture or the Victorians? (more than it should). The core of the message should be heard and weighed, and hopefully, after the hubbub has died down a bit, we can start to deal with it.

The Bible testifies to our unity. We don’t have one Bible for men and a different one for women. The armor of God isn’t just for men, and the fruit of the spirit doesn’t apply only to women. No, we have one Bible for us all, and most of the Bible’s commands apply to all of usmale or female, old or young, rich or poor, servant or master.

It’s important to emphasize that when God made humanity in His image, He did so by making a man and a woman. Women are as much made in the image of God as men are. Men don’t have more of God’s image because of their masculinity. We are equal in worth, but we’re not the same. We are different, but we are also interdependent. We were created to complement each other, and we need each other.

Tolle Lege.


4 Stars

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals by Gavin Ortlund: An Accessible Call for 21st Century Christians to Learn from the Past

I ended up having more time in the day to write this post than I normally do, and as a result ended up a bit more rambling and less-focused than intended. Hopefully it’s worth the read, despite my laxness.

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future

by Gavin Ortlund

eARC, 224 pg.
Crossway, 2019

Read: October 5-12, 2019


This is another one of those theological works that I feel really unqualified to discuss. There’s part of me that thinks I should stop requesting them from NetGalley, or buying them and deciding that I want to post about them, but I probably won’t. So, know that this is from the perspective of an opinionated and semi-(formally)educated reader and occasional armchair theologian. Not the reflections of an ordained minister or professional theologian.

I’m glad Ortlund talks about this right out of the gate—but the case he lays out for Theological Retrieval here, strikes me as very similar to Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain’s Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation and Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity. Ortlund says they’re aiming for the same target, but those works are more oriented toward the Reformed, where he’s focused on Evangelicalism. I’d say that they’re all wanting the same thing, but his work is more accessible (by design) and less-inclined to advertise his scholarly awareness (particularly with the former).

One problem that you encounter right away is a nebulousness about the term “Evangelical.” If Ortlund defined his usage, I missed it. He seems to use it to apply to Bible-believing Protestants who aren’t Reformed or Lutheran. Which is fair enough, I guess, it’s just not an easily defined term anymore. Frankly, I’m with Carl Trueman and others, and consider the label “evangelicalism” meaningless as it can be applied to “everyone from Joel Osteen to Brian McLaren to John MacArthur.”

Ortlund doesn’t give a strict definition of Theological Retrieval—in fact, he avoids it, preferring to see it as a mindset or attitude toward the pre-Reformation Church and Theology, drawing from its strengths, seeing its weaknesses in our own, and putting the contemporary (and Reformation) Church in context of a developing understanding from the end of Acts to Second Coming. Given that, we should be more aware of, and interact more with, the Patristic and Medieval Church. He uses Turretin, in particular, to great benefit in showing that this was the mindset of the Protestant Reformation, and calls us back to it. Along the way, he uses Warfield (and the rest of Old Princeton) as emblematic of Evangelicalism’s departure from this thinking. I’m not sure that’s the best reading of Warfield, but it’s not worth arguing, because his overall point is so right.

The first Part of the book—roughly 60 pages in three chapters—sets the agenda, it’s “A Manifesto for Theological Retrieval.” He begins by asking if Evangelicals can Retrieve Patristic and Medieval Theology, before moving to asking why they need it, and then sketching out both the benefits and perils of it. All of which is profitable and well-worth reading.

But what makes this book different than so many, is that Ortlund doesn’t focus on the project, the theory behind it, or the method. He gives the rest of the book—120 pages or so—to examples of what he’s calling for people to do. Case-studies in theological retrieval—which is some of the best theological reading I’ve done this year, maybe the last couple of years.

The first is a chapter called “Explorations in a Theological Metaphor: Boethius, Calvin, and Torrance on the Creator/ Creation Distinction.” A nice mouthful, to be sure. To illustrate the Creator/Creature Distinction, he compares Tolkein’s relationship to The Lord of the Rings to God’s relationship to his creation, in terms of Boethius’ understanding, and how Calvin’s view would differ, before wrapping up with Torrance. Now, I have little use for what he tries to do with Tolkein—I think this sort of thing is almost as bad as trying to teach the Trinity by analogy (which always quickly lands the teacher in heresy). I know enough people do this sort of thing in teaching and writing, and I should try to pay more attention, but my eyes just glazed over. Most readers will get more out of this than I did. I did appreciate what he said about Boethius and Torrance in distinction from Calvin and feel like I understand the three a little better (not that I’m all that familiar with Boethius and Torrance), and think I got something from the chapter overall, but I know my own prejudices kept me from a full appreciation.

Things improve with “God Is Not a Thing: Divine Simplicity in Patristic and Medieval Perspective.” Rather than going head-on for contemporary critics of the doctrine, he takes a look at historic formulations (not limited to Aquinas’) of the doctrine and seeing how that should actually deepen Evangelical’s commitment to Simplicity as well as broaden our understanding of it. He interacts a good deal with James Dolezal’s wonderful All That Is in God and God without Parts here and reminds me that I need to re-read the former and read the latter. A better blogger (one also focused on theology, not the book) would camp out here for a few paragraphs, but I won’t. It’s just a great chapter and the kind of thing we need to see more of.

My favorite case study is the third, “Substitution as Both Satisfaction and Recapitulation: Atonement Themes in Convergence in Irenaeus, Anselm, and Athanasius.” I would read a book-length version of this tomorrow. Well, not tomorrow. I would start a book-length version of this tomorrow, and have a lot of fun over the following days. Ortlund shows the overlapping concerns of Irenaeus and Anselm (who are so often pitted against each other), how the Christus Victor and Substitutionary Atonement models are interdependent, not rivals (while not giving an inch to contemporary critics of Substitutionary Atonement, it should be pointed out). From there, he moves onto some of Athanasius’ work on the Incarnation, demonstrating that these works have a good deal to say about the Atonement, as well. If I got nothing else out of this book, I’d consider the time I spent reading it well-spent just for this chapter. I could’ve lived without the use of Aslan and the Stone Table portion of the study, but (contra the Tolkein), it proved to be a useful illustration.

“Cultivating Skill in the “Art of Arts”: Pastoral Balance in Gregory the Great’s The Book of Pastoral Rule” is the last case study. I remember reading healthy portions of this work by Gregory in a Church History class for much the same reason that Ortlund uses it. There’s a lot of wisdom for pastors of every age in this very old work—he also shows how manuals like Baxter’s or Spurgeon’s will say similar things. Timeless truths and advice put in ways that others wouldn’t. I really don’t have much to say about this, but it’s almost as good as the previous two.

This is one of the most-easily outlined books I’ve read this year (possibly the most), that’s a fantastic aid for referring back to it in the future or for going back and taking thorough notes. I’d go crazy if I read too many books like this, I prefer the more organic feeling approach. But when this is done right, it’s a handy bonus. Beyond that, as I said before, it’s very accessible. Sure, there are parts that are demanding, but nothing’s out of reach for the committed and attentive reader—and most of the time you don’t have to be that committed.

Like their counterparts from the previous century, Twenty-First Century Christians don’t know enough historical doctrine, and certainly don’t know how to treat what little they do know. Too often, Protestants will cede everything prior to 1517 to Rome (maybe Rome and the East), focusing only on the last 500 years—if they’ll even pay attention to anything prior to Fanny J. Crosby. Ortlund’s work is a great call for the everyday Christian to familiarize themselves with the past and learn from them as we ought the rest of the Church Militant. I strongly recommend this.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this stimulating read.


4 Stars

Quick Takes: Grace Defined & Defended by Kevin DeYoung, Josiah’s Reformation by Richard Sibbes, The Future of Everything by William Boekestein

One or two of these didn’t end up being as “quick” as I’d intended, but I still don’t think of them as full-fledged posts, I think I’d need another 3-6 paragraphs each before I’d think of them as done. Oh well, what’s important (to me) is that they’re done and I can move on to the next books under consideration.

Grace Defined and Defended

Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God

by Kevin DeYoung

Hardcover, 95 pg.
Crossway, 2019

Read: May 5, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

At their very heart, the Canons of Dort are about the nature of grace—supernatural, unilateral, sovereign, effecting, redeeming, resurrecting grace, with all of its angularity all of its offense to human pride, and all of its comfort for the weary soul. That’s what Dort wanted to settle. That’s what they were jealous to protect. Some words are worth the most careful definitions, just as some truths are too precious not to defend.

This is the second book about the Canons of Dort I’ve read in this 400th Anniversary year, and it’s (not surprisingly) a handy little book.

DeYoung starts off with an introduction sketching the theological and historical context for the Canons of Dort, and explains why we should care about them today. It’s called “In Praise of Precision” and sets the tone for the whole book (the above paragraph is from it).

Then he moves into an examination of each Main Point of Doctrine (what most translations call “Heads of Doctrine”), one chapter for every Point. DeYoung covers them concisely, but thoroughly (well, as thoroughly as you can while being concise). It’s polemical as it has to be, but no further. Honestly, DeYoung saves his most pointed words for those who (on paper, anyway) agree with the Canons, but don’t share the spirit of them.

I’d prefer something deeper, but that’s never what you’re going to get from a DeYoung book, I know it. So that’s not something I hold against it. Really, my only complaint is that there’s no conclusion. The book screams for one, if nothing else, just a couple of pages tying the Points back to the introduction. But other than that, I don’t think I have a bad thing to say about it.

It’s succinct, accessible, full of DeYoung’s typical charm and focused on the precision those assembled at Dort. It’s an entry point to the Canons of Dort, but there are more in-depth studies that readers should pursue (e.g., this)—but this will get you started in the right direction. I should add that it’d be a decent enough examination of them if you’re not curious enough to read more (but you totally should).
3 Stars

Josiah's Reformation

Josiah’s Reformation

by Richard Sibbes

Kindle Edition, 176 pg.
Banner of Truth Trust, 2011

Read: May 19-26, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

For the longest time, Richard Sibbes has been my go-to Puritan. His writing taps right into my heart. The doctrine is strong, the application wise, but throughout it all he’s convicting and assuring (in the best way). This collection, sadly, just missed for me.

This is a collection of four sermons from 2 Chronicles describing the work of Josiah. It’s a call to sincerity in the faith, of killing hypocrisy within, of the change that the preaching of free grace can make in the heart which spills into our lives. First and foremost, the goal isn’t the benefits of Christ and desiring them, but to desire Him, to love Him—which will protect from hypocrisy and surface holiness by driving us to something deeper and truer. He then preaches about the art of self-humbling and mourning for our sin. The final sermon focuses on the true desire of the renewed heart—being gathered to Christ. Who doesn’t need to hear/read this message?

It was probably me coming to it when I did, and nothing off in Sibbes’ work. I can’t point to a problem with the book, I just never connected with it. I can see the encouragement, the comfort, the urging to pursue holiness—it’s all on-target, Biblical and well-written. But it left me feeling disappointed. Again, it’s probably really good, and in a couple of years when I try it again, I won’t understand my reaction.
3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

The Future of Everything

The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times

by William Boekestein

Paperback, 135 pg.
Reformation Heritage Books, 2019

Read: April 7, 2019

Read the Official Synopsis here.

This is a great primer on Eschatology—it covers all the major points, develops them pretty well and shows how one can continue in the study of them as well as how they connect to the other points of the study of the End without losing sight of the rest of life and doctrine.

After setting the stage with a discussion of what Eschatology entails and how we can best understand prophecy, Boekestein moves on to Personal Eschatology—the death that awaits everyone (barring Christ’s return) and then what happens between that death and The End.

Then he moves on to General Eschatology (the End for everyone as a whole), with chapters on Christ’s Return, the meaning of the millennium, the general Resurrection, final Judgement, Hell and the New Heavens and Earth.

The last two chapters involve applying Eschatology to the New Covenant and Missions. How are we to act, think, and live in light of the coming End? These are things that are too often ignored when it comes to the study of Eschatology and it’s wonderful when they’re focused on.

One thing I really appreciated about this was that with the majority (possibly all, but I didn’t take notes on it) of the references to the Psalms that he made, Boekestein quoted/footnoted the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that the URCNA and OPC published last year. It’s a great way to get those metrical versions of the Psalms into your head, and hopefully into your heart (and vice versa).

One other thought I had while reading this is that there’s no need for my pastor to write a book on Eschatology. From his frequently cited sources, his perspectives, and even some of his phrasing, this could easily have had my pastor’s name on it. This doesn’t help any of you, but it is something I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I do wish his coverage of Postmillennialism was a bit more nuanced (and positive). I’m not a card-carrying post-mill anymore, but I still know the position isn’t quite as deficient and problematic as he makes it out to be.

This would a great introduction to Reformed eschatology—I want to stress the Reformed part, because the tradition is rich in its eschatological vision. Not in a focus on the end of the world, the timing of it, and how that’ll look, etc., etc. But how everything since the Ascension has been moving toward this point under the Kingship of Jesus Christ. It’s an assuring book, a helpful book, a great starting point (or refresher) for anyone studying Eschatology. Particularly for those who have no interest in starting such a confusing and volatile subject.
4 Stars

Heaven on Earth by Thomas Brooks: A Classic Examination of and Exhortation to Assurance of Faith

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth: A Treatise on Christian Assurance

by Thomas Brooks

eBook, 325 pg.
originally published 1654

Read: July 14 – August 11, 2019

Assurance is not of the essence of a Christian. It is required to the well-being, to the comfortable and joyful being of a Christian; but it is not required to the being of a Christian. A man may be a true believer, and yet would give all the world, were it in his power, to know that he is a believer. To have grace, and to be sure that we have grace, is glory upon the throne, it is heaven on this side heaven.

I am his. I am as sure that I am his, as I am sure that I live. I am his by purchase, and I am his by conquest; I am his by donation, and I am his by election; I am his by covenant, and I am his by marriage. I am wholly his; I am peculiarly his; I am universally his; I am eternally his. This I well know, and the knowledge thereof is my joy in life, and my strength and crown in death.

Here we have a description of assurance, and then an expression of the assured heart. Brooks’ Heaven on Earth is both an explanation of the doctrine and an exhortation to pursue it. Quotations like this are just a hint of that. Brooks is one of the best Puritans on this topic—and everything the Puritans wrote about the doctrine is head an shoulders above their Continental brethren. This is pure gospel gold.

I liked my post about it last time more than anything I’d say this time, so let me just use it (the final paragraph is new):
I just might have myself a new favorite Puritan (I’m not the only one who has a list, right?). I’m kicking myself for not getting to Brooks earlier in life. What a wonderful book—I’m looking forward to getting to read more by him.

Aesthetically, this is fantastic. The language sings—the book begs to be read aloud (and I frequently did so, interrupting whatever anyone around me was doing). You can feel the passion, the fervor throughout. A few paragraphs from different chapters illustrate this:

Divine light reaches the heart as well as the head. The beams of divine light shining in upon the soul through the glorious face of Christ are very working; they warm the heart, they affect the heart, they new mold the heart. Divine knowledge masters the heart, it guides the heart, it governs the heart, it sustains the heart, it relieves the heart. Knowledge which swims in the head only, and sinks not down into the heart, does no more good than the unicorn’s horn in the unicorn’s head.

The only ground of God’s love is his grace. The ground of God’s love is only and wholly in himself. There is neither portion nor proportion in us to draw his love. There is no love nor loveliness in us that should cause a beam of his love to shine upon us. There is that enmity, that filthiness, that treacherousness, that unfaithfulness, to be found in every man’s bosom, which might justly put God upon glorifying himself in their eternal ruin, and to write their names in his black book in characters of blood and wrath. God will have all blessings and happiness to flow from free grace.

Faith is the first pin which moves the soul; it is the spring in the watch which sets all the golden wheels of love, joy, comfort, and peace a-going. Faith is a root-grace, from whence springs all the sweet flowers of joy and peace. Faith is like the bee, it will suck sweetness out of every flower; it will extract light out of darkness, comforts out of distresses, mercies out of miseries, wine out of water, honey out of the rock, and meat out of the eater, Judg 14:14.

But beyond that, the book is sound, it is orthodox, it is Biblical—throughout Brooks points the reader to The Book and The One Who inspired it. His aim is to show “that believers may in this life attain unto a well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness.” He then goes on to examine the nature of that assurance, hindrances that keep believers from it, reasons to encourage believers to seek it, and how they can go about it, the difference between true and counterfeit assurance, as well as answering questions about assurance. Examining the doctrine from so many angles, you really feel (and probably do) that you come away from this book having an exhaustive look at the doctrine.

Chapter 6—which takes more than its fair share of space, almost half of the book—is an extended detour from the point of the book, but it still serves to support the theme. He begins by saying, “In the previous chapter, you saw the seven choice things which accompany salvation. But for your further and fuller edification, satisfaction, confirmation, and consolation, it will be very necessary that I show you,” these seven choice things. Which are:

(1.) What knowledge that is, which accompanies salvation.

(2.) What faith that is, which accompanies salvation.

(3.) What repentance that is, which accompanies salvation.

(4.) What obedience that is, which accompanies salvation.

(5.) What love that is, which accompanies salvation.

(6.) What prayer that is, which accompanies salvation.

(7.) What perseverance that is, which accompanies salvation.

It is such a great chapter, and would make a remarkable little booklet unto itself that I really can’t complain too much that it’s such a departure from the rest of the book (though it did take me a little bit to get used to the notion).

Banner of Truth puts this out in paperback, monergism.com puts this out as a free e-book. Either way you go for it, this is a treasure I heartily suggest you grab.

When I read this five years ago, it struck me like a breath of fresh air, it was precisely what I needed at the time. I read it again last month, looking for the same thing. I didn’t find it—don’t misunderstand, it was very helpful, inspiring, and insightful. I was reminded and grew in my understanding of assurance. And, I collected a handful of great quotations from Brooks. But…the book as a whole didn’t sing for me. The first time, I didn’t know what to expect. This time, I probably came in with expectations that were too high. Last time I read it, I gave it 5 Stars. This time, I logged it as 3 Stars. So…let’s call it 4, shall we?


4 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

Life of Christ by J. Gresham Machen: Short, Helpful, to the Point

Life of ChristLife of Christ

J. Gresham Machen

Kindle Edition, 50 pg.
Monergism Books, 2015
Read: August 18, 2019

This short work is extracted from the 1922 work A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testaments by Machen and James Oscar Boyd, and it felt similar to portions of Machen’s New Testament Introduction: An Introduction to its Literature and History. I think I’ve heard of the former, I’ve read the latter a couple of times. So, that took a little bit away from the experience for me.

But that doesn’t take away from the value of it—a concise summary of the Life of Christ (harmonized) and the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem. I’m guessing this was some of the Sunday School curriculum material written by Machen while teaching at Princeton Seminary, and it includes study questions. There’s not a lot of interpretation or application (except in the questions), it’s largely just a boiled down run-through of the gospel accounts.

Machen’s possibly my favorite twentieth-century theologian — he’s definitely the clearest and crispest (with the possible exception of R. C. Sproul). All the things people like to say about C. S. Lewis’ popular apologetics apply to Machen (without the stumbling into troublesome weirdness), and his more academic apologetic work still holds up. This isn’t Machen at his best, but it still displays his style and approach (even if only a little).

Really not much to say about this, so I’ll just recommend it for a nice refresher.

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3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs: Essays to Inspire Devotion

Finding God in the OrdinaryFinding God in the Ordinary

by Pierce Taylor Hibbs
Paperback, 73 pg.
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2018

Read: August 25, 2019

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight.

Hibbs, the associate director of the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary, has given us a great collection of thirteen essays (semi-inspired by an interview Hibbs heard with Karl Ove Knausgard on NPR but from a very different perspective) based on that idea. As you can guess from the title, Hibbs looks at the minutiae of life and sees how it testifies to the Triune God of the Christian Scriptures.

Some of the everyday, ordinary, common things that he muses on include:

  • dust particles
  • his son’s laugh
  • swirling coffee
  • light
  • wind
  • shadows
  • falling snow

Not your everyday subjects for short essays—particularly not from a theologian, are they? From these everyday things, Hibbs goes on to mediate and wax lyrically on God’s nature, being, truth, care, light, providence, and grace (and other things). These are not theological treatises, but musings on small things around him. Yes, they are theologically-inclined and theologically-informed (and he slips in enough nuggets to make me want to check out his other work). I can’t think of anything else to compare it to, which annoys me, because it’d help explain the volume.

I wondered from time to time if he was going to dance close to pantheism, but he never got that close, really. But he was clearly aware of the hazard, and addressed it in his Epilogue.

The prose is frequently poetic (and there are the occasional bits of actual verse), and gorgeously written. It’s not often that you read theologically-inclined books that possess beautiful language—the ideas are often wonderful, sure, but the language typically fails to live up to it. Not Hibbs—he knows how to phrase things to make an impression, not just impart ideas.

Not only are these essays well-written and thought-provoking, they ought to train the reader to start to find God in the ordinary around them—which is probably the best use of the book. It’s a little on the thin side, honestly, but I don’t know if you could read more than this in a sitting (if you manage to only do one sitting of it) without it losing some power. An interview I heard with him seemed to suggest there might be further collections like this, if there are, I will jump on them. Recommended.

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3 Stars