Clearing the Deck: Tweet-length thoughts about books I can’t find time to write about

Yeah, I have a daunting TBR stack, but I also have too many books on my “Too Write About” pile, and it’s bugging me. So, I’m cutting myself some slack, and am clearing the deck of everything from 2019 and before that I haven’t made time for. This was painful to do, I was looking forward to writing about most of these, but I’m just not going to get to them–and the 2020 books are starting to pile up, too. So, in 144 characters or less, here’s me cutting myself some slack.

(Click on the cover for an official site with more info)

Rivers of London: Detective Stories
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London, Volume 4: Detective Stories by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
Brief flashbacks showing what Peter et al. get up to between novels/comic series. A fun idea, well executed. Would enjoy another one like this.
Cry Fox
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London Volume 5: Cry Fox by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
This was a lot of fun, and showed a new side of a cool recurring character.
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance
3 Stars
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Brian Williamson, Stefani Renne
A serial killer hunt and Nightingale backstory. Great combo.

(some nice Molly material, too)

Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian
4 Stars
Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian by Danny E. Olinger
A biography and a discussion of his Vos’ major works. This was an excellent way to gear up for my 2019 Vos reading. Inspirational stuff.
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant
3 Stars
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A light Urban Fantasy about misfit monsters. Enjoyable enough to come back for more.
Open Season
4 Stars
Open Season by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Series Debut about a WY Game Warden with a nose for mystery. Loved the dual POVs (Pickett, his daughter). Addicting.
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain
3 Stars
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
A cute story about kids of super-heroes/super-villains trying to get started in the biz without their parents’ involvement. Went on longer than it needed to, but fun enough to try volume 2.
Dragon Blood
3 Stars
Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
Manganiello is a great choice for narrator. Nice little stand-alone fantasy story. Great dragons.
Savage Run
3.5 Stars
Savage Run by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Almost as good as the first Pickett novel. Mrs. Pickett gets to shine here, too. I’m so glad I finally got to this series.
3 Stars
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, Lynn Redgrave (Narrator)
Gets a bit redundant, but I loved the concept. Better than the movie (which I kind of liked), but still could’ve been better.
Undeath and Taxes
3 Stars
Undeath and Taxes by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A little better than the first volume, an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
Dragon Bones
3 Stars
Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
OK, so Dragon Bones wasn’t a stand-alone. Could’ve been, but it was nice to get a little more with these characters/this world. Still, give me a Briggs Urban Fantasy above this.
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards
4 Stars
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards by Alan D. Strange
I love this series. Strange packs so much material into this tiny package. Excellent stuff.
3 Stars
Badlands by C. J. Box, January LaVoy (Narrator)
Cassie takes over The Highway series and moves to a new Oil Town in North Dakota. Midwest Winter, Drugs, Murder, Corruption and Too Much Money wreak havoc on her first week on the job.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (Audiobook)
3.5 Stars
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt (Audiobook)
The memoir chapters are nice, the comedic bits are odd (and funny). An interesting look at Oswalt.
No Sweat
3 Stars
No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar, Ph.D.
A great way to look at keeping (or getting) yourself motivated to exercise.

My Favorite Theology/Christian Living Books of 2020

I read a lot of good, inspirational, thoughtful and devotional work this year, but these were the ones that stuck out in my mind. I’d encourage the careful reading of all of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

None GreaterNone Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God

by Matthew Barrett

I haven’t had a chance to write about this book yet, but it’s great. Barrett provides a wonderful tool to introduce believers of all ages/background to the main attributes of God to shape belief and practice. It’s a corrective, but not scoldy. It’s deep, but not hard to understand. It appreciates mystery and doesn’t try to overexplain anything but it also grapples with what we’re given to understand. I’ll say more in a week or two, but for now, just know it’s one of the best things I read last year.

4 Stars

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology ProperReformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)

My original post
Yeah, it’s only a picture of one of the volumes (but they all pretty much look alike). This set concisely, yet comprehensively, discusses the major theological loci in a way that’s scholarly and yet warm and practical.

5 Stars

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey

My original post
This look at the Synod of Dort, as well as the Canons produced by it, is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral—this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

5 Stars

 Grace Worth Fighting ForGrace Worth Fighting For: Recapturing the Vision of God’s Grace in the Canons of Dort

by Daniel R. Hyde

My original post
Is a fantastic companion to the previous book. Hyde focuses on the Canons themselves and what they’re getting at, showing how Church History developed those ideas to this point and how the Reformed church built on them. I didn’t expect anything to beat the Godfrey volume in this year where we got multiple books (thanks to the Canons’s anniversary), but this one did. it’s warm, pastoral and approachable. Anyone over 13 should have no problem with it. Sure, some of the topics will leave some scratching their heads and pondering for a while, but that’s because these are weighty, thought-provoking topics, not because of Hyde’s text. I may have read a better theological book this year, but I can’t think of it off the top of my head. This is simply excellent—rich theology, rich application, solid history, smartly writing, occasionally stirring.

5 Stars

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

by Rachel Green Miller

My original post
This book 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 around its publication has died down a bit, we can start to deal with it.

4 Stars

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

by Gavin Ortlund

My original post
A fantastic mix of theory and practice—showing why and how Evangelicals should mine the treasures of the past to shape the theology of today and tomorrow.

4 Stars

The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster StandardsThe Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards

by Alan D. Strange

I was sure I’d written a post about this book, and was embarrassed to discover that I hadn’t—I somehow let this not be included in the November Retrospective, too. This is why I don’t get paid for this blog, folks.

Anyway, Strange packs a lot into this 176 page tome. It is dense. But somehow, it’s also an easy read. He explores the historical debate—particularly around the Westminster Assembly—around this doctrine and explains why the Standards express things the way they do. Then he applies it to contemporary debate in a straightforward manner. Pound for pound, possibly the most helpful book I’ve read this year.

4 Stars

Grace & GloryGrace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary

by Geerhardus Vos

My original post
This is exactly what a collection of sermons ought to be—the language is clear, precise and almost lyrical. You can almost hear them as you read them. Solid theology, warm application and gospel-centered. My only problem with this collection is that it was so short.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts for those I wrote about): The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times by Willaim Boekestein, The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare by Iain M. Duguid, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life by Michael S. Horton, The Prayers of Jesus by Mark Jones, and Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard.

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.) by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin Jr.: A Twentieth-Century Classic for Heart and Mind Alike

This is going to be a record-setting header section here, get your scrolling finger ready..

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 256 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: January 6-February 17, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: Anthropology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: Anthropology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 176 pg.
Lexham Press, 2013
Read: February 24-March 31, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 288 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: April 7-June 23, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Soteriology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Soteriology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 272 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: June 30-August 25, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 352 pg.
Lexham Press, 2016
Read: September 1-November 24, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Why am I talking about this as a set instead of individual volumes? That’s a decent question, but I guessed when I finished Volume 1 that I’d end up saying the same things each time. And now looking back on the set, I think I agree. Sure, I could’ve talked some in some more detail about each one, but I’m not sure there’d have been a lot of profit in that for anyone reading this.

Honestly, what I should do here is just post a link to Lane Tipton’s review/article, Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics and be done with it. Lipton says in two paragraphs, what I would flail around for 10-12 paragraphs to say:

Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s editorial oversight of the translation of Geerhardus Vos’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek has brought to light yet another theological treasure from perhaps the finest Reformed theologian since Calvin. The sustained depth of penetration of the traditional loci of systematic theological discussion is coupled with the warmth of a theological reflection pursued in vital communion with the absolute, triune God through Spirit-gifted, faith-union with Christ. This renders it ideal for both seminary instruction and devotional reading.

On the one side, Vos’s work displays the proper, and it seems to me necessary, task of retrieving creedal doctrine in the preservation of Christian theology. On the other side, his work displays the proper, and it seems to me equally necessary, task of reforming that creedal doctrine in the formulation of a confessionally constructive, Reformed theology, tethered to its preceding creedal and confessional expressions, yet advancing organically beyond both, through biblical and systematic theological methods of interpreting the inerrant Scriptures. Vos not only expounds orthodox creedal theology in a faithful way, but, within the boundaries of confessionally Reformed theology, he advances that confessional theology with unparalleled insight. His work presents us with an orthodox, yet constructive, expression of the truth of the Scriptures that faithfully serves to instruct the church in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But just pointing to (and/or reposting) Tipton would be cheating, albeit efficient. So let’s see what I can say.

This was my big project read for the year and was so worth it. As Tipton said, it’s great devotional reading—and you even learn a little bit. Okay, that’s a gross understatement, you can learn a great deal from these (relatively) slim volumes.

Vos displays a fantastic economy of words here—especially if you contrast his Dogmatics with, say, Bavinck. He’s basically the Hemingway of Reformed Theology. There are no wasted words here, he says everything he needs to say and you rarely say to yourself, “I wished he’d covered something more thoroughly.” The segment on Individual Eschatology, however, works as an example of something he could’ve done more with—if you ignore his addressing the errors like purgatory, soul sleep, and annihilation, there’s practically nothing there.

The downside to his style and vocabulary is, like Hemingway, you can look at his writing and think “oh, this is simple and basic” and read too quickly and without reflection. This is a giant mistake. Vos is subtle. He’s profound. He’s also, thankfully, clear. You read this carefully and you’ll benefit greatly.

As the titles of the individual volumes suggest, he covers the major loci, and not much else. But he covers everything you’d need to cover in those, the topics covered are:

bullet The Knowability of God
bullet Names, Being, and Attributes of God
bullet The Trinity
bullet Of God’s Decrees in General
bullet The Doctrine of Predestination
bullet Creation
bullet Providence
bullet The Nature of Man
bullet Sin
bullet The Covenant of Grace
bullet Names of Christ
bullet Person and Natures of Christ
bullet Offices of Christ
bullet States of Christ
bullet The Ordo Salutis
bullet Regeneration and Calling
bullet Conversion
bullet Faith
bullet Justification
bullet Sanctification
bullet The Doctrine of the Church
bullet Essence of the Church
bullet Organization, Discipline, Offices of the Church
bullet The Means of Grace
bullet Word and Sacraments
bullet Baptism
bullet The Lord’s Supper
bullet Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things
bullet Individual Eschatology
bullet General Eschatology

Which looks like a lot for so few pages, but Vos somehow pulls it off.

I expected that I’d have a favorite volume or two out of the set, but I really didn’t. There were sections within each I found more interesting/useful to me, but I am willing to bet that your list would vary from mine. Except maybe the section on the covenants in Volume 2, I can’t imagine there’s anything else in that one nearly as interesting to anyone. Not that the rest of the volume is lacking or uninteresting, it’s just that it’s so good.

The book is clearly written for his Dutch-speaking students in Michigan, focusing on that Church Order and controversies in contemporary Holland. So there are bits and pieces of it that will seem awfully foreign to those of us not in those circles. But even those parts have something we can profit from if we don’t get too bogged down in trying to suss out names/positions/etc.

Gaffin does provide the occasional footnote to explain the text or translation choice, but he’s largely silent, letting Vos speak for himself. I wouldn’t have minded a little more commentary, but honestly, it wasn’t necessary (but maybe was helpful).

I’m glad I read this and will be returning to it in years to come, both for reference and re-reading. I’m also glad that I found an electronic copy on sale over a year ago, so I can keep it on my phone for easy reference. One side-benefit of his pithiness is that you can do a quick check on the high points while having a conversation (something you can’t do so easily with Hodge, Turretin or Bavinck). Scholarly, yet approachable, simple and profound—oh, and piously orthodox–I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from one, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Grace Worth Fighting For by Daniel R. Hyde: An Accessible and Inspirational Look at a Vital Reformation Document

 Grace Worth Fighting For

Grace Worth Fighting For: Recapturing the Vision of God’s Grace in the Canons of Dort

by Daniel R. Hyde

Paperback, 378 pg.
The Davenant Press, 2019

Read: September 1-29, 2019

We need the canons in our fight to preserve and propagate a pristine doctrine of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners like you and me. Here we are plunged to the depths of depravity then raised to behold the eternal love of God. Here we are taken to the cross where we bow before the satisfaction made for us but then arise because it is so sufficient that we must promiscuously publish its news to all tribes, in every nation, on every continent. Here we experience the uncontrollable power of the Holy Spirit (John 3) efficaciously applying the infinite merit of the Son of God to the hearts of sinners like us. Here we feel the pain and struggle that comes with being Christian, loved by the Father but struggling to love, buried with Christ but constantly digging up our sins, filled with the Holy Spirit but being led astray by our own passions. Yet God the triune God is powerful to preserve us in his loving arms and to bring us to the Celestial City.

He goes on from this point for five more paragraphs but to have included it all would’ve been overkill (and possibly copyright infringement), but it’s hard to imagine a more inspiring rally-cry to a book about a 400-year-old document.

It’s always with the books that I take the most notes on that I have the hardest time writing about—I just have too much to sift through to come up with a post. That’s definitely the case here. It’s taken me about a month to come up with a post I can live with (although I’ll probably be mentally re-writing it until February).

In this 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort which produced the subject of this book, the Canons of Dort, I’ve read three books about the Canons. I apparently saved the best for last (although I started strong, too). This combines the best parts of the other two and builds on them. We get the depth and pastoral insight of Godfrey and the approach of deYoung.

After a great chapter giving the historical background and explaining why the Canons were needed—then and now (see above)—Hyde gives a commentary on each Head of Doctrine, both the positive position and the rejection of errors (the rejections are pretty short, Hyde focuses on what is affirmed).

I don’t have the time to write, and you likely don’t have time to read, a good overview of the book as a whole, so I’m going to use Chapter 7, which covers the Fifth Head of Doctrine “The Perseverance of the Saint.” Sixty-three pages on fifteen paragraphs might seem like overkill, but it almost feels like it’s not (I don’t mean to suggest that Hyde skimped on anything, but you can’t help but feel there’s more to say about all of this). The details will vary, but this’ll give you a taste.

He starts off explaining the Remonstrant position, aka the stuff the Canons are responding to, acknowledging that parts of their position are correct, before highlighting the major problems and then showing how large segments of contemporary Evangelicalism agree with the Remonstrants. Following this Hyde looks at the development of this doctrine throughout Church History, focusing on the contributions of Augustine and Aquinas. Then he summarized the Reformed position. With the context established, Hyde goes through—paragraph by paragraph—the text of the Canons, explaining Scriptural references, focusing on and teasing out particular phrases. He not only explains the position but shows how it’s relevant to the reader’s life and interacts with contemporary critics. A particular strength of this chapter was Hyde’s focus on the Trinitarian nature of God’s preserving His people and tying that to the assurance of faith.

This is an intimidating looking book—over 400 pages if you include the appendices and bibliography—and there’s something daunting about that cover. But no one should be intimidated by it. It’s not a breezy read by any means—but it’s warm, pastoral and approachable. Anyone over 13 should have no problem with it. Sure, some of the topics will leave some scratching their heads and pondering for a while, but that’s because these are weighty, thought-provoking topics, not because of Hyde’s text.

There’s so much more that I want to say, but I’m going to call it quits here. I may have read a better theological book this year, but I can’t think of it off the top of my head. This is simply excellent—rich theology, rich application, solid history, smartly writing, occasionally stirring. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Stars

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

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, 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

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey: A great Intro to the Canons of Dort and a valuable tool for study

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey

eARC, 265 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019

Read: February 3 – 10, 2019

I’m halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, “If you want to know about any of this, here’s where you start.” Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we’re done. But I’m not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort’s major product — the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism” and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it’d be well worth the effort (it won’t, but it’s pretty to think so) — but it’s so much more.

There are four parts to this book — any one of which can be read independently from the others. I’m not sure why you would do that, but they’re self-contained enough that you don’t have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could’ve written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn’t the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a “Pastoral” translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I’m not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I’ve read others, but I don’t have them committed to memory. Besides, I don’t know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn’t read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole — how they’re structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons — and Godfrey — is evident throughout the Exposition, he’s frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It’s not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it’s an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn’t sit under Godfrey’s Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren’t as successful in some ways as they wanted to be — not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive — because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone — so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey’s exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can’t do justice — my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful — everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There’s an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod’s provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod’s stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn’t a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church’s teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I’ll pick up others) — but I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral — this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard: A Solid and Encouraging Introduction to a Complicated Topic

Baptism: Answers to Common QuestionsBaptism: Answers to Common Questions

by Guy M. Richard

eARC, 129 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019
Read: February 3, 2019

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on baptism — it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a new one published, too (but maybe I stopped paying attention), so when I saw this on NetGalley, I had to take a chance. I’m very glad I did. Richard discusses in his introduction that questions about this sacrament are some of the most frequently asked to Presbyterian (and, I assume, Reformed) pastors. Sadly, they’re usually asked when pastors can’t give the kind of answers they should — at least based on his experience.

He begins looking at the meaning of Baptism — both the Greek terms translated as “baptism” and the sacrament. He does so very well, covering all the bases. Following that he moves to the method of baptism — how should the water be applied? Once he’s finished with these matters he moves into the more complicated question — who should be baptised? He begins with the “household” baptisms in the New Testament before turning to the objections and arguments of Baptist and baptistic brothers. He not only examines and explains them fairly well, he responds to them in an irenic manner, but not giving an inch to them.

The conclusion, “What Can We Take Away from All This” is just fantastic. Richard’s meditations on how our baptisms should shape our lives and our faith, to build our faith and give us assurance. It’s easily worth half of whatever you pay for the book, and maybe more.

This is probably not a book that will convince any detractors. It may not be enough to convince the earnest seeker. But it will explain the basics for each topic considered. It will demonstrate the systematic and biblical basis for Richard’s positions exists and they aren’t mere tradition. These are outlines to be filled in with further reflection, reading and research by the reader.

Along those lines, each chapter could really use a “For Further Reading” to help the reader get deeper into the topics covered — or one at the end of the book. But I do think as each chapter is so topic-focused, it’d be very helpful. As good as each chapter is, they are just an overview. Not every reader is going to want to go deeper into, say, the mode/method of baptism but they might want to spend more time on the meaning of Baptism, or his response to Baptist interpretations of Jeremiah 31. For example, I think I agree with his differing from Murray on the former — but I’d like to read more about that, if it’s possible.

Richard’s tone throughout is gracious, kind, yet unbending. It’s not easy to putt off in print, especially on a topic like Baptism. There were many times he could’ve gone for the jugular, rhetorically speaking. He never did, trusting that the arguments would carry the day. And, in my not so humble opinion, he’s right to trust that.

Gracious, encouraging, thorough and easy to read — this introduction to “the waters that divide” Christians is just what you want in a book on this topic. But more than those, it’s deeply biblical in nature. Richard’s focus in bringing the light of the canon to this topic, and he succeeds there. I strongly encourage you to read it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


4 Stars

The Person of Jesus by J. Gresham Machen

The Person of JesusThe Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior

by J. Gresham Machen

Paperback, 101 pg.
Westminster Seminary Press, 2017

Read: March 19, 2017

If it’s J. Gresham Machen, it’s gotta be good! Yeah, that might be an oversimplification, but it’s true.

This book is made up of part of a series of radio addresses Machen gave in 1935 — this selection, obviously, focusing on the Person of Christ — his Deity (and what it actually means to describe him as such), what He says about Himself, and what He demonstrated about Himself. These are warm chapters that must’ve been easy to listen to (at one point Machen apologizes for technical language in a way that brought a smile to my face), but rich in teaching. I only wish we had the recordings. I don’t know how, but even with these addresses coming from eight decades ago, they feel like the could’ve been delivered last week.

My favorite chapter, probably, was on The Sermon on the Mount — it’s a long-standing favorite of liberal theologians, and other non-Christians as a way of talking about the “ethics of the New Testament” apart from anything supernatural, miraculous or theological. Machen directly takes on this idea and shows how it’s baseless and impossible to actually do.

These addresses were given towards the end of this life, after he’s gone through “The Presbyterian Conflict” and all the associated drama and trials. Through that experience, he’s a bit more direct. In Christianity & Liberalism Machen’s no less forthright, but he talks about Liberal Theologians, or “other teachers”, etc. Here, he doesn’t waste time — he just calls them “unbelievers.” It’s the same thing, as he demonstrated in his earlier work, but he doesn’t do that here.

This is how apologetics should look — easy to understand and follow, yet rich in doctrine and the Bible. Welcoming and winsome while not giving an inch to his opponents. As always, with Machen, this is how we should all be doing it.


5 Stars

No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life by Reformed Forum

No Uncertain SoundNo Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life

by Reformed Forum

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
Reformed Forum, 2017

Read: March 26, 2017

I’ve been listening to podcasts from Reformed Forum for years now — not as long as I should’ve, no doubt, but for quite awhile — and their guests, discussions and related materials have provided a lot of fodder for my reading lists (both accomplished and planned). So I was excited to hear that they were taking their first steps into book production, not just promotion. Their first book, No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life is a collection of essays attempting to “set forth the salient features of [their] Reformed identity” and “facilitate the spread of” the gospel. It’s definitely a winner regarding the former, and in the right hands, will help the latter.

Following a brief history of the Reformed Forum, there are six essays from regular contributors to the podcasts, conferences and website sponsored by the Forum. Lane G. Tipton writes about the Redemptive-Historical approach to the Scriptures, focusing on Jesus in the Old Testament’s progressive revelation of the Messiah — this essay also provides some critical interaction with Peter Enns as an added bonus. Camden M. Bucey, writes about the need for theology (professional or personal) to be both Biblical (as in Vosian) and Systematic — an approach I applaud and wish I saw more of. Jeffrey C. Waddington addresses the doctrine of has a great essay on union with Christ and the ordo salutis. Glen J. Clary writes about worship and our need to approach it correctly. James J. Cassidy’s ecclesiastical essay is very helpful and probably not what most people expect from the idea of an essay on ecclesiology. Waddington closes the book with an essay on Reformed apologetics — what’s known as Van Tillian presuppositionalism, or Covenant Apologetics.

All the essays are thought-provoking, and will help those new to thinking in these terms as well as those who’ve been down the path a time or two. At the end of each essay is a listing of podcasts/lectures from the Reformed Forum archives so readers can dive deeper into the topics — a great, and very useful tool. For myself, the essays on the Christ in the Old Testament, Union with Christ and Worship were the more profitable in the collection, but I can easily see where other readers will gain more from the others.

The suggested reading list is great — I’m not 100% convinced that I agree with the levels they assigned to some of the works (some are easier than they suggest, others more difficult). But a great list to have on hand without having to go dig around the website to find it.

This is in many ways an advertisement for their podcasts and website — and it’s good at that. But it is more — thankfully. There’s a lot of meat on these bones for people to chew on — whether they’re regular listeners/readers of the Forum’s output or not. Yes, the material basic, but it’s foundational — both for one’s understanding of what Reformed Forum is about, but for establishing an understanding of Confessional Reformed thought in the Twenty-First Century. This is a good first step into the world of books for Reformed Forum, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.


4 Stars