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.
Inkheart
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.
Badlands
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.

Quick Takes: God, You, & Sex by David White; Entering God’s Rest by Ken Golden; Redemptive Reversals by G. K. Beale; Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

The point of these quick takes post to catch up on my “To Write About” stack—emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness.

 God, You & Sex

God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery

by David White
Paperback, 240 pg.
New Growth Press, 2019
Read: November 3, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

(the official blurb)
Okay, I’ve read Ephesians 5:32 and Solomon’s Song—I know there’s much to be learned about the relationship between Christ and the Church from human marriage (and vice versa), but…I still feel squeamish about aspects of that. Nothing against Mr. White, but he’s not Solomon, and I couldn’t really get behind much of what he said on that topic (not that he was wrong, necessarily, I just couldn’t agree with him).

But beyond that—it was refreshing to read actual positive teaching about human sexuality from a Christian perspective and not just a list of “No”s, “Don’t Do That”s, and so on. Yes, the positive teaching necessitates some of the “Nope”s, and I have no problem with that, but it just seems that all the conservative Protestant world can come up with are the anti-whatever books.

In the end, I quite liked most of this and got something out of it.
3 Stars

Entering God's Rest

Entering God’s Rest: The Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation—And What It Means for You

by Ken Golden
Kindle Edition, 112 pg.
Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2018
Read: November 17, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

(the official blurb)
This is a really good book to cut your teeth with on the subject of the Christian Sabbath/The Lord’s Day. Golden does a decent job in tracing the doctrine of the Sabbath through the Scriptures, gives some good principles for modern observance of the Christian Sabbath and how we ought to think of it—and those who disagree with us.

In the end, he gives some examples of ways one might put those principles to use. Honestly, this last chapter is the weakest, and it seems to me that he wasn’t consistent in his application of his own principles, and ended up with suggestions that were pretty weak (and maybe a compromise?)

Ignoring the last chapter, it was a decent, quick and easy read. But I’d recommend Ryan McGraw’s The Day of Worship: Reassessing the Christian Life in Light of the Sabbath, Joseph A. Pipa’s The Lord’s Day, or Nicholas Bownd’s The True Doctrine of the Sabbath instead (ranked by increasing length, depth, and complexity).
3 Stars

Redemptive Reversals

Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom

by G. K. Beale
Series: Short Studies in Biblical Theology
Paperback, 189 pg.
Crossway, 2019
Read: November 10, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

(the official blurb)
I’m not really certain what it was that I expected this book to be, but I didn’t get it. What Beale gave us are looks at various topics in Scripture, showing how the way God has/is working is both counter to the ways of the world as well as human intuition.

It was a pretty approachable book, almost deceptive in its simplicity—most of what he says is worth more thought and meditation than your initial impressions might lead you to think. There’s also a lot of rich application for both thought and life—I didn’t expect a book about irony to give me things to do.

I’m not convinced that I walked away from this having learned anything, but Beale did make me think of things that I knew in a different way, with ideas on how to approach similar Scriptural topics/themes in a similar fashion in my own study.
3.5 Stars

Grace & Glory

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

by Geerhardus Vos
Paperback, 155 pg.
Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007
Read: December 8-15, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

(the official blurb)
For most people (who’ve heard of him), Geerhardus Vos is known as a theologian—one of the Twentieth Century’s brightest stars, the man who showed that the academic discipline known as Biblical Theology wasn’t the domain solely of Theological Liberalism, but that a robust, Bible-believing thinker could (and should) contribute to the field.

But before he was a theologian or professor, Vos was a preacher. And this small collection of sermons shows how capable he must have been.

Yes, there’s rich theology behind these sermons, but they’re primarily expositions and applications of the texts for the hearers. And, yes, the audiences of these sermons were students at Princeton Theological Seminary (before the downgrade that led to the creation of Westminster Theological Seminary), but these were not airy, academic addresses.

I don’t think it was by design, it just worked out this way, but the second, fourth and sixth sermons were the ones that I appreciated most—my notes weren’t really that helpful, especially now. All I wrote about #2 “Hungering and Thirsting after Righteousness” was “Wow! Fantastic.” True, but that’s not really helpful—Vos opens up the idea about how Christ uses the believer’s faith (hungering and thirsting) to fill and bless them. The sermon “‘Rabboni'” (about Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ near the tomb) is less than twenty pages long, but was better than Richard Sibbes’ sermon series (184 pages in the Banner of Truth edition) on the same passage—I can’t do it justice here, so I won’t try. And the last sermon? It’s worth more than the purchase price of the whole book.

(I fully expect when I re-read this book in 2021 or so, I’ll say something just as strong about the odd-numbered sermons and wonder what I was talking about now.)

As Scott Clark mentions in his forward, Vos was a poet (particularly in retirement, but before then, too). And you can see that in some of these sermons—they practically sing. I can only imagine how captivating these were hearing them, they’re stirring just reading them.

One of the best collections of sermons I’ve ever read. My only complaint is that there were only six. Get this one.
5 Stars

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from any of them, 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

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