Book Review: Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers is a collection of 2nd century Christian writers.  This version edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes contains both the original Greek texts and their English translations.  This book was a fascinating look at the early Christian church.  It contains works from Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Shepherd of Hermas, and fragments of Papias.  These works show the state of the church at the time.  They are dealing with threats from gnostics and martyrdom, yet they also contain a very pastoral tone.  The Martyrdom of Polycarp is my favorite and shows the faith and bravery of this great saint.  Despite its massive popularity in the ancient world, I did not really care for the Shepherd of Hermas.  It was too long and I had issues with the way it presented works in regards to salvation.  It seemed to emphasize works at the expense of grace.  Ignatius wrote while he was being taken to be martyred.  It is interesting to see what a man that knows he is going to die would say to the church.  I often wonder what I would write myself if I knew I was going to be martyred soon.

Overall, the book is excellent.  The quality of this edition is outstanding as well.  The materials are great and the inclusion of the original Greek texts is a nice bonus.  I look forward to one day taking the time to translate it myself.

Book Review: Irenaeus’ Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching

The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching is a fairly recently discovered (1904) book from the bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus.  Having lived from 130AD to 202AD, Irenaeus was a very influential early church father.  Trained by Polycarp, who himself was trained by the Apostle John, Irenaeus gives us a very detailed look at the early post-apostolic Christian faith.  Famous for his apologetic work, Against Heresies, this book is a more theological work.  It could almost be seen as an early systematic theology.  The book is simply Irenaeus’ explanation of the Christian faith.  It was fascinating to read how he would share the Gospel and preach about Christ.

It was not a very long book, only 45 pages, yet still quite detailed.  There were a few things that made me scratch my head, but for the most part it was really great to see how a preacher 1800 years ago sounds very close to what I would say today about the Christian faith.

Book Review: Confessions of St. Augustine

The Confessions of St. Augustine is a classic work from the early church.  The book is an autobiography of Augustine written after his conversion to Christianity.  Yet, it is much more than a simple recounting of the events of his life.  He delves into his own mind to try to explain his thought process behind his conversion and his rejection of paganism and manicheism (an ancient dualistic religion popular in the late Roman Empire).  He digs down into complex theological and philosophical concepts to explain why he found other religions faulty and inconsistent and why he believed Christianity to be true.  The book shows that Augustine had a very keen intellect and was able to sift through the lies and deceptions of false religions.  He comments on how many would try to deceive the people with predicting astronomical events like eclipses, but he points out that all they did was use mathematics to “predict” a regularly recurring event.  Yet, at the same time he admits that due to his fondness for rhetoric and eloquent speech, he was taken in by some of the speakers.  He admits that in his earlier years he at times cared more about how something was said, then necessarily what was said.  Augustine is a complex character and this book shows that.  The book goes to great lengths to show how much influence his mother had on his faith.  That despite the fact that he ignored her for most of his young adult life, her fervent prayers for him are what ultimately resulted in his salvation.  His experiences led him to Milan where he met the famous bishop Ambrose.  Ambrose provided the answers that Augustine had been searching for in all the false religions.  He had been led all that way to finally understand and know of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I found it fascinating to read of the world that Augustine lived in.  There is so much that is different than our time.  Yet, there is much that is the same.  A mother deeply caring for her son.  A man searching for answers to life’s deepest questions in all the wrong places.  Traveling across the sea to new places and meeting new people and finally getting those answers from a wise man.  It could almost be a fairy tale, except that it is a true story.  There is much more to this book that I could discuss, but it is truly a fascinating read.  I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Planting, Watering, Growing

Planting, Watering, Growing is a very interesting take on church planting.  This book pulls no punches and in some ways almost tries to discourage church planting.  Not that the authors don’t want to see church plants, but they go to great lengths to emphasize the challenges to planting a confessionally reformed church in this day and age.  Many of the countless books on church planting describe how the author went from 5 people in their living room to a mega church in just a few years.  What the authors of this book try to emphasize is that those situations are not the norm.  A vast majority of church plants do not turn into mega churches.  In fact, many fail entirely.  On top of that, planting a confessionally reformed church adds even more difficulty because of the importance of doctrinal precision and emphasis on the proper structure of the church and the form of worship.  Despite all the warnings and caveats, the authors are actually quite encouraging.  Church plants do succeed all the time and grow into sound established churches who then go on to plant new churches of their own.

The book is actually a series of essays from many authors dealing with different aspects of church planting.  They cover the background of what it means to be a confessionally reformed church as well as the steps that should be taken and the potential issues that might come up during them.  While planting churches is very hard work, it is still important work and God is faithful towards his church.  I encourage anyone who is interested in church planting to read this book and learn as much as you can.

Hyde, Daniel R. and Shane Lems. Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 20th Century.  Reformation Heritage Books. April 1, 2011. 310 pp.

Book Review: Call the Sabbath a Delight

Call the Sabbath a Delight is a great book emphasizing the importance of the 4th Commandment for Christians.  Many modern day Christians don’t believe that we are to keep the Sabbath.  Even those that do disagree on which day it should take place (it’s Sunday btw).  This is a great little book on why the Sabbath is important.  Many people in our day not only do not keep the Sabbath, but actively oppose it.  This book is written with a pastoral concern for the people of God.  The Sabbath is not just about taking a day off of work.  It is about following the pattern of creation.  It is about getting a foretaste of that future eternal rest that we are looking forward to.

Many think that keeping the Sabbath is legalistic and on top of that it just doesn’t make any sense.  If you aren’t supposed to work or have worldly recreation, what do you do all day?  But that is exactly the point.  We are freed from our worldly obligations and distractions to spend 1 day each week focusing on godly activities.  That doesn’t just mean going to church, it means spending the whole day in godly pursuits.  But that doesn’t mean we just sit on the couch and pray all day. There are so many things that we can do on the Sabbath that we usually just push aside for another day because we are too busy.  We definitely need to spend more time in prayer, bible reading & study (which the Sabbath gives us), but it also gives us time to visit shut ins/nursing home, to read that Christian book we’ve been wanting to, etc.  We have time to do all those things we should and want to do, but are too busy dealing with kids, cleaning the house, watching football, yard work, or whatever else we do when we get home from work during the week. We can invite visitors to church over for lunch, or fellow church members we don’t get to hang out with very much. It is a joy to just let go of all the normal stresses of life and just focus on godly things. If it’s boring, you’re doing it wrong.

There were some things that I did not agree with in the book, especially some of his views on the application of the civil law for today.  But that didn’t distract me too much from his excellent presentation of the necessity of the Christian Sabbath.  I highly recommend this book to everyone.

Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight.  Banner of Truth (April 1, 1991). 122 pp.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is this Sunday so don’t forget to get a gimmicky tool for your dad. While it was a token holiday given to dads after the success of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is still a great opportunity to show your love and appreciation for your dad. We don’t always realize the influence that our parents have on us, especially our fathers. Dads have a much more profound impact on their kids than we know.

Statistics show that children with dedicated fathers do better in school, are better emotionally, are better behaved, and are more likely to avoid drugs. This is true whether families were low or high income. Statistics also show that when a dad is a regular church attender, his children are considerably more likely to be regular church attenders (33% regular & 44% irregular attending). If a father is an irregular church attender, the statistics fall off significantly (only 3% of kids become regular church attenders). What is worse is that there is almost no difference between a Father that attends irregularly and one that doesn’t attend at all (3% vs 2% of their children end up regularly attending church). The statistics also showed that a mother’s church attendance had only a small impact. Dads are far more important than we realize.

The Bible is clear in Eph 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Fathers must teach their children about God and must attend church regularly. Obviously simple statistics do not show everything and God can do whatever he wants, but these statistics are very telling and reinforce what the Bible already teaches. Dads need to step up and be men. Fulfill your responsibility and train your kids in the faith. Read the Bible with them, pray with them, and teach them doctrine. They are relying on you, do not fail them.

Book Review: The Marrow of Modern Divinity

The Marrow of Modern Divinity was originally published in 1645 by E.F. which is believed to be Edward Fisher.  However, the book did not gain much popularity at the time and fell out of print.  It was only later discovered by Thomas Boston who found it on the shelf of one of his church members.  He fell in love with the book and began to have it reprinted in 1718.  This was an integral moment in what has been termed the “Marrow Controversy”.

The Marrow Controversy was a conflict in the church of Scotland in the early 18th century.  It began in 1717 when a man by the name of William Craig’s ordination was denied.  In order to be ordained in the Auchterander Presbytery all ministers had to affirm the Auchterander Creed which states, “I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ”.  This creed was later condemned by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for requiring more than the Westminster Standards for ordination.  It was at this time that Boston (who supported the creed) began having the Marrow of Modern Divinity reprinted.  However, many in the Scottish General Assembly viewed the book as antinomian (meaning against the law, it is a fancy term for those who don’t think they need to obey God’s moral law as a Christian).  They banned the publishing of the book and rebuked the “Marrow Men” (which they had begun to be called).  The “Marrow Men” accused them of being neonomian (meaning “new law” and is a fancy term for a legalist).

The controversy dealt with the issue of whether repentance was required before coming to Christ and issues with the free offer of the gospel.  The Neonomians believed that repentance and faith were required before the Gospel offer.  They believed that the Gospel offer should only be made to those that already showed signs of repentance and faith.  The Marrow Men adamantly disagreed and believed that repentance and faith were the result of the grace of God in the life of the new believer.  As well, since repentance and faith were the consequence of grace, the Gospel should be preached to everyone, not just those that are repentant.  Fisher’s book struck like a lightning bolt right in the middle of this controversy.

The Marrow describes a debate between 4 people.  An antinomian (meaning against the law and is a fancy term for one that believes Christians do not have to follow the law), a legalist, a new Christian, and a Gospel preacher.  The preacher corrects the errors of the legalist and the antinomian and sets the new Christian on the right path.  The controversy stemmed from Fisher’s argument about how Christians relate to the law of God.  He explained that (in somewhat agreement with the antinomian and against the legalist) that Christians are freed from the law of God.  However, they are freed from only the law as a covenant of works.  This law of works is summarized in the 10 Commandments and what that means is that Christians are freed from the law’s curses (ie death for disobedience and not following the 10 Commandments).  A Christian no longer fears eternal judgment and in one sense God no longer sees their sins (the ones against the law of works).

However, (in somewhat agreement with the legalist and against the antinomians) Christians are subject to the law of Christ, which is also summarized in the 10 Commandments.  What that means is that Christians still have to follow God’s moral law as a rule of life, but not out of fear of eternal punishment.  We are under grace because of the work of Christ, but we still must strive to live moral lives.  We do this out of an appreciation for what God has done for us and our love for God.  We no longer look at God as a judge who will send us to hell for any disobedience, but as a loving Father who cares for us.  Now that doesn’t mean Christians are off the hook when they disobey.  As human fathers discipline their children, so does God discipline his children (as Heb 12 says).  That discipline may be harsh and yes even up to death, but it is not punishment (per se).  It has the intention of correcting wrong behavior, not as a means of “paying” for a crime.

This is a very important distinction that all Christians need to understand.  If you believe in Christ you are saved, but that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t matter.  While we don’t fear God’s eternal wrath, we still must follow his law.  God’s law is good and good for us.  However, we must understand that our following the law, even as a Christian, means nothing in regards to our salvation.  We are saved by the death and righteousness of Christ alone.  Only his death could take away sin and only his righteousness credited to us can make us right in God’s eyes.  We don’t do our best and then Jesus tops us off to make us perfect.  Even as a Christian our righteous deeds are filthy rags.  We don’t earn God’s favor by doing good works as a Christian.  However, as Christians, God is still pleased with us when we obey and displeased when we disobey.  But that is in regards to our sanctification, not our justification.  God wants us to be conformed to the image of his son and will bring correction to get us closer to that goal.  Granted we will never reach perfection this side of glory, but the process is still going on.  However, even then, the righteousness we are capable of in this world can do nothing to save us.

Fisher used the example of citizenship to explain some of the misunderstandings.  We are not subject to the laws of Spain, even though they may be same the laws (like murder, theft, etc.).  We are subject to the laws of the nation we are citizens of.  So even though the law of works and Christ are the same (the 10 Commandments).  If we are a Christian, we are not subject to the condemnation of the law of works, because we are under the law of Christ.  We are saved by grace alone and freed from the curse of the law, but freed in order to obey the law of Christ.

The irony of the Marrow Controversy is that by condemning the book, the General Assembly advertised a book that no one had ever heard of before.  People went out and read the book and it became very popular and influential.  It was widely read by many in Scotland, England, America, and all over the world.  This is by far one of the best books I have read in a while and I highly recommend it, especially with Thomas Bostons notes.  It can be a chore to read, especially having to stop and read Boston’s comments all the time and being originally written in the 1640s.  However, it thoroughly refutes both antinomianism and legalism in one fell swoop.  Every pastor and every Christian should read this book, it is that important.