Samuel Rutherford–A Bitesized Biography

A great Christian worth knowing, Samuel Rutherford, lived a life of devotion to Christ. Many Christians, sadly, know little of him. Personally, I knew of his famous letters and have even read some of them devotionally, but I knew little of the man. So this volume by Richard M. Hannula and published by EP did me a service by filling in my lack.

He had the heart of a pastor and the skill of a scholar. His gentle fellowship with Christ, frankly, challenged me. His grace under fire refined that devotion rather than curtailing it. He was tried and exiled from his beloved congregation. From that lonely place he wrote his letters.

The Crown in England was always a thorn for Rutherford and his fellow Presbyterians in Scotland. If that weren’t enough, his first wife and eight of his nine children died. He had some serious illnesses himself. He seemed only to draw closely to Christ in all these tragedies.

He found Independents and Baptists to be a major problem as he helped formulate the church policies of England in later life. This only serves to show that you can strongly disagree with someone on a few points and yet be moved by their love for your Savior.

Thanks Mr. Hannula for this quick, informative, and pleasant read. For what it strives to be, it could hardly be better. This is my first of the “Bitesize Biographies” series, but they are helpful. We could likely pass these on to our children to read after we have finished them.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Exploring Christian Theology–a Fine New Volume

Are you intimidated by the ten-pound systematic theology volumes out there? Do you still want some real depth and genuine help? You should check out the first volume, then, of the projected three-volume series Exploring Christian Theology, edited by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel, with this first volume written by the editors along with Douglas Blount and Glenn Krieder.

For some reason, I opened this volume with low expectations. I read those ten-pounders sometimes and enjoy it. Then in the first few pages I read language that I felt was trying too hard to engage modern readers. As I kept reading, however, I was won over. This volume is a treat.

The editors claim their perspective here “differs from other mini-theologies in that strives to present a broad consensus, not a condensed systematic model of one evangelical teacher or Protestant tradition.” To my mind, they succeeded. They may not have written from one narrow angle, but they stayed safely within the confines of conservative, Bible-believing parameters. Can you tell I liked it?

The first part covers Revelation, Scripture, and Truth. Their explanation of inspiration and inerrancy was choice. I might squabble over a detail here or there, but they provoked thought and explained the touchiest issues of our day well.

The next section on the Triune God was simply superb. The section on the kenosis of Christ and the debates of the Early Church on Christology was one of the best I have ever read. It rivals the ten-pound volumes!

Each section ends with quotes from all time periods of Christianity on the subject. You could see, for example, that full inspiration of Scripture has been the historic position. Newer positions are clearly deviations.

Get this book. Better yet, read it carefully. I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Straining At Gnats and Swallowing Camels (IBTR #52)

There are things that go on in religion as if perfectly normal, rational, and spiritual that are, to Christ’s eyes, the most ludicrous of actions. Whether it be the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, or the super spiritual ones of Independent Baptists or any current group of Christians today, the perverse lunacy is the same.

When Jesus preached His most scathing recorded sermon, to whom was it addressed? The Pharisees, or the spiritual forebears of those who trouble us today. That sermon in Matthew 23 is scorching. Jesus spoke so lovingly to adulterers and thieves, but blasted those who claimed a spiritual authority that they used to manipulate and abuse.

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus laid bare the unacceptable dichotomy that had developed among the Pharisees:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Well, you could not accuse our Savior of mincing words! They had inverted priorities and missed by miles what was really important to the God they professed to love. The excelled where it was meaningless and grossly failed where it really mattered. That is not the life I want to live, how about you?

Then with an almost comic flair our Lord drew an unforgettable word picture. If you really can get the image in your mind, you will never forget it. In Matthew 23:24 He said:

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

If the thought of a blind guide wasn’t shocking enough (it is odd, you know, when one blind feels competent to lead you over the rough terrain of life), then He gave us a scene of one easily swallowing a camel but choking on a gnat! Stop and visualize that….it is quite amusing and, of course, ludicrous.

Camels are bigger than you and swallowing is out of the question for sane people. At the same time, no one likes a gnat, but you will survive swallowing them with relative ease, unless, again you are not sane. We have never actually seen this attempted. I guess we are all at least that intelligent, but in spiritual matters there are things Christ finds just as ludicrous.

What does our Lord think when He sees us hammering some poor believer over some little standard while His proscribed call for love is completely absent? Hey look, they have camels and gnats mixed up again!

It is just as crazy in us as that mental picture Jesus drew. I say let’s give up straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Find all articles in the series here.


Persuasive Preaching by Overstreet (Books on the Ministry #16)

Have you ever given thought to the role persuasion plays, or should play, in preaching? What are its legitimate roles? You will, then, appreciate this new volume entitled Persuasive Preaching by R. Larry Overstreet and published by Weaver. The subtitle “A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion” aptly describes the author’s approach.

He feels persuasion is getting a bum rap these days and the quality of preaching suffers accordingly. With a scholar’s touch, he defines persuasion and what it has looked like in preaching in the past. God’s Word, to be sure, calls for a response. He had an excellent discussion on post-modernism and how that has negatively affected preaching. He was spot on.

He gives deep discussion on the Hebrew and Greek associated with preaching as found in Scripture. That may be heavy for some readers, but his point was surely proven–persuasion is part of preaching.

Chapter 6 on ethos with its vivid discussion of important passages was my favorite in the book. It was, can I say, the most persuasive.

Toward the end the book turned more toward how to practically put persuasion in our preaching. Particularly helpful was the the discussion on persuasion versus manipulation. Finally, he points out the necessity of the Holy Spirit in our preaching.

We preachers should wrestle with this subject and this book is likely the best we have on this specific point. I recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Other books in this series


A Recently Discovered Gem–Acts by Lightfoot

We have a potpourri of good things here. There is the commentary itself, an interesting story of how it was found after so long, and insight into J. B. Lightfoot the prodigious scholar.

Many of us have had Lightfoot’s commentaries on our shelves for years. I thought I had all of them. I did have all that was in print. Then Ben Witherington, a modern scholar and Lightfoot admirer, went digging around the dusty corners of the Durham Cathedral Library and found unpublished commentary material. Here we have Acts 1-21 and volumes on John and II Corinthians/ I Peter are forthcoming. The story, with accompanying photos, was fascinating. It is surprising to have a new volume by a guy who died in 1889.

The commentary is of his high standards. If you are like me, you will need an interlinear handy because the Greek is untranslated. I am glad to have this commentary.

The biographical sketch and the homage at the end give us a intimate view of the famous scholar. He never married and had an incredible output of work. He spoke several languages fluently. He had encyclopedic knowledge of Greek–Classical, Koine, and the Greek of the Fathers. I might not agree with all his doctrinal views, and I certainly do not agree with him on which underlying texts are best, but when he speaks on language I him him worthy of my attention. I will never have his language gift, but I am glad I can glean from his.

The Appendixes have more goodies including an article on Acts in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. My edition of that dictionary did not have his article, so I was glad to see it.

Thanks IVP for printing this unique work. I recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Psalms by Tremper Longman (TOTC)

The venerable Tyndale commentary series is in the process of updating the OT volumes. Coming up to the Psalms volume, IVP had a dilemma. Derek Kidner’s volume in the series is one of the best succinct commentaries written on a book of the Bible ever. How do you retire such an author with his winning entry in your commentary set?

So what did IVP do? Some staffer came up with the masterstroke publishing idea for the quandary. Reprint the Kidner’s titles as “Classic Commentaries” (a quick search on IVP and you can find them as they are available now) and pull out one of the most prolific commentators on Wisdom Literature today, Tremper Longman, and let him do the new Tyndale volume. I may not always agree with Mr. Longman, but I have always been impressed by his prodigious output. Does he ever lay down his pen?

He gives us a near 500 page offering on the 150 Psalms. His introduction is short, but sufficiently overviews the issues involved in studying the Psalms. Then he gives a short paragraph on context to help orient us followed by commentary in chunks that make sense. He ends with a “meaning” section that helps us think about directions for application. He does a fine job.

I checked some on the Psalms in this volume against the new massive volumes by Allen Ross and the old Kidner volumes. I feel Longman well addresses, in a more compressed format as called for in this series, issues that Mr. Ross handles deeply and masterfully. Did he excel Mr. Kidner? Probably not, but the solution for me is to possess them both and use them often.

I have loved and used the entire Tyndale Commentarty for years. We need commentaries of this style to go along with our larger exegetical ones to help not lose sight of the forest in looking at the trees. This volume lives up to its high standards and I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


The Greatest Motivation To Be A Pharisee (IBTR# 51)

They were an ugly group. They fought Jesus at every turn. Their hearts had run so amok that Christ reserved the harshest words He ever spoke for them. Strangely enough, they thought they followed God better than anyone ever did. The irony that they thought God’s Own Son was a devil jumps off page after page of the Gospel records. As you might imagine, to be called a Pharisee for anyone who thinks themselves a solid Christian will arouse a blood-boiling reaction. Though this pharisaical attitude rears its hideous head in all corners of Christianity, and although I know there is a little Pharisee in both you and me, I call on those in the Independent Baptist world to give careful thought to just how much the spirit of Pharisaism is entrenched in some places.

Don’t make the error of thinking that Pharisees sprang from evil and only ever had bad motives. Just because Jesus called them hypocrites, don’t assume there was never any sincerity. After the Captivity and its corresponding trials rendered its chastening to the point that it became difficult to reboot and sustain their OT worship, it appeared to some well-meaning believers that something ought to be done. In that idolatry was at the core of the offense that brought on the agonizing judgments, it seemed, quite reasonably, that steps ought to be taken that it never happen again. From those ashes rose a patriotic, zealous group of sincere men who made their lives about restoring what they thought they lost from God.

So it wasn’t the original aims or goals that were a problem. No, these “separated ones” likely were as sincere as any believers have ever been. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that they did what they did for any other motivation than love of God. Still, I must know well the one I love for my love to accomplish an end worthy of love.

With a zeal that puts our halfhearted efforts to shame they went relentlessly after their goals. As time went along, it occurred to them that fences were the only safety net to avoid another round of horrors as they had experienced in the bondage of oppression. So they took the things God had said and added many regulations to it to ensure that they did not stumble across the line God had drawn. They saw breaking God’s Law as the cliff and so they built fences father and farther back until they were hundreds of feet away. By Christ’s day they were so far back that they could not even see the cliff. And they felt really good about it.

What never occurred to them was that in backing away from the cliff they had somehow backed far away from God Himself. They were too far away to hear His voice, but in the cacophony of their own voices they did not even notice. Hearing your own voice standing in the place of the Lord’s, however, will do a number on you, especially if you have convinced yourself that you did it for Him!

Plus when you only know someone from a distance you tend to get a warped view of who they really are. They knew about the fear of the Lord. They did not just know it, they lived it. That the fear of the Lord might be more appropriate when we are purposely running from Him, not when we are treading watchfully, never crossed their minds. That the fear of the Lord when we are in an appropriate relationship with Him might have more to do with reverential awe never occurred to them either. Had they taken the time to actually listen to Jesus they might have learned what intimate fellowship our Lord has in mind for us.

Is it clear to you now what was the great motivation to be a Pharisee? Fear. It was then and it is now. Never mind that Jesus told us that He had not given us the spirit of fear; some still design their entire Christian experience on it. Sadly, it will make a Pharisee of you every time. Fear is the basis of idolatrous religions and has no place in Christianity. Our God in not a pagan god to be feared and appeased, but a real God to be known and loved. In that light you can see that a Pharisee is the last thing you would ever want to be.

Find all articles in the series here.