Why Church? by Scott Sunquist

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It’s good to see a book championing the church. There has been a radical shift in how the world views local churches both culturally and in terms of impact. Scott Sunquist tackles this important subject both historically and biblically and with an eye to the future. He has written it in such a way that it’s not specific to a certain denomination, but looks rather at the core function of the local church.

He comes back to basics in chapter 1 and explains that the two purposes of the church are worship and mission. Chapter 2 is a fine survey of church history from the time of Jesus to the current environment of Post-Chrisendom. We may not be happy about the trends, but he lays them out for us to ponder.

The next five chapters make up his main premise by using five words to describe what a church is supposed to be doing. These words are come, stand, kneel, sit, and go. When he speaks of coming to the church, he is speaking of coming to Jesus in conversion, coming to the body of Christ for community, and finding our identity in the worship of Jesus Christ. His discussion of standing is a call to praise God. He may be less concerned about worship styles than you are, but I do think you will likely agree with his emphasis on the necessity of praise. As you probably guessed, the chapter on kneeling is about worship. He doesn’t approach worship as some touchy-feely, nebulous experience, but rather coming before God in confession and repentance. It’s a good approach I think. The chapter on sitting describes the great importance of sitting still to receive the Word of God. I found it to be quite helpful despite a few possible rabbit trails. The final chapter on going is about taking the church outside of its building and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

There is a later chapter that he calls “healthy body movement”. Here he wrestles with the implementation of all he has discussed with a balancing of his five key elements. Don’t read that as if he has all the answers, but read it as taking suggestion on what you ought to consider as you work through that same dilemma. The epilogue mentions a few things that he did not write about in the book, but should be considered.

I just happened to be doing this review while churches around the world are quiet in the buildings with most services held online during the Covid-19 crisis. It strikes me that perhaps we haven’t given thought to how incredibly powerful and wonderful the local church is in our lives. Maybe this book can help us reflect and plunge forward.

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 Gospel of the Son of God by David Bauer

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David Bauer is the right person to write this academic introduction to the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve known for years that Mr. Bauer has followed in the footsteps of Jack Dean Kingsbury. Kingsbury’s writings on Matthew first fascinated me well over a decade ago. In fact, this volume divides the book of Matthew in the same three places that Kingsbury first did. I find that division to be quite helpful and accurate. Bauer takes the best of Kingsbury and expands it to all that we have learned since and offering his own additional conclusions.

Part one called an orientation covers form and genre, approach and method, circumstances of composition, and shape of composition in four chapters. I got the least out of this section especially as the theories of composition don’t do much for me. Academic tops will still likely work through it.

Part two is where the book starts to shine offering an interpretation in three chapters along the lines of the aforementioned division of Matthew’s gospel. There is brilliant insight to be found here.

Part three entitled reflection gives us 5 chapters looking at the Christological titles of Jesus, additional aspects of christology, God, salvation history and eschatology, and discipleship. You will find outstanding nuggets along the way even if there are occasional statements that you find totally subversive to your thinking. Take the book as one requiring a little digging to remove its treasure with a little junk to move out of the way and the gospel of Matthew will come alive to you in a whole new way.

I see this book as the pinnacle of a key interpretive arc of Matthew’s gospel. In that sense, it will be an indispensable volume.

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.

Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation

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If you happened to have the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, You will be glad to see this wonderful volume that finishes the New Testament from Acts through Revelation. The quality and depth of geographic information and how it plays into the story on the page remains just as high. Maybe you are like me and you are not as up to speed on the geography outside of Israel as you are that of Israel itself. If that be true for you as it is for me, then perhaps this volume will be even more important than the first one.

The quality of writing by a group of top-notch scholars, the appropriateness of pictures and illustrations, and the usefulness of maps make this an incredible resource. Mark this down as one of the greatest Bible study needs you have that you weren’t even aware of. My only small complaint is that the size of the font and particularly of maps is smaller than ideal. My guess is that the smaller font became necessary because of the incredible amount of information they are giving us. It would have been much more expensive but I wonder if this might have been better as two volumes than one. In any event, it is an extraordinary resource that could be a blessing to anyone at any level from Bible student to scholar. I give this attractive hardback volume the highest possible recommendation.

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.

Doing Theology with the Reformers by Gerald Bray

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This book by Gerald L. Bray, a known Reformation expert, isn’t exactly what I expected—it’s better. For some reason, I imagined something of a brief systematic theology cast in the History of the Reformation. There is some of that, to be sure, but much more. It wasn’t until the mid-point of chapter 3 (nearly 100 pages in) before the book really mentioned some of those subjects. My favorite part was those first 100 pages! Mr. Bray writes history with verve. I found the pages turned quite easily. I got more out of it than some far lengthier books for sure.

Whether he talked about Bible interpretation, the Covenants, reformed theology, he always infused it with clear historical context. That he could write so thoroughly and yet so winningly suggests his profound knowledge of his subject. To me, he could sift through reams of data and clearly distinguish what was most significant.

The look of this book might tip you off that it is a companion to the larger Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series before you even read that it is. There is that distinctive green. More importantly, there is that same labor of love behind its careful scholarship.

You don’t have to follow reformed theology to benefit from this book. It will lead you to clear historical context of a pivotal moment of church history.

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 Covenanters–A Beautiful New 2-Volume Release!

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If you are familiar with Church history, then you are likely aware of the spectacular period of Scottish church history beginning at the Reformation and extending throughout the 1600s. Besides some incredible believers and servants of Christ that we can be challenged by, there are all the thrills that any historical reader craves. Religion, palace intrigue, bloodshed, and rousing courage combined to make those costly days to follow Christ.

Banner of Truth dominates the market for this kind of history. They do it right as well. These two volumes by J.K. Hewison would catch your eye on any shelf among other books. The artwork on each volume is the best of any book I’ve seen this year. The binding is durable to last for years to come too. The word “heirloom” comes to mind. (Would make an exceptionally nice gift).

What is between the covers is captivating as well. It would be hard to fail as a writer with that kind of material to work with, but Hewison totally succeeded. He struck the right balance between a truly scholarly work and an enjoyable read. He was fair and didn’t sugarcoat the lives of believers either. Occasionally pictures are even provided.

This book can be used either as a reference to study persons or events or as a fine read with equal parts history and devotion. You will likely have your own favorite episodes as you read. For some reason, Mary, Queen of Scots, grabbed my attention.

If I were forced to only have one title on those magnificent Scottish Christians, this two-volume set would be my choice hands down!

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 Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill

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This short volume on the Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill is designed to shake off the dust and routine that many on us have covering that model prayer Christ shared. The subtitle “a guide to praying to our Father” is wisely kept prominent throughout. Hill leads us on a thoughtful journey through every phrase of that prayer.

To be sure, there were times I didn’t line up theologically with Hill, nor would I agree with every capitulation to modern times I felt he made, but this book led me deeper into the Lord’s Prayer. It replaced staleness with vibrancy on several occasions. He gives clear evidence of unrushed thinking and the results often gratify.

Lexham Press has started a series of “Christian Essentials” which includes this title. If this is what we can expect, I predict the series might be quite popular.

This book draws you back to the Lord’s Prayer as if it were a neglected friend. What better measure of success could this little book have?

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.

God’s Relational Presence by Duvall and Hays

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There are getting to be quite a few large volumes on biblical theology available to Christian readers today. Many of them are scholarly and well done. They may focus the work along different lines – redemption, love, forgiveness, or the kingdom – but don’t dare think of this volume by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays as an anomaly. This focus on God’s relational presence as the cohesive center of biblical theology makes perfect sense. It will not replace those others described above but it will complement them well. Our God is about relationship and as the authors scan Genesis to Revelation they will prove to you how prevalent it is. Mark me down as at first surprised and then convinced!

This author combination has already proven to work well before in the well-received title Grasping God’s Word and several other projects. Duvall is the New Testament scholar who balances out Hays the Old Testament scholar. Together they have learned how to communicate across the Canon.

I saw no signs of haste. The theme is well carried out while the detail is well fleshed out. In every part of Scripture, they find evidence of this controlling theme or overarching storyline of Scripture and show it to you. Don’t miss the introduction where in the very first paragraph they lay out their basic thesis and explain what they are trying to do to perfection. It well makes you know what to expect across the thorough volume.

Unlike many such books they didn’t just ask us to believe them, they showed us. So many biblical texts are pulled in while the expansive bibliography shows the breadth of scholarship as well. There’s even an occasional chart or graph that is quite instructive.

I found this book more successful in its presentation than some others of its kind and give it the highest recommendation!

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 Church (Contours of Christian Theology) by Edmund Clowney

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By this point, I have used almost every volume in the Contours of Christian Theology series. All these volumes have run between good and great. They all are books to ponder after you’ve already consulted your systematic theologies. None of them are for shallow readers but are for those who are interested in really digging in the theology. This volume on the church by Edmund P. Clowney is one of those that fall on the “great” end of the scale. He has such probing, interesting things to say about the church and handles beautifully where ecclesiology touches on any of the other main doctrines.

There are 18 chapters that cover the church from every conceivable angle and address every theological issue I can imagine on ecclesiology. While I might not agree with a few statements here and there, this volume definitely leans to the conservative point of view. Just check his references and endnotes and see who he quotes. That will make it clear where his perspective comes from.

The beauty of the book was how he took very familiar concepts, exactly those concepts you would imagine you’d find in a book about the church, and said them in new ways that stretched your thinking. He wrote a book of scholarly depth and theological precision without sacrificing clear, persuasive writing. Concepts within ecclesiology are highly debated and rigidly held so there’s little hope that he will fall exactly where every reader does but don’t let that keep you at bay. You will work through all these issues in a much more thorough fashion with far more satisfying results if this book is one you carefully use. A well-done volume!

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.

Check Out The New “Best of Christianity Today” Series!

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Two out of the three new releases in the Best of Christianity Today (CT) series published by Lexham Press have come across my desk:

Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essays of John Stott

John Stott is a writer who always says something I find worth listening to. It doesn’t matter if I even agree with him on the point in question or not, as he speaks to me deeply with any words he has ever penned. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware that he had written a series of penetrating articles for Christianity Today between 1977 and 1981. This lovely hardback volume with its attractive dust jacket includes a short introduction that explains these essays and the type of writing Stott does in them. Though he wrote the articles randomly to speak to readers then, this volume collects them in six categories: Scripture and theology, the Christian disciple, the mission of the church, the church around the world, church challenges, and social concerns.

While some of these articles are more theologically probing than others, they teach us many things. Some of the articles are specific to a specific condition of those years that might not be exactly the same in our day but the value of the essays is in how to biblically think about the world and what’s going on. To be sure, there may be places where you might completely disagree with some political observation he makes. Ignore that as you read because the real issue is what spiritual concerns are involved. One of the reasons Stott is so helpful is that he makes you a better thinker. He never seems in-your-face but rather a gentle, kind man with a keen mind who would love to talk to you about issues with the Bible open. He strikes me as the man who would have no problem with you disagreeing with him on some issue as long as spiritual concerns were kept front and center.

This book is a gem!

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.

Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry

To go along with the new volume of John Stott’s essays is this equally attractive collection of Christianity Today articles by Carl F. H. Henry. Henry writes with a stronger tone than Stott and his articles cover a larger swath of years, but he also had something powerful to say to readers in those days that can be gleaned by us today. In some ways, issues only present themselves again in different garb but they are the same issues. Maybe Stott could write a little better to the common person, but Henry knew how to get his point across as well.

This volume also contains a little introduction to explain how the articles came about and the type of writing that Henry does. Once again, the essays are categorized for us this time as: defining evangelicalism, evangelicals and modern theology, evangelicals and education, and evangelicals and society. The words that come to mind when I see his essays are fearless and theological. Again, you will like some of these articles better than others, but you will find them all together making a captivating collection.

We need some of the things said in this volume trumpeted throughout the land again!

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.

 

 

Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon (RCS), edited by Gatiss and Green

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This latest entry in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series covers six small Pauline epistles (1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). Though these letters of Paul are not quite as pivotal as recent releases in the series on Romans in understanding the Reformation, they still give great insight into both Paul and key Reformation thinking. Two scholars, Lee Gatiss and Bradley G. Green, combine forces to provide us this helpful volume in a series that makes a unique contribution to our studies.

There is the usual general introduction that adorns every volume in this series which lays out how this series is put together and what it hopes to accomplish before we receive an introduction to the six letters. This introduction begins by stating how the Reformation seized on Paul in laser-like fashion. I was almost surprised at how often the authors acknowledge the New Perspective on Paul. It almost seems that they assume it might be guiding reader’s opinions and must be often taken into account. To my mind, the NPP didn’t exist in the Reformation and doesn’t have the credence in many of our minds that some may think today and so might not need much discussion in a commentary like this one. Still, I don’t think these acknowledgments really detract from the commentary overall. More to the point, they did a great job of addressing how each of these letters was received in the Reformation. In another capitulation to modern times, they cited the few writings that were positive about women in the ministry. Whatever your view on that subject, there is no denying how few believed in that possibility prior to the last century.

I found the same strengths and weaknesses as with other volumes in the series. To be fair, the weaknesses can’t be helped as citations in the commentary are of necessity arbitrary. Someone must make the call for which writings to use in the commentary from the plethora of primary sources to choose from. The strengths are from the same area in that the authors have chosen well and given wonderful food for thought. They are wonderfully fair to a variety of teaching within and near the Reformation as well.

This series is far enough along to have earned a high rating and this volume clearly upholds the standard we have come to expect.

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.