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2019 in Reading, and Next Year (Reformed Theology Study)

December 19, 2019 4 comments

As 2019 comes to a close, here is a look back at my 2019 reading list, which included many books—yet with some updates (omissions and additions).  This previous post reviewed my 2018 reading and the 2019 plan.  The ending total for 2019 is 35 books, not the 37 originally listed; and that with several updates.  Still, I ended up reading 28 books on that list (one, Charles Spurgeon’s Life in Christ Vol 2: Lessons from Our Lord’s Miracles and Parables is still in progress, nearing the end).

Along the way, I discovered some great books, with interesting thoughts or facts, as well as a few disappointments, but overall good reading and studies.  Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit was disappointing, as noted in this post   — the only book I did not complete.  Based on that finding I removed one additional Horton book from the list (A Book About Suffering, A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering); I may get to it in a few years, but it’s a lower priority now.

Here are posts that reference several books from this year’s reading list:

As in previous years, I found that adding audio books, including new available selections from the Christian Audio monthly offerings, imcreased the quantity of books.  Among the Christian Audio selections added, I especially liked Fire Road Fire Road: the Napalm girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, the free monthly offer for September of this year.

Next year, my reading and study plan is a little different.  Instead of trying to follow the Challies yearly plan with a large number and variety of books, I’ll continue reading from the books already on my to-read list, along with a focus on more classic and Reformed (Reformation and Puritan era) reading.  One major addition is a calendar year schedule to read through the Westminster Standards and the other major Reformed Confessions (Three Forms of Unity, the Savoy Confession, and the 1689 Confession and the Baptist Catechism).  Alongside the Confessions and Catechisms, the following commentaries, most with online text available (some from Monergism.com), should also prove helpful:

The above may take more than one year, and though the Westminster Confession reading follows a neat ‘calendar year reading’ which the related commentaries can fit to, I’m not yet sure where to fit the Three Forms of Unity reading – in some type of parallel with the Westminster Confession, or just sequentially reading through each of the documents along with the associated commentaries.

I’ve added a few other interesting Reformed works, and hope to get to at least several of these in 2020:

As 2019 nears the end, let us enjoy the Christmas holiday and have a Happy New Year.

A Merry Christmas quote, from Charles Spurgeon:

Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy. Solomon says, “Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. Let your garments be always white and let your head lack no ointment.”—

“Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.”

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived Him—but think, most of all, of the Man born, the Child given! I finish by again saying— “A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!”

Evaluating Free Christian Book Offers

August 28, 2019 1 comment

Occasionally I have mentioned free online resources, and here are some good ones for monthly offers: a free e-book or audio book each month

  • Christian Audio
  • Logos — this month’s offer (August 2019) is “God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants:  A Concise Biblical Theology,” an abridgement of Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant
  • Faithlife Ebooks — The current offer is Name Above all Names, by Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson

Some book selections are better than others, with some not worth reading, but overall these collections provide many choices for different types of reading—and to ‘fill-in’ some of the categories in the Challies Reading Challenge, such as books “targeted at the opposite gender” or a book “you think you may disagree with.”

These ebooks and audio files usually sit in my account library settings until I get around to them (and some I’ll probably never read, as not worth reading), yet my recent reading has included several of these titles, such as ChristianAudio’s Reset, by David Murray, and Liturgy of the Ordinary (a title I do NOT recommend reading), and a past free monthly book from Logos, James Montgomery Boice’s Commentary on the Psalms volume 1 (Psalms 1-41).  This commentary is very insightful at several points, though again as with all commentaries some parts are better than others; the commentary on Psalm 19 is rather disappointing; he held to the Old Earth views of secular science, assuming these as truth from the so-called experts, thus showing his lack of understanding about presuppositions.

Some other past free offers from the last few years have been good selections, such as Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ, books by or about Jonathan Edwards, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, and Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word.

As with every possible book freebie, it helps to first check out the reader reviews at Amazon or Goodreads, especially when the author is unknown or the title doesn’t describe all you want to know about ‘what this book is about’.  Christianaudio.com monthly offers are often decent Reformed/Calvinistic titles, and Logos’ offerings are sometimes by Reformed authors (such as the current August 2019 free book), but many other times the books are from Roman Catholicism or liberal, non-Reformed/non-evangelical viewpoints.

One of the free audio books I read, as a title that sounded interesting and not too long to read (less than 5 hours), turned out as something quite different (as has been noted in the critical reviews at Amazon and Goodreads):  Liturgy of the Ordinary, written by a woman Anglican priest and filled with a lot of Roman Catholic / liberal Anglican ideas about “the importance” of having incense, candles, and other things for the senses as “aids” to our worship.  The reading was beneficial for the overall purpose of reading outside of one’s “comfort zone” and expanding one’s reading to things that differ from our own beliefs and worldview, as something to think about, to be able to articulate why I/you believe what we believe and why this other idea is wrong.  Yet even 4+ hours of an audio book with such content was difficult to keep listening to, to actually complete it; the point of reading and being exposed to the opposing view really should not require even that much time—to reach a point of “enough” and move on to better reading material.

Another month is nearing an end, and I look forward to the next set of monthly free offers from these three sites.  Perhaps September will have some good titles to add to my reading list—or, then again, perhaps a mixture of good and not-so-good or nothing; the next month will always come, with the possibility of a few more good titles.

Reformation History Reading, Continued: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 2

March 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Librivox now has the second volume of History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century available in audio format.    Following up on the first volume which I read in 2017, this volume continues the details of Martin Luther, from 1519 through the Diet of Worms in 1521, as well as one ‘book’ within the volume on a lesser known topic, the Swiss Reformation.  (The full 5 volumes is also available in PDF format here.)

The basic story of these years in Luther’s life, and his summons to and speaking at the Diet of Worms, is well known, but D’Aubigne’s book brings out the details.  As in the first volume, one striking thing is the large cast of characters surrounding and supporting Martin Luther, the many minor characters that were used to assist in Luther’s cause and to provide him comfort and help along the way.

D’Aubigne’s commentary on the history brings out many interesting points, as in the description of the 1520 student rebellion.  Every age (some more than others) sees the uncontrolled zeal and fanaticism of youth, especially the college age set, in support of some “cause,” political or other.  (A well-publicized example I recall from the early 1990s, students at the University of Colorado setup their version of “shanty-town,” a protest that involved them living in cardboard boxes on the streets, to protest the then-prominent political issue of apartheid.)  After carefully describing the event of Dec. 10, 1520, when Luther (in response to the Catholics’ burning of his books) in a public ceremony at the University of Wittenberg burned the papal bull that had excommunicated Luther, D’Aubigne observes:

If Luther had commenced the Reformation in this manner, such a step would undoubtedly have entailed the most deplorable results. Fanaticism might have been aroused by it, and the Church thrown into a course of violence and disorder. But the reformer had preluded his work by seriously explaining the lessons of Scripture. The foundations had been wisely laid.

The detailed account of Luther’s decision to go to Worms is reminiscent of Acts 20-21 in which Luke describes Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem though all along the way people are warning him not to go to the great danger awaiting him.  At every town or village on Martin Luther’s journey (a time when travel was a much longer and more difficult task in itself) the people similarly warned him not to go to Worms; apparently even the Roman authorities there did not really want him to show up, did not really want to have to confront him; Luther was calm and resolute, prepared for whatever God had in store for him there.

Luther’s first response at the Diet — to allow for some time, to give his response the next day — has been considered by some as a weakness or cowardice on Luther’s part;  D’Aubigne instead sees this as a great move on Luther’s part; the delay and second day’s meeting brought great anticipation of recantation by his opposition, and brought a much larger crowd of people to hear his response.  This volume contains Luther’s full speech, of which the last part is best known:

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, — unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, — and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” And then, looking round on this assembly before which he stood, and which held his life in its hands, he said: “HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER; MAY GOD HELP ME. AMEN!

After the exciting and suspenseful ending to Luther’s departure from Worms, the story abruptly leave Luther a prisoner in a secluded castle, and tells the account of Ulrich Zwingli’s life from childhood, up through the Swiss reformation up to the year 1522.  I enjoyed Volume 2 of this work even more than the first volume.  Since Librivox has now recorded two of the five volumes, I eagerly anticipate that volume 3 will be recorded at some point in the next year or so.

Challies 2019 Reading: J.I. Packer on Evangelism and God’s Sovereignty

February 18, 2019 2 comments

Going through my stack of paperback books, here is an interesting one: J.I. Packer’s early work (1961) on “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  This is an early work (originally published in 1961), preceding his “Knowing God” which made him an evangelical household name.  I find it especially interesting for the historical context of the mid-20th century, the era of “Forgotten Spurgeon” (see this previous post).  Much of what is said here regarding the two seemingly-contradictory truths of divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility, is found in the Charles Spurgeon sermon volumes — ideas brought out in a few sentences at a time over the course of many sermons, and well covered within Packer’s book.

I have not read any other J.I. Packer books, but relate much of what he says here to his comments in a lecture series on the Puritans (and this previous post about the Puritan Papers), in terms of overall ideas about preaching the whole gospel and its full range of application: addressing certain points in one sermon or setting and other doctrinal truths at other times, yet regularly addressing the whole counsel of God, so that people will get the full picture.

In addition to the topic of God’s sovereignty, Packer discusses “wrong” versus more biblical methods of evangelism:  the  Arminian-style special prayer meetings with use of emotion; and, positively, the need to present the full gospel, so that people know what they are committing to. He also describes and advocates what is now known as ‘friendship evangelism’, of the type that presents all of the word of God–as contrasted with the manipulation method of inviting an unsaved friend to a special prayer meeting.

Describing the antinomy between the seemingly conflicting truths, Packer describes the mystery and transcendence of our creator God:

We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Another great quote from Packer:

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Near the end, Packer addresses the implications of God’s sovereignty in evangelism, as an answer to the discouragement of evangelicals at this point in the mid-20th century, a discouragement brought about by nearly 100 years of “revival” type evangelism campaigns and the dismal results.  Noting the early success of D.L. Moody and others of that era as occurring “not because they were always well planned and run, but because God was working in Britain in those days in a way in which he is evidently not working now,” yet even then the campaigns experienced the law of diminishing returns.

 We had come to take it for granted that good organization and efficient technique, backed by a routine of prayers, was itself sufficient to guarantee results.  We felt that there was an almost magical potency in the special meeting, the special choir and soloist, and the special preacher.  We felt convinced that the thing that would always bring life into a dead church, or a dead town, was an intensive evangelistic mission.  With the top of our minds, many of us still think that, or profess to think that…. But with the bottom of our minds, in our heart of hearts, we have grown discouraged and disillusioned and apprehensive.  … we do not know what to make of a situation in which our planned evangelism fails.

After acknowledging the disappointments (failure of converts) through these methods, Packer brings home the underlying reality:

First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism on the omnipotent grace of God.

This is a well-written book for layperson reading, a short book yet very informative, with a lot of solid Christian teaching as to how evangelism has been done and what we need to remember about how it should be done.

 

Challies 2019 Reading: Derek Thomas’ Heaven on Earth

February 14, 2019 2 comments

Heaven-On-EarthMy recent reading of hard-copy books (free from book giveaways) has included some interesting titles, such as Derek Thomas’ “Heaven on Earth.”

Thomas’ work, noted on this Theology to Go podcast is an interesting read, a short one that can be read within a day or two.  It provides a good summary regarding the difference between heaven as the intermediary state (sometimes called paradise) where the believers who have fallen asleep in the Lord are now, and the later Resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth.  The book is also noteworthy as a treatise that discusses the future, especially the Eternal State, without one single reference to the millennial age or to millennial views.  Thomas appears to have a view similar to that of Hoekema – amillennialism that recognizes the Eternal State New Earth as a place/time that includes the basic things of this creation such as geography, physical activity, and animals.  This view also fits well with what Michael Vlach described several years ago as the “New Creation model” – as contrasted with the “Spiritual Vision” model (the traditional church view of saints sitting up on clouds with their harps), with reference to the Eternal State.  Thomas also sees the future New Heavens and New Earth as a renovation rather than annihilation/completely new creation; here, reference this post (The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3) from several years ago, regarding 2 Peter 3 and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.

Other reviewers have mentioned the part about dogs being in heaven – an item specifically mentioned on only one page, yet fitting within the “new creation” model, a future that does not specifically include our own beloved pets from this life, but will include the reality of animals then to care for and appreciate.  Thomas also considers questions for speculation and the imagination, such as what our resurrected bodies will be like:  will our bodies age?  will they change in any way? will they grow tired and require sleep?  will we experience pain, if we fall on rocky ground, will they bleed?  and what age wil we be?  Will we all look like athletes?  Along with quotes from C.S. Lewis in his non-fiction as well as fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia The Last Battle,  and The Great Divorce), and consideration of various OT and NT scripture texts, a lot of questions are raised, on practical things such as will we recognize each other as friends from this life.  Jesus told the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33) that in the resurrection we will be “like the angels,”  but given the context of that, we should not over-interpret.

I do not think that we should over-interpret this passage, in a way that suggests that we will not have close friends in the new heaven and earth.  Jesus had close friends -Peter, James and John – and the latter was His closest friend.  I see no reason to doubt that we shall experience these kinds of friendship in the new earth, and with those who have been our spouse and best friends here in the old earth.  And perhaps this helps us understand a little Jesus’ statement about marriage.  It is not the intimacy as such that is dearest, but the companionship and the love.  And Jesus didn’t say that we won’t experience the friendship and the heady sense of love that two people know.

This book is an enjoyable read about a good topic — suitable to share with friends who have questions, and a good book for the average evangelical Christian.  It’s a short read at about 100 pages, but with a lot of good points and ideas to consider, great “food for thought.”

“Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” and Holy Spirit Indwelling

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Going through a stack of unread paperback books I’ve received over the last year or so, recently I’ve  been reading Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.  With a style that is somewhat scholarly — more difficult than average layperson books (though not as difficult as some scholarly theological books) – Horton’s book is interesting in several aspects, with plenty of footnotes and references to other theologians, a serious look at the oft-neglected and often misunderstood role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

Though expressed in more technical language, this book references the “seminal headship” error commonly associated with Anabaptists (referenced in this previous blog post):

The God-world antithesis was so marked that many Anabaptists held a form of Docetism, with the Son believed to have assumed “heavenly flesh” rather than a true humanity from the virgin Mary in the power of the Spirit.  … Menno Simons argued that “there is no letter to be found in all the Scriptures that the Word assumed our flesh.”… The Polish Reformed theologian John a Lasco took the lead in challenging this view as taught by Menno Simons, and Calvin criticized it in the Institutes…

The above and other parts are interesting, yet I find one area where I disagree with this book.  For some (bizarre, to me) reason, Horton – who is covenantal, affirming the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – states that Old Testament believers, prior to Pentecost, were not indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  This view is most commonly associated with classic dispensationalism, a relatively recent view introduced in the 19th century.  I previously blogged about this question in this post a few years ago (with links to a series from David Murray’s Headhearthand Blog), and still find the posts in that series helpful, regarding the historical Reformed view (with many quotes from the centuries past), and to understand the current-day flawed reasoning—and to respond to it. It is also interesting to note that even “leaky dispensationalist” John MacArthur (as pointed out in quotes at Murray’s blog) has affirmed that Old Testament saints had the Holy Spirit.  Yet Horton introduces an idea in conflict with the historic Reformed view, of a qualitative rather than quantitative difference in the Holy Spirit’s role with believers in the pre-Pentecost era.  According to this view, Old Testament saints were justified and regenerated, and saved and kept in the faith; but the Holy Spirit only “came upon” and was “with” them (with them in the corporate sense of the theocracy of OT Israel); further, that the Spirit being “with” them precludes the possibility of the Spirit also being “in” them.

Mention of this idea comes before chapter 6, “The Age of the Spirit,” but is treated in greater detail in this chapter.  On another topic, one statement takes the classic amillennial covenantal assumption that “the land” was included in the list of things belonging only to the Mosaic covenant:  “The writer to the Hebrews labors the point that the law of Moses—and everything pertaining to it (the land, the temple, the sacrifices, and the commands governing individual and social life in the theocracy)—was a typological shadow.” It’s just a passing statement without further elaboration – but let’s remember that the land promise actually first shows up in the early chapters of Genesis with Abraham, long before the Mosaic economy.

But just a few pages later comes the idea of OT saints regenerated yet not Holy Spirit-indwelled:

Looking to Christ from afar, the old-covenant saints believed in realities that they themselves had not experienced… Justified through faith, they were preserved and kept by the Spirit.  At this level, the difference seems more quantitative than qualitative.  …

The sheer repetition in the prophets of God’s promises to “pour out” his Spirit in the last days indicates a qualitatively new manifestation of the Spirit in the future.  …

the apostles interpret Pentecost as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and not simply as a continuation—even a heightening—of the Spirit’s work in previous days.   (emphasis added)

I understand from the above, that Horton is addressing the corporate nature of Israel, their worship, and God dwelling with them in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.  Yet it also seems to me, from reading the full chapter, that Horton is referencing the Holy Spirit in the Mosaic economy as only having a corporate nature and thus the Holy Spirit not having any purpose regarding individual believers within corporate Israel – taking an either/or approach rather than the broader both/and understanding.  Further, the idea of Pentecost as the fulfillment of an OT prophecy does not necessitate that the actual fulfillment itself is of something substantively different and previously unknown.

At this point I find David Murray’s observations helpful, regarding two mistakes in Bible interpretation:

I’m afraid that some who have argued against the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers may have inadvertently erred in these two areas.

Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist.

And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.

Horton often references the “harder” text, John 7:37-39, putting great emphasis on it (over other texts).  The reasoning here is also using the argument from silence, or confusing “the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth.”  Throughout this section, the “pouring out” of the Spirit is equated with actual indwelling, and silence in the Old Testament means the truth did not exist then. As described on page 151:

The Spirit had not been given, even during Jesus’ ministry, in the way that he would be “poured out” at Pentecost.  Since Moses’s hope for the Spirit’s being poured out on all the people is repeated as late as the Minor Prophets (e.g., Joel 2) without any appeal to a previous era of analogous outpouring and indwelling of the Spirit, we have no reason to believe that God answered Moses’s request until Pentecost.  God went beyond the request, putting his Spirit in, not just on, all of his people.  (emphasis in original)

Reading this book has been an interesting experience, helpful for reading this view I disagree with and for “iron sharpening iron” analysis, to help in strengthening my own understanding of the issue.  I was surprised to see this view (OT saints not indwelled by the Holy Spirit) taught in a book written by a Covenantal theologian, and it goes to show (as I’ve observed with other doctrines) the great variety of differing views even within the umbrella of Covenant Theology.

The Challies Reading Challenge: 2018 Recap and the 2019 Plan

December 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Another year is ending — and the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge.  Last year’s year-end post is available here.  The 2019 Challies Christian Reading Challenge is now available, so it’s also time to compile next year’s reading list.

As with last year, I picked from many of the categories but skipping around, and completed more than 26 but fewer than 52 books; the range of 35 to 40 books per year works well.  During the year my actual reading list changed, as new books became available (and other books postponed into next year). So for 2019, my current plan/list is tentative, based again on the availability of books in various formats — Kindle sale deals, free monthly audio books from ChristianAudio.com,  free books from Logos’ free monthly offers, plus several hard-copy books (paperback and hardback) from free used books as well as several I’ve won from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) offers.  I’ve also searched online for possible free books to fit a few of the Challies’ plan reading categories, and included these in my tentative 2019 reading plan.

Here, the links to posts about the books I read in 2018, in chronological order:

The 2019 reading list (so far) does not have as many audio books (just four so far – from Sermon Audio, Librivox, and Christian Audio free monthly offers); I may add from classic titles available from Librivox, or any future monthly offers from ChristianAudio.com.  Here, from several categories of the 2019 Challies Christian Reading Challenge, is my 2019 reading plan:

Planned for 2019: