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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:

 

 

The Fourfold State of Man: Overview of a Thomas Boston Classic

December 3, 2018 3 comments

Another year is coming to an end, and the Challies 2018 Reading Challenge along with it.  I just finished an audio re-read of The Lord of the Rings, and  an interesting worldview book (from previous Kindle deals), Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews, with interesting material for some future blog posts.  For this time, though, a brief look at an interesting topic highlighted by Dr. Philip Ryken in a four part series available from Reformed Resources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals): The Fourfold State.  In these four straightforward lectures, Ryken provides an overview of a classic early 18th century Reformed work from Thomas Boston, a book that in its day was “the” book to read for evangelical Christians, one read by the later 18th century preachers (the time of Whitefield and Wesley)–the equivalent of, for example, the late 20th century Knowing God, by J.I. Packer.  The original text of Boston’s work, over 500 pages, is now available in electronic format, such as at Amazon for 99 cents.

I first learned about Thomas Boston from reading Sinclair Ferguson’s The Marrow Controversy, a controversy in which Boston was a key player, followed by a section on him in Joel Beeke’s Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer.  Ryken provides additional material on this great preacher who spanned the time between the end of the Puritans and the later Great Awakening of the mid-18th century.  These lectures from Ryken provide additional information beyond the Marrow Controversy–more about Boston’s life and teaching, including an overview of Boston’s personal life and suffering (including losing six out of ten children in infancy, and particularly regarding two infant sons both named Ebenezer, among those six), followed by two lectures on the fourfold teaching itself, and a last lecture with great application of the four stages to several Christian truths.

Boston’s approach with these four stages of human nature serve as a type of systematic theology:  1) creation, man before the fall; 2) nature; the unregenerate, fallen human nature; 3) grace, the experience of regenerate believers in this life; and 4) glory, including the condition of all humans after this life, the eternal condition of both believers and the lost.  This fourfold approach did not originate with Boston — actually going back to Augustine – but Boston exposited it in great detail, with some variations from Augustine’s teaching.

Of course, our actual human experience involves primarily the second and third states, with the fourth one to look forward to, the glorification and complete removal of sin that will not occur in this life.  Yet Boston developed all four of these points from an in-depth study of scripture, starting with the pre-fall condition of Adam and Eve.  These four states can also be applied to our experience in this life regarding important doctrinal truths and issues in the world today, such as our work/labor and gender roles—both of which involve creation ordinances.

Work itself is what God planned for us:  the original work of Adam and Eve in the garden; then corrupted into the drudgery of stress and never-ending work in this fallen world – the curse was on the ground, not on work itself, but sin makes work more difficult and a burden. Ecclesiastes well describes this situation: people toil, yet “all is meaningless” and the value ends when a person dies, for all the wealth to go to whoever comes after us.  Yet as Christians, we can now bring the concept of work into a redeemed, biblical view, as Paul described regarding Christian daily life roles and how we do all our work, including our secular vocation, to the glory of God.  Our fourth state (for believers) will also involve work, much of that the work of worship; the Bible also tells us that we will rule and reign with Christ in the age to come.  A similar approach can be taken with gender, and society’s fallen views (the second state), versus the renewed understanding (third state) and in the future state of glory.

This is a good summary series about an interesting topic, as well as a good sampling of Ryken’s preaching, part of the “Every Last Word” series, from the years that Ryken preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1995-2010); he was also James Boice’s successor, from 2000 to 2010.  A good follow-up to this series, which I’ve just started listening to, is Ryken’s 26 part series on the book of Ecclesiastes.  (Note: Ryken’s teaching on Ecclesiastes is also available in book form, Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes.)

Concluding Thoughts on Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression”

September 30, 2016 1 comment

A follow-up to this previous post, now that I have completed reading this classic work, with some observations.  As Dan Phillips noted, Charles Spurgeon from the previous century was also helpful and said many of the same things; MLJ’s contribution is the full work as a series on the issue, material compiled together in one place, ideas that with Spurgeon are found in various places while reading his sermons.

Lloyd Jones’ content is arranged in chronological progression of the believer’s walk and maturity, beginning with the basics of having correct doctrine, and Lloyd Jones here gives “the benefit of the doubt” by positively regarding such individuals as really being saved, just confused.  Some of the earlier chapters relate to stages from my early Christian years, things that I “figured out” over time, in the very way here described: study the Bible, work out for yourself what you believe, understand it.

The later chapters in particular are helpful for the mature believer, in dealing with trials, chastening/discipline, and general perseverance and keeping on as life continues.  Along the way are many excellent points about the importance of rational, active thinking as contrasted with mere sentiment and a passive approach to faith and the Christian life.  He notes the idea we tend to have, that faith somehow acts automatically, like setting a thermostat and faith will just automatically work when needed:

Faith, however, is not something that acts magically or automatically.  If it did, these men would never have been in trouble, faith would have come into operation and they would have been calm and quiet and all would have been well.  But faith is not like that and those are utter fallacies with respect to it.

He similarly addressed the idea of the “sentimental approach” to God’s word:

There is nothing that I so dislike and abominate as a sentimental way of reading the Scriptures. There are many people who read the Scriptures in a purely sentimental manner. They are in trouble and they do not know what to do. They say, ‘I will read a Psalm. It is so soothing—“the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”.’ They make of it a kind of incantation and take the Psalms as another person takes a drug. That is not the way to read the Scriptures. ‘The word of exhortation reasons with you’, argues with you. And we must follow the logic of it, and bring intelligence to the Scriptures. We can never bring too much intelligence to our reading of them, they are not meant merely to give general comfort and soothing—follow the argument; let them reason it out with you.

How we deal with life experiences always involves our reasoning out what we believe, and “talking/preaching to ourselves.”  As Lloyd Jones notes, this is what we have to work out individually – not Christ working through the “I” (self) as a passive vehicle:  The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ’.

I find Lloyd-Jones’ work also keeps the right perspective on the believing individual, in contrast with the present-day Reformed emphasis on the corporate worship service as the most important thing.  Certainly this idea (corporate emphasis) has come out as a reaction to our extremely individualistic evangelical society, the need to point out the importance of the Christian worship as a group, a church body.  But when one’s personal circumstances force one to have local fellowship in a less-than-ideal church, one that does not provide the depth in theological teaching and its application to the Christian life, the individual does need additional help which cannot be provided through the local assembly.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ work on this topic is a great help in terms of actual life and how to deal with the many things that come against us, externally and internally, and how to work out our ‘own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12), the ongoing work of progressive sanctification.

A few more excerpts of special note, regarding Christian contentment:

Can I be abased without feeling a sense of grudge, or without being worried, or without being anxious? .. can I be abased in my profession or office or work, can I somehow or another be put down and still remain in spirit exactly as I was before! What a difficult thing this is, to take a second place, to be hurt, to be insulted, to see others suffering in the same way, to suffer physical need or pain—to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer in some respect. One of the greatest tasks in life is to discover how to suffer any or all of those things without feeling a sense of grudge, without complaint or annoyance or bitterness of spirit, to discover how not to be worried or anxious. Paul tells us that he has learned how to do that. He had experienced every kind of trial and tribulation and yet he is unaffected by them.” – commentary on Philippians 4:10-14

and regarding our uncertain world and ‘International Politics.’  Here, MLJ’s reference point was the generation that experienced two world wars; ours is an age of even greater need, one in which the world situation is far less stable than then, a time when even the recent world power (the U.S.) has wicked leaders and is quickly experiencing the later stages of national destruction:

The business of Christian preaching is to put this to the people: In this uncertain world, where we have already experienced two world wars within a quarter of a century, and where we may have to face yet another and things that are even worse, here is the question—How are you going to face it all, how can you meet it all? For me to give my views on international politics will not help anybody; but thank God there is something I can do. I can tell you of something, I can tell you of a way which, if you but practice and follow it, will enable you, with the Apostle Paul to say: ‘I am strong, I am able for anything that may happen to me, whether it be peace or war, whether it be freedom or slavery, whether it be the kind of life we have known for so long or whether it be entirely different, I am ready for it.’  It does not mean, I must repeat, a passive, negative acquiescence in that which is wrong.  Not at all – but it does mean that whatever may come, you are ready for it.

 

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: The Commentary Within the Old Testament

April 2, 2014 3 comments

James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment reads as an overview commentary on the whole Bible, from beginning to end, with the Old Testament in its original Hebrew sequence. Along the way, many parallels are brought out, as we see that parts of the Old Testament act as commentary on other sections. Thus far I have read through the Torah, the former prophets, and some of the Latter Prophets section — the Pentateuch books, then Joshua through Kings (excluding Ruth); then Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve (minor prophets books).

A few interesting points here, showing how later Old Testament books provide commentary on other sections.

The Former Prophets comment on the Torah. Example: the book of Kings (1 Kings and 2 Kings)

In order to understand Kings, however, readers must be aware of the terms of the covenant in order to see the justification for the visitation of the curses of the covenant. It seems that what the author of Kings has chosen to include is largely informed by the teaching of Torah, such that while the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 is not overtly mentioned, 1 Kings 10:14–11:8 shows Solomon breaking these laws point for point (horses, wives, excessive silver and gold, disregard for the Torah he was to copy and keep).

The latter prophets likewise “provide an explanatory commentary on the narrative story line of the Torah and the Former Prophets.” As for instance, the early chapters of Jeremiah

depict the exodus from Egypt and the covenant at Sinai as a wedding between Yahweh and his virgin bride, Israel (Jer. 2:2; cf. Hos. 2:17–18, ET 15–16). While a virgin bride’s memories of the glory of the wedding day would keep her faithful to her husband, Israel has forgotten Yahweh “days without number” (Jer. 2:32). Jeremiah calls the people to repent of their spiritual adultery. The horror of covenant infidelity, forsaking Yahweh and turning to idols (1:16), should be recognized by the fruit it will bear.

Hamilton’s book should be interesting as it looks at the later Writings section (I haven’t read that far yet). From my own genre reading, one or two chapters each day from several sections of the Bible — and reading the Old Testament according to the original Hebrew section, the same order Hamilton prefers — I have noticed similar commentary, in the later Writings section, upon both the Torah and the Latter Prophets. Why does Nehemiah make such emphasis upon closing the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath, even turning away those who show up at the gates on the Sabbath and threatening physical force against them if they do it again (Nehemiah 13:15-21). Jeremiah 17 describes the very same scenario – in reverse. Jeremiah exhorted the people, (verse 21) “Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem,” promising (verses 24 -27) “But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever.But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’”  Nehemiah alludes to what the people had done in the days before the exile, a later “commentary” upon Jeremiah 17:19-23.

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: Introduction to James Hamilton’s Work

January 7, 2014 2 comments

GodsGloryBookI recently purchased the Kindle version of this recommended work by Hamilton – currently $9.99 through Amazon Kindle, a 640 page book.  I had heard of Hamilton over the last year or so, from Dan Phillips’ recommendation, and have appreciated reading a few of Hamilton’s blog posts. I don’t agree with Hamilton in every area; he is historic premillennial, but of the historicist variety (the events in Revelation 6-18 are symbolic of the whole church age), but from what I’ve read in his blog posts, excerpts from his commentary on Revelation, he does understand the premillennialism in Revelation, including also the identification of the woman in Revelation 12 as Israel and with reference to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is Hamilton’s biblical theology, a “center” theme of a recurring pattern seen throughout the Bible, the one unifying overall theme:

The center of biblical theology will be the theme that is prevalent, even pervasive, in all parts of the Bible. … In broadest terms, the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration.

The first chapter is introductory material, explaining his purpose for writing this book and arguing the case for why we should have a “biblical theology” with one central theme.  This chapter has a scholarly style, including a survey of the existing literature on this topic, including theologians (such as D.A. Carson) who argue that we should not look for one theme but a group of several main themes.  Hamilton also acknowledges that many different ideas have been suggested as the “main theme” of the Bible – leading some scholars to conclude that there really is no one central theme.  But Hamilton argues that this theme includes many sub-themes; promise-fulfillment is here, as a part of “salvation through judgment” – God promises to save and judge, and He fulfills these promises by saving and judging.  Yet promise-fulfillment is not the complete overall theme, but a sub-theme.  Salvation and judgment reveal God’s steadfast love and his holiness. God reveals his holiness and his steadfast love not as ends themselves, however, but as means to the end of displaying his own glory.

Hamilton’s overview of this recurring theme is well summarized here:

The whole cosmos is created, is judged when man rebels, is redeemed through Christ’s death on the cross, and will be restored when Christ returns, but this also happens to the nation of Israel and to particular individuals. For instance, God’s word creates Israel as a nation when, having already called Abraham out of Ur, God calls the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt and gives them his law at Sinai. The nation falls at Sinai, is redeemed by God’s mercy, and, in a sense, is restored through the second set of stone tablets. This pattern is repeated again and again in the Bible. .. God’s word creates David as king of Israel, David falls with Bathsheba, he is redeemed after coming under the judgment of the prophetic rebuke, and he is restored and allowed to continue as king.

In significant ways the Gospels interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus in these terms. It is as though his death is the climactic moment of exile, the moment when the temple is destroyed (cf. John 2:19), and his resurrection begins the new exodus (cf. Luke 9:31). This story of salvation history is a story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment. Those who believe in Jesus have been saved through the salvation through judgment of the exile and restoration he accomplished in his death and resurrection, and we are now sojourning, passing through the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land, looking for that city with foundations, where the Lamb will be the lamp.

The table of contents looks interesting: he considers this theme specifically with reference to every book of the Bible, in sequence from the Torah through the New Testament.  As he notes in the first chapter, he covers the Old Testament books in their Hebrew Bible sequence (which is different than the standard sequence in the Christian canon).  I like that approach, which agrees with my current 9 list reading plan and the OT lists in Hebrew book sequence  (see this original post and the follow-up 9 list variation).

As I read through this book I may post updates with my summary, notes and my own thoughts, concerning Hamilton’s treatment of this theme in the different sections of the Bible and specifically in each of the Bible books.

Steve Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace” Volume 2: Church History and the Doctrines of Grace

November 21, 2012 4 comments

A few weeks ago I mentioned a special offer for the electronic version of Steve Lawson’s  Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two).  (The special offer is over; regular pricing now.)  The “Pillars of Grace” series highlights the doctrinal beliefs known as the “Doctrines of Grace,” sometimes nicknamed Calvinism.  The first volume looked at the doctrines themselves, and volume two traces the history and development of doctrinal thought, from Clement of Rome in the first century to the Reformation, showing that the “Doctrines of Grace” did not originate with John Calvin but are rooted in the church’s history.

The highlights of this book:  It is very easy reading, well organized with clear sentence and chapter structure.  Headings and subheadings are also well put to use, with the same familiar structure from one chapter to the next.  For a book of such size (over 500 pages) this is a pleasant surprise.  I haven’t read anything before from Steve Lawson, and have only listened to a few of his sermons, but now know that his writing style is very approachable for the common layperson.  After the foreword (by J. Ligon Duncan) and introductory chapter, each chapter highlights one of many of the great Christian thinkers.  Each chapter begins with a portrait and quote from that individual, along with a biographical sketch (including the time period, location, and major life events for that man) and that man’s important contributions to Christian theology.  The next section within each chapter describes that person’s theology, with sub-section “Doctrines in Focus” and the specific writings from that individual concerning the various doctrines, which vary from chapter to chapter as appropriate for that person’s writings:  divine sovereignty, radical depravity (original sin), sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, preserving grace, divine reprobation.  A chapter summary, footnotes, and a study guide with several questions, conclude each chapter.

The chapters are arranged chronologically, and include overall development descriptions at key points, explaining the overall situation of the church within the overall society at that point in time, and introducing the new sub-groups, such as the “Apostolic Fathers” who had some connection with the original apostles, and the “Apologist Fathers” who first defended the faith in writings to pagan unbelievers.  Later chapters introduce the Latin fathers (Ambrose, Augustine), various early and later monastics (Isidore, Gottschalk, Bernard of Clairvaux), the scholastics (Anselm, Thomas Bradwardine), and the pre-reformers and the Reformers.

Through this great survey, we meet the saints brought up in Christian homes as well as those from pagan Greek backgrounds, and how they came to faith in Christ as adults, such as Josephus (in his mid-thirties) and Cyprian (converted at age 47, and martyred only 11 years later).  Most of the names I had at least heard before, though in varying degrees of familiarity; but I learned more about all of these great Christians, their lives and their writings.  A few were previously unknown to me: Cyprian of Carthage and Gregory of Nazianzus.

One of the interesting things that comes out is that — contrary to the first impression from the foreword and introduction — the Doctrines of Grace as a set of five points of belief, did not all develop at the very beginning of church history but came gradually through several hundred years.  The earliest writers, the apostolic fathers immediately after the canon closed, primarily quoted and used the language of the scriptures themselves rather than develop great commentary.  Later saints showed understanding of some of the various doctrines regarding God’s sovereignty, especially divine sovereignty, radical depravity, and divine reprobation; some of the writers showed particular understanding of other ideas such as definite atonement and preserving grace.  Yet many of the early writers also contradicted themselves especially in the area of free will, something not yet fully systematized and understood: in some places affirming the necessity of the new birth, that apart from the work of God a person could not choose to believe; and yet in other places writing of man’s ability to choose and come to faith in Christ.  Lawson especially considers the context of their writing:  in the face of martyrdom for the faith, needing to explain their beliefs to unbelievers, while also responding to various heresies about the nature of Christ, the early church leaders had higher priorities than developing systematic theologies.  They also lived in a time of gnostics and the Greek passive fatalism, and thus emphasized man’s responsibility, man’s action, which unfortunately led to such not well thought out and even contradictory statements.  Full development of the understanding of the will and its bondage would come later.  The details of doctrinal development attest to the scriptures themselves, as John 16:13 described: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” a truth mentioned by S. Lewis Johnson in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

With an overview look at so many great leaders throughout church history, their lives and the particular issues of each time period, and the development of several important doctrines, this second volume of the Pillars of Grace is an excellent addition to studies in church history.