Review: Slave

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 225 pp. 3 of 5 stars

What is the most unforgivable notion in today’s world? Slavery is good.

In Slave, John MacArthur explores the paradox that people never stop being slaves. Pre-conversion, we are slaves to sin. Post-conversion, we are slaves to Christ. “Although you used to be slaves of sin…you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18, HCSB).

MacArthur calls the mistranslation of “slave” to “servant” a centuries-long cover up by English NT translators, much of it owing to the historical stigma of slavery. But there is a difference. A servant is hired. A slave is owned. Surprisingly, the latter is the most common metaphor for a Christian in Scripture. It speaks of absolute commitment as a requirement for all Christians, not an add-on for extra-spiritual Christians. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

This book is really MacArthur’s contribution toward the doctrines of grace from the perspective of total surrender to Christ. After skillfully weaving Scripture with church history (e.g. Luther and Newton), MacArthur uses chapters 8-11 to unpack TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints).

He closes with four compelling paradoxes about slavery: it brings freedom (to do right), it ends prejudice (since all are slaves), it magnifies grace (we’re undeserving) and it pictures salvation (slavery is the central message of salvation).

This volume is not as popular as The Gospel According to Jesus or perhaps as helpful as the explicit Lordship volume Hard to Believe. Still, it is a message that is rare in today’s churches and invaluable for sinners and saints to ponder.

Excerpts:

  1. “The one slavery is terminated precisely in order to allow the other slavery to begin” (140, quoting Murray Harris).
  2. “True freedom begins when slavery to sin ends. And slavery to sin ends only when we have become the slaves of God” (142).
  3. “To my great astonishment I found that the [Scripture] passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against…” (151, quoting George Müller, who had once called election a “devilish doctrine”).
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Review: The Ministry

Charles J. Brown, Banner of Truth, 2006, 112 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Charles Brown (1806-1884) was a gifted preacher and faithful minister in the Free Church of Scotland for over a half century.

The four chapters of this little volume on The Ministry cover godliness, prayer, preaching and pulpit power. The chapter on preaching was the most engaging, full of Puritanic metaphor (sermons “skillfully feathered and discharged from the bow”) and personal illustrations (he never used a manuscript or preached through books).

Surprisingly, the best takeaways come from the second and third appendix, “Pastoral Visitation” and “Communion Table Addresses.” In the former he shows the value, timing, and method of visiting parishioners and how this changed over his ministry. The latter gives several reasons for brief addresses prior to the Lord’s Table.

This paperback began as various addresses to seminary students, making it a great little gift for young pastors. Or, get a taste of the book by interacting with it here.

Review: This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism

Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, 304 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-28-29-pmExactly 130 years ago some Swiss missionaries living just a stone’s throw from our village drew attention to some particularly gruesome scenes of cannibalism in Elim.

The missionaries recorded most of these accounts in their private journals. And yet, the modern author (and revisionist) I was reading–now looking back at such claims–believes this material was most likely invented. “Missionaries embellish,” he would say cynically. “Foreign churches expect dramatic stories.” On and on.

Fast forward now to this book. I typically read the last chapter first. It’s one of the privileges of reading non-fiction. So when I picked up This Horrid Practice, I was struck by Moon’s conclusion about modern historians who like to whiteout the ugly parts in foreign cultures:

The revisionists would argue that reports of cannibalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were frequently made to excite audiences back in Europe–that their creators used the widespread ignorance of many indigenous cultures to conceal their falsifications….It all seems to make sense, but it is all totally wrong.

Anyone who takes jabs at post-modernists and multi-cultural progressives has my ear. So I decided to start from the beginning and read the whole thing through. Here’s what I found. Continue reading

Review: She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know About Building a Complete Daughter

Robert Wolgemuth, Focus on the Family, 1996, 2014, 256 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-10-43-56-pmI had never heard of Robert Wolgemuth until I watched “Unexpected Grace”, a video directed by my friend Nathan Bollinger for Revive Our Hearts Ministry. It tells the marvelous story of Wolgemuth’s marriage to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

I found the video so intriguing that I decided to read one of his books. The first volume he ever published, She Calls Me Daddy, was also his best-seller. Since then he has written a number of other books, many of them on family. Having two daughters of my own, I figured this was a good place to start. Continue reading

Review: Wordsmithy

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2011, 128 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-28-39-amWilson’s Blog and Mablog is the only blog I read consistently, not because we lock shields on every theological matter but because he is such a consummate writer.

So who better to publish a book on skillful scribble than a writing wiz like Wilson? The chapters divide into seven “hot tips” for writing–filled to the brim with advice like using the element of surprise, the importance of reading books on grammar, steering clear of word fussers and the goodly role of a verbal pack rat.

If you want to write well, find a model and follow him. Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy is a good place to start. It’s short, lively, and humorous.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more you know the more you can know.”
  2. “The writer’s life is a scrounger’s life.”
  3. “Interesting people are interested people.”
  4. “The mind is like a muscle, not an attic.”

Review: Paul’s Theology of Preaching

Duane Litfin, IVP, 2015, 400 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-49-34-amFirst Corinthians 1-4 is the only place in Scripture where we find the specifics of Paul’s philosophy of rhetoric, or put more biblically, his theology of preaching. This is cast in the milieu of the Greco-Roman world, where the people prized oratory above all else. The ancient populous lionized the greatest speakers whose ultimate goal was to persuade, move, and win. Nothing in Greek culture was higher, more ideal, than the man of eloquence.

Shockingly, Paul smashes this ideology with the words of a herald, a proclaimer, not an orator of great rhetorical gifts. “Not with words of eloquent wisdom” had he come to speak (1Co. 1:17), but with a message of “folly” to the majority (v. 18). Such a message actually destroys the wisdom of the wise (v. 20) and places the onus of success not on results, but on faithfulness (4:2).

Does this mean Paul is opposed to all rhetoric? Do homiletics have any place in the preacher’s bag of tools? At first, it appears Litfin’s answer to this is no. He writes in Paul’s Theology of Preaching: “It is not the herald’s job to persuade but to convey” (264). He is a proclaimer, an announcer.

It was the proclaimer’s function to make certain that the recipients heard and understood, but it was not the proclaimer’s role to engage his rhetorical skills so as to induce his listeners to yield to the message (264).

These latter two quotes by Litfin reveal two things. First, Litfin has a habit of overreaching and overstating his point. I said to myself over and over while reading–“that can’t be true”, only to later say, “Oh, now I see where he’s coming from.” Second, Litfin is probably speaking more about persuasion as the ultimate force that makes the hearer yield, rather than the content of the sermon that urges the listen to change. Continue reading

Review: Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Trueman, Christian Focus, 2000, 127 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-6-02-55-amTrueman picks on problems in the contemporary church and addresses how the Reformers could help us improve and think biblically.

He criticizes such ecclesiastical activities as testimonies in church, most evangelical choruses and obsessive talk about the Spirit while praising church actions like catechising, Christ-centered preaching, and extra care in distributing the Lord’s Supper.

Trueman wrote this book some time ago when he was in his late thirties. It was nice to see how one of today’s foremost historians learned to write and–while nothing he said was directly contrary to what he believes today–he has definitely grown in his ability to argue and write since then.