Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mortification of Sin

Have you ever been around someone and sensed you were in the presence of greatness?  Someone around whom you felt intimidated or unworthy?  Such is the case when reading the works of 17th Century Puritan theologian, John Owen.  Owen, considered primarily for his writings, is widely held in regard as the greatest British theologian of all time and arguably in this writer’s opinion, the greatest of all time period.  I share the sentiment of Pastor Sinclair Ferguson’s assessment of Owen as he states, “To read John Owen is to enter a rare world. Whenever I return to one of his works I find myself asking “Why do I spend time reading lesser literature?””

“Owen was by common consent the weightiest Puritan theologian, and many would bracket him with Jonathan Edwards as one of the greatest Reformed theologians of all time. Born in 1616, he entered Queen’s College, Oxford, at the age of twelve and secured his M.A. in 1635, when he was nineteen. In his early twenties, conviction of sin threw him into such turmoil that for three months he could scarcely utter a coherent word on anything; but slowly he learned to trust Christ, and so found peace. In 1637 he became a pastor; in the 1640s he was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and in 1651 he was made Dean of Christ Church, Oxford’s largest college. In 1652 he was given the additional post of Vice-Chancellor of the University, which he then reorganized with conspicuous success. After 1660 he led the Independents through the bitter years of persecution till his death in 1683. (by J.I. Packer)”

The Mortification of Sin is one of Owen’s most famed works and is a brief (90 page) series of addresses on Romans 8:13 KJV, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”  It provides teaching in a vital but neglected aspect of Christian living, namely the battle against sin through the practice of mortification.  There are several reprints of Owen’s text, many of which have been updated from Old English to Modern English.  I preferred to read the unaltered version and chose the original, as found in The Works of John Owen: Volume 6 Temptation and Sin published by Banner of Truth.  From the text under his name, “A servant of Jesus Christ in the Work of the Gospel,” to the Prefatory Note to the opening Preface and into the start of main text, Owen’s tone is clear, he is a pious man humbly dealing with a subject in which his prayer is to promote holiness in the readers.  He states in the opening Preface:

“I hope I may own in sincerity, that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God; that so the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things: for the compassing of which end, if this little discourse (of the publishing whereof this is the sum of the account I shall give) may in any thing be useful to the least of the saints, it will be looked on as a return of the weak prayers wherewith it is attended by its unworthy author.”

Author and theologian J.I. Packer states, “I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern; and I owe more to [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.”  Certainly this has been the case for me as I labored through the mind of Owen and his treatise of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to believers.  Owen offers such quotable sentiments as, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.” Owen is quick to point out that the believers battle with sin does not come from internal strength, but instead from the power of the Holy Spirit.  Another gem is perhaps his most notable quote, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” 

To say that John Owen offers a thorough examination of Romans 8:13 would be an understatement.  His exegesis of the passage is unparalleled and his knowledge of the Bible to include supporting texts easily rivals the most notable theologians of all time.  In order to provide a clear understanding of the original meaning of the passages, he does include a fair dose of Greek and I’m unsure if this was included in the more modern versions.  If you’re looking to deepen your knowledge of the Bible, there is no better theologian to study under, but I do offer this caveat:  Owen’s writings are weighty and it does take quite a bit of “re-reading” to fully understand.  I suppose the updated modern text may be more easily read, but I feared the edits may detract from Owens original thoughts.  Plus, the original Old English helps place the reader in a time when piety not popularity was common.

In conclusion, I commend John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin to you and for that matter any of his other works.  If you enjoy being challenged to think weighty thoughts of God’s Word, then be sure to include Owen in your library.

Burning down “The Shack”

An interview by Pastor Kevin Boling with Author James DeYoung about his book Burning Down the Shack, in which he deconstructs the message within William Young’s bestselling book The Shack, one which many Christians and churches have read and endorsed.  It’s important that we understand the implications of books we read and recommend to ensure that those which creep into the evangelical world maintain Biblical integrity.  The Shack’s popularity within the Christian community is disheartening and my prayer is that we would become Berean-like in our discernment and “test everything” against God’s Holy Word.

Book Review: Crazy Love

If you’ve spent any time on this blog then you’ve likely seen that among the various topics and passages discussed the centrality of the message is one geared toward awakening those “Christians” that are slumbering or merely coasting through life in their relationship with Christ. In fact, maybe this best describes your situation right now. Perhaps you aspire for spiritual growth, but try as you might in your own strength, you simply are not progressing. Author Alan Redpath provides the following analysis, “Full blessing in the Christian life is not bestowed except to eager, hungry people who press in to receive it.” So if the full blessing comes  to those who hunger to grow in their relationship with Christ, how then does one develop this hunger?

In his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, author Francis Chan asks, “Does something deep inside your heart long to break free from the status quo? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions?” His book provides answers to these questions and many more as Chan explores the depths of religious complacency in all of our lives and exposes us to thoughts about God, the Creator of the universe, who loves us with a “crazy, relentless, all-powerful love” that seeks to draw us ever closer into a relationship with His Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Throughout this book, Chan’s tone is more like a conversation with his readers than a textbook style lecture. His thoughts flow from one point to the next and through the extensive use of Biblical references, he succeeds in drawing readers to examine themselves on the inside to see if their Christian life would be better classified as “lukewarm” or “obsessed”. The book opens with a request to stop reading and proceed to his website where Chan directs the reader to view the first video of the awe-inspiring majesty of the Creator of the universe and just how immense and worthy of praise this creation is. The second video is a dynamic monologue that Chan delivers as he walks along the coastal cliffs of California on his way to enjoy the splendor of God and also surf a few waves (included below).

As the book unfolds the reader begins to get a glimpse of just who God is, why He loves us so much, and why anything less than a heartfelt, passionate, pursuing relationship with Him, simply will not do. Chapter 4 is perhaps the most penetrating as Chan details 18 characteristics that makeup the “Profile of the Lukewarm.” It’s here where he makes a bold assertion based on the Parable of the Sower that Jesus teaches in Matthew 13, by saying, “Do not assume you are good soil.” Chan argues that, “most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns. Thorns are anything that distracts us from God.” In concluding this bold approach to establish the “lukewarm” Christian, Chan provides the following conviction, “lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God.” So disgusting in fact that Jesus makes reference to the lukewarm in Revelation 3:16 by literally stating He will spit, or more accurately, vomit, them out of His mouth.

In the chapters that follow, Chan speaks of the love of God and how we are to let God do the work in us and make the changes in our heart. He states that running toward Christ, pursuing, and loving Him is much less exhausting than running from guilt and fear of sin and in fact it is liberating because it frees us up “serve, love, and give thanks” to Him. This message of loving God, fully surrendering to Him, and allowing Christ to work in our hearts are the marks of genuine intimacy that all lead up to perhaps the boldest chapter of Crazy Love, chapter 8, “Profile of the Obsessed”, which includes 14 characteristics that contrast those given earlier for the “Lukewarm.” In concluding his book, Francis Chan presents examples of real, everyday Christians that have lived their life in complete surrender to God, obsessed in their relationship with the One that pursues us relentlessly with a Crazy Love. In this final chapter, Chan supplies 2 quotation gems worth noting, “It is individual people living Spirit-filled lives that will change the church” and “The world needs Christians who don’t tolerate the complacency of their own lives.”

Crazy Love is a passion-filled message to the “lukewarm” church that has become so pervasive in America today. It’s message is one of urgency that should not only awaken those that are slumbering, but should invigorate those who are already living passionately for Christ to examine their relationships with friends, family, and fellow churchgoers to help them encounter the love of God. Chan closes his book with a Q&A section where he makes the following statement, “The idea of Crazy Love has to do with our relationship with God. All my life I’ve heard people say, “God loves you.” It’s probably the most insane statement you could make to say that the eternal Creator of this universe is in love with me. There is a response that ought to take place in believers, a crazy reaction to that love. Do you really understand what God has done for you? If so, why is your response so lukewarm?”