Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Reviews for February 2012

Below are some short reviews from books I’ve recently finished.

Backslider – Andrew Fuller

This short book, by Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) showed up as a recommended read on Amazon.com while I was looking for another book of a similar theme.  I was surprised to find out that Charles H. Spurgeon “did not hesitate to describe Fuller as ‘the greatest theologian’ of his century.Fuller was widely considered by others to be the greatest Baptist theologian of the 1800’s.  In his short work, Fuller wastes little time in expounding on his theses, “The Backslider: it’s nature, symptoms, and means for recovery.”  If the reader didn’t realize this was a work over 200 years old, reading chapter 1 would’ve seemed like an address for the modern day Church.  Fuller states, “professors [of Christianity] are continually falling away from Christ; either totally, so as to walk no more with him [Christ], or partially, so as greatly to dishonor his name.”  This assertion is no doubt evidence of today as well.  Fuller points out it is, “the work of a faithful pastor to strengthen the diseased, to heal the sick, to bind up the broken, to bring again that which is driven away, and to seek that which is lost.”  As he  begins his dissection of the varieties of backsliding, he emphasizes that backsliding “originates in a departure of heart from him [God].”  Andrew Fuller goes on to describe the nature of backsliding before delving into some of the symptoms and effects.  He concludes his brief work by summarizing means to recovery from backsliding which begins with reading the word of God, especially those passages that relate to the backsliders current situation, i.e. Jeremiah 2, or Psalm 25, 32, 38, 51, and 130.   To Scripture reading, Fuller wisely (and biblically) suggest the addition of prayer.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but as he points out they “mutually assist each other.”  A second means of recovery is reflection upon the “circumstances of thine offences”, while thirdly Fuller recommends reflecting on “the goodness of God in having hitherto borne with thee.”  As he works through this final chapter, he adds 5 more helpful suggestions for backslider recovery, each of which are rooted in Scripture.  Overall this is a highly recommended, extremely helpful book for not only the backslider or one who has backslidden but everyone who is wondering how best to bring backsliders back.  James 5:19-20 

Saving Faith (Kindle Edition) – A.W. Pink (1886-1952)

Saving Faith is an excerpt of Pink’s larger work Studies on Saving Faith and was assembled by www.monergism.com. It is available as a free download from their site.  Let me just say that after reading this book, I most likely will purchase the expanded version because of Pink’s writing style, pastoral care, and brilliant exegesis.  This was the first book I’ve read of the classic books of Pink and it’s easy to see why he is such a well thought of theologian.  I will admit, I was a bit confused with Pink’s direction at the beginning of Saving Faith, but this could be due to its extraction from a larger work.  This difficulty hinged on Pink’s definition of saving faith and its distinction from counterfeits.  Boiling down his argument and exegesis true saving faith is a product of regeneration, or being born again.  The counterfeits, or those who possess non-saving faith, “are willing for Christ to save them from hell, but are not willing for Him to save them from self.  They want to be delivered from the wrath to come, but they wish to retain their self-will and self-pleasing.”  Once Pink established his thesis and drew distinction between the various “types of faith” this book soared.  In my opinion, what Pink seems to be addressing is the “no-Lordship Controversy” that was sparked and dealt with severely by Pastor John MacArthur several years ago.  Essentially, this viewpoint states that one can have Christ as Savior, but need not submit to Him as Lord of their lives, thus dividing Christ through an unbiblical distinction.  Perhaps the term had not been coined yet when Pink wrote his work, but I cannot help but see this as a potential audience he’s addressing.  Perhaps best summarizing his position, Pink draws distinction between 3 groups of people identified in the Old Testament: 1) Heathen Gentiles 2) National Israel 3) Spiritual remnant Israel (see Romans 9:6).  He then draws parallel to John’s Gospel 1) Hardened leaders of the nation (scribes, Pharisees, priests and elders) 2) Common people who “heard Him gladly” 3) Those who received Him as their Lord and Savior.  In using these examples from the Old and New Testament, Pink compares them to those of today: 1) Those who make no profession at all 2) Those attracted to Christ in a natural way, i.e. not openly antagonistic 3) Those “few” who deny themselves and take up their cross daily.  Pink goes on to say that counterfeits to genuine saving faith can often be more than a historical knowledge or head knowledge of Christ, but nevertheless falls short of being a quickening and saving faith.  If you’ve ever preached or taught to a wide-variety of people, this distinction is important because it seems so many people fall into the second group, yet have not been born again or truly saved.     

The Reformed Faith (Kindle Edition) – Lorraine Boettner

This short book is available for free download from www.monergism.com and provides a succinct, yet well-developed introduction to the reformed faith, or more commonly called Calvinism.  Boettner begins his study with a discourse on the sovereignty of God, then proceeds to discuss man’s totally helpless condition, Christ’s atonement, and the foreknowledge of God.  He likewise addresses some common objections in the form of passages that appear universalistic and then contrasts the common, widespread Arminianism beliefs with the subject of his work, Calvinism.  Many people are probably once like I was and at the very mention of the word Calvinism are immediately repulsed and reject it as a system invented by man.  The problem is, most, like I did, do not fully understand what it is.  Simply put, Calvinism was a point by point response to 5-points of beliefs laid out by the Remonstrants (The 5 Articles of Remonstrance), followers of Jacobus Arminius.  Those points, known as Arminianism, were rejected and considered heresy at the Synod of Dort (1618).  The subsequent response was the Canons of Dort, or more commonly called the 5-Points of Calvinism.  This debate between the two sides has been well chronicled throughout Church History and continues to this day.   It should be noted that this senate, verdict, and response occurred more than 50 years after the death of Calvin, so those who view him with disdain because of Calvinism, do so erroneously.  Boettner has written a very helpful book that provides a good introduction into the biblical basis for the 5-point response.

Book Review: Atonement

Atonement is a collection of presentations given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology edited by Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer.  This collection includes the following speaker/authors.  I’ve included the title of each chapter with their corresponding author below.

J.I. Packer                            The Necessity of the Atonement

John R. De Witt                   The Nature of Atonement: Reconciliation

James M. Boice                    The Nature of Atonement: Propitiation

John R. Gerstner                The Atonement and the Purpose of God

R.C. Sproul                          Sacrifice and Satisfaction

James M. Boice                    The Language of the Marketplace

Sinclair Ferguson                Christ, the Sin-Bearer

Alistair Begg                         Preaching the Cross

In short, this is a quality book offering various viewpoints on individual aspects of Jesus Christ’s atonement.  The atonement is under attack today, from everyone from liberal theologians to fundamental conservatives and every sort of animal in between.  In the introductory chapter, Packer offers an exposition of Romans 8:32 in which he seeks to define how Christ’s death on the cross was the only way that God could justify a sinful people.  Rightly focusing on the justice of God, while highlighting propitiation, Packer concludes that the atonement of Jesus was “necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin.”

In chapter 2, De Witt teaches on 2 Corinthians 5:21 and brings the reader to the understanding that sinners need reconciliation to God.  He states, according to the Apostle Paul, “reconciliation, therefore, is a breaking down of barriers or a restoration of a breached relationship” (see Romans 5:9-11).  The focus of chapter 3 is 1 John 4:10, specifically propitiation, which James Boice gives its proper due.  Building upon the previous chapter, Boice sets out to also define reconciliation and redemption.

Chapter 4, The Atonement and the Purpose of God, by Gerstner builds upon the rich theology found in Romans 8:29.  In reaching his conclusion, Gerstner first sets out to define the Calvinistic acrostic, T.U.L.I.P. He focuses primarily on the total depravity of man (T) stating that this is the primary objection that most people offer when confronted by the doctrines of grace (Calvinism).  “Those who object to the decrees are actually suffering from a lack of conviction of their depravity.  Only if you are convinced that you are not just sick, but dead, will you know that there is only one person who can make you alive – the Giver of life Himself – and therefore be utterly persuaded of the decree of unconditional election.” 

In Chapter 5, R.C. Sproul  discusses Sacrifice and Satisfaction by expounding on Galatians 3:13.  In doing so, he contrasts the blessings of God, such as those found in Numbers 6:24-26 with what it means that Christ became a curse for us.  This is a striking chapter that really puts into perspective the sacrifice that Christ made in dying for His sheep.  In chapter 6, Boice now explains the principle of redemption by describing The Language of the Marketplace.  In doing so, Boice gives proper attention to the Old Testament premise of “kinsmen-redeemer”. 

Chapter 7, “Christ, the Sin-Bearer” is built around Isaiah 53:3-4, in which Sinclair Ferguson concludes, “Without Jesus Christ bearing our sin, there is no salvation.  The very reason for his suffering and agony, the very reason he goes to the cross of Calvary, and the very reason he is marred beyond human recognition was so that he might be the sin-bearer of men and women.”  Alistair Begg wraps up this collection of presentations with a pastoral perspective by emphasizing the importance of Preaching the Cross where he states, “Without the cross of Jesus Christ there is no gospel.”   Concluding, Begg adds, “the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ…compels me in evangelism, saves me, corrects my silly notions of struggling on, and it forms my character.  A person who lives near the cross will be marked by holiness, love, and endurance.”

This is a helpful book for anyone wanting a quick, but thorough, study on various aspects of the atonement.  It will rightly point you to Scripture and expand you thinking on the glorious work of Christ on the cross.  Each of these chapters is essentially an introductory treatise on larger doctrines of the Atonement.  As this book concludes, the cross of Christ is essential for the Christian to realize and recognize what Christ has accomplished and to understand it so that they can rightly proclaim the Gospel.

Book Review: It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement

“My sin, not in part, but in whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”  Those are the words to “It is Well with My Soul”, written by hymnist Horatio Spafford in the late 1800’s and the inspiration for the title of the book written by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence.  Dever, senior pastor of Capital Hill Baptist in Washington, D.C. and Lawrence associate pastor of Capital Hill Baptist (at the time of writing, now pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon) have compiled 14 sermons into individual chapters that make up their book, It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement. 

In their book, each author tackles individual passages of Scripture that help magnify the cross of Christ and explain the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement.  The heart of their book is an explanation, and subsequently a defense, of penal substitutionary atonement.  In his helpful paper, What did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution, J.I. Packer defines penal substitutionary atonement as, “Jesus Christ, our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory.”  In short, Christ suffered the punishment due to sinners, namely God’s justice was fulfilled in death of His Son. 

The object of any biblically faithful book is to point the reader toward the Scriptures and compel them to examine the Bible for themselves to see if what the author is saying is true.  Dever and Lawrence have done just that.   My first reading of the book ended before completion because I soon realized the complex nature of this book’s subject and how little attention I had given the atonement of Christ.  After a few months of biblical inquiry, I was drawn back to the book, this time rereading from beginning to end with the Bible by my side.  The chapter titles, and associated Scripture references are enough for a personal study, but the pastors’ insights and historical knowledge of the subject passages will aid the reader in their own biblical study of the nature of the atonement.  Titles/Scriptures include the following:

  1. The Passover: Exodus 12
  2. Leviticus 16: The Atonement
  3. Crushed for Our Iniquities: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
  4. Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45
  5. Forsaken: Mark 15:33-34
  6. To Save the World: John 3:14-18
  7. Better That One Man Die: John 11:47-52
  8. Propitiation: Romans 3:21-26
  9. Delivered Over to Death for Our Sins: Romans 4:25
  10. Justified by His Blood: Romans 5:8-10
  11. Condemned Sin: Romans 8:1-4
  12. Becoming a Curse for Us: Galatians 3:10-13
  13. Bore Our Sins in His Body on the Tree: 1 Peter 2:21-25
  14. Christ Died for Sins: 1 Peter 3:18  

Overall, Pastors Dever and Lawrence offer a thorough treatment of understanding the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement.  If the author’s main goal is to exalt the cross and send the reader into the Scriptures then they’ve accomplished their goal.  The only real negatives for this book were a questionable quote from The Message (pg. 116) and a reference to an interruption in the Trinitarian love of The Father to the Son on the cross, (pg. 211) which seems to imply that God cannot simultaneously love and execute His justice, but may be my own misunderstanding.  That aside, this is a commendable book that combines an excellent study of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, an understanding of the history of opposition to penal substitution, and a foundational understanding of an oft-attacked subject.

If you are not one who understands or agrees with the penal substitution of Jesus’ atonement, ask yourself Does God sweep the sins of believers under the rug, or has He satisfied His judgment toward them through the death of Christ?  Then go to the Word of God and search for the answer yourself.  The passages included above and exposited in It is Well, are an excellent starting point.