Book Review – Luther on the Christian Life (Theologians on the Christian Life) (28/8)

Luther may not be the greatest theologian ever, but he is certainly a theologian, a titan, who’s a joy to read. Carl Trueman writes an engaging book on Luther in the “… on Christian Life” series, introducing to readers Luther’s understanding on the christian life.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Theologians on the Christian Life)Having finished this book for quite some time, I have to say that this book has been a joy to read and a book that gives the readers a great introduction to Luther’s writing. Trueman starts by introducing Luther to the readers. He writes about his life and the historical context. Next he elaborates what made Luther raised his 95 theses in 1517 how that finally lead to the reformation of the church. Next he brings out key events in Luther’s life, as such his marriage to Katherine von Bora, his disagreement with Zwingli to the extent of even calling Zwingli to be of a different spirit and finally his death in 1546.

After giving the readers a quick lesson on the life of Luther, Trueman brings the readers to one of the key teaching of Luther, the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Simply put, the theology of glory is what man think about God and how we should serve Him, and the theology of the cross is knowing what God think about how we should serve Him and to serve Him accordingly. This distinction between the theology of the cross and glory is what separates the man who wants to serve God as He commands and man who wants to serve God as he desires.

Next Trueman shows the readers how important the doctrine of the preach word is in the life and ministry of Luther. He bring out the centrality of the Word of God in Luther’s ministry and also Luther’s understanding of the power of God’s word. As I was reading the chapter it is a big reminder to me of how often I see very little power in the power of Word, this is not the case for Luther. He understands and firmly believes in the power of God’s Word and puts the preaching of the word as a central component in the church service. This can be seen in the liturgy used in the service and also the catechism he created to teach children a summary of what the christian life is.

The next topic that Trueman discusses is that of the Lord supper and baptism. Truman brings out the sacramental aspect of Luther’s understanding of both the baptism and the Lord supper. Baptism for Luther is how one begins or enters into the christian life. So important is baptism in Luther’s understanding that he tells his congregation that when they are tempted about their assurance in Christ, they are to remember that they have been baptised, and truly belong to Christ.  The Lord supper is then a sure sign that is repeated reminding them of what Christ has done for them.

Trueman also shows Luther’s understanding of righteousness, and how christians are declared righteous by their faith in Christ. Luther however has learnt over the years that it is not enough to simply preaching the word of God and drink beer in the pub. No, the work in the ministry still requires discipline and instruction. Which is what Luther addresses when talking about the two kinds of righteousness a christian possesses — an alien righteousness and proper righteousness. Alien righteousness is what a christian obtains when he believes in Jesus. That is what puts a believer righteous when he stands before God. But proper righteousness is what is often termed as sanctification, it is what a christian does in killing sin and when he does good to the neighbour. The proper righteousness is therefore an extension of the alien righteousness the christian receives from Christ.

This culminates into the death of Luther in which his last words are “We are beggars, this is true” Luther is clear that despite what he has done and accomplished in light of eternality, he is nothing but a beggar, one who only receives what the good Lord has given so freely.

This book has been a great introduction to Luther, and has made me want to read Luther more. I hope anyone who is interested in Luther will read this book. Highly recommended for those who need an introduction to Luther. As with every other book in this series, I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from reading it and look forward to reading the next book within this series.

Rating: 4.75 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review – Bitesize Biographies: Ulrich Zwingli (6/6)

Many of us are familiar with the life of Luther and Calvin, they have been in the limelight ever since the Reformation. But how many of us know about life and contribution of Ulrich Zwingli? I have to say that prior to reading this book, I certainly have heard about Zwingli, yet I do not know how he has contributed to the Reformation. Now after reading this biography on him, I have to say, I go away with a great admiration of the life of Ulrich Zwingli.

 Ulrich Zwingli by William BoekesteinWilliam Boekestein has written a short but informative biography on Ulrich Zwingli. Boekestein highlights the major events in the life of Zwingli from his birth till his death. What I enjoyed thoroughly within this book is not just how the life of Zwingli is portrayed, but also it tells the history of Zwingli with the historical context clearly spelled out.

Prior to this, I would have attributed the Reformation of the Swiss to Calvin, but now I know otherwise. Without much influence from Calvin or Luther, Zwingli almost singlehandedly help reformed Zurich to the protestant camp.

The conflict between Luther and Zwingli has also been clearly spelled out giving the readers a clear picture of what the argument was about and how each side dealt with the issue. Boekestein also shows clearly not only the strength of Zwingli but also offers helpful criticism on Zwingli.

If you have not read anything about Zwingli, or are interested to read up about the reformation of Zurich, I highly encourage to pick up this book and read. You will go away highly appreciative of Boekestein excellent effort of this short biography and also of the work done by Zwingli.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here and here (free international shipping) [sorry, none can be found now].

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Book Review – After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (20/2)

The Bible seems rather silent on what happened to the apostles and how they died. Granted that the focus of the bible is not on the apostles, but on Christ. Sometimes we wonder what actually happened to the apostles? Where did they go? How did they die? And how can we know?

After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the ApostlesAs christians, you often hear how Peter was crucified upside down, or how Paul was beheaded. But where do we get this information? Since neither of these are recorded in the bible. Furthermore why are there differing tales on the lives and ends of the various disciples? Bryan Litfin aims to answers such questions in this book.

Litfin first shows where he gets his information from, he introduces the historical sources where all the information comes from and explains some of the terms used in the book. Next Litfin moves on to the various individuals he wishes to elaborate on.

I found the chapter on Matthew slightly daunting for an new believer, I felt that too much space was given to the dating of when the gospel of Matthew was written, than on what happened to his life. Having said that, Litfin goes a good job of sifting through all the historical sources, highlighting what he thinks are more reliable than others and why. He shows the readers the difficulties one faces when dealing with differing stories, and the complexities involved in weighting the different viewpoints. Included in every chapter is a short  report card which summaries which points are historically viable, and which are not.

This would be a good companion to Foxe’s Book of Martyr, this book helps to distills the facts from the tales and shows you why. However, I found the sub-title quite misleading, since it was “Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles”, one would not expect to find Mary there. Granted that Litfin added her as she played a major role in early chrisitanity, but I guess a better worded subtitle would be less misleading. Overall, a readable book for anyone who interested to learn about the lives of the apostles or disciples, or wish to be acquainted with the earliest christian sources.

Rating: 4 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here, and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Book Review – Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (2/1)

Martin Luther may have been immortalised by the “Here I stand…” quote, but there is so much more to his life than that simple quote.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin LutherFirst, I must say, this is a full biography. Sometimes biographies can be so short that they merely fill you with the life of the person. These kind of biographies then do not give you to context of what everything is happening. This biography by Roland Bainton however does not have any of these weakness. At at whopping 400 pages, Bainton presents Luther in his context, society and culture.

Bainton allows the reader to go away with a deep understanding of the what was Luther was going through before, during and after the Reformation. At times, Bainton also injects his own evaluation on how Luther handled the various situations in Luther’s life. Within the book, there are also many picture of wood carvings displayed appropriately which really helps the readers to “go back in time”.

Bainton does not only fills the readers with the life of Luther, he fills the readers with knowledge  of the cultural and religious context of Luther in his life. These were very well explain and even as a novice in such matters, I do not find myself confused about it. Bainton not only talks about why Luther called for the Reformation, he also talks about how the Reformation slowly happened, and what followed up from it.

What I gathered from reading the life of Luther is his focus on the importance of the Word. Which was a great reminder for myself as someone who lives after the Reformation, it is easy to take the Word of God for granted and then to neglect it. Next, I see how fearless Luther was to stand for what he thinks is right. That too was a timely reminder for me as a christian, that I should be firm to stand for what I know from the Word of God, is right.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a substantial biography to Luther, but for readers who wants a lighter introduction, I think The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson would be a better choice.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Book Review – Samuel Rutherford (Bitesize Biographies) (30/11)

I’ve heard about this person Samuel Rutherford for some time, even some of his works. But thus far, I do not really know him. So it was with joy that I was able to read this book by Richard Hannula.Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography

This book follows the life of Samuel Rutherford chronologically and highlights the key points in his life. I found this book very enlightening as I really do not know much about the history of the Scottish church and this book not only helped me appreciate the life of Samuel Rutherford but also helps me to have a deeper appreciation of the Scottish church.

Hannula writes in a way that’s very readable and easy to follow. For a novice in Scottish church history, I found that I was able to follow the timeline, and understand the concern they had against the crown. But, some brief knowledge of the english Puritans and the history of England will be needed.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to have a good introduction to the life of Samuel Rutherford. You will not regret reading this book.

Rating: 4.75 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here and here (free international shipping).

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (23/9)

What does the modern-day, sophisticated church has to do with the reformation of the (not so) ancient past? Well… Plenty! In this book, Carl Trueman contends that the churches today (and tomorrow) about the need to recover the spirit of the reformers.Reformation: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

In the first chapter, Trueman first gives an analyses of the current status of evangelicals. First, he described how the evangelicals have lost the spirit of the reformers, specially he explained why the reformers saw the desperate need for the church in their time to be reformed to the centrality of the Gospel and the Word, their motivation and their goal. Then, Trueman commented on how the contention within the evangelical with regards to worship often only differ merely with the outward form, which in his view, is only embracing the reformers outwardly, but missing the precise point of why the reformers saw — a need for the congregation to have a vernacular worship.

In the next chapter, Trueman looks at the theology of glory — looking at God from man’s  point of view vs theology of the cross — looking at God from Christ’s point of view. This branches out of how Luther himself saw the dichotomy of these two teaching and found the teachings to the Church then to be akin to those of the theology of glory, which thinks that God values what man values. In contrast to that, Luther responded by proclaiming that the church needs to embrace the theology of the Cross.

Trueman then raises two examples that he finds the current evangelical circle need to consider, first regarding suffer, How do we understand and view suffering? Are we unknowingly embracing the theology of glory by our preoccupation to shun away from suffering or to deem suffering as bad or ‘not according to God’s plan’? In the next example, Trueman talks about the definition of a truly successful church. Is the successful church one that entertains and attracts and gauges it’s success by numbers? Or by how faithful the word is being preached? He calls the church to recover what they have lost, to re-embrace the true marks of the ‘successful’ church.

In the next chapter, Trueman then focuses on the centrality word of God and preaching what it does, what it is for, and what the training preachers be. And in the last chapter, He elaborates on the doctrine of assurance, and how we can you find it? Do we base it on our feelings? Emotions? Experience? Or rather on what God has done for us, definitively and absolutely, through Christ Jesus death and resurrection?

Essentially, this is a call for the reform-ed (i.e. Protestant) to re-examine the importance of the Reformation and recover the spirit of Reformers. Although this may be a thin book, it does pack a punch and Trueman gives many points for the evangelical to consider how far we are away from the reformers, and to recover from it before it’s too late for us. Recommended for all church leaders and preachers who wishes to be faithful to what God’s Word say.

Rating: 4 / 5

If you’re interested, you can get it here, and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Book Review – From Jesus to the Church (9/9)

I’m personally not a great fan of history. I find that having a deluge of dates, names and places rather intimating, and don’t usually find myself reading any books on history. However, I was quite intrigued by the title of this book, plus it didn’t seem to be a super thick book and thus attempted to read this book. I must say, this book has been very insightful and perceptive, I came away with a deeper appreciation of the early church history.

From Jesus to the ChurchWithin this book you will find many helpful background info which you normally do not find elsewhere, for example there were many revolutionaries that had tried to revolt against the Rome governance. These revolutionaries, like Jesus, were often executed in the bid to stump the revolt, or are being intimated by the Rome governance. And these ‘solutions’ were often very effective in solving these problems.

Craig Evans first attempts to answer the question about the link between the temple (Jewish) and the Church (Christians), specifically, he wants to show the readers that the forecast of the destruction of the temple was one of the key prediction of Jesus judgement on the corrupt Jewish leaders and shows that Jesus does have the church in mind, but not in the same way as what we might often think. Evans handles this question very carefully, being careful to examine how the new testament authors used the words ‘synagoge’ or ‘ekklesia’ in their writings. Admittingly, I felt the first 2 chapters the most difficult to comprehend, but this is not due to any fault of the author!

Next, Evans examine how Jesus himself proclaims the kingdom of God, what he means by it. And how the Old Testament should shape our understanding of the concept of the kingdom of God. What is clear is that, this kingdom already has in mind the inclusion of the Gentiles even within the Old Testament. Therefore the inclusion of Gentiles into Christianity is not something novel, rather it is a outworking of what the Old Testament passages were writing about.

The third chapter talks about how James, rather than Peter was early church leader was exceptionally well written. In it, he interacts with Acts very well, and attempts to show that James was indeed the leader at that time. This was my first time hearing this, and I would have hope to see how Evans would have had attempt to explain John 1:42, where Peter is called the rock. Within this chapter, Evans also explains about the apparent ‘differences’ between James and Paul with regards the faith and work, and this was very well handled. This was the best chapter within the book and would be well-worth the price of the book.

Lastly, Evans ends by explaining why the church moved from a Jewish majority in the beginning to a Gentile majority thereafter, essentially the ‘stumbling blocks’ for the Jews to believe in the Risen Christ.

This book is exceptionally well-written and would be insightful for many. It has certainly helped me in my exegesis of the New Testament, being more careful to ask myself how would the first readers have understood this text. I do encourage pastors or motivated laypeople to read this book, and reap from the knowledge you would be able to gain from it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If you’re interested, you can get it here, and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Book Review – God’s Story: A Student’s Guide to Church History (22/7)

Who likes history? Honestly, I think not many will thrilled at this particular topic. However, Brain Cosby has attempted to make church history something interesting to the kids/youths with this book.

God's Story: A Student's Guide to Church History

First Cosby defends the need for us to know our history well, the common adage ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ has proven to be true numerous time. But christians has an even more important reason to know our history well. We each come from a particular denomination and they have existed for a particular reason, it would be wise for us to know why. Secondly, history is really His-Story. When we know about our history we can rejoice what God has done, and trust in what he will do in the future.

Cosby then explains and teaching church history chronological, starting from the very first church! Those that are started in the apostolic times and working across the centuries and millennium, Cosby brings out the ‘big players’ during the particular eras. No particular person was given extra attention, though John Calvin did received slightly more attention.

What Cosby did excellently in this book is how he approach the topic on ‘Crusades’, this is a dark history in the church’s history but Cosby does not sweep things under the rag, he slowly tease out the issue, and explains how christians can answer those who questioned the atrocities committed by the church.

Cosby did give more content in this book to the reformation and those reformation era, which was covered in greater depth than the eras before that.

This is a relatively easy book to read too, it can easily be finished in a few sitting, however since it is published by CF4kids, I do question at what age is it especially pitch at? I feel that kids that are younger (12 and below) would most likely not read this book, and unless for teens who are deeply interested in this topics, the rest might not be engaged enough in this book to read it through. However, this remains to be a good primer for those who wants a quick, brief, succinct introduction to church history (even for adults!). You might be surprised at how much you’ll actually learn from this thin book. [Update: It’s meant for teens 14-16!]

One tiny complain for this book, a little too much self-promotion of the previous books the author has written (no I don’t dislike the author!). But maybe also include references to other books by other authors too.

Rating: 3.75/5

If you’re interested, you can get this book here, and here (free international shipping), Kindle.

Disclaimer: I was given this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Here’s the book trailer.