Book Review – Augustine on the Christian Life (7/8)

Other than Paul, Augustine is probably the most influential theologian of the Christian faith. For such a titan it would be valuable to know what he has to say about the christian life. This is what Gerald Bray has done in this book.

Augustine on the Christian LifeBray takes a look at the life of Augustine moving from him as a believer, then a teacher and finally as a pastor. Bray first gives a quick overview and introduction to the life of Augustine. For anyone who is new to him, Bray’s introduction will definitely be a helpful of him/her.

After the short introduction, Bray moves on to Augustine as believer. In this section, Bray deals mainly about Augustine as a christian, he focuses the discussion very much on his autobiography, the Confessions. He touches on three big topics on this section, his devotional life, his lifestyle and his life of faith.

In the next section, Bray then talk about Augustine as the teacher. He touches on three main topics here, first, he talks about what Augustine believed about the bible, how Augustine envisioned Christ in all of scripture and what the bible says about the end of man.

The next section will be one that will be of interest to pastors. Bray talks about what Augustine did as a pastor/bishop. He talks about what Augustine believed about preaching and how he served his congregation at his church. He uncovers many thought about Augustine as the pastor of the church how he sympathises with the congregation who has to sit in humid and warm conditions and listen for more than an hour on what he has preached. This was certainly one of the best part of the book, I have not met any who has talked about this area in the life of Augustine.

As I was reading this book, one of the things at was quite jarring for me was how there wasn’t many sub-sections. This certainly took some time to adjust, but as I read on, I adjusted the Bray’s brilliant writing style. This book is one that pastors should certainly read. I have found that too many books have targeted Augustine as the theologian but not many has offered the pastoral side to readers. This book fills this gap.

In closing, I shall leave readers with one closing statement that I felt was a good summary of this book.
“Augustine died in the knowledge that a few days later the barbarians would enter Hippo, which they were besieging at the time, and he must have feared that his life’s work would go up in flames. Things did not turn out quite as badly as that, but there was to be no lasting legacy of his labors in Hippo—no great basilica with his name carved into it, no academic chair dedicated to his memory, not even a park bench with a plaque saying that his estate had paid for it. To the naked eye there was nothing. Yet as we know, what must have appeared then as a fairly insignificant ministry in a provincial town became the most productive life of any theologian in the Western world. Generations of Christians who would never go anywhere near Hippo would read what Augustine wrote in the hot and dusty chambers that were his earthly dwelling place, and would marvel at his gifts and intellect. More than that, they would be moved, as we still are, by his passion for Christ, and would go away from his writings more determined than ever to walk in the way mapped out for them by God.”

Rating: 4.5 / 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.

Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service (Theologians on the Christian Life) (26/3)

For anyone who is a reformed or Van Tillian fan, Herman Bavinck would be one person you would highly respect. However the 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics may be a bit too intimidating for someone who wants to know what Bavinck has to teach to Christians. There is now one introduction to the works of Bavinck that aims to serve the laity.

Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful ServiceJohn Bolt, the translator of the 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics has written this book to let christian readers know what Bavinck has to say about christian living. Bolt starts by telling the readers Bavinck’s theological foundation for the christian life. In this section, Bolt elaborates on what it means to be created in God’s image and more importantly, what union with Christ means for the christian. Bolt highlights and shows why Bavinck thought this doctrine is foundational to the christian life.

Next, Bolt moves to show what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what a christian worldview is. This section really is a bridge to the applicational section which comes next. Bolt shows how Bavinck used his theological might to think deeply about issues that are fundamental to the christian life. Bolt shows what Bavinck thought about the value and bible’s teaching on marriage and family and vacation. Bolt also highlights what Bavinck’s thought on the society from a macro-perspective.

What is valuable in this book is how Bolt shows the historical context of the times Bavinck lives in. As we are often reminded, history does not occur in a vacuum, Bolt shows the significance of Bavinck in the way he critiques his society and the liberal christians in the Netherlands. Similarly, Bolt highlights areas where Bavinck differs from Abraham Kuyper. This gives the readers a wholesome picture that sometimes even the titans of the Dutch Reformed church had issues they didn’t agree with. Bolt also ends with the translation the only sermon we currently have from Bavinck. I have to say, I think it was a great idea by Bolt and the editors to have included this sermon in this book.

I have gained much from reading this book, this has given me a much deeper appreciation of Bavinck not only as a theologian, but as a churchman, as a pastor and and a public theologian. This book is certainly recommended for any Reformed christians or for anyone who is interested in knowing more about Herman Bavinck.

Rating: 4.25 / 5

If you’re interested you can get a copy 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 – Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (27/11)

If I had a choice on one pastor I would have in my life, I would definitely choose John Newton. At first glance you might be wondering why I would choose the author of Amazing Grace as the pastor of my choice. Most Christians only know his dramatic life testimony, but you might not know how pastoral Newton became as he served his congregation in St Mary Woolnoth.

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)Tony Reinke first starts with a brief introduction to John Newton, highlights the major milestone in the life of Newton. This sets the picture and context to people who are new to the life of Newton. After the quick overview into the life of Newton, Reinke wants christians to see the importance of looking to Christ. I like the fact that Newton helped christians see the importance of looking to Jesus, with an emphasis on the word ‘looking’, keeping a continuous focused graze on Jesus throughout the christian life. This keeps christians focus on what Christ has done when we’re dealing with our indwelling sin or with our insecurity.

Having laid this foundation, Reinke then moves on to the topic of christian living, he helps us see the advice that Newton gave to his correspondences and how his advice is still good pastoral advice to us today. Newton gave very sensible and sensitive advice to those suffering from trials or those struggling with indwelling sins. Newton often helps his readers see the ‘benefits’ that such trials or indwelling sins brings to our christian life. For example, in dealing with trials Newton writes, ‘When these serious trials interrupt our lives, we “run simply and immediately to our all-sufficient Friend, feel our dependence, and cry in good earnest for help.” But when all is well, when life seems peaceful and prosperous, and when the difficulties in life are small, then “we are too apt secretly to lean to our own wisdom and strength, as if in such slight matters we could make shift without him.”’. Living in a day and age where suffering seems strange, undesirable and quickly avoided or alleviated, this advice comes like a fresh breeze and encouragement to endure through our trials patiently.

I’ve also found Newton’s advice to young and old christian extremely helpful. In a series of 3 letters, Newton addresses the young and new born christian, those who are in adolescence and those who have been a christian for a long time. I have found Newton to be a master of the human heart and of the christian life. He highlights points that readers will identify with in their lives and he also points out the dangers they will face and areas that they should be especially watchful for. At all times, Newton gives the slight nudge of encouragement to the christian to keep their focus on Christ and to live evermore so in dependence on the love of God, the compassion of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a pastor, or if you are thinking of going into the pastoral ministry, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for you. You will first be cared for pastorally and then learn to care for your congregation pastorally. For those who are doing any form of mentoring or counselling or even if you’re going dry in your christian life, read this book and let Pastor Newton give you some of his counsel. Personally I’ve been helped by the advice of this seasoned pastor and hope one day to be as pastoral in the way I interact with my congregation in future.

Rating: 5 / 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

P.S. As a add-on I would also recommend Letters of John Newton. They will surely minister to you and help you be able to give wise pastoral advice to others. Get it here and here (free international shipping).

Book Review – Packer on the Christian Life (2/11)

If you hang around at the reformed circles long enough, I’m pretty sure you would have either heard of J. I. Packer or even read his book Knowing God. But if we limit our knowledge of Packer only to Knowing God, then we are surely short-changing ourselves.

Packer on the Christian LifeThis book gives readers a full-orbed view of what Packer wants christians to know about Christian living. As with every book in this series. This book is good for the head (knowledge) and for the daily living. Sam Storms gives readers a good one volume introduction to the thoughts of Packer, highlighting especially his teachings for christian living.

Before reading this book, I have not read any of Packer’s book, though I certainty have heard of him many times within the evangelical and reformed circles. But having read this book, I’m certain Packer will be one of the authors I’ll be spending substantial time reading up on.

Storms first introduces the subject of the book to the readers giving a brief summary of the life and contribution of Packer and reveals interesting facts on Packer’s life, like how he still writes every one of his books using the typewriter! After a quick introduction, Storms moves to the most crucial doctrine of the Christian life for Christians – the atonement. I agree with Storms that this is the most fundamental doctrine for any christian to understand, that we are made right with God, because of the sacrifice and death of Christ. Without it, we have not reference to God either than Him as our Creator and our Judge.

Next Storms moves to very relevant topics for christians like the bible and holiness. I have found the chapters on holiness, sanctification and indwelling sin most helpful for me personally. They help me not only understand my own christian life but also what Packer has to say about them. I have benefited from the summary of the teachings of Packer by Storms. It has pushed me to read Packer’s book on holiness too.

I especially like how Storm ends the book on how we can end well in our Christian lives. This, I thought was a well apt ending for the book and for Packer’s writing. Thus far, the last book written by Packer talks about how we as christian always live and serve in weakness. I like how Storms highlights Packer’s insights on 2 Corinthians for christians to serve and end well, and this is also another book I hope to read in the future.

All in all, this has been a great introduction and summary of J. I. Packer, I’ve benefited much from Storms’ summary and has gone away with a much deeper appreciation of Packer. Perhaps now the next thing I’ll be waiting for would be the systematic theology book that Packer will, God willing, finish in the future.

Rating: 4.5 / 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

P.S. I would also recommend Knowing God (international readers, kindle) or Rediscovering Holiness (international readers, kindle)

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

Book Review – Edwards on the Christian Life (24/10)

Jonathan Edwards has been the rave of the town for the past few years, he is without doubt one of America’s finest theologians. It is heartening to see so many reading Edwards in this day and age. And for those who are hoping to start reading Edwards, I think there is no better introduction to the thoughts of Edwards than the book by Dane Ortlund.

Edwards on the Christian LifeDane Ortlund has in this book very succinctly and comprehensively shown the readers the major themes of Jonathan Edwards. Ortlund has proposed to that beauty is the overarching theme of Edwards, which he explains and shows in the first chapter.

This then breaks off into smaller segments which covers different topics. I found the topics on prayer, heaven and satan especially helpful for me in understanding, and as with every book in this series. What is shared in these books are not brilliants ideas fit for the armchair theologians, rather they are things that are very practical and peculiar to the christian live. Furthermore, I found Ortlund often very insightful not just in helping me understand Edwards, but also in bringing out his point.

Let me give you an example: While talking about prayer, Ortlund brilliantly illustrates what Edward’s point was.

“Much contemporary evangelical exhortation to pray fails to land on us with power because it holds out before believers the urgency of the task and how practically to go about it more than the beauty of the One with whom we are communing and the greatness of what he promises. But the way to motivate praying is not to focus on praying but to focus on God. You do not need to pull out The Dummy’s Guide to Verbal Admiration when you stand before Victoria Falls in southern Africa. Beauty arrests us. The words of awe tumble out on their own.”

Edwards point was that when we see God in His beauty, then prayer would be the most natural response we have towards God. So what will spur Christians to  pray more? A deeper knowledge and enthralment of God, I cannot agree more.

This book has been, encouraging to read, it has spurred me to want to really dig in to read Edwards. What is more, it has helped me God, in all His glory as what Edwards has and spurred me on in my christian life.

Ortlund has also very clearly helped the readers see some of the flaws of Edwards, although these are not fatal flaws, they are nevertheless, flaws. Ortlund raises 4 of them, which I agree are valid points against Edwards. These are highlighted not to belittle Edwards, but to help readers read him carefully so as not to repeat the mistakes again.

What I highly recommend readers to do, is to read the preface carefully, it will give you a good overview of what will be covered within the book, giving you a logical flow and the structure of the book. This is certainly aid you as you plow through this book. It’s not too difficult, but it’ll certainly be good for your soul.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you really want to understand Jonathan Edwards. A big thank you to Dane Ortlund for writing it, and for Crossway to being willing to publish this great series. Looking forward to reading more of such books (Luther and Owen especially) in this series! You really should consider to buy one and read it.

Rating: 5 / 5

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

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