2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One: The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History, Featured

2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One: The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Few issues are as important and as neglected as church history. God’s people need to understand how their faith is not something new but rather something old, and rooted in the history of God’s redeeming purposes. Church history helps God’s people not only understand what they believe and why it matters but also what the Church has taught throughout its history. This is important since we live in an age where biblical illiteracy is the norm rather than the exception. By studying the Bible and church history, God’s people can begin to understand some about how God has worked throughout the story of history which is His story. In the first volume of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power The Age Of The Early Church Fathers, N.R. Needham writes to help Christians to help Christians learn what God has done in past.

The book covers all the usual territory you would expect a church history volume to cover. Since the scope of this particular book is the early church and the early church fathers the author explains the significant events and beliefs that shaped the early church. Along the way the author also examines what I think is the most unique aspect of this volume and that is the theological significance of particular movements in the church. While other church history books do this I enjoyed how Needham explained crucial events in the history of the Church.

This volume is part one of a four part series which aim to cover the history of the church from the earliest days to modern times. Those who enjoy church history will enjoy these well-written volumes. Those who haven’t studied church history will find this volume very accessible and easy to understand. Pastors and preachers in particular will gain from this series and want to add the other volumes in this series to the library. Every Christian will benefit from reading this book. This particular volume examines the early church father and includes the stories of martyrs such as Polycarp, theologians like Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo and preachers like John Chrysostom.

Whether you’re well-read on the topic of church history or you’re brand new, this series of volumes on church history will help you gain further insight into what the Church has taught throughout its 2014 years. I enjoyed the theological reflection of the author and the insight he provided even to someone whose read and owns quite a few church history books. I highly recommend this volume and can’t wait to read and share my thoughts on the other books in this series in future reviews.

Title: 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Part One The Age Of The Early Church Fathers

Author: N.R. Needham

Publisher: EP Books (1997)

I received this book for free from EP Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured, Theology

The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables

The parables of Jesus have long been beloved portions of Scripture. From the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, these stories have provided believers with object lessons on the Kingdom of God and the Christian life. Unfortunately, many have viewed the parables as little more than moral stories with a good message, a heartwarming tale of how to be good. Jared Wilson in his book The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, seeks to correct that notion declaring the parables are far more than nice stories with a happy ending.

Wilson rightly urges the reader to “Throw away your Flannelgraphs. They are flat and soft, and the story of Jesus is neither.” The parables of Jesus are more than moralistic tales. Conversely, as Wilson notes, “the parables don’t just tell us about the true ways of life but shine into darkened hearts the way, the truth, and the life.” They are stories whose purpose and intent is to direct the reader to Jesus. They bring to life the kingdom of God and its purpose.

Beginning with a discussion on the Gospel of the Kingdom and walking through most of the more well known parables, Wilson clearly establishes his overarching premise that the parables are a declaration of the reality of the Kingdom of God and the tension that exists in this life between a world fraught with sin and the life that is found in Jesus. To a people filled with messianic fervor, Wilson aptly notes “The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that Jesus the Messiah has arrived and has begun restoring God’s will on earth in and through himself.” This declaration is rooted in Genesis 3:15 and weaves its way through the entire biblical corpus. In the parables, Jesus outlined just what this kingdom looks like, essentially what your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven is truly all about.

Wilson has a great gift of extrapolating the underlying message found in the parables, a gift that is clearly evident throughout this book. For instance, in his discussion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he avers “The story of the good Samaritan is a parable about justice and anthropology. It relocates a person’s “center of the universe” by jostling his dearly held assumptions about the people in it.” Those who affirm this particular parable is simply a call to help our neighbor are correct but only in part. In reality, it is a commentary on social justice, what Wilson calls a rebuke “to the idea that the gospel of the kingdom has nothing to do with taking care of the poor, sick, naked, or hungry.” Taking care of those in need has long been something God has called His people to be about doing and something He chastised them for neglecting. In the life of Jesus we find one who demonstrated his love by dying on the cross. There is no greater love than that. Loving our neighbor as noted in the Parable of the Good Samaritan means we must love our friends and enemies.

For those desiring to have a more holistic understanding of the parables, this is a book I highly recommend. Wilson does a masterful job of engaging the parables as a whole as well as the specific parables he discusses in this book. His constant focus is driving home the reality that the parables are more than nice childish stories that tell a neat moral lesson. They are far more than that given they are “smart bombs, full of explosive life to those who would embrace the power behind them.” For those who are willing to embrace their powerful message, Wilson’s book is a helpful guide to that end and is well worth your time reading and including as part of your Bible study when you encounter the parables.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Apologetics, Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured

Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John

The overarching theme of 1 John is that of how the believer relates to the world in light of being a child of God. It is an epistle replete with calls to stand firm on the fundamentals of the faith in a world that increasingly rejects that message and in response to individuals even within the church that seek to alter the truth of Scripture. Adherence to sound doctrine brings life to the believer. It is this message that Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses in his compendium of sermons on 1 John titled Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.

This book is a compilation of five volumes of sermons by Lloyd-Jones rolled into a single volume. In true Lloyd-Jones style, the approach taken in this book is supremely biblical while being of the utmost in practical application for the reader. He covers all the major elements of 1 John with the heart of a pastor, honing in and expounding on the issues presented by the Apostle John that continue to remain relevant and important for believers today. Since the chapters contained in this book comprise sermons of Lloyd-Jones, they are short yet powerfully written, allowing the reader to dig deep into the text without getting overwhelmed with scholarly points of emphasis.

Some examples of the superb explication provided by Lloyd-Jones in this book can be found in his exposition of I John 1:6-10. Lloyd-Jones aptly comments “If we say that we are walking with him and yet in the meantime are walking in darkness, then we lie. It is not true, it is a false claim, we misinterpret ourselves to our fellow men and women and to the world, and it is all wrong.” In a world where so many try and claim they are of the household of faith yet continue to walk in blatant opposition to God’s commands, such as statement as that made by Lloyd-Jones is sorely needed. He further declares “unless I realize I am a sinner and must repent, and if my only hope is not in Christ and His death for me on the cross and His resurrection for my justification, I not only have no fellowship with God, but I am dwelling still in utter darkness.” The answer of course is found in the blood of Jesus, a point Lloyd-Jones brings to bear as the solution to the sin problem.

Another outstanding portion of this sermon collection is Lloyd-Jones’ comments on 1 John 3:11-15. To be a child of God demands obedience to the Father’s commands provided in Scripture. Therefore, to live this thing called the Christian life requires the believer to be like Christ in our words and deeds, essentially what is known as our faith in action. Lloyd-Jones aptly describes the example set by Christ by commenting “His life was a life full of perfect obedience; as a son He rendered perfect obedience of God’s holy will and law. And, secondly, the great characteristic which we see in Him is this quality of love.” After all, Jesus did tell us that all the commands of God can be boiled down to loving God and loving others. A fruit of the believer should be that of love towards others. We love our fellow believers according to Lloyd-Jones because “we share the same interests; we have been brought out of darkness into light, separated from the world into this new kingdom. We are sharing and are interested in the same thing, in this glorious Word, in this praise of God.” The Body of Christ marching towards the beat of the same drum in love for God and for each other is a powerful thing indeed.

One final chapter of this book that is worthy of note is Lloyd-Jones’ explanation of 1 John 4:18. In this verse, the Apostle John declares that perfect love casts out fear. Lloyd-Jones avers the Apostle John is speaking of fear in relation to the Day of Judgment noting the believer should not fear that day because we are assured of our eternal destiny. Those who do live in fear of that day are the individuals who have failed to grasp the immensity of eternity for “they just enjoy life as it comes along, with the latest excitement and craze. They never stop to say, ‘What is the meaning of my life? What is to be my ultimate destiny?’ They are not afraid of the Day of Judgment just because they have never realized there is such a day.” Having confidence in one’s eternal destiny should produce love towards your fellow believer and also towards those who are walking in darkness. We should declare to those in darkness the solution to their problem. Such confidence should produce boldness in our lives to declare the gospel. Lloyd-Jones notes the need for such boldness stating “You will find yourself loving someone who is hateful, and you will draw the correct deduction and will say, ‘It must be that Christ is in me.”

1 John is a powerful book and Lloyd-Jones is a powerful preacher who is skilled at elaborating the truths found in Scripture in a way that is biblical, scholarly, yet truly accessible to all believers. Life in Christ is a collection of sermons on 1 John that I highly recommend everyone take the time to sit down and read and more importantly take to hear and apply in their daily life. Lloyd-Jones was a truly gifted preacher and this collection captures the preacher’s heart for which he was known. This collection of sermons would be a great tool for both personal Bible study or even in a small group setting as part of a study on 1 John. It certainly is a welcome volume to my personal library to which I will return many times in the future.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Book Reviews, Featured, Theology

Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans

When we read Scripture, an important element of engaging the Word of God includes the historical context of the events recorded in its pages. This includes matters of history, geography, culture, political structures, religious beliefs, and philosophical constructs. This involves a bit more than referring to the maps in the back of your Bible. While useful for identifying locations of cities mentioned for instance in the Book of Acts, there is the added necessity to dig deeper in order to understand for instance why Paul chose to go to the Areopagus in Athens or how the influence of Greek thought on the known world called Hellenization had an impact even on Jewish perceptions of the day. Louis Feldman and Meyer Reinhold have provided a collection of primary readings in this book Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans that will assist the diligent student of Scripture.

As noted in the preface, the authors endeavor to “present representative selections from Greek and Latin literature, the Apocrypha, the New Testament, Dead Sea Scrolls, Graeco-Jewish writers (notably Philo and Josephus), Roman imperial legislation, the rabbinic corpus, inscriptions, papyri, and coins.” Furthermore, their effort at providing such a compendium of works is to “illustrate the political (with special attention to the revolts against Rome), religious (with special attention given to the various movements within Judaism and the degree of Hellenization), economic, social, and cultural life of the Jews in both Palestine and the various countries of the Diaspora for the period of approximately a thousand years from the time of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE to the sixth century BCE.” The greatest focus of this collection of readings is on how the Jewish people during this period related on all of the aforementioned areas with the Greeks and Romans that so greatly shaped the world at that time.

Being able to access and assess primary source readings for instance on who the “God-Fearers” were helps the reader understand who these individuals were and why individuals such as Cornelius practiced certain Jewish oriented religious observances. Feldman and Reinhold share a notation from Josephus about the “God-Fearers” that mentions “The masses have long since shown a keen desire to adopt out religious observances; and there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation, to which our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread, and where the fasts and the lighting of lamps and many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not observed.” This reveals that while the Jews were being influenced by the Greeks and Romans, the customs and religious practices of the Jews were also a source of influence to those same nations. Thus, having an understanding from a primary source perspective helps to better understand the “God-fearers” and why God chose to send Peter to Cornelius. Furthermore, these multifarious primary source readings and inscriptions from this period serve to affirm the biblical record and its historical veracity.

Also of interest is the section that discusses the life and times of Herod, a truly influential figure during the time of Jesus. The historical accounts provided by Feldman and Reinhold shine an interesting light into who Herod was, the influence he had on certain segments of Jewish society and why he had such influence, his relationship with the Romans, and his seeming obsession with rooting out plots against his life and authority. Interestingly, as noted by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 16.60-1 and shared by Feldman and Reinhold, “Herod’s close connections with influential circles in Rome (notably Antony, Augustus, and the general Agrippa) were highly useful to the Jews of the Diaspora. Indeed, he turned out to be a champion of those Jews, as we see in the case of the Jews of Asia Minor, who had been prevented by the non-Jewish inhabitants from observing their ancestral customs.” So while Herod was certainly a rather vile character, he was nevertheless mindful of taking care of some segments of the Jewish population, even though his reasons were likely to continue his base of power.

One final aspect of this book that is of note is the discussion of the Messianic expectation that is found not only in the biblical corpus, but also in numerous other writings of this period. It was long anticipated that an anointed one (a Messiah) would come who as prophesied long ago, would come from the house of David to assume King David’s throne. In the Pseudepigraphal writing known as Psalms of Solomon, it was noted this Messiah would come to defeat the enemies of the Jews, restoring Jerusalem in the process. This concept is also found in other writings such as 1 Enoch and the Manual of Discipline which was an important set of writings for the Essene community. Thus, being able to dissect the writings of the time period, one is better able to more fully grasp the messianic fervor that was building prior to and during the time of Christ, a fervor that expected something different to take place than what Christ had actually come to earth to accomplish.

Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans is a truly valuable compendium of primary source readings that will greatly assist the reader in having a more developed and holistic understanding of the period. It is a highly scholarly work that is nonetheless very accessible to all believers who desire to better understand the influence of the Greek and Romans and for that matter, the influence of the Jews on the same. I will certainly refer to this volume for many years to come in my personal studies of history and Scripture, and I highly recommend this as a resource tool.

This book is available for purchase from Fortress Press by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Fortress Press for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured

A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ

Union and communion with Christ are two of the least understood and among the most important doctrines in the Christian life. Many people in my experience get confused about only resting in Christ to the neglect of still actively working out their salvation with fear and trembling. How does the Christian bear fruit that glorifies God? In his helpful new book A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ Pastor Stanley D. Gale seeks to help readers understand the grace that stimulates the fruit and maturity of a sanctified life comes to God’s people is through Jesus Christ.

The book is an extended look at John 15 where Jesus teaches about the Vine and how we as the branches, must live and grow to bear the fruit of a grace-grown life. Along the way the author provides helpful examples from his own life and ministry experience that help the reader understand what he is teaching.

The author comes time and time again back to the biblical text and to the work of the gospel. In this book there is no confusion between what Christ has done and what God’s people are commanded to do. We are living in a day when confusion exists between what Christ has done and what God’s people are to do. The end result of this is that many slip into the living however they want to live. When this occurs we do what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned about namely succumb to cheap grace instead of costly grace. We have been won to Christ at the price at the cost of the Son of God and Son of Man Jesus Christ. We are called to put our sin to death because of the finished work of Christ. We abide in Him who has already won the victory and yet will triumph at the final Day over Satan and his host. In other words, A Vine-Ripened Life will help you understand the already/not yet of our salvation.

A Vine-Ripened Life is a very helpful treatment on an important topic. Christians need to understand how to abide and work out their salvation with fear and trembling. We rest and we work but neither for our salvation but because we’ve been saved through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

A Vine-Ripened Life is an excellent book that will help readers understand our union and communion with Christ. I recommend this book for every Christian but in particular new Christians. Read this book slowly. Digest what the author has written. You may just find like I did that what he says will help you to not only grow in Christ but to rest in and enjoy Him all the more.

Title: A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ

Author: Stanley D. Gale

Publisher: Reformation Hertige (2014)

I received this book for free from Reformation Hertige for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Book Reviews, Featured, Theology

Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God

Deuteronomy is one of those books that many find themselves bogged down in as they work their way through their yearly Bible reading plan. All of the laws, regulations, and endless chapters of do’s and don’ts seem very far removed from 21st century Christianity. Furthermore, finding a commentary that you can connect to and for that matter, one that demonstrates with great clarity the underlying message of the book of Deuteronomy is itself a challenge. Ajith Fernando’s effort on Deuteronomy aptly subtitled Loving Obedience to a Loving God which is part of the excellent Preaching the Word commentary series, is theologically deep while at the same time providing the reader with the necessary connections to the fundamental message God is declaring in Deuteronomy to believers throughout history.

A book of the Bible such as Deuteronomy can be confusing and admittedly boring to read unless one grasps what God is saying. Ajith Fernando rightly notes at the outset of this commentary that Deuteronomy emphasizes “The importance of constantly being aware of the holiness of God and how it influences a faithful life. In fact, in the Old Testament the life of faith is often described as walking in the fear of the Lord, an emphasis that may be needed today when people tend to be careless about sticking to Christian principles in every sphere of life.” Such a statement helps the reader better understand that Deuteronomy is far more than a collection of antiquated rules. It is a book about what obedience and holiness looks like and how we are to respond to God’s grace extended towards us.

Fernando first establishes some needed background information on Deuteronomy, noting matters of authorship, historical, and geographical importance noting the reality that “The fact that Deuteronomy was written to a specific context adds a freshness and relevance to it.” I appreciated the focus Fernando gave to helping preachers, who are after all the target audience for this commentary, understand and relate to the manner by which Moses shared God’s commands and word with the people of Israel. It is important to realize Moses understood the need to “give the people the word of God that will mediate to the people the health and stability they need in order to face their challenges successfully.” After establishing these vital foundational matters for engaging Deuteronomy, Fernando then begins his exegesis of the text. Since this is a rather lengthy commentary that is replete with salient insight, I will focus the remainder of this review on a couple of notable highlights.

In his analysis of Deuteronomy 1:19-33, Fernando aptly discusses the issue of fear versus faith. The people of Israel are camped at Horeb and have been given the command by God to depart in order to finally enter the Promised Land. One can only imagine the tense feelings that permeated the hearts and minds of the people during this time of uncertainty. Recognizing that element of fear, Moses reminded the people the Promised Land is the place “which the Lord our God is giving us”, demonstrating in that statement the certainty of the outcome. The first step towards entering the land of promise was faith in God and His promises. Fernando rightly notes “This passage shows us that fear is a reality that we should combat with our belief in the sovereignty of God. And to encourage us to believe, we have a whole history of God’s glorious dealings with his people. Fear is a reality, but it does not need to overcome us and lead to defeat. We can overcome it with our faith in God’s sovereignty.” Such a concept is something pastors can and should include in their sermons and Fernando does an excellent job of relating how the situation facing the people of Israel and their penchant for fear is nothing new. Such fear can only be defeated by faith in our sovereign God.

Another excellent portion of this commentary is Fernando’s discussion of Deuteronomy 5:18, namely the command “And you shall not commit adultery.” In an age where sexual promiscuity truly permeates all of secular society and unfortunately even within the church, it is as important as ever to declare from the pulpit God’s commands for righteousness when it comes to matters of sex and purity. Fernando correctly states “The seriousness of adultery lay in the fact that the family was an absolutely vital aspect of the covenant relationship of God with the community of Israel.” He further avers “The Bible takes the principle of commitment that lies behind God’s covenant relationship with humans and the covenant relationship between a man and his wife very seriously.” A violation of that covenant is a violation of God’s commands which of course is outright sin. Throughout Scripture, God continually demonstrates His abhorrence of adultery. Whether it was in the life of King David or Paul’s command to the Corinthian Church to flee sexual immorality, the covenant of marriage is something God takes very seriously meaning it is something His people should take with the utmost seriousness as well. There is no wiggle room with adultery. In order to combat the temptation of sexual sin, Fernando rightly reminds the reader to find an accountability partner and to “always remain on guard against the enemy. It is dangerous for anyone to think that he is above temptation in this area.”

A final aspect of this commentary I enjoyed was Fernando’s discussion of the pilgrimage festivals outlined in Deuteronomy 16:1-17. I have long found the Feasts of the Lord to be a fascinating study of God’s faithfulness to His people. They are far more than simply dates on the Jewish calendar or something completely unimportant for believers today to read and understand. As Fernando rightly states, “They were occasions of great joy and of affirming truths that bonded the community together.” Furthermore, these feasts carry great importance in God’s salvation history calendar as the spring feasts have been fulfilled by Christ and the fall feasts in large part have yet to find their complete fulfillment. In fact, when we partake of communion for example, we are remembering Jesus as the Passover Lamb. The Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled with the giving of the Holy Spirit of God in Acts 2. The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles reminds us of God dwelling with His people. Ultimately, these feasts speak of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and the need for community. They remind us of God moving throughout history on behalf of His people and Fernando does a great job of explaining that very truth.

I highly recommend this commentary for all believers but especially for pastors. The outstanding exegesis, valuable application, and recommendations contained throughout on how pastors can share the underlying message found in Deuteronomy of loving obedience to a loving God is what makes this volume well worth the read. It will become a valuable tool for developing sermons not just on Deuteronomy itself, but also in regards to the many topics Deuteronomy touches on that are repeated throughout Scripture.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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