Why Pro-Life?

Title: Why Pro-Life?
Author: Randy Alcorn
Pages: 136
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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Every issue has its ‘one-liners’ that cause your heart to stop, mind to race, and basically make you feel inadequate and unintelligent. Until three seconds go past and you suddenly remember the answer that you memorized several years ago. From ‘we’re under grace, not law’ to ‘but God would never make anybody love Him!’ these cliché phrases can be super hard to answer, because they’re packed with misconceptions – and the teeniest bit of truth.

The abortion issue is no exception to this rule – ‘I can do whatever I want with my body’, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if every child was a wanted child?’ ‘They’re not really humans’, and gobs of other such phrases are used as firecrackers against the pro-life position; they spark and sputter like the real thing, but they haven’t got the explosion to back it up.

In Why Pro-Life? Randy Alcorn does a superb job setting forth the pro-life position and answering these pro-abortion diatribes. Why Pro-Life? is divided into five sections – The Basics, The Child, The Woman, Other Important Issues, and Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

The Basics. Abortion is America’s most frequently performed surgery on women.” [pg. 15] The practice of abortion is anything but new; records show abortions being practiced by women in the earliest Egyptian and Chinese civilization. But it is only since the 20th century that abortion has become a culturally acceptable, widespread, and practiced by Christians (43% of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27 percent identify themselves as Catholic [pg. 17]). It is time for Christians to return to Biblical thinking on this issue and to fight against the murder of babies now legally practiced in America. But often abortionists argue that abortion isn’t murder because the ‘fetus’ isn’t a real baby.

So, the first question is this – Is the fetus a human?

The Child.

The irony is that ‘fetus’ is simply the Latin word for ‘child’ or ‘offspring’. So, although the word helps to remove the emotional aspect from the discussion, it means the exact same thing – baby.

Mr. Alcorn begins this section by citing and quoting several of the highest medical authorities who asserted that life does indeed begin at conception. He even quotes the owner of Oregon’s largest abortion clinic as saying, “Of course human life begins at conception”. So, if life has begun, what makes it morally right to take that life? Its lack of development? If that were the case, then we would be justified in killing 10 year olds because they are ‘less developed’ – not as strong mentally or physically – as 30 year olds. As Mr. Alcorn says,

“At conception the unborn doesn’t appear human to us who are used to judging humanity by appearance. Nevertheless, in the objective scientific sense he is every bit as human as any older child or adult. He looks like a human being ought to at his stage of development.” [pg. 28]

If a person is less of a person because he lacks certain organs or appendages, then what do we say about tetraplegics whose limbs cannot function or soldiers whose legs have been amputated? Does anybody really believe that a person who’s 4’9” is less human than someone who is 6’6” simply because there’s less of him? Does anyone think that if you’ve had your tonsils removed or heart replaced that you’re ‘not really human’? The amount of matter or development present does not define a human being.

Another reason that is often pointed to is the baby’s entire dependency upon its mother, its inability to survive without its mother. But if this is what defines human life, then postnatal babies are no more human than prenatal ‘fetuses’; they are still entirely dependent upon others to take care of them and would die if neglected. Also, any person with a debilitating disease – paralysis, Alzheimer’s, etc. – would be considered ‘not really human’.

Another argument is that the fetus is a part of the woman’s body, so she should be able to do whatever she wants with it. But just because one object is contained by another doesn’t mean that they are the same. A car is parked in a garage, but no one claims that the car IS the garage. Babies aren’t just a part of their mother – they have their own genetic structure, and often have a different blood type. Think of how absurd it is to claim that the baby is just a part of the mother; that would mean that the mother has two brains, two hearts, four legs, and so on. And that when expecting a male child she is both male and female!

The Woman.

Abortionists have declared that it is only when women have the right to kill their babies that they can “participate fully in the social and political life of society” [Kate Michelman, quoted in The New York Times] But this position is really an insult to women because it claims that only when a woman fights her natural biological processes (that of pregnancy) is she a full citizen. Is encouraging women to kill their children really the best way to train them for societal interaction? If a baby can be killed because it is unwanted, how does this train women to think about co-workers, waiters, or any other person who gets in the way?

Also in this line of thought is that women should have ‘the right to choose’.  Those who are pro-life are called ‘anti-choice’ because they believe that women should not legally allowed to abort their children. But pro-life supporters are not anti-choice. They believe that women should be able to choose what they eat, what they wear, what movies they watch, who they marry, etc. We just don’t believe that they should have the right to commit murder any more than a man has the right to commit murder. See, it’s really quite silly to defend abortion on the ground that women should make choices. Just because a choice can be made (to rape, burglarize, etc.) does not make it a moral or lawful choice.

Abortion was finally legalized because people felt that it was cruel to make a rape victim bear the child of her assaulter. But in reality, abortion accomplishes the same thing that rape does – a stronger person forcing its will upon a weaker person and devastating (or destroying) its life. Far from remedying the situation, it compounds it; the child is forced to suffer for the sins of its father. Two wrongs do not make a right. Murdering an innocent does not punish the evil-doer.

And even the idea that abortions are most used in cases of rape is incorrect. Statistics show that only one percent of all abortions are due to rape or incest. The vast, overwhelming majority result from voluntary decisions made by consenting adults.

Other Important Issues.

What abortion has done is dealt a sickening blow to our perspective of children as a blessing. Pro-abortionists have polemicized that abortion will bring forth a better world for children because ‘every child is a wanted child’. Therefore each of these ‘wanted’ children will be treated with more love and kindness because it was specifically chosen to live. But the opposite is true. Abortion has taught our culture to hate children because it has removed the specialty of each life. Instead of viewing babies as precious gifts, we view them as optional inconveniences. This translates beyond the womb; now children are treated less as humans, and more as toys, pets, or pests – things that are petted and kicked alternately and sometimes downright abused.

We have been taught that people’s futures should be evaluated by their ‘quality of life’; that if their life will be hard or be tainted by mental or physical underdevelopment, then they should not be forced to live it. But who are we to judge whether another’s life is worth living? And why not give them the chance to decide for themselves? Once we allow the worth of a human being to be subject to the judgment of another human being, we’ve lost any objective standard. My life may be less ‘enjoyable’ or ‘valuable’ than the man down the streets, but it is at least my [God’s really, I know] life. A mother deciding that her baby’s life is not worth living is one step away from doctors and politicians deciding which of their citizens’ lives are worth living. ‘Quality of life’ can be no consideration; the question is, is it a human life? If so, then it is for God to kill or let live.

Spiritual Perspectives and Opportunities.

Abortion is a terrible sin – it is the murder of another human being who is crafted after the image of God. But, like other sins, it does not place the sinner irrevocably outside of Christ’s redemption. Christ can save the baby-murderer as assuredly as he can save the thief or adult-murderer – but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue in the sin. Repentance must be made.

Many of the women who get abortions aren’t hardened criminals who are deliberately shaking their fist in God’s face. In fact many of them are misled, misinformed or desperate; they should be treated firmly, but with tenderness and love. They should be shown the great anger and love of God through our interaction with them.

One of the ways that we can best show God’s love is by adopting the children who have not been aborted. Many women have reported that if they had known how to put their child up for adoption, they would’ve done so eagerly. We must do our best to make this option available to them.

Some Christians have argued that it is wrong for us to focus on the abortion issue, that instead we should preach only Christ and ‘win people to Him’. But this view mistakes the nature of the Great Commission. By preaching Christ, we do not merely preach His name; we preach what His name represents, what it stands for, how He defined it. This means we preach orthodoxy and orthopraxy – we preach what men must believe and how that belief should affect his actions. We preach what God requires of man, part of which is to

Rescue those being led away to death.” [Proverbs 24:11]

And

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” [Psalms 82:3]

It is precisely because we believe in the Great Commission that we must take seriously the sin of abortion.

Conclusion. Why Pro-Life? is a slim book, but it’s worth its weight in gold for those seeking to prep themselves on the abortion controversy. While far from exhaustive, it is a thoroughly helpful and practical read. Purchase your own copy here.

Reflections of God’s Glory

Title: Reflections of God’s Glory
Author: Corrie ten Boom
Pages: 116
Star Rating: ★★

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Reflections of God’s Glory, subtitled ‘Newly Discovered Meditations by the Author of The Hiding Place’ is a collection of transcripts from several radio broadcasts that Corrie ten Boom conducted with Trans-World Radio.

This is the sixth book that I have read by Corrie ten Boom. The more I read her writings the more I admire her singular courage and commitment to acting as she believes God wants her to, and the more I find that I differ with her theology. But before I mention that, let me explain more about the book and what I liked about it.

There are several different kinds of Christian non-fiction. There is the kind of book that instructs in doctrine, and then there is the kind that instructs in orthopraxy. The best of the best will have a bit of each. And then there’s the devotional style.

Now, I am not a huge fan of devotionals. These are generally filled with ‘astounding truths’ upon which the reader is supposed to meditate and be awed. Their purpose is to strengthen the reader and give him a heightened sense of awareness concerning God. Understand me – I am not against devotionals. I’m sure they have their place. But I prefer books that have more substance to them. Corrie ten Boom, when she is not writing autobiography, writes devotionals. Again, they have their place, but I don’t prefer them.

One thing that really impresses me about Corrie ten Boom is how consistently she showed love to her enemies.

“You never experience God’s love more marvelously than at the moment He gives you love for your enemies.” [pg. 28]

Here is another wise statement from Corrie – “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s grief; it takes away today’s strength.” [pg. 37]

I really liked this analogy Corrie gave for dabbling in the occult.

A while ago in Germany, before the wall had been built, half of the city was forbidden to West Berliners. Part of the border passed through a forest. If a West Berliner was caught playing in the forest on East German territory, he would be arrested. It would not help if he said, “I was only playing or I did it for a joke.” If you are on enemy territory, then you are in the enemy’s power. The same applies when you jokingly commit occult sins. [pg. 96]

Other than not being a devotional sort of gal, I also disagree with Miss ten Boom on several points of theology. These are just a few of the ones which were mentioned in this book.

  1. Satanic domination.
  2. Free Will.
  3. Dispensationalism.
  4. Universal Atonement
  5. Altar Calls.

Conclusion. More worthwhile material can be found, even amongst Corrie ten Boom’s other writings. I would encourage you to read The Hiding Place to learn more about Miss ten Boom’s great courage and the important role that she played in World War II.

Women of the New Testament

Title: Women of the New Testament
Author: Abraham Kuyper
Pages: 111
Star Rating: ★★★★

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A few months ago, I was standing in a thrift shop perusing their book section. As I scanned through the religious section (mostly Rick Warren and Billy Graham – esque stuff), I saw the name Kuyper printed onto the binding of a book. Surely that’s a different Kuyper, I thought, pulling it off of the shelf, but it’s still worth checking. But it wasn’t a different Kuyper. It was the Kuyper. I stood and stared at the book, checking the back cover and the inside leaf to make sure I wasn’t experiencing a visual illusion. I’m sure I looked amazingly idiotic to anyone who was watching me.

But here Kuyper was in flesh and blood paper and ink! I’d heard much about him and his application of Biblical principles to the government of the Netherlands, but I’d never expected to find one of his works in a cheap thrift store! I lit into this book with fervor.

With fervor… and fear. It has been my experience to find studies on the women of the Bible to be loathsome in their misrepresentation, elaboration, and application. Often these studies preach a whiny psycho-babble of self-justification, affirmation, and empowerment. They promote the idea of spiritual supremacy and leadership for women rather than encouraging the self-effacing service of Jesus’ original followers.

But all of my fears were in vain. Mr. Kuyper presented sound, humble, realistic sketches of twenty-nine different women who each played roles in Christ’s ministry (or those of his apostles’). Rather than focusing in on the thought life of these women, he emphasized their love of and dedication to the Lord, and explained the significance of their actions in light of historical context.

Also, Mr. Kuyper did not content himself with merely recounting their lives; he also addressed any controversy that surrounded his subjects. He rejected the Roman Catholic view of Mary, pondered the identity of Mary Magdalene, and chastised those who view Martha, sister of Lazarus, with disfavor.

At the end of each chapter is a series of questions for group discussion. Although I read Women of the New Testament on my own, and thus had no one to discuss it with, I still found these questions to be helpful; they reinforced what I had learned in each chapter.

Conclusion. A good study for those seeking to gain a clearer understanding of the Women of the New Testament.

The Prayers of Susanna Wesley

Title: The Prayers of Susanna Wesley
Author: Susanna Wesley
Editor: W. L. Doughty
Pages: 59
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I have heard many things about Susanna Wesley, mother of the famous hymn writers, John and Charles Wesley. Some of these things have been complimentary, others critical. In this review I will not be offering an opinion of Susanna Wesley herself, only reviewing The Prayers of Susanna Wesley.

As I mentioned in my review of David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony, I find it encouraging to peer into the prayer lives of those Christians who have journeyed through the world in past centuries. While Susanna expressed none of the desperation of soul which weighed so heavily on David Brainerd, she nevertheless prayed for the same virtues and for help fighting the same temptations that Christians face today. Here are a few of my favorite selections from her prayers.

“Make plain to me that no circumstance nor time of life can occur but I may find something either spoken by our Lord Himself or by His Spirit in the prophets or apostles that will direct my conduct, if I am but faithful to Thee. Amen.” [pg. 39]

“May the same almighty power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead raise my soul from the death of sin to a life of holiness.” [pg. 45]

“May I ever remember that I am in the presence of the great and holy God, and that every sin is a contradiction and offense to some divine attribute, and that lying is opposite and offensive to Thy truth. Amen.” [pg. 52]

“Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.” [pg. 19]

“Forbid that I should entertain too high a conceit of myself, especially when moving amongst people that are licentious in their lives and observe no rule in their actions, lest I should proclaim a superior holiness, so turning Thy grace into wantonness and forgetting that it is Thou who hast made me thus to differ. To whom be glory! Amen. “ [pg. 21-22]

Discussion.

In the foreword, W. L. Doughty states that “The prayers shed light on Susanna Wesley’s qualities of mind and heart. They exhibit her intense interest in the Universe of Nature and her deep reverence for the majesty and wisdom of the Creator. Natural Religion was inevitable to one with her mental outlook and discipline, but it was always complementary and subordinate to her sincere acceptance of the truths of the Christian Revelation.” [pgs. vii-viii]

Susanna did mention ‘natural religion’ in one of her prayers. I do not know if she meant by this what Mr. Doughty claims she meant, but it is there. Also, Mr. Doughty claims that Susanna tempered her Puritan piety with “strong intellectualist and voluntaristic mysticism.” [pg. xi] Apparently, what he has presented to us as ‘prayers’ were originally written in the form of ‘meditations’. I found that Susanna’s prayers were directed much to the pursuit of practical holiness rather than emotional heat, but, knowing comparatively nothing about her, cannot put forth an alternative view.

In one of her prayers, Susanna holds forth a universal view of atonement (though not of salvation).

Conclusion. If tempered with some small amount of discernment, I believe that The Prayers of Susanna Wesley can be used to encourage and challenge Christians in their prayer life.

A Token For Children

Title: A Token for Children
Author: J. Janeway & Cotton Mather
Pages: 146
Reading Level: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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When I found A Token for Children at a Goodwill, I had a hard time convincing myself that it was written by THE Cotton Mather. I mean, how often do you find books by Puritans at your Goodwill? This must be written by an imposter! It was only after I stopped to reflect that I came to the conclusion that probably nobody else in the history of the world was named ‘Cotton’, so I purchased it. Once I got it home, I noticed that it was printed by Soli Deo Gloria.

#howdidimissthat

A Token for Children is a collection of short biographical sketches intended to edify, challenge, and exhort young readers. The subjects, rather than being great statesmen, soldiers, or authors, are those young children who, at an early age, dedicated themselves to seeking God and His righteousness. Many of these children were converted at as early an age as three and each of them died before the narration had ended.

Although Cotton Mather and James Janeway are show as co-authors of A Token for Children, this not a book which they sat down and wrote together. Rather, A Token for Children consists of three parts. The first part is the original book which James Janeway published. The second, an extra set of stories which he promised to add if his first volume met with encouragement (which, apparently, it did). The third part is collection of similar stories written by Cotton Mather, who, inspired by Janeway’s theme, attached his set of stories to Janeway’s in the first New England edition.

Now, do not be confused by my calling them ‘stories’ – both Mather and Janeway claim that every account contains the absolute truth written with no exaggeration whatsoever. I was grateful for the adamancy of their claims, for, frankly, if they had been less assertive on this count, I would have concluded that the narratives had been embellished to fit their purposes. Let me explain.

The children in these sketches are godly – very godly. Godly almost to the point of being unbelievable. Here are a few paragraphs which I offer as examples of what I mean. This of a three to four year old.

A certain little child, when he could not speak plainly, would be crying after God, and was greatly desirous to be taught good things.

He could not endure to be put to bed without family prayer, but would put his parents upon duty and would with much devotion kneel down and with great patience and delight continue till duty was at an end without the least expression of being weary. And he seemed never so well-pleased as when he was engaged in prayer.

As he grew up, he was more and more affected with the things of another world – so that, if we had not received our information from one who is of undoubted fidelity, it would seem incredible.

He quickly learned to read the Scriptures and would with great reverence, tenderness, and groans, read till tears and sobs were ready to hinder him.

When he was at secret prayer, he would weep bitterly.

He was inclined, oftentimes to complain of the naughtiness of his heart, and seemed to be much grieved for the corruption of his nature, and for actual sin.

He had a vast understanding in the things of God, even to a wonder for one of his age.

He was much troubled for the wandering of his thoughts in duty, and that he could not keep his heart always fixed upon God and the work he was about, nor his affections constantly raised.

He kept a watch over his heart, and observed the workings of his soul. He would complain that they were so vain and foolish and so little busied about spiritual things.

As he grew up, he grew daily in knowledge and experience. His carriage was so heavenly, and his discourse so excellend and experimental, that it made those who heard it astonished. [pg. 10-11]

You get the idea. Every single child is described in similar language and his particular virtues are extolled. After reading several dozen pages worth of this material I began to ask myself – What makes this seem so unbelievable, so utterly unreal? I came up with two reasons.

1)      The Writing Style. Anyone who has read the works of Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson knows that the language of past centuries was often more flowery, sensational, overdrawn… What’s the word I want? Melodramatic.  When I stripped the excessive language away from the little girl who

“was exceedingly dutiful to her parents, very loath to grieve them in the least. If she had at any time (which was very rare) offended them, she would weep bitterly.” [pg. 3]

I found a young child who understood God’s commandment of obedience and repented when she had transgressed it. Well, I know a youngster who often feels this way! When I focused in on the little girl who

“was a child of great tenderness and compassion to all, full of kindness and pity. Whom she could not help, she would be ready to weep over.” [pg. 16]

I discovered a child who has a tender heart and derives joy from blessing people. I know a child like that, too! And yet, the book still felt unauthentic. Why?

2)      The Unalloyed Righteousness. Each of these children was shown amidst a multitude of virtues, not the least of which was their quickness to denounce their own sins. But what were these sins? These are never detailed. The typical ‘perverseness of heart’ is denounced, but the fact that this ‘perversity’ (of which we have no practical knowledge or evidence) is denounced is held up as itself a virtue! Now, I know many children and there are some between the ages of two and eleven with whom I am able to hold serious doctrinal conversations. These children (especially the two year old) often shock me by the depths of their observations and their obvious grasp on the topic being discussed. But these kids all have weakness – real weakness which I have seen. Sure, they fight them, but sometimes they’re tired. Sometimes they let down their guard. Sometimes that little sin sneaks out and displays itself. Not so with Janeway’s children – they are all so sanctified that they’re practically glorified. Which, as a side note….

Every single one of the children given as examples by Mr. Janeway and Mr. Mather died before completing their twentieth year. Each  of them gave great glory to God and professed themselves to have great assurance in Christ, but it was still a bit depressing. Also, it made one wonder – does being so righteous so young make a person more susceptible to death?

All of that to say that I am of a very mixed opinion in regard to this book. I absolutely approve of the goal of the book – to set before children characters worthy of emulation, to exhort children in godliness, and to prove that children have deep spiritual needs long before we usually recognize them. But while I admired the examples of these children, I found myself repelled by the high-toned rapturous language which was used to describe them.

Conclusion. I’ve offered many different opinions in the above review, but I cannot set forth a unified whole from among them. I found the language of A Token for Children difficult to stomach, but others may be able to tolerate it and thus benefit from the sterling examples set forth by the children of this book.

Authority

Title: Authority
Author: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Pages: 94
Star Rating: ★★★★

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One of the greatest questions that people face in life is the question of authority. Where does authority come from? Who has true authority? What should I look to as my ultimate authority? By what authority do I judge myself and the world around me? Is there even such a thing as authority at all?

In Authority, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers these questions by propounding the authority of the following – Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.

Christ, he argues, is presented in the NT not only as a sacrifice, a humble teacher, and a loving prophet, but also as the reigning King who holds supreme authority over all. Thus, when we preach Christ, we should not present Him as a janitor who can clean up your life if you let Him, but as a monarch who demands submission from all. We should not be purposely offensive or overbearing as we proclaim Christ, but we should remember that Christ Himself is offensive to those who are unbelieving. We should not be embarrassed or try to soft-pedal His achievement; Christ does not appreciate the diminution of His glory.

To affirm the authority of Christ, we must first affirm the authority of the Scriptures. This does not mean to accept bits and pieces or the general ‘message’ of the Bible, but to believe that every word in it is inspired and categorically true. This also means that we must be willing to apply it to ourselves and to the world. It must be the grid through which we view reality.

To be honest, I found Dr. Martyn’s assertion of the authority of the Holy Spirit to be less coherent and satisfactory than the rest of the book. He made excellent points, but the direction of his arguments was less clear. He did speak directly against the notion that there is any friction between the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, and he was scathing in his denunciation of contrived revivalism. Still, either he was lacking in eloquence, or I in intelligence, because I could not discover any driving point in this chapter.  : |

Conclusion. Other than the aforementioned lack of clarity (and a few jabs that Dr. Martyn leveled at apologetics), I found Authority to be a challenging work which encouraged me to view all of life through the doctrine of Christ’s Kingship.  I hope to read more of Dr. Martyn’s works in the future.

David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony

Title: David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony
Author: Daivd Brainerd
Editor: Walter Searle
Pages: 117
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Prior to picking up David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony, I knew that David Brainerd had written a journal. I’d even consigned it to my enormous ‘to-read’ list. And then I forgot about it. When I saw this book for $ .39 at a Goodwill, I purchased it thinking, David Brainerd was the person who evangelized Indians in the 1730s, right? Right.

David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony contains selections from his Journal and Diary. As such, it did not present the full story of Brainerd’s relationship with God. But it presented enough of it for me to be awed.

Walter Searle, the editor, specifically chose material from Brainerd’s Journal which he felt would best encourage Christians in their prayer life. So, most of the entries spoke of prayer, rather than Brainerd’s life. But by reading his prayers, Brainerd’s heart and life are laid bare. His many cries for the souls of the heathen and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom proved how genuinely he desired these things. Here is a typical entry.

Lord’s Day, April 18
I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer; had the assistance of God’s Spirit, and faith in exercise; and was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and to intercede for dear, absent friends. At noon, God enabled me to wrestle with Him, and to feel, as I trust, the power of divine love, in prayer. At night I saw myself infinitely indebted to God, and had a view of my failure to duty. [pg. 19]

Strangely enough, I found myself encouraged not only when Brainerd wrote of his success in prayer, but also when he wrote of his discouragement and doubts. Why did I find consolation in this? Because it showed me that I am not alone in doubting my motives before God, in struggling constantly with my hypocrisy, and in despairing over the hardness of my heart. When I say that I was encouraged, I do not mean that I was reaffirmed in my weakness. I mean that it reminded me that these feelings do not mean that I am not in fellowship with God. What they mean is that I am engaged in the great battle. It is a battle that has been fought by many before me, and knowing this encouraged me to come before God with more boldness, decrying my own sinfulness, and praying for God’s righteousness to fill the earth, beginning with me.

More than anything, David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony encouraged me towards two things. One, to pray more frequently and with more fervency. Two, to find a copy of David Brainerd’s complete journal.

Conclusion. A sober, edifying read, David Brainerd’s Personal Testimony will encourage Christians to be more genuine in their relationship to God and, especially, to pray more fervently.

Christian Beliefs

Title: Christian Beliefs
Author: Wayne A. Grudem
Pages: 159
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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As I was perusing the shelves of a not-so-local Goodwill last October, I came across this book on one of the shelves. It only cost $ .39 and I already knew of Wayne Grudem in association with his hefty Systematic Theology, so I bought it.  I’m very glad that I did. Christian Beliefs presents ‘twenty basics every Christian should know’.

Christian Beliefs.

The twenty beliefs. These are my own paraphrases and only borrow concepts from Mr. Grudem.

# 1.  What is the Bible? The Bible is the holy, inspired, and inerrant Word of God revealed to Moses, the prophets, and the apostles and recorded for our use. As God’s Word, we believe it to be absolute in its authority – it has the last word on any issue that it speaks to. We also believe in its clarity – God has spoken that we may better know Him, and thus, while not an exhaustive revelation of God’s character, is an entirely truthful and understandable one. We believe in the necessity of Scripture – that without it, it would be impossible to know God in a saving relationship or to know what to believe about reality. And last, we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture – that the Scriptures are fully able to equip us to every good work and are, of themselves, the only rule of life.

# 2.  What Is God Like? The Westminster standards have so famously posited that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, and truth.” This statement reminds us first that God exists. He is a reality – nay, He is reality. As for what He is like, we turn to His Word and see that he is a loving, just, all-powerful, holy, merciful, jealous, truthful, vengeance-wreaking, unchanging, eternal, perfect, wise Spirit. Here we do not see a complete picture of God’s character, but we do see a true one. It is of the utmost importance that we take each of these characteristics which God has revealed to us and minimize none of them in our understanding of Him. While some of these may seem contradictory, they are, in fact, the real character of God.

#3. What Is the Trinity? Although the word ‘trinity’ is never used in the Scriptures, the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught. The Trinity is what is also known as the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all three one God. While each of these three have distinct identities and functions, they are, as taught by Scripture, equally one.

# 4. What Is Creation? Creation is all that God has called into existence with His Almighty word. It is the Earth, the heavens, and all that is in them. The purpose of Creation is to give glory to God for His handiwork. While God reigns over His Creation and is present in it, He is also distinct from it. The wonders of Creation should always be used as a reason to glorify God the more, not to worship the Creation itself, for it is God alone who is deserving of worship.

# 5. What Is Prayer? Prayer is communication with God. Through prayer we are able to express our needs to God and to deepen our relationship with Him. And while we believe in the effectiveness of prayer – God always fulfills our needs exactly as he sees fit and thus answers them – we do not believe that prayer ‘makes’ God do anything. More often, prayer is the tool that God uses to change our hearts’ desires rather than something we use to fulfill our own wishes.

# 6. What Are Angels, Satan, and Demons? Angels, Satan, and Demons are all spiritual beings who have been created a little higher than man by God. Angels are the servants of God who often aid in executing his decrees and who are without sin. Demons are angels who have sinned and who are eternally damned. Satan is the leader of these demons and he, along with the demons, seeks to tempt and deceive those on Earth. However, he has no power to tempt us except when God grants it to him.

# 7. What Is Man? Man is the sole creature which, created in the image of God, is able to be saved by Christ’s atonement. He, like the rest of Creation, was created to bring glory to His Creator and to rule over the rest of the Creation as God’s ambassadors.

# 8. What Is Sin? Sin is that which transgresses the Holy character of God. God’s character has been revealed to us in His Word, and thus, sin is whatever opposes the principles of Scripture in word, act, or attitude. Because sin is the transgression of God’s holiness, God burns with wrath towards it. We are all sinners, and therefore , God’s wrath also burns against us.

# 9. Who Is Christ? Christ is our Redeemer – he is the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is fully divine and fully human. He was begotten, not created, and was sent from heaven to live a sinless life and to die as an atonement for the sins of His people. He has risen from the dead and sits now at the right hand of the Father.

# 10. What Is the Atonement? It is impossible that we, in our original sinful state, would be able to stand clear of blame before God. It is necessary that our sins be atoned for with our own eternal death. But God in His loving kindness, rather than suffering us to all die, sent His Son to live a perfect and sinless life which was deserving of no punishment. He then took upon himself the sins of His people and died that the penalty would be removed from His people.

# 11. What Is the Resurrection? We are told in Scripture that death is the last enemy who will be defeated. Christ’s Resurrection – his rising from the dead to live eternally as King – is proof of this. Christ’s Resurrection gives us hope that one day we too will be resurrected with perfect, sinless bodies, to live forever.

# 12. What Is Election? Election is God’s choosing, before the foundation of the world, who would be saved by the atoning work of His Son, Christ. The choosing was done entirely by God’s free will and was not conditional on any foreseeable choices that the elect would make. The doctrine of Election, because it ensures that some will certainly be saved, should encourage Christians to even greater works of prayer and evangelism.

# 13. What Does It Mean to Become a Christian? It means to be washed and cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ. It means to believe that Jesus Christ has indeed saved you from your sins and His wrath. It means to turn from and repudiate your sins, repenting of them, and, through God’s power, resisting temptation to sin. It means to be wholly identified by Christ.

# 14. What Are Justification and Adoption? When a person has been regenerated (Christ’s blood has been applied to his life) he is then declared righteous by God for the sake of Christ’s blood. Because Christ, through His death, has born the responsibility of His people’s sins, those people can no longer be viewed as ‘guilty’ or worthy of punishment before God. This is Justification. By justifying us, God makes us His own children. We are now co-heirs with Christ and may call God our Father. This is Adoption.

# 15. What Are Sanctification and Perseverance? Sanctification is the process in which God removes sin from our lives, for while formally declared righteous, Christians will continue to struggle and sin in this life. God sanctifies us by using every circumstance as a way to grow us spiritually, either by encouraging us, or by sending us to Him for His help. As we are sanctified, we become more Christ-like in our conduct and motives. Perseverance is the doctrine that if a man has been formally regenerated and justified by Christ’s blood, then he will never become ‘un’-regenerated or ‘un’-justified; he will persevere and be preserved by God until he dies.

# 16. What Is Death? Death is the result of sin. It is the completion of a person’s life on earth and the beginning of his eternal life. Christians, though redeemed from sin, still undergo death. But they have the hope of a resurrection in which they shall rise incorruptible, for death is the last enemy that will be defeated.

# 17. What Is the Church? The church of God is Christ’s people. There are two things that we refer to as the church, the first being the elect bride of Christ. The other is the visible representation of those whom God has elected – church congregations. These two largely overlap – those who are saved of Christ are typically to be found in churches. Because the church is the bride of Christ, it should be lovingly treated and prayed for by those of us who comprise it.

# 18. What Will Happen When Christ Returns? Mr. Grudem here presents the three main views that theologians take on eschatology. I thought that he was very fair in his synopses, but I do not hold to the same view of eschatology that he holds to. I do not want to present my view for fear of misrepresenting Christian Beliefs, but I certainly don’t want to put forward a view I disagree with… Oh dear.

# 19. What Is the Final Judgment? The final judgment is the last day, on which Christ judges the living and the dead. On this day, He will send each to his just rewards – those who have been bought with His blood to eternal joy, and those who are unregenerate to eternal torment.

# 20. What Is Heaven? Heaven is where God’s blessing and glory is most fully evident. There, no sorrow or pain will be experienced for all is joy and peace there. There, man’s fellowship with God will be finally and fully restored. There we will worship God as He ought to be worshipped.

Discussion.

Christian Beliefs is, in essence, a condensation of a condensation of Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology at an impressive 1,290 pages is much too large for many people to feel comfortable reading. So, Mr. Grudem and his son, Elliot condensed it into a 528 page book called Bible Doctrine. That in turn was shorted into the 159 page Christian Beliefs which contains the ‘twenty basics every Christian should know’.

Christian Beliefs because of its nature, reads more like a creed or confession with brief explanation than it does a systematic theology. It is very terse – every word has a purpose. While it is not exhaustive in its presentation, it is comprehensive and provides a solid Scriptural case for each belief.

I was greatly encouraged by Christian Beliefs. It was more of a refresher than an introduction for me, but it was helpful for me to have my Christian beliefs presented in such an orderly fashion. Of course, there were some points of doctrine which remained untouched (the sacraments being the most notable one to my mind) and there were others on which I disagreed slightly. These disagreements occurred mainly in Questions 17 and 18. However, I found that Mr. Grudem presented his case very charitably (saying things like “out of these views, Scripture seems to support Position A the most” instead of “those idiots just don’t know what they’re talking about”.) And, after all, I would not want Mr. Grudem to compromise on what he believes just for the sake of pleasing a few men. So, all in all, I was very pleased with this work, regardless of my differences.

Conclusion. An excellent work on Christian Doctrine. Christian Beliefs will introduce or reestablish you in the doctrines of the Christian faith and will leave your appetite whetted for further study.

Breakfast with Bonhoeffer

Title: Breakfast with Bonhoeffer
Author: Jon Walker
Pages: 202
Star Rating: ★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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When I entered the Goodreads giveaway for Breakfast with Bonhoeffer, I thought it was a close-up, in-depth study of the writings and theology of Bonhoeffer. Because I’ve heard so many differing opinions on Bonhoeffer, I was eager to read this treatise on his life, and was delighted when I discovered that I’d won it – for free!

It wasn’t until it came in that I discovered that it was not the scholarly undertaking that I had hoped it would be. Instead it was a book – half devotional, half biographical – by a man named Jon Walker. Oh, well, I could adjust. It would still be fun to find out more about Bonhoeffer.

But as I began to read, I realized that this was no study of Bonhoeffer. In fact, entire chapters would go by without a single reference to Bonhoeffer. What this was was a book by Mr. Walker about his life, his theology, and his struggles with a few Bonhoeffer quotes slapped into the text. These quotes came at convenient times when Mr. Walker wanted to reinforce the points he was making and in no way drove the study.

If this had been a study of Bonhoeffer, I would have found these quotes completely appropriate. Instead, it almost came across as irreverent. Instead of saying “This is what’s true and here’s a Scripture verse to back it up” we were given “This is what’s true and here’s a Bonhoeffer quote to back it up”. (Incidentally, I found the Bonhoeffer quotes to be the best part of the book.) Oh, don’t get me wrong, there were Scriptures quoted here and there. But there was far more Bonhoeffer quoted.

The Scripture quotes were actually something that bugged me. Mr. Walker used The New International Version, The English Version, and The Message for his Scripture references. This is hardly in line with a ‘Bonhoeffer tradition’ I think.

Also, it seems that Mr. Walker considers it his job to make Bonhoeffer acceptable to modern readers. (I’ve read Bonhoeffer myself, and he’s not that hard.) But this is in line with the rest of his theology which is of a ‘religion-vs-relationship’ nature. In fact, the tagline of Breakfast with Bonhoeffer is ‘How I learned to stop being religious so I could follow Jesus’. The content of the book generally follows this philosophy.

I know that I’m being really critical. So I’ll say here, that on several occasions something truly thought-provoking burst from the pages. Like this.

God uses suffering to lovingly squeeze out the things out of us that we might otherwise ignore or excuse – the sin, disobedience, and apathy that will get us flagged by security at the Kingdom of Heaven. [pg. 137]

(Except, of course, I believe that as Christians, we are already in Christ’s Kingdom…)

I had held onto the belief that people are basically good, that they would do the right thing when push came to shove. It is a romantic image that many of us carry, even though it is an unbiblical belief. [pg. 157]

When speaking of avoiding our problems,

By giving our lives over to delusions, we avoid the very issues and circumstances God wants to use to bring us to spiritual maturity. [pg. 79]

Absolutely!

You can’t say, “Jesus is a part of my life” or “Jesus is important to my life.” You now say, “Jesus defines my life.” [pg. 68]

Amen and amen! But then, Mr. Walker goes on to write about the conversations he’s had with Jesus in which Jesus has spoken to him. Or to write this.

When I think of suicide, it is with a detached eye. I want to kill the pain, not necessarily myself. I want to end the exhaustion. And so I find that I can hold two disparate thoughts together in my head. I’ll end my life tonight, then meet with the boys on Saturday. [pg. 189]

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to bash Mr. Walker over the head here. He was actually very humble and open about his life failures and struggles. Parts of this book must have been painful for him to write. But, as a reader, I have to be honest and say that it was also painful and sometimes downright depressing to read. And when a man’s marriage ends in divorce (it started out, I might add, in fornication), and all of his relationships are in shambles, one does wonder: Should he be in a teaching position? This is not to say that God cannot use anyone or anything to work His will and spread His kingdom. But if a man has proven himself incapable of maintaining so crucial a relationship as his marriage, is he really someone whose counsel and discipleship I want?

I’m not saying that difficult problems should be covered up or hidden behind closed doors. It can be helpful and encouraging for other believers to read about the struggles that other Christians face – and how they are overcome. Again, not to bash – I am sure that Mr. Walker is in a very painful position – but by the end of the book, it seemed as though he was still stuck in the depression caused by his circumstances. The last half-chapter or so were almost fatalistic in tone. But maybe I just haven’t been in enough tough situations myself to appreciate his pain.

Conclusion. Mostly blah with patches of wonderful and horrid. I’d recommend that you invest your time in reading the real Bonhoeffer, rather than this interpretation of him.

The Micah Mandate

Title: The Micah Mandate
Author: George Grant
Pages: 224
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I was excited to find my very own hardcover copy of The Micah Mandate several years ago at a library book sale. But I never actually got around to reading it until several weeks ago.

Whoa.

Our Imbalanced World.

Humans love extremes. As much as we claim to be fair, open-minded, or moderate, the truth is that we all love finding bandwagons and taking them to town. We love having a particular stance that sets us apart from ‘those people’ on one hand and identifies us with ‘our people’ on the other hand.

Don’t get me wrong; strong stances are important and necessary. And it makes sense to be more familiar or comfortable with certain sets of people than with others. But unfortunately the dividing lines in Christian duty are often incorrect.

On one hand we have a set of Christians who emphasizes the importance of activism; of running Sunday schools, youth groups, missions, Bible classes, and a host of other functions, and on the other hand we have Christians who point to fasting, prayer, personal piety, and ‘spiritual mindedness’ as the highest occupation for a Christian. So which is right? Neither. And both.

And no, I did not just contradict myself. For the truth is, that both are proper in their emphasis, but incorrect in their exclusion. In the balanced Christian life, social activism and personal piety walk hand in hand together because they both have a basis in theology. But this is one of the many places where modern Christianity has failed. Instead of emphasizing the glory of God and our closer communion with him as the reason for both godly interaction with society and personal holiness, we have been taught on one hand that Christianity is all about saving men (hence our flurry of activities and classes) and on the other that it’s all about being mindful of heaven (thus our woozy times of meditation). But as Mr. Grant says,

The real trouble with the dichotomy, though, is that it is a false dichotomy.

Activism without deep spiritual resources draws from shallow wells that soon run dry – it cannot be long sustained. Thus it ceases to be active.

Similarly, piety without forthright cultural action inevitably capitulates to the prevailing pressures of the world – it cannot exist in a vacuum. Thus it ceases to be pious. [pg. 15]

Activism without piety depletes its sources. Piety without activism stagnates. How then do we live the balanced Christian life? Where do we find its theology and outward application?

In The Micah Mandate, Mr. Grant argues that Christians have been presented with a picture of the godly life and that picture is to be found in Micah 6:8.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Justice.

Our God is a righteous God. He desires His people to be a righteous people. So what does this have to do with justice?

Our modern culture has taught us to see justice in a purely legal setting. Whenever we speak of justice we often mean that the right decision has been made in a courtroom somewhere, or the dethronement of a dictator. More often, the word justice is used to refer to social reconstructions or movements; different parties demand justice for particular groups of people, whether they be females, blacks, or homosexuals (I do not equate these causes, only use them as examples). As a people we are intensely concerned with justice – or, at least, our own conception of justice. But what is justice, really?

Interestingly enough, in the Scriptures, the word used for justice is the same word that is used for judgement and righteousnesss. In Scripture there is no separation between the command to do justly and to do rightly. In fact, the only way to do justly is to do what is righteous. Because what is righteous, like what is just, can only be determined by the standard of God’s law.

Much controversy rages over the use of God’s law. Now is not the time to directly address that controversy, but here is a brief thought on the subject. 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” There are many bad uses of the law of God. These arise chiefly in the form of legalism. Legalism is the idea that we, through our obedience to the law, can contribute or accomplish anything towards our own salvation. This attacks the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But equally mistaken is the idea that because Christ has efficaciously atoned for us, that we may thereby throw the God’s law out of the window as obsolete or unnecessary. There is a proper use of the law – a ‘lawful’ use. That use is to apply the law to ourselves 1) to understand how sinful we are and 2) to understand what manner of living pleases God. This is true righteousness; the redemption of Christ applied to our lives and enabling us to live as He commands us to.

If righteousness can only be found in Christ’s redemption and law, then true justice can only be found there as well. And that is why Christians more than any other group of people should be concerned with justice; for us the pursuit of justice should only be another extension of our redemption in Christ.

This does not merely mean justice in the civil sphere. It means justice in our homes. It means justice in our business dealings. It means justice of conduct and conversation. It means a steadfastness and determination to pursue the example that Christ has set before us.

Justice – especially in the civil realm – is also important because it demonstrates God’s wrath. In our times, God’s love is emphasized above all things, to the point that any mention of his holiness or righteous anger towards sin is refuted by, “Yes, but God is love. He would never really punish a person for their sins.” We are a people who does not fear God because we do not believe in His wrath. This is why it is so important that civil magistrates return to their biblically mandated role and become the “minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” [Romans 13:4] Civil punishment is a prefigurement of divine punishment, a warning to those who sin that justice is real and hell is real. God punishes those who transgress His ways both in this life, and the next.

Mercy.

God is a God of mercy. He mercifully loved us while we were yet sinners. He mercifully sent His Son as a substitutionary atonement. He mercifully gives breath and life, vigor and intelligence. And it is because God has shown such exceptional mercy to us that we should extend mercy to others.

For mercy, in the Scriptures, is never mindless or random. It is intensely purposeful. Just as every act of justice demonstrates God’s great wrath towards sin, every act of mercy demonstrates His great love for sinners. Whenever Christians act with selfless charity towards others, it is an example of Christ’s selfless sacrifice of himself.

When we give food to those who are hungry, we offer them a picture of Christ as the Bread of Life. When we clothe those who are naked, we show them how God clothes His people in righteousness. When we provide shelter for those with none, we picture the sweet haven that is to be found under Christ’s wings.

By providing the physical realities of food, clothing, and shelter, we pave the way to preaching the spiritual realities of Christ and Him crucified. God has provided charity as a foundation for evangelism.

But charity should never be a source of pride for the Christian; rather it should remind us of how helpless we once were before Christ redeemed us. This is the beauty of charity; for the recipients it demonstrates Christ’s love towards sinners – for the practicers it reminds us how deeply we owe Christ for His rescue of us from our sin.

Humility.

The very first sin ever committed was an act of pride; it was the assertion that man could determine on his own what was righteous living. Pride is the basic sin from whence all other sins spring. Pride is an attidude, an approach to living that affects all that we do and think. But here’s the scary thing; we can do all of the right things, but still be sinning towards God if we do them with a prideful attitude. That is why it is so important that we not only do justly and love mercy, but that we also walk humbly with our God. Else, all is in vain.

Humility before God does not mean weakness towards men. But it does mean that we will treat people differently, no longer trampling them and using them to further our own power, but treating them as co-laborers under a great God. Instead of viewing people as threats with whom we must compete to establish our superiority, we will see people as individuals who need help, who deserve our time, and who are precious in God’s sight.

Better is it to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. [Proverbs 16:19]

The best way to approach people humbly is to be overwhelmed by the awe of God. This means that we should be in close communion with Him; that we should diligently seek Him out in His word, and that we should continually come before Him in prayer. So long as we are pridefully dependent on our own strength to live rightly, we shall fail. Dependency on God for strength is the only way to live in a way that pleases Him.

The Right Balance.

Justice and mercy are our actions towards others. Humility is our attitude towards God. Our actions must be based on our attitude or else they will be self-serving. Our attitude must produce actions or it is phony. All in all, these three things – justice, mercy, and humility – are essential elements to the balanced Christian life.

God uses people – continuously failing people – to achieve His ends. And He does not just use great men. He uses humble servants. Sometimes He turns these servants into great men, but every believer whether great or small is being used by Him. As Mr. Grant says:

Most of the grand-glorious head-line making events through the ages have been little more than backdrops to the real drama of grocers, village cobblers, next-door neighbors, and grandfathers. Despite all the hype, hoopla, and hysteria of sensationsal turns-of-events, the ordinary people who tend their gardens and rear their children and perfect their trades and mind their businesses are the ones who will make or break a culture. Just as they always have. Just as they always will. [pg. 200]

The Lord has required of you to do justly. To love mercy. And to walk humbly. Pray to God that you may do it.

Conclusion. An absolutely essential read. Buy it.