Archive for the ‘Puritans’ Category

I first read Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity in the mid-90’s.  I read all of his books on pastoral ministry, finding them helpful.  A decade in to pastoral ministry, and preparing for my next call, I decided to read it again.

I found that while the book hadn’t changed, I had.  I fully agree with Peterson’s main point that pastors have largely abandoned their calling for a substitute, a counterfeit that undermines the work of God.  I also fully agree with the tasks of pastoral ministry being largely prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction.

Where I am not so on board is how he gets there.  He draws from sources  that I am at time uncomfortable with.  I’m not a TR.  I read books, and benefit from them, that are outside of the Reformed heritage.  I read Nouwen, a Kempis and other devotional writers.  I’m interested in reading de Sales as well.  But the bulk of my significant reading is within one stream of thought.

Peterson pulls from Greek mythology, neo-orthodox authors and devotional writers.  He does not often ground his thoughts in Scripture, which is odd since that is one of his 3 angles.  I think I only found one reference to a Puritan, who have written numerous volumes on prayer, Scripture and the need for soul friends (aka spiritual directors).  This I find to be a glaring weakness.

So, while Peterson’s book is helpful, it is less helpful than perhaps it could have been.  This is sad, because we do need more books that focus on shepherding people, not treating pastors as CEOs.

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This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Spirit’s work in sanctification out of Galatians 5.  I wish I had more time this week to thumb thru some of the great books I have on this work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of this gracious work.

Here are my favs:

  • Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer.  The focus on this great book is sanctification, and the Spirit’s role.  I read this as a young Christian, and it was very helpful for me, grounding me in a biblical understanding of sanctification.
  • The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and His Power by John Owen.  I read this separately before owning it as part of his Works.  Great stuff!  It was one of the first books by Owen that I read, and helped me major on the majors instead of being caught in excess as a younger Christian.
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is a bit more technical than most of his books.  But that is fine by me.  More people need to read this to avoid the abundance of confusion that is out there today.  There are so many ways in which the Spirit works in our lives, but we focus on the spectacular and extraordinary.  He’s heavily dependent on John Owen, who is one of his favorite theologians.

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This week’s text in Galatians focuses on adoption, God’s adoption of sinners as His sons as a result of Jesus’ work of redemption for us.  J.I. Packer comments that you can’t really understand Christianity unless you understand adoption.  John Calvin says you aren’t really a Christian unless, by the work of the Spirit, you call God your Father.

There are not many books on this topic.  It is a much neglected topic- but there are a few great books just the same.

Great Books I’ve Read:

Children of the Living God: Delighting in the Father’s Love by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is not a big book, but it is a great book.  Ferguson does what Ferguson does best, put the cookies on the shelf so lesser beings can enjoy them.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Adopted by God: From Wayward Sinners to Cherished Children by Robert Peterson.  It comes recommended by Packer, Ferguson, and Steve Brown among others.  It is a very good book.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer.  Though not on the topic of adoption, there is a great chapter on the topic.  This is one of the great books which influenced me as a young Christian.  That chapter is just one of the reasons.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.  He includes a chapter on adoption as one aspect of the application of our redemption.

Books I’d Like to Read:

Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor by Trevor Burke.  Part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, this is a more academic look at this topic (which exceeds use by Paul).

Heirs with Christ: Puritans on Adoption by Joel Beeke.  That should be an interesting read.

John Calvin and the Good News of Adoption by Timothy Trumper.  It is 2 CDs with lectures by Trumper.  Interesting…

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Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges is long overdue.  Jerry has done us a service by addressing this topic, and particularly in a way that points us to Christ in the process.  It is not a book filled with condemnation, but one that seeks to convict us while reminding us of Christ’s work for us and in us.  Since there is a discussion guide available, many small groups or SS classes could profitably use these materials and work through their sin together.

Bridges starts by building the much needed case for why we need to look at these things in the first place.  He overcomes some sad areas of ignorance among Christians.  Before he addresses those sinse we overlook, he discusses The Malignancy of Sin, The Remedy for Sin and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  There is even a short chapter on Dealing with Sins.  This establishes a gospel-centered focus which should keep the book from just being a finger in your eyes.  Bridges also puts himself in the boat with us, sharing some of his own struggles with these sins.

In terms of the sins he addresses, they are: ungodliness, anxiety & frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and worldliness.  An impressive list.  He could have done more, but I feel enough conviction.  Yes, we have normalized many of these sins with a variety of excuses.  We write them off to anything but our sinfulness, be it genetics, nurture etc.

Bridges’ work with the Puritans is evident to me, as he dissects each sin so you get a better idea of its many manifestations.  His book is readable, not filled with big technical theological verbiage.  He writes for the average person.  But it is difficult to read precisely because we find ourselves represented, in a negative light, so very often.   It is tough to root out the sins we don’t hate, and don’t even recognize as sins.  Bridges assists us in this process so the gospel gains a stronger foothold in our lives.

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My sister-in-law commented that she’s been enjoying my study questions on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  It’s been awhile since I put some material up here.  So today I’m covering the Law of God and Christian Liberty.  Some good things to consider (the same caveats apply- I’m not arguing with anyone: if I misrepresented a position let me know).

Chapter XIX: Of The Law Of God

194. Demonstrate that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.  Jesus said that the Law and Prophets hang upon the commands to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt. 22)”

195. Recite for us the Ten Commandments. No gods before me, not take the name of the Lord in vain, no graven images, keep the Sabbath, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness & don’t covet.

196. What the three “uses” of the law?  To restrain sin, to expose our sin & drive us to Christ, and reveal God’s character which pleases him.

197. What is the proper use of the Law for the life of the Christian?  To expose our sin that we might live lives of repentance, and direct us that we might please God.


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Steve McCoy did a Big 5 on Prayer

Here are some of my favorite books on prayer:

Here are some of the books on prayer that I am interested in reading:

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Back to working my way through Steve McCoy’s Big 5 Books, today the Cross.  As Spurgeon once said:

“Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavor especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ.” C.H. Spurgeon

Here are the best books I’ve read:

The books I have yet to read, and hope to:

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To be fair, I thought I’d put down how God brought me to embrace Reformed Theology as the most consistent understanding of biblical theology.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?   That would be Packer’s Knowing God, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I had been a Christian for less than a year when I bought it.  It remains one of my favorites.  After I “got” Reformed Theology, I re-read Knowing God, and saw all the seeds had been sown there.  Sproul’s Chosen By God was the one that gave me words to express what I had come to believe.
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  In addition to the 2 already mentioned, Martin Luther- Bondage of the Will; John Piper- Desiring God; J.I. Packer- Keep in Step with the Spirit; Jerry Bridges- Trusting God; R.C. Sproul- The Holiness of God.
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey? Prior to seminary, R.C. Sproul.  I devoured his books and audio tapes prior to going to seminary.  J.I. Packer, who joined Sproul in introducing me to the Puritans, the Reformers and Jonathan Edwards.  In seminary, I spent lots of time reading Edwards and the Puritans (particularly Burroughs, Owen & Boston).  Post-seminary it would be John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Jack Miller.  Yes, I cheated.  But I affirm grace, baby.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Probably Sproul’s Grace Unknown (I think it is now called What is Reformed Theology?) or Ferguson’s In Christ Alone.
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  Particular Atonement.  Packer’s intro to Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is must reading to understand how essential this doctrine is to grasping biblical Christianity, and how other theologies offer a different gospel.  This is a much understood doctrine thanks to the many straw men those opposed to it put up.  This is usually the hardest distinctive doctrine for people to accept.

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I got a few pleasant surprises this weekend.  Books!

A former elder of mine gifted me with 3 volumes from the Works of John Owen.  I received Volume 4: The Work of the Holy Spirit; Volume 8: Sermons to the Nation; and Volume 11: Continuing in the Faith.

John Owen is one of my favorite Puritan theologians.  I look forward to having the time to sit down and read some Owen, particularly on Continuing in the Faith.  I have most/some of his work on the Spirit in paperback form.

Another person gave me The Path to True Happiness by Martin Lloyd-Jones.  It is his book on John 2.  I have not read much Lloyd-Jones, so this should be good for me.  The Dr. was a student of the Puritans.  He and Packer were the impetus behind those old conferences on the Puritans in London.

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No, I have not yet read this one.  Lots of people are.  I see it on people’s blogs.  Some rave about it, and others are less enthralled.  Peter Jones has a good critical review of Pagan Christianity at Reformation 21.  What seems to be the problem with the book?

First, Peter mentions that the book does not seek to explain paganism proper.  Viola seems to use it merely to describe a non-Christian influence that is to blame for everything he doesn’t like about the “modern” church in the West.

 “This unexamined term is used as a whip to drive out of the present temple all the money-changers and their godless activities. In addition to “dressing up for church” and Sunday School (“swelling the cranium” 199), such pagan activities include: the notion of a “personal savior” (190); the liturgy (even the hymn-prayer-hymn sandwich); the sermon, the ordained, salaried ministry or “pastoral office” (136); robes; youth pastors; elder directed communities; baptism; the Lord’s supper (“a strange pagan-like rite”197); taking an offering and tithing; denominations; Bible Colleges and seminaries; instruments; hymns and church buildings, and choirs. For its all-knowing pretentiousness, one statement is mind-boggling. (Alas, it characterizes so many of Viola’s generalizations.) Dismissing the place of the sermon in Christian worship, Viola reveals: “…the truth is that the contemporary sermon preached every week…is often impractical…[and] has little power to equip God’s people for spiritual service and functioning” (98-99). He also “knows” that “the Sunday morning service is shamefully boring” (76). How does he know? If these judgments have Barna polling data to support them, they are not mentioned!”

Second, Viola’s book is yet another that traces all the problems to the church back to Constantine making Christianity a legitimate religion.  Okay, it isn’t quite that reductionistic.  But it sounds like all those books that only talk about what is wrong with America (similar to Obama following the stichk of many college professors).  It flattens out reality.  I went through that phase briefly after the Iran-Contra scandal (I was disillusioned by the end of Reagan’s 2nd term).  What happens is you only see what is wrong, and don’t acknowledge what is right.  Yes, Americans have done some horrendous things.  But we hardly have a market on that.  And Americans have done some fantastic things (and are currently doing them in places like Africa).


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This has been brought up by other bloggers, but Pantings & Provocations has an encouragement to read the Puritans.

January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)

This is a great idea, and most of the books are not very long.  Here are some additional thoughts.  I just read The Bruised Reed, and heartily recommend it.  Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence is on my list to read, though I read part of it earlier for some sermon preparation.  I have not read the Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, but I would strongly recommend his book The Doctrine of Repentance, a much neglected but needed topic in the American Church.  Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks is a bit long, but a great read which should prove beneficial.

I have not read that particular Bunyan volume, but Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the best allegories of the Christian life ever.  If you can find it in a modern translation with notes (mine is by Warren Wiersbe) read it.  The Mortification of Sin by John Owen is a must-read, and so is his book On Temptation (as Tim Keller reminded folks).  They are found in his Works Volume 6, and in a few other compilations.

I have begun reading A Lifting Up for the Downcast which is a great book for those struggling with trials.  The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is one of my favorite books which continually points us to the “sweetness and excellency of Christ”.  Any Piper enthusiast will find much to rejoice in here.  I’ve been meaning to read Bolton’s The True Bounds of Christian Freedom for some time, but just haven’t gotten there yet.  Neither have I read the Christian’s Great Interest or A Sure Guide to Heaven.  I know Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor is a classic, but I didn’t find it as helpful as many other people have.  I found it antiquated in ministry style- at least where I have served.  If I regularly visited & catechized my congregants I would soon find their doors unanswered.  There is a level of maturity needed for congregations to embrace that concept which I have found lacking in western Christianity.

In addition to these books, I would recommend A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness by Jeremiah Burroughs

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I spent the last few days reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain Murray.  It was well worth the $4.72 I paid for this book at WTS Books.  It was yet another solid read by Iain Murray.  He’s done us a great service again, though this book is quite short (under 160 pages).

Why might someone want to read this book?  Well, for a few reasons.  One the one hand it can be used to refute Arminians who think that Calvinism itself hinders evangelism.  It shows this by putting forth Spurgeon as a very evangelistic, historical Calvinist.  It shows that Hyper-Calvinism (which does hinder evangelism) is a deviation which should not be confused with the real thing (all those people in the SBC who are afraid of Calvinism should read this).

With the resurgence of Calvinism among young church leaders, we may see a resurgence of Hyper-Calvinism as well.  It was this that led Murray to write the book in the 1990s.  I have only met a few Hyper-Calvinists by doctrine.  However, sometimes we can inadvertantly be Hyper-Calvinists in practice.  I felt that conviction as I read the book.  I have not been as zealous in pleading with people as perhaps I should have been.

Murray begins with a very brief historical sketch of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to set the stage.  He began his ministry at a time when Arminianism was beginning to spread among English Baptists, and part of the reason was that Hyper-Calvinism had infected many of the English Baptist congregations.  The two controversies of Spurgeon’s early ministry were against these to sub-biblical theologies.  By and large they attacked him, though he recognized some indiscretion on his part as he looked back in latter years.

Murray turns to the Combatants and the Cause of the Controversy.  It began in earnest when a well-meaning publisher wanted to show other Hyper-Calvinists that Spurgeon was a man whose ministry they could welcome, even if he wasn’t “fully onboard”.  This draw the ire of the leading Hyper-Calvinists who began exchanging letters to the editors and articles on the matter with some who defended Spurgeon.  Spurgeon himself never entered the fray via the periodicals.  Most of his responses were in the form of instructing his people from the pulpit.

Murray then moves into The Case Against Spurgeon.  They claimed he was touched by an Arminian spirit (attitude, not a ghost or something).  But many of their arguments had a problem- they were refuted by numerous honored Puritan pastor-theologians like Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Thomas Boston and the other Marrow Men.  They argued that non-elect people could not be told to repent and believe since they were unable to do so.  They called the practice of so doing “duty-faith”, quite derisively to make it sound like a work.  The Hyper-Calvinists fell into the same trap as the Arminians, though it took them in a different direction.  For God to command something of people implied they had the ability to fulfill the command.  Arminians accepted this, and believed all people had the ability, not just the duty, to repent and believe.  Hyper-Calvinists, believing non-elect people lacked the ability, also lacked the duty.  In this they were trying to be logically consistent.

The problem is that duty is not connected to ability.  God’s commands are reflective of His nature, not our ability.  As such they reflect our responsibility, what we are to do.  All people are commanded to obey God in all things, though only regenerate people have the ability to actually do that.

Murray turns to Spurgeon’s Fourfold Appeal to Scripture.  As noted above, most of this is culled from his sermons.


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The Bruised Reed (Puritan Paperbacks) - Sibbes, Richard - 9781848718036

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes is part of the Puritan Paperbacks series by the Banner of Truth Trust.  And it is a great little book that deserves to be cherished by each generation of Christians.  It’s subject is never out of style or unimportant.  It concerns itself with the section of Isaiah’s prophecy which is repeated in Matthew 12:18-20.  It is part of Jesus’ calling as Messiah to deal tenderly with bruised reeds and smoldering flax.  Sibbes explores the meaning and application of this to a Christian’s life.

A bruised reed and/or smoldering flax is one in whom there is saving grace, yet the person is struggling with sin and despair.  This person has stumbled and fears that there is not “enough” evidence of the work of Messiah in them.

His point is that any amount of saving grace is “enough” to save.  Our current imperfection and struggle is not to be seen as proof we are not Christians.  Rather, our discontentment and disappointment in our own condition is evidence of Jesus’ work in us.

This book consistently points us away from ourselves (preoccupation with self) toward Jesus and all the benefits of the gospel found in Him.  Sibbes exemplifies the advice heard elsewhere- for every look at yourself (and your sin) take 10 looks at Christ.

In addition to providing a gospel balm for those striken with a guilty conscience, he also explains what happens when Jesus sets up government in our hearts.  Jesus sets out to progressively conquer all our internal opposition- and truth be told, there is much.  This is one thing I appreciated about the book- a healthy understanding of our depravity.  Our flesh resists each effort toward obedience.  We do not hear that at all these days.  But the answer to this dilemma is, once again, Jesus.  This is about Jesus work in us to progressively free us from the presence of sin in our lives.  Sibbes points us the means of grace, those means  by which Jesus works in us to more fully apply His saving work to us in sanctification.

Such emphases are missing in the contemporary church, which is why I am so thankful that Sibbes’ little book is available.  I’d been meaning to read it for some time.  Fresh out of failure seemed like as good a time as any- and it was the perfect message for my downcast spirit by reminding me of who Jesus is, what He has done and how tenderly He loves those who belong to Him.  Buy it, read its 128 pages, and be encouraged by its gospel-soaked truth.

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Mark Dever wraps up Sex and the Supremacy of Christ with his chapter: Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes?  The Puritans on Sex.  The Puritans certainly get a bad rap when it comes to fun and sex.  Of course this comes from a worldview that views sin as fun, so should we be surprised to hear such slander.

The Puritans sought their joy in God, not sin.  The Puritans saw sex as a good gift that was easily abused.  They both encouraged a healthy sex life for the married, and warned against the deceitful pleasures of sex taken out of context.

Why would this be necessary?  Look around at how sexual liberation has turned into a free-for-all.  Without the boundaries God has placed on sex, all things have become permissable.  I grow weary of checking the spam comments on this blog.  If you can imagine a sick, twisted manifestation of sex gone wild (Romans 1), someone has pictures or video of it on their website.  This is what happens when humanity throws crosses the boundaries God has established.  The Puritans wanted to spare people this living hell where there can never be enough pleasure. 

Immoral pleasure is like the joke about chinese food.  You want more in 30 minutes, because you refuse to be content.  Not everyone goes all the way to the worst of those websites, but our hearts still become sewers as we make an idol of our sexual satisfaction and freedom.

So, the Puritans were not suppressing sex in and of itself, but suppressing sexual sin.  That is a big difference, which is lost on libertines.

The Puritans wanted to keep sex within its proper bounds- an expression of affection and companionship within the covenant of marriage.  A healthy experience of marital sex was also helpful to prevent lust from capturing a heart (1 Cor. 7).  Sex is not sinful, but a right and privilege of marriage.  When we make it the right and privilege of humanity, period, we promote sexual sin (of whatever sort) as normal and good.

And so ends my review of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  Aside from one very legalistic chapter, it is a very good book.  It is a great aid in helping the Church to think biblically about sex.  Let us end with a positive command from Scripture:

18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.  (Proverbs 5)

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Somewhere along they way I reduced my reading of the Puritans.  Not eliminated them.  I guess I was just trying to keep up with what is going on in the greater world and contemporary Church.  What a schmuck.

No one dissects the heart like the Puritans.  Read John Owen on The Mortification of Sin, On Temptation or On Indwelling Sin in Believers (Volume 6 of his Works).  There is great insight into the human heart and the effects of both grace and sin on it.  It is great to return to him as I preach on repentance (one of those topics that has fallen by the wayside these days).  I even took my title from Thomas Brooks, who called it “the vomit of the soul”.

Thomas Boston is another true master to study.  I’m slowly working my way thru Boston’s The Crook in the Lot which is about affliction.  Sadly, his book Repentance was not at the RTS bookstore as I hoped.

We neglect the Puritans at our peril.  Our theology will be more shallow, less practical (they were not abstract theologians, but drove the truth home to life- which may be why we hide from them), less enthusiastic and so on.

I’ve seen guys go overboard- not making the cultural and/or ephocal adjustment.  We shouldn’t expect to live just like they did.  I’ve even seen guys start to write like Puritans.  The average person will just not grasp what you are trying to say (which is why Kris Lundgaard simplifies Owen’s classic works).

I choose the middle road- delving into them to understand our God and ourselves better that we might be more faithful followers of Jesus in our own day.

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