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I’ve said it before, I’m glad Sinclair Ferguson retired.

I miss listening to his sermons, so I wish he hadn’t retired too. But his retirement has meant a steadier stream of great books. One of those books is From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4

This is not a new book such much as a revised and expanded version of Handle with Care! which was released in 1982. It was written to fulfill a commitment he’d made to provide a book on the Trinity. Unable to prepare that manuscript, they were willing to receive Handle with Care! Hopefully we will see that book on the Trinity some day.

In some ways, From the Mouth of God reminds me of Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word. They cover much of the same territory. Their styles are different due, in part, to differences in age and cultural background. Both are very good books and worth reading. Both are relatively short and accessible to lay people. I intend you use both in the teacher training, and officer training, that I am in the process creating and revising respectively.

As you might realize from the subtitle, the book is divided into three sections: trusting the Bible, reading the Bible and applying the Bible. The middle section is the longest. Unfortunately the section on application is the shortest. As one who can struggle with this aspect of sermon preparation, I would have liked this to be explored more thoroughly.

His opening chapter It Is Written covers the Bible as God’s self-revelation. He brings our depravity as expressed in a darkened understanding into the equation. Ferguson uses passages like Hebrews 1 to affirm that the Bible is historical, verbal, progressive and cumulative, and Christ-centered. He discusses the dual authorship of Scripture as an expression of the doctrine of concurrence. He also covers the doctrine of accommodation, that God speaks in such a way that we can understand. The second chapter, Getting It Together, focuses on questions of the canon. This includes the OT canon and Jesus’ view of that canon. He addresses inerrancy and infallibility, as well as finality. Inerrancy is often misunderstood. For instance, it includes the lies of men. It accurately reports those lies in some historical accounts. Faithfully communicating those falsehoods and errors does not mean the Bible itself errs.

He wraps up the first section with Is It God’s Word?, which evaluates the claims of Scripture to be God’s word. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also illumines the Scriptures for us. We see the depth of our dependence upon the work of the Spirit in knowing God.

Ferguson opens the section on reading the Bible with an example of how not to read it: allegory. Christians have struggled with how to read, and therefore understand, the Bible. The priest of my youth told us “Don’t read the Bible, you’ll get it wrong.” And many do. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t Do-It-Yourself. We have a responsibility, and need, to read the Bible for ourselves. We aren’t saved by implicit belief in what the priest or pastor knows & believes. We must explicitly believe saving truths, and we know them through the Scriptures.

Explaining Paul’s statements, Ferguson discusses rightly handling the Word of God, thinking in the hopes the God grants understanding (2 Tim. 2:7). He then turns to the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain some principles for interpretation. He contrasts this with the medieval church’s 5-fold interpretation.

In Keys, he notes the 5 keys to interpreting Scripture: context, Christ, the unfolding drama, and gospel grammar. These keys help us by helping us grasp the historical and literary context, the redemptive-historical context, its connection with Christ and reminding us that the indicatives (facts) of the gospel precede the imperatives (commands) so we live by grace. In Prose, Poetry, Wisdom, and Prophecy focuses on the different literary genres in the Old Testament. He briefly provides the basics needed to understand each of these genres. He includes brief examples of how to interpret each. Similarly in Gospels, Epistles, and Visions Ferguson looks at the genres in the New Testament. In For Example, he interprets the book of Ruth. He repeats one of the keys he noted earlier: “in reading Old Testament narrative we must always have in mind the way in which the promise of Genesis 3:15 unfolds in terms of God’s covenant promise working out through deep conflict to establish his kingdom in Christ.”

Ferguson moves to application with What’s the Use?. Here he returns to 2 Timothy 3 to help us understand the use of the Scriptures in making us wise for salvation. This chapter will find its way into my officer training.

In Seed Needs Soil he addresses the condition of hearts that hear the gospel. This is one of the few places I disagree with Ferguson. It is a minor disagreement. I believe the parable is told to explain the different reactions to the ministry of the Word for the disciples. I don’t think it is meant for us to be self-reflective as if we could prepare our hearts. Still, he does a good job explaining the nature of those hearts.

He concludes with Speaking Practically, which is about how to implement the material you have read. He discusses the role of discipline to develop a routine, and a method for reading the Bible. We have to actually read the Bible, consistently and repeatedly, to bear great fruit. Each of the first 5 years or so that I was a Christian (until I went to seminary) I read the Bible through once a year. I gained a good working knowledge of the Bible as a result. Unfortunately it was the NIV, and many key phrases in my head don’t match up with the ESV. Even after 20 years in ministry, while reading the Bible for my own devotion I continue to see new connections points (I just read Exodus 22:28, noting its connection to NT texts about honoring the king).

Though Ferguson is done, the book isn’t. He includes two brief appendices. The first is John Murray on The Guidance of the Holy Spirit, and John Newton’s letter on Divine Guidance.

This is a good book that leaves you wanting more. I recommend it for all those interested in teaching others, and people interested in why they should trust the Scriptures and how to read them.

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I think what really stood out to me was the recommendation of D.A. Carson found on the front cover.

“If you are a high schooler, read this book carefully and thoroughly, and then loan it to your parents.”

The book he was referring to was Bible Study: A Student’s Guide by Jon Nielson. Nielson’s goal was to equip & encourage students to study the Bible. What I’ve found in over a decade of pastoral ministry is that too few people in the pews know how to study the Bible. This means that many churches are failing to train students, their SS teachers or small group leaders how to study the Bible. It is easy to hand them a study guide, we use those, but not train them how to do it.

As our men’s ministry considered what to study this year, they chose to study this book. Many of them felt a proper conviction that they needed to better understand how to study the Bible to better lead their wives and family.

There is the background for why he wrote the book, and why I read it. Now, how is the book?

Nielson starts with a number of truths concerning the Bible that need to be grasped as we begin to study the Bible. He starts with the doctrine that “The Bible is God Speaking”. He tackles the doctrine of Inspiration. If we don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God (He spoke it), we have no compelling reason to read and study the Bible. It is just an interesting story and confusing moral advice. But if God is speaking…. that changes everything. So he explains dual authorship and inspiration in an understandable way, and then gets into the implications of what we believe. He stands opposed to the post-modern notions of deconstructionism and for authorial intent as fundamental to meaning.  Since the Bible is God speaking, our goal in studying it is to hear God speaking to us through the Scriptures.

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In my study of the issues surrounding Genesis 1 I just completed a book by one of my former professors, Doug Kelly.  His book Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms is not very long (about 200 pages) but wrestles with many of the issues regarding our understanding of the text and interacting with science on them.

Unlike Dr. Bruce Waltke, who merely decided that since he’s not a scientist he shouldn’t really disagree with them, Dr. Kelly put his mind to work and did enormous research.  He did not fall into the trap of thinking “I’m a theologian, not a scientist” therefore they know better.  At this point some may say Dr. Kelly should have taken the same approach.  I, for one, am glad he didn’t.

There should not be this separation of faith and science that often reigns today.  We are trying to understand the same thing- this world we live in.  Dr. Kelly tackled many of the things I’ve pondered in days past.  Only he spent more time thinking them through and researching them.

Long ago some scientists attacked the presuppositions of the creation account.  Sadly, few if any ever evaluated the presuppositions of the scientists or their methods.  What we find here is that process of evaluating their presuppositions and methods.

This book was originally conceived as he taught a SS class at church.  But it is no lightweight book.  It demands much of the reader as you weig the arguments of a variety of positions and think things through.  To assist, each chapter has a Technical and Bibliographical Notes section.  Each also has study or group questions to help process the material.

Cutting to the chase, Kelly ends up defending the traditional view of creation ex nihilo, and a young earth.  He views the Framework Hypothesis as an irrational capitulation to modernism since it gives science too much credit and power to misinterpret parts of the text.  He does provide exegetical reasons to reject their views.  He also rains on Dr. Hugh Ross’ parade at times.

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