October Book Reviews

Hebrews: The Radiance of His Glory (John Piper) 5/5

OK, this isn’t a book, but there is more than enough material in these 52 sermons on the book of Hebrews to put together a commentary. Whilst not going through the book as slowly as he is currently going through Romans (170 sermons and counting!), he does not rush through, usually tackling 3-4 verses in each 30-45 minute sermon. And as anyone who has heard Piper before will tell you, this is not dry and academic expository material – Piper is passionate about getting his message across.

The book of Hebrews may seem a surprising book to choose for someone as vocally Calvinist as Piper because of its passages that seem to teach that you can lose your salvation. He deals with this, in my view, brilliantly, demonstrating that the author of Hebrews himself teaches the “perseverance of the saints” elsewhere in the very same book. So believing that the author was not confused, and did not contradict himself, he shows that endurance is the only true sign of a genuine faith (bringing him, not surprisingly, into line with the standard teaching of the Puritans).

The call to persevere in faith flows through the book, with John Piper repeatedly warning about the dangers of drifting in the Christian life. In fact, it would seem that much of the material for his recent (and excellent) book “Don’t waste your life” came from this sermon series.

Also prominent throughout the series is John Piper’s characteristicly honest treatment of the subject of suffering. Everyone experiences suffering in their life, and everyone will one day die. Add to that the fact that many great saints of Bible times and throughout church history have had do endure tremendous suffering and it is a wonder that preachers do not address this subject more often. John Piper doesn’t believe in the “I’ll worry about that when it happens” approach. His heart is for people who are ready and willing to suffer and die for the cause of the gospel, and who know how to make sense of it when it comes in whatever form (whether for the gospel or not).

You will need quite a lot of spare time to work your way through this series, but it will be time well spent. It would be ideal material for listening to on a daily commute. Prepare to be challenged to a seriously radical discipleship.

Power Through Prayer (E M Bounds) 4/5

This is just one of seven books E M Bounds has written on prayer. It is broken up into 20 chapters, each of which are fairly short making it easy to work your way through slowly. The book is directed at preachers and uncompromisingly calls them to put prayer as their top priority. Bounds argues that without prayer, a preaching ministry is useless, even if on the surface of things it seems to have some good qualities or results. The early chapters urge the preacher to spend more time in prayer, drawing repeatedly on the examples of great preachers from church history, demonstrating their own reliance on prayer. He is critical of those who are willing to put much time into studying theology or developing their rhetorical technique while neglecting prayer.

He sees prayer as the key to a successful and Holy Spirit anointed preaching ministry, almost to the point of saying that prayer is the only thing you need to get right – the rest will just follow. You could perhaps criticise him for coming across as legalistic in some places, and anti-intellectual in others but that would be to miss his main point. A preaching ministry is dead without prayer as surely as a human being is dead without oxygen. Don’t think you need to be a preacher to appreciate this book though, its call to prayer is a vital message for all Christians.

Paul For Everyone – Galatians & Thessalonians (N T Wright) 3/5

I had been looking forward to reading this book for quite some time, as the books of Galatians and Thessalonians contain subjects on which Wright has some unique things to say. Galatians of course brings up the issue of the “New Perspective on Paul”. As expected Wright does not see the book as an attack on teaching that the way for an individual to be saved is by works. Instead, he explains that faith, rather than circumcision is the “badge of membership” of God’s people, and that the issue at stake was God wanting to create a people from all nations rather than by Gentiles having to conform to Jewish law. While rejecting the Lutheran view of the law, Wright describes the law as a “babysitter”, performing a useful function, but no longer required when maturity is reached.

Thessalonians brings up the controversial issues of the rapture and the antichrist. Wright has argued strongly in other publications that the “coming” passages in the gospels are not to be read as prophecies of Christ’s “second coming”. Rather, they are seen as mirroring the Daniel 7 “coming” of the Son of Man to heaven (as opposed to from), or the long awaited return of YHWH and the end of the exile. The passage on the rapture is seen as symbolic language rather than literal. Wright provides good insight into the situation at the church in Thessalonica, linking up with the Acts accounts and demonstrating the relevance of Paul’s comments to them. In 2 Thessalonians, he avoids getting into debate on the identity of a future antichrist, favouring a partial preterist approach (he sees it as being fulfilled in AD70).

The Message of Daniel (Ronald Wallace) 4/5

Any commentary on the book of Daniel is in danger of getting bogged down in argument about dating and authorship and an overwhelming amount of background historical information. Wallace does well to provide a basic overview of the main arguments and necessary history as well as making his own case for Daniel as author without letting the introduction become unmanageably long.

The commentary itself is never far from practical application, particularly due to the parallels with Daniel’s situation for modern Western Christians. Like him, we are trying to live for God in a pagan culture, wondering what aspects of our culture we may accept, and what we ought to stand against. Wallace also draws out lessons from the contrasting attitudes of kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belteshazzar, both received judgement and mercy from God but responded very differently.

Whilst the first part of the book of Daniel is well known and loved, the second part is taken up with some vivid apocalyptic imagery which Christians either tend to skip over quickly or else come up with very fanciful interpretations of which 21st century characters and organisations it is refering to. Wallace takes a balanced approach, briefly explaining the options and drawing out relevant encouragements for us without feeling the need to explicitly determine who the 6th horn on the 4th beast is. He helpfully distinguishes between those prophecies clearly already fulfilled, and those that speak of the “end times”.

The Message of Hosea (Derek Kidner) 4/5

Of all the symbolic actions the Old Testament prophets were required by God to perform, Hosea’s is surely the most emotionally taxing. He married a prostitute, who bore three children, only one of whom was his, and then left him. Hosea then graphically modelled God’s grace and love by buying her back at great cost to be his wife again. Kidner has been careful to help the reader get a good overview of the flow of the book and its historical setting by providing some useful appendices (in fact, it would be nice if some of the other BST volumes could follow suit in this regard).

He breaks the book into two sections – the first being Hosea’s acted out parable of God’s love and then the prophetic message. In both parts, a vision of both the love and holiness of God shine through as the people are confronted for their sin and unfaithfulness yet the deserved judgement to come is not without hope because of God’s amazing grace. In the second part Kidner shows how Hosea consistently reveals their self-sufficiency, half-hearted religion and shallow repentance. The book ends with the amazing grace of God as he offers healing, refreshing and fruitfulness to those who will genuinely repent.

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