Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: No Uncertain Sound

I guess it was in 2008 or so that I had been looking on the internet for something to listen to. Any good Reformed sermon or lecture would do. At the time at I had an annoyingly long drive to work and detested the waste of time. I would find a sermon and burn it to a CD (that's as high tech as I could get then). At some point I came across the Reformed Forum podcast. I remember thinking this is what I've been looking for - some well educated, well spoken guys recording their theological conversations. Eureka! I was hooked. Since that time I have had the privilege to watch Reformed Forum grow into a multi-faceted, multi-platform ministry to aid the discipleship of Reformed Christians worldwide.

Their latest foray is a small tome entitled, No Uncertain Sound. It is a small collection of essays that "...set forth the salient features  of our Reformed identity" (pg. 3). Each chapter, authored by a podcast regular, is concise, well written, easy to understand, and well edifying.

Chapter Highlights

In chapter one, Camden M. Bucey, president of Reformed Forum, gives the reader the origins and impetus for Reformed Forum. It is now well beyond its humble beginnings.

Lane G. Tipton authors chapter two and begins the theological background necessary for comprehension of their Reformed identity. In "Jesus in the Old Testament," Tipton considers the Christocentric and Christotelic understanding of Christ in the Scriptures. Don't let those theological terms scare you off.
At stake in the debate is whether the church receives the Christ who is revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments by the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit, or whether we are to receive the imaginative construal of the religious experience of ancient Hebrews or Second Temple Jews (pg. 22).
Camden M. Bucey explains the necessity of Biblical and Systematic theology to work in harmony, rather than independently,  in chapter three.
Systematic and biblical theology are not antagonistic. Both rely upon exegetical theology, and they mutually contextualize, regulate, and inform each other. Systematic theology should never be engaged apart from biblical theology, and vice versa (pg. 30).
Jeffrey C. Waddington takes the next chapter where he "...unpacks[s] the meaning and significance of union with Christ..." (pg.32).

"Communion with God in worship is of the very essence of the covenant and goal of man's eschatology" (pg. 52)  writes Glen J. Cary in chapter six with a view of Covenantal worship.

In chapter seven James J. Cassidy explains the relationship that believers have in this world vs. the next.
Heaven is your home. Heaven is your city. And heaven is where you have your citizenship (pg. 73).
Jeff Waddington returns to author chapter eight on Reformed Covenantal Apologetics. Waddington clearly lays out the basics and elements of a Reformed Covenantal Apologetics method.

Other Observations

It is difficult to take issue with this work; either in content or format. It is well footnoted and has a listing of related podcasts at the end of each chapter. The work concludes with a recommended reading list and Scripture index.

I heartily recommend No Uncertain Sound. It would be an outstanding work to add to any church library and one to hand out to members and visitors. Get it now. The first printing is almost gone.

The author has provided a complimentary copy of this book. The views expressed are my own.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Guest Post by R. Andrew Myers: Book Review: Godly Conversation

by R. Andrew Myers

Distinct from the ordinary or regular elements of worship prescribed by Scripture -- such as prayer, reading/hearing/preaching the Word, singing of Psalms, and the administration of/participation in the sacraments -- there are other spiritual ordinances, duties or disciplines which the Bible commands, both public and private means of grace, sometimes with overlap, such as extraordinary vows, meditation, fasting and godly conference.

The last three are among the most neglected and misunderstood aspects of Puritan piety. Meditation is a preparative to prayer and the best way to retain what is read or heard in the Word. Matthew Henry said: "Meditation is the best preparative for prayer, so prayer is the best issue of meditation. Meditation and prayer should go together, Ps. 19:14." Religious fasting is an extraordinary act of worship, and a discipline that helps to draw body and soul nearer to God; in the words of William Secker: "By fasting, the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body." These disciplines are largely unknown among professing Christians today, or poorly understood and infrequently practiced. The last, godly conference -- defined by J.I. Packer in the foreword simply as "edifying conversation, that is, about spiritual things" -- is also little known and poorly practiced by Christians today, even among those who follow the Puritan tradition. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I would introduce readers to Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan Practice of Conference by Joanne J. Jung (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).

In our harried, individualistic, fragmented society, as Dr. Jung notes (pp. 157-159), too many Christians today walk on their pilgrim way isolated from other believers and consequently, in large measure, deprived from the benefits of mutual edification. Just as in our culture few neighbors actually seem to really know one another well, and are involved in one another's lives, so likewise in the church, believers often assemble to worship God together on the Lord's Day and yet fail to share the joys and burdens of life with one another during the rest of the week. The evangelical importance attached to an individual's conversion and salvation seems overemphasized to the point of neglecting the corporate aspect of the Christian life. The need for small group Bible study and activities is known and efforts are made to fill this void in the Christian experience, but perhaps poorly employed. The fact that the Puritans recognized this need and practiced this discipline so diligently is largely unknown, not only within the church at large, but also among modern Puritan scholarship, making Dr. Jung's study a valuable contribution to what she refers to as "piety's forgotten discipline."

Dr. Jung, who has written about this topic elsewhere as well, begins with an overview of Puritanism and Puritan piety, drawing on modern scholarship, notably that of Dr. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, to emphasize the point that Puritan piety, though it speaks first to the communion between the believing soul and his God, was also corporate. Biblical piety, is not confined to the individual but permeates all of our relationships in the spheres of family, church and society. As much as the even the unbelieving world understands and appreciates man's need for companionship in life, Puritans also recognized that Christian fellowship is even sweeter, and indeed needful. The communion of saints is a doctrine taught by the Westminster Assembly, and in an age of "lone wolf" Christianity, where relationships between believers are often limited and superficial, or even purely virtual (online only), it is no wonder that this chapter of the Westminster Confession receives comparatively little attention from even those who follow the Puritan tradition. But as Dr. Jung quotes (pp. xiv, 12-13) from a New England Puritan, Jonathan Mitchel in his "Letter to a Friend," appended to A Discourse of the Glory (1677), pp. 15-16:
If you have a friend with whom you might now and then spend a little time, in conferring together, in opening your hearts, and presenting your unutterable groanings before God, it would be of excellent use. Such an one would greatly strengthen, bestead, and further you in your way to heaven. Spend now and then [as occasions will permit] an hour [or so] with such a friend more then ordinary [sometimes a piece of a day, sometimes a whole day of extraordinary fast, in striving and wrestling with God for everlasting mercy]. And be much in quickning conference, giving and taking mutual encouragements and directions in the matters of Heaven! Oh! the life of God that falls into the hearts of the Godly, in and by gracious Heavenly conference. Be open hearted one to another, and stand one for another against the Devil and all his Angels. Make it thus your business in these and such like ways, to provide for Eternity while it is called today.

After an overview of Puritan piety, including a discussion of the place of conference as it served to mutually edify the saints, Dr. Jung traces the history and origin of conference as practiced by Puritans from the European continent and the British isles beginning with the exercise of prophesyings. Grounded in the words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Cor. 14.29-31 and 1 Thess. 5.20, prophesying -- that is, a method of training ministers by regularly gathering them together to expound the Word of God in each other's hearing -- began in Zurich as early as the 1520s, where "two or three" "nongraduate clergy" would exegete the Scriptures in the original languages, after which sermons were given on those texts for the attending laity. And in Geneva weekly meetings took place outside of stated worship wherein the pastor would discuss doctrine with all church members where the laity were free to speak openly and ask questions. Thus were the seeds planted that were to cross-pollinate across the North Sea by way of the Marian exiles and ultimately flower in England following the Elizabethan settlement. Dr. Jung (p. 125) categorizes this type of ministerial conference as either professional (clergy expounding Scripture to their peers) or pastoral (Scriptural exposition with lay-auditors present, often involving a question-and-answer format).

But in addition minister-to-minister consultations and exhortations, and to speaking with one's own minister, it is private conference (layman-to-layman, within families or without) that particularly augments the spiritual benefits of public preaching for most Christians. "Private conference would contribute much to our profiting by public preaching" (Matthew Henry on Matt. 13.24-43). "Besides the secret worship performed by particular persons, and the public services of the whole congregation, there may be occasion sometimes for two or three to come together, either for mutual assistance in conference or joint assistance in prayer, not in contempt of public worship, but in concurrence with it; there Christ will be present" (Henry on Matt. 18.15-20). This is a duty and a help for families on the Lord's Day following the public sermons ("and the publick worship being finished, after prayer, [the head of household] should take an account what [the family] have heard; and thereafter, to spend the rest of the time which they may spare in catechising, and in spiritual conferences upon the word of God" -- Scottish Directory for Family Worship, 1647). And it extends to women as well as to men (and children), as Dr. Jung notes, pp. 146-153. All saints are to admonish, exhort and provoke one another to love and good works, Mal. 3.16; Col. 3.16; 1 Thess. 5.11, 14; Heb. 10.24 (see Robert Shaw's remarks on the Westminster Confession of Faith 26.1-2). 

This is a well-researched study of a spiritual discipline important to Puritans, which surveys the writings of such men as Joseph and Richard Alleine, Isaac Ambrose, William Ames, Richard Baxter, Lewis Bayly, John Beadle, Richard Bernard, Nicholas Bownd, John Bunyan, John Downame, Richard Greenham, Arthur Hildersham, Thomas Hooker, Cotton Mather, John Owen, William Perkins, John Preston, Richard Rogers, Timothy Rogers, Thomas Shepard, Richard Sibbes, Henry Smith, Thomas Watson, and many other sixteenth and seventeenth century divines, as well as modern secondary literature concerning Puritan piety. 

There is counsel from Baxter (pp. viii-ix) as to how such spiritual conference should be conducted: 

Let the matter be usually, 1. Things of weight, and not small matters. 2. Things of certainty, and not uncertain things. Particularly the fittest subjects for your ordinary discourse are there: 1. God himself, with his attributes, relations, and works. 2. The great mystery of man's redemption by Christ; his person, office, sufferings, doctrine, example, and work; his resurrection, ascension, glory, intercession, and all the privileges of his saints. 3. The covenant of grace... 4. The workings of the Spirit of Christ upon the soul... 5. The ways and wiles of Satan, and all our spiritual enemies... 6. The corruption and deceitfulness of the heart; the nature and workings, effects and signs of ignorance, unbelief, hypocrisy, pride, sensuality, worldliness, impiety, injustice, intemperance, uncharitableness, and every other sin; with all the helps against them all. 7. The many duties to God and man which we have to perform, both internal and external... 8. The vanity of the world, and deceitfulness of all earthly things. 9. The powerful reasons used by Christ to draw us to holiness... 10. Of the sufferings which we must expect and be prepared for. 11. Of death...and how to make ready for so great a change. 12. Of the day of judgment... 13. Of the joys of heaven... 14. Of the miseries of the damned... 15. Of the state of the church on earth, and what we ought to do in our places for its welfare. Is there not matter enough in all these great and weighty points, for...conference?

As to its importance to believers in centuries past as well as today, consider the words of Richard Sibbes from his expository sermons on the Song of Solomon, quoted by Dr. Jung (p. 97): "Next to heaven itself, our meeting together here, is a kinde of Paradise, the greatest pleasure of the world is, to meet with those here, whom we shall ever live with in Heaven." 

What was true for Christian in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" is true for all believers. As Dr. Jung notes, "In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, private conference is what makes Christian's journey practicable. Time and again, as destruction is imminent, the advice and comfort of a fellow pilgrim enabled him to press on" (p. 12). Happy is the man who has a fellow pilgrim there to help him up when he falls with a word of encouragement and comfort (Ecc. 4.9-12). 

In the spirit of Dr. Jung's book and in the words of J.C. Ryle, "Let us resolve to talk more to believers about the Bible when we meet them. Alas, the conversation of Christians, when they do meet, is often sadly unprofitable! How many frivolous, and trifling, and uncharitable things are said! Let us bring out the Bible more, and it will help to drive the devil away, and keep our hearts in tune. Oh, that we may all strive so to walk together in this evil world; that Jesus may often draw near, and go with us, as He went with the two disciples journeying to Emmaus!" 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

R. Andrew Myers is married to Jessica, and is the father of five precious children. He lives in Elkton, Virginia, and has studied at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He edited The Matthew Poole Project (2006-2012); published an essay on "The Puritan Legacy Considered" (2009, MPP); served as a transcriber and research assistance for the Westminster Assembly Project (2009); contributes to the website Reformed Books Online; blogs at Virginia is for Huguenots, a site focused on church history and devotional matters from a Puritan, Covenanter and Huguenot perspective; and is an avid reader and student of church history.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review: ReSet: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray

I suppose it can happen to all of us. Well, it can happen to any of us - Burnout. Burnout can manifest itself in a number of ways and be triggered by a number of reasons. It's not black and white. It's multifaceted and can be affecting any of us without us realizing it, at least not a first. We may recognize many of the symptoms but be clueless to their origins and how we may resolve the issues we're experiencing.

Author David Murray, is a pastor, teacher, speaker, and blogger at Within the pages of ReSet he reveals the origins of burnout and as the reader progresses through the work is taught methods of effectively dealing with it. Murray calls it living the "Grace-paced life." We spend much time and effort in many worthwhile pursuits, but are they always beneficial?

Early on Murray calls the reader to a Reality Check as we miss many of the warning signs, Murray provides us with a list of warning signs to beware of or perhaps already experiencing. One should carefully review the warning signs and realize that part of the grace-paced life is slowing down from the "over-paced life."

In the following chapters Murray covers an array of areas wherein the reader should focus:

-What the cause(s) may be
-The need for sleep
-The need for routine mixed with play
-The need for exercise and rest and quietness
-Realizing our true identity
-The value of failure and the necessity to accept change
-Rethinking our purpose
-Eating right
-The need for proper and regular devotions

And much more.

Burnout is real and can affect any of us differently. My suggestion is to take this book seriously and consider the implications on your life. Consider if you are burned out. Murray offers much sound biblical advice from his own life experiences and from those he has counseled. I firmly commend this book to all men, especially those who are weary. There is much hope and value to be gleaned from its pages.

Crossway has provided a complimentary copy of this book through Beyond the Page.

David Murray is also the author of Christians Get Depressed, Too and Jesus On Every Page. I can heartily recommend both of these works to the reader as well.