Today is the day I have anticipated for more than a year. This morning I delivered to the publisher the manuscript for Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. The book is slated for a September 2011 release, plenty of time to learn patience and contentment from my friends.

One great benefit of writing a book is seeing my need for others. And the Lord surrounded me with a strong team of counselors along the way. As I wrote the acknowledgments for the book I was overwhelmed by all the names of generous friends who invested their time in my book over the past year.

Getting the book written has required a team of friends and scholars. The scholars that helped out include Leland Ryken, Gene Fant, Stephen Dempster, and Carl Trueman. Each of these men were accessible to answer questions. A couple of these guys edited full chapters for me. Fant took the time to edit the entire manuscript at an early stage and provided much writing guidance as a bonus (motivated by pity, I wonder?). Whatever the motive, these guys came through in a big way and I thank God for them.

Many friends also helped make this possible. The book was Justin Taylor’s idea to begin with. His early help writing was critically important. Justin is wise and creative, and any wise and creative bits in the book were likely his handiwork (the joke in chapter 11 about Al Gore is his). Likewise I’m thankful for Randy Alcorn. Last summer he encouraged me to write, and that encouragement—coming from him!—was a source of confirmation from the Lord. His role in the life of this book project goes a lot deeper than he is aware of.

Of course Tom Bombadil comes to mind as another faithful comrade (“Tom Bombadil” being the loose fit blog alias he wears over his superhero tights). Tom is a likeminded friend who helped out at every step of the way, cheering me on with encouragement, and frequently pleading my cause before the Throne of Grace. He was a huge help. And Jon Smith (real name, no tights) comes to mind. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his early encouragements last summer about my series of blog posts on reading were instrumental in my decision to write the book. Jon works with college students and he read and edited the manuscript from that perspective—very helpful!

And so many other friends helped out, Josh Deckard, Mark Fedeli and Andrew Mahr should be mentioned specifically. Thank you, men! I was reminded at many times that this book would not be possible without two pastors in my life, Patrick Abendroth and Rick Gamache. I love these men and will be forever indebted to them for how they helped me develop as a reader, through their words and through their example. So many other people support me.

Of course my friend C.J. played a major role. He made it possible for me to enjoy three writing retreats in beautiful locations (Orlando, Annapolis, and Cape Cod). Since the book was researched was written in my free time (mornings, evenings, days off, vacations), having the freedom to get away and to lock myself in a room and write for 14 hours each day was a great gift and those retreats proved to be critical in the development of this project.

But of course when I talk about my editors and my support, no one surpasses my wife. Karalee first became my editor, then my friend, and now my wife, and she remains my best friend and my most loyal editor. Not only is she quite a lot smarter than I am, but God has given her a tenacious capacity for large workloads. The Lord knew I would need a lot of help ed!t!ng, and he blessed me with a woman I love and a woman who can handle a red pen in the free moments between kids, laundry, and cooking. I don’t know how she does it, I really don’t.

So thanks to all of you: those named, those pseudo-named, and those left unnamed. I could not have written this book without you. Yes, that includes you. Your loyal blog readership is an encouragement to me and—quite truthfully—is probably one of the important factors that landed me a book contract in the first place. I am humbled and honored that you read, and thankful for your partnership. I pray that the labors of this past year will prove effective in encouraging Christians to read great books. And thanks for putting up with this blog, which has become predictably random, sometimes brusque, and always disordered. I plan to return to writing more essays, posting more book reviews, and snapping more photographs again soon.


Young, Restless, and Reformed

youngrestlessreformedcollinhansen.jpgRecently I had the honor of reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists (Crossway). Hansen is an editor at Christianity Today. From my perspective, the book reads like the reader is riding shotgun as Collin travels around the country in search of discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism so obvious among large groups of young Christian men and women.

The book does not set out to answer the question: “Where’d all the Calvinists come from?” But it does document the rise in a fascinating and engaging way and looks closely at the major figures and movements and how they shape the theology of the next generation of Calvinists.

Read it for the details. Read it to discover the influences among young folks. Read it it to hear stories of how individuals have been transformed by the doctrines of grace. Read it for the descriptive perception of the author. If you watch for new and excellent books, this one by Collin Hansen is a must-read coming your way in 2008. Due out April 30th from Crossway.

New Perspectives and the Cross


Book announcement
The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ
by Cornelis P. Venema

A number of excellent responses to the challenges of the NP(s)P debate have been published in the past two years and more are expected this Fall. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ by Cornelis P. Venema (Banner of Truth: 2006) is one example of a thorough response written for a broad readership. Venema (PhD. Princeton) currently serves as President and professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

The first quarter of the book lays out the Reformed perspective on Paul (pp. 27-92), the second quarter lays out the new perspectives on Paul and the century-old roots behind the current NP theology (pp. 93-142). The second half is a critical assessment (pp. 143-307). In part, Venema concludes:

One of the most vexing features of the new perspective is its failure to explain the connection between the justification of believers and Christ’s atoning work. In the Reformation perspective on Paul, there is a close and intimate connection between Christ’s obedience, cross, and resurrection, and the benefit of free justification which believers derive from their union with him. Christ’s objective work on behalf of sinners (his death for their sins and his resurrection for their justification) constitutes the basis of the verdict which justification declares. Since the sinless Christ bore the sins of his people upon the cross and was declared righteous before God in his resurrection, believers now enjoy through union with him a new status of acceptance and life in fellowship with God. The righteousness of God, which is revealed in the gospel and received through faith, is demonstrated in God’s judgment upon sinners in the death of Christ and in God’s vindication of sinners in Christ’s resurrection.

In the Reformation perspective on justification, the revelation of God’s righteousness in the work of Christ provides a sure basis for the acceptance of sinners joined to him by faith. Justification is the subjective benefit granted to believers on account of the objective work of Christ on their behalf. The righteousness of God requires that sinners be set right before God. In order for this to occur, their sins must be atoned for and their righteousness established.

However, in the new perspective, no comparable account is provided of the intimate conjunction between Christ’s saving work and the believer’s justification. Justification merely identifies those who belong to the covenant family of God, but no adequate explanation is provided as to why this identification required nothing less than the cross and resurrection of Christ on their behalf. The new perspective offers no satisfactory account of Paul’s emphasis that believers are justified by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9) or through the redemption and propitiation he provided (Rom. 3:23). Nor does the new perspective’s explanation of the righteousness of God explain why Paul insists that, were righteousness to come through the law, Christ would have died in vain (Gal. 2:21).

The point of these observations is not to suggest that advocates of the new perspective have no doctrine of atonement or explanation of Christ’s representative death and resurrection. The point is that, unlike the Reformation perspective on Paul, the new perspective offers no coherent theological explanation of the interrelation between Christ’s work on behalf of his people on the one hand, and their enjoyment of the benefit of that work on the other.”

– Cornelis P. Venema in The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Banner of Truth: 2006) pp. 303-304 (emphasis is mine).


What say you?

tssbooks.jpgLast month we gave you our thoughts on the new ESV The Literary Study Bible. After a few weeks of delay, customers are finally receiving their personal copies in the mail. Did you get one? What are your initial thoughts on the new study Bible? We’d love to get your feedback in the comments.

But even more broadly, we exist (among other things) to serve you by reviewing the most important Christian books as they are released from publishers. Please use the comments in this post to tell us how we’re doing. How can we better serve you, the reader / book buyer? How can our reviews better explain products? What do we miss?

Any comments or suggestions are valuable to us here at TSS. Thanks for the input!


Book: Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

Book Announcement
Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

So I was all ready to wind down a bit this weekend, and not push to get another post up. That was all disrupted Saturday when a bubble mailer arrived in my mailbox from Baker Academic. I simply could not wait until next week to announce their new release. The book is Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver. The book was published in Dutch in 2002 and translated into English by James A. De Jong.

To explain the importance of this book, I need to give some background.

We are familiar with the English Puritans (men like John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, etc.) primarily because their original works were written in English, and easily reprinted over the centuries with little editing necessary. However, in the Netherlands another “Puritan” movement was taking place. Like their English counterparts, men like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel were producing valuable theological and spiritual works in Dutch. But until only recently has the work of Dr. Joel R. Beeke and the Dutch Reformed Translation Committee made these works more accessible. In fact, one of the great highlights of Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is a section entirely devoted to the Dutchmen of the “Further Reformation” (see pages 739-824). Books of the Dutch “Further Reformation” authors (like the recently translated The Path of True Godliness by Willem Teellinck) bear all the marks of brilliance we see in the English Puritans.

One of the most noticeable strengths of these “Dutch Puritans” (as I call them) is their emphasis on Reformed spirituality and their enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ. Theirs was a deep and sincere devotion to Christ where their union with Christ was the means of experiencing vibrant communion with Christ. They defended the doctrines of grace and simultaneously enjoyed a joyful and warm spirituality.

This beautiful Reformed spirituality can be seen in the works of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).

Wilhelmus à Brakel is most noted for his four-volume work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Reformation Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of the “Dutch Puritans.”

I have noticed in the past the “sweet communion” of the believer with Christ is a theme that sparkles from this work. After emphasizing the marriage union between the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church), à Brakel explains the believer’s communion with Christ within this marital union. Once this union between the sinner and his Savior has taken place in conversion “Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you” (2:93). Read that incredible sentence again! This communion produces a “sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies” (2:93,94).

Of this marital union and the communion that follows, à Brakel writes,

“A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him” (2:91).

This beautiful passage points the believer back to the Person of Christ to find her joy and strength in the beauty of Jesus Christ. This light and joy is the byproduct of communion with Him and this communion goes back to the believer’s union with Christ in justification.

Later, à Brakel explains that since our union with Christ is absolute, our communion with Christ does not shift with circumstances or emotions. “By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him” (2:96). Communion can never be separated from our union and our union is described by our justification by faith alone and in our election in the Son. So à Brakel and the “Dutch Puritans” remind us that our sweet communion with Christ is inseparably bound to our understanding of our union with Christ in the gospel!

In his conclusion on the teachings of Wilhelmus à Brakel, de Reuver writes that his “spirituality is one that is rooted in Christ through the word believed, even in its most intimate and mystical moments. This foundation protects his mysticism from spiritualism” (258).

Many today are drawn towards Roman Catholic mysticism or a non-theological spirituality by thinking a deep spiritual experience of Christ can be separated from a genuine understanding of the gospel. This, as à Brakel displays, is not the case. Neither does Reformed theology favor a cold orthodoxy. Following the best intentions of the Medieval theologians, the Reformed “Dutch Puritans” always believed that rich biblical doctrine is the vein for the warm blood of spiritual experience of the Son in communion.

So here is the importance of Sweet Communion by de Reuver: The rich spirituality we have received from the “Dutch Puritans” is a spiritual legacy following the spiritual traditions of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) but is firmly rooted in the precious theology of the Reformation. The final conclusion of de Reuver is that the all-controlling center of the Dutch Further Reformation spirituality rested in the Reformed theology. This is a beautiful and timely book to further dismantle the idea that Reformed theology is cold and stiff intellectualism. Our rich theology actually leads us deeper into true “mysticism” of direct communion with Christ.

Title: Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation.
Series: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
Author: Arie de Reuver (Dutch)
Translator: James A. De Jong (English)
Reading level: 4.5/5.0 > academic and some untranslated Dutch quotations
Boards: paper
Pages: 303
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.99/23.99 from Baker
ISBNs: 0801031222, 9780801031229


Related: Communion with God by Kelly Kapic. Another gem from Baker this year on communion with God. Kapic studies English Puritan John Owen’s understanding that communion with God takes place within a balanced Triunity of the Father, Son and Spirit. Highly recommended.


The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile (1581348274)

Book announcement
The Faithful Preacher
by Thabiti Anyabwile

Talking about the faith with my African-American pastor friends are some of the more awkward conversations I experience. We come from totally different backgrounds, with totally different perspectives, and that leaves very little common ground. So I am greatly encouraged to see blogger, pastor, and author Thabiti Anyabwile taking the time to address the nature and status of the black church in a series of blog posts titled, Can the Predominantly African-American Church Be Reformed? I have learned a lot about why my friends and I have a hard time discussion the nature of the church. These blog posts are interesting and engaging.

In seeking the reformation of the “predominantly African-American church” Anyabwile has also set out to present the lives of three black pastors. He does this in his new book from Crossway titled, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African-American Pastors. The pastors highlighted are Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). The book contains one short biography of each man but is largely comprised of sermon transcripts.

Here is one short example from a sermon by Francis J. Grimké from 1919. Addressing the reconstruction of the damages done by World War I, he says,

“As a minister of Jesus Christ in this co-called work of spiritual reconstruction, I have nothing new to offer, nothing better to offer than I have been offering for the last forty years – the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus; the taking of Christ’s yoke upon us and learning of Him; denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Him through evil report as well as good. Others may have something new, something better to offer, but I have not, and I have no disposition to seek for anything else or any desire to offer anything else. So far as the world has been saved, the gospel preached and lived is the only thing that has saved it, and the only thing that will continue to save it” (p. 169).

“They were Puritans,” Anyabwile writes of the three preachers. “They committed themselves to sound theology in the pulpit, theologically informed practice in the church, and theologically reformed living in the world.”

Thabiti Anyabwile is serving the greater church well by asking some hard questions but also – building from the lives and preaching of three African-American preachers – presenting a vision for black pastors to be radically Cross-centered. And that’s a vision predominantly white churches can learn from, too.


Title: The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three African-American Pastors
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > easy
Boards: paperback
Pages: 191
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $15.99
ISBNs: 1581348274, 9781581348279