The Future of Justification by John Piper

Book review
The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright
by John Piper

N.T. Wright is a British New Testament scholar and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England. He’s become known for his controversial teaching on justification and for his statements like: “The discussions of justification in much of the history of the church, certainly since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot – at least in terms of understanding Paul – and they have stayed there ever since.”

Enter pastor and scholar John Piper.

Piper’s highly anticipated new book The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Crossway: 2007) is framed around eight fundamental questions raised in the theology of Wright:

  • The gospel is not about how to get saved? (ch. 5)
  • Justification is not how you become a Christian? (ch. 6)
  • Justification is not the gospel? (ch. 6)
  • We are not justified by believing in justification? (ch. 5)
  • The imputation of God’s own righteousness makes no sense at all? (ch. 8 )
  • Future justification is on the basis of the complete life lived? (ch. 7)
  • First-century Judaism had nothing of the alleged self-righteous and boastful legalism? (chs. 9, 10)
  • God’s righteousness is the same as His covenant faithfulness? (ch. 11)

Obviously these are monumental questions, bearing heavy consequences for the Church.

As expected, Piper walks slowly through these questions raised in Wright’s theology and returns frequently to biblical exegesis for his responses. Piper remarks in the intro that he dialogued with Wright during the process of writing the volume, even receiving an 11,000-word response on the first draft to clarify and prevent distortions (p. 10).

Before engaging

But before jumping into the debate, Piper opens the book with very humble words. He is too close to glory to waste his time winning debates and scoring publicity points. It’s a beginning that we can all learn from (see p. 13). This humble introduction is followed by an entire chapter – “On Controversy” – to explain why true Christian unity is not to be found in avoiding disagreements. Taking his cue from Machen, the Church has risen to new heights when celebrating truth within the context of controversy (p. 29).

Where Wright is right

Piper is clear and quick to point out areas of agreement. These include mutual convictions of Scriptural authority, the resurrection of Christ, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, the opposition to homosexuality, and a big-picture understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant (pp. 15-16). And even in elements more closely related to the Gospel, Piper points out continuity. Piper writes, “There is nothing unclear about Wright’s commitment to penal substitution” (p. 48). And later, “Wright’s own words concerning penal substitution seem clear and strong” (p. 52).

Where Wright is wrong

The debate may appear to some as a trifle between one pastor/scholar and another pastor/scholar. But the implications run deep for all Christians. “This book took its origin from the countless conversations and e-mails with those who are losing their grip in this great gospel” (p. 10). Piper’s overriding argument is not that the gospel is being lost by outright dismissal, but in a gradual, incremental relaxing of the gospel due to a blurring of the biblical understanding of justification. So dangerous is this blurring, according to Piper, that at the end of the day, Wright may in fact be reinforcing Roman Catholic soteriology (p. 183)!

Piper is concerned that Wright’s biblical theology has become a grid that brings in too many extra-biblical resources to make interpretive decisions. Piper believes this approach, when it comes to understanding justification, “has not been as illuminating as it has been misleading, or perhaps, confusing” (p. 38).

Wright’s removal of justification from the gospel is also a big problem. Piper writes, “I find it perplexing that Wright is so eager not to let the message of justification be part of the gospel” (p. 82) and “Wright’s zeal to remove justification from the event of becoming a Christian” is “remarkable” (p. 95). Later, Piper highlights the missing element of Christ’s imputed righteousness in Wright’s theology.

Piper takes time clarifying the nature of legalism and the careful distinction of works and justification, a distinction not easily seen in Wright’s writings. In the end, Piper is forced to make the following clarification:

“If we make the mistake of thinking that our works of love (the fruit of God’s Spirit) secure or increase God’s commitment to be completely for us, now and in the last judgment, we compromise the very reason that these works of love exist, namely, to display the infinite worth of Christ and his work as our all-sufficient obedience and all-sufficient sacrifice.

Our mind-set toward our own good works must always be: these works depend on God being totally for us. That’s what the blood and righteousness of Christ have secured and guaranteed forever. Therefore, we must resist every tendency to think of our works as establishing or securing the fact that God is for us forever. It is always the other way around. Because he is for us, he sustains our faith. And through that faith-sustaining work, the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of love” (p. 186).

Piper devotes many pages to the Law-Court theme in justification, where great disparity between Piper and Wright becomes obvious. The book gives the reader a great overview of the most important features of the biblical gospel. A series of six related and helpful appendices conclude the book (pp. 189-225).

I’m thankful for the care taken by Piper to stay close to the issues that directly impact the clarity of the gospel message.

‘Paralyzing perplexity’

The overriding concern for Piper is not that Wright has evil intentions or is viciously dangerous. The problem is that Wright’s message confuses the gospel and breeds confusion where the Church needs to be strongest.

“I am not optimistic that the biblical doctrine of justification will flourish where N. T. Wright’s portrayal holds sway. I do not see his vision as a compelling retelling of what Saint Paul really said. And I think, as it stands now, it will bring great confusion to the church at a point where she desperately needs clarity. I don’t think this confusion is the necessary dust that must settle when great new discoveries have been made. Instead, if I read the situation correctly, the confusion is owing to the ambiguities in Wright’s own expressions, and to the fact that, unlike his treatment of some subjects, his paradigm for justification does not fit well with the ordinary reading of many texts and leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity” (p. 24).

Later Piper writes, “This book exists because of my own concern that, specifically in the matter of justification by faith, Wright’s approach has not been as illuminating as it has been misleading, or perhaps, confusing.” (p. 38). Even the most straightforward passages on imputation (like 2 Corinthians 5:21) are “shrouded in Wright’s misleading comments” (p. 178).

And most notably, the gospel in its application to sinners becomes vague.

“But there is a misleading ambiguity in Wright’s statement that we are saved not by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ambiguity is that it leaves undefined what we believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for. It is not saving faith to believe in Jesus merely for prosperity or health or a better marriage. In Wright’s passion to liberate the gospel from mere individualism and to make it historical and global, he leaves it vague for individual sinners” (pp. 85-86).

Piper is rightly concerned that this vagueness will spread into the pulpit. “Following N.T. Wright in his understanding of justification will result in a kind of preaching that will at best be confusing to the church” (p. 165).

A fitting summary of Piper’s entire case is found early in the book.

“My conviction concerning N.T. Wright is not that he is under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9, but that his portrayal of the gospel – and of the doctrine of justification in particular – is so disfigured that is becomes difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. It may be that in his own mind and heart Wright has a clear and firm grasp on the gospel of Christ and the biblical meaning of justification. But in my judgment, what he has written will lead to a kind of preaching that will not announce clearly what makes the lordship of Christ good news for guilty sinners or show those who are overwhelmed with sin how they may stand righteous in the presence of God” (p. 15).

Conclusion

It’s right for the Church to jealously guard the clear and biblical understanding of how sinners are brought into a right relationship with God. And it’s at this critical place, over the battle for our understanding of justification as the personal application of Christ’s work to a sinner’s soul, where Wright’s theology simply falls apart. This is an error the Church cannot afford to entertain.

Whether Piper has clearly and fairly represented Wright at every detail is a conclusion I’ll leave for those more connected to the discussion. What is certain is that The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright is a book thoroughly centered on clear exegesis of Scripture on the topic of justification. You don’t need a background in the Wright/Piper debate to gain a better appreciation of – and a firmer hold on – the biblical message of the gospel.

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Title: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright
Author: John Piper
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > moderately difficult at times
Boards: paperback
Pages: 239
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $11.99 from Monergism
ISBN
: 9781581349641, 1581349645

On writing book reviews

tssbooks.jpgOne of the fan-favorite features of TSS is our book reviews. Sometimes I get questions from readers who want tips about how I write book reviews.

Well, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on writing them so I can only offer general thoughts on the process that come to mind.

Also, since I only review non-fiction works some of these thoughts may be more or less useful to reviewing fictional literature. I’ll try to go back to my old Liberal Arts education tools to recall what I learned about works of fiction and see if I can look at reviews both the perspective of a non-fictional work and a fictional one.

Here are some thoughts …

1. Setting standards.
Book reviews are an act of literary criticism whereby a specific book is assessed and evaluated from a standard set by the reviewer and the reviewer’s audience. So, for example, the theological works I typically review are first compared to their biblical accuracy, then compared to other works by the same author, and finally compared to other works covering the same themes.

In the past month I’ve read 5 books on evangelism — one was very poor, two were okay, one was very good, and one was excellent. I came to this conclusion by comparing all five to Scripture, and each to one another. Reviewing any literature (and especially fiction) will require standards of evaluation just the same. A work of fictional literature may be compared to other works covering the same themes, compared to the works of other authors in the same era, or compared to a specific work of the author’s other works.

At some level you will need to answer the fundamental question, What am I comparing this book to?

2. Cultivating critical thinking.
I love writing book reviews because it forces me to cultivate the rigorous discipline of critical thinking. By critical thinking, I don’t mean that I want to be a critical person. Rather, it means I am forced to ask and answer several discerning questions like the following:

(1) What is the overall purpose of the author?

(2) What question, ethical standard, social custom or problem is being confronted, questioned or solved by the author?

(3) What assumptions do the authors bring into the discussion? Are they writing from a Christian or non-Christian worldview? What is assumed without argument? What worldview do they champion? What school of thought do they represent?

(4) What is the author’s point of view? Is the book written from the perspective of an adult or child? Rich or poor? Preacher, evangelist, or scholar? Where did the author live and what did they experience in life? For me, determining where the author serves as a professor or pastor helps me to understand the individual and the perspective.

(5) What events, information, and evidence does the author use to make her case? Is it strong and clear information, or weak and assumed? Every conclusion must be backed by a series of events and dialogues (fiction) or facts and evidences (non-fictional).

(6) What are the implications and consequences of the author’s arguments? Assuming the author is right, what must change?

These questions help me unlock even the most subtle messages embedded in literature and art. And one great way to put these six questions into action is by looking at an advertisement in a magazine. Every ad has a target audience, a worldview, and a means to persuade. Who is the target audience, what worldview does it embrace, and what is the basis of the persuasion?

It’s only because we are made in God’s image that we have the self-conscious awareness to bring literature under critical thinking and discernment. A true gift from God Himself.

3. Getting at the main point. Let me revisit this point a bit further. I believe every author, painter, advertiser, sculptor, commentary writer, songwriter, and poet is trying to convince you of something. That’s the nature of communication — someone taking a message he is passionate about and seeking to convince others of that message. The big question is, what is that individual trying to communicate?

In literature this may be on the surface. For example, C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe makes fairly obvious points — sinful greed corrupts our hearts, this sin negatively impacts our family and those closest to us, and Christ is our sufficient substitute — the One who breaks the power of sin and Satan. However in Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces, the meaning is much harder to discern (I’m still scratching my head over this one). J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is another really tough (but rewarding) adventure to attempt to ‘crack.’

Or consider, say, an adventurous novel written about a boy’s hitchhiking travels across the country one summer. It may be a fun adventure filled with surprises, threats, and interesting characters, but it may also have a much deeper intention. Perhaps it was written by a man who was born and raised in New York City and written as a criticism of the way large cities impair childhood development?

You get the idea.

The goal is to understand the author behind the work. Did they live through a world war? (To think of it, perhaps Aslan’s victory in the battle for Narnia is Lewis’ way to comfort children in a time of world war?) So get to know the author, and get to know the world of the author.

But don’t assume that fictional works are disconnected from reality. The truth is that authors with strong convictions have frequently chosen fictional literature to get their messages out. Some consider fiction the best means to communicate reality.

4. Getting at a biblical worldview. Christians are perched on a distinct view of reality because our worldview is informed by God’s eternal revelation in Scripture. We are therefore at a great advantage to evaluate every work of literature as it correlates or contradicts this eternal reality. Finding where themes, worldviews, attitudes, and ethics correlate or contradict Scripture is one of the most interesting disciplines (and downright addictive!).

Centering everything around Scripture also helps me interpret popular literature I disagree with. For example, I obviously don’t agree with existentialism, but I am surprised how fully their writers can communicate the hopelessness and despair of the human condition.

Holding a biblical worldview makes literature reviews quite interesting!

5. Read more than you review. Typically, of all the books I receive in the mail only about half are interesting enough to read. And of those books I read, only half get reviewed. Reviewing half (or even less) of the total number of books I read gives me tremendous freedom to review and invest time thinking through the very best books. There is value to reviewing books you don’t like, but I’ve tried to isolate the books I love and spend my time reviewing those titles. So read much more than you expect to review.

6. Now write.
Every review will look differently. Don’t try and force your review into a grid or pattern, just write about what most strikes you about the particular book. After asking all of the questions above, you should have a lot to talk about.

Finally, I cannot help but be reminded of my Liberal Arts prof that impacted my life to a great degree on these things. And since Dr. Joseph Wydeven recently retired, this is a great opportunity to thank him for his work at Bellevue University in Nebraska. He was a tremendous blessing in my intellectual development and growth in critical thinking. Thank you, Dr. Wydeven!

Blessings, TSS readers! Tony

—————–

Related: More on critical thinking here.

Related: Here are my top five favorite books on writing:

  1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  2. On Writing Well by Zinsser
  3. Keys to Great Writing by Wilbers
  4. Hypnotic Writing by Vitale
  5. How to Write a Paragraph by Paul and Elder

A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness by Jeremiah Burroughs

Book review
A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
by Jeremiah Burroughs

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Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) is one of my favorite Puritan authors and (I dare say) one of the most overlooked.

In his extensive writings, Burroughs authored a very helpful book on discerning worldliness in a book now titled A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness. It was retypeset and edited by Don Kistler and published in 1991 by Soli Deo Gloria.

Burroughs builds his argument from Paul’s sobering ‘enemies of the Cross’ statement — “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:19-20).

Contents

Burroughs first discerns the seriousness and dangers of worldly thinking (pp. 3-92). His goal in this first section is to call this earthly-mindedness what it really is – adultery, idolatry and enmity. This earthly-mindedness suffocates the work of grace, opens the soul to further temptations (1 Tim. 6:9), stifles the hearing of preaching, breeds foolish lusts in the soul, spreads roots for future apostasy, deadens the heart for prayer, dishonors God, hinders our preparations for death, and ultimately drowns the soul into perdition.

The second section covers the implications of our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and is filled with helpful practical advice on to living as foreigners in our sojourning through life on earth (pp. 93-178). This theme continues in the final section which helps discern what walking with God looks like in everyday life (pp. 179-259). The final chapter contains very useful wisdom on walking with God when His presence seems distant (pp. 254-259).

Grace

Throughout his works, Burroughs avoided a common Puritan pitfall. The Puritans frequently narrowed in so tightly on a particular topic that surrounding contexts and connections were forgotten. It’s not uncommon to read a Puritan on the topic of sin continue on and on without any mention of the Cross, God’s grace, and living in freedom and victory over sin. Even some of the great Puritan classics (such as the works of Richard Baxter and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal) woefully assume the Cross.

Burroughs is quite the opposite. He’s hardly begun a lengthy diagnosis of worldliness in the heart before breaking into a short digression on the glorious work of grace in conversion (pp. 29-30)! This work of God transforms enemies of the Cross into those who now have quickened souls. Those once veiled by sin and blinded by the world now see the light of God’s glory! We are new creatures, creatures no longer content with worldliness but now transcending the circumstances of the world and clinging to eternal hope. This new life enlarges our heart and our spiritual appetite becomes so large that no earthly means could fill it. This grace severs our grip on the world, and we begin to experience God’s sanctifying grace in our souls. For Burroughs, even when discovering the depth and darkness of sinfulness in the heart, God’s grace is ever in view.

With careful pastoral balance, Burroughs encourages us to pursue excellence in our earthly calling, while exhorting us to carefully avoid the snares of worldly-mindedness.

“Considering what has been delivered, I beseech you, lay it seriously upon your heart, especially you who are young beginners in the way of religion, lest it proves to be with you as it has with many who are digging veins of gold and silver underground. While they are digging in those mines for riches, the earth, many times, falls upon them and buries them, so that they never come up out of the mine again. … Keep wide open some place to heaven, or otherwise, if you dig too deep, noxious gas vapors will come up from the earth, if it doesn’t fall on you first. There will be noxious gas vapors to choke you if there is not a wide hole to let in the air that comes from heaven to you. Those who are digging in mines are very careful to leave a place open for fresh air to come in. And so, though you may follow your calling and do the work God sets you here for as others do, be as diligent in your calling as any. But still keep a passage open to heaven so that there may be fresh gales of grace come into your soul” (p. 85).

Conclusion

Fitting of Burrough’s classic, Soli Deo Gloria published A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness with an attractive dust-jacketed, durable cloth cover and Smyth-sewn binding. It’s an excellent work for those of us who sometimes find ourselves surrounded by the cares of this world, asphyxiating on temporal toxins rather than breathing fresh grace.

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Title: A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
Author: Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)
Editor: Don Kistler
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > easy thanks to excellent editing (includes nice section and subpoint headings)
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Pages: 259
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (would have been very useful)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Ligonier; Soli Deo Gloria
Year: original ed., 1649; edited ed., 1991
Price USD: $18.00 from Ligonier
ISBN: 1877611387

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!

Tony

Christ Crucified by James Durham

Book review
Christ Crucified by James Durham

Inside the cover of his personal copy of Christ Crucified, 19th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote two words: “Much prized.”

Without question, author James Durham (1622-1658) left the Church with a precious treatise on the Cross of Christ. But, sadly, this “much prized” Puritan work never found itself printed in the 19th century, and the last printed edition appeared in 1792! The work may be prized for its content, but we lament that it’s so far outside the reach of contemporary readers.

This absence temporarily ended in 2001 when Chris Coldwell and publisher Naphtali Press (Dallas, TX) released a retypset, edited, and beautiful edition of Durham’s classic. But the 500 copies – even selling at $75 each to cover high expenses of a short print run – sold out by the Fall of 2003. The classic, while back for a flash, returned quickly to the status of “rare” and again outside the reach of most readers.

Just in the past few weeks (August of 2007), Naphtali finished their second (and much larger) printing. The 2001 Naphtali edition is back, fully stocked, and now available for $30!

So why is Durham’s classic so treasured?

“Much Prized”

Admittedly, Durham is a lesser-known of the Puritan divines and probably because the Scottish preacher died in 1658 at the age of 36. His productive ministry lasted a mere decade and the 11 books that bear his name were all printed posthumously. The 72 sermons in Christ Crucified were transcribed by Durham’s ministry partner John Carstairs. Carstairs edited and first published the sermons 25 years after Durham’s death. The full title is Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 and was originally published in Edinburgh in 1683.

Christ Crucified is traditionally classified and used as a commentary on Isaiah 53:1-12. And it certainly contains an encyclopedia of biblical exegesis and deep doctrine you would expect from a Puritan commentary. But Durham’s sermons go further, being filled with rich application, exhortation, encouragement and fuel for the Cross-centered life. It’s a Puritan work that, when carefully digested, molds Gospel-centered preachers like Spurgeon.

In these 72 sermons, Durham patiently and carefully walks verse-by-verse through the great OT prophecy of Christ. His aim is not merely exegesis or theology, but rich application. He wants us to experience the Cross, and he moves the reader frequently from doctrine to application.

For example, in sermon 22 Durham traverses the mystery of Christ’s substitution, of His absorbing the wrath of God and being “wounded for our transgressions” (v. 5). The sermon ends with a plea for us to feel our dire condition as sinners. Our sin deserves the wounding of judgment. The suffering of Christ should lead us to despair in our empty self-righteousness. The sermon concludes with these words:

“O let these things sink in your hearts, that you are sinners, great sinners, under wrath, and at feud with God; that Jesus Christ is the savior of lost sinners, and that there is no way to pardon and peace, but by closing with him, and laying hold on his satisfaction, that you may be drawn to cast yourselves over on this everlasting covenant, for obtaining the benefits that Christ has purchased” (p. 252).

From beginning to end, Durham’s work is rich and applicable but the book is perhaps best remembered for the final six sermons on Isaiah 53:12, covering the intercessory work of Christ. Here Durham is at his best, reminding us our salvation, sanctification, and all other spiritual victories are a direct result of the Melchizedek-like eternal priesthood of Christ.

Christ intercedes for the elect, that they be justified, pardoned, and receive “favor, friendship, and fellowship” with God and kept from temptation. He intercedes so our service will being acceptable before God, our prayers be heard, that we be armed against the fear of death, always advancing in sanctification towards our ultimate salvation and glorification. “In a word, he intercedes for everything needful, and for everything promised to them, his intercession being as broad as his purchase” (p. 626).

Durham contends that we fail to comprehend the far-reaching influence of Christ’s intercession. He seeks to comfort his readers by opening our mind beyond Calvary and into the eternal holy of holies where Christ is now interceding for the saints.

Throughout the volume Durham presses his readers into Scripture, presses them into the Cross, and then applies the Cross for their salvation, sanctification, joy and comfort.

The enduring value of Christ Crucified is quite evident.

Naphtali edition

The Naphtali edition is more than 700-pages long and noticeably tall and wide. You can see how it stands alongside Meet the Puritans.

The retypeset text is clean and easy to read. Archaic words are underlined with a brief definition in brackets. The text includes sidebar headings for each subheading, and these headings are all listed in the extensive table of contents (download a PDF copy of the full table of contents here). The outside columns provide great room for notes.

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Publishers of Puritan works should take careful note of Chris Coldwell’s work. Here is a retypeset Puritan classic, with the following admirable features:

  • Uses original sources for careful edits and corrections.
  • Notes variants and archaic words in the footnotes with a glossary in the back.
  • Provides an excellent introduction and author biography.
  • Supplies extensive table of contents in the front.
  • Adds a Scriptural index and topical index in the back.
  • Brought together with durable Smyth-sewn binding and housed in a cloth cover.

It’s doubtful the Naphtali edition could be improved.

Recommendations

I first learned of Durham four years ago when reading Spurgeon. In an early sermon Spurgeon said, “If I had lived in his [Durham’s] time, I should never, I think, have wanted to hear any other preacher; I would have sat, both by night and day, to receive the sweet droppings of his honeyed lips” (sermon 172). Obviously, Durham played a significant role in Spurgeon’s early ministry development.

As I mentioned earlier, in his personal copy of Christ Crucified, Spurgeon simply wrote “Much prized” (Autobiography, vol. 4). In Commenting and Commentaries – a book where Spurgeon freely assaults poor commentaries and their authors – he writes Christ Crucified is “marrow indeed” and “We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors.”

From contemporary reviewers Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson in Meet the Puritans (RHB: 2006) Christ Crucified is said to be “an excellent book for believers who yearn for a more intimate fellowship with Christ in His sufferings” (p. 678). Later they make the amazing claim that Christ Crucified is “one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption” (p. 679). On this Naphtali edition they write, “The present reprint is carefully and beautifully done” (p. 678).

We agree with all of the above.

Take the advice of Beeke and Spurgeon. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 is a classic Puritan work that has been beautifully reproduced. Your soul will be drawn to fellowship with Christ and stirred to deeper discoveries of the Cross. Since 1792, Durham’s classic has never been more available and never more affordable.

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Title: Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53
Author: James Durham (1622-1658)
Editor: Chris Coldwell
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > Easier thanks to excellent editing and glossary
Boards: cloth spine, embossed
Pages: 704
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: Smyth-sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type, re-typeset
Publisher: Naphtali Press
Year: 2001 ed., 2007 printing
Price USD: $45 retail; $30 pub.; $29 RHB
ISBN: 094107546x

         
 

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

Book review
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

The title of Jerry Bridge’s new book – Respectable Sins — pops with sarcasm. While confronting many obvious and blatant sins in culture – abortion, corporate corruption, homosexuality, bullying and physical abuse – the Church frequently misses the sins running rampant within its walls.

“The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more ‘refined’ or subtle sins” (p. 9).

Later in Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress: 2007) Bridges makes this shocking statement: “In our human values of civil laws, we draw a huge distinction between an otherwise ‘law-abiding citizen’ who gets an occasional traffic ticket and a person who lives a ‘lawless’ life in contempt and utter disregard for all laws. But the Bible does not seem to make that distinction. Rather, it simply says sin – that is, all sin without distinction – is lawlessness” (p. 20).

Bridges begins the book with an excellent chapter on defining sainthood in light of the messed-up Corinthians being considered “saints” (see 2 Cor. 1:1). We are called to live as the “saints” we have been declared in Christ. The second chapter — “The Disappearance of Sin” — paints a strong argument that the Church is having a hard time defining and seeing her own sins. The third chapter – “The Malignancy of Sin” – sets out to reveal that sin is not merely what we do but who we are. Our sinful actions spring from our sinful heart. Sin is a “principle or moral force in our heart, our inner being” (p. 24). Bridges then gets into the Gospel as our hope. We can face and overcome sin because of the Cross and the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

Bridges has dressed the reader for warfare.

The “Respectable Sins”

So what sins are “respectable sins”? Bridges’ chapters include the following topics:

  • general ungodliness defined as a sinful attitude towards God
  • anxieties and frustrations
  • discontentment
  • unthankfulness
  • pridefulness revealed specifically in self-righteousness, even in a pursuit of theological accuracy, in prideful motives behind our achievements and revealed in a spirit of independence
  • selfishness with our interests, time, money and inconsiderableness
  • lack of self-control in eating, drinking and temperament, finances, entertainment and shopping
  • impatience and irritability
  • anger, even anger towards God, and the underlying roots of anger in resentment, bitterness, enmity, hostility and holding grudges
  • judgmentalism and a critical spirit over differing convictions and doctrinal disagreements
  • envy, jealousy, competitiveness and being controlling
  • the sins of the tongue like gossip, slander, lying, harsh words, sarcasm, insults and ridicule
  • worldliness shown financially, by our idolatry and in “vicarious immorality,” that is, the enjoyment of watching or reading the sinfulness of others.

And Bridges says his list was whittled down for print!

Conclusion

Bridges’ new work fills an important gap. There are excellent theoretical and architectural works to help church leaders conceive the mission of pastoral ministry and fellowship groups (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp is one great one). But Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress: 2007) may be the best yet in giving churches an easy-to-read book that has great potential in small group settings as believers help one another identify — and then mortify — the “respectable” sins of the heart. And only one who has proven himself faithful to the message of the Cross, like Bridges, is suited to lead us deep into the caves and caverns where sin lives in our hearts. A useful and excellent book worthy of consideration in the 2007 TSS Book of the Year contest.

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Title: Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
Author: Jerry Bridges
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Pages: 187
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: glue
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (unnecessary)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: NavPress
Year: 2007
Price USD: $18.99 retail; $13.99 MonergismBooks
ISBNs: 9781600061400, 1600061400