Get a free copy of John Piper’s new biography of C.H. Spurgeon

John-PiperJohn Piper is a household name among conservative evangelicals, particularly within the reformed community. He was the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota) for more than 30 years. Along the way, he established desiringGod.org, where he still serves as leading teacher. A sought-after speaker and prolific author (more than 50 books), John Piper has had, and continues to have, a remarkably effective and influential ministry.

Another equally well-known name, certainly among those knowing Piper, is the 19th Century English Baptist preacher and ardent five-point Calvinist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. With a ministry record of baptizing over 14,000 believers, training scores of men for ministry, establishing hundreds of Sundays Schools and preaching points across England and beyond, Spurgeon dispels the threadbare caricature that Calvinists don’t care about evangelism and rarely build ministries of any significance.

Over at the desiringGod blog, Jonathan Parnell, informs us that John Piper has recently released a small biography of Charles Spurgeon which is being offered for free in three digital formats, and for purchase in print.

Charles-Spurgeon---John-PiperThe book is an edited and formatted version of a sermon John Piper delivered years ago to a group of pastors, entitled Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity. It presents an “inspiring vision of gospel ministry and offers practical counsel for how pastors keep going when the times are toughest.”

You can read Parnell’s post here, where you will find instructions on how to download a free digital copy of the book. There is also a link to Amazon if you prefer to purchase a print copy of the book.

While you are at the desiringGod site, take a few minutes to browse the wide range of biblically-rich resources available to the public – much of it free of charge, though I’d enourage you to consider a donation to help the ministry continue. With 10,000 resources already available – sermons, articles, papers and books – it is a rich and growing repository of sound, biblical teaching.

 

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Becoming Reformed: Breaking with the past

change-just-aheadBecause of its requirement that members annually sign the doctrinal statement “without reservation”, my growing unease with a confident pretribulationalism inevitably led to resigning from WEF Ministries. It was a decision reached with great reluctance. I loved the mission and had developed good friendships with quite a few of its members.

But in a turn of events I did not anticipate, the members of the church we had planted requested that I stay on as their pastor. It was an awkward moment for the mission leaders and my coworkers, but the decision stood and I remained with the congregation who severed its ties with the mission. This required an adjustment of the church doctrinal statement, removing the requirement of embracing a dispensationalist hermeneutic.

Because the church was not yet self-supporting, and because my resignation from the mission meant that I would no longer receive financial support, I immediately began looking for a job to supplement the income the congregation could provide.

I wrote all of our supporters – virtually all of them holding a similar dispensationalist hermeneutic – informing them of my growing reluctance with pretribulational dispensationalism. I had discovered an organization that facilitated U.S.-based donors in providing financial support for Christian workers unaffiliated with mission organizations. While the majority of supporters declined to continue sending support, enough did to provide the shortfall in funding so that I did not need to take a job. God wonderfully provided all that we needed.

breaking-with-the-pastLittle did I know that the decision to leave WEF Ministries would constitute a genuine break from the past. It closed more than a few doors to friendships and relationships. For some, I had “denied the doctrines of the Bible.” However, letting go of a tightly-held, confident dispensationalism enabled me to freely explore a wonderfully rich Christian heritage that I had previously held aloof.

Opening myself to fellowship with a wider body of believers led to meeting others who were already well along the road to rediscovering the richness of a reformed soteriology. I am thankful for all those men who, while recognizing I was not fully reformed as they were, nevertheless patiently encouraged me in my pilgrimage toward a reformed understanding of salvation.

By this time I was already committed to the doctrines commonly described as total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Like many who had traveled this road ahead of me, I struggled with the doctrine of limited atonement (I prefer the term definite atonement).

During these developments in 1980, in a remarkable display of divine providence, God brought David and Pamela Bugden to serve the congregation of First Calvinist Baptist Church (now Sovereign Grace Baptist Church) in Oromocto, New Brunswick. Remember it was David Bugden who had introduced me to the Westminster Fellowship during our years in England.

Along with serving the congregation at Oromocto, David Bugden encouraged reformed men in the maritime provinces by hosting a monthly pastors fellowship where men of reformed persuasion could meet for study, prayer and fellowship. Despite the meetings being a five-hour drive, I rarely missed an opportunity to attend that fellowship.

the-sovereignty-of-grace--aurthur-custanceIn late 1980 or early 1981, I don’t now recall, a package arrived by mail containing nothing but a book: The Sovereignty of Grace by Arthur Custance. Though I am not certain, to this day I believe the book came as a gift from David Bugden. The book described Arthur Custance’s journey into a full-fledged reformed soteriology. I am grateful for the gift because it was the final piece that brought me fully into the fold of a five-point Calvinistic soteriology. You can read this book online here.

In future posts I will explain why I believe the five-points of Calvinism faithfully reflect the Biblical doctrine of salvation.

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Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews

Solid Food-J-Leith (196x300) Solid Food: A Layman’s Study of Hebrews
Jeffrey Leath
Outskirts Press Inc., 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4787-2801-6

Jeffrey Leath faithfully prepares and teaches a weekly adult Sunday School class at Pine Grove Church in Bowmansville, Pennsylvania. While he could choose to use one of the many excellent curriculums available from a multitude of evangelical Christian publishers, Leath has embraced the challenge of studying and preparing his own materials.

At the encouragement of those who benefit from his weekly teaching, Leath has made this study of Hebrews available to the wider Christian public. In doing so, he illustrates the cherished doctrine of the priesthood of the believer – every Christian is privileged and responsible to study and meditate on the Word of God.

Written at a popular level, Solid Food is not an academic study; though extensive footnotes demonstrate Leath’s commitment to drawing from a wide swath of evangelical scholars. This is a great example for the scores of laypersons called upon to lead groups and teach classes in evangelical churches everywhere. English-speaking Christians have a deep well of resources from which to draw, and Leath shows how this can enrich one’s personal study and subsequent teaching of others. Hopefully Solid Food will encourage other lay people in developing their own material for use in their respective ministries.

Following an introductory meditation on how Christ, the Passover Lamb, fulfills the Mosaic Law, the core themes of Hebrews are laid out in thirteen chapters.

Table of Contents

Preface To My Children

Introduction: Christ, the Passover Lamb, Fulfills the Law

Chapter 1. Heavenly View
Chapter 2. 1-4 Earthly View
Chapter 2. 5-18 Earthly View
Addendum to Chapter 2. 5-18, the Preacher’s Use of Psalm 8
Chapter 3. Jesus is Greater Than Moses
Chapter 4. The Rest of Faith
Chapter 5. Jesus the Superior High Priest
Chapter 6. Forward to Maturity
Chapter 7. Order of Melchizedek
Chapter 8. Better Covenant
Chapter 9. Better Sanctuary
Chapter 10. Better Sacrifice
Chapter 11. Faithful Lives
Chapter 12. Support Each Other
Chapter 13. Final Words from the Preacher

Drawing from Jewish literature (e.g. apocryphal writings and the Talmud), Leath reminds readers that the New Testament book of Hebrews was first written to early Jewish believers. Knowing the Jewish background to Hebrews provides a richer study, and strengthens the student’s understanding of the unity of Scripture – how the Old and New Testament tell the same wonderful story of redemption.

If you are seeking an easy-to-follow study guide for your class or small group, or a resource for your own personal study, Solid Food is a good option.

Purchase this book now.
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The answer is not ditching technology

c-s-lewis-a-life--a-mcgrathAlister McGrath’s, C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Tyndale House Publishers, 2103), is a comprehensive look at one the 20th centuries most influential apologists for the Christian faith.

McGrath’s biography is comprehensive, readable, and surprising in some of its details. If you appreciate the writings of C.S. Lewis, this biography will not disappoint.

Below is a sampling of reviews already published online:

Jerry Root – Does C.S. Lewis Have Something to Hide?
Michael Dirda – C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath
Tim Challies – Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

While there are many parts of the story that fascinated me, this short excerpt has me thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of digital texts. In chapter 13, covering Lewis’s move from Oxford to a teaching post at Magdalene College (Cambridge), McGrath quotes British historian Keith Thomas with reference to “extended periods of direct textual engagement” – that is, how individuals read and annotated texts in the period known as the Renaissance.

Thomas says:

It was common for Renaissance readers to mark key passages by underlining them or drawing lines and pointing fingers in the margin – the early modern equivalent of the yellow highlighter. According to the Jacobean educational writer John Brinsley, ‘the choicest books of most great learned men, and the notables students’ were marked through, ‘with little lines under or above’ or ‘by some prickes, or whatsoever letter or mark may best help to call the knowledge of the thing to remembrance’.

McGrath follows up this quote by observing that both Keith Thomas and C.S. Lewis shared a commitment to “extended, active reading of primary sources.” I suspect that all competent scholars would share this priority.

However, the advent of digital texts is dramatically transforming the reading habits of researchers. Continuing to reference Keith Thomas, McGrath notes:

Researchers no longer read books from cover to cover; they use search engines to find words or passages. But this approach has made researchers less sensitive to the deeper structures and inner logic of the texts they are discussing, and much less likely to make the ‘unexpected discoveries which come from serendipity.’ As Thomas ruefully remarked, the sad truth was that what once took a lifetime to learn by slow and painful accumulation can now ‘be achieved by a moderately diligent student in the course of a morning.’

McGrath tells us that Lewis’s “heavily annotated personal library” demonstrates an intense engagement with primary text. It is this kind of “detailed textual engagement and conceptual mastery” that McGrath says Thomas believes to be in “terminal decline through the rise of technology.”

I have been thinking about these comments for the past couple of days, setting them alongside my own move from studying mainly from print-based texts to digital.

For example, there is no question that Logos Bible Software has transformed my approach to sermon preparation, saving me much time in researching texts and commentaries. The ability to have numerous resources open simultaneously and synced together is a fabulous experience. Searching for words, phrases and themes is so easy. I love using Logos 6 for sermon preparation.

But I have also noticed that sustained reading in digital texts is quite different from print-based reading. I confess to missing the ability to easily flip back and forth between sections of a book. Digital texts do not allow the visual sense of progress through a book. And in most cases, I am not able to let my eyes drop down to a footnote while staying connected to the text of the page itself.

I do believe there is something to be said for the loss of “detailed textual engagement and conceptual mastery.” Researching text electronically allows one to zero in on specific words and phrases, but it also tempts one to neglect the wider reading of a text. No question but that researching an electronic text is faster and more efficient in terms of finding information. But are we in danger of trading conceptual wisdom and mastery of a text for bits and bytes of bare facts?

The answer is not, I believe, ditching the use of technology, but of wisely using it while recognizing the temptation to engage in a sort of hit and run scholarship – of digging into a text for a few words and phrases, while neglecting to master the full argument of the scholar or text in question.

Purchase this book now.
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Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians

Spurgeon Commentary Series - GalatiansSpurgeon Commentary: Galatians
Charles Spurgeon
Elliot Ritzema, Editor
Lexham Press, 2013

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the renowned 19th Century British Baptist pastor was a man of the Bible. Whether preaching, lecturing, writing, or in casual conversation, Biblical words, phrases and themes were rarely absent. Though he produced only two commentaries – a six-volume treatment of the Psalms (Treasury of David),  and one volume on Matthew (The Gospel of the Kingdom), he was a prolific writer. Alongside numerous books and articles related to pastoral ministry, Spurgeon’s published sermons fill 63 volumes. These are a goldmine of topical and expositional Bible preaching. Spurgeon’s published works are a treasure trove of biblical material, available both in print and online, but accessing Spurgeon’s comments on particular texts of Scripture is a huge time commitment – one that many busy pastors just cannot afford.

For example, I have several print volumes of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. When I am preparing a sermon and want to know what Spurgeon might have said about that text, I have to take out each volume and search through the individual sermon listings, chapter titles, or the Scripture Index to see if my text if referenced. This is both time-consuming and incomplete, and to top it off, I have only a small sampling of Spurgeon’s writings. But things are looking up.

spurgeon-commentary-collection-new-testament-lettersThe Logos Spurgeon Commentary Series will breathe new life into the ongoing influence of Charles Spurgeon. Volume one covers Spurgeon’s teaching on the book of Galatians. Nine more volumes are in development and, at the time of this writing, still on pre-order status at considerable savings. (Order now as the volumes are scheduled to ship on January 15, 2015.)

Ritzema describes the project in his Introduction to this first volume:

The idea behind this series is simple: take material from Spurgeon’s sermons and writings and organize it into commentary format. The series includes several features that I believe will be helpful for both the devotional reader and the preacher preparing for a sermon.

Each section of the commentary includes three kinds of comments from Spurgeon: exposition, illustration, and application. The expositions do not simply deal with a block of biblical text as a whole; they are organized by verse as well as by words within that verse. This means that you can easily find what Spurgeon says about a particular verse or phrase. The individual phrases that Spurgeon comments on within a verse are set in bold text. Some verses have long paragraphs of exposition, while others have a little or none at all. This reflects how much Spurgeon wrote on each verse. I have tried to include as much content as possible in places where Spurgeon wrote a lot, but unfortunately I have had to be selective at times.

Ritzema has updated some language for greater readability: “thee” and “thou” become “you” and archaic terms unfamiliar to contemporary readers have been replaced with modern equivalents. This commentary uses the modern Lexham English Bible (LEB) in place of the King James Version (KJV), though where Spurgeon emphasized a particular word of phrase, the original KJV phrasing has been retained.

By organizing the expositional comments phrase-by-phrase, and drawing commentary from multiple sources, what might have become a choppy, disjointed text is really quite smooth and readable in its own right. Ritzema has done an excellent job of editing.

Some of Spurgeon’s best illustrations are interspersed throughout the expositional comments. And with the illustrations being tagged with preaching themes, they are searchable through the Sermon Starter Guide in Logos 6.

All preaching calls for response, and Spurgeon always applied his text, calling for a response from his audience.  Not only do the applications provided in this resource call contemporary listeners to action, they serve as a teaching tool for today’s preachers, helping us learn how to effectively apply the teaching of Scripture to our own circumstances.

At the end of each section of Scripture commented upon, Ritzema lists the sources for Spurgeon’s comments, illustrations and applications – all available in Logos. The only drawback to this, as far as I can see, is that I am now tempted to purchase the 149-volume Charles Spurgeon Collection to my already extensive Logos package!

charles-spurgeon-collectionIf you already own the 149-volume Charles Spurgeon Collection, you may feel this new resource is not necessary. While you could create the search parameters for yourself, this new commentary series will dramatically lessen your sermon preparation time. And if you want to see Spurgeon comments in their original context, you can access them directly from this new commentary itself.

This looks to be a great resource for time-starved preachers and teachers.

[Other than a publisher-provided review copy, no remuneration was received for this review.]

Resources mentioned in this review can be purchased online here:

Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians

Spurgeon Commentary Collection

Charles Spurgeon Collection

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