Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2012)

The quick review: read this book.

The longer review: Michael Reeves has attempted to give us a readable book about the Christian doctrine of the trinity and not only make it sound understandable, but essential for the Christian understanding of God and his gospel.

Reeves’ thesis, I believe, can be summed up with this quote.

If God is not Father, Son and Spirit then he is eminently rejectable: without love, radiance or beauty.  Who would want such a God to have any power, or even exist?  But the triune, living God of the Bible is Beauty.  Here is a God we can really want, and whose sovereignty we can wholeheartedly rejoice on.  (pp111-12)

There are some important things to note about this.  Firstly, for Reeves, the trinity is all about God.  The doctrine is not something that we use to try and resolve an inconvenient dilemma about how Jesus can be God and yet there is also a Father.  It tells us who God is.

Secondly, throughout the book Reeves repeatedly uses the word ‘beauty’ to describe God and the trinity.  This kept wrong footing me because I am not used to the word coming up in a theological book like this.  On one hand I think he uses it well and the wrong footing for me was a chance to stop and think.  On the other hand I don’t see the term being used as a repeatedly in Scripture (though I am sure people will now fill the comments section with Biblical references).

I think the best thing I got out of this book was how the trinity helps me understand the gospel around the idea of love.  That sin is stopping being lovers of others and becoming lover of the self.  That the character of God is to be loving of the other within the trinity and then towards creation and humanity.

This book is probably best for mature Christians, leaders and professionals in ministry.  I found it very readable, but reading through other reviews, not everyone did.  Being readable, it was also very meaty.  There is a lot to stop and think about in terms of God, his character and his gospel, and I am looking forward to reading this in a group.

Throughout the book there are several asides from church history and other theologians.  I appreciated these nods to historical theology but if you were reading this with a young Christian or a group of youngish Christians these could be tangents that need to be explained.

A trial of the first chapter can be found here.

Let the Word do the Work

Let the Word to the Work

Ed. Peter Bolt. Matthais Media, 2015

I don’t think there as a been a single person that God has used in the last 40 years that would rival Phillip Jensen for the effect on evangelical Christianity in Sydney.  As a preacher, writer, trainer, publisher, strategist, pastor and most of all evangelist.  So when Peter Bolt told me he was working on a book for Phillip’s retirement(1) I was intrigued as to what he would produce.

It’s not what I expected.  It’s not a biography.  Phillip is a surprisingly private person and so this is not a huge surprise.  Nor is it the bunch of essays that I have seen in the past to commemorate someone’s retirement, which is what I expected.

It’s…well a bunch of short essay/ reflections from people who have worked with Phillip in one way or another.  Many of them looking at what Phillip taught them when they were growing. And they cover a range of different topics from preaching and pastoring to the DNA of a Mid Year Conference and even thoughts on temperance and alcohol consumption in a church.

All the essays are worth reading and considering.  None of them pretend to be objective.  Some are more reflective that others (e.g. Peter Bolt’s own contribution).

But it got me thinking, why produce a book like this?   Why not a biography?  Why not a set of more objective essays?  Phillip’s answer would be what does the Bible say?

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?”  (1 Thessalonians 2:19 ESV)

The best way of seeing whether ministry is fruitful or productive is to look at the people it is producing.  This book is a testament to the people that Phillip’s ministry has produced.  Hence it is exactly the right way to commemorate a milestone of Phillip’s ministry.

If you want to understand why Sydney evangelicalism is the way it is, then this is an important book to read.  If you want to see a good model of ministry then this is an important book to read.

(1) I should point out by ‘retirement’ I mean the ending of his formal ministry at the Sydney Cathedral.  He will of course continue to minister at “Two Ways to Live Ministries”.

John Stott Speaks from the Grave

Challenges_of_Christian_leadership_001_1024x1024-2John Stott was a legend in his day, the thing is he still is.  He was considered by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005.   He passed away peacefully in 2011.  His latest book was published this year.

Challenges of Christian Leadership started life as a series of talks in Ecuador to IFES staff.  While it has been available in Spanish this is the first time that we have had it in English.  In usual Stott style it is Biblical, careful, Christ-centered and powerful.  Each of the talks are a combination of Biblical knowledge and humble wisdom.

The chapters are short, too short for me, I was left wanting more each time.  They cover a range of topics: The Challenge of Discouragement, the Challenge of Self-Discipline (my fav), The Challenge of Relationships and the Challenge of Youth.  Another chapter is also included by others who were involved with Stott’s ministry and could testify that he lived what he wrote here.

Highly recommend it!  If you have a friend in ministry, do them a favour and go and buy a copy for them.

Top 5 Books on Eschatology

Over the last couple of months I have been working on a series on eschatology called The Time Travelers Guide to the End of the World. Apart from the Bible, I had some great resources to draw from, and here are my top 5:

51W44ivQizL1. The Bible and the Future

A .A. Hoekema: W. B. Eerdmans, 1979

This is far and away the best book I have found on eschatology.  It is easy to read, Biblically faithful and not afraid to deal with some of the hard issues.   It deals with both the trajectory of Biblical history and what is expected in the future.  It is worth getting for the appendix alone: recent trends in eschatology (as in in the last 100 years).

 

51rXepnn3yL2. 666 and All That

John Dickson and Greg Clarke: Aquila Press, 2007

This is an even easier read than The Bible and the Future.  It tends to be written with implied questions that people have about the future.  If reading is not your thing, this is the best of the books for you.

 

cover3. Erasing Hell

Francis Chan: David C. Cook, 2011

This book was written as response to Rob Bell’s approach to questioning the church’s understanding of hell.  Chan looks at the questions that Bell raises and does not back away from what he finds.  Rather than a comprehensive book on eschatology, it is more a book on hell alone.  But this is where Chan does what he does best – looks at Biblical truth and deals with it at both an intellectual and emotional level.

 

71DZmG4Tj3L._SL1500_4. What’s Best Next?

Matt Perman: Zondervan, 2014

OK, so this is not really a book about eschatology.  It is a book about making the most of the time we have, so its kind of related??  Seriously, this is an important read for anyone (get that: anyone) who has any kind of disposable time.  The study of eschatology should lead to us using the time we have here and now better and this is a good practical guide for Christians to work out how to do that.

410BTSRVE5L5. Eschatology and the Shape of Christian Belief

Robert Doyle: Paternoster Press, 1999.

Sadly, I think I am one of the few I know to wade through this tome, but trust me, if you have the time and the inclination you will be rewarded.  Doyle doesn’t just give us a Biblical picture of  eschatology, this is an incredibly comprehensive historical theology.  If you liked the appendix in The Bible and the Future you will love this.  Historical theology is so important in this topic and this book is a great resource.

 

 

Review: Gospel Patrons by John Rinehart

The thing about Grand Prix racing I love is not the drivers but the teams behind the drivers.  At the end of the race the driver s the guy who holds up the trophy and has champagne showered over him, but he would not be there without the team of guys building, maintaining, reviewing and paying for the car he was driving.

As a preacher I can identify with this.  I often get the accolades of “good talk”, “that really helped me” but really there is a team of people behind me and people don’t see that.  The same is true of people that God has used for truly great work he has done: Tyndale, Whitfield, John Newtown and others.  Most biography books focus on these people, this one focuses on the people behind thosegp-cover people.

I have to admit I came to this book a little sceptical: I didn’t recognise the publisher (Reclaimed Publishing), the book is clothbound (who does that these days?), there wasn’t even a barcode.  But I have been pleasantly surprised.  The book is written from a man who has a lot of money to others who have money, challenging them as to how they can use it better for Gospel work.

Rather than the “7 points on how to…” Rinehart simply gives us several stories of the people behind the people who have been great gifts throughout church history.  And rather than making ‘rich’ Christians feel guilty and ‘challenged’ (read: made to feel more guilty) this book highlights the opportunities they have to serve the wider Christian community.  I should point out you don’t need to be ‘rich’ to get something out of this book.  It is easy to read, well written and simply a good book.

This book is not written by a professional in ministry and it is not addressed to a professional in ministry, nevertheless I am extremely grateful for it and…well…you should read it!

Gospel Patrons is avaliable through the Matthias Media website or as a Kindle book.

 

Book Review: A Praying Life

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A Praying Life, Paul Miller.  Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2009.

I came to this book a little skeptically because I have found that there are two types of books on prayer. The first are the books that outline a great theology of prayer (which are good and challenging but don’t help me in my practise of prayer and inspire me for about a week and then just make me feel guilty) and those on the practise of prayer (which often end up in strange theological places and practices for that matter).

This book is more about the practise of prayer, though this is someone who has his theology a lot more clearer than any of the others in this category that I have read.  Learning how to pray is strange thing because it is something that kids pick up and adults forget.

Miller is honest in his writing, brutally honest.  And this is what makes the book so good. He addresses those issues that we don’t want to admit when we are Christian – doubts, questions, etc.  there  are 32 chapters that are easy to read, full of personal experience and wisdom.

That being said, I am still looking for that perfect balance of theology and practise.

There were two take away lessons for me.  Prayers are answered but not always in the time we want them to.  Abraham had to wait 25 years to see some of the blessings that he had been promised.  Miller often refers to the struggles he has had praying for his autistic daughter, Kim and his desire for her to speak.  This took some time and a surprising answer to prayer.

The other lesson is looking for answers to prayer.  Since sometimes we have to be patient has God answers prayer, we can also miss when God is answering prayer.   For me this has meant being more organised and specific in prayer.

This is definitely a must read for those who are seeking to take prayer ministry seriously.

Review: Sydney Anglicanism, An Apology

sydney-anglicanismThere is a lot about this book I needed to read and anyone who is connected with Sydney Anglicanism should too. I am a relative outsider of Sydney Anglicanism (1), yet proud and happy to be called a part of it. In this book, Michael has educated me on key aspects of how Sydney Anglicanism is viewed to the outsider. He has divided the book into “the Bible” and “the Church” and looked at some key hallmarks of what characterises Sydney Anglicanism as a movement/ culture/ thing. In doing so he has interacted with critics from the outside such as Kevin Giles and Muriel Porter and shown that Sydney Anglicanism is not the strange anomaly that time forgot, but rather a movement of conviction and deep thought. There are areas of history that Michael has researched and I have appreciated as I have got to know the ‘family stories’. For anyone interacting or living in Sydney Anglicanism this is a must read.

But I have to agree with Tony Payne, that the weakness of the book is not what is said, but what is not said (2). Tony picked up that there was no mention of Chappo (John Chapman to the non-Sydney Anglicans). But I think this, in turn, is a sign of something much larger, indeed larger than the book itself. During my time at AFES, one of the things that was drummed into us is the warning “what the first generation fought for, the second generation assumed and the third generation will deny”. I see myself, and Michael for that matter, as very much a part of the second generation. What I see us assuming is what David Bebbington(3) sees as one the of the four key marks of evangelicalism: conversionism. Is it’s absence from the book due to the blind-spot that is being shown as Michael, like me, is a part of the second generation of assuming? One could argue that it is due to the fact that the book is addressed more to the outsider and this is more an internal problem. But I would counter that by saying it is one of the key ideas that mark us different to the catholic, liberal character that the rest of the Anglican communion has become – a concern for people’s souls. This could be one of the most important lessons of the book.

(1) I am ordained and licensed as a minister in Sydney, but most of my professional ministry has been with AFES.  I have never held a position in Synod, nor attended in an official capacity.  I have had a brief tenure on one of the Anglican committees but that is all.
(3) As referred to in Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism. Vol. 1. 5 vols. A History of Evangelicalism. Leicester England: Apollos/ IVP, 2004. p16.