The “Most Tender Friendship” of George Whitefield



Preaching-George-WhitefieldAlthough a bitter rift had occurred between George Whitefield and John Wesley, Wesley could still say these things about Whitefield the man, given as a eulogy during Whitefield’s funeral:

“[H]e had a heart susceptible of the most generous and the most tender friendship. I have frequently thought that this, of all others, was the distinguishing part of his character. How few have we known of so kind a temper, of such large and flowing affections! Was it not principally by this, that the hearts of others were so strangely drawn and knit to him? Can anything but love beget love? This shone in his very countenance, and continually breathed in all his words, whether in public or private. Was it not this, which, quick and penetrating as lightning, flew from heart to heart which gave that life to his sermons, his conversations, his letters? Ye are witnesses!”

(HT: Steven Nichols during his lecture the Andrew Fuller Conference on “Whitefield and the Great Awakening”)

Book Briefs (Sep/Oct 2014)


, , , , , , , , ,

Here’s what I’ve been reading over these few months.

5175zsnFBDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale, 2009). Kidd prefers to call it the “long First Great Awakening.” This designation highlights the fact that the there were important revivals before the traditional dating of 1740. The Awakening started before Edwards’ revivals of 1734-35 and continued on through the end of the American Revolution. To bring it all together, it can be said the the First Great Awakening was a lengthy period 50 or 60 years that included revivals, “then a whole range of missions, agendas, and less celebrated developments” (xix). Kidd presents four reasons the Great Awakening happened because (1) God graciously poured out the Holy Spirit; (2) ongoing tensions between Protestant Britain and Catholic France and Spain; (3) of the so-called consumer revolution of the 18th century and, in particular, the advent of new media sources and techniques; and (4) of the role that simple hard work played in generating the awakenings. This is well-documented and important read.

2279David McCullough, Truman (Simon & Schuster, 1993). Remarkable biography! I would have had a hard time supporting many of Truman’s progressive agenda, but I’m thankful for the man, his impeccable integrity and the dignity he brought to the presidency. He was routinely mocked and minimized, but he overcame all his obstacles with a tireless work ethic and devotion for and duty to his country. I’ve enjoyed every McCullough book I’ve read, and this is no exception.

ross-psalms-2Allen Ross, Psalms: 42-89 (Kregel, 2014). Books are an indispensable component of a pastor’s arsenal. Commentaries hold special place in this arsenal as a preacher seeks to rightly handle the Word of God in his exegesis. Allen Ross’ three-volume work on the Psalms deserve to be on the shelf of every pastor. They blend the best of rigorous interpretation of the text and warm pastoral application. I have some minor quibbles with the presentation, but this is an invaluable resource that will help the preacher study and apply the treasure trove of the psalms.

616Eizn12dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marilynne Robinson, Lila: A Novel. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). It’s hard to surpass Robinson’s Pulitzer prize winning Gilead (2004), but this is a beautiful book in a raw kind of way. Think of it as an extended autobiographical reflection on Ezekiel 16—it pervades the novel from beginning to end. I read one reviewer compare Robinson to Flannery O’Connor and noted that where O’Connor shouts (with her grotesque), Robinson whispers. I find that to be so true.

rinity, Revelation, and Reading by Scott SwainScott Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation (T&T Clark, 2011).This slim academic book is gold. It is well written and conversant with a wide-ranging collection of ancient and contemporary theologians. His discussion on the inspiration, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture is grounded and precise. Perhaps most helpful are the final two chapters on reading Scripture “as an act of covenant mutuality.” In these chapters he highlights the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” I wasn’t entirely convinced by the various “dogmas” we should subscribe to, but it was good fodder for thought. Swain’s presentation of the four “phases” of interpretation—prayer, explication, meditation, and application—ought to be instilled in every student of Scripture. Swain identifies himself with the TIS movement (Theological Interpretation of Scripture). The movement as it currently stands is broad on the theological spectrum—it has Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals. I’m wary of TIS and afraid that will move people away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” but this work presents the movement at its best.

StoriesWeTellMike Cosper. The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014). I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about TV shows and movies I’ve never watched—or care to watch, really. Again and again Cosper shows how the stories we tell reflect—to greater or lesser degree—the grand story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. There are echoes of Eden all around us. And this books helps us hear them well.

51ndsDLf2uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2014). First, some concerns. Eugene Peterson’s blend of ecumenism and mysticism is problematic and often irritating. He has no problem associating in his “company of pastors” with Christian and Jew and from conservative to liberal. He praises Reformers like Luther and Calvin while then embracing the dangerous, experience-based mysticism of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. That said, his insights into Scripture and pastoral ministry are refreshing and spot on as he counters the commercialization of American Christianity. In this, his words are prophetic and needed in today’s church culture.

Prayer by Tim KellerTim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014). (I wrote a lengthier review here.) I devoured this book in a matter of days. It is the kind of book that invites multiple re-readings since we never master prayer. Keller showed me how cold I often am before the Lord (seen in an impoverished and anemic prayer life), but he also pastorally pointed to a better way to truly experience “awe and intimacy” with God. Frequently I was compelled to close the book, apply its rich truths, and seek the Lord in secret. If it has the same effect on others, I think Keller—and the Lord—will be pleased.

51Aiyo6zElL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Philip Jenkins. The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014). This past summer marked the 100th anniversary of First World War (1914-1918), a war often forgotten and little understood. Philip Jenkins, professor of history at Baylor University, retells the story afresh in The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. Jenkins argues that we cannot understand the war apart from understanding its religious and spiritual aspects. ​”The war took place in a world in which religious faith was still the norm,” he writes. Elsewhere he writes that “[r]eligion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war.” Some readers will find his presentation disjointed, missing a unifying theme; others will appreciate the various selections that serve as snapshots into the religious dimensions of the war. All readers, however, will come away with a better understanding of the “Great and Holy War” and grasp how it irrevocably changed the world, even into our own present day.

016166Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Metaxas has made more accessible his earlier, more expansive work on the German pastor-theologian. One common criticism is that Metaxas’ portrays Bonhoeffer more like an American theological conservative than what he actually. (I think recently this image has been helpfully balanced by Marsh’s account). That said, I still appreciate Metaxas’ lively book. Though a biography, it reads a lot like a novel or spy thriller. Here was a man who stood up to Hitler and the compromising German church of his day, and ultimately paid the price with his life. This is a melancholy yet inspiring account of a man who truly picked up his cross and followed the Master.

516qfG4YixL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Greg Forbes. 1 PeterExegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H, 2014). One of the joys I have in seminary is to head up a ministry at two local nursing homes with some devoted and faithful brothers. With a rotation of three or four men, it’s been wonderful to work my way through 1 John, Philippians, a smattering of the psalms, the Gospel of John, and now a return to 1 Peter, an apt epistle for those suffering and eager for glory. What I most appreciate about this series from B&H is that it helps the student of Scripture, who knows Greek but is a bit rusty, remove the mental cobwebs and use the original languages in preparation. Also, the epistle is broken up into digestible, exegetical units. Those wanting further study will no doubt appreciate the “For Further Reading” section which highlights journal articles, dictionary entries, monographs, etc. The “Homiletical Suggestions” are honestly a bit tacky at times, but they stimulate thinking and provide helpful examples on how to divide a passage into preaching points. Overall, this is a great tool for the preacher to own and use. (Download a sample chapter here.)

517BNb2a88L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Paul Johnson, Eisenhower (Viking Adult, 2014). Johnson is a master (short) biographer. He can take a large, titanic figure and present the essence of that life into a digestible book. His brief account of Churchill is one of my favorites. Last year he wrote on Mozart. And now he turns his attention to Ike. While I eagerly looked forward to this addition, I was not as impressed. Perhaps it’s that I read this in conjunction with McCullough’s sizable Truman. Or that Eisenhower and Truman were at odds with one another, with Eisenhower bordering on disrespect of his predecessor. Or perhaps it’s that Johnson paints Ike in glowing colors or that Johnson too often interjects into his account a lot of his own political and personal opinion. In any case, I learned a lot about Ike, but somehow this book fell flat on me.

Review: The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen


The Drama of Scripture- Finding Our Place in the Biblical StoryI read this book in college and recently picked up its revised second edition. It’s an excellent book that, as the subtitle states, is about helping Christians find their place in the biblical story.

Every person lives by a worldview. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew explain how one’s worldview impacts life: “A worldview not only describes the world for us, but also directs our life in the world. It not only gives us a perspective on how the world is…, but also acts as a guide for how the world ought to be and how we ought to live in the world”). Thus, every decision in life is, to one degree or another, is rooted in the soil bed of one’s worldview. The authors, realizing the great need for a faithful explication of the Christian worldview, wrote a book that though introductory, nevertheless covers a wide range of material. In the end, their purpose is simple: “to get [Christians] … excited about the scope of the gospel and breadth of their callings.”

The authors present a very thorough biblical worldview—from creation to sin to restoration. In this task they excel superbly. They show how God created everything with order, goodness, and beauty. Man, though created by God in his image (“God makes a finite and creaturely ‘stamp’ of himself”) willfully rebelled and thus ushered in sin and death. In contrast to this Christian worldview, they present the “Western story” that has so shaped our society in various ways throughout the centuries. The roots of the Western worldview were thoroughly pagan; and the puzzling thing is that the gospel was introduced in this culture. While there is great danger in this cultural accommodation, there is also the great potential for “faithful contextualizations” of the gospel message. Every culture faces this sobering dilemma; and yet there is no escape. The great wonder is that the gospel is transcultural; it does not need a specific culture to thrive, but so engages and adapts in any culture.

The interesting observation is the degree to which the Western worldview has been influenced and indeed enriched by the Christian worldview. As mentioned above, the inescapable danger is of so adapting to a culture that one loses any distinctive mark of Christianity. What Goheen and Bartholomew attempt to do, is to trace each of the historical periods, analyze their particular strengths and even their weakness, and also examine how the church reacted to it, where faithfully or not. Doing this well helps us be faithful in our day.

The reader must come to grips with the fact that while there are many noble aspects to affirm in the various competing worldviews, there still remains the inconsistent, self-contradictory, and indeed damaging implications of these worldviews. For example, Romantic humanism rightly saw the incongruities with the Enlightenment and therefore reacted against the Enlightenment’s outward engagement by turning inward (human emotion, imagination, creativity, and instinct). As Christians, we can affirm the honest, level-headed critique of the naïve optimism of the Enlightenment with the messianic hope in liberalism/Marxism, and even the acknowledgement of the “darker side” of the human heart. Yet, Christians must jettison the notion that answers to life ultimately lie with the self, with the ever-changing subjective inclinations of the human heart.

The implications of the authors’ arguments are great. Again, one’s worldview shapes every facet of life—nothing is left unchecked. For the Christian, then, our acceptance of the Christian worldview directly informs and guides how we operate a business, or involve ourselves in politics, or engage in sports, or perform music, or contribute to scholarship, or serve in education. These are but a few areas of contemporary life that the authors expound upon. The beauty of it all it in seeing how the gospel intersects every dimension of life. As Christians, we do not—or should not—operate with a compartmentalized gospel.

This book serves as a great guide for Christians to biblically and critically think on how best to serve God with the limited time each of us has in this life. While the church could easily become ingrown in order to maintain a semblance of fidelity, the need of the hour is for the church is to not only shine on Sunday mornings, but as Christians scatter in their spheres of influence Monday through Friday they can be clear witnesses of gospel-saturated lives.

That said, are there any weaknesses? Where the authors get the larger metanarrative right, I believe they miss out some of the particulars of the true mission of the church. Absent from the discussion is the need to evangelize and calls others to trust in Christ. Heavily indebted to N.T. Wright, there is great emphasis on the Lordship of Christ over the totality of life, but as John Piper has noted, how is Christ’s lordship any good to one who is not reconciled to him by faith. Therefore we must call others to turn from sin and toward Christ, not just be part of his story.

Is Herman Bavinck Relevant Today?



bavinckIs Herman Bavinck relevant today? Carl Trueman seeks to answer that in an excellent Themelios editorial (vol. 25, no. 3, June 2000, pp. 1–4). According to Trueman, Bavinck’s theology possesses the following strengths:

(1) Bavinck’s theology is unashamedly conducted within the context of faith and on the basis that the Bible is the revelation of God.
(2) Bavinck’s theology is rooted in exegesis.
(3) Bavinck’s theology is informed and intelligent in the manner in which it deals with alternative viewpoints.
(4) Bavinck takes seriously the need to articulate the faith in a manner which respects the historic doctrinal trajectories yet which addresses contemporary intellectual and social patterns of behaviour.
(5) Bavinck’s theology is shot through with the fire of personal devotion.

In sum, Treuman urges us theological students to read him and re-appropriate his theological methodology in own day:

“Read him; reflect on what he is doing; consider how the same principles might be worked out in theological studies today. It might just save your soul as it once saved mine; and it might just give you a vision for the role of theologians and theology within the life of the church which challenges the way you work at the moment. Theological students have both a great privilege and a great responsibility because of who they are and what they know. This should excite you, set your hearts on fire, send you out into the world and the church rejoicing in the good news which you, of all people, should know back-to-front and inside-out. Theological study is a moral, an intellectual, and a spiritual challenge, a challenge which men and women like Bavinck accepted in their own day and fulfilled to the best of their ability.”

Read the rest of Trueman’s unpacking of these points here.

Duty and Delight in Marriage



Trust me: this entire post is worth reading!

Once I asked my mom if she ever looked back with nostalgia on the heady time of her courtship and newlywed life with my dad.

“Not really,” she said. “Why would I want to go back to a time with less love? I loved your dad so much on the altar, but really, it was just a tiny drop, a tiny drop in the ocean compared to what I have now.”

Did she mean, I asked, that because she and dad had spent twenty years caring for and serving each other, she objectively knew she was loved and did love more than in the days of early passion?

“There’s that, of course. But it’s also just that when I look at him, I feel a thousand times more love than I did then. I know, because I remember.”

Read the rest!

Review: Prayer by Timothy Keller



Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with GodDutton, 2014. 321 pp. $26.95

Prayer by Tim Keller“Writing a book in your 50s will go twice as fast and be twice as good as if you try the same book in your 30s. It’s just good stewardship to wait.”

That was Tim Keller’s advice to pastors who desire to write. And he would know, since by my count, Keller has written nine books in the last two and half years. Talk about prolific writing!

Keller’s latest work is simply entitled Prayer. As he explains in the introduction, his aim is to combine the theological, experiential, and methodological in one book (1). He wants to drive home that prayer “is both conversation and encounter with God” (5).

We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence. Prayer, then, is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality. These will not happen every time we pray, but each should be a major component of our prayer over the course of our lives. (5)

Keller begins by acknowledging that he “discovered” prayer in the second half of his life with a series of moments: his teaching through the Psalms, the events of 9/11 (his wife implored him to pray together every night), and after his treatment for thyroid cancer (9ff.). This book, then, is the fruit of what he learned and what over the years, in both reading and in practice, he has discovered. Rather than giving a thorough review of this work, I will simply offer a couple of points that landed powerfully on me.

Warmth and Light

Keller repeatedly emphasizes the need for both sound doctrine and vibrant devotion—or what John Murray called “an intelligent mysticism” that steers clear of cold assent to truth on the one hand and passion devoid of truth on the other. Keller writes,

That means an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together. I was not being called to leave behind my theology and launch for ‘something more,’ for experience. Rather, I was meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help me experience my theology. (17)

Prayer, according to Keller, is a way to experience one’s theology. Using the thought of John Owen, Keller writes that “we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity … and eventually to nonbelief” (180). Of course, there is also a danger in other direction where affections “outrun” light. Despite this caution, both Owen and Keller agree that it is better to have more light than truth. I was surprised by this point and suspicious at first.

If we are going to be imbalanced, better that we be doctrinally weak and have a vital prayer life and real sense of God on the heart than that we get all our doctrine straight and be cold and spiritually hard. (182)

Perhaps it was the inner Pharisee in me or the instinctive Protestant rejection of my childhood Roman Catholicism, but I squirmed at this notion, especially when Keller encourages us to read “the medieval mystics with appreciation but also plenty of caution” (184). But after reflection, I came to understand what he is saying. He quotes Carl Trueman: “If the theology [of the medieval mystics] often leaves much to be desired, it would seem that the answer is not to reject the ambition of the mystics but to combine this ambition with appropriate theology” (184).

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

After constructing a theology of prayer in the first five chapters, Keller tackles the more practical components of prayer. For this he enlists three seminal figures—three “master teachers of prayer” (108). In chapter 6 he looks at the the letters of Augustine and Martin Luther on prayer and in chapter 7 he highlights Calvin’s 5 rules for prayer. These two chapters distill a treasure trove of historical wisdom regarding the practice of prayer. But perhaps most illuminating is chapter 8 wherein Keller focuses on each line of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Like before, he incorporates insights from all three theologians. I will highlight one insight.

Calvin, in his concluding remarks on the Lord’s Prayer, notes that the prayer as a whole was given to us in the plural form—“Us.” As such, “the prayers of Christians ought to be public … to the advancement of the believer’s fellowship” (118). According to Michael Horton, Calvin believed “public ministry shapes private devotion, not vice versa” (118). Keller underscores this well:

Prayer is … not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally….

C. S. Lewis argues that it takes a community of people to get to know an individual person. Reflecting on his own friendships, he observed that some aspects of one of his friend’s personality were brought out only through interaction with a second friend. That meant if he lost the second friend, he lost the part of his first friend that was otherwise invisible. ‘By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.’

If it takes a community to know an ordinary human being, how much more necessary would it be to get to know Jesus alongside others? By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived…. Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together. (118-119)

This is a timely word in our individualistic age. Private prayers are to be shaped by the corporate worship of God’s people. Each Lord’s Day as we gather with the church, we are learning how better to seek the Lord in secret.


It is a disservice to leave the review here. Keller’s discussion on the “touchstones of prayer” (ch. 9) merit more attention. His final section on “doing prayer” (chs. 12-14) are chock-full of wisdom. His concluding chapter on daily prayer provides some helpful and varied patterns of prayer that all readers can incorporate into their lives.

Even his endnotes deserve mention. In almost all cases I prefer footnotes over endnotes, yet in this work I appreciated how the endnotes allowed for an uncluttered and undistracted reading. But I made it a point to read all 386 of the endnotes afterward and I learned several things: (1) Keller has thought about prayer for many, many years (hence there’s wisdom when he says to wait until your 50s to write books); (2) Keller has done extensive, eclectic reading on the topic of prayer and has gained wisdom from many streams; and (3) Keller is extremely thorough in his presentation without being cumbersome (some endnotes can be articles unto themselves).

I devoured this book in a matter of days. It is the kind of book that invites multiple re-readings since we never master prayer. Keller showed me how cold I often am before the Lord (seen in an impoverished and anemic prayer life), but he also pastorally pointed to a better way to truly experience “awe and intimacy” with God. Frequently I was compelled to close the book, apply its rich truths, and seek the Lord in secret—and with God’s people. If it has the same effect on others, I think Keller—and the Lord—will be pleased.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Dutton for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Language Claps Its Hands


One of my favorite books of 2014:full_1408571351

“At the merely natural level, we are all dull and are served well when language claps its hands and wakes us up to pay attention….

“The point of this book has been that finding worthy words for worthy discoveries not only helps others feel their worth but also helps us feel the worth of our own discoveries. Groping for awakening words in the darkness of our own dullness can suddenly flip a switch and shed light all around what it is that we are trying to describe—and feel. Taking hold of a fresh word for old truth can become a fresh grasp of the truth itself. Telling of beauty in new words becomes a way of tasting more of the beauty itself.”

— John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. LewisCrossway, 2014

Owen Strachan’s Advice to Seminary Students



Owen Strachan, professor of theology at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, offers these great points of advice to men preparing for ministry:

strachan-owen201008_49870e1“Stay close to your family. Focus far more on being an excellent husband and father than anything else. You’d think this advice would be old hat, but I’m just 33 years old and have already seen numerous colleagues and friends fall out of ministry due to infidelity. It takes your breath away. It also makes you realize that you are not far from the same end.

“Luxuriate, exalt, and lose yourself in the life of the mind. Do not make the very common mistake of thinking that pastoral ministry is a retreat from thinking and pondering. It most certainly is not. The American church is in the midst of a theology famine. It needs excellent, soul-feeding preaching that is both theologically rich and boots-on-the-ground practical. See yourself as a small but vital part of solving this major problem. The pastor used to be a thinker. He should be again in our day.

“Preach well and study hard, but make sure you allot a good portion of your week to meeting with your people. You can by no means meet with everyone, so let that be said right up front. But if you lose that instinct, if you find yourself wanting to get away from the sheep, then hit the alarm. Pastoring is people work. It has to be. The pastor is not everyone’s personal discipler in a 1-on-1 sense. Preaching yields tremendous opportunity for discipleship in a group sense. But if a pastor is not doing some counseling and discipleship, something is off. Pastors are not theological resource providers; they are shepherds. If they are not directly shepherding some part of the body each week, I fear that they have transitioned out of biblical pastoral ministry.

“Feel no pressure at all to reinvent the ecclesial wheel. Gorge on the wisdom of the past like a hipster who was barred from their favorite foodie locales for a year and is now released to eat. Concentrate less on being the next Young Gun Pastor Sensation and more on attaching yourself to an ecclesial tradition that is tested by time, faithful to Scripture, and affords you opportunities to partner in the gospel to push the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

(via Am I Called)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 117 other followers