Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Marks of Ministry: Lessons from C. H. Spurgeon

On February 8, 1892, tens of thousands of Londoners participated in a funeral procession, which extended over two miles, for a man without any official title, academic degree, military post, or political position: Charles Haddon Spurgeon—a Baptist preacher. Over the years, I have read multiple sermons by Spurgeon and several biographies on Spurgeon. Certain aspects of his ministry have really stood out to me.

A Commitment to the Gospel

In a sermon to pastors, Spurgeon remarks, “Be sure whatever you leave out, that you tell them of the three Rs: Ruin, Regeneration, and Redemption.” These three Rs encapsulate the main thrust of Spurgeon’s preaching. There was no doubt in his mind that the gospel is the good news that God saves sinners from his wrath for his glory through Christ’s substitutionary death. And there was no question in his mind that God had appointed him to proclaim this gospel—to plead with sinners to accept Christ’s terms of peace. This was Spurgeon’s greatest desire. It compelled him and consumed him. For Spurgeon, mercy experienced is mercy proclaimed, mercy received is mercy dispensed, mercy enjoyed is mercy shared. That is to say, the mercy of God stirred in him a sense of eagerness and earnestness in the proclamation of the gospel.

A Commitment to the Bible

Regarding John Bunyan (the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress), Spurgeon writes, “Read anything of his; and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” What Spurgeon said of Bunyan, we can say of Spurgeon: “his soul is full of the Word of God.” He believed that, as the Word of God, the Bible is the means by which God reveals himself. It’s the means by which God imparts his grace. Moreover, it’s the way by which Christ comes to us. Fully convinced of this, Spurgeon believed that Scripture stands at the center of the life of the Christian and the church.

A Commitment to the Truth

Related to his conviction that the Bible is the Word of God, Spurgeon ascribed fully to the absolute authority and complete sufficiency of Scripture. He viewed any departure from the teaching of Scripture as a direct attack upon the faith. This conviction became visibly apparent in the 1880s when he faced the rising tide of liberal theology within the Baptist Union. He was concerned about challenges to the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the vicarious atonement of Christ, and the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Rightly perceiving these truths to be at the heart of the gospel, he took an uncompromising stand: “The crisis becomes every day more acute: delays are dangerous; hesitation is ruinous. Whosoever is on the Lord’s side must now show it at once, and without fail.” For the most part, his warnings went unheeded and, as a result, he decided to lead the London Metropolitan Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union. At the root of Spurgeon’s actions were pastoral concerns: “Every man who keeps aloof from the struggle for the sake of peace will have the blood of souls upon his head.” Spurgeon understood that his people were susceptible to doctrinal subterfuge. And, as a pastor, he embraced his calling to instruct in sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict the truth (Titus 1:9).

A Commitment to Justice

In 1860, Spurgeon launched a scathing attack on American slavery, declaring, “America is in many respects a glorious country, but it may be necessary to teach her some wholesome lessons at the point of the bayonet—to carve freedom into her with the bowie-knife or send it home to heart with revolvers. Better far should it come to this issue, that North and South should be rent asunder, and the States of the Union shivered into a thousand fragments, than that slavery should be suffered to continue.” Unsurprisingly, Spurgeon’s fiery criticism of slavery won him little support in the South. As a matter of fact, many people boycotted his books and some even burned his effigy. Despite the open hostility, Spurgeon was undeterred in affirming his position. Believing the gospel to be God’s instrument for change, he denounced sin in its innumerable forms and expressions—whether personal or societal.

A Commitment to Christ

When the London Metropolitan Tabernacle opened in 1861, Spurgeon declared: “I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ [...] who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.” For Spurgeon, the heart of Christianity isn’t Reformed doctrines or Baptist distinctives (however important they might be), but the person and work of Christ. He was convinced that there was nothing more soul-satisfying than contemplating Christ and our interest in him. For this reason, he proclaimed Christ, setting forth the beauty of his person, the sufficiency of his work, and the excellence of his offices. “Where there is nothing of Christ,” says Spurgeon, “there is nothing of unction, nothing of savor […]. Leave Christ out of your preaching, and you have taken the milk from the children, you have taken the strong meat from the men; but if your object as a teacher or preacher is to glorify Christ, and to lead men to love him and trust him, why, that is the very work upon which the heart of God himself is set.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective




This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com

Many years ago, I waded through the depths of William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor—an exhaustive exposition and application of Ephesians 6:10–20 (almost 1,200 pages of minuscule script). Since then, I’ve been searching for a book that conveys the same essential message without (dare I say) the verbosity. I’m glad to report I’ve found it—Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective.

At the outset, I want to mention three reasons why you should read this book. (I’ll conclude this review with a fourth—the most important of all).

First, the book has something to say (albeit indirectly) to a society that exhibits an unhealthy fascination with zombies, vampires, wolverines, witches, and demons (wrongly perceived). Our society’s preoccupation with all that is ghostlike is nowhere more evident than in the vast number of Hollywood films and Television shows about good-looking (for the most part) non-humans struggling to find meaning somewhere on planet Earth. How are we to handle all of this nonsense? This book provides a safe haven.

Second, the book has something to say to a church that evidences deep-seated confusion over the nature of spiritual warfare. While at college, I participated in a summer missions’ trip to Russia. At one point, we traveled by bus between two cities. As we set out, a young woman took it upon herself to lead our team in prayer. She thanked God for the angels riding on top of the bus. Her hope was that her prayer would impart enough energy to these angels, so that they would be able to ward off the demons that wanted to wreck our bus. Personally, I thought she had been reading too many of Frank Peretti’s books, so I challenged her leaky theology. She was deeply offended, and became increasingly apoplectic as she defended her pseudo-Gnosticism. (Needless to say, it was a long bus ride.) How are we to respond to those who have a warped perception of what it means to engage in spiritual warfare? This book provides a solid reproof.

Third, the book has something to say to the believer who desires to know what it means to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” How do we resist temptation? How do we mortify the flesh? How do we wrestle with the spiritual forces of wickedness? This book provides a sure guide.

According to the authors (Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura), the book’s purpose is to equip Christians to think and fight biblically (p. ix).

In the “Introduction,” they acknowledge that spiritual warfare is a controversial subject: some people ignore the reality of demonic activity while others attribute every bump in the night to demons (pp. 1–3). The authors seek to present a balanced (i.e., biblical) position by defining the nature of spiritual warfare in its historical context. They provide a brief overview, from Satan’s conquest of Adam in the garden to Christ’s conquest of Satan at the cross (pp. 3–6). They acknowledge the eschatological significance of Christ’s victory; namely, we live with the “already” and “not yet” realities of salvation. This tension is a recurring theme throughout the book. Christ’s kingdom is inaugurated, but it is not yet consummated. This means we engage in an on-going struggle with a defeated enemy. The authors repeatedly stress this tension, pointing to the urgency of the present conflict and the certainty of the final outcome.

From here, the book divides into three main sections.

In the first (chapters 1–4), the authors expound Paul’s preliminary remarks (vv. 10–12). What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? What does it mean to put on the full armor of God? What are the schemes of the devil? What is the nature of our conflict?

In the second section (chapters 5–10), the authors explain the different pieces of armor (vv. 13–18): the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace footwear, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.

In the third section, (chapters 11–13), the authors consider the role of prayer and proclamation in spiritual warfare (vv. 19–20). Briefly, prayer is the means by which we employ the pieces of armor (p. 88), while preaching is the actual “unsheathing of the sword of the spirit” (p. 100). 

The book concludes with a “Debriefing,” in which the authors summarize the main principles gleaned from Ephesians 6:10–20.

Following the conclusion are three insightful appendices. The first addresses the relationship between God’s sovereignty and Satan’s activity. The second grapples with the issue of whether or not Christians can be demon-possessed. The third includes an exhortation to pray for pastors.

The book is well-written and well-organized. It’s exegetically sound, theologically solid, and pastorally sharp. Moreover, each chapter concludes with reflection questions, which serve to relate biblical truths to personal contexts.

But the book’s greatest strength (and this brings me to the fourth reason why you should read it) is its Christological focus. To the point, the authors make it clear that we engage in spiritual warfare by putting on Christ. (For example, see pages 11–13.) Our union with Christ links redemption accomplished and redemption applied. In other words, all the blessings of salvation (that is, all that Christ purchased for us) flow to us through our union with Him. We live upon His merit. We commune with Him in His names and titles, His righteousness and holiness, His death, burial, and resurrection. Our life is intertwined with His, meaning His wisdom is ours to direct us, His power to protect us, His mercy to assist us, His grace to forgive us, and His faithfulness to encourage us. To engage in spiritual warfare is (above all else) to live daily in the reality of what it means to be in Christ.

By pointing us to the Christ-centered nature of spiritual warfare, Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura accomplish their desired goal—namely, to equip us to think and fight biblically.

J. Stephen Yuille

Monday, August 4, 2014

Romans 2:17-24

If Paul were to write Romans 2:17-24 today, it might sound something like this.

But if you call yourself a born-again Christian, rely on the Bible, and affirm that the God of Scripture is the only God . . . and if you’re certain you have a relationship with this God because you walked down the aisle, signed a commitment card, prayed a prayer, or cried really hard one night a long time ago . . . and if you’ve memorized dozens of verses and listened to hundreds of sermons, and are able to answer all sorts of difficult questions . . . and if you’re convinced you possess the truth and, therefore, take it upon yourself to instruct your friends and neighbors who are like immature children in comparison to you . . . do you teach yourself?

Is it possible you’ve never really understood the truth you claim to possess? Is it possible you overlook your sin while condemning others? Is it possible you abhor blatant idolatry while secretly worshipping the idols of your own heart? Is it possible you condemn the homosexual while permitting all sorts of unclean thoughts to run through your mind like an open sewer? Is it possible you condemn the liberal while harboring deeply entrenched feelings of envy, anger, bitterness, and resentment? Is it possible you base your relationship with God on who you think you are? For example, do you equate Christianity with being American? Is it possible you base your relationship with God on what you think you know? For example, do you rely on your theological correctness? Do you rely on your church’s doctrines and traditions? Is it possible you base your relationship with God on what you think you do? For example, do you rely on your personal code of conduct? Do you rely on your powerful emotional experiences? Do you rely on your convictions concerning how the family unit should function? Do you rely on your convictions concerning abortion and a host of other social issues? Do you equate any of these things (in themselves) with what it means to be right in the eyes of God?

Are you overly critical? Do people feel uncomfortable around you because they never know what’s going to come out of your mouth? Are you overly sensitive? Do you become defensive when people dare to mention your shortcomings? Are you harsh because you must constantly find people who are not as good, not as smart, not as orthodox, or not as godly as you? Are you smug because you think you’re pretty good? Are you anxious because you’re never sure you’ve done quite enough?

If so, oh, you who boast in God and the Bible . . . you’re terribly deceived. And you’re the biggest impediment to the gospel. Do you not realize that unbelievers blaspheme God’s name on account of your blatant hypocrisy?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Christ is All in All: Insight from a Forgotten Baptist Pastor

Thomas Wilcox (1622–1687) was the pastor of a small Baptist church in the city of London. For whatever reason, very few details of his life have been preserved for us. There’s no funeral sermon or collection of personal letters. There are no biographical references in the writings of his contemporaries. All that remains of this obscure Baptist pastor is one solitary sermon entitled A Guide to Eternal Glory. In this sermon, Wilcox encourages his readers to fix their eyes on Christ. What does he mean? We can sum up the answer in three statements.

We fix our eyes on Christ by applying his blood

“Keep the eye constantly upon Christ’s blood,” says Wilcox. Why? As he explains, the value of Christ’s blood is twofold (Heb. 9:14). First, Christ’s blood makes atonement for sin by satisfying God’s justice, appeasing God’s wrath, and securing God’s mercy. Second, Christ’s blood cleanses the conscience from dead works—that is, sin’s guilt and defilement. How? Christ’s blood removes the guilt of sin (justification) and the defilement of sin (sanctification). For this reason, Wilcox pleads with us to “not keep guilt in the conscience, but apply the blood of Christ.”

We fix our eyes on Christ by prizing his righteousness

“The more you look at Christ, the Sun of righteousness,” writes Wilcox, “the stronger and clearer the eye of faith will be.” Why? We stand to Christ in the same relation as the members of a physical body stand to their head, and Christ stands to us in the same relation as the head of a physical body stands to its members (Eph. 4:15). As a result of this “intimate conjunction,” the body has communion with the head. In other words, we share in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We share in his names and titles. Moreover, we share in his righteousness. All those who are in Christ are righteous, because they are one with the Righteous One. As Wilcox declares, this alone is “the foundation for our hope,” adding, “Christ’s infinite satisfaction is our justification before God.”

We fix our eyes on Christ by esteeming his priesthood

“See Christ your peace leaving you peace when he went up to heaven.” In this exhortation, Wilcox is primarily thinking of the benefits of Christ’s priesthood: his oblation (sacrifice) and intercession (prayer). Significantly, these two aspects of Christ’s priesthood correspond to the high priest’s “double office” under the Mosaic Covenant, whereby he offered the blood of the sacrifice outside the holy place (oblation) and presented the blood of the sacrifice inside the holy place (intercession). Christ’s oblation is offered to make atonement by giving to God a full and adequate satisfaction for our sin. Christ’s intercession guarantees the application of all that he procured by his atonement. It’s this ministry of intercession that Wilcox has in view when he declares, “See Christ praying for you, using his interest with the Father for you.”

Conclusion

Knowing that we’re “absolutely nothing” while Christ is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), Wilcox encourages us to fix our eyes upon Christ. “This alone,” says he, “is true religion: to rest everything upon the everlasting mountains of God’s love in Christ; to live continually in the sight of Christ’s infinite merit and righteousness; to see all the vileness of your sin pardoned; to see your polluted self accepted continually; to trample upon your own righteousness, efforts, and privileges as abominable; and to be found continually in the righteousness of Christ alone, rejoicing in the ruin of your own righteousness and the spoiling of your own excellencies; so that Christ alone, as Mediator, may be exalted upon his throne.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Husband's Prayer

The following article was first posted at http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/a-husbands-prayer/


A while back, this statement from F. F. Bruce really grabbed my attention: “It is in the closest and most familiar relationships of daily living that the reality of one’s Christian profession will normally be manifest.” Isn’t this stating the obvious? Yes it is, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the blatantly obvious. Many of us give the impression (consciously or not) that the heart-beat of the Christian faith is found in solving theological puzzles, pursuing grandiose experiences, enduring great hardships, mastering spiritual disciplines, or engaging in cutting-edge ministries. While I’m not disparaging any of those things, I want to make it clear that they don’t represent the heart-beat of the Christian faith. This place of distinction belongs to what F. F. Bruce calls “the closest and most familiar relationships of daily living.”

As a married man, what’s my closest relationship? This isn’t rocket science. The answer is obvious: my wife. For me, this reality sheds fresh light on a well-worn portion of Scripture: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Love left a glorious crown, walked in our flesh, and took our infirmities. Love gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame, and life to the dead. Love was hungry, thirsty, and weary. Love was despised and rejected. Love had nowhere to lay his head. Love was sorrowful unto death. Love was betrayed, arrested, and condemned. Love was scourged with cords and pierced with nails. Love climbed a shameful cross. Love bore our guilt and shame. That’s how “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Acutely aware of the disparity between this high calling and my utter inability, I find myself praying—a lot. That’s a good thing. Recently, I stumbled upon a prayer by George Swinnock—a seventeenth century English Puritan (of the Presbyterian variety, if that means anything to you). Now, an important caveat: I’m not endorsing everything Swinnock ever wrote about men, women, and marriage. If he were alive today, I’d take issue with him on a point or two. But, that being said, his prayer really resonated with me. I trust you’ll see why in the following extract—heavily edited for all those unfamiliar with olde engli┼┐h.

“Father, you have commanded me to love my wife as Christ loves his bridethe church. His love is purethere isn’t the least shadow of impurity in his love. His love is constant—there isn’t anything that can break the cords of his love. His love is fervent—there isn’t anything that can rival the depths of his love. His desire and delight are in his bride alone. Oh, that I might follow my Savior’s example! I pray that my love for my wife might be like Christ’s love for his bride. How diligently did Christ secure her salvation! How willingly did he shed his blood to cleanse her! How affectionately does he entreat her to be holy! How fervently does he ask his Father to make her holy! How plentifully does he bestow his Spirit upon her to produce holiness in her! He gave himself for her that he might redeem her and purify her. All of his tears and prayers are for her. His birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his intercession are all for her. He doesn’t consider himself complete until she is with him in glory. Father, I want my love for the one whom I call ‘my love’ to be like this. I want my heart to be knit to my wife. I want my love for her be like the sunalways shining in full strength.”

Amen. Not bad for an old Puritan! When we love our wives like this, our marriages mirror a far greater reality—namely, the relationship between Christ and his bride. That is to say, our marriages become a living picture of the gospel. An appreciation of this reality liberates marriage from its modern-day caricature as a trap, chore, or burden. It frees marriage from the selfish, self-centered, self-serving, self-gratifying convenience or inconvenience that it has become for many. It elevates marriage into the realm of the divine. And it sets marriage apart as one of the most sacred callings the world has ever known. May the reality of our Christian profession be manifest in our “closest and most familiar” relationship!

Stephen Yuille

Friday, June 27, 2014

Four Views on Christian Spirituality

This review was first published at Books at a Glace: www.booksataglance.com




The purpose of the Counterpoints series is to provide a forum for comparing different views on issues deemed important to Christians. Recognizing the recent surge of interest in the topic of spirituality, Counterpoints has produced the present volume: Four Views on Christian Spirituality.

In the introduction, Bruce Demarest sets the stage for the four views by identifying the cause of the recent rise of interest in spirituality: “dissatisfaction with materialism and consumerism” (p. 11). Increasingly, people are aware of the emptiness intrinsic to a naturalist worldview and, as a result, are looking for meaning beyond the natural realm. As Demarest explains, this trend has produced three broad “options” for seekers: Secular Spirituality—the quest for self-realization; Religious Spirituality—the pursuit of the absolute in non-Christian religions; and Christian Spirituality (pp. 12–20). He identifies four traditions within this last category: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Progressive Protestantism, and Evangelicalism.

The book explores how these four traditions address what it means to live out a relationship with God (p. 25). Expectedly, it follows the format of other books in the Counterpoints series: one contributor presents his position while the other three respond.

The first contributor, Bradley Nassif, represents Eastern Orthodoxy. He begins by identifying three key-aspects of Orthodox spirituality: beauty, liturgy, and doxology (pp. 27–28). He proceeds to identify the heart of Orthodox spirituality as the gospel “centered on Jesus Christ in his Trinitarian relations” (p. 32). This leads to a discussion of Orthodoxy’s understanding of gospel emphases, spiritual practices, church dogmas, and—of course—deification: “the goal that integrates all Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality” (p. 53).

The second contributor, Scott Hahn, represents Roman Catholicism. He maintains that the “foundation” of Catholic spirituality is “divine filiation,” which encompasses the “fact” of salvation: justification, sanctification, the remission of sin, the infusion of grace, and spiritual regeneration (p. 75). Hahn affirms that God is a family. Baptism is the door into this family. Mary is the mother of this family. The saints on earth and in heaven are siblings in this family. And God directs his family through the visible creation, meaning he works through the seven sacraments of the church (p. 89). These sacraments, therefore, are central to Catholic spirituality.

The third contributor, Joseph Driskell, represents Progressive Protestantism. He identifies a number of factors that have shaped this tradition’s spirituality. The first is an approach to biblical interpretation based on “form,” “source,” and “redaction” criticism (p. 119). The second is a rejection of supernatural theism; in short, God is not a person out there, but a force right here (p. 123). The third factor is a portrayal of Christ as merely an “inspired leader,” who proclaimed an ethic of love even in the face of martyrdom (p. 124). The fourth factor is a concept of the Holy Spirit as “the sense of goodwill and well-being that occurs as any community of friends and associates gathers for fellowship” (p. 133). Emptied of its supernatural emphasis, Driskell explains that Progressive Protestantism is committed to a spirituality of social justice.

The fourth contributor, Evan Howard, represents Evangelicalism. He defines its spirituality as “the manner by which we live in communion with Christ in response to the Spirit in pursuit of holiness resulting in service to others” (p. 160). He divides his discussion into two major sections. In the first, he considers the marks of Evangelical spirituality; in brief, it is protestant (distinguished from medieval Catholic scholasticism, asceticism, mysticism, etc.), orthodox (founded upon historic Nicene belief), conversion-based (committed to a radical turning to Christ), and active (involved in social engagement). In the second section, Howard surveys the practices of Evangelical spirituality such as reading, studying, meditating, preaching, singing, and praying.

Bruce Demarest concludes the volume by attempting to provide “a brief integrative exposition of Christian spirituality” (p. 205). For starters, he claims that it is “thoroughly Trinitarian,” “rigorously Christological,” and “robustly pneumatic” (p. 207). Moreover, it is “nurtured in the Christ-centered body of believers in which Scripture is taught and preached, the sacraments observed, and discipline exercised” (p. 208). Demarest is careful to note that there are basic theological differences between the four traditions (pp. 208–211). Yet, despite these differences, he concludes: “we are learning that considerable common ground exists between committed Christians in the four traditions” (p. 217).

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The contributors’ essays are well-researched and well-organized. They engage in a very cordial discussion while representing their respective positions. That being said, I have three significant concerns.

First, the chapter on Progressive Protestantism is out of place. I do not say this to disparage Joseph Driskell; his chapter is well-written. Nevertheless, I am confused as to why it is included in a volume on Christian spirituality. Proponents of Progressive Protestantism deny the doctrine of the Trinity along with Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. They also dismiss the doctrine of the atonement. By their own admission, they reject supernatural theism. It leaves me wondering why Progressive Protestantism is even classified as Christian. To put it another way, I fail to see how Progressive Protestants are any different from the average members of a local Rotary Club.

Second, the chapter on Orthodox spirituality is potentially misleading. Evan Howard picks up on this, claiming that Bradley Nassif “speaks with a new voice” (p. 67). In saying this, Howard means that Nassif is so deeply indebted (personally and theologically) to Evangelicalism that his presentation of Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t really reflect the Orthodox Church. Howard comments, “What we have before us then, is a presentation of a vision of Orthodox spiritual theology” (p. 67, italics mine). The same can be said of Scott Hahn’s presentation of Catholic spirituality. Is it truly reflective of Roman Catholicism, or is it merely a vision of Catholic spirituality deeply influenced by a very specific context—American Evangelicalism?

Third, the chapter on Evangelicalism is far too broad. Evan Howard has attempted the impossible: to define the spirituality of a nebulous movement. He adopts what is widely touted as the standard definition of Evangelicalismnamely, David Bebbington’s four marks: activism, biblicism, conversionism, and crucicentrism (p. 16). But do these marks really constitute an identifiable movement?  Is it really possible to include Pietism, Puritanism, Quakerism, Methodism, Arminianism, Fundamentalism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, Calvinism, and a host of other isms under the same umbrella? I am inclined to think the marked differences between these groups render any discussion of a common Evangelical spirituality meaningless.

I submit that—when it comes to Christian spirituality—the place to begin is with how people think God communicates with them. When we do, we discover four main views: senses, feelings, symbols, and words. In the history of Christianity, different groups have embraced one or more of these as the means by which God communicates with the soul. This conviction has, in turn, shaped their spirituality: a spirituality of senses, a spirituality of feelings, a spirituality of symbols, and a spirituality of words. What are the biblical, philosophical, and theological paradigms that underpin each of these views? How are these views formative? What groups (churches, denominations, and movements) have championed each of these views? Personally, I believe this would have been a far more profitable approach.

But that isn’t how this volume addresses the subject. That’s no surprise. At the outset, Bruce Demarest makes it clear that the goal of the book is to find “an integrated and viable spirituality” (p. 20). In other words, the book is shaped by a pre-determined objective; namely, the desire to arrive at an “ecumenical” spirituality (p. 218). Does it achieve this goal? Yes. But, in so doing, it never really addresses the main issues behind the competing (and, at times, contradictory) views of Christian spirituality. For this reason, it leaves the reader wondering to what extent ecumenical spirituality is biblical spirituality.


J. Stephen Yuille

Life in Christ

This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com




Referring to the doctrine of union with Christ, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.” In Life in Christ, Jeremy Walker handles this great motif, stating that his aim is to provide a framework for understanding our “ongoing experience of the grace of God” in Christ. He achieves his aim by tracing our experience from regeneration to glorification, stopping along the way to ponder—among other things—the nature of faith, beauty of Christ, wonder of adoption, jewel of assurance, and duty of sanctification.

The book is well organized—each of its eight chapters based on a specific text of Scripture. Chapter 1 (Isa. 45:22) contains an excellent discussion of the relationship between the two essential bonds that knit Christ and His people together; Christ takes hold of us by His Spirit, and we take hold of Christ by our faith. Chapter 2 (2 Cor. 5:17) provides a timely challenge to those for whom the gospel is strictly about what Christ does for us but not in us. It emphasizes the fact that union with Christ is transformative—that is, it entails a “radical,” “thorough,” and “divinely worked” change. Chapter 3 (Eph. 3:8) demonstrates that Christ possesses everything necessary to save and satisfy us. It mines the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” focusing on His love, grace, forgiveness, wisdom, power, joy, truth, assurance, hope, and mercy. Further, it demonstrates how these unsearchable riches sparkle in the light of Christ’s true deity, true humanity, true agony, and true glory. Chapter 4 (1 Jn. 3:1) paints a beautiful picture of God’s love as “everlasting and unchangeable,” “abounding and unlimited,” “overwhelming and undeserved.” God has expressed this love by publicly acknowledging us as His children. Chapters 5 & 6 (1 Jn. 5:13) provide essential reading for both the presumptuous and the apprehensive, as it deals with the sensitive issue of assurance. It makes a pivotal distinction between “inconclusive” and “indispensable” indications of salvation. Under the latter stand faith in Christ, repentance from sin, devotion to God, growth in holiness, and love for the saints. Chapter 7 (Phil. 2:12–13) balances the indicative and imperative in Christian experience by emphasizing that we must avoid spiritual laziness and cultivate spiritual diligence as we “work out” what God is “working in” us. Chapter 8 (2 Tim. 4:6–8) demonstrates what it means to live in the hope of glory by turning to the apostle Paul as an exemplar of one who faced death confidently and expectantly.

Many of these topics are paths fraught with hazards, but Walker keeps his footing throughout, and proves himself a very safe guide. His expositions are exegetically and doctrinally sound, enriched by insights from towering Puritans such as John Owen, John Flavel, and Stephen Charnock. Equally important, Walker is pastorally grounded, meaning he writes with a very clear audience in view—God’s people. The result is an edifying and encouraging book, which will prove useful to all—whether in the pulpit or the pew.


J. Stephen Yuille