Friday, December 1, 2006

And I will show you a still more excellent way ...

I'd like to share a happy discovery I've made since I've been back in my home state of Texas. My family and I came here a month ago to spend the holidays with our families. And here, as in Scotland, I've been reading a lot of church history and theology, off- and online (mainly blogs). I want to highlight the most life-changing post I've read in months -- maybe ever. In it Justin Taylor cited Joe Carter, who had taken a strategy from a book by the late James M. Gray. Taylor's post was entitled, 'Four Steps to Transform Your Life'. Here they are:
  1. Choose a book of the Bible.
  2. Read it in its entirety.
  3. Repeat Step 2 twenty times.
  4. Repeat this process for all 66 books of the Bible.

To make a long post (that has very little to do with the Puritans) short, I decided to take Gray's/Carter's/Taylor's advice, and I'm now beginning my 15th reading of 1 Thessalonians. The results? Well, I haven't been caught up to the third heaven or had any epiphanies.

But I can say, without exaggerating, that I've experienced more sublime peace and gained more insight and encouragement reading Paul's heartfelt epistle these 14 times than I've ever known scouring the musings of men in print or around the blogosphere.

In fact, since I started following this plan I've come to the conviction that an intimate knowledge of God's sacred Word -- the kind of familiarity I believe anyone with a 6th-grade education can obtain by simply following these four steps in earnest -- is many times more valuable and profitable than any education any theological institution can offer. Don't get me wrong: I've had eight years of formal theological training, and I still recommend a (conservative) seminary education to anyone thinking seriously about going into full-time ministry. But if you finish all of that and you don't know and love the Scriptures, I can't help but think it's all an expensive waste.

This program isn't a magic formula for spiritual maturity. In its essence it's simply a way to master the Bible, one book at a time. And it's effective.

Read books, read blogs, read the news, read whatever you feel edifies you -- but you'll never find rest for your harried soul until you return to the pages of God's Word and make it your home. If you're preparing for vocational ministry or are already immersed in it, I can think of no better way to train yourself than to follow the four steps above prayerfully and obediently. I guarantee that if you do, you'll never lack the power or resources needed to feed the Lord's flock. By God's grace you'll be a holy powerhouse. Try it!

Now, back to 1 Thessalonians ...

Book Review: Overcoming Sin and Temptation

Review of John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Wheaton: Crossway, 2006.

John Owen is widely recognized as one of the premier theologians of the post-Reformation. One need not balk at placing his name alongside giants of the faith such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. His ministry was vast and varied: preacher, statesman, political advisor, advocate, author, polemicist, and defender of faith. But perhaps his greatness is most clearly seen in his pastoral works on mortification, temptation, and sin. At least this was the opinion of one of Owen’s biographers. Andrew Thompson states, “We have not seen him in all his greatness until, in such practical works as his treatise on the “Mortification of Sin in Believers,” he brings the truth into contact, not so much with the errors of the heretic, as with the corruption and deceitfulness of the human heart” (Works,

Since their original publication in the seventeenth-century, Christians have valued Owen’s writings on sin and temptation for their uncommon insight into the wonderful depths and wild deceitfulness of the heart. These devotional writings were the product of a man who made it his chief design in life to promote the mortification of sin and the pursuit of personal holiness for the glory of God and the adornment of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p. 42). In a day of empty purpose statements, this may not mean much. But for Owen, overcoming sin and temptation was his life – a fact confirmed by his younger colleague, David Clarkson, who at Owen’s funeral sermon in 1683 stated, “I need not tell you of this who knew him that it was his great design to promote holiness in the life and exercise of it among you.” In other words, Owen preached what he first practiced.

Overcoming Sin and Temptation is an updated, unabridged, and edited collection of three of the best known and most beloved of Owen’s writings on the subject: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658), and The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin (1675). As Kapic explains, these “three treatises can be read as early modern attempts to explore human psychology as affected by sin and renewed by the Spirit” (p. 29).

Though written over three hundred years ago, this volume is relevant for any tired soul aching for victory over the inner struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Conquest will not come easy. This civil war within is a daily battle. As Owen states, “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin” (p. 50). And how is triumph found? “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet” (p. 131, emphasis original). Time and again in these three works, Owen outlines a battle plan for attacking sin by affixing our attention on Christ.

At this point, you may be asking, why re-edit these works? Taylor states, “In this volume we are seeking to present something new: an unabridged but updated edition of Owen’s three classic works that preserves all of Owen’s original content but seeks to make it a bit more accessible. In so doing, we hope to play a small part in reintroducing Owen to both the church and the academy (p. 17). The editors are to be applauded for accomplishing the near impossible: retaining the original style, shape, and substance of these works while recasting them in a more user-friendly format.

This edition begins with a helpful and challenging forward by John Piper, an explanatory preface by Taylor, historical and theological introduction by Kapic, and overview of each of the works by Taylor. In addition to the ever useful and practical indexes (General and Scripture), this volume also includes a glossary of difficult words and provides outlines of Owen’s three treatises for assisting the reader to grasp the flow of argument in each work. Perhaps the most important of the new features to this volume are the ubiquitous but almost unnoticed editorial enhancements of the three texts. Kapic and Taylor have included footnotes to difficult words and phrases (which are compiled in the glossary), modernized spelling and punctuation, transliterated Hebrew and Greek terms, translated Latin phrase, provided Scripture references, etc.

Clearly, the editors of the present volume have been hard at work. Kapic and Taylor are to be applauded for a job extremely well done. Not only have they given these classics by Owen a new lease on life, but they have successfully produced what will hopefully become the standard text for anyone interested in overcoming personal sin and temptation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Book Review: Contending for Our All

Review of John Piper, Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen, Leicester: IVP, 2006, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 24:2 (2006): 252-253.


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