The whole message of the Bible in 16 words (book review)

The whole message of the Bible in 16 words
Chris Bruno
Crossway, 2017


To quote the catchphrase of the Bible Project, the Bible is one unified story which leads to Jesus. The emergence of good quality resources to help people see this is a great thing, and Chris Bruno’s aim with this book is to further that good work.

The book comprises 16 short chapters and would be ideal for someone who is new to the idea of seeing the Bible as one story. Stand-out chapters included ‘Creation’, ‘Temple’ and ‘Exodus’. Bruno is also to be commended for at least attempting to tie in the Wisdom literature to the big picture of the Bible. Very helpful summary sections at the end of each chapter consolidate the message, and are parts of the book I can definitely see myself going back to.

Encouragingly, Bruno classes himself as a covenant theologian rather than a dispensationalist, and argues that Adam’s relationship with God was a covenant one. Presbyterians may quibble however with his chapter on ‘Law’ and the limited role he sees for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.

The author explains that knowing the story is like having the box of a jigsaw. As we look at the individuals pieces, we can glance back at the big picture and get a sense of how it all comes together. This book will help readers see more of the big picture, and that can only be a good thing.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

Marriage and the mystery of the gospel (book review)

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel
Ray Ortlund
Crossway, 2016

marriage and the mystery of the gospel

For all the talk Christians do about defending the ‘traditional’ definition of marriage, much of it falls far short of the grand Biblical vision of marriage as a picture of the gospel. Ray Ortlund here seeks to correct that, and does it well. There’s nothing radical or earth shattering here, but there are some lovely insights.

There were two things which stopped this being a 5-star book. First, the chapter divisions are unbalanced. 42 pages on marriage in Genesis means that one of the four chapters takes up nearly half the book. Undoubtedly, Genesis is foundational, but it made reading the book feel more of a chore than it might have been.

More importantly, Ortlund’s section on the law is terrible. He states that ‘the Bible advances beyond the law of Moses’, and sees all law (he doesn’t differentiate between moral, civil or ceremonial) as temporary. If that’s what he believes about the law, it perhaps helps understand how he could be a Presbyterian minister one minute, and in an independent Acts 29 church the next.

Surely future generations will look back in bewilderment at how a gifted pastor and a respected publisher could bring out a biblical theology on marriage that failed to mention the seventh commandment. For now though, it seems that no-one has noticed.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

BBC documentary challenges prevailing approach to transgenderism

Amazed that the BBC would screen something like this given the current climate.

Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?

Screenshot 2017-01-20 13.34.59

From their description:”BBC Two’s award-winning This World strand travels to Canada, where one of the world’s leading experts in childhood gender dysphoria (the condition where children are unhappy with their biological sex) lost his job for challenging the new orthodoxy that children know best. Speaking on TV for the first time since his clinic was closed, Dr Kenneth Zucker believes he is a victim of the politicisation of transgender issues. The film presents evidence that most children with gender dysphoria eventually overcome the feelings without transitioning and questions the science behind the idea that a boy could somehow be born with a ‘female brain’ or vice versa. It also features ‘Lou’ – who was born female and had a double mastectomy as part of transitioning to a man. She now says it is a decision that ‘haunts’ her and feels that her gender dysphoria should have been treated as a mental health issue.”

Parenting (book review)

Update: Jonty Rhodes just linked on twitter to a review by Shane Lems which shares some of the same concerns I raise below – and articulates them a bit better! Are Our Children Lost?

Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
Paul David Tripp
Crossway, 2016


I suppose it’s about time I started reading some parenting books, and I’ve been looking forward to this one since reading Tripp’s section on parenting in his earlier book Awe.

If you’re familiar with Paul Tripp, this book follows his usual format. As ever, he’s good at getting to the heart issues behind the outward problem. ‘The struggles over food, sleep, homework, sibling conflict, possessions, wardrobe and dating are theological struggles’. He recounts that someone who had been brought up in a Christian family and attended a Christian school and a good church once told him: ‘I’m 35 and you’re the first person who has ever talked to me about what rules my heart’.

Like most Tripp books, it could have been shorter. When giving examples, he tends to give 10 when 2 or 3 would do. The structure of the book with a chapter on each of his 14 principles means that the same things are being addressed from multiple angles. It does help reinforce the message, but makes the book feel more repetitive. On the plus side, it means that the chapters are fairly self-contained so a busy parent could read one a week (they take 15-20 mins each to read according to my kindle) and it wouldn’t matter how much they’d forgotten from the last time they picked it up.

Strangely for a Presbyterian, Tripp seems to be working on the assumption that the children of believers will be unregenerate. The fact that they’re dead in sin seems to be Tripp’s blanket explanation for their behaviour. Of course, the behaviour of Christian children is also due to sin, and all children need to be pointed to the gospel whether they’re believers or not, but a bit more nuance here would have been helpful.

Perhaps connected with this, there isn’t much treatment of discipline and what it looks like. At one point Tripp comments promisingly ‘Your discipline must every time be coupled with clear, biblical instruction’, but he doesn’t really develop this. The message that comes across clearly is that behaviour modification isn’t the goal and that our children need new hearts. But does parenting look any different if they already have those new hearts (or aren’t showing any evidence that they haven’t)?

Given where many parents are coming from though, applying the principles of this book would be revolutionary. Tripp talks about those who ‘reduce their parenting to trying to control their kids’ behaviour’. Sadly that statement would be incomprehensible to many, because they think that controlling their kids’ behaviour IS parenting.

Another positive is that Tripp isn’t afraid to address controversial that might be close to the bone even for Christian parents – such as both parents working and what he calls ‘monastic parenting’ (the idea that trying to cut our children off from the world will deliver them from moral danger).

Overall, this is a solid book which addresses the default parenting mindset even of many Christians. In fact, you don’t need to be a parent or impending parent to benefit. Children are one way God reveals to us what’s really going on in our hearts, but there are many others. For adults as well as children, ‘the heart is the issue’.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

Church of Christ (James Bannerman) 2017 Reading Plan

A few of us have decided to tackle James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ in 2017. A quick google search didn’t come up with any reading plans, so I’ve put one together. It’s not the most polished but it should be functional at least. It’s done by sections rather than page numbers, which means it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading the original 2-volume edition (reprinted by the Banner of Truth), Banner’s nice re-set 2015 edition, or a kindle/epub edition.

The vast majority of Bannerman’s sections are around 14-18 pages, though there are a couple of longer sections, which are marked with an asterisk so you can see them coming. The reading plan doesn’t include the 128-page appendix, so keep that in mind if you’re a completionist. The appendix is divided into 9 sections, so you could do one each month that there isn’t a long section of the main book to read.

You can download the reading plan here

To whet your appetite for the book, check out these videos from Westminster Theological Seminary’s ‘Evening Discussion on the Bride of Christ’ featuring Carl Trueman, Nathan Sasser and Jonathan Leeman (I enjoyed Sasser’s talk the most):

Why the Reformation still matters (book review)

Why the Reformation still matters
Michael Reeves & Tim Chester
Crossway, 2016

why the reformation still matters

We’re almost in touching distance of 2017, which will mark 500 years since the most iconic moment of the Reformation – Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Just like any Christian publishers worth their salt, Crossway are on the ball to make the most of the anniversary with timely publications, such as this one.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book – though it’s not quite the what I expected it to be. For example, it’s quite surprising to find a positive endorsement from Mark Noll on the back cover. After all, Noll, the author of ‘Is the Reformation over?’, answers his own question in the affirmative. This endorsement becomes less surprising when it becomes clear that this book is more a digest of Reformation theology, rather than an interaction with contemporary arguments that the Reformation no longer matters (for that, there’s a thorough response to Noll by Carl Trueman on Reformation 21).

Nor is this the sort of book I would hand to someone who was new to Reformed theology – it’s too in-depth to be a primer, at least for the average person. But for Christians who are serious about wanting to grasp more of the great heritage we stand on, the 200-or-so pages are full of gems.

The book however does reflect not just the emphases of the Reformation, but also some of the emphases of 21st century evangelicalism. The authors manage to write a whole chapter on ‘The Sacraments’ in which baptism hardly gets a mention. In the words of Paul Levy, there‚Äôs also ‘a slightly curious defence of the Anabaptists’. Having only noticed Levy’s comments after reading the book, I’d have to agree that it seems out of place.

Those are relatively minor quibbles however. The book excels at going back to the sources and picking out apposite quotations from Luther, Calvin and many more. I particularly enjoyed the emphases on preaching and the other means of grace, an emphasis which we badly need a recovery of today.

As Calvin put it, ‘it is necessary for us to go out of ourselves to find happiness’ – this book is a great taster of a movement which rediscovered where that happiness could be found.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.