David & Shona Murray on Burnout & Depression

Helpful 5-part radio interview series. Shona’s perspective as a medical doctor (who herself suffered from depression) gives it a unique angle.

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They each wrote books on the subject a couple of years ago – you can read my review of David’s here.

Looking back on it, one of his hypothetical scenarios sounds hauntingly unhypothetical: “Seth attends a church where important doctrines are ‘only postscripts to lengthy tirades about what’s wrong with people, the church, and the world. He has little or no sense of God’s love or of being God’s child… His children dread family devotions…’”

Can we trust the gospels? (book review)

Can we trust the gospels?
Peter J. Williams
Crossway, 2018

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This is a book that’s been a long time coming. Peter Williams says he’s been speaking about this subject for over 20 years, but waiting for time to write it down (and also says that the material improved with feedback). That explains why much of it sounded familiar to me after watching/listening to a lot of his stuff back in 2011.

It really is a brilliant book. Given the subject, some of it is fairly technical, but if it’s a choice between working through this and basing your eternal future on The Da Vinci Code it’s a no brainer. I would give this to everyone heading off to university. He says ‘this book is not about proving that the Gospels are true but about demonstrationing that they can be rationally trusted’. Yet it’s hard not to finish the book coming to the conclusion: ‘If the picture of Jesus in the Gospels is true, it logically demands that we give up possession of our lives to serve Jesus Christ, who said repeatedly in every Gospel, “Follow me.”’

So many Christians books are padded out, but in Williams’s 140 pages every word counts. Whether in audio or video format (or mixed into sermons or introductions to Bible readings), this is content that you’ll want to get into as many peoples’ hands as possible.

Some more recent videos from him are available here.

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

Did the Spirit indwell Old Testament believers?

Probably the most common view today – boosted by James M. Hamilton’s 2006 book God’s Indwelling Presence – is no.

John de Hogg (lecturer in OT and Hebrew at RTC Australia) sums it up:

‘Michael Green in his book I Believe in the Holy Spirit presents a rather common view. “On the whole you had to be someone rather special in Old Testament days to have the Spirit of God. A prophet, a national leader, a king, perhaps some specially wise man (Prov 1:23) or artistic person (Exod 31:3) – in which case you would be beautifying the Lord’s Tent of Meeting or enunciating the Lord’s wisdom. But the Spirit of God was not for every Tom, Dick and Harry… The gift of God’s Spirit was on the whole to special people for special tasks. It was not generally available, nor was it necessarily permanent.” This common view says that OT believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that OT believers did not experience the active, internal, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit. These blessings came as a result of Pentecost.’ – Vox Reformata, 2012

However, de Hogg then goes on to refute that position. While his article is fairly helpful (and interacts specifically with Hamilton), there’s an absolutely storming one by Walter Kaiser, also taking a contrary view:

“…How could all of these old covenant persons have believed and been enabled to live sanctified lives if the Spirit of God did not dwell in them? Must we say that an Old Testament believer was able to please God spiritually and to be sanctified in the presence of God without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Did not Enoch please God (Heb 11:5)? Was not Noah one who walked with God and who was righteous and blameless (Gen 6:9)? Did not Joseph resist temptation (Gen 39:9)? Was not Job one who turned away from evil, one who feared God and was blameless and upright ( Job 1:1)? Did not David pray, do not ‘take your Holy Spirit from me?’ (Ps 51:11). Did not the prophet Isaiah teach that the people ‘rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit’ (Isa 63:10), the same Lord who had ‘set his Holy Spirit among them?’”(Isa 63:11). – Evangelical Quarterly 82.4 (2010)

Both articles deal with verses in John which would seem to be the strongest arguments against such a position.

Kaiser also deals very helpfully with the broader question of ‘What is new in the New Covenant?’, and specifically, what is new at Pentecost (including a very helpful quote from Thomas Goodwin, also cited in Smeaton’s classic work).

This 1976 letter by John Piper is also pretty helpful.

Reformed Preaching (book review)

Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People
Joel R. Beeke
Crossway, 2018

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Joel Beeke has called this the most important book he’s ever written. It’s also not quite the book you might expect – in terms of page count it’s more church history / historical theology (254 pages) than homiletical instruction (165 pages). As a lover of historical theology I enjoy that aspect of it, but others might not. While the majority of the historical content deals with how those of the past (Reformers, Puritans, Dutch Reformed and a few more recent) preached and wrote about preaching, some of it leaves you scratching your head as to its relevance to the book’s topic – eg much of the chapter on Calvin, or the section where he summarises Richard Rogers’s book on the Christian life and private means of grace. This is perhaps due to the fact that various sections of the book have previously appeared in other books and articles – it’s not all written from scratch with an emphasis on preaching.

Beeke says that he would have preferred to call the book Reformed ‘Experiential’ Preaching. And though the word experiential was dropped for the sake of simplicity, he does spend a fair amount of time defending not just the concepts behind ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’, but the words themselves. In a similar vein, while unsurprising, it’s a pity to see a modern book from the publishers of the ESV using the archaic KJV. Some parts of the book also seem overly prescriptive. For example ‘The Christian life…continues and deepens with…reading published sermons’. At times you wonder if the emphasis on piety drifts into pietism. (In fact, Beeke speaks positively of ‘pietistic and mystical tendencies’, even though one of the endorsements says the book tries to separate experiential preaching from pietism and mysticism).

Overall though, this is a great resource. At the risk of being simplistic, American Reformed Christianity particularly needs reminded that ‘too often preaching aims at educating big brains while neglecting withered hearts’ while British Reformed Christianity particularly needs reminded that our forefathers ‘had a profound sense that God builds his church primarily by the instrument of preaching’.

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