The Prayers of Jesus

The Prayers of Jesus: listening to and learning from our Saviour
Mark Jones
Crossway, 2019

First up, if you’re expecting a book to help you in your prayer life, this isn’t necessarily it. Of course, studying the prayers of Jesus should help your prayer life, but that’s not the direction in which Jones applies this. It’s more seeing what theology we can learn from Jesus’ prayers. Like Jones’s other books, it’s not exactly lay-person friendly (the chapters are short but dense). He acknowledges himself that the introduction isn’t the most accessible – but actually I think large parts of it would be beyond the average person in the pew.

Even for the more theologically-informed reader, the book is hit and miss – the quality of the chapters varies quite significantly. Jones also spends over half the book (14 chapters) going through Jesus’ prayer in John 17. This is the middle section of the book, and where I feel it loses its way a bit.

There are plenty of gems throughout it. For someone who likes to get the digs in against exclusive psalmody, Jones assumes the psalms are about Christ in a way many exclusive psalmists don’t! As usual he is particularly good on children/parenting: ‘in believing households, children must be taught to pray, by faith, as early as possible’ (you’d think that was obvious but sadly people would argue against it!). There are also some great one-liners: while urging believers to say grace, he reminds us ‘Prayers at restaurants do not need to be re-enactments of Daniel 9’.

Overall, as a fan of the other books by Jones that I’ve read, I was a bit disappointed. It will be a handy resource to have for preaching eg on the sayings on the cross. In short, this book is a great idea, the execution is just a little lacking.

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

The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant

The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant
Guy Waters
Crossway, 2019

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I’m a huge fan of Guy Waters’s How Jesus Runs the Church. I’ve also met him, and he’s a lovely guy. So I was looking forward to reading this book, but for some reason or another I found it a bit of a struggle to finish. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t particularly looking for a book on the Lord’s Supper at the moment – though even if I was, it takes until 85 pages in to a 117 page book before he begins talking specifically about communion. That’s not a criticism – if it started with communion it wouldn’t be a very good biblical theology – I simply mean that it’s not Communion for Dummies.

The strength of the early part of the book is him setting out the context of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – and he’s particularly helpful on the former: ‘Christ, the second Adam, has blazed a trail to that tree [of life] for us by his obedience and death’. Without going into the issue, it’s also leaves the average Scottish and Irish Presbyterian something to ponder on communion frequency: ‘Because the Supper is designed to strengthen and nourish believers in grace, it is administered frequently’ [‘frequently’ of course simply taken straight from the Westminster Standards].

In a context where the biggest issue for some seems to be on the externals of how communion is administered, this book is a refreshing reminder of the true significance of the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Bible.

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

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.

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.

The Spirit of the Age (book review)

The Spirit of the Age: the nineteenth-century debate over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Confession
J. V. Fesko
Reformation Heritage, 2017

While there are some who will immediately be enthused by the subtitle, others will wonder why they would want to read a book about a nineteenth century debate over Confessional revision…

(To read the rest, see the January 2019 Banner of Truth magazine, pp 30-31)

The Rule of Love (book review)

The Rule of Love: How the local church should reflect God’s love and authority
Jonathan Leeman
Crossway, 2018

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It’s not unusual to hear people respond to church discipline – experienced either by themselves or someone else – with phrases like ‘That’s not very loving’. ‘That’s very judgemental’. This book is really a response to those sort of objections.
It also has a few chapters on the theology of God’s love – questioning whether it’s completely correct to describe God’s love as ‘unconditional’. He suggests that the view of God’s love held by early church fathers such as Augustine has changed since the Reformation – at least in the writings of some of those who interpret the Reformers.
Having loved Leeman’s book on Church Membership, I thought this was going to be brilliant. I certainly found it helpful, but it wasn’t quite as focussed as I would have liked. There was also quite a bit about race, which might be more necessary in the American context, but seemed a bit irrelevant to the topic. On occasion he pushes congregationalism, which reminds me of a great Driscoll quote (from before he was completely discredited): ‘As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote’.
On the whole though, I found the book helpful, and have lots of quotes saved to return to and work through in the future.

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