The 10 Commandments (book review)

The 10 Commandments: what they mean, why they matter, and why we should obey them
Kevin DeYoung
Crossway, 2018

9781433559679

A month or so ago I told my congregation that anything Kevin DeYoung has written is worth reading. Having read his latest book, I wouldn’t say anything different, but I would add an asterisk.
This book is pretty good on nine of the commandments. The application is good, and he gets to Jesus.
The chapter on the fourth commandment is a real let down though. It’s particularly disappointing as he was brought up by parents who had a strict view of the Sabbath, which he’s grateful for, but says that in light of Romans 14 and Colossians 2 he can’t justify that approach exegetically.

Discussing the phrase ‘festivals, new moons and Sabbaths’, he says ‘I don’t know how to make sense of the three items if “Sabbaths” means something other than the seventh day of the weekly Sabbath’. However, as Philip Ross points out in From the Finger of God, ‘on the six other occasions where feasts, new moons, and sabbaths are grouped together in the Old Testament they are always bound up with offerings, suggesting that the term is concerned more with the sacrificial activity of those occasions than with the days themselves’, so they ‘serve as shorthand for the offerings and rituals common to those occasions…all these things were the shadow of which Christ himself was the substance’.

There is also no recognition of the fact that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, though he does make the strange statement that ‘the fourth commandment is the only one of the ten which the Lord clearly gave to the nation of Israel before they reached Mount Sinai (see Exodus 16)’. Did the nation of Israel look back and think it was ok for Cain to murder Abel, for Ham to dishonour his father, for Abraham to lie and for Potiphar’s wife to try and seduce Joseph? These things were in place since the creation of the world, so such a distinction is unhelpful. In fact, one of the most significant things about Exodus 16 is that Moses didn’t need to explain the concept of or rationale for the Sabbath.

As a result, whereas DeYoung says ‘Strip away the cultural context and the case law, and the main takeaway from the Mosaic Sabbath is that we must rest from our labors and trust in God’, the Puritans would have said ‘Strip away the cultural context and case law and you’re back to the Sabbath there was from the day God rested until the day he gave all that case law – just on a different day now Jesus has risen’. The Sabbath existed before sin and therefore can’t be ceremonial. Strip off the ceremonial aspects, and the moral law remains.

DeYoung also tries to play the Westminster and Continental views of the Sabbath off against each other, stating ‘Even within the Reformed tradition there are different understandings of what it means to observe the Sabbath’, before quoting from both standpoints. However as Richard Gaffin has cautioned, ‘the difference between the Puritan Sabbath and Continental Sunday should not be exaggerated, especially so far as the actual practices of churches in the Reformed tradition are in view…following the Synod of Dort, British-American Presbyterianism and Continental Calvinism became of one mind on what Sunday observance should look like…We may speak here of a Reformed consensus’.

DeYoung here departs from that consensus. He may be thankful that he grew up with his parents’ unswerving commitment to morning and evening worship, but what he says in this chapter will further militate against the same commitment in this generation. For example, he calls his own decision not to do homework on Sundays ‘a bold decision’, rather than obedience to a commandment of God which is binding on all.

American Christianity has taken away the practice of the Sabbath, and then revised their theology accordingly. DeYoung may want to keep the practice, but once the theological backbone is removed, the practice will soon disappear.

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

6 ways the Old Testament speaks today

6 ways the Old Testament speaks today: an interactive guide
Alec Motyer
Crossway, 2018

6 ways the OT speaks today

A new book by Alec Motyer is always an exciting event, especially coming two years after he was promoted to glory. In actual fact, this is the North American title for the second edition of his Scenic Route through the Old Testament.
As the subtitle suggests, this isn’t really a book to be read straight through. It has six chapters, each introducing a different Old Testament genre, and then a week’s worth of Bible readings, with comments (and an additional month of readings and comments in the appendix).
Being Motyer, there are plenty of gems scattered throughout. I particularly liked his comment on p. 42: ‘pagan religions those who penetrated into the innermost sanctuary came face-to-face with some idol, but in the tabernacle they came face-to-face with the moral law’. He also uses the phrase ‘social righteousness’, which seems preferably to ‘social justice’. Nor does he shy away from the less popular parts of the Old Testament, commenting helpfully on the imprecatory psalms. Elsewhere he asks the question ‘Do the Psalms point to the Lord Jesus Christ’, and part of his answer (about how they reflect the hope of a perfect king) is worth quoting in full:

“The Psalms reflect it as they sing of a king who faces world opposition (2:1–3; 110:1–2) but is victorious (45:3–5; 89:22–23). By the Lord’s help (18:46–50; 21:1–13) he establishes world rule (2:8–12; 45:17; 72:8–11; 110:5–6), which is based at Zion (2:6) and marked by righteousness (45:4, 6–7; 72:2–3; 101:1–8). His rule is everlasting (21:4; 45:6; 72:5), peaceful (72:7), prosperous (72:16), and devoted (72:5). The king is preeminent among people (45:2, 7), friend of the poor, and enemy of the oppressor (72:2–4, 12–14). He owns an everlasting name (72:17) and enjoys ever- lasting blessing (45:2). He is heir to David’s covenant (89:28–37; 132:11–12) and to Melchizedek’s priesthood (110:4). He belongs to the Lord (89:18), is his Son (2:7; 89:27), sits at his right hand (110:1), and is himself divine (45:6). It is very likely that these psalms were used as coronation an- thems, sung before the new king as he took his throne, in order to “hold him to the highest.” But the reality was always more than any mere son of David could be. It awaited the unique Son of David who is also the Son of God (Luke 1:32).”

I think that’s a yes.

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

Echoes of Exodus (book review)

Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson
Echoes of Exodus
Crossway, 2018

echoes of exodus

Carl Trueman once wrote a critique of biblical theology where he said that we’re in danger of fulfilling the old joke about the Christian fundamentalist who, when asked what was grey, furry, and lived in a tree, responded that ‘It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer to every question is Jesus’. For Roberts and Wilson, the answer to every question is the Exodus. They see its pattern everywhere in Scripture. Sometimes this leads to new insights you haven’t thought of before – and other times it leaves you saying: ‘really’? For example, they comment on Gen 26:16 that ‘The Philistines have blocked all of Abraham’s wells, which might remind us of the blocked wombs they experienced when Abimelech took Sarah into his harem’. Even if it was the same word in Hebrew (it’s not), that seems a bit of a stretch.

Even when the connections they trace seem more legitimate, I was at times left wondering whether the instance they cite really was an echo of the Exodus, or whether the similarities were just due to the fact that both God (eg he tends to raise up the needy) and human nature don’t change. And even if the patterns are legitimate, it doesn’t seem like many of them would preach. Surely we would rather be saying ‘Doesn’t this remind you of Jesus’, than ‘Doesn’t this remind you of Moses’.

Of course, you don’t have to go along with every single one of their connections to enjoy the book. The book will give you a renewed appreciation of the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament, which simply aren’t there in what is claimed as further revelation today (eg the Book of Mormon). It will also help show that when the psalm writers look back to the Exodus, they aren’t just looking back to one historical event, which needs updated now Jesus has come – they are singing of the ongoing pattern of God’s saving power. Overall though, while they are some nice insights, this isn’t a must-read.

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

Spurgeon on the Christian life (book review)

Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ
Michael Reeves
Crossway, 2018

9781433543876

One of the strengths of Crossway’s ‘Theologians on the Christian Life’ series has been in the authors with which they’ve matched the theologians. This combination of Reeves and Spurgeon is a particularly good example. Just watch his talk with the same title at the Banner UK ministers’ conference and you’ll see the relish he has in sharing some of the quotations. A ‘doom and gloom’ Christian couldn’t have done justice to Spurgeon – and Reeves is anything but that. Nor could a pretentious one; both the theologian and his biographer realise that ‘To think that difficulty of style is an indicator of depth of substance is only the mistake of the intellectually proud’.

One of Reeves’s concerns is that outside Baptist circles, Spurgeon is treated merely as a ‘fund of delicious but disconnected proverbs’. This book provides plenty of these ‘delicious proverbs’ – but it does also help see how they fit together. Spurgeon and Reeves are healthy correctives to gloomy, graceless, speculative, non-Christ centred Christianity.

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

Faith. Hope. Love. (book review)

Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace
Mark Jones
Crossway, 2017

9781433555664

The trailer for one of Crossway’s most recent releases, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, shows a family sitting round the dinner table singing psalms. It’s not exactly the sort of thing you expect from a publisher like Crossway, which leans more towards New Calvinism than Old. Not quite as eyebrow-raising, but still pleasantly surprising, is a book that advocates paedobaptism (and the hope we can have for the salvation of our children) and the threefold division of the law, has a chapter on the Lord’s Day, commends the psalms as Trinitarian and modern worship as not emotional enough in comparison, and advocates parenting in light of the indicatives and imperatives of the gospel. As well as that, the book has Jones’ usual Christ-centred and Trinitarian emphases, and is chock-full of quotations from church fathers, Reformers and (particularly) Puritans. The book contains 58 short chapters, each starting with a catechism-style question and answer that the chapter then fleshes out. A good few of them started life as Reformation 21 articles, so if you followed Jones before his writing got too controversial for the Alliance, you’ll recognise some of them. It’s surprising the variety of topics that can somehow be tied in to the themes of Faith, Hope and Love.

What’s not to like? 58 chapters is a bit excessive, even if they only take 5 minutes to read. They would be good pump-primers before your devotions, but 30 or 40 might have been sufficient. He also advocates lying in some circumstances as a form of love. On the whole though, this is a really strong book. I didn’t like it quite as much as his previous one, perhaps because it took so long to plough through. Both books however have the advantage of being modern works, but quote so much from a wide-variety of Puritans that you don’t feel as if you’re choosing the 21st century over the giants of the past.

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

Making All Things New (book review)

Making all things new: restoring joy to the sexually broken
David Powlison
Crossway, 2017

Making all things new

Tony Reinke, who I have a lot of time for, ranked this as the 8th best book of 2017. At the same time, the title and author combination might sound familiar to those who’ve read Crossway’s ‘Sex and the Supremacy of Christ’ (2005), where Powlison had a chapter by the same name. So is this a chapter’s worth of good content bulked out and marketed, or is it a worthy book in it’s own right? For the first half of the book I’d have said the former, and for the second half I’d have said the latter.

In this book Powlison attempts to address both the sinner and the sinned-against – those tempted to/committing sexual sin, as well as those whoare the victims of sexual sin. This is done from the conviction that the same gospel applies to both, which I wholeheartedly agree with – however I don’t think Powlison’s attempt to combine the two works, and two separate and shorter books would have been better.

I found the most helpful part of the book to be when he showed the sexual sin is usually symptomatic of something else, and he is good at showing both those struggling, and those counselling them, how to get to the sin behind the sin. As he puts it ‘The bible is about behaviour, but it is never only about behaviour’.

Not a revolutionary book, but helpful nonetheless.

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