Book ReviewsA Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992; 230 pages paperback, $11.95.
Take yourself back almost 2000 years and imagine that you are Luke, Barnabas, or another of Paul's companions. Imagine spending days and nights in lent homes or on the road, sharing Paul's concern for the churches, and his joy in hearing of new life and growth among his spiritual children. Now imagine again that you were there when Paul took all of these things to God in prayer. How much would you know about how Paul prayed, and how would that knowledge affect your prayer life?
You might know more than Don Carson, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and you might even be able to communicate it more effectively. But that would be some feat. Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation, a study of Paul's prayers, is a book worthy of reading and re-reading on an annual basis. Carson's goal is "to work through several of Paul's prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today, and to find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God's glory and for our good." The need is dire, he says, noting "the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church."
Among other characteristics, says Carson, Paul's prayers exhibit his habit "of looking toward the end of history, to his conviction that Christian life can be lived faithfully only if it is lived in light of the end." Also remarkable is the large amount of space that Paul devotes to praying for others. Paul's prayers, Carson says, "are outstanding for the large part intercession for others and thanksgiving for others play in them." Probably the only way to understand the power of these prayers, he says, is to take the time to read through them in one sitting. And if you buy this book, you can do just that, because Carson sets out the prayers of Paul in the space of eight pages.
Although Carson keeps a tight focus on Paul and his prayer life, from time to time he draws from other figures when dealing with certain themes, such as the relationship between God's sovereignty and our responsibility. He points to Daniel 9:2, for example, where Daniel is told that the 70 years of exile was coming to an end. A fatalist, Carson tells us, would simply look forward to the promised release. But not Daniel, whose response is to turn to prayer.
"Daniel is perfectly aware that God is not an automaton, still less a magic genie that pops out of a bottle at our command. God is not only sovereign, he is personal, and because he is personal he is free. . . .In other words, precisely because Daniel is aware of the promise of this personal, sovereign God, he feels it his obligation to pray in accord with what he has learned in the Scriptures regarding the will of that God."
Carson pays special attention to Paul's prayer in Romans 15:30-33, urging the reader to mediate on its relevance for our own day. Carson speaks frankly about the dangers of ministry in our culture, the stark reality of spiritual warfare, and the need for God's people to support their leaders in fervent, faithful prayer.
This is a first-class tool for individual or group study, complete with thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter. And there are the special touches that come with almost any book by this fine teacher, such as a wealth of practical tips, and a liberal dose of hymns and poems to illustrate various points.
Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff, Dallas: Word, 1997; 315 pages hardcover, $19.99
On one of the days of my tender youth, amid the pastoral bliss that was my home, a bovine behemoth kicked a solid oak gate into my face. An immediate vision followed. It was the vision of a barn lot tilting and growing dark in a most disorienting, slow motion sway. Recognizing barn lots as one of the six worst places to fall, I wisely decided to sit down rather than fall down. Though my recovery was swift, a black-eye badge marked me for a while after.
The disorientation and shock of that bovine encounter made an undeniably powerful impression, but I never ever sought a repeat performance. Not all encounters are meant to be sought after. And some encounters are best never experienced. But today there is a kindred sort of phenomenon going on and, rather than running clear of the kicks, folks are stampeding to the gates for an "encounter." They are crowding round the ministries of disorientation and shock. These ministries don't use 800-pound steers and a stout gate, but they do employ music, expectation, and the flourish of a hand to hit folks with a bewildering variety of experiences, claimed to be "God's greatest work."
This new book by Hank Hanegraaff provides an understanding of the persons, places, principles of this claim. "Prophet" Paul Cain declares:
"No prophet or apostle who ever lived equaled the power of these individuals in this great army of the Lord in these last days. No one ever had it. Not even Elijah, or Peter, or Paul, or anyone else enjoyed the power that is going to rest upon this great army" (p. 160).
This is only one of the outrageous claims Hanegraaff cites. He is wise to provide precise documentation for these claims in end notes. I kept a book mark there for frequent referral because I needed constant confirmation that someone could actually talk about "Holy Ghost glue" (p. 25), the Holy Spirit "backfiring" (p. 49), Popeye and Olive Oyl as prophetic mediums (pp. 68,69) and people laughing during a sermon on hell (p. 87). A meeting is even described:
"The scene was surreal. It looked like a bomb had exploded. Bodies were strewn haphazardly throughout the sanctuary. Some lay motionless on the ground. Others twitched spasmodically. Behind me a woman shrieked, 'I'm hot! I'm hot!' In front of me a girl was shaking violently. A boy standing in the aisle chopped his hands feverishly at some imaginary object. Next to him a man whirled round and round in a circle. All the while waves of sardonic laughter cascaded eerily throughout the sanctuary" (p. 21).
Beyond citation of what these folks are claiming, Hanegraaff also does a thorough historical and biblical analysis of the claims. Connections to the Vineyard Churches, the Pensacola phenomenon, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Tulsa are all traced. Claims to revival are shown to be manipulation and a flirting with insidious spiritual powers. Their claim of Jonathan Edwards for historical support is shown to be, at best, a misunderstanding, and, at worst, a misrepresentation.
Fraudulent claims besiege Christians constantly on every side these days. Sincere believers, longing for genuine revival, may be confused by charlatans. Because of this, it is gracious of Hanegraaff to warn folks away from the kicking gate. His work is invaluable for exposing the disturbance for what it is: Counterfeit Revival. Those who wish to avoid an undesirable encounter would do well to heed the warning.
Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 by Gregory A. Wills, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997; 195 pages hardcover, $39.95
The battles in this century over the life and soul of the Southern Baptist Convention have seen the development of many new and novel theories to support particular positions. One such position is that of soul liberty allowing an individual or a church to believe or do anything and still remain a Baptist or Baptist church in good standing. The real question of whether this is a valid position is partially understood through studying church discipline in Baptist history. Wills has done an outstanding job of opening up this topic in a clear and readable style from the perspective of our 19th century predecessors.
Baptists of the last century understood the Scripture as supreme and discipline as a necessary tool to maintain fidelity to the gospel. Individuals and churches were subject to discipline for sinful actions and doctrinal error. The keys of the kingdom were held by the congregation and they were meant to be used to strengthen the kingdom. Democracy was seen in the voting by all members of a fellowship or association. Wills documents how women and African-Americans participated in the process even with the controversy about their status in the church. The chapter on associations points to how individual congregations were kept on the Calvinistic side by the proper use of peer pressure. The section dealing with the decline of discipline as a healing and teaching tool brings up two underlying themes. The first theme is that discipline is one key to real revival. The lack of discipline prevented real revival by corrupting the church with worldly members. The other theme is that the adoption of the world's standards and programs can sap the strength of the church by compromising fidelity to the Scripture. Discipline is a corporate matter that reflects true democracy in action. This volume is highly recommended to those with an interest in the subject. Pastors wanting to read actual advice from the period given by the Charleston Association should consult Some Southern Documents of the People called Baptists printed by the Society for Biblical and Southern Studies. Wills' work is worth reading its 183 pages for a true understanding of the subject.
The Precious Things of God by Octavius Winslow, Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993 reprint of 1860 edition; 424 pages hardcover, $29.95.
I am an unrepentant "bookmarker." My inkpen moves with my eyes, marking the best parts for use in sermon preparation. The copy of The Precious Things of God in my library, however, has not one mark in it. Not because there wasn't anything to underline, but because I couldn't find anything not to underline. The richness of the work flows unabated.
Devotional books are either so weak theologically or so syrupy in style that I never recommend them. The one exception has been Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. Winslow's work is now the other exception. This is appropriate, since Winslow was one of the guest preachers at the dedication of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Winslow describes his volume as,
Not so much a systematic treatise of theology, as the companion, in his hours of devotional, meditative retirement, of the experienced and spiritual Christian. The truths which it contains, and the style in which they are presented, are perhaps more adapted to those peculiar seasons in the Christian experience of the believer, in which profound discussion and laboured thought would not only be distasteful, but out of place (Preface, p. iii).
This work is sound theologically, but it is also theology fully connected to experience and adorned with a beauty of language which eases its way into the soul. This is a feast for the inner man. Winslow's work is not divided into daily readings. Reading a few pages a day, however, will reward the reader with some of the most encouraging, uplifting and moving thoughts this side of heaven.
It seems most appropriate to close this review with a few samples of the "precious things." Think of these as some appetizers for the soul:
Beloved, read the love of you heavenly Father in the precious promises. They are but the echoes of His heart sounding from each page of the sacred volume.
Precious to Him is every spiritual desire, every heaven-sent thought, every holy aspiration, every feeble, languid, yet sincere hunger and thirst of the quickened soul after righteousness" (p. 232).
Christian mourner, let me once more direct your eye--too dimmed perhaps by tears to behold the precious truth--to this divine source of true, unfailing comfort. God's Word is the book of the afflicted" (p. 269).
But, beloved, the Lord demands of you, ere you approach Him in prayer, no self-fitness, no previous preparation, but that you, a poor, sinful, unworthy soul, needing Christ, coming empty to Christ, bringing all your sins and backslidings, and sorrows and wants to Christ, may 'receive out of His fulness grace for grace' (p. 343).