Category Archives: Book Reviews

Don Miller and the Institutional Church

The pastoral task has all the ingredients for abstractness. After all, we are constantly engaging dead people and throwing around foreign terms to most in the pew. In fact, many of the concerns I have heard over the years from parishioners of different traditions has been the concern that sermons and pastoral work do not reach the laity. Donald Miller manifested this sentiment in his now controversial blog post I don’t connect with God by singing. I connect with him elsewhere. The article received abundant criticism. Miller asserted elsewhere that he simply intended to start a conversation–and what a conversation he started. In another interview, Miller summarized his post:

And so I talked about the reality that I don’t get a lot out of church when I go. I don’t connect with God very well there, and I wondered if it wasn’t more of a learning style issue because it is a lecture format, and it’s not how everybody learns. a

Miller’s concern was not unique. Many have expressed this frustration with the intellectualization of worship. Rev. Jeff Meyers’ wonderful book “The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship answers Miller’s concern with clarity and with classic historical categories. Meyers argues that worship ought to have a wholistic vision prioritizing every detail as opposed to over-emphasizing merely the word preached.

Don Miller asserts that one of his struggles is that the worship service does not appeal to his style of learning. The worship service has as its emphasis a lecture model. Since Miller does not learn through lecture models, therefore Miller no longer finds appeal in the institutional church. b In his interview with The RELEVANT he asserts that he did not qualify things well in his blog post and that looking back he wished he would have not written it. But as the interview continued, Miller affirms the same sorts of things his critics condemned in the original blog post.

I actually believe Miller is on to something. The lecture model of doing church is not the one I advocate. In many ways, the Church–especially in the Reformed tradition, which naturally claims a more intellectual history–has become a magnified classroom with lengthy biblical expositions at its center. Whatever precedes the sermon is only pre-game information. And whatever comes after it is not as significant as the sermon either. But as Randy Booth rightly noted–quoting a portion of James Jordan’s work Theses on Worship– in his booklet A Guide to Worship, “the entire service is sermonic, not just the sermon.” c “The sermon itself,” he writes,” is very important, but it is not the all-important event. It is one important part of the many other important parts of worship.”

But if this is the case and any historical/liturgical tradition will attest, and since I am convinced Miller is aware of this historical precedent, then why not work to change this paradigm in the institutional church instead of generalizing it and bidding the historical ecclesiastical traditional adieu? With Miller’s book and lecture platform he could affect thousands of pastors who see worship as a lecture hall. That’s the reformer Don Miller the Church needs, not the one who throws away everything for a literal walk in the park on Sunday morning.

What is Miller trying to get rid of?

According to the author of best-seller, Blue Like Jazz, we have turned over the Acts church to the hands of professionals, known as the pastoral staff. Instead of doing that, we should simply hand out sheriff badges to everyone and say to them that they are all pastors. They are all in control. Sunday serves only to prepare these pastors–male and female–to go forth and be the church wherever they are. First Peter two does affirm our royal priesthood. We are all priests in the sense that we are no longer bound by bloody sacrifices. Christ’s redemption is accomplished, thus transforming us into agents of redemption in the world. However, what Miller fails to see is that Paul does not flatten the priesthood, he sees the priesthood operating differently in different spheres (I Tim. 3, Eph. 4:11-13). There is an office of priest (overseer) that is distinct from the general priesthood that we all inherit united to Messiah, Jesus.

Miller also wants to get rid of the institutional Church as center of community life.

I frequent a coffee shop weekly where one of the baristas is the leader of a church. When I asked him about the church, he told me that they meet at the same coffee shop on Sunday mornings to drink coffee and discuss the Bible. When I asked him to define a bit further what they do, he was quick to point to the flaws of the modern church. “We don’t need structure. We need to return to simplicity.” Since I have lectured on this topic before a few years ago, d. I can probably summarize this general view point as the “Romanticized Acts Church” movement. I am no opponent of coffee and Bible studies; in fact, I encourage them. But the idea that a return to the first century Church–as privately interpreted–is the solution to today’s ecclesiastical woes is overly caffeinated.

Why can’t I simply find community on my dinner table? or a pub? –because community life is complex. There is nothing wrong with finding community in these places, but they are all incomplete pictures of community life. They may be fine extensions of the community life, which the creeds refer to as “the communion of saints,” but to assert that that is a legitimate replacement for Word, Sacrament, and Discipline in the context of the gathered community is simplistic and dangerous. What then do we do with the adulterer? or the rich folks who are arriving at the Lord’s Supper and the agape meal and eating and drinking everything before the poor arrive? or the sexual abuse situations that are unfortunately prevalent in our churches? Miller has no answer. “I can maybe set up a board or something like that,” he said casually. But wouldn’t a board indicate some type of structure; the very same type you are attempting to eliminate?

Miller also says that he doesn’t find intimacy with God by singing songs to him.

As one deeply involved in ecclesiastical music, this concerns me. Miller is suffering from the psalmic-less nature of modern church music. What some of us treasure each Sunday through hymns and psalms of lament, imprecation, and overwhelming joy has been largely forgotten. The robustness of masculine voices and the beauty and nuance of female singing has become a forgotten history. All of it replaced by praise bands, and the few songs intended for congregational singing are quickly swallowed by the voluminous instrumentation.

If Miller is saying he simply does not like to sing, then he needs to re-adjust his biblical priorities. A quick search for the words “singing” and “music” will reveal their prevalence, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Because I don’t like to do something does not mean I should simply replace or eliminate it from the life of the church.

How Miller finds intimacy with God.

The answer is another example of a faulty ability to differentiate. Miller writes:

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.

I find his response a wonderful example of missing the point. We all find intimacy with God by working. We were created to work for six days, which means there is a great priority that God places on that. We all find hobbies and passions that fulfill us as men. We all agree with Eric Liddel’s wonderful attestation of the presence of God when he says in Chariots of Fire, “When I run I feel his pleasure.” When Miller works with his crew he feels God’s pleasure. But his intimacy ought to be the outworking of an intimacy that begins when by the Spirit we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).

Miller’s entire paradigm could be easily dealt with by reading an introduction to ecclesiology. e Don Miller is the product of modern individualism. And though he flees from that language with his post-modern categories, ultimately, he falls in his own trap. Miller believes that church is all around us. Yes, we go as church to the world. We carry the name of God. f But we go as church because we have already been fed by the head of the Church as we gathered as one body.

Conclusion

Miller’s platform is huge. His simple blog post, which he indicated took him about three minutes to write, led to a firestorm on the web. His attempt to start a conversation actually hinders us from having a more necessary conversation. The question should not be whether we worship in the traditional sense or simply find intimacy with God through other means, the question is “How has God called us to worship?” Further, whether you worship in a more lecture-style congregation or otherwise because of your learning style, what does your personal style of learning have to do with worship? What if God’s way of sanctifying you is by killing your learning style and causing you to appreciate God’s way of learning? What if the institutional church is God’s way of killing your wants so you may conform to his? What if attending church regularly is the way God intended to prepare you to understand intimacy?

I am not one to deny Miller’s connection with God via his work and habits, but I do reject his premise that abandoning the institutional church is the path to a deeper connection. The institutional church, I argue, is the deepest means of finding intimacy with God.

  1. Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/donald-miller-church#KDZHerDkw3EuWr6q.99  (back)
  2. If you do not have this book, please purchase Kevin DeYoung’s wonderful work found here: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Love-Church-Institutions-Organized/dp/0802458378  (back)
  3. see Covenant Media Foundation for copies  (back)
  4. My lecture at the Family Advance Conference in 2012; e-mail for a PDF copy  (back)
  5. Maybe R.B. Kuiper’s work “The Glorious Body of Christ  (back)
  6. This is the heart of the third commandment  (back)

Another Review of The Trinitarian Father by Kevin Johnson

Uri Brito establishes his point at the outset and drives it home throughout the book: Earthly fathers are to imitate God the Father. And this only makes sense because the God of heaven and earth is Triune. He doesn’t exercise his will and display his attributes in a vacuum. He is a culture. He is a civilization. He is a family. He is a Father to an actual Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are made in that image.

Every chapter is anchored by and revolves around Scripture. Uri takes us from the Garden to the Gospel – the Gospel that turns the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. We see in Genesis that God is a benevolent Father, preparing Adam for blessing and life. Isaiah reminds us that we are worshipers and imitators at our core. We will become what we worship. Solomon reminds us of our royalty. Every father will equip his son to rule – to be a dawning sun on a cloudless morning or to be smoke in the eyes. Luke gives us Wisdom made flesh. The Son of man increasing in wisdom and stature. Our sons, if we are like The Father, will be like The Son.

The Trinitarian Father is a great introduction to the topic of fatherhood. It teases the appetite. While it is a short work, the author has managed to cover a lot of ground. Uri’s brevity is adorned with great depth. Almost every sentence could be (and should be!) put on an index card for routine reflection. The book sets forth both a theological framework for fatherhood and practical hooks upon which every father would do well to hang his cap.

The Trinitarian Father makes you think; it brings you back to Scripture; it convicts you; it will make you shift in your chair. Ultimately, the book calls you to look into the heavens, see your Father, and remember that he’s done for you all that He requires of you. I heartily recommend this book. –Kevin Johnson

Purchase a copy by e-mailing the author at uriesou@gmail.com.

Praise for “TheTrinitarian Father”

The Trinitarian Father is not another work by an expert father to the rest of us — no, it’s better than that. Rather than offering his own wisdom, Uri Brito guides fathers through the whole biblical sweep of our Heavenly Father’s redemptive wisdom in his Son in order to unfold to us what true fatherhood is. In this work, we learn that the future of the church and of the culture is fathers — fathers who instruct their children from the the wisdom, example, and self-sacrifice of their Trinitarian Father.

John Fraiser, Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in La Grange, Kentucky

The Trinitarian Father (Book and PDF edition)

The good news is that the book is now in print and should be here by Christmas. Some of you may have purchased the book in kindle form, but the new book is a revised version of the kindle edition with several new chapters added. It is a great Christmas gift for all dads (do you hear it moms?)

Covenant Media Foundation will be publishing the book and as soon as I am made aware it’s available I will make it known.

The even better news is that you can get a PDF copy of my booklet now for any amount. That’s right. Simply donate however much you think my little labor of love is worth, and leave your e-mail in my paypal account or send me an e-mail at uriesou@gmail.com and I will send you the book in PDF form.

Suggested donation: $1.99



A Short Bio of the Man Who Changed the World

The great Reformer Martin Luther belonged to a peasant family. Luther once wrote that “his father, grandfather, and all his ancestors were thorough peasants.” Luther’s father made his livelihood by mining for copper. Margaret was Luther’s strong and strict mother. In fact, you can see that Luther’s personality comes very much through his mother. There is some record of the strictness and sometimes harshness in the Luther home. On one occasion, “His mother whipped him till the blood flowed, for stealing a hazel-nut.” In fact, Luther writes that it was the strictness and the rigorous life that led him to the monastery and made him a monk. a

One of the remarkable events in Luther’s life was one that is often unknown. Growing up in a peasant home, Luther’s opportunities to move to a higher rank of society were minimal. One of the things young Luther did to help with schooling and food was to go around from door to door with his friends and sing. It was in one of those occasions where he met Mrs. Ursula Cotta. She welcomed Luther to her table and exerted a great influence on Luther. Specifically, Mrs. Cotta taught Luther the ways of a more refined home circle. Essentially, she taught Luther proper mannerisms. This actually provided Luther opportunities to move to a higher rank in society than the ones his parents belonged bAt 18 Luther entered into the University of Erfurt and as always Luther distinguished himself. The author S.M. Houghton observed: “Little did Luther realize that even at this time God was preparing him for a career of activity which was to astonish Europe, and which was to shake a proud and polluted Church to its foundation (79).” It was at Erfurt that Luther came across a copy of the Bible. Contextually, we need to remember that peasants did not have copies of the Bible, so this was Luther’s first engagement with the Word of God. What caught his attention was the story of Hannah and Samuel, and how Samuel was called by God. This is all the background formation of Martin Luther before he became the great Protestant leader.

When Luther finished his studies, a series of events occurred, which really led Luther to consider his life and what he wanted to do in the future. There are two main events. The first was the day when one of Luther’s best friends got involved in a fight and was killed. At that moment he asked himself the question: “What if I had been killed instead of my friend?” The second and legendary event was the day when during a trip, a vicious thunder-storm broke over Luther. Luther believed that he was surely going to die before he reached his destination, and “stricken with fear he fell prostrate to the ground, crying out: ‘Help, Anna, beloved saint, I will become a monk.’” Luther kept his vow and after a big farewell party, the next day he presented himself at the door of an Augustinian monastery. Growing up in a peasant home, the last thing Martin’s father wanted was his son to pursue an ecclesiastical life. He wanted him to pursue law and achieve fame and wealth. But Luther wanted something different than fame and wealth, though as result he certainly achieved fame and the respect of many of the wealthiest in Europe. Luther—ultimately—wanted peace with God. For Luther, the way to obtain this peace was to isolate himself. He obeyed the very strict monastic rules, performed menial tasks, and went on begging on behalf of the monastery c. One author said that Luther was the “most sincere, conscientious monk who ever tried in genuine earnestness to merit salvation by human effort (81). He even became proud of his humility. This is important because this is shaping Luther’s thinking and how drastic his theological change was. He sacrificed everything to find peace. “He observed every detail of discipline, praying, fasting, watching, confessing his sins and he literally tortured his body to obtain peace for his soul.” Luther’s conscience plagued him so much that he despaired of salvation, and his physical strength began to waste away (Sketches, 80). His fellow-monks couldn’t help him, the departed saints that Luther prayed to so fervently could not help him. One person who brought some consolation to Luther was John von Staupitz, the head of the Augustinian monastery in Germany. He visited Luther often. Luther would cry often to his friend, Staupitz: “Oh, my sins! My Sins! My Sins!” Luther could not view God as the punisher of sin. Staupitz offered Luther many great theological truths that sank into Luther’s head. Once he said to Luther: “ Your thoughts are not according to Christ; Christ does not terrify, he consoles.” In God’s grace, the Spirit revealed to Luther that our works can never merit salvation before God. Only the mercy and grace of God can bring sinners to true faith. Luther once wrote that the phrase The Just Shall Live by Faith was the very gate of Paradise.
The result of a changed mind is a changed life. Martin Luther began proclaim the light of the gospel far and wide, and before long he became aware that this was not received well by the Church of the day.

Martin Luther was deeply troubled when he was commissioned to go to Rome in 1510. In his way to Rome he discovered that there was deplorable wickedness being done in the name of the Church, he saw the remarkable ignorance in the monasteries. The priests did not know the Scriptures well. Luther was so enamored with Rome in the beginning of his trip, but at the end, he wrote: “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” (Sketches, 84). When Luther returned to Wittenberg , he received a doctorate degree and began to preach in the parish church. He was loved by the people, because here was a man opening the word of God. As the people began to learn, Luther desired that more people hear the Word of God. As a result, Luther began to protest more and more.

And his protest came to a culmination when the popes decided that St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome should be rebuilt. The expense was to come from every area of society where the church had influence. One of Rome’s fundraiser experts was a man named Tetzel. Tetzel taught that those who donated to the project of re-building would deliver their loved ones who had died from purgatorial torments. Tetzel, and other issues of corruption infuriated Luther who began to preach vehemently against Tetzel. Luther wrote down 95 theses attacking indulgences. And at mid-day 1517 on October 31st, Luther nailed them to the Wittenberg Castle. His intention, of course, was to begin a conversation, but the conversation has been going on for over 400 years now. There was the printing press that made Luther’s theses popular, but what really got the attention of the citizens was that following October 31st was All Saints’ Day. Multitudes flocked to church. Luther’s theses were read, copied, printed, and distributed all over Germany, and eventually all over Europe (Sketches, 88). Luther’s these was received with little protest by the church, but as the popes and priests began to see how much it was affecting the population.

As Luther’s fame went far and wide, he quickly became the leader of this new movement emerging in Europe. In Luther’s day, Emperor Charles V was requested to deal with the case of Martin Luther. He ordered Luther to appear before him in the city of Worms. Luther’s friends reminded him of what had happened to John Huss. But Luther was committed to going to Worms. This is the famous Diet of Worms. The Council of Worms as is commonly known. Luther arrived at Worms and the streets were crowded with people all waiting to see the man who was taught to be the “devil personified” (88). He was the man who stood up against church and state, and not church and state were ready to crush him. As Luther entered the hall of the assembly he was astonished that the great religious and political leaders of the day were all present. The presiding office, Johann von Eck, opened the proceedings by asking Luther if he was the author of the writings on the table, and secondly he asked Luther if he would retract the doctrines in the books. Luther answered that he was the author of the books, but he said he wanted to think through his doctrines carefully to make sure he was being truthful to the Word of God. Luther spent the rest of the evening in prayer. April 18th, 1521 is described as the greatest day in Luther’s life. One author describes the day as “one of the sublimest scenes which earth ever witnessed, and most pregnant with blessing.” Luther came back and Dr. Johann von Eck posed the question again: “Luther, do you recant of the doctrines written in your book?” And here is the English translation of what Luther said:

“Unless I am convinced by testimonies of Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error—for popes and councils have often contradicted themselves—I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”

Several days after this statement, Luther was declared to be an outlaw and anyone who lodged him or gave him food or drink were liable to be charged with treason. Nothing stopped Luther’s mission and throughout the rest of his life he wrote, preached, translated and left a remarkable legacy. In these times he held very dear to Psalm 46, and in fact, wrote his greatest hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. God became his fortress in his time of trial.

In 1546, Luther fell ill and shortly thereafter he died. It is said that one of his closest friends asked Luther if remained determined to stand fast in Christ and in the doctrine which he had preached! Luther responded with a distinct Yes. Luther died and was buried at the Wittenberg Castle; the same place where 29 years earlier he had nailed the 95 theses.

  1. see Martin Luther the Man  (back)
  2. Sketches from Church History, pg. 79  (back)
  3. Sketches, 81  (back)

Book Review: Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart by Kyle Idleman

These days I rarely finish a book. I am currently reading through so many books I can barely keep track of which ones. I usually peruse a book, find what I want, and leave it buried in my increasing treasury of books on Kindle. This changed recently. In preparation for a sermon on idolatry I came across Kyle Idleman’s book entitled Gods at War. The book title caught my attention and so I downloaded it into my kindle and two seconds later there it was. I confess I had never heard of Pastor Idleman, and my first impressions of a mega pastor (which he is; pastor of the fourth largest church in the country) have not changed. The writing style filled with little stories and illustrations hurt my intellectual feelings from the start. But then I just kept reading it. The side bars with research and even the funny footnotes kept me reading it.

The reading is meant for a lay audience, but I confess this pastor needed it just as much. Idleman argues that “until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory” (22). I am not even sure where to start. I have had so many idols over the years.

As I read the book I realized that the premise was not much different than the biblical theological work of G.K. Beale who wrote that we are what we worship, whether for our ruin or for our good. Beale wrote his work in an academically driven style. Idleman is Beale for Dummies.

The time I waste. The things I treasure. Everything had become a god. “Never in the history of humanity has there been so much entertainment and so little satisfaction” (121). I am so easily entertained, and yet that entertainment fails to find the satisfaction that it intends to give. Why? because it is not meant to give it.

Who is your god? That question kept coming back again and again to haunt me. I have read Keller and I am quite aware that the second commandment is more thorough than simply constructing a physical icon, it also deals with the heart of the matter; really, the heart is the matter.

What a simple, at times silly, but overall profoundly revealing book. Don’t read this book. If you do, you will start hunting more effectively for those gods that tempt you in every direction. Come to think of it, read it. Be a hunter. Choose this day whom you will serve. “You shall have no other gods before me,” says Yahweh.

*See also, We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale

This world is not my home…or is it?

Those who follow me on twitter may see several tweets with the hash-tag #Ruthproject. The Ruth project is a new work I am working with a fellow pastor from Birmingham. We are working on a commentary on Ruth. But this will not be just a normal, exegetical work, it is actually a pastoral and theological labor focusing on the nature and goal of redemptive history. We will focus on the content of Ruth’s majestic love story, but also detailing why Ruth serves as a miniature picture for all of God’s history.

We will offer a theological framework for how we are to look at redemptive history and how God is working in it. The commentary hopes to be practical, pastoral, and layman-friendly.

Here is a quote from the introduction:

What you believe about the future shapes how you live in the present.  If your final expectation is just to go and dwell forever in ethereal heaven, compare what your world view and your practice would be to someone whose final hope is of dwelling in a renovated and perfected physical creation in a resurrection body.

Lord-willing we will be able to provide a manuscript draft to our publisher by the end of the summer. Our goal is to have it published by the Family Advance Conference in November.

Dave Hunt Dies

dave-hunt-woman-rides-the-beast-catholic-church-vaticanI had the opportunity to meet Dave Hunt on a couple of occasions. I sat attentively in one of his talks where he opposed Calvinism. If my memory serves me right, he said something like this:

I was amazed at what I discovered when I deeply researched Roman Catholicism. I came to the conclusion that it is not a Christian Church. I could not believe how much falsehood they affirmed. But I was even more deeply amazed when I began researching Calvinism. It is a web a lies. It causes people to trust in the philosophies of men rather than in the Word of God.

In those days I had been reading through Norman Geisler’s Chosen, but Free. I thought it was a good response to the Calvinist claims. I even taught a Sunday School class in a Baptist Church following that paradigm. I now see Geisler’s treatise as the blending of a schizophrenic philosophy with a high dose of mis-characterized Calvinism.

A few years later Dave Hunt came to town (Tampa Bay) to lecture on this supposed highly problematic doctrine. This was before the publishing of What Love is This? Even then, I had already imbibed of a good dose of Tulip Theology thanks to Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. Hunt’s lecture was filled with silly analogies, and my zealous Calvinism saw it for what it was.

Years earlier I had read some of Hunt’s prophetic literature and found it compelling, especially when he combined the false teachings of cults with the coming anti-Christ. He portrayed the world and its future in such dark categories that it was easy to adopt a pessimistic eschatology. In his latter years, Hunt continued his eschatology talks, but focused his attention on his crusade against Calvinism, or as one endorsement referred to it as the “abuses of Calvinism.”His talks and radio show, and the endorsement of almost the entirety of the well-known Calvary Chapel movement made him an anti-Calvinist rock star.

The reason for this short piece is that Dave Hunt died yesterday. It is common courtesy to extend sympathy to memory of those who have died in Christ. I especially wish peace on his wife Ruth and other family members. Hunt offered some very helpful apologetic material early on. He lived a fruitful professional life. Unfortunately to those of us in the Reformed community, Hunt offered some very unwise counsel. His dispensational prophetic interests created–in my estimation–a distorted expectation in the Christian Church. Many have bought into a misguided eschatology and have as a result offered a poor apologetic for the role of the Church in the culture, and the clear biblical vision of bringing all things in submission to King Jesus.

So as one more important piece of dispensational history departs to the presence of our blessed Lord–and Dave Hunt, in my limited knowledge of him loved His Lord Jesus Christ–let us move history into better theological pastures. Let’s raise a generation of optimistic thinkers who battle cults, but then offer a strong apologetic–a Trinitarian one–to fight it. And as we do so, let us not use our cult apologetic to justify or validate our doomsday theology.

And on the Calvinism front, may God raise gentle Calvinists who will argue for grace from the foundation of grace. When we do so, let us also represent our Arminian brothers with utmost respect.

Rest in Peace, David Hunt.

A Festschrift to Norman Shepherd

Obedient FaithAndrew Sandlin and John Barach have done a great service in providing these essays in honor of Norman Shepherd. Obedient Faith  is “a tribute by students and friends to a courageous theologian’s lifelong stand for a full-orbed, obedient Christianity.” In the preface, Andrew Sandlin observes:

His influence is not thought to rank with his Calvinist contemporaries like J. I. Packer, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul. Yet in the end it may be Shepherd’s distinctive views that prove to be the more lasting and influential. Those views spring from his recovery of the older Reformed idea of the covenant as the overarching theme of the Bible and of the church and Christian life… Shepherd does not merely argue that individual salvation is the outworking of the covenant of grace (true enough); he insists, moreover, that man’s entire relation with God from creation to consummation, from birth to death, is governed by covenant.

I will be posting some quotes along the way. Also, stay tuned for an interview with editor, Andrew Sandlin on the life and theology of Norman Shepherd.

Book Review: Bill Bennett’s “The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas”

There are too many unknown facts, as Bill Bennett rightly asserts. Much of the historical data is purely speculative with the exception of a few references, poems and prayers in honor of Saint Nicholas. The Roman Catholic tradition has largely exorcised ol’ St. Nicholas from the Church, while the Eastern Orthodox tradition continues to celebrate his life every December 6th.

Bennett provides a pleasant read filled with fantastical stories and a delightful context to the Bishop of Myra.

The records at the very least seem to concur with the general perception that the Saint Nicholas that existed in the days of Constantine (yes, he most likely slapped Arius!) was indeed filled with generosity and abounding in love for all sorts of people.

Bennett illustrates that Saint Nicholas, the Bishop, had become commercialized only a few centuries after his death. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well in those days. The life of Saint Nicholas was being used by manipulative men to sell and to attract business. This commercialization is no different than the Americanized Santa Claus (invented much later in the 20th century).

At the same time it is important to note that abuses are always prone to happen, and that simply doing away with the figure in order to avoid the tough questions is no way to handle the matter. Rather, there is a legitimate way to use the history of Saint Nicholas, and its subsequent re-adaptation– with all its colors and jolly-ness in the North Pole Santa Claus– to draw us and our children’s attention to those rare gifts and virtues of the Christian faith.

Bill Bennett connects the modern Santa Claus with the faithful Bishop who suffered and lived for the sake of His Lord. The connection provides us with a healthy knowledge of the origins of this delightfully rotund figure loved by many whose history is frequently forgotten. The book offered a portrait of an ancient figure whose life was dedicated to the giving of gifts and to relieving the suffering of many. For this reason alone, Saint Nicholas is to be celebrated and remembered.