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Princeton Seminary 1812-1929 Gary Steward

Gary Steward. Princeton Seminary (1812-1929): Its Leaders’ Lives and Works.
Phillipsburg, NJ: Crossway Books, 2014. 321 pp.

The legacy of Princeton Theological Seminary has been hotly debated over the years yet fascinatingly enough a revival of interests into the theology and professors of Old Princeton has been growing in light of the growth of Calvinistic expressions of the Christian faith.  This book tells the story of Old Princeton during the years of 1812 through 1929 by giving the readers a biographical account of theologians that has defined the Seminary.  I enjoyed how the book not only gave us the life of these theologians but also each biographical chapter on a theologian is followed by a chapter that takes a closer look at the respective man’s particular theological writing and contribution.  This format allows us to get a sense of the “life and doctrine” of Old Princeton.  It also helps to advance the author’s thesis that Old Princeton held to two uncompromising conviction: (1) rigorous academic theologizing which is compatible with (2) personal piety and holiness.  I think Steward does persuasively makes his case and after reading the book I think it is unfortunate that Old Princeton has become so maligned even among Christian circles.

The first chapter of the book covers the founding of Princeton Seminary.  I appreciated the author giving us a larger context of theological education for Pastors prior to the Seminary being formed.  Obviously there was a need before the founding of Princeton.  I learned from the book that before 1746 ministers had only three options for their education: Harvard, Yale or Europe.  It certainly makes one appreciate the contemporary landscape in North America with countless seminary to choose from.  I also learned from the first chapter of the book of the Log College that would serve as a model for Princeton Seminary with its emphasis on spiritual experience and intellectual cultivation.  At first the Presbyterians founded a college (later Princeton University) but eventually the need for a separate Seminary independent from the college led them to found the Seminary.  Early on Princeton Seminary was founded to accomplish the goal of producing men who were capable scholars of the Bible that was able to handle the Scripture in its original languages and faithful to the Westminster Confession of Faith in their application of the Word of God to ethics and apologetics.

The first biographical chapter in the book was on the Seminary’s first full time professor, Archibald Alexander.  Alexander was an incredibly intellectually gifted man.  In an era in which it was hard to acquire books Alexander was able to purchase the library of a minister from Holland that allowed him to become well acquainted with Dutch Reformed thought, early Patristic, Renaissance philosophers and the history of the larger Protestant theology.  With all his contribution in his prime of his life it is amazing to read that he worked hard even towards the end of his life with the last ten years his most productive.  The author also examined more closely Archibald Alexander’s work titled Thoughts on Religious Experience which focuses on one’s examination of religious experience to see if its Scriptural and authentic, thus showing how early in the Seminary history Old Princeton faculty was not only about the mind but ministered with nuance sensitivity in taking into account all of man’s faculty.

Other theologians that the book focused on included Samuel Miller (their second professor in the Seminary), Charles Hodge, James and Joseph Alexander (sons of Archibald Alexander), and Archibald Alexander Hodge (son of Charles Hodge and obviously named after Archibald Alexander).  I was intrigued to learn that Charles Hodge was the first in the faculty to go to Europe to study abroad.  This was in order for Hodge to familiarize himself with the bad theology coming from Liberal scholarship especially from Germany.  Of course later other professors from Old Princeton (and at other seminary I would add, including today) would follow suit.  I wonder if that was a wise precedence for others to follow since one who is not theologically grounded can come back with dangerous ideas and teachings that can “infect” a good seminary.  In the case with Charles Hodge it was beneficial.  I was very encouraged with the biographical account of James Alexander who first became a missionary who later on did much work in reaching the urban poor and develop materials for the Sunday School movement.  The personality of A.A. Hodge with his ability to effectively popularize Princeton theology and illustrate spiritual truths for people’s understanding was equally encouraging for anyone desireingto follow the model of a “Pastor-Scholar” or “Scholar-Pastor.”

I wished the book would have also given a full chapter each on the life of B.B. Warfield and Machen.  Both Warfield and Machen were important figures in the twilight years of Old Princeton but the author lumped the two of them together in a brief sketch in the last chapter of the book.

Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is the historical perspective that one gets to look at the times through the College/Seminary and its faculty.  These faculty members lived through some amazing time period of American history.  Sometimes they also participated in American history such as Witherspoon, Rush and Stockton of Princeton College who participated with the cause of American Independence and even signed the Declaration of Independence!  Yet we also see as a general trajectory a caution among the faculty of the Seminary itself, such as Miller who backed away from the political the older he became, Charles Hodge’s reluctance to fan the flame before the Civil War by even adopting a moderating tone while being against slavery but being cautious towards full abolitionists and Secessionists in the South.  Towards the end of the Civil War Charles Hodge did become more vocal about the Union, even seeing the North’s victory a sign of God’s providence.  Hodge’s own son also was against slavery but was able to see the difficult question and concern for church entanglement politically with the slave question.

In conclusion I was greatly encouraged and challenged by the book and the examples of the theologians of Old Princeton to be a minister of the Word who continue to strive to grow in intellectual ability in articulating, preaching and defending the faith while also continue to grow in personal holiness.  This book would be a great gift to encourage your pastor and also for Seminarians to see their studies with the need to be pastoral.  It definitely encouraged my soul as a Pastor.  I pray that I can follow in these men’s footstep and be to some degree the kind of men these guys were.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Crazy Busy Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung. Crazy Busy.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013. 128 pp.

This book is relevant for everyone.  It is a neat little book on busyness by Pastor Kevin DeYoung.  I used this book in the context of discipleship with one of the members of our church.  I do recommend it for either personal reading or reading in a discipleship context.  In a world in which many people are so busy, this book approaches the subject spiritually.  It is both theological and practical.

I appreciated how early in the book DeYoung tells the reader that he’s not writing this book because he’s mastered the subject but rather he’s writing this for his own edification and that he’s “trying to figure things out.”  His humility and description of his problem is one that would make readers connect with the author.

In the second chapter of the book DeYoung goes over three dangers to avoid when it comes to busyness.  DeYoung reminds us that while there are books that talk about the physical risk of being overly busy, we must not forget the spiritual threat that busyness can be to our own faith.  We must not allow the busyness of work and life rob our hearts and joy while also examining to see if our busyness is a way of covering up the rots in our soul.

The bulk of the book goes over the seven diagnoses DeYoung identifies with the problem of busyness.  They are all very good but two stands out among them for me personally.  It was very edifying to read his discussion about how busyness can be a manifestation of pride.  Here DeYoung gives us what he calls the “Killer P’s” that are the many faces of pride such as the fact that we can be busy because we want to please people, get pats on our backs or desire for perfectionism, etc.  DeYoung poses to the reader a good question to test if our busy work is for God or for our pride: “Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?”  I also appreciate DeYoung’s discussion about technology that strangles our soul.  It is wonderful to see DeYoung address this issue in a world of social media and smart phones.  He’s not doing this to show he’s hip and up to date since he talks about how fleeting technology is, given how fast things change but he’s addressing this pastorally.  I appreciated how in this chapter DeYoung not only talk about the obvious risk of addiction but also the threat of acedia which he describe as something like sloth but has the aspect of indifference and spiritual forgetfulness.  It is the condition where we are busy but not with something important but being busy with being busy, where are content to do things that are purposeless and shallow in the passing of time.

I appreciated how the book ends not with a call to not be busy—but rather DeYoung is realistic in that we cannot forsake all things in order to not be busy.  He does have a chapter titled “Embracing the Burdens of Busyness” and his final chapter was very appropriate in that he tells us that in the middle of all our task, there is one thing we must do even if it’s not man-centered pragmatic: we must make the time to be closer to Jesus.  Excellent!

I highly recommend this book.  There is a reason why it is the 2014 Christian Book of the Year.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Heaven

Smith, Colin S. Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus,     2015.

This book which is 95 pages is packed with ancient Gospel truth, but done in a fresh imaginative and dramatic writing style that does not compromise the veracity and integrity of the Gospel.  The author skillfully brings together sound doctrine, powerful theological accounts of the cross, and  historical accuracy concerning the drama of this account concerning the thief and Jesus Christ.  Here imagination is used properly for the glory of God.

The book covers different scenes that are categorized this way: breakfast, hatred, faith, hope, love, darkness, agony, triumph, and safety.  The main protagonist is the thief at the cross.  His thoughts, feelings, and volition gushes forth from this book.  The account of the thief’s thoughts although imaginative, except for his few words as recorded in Scripture, are sound words that echo Gospel centered truths of how a sinner maybe saved.  I have never witnessed a book that has approach the thief’s account in this manner.

Besides the profound imaginative features, what I found refreshing are some of the precise and deep-seated truths of the Gospel that emphasize the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the sinfulness of man, and the intense reminder that the gates of Hell and Heaven are only inches away from us.  I don’t want to give out too much details about this book.  I recommend buying it and reading it.  It is a great book for an unbeliever who needs the Gospel and for believers who need a profound and refresh way of explaining the Gospel to sinners who are in danger of judgment and in desperate need of forgiveness.

Thief at the cross, “I endured the pains of crucifixion, but I did not experience the agonies of hell.  Jesus endured them for me, so that I would never know what they are like.  The more I think about this, the more staggering it gets” (71).

NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher Christian Focus Publications through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Purchase bookCFP or Amazon

 

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Mark Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne. Mark.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014. 352 pp.

This is a work that is a part of the Teaching the Text Commentary Series put out by Baker Books.  My overall review of this book is that this is a wonderful and helpful expositional commentary.  I read through this commentary for my own devotional but felt it would be good for an expositor to use as well.  The introduction of the book mentioned that the editor was intentional in making this volume accessible and helpful for the exegete and educated lay person and certainly I think they largely succeeded with the format of the book.  The author begins each section in the commentary with the big idea summarizing the periscope, then a section titled “understanding the text” that is broken down into “The Text in Context” followed by “Interpretative Insight” that goes roughly verse by verse.  After this is “Theological Insights” then “Teaching the Text” and ends with “Illustrating the Text.”  I appreciation the commentary’s attempt to give illustration even when at times the illustration was weak since it help the expositor jog his mind for sermon illustrations!

This is a commentary filled with good insights.  Here in this review I can only share some of those that stood out to me:

  • I especially enjoyed how the commentary shares background that helped enlightened the text; for instance, the Jews often saw that the further back in salvation history one can pull in one’s theological argument, the greater is its theological “weight;” thus when Jesus argues against the Pharisees concerning divorce the move by Jesus to go back to Adam and Eve and not just stay with Leviticus and Deuteronomy was a deliberate move to provide an argument with a stronger force than the Pharisees.
  • In the first century religious context, Jewish sages were often seen as being too important to have children bother them; yet Jesus turns this on its head when He welcomes children in Mark 10:13-16.
  • This commentary was also helpful for me in interpreting Jesus’ curse of the fig tree.  The author noted that fig trees in the area typically had early figs in early March even though the main season that it bloomed was in May; this was what Jesus expected from the fig tree even though it was “not the season for figs.”  The commentary makes the argument that the issue isn’t so much about the fig tree as it is about the spiritually barren temple (which the fig tree periscope is sandwiched between two periscopes at the temple) which the word “season” heavily suggests since it is not a botanical term for growing season but a religious term.
  • Background information is also important in appreciating the scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The commentary noted that it was unusual for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem on a ride so Jesus entrance into Jerusalem bear some resemblance to Solomon’s entrance to Jerusalem on David’s donkey in 1 Kings 1:32-48.
  • The commentary’s explanation of how the Jews performed the Passover feast with its various steps also help illuminated what was going on during Jesus’ last supper.
  • There are some ironies during the night that Jesus was arrested.  The verb for “laying hands” is often used in Mark to describe Jesus healing people but now used to describe people grabbing Jesus.  Normally in Jewish custom it is the Rabbis who bestow the greeting of a kiss to his disciples and not the other way around as Judas did.

Although I read through this commentary as a devotional read I would also say that this commentary is definitely for expository preachers.  Several years ago I had a hard time finding a good commentary I can recommend on Mark to my church’s small group leaders.  Had this commentary came out then I would have also recommended this book as a tool for lay people leading Bible studies on Mark.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Baker Books and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Amazon

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Counterstrike by Eric Schmitt Thom Shanker

 

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker. Counterstrike.  New York, NY: Times Books, 2011. 336 pp.

Radical Islam isn’t going away anytime soon so this book definitely has its place.  This is the story of the United States’ effort in Counter-Terrorism following September 11th.  It is the incredible story of how various parts of the Government matured in their fight against Al Qaeda.  The book focuses not only the frontline agencies against terrorism such as the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and the military but also certain key individuals that have shaped the policies in their respective agencies.  We read in the book the story of the early days after September 11th in which the government was struggling to know who their enemy was.  The book does not cover up the embarrassing extent of the ignorance of various officials in the government concerning Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.  But as the government kept moving forward in its war against Al Qaeda we find that certain men eventually shaped institutional changes to their agency in order to adapt to the stateless terrorist threat of Al Qaeda.  For example, the book talks about how the intelligence community at first collected everything as potential data but this led to an ineffective process of sorting out and producing good intelligence analysis.  Soon “intelligence triage” was developed in order to better handle incoming potential intelligence data along with directing it at the right analysts.  The academic world also had a place in the war on terror in which the intelligence community wisely saw that the academic world can better analyze certain data especially those that weren’t urgent actionable intelligence; this led to the founding of the Combating Terrorism Center based at West Point.

I appreciated how the authors described various elements of the government starting to work together in order to defeat Al Qaeda.  This was dramatically different compared to the pre-9/11 world where government agencies’ jealousy meant an agency become territorial with what they were willing to share and do.  Before 9/11 communications between the FBI and CIA faced many difficulties; the FBI’s computer network system was out of date and incompatible with the other government agencies.  That would eventually change.  We also read in the book of how the military and the intelligence community grew to become better reliant with each other.  The military improved their ways of gathering information and intelligence and also improved on how this was shared to the intelligence community.  In turn the intelligence community enhanced their evaluation and analysis in order to hand over to the military “actionable intelligence.”  I love the example of how a platoon of US Army soldiers unknowingly stumbled upon an intelligence treasure trove in Sinjar, Iraq that was then properly exploited by the intelligence community that helped the military to operationally downgrade Al Qaeda in Iraq.  There is also the story of the book of how the NSA would also have people sent to Iraq to better assist the military.

The book also had a discussion throughout the book about deterrence theory against Al Qaeda.  We see a whole chapter devoted to the discussion about Cold War deterrence theory and the problem with it in relations to Al Qaeda.  Obviously, it is difficult to get someone to back down when they are willing to martyr themselves in the attempt to destroy the West.  However I think the book makes a good point that there is a role of deterrence as a tool against Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists once we understand the network nature of Al Qaeda and other radical terrorist groups.  This new deterrence theory recognizes that in order for Al Qaeda to function there is the need for a terrorist network that is able to provide logistical needs.  Not everyone in this network is a suicide bomber since a suicide bomber himself would need someone who is a recruiter, a financier, trainer, etc.  This new deterrence theory is not necessarily directed towards the bombers and fighters themselves but towards those supporters who have much more to lose since they are still committed to being of the world (so to speak) and attached to certain things that allow the US leverage.  Recognition of this also means that our tools against Al Qaeda isn’t just military but also other means such as legal, financial and cyber capabilities.  As the book mentioned, “it takes a network to fight a network.”

The book also talked about the problematic and at times ironic relationship the US has with Pakistan in the War on Terror.  I also found it informative that the authors discussed the threat of the loan wolf home grown terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda.

While the book was published before the current geopolitical threat of ISIS, I think readers will find this book informative as to the historical development in the long war against Islamic terrorism.  Highly recommended work.

Purchase: Amazon

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This book was one that was on sale at Shepherd’s Conference (Inerrancy Summit).

God Battle plan for the mind david saxton

 David Saxton. God’s Battle Plan for the Mind.  Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. 144 pp.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and believed that it was God’s providence that I read this book at the time I was reading it since lately I have been thinking a lot about Christian devotions and prayers.  It truly ministered to my soul.

The subject of the book is on biblical meditation.  The author David Saxton correctly note that this is a loss discipline today among most Western Christians and it doesn’t help that the term “meditation” often invoke unbiblical form of meditation that is more in line with Eastern religion and mysticism than the Bible.  Thus the first two chapters argued for the importance of biblical meditation and also note incorrect forms of meditation.  True biblical meditation involves thinking about God’s spiritual truth from the Scripture rather than the emptying of the mind or looking within oneself.  Since some of the contemporary Christian meditation strategies are not necessarily biblical the book looks at the Scripture in constructing meditation that would please God while also looking at the rich insight that the Puritans had on this important Christian discipline.  Chapter three is a wonderful chapter that defined biblical meditation and providing the biblical support for this.  I appreciate the lexical word studies the author went through as well.

Both the author and the Puritans that the author quoted in the book had very good illustrations on the importance of Christian meditation.  For instance we read that “a godly person does not just snack occasionally on God’s truth; rather, the Word is his heart delight and hourly consideration” (2).  Constantly throughout the book meditation was compared to chewing food and the habit of studying the Bible and not meditating was compared to tasting food but not swallowing it.  We also see the illustration that it is important to let the Word of God soak your life thoroughly similar to letting a teabag sit in hot water long enough and not merely letting the tea bag that dip a bit into the water (10).

Another helpful part of the book is how the author explored the different kinds of categories of meditation that the Puritans understood.  First was the distinction between deliberate and occasional meditation in which the former was planned while the later was more spontaneous.  The Puritans noted that both had their place but also warned about the danger of only having occasional meditation since it run the risk of being subjective and not as systematic in one’s spiritual feeding through the whole counsel of God’s Word.  Deliberate meditation was further divided into two types with direct meditation focusing on understanding what the Scripture has to say about a given topic while reflexive meditation was more on what the application look like in one’s life.

I appreciated how practical both the book and the Puritans were on the subject of meditation.  Many times in the book the author emphasized that the purpose of meditation is to apply spiritual truths and not merely engage intellectually with Scripture.  I like that as I’m sure it will help many believers who like me can struggle with things being intellectual.  The book also covered various practical steps involved in meditation such as consideration of important occasions for meditation, selecting the subject of meditation and getting started with meditation.  While some might not like how the Puritans provided “steps” to one’s meditation the author does make a powerful argument from his analogy of how the lack of a step by step approach can be frustrating for those unfamiliar with this spiritual discipline of meditation in the same way the author found it frustrating when his GPS broke down while he was trying to travel from Rome to Pompeii (59-60).  The author insightfully points out that the Puritans were practical without being rigidly bound to unnecessary rules.  For instance, the Puritans talked a lot about what time of day one should engage in Christian meditation (morning or night) and while many have their reasons for their preferences they also saw Christian liberty on the timing of the duty of meditation and their writing portray sensitivity by taking into account individuals’ temperament (are they a night person or a morning person, etc).  Since the goal of meditation is to connect with God the duration of one’s meditation was also covered by the Puritans.  The author has a wonderful point when he said that meditation should be like eating a several course meal with someone rather than wolfing down fast food on the free way (57).  The duration should be however long until one connects with the Lord and are lead to apply God’s truth.  The book was also helpful in reminding the readers that Christians sin in specific ways so believers too must meditate on passages that address specific sinful habits.  There were so many helpful tips in the book that one must read it to gain from it!

I highly recommend this book.   Read it to start one’s spiritual meditations today.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher Reformation Heritage Books through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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Inerrancy Summit 2015

The Inerrancy Summit had some recommended books to help those attending the conference pick out what they want from the bookstore.  I thought I share my reviews of some of those books along with my own recommendations concerning books not only with Inerrancy but Scripture in General.

Can I Really Trust the Bible? by Barry Cooper

Can I Really Trust the Bible Cooper

Purchase:  Amazon

Thoughts: If you are attending the conference you would already have this as part of your ten free books.  However this book is worth purchasing as gifts for others especially young believers.  Cooper’s short book shows an awareness of Presuppositional apologetics.

My Further Review

 

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

18475501

 

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Thoughts: Like what Ligon Duncan said in his message, one should be informed by what the Word of God says about itself first and then understanding Scripture’s phenomena and not the other way around.  What does God’s Word says about itself?  Check out DeYoung’s exposition!

My Further Review

 

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John M. Frame

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God John Frame cover

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Thoughts: The doctrine of Inerrancy is often rejected because of other surrounding issues such as a bad doctrine of God’s revelation (for instance, due to a bad philosophy of language, knowledge, etc), bad philosophy and problematic epistemology.  John Frame’s biblically driven book towards the knowledge of God is very helpful!  I would also recommend John Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God but I think it’s best to begin here.

My Further Review

 

Inerrancy and Worldview by Vern Poythress

InerrancyAndWorldview

 

Purchase: Amazon

Thoughts: Very helpful in evaluating different worldviews that often is the undercurrent in people’s reasons for having problems with Bible.

Further Review is forthcoming!

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