Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review - Christ Formked in You (Part V)

While the previous section outlines some helpful practical thoughts on change, the final three chapters outline in more detail some helpful, and often overlooked, factors in our transformation into the image of Christ.

The first chapter, on disciplines, is perhaps the most obvious factor (and certainly most written about recently) - spiritual disciplines. A single chapter will obviously not cover these in detail (found more fully in works by the likes of Don Whitney and others), but Hedges discusses how these are involved in our change. We cannot expect to successfully be holy without discipline, but they are spiritual disciplines because we cannot succeed by effort alone, and only with the Spirit's help. The amazing reality of change is that Christ was holy with no other means than those available to us, such as prayer, biblical meditation, and other disciplines (outlined in a very helpful table as inward, outward and corporate [more on corporate later] - Hedges uses few diagrams and tables, but they are always very useful. Ultimately, the spiritual disciplines are methods in which to keep our hearts full of the gospel and Christ.

The last two chapters discuss elements not often covered in detail when discussing the process of change in the Christian life. Suffering is is full of it, and we have little choice over how much and what kinds we suffer. But how we react has an enormous role on how we change. We must remember that suffering is always for the good of the believer, from the providential hand of God, a loving Father. It is used to teach us many thing - discipline, compassion, drawing us away from idols and this world. Finally, community is vital in our process to change. I personally found this a very helpful reminder, and it is often forgotten in books such as this. We were made to be relational, with God and with others, and those relationships are essential to our growth - not easy, but essential! Hedges outlines obstacles to community (individualism, busyness and other factors), and discusses the nature of the church (form Acts 2:42-3, covering the essential elements), but ultimately the point is that transformation is a community project. We cannot make it on our own. In community we get together and show love, speak truth, confront sin and stir up one another. I especially liked the thought that the people in our lives will last forever...transformation is not all about how I can grow...its about how we can grow.

I have enjoyed the book tremendously. I will read it again, soon, and try to make the concepts more real and well practiced in my life. I may even use it as the basis for a series of Sunday School lessons. It has been manna for my soul, and I heartily add my voice to the recommendations of others far better and wiser than I.

Note: I am reviewing this from a PDF version provided by the author, Brian Hedges

Book Review - Christ Formed in You (Part III)

The last three chapters in the first section cover the reality of the gospel in further detail. The first chapter discussed Justification, something of a battleground in evangelical circles today. This is a really helpful chapter, emphasizing the vital fact that transformation comes from grace (based in the finished work of Christ), not to gain grace. The bad news is we are guilty, and we cannot work it off, but the glorious news of the gospel is that while we cannot achieve righteousness in ourselves, we are declared it based on the death and life of Christ. This righteousness is achieved by faith, not striving, and Christ is the basis of our acceptance before God, not our own goodness. We love Christ not for fear of repercussions, but from grateful hearts of those forgiven and cleansed, walking with God as sons, not slaves.

The heart is the center of who we are, and the next chapter covers the reality that at salvation we are made new creatures, and given a new heart. We are transformed not by changes in our behavior, but from within, by changes in our desires. We can now seek God where before we could never have done so. Hedges provides a helpful listing of the characteristics of this new heart (with accompanying verses for each one): godly fear, hope, desire, joy, hatred of evil, brokenness for sin, gratitude, compassion, zeal and love. We have been saved, given a heart transplant, born again...we can be transformed, for 'the cure has begun'.

After showing us the reality of our change in position, and our transformation within, Hedges discusses sanctification. The reality is we are positionally sanctified already, but the rest of the book will be about how we practically progress in our walk to live up to this reality! The foundation for our sanctification is the gospel, and the reality is that sin no longer has the power on the believer it had before salvation, as Romans 6 clearly describes. The gospel story is that sin did its worst to Christ on Calvary, but he rose again victorious, and we share in that victory! If we are in Christ, we have died to sin, and risen to new life with Him. The reality is that sanctification, like justification, comes through faith alone in Christ. Transformation then comes as we think on these truths and the Spirit applies then to our hearts. Sanctification does not bring us into union with Christ, but union with Christ enables our sanctification. So how do we make this a reality in our lives? Hedges spells it out. Count on the truth of Scripture as it speaks on these things, and on the basis of this, do not allow sin to have dominion over you (for it really does not). We must instead yield to Christ, for He alone is the source of our change and transformation.

The reality is that we have extraordinary, supernatural resources in Christ. The rest of the book will discuss in more details how we apply these truths to our lives in practically undertaking the metamorphosis God designed for us to know.

Note: I am reviewing this from a PDF version provided by the author, Brian Hedges

Book Review - Christ Formed in You (Part IV)

The next section of the book covers 4 chapters, outlining the pattern of personal change.

Holiness is often seen as a dull concept, but Hedges helpfully outlines that the real thing is made to be irresistible. There is a tension here of course, God is other, morally perfect, causing a reaction that Sproul calls the 'trauma of holiness'...yet this same holiness, seen most clearly in the person of Christ, is what we were made for. Genuine holiness both alarms and delights us (a pleasing pain). And it is the gospel that enables this holiness - something that is not mere morality, but transformation.

This holiness is both a putting off and putting on, a mortification and a vivifivation (the second and third chapters in this section). We first kill sin in our lives. After outlining some wrong views on this, Hedges outlines 10 ways in which we can kill sin, such as yielding to God, making no provision for the flesh, replacing sin with grace, the spirit, etc - outlining not merely principles, but scattering in several helpful examples to illustrate (something done frequently and helpfully through the entire book). While get rid of sin, we also strive to replace with godly character (branches are pruned not just to be pruned, but to bear fruit). Holiness is a lifelong walk ever more closely towards the image of Christ. Motivated by the mercies of Christ, we give all in return (Rom 12). This is first an inner change that reveals itself in outward change, being transformed by the renewing of our minds and with the empowerment of the spirit. Hedges finally outlines some realities about this transformation, such as the fact it is relational (vertically and horizontally), it will involve conflict, and it is symmetrical (I found this very helpful...we are only as spiritual as our weakest trait.

Finally, holiness is motivated by joy. The reality is, as God made us, we cannot know full joy without knowing the full reality of holiness. Looking to writers such as Brooks and Piper, Hedges points out that one of our greatest hindrances in holiness is a lack of desire, longing for the pleasures God alone can give...this is key in transformation (in the wonderful title of Chalmer's essay, through "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection"). The section closes with some very practical examples of how God's promises can help fight very specific issues (greed, lust, etc).
Note: I am reviewing this from a PDF version provided by the author, Brian Hedges

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review - Christ Formed in You (Part II)

In the introduction, Hedges lays out his purpose. The Christian life is about conformity to Christ, and he will strive to map out the trail to get there. There are many wrong expressions and emphases of the gospel message that pervade modern Christianity, such as intellectualism, experiential pietism, 'lot go and let god 'thinking, etc, and hedges wants to guide us safely as the twin precipices of legalism and cheap grace - to show us how the transformation that God wants for all believers happens. Noting that there are a lot of excellent books that emphasize certain aspects of the path towards Christlikeness (Holiness, community and suffering, Gospel content, gospel application, motivating power, etc), Hedges looks to try and bring these all together in a single accessible volume. Following Owen, Hedges points out that holiness and christlikeness is not something we get after the gospel, but simply the implanting, writing and living out the gospel in our souls", the the rest of the book will work through this.

The first two chapters aim at laying out where we are going and what the gospel is as foundations for the rest of the book. In Chapter 1, Hedges lays out the grand themes of the Scripture, Creation, Fall and Redemption, showing how man was made with the purpose of glorifying God by reflecting Him, but how that purpose was shattered at the Fall with the entrance of sin. Redemption is thus not simply about salvation from punishment, but also to restore the shattered image, that we might again display God's glory in growing ever nearer to the image of Christ (as a side note, I love the reference to Lewis, Tolkien, and others throughout, Hedges finishing this chapter with an illustration from Narnia...enjoyed this through the whole book).

In Chapter 2 Hedges delves deeper into the nature of the Gospel. Starting with aspects of the Cross (substitution, restoration, rescue, triumph, etc), the book shows that the Gospel does not stop there. Christ rose from the dead the the first fruits of a glorious new harvest, was exalted and sent the Spirit as the "agent who personally effects our transformation." Christ died, rose and was exalted not simply for Himself, but that we could share in His victory and His image. Our response should be to turn (repent) and trust (have faith), seeking to enter into a life of ever closer communion with and conformity to Christ.

Note: I am reviewing this from a PDF version provided by the author, Brian Hedges

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review - Christ Formed in You (Part I)

A number of things draw me towards a newly published book. First, there are some publishers that I have come to trust, so when they release a new title, I am naturally drawn to find out more about it (the current book is by Shepherd’s Press, one of these publishers). Then there is the topic: Christ Formed in You – The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. That’s a great topic…there is lot out there on spiritual formation that is, at best, less than helpful. Good topics on this central theme – the power of the gospel to transform us into the image of Christ – are a treasure. There is also the author. In this case I had heard nothing about Brian Hedges, but he has a blog (Light and Heat: Meditations on Pursuing God with Both Mind and Heart), where I found many helpful posts, and saw from his blogroll that we would probably share a lot of the same theological leanings. Finally, I look for endorsements, and Paul Tripp (“This is a Gospel primer I will recommend again and again”) and Kris Lundgaard (whose own The Enemy Within I found particularly helpful) confirmed that I would want to read this title.

When I first pick up a book I look for another couple of things. I read the forward (here from Don Whitney, who lays out the importance of the theme, for the knowledge of true saving faith, the effectiveness of our evangelism, and most importantly, the closeness of our walk with Christ – “those who know the gospel best are most likely to become closest to Christ and most like Christ.”) I then scan the table of contents, and I love the flow – The Foundation of Personal Change (the Goal, the Gospel, Justification, the Hearth, Sanctification), The Pattern of Personal Change (Holiness, Mortification, Vivification – who wouldn’t want to read a book that uses words like vivification!, Motivation), and The means of Personal Change (Disciplines, Suffering, Community). Finally, I glance over the whole book (more in the next few posts), and scan the endnotes (wish they were footnotes, but can’t have everything). In the endnotes I found a lot of authors I have personally profited from, particularly writers like Sinclair Ferguson, Lloyd Jones, Sproul, Carson, MacArthur, Powlison, Ryle, Owen, Packer, Stott and several other, confirming that this was a book to look forward to.

Enough for just now. I’m really looking forward to reading the book, and will write more over the next week…hoping it lives up to expectations!

Note: I am reviewing this from a PDF version provided by the author, Brian Hedges


It's been a while! Hopefully I'll post a little more often, though no promises. I am about to start into a book I've been looking forward to a great deal though, so we'll be starting with that...perhaps if time allows I'll get round to updating the Christian Scholar's page as well...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christ Precious - Book Review (Part III)

The final part of our review, reviewing the final major section of the book: The HI What Respects is Christ Precious to Them That Believe. It's almost needless for me to say that this was as good as the rest, again a mixture of inspiration, challenge and encouragement. In this section, Fawcett discusses over fifteen reasons that the believer finds Christ precious. Indeed, beginning the section, he writes: “He is not only precious to you, but preciousness itself. He is your jewel, tour treasure; and should you be robbed of all besides, you are superlatively and everlastingly rich.” (p 97) Christ is precious above all things, and so Fawcett continues his theme...

First, the history of Christ is precious. A friend of mine heard one of the pastors of one of the megachurches that have decided to close over Christmas speaking about it on the news. The substance of his answer was that it was a message people had heard over and over, and it would be best for people to spend Christmas Day with their families. That amazes me. For Fawcett, the Christmas story, the record of Christ’s ministry, His death and resurrection – they are precious, and bear repeating again and again. To those who believe, there is a wonder in the pages of the four Gospels, reading some of the wonderful reality of the Saviour. The ten pages in which Fawcett outlines the life of Christ are some of the more moving I’ve read, perhaps helped by the slightly more reverent language of a century or two ago…each line forces thought upon his beauty.

The person of Christ is precious. The Gospels are precious because they tell us of the Man, Christ Jesus, a Person infinitely above all others. The knowledge of this Man, writes Fawcett, is “more valuable than any other kind of knowledge whatever.” (104) After several pages detailing the wonders of the Person of Christ, Fawcett comes to a place all who love Christ known well – “I freely own, that I am lost when I meditate on the glory of Immanuel,” humbled and awed by His “incomparable and transcendent excellency.” (p 110)

The names of Christ are precious. Again, apt for the season, Fawcett begins with the passage that first popped into my mind when I saw this section heading: Isaiah 6:9 – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders; and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” What’s in a name indeed!, and Christ’s name, to those that believe, is truly as ointment poured forth. Just as to hear the name Jesus used as a curse makes me feel sickened, to hear His name used reverently, worshipfully, lovingly, fills us with warmth and joy above almost everything else. As well as the name Jesus, Fawcett writes on other names of Christ: Messiah, Prince of Peace, Lord of Glory, Strength, the Consolation of Israel, and yet so many more names there are, each one beautiful, and each one precious as they speak of the character and person of the Christ we adore.

The offices and characters of Christ are precious (while I am outling very briefly, again I would emphasize just how encouraging and beneficial reading this book has been…to read Fawcett’s discussion of the person, the work and the beauties of the Saviour is inspiring and challenging – the best of both worlds. Even if this review does nothing for you, his pen is far sweeter than mine, and his thoughts of Christ far more exalted – get the book if you can). Fawcett writes of the Christ Who is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek – Who Himself bought our redemption; the King of Zion, who reigns in majesty, with all power in heaven and earth; the Prophet of the church, Who teaches, guides, illuminates, and proclaims the glory of God. But there is far more to Jesus than the fulfillment of the Old Testament offices. He is the Shepherd of His flock, from Whose hand none shall be plucked; the Redeemer of our souls, having paid a perfect sacrifice; the Everlasting Father (that’s always confused me to – read what Fawcett has to say!); The bridegroom, beloved of His bride;, Who loves her unto death.

The blood and the righteousness of Christ are precious – and oh how much so!! Without that perfect life lived to fulfill the law, without that blood shed on Calvary, without that agonizing death, and without that perfect righteousness to clothe us, we are without hope, destined to a life, bath here and thereafter, apart from God.

His love is precious – the love that caused Him to spill His blood for you and me. This, writes Fawcett, “is the most powerful inducement that can be proposed to us, to excite our ardent affections towards the gracious Redeemer” (p. 148) – or as John put it, we love Him because He first loved us. With Fawcett, the one who loves Christ can pray “To thy love I ascribe my full salvation; and through all the ages of blissful eternity, I humbly hope and trust, I shall proclaim the wonders of redeeming love, and tell to listening angels what this love has done for my soul.” (p.152)

His throne is precious. It is before this throne of grace that we bring our prayers, not only of love and adoration, but of petition and pleading prayer that is “not only a duty but an inestimable privilege.” (p.153) (I wish I would remember that more often – as Fawcett rightly continues, not holding anything back, “the condescension of God is wonderful in lending His gracious ear to sinful worms.”)

The doctrine of Christ is precious. In saying this, Fawcett sums up so much of what He has already written, but at this point, we can stop and think, by the measure of what we have read, just how precious is Christ to us? But there is more to come…

The promises of Christ are precious. The one Who loves Christ delights in the promise of the Spirit to empower us for the lives we should lead, and in the promise of His return (crying “even so, come Lord Jesus”)

The commands of Christ are precious. This would sound strange to one who does not know and love Christ – commands precious? And yet it’s true – as Fawcett comments: “the laws of His mouth are better than thousands of gold and silver. To be under divine restraints is sweeter than liberty.” (p. 160)The lover of Christ realizes that it is slavery to sin or to Christ, and the only true freedom is yielding to Him.

Following this, His ways are precious. Pursuing Christ, and walking with Him, is the path to true joy. Fawcett quaintly writes that this supreme love that attaches itself to Christ “governs all the active train of human passions, and leads them, in sweet captivity, to cheerful obedience. And as the inward affections will thus be engaged towards the Redeemer, the outward powers will be employed in corresponding exercises.” (p.162) To those Who love Christ, it is the way without Him that is hard.

His people are precious. I recall when I write my dissertation on Moody and Sankey’s Scottish revival in the 1870s that there was a lot of opposition and in one of the local newspapers at the time (the Glasgow Herald), the comment was made by one cynic: “look at these Christian’s; see how they love one another.” Ouch! By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, Christ said, and how often we fall short as a Church on this one. Sure, we will have genuine differences with brothers and sisters in Christ, but if we find Christ precious, writes Fawcett (and He is only following the Scripture) we will find each other precious. As Fawcett concludes after a few pages discussing this, “How careful we should be to cultivate brotherly love both in ourselves and others!” How indeed.

His interest is precious. I like Fawcett’s opening paragraph here: It is not enough for a man to talk in high strains of melting affection and moving of his affections to the Redeemer, to tell of the inward experiences he has had, at certain periods, of love to Him, how His hearty was drawn out to Him at this time or the other time, when in the general course of his life, he is indifferent to the cause of Christ, and unwilling to lay out Himself for the promoting of His Kingdom among men. We are to make manifest that Christ is precious to us, by constant endeavors to advance His cause and interest in the world.” (p.170) Simply stated, those who love Christ, walk the walk as well as talk the talk. It is their delight to see Him exalted and His kingdom extended.

His day and house are precious. I don’t know why I am thinking about all those megachurches which are closing again. Perhaps Christians of old went over the top in the extremes in which they limited what could be done on the Lord’s day, but we certainly have not improved things with the license we reveal today, and the take it or leave it church attitude even among Christians today is not the sign of those who love Christ. The one who finds Christ precious loves the house of God, to gather with other believers and the day of His rising, and celebrate the person and glory of Christ with other who love Him too.

Hi benefits are precious. The one who loves Christ finds His gifts, not unnaturally, precious – but that means they show thankfulness.

His chastisements are precious. Perhaps not so obvious! But precious are the wounds of a friend, and Christ chastises, not out of some vindictive pleasure, but out of a desire for our good and for His glory, seeking to guide us back to the right path (i.e. the best path).

His example is precious. Again, as we read the Gospels, and see the life of Christ in action, we are thrilled, by his tenderness dealing with the woman caught in adultery, to his righteous anger in dealing with the moneychangers at the temple. In all He did, He attracts the believers admiration and awe. As Fawcett states, “the more I contemplate His amiable character, while He sojourned on earth, the more I am delighted with it.” (p. 185)

I had intended to finish the review by recapping these points and challenging us to reread the points above, and measure our own love of Christ by them. But no need – Fawcett finishes with a dozen or so pages as “An Improvement on the Subject”!, and here he suggests the thoughts with which we should leave this book.

First, we should be convinced the evangelical system is righteous and equitable, and second, we should be convinced of our need for Christ. Beyond this, he gets very challenging. First, from considering what we have read, and from observation of the world, we must conclude the number of those who find Christ precious is small. In light of this, we should examine ourselves, and not take for granted our salvation on light grounds. This is the most important thing we will ever deal with in our lives, as it means the difference between eternal bliss and eternal torment. It should be obvious that we should and must love Christ, and we should forget comfort in this world below, through which we are simply passing, and rather aspire after more knowledge of Christ. Then, having seen just how precious Christ is, we should be ashamed we don’t love Him more (I know I am from my reading of this book). In building our love for Him, we should allow our faith, love and knowledge of Christ to pervade all we do, and in the end, we should realize that the life of the true lover of Christ is a happy lot.

Again, I encourage the purchase of this book (you can get it here). In fact, if you can, get copies for friends!! It’s an investment, for you will read it more than once! But it is a far greater investment in your own spiritual walk with Christ. All in all, if you are serious about your faith, and want to be challenged in your pursuit of Him, John Fawcett’s Christ Precious is a worthy place to begin.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

My New Resource Blogs

I've started a couple more (and am working on getting a fourth going), just to let the few people who read this blog know!! The original is

Christian Scholars Directory

The new ones are:

Christian Journals Directory , and
Christian MP3s Directory

The first will give a range of theology Journals from from differing perspectives (so far there are the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Trinity Journal and FOunders Journal, for example, which I agree pretty much with on a lot, and on the other side there is Theology, News and Notes, from Fuller, which I haven't read a lot of, but probably disagree a lot with! The MP3 directory will list MP3 lectures (not music) that I come across from folks who do generally agree with me (i.e. tend towards conservative evangelicalism), though we may disagree on a few details here and there. I won't include people who deny the fundamentals of the Christian faith on that one (it was inspired by the fact I got a Dell DJ, and can now listen to MP3s at my leisure, so I wanted a list online I could refer to - there is a ton of great stuff out there. As with my original blog, I only link to free resources.


Christ Precious - Book Review (Part II)

Part 2 of Fawcett’s work is entitled “The Evidence Believers Give That Christ Is Precious To Them”, and continues the exceptionally challenging nature of the book. “God has magnified His love, and set forth His grace towards us, in a manner which should effectually allure our hearts to Him,” Fawcett begins, outlining in beautiful language the ways in which God has show this love (I would emphasise again that the devotional quality of this book is far beyond the vast majority of what you would read today, and it is far more edifying than most modern Christian literature I have come across). In the next 50+ pages, Fawcett goes into detail on what the life of someone truly besotted with Christ, who truly finds Him precious (and remember from the review of the first section that such people are to Fawcett the only ones with true claims to a real Christian faith, for real Christianity is transformational).

First, Fawcett states the one who find’s Christ precious shall trust their everlasting concerns into his hands. Here he is contrasting the type of faith that trusts in itself and it’s own might to bring redemption, and the faith that rests wholly on Christ, realizing that we are incapable of adding in even the smallest way to our own salvation. “When the sinner understands and realizes what God says of the evil of sin, of the misery of fallen man, and of the appointed way of salvation by a glorious and all–sufficient Mediator, he, in consequence, flies for refuge to the hope set before him, and ventures the whole weight of his everlasting interests in His hands.” (p. 43) Christ, writes Fawcett, “is precious on account of all those glorious qualifications which render Him the fittest object of a sinner’s hope and trust,” (p.46) and the true believer recognizes this.

Next, Fawcett comments that true believers, those who find Christ precious, delight to hear, think and speak of Him. As every one is “best pleased with that intelligence, and that conversation in which the object of His dearest affections is the principal theme,” (p. 51), Fawcett clearly sees the one Who finds Christ precious should naturally find all discussion and meditation of Him sweet to the believer. A challenging thought is one that is almost a throwaway statement: “No sermons are so precious and so animating to him, as those in which the Redeemer’s Excellencies are most fully displayed.” (p. 51) I recall sometimes, when I lived in Scotland and used to have the breaking of bread every week (an hour long service), that on the odd occasion it seemed to drag (I was tired, or not in the mood) – that’s shameful, and this is very challenging. The true believer is also grateful for the benefits they receive from Christ. Fawcett points out the all too evident truth that “we are far more frequently more ready to ask favours at the hand of God, than to return thanks for those we receive from Him.” (p.52) At point I should perhaps say that while Fawcett is outlining the ways in which the true believer does act, He is not saying it is 100% always like that, for he also clearly acknowledges the reality of sin and failure in the Christian life, but this should in no way lessen the truth that the inclination of the believer’s heart is now Christward, and should be moving ever more in that direction. I like what he goes on to write in regard to our thankfulness: “The religion we profess is far from requiring us perpetually to put on a mournful countenance. On the other hand, it enjoins upon is cheerfulness, gratitude of heart, and joy in the Lord.” (p. 53) Amen!!

Next, we will prefer Christ to every other object, and give Him chief place in their affections: the love of the Christian for Christ “penetrates and possesses the heart.” (p.56) I like that a lot. Yes, says Fawcett, we should have a deep love for others, for friends, family and the people of God, but none should compare with that we have for Christ. If Christ is truly precious to us, “the bent of our souls will be towards Him…we shall choose Him above and beyond every other object.” (p. 61) Echoing Augustine, he writes, “the heart of a believer is restless till it finds its Saviour; till it obtain a solid hope and persuasion of his love, a growing conformity to Him, and sincere delight in Him.” (p.61) It is foolish in the extreme to run after other things. Further, the one to whom Christ is precious sincerely desires his presence, and longs to enjoy inner communion with Him. This is simply obvious, as it is “well known this is the tendency of a sincere attachment, whoever be the object of it.” (p.64)

One who has true faith is further concerned that others may know and love Christ. Calling heavily on Paul, and his repeated refrains that he desired the salvation of the lost (even to the point for his own brethren that he would wish himself accursed if it may save some), Fawcett outlines that real Christian faith desires other’s to know the preciousness of Christ. The one to Whom Christ is precious longs that others may likewise taste and see that the Lord is good. Such people are also grieved when Christ is dishonoured. Here (p. 71-73), Fawcett reveals something of himself, more so than in other places, discussing how he is personally grieved by the sin around him in his day, of the world, and of others professing to know Christ, but evidencing otherwise. The true Christian is hurt when others diminish, demean, reject and mock their Christ.

The true believer is ready to deny themselves for Christ. Here’s a challenging one for us in the comfortable West, and our often sanitized Christianity. This denial is something considered, after a “deliberate counting of the cost, [choosing] the religion of Jesus, with all that appertains to is; [choosing] it as attended with all its difficulties.” (p.74) Again, Fawcett is no fan of easy-believism…Christianity when embraced should be done so with a true realization not only of the benefits, but the trials that will follow. Christians are distressed by their want of conformity to His Blessed Image and Holy Will: “In proportion as He is precious to us, will be our aversion to sin and all unholiness.” (p.77) Again, all I can say is that this is exceptionally challenging. Fawcett realizes that believers are in different stages of their walk with Christ, that we do battle with sin, but no true believer (and I say that, with Fawcett, unapologetically) does not feel some measure of discontent and dis-ease with their lack of purity and holiness. God has changed our hearts, and we cannot be content in the grips of sin. “From love to Jesus Christ will arise, hatred of those things which are contrary to His will, and which oppose and hinder us in our endeavours after conformity to Him.” (p. 78) The one who finds Christ precious will fail, but will hate it, and will strive to grow more like the Saviour they love.

The believer shall adhere to Christ in all conditions: when the hard times come, those who find Christ precious keep walking with Him anyway. And they shall also seek to glorify Christ in all they do. With Paul in Philippi, we will magnify God whether in life or in death. The purpose of God in redemption was His own glory, and while this “will be our delightful employ through the revolutions of a blissful eternity.” (p. 88, I like that too!), it will equally be our goal here in our lives on earth. And finally, the one who finds Christ precious will long to be with Him. It is simply common sense, but perhaps harder in our day when there is so much here that battles to keep our hearts tied to things below. Yet with saints of old, we will cry, “Even so, Lord, com quickly” – “we shall not only entertain joyful hopes of a future felicity, but we shall live, in expectation of the promised inheritance. We shall feel, at certain seasons, ardent desires of seeing Him upon the throne of glory, to whose humiliation, agonies and death, we are indebted for all our salvation” (p.89) Every true believer has experienced those seasons. Life here, lived as a Christian, has its hardships, and is a battle, and the one who finds Christ precious understands the desire of Fawcett, longing “with increasing desire, that indulgent Heaven would sign [our] release, and speedily dismiss [us] from this scene of combat.” (p.95)

So Fawcett’s work continues to be encouraging, edifying and challenging. It is a welcome antidote to much of the light and all to often trite writing that comes out of Christian publishing houses today, and I wonder how easily modern ears and eyes will take to this book, devoid of the accompanying stories and feel-good emphases of a great deal of modern Christian literature. But the reality is that we need to read things like this. We need to be challenged. “Christ Precious” is a welcome antidote to much of what labels itself Christianity today. For me personally, the twelve evidences of one who finds Christ precious have been exceptionally challenging, and have spurred me on to walk more consistently and closely with my Saviour. I hope that many other find the same.

A review of the third section will arrive in a week or so…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Christ Precious - Book Review (Part I)

This review is starting off a little later than I had planned, and so apologies to Ben over at Paleoevangelical who kindly sent me the PDF of the book to review. In fairness to me, it is not a book to be read quickly (unlike so many Christian books being produced today), but is a work of depth, and a book I am finding thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and inspiring only 40 or so pages into it.

Christ Precious is written by John Fawcett, a Baptist pastor of the 1800s, famous for his hymn “Blest be the Tie that Binds”, and it is a tremendous little book thus far. The book is divided into three major sections:

1. The Character Of Persons To Whom Christ Is Precious
2. The Evidence Believers Give That Christ Is Precious To Them
3. In What Respects Jesus Christ Is Precious To Them That Believe

I have just finished part 1, and thought I would share my observations thus far.

The books aim is to unpack the little statement from Peter: “Unto you therefore which believe He is Precious” (I Pet 2:7), and before receiving the book I was expecting a satisfying exposition of the preciousness and of Christ, which this is. What I wasn’t so much expecting was the challenging nature of the book, which focuses not only on the beauties of Christ, but on the character of those who claim Christ is precious to them. As Fawcett writes in his preface:

“The subject to which the reader’s attention is invited in these pages is of the highest, since the love of the divine Redeemer is the distinguishing characteristic of a real Christian, and most indispensably requisite, in order to our serving God acceptably in this world, and to our dwelling with Him in the next. Without a sincere attachment to the Author of eternal salvation, whatever the works of morality we may perform, our obedience will be materially and essentially defective, as not flowing from a proper principle.” (p.1)

Thus, reading through the book so far has certainly been a convicting experience as well as an edifying one, and Fawcett was certainly not a subscriber to the easy-believism so characteristic of much of modern day evangelicalism. Indeed, he states clearly in the beginning paragraphs of his first major section (“The Character Of The Persons To Whom Christ is Precious) that it is “necessary to pay strict attention to those things which accompany true faith, and distinguish it from that which a man may possess, and yet die in his sins”. (p.9) In essence, what Fawcett goes on to outline in the rest of the section is the radical idea that a real faith makes a real difference, and that those who are born again, given news hearts and made new creations will reveal this in their daily lives and the direction of their affections. In describing this true faith, ten points are outlined, the substance of which is entirely founded in Scripture (Fawcett’s writing is saturated with Scripture references and quotes in a way in which very little modern Christian literature is) and which I have found exceptionally challenging to my own Christian walk.

First, true faith comes through divine illumination (p.9). Second, that divine illumination is illumination of the testimony f God contained in His Word – true faith is simply the belief of the Truth (p.10). Third, real faith is the result of serious enquiry, and not a passing thought or happenchance event (p.13). Fourth, faith is a “hearty approbation of Christ, not a “feeble, wavering assent, but such a firm persuasion as, in some measure, confirms with the clearness and evidence with which the truth is confirmed”. Fawcett very clearly believes that there is a danger of false faith, that people “may profess to believe this and the other thing, but in fact, it is a mere pretence, as is evident from the general tenor of their actions” – i.e. he believes real faith reveals itself in a changed life(p.13). Fifth, true faith has a strong conviction of the importance of that which is believed (p. 15). Those who talk of faith, yet have no concern for their souls of eternal things, are simply deceiving themselves. Sixth, true faith is always accompanied by repentance (p.17), for “if sin is not made bitter to us, if it does not appear hateful, if our hearts are not penetrated with sorrow, grief, and self-abhorrence on account of it, in vain do we imagine ourselves to be believers in Jesus”. Fawcett understands the real Christian will understand what the Puritan Ralph Venning called “the sinfulness of sin”. (As an aside, I loved the expression he gave on this topic that repentance was often called back then “the tear drop of love dropping from the eye of faith”). Seventh, true faith reveals itself in subjection to the revealed will of God, and if we truly live by faith in Christ, “there will be some rays of holiness in our conversation [our lives lived out]” (p.21). Eighth, true faith gives the believer an entirely different perspective on all things, looking at life anew through the lens of Scripture (p.21). Ninth (and here, building on the previous points, we get to the preciousness of Christ to the believer), true faith “endears Christ to the soul…it enthrones Him in the heart” (p.23). Finally, true faith is attended by real and lasting joy and peace, in different degrees in believers to be sure, but with certainty existing in the true Christian (p.23). Upon these points, Fawcett urges the reader to examine to see if they are truly in the faith (p.25), and outlines in the next few pages the character of a false believer: a man whose heart is not changed by the grace of God, who does not cleave to the Word of God, and whose heart is “not attached to Christ above all” (p.28).

The last third of this section is written with unbelievers in mind, and as a plea to them to come to know the Christ Who is precious. Characteristic of the rest of the section, the words are punctuated with references or allusions to Scripture, but what I found most interesting was the last three pages (p.37-39), in which is found a nineteenth century version of the sinners prayer. In this prayer we find clearly the radical difference between the today’s religious literature (and Christianity it is representative of) and the writings of centuries gone by. There is seriousness about the prayer, a depth that is not in the modern “say this prayer after me” kind of thing we have become so used to hearing. Upon the ten pages devoted to the requirements for unbelievers to embrace Christ, Fawcett’s prayer is filled with all that evidences the true Christianity he outlined earlier in the section: the horror of sin and the need for repentance (p.37); illumination of the truth and strong convictions regarding the truthfulness of God’s testimony (p.37-38); a sincere desire to change (p.39); and finally, a sincere attachment to Christ (“let me be a partaker of that faith which is connected with unfeigned repentance of sin, a sincere attachment to Christ, a subjugation of heart and life to His will and government, an holy indifferency to all that this present world can afford, and a sincere and constant endeavor to obey…” When was the last time your heard a sinner’s prayer like that?)

All in all, this is a tremendous book so far, and I anticipate getting the time to read the remaining sections. As I do so, I’ll blog on those also – stay tuned, and consider strongly buying the book – you won’t be disappointed (unless you are satisfied with shallow faith).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Steve Chalke and the Atonement - Update and reply by Daniel Strange

I wrote before on Steve Chalke and his position on the atonement. Well, he has continued to write and make very clear his poition against the biblical teaching of penal substiution in a recent article, titled (ironically) "Redeeming the Cross". Here, very clearly, are his own convictions:

In "The Lost Message of Jesus" I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to 'cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.' Thought the sheer bluntness of this imigary (not original to me [ed: more on that in a minute]) might shock some, in truth, it is only a stark 'unmasking' of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology. And the simple truth is that if such a God does not relate to his only Son as a perfect father, neither can we relate to him as such.

A couple of initial things. First, the idea that God's chastisement of His Son in our place means we cannot relate to Him as perfect Father is simply ridiculous. And two points can be made. First, Jesus' relationship to God is never in any way precisely like ours (and missing this point is the reason for many a misguided fad, as Phil Johnson recently blogged about, such as WWJD - What Would Jesus Do is not the question we should ask, but what would he command, and how does Scripture guide us). Sure, Jesus is the Son of God, yet the relationship of Sonship can never be the same as ours, as He is also coequal with the Father in Godhood. Jesus is also the Servant of God, yet in a way we can never be, being also King of Kings and Lords of Lords. To argue we cannot relate to God as a perfect Father because God punished Christ in our place misses the simple point that "things that are different are not the same" (and oh that modern evangelicalism would heed this point more clearly). Second, the fact is that Christ was a willing substitute. The Father did not just say Christ had to go to Calvary, like it or lump it. Christ went to Calvary of His own volition. He hung there of His own volition. He bore in His body our sins on the cross of His own volition. He gave up His spirit died there of His own volition. This was not some "cosmic child abuse", with a mean father battering His defenceless child, but a plan of the Triune Godhead from eternity past, devised that God may draw out a people for Himself, show His victory over sin, and glorify Himself. The more one reads of Chalke, the more it seems completely apparent that he misunderstands what penal substitution is all about, and the true meaning of Calvary and Christ's triumph over death hell, sin and the grave.

Partly in response to Chalke, and partly as an exposition of the full-orbed meaning of the atonement, Daniel Strange has delivered an excellent address at the Evangelical Library in the UK: The Many-Splendoured Cross: Atonement, Controversy and Victory, which I thoroughly recommend. Explaining that it is vital we do not deemphasise the cross as victory over Satan, or a moral example, for instance, he conludes that it is imperative to keep the penal aspect of the cross always central, because the Scripture does. He writes:

Second, and with great sadness, we need to say one more thing because in our current situation [i.e. the emerging writings of peoople like Chalke] the issue is not just one of different perspectives but of substantive disagreement: the explicit rejection of penal substitution. In affirming any perspective of the cross, (and remember revelation must guide us as to what are legitimate perspectives on the cross and what are illegitimate perspectives) and deny vicarious punishment, we are guilty not only of exegetical blindness and gross theological incompetence, but also theological bankruptcy. At this point I would contend that given the analysis of the human predicament, without penal substitution we have no ‘good news’ to offer, but have a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. To continue willingly to teach, preach and lead others astray in an explicit denial of penal substitution is extremely serious and warrants censure and separation.

Those are powerful words, but sadly true. Chalke is leading many sincere searchers away after another gospel which is truly no gospel at all.

May God show Him the truth, and may he have ears to listen.

My final note, getting back to the term "cosmic child abuse." Where did it originate? I can't be certain, but I know one well known writer who uses language verymuch like it. Here's the quote:

Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us.

The writer - John Dominic Crossan, one of the most vocal liberal theological scholars currently living. Not the theological company we should be keeping...