Category Archives: BR > Baker Books

Mini Bavinck

John Bolt’s new abridgement of 19th century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck’s 4-volume magnum opus, Reformed Dogmatics, is now available for purchase. My copy arrived in the mail on Tuesday and since it arrived I have been browsing through the new abridgement and comparing a handful of sections with the original unabridged work. By all accounts it appears Bolt has done a fine job of shrinking Bavinck’s classic from 3,000 pages to 850 while preserving the essence of Bavinck’s theology. Props to the folks at Baker Academic who continue to serve the church by translating, and now abridging, one of the Church’s most precious theological works.

Cloth or Paper? Bavinck RD Cover Concerns

[The definition of a bibliophile is “one who loves books, but especially for qualities of format.” I admit to being one. This post is intended for my fellow bibliophiles.]

Cloth-covered books are durable, resilient, and protect valuable books for decades of use, so I appreciate publishers who print books in cloth and find it easy to pay extra few bucks for these volumes.

However, not everything that looks like “cloth” is genuine cloth. Publishers have become advanced with using faux cloth covers, which amount to pressed and texturized paper used as an inexpensive way to add grain to a hardcover book without the added cost of real cloth. But those volumes are typically not sold as “cloth.”

Which brings me to yesterday when I received my long-awaited copy of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Four (Baker Academic, 2008). J.I. Packer says this work “remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.” Now completely translated from Dutch, it stands as one of the great reformed systematic theologies in the English language, and sports a hefty list price ($180.00)—a small price for a set I intend to use the rest of my life and one day pass to my children.

The first three of my volumes—all recently purchased—were genuine cloth covered (as advertised). Or so I assumed. But my curiosity was raised yesterday when my fourth and final volume arrived. I removed the dust jacket and noticed the cover on the final volume lacked the same depth of texture as the first three volumes. And it didn’t have the same laminated matte finish over the cloth but the feel of, well, paper. That’s when I decided to tug on the spine. [For those of you longtime TSS readers you will not be surprised at my biblio-destructive tendencies]. I pinched the cover over the spine, and with little effort, the cover tore like a piece of newspaper. Cloth doesn’t rip (at least not diagonally).

As you can see from the pics, the cover on my volume is nothing more than pressed paper—a cloth-like feel, a cloth-like appearance, but without any cloth.

My tinge of guilt for tearing Bavinck (gasp!) was overcome by the feeling of adrenaline a muscle man must experience tearing phone books. So I decided to test my three other Bavinck volumes. I discovered two volumes were genuinely cloth (absolutely would not rip even under intense pressure), and a second volume that was paper. Here’s what I found:

Volume 1 – May 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 2 – August 2006 printing – paper
Volume 3 – July 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 4 – 2008 printing – paper

As you can see from the table of contents page in volume 4, Baker claims all four volumes were printed in cloth.

I’ve contacted Baker Academic and will pass along updates as I receive them, especially if I can find a way to replace the paper editions with cloth editions.

Some questions for TSS readers:

(1) Do you own copies of Baker’s printings of Reformed Dogmatics? Which volumes? What are the print dates?

(2) Does the copyright page claim the volume is cloth?

(3) If so—and if you dare—pinch the top of the cover over the spine and try ripping it (ever so slightly) to see if you, too, have a “paperback”. And let me know in the comments. [No need for any more examples.]

Perhaps—and let’s hope—my two copies are aberrations.

Luther, God’s Word, and Justification

tsslogo.jpgI’ve been enjoying Robert Kolb and Charles Arand’s new book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Baker Academic, 2008). Especially noteworthy is Luther’s awareness that God acts through his word. God speaks and his words create, change, and transform. God creates by his word (Genesis 1). In the same way God created light by his word, God illuminates and transforms sinners by his word (2 Corinthians 4:6). God enters into this world by his word (John 1). In general, the word of God is active in impacting human existence (Isaiah 55:11). Of course, the antithesis to God’s work is Satan—the father of lies (John 8:44).

In Luther’s theology, God determines reality through his word.

This efficacy of God’s word forms the thrust of chapter six (“The Functions of the Word”; pp. 131-159). Kolb and Arand break Luther’s understanding of the power of God’s Word into the following subsections:

  1. The Word Creates.
  2. The Word Re-Creates.
  3. The Word Establishes the Relationship of Conversation Between God and His Human Creatures.
  4. The Word Elicits Faith.
  5. The Word Simultaneously Reveals God and Hides God.
  6. God’s Word Kills and Makes Alive.

Though obviously I don’t agree with all of Luther’s application of the doctrine, this chapter (and the book in general) does shed light on a number of important theological categories.

God’s word and justification

Near the end of chapter six, the authors wed the efficacy of God’s proclamation to God’s declaration of a sinner’s justification. God’s words literally determine the reality of justification. Listen to how Kolb and Arand state this (and notice Luther’s practical use of the doctrine).

Although one might misunderstand the concept of “pronouncing sinners righteous” as a divine shell game, Luther found the concept helpful in reassuring those who still found evidence of sinfulness in their hearts and minds, as well as in their actions. It assures them that God’s love trumps their sinfulness. When hearers were concentrating on their sinfulness, Luther emphasized that God considered them righteous, or counted and reckoned them free from sin through his verdict of “Innocent!”—no matter how they felt about themselves. …

Those who see this form of forensic justification as merely a legal fiction do not share Luther’s understanding of the power of the Word of God. The reformer knew that from the beginning of the world, God determined reality by speaking. Therefore, he was certain that God’s word of forgiveness created a new reality in the life of the sinner. The reformer could not explain the mystery of evil and sin continuing in the lives of those God had claimed as his own in baptism. But he did not doubt that when God said, “Forgiven,” the reality of human sinlessness in God’s sight was genuine and unassailable. God’s children must live with the mystery of the continuing sin and evil in their lives as they engage in the battle against their own sins. But they have no warrant to doubt that God has established the mightier reality of their innocence in his sight. And what he sees is real because he determines reality. (pp. 154-155)

This excerpt ministers to my soul. It reminds me that in wrestling with sin there is a greater, God-spoken reality that transcends the struggle. Through the perfect sacrifice of the Son I have been justified! I stand guiltless and blameless before a holy God, not because some distant judge slammed the gavel and signed a paper. My blamelessness comes from God’s spoken declaration. He spoke “Innocent, guiltless, righteous” and by declaration effectively created the reality of my justification.

When we see the profound power behind God’s words in shaping reality, our justification transcends “legal fiction” and—as Luther fully understood—becomes strength to endure trials, overcome circumstances, live fruitful lives, and find hope with the struggle with sin. May God give us the conviction of our justification so we may plant our feet in this divine amnesty and speak with the boldness of Paul, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). May I see what Luther saw, the indestructible foundation for our justification is directly connected to the declaration of God.

Luther has given us a great reminder that we can apply to all of Scripture—God’s words are not relevant today because they accurately align with reality, but because God’s words determine reality.

2007 TSS Books of the Year Award


The stack of excellent Christian books published in 2007 would reach at least 5 feet in the air. So while I’m privileged to have read so many great books, whittling down my top 30 favorites is no easy assignment.

In the past, some TSS readers have asked what criteria I use in making this determination and I admit it’s very subjective. My list of top books is based upon a personal opinion of the overall value of individual volumes. Which volumes pioneer new territory? Which books clarify topics of great importance? Which books from 2007 will my kids read in 10 years?

Included in the list are complex doctrinal books, academic polemics, historical biographies, children’s books, marriage books, exegetical guides, etc. My reading interests are wide open, and so is the TSS book of the year competition. There are book recommendations for pretty much all readers.

Themes in 2007

Topically, 2007 will be remembered as the year where precious doctrines like justification and the atonement took rightful center stage (see The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, The Great Exchange by Bridges and Bevington, and also #3, #12, and #25 on the top-30 list). The doctrine of assurance was the focus of two excellent new volumes (see #13 and #23). Church history and the events of the Reformation found themselves in three excellent volumes (see #8, #11, and #30). But 2007 will also be remembered as the year of John Owen, reformed spirituality, and communion with God (see #6, #14, #15, and #21). We also saw the publishing of one of the best new children’s books (see #4). All around, it was a very fruitful year for some very important topics.

2007 Books of the Year

But two books stand apart from the rest in 2007, because they are volumes that promise to shed a wealth of understanding over large sections of Scripture. They captured my attention because I know I myself have some work to do in discovering the richness of God’s revealed truth in Scripture (and especially in the Old Testament narratives).

So today I happily announce the 2007 TSS books of the year – The ESV Literary Study Bible by Leland and Philip Ryken and An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke.

TSS top-30 books from 2007

1 (tie). ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Ryken (Crossway). Getting readers comfortable enough to read large selections of Scripture was formerly the work of dynamic equivalent translations like The Message. But the Rykens establish a framework for readers to comprehend large sections of Scripture for themselves by introducing each chapter, exposing the literary style of the work, and providing a general outline of what to expect. Then readers can jump into the literature of Scripture to experience the text for themselves. In the end, the Rykens have produced a Bible that retains the “word-for-word” literal language of the ancient Scriptures (ESV) while helping readers along in fruitful comprehension. Readers who have never enjoyed the Bible from cover-to-cover will especially benefit and find the biblical storyline easier to follow. This is no ordinary study Bible, and it is one that will be cherished by the church long into the future. We wrote a full review of the LSB and also talked with Leland Ryken about it this Summer. $31.49

1 (tie). An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan). Some of the details of the Old Testament appear to simply hang suspended for the modern reader. Let’s take Exodus 2:11 for example: Why is it important that Moses became angry when he saw the harsh treatment of the Israelite by an Egyptian? Why did Moses kill the Egyptian? Why would the biblical author record this event in the first place? Some events in the Old Testament don’t entirely make sense on the surface. Waltke takes these events from the biblical narratives and weaves them into the bigger storyline of Scripture. For this specific example, it helps to understand that Moses was in transition from his identity in Pharaoh’s palace to his new identity with Israel (p. 352). Exodus 2:11 is actually critical in establishing Moses’ transition from Egyptian-raised to Israel’s front-man in the Exodus. And this is just one itsy-bitsy detail from the Old Testament. By taking these seemingly disconnected events and connecting them into the bigger picture of Scripture, Waltke has given us a very helpful guide to understanding the Old Testament. And his insights into the Ten Commandments are worth the price of the volume (see pp. 415-433). In the end, Waltke’s clear articulation of the Old Testament informs the church of her past and thereby informs her present identity. This is a volume you will want to read slowly and digest fully, perhaps within a group of fellow Christians. It will open up the theology and storyline of the Old Testament like no other book I’ve seen. Read more about this volume in our full review. $29.69

3. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (UK:IVP/US:Crossway). Written by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, this book has proven to be a huge success in both the UK and the US in defending the core of the atonement of Jesus Christ. If you want to understand the Cross at a deeper level (don’t we all) you will cherish this volume. It will go on my shelf along with some of the giants on this topic (like Stott). But what makes this volume especially important is the central role it represents in bringing together a worldwide brotherhood of Christians who believe and cherish the penal substitutionary atonement of the Cross. What Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition conferences have done to unify American churches and ministries around these precious truths, Pierced for Our Transgressions has accomplished on an international scale. $16.50

4. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan). Finding children’s books that introduce little ones to the major stories of the Bible while simultaneously pointing their souls to the Cross is a rarity. This is perhaps the best children’s storybook Bible on the market, and a must-have for any parent of young children. Incredible illustrations, too. $11.65

5. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey (Shepherd Press). Harvey has blessed couples with an excellent book for connecting the Cross to the daily trials and triumphs of marriage. Don’t attempt marriage without the Gospel. Bring Harvey along to explain why. $11.16

6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Crossway). The classic book written by English Puritan John Owen resurfaced in 2007, in a new edition edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. It’s unlikely I can overstate the importance of Taylor and Kapic’s editorial work in introducing Owen to the new generation of young, reformed Christians. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway). $14.96

7. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Crossway). Ensor provides an excellent introduction to biblical manhood and femininity that will help engaged or married couples understand their God-ordained roles. This book is perhaps the best introductory volume on these often controversial topics. $9.59

8. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols (Crossway). With brevity, pictures, call-out boxes and humor, Stephen Nichols walks through the highlights of the Reformation to help us see that “the Reformers saw nothing less than the gospel at stake” (p. 21). It’s cliché, but true: I couldn’t put this volume down. Nichols is always good, but especially here. $10.39

9. The Reading and Preaching of the Scripture in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age by Hughes Oliphant Old (Eerdmans). This is volume six of Old’s large series tracing out the history of preaching from the Biblical era (vol. 1; 1998), the Patristic age (vol. 2; 1998), the Medieval church (vol. 3; 1999), the Reformation period (vol. 4; 2002), during Moderatism, Pietism and Awakening (vol. 5; 2004) and now the most recent volume covering the modern age of 1789-1989. Volume six alone is about 1,000 pages and covers preachers like Broadus, Kuyper, Maclaren, Moody, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. Very insightful work on the history of preaching that has replaced Dargan on my shelves. $36.50

10. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Samuel Storms (Crossway). Edwards’ work is classic, and Storms helps the contemporary reader glean its gold. Excellent commentary on one of Edwards’ most valuable works. $10.87

11. Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious by Christopher Catherwood (Crossway). Catherwood sets out the history of the Church from a global perspective, and at all times relays the implications of history to contemporary events. This “crash course” is another volume published this year for a popular audience that will help readers grown in appreciation for developments in the church’s history. $12.99

12. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper (Crossway). Piper excels with a clarification on justification in light of the contemporary debate. $12.23

13. Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace by Philip Graham Ryken, Al Mohler, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and R.C. Sproul (P&R). This collaborative effort is a very helpful collection of essays on the topic of the reformed doctrine of assurance. How do we know that we know God? (see Tullian Tchividjian’s work later.) $12.24

14. Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Baker Academic). Written originally in Dutch by Arie de Reuver, this academic work was made available in English in 2007. It traces the influences of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) upon the “Dutch Puritans” like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel. The seven biographies that fill this volume are excellent. This volumes helps us develop a “reformed spirituality,” a seeking after God’s presence illuminated by genuine theology. $21.89

15. The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ (Reformation Heritage Books). Flavel is one of the most valuable Puritans, and this study by Stephen J. Yuille looks at one facet of his theology. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ lies at the heart of the Puritan pursuit of godliness, and this small but wonderful outline traces the doctrine generally and highlights Flavel’s rich teaching specifically. $12.00

16. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway) by Sam Storms. Originally published in 1987 by Baker under the title, Chosen for Life: An introductory guide to the doctrine of divine election, Storms’ work was republished in 2007 and remains one of the clearest defenses for reformed soteriology. $12.23

17. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges (NavPress). Hitting from all sides, Bridges confronts all those sins we would rather not talk about, and provides a very Cross-centered approach to killing the flesh. $12.91

18. B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought edited by Gary L.W. Johnson (P&R). Part biography, part theology, this new book on Warfield provides a treasure of essays on the thought and life of the outstanding theologian. $15.59

19. A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards by Michael A.G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books). A short but excellent collection of Edwards’ most important and moving personal letters, this little volume makes a great gift. $7.50

20. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification edited by Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters (Crossway). Including chapters by David Wells, Cornelius Venema and Al Mohler, this work tackles contemporary attacks upon the gospel (and especially those of N.T. Wright). $12.23

21. Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen by Kelly Kapic (Baker Academic). The long-awaited printing of Kapic’s research did not disappoint. On these same lines, Kapic also wrote the introduction to Communion with God (see #6). $18.47

22. The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust). This short work traces out 32 distinctives from the expositional ministry of the great Reformer, and sets them out as patterns for contemporary preachers. A short and encouraging work for pastors.

23. Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian (Random House). An understanding of assurance written from a very personal and compelling vantage point. Excellent in content, but I especially appreciate the format that other writers can follow in communicating biblical doctrine to a new generation of readers. $11.55

24. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato (Kregel). Excellent little handbook in helping expositors pull all the meat from the Psalms for their their sermon preparations. Not just exegetical, but also helpful in determining the overall theology of the Psalms. $14.27

25. Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification (Christian Focus). Edited by K. Scott Oliphant this compilation includes an intro by Sinclair Ferguson and chapters by men like Carl Trueman, William Edgar and Peter Lillback on the importance of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. Looks at traditional problems with Roman Catholic theology and contemporary concerns with N.T. Wright on union and imputation. $12.99

26. The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Academic). Renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. says we should preach more of the Old Testament and in his newest book he takes the preacher by the hand and shows them exactly how. Walking through 10 texts, Kaiser models exegesis and outlining of each specific texts. But in it’s easy-to-read format and concluding application questions in each chapter, this book will double as a group study of God in the Old Testament. $11.55

27. Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel (Crossway). The transcripts from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference written and delivered by Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul. An all-star lineup and one of the best compilation on the topic of preaching the gospel. $13.59

28. Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (P&R). Edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton. Yet another excellent collection of essays from P&R that captured my attention and helped me work through various difficulties in apologetics. $18.24

29. The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors by Thabiti Anyabwile (Crossway). Highlights Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). The book contains one short biography of each man, but is largely comprised of sermon transcripts. Anyabwile’s book is especially important because he is challenging the contemporary African-American churches to consider the gospel of first importance and is thereby calling for large-scale reform. $10.87

30. Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation by Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn (Reformation Heritage). The men, women and events of the Reformation written for older children and teens to boost their appreciation for the church. $18.00

And here are some other titles that are likely worthy of the above list, and I wish I made time to read:

So these are my favorite books of 2007. I hope this list serves you in your book-purchasing for the glory of Christ!

Blessings to you all and Merry Christmas from your friends at TSS,


Interview: Derek Thomas on John Owen

tss-interview.jpgJohn Owen and Communion with the Triune God
Interview with Dr. Derek Thomas

What comes to mind when you think of communion? Bread, wine, and religious ordinance? The following interview is for fellow 21st century pilgrims unfamiliar with the term ‘communion’ and specifically ‘communion’ with God.

October 12th is the scheduled release date of Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic’s newest volume in the writings of Puritan John Owen, Communion with the Triune God (Crossway: 2007). Communion was first published in 1657. The original edition is in the public domain, has been printed in various shapes and sizes, and is available for free online. In the past 50 years this work has been known as the second volume of The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth).

The 2007 Crossway edition includes several enhancements like helpful indexing, introductions, extensive outline and glossary. Owen’s work has never been more accessible for readers (see our review here).

IMG_3036.ed.jpgFor the next month we are taking some time to highlight Owen’s masterpiece. Today we talk with Dr. Derek Thomas to discuss John Owen and better understand communion with God.


Dr. Thomas is from Wales and currently serves as John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. After pastoring for 17 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr. Thomas returned to the United States in 1996 and also serves as the Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. He has lectured extensively on Owen (listen to his lectures on Owen here).

TSS: Dr. Thomas, it is always an honor to have you join us here on The Shepherd’s Scrapbook! Being a scholar of John Owen and well-acquainted with his works, what are your initial thoughts of this classic, Communion with the Triune God?

DT: Thank you, Tony. It is a great honor for me to join you here at The Shepherd’s Scrapbook. It is one of my favorite sites to visit.

I am also delighted to speak about John Owen. Along with John Calvin, he has been the most influential theologian in my life (at least, among dead ones!). I think I “commune” with him most days about something. That’s the great value of books. The authors may have died, but their writings live on.

I’m as excited as you about the forthcoming publication of Communion with the Triune God, after the splendid job they did with Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006).

What comes to mind about Owen’s volume, Communion with the Triune God, is its essential Trinitarianism. Owen does a number of things that are important for us to see.

First, he is thoroughly indebted to Calvin and the Fathers in his Trinitarian theology. In an age when the church would find it difficult to expound the Trinity in any meaningful way, Owen assumes a line of theological continuity from the early centuries to his own day (thereby removing the charge made by Rome that Protestantism was ‘new’ and therefore suspect). He cites, for example, the classic formula of Augustine that the external acts of the Trinity cannot be divided (opera ad extra Trinitatis indivisa sunt) without any embarrassment! And, if my memory serves me correctly, we’re only a few pages into the volume!

The second thing about this volume is not only its catholicity (linking with the Fathers), but its centrality. In focusing on the believer’s fellowship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Owen is picking up what Calvin had insisted lay at the heart of the all theology – union with Christ. Owen is doing so in a more overtly Trinitarian fashion than perhaps Calvin did; but he is bringing to surface what is at the heart of God’s covenant relationship with redeemed sinners. In doing so, of course, Owen can’t help but be experiential in his theology. In that sense, Owen is a perfect example of the puritan oeuvre.

TSS: At first glance of the title people may confuse this book as a long work on prayer or the spiritual disciplines. Or it may be shelved in bookstores with purely subjective books on how to experience some divine warm-fuzzy. Communion with the Triune God is very unique. What does Owen mean when he talks about “communion”?

DT: This is a really good question! And if the publication of this volume can do something to displace these unhelpful books to which you refer, then all the better for it!

Why is the reformed church so confused about reformed spirituality? This is where a volume like Owen’s Communion with the Triune God is so valuable at this present time.

Owen has a fairly complicated view of what communion in this context means. It begins with the idea of what “communion” or “fellowship” in Greek (koinia) means: to share in common with. This raises some important theological (and practical) distinctions: union and communion are not synonyms for Owen. Our union with Christ, brought about by God’s initiative and covenant. It introduces into a status from which flows (as fruit) communion with God. Kelly Kapic summarizes it this way:

  • God communicates of himself to us.
  • Union with Christ establishes our relationship with God.
  • The resulting overflow of union is our returning unto God what is both required and accepted by him (i.e. communion). [endnote 1]

The union with Christ is brought about unilaterally; the communion on the other hand is a bi-lateral issue. Our communion with God can be affected by our sin, unresponsiveness, and especially neglect of the ordinary means of grace.

It is Owen’s Trinitarian emphasis, based to be sure on a disputed text (1 John 5:7), that enables him to expound a multi-faceted dimension to communion. Communing with the Father helps us appreciate the nature of love and reciprocate it; fellowshipping with the Son helps us appreciate and reciprocate grace; fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit encourages assurance as he draws us back to the embrace of Jesus Christ offered to us in the gospel of the Father’s love.

TSS: Communion with the Triune God is rightly hailed as a masterpiece on the Triunity of God. Why is this Triune distinction important in Owen’s understanding of communion?

DT: I have preempted this question somewhat already. But allow me to narrow the focus a little.

The obvious place to begin is to state that for Owen God is Trinitarian in nature. The only fellowship with God that is possible is with the entirety of the Godhead and therefore with each Person that constitutes the One God. If the place of any of the three persons is misconceived or denied, the gospel falls. Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or liberal Protestants who deny the Trinity as empty verbiage can never state the gospel properly because their view of God is all wrong.

The gospel in both its accomplishment and application involves a salvation planned, an atonement made and a salvation applied and none of these are possible apart from the work of all three Persons. For Owen, then, communion with all three keeps the gospel straight and the Christian life in good shape. From it flowed all manner of issues relating to the assurance of salvation – too often argued subjectively without recourse to the nature of salvation itself.

TSS: I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to notice that a large segment of professing Christianity in America dogmatically assert that Christianity is a relationship whereas theology is peripheral. For Owen, experiencing God personally and knowing God accurately are inseparable. Can you explain further how this is revealed in Owen’s thought and why this is important for us to grasp today?

DT: I’ll have to take your word about YouTube, but it is time for us to announce a Declaration of War against the creeping influence of Schleiermacher on modern evangelicalism.

I draw your attention to an essay by Carl Trueman called “John Owen as a Theologian” in a volume of essays on Owen, John Owen: The Man and His Theology (P&R and EP, 2002). These were lectures delivered at a conference on Owen in 2000. It says everything that needs to be said, first of all, about Owen’s distinctive theological emphases, and secondly why theology must be in the service of the experiential and not vice versa.

Owen was no different here than his Calvinstic predecessors, or for that matter, John Calvin himself. From Calvin’s opening sentence of the Institutes, which declared that nearly all the wisdom we possess consists in knowing God and knowing ourselves, comes the distinction that knowledge of God is more than knowing about God. There is a difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance.

I had a student in my office recently who obviously loves Sinclair Ferguson. He had listened to what sounded like hundreds of Ferguson’s taped messages. I listened with interest and then (half anticipating the reaction), I said with cool detachment, “I’ve known Sinclair for 30 years and he’s a close, personal friend.” There was an awed silence! “Really!”

Well, Owen would say, Christians brought into a saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ can say, “I know God – personally.” True, the descriptive “personally” is a modern one and not one the seventeenth century would have employed in quite the same way, but the intent is precisely the same.

For Owen, as for Calvin, there is no sense in trying to talk about knowing God by experience if we don’t know how to articulate who God is! The only God there is has revealed himself to us in creation and providence, but supremely in the Scriptures and in his Son’s incarnation. But to have those things clear in our minds and be able to articulate them is not yet to know God. To know God, cognitio Dei is relational knowledge, knowledge that comes to us, in the relationship of faith.

TSS: You mention the “personal” aspects of a relationship with God would have been stated differently by Owen and the Puritans. Explain this further. How is this differently stated? Why?

DT: Well, forgive me, but I think we tend to use the word “personally” in some quasi-therapeutic sense, often at some disparagement to anything cerebral or structured. The puritans adopted (on the whole) a very definite faculty-psychology in which the mind must govern the will and the affections. Personal knowledge of God comes through the integration of this faculty psychology and through some back door to the heart.

TSS: This is very helpful in light of earlier questions. Thank you! … Owen seems to balance well an understanding of our Father who remains transcendent, majestic and holy but for the saint is also their loving, adoptive Father who “from eternity … laid in his own bosom a design for our happiness.” Owen calls us to “rejoice before him with trembling” and of course says if we don’t understand the deep love of the Father we will not draw to Him in communion. Owen writes, “So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him” (p. 128). How does Owen excel in this theme of communion with the Father?

DT: Of course, ravishing as this language is, it should be recalled that Owen is expounding the Father’s love for us employing the Song of Solomon (Canticles) as background. This was typical of the puritans as a whole to view the Song as an allegory of salvation.

Owen is dealing with a surprisingly modern problem at this point: that in communing with Jesus it is all too possible to draw the conclusion that whereas the Son loves us, the Father is angry with us. From such a distorted view emerges a misshaped view of the gospel, of course. Jesus has no need to make the Father love us because his coming into the world is evidence of it. The Father is the “fountain” or “source” of love.

“Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all our refreshments actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up unto the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, is but the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. … (Communion with the Father) begins in the love of God, and ends in our love to him” (2:23-24).

TSS: That’s a helpful quote that captures Owen well. Thank you! … A year ago I interviewed Kris Lundgaard, an author who has taken John Owen and rewritten his books for contemporary audiences. He said he was surprised that sales of his book on overcoming sin (The Enemy Within) far outsold his book on the beauty of Christ (Through the Looking Glass). This was to him a surprise because seeing the glory of Christ is critical in the fight against sin (2 Cor. 3:18)! It’s likely that the overtly practical Overcoming Sin and Temptation from last year will outsell Communion with the Triune God (or any other Owen titles for that matter). What are the practical implications of Communion with the Triune God to the mortification of sin and the pursuit of holiness?

DT: Well, there’s no way I can come up to Kris standard, but I along with others am so grateful for his love for Owen and his publication. He manages to make Owen appear user-friendly to those who might otherwise be intimated.

I think I can understand why a volume on mortifying sin and dealing with temptation outsells because we all feel the need for help in this area. But perhaps this is a reflection of what another theologian-preacher once called, “sanctification by vinegar,” meaning we are sometimes forced into a set of behavioral responses by the fear of being caught or the being punished rather than because we have a desire to do it.

Only by a grasp of the true nature of God and the delights of communing with him can we really respond in the way we should. Owen, as all good theologians of Paul, observed what we might call gospel grammar. The imperative must follow the indicative. Holiness follows from what grace has reckoned us to be in Christ. What this volume does is tell us who we are. It solves the identity crises which sin can so easily bring. The volumes ought to be read in that order – Communion with the Triune God followed by Overcoming Sin and Temptation. It would be the Bible’s way.

TSS: Dr. Thomas, I love this: “What this volume does is tell us who we are”! This is a helpful observation on the importance of Communion with the Triune God. … Again, thank you for joining on TSS. You are a valued friend in our ministry. Blessings to you!


Related: Read our full review of Communion with the Triune God.


[endnote 1] Kelly Kapic, Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen [Baker Academic, 2007], 157.

BoT > Session 5 > Derek Thomas on John Calvin

Session 5 – (Wed. 7:00 PM)
“Mortification and Vivification: The Shape of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes”
Derek Thomas

GRANTHAM, PA – Thomas returned to the Institutes to look at the shape of holiness according to John Calvin, but he began the session with a reference to his current study of John Bunyan (for a future biography). Referring to his own personal friendships with the men in the chapel, Thomas noted that in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress he was struck by how Bunyan weaves friendships into Christians’ sharing of the joy, temptations and losses of the Christian life.

Thomas would especially draw attention to mortification rather than vivification [mortification is dying to self and sin, vivification is coming alive to righteousness in Christ]. The focus in this session would be on the struggle against sin, bearing the Cross in affliction and self-denial.

Thomas opened by reading Colossians 3 with a special emphasis on verse 5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Calvin expands on the relationship of union and communion with Christ. Justification, sanctification and glorification all flow from an existential union and this union is now being worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the “comforter,” which is Latin meaning “to strengthen” or “to enable.” Calvin expounds on this in a John/Paul fashion. Our union with Christ takes the shape of death and resurrection. We are involved in a union, a template of death/resurrection, so our lives take the shape of this death/resurrection pattern. Calvin develops this like Paul in Romans 8:13 (“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”) and Colossians 3:3 (“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”). This same twin element of crucifixion/death/burial/resurrection is seen in Colossians 2:12 — “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” There are Romans 6 parallels to Colossians as we commune and take part in the death of Christ that works itself out in mortification. Mortification identifies us with Christ. Christ calls His sheep to follow His life as a pattern.

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus says the Church will grow and prevail although She is being built in enemy-controlled territory. This is the program of the New Covenant age between the two comings of Christ. This is now where we live, too. In this program of church growth in enemy territory, Jesus establishes the pattern of the Christian life. And this life is one of self-denial and Cross-bearing (see vv. 24-28). We are called to deny ourselves and pick up our Cross and “own” the life of Christ. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (v. 25). Only as we identify with the life of Christ will we save our lives. Any other course of life is to lose one’s life.

In Cross-bearing and self-denial we are putting to death the remaining sinful corruptions. On mortification Calvin builds especially off Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5. Calvin says, prepare for the knife.

Before continuing, Thomas makes two notes. First, he feared that by talking about mortification it makes him look as an expert who has made great advancements over sin in his own life. He humbly admitted that he is not superior in holiness to those in the room. Mortification actually becomes more difficult as you mature, he said. And second, talking about mortification makes guilt easier to communicate than grace. Calvinists who believe in the third use of the Law are very capable of generating guilt. This is easy. But the more Thomas reads Calvin and volume 6 of John Owen (‘the quintessential book’ to understanding the Puritan concept of mortification) the more he sees an emphasis on grace in Calvin that excels Owen. Calvin wants to emphasize grace in mortification. We need mortification because we are sinners, but we can never forget our justification!

The Struggle of Mortification

There is a reality of indwelling sin and remaining corruption. A war rages within. Calvin does not see Romans 8 as a progression from Romans 7. There is no way out of chapter 7 and into chapter 8 in the Christian life. In other words, chapter 7 is not a sub-Christian experience. For Calvin, chapter 7 and especially verses 14-ff are not the struggle of an unconverted Jew but the paradigm of the Christian life. The “I” later in chapter is the same “I” that is in union with Christ early in the chapter.

Passive sanctification seems to abound in the Church today. As soon as the demands of the Christian life are emphasized – ‘do this’ or ‘avoid that’ – people automatically label it ‘legalism.’ The third use of the Law for Calvin is a model for the Christian life as a man in union. But this obedience is never to gain the favor of God. Neither is obedience lessened because of grace already received.

The picture of the slow growth of the Christian striving against sin is seen in the following quotes by Calvin [and one of my personal favorites from the Institutes].

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)

This is the lifelong battle until we are glorified. Athanasius and Augustine both viewed Romans 7 as an ongoing battle between the renewed self in union with Christ and remaining corruption. In Romans 8:23 Paul says “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Creation groans and we, too, groan. Calvin calls this groaning a “warfare of patience” (Commentary on Rom. 8:24).

Being united to Christ we are a mass of contradiction. At our height, the good we want to do we don’t do. What we don’t want to do, we do (Rom. 7:15).

The Ground of Mortification

The ground of mortification is the simple fact that we can mortify the flesh! Reformation logic says, “If I ought to, I can.” Not by native ability, but because of our union to Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and because the old Adam has died to sin. “Reckon yourselves” dead to sin (Rom. 6:11)! “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Live as those who have died. We are dead men walking. Christ died to destroy sin. We take this view that sin and its demands have all been paid. Christ has purchased for us both justification and sanctification. God carries this out in His own people as they gain the upper hand over sin. Sin continues to dwell but no longer reigns over His people.

Evil desires take on a life force of their own. But Calvin wants us to see the basis of engaging in mortification is because we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Sin no longer reigns.

The Motive of Mortification

The motive of mortification is the fear of God. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5-6). Calvin, in his commentary, is especially clear that the wrath of God is coming upon those who do not engage in mortification. This becomes a motive to our mortification. The same theme is found in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” If we don’t engage sin, we will die.

To say that you are united to Christ but don’t engage sin is to have, as Calvin puts it, a “mutilated faith.” Our engagement and victories over sin give us assurance that we are truly children of God.

Engaging in Mortification

So how do we mortify? First, we need a big picture. Mortification is not only concerned with specific and individual sins but all the entrails of the old man. Mortification is an engagement at the whole of sin, not just its parts.

The key to mortification is the mind. Book three and chapters 9-10 were added to the Institutes later as the whole comes to completion. It’s what we would call “faculty psychology.” For Calvin and the Puritans, the mind is the priority over the will and affections. Holiness begins in the faculty of the mind and in our thinking. For Calvin, we act according to our thoughts. So mortification begins in the mind. Remember in book one, Calvin calls the heart the “perpetual factory of idols.” And for Paul, he does not go into the details of sexual immorality but rather focuses on the idolatry of sexual sin and the idolatry of all sin. In James, the dynamic morphology of sin begins in the mind with the thoughts. So the way to deal with sin is to deal where it’s rooted – in our minds! Don’t think about sin. Guard your thought world. Guard your mind.

If we allow our minds to think about sin, the sin will develop a life of its own. Unguarded sinful thoughts motivate the will and the affections. Once the affections are set upon a sin, the sin takes on a life force of its own that will run its course. It will not be stopped. So deal with sin when it first rises in the mind. [This is a great illustration of the “life force” of sin.]

It is here that Calvin gives us one of the most eloquent passages of the Institutes.

“We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal (Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone” [3.7.1, p. 1:690].

This is not only mortification in particular besetting sins but part of a wider picture because we live in a sinful world. We have two zip codes: one planted in this world and one planted in the world to come. Being rooted in a world that is groaning is a call to self-denial and Cross-bearing. The highest calling of the Christian is self-denial. So bear the Cross!

Cross Bearing

Of particular usefulness, Cross-bearing teaches us to trust in the grace of God. We will suffer poverty, bereavement, and disease in this world in order for God to present us faultless (Jude 1:24). In Calvin’s teaching on the book of Job, Calvin preached through the book himself in great pain and in the midst of personal warfare. Calvin was a walking encyclopedia of pain.

For Calvin, the essential message of Job is understood through the eyes of Elihu. Elihu understands pain is educative. It’s not punishment for some particular sin, but rather the pain brings out the potential sin that was resting dormant.

The climax of Job is God shutting Job’s mouth. Paul takes this same theme in saying the purpose of the Law is to shut the mouths of sinners (Rom. 3:19). Every time we speak, we spew idolatry, self-worship and self-exaltation. The beauty of the Cross is that self-denial causes us to trust patiently in God. Unbelievers are chastened and they only grow weary. Believers are chastised and they are matured. A Cross without Christ does no good, but a Cross with Christ is God pulling out His chisel on the edges of our lives and our angular characters. He will present us as trophies of grace in Christ. Afflictions teach us about Christ. Nowhere is the chasm of the 16th century church and the church today more revealed than in our understanding of trials. Calvin says, it’s not all about me! The fact is that the closer we are to the King, the more likely we are to draw enemy fire and taste affliction. As Christ suffers so shall we.

[For more on Calvin’s understanding of Job see Dr. Thomas’ excellent book, Calvin’s Teaching on Job (Christian Focus: 2004). “Elihu sees adversity as educative rather than necessarily retributive” (p. 227).]

When Paul is converted on the Damascus road, why does Christ say, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4)? Because Stephen was one of His (7:54-8:1). You touch one of Christ’s little ones, and you touch Christ.

The Experience of Mortification

Calvin is not calling us to Stoicism. In our grief and sorrow, Calvin points us to our great consolation in the hands of our indulgent Father! For Calvin, what gives him joy and vigor and strength in the Romans 7 struggle with sin and Cross-bearing is the fact that this world rests in the hands of our Father. And there remain no doubts of the extent of God’s love for us — He sent His only Son for us!

In the words of Thomas a Kempis: if you bear the Cross, it will bear you. No matter where you are, carrying the Cross or burdened by sin – the Cross will bear you!


Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

Book: Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

Book Announcement
Sweet Communion by Arie de Reuver

So I was all ready to wind down a bit this weekend, and not push to get another post up. That was all disrupted Saturday when a bubble mailer arrived in my mailbox from Baker Academic. I simply could not wait until next week to announce their new release. The book is Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation by Arie de Reuver. The book was published in Dutch in 2002 and translated into English by James A. De Jong.

To explain the importance of this book, I need to give some background.

We are familiar with the English Puritans (men like John Owen, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, etc.) primarily because their original works were written in English, and easily reprinted over the centuries with little editing necessary. However, in the Netherlands another “Puritan” movement was taking place. Like their English counterparts, men like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel were producing valuable theological and spiritual works in Dutch. But until only recently has the work of Dr. Joel R. Beeke and the Dutch Reformed Translation Committee made these works more accessible. In fact, one of the great highlights of Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is a section entirely devoted to the Dutchmen of the “Further Reformation” (see pages 739-824). Books of the Dutch “Further Reformation” authors (like the recently translated The Path of True Godliness by Willem Teellinck) bear all the marks of brilliance we see in the English Puritans.

One of the most noticeable strengths of these “Dutch Puritans” (as I call them) is their emphasis on Reformed spirituality and their enjoyment of sweet communion with Christ. Theirs was a deep and sincere devotion to Christ where their union with Christ was the means of experiencing vibrant communion with Christ. They defended the doctrines of grace and simultaneously enjoyed a joyful and warm spirituality.

This beautiful Reformed spirituality can be seen in the works of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).

Wilhelmus à Brakel is most noted for his four-volume work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Reformation Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of the “Dutch Puritans.”

I have noticed in the past the “sweet communion” of the believer with Christ is a theme that sparkles from this work. After emphasizing the marriage union between the Groom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church), à Brakel explains the believer’s communion with Christ within this marital union. Once this union between the sinner and his Savior has taken place in conversion “Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you” (2:93). Read that incredible sentence again! This communion produces a “sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies” (2:93,94).

Of this marital union and the communion that follows, à Brakel writes,

“A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him” (2:91).

This beautiful passage points the believer back to the Person of Christ to find her joy and strength in the beauty of Jesus Christ. This light and joy is the byproduct of communion with Him and this communion goes back to the believer’s union with Christ in justification.

Later, à Brakel explains that since our union with Christ is absolute, our communion with Christ does not shift with circumstances or emotions. “By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him” (2:96). Communion can never be separated from our union and our union is described by our justification by faith alone and in our election in the Son. So à Brakel and the “Dutch Puritans” remind us that our sweet communion with Christ is inseparably bound to our understanding of our union with Christ in the gospel!

In his conclusion on the teachings of Wilhelmus à Brakel, de Reuver writes that his “spirituality is one that is rooted in Christ through the word believed, even in its most intimate and mystical moments. This foundation protects his mysticism from spiritualism” (258).

Many today are drawn towards Roman Catholic mysticism or a non-theological spirituality by thinking a deep spiritual experience of Christ can be separated from a genuine understanding of the gospel. This, as à Brakel displays, is not the case. Neither does Reformed theology favor a cold orthodoxy. Following the best intentions of the Medieval theologians, the Reformed “Dutch Puritans” always believed that rich biblical doctrine is the vein for the warm blood of spiritual experience of the Son in communion.

So here is the importance of Sweet Communion by de Reuver: The rich spirituality we have received from the “Dutch Puritans” is a spiritual legacy following the spiritual traditions of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) but is firmly rooted in the precious theology of the Reformation. The final conclusion of de Reuver is that the all-controlling center of the Dutch Further Reformation spirituality rested in the Reformed theology. This is a beautiful and timely book to further dismantle the idea that Reformed theology is cold and stiff intellectualism. Our rich theology actually leads us deeper into true “mysticism” of direct communion with Christ.

Title: Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation.
Series: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought
Author: Arie de Reuver (Dutch)
Translator: James A. De Jong (English)
Reading level: 4.5/5.0 > academic and some untranslated Dutch quotations
Boards: paper
Pages: 303
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.99/23.99 from Baker
ISBNs: 0801031222, 9780801031229


Related: Communion with God by Kelly Kapic. Another gem from Baker this year on communion with God. Kapic studies English Puritan John Owen’s understanding that communion with God takes place within a balanced Triunity of the Father, Son and Spirit. Highly recommended.


Book Review > Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (by John W. Tweeddale) 0801026180


Mulling over Muller:

A Casual Tour through Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics

By John W. Tweeddale


Last summer provided me a rare opportunity to read much of Richard A. Muller’s four-volume work, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. It was wonderful to discover the complex development behind the reformed tradition I often take for granted. Knowing I was fully unqualified to write a review on such a scholastic work, I reached out to John W. Tweeddale and he graciously accepted the invitation. John has spent much time researching Muller’s work, has provided excellent notes online and now provides a very helpful review. Although Muller’s work appears daunting and technical, John shows us how pastors, teachers and students can benefit. He gives us advice on how to best use Muller’s work and shows us the importance of it in contemporary church culture (like when John connects an understanding reformed theological roots to the growing concern over the emerging/emergent church concerns). We are thankful for his review.

John W. Tweeddale is a ministerial candidate in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and graduated from William Carey University and Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. While in Jackson, he interned at First Presbyterian Church. John is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh where he is studying John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews. He has co-authored a reference book with Derek Thomas entitled, The Essential Commentaries for a Preacher’s Library, occasionally contributes to reformation21, and regularly contributes to The Conventicle blog. However, he says his greatest joy is being married to his wife Angela who he met at RTS.



A Practical Gift

Everyone knows that a wedding shower is for the bride. But occasionally, the groom is remembered with a salutary gift. Some men get power tools, others get electronic gadgets. I got books. But not just any books. These were four hefty tomes. When I opened to the inside cover of the first volume I found inscribed these amusing words: “A little light reading on the occasion of your wedding!”

This gift was anything but little or light. It was a peculiar present. Not that giving books to an eager and expecting groom is unusual, mind you. But I do believe I am the only man in history to receive Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics as a wedding present! However, lest you question the propriety of the giver, for a (soon-to-be-married) ministerial candidate planning to study the Puritans, it could not have been a better gift. Strange as it sounds, it has proved more practical than an iPod and even handier than a Leatherman.

You may be saying to yourself, “That’s great for you. But I’m a busy pastor. I enjoy reading the Puritans but I’m not a scholar. What’s all the fuss about Richard Muller? Why should I bother reading his books on reformed dogmatics? I need books on reformed pragmatics! I have sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, people to counsel. Do I really need another set on historical theology?” Great questions. Your time is precious. It is to be redeemed and not squandered. Therefore, when you read, you must read selectively and wisely, deeply and practically. It is precisely for this reason that I think you can be helped by Muller’s PRRD.

In what follows, I want to give you a causal tour through PRRD. As we meander along, I have three basic goals. I want to (1) give an overview of Muller’s work, (2) provide several reasons why I think PRRD is a valuable resource for pastors, elders, seminarians, and bible college students, and (3) suggest a reading plan for tackling this work. To state my intentions another way, I want to answer three questions: (1) what is the basic argument of PRRD; (2) why is reading PRRD important for your theological development and ministry; and (3) how can you as a busy minister, elder, or student best utilize your study time so as to gain maximal benefit when reading PRRD? My primary aim is not analytical but practical. So without any further delay, follow me.

Overview of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics

Richard A. Muller is the P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and has written extensively on the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. His books, articles, and reviews display a knack for historical detail, command of reformed theology, and mastery of a wide selection of sources. All of his writings are worth getting your hands on. However, his crowning achievement is his PRRD. It is the result of a career long investigation of “the rise and development of Reformed Orthodoxy” and is without question one of the most important works on the history of Reformed theology to emerge in the past twenty-five years. Anyone interested in the Reformers and their heirs must wrestle with these volumes.

Despite its importance, one of the most frequent complaints I hear about PRRD is its level of difficulty. With its Latin laced references (usually translated!), doctrinally detailed discussions, and heavy-going historical analysis, reading PRRD is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work. But as Mortimer Adler taught us in his immensely practical guide How to Read a Book, the most profitable reading takes place when we engage books that move us from understanding less to understanding more. Reading PRRD is one of those books. It is not like reading the sports page or even a cosy devotional. It requires a more careful, active reading. So get a strong mug of coffee, take a seat at your desk, get a pad and pencil, and let’s jump in!

The basic argument of PRRD is simple and straightforward. Muller is mainly concerned with the relationship of the post-Reformation to the Reformation and to the wider context of western Christianity. He states, “the underlying theses of the present study concern the continuities and discontinuities in Reformed theology during the eras of the Reformation and Orthodoxy, running chronologically from approximately 1520 to approximately 1725” (PRRD, 1:37). In short, he contends that what began in the Reformation was continued, expanded, and developed by the post-Reformation. To better grasp Muller’s thesis, some definitions and details are in order.

1. Calvin/Calvinists

In your studies of the Reformers and Puritans, you have likely stumbled across the phrase “Calvin and Calvinism” or “Calvin vs. the Calvinists.” This distinction usually refers to a school of thought that sees fundamental discontinuity between Calvin and his followers (e.g. the Puritans). For example, Theodore Beza and William Perkins are sometimes represented as hardening Calvin’s doctrine of predestination by making it the “central dogma” of theology. This method is associated with individuals such as Basil Hall, Brian G. Armstrong, R. T. Kendall, Alan C. Clifford, and to some extent Alister McGrath.

Muller takes a different view. His line of attack is essentially three-fold. First, he argues that this interpretation is based upon an anachronistic and simplistic reading of the primary sources. Second, he suggests that while Calvin was an extremely significant leader, he was not the only Reformer later generations followed. In fact, Calvin was not a primary author of any Reformed confession (although traces of Calvin’s thought are evident in confessional statements such as Dort and Westminster). Third, he contends that our reading of the post-Reformation should not be forced into an either/or disjunction between Calvin and the Puritans. Instead, both Calvin and the Puritans must be placed within a wider historical context whereby similarities and differences are noted in both periods against the larger western catholic tradition, which stretches back to the medieval and patristic periods. On this point, Muller is developing the contributions of scholars such as Heiko Oberman and David Steinmetz. Others who take a similar approach to Muller are Carl Trueman, R. Scott Clark, and Willem van Asselt.

As a result of the confusion created by the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” debate and the catholic and confessional contexts to the post-Reformation, Muller prefers the use of the more generic term “Reformed” over “Calvinist” (cf. PRRD, 1:30). This discussion lies behind most of PRRD and is crucial for understanding it. For a brief introduction to this whole debate, Paul Helm’s helpful little book Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998) is a must.

2. Reformed/Protestant orthodoxy

Orthodoxy simply means “right teaching.” When fused with the term Protestant or Reformed, it refers to the historical era when the teachings of the Reformers became “codified” and “institutionalized” according to “confessional” standards. When Christendom split into Reformed and Lutheran branches, the boundaries of orthodoxy needed to be (re)established. Therefore, confessions were developed to establish ecclesiastical norms. In other words, much of the post-Reformation was a process of standardizing the “right teaching” of the Reformation in both the church and academy. Muller provocatively states, “The Reformation [was] incomplete without its confessional and doctrinal codification” (PRRD, 1:27).

For the sake of convenience, he divides Protestant orthodoxy into three periods: early orthodoxy (ca. 1565-1618-1640); high orthodoxy (ca. 1640-1685-1725); and late orthodoxy (after ca. 1725). A quick overview of PRRD, 1:30-32 will provide you with the facts and figures for each of these periods.

3. Reformed scholasticism/humanism

The term “scholasticism” is narrower and broader than “orthodoxy.” It indicates an academic style and method of discourse. Muller explains, “[Scholasticism] well describes the technical and academic side of this process of institutionalization and professionalization of Protestant doctrine in the universities of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (PRRD, 1:34).

This is a crucial point that needs to be firmly grasped. Scholasticism is a specific educational and literary category (as opposed to catechism, sermon, or confession). Technically it refers to a method of academic discourse and not to a specific theology or philosophy. So you can have Reformed scholasticism and Arminian scholasticism. Similar terms and methods are employed by both camps but their respective theologies are miles apart. In other words, scholasticism provides a common intellectual framework by which theological investigation can take place. Though this method has its roots in theologians like Thomas Aquinas, the scholasticism of the post-Reformation period is not identical to the scholasticism of the medieval period. For example, with its emphasis upon the ancient languages and employment of classical rhetoric, the roots of Protestant orthodoxy lie as much in Renaissance humanism as medieval scholasticism. We should then understand the scholasticism of Protestant orthodoxy as theologically and philosophically broad but methodologically narrow.

4. Muller’s methodology

As you can see, the relationship between the Reformation and post-Reformation is more complex than a simple 1-to-1 comparison and contrast. Muller warns against reducing these two periods to one person (e.g. Calvin) or one movement (e.g. the Puritans). Both continuities and discontinuities must be addressed on the basis of an examination of a broad spectrum of individuals, movements, and sources. Additionally, care must be taken to correctly identify the historical context and the literary genre of writings (e.g. textbook, catechism, confession, sermon, etc) within these periods. From this perspective, Protestant orthodoxy and scholasticism can be interpreted as “trajectories of intellectual history” (PRRD, 1:39) that dynamically developed out of the Patristic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation periods.

5. A short summary

Having established his methodology and defined his terms, Muller attempts to develop his thesis along four lines: prolegomena to theology (vol. 1), Scripture (vol. 2), the essence and attributes of God (vol. 3), and the Triunity of God (vol. 4). Volume 1 investigates how the Reformed orthodox defined and did theology. The thrust of this work is to identify the fundamental presuppositions that lie behind the systems of theology developed in the post-Reformation. The next volume explores the relationship between prolegomena (vol. 1) and the formation of a doctrine of Scripture. Here we learn about the implications of Scripture as “the cognitive foundation of theology.” The last seventy-five pages or so have a superb discussion on biblical interpretation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (PRRD, 2:442-524). Volumes 3 and 4 comprise a unit and explore different aspects of the doctrine of God as “the essential foundation of theology.” The last section in the final volume provides a summary of Muller’s findings for the entire project (PRRD, 4:382-420).

Together, these four volumes form a comprehensive survey of the theological methods (i.e. prolegomena) and two main principia (Scripture and God) developed during the post-Reformation. Upon these three topics (loci), the theological infrastructure known as Reformed orthodoxy was built. However, Muller’s study in no way exhausts everything we need to know about the history and theology of the post-Reformation. Indeed, in a rather understated way, he states that his study “barely scratched the surface” (PRRD, 4:15)! The burden for others will be to pick up where Muller left off by continuing to mine the deep caverns of Reformed orthodoxy. Topics such as Christology, anthropology, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, worship, and piety are only a sampling of subjects needing the same level of rigorous academic attention. Muller has set the standard. Who is up for the challenge?

Five Reasons for Owning Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics

The above discussion may seem awfully technical. You still may be saying to yourself, “Why should I mull over Muller?” Below are at least five reasons why I think PRRD is a valuable resource for pastors, elders, seminarians, and bible college students.

1. Knowing the past helps you to better know the present

The church has often grappled with the tension between continuation (preserving the theological heritage of the past, i.e. continuity) and contextualization (accommodating to the needs of the present, i.e. discontinuity). This was as true in the seventeenth century as in the twenty-first. The Reformed orthodox were masters at contextualizing without compromising the message of the Reformers in order to effectively meet the cultural demands of their day. To put the matter in a more up-to-date way, concerns expressed by emergent/emerging type are nothing new. Postmodernism does present a real challenge for communicating the gospel. But let’s not take a historically naive view of our problem. We are not the first to struggle with the difficulty of “Christ and culture.”

Reading PRRD will give you a detailed account of how previous Reformed Christians addressed this issue. The post-Reformation serves as an example of the historical and theological progress of the church on the one hand (discontinuity) and the preservation and maintenance of doctrinal integrity on the other (continuity). The point for us is not to return to the ‘good ol’ days’ of the seventeenth century but to remember that the past can provide us with lessons for the present. For an insightful study on this issue, including an examination of Muller’s PRRD and the emergent discussion, see Jeffrey Jue, “What’s Emerging in the Church: Postmodernity, the Emergent Church, and the Reformation” reformation21, issue 2 (September 2005), accessed at

2. Deepens your knowledge of the treasure house of Reformed literature

PRRD is chock full of references to and quotations from a host of the greatest minds God has gifted the church. Many of them you know: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Perkins, Bunyan, Owen, Turretin. Others you have probably heard about: Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli, Ramus, Cocceius, Olevianus. And still others you will perhaps meet for the first time: Viret, Hyperius, Zabarella, Zanchi, Junius, Polanus. With a bibliography exceeding one hundred and twenty pages in the fourth volume, PRRD provides the best one-stop reference for learning about the writings of the Reformation and post-Reformation. If you follow the wise counsel of C. S. Lewis and read at least one old book to every three new ones, PRRD will direct you to enough good old books to last you a lifetime (even if you don’t read Latin or Dutch!).

3. Defuses the Calvin/Calvinists myth

Despite dying the death of a thousand deaths, this straw man still hasn’t completely died! If you listen carefully this argument is essentially made by those who disparage Protestant scholasticism as the cradle of modernism and harbinger of rationalism. But the issue is more complex than that. Muller’s work shows with great documentation, clarity, and polemic that more links the intellectual and theological tapestry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than chronology. Identifying the dawn of modernism within the periods of the Reformation and post-Reformation may have polemical value for some evangelicals, but it effectively deprives the evangelical world one of its richest treasures. Thankfully, PRRD is one work on demythologizing we can gladly hail. For more on this, see discussion on ‘Calvin/Calvinists’ above.

4. Develops theological clarity

One of the most beneficial aspects of reading PRRD is that it will strengthen your theological vocabulary and sharpen your theological clarity. I could give multiple examples, but here is one. A foundational category for the Reformed orthodox was the relationship between archetypal and ectypal theology. They believed that this distinction is essential for our knowledge claims about God. Archetypal theology (theologia archetypa) refers to God’s knowledge of himself while our knowledge of God is called ectypal theology (theologia ectypa). God is the ultimate Theologian. His knowledge is uncreated, complete, perfect, independent, and infinite. To use the language of Paul, it is past finding out (cf. Rom. 11:33). In contrast, we see through a glass darkly (I Cor. 13:12). Our knowledge is created, incomplete, imperfect, dependent, and finite. Our knowledge depends on God’s knowledge. While we can never know God as God knows God, we can know him to the extent that he has revealed himself in his word. This distinction preserves the incomprehensibility of God on the one hand and the knowability of God on the other. The secret things belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us (cf. Deut. 29:29).

What’s the point? For many in our day, the quest for knowledge has become the crisis of knowledge. Can we know God? If so, how do we know? Do we have to grope for God in the dark? Can human words really tell us about God? Or are we playing some sort of religious language game? These are pressing questions. But we must not fret. We need not throw our hands in the air and consign ourselves to silence. Reformed Christians have for centuries given careful thought to these issues. As Francis Schaeffer frequently stated, there is such a thing as “true truth.” God has graciously accommodated himself to our level by communicating to us with words. Baby talk as Calvin liked to put it. Although we can not know God exhaustively, we can know God truly as he has revealed himself in the inspired words, sentences, paragraphs, parables, poetry, and even propositions of Scripture. While we may want to adapt their language, the Reformed orthodox have given us a handy epistemological tool to engage a post-Enlightenment, post-propositional, postmodern world. For Muller’s discussion on archetypal/ectypal theology, see PRRD, 1:225-238.

5. Knowing the terms of the past helps you to better know the terms of the present

While running the risk of overstatement, we owe more to the period of Protestant orthodoxy for the formation of Protestant theology as we now know it than any other era in church history. It is common knowledge that the works of Hodge, Dabney, and Berkhof (to name a few) relied heavily on Francis Turretin and other Reformed scholastics. But the impact of the theological systems and definitions of the orthodox lies not only with those who live and minister within her confessional bounds. Even neo-orthodox theologians, most notably Karl Barth, maintained a level of sympathy for the structure of theology mapped out during the seventeenth century, although they have differed in substance. Indeed, you can hardly pick up a text on systematic theology (orthodox, neo-orthodox, or non-orthodox) without some trace of the post-Reformation. I can say it no better than Muller,

The contemporary relevance of Protestant orthodox theology arises from the fact that it remains the basis for normative Protestant theology in the present…The theology of Protestant orthodoxy, developed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a final, dogmatic codification of the Reformation, occupies a position of considerable significance in the history of Protestant thought. Not only is this scholastic or orthodox teaching the historical link that binds us to the Reformation, it is also the form of theological system in and through which modern Protestantism has received most of its doctrinal principles and definition. Without detracting at all from the achievements of the great Reformers and the earliest codifiers of the doctrines of the Reformation…we need to recognize that not they, but rather, subsequent generations of “orthodox” or “scholastic” Protestants are responsible for the final form of such doctrinal issues as the definition of theology and the enunciation of its fundamental principles, the fully developed Protestant forms of the doctrine of the Trinity, the crucial Christological concept of the two states of Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, and the theme of the covenants of works and the covenant of grace (PRRD, 1:29, 37).

For those of us who belong to a confessional church, we should work hard to understand how and why the particular doctrines we confess were formulated in a particular way. While a greater awareness of Protestant orthodoxy will not solve our doctrinal disputes or prevent our theological differences, we should at least know the theological convictions and expressions entrusted to us. We will always have dissenters – whether it is open theism, the new perspectives on Paul, or rejection of penal substitution. But perhaps if we knew the reasons for the truths we confess we would not be so easily wooed by attempts to redefine classical Protestant orthodox thought, even when done in the name of evangelical and reformed. For those interested, PRRD is a great place to start.

Four Suggestions for Reading Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics

In closing, I want to offer four reading suggestions for tackling PRRD.

1. Keep the big picture in view

With four volumes, 2,163 pages, and over eight thousand footnotes, PRRD is overwhelming. The intimidation factor is high. But don’t give up. Not yet. You’ve read this far. As I mentioned earlier, Muller’s basic point is fairly simple and straightforward. Like looking for answers in a mathematics textbook, perhaps the best place to start is in the back of the book! Muller’s forty-page conclusion at the end of volume 4 provides an overview of the entire project (PRRD, 4: 382-420). In addition, the first hundred or so pages in volume 1 are indispensable for navigating your way through the heavier sections (PRRD, 1:27-146). If you get bogged down, a quick refresher of these pages should help keep you on track.

I’ve also found the extended outlines in the table of contents before each volume a huge help for getting the overall feel of Muller’s argument. If you’re still uncertain about jumping into the deep end of PRRD, you can dip your toe in Muller’s article “The Problem of Protestant Scholasticism – A Review” in Reformation and Scholasticism, edited by Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).

2. Take advantage of helps

Another way to keep the big picture in view is to read reviews of Muller’s works. Roger Nicole’s “Post-Reformation Dogmatics: A Review Article” in Founders Journal (2004): 28-31 and Martin I. Klauber’s “Continuity and Discontinuity in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology: An Evaluation of the Muller Thesis,” in Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, 33 (1990): 467-475 are excellent summaries of PRRD. Both can be found online. Additionally, I am slowly posting notes on PRRD at The Conventicle blog.

3. Don’t read it like a biography

One factor that helped me was to recognize the genre of Muller’s writing. He is not writing a historical biography like David McCullough or a theology text like Wayne Grudem. PRRD is intellectual history at its best. This is a technical study. It is concerned with the history of Christian thought during the approximately two hundred years known as the Reformation and post-Reformation. Although Muller is chiefly concerned with the development of ideas, he is not unconcerned with more social-political matters. However, they play a minor role. So you need to put your thinking cap on when reading PRRD. For Muller’s thoughts on intellectual history, see PRRD, 1:16 (some may be interested in the more detailed discussion in James E. Bradley and Richard A. Muller, Church History: An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 1-32).

4. Use it as a reference

Perhaps the best way to use PRRD is as a resource. It is a veritable goldmine of information. But like most reference tools, you won’t read it from cover to cover. Rather, take it one section at a time. Are you teaching a Sunday school on the person of Christ? Read PRRD, 4:275-332. Preaching a short series on the names of God? Spend some time in PRRD, 3:227-270. Interested in the history of sola Scriptura? Check out PRRD, 2:63-150. Writing a term paper on the relationship between philosophy and theology? You must read PRRD, 1:360-405. Unless you’re writing an article or paper, you probably won’t be quoting much of Muller. Nevertheless, the people you minister to will profit from you taking the time to fetch a pail of cold, refreshing water from the deep wells of Reformed orthodoxy – even if you have to find a more suitable cup.


We have finished our tour. More could be said. But I leave you with time to explore on your own. Although PRRD may not be little or light, I hope you see that it is one wedding present that I wouldn’t want to be without!


Title: Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725
Author: Richard A. Muller
Boards: hardcovers
Pages: 2,163
Reading level: 5.0/5.0 > advanced
Volumes: 4
Dust jackets: no
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes (in each volume)
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Academic; Grand Rapids, MI
Years: 1987/2003, 1993/2003, 2003, 2003
Price USD: $200.00 / $109.99 at CBD
ISBNs: set, 0801026180; vol. 1, 0801026172, 9780801026171; vol. 2, 0801026164, 9780801026164; vol. 3, 0801022940, 9780801022944; vol. 4, 0801022959, 9780801022951

Book announcement > Outrageous Mercy by Wm. P. Farley

Book announcement

Outrageous Mercy by Wm. P. Farley

Given the fact that my favorite book apart from the Bible (The Precious Things of God) is out of print, I’m accustomed to promoting books that are hard to find. Add this one to a growing list of excellent but (sadly) out-of-print books.

Published in 2004, Outrageous Mercy by Wm. P. Farley is a powerful, Cross-centered book. I especially appreciate the straightforwardness of the content. The fact is that we are surrounded by a church culture that does not routinely value the Cross. Farley does a good job explaining how churches degenerate but he also does a great job showing the biblical basis and daily implications of the Cross.

It was originally published by Baker and may take some time to locate. Here are a few quotes that stand out …

“We can put the cross on the back shelf and still be Christians, but the slide will continue. The children of those who accept a Christianity centered in something other than the cross won’t put the cross on the back shelf; they will put Christianity on the back shelf. And the next generation might even forget the faith altogether” (p. 35).

“’I wish I had a deeper experience of the love of God,’ we complain. Well, look at the cross. That is where God’s love is displayed. It appears nowhere else with such clarity. Meditate on it. Run to the glorious God revealed there. Put your trust in him. He is intensely interested in your eternal happiness” (p. 46).

“At the cross, the love of God and the wrath of God shake hands; the mercy of God and the justice of God embrace; and the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity appear in stark contrast. The cross teaches us to fear God and delight in his love at the same time” (p. 53).

I’ll be posting a very powerful quote about John Newton soon (and a few other quotes from this book next week). Bottom line: any effort to find this book will be richly rewarded!


Title: Outrageous Mercy: Rediscover the Radical Nature of Christianity
Author: Wm. P. Farley
Boards: paper
Pages: 184
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Baker Books (out-of-print)
Year: 2004
Price USD: ?
ISBNs: 0801064929



1. The Centrality of the Cross
2. Foundations
3. God 101
4. The Worst of Sinners
5. For God’s Glory
6. Crucified Flesh
7. God’s Spiritual Boot Camp
8. I Will Boast No More
9. The Foolishness of God’s Wisdom
10. The Supreme Sufferer in the Universe
11. The Heart of Worship

TSS book photo archive

Hello everyone. Over the past few months I have been photographing books for this blog. There are a number of pictures I have used, some I have not, but all of them I want to put to work. So, if you have a use for them, please feel free to copy them and use them. If you don’t have use for the pictures, you may (at the least) pick up some great Christmas book ideas.

Enter The Shepherd’s Scrapbook book photo archive here.


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