Hyde and Go Preach: a book review

Paul’s pastoral epistles are sometimes identified as his letters to Timothy and Titus, These are fruitful for pastoral leaders; however we shouldn’t jump to the false impression that the rest of Paul’s letters are non-pastoral. Most of Paul’s letters are directed to congregations he formed and pastored. Even when Paul isn’t ‘the pastor’ (as in Romans) he stll comes off pastoral. . In a new  expositional commentary,  From the Pen of Pastor PaulDaniel Hyde explores the pastoral implications of the books of I & II Thessalonians (one of Paul’s early church plants).

fromthepenofpastorpaul_1024x1024This isn’t a normal verse-by-verse commentary. It was born out of sermon series that Hyde delivered at Oceanside United Reformed Church where Hyde pastors (he is also adjunct instructor at Mid-American Reformed Seminary and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). Hyde’s sermons walks through the Thessalonican correspondence, rooting his understanding of Paul in the Reformed tradition. Hyde’s chief dialogue partners include ancient preachers, medieval theologians, Reformers and the Puritans, and modern scholars like FF Bruce, and John Stott (14-15).

These aren’t fluffy-feel-good-sermons addressed to the felt needs of the congregation. Hyde simply walks through the text: warnings about false teachers, apostasy and the man of lawlessness; advice for living; wonder at the public Second Coming of Christ. I appreciated that Hyde counters contemporary  eschatologies which treat Jesus’ return more as an occasion to fear than as our ultimate hope.

If I ever preach through Thessalonians, I will find this helpful; however, I didn’t find hyde an easy communicator to relate with. I like the substance of what Hyde says, but wish he took greater pains at accessibility. He moved quickly to deep theology and discussing applications without much in the way of  illustration (i.e. personal anecdotes, pop-cultural references, or stories). He is more likely to underline a point by quoting Calvin or one of the Puritans than to connect his message to life.  I also wish his go-to-theologians weren’t mostly  dead white guys (not that there is anything wrong with that).

The expository nature of this book, makes it less useful if you are studying particular verses, but Hyde does a nice job of drawing out important themes. I give this three stars.

Note: I received this book from Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.


Worship Calvinist Style: a book review

I am not a Calvinist by conviction or by my ecclessial membership. The church I attend, the Evangelical Covenant Church, is self consciously rooted in the Lutheran Pietist tradition. Yet, John Calvin remains one of my favorite theologians. I remember reading on my first trek through the Institutes these words, though the translation I first read it in, varied in wording:

My meaning is: we must be persuaded not only that as he once formed the world, so he sustains it by his boundless power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his goodness, in particular, rules the human race with justice and judgment, bears with them in mercy, shields them by his protection; but also that not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this way we must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive. (I, ii, 1, Beveridge translation).

When I read these words, I see Calvin’s peculiar understanding of God’s providence as based in worship.  He did not want to take credit for, or give glory to human agency, when all glory and honor are due the Sovereign God. Calvin sings praise to the glory and grandness of God.

So when I had an opportunity to review a book entitled Worshiping With CalvinI was excited to dip back into a theologian who has helped me enlarge my vision of God. The subtitle of the book, Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worshop of Reformed Protestantism also intrigued me. My mother is an organist and choirmaster with a masters in church music. She has bemoaned the poor theology and shallowness of contemporary Evangelical worship since the 1980’s ‘worship wars.’  She has since taken cover in the Episcopal church (a denomination that still uses organs); though she bucks against the goads of the denomination’s theological liberalism, she has an enduring appreciation for the liturgy. Like my mom, I also want to recover ‘the good’ in traditional practice and I wonder how well contemporary songs and liturgical formats have served us.

Terry Johnson, is a minister in an Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia. He wrote Worshiping with Calvin to help his fellow Calvinists recover some of the gifts of the Reformed understanding of worship. As such, he wrote this book examining the broad ‘Reformed tradition’ but does not engage with the theology of Calvin in a focused manner. He does however have an interest in helping us recover some of the gifts that the Reformation gave us for our understanding and practice of public worship.

Johnson has three sections to his book. Part one discusses the contemporary worship scene and historic practice. Part two examines the importance of reformed worship through the lens of the historic and exegetical lens, and the theological lens. The Reformation was a recovery movement which called Christians to return to ‘the source’ (ad fontes) by examining the Bible and patristic practice. It also precipitated a theological and liturgical revolution which reshaped medieval worship practices. This is fleshed out in part three which explores how Reformed worship was God-centered, Bible filled, gospel structured, church-aware, and Spirit dependent.

As my mother’s son, I appreciate how paltry contemporary worship can be and I like how Johnson calls us to return to worship which is theologically and biblically rooted. I did wish for more theological engagement with Calvinism’s principle theologian (Calvin). However Johnson’s eye’s were trained on the way the Reformed tradition practices its liturgical theology. He seems only incidentally interested in the theology itself. Calvin is evoked and pointed at (as are Zwingli and other reformers, Puritans and Calvinists), but his sacramental and  liturgical theology is never unpacked. For a book that argues for ‘a recovery’ I wished that this book was more Calvin than Calvinist. Still Johnson had many cogent and helpful things to say about keeping worship centered on God, rooted in the Bible and Christ’s work and dependent on the work of the Spirit. In the end, I found this book challenging, even if it was not exactly what I had hoped for. I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Evangelical Press and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

I Know You Are but What I AM (a book review)

I AM. . .Exploring the ‘I am’ Sayings of John’s Gospel by Iain D. CampBell

When Moses trembled before the burning bush hearing about how God would use him to redeem his people he asked, “Whom shall I say sent me?”  God responds “I AM who I AM (Exodus 3: 14). If you fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus tells an antagonistic crowd, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am! (John 8:58), hinting at his deity and identifying himself with Israel’s God.

In I Am. . Iain D. Campbell explores seven other ‘I Am’ statements from Jesus which clarify his identity and tell us why he came.  In these pages we meet:

  • Jesus the Bread of Life– the one who nourishes us, provides for us, sustains and frees us.
  • Jesus the Light of the World–the one who exposes our darkness, condemns and scatters it and bids us to walk in his light.
  • Jesus the Door–the one through whom we gain access to God and who provides our security.
  • Jesus our Good Shepherd–The title tells us of Jesus’ full deity (especially in light of Ezekiel 34) and points to the kind of God Jesus is.
  • Jesus the Resurrection and the Life– In context these words tell of Jesus’ love for a particular family but they tell us the full power and promise of trusting in him.
  • Jesus the Way ( and the Truth and the Life)–This tell us of the unique  role Jesus plays in bringing us into relationship with God through the cross.
  • Jesus the Vine–the one from which we receive our life and sustenance.

These devotional reflections focus on the person of Christ and his purposes.  I think that this book is perfect for personal devotions, or to read along with a friend. Those who are not Christians but are interested in exploring more of who Jesus is and why he came will also find this book a helpful and accessible resource. Campbell is both pastor and professor, but while these reflections evidence deeper study their tone is much more pastoral. Campbell wants you (the reader) to know Jesus more fully and appreciate all that he has accomplished on our behalf.  Each of the chapters end with questions for deeper study and reflection which point the reader to other Biblical texts which explore the same theme.

Personally, I enjoyed these reflections and found the focus on Christ refreshing (a lot of devotional literature these days focuses on how lovable and valuable we are, but is more personal than devotional).  I also appreciate that while these meditations are pithy (the book is only 123 pages) they are certainly not shallow.  If you want to study these sayings more in depth, another resource would likely be better, but Campbell is deft at drawing out the implications of Jesus’ words in a way that is personally meaningful. So as we look toward Christmas and contemplate the meaning of the incarnation, this is a helpful resource.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and Evangelical Press Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review


Long Have I Desired To Look Upon the Kings of Old (a commentary review)

1 Kings: An EP Study Commentary by John A. Davies

“Fear not!” said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weather-worn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.

“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the house of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!” [Fellowship of the Ring,

As  Aragorn  looks at the likeness of the ancient kings  in The Fellowship of the Ring, we get one of our first inklings that he is someone with a destiny. In the same way, when we revisit the record of the kings of Israel we discover a picture of clay-footed-kings and the God they served. Each of the kings pictured  failed to walk humbly with their God(consistently) and remain faithful to the covenant;  yet God was faithful to them, honoring his covenant with their ancestor David and calling all of Israel’s King’s to repentance.

The book of 1 Kings opens with the story of Israel’s third king, Solomon, when his father David was an old man. Solomon is crowned King to prevent his half brother’s attempt to take the throne and he quickly works to consolidate  power. Initially he enjoys God’s blessing on his reign. At his best Solomon was a type of ‘new Adam’ restoring God’s people to covenant faithfulness and blessing the whole earth; however, he had his shadow side and he led the nation into idolatry and taxed the nation heavily for the building of his own palace and reputation. When his son Rehoboam succedeed him, he did not alter his father’s policies and that caused eleven of the tribes to follow Jeraboam in the North instead(the kingdom of Israel). While Israel was wrested from Rehoboam’s grasp, for the sake of David, God kept a king on the throne in Jerusalem to rule over the tribe of Judah. When the book of 1 Kings ends, four kings after Solomon have sat on Judah’s throne and four different dynasties have ruled in Israel.

The Evangelical Press Study Commentary series purports to bring together some of the best biblical scholarship from a Reformed perspective to produce a commentary that is both comprehensive and practical.  They present a careful analysis of the biblical text and a simple application for daily life.  This is a commentary aimed at pastors, theologians and laypeople alike, which means them an ideal mid-level commentary. They delve into the depths of the passage while remaining accessible to the non-specialist.

If John Davies commentary on 1 Kings is representative of the series, than this commentary series is well worth it. Davies translation and verse by verse commentary is sensitive to literary structure, the grammar and the historical context of Kings. While many Kings commentaries from a generation ago concentrated on ‘the world behind the text’ (the community that produced the narrative), Davies offers a close reading of the text we have, attending to the nuances in the text. He explores where Hebrew language sheds light on the meaning of the narrative (though does not get unnecessarily mired in syntax). He  also provides an analysis of  the Ancient Near East and places the story of Israel’s kings within the wider story of the Canon (building on Deuteronomy and coming to fruition in the New Testament).  Having studied Kings at length in the past I was impressed with Davies insights and the way he picked on some of the subtleties  in the narrative.  For example, he critiques Solomon along the way demonstrating that chapter 11 is not a dramatic reversal of Solomon’s earlier character but we have had intimations of his failure in devotion along the way. Likewise he picks up on the ambiguities in the Elijah narrative and his slowness to anoint a successor as Yahweh commanded. Davies also provides key insight into the connection with worship, idolatry and political life in ancient Israel (i.e. Elijah’s slaughtering of 950 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, erode Israel’s alliance with Phoenecia, magnifying the crises that Ahab faces in1 Kings 20). There are some real gems in Davies comments which surprised and opened up new insights for me.

My one small disappointment with this commentary is that Davies introduction lasts about a page and a half. I appreciate fuller introductions from commentators which fill in some of the theology, structure and themes of the book. Granted the commentary itself will discuss the same information at length but a good introdcution gives you a starting point and a frame of reference for study. It isn’t as though Davies doesn’t have a wealth of information (the commentary is 464 pages)  but you will find it with in his comments not in the front matter of the books. This makes this book useful for verse by verse study or for examining a particular passage, but less helpful as a general reference.

This is a great commentary on 1 Kings and has whetted my appetite not only for what else this series of commentaries has to offer but for the completion of the story in 2 Kings. If you are studying, preaching or are  just shopping for a good commentary on 1 Kings, this is a great option. My go to commentator for Kings is Iain Provan’s (an Old Testament professor of mine) but Davies brings similar sensibility and insight. So gaze with Davies on the Kings of old and discover that despite their and our failure, the covenant God is faithful to his promise to us.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and to Evangelical Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  No one from Middle Earth was harmed in writing this review.