New Book: We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship

I have some exciting news. My next book will be releasing September 25, 2015. We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms for Worship will be a straightforward resource for ordinary Christians wanting a handsome and easy to use volume with all the must have creeds, confessions, and catechisms for worship. The current structure is:

  • Foreword (Surprise Writer!)
  • Introduction by Mathew B. Sims
  • Chapter 1: The Catholic Creeds
    • Apostles' Creed
    • Nicene Creed
    • Athanasian Creed
  • Chapter 2: The Dutch Reformed Tradition
    • Belgic Confession
    • Heidelberg Catechisms
    • Canons of Dort
  • Chapter 3: The Scottish-English Tradition
    • Thomas Manton's Epistle to the Reader
    • The Westminster Confession
    • The Westminster Shorter Catechism
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Review: William Boekestein’s Bitesize Biographies Ulrich Zwingli (Evangelical Press)

Whenever I’m offered one of these Bitesize Biographies I jump at the opportunity. They are light reading but enjoyable. I find them a restful interlude between reading thicker books. All of that doesn’t mean they are not quality reading though. I’ve been out of seminary many years, so they help dust the cobwebs off my church figures and history. William Boekestein’s Zwingli biography hit all the notes for why I enjoy this series.

Zwingli is an interesting figure in the Reformation. You don’t hear much about him except his views on the Lord’s Supper and he doesn’t have as large a follow as say a Calvin or a Luther. With that said, I found the section discussing his relationship with Luther most interesting. Some of the same arguments against him made by Luther then I hear now from Lutherans still and often in a similar tone. It also saddens me because the two men who as Boekestein said had much common ground in Christ couldn’t extend grace enough to call the other a brother in Christ.

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Review: Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions (Thomas Nelson)

Hannah More. Have you heard of her? I hadn’t before seeing advertisements for Fierce Convictions pop up on several of my social media feeds a few months back. The cover made me think of Jane Austin. It also stated More was a “Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.” That’s all I knew.

Well I just finished Fierce Convictions —I loved it. It’s my surprise best read of the year so far. I enjoy biography so I was expecting to be entertained. But this book hit all the high notes for me. Swallow weaves in themes that I love—friendship, justice, fortitude, sacrifice. The story is well-crafted and honest. And More’s life has something to teach us all.

Early on Swallow tells us, “But with this letter, along with many other words from her pen, More painted a picture she hoped might move her friend’s imagination. Perhaps then his heart, mind, and actions would follow” (xviii). Imagination. Something that played a crucial role in More’s success as a writer and also as a social activists. Her writing was successful in changing hearts, minds, and actions because it attacked the imagination of a nation.

Swallow starts by re-telling the history of More’s family. She avoids the well-worn hagiography. She’s honest when the picture is blurry and sets the stage for the rest of More’s life. She also goes on through the book to tie More’s life to other interesting people of that time and also major events that More influenced. The meat of the book deals with More’s rise to prominence in London as a writer who was successful in her interaction with those above her natural station and also uncomfortable eventually receding back to the country.

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Essential Christian Classics: Luther’s Large Catechism

In a dark, murky Facebook Group, the Grace for Sinners staff discussed essential Christian books. With a focus on books that are often neglected, this series will provoke Christians today to connect their history. This does not insinuate modern books are irrelevant—just that their lasting importance is yet to be determined.

Martin Luther’s Large Catechism holds a special place in my development as a Christian. Coming from a Baptist rearing, I went through a tumultuous period becoming convinced of monergistic salvation and infant baptism. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was crucial in this conversion. Seeking doctrinal council, I also consulted Martin Luther’s Large Catechism and Michael Horton’s Introduction to Covenant Theology. Though I would ultimately side with Calvin and Horton, Luther’s Large Catechism humbled me.

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Review: Alistair C. Stewart’s The Original Bishops

Alistair Stewart has written a behemoth in The Original Bishops. Let me be frank up front, Stewart’s level of writing is fairly beyond me. Theology is my specialty. This is a scholarly evaluation of church history, extra-Biblical documents, and Biblical texts concerned with church authority and leadership. The end result, The Original Bishops is an overwhelming amount of condensed information to challenge long held presuppositions concerning church leadership and how this authority developed historically.

In light of my limited knowledge, I chose to focus on Stewart’s contention that most scholarly works “repeat the same ‘facts’” (23) in defense of their ecclesiology. These “facts” are the basis of most evangelical and conservative works that I have read and dealt more directly with the Biblical text. The major (and familiar) points Stewart strives to show as “baseless” include “the synonymy of episkopos and presbyteros, the emergence of a monepiskopos from a collective presbyterate, and the origin of presbyteroi in the synagogues” (23).

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Review: James D. Bratt’s Abraham Kuyper

“Son Herman struck the tonic note of Reformed piety in bringing the ceremony to a close: ‘We his children know that he was redeemed as a poor sinner who by faith had found peace in Christ’” (374).

That eulogy by Kuyper’s son Herman struck me as summing up the life of Kuyper and the way in which Bratt successfully conveyed his life. There’s a complexity to Kuyper’s life in the way he was raised in a religious home, pursued liberalism for his young adult life, converted to Calvinism and Orthodoxy before taking his first pastorate. How he sought to soak ever square inch of life in Christ, yet for a time stopped attending church (129). Or how he as Bratt says, “Abraham Kuyper was a great man but not a nice one. He was immensely talented, energetic, and driven to great exploits. He appeared always confident, partly to quiet his own insecurities” (xxii).

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Review: Reformation Commentary on Scripture John 1-12

John 1-12 is one the latest entries into IVP Academic’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS). It’s series you should be familiar with. Owning the thousands upon thousand of robust books produced during the Reformation and mining those would require hours you may not have. RCS does the work for you and provides context for the Reformation conversations and the Scripture text.

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Review: Denis R. Janz’s A People’s History of Christianity, One Volume Student Edition

I’m not typically drawn to introductory church history books. There are some fine classic surveys (e.g. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, Gonzales’s The Story of Christianity, etc.), and often new texts don’t offer much new information or perspective. But Denis Janz’s A People’s History of Christianity series is a unique addition to the field that needs to be engaged in some way by all those with an interest in the history of Christianity.

And Fortress Press has made it easy to interact with this distinctive treatment of church history, whether one is a rabid bookworm undaunted (and even delighted) by the prospect of reading thousands of pages or just wants a 300-page introduction. Originally a seven volume series, the content was distilled into a two-volume student edition [editor’s note: see our review of the Student Edition volume one and two] as well as a one-volume student edition, the latter of which is the subject of this review.

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Review: Clayton Jefford’s Reading the Apostolic Fathers

The saying goes that those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. On this basis, emphasis and focus has properly been focused on the early church fathers and church history. The wealth of information, thought, and historical insight can be intimidating to a student or laymen. In his work Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction, Clayton Jefford provides a valuable guide to some of the early father’s texts.

The Communication

Given that Apostolic Fathers was written for students and academic study, the level of efficiency in its communication should not be surprising. Each chapter covers a specific document of the early church (the exception being chapter three which covers the entirety of Ignatius’s letters). In the introduction, Jefford explains to the reader the highly organized structure of each chapter (xii-xiv). Not only can the subject matter be addressed by page number, but also by a uniformed numbering system consistent throughout each chapter.

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Review: Justin S. Holcomb’s Know the Heretics

Justin S. Holcomb shares an invaluable resource with the church. Know the Heretics is equal parts theology and church history and addresses a looming issue in the church today. Holcomb talks about church history’s heretics and how the church should define heresy. “However, heresy was a weighty charge that was not made lightly, nor was it used whenever there was theological inaccuracy or imprecision” (14).

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Review: Denis Janz’s A People’s History of Christianity

“In this sense, people’s history is slanted, biased, disrespectful—even subversive perhaps” (8).

A People’s History of Christianity is one of the newest academic series from Fortress Press. It has been condensed from its multi-volume format to produce two Student Editions for academic use. This review will cover Volume One of the two-volume edition which covers materials from the early church to the Reformation.

Through the work of fourteen authors, A People’s History of Christianity, Volume 1 (henceforth A People’s History) seeks to present a new look at the development of the church focusing on the people who make up the church. The result is a history of the real lives of ordinary church people.

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Review: John D. Woodbridge & Frank A. James III’s Church History: Pre-Reformation to the Present Day, Volume 2

Church history can be intimidating. The sheer number of topics, sub-topics, geographical locations, and important persons that participate in church history make many well-meaning historical forays unsuccessful. Not knowing where to start or on what to focus can discourage interested laymen and students from pursuing their endeavors.

In Church History: Pre-Reformation to the PresentDay, John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III provide a companion volume to benefit students of God’s word with a well-crafted view of the church’s struggles and God’s ultimate faithfulness throughout her history. Though the material covered remains immense this book provides an enjoyable read and beneficial presentation that is capable of educating and encouraging.

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Review: Everett Ferguson’s Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, Volume One

I love history, but I’m not a historian. I especially love church history as it’s important to know where you come from and who’s in your family tree. With that being said, I won’t be reviewing this book in respect to the accuracy of details. I’m sure you can find a review like that elsewhere. My review will focus on broad strokes.

First, unless you are in school and forced to read through a particular church history book, you will want to find one that’s readable. That can be difficult because the major market is academic. I found Church History strikes somewhere in the middle. It’s certainly geared for academic study, but the book moves along at a steady pace and keeps the attention. I don’t think your average Christian who enjoys reading will find moving through its pages difficult.

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John Calvin: The Church Still Remains

John Calvin in his Institutes provides a reminder we should be careful who we “deny the title of church” to.

Among the Corinthians it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those not trivial errors, but some of them execrable crimes. There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine.

What course was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints.

If the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits, and avarice prevail; where a crime, which even the Gentiles would execrate, is openly approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honored as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither decently nor in order: If there the Church still remains, simply because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth part of these crimes cannot be imputed?

How, I ask, would those who act so morosely against present churches have acted to the Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel (Galatians 1:6), and yet among them the same apostle found churches?

Calvin, John (2002-12-18). Institutes: Christian Religion (Kindle Locations 18231-18242). Packard Technologies. Kindle Edition. (Paragraphing Mine)

Review: The Theology of Augustine by Matthew Levering

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Matthew Levering
Publisher: Baker Academic
Buy The Theology of Augustine
Reading Level: Moderate

Overview. Matthew Levering seeks to introduce Augustine’s thought to a new generation. The style lends itself to those who are already reading theology (think college level). He describes his method:

Many introductions to Augustine’s theology treat his ideas on this and that topic, drawing upon a wide variety of his treatises, letters, and sermons. It seems to me more fruitful to introduce Augustine’s major ideas by surveying his most important works in their entirety. (p. xii)

Matthew examines Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, Answer to Faustus, a Manichean; Homilies on the First Epistle of John, On the Predestination of the Saints, Confessions, City of God, and On the Trinity. The introduction also offers a concise historical sketch of Augustine’s life.

What I found edifying. First, it amazes me how diverse Augustine’s writings were. He wrote theological treatises, defenses, biographies, allegories, homilies--he writes it all. Second, I was impressed by how God-centered his thought was and robustly Trinitarianism. The culmination of this God-wardness arrives in the last work discussed On the Trinity which Matthew summarizes as a participation in the life of the Trinity (p. xviii). Last, when reading the chapter for Answer to Faustus, a Manichean it’s startling how unoriginal our liberalism is today. Augustine argues for the unity of the Old and New Testament and for a Christ-centered reading of both testaments. Many of Faustus’s arguments were right out of the pages of today’s lastest liberal bestseller. Solomon is right, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Recommendation. I could see the book being helpful for three kinds of Christians wanting to know more about Augustine. First, the reader who has read Augustine but maybe feels like some of what he’s read is over his head. He needs help understanding it all. Matthew moves through each of these books--summarizing major points and translating major thoughts. Second, the reader who is interested in learning more about Augustine but she doesn’t have the time or desire to read his books first hands. She just wants a Cliff Notes if you will. Last, anyone who loves historical theology or Augustine will love this book. An excellent book from start to finish.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Baker Academic. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you plan on purchasing The Theology of Augustine, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.