Pastor's Library

Each month, we print four reviews of some of the best new books from Christian publishing houses. We do this both to keep you up to date on material being published today and to help authors of noteworthy books get the word out.

However, in the midst of the torrent of new publications, we sometimes forget the value of words written long ago. Many of the classics of past centuries are packed with truth and were written with such force and power that they are as relevant today as they were when originally published. Indeed that's what makes them "classics"-the ability to speak to multiple generations. Their perseverance is also a testament to the unchanging nature of truth. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God of Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Chesterton, you, and me.

It's with that in mind that we present a special "Pastor's Library" section this month devoted to four books that no pastor should be without. Each of the selections has been republished since 2000 and is readily available in your local Christian bookstore or online at www.amazon.com and other Websites. We hope to make this an annual feature, as there are many more books worth reading than we have space to discuss. We hope you are as blessed by the works reviewed here as thousands have been through the years!

- Justin Lonas, publisher

The Imitation of Christ

Thomas Kempis, most recent reprint by Moody Publishers, 2007, ISBN 9780802456533, 320 pages, $8.99,
softcover.

Thomas Kempis (ca.1380-1471) was born at Kempen, Germany, near the border with Holland. At 19 he entered the monastery of Mount St. Agnes in Holland. There, he spent the remainder of his long life behind its walls as a Roman Catholic priest. He is regarded as a mystic who devoted himself to prayer, meditation, and writing. The Imitation of Christ demonstrates Thomas' deep devotion to His Lord.

First published around 1418, this devotional-style volume is divided into four sections. The first section or book, entitled "Admonitions, Useful for a Spiritual Life," is arranged in a series similar to Proverbs. Footnotes at the bottom of the page give scriptural references on which the aphorism is based. The theme is centered on one's deep devotion to Christ. Concerning temptation he wrote, "For first there cometh to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight, and evil motion, and then consent." He spoke of death with these words, "It is better to avoid sin, than to escape death. If today thou are not prepared, how wilt thou be so tomorrow?"

The second book, "Admonition Concerning Inward Things," follows a pattern similar to the first book. The short sayings lead one to think on the life of following Christ. He wrote, "Give therefore admittance unto Christ, and deny entrance to all others. For men soon change, and quickly fall; but Christ remaineth forever, and standeth by us firmly unto the end."

In the third book, "Of Internal Consolation," Thomas creates a hypothetical prayers or dialogues with God. One of his prayers reads: "Set me free from evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections: that being inwardly cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller nor better in heaven and earth; because love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, and above all created things."

In the final book, "Concerning the Communion," the author dwells on the meaning of Communion and of Christ's restoring of our state with God in light of the separation caused by our sin.

Glen H. Jones

Target: All
Type: Devotional
Take: Recommended

Justification by Faith Alone

Jonathan Edwards, most recent reprint by Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000, ISBN 9781573581073, 154 pages, $12.99, hardcover.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), perhaps best known for his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," served as a pastor in Northampton, Mass., and later as minister of an Indian congregation in Stockbridge. Later in life he accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), but died only a week later.

Justification by Faith Alone consists of two lectures or sermons delivered in 1734 and 1738 respectively. Each sermon is approximately seventy-five pages long in modern type. Even New England Puritan congregations may have had difficulty sustaining interest in sermons this long. These lectures are, however, a masterful treatment of one of the crucial truths of Christianity.

Edwards' thesis (based on the Pauline Epistles) is that salvation comes as a free gift apart from the works of the ceremonial and moral law. The work of Christ on the cross satisfied the demands of a holy God to bring sinning humanity back into a spiritual relationship. Faith allows the sinner access to the grace of God, by which we are saved.

This faith is not a reward or a work. Salvation or justification comes "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5). In order to be saved by our works, we would have to righteous, but Scripture declares "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). Our works cannot commend us to God because we are not in right relationship with Him. In short, salvation must be the free gift of God because we, the sinners, are incapable of performing good works.

When we demonstrate saving faith, our faith is counted for righteousness. We are then "in Christ." Only when we are "in Christ" can our works be approved by God. Works of the believer do not save us, but they demonstrate obedience to the new relationship we have with God. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).

Edwards carefully answers objections to the teaching of justification by faith alone. He shows that Scripture does not contradict itself when it states we must repent, when we must be obedient, and when we must maintain good works. These, he states, are outgrowths of the new life in Christ.

Glen H. Jones

Target: All
Type: Salvation by Grace Through Faith
Take: Highly Recommended

Orthodoxy

G. K. Chesterton, most recent reprint by Waking Lion Press, 2007, ISBN 9781600966750, 170 pages, $11.95, softcover.

One would think when looking at the title, Orthodoxy, that this book contains ponderous theological discussions. Exactly the opposite is true. The volume is not a discussion on doctrines of the Christian faith but Chesterton's autobiographical journey from agnosticism to Christian faith. His earthly anecdotes illustrate the author's commitment to a lively human dialogue. He debated in person or in print such contemporaries as George Bernard Shaw, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, H. G. Wells, and any others who dared attack the Christian faith.

While the core of Chesterton's arguments from 1908 (when the book was first published) are still very relevant today, the contemporary American reader who is not familiar with British history may sometimes have trouble following his references and allusion to the events and persons living in his day.

Chesterton begins Orthodoxy by gently poking fun at scientists who must "prove" everything. Religion is based on faith; science is based on fact, so the argument goes. And many religious leaders have adopted the scientific approach, the author says. "I mean that as all thoughts and theories were once judged by whether they tended to make a man lose his soul, so for our present purpose all modern thoughts and theories may be judged by whether they tend to make a man lose his wits."

Modern thought, Chesterton says, has destroyed the power to think. One who rebels against everything soon loses his right to rebel against anything. Religion, he contends, is not built on blind faith. Faith builds on serious thought. Modern thinkers do not want us to think for ourselves but to accept what they have thought out. "Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain."

Agnosticism comes from ignorance, not from deep reflection. One may know all about the world around him but fail to understand himself. "One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shall love the Lord God; but thou shalt not know thyself." Chesterton belittles those who depend on the Inner Light for their morality. Looking within oneself ultimately produces a worship of self, which is a poor substitute for God.

The author concludes that Christianity works. It does not work merely by saying that it works. Believing faith may be compared to inserting a key into a complicated lock. One concludes that the lock is authentic because it produces the key to understanding life.

Glen H. Jones

Target: All
Type: Apologetics
Take: Highly Recommended

A Practical View of Christianity

William Wilberforce, most recent reprint by Hendrickson, 2006, ISBN 1598561227, 290 pages, $11.95. hardcover.

Does truly following God require us to live according to a code that transcends mere religious devotion; a life defined more by our proactive work for God than simply by our morality?

The great Christian statesman William Wilberforce certainly believed this to be the case. After committing to Christ, he risked his reputation, his career, and his health for a 20-year battle against one of the greatest social evils of his time-the British slave trade. A Practical View of Christianity was first published in 1797 (10 years into his fight) in order to make a case before the professed believers of England that following Christ was not abstract or comfortable but a daily (sometimes messy) and very real application of truth.

Its original title, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country Contrasted with Real Christianity, shows the author's goal of deconstructing the shell of religiosity that nominal Christians had built and replacing it with the firebrand of Christ's presence.

In seven long chapters (each divided into smaller sections), Wilberforce guts the weak faith that had taken hold in the England of his day.

Chapter 1 lays the groundwork for his case by asserting that Christianity, being a specially revealed by God, should be an object of devoted study and greatest endeavor, rather than the haphazard, cultural understanding of the faith as a "scheme of mere morals." He proves that following Christ is a thing to be possessed actively and passionately, not something you can simply be born into.

Wilberforce offers in chapter 2 a stark reminder of the utter depravity of fallen man. He states, "Man is an apostate creature, fallen from his high original, degraded in his nature, and depraved in his faculties; indisposed to good, and disposed to evil; prone to vice, it is natural and easy to him; disinclined to virtue, it is difficult and laborious; that he is tainted with sin, not slightly and superficially, but radically and to the very core." He then shows that the power of Christ's atonement rests on the fact of our desperate need for salvation (as opposed to the false belief that man is, at heart, a good being).

Chapter 3 explains that the human passions (love, excellence, compassion, etc.) have a vital place in our faith, and that God wants us to be vibrantly, actively, and wholeheartedly committed to His service. Wilberforce in chapter 4 rebuts the open-mindedness of nominal Christians and illustrates the degree of devotion and strict belief involved in real faith. Chapter 5 offers a portrait of true faith in the mirror of all other world religions, offering proof of its divine origin by showing the excellence of its design. Chapters 6 and 7 move from abstract arguments to practical advice for believers on how to live out their faith in society, politics, and relationships to others.

While some of the author's language and references may trip up the modern reader (a problem largely solved by careful explanation of archaic phrases and allusions in the text of most recent versions), the core of his message resonates today with all the force it originally possessed. Wilberforce shows with passion that true faith always moves from abstract concepts to definite, personal sacrifice. He makes it plain that real belief (orthodoxy) always leads to real work for the Lord (orthopraxis). A faith that consists only of platitudes and traditions is dead and cheapens the name of Christ in the world. His is a message the churches of today still need desperately to hear.

Justin Lonas

Target: All
Type: Real Faith
Take: Must Read

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