Book Review: Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (277pp)

Who wants to be holy? Sinclair Ferguson’s thesis is that every true Christian does. Equally, he recognises that every Christian finds the call to grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ to be daunting, difficult, and a journey full of setbacks. This book aims to help all believers to understand biblically what holiness is, and to grasp our holiness in Christ with conviction and joy.

Cover for Devoted to GodDevoted to God is a systematic treatment of the Bible’s teaching on sanctification. God is holy, not ‘set apart’ from His world (as is often the frankly unappealing definition of holiness), but devoted to Himself in the Persons of the Trinity. The Gospel is God’s call to us to share in that Trinitarian life through Christ. Starting then with our new status and nature in Christ through conversion, Ferguson guides us through what the New Testament has to say about (amongst other things) how we die to sin, how we fight the battle of godliness, how we relate to the Law, and how we keep going in the Christian life. There is detailed exposition of ten key New Testament passages, whilst many other passages from throughout Scripture are also referenced. Illustrations abound, and there are many (but not overbearing) references to historic theological figures with their contributions.

This is not a book you can race through. The chapters are full of detail and challenge. There is serious theology and close exposition of the text of the Bible here which need working through carefully. Devoted to God would be a great accompaniment to a quiet time. Best of all, if used in a group setting then its treasures could really be best appreciated.

I enjoyed this book so such that I had to think hard about if it could be improved. To my mind, the Christian life in the book doesn’t focus sufficiently on the church. So much of the Bible speaks of our holiness being expressed amongst and enriched by fellow believers. We needed to hear more of the mutuality of growing in holiness. At the editorial level, two smaller points: firstly, there are five appendices which cover topics relevant to holiness, including the Trinity, what it means to be “dead to sin”, and the place of the Fourth Commandment in discipleship. This is all good material, and wouldn’t have been unwieldy if included in the body of the book, to my mind. As appendices, they maybe risk being overlooked, which would be a real shame. Finally, an index would make the book even more useful, allowing readers to return to it and go easily to key passages and doctrine. All in all, though, this is an outstanding read, and a blessing from author and publisher.

Devoted to God comes from a Pastor’s heart. Ferguson wants to help us follow Jesus Christ with more confidence and fruitfulness, and he writes clearly and tenderly. Pastors will love this book, and will quickly value it for its probing marrying of the best of exposition and theology, always with an eye to personal transformation. It deserves to be read.

Book Review: The One True Story: Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus. Tim Chester, The Good Book Company, 2016 (152pp)

Tim has written a gorgeous book. There’s a beauty in what Tim shows us about Jesus, and in how he shows us Jesus, which will move you and do you much good. This is a book to treasure in Advent, but also a read to enjoy through the year.

tots_original.wpccnycp6mxrusu5qbkvj44rcj7morxiThe book follows key passages and turning points in the Genesis narrative in 24 daily sections, each chapter weaving in a New Testament passage or two to bring out the significance of Jesus. We discover the Person of Jesus fulfilling the types of Genesis (so, the dragon-slayer, the brother, the new ark, the rock), and we learn about the Work of Jesus for His people (as the Warrior, Suffering Servant, King and Good Shepherd). The overall effect causes us to marvel at the one plan of salvation, set out in Genesis, and then wonderfully illuminated by the New Testament’s teaching of Christ.

Each chapter takes five or six minutes to read comfortably out loud, and closes with a thought for reflection, accompanied by a prayer or a hymn. Those new to the faith will find the Gospel opened up to them, and seasoned pilgrims will discover much to encourage. And preachers will love the wealth of material here to bring freshness to Christmas ministry, as well as to strengthen their grasp of biblical theology. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Feel the Burn: “Zeal without Burnout. Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice”, by Christopher Ash

Zeal without Burnout. Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice

 Christopher Ash. The Good Book Company 2016, 123pp.

 

9781784980214I’ve read this book twice, given a copy to a friend, and plan to read it in with brothers in pastoral ministry. It’s a timely book.  There’s a growing admission in  evangelical ministry circles that it is not wise or godly to work to excess. Christopher Ash speaks to the factors which lead to overwork and breakdown, and suggests attitudes and habits which will help us to keep going in fruitful discipleship and ministry. In doing this he brings much-needed help to Gospel servants.

 

We’re in wise hands. Christopher has studied the topic deeply, and felt the burn of working to excess himself. The book is accessibly written and brief (you could read it slowly in a couple of hours), but full of ideas and observations which deserve reflecting upon. There are a handful of real-life stories contributed from others which show the devastation of burnout, as well as the slow road to recovery. The book’s strength is in helping us diagnose symptoms of possible burnout in our own lives, and in giving us strategies to put into place now.

 

The seven “keys” are all really well-chosen, and they’re the disciplines which we all know, but when busyness bites, they’re the ones we quickly forget or jettison. My own feeling is that more could be said on ways to read the Bible and pray meaningfully even when, as Christopher says, exhaustion and stress can make that very hard. Also, there’s a noticeable absence of the local church in a positive way. Is that because we so often see the church as “the problem” when burnout comes near? I suspect so; but I think there’s more to explore about the church and its potential ministry to struggling servants.

 

These are minor points, and it’s a pleasure to recommend the book highly, whatever stage of ministry you’re in.

 

 

Book Review: “Mistakes Leaders Make”, Dave Kraft, Crossway 2012 (117pp)

9781433532498-ukI picked this book up last year simply because I liked the title (and knew I would find much of my ministry history to date written up in it). I found much to encourage and reflect upon. Dave Kraft has put forty years of ministry experience into showing those who work in local churches the problems they face. Those problems aren’t primarily in workload or any external pressures: they are the issues of the heart. Among those Dave explores are the temptations to replace Jesus with ministry, avoiding conflict for the sake of false peace, the pitfalls of pride, and poison of endlessly comparing ourselves with others.

The book moves through ten dangers as they surface in the lives of the staff members of an imaginary Californian church. Though fictional, Dave says that these lives and situations are a composite of many he’s known through the years. Most British readers will easily replace the large staff team in the book for Elders, Deacons, and other ministry workers. What they will notice is that the pressure-points explored are all too true.

Dave left me in no doubt that my biggest problem in the church I pastor is me. He helped me see many of my sins and weaknesses more clearly, and gently warned me where those sins would take me, if left undealt with. This is a really helpful book. I read it in a little more than an hour, but it deserves careful and prayerful rereading. I’m getting copies for my Eldership and we’ll read and discuss it together, and I’ll also suggest it to my Deacons and Apprentices. Recommended.