Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

The Knowledge of the Holy & The Pursuit of God

June 28, 2013

The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God are A.W. Tozer’s most popular titles and understandably so. Those who read them find genuine spiritual insight, heartfelt piety, and an invitation to worship from one in the very act of doing so.

They are different works, that came about in different ways. The Pursuit of God was the culmination of decades of thought on the Christian life, which flowed out of Tozer in one sitting. During an all-night train ride, with some toast and some tea, he wrote the entire book. The Pursuit of God opposes spiritual complacency, and calls for the deliberate, vigorous pursuit of knowing God in conscious personal experience. This book follows no predictable pattern, nor can it be comfortably pigeon-holed. Instead, it covers notions of surrender, consecration, spiritual apprehension, the need for illumination and self-denial, in a unity that makes sense once read in its entirety. Years of spiritual experiences surround the exhortations of each chapter, and those with seeking hearts will resonate with Tozer.

The Knowledge of the Holy began as a series of sermons which Tozer preached in his last years, while ministering in Toronto. Those sermons, also published as The Attributes of God, were hammered into book-form by Tozer, and published in 1961, two years before his death. A study in God’s attributes, it could not be more different than a work on the same topic by A.W. Pink. Tozer’s work is musical: poetic descriptions break off into a quoted quatrain from Faber, Watts, or Tersteegen. Sprinkled through the work are quotes from church fathers, puritans, and mystics. Tozer’s wordcraft is probably at its best in this work, combining both theological precision with imaginative metaphor to fire the religious imagination. Twenty one chapters deal each with one attribute of God. And worth the price of the whole book is the first chapter: “Why We Must Think Rightly About God”. I’ve often referred Christians to this chapter as an introduction to understanding the importance of the religious imagination.

Not everyone will agree with Tozer’s understanding of sovereignty and free will, or his views on prevenient grace. These seem to me to be small matters to overlook, given the genuine gold in the rest of the works. I encourage every believer to include these two books in his or her reading list.

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Invitation to the (Devotional) Classics – De Contemptu Mundi

June 21, 2013

The first duty of man ordained and brought forth into this world for that end, — my most dear Valerian! — is to know his Creator, and being known, to confess Him, and to resign or give up his life — which is the wonderful and peculiar gift of God, — to the service and worship of the Giver.

Eucherius was bishop of Lyons from around 434 till his death in 449. His most famous work, De Contemptu Mundi (On Contempt for the World) has enough nuggets for the devotional prospector.

Eucherius advocated the ascetic lifestyle of the Egyptian hermits, but remained connected to a life of learning and active service. On Contempt For the World has much more to say on loving God than it does on bodily mortification. The theme of this epistle to Valerian is essentially 1 John 2:15 – to love not this world.

For Eucherius, that meant a two-pronged approach: seeing the pain and inferiority of a life lived for this world alone, and meditating on the far greater reward that is God Himself and Heaven.

“And indeed I know not which should soonest or most effectually incite us to a pious care of life eternal, either the blessings which are promised us in that state of glory, or the miseries which we feel in this present life. Those from above most lovingly invite and call upon us; these below most rudely and importunately would expell hence.”

While exhorting Valerius to do so, Eucherius wrote words of admiration and praise for God that will make the heart of any worshipper rejoice:

“But if pleasure and love delight us, and provoke our senses, there is in Christian religion, a love of infinite comfort, and such delights as are not nauseous and offensive after fruition. There is in it, that which not only admits of a most vehement and overflowing love, but ought also to be so beloved; namely, God, blessed for evermore, the only beautiful, delightful, immortal and supreme good, Whom you may boldly and intimately love as well as piously; if in the room of your former earthly affections you entertain heavenly and holy desires. If you were ever taken with the magnificence and dignity of another person, there is nothing more magnificent than God. If with anything that might conduce to your honour and glory, there is nothing more glorious then Him. If with the splendour and excellency of pompous shows, there is nothing more bright, nothing more excellent. If with fairness and pleasing objects, there is nothing more beautiful. If with verity and righteousness, there is nothing more just, nothing more true. If with liberality, there is nothing more bountiful. If with incorruption and simplicity, there is nothing more sincere, nothing more pure than that supreme goodness.”

Of course, we wish that Eucherius had seen the manifold ways in which we can worship God and glorify Him in this world and in this life. But we don’t read Eucherius for earthy, everyday piety. We read Eucherius to remind us that this world, as good as it is, is not our home. We read this short, dense work (less than 11 000 words) to be reminded that the Christian faith is not merely a means to earthly ends. Instead, God Himself is the quest of the human soul.

“Take up your eyes from the Earth and look about you, my most dear Valerian; spread forth your sails, and hasten from this stormy sea of secular negotiations, into the calm and secure harbour of Christian religion. This is the only haven into which which we all drive from the raging surges of this malicious world. This is our shelter from the loud and persecuting whirlwinds of Time. Here is our sure station and certain rest; here a large and silent recesse, secluded from the world, opens and offers itself unto us. Here a pleasant, serene tranquility shines upon us. Hither, when you are come, your weather-beaten vessel — after all your fruitless toils — shall at last find rest, and securely ride at anchor of the Cross.”

Canon Revisited

February 5, 2013

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 368 pp.

Perhaps one of the greatest objections to the Christian faith comes in the form of objections to the canon of Scripture: why these 66 books, and not some others? Indeed, I often struggled with defences of the faith that tried to wrangle out of this matter by pointing out that Jesus quoted Scripture, as if this sets the limits of the canon by itself. (It does not.) The other approach, giving the historical pedigree and apostolic authorship of each New Testament book, also seemed to fall short. After all, was the canon then only as reliable as the archaeological and text-critical evidence we have in hand? Or worse, our interpretation of that evidence?

Kruger’s book does not attempt to convince the sceptic that the very idea of canonicity is tenable. Instead, he hopes to show the Christian that canonicity is a biblical, reasonable and verifiable concept. Kruger’s focus is on New Testament canonicity, where much of the recent debate has focused (Gospel of Judas, Da Vinci code, etc.)

Kruger presents the case for a self-authenticating canon, a concept that many will struggle with. After all, we’ve been taught to imagine ourselves as neutral fact-collectors, and believe that we sit as judges over all truth-claims. The idea that some truth claims are foundational, and therefore cannot be verified by any higher chain of evidence will not be palatable to many. Kruger does take time to explain why foundational truth claims, like God’s existence, or the truth of the canon, must be the case, and that some circularity of reasoning is unavoidable in establishing such. He goes on to show why other models of establishing the canon, such as the Roman Catholic model, or the model that uses external evidence, are flawed (though not useless). Such models always result in some group of people, or set of evidences, holding more authority than the Word of God itself. If the Bible is God’s Word, and the canon reflects God’s Word, then the 27 books of the New Testament will both define what the canon should be, and exhibit those attributes themselves.

His model of a self-authenticating canon is then unpacked. Kruger sees the marks of canonicity, as defined by Scripture itself as: 1) divine qualities (beauty, power and efficacy, and doctrinal, thematic and structural unity), 2) apostolic testimony (with the apostles as ministers of the new covenant), and 3) the corporate reception of God’s people. Kruger takes time to explain what he means by divine qualities, and convincingly explains how the Bible as a covenantal book required the apostles as ministers of the New Covenant to write down and explain this New Covenant. This took place in an environment in which God providentially exposed His people to these books, and His indwelling Spirit guided His people to recognise the attributes of canonicity. Considerable space is devoted to showing how bookish the early church was, and how a recognition of continuing written revelation was a widespread concept very early in the church.

Kruger deals with some of the objections to books like Hebrews, Jude and 2 Peter, but here the explanations feel rushed and a bit perfunctory. In his defence, no book on canonicity could adequately deal with all the objections and counter-responses, without turning into a series of volumes. What Kruger has set out to do, he has done well.

The self-authenticating model of the canon is a welcome theological and philosophical alternative to rather confused reasoning on this matter. I commend this book to Christians serious about knowing their own philosophical basis for holding to the New Testament that we do.