Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Vision (1/31/13): The Inexplicably Merciful Creditor

Note:  I preached last Sunday from Luke 7:36-50 on the sinful woman who anointed Jesus.  In the midst of this anointing Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee a brief parable about a creditor who unilaterally forgave two debtors (vv. 41-42).  Here are some expanded notes from the exposition:

Luke 7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

In this parable, Jesus says there was a creditor who had two debtors (v. 41).  The KJV says, “the one owed five hundred pence, the other fifty.”  The Greek word rendered “pence” is denarius, which was the amount of money typically paid for one day’s labor.  So one man owed 500 days’ labor and the other 50.  We might then say that one owed for roughly two years’ wages and the other for only about two months.  According to the last census the median household income in Albemarle County was nearly $66,000.  So, let’s say the one owed some $130,000 and the other $11,000.

Jesus continues, “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both” (v. 42).  Now, notice that though one owed much more than the other, neither had the ability or resources to repay the debt.  In this sense both were in the same predicament and deserving of the same just punishment.  But the creditor resolved to forgive both debts.  I love the brevity, the starkness of that description.

One need not be a genius to figure out the correspondents in this parable.  Who is the creditor? It is the holy God of Scripture.  Who are the debtors?  Sinners who have to one degree or another trespassed against this holy God and who are subject to his just judgment.  And what does he do?  He acts unilaterally, sovereignly, finally, incontrovertibly, inexplicably, and forgives both.  Why?  Because he can.  Note there is no mention of their pleading with him, seeking him, imploring him.  He just does it.  He acts.  He forgives.  He extends mercy.  This is how our God treats sinners. 

This parable then might be best called not the parable of the two debtors, but the parable of the inexplicably merciful creditor.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle   

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is the anointing in Luke 7 a unique event in the life of Jesus?

Last Sunday I preached a message on the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman from Luke 7:36-50 under the title, Extravagant Love for Christ.  Before I got into the exposition I did some teaching on the passage and the question of its relation to the anointing recorded in the other Gospels.  Here are my notes:
Before we begin our exposition, I want to address one teaching point.  The question is how this passage is related to accounts we read in the other Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:7-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-11).  Is this the same event or something different?
There are at least two arguments in favor of it being the same event:
1.     All the Gospel accounts describe a woman anointing Jesus with costly ointment.
2.     Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 say this anointing took placed in the home of a man named Simon.
In response to these, however, we might observe that Jesus was often invited into people’s homes, and it is very possible that he might have been greeted  by grateful disciples with lavish homage (like anointing him with costly ointment) on more than one occasion.
As for the mention of Simon, we should know that Simon was a very common name among first century Jews.  In the New Testament there are about a dozen people with the name Simon and the Jewish historian Josephus mentions over twenty persons with this name in his writings.  What is more, Matthew and Mark refer to their Simon as “Simon the leper” and not, as in Luke, as Simon the Pharisee (cf. Luke 7:36, 40, 43, 44).
Contrariwise, there are at least four solid reasons to say that the anointing Luke describes is not the same as that in the other Gospels:
1.      The anointings take place in different places.  In Luke, the setting is Galilee.  In the others, it is in Bethany in Judea.
2.     The anointings take place at different times.  In Luke, the setting is early in Jesus’ public ministry.  In the others, it is near the end of his public ministry and just before he goes to the cross.
3.     The anointings are done by different persons.  In Luke she is a woman who is known as a sinner (Luke 7:37).  But the woman in John 12:3 is identified as Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is otherwise known not as a notorious sinner but a godly woman of good report.
4.     The purposes of the two anointings are different.  The anointing in Luke is a demonstration of God’s saving grace (see Luke 7:48, 50).  In the other anointing, Judas duplicitously complains of the waste and how the costly ointment might have been given to the poor.  Jesus says the poor will always be with them but praises the woman for preparing his body for burial (cf. Matthew 26:11-12; Mark 14:7-8; John 12:7-8).
The best conclusion is that the anointing Luke describes in chapter 7 is a unique event in the life of Jesus that only he records.  This also means that Luke omits the later anointing by Mary in Bethany which the other Gospels do record.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Vision (1/24/13): A Brief Guide to Bible Translations

Note:  Many of you have already heard this material from me (perhaps more times than you care to remember!).  I still, however, frequently get asked about the question of English translations (most recently from students I am teaching) and thought it might be helpful to write this brief guide. 

In the English speaking world, we have an abundance of translations and there seem to be several new ones coming out each year.  Why are there so many different modern translations?  How does one translation differ from another? How do I choose a good translation for my personal reading and study?  Let’s look at these three questions in turn:

First:   Why are there so many different modern translations?

One reason there are so many English translations of the Bible is the fact that English is perhaps the most widely spoken and written language on the planet.  Like Greek, Latin, and French before it, English is the lingua franca (common language) of our times.

Another reason is that there are various book publishing and ministry organizations that see financial and practical benefit in producing new translations.

Finally, some believe that there have been advances in textual study and translation philosophy, and this leads them to want to produce what they believe are new and improved translations.

Second:  How does one translation differ from another?

There are two key factors that distinguish translations of the Bible:

1.      The first significant issue is that of text.

From what base text of the original language Scriptures (Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament) will the translation be made?   There are two foundational texts from which translations are made:

(1) The traditional text which generally represents the vast majority of Biblical manuscripts and from which the various translations of the Protestant Reformation era were made; and

(2) The modern critical text, which has emerged since the late nineteenth century.

The choice of the underlying text from which to make a translation will be critical.  In general, the modern critical text is shorter than the traditional text, either omitting altogether, removing to footnotes, or placing in brackets various verses, words, and phrases.  The two biggest examples of textual differences are the account of the woman caught in adultery (the pericope adulterae) in John 7:53—8:11 and the traditional ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:9-20).  The modern critical text puts both these passages in brackets and modern translations made from this text usually do the same, adding a note suggesting that these passages were not part of the earliest and best texts of the New Testament.

At present, there are only three English translations that are consistently based on the traditional text: The Geneva Bible, The King James Version (KJV), and the New King James Version (NKJV).  All other contemporary English translations are based on the modern critical text.

2.      Translation philosophy:

There are two schools of thought:

(1)  The Formal Correspondence method.  This approach attempts to translate “word for word” from the original language text.


(2)  The Dynamic Equivalence method.  This approach attempts to translate “thought for thought” from the original language text.

Among translations that attempt the “word for word” method are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  Among translations that attempt the “thought for thought” method are the Today’s English Version (TEV or Good News Bible) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV).  Some translations, like the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV), are a mixture of both approaches.

I recommend that when examining any Bible translation you take a few minutes to read carefully the brief preface (usually no more than 2-3 pages) at the front of most editions.  In that preface the editors will generally tell you both the text and translation philosophy of that particular version.

Third:  How do I choose a good translation for my personal reading and study?

Most of you know that my preference in English Bibles is for a translation that (1) follows the traditional original language texts and that (2) is based on the Formal Correspondence translation method.  I prefer the traditional text, because I believe it best reflects the doctrine of the divine preservation of Scripture (see the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, article one on the Scriptures).  I also prefer the Formal Correspondence Method, because I believe it best reflects a belief in the verbal plenary (full) inspiration of Scripture where every jot and tittle of Scripture is significant (see Matthew 5:18:  “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”).  When it comes to English translations this leaves our best current choices as the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, and the New King James Version.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle   

Reflections on the 2013 Presidential Inauguration Invocation

On Monday, I watched bits and pieces of Obama’s second inauguration.  I was particularly interested in listening to the public prayers and what they communicate about the spiritual state of our nation and its understanding of religiosity.

Of particular note was the “invocation” delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers:

Evers-Williams’ selection to lead the invocation was noteworthy for being the first time a non-ordained minister (and a woman?) was chosen to lead the prayer of invocation in a presidential inauguration service.  The choice of a layman to lead a public prayer on such an occasion reflects the de facto egalitarian spirit of our age.  There is to be no distinction between ministers, who have been called, theologically and liturgically trained, and ordained and laymen.

The prayer made news after it was delivered for the fact that Evers-Williams incorrectly identified Obama as the 45th President. Though in his second term, he remains the 44th.  I found it more unusual on several other spiritual points:

First, it began awkwardly without any instruction to the audience that a prayer was being offered (no verbal liturgical cue to the audience, like “Let us pray”).  This is seen in the uncomfortable response of the audience who did not know whether Evers-Williams was offering opening remarks before praying or actually praying.  Should they assume a traditional posture of prayer with eyes closed and heads bowed or keep their eyes open and their posture upright?

Second, the prayer was unusual in that it began without any actual invocation of the Deity and included only a few confusing references to Deity.  In fact, the opening word of the “prayer” was “America.”  Was this a prayer to Deity or to America?  Subsequent calls for blessing were thus confused.  Was she calling on God’s blessings or America’s blessing?  Prayer, by traditional definition, is communication with Deity.  Therefore, prayer typically begins with naming or calling upon the Deity.  This is what the root of the word “invocation” implies, to invoke or call upon the Deity.   Later in the prayer (at 2:49) she does say, “We ask too, Almighty” but, again, the identity of the one invoked is murky.  Evers-Williams’ invocation seemed more like a short speech rather than a prayer.  She invoked “the prayers of our grandmothers” (5:37) who, she says, taught us to pray there is something within us that “holds the reigns” but does not define what that thing is (God?  our own self-determination?).

The absence of reference to Deity seems boldly to be ended in the last line of the prayer as she concludes in more traditional terms, “In Jesus' name….” but then she adds to the name of Jesus “and in the name of all who are holy and right, we pray.”  Who does this include and in whose name is the prayer being offered?  In the name of all righteous religious leaders?  In the name of all righteous Americans?  Finally, this non-traditional prayer did end with the traditional conclusion, “Amen.”

It is interesting to compare and contrast invocations offered at past inaugurations.  Rick Warren offered the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration and whether you liked the prayer (or Warren) or not, it did at least follow a traditional format. More striking is the invocation and benediction offered by Billy Graham (again, like him or not) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton.  Compare:


Tracing the line from Graham to Warren to Evers-Williams is revealing of the spiritual trajectory of the nation.  This 2013 invocation does, indeed, reflects the contemporary spiritual state of our land.  Prayer is now free form speech rather than formal communication.  There is to be no hierarchy in religion and certainly no distinctions made between clergy and laity, men and women.  Prayer is now not only communication with the Deity, but it is also communication with ourselves (autosuggestion) and especially with our better instincts and inclinations.

Perhaps the best thing to come for us as traditional Christians from reviewing and reflecting on this “prayer” is the reminder that we should pray to the triune God of Scripture for our nation and its leaders, and for the church.  While living in the midst of pagan Rome, the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to pray “for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim 2:2).  This seems more and more appropriate to us as time goes by.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Vision (1/17/13): Are you a hypocrite?

We recently preached through Jesus’ Sermon in the Plain in Luke 6 at CRBC, including our Lord’s warning against the man who tries to remove the mote (speck) from his brother’s eye without awareness of the beam in his own eye.  Jesus concludes:  “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).

I thought of that passage recently as I read through Thomas Watson’s little devotional book titled The Doctrine of Repentance.  As it seems the Puritans are so particularly gifted at doing, Watson describes the sin of hypocrisy with such surgical precision that any believer with a working conscience will begin to squirm.  Here is a snippet:

Repentance is needful for hypocrites…..

The hypocrite is a saint in jest.  He makes a magnificent show, like an ape clothed in ermine [white fur] or purple.  The hypocrite is like a house with a beautiful façade, but every room within is dark.  He is a rotten post fairly gilded.  Under his mask of profession he hides his plague-sores.  The hypocrite is against painting of faces, but he paints holiness.  He is seemingly good that he may be really bad….  The hypocrite seems to have his eyes nailed to heaven, but his heart is full of impure lustings.  He lives in secret sin against his conscience.  He can be as his company is and act both dove and vulture.  He hears the word, but is all ear.  He is for temple-devotion, where others may look upon him and admire him, but he neglects family and closet prayer.  Indeed, if prayer does not make a man leave sin, sin will make him leave prayer.  The hypocrite feigns humility, but it is that he may rise in the world.  He is a pretender to faith, but he makes use of it rather for a cloak than a shield.  He carries his Bible under his arm, but not in his heart.  His whole religion is a demure lie (Hosea 11.12).

See what I mean?  Of course, Watson’s goal with these words is not merely to wound but to heal.  We do not want to be hypocrites.  We do not want to be saints “in jest” but in truth.  May the Lord lead us to repent of every hint of hypocrisy and to be real before our fellow men, the brethren, and our Lord, who knows all men’s hearts.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

CRBC Thursday Miscellany.1.17.13

  • CRBC will welcome Dr. Gary Crampton to preach in our 10:30 am service this Sunday (January 20, 2013).  Dr. Crampton is an Elder at the Reformed Baptist Church of Richmond and Research Professor of Theology at the Whitefield Theological Seminary.  Dr. Crampton has written over two dozen books and scores of articles.  He is also an engaging and warm preacher.  We look forward to hearing him.
  • CRBC will also welcome David Rasmussen, Reformed Baptist missionary to SE Asia on Sunday, January 27th.  Dr. Rasmussen will give a mission presentation following lunch and preach in our 1:00 pm service.
  • CRBC now has a Facebook page thanks to the administration of Ethan M., one of our college student members.  You can visit (and "Like") the page at:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Evangelism Series (Part Seven): The Office of Evangelist

When most of us hear the word “evangelist” we probably think of a stem-winding preacher on the sawdust trail or of Billy Graham holding a stadium event.  I recall from my SBC days that the convention had a fellowship of full time evangelists (itinerate ministers who “specialize” in evangelism, primarily through evangelistic preaching in revivals, conferences, etc.).

Increasingly, the term “evangelist” is also being applied to any and all Christians in emphasis upon the call for each Christian to be engaged in “personal evangelism.”  Not only is it “every member a minister” but now also, “every member an evangelist.”  This view is presented, for example, in Mark Dever’s The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007) [Note:  I hope to offer a detailed review of this book at some point in the future, as, in my opinion, it promotes many of the popular evangelical notions on evangelism that we have argued in this series have little actual Biblical support].  Dever, for example, refers to “the gift of evangelism,” citing as prooftexts for this gift two verses:  Ephesians 4:11 and Acts 21:8 (see Personal Evangelism, p. 46).  When one examines the verses cited, however, one finds they do not refer to evangelism as a personal “spiritual gift” given to various and sundry believers, but to a specific church office.  Compare:

Ephesians 4:11:  “And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and  some, evangelists [euangelistas]; and some, pastors and teachers.”

Acts 21:8:  “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caeasarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist [tou euangelistou], which was one of the seven; and abode with him.”

Indeed, the office of evangelist was an extra-ordinary office like that of apostle and prophet which was used of God to establish the church, but which has ceased in the post-apostolic era.  The evangelists were apostolic associates.  In the cases of Mark and Luke they were evangelists in the sense that they wrote inspired Evangels (Gospels).  Timothy was among these evangelists, and this is why Paul can write to encourage him to “do the work of an evangelist” (1 Tim 4:5; Note:  Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, and 1 Tim 4:5 provide the only three uses of the noun “evangelist [euangelistes] in the NT ).  An example of their typical work is likely seen in Paul’s instructions to Titus (also an evangelist) that he “shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

This interpretation is generally shared by the “old path” men.  John Calvin, for example, explained the office of Evangelist in the Institutes (see this post) as follows:

By Evangelists, I mean those who, while inferior in rank to the apostles,  were next them in office, and even acted as their substitutes. Such were    Luke, Timothy, Titus, and the like; perhaps, also, the seventy disciples whom our Saviour appointed in the second place to the apostles (Luke 10:1).

Of the threefold extra-ordinary offices (apostles, prophets, and evangelists), Calvin concludes:
According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to  the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as     churches were to be formed where none previously existed, or at least   where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least  Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I  nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted.

The conclusion we reach is that the Biblical term “evangelist” refers to an extra-ordinary office which has now ceased (though note that Calvin believed it had been revived in the Reformation era!).  Thus, it is inappropriate to refer to contemporary men as evangelists (consider how it would sound if there a "Conference of Southern Baptist Apostles and Prophets") or to imply that passages like Ephesians 4:11 and Acts 21:8 refer to a “spiritual gift” of evangelism that is given to believers in general today to act as men like Mark, Luke, Timothy, and Titus did in the apostolic era.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Vision (1/10/13): Lessons from an Atheist

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1; cf. Psalm 53:1).

“And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam….” (Numbers 22:28 NKJV).

The first book I read this year was Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).  The book made a splash when it appeared six years ago, representing a tide of anti-Christian screeds that washed ashore our ever-secular culture in the early 2000s from neo-atheistic writers like Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

The basic thesis of the book in a nutshell:  Religion, especially Christianity, is very, very bad, and enlightened atheism is very, very good.  Along the way, Harris hits plenty of the typical clichéd criticisms of Christianity, arguing against its outdated puritanical views of human sexuality, its obstinate opposition to abortion, and its intolerant stance against other religions, all the while bending the knee before the idol of “science” (which he wrongly pits against Christianity; this is especially ironic, because modern science and technology developed in cultures shaped by the Christian worldview and its conception of humans as the dominion mandated stewards of God’s creation).  Idaho Pastor Douglas Wilson has already written a point by point response to Harris titled Letter from a Christian Citizen (American Vision, 2007).  I hope to read that book too at some point (though the controversial Wilson is not always a reliable guide and must be read with caution). 

In his book, Harris is often intentionally offensive to Christians, comparing prayer to talking with “an imaginary friend” and suggesting that religion might be eradicated in our nation just as slavery was in a past generation.  On the other hand, there were also a few things in the book to be admired.  For example, at the start Harris makes clear that one cannot be neutral about the claims of the Christian faith:

The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t.  Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not.  We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so.  If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell….  I have misused my life in the worst possible way.  I admit this without a single caveat (pp. 3-4).

Of course, he goes on to say that he maintains “his continuous and public rejection of Christianity” (p. 4).  Still, he is to be admired for describing the options in such clear, black and white terms.  Indeed, Harris despises those who prefer gray.  Thus, we can learn some lessons even from this atheist.  One is either all in for Christ or all out. There is no middle ground. The difference: While Harris rejects Christ, we embrace him.  While Harris despises him, we love him and desire to serve him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle      

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tuesday Miscellany (1/8/13)

  • Today I ordered my copy of D. Scott Meadows' new booklet God's Astounding Grace: The Doctrines of Grace (Pillar & Ground Publications).   Meadows is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Exeter, New Hampshire.  I think there's a need for such a brief booklet from an RB perspective, so I look forward to reading and reviewing Meadows' work.
  • Someone on the RB Pastors' list posted a link to this article which cites Philip Ryken (citing James Barr) in arguing that the Aramaic phrase "Abba" does not mean "Daddy" (something I've probably said in sermons more than once).  He (they) note that it was not only the term used by children of their father but also a term of respect used by adults of their father.  In the NT it is always accompanied by Pater, so the suggestion is made that it be translated more appropriately as "Dear Father" or even "Dearest Father."
  • I preached Sunday from Luke 7:1-17, including the healing of the centurion's servant (or slave, doulos) in vv. 1-11.  I noted that the passage is parallelled in Matthew 8:5-13.  Some skeptics have seized on the fact that Luke describes the centurion sending two delegations to Jesus ("the elders of the Jews" [v. 3] and "friends" [v. 6])  to convey messages; whereas, Matthew describes what appears to be the centurion directly speaking to Jesus (cf. v. 5:  "and there came unto him a centurion beseeching him"; and v. 8:  "The centurion answered and said...").  I noted Sunday that those who go looking for contradictions in Scripture usually find contradictions, while those who look for harmony find harmony.  How do we reconcile this discrepancy in Matthew and Luke?  Matthew's account is shorter and simpler.  He leaves out reference to the delegations (elders and friends) and simply reports the messages as they would have been received, as coming directly from the centurion himself.  Godet reaches a similar conclusion (while also advocating for his view that the Gospels emerged independently of each other), asking, "But how could Luke exaggerate in this way the plain statement of Matthew, or Matthew mangle the description of Luke?" (p. 215).  An editor's footnote adds:  ""What can be more natural than the reporting that as said by one's self which is said by an authorized deputation, where the object of the writer is to condense?  This is what Matthew has done" (p. 215).

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Vision (1/3/13): Devotional Resources

We had a good discussion last Sunday after lunch at CRBC on Strategies for Family and Personal Devotions in 2013.  In the discussion I promised to send out a list of devotional reading possibilities, as a supplement to regular Bible reading.  Here are a few suggestions:


For family devotions (with children):


·         Joel Beeke & Diana Kleyne, Building on the Rock Series (Christian Focus, 2003). 

There are five books in the series.  Each book has stories of shorter and longer length with accompanying questions, scripture verses, and prayer points.


·         Oliver Hunkin (text) and Alan Parry (illustrations), Dangerous Journey (Eerdmans, 1985).

This is a picture book that offers a faithful adaptation of John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress.


·         John Tallach, God Made Them Great (Banner of Truth, 1974) and They Shall Be Mine (Banner of Truth, 1981).

These two books provide biographical sketches of various faithful men and women from Christian history.


·         Irene Howat, Ten Girls Who Changed the World (Christian Focus, 2002) and Ten Boys Who Changed the World (Christians Focus 2003).

These books also offer brief biographical sketches of various Christian heroes.  You can pick and choose which to read.


Personal Devotional Reading for Adults:


·         Anything in the Banner of Truth Puritan Paperback Series.

This series offers shorter titles and selections (sometimes abridged or modernized) from various Puritans.  Good books to start with:  Thomas Watson, Repentance; Thomas Watson, All Things for Good; John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence; Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin; Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed.


·         John Charles Ryle, Holiness (first published in 1879; Evangelical Press, 1979).

This book offers a compelling collection of articles from the Reformed and evangelical Anglican bishop on the topic of practical sanctification.


·         William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (first published in 1655; Banner of Truth edition, 1991).

This is a Puritan classic on spiritual warfare.  I recommend the three volume modernized and abridged version published by Banner of Truth.  Get volume one, read a few paragraphs each day, and be richly rewarded.


·         Anything in the Great Christian Classics series from Grace Publications.

These are simplified and abridged versions of spiritual classics.  Start with Joseph Alleine’s Wake Up and Live (a version of An Alarm to the Unconverted) or John Owen’s Gospel Church Government (a version of The True Nature of a Gospel Church).  Note:  I have an obvious bias for the latter selection.


·         John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (various publishers).

There’s a reason it’s a classic.  Get a cheap paperback copy (I recommend the version published by Whitaker House, 1973, 1981).  If it seems too long, just commit to reading Part One which covers Christian’s journey to the Celestial City.


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Stylos Update.1.3.13

The Stylos blog turns 7 years old this month.  Yes, that's right, it started in January 2006.  Back then blogs were pretty cutting edge.  With today's micro-blogging via Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media (all of which I have intentionally opted not to participate in), however, I suppose blogs like this one have a Dinosaur type feel to them.
Nevertheless, this is the 1,529th Stylos blog post.  There have now been c. 160,000 total page views with about 6,000-7,000 per month and over 200 per day. 
Stylos definitely provides a chronicle of how some of my views have developed over the past years and how some have stayed exactly the same.
I recently began contemplating pulling the plug on Stylos.  I was considering this for several reasons, all primarily having to do with a lack of time.  With pastoring a church, being a father and husband, trying to edit the RBT, and doing various and sundry other jobs and tasks (including teaching two college courses this upcoming semester--one of which I have not taught before and for which I will be preparing new lecture material), I did not think I would have time to write anything interesting or worthy of posting (and I did not want to just fill it with links to other things, because, among other concerns, this might simply promote mindless time-wasting via web surfing).  I also have wanted to focus the time that I do have for writing into some projects that I have put on the back burner for a while (e. g., I am working on another John Owen project and have been stuck at about half-way finished for the last six months).
Instead of pulling the plug completely, however, I have decided to begin making limited posts for a while.  DV, I am going to try posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays (with the Thursday post being my pastoral article from The Vision), with perhaps an occassional extra post thrown in from time to time.
With gratitude, JTR 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012: Top Ten Books

Image:  View of one of my newly built basement bookshelves.
It’s time for my annual reading review.  You can also read past reviews for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Here are ten of my top reads for 2012 (in no particular order):

1.      Malcolm Watts, What is a Reformed Church? (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011):  164 pp.

This book provides a brief, concise introduction to the distinctive beliefs and practices of a Reformed church.  It is both clear and charitable and has been a good book to pass on to visitors and inquirers to our church.  It was especially nice to read after meeting Pastor Watts in person and having him preach at CRBC in September 2011.    

2.      Michael Horton, The Christian Faith:  A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan, 2011):  1052 pp.

Though I did not always agree with his method or conclusions, I profited from reading this weighty systematic theology from a distinctively Reformed perspective.

3.     Michael L. Brown, A Queer Thing Happened to America:  And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (Equaltime Books, 2011):  689 pp.

This book by apologist Michael Brown offers a compelling and well-documented review and analysis of advocacy for acceptance of homosexual practice in American and Western culture.  What is amazing is how much further things have developed in the single year since this book was published. 

4.     Various authors, Sermons of the Great Ejection (orig. 1662, 1663; Banner of Truth, 1962, 2012):  276 pp.

Reprinted this year by Banner on the 350th anniversary of “The Great Ejection,” this book provides an anthology of sermons from various Puritan Pastors who were forced from their pulpits due to conscience. 

5.     Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith (Crown & Covenant, 2012):  154 pp.

This author of this book, a former professor at Syracuse University, tells the story of her unlikely conversion to Christ through the faithful witness of a Reformed pastor and his church and the not always smooth process of sanctification that has taken place in her life.

6.     Robert B. Strimple, The Modern Search for the Real Jesus:  An Introductory Survey of the Historical Roots of Gospel Criticism (P & R, 1995):  161 pp.

This book offers an insightful survey of modern historical-critical Life of Jesus research from a conservative, evangelical perspective.

7.     Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (orig., 1906; Macmillan, 1968):  413 pp.

I finally had the chance to give this classic of New Testament scholarship a close reading in preparation for teaching a class on “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” in the Spring.  Though a translation from the German original which covers detailed and technical topics, this work held my interest with its wit, penetrating insights, aphoristic expressions, and often biting sarcasm.  I totally disagree with Schweitzer’s conclusions but am in awe of his accomplishment.

8.     Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau:  Restless Genius (Mariner Books, 2005, 2007):  566 pp.

One of my interests this year was learning more about the Enlightenment.  To that end, I enjoyed reading this biography of Rousseau.  What a man of contradictions.  He writes classic works on education but abandons his own children to the orphanage! 
9.     John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence (orig. 1678; Banner of Truth, 1963):  221 pp.

You can’t go wrong with reading a Puritan paperback!  Flavel’s writing style in this book rivals Thomas Watson in its ease of access.  I found his thoughts on God’s providential care extremely encouraging.

10.     David Murray, How Sermons Work (Evangelical Press, 2011):  160 pp.

This is a creative and practical “how to” book on preaching that I found a stimulating help in sermon preparation.

Other notable reads in 2012:

Puritans:  Harvey Wish, Ed., The Diary of Samuel Sewell (Capricorn Books, 1967);  John Bunyan, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (orig., 1680; Echo Library, 2007); Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (orig., 1692; Banner of Truth, 1997).

Modern Life of Jesus Studies:  Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Fortress, 1975); Harry Emerson Fosdick, Jesus of Nazareth (Landmark, Random House, 1959); Martin Kahler, The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ (orig., 1896; Fortress, 1964); John A. T. Robinson, Honest to God (Westminster Press, 1963); Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity? (Harper and Row, 1957); James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, Eds., The Historical Jesus:  Five Views (IVP Academic, 2009); Albert Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Holt, 1933, 1949).

Text and Translation Studies:  Jeffrey D. Johnson, Behind the Bible:  A Primer on Textual Criticism (Solid Ground, 2012); Philip Comfort, The Complete Guide to Bible Versions (Living Books, 1991); Hershel Shanks, et al., The Dead Sea Scrolls:  After Forty Years (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991, 1992); Graham A. Patrick, F. J. A. Hort:  Eminent Victorian (The Almond Press, 1988).

Philosophy:  Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City Publishing, 1926, 1927); Paul Strathern, Kant in 90 Minutes (Ivan R. Dee, 1996); Nathaniel Bluehorn and Hans Bluehorn, The Fallacy Detective (Christian Logic, 2003).

Bible Study:  James M. Boice, Romans, Vol. 4 (Baker, 1995); John Murray, Romans, Vol. 2 (Eerdmans, 1965); Bart D. Ehrman, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, Second Ed. (Oxford University Press, 2009); Archibald A. Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, Inspiration (orig., 1881; Baker 1979); Clark H. Pinnock, The Message of Galatians (Baker, 1972).

Biography and History:  Anthony Everitt, Cicero:  The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician (Random House, 2001); Bruce Bliven, The American Revolution: 1760-1783 (Landmark, Random House, 1958); Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy (Pilgrim, n. d.).

Evangelism Studies:  C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner (Pilgrim Publications, n.d.); David J. Engelsma, Evangelism and the Reformed Faith (Evangelism Committee of the Protestant Reformed Church, 1994); David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism & The Call of the Gospel, Revised Ed. (Reformed Free Publishing, 1994).

Theology and ministry:  Joel R. Beeke, Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding (Cruciform Press, 2011); W. Gary Crampton, Grant What Thou Commandest:  The Theology of Augustine of Hippo (, 2011); Timothy Nelson, The Head Covering:  What Saith the Scriptures?  (Mourne Missionary Trust, n. d.); Peter Jeffrey, Bitesize Theology:  An ABC of the Christian Faith (Evangelical Press, 2000); J. V. Fesko, What is Justification? (P & R, 2008).