March 19, 2015

A Book That Has the Skin of a Mole and the Bite of a Lion

I got given this cheeky little 126-page number this week by a visiting American. I didn’t know him all that well prior to his visit but I grew to like the big fella by the time he left. He has also made a friend of my girls for life after coming armed with Pretzel M & M’s. Anyway, it turns out that Anthony is a bit of a Banner of Truth boy with a love of all things Puritan in the old literature department.

As regular readers know, I love my books and I love talking to others who love them too. I especially like talking to visitors who quote Flavel at will and are walking theological compendiums when it comes to historical theology and doctrinal greats.

It turns out that he was the editor (and publisher I think) of today’s book up for review. First things first. The book feels like the skin of a mole. (Not that I have ever felt the skin of a mole, but I imagine it to be smooth with just a hint of fuzz). I don’t know what paper it is printed on, but it feels like the business. So, if you’re a person who likes to stroke books, then this could be a winner! (I tried to find a posh word for it on Google but I think it just comes under weirdo)!

I know, I know—the book man! Let’s start with my issues straight off the bat. This is the sort of literature, even with good editing and updating, that still feels antiquated. It assumes a high degree of literacy and, therefore, will probably not get the airing it deserves within the demographic we are largely trying to reach. It is certainly beyond most of my guys in terms of an evangelistic tract. Most wouldn’t make it past the first few pages I am afraid to say. They just wouldn’t be able to cope with the style and the high vocabulary.

However, the book itself easily falls within the ‘my cup of tea’ spectrum. It also fits snugly within the ‘right up my alley’ category, too. It is a deeply challenging and straightforward piece of work. In fact, I am not sure if it’s less anxious inquirer and more lukewarm believer. Regardless, the book is full of dire warnings for those that think following Jesus requires no or little discipline. It is wonderfully quotable in parts:

“You may easily believe that the infant will grow without food as you will grow in the knowledge of grace without the scriptures.” (p.14)

When was the last time you read this in a self-styled evangelistic book?

“Unless you repent, my reader, you will perish - perish body and soul in the bottomless pit, and perish everlastingly!” (p.43)

Absolute gold! In fact, it is the chapters toward the end that this book really comes into its own. We are cautioned against making many mistakes in the Christian life. Two stand out.

  1. Thinking of knowledge and partial reformation as genuine conversion. Everything in our life MUST change—being born again means exactly that. We must be on guard against false professions and false assurances of faith.
  2. Overanalysing ourselves and our hearts. We must look to Christ’s perfection and not wallow in our own sinful failings. We can be guilty of taking sin lightly or taking it to the other extreme. The answer is always to look to the Saviour.

The chapter concerning discouragements stands the test of time very well. Finally, the bloke ends with a series of cautions. Again, some memorable ones that I have decoded and restated:

  1. Don’t trust any religious sacrament except the cross of Jesus to save you from your sins.
  2. Don’t get cocky once you start to gain a bit of knowledge. Don’t pick fights over secondary issues or try to show off in debates.
  3. Don’t hop about from church to church. Stay where you are even once the novelty has worn off. Dig in.
  4. Don’t freak out when others turn back from the faith. Keep going.

So, who is this book for? As I have said, it’s much too wordy for many of my people. However, it ought to be read by any and all mature Christians as a timely reminder of the seriousness of our Christian faith. If you’re a seminary student looking for a doctrinally deep and practical theology of conversion, then this is worth buying. If you are an evangelist at heart, then it is worth a read because it nails the lie that Calvinism somehow kills the missionary heart. It feels soft and fuzzy but, I promise you, this one has the bite of a wild lion.

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