Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 112 pages. 2019
The author, a respected pastor, writes that he wants to pray bigger, and better, and he wants his readers to enjoy praying like that too. To do that, we need to discover how to pray as the Apostle Paul did, which means we need to learn to believe what Paul did. Paul was a man who knew to whom he was praying. The author focuses on Paul’s prayers for his friends in the church in Ephesus, which he recounts to them in Ephesians 1: 15-23 and 3: 14-21. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians from prison. The truths that underpin and shape Paul’s prayers will motivate us to pray, and they will help us know what to say.
To pray is an admission and an expression of dependence. Real prayer is from a dependent person to a divine Person. Our conversation with others declares what is on our minds, but our conversation with God in private reveals what is in our hearts. Prayer reminds us who we are, and who our Father is. We come to a loving Father, but we do not come as his equal. The author mentions a few times that all that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most.
The book is organized around five great qualities for which Paul prays for his Ephesian brothers and sisters. They are:
- Pray for Focus
- Pray for Hope
- Pray for Riches
- Pray for Power
- Pray for Love
The author asks how might our prayer life be transformed if we used the headings of this book to shape our prayers.
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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…and reviews of
~ Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey
~ Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People by John MacArthur
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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We should pray for:
- The glory of God.
Pastor Begg quotes hymns throughout the book and ends each chapter with one of his own prayers. He writes that the reader might find it helpful to read one chapter of the book a week, and spend the rest of the week putting Paul’s divinely inspired wisdom into practice in your own prayers. Or, the reader could read it at the same time as a friend, and both commit to praying for each other in the ways the apostle lays out.
You can receive a free download of the book here from the Good Book Company during the month of April.
Here are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- When I read Paul’s prayers, I am always struck by the fact that many of the matters that are the focus of my prayers are absent in his. What is striking is the absence of material issues.
- When the eyes of our hearts are opened to our future, it changes our lives now—it reorders our priorities and our prayers. We pray less about the practical details of this life, and first and foremost about the spiritual realities of our eternal life.
- The most transformational thing you can do today is to look clearly at Christ with the eyes of your heart.
- The story of the Bible is the story of a God who seeks out people who are hiding from him.
- You are going to live forever. The only question is where.
- We know our best days are all ahead of us. We know that death isn’t the end of the best time of our life; it’s the start of it.
- We are richer than we realize. And one day in glory, we will be richer than we can even begin to imagine. We’ll be with God.
- When you come to the end of your power, that is where you find his.
- Christianity is about the work of the Spirit to call you, convert you, and change you.
- Small prayers betray a suspicion that we have a small God. We don’t. He is able to do immeasurably more than you can imagine.
Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey. Reformation Trust Publishing. 265 pages. 2019
This book, by a respected church historian, seminary president and professor, was written on the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, which took place in 1618-19. The synod was an international assembly of Reformed scholars who gathered to remedy the spreading infection of false teaching that undermined the gospel. A result of the synod was the canons, written as a specific response to the Arminian challenge against salvation by God’s grace alone—specifically, the objections to Reformed doctrine expressed in the five points of their Remonstrance. The author tells us that in the canons we find the Reformed doctrine of salvation focused to a point of intense and brilliant clarity.
The author tells us that studying the canons is much more that a historical exercise, rather, it is spiritually profitable for Christians and churches today. That is what I found as I read this book, which concentrates on the fundamentally religious convictions of the synod and the canons, which became the official teaching and sincere conviction of many churches and millions of Christians through the last four centuries.
The book is divided into three main parts:
Part I presents the historical and theological background to the synod.
Part II is the central part of the book, a new translation of the Canons of Dort. The author tells us that the canons were written for the church in a form designed to make them understandable for church members, and the new translation seeks to fulfill that aim.
Part III presents an analysis and exposition of the canons to help the reader understand the teaching of the canons. Although I enjoyed the entire book, I found this part to be the most interesting, as it helps to clearly show the differences between Arminian and Reformed theology.
In addition, the book contains five appendices:
Appendix 1: Arminius: A New Look (the lengthiest of the appendices)
Appendix 2: General Pattern in Each Head of Doctrine
Appendix 3: An Outline of the Canons of Dort
Appendix 4: Relation of the Positive Articles of the Canons to the Rejection of Errors
Appendix 5: A New Translation of the Doctrinal Statement by the Synod of Dort on the Sabbath
The author tells us that for the background to this theological difference that would lead to the Synod of Dort, we must look to the life and work of one minister in particular, Jacobus (James) Arminius (1559–1609). He would become a symbol of the rejection of Calvinist orthodoxy, and his name became attached to various anti-Calvinist theologies. Those ministers influenced by Arminius at the time of his death recognized that their positions in the church were precarious. They prepared an appeal or petition to the civil government. They stated their theological positions and requested that the government ensure their toleration in the church. This petition—called a “remonstrance”—came to be known as the Remonstrance of 1610. Those who signed the petition and supported it came to be called the Remonstrants. At the heart of the Remonstrance was a five-point summary of the doctrinal views that the Remonstrants wanted protected. In 1610, the five points of Arminianism were articulated. The Calvinists would claim that the five points of the Remonstrants reject the clear teaching of the Bible. The Synod of Dort would respond point by point to the Arminians, giving the world “the five points of Calvinism”. At the Synod of Dort, which convened on November 13, 1618, in the city of Dordrecht, the Calvinists would lay out the biblical truth on these matters, show their biblical fullness, and make clear the truly edifying nature of genuine Reformed Christianity. The author tells us that the great goals and the real accomplishments of the Synod of Dort were to declare and defend the truth, to provide comfort for the souls of Christians, and to ensure the peace and blessing of the churches. He tells us that the synod succeeded to a remarkable degree.
The author states that the Synod of Dort accomplished what it set out to do. It articulated and protected the Reformed understanding of the Bible recovered in the Reformation. It rejected the Arminian challenge to Calvinism. It saved the Reformation by clarifying and buttressing key elements of sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and sola Scriptura, all under the rubric soli Deo gloria. He writes that the essence of the Reformation was the recovery of biblical religion. And that is what the Synod of Dort helped to save. The author tells us that Synod of Dort reminds us, however, that Reformed Christianity, and biblical Christianity, is much more than theology. Christian piety and the life of the church are central to it.
Below are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- For Calvinists, God chooses individuals to salvation; for Arminians, He chooses qualifications for salvation that individuals must meet.
- By its own inherent logic, the Arminian teaching on the atonement necessarily leads to universalism, however much Arminians try to deny that.
- God is always good and just in all His dealings with mankind.
- The doctrine of reprobation should not terrify the spiritually concerned but should terrify those who are completely indifferent spiritually.
- Perhaps the most distinctive Reformed doctrine is that the Christian can not only know that he is in a present state of salvation but can know that he is elect and will persevere in faith to the end.
- Christ is the full and complete Savior both in the earning and in the giving of salvation. The sinner contributes nothing to salvation except his sin. All the grace that we have is purely and entirely a gift from God.
- God’s true character is revealed in both His mercy and His judgment.
- The power to regenerate the heart of a sinner is as exclusively God’s as was His work to create out of nothing at the beginning or to raise the dead back to life. This work is amazing and should be the source of great and humble praise.
- Sinners have no freedom to choose God. God must choose and act for them.
- The assurance of salvation—now and forever—is one of the great blessings of the Christian life.
Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People by John MacArthur. Crossway. 80 pages. 2020
This short book, written by a trusted pastor, is to encourage pastors to pursue the goal of the sanctification of God’s people. The goal of sanctification is not merely to make us appear holy, but to make us truly and thoroughly Christlike. An unsanctified life is the mark of an unbeliever.
Christ’s passion for his people’s sanctification sets the compass for a sound, biblical philosophy of ministry. The author tells us that this is a priority every competent, biblically qualified church leader will embrace, and that a godly pastor can be satisfied with nothing less than the sanctification of his people.
The author uses a few primary scriptural texts in the book, including Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, which was a fierce defense of faith alone as the sole instrument of justification, the principle of sola fide. The doctrine of justification is not only essential to a right understanding of the gospel; it is the doctrine that ties all other cardinal truths together. He tells us that for Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith is a powerful incentive to holiness.
Paul had two primary concerns in Galatians. First, he was deeply troubled that they were so easily being seduced away from the clarity and simplicity of the true gospel. Second, he was profoundly concerned for their sanctification. Paul saw his task clearly. His role was to participate in leading believers to Christlikeness. That is what he was most passionate about. That was his passion, and that was his purpose—the sanctification of the redeemed whom God had entrusted to his care.
The author then looks at the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17. He tells us that the entire prayer reflects the priority of sanctification as Christ’s will for his people.
The author addresses what has become known as the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement. His concern is that the movement as a whole has stressed and overstated the principle of Christian liberty without the necessary balance. True Christian liberty means deliverance from sin’s bondage and the law’s condemnation, not freedom from the law’s moral precepts. He writes that we should certainly proclaim and emphatically affirm the gospel’s indicatives. However, when the subject is sanctification, the Bible is full of imperatives.
The author tells us that unlike so many today, Paul did not shy away from speaking of sanctification or growth in grace as a duty. Sanctification was Paul’s central concern for the Christians of Galatia. He was as earnestly intent on leading them to mature Christlikeness as he had been to bring them to faith in the beginning. The author tells us that sadly, maturity seems to be in rare supply in churches today. He writes that we need to move past the young-and-restless stage. Immaturity and instability are hindrances to spiritual fruitfulness, not virtues. Real holiness makes a person steadfast and mature.
He offers a critique of many churches today, stating that rarely do you hear any popular preachers urge their people to be separate from the world, to deny fleshly desires, or to mortify sin and selfishness. Rather, preaching is designed to make people feel good about the way they are and to assure them that God likes them that way. But he tells us that there is a remnant of faithful churches with faithful ministers—godly shepherds who lead their flocks away from the world, away from self-interest, away from the fulfillment of their own desires.
He tells us how we got to this point where the focus of the message is personal satisfaction rather than Spirit-empowered sanctification. He writes about a heretical view of sanctification that perfectly fits with such a pragmatic church-growth strategy – antinomianism. Antinomianism starts with a denial that the moral precepts of God’s law remain obligatory as a rule of life for Christians. It therefore creates a radical disjunction between behavior and belief, and it erroneously uncouples sanctification from justification. The author tells us that antinomianism implies that the moral demands of God’s law are malleable, or that they are optional, or that they have been abrogated. He also writes that Antinomians abuse the principle of substitutionary atonement. The Antinomian stakes his claim on that doctrine and reasons that he therefore does not need to be troubled about his own lack of obedience. He tells us that antinomianism and legalism are two sides of the same coin, and that both legalism and antinomianism are hostile to the Spirit’s work in sanctification.
He also addresses the subject of God’s grace, telling us that the same grace that saves sinners from the penalty of their sin also instructs them in holiness.
This short book is to encourage pastors in the sanctification of those they shepherd, emphasizing that a godly pastor can be satisfied with nothing less than the sanctification of his people.
- John Lennox on Where to Find God During COVID-19. On this episode of the Gospelbound podcast, Colin Hansen visits with John Lennox about his new book Where is God in a Coronavirus World?
- New Albert Mohler Book. Albert Mohler’s forthcoming book (will be published June 2), is The Gathering Storm. Watch this short video in which he describes what the book is about. Find out how to pre-order the book and get the first three chapters of the book now. I’m really looking forward to this one.
- New Tim Challies Book and Documentary. Tim Challies recently released Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History, his book and documentary project. You can watch an entire episode of the documentary free, episode 8, which follows Challies to India.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us? Here are a few takeaways from Chapter 9: He Condemns a Hardened Heart.
- No one who denies God should be deceived into thinking that because he once professed faith in Christ, he is eternally secure
- True believers will persevere. Professing Christians who turn against the Lord only prove that they were never truly saved.
- Judas and his life of treachery stand as a solemn warning to anyone who casually professes faith in Christ.
- One may “accept” Him and still fall short. The individual who responds positively but not wholeheartedly risks being lost and damned forever.
- The disciples’ denial was a lapse of normally faithful behavior; Judas’s sin manifested an utterly depraved soul.
- The mark of a true disciple is not that he never sins, but rather that when he does sin, he inevitably returns to the Lord to receive cleansing and forgiveness.
- Unlike a false disciple, the true disciple will never turn away completely.
- I fear there are multitudes like Judas in the contemporary church. They are friendly to Jesus. They look and talk like disciples. But they are not committed to Him and are therefore capable of the worst kind of betrayal.
- Inevitably, true disciples will falter, but when they fall into sin, they will seek cleansing.