Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 296 pages. 2017
****

The author is one of our best current biographers having written major works on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as well as shorter biographical works. In this book he aims to separate the facts from the myths about the great Reformer’s story, as he looks at Luther “warts and all”. Assuming that most are familiar with the main points of Luther’s life, I’ll focus on unique aspects of Luther’s story that this book offers.
The first myth he addresses is that Luther’s family were humble peasants. In reality, he writes, Luther’s father was a miner. Another myth that the author dispels is that Luther’s father was harsh, strict and severe.
The author writes that others (Wycliffe and Huss, for example), sought to reform the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther, though few remember much about those early Reformers, compared to what we know about Luther.
The author as is his custom, fully embraces his subject giving us a detailed life of Luther. However, much of what he dispels as myth, I’ve learned from Luther scholars such as R.C. Sproul, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves and Roland Bainton.
As a monk, Luther dealt with the issue of how are we to be forgiven of our sins. A 1,600-mile round-trip to Rome was key for Luther. There he wondered “Who knows if it is true?” There he saw the immorality of the priests, with them doing masses in as little as 9 minutes.
Metaxas gives us a different take on Luther’s famous breakthrough about justification by faith in Romans 1:17. Basing his speculation on Luther’s own words, the author speculates he may have had this breakthrough while sitting on the toilet.
The author also speculates that perhaps Luther actually didn’t nail his famous “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Church door after all, but that this was posted by a custodian.
At the Diet of Worms Luther was asked to recant his writings. After asking for time to consider the request he delivered his response the following day in both German and Latin. His response included his famous “Here I stand” and appealed to his conscience. The author tells us that conscience in Luther’s time did not mean what it means today (appeal to our own truth). Instead, it meant appealing to God’s truth.
Another myth that the author dispels is Luther’s famous throwing of an inkwell at the Devil. The author indicates that event never happened.
Luther, a former priest and monk, would marry Katie, a former nun. The story of the escaped nuns being smuggled in fish barrels is a myth, according to the author. Luther grew to deeply love Katie, and would sadly lose two daughters to death. The author states that he valued women more than most men at that time.
The author highlights conscience, dissent and freedom as he discusses Luther’s legacy. The book includes some adult language; most, if not all, from Luther’s writings. The audiobook version is well-read by the author, who brings his characteristic wit to the task. Continue reading

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Good Summer Reads

good summer reads

If You Can Keep ItIf You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 272 pages. 2016
***

The author, one of my favorites, writes of the promise of liberty for the new nation as was laid out in the Constitution. He states that although the current situation in America is grave (more about that at the end of my review), much of the promise has already been fulfilled.

The book title comes from a quote from Benjamin Franklin. In response to a woman about what kind of nation the Founders had given the American people, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it”.  Metaxas asks if we can keep it and if so, how?

He writes that America was founded on the idea of liberty, and that America exists for others. Its mission is to the rest of the world.  Our exceptionalism is for others. He writes that the concept of self-government was a new idea.

Metaxas writes of the “Golden Triangle of Freedom”, a concept that Os Guinness (to whom the book is dedicated), developed in his book A Free People’s Suicide. This is the concept that Freedom requires Virtue; Virtue requires Faith; and Faith requires Freedom.

Metaxas writes that America’s Founders knew that communities that took their faith seriously tended to be virtuous in the way that self-government required.  Faith in turn requires freedom, because unless people are free to practice whatever faith they choose, that faith is coerced by the state, and therefore not real faith at all. He writes that unfortunately, as a nation, we have largely forgotten the ideas on which our country was founded upon.

He writes about what it means to be an American, and that most people wrongly understand the concept known as the separation of church and state, and also believe that it is in the Constitution, which it is not.

He writes about the role of British preacher/evangelist George Whitefield in forming America,  a fact that was new to me. He indicates that Whitefield showed that different denominations could co-exist in the new country. Whitefield taught that each person was equal in the sight of God, and that each person could have a direct relationship with God through the new birth. Metaxas writes that some call Whitefield the “Spiritual Father of the United States”.

Throughout the book Metaxas writes of heroes such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.  He states that in the past fifty years, we have moved to the veneration of heroes in America to the suspicion of them.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

BOOK REVIEW:

7 Women by Eric Metaxas7 Women: And The Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. Thomas Nelson. 218 pages. 2015.
****

Over the past few years Eric Metaxas has become one of my favorite authors with major biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Miracles and 7 Men. He’s an excellent writer overall, and he seems particularly excellent at telling the stories of people, or biographies.

This book is similar to 7 Men, this time Metaxas writing short biographies of seven woman from history. He looks at their successes and weaknesses, their motivations, and the heart of their missions. He puts the seven women he chooses to profile, some more well-known than others, in chronological order as he did the seven men in 7 Men.

Here briefly are a few thoughts about each of the women he profiles:

Joan of Arc

I wasn’t very familiar with her story. She was never taught to read or write, but was devoted to God. She received messages from angels, demonstrating that she knew things nobody else knew. She prophesized, worked miracles, led a French army against the English, was captured, put on trial and burned at the stake. She was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.

Susanna Wesley

Susanna was the mother of the famous John and Charles, and is considered the Mother of Methodism. She was the daughter and the wife of a pastor. She married Samuel, who it turns out she had little in common with, but who would leave her in financial problems for most of her life. She would birth nineteen children and educate those who survived. She twice endured the loss of her home by fire, and caused a stir when she read her father’s and husband’s sermons.

Hannah Moore

Hannah Moore is a favorite of Metaxas, who first wrote about her in his biography of William Wilberforce, whom she helped with the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. Metaxas writes that her role in these movements cannot be underestimated. She was a playwright, and was friends with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, the latter of which would publish her works for 40 years. She was a part of the high society in London who changed when she came to a deeper faith. One of John Newton’s books was important in bringing her to that faith, and she would later become friends with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday Metaxas wrote a full-length biography of Moore.

Saint Maria of Paris

I was not at all familiar with this woman from history. Metaxas begins by mentioning several parallels she had with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Maria wrote poems and was married and divorced twice, having three children. When she came to a deeper faith she felt God’s calling her to the poor and outcast. She demonstrated humility and brought the caring of a mother to this new calling. At the same time, her writing took on a change. She became a nun and started a home for Russian emigrants in Paris. She was an unorthodox and controversial nun in her dress and the fact that she smoked. Mary died a martyr in prison and became a saint in the Orthodox Church in 2004, along with her companions Priest Dmitri Klepinin, her son George and Elie Fondaminsky.

Corrie Ten BoomCorrie Ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom’s story is more well-known, from the book and later film The Hiding Place. Corrie, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. She, her father and sister Betsy were imprisoned for their actions. Her father died after just ten days in prison. Corrie and Betsy were in the concentration camp for about two years, with her sister dying toward the end of that time. They saw God’s protection of their ministry many times during their imprisonment. Corrie was mistakenly released from the camp and would eventually travel the world for three decades telling her family’s story and God’s forgiveness. She would die in 1983 at age 91.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is considered the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. Faith and the church were at the center of her family’s life as she grew up. Unfortunately, they experienced racism as well. Rosa would use scripture verses to comfort and protect her. She would marry Raymond, a member of the NAACP. When she was 42 years old, Rosa would become a key figure in the civil rights movement in the 1955 stand against the segregated bus rule in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus driver was James Blake, who had put her off his bus 12 years earlier. She was arrested, found guilty, ordered to pay a fine and lost her job. The resulting boycott of city buses was successful however, lasting 381 days. Rosa would have to move to Detroit due to many death threats. Many honors would come to her later in life. She died in 2005 at age 92.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born 1910. Her father died early. When she was 12 she felt God was calling her to a religious life. She left home at age 18, never to see her mother again. She took a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience in 1937. She then felt God’s call to leave the convent and live among the poor in Calcutta, where she would form the Missionaries of Charity Order. At the time of her death, there were more than 4,000 nuns in the order, along with others in related organizations she founded. Metaxas writes of her boldly speaking against the evils of abortion when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., in front of the noticeably uncomfortable Clintons and Gores.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written book and can’t wait for further volumes in what I hope becomes a series.

Book News

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at

Chapter 9: Blessed are the Merciful

  • Our Lord is depicting and delineating the Christian man and the Christian character. He is obviously searching us and testing us, and it is good that we should realize that, if we take the Beatitudes as a whole, it is a kind of general test to which we are being subjected. How are we reacting to these searching tests and probings? They really tell us everything about our Christian profession.
  • The Christian gospel places all its primary emphasis upon being, rather than doing. The gospel puts a greater weight upon our attitude than upon our actions.
  • A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christian before we can act as Christians.
  • Being is more important than doing, attitude is more significant than action. Primarily it is our essential character that matters.
  • We are not meant to control our Christianity; our Christianity is rather meant to control us.
  • The particular question here is: Are we merciful?
  • It does not mean that we should be `easy-going’, as we put it.
  • The merciful person, many people think, is one who smiles at transgression and law breaking.
  • What is mercy? I think perhaps the best way of approaching it is to compare it with grace. The best definition of the two that I have ever encountered is this: `Grace is especially associated with men in their sins; mercy is especially associated with men in their misery.’ In other words, while grace looks down upon sin as a whole, mercy looks especially upon the miserable consequences of sin. So that mercy really means a sense of pity plus a desire to relieve the suffering. That is the essential meaning of being merciful; it is pity plus the action. So the Christian has a feeling of pity. His concern about the misery of men and women leads to an anxiety to relieve it.
  • The great New Testament illustration of being merciful is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • The perfect and central example of mercy and being merciful is the sending by God of His only begotten Son into this world, and the coming of the Son.
  • Our Lord is really saying that I am only truly forgiven when I am truly repentant. To be truly repentant means that I realize I deserve nothing but punishment, and that if I am forgiven it is to be attributed entirely to the love of God and to His mercy and grace, and to nothing else at all. But I go further; it means this. If I am truly repentant and realize my position before God, and realize that I am only forgiven in that way, then of necessity I shall forgive those who trespass against me.
  • I have taken the trouble to point out in each case how every one of these Beatitudes follows the previous one. This principle was never more important than it is here.
  • We are to feel a sense of sorrow for all who are helpless slaves of sin. That is to be our attitude towards people.
  • If I know that I am a debtor to mercy alone, if I know that I am a Christian solely because of that free grace of God, there should be no pride left in me, there should be nothing vindictive, there should be no insisting upon my rights. Rather, as I look out upon others, if there is anything in them that is unworthy, or that is a manifestation of sin, I should have this great sorrow for them in my heart.
  • If you are not forgiving your brother, you can ask God for forgiveness, but you will have no confidence in your prayer, and your prayer will not be answered. That is what this Beatitude says.
  • For the one condition of forgiveness is repentance. Repentance means, among other things, that I realize that I have no claim upon God at all, and that it is only His grace and mercy that forgive.
  • I am simply asking this. Are you merciful? Are you sorry for every sinner even though that sinner offends you? Have you pity upon all who are the victims and the dupes of the world and the flesh and the devil? That is the test. `Blessed-happy-are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’

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Book Reviews and News

Book Reviews

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. HarperOne. 320 pages. 2007. Audiobook read by Johnny Heller.
****

Amazing Grace - Eric MetaxasEric Metaxas is one of my favorite authors. Of the four books of his that I have read, three have been biographies. His 2013 book Seven Men: And Their Secrets of Greatness features a much shorter biography of Wilberforce than provided here. This book was the official tie-in book to the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which was made to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s anti-slave trade legislation.

This book tells the amazing story of the man who was responsible for first the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and ultimately the abolishment of slavery there altogether. Metaxas tells Wilberforce’s story weaving in a number of characters such as John Newton (who would see him as a son), John Wesley, Henry Thornton (his cousin and closest friend), William Pitt (who would become the youngest Prime Minister at 24 years of age), Granville Sharp, Charles Middleton, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah Moore (a popular writer), and many, many more.

Wilberforce changed history, but is largely forgotten today. Metaxas gives us a detailed look at the life of who he refers to as perhaps the greatest social reformer the world has known. At the height of his political career, God would get ahold of Wilberforce and change his life.

Wilberforce began his political career in 1780 when he was elected to Parliament at age 21. His social standing improved, resulting in him being invited to many social clubs, where he would show off his excellent singing voice and enjoy drinking and dancing. Wilberforce would later look at these years as years he wasted. He would use his powerful voice to become a great orator.

Wilberforce went through a gradual conversion experience, much like Augustine, rather than the sudden conversion of the Apostle Paul. Thinking that he needed to go into full-time Christian ministry, Wilberforce felt he would need to leave politics. But John Newton and William Pitt would encourage him to stay in Parliament and use his influence to do good, which he agreed to do.

After being born again, he would have new attitudes about money and time. He resigned from all five of the social clubs he belonged to. He returned to Methodism to the chagrin of his mother.

Wilberforce’s focus would become twofold: the suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (habits or attitudes). British society at that time was vulgar and violent. Twenty-five percent of the unmarried women were involved in prostitution. Wilberforce wished to bring self-respect and civility into the society.

Wilberforce would come to the point where he felt that abolition was the cause God was calling him to devote his life to. His work to abolish the slave trade would take 26 years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. During this time he would receive many death threats.

In 1797 Wilberforce would publish a book on the Christian faith and the state of what it was in British society. The 37 year old Wilberforce would meet 20 year old Barbara Spooner, 20 and newly serious about religion. They were married less than a month after meeting and would go on to have six children.

Wilberforce stood only 5’3”, and suffered from lifelong stomach problems, resulting in him using opium much of his adult life.  His deteriorating health (eyesight, curvature of the spine, etc.), would lead him to appoint Thomas Buxton to take the lead in the emancipation fight. Wilberforce announced his retirement in 1825.

Among Wilberforce’s many other accomplishments was leading the crusade against cruelty to animals, British missionary work in India and the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone. Wilberforce would give away much money over his lifetime – to help the poor, etc. At the end of his life he was nearly destitute. He and Barbara would end his life without a home of his own, living with their sons, both ministers.

Emancipation was finally approved just three days before Wilberforce’s death with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. A year later 800,000 slaves would be freed as a result.

I encourage you to read this well-written book about the little man who has made such a big difference in history.

BOOK NEWS:

  • New Rosaria Butterfield Book. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ will be released July 1. You can pre-order now.
  • A Martyn Lloyd-Jones Reading Guide. Jeff Robinson provides a helpful guide to reading various collections of Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons and other books about his life and ministry.
  • Galatians: Selections from Martin Luther. R.J. Grunewald announces the launch of a new eBook that he’s been designing and editing in order to share for free with the world – Galatians: Selections from Martin Luther.
  • 125 Free Christian e-books. Check out this excellent selection of free e-books, including several from John Piper and R.C. Sproul.

 Reading Together Week 6

Counter Culture by David PlattCounter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m reviewing the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 6: A Profound Mystery: The Gospel and Marriage

  • Census figures project that nearly half of all first marriages will end in divorce and that’s if men and women even decide to marry. The number of cohabiting couples in our culture has nearly quadrupled over the last thirty years as more and more singles postpone or put aside marriage altogether.
  • Behold the beauty of God’s design for man, woman, and marriage. Two dignified people, both molded in the image of their Maker.
  • Two diverse people, uniquely designed to complement each other. A male and a female fashioned by God to form one flesh, a physical bond between two bodies where the deepest point of union is found at the greatest point of difference. A matrimony marked by unity in diversity, equality with variety, and personal satisfaction through shared consummation.
  • God created the marriage relationship to point to a greater reality. From the moment marriage was instituted, God aimed to give the world an illustration of the gospel.
  • Marriage, according to Ephesians 5, pictures Christ and the church.
  • God designs husbands to be a reflection of Christ’s love for the church in the way they relate to their wives, and God designs wives to be a reflection of the church’s love for Christ in the way they relate to their husbands.
  • One of the effects of sin in Genesis 3 is the tendency for a man to rule his wife in a forceful and oppressive way that denigrates woman’s equal dignity with him.
  • One of the primary reasons why submission and headship are such unpopular and uncomfortable terms for us today—because we’ve seen the dangerous ways these ideas have been exploited.
  • Husbands, love your wives not because of who they are, but because of who Christ is. He loves them deeply, and our responsibility is to reflect his love.
  • Husbands, realize what is at stake here: you and I are representing Christ to a watching world in the way we love our wives.
  • What pictures are our marriages giving to our culture about Christ’s relationship with his church?
  • God’s Word is subtly yet clearly pointing out that God has created women with a unique need to be loved and men with a unique need to be respected.
  • Wives, see yourselves in a complementary, not competitive, relationship with your husband. Yield to leadership in love, knowing that you are representing the church’s relationship to Christ. If you disrespect your husband, you show the world that the church has no respect for Christ.
  • If you are single, for the sake of the gospel, don’t sleep around with any man or woman who is not your husband or wife.
  • All of this is good for us. It is good for husbands to lay down their lives for their wives, and in losing their lives, to find them, just as Jesus promised (see Matthew 10:38-39). Moreover, it is good for wives to receive this love and respect their husbands. I have yet to meet a wife who didn’t want to follow a husband who was sacrificially loving and serving her. Finally, it is good for a single man and a single woman to join together in a supernatural union that God designed to satisfy them both. Yet as long as they remain single (which may be their entire lives, as it was for Christ and has been for many Christians throughout history), it is good to maximize such singleness through purity before God and with a passion to spread the gospel.
  • For these reasons, it is altogether right to be grieved about the redefinition of marriage in our culture. So-called “same-sex marriage” is now recognized as a legitimate entity in the eyes of our government. Such a designation by a government, however, does not change the definition God has established. The only true marriage in God’s eyes remains the exclusive, permanent union of a man and a woman, even as our Supreme Court and state legislatures deliberately defy this reality. Without question, we are living in momentous days—momentous in devastating ways.
  • Ultimately, we do not look to any court or government to define marriage. God has already done that, and his definition cannot be eradicated by a vote of legislators or the opinions of Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Judge of creation has already defined this term once and for all.

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