Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

interpreting the general lettersThe “General Letters” of the New Testament are often the neglected “step-child” of the 27, especially in comparison to the letters of Paul and the Gospels. Sure, they are referred to and quoted often (especially Hebrews and James), but it is much rarer (in my experience) to hear an exegetical sermon series through one of these books as opposed to the plethora of series on the Pauline letters. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because some of the books are seen as insignificant (though that would never be said audibly). Perhaps others are difficult to understand and interpret, such as Hebrews. Sure, they’re easy to quote from to make a point, but much more difficult to exegete and preach verse by verse. Perhaps others are just neglected, not for any particular reason, but are just simply forgotten about (First and Second Peter, for example).

Regardless of the reason, a new book by Herbert Bateman in the series, “Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis,” will at least help the pastor and/or teacher with the task of interpreting these general letters, and will provide him with greater confidence to teach these books verse by verse. The book is called, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, and deals with the NT books of Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, 1-3 John, & Jude.

The book offers a step-by-step process of interpreting, analyzing, and communicating the general letters. The first 3 chapters deal with some introductory issues, such as understanding the genre, background, and theology of these letters. After setting the groundwork with these chapters, the author moves into the actual task of preparing to interpret the letters in chapters 4 and 5. These chapters deal with issues such as translations, potential textual variants, Greek syntax and word studies, and the overall structure and outline of the general letters. Finally, chapters 6 and 7 focus on moving from academic exegesis to faithfully and clearly communicating these letters in the context of a church, Bible study, classroom, etc. There are very helpful sections in these chapters on communicating the clear idea of the passage, as well as some samples where the author goes through his 9 steps of interpretation in 2 different passages — Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25.

The 9 steps that the author proposes for interpreting the general letters are:

  • Step One: Initiate a Translation
  • Step Two: Identify Interpretive issues
  • Step Three: Isolate Major Textual Problems
  • Step Four: Interpreting Structure
  • Step Five: Interpreting Style, Syntax, and Semantics
  • Step Six: Interpreting Greek Words
  • Step Seven: Communicating Exegetically
  • Step Eight: Communicating the Central Idea
  • Step Nine: Communicating Homiletically

Overall, this is a very helpful resource for interpreting the general letters of the New Testament. The author approaches the issues of authorship and the authority of the letters and of Scripture from a committed Conservative stance. This book is not like a commentary, which will delve into specific issues in whatever text you are dealing with. Rather, it is intended to give the reader (pastor/teacher) an overall framework to use when approaching any of these New Testament books. I plan to put this volume right in the middle of my section of commentaries on the general letters and refer to it often as I preach/teach through one of these books. I recommend you do the same.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Kregel Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Jonathan Edwards – Christian Biographies for Young Readers

jonathan edwardsLet me just go ahead and tell you, if you have children, grandchildren, brothers/sisters, etc, go ahead a buy a copy of this book. In fact, go ahead and order the whole series.

Seriously, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these volumes in Reformation Heritage Book’s Series, “Christian Biographies for Young Readers.” I reviewed (and praised) the last volume back in March on John Knox (read it here), and now the latest volume looks at Jonathan Edwards, arguably North America’s premiere theologian.

The book consists of 6 short chapters, with right at 60 pages in the whole book. It is filled with excellent illustrations throughout, engaging the reader chapter by chapter, whether adult or child. As I said about the Knox volume, these books are seriously well done. They are the type books that you want to display on your coffee table and keep for years to come to read to your children, grandchildren, and beyond (I have mine proudly displayed on top of my bookshelves right now).

As you read through the book, the author, Simonetta Carr, moves the reader along briskly through the life of Edwards. She does a great job of providing just enough detail to be faithful to the man, but not so much detail that the book begins to feel like an academic biography. Though I have read multiple biographies on Edwards, as well as some of Edwards’ own writings, I found myself once again captivated by the life of this great American theologian. The book is intended for readers between the ages of 7-12; however, I could certainly see a parent reading this book to a child younger than 7, with both parent and child enjoying the book.

My prayer is that these books would ignite in the hearts of young children (and their parents) a passion to dive deeper into the life and works of the saints who have gone before us. I know that this volume reignited in me an interest in Edwards, and I am confident that it will do the same for Christian families everywhere. Like I said before, don’t just get this book today, get the whole set. Below are links to the individual volumes that are in print, as well as a link to the whole set

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

10 Questions About Prayer Every Christian Must Answer

10 Questions About Prayer3/5 Stars

Prayer is one of those things in the Christian faith that many of us have questions about. How does our prayer fit together with God’s sovereignty? Who has access to God through prayer? Why are Christians commanded to pray?

These questions are asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. In their new book, 10 Questions about Prayer Every Christian Must Answer, Alex McFarland and Elmer Towns seek to provide for both Christians and non-Christians biblical answers to these questions, and objections, about Christian prayer.

What Is The Book? (And What Isn’t It?)

So what exactly is this book? And what isn’t it? The authors answer:

“The purpose of this book, then, is not devotional, seeking to move you to prayer…Nor is this a practical handbook on prayer offering you instructions on how to pray…Finally, this book does not describe the various ways to pray…Fundamentally, this book is an apologetic approach to prayer (vi-vii)”

And as an apologetic book on prayer, the authors seek to identify the questions, and uncover the motives, that non-Christians leverage against prayer, and provide the Christian with biblical answers to these objections.

The Content 

The following are the 10 questions that the authors answer:

  1. Can prayer override the natural laws of the universe?
  2. Can prayer change God’s will?
  3. Is God fair to answer the prayers of some people and not others?
  4. Does God still answer prayers for supernatural healing?
  5. Does God answer our prayers because we are persistent?
  6. Can you pray to a God you think may not be there?
  7. Can prayer do anything because God can do anything?
  8. What happens when prayers collide?
  9. Can prayer do any good in a world that has gone bad?
  10. Can prayer connect with a God who seems hidden?

Each chapter starts with a “counterpoint” section, where the view of the objection is described, followed by a “point” section, where that objection is answered with biblical truth. Finally, the authors offer “prayer points” in the remainder of each chapter, where they draw practical conclusions related to Christian prayer according to the answer given to the question.

My Assessment

So how do the authors do in answering these questions? Well, just okay in my opinion. The authors approach the issue of the sovereignty of God in relation to man’s freedom with a sort-of Arminian leaning (which is no surprise, given that Towns is a professor at Liberty). So, for instance, the answer to whether or not prayer changes God’s will was not approached in a way that I think is best to approach that topic. Throughout the book, there is just more of an emphasis on the freedom of man in relation to God’s sovereignty than I find in the Scriptures and in my system of theology. However, with that said, there is nothing in the book that is flat out wrong. In fact, some of the chapters are quite good.

Overall, I think that the authors accomplish their goal of writing an apologetic book on prayer. Would this be one of the first books I would give someone who is struggling with the topic of prayer or has some general questions about prayer? No, it wouldn’t. However, I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading the book. It is solidly evangelical and unashamed concerning the exclusivity of the Gospel and its relation to prayer. For what it is, it is a fine book. I certainly agree that these are 10 questions about prayer that every Christian must answer — I am just not convinced that the authors provide the reader with the best answers to those questions.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank B&H Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Recovering Redemption Video Curriculum

As a follow-up to yesterday’s review of Matt Chandler’s book, Recovering Redemption (which you can read by clicking here), I thought that I’d share what looks to be a very good video curriculum that Lifeway has put out to go along with the book.

You can check out the promo video for the series below, and learn more about what is offered by clicking here

Recovering Redemption

recovering redemptionMatt Chandler has been one of my favorite “celebrity pastors” to listen to and read for quite a few years now. So when I heard about his new book coming out, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. And what is this new book? Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change.

Change. It’s something that we, as Christians, all want. We want to stop that habit. We want to change that attitude. We’re sick of dealing with and struggling with the same old things. Is there any hope? Will you ever get victory in that daily battle that you’ve been struggling with for months, maybe even years?

The answer: Yes. There is hope. You can change. But not on your own. And not with some 3-step how-to list of do’s and don’ts. The only true answer to lasting change and fighting against sin in the Christian life is found in the never-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ!

That is what this book is about, as the subtitle says: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change.

Laying the Foundation

In the first 4 chapters of the book, Chandler lays out a full-orbed picture of the Gospel. Not the “cover-versions” of the Gospel (as he calls them), but the true, life-giving, saving Gospel that we are given in the Bible. In these chapters, Chandler looks at the holiness and righteous of God, the sinfulness of man, the payment made by Christ, and our response of faith and repentance. There are some great sections in these chapters, including 4 “false-gospels,” or ineffective ways that we seek to make ourselves right with God (pages 26-36) and a wonderful section on repentance, where he looks at true, godly grief vs false, worldly grief (pages 68-79).

Some Big Words

Next, in chapters 5 and 6, Chandler looks at some of the benefits of belief. He spends a whole chapter looking at justification and adoption. He makes the very important and helpful point that we must correctly understand what it means that we have been justified before God and adopted as his son/daughter before we can ever expect to move forward in our quest for a changed life. He says:

“So we are justified before the law bench of heaven.

We’ve been adopted into His heavenly family.

And because of these two all-consuming realities, all the ingredients are in place for us to deal strongly and confidently with whatever comes our way, including those many sins of ours that have been so adept at defeating us for so long” (95).

And in chapter 6, he deals with the topic of sanctification, showing that sanctification is a lifelong process of growing in godliness. I was thankful that Chandler introduces the reader to two often-forgotton words in the Christian life: Vivification and Mortification. He makes it clear that the process of sanctification, of becoming more like Christ, necessarily includes these two things: (1) Vivification – Our minds and hearts are brought to life as we set our minds on the things of heaven, on the Word of God, etc. (2) Mortification – Putting to death sin in our life … not just “dealing with” it, but killing it.

“If you can think of vivification as the life-giving plant food and fertilizer that you spade into your garden, mortification is the knuckle-busting process of pulling up the weeds” (103).

Bringing It To The Ground

Finally, in chapters 7-12, the book brings this biblical truth “to the ground,” so to speak, bringing the theological truths and realities of the Gospel to bear on the practical, day-to-day issues of life. Chandler says:

“Having done a flyover of some key gospel ideas throughout the first half of this book, we’re now beginning our descent pattern, brining this payload of biblical truth down to the ground, where the Spirit of God can taxi its arrival into your everyday life” (117).

And bring it into every day life he does. Chapter 7 deals with the issues of guilt and shame; chapter 8, fear and anxiety; chapter 9, he deals with the continual process of pulling up roots and putting down stakes, or to put it in more familiar terms, putting off and putting on; chapter 10 deals with reconciling and amending relationships and chapter 11 looks at confronting and forgiving others; and finally, chapter 12 looks at the Christian life as a lifelong pursuit of joy — not joy in things of the world, but joy in God himself (the chapter will remind you of Piper’s Desiring God if you’ve read that).

In this last section, Chandler does a great job of tackling some of the big “root” issues in the lives of every believer, root issues that rear their ugly head in all sorts of sins, addictions, and behavior in our life.


This was a very good book, one that offers a helpful corrective to a lot of popular 12-steps to getting rid of this addiction, or 10 steps to ridding yourself of this sin. Chandler shows very clearly and very practically that the only source of real change in the life of the Christian is a continual remembering of the Gospel and a constant application of those Gospel truths to your life. I think that anyone who reads this book will be given 2 things: A robustly biblical picture of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a renewed perspective on how to change that is completely rooted in nothing other than this Gospel. And judging by the title of the book, I think that this is exactly what Chandler aimed for.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank B&H Books for Providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

The Home Team

the home team“God’s Word is sufficient and His grace abounds when we commit to following His design for the family” (8).

These are among the opening words of Clint Archer’s new book on the family, The Home Team: God’s Game Plan for the Family, and this principle serves as the basis for the whole book and the whole game plan that Archer lays out for the Christian family.

Using the analogy of a sports team — something that we in America are by-and-large very familiar with — Archer lays out a Scriptural portrait of the family from God’s perspective. Why a sports team analogy? Archer answers:

Families, just like sports teams, must understand their goals and their opponents. Every member of the family must know his or her position and the rules of the game. And the family needs to understand the consequences of poor play as well as the rewards of fair play” (9).

And Archer explains these very things for us in this book: the goals of the family, the opponents of the family, the roles of each member of the family, and the rewards/consequences of following the game plan.

The Basics

The book consists of 9 chapters, each drawing on a different aspect of the sports team analogy. In the first 2 chapters, Archer lays out the basics to the family team. In the first chapter, Archer looks at the fall of man and the resulting curses that have occurred in the husband/wife relationship. He then, in chapter 2, defines the family in its most basic sense as the inseparable union between 1 man and 1 woman.

The Players

The next 4 chapters, chapters 3-6, deal with the various individual roles of the family. In chapter 3, Archer calls the Dad the “Team Captain,” showing from Scripture that the husband is called to be the head, the provider, the protector, and the cultivator of the family. He then looks at the role of the wife in chapter 4, and calls her “the MVP, the leader in assists,” showing from Scripture how the biblical wife is to serve her husband by submitting to him in a godly way and as siting him in his role as the leader of the family. Finally, chapters 5 and 6 look at the role of the children, with chapter 5 focusing on young children (“little league”) and chapter 6 focusing on teenagers (“minor league”). Sprinkled throughout both of these chapters are great nuggets of parenting advice and principles to help parents who are seeking to raise their children in a God-honoring way. Regarding the various roles that make up this team, Archer says,

“The success of a family unit comes from everyone’s willingness to work together as a team, playing their God-given positions to achieve the goal of glorifying God and enjoying the blessings that come from pursuing that goal” (68).

What about singles? And what about extended family, the church, and school? What role do these play in the family team? Archer deals with each of these issues in chapters 7 and 8 respectively.

An Encouragement

Finally, in chapter 9, the conclusion, and the epilogue, Archer has a great reminder, and many practical examples, to parents (especially fathers) on how to lead their families in prayer and in family devotions.

When it comes down to it, no parents are going to be perfect. No father is going to be the perfect captain. No mother is going to be the perfect assister. No children are going to be the perfect children. No family is going to be perfect. While our culture is incessantly results-oriented and focused on perfection, God is not. Archer makes the very helpful point that what God is concerned about, in a word, is faithfulness. He says,

“Some couples boast of the number of years they have been married even if their relationship bears no resemblance to the portrait of Christ’s love for his bride. Many rate their parenting skills by the material prosperity of their grown children. But when families compare themselves to other families or to some other movable criteria, they risk missing the whole point of the family. Success is not about what your family has achieved in measurable terms. God is far more concerned with how you relate to your family, how you view your priorities, and how you deal with challenges. Again, in a word, God is concerned with faithfulness” (144).

This new book by Archer is a helpful addition to the books available on a Scripture-oriented, God-honoring family. Archer writes from a committed and unapologetic Complementarian viewpoint. Anyone who picks up this book and faithfully reads it will walk away with a greater understanding of what their God-given role is in this team known as the family. I am thankful for Archer’s work in this book, and was greatly helped by this fresh illustration of the sports team and how it relates to the family. Pick up your copy today!

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Shepherd Press and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Apple Watch: iNeed?

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 8.53.22 AMThis week’s most recent issue of TIME magazine features a cover story about Apple’s latest attempt to resurrect a dead industry: the smart watch. As I’m sure is no surprise to you, last week Apple announced the Apple Watch, which has been the talk of the tech world for a week now. TIME’s article, by Lev Grossman and Matt Vella, was a wonderfully insightful look at Apple’s new venture into the “wearables” industry, and what mass consumption of this product may mean for us in terms of our privacy, our humanity, and our ability to disconnect from the digital world. I want to share with you a few particularly insightful parts from that article.

First, the article has a great article describing what it is that Apple does so well:

“Apple isn’t in the business of inventing things, or at least not primarily. It practices a grislier trade: resurrection … When it finds a likely candidate, Apple dissects it and studies the various causes of death. Then it builds something so completely thought through, so seductively designed, so snugly embedded in webs of content and services and communications, that it not only lives again, it thrives to the point of annihilating memories of anything that came before. Apple creates demand for things that there previously was no demand for. It takes products we never wanted and convinces us we can’t live without them. It does this better than any company in the world“(42, emphasis mine).

Regarding the Apple watch and the new industry it’s attempted to push into the mass-market:

“It has to be good, because Apple isn’t just reviving an old category, it’s moving a boundary. It’s attempting to put technology somewhere where it’s never been particularly welcome before: on our bodies … Like a pushy date, the Apple Watch wants to get intimate with us in a way we’re not entirely used to and may not be prepared for. This isn’t just a new product; this is technology attempting to colonize our bodies” (42).

This next paragraph was the most convicting paragraph to me of the whole article. I think that we all need to pay attention to what’s being said here and evaluate our own use of technology and its effect on our life. It’s lengthy, but worth it.

“When technologies get adopted as fast as we tend to adopt Apple’s products, there are always unintended consequences. When the iPhone came out it was praised as a design and engineering marvel, because it is one, but no one understood what it would be like to have it in our lives. Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational tug on our attention. Do I have email? What’s happening on Twitter? Could I get away with playing Tiny Wings at this meeting? When you’re carrying a smartphone, your attention is never entirely undivided.

The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just a little bit less real. One gets over connected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough, experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual — tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them — and the world has congratulated you for doing so” (44, emphasis mine).

Finally, the article concludes with this:

“Once you’re O.K. with wearing technology, the only way forward is inward: the next product launch after the Apple Watch would logically be the iMplant. If Apple succeeds in legitimizing wearables as a category, it will have established the founding node in a network that could spread throughout our bodies, with Apple setting the standards. Then we’ll really have to decide how much control we want — and what we’re prepared to give us for it” (47).

What do you think about the article’s assessment of the Apple Watch and the dangers of the “wearables” category. Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts. At the end of the day, I think that it at least gives us all some very good things to think about, and perhaps will even spark some investigation into our current use of technology as it relates to our families and personal lives.

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

PUB_2237_DUSTJACKET_mighty_weakness_john_knox_1E_mar2a.inddJumbo Shrimp. Bitter Sweet. Deceptively Honest. Old News. All of these are examples of what we has been termed an “Oxymoron” — a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings.

Oxymoron is the term that came to mind when I first read the title to Douglas Bond’s biography of John Knox: The Mighty Weakness of John Knox. “Mighty Weakness.” Now surely that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. These two terms certainly don’t seem like they fit together, do they? So what does it mean. Why does Bond use this phrase to describe the life and ministry of John Knox? Though weak in himself, Knox was incredibly mighty because of the God whom He served and the Word from which He found His strength and authority. The strength and might that Knox had was purely God-given. Bond says:

“When Knox is stripped of his God-given might and the thundering power of his calling, what remains is a mere mortal, a small man, ‘low in stature, and of a weakly constitution,’ one who, when first called to preach, declined, and when pressed, ‘burst forth in most abundant tears’ and fled the room” (xx).

This biography on the life and ministry of Knox is intended to be a practical biography. After the first chapter, which gives an overall outline and overview of the life and legacy of Knox, the rest of the book investigates “how he was transformed from weakness to strength in various dimensions of his character and ministry” (xxi). Throughout these chapters, the readers gets an insight into John Knox as a “man of prayer, a preacher, a writer, a theologian, and as a shaper of worship, education, and public life in sixteenth-century Scotland and beyond” (xxi).

This biography of John Knox is an excellent work for a variety of reasons. First, if you’re like me, and don’t know a great deal about Knox — except the overview information you heard in a history class — this is a great way to meet the man. It is not an intimidating, scholarly, 600-page biography delving into every nitty, gritty detail of the man’s life. Rather, it is extremely practical, to the point, and easy to read.

Second, if you’re the type that doesn’t like that “in-depth” sort of biography, this is the book for you. It lays out the pertinent information of Knox’s life, so that you get a taste of who he was and what makes him important to church history. However, it does not dwell in the particulars. Rather, the author does a wonderful job at moving the reader through various practical areas of life and ministry and giving great insights to the reader from the life and ministry of Knox.

And why should you care about reading a book on John Knox? Listen to Douglas Bond as he answers that question so very well:

“The life of Knox, then, is not just for people who like shortbread and bagpipes, kilts and oatcakes. Neither is it just for Presbyterians or people whose names begin with Mac (or who wish they did). Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Knox is eminently relevant to all Christians who have ever been forced to come face to face with their own littleness” (xx).

Surely that has been all of us from time to time. May we all become more keenly aware of our weakness in order to magnify His strength and the might that the Lord has given us. May we all share in the “Mighty Weakness” of John Knox.

As I would recommend any volume in this “Line of Godly Men” series, so I would whole-heartily recommend this volume. You can grab a copy today by clicking here or here

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Reformation Trust publishers for providing me with a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

How Will The World End?

How-will-the-World-End-by-Jeramie-RinneThe end of the world — this is a topic that has interested Christians and non-Christians alike for centuries. How’s the world going to end? Will we be here when it happens? What’s going to be the sequence of events? Will the world end through some sort of natural disaster? Through a zombie apocalypse? Through an alien invasion? As far fetched as these sound (and they are certainly far fetched), I’m sure that each of you can think of a recent movie (or two, or three) that depict the end of the world in exactly that fashion.

The astonishing thing, though, is that when we look at the Bible to answer the question of how the world will end, it describes something completely unexpected. The Bible describes the end coming about not by aliens or robots or asteroids or natural disasters, but by a lamb!

In his new book, How Will the World End? And other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ, pastor Jeramie Rinne does just that: he looks to the Bible to uncover what exactly we are to expect in the end times, and how exactly we are to expect the world to end. He says:

“The problem facing the human race is not that it’s on a collision course with an asteroid. Our problem is far worse: we are on a collision course with a holy God who is coming to judge a sinful world’ (13).

When talking about the end times — or eschatology to use a big, fancy, theological word — you are probably tempted to respond in a couple different ways. On the one hand, you may be tempted to think: “Who cares? It’s all so confusing, I just get more confused the more I study it. I know that Jesus is coming back. That’s all I need to know.” On the other hand, you may be the type of person who gets so fascinated in the individual particulars of end-times theology that that’s all you focus on, and after a while, you lose sight of the forest for the trees.

This book is helpful to both sets of people. For the first group of people (those who are intimidated by end-times study), this book is a very readable and easy to understand introduction to the topic. As the author says:

“This book’s primary purpose is to help regular Christians regain that big picture about the end of the world … this book is intended to help Christians go past their ankles, get wet, and learn to enjoy swimming in the topic without drowning” (9).

For the second group of people, this book is a helpful reminder to keep our focus on the big things that we all affirm and know to be true about the end of the world rather than getting lost in the particulars and failing to see the forest because of the trees.

Now for the actual structure of the book: The book is sectioned into 6 short chapters, each addressing a different question related to the end of the world:

  1. How will the world end? Why is it taking so long?
  2. What will happen before Jesus comes back? Who is the antichrist? Are we in the end times yet?
  3. How will Jesus come back? Will there be a secret rapture?
  4. Will Jesus come back before or after the “Millennium”? How show we interpret the book of Revelation?
  5. What happens after Jesus comes back?
  6. How should we live until Jesus comes back? When is Jesus coming back?

Overall, I think that this is a very good book to give any Christian (or non-Christian interested in the topic) who wants to learn more about the end of the world. The book is very small and a very quick read, which makes it very accessible for everyone. However, with it being so short and accessible, there are many questions left unanswered, and many topics just introduced but not explored in depth. So if you find yourself just wanting to step into the pool of end-times theology, this will be a great starting place for you. However, if you’re looking to wade a little deeper into the waters, there are other books out there for you. For what it is, I thought that this was a great book and a great addition to this series.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

REVIEW: The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace

lord's supper as means of graceWhat is the Lord’s Supper? What is happening when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? Is it simply a solemn memorial service, where we examine our lives in the present and partake of something to remind us of event in the past? Or is there more to Communion, to the corporate partaking of the Lord’s Supper?

These are the questions that Richard Barcellos is seeking to answer in his new book: The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory. Barcellos sets out in this book to convince the reader the the Lord’s supper is more than a solemn memorial service — it is more than a memory. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper actually serves as a means of grace in the present for the people of God.

The question, then, is what are ‘means of grace’? Barcellos says, “I define means of grace as the delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace — that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings — to needy souls on the earth” (23). So, Barcellos argues that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, as are the Word of God, prayer, and the ordinance of baptism. These are, he says, “the primary or ordinary means through which grace from heaven comes to souls on the earth” (24).

This book is not meant, in any way, to be a full treatment of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Rather, the author has a very narrow purpose in mind in writing this book — it is to answer the questions: “How is the Lord’s Supper a means of grace?” His answer: “The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace because of what the Holy Spirit does in the souls of believers when local churches partake of it” (28).

To argue for this understanding of the sacrament, Barcellos first introduces the reader to the various terminology connected with the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. These include “the giving of thanks,” “breaking bread,” “the cup and table of the Lord,” and “the Lord’s Supper.” In the second chapter, Barcellos looks at the most important text in the New Testament regarding the nature of the Lords Supper: 1 Corinthians 10:16. After offering a very detailed and careful exegesis of this passage, Barcellos summarized by saying,

“The point being made from this text is that bread and wine are signs which signify present participation or present communion in the present benefits procured by Christ’s body and blood” (52). 

He continues:

“Though it is not a converting ordinance, the Supper is a sanctifying ordinance. Like the Word of God and prayer, it is a means through which grace comes to us from Christ’ (53).

Next, in chapter 3, he answers the question: “But how do the benefits of his death become present for those that partake of the Supper?” The answer: The Holy Spirit. In this chapter, Barcellos offers a close look at Ephesians 1:3 and 1:14 and shows that the Holy Spirit is the means by which grace is brought from heaven to believers in the present. He says,

“Ephesians 1:3 supplies us with the theological mechanics which are assumed by 1 Corinthians 10:16. When we take the Supper, it is the Spirit of Christ who brings the benefits of Christ to the people of Christ” (71). 

Then, in chapter 4, he uses the example of prayer to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in this way, and illuminate His activity in the Supper. And in chapter 5, Barcellos looks at 3 historical confessions (The Belgic Confession of 1561, The Westminster Confession of 1647, and The Second London Confession of 1677/89) and four catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster Shorter, Orthodox, and Baptist) in order to show that all of these understood the Supper to be a means of grace, and more than just a memory.

In the final chapter, Barcellos offers some final thoughts, including some theological musings and practical considerations. I found the practical and pastoral implications to be quite helpful in thinking through the nuts and bolts of some of this theology. He deals with issues such as the corporate attitude and climate during the Supper, the frequency of our partaking, the fencing of the table, and more.

Overall, I found this book to be helpful and illuminating. It helped me put into words some things that I’ve been thinking for a while, that there is more to the Lord’s Supper than just a simple remembrance of a past event. Barcellos did a great job of drawing out the Lord’s Supper’s links with the past, present, and future — the past in that it remembers the historical facts of the work of Christ; the present in that present, spiritual grace is brought to believers through partaking; and the future, in that the Supper looks forward to the return of Christ.

This book will not be for everyone. It is not an easy read; it is very technical and quite academic. But if you are interested in learning more about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, and are ready to think deeply and seriously about it, then I’d encourage you to grab a copy of this book. At just over 100 pages, it is certainly not unattainable for you to read through, and I am confident that if you do, you will walk away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Mentor Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.