It’s that time of the year, and I love it. Booklists!!!! Here is the New York Times 100 Notable Books.
Downloaded today “Loveliness of Christ,” by Samuel Rutherford. The beauty of Christ has always been my heartbreaker. He is the Lily of the Valley, the Rose of Sharon. He is lovely above all men, a sympathizing High Priest. I think this is what turned me more into a Pietist than a doctrine man, as much as I love knowledge. This explains my sympathy with John Wesley’s “If your heart be as my heart, then take my hand.” The book contains short extracts in which some of Rutherford s most helpful thoughts are allowed to stand out in their brilliance. It available at Banner of Truth for a Kindle download. Amazon does not have a kindle download of it. $2.00. Much to meditate upon. For example, “Wants are my best riches, for I find these supplied by Christ,” and “I urge upon you… a near communion with Christ and a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn back in Christ that we never saw, and new foldings in Him.I despair that ever I shall win to the far end of that love,there are so many plies in it; therefore dig deep, and sweat, and labor, and take pains for Him, and set by so much time in the day for Him as you can: He will be won with labor.”
Here is their list, broken up into useful categories of their contribution.
A must read for me – “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir” by Thomas Oden. Oden has given credence to a movement he calls PaleoOthordoxy. This is a commitment to the theological stance of the church of the first five centuries. He moved from the liberalism of mainline Methodism to Orthodoxy as expressed by the Church Fathers. He is editor of the highly acclaimed series The Ancient Christian Commentary published by InterVarsity Press, which seeks to exegete the biblical text by referencing the Fathers. I could never afford them, though mostly the reason I did not get them is that at this point in my life I am jettisoning physical books. They are on cd-rom. I have read a good amount of his stuff and feel very comfortable with his attempt to stay attached to the early church as authoritative and keepers of boundaries and balance. His thesis that North African Christianity is essentially the model that now prevails in the church, particularly the Western Church. It is a bit ironic that the West is guided in it exegesis and church government by African forms. IVP has just published his autobiography. As often is the case, IVP does not release books in e-book format. This is a serious gripe I have against IVP and have written them about it. One would think a publishing house sensitive to the campus would keep up with the times and do the digital thing. I tend to think it’s all about the money and not the electronics. Be that as it may, I will beg or borrow this book from someone, somewhere, somehow. If I had to do my ministry all over again, I would preach the Scriptures by opening up the Fathers for my congregations as a primary obligation.
Kim Riddlebarger is the author of a biography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (d.1921), professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, to be published in Jan 2015, “The Lion of Princeton,” by Lexham Press. It’s on my list.
BB Warfield is an all time fav of mine. I have read a large portion of his stuff and look to him as a fully biblical man seeking to be faithful not only to orthodox theology but to explicit passages of Holy Scripture. It was about the Bible for BB. We named my second son in his honor, though Sharon would not let me insert the “Breckinridge.” Doesn’t Benjamin Breckinridge Bryant sound wonderful? Are you with me? No? Let’s not let Sharon know. It took three days for us to decide on Ben’s name. We finally had to in order for him to leave the hospital.
Some may ask how an Arminian like myself could have Warfield as a favorite? After all, it was he who said that Calvinism is simply Christianity come into its own. Actually back in the day I was a mild Calvinist. Further study led me away from High Calvinism. Still, he would have remained in that position because of his high view of the Bible and his insistence that doctrine be grounded in its text. His method of handling the Bible is an example for all. And his courage to teach what the Bible taught makes him first chair. I have used in every church I have served Warfield’s simple equation, “the Bible says equals God says.” Of course, after I say this, not long afterward the church acts surprised to find I really believe it.
In many ways I have not been a fan of the Deeper Life Movement (DLM), often called the Keswick Movement. It is another brand of perfectionism, the teaching that in this life we can virtually experience the eradication of the sin nature that remains with the believer after regeneration. The DLM asserts that total sanctification can be entered into by a single act of faith, much like justification. This finds its equivalency in the Pentecostal/Charismatic teaching about the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace.
My hesitancy is based on several factors. One, it is not taught explicitly in the Bible. There are sufficient passages to indicate that the Christian struggle with sin is life-long. Two, human experience does not support it. While there are many who testify to such an experience, the reality is that we share together the continued frailties of the flesh and momentary failings of faith. No one is exempt. Three, it sets Christians on a life of self-examination that is not focused on the rooting out of sin as much as it focuses on states of mind, conjuring up the “break-through faith” that will forever set them on the higher plane from which they will never fall. This often leads, and I emphasize the word often, to such mental and psychological struggle that the soul breaks under the pressure. Just talk to those who grew up in Pentecostal churches but never experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues and you will get a sense of what I here assert. The angst of the believer, under the influence of DLM, is not so much about the struggle with sin (an angst we should all experience) but that there is a struggle at all. How does one find the faith to move past struggling? The inability to find it leaves a soul depleted, discouraged and soon to quit altogether.
And yet! There is a higher life, is there not? This we know intuitively, immediately. We are not satisfied with sin having such a hold on us. We are not satisfied by being so easily led astray. We are not satisfied with a roller coaster spiritual life which cannot be characterized as “abiding,” per John 15. It was John Wesley who so powerfully set this before the church in his teaching about a life of perfect love. While he did not claim to have entered it, he energetically taught it. His burden was to enliven a church deadened by doctrinaire High Calvinism, which created a passivity in both evangelism and spiritual growth, believing, as it did, in a deterministic model of soteriology. Wesley hated, yes hated, Calvinism, having witnessed his deadening effects on the Church of England. His approach was more pastoral than theological. His dispute with Calvinism was so energetic that he broke fellowship with George Whitefield, whom he held in the highest regard as a friend and fellow-worker. But he could not abide Whitefield’s continued adherence to Calvinism.
There are some trustworthy authors who hold this experience out before us with biblical balance and settled common sense. One of these in Andrew Murray. The Christian History Institute’s “Today in Christian History” focuses this Monday on Murray here. His book Abide In Christ is a great and encouraging read. Only $0.99 in Kindle. BTW, if you don’t have a Kindle, download the Kindle app for your computer so you can take advantage of Amazon ebooks, especially the many Christian classics that are either free or $0.99.