Book review: Reaching the Ear of God

Reaching the Ear of God

Praying More…and more like Jesus

Publisher: P & R Publishing

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

Available on Amazon

Recommended: Yes

Charles Spurgeon’s famous statement that a Christian’s life of prayer is like the slender nerve which moves the hand of omnipotence should signal the huge level of importance God places upon our prayers.  Could anything be more important and exciting to the Christian than seeing Almighty God being moved to answer your own specific prayers?  Wayne Mack emphatically doesn’t think so, and that is why he has written a marvelously helpful and instructive book on prayer which you now hold in your hand.  

‘Wait a minute’ you say! ‘You’re trying to sell me on the idea of buying another book on prayer?’  ‘No thanks.’ ‘I’ve read my fair share of Christian books on prayer and I certainly don’t need another one.’  I admit when this book first came across my desk, I might have been tempted to agree.  I too have already read many Christian books on the subject of prayer (who hasn’t?), and I too have seen Christian bookstore shelves lined with that many more books on prayer (again, who hasn’t?!), so why yet another treatise on prayer?  I suggest two main reasons which should motivate you to secure and distribute copies of this one.

First, let me tell you a little about the author himself and why he is qualified to write on this vital topic.  I have known Dr. Mack for many years now, and what has always stood out to me is his own faithfulness and diligence in prayer.  He is no armchair theologian or writer when it comes to his own devotion to prayer.  He genuinely enjoys communing with his heavenly Father! I have seen this side of him, as some might say, in an ‘up close and personal’ way.  Indeed, I myself have been the beneficiary of his intense prayers for me.  When I have had to make major ministry decisions, Wayne Mack was one of the first men I called to seek advice and counsel.  He carefully interceded for me, asking God to give me guidance and direction.  Those experiences are etched in my mind as I read his book on prayer, seeing in a unique way, both how his prayer life and teaching now intersect.

I often find that Christians frequently look ‘at’ books, but never really read the book itself.  They can sometimes be found ‘looking over’ the covers or dust jackets (including being impressed by the endorsers of a book itself), or possibly even thumbing through certain chapters here and there, or even picking out sentences or paragraphs, but never really reading and interacting with the substance of the book’s main thesis.  Granted, this cursory acquaintance with a book may be all the time a person can devote when inside a bookstore, or when one is generally referencing several possible books for some future study.  But when it comes to sitting down and reading a substantive book on a biblical topic as vital as prayer, you will want to devour Reaching the Ear of God: Praying More’and more like Jesus.  As the subtitle suggests, it is this feature of the book that most stands out.  As Dr. Mack shows us’on page after page’Jesus reveals His intimate relationship with God the Father, and how that kind of intimacy is also available to all true believers through prayer.  He also shows us that it is only available through an intimacy with God’s precepts and Person, and only when done in the precise ways and means Jesus Himself prescribes.  In an age when so much is done in a self-styled fashion, learning to pray in a Jesus-styled way is crucial.  So, while you may have seen many books on prayer before, I think this might well be the book on prayer in which you should focus your attention.

Finally, as you study this resource on prayer, you’ll notice some other considerable contributions.  From the searching application questions in each section (which shows the author’s dynamic counseling skills forged over 40 years in ministry), to the extensive familiarity with the whole of Scripture (which shows the author’s ministerial training, experience, and knowledge), to the interweaving of both the theological and practical elements of the Christian life (which shows the author’s own rich reading of solid Christian literature), this book stands out above others on the subject.  Wayne Mack is a reliable guide to a better prayer life, which is itself a way to greater intimacy with God.  Who wouldn’t want to have the kind of prayer life which can pave the way to greater intimacy with our Lord?  That is why Wayne Mack labored to write this book and I for one thank God that he did.  After you are finished reading it, I pray you will thank both of them.

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Book review: Expository Listening

Expository Listening

A Practical Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word

Publisher: Kress Biblical Resources

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

Available on Amazon

Recommended: Yes

Have you ever arrived at church on Sunday in a “less-than-ready” condition for worship? Maybe you were up too late the night before, argued with your spouse while getting ready, possibly snapped at the kids, or even kicked the dog on the way out the door. By the time you get to church, you’re truly not ready to listen to a sermon! But getting your mind and heart ready is exactly what expository preaching requires. Listening to a sermon, really listening’as in thinking, praying, following the argument, concentrating on the meaning and its application to your life’now that’s hard work! Merely hearing a sermon is easy; it requires a properly functioning auditory system, but it’s essentially a passive exercise. Actively listening to the preaching of God’s Word requires mental alertness, focused attention, and a spiritually receptive heart. That’s the kind of listening Solomon implored his own sons to do:

My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).

That describes an exercise that’s quite active, requiring energy and effort, and that’s exactly what God would have us do each Sunday when we sit down in the pew for the purpose of engaging with Him. If the public proclamation of the Bible is the primary means of change in a believer’s life (and it is: 1 Cor. 1:18; 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), then it’s vital that we get ourselves ready to listen to sermons from God’s holy Word.

What I have argued for in the above paragraph is precisely why Dr. Ken Ramey’s book, “Expository Listening: A Listener’s Guide To Hearing and Doing the Word”, is so vital and necessary at this time for the body of Christ at large. Frankly, books on Christian preaching abound, while books on listening to Christian preaching are comparatively almost non-existent. It may true to say that all the books dedicated to the sole purpose of teaching believers how to effectively listen to sermons which have ever been written could be counted up on one’s own hands. This book is truly a particularly unique treatise. Let me explain why I believe this. First of all, the book sounds a compelling note on what expository preaching really is and why it is crucial to the role of a God-honoring pastor. The book then moves to the responsibility of the congregational hearer and why effective listening to an expository message is as important as having it preached to you in the first place; for what’s the point of preaching sermons unless there are those recipients who have been taught how to effectively listen to them? It stands to reason that the most effective sermons will hit the heart-center of their targets when listeners know how to best do so: to really listen, and to listen very well. Pastor Ramey capably shows you how to do exactly that because he seeks to establish a “theology of listening” by surveying all the biblical passages which speak of “hear/hearing,” “listen/listening,” and any of those passages which signal the need for the right kind of spiritual “ear’s” to hear God’s truth.

What follows this in the book are also chapters on very practical ways you can prepare your heart to hear the Word of God preached, the need for critical discernment in your listening, as well as genuinely appreciating and ultimately and appropriately applying the biblical exposition to your life. There is even a chapter on the danger of being a hearer of the Word but not a doer of it. The book concludes with the solemn exhortation that your rightly listening to expositional preaching even serves to affect your eternal destiny, a momentous fact which should motivate everyone to listen to God’s voice ever so carefully! Lastly but also very importantly, the book ends with several appendices on various themes of listening and applying sermons, what the Puritans and others have said on these subjects, along with an excellent bibliography which lists other helpful volumes which somewhat touch on various aspects of faithful listening to the truth. 

I couldn’t be more thrilled with what my friend, Ken Ramey has done by showing the inseparable link between expository speaking and effective listening. The Christian Church is indebted to him by what he has taught us in this worthy volume. Now, as a result of our investment of time and effort in reading his book, may we all serve this faithful expositor’s Lord Jesus Christ– both his Savior and ours–by preaching and listening to God’s glory. 

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Book review: The Multiplying Church

The Multiplying Church

The New Math for Starting New Churches

Publisher: Zondervan

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

Available on Amazon

Recommended: No

In a series of three books published by Zondervan Publishers,* Bob Roberts, Jr., founding Pastor of NorthWood Church in Fort Worth, Texas, casts a new vision for how society can be transformed by Jesus Christ.

 
In the third work of his, The Multiplying Church, Roberts seeks to show how local churches must see their primary vision as multiplying churches. Churches should not merely strive to plant another local church here or there; they should actually multiplythem through the proven methods of Roberts and others for church planting. This will make it possible to proliferate hundreds if not thousands of others churches all over the globe.
 
A REVOLUTION IN CHURCH PLANTING
 
Roberts believes that imbedded within the very nucleus of every local church must be a clear desire and a strategic plan for aggressively reproducing themselves into countless other local churches, whether it be in their metropolitan backyard or other parts of the world (targeting specific countries, like his church has done with Vietnam).
 
Roberts calls for a virtual revolution in current thinking regarding church planting. He says that his and several others’ views of successful church multiplication ‘is almost if not out of control’ with exciting multiplication (p. 45). When the exuberance for planting church after church after church is realized, ‘churches wind up starting others that start others’ (p. 45). The growth will be cataclysmic and exponential. But not only that, ‘A global church planting movement will be necessary for the bride of Christ to be prepared for the coming of Christ’ (p. 47). Notice that his movement is ‘necessary.’ A grandiose claim indeed!
 
Roberts believes that a monumental movement of church multiplication could revolutionize the entire landscape of Christianity’s impact upon our world because these churches will be led by non-clergy, especially by those whose vocations are better suited for establishing viable churches. He writes, ‘Our current focus on the use of ‘professional pastors’ almost ensures that we will not get to church planting movements. This is what the house church movement has to teach the broader church community in the United States. Some of the best church planters have been businessmen, lawyers, and those from a thousand other vocations’ (p. 46).
 
In addition to those who will venture out as official church planters, every individual church member should see themselves’wherever they are spiritually and whatever they’re doing vocationally’as nothing less than new missionaries who are a vital part of transforming society via the use of their particularly unique skills and ministries. What greater impact could a church have on the community around it than for its members to recognize and use their lives for the gospel? The goal of the book is very exciting and impressive!
 
AND THE APPROACH?
 
But in order to accomplish this goal, Roberts appeals to sociological and business principles of success, which he gets from non-biblical, secular sources rather than any apparent exegesis of the biblical texts. He seems to have been more impacted by books like Jim Collins’ Good to Great than by any substantive theological analysis of the New Testament.
 
This is not to say that Roberts’ book is devoid of references to Scripture or any theological framework. A few passages from the book of Acts, for instance, are listed, including an attempt to see the church at Antioch as his exemplar for the NT multiplying church (pp. 125-129). Also, Roberts attempts to define what the church is and is not (pp. 40-43). And he has the theological conviction that it is the local church that should drive the multiplication of other local churches (pp. 53-54).
 
What he doesn’t do, however, is consider the Bible’s framework for understanding the purposes of the church and mandate for spreading the gospel.
 
As such, he doesn’t offer any marks of what a healthy church plant looks like. Will just any plant do? Without a theological framework, it’s hard to measure what exactly distinguishes healthy churches from unhealthy churches, or churches from any other organization that you might plant and grow. It’s also not clear how planted churches of different theologies and philosophies of ministry work together, or what theological training a church planter needs before launching.
 
Consider as well what the lack of a biblical framework means for his understanding of church leaders. Roberts is to be commended for encouraging deliberate mentoring and close accountability toward ‘church starters’ (pp. 90-94, 141-142), but he also challenges planters to be entrepreneurs, mystics, and daredevils (pp. 96-115). Never mind the idea of looking for individuals who are ‘sober-minded,”respectable,’and ‘gentle'(1 Tim. 3:2-3) and all those other qualities Paul talked about. It raises the question of whether Roberts views what a ‘pastor’ is in the same way that God does.
 
Or if Roberts understands ‘growth’ in the same way God does. One of the principles he espouses is this: ‘To start a church that starts with the society, the church planter must think and act like a community developer, not just a preacher’ (p. 119). But doesn’t God mean to grow his church through his Word, because growth isn’t just about numbers but holiness and love, too? Isn’t that what Paul tells Timothy to do (2 Tim. 4:1ff)? I can’t help but think Roberts is unwittingly downplaying the role of preaching in his model. It seems his orientation pulls him in the direction of more ‘exciting’ secular labels and ideals rather than toward a more biblical apparatus and construct.
 
Likewise, Roberts writes much about the ‘Kingdom of God’ and our need to minister in light of it (pp. 73-81), but spends too few words defining with precision what that phrase actually means. It is too important not to define. Roberts’ view of the kingdom is at best amorphous.
 
This lack of interaction with the biblical material hurts the book’s ability to live up to its ambitions.
 
HELPFUL FOR FAMILIES
 
It is possible that the most significant contribution Roberts makes in his book is the last chapter, ‘Living as a Missional Family.’ He provides very helpful advice not only for church planters, but for all pastors, pastor’s wives, and their children (pp. 159-171). He encourages anyone in ministry to be open to criticism, to correct character flaws, to deal with past hurts (but be very careful here!), and to grow into the next dimension of your leadership. Frankly, I would have been helped if Roberts had written this good material in an expanded form and left off significant sections of the previous chapters. Of course, this would have substantially changed the nature of the book’s purpose and theme, and I suspect Roberts himself wouldn’t agree.
 
All in all, Bob Roberts certainly cannot be faulted for his obvious and infectious desire to see the gospel of Jesus pervade and transform a godless society. Church starters will however, need to adhere to a more closely aligned New Testament paradigm for the planting of local churches than Roberts’ model has provided.
 
*The first two books are Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World (2006) and Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World (2007).
NOTE: This review first appeared in the Nov-Dec Issue of the 9Marks Journal and is also available here www.9marks.org/books/book-review-multiplying-church-bob-roberts-jr

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Book review: Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ

Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ

Publisher: Crossway

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

Available on Amazon

Recommended: Yes

What could be more edifying for the Christian than to read about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Robert A. Peterson, Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, has written Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ, a lengthy summation of the Person and Work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What is both a rare and commendable feature about this book is how Peterson provides excellent, detailed, and lucid exposition of virtually every Old Testament and New Testament passage which either anticipates or explains the various aspects of the earthly (and beyond) work of Jesus. He provides significant exegesis in order to substantiate his various perspectives on the work of Christ, especially where disagreements and disputes have arisen. The book is an attempt by Peterson to comprehensively portray a distillation of the entire biblical teaching on the doctrine of salvation.

In the first section of the book (21’269), Peterson capably fills out our understanding of what he calls the nine ‘saving events’ of Christ. Obviously, some of the events he references as being in the saving category need to be nuanced by him, because some of these events aren’t usually discussed by theologians as being associated within the more narrowly defined doctrine of soteriology. While Peterson readily acknowledges that ‘Unequivocally, Scripture highlights Jesus’s death and resurrection when it speaks of his saving accomplishment,’ he also contends that the Bible paints ‘a fuller picture and mentions seven additional aspects of Christ’s saving work’ (23), namely His:

  • incarnation
  • sinless life
  • ascension
  • session
  • Pentecost
  • intercession
  • second coming

 Introducing the incarnation, Peterson writes in chapter one: ‘Jesus’s incarnation saves. It does not save in and of itself, by the mere fact of God’s becoming a man. It does not save apart from Christ’s death and resurrection. But it is an essential prerequisite for those saving events’ (28). For Peterson, this means that one cannot maintain a coherent soteriology without a comprehensive Christology. Likewise, when discussing the sinlessness of Jesus in chapter two, Peterson posits that ‘Scripture teaches the saving significance of Christ’s sinless life’ (48). Having declared the nature of Christ’s sinless life in the schema of divine salvation, Peterson nevertheless acknowledges: ‘As indispensable as the incarnation and Christ’s sinless are, they do not save by themselves. Rather, they are essential preconditions for Christ’s central saving events’his death and resurrection’ (60).

In chapter three, Peterson defends the doctrine of the vicarious, penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death of Christ upon the cross (cf. 70, 77’78), as over against modern notions which deny or distort the doctrine (he devotes an entire chapter to the subject’chapter twelve). Peterson also defends the doctrine of justification by faith alone, his view essentially matches the historical understanding of this truth as taught by the magisterial Reformers (83’98).

A noted emphasis in chapter four by Peterson is the belief that the doctrine of the resurrection has been quite overlooked as compared to the emphasis on Christ’s death upon the cross. Peterson desires to see equal weight given to both, and therefore states that Jesus ‘died as our substitute . . . but he also saves us as our resurrected representative’as the One who lives on our behalf. His resurrection saves us as he, who died for us, is freed from death by God’ (128). He also writes: ‘Christ’s death and resurrection are so essential to Christianity and so inseparable that when the Bible speaks of either one of them, we are to infer the other as well’ (130). Peterson maintains that Christ’s resurrection from the dead brings justification and forgiveness, establishes our peace with God, and inaugurates the new creation (139’150). One of the unique contributions by Peterson is the discussion of the vital link between the death and resurrection of Christ and those aspects of His post-death/resurrection work. This includes His ascension, session, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, Christ’s present intercession for believers, and His second coming.

Regarding Christ’s ascension in chapter five, Peterson writes:

Unfortunately, many Christians today neglect the doctrine of the ascension. Perhaps this neglect is due to the fact that although Christians confess belief in the ascension of Christ, they do not understand the ascension’s place in the work of Christ or its effect on their lives. The Bible, however, teaches that the ascension is a saving event’ (152).

He explains:

The ascension is the linchpin of Christ’s saving work bridging his earthly and heavenly ministries, an essential part of his sacrificial work as he presents his perfect sacrifice before the Father, and a fuller realization of the reconciliation between God and man as Christ represents humanity in the presence of the Father’ (152).

When Peterson ties the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to His session in chapter six, He explains:

Jesus’s session saves. After his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God the Father, the place of highest honor and authority in the universe. He did not walk, as in his earthly ministry; stretch out his arms, as on the cross; or lift his hands in priestly blessing, as he was carried to heaven in his ascension . . . . Instead, he sat down to complete his exaltation begun in his resurrection and ascension. He sat down as prophet, priest, and king’ (203).

According to chapter seven, the work of Christ at Pentecost is also part and parcel of His saving activity: ‘Pentecost is Jesus’s unique, nonrepeatable deed, as unique and nonrepeatable as his dying for our sins and rising again’ (206). He goes on to say:

The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, predicted by Joel and the Four Evangelists, is especially Jesus’s deed. It is an act that he performs. It is as much an aspect of his saving work as dying for our sins and rising on the third day. Pentecost is properly understood only as a saving action of the Christ whereby he applies the benefits of his death and resurrection to the church. Pentecost is a unique and unrepeatable redemptive-historical deed of the Messiah. It is important to understand’Pentecost is as singular and unrepeatable a work of Jesus, as is his being ‘delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25)’ (214’215).

Jesus Christ, the baptizer with the Holy Spirit, therefore places the elect into the body of Christ at Pentecost and who sends the Spirit to His church so that they may serve their heavenly Father as the new covenant community.

Moving into the Son’s work as our intercessor in chapter eight, Peterson reasons from Scripture that,

When Christ ascends to heaven and sits at the right hand of God, he assumes his place as our exalted prophet, priest, and king. Specifically, as our priest he is now interceding for us. . . . Having made the final sacrifice for sin, our High Priest has now entered into the heavenly tabernacle to perform the second half of his priestly work, to make intercession. . . . Christ saves his people, not only by sacrificing his life for them, but also by offering himself to the Father in their behalf and by effectively praying for them that they might persevere until final salvation’ (227’228).

In his culmination of these points, Peterson speaks of the necessity of affirming our Lord’s second coming in chapter nine:

The second coming triggers the final outworking of the saving purposes of God. . . . Jesus’s return will save because only then will he give his people their inheritance and place in God’s final kingdom. . . . They will
enter into the fullness of their salvation only when their King comes back’ (251, 253).

In the second section of the book (273’575), Peterson amplifies the work of Christ by detailing ‘six biblical pictures’ of the Son’s role in salvation as: Reconciler, Redeemer, Legal Substitute, Victor, Second Adam, and finally, our Sacrifice. These selected pictures help fill our understanding of what Jesus did in His earthly role in order to redeem His people. Taking these facets of Christ’s saving work from various dimensions of human life, Peterson explains: ‘Scripture interprets Christ’s saving work by painting pictures. It uses images, motifs, themes to explain what Jesus did for us. Although there are many such images in Scripture, I count six major ones. These pictures come from six spheres of life: human relationships, the institution of slavery, the court of law, the battlefield, creation, and worship’ (274).

As to Christ as our Reconciler, Peterson acknowledges that the Old Testament does not provide a clear link to later New Testament teaching on the subject: ‘Surprisingly, unlike any of the other major biblical pictures describing Christ’s saving work, and unlike the great majority of New Testament themes, reconciliation appears to lack clear Old Testament background’ (277). Within the New Testament however, Scripture gives this picture of our salvation as a wonderful way to show how God the Father takes the initiative to become our friend, even while we were His avowed enemies. ‘Reconciliation is a picture of salvation drawn from the arena of personal relations. And the need of reconciliation is fractured personal relations. We need to be reconciled because we are God’s foes due to our sins’ (280). ‘Because of the work of Christ the Mediator, God no longer reckons believers’ sins against them; that is, reconciliation through Christ brings forgiveness’ (284). Peterson can even speak of the doctrine of reconciliation as operating on more than one level:

Reconciliation operates on multiple levels’individual, corporate, and even cosmic. . . . This universal ‘uniting’ brings harmony or reconciliation to God’s universe. . . . The cross, therefore, is multidirectional. Taking into account all of Scripture’s teaching, the cross is directed toward God himself (in propitiation); toward our enemies, including demons, to defeat them; toward men and women to redeem them; and toward the whole creation to deliver it from ‘its bondage to decay’ and to bring it into ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21)’ (295, 301).

In addition to Christ as Reconciler, Peterson shows us His work as Redeemer. He affirms that the Old Testament narratives that describe the deliverance of the children of Israel forms the pattern by which the New Testament draws its language and background for the redemption of sinners by Jesus, most notably, Mark 10:45. He concludes: ‘Redemption in the New Testament is a picture of Christ’s saving work that depicts lost persons in various states of bondage and presents Christ as Redeemer, who through his death’expressed in a number of ways’claims people as his own and sets them free’ (353).

In chapter twelve, Jesus Christ is our Legal Substitute is discussed. He argues for the vicarious, penal substitution by Jesus on behalf of sinners. Studying all the Old Testament passages, especially Isaiah 53, he concludes: ‘Isaiah 52:13’53:12 is a powerful prediction of the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of the Christ’ (371). Summarizing his position, he writes: ‘In Scripture a loving and holy God takes the initiative and propitiates his own justice by bearing the brunt of his wrath against sin to freely forgive his rebellious creatures’ (375). Citing Galatians 3:13 as a key text in the New Testament, he concludes: ‘This is as strong a statement of Christ’s being our legal penal substitute as is found in Scripture’ (386). Further arguing against a universal or general atonement, he states that ‘Christ’s substitutionary atonement is effective. . . . And if his saving work is substitutionary and efficacious, there are only two possibilities: either it is universal and everyone is saved, or it is particular and all whom God has chosen are saved. Universalism is incompatible with the Bible’s message, so Christ’s atonement is vicarious, effective, and particular’he has died to save his people from their sins’ (411; cf. also the appendix, 566’575, where Peterson argues for a definite, particular atonement ). Peterson also makes a considerable effort in defending the doctrine of penal substitution, answering common objections (396’407). He thus ends the chapter by writing, ‘Christ dies as a penal substitute for individuals, for his church, and to deliver the whole creation from the curse of sin (Rom. 8:19-23; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:18)’ (412).

Chapter thirteen pictures Christ as Victor. Acknowledging the warrior motif in Scripture’especially in the Old Testament’he cites numerous passages where God the Father is seen as the vanquisher of all His enemies, thus proving His sovereign conquest over all His foes. When Peterson starts to survey the New Testament data, he writes: ‘The Old Testament divine-warrior image becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ who is Christus Victor’ (425). Citing the obvious differences between Christ as Victor in the New Testament and God the Father as divine warrior in the Old Testament, including the spiritual battles Jesus wages against Satan and his demon followers, Peterson nevertheless writes: ‘Jesus is the champion of his people who binds the strong man, plunders his house, ‘and divides his spoil’ (Luke 11:22); he overpowers the demons and frees those who have been possessed by them’ (429). Regarding the spiritual vanquishing of sin on behalf of sinners, Peterson concludes: ‘The Synoptic Gospels, especially Matthew, include divine-warrior motifs when presenting Jesus’s crucifixion and its effects’ (431). Surveying the book of Acts, Peterson affirms: ‘The Lord Jesus, our champion, routed the demons in his earthly ministry and continues to do the same through his apostles in the Acts’ (439), and for the apostle Paul, Peterson summarizes: ‘For Paul, Christ is the mighty Victor, who defeats our adversaries in his death and resurrection’ (441). And in the resurrection of Jesus, Peterson can surmise: ‘It is clear that the Father’s raising the Son and seating him at his right hand are the supreme displays of power from which the readers are to draw confidence. And we can imply that Christ’s forever being ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ means that the evil powers are subject to him, the Victor’ (442). He summarizes his findings:

Christ our champion is the New Testament picture of Jesus as the incarnation of Yahweh, the divine warrior of the Old Testament. The mighty Son of God who became a human being defeats foes that are far more powerful than we through his death and resurrection. His work as Christus Victor brings us partial victory now and complete deliverance in the resurrection and new earth’ (460).

Peterson presents in chapter fourteen the picture of Christ as our Second Adam. For instance, commenting on Romans 5:12-21, Peterson writes:

Underlying Paul’s teaching is his assumption that one of the ways Adam is ‘a type of the one who was to come’ is as a covenant head. Adam and Christ are the two covenant heads of their respective races. Adam is the covenant head of all humankind; Christ the covenant head of the race of the redeemed. . . . Paul presents Adam as the representative of the human race, whose primal sin brought God’s verdict of condemnation and resulted in death, both physical and spiritual. . . . Adam ruins his race and Christ rescues his. . . . All human beings are fallen in Adam, and all believers are saved in Christ. . . . Paul exalts the work of the second Adam. His lifelong obedience resulting in death counters Adam’s primal disobedience. . . .’ (472’75).

As our Second Adam, Peterso
n can reason thus about Jesus:

His sinless life has a role to play in his work of salvation. As the second Adam he had to undergo human life without sin from conception to adulthood in order to be qualified to save his people from their sins. His living a sinless life was a prerequisite to his saving death and resurrection. In that sense, his sinless earthly life saves too’ (496).

Peterson concludes in chapter fifteen with the picture of Christ as our Sacrifice. This chapter, rich in the explanation of both the imagery and teaching regarding the Old Testament sacrificial system (501’512), helps us also see how the New Testament fills out and explains the Person of Jesus as the final and complete Sacrifice for sin, especially from the Book of Hebrews. For instance, Peterson writes: ‘The book of Hebrews is a literary and theological masterpiece that has more to say about Christ as High Priest and sacrifice than the rest of the New Testament combined’ (522). ‘It was Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant whose sacrifice redeemed Old Testament saints ‘from the transgressions committed under the first covenant’ (Heb. 9:15). ‘This means that Christ’s atoning sacrifice not only saves all who come after him and trust in him as Lord and Savior, but it also saves all who came before him and believed the gospel communicated through the sacrifices’ (530). He concludes by writing:

What [Old Testament] sacrifices cannot do, the incarnate divine Son does. . . . The Son identifies with his people by willingly taking a human body with which he will perform God’s will (Heb. 10:5-7). Christ abolishes the Old Testament sacrifices, associated with the Mosaic law (and thereby abolishes that law), to accomplish God’s will (vv. 8-9) in his body. . . . By doing God’s will and offering himself in his body once for all time there results the definitive sanctification of his people. This is a once-for-all consecration, constituting them the saints of God. Flowing from it is their progressive sanctification, their gradual growth in holiness. . . .’ (535).

Peterson concludes his major study on the Person and work of Christ (550’565) by summarizing the work of the Son in three directions: toward God the Father Himself (upward, and which is the most fundamental and profound (563); toward the whole creation (a believer’s horizontal dimension); and toward our enemies (downward) (560). Salvation is therefore upward, in that ‘Christ’s work influences the life of God the Father Himself, and thus that ‘God in Christ affects God’ (563); horizontal, in that it involves the salvation of human beings; and finally, downward (which is a derivative of the upward direction), in that it vanquishes all God’s foes.

If there are any areas within the book which I would have cited my own interpretive differences with the author, I could point out his belief that the church of the New Testament spiritually replaces Israel of the Old Testament (e.g. pages 114, 350, and 361), thus making one assume there is no future plan for the salvation of national Israel. Assuming that there is a substantial discontinuity between the Testaments (which the three statements cited in the pages listed above seem to clearly indicate), Peterson undoubtedly maintains that national Israel has forever been replaced by the Church. This diminishes his otherwise outstanding exposition of the key salvation texts in the New Testament, which also must account for the eschatological dimensions of Christ’s overall plan and purpose for national Israel. And if there are even more interpretive differences between this reviewer and the author regarding individual Old or New Testament texts and their place in the general framework of redemptive history, I would nevertheless still commend his work as a marvelously rich biblical study into the blessed work of the Son of God. This book is itself an obvious testament to Peterson’s long years of reflection upon his account of both the Old and New Testament’s teaching on the atonement for sinners. After reading this important book by a Reformed, thoroughgoing Evangelical theologian, I must say that I was so wonderfully encouraged, edified, and educated regarding these various facets of the believer’s salvation in Christ.

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Book review: The Cross

The Cross

Where All Roads Meet

Publisher: Evangelical Press

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: Yes

As a seminary student, occasional preacher, and book reviewer, my reading list is fairly tight and regimented. Even so, one of the pleasant benefits of the reading life is picking up an unplanned book on a whim or a sudden impulse. Such was the case with Cesar Malan’s The Cross: Where All Roads Meet, formerly titled The True Cross in its original French edition, first published in 1831. Delving into it for choice quotes about the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), I was pleased to discover a brief but meaty narrative concerning the free gift of salvation offered through the work of Christ and the right Christian response to it: rest and trust.

More than half the book records a purported narrative between the author, who was a Swiss Evangelical pastor in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and an elderly traveler whom the author encounters while the latter pays respects to a wooden cross beside the path. The narrator strikes up a conversation with the genuflecting man and discovers that the man operates under the burdensome load of a works-oriented religion without any measure of personal assurance of salvation. This religion is, of course, a thinly veiled Roman Catholicism. The rest of the chapters in this section, which comprises the majority of the book, is a dialogue which shows the bankrupcty of the old man’s beliefs. The narrator solemnly but passionately calls the old man around to ground his faith in the objective work of Christ to save him, and not in his own attempts to please God.

As you can see, The Cross overtly and unapologetically advocates for Reformed doctrines, but I would hesitate to call the tone polemical. Persuasive, yes. Obviously those who do not share Reformed sympathies may feel that the narrator is polemical to the hilt. Such readers may also feel that the narrator is battering his conversation partner into intellectual submission, but we would do well to remember that this is a conversation held circa 1831 in a foreign European country, not a 21st century back-and-forth on the streets of downtown Toronto.

The book concludes with two shorter sections. The first is a letter to a friend who is ill and may die. The letter-writer takes the opportunity to shore up the sick friend’s doubts and assure him of the faith that comes by grace alone. In an interesting paragraph, the letter-writer explains why he is taking such a challenging tone:

Of course, if I was addressing you as a man who did not yet know the way of God, or if you did not believe the Bible, then I would be speaking to you in a completely different way. I would not set out before your ignorance the knowledge enjoyed by those who are mature.

The last section is another narrative recording another conversation with someone wavering in his faith. After working through the theological and experiential issues the man is dealing with, the narrator assures him that Christ’s death has accomplished once for all the salvation of his soul.

While it is obvious who will want to read this book (Reformed folks), I want to comment about Reformed folks lending it or giving it out. Obviously the Sovereign Lord works all things to His own will for His glory. But we must not fail to be sensitive to the contexts in which we live and move. People do not debate as readily and calmly as they used to, it seems to me. Better to begin a dialogue organically, and then at a later, opportune time, put this book into your conversation partner’s hands after the ground has been tilled. It really should act as the extension of a caring relationship, and not as a broadside suddenly coming out of the blue. While it is a good little book, The Cross should not be a substitute for real dialogue, and should not be deployed without careful, strategic forethought.

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Book review: Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

Poet & Spy

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: No

Why review a biography about a historical figure that most Evangelical Christians would rather forget, assuming they knew of him in the first place? Those who know Christopher Marlowe by name or reputation might also wonder what lessons we have to learn from a shadowy theatrical figure that lived in the same era as the great William Shakespeare. I count at least three types of lessons in the pages of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy by Honan Park, but even so I would not recommend this book to anybody but diehard Elizabethan period theatre buffs.

Before identifying the lessons, a word on the style and content. While I have not yet read Park’s works on Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, Jane Austen, and the matchless William Shakespeare, based on his Marlowe work Park appears to be a meticulous biographer. To say “meticulous” is not to say all of Park’s conclusions are swimming in firewalled evidence. As one might expect in a 400-page biography of a somewhat mysterious figure, Park makes good use of conjecture and speculation. But even Park’s considerable biographical skills cannot rescue the flow of this book from its superabounding Marlowe arcaneness.

For most readers interested in the playwrights and/or politics of the Elizabethan period, this book will be 200 pages too long. The details of Marlowe’s two most successful plays will be an impossible slog without having read them (and understood them!) beforehand. Reproductions of primary documents are elucidating, but once again, nobody but the most obsessed aficionados of Elizabethan theatre are likely to summon up interest sufficient to complete the book. I did mention three lessons, so without further ado (a Shakespeare reference, of course), here they are:

  1. Marlowe’s profanity cannot be boiled down to his sexual preferences. His recorded coarse and vulgar talk, which often conveyed a jocular, biting atheism, shows a vein of profanity coursing throughout his words and his actions.
  2. Any person such as the one described in #1 shows signs of being created in the image of God, even while amply demonstrating the effects of the Fall. Park asserts that Marlowe’s talent was at least equivalent to Shakespeare’s while they were duelling playwrights on the London stage. His life was cut short, so we cannot know what an artist he might have been at the height of his powers.
  3. Brief Marlowe play revivals notwithstanding, God is alive and on the throne while Marlowe died young and is buried in an unmarked grave.

Unless you are tasked with detailed study of Marlowe’s two best-known plays, Tamburlaine or Faustus, I would not recommend this book. Its greatest feature is the taste and class with which the author addresses the profane parts of Marlowe’s character. Its worst feature is its failure to bring Marlowe into crisp focus – an unavoidable issue based on the scarcity of evidence, in my opinion. This is not a bad book, but neither is it a necessary one, even for a reader interested in the Elizabethan stage.

 

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Book review: Theology Remixed

Theology Remixed

Christianity as Story, Game, Language, Culture

Publisher: IVP Academic

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: Yes

The chief end of books is to glorify God and to be enjoyed by man. Theology Remixed by Adam C. English is such a book, accomplishing these dual ends directly by virtue of the author’s approach and intent: to describe features of the Christian Faith by employing and exploring four elucidatory analogies. The super-intelligent English does so humbly, setting up his analogies by identifying similarities and dissimilarities. This book is a thought experiment designed to deepen faith, and 99.9% of it did just that for this reviewer.

Before we arrive at the faith-deepening aspects, however, we first must deal with the remaining 0.1%. English begins his book on a provocative note, if you happen to be a reader that possesses any sort of Reformed sympathies. Invoking the late Christopher Hitchens, whom English debated many years ago, English reports how the following ‘stereotype’ of Christianity ‘unnerves’ him:

For too many people, Christianity comes off as this absurd idea that God killed his Son to pay for some violation against God’s honor perpetrated by humans who were, for the most part, unaware of their trespasses. God demands that we accept this blood-letting as the only true path to eternal happiness. If we are sufficiently remorseful for our own unworthiness and confess, with ample groveling, our gratitude to God for killing his Son, then we will be rewarded with eternal glory and power. If we decline the offer, we will be made to suffer the cruelest torture forever in the afterlife.

Far be it from me to pay too much attention to a single word in a 208 page book, but on behalf of those with Reformed sympathies I take umbrage with English’s word choice of stereotype. Using the term stereotype faults a cross-section of Christians for holding to an allegedly “oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment” (thank you, Merriam-Webster Online) regarding God’s work of salvation and the Christian response to it. Rather than faulting actual Christians who appreciate the Father’s propitiatory decision to send his Son to die an ignominious death on our behalf, to which we respond with repentance and gratitude in the hopes of spending eternity with him, English would have been better advised to use the term caricature ‘ “exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics” (again, thank you to Merriam-Webster Online). Even so, English can write a few pages later, with no apparent sense of the irony, that his “book presents the foolishness of the gospel as something to be taken seriously.”

Personally, I am much more comfortable with the de-caricaturized version of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice than I am confessing along with English the words of the ancient Byzantine hymn on page 20 calling Jesus’ mother “the holy Mother of God” and the “Ever-Virgin Mary.” English may think it doxological to put these words in the reader’s mouth (“With the ancient Byzantine hymn…we cry out”) but this reader thinks it slightly presumptuous. So much for the 0.1%. From then on the book settled down, in my opinion. I say “in my opinion” because some of my readers, and possibly English’s readers, will likely object to his overall approach. Before explaining why I’m not bothered by his approach, and even appreciate it, allow me to briefly outline the book.

The first section analogizes Christianity as story. Christianity as meta- or mega-narrative is widely accepted in Christian circles in our time, so English’s progression through six “acts” of Creation, Catastrophe, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation is not new. But English’s erudition and articulate prose brings each of these “acts” to life. The second section, which analogizes Christianity as language, is similarly successful and compelling. Throughout both sections English holds to, and therefore defends, Christian orthodoxy, but two of his discussion points are worth special mention. 

  1. We live in an age that questions God’s self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is, in fact, more resistance to these identities among self-professed Christians than emanates from outside the Church. Although not an apologetics book, in this section English does address re-naming of the Holy Trinity and defends orthodox language in unadulterated and unapologetic fashion: “any renaming goes against God’s own self revelation.”
  2. In the section on Christianity as Game, English entitles his chapter on hermeneutics “Reading Rules.” After discussing the centrality of the Word and the necessity of Christological interpretation, English spends the remainder of the chapter making a case for the rediscovery of the fourfold method of interpretation. At first I was shocked, but I soon realized that his advocacy was fairly consistent with his advocacy of using the conventional extra-biblical term “Trinity” earlier in the book. Here I will not engage the discussion, except to make note of the following: in their respective books on interpretation, three erudite and respected Reformed writers advance three different opinions about the medieval quadriga. R.C. Sproul dismisses it as “such a bizarre method of interpretation.” Dan McCartney allows that the medieval method was subject to abuses but celebrates the method’s most notable proponents for their normally responsible interpretations. Peter Leithart demonstrates that although the Reformers “emphasized the immediate personal application of the text,” Luther’s and Calvin’s own hermeneutical methods owed a fair bit to the quadriga.

Finally, in the shortest section of the book, “Christianity as Culture,” English advances familiar arguments to anyone who has done any reading on the intersection of Christianity and culture, but also takes pains to carefully define some of the terms that such literature throws around so casually. Case in point: the term culture itself.

Some readers will invariably object to English’s approach on the basis of his “failure” to present a systematic theology. But this was never English’s aim, and it should be remembered that presenting theologically sysematically is a not a biblically prescribed approach. Indeed, the Bible is anything but systematic in its approach. Unified, yes; systematized, no. We ought therefore to give English ample room in which to present his “remix” of theology, which is what I would call a thought project or thought experiment. The validity of English’s analogical approach is actually much older than the convention of theological systemization. Since the apostolic era preachers have used illustrations taken from culture, agriculture, economics, and the natural world. In more recent times, C.S. Lewis famously embarked upon his Chronicles of Narnia by starting with a hypothetical premise along the lines of “What if a doorway through an old wardrobe led to a snowy world with a lamp-post in the middle of a forest?” Some may also accuse English of postmodernist deconstructionism, which would demonstrate nothing except the reader’s misreading of English’s book and an attendant failure to apprehend what postmodernism and deconstructionism truly are. Rendering theology in different categories does not qualify as deconstruction. Not even invoking Jacques Derrida positively, which English does, qualifies as deconstruction.

That said, I did wonder what to make of Tony Jones’ endorsement of the book. I concluded that the self-proclaimed “proctologist for the church” could learn a thing or two about bedside manner from Professor English. Another Emergence reference had me in smiles as English related a report of a talk by pastor Tim Condor after which Condor received a “blistering critique” from a graduate student for using phrases such as “define [your life] by Jesus’ story” and “seek the face of God.” I smiled because this terminology would not be unwelcome in either circle I tend to travel in: the Young, Restless and Reformed movement and the older liturgical tradition (think Thomas Cranmer).

English ends his book with
the rationale and an apologetic for the book’s approach: “The case has been made in this book not for new truths, but for new vehicles for the truth. I suggested that Christianity bears many similarities to a story, a language, a game and a culture. Hopefully, these analogies help to fill a need, some lack in our understanding. Hopefully, they communicated truth. But they were never the truth. They were vehicles for the truth. Vehicles come and go.” I commend this book to you on the basis of English’s refreshing humility and his intriguing thought experiment in analogizing our common Faith. If you can make it past the second page (where stereotype appears) without throwing the book down in disgust, you may just enjoy the book immensely.

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Book review: Relationships

Relationships

A Mess Worth Making

Publisher: New Growth Press

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: Yes

A quick search of the terms “must read” and “must-read” on this review site reveals that we have assiduously endeavored to avoid applying this superlative quality to too many books, and even when we have done so, it has always been applied to a certain segment of the church, i.e., pastors or preachers. This run ends today. In Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, I can confidently say it is a book that every Christian should read on the threefold basis of theology, applicability, and accessibility.

THEOLOGY

We all need to hold and seek out sound, biblical theology. While it’s true that the term “biblical” has been bandied about to an unhealthy and unhelpful degree in the contemporary Western Church, at times even employed as a weapon, it is equally unhealthy and unhelpful to dismiss the term because its true meaning is glorious: adherence to the “norming norms” of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and practice. Relationships is such a book.

Lane and Tripp begin by conducting a half-dozen chapters of theological cartography, defining and describing the lay of the land according to the Bible and in relation to human experience. Not content to relegate relationship issues to the categories of mere conflict management or the untouchable ‘here there be dragons’ danger zone, the authors instead point to the highest peak on the horizon, that of the redemptive purposes God intends for all relationships. Their message is soaked in a robust theology of grace, which does not minimize hurt on one hand, nor views relationships through rose-colored glasses on the other.

APPLICABILITY

We all participate in relationships. That inalienable reality (for you really do have to be an alien in order to avoid contact with humanity in all its fallen forms, since you are one of those fallen life forms) is why this book is applicable to everyone. We all sin, we all have agendas, we all worship, we all talk, we all struggle to manage time and money, we are all tempted at times to doubt God’s provision. The previous sentence contains half the chapter titles found in the book, by the way.

A third of the way through the book, I began to communicate via thought-waves with the authors: ‘Tim and Paul, this theology of grace is all very nice, but we can’t always overlook all offenses. Some just have to be dealt with.’ They didn’t let me down, but they did take a few more chapters before dealing with some of the practicalities of conflict. This is as it should be: a house needs to be framed before stairs to the upper floors are built.

ACCESSIBILITY

We need to read books we can understand. I’m aware of the seeming redundancy of this statement, yet hasn’t everyone tried to read a book that has come highly recommended by a source we trust only to find that it fails completely to resonate with our experience and/or that it is written for an audience with a much different vocabulary than we ourselves possess? This isn’t the case with Relationships. In fact, it is such an accessible book and is filled to the gills with so much rich teaching that I hereby assume that everyone who reads this review will read the book, and will henceforth expend no more keystrokes on the superb content of this fine book.

Finally, let me note that the book makes fairly heavy use of Eugene Peterson’s Bible paraphrase The Message and some of Peterson’s other works besides. Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz also makes an appearance with one entire paragraph from Miller quoted approvingly, and C.S. Lewis pops in and out fairly regularly. If you don’t approve of these authors or disdain The Message paraphrase, then you may want to read this book while holding your nose. For even if the authors quoted aren’t to your taste, the rest of the book is a veritable banquet of grace and truth.

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Book review: Pattern of Wounds

Pattern of Wounds

A Roland March Mystery

Publisher: Bethany House

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: Yes

Definitely not for the squeamish, Pattern of Wounds picks up where Detective Roland March left off in Back on Murder, the inaugural book in this mystery series from Bethany House Publishers. If you have not read the first book, do not pass go, do not open the front cover of the second book. A few Amazon reviewers have done so and have paid dearly – they did not enjoy the second book. It is a series and is meant to be read as such. And a fine series it is, thus far.

Roland March, a surly but intriguing Houston Police Department homicide detective, is “back on murder” after redeeming himself in the first book. Patterns of Wounds opens with a brutal murder scene (caveat lector to the sensitive reader) which evokes the mood of the best crime dramas television has to offer.

Where Pattern of Wounds exceeds its predecessor is in its characterization. Whereas I felt a bit alienated from Charlotte, March’s wife, and Teresa Cavallo, March’s sidekick in Back on Murder, both women evoked a fresh sympathy in me this time around. Similarly, March’s own complexities developed further, although he still can’t seem to help being a jerk most of the time. Even the secondary characters don’t come across as cookie-cutter stock characters; not the TV preacher, not the police lieutenant, not even the busybody neighbor. Only Carter Robb, the young minister, could use more development, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see happen in a future Roland March mystery.

Still on the topic of characterization: while I could never accuse March of being a particularly urbane human specimen, I highly enjoyed March’s countrified character foil in Roger Lauterbach of the Harris County Sherrifs Department. The majority of the novel chronicles the investigative tussle between serial killer versus lone killer theories in March’s current case.

What of “Christian” content? Well, first allow me to disclose that I deplore “Christian” being used as an adjective in most cases. As I explained to a family member yesterday, at his current rate March is still a good thirty years away from a conversion. From where I sit, any undue rush towards a conversion might just undermine the authenticity of the character. I use the term “undue” advisedly, being that I am not the author and have no special insight into the contour and trajectory of March’s spiritual condition. We shall see what we shall see in future novels, deo volente.

Appropriately for a review of a mystery novel, I conclude with two mini-mysteries of sorts. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by the progress in Roland and Charlotte’s relationship after being warned by the back cover blurb of the “growing rift in his marriage.” Secondly, could it be that I sighted the author in his tortoiseshell glasses somewhere in the vicinity of Houston’s Epicure Caf’? I could be wrong.

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Book review: The Fort

The Fort

A Novel of the Revolutionary War

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team

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Recommended: Yes

Historical fiction has the power and the potential to teach the reader much about the human condition. And, of course, it can teach much about events and cultures and lifestyles of bygone decades, centuries, and millennia. In the wrong authorial hands it can co-opt history to advance subversive agendas, but its judicious use can open up a world hitherto undiscovered. In his novel The Fort, prolific author Bernard Cornwell turns his literary guns on the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition of 1779.

Forty years before Maine separated from Massachusetts, a small British expeditionary force was deployed to Majabigwaduce, a small loyalist settlement on Penobscot Bay. It was a strategic area, fortifiable and defendable. The British felt confident in sending only three ships and less than a thousand men to defend it. Once arrived, they began to construct a makeshift fort optimistically and grandly christened Fort George after King George III. While the fort was in the early stages of construction, an American force of 1700 men and over 40 ships arrived to conduct military operations against the British entrenched there. The events and non-events that followed are known as the worst travesty in United States naval history until Pearl Harbor.

As in all Bernard Cornwell novels, the characterization in The Fort is careful and artful. Cornwell tries, and succeeds, in portraying the characters warts and all, without undue castigation or undeserved hagiography. He has done thorough research, and not a single character suffers from under-development. I must say that I did find the characters of Paul Revere and Dudley Saltonstall to be much of a muchness, but this may be due to the reader of the audiobook using the same vocal style for the voices of both officers.

Historical fiction as a genre is perhaps most susceptible to the charge of inaccuracy. After all, this type of writing requires filling in narrative gaps in the historical record. Then again, no historical fiction author worth their salt ever claimed to be entirely factual. The best of these authors study the period’s events and ethos rigorously, then lay a compelling and true-to-life narrative over the bare facts. Cornwell is a master at this complicated craft, in my experience. Employing an absolute proliferation of original documents as precursors to each and every chapter, Cornwell has endeavored to synthesize accuracy and artfulness. In my subjective opinion, The Fort is a finer piece of writing than any of Cornwell’s Sharpe books that I have read to date.

Of course this book will not be appropriate for younger readers, since Cornwell has rendered it as true-to-life as possible without succumbing to gratuity. There is no hint of sex but scads of violence, and the soldiers and sailors speak like soldiers and sailors. No contemporary profanity worse than two B-words appear (and fairly often) but I would warn adolescents below the driving age away from reading The Fort due to the sheer vehemence and bloodthirstiness of some of the minor characters (below driving age because when they are drivers they are likely to hear some of this language on the roads). This is war, after all, and cultivating a hate of the enemy was encouraged. Some of the characters in The Fort are God-fearing and God-honoring, but no exploration of their faith occurs in the pages of this book.

In the end, this book has greatest value for its leadership lessons. As some Amazon reviewers have asked, why compose a narrative around the Penobscot Expedition, rife as it was with non-events and failures to act? To paraphrase and expand the old adage: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the actions that led to failure, as well as the non-action that has often led to similar ignominious ends.

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