Waldron – A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith — A Review

Waldron, Samuel E. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 5th ed. Leyland, England: Evangelical Press, 2016.

What do you believe? What does your church believe? Do you know? Can you spell it out? Are your beliefs consistent with those of faithful believers of the past? Are your beliefs novel?

For centuries, faithful Christians have sought to outline their understanding of biblical teaching through the use of confessions of faith. For particular Baptists, the Second London Baptist Confession of faith (the 1689), is of tremendous importance. However, as with any older document, modern readers may need a hand to understand the teaching and intent of men who wrote during a different time, under different circumstances, using different vocabulary. Perhaps the single most important work to help particular Baptists of today understand the 1689 is Samuel Waldron’s A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, now in its fifth edition.

In this significant work, Waldron writes for us a chapter on each chapter of the 1689. In each chapter, Waldron shares the text of the 1689, outlines the chapter, and then explains to us significant features. Sometimes these features include notes on how the 1689 compares to the Westminster Confession (1647) or the Savoy Declaration (1658). Sometimes the exposition is a thought-for-thought walk through the chapter. And sometimes, if the chapter is lengthy or the topics particularly heavy, Waldron will skip certain points to highlight what he believes most important.

Because the 1689 is such an outstanding document, this work by Waldron can hardly help but be worthwhile. Waldron’s work highlights significant theological issues that church leaders and members need to address. This book is also quite encouraging, as it expounds for us an encouraging confession from the word of a glorious God. The vast majority of what is said here will be embraced by all faithful believers, Baptist, Presbyterian, or otherwise. Yet Waldron, like the 1689, is not afraid to highlight particular Baptist distinctives when they arise.

In settings where believers may quibble with the wording of the 1689, those same believers may quibble with Waldron’s conclusions. This should not be surprising in a work of over five hundred pages. What one believes about the Sabbath, the Pope, or eschatology may not always mesh with Waldron’s conclusions—though they certainly might. But differences in conclusion in a few areas should by no means prevent a pastor or eager student from benefitting from the work Waldron has done.

Waldron’s work alongside the works of Rob Ventura and James Renihan is a significant pillar for Baptist studies. Unlike Ventura’s work, Waldron’s feels more consistent coming from a singular voice. However, the work edited by Ventura may be more thorough in its unpacking of individual chapters. The Renihan work will be more strongly historical, though I will have to reserve my conclusions on this thought until I have finished reading that one.

I would wholeheartedly recommend A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith to any Christian, especially those looking into reformed and Baptistic doctrine. Pastors, if you are not sure about the 1689, this book would be a great place to start and learn. For church members in churches that embrace the 1689, this book would be a solid tool in helping the less familiar dig deeply into what the church claims to believe.

** I received a copy of this work from the publisher in exchange for my willingness to post an honest review. **

A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 edited by Rob Ventura — A Review

Ventura, Rob, ed. A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Ross-Shire, United Kingdom: Mentor, 2022.

Knowing and explaining what we believe is vital for any Christian. Throughout history, solid believers have worked hard to set down for us clear, thorough, and yet accessible summaries of our faith. These godly men have not sought to override the authority of Scripture or to elevate their views to the level of divine inspiration, but to serve the church by summarizing and clarifying biblical doctrine. Historically, the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 has become a significant example of such writing, especially for Baptists.

Unfortunately, as time passes, English-speaking Christians may find themselves less and less familiar with documents like the 1689. Today we use words differently and face different challenges to faithful doctrine. Culturally, our distance from the reformation makes some of the writing in the 1689 such as that which focuses on a response to Roman Catholicism more difficult for some to understand. If we do not want to lose sight of the inestimable value of the Second London Baptist Confession, we need faithful teachers to help us to see the depth and beauty of the document.

Christians, therefore, should be grateful for works like the newly released A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 edited by Rob Ventura. Ventura and a host of other authors have given the church a gift by writing essays for us on each chapter of the 1689. These chapters help us to understand the doctrine, the language, and the historical context behind the words of the confession . the authors show us not only what is being said in the 1689, but also why it matters and how it may apply in our current context.

Reading through this work, I found myself deeply encouraged at a number of points. As authors helped to clarify and even simplify difficult theological concepts, my heart was blessed. When difficult doctrinal issues were on the table—think things like divine impassibility, the trinity, or the hypostatic union—the authors neither shied away nor made the topic more complicated.

Working through 32 essays on the 32 chapters of the 1689, I did not find myself always agreeing with the authors in every respect. But I would by no means suggest that such should prevent anyone from giving this book a place on their shelves. Sometimes I found myself wishing the chapters were longer, but this is not a truly fair criticism. Many of the topics covered in single chapters are topics about which multi-volume works have been written. While I would expect any reader to have a single issue or two where he or she would disagree with the authors in this work, I would also expect that faithful Baptists will find themselves both in agreement and sweetly encouraged by what they read in every chapter.

I would recommend this book to a variety of folks. Church elders could use this book to strengthen their doctrinal understanding and agreement. Leaders might want to use the chapters of this book as material for theological Sunday School classes or home groups. Church leaders and members considering adopting a more solid confession of faith would find this book a tremendous help. I would strongly recommend this book to any Baptist who is unfamiliar with the Second London Baptist Confession, as this document is vital to understanding what we believe, who we are, and where we came from. I would also recommend this book to non-Baptists as a way to see just how similar the 1689 is to other significant confessions such as the Westminster Confession (1646) and the Savoy Declaration (1658) while also gaining an understanding of where and why we differ.

** Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

Neil Shenvi’s Why Believe — A Review

Neil Shenvi. Why Believe?: A Reasoned Approach to Christianity. Wheaton: Crossway, 2022. 272 pp.

Over the past few years, the name Neil Shenvi has become known among certain Christian circles. Shenvi, a PhD research scientist and homeschooling dad of four, has offered a great deal of helpful and gracious material regarding the issue of critical theory in a variety of arenas. So, when I saw that he was releasing an upcoming book offering a reasoned approach to the believability of Christianity, I immediately reached out to the publisher for my review copy. I was not disappointed!

In Why Believe, Shenvi takes his readers through a variety of thoughtful arguments that point to the reasonability and believability of the faith. Borrowing from thinkers such as C. S. Lewis, Shenvi challenges readers to seriously consider the claims of and about Jesus. Looking at science, Shenvi points to evidence for God in nature, even in astronomy. And, telling his own story, the author helps his readers to see how a reasonable, thoughtful, scientifically minded man moved from skepticism to belief.

As I read through this work, I found myself particularly enjoying the logical construction of Shenvi’s arguments. Perhaps this is because of his scientific background. Whatever the reason, I find that Shenvi’s writing is something I would not hesitate to recommend to a thoughtful person who is not sure about the veracity of the Christian claim. And, honestly, this is not something I would say about every apologetic text out there.

Understand what you are getting in picking up this book. Shenvi is not writing to solve every theoretical problem with the faith or to settle every objection potentially posed. This book is evidential apologetics and not presuppositional in nature—though Shenvi never attempts to find that elusive and nonexistent neutral starting point. He will not settle for you arguments about the age of the earth or the problem of evil. Instead, in many ways, Shenvi simply takes the objections to the faith that we often encounter and presents very reasonable responses to show that the faith is at least as credible as any alternative theory. For example, in response to naturalistic attempts to explain away the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, Shenvi points out that, when all evidence is weighed, the possibility of resurrection is only less likely if one assumes the impossibility of anything supernatural.

I happily recommend that believers interested in a new, clear, helpful evidential apologetics book pick up Shenvi’s work. Perhaps his words can open doors for skeptics to give consideration to the faith they assume to be illogical on its surface. Only the work of Almighty God can convert a soul, and I would certainly never suggest otherwise. But, perhaps the Lord will use these encouraging and well-reasoned arguments to at least make someone sit down and talk.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Strange New World — A Review

Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), 208 pp, $17.99.

How did we get here? For society to have become what we have become, to value what we value, to disavow what we disavow, there must have been a trajectory. In Strange New World, Carl Trueman traces for us the course of change that has shaped society’s embrace of radical individualism which has defined for us a new sort of ethic, particularly a new sexual ethic.

It is possible that you have heard of Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. That work has been applauded by scholars since its publication. If that work has a flaw, it is that it may be too rigorous, too academic, for the average reader. Strange New World is the more accessible version of that tremendous work, offering the same analysis without all the weighty and difficult quotations that will slow some readers down.

In Strange New World, the author tracks for us a variety of changes in the way philosophers, artists, and other influential people have explained reality. For example, many now suggest that a person’s internal view of himself or herself actually defines that person more than does any external or physical reality. Technology has allowed for changes in our bodies and in our families that were never available to previous generations. In many parts of society, to object to or limit a person’s choices is now seen as doing that person harm instead of as honest disagreement as it was in times past. Those shifts have worked their way into a commonly held view of truth that has become prevalent in our society. These changes are impacting how many nations address issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, religious liberty, sexual morality, LGBTQ issues, victimhood, and a host of other things.

Most of this book, like Trueman’s larger book, is an analysis of the patterns of thought and social change that have brought us to our present circumstance. This is not a theological study intended to teach a sweet lesson with each chapter. This is a faithful analysis of what society has embraced over time and why. The author does offer in the final chapter some very helpful points for modern Christians about how to navigate the world in which we live, functioning more like second century Christians in a world hostile to their faith.

When I read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern self, I recommended it for those who were willing to put in the work. Now I wholeheartedly recommend Strange New World. This newer work is shorter and more accessible with the same solid insight.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for posting an honest review.

Benn — Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther — A Review

Wallace P. Benn. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: Restoring the Church in the Preaching the Word Commentary Series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

The Preaching the Word commentary series is an interesting and helpful set of books. At the same time, this series is not intended to be the resource for in-depth analysis of the word. Instead, this series is helpful to preachers and Bible students who want to understand a book of the Bible and get a solid feel for how to communicate important truths from those books to the people of God. This newest volume in the set covering Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther is a great example of the style and intent of this encouraging series.

As a commentary that covers three significant historical books of the Old Testament from the time after the Babylonian exile, Benn’s work is full of encouragement for believers who are living in a world that is not precisely what they would want it to be. In the preface, the author writes:

“The position canonically and historically of these books written after the exile is also of particular significance to us, as I believe the church in the West is going through a time of exile or judgment because of its manifest unfaithfulness to the gospel and the Word of God. Despite many encouragements, liberal teaching has eroded confidence in the Holy Scriptures, and we are not winning generally against the huge neo-pagan secular and materialistic tide. May God have mercy on us and restore, revive, and bless his people so that our nations may once again be shaken by the power of the gospel to change hearts and transform lives.”

As a reader, I particularly enjoyed the applicational tone of this commentary. Every chapter points to the hearts of believers. Each chapter helps us to see how New Testament Christians can apply the principles Benn brought out from the chapters of Old Testament history. In his section on Ezra, Benn even included a familiar song of worship to help believers better respond to what we have seen.

In simplest form, I believe that this commentary is helpful to believers who want a book that will familiarize them with the text of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. It is better than a study Bible or Sunday School lesson, but not quite as intellectual or scholarly as many difficult commentaries. I believe that pastors can benefit from the applicational nature of this writing. Any believer can gain from using this book as an aid to personal study or devotional reading. There are great encouragements to rest in the sovereignty of God, to trust God’s ultimate goodness, and to obey his commands even in a world that appears to oppose you on every side.

What I would offer as criticisms here primarily apply in the work’s design. If you know the Preaching the Word series, you already know what you are getting when you read one of these books. But a pastor who wants something to help him truly juggle the thorny doctrinal or interpretive issues of a text may find himself wanting more. And, when Benn looks at something in a way different than you expect, there is not enough argument in the text to be convincing. As an example, at the conclusion of Esther, Benn suggests that the text may be showing us a flaw in Esther’s character, a bloodthirstiness in the response to those who would attack the Jews. I would ask if the author of the Scripture actually intends us to agree with that mindset, or is that something brought to the text from Benn’s own sensibilities and those of some other scholars? Unfortunately, the scope of this kind of work does not allow for a convincing interaction.

All-in-all, I would recommend this commentary with the understanding that we should let it be what it is. This book is simple, straight forward, and encouraging. It is helpful and a fine addition to any study notes on these Old Testament books.

** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as part of a book reviewer program. My review is not influenced by the publisher in any way. **

The Pastor as Counselor — A Review

David Powlison. The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

Every pastor should read David Powlison. I seldom say that every anything should read anyone. Powlison is special. Though this dear saint recently went home to be with his Lord, the strong yet sweet words of a gracious author, teacher, and counselor live on.

The Pastor as Counselor feels to me like a sweet farewell. Published posthumously, this brief work serves as a helpful reminder of what Powlison spent his life teaching. Pastors are called by God to minister the word to people in both public and private settings. Because we have the word of God and the Spirit of God, we have strength and power to draw upon in helping others that therapists often lack. And, because faithful pastors serve people from a place of established relationship rather than weekly appointments, we have opportunities to minister to the hearts of people in ways that others simply cannot match.

This book will not teach you biblical counseling. What it will do is give you a solid argument for why pastors should be counseling in their congregations as well as a solid explanation of the advantages of such counseling. This book from the close of Powlison’s ministry could be a sweet introduction for many to a man whose work is truly valuable to the people of God.

** I Received a free copy of this work in exchange for posting an honest review as part of a reviewers program. **

Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church — A Review

Matt Smethurst. Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021. 176 pp. $14.99.

Matt Smethurst has given the church a true gift in his work on deacons in the Building Healthy Churches series from 9Marks. The books in this series tend to be short, readable, biblical, and practical. Deacons is no exception.

The role of deacons in any local church is an extremely important though often misunderstood office. God shaped his church perfectly, providing for deacons and elders to serve and shepherd the body. Yet in many cases, what deacons are to do or who deacons are to be is a mystery.

In this valuable resource, the author offers help for anyone involved in the church to aid us in thinking more clearly about God’s plan for deacons. Through these chapters, we learn of mistakes that many of us have experienced as well as the historical background to the office. The author takes his readers through the biblical qualifications for deacons and suggests multiple areas in which they may serve. In a nice closure to this work, Smethurst shows us both what benefits deacons bring to the church as well as the God-honoring beauty of their service. And, in a couple of helpful Appendices, we find a discussion of whether or not the Bible allows for women to serve in the deacon role and a helpful questionnaire that the author uses in his own church for potential deacons.

As an elder in a church with deacons who already serve well, I most certainly believe that this book will be an excellent resource. I believe that it can encourage our deacons and help us to better consider others to potentially serve. I also believe that this work can serve as a helpful source of ideas as we seek to better organize and direct our church’s ministry.

I also believe that this book can be a great tool for pastors and leaders in churches where the idea of the role of the deacon needs to be better understood and defined. Many of the chapters of this book would make excellent small group studies or could be the seed for faithful sermons that would help to teach the body about the gift of godly deacons.

Without reservation, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

—Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self — A Review

Carl R. Trueman. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020. 432 pp. $20.99.

Some books we read are polemics. Some are mere complaints. But, every once-in-a-while, we come across a book that is genuinely enlightening. Such is Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, is a Christian and historian. This work is Trueman’s analysis of the factors that have led us to our present cultural moment. As Trueman explains, his goal is to examine how our culture has come to both understand and even embrace the statement, “I am a woman in a man’s body.” This is not an analysis of basic biblical sexual ethics. Instead, this is a historical look at the forces that have come together over the past centuries to change how our society thinks so that a thought which would have been beyond comprehension to one generation is socially understood, accepted, and applauded by another.

Trueman, after looking at some ways of thinking about any cultural moment, traces the history of individualism beginning with the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He then examines the influence of poets from a few centuries ago such as Wordsworth, Shelley, and Blake. We read the thoughts of important historical figures such as Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Then the author proceeds to more modern social and political influencers to explain how our culture has come to think as it does.

For the Christian thinker, this historical and philosophical timeline is a powerful tool to show us that the present moral and cultural situation is far more than sexual rebellion. Our present moment is tied to a full-fledged rejection of the biblical view of reality. In simple terms, the Bible presents to us reality as a thing external to us, a thing to which we must conform, a thing created and determined by God. But many throughout the centuries have begun to seek to declare that reality is internally formed by the individual and that communities do harm to individuals when forcing them to conform to an external standard. This sort of thinking works itself out in a belief that one’s gender is determined, not by one’s biology, but by one’s perception of oneself. That determination moves forward to expressing that a refusal to accept and applaud a person’s perceived reality will eventually be seen as a hateful attack on the person rather than a simple disagreement about the facts of a situation.

This work is incredibly helpful in explaining our present cultural moment. It is not, however, simple. Trueman is a skilled writer and thinker. He does quite well in presenting complex thoughts. But this book is not easy. Trueman must address the writings of philosophers, poets, and other influencers from the past, thoughts which are not always easy to unpack after a first or even a second reading. Thus, I would not recommend this book to a casual reader. This book would make an outstanding textbook for a college or seminary class. It is excellent for someone who enjoys philosophy. It is a true help to someone wanting to understand why there appears to be no common ground in the thinking of groups which differ on issues of our understanding of sexuality.

While I cannot call this work easy to read, I can say that this work is important. I have read nothing over the past several years that is even close to being as helpful as The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self in explaining how culture presently thinks and the roots that have born this fruit. Trueman is clear, fair, and kind. He does not take cheap shots. Nor does he gloss over important implications of what he sees. Carl Trueman does a true scholar’s work, and he should be commended.

Michael Kruger – Surviving Religion 101 — A Review

Michael J. Kruger. Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

Keeping the faith once you leave the home is a challenge for any young person. It is harder to live in a world full of skeptics, hardships, challenges, and temptations. Students need to know that, while there may be many questions they face, all these questions have been asked before. Students need to grasp that there are thoughtful answers to their toughest questions. Michael Kruger, in Surviving Religion 101, offers students such answers.

Michael Kruger is no stranger to thoughtful argument. Having written on issues as complex as biblical canonicity, Kruger is not afraid of challenges. But unlike a seminary level treatment of complex theological or historical issues, this new work from Kruger is written for a person just headed off to college and it would certainly be accessible even to students a bit younger.

One of this books’ most excellent attributes is its sweet tone throughout. Unlike some apologetics works that aim to demolish enemy arguments, Kruger’s writing is soft and sweet. This is not because Kruger is soft on truth. Rather, Kruger has written each of the book’s chapters as a letter for his own daughter beginning her collegiate career. Kruger writes as a dad to a young lady he loves. He treats her potential questions seriously but never harshly. His arguments are thoughtful and helpful without resorting to sarcastic belittling.

A look at the table of contents will show the reader that Kruger walks through a variety of objections to the faith as well as personal struggles a Christian might face. The author understands that, as a young person walks onto the college campus, she well may be faced with difficult questions raised by people who are much smarter and much more well studied. As any faithful dad would want to do, Kruger reminds his daughter that there are answers available to her if she will take the time to think and to work a bit. He assures his daughter that she does not have to fear being around smart professors who do not believe, being faced with questions about the authenticity or reliability of Scripture, or being faced with the world’s moral objections to the morality of the faith.

As a pastor, I would strongly recommend Surviving Religion 101 to pastors, parents, student ministry leaders, and young people preparing for college. This book could be a great help to believers of any age who are facing the difficult objections that the world throws their way. I’m personally considering using the chapters of this text as a helpful outline for an adult Sunday School class in our congregation. My recommendation is that you buy this book, give it to students, and enjoy the strong argument and sweet tone as you take a stronger hold on your own faith.

*** I received a free eBook version of this book in exchange for an honest review. ***

Greg Gilbert – Assured — A Review

Greg Gilbert. Assured: Discover Grace, Let Go of Guilt, and Rest in Your Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. 157 pp.

How do I know that I am saved? Should I question or even doubt my salvation? What do I do with my own fears about my salvation? Questions like these and others are what Greg Gilbert answers in a helpful and winsome way in his latest book, Assured.

What I enjoyed most about this work is Gilbert’s constant, clear focus on the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Unlike many authors who drive people only to check for good works to find salvation, Gilbert urges readers to focus strongly on the gospel first. The first question that a doubting person should ask is whether or not they believe the truth of the gospel. Do you believe in Christ? Do you know of your own sin? Do you believe that Jesus died to pay for your sin and rose again? Do you desire to surrender your life to Jesus in faith? Such questions are more important than other measures that often leave us doubting.

Gilbert is not at all promoting an easy believism in this work. On the contrary, he is quite clear that genuinely saved people will have lives that show that genuine faith. The point that Gilbert is strongly making, however, is that our focus should be far more on Christ than on self as we seek to be able to rest in God’s grace.

In this work, Gilbert will deal with the issue of assurance from a variety of angles. Gospel is first and foremost, but the author does not ignore the witness of the Spirit, good works, or the promises of God. He also addresses several mistakes that people often make that make assurance more difficult. Gilbert does not ignore the big problem of besetting sins but deals with the concept in a biblical and pastoral way.

I read through this book quite quickly, and I found it both helpful and enjoyable. This would be a great book to work through with a friend who is struggling with assurance, or even for you to read if you have your own doubts. It also might be a helpful tool for a short Sunday School series or home study.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for agreeing to post an honest review.