A Review of Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word

Any responsibly-shepherded new believer will, early on, be given a short (and very important) priority list.

  1. Get involved in a good church.
  2. Cultivate a vibrant prayer life.
  3. Begin studying the Scripture.

While the young Christian may benefit from some direction on the first point, fellowship with brothers and sisters is self-explanatory.  Priority #2 is also fairly basic.  In fact, I have clear memories of the pure, simple prayers of spiritual infancy.  No real coaching needed there.  But priority #3 (Studying the Scriptures) is considerably more complex; the careful, reverent interpretation of God’s Word requires help.  Englishmen Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach have provided Christians of all maturity levels a valuable resource in this important task.  Having just completed their book, Dig Deeper:  Tools for Understanding God’s Word, I can recommend it unreservedly.

The authors begin with the important premise that the Bible actually means something and it can be understood.  Those assumptions may seem rudimentary, but as skepticism continues to rise regarding our ability to draw clear, firm direction from the Scriptures, this is a worthy emphasis.  The book introduces 16 “tools” of interpretation.  Each chapter provides an explanation of the tool along with several examples of this tool on display.  (Fully half the book’s content is actual Bible study material.)  They also provide opportunities for the reader to “test drive” the method in various texts of Scripture.  Helpful, I thought.

The tools are:

  1. The Author’s Purpose Tool
  2. The Context Tool
  3. The Structure Tool
  4. The Linking Words Tool
  5. The Parallels Tool
  6. The Narrarator’s Comment Tool
  7. The Vocabulary Tool
  8. The Translations Tool
  9. The Tone and Feel Tool
  10. The Repetition Tool
  11. The Quotation/Allusion Tool
  12. The Genre Tool
  13. The Copycat Tool
  14. The Bible Timeline Tool
  15. The “Who Am I?” Tool
  16. The “So What?” Tool
Here’s a suggestion:  the reader would benefit, I think, from writing this list, along with the authors’ brief explanations for each, in the flyleaf of the Bible you use for study.  After reading the book, the titles alone are enough to trigger the guiding principle that they point to.  My 5  favorite chapters covered purpose, context, genre, tone and feel and linking words.  The charts in the Bible Timeline chapter were also helpful.

Of this book’s strengths, three stand out.

  • Comprehensiveness.
  • Brevity
  • Accessibility

Writing a book on Bible Interpretation is an ambitious undertaking.  I was pleasantly surprised that Beynon and Sach were able to cover such a topic so thoroughly in a book of 158 pages.  The reason, however, that I expect the book to find wide use is its accessibility.  The writing style is winsome and light (even humorous) without being irreverent.  The authors have taken a topic that could easily become mind-numbingly academic and made it delightful!  I came away from my reading with a desire to study God’s Word; this, I’m sure, would please the authors.

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

Until this month, I put parenting books into two easily-defined categories.  There was Tedd Tripp and there was everyone else.  Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart has served my generation of parents by correcting the Christless moralism that is so prevalent and seductive.  Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson have given parents another resource to aid them in pointing their children Christ-ward.  I’m glad to say that my “must-read” list for moms and dads has doubled.  Give Them Grace is that good.

The authors’ focus (made evident in the book’s subtitle) is the parent’s redemptive mandate to hold before their children the “dazzling” gospel as the one sure and certain hope for all men.  I told my college-age son the other day, “This is not a parenting book with a gospel emphasis.  It’s a gospel book with a parenting emphasis.”  I’m sure that was intentional.

This mother and daughter writing team operates from the proper conviction that what our children need is the gospel — not a new law.  Beyond that, what parents who are “neck deep” in the parenting process need is the gospel.  For that reason, I was encouraged at how frequently a simple and Scripturally-informed summary of Jesus’ work showed up in the text.  It was of particular value to hear the gospel applied to various “case studies”.  I suspect that parents will highlight those sections and use them as a models of Christ-centered parenting.

Early in the book, the reader is faced with the hard reality that the ethos in a Christian home should be qualitatively different that that of a moral Jewish family or noble Mormon family.  We must concede — LDS families are turning out some very charming, courteous, hard-working, modest, polite young people.   To our chagrin, there is often very little that separates the believing family from those who fully reject the work of the Lord Jesus.   This failure must be corrected, and Fitzpatrick and Thompson help.

Elyse Fitzpatrick (the mother in the mother/daughter team) was candid in citing her own moralism during the parenting process.  This willingness is a hope-producing service to the reader, providing a platform to contrast rigid, lifeless rule-keeping to a more grace-driven model.  Never is the expectation of submission to authority weakened — barriers serve.   But the warning is clear:  adherence to a code does not constitute “goodness”.  Grace-less compliance doesn’t make our children “good boys and girls”.  It can, frighteningly, produce something more sinister and dangerous.   Consider this quote:  “Everything that isn’t gospel is law. Every way we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law.”

Unlike this reviewer, the authors are not long on diagnosis while being short on cure.  They provide clear direction.  So, the eager, teachable parent will find helpful, concrete instruction regardless of where they are in the process.  Give Them Grace is profitable (better vital) reading!

Here’s hoping this gospel gem endures subsequent printings and gets broad acceptance.  Our children (and theirs), I’m convinced, will be the beneficiaries.

My Review of Joe Thorn’s “Field Guide” to Sanctification: Note to Self

Few contributors to the Twitterverse cause me to pause my scrolling like Scotty Ward Smith. His pithy observations are Spurgeonesque:  consistently insightful, Christ-centered and aimed at the heart. The latest Scottyism to lift my finger from the mouse came last week. “Do not be surprised”, tweeted he, “if you discover a dozen or more reasons you need the Gospel before lunch today.” His words reinforced a point that has shaped my thinking in recent years: we never outgrow our need for the gospel.

I needed the gospel.
I need the gospel.
I will need the gospel.

That being the case, one’s spiritual vitality must rise or fall on how effectively they are at keeping gospel- truth before them all the time. To that end, Joe Thorn has served the larger Body of Christ with his helpful new book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself.

Like so many, my introduction to the idea of “preaching the gospel to yourself every day” came from Jerry Bridges. Prior to that, I was hazy on the role that meditating on the gospel played post-grace, pre-glory. I have since concluded that holding the work of Christ before us all the time is central to any ongoing, practical sanctification. What then is “preaching the gospel to yourself”?  Is it little more than the recitation of facts — the passionless muttering of the key components to orthodox soteriology?   Clearly, it’s far more than that, but some coaching on this subject could be helpful.  Thorn’s book will, I believe, best serve those convinced of the “how come” but unsure of the “how to” by filling in the corners of this vital discipline.

It is imminently useful!

Devotional without being thin.
Theological without being academic.
Accessible without being trite.
Profound without being verbose.

I envision people using this as a field guide to battling sin in a way that is theologically-informed and practical. In the same way that people have used Valley of Vision for years, this book could be used effectively alongside your Bible and journal.

It’s usefulness is it’s directness. Every chapter begins the same — “Dear Self”. This format allows the author to be “preachy” in the very best sense of the word.

Scanning the chapter titles will give you an idea of what the book is about.

“You are proud.”
“Know your idols.”
“Stop complaining.”
“Suffer well.”
“Stop pretending.”
“Be Humble in your Theology.”
“Kill your sin.”

Needless to say, this book isn’t suited for those just looking for a little “devotional thought” for the day. It will, however, provide hope and Scripture-besotted direction for anyone who is soberly and tenaciously battling remaining corruption, and for those seeking to mortify their inner legalist, it is flesh-repellant. (Or as Scotty Smith might say, “It’s gospelicious!”)

I’ve read it through. Now I intend to re-read it. Slowly. Like the author intended.

The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary

Since my college days, when I was first introduced to the work of B.B. Warfield, I have had an appreciation for his bold, impassioned defense of Christian orthodoxy.  Like many, I associate Warfield with the doctrine of inspiration, for that was the thorny debate dominated the theological landscape at the turn of the Twentieth Century when the “Lion of Princeton” was most active.  The further I got into ministry, as my theology reformed and I heard more about Warfield, the greater my interest became.  Then, when I heard of his devoted commitment to his invalid wife, Annie Kinkead Warfield, my admiration grew to the point that I had to learn more of this giant of the faith.  For that reason, I was thrilled to see Crossway offer a comprehensive summary of Warfield’s theology:  Fred Zaspel’s The Theology of B.B. Warfield.  I am grateful to have access to this valuable tool.  However broad the readership, I am confident that the motivated seeker will draw much from Zaspel’s offering.

The book is aptly subtitled, A Systematic Summary. What the author has done is mine the vast reserve of Warfield’s published works (Books, articles, journal entries, etc.) and systematize them.  This was not what I initially expected.  My expectation was an edited work of Warfield’s writing, which would have been a great contribution.  This is as good. Maybe better.

The biographical sketch and introduction to “Old Princeton” provides the reader with a helpful cultural and theological context by which to study Warfield’s teaching.  This intro provides the reader with a “peg” on which to hang this admirable theologian, particularly given the rise of liberalism, naturalism and neo-orthodoxy.  Warfield served the church well during those volatile years.

Of course, the primary value of this work (and it’s state purpose) is the categorization of the subject’s writings.  It is an immense undertaking to distill such a massive volume of material into one book, but Zaspel has done so efficiently and with impressive economy of words.

This “Systematic Summary” is thorough in that it covers a broad spectrum of fields, from Apologetics and Anthropology to Pneumatology to Bibliology.  I’m comfortable that in virtually any sphere of Biblical study, were I to ask, “What does B.B. Warfield believe about ________________?”, it will be addressed in some measure here.

For a man linked to academia, I’m encouraged by the devotional warmth of much of Zaspel’s inclusions.  I was pleased at how quotable Warfield is.  Here are a few examples:

On the heart of a minister: “Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. ‘What!’ is the appropriate response, ‘than ten hours over your books, on your knees?’ Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology…Put your heart into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them.”

A Summary of the Holy Spirit’s work in Salvation from his “Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith: “The Holy Spirit. I believe that the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ is effectually applied to all His people by the Holy Spirit, who works faith in me and thereby unites me to Christ, renews me in the whole man after the image of God, and enables me more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness; until, this gracious work having been completed in me, I shall be received into glory: in which great hope abiding, I must ever strive to perfect holiness in the fear of God.”

On the glory of the Incarnation: “The glory of the incarnation is that it presents to our adoring gaze not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man – one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is: one on whose almighty arm we can rest, and to whose human sympathy we can appeal.”

Pithy statements like these make the book a worthy investment for anyone who teaches and loves sound doctrine.  Which leads me to my final point– the value of Zaspel to preachers.

As a teaching elder, I expect to use the book most frequently as a reference tool and I anticipate relying heavily on it.  For instance, if I am studying or teaching on the dual nature of Christ, I can find 8 to 10 pages on the subject (a sub-head under the larger category of Christology) drawn from Warfield’s voluminous writings.  If I am unable to plow through full books on the subject, this tool will provide a succinct, clear discussion of the topic at hand, often with pithy quote from Warfield.  Most citations of any length are indented so it’s easy to reference.  I suggest that the reader mark up the book with notations in the margin, perhaps a “BBW” alongside noteworthy quotes.  This will help them later, when looking for material, to distinguish Zaspel from Warfield.

Since it’s likely that this book’s greatest usefulness and broadest impact will be as a reference tool, I’m pleased that there are ample footnotes and citations.  Of particular value for those who will draw from this material in teaching are the two indices — one general, one Scripture.  I expect to glean much for many years from Warfield, thanks to Zaspel’s massive contribution.  Time well spent.