Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review – All For Jesus

Winston Churchill once declared, “Study history, study history. In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.” The same may be said of church-craft as well. The study of Christ’s bride and her history will bring clarity and conviction in regards to the church’s present situation. All For Jesus, written by authors Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, and Samuel J. Stoesz, considers the work of God in the Christian and Missionary Alliance from 1873 until 1987. A wealth of knowledge from the past, ideas for today, and insight for the future is contained in this work.

The work is divided into four main sections which represent four periods in the history of The Christian and Missionary Alliance: Part One, Formulation, 1873-1881; Part Two, Formation, 1881-1912; Part Three, Redirection, 1912-1936; and Part Four, Acceleration 1936-1987. Highlights from each chapter in each of the four periods will be offered...

In the book’s Introduction, it is suggested that the reason for A. B. Simpson’s success, and the ensuing success of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, is primarily due to the gracious providence of God. The details that emerge over the following four sections give ample evidence of that truth. Truly, God deserves the glory for the work of the many godly men and women who helped propel this one-time alliance into the force for God’s kingdom that it has become.

Part One, entitled Formulation, deals with the pre-twentieth century years between 1873 and 1881. Beginning with the first chapter, The Louisville Experience, the authors begin a fairly detailed account of founder Simpson’s life and ministry. From 1873 until 1879 Simpson pastored in Louisville where ecumenicism and evangelism became two of his appreciated qualities. Just short of six years of ministry in Kentucky, Simpson would take a new direction.

Chapter Two provides a flashback into the earlier years of Simpson’s life in southwestern Ontario where he decided to pursue the ministry and where he met his wife, Margaret. He pastored in Hamilton, Ontario for eight years before leaving for Louisville.

Chapter 2 foundation years 1843 to 1873 Simpson grew up in southwestern Ontario as part of a strict religious family he had a crisis of health and a crisis of faith he decided to pursue the ministry – Simpson met his wife Margaret and became a successful preacher at Knox Presbyterian church in Hamilton after eight years of ministry he decides to leave Hamilton for Louisville

Chapter Three, The New York Pastorate, deals with the years he would move and work in New York City. This period, from 1879 through 1881, Simpson emphasized evangelism; evangelism in North America and a passion for evangelism to the ends of the earth. These years saw Simpson begin a missionary magazine, become convinced of divine healing, experience healing himself, and commit to see the gospel shared overseas. Part One finishes with Simpson resigning his pulpit in New York.

Part Two, chapters Four through Seven, leads the reader through the turn of the century and encompasses the years between 1881 and 1912. It titles the chapters The Gospel Tabernacle; The Two Alliances; The Missionary Explosion; and Changes, Crises, and Convictions.

Chapter Four regards Simpson’s endeavours at the Gospel Tabernacle where many of The Christian and Missionary Alliance’s long-running initiatives would begin. With the creation of this church also came the creation of evangelistic tent meetings, small group gatherings, a healing home, a missionary training college, a convention, and an orphanage. This work could not be locally contained, and it spilled over the border into Canada.

The Two Alliances, chapter Five, deals with four years beginning with 1886. It details the initiation of the two alliances which would later be joined to generate The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The Evangelical Missionary Alliance would be an organization focused on obedience to the Great Commission and in Simpson’s eyes, would speed up the day of the Lord’s return. The Christian Alliance would be a parent organization that would support the missionary effort. It would operate in North America, and give testimony to certain truths while encouraging like-minded believers to put truth into action and was to be a fellowship, and not a denomination.

The end of the nineteenth century is covered in Chapter Six. At this time, three churches identified officially with the Christian alliance: one in New York, one in Toronto, and one in Peterborough. These early churches would spearhead a missionary movement that would contribute to the provision of and for fifty-four missionaries in 1891 and thousands more in the years to come.

The final chapter of Part Two discusses the amalgamation of the two alliances in 1897, introduced in Chapter Six. It describes the continued growth of the fellowship in North America which was a result of, among other things, the steady advance of evangelism at home. Similarly, missionary work around the world continued to expand with missionaries penetrating Asian and South American countries. The charismatic movement, with its divisive teaching on tongues, was another issue the fellowship of growing churches had to deal with.

Part Three, labelled Redirection by the authors, deals with the early twentieth century and includes both World War 1 and the Great Depression. The next three chapters pertain to the working of God and God’s people in the years leading up to World War II.

The eighth chapter’s title indicates coming changes: Question of Succession. These years, 1912-1919 would see a new president take over for patriarch A. B. Simpson and would also see the passing of the man of God. World War I would impact the movement financially, resulting in a shortage of funds for the training institutes at home. However, work in the missionary fields forged ahead as churches committed to resourcing missionary work despite shortages. Paul Rader, arguably the Alliance’s greatest promoter, would become vice-president and the president after Simpson.

The years from 1919 to 1926 are summarized in Chapter Nine. President Rader would begin many new and different evangelistic strategies including the Tabernacle Strategy which saw cheap building quickly erected in order to hold evangelistic outreach. Rader was a controversial leader who was replaced by Frederic Senft when the former resigned.
Chapter 9 19-26

The years of the Great Depression saw another change in leadership with Harry Shuman becoming president at the death of Shuman. As with all institutions during this era, the depression caused financial distress for the Alliance. Once again, however, almost in denial of the reality, the Alliance’s work oversea continued even in light of the cash-strapped situation in North America. Shuman would lead the fellowship through these tumultuous years with an eye for the future. This chapter finishes Part Three.

With a nod to the world around it, Part Four is entitled Acceleration and encompasses the pre-war years, beginning in 1937, and finishes in the year 1987. Chapters Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen deal with an era of great change and great opportunity for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Before the second Great War, the Alliance’s jubilee celebration would occur in 1937. Chapter Eight details a fellowship of believers committed to seeing the gospel spread to the corners of the earth through evangelism. This commitment would be sorely tested in the coming years of conflict. Missionary endeavours and workers would experience, as a result of World War II, persecutions and martyrdoms, trials and tribulations, imprisonments and expulsions. Despite the varied difficulties, the work of the Alliance continued and was quickly restarted where it stopped in the years after the war. President Shuman, well into his seventies, would step down from his position as president in 1954.

Chapter Twelve deals with the presidency of Harry Turner who would oversee the Alliance through the years in which North American church growth would become a major emphasis. President Nathan Bailey, elected in 1960, would see this trend continue. He would also see the emergence of A. W. Tozer, an Alliance man whose influence would rival that of founder A. B. Simpson, primarily through his writing and preaching. Missionary work came under increasing pressure, usually due to regime changes in countries where work was already present. Countries such as Zaire, Indonesia, Guinea, and Viet Nam would be areas of concern for Alliance missionaries. And, in 1974, The Christian and Missionary Alliance would become the denomination that most people considered them to be.

The final years dealt with in this book, 1975 through 1987, are covered in Chapter Thirteen. This chapter reports of the forming of the Alliance World Fellowship and the benefits this brought to worldwide fellowship of Alliance churches. It also discusses the formation of the non-profit relief agency CAMA Services which delivered aid to people in need across the globe. This period saw continued growth in North American congregations as well as developing churches in the urban explosion that continues to this day. In 1978, The Canadian contingent chose to become autonomous thereby paving the way for the creation of The Canadian Christian and Missionary Alliance.

This book was very interesting and equally informative. Having this insight in The Christian and Missionary Alliance cannot help but make one better suited to work in and with the institutions and individuals of this worldwide fellowship. The lessons reach beyond just this denomination, but help one appreciate and grow in one’s outlook and understanding of the global church. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Two Thousand and Fourteen’s Top Book

Before I tell you my choice for top book of 2014, let me share with you a couple of honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions:

Books from the Building Healthy Churches series:
  • Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne 
  • Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God by Bobby Jamieson
  • Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God's Word Today by David Helm
  • Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

I found these books extremely helpful. They are concise, well-written, and deal with subject matter that I find particularly important. The various authors are clearly passionate about their particular topic. And their passion is matched by their competency. Get your hands on all the books from this series and you will not be disappointed.

A Brief Theology of Sport by Lincoln Harvey:
Another short and well-written book on a topic that is dear to my heart. This read was eye-opening and heart-filling for a one-time athlete wannabe theologian like myself. I really appreciate the authors approach and hope this book encourages more discussion on this topic.

The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander:
I really appreciate Mark Dever and his ministry with 9Marks. This books articulates a philosophy of ministry that reflects much of what I think church should be about. I’m greatly encouraged having read this book.

Books on preaching from the Old Testament:
  • Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
  • Is Jesus in the Old Testament? by Ian M. Duguid
  • Joshua: No Falling Words by Dale Ralph Davis

I the summer of 2014, I had my first opportunity to preach a series from the Old Testament. I was thoroughly stretched by the task, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. These three books were invaluable to me and left a lasting impression. Whether you preach or not, these were great reads.

The English Language’s master wordsmith:
  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • Othello by William Shakespeare
  • Henry V by William Shakespeare
  • Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
  • As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

As your eyes return to their normal position, having rolled back into your skull, and after you pick yourself up from the fetal position that bad memories from highschool English class forced you in to, let me suggest to you that Shakespeare is indeed one of the greats. And, if you’re willing, reading a play or two just might leave you pleasantly surprised. I’m looking forward to more of these in 2015.

The Ortlunds and my top two books of 2014:
  • Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund
  • The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Jesus by Ray Ortlund

This is called keeping it in the family. I cannot say enough about these two books by Ray Ortlund and his son Dane. The Gospel is a heart-warming and soul-stirring look at the gospel and the impact it can have on a church, on the church’s members, and on those the church comes in contact with. Not much more than 100 pages, this book is nevertheless a heavyweight. Readable and memorable, The Gospel left me convicted and convinced; convicted by my lack of gospel-ness and convinced that the gospel can overcome that very shortcoming. Ray writes about the gospel in such a way that Jesus indeed looks beautiful. Get this book. Read it. And then pass it on. Edwards on the Christian Life was a book that I anticipated reading when I first heard it would be added to the Theologians on the Christian Life series. When I finally got my hands on it my expectations were resoundingly surpassed. What a book! If Jonathan Edwards is the theological juggernaut that people suggest – and I believe he is, and if we all should be reading him – and I believe we should, than I cannot think of a better place
to start than this gem. I am no Edwards expert, but I have read several of his “must read” volumes and Dane Ortlund’s book brought much clarity to my understanding of this great theologian and his teaching. And yet, this book would be very accessible and encouraging to those who have never read Edwards. I think I spent as much time writing in the margins and underlining passages as I did actually reading the book. Dane’s style is a pleasure to read and he left me wanting to read more of Edwards. These are two great books for 2014. Now, if I had to choose between the two, I’d tip my hat to the younger of the two Ortlunds. And I'm quite certain Ortlund the elder would approve of that decision. But I suggest you get a copy of both books and let the Ortlunds and their books edify.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Year’s Worth of Reading

I try, for sundry reasons, to annually record and report what the past year held for me in terms of reading. Of these many reasons, two are very significant to me. First, it is my way of holding myself to account. I want to be a reader…a literary person as C. S. Lewis would say. Keeping track of the pages I have turned and the volumes I have finished is a way for me to take stock of my reading. Secondly, I hope it is an encouragement to you. An encouragement to read more, and to read more often.

I read less this year than I have in the past few. The main reason for less reading and less books was more preaching and more preparing to preach. I preached far more in 2014 than I anticipated. And this preaching took a toll on my free time and was a regular intellectual withdraw that left the mental reserves lower than they might have been otherwise. Note, however, that this was a trade I gladly made and one I would gladly make again. But between duties at home, duties in the classroom, and duties at the church, I just didn’t read like I had in years past.

Nevertheless, I still flipped plenty of pages and find myself contentedly reminiscing over the list of books I share below.

The first list, in no particular order, are the non-fiction books I greedily grappled with last year. A substantial amount of my reading was either preaching related or ordination related. There are a lot of good ones below, most of which I would gladly recommend. Again, here they are in no particular order:

Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund
A Brief Theology of Sport by Lincoln Harvey
Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright
Shakespeare's Hamlet by Leland Ryke
The Self Life and the Christ Life by A. B. Simpson
The Fourfold Gospel by A. B. Simpson
The Cross of Christ by A. B. Simpson
Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne
Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God by Bobby Jamieson
Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God's Word Today by David Helm
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles
The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund
The Cross and Christian Ministry by D. A. Carson
The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander
Joshua: No Falling Words by Dale Ralph Davis
God in the Whirlwind by David Wells
Five Points by John Piper
Victorious Christian Living by Alan Redpath
Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
Is Jesus in the Old Testament? By Ian M. Duguid
Preaching the Word - Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon by R. Kent Hughes
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor
It Is Well by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
PNTC - The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon by Douglas Moo
The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson
Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax
Creature of the Word by Chandler, Geiger, and Patterson
What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson
How People Change by Lane and Tripp
Death by Living by N. D. Wilson

Though I do not read near as much fiction, I still found time to read several of the Bard’s plays as well as a couple novels by McCarthy and Faulkner. I had set the goal to read a Shakespearean play a month, but fell short as you can see:

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Othello by William Shakespeare
Henry V by William Shakespeare
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Overall, I consider it a gracious gift of God that I have both the opportunity to read books and the availability of books to read. I’m looking forward to another year with my nose buried in a bunch of books.