JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.



On The Incarnation by Saint (why not) Athanasius – Brief Review

This has sat in my ‘Drafts’ folder for too long. This a brief review/recommendation (with quotes) of On the Incarnation by (Saint) Athanasius (Born: 296 AD, Died: May 2, 373 AD). Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever it was I was expecting, this wasn’t it. The book is a total of 110 pages (starts at page 9) with the Preface, an essay by C. S. Lewis on reading older works. This is followed by an excellent, quite lengthy, introduction and explanation by the translator which needs to be read first.

‘On The Incarnation’ itself, is a bit over half the book at ‘only’ 61 pages. But what a half! The way it’s written appeals, I think, to the way my mind likes to work. That makes it a little easier for me to read. But it really isn’t a difficult read at all. In this edition footnotes are rare. There is no index (too short a book really) but there is a list of Suggested Further Reading (ps. 45-47).

Again (like Patrick), what we find here is a fully worked out and functioning Trinitarian theology. I don’t think we should tire of pointing this out given what Muslim friends might believe. Athanasius wrote this work some two hundred years before Mohammed was even born (571). Which means Mohammed did not check his sources and was simply wrong on The Trinity and especially on the deity of The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reading these older works is not a waste of time. We think we’re so sophisticated but forget, or are ignorant of the fact, that older writers have already addressed many of our problems.

Athanasius divides this work essentially into six sections. I don’t know what other editions look like, but in this edition, the work is in numbered sub-sections which is quite helpful. It isn’t endless pages of dense text. This book is Part 2 of his previous work Against the Gentiles, so it dives right in by saying ‘In what preceded we have sufficiently treated a few points from many…(p. 49.)’ The translator deals with Against the Gentiles in the introduction.

After a brief introduction (sub-section 1), we have the First Section: The Divine Dilemma regarding Life and Death (p. 50, sub-section 2). The next section is on page 60, sub-section 11: The Divine Dilemma regarding Knowledge and Ignorance.

Athanasius begins by showing that the world came into being by nothing other than that God willed it into existence without any pre-existing matter. He also shows how ‘human beings’ were also created by God. But then having sinned and fallen into a state of condemnation he shows how (us) ‘they became insatiable in sinning (p.54).’
On page 55 he then says ‘Therefore, since the rational creatures were being corrupted and such works were perishing, what should God, being good, do?’ Should God ‘Permit the corruption prevailing against them and death to seize them?’
It would have been weakness by God, rather than goodness if having created human beings only to leave them in their corruption. But God had already said to Adam if he were to eat of the forbidden tree they would die. God would be seen to be a liar had He not acted in judgment. So Athanasius writes ‘For it was absurd that God, the Father of truth, should appear a liar for our profit and preservation. (p.56)’ Is that the sort of God we want, a liar? I don’t think so. How could we then ever trust anything He says to us.

Here’s a few more from this sub-section. ‘What then had to happen in this case or what should God do? Demand repentance from human beings for their transgression? He puts it in the form of a dilemma for God. It’s put this way for our understanding. The Scripture never presents God as being in a dilemma. It’s a way of trying to understand the lengths that God will go to rescue human beings. ‘But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast in death….’

What is to be done?

‘Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being? For his it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruptibility and to save the superlative consistency of the Father. (p.56).
The first few sections I absolutely loved reading. It made me wonder afresh at the sheer undeserved magnificent grace of God in sending a Saviour. We must also equally emphasise, with His Deity, that Jesus was truly a man, not some kind of illusion or phantom, but a real flesh and blood man. And so:

‘For He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere. Not while He moved that [body] was the universe left void of His activity and providence. But, what is most marvellous, being the Word, He was not contained by anyone, but rather Himself contained everything.’ p. 66.
Athanasius also writes:
‘When then the theologians (Athanasius specifically means the writers of Scripture) in this matter say that he ate and drank and was born, know that the body, as body, was born and was nourished on appropriate food, but that he, the God Word, present in the body yet arranging all things, made known through the works wrought in the body that he was not himself a human being but the God Word. But these things are said of him, since the body which ate and was born and suffered, was no one else’s but the Lord’s, and as he became human, it is proper for these things to be said of him as human, that he might be shown possessing a real not illusory body.’ p. 68

And further:

‘You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God. Those acts are rightly said to be His acts, because the body which did them did indeed belong to Him and none other; moreover, it was right that they should be thus attributed to Him as Man, in order to show that His body was a real one and not merely an appearance.’ p.68.
One of his arguments for the crucifixion, from a human perspective, is at the time of Christ, the worst, the most horrendous death devised by wicked men was crucifixion. I’m paraphrasing but Athanasius says it had to be that way so no one could say ‘well, that was a pretty easy death.’ It was a terrible death! From a prophetic scriptural perspective, this is what was prophesied.

This is a lengthy quote but I think important. (To save typing it up the quote is from another translation – lazy I know. It’s not that different). I hope it whets your appetite to read Athanasius yourself:

“Well then,” some people may say, “if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honour than to endure so shameful a death.” But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Saviour did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger, because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself. p. 71 & 72 in my edition.

I’ll leave it at that. It really is the most amazing book!! I cannot recommend this important work enough. I need, I must, read it again. It’s available in many versions, several, I think on Kindle for a £1. I don’t have the expertise to know which is the best translation and I’m guessing there’s not THAT much difference anyway – I could be wrong. I’ll stick with this one. It was recommended to me by Nick Needham and that’s good enough for me. Thanks Nick.

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas – A Recommendation

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas, Reformation Heritage Books, 2020. I paid £4.50 for my copy. Sadly not available from 10 of Those. Try your local Christian Bookshop or failing that, £6.50 at Amazon.

The book is described as an ‘Evangelistic Booklet.’ I had a couple of people in mind to give a copy. I try not to give books and stuff that I’ve not read so set about reading it. Not quite in one sitting but very nearly. It’s an easy to read book. By easy I mean it isn’t complicated. You don’t need a degree to read it. The 10 chapters are not long with the whole book just 96 pages with stories and illustrations throughout. I loved it.

I can hear Geoff as I read and can see the evangelistic motivation behind it, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Yes, give it to your non-Christian friends. Do that. What I like about it is the sheer honesty of it. I love to hear Geoff pray and it’s in that vein. A phrase popular a while ago (by some) was that Christians need the Gospel too. And they do. I do. I need to hear the Gospel. Yes, I was thinking on the person I was reading it for, but I was drawn into the book as well. I needed to hear these things. It’s been a blessing to read it. Christians will be encouraged.

Let’s pray that when we read Geoff’s emails we’ll read of sinners brought to the Saviour by the Saviour as He uses this book for His Glory. Wouldn’t that be great!

Just go and buy a copy, read it, and then give it to someone.

History: A Students Guide by Nathan A. Finn – A Review, sort of.

History: A Student’s Guide by Nathan A Finn, Crossway, 2016. This is part a series called ‘Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.’ I came across this book through a casual reference by Michael Haykin on Facebook. So, thank you Michael, I really enjoyed reading it.

I’m not going to be pursuing any career, let alone a career in history, so the book has no relevance to me in that regard. But if you are at the beginning of your further education or are considering a change where studying history is a requirement or especially if you are a Christian studying for a degree in history, then you should read it. Typically, it would probably be found in a university book store. I can’t really recommend the book for general reading because it probably isn’t meant to be used in that way. But if you are so inclined then do read it. Ministers / Pastors would probably find it helpful. Also, check out the other books in the series.

It’s not a long book (111 pages) but the text is on the small side and the footnotes (Hooray for footnotes!) are even smaller. It has ‘Questions for reflection (p.101), a Glossary (p.103-4), Resources for further study (p.105-6), a General Index (p.107-9), and a Scripture Index (p.111). He packs a lot in! I’m not sure, but I think all the ‘Resources’ are all of Christian ‘Historians.’

The book then is written for Christians and there are many aspects of the book that I found helpful and encouraging. Here are three things that I found helpful – maybe you would too.

Presentism. This absolutely plagues our world today. Here’s the Glossary entry, ‘Presentism: Any attempt to read present assumptions back into the past.’ We see this in shedloads today. It is like an epidemic. It is abhorrent. Every historian will know the quote from L. P. Hartley even if they haven’t read the book. Nathan quotes it on p.29 “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” He also points out this applies to the recent past as well, and not just to ancient history. In the strongest possible way I can, dumping present morals on the past is not only dangerous, it is also stupid.

Providentialism. This was quite an interesting discussion. This is the way Christian Historians (can) see the hand of God working in or through history. God is clearly working in history and the world is on a linear path to its end, and if it were not for God there would be no history at all. But reading the hand of God into a particular event, for good or ill, is notoriously difficult. God has chosen to make his revealed will known only through the Scriptures. Perhaps as an example of Providentialism, I read a book on Machiavelli where Savonarola is given a fair bit of space. Some Christians (BoT) read back into Savonarola a ‘Revival of Religion.’ I’m afraid I don’t. It’s a lovely thought but I really don’t see a ‘Revival’ there. Not in the same sense as we see in the Evangelical Awakenings of the 18th Century anyway. You may disagree – which is fine.
The point being, care is needed with any attempt at reading God working in the past. We also need to be charitable as not all Christian Historians will read providence in the same way. Later in the book Nathan does urge Christian Historians to make judgments in the present by using the past – but carefully.

Providentialism is a slightly different point to what is dealt with in Chapter 2 on ‘Historical Interpretation.’ Nathan lists five interpretive grids. One of these is the Marxist view. He Mentions Christopher Hill in the book. Here’s an amusing anecdote. I wasn’t there unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but a friend was. Professor Hill visited a school in Rugby (my home town – born & bred) to lecture on an aspect of the English Civil War. One questioner asked something like, ‘Professor Hill, how would a Marxist interpret the Civil War?’ to which he replied ‘What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour.’ There you go. It isn’t always obvious, and we should definitely not throw everything out because they (other historians) have a different worldview. Discernment is required.

Usefulness to the Church. He means here, not just The Church, but the local church. While at secondary school we had a history exam where I scored -1 (minus 1). And that wasn’t the lowest score either! History had absolutely no relevance to me at all. Plus, the History Teacher (Mr Baldwin) was a sadist – I exagerate. But he did like to lift boys up by their sideburns and give them a twist on the way up. It didn’t endear me to the subject. What changed? God intervened and a love of history was kindled almost straight away – with the help of Peter Jeffery, my first Pastor.

My experience over the years has shown that although some Christians have an interest in history – churches as a whole don’t. It’s a great shame. Your church might be blessed to have an historian as a member, though I’m sure many do not. But if your church does, or you are an historian, Nathan gives some suggestions how historians might be useful in the local church. Here’s three:

* A Sunday School Class on the History of Christianity.
* Start a history themed reading group.
* Ask about occasional Church History lectures.

Not the normal book I review. More could be said. Hope it has been helpful.


Is Jesus History? by John Dickson – Get a copy

Is Jesus History? By John Dickson. 2019. The Good Book Company. On 10 of Those for £6.79 (discounts for 5 or more copies)

It’s a standard paperback size of 150 pages. It’s not a big book then, and I enjoyed it from the very start. The text and style is easy to read and it isn’t overly technical. There are headings throughout each chapter with a summary (‘In a Nutshell’) and period readings at the end. The readings are mainly from the New Testament but not exclusively. The book has a few footnotes but these are kept to a bare minimum which in this case is a big help.

I loved the way he used his treasured coin (pp. 13ff) to teach us about how the past is (was) a real place and not a fictional world that has left a great deal of evidence that can be read, seen, and touched.

One objection I’ve heard is that if Jesus was so influential why are there not more records of him? These criticisms fail to understand how history works. So it was helpful when John tells us there is not ‘even one piece of personal correspondence from the emperor.’ P.16. There may be reasons God has not chosen to leave mountains of ‘evidence’ but whatever the reason it doesn’t violate any principles or historical method. Rather, it is totally in accord with the way the study of history, and especially ancient history works.

A great book for any Christian to read and an excellent book to give to your sceptical friends. It’s a good companion to Peter Williams book ‘Can we trust the Gospels.’ As Christians we often seem to be on the back-foot. At least it can feel like that. So this book is a great resource. I believe in evidence, but I’m not an evidentialist. But this book really will help, in a brief and easy to read way, I think, to give Christians confidence when talking to skeptics. Well worth reading and an excellent ‘Stocking filler.’ Buy a copy.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ by Mez McConnell – A Recommendation

This is an absolutely brilliant book – I need to say that right from the start.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ Mez McConnell. Christian Focus, 2019.

This isn’t merely another testimony book. Please don’t think of it that way. It’s not a ‘things were really awful, but now  everything is wonderful’ book either. And, be prepared, it’s a harrowing read – in places it is utterly horrific! Mez’s life has been turned round  and ‘upside down’ in the most extraordinary way by the Lord Jesus Christ. But, and this, I believe, is very important to understand – it is NOT a book only about recovering from child abuse. It is about that. And that is amazing. But there’s a wider application as well.

If you have suffered any form of abuse this book will hopefully be very helpful. He writes TO the reader, especially to the abused reader. If that’s you – please read it. And to the abuser as well. And if that’s you – please read it! And if you’re wondering what Christianity is all about or has to offer – then you need to read it. As you can tell, I’m blown away by this book.

A brief word then about the book. There are 49 chapters, which given the content, are mercifully short, Mez doesn’t shy away from stating things as they are (and were). He’s brutally honest. I’m sure things were actually much much worse than he describes them but we, the reader, get the picture full on. He’s also honest about how he feels now.

Alarming perhaps to our Christian sentimentalities, but the honesty is shocking yet devastatingly refreshing.

It’s written really well. I like the way he’s structured it. It works. It’s easy to read as a book (the content is quite gruelling though). The book is full of Reformed theology. It’s not cold and lifeless. It’s warm and life-changing. Creation – Fall – Redemption. The reality, the factualness of sin, of the sinful nature and the cost of Redemption, the love of God in Christ, the Cross is all here. It’s a book of HOPE. Mez has been delivered by Christ the great deliverer. But the fact is we all need that deliverance. Respectable sinners are still sinners and just as lost as the drug addict, the abused, and the abuser.

If ‘The Problem of Evil’ is a problem for you then you may well find this book to be very helpful indeed. If you want an answer, you won’t do any better than to read this book. People are looking for answers. Especially about why the world and their lives are the way they are. Some say there are no answers. But there are. This book is one. The real problem is people don’t like the answers. The answer means handing authority over to another. And we won’t have that at any price, even if that means our own lives suffer. Sin is such an awful master!

In case you wondered, there’s no redemptive merit in what Mez suffered. There’s no balancing of the universe. But, unlike in a humanistic system, it isn’t without purpose either.

I like the way he’ll take a subject based on his awful experience and then contrast it in the following chapter with the suffering of Christ which is redemptive – for and on behalf of sinners, not himself. This, I think, works really well. For example he does this with chapters on humiliation, rejection and pain & suffering. Christ is humiliated. Christ is rejected. Christ undergoes pain & suffering.

Every chapter was either Jaw – Dropping in its description of evil or in the Amazing Grace of God in Christ.

These chapters stood out to me: Hell on Earth; The Glorious Wonderful Reality of Hell; The Terrible Reality of Heaven; The Bittersweet Pill of God’s Sovereignty.

Like I said this isn’t ‘merely’ a testimony book so at the end there is a section of Helpful Resources:

  • Worshipping with the enemy? – Interview with a child abuser
  • Interview with the Pastor of a child abuser
  • FAQs from Child Abuse Sufferers
  • A Response to this Book from an Abuse Sufferer
  • Next Steps

I was going to put loads of quotes in but instead I will end with a plea to read it. If you are a Church Officer, Elder or Pastor / Minister you MUST read it. I hope you will.

Four Christian Books & Booklets on Grieving

There are many many Christian books and booklets on grieving. Some are more helpful than others. I was given seven to review. Having read them I’ve ended with the four below. These are my thoughts.

Reviewing them is difficult because grieving is such an individual thing but most of us are going to go through this process sooner or later to some degree or another. There is no getting round that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that the grieving person needs friends that know them well. This came out in one of the books:

“After my tragedy, a lot of people wanted to minister to me, and in some cases they were people I didn’t know well. But this just isn’t the time to be making new friends. It’s a time you want to be surrounded by the people you are already close with.” For All Who Grieve, p. 89 & 90.

Booklets can be quite helpful, especially if you don’t know what to say. They let us express our sorrow for the grieving person without having to say anything. Just don’t keep asking them if they’ve read the one you gave them as if it’s the most important one of all. It isn’t. They might never read it but they’ll still appreciate it and remember the kindness.

People mean well. But they don’t always say or do helpful things. Booklets are the same. They won’t all be suitable for everyone and it may be that a combination of books or booklets will be most helpful. No one book can say it all. If you are going to give someone that’s grieving a book then make sure you read it first. For example, I’d appreciate the kindness, but giving me something that was full of things I didn’t believe wouldn’t be helpful, I’d only find it annoying. But then, it might provoke useful thought. There you go. Is there a right or wrong – no idea. Just try not to batter people.

The reality of church life means there will be Christians at various stages of grief. That is true of any church and is true where I’m a member. Death doesn’t come in a neat packaged order. You don’t have to be old to ‘go the way of all the earth’ as Joshua said and is shown so well in ‘For All Who Grieve.’ So there is wisdom in preparing for what all of us will eventually experience. Nothing, apart from God himself, can prepare us for it. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it and just stoically get on with life. No, we are Christians, so we can and should prepare as best we can with the resources God has given us. These, and books like them can help us. There’s a lot of doctrine in the following books. So don’t let anyone tell you doctrine is of no practical use! Here are the four books then, in no particular order.

‘How Can I Grieve to God’s Glory?’ by Ryan M. McGraw, Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. (£2.50) This little booklet of 28 pages is based on Lamentations ch 3 where the sin of Israel has brought judgement. Because of Adam’s sin, and our own sin, we live in a fallen world. But on page 4 it’s not clear if it’s a specific personal sin that causes the death of a loved one. This could, I think, have been phrased differently. It was unhelpful and I nearly didn’t read on. However, by the end I thought the booklet had many good points and in several places is very helpful. For example,

‘Like him (Jeremiah) Christians must walk by faith in their grief (Lam. 3:19-38). We are thinking and believing Christians, and how we think and what we meditate on during our trials largely determines how we bear them by faith in Christ.’ p.9.

Another good point is that the author doesn’t shy away from God’s Sovereignty. If The Lord is truly Lord of all, He’s Lord of what’s happening to us, including the death of our loved ones. This is an important point. The booklet is doctrinally correct but some might think it lacks warmth. That said, it is very well worth reading. There’s a lot in this that we need to hear but in the wrong hands it could be used as a cudgel.

The grieving believer needs these truths but like some medicines they need to be administered with care. I would recommend reading this, but with caution. Would I give it to someone in the depths of grief? I’m not sure.

‘Grief: Finding Hope Again’ by Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2010. (£3.99) This booklet by Paul Tripp is helpful and is the shortest at 24 pages. And short can be really helpful. I would have no problem giving this to a Christian. He’s quite straight, but is perhaps a little more compassionate. For example, this sort of honesty is good to bear in mind,

‘Whether death results from a sudden accident or a long illness, it catches us unprepared. Death is so deeply emotional and stunningly final that there is nothing you can do ahead of time to sail through your moment of loss.’ p. 5.

There are some good, but brief, strategies for dealing with the peculiar temptations grief brings with it. It doesn’t go into much depth, so that alone could be helpful when your grief-stricken brain isn’t working correctly. This booklet is a good place to start.

‘Grief: Walking with Jesus’, Bob Kellemen, P & R Publishing, 2018. (£7.99) This is a 31 day devotional reading plan.

I struggled at first with this book but then I warmed to it. I wasn’t overly keen on some aspects but by the end I was personally glad to have read it, and thought how useful it could be. It’s real and warm but also challenging. I could see it helping to maintain or establish a regular time in the scriptures. I would have no problem giving this away. The three studies each on Lazarus and Gethsemane for example were excellent. At the end of each reading there are items for reflection or things to do. For some, in the midst of raw grief, giving them stuff to do too soon might not be helpful. But then, for others, maybe they need to stop for a few minutes to reflect. It really helps to know the person.

‘Grief is a journey. But you and I know that it’s not a straight line from one point to another. The messy, mixed-up journey of grief that zigs and zags from hills to valleys, from valleys to hills, is not a nice, neat process.’  P.17.

This is the sort of honesty that is so helpful because there isn’t a magic bullet that suddenly makes everything well. There just isn’t. But The Lord Jesus is with us in it. No matter how messy it gets.

One reading was on justice and at first it seemed strange for that to be in here. But if the death of your loved one came about through medical incompetence or violence or a myriad of other issues the desire for justice is understandably going to be very strong. And it might be just to peruse it. The author doesn’t by-pass these emotions but we are helped and challenged to deal with them by bringing them to the Lord.

When is the best time to give it to someone in the midst of their grief? I don’t know. It wouldn’t do any harm even if they didn’t get round to reading it until some time later.

One other use for this could be to read it through as a group or even as a church.

‘For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss’ by Colin S. Smith, 10 Publishing, 2020. (£9.99) Hardback 140 pages. This last one is the longest and looked formidable. Would I have tackled it in the midst of grief? I don’t know. But the text is easy to read with breaks and headings and text boxes that keep it from becoming just a wall of text. I opened it with a bit of trepidation and I was hooked. I didn’t want to put it down.

This book is also based on the book of Lamentations. He (the author) was called out to a couple whose son was suddenly killed and from this he started a group that met to discuss together their grief – some from 18 years previous. The book is made up of shared experiences (testimonies) of (mainly) couples from the group with comments and exposition after each testimony by the author.

The six chapter titles are TEARS, TALK, GUILT, GRIEVANCE, HOPE & HEALING with a Postscript and an Appendix on ‘Children who die in infancy. (The testimonies are mostly about the death of children – one of 27 days.) After each chapter there’s a page of ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion.’ Scary. There is raw honesty here. We don’t get all our questions answered and even after many years the grief is still painful. I found it helpful. The testimony to the love and faithfulness of God is wonderful. Christ really is the answer. But it’s through many many tears. The chapter on ‘Grievance’ is actually about having a grievance with God. The care of God is unbelievable. So amazing!

‘Why did God breathe out a book filled with complaints and grievances against Himself? Surely it is because He wants us to bring our grievance to Him’ p. 76.

One section in the Grievance chapter is on ‘Did God Cause This or Did He Just Let it Happen?’ The book tackles hard questions.

Would a ‘sharing’ group like this work in every church? I don’t know. Would it work in our church in the UK? Again, I don’t know. I do think ministers and elders should read it though. Or if you want to try and understand grief then you should read it. I found it refreshing and encouraging.

It’s a book with great heartache and sadness but it’s not a gloomy book. There’s grief and there’s hope together.

I highly recommend this book.

There are some topics that are interesting to read but may have little relevance to our lives. Death and grieving isn’t one of them. Frankly, it could do us all a lot of good to read books like these in order to further prepare us and our churches for the difficult days ahead that will surely come.

‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

Review – ‘If God is so good why are things so bad?’ by Melvin Tinker

This is the second book I’ve read by Melvin Tinker. It’s published by EP Books and dated 2019 so it’s a recent book. I like the way he writes. That is just a personal preference. The book is laid out nicely with easy to read type with headings throughout each one of its 8 chapters. At 156 pages it’s not a long book, and that includes several pages of end notes (I prefer footnotes), a foreword (by Tim Chester) and a preface. It isn’t a cheap book for its size with a retail price of £8.99 (what I paid), but you’ll probably find it for less.

Tim Chester describes the book as an invite ‘to walk with Job through the confusion suffering creates (p. 10).’ The author writes that ‘What follows iis a series of expositions which attempt to walk the way of wisdom with Job so that we might learn to think and speak of God aright when hard times come our way (p.15).’ As it says on the cover it’s a discussion of the problem of suffering. I have personally found the book of Job to be a great help. Suffering in some shape, mental or physical, will come upon us all and so books that deal with suffering will continue to be produced. Dealing with the problem and dealing with the suffering might be two separate but connected issues. This book does what it says on the tin and deals more with the problem. But it also deals with the suffering in the sense that it equips us to help others rather than batter them as Job’s friends did

One more minor gripe (the other is end notes – worth reading) is that he sometimes, for whatever reason, doesn’t given a reference. On page 49 & 50 he gives a lengthy quote from John Owen and I really wanted to see where it was from – alas, it was not given. He does this in another book as well as I recall. Maybe it’s just me.

Does he answer the question of the book title? You’ll have to answer that. I think he does, but whether you’re satisfied with his answer is another thing. In the Preface Melvin Tinker compares two men, Primo Levi and Victor Frankl, both prisoners in Auschwitz, who survive with two different views. He quotes Frankl saying, ‘The truth is that amongst those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those whose religious life was deepened – in spite, not to say because of this experience – by far exceeds those who gave up their belief (p. 14).’ That is quite telling. To use modern parlance then, Job is a survivor. And we should listen to what his book has to say. As Jesus said ‘He that has an ear let him hear (Mat 11:15).’

Chapter one introduces us to Job where we see that his ‘religious and moral credentials are established as impeccable from the very beginning (p. 22).’ On page 24 Melvin asks ‘What could possibly go wrong?‘ Job is afflicted as we may know. Satan is given permission to attack Job in the most horrendous manner. And so ‘Here was a man suffering alright, suffering which was heightened, not lessoned, by his faith in God (p. 28).’ Job is set up as one of the good people so ‘how is one to go about explaining what is happening to Job who is one of the good people (p. 28)?’ This is what faces us in the book of Job and what Melvin Tinker seeks to explain in his book.

Chapter two introduces us to Job’s three friends. I believe what Melvin says of them is correct that ‘no matter how crass, misleading and insensitive’ they ‘prove to be, their intentions were nonetheless sincere.’ And then we read ‘In their own way they represent a certain type of Christian today (p.35).’ We may have met that Christian, maybe we are or have been that Christian! The longest section in this chapter has the heading ‘How not to be a ‘comforter’ (p. 43).

Chapter three is a more detailed exposition of Job 9. Here, two profound questions have to be faced. The first question revolves around God’s power and sovereignty and whether he is good? ‘That is the question found lingering on Job’s lips (p. 52).’ The second question is found in Job 9:24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it? That is an incredibly powerful question for anyone to ask. If some form of disaster comes into your life ‘if it is not he, who then is it?‘ Melvin discusses this very helpfully, I think, through the rest of the chapter. The materialist really has to face the consequences of how they answer this.

Chapter four sees Elihu step up, Job’s three friends having finished their speeches. Elihu brings a different perspective, suggesting, writes Melvin, ‘that it might be more helpful to look forward to try and identify a purpose in suffering (p. 70).’ it doesn’t mean Elihu hasn’t bought into the retributive principle (p.37), as most people have, but that ‘… it is too narrow a view to think of all suffering as retribution… (p. 70).’

In Chapter five God speaks. The chapter opens with the comment by C. S. Lewis about God being in the dock. Because the book of Job is an ancient courtroom setting Melvin quotes G. K. Chesterton that ‘He [God] is quite willing to be prosecuted (p. 86).’ But ‘God’s defence wasn’t quite as Job had anticipated (p.90).’ The courtroom setting makes sense, and in that context Job’s eventual response fits in with ancient customs. ‘Job finally realised his mistake, which is often ours, namely, to think we are privy to all the facts, when we are not (p. 92).’ Like previous chapters there are helpful testimonies here about how God and His word are known in ways that would have been impossible but for the suffering.

Chapter six explains the Behemoth as death and the Leviathan as the Satan and we are therefore introduced to the reality of death and of supernatural evil. There’s opposition to God and all his works. There’s a war on in the heavenly realm, and we (Christians) are in it.

In Chapter seven I appreciated Melvin’s comment on Job’s end. I mean, it’s a fairy tale ending isn’t it (p. 121, also endnote 3 p. 155). This isn’t a Disney film. Apart from the great loss he sustained materially, all his children were killed. I don’t think it ended with a plastic Christian smile on his face. Why ever do we think it did. There is restoration, but I believe Job’s heart continued for the rest of his life to ache for his dead children. The end is that he meets with God. ‘Job had his hearts desire fulfilled, he met with God. That encounter changed everything, his blessings and his trials, in a new light because he saw God (p. 128).’

In the final Chapter eight Melvin writes, ‘We have been following the trials of one who is ‘victim and hero’; subject to ‘the worst horrors of pain and humiliation,’ the man Job (p. 133).’ We are then taken typologically (and powerfully) from Job to Jesus. As I was reading the book I had confirmed, I think, that the answer to the why of evil has to be found in God himself. I haven’t quite thought all this through but it seems to me that it’s in Christ that we see the why of evil. For me then, the book has been extremely helpful. And the final chapter in particular. At one point I did wonder if I could in all honesty recommend it, but this chapter sold it to me. Here, we are taken to the cross of Christ. This, is where we must all come.

The book is sprinkled throughout with ‘testimonies’ of the suffering that have both rejected God, and those that have found him to be their all in all. I think it would be helpful if you were to read the book (this book, and Job) but most probably will not do that. The question that cannot be avoided though, is where do you find yourself? As the rejector of God? Or the one who finds God in Christ to be their all in all?

This a very helpful book and Christians will find much benefit in reading it. I’m not sure it will answer some of the deeper questions non-Christians might have or even of some Christians (although see above on Ch 8). Some answers will never be found in a book but only in an encounter with God himself. Let’s not forget, that is what happened to Job in the end. His questions – if I can put it that way – weren’t answered by his three friends, nor Elihu, or even Job but by God himself. Books are good, but they aren’t a substitute for meeting with God. There is only one book where God meets us, and that’s his own word The Bible. The book of Job, in the end is in the Bible for that very reason – so we can meet with the living God.


‘the heart of the problem’ by Alun Ebenezer

‘the heart of the problem’ Alun Ebenezer, EP Books, 2019. The author is Headmaster at a school in London. The book is primarily an evangelistic book. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t fancy. And it isn’t long at just 58 pages. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. I enjoyed reading it. This book is written in a style that doesn’t mince words. The one aim of the book is to encourage and persuade you to go to the doctor (The Lord Jesus Christ). He is passionate about the task in hand. ‘Don’t mince your words doctor. Tell me the truth.’ This is what Alun does. You are in good hands. Rarely does an evangelistic book come along that I can unreservedly recommend. This is one of them. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men‘ says the Apostle Paul. This is written in that spirit.

It’s a good book to give away. It might not suit everyone. But if you want to know what the problem is, and the answer, this book does that. Ten of Those are selling it for £1.99.

There are five chapters:

1. The Problem: In just 2 pages he lays out the problem in no uncertain terms saying ‘…. the one thing we can all agree on is that something is wrong with the world we live in (p.1.).’

2. The Diagnosis: When you have a problem with your health you go to the doctor. Why? You want to know what’s wrong. So what’s wrong:

‘To get a diagnosis, …. we need a reliable understanding of our deepest problem. The Bible provides that level of understanding because it is God’s Word …. the problem is not ‘out there’ but rather in us; …. The fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, bad circumstances, corrupt politicians or a broken society. The fundamental problem is we all have a bad heart. (p.3.).’

He then. goes on to demonstrate this under eight brief headings, culminating in a Verdict on page 14:

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are around us and the diagnosis is that we are sinners, every one of us (Romans 3:23).

3. The Prognosis: ‘…. where does this condition I have lead? What will happen if it carries on?’ ‘…. the Bible goes on to show us the prognosis, which tells us just how serious things are and why the diagnosis cannot be ignored (p. 15.).’

Just now people are scared they will catch the CoronaVirus because they know it can lead to death. Although some might brush it off thinking it only applies to people with underlying conditions. This isn’t something we can brush off because all of us have the underlying condition (the diagnosis) of a sinful nature. The author goes on to briefly show what that means under three heads: Death, The Judgement, and Hell. He says this:

‘All the things we enjoy on earth will be gone forever. It is impossible to imagine how awful it will be…. The anger of God hanging over you forever. There is no escape, no emergency exit, no prospect of getting out (p. 20).’

4. The Cure: The condition we have can’t be more serious. But ‘…. God doesn’t tell us about hell because he is nasty and horrible and wants to frighten us and spoil our enjoyment; rather, out of love and kindness, he warns us about it so that we don’t end up there (p. 21).’ A serious condition then, needs a serious cure. Not the prospect of a cure. Not a ‘What are my odds Doctor’ kind of cure. But a certain cure. Millions of people through the ages have received this cure. The author goes on to explain what that involves.

Remarkably, the cure doesn’t involve something we have to do. Some cures are quite radical and involve a great deal of effort by the patient. Not this cure. All the effort, all the hard work, is done for us by another. Such is our condition the cure cannot come from within. Neither our effort, nor our resolve will do it. Alun, throughout what is the longest chapter, explains what it is the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

Trying to grasp what Christ suffered for sinners on the cross is difficult to comprehend. Alun explained the suffering of The Lord Jesus on the cross in a way I’d not heard, or at least not quite appreciated before. He explained it by referring to the way time changed in the Narnia books. So while Christ was on the cross for those three hours he somehow entered another (eternal?) dimension where his suffering was of such a nature that here on earth we only get to see a fraction of what Salvation actually cost.

‘On earth it was hours but as Christ went into the darkness he left time and entered eternity and suffered an eternal hell (p. 34.).’

You might think all this is far-fetched, but seeing the things in the world and maybe your own experience convinces you that something is radically wrong. The Bible explains what’s wrong, and gives an answer. Jesus said to his disciples at one stage, ‘Will you also leave me? They said there’s nowhere else we can go, you alone have the words of eternal life (John 6: 66-69).’

Indeed, there’s nowhere else to go. And so to the final chapter.

5. The Doctor: Not convinced? It’s amazing that people, even with a serious condition, will not go to the doctor. There are a few reasons given why they just will not avail themselves of the cure. We are then given some of these are why they are no reason not to come. He gives five reasons and ends with this final heading: ‘Come to the doctor!.’

‘Just come to the doctor! The way you come to him is in repentance and faith (p. 54).’

In the penultimate paragraph he encapsulates the whole book when he writes:

‘The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are serious. The diagnosis spot on. The prognosis is terrifying. The cure sublime. And the doctor is ready and willing to see you… Come to him now! (p. 58.).’

Just in case you missed it, the doctor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord Jesus that said ‘Only the sick need a doctor (Mark 2:17).’ Have you seen that you are sick. Not everyone does. Some see it, but do nothing. They don’t come. Don’t be like them. Especially when the Lord Jesus says:

‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).’