Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Joel R. Beeke, Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding (n.p.: Cruciform Press, 2011). Paperback. 109pp.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

Backsliding is a great curse upon the individual soul as well as upon the church. The tragedy of backsliding is that few people identify until it is too late. 

In this short book, Joel Beeke helps us identify the nature, causes and remedies of spiritual backsliding. He defines backsliding as, “a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians” (16). 

Not every sin indicates a backslidden state. However, Chapter 1 masterfully pierces into the depths of our souls showing us how far we often have fallen from true spiritual vitality without realizing it. Dr. Beeke has cited a wide range of authors in a short space in order to introduce his readers to a wealth of valuable materials on the subject of backsliding and spiritual vitality. Each chapter of the work begins with an illustration taken from runners in a race and the chapter headings reflect this accordingly. 

The material is drawn from an extended exposition of Hosea 14, thus rooting his teaching soundly in Scripture. Readers who are familiar with other works by Dr. Beeke will justifiably expect from him high quality and soul-nourishing material. This book does not disappoint in this regard. While delving into the dark resources of our souls and forcing us to come to terms with the sins of our hearts in a way that will make most of us uncomfortable, the author wonderfully magnifies the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

My prayer is that the Triune God would use this little book to awaken His people to their current spiritual weakness and its cure in the covenant of grace. If the church continues to remain insensible to its backslidden condition, then we will face apostasy on an even wider scale in the not too distant future. Christians of all ages and denominations should digest this material carefully.

The preceding review appeared previously in The Banner of Truth.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Discussing Your Faith

By Jeremiah Montgomery

A Providential Irony

It took an atheist to turn me into a street preacher.

I first met Peter at a coffee roaster in downtown State College, Pennsylvania. It was a sweltering July afternoon, and sensible people were drinking their coffee in the air conditioned indoors. Yet as I left the shop, I saw a solitary person sitting in the heat. This peculiar behavior, combined with a strange slogan on his hat, prompted a conversation. That conversation was the beginning of an acquaintance that proved catalytic to the formation of “Discuss Your Faith” (DYF), the open-air ministry of Resurrection Orthodox Presbyterian Church to the campus of Penn State University.

But how did it happen? How did entrenched hostility to the claims of Christ foster a plan of deliberate engagement? The answer is simple…

My friend Peter showed me the alternative.

The alternative to non-evangelism is not a void. It is far worse than nothing – for two reasons.

Firstly, non-evangelism communicates indifference. Penn Jillette, an American comedian and illusionist, is an outspoken atheist. Yet listen to what he says about Christians who don’t evangelize: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think, well it’s not really worth telling ‘em this because it would make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean if I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you? There’s a certain point where I tackle you – and this is more important than that.”[1]

Secondly, non-evangelism empowers distortions. When those who love the doctrines of grace stay home, we tacitly yield the harvest fields to those who love the doctrines of the Pharisees: the street preachers who twist a proclamation of grace into a legalistic harangue.  

It was an example of the latter that Peter brought to my attention. He posted to Facebook a video of a typical PSU "evangelist." The man ranted and screamed, until finally Peter turned the camera on himself and remarked, “Because he’s so full of the joy and peace of knowing Jesus.”

That was a convicting moment for me. It was easy to see the inconsistency between the street preacher’s behavior and his claims. But no sooner had I thought this than a question occurred to me, “So what are you going to do about it?”

Now that was a hard question. For one thing, the prospect of street preaching terrified me. But secondly, this question answered another question with which I had been wrestling…

One of the greatest challenges to church plants is meeting unbelieving people in spiritually significant ways. Making social contacts is easy enough. But the moment people find out that you are a Christian (or a Christian minister!), it’s as if a glass wall goes up.

The challenge is to establish explicitly spiritual venues: places where the gospel can be presented in a non-invasive yet public way. In such venues, those who choose to engage know in advance what to expect. Public worship offers one explicitly spiritual venue. Where can we create others? There are flea markets and street fairs. There are public parks.

There are also university campuses.

The question with which I had been wrestling on the afternoon I saw Peter’s video was this very question of venues. Four people had just left our fledgling congregation, and I was wondering: what can we do that we’re not doing?

Then I saw Peter’s video, and I was trapped.

Discussing Your Faith

So what do we do at DYF? What lessons can our efforts lend to other Orthodox Presbyterians?

A preliminary activity to all evangelism is regular prayer. We must ask the Lord to bring us contacts, conversations, and conversions.

After this, we go. This is the first imperative of the Great Commission (Mt 28.19). The dead in sin won’t come looking for the gospel; we must go looking for them. So I go to the Penn State campus, where I am joined by a handful of students from “ResPres.” We go every week, on the same day, at the same time. Our consistent presence sets us apart from the periodical “drive-by” missionaries.

The next thing is that we notice. Before calling his first disciples, Jesus saw them in their own context. He spoke to these fishermen in terms they could understand – “fishers of men,” (Mk 1.16-17). We seek to do the same. We begin with topics of existential concern for university students, and we try to translate biblical concepts and terms into non-“Christianese.”

The fourth thing we do is love. I use the same words near the outset of every sermon: “I’m not here to scream at you. We’re here because we love you and we want good things for you.” At DYF we don’t antagonize or bait our hearers. They bear God’s image as we do, and that deserves respect. The basic principle of Christian conduct (Mt 7.12) applies in evangelism as in the rest of life.

The fifth thing is that we speak graciously (1 Pet 3.15b). We don’t bludgeon students about their drinking habits or sex lives. Instead, we emphasize three points aimed to raise spiritual self-awareness:

  1. All people, whether particularly religious or not, rely on something to give them identity, security, and success.
  2. Admitting this essentially religious commitment is the only way to evaluate it honestly.
  3. Whatever our functional savior, we should ask the big question: will it kill me, or save me? Can it erase my guilt and rescue me from the grave? Jesus can do all these things.
The final thing we do is ask permission. Asking permission is a rule to remember in personal evangelism.[2] If people stick around to talk to us at DYF, we don’t bully them. At every stage of conversation, we ask permission before changing direction. This respects the image-bearer, heeds the golden rule, and helps ensure that the only offense presented is the cross.

God has been pleased to bless DYF with fruit. We have seen one student come to faith. Another is seeking. A third expressed appreciation for our approach – though he yet rejects our Savior. Beyond these individuals, every person who walks by sees Christians risking scorn and speaking graciously. We consider this a valuable witness in and of itself.

DYF is a specific evangelistic ministry geared toward a unique community. Yet the steps outlined above are sufficiently general than they can be adapted by Orthodox Presbyterians everywhere.

A Perpetual Challenge

Personal evangelism does not come naturally to me. I feel the visceral fear of man every time I speak. How do I deal with it?

Firstly, I recognize that fear of man is a subtle form of self-worship. I confess that I fear people’s responses because I want to stand high in their opinions. What is the solution? Remember the gospel: it is Christ alone who makes us look good before the only court that matters.[3]

Secondly, I pray for love. There is a human soul behind even the most skeptical eye. By cultivating Spirit-wrought compassion, I become willing to lose my reputation for the good of others’ salvation.

Finally, I speak. I just do it. You don’t have to feel bold, you just have to act bold. Let your feelings follow as they will. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is following Jesus despite our fears.

  1. This quotation is taken from a YouTube clip entitled “The Gift of a Bible.”
  2. This point is made repeatedly by Doug Pollock, God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally (Loveland, CO: Group, 2009)
  3. On this point I have found great help in Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Chorley, UK: 10Publishing, 2012).

Jeremiah Montgomery is a graduate of Greenville Seminary and currently is pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church (OPC), State College, Pennsylvania. The preceding article was originally published in New Horizons, July 2013.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Layman's Christology

Mark Jones, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2012). 81pp. Paperback. $6.99.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

Someone said once that it takes all of our learning to be plain. This little volume on Christology is a wonderful model for taking a high level of learning, digesting it carefully, and presenting it to the church in popular form. Mark Jones here introduces the subject of Christology to a lay audience with few footnotes and with simplicity of style. He has gleaned the best material from his wide scholarship in historic Reformed orthodox theology (especially Thomas Goodwin and John Owen) and provided a simple presentation of the person and work of Jesus Christ without becoming simplistic.

The work stresses the person of Jesus Christ primarily. Jones’s notes correctly that believers have largely neglected the biblical implications of the full humanity of Christ as well as of the unity of his two natures in one person. Addressing questions such as whether Christ has one or two wills, how his divine and human attributes relate to his work and many similar questions helps us to understand who Jesus, which determines what He came to do. After treating Christ’s person in two substantial chapters, the third and last chapter presents the work of Christ via His offices of prophet, priest, and king, both in His estate of humiliation and of exaltation.

For a readable and accessible introductory volume, Jones’s work is full of profound insights. For example, on page 21, he refers to the distinction that many Reformed theologians have made between “the whole Christ, and the whole of Christ.” The whole Christ is present in His ordinances, enabling believers to hold communion with Him in both natures. However, the whole of Christ is not present in that His human nature is physically in heaven and not upon the earth. This distinction becomes particularly useful in distinguishing the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper from the Lutheran and Catholic views.

Jones’s section on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ is of great value (36-43). He rightly treats Jesus Christ as the man who was pre-eminently filled with the Spirit and who on this ground becomes the prototype of the work of the Spirit in believers. This note is often neglected, but it has great practical potential in the lives of believers.

Many people today have a misinformed or even a sentimental view of who Jesus Christ is. Modern scholars continue to “search” for the historical Jesus only because they will listen to any source of information about Him except the Scriptures. Mark Jones drives us back to the Scriptures in light of the historical teaching of Reformed theology in order to give us a clear picture of Jesus Christ that should instruct our minds and warm our affections. You may be surprised by the Christ that you find in this book. However, what may surprise you is how profound and glorious the Christ presented in Scripture always was and remains to be.

This review was originally published in Modern Reformation. Used by permission of the author.

A Compendium on Prayer

James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke. Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010. 99pp. $10.00.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

Everyone seems to have a favorite book on prayer that they recommend. Matthew Henry models for us how to use the Scriptures in prayer. B. M. Palmer sets forth the theological foundations for prayer in an unprecedented manner. Austin Phelps unfolds the psychological and internal struggles that we face in prayer. John Owen addresses the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer, etc. What makes this book stand out is that it presents all of the above in one small volume. This fact makes this work a truly remarkable accomplishment.

It is divided into thirty-one chapters comprised of three pages each, and it is designed to be read in one month. This is an excellent tool for those who do not have much time for reading, such as homemakers with little children at home. Our congregation is currently using this book for short meditations in conjunction with our midweek prayer meeting.

It is rare to find a book that is simultaneously so clear, simple, concise, and substantive on such a vitally important topic. This is a unique work that will profit your soul greatly and which you will want to pass on to others regularly.

The preceding was first published in Modern Reformation. Used by permission of the author.