Category Archives: Book notes

Aiming to Please — Table of Contents

This new book (published by The Study) should be out soon.  These are the chapter titles:

Introduction

Part 1 — Principles

Chapter 1 – Setting the Stage:  The Covenant of Grace

Chapter 2 – Calling the Shots: The Reformed Principle of Worship

Chapter 3 – Organizing the Elements: Covenantal Structure and Logic

Part 2 — Ordinary Elements

Chapter 4 – The Introductory Elements

Chapter 5 – A Psalm-Singing Church

Chapter 6 – The Law, Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon

Chapter 7 – Preaching

Chapter 8 – Congregational Prayer

Chapter 9 – The Offertory

Chapter 10 – The Closing Elements

Part 3 – Other Elements, Questions, Issues

Chapter 11 – The Sacrament of Baptism

Chapter 12 – The Sacrament of Lord’s Supper

Chapter 13 – The Second Service and Catechism Preaching

Chapter 14 – Profession of Faith

Chapter 15 – Circumstances

Chapter 16 – Musical Accompaniment

Chapter 17 – Days of Commemoration

Chapter 18 – Reformed Worship and Mission

Part 4 — Conclusion

Chapter 19 – Nine Distinctives of Reformed Worship

Appendices

Appendix 1 – Liturgical Helps

Appendix 2 – Regular Items for Thanksgiving and Intercessory Prayer

Appendix 3 – Supervised Lord’s Supper Celebration Policy

Appendix 4 – Psalm and Hymn Selections Related to the Heidelberg Catechism

Appendix 5 – Psalm and Hymn Selections Related to Days of Commemoration


Top Five Books on Preaching

I try to read at least one book on preaching each year.  So far, I’ve been in the ministry for nearly 20 years and I’ve read at least 25 books.  It looks like I’m keeping on track.  Some of the books have been mediocre, but most of them have had something worthwhile.  Some have really stood out in my mind and continue to.  If asked for my top five must-reads about preaching, this would be my list and in this order:

  1. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Bryan Chapell

A fellow student introduced me to Bryan Chapell’s book while I was in seminary.  I learned so much from this book about how to preach Christ.  I especially appreciate Chapell’s notion of the Fallen Condition Focus of each passage – often when I struggle to formulate a theme for my sermon, I go back to this notion and everything falls into place.  There is a second edition available, but I’ve only read the first.  I’m not sure about the differences between the two.

  1. Expository Preaching With Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson, Jack Hughes

I’ve always loved Thomas Watson.  He’s the most readable of the Puritans.  He has a style that’s stood the test of time.  Hughes demonstrates why and also how his approach can be appropriated by preachers today.  If you want to preach vividly, like Watson did, this book is priceless.

  1. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People, Joel R. Beeke

This large volume is all about reaching not only the minds of listeners, but also their hearts.  It’s solid on the theology of preaching, as well as on the practice.  It’s grounded in Scripture, however it also works extensively with church history.  If you’re going to read this one, also read the next one – they overlap a little bit, but also complement one another beautifully.

  1. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship, John Piper

Few people ever think about preaching as an act of worship.  But Piper convincingly argues from Scripture that both the giving and receiving of preaching are worship.  Then he shows how thinking about it that way makes a huge difference.  As with Beeke’s book, this one gets to the heart matters and also stresses the urgency of the preacher’s task.  I’ve read numerous Piper books and this is one of his best.

  1. Truth Applied: Application in Preaching, Jay Adams

I read this back in seminary, over one of my summer breaks.  More than any other book, it impressed upon me the need to have preaching that aims to change hearts and lives.  Even if you disagree with Adams’ approach to counselling, there’s a lot to glean from what he’s written about preaching.


Coming Soon: Aiming to Please

This new book on worship should be available soon from The Study.  Here are some of the questions the book will address:

  • What difference does covenant theology make for Reformed worship?
  • Do we hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship?
  • What do our confessions say about worship?
  • Do our children belong in the worship service?
  • When and how does the worship service begin?
  • Can someone other than a minister say “you” with the salutation and benediction?
  • Why do we read the Ten Commandments every Sunday?
  • Is there a biblical warrant for singing hymns?
  • Can we sing all the psalms?
  • Should we sing whole psalms or just selected stanzas?
  • Should we pray with uplifted hands?
  • Should the congregation say the votum?
  • Does the pastor lift one hand or two for the salutation?
  • Should the congregation say the “Amen”?
  • Does a sermon need to use words?
  • Can a woman lead in the reading of Scripture in the worship service?
  • Why do we have collection bags?
  • How can we do the offertory in an increasingly cash-less society?
  • Do we need to read the liturgical forms exactly as written?
  • If my neighbour becomes a Christian, can I baptize him in my swimming pool?
  • With baptism, should the sprinkling be done once or three times?
  • Should baptism be done before or after the sermon?
  • How often ought we to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
  • Should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at tables or in the pew?
  • Why do we have a supervised Lord’s Supper?
  • Do you need an attestation from a sister church to attend the Lord’s Supper as a guest?
  • Can we use non-alcoholic wine or grape juice for the Lord’s Supper?
  • Can we administer the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins?
  • Why do we worship twice on the Lord’s Day?
  • Is catechism preaching biblical?
  • What is the best way to do catechism preaching?
  • Does church architecture matter?
  • Should the elders sit at the front?
  • Can we use a projector in worship?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid instruments in worship?
  • Is the organist “a prophet on the organ bench”?
  • Should accompanists receive an honorarium?
  • What about drums in our musical accompaniment?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid holy days like Christmas?
  • Can we celebrate Christ’s birth on a day other than December 25th?
  • Should we have liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent?
  • Does it make sense to have offerings in a church plant or other mission setting?

Protestant Denials of Solus Christus

Most of us would not be surprised that Roman Catholicism denies Solus Christus. However, you may be surprised to learn there are Protestants who also deny it. I found this out first-hand on a visit to Hobart, the Tasmanian state capital. My wife and I went to take in the famous Salamanca Market. We went our separate ways for a little while and I ended up in St. David’s Park next to the market.

I was reading a plaque on a statue in the center of this lovely park when a man suddenly approached me. He said, “Excuse me, I was wondering if you had met my friend. His name is Jesus.” I was a bit taken by surprise. Nevertheless, I was only too happy to tell him Jesus was my friend too and I know him well. I said, “Oh, sure, of course I know Jesus. He’s my Saviour. He’s my only hope for eternal life. Everything I need before God I have in Jesus Christ.” Now I thought this would have met with a good reaction from the stranger. I thought he would shake my hand and realize he did not have to share the gospel with me and go on to someone else. But it did not turn out like that.

You see, he then asked me, “So do you speak in tongues and have other spiritual gifts?” I replied, “No, I don’t speak in tongues, but I have something far better.” “What’s that?” he asked. I said, “I have the Bible, 66 books, a complete revelation from God. I don’t need speaking in tongues when I have the Bible.” Then he sniffed, “Well, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t speak in tongues. You’re not going to heaven.” That is the first time anyone has ever told me that!

We entered into an intense discussion there in the park. Eventually, the first man brought his co-religionists into the discussion because he was having a hard time answering my questions. I asked them directly what the basis was for their believing they were saved and going to heaven. It was Jesus plus the fact they had spiritual gifts and spoke in tongues. It was math all over again: Jesus plus. I asked them if they had ever heard about the Reformation. No, they did not know anything about that. So I told them how the Roman Catholic Church had added to the work of Jesus. The Reformation was about getting back to Christ alone as our Saviour and Mediator. It was about that because that is what the Bible teaches. I gave them a couple of examples. But, no, they were insistent that it had to be Jesus plus speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts. If you did not speak in tongues, you were not going to heaven. Eventually they gave up and walked away. As they walked away, they reminded me once more that I was lost. According to them, I was lost because I held to Jesus Christ alone as my Saviour. As I went my way back to find my wife, I was incredulous about what I had just heard.

Who were these people? They were part of an extreme Pentecostal church. They are not alone. This type of Pentecostalism can be found all over the world. It was my first time encountering it in person, but I have heard about it before.

Please do not misunderstand. This is not true of all Pentecostals. I have met many Pentecostals over the years who clearly confess salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. They would say the only basis for their hope of heaven is the Saviour. They would say that their only way of being heard by God when they pray is through Christ. While they are wrong on other points, we can rejoice that many Pentecostals are not denying Solus Christus. Yet there are these extreme Pentecostals who do. If you encounter them, what do you say? How do you respond?

If there is one thing I noticed in that encounter, it was that these people did not know their Bibles very well. They had a few Bible verses at hand to promote their view. But they did not have much depth in their Bible knowledge. If we are going to interact with such people, we need to know our Bibles. We need to be able to point out what Scripture says, especially on important doctrines like Christ alone. But just as with our Roman Catholic neighbours, we have to encourage extreme Pentecostals to begin reading the Bible for themselves. I have several friends who were once Pentecostal pastors and some of them were on the extreme side of Pentecostalism. God graciously brought them to the Reformed faith. I asked them how they got away from it. The answer always has to do with the Word. Somehow God uses the Bible to get people free of these wrong ideas where Christ is not central and exclusive. It bears repeating: the only way Reformation happens is through the Word of God being proclaimed, read, and studied. We have to call people back to the Scriptures where Christ stands alone as the Saviour.

(an excerpt from chapter 2 of my book Solus Christus, available here)


Seven Wondrous Words: Update on International Shipping

Canadians can order this new book directly from the publisher, the Study.

Australians can order through Amazon.com.au

Americans (and other international buyers) can order through Amazon.com