Review: 12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful MenCollin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: Twelve thumbnail biographies focused on pastoral leaders who served faithfully through suffering.

Pastoral ministry is not for sissies, contrary to some popular stereotypes. The hours can be long, you often encounter people at their worst (and sometimes at their best), your call is to be faithful to God’s word, and a shepherd of God’s people. Sooner or later, conflict and criticism homes in on you. Pastors not only help the suffering. If they are at all faithful to their work, they are the suffering.

This is a book to give courage to pastors. It consists of twelve thumbnail biographies of faithful men (I would hope a companion volume on faithful women is forthcoming–there are a host of examples). Some are quite familiar: Paul, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Charles Spurgeon. Some you may have heard of: Andrew Fuller, Charles Simeon, J.C.Ryle. And some like John Chavis, an early Black preacher; Janani Luwum, the Ugandan archbishop martyred under Idi Amin; and Wang Ming-Dao, a Chinese pastor who led the house church movement under Mao.

What they all have in common is that faithfulness in ministry led to some form of suffering. A number went to prison, including Paul, John Bunyan, Luwum, and Wang Ming-Dao. Others faced controversy with their people, including Calvin and Edwards and Simeon. Spurgeon struggled with the black dog of depression throughout his ministry. Chavis, highly educated and even a tutor of white children was barred from preaching, though licensed, simply because he was black.

Each of the biographers in this volume explore the ways these men were formed through suffering. For Paul, suffering portrayed what he proclaimed, focused him on eternal things, authenticated the integrity of his ministry and destroyed self-glory. Calvin came to understand through the suffering of exile the call to exile we all share. Prison plunged Bunyan into the scriptures such that Spurgeon comment that if you cut Bunyan, he would bleed “bibline.” Fuller learned through the heartbreaks of the death of his wife and son, and another wayward son, to give comfort to all who struggled with similar circumstances. Simeon pressed on despite great opposition in prayerful, humble expository ministry from which might be traced the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the United Kingdom, InterVarsity/USA and the ministry of John Stott, Kent Hughes and others.

I appreciate the inclusion of examples of African American, Chinese and African examples and would hope that the western Church might hear more examples of Christian faithfulness around the world. In a culture where it seems that the most common prayer is that things would go “smoothly,” the honest portrayal of the various forms of suffering that is the lot of faithful pastors is both a bracing word, and a welcome balm. I suspect many pastors wonder if they are alone, and if they have done something wrong if they are not “prospering.”

The biographies are short, rather than exhaustive, averaging about fifteen pages, making this ideal for devotional reading. While more lengthy and definitive works have been written about many, the focus on the theme of endurance through suffering and God’s provident work makes these pithy biographies welcome support amid the press of pastoral duties. Buy two of these, one for your pastor, and one to understand and pray for her or him (and other faithful pastors around the world).

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual WarfareWilliam P. Payne (Foreword by Charles H. Kraft). Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018.

Summary: A narrative of the author’s awakening to the reality of spiritual warfare and personal evil, and the resources and commended practices available to Christians for engaging that warfare.

Content warning: This review discusses the author’s accounts of demonic beings who haunt, attack, and inhabit people, deeply afflicting and controlling them and confrontations in which this beings are dispelled and defeated.

Some people simply think of evil as “the dark side of the force” or simply an impersonal malign reality expressed in the worst of human atrocities. William P. Payne narrates a very different kind of encounter with evil, in the form of personal beings, demons, minions of the arch-enemy Satan, who seek to attack, deceive, bind, and destroy individuals and oppose the advance of Christ’s kingdom.

The narrative begins with his early encounter with the demonic in a haunted Marine barracks, in a man he found in a fetal position, and a woman suffering from post-abortion stress. The demonic became personal when he moved to a new home haunted by a “trickster” spirit. He describes demonic associations with pagan artifacts in a seminary classroom, sex demons (succubi or incubi) who have sex with individuals, and personal attacks he experienced.

If this is troubling or frightening, Payne goes on to discuss the equipment of the believer to engage in spiritual warfare. He begins with the New Testament and the empowering of Jesus and the apostles by the Holy Spirit. He cites the global pentecostal movement, most of whom need little convincing of the reality of evil powers and the necessity for spiritual warfare in the advance of the gospel. He describes how he learned to “flow with the Spirit” in ministry situations and discerning ones calling in community as one seeks to minister.

The third part of the book discusses various strategies for defeating demons when they oppose evangelism, are angry, put people to sleep, or even intensify insanity. Payne is careful to recognize that there may be genuine medical conditions and urges proper assessment but also argue that such persons are often more vulnerable to spiritual attack, which may intensify symptoms. He argues for a both-and approach.

He discusses the idea of “soul-ties” and how others may be affect through emotional ties by the demonic. He suggests that in some situations, whole families may need to be cleansed because of these ties. An interesting chapter in this section also discusses the exercise of dominion over biting ants and insects an other attacking animals, and even places.

The last section of this book explores different giftings and how they might be employed in spiritual warfare. He considers healing, words of knowledge, and raising the dead. He notes Craig Keener’s documented studies of miracles.

One thing that is striking throughout is Payne’s passion to see people come to faith in Christ, and that much of his spiritual warfare comes in the context of seeking to lead people to faith, or results in people coming to faith as they see the power of God. This seemed consonant with the scriptures and was one of the things that made his accounts credible for me.

It seems that his book assumes prior familiarity with this ministry. He uses language like “prayer covering,” and “pulling down strongholds” that may be new to those who haven’t read Charles Kraft or others engaged in this ministry. I might suggest some explanation would be helpful, or a companion text that goes into greater depth in instruction, which best seems to occur with those practiced in spiritual warfare.

There are a large number of encounters with demons in this book. One may wonder at the prevalence and variety of ways Payne encounters the demonic. What I am struck by though is that with the loosening of sexual ethics resulting in both consensual promiscuous relationships and assaults, with the prevalence of drug usage, and the ways literature and film have opened the door to the use of magic and occult powers, people have opened themselves to influences that leave them increasingly vulnerable to the demonic.

None of this should make us fearful. But it should drive us to examine our preparation for ministry. We may believe in the demonic but are we prepared to confront it? Payne insists God wants to work through us powerfully, and his book is an appeal that we would open up to Him and what He would do in and through us.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Face of Forgiveness

The Face of Forgiveness

The Face of ForgivenessPhilip D. Jamieson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: Explores the struggle of many in experiencing and granting forgiveness and what the author believes are inadequate understandings of the atonement that fail to deal with our shame as well as our guilt, and how in fact the work of Christ addresses both.

Philip Jamieson begins this book with a pastoral situation many of us have faced–someone sits across from us and confesses that they find themselves unable to forgive another person, because of the awful ways that person has offended. They want to observe Jesus words about “forgiving the trespasses of others” but they simply cannot.

What follows is an extended discussion of the nature of forgiveness. Jamieson considers the recent renewal of interest in forgiveness in modern psychology. There is much that is helpful, and even biblical, yet he believes, particularly in the separation of forgiveness from reconciliation, and the detachment of forgiveness from the work of Christ, these models of forgiveness fall short.

He also contends that part of our problem in people struggling both with being forgiven and extending forgiveness has to do with theories of the atonement that focus on sin’s guilt, to the exclusion of sin’s shame. Our downturned faces, and the inability to look into the faces of others contributes to this alienation both from God and others. Jamieson would not jettison the existing theories of the atonement but rather focuses on how it is that Christ both bears our shame and is victorious over it in the cross and the resurrection. This is the face of forgiveness, which he describes in this way:

“In his last act, high and lifted up, Jesus–the man who fully reveals God, now fully revealed–joins sinful humanity in our downward gaze. Jesus dies in the posture of shame, embracing the world’s shame. ‘It is finished.’ The face, once set like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) on his way to Jerusalem, to this very death (Lk 9:51), now stares, unblinkingly downcast, bearing humanity’s shame. He joins all of us: solidarity with the shamed. But again, this face is different. For this face in its downward gaze is not looking away from his neighbors; he is looking at them. The last act of the dying Savior is to fix his gaze upon those who are in need of salvation. Our forgiveness has already been pronounced (Lk 23:34) and now the dying God provides the means to accept it. Karl Barth notes there is no other face like Jesus. Jesus’ is the face that will not look away. Jesus is the face that sees all and still loves all. Jesus’ face alone is the one that has power to forgive and to give us the healing power to accept that forgiveness” (p. 114).

Jamieson then discusses three important practices, all communal, where we learn to live before Christ’s face, experiencing his forgiveness removing our shame and our guilt and enabling us to do this with those who have sinned against us. He calls for confession, for small groups where we talk honestly about issues of guilt and shame, and worship, where we confess together as a church in our worship of the Triune God.

Jamieson concludes the book with his answer to “Jane,” the parishioner asking about forgiveness, an answer rooted in the rich pastoral theology of this book. And that is what we are given in 157 pages of text. We are brought to reflect deeply on the consequences in the human psyche of the pretensions to god-hood of each of us, re-enacting the sin of the first couple. We explore the nature of shame, our penchant to run from God, and how this is addressed in the work of the cross. It isn’t just something we have to “get over” as people whose guilt is pardoned. Shame, too, has been borne.

What I most appreciate about this is that while it is a “pastoral theology of shame and redemption” it is rooted in good systematic and historical theology. I also appreciate how it is also rooted in the church and a theology of grace. Forgiveness is not presented as an individual effort to think better of ourselves and others but as a corporately supported reality that recognizes the continuing presence and power of Christ at work in his people gathered. While cognizant of psychology, this is the care of souls rooted in a fresh appreciation of the theology we preach, pray, and enact in worship each week. Refreshing!