The Almost Gospel of Ebenezer Scrooge

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

Thus begins Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s difficult to imagine Christmas today without this holiday classic. Ebenezer Scrooge’s last-minute transformation has been portrayed so many times on stage and screen that the story’s scenes, characters and plot have become a cultural meme imprinted on our brains. On mine, anyway, despite the fact that I had never read the story until this month.

So, when I noticed an inexpensive copy for five dollars while standing in line a week ago at Barnes & Noble, I snapped it up. A Christmas Carol is a quick, fun read—Dickens at his best. The story’s setting is Victorian London, with Britain in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, but its themes bespeak a timeless, universal longing for wellbeing within ourselves and among our neighbors.

The particulars of the tale are recognizably Christian. Most obviously, its setting is Christmas. There are biblical allusions scattered throughout, including to Jesus’ birth and ministry. The Cratchit family is churchgoing and devout, even to the point of seeing Tiny Tim’s handicap as a spiritual lesson reminding others of Jesus’ healing ministry.

At a broader level, its themes are also Christian. It is a tale of metanoia, the New Testament word for repentance, which entails not just a change of mind but the transformation of an entire way of life.  Scrooge’s transformation itself begins because of what we might call supernatural revelation, first of Marley’s ghost and then of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. And Dicken’s excoriation of Scrooge’s greed and praise of his later generosity to the poor reminds readers of Jesus’ own teachings on this matter.

…the almost gospel of Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t even almost good news, insofar as it leaves us in the predicament of knowledgeable sin: We already know, but we still don’t change.

As I read A Christmas Carol, I kept thinking of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21). Like Scrooge, the rich fool accumulated wealth for himself. (Unlike Scrooge, however, the rich fool encouraged himself, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”) Like Scrooge, however, he never thought of the needy. So, like Scrooge, he died alone and possessionless. Jesus provided the moral to the story: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God,” that is, to the poor.

Dickens’ very Christian point is that wealth is either a tool or an idol. We can use it, like the shrewd manager in Jesus’ parable, to “gain friends” (Luke 16:1–15), to establish solidarity with others. Or we can worship it as a kind of god, valuing it above others and even God himself. In many ways, A Christmas Carol is a Dickensian riff on Jesus’ dictum: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Even so, A Christmas Carol is an almost gospel, not good news. To see why, consider another parable Jesus told in Luke 16, that of the rich man and Lazarus (verses 19–31). In this parable, a rich man ignores the beggar (Lazarus) at his gate, a beggar who longed “to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”

When both men die, they experience a reversal of fortune: the rich man in torment in “Hades,” Lazarus receiving comfort at “Abraham’s side.” The rich man begs Father Abraham to send him Lazarus “to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” relief in hell. Being told that is impossible, he then begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his “five brothers,” warning them of the peril of hell.

Abraham’s response? “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” But the rich man replies, “No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” To which Abraham’s final riposte is this: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

A Christmas Carol turns on Ebenezer Scrooge seeing his past, present and future, specifically with regard to his sinful use of wealth and lack of solidarity with others. Dickens is telling us, “If you only knew what wrong turns you made in the past, what opportunities you’ve passed up in the present and what mortal fate awaits you in the future, you would repent.”

Jesus parable of the rich man and Lazarus tells a different story: You already know. In this life, the rich man could see Lazarus sore and hungry at his gate. In this life, his brothers knew what the law of Moses required of the haves with regard to the have nots. And yet they didn’t change. Knowing these things mattered not a whit to them, however.

Knowledge is a necessary component of transformation, but insufficient by itself. We don’t need more information. Romans 2:25 demonstrates that even pagans have sufficient baseline of information to accuse or defend them before God.

What is needed is not information per se—or even more information—but something else. An agent of change outside ourselves. Not an informer but a transformer. The Transformer. As Paul David Tripp explains in his devotional, Come Let Us Adore Him:

God’s response [to our sin] wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t the establishment of an institution. It wasn’t a process of intervention. It wasn’t some new divine program. In his infinite wisdom God knew that the only thing that could rescue us from ourselves and repair the horrendous damage that sin had done to the world was not a thing at all. It was a person, his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Seen this way, the almost gospel of Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t even almost good news, insofar as it leaves us in the predicament of knowledgeable sin: We already know, but we still don’t change. Like Marley, we are dead as a doornail and need someone to raise us to life.

Joy to the world, then, that the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!


P.S. This article was written for and appears here by permission.

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The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project | Book Review

When I lived and worked in Southern California, I drove the 405 Freeway every day. A 2013 U.S. Department of Transportation study found the 405 to be the busiest interstate in the U.S. You can imagine how much time I spent looking at an endless line of bumpers in front of me.

I was talking about my commute with a friend, who asked if I’d ever noticed the cows on the east side of the freeway. I laughed. My commute from home to work and back again took me along miles of Orange County’s urban sprawl. “There are no cows on the east side of the 405,” I replied, with a high degree of confidence.

The next time I drove the 405, however, I noticed the cows. Apuleius said, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and he was right. Thousands of trips up and down the 405 had accustomed my eyes both to see and not to see

Longtime readers of the Bible can become so accustomed to it
that they stop noticing things.

Apuleius’ apercu applies to the Bible as much as to bumpers and bovines. Longtime readers of the Bible can become so accustomed to it that they stop noticing things. There are several ways to remedy that problem. In my experience, one can read the books of the Bible in

  • a different translation,
  • a different format,
  • a different order,
  • and/or a different way.

What I love about The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project is that it helps readers do all four.

Sola Scriptura uses the NIV (2011 edition), the aim of which is “to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it had they been speaking in English to the global Engish-speaking audience today.” The NIV incorporates advances in the understanding of biblical Hebrew and Greek, as well as changes in English usage since the translation first appeared in 1978. The result is a version that renders the Bible’s original languages in good, idiomatic English.

The most revolutionary thing about Sola Scriptura is its format. Typical Bibles present the inspired text as a single volume in a two-column format with chapter and verse numbers, headings, footnotes and cross-references. Sola Scriptura, by contrast, spreads out the Bible over four volumes. It presents the inspired text in a single-column format and eliminates headings, footnotes and cross-references entirely. Also, instead of interpolating chapter and verse numbers within the text, it discreetly prints the chapter-and-verse range at the bottom of each page.

Bible publishers call this kind of formatting a “Reader’s Bible.” I find Reader’s Bibles easier to read than typical Bibles. Instead of being formatted like a reference work — two columns with scholarly apparatus (numbers, headings, etc.) — Reader’s Bibles are formatted like normal books. I can’t help but wonder whether the reason why so many Christians spend more time reading novels and biographies than their Bibles is because their Bibles are formatted like dictionaries, encyclopedias and textbooks.

Even splitting the Bible into four volumes helps readers. To get all of Scripture between two covers, typical Bibles present the inspired text on thin paper, in two columns over more than a thousand pages. Sola Scriptura uses a larger font and thicker paper, and each volume is about as long as a standard novel or nonfiction book. I have found that I am able to read Scripture for longer periods of time — sometimes an entire book of the Bible in one sitting! — because of the Reader’s Bible format.

We spend too little time reading the Bible,
and we read too little of the Bible in the time that we do spend

Another great innovation is Sola Scriptura’s revised order of the books of the Bible. Typical Bibles follow the Septuagint’s order of Old Testament books. (The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Old Testament.) Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, revises the Hebrew Bible’s order of books.

Traditionally, Jews have organized the Hebrew Bible — what Christians call the Old Testament— into three main sections: Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Ketuvim). If you hear a Jewish friend refer to Scripture as Tanakh, this is simply an acronym for the three major divisions. The Law encompasses Genesis through Deuteronomy. The Prophets are divided into Former Prophets (Judges–2 Kings) and Latter Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi, minus Lamentations and Daniel). The writings include everything else (1 Chronicles–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations and Daniel).

Volume 1, “The Torah and Former Prophets,” follows both the Hebrew Bible’s and Septuagint’s order of books from Genesis to 2 Kings. It presents the story of Israel from creation to exile in one volume.

Volume 2, “The Latter Prophets,” uses the Hebrew Bible’s list of books but departs from its ordering of them. Sola Scriptura arranges the prophets according to the four historical periods in which they ministered: (1) “as the empire of Assyria was growing” (Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah); (2) “when the Assyrian empire was crumbling and the Babylonians and Egyptians were jockeying to become rulers of the region” (Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk); (3) “when the Babylonians conquered Judah and deported much of its population” (Jeremiah, Obadiah, Ezekiel); and (4) when the Jews “returned from Babylon to Judea under Persian rule” (Haggai, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi). This allows readers to read the prophets in roughly chronological order. (There are scholarly disputes about some of the dates of these books.)

Volume 3, “The Writings,” again uses the Hebrew Bible’s list of books but departs from its order. Sola Scriptura groups the books under four headings: (1) “collections of song lyrics” (Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Songs); (2) “wisdom” books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job); (3) “historical books” (1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther); and (4) Daniel, which is “half history and half apocalypse.”

Traditionally, the New Testament has been organized in several blocks: history (Gospels–Acts), Paul’s letters (Romans–Philemon, longest to shortest), general letters (Hebrews–Jude, longest to shortest) and Revelation. Sola Scriptura’s fourth volume, “The New Testament,” uses the four Gospels as its organizing principle. “The traditional priority of the stories of Jesus is retained, but now each Gospel is placed at the beginning of related books.”

So, Luke–Acts is paired with Paul’s letters, which are organized chronologically. Matthew is grouped with Hebrews and James. Mark, who early Christian tradition associated with the apostle Peter, is grouped with 1 and 2 Peter and Jude. And John is grouped with 1–3 John and Revelation.

Obviously, Volumes 2–4 depart from the traditional order of biblical books in significant ways. I personally found this helpful, however. For example, I read the New Testament every month. Doing so using Sola Scriptura’s New Testament order feels less repetitive than when you read the Synoptic Gospels sequentially. It feels more organic when you read Luke and Acts together than when you read John in between them. Reading 1 Thessalonians long before Romans shines a new light on the unfolding of Paul’s theology. Reading John’s Gospel and letters with Revelation shows thematic linkages between them all. I could say something similar about Volumes 2 and 3, but you get the point.

By presenting Scripture in a different translation, format and order, The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project helps readers see God’s Word in a different way, one that connects the parts to the whole, the individual stories in the Bible to the Grand Story God tells us through the Bible in its entirety.

I’ve talked about translation, format and order, so let me close with a note about how Sola Scriptura provides a different way to read Scripture. I mentioned above that the Reader’s Bible format makes it easier to read long sections of Scripture in a single sitting. This is a key deficiency in most people’s Bible-reading habits.

Perhaps I can put it this way: We spend too little time reading the Bible, and we read too little of the Bible in the time that we do spend. We read verses instead of paragraphs, paragraphs instead of chapters and chapters instead of entire books. We focus on inspirational sayings — e.g., Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16, Philippians 4:17 — rather than seeing the larger historical and literary context in which they are uttered.

By presenting Scripture in a different translation, format and order, The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project helps readers see God’s Word in a different way, one that connects the parts to the whole, the individual stories in the Bible to the Grand Story God tells us through the Bible in its entirety.

Book Reviewed
The NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for, and it appears here by permission.

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Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography | Book Review

“Luther was a problem,” writes Herman Selderhuis in Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. “Certainly for the pope and the emperor, but often he was also a problem for his fellow reformers.”

However, Luther was problematic to those people in different ways — good and bad — which complicates his legacy.

On October 31, 2017, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On that date in 1517, Luther published his 95 Theses challenging “the power and efficacy of indulgences.” Today, November 10, is Luther’s birthday. (He was born in 1483.) These dates give us a suitable occasion to assess Luther’s legacy and learn what lessons we can from it.

Let us begin with the positive. No less an authority than Calvin said that Luther “gave the Gospel back to us.” By this, he meant the doctrine of justification by faith. Christ alone (solus Christus) saves sinners by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide).

“This article of faith cannot be compromised,” wrote Luther about justification by faith in The Smalkald Articles of 1537. “Nothing can be taken away from it, even if the earth or heaven or whatever should fall.” Why? Because “if this article remains standing, the church remains standing, but if this article falls, the church also falls.”

Luther came to believe this gospel based on his close reading of Paul, especially the apostle’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The just will live by faith.’”

And that brings us to a second positive aspect of Luther’s legacy: the authority of Scripture. Luther was a professor of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg, able to read Scripture in its original languages, Hebrew and Greek. It was his close reading of Scripture that led him to begin to question the penitential practices of the late medieval Catholic church.

These questions first became public in the 95 Theses. When Catholic authorities pushed back on Luther’s questions, they drove him deeper into Scripture. The more he read, the more he questioned, until he concluded that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the final authority for Christian faith and practice — not papal authority, church tradition or even the decisions of church councils.

When called upon to recant his beliefs at the 1521 Diet of Worms, standing before the Holy Roman Emperor, German princes, church leaders and a representative of the pope himself, Luther refused:

If, then, I am not convinced by testimonies of Scripture or by clear rational arguments — for I do not believe in the pope or in the councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted each other — I am bound by the Bible texts that I have quoted. And as long as my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot nor do I want to retract anything when things become doubtful. Salvation will be threatened if you go against your conscience. May God help me. Amen.

The famous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” were evidently added at a later time, but they capture the spirit of Luther’s refusal.

Later theologians called sola fide the material principle of the Reformation and sola Scriptura its formal principle. The principles answer humanity’s two most basic questions: How can I be saved? And how do I know? Luther’s rediscovery of them is the core of his positive legacy, in my opinion. Certainly they created problems for both the pope and the emperor, but they were necessary problems, essential reforms to a corrupt medieval church, and good news in every age.

As Selderhuis noted, however, Luther created other problems for his fellow reformers that can be neither overlooked nor excused. No doubt a man who takes a stand against the religious and political powers of his day must have a spine of steel. Unfortunately, Luther could be stiff-necked and abusive toward his fellow reformers on issues where compromise and gentle language were necessary.

Luther’s closest colleague, Philip Melanchthon, bore the brunt of that abuse. Luther’s temper was so well-known that Melanchthon usually served as a buffer between him and other Protestant reformers. Two years after Luther’s death, Melanchthon offered this blunt assessment: “I had to bear an almost degrading bondage because Luther was led by his militant temperament and exhibited a cocky self-righteousness, rather than that he would pay attention to his deferential position and the common good.”

But Luther’s cantankerousness toward allies pales in comparison to the worst aspects of his legacy: his violent rhetoric. Two examples should suffice. In 1524–25, German peasants rose in revolt against the aristocracy. Many had been inspired by Luther’s words and personal example, and Luther himself was initially sympathetic to their complaints.

But by 1525, Luther felt the peasants had gone too far, and encouraged authorities to deal harshly with them:

whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man. Just as one must slay a mad dog, so, if you do not fight the rebels, they will fight you, and the whole country with you.

Then there’s what Luther said about Jews. Early in his career, Luther had hoped Jews would convert to Christianity once they heard the proclamation of the true gospel. Later in life, though, his attitude took a much darker turn. In Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (1542), he advocated authorities take specific measures against Jews. Let me quote Selderhuis at length.

First of all, synagogues should be burned because that is where the blasphemy takes place. For the same reason, Jews’ homes should be destroyed. Their prayer books and their Talmuds should be confiscated. Since their money had been stolen from Christians, Luther thought [a false but common belief in the middle ages], their money and jewelry should be seized. That money must be used for the support of Jews who had become Christians. Jews who did not qualify would have to earn their money by means of forced labor.

These are hard words for anyone to read after the Holocaust, especially when we know that Nazis used Luther’s remarks in their anti-Semitic propaganda. They certainly tarnish the Protestant celebration of Luther’s positive legacy.

So, what do we make of Luther today? After narrating Luther’s life honestly, warts and all, Selderhuis concludes: “Luther needed the grace that he himself had proclaimed. Throughout his life he remained a good example of his view that a Christian remains a sinner all his life and remains justified at the same time.”

Simul iustus et peccator is how Luther expressed that view in Latin.

On Luther’s birthday and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, simul iustus et peccator summarizes Luther’s legacy, both the good and the bad. Herman Selderhuis should be thanked for writing a biography that so skillfully narrates the life of Martin Luther and helps us interpret its complicated meaning.


Book Reviewed
Herman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

The Midnight Line | Book Review

The Midnight Line is Lee Child’s twenty-second novel featuring Jack Reacher. Reacher sees a West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. Being a product of West Point himself, he knows it is not something a graduate would part with easily. So, he sets out to find what happened to its owner.

In any other author’s hands, this setup would be too improbable a beginning for a suspense novel. But Lee Child is not any other author, and what’s improbable for others makes perfect sense for Jack Reacher. I received The Midnight Line from Amazon yesterday morning and started reading it after my youngest kids went to sleep at 7:00 p.m. I finished it at 12:04 a.m. today.

Child writes the most kinetic prose of any author I have ever read. Reacher seems constantly on the move, physically and intellectually. The only way to keep up with him is to keep turning the page. And trust me, The Midnight Line is a page-turner.

The problem, though, comes once you close the book. At least it has for me, especially after the last few novels. Any piece of fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief from readers. I get that. In reality, no one finds himself perpetually embroiled in whodunits, matching wits and fists with criminals. I’ll suspend my disbelief on that score.

What bothers me, however, is this: Reacher was born in 1960. He retired—or was retired from—the Army in 1997. In the intervening twenty years, he has hitchhiked from place to place, living in motels, eating at greasy spoons, and working when he feels like or it or needs extra cash. He buys inexpensive clothes, wears them a couple of days, then dumps them in the trash for a new set. He has no home, no possessions (other than sturdy boots, a folding toothbrush, and a canceled passport), no family, and no friends.

And yet, he still operates at peak performance—intellectually and physically. He beats down men half his age. He even finds time for short-lived romances in most of the novels. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief about these matters.

Don’t get me wrong: The Midnight Line is a well-written page turner. I didn’t like the ending much, however. I won’t spoil it for you, but the last few pages of the book were pathetic and lame. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

So, it’s four out of five stars for me for The Midnight Line. As much as I like Jack Reacher, as quickly as I read Lee Child’s novels when they’re published, I find myself increasingly closing them at the finish and thinking, that was fun, but Reacher’s getting too old for this.


Book Reviewed
Lee Child, The Midnight Line (New York: Delacorte Press, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Two Kinds of Truth | Book Review

Two Kinds of Truth begins with the interruption of an interruption of an investigation. Retired from the LAPD, Harry Bosch is volunteering with the San Fernando police as a cold-case investigator. While working a 15-year-old unsolved mission person case, he is summoned to a meeting with an assistant district attorney as well as two LAPD detectives, one of whom is his former partner, Lucia Soto. They inform him that DNA evidence has reopened a homicide case he solved thirty years prior, suggesting that his investigation of it was tainted. In the middle of that meeting, he is summoned to the scene of a double homicide at a local pharmacy.

Who killed the two pharmacists? Did Bosch put the wrong man in jail? And what happened to the missing person? Those are the questions Harry Bosch sets out to answer in Michael Connelly’s twenty-second novel featuring him.

As always, Connelly has written a page turner. I finished it in two sittings. But I noticed that I wasn’t as excited about this novel as I was about his July 2017 book, The Late Show, which introduced LAPD detective Renée Ballard. I’m hoping—expecting—a second novel about her sometime next year. (Read my review of The Late Show here.)

Now, don’t get me wrong! If you like Harry Bosch, read Two Kinds of Truth. But now that Bosch is 67 years old, his career—even as a volunteer investigator—feels like it’s winding down. My guess is that Connelly has one more book planned for Bosch, one that solves a fourth mystery mentioned in this book, the brutal murder of a teenage girl. I look forward to that book, but I won’t be too sad if it’s Connelly’s last Bosch novel. He’s had a great run.


Book Reviewed
Michael Connelly, Two Kinds of Truth (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Whisper | Book Review

Psalm 19 describes two forms of divine revelation. The first is general revelation: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (verse 1). The second is special revelation: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul” (verse 7).

What strikes me most about both forms of revelation is how pervasive they are in terms of space and time. Space: the heavens’ “voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (verse 4). Time: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever” (verse 9). (In verses 7–10, fear is synonymous with the words law, statutes, precepts, commands, and decrees.)

God speaks everywhere and at all times, in other words. If that’s the case, then the most important spiritual question is how to hear His voice. That’s the question my friend Mark Batterson takes up in his new book, Whisper.

Mark outlines seven ways God speaks to us:

  1. Scripture
  2. Desires
  3. Doors
  4. Dreams
  5. People
  6. Promptings
  7. Pain

He admits that this is “not an exhaustive list by any means.” There is not a chapter on how God speaks through nature, which, he concedes jokingly, “seems like a sin of omission.” I personally would have liked to see a chapter on how God speaks to us through reason. Perhaps you would like to see a chapter on some other form of divine communication. “The reality?” Mark writes: “God speaks billions of dialects, including yours.”

These dialects are not equal, however. Mark describes Scripture as the “Rosetta Stone” and “The Key of Keys.” It’s the interpretive grid through which all other forms of divine communication must be run. He explains:

God will never lead us to do something that is contrary to His good, pleasing, and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. That said, Scripture doesn’t reveal the logistics. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Scripture doesn’t reveal whether we should go here or there. It doesn’t nuance whether we should do this, that, or the other thing. And although its truth is timeless, it doesn’t reveal now or later. Scripture gives us guidelines, but the Holy Spirit is our Guide [emphasis in original].

When I first read that statement, I thought to myself: Only a Pentecostal could write that. I don’t mean that merely in the narrow sense of denominational affiliation. (Mark is an Assemblies of God minister, as am I.) What I mean is that only a person who believes Acts 2 is paradigmatic rather than merely descriptive can be confident that God’s Spirit continues to guide us in the nitty-gritty logistics as well as the broad, biblical guidelines. That said, Whisper doesn’t engage in flights of charismatic fancy. Mark shows what Scripture itself says about God speaking to us in these seven languages.

I’ll close with a quote from the book’s Epilogue, which epitomizes the content of God’s speech:

God wants us to hear what He’s saying, and we must heed His voice. But much more than that, He wants us to hear His heart. So He whispers softer and softer so that we have to get closer and closer. And when we finally get close enough, He envelops us in His arms and tells us that He loves us.

This is good news, as well as a reminder that if you haven’t heard God’s love in God’s Word, you haven’t listened closely enough.


Book Reviewed
Mark Batterson, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life | Book Review

For nearly 70 years, English-language readers have been well served by Roland H. Bainton’s classic biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand. A slew of new biographies has come off the presses in time for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, but I still consider Bainton’s the best choice for the general reader, especially if you’re only going to read one book this year about him or the Protestant Reformation.

However, if you’re going to read more than one book, I think you should consider Volker Leppin’s Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life, translated by Rhys Bezzant. Leppin is professor of church history at the University of Tübingen in Germany, a well-regarded scholar of the late medieval period, and author of a scholarly, German-language biography of Luther, Martin Luther: Gestalten Des Mittelalters Und Der Renaissance (2010), which this much shorter book epitomizes.

Leppin’s biography is a model of economy, clarity, and historical thinking. In his Foreword, Timothy J. Wengert highlights what makes this biography distinctive: “Leppin’s chief contribution to our understanding of Luther stems from his careful distinguishing of Luther’s later accounts of early events in his life from earlier accounts, especially given the influence of the later accounts in relating Luther’s life story.” Wengert also writes that Leppin “demythologizes the standard view of Luther.”

Whether or not you agree with all of Leppin’s demythologizations—and there are ongoing scholarly debates about some of them—it is always helpful, in the pursuit of historical knowledge, to know where the controversies lie.


Book Reviewed
Volker Leppin, Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life, trans. Rhys Bezzant (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “yes” on my review page.

Reformation Reading Recommendations

The Protestant Reformation was a bookish renewal movement, so it’s not surprising that publishers are celebrating its 500th anniversary with a slew of new books about Martin Luther and his spiritual progeny. No one has time to read them all — not even this magazine editor — but I nevertheless have some recommendations.

For the life of Luther, I recommend Roland H. Bainton’s 1950 classic, Here I Stand. Bainton was a church historian at Yale Divinity School, but he wore his learning lightly in this biography. Here I Stand hits the highlights of Luther’s life; notes the social, political and religious contexts of his work; summarizes the development of his theology; quotes him judiciously; and keeps the narrative moving so that readers don’t get bored.

In recommending Bainton, I don’t mean to slight any of the other biographies that have been published this year. The number of authors who have written competently about Luther include — in alphabetical order — Craig Harline, Volker Leppin, Peter Marshall, Eric Metaxas, Richard Rex, Lyndal Roper, Heinz Schilling, Herman Selderhuis and others. I assume that most readers will read only one biography if they read any, and I think Bainton best serves the interests of the general reader. If you like Bainton, feel free to pick up one of the others.

Two books remind us Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora was a life-changing event, for him personally and for the Protestant Reformation more broadly. Ruth A. Tucker’s Katie Luther: First Lady of the Reformation ably reconstructs von Bora’s life from sparse sources, painting the picture of a fascinating and in many ways essential figure of the Reformation. Michelle DeRusha’s Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk reminds us how scandalous their marriage was in the context of their times, how important it was to Luther and how it shaped Protestant views of marriage through his writings.

For elementary-age children, I recommend Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation — from A to Z by Stephen J. Nicholls and Ned Bustard. For students, Dacia Palmerino and Andrea Ciponte’s Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography — a graphic novel — is definitely worth a look.

For the writings of Luther, there are several inexpensive one-volume collections. John Dillenberger’s 1962 Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings is still the best. It includes The Ninety-Five Theses as well as Luther’s three seminal treatises from 1520: An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian.

For the history of the Protestant Reformation more generally, check out Brad S. Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World. Gregory briskly traces the early history of the major branches of the Reformation — Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed and Anglican — and argues that Luther’s reforms led unwittingly to the secularism of the modern world. It’s an interesting study in the unintended consequences of ideas. Alec Ryrie’s Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World traces the history of the Reformation from Luther to Pentecostals. Rodney Stark — a sociologist of religion, not a historian — shows why his colleagues call him (jokingly, I assume) the “skunk at the picnic” in his book, Reformation Myths: Five Centuries of Misconceptions and (Some) Misfortunes. One of the myths he challenges is “Protestant secularization,” which makes this book a good counterpoint to Gregory’s.

Martin Luther | Book Review

On the occasion of the Protestant Reformation’s five hundredth anniversary, books about Martin Luther have been pouring off the presses. Eric Metaxas’ Martin Luther will probably sell the most copies, perhaps more than all the other combined. It debuted at number seven on the October 22, 2017 New York Times’s bestseller list. It is still a bestseller on

I had high hopes for this biography. Luther lived a big life, one of world-historical importance. His actions laid the foundations of the modern world, a result that he, steeped in medieval assumptions about Christendom, would most likely have abhorred. (On that topic, see Brad Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks.) The public needs a standard, readable account of such a life in every generation, and I had hoped that Metaxas’ biography would be the worthy successor to Roland H. Bainton’s classic, Here I Stand.

Metaxas on Luther is good, but not great. Martin Luther covers the same ground as Here I Stand—the latter is the first reference in Metaxas’ bibliography—but Bainton tells the story with more economy and verve. Metaxas is a beautiful writer, but compared to Bainton, I felt he got lost too often in the narrative weeds. For example, while Metaxas writes about Luther’s insight into the meaning of the phrase, the righteousness of God, as well as about his articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith, neither word—righteousness, justification—has an entry in the index. So, a researcher looking for Metaxas’ treatment of Luther’s theology—the doctrine on which the church stands or falls!—won’t know where to find it in the book.

On occasion, Luther’s word choice and his drawing of extended metaphors is too precocious. He uses the Latin word Aetatitis in chapter headings, for example, to mark the years of Luther’s life. I’m still stuck on his use of the word ensorcelling, when the more well-known enchanting or fascinating would’ve worked just as well. And why he insists on using Kathie instead of Katie as the diminutive for Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora, is beyond me. It’s like Metaxas feels he needs to break with convention just for the heck of it.

Martin Luther is probably too long and involved for the general reader, but not researched thoroughly enough for the academic reader. It doesn’t advance any new insight about Luther, dependent on other studies in that regard. Like I said, good, but not great. If you’re going to read just one book about Luther this year, I’d stick with Here I Stand.


Book Reviewed:

Eric Metaxas Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (New York: Viking, 2017).

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