Category Archives: The Bible

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes

Q. What sort of people does God use to accomplish His work? A. Not the sort you might expect.

In Twelve Unlikely Heroes, John MacArthur takes us on a tour of biblical history, showing us a dozen ordinary men and women who were used by God for extraordinary things. These people were not flawless; to the contrary, they were unsettlingly real. They stumbled, doubted, and fell. Some of them were pretty messed up. But God’s strength “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) – and He worked through these men and women in astonishing ways despite their shortcomings.

Before I write any further, though, I have a confession to make: this is the very first MacArthur book I’ve ever read. No joke. Several of them are on my reading list – Slave, in particular, is one I’d like to get my hands on – but Twelve Unlikely Heroes was the first to land on my shelf.

Thankfully, I think it proved to be an excellent starting point for a MacArthur-rookie like myself. His writing is simple (though far from simplistic) and engagingly conversational; and he does a smashing job of showing how the stories of these “heroes of the faith” apply to believers today.

Some of the heroes covered in the book are ones which we generally don’t think of: Enoch, for example; or Jonathan; or Moses’ sister Miriam, dubbed “the leading lady of the Exodus.” But as MacArthur digs deeper into their lives, it becomes plain that their inclusion was well-merited.

Ultimately, though, in reading about these men and women, we see something – or rather, Someone – even bigger. As MacArthur writes,

It is imperative to emphasize one critical point: the true hero of Scripture, in every Bible story, is God Himself. A quick review of several classic Sunday school stories immediately illustrates this point. Noah did not preserve the ark in the midst of the flood; Abraham did not make himself the father of a great nation; Joshua did not cause the walls of Jericho to fall down; and David did not defeat Goliath on his own. In each of those well-known examples, and in every other case, the Hero behind the heroes is always the Lord.

In literature, the hero is the main protagonist, the principal character, and the central figure of the narrative. This is certainly true of God throughout the pages of Scripture. He is the One who always provides the victory.  It is His power, His wisdom, and His goodness that are continually put on display – even when He utilizes human instruments to accomplish His purposes. Consequently, all the glory belongs to Him. (pp. xiv-xv)

Needless to say, I loved this book. I think you will, too. Consider that a recommendation, find yourself a copy to read.

Why I Read: An Explanation

As many before me have observed, God’s people are people of the Word. It is no trifling coincidence that God chose to give us His revelation in print. As a Christian, I have the Book of Books, and in that book, I am exhorted – nay, commanded – to love God with my heart and my mind (Matt. 23:34-40). I am to use my intellect. I am to sharpen it for the love and glory of my God. And what better way to do that than through reading?

Josh Sowen writes,

Reading is one of the best ways to develop our minds. It can help us to know God and ourselves, gain vicarious experience, increase our perception and imagination, train our minds to think critically and logically, and teach us self-discipline… 

Christians should be readers. We should read and meditate on the Bible, of course, but we should also read theology. Good theology systematizes and explains the Bible in ways we would be pressed to come up with on our own. Few of us are a Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, J. I. Packer or John Piper, and we would be wise to learn from them.

Most of us know we should read the Bible and theology. But what about other subjects, like literature, history, biography, science, and culture? And what about books by non-Christians? I think we should read widely, and yes, that includes reading non-Christians. 

God has set up the world so that even non-Christians can find truth. I’ve learned truth from Christians and non-Christians. We can’t expect non-Christians to have sound theology, but they are some of the best authors in other subjects. If we reject their Spirit-given insights because they are non-Christians we, as Calvin says, “insult the Giver.”

It is a sad state of affairs that so many of today’s Christians do not know what it is to read widely or well. They stagnate, unwilling to set aside time even for God’s Word, the very book that should hold the most prominent place in their lives. “How readest thou?” asks Jesus in Luke 10:26. For most modern evangelicals, I’m afraid the answer would have to be, “Not well, and not much.”

I don’t want to be one of those people. That’s not what the life of a Christ-follower should look like. By God’s grace, I’ll number myself among the few, the happy few, the band of brothers and sisters who rebel against the status-quo.

Continue reading Why I Read: An Explanation

Splendid Sins!

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

“Without saving faith, all moral virtues are but splendid sins!

Unbelief nullifies everything!
It is the dead fly in the ointment!
It is the poison in the pot!

All the moral virtues,
all the benevolence of philanthropy,
all the kindness of unselfish sympathy,
all the talents of genius,
all the bravery of patriotism
—give no title to Divine acceptance, for
‘without faith it is impossible to please God.'”

~ Charles Spurgeon

HT Grace Gems

The Odious, Revolting Death of the Cross

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8)

“It is very hard for us today to hear the shocking overtones of the words Paul uses, because the cross has become for us such a domesticated symbol. Today many women and some men dangle crosses from their ears. Our bishops hang crosses about their necks. Our buildings have crosses on the spires, or stained wooden crosses are backlit with fluorescent lights. Some of our older church buildings are actually built in cruciform, and no one is shocked.

“Suppose you were to place in a prominent position in your church building a fresco of the massed graves of Auschwitz. Wouldn’t everyone be horrified? But in the first century, the cross had something of that symbolic value. Scholars have gone through every instance of the word ‘cross’ and related expressions that have come down to us from about the time of Jesus and shown how ‘crucifixion’ and ‘cross’ invariably evoke horror. Of the various forms of Roman execution, crucifixion could be used only for slaves, rebels, and anarchists; it could never be used for a Roman citizen, apart from the express sanction of the Emperor. Crucifixion was considered too cruel – so shameful that the word itself was avoided in polite conversation.

“But here is Paul, boldly insisting that the Lord Christ Whom we serve – precisely because He is that kind of God – made Himself a nobody, became in fact a slave (becoming a human being in the process), and then humbled himself yet further by obeying His Heavenly Father and dying – dying the odious, revolting death of the cross, reserved for public enemies and the dregs of the criminal justice system. The language is meant to shock. Jesus died on a cross! I believe it was W.H. Auden who penned the lines,

Only the unscarred, overfed,
Enjoy the verbal event of Calvary.

– D.A. Carson, An Exposition of Philippians (Ch. 2, p. 46)