Book Review: Being Born Again

30 06 2008
Being Born Again

Over the course of the past weekend I had the privilege of speaking to a group of around 80 teenagers who are preparing to serve God with Baptist Youth over the summer. It was a daunting and deeply humbling experience, and also one which enthused and inspired me about what God is doing among young people within our Association of churches. The topic which I was given was ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Salvation’, and I sought to emphasise the work of God in salvation, starting in eternity, issuing in regeneration, resulting in faith and repentence, and granting justification, adoption, and ultimately glorification. To do all of this in the space of one hour felt next to impossible, and I’m sure that I failed in many ways to communicate as I ought.

One book which was of tremendous help to me in my preparation, however, was Being Born Again by Gary Brady. My first encounters with Gary have been via his excellent and pretty eclectic blog, and I have come to respect his meditations on historic Christianity, as well as his more quirky thoughts on such varied things as hats and soft drinks!

Being Born Again is Gary’s latest book to be published by Evangelical Press, with his previous two volumes being commentaries on Proverbs and Song of Songs respectively. The stated purpose of the book is to provide an introduction to the whole topic of the ‘new birth’ or ‘regeneration’. This is a much needed study, given the cloudy thinking on this issue amongst unbelievers and believers alike. Gary writes with the aim of reaching those who are not born again, and of inspiring those who are to appreciate and share their faith.

The book seeks to answer a series of questions which one may have about ‘being born again’, and does so through the use of solid exegesis, vivid illustration, and copious quotation from other writers. Themes such as the essence or definition of ‘being born again’, the ruling out of those things which it is not, and an assessment of how it is pictured all serve to give the reader a broad biblical picture of what it means to experience regeneration. Issues including why regneration is needed, when it takes place, and how it is evidenced are all dealt with in reasonable detail, as is a chapter pleading for those who do not know the Saviour to seek God for salvation.

The procedural basis and suppositional background of the book is Reformed evangelical. The ordo salutis outlined in the book is largely that which can be traced in Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, although this volume is much easier to read than the former. The tone of the text is warm and pastoral without being light, and there are moments of lyricism which are a delight to read. For instance, when writing of the need for regeneration in order to please God it is stated that:

‘Faith is a flower that will only grow where the field has been prepared and transformed’ [p.86]

Such phrasing (and there are numerous other examples) makes what are at times abstract concepts easier to digest, and lends a flow and fluency to the book which ease the reader through fairly deep theological waters. The same can also be said of the pastoral emphasis of the book, where the author is keen to address the consciences of his readers as well as their heads. Efforts are made to dispel false assurances of regeneration as well as needless doubt – a balance which is difficult to strike in preaching, not to mention the written medium.

Being Born Again is full of helpful quotes and illustrations from a variety of authors, classic and modern. This serves to give the book an air of being well-read, without it seeming bookish or dry. My one regret is that the multiplicity of quotes from other authors do not contain footnoted references that can be followed up. Nor does the book contain an exhaustive biliography. I imagine that the absence of these two elements is connected with the book’s purpose of reaching non-believers and informing young believers about regeneration without cluttering the page or their minds.

All in all “Being Born Again” is an excellent resource, on a much neglected topic. The author has gone to considerable pains to write faithfully, clearly, and in a God-honouring way about this amazing work of God in the hearts of sinful men and women. I would give this book to a young believer who desires to know more about their faith (perhaps after they have worked through Peter Jeffrey’s more basic Bitesize Theology) or to someone who is thinking deeply about their need of salvation. Every Christian who reads this book will find food for their soul, and inspiration to make Christ known to an unbelieving world. (It was a pleasure to recommended both Peter Jeffrey and Gary Brady’s books at the youth training day on Saturday).

I close with a quotation which deeply touched me, as the author pleads with believers to pray for the salvation of others. As someone who is currently awaiting and excited about the arrival (DV) of their first child, the following words stirred and humbled me about how I ought to long for new life to spring up in the hearts of those who don’t know Christ:

“We must be gentle and show respect and keep a clear conscience, of course, but we should be as eager for new births as most women are to bear their own children. Like Paul we should labour until Christ is formed in others (Galatians 4:19)”.

Being Born Again is written by Gary Brady, consists of 175 pages, and is published by Evangelical Press. It is priced at £7.95.





With You

30 06 2008

There are times when God speaks so forcefully that the only suitable response is awe and wonder. We experienced this is an unprecedented way last year as we sensed His call to the mission field, and away from ministry in our local church. It was a time of challenge, but also a time of really proving God’s power to speak and mould us through His Word.

Recently, God has been dealing with us in the same way again – only this time he is breathing powerful consolation through Scripture. As a couple we are contemplating leaving our home country and going to Peru, along with a pretty young baby (DV). Over the past four weeks or so this reality has been really coming home to us, but equally God has been reassuring us of His purpose and His grace to face what is to come.

Yesterday was a case in point. Our speaker at church yesterday was Jonathan Rea who, along with his wife Carolina, works in Chile with Gospel Mission to South America. In the evening he spoke on Isaiah 41:10 ‘so do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’. Knowing that we were present, and having come through the experience of leaving home and family in the recent past, Jonathan applied this word specifically and pastorally to our situation as a couple, giving assurance that the God of Isaiah 40 is the same God of Isaiah 41, who draws near and gives strength.

Unknown to Jonathan, this truth has been burning in our hearts through our recent readings in the Explore notes regarding Joshua. Joshua 1:9 has been a real help, with God’s command: ‘be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’. Sitting in the service we felt so thankful to God that he had brought Jonathan to us, and that God’s word had been so tenderly applied.

Now, here’s the truly amazing part. After church in the evening I followed my normal Bible reading plan. The readings were Joshua 1 (as per above), Psalm 121 (‘the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore), Isaiah 61 (‘the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’) and Matthew 9 (‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’).

On top of all this, Carolyn texted the verses which Jonathan had preached from to some friends who had lived through a landmark day as a family, and in God’s mercy it came at just the right time.

My response to all of this is to extol the name of God, who draws near to us in His Word, who surrounds every command to obey with His promise to give grace, and whose Word is powerful and sharp enough to pierce right into our lives and speak peace to our souls.





Saturday Snapshot No.2

28 06 2008

Hadrian’s Wall, Hexham – May 2008





Pedalling Another Blog

26 06 2008

Yesterday I took part in a fun cycle ride around South Armagh with Baptist Missions. I’ve put a brief description of it on our ministry site, and there is photo album on our Flickr page.





Power

25 06 2008

John Simpson has a very interesting article on the BBC News Website, relating to Robert Mugabe’s ability to cling to power in Zimbabwe. For my part I think Simpson is too hard on Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition, given the dreadful inhumanity to which they have been exposed in recent days. Of chief interest, however, is the way in which the article describes Mugabe’s continued stay in office:

“His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been completely outmanoeuvred. The outside world, which mostly sympathises with him, can do nothing whatever to help him…It all adds up to a remarkable sweeping victory for a man who only three months ago seemed to be on the ropes. The moral is clear: never underestimate Robert Mugabe’s ferocious determination to stay in power, nor the ability of his political opponents to destroy their own case”.

How disappointing this turn of events must be for Zimbabweans, and particularly for the MDC, and how unassailable Mugabe’s position appears to be at present.

Just after reading Simpson’s sentiments, however, I turned to Scripture and to Spurgeon’s comments on Psalm 75:1-5. There a different picture is painted of power, one which holds God at the centre, and not men like Mugabe with their malice and manipulation. Spurgeon writes of God’s Sovereignty in exultant terms:

“Even now he is actually judging. His seat is not vacant: his authority is not abdicated; the Lord reigns evermore. Empires rise and fall at his bidding. A dungeon here, and there a throne, his will assigns. Assyria yields to Babylon, and Babylon to the Medes. Kings are but puppets in his hand; they serve his purpose when they rise and when they fall. God only is; all power belongs to him; all else is shadow, coming and going, unsubstantial, misty, dreamlike.”

I much prefer Spurgeon over Simpson, sovereignty over the schemes of man, God’s righteous providence rather than man’s random posturing. Even though chaos, financial freefall, and electoral farce appear to characterise Zimbabwe at present, God is still on the throne, achieving His purposes and storing judgement for those pretending to a power and authority which bear no accountability to Him.





History, Geography and Sovereignty

24 06 2008

Operation World is a superb resource for seeking God on behalf of the nations. Patrick Johnstone and his team of researchers have done an excellent job of compiling (and condensing) information about the global church, and the continued need for cross-cultural mission worldwide. John Piper gives his thoughts on the value of Operation World here, for those interested in his opinion on it.

One of the things which I value most highly about this wonderful book is its capacity to encourage the reader to see the providence of God in global events. Every now and then Johnstone will include a fact which is mind-boggling in terms of how the activities of godless nations lead to the exaltation of God’s name among the nations. Time and again the sovereignty of God over the events of history is highlighted with great force. An example is the following quote I read this morning about Indonesia. We tend to associate this group of islands with pain and persecution for the body of Christ, amidst an increasingly hostile Islamic society. The following quote shows our God at work in the Indonesian government’s efforts to resettle remote island areas with citizens from densely populated localities. God has been at work in the midst of this population shift.

“The Transmigration Scheme is one of the world’s largest planned resettlements of people ever organised. Vast areas of virgin territory in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua have been opened up for migrants from overpopulated Java and Bali. Over 8 million were relocated between 1969 and 1998. These new settlements have been hard on the newcomers; with harsh conditions, poor soils and inefficient financing and communications. Yet among these migrants there is an openness to the gospel, and Christian groups have thrived despite the preferential selection of Muslims. Pray that these Christians may be lights for the Lord in areas never before evangelized – especially Sumatra and Sulawesi. There are also large numbers of migrants to the cities. Urban areas are rapidly becoming multi-cultural centres where people are more open to the gospel”.
[Patrick Johnstone, Operation World, p.342]





Blessings from the Blackbirds

23 06 2008

Over the past weeks and months we have enjoyed applying Jesus’ injunction to ‘consider the birds of the air’. A while ago I was in our kitchen and noticed a female blackbird building a nest in our clematis at the back fence. This spurred weeks of watching as she incubated the eggs, and as the male and female fed their young scaldies in the nest. Last week we caught our first sight of the fledglings, and tracked their progress through them being fed by their parents in the shelter of the garden, until their final departure. It has been a special privilege.

As we have watched this wildlife journey unfold a number of spiritual lessons from these garden residents have emerged:

1. The importance of shelter: our clematis was a fairly unlikely and pretty inhospitable place to build a nest, but the female bird made it her home – content with even the roar of passing traffic and construction workers right behind where she was dwelling. What a lesson for us as we contemplate moving away from the place and the people which we count as home. God provided shelter for these birds in a location that to the human eye looked precarious, but provided protection and comfort. We don’t know at the moment where we will live in the city of Arequipa whilst engaged in language study, nor where we will live after that. This is compounded by thinking about our little one, and the importance of security and stability for them (God willing). Our God has gone ahead of us, and knows exactly where we will dwell – regardless of geography, we know that it will be in the shadow of the Almighty…

2. The unfailing provision of God:
no sign of sowing, reaping, or gathering into barns, but these blackbirds were fed abundantly day by day. It was glorious to see both birds return to their nest time and again with beaks full of grubs, so that their scaldies could have bellies full of grub. The provision didn’t fail, and even the rainfall brought worms to the surface of the soil – all sent by God. We have already proven this truth for ourselves. We have been living by faith during this year, and not once has God’s supply run dry. What a blessing that our ‘heavenly Father knows’.

3. The investment of life in God’s providence:
the adult birds, incubated, protected, and fed their young. Their concern was visible by the fact that the male bird resolutely refused to enter the nest while I sat in the garden – regardless of how long I waited, or how still I remained. The time came, however, for the birds to fledge, which meant that there was nothing for it but to leave the birds while food was sought for them. The providence of God kept them, and for all we know the providence of God may have allowed some of them to perish – but the birds had to simply leave matters to Him. How we need grace to do the same. Sometimes we get a controlling perspective on life, and want to work out how the future will pan out – all we can do is live the path He has for us, and leave the details and outcomes to Him.

4. The realisation of life’s passing seasons: nesting, incubating, hatching, feeding, fledging, all in a short period of weeks. A journey into life which in human terms seems so brief. And yet we are no different, we only have this one life, the journey is half spent before we come to appreciate its worth. What an encouragement to live every moment in the conscious presence of God, seeking to make our actions and attitudes count for Him.

We’re so privileged to have witnessed the lives of these beautiful birds, and we’re blessed to have been stirred by them to consider the goodness of our great God.