John Chapman, Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009 $9.95, 96pp, paper.
This attractive small book is the most recent addition to the Guidebooks for Life series from Matthias Media. In it John Chapman helpfully addresses the ever-present tension faced by all Christians: living as a Holy Spirit-filled believer in a fallen world and body. He clearly explains “the good and the bad mingled in me” (p22) and, in a particularly helpful section, the awful nature of the devil’s work (p22-28). He delineates the opposition of “the world, the flesh and the devil” (p43), noting the dangers of focussing on one to the neglect of the others. He also addresses the dead-ends offered by various Christian groups to relieve the tension: entire sanctification (an adaptation of sinless perfectionism), a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of physical healing and prosperity in this age. Chapman critiques these forms of over-realised eschatology which unsettle faith and assurance, causing doubt and despair, especially in new believers. The book concludes with a call to obey James’ command to “count it all joy when various trials come our way... because as we wrestle with them we grow stronger in the Christian life. Contemplating the end result gives us joy in the midst of trials.” (p75) We are to persevere, with our hope set on the living God and the new creation in the world to come.
The book’s great strengths are its Biblical and theological exposition of the tension experienced by Christians, the opposition faced daily from the world, the flesh and the devil, and the disabusing of the false answers and hopes offered. This is a timely contribution to our contemporary Christian culture, both in terms of its theological clarity and its pastoral use. Chapman and Matthias deserve much thanks.
The book’s pastoral theology could be read as a little under-realised and further treatment of the armour of God and the means of grace would strengthen it. The dynamic relationship of knowing God through the gift of His Spirit, the fellowship of other believers and the comfort we receive from His word and sacraments all bring deep joy. An additional chapter or two on accessing the power to resist temptation and the peace Christ promised would compliment the struggle exposed in the preceding chapters. What does Paul mean when he states that we have been given “a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7)? How do we access this power at work in us (Eph 3:16, 18 and 20, 2 Tim 1:8)? And what does it mean to be “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18), praying “in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph 6:18)?
The book is clear and readable, conveying many complex truths simply. It is well referenced from the Scriptures. It is an excellent resource for new Christians and those Christians who have not been adequately discipled in the nature of the daily Christian walk. It would also be ideal for Bible Study groups: straightforward discussion questions are included in an appendix. I highly commend it.
Adrian Lane is lecturer in ministry at Ridley Melbourne
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