Reviews Theology

Prepared by Grace, for Grace Review

Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley. Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013. $16.87 (Amazon). 297 pp.

If you are a Christian, you have no doubt wondered whether conversion is a gradual process or a punctiliar event. Does God simply seize people apart from their will or does he carefully woo them? Whether or not we know the answer exactly, we can be sure that God uses the ordinary things of life to drive people to his Son. The Puritan doctrine of preparation is designed to show us just that and help us wade through these deep theological waters.

Prepared by Grace, for Grace is authored by Dr. Joel Beeke, president and systematic theology professor of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Beeke is also a pastor at the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, and author of many other works, including most recently, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. In Prepared, Beeke teams up with his teaching assistant, Paul Smalley, to write an introduction on the Puritan doctrine of preparation.

Beeke and Smalley trace the historical development of the doctrine of preparation. They begin by discussing the roots of preparation in Augustine and Calvin before addressing its Puritan emphases. Putting finer details aside, this book has two main threads of tension woven throughout. The first tension is between law and gospel. The second is between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Reformed preparation–what the Puritans believed and taught–holds that both the law and the gospel must be preached. If sinners are not confronted with their sin, they will never see the good news of grace in Jesus Christ. Therefore, preachers must not shy away from plainly showing God’s demands in the law and that sinners are under the wrath of God. As I enter into pastoral ministry, this aspect of the book is the most encouraging reminder for me. We preach the law so that sinners might see and feel their need for the perfect Christ.

The Puritans also believed that preparation is not a blow to God’s sovereignty in salvation. In explaining preparation, the Puritans taught that sinners could do certain things as they wait for exercise saving faith, such as avoiding gratifying their flesh, perform acts of kindness, reading the Scriptures, pleading with God for faith, attending church and small groups, etc. The objections the Puritans faced then and by modern scholarship is that this bordered Arminianism–that man can work his way to God and earn grace. The Puritans, however, rightly held that God not only ordained salvation for each saint, but he also ordained the means. Therefore, whatever a person did in the preparation stage, it was being done because God was moving that person to do it.

If you are looking for a light read on how conversion happens, this book is not for you. It is an intense study–certainly not bedtime reading. Each chapter is written in an essay-type format, so it has an academic feel to it, and can be dry at times. The book is probably better suited for a serious educational setting rather than a casual group study. I also found the material to be repetitive at times. The authors must develop a comparison and contrast on preparation throughout Puritan history–which they do quite well–and this forces the reader to re-read information, even quotes, that appear earlier in the book. By and large, Beeke and Smalley prove that the Puritans had great agreement on preparation. Because of this, one may wonder why nearly 300 pages needed to be written when probably 215-230 would have sufficed.

In the end, the book will prove to be immensely helpful for those serious about Puritan theology. It’s a tough read, but if you are committed to do some hard digging–scholar or not– you will find a few, precious diamonds to take with you.


David Platt on How We Should Respond to the Gospel

You are not saved because you prayed a prayer or went to the front row during an evangelistic event. Here, David Platt talks about “the sinner’s prayer” and what a biblical response to the gospel looks like.

If you are looking for a few resources on conversion and response to the gospel, let me suggest two books. J.D. Greear has written a wonderful little book called Stop Asking Jesus into  Your HeartI recently reviewed this book. Also, Gordon Smith has written a more comprehensive and academic book on conversion called Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian InitiationSmith’s book is one of the most helpful and insightful books I have read in the past two years.

HT: Bob Thune


The Importance of Conversion in the Church

Scripture is clear in teaching that we are not all journeying toward God–some having found Him, others still seeking. Instead, Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life. We can do none of this for ourselves. The change each human needs, regardless of how we may outwardly appear, is so radical, so near our roots, that only God can bring it about. We need God to convert us…I fear that one of the results of misunderstanding the Bible’s teaching on conversion may well be that evangelical churches are full of people who have made sincere commitments at some point in their lives but who have not experienced the radical change that the Bible calls conversion.”

– Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), p. 113.


China Daily reports on a student’s conversion

China Daily, China’s official English newspaper, ran a short article yesterday about a college student’s conversion to Jesus.

This is pretty amazing, given the fact that China is still a communist nation, and the newspaper is government owned.  Even though persecution exists there, this story shows that God is most definitely working in China.  Let’s be praying for this nation!