“Christ’s Portrait of the Christian”

My father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, explains the objective of his recent book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian: An Exposition of the Beatitudes. He says: Book Cover

My book Christ’s Portrait of the Christian examines and expounds the remarkable introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, commonly referred to as The Beatitudes. They are designated as such because they are pronouncements of blessedness. Jesus thus begins His Sermon on the Mount by describing and defining who the citizens of His kingdom are. The ignorance of His audience moved Him to do so. The people of His day had an entirely wrong perception of who the Messiah would be. They were looking for an earthly king, a Messiah who would deliver them from the bondage of the Romans. Yet Jesus had not come to deliver them from the Romans but to deliver His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He wanted to teach them immediately that His kingdom is entirely different from any earthly kingdom—it is spiritual and its citizens have spiritual rather than political qualifications.

Jesus therefore proceeds by describing blessedness of the citizens of His kingdom in a way that was so contrary to any common understanding of what constituted blessedness or happiness. Jesus here tells us in dramatically different terms what real blessedness looks like. More than that, He says we cannot consider ourselves blessed or happy unless we match His description of the genuine citizens of His kingdom. In these opening verses, Christ is therefore defining for us the distinguishing traits of a true believer.

In these seven opening beatitudes, Jesus fives us a composite portrait of the Christian, beginning with “Blessed are the poor” and ending with “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This comprehensive portrait (Matt. 5:3–9) is followed by a description of how an ungodly world will respond to the citizens of God’s spiritual kingdom. The ungodly will persecute genuine believers who reflect the character of Christ, and it will revile them and speak all manner of evil about them (Matt. 5:10–12).

It should be noted that the traits of the Christian are set forth by Christ in remarkable arrangement. The recognition of that arrangement is essential for a proper understanding of each of these traits. To use a common analogy, we need to consider what the forest looks like before examining the individual trees. A remarkable structure emerges upon examining the interrelatedness of these beatitudes. Regarding this structure, I wish to posit the premise that the fourth beatitude—the central beatitude of this seven beatitude structure—represents the heart of Christian experience. In chapter four of my book, I endeavor to supply the exegetical support for my premise that the focal point of Christian experience is expressed as hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and being filled with that righteousness.

In the introductory chapter of my book, I therefore first consider this core activity of Christian experience. This is followed by considering the internal disposition of the Christian, found in verses three through five, that results in this hungering and thirsting. I then conclude my exposition by examining the external disposition of the Christian, for he who is filled with the righteousness of which verse six speaks will manifest this by the fruits of his life. We will see, as Scripture says, that such will be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.

Matthew 5:3–9 is the preeminent passage in all of Scripture to teach us what a Christian looks like. It is a flawless verbal portrait drawn by the Living Word Himself. It is not accidental that this portrait consists of seven components, for the biblical number seven is the number of perfection. We may therefore conclude that verses three through nine set before us a perfect portrayal of every believer that ever has lived or will live until Christ returns.

Having said that, however, we need to understand that we cannot simply pick and choose the individual components of this spiritual portrait, saying, “Well, that pertains to me, and perhaps that also pertains to me.” Rather, we need to understand that these seven marks are true at all times and at all seasons in the life of every believer—although not necessarily to the same extent. In some believers we see the features of this portrait more clearly than in others—just as there may be both clear and blurry photographs of a given individual. Yet, when you look at a blurry photograph, you will still be able to determine who is being depicted. This spiritual portrait thus consists of seven components that constitute an organic whole.

We also need to realize that the order in which Christ gives us the components of this portrait is not arbitrary. In other words, we cannot take these seven marks, juggle them, and then present them in just any fashion. Rather, Christ articulates these traits in a very deliberate, precise, and cumulative order: one beatitude presumes the previous one and anticipates the next.

Thus, they who are poor in spirit will mourn, they who mourn will be meek, they who exhibit all three will hunger and thirst after righteousness. Upon being filled with the righteousness they yearn for, they will be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.

The seventh beatitude therefore most appropriately concludes in verse nine: “They shall be called the children of God.” Today we would say that this is the “bottom line.” Jesus is saying, “Those of whom this is true, and thus exhibit all of these marks, they, and they alone, shall be called the children of God.” The Greek word rendered as “children” in verse nine is a word that means “They shall reflect the character of God.” It is as though He is saying, “They will prove themselves to be the sons and daughters of the living God.”

I am hopeful that my book will be helpful in arriving at a biblical understanding and assessment of the Christian’s character and experience.

The book is available through Reformation Heritage Books.

Christ's Portrait of the Christian (picture)

Book

A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History

Here’s my interview with William (Bill) Boekestein about his book A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, paperback.

1. William (or let me just call you Bill), I really like your idea to teach church history to children through a coloring book. How did you come up with this idea?

While raising four children—the youngest is presently four—a lot of coloring books have come into our home. And it has been hard to miss how engaging coloring books can be for little children (and older people too!). Children don’t skim coloring books. They invest themselves in them. They roll up their sleeves, wrinkle their faces, and get to work! And as they work, they practice endangered contemporary disciplines like sustained noticing and plodding concentration. To get a child focused on a single idea for ten minutes is nearly a miracle today. So, it made sense to me to offer a book that introduces children to some of the great heroes of the faith, that great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), while they participate in an activity that they love. A Colorful Past

2. There are many Christian coloring books out there. What do you think is unique about your work? And what is the main thing you want your readers to take away from your book?

This coloring book is unique in that it is patterned after a mosaic. Each page is a unique snapshot in time; a figure of church history skillfully frozen into an image by the illustrator. That image is important. It helps understand the struggle and success of a special child of God. And that snapshot represents only a brief phrase in the life of that figure. But that figure’s entire life represents only a single tile in the vast mosaic of God’s amazing church.

So, I hope what makes this book special is how children and their parents can use it to soar like an eagle over the theological landscape of the past twenty centuries, seeing how God has built up Jerusalem (Ps. 147:2) with the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) of highly flawed people. They can get the big picture of God’s work in history. But they can also swoop closer to the ground to ponder what made these forty-two historical figures unique, in the same way that they—the readers—are unique. To say it differently, I hope readers gain an appreciation of both the forest and the trees of church history by coloring this story.

3. Your book contains forty-two historical figures and only two of them are female (Monica and Lady Jane Grey). In light of this your readers might think that in the study of church history women are not as important as men. How would you respond to this?

There would be no important men in the history of the church if not for the love, nurture, and support of countless important women! We could have featured more women who made invaluable contributions to church history (a great idea for a future project!). But your question could similarly be asked of God’s list of saints in Hebrews 11 where named men outnumber women almost ten to one. Each of the named men was shaped by vitally important named and unnamed women. Jesus himself was helped in his ministry by women, many of whom are not named (Luke 8:1–4). So, in using this book, readers might reflect on how God mightily used also the mothers, sisters, and daughters of those who are featured, just as he is served by the amazing women in today’s church.

4. Judging from the contents of the book, it looks like you have a special interest in the sixteenth century period. Am I right? Please elaborate your answer.

There is no unimportant century in the history of God’s church. But something special happened in the sixteenth century. A reform movement, gathering force for centuries, shook the Roman Catholic Church and reintroduced a radical submission to Scripture and the life-saving doctrines of grace. The sixteenth century should be viewed, however, as the “golden-age” of the church. By God’s grace it is possible for Christians today to see even further than Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin (and others) because we stand on their shoulders.

5. What started you on the path to writing for children? And what has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?

My first books were full-color introductions to the Reformed Confessions written for children (Faithfulness under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and The Glory of Grace: The Story of the Belgic Confession). I wrote these stories to help my own children and the children of my congregation better understand the story behind the theology they were learning in the preaching.

Most of my books have grown out of, or were written in connection with, local church ministry. Not everyone will write books. But most people would experience such rewards as increased clarity and memory retention by committing their thoughts to writing. This has been my experience. I have also been gratified to receive notes from folks I’ve never met saying things like, “We are using your Bible Studies on Mark and have gained refreshing insights. Thank you!” Writing should serve a definite and defensible goal and be deemed worthy of the enormous commitment and sacrifices need to bring a book to print.

6. What were some of the challenges you encountered on the road to the publication of this book?

One of the challenges was rightly handling the realities of persecution. It is awkward to see Ignatius about to be mauled by lions, Polycarp bound to a pile of wood that would consume him, and Justin Martyr kneeling before the executioner’s chopping block. We hope we’ve handled these troubling realities with appropriate restraint. But we also hope that children will see in the sacrifices of these saints that Jesus is worthy of our calling to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

Another challenge was knowing how transparent to be about the faults of our “heroes.” We made the decision to alert readers of Charlemagne’s regrettable habits of forced conversions and womanizing. We could have talked about Luther’s anger or Zwingli’s sexual immorality early in his ministry. This is uncomfortable for us. We want our heroes to be pristine. But that isn’t reality. And sanitizing the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) isn’t good news for us. We need heroes who knew their sins and found salvation not through personally eliminating their faults but through faith in Jesus and his shed blood.

7. What book projects are you working on now?

I hope my introduction to the end times, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths on the End Times (RHB; 2019) will help readers better understand the importance of eschatology for Christian comfort and practical living. My friend Steve Swets and I are also editing a collection of essays for elders and deacons called Faithful and Fruitful (Reformed Fellowship; 2019) which should be a great encouragement to church officers as they carry out their important calling.

Note: Rev. Boekestein’s book is now available through Amazon. You may also want to purchase Amazing Grace, which is the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” available in the US through Reformation Heritage Books and in Canada through Reformed Book Services. Commenting on Amazing Grace, Rev. Boekestein says, “Why hasn’t this book been written before? If you want your children to grow in God’s grace, you will want them to hear this simple story of how grace saved a sinner just like them. I highly recommend this great book.”

Amazing Grace (front cover)

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The Gospel-Driven Tongue

The Gospel-Driven Tongue for promotion

This book has its origin in the pulpit of our congregation, Dutton United Reformed Church. From May 2012 to November 2014 I delivered a series of fifty-five expository sermons on the book of James, and five of these sermons were all about the tongue. With the encouragement of Dan Van Dyke, general manager of The Outlook (the journal of Reformed Fellowship, Inc.), I decided to submit the edited version of these five sermons to be published in installments in The Outlook. Having received good feedback from the readers, I was inspired to put these articles together as a book. I therefore want to thank all the board members of Reformed Fellowship, Inc., for granting me permission to publish these articles in book format and for agreeing to publish the book itself.

I also wish to express my special thanks to Josh Dear for editing my sermon notes to transform them from sermonic form into book form. I am also indebted to Linda Triemstra for polishing my manuscript and to Jeff Steenholdt for designing and typesetting this book.

A big thanks also goes to my dear wife Sarah for helping me improve the manuscript and for her being understanding as I used part of our family time to work on this project.  Finally, I am deeply grateful to God for giving me strength to complete this study.

Here are the endorsements for this book: Gospel-Driven Tongue Cover

“Finally—a simple, direct, practical book on the sins of the tongue… This little book is a must read for all Christians, so that we would do a far better job at bridling our tongues and being more consistently God-glorifying in our daily conversation….I pray that God will use Pastor Najapfour’s book to open our eyes, confess our sins, and change our conversation to that which pleases God, loves our neighbor, and serves to mutual edification.”

Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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“I recommend this fine booklet on the need to discipline the tongue. It will be of real help to all who have a serious desire to make progress in sanctification.”

Rev. Maurice Roberts, Emeritus Minister in Inverness, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) and former editor of The Banner of Truth magazine

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“Scriptural, straightforward, simple, and soul-searching, this small book is a must read for all God’s people as they seek to glorify God in their lives, especially through their lips. The study questions at the end of each chapter are also ideal for a group Bible study.”

Mrs. Nenita del Mundo, National Director, Student Missionary Outreach and president of Student Missionary Outreach Bible Training Institute, Philippines 

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Click here, if you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book.

 

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An Interview with Adam McClendon about his book Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians

Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians: A Critique of Contemporary Christian Spiritualities. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015, 208 pp., paperback.     

Brother, congratulations on your well-researched book. I read it with delight.  Here are some of my questions for you about your book:

 

1. What do you think is your book’s unique contribution to the study of spirituality? Also, can you please briefly define the term spirituality and explain how your definition differs from the other definitions that you critique in your book?   

One of the more unique contributions this book provides is a merging of formal theological study, resulting in practical theological corrections, all based primarily on Galatians 2:20.  The real heart of the book rests in addressing the issue of the basis of Christian spirituality.  As Christians, our spiritual life should be based on the firm foundation of God’s Word as our primary rule for faith and living.

This point naturally leads into the question concerning what “spirituality” means.  A brief history of the use of that term is provided in the book.  “Spirituality” on the most basic level in today’s society should be understood as the life one lives in light of one’s understanding of and experience with god.  Notice “god” and not “God” is referenced here. Everyone is spiritual on some level and the “god” that has influenced a person’s understanding and experience is that standard that drives the values of his/her life.  Christian spirituality, however, is that process of spirituality brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So, when Christians refers to “spirituality,” they are meaning the life that is “spiritual” or influenced by the Holy Spirit in their lives.  The problem today then becomes two-fold.  First, that which has traditionally been categorized as Christian continues to be broadened to included non-Christian beliefs that directly contradict the fundamental tenant of faith in Christ alone.  Second, it is becoming increasingly common to hear of non-biblical, extra-biblical, or just strange teachings and behavior being attributed to the “Spirit” in some vague context without any biblical justification.  This book then seeks to reorient the spiritual life as necessarily being grounded upon the clear revelation the Spirit gave us in the Bible.

In reference to the last part of your question, this book doesn’t necessarily critique other definitions of “spirituality” but challenges the foundation upon which the convictions of various Protestant traditions are based.  The point pressed throughout the book is that for Christian spirituality, the Bible should serve as the supreme foundation for Christian living versus being set along side or even subject to one’s own experience, one’s religious traditions, and/or one’s cultural sense of morality.  Key staple positions within various protestant traditions are taken and contextually examined in light of Galatians 2:20 to show how a proper understanding of that verse can help correct certain teachings within that particular movement.

 

2. You call your first two chapters (1) The Centrality of the Cross and (2) The Centrality of Christ. In the context of Pauline spirituality, is there really a difference between the word cross and the word Christ? Does not Paul sometimes use these two terms indistinguishably (see Gal. 6:14, “boast…in the cross” & 1 Cor. 1:31, “boast in the Lord”).    

Paul certainly does use them interchangeably at times, just as Paul does the idea of the cross and the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23); however, the interchangeable use of the terms in some contexts does not mean that in other contexts distinctions do not exists especially as it relates to the believer’s justification and sanctification.  Paul in Galatians 2:20 utilizes the necessity of the cross in reference to the believer’s justification, particularly in dying to the law.  So the cross involves a death while the focus on Christ as a whole emphasizes the life that flows out of this death.  The text explains that as a result of being crucified with Christ, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  The phrase “Centrality of Christ” is used to emphasize the specific means by which Christ lives in the believer while “Centrality of the Cross” emphasizes the specific means by which the believer dies to the law and the nature of the flesh (Gal. 2:19; 5:24).

 

3. In your book you examine Paul’s spirituality by specially focusing on Galatians 2:20. Why did you choose this verse?

Galatians 2:20 has always been a special verse in my life going back to high school, and I’ve spent considerable time meditating on the implications of the truths it conveys in my own life.  So, it’s a very personal verse for me, but the nature of the verse also worked well for the approach of this book for several reasons.  First, it comes at the end of an incredible section in Galatians where Paul condenses much of the overall argument for the entire book.  Within that context, the verse provides an intensely concise statement regarding both the believer’s justification in Christ and the sanctified life to be lived.  Second, Galatians 2:20 is important to the approach presented in the book because it frequently appears within various writings on Christian living without any clear explanation concerning the meaning of the verse itself.  Within more critical works, it has long been used to promote the mysticism of Paul or, as more often than not, the verse finds itself tucked away within the huge theological discussions surrounding the context of Galatians 2:15-19 without being given specific consideration.

 

4. What do you think are some advantages and disadvantages of the kind of approach that you use in your book to study Paul’s spirituality?

The greatest advantage to this approach is that it drives us to examine the biblical evidence and highlights our predisposition to rely on emotion, tradition, and culture to shape our religious ideologies, convictions, and lifestyles.

The disadvantage to this approach is that it is critical.  The book is designed to be a critique of modern theological expression.  While I approached this task as graciously as I could acknowledging my own tendency to read Scripture in a manner that most naturally fits my theological tradition, it is still a critical approach.  Such approaches are often not as well received in a culture that overemphasizes a false understanding of relativistic tolerance.

 

5. What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to the normal projects involved in pastoring a church, I’m currently working on a book I plan to call “Square One” on the basics of the Christian faith.  The book is specifically designed for people who are interested in Christianity or spiritually young believers; however, it will also be a great resource for reminding mature believers of the essence of the call to follow Christ.  Our church plans on using this work as a means for discipling new believers. Lastly, I’m also working on a parental prayer guide to help parents in praying for their children.

 

 Note: This post also appears on christianity21st.com. To purchase the book, click here.

 

Book Interview Spirituality

New Book on Jonathan Edwards

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to PrayerJonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer has finally arrived. If interested, you can purchase a copy from Reformation Heritage Books. All the proceeds from the book will go to my mother-in-law’s medical expenses. Please pray for her as she is battling with stage four breast cancer. Thank you!

Recommendations for the book:

“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

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“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

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“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

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“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

 

 

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Forthcoming Book—Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

______________________________

“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

______________________________

“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

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“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

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Brian G. Najapfour is pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan, co-editor of Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011), and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012).

Book Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan Puritan piety

New Book on John Bunyan (1628-1688)

The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming the Spirituality of John Bunyan

 

“Najapfour advances a well-researched thesis that Bunyan was in fact a sectarian Puritan. While Bunyan was not a Puritan in the sense of a reformer within the Church of England, Najapfour demonstrates that Bunyan embraced a Reformed and Puritan spirituality—godliness empowered by biblical truth. Not only does Najapfour bridge the gap between scholarly and pious readings of Bunyan, but he also explores Bunyan’s view of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and godliness in a way that enriches our minds and souls.”

—Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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“Brian Najapfour has provided the church with a helpful introduction to Bunyan’s spirituality. I commend this book, and more importantly Bunyan himself, as a conversation partner for all evangelicals who desire a Word-centered, Spirit-led, gospel-driven spirituality.”

—Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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“This new study by Brian Najapfour opens up to us Puritan views on what it means to pray in the Spirit and how deeper godliness is to be sought. Here we have solid help from some of Bunyan’s lesser known devotional writings. Those who are seeking serious godliness in our own times will find a good deal to help them in this book.”

—Rev. Maurice Roberts, Minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, Scotland, and former editor of Banner of Truth magazine.

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“A blend of history, biography, and practical theology, Najapfour’s book will be of profit to anyone who wants to learn more about either the life and times of the remarkable John Bunyan or about prayer.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

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To purchase this book, click here.

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