The Unseen Realm: a Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This book was truly fascinating. Michael Heiser has created a biblical theology of the spiritual realm. This area is sadly a very neglected one in biblical studies and systematic theology. Heiser’s immensely popular work will hopefully go a great way to correct this issue. Heiser takes the reader from Genesis to Revelation and shows them the key passages and themes that highlight the spiritual realm throughout Scripture. 

Our era is quick to mock the biblical idea of angels and demons, but interestingly seems to be open to the ideas of alien life existing beyond earth. I couldn’t help but consider that, if given the full picture that Heiser presents here, a modern person would be able to consider the spiritual realm that the ancient world held with greater depth and nuance, and not as the simple trite system that many take the Christian position to be (anywhere from rosy cheeked baby winged angels in diapers, to the demonic tropes from your average horror flick). 

I found many of Heiser’s observations stunning, and his biblical interpretations fascinating (though I did take issue with a few as well). Examples abound, but here are a few:

• The observation that the Hebrew for ‘serpent’ (Genesis 3) can also mean ‘shining one’ was something I had never heard before. 
• The concept that the demonic beings in Scripture were thought to be the offspring of the Nephilim from Genesis 6 in the 2nd temple period, was entirely foreign to me. 
• The discussion of the Nephilim was extremely interesting, though I still am not sure what I think about it.
• I greatly appreciated his treatment of the divine council, and I will now see many portions of Scripture in better light (Job 1, Isa 6, Ezek 1, Daniel 10, Psalm 82)
• His treatment of the extra biblical literature concerning the Christ figures in the Old Testament and the ‘two powers’ was absolutely fascinating and I plan to study this in more depth.
• The connection of the 70 missionaries to the 70 nations of Genesis 11 was intriguing. 
• His NT discussions on the ‘gates of hell’ and on ‘Armageddon’ were incredibly fascinating. 

Having said all these, I’m not sure I agree with them all yet, however I did find much food for thought. But, there were other parts of the book that I disagreed with him strongly, and/or just found his interpretation strange. For example:

• His confidence that the ‘let us make them…’ in Genesis 1 refers to a host of heavenly beings and not the trinitarian God alone (or the magisterial ‘we’) I found problematic, suggesting we are made by, and in the image of, both God and angels rather than God alone, despite his comments otherwise.
• His denial that the serpent of Genesis 3 is the same as Satan in the Scriptures despite Romans 16:20 and his having some conversation about it. 
• His reticence to take Genesis 3:15 as the first look at the gospel (protoevangelion) because Romans 16:20 mentions God and not Jesus in particular as the snake crusher (despite his trinitarian emphasis throughout the book). 
• His denial that Psalm 22 has any kind of Christological reference despite his acceptance of several less reliable references in the OT as Christological. 
• His take on 1 Cor. 5 was absolutely strange and wrong to me. 
• His dismissal of some aspects of Calvinism I found to be a bit dismissive and fairly one dimensional. 

Also, throughout the book I had a sense that some of it just didn’t smell right at at times. After some further reading and thought, I think the main issue I had with the book is that Heiser treats the unseen realm as if it’s the most important topic in all of the Scriptures! It isn’t though – not by a long shot. Paul tells us that the most important thing in the Scriptures is the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3): the fact that God loves us and became one of us in order to bear our sin for us, so that we could share eternity with him. Heiser seems to see the ruling and reigning as a divine counsel member to be the greatest goal, but instead, our greatest desire should be to be united to Christ to enjoy him forever. 

Another aspect that I found strange was the omission of almost any talk of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross or much of any mention of sin and why we need Jesus. Given that this is really the center of what Christianity is, it seemed an absolutely massive omission to not have any coverage of these central Christian themes of sin and atonement. I understand that this wasn’t what his book was primarily about, but given the breadth of the coverage of the book, and that it was arranged as a biblical theology of sorts (from Genesis to Revelation), this seemed a huge oversight.

The last issue I had with the book was that his reliance on the extra biblical literature seemed like it approached the level of competing with the Scriptures themselves. While he didn’t say as much, it seemed that the extra biblical literature loomed over above and overshadowed the actual Scripture he discussed. I felt that this could also lead to the problem of Christians thinking they cannot understand the Bible unless they become Hebrew scholars and read all the primary source material.

Having said some of these negatives, I really do think that this book is something that all mature Christians who are well grounded in doctrine should read – at least until these ideas are distilled into a good theology that doesn’t have the negatives. 

The book gave me much to think on and I will be considering these things for some time to come.

While The Gospel Coalition’s review was overwhelmingly positive, and desiring God’s review seemed mostly negative (with a little positive), Andrew Moody’s review here from the Australian branch of TGC seemed to be the most well rounded of the other reviews I read.

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: a Short Critical Review

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens was certainly an interesting read, however Harari takes up the mantle of philosopher rather than historian too often throughout the book. He tends to have a cynical eye toward anything surrounding religion, and makes many sweeping statements about it that are just incorrect, and several that are flippantly asserted with no evidence. He also attempts to solve many modern problems using a nihilistic take on evolution as his archetype for morality. 

For example, he argues that there is no such thing as human rights, because if evolution (in a nihilistic framework) is our guide, then logically there is no such thing. He also says that humans are not created equal in value, but rather that people differ in value depending on their evolutionary fitness. He also argues that there should be no ethics concerned in sexual conduct, but that the only morality we should follow is that whatever we can do we should see as what is morally good and what we cannot do evolutionarily is what is morally evil. This kind of ethical philosophy is scary.
The massive problem with this philosophy of course, is that if you apply it to say, murder, rape, genocide, or a plethora of other issues, the results are absolutely horrifying. 

All in all this was a very interesting read. However I’m surprised and concerned at its overwhelmingly positive reception given it’s eerily nihilistic take on everything. A very stark take on our history, and a stark look at the future.

I thought Commentary Magazine’s Mark Leib’s, and Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin’s Reviews were both very good.

Calvin, Bavinck, and Beeke! Oh My!

I recently wanted to take up reading Bavinck’s Wonderful Works alongside Calvin’s Institutes. I haven’t read either of them, and both are systematic theology staples in reformedom. I had been hoping to find a reading list that matched the authors’ chapters up with their systematic topics sequentially. After not finding anything, I decided to take the plunge and make my own.

However, after starting with the tedious task of building the reading list, I came across another systematic that I’ve dabbled in, but as of yet haven’t read all the way through, Beeke’s Puritan Theology. So… after mulling it over a while, I decided to include it too. Why not right? 

Below you’ll find a reading list for Herman Bavinck’s Wonderful Works of God, John Calvin’s Institutes (final revision), and Joel Beeke’s A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life – ordered sequentially by theological topic. I did my best to get the chapters in order so that one will read each author in the corresponding section back to back to back. Most likely there will be some mistakes, but all in all I think I did a fair job of it. Also, Beeke’s Puritan Theology has several chapters that are practical in nature (There’s an entire section at the end of the book devoted to practical life and sanctification). I evenly distributed these chapters throughout the reading list. I thought this would make for some good breaks from the more heady theological reading. The list below includes the chapter name in the original book, then the author name of that chapter, followed by the chapter number in the original book. Be prepared to have your reading schedule booked out!



  1. Man’s Highest Good Bavinck 1
  2. The Knowledge of God Calvin 1-2
  3. The Knowledge of God Bavinck 2
  4. The Knowledge of God Calvin 3-5
  5. General Revelation Bavinck 3-4
  6. Manner of Special Revelation Bavinck 5
  7. Content of Special Revelation Bavinck 6
  8. Scripture Calvin 6-9
  9. Scripture Bavinck 7-8
  10. Puritans on Nat. & Sup. Rev Beeke 1
  11. Puritan Exegesis Beeke 2
  12. William Ames’ Marrow Beeke 3
  13. Pilgrim Mentality Beeke 52

Theology Proper

  1. The Being of God Calvin 10-12
  2. The Being of God Bavinck 9
  3. Charnock on the Attributes Beeke 4
  4. The Trinity Calvin 13
  5. The Trinity Bavinck 10
  6. Puritans on Trinity Beeke 5
  7. Owen on the Trinity Beeke 6
  8. Creation Calvin 14
  9. Man Calvin 15
  10. Providence Calvin 16
  11. Creation & Providence Bavinck 11
  12. Man Bavinck 12
  13. Godly Home Beeke 53
  14. Puritans on Providence Beeke 10
  15. Angels Beeke 11
  16. Demons Beeke 12

Anthropology & Covenant Theology

  1. Sin Calvin 2.1-3
  2. Sin Bavinck 13
  3. Puritans on Sin Beeke 13
  4. Redemption & the Law Calvin 2.4-8
  5. Puritans on Works Beeke 14
  6. Covenant of Grace Calvin 2.9-11
  7. Covenant of Grace Bavinck 14
  8. Puritans on Redemption Beeke 15
  9. Puritans on Grace Beeke 16
  10. Henry on Prayer Beeke 54
  11. Puritans on Old & New Cov. Beeke 17
  12. Owen on Sinai Beeke 18
  13. Puritans on Cov Cond. Beeke 19
  14. Puritans on Law & Gospel Beeke 20
  15. Christ Mediator Calvin 2.12
  16. Natures of Christ Calvin 2.13-14
  17. Christology Cont. Calvin 2.15-17
  18. Christ Mediator Bavinck 15
  19. Christ’s 2 Natures Bavinck 16
  20. Humiliation of Christ Bavinck 17
  21. Exaltation of Christ Bavinck 18
  22. Puritan Christology Beeke 21
  23. Puritan Meditation Beeke 55
  24. Puritans on the Offices Beeke 22
  25. Blood of Christ Beeke 23
  26. Burgess on Intercession Beeke 24
  27. Goodwin on Christ’s Heart Beeke 25
  28. Promises of God Beeke 26


  1. Spirit, Faith, Regeneration Calvin 3.1-3
  2. Distortions of the Gospel Calvin 3.4-5
  3. The Christian Life Calvin 3.6-10
  4. The Holy Spirit Bavinck 19
  5. Puritans on the Spirit Beeke 27
  6. Puritan Prep. Grace Beeke 28
  7. Christian Calling Bavinck 20
  8. Puritans on Conscience Beeke 56
  9. Puritans on Regeneration Beeke 29
  10. Justification Calvin 3.11-14
  11. Justification Contd. Calvin 3.15-18
  12. Justification Bavinck 21
  13. Puritans on Justification Beeke 30
  14. Owen on Justification Beeke 31
  15. Puritans on Coming to Christ Beeke 32
  16. Christian Freedom Calvin 3.19
  17. Prayer Calvin 3.20
  18. Sanctification Bavinck 22
  19. Puritans on Living Beeke 33
  20. Puritans on Adoption Beeke 34
  21. Puritan Causistry Beeke 57
  22. Third Use of the Law Beeke 35
  23. Sibbes on Entertain. the Sp. Beeke 36
  24. Perkins Conscience Beeke 37
  25. Eternal Election Calvin 3.21-22
  26. Eternal Election contd. Calvin 3.23-24
  27. Perkins on Predest. Beeke 7
  28. Goodwin on Et. Just. Beeke 8
  29. Goodwin’s Supralapsarianism Beeke 9
  30. Puritans on Perseverance Beeke 38


  1. The Church (1) Calvin 4.1-3
  2. Puritans on Offices Beeke 40
  3. The Church (2) Calvin 4.4-6
  4. Sacrificial Zeal Beeke 58
  5. Church Government Beeke 39
  6. The Church (3) Calvin 4.7-9
  7. Owen on Sabbath Beeke 41
  8. The Church (4) Calvin 4.10-13
  9. Puritan Preaching Beeke 42-43
  10. Bunyan’s Preaching Beeke 44
  11. The Sacraments Calvin 4.14
  12. Baptism Calvin 4.15-16
  13. Puritan Paedo. Beeke 45
  14. Baptism Berkhoff (for us Reformed Baptists)
  15. Baptism Grudem (for extra credit)
  16. Lord’s Supper Calvin 4.17
  17. Practical Lessons Beeke 59
  18. Puritans Lord’s Supper Beeke 46
  19. False Sacraments Calvin 4.18-19
  20. The Church Bavinck 23
  21. Puritan Missions Beeke 47
  22. Civil Government Calvin 4.20


  1. Final Resurrection Calvin 3.25
  2. City on a Hill Beeke 48
  3. Eternal Life Bavinck 24
  4. Manton’s Works Judgment Beeke 49
  5. Goodwin’s Revelation Beeke 50
  6. Love’s Heaven & Hell Beeke 51
  7. Interlude: Beeke 60

Determined to Believe?

By John Lennox

A Critical Review

By Liam Walsh

John Lennox is an amazingly talented intellectual figure. I was turned on to his apologetic work after seeing very high reviews, and then reading his ‘Seven Days that Divide the World,’ which is an absolutely remarkable book on how science and Scripture meet – especially concerning the book of Genesis. Lennox has also had several debates with intellectual figures from various backgrounds, and he is typically charitable and winsome and wise in his banter in these events. (His discussion here at the Veritas Forum was particularly compelling). I recently saw that he had written this book on the free-will/Predestination | Calvinism/Arminianism debate, and I knew I had to read it.

Throughout the book, Lennox disposed of labels. He does this based on Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 1. While he certainly has a point, I think he takes it a bit too far, believing that Christians should have no labels at all for theological systems that are names of people. However – to solve this he simply stamps his own label of ‘determinism’ onto the old label of Calvinism – an uncharitable, and misleading title for the theological system, in my view.

Unfortunately, I have to say I was very disappointed with Lennox’s arguments in this book. He seems to be largely unfamiliar with the views of classic Protestant Calvinism. He treats rather – almost entirely, Hyper-Calvinism only. Throughout the book, Lennox makes some good arguments, but they address a debate between free-will Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. They don’t actually come close to addressing classic orthodox Calvinistic beliefs as he intends.

In almost the same breath, Lennox criticizes (albeit in a somewhat charitable way) figures such as Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and also moderns such a as Piper, Sproul, and Horton – stating the absurdity of views that believe so strongly in God’s sovereignty that they, for example, don’t believe in evangelism, don’t believe in human responsibility, or even, believe that God is actually the author of sin.

The glaring problem, is that none of these names mentioned actually believe any of these absurd Hyper-Calvinistic doctrines. In fact no orthodox Calvinists actually believe these things. Lennox fails to point out any examples of orthodox Calvinists who actually believe that evangelism is not something Christians should do. He also does not give any examples of orthodox Calvinists (via confessions of faith or theological works written) stating that humans are not responsible for sin and that God is. However, much of  his argument is based on the absurdity of these beliefs. An argument (I think) his Calvinistic opponents would heartily agree to.

Lennox seems to have failed to see that when Calvinists think of predestination, they don’t think about it in a robotic mechanistic way. Calvinists see God as sovereign over all things – but in that sovereignty God uses means to achieve nearly all of his work. So – for example, evangelism is absolutely crucial for Calvinists – because God uses means to accomplish his work. It is only the Hyper-Calvinist who can sit back and say, ‘well God is ultimately in control of all – so why do anything?.’
When God changes hearts, it is by the means of giving us new affections for him and his beauty and kindness. It is not fair to Calvinists to say that they believe God drags the unbeliever, kicking and screaming all the way, into becoming Christians against their will. This is just a wrong understanding of Calvinism. However this is exactly how Lennox presents Calvinism throughout the book

Lennox’s book is more philosophical than exegetical. However he does do a wee bit of exegesis in his argument – however he limits his work to word studies instead of exegeting what each passage actually says. He does some fancy foot work with his word studies proving that the words in question don’t mean what Calvinists say they mean all the time and then concludes that therefore we don’t have to believe they mean those things in the noteworthy Calvinistic passages – which, in my mind, let’s him sidestep the problem; it’s also just not good or full exegesis. This debate has been going on for centuries, and it will require vast amounts of exegesis to get to the root of – a chapter of word studies is simply not enough to tackle this kind of massive theological debate.

Lennox’s main axe to grind throughout the book is that Calvinism cannot create a system where humans can be responsible for their own sin. He concludes that Calvinists must believe that humans are not responsible for their sin – leaving God himself as responsible (this was in chapter 5 I believe). This is, however, a view that is simply not true. I know of no orthodox Calvinist thinkers who believe this.

Contrary to Lennox’s view, Scripture rather, presents two simultaneous realities. (1) One is that God is absolutely sovereign, and he controls every minute detail of everything – from the insignificant: even each hair we lose each day or tiny bird suddenly dying in the forest – to the very significant: each decision made by every great ruler (see Matthew 10 & proverbs 21:1 respectively). The other simultaneous reality (2) is that we are responsible for all of our evil that we knowingly and willfully commit – especially for things we judge others for yet do ourselves (see Romans 1:18-3:20).

The biblical response to these two realities should not be to emphasize one over the other, but rather to seek a full compatiblism (a term sometimes used for Calvinism – and probably a better term) of the two seemingly exclusive realities.

To students of theology this should not seem to be such a strange concept. After all, we seek a compatibilism in a great many theological areas – including the Triune nature of God, the humanity and divinity of Christ, several aspects of justification (that imputation of Christ’s righteousness  is not – strictly speaking – fair or logical), and several other areas – especially the areas nearer to the nature and character of God himself. This is simply one of the aspects of theological concepts that are too high and beautiful for us to fully grasp as humans. If these aspects of God don’t make absolute logical sense to us now – it should not be seen as a worse problem than say, some of our plethora of scientific mysteries. We should know, after all, that God – the maker of our physical realities – is infinitely more complex than them. And if there are mysteries in those realities, there will necessarily be mysteries in the greatest of realities.

Ultimately Lennox’s book fails to even get the opposing side’s position correct – and for that reason the book fails to be persuasive. Since he mischaracterizes the view he is debating, he likely won’t be persuading any opponents to his side of the argument. Unfortunately the end of this book will largely just stir the pot more and proliferate the misunderstandings of each side of this ancient theological debate.

See also D.A. Carson’s excellent critical review of this book: Are Some People Determined to Believe the Worst About Reformed Theology?

Spiritual Depression

by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A Short Review

By Liam Walsh

This book was one of my most life changing reads. I picked this one up years ago, after seeing it quoted extensively in John Piper’s great book: ‘When I Don’t Desire God.’ At the time I had no idea who Martyn Lloyd-Jones was, or how much of an impact this book would make on me. Lloyd-Jones, a prolific mid 20th Century London preacher, preached these messages in the mid 1950s! Through this excellent book, he taught me how to apply the gospel to my thinking situationally. Before reading this I didn’t know how to analyze my own thought life, or how the gospel came to bear on guilt, sullenness, or shame and condemnation.

This is an absolutely life changing book! It identifies all kinds of wrong thought patterns that people fall into, addresses why they are not consistent with what the Christian believes, and how to fight for faith in the truth of Christ and experience deeper joy in him. These old sermons are truly life transforming!

Lloyd-Jones shows in painstaking detail how the various truths of the gospel apply to these kinds of problems. He addresses a myriad of issues. He covers everything, from preaching to yourself instead of listening to yourself, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ – not by religious works, assurance by the work of Christ, guilt and shame over sin as taken by Christ, – to vain regrets, fear of the future, arbitrary negative feelings, craven fear of God versus holy awe, fatigue of religious performance, various trials and suffering, intimacy with God, contentment, and many others. This book is fantastic! And it is absolutely great for anyone seeking to understand how to address these things in Christ.

Years ago, I found this special anniversary hardcover volume published by Granted Ministries (see here). It is the nicest version of Lloyd-Jones’ classic that I’ve seen. It also even comes with a CD containing the audio of the original sermon series the book was based on. This beautifully crafted volume is an amazing help to a variety of practical struggles every Christian fights. You can also listen to all of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ audio sermons at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust site! His 24 sermon Spiritual Depression Series is still excellent! (though the nearly 70 year old audio can be taxing – it is usually quite good!).

Thomas Boston’s Directions on Theological Meditation

These directions on how to meditate are taken from the 18th century Puritan theologian Thomas Boston. The type of meditation Boston is describing is the Puritan practice of meditation by theological subject. In this type of meditation, the topics meditated on were often the attributes of God, or other systematic theological subjects.

How to Meditate

  1. Begin with a short prayer asking God to bless your time in meditation. A good example is David’s prayer in the Psalms, ‘O Lord, open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  2. Be resolute to meditate on this subject and finish. Your mind will be pulled in all kinds of ways. Satan will try to divert you. Do not have it.
  3. Write out a short description of what the subject you have chosen is.
  4. If there are different kinds or categories within your subject list them out and consider the differences.
  5. If possible, consider the causes of your subject and write them out.
  6. Consider the effects of your subject and write them out.
  7. Consider the properties of your subject. Of what does it consist? Write these out.
  8. Consider if there are opposites of your subject. What are they and why are they opposites?
  9. What things can your subject be compared to? Is there anything similar?
  10. Look up and examine all the Scriptural testimony concerning your subject. Does it shed further light for any of the previous? A topical concordance would be good for this.
  11. Think and enlarge on the subject that your heart my be affected and touched with it. Pray that God would give you a suitable relish and affection for the subject at hand.
  12. Mourn the lack of this affection in your soul to God.
  13. Work to deeply desire the affection for this spiritual subject that you lack.
  14. Confess your inability to do for yourself what you lack to God.
  15. Ask God to work in you this desire, and petition him for it dearly.
  16. Believe that God will grant your request.
  17. Conclude all of this with thankfulness to God and commit yourselves to him.

For further reading see The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 4, p. 453. The Duty of Solemn Meditation. For help in which subjects to consider, Thomas Watson (a contemporary of Boston), offers an abundance of different topics for this type of meditation in his classic treatise on meditation titled, ‘The Christian on the Mount.’

How to Master the English Bible

by James Gray

a Short Review

by Liam Walsh

This very short 100 year old book was great! I had heard this recommended a few times and was intrigued by the (near audacious) title and finally decided to explore this one. 

Honestly, there is not a lot that’s profound about this book, but it does hone in on the obvious in a marvelously striking way. The author’s primary task is to show how to read Scripture with the most profit for knowing it well. The plan is actually very simple. He recommends that the reader start with Genesis, read it, and re-read it until the reader can generally outline it, and judge they have an excellent grasp on it. 

From there, the task is to simply move through each book of Scripture in order – ignoring the artificial chapter and verse breaks. Gray urges that the reader read each book in a single sitting if possible. As the reader gets through this – they should also attempt to make a rough outline of each book – further revising it with each read. 

I had heard much of this practice before – but Gray’s argument for going in canonical order I had not heard before – and it was actually pretty convincing. I’ve experimented with the re-read process a bit and have found it remarkable for what it allows me to see and understand that I had not before. It also works to give the reader a macro-view of each Bible book – if you will. After this read, I’ll be adopting this process more regularly from now on. 

The second half of the book is an exhortation for preachers to preach and teach expository sermons through each book of the Bible. The plea is a good one. 
Gray argues 1) that contemporary society (over 100 years ago) didn’t read their Bibles – and were so busy that they usually wouldn’t learn them on their own, 2) that the Bible was no longer taught in schools – so wouldn’t be learned there, 3) that the Bible typically wasn’t taught from the pulpit – it was more or less moralistic life lessons or interesting oratory – but not expository teaching through the Bible (sound familiar?..), and 4) that the Bible wasn’t even taught in Sunday school classes – but those were mostly just games or fun things to keep children occupied or maybe even topical lessons for adults (sound familiar?..). His plea, is that if the Bible isn’t taught and exposited through in the pulpit then where would it be? Where was anyone to go to learn it?
His question is a good one. And I find myself baffled just the same at the general lack of expository preaching in most churches.

Gray ends by warning his readers that if Christianity didn’t change this process, authentic biblical Christianity would be near unrecognizable in the coming generations. I dare say his words may have been a bit prophetic. This part struck particularly close to home for me after having recently left a church for a turning away from expository preaching (among other things), and now having a near hour drive in order to be part of a church that does preach through scripture (driving past dozens that do not on the way). 

I’d highly encourage pastors read this, especially if they don’t preach expository sermons through whole books as their regular bread and butter in the pulpit. If nothing else, simply to see the issue from a different perspective. 

Excellent book! And I’m excited to start the journey and tackle the book of Genesis (a whole bunch of times).

Fear and Trembling

[Originally Published in 2017]

by Liam Walsh

This is an updated version of my last post, Beholding the Glory of the Gospel. Essentially this is a step by step guide for what to do when reading your Bible. I have updated this post to better reflect what most helps me get into the presence of God and to experience him. This is something to go through once you have your Bible in front of you and have a Bible reading plan to start. If you’re more of a neat-nic like me, you might find this helpful (if not, you may just be overwhelmed). I find that if I don’t have a plan for how to read, I simply read my Bible and just go on my way without it having any affect on me.

This plan is something I’ve gathered together from a few different sources over a few years. It really helps my Bible reading affect my soul, and work change in me, rather than just being something I glance over. Before starting you may want to grab a coffee, get out a journal, maybe light a candle, or turn on some quiet music that helps you get into God’s presence. To go through everything here will probably take a few sittings, so some people may find it better to pick and choose some things that are most helpful for them. My hope is that this will help you to more deeply enjoy, know, and be swallowed up in the glorious majesty of Jesus our king!

Luke 8:18

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

2 Corinthians 2:16

to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.


  1. Remove other cares from my thoughts. If necessary list them out for dealing with later.
  2. Get my heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of God into who’s presence I am going, and who’s word I am about to hear. See Psa. 89:5-14; Isa. 6:1-5; Psa. 46:1-11.
  3. Apply Christ’s suffering, death, and his imputed righteous life in my place, to myself and my sin and even my self made righteousness that stands between my soul and God.
  4. Examine myself and stir up in my heart great spiritual desires for my own soul’s needs and deficiencies.
  5. Pray that God would give me assistance in seeing, feeling, and hearing what he has for me in his word. Pray that he would direct the word to me as I need it, and that he would press it home on my heart with his blessing in order that I may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as my case requires according to Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  6. Ask that God would pour out his Spirit on me through the reading of his word, knowing that none of these actions procure God’s action toward me, but that he acts according to his own will, and pours out his Spirit on whom he wills. Ask this according to the promise in Proverbs 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”


  1. Treat the reading with great respect and read without many distractions or breaks which show contempt for God who is speaking to me by his word.
  2. Read each verse as if it is to me. See Thomas Watson here: “Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.” (See Watson’s great little book on spiritual disciplines, Heaven Taken by Storm.) Donald Whitney says of this quote: “Watson was right when he said, “Take every word as spoken to yourselves.” But we cannot do that until we understand how it was intended for those who heard it first. If you take every word of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1-7 as spoken to yourself, you’ll soon be moving to Israel. But if you understand that particular call as unique to Abram, you can still discover the timeless truths within it and apply every word to yourself. Have you followed the call of God to come to Christ? Are you willing to obey the voice of God wherever He might call you—to a new job, a new location, the mission field, etc.?” (See Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life).
  3. Consider each section of Scripture prayerfully, diligently, and slowly, not carelessly passing by anything so as to miss anything God would have for me.
  4. Prayerfully consider how each verse makes me feel, and also how the author (both the Biblical, and ultimate author, God the Holy Spirit) feels in this writing. Think on the emotion that rises and send it up to prayer to God for every sentence or so. This is the gateway to real interaction with God.
  5. Do this until a word from God stands out in my heart by the Power of the Holy Spirit. This can be a word specifically to my spiritual need, situation, fear; or a word that frightens me or gives me deep concern.

If nothing in God’s word seems to be jumping out and speaking to me directly:

  1. Then make a list of everything it says about God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
  2. List anything that it tells you about yourself.
  3. List any examples to be followed (or things that need to be avoided).
  4. List any commands to be obeyed.
  5. Finally, list any promises to claim.
  6. When this is all done, choose the verse and truth that is most striking and helpful to you (sometimes nothing in particular will really stand out, if this happens just choose the one that most strikes you, even if it doesn’t seem that great – often God will surprise you with these).
  7. Paraphrase the thought or verse in your own words.


Write down answers to the following questions:

  1. What does this text show me about God for which I should praise or thank him? Adore, praise, and thank him for this.
  2. What does the text show me about my sin that I should confess and repent of? What false attitudes, behavior, emotions, or idols come alive in me whenever I forget this truth? Confess and repent of this in prayer to God.
  3. What does the text show me about a need that I have? What do I need to do or become in light of this? How shall I petition God for it? Petition and plead with God for this in prayer.
  4. How is Jesus Christ or the grace that I have in him crucial to helping me overcome the sin I have confessed or to answering the need I have? Pour out your thanks to God for Jesus and his salvation.
  5. How would this change my life if I took it seriously— if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being? Also, why might God be showing this to me now? What is going on in my life that he would be bringing this to my attention today? How must I apply this to my life. Are there things I can implement in life to make trusting Jesus in this area a reality?
  6. Pray for all of your needs and pressing concerns.
  7. Pray for others on the truth that God has revealed to you. If you have a prayer list, use it here.
  8. Take a final moment just to enjoy God and his presence. Do this however you would like. I personally prefer enjoying God’s presence as I read a devotion on the Bible text I just read. Good devotions I’ve found that follow a Bible reading plan are:

Older Devotions (Dead Guys)

Philip Doddridge’s Family Expositor (Usually 2-6 volumes depending on the edition; contains a devotion for every section in the New Testament (about every 4-10 verses), and by far, my very favorite) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (very devotional throughout, goes through the entire Bible by sections (usually 2-5 pages for every 10-15 verses give or take) Single Volume | Six Volume Edition

Joseph Hall’s Contemplations (contains a 2 or 3 page devotion for every narrative section (typically a chapter) of the Bible) Kindle Edition V1 V2 V3 | Hardcover

Robert Hawker’s Poor Man Commentaries (contains a devotion (about a page long) for every chapter of the Bible) Kindle Edition | New Testament Hardcover | Old Testament Hardcover | Abridged New Testament & Psalms Hardcover

Isaac Watts’ Psalms & Hymns (the Psalms; typically one to three hymns for each Psalm) Paperback | Hardcover

Thomas Chalmers’ Sabbath Scripture Readings Volumes I & II (I haven’t spent much time in these, but they contain devotions for every chapter of the New Testament in volume I and Gen. 1 – 2 Kings 11 in volume II) Paperback V1 V2

Modern Devotions

D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Volumes I & II (this follows the McCheyne Bible reading plan and pretty much covers the whole Bible, (although there are some chapters that don’t get a devotion); the devotions typically correspond to a single Bible chapter) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Guide (entire Bible) (I haven’t looked at this yet, but it is likely very good) Hardcover | Leather

ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (entire Bible) (I haven’t seen much of this one either, but it’s supposed to be great) Many Editions

There are many other good devotionals that I didn’t list because they aren’t really arranged chronologically in order to be a companion to reading through the Bible, but rather as something to be read on their own. I’m also sure that there are other devotions that are arranged to be read chronologically with Bible reading that I haven’t heard of yet. If you know of any, feel free to post them in the comments!

I’ve gleaned these directions from several authors. The Approaching God and Hearing Godsections are mostly adaptations from a sermon (which I can no longer find) of the puritan Thomas Boston. Some of the content in the Hearing God section is from Donald Whitney’s excellent Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The Tilling the Soil and Meditation sections are taken directly from Tim Keller’s great book Prayer. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

May God provoke you to more awe, delight, and satisfaction in him through his word in the coming year!

Saving the Bible from Ourselves

by Glenn Paauw

a Short Review

by Liam Walsh

I loved Glenn Paauw’s main argument in this book, which is that our Bibles are long overdo for a makeover so that we can actually enjoy reading them like we can do with any other book. I did have some misgivings about the book when the author started getting into theology, however this book was still absolutely great.

Paauw points out that the cheap way most Bible’s are mass produced, the overwhelming presence of tiny numbers and cross references, tiny print, thin pages, and the over-all poor appearance contribute to the general abandonment of Bible reading in our culture.

Paauw makes his point with elegant, winsome, and sometimes hilarious writing. He even puts his book together to image in a way what a beautifully crafted Bible might look like (with colorful headings, quotes or poetry set apart and formatted correctly). He also builds the structure of the book in a Hebrew chaism. The book was a pleasure to read because of these as well as his gifted writing ability. There was also some fascinating history that Paauw gave, like the fact that the New Testament was originally set in 3 parts in order to match the “First” Testement’s 3 parts: 1: Gospels & Acts, 2: Pauline Epistles, 3: Catholic Epistles & Revelation in the NT, to match 1: The Law, 2: the Prophets, and 3: the Writings in the OT respectively.

However I also did have some reservations about the book. At times the author presents his theological views as simply correct without much engagement of the Bible on them. For example, he seems critical of justification by faith alone, and supports the new perspective on Paul in a way that doesn’t really engage Scripture, or those on the other side. It also appears that he posits the monistic soul sleep after death position as opposed to a belief in heaven after death. He presents the view of heaven as more or less rediculous and only from Greek philosophy as opposed to the Bible. He quotes Alistair Begg here as an example of wrong thinking. He doesn’t in all this speak of the alternative, and more biblical position of heaven as an intermediate state, which is after death, but before the creation/restoration of a new earth and the future resurrection. He also in places seems to undermine preaching itself and as far as I can tell, instead endorses only public Bible reading in it’s place. He seems to denigrate study of detailed specifics in Scripture in favor of reading whole books in one sitting and looking only at the themes. All this being said, this is the flavor of the book while reading. However I don’t want to emphasize these points too strongly, because Paauw is always a little cryptic about his own beliefs. I couldn’t in the end get a sense of what theological tradition Paauw himself was from, or whether he was or was not evangelical, or orthodox in his Christian views. Not that any of these things matter as far as his main argument is concerned. But when he starts getting into theology it seems to me he could present his position with more clarity and evidence and with more fairness to the other positions.

However, as long as the reader knows their convictions on these theological issues this book is a marvelous read. Paauw’s observations on the Bible and the publishing industry – and the history of these is fascinating. Paauw’s considerations and suggestions were, I think, one of the driving forces behind publishers adopting the modern reader’s Bibles – for which I am very thankful to him.

Over all, this really was a great and engaging read, and Paauw had some excellent wisdom on how we can be better at crafting the good book. I changed my Bible reading habits as a result of this book (more reading of whole books!). A worthy read for anyone interested in the Bible, our intake of it, and it’s physical form.

Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage

by Gavin Ortlund

A Short Review

by Liam Walsh

This book will be a paradigm changer for many. It is an absolutely excellent work. Ortlund is navigating the question of what issues are worth drawing dividing lines between Christian groups. One of Jesus’ prayers before going to the cross – and one of the longest prayers in Scripture – (the high priestly prayer) was for the unity of his followers. The unity of the church matters greatly to Jesus. However – Christians have many different views on many things and doctrines. How are Christians to navigate these differences? And if we are to divide, in what way should we divide? 

Ortlund develops a four tiered system for navigating the importance of disagreements between Christians in their doctrinal convictions. All four also have differing ways Christians should divide as well. His four tiered system is as follows:

1. Doctrines which are essential to the Gospel
2. Doctrines which are essential for the health of the church and practice
3. Important doctrines theologically – but not enough to justify separation between Christian groups
4. Issues unimportant to gospel witness and ministry collaboration 

Ortlund has created a very nuanced approach, and has spent much time thinking on and developing his system. Not only do these four tiers contain different theological beliefs, but Ortlund also details 4 ways in which believers are to ‘divide’ over these issues. 

Tier one constitutes a division between Christian believers and unbelievers. It includes issues such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and justification in Christ’s death through faith. Tier one is also the most drastic of all the dividing lines. These issues should be stood and fought for – albeit in a loving, humble, and Christ honoring way. Ortlund also helpfully emphasizes that there are many Christians who hold errant views in this category who are just ignorant of the details – or just haven’t studied these issues yet. He also highlighted the difference in the way one approaches a doctrinal difference as a large indicator as well – humbly, or in an arrogant and prideful way. 

Tier two is a tier for extremely important issues, but not issues that should divide between whether we consider someone a Christian or not. However these issues are the ones that affect much of a persons Christian life. Prayer or sacraments are often greatly affected. 1st tier doctrines which are essential to the gospel can also be affected by these 2nd tier doctrinal beliefs. These issues, he argues, are usually grounds for switching churches or organizations over. Issues that fall in this category for Ortlund are baptism, the lords supper, Calvinism/Arminianism, strong cessationism/strong continuationism, and some nuances in justification (double vs single imputation) for example. However, in saying that a difference in these views can lead to dividing churches, he emphasized that it should not lead to a relational divide between Christians. Our desire to uphold the love and unity of the church should match our desire for truth. As Ortlund puts it, ‘gospel doctrine, and gospel culture should both be upheld equally.’

Third Tier issues were issues which have some importance – but don’t affect the more important doctrines and don’t affect life and practice of believers. Ortlund argues that though these are important issues, Christians should not divide over them. He places in this category the old vs young earth creation debate and some of the end times chronology controversies. Preferences of alcohol consumption he also places here. I personally would also place politics in this category – as something that,  while it is important, it’s not something which Christians need divide over. 

The fourth tier issues are those that are unimportant for life and ministry in the church, and are more simply preference issues. In this category Ortlund places worship styles and other more outward stylistic preferences. 

Reading this, it seemed right on target to me. Granted, my theology lines up with Ortlund extremely closely – but, even so, I’m amazed at the things Christians divide over. Even entire denominations often, divide over very minor theological preference points such as end times views, creation day lengths, or alcohol consumption stipulations. This book was a breath of fresh air – and contains much wisdom in how Christians should approach theological differences. 

In our current climate, with so many churches splitting or dividing over politics, I would have appreciated more conversation on politics and how Ortlund would fit them into this system. However – the book is really one about theology, not politics. So I suppose it’s fitting that it addresses only the former. [Speaking of politics, I couldn’t help thinking that a system like this would be a step forward for any system of beliefs – especially the polarized state of American politics right now. This would allow polarized groups to work together on the issues they agree on even when they have significant disagreements in other areas.]

I enjoyed this very much. This should be read by any Christian who ever wonders which issues they need to take a stand for and which ones to not let divide, but rather make their stand for unity – often in the face of opposition from both sides. It also had me checking my own heart on some particular doctrinal nuances I hold – that I’m particularly proud of – in a not good way..