264 pages | Price:
$17.99 $13.50 | SAMPLE CHAPTER
Christians instinctively desire to be like Jesus. Yet evangelical and Reformed thinkers have done little to wed this desire to sound theology and responsible biblical interpretation. With careful attention to Luke’s gospel, this book demonstrates that we can—and must—follow Christ’s example precisely because we embrace him as Savior.
“Jimmy Agan makes a convincing case for deep reflection on Jesus’ example, leading to sustained effort to be like him. Agan flags the dangers of the imitation-of-Christ project. But he maps us past the risks, with Scripture as GPS and conformity to Christ as destination. Engrossing and stirring, this is the finest succinct statement on the subject in recent times.”
—Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary
“Agan clearly shows us in what ways Jesus is unique as the Divine Son—and thus is not a pattern for us to imitate. And the author tells us in what ways Jesus is fully human—and thus is our perfect example of human life as God meant it to be. Agan’s pastoral wisdom, sympathy for the struggles we face as Christians, and conversational writing style bring the fruit of his scholarship on Luke to a level that any serious Christian can understand.”
—Donald Fairbairn, Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
“Imitation of Christ—a topic that is of profound importance, but has nonetheless been besieged by theological questions among well-intentioned scholars—is here presented in a way that is both deeply rooted in the pages of the New Testament and yet also eminently accessible to the contemporary reader. This is the work of a scholar who is also a convinced and gifted communicator.”
—Andrew Clarke, Senior Lecturer, Divinity and Religious Studies, King’s College, University of Aberdeen
Here is an excerpt taken from 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: A Closer Look at Their Spiritual and Poetic Meaning by Leland Ryken.
160 pages | Hardcover | SAMPLE CHAPTER
We treasure hymns for their messages of comfort or conviction or for their associations with beloved believers and meaningful events. But many hymns are also powerful works of devotional poetry—displaying levels of artistry that we easily miss when we are simply singing through them.
This anthology of great hymns invites us to experience these works as poems—to slow down and savor their well-turned phrases, their surprising metaphors, and their evocative language. English professor Leland Ryken provides historical background and literary analysis for each hymn, finishing each with a Scripture reading to accompany it. The result is a wonderfully devotional and poetic study of the Christian life, drawing on hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Be Thou My Vision,” “In Christ Alone,” and many more.
“A foundation of powerful and beautiful hymns is essential in the development of a community of believers and the expression of God’s goodness through their lives. Thank you, Dr. Ryken, for this resource to the church.”
—Keith Getty, Award-Winning Hymnwriter, Musician
“The “lyric” of a song is a lyric poem. Sometimes the music draws all our attention, so that we skim over the words and what they mean. This is certainly true of hymns. Their lyrics are devotional poems of the highest order, and reading them closely can be a spiritual experience. Leland Ryken takes the texts of forty classic hymns and gives us just the help we need to understand their meaning and appreciate their greatness. In doing so, he helps Christians to realize why these time-honored hymns are such treasures.”
—Gene Edward Veith, Professor of Literature Emeritus, Patrick Henry College
“If you are seeking God’s will for your life and are faced with obstacles, if you are a student of poetry and desire fresh insights into literary devices, if you are a song writer like I am and you need some excellent worship texts, this short collection of hymn poems will strengthen your faith and your craft. I have read these poems and meditations for my daily devotions, and every day I found fresh insights from Watts, Cowper, or Francis Havergal. Though we usually sing these verses with fellow worshipers, they are rich food for contemplation.”
—James Ward, Recording Artist, Singer-Songwriter
“Have you ever thoughtlessly sung a hymn, carried along by the familiar tune and well-known words, but disengaged in your heart and mind? In this intriguing volume, Leland Ryken is about to rescue you from such mindless, if melodic, repetition. By analyzing the poetry of forty well-known and beloved hymns, the author offers insight into these compositions as verse, enabling readers to appreciate the form and style of each piece. He also highlights the theology of each poem and links it to Scripture, providing ample material for meditation and prayer as well as inspiration for robust and thoughtful singing!”
—Rhett P. Dodson, Senior Minister, Grace Presbyterian Church, Hudson, Ohio
“What a great idea for a book! Professor Ryken helps hymn lovers to slow down and savor the words of such classic hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” While providing fascinating historical and authorial background, Ryken draws us into the special poetic language and metaphors that have made each hymn so beloved, memorable, and life-changing.”
—Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence, Houston Baptist University; Author, Literature: A Student’s Guide and On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis
“This fine little book will serve as a salutary antidote to the thinning content of much of what passes for worship music today. Contemporary Christian music is in desperate need of theological depth. Leland Ryken brings all of his poetic experience as a master teacher to bear on this critical subject. His poetic sensibilities have enabled him to make impeccable choices. I highly recommend this book as an aid to worship, an instruction in the value of poetry, and a vital voice in the contemporary conversation about worship music.”
—Gregory Reynolds, Editor, the Ordained Servant Journal; Pastor Emeritus; Author
“In his fascinating study of poetry as praise, Leland Ryken breathes life into the old hymns and, by doing so, reminds us how to sing to the Lord a new song.”
—Carolyn Weber, Award-winning Author; Professor, University of Western Ontario, and Heritage College and Seminary
Early in the 1990s, I was reading a book of literary criticism by C. S. Lewis when I came across an entire page on which Lewis discusses the influence of Calvinism in the sixteenth century. The sentence that caught my attention was this one: “Unless we can imagine the freshness, the audacity, and (soon) the fashionableness of Calvinism, we shall get our whole picture wrong.” I was amazed that there had been a time when Calvinism was fashionable. I had been a Calvinist for virtually all my life, and I assure you that in the late twentieth century it was not fashionable to be a Calvinist. I knew a few older men who were Calvinists, but virtually no young people. Yet Lewis observed that in the writings of the sixteenth century, “Youth is the taunt commonly brought against the puritan leaders by their opponents: youth and cocksureness.”1 When I first read Lewis’s words, I could barely have imagined that within twenty years I would see the time return when, in some circles, Calvinism would again become fashionable. Like before, many of the new Calvinists are young and cocksure. In many cases, however, their brash confidence is unfounded. Just because someone calls himself a Calvinist does not mean that he knows what Calvinism is.
For years I have preached in churches and taught in schools where many in my congregations and classrooms would have asserted that they were Calvinists. Or they might have said, “We are Reformed” or “We believe in the doctrines of grace.” In many of those same congregations and classrooms, I have preached and taught through the material found in this book, and here is what I have observed: most of those persons who call themselves Calvinists do not really know much about Calvinism, and most of them are conscious of their ignorance. I tell my students that they are not going to be tested over the lectures, but they furiously take notes as if they have never before heard what I am saying. They ask intelligent but basic questions that reveal that some of them are working through these ideas and these Scriptures for the first time. Perhaps most revealing are the comments that I often get afterward: “I have been in this church/college for years, and I have never understood these doctrines until now.” At the conclusion of the semester, I will sometimes poll my students, asking them, “If there has been a book, a lecture, or a discussion that has been especially helpful to you, I would like to hear about it.” Far and away the most common response has been “The lectures on the Five Points of Calvinism.”
When we first see the fundamental ideas of Calvinistic theology and recognize that the Bible is founded on the principle that God does as he pleases, we may rush to declare ourselves to be Calvinists, but we desperately hope that no one questions us carefully about what we believe. Worse, we get into arguments about the sovereignty of God, and we reveal our insecurity and immaturity by becoming angry with the people who disagree with us. I fear that we pastors and teachers are making a serious mistake when we assume that our people and students understand Calvinism just because they call themselves Calvinists.
I have attempted to write a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of the Five Points of Calvinism. I have tried to write a book that you might hand to a young Calvinist, or to someone who just wants to understand what Calvinism is, with the confidence that he or she will be able to understand the book. I have deliberately used a lot of illustrations that have helped me to understand these truths myself and explain them to others.
Several years ago, I announced to my classes that the following week I planned to lecture on the Five Points of Calvinism. Before the lectures, a student met me on campus, and with a concerned expression she asked, “Dr. Orrick, when you lecture on Calvinism, you are going to use the Bible, aren’t you?” She went on to explain her question, observing that most of the discussions she had heard about Calvinism were more philosophical than biblical. I assured her that I would indeed use the Bible as the basis for everything I said, and I assure you of the same. You might read this book and think that I am misinterpreting the Bible, but if you are fair-minded, you will have to admit that I am trying to recognize and interpret what the Bible says. At least, that has been my goal.
Dr. Tom Nettles read the manuscript of this book and made several excellent suggestions, which I incorporated. Thank you. Years ago you told me to stop calling you “Dr. Nettles” and to call you by your first name, so I have. But I want you to know that, on the inside, I still call you “Dr. Nettles.”
My wife Carol read the manuscript, and she too made valuable suggestions; and I incorporated nearly all of them. Thank you.
1. C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, The Oxford History of English Literature 3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), 43.
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