To be honest, sometimes the titles of old books are not all that helpful for inciting a person to read them. They tend–sometimes–to be too generic. Case in point, I received an email highlighting a reprint of a Puritan work called, The Marrow of Modern Divinity.
I like the Puritans, but the title was less than inspiring. Furthermore, I’d never heard of the author. And unfortunately, not all Puritans were created equal. Well, at least we can say their works are not all equally helpful. So, what was this book about? Why should I spend my increasingly valuable time reading it? Well, after clicking through and actually reading about the book, I can’t imagine not reading it!
I’ll let Phil Ryken explain:
Why is this old theological book still good and useful to read today?
Perhaps the best way to begin to answer this question is by mentioning two equal but opposite errors that have plagued the church since the days of the New Testament. On the one hand, some congregations tend to be overly legalistic. They have a performance-based approach to the Christian life, in which Christianity is reduced to a list of rules. A good Christian is someone who does certain things and avoids doing certain other things. The only way to gain favor with God is by leading a good life. Somehow churches like this never manage to outgrow their “inner Pharisee.”
Yet there is an equal error in the opposite direction, the sin of lawlessness, or what theologians like Thomas Boston would call “antinomianism” (which simply means to be “against the law”). Churches like this tend to be overly permissive. They take the question that the apostle Paul asked in Romans 6:1 (“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?), and answer in the affirmative rather than the negative. They use their Christian liberty as an excuse for license. They may even use the grace of God to legitimize bad behavior.
Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of “dos” and “don’ts,” we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin, because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism.
The Marrow of Modern Divinity proclaims a gospel that can rescue us from both of these dangers.
A more timely book is difficult to fathom for the modern Church in the West.
Marrow is also presented in an interesting format. It’s essentially a discussion about true Christianity by four people: a minister, a young convert, a legalist, and an antinomian. Given the popularity of narrative works that try to teach theology (e.g. A New Kind of Christian), this might even appealing to someone who wouldn’t normally read a theology. Kudos to Christian Focus for re-printing this work!