***DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE FROM MOODY PUBLISHERS TO REVIEW. MOREOVER, THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE WORKBOOK, NOT THE TEACHER’S GUIDE***
Nathan Busenitz’s Forerunners of the Faith: 13 Lessons To Understand and Appreciate The Basics of Church History represents the sixth book I have reviewed for Moody Publishers this year. I chose this book as the next one to review for Moody Publishers because the book appeared to be about church history. I have yet to review a book from Moody Publishers that had a focus on church history. I first heard of Nathan Busenitz last month upon reviewing a book by Michael Huskey. This book from Huskey used many resources from Busenitz. Moreover, Huskey’s book, Huskey’s Study Notes On Historical Theology, was a good one. Therefore, I thought I had a winner with Busenitz’s book. Moreover, seeing that John MacArthur wrote the book’s foreword certainly doesn’t hurt (p. 6).
Busenitz’s book isn’t a typical book (for me, anyway) on church history. Instead, it is a “curriculum designed to introduce believers to the rich heritage of the historical church” (p. 7). Specifically, it is a workbook. One can also get a Teacher’s Guide for this book, but as I noted in my disclaimer, I’ll be reviewing the workbook. The workbook has a foreword, a brief “how-to” for how to use the manual, an introduction, thirteen chapters and section of notes (pp. 6-107).
Busenitz gives clear instructions for how to use this manual (p. 7):
For students learning on their own, you can progress through this workbook by downloading and listening to the corresponding lecture from http://www.tms.edu/forerunners. These audio lessons will go into much more detail and nuance than can be accomplished in a limited format of this workbook. Follow along and take notes as you go.
For students learning as part of a class or discussion group, plan to fill out your Student Workbook while listening to the teacher or a group leader present the material to you.
As you prepare for each class or discussion time, read the discussion questions. Use your Bible to formulate an answer. Come ready to participate and contribute to the group discussion.
When I went to the website shown above, I did find multiple lectures for every lesson except for lessons 7-13. When I went to those lessons, the website states, “Coming soon.” Because of that, I’m not so sure this book by Busenitz should be available at this time (this date being December 4, 2020, the day I started typing this review). Currently, one can purchase the book on Amazon. I say this because each lesson has multiple blanks that need a word or words to fill them. Moreover, upon research, I found that the Apple Podcast for Grace Community Church All Ministries has only parts 2-6 of Forerunners of the Faith available. Interestingly enough, those podcasts don’t appear on the website listed in the book at this time. That is significant because those podcasts directly help the reader fill in the blanks that each lesson has. The lectures currently on the website do not really do such a thing. In fact, they have a bit of a disclaimer. The disclaimer for the lessons that have lectures at this time usually goes something like this:
The video lectures below do not directly follow the Student Workbook or the Teacher Guide. Rather, they are intended to supplement the material in Lesson 4.
Notice there is a bit of a disconnect here. The audio lessons the manual discusses are not actually on the website at this time. Instead, the introduction and the first six lessons have video lectures that “do not directly follow the Student Workbook or the Teacher Guide.” From an organizational standpoint, this is an issue. I’ve never seen something like this before. My theory is that maybe this book should not have been released as soon as it was. After all, what’s the point of filling in the blanks in the workbook if the material I need to complete them is not fully available?
Despite the clear disconnect between the directions the manual gives and what’s actually on the website listed in the manual (in addition to the fact not every lesson presently has available lectures), I found Busenitz’s resource to be a great one. I discuss five reasons for this.
First, Busenitz cites a lot of Scripture in this book. Every chapter (including the introduction) had a plethora of Scripture cited and/or discussion questions that made the reader look up Scriptures. Keep in mind that all Scripture is inspired of God, who cannot lie (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Psalm 12:6; John 17:17; John 10:35). Busenitz did well to both uphold Scripture in this book and cite Scripture often.
Second, Busenitz upholds Jesus Christ in this book. He does this in no less than two ways. First, his fifth lesson, titled “Defending the Deity of Christ”, gives ten lines of evidence that affirm Jesus Christ’s deity (pp. 41-43). Moreover, Busenitz backs these ten lines with a plethora of Scripture. Busenitz also shows how a plethora of church leaders committed to Christ’s deity. Here are a few noteworthy quotes:
Permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts.p. 44. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 36. Trans. from Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:212.
Christ Jesus [is] our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible father.p. 44. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1. Trans. from Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:330.
For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.p. 45. Tertullian, Apology, 21. Trans. from Ante-Nicene Fathers 3:34-35.
Even the church fathers stated that Jesus Christ is God. To state Jesus Christ is not God is blasphemy. Moreover, it goes against the grains of the early church fathers, for they clearly stated Jesus is God.
The second way Busenitz upholds Jesus Christ in this book is by upholding Christ’s Gospel. The sixth lesson, titled “Grace and Truth”, shows quotes from Augustine (a theologian in the 4th-5th centuries) that affirmed salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (pp. 50-51). The tenth lesson, titled “After Darkness, Light”, showed quotes from Martin Luther and John Calvin that affirmed the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (p. 81). It appears those three affirmed the idea that be default, we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains:
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9). Revelation 21:1-8 states the following (NASB):
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be anymourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. 7 The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The Bible is clear that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. No adulterer, no murderer, no idolater, no unbeliever (among others) will inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin has a very serious consequence.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to solve the sin problem 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
The third reason I found Busenitz’s book to be a good one was the plethora of awesome and encouraging quotes from the people he cited. Here are a few:
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us [that’s a reference to the apostles], which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us [a verb form of the word ‘tradition’] in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.p. 16; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1. Trans. from Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 10 vols. (Reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:414.
I also rejoice because your firmly rooted faith, renowned from the earliest times, still perseveres and bears fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins, facing even death, whom God raised up, having loosed the birth pangs of Hades. Though you have not seen Him, you believe in Him with an inexpressible and glorious joy (which many desire to experience), knowing that by grace you have been saved, not because of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.p. 31. Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, 1. Trans. from Apostolic Fathers 281, See Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:33.
The Scriptures are holy, they are truthful, they are blameless.p. 51. Augustine, Sermons 23.3. trans. from Peter Gorday, ed., Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) comment on 2 Tim. 3:16.
Holy Scripture is the faultless, most true, most perfect, and most holy law of God, which it is the duty of all men to learn to know, to defend, and to observe, inasmuch as they are bound to serve the Lord in accordance with it.p. 73. John Wycliffe, Truth and Meaning of Scripture, cited from Life and Times of John Wycliffe, 129-130.
Notice that there is a reverence and respect for Holy Scripture. Moreover, all men need to learn to know, defend and observe it. They need to take up the admonition Paul gave to Timothy; they need to preach the Word in-season and out of season (2 Timothy 3:12-4:5).
The pope, Luther, Augustine, [or even] an angel from heaven — these should not be masters, judges or arbiters, but only witnesses, disciples, and confessors of Scripture. Nor should any doctrine be taught or heard in the church except the pure Word of God. Otherwise, let the teachers and the hearers be accursed along with their doctrine.p. 79. Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians, 1535,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 26, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), 57-58.
If Martin Luther was alive today, I’m sure he’d add the term “vision-casting leaders” (more like fuhrers) alongside himself, the pope, Augustine and an angel from heaven. These doctrine-despising hirelings (which include but are not limited to Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley and Steven Furtick) have done much damage to the Christian church over the last last few decades with their unbiblical nonsense. May they repent and be forgiven. May God raise up more people like Martin Luther who will uphold, proclaim and defend the Word of God.
I share one more quote before I move to the last two reasons Busenitz’s book is great.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.p. 87. Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts, ed. Stephen J. Nichols (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001).
The people Busenitz cited lived, breathed and died Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins. Quotes like that of Edwards and the others I mentioned should reflect that. Edwards’ quote really hit me because I pray to God daily that I make the most out of the time (said time being a gift) that He gives me. Every day is a gift, and every second counts.
The fourth reason I found Busenitz’s workbook to be great is because of the supplementary lectures. I know I’ve written on its disconnect with the blanks in the workbook. Nevertheless, that is not a reason to dismiss the lectures, for the lectures are fantastic. Prior to reading and completing this workbook, I had never listened to a sermon by Busenitz. Busenitz displays an amazing reverence for the Word of God that is sadly lacking in much of mainstream evangelicalism today. Moreover, Busenitz upholds and proclaims the truth. He also refutes error. For example, for lesson one, he has a lecture titled Putting These Principles Together. In it, he gives the three marks of a false religion/cult. He pulls no punches as he cites a plethora of Scripture to justify the important of refuting false teachers (Acts 20; 2 Peter 2; 2 John 7; Jude). Furthermore, his exegesis of 1 John in relation to John’s refutation of the heresy of docetism made the book of 1 John come alive. I can’t wait to hear the remaining lectures needing to be uploaded for Busenitz’ workbook for lessons 7-13.
Finally, Busenitz’s workbook gives some incredible resources for further study as it pertains to church history. On the bottom of page seven, Busenitz gives five recommended resources for further study in church history. He lists works by Nick Needham, Sinclair Ferguson, Earl Cairns and Robert Godfrey. He also recommends a short podcast by Steven Nichols. It is called Five Minutes In Church History. Nichols has done this podcast for a few years. Each episode is legitimately five minutes. Furthermore, the episodes are short, sweet, informational and to the point. Needless to say, I added Nichols’ podcast to my podcast listening rotation (which includes Fighting For The Faith, The Messed Up Church, WWUTT, Grace To You, The Good Fight Radio Show, The 5:11 News and Issues Etc.). I also purchased Needham’s four volumes of his work 2000 Years of Christ’s Power. I look forward to reading that work. I hope it will educate me really well in the area of church history. Considering this came at the recommendation of Busenitz, I believe it will.
Busenitz’s work is a full-course meal with, for the time being, a side of incomplete. I figure the “incomplete” part will resolve itself in due time once the necessary lectures for all the lessons are uploaded. Once that happens, this will be one of the better workbooks one can purchase as it pertains to church history. In the meantime, one can still get good information from this book. Moreover, this book gives the Christian leads for further equipping in the area of church history. This is a great resource for the Christian to have.
NOTE: I emailed my review to Busenitz at an email that I think will be alright. That email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I also tweeted my review. I tagged Busenitz in it even though it appears he is not that active on Twitter.