Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bryan Loritts, ed. Review by Andrew J.W. Smith

Taking up Martin Luther King Jr.’s seminal “Letter from Birmingham Jail” during contemporary events like the Ferguson shooting and the Eric Garner case, one is immediately struck by how relevant King’s message still is, more than 50 years later.

In the original letter, King sought to spur white clergy to action, calling his fellow pastors to join his non-violent fight against systemic racial injustice. In Letters to a Birmingham Jail, edited by Bryan Loritts, evangelical pastors, theologians, and activists reflect on how King’s message relates to the church today.

While some progress has been made, these diverse voices — such as John Piper, Matt Chandler, John Perkins, and Crawford Loritts — again call for a radical shift toward justice, not just in our laws, but in our very hearts.

On Preaching

H.B. Charles Jr. Review by S. Andrew J.W. Smith

In On Preaching, H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher at Shiloh Metropolitan Church in Jacksonville, Florida, offers a string of practical suggestions relating to the pulpit, from sermon preparation to the act of preaching itself.

Many of Charles’ recommendations involve simple steps, such as his model for the week before giving a sermon: “Think yourself empty. Read yourself full. Write yourself clear. And pray yourself hot. Then go to the pulpit and be yourself,” Charles writes. “But don’t preach yourself—preach Jesus to the glory of God.”

Charles emphasizes that great preachers are the ones who interpret the Bible faithfully and proclaim it boldly. But the best preachers, Charles observes, are great at applying it to real-life situations.

“Effective preaching requires that you exegete your audience, as well as your text,” he writes.

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional  

Paul David Tripp Review by RuthAnne Irvin

Whether or not you are a morning person, mornings are an inevitable and important part of the day. For Christians, Lamentations 3:23 is a refreshing reminder when the alarm sounds on a Monday morning: the Lord’s mercies are new. In his new book, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional,  Paul David Tripp takes short, gospel truths and applies them to everyday life.

“When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead,” he writes in the introduction, illustrating why personal Bible study is essential for a deeper affection for God.

New Morning Mercies celebrates what God does in his children through his grace. Each entry explains a truth of the gospel and provides an application. The end of each entry offers suggestions for further study.


Christopher W. Morgan and

Robert A. Peterson, eds.

Review by Andrew J.W. Smith

As the latest release in Crossway’s “Theology in Community” series, Heaven is a scholarly and accessible volume exploring a central theme in the Bible with contributions from leading evangelical scholars.

Jonathan T. Pennington, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern, contributed a chapter on “Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts.” After tracing the various uses of the term “heaven” throughout the Gospels, Pennington argues that the word carries an inherent “happy ambiguity” between two poles of meaning: creation above and the place where the Creator dwells.

While much of the popular conception of heaven tends to focus on a disembodied final state where all believers “go when they die,” Pennington says this robs the term of its rich meaning in the Bible. Not only does Scripture refuse to collapse the multifaceted term “heaven” into merely a distinct future location, but the Gospel writers demonstrate that the end of salvation history is realized when God’s kingdom comes to earth.

Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian theology at Southern, writes in “Heaven in Paul’s Letters” that Paul’s view of heaven represents a “inaugurated eschatology” that is already partly present on earth.

“In Paul and the New Testament,” Wellum writes, “Christ has inaugurated the kingdom so that in reality, the heavenly age has come to earth — heaven has come to earth.”

Heaven is more than just a future reality; it is being realized in the present age. Believers experience the first fruits of “spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:3) and yet look forward to the fullness of salvation history in the final return of Christ, Wellum writes.