Venture All for God: Piety in the Writings of John Bunyan. Edited by Roger D. Duke and Phil A. Newton. Profiles in Reformed Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011. 196 pages. Paperback, $10.00.
In the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series (edited by Joel Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin), Reformation Heritage Books seeks to help the reader discover all that our Reformed forebears in the faith can teach us, “about Christianity, its doctrines, its passions, and its fruit” (xi). Each brief volume presents a short biographical sketch of an historical figure within the Reformed tradition alongside excerpts from lesser-known tracts and publications in the hopes of stirring the reader to further study and immersion into Reformed writings. This volume, edited by Roger D. Duke, author and professor at Union University, and Phil A. Newton, senior pastor at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, narrows its focus on the piety in the writings of John Bunyan, who authored almost sixty books and tracts in addition to his allegorical classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Bunyan was born in the midst of the English Reformation, during the reign of Charles I. England was suffering the pains of liberation from the Roman Catholic Church, and each new monarch took the crown with different ideas regarding the direction of the Church of England. Unlike the relative religious peace under Oliver Cromwell, Charles II sought to bring about peace through standardization. In 1662, the Act of Uniformity dictated specific doctrine and liturgy to be followed by all clergy. Jailed for preaching illegally, Bunyan could have been released at virtually any point provided he agree to cease such preaching. He refused to make such an agreement.
His writing was clearly influenced by the political unrest and religious persecution by the English government of his day. Imprisoned for more than twenty percent of his life, much of Bunyan’s writing took place in the Bedford Jail. His writings attest to George Whitefield’s statement that, “ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them” (41).
In Venture All for God, the reader gains insight into the thought and teachings of Bunyan. Collected under such headings as “Christ Our Advocate,” “Christ Jesus the Merciful Savior,” and “Hope for Sinners,” the first three sections reveal Bunyan’s meditations on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Imprisoned and deprived from all that is joyful in the world, Bunyan found his hope and satisfaction in savoring his Savior. Each word from his pen drips with the joy of one who has spent countless hours pondering the inexhaustible riches of Christ. The final four sections, entitled, “True Humility,” “Christian Ethics,” “The Gospel Applied,” and “Warnings,” provide the reader with examples of the manner in which Bunyan drew application from his meditations.
This collection is an enjoyable introduction to Bunyan’s life and writings. Upon completing the book, the reader is left pondering not that which is written of Bunyan, but rather, that which is written by Bunyan. The greatest strength of this little volume is not that it speaks of Bunyan to a new generation, but rather that it allows Bunyan himself to speak.
This review appears in the Southwestern Journal of Theology 56.1 (Fall 2013): 116.