Review: Rejoice and Tremble by Michael Reeves

Every so often a book comes along that really makes you sit up and think. As I said in recent video, there are a lot of average Christian books. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with average Christian books, in the same way there’s nothing wrong with an average meal: they keep us going and it may be exactly what we need at the time. But there are some books which go deeper and change our thinking. In my view, Rejoice and Tremble by Michael Reeves is one of those books.

What is the book about?

The book is subtitled: “The surprising good news of the fear of the Lord”. That’s what it’s all about – the fear of the Lord. It’s a topic we don’t spend enough time thinking about, and yet it’s a hugely important one. As Proverbs says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) (something I looked at here a few months ago).

But what exactly IS the fear of the Lord? Aren’t Christians told that we are now free from fear? As John says, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). So does that mean that love and fear are opposites? Reeves says that the two things go together:

My aim now is to cut through this discouraging confusion. I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear. And I want to clear up that often off-putting phrase “the fear of God,” to show through the Bible that for Christians it really does not mean being afraid of God.

The book proceeds by looking at different aspects of the fear of the Lord, and showing how it can be misunderstood, but also how important and good it is to fear the Lord.

What was the most striking think about the book?

The most striking / insightful thing about the book for me came near the beginning. Reeves starts the book by looking at how fear can be a negative thing – how we simply be afraid of God. This matters when we look for e.g. security:

When people, through misunderstanding, become simply afraid of God, they will never entrust themselves to him but must turn elsewhere for their security. In fact, it is when people have this confused fear of God that they turn to other gods.

When we are afraid of God, we don’t trust in him or his goodness. Events might seem terrifying to us, because we don’t trust in God to protect us or to work events for our good. In fact, if we don’t trust in God, we look to safety elsewhere and turn to other gods. Reeves quotes John Calvin:

When unbelievers transfer the government of the universe from God to the stars, they fancy that their bliss or their misery depends upon the decrees and indications of the stars, not upon God’s will; so it comes about that their fear is transferred from him, toward whom alone they ought to direct it, to stars and comets.

I thought this was a really profound observation. Our society at the moment is a very fearful society. People are very worried about death, and many people have observed that death is something we just don’t talk about. Whereas the taboo in Victorian society was sex, the modern 21st century taboo is death. People do anything to avoid the fact they are getting older (how many anti-aging products do you see advertised?). I think it’s interesting to compare our society’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic with the way our society has reacted to pandemics of the past. In particular, I believe that these last few months have been characterised by fear in a way that hasn’t happened before.

Where does this fear come from – whether fear of aging, fear of death, or fear of illness? It comes from from being afraid of God: we don’t believe he has our best interests at heart, we don’t believe in his goodness. Therefore we turn to other gods.

What are the strengths of the book?

I think the book has many strengths:

  • Michael Reeves is always an entertaining writer: that’s not to say it’s full of jokes! Rather, this is not a book of dull and dusty prose, but it’s brimming with life and love for the Lord.
  • Reeves quotes from ancient writers a lot, including people such as John Bunyan (who wrote a book on the fear of the Lord). One of the things I really appreciate about his work is that it is ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. I like to read books which are backed with insights from previous generations. It’s so easy to reinvent the wheel, but this book gives historical wisdom and insight.
  • The book is not merely intellectual but deeply pastoral. What I mean by that is, this book will help you not just in knowing more about the Lord but loving him more. I’ll expand on this more in a moment.
  • The book is not overly long – although there is a concise version available (see the end), I thought it wasn’t heavy in the way some theological books can be. I think it would be accessible to all thoughtful Christians.

Why is this book important right now?

As I read through the book, one of the things which struck me was that the ‘fear of the Lord’ was intimately related to a living and active faith in God. As I try to make clear at every opportunity here on Understand the Bible, the Christian life is not merely about knowing a set of facts, but living our whole lives with Jesus at the centre. The fear of the Lord encapsulates this perfectly – you can’t simply know about the fear of the Lord. You experience it.

This is a message which many writers through the ages have spoken – for example, one of my personal heroes, Francis Schaeffer. In the Western world at the moment we are undergoing a real crisis of faith – many people in the world know nothing about God. And, sadly, we see many people turning to other gods for safety and security, comfort, and many other things.

If we in the church desire to make an impact, we need to recover the important teaching of the fear of the Lord: we need to do more than know about God; we need to know him. We need to fear him – rightly. That’s why this teaching about the fear of the Lord is so important.

Concluding remarks

I think this is an excellent book, and I recommend it to every Christian. I think it could well become a book which I would be happy to add to my list of books to ‘renew your mind’!

There is a ‘lighter’ book called What does it Mean to Fear the Lord? which is a smaller version of Rejoice & Tremble, so if you want something which is a smaller read than you could try that. (It’s also a bit cheaper!) But I think most people could manage, and profit from, Rejoice & Tremble.

It is published by Crossway and you can buy it from there, or from 10 of Those.

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10 Books to RENEW your mind

One of the best ways to grow in the Christian faith is to read good Christian books. But there are so many Christian books out there! How do we know which ones are best? In this video I pick 10 of the books which have been most helpful to me.


  1. The Good God by Michael Reeves
  2. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. How People Change by Paul Tripp & Timothy Lane
  5. True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer (my review / summary)
  6. Communion with God by John Owen
  7. A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson (Free eBook)
  8. The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson
  9. The Pilgrim’s Progress (Modern English edition) by John Bunyan (Free PDF)
  10. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
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Three books for beginners to Understand the Bible

I know that the Bible is a big book, and it might seem difficult to know even where to start. I’ve found that books can be one of the most helpful things when learning to read the Bible. A good book can open your eyes and encourage you in your faith. But how do you know which books to choose? There are hundreds of thousands of Christian books available, and more are being published all the time! How do you know which are the best ones?

Let me help you. I’ve chosen five books which I think will help you to understand the Bible, even if you’re a complete beginner. I hope these give a good cross-section, so together they will help you understand the Bible and Christianity more broadly.

Before we begin, there is just one thing I’d like to say: when you’re looking for books, please don’t look simply for new books! C.S. Lewis, the Christian author most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia books, once wrote an essay about why you should read old books. It’s well worth reading. I’ve tried to include here older and newer books, but my suggestion is to try to read tried-and-tested books alongside modern books.

All that said, let’s get into it!

#1: A Study Bible

The first book I would recommend is… the Bible! But not just any old Bible – I would suggest beginning with a study Bible. What is a study Bible? Alongside the actual text of the Bible, it has notes which help to explain things in the text. Good study Bibles will often have other articles in them to help introduce Biblical themes, as well as introducing each book of the Bible. I would suggest that a good study Bible is the most useful thing you can buy to start understanding the Bible.

So, which study Bibles are good? There are two which I would recommend – the Zondervan NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible (both available in various different editions). I have personally used the ESV Study Bible but I have heard good things about the NIV Study Bible also. I believe there is little to choose between them, apart from your particular translation preference. I use the NIV translation of the Bible day-to-day and in all the Understand the Bible videos. If you’re new to the Bible, I would recommend it as a good general purpose, easy-to-read version. (The other one I recommend which is a bit easier to read is the New Living Translation. There is an NLT Study Bible, but I don’t know much about it. If you use the NLT, you might want to check it out!)

#2: A Bible Reading Companion

The next thing on my list is a book to help you read the Bible day-by-day. There are lots of daily Bible reading notes. I know some people use the Bible in One Year App to help them. My suggestion for one book to begin with is Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. John Stott was a very capable Bible teacher, who for years was the rector of a large church in London. What I really like about this book is that it’s not complicated: for each day you have a short Bible reading and a page explaining it. It takes you through the whole Bible (in short!) and you focus on the Christmas and Easter passages at those times.

I think this book is a really good way of getting into reading the Bible every day and helping you understand it.

There are also lots of daily devotionals, you can see a round up of some of them here.

#3: A Bible overview

Another thing that will really help you to understand the Bible is a Bible overview. It’s so helpful to be able to pick up a Bible and know, whichever book you’re reading, roughly where it comes in the timeline of the Bible and how it fits in with the big picture. In fact, the What is Christianity? course on Understand the Bible is basically a mini-Bible overview. The most helpful thing I’ve ever done in understanding the Bible was an ‘Introduction to the Bible’ course, which was basically a Bible overview. It really does help put things together.

My suggestion for a Bible overview is God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. It’s a readable overview of how the whole Bible fits together, looking at it through the perspective of God’s Kingdom.

This is also available as a video course (and we’ve run it in our church before).

The most important thing

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the books which have been significant in my journey of understanding the Bible. There are lots of books which have been really helpful to me – but the most important thing hasn’t been any individual book (apart from the Bible itself!). The most significant thing is the day-by-day journeying with God, reading the Bible, praying, worshipping with other Christians, hearing sermons. It’s all significant in understanding the Bible.

I hope that these books will give you a head start. But remember that understanding the Bible is a journey, not a destination! In fact, I’d say that the more you understand the Bible, the more you realise there is to understand. It’s like walking into a building when it’s dark and thinking it’s only small, but then over time beginning to realise that it’s actually the size of a cathedral.

The most important thing is never to give up. God rewards those who seek him. As Jesus said:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Explore Further

Want more? You might enjoy the What is Christianity course, which is a short Bible overview.

You might also enjoy the How to Live as a Christian series (which is also a video course). Part three of that course is about reading the Bible.

Over to you

What books have been the most helpful for you in understanding the Bible? Let us know in the comments below! 👇

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Why you should read Schaeffer – True Spirituality

Cover of True Spirituality

I’m starting a new feature, “Books you should read”. Christian books can be a very helpful way of learning to understand the Bible. I’ve found many books to be helpful in my own life, and I’d like to share the most helpful with you. One of the most helpful books I’ve read has been True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Let me explain what the book means to me and why you should read it.

In short – I think that no book has had a more profound effect on my understanding of the Christian life than this one.

True Spirituality is more than knowledge

Schaeffer’s primary consideration with True Spirituality was that of living a Christian life. He realised that we couldn’t simply ‘keep the rules’. We can’t just look at the 10 Commandments and say, with the rich man who came to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). The problem is not that we don’t know the 10 Commandments – the problem is that we don’t have the power to be able to keep them.

It’s the same thing with the Bible in general: it’s not enough simply to know about God. We need to know him and the power of the Holy Spirit. We need a deeper transformation than simply trying really hard. We need to be transformed from the inside out, so that we might obey God’s deeper laws of love.

True Spirituality is the life that comes, not from our own efforts, but walking in step with the Holy Spirit. We don’t have the power within ourselves, but only through God’s power working in us. When we do walk with God, we can have a true (if imperfect) love for him and for others. Our obedience does not have to be grudging or perfunctory but heart-felt.

Let’s look briefly at his argument.

The gospel is more than simply forgiveness

I think many churches teach that the gospel is about forgiveness. Forgiveness is good – but it’s only half the story! Jesus died that we might be forgiven, but he was also raised to new life so that we might have new life in ourselves. This is what Schaeffer says:

This is the basic consideration of the Christian life. First, Christ died in history. Second, Christ rose in history. Third, we died with Christ in history, when we accepted Him as our Saviour. Fourth, we will be raised in history, when He comes again. Fifth, we are to live by faith now as though we were now dead, already have died. And sixth, we are to live now by faith as though we have now already been raised from the dead.

We are to live as though we have now already been raised from the dead. In other words, one day we will be raised immortal, at the resurrection of the dead. However, we can begin living the resurrection life in the here and now. We aren’t simply forgiven of our sins, but we are given a new power to live a risen life while we are still in this body.

What is it exactly that gives us the power to live a risen life now? The Holy Spirit.

The power of the Holy Spirit in us

What makes the difference? This is the Holy Spirit, not just a ‘new idea’. It is not to be in our own strength. … Surely, as we look at the book of Acts, we find in the early Church not a group of strong men labouring together, but the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to them the power of the crucified and glorified Christ. It must be so for us also.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the one who brings the very presence of God to our lives. We don’t labour and work in our own strength. Schaeffer makes the point that the early church (in the book of Acts) was not comprised of a “group of strong men”. In fact, the first time we meet the disciples in Acts, they are hiding away in a house out of fear! What changes them into men of courage is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives them power to proclaim the gospel boldly, to go out into the streets and preach the good news.

It’s really important to understand this. The Christian life is not a life where we need to feel strong: we are supposed to feel weak. We are supposed to know our own limitations, and to depend on God. It is, in fact, only when we come to the limits of our own strength that we recognise our need for God.

We should live ‘supernatural’ lives now

Our lives now, then, should be supernatural:

Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists misses the whole purpose of the Christian’s life now on this earth. According to the Bible, we are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence in a way that we shall never be able to do again through all eternity. We are called upon to live a supernatural life now, by faith.

What does it mean to life a supernatural life? It means living a life which is free of the constraints we impose upon it. Too often we limit life to what we think we can make of it. We limit ourselves to what we think we can do, or what we think is reasonable to achieve. But what if God really is there? What if God really has called us? What if we really can pray for anything, and God will answer (John 14:14)?

Living a supernatural life now is living a life believing and trusting in God’s promises. It is taking hold of God’s promise that he has transferred us from the domain of darkness into his marvellous light. We believe and trust that he can sanctify us and give us the power and freedom to love God and love others. We are no longer slaves of sin but slaves to righteousness.

This is what it means: not just simply knowing about the promises of God, but believing them.


In the rest of the book, Schaeffer goes on to apply his thinking to areas of life including our own lives, our relationships, and the church. You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out what he says!

But I think his book, despite being first published in 1972, is still of enduring relevance today. Much of Schaeffer’s experience of the church back then is also true today. Unfortunately I think a lot of people know a lot about the Bible and the Christian faith, without necessarily putting it into practice. His work stands today as a challenge to the church to put down deeper roots into the gospel.

I think this book is doubly important in 2020, when our society is being driven further and further apart: so many issues are divisive today. We are divided about politics, about the economy, about the coronavirus. What the church needs to do is show the world what a true community of love looks like – not divided, but united. Not standing in our own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are lots of cheap second-hand copies of the book available on AbeBooks.

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