Friday, July 30, 2010

Review of Deep Church Reconsidered

I don’t think I did justice to Deep Church in my review of it. 

So it has been deleted.  I will try again tomorrow…

Treasuring Christ=Treasuring Missions

Do you treasure Christ? 

In his classic work The Godly Man’s Picture, Thomas Watson gives 8 evidences of prizing Christ.  Here is #7:

If we are prizers of Christ, we will be willing to help others to get a part in him.  That which we esteem excellent, we are desirous our friend should have a share in it.  If a man has found a spring of water, he will call others that they may drink and satisfy their thirst.  Do we commend Christ to others?  Do we take them by the hand and lead them to Christ?  This shows how few prize Christ, because they do not make more effort that their relations should have a part in him.  They get land and riches for their posterity, but have no care to leave them the Pearl of Price as their portion.

A few things to consider:

I cannot say that I really prize Christ if I am unwilling to sacrifice comfort so that others may see Jesus.  That communicates that I prize comfort more than I prize Jesus. 

I truly believe that as my little boy grows up you will see what Nikki and I prize by what Isaiah prizes.  Will he set a great price on “objects” or will he make much of Jesus?

This explains why sharing Jesus with people is not “unloving and prideful”, though it can sometimes be.  We share Jesus with unbelievers because we have found a spring of water and we want them to drink.  It is not arrogant of us to give water to thirsty.  It is arrogant for the thirsty to refuse the spring and even worse to deny their thirst.

If I prize Christ then I will not be satisfied with millions of Muslims bowing a knee to Allah and honoring Mohammed above Christ.  Jesus deserves their worship.  I will not be satisfied with the millions that bow a knee to Buddha, Krishna, or any other god.  Jesus deserves their worship.  I cannot be satisfied until Christ is the prize of the nations.  And Christ is not the prize of the nations when 40% of them have never heard his name.  Christ is not the prize of the nations when a larger portion deny Him and instead worship gods of their own making.  Therefore, if I prize Christ I will prize missions.

You can buy Watson’s entire book for only $5.60.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review of Scandalous by D.A. Carson

Author: D.A. Carson

Pages: 176pgs

Publisher: Crossway

Price: 10.39

Genre: Theology/Christian Living

Quick Summary:

Scandalous is the book version of five addresses that D.A. Carson gave at a Resurgence conference on the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The five messages (chapters) are on the ironies of the cross, the centrality of Christ in Scripture, the triumph of a slaughtered lamb, the miracle of the resurrection, and the doubting of the resurrection.

I think Mark Driscoll summarizes this book best when he says, “What happens when one of the world's preeminent theologians expounds on some of the Bible's prominent texts? This book."

What I Liked:

It is rare to find a top-notch scholar that is also a top-notch preacher that is also a top-notch writer. D.A. Carson is that rarity. You cannot go wrong reading Carson. Scandalous is typical D.A. Carson: witty, scholarly, gospel-centered, and greatly helpful. This is one of those books that you will read in a week because you are so involved in each chapter.

If this is your first exposure to D.A. Carson buy this book, read it and buy many of his other books. Carson has an amazing ability to speak relevantly to a new believer, a seminary student, a skeptic, a seasoned believer, and pretty much everyone with a heartbeat. Not only does he speak relevantly but he makes difficult truths easy to understand and he does it in such a fashion that honors and exalts Jesus. You will walk away from reading this book with a much deeper appreciation for Jesus. I truly believe this book will lead to worship.

What I Disliked:

It’s D.A. Carson, what’s not to like? Each chapter stands on its own so it is perfect for a five part Bible study or something. But keep in mind when you get this the purpose of the book. It will go deep, but not deeper than a typical 5 part talk on a subject. The chapters do not necessarily build on each other but they look at a different aspect of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. I found this helpful, but some may dislike that if they are expecting something else.

Should You Buy It?

If you have 10 bucks, you know how to read, and you don’t want to be a moron then I would strongly consider buying this book. It is a fun read and you will certainly have a deeper appreciation for the cross and resurrection after reading things. Go buy it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lawful but Hurtful in Abuse

John Newton writes a sketch of the believer’s temper.  The entire letter is worthy of your consideration but I though this particularly helpful:

Satan will not often tempt a believer to gross crimes—our greatest snares and sorest conflicts are usually found in things lawful in themselves—but hurtful to us by their abuse, engrossing too much of our time, or of our hearts, or somehow indisposing us for communion with the Lord. The Christian will be jealous of anything which might entangle his affections, dampen his zeal, or straiten him in his opportunities of serving his Savior.

What are areas in your life that are “lawful in themselves” but “hurtful by their abuse”? 

For me I think certain entertainments like television and video games are the obvious ones.  The less obvious ones are spending an inordinate amount of time reading Christian books to the neglect of Scripture and prayer.  Surfing the internet and blogging—even if with an intention of doing it for the glory of God—can “engross too much of my time”. 

This letter is very helpful, you can read the entire thing here

Deadly to Faith

After contemplating on a recent visit from a missionary John Bloom posts these sobering and true reflections:

The New Testament teaches us that whether or not our treasure is really in heaven is most clearly seen when it costs us our earthly treasures in order to obtain it. But American Christians live in the most prosperous nation in world history and the one in which it costs the least to be a Christian.

This environment can be deadly to faith. It allows false faith to masquerade as real very easily. And its power to dissipate zeal and energy and mission-focus and willingness to risk is extraordinary because it doesn't come to us with a whip and a threat. It comes to us with a pillow and a promise of comfort for us and our children. The former makes us desperate for God. The latter robs our sense of desperation.

And it's the lack of a sense of desperation for God that is so deadly. If we don't feel desperate for God, we don't tend to cry out to him. Love for this present world sets in subtly, like a spiritual leprosy, damaging spiritual nerve endings so that we don't feel the erosion and decay happening until it's too late.

Read the rest…

Moral Superiority?

Found this today from Preaching Today and found it interesting enough to share:

"It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian," laments Roy Hattersley, a columnist for the U.K. Guardian. An outspoken atheist, Hattersley came to this conclusion after watching the Salvation Army lead several other faith-based organizations in the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina.

"Notable by their absence," he says, were "teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs, and atheists' associations—the sort of people who scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity." According to Hattersley, it is an unavoidable conclusion that Christians "are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others."

Hattersley also notes that this pattern of behavior goes beyond disaster relief:

Civilized people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags, and—probably most difficult of all—argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment.

"The only possible conclusion," says Hattersley, "is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make [Christians] morally superior to atheists like me."


What do you think?  Are Christians “morally superior” to atheists?  Is this even a helpful quote?  How would you use this in a sermon?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review of The Trellis and the Vine by Marshall and Payne

Author: Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Pages: 206pgs

Publisher: Matthias Media

Price:  11.99

Genre: Ministry/Church Resources

Quick Summary:

“According to this book, Christians are to be disciple-making disciples and pastors are to be trainers. Superb! This book sets out a crucial shift that is needed in the mindset of many pastors. The authors have carefully listened to the Bible. And they've worked on this book. The result is a book that is well-written and well- illustrated, but even more, a book that is full of biblical wisdom and practical advice. This is the best book I've read on the nature of church ministry."

That is how Mark Dever described this book. The authors of this book want to see a ministry mindset shift. Instead of simply engaging in trellis work Payne and Marshall encourage church leaders to spend their time on vine work. Trellis work is working on the structures, programs, that supports the vine and its growth. Vine work is the actual doing of ministry. In this book church leaders are encouraged to turn the way they think of doing ministry upside-down (or perhaps right side up).

What I Liked?

Mark Dever is right, this really is one of the best books on the nature of church ministry that I have read. Some of these things I have known and believed for some time—but was unsure how to articulate them. Marshall and Payne articulate these principles in ways that I would have only dreamed of. But this is not just some pie-in-the-sky approach to ministry, this stuff is practical. The problem is this type of ministry (though very biblical) calls for a patient plodding approach, so it probably will not be flying of the shelves. Many will probably “try it” and then when immediate results do not happen will pick up the “next great thing”. If you like 9Marks type stuff you will like this book.

What I Disliked?

I am completely sold on what is being proposed in this book. I cannot think of any specific thing that I would disagree with or greatly dislike. I was greatly challenged by some chapters, encouraged by others, and helped by all of them.

The only “problem” that I have is wondering how to implement some of these things. I would love to see a sequel; sort of like Dever did with The Deliberate Church. There is just one question that I have how do you do Vine work when your people are expecting Trellis work? I know it’s through patient teaching of the Word—but do you do both until the Word really sinks in and the congregation catches the vision?

Chapter 12 and a couple of the questions in the end really do attempt to answer this question. I may just desire being spoon fed. In the end this is probably not a “hole” in the book as much as it is a “hole” in my intellect and experience.

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely. If you are involved in leadership at church you should read this. It would be helpful I think for any believer to pick this up. You can get it from Monergism now for a little over 10 bucks and it is well worth every penny.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Watch Mark Dever plug this book:

Lessons from a man named Obadiah

With an awesome name like Obadiah Sedgwick its surprising that few people have heard of him.  One particular work of his that I have found beneficial is Anatomy of Secret Sins .  This book is a 382 page exposition of Psalm 19:12-13.  Yes, 382 pages on these two verses. 

12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

One particular gem is his explanation of “persons who are truly holy desire still further measure of holiness.”  I’ll let Obadiah explain:

David was cleansed before, and yet he desires to be cleansed.  Why?  Because though he had a radical purity, he did not have a gradual purity.  The whole man was cleansed, but it was not cleansed wholly.  He had some grace, but he wanted more.  He was pretty well rid of some sins, but others he felt stirring and working.  Though no man saw them, yet he felt them.  No combat serves the Christian, but that which looks to victory, and he thinks the day is not yet won if he does not yet have the conquest of every sin as well as any one particular sin.   (p.14, emphasis mine)

In other words, if you desire holiness you won’t just desire a little bit of it.  You will want to be “cleansed completely”. 

Lessons from Augustine’s Mother

“But you sent down your help from above and rescued my soul from the depths of this darkness because my mother, your faithful servant, wept to you for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son.  For in her faith and in the spirit which she had from you she looked on me as dead.  You heard her and did not despise the tears which streamed down and watered the earth in every place where she bowed her head in prayer…”

--From Augustine’s Confessions. 

This is an encouragement to not give up for those the Lord has set upon your heart.  May we weep for our beloved unbelievers in the way that Augustine’s mother wept for him. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Have You Stumbled Upon StumbledUpon Yet?

I am curious, do any of my readers use StumbledUpon?  I’ve been having a blast with this today.  You can download it for free and it’s a fun way to find new pages.  A few of the pages that I tweeted today came from StumbledUpon.  If you get a chance go sign up.  If you sign up (or already use it) be sure to add me as a friend, or follow me, or however you say that in stumbleupon language.  My profile name is really simple…read for it?!?…mikeleake 

I’m still not 100% sure how to use this effectively but I thought perhaps a few of my friends might add this and give it a try.  Click here to sign up and maybe here for my profile.

Review of Let the Reader Understand by McCartney and Clayton

Author: Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton

Pages: 378pgs

Publisher: P & R Publishing

Price: 11.55

Genre: Biblical Interpretation/Hermeneutics

Quick Summary:

This book looks like it may be written as an introduction to hermeneutics, but I am not certain that it actually is written as such. The first chunk of the book is dedicated to the foundation of hermeneutics: presuppositions. Then the history of interpretation and the grammatical historical method is explored. Finally on page 180 the actual practice of interpreting the Bible is explained.

This is the second edition and it has been updated to “address postmodern approaches”.

What I Liked:

This book is a somewhat difficult read, especially for an introduction. However, it is also a very helpful read. I would not suggest it for those new to hermeneutics but it’s a pretty solid resource for those already familiar with the discipline. The section on presuppositions is worth the price of the book. This book was required reading for my Hermeneutics course in seminary and it was one of the more enjoyable books that I read for that class—but it is a pretty difficult read.

God really used this book to open up my eyes to the importance of reading each Scripture in light of its literary genre. It also helped me to understand certain presuppositions that I take into reading a text and how to not allow those to dictate the meaning of the text. This was a really helpful resource for me.

What I Disliked:

It’s plugged on the back as a “readable introduction to biblical interpretation”. It is readable but I’m not so sure it is easily understandable. There are some pretty serious technical discussions as well as sections that require heavy thinking. I’m just not sure this is really a good introductory book.

Should You Buy It?

If you have to look up the term “hermeneutics” then probably not; at least not now. If you are familiar with that term and certain nuances of language, and you are familiar with some of the technical aspects to hermeneutics then this book is definitely for you. It really is a solid resource for the serious student of biblical interpretation. I really want to encourage everyone to eventually read this book, but maybe not to start here. If you are new to the discussion of Hermeneutics then perhaps start with Goldworthy’s According to Plan, Fee's New Testament Exegesis , or even Virkler's Hermeneutics . Get yourself familiar with the topic and then tackle this book—it will be well worth the effort.  Buy it for 11.55.

Rating: 3.2 out of 5 stars

Instant cure for a toothache

I wouldn’t suggest this one though.  For one, it cost a little more than 15 cents now.  For two, it’s illegal.  And thirdly, I’m totally against the use of cocaine—unless it’s an Eric Clapton song.

Check out this collection of Medication from 100 years ago.  Amazing. 

When Prayer Might Be Harmful

“…my soul refuses to be comforted.  When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints”.  (Psalm 77:2-3)

In this Psalm Asaph appears to be in deep distress.  He hopes to find comfort and rescue in God.  Yet, his mind is met with something different: the “dark” side of God.  Instead of seeing the goodness and mercy of God he is consumed by the holiness and justice of God.  And that, I think, is why his meditating causes his spirit to faint. 

When Asaph comes before the Lord all he can think of is the Lord’s disfavor.  “Will the LORD spurn forever, and never again be favorable?”  Oh, what a terrible thought!  Asaph knows Exodus 34:6 and that God abounds in steadfast love.  But he also knows that this same God will “by no means clear the guilty”, so his heart is torn and his mind is troubled.  Has his guilt forever cast Him out of the Lord’s gracious favor?  

You see Asaph lived on the dark side of Calvary.  He could look back and remember the Lord’s character and his rescue of His people in the past (77:10-20) and this would cause him to look forward to God’s coming rescue--but he still lived on the dark side of Calvary. 

He continued to trust in the God of the covenant that would rescue the penitent, but He could not yet see the beauty and finality of the redeeming work of Christ, so questions lingered.  Am I really penitent?  Will I really receive mercy?  Is He going to come through on His promise? 

I live on the lightened side of Calvary.  I am able to see the beauty and finality of the redeeming work of Christ.  And yet sometimes my mind and heart are dull.  I become like Asaph and I refuse to be comforted.  When I look to God I moan rather than rejoice.  I forget that I am approach the throne of grace and I instead faint in my meditations.  My mind can still live on the dark side of Calvary. 

This is why I think the most dangerous thing for me to do sometimes is to only pray.  Until I am convinced of the gospel and its application to my condition, my prayers will create fainting instead of joy.  My repentance will become, “I’ll try to do better”.  My intercession will be ritual and a guise to gain acceptance.  Everything about my time with God will only serve to further depress me.  Why?

The only way to access is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  If I am unconvinced of the goodness of God then I am not approaching Him through the finished work of Jesus.  Because, you cannot really look at the Cross and question the goodness of God; You cannot really consider the power of the resurrection and what it means for us and question the goodness of God; You cannot really believe that Christ has ascended and is pleading on our behalf and question His goodness. 

So I want to meditate on the work of Christ and then plead for rescue.

Does this make any sense…?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of Radical by David Platt

Author: David Platt

Pages: 240pgs

Publisher: Multnomah

Price: 9.99

Genre: Christian Living/Missions

Quick Summary:

If you are unfamiliar with David Platt that will probably change soon. At least it should. He is extremely passionate about the gospel and about missions. This book is a challenge that encompasses both. At the end you will be encouraged to take a “one-year journey in authentic discipleship”.

This really is not a call to “radical” Christianity. This is a call to actually follow Jesus. This isn’t radical Christianity it is living out the Christian life as if Jesus actually has more worth than our security, money, personal comforts, and even family.

The book is jam packed with real stories of real people doing the things that Platt points out in this book. Throughout he discusses missions, the glory of God, poverty, and our response to these calls upon our life.

What I Liked:

It is well written, it is gospel-driven, and obvious that Platt is passionate about spreading the glory of God to the nations. This book and the ministry of David Platt is being used as a much needed wake up call to comfortable Christians like myself. I was given this book at the Baptist21 event during the SBC Annual Meeting, read it on the plane ride home, and have been praying about how to live out the truths presented in this book. It has opened my eyes even further to things that I was already passionate about. This book really spurred me on to ask—“what are you going to do about it”.

What I Disliked:

A well-written “caution” is provided by Kevin DeYoung here. I agree with most of what DeYoung says but I think his cautions can also lead to complacency. I think Platt’s response to DeYoung is wonderful. Essentially I think that at times Platt can overstate his case and oversimplify the solution. But I think that perhaps DeYoung may be going too far the other way. The problem will come when people add to Platt’s message or DeYoung’s message.

All in all the only thing I disliked is that this book caused me to cut my cable television.

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely. But I will warn you. God will kick you in the pants if you really listen to this book. Not because Platt is a radical but because he is stubbornly biblical and will not allow us to settle for the American Dream against the Biblical Reality. I’m pretty confident that God will use this book in your life. Buy it for under 10 bucks.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

David Platt 20/20 2010 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

This is either insanely true or truly insane…

“To lose the heavenly warmth and spiritual liveliness of your affections is undoubtedly a far more considerable loss than to lose the wife of your bosom, or the sweetest child that ever a tender parent laid in the grave…It is better for you to bury ten sons, than to remit one degree of love or delight in God.” 

This from John Flavel in Facing Grief.  His counsel is either insanely true or truly insane.  It all depends on how glorious God really is.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review of Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Author: Joshua Harris

Pages: 256pgs

Publisher: Multnomah

Price: 13.49

Genre: Biography/Theology/Christian Living

Quick Summary:

This is the unfinished story of Joshua Harris. It is subtitled “Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters”. What, I think, Harris means by that is that this book is about his theology and holding good theology matters. “If we get theology wrong then our whole lives will be wrong”. So, Harris tells his story with humor, wit, and gospel-centered transparency. Along the way he explains “deep” theology in a way that those new to theological discussions could understand.

This book is a systematic theology but not the type you would read in a classroom. It is also a biography but not the kind that only tells a story. This book is about Christian living but not the kind that is divorced from solid biblical truth. It is a biography about Christian doctrine that leads to faithful biblical practice.

What I Liked:

Josh Harris is a tremendously gifted speaker and author, so it is fun reading every chapter. He even has very helpful illustrations to explain the process of sanctification. I am a seminary student and he explained “ivory tower” terms in a way that touched my everyday life. His chapter on sanctification was probably my favorite—but I also liked his “My Rumspringa” chapter.

This book is obviously written to those that are turned off to theology books. And Harris does a wonderful job of teaching sound doctrine that is also practical. Even those that are theologically astute will benefit greatly and should read chapter 11 on humble orthodoxy. This book models humble orthodoxy.

What I Disliked:

This book is definitely written on a level for those that are new to theology; which in my opinion makes it all the more awesome. But if you are a big nerd like me there will be some chapters that seem to drag a little. That’s totally fine because I got plenty out of it still and it is written to a different audience. But just know that if you read a ton of books on theology you probably will not learn anything new—but you will perhaps see in a new light that gives deeper roots to what you already know.

Should You Buy It?

If you are looking for a book that is finally going to settle the issue of limited atonement or once and for all solve the problem of evil as well as explain the Trinity, then this book isn’t for you. In fact I’m not certain you will find a book that will satisfy you. But this book is most certainly one that you need to purchase. Even if you are a theology student you will learn from this book. If you are turned off to theology I urge you to give this book a shot before you give up all that nerdy stuff. This would be a great book for a pastor to keep a few copies of in his office. Check out a sample or just buy the thing.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Friday, July 23, 2010

Review of Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

Author: Shannon O’Dell

Pages: 200pgs

Publisher: New Leaf Press

Price: 9.35

Genre: Ministry/Church/Pastoral Resources

Quick Summary:

I received this book from New Leaf Press to review. It is the compelling story of a pastor called to minister in rural America. It follows the typical “your small church doesn’t have to do small things” mantra. As it says on the back, this book shares, “a powerful vision of relevance, possibility, and excellence for these small churches”. This may cause many local church pastors to salivate—they’ll buy this book as the next great thing to help their flailing country church. If you think like me, these words are typically code for watered-down garbage. Even though the mega-church buzz words are present the heart of a local church pastor really does bleed through the pages of this book.

What I Liked:

O’Dell’s passion for the local body and for the lost is clearly seen. This guy really does love the rural church. His encouragement to stick it out in rural settings is encouraging. I hope many pastors (myself included) take his advice to use where God has planted you for His glory. He is bold and encourages pastors to be bold in leading. Furthermore I like his challenge to men to lead their wives sacrificially. There is much to be commended in this book. However…

What I Disliked:

Perhaps I am just an old fuddy-duddy (though only 29). Maybe I’m just too narrow minded, or maybe just a wimp. It seemed to me that this guy took a small church, cast his vision, and “made it happen”. This page was dripping with passion and boldness but not with gentleness and respect. I know that ministry can be brutal but at times it seemed like O’Dell was just airing dirty laundry or licking old wounds.

I read this at the same time that I read Church Planting is for Wimps, and the difference in the vision and attitude is telling. Mike McKinley talks about patience but he seems like a gentle shepherd. Shannon O’Dell talks about patience but doesn’t seem like a gentle shepherd.

Should You Buy It?

I’m a little torn with this. I think there are some things in this book that could be helpful. But I also think the attitude and “bold leadership” is dangerous. I cannot in good conscience commend this book to everyone. I’d much rather see you by McKinley’s book or even a book like Trellis and the Vine. But please be certain to read other reviews—I may just need sleep today. I have a ton of respect for Jared Wilson and he seemed to not enjoy this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review of Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

Author: Tedd Tripp

Pages: 211pgs

Publisher: Shepherd Press

Price: 10.05

Genre: Parenting/Christian Living

Quick Summary:

I had no idea how controversial this book was until I skimmed through the over 300 reviews on Amazon. Over 150 are 5 stars and a little over 100 are 1 star. Either you love the book or you hate the book. Why? Tedd Tripp encourages spanking as a means of shepherding your child’s heart. But this book is not a “spanking manual” as some have dubbed it. This book is about addressing issues of the heart and not simply getting your child to obey.

The book is written to help parents with any age of children, but is probably most helpful to those with younger children. It is divided into two sections. The first section lays the foundations for biblical childrearing and the second section deals with practical steps for each stage of your child’s life.

What I Liked:

Tripp is unashamedly biblical in his approach to parenting. He deals fully with human depravity as well as difficult things like not sparing the rod. Even if you do not agree with spanking as being “the rod” you will still benefit from the grace that permeates this book. It is sad that Tripp is often accused of advocating child abuse. The truth is that what Tripp suggests is further from child abuse than some of the other manipulative and emotionally abusive methods that are often advocated.

This book has been incredibly helpful for my wife and me. There are, in my opinion, very few good Christian books on parenting. Most simply advocate Christian moralism and embrace secular psychology to the neglect of foundational Christian doctrines. Tripp provides a gospel centered approach.

What I Disliked:

At times I think that Tripp may overstate his case. I think there are some things that he simply dismisses and does not really provide a thorough defense of a controversial topic. An added appendix would really help.

Should You Buy It?

Don’t believe the 1 star reviews (and not even some of the 5 star reviews). Even if you disagree with spanking read this book for what Tedd Tripp is really saying. Even if at the end of the day you are not convinced that spanking is the best (most biblical) method of discipline you can still apply the principles that undergird this book. This book is gospel-centered and really does have a hope of shepherding the child’s heart and not just creating a well behaved kid. This is a great resource that every parent should consider.  Buy it for 10.05.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hiding Behind the “You Do It Too” Cop-out

Frank Turk had an interesting post this morning: provide an open forum for all of those that dislike Calvinism and Calvinists to air their grievances.  He advised us Calvinists to stay out of the argument and just listen (at least I think that’s what he advised).  Unfortunately, most of those commenting are Calvinists and I remain discouraged by what transpired.  I was really looking forward to hearing “the other side”. 

There is one comment that I wanted to bring over here to make a point.  A blogger with the handle That Crazy Christian summed up a great response with these words:

But at the end of the day, it was "Calvinists" that caused me to not embrace the doctrines, not "Calvinism". And that is something I am forever mindful of now that I am a Calvinist. I encourage my Calvinist brothers and sisters to be mindful too.

My reformed brothers, we are full of pride and arrogance as a whole. We are so smug and sneering in our intellectual superiority that we forget that we ought to lay down our lives for those God has placed in our paths. Please brothers, I see this attitude from some on this blog (bloggers included) and I beg you to stop it. You don't honor your Lord by sneering at others or being proud of what you've figured out and others have not.

Please brothers and sisters, think about your attitudes.

I pull that comment over here because I have heard that accusation numerous times.  And you know what, it’s sadly too often true.  But that is not what I want to briefly discuss today.  I want to discuss the typical follow up comment to this great word from The Crazy Christian. 

Typically what you see after this is a comment like, “And it isn’t prideful and arrogant to call other people prideful and arrogant?  Your ‘humility’ reeks of pride when you call others to look at your attitude.”  Now, I am very thankful that I did NOT see this comment as a response on this particular thread.  But it is frequent enough that I was expecting it. 

This is the “You Do It Too” Cop-Out that creeps up frequently when people get called on something.  And it always works because its generally true.  Sinners rebuke sinners but it doesn’t make the rebuke any less true, any less redemptive, or any less hopeful. 

The truth is there is a ton of that pride, arrogance, and smug attitude of intellectual superiority that prevails in the blogosphere (often from us that adhere to the doctrines of GRACE).  But it also resides in my heart and I know that my gut reaction to being called out is to size up the other person and say “you do it too”. 

I guess I just want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to listen to the truth in The Crazy Christian’s statement and find refuge in Christ.  I’m guilty what about you?

Review of Broken-Down House by Paul Tripp

Author: Paul Tripp

Pages: 224 pgs

Publisher: Shepherd Press

Price: 9.95

Genre: Christian Living

Quick Summary:

If you are familiar with Paul Tripp then you know what this book is about: sin leading to brokenness and Christ our redemption. This particular book considers the image of a broken-down house that God is rebuilding. It is about restoration and how to live while we are in the middle of this process. The subtitle “living productively in a world gone bad” is truly what this book is about.

The book is broken up into two sections, knowing and doing. The first section attempts to ground the reader in solid gospel-drenched theology. The second section attempts to apply the gospel to action. If you realize the brokenness you are living in and wonder how to bring about redemption to brokenness then this book is written for you.

What I Liked:

As always Tripp grounds everything in the gospel. He is becoming one of my favorite authors. He has the ability (which comes from experiencing grace) to tear down with the gospel and build back up with the gospel. You leave wounded and healed at the same time. Truly this is not the work of Paul Tripp but the faithful Shepherd that uses his writings for His glory. The gospel has power and Tripp stays close to the gospel in his writings. You will benefit from every chapter in this book because every chapter is soaked in the gospel.

What I Disliked:

It took me forever to read this book. Not because it is a slow read but it never seemed to connect in such a way that I felt compelled to read it except for as a devotional. I need to read it again—but it seems that it does not seem to flow together that well (but that could be my own reading of it).

Should You Buy It?

Because it took me so long to finish it I have the added advantage of knowing what stuck. One chapter in this book still sticks with me. So that’s worth the cost of the book to me (even though I got it for free). Even though the book feels more like a shotgun (small pellets scattered everywhere) than a rifle (a single pointed aim) some of the pellets are sure to stick in deep—and because they are gospel saturated even the little that does sink in will spread like wildfire and change your life. You need this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Hump Day Humor: Debating Calvinism

(HT: Sacred Sandwich)

Obviously, this could have been turned to the Calvinist making a silly panicked argument.  All of us at time proof text, get backed in a corner and then get desperate. 

Secondly, in case you aren’t aware Servetus is one great blemish on the legacy of John Calvin.  Here is one perspective on what went down.  Here is another viewpoint.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review of Samuel Rutherford by Kingsley G. Rendell

Author: Kingsley G. Rendell

Pages: 192pgs

Publisher: Christian Focus

Price: 9.09

Genre: Biography

Quick Summary:

Samuel Rutherford was a Puritan pastor that lived in the 1600s. He is most known for his Letters and his pastoral work but this particular biography focuses on Rutherford the “apologist and propagandist”. This work track his life from his days as a student to his death. We meet Rutherford the pastor, the prisoner, the reformer, the apologist, the protester, and the man of extremes.

What I Liked:

I have not read many biographies on Rutherford. This is one of my first exposures to him in biographical form. I can tell though through reading this that Kingsley Rendell is not afraid of telling the story as it really was. He is not an overly doting biographer that refuses to look at the rough edges of his subject. And even though I do not have much exposure to Rutherford I am certain that there is information and perspective in this work that you will not find anywhere else.

What I Disliked:

In my opinion there are two types of biographies: the story/narrative type and the intentional/perspective type. This biography is the latter. What I mean is that you almost need a prior knowledge of Rutherford, Scotland, and this era before you can really get involved in this work. This book is supplemental to other writings on Rutherford and the period. I have no doubt that it is helpful but as an introduction to Rutherford it’s not what I was looking for.

Should You Buy It?

If you already have a basic knowledge of Rutherford, Scotland, and this particular era of history then this may be a fun read for you. This would be a great book to go along with a study of Rutherford, but it is not a good book to stand alone. You will learn things, but as far as overly enjoyable biography this book is not it. If it had more helpful footnotes at the bottom of the pages then it may be a little better to read, but I got lost in all of the characters, governmental structures, etc. that I was unfamiliar with.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Fruitless Controversy and Unintelligible Gibberish

Today Ray Ortlund posted this gem from John Stott:

“I have several times heard Dr. Billy Graham say, and justly, that the trouble with us ministers is that we tend to preach to one another.  We little realize how unintelligible we often are.  ‘How much of what is customary to the man in the pulpit . . . is gibberish to the man in the pew?’  I was told of a patient in the chapel of a mental hospital who, after listening for a time to the Chaplain, was heard to remark, ‘There but for the grace of God go I!’  The simplicity and directness of Dr. Graham’s own preaching are a model for us all. . . . Dr. Graham has taught us all to begin again at the beginning in our evangelism and speak by the power of the Holy Spirit of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.”

I also spent a little time this morning reading Richard Baxter’s classic work, The Reformed Pastor.  I think what Baxter says here may provide a sound way for us not to fall into “preaching to one another”:

If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are like to fare the worst for it.

The reason why we can sometimes be “unintelligible” and speak “gibberish to the man in the pew” is because we can be tempted to spend a good amount of our time trying to figure out the answer to fruitless controversies. 

There is a time and a place for considering controversies.  Not every controversy is fruitless and unwholesome.  But an inordinate amount of time spent on controversies will cause the preacher to answer questions that his people are not asking (and probably don’t need to ask). 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Author: John Bunyan

Pages: 400 pages

Publisher: Oxford University

Price: 7.46

Genre: Classics/Christian Allegory

Quick Summary:

Certainly you have already heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was written in 1678 by tinker-turned pastor-turned prisoner John Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the Christian life based in part on Bunyan’s own Christian experience. It is an exciting tale that is jam packed with Scripture and biblical theology.

What I Liked:

There are many instances in which Bunyan puts a face on a dearly held Christian truth. Rather than talking about sanctification in the abstract he causes the reader to see it and feel it. He introduces vices and virtues as characters that allows us to see their true nature. To really “get” this book causes the Christian life to come alive and rather than being stale and abstract it is lively and vivid.

What I Disliked:

It’d take a prideful fool to critique a bestseller since 1678. I may be a prideful fool in certain instances but I know that if there is a “dislike” in this book it’s probably more a reflection of my own dull heart and mind than it is of Bunyan. With that being said this book was a really tough read for me. I think it has to do with the fact that I had to read it in a small window of time for one of my classes, but it is also that I do not do very well with allegory. My mind just does not work that way. It was a stretch and I almost wish I had time to read it more slowly (I intend to make time to do this) or read it with a companion.

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely. It’s a Christian classic and it is worth the labor. It is a tough read because you have to sift through the language and the allegory but it is well worth it. Be sure to read an original like the Oxford edition because many others take out the great theology that undergirds this work. It’s under ten bucks and worth the effort.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars because it’s a classic (but 4 out of 5 for my own personal enjoyment)

Rise of the Pharisees: Keeping the Keys

I am convinced that Pharisaism is alive and well (or perhaps dead but still causing a stink).  I fear that one place it happily takes up residence is in my own heart.  To try to detect Pharisaism in the corridors of my heart (whether in the hidden recesses or obvious for all to see) I thought it wise to study Matthew 23.  I hope to post a series of reflections on each of these woes.  I want to consider where I struggle with Pharisaism and perhaps suggest where it could be stinking up the church.  Today we will consider…

Keeping the Keys, Shutting the Door

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”  Matthew 23:13

For the most part I am not guilty of what Jesus is condemning here.  The fundamental thing being addressed in this passage is rejecting Jesus and encouraging others to do the same.  The Pharisees vigorously opposed Jesus and his message and distorted it with their own competing claims.  This shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s face.  They refused to enter themselves and by their example they discouraged broken and downtrodden people from coming to their much needed redeemer. 

I’m not guilty of intentionally encouraging people to reject Jesus.  But there is something about the Pharisee’s heart that can be present in mine: a keeper of the keys mentality.  This mentality stands at the gate of heaven with a set of keys and assumes it has the responsibility to decide who goes in and who stays out. 

This is where it gets confusing.  If I read Matthew 16 correctly all those that stand in line with the apostolic message of the gospel do hold keys to the kingdom.  Part of the role of the church is to decide, as best we can, who is in and who is out.  This is what church membership and church discipline is.  (Before you decide to disagree read The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love and then come back to me).  We have to be careful not to reject this “keeper of the keys” thing outright.

However, there is a heart attitude that I sometimes see in myself that is Pharisaical.  It’s the attitude that has a long list of what is required to truly be called a Christian and acts with an ungracious spirit towards those that don’t fully match the list.  It’s a heart that has certain levels of spirituality based upon certain doctrines held.  The “majors” on the list are all of the things that I hold dear and the “minors” are all the things that I don’t care to address in my own life. 

Theological Triage

This is not a simple issue.  Dr. Mohler engages this issue when he calls for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. His central thesis is that there are some things that are essential for being a Christian, some things are essential for being in the same local church, and some things are differences that can be held by those in the same local body. 

In my opinion, this is a helpful way of thinking, though some have disagreed.  A Keeper of the Keys mentality makes third-tier issues first-tier issues and refuses to fellowship with those of a different theological bent. 

I have to be honest and say I am still working through these issues.  I am growing in learning to place the non-essentials in their proper perspective.  There are third-tier issues that I hold strongly and I think that they have an impact on first-tier and second-tier issues.  So, it is tough for me sometimes to make certain that a majority of my passion lies in first-tier issues instead of being relegated to third-tier. 

I have to ask myself am I more passionate about Calvinism (third-tier) or that Jesus alone saves (first-tier)?  Calvinism will get blog traffic, generate attention, and sell books.  The Trinity probably won’t generate much attention.  And at the end of the day that, I think, garnering attention is the motivation behind the keeper of the keys mentality.  It is rooted in a deep desire to be noticed, to stand out, to look like an authority, to have it all together. 

Do I reserve my greatest amount of effort and passion for the “main things” or am I most passionate about the “differences” that really come down to no more than pride?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review of The Reformation of the Church by Iain Murray

Author: ed. Iain Murray

Pages: 416 pages

Publisher: Banner of Truth

Price: 17.00/used ~3.00

Genre: Church History/Biography

Quick Summary:

The subtitle of this work tells the story: A collection of Reformed and Puritan documents on Church Issues. The Reformation had an impact on more than just the doctrine of justification. The implications of the Reformation where felt all throughout Christendom on matters of church issues as well. During the 16th and 17th century ecclesiology was a hot-button issue. It was, in part, what divided Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others. It was, in part, what drove the Puritans. Iain Murray hopes in this volume to recover some of these issues and teach lessons for the church today.

What I Liked:

Iain Murray is probably my favorite biographer/historian. He writes in a compelling fashion that makes you feel as if you are there with the people in the story and are forced to make some of the decisions that they are forced to make. It may seem foolish that people would go to prison over preaching attire but to many of these Reformers the gospel was at stake in manners of ecclesiology. That which Murray has compiled helped me realize a side to the Reformation that I have never considered before.

Murray’s notes are helpful and he also draws from sources that most people are unfamiliar with. This book is a great learning experience, especially for a Southern Baptist like myself.

What I Disliked:

I would love to see an updated version of this. Not much has changed since its first publication in 1965. I also wonder if it would also be possible to have a “reader’s digest version” of this great work. I love to read and am decently trained in reading literature from this time period, yet it was often difficult for me to wade through. There is so much great information in this book and lots to consider but I think it gets lost in the wordiness. There is, sadly, a reason why few people have heard of this work by such a great like Iain Murray.

Should You Buy It?

If you like history, you like Reformation, and you are fairly experienced in reading the Puritans then you will enjoy this book. You can get it used for around 3.00 at Amazon . It’s worth a shot. Just reading the section on church unity would be worth the 3 bucks. It caused me to think deeply on issues I’ve never thought about. But if you are not accustomed to reading literature from this time period this is probably not the place to start. There are other great books on ecclesiology (check out anything by 9Marks) that sum up some of these issues without the 17th century wording.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review of Who Are the Puritans by Erroll Hulse

Author: Erroll Hulse

Pages: 224 pages

Publisher: Evangelical Press

Price: 10.45

Genre: Church History/Biography

Quick Summary:

The intention of this book is to “introduce modern Christians to the finest theological inheritance ever” (back cover). He not only tells their story he also tells us why we need the Puritans today. This 224 page gem is divided into three sections. In the first section Hulse tells the story of the Puritans. In the second section we are introduced to the lives of key Puritans. The final section is eleven short chapters explaining how the Puritans would benefit us today.

There are also six helpful appendices; some dispelling myth, some trying to place the Puritans in relation to other movements, and some further highlighting their influence.

What I Liked:

The book looks fun. There are pictures throughout, fun little quips in “handwriting”, maps, and well marked off sections. Its style is simple yet conveys the needed information. This may actually be a more helpful introduction than Beeke’s Meet the Puritans and Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, so long as you only want an introduction.

I think the three sections are brilliant. It is helpful in an introduction to the Puritans to remind readers that we need their wisdom today. Hulse excels in the third section—much like Packer—in reminding us we need these guys for the problems we face today.

What I Disliked:

There is so much information to cram into a small space. Because of that it doesn’t read quite as compelling as the story really is. At times it feels more like reading an encyclopedia than a book. Its layout is not conducive to making it a reference work but it sometimes feels like reading a reference. It is helpful as introduction and I think for a first exposure to the Puritans it would stir up enough interest that someone would want to pick up more from the Puritans.

Should You Buy It?

You can usually pick it up for around 5 bucks used or 10 brand new at Amazon, for that reason it may be well worth an add to your library. If you are not familiar at all with the Puritans this is a fun place to start. If you are already convinced of the need to read the Puritans this book may not be helpful for you. If you want a better reference to the Puritans then check out Meet the Puritans. But if you want a helpful introduction this is one of the better ones available.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review of Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols

Author: Stephen J. Nichols

Pages: 240pgs

Publisher: P & R Publishing

Price: 8.39

Genre: Church History/Biography

Quick Summary:

Stephen Nichols has ironed out for himself quite a niche with these “Guided Tours”. They serve as introductions to many great figures in Christian History. One of these is his 240 page offering on Martin Luther. This book is an introduction to Luther and should be reviewed as such. Nichols aim is to orient readers to the life of thought of the great Protestant reformer.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section covers Luther’s life. This is the chronological and more biographical section of Luther. The second section concerns itself with Luther the Reformer. In this section Nichols attempts to let the reader into the mind of Luther as well as introduce some of Luther’s major writers during this period. The final section discusses Luther the Pastor.

What I Liked:

Somehow within 240 pages Nichols has summarized the life and thought of Martin Luther and has done it faithfully. Nichols writes in the spirit of one that loves the same gospel that drove Luther. The page is filled with helpful Luther quotes, cool pictures, and insightful information. This is probably the best work on an introduction to Luther. I think even those that have read numerous books on Luther will find enough information and helpful perspectives in this book to necessitate a purchase.

What I Disliked:

This is just a matter of personal preference and should have no bearing on whether you buy this book; but I never like the organization of a biography that breaks up the person’s story and makes it non-chronological. Considering the different facets of a person helps to see how he is more rounded as an individual but sometimes is unhelpful in seeing the story of how he became that well-rounded person.

Should You Buy It?

If you want to know about Martin Luther I can’t think of any other introductory book to purchase. If you are a big fan of Luther then you will want to purchase this too. If you care nothing about Luther and the Protestant Reformation then this book may change your mind. For under 10 bucks I see no reason to not purchase this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review of Luther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko A Oberman

Author: Heiko A. Oberman

Pages: 380pgs

Publisher: Image Books

Price: 14.28

Genre: Church History/Biography

Quick Summary:

First published in 1982 Heiko A. Oberman offers a much needed German perspective of Martin Luther. Oberman sees Luther shaped by medieval theology more than we often realize. Luther, Oberman argues, sees all of history as a battle between God and the Devil. Luther finds himself engaged in this battle against the devil (often personified in popery). Oberman provides an interesting perspective on the life of Luther.

What I Liked:

Even for those that have read numerous works on Luther there is so much great information in this biography that it serves as a real page turner. I think Oberman offers a view of Luther and the Reformation that helps to balance who the man truly was. I always dislike it in biographies when the author tries to rescue the person from his own humanity. What makes Luther so great is that he was definitely human. Thankfully, Oberman allows the Reform to remain a man in need of reformation.

What I Disliked:

Even though, it is a helpful perspective I think at times Oberman may overplay the medieval theology of Luther. At times I think he overstates his case. There are occasions when some quotes seem to not support his position of Luther. But I am not anywhere near a Luther scholar so it’s quite possible that I’m totally off.

Oberman can be a tad wordy (I think about 300 pages would have been great for this book), and a little repetitive. There are some biographies that read a little smoother and stick in your mind a little better.

Should You Buy It?

This is not a sanitized biography of Luther. You get the man warts and all. And for that reason I heartily recommend it. Balance it with other works by other authors that may cast Luther in a tad different light, but nonetheless, this book needs to be considered by all that want to know about Luther. For an introductory study this may not be the one you want to read, but you certainly would not be disappointed if you want to tackle it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Newton: Vested Interest

I recently had the opportunity to go back to Missouri for a quick visit with my family.  During that visit my dad showed me a newspaper listing the upcoming court docket.  You know that boring page about property exchanges, boring court cases, etc.  I am pretty confident that my dad would have normally skipped over this section of the paper, but this time it was worth showing me. 

This listing was different because it was my grandfather’s estate.  That sounds like he was a wealthy plantation owner or something doesn’t it?  My grandfather was a humble man and lived according to humble means and left a humble inheritance.  But this “will”, this court case, was different than any other.  It was different because it was my grandfather’s. 

The point is that you read a will/settlement case differently than when you are a benefactor than when you are a lawyer or just boredly flipping through the paper on the john. 

And this difference is why we cannot simply argue an unbeliever into the kingdom.  There are certain things that a person must taste or have an interest in before they will notice.  Christ as revealed in the Scriptures looks different to a believer with eyes wide open and vested interest.  And it is the blessedness of this communion with the Lord that John Newton picks up on when he says:

To read the Scripture, not as an attorney may read a will, merely to know the sense, but as the heir reads it, as a description and proof of his interest; to hear the Gospel as the voice of our Beloved, so as to have little leisure either for admiring the abilities or censuring the defects of the preacher; and, in prayer, to feel a liberty of pouring out our hearts before the Lord, to behold some glances of his goodness passing before us, and to breathe forth before him the tempers of a child, the spirit of adoption; and thus, by beholding his glory, to be conformed more and more to his image, and to renew our strength by drawing water out of the wells of salvation; herein is blessedness. 

Do you hear in the Gospel the voice of your Beloved?  Do you read the Scriptures as an attorney reads a will or as an heir reads a will?  May you experience the blessedness of communion with the Lord today.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Does The Book of Eli have a Christian message?

I just finished watching The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington.  I was intrigued by this movie and was excited because Plugged In Online called this, “perhaps, the most explicitly Christian film I've seen come out of the secular film industry since The Passion of the Christ.”  There were numerous other reviews that spoke of its Christian message.

If I were judging this movie simply based upon story and acting then it is a phenomenal film.  Denzel Washington is, in my opinion, one of the best actors of our day.  I am not sure I have ever seen a Denzel film that I did not like.  The story line and a few of the twists in the end also make for a great story. 

However, this is NOT a Christian film or even a Christian message.  I’m not just simply straining gnats here.  Apparently Eli has the entire Bible memorized.  That’s awesome.  But he misses the message.  In his opinion the message of the Bible is, “Do good to others above yourself”. 

There is absolutely no mention of Jesus.  No mention of redemption in Christ.  The Bible is seen as a great book.  But in the end it is placed alongside other great books of faith like the Torah, Koran, etc.  The view of Christ and the Scriptures is the typical secular view of what it means to be a Christian. 

Don’t get me wrong we can learn a ton from Eli.  His passion for the Scriptures is wonderful.  His single-minded devotion to doing what “the voice” told him is compelling.  We can learn much from this man.  But he does not proclaim a risen Christ.  So, I’m shocked and a little disturbed that respected Christian reviewers can say this movie is Christian.  Eli could have been walking around with the Three Little Pigs and it wouldn’t have changed the film (okay maybe that’s a reach). 

If you want to know the message of the book of Eli read this interview by the Hughes Brothers, and tell me that this is not the message proclaimed instead of Christ and Him crucified. 

So, in sum.  The movies good to watch it’s just not the gospel or anything close.

A Church That Meets My Needs

I'm looking for a church that meets my needs:
My need to serve Christ within a body of diverse believers.
My need to witness to lost people through my words and deeds.
My need to be challenged to grow in Christ under faithful, Biblical preaching.
My need to be encouraged, exhorted, and engaged by believers who are not ashamed of the gospel.
My need to give, to grow, to submit, to help, to learn, and to consider others more important than myself.
My need to be in the church of God's choosing so that I can glorify him and advance his kingdom according to his plans and purposes for my life.
I'm looking for a church that meets my needs.

To the shame of our culture when people are looking for a church that meets their needs, the above statements are rarely (if ever) a part of the equation.

Review of Defence of the Truth by Michael Haykin

Author: Michael Haykin

Pages: 150pgs

Publisher: Evangelical Press

Price: 8.15

Genre: Church History

Quick Summary:

Defence of the Truth is an amazing idea. Professor Haykin has taken incidents from the early church and has attempted to apply their apologetics to our modern culture. This book serves as a fun overview of some of the key early heresies but also teaches contemporary readers how to engage in apologetics. Wonderful idea.

What I Liked:

This is a really fun read. Dr. Haykin introduces to the original sources and interacts with them in a way that is helpful for engaging in contemporary discussions. In each chapter there is a section on “lessons” and also further reading, this makes this short book pack a greater punch than its 150 page confinement. It is helpful and attention grabbing throughout.

What I Disliked:

Canadian misspellings, like “defence” instead of “defense”. Just kidding. The only “dislike” that I really have is that I would have liked more pointed, as well as lengthier, lessons to be learned from the early church discussions. The “lessons” sections are often really small and I think Dr. Haykin has far more to offer. Adding another 30-50 pages to the book would still make it a shorter book and I think more helpful.

Should You Buy It?

It’s a really great read. It is informative and helpful. There were times when I was deeply humbled by the way that those in the early church engaged in apologetics. There were times when I was also deeply encouraged. This book is well written and deserves to be on your shelf. For only 8.00 it’s well worth your money.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Gospel Presentations

I was given a fun little assignment the other day.  Our church is passing out balloons at a local event and we are tying to the balloon a little handout.  My assignment was to write a gospel presentation, “simple enough for a fifth grader”, on about a 4 x 6 inch space.  I had about 240 words. 

If you have never done an exercise like this I encourage you to try it.  It’s easy to be critical of short gospel presentations but it is much more difficult to write one.  That is why this article by Tim Keller was so helpful: The Gospel in All its Forms.

Keller reminds us that when “studying Paul's gospel speeches in the book of Acts, it is striking how much is always left out.”  Therefore, Keller does not put all the gospel points in one gospel presentation.  What he means by that is that you do not have to say everything about the gospel every time that you share the gospel.  Obviously there are essentials that must be in every gospel presentation—but it will appear in different forms. 

I like the God, Man, Christ, Response Model.  But what do I say about God?  What part of man do I focus on?  What aspect of the atonement do I center in on?  How much do I put about response?  If I have 250 words how many do I use on each point?  Do I make the presentation response heavy, sin heavy, work of Christ heavy, or character of God heavy? 

While leaning heavily on Keller I have come up with these principles for a gospel presentation. 

1. Consider your audience.  My audience is a German community that is primarily Catholic.  I thought given the context a belief in God would be somewhat assumed, so I minored on that point.  But I majored on the finished work of Christ.  I thought it unwise to major on the response section.  Given a different audience I think I would emphasize different points. 

2. Don’t Confuse Implications of the Gospel with the Gospel.  This keeps us from starting in the wrong place and finishing in the wrong place.  A gospel presentation needs to be primarily focused on the finished work of Jesus—no matter how it is balanced.  Sin cannot be redefined or redirected.  The work of Christ can never be assumed.  The gospel is not, “if you don’t have peace, Jesus can give you peace”.  That’s an implication of the gospel. 

3. Know Where the Power Lies.  The power to convert is not in my catchiness, simplicity, or wordiness.  The power of the gospel lies in the Holy Spirit communicating biblical truth to people’s hearts and minds.  Therefore, I need to focus more on being biblically faithful than “simple”.  What I mean is that if I have to take out key elements so someone can understand or swallow the gospel then it’s quite possible they are not at a spot to receive Christ.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Tell a Story.  Sometimes the simplest way to communicate the gospel is to sum up the overall narrative of Scripture.  Don’t be afraid of doing this instead of a typical “what must I do to be saved”.  Be sure that the story is Christocentric, but don’t shy away from the Bible’s main story arc.

5. Leave the Door Open.  Obviously, if you cannot share everything that needs to be shared it may be wise to leave the door open for further communication.  Be certain that someone can contact you, the church, or someone that is a faithful gospel teacher.  Don’t close the door by assuring them that if they did a certain activity that they are certainly saved.  Keep it open—share the gospel, and let the Holy Spirit give assurance. 

Anything you’d like to add or interact with?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blog Commenting A Picture of the Church

If you ever read the comment thread on popular blogs you will notice a pattern emerge.  There are certain topics that bring out the comments: Calvinism, alcohol, ecclesiology, to name a few. 
Whenever we see a large group of believer commenting its always interesting because we see the church displayed.  We see the richness, diversity, and potential for good.  But we also see the ugliness.  We see that the church is a group of redeemed sinners that are still being redeemed and are hopefully repentant. 

Here are the typical commenter’s.  I’ve probably been all of them. 

Precise Percy

This is your more Calvinist than Calvin and more Reformed than Jesus guy.  My wife used to be married to this guy.  Until her husband (me) got a kick in the pants from the Lord via the ever gracious John Newton.  This commenter is very passionate about precise doctrine.  He strains gnats with precise words and swallows a camel with his crappy attitude.  And he/she usually has a whole discernment blog dedicated to stamping out such heresy.

When the post is really heartfelt, passionate, displays the truth of Jesus, but may overstate something a little about a critical doctrine this homeboy starts out by asking a thought provoking question.  Then when Light-hearted Leroy shows up and says, “dude chill out”, the claws come out.  Next thing you know Leroy is illogical, unconcerned about doctrine, and probably hates the biblical Jesus.  Everyone but Percy is watered-down.  Percy needs to remember that he is arguing about the doctrines of GRACE. 

Amish Al

I jokingly call him Amish Al because this guy is the prototypical cultural retreater.  If it looks like the world, sounds like the world, smells like the world Amish Al wants nothing to do with it.  He has a passion for holiness which translates into a passion for 1846. 

In his passion for holiness Al usually winds up calling those young whippersnappers names that would make his more refined Victorian friends blush.  He wants to see a healthy separation between the sacred and secular.  But in his attempt to rescue the church from worldliness he often forgets to rescue his own heart from worldly slander.

Cultured Charles

This guy is on the internet to defend the world from the Amish Al types.  It’s all about Freedom baby!  Amish Al comments on blogs about beer drinking, rock and roll worship music, and all things “missional”; so does Cultured Charles. 

He knows the buttons to push and he pushes them.  He is all about contextualization, cultural engagement, and the gospel.  But he forgets that he’s not only called to reach the punk-rocking worldling but also the isolated “idiots” that he so disdains as culturally backwards.  He needs to apply the gospel to his own heart and his interaction with those who have less “freedom” in their conscience. 

Rambling Rodney

Usually nobody interacts with this guy because nobody is really too sure who he is or what he is talking about.  He probably just stumbled across the blog accidentally and thought it was talking about what he was passionate about that day.  Ramblin’ Roger will write a three paragraph treatise without spaces, no commas, and usually no point.  It will be filled with his years of experience and his connections to all sorts of knowledgeable people.  In his mind he settled the issue being discussed.  Problem is nobody else knows what he is saying. 

Balanced Boris

Boris is the guy above the fray.  He’s got no dogs in this fight but he knows the answer to the argument.  He is able to clearly see the issue that everyone else is arguing about.  He gives his answer, reminds both people they are wrong, and posits that there is a biblical balance here.  Honestly, sometimes he is right.  But what he ends up doing is ostracizing a large group of people and he ends up pridefully positioning himself above all the silliness. 

Boris just has to be careful that he doesn’t fall into what Richard Sibbes calls, “a false spirit”.  “Their doing so,” says Sibbes, “is but to carry their own projects with greater strength; and if they prevail they will hardly show that moderation to others which they now call for from others.  And there is a proud kind of moderation, likewise, when men will take upon them to censure both parties, as if they were wiser than both…”

Witnessing Walt

Walt is the super spiritual guy that thinks discussing doctrine and “silly” matters on blogs is a huge waste of time.  You always see this guy win the argument by saying, “dude, when was the last time you shared the gospel with someone.  You should just stop all your blogging and go share the gospel with someone”.  The problem is Walt typically read the entire blog and all of the comments, himself.  He probably doesn’t even witness himself.  And it’s as if sharing the gospel is THE spiritual discipline.  What if the guy he’s criticizing is praying through this discussion.  What if he’s sharpening a tool because he has a teenager he’s trying to counsel through an issue.  Walt just doesn’t want to deal with the issue so he throws this out to try to win the argument. 

There is truth to what Walt is saying.  We should spend more time doing important things and less time wasted on silly little arguments.  That’s why I very seldom read comments on popular blogs.  It’s often all of these people I’ve been describing talking around each other. 
There are probably more that I could mention.  But there is a lesson to be learned here.  The church is made up of really diverse people.  Some things that rub you the wrong way may not rub others the wrong way.  At the end of the day our online behavior should be a reflection of the manifold wisdom of God in calling all these different types of people together for His glory. 

There is something positive about each of these individuals.  We need Percy’s precision.  In the early church people engaged in meaningful and heated debates over single letters.  We need Al’s passion for holiness, and we need Charles’ heart for cultural engagement.  I’m sure we need rambling Rodney too, I’m just not sure why because I’m yet to figure out what he’s saying.  We need Boris for his wisdom and balance and we need Walt for his passion to keep the main thing the main thing.  We even need those that don’t comment, because they are probably praying. 

So, who are you?  Is there another commenter that you’d like to stereotype? 

Review of Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley

Author: Bruce Shelley

Pages: 544 pgs

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Price: 19.79

Genre: Church History

Quick Summary:

Church History in Plain Language is just that; a history of the church written in plain language. Dr. Shelley writes church history as a compelling story of real people with real struggles. The book is broken up into eight parts (each a great age of the church). The history in this volume seems to end with the globalization of the mid 1990’s. This book has been reprinted numerous times with three editions and is often a standard text in college classrooms.

What I Liked:

Dr. Shelley manages to write about church history in a plain and compelling fashion. As an historian does he makes decisions about certain events but he seems to do this often while being fair to every side of the issue. This book would be easy enough for a junior high student to read but compelling enough for a seminary student to enjoy. Dr. Shelley (who passed away recently) is one of the better historians the church has produced and this book is a masterpiece for overviews of Western church history.

What I Disliked:

As is the case many times this would be better termed Western Church History in Plain Language. There is very little in here about Eastern Orthodoxy, the rise of Christianity in the East, etc. Fortunately there are many newer volumes that are beginning to tackle the difficulties of Eastern Church History.

Should You Buy It?

I think every Christian (and even unbelievers) could benefit from this edition. This and Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity are on the same level. Sometimes you can find older editions of this book for cheaper and not much has changed in the newer editions. It’d be worth your time and money to track down a copy of this book .

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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