Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marie Durand

Marie DurandMarie Durand by Simonetta Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had never heard of Marie Durand. That did not stop me from grabbing this biography of her for one simple reason. This series from Simonetta Carr is wonderful. The writing is great, the format is engaging, and the end product is beautiful.  Add to that the fact that Marie Durand is a fascinating and encouraging character from church history and this book is easily five stars. I loved it and, more importantly for me, my boys loved it and will return to it to read for themselves. This is another excellent book in an excellent series.

I received a review copy from the publisher.


View all my reviews

Friday, July 17, 2015

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the WildernessPassing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness by Jeremy    Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeremy Walker has written a new book that is quite timely.  For too long, Christianity reigned supreme in the west.  This caused many of us to become comfortable and begin to treat this world as if it were our home.  But with the west becoming more openly hostile to biblical Christianity, many of us are reassessing just what it means to be a pilgrim in a foreign land.  As we try to learn how to deal with a world that rejects us (because it rejects Christ), we often err one way or another.  Sometimes the temptation is to disengage and sometimes the temptation is to assimilate.  Neither of these are the proper way to be in this foreign world and remain not of it.  Walker sets out to help guide the reader as pilgrims passing through.

Any book that can, in the span of 10 pages, quote Bunyan, Lloyd-Jones, and Sun Tzu is going to be a fun read.  And it is.  Walker starts off by encouraging the reader to embrace their status as resident aliens and recognize that our stay in this world is just the precursor for something greater to come.  He then sets out to help the reader prepare for how to live as a pilgrim.  A pilgrim must do certain things to live properly.

We must Know the Environment—Recognize the world in which we live and understand the times.  We must know that we cannot follow the Lord and be friends with/be accepted by the world.  We do not need to flee or hide from the world.  But we need to be aware that there will be opposition, unless we desert.   It is dangerous to not be aware that the world, apart from the saving work of Christ, sees us as enemies if we bear the light of Christ.
We must Know the Enemy— We have to not simply know what is going on around us, we have to be mindful that we are being actively opposed in our efforts to live a faithful life of worship and witness.

We must Fight the Battles—The Christian life is a battle.  We are in hostile territory and are actively opposed by an enemy who would destroy us if he had the ability.  We need to know that there will be constant and consistent battles, and we must engage in them, or we will suffer loss.

We must Pursue the Mission—This is an important aspect for many of us living in the security of the west.  The enemy’s attack are much more subversive than they are in a world of active tribulation.  One of the greatest temptations and struggles we can face is the apathy that arises out of spiritual stagnation.  We aren’t actively turning from the Lord, but we are not pursuing him and his work either.  And this lukewarmness can destroy our faith and our witness.

We must Respect the Authorities—Walker makes the case that Christianity is not a subversive, rebellious cultural coup.  Respect of authority is a sign of a Spirit-filled believer.  That one is hard for many of us to deal with.  Walker does not address the responsibility of those in authority.  He focuses on those of us who are under authority and how we are called to be obedient.  Walker does not argue that there is no place for civil disobedience, but it is significantly less of an option than we are prone to believe (using Daniel as a great example) and prayer is a much better option that we often forsake.  This is the best chapter of the book, far better than I am conveying.  It is worth the price of the book on its own.

We must Relieve the suffering—We overreact when we flee so far from the bogeyman of “social gospel” that we see no need to bear the present burdens of those around us.  We are commanded to love our neighbor, visit the widow and orphan in their distress, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  It is part of our jobs as Christians to meet needs.  It is one of the reasons we are still here.  God may not need our good works, but our neighbors most certainly do(I think I am stealing from Luther here).

We must Appreciate the beauty—God made all that is.  It may be broken, it may be marred, but there are the fingerprints of God all over creation.  We are created to be worshipers and we should worship when we see things that are beautiful.

We must Anticipate the destiny—We are to set our minds on things above.  If we are to be pilgrims, there is a type of discontentment that we should passionately embrace.  We act different and think different when we realize that this world is not our home, it is not the end, and there is something significantly better awaiting those who persevere to the end.

We must Cultivate the Identity—This section was basically a “make your calling and election sure” charge to the reader.  If you are a believer, a child of God, a new creation; recognize that this is the Lord’s doing.  And recognize that you are responsible to grow in that godliness and be conformed to the image of the Son.

We must Serve the King—It is what we were created to do.  It is what we are called to do.  It is what we will do for eternity.  It is not a burden; it is a blessing.

Walker begins each chapter by offering the Scriptural framework for the position he is taking.  He then offers some summary thoughts and adds a section of specific counsels to these issues.  It is not enough to simply be aware of your environment or that we have an enemy or that we must engage in battle.  How are we to respond to these truths?  Walker includes some helpful counsel on how to live in light of these facts.  Walker doesn't limit the scope of the book by offering specific imperatives beyond scripture.  Some would, erroneously, see this as a weakness and lament that he didn't address specific, cultural issues.  In approaching it the way he has, he does well to not bind the conscience beyond the word of God by giving biblically derived counsel, not man-made hedges.

This is a good book and worth the time and effort.  I thought it was a bit long and had a hard time getting into it at first.  But I believe that anyone who spends some time and makes the effort will benefit from these pages.

I received a review copy from the publisher.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the GardenThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Kevin DeYoung and have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it earlier in the year.  It was what I expected.  Though in some ways, I was surprised.

I was not surprised with the text.  DeYoung has been a favorite write of mine for quite some time.  I was expecting excellent, deep theology distilled in a manner that would allow me to share the great truths of Scripture with my boys of various ages and various spiritual and intellectual levels.  This is what Pastor DeYoung has provided, and it is great!  I love teaching the big picture of Scripture to my kids.  It was such an aha moment for me when I realized that the Bible tells one, unified story.  I had to wait until I was in my late twenties and was exposed to the works of Graeme Goldsworthy, via Vaughn Roberts, to see that the Scriptures are a unified whole.  I am more than thankful that publishers and writers are making resources available with this truth in mind.  I loved James Hamilton’s The Bible’s Big Story, but DeYoung’s work will replace it as my go to on this topic with my kids (in part because this book is really good and in large part because DeYoung’s work is aimed at an older reader, of which my kids qualify).

So, I was expecting an excellent overview of the Bible’s grand narrative and I received that.  What I was not expecting was to be wowed, time and again, by the illustrations.  I tire of kids book illustrations often and pay them little attention for the most part.  Don Clark’s illustrations made me audibly gasp on a couple of occasions.  Beyond being beautiful (which should not be minimized), these illustrations complement the text beautifully.  They aid in the telling of the story and improve the reading experience exponentially.  I am interested to see these in printed form (I am working off of a pdf review copy from the publisher) when this book releases.  I can only imagine that I will look even better.

DeYoung and Clark take the reader through The Biggest Story to show us How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.  It is a beautiful book telling the most beautiful story that there is; that what was corrupted will be made right, that what was broken will be fixed, that what was lost will be redeemed by the victorious One who reigns forever.

Go check out some pages here: https://www.crossway.org/books/the-bi...



View all my reviews

Friday, June 26, 2015

Passing Through

PASSING THROUGH
I walk as one who knows that he is treading
A stranger soil;
As one round whom a serpent-world is spreading
Its subtle coil.

I walk as one but yesterday delivered
From a sharp chain;
Who trembles lest the bond so newly severed
Be bound again.

I walk as one who feels that he is breathing
Ungenial air;
For whom as wiles, the tempter still is wreathing
The bright and fair.

My steps, I know, are on the plains of danger,
For sin is near;
But looking up, I pass along, a stranger,
In haste and fear.

This earth has lost its power to drag me downward;
Its spell is gone;
My course is now right upward, and right onward,
To yonder throne.

Hour after hour of time’s dark night is stealing
In gloom away;
Speed thy fair dawn of light, and joy, and healing
Thou Star of day!

For thee its God, its King, the long-rejected,
Earth groans and cries;
For thee the long-beloved, the long-expected,
Thy bride still sighs!--
Horatius Bonar

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Walking with Jesus Through His Word:Discovering Christ in all the Scripture

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For the longest time in my Christian life, I had little use for much of the Bible.  That sounds terrible, but it was how I functioned and, sadly, how many others do as well.  It is too easy to become a “red-letter” Christian and, in doing so, to discount or discredit large sections of God’s inspired Word.  Walking with Jesus through His Word by Dennis Johnson is a great new release from P&R Publishing that will rewards all who spend time in its pages.  Actually, it will reward all who spend time using it to help them navigate through the pages of Scripture. Because that is exactly what it is intended to do.

Johnson serves as guide to help the reader in “Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures.”  As poor bible teaching and infrequent bible reading has increased, the great truths of the Scriptures find themselves farther and farther off the beaten path.  It is helpful to have a Christian teacher to guide us pilgrims as we progress through the Scriptures (sorry, that was bad…but I am going to leave it!)  Johnson leads the way in opening God’s Word and showing the reader how to find Christ on these pages; not just in the Gospels or the New Testament but from cover to cover.

Johnson recounts a famous story from C. H. Spurgeon’s life where Spurgeon was encouraged to “climb hedges and ford ditches” to travel from any text in the Scriptures to the resurrected and reigning Messiah.  A large benefit of this volume is that Johnson shows that, while the heart behind that admonition is laudable, it is not necessary to blaze paths through Scripture to find the Messiah.  Some paths may be more difficult to traverse, but all of the Bible leads to the Christ.  Johnson follows this travel/journey motif throughout the volume.  “I am suggesting that learning to trace the lines, to follow the paths, that link passages throughout the Scriptures to Jesus at the center is comparable to a traveler’s task of finding the way to a destined location.”  He helps the reader to recognize where we are, to learn how to read the “road signs,” get the lay of the land, and recognize the landmarks.  It is essentially a bible-overview with a focus on seeing how the Scriptures all pertain to the Christ (Luke 24:27).

The Bible helps us understand the Bible.  It is hard to read the New Testament and understand without the Old Testament, and it is hard to read the Old Testament without the aid of the New.  “We have reason to read the whole New Testament as the commentary given to us by Jesus, our risen Lord, to help us grasp the message of the Old Testament as it leads us to him.”

This book is perfectly written for small groups or a discipling relationship.  It is clear and engaging.  It is quite enjoyable.  Where it shines in reference to small groups is in the format.  Johnson offers a clear explanation of where the chapter is going and a great closing summary before helpful study questions.  Each chapter also recaps, succinctly but sufficiently, the material that has already been covered.  It is incredibly helpful to have a refresher each time you jump into a chapter, even if it is a bird’s eye paragraph or three.  Chapters discuss techniques for reading and interpreting Scripture, and they have a “putting it into practice” section that allows the reader some guided practice.

This is a great book, and it deserves to be used widely.  I am excited to use this book with my family and with others.  One of my great desires is to see many people, myself included, come to a greater understanding and enjoyment of God’s revealed Word.  Walking with Jesus through His Word will go far in fulfilling that desire.


I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Why We Left the SBC for the PCA


     I have spent my entire Christian life as a Southern Baptist. When I was a teenager, caring friends invited me to a Southern Baptist Church.  I heard the Gospel of God’s saving provision of his sinless Son.  I heard the truth of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and I received the Lord and believed in his name. I then became a youth intern and children’s minister at an FBC, worked my way up to assistant manager at Lifeway Christian Store, and did a semester of study at Criswell College.  I was Baptist with a capital “B”, and I was Southern Baptist to be more precise. 

     But then something happened.  I was challenged.  I began to read widely and converse with people of different backgrounds.  My monolithic-Christian world began to be infiltrated by infidels bearing challenges.  Wesleyans, Bible Churchers, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans; Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians; Charismatics and Cessasionists; 5-pointers, 4-pointers, 3-pointers, and Free Throws all converged to assault me with an overdose of perspective. Of greater effect than these assaults was the fact that I had become enamored with the Scriptures. I was spending more time than ever studying and praying, and this caused me to question what I truly believed.  I had become rather familiar with what Southern Baptist doctrine was, but I was finally to the point of needing to decide whether I believed these doctrines or just indiscriminately received them. As I studied and came to systematize many of my seemingly random beliefs and struggles, I began to feel like a man with no home.  But, to my relief and delight, confessionalism in the form of conservative Presbyterianism offered my family a home.

     What would lead a family to leave an SBC congregation and unite with a church in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)?  What distinguishes a PCA (not to be confused with the PCUSA) church from an SBC church in such a manner that it warrants the always-painful and inherently-risky effort of leaving one body to unite to another?  Some key differences between the SBC and the PCA can be summarized under the headings of doctrine and practice.

     The PCA is a denomination that affirms the Doctrines of Grace and the sovereignty of God.  The SBC has a long and tumultuous history with “Calvinism”, which in SBC-language is simply an affirmation of the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP).  Many SBC churches find themselves battling over these doctrines and end up either excommunicating (“Why don’t you go try this church?”) or silencing (“You can believe that…just don’t talk about it.”) those who affirm them.  In the PCA, these doctrines are not seen as blasphemies or dirty little secrets. The doctrines of God’s sovereign grace are truths in which we can rejoice. These doctrines are unapologetically and openly proclaimed.  Preaching and prayer is in the active voice.  People do not “get saved.”  God saves sinners. Prayers are made for God to perform the miracle of raising the spiritually dead to eternal life and granting them repentance and faith to believe and receive the Lord Jesus.  While it is possible to embrace these doctrines in the SBC, it proves exceedingly difficult to sit and hear truths you adore be actively attacked or passively dismissed.

     The PCA is a confessional church.  This means “that Presbyterian churches summarize their beliefs in confessions of faith,” and “require their pastors, ruling elders, and deacons to subscribe to the WestminsterStandards.” (Lucas, On Being PresbyterianAs a Southern Baptist, I was always troubled by the fact that we had no overarching, binding documents.  I would appeal to Scripture only to be rebuked by a “that’s just your interpretation.”  I would appeal to the Baptist Faith and Message, but any appeal to that document would require 1) someone to know about it, and 2) it to have some sort of authority.  I longed for the stability offered by uniform (to a degree) interpretation.  While there is still some variation and even some deviation found within a confessional body, what the church believes and teaches is not left to the whim and caprice of individuals or “autonomous” local bodies.

     The PCA is a denomination that is covenantal and sacramental.  PCA churches understand the story of God as revealed in the Scriptures to be one, continuous, unfolding story.  There are no parenthetical ages or times of gross discord.   The PCA has a sacramental understanding of what the SBC would refer to as ordinances.  The Lord’s Supper is more than simply a memorial; it is a covenantal meal in which we receive the grace of God by feasting spiritually on the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  Reformed Presbyterianism avoids the error of Rome (and, to a lesser degree, Luther) on one end and Zwingli on the other by recognizing the actual, spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper.  PCA churches find precedent for their position, among other places, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians.  Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”(1 Cor 10:16)
     
     In the same way, baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promises to believers.  It is not seen as an “outward expression of an inward change” or a “first step of obedience.”  It is also not seen as an act that grants salvation in any way or in any sense, contrary to Rome, Wittenburg, and (to a degree) Auburn Avenue. Baptism is seen as the sign of the new covenant, given to believers and their children as a testimony of God's covenant faithfulness.  It is a symbol of God's promise to his people, not our promise to him. (WCF 28)

     Practice demonstrates belief.  This is true of people, and it is also true of churches.  Practices and traditions are not random.  They are based on an understanding of the Scriptures and of God as revealed in them.  When I began to look at the practical implications of my theology, there was much with which to deal. If I believed that the worship service was for God, then he should be the one to direct it.  If I believed that the Scriptures were sufficient to teach me how to live a life that was pleasing to God, including how to worship him, then the Scriptures should direct how we approach him in corporate worship.  The PCA holds to the regulative principle of worship, though this seems to be an issue on a spectrum.  Basically, this principle is that God directs the worship of him and he does so by his word. 
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all . . . the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible re presentation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scripture.(WCF:Edinburgh Edition, page 111)

     One issue that always concerned me in my time in the SBC was the idea of “autonomy” in the local body.  To me, this always seemed to be an overreaction to the ecclesiastical abuses of Rome and left churches in precarious situations.  Many SBC churches operate under a sole-elder setup.  That coupled with an autonomous-local-body mindset seemed ripe for spiritual abuse, moral failure, and theological error.  PCA churches are ruled by a plurality of elders that submit, essentially, to a plurality of churches.
The PCA maintains the historic polity of Presbyterian governance set forth in The Book of Church Order, namely rule by presbyters (or elders) and the graded assemblies or courts. These courts are the session, governing the local church; the presbytery, for regional matters; and the general assembly, at the national level. It has taken seriously the position of the parity of elders, making a distinction between the two classes of elders, teaching and ruling. It has self-consciously taken a more democratic position (rule from the grass roots up) on presbyterian governance in contrast to a more prelatical form (rule from the top assemblies down).(http://www.pcanet.org/history/)  
     It is hard to be a rogue PCA church; although I am sure it can be done.  If a pastor is in error, he is corrected by his brothers who are serving the local body with him.  If not, then there are other brothers in other local bodies who can hold him and that entire church accountable.  Greater accountability inevitably leads to greater spiritual health and greater maturity. 

     My brother moved to Alabama a while back.  He went there because he believed doing so would be the best for him.  He went there to go to school and be with the woman to whom he would eventually be married.  He didn’t leave his family in Texas because he hated his family or despised the state.  My brother and I used to share a room, and then we found ourselves not even sharing a state.  But we did not cease to be brothers when the U-Haul crossed the state line.  In fact, petty conflict and simmering angst were actually relieved by the distance and the new direction.  My family leaving the SBC for the PCA should not be seen as a severing of the tie that binds.  Southern Baptists are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I will always have an affection for that denomination for the mighty works that God has done through it, not the least of which to me is being the vessel through which I heard the Gospel and believed.  It is time for my family and me to move on, but that in no way diminishes how thankful we remain, and will remain, for the believers who have taught us, loved us, and discipled us for so many years, and it does not negate the fact that we will one day be united beyond divisions to worship our Lord together, forever.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great offer from Ligonier

From the Ligonier Blog

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Get 160+ Hours of Trusted Teaching for a Gift of Any Amount

FROM  May 14, 2015 Category: Ministry News

Do you want to help make as many disciples of Christ as possible? I do.
Why is this my passion and, indeed, the passion of Ligonier Ministries? It’s because we love Christ, who commands us to make disciples of all nations.
The nations can’t be discipled if God’s people don’t know what they believe and why they believe it. That’s why I’m also committed to helping equip believers in the faith. We know firsthand that understanding the “what” and “why” we believe blesses us in all of life. Our worship is enriched, our zeal for Christ is enflamed, our love for His people is strengthened, and our growth in godly wisdom is advanced.
I’m excited about the digital outreach of Ligonier Ministries because it enables us to reach the nations. With our digital outreach, we are assisting the church in making disciples around the world, even in places that are closed to traditional missions work. Our digital outreach is also reaching many people who have never heard of Christ.
And we need your support to continue and expand this critical work.
When I look at the growth of our digital ministries, I’m encouraged by the impact Ligonier friends like you are having on the world. Last year alone, for example, more than 3.3 million people visited Ligonier.org and accessed 26 million pages of trusted content, much of it for free.
This isn’t about extending Ligonier’s influence—it’s about raising up disciples who will themselves disciple others. It’s about calling the church to fidelity in her mission to reach the world with the unchanging gospel.
That’s why we have an aggressive plan to increase our already substantial kingdom outreach through digital media. In addition to our existing social media presence, RefNet online Christian radio, and podcasts, we’re developing a new online version of Tabletalk with content above and beyond the print magazine. We’re also working on Portuguese and Spanish versions of our resources and social media initiatives to help bring about a new Reformation among those whose first language isn’t English.
Digital outreach is particularly important for making disciples in those parts of the world where access to theological education and resources is limited. Christian pastors and leaders in other countries who lack theological training, as well as laypeople who want to grow deeply in their faith, can engage in focused study through Ligonier Connect.
Your support enables this, and as thanks for your gift of any amount to Ligonier’s outreach this month, we will send you a 64 GB USB drive loaded with more than 160 hours and 10,000 pages of Ligonier teaching content (500 pages in Spanish). We’re also distributing these free of charge to pastors around the world to aid them in making disciples.
Note: Offer expires 6/30/2015. Please allow up to 6 weeks for delivery after your gift is processed. Contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law. For federal income tax purposes, the deductible portion of your charitable contribution is limited to the excess of the money contributed over the value of the goods provided. Our good faith estimate of the value of these resources is $13. Offer valid in U.S. and Canada only. Thank you for your support.

Hammer of the Huguenots



Douglas Bond writes books I like.  That seems straightforward enough.  I have found it consistently true, that time I spend with a work of his is time well spent.  Whether it is a biography, a work of practical theology, or a novel; I have yet to be disappointed by one of his works.  His newest novel, Hammer of the Huguenots, is the third volume of his Heroes and History series. I bought the other two when P&R had a sale a few months back, but I have not had a chance to read them.  That is a truth that must quickly change.

Hammer of the Huguenots is a work of historical fiction that follows Phillippe; a young, Roman Catholic man, as he witnesses the French Catholic persecution of Reformed Christians around him and the effects of the Gospel ministry of Pierre Viret.  What drew me to this book, beyond enjoying how Bond writes, is its historical context.  I am still a novice to the genre of fiction, and I am still highly selective on those works with which I will spend time.  If you are not a book about a quest for a ring, hopping through a wardrobe, or solving crimes with your buddy named Watson, I have had little time for you.  But historical fiction I can justify.  Sure, the stories are not “history,” but the truths they convey are historical.  And the context and many of the characters and many of the events are all historical.  So, I can tell myself that I am not reading for entertainment or fun or any of those silly reasons.  Nope, I am learning!

But then here is the kicker.  Hammer of the Huguenots is a work that engages the reader.  I can tell myself I am not reading for entertainment, but then I have to deal with the fact that I am being entertained.  And I can tell myself that I am not reading to enjoy the catharsis of vicarious experience, but then I have to acknowledge how this book causes such a visceral, emotional, personal reaction.  Bond writes in a way that causes an emotional response.  You find yourself feeling the anxiety, fear, and sadness; relief, peace, and joy.

History is good.  Storytelling is good.  Better than anything is the Gospel.  And Douglas Bond would agree.  Hammer of the Huguenots makes that clear.  Bond focuses on the Gospel throughout this book.  The Gospel is presented in many ways and in multiple contexts.  We see the true Gospel presented in contrast to Rome’s doctrine of “faith +.”  We see the Gospel of Christ’s all-sufficiency and vicarious atonement through preaching, teaching, and the response of the characters.  Watching Phillippe confronted with the Gospel time and again and watching him struggle with the implications of his beliefs is more than good literature; it is convicting, challenging, and encouraging.

I greatly enjoyed this work.  If you want to read some good fiction, get a dose of history, and be overwhelmed by the Gospel and its implications, Hammer of the Huguenots will prove to be an investment that pays great dividends.


I received a review copy from the publisher.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Blind Spots

I think I am right…on most everything…most of the time (if not all the time).  However, the Scriptures coupled with a lot of experience are beginning to convince me that this might not be 100% accurate.  I am willing to make a concession that on rare occasions I might be ever-so-slightly mistaken on things of the most trivial nature.  Of course, by “rare” I mean “often” and by “ever-so-slightly mistaken” I mean “plumb wrong” and by “most trivial” I mean “some of the most important things there are.”

I have blind spots.  I have ways that I think and ways that I look at things and ways that I earnestly believe that things should be.  And, for the longest, if someone dared to think differently from me on these things, my attitude was, “Bless their hearts.  I’ll pray for them.  Maybe the Lord will grant them repentance so that they can understand and believe and think just like me.”  I am on the mend from that attitude.  I still have to guard against it and still slip into it far too often, but I am on the mend.  I have always had blind spots in my thinking.  I have just come to the point where I am willing to admit it and act as if this were true, because it is!

I might have been an extreme example.  But, if we go by the internet comments sections, then maybe not so much.  The “I am right, you are wrong” virus afflicts humans pretty indiscriminately, Christians included.  Colin Hansen has offered a short book that encourages readers to recognize our own blind spots and to be gracious towards those of others. 

Hansen wants us to “see our differences as opportunity.”  He argues that, “(b)ecause of these blind spots, neither you nor I see everything clearly. We need each other.”  He groups Christians into one of three camps; the compassionate, the courageous, and the commissioned.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of categories and there is considerable cross-over, but the distinctions made are accurate and helpful.  Hansen shows how these groups can end up in conflict, especially when their agendas do not line up and especially when people become “sole-issue Christians.” 

While there is still much to be concerned about, we do not have to be as concerned with a person who is a “single-issue Christian” as we are with someone who is an “only-issue Christian.”  A single-issue Christian has a passion and is utterly focused on it (pro-life, street-evangelism, homeless ministry, etc…) A sole-issue Christian is like a single-issue Christian, except for one key difference.  This person’s issue of interest is the only issue.  And that is true not just for them, but also for you.  If you oppose their issue, either actively or simply by it not being your only issue, then you are an enemy.  And you are not just an enemy of them, you are in sin.  You are opposing God.  Single-issue Christians get much done for their cause.  Sole-issue Christians get much done in dividing the Body.     
Hansen writes to help us see our own blind spots, and he writes to keep us from devolving into sole-issue Christians.  He shows that “unless we can both step outside ourselves to hear our arguments from another vantage point, we won’t enjoy church unity and an effective gospel witness in the world.”  Hansen shows how the Body of Christ needs all these different types of Christians and how we keep each other accountable and balanced.

Hansen is writing to Christians.  He recognizes that we love the Lord.  He knows that we, even in our blindest of moments, are in some sense operating out of a desire to honor God--as misguided as it might be.  Hansen points out that we often have the tendency to emphasize one aspect of Christ over others, and then use that to hurt the ones we are called to love the most.  “We often seize on one aspect of (Christ’s) character and ministry and brandish it as a weapon against other believers. And we rope our partial Jesus into some of the nastiest conflicts.”

Hansen goes beyond diagnosing.  There is much practical wisdom scattered throughout the book, but I especially enjoy his admonition to all of us towards the end.  Hansen sees one main solution to these problems, and it is being united to and abiding in Christ.

Abiding in Christ is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings. Abiding in Christ will protect you from growing discouraged and getting sidetracked in trying to obey Jesus’s commandments. Some people you try to love will reject you because they have rejected him. Some Christians and churches suffering from blind spots will fault you for not caving to their pressure. You see this discord where the world presses for conformity from the church. Western culture’s idol of sexuality tempts churches to respond in limited, even self-destructive ways when beset by blind spots. Some withdraw in fear from the world and call it courage. Or they mute the clear teaching of Scripture and the call to discipleship and call it compassion. Or they ignore the problem altogether for the sake of false unity and call it obedience to the Great Commission.

Abiding in Christ does not allow us to veer off in only one of these directions. Jesus intends for us to follow him down a path that only he knows. The Spirit is our guide, because Jesus sent him to us as a witness (vv. 26–27). As we follow the teaching of the apostles who walked and talked with Jesus, we can hear clearly the voice of Jesus calling us through the cacophony of the world. (pg 111)

Blind Spots is a necessary book.  It addresses a persistent and pernicious issue, but it is not the answer.  We need more than 100+ pages from Collin Hansen, as good as they might be.  We need discussions and worship and cooperation and grace.  And we need a lot of those and more.  But, Blind Spots is a great little primer on a great big issue and, hopefully it will encourage us all to love our neighbor in the church down the road just a bit more.


I received a review copy from the publisher.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Newton

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life)Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another great book in a great series.  Theologians on the Christian Life has fast become a go to series for me.  If you have any interest in history and the Christian faith, these are some nice non-biographies.  I have read a couple and they have consistently been quite good.  Newton would be the theologian I am least familiar with that I have read about in this series, so I was pretty interested to get started with it.

Reinke does a great job of outlining Newton’s thought, primarily through his letters, and really encouraging the reader to dig deeper to learn more about this interesting life.  I always enjoy how Reinke writes and this subject matter.  My one criticism would be that I thought it was a bit long.  Not that the last chapters should have been cut, but I think the whole could have been condensed a bit.  This work in 180-200 pages would have been my ideal.  That being said, this is a great volume that the reader will not regret investing time and money in.

I received a review copy from the publisher.      


View all my reviews

Monday, May 4, 2015

Adoption


Crossway is releasing a new booklet by Russell Moore based on his book, Adopted for Life.  In it, Moore makes the same case that he does in his earlier work but presents in in 60 pages as opposed to a couple of hundred, making this important work on this important topic that much more accessible.

Moore does a great job of giving a reasoned and forceful plea for Christians to care for the fatherless.  Moore is not na├»ve enough to believe that everyone is called or capable of adoption, but he definitely encourages all believers to follow the mandate of Scripture in making the care for orphans a priority in our ministries and in our lives.  Moore presents a forceful case that rightly appeals to the heart of the reader.  However, to his credit and to the great benefit of the reader and the cause, Moore does not stoop to guilt-trip or manipulation.  He encourages, he pleads, he reasons from Scripture, he educates, he leads by example, and he pours out his heart.  And the result is a challenging, encouraging, and convicting little booklet that will, hopefully, find its way into the hands of many people who will be prompted to make a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable, most fragile, and most in need.

I received a review copy of this book.

From the publisher:

The Bible depicts Joseph of Nazareth as a good and honorable man. The adoptive father of Jesus, he stood by his wife when it appeared that she had betrayed him, raising Jesus as his own son. In doing so, Joseph provided all Christians with a beautiful picture of what fatherhood is meant to look like: steadfast, loving, protective. But such love stands in stark contrast to what we see in our world today: on-demand abortion, unreported abuse, and widespread neglect. Calling Christians to take a stand for children—born and unborn—this short booklet, adapted from Adopted for Life, makes a passionate plea for Christians to view adoption as a way to value and protect every human life.

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied

God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and AppliedGod, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied by Richard D. Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P&R Publishing has put out a collection of essays on a topic that remains incredibly relevant to our culture in general and ever-increasingly relevant to me personally.  The compatibility/incompatibility of evolutionary theory and the Bible has been a personal issue of interest for quite some time.  This new volume, edited by Richard Phillips, will be one that I return to time and again.

The list of contributors gives the reader confidence that this will be a work filled with theological precision and fidelity.  Derek Thomas, Joel Beeke, Kevin DeYoung, Liam Goligher,  Richard Phillips, and Carl Trueman all contribute one or two essays from their confessional, Reformed perspectives.  It goes without saying that these men respect the Scriptures as the revealed Word of God and seek to submit all other forms of knowledge to God’s Word.

The subtitle of the work is Biblical Creation Defended and Applied.  I was guilty of not reading the subtitle well and was half-expecting this volume to be a simple apologetic for creation and polemic against evolution.  While the reader will definitely find positive arguments for Biblical creation and negative arguments against atheistic and theistic evolution, this work shines most brightly when the contributors venture into the application of these competing truth claims.

I am accustomed to the simple, slippery-slope type arguments where the reader is warned that a rejection of a literal Adam inevitably leads to a rejection of inspiration, inerrancy, the authority of Scripture, the historicity of any of the Old Testament, original sin, substitutionary atonement and leads to an embrace of an allegorical reading of Scripture, egalitarianism, abortion, homosexuality, and anY/every form of licentiousness one dare to even think of.   While there is a bit of that argument to be found scattered throughout these pages, the contributors move beyond simple bogeyman language and lead the reader through the necessary consequences and implications of rejecting a literal Adam.  To say the least, these consequences are far reaching and paradigm shifting.

The interaction between science and faith, specifically in the realm of evolutionary theory and conservative Christianity, is a persistent topic of debate and dissension.  This subject proves worthy of substantial and sustained scholarship, study, and conversation.  I feel confident in saying that God, Adam, and You will show itself to be a commendable and lasting contribution to that important conversation.

I received a review copy from P&R Publishing.


View all my reviews

Monday, March 30, 2015

Comforting the Grieving

Comfort the Grieving: Ministering God's Grace in Times of LossComfort the Grieving: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Loss by Paul Tautges
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is much to mourn for in this world and much grief to be endured.  This creates ample opportunities for children of God to love, help, comfort, and hurt with those who are suffering.  Being able to minister properly through these situations will benefit all involved.

Comfort the Grieving by Paul Tautges is a wonderful resource.  It is focused on the word of God and immensely practical.  While it is designed for pastors, this is a volume that will equip and encourage all believers as we fulfill our Christian obligation to “mourn with those who mourn.”  This short volume is divided into sections covering pastoral care and preaching.

Tautges encourages the reader that care for the grieving does not conclude at the memorial service and offers a helpful guide on how to make sure that those needing continued care will receive it.  He also encourages pastors, and all Christians, to take up the art of letter writing as a means of offering care and then proceeds with some practical, “how-to” advice.

While Tautges is clear those grieving need personal, one-on-one care, he does not minimize the need of care from the pulpit.  He offers a few sample sermons from funerals to offer examples of Christ-centered, sensitive, evangelistic messages to share in corporate times of grieving.

This is a volume that will help many to love and care for those around them who are hurting.  It is short and accessible and I see no reason that it should not be read by many.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


View all my reviews

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Experiencing the New Birth

Experiencing the New Birth: Studies in John 3Experiencing the New Birth: Studies in John 3 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martin Lloyd-Jones is considered, by many, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century.  Maybe even the greatest.  This new volume from Crossway makes accessible previously unpublished sermons on John 3.  300+ pages of “The Doctor” preaching over John 3 is exactly what you would expect it to be-encouraging, challenging, and edifying.

This is a great, evangelical preacher pleading and prodding his congregation to consider Jesus, to consider their sinful state, to consider the Gospel, to repent and believe.  There is much to be praise about this volume, but the greatest commendation I can give started out as a gripe about the sermons.

Reading the sermons you could feel Lloyd-Jones’ passion.  As he encouraged his congregation to repent and believe, there was a multitude of times where he would make absolute statements.  Many of the statements could lead weaker brethren to unnecessarily struggle with their faith.  I was beginning to be troubled by these statements but then I became overwhelmingly encouraged.

I highlight that these were sermons delivered to his congregation and Lloyd-Jones as pastor comes through clearly.  As the sermons progressed, there were statements made that backed off of the implications of some of his earlier absolutes.  Or, at the very least, he clarified his position and offered qualifications on his earlier absolutes.  It is hard not to believe that a troubled congregant approached his pastor and “The Doctor” saw the need to offer treatment from the pulpit.  This is an assumption, of course, but it is not outside the realm of possibility or even probability.

Lloyd-Jones’ influence on many modern preachers can be seen in this volume.  The Lord used him in mighty ways and this volume is a treasure.

I received a review copy of this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program.


View all my reviews

Acts

Acts (EP Study Commentaries)Acts by Guy Prentiss Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Guy Prentiss Waters is a professor at RTS Jackson and is the author of a new commentary on Acts from EP Books.  A Study Commentary on The Acts of the Apostles is a volume written for pastors and interested lay people.  You do not have to be a scholar to read this volume and reap the benefits found within.

Waters’ volume is conservative and Reformed.  Waters is a confessional Presbyterian who ministers in the PCA and teaches at a Reformed seminary.  His commentary will offer no surprises with those facts in mind.

The format of this commentary is exposition and application.  Waters explains the text, giving background and context, and then proceeds to illustrate how the truths presented effect the life of the reader.

This volume is written from the perspective that the Scriptures are the word of God and present actual history.  While it is necessary to be knowledgeable of historical criticism, it is nice to find a work that is written with the purpose of believers learning the Scriptures better and applying its truths.

A fun surprise was the fact that it is not too heavily footnoted. Since this is not meant to be an academic treatise, you are not bogged down with a deluge of external material.  

The tone of the work is devotional, not academic.  With that being said, it is not surface either.  Waters digs in order to edify the believer, not to impress the scholar.  There is not a ton of original language, but there is some.  There is not a ton of 2nd temple culture and whatnot, but there is some.

There is depth in this volume but Waters doesn’t dive into the deep end simply for the fact of showing off his lung capacity.  When Waters wades into the deep end, there is a reason.  And he guides the reader there and back.  This is a volume on Acts that all readers will benefit from and enjoy greatly.


I received a review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews.


View all my reviews

Monday, March 9, 2015

Luther on the Christian Life

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and FreedomLuther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl R. Trueman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I had to choose someone to write a work on the life and thought of Martin Luther I am not sure who I would pick...but it would be a Lutheran. Definitely a Lutheran. That's a given, right?  Thankfully, the folks at Crossway did not consult me.

I have been a fan of the Theologians on the Christian Life series and one on a such a character as Martin Luther was bound to be a must-read.  When I saw that celebrity author and mega-seminary professor Karl Trueman was set to write it, I spent months waiting for it to release.  I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait.

Truman's strength as an author and speaker are mirrored in the strengths of this book.  Trueman is a tremendous historian.  And while this work is not solely a biography, it is thoroughly biographical.  Trueman shows how Luther's thought applies to the Christian life by showing how Luther's thought affected Luther's own life.

Trueman is a teacher.  Not just in vocation but in gifting.  And that gifting shines through in this work.  Trueman's volume in this series is approachable and engaging.  Trueman can write for MDiv studies, he can write for colleagues with PhDs, MDs, ThDs,  and RESPECTs,  but he can also write for the interested lay person. And do so in a way that doesn't feel watered down or like the reader is missing out on the good stuff.

Trueman is also quite funny, in a Martin Lutheran sort of way. I have never understood or enjoyed Lutheran humor (in my experience it was only about coffee, songs about slinkys, or why I will be barred from eternal bliss for my membership in a Southern Baptist Church). However, Luther himself was quite funny.  As is Karl Trueman, and in much the same manner.  Luther on the Christian Life is filled with Trueman-humor and Luther-humor, for better or worse (just for clarity, I vote "better"...for the most part).

For a confessional Presbyterian to write a biographical work on Martin Luther of such quality tgat it includes a foreword from Robert Kolb and an afterword from Martin Marty is quite a feat and should be enough of an endorsement to send you sprinting to your Crossway.org bookmark to download a copy of it immediately.  When you do, I feel confident in saying that you will not be disappointed.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


View all my reviews

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Acts Sermon

My sermon on Acts 2:42-47 from this morning.  Some slight additions(mainly the quotes) and some polishing on grammar and punctuation...but it is still rough.  Readable though, so I figured I would post for both of my readers. :-D
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Acts 2:42-47(14-47 for context)
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
            17       “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
                  that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
                  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
      and your young men shall see visions,
      and your old men shall dream dreams;
            18       even on my male servants and female servants
      in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
            19       And I will show wonders in the heavens above
      and signs on the earth below,
      blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
            20       the sun shall be turned to darkness
      and the moon to blood,
      before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
            21       And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
                  “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me,
      for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
            26       therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
      my flesh also will dwell in hope.
            27       For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
      or let your Holy One see corruption.
            28       You have made known to me the paths of life;
      you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
                  “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
                  “Sit at my right hand,
            35       until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:14-27)


This is the word of the Lord.  Blessed be his name.  Let’s pray. 
Almighty God,
Whose people are knit together in one holy church,
The body of Christ, our Lord:
Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment,
And to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you,
through your Son, Jesus Christ , our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen. (The Worship Sourcebook, 753)

Verse 40 moves us out of the sermon Peter is preaching and back into the narrative of Acts that Luke is recording.  When we look at a narrative passage we examine it as a narrative.  We look and see a subject, an action, and the results. Or, to put it another way, we can study it by asking and answering three basic questions.  This will not in any way exhaust the passage, but it will give us a good overall understanding of what is happening.  We can ask, “Who is this passage about?”, “What happens in this passage?”, and “What is the result from what happens in this passage?”.  Subject, Action, Result.  And this passage in Acts lends itself to this format as well as any other passage in the bible. 
First is the "Who" question? Who is this passage about?  This is simple.  Verse 42 tells us exactly who.  They.  Now, tempting as it might be to move to the next question, we might want to venture just a bit deeper than “they!”  Who is “they?”  Pronouns are used to refer to the immediately preceding nouns and in this context we see the “they” just a couple words back.  They are the souls that were added.