25
Apr
18

book review: Practicing the King’s Economy by Rhodes, Holt and Fikkert

Cover ArtI received this book free from Baker Publishing for review purposes. I chose it because the synopsis excited me. We are a ministry family in a small New England town, and we are always seeking to honor the Lord more and more in our budget and stewardship. From the description, I believed the book was going to show me and my family how we could do just that. However, as I’ve been reading, I’ve come to see this as another book filled with all the ways that middle class Christians need to give up all they have to honor God with their finances.

This book shares a lot of examples and stories of highly sacrificial churches and Christians, that were admirable and beautiful. But how many of us are called to downsize into an inner-city impoverished neighborhood to do ministry? What about those of us who stay in the suburbs, and minister to our neighbors there? I did not realize that this book was yet another social justice book, looking at how the church is failing the poor and underprovided for. I had so hoped it was a book aimed at helping me, as our family serves the Lord where He has called us and in raising our children to be godly men and women.

I also had a theological beef with this book. On page 104, the authors discuss the Lord’s Supper,  referring quite clearly to the Lord’s Supper/Communion instituted by Jesus at His Last Supper. In describing how they believe Paul writes about how God wants us to fulfill that command in 1 Corinthians 11, they write, “The point wasn’t to stir up a bunch of hidden sin in the quietness of their hearts before they took the bread and wine; the point was to make sure the Supper that shaped the church’s entire life truly embodied God’s equally generous welcome to all who came, including the outcast and the poor…Paul emphasized getting the Lord’s Supper right because he believed the impact of that meal in the sacred space of the house-turned-church would ripple out into every aspect of the Corinthians’ lives. He believed a renewed Lord’s supper practice would, by God’s grace, form believers into people who would live lives of solidarity with the marginalized, show love for their neighbors, and embody generosity toward the ‘have-nots’.” Now let’s remember what Jesus said in Matthew 26 as He instituted the Lord’s Supper: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christian hospitality is essential, and we should all grow in extending that to everyone we meet. But not at the expense of a correct understanding of God’s Word. This understanding of the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is central to 2 chapters of the book. And it is wrong. Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 11 that if the Corinthians are hungry they should eat at home before coming to the Lord’s Supper, lest they eat and drink judgment on themselves. He has no notion that it is “God’s potluck”, intended to welcome and feed the community. It is intended for God’s people alone, and should be taught as such.

I was highly disappointed by this book. The authors have hearts for the Lord, and they are earnestly serving people generously and sincerely. However, that doesn’t necessarily qualify them to write a book to instruct others, and I don’t recommend this book.

Advertisements
17
Mar
18

Book Review: Willing to Believe

Image result for willing to believe sproul bakerOne of the most disputed aspects of Christian theology through the centuries has been the nature of man’s free will.  To what extent is our will able one its own to accept and appropriate salvation?  Must God supernaturally intervene to produce faith, or is that something that an individual can achieve on their own.

Obviously this goes to the heart of the Christian message.  Your idea of how a person comes to salvation will have a huge impact on how you do ministry, how you approach evangelism, how you think about the nature and character of God himself.  Because this is such a foundational issue, it often leads to characterizing those who disagree with straw man stereotypes which are easy to beat down and mock.

The late RC Sproul had a gift for being able to read the views of others and understand what they were saying, even if he disagreed with them.  His goal was always to represent those views in the most accurate terms he could – in ways that people who held those beliefs would recognize their own view.  In Willing to Believe he brings that approach to the views of nine influential thinkers in church history that have contributed to the array of views we see around us today.

Several of the thinkers are those who are influential in Sproul’s own Reformed camp:  Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards.  You can look at these and see the thread of thought running through these men.  While Luther, Calvin, and Edwards have unique insights, on the whole they are following in the tradition laid down by Augustine.  Sproul devotes small sections to look at some other influential voices within these, like Turretin and the synod of Dort.  All of these look at the need for God to produce faith.  Man is indeed free, but without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, our freedom is only a matter of choosing the sin that we prefer.  Our sin nature makes us incapable of reaching out to God in faith apart from the Spirit miraculously intervening in one’s life.

In contrast to this, Sproul looks at five competing approaches.  He looks at Pelagius, the ancient heretic who argued that man could earn his salvation by his own works.  He looks at the Roman Catholic system which he labels semi-Pelagian.  James Arminius is shown in contrast to the views of the Reformation, breaking from Calvin and Luther and embracing a view that is closer to the Catholic views.    Charles Finney had a view that man’s nature is not inherently depraved and therefore there is no obstacle to faith except the need to present the gospel.  Finally we see Chafey, a major influence in Dispensationalism, whose doctrine of prevenient grace means all men have the power to grasp God’s free offer of grace.  Sproul shows how Billy Graham was the heir of Finney and Chafey.

This is not a devotional book.  It is not full of illustrations or application points in your life.  Sproul’s desire in this is for you to understand the ancestors of your own view on the freedom of the will, whether in his own Reformed camp or not.  He presents each view fairly and – for those with whom he disagrees – he presents what he thinks are the Biblical weaknesses of the view.  Overall I thought it was a helpful work, if only to encourage us to discuss opposing views with fairness and honesty rather than straw men.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.

28
Feb
18

Book Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

Image result for the farewell discourse and final prayer of jesusSeveral years back, Albert Mohler wrote something that stuck with me:  “Here is a simple rule to keep in mind:  When D. A. Carson writes a book, buy it.”  At the time I was not very familiar with Carson’s work.  Nine years later, I can affirm the wisdom of Mohler’s rule.

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus is a commentary on John 14-17, a well-loved section of Scripture recalling Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his betray, trials, and crucifixion.  Carson has already dealt with this at length in his outstanding commentary on John.  But the commentary is rather technical and is dealing with questions at an academic level that many are not looking for.

This book is a commentary as well, but it doesn’t get bogged down in grammatical issues or fighting through the vast history of interpretation of the Gospel according to John.  Instead, it focuses on a straightforward explanation of the text. I found it enormously successful, using it as devotional material in the mornings for the most part.  Carson does such a great job of presenting the truths of the Scripture and constantly connecting them to the lives of modern readers.

Throughout the work, Carson turns to the lyrics of old hymns.  Several times he breaks forth into his own poetry.  This is worship, even as it brings the words of our Lord to life. And throughout Carson writes with a pastor’s heart, constantly pointing people to the very real impact these ancient words have on the lives of Jesus’ people today.

This book was originally published in 1980, but as Christians should know, old works do not mean less valuable works.  Carson’s explanation of John 14-17 has the ring of truth and the power of the Spirit.  I highly recommend it … but I will give a small disclaimer.  Carson writes for a more mature Christian who will understand terms like parousia and who are not intimidated by vocabulary like otiose or proleptically.  That doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit greatly from reading the book anyway if you are a newer or younger reader, but it does mean that the book will push you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker in exchange for an honest review.  There was no expectation of a favorable review, but I give one anyway.  Take Albert Mohler’s advice … when Carson writes a book, buy it.

09
Jan
18

book review: Your God is Too Glorious: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places by Chad Bird

9780801075667

I received this book free from Baker Publishing for review purposes. I chose it because the synopsis excited me. I’ve been in a hard place spiritually, and I was looking at this book topic as one that could be encouraging and remind me how God uses “radically ordinary lives” and “gets excited about” them. Unfortunately, 57 pages in, I stopped reading and will not be finishing this book.

Chad Bird turns out to be an ex-Lutheran minister who, due to ambition and perhaps other unstated choices, lost his ministry, wife and children 10 years ago and has now written a book about how God can use those in ordinary places (like truckers, nursing mothers, soldiers in the line of duty) to bring truths about Himself to others. I agree with this, and as a homeschooling mother, that is a great reminder and even relief as I look at my life and remember that my “ordinary” work is extremely precious and eternally valuable to the kingdom of God and to His heart.

My problem was with the way the author chooses to present this premise. I believe we can remember God’s imminence (He is Emmanuel after all, God with us) while still bringing Him glory and in no way diminishing Him or the calling He puts on the lives of others, callings that may be more formal or prominent. For example, he tells the story of a fellow trucker and friend named Willy, who said if he ever won the lottery, he would use it to buy a double wide trailer and a few acres and bring all his family there to live with him. I have no problem with that goal, I love that he loves his family. But Mr. Bird says, “In that double-wide trailer…my friend Willy would have come into his kingdom. He could do more than spend 15 hours a day on the road and at work…I found a holy man in the oil fields.” (p. 37). Again, I have nothing against finding God in the ordinary. But this man’s goal (and Mr. Bird’s response to it) has nothing to do with God, His glory, or His kingdom. Since when has God ever focused on us coming into OUR kingdoms?

In the author’s making much of ordinary lives, I believe God is diminished. And I worry that perhaps he ventures into blasphemy, as he writes things like “The Sprit blows willy-nilly across the vast field of humanity, spreading the seeds of grace into all kinds of soil.” (p. 39). One thing God isn’t, as Father, Son or Holy Spirit, is “willy-nilly”. He has purpose, and wisdom, and does all things through perfect planning with the knowledge of eternity. He does indeed distribute the seeds of His grace into all kinds of soil. But we read in Ephesians 1:3-4: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He chooses with purpose and plan, and to say otherwise is dangerous and wrong.

I am saddened that I couldn’t give this book a better review. Please look for encouragement in the ordinary things of life elsewhere.

28
Apr
17

book review: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place

 

9780801018664This book is small but packs a powerful punch. Andy Crouch writes from personal experience and conviction, in what has worked (or not worked) in his family as far as managing technology and its effects. It has numerous Barna research results expressed in varying graphics, including bar and circle graphs and sobering statistics.

Crouch breaks the book down into 10 commitments, such as We develop wisdom and courage together as a family, and We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do, each getting a chapter. I really appreciated that he didn’t give hard and fast rules, the kind books like this can claim, “If you just put these rules into practice, you won’t have any troubles.” Instead, he offered principles that he and his wife really work hard to live by, candidly shows how they have succeeded and failed, and in all has written a book that encourages flourishing and celebrating all of life in a family rather than just focusing on cold hard facts about technology and its effects on the family.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to all. It obviously has the most impact on parent/children families, but I believe it is relevant even to the single person, or a couple without children. We all need to be reminded how important relationships with skin on are, and that we are to be the masters of our technology rather than allowing ourselves to be mastered.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are mine; I was not obligated to give a positive review.

25
Nov
16

Book Review: Outrageous by Aaron Tredway

 

Outrageous

I enjoyed this book a lot, it was a quick read yet had depth to it. Aaron Tredway has had a lot of adventures, especially relating to his career playing and coaching soccer. What I especially appreciated about the writing of his adventures however, was that he doesn’t do a lot of name dropping and he is very skilled at using all his examples to point to Christ and to bring glory to God.

I will say that the introduction was concerning to me as I read it. It implied that the book was very self-focused, a how-to on living an adventurous life with God as the director, as though the point in life is to have outrageous adventures in and of themselves. But from chapter 1 on, I was relieved and pleased that the rest of the book truly points to God and makes much of Him through all of life’s adventures, outrageous or simple.

I was given a copy of this book from Baker Books for the purpose of reviewing, but my thoughts are all my own.

07
Nov
16

Remember and Return

019319OK, I’ll admit it.  I’m not a fan of devotionals.  In general, the genre produces 365 days of (whatever) which usually ends up being a single verse of the Bible yanked out of context and then a paragraph or two of “encouraging thoughts” … it’s the prefect lightweight fluff for the American church.  I think devotionals are an important part of why the American church is so weak.

So when Baker Books offered me the chance to review a new devotional in exchange for an honest review, my first inclination was “no way” … but then I saw that the author was John MacArthur – a serious Bible teacher not given to “fluff.”  Curious, I accepted and have been making my way though this.

Remember & Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior is not your typical devotional.  It has 31 lessons instead of 365.  The typical devotion is probably 6-7 pages.  MacArthur’s style is not the normal devotional drivel.  It’s totally packed with Scripture and most chapters have an extended quote from a Puritan writer or other great voices like Martyn Lloyd-Jones or Charles Spurgeon.

The topic of the devotional, as listed on the cover, is Rekindling Your Love for the Savior, and MacArthur’s approach is pretty simple:  he simply works through what we believe about Jesus.  The approach is actually very shocking for the genre … there isn’t a lot of pandering to your emotions.  MacArthur basically is saying, “if your walk with Jesus has grown cold, what you really need is to be reminded of who he is.  When you see the Savior as revealed in Scripture, you will surely find your old love for him.”  For the person who loves devotionals, I wonder how attractive this approach will be.  Is it ‘enough’ to simply present the glories of Jesus?

My one complaint about this book is that each chapter ends with a “Daily Challenge.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but the challenges are not challenges at all.  For the most part, they have nothing for the reader to do at all.  For example, here is the “challenge” from Day 1:

Without making a concerted effort to change your direction, you’ll never deepen your relationship with Christ.  Jettison the excess baggage you’ve picked up along the way and once again give Christ first place in your life.  Don’t “be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3), but exercise “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). (p.14-15)

This isn’t an awful challenge except that MacArthur never defined what “excess baggage” looks like.  What exactly is the challenge asking the reader to do?  Most of the challenges really don’t have anything for the reader to do.

On the whole, this is a mixed bag.  There is a lot to like about this book … particularly the wealth of Bible verses …. and even the “daily challenges” are true, even if not challenging the user to do much if anything.  My guess is the type of person who likes devotionals will not like the depth of this, and most others will be distracted by the format.