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Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: What Is the Mission of the Church? by DeYoung and Gilbert

Mission, social justice, shalom, and the great commission. If there was a contest this year to see who could fit the most current Christian buzzwords on the cover of their book, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would probably win with What Is the Mission of the Church? Fortunately for all of us, DeYoung and Gilbert are bringing some needed balance to these ideas rather than just riding the wave of popularity behind these hot topics.

Regarding these trending themes in Christianity:

"We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely making disciples of Jesus Christ . . . We want to help Christians articulate and live out their views on the mission of the church in ways that are more theologically faithful, exegetically careful, and personally sustainable."

I can't say this book is for everyone, but for the pastor or church leader who feels torn a hundred different directions with good things the church could be doing, this book brings the focus back to "the main thing". After an introductory chapter, the bulk of the book is spent doing one condensed biblical theology after another regarding the Great Commission, the biblical meta-narrative, the gospel, the kingdom of God, social justice, and shalom. While none of these chapters are comprehensive treatments on such themes, the authors give sufficient time to each to make their case:

"In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing . . . Universal shalom will come, but personal redemtion comes first . . . We are not called to bring a broken planet back to its created glory. But we are to call broken people back to their Creator."

If I may make two observations not directly regarding the content of the book: (1) This is now the fifth book I've read authored or co-authored by DeYoung, and it is certainly the driest. There is no fluff, personal anecdotes, or humorous illustrations. This is DeYoung at his most mature, perhaps because he feels the ideas are most dire. (2) This is one of the most seamlessly co-authored books I've ever read. Most of the books I've read written by two or more authors suffer from a choppy train of thought, awkward self-references, and painful transitions between authors that all serve to break up the flow of the book. Not so with this book.

What Is the Mission of the Church? is at the same time an important corrective and an impassioned plea for the church to rightly prioritize among all the good things we can be about doing.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, church and missions leaders

This books was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: Radical Together by David Platt

In 2010 David Platt made significant waves with the release of Radical. Platt's book took aim at the American Dream and the "consumer Christianity" that has bought into it. It landed on the New York Times Bestsellers' list and not without a little controversy within the church. Much of the debate surrounded sacrificial living, poverty, missions, and what a faithful life committed to Christ looks like. While there are respectable and reasonable arguments (and persons) on both sides, I count it a win that this book pushed the conversation to the forefront.

Radical Together promises to do more of the same. At the same time, Platt seems to have taken heed to some of the concerned criticism and clarified his position taken in Radical. This second book revolves around what he calls foundational ideas for churches unleashing people into the world with the gospel:
  1. One of the worst enemies of Christians can be good things in the church.
  2. The gospel that saves us from work saves us to work.
  3. The Word does the work.
  4. Building the right church depends on using all the wrong people.
  5. We are living—and longing—for the end of the world.
  6. We are selfless followers of a self-centered God.
With a cursory read these ideas sound counter-intuitive (and, to some, even offensive). Yet with compelling biblical arguments and examples from real life practitioners, Platt brings these challenging ideas down to ground level.

In many ways, Radical Together is the proper partner to Radical, bringing balance and clarification where needed. While at the heart of the book still lies a near-impossible challenge, I kind of think that's the idea.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of Radical, those tired of American consumerism

This book was a free review copy provided by Waterbrook Multnomah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Huge giveaway over at Christians In Context!

Over at my other blog, Christians In Context, we're having a huge giveaway for the entire season of Advent, Dec. 1st - 24th, everyday! I would suggest heading over there and subscribing (email, RSS, or Reader) so you don't miss a day!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: From the Garden to the City by John Dyer

At the risk of sharing details that no one is interested in, the books that I review are always and only sent to me from publishers upon my request. So when Kregel Publications sent me two books unsolicited, I was certain there had been some sort of mistake. Only after contacting Kregel did I find there had been no error. Rather, Kregel is so excited and confident in their products, they decided to send them out to prior reviewers. Initially I was slow to pick up the books since I felt no obligation towards them, but in the end I caved...and am happy I did so.

As a former communications major at a Christian university, I've read a number of books addressing the intersection of technology and Christianity. These "theology of technology" books have almost always proven to be heavier on the technology side than the theology side. The authors, likewise, have more often proven to be students of Marshall McLuhan (a major figure in media theory) than students of the Word.

But that all changed as I read this latest book by John Dyer (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary). From the Garden to the City has a biblical balance and insight to it that has been missing in all my previous reads. Dyer shows an uncanny ability to skillfully and faithfully weave the two seeming unrelated topics of faith and technology into quite an engaging book.

The very structure of the book follows the Christian metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Dyer argues that (1) our ability to make technology is a reflection of our Creator, (2) every technology has the potential to be used for sin and rebellion, (3) technology can also be used for redemptive purposes, and (4) God's plan is the restoration of all things, including some of the things we make. Here's a thread of insights I felt made a significant connection:

Adam and Eve's very first act after sinning simultaneously reflected their programming as God's image-bearers, and their newfound sinfulness...
The clothing was their way of transforming their circumstances such that they would no longer rely on God for anything...
Technology can at the same time be both a reflection of the image of God and a subtle rebellion against him and his authority... is also one of the chief means by which humans attempt to create a world without God. As our technology grows more and more powerful, the illusion of control becomes increasingly convincing. (Chapter 5, "Rebellion")

Dyer does a masterful job of helping the Christian reflect on the nature of technology. If I have one critique, it is that there was not equal emphasis on how the Christian should respond to technology. Or put another way, at the cross-section of theology and technology Dyer gives us plenty of implications but not enough applications. (Perhaps a second book is in order?)

Living in the middle of a technological explosion (comparing the last 150 years with the span of human history), we should be all the more diligent in examining and "seeing through" the technology we use. Dyer warns, "When technology has distracted us to the point that we no longer examine it, it gains the greatest opportunity to enslave us."

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Communicators, techies, multimedia ministry personnel

This book was a free review copy provided by Kregel Publications.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson

What do tattoos, cremation, and homosexuality all have in common?* They each reveal one's fundamental belief about the body, it's design and purpose. While Christians should arguably have a higher view of the body than most, the average evangelical theology of the body often remains unexamined and merely reactionary towards cultural trends and spiritual concerns.

Matthew Lee Anderson challenges the unexamined and reactionary in his surprising new book Earthen Vessels. Not knowing what to expect of the latest blogger-turned-author (an ever growing breed) in his debut work, I found myself tearing through this book in a matter of days. How interesting can a Christian's book about the body be? As it turns out, very.

As already hinted at, Anderson artfully covers a spectrum of modern day implications for a deeper understanding of the human form. As one who resisted against all odds, I found the chapter on tattoos particularly interesting (definition of irony: in pursuit of individualism, rebellion, and self-expression, tattoos and their host bodies are now markers of conformity and consumerism). Homosexuality too got its own chapter, and the insights here alone make the book worthwhile: long as those with same-sex orientations treat the fulfillment of their sexual desires as a necessary part of their identity, the most sensitive traditional responses to same-sex attraction and acts will inevitably be reduced to bigotry. (p. 146)
All in all, Earthen Vessels is solid and enjoyable, and Anderson has made a definite contribution to an important conversation that has long been overdue in evangelical circles. Two thumbs up!

*I tried to come up with a punch line for this question but never succeeded. If you have any zingers, I'm all ears!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Theologians, pastors, counselors

This book was a free review copy provided by Bethany House.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Bookshelf Cleaning Giveaway

Do you like free stuff? Wanna win a free book? If you said "no" to either of those questions, I am seriously questioning your humanity.

==>Click here for the CIC giveaway<==

Over at Christians In Context, we are giving away three books:

Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
Finally Alive - John Piper
Your Church Is Too Small - John H. Armstrong

==>Click here for the CIC giveaway<==

Hurry, the giveaway only lasts until Saturday midnight!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Existential Reasons for Belief in God by Clifford Williams

If you ever wanted to impress people simply by the title of the book you're carrying around, I don't think you could do much better than Existential Reasons for Belief in God by Clifford Williams. However, that same intimidating title makes your job harder if you want to encourage people to read it. (For the record, I do want to do the latter and don't want to do the former.)

I am always game for new takes and approaches to Christian apologetics, and this one certainly fits the bill. While most such books build arguments around sheer fact and reason, Williams argues that there is also good reason (no pun intended) to defend the Christian worldview on a basis of need and emotion.

He points out that some people approach religion and faith in God emphasizing reason (rationalists) while others do so emphasizing emotion and need (emotionalists). Williams argues that rather than an "either/or" approach, we should take a "both/and" approach. Even on it's face this argument makes sense because apologetic arguments based on sheer airtight reason are of no use if the subject does not care about the information or sees no need to believe or accept those arguments. As Williams says,
"My aim is to defend the legitimacy of acquiring faith through need, emotion and reason. Satisfaction of need legitimately draws us to faith, but reason must be involved in this drawing. More simply, the two basic ideas of the book are the drawing power of need and the certifying ability of reason. Need without reason is blind, but reason without need is sterile."
I find it just a little ironic that he makes his argument throughout the book on the basis of rationality, but then again, his reasons would have no power if they did not awaken a desire to respond to such reason. Williams makes his argument in the first couple chapters and then spends four chapters (the majority of the book) addressing four different objections to his premise. The book does threaten at times to turn into an academic paper, but Williams injects personal testimonies of faith throughout the book that effectively breaks that up (and supports his points).

In the end, Williams presents a fresh approach to apologetics that is both helpful and encouraging for those intimidated by a field long dominated by the many intellectual, complicated, and often nuanced arguments for and against the existence of God.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Christian apologists, theologians, and counselors

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: For the City by Patrick & Carter

"If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would your city even know it was gone?"

Church planting and community transformation are both hot topics in Christian print right now. For the City by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter lies at the intersection of those two topics. However, the book grows out of the blood, sweat, and passion of two churches and pastors and is anything but opportunistic. Indeed it is a passionate plea to the body of Christ to live lives changed by the gospel that engage the city around them.

The book opens with three chapters (Part 1: A Tale of Two Cities) detailing the infancy of the two churches in Austin, TX and St. Louis, MO. While these chapters are light on practical application, it serves to emphasize the importance of knowing your city if you are to reach your city.

The remainder of the book (Part 2: In and For the City) lays out some of the central components to a church that will reach its city: contextualization, community, service, equipping, and suffering. These characteristics are fleshed out by personal accounts from the two churches—to mixed results. While some of the stories help give "handles" to these ideas, some of the other stories consume almost the entire chapter and leave very little space for further instruction. However, the book truly hits stride in the last three chapters ("Suffering", "Confessions", and "Conclusion: Live Like Jonah") and gospel rightly takes front and center in these humble and hopeful pieces.

In the end, For the City is a solid book by two pastors who are passionate about the gospel and what the gospel can do for their cities—and for yours.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, planters

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Killer deal over at All Re:Lit books 50% off!

(Sorry for posting this twice, Blogger killed all my links.)

There's one heckuva deal going on over at the Westminster Bookstore that will last for just one week (Wednesday the 12th).

All Re:Lit books are 50% off, or you can get the entire set of 16 books for $127 (52% off).

I've already availed myself of this killer deal since I have not read all the Re:Lit books yet, but I would also like to recommend a couple of my favorites.

A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester has probably been my favorite and most surprising read of the year (surprising because it has been my favorite). Who knew a book about Jesus and food could be this good?!! You can get it for $7.49

Scandalous by D. A. Carson knocked me upside the head right when I thought I'd heard just about everything regarding Jesus and the cross. Short, painfully beautiful, and fresh. $7.99

Church Planter by Darrin Patrick was a solid read for me on the front end of my ministry at Redeemer Church. It covers the man (leadership qualifications), the message (the gospel), and the mission (the purpose of the church). $7.99

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman

See details below on three copies being given away over at Moody Publishers blog (hurry, there's only a day left!).

Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman focuses on the power of the Word of God. Leeman says "It’s different from other books on Scripture in that (i) it’s tracing the process of how the Word creates the church and (ii) it’s fighting to help the reader grow in faith."

I genuinely enjoyed and benefited from this book as I felt a renewal in my love for and appreciation of the Word written (the Bible) the Word spoken (the sermon) and the Word practiced (the body of Christ). The book is broken up into just such sections, and they highlight and follow the movement of the Word:

Part 1: The Word
  • Invites and Divides
  • Acts
  • Frees
  • Gathers
Part 2: The Sermon
  • Exposes
  • Announces
  • Confronts
Part 3: The Reverberation
  • Sings
  • Prays
  • Disciples
  • Scatters and, Once Again, Invites
Leeman's style is straightforward and readable, his plea is passionate. As the church, we fall into countless temptations while we "do church" to do things under our own wisdom, our own power, our own strategies. Yet the Word of God is counter-intuitive to all of these, and these efforts can often (if not always) be counter-productive to true power of the Word. Leeman calls us all to fight this sort of drift that happens when one is not intentionally preaching and pursuing the Word of God.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian

And now the giveaway: Moody Publishers is giving away three copies over at their blog. Go check it out and good luck!

This book was a free review copy provided by Moody Publishers.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: The Language of Science and Faith by Giberson and Collins

In 2006, Francis Collins rolled a snowball called The Language of God and tossed it down a hill. It picked up steam, it grew, and it is now an avalanche fast approaching both the scientific and Christian landscape. From the book grew the BioLogos Foundation. Then an appointment of Collins to Director of the Nation Institutes of Health. And finally, BioLogos birthed a second book, The Language of Science and Faith, which was gathered and written by Karl Giberson.

At the risk of being too simplistic, Francis Collins and BioLogos represent the most visible apologists of theistic evolution. While The Language of God was their defense to the naturalistic and atheistic camps, The Language of Science and Faith is their entreaty to the Christian and theistic circles. I honestly don't know which is the more difficult task.

There is much here that I applaud. I believe that all truth is God's truth, and science is one of the ways that we discover truth about our universe. Thus anything that science proves to be true, we should celebrate as part of God's good creation. The chapter on the age of the earth was fascinating and awe-inspiring, and even more so the chapter entitled "What Is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe, and How Does It Serve as a Pointer to God?"

However, there is also much here that I question. The authors seem dismissive of Intelligent Design, brushing it off as a mere creationism in disguise. They state (without citing sources) that a majority of evangelicals still hold to young earth creationism and verge on condescension in the process. They suggest that evolution offers a better explanation to the "evil" we see in nature (wasps planting their eggs inside a live caterpillar which serves as food when the eggs hatch, etc.) but such examples, while rhetorically powerful, are really non-moral problems that can't honestly be considered a problem of evil. At times, they even seem to be committing a sort of "science of the gaps" error in suggesting future science is a better answer than considering the involvement of God.

In the end, this is an important conversation for Christians to have, and Giberson and Collins have played a huge role in advancing that discussion. While this book will be controversial to most people at one point or another, they state their case clearly and compellingly.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone interested in the cross-sections of evolution and ID, science and faith

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Licenced to Kill by Brian G. Hedges

Back in 1656, Puritan author John Owen wrote a gospel-saturated attack on human depravity called The Mortification of Sin. Over three centuries later, Brian Hedges has written a book that echoes the heart of John Owen to a modern generation.

Like a surgical strike, Licenced to Kill outlines the powerful barrage available against indwelling sin in the life of the believer. With succinct chapters and "Examine and Apply" questions, this book perfectly fits its subtitle as a field manual for mortifying sin:
"It is in the nature of sin to pursue its course little by little, to the very end. Every intentional indulgence of lust would become adultery if it could."
Destined to draw comparisons to Owen's The Mortification of Sin, Hedges wears his influences on his sleeve quoting Owen early and often (yes, even the mandatory Owen quote: "Be killing sin or it will be killing you"). This, however, is not a criticism of the book. It reads like a fresh, modern repackaging for a generation that doesn't have a Puritan patience.

This little book may very well be "The Art of Spiritual War" for the modern Christian. Highly recommended. (Oh, and before anyone gets too impressed, The Mortification of Sin is the only book by Owen I've read.)

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Any Christian struggling with sin in their lives

This book was a free review copy provided by Cruciform Press.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

You're killing the same creature to which you're dedicating your life

It all began with the cover story of the August 14 edition of The New York Times Magazine called "The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy". As Albert Mohler details, Reporter Ruth Padawer first takes her readers into the examination room of an obstetrician who is about to abort one of two fetuses within the womb of a woman identified as “Jenny”. Padawer’s report is largely about that phenomenon (reducing twins to a single pregnancy by eliminating one fetus), for the reduction of a pregnancy from twins to a single baby is not about increasing the odds of a healthy delivery, but about the ominous rise of what amounts to personal preference.

This “reduction” has become an all-too-common but seldom spoken of procedure in a society of designer children, designer families, and designer lives. And the “designer” in all of this is the autonomous self (though one doubts that the autonomous self in the womb would make the same choice as her mother).

Yet the most surprising response to these reductions has not been from the camp of the pro-lifers but rather the pro-choicers. Abortion supporters are having unexpected—and unfavorable—responses as the muddled logic surrounding abortion gives way to the cold, hard truth now confronting them. And this brings me to the reason for writing this post. William Saletan over at Slate has written an insightful piece that I wanted to share in part:

This bifurcated mindset permeates pro-choice thinking. Embryos fertilized for procreation are embryos; embryos cloned for research are "activated eggs." A fetus you want is a baby; a fetus you don't want is a pregnancy. Under federal law, anyone who injures or kills a "child in utero" during a violent crime gets the same punishment as if he had injured or killed "the unborn child's mother," but no such penalty applies to "an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman … has been obtained."

Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus. In the case of identical twins, even their genomes are indistinguishable. You can't pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You're killing the same creature to which you're dedicating your life.

HT: Stand To Reason

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Are you a cat or dog in your theology?

During his Sunday message "The Mission", Matt Chandler used something that I found insightful as an idea and helpful as an illustration. This "Cat & Dog Theology", a concept developed by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison, draws a distinction and informs the differing ways we approach God, Jesus, and the Bible.

“A cat goes, ‘oh my owner feeds for me, cares for me, cleans up after me…I must be God!’ And a dog goes, ‘my owner, my master, feeds for me, cares for me, cleans up after me…he must be God!’ And that’s why when you come home, your dog is all over you, and unless you have like .0000001% of cats, your cat could care less when you get home. And far too many evangelicals are feline in their theologies…‘Well god loves me, he’s for me…I’m the point!’ And when you’re the point, everything falls apart.”
Does this mean cats are basically moralistic therapeutic deists?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: If God Why Evil? by Norman Geisler

Last week I began a two-part series of book reviews addressing the problem of evil. Even with the common subject matter, If God is Good . . . by Randy Alcorn and If God, Why Evil? by Norman L. Geisler could not be less alike in their approach. Here's the breakdown of the two books (denoted as IGIG and IGWE:

IGIG is a beast at almost a half century of pages (494 to be exact). IGWE, before the appendices, is a mere 122 pages.

IGIG is accessible, pastoral and an easy read. IGWE is more academic, even to the point of stating the various problems in proper logical argument form.

Simply stated: IGIG is written with the sensitivity of a pastor. IGWE is written with the sensibility of a professor.

As Geisler writes in the introduction, "At the same time our heart needs comfort, our head needs answers". Just such answers are the focus here. If God, Why Evil? by Norm Geisler is a sharp, intellectual stab at the heart of one of Christianity's most vexing questions (and yes, that question just happens to be the title). While the book is brief, Geisler brings all his apologetic weight to bear and the result is a pleasure to read.

This book is not for those struggling with evil and pain on a deep personal level. For such, this will feel too academic, too sterile. However, for those struggling with Christianity because of the intellectual objection surrounding God and evil, I cannot think of a book I would recommend more highly. It's smart and brief. It will take a few hours to read but a few weeks to digest.

While I think the brevity of the book is a great selling point, I think the publisher was a little worried about it. I merely say that because there are a couple appendices tacked on the end that seem only loosely related. Titles like "Animal Death Before Adam" and "A Critique of The Shack" should prove my point.

All in all, this is a solid book. Oh yeah, and it has my daughter's endorsement as well!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Apologists, those questioning Christianity

This book was a free review copy provided by Bethany House.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: If God Is Randy Alcorn

The problem of evil is one of the most timeless challenges surrounding the existence of God. It is also a timely problem as it lies at the heart of the currently popular debate within Christian circles regarding hell. For these reasons, books tackling the topic of hell and the broader one of evil seem to be surfacing at a rapid rate. So this week and the next I will be reviewing two books covering the same subject matter. But with that exception, these two books could hardly be less alike.

My first impression of If God Is Good... by Randy Alcorn wasn't a coherent thought. It was, however, memorable enough that my two year old daughter echoed my comment back to me later when she saw the book again saying, "Holy cow!" (which was exactly what I said when I first pulled the book from its box). Alcorn has written a tour de force on the problem of evil from every conceivable angle. Clocking in at 494 pages, this book is not for the faint at heart—if your heart faints at the thought of reading anything longer than a blog post.

While the length of the book might be intimidating for some, the readability will not be. Alcorn's style is easily accessible and, even when dealing with more philosophical arguments, handles them with the everyman in mind. For this reason, while a straight read-thru may not be a practical goal for everyone, this may be one of the best books to have on hand as reference material on the problem of evil.

Randy approaches his topic with the heart of a pastor throughout the book, even introducing the book with "A Note to Readers, Especially to Those Hurting and Confused". His sensitive and yet straightforward manner are welcome in an issue that can quickly become either academic or calloused.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian's library as (at the very least) reference material

This book was a free review copy provided by Multnomah Books.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Smooth Stones by Joe Coffey

Smooth Stones is now the third book I've read from Cruciform Press (the first two being Cruciform and the pilot book Sexual Detox by Tim Challies) and it is in my humble opinion the best book yet from this young publishing company. If you haven't heard anything about Cruciform Press, you can check out the review of Cruciform to read more.

Joe takes on six of the biggest questions that challenge Christianity, namely:
  1. Is There a God?
  2. Does Science Disprove God's Existence?
  3. Is the Bible Authentic and True?
  4. The Question of Evil and Suffering
  5. Aren't All Religions the Same?
  6. Is Jesus for Real?
I know, I know, one of the chapter titles isn't in the form of a question. That bugged me too. But after flying through this book in one day, I was ready to forgive. As a self-proclaimed apologist, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language. I know of a number of young men in my church family who would benefit from reading a book like this, but would instantly start having heart complications if I suggested they read anything larger. I, for one, will be commending this book to my pastor to keep on hand for those questioning Christianity.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Your church resource library, arm-chair apologists, doubters

This book was a free review copy provided by Cruciform Press.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester

It has been a while since a book so surprised and delighted me as did A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester. The way in which something so mundane and average as a meal was vested with such theological depth and significance was astounding. And yet, Tim is only following in the pattern that Jesus set in his ministry. He has found the gospel in the grub, or as the subtitle puts it: "Discovering grace, community, and mission around the table".
Jesus is called "a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His "excess" of food and "excess" of grace a linked. In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community and mission. So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus's meals are not just symbols; they're also application. They're not just pictures; they're the real thing in miniature. (p. 14)
This book has been a very timely one for me as I am just about to make a shift in my community group from one that was very content-heavy to one that is more community-driven (I know, where'd I come up with it, right?). The only unfortunate part to changing our format is that I can't make this book required reading.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Ministry leaders, especially small group leaders, anyone looking for a fresh read from the usual Christian fare

Westminster Bookstore has A Meal With Jesus at the best internet price I could find: $10.04 (33% off)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: Cruciform by Jimmy Davis

Cruciform Press is a brand new publisher that seems to be on the cutting edge of publishing in the digital age. One book is released each month (in print, ebook, and audio) and they are concise enough (about 100 pages) that you can finish one before the next comes out. But the really unique thing about Cruciform Press is the fact that you can subscribe to their monthly releases for dirt cheap.

So, it is only fitting that one of the first books released by Cruciform Press is called Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. Jimmy Davis presents a simple and simply beautiful picture of what living a life shaped by the gospel looks like and it forms the crux (pun intended) of the book.
"The Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, along with the prescription for the Christian life found in the rest of the New Testament, have convinced me there are two major roles in which disciples progressively become like their Master (Luke 6:40). As we each become more and more conformed to the image of Christ, we increasingly live as son and love as servant." (p. 35)
The book resonates with these twin themes of son and servant, and Jimmy's writing is at its best in such simplicity and clarity. Consequently, this simplicity is lost when Jimmy begins to diagram the aspects of the Christian life into the shape of a cross. The constant references to the diagram and the various explanations of the pictures seemed to break the flow of the book for me in a way that hurt rather than helped me follow his train of thought.

However, there is much to be commended here in both author and publisher. If this book is a sign of things to come, I expect great things from both!
"When through the gospel we have become sons, then through the gospel we can become servants." (p. 55)
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Any Christian seeking a gospel-driven life

This book was a free review copy provided by Cruciform Press.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Don't Call It a Comeback, Kevin DeYoung, ed.

I've read quite a few books in the past year with multiple contributing authors, but none of them have read with the clarity and consistency of Don't Call It a Comeback. Perhaps it is due to the shared commonality of the authors: a rising generation of evangelical and reformed thinkers (and more than a few bloggers) shaped by the likes of Piper and Carson. But what ever the cause, the result is a book that is cogent, consistent, and a joy to read.

The book is broken up into three sections:
  1. Part 1: Evangelical History: Looking Forward and Looking Back
  2. Part 2: Evangelical Theology: Thinking, Feeling, and Believing the Truths That Matter Most
  3. Part 3: Evangelical Practice: Learning to Live Life God's Way
The first section is a brief two-chapter introduction to evangelicalism, and section two has all the perennial topics you would expect (God, Scripture, the gospel, Jesus Christ). But section three really shows why this book is "The old faith for a new day". In "Part 3: Evangelical Practice" the authors (Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor, e.g.) address such topics as homosexuality, abortion, gender confusion, and social justice.

While the chapter on missions was as fitting an ending as any, my one complaint is that the book ended awkwardly without a summary or epilogue. Lacking such a tidy conclusion, the book seems to halt abruptly.

That one fault aside Don't Call It a Comeback has, in my humble opinion, done exactly what it set out to accomplish:
"to introduce young Christians, new Christians, and underdisciplined Christians to the most important articles of our faith and what it looks like to live out this faith in real life."
Not bad for a bunch of pastor/bloggers.

Westminster Bookstore has Don't Call It a Comeback for 33% off retail ($11.38).

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: "young Christians, new Christians, and underdisciplined Christians"

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Just FYI . . .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: Closing the Window by Tim Chester

Christians and pornography. Depending on who you talk to, you'll get one of three responses: 1) it's a deeper, more wide spread problem within Christianity than we know or want to admit, 2) the problem is overblown and the statistics are imbalanced, or 3) *cough* uhhhhhh, next topic.

In Closing the Window, Tim Chester cites a number of different studies and surveys that have very consistent results: one in three. One in three people in the church are struggling with pornography. While I'm not one to bicker about the numbers, I think it's fair to say that it's a growing problem for each subsequent generation within the church.

And Tim has written a gospel-saturated little book (146 pages) that will be indispensable for anyone leading men, young adults, or a whole church. As one of those leaders, I am constantly looking for books that handle tough topics in a way that is simple, clear, and relatively brief to build a "loaner library". I believe that Tim Chester's Closing the Window is the book for just that purpose.

The structure of the book revolves around "Five Keys in the Battle Against Porn":
  1. Abhorrence of porn
  2. Adoration of God
  3. Assurance of grace
  4. Avoidance of temptation
  5. Accountability to others
"We become Christians through faith and repentance. We continue and grow by ongoing faith and repentance. And this means that we counter porn through faith and repentance. Battling porn with faith means embracing the truth about God in place of the false promises of porn. Battling porn with repentance means turning from self to worship God."
Westminster Books has the best price I've seen for Closing the Window at 33% off list price ($10.05).

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, youth workers, men's ministry leaders, porn addicts

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken

The collision of cool and Christianity. Most would not think there would be enough material there to fill a book. Or that said material could be intelligent, humorous, and thought-provoking.

Brett McCracken has proven most of us wrong with Hipster Christianity. Brett does an excellent job of taking what could easily be a wholly tongue-in-cheek topic and turning it into something theologically deep and challenging. While he seems to spend more time forming and asking questions than answering them, the questions he does ask are important ones. Consider:
Perhaps there is a third option—a much more insidious, countercultural idea: perhaps Christianity is hopelessly unhip, maybe even the anticool. What if it turns out that Christianity's endurance comes from the fact that it is, has been, and continues to be the antithesis and antidote to the intoxicating and exhausting drive in our human nature for cool?
This is not to say that the book is simply cold and academic. The research-paper-on-steroids feel is broken up by occasional humorous lists like: "Favorite Hipster TV Shows", "Reasons Why Calvinism is Hipster-Friendly", and the uncomfortably close to home "CCM Albums of the Nineties That Make Christian Hipsters Nostalgic". Brett treads the fine line in addressing a serious issue within Christianity with care, insight, and healthy dose of irony and wit. This is certainly something quite difficult to pull off and the fact that Brett does so with such seeming ease is a true testament to—dare I say it?—how cool he is. (See what I did there? Emphasized the point with a negative example.)

If you're not yet convinced, you can read a free chapter here.

If you're concerned, you can take the "Are You a Christian Hipster?" quiz here.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone interested in the pulse of Christianity, the dynamic of being "in but not of the world"

This book was a free review copy provided by Baker Books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Long Story Short by Marty Machowski

The phrase "gospel-centered" is an easy label to tag on a book these days to sell a couple extra copies. Long Story Short, however, is the last book that could be accused of such a move.

This book, from beginning to end, is about Jesus in the Old Testament and it's perhaps the coolest family devotional I've even seen (or been subjected to). The layout is attractive and the structure is simple.

Every week presents an Old Testament passage, studies it, and then connects it to Jesus. As the author himself says, "Long Story Short connects each story to God's larger redemptive plan. Every lesson answers the question, 'Where is Jesus in this lesson?'"

Machowski spends an entire 1/3 of the book on studies from Genesis, so don't expect every inch of the Old Testament to be covered. However, this book has 78 weeks (or a year and a half) worth of material in it, so nobody's getting short-changed here. The simplicity with which these studies go back and forth between Christ and the Old Testament should impress parents without confusing kids. This is not always an easy thing to do, but Marty pulls it off!

Now my only question is: how young is too young to start going through this with my daughter?

Westminster Bookstore currently has the best price I can find online for Long Story Short, $13.39.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Families

This book was a free review copy provided by New Growth Press.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren Wiersbe

It is seldom that a book's cover grabs me so firmly that I am compelled to read it, whether I know anything of the author and content or not. This was the case with Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren Wiersbe. The book covers all of the "I am" statements of Jesus in the Bible, including a couple most people would probably forget to include.

Warren opens with "Moses Asks a Question" (of course, the answer to that question is "I AM") and ends with "I Am Jesus", the self-revelation that took place during the confrontation of Saul on his way to Damascus. In between we find all of the expected ones: the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine.


I have to admit, I thought the premise for the book was inspired. While the cover art work piqued my interest, the direction of the book was compelling.

Warren Wiersbe demonstrates a wonderful grasp of the Old Testament and it's foreshadowing of—and later fulfillment in—Jesus. There were times when Warren reminded me a bit of Tim Keller in this respect.


My main critique is one of structure. Unfortunately, the book felt a little like a devotional to me. The chapters were lacking a flow one to the other, and even thoughts within the chapters seemed to be lacking a sense of direction.

There were also times when the author lost me in stretching an analogy just a little too far (the thin flakes of manna like frost on the ground= "white" speaks of purity and "small" speaks of humility, both which describe Jesus).

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone interested in a devotional study on the "I am" statements of Jesus

This book was a free review copy provided by David C. Cook.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Love Wins for all the fallen?

Forgive me. I couldn't resist writing this in my best Bell-style prose.

In this whole whirlwind that Rob Bell has stirred up, there is one group that has been conspicuously absent from the wide net of universalism that he and others have cast out.

One group that has been neglected.
And they cry out for their just defense.

I speak of course about Satan and the demons.

After all, if God is a God of love, and if he loves all of his creation, and if he wants to see it all brought into shalom, and if God will indeed reconcile all things unto himself, and if no temporary rebellion is worthy of eternal punishment—well then why not? But let me put it in Bell's own words:

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God's presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most "depraved sinners" will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.

And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody, because Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there will be a "renewal of all things," Peter says in Acts 3 that Jesus will "restore everything," and Paul says in Colossians 1 that through Christ "God was pleased to . . . reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven" (Bell, 107).

We're told more (and more often) about the final state of rebellious human beings than we are about the final state of the demons. Especially by Jesus. So if God's love overcomes all that has been revealed about judgment toward fallen humanity, certainly it can do the same for the demons.

But if.

If one accepts the reality of wicked, fallen spiritual beings whose rebellion is as continuous and ongoing into eternity as their existence . . .

If one accepts the reality of a just judgment and eternal confinement and punishment of such beings . . .

. . . well then demons aren't the only ones who fit that description and deserve that end. It would seem to me that demons—more so than "those who have never heard"—have the better argument for the unfairness of the Gospel (since it in no way, shape, or form is available to any of them). Yet I don't hear anyone fighting that theological battle.

So can we expect Love Wins II: Stryper Was Wrong* any time soon?

Of course not. Because even though it's logically consistent with Bell's reasoning as to why all humans will be saved, that's just not good PR for the universalist camp. Or perhaps Rob doesn't actually believe that God's love wins out over all resistance and redeems all hard hearts.

Rob, for a universalist, that's not very inclusive of you.

*Sorry, that was probably a very obscure reference for many of you. Stryper had a hit album called To Hell With the Devil.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: The Christian Faith by Michael Horton

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way by Michael Horton is not your average systematic theology. It's not broken up into simple chapters ending in "-ology" like Christology, hamaritology, ecclesiology, and the like. Instead, Michael Horton means to tell a story because the doctrines of Scripture arise out of the drama of Scripture. Or as he puts it, "The Christian faith is, first and foremost, and unfolding drama . . . The great doctrines of the Christian faith arise out of this dramatic plot".

For these reasons, The Christian Faith isn't primarily a catalog to reference all the topics that make up your typical systematic theology. Rather, Michael Horton tells the story of God, from beginning to end. After an opening section covering the presuppositions of theology called "Knowing God", Horton shapes his systematic theology in a more narrative-like fashion around the following "chapters" of history:
  1. God Who Lives
  2. God Who Creates
  3. God Who Rescues
  4. God Who Reigns in Grace
  5. God Who Reigns in Glory
The benefit of an approach like this is that The Christian Faith doesn't read like a dry systematic theology. Instead, the very words that Horton uses to describe biblical doctrine and theology—words like "drama", "story", and "narrative"—are also perfectly fitting words to describe Horton's book. He also includes a lot of the history of theology, and does so in an equally engaging way. Names like Augustine, Barth, Berkhof, and Schleiermacher need not necessitate a dull read, and Horton soundly makes this point.

One caution: this book can be an intimidating read on a few different levels. The size itself (just under 1,000 pages) may keep more than a few from cracking the cover. And Horton is a scholar of not only theology but history and philosophy, so the novice may want to keep a dictionary (and a smart friend) nearby.

With those cautions in mind, I cannot recommend this book more highly. If you want a systematic theology that deals with each topic in its biblical, philosophical, historical context, Horton's The Christian Faith is first rate. While this book may not be the top choice for introductory theology, this book is like the best theological jawbreaker. Try and take it fast and it will break you. But take your time on it, savor it, and it will deliver a sweet payoff in the end.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, theologians, teachers, anyone looking for a systematic theology that's not dry

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Would Paul Do?

I was thinking about WWJD bracelets today (don't ask me how I got there) and I suddenly realized that, in so many instances, that question is irrelevant, verging on incoherent. Almost like asking, "What would my iPad do?" Jesus, while human, was (and is) also God and that makes the position from which he did and said everything completely other.

You see, I've been reading the Gospels a lot in the past two years and, as I take a mental inventory of all that Jesus did in his three years of ministry, I can't do most of it. For instance, Jesus forgave sin. Yet he affirmed the protestation from the Pharisees that only God can forgive sin. Jesus healed and even raised people from the dead. My track record in those two columns is nil. Jesus preached and spoke with authority, as one from God. Jesus walked on water. Turned water into wine. Cleared the temple. Fed thousands with a Lunch-able. You get my point.

So I was thinking—as heretical as this sounds—that a better question to ask yourself as a Christian is simply "What would Paul do?"

Hold on, before you pick up stones to stone me. Paul himself wrote "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Throughout his teaching, Paul seemed to have an uncanny grasp of how the Gospel impacted our everyday life. It speaks into our marriages, our employment, our relationships. The list goes on and on.

So perhaps "WWPD?" is too near-heretical to be beneficial for most Christians. But I would suggest that there are better alternatives to WWJD that actually have biblically grounded answers we can directly apply to our lives. Try this one on for size: "Based on the Gospel, what would Jesus have me do?" So, does anyone want to buy a BOTG,WWJHMD? bracelet?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: Science, Creation and the Bible by Carlson and Longman

"Theology and science are each seekers after truth". Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman III offer this simple yet profound statement in the introduction to their book Science, Creation and the Bible. The problem (and the reason a book like this would even be necessary) is that theologians and scientists are not always seekers after truth. Sometimes they are merely protectors of a certain paradigm or worldview. So it is refreshing when authors such as these two (a scientist and a theologian) are upfront about their worldview commitments:
We profess our deep commitment to Christian faith and the biblical teaching about creation. At the same time, we believe contemporary science addresses questions on how physical and biological processes began and continue to develop, while theology and philosophy answer why for the same questions. The creation-evolution conflict hinges on two issues: (1) the question of the trustworthiness of contemporary scientific understanding of the beginnings of the universe, the earth and life on the earth, and (2) the question of the faithful reading of the two creation passages in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25 in their literal or non-literal forms.
As you may have noticed, the broader word "science" in the title specifically refers to evolution as the book progresses. The authors are equally critical of both the Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design positions, drawing almost no distinctions between the two (a fact that adherents in both camps would resent, I'm sure). Evolution is not so much defended here as simply stated as fact and then shown to be compatible with the Genesis creation accounts. Or to say it another way, this book is not so much a defense of evolution as it is a defense of a non-literal reading of the creation accounts and their compatibility with evolution. However, this is not to say that only those holding to a position of theistic evolution will benefit from this book.

Chapter 3, "Biblical Interpretation", is alone worth the price of admission and will be beneficial for every Christian, regardless of your position on the origin of the universe. I also found their argument for a non-literal reading of the creation accounts did not necessitate evolution and was equally compatible with my own position of Intelligent Design. Overall, Science, Creation and the Bible is a very accessible book on the current origins debate and has something to offer everyone.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone interested in the origins debate

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Quotes from Joel Beeke's message on prayer

Joel Beeke was the keynote speaker at the 2011 Desiring God Conference for Pastors this year. His message "Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor" was chock-full of quotes that I found challenging, insightful, and applicable to even the layman. Joel began emphasizing the dire importance of prayer by saying "Prayer is the most Christ-like thing we can engage in". I wanted to share some other great quotes from his message:
"Good prayers never come weeping home. I am sure I shall either receive what I asked—or what I should have been asking for in the first place." - Joseph Hall

"You can do more than pray after you pray; but you can't do more than pray until you pray." - John Bunyan

When asked how one could pray better in public, Charles Spurgeon responded "Pray more in private".

Luther, when asked why he always prayed aloud, said "I want even the devil to hear me pray".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review: Christ Among the Dragons by James Emery White

There have been well-publicized predictions in the past couple of years forecasting the demise of evangelicalism. These predictions have come from both within and without the church, ranging from's "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" to the New York Times Magazine's article "The Evangelical Crackup".

James Emery White is just one of the many who are not ready to call it quits just yet, as he demonstrates in Christ Among the Dragons. While we are fast approaching uncharted territory—hence the somewhat cryptic but intriguing title—While offers what he suggests are "introductory ways to regain our sense of true north in the four arenas that brought us together". He sums up these four arenas as follows:
  1. The nature of truth and orthodoxy
  2. Cultural engagement and the evangelistic enterprise
  3. Christian community and civility
  4. The identity and character of the church
White excels at describing the cultural climate and pinpointing the areas that seem to be both the locus of our division and the avenue through which we can bring new life to evangelicalism. I was less impressed, however, with the remedy for the diagnosis. As I finished the book, I came away with a vague sense that I was ready to do something but uncertain where to start. In fact, if Mr. White ever reads this review, I think a book solely expanding on the evangelical response in the four arenas of truth, culture, unity, and the church would be a welcome offering from his proverbial pen.

That disappointment aside, however, this book is a worthwhile and insightful diagnosis of both evangelicalism and the culture it is trying to reach.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Any Christian interacting with the popular culture

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Halter and Smay

Missional. For some, that word represents a Spirit-led (and much needed) church shift. For others, a mere fad. For still others, perhaps something more threatening than a fad.

While I don't fall neatly into any of those camps, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay have taken the missional approach and shown how beautifully it compliments a more traditional approach to church, hence the subtitle: "The gathered and scattered church".

This book feels like a healthy balance to the abundance of missional books out there, and it is certainly less intimidating and threatening for those coming from a traditional church background (such as myself). At the core of their approach is the idea that the church needs both those who "go" and those who "make disciples". There are the senders and there are the sent. This is not only a marriage between two types of people in the church, but a union of two approaches to church itself. We gather to equip, to train, to encourage, to build up. Then we scatter to evangelize, to speak, to reach out.

The overabundance of what some would consider missional buzzwords (like "incarnational" and other words my spell checker keeps underlining) may be distracting for some. However, while this book is clearly written by a couple guys immersed in the missional and house church movements, the merits of the book and the approach itself should win out.

For some, this book may be a real paradigm shift. For others, this may simply be an articulation of what community on mission has always looked like and always been about.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Recommended for: Church leaders, those interested in evangelism, outreach, church structure

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tim Keller deal alert (one week only)!

For one week only, Westminster Bookstore is offering Tim Keller's new book King's Cross for almost nothing: $10.38 or 60% off your first copy (happens automatically when added to cart). All additional copies 45% off. Sale ends February 28th.

Tim Keller’s description of King's Cross:
“The whole story of the world—and of how we fit into it—is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.”

“[The Gospel of] Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like ‘immediately’ to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. This Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today. In his very first sentences Mark tells us that God has broken into history. His style communicates a sense of crisis, that the status quo has been ruptured… Jesus has come; anything can happen now. Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”
Click to read a couple sample chapters on Jarius' Daughter and the Syrophoenician Woman or go straight to the Westminster Bookstore.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan

Let's just admit it, the Old Testament is hard to read. It's long. The cultural context can be confusing. And all those genealogies—I learned the skill of skimming a book on those bad boys. But probably the most difficult element of the Old Testament lies in all the moral challenges that it presents for us here in the 21st century. Can the religious, cultural, ethical context for what we read there help it make sense or is it all really as harsh, heinous, and offensive as the critics charge?

Paul Copan would argue for the former, and does so compellingly in his latest book, Is God a Moral Monster? He opens his book with an introduction to the New Atheists and then uses many of their charges aimed at God and the Old Testament as a rough outline for the remainder of the book. The challenges are not new: the purging of the Promised Land, slavery, polygamy, and strange Mosaic laws for example. But what is new and welcome is Copan's careful treatment of each of these issues.

If I have one critique of this book it is of its redundancy. While Paul Copan begins with the broader and more foundational challenges first and then zeroes in on specifics (e.g. from general dietary restrictions to why one should not boil a goat in its mother's milk) the general principles and foundations were repeated often throughout. Copan apparently opted for clarity over brevity, for which some readers will certainly be thankful.

Perhaps the New Atheists should be given a round of applause. While there have always been Christian apologists answering the hard questions of Christianity, the focused attacks of the New Atheists have roused the apologists to full force and Copan's work on the Old Testament is perhaps the sharpest and most accessible work on the subject.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Armchair apologists, skeptics, anyone confused or challenged by the Old Testament

This book was a free review copy provided by Baker Books.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 Book List

52 books in a year. That's part of my one-year personal growth plan. This year, however, I am trying to focus my reading more on areas that will have a direct impact on my ministry at Redeemer Church. I figured since I have to keep track of them anyway, I'd post them here in case anyone wants to make any suggestions to my reading or ask about any of the books on the list.

Also, as I did last year, I will continually update the list but I won't move it to the top of the blog, so if you're interested, you'll have to search it out! The list will be in ascending order of my favorites!
  1. King's Cross - Tim Keller
  2. A Meal With Jesus - Tim Chester
  3. The God Who Is There - D.A. Carson
  4. Closing the Window - Tim Chester
  5. Smooth Stones - Joe Coffey
  6. Dug Down Deep - Joshua Harris
  7. Is God a Moral Monster? - Paul Copan
  8. Church Planter - Darrin Patrick
  9. Hipster Christianity - Brett McCracken
  10. Reverberation - Jonathan Leeman
  11. Don't Call It a Comeback - Kevin DeYoung (ed.)
  12. The Christian Faith - Michael Horton
  13. Science, Creation, and the Bible - Carlson and Longman
  14. If God, Why Evil? - Norman L. Geisler
  15. If God Is Good... - Randy Alcorn
  16. The Deep Things of God - Fred Sanders
  17. What's So Great About Christianity - Dinesh D'Souza
  18. The Forgotten God - Francis Chan
  19. Cruciform - Jimmy Davis
  20. To Transform a City - Eric Swanson
  21. Jesus in the Present Tense - Warren Wiersbe
  22. Love Wins - Rob Bell

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

Perhaps no word has been more central to evangelical writing and discussion in the past decade than the word "gospel". So when Fred Sanders' latest book The Deep Things of God offers insight into "How the Trinity changes everything" some may write it off as secondary. This would be a big mistake. Early on, Sanders makes a compelling argument (one he unpacks throughout the book) that "the gospel is Trinitarian, and the Trinity is the gospel".

As the title implies, this book gets into the deep things and requires at times some deep thinking to follow along. As my pastor might say, Fred didn't exactly put all the cookies on the bottom shelf. However, for those willing to give a little mental effort, there are treasures in the facets of the Trinity that may change the way you think of the gospel, salvation, and prayer to name a few. Let me give you a few examples:
"The main practical reason for learning how to think well about the eternal life of the Trinity is that it is the background for the gospel. The blessedness of God's inner life is the only thing that is even better than the good news. The life of God in itself is the source of all the riches that fund the economy of salvation."

"When the outlines of both are clear, we should experience the shock of recognition: Trinity and gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us. Every other blessing is either a preparation for that or a result of it."
The final chapter entitled "Praying with the Grain" was most instructional for me and more than a little convicting as I do a lot of public praying in my role as a worship leader. Using the imagery of sanding wood or petting a cat, Sanders suggests that "the act of prayer has, metaphorically speaking, a grain to it. Prayer has an underlying structure built into it, complete with a directionality that is worth observing". Praying to the Father through the Son in the Spirit is rarely the structure we hear (or even the structure we pray ourselves). Praying in a more careful and conscious manner will make one a more careful theologian more conscious of the presence and power of the Trinity in our lives.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Theologians, careful gospel thinkers

Cheaper than Amazon, Westminster Bookstore has The Deep Things of God for $11.81.

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway Books.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Video Review: BASIC.Follow Jesus by Francis Chan

This is the second review of Francis Chan's BASIC series. To read the first review of the series in general and the first video Fear God click here.

Have you ever been asked (or been the one to ask), "What does it really mean to be a Christian? To really follow Jesus? What is the church really supposed to look like and what should it be doing?"

Follow Jesus picks up where Fear God leaves off. While each of these visually stunning videos can stand alone, both the teaching and the visual "parable" flow seamlessly from one video to the next to show the natural progression of the Christian journey. As in the first video, Francis Chan neatly strips away all of the often confusing Christian-ese surrounding the ideas of church and following Jesus and paints a picture that he describes as both simple and difficult.

The BASIC series lends itself perfectly to the small group (both teen and adult) and addresses the fundamental building blocks for the Christian life and the Church. These videos are visually exquisite, intellectually stimulating and theologically solid.

Publisher's description for Follow Jesus: "What does Jesus mean when He tells us to follow Him? Are we supposed to just agree with what He says, or does He really mean we're supposed to do the things He did and live the life He lived? Once we understand how to follow Jesus, we see the hard life that might be in store for us, and then the real question becomes not how, but why we would want to follow Him in the first place."

You can watch the trailer for BASIC.Follow Jesus here.