BOOK REVIEWS

My Personal Picks: The Best Books of 2018

2018 was a spectacular year for books. My personal reading interests are varied, which include theology, apologetics, biography, history, philosophy, politics, and spy thrillers. My selections focus on books that made a direct impact on my life, sparked additional research, and enriched my pastoral ministry.

# 10 From Death to Life: How Salvation Works – Allen S. Nelson IV

This short book addresses the question, “What is a Christian?” I was struck with the depth and ability of Nelson to crystalize the soteriological framework in a way that is faithful to Scripture and engaging. The author traces the path of salvation from darkness to light and challenges readers to embrace a Reformed understanding of Scripture.

Link to my Review

# 9 The Kremlin Conspiracy – Joel Rosenberg

Joel Rosenberg does not disappoint with his newest thriller. The Kremlin Conspiracy is a well-researched political powder keg of a book. Joel Rosenberg writes with a deep understanding of Russian culture and has a good working knowledge of the intelligentsia – both American and Russian.

Link to my Review

# 8 Holy Sexuality and the Gospel – Christopher Yuan

Rosaria Butterfield calls Christopher Yuan’s book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel “the most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times.” I predict that this book will be a standard textbook in Bible Colleges and Seminaries for many years to come.

Link to my Review

# 7 Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire – Brett Baier

The fortieth president of the United States marked our nation and led us through some troubling times. Brett Baier’s excellent work reminds us why Ronald Reagan was one of our most inspiring and effective presidents.

Link to my Review

#6 Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards – Owen Strachan

The influence of Jonathan Edwards’s writing and ministry has helped shape my worldview and theological framework more than any other. Dr. Strachan’s devotional book, which features the Puritan divine shows why.

Link to my Review

#5 Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning – Wayne Grudem

Ethics is a topic that Christians tend to avoid. Wayne Grudem illustrates why this should never be the case in his thought-provoking book.

Link to my Review

# 4 Reformed Preaching – Joel Beeke

Joel R. Beeke addresses the matter of preaching in his latest volume. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of the People underscores the importance of the preaching task and inspires every expositor who is set on obeying the biblical mandate.

Link to my Review

# 3 Expository Exultation – John Piper

Expository Exultation, by John Piper should be read by rookie and veteran preachers alike. It should be read and re-read. Every Bible College and Seminary professor should immediately add this work to their list of required reading for preaching courses.

Link to my Review

# 2 Suffering – Paul David Tripp

C.S. wrote, “If I knew a way of escape I would crawl through the sewers to escape the pain.” Whether a person agrees with Lewis’s radical conclusion or not is a matter of personal opinion. However, the problem of suffering is a universal dilemma that every person must face. How we respond to suffering reveals the strength of our Christian resolve and character. Paul David Tripp cuts through the fog in his most recent book, Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.

Link to my Review

#1 The Preacher’s Catechism – Lewis Allen

The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen is my number 1 pick for 2018. Here’s why —

Link to my Review

BOOK REVIEWS

Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense – Paul David Tripp (2018)

tripp 2Paul David Tripp, Suffering (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 210 pp.

C.S. wrote, “If I knew a way of escape I would crawl through the sewers to escape the pain.” Whether a person agrees with Lewis’s radical conclusion or not is a matter of personal opinion. However, the problem of suffering is a universal dilemma that every person must face. How we respond to suffering reveals the strength of our Christian resolve and character.

Paul David Tripp’s recent book, Suffering explores a weighty subject and invites readers onto a personal journey that will encourage deep humility and personal growth. Speaking personally, Dr. Tripp’s book took my breath away. The author’s transparency and humble approach spoke deeply to my heart and lifted my spirit.

In the final analysis, this book has less to do with coping with suffering and more to do with how suffering can supernaturally transform the lives of God’s people. Listen to Tripp’s meditations and allow his words to sink in deeply:

“Suffering has the power to turn your timidity into courage and your doubt into surety. Hardship can turn envy into contentment and complaint into praise. It has the power to make you tender and approachable, to replace subtle rebellion with joyful surrender. Suffering has the power to form beautiful things in your heart that reform the way you live your life. It has incredible power to be a tool of transforming grace.”

Suffering in many ways is like pouring ice-cold water on an unsuspecting victim; a battering ram that brings even the most powerful to a place of humility and surrender. This volume is quick to remind us that all those who suffer are in desperate need of grace. Tripp adds, “This physical travail, in the hands of my Savior, is a tool used to drive me away from self-sufficiency and into a deeper dependency on God and his people.” Therefore, suffering is greatly used by God to propel his people to a place they never would have reached apart from suffering.

This fundamental message of transformation stands at the heart of Tripp’s book and has the power in itself to encourage and equip a lot of people in God’s kingdom.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

The Rule Of Love – Jonathan Leeman (2018)

ruleJonathan Leeman, The Rule of Love (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 174 pp.

Submission and authority is a hot topic these days. Tragically, however, most people are not flocking to read about it, let alone embrace this important reality. Jonathan Leeman explores this subject in his book, The Rule of Love. The subtitle nicely captures the essence of the book: How the Local Church Should Reflect God’s Love and Authority.

Leeman’s intent is to help readers understand what love and authority truly are. As such, the main goal of the book is to “refashion our views of God’s love and authority and their relationship together.” Also in play is the responsibility of the church to administer discipline in a biblically appropriate manner – and to maintain the crucial distinctive of love and authority.  “We need to remember something about love and rule that our ancestors in the garden forgot,” writes the author. “For God, love and rule aren’t two things but different aspects of one thing.”

So Leeman draws the attention of readers to the magnificence of God’s love. He demonstrates first, that God’s first priority is himself. That is, God’s love is first and foremost is a God-centered love. The author adds, “The Father gives his righteousness and glory to the Son and delights in that glory above all. The Son, in turn, gives his righteousness and glory to the Father and delights in that glory above all.” Evidently, Christ did not think of us “above all” as the popular song suggests. Leeman refers to the God-centered love as the “archetypal boomerang of love.” Brilliant!

This God-centered love has a series of massive implications for the church:

  1. God’s love motivates the church to evangelize and do good.
  2. God’s love motivates the church to identify church members and practice church discipline.
  3. God’s love motivates the church to teach and disciple the nations.
  4. God’s love motivates the church to worship.
  5. God’s love creates a distinct and holy culture.

Second, God’s love for sinners is described in glorious detail. At the heart of this discussion is how the Father sent the Son into the world to win his bride. Leeman includes a helpful discussion on what he calls contra-conditional love (as opposed to the unconditional love of God). My suspicion is that the author is building off the excellent work of David Powlison who has emphasized the same point in his book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional. ”Love” according to the author, is “affectionately affirming that which is from God in the beloved, and giving oneself to seeing God exalted in the beloved.”

The takeaways for the church are crucial:

  1. Making disciples must be uppermost in the church’s mission.
  2. Christians should be a people of compassion and justice.
  3. Christians should seek to display God’s glory in their lives together and apart.
  4. To belong to a church is to belong to a covenant.

Summary

The Rule of Love is a book that deserves to be read and studied by many. It is a book that should be read and re-read. The bottom line in a pluralistic and pragmatic culture: “To preach and teach is to exercise loving authority because it points people to God’s revelation. To disciple is to exercise loving authority because it seeks to see people conformed to the image of God. To evangelize is to participate in loving authority because it tells the nations that God is their Judge and King, and that he offers a way of pardon.”

The Rule of Love is a counter-cultural book that will challenge the unsuspecting to action and urge the unrepentant to be transformed. Walking away from this book unchanged is impossible. I recommend it highly!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

Reading the Bible Supernaturally – John Piper (2017)

piperJohn Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally Wheaton: Crossway, 2017, 430 pp. $25.51

The day I completed John Piper’s newest book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, I was alerted to a shocking and sobering statistic, namely, only forty-five percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Such a statistic should prompt Christians to radically shift their priorities and make Bible reading a normal part of their lives. If less than half of Christian people are reading the Bible on a regular basis, we are not only short-circuiting our joy; we are failing to showcase the glory of God and find satisfaction in his all-sufficient grace.

Part One: The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, by John Piper is directed at people who regularly feast on the Word of God. My assumption is that if people neglect Bible reading, they will have no interest in reading a book about the Bible. Piper offers a modest proposal in Reading the Bible Supernaturally:

Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

Six implications flow forth from this proposal:

  1. that the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe;
  2. that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word;
  3. that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty;
  4. that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things;
  5. that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty,
  6. so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshipping family of God until the bride of Christ – across all centuries and cultures – is complete in number and beauty.

The proposal and the six implications make up the first part of the book and help set the stage for the remaining sections.

Part Two: The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible

In Part Two, the author argues that reading the Bible in a way that glorifies God is a supernatural act. God expects that his Word is read supernaturally a feat that Piper expounds with skill and persuasiveness.

Part Three: The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally

Part three may surprise some readers as Piper makes a case for joining the natural efforts of Bible reading with supernatural assistance from God. The aim of the author in this section is to “encourage a deep dependence on God and the fullest use of natural powers in the supernatural act of reading the Bible.” In passage after passage, Piper demonstrates how this view matches the biblical record.

Summary

John Piper succeeds in defending his proposal. In the process, he encourages Christians to read “actively” with “aggressive attentiveness.” His plea is for readers to be rooted in a “deep understanding of the glorious calling to pursue the natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally.” Clearly, we are in the midst of a crisis if less than half of Christians are reading their Bibles on a regular basis. Something must change in the days ahead. The best place to begin is by reading the Bible supernaturally.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · CHRISTIAN LIFE · CULTURE · Culture

Death By Living – N.D. Wilson (2013)

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Grasshoppers, swings, dirt, traffic jams, puppy dogs, and blue skies. N.D. Wilson appears to be captivated by everyday objects and everyday situations. He appears to be captivated by life. Living life is what his new book is meant to convey – really living life. But living also means dying.  So the author wordsmiths his way into the heart of readers by painting portraits of life and death – most of which arise from his own life and the lives of his family and extended family.

Death by Living is a plea for people to living life as God intends. In other words, to quote Red from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dying.” Wilson challenges readers to get busy living which of course will culminate with death: “How much of the vineyard can we burn first? How fast can we run? How deeply can we laugh?  Can we ever give more than we receive? How much gratitude can we show? How many of the least of these can we touch along the way? How many seeds will we get into the ground before we ourselves are planted?”

A theme that runs through Wilson’s work is that life is a story. Life is a story that each of us participates in. Indeed, we write our stories every day.  But the author maintains, “there is a difference between asserting that life is a story and actually living life like a story. And there is another difference between living life-like a story and living life like a good story.”  Living life like a story, therefore, is part and parcel of the Christian life.

The author helps readers see what real living looks like: “Grabbing will always fail. Giving will always succeed … Our children, our friends, and our neighbors will all be better off if we work to accumulate for their sakes … Don’t leave food uneaten, strength unspent, wine undrunk.”

Wilson urges readers to live with all their might. And while he never mentions Jonathan Edwards, I hear a strong Edwardsian influence throughout the book. Edwards himself penned 70 resolutions that reflect many of the propositions in Death by Living. One of those resolutions is to “live with all my might, while I do live” (Resolution 6). Nate Wilson argues in the same vein, which of course, is undergirded by America’s greatest intellectual: “Laugh from your gut.  Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life.  And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.”

Death by Living will elicit laughter – lots of laughter.  I found myself reading portions of Wilson’s work to my wife and she would laugh with me.  In fact, I haven’t laughed so hard in a while!  Some won’t find Wilson’s humor funny – which makes me laugh even harder!

Death by Living may prompt tears. There is a realism here that is hard to come by these days. This author speaks in candid terms.  Taking prisoners simply isn’t an option.  All the cards are on the table.  Readers are left to determine a whether the “hand they’ve been dealt” will result in joyful, Christ-saturated living or death by a thousand qualifications.  Far too many have simply thrown in the towel.  Wilson argues from an entirely different perspective as he encourages readers that “life is meant to be spent.”

One reviewer compares Wilson to John Eldredge – what is likely meant to be a compliment. Sure, whatever.  I prefer as I have done elsewhere [See my review: Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl] to compare Wilson to Dennis Miller, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis – no doubt a true compliment!  Death by Living is about the gospel but it never comes across in “preachy” tones.  It’s a celebration of a life lived and ended well.  It’s about a life that is lived passionately and faithfully.  Death by Living is about living with gusto; about living with passion; about living to honor Christ.  But real living also requires dying.  We are called to finish strong and die well – all to the glory of God!

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards – Owen Strachan (2018)

owenOwen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2018), 415 pp.

I don’t usually get too excited about devotional books. They are typically too short and far too shallow. Such books gain a wide readership, which only adds fuel to my frustration. But when I learned about Dr. Owen Strachan’s new book, Always in God’s Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, I eagerly secured a copy to review.

The book contains a short devotional for each day of the year. Readers are greeted by a short citation by America’s greatest intellectual and pastor, Jonathan Edwards. Strachan follows with an insightful devotion which is laced with Bible-centered wisdom and practical lessons that apply to the Christian life. Topics include the doctrine of the Trinity, justification, sanctification, battling temptation and worldliness, work ethic, faith, biblical authority, and many more. Each devotion concludes with a short Scripture that relates to the daily content.

Observant readers will notice several things about Strachan’s work. First, it is not short and it is not shallow. These are meaty, soul-stirring devotionals that ignite the affections and draw the attention of readers to the triune God. For instance, listen to how the author describes the promise of a Redeemer:

“It was foretold that Jesus would come as a holy warrior to face down his foe. Genesis 3:15 charts what the New Testament Gospels show us. Christ, Jonathan Edwards says, ‘went before us.’ He suffered ‘execution,’ dying to honor the justice of God, represented so vividly as a ‘sword,’ a great and terrible weapon. But the way of Christ is not a way of defeat. In dying, the Son of God crushed the serpent’s head. He rose from the dead. For believers, ‘there is no sword now,’ and eternal life awaits. The conquering hero will one day welcome us home, a liberated nation and a set-apart people.”

Second, it is a stellar introduction to the Christ-saturated worldview of Jonathan Edwards (approximately 30,000 words from the pen of Edwards are presented in this volume). Too many people unfairly caricature Edwards as a fire-breathing preacher, preoccupied with judgment and damnation. Edwards does indeed warn people to flee from the wrath to come. But this is not his only focus. The Puritan divine is fixated on the glory of God. He is consumed with the supremacy of Christ. His writing is saturated with gospel-centered joy.

Third, it provides practical help for believers at different maturity levels. This volume is certainly a great encouragement to seasoned believers. But it will also help strengthen the faith of believers who are just getting started. After completing Always in His Hands, I ordered an additional copy for my sixteen-year-old son. Inscribed in the opening pages are these words – from a father to his son:

“Jonathan Edwards life and writing have deeply shaped my views of God, the gospel, and the Christian life. No other writer outside of sacred Scripture has influenced me more. When you get to know this man, you get better acquainted with his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And his Savior is our Savior!”

I’m looking forward to reading these short devotions together. Each is inspired by Jonathan Edwards but the real joy will be treasuring the Lord Jesus and finding our satisfaction in him. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.”

Always in His Hands: Day By Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards is a landmark book. It is a captivating introduction to America’s greatest thinker and invites readers to biblical spirituality that is truly unmatched. I highly recommend this work and trust that it will receive a wide reading in the evangelical world. Always in His Hands is among the best books of 2018!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel – Christopher Yuan (2018)

holyChristopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel (New York: Multnomah, 2018), 234 pp.

Rosaria Butterfield calls Christopher Yuan’s book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel “the most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times.” That is quite a statement from such a respected woman. After a thorough reading, I concur that this indeed is a powerful and timely book.

Christophe Yuan is a professor at Moody Bible Institute who marks out our identity as human beings in this book. He clearly reveals that we are image bearers of God, created with a purpose for God’s glory. However, each creature has fallen short of God’s glory and has been plunged into a state of sinfulness – by nature and by choice. Yuan establishes biblical sexuality and builds upon this foundation by exploring the biblical basis for marriage and singleness.

The theme of holy sexuality is at the center of the book. Holy sexuality, which is radically contrary to the zeitgeist we’ve grown accustomed to consists of two paths: “Chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.” Yuan explains, “Chastity is more than simply abstention from extramarital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan maintains that the term holy sexuality is necessary since current terminology does not adequately or accurately reflect the biblical standard of sexual expression. He argues, “The purpose of this phrase is to transcend the current secular paradigm of sexual orientation that is unable to point toward God’s clear intent for sexual expression.” Holy Sexuality is meant to eliminate the confusing jargon which is usually associated with this controversial subject. Yuan adds, “Instead of deterring how we ought to live based on enduring patterns of erotic desires, God’s call for all humanity, quite simply, is holiness.”

The matter of homosexuality has been vigorously debated in recent days and has been especially elevated since the recent Supreme Court decision that legalized so-called “same-sex marriage.” Personally, I struggle with much of the literature that is either for or against “same-sex marriage.” It is hotly contested on both sides and generally produces more heat than light. But Dr. Yuan’s book takes a different path. Never once does he deviate from the biblical path to purity. He maintains the biblical boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman and sets forth a case that is both compelling and compassionate.

Christopher Yuan has written a thoughtful and compelling book. It is grounded in sacred Scripture and faithfully reflects the teaching of Scripture. Yuan’s convictions are uncompromising, yet he writes out of a deep and authentic love for people in the homosexual community. His tone is always charitable, yet he never compromises the teaching of God’s Word. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel is a much-needed corrective to the overly simplified approach that some Christian writers take. It avoids the pitfalls typically associated with this subject and leads readers to a place of faithfulness and fulfillment. Christian readers will be encouraged and challenged by Dr. Yuan’s heart. And readers who struggle with same-sex desires will be patiently instructed by a writer who writes with patience and biblical fidelity.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS

Basics For Believers – D.A. Carson

basD.A. Carson, Basics For Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 156 pp.

D.A. Carson’s book, Basic For Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Love is a focused overview on the book of Philippians. Carson tackles Paul’s letter to the Philippians with the care and precision that readers are accustomed to.

Dr. Carson takes five chapters to exposit Paul’s epistle, all of which are packed with gospel-centered reality and principles that encourage and equip followers of Christ. The book is basic enough for new believers to comprehend but also contains a wealth of information that seasoned believers will benefit from.

Christians are encouraged to gaze intently on the cross of Christ, emulate worthy Christian leaders and stand firm in the gospel. The principles are an accurate reflection of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, all of which are timeless and transcendent realities. I commend this work for anyone who seeks a solid treatment of Philippians and needs Christ-centered encouragement in a godless age.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

THE FLIP THAT FLOPPED: The Consequences of Doctrinal Compromise

President Obama promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.”  He has inflipped many respects delivered on that promise with the unveiling of the Affordable Health Care Act and a host of executive orders that are, in the final analysis, out of step with American values.  But give credit where credit is due.  The transformation which the president promised has taken place.  Now, Americans wait for the painful consequences to set in.

In Doug Pagitt’s latest book, “Flipped,” the author sets out to fundamentally transform the classical view of God.   This transformation is creative and innovative.  It is intuitive and will attract the attention of many readers.

Pagitt sets forth three goals at the beginning of the book:

  1. To see that changing your mind, drawing new conclusions, and engaging new ideas all lie at the heart of Jesus’s message and life.
  2. To behold the big, beautiful story of God as you find new ways to live in it.
  3. To invite readers to a full and vibrant life in God.

The basic idea that runs through this book is what the author refers to as a “flip” – which is nothing short of revising one’s views about God, Scripture, and the Christian life in general.  Pagitt adds, “The Flip at the center of this book is one that turned me around as a pastor and a Christian writer as well as my personal life and faith.”

The Flip That Flopped

Several “flips” are addressed in this work.  But the one that keeps surfacing concerns a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God.  At the heart of this book is a commitment to panentheism.  This worldview, also known as process theology is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of God, yet is receiving a hearing in the emergent church and some liberal churches.  One might consider such a view a halfway house between theism and pantheism.  But make no mistake – panentheism is outside the scope of historical orthodoxy.

All is in God?

To be fair, the author never uses the word, panentheism.  Yet this panentheistic theme runs throughout the book.  Pagitt argues, “God is not a separate single subject … If God were not a separate being from all things in the cosmos, then we need not simply say God exists.  We can say that God is existence.  All is in God.”  Such language is the classic lingo of panentheism.

My initial impression: Surely this is a typo!  The author can’t possibly mean what he is saying.  But as I continued to read, my suspicions were confirmed.  “… All that exists is In God,” writes Pagitt.  He tries to justify this “flip” by appealing to the rationale from Acts 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides of Crete: “In him, we live and move and have our being.

In addition to promoting panentheism, the author posits the notion of universalism: “Beyond that, the power of God that was alive in Jesus is alive in us.  In short, the fullness of God is active in humanity without assistance from any religious system.”  He continues, “Instead, we can recognize that all people live, move, and exist In God.”

Evaluation

Flipped is a radical departure from the biblical understanding of God.  The notion that all people “exist In God” simply fails to match the biblical data.  Much to the contrary, we find a distinction between the Creator and the creature.  Whenever one denies such a distinction he makes a dangerous theological move with several critical implications.  What are the implications of denying the Creator-creature distinction?

  • Misreads and misinterprets Scripture.
  • Compromises God’s character.
  • Compromises biblical authority.
  • Minimizes the transcendence of God and emphasizes the immanence of God in biblically inappropriate ways.

Readers should recall how God is truly presented in Scripture.  He is never presented in a panentheistic scheme – ever!  Rather, he is presented as the absolute personal God.  This absolute God is transcendent; that is to say, he is over and above the scope of the universe.  He is distinct and independent of his creation (Isa. 57:15; Isa. 40:10).  He is preeminent  (Isa. 40:25-28; 44:6-8).  Jonathan Edwards adds, “His power is infinite, and none can resist him.  His riches are immense and inexhaustible.  His majesty is infinitely awful.”  And God carries supreme authority over all.  Nothing rivals the supreme authority of God (Job 41:10; 37:9-14).

The Triune God holds all things together.  In a few words, St. Paul demonstrates both the transcendence and the imminence of God: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17, ESV).  God is sovereign (Dan. 4:34-35).  Nothing can thwart his sovereign decrees!  He is distinct from the created order (Acts 17:24-29).  And the Bible tells us that God is wholly other (Isa. 46:9).  This is a far cry from people who “exist In God.”

God is not only absolute; he is personal.  He cares for his creation.  He is intimately involved with his creation and he delights to meet the needs of his creatures.

God is the Sustainer (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  He is the Healer (2 Chron. 7:14).  He is the Protector (2 Sam. 22:2).  He is the Shepherd (Ps. 23:1-6).  He is the Forgiver (Rom. 5:1).  And Scripture demonstrates the ultimate love that God expressed on the Cross when Jesus died for sinners (Rom. 5:8).

Flipped will likely attract many readers; especially readers who are committed to theological liberalism.  The author seeks to fundamentally transform the vision of God by convincing readers that  “… All that exists is In God.”  The only problem: The view presented here is dead wrong.

A.W. Tozer understood the importance of getting God right.  He rightly noted in his best-selling book, The Knowledge of God:

The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most [awe-inspiring] fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his heart conceives God to be like … So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards decline along with it.  The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

May followers of Christ heed Tozer’s advice.  We certainly do not need to flip our views of God.  Any deviation from the biblical vision of God will have tragic consequences in the church and the culture in which she seeks to minister.  Any flip will become a flop that ignores the clear teaching of Scripture.

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.