BOOK REVIEWS

Discipling in a Multicultural World – Adith Fernando (2019)

Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 288 pp.

Discipling in a Multicultural World by Adith Fernando compressive work that describes the essence of the discipling process. Fernando brings a wealth of experience as a longtime director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. His expansive knowledge and lengthy tenure provide a breadth and depth of wisdom that is missing in many discipling resources.

Spiritual Parenthood

Mr. Fernando introduces a subject that is foreign in most discipleship literature, namely, spiritual parenthood. This missing perspective is explored from several different angles and reveals how disciples serve as spiritual parents to their disciples.

The Process of Change

The second half of the book explores how disciples change. The practical section is a primer on sanctification. Fernando addresses real concerns and offers godly wisdom for disciples in an international context.

Discipling in a Multicultural World is a worthy read and helpful addition to a growing list of discipling resources. The real strength lies in its appeal to multicultural contexts.

Finally, a helpful series of appendices is included. Most helpful is a checklist of topics for discussion.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church – James K. Allen, Ed (2019)

Jason K. Allen, Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019), 135 pp.

The heart of what Luther and the reformers discovered during the sixteenth century can be summarized in what we know today as the five solas of the Reformation, namely, that sinners are saved by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (sola Christus), on the Word alone (Sola Scriptura) for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). These concise statements, what Jason Allen refers to as the “perennial touchpoint of theological and spiritual formation.” The solas, then, form an unbreakable bond on which the Reformation was built and on which the church stands.

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church, edited by Jason K. Allen is a primer on the the reformation slogans and the important they have on the church in our generation. Each sola is carefully define, explained in its historical context, and defended biblically. Finally, each author presents the practical application that comes as a result.

These theological realities that the five solas represent not only set sixteenth century Europe on fire; they set individual hearts ablaze wherever they were proclaimed and lived out. And these unchanging truths have the power to spark new reformation and revival in our hearts today.

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church is a perfect entryway for anyone who seeks to understand why the Reformation still matters. These truths are not optional for Christ-followers. Rather, they stand at the very center of the gospel and should be boldly proclaimed.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Remaining Faithful in Ministry – John MacArthur (2019)

John MacArthur, Remaining Faithful in Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 71 pp.

The mandate to finish strong is the calling of every follower of Christ. Men called to pastoral ministry must carefully heed this call, which is the theme of John MacArthur’s most recent book, Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor.

As his life and ministry drew to a close, Paul the apostle wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The former blasphemer completed his mission on this earth and glorified the Lord both in his life and in his death.

Aspiring to remain faithful is one thing. But actually finishing strong is quite another. Tragically, pastoral failure commonplace, only bringing shame and reproach on the church.

Dr. MacArthur argues that pastors need to shore up their convictions, which help them be faithful in ministry:

  1. Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant
  2. Convinced That Ministry is Mercy
  3. Convinced of the Need for a Pure Heart
  4. Convinced of the Need to Preach the Word Faithfully
  5. Convinced That the Results Belong to God
  6. Convinced of His Own Insignificance
  7. Convinced of the Benefit of Suffering
  8. Convinced of the Need for Courage
  9. Convinced That Future Glory is Better than Anything This World Could Offer

MacArthur briefly explains each conviction. Each chapter is a short, Scripture-soaked spur for pastors who aspire to be faithful ministers. Frankly, every man who intends to finish strong in the Christian race should read Remaining Faithful in Ministry. While the author focuses on pastors in particular, the principles are immediately transferable to all followers of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Why I Love the Apostle Paul – John Piper (2019)

John Piper, Why I Love the Apostle Paul (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 204 pp.

The aim of John Piper’s most recent book is to help readers get to know Paul the apostle. Piper’s motive is that Paul’s “God-entranced soul and his unparalleled vision of Jesus Christ and the authenticity of his life would move you to admire him and believe his message and embrace his Lord.”

The name of the book is Why I Love the Apostle Paul. Thirty reasons are supplied in short, readable chapters as Dr. Piper unpacks the heart and soul of one of the greatest thinkers and theologians of all time.

This book reveals the underbelly or the foundations of Piper’s well-known Christian hedonism. Many have fought against the very notion of such a worldview. Some have cast it aside as heretical; others have discounted it or marginalized its value. The arguments for Christian hedonism that Piper presents are not only biblical; they are robust, logical, mind-shaping, and heart-warming. The central thought of Piper’s Christian hedonism is this:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper’s latest offering, while not necessarily an apologetic for Christian hedonism, is a worthy defensive and brilliant articulation of the philosophy which has undergirded the author’s life and ministry.

Quite frankly, Why I Love the Apostle Paul is an enthralling book. It is certain to open many eyes to the depth, breadth, majesty, and beauty of the gospel. The deep biblical realities that Dr. Piper unfolds are powerful and encouraging. This is a book that deserves to be read over and over again!

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

Doubt and Assurance – R.C. Sproul, Ed. (1993)

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Doubt and Assurance, Edited by R.C. Sproul is a worthy read that is sure to help doubters; those who struggle with assurance of salvation.

Part one surveys the anatomy of doubt.  R.C. Sproul, Alistair McGrath, W. Andrew Hoffecker, Os Guiness, Sinclair Ferguson, and R. Bruce Steward join forces and roll out six impressive chapters that are theologically driven and geared to explain the various aspects of doubt.

Part two covers assurance.  Contributors include Roger Nicole, John Gerstner, Ron Kilpatrick, Steve Brown, and John Richard DeWitt.  These shorts chapters include a brief theology of assurance and alert readers to this important and multifaceted biblical teaching.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

HELP MY UNBELIEF – Barnabas Piper (2015)

“I believe; help my unbelief!” cried the father of a demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24).  This cry of anguish is the cry necessarily which emerges from the mouth of every believer.  Why?  Our faith is growing.  Our faith is incomplete.  We are works in progress.  We still have much to learn.  In fact, Barnabas Piper argues, that questions are normal, even healthy in the Christian life.  This is the essence of Piper’s newest book, Help My Unbelief

When the man in Mark 9 cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief,” he was uttering more than a mere statement.  Piper adds, “Requests can stem only from belief, even it is just the tiniest inkling of belief.”  This kind of reasoning should breathe hope, strength, and confidence in believers who doubt from time to time.  For the very act of doubt, precipitates saving faith!  Once again: we are in process.  We are still growing.  God is in the process of refining our faith.  And he will complete the good work he started!

Piper introduces readers to the idea of “believing doubt.”  He says, “Believing doubt will always anchor in God’s character and word as unshakeable and then take on questions that harass and attack.”  While much harm can come from doubt, Piper maintains, “Doubt can save us from much trouble and lead to much knowledge … Doubt that seeks the truth and stems from the belief that God is the source of all truth.”

But the author also presents the idea of “unbelieving doubt.”  “When unbelieving doubt poses a question, it is not interested in the answer for any reason other than to disprove it … These doubts are the wild monsters that wreck faith and destroy the simplistically peaceful Christian lives so many people try to lead.”

This doubt can surface in several ways – intellectual, emotional, or even theological.  Truth be told, every Christian battles with unbelieving doubt.  This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “See to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”

God has given us certain evidences of saving faith which include repentance, prayer, and humility: “Through repentance, prayer, and humility believers move away from unbelieving doubt and grow in holiness.  The refusal to do these things is a spiritual red flag and evidence of wanting to be one’s own god.”

Piper discusses disobedience as unbelief: “Disobeying the command of God is disbelieving His character … He [God] is authority itself, the essence of perfect, flawless authority.  To disobey is to deny this about him.”  Piper also discusses obedience as belief.  In a statement to is dripping with the wisdom of his father, he adds: “Obedience is not the end; God’s satisfaction in us and our pleasure in Him are.  It doesn’t feel tangible in the moment, but as we grow in belief, we will find it gaining power over the desire to sin.”  Pure Christian hedonism!

Walking in obedience to God is not a magic formula or a recipe for perfection in the Christian life.  The author rightly notes, “Belief [which is to say – obedience to God] does not mean sin will go away … True belief is that which perpetually, magnetically pulls us toward the ‘not yet’ of Revelation 21.”  Believing the promises of God and being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ leads us in the direction of the new earth where Jesus will make all things new!

Help My Unbelief is a plea for a faith which is transparent and vulnerable.  It is a call for vibrant Christian living in the face of unanswered questions.  And if offer hope for people who are desperately looking for answers.  The search for answers is welcomed here.  Indeed, the search for truth is a vital part of the Christian life.  The book is a call to action; action which is grounded in biblical faith.  While faith may waver and is “prone to wonder” as  Charles Wesley wrote, we can be assured that God will never leave us or forsake us.  He will complete the good work he started.

“I believe; help my unbelief” represents the tension, the need the promise for every follower of Jesus.  We do believe.  We do live every day in great need.  Our belief is imperfect, so we cry out for help.  But that cry come from a place of belief.  We hold fast to God even as we feel pulled by the current of doubt, fear, and temptation.”

– Barnabas Piper

Highly recommended!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Reformed Preaching – Joel Beeke (2018)

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Joel Beeke, Reformed Preaching (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 475 pp.

Preaching the Word of God is at the very center of pastoral ministry. Indeed, the task of preaching God’s Word that should occupy a good portion of the pastoral week. Neglecting this critical responsibility results in weak sheep who are unable to discern the times. Minimizing or marginalizing preaching always leads to a malnourished flock.

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. Beeke alerts readers to his purpose early in the book:

May God graciously use this book to promote God-honoring preaching that addresses the real needs of his people – preaching that is not only biblically doctrinal, covenantal, historian-redemptive, and practical, but also biblically and warmly experiential both in its applicators and discriminatory dimensions for the building up of the universal church.

At the center of Beeke’s concern is preaching that engages the affections, a quality that is sorely absent from many Reformed pulpits. He offers a stern warning for preachers who provide good instruction but fail to nourish the flock of God! This identical concern also occupied the attention of Jonathan Edwards:

I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided that they are affected with nothing but the truth … Our people don’t so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching that has the greatest tendency to do this.

Herein lies the dilemma for the preacher – engaging both the head as well as the heart. Tragically, too many Reformed preacher’s aim for the head and miss the heart altogether. Beeke’s work seeks to remedy this dreadful state of affairs. This work focuses on three areas that help accomplish the above objective.

Part One describes Reformed experiential preaching. Beeke writes, “Reformed experiential preaching uses the truth of Scripture to shine the glory of God into the depths of the soul to call people to live solely and wholly for God.” Such preaching “reaches people where they are in the trenches and gives them tactics and hope for the battle.” Beeke offers several benchmarks that help shore up the definition of Reformed expository preaching:

  • Tests genuine Christian experience by the standard of biblical truth – idealistically, realistically, and optimistically.
  • Draws lines distinguishing between believers and unbelievers.
  • Makes frequent and wise application of truth to life.
  • Balances biblical, doctrinal, experiential, and practical elements.
  • Cultivates a life of communion with our God and Savior.
  • Builds experience upon the foundation of Scripture.
  • Goes beyond contemporary superficiality into the deep wisdom of old paths.
  • Offers food to satisfy the new spiritual sense of the believer’s soul.
  • Touches the heart with the bitterness of sin and the sweetness of grace.

Experiential preaching passionately proclaims the timeless truths of Scripture without apology. Experiential preaching is deeply Reformed, that is, “it helps people to see God as the great King of grace, present and working at all times and places to carry out his wise plan of eternal love.”

Part Two illustrates Reformed experiential preaching. Fifteen chapters are packed with examples of how to preach in this fashion. The like of Calvin, Goodwin, Bunyan, Edwards, and contemporary pastors like Lloyd-Jones are presented which provide a wealth of information and inspiration. This section is historically illuminating and practical from start to finish.

Part Three addresses preaching experientially today. A host of lessons are set forth for contemporary preachers to meditate upon and immediately apply. Beeke urges preachers to be balanced in their approach: “We must speak with the tenderness of a nursing mother and the earnest love of a father, sharing with them not only the truth but opening our very souls to them.”

The author encourages preachers to be bold, even when some react with scorn to biblical dogma: “At first a sinner may dread and hate God’s sovereignty. But when convinced of his responsibility to repent and his inability to do so, God’s sovereignty becomes the sweetest of attributes, for only a sovereign Savior can help us.”

Above all, our preaching must be Christ-centered. This theme occurs again and again in this volume, leaving preachers no room to equivocate or compromise. Preachers are reminded that “it is a fact of human nature that men would rather do penance (to try to atone for sin by doing good works) than repent (to hate and forsake sin). Therefore, faithful preachers must be Christ-centered as they stand behind the pulpit.

It is exceedingly difficult to convey the depth and richness of Joel Beeke’s Reformed Preaching. This volume is educational, inspirational, and will serve preachers for many years to come. I eagerly commend this work and trust that it will be a mighty tool for many and fervently pray that the flock of God will be better nourished as a result of this marvelous book!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life

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Bob Kellemen, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, pp. 246, $19.99

One man blazed a trail in the sixteenth century that laid the groundwork for countless numbers of Christians. Martin Luther was the primary agent who God used in a mighty way as he hammered his 95 theses on the castle door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. He unleashed a theological revolution known as the Protestant Reformation, where the doctrines of grace were recovered and the gospel began to exert a powerful influence in the lives of people.

Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen explores the life and legacy of Martin Luther and reveals how his theological framework influenced his counseling ministry.

What Shaped Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

Part one explores Luther’s background and alerts readers to the oppressive environment that was so common in the sixteenth century. Luther fought desperately to find peace with God but was doomed to failure apart from completed work of Christ which is received by grace alone through faith alone.

Kellemen explains how Luther’s anxiety impacted his life in his early adult years. Luther admits, “For I had hoped I might find peace of conscience with fasts, prayers, and the vigils with which I miserably afflicted my body, but the more I sweated it out like this, the less peace and tranquillity I knew.”

The author continues, “Before he came under the influence of the cross, Luther lived life as a man terrified that he would never find peace with God because his God was not a God of peace. Luther lived with a constant sense of guilt and dread in the face of a terrifying, angry, and unforgiving God.”

The only way Luther found relief is by casting all his hope and future on a sovereign God, by grace alone through faith alone. Kellemen writes, “The Christ of the cross transformed Luther the man terrified before God into Luther the man at peace with God.” This newly converted man now saw God in a different light which not only radically affected his life; it altered his ministry at every level.

What is the Shape of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

“Luther’s counseling reflects his theology – it is cross-shaped and gospel-centered.” Part two reveals the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling. The author examines Luther’s approach to pastoral counseling by exploring two primary angles.

First, soul care: comfort for suffering.Luther’s theology and methodology of sustaining and healing are presented with specific examples of how the Reformer encouraged and edified the saints.

Second, spiritual direction: confrontation for sinning.Specifically, Luther’s theology and methodology of reconciling and guiding are presented here. Again, the author paints a pastoral portrait of Luther and shows him at work among the Body of Christ. While soul care (noted above) involves comforting and encourages Christians, spiritual direction involves a confrontation with people. Kellemen adds, “In reconciling soul care, we seek to startle one another with the gospel.” Such a nouthetic approach is mandated in Scripture (Col. 1:28) and plays a vital role in biblical counseling.

EVALUATION

Counseling Under the Cross is a treasure chest of gospel nuggets. Bob Kellemen does a beautiful job of explaining how Martin Luther applied the gospel to everyday life. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the emphasis on indicatives and imperatives. The author makes it clear that both are important aspects of the Christian life: “Salvation in Christ (gospel indicatives) frees, empowers, and motivates us through faith to serve others in love (gospel imperatives). Progressive sanctification is faith active in love – exercising the love that comes from faith in the grace of Christ.”

I strongly urge pastors, counselors, and church leaders to prayerfully study Counseling Under the Cross. Additionally, I urge readers to pick up a copy of my recent book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther, as a companion volume to Bob Kellemen’s excellent work.

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

CULTURE

ON FIRE FOR CHRIST: Remembering John Rogers (February 4, 1555)

The_Burning_of_Master_John_Rogers

The smell of burning flesh hung in the air.  The villagers turned their heads and gasped.  Stray dogs fled.  The man’s wife wept bitterly.  His children watched in horror and the smell burned their nostrils.  The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne.  Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority.  Her subjects were obligated to obey.  Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price.  The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”

The day was February 4, 1555.  The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village – a man of humble origins.  A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match.  A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible.  His name was John Rogers.  Pastor, father, martyr.  He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror.  He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirst tyrant.

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John Rogers stands in a long parade of God-centered men; men who preached the truth, confronted sin, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong.  Like Rogers, some were martyred.  Others died of old age or were tormented with disease.  Those who participate in this Christ-exalting parade still have something to say.  Their courage emboldens us.  Their lives inspire us.  Their theology instructs us.  Their devotion moves us to action.

February 4, 2019 marks the anniversary of Roger’s brave march to the pyre.  Over 460 years later, the world is a very different place.  Yet the persecution of Christ-followers has not decreased.  It has increased.  As people committed to the sovereign reign of Jesus stand for truth,  righteousness, and justice – the persecution will grow steadily.  As Christians take a stand against homosexual marriage, abortion, human trafficking, and pornography – the persecution will escalate.  Tolerance is the popular buzzword, yet fidelity to God’s Word will not be tolerated by many in this world.  John Rogers is a reminder to stand firm in the face of adversity.  His picture is glued to the flyleaf of my preaching Bible and beckons me to boldly declare the truth of God’s Word – unashamed, unhindered, and resolute – on fire for Christ!

Semper Reformanda!

BOOK REVIEWS

The Kremlin Conspiracy – Joel Rosenberg

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Joel C. Rosenberg, The Kremlin Conspiracy. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2018, 466 pp. $18.29

Political thrillers are a “dime a dozen” these days. Some of these books are not worth the paper they’re printed on – others pack a punch. Joel Rosenberg’s latest offering is the latter sort.

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.

This book traces the career of former U.S. Marine and U.S. Secret Service agent, Marcus Ryker into the heart of the former Soviet Union for a tale that explores geo-politics, corruption, spy-craft, and the inner workings of the Russian government.

Though a work of fiction, the author blends current events into an exciting tale that readers will not soon forget. The story moves fast, the characters are both interesting and believable and is written with great skill. Readers who enjoy Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn will receive a jolt, albeit without any vulgarity or profanity. Block out several hours for this one. Joel Rosenberg hits another one out of the park!

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