BOOK REVIEWS

Scientism and Secularism – J.P. Moreland (2018)

scJ.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 210 pp.

When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the intellectual tectonic plates shifted with a force that continues to reverberate to this day. One of the tragic consequences (among many) that the book helped spawn was the philosophical notion of scientism. While this trendy worldview looks and sounds scientific, it is anything but. On the contrary, scientism aggressively advances the idea “that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality.” Stated another way, the other disciplines (theology and philosophy, for example) which have long sought to provide epistemological answers are no longer valid and offer no new insight when it comes to truth claims.

Scientism and Secularism by J.P. Moreland explores the themes of scientism in particular and helps readers uncover the diabolic implications of this school of thought. Dr. Moreland offers a comprehensive explanation of scientism and provides several examples of how it is influencing students in a postmodern age. He pulls the curtain back on scientism and helps the unsuspecting see that it is, in the final analysis, the enemy of science and as a result, is at odds with the historic Christian faith.

Moreland is typically fair and even-handed in his treatment of scientism. but ultimately argues that scientism has nothing in the way of explanatory power and should be rejected.

Science and Secularism is a readable and winsome book. It should be carefully read by university students, Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians will be better equipped to respond to typical arguments posited by scientism and non-Christians will be challenged to reconsider their presuppositions.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

How Joyful People Think – Jamie Rasmussen (2018)

joyfulJamie Rasmussen, How Joyful People Think (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 184.

“All joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be,” writes C.S. Lewis. Joy is that illusive quality that all people search for but so few actually discover. Jamie Rasmussen uncovers the biblical rationale such a pursuit in his book, How Joyful People Think. The subtitle captures the essence of his argument: 8 Ways of Thinking That Leads to a Better Life.

Rasmussen argues that joy is a matter of perspective. That is, correct thinking is indispensable as one sets out in pursuit of joy. Simply put, “It involves learning to think as God wants us to think.” How Joyful People Think is an practical exposition, then, of Philippians 4:8 –

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The eight ways of thinking that lead to a better life are a direct reflection of this verse. Rasmussen applies careful pastoral wisdom and exegetical insight to alert readers to treasure which is summarized in this powerful Scripture:

Whatever is true

Whatever is honorable

Whatever is just

Whatever is pure

Whatever is lovely

Whatever is commendable

If there is any excellence

If there is anything worthy of praise

“Think about these things.” The strength of the author’s argument is his allegiance to Scripture. Readers will be disappointed if they are in search of psychological tips of self-help formulas. Rasmussen is committed to mining the treasure chest of God’s Word and passing the truth to anyone who will listen.

How Joyful People Think is refreshing, encouraging, and has the power to lift the downtrodden, encourage the discouraged, and equip the weak-minded. It is a vivid reminder that joy is not only possible; joy commanded and is found in Christ alone!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student’s Guide – Michael Wilkins & Erik Thoennes

wilkinsMichael J. Wilkins & Erik Thoennes, Biblical and Theological Studies (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 127 pp.

Almost thirty-five years ago, I sat in my first undergraduate Bible course. It was a steep uphill climb that involved a whole new vocabulary. Those days were both exciting and daunting. One of the missing pieces of my education was a clear big picture. Michael Wilkins and Erik Thoennnes offer exactly what I needed in the early years of my theological education in their book, Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student Guide.

At the heart of this work is a deep and passionate desire to equip the next generation of Christian leaders. This goal is achieved in a short book that delivers a powerful message. The authors provide an overview of what constitutes a solid and substantial Christian education. Two primary aspects are presented, namely, biblical and theological studies. Six attitudes are commended for anyone who truly desires to grow theologically:

  1. We should study the Bible with fear and worship of God.
  2. We should study the Bible with growing humility about ourselves.
  3. We should study with prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit.
  4. We should study the Bible with eager expectation to learn much but also expecting to find great mystery and challenges to our thinking.
  5. We should study the Bible with humble obedience.
  6. We should study the Bible with heartfelt gratitude and joy.

These attitudes are the necessary prerequisites for anyone who is truly seeking God and desires a theological education that is transformational. To jettison these attitudes is not an act of foolishness; it is a sign that pride has taken root, which ultimately leads to ruinous results.

Moving forward with the proper foundation, Wilkens and Thoennes guide readers through the theological forest. Along the way, they explain the differences between biblical theology and systematic theology. The journey includes each of the necessary steps that will ultimately lead willing students to the Celestial City.

Biblical and Theological Studies is a basic book. It is also an essential book that should be carefully devoured by undergraduates who have their minds and hearts set on a solid theological education.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Reforming Joy – Tim Chester (2018)

chesterTim Chester, Reforming Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 103 pp.

Reforming Joy: A Conversation Between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today invites readers on a journey through the book of Galatians. Tim Chester uses the context of the Protestant Reformation as a springboard to unpack two primary themes, namely, faith in Christ and life in the Spirit. These realities provide the necessary fuel that erupts into a mighty reformation of joy.

“The Reformation,” writes Chester “was a rediscovery of joy.” As such, the author sets out to rediscover and also be reformed by the joy which is brimming in the book of Galatians.

The book is brief in length and is organized in five chapters which are summarized below:

  1. How to Hear God’s Voice: The Reforming Joy of Scripture Alone (Galatians 1)
  2. How to Know God’s Approval: The Reforming Joy of Faith Alone in Christ Alone (Galatians 2)
  3. How to Recognize God’s People: The Reforming Joy of Mother Church (Galatians 3-4)
  4. How to Enjoy God’s Love: The Reforming Joy of Adoption (Galatians 4)
  5. How to Do God’s Will: The Reforming Joy of Life in the Spirit (Galatians 5)

Each chapter interacts with Scripture and alerts readers to the pivotal principles of joy. The solas of the Reformation are clearly taught and celebrated. And the gospel is seen throughout. The conclusion of each chapter contains a summary and snapshot of a specific Reformer along with a pertinent citation, which helps bolster and support the given theme.

Reforming Joy accomplishes what it sets out to do. This short volume is packed with truth and life-changing theology that is certain to encourage and equip the people of God.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Passion in the Pulpit – Jerry Vines and Adam Dooley (2018)

passionJerry Vines & Adam B. Dooley, Passion in the Pulpit: How to Exegete the Emotion of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 2018), 206 pp.

“If the great things of the Christian faith are rightly understood, they will affect the heart.” When Jonathan Edwards penned these words in 1746, he did not intend to spark controversy. His only desire was to be faithful to the Scriptures. The intersection of the head and the heart is a subject that is of paramount importance. A Christian can stuff his mind with theological gold and remain a religious pauper. According to Edwards, there is no dichotomy between the head and the heart. If the heart isn’t transformed by truth, all is lost.

Jerry Vines and Adam Dooley address the important intersection between the head and the heart in their most recent book. Passion in the Pulpit: How to Exegete the Emotion of Scripture argues that preachers must convey pathos in their preaching. The authors provide a helpful definition of biblical persuasion, namely, “To seek the desired, voluntary response revealed within the Bible’s logos and pathos in an effort to seek the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of an audience.”

The authors strenuously maintain their thesis throughout the book and successfully drive home the point that biblical preacher must, by definition, be passionate preaching. Indeed, as they write, “Capturing the meaning of Scripture without also communicating its heart falls short of the divine mandate to preach the Word.”

Various angles are explored throughout the book which alert readers to the task at hand. Everything from the need for passion, exegetical tools, and persuasive techniques are offered with the ultimate aim of passionately and powerful proclaiming the written Word of God.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

High Impact Teams – Lance Witt

highLance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 298 pp.

High Impact Teams by Lance Witt took me by complete surprise. Each year I read several books on leadership. On first glance, the book seemed a bit bland and appeared to offer very little in terms of practical help. But it only took about fifty pages for the author to warm up. Once the engines were revved up, he never looked back.

Lance Witt is a seasoned pastor who has served on large church staffs, including Saddleback Church. So Witt brings a wealth of experience to the table – and it shows. His insight and wisdom are evident throughout the book.

High Impact Teams is arranged in eight parts. Each part tackles a different facet of leadership and presents a wide range of options for church leaders.

The principles that Witt proposed are supercharged biblical realities that have the power to created high impact teams with optimal results. I commend High Impact Teams and trust that God will use it in a mighty way to encourage pastors and leaders for many years to come.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Counseling · Discipleship

When I Am Afraid – Edward T. Welch (2010)

When I Am Afraid by Edward T. Welch is a short book.  It is also a very powerful book.  The author sets forth his intended goals at the beginning of the book.

  • You want to hone your spiritual instincts so that you turn to  Christ when anxious thoughts arise.
  • You want to know what Jesus says because when you turn to him in this way his words go deep.
  • You want to be less fearful and anxious and more content and hopeful.
  • You want to be more confident that God’s communication to you in the Bible speaks meaningfully to all the struggles of life.

Welch tackles fear and anxiety at the outset.  He admits, “to be human is to be afraid.”  Therefore, the responsibility of the reader is to recognize and isolate fear and anxiety.  He affirms, “So sometimes you will see that your fears mean you are trusting yourself rather than the Lord.  But you will always find that fear and worry are opportunities to hear God, to either turn toward him or to keep facing him and grow in trusting him.”

In chapter two, the author continues to focus on the need to trust God.  He sets forth some practical principles that point to God’s promise to deliver his people:

  • We trust in God not because he delivers us from every fearful situation, but because he alone is King.
  • He will always be with us in fearful situations.
  • He will deliver his people, but at times his deliverance will be more sophisticated than we can understand.
  • God will give you grace when you need it.

Chapter three discusses the relationship between fear and money.  Welch writes, “When you turn away from securing your own kingdom, which teeters on bankruptcy anyway, you get the true kingdom.”

Chapter four summarizes the fear many people have concerning death.  Chapter five contains practical counsel for dealing with the fear of man: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25).

Welch goes to the core of the matter in chapter six with a good discussion regarding the promises of God: “God is not passive in his nearness.  When God says he is present, it means he is doing something on your behalf.  He is giving you manna.  He is keeping promises and giving grace when you need it.  God is never passive, and certainly he is never powerless.”

Chapter seven makes an appeal to Psalm 46 and leads the reader to the redemptive work of Christ: “With the Cross of Jesus proclaiming that your sins have been paid for, and with his resurrection assuring you that he is now the reigning King, you can trust him for the future and focus on today.”

When I Am Afraid is worth reading.  Edward Welch steers readers away from the precipice of selfishness and directs them toward the work of Christ.  He clearly articulates the biblical reality that “love expels fear.”  Built into the book are a series of thought-provoking questions and space for biblical meditation and response.  When I Am Afraid would be best utilized in a small group Bible study or a one on one discipleship.

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life – Michael Lundy (2018)

deMichael S. Lundy, Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 182 pp.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life by Michael S. Lundy addresses an important topic that afflicts many people. The vicious tentacles of depression and anxiety threatens to squeeze the life out of unwilling victims. For some, hope and relief seem light years away. Lundy’s book serves as a sort of balm for anyone who seeks solace in the desert of depression and anxiety.

Lundy’s work focuses on the well-known Puritan, Richard Baxter who wrote a great deal about depression and anxiety. Readers are greeted by an introductory essay, penned by Dr. J.I. Packer. Packer provides a helpful context for Baxter by pointing to his plan for discipleship. He notes that three basic perspectives governed the writing of Baxter, namely, 1) the primary of the intellect, 2) the unity of human life before the Lord, and 3) the centrality of eternity.

Michael Lundy includes his own treatment of Baxter and limits his discussion to the topic of depression and anxiety. He refers to depression as a “heart disease,” which in reality is a “broken heart.” Lundy commends the writing of Baxter and encourages readers to prepare their hearts for deep encouragement and challenge:

“Baxter offers no panaceas; he appreciates suffering as intrinsic to this life. Yet, he refuses despair, and demands of his readers – patients and caregivers alike – an optimism grounded in his view of a good and great God, and buttressed by his own very practical advice on how one can give or receive help that reflects love for God and neighbor.”

Finally, the lion’s share of this work includes two chapters straight from the pen of Richard Baxter. Helpful counsel is offered for Christians who battle anxiety and depression. Baxter’s counsel is biblical, practical, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring. Baxter also directs struggling pilgrims to find ultimate relief from depression and anxiety through faith in the promises of God.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Call – Os Guinness

callOs Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 247 pp.

Twenty years ago, Os Guinness penned The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Since the release of his timely book, the matter of vocation has been at the center of many lectures and discussions.

Thomas Nelson recently repackaged The Call which is revised, expanded, and included a new preface. Guinness sets forth the thesis early in the book:

“This book is for all who long to find and fulfill the purpose of their lives. It argues that this purpose can be found only when we discover the specific purpose for which we were created and to which we are called … Nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose.”

The author develops the theme of calling with great skill and dexterity. He explores calling from a variety of angles and is quick to remind readers that calling is ultimately grounded in God’s purposes for his people. “Calling,” writes Guinness, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

Guinness dismantles false views of calling and replaces these views with solid and substantial reality: “We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.”

Calling is an immensely helpful book. The principles that Guinness shares are timeless. These transcendent realities helped shape cultures and continue to shape the way people live their lives. “Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life,” writes Guinness. Anything less is tantamount to idolatry.

I commend Calling without reservation and trust that many will be strengthened by this work that is destined to become a classic.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Preacher’s Catechism – Lewis Allen (2018)

allenAllen Lewis, The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 216 pp.

I am a big fan of catechisms. So when I learned about The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, I was intrigued. Actually, I jumped at the chance to read and review this book. Little did I know that this powerful little book would break me and convict me. It would mold and challenge me. It would encourage and edify me. The Preacher’s Catechism is remarkable in a myriad of ways, a few of which I will briefly describe below.

First, The Preacher’s Catechism is a book targeted to preachers. While some may consider this narrow target audience as ill-conceived, this strategy works well and helps accomplish the ultimate ends of the author.

Three convictions govern this book, which are set forth in the opening pages:

  1. The church needs preachers who last and thrive.
  2. Preachers must understand how preaching works, and how their souls work.
  3. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is an outstanding resource for the heart needs of every preacher.

With the governing convictions in place, Allen Lewis determines to utilize the pattern of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by targeting specific questions and answers to preachers. The book is arranged in four parts:

Part 1: The Glory of God and the Greatness of Preaching

Part 2: Jesus for Preachers

Part 3: Loving the Word

Part 4: Preaching with Conviction

Summarizing the essence of The Preacher’s Catechism is an impossible task. But at its very heart is a series of gospel-centered challenges and soul-stirring encouragements. This work is like a theological battering ram that is designed to crush pride, self-sufficiency, false motives and deeds of the flesh. But make no mistake. The author does not intend to merely convict preachers; his ultimate aim is to encourage them. Once the feeble scaffolding of the flesh is sufficiently toppled, the author winsomely directs the attention of preachers to the cross. “Listeners need to know that the preacher is contented in his God and rejoicing in his Savior,” writes Allen. He continues, “When our lives as preachers are filled with a sense of amazement about the grace that is ours in Christ, others start asking questions about that grace and seeking it for themselves.”

To call The Preacher’s Catechism a success would be a profound understatement. For this book captures what is truly important about pastoral ministry. It is a vivid reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. It serves preachers by admonishing them and encouraging them. But in the final analysis, it leads preachers back to the cross. It graciously beckons them to not only preach Christ crucified but to cherish the old rugged cross and lay claim to the saving benefits that Christ wrought for his elect.

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