BOOK REVIEWS

Unified – Tim Scott & Trey Gowdy

unifiedTim Scott & Trey Gowdy, Unified Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2018, 220 pp. $16.50

We may live in one of the most divided times in American history. The cultural climate is rising without any hope of resolution in sight. Senator Tim Scott and Congressman, Trey Goudy recognize the problems in our land. Yet, they both have a realistic outlook, which is laced with optimism. Their book, Unified invites readers to pursue racial reconciliation and restoration, which will strengthen the fabric of our fractured nation.

Unified is a very basic book that reads like a conversation between two lawmakers. These conservative thinkers, who have become the best of friends, bring their unique conservative perspectives to the table. Their mutual love and respect for one another are apparent from the outset. These two men, who are both committed Christ-followers model what friendship can and should look like.

Senator Scott and Congressman Goudy steer clear of politics, however. Their aim is to promote an optimistic vision of hope for the future of our nation:

“We believe that our nation can be united and transformed by conversations and friendships that lead to reconciliation and understanding. As Americans, we must uphold the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity, even as we continue to work together to make those ideals a reality for all. We must come together, find solutions, and get to a point where we can see that our strength as a nation is rooted in all that is good in our world.”

There are no quick fixes here. The authors understand and acknowledge that legislation will not cure the illness in American culture. True and lasting change must take place in the lives of people. In what may prove to be the most important insight in the book, Senator Scott writes, “We will change the nation only by changing the condition of the human heart.” This change, undergirded by the gospel of grace has the power to change individuals and families. Then and only then, will our nation see a renewal.

Unified is a worthy read by two men of integrity; men who are striving to make America a better place. This is the first of many steps but it is a step in the right direction.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Marriage

THE MARRIAGE COVENANT: An Indissoluble Union

Books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen these days, even from a Christian perspective.  However, only a handful of books on marriage pass the test of biblical fidelity.  John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage passes both tests..  In fact, it ranks among the best books I’ve read on marriage to date.

Readers familiar with Piper will instantly drawn in to his argument for marriage.  Over and over Piper pounds the theme of the book into the ground for maximum effect: The ultimate purpose of marriage is “the display of Christ’s covenant keeping grace.”  To that end, the author develops several items worth mentioning.

1. The author grounds his central argument in rich soil by reiterating that marriage is “the doing of God.”

And in a final sense, “marriage is the display of God.”  He continues, “The ultimate things we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory.  That is, it exists to display God … Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church.  And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.”  And this is the primary reason why divorce is so odious to God: “Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant” (emphasis mine).

2. Piper focuses on the priority of covenant love.

Remember the theme of the book that marriage is means to display Christ’s covenant keeping grace.  Therefore, the author argues that “staying married is not mainly about staying in love.  It’s about covenant-keeping.”  The foundation for this covenant-keeping is the rock-solid covenant between people and God.  Therefore, Piper continues, “Marriage exists to display the merciful covenant-keeping love of Christ and the faithfulness of his bride.”

It is here that the book takes an important and decisive turn – for the author shows the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and how it relates to marriage.  Piper adds, ” God requires two thing of us: punishment for our sins and perfection for our lives.”  He continues to describe how the vertical reality of justification must be “bent horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God.”  The takeaway is profound: “Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.”  This is a perfect example of the Christ-saturated wisdom that permeates the book.

Piper continues to give practical advice to husbands and wives throughout the book; advice that is bathed in biblical wisdom; advice that is ultimately rooted in our God who keeps covenant with his people.  Biblical headship is discussed – so husbands are encouraged to lead well: “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”  The husband’s leadership involves physical and spiritual protection and physical and spiritual provision.Biblical submission is explored: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”   What strikes me about the section on headship and submission is this: in a few short pages, Piper delivers an exegetical bombshell that utterly destroys the prevailing notion of egalitarianism.  This God-dishonoring view that sees no distinction between male and female roles is left begging for mercy; tattered and torn in the shadow of Piper’s sound exposition.

The concluding chapters discuss the permanence of the marriage covenant.   In what may be one of the most important statements in the book, Piper suggests that “if Christ ever abandons and discards his church, then a man may divorce his wife.  And if the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband.  But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate.”

The author boldly goes where few pastors dare to go by suggesting that remarriage is prohibited so long as the previous spouse is still alive.  His arguments are exegetically sound and compelling.  Readers who disagree are encouraged to survey the case that Piper presents and prayerfully consider his arguments.

This Momentary Marriage is a landmark book.  It is a theological landmine that will undoubtedly shatter many preconceived notions about marriage.  It is solid food that Christians need to digest.  And it is timely ointment that is designed to heal wounds and promote strong marriages in the difficult days ahead.

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS

Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders – Aubrey Malphurs

leadAubrey Malphurs, Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 239 pp. $16.99

Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs is designed with a specific purpose in mind – “to come up with a process or pathway that challenges Christian leaders to become more aware of, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others so that they can be emotionally mature leaders who relate well with and truly inspire.”

The book is arranged in three parts. Part One sets the stage by introducing readers to the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). Six assumptions about emotional intelligence undergird this section:

  1. Emotionally mature Christians are spiritually mature believers.
  2. The Godhead is characterized by emotions.
  3. The hope of the world is an emotionally mature church.
  4. Emotional intelligence is critically important to God-honoring leadership.
  5. Scripture undergirds the importance of emotional maturity.
  6. Emotions are central to what it means to be human and live life.

The author stresses the importance of emotions. “Great leaders,” writes Malphurs, “lead through the emotions. They move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us.”

Part Two demonstrates the importance of emotional intelligence, which is defined as “an awareness of our emotions and the emotions of others around us so that we can handle well our emotions and theirs, with the result that we relate in a Christlike manner with those within or outside the body of faith.”

A biblical theology of emotions is presented and also includes a chapter that helps assess emotional maturity.

Part Three helps readers move forward in order to become emotionally mature. Several models are set forth here. Readers are encouraged to pick and choose the models that fit their unique situation.

Finally, this work includes an extensive set of appendices. A series of diagnostic tools are offered, which enable readers to honestly assess where they stand on the emotional intelligence continuum.

Summary

Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders effectively argues the necessity of managing one’s emotions and moving forward in a way that glorifies and pleases God. The theme of sanctifying grace runs through these pages and urges readers to pursue a life of holiness.

One disappointing development is the absence of any insight by Jonathan Edwards. I cannot think of anyone in church history who more adequately addressed the matter of the affections. Jettisoning the fine work of Edwards is a critical oversight.

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

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS

One or Two – Peter Jones (2010)

One or Two, another important book by Peter Jones contrasts paganism with historic Christianity.  Jones refers to these worldviews as one-ism and two-ism respectively.

One-ism is the erroneous belief that all reality is one. One-ism believes “that all is one and shares the same essential nature.”

Two-ism, which describes the historic Christian faith acknowledges a Creator-creature distinction.  “Two-ism believes that while all of creation shares a certain essence (everything apart from God is created), the Creator of nature, namely God, is a completely different being, whose will determines the nature and function of all created things.” God is outside his creation (but is at the same time intimately involved with it) and is sovereign over all.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part One describes a church that desperately needs to return to the truth set forth in Romans 1.  Jones describes two kinds of worship, one in which the creation is worshiped (which represents one-ism and is a lie).  The other kind of worship, namely, biblical and God-centered worship is fixated on the Creator (which represents two-ism and is the truth).

Jones warns, “Neo-pagans infects the church by dressing up as the Christian faith.”  The author clearly sets forth the purpose behind the book: “Only a clear understanding of the two worldviews based on either the Truth (Two-ism) or the Lie (One-ism), will open our mouths to speak the truth with love and courage that honors the person of the triune God.”

Part Two is an exposition of Romans 1 in light of the concerns raised in the previous section.  The author skillfully contrasts the Truth and the Lie by pointing to specific examples. Three critical issues are contrasted, namely, the truth and lie concerning God, spirituality, and sexuality.  Jones demonstrates how the three areas are interrelated.  He argues, “Mess with your sexuality, and you will mess with your worship.  Mess with your worship and you will mess with your thinking about God.  Mess with your thinking about God and you will mess with your sexuality.  No matter which exchange you make, you will begin to adopt a Oneist spirituality and ultimately expose yourself to the judgment of God.”

Part Three focuses on personal application.  Jones challenges readers to soberly examine the choices that stand before them.  He clearly describes the deception of One-ism: “One-ism exchanges the God of Two-ism for ‘the god of this world,’ who is not a god but a creature, the epitome of Evil.  Without the true personal God, without the heavenly Father, we creatures – lonely orphans in an impersonal universe, worshiping idols of their own making – are left to ourselves to devour one another.”

Once again, Peter Jones strikes at the core of neo-Pagan lie.  He clearly and lovingly warns readers to steer clear of this diabolical worldview.  But the warning also includes joyful proclamation, namely, the hope of eternal life found in Jesus Christ.  Jones is a straight shooter.  He combines an informed mind with a warm heart and sounds a necessary alarm in a culture that is growing increasingly secular and pagan.

 

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

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me – Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson

semCollin Hansen & Jeff Robinson, Ed. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018, 155 pp. $16.19

It’s been nearly twenty years since I graduated from seminary. Those days were filled with loads of coursework, Greek, Hebrew, and theology classes. I look back with a sense of wonder as I remember some of the deep lessons that captured my heart and informed my mind. In Seminary, I was introduced to the Puritans. During these days, I became friends with Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Owen, and John Bunyan. These were rich days that helped prepare me for a lifetime of pastoral ministry and teaching.

But seminary has some weaknesses that need to be addressed. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me tackles these weaknesses with tact and pastoral care. Edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, this book pays homage to seminary education but acknowledges some areas that fall short.

Seasoned pastors present fifteen areas that are typically not covered in seminary. An overview will set the stage and will welcome seminaries to devour this excellent book:

  1. Knowledge and Credentials Aren’t Enough
  2. What to Do When My Church Is Dying
  3. How to Shepherd My Wife
  4. How to Pastor People Who Are Different From Me
  5. How to Follow My Lead Pastor When We Disagree
  6. How to Lead My Leaders
  7. How to Raise My Kids to Love the Church
  8. How to Shepherd My Congregation through Season of Suffering
  9. When to Accept a Call or Leave a Church
  10. How to Handle Conflict
  11. The Need to Fight for My Relationship with God
  12. The Time it Takes to Become a Shepherd
  13. The Temptation to Make a Name for Myself
  14. The Joy I Can Know Over a Long Tenure
  15. What to Do When No Church Hires Me

Each chapter is loaded with real-life help from pastors who have been through the trenches. Two areas are unaddressed, however, and should be included in future editions. First, the matter of loneliness should be addressed. Second, the matter of discouragement/depression should be broached.

This is a deeply encouraging book that will serve pastors well in the days to come. This book should be required reading for every seminarian. The lessons taught here will be a significant source of strength for the next generation of shepherds.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Kremlin Conspiracy – Joel Rosenberg

kJoel 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.

BOOK REVIEWS

The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross – Patrick Schreiner (2018)

kingdomPatrick Schreiner, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018, 159 pp. $13.97

The resurgence of biblical theology and an emphasis on the kingdom of God has been a deep help to Christians, both in the academy and the local church. Patrick Schreiner’s offering, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross is the latest publication in Crossway’s excellent series – Short Studies in Biblical Theology.

Dr. Schreiner defines the kingdom as “the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place.” This definition guards against the tendency to relegate the kingdom to the realm of the immaterial. Ultimately, we will learn that Jesus is the Hero of the Bible. He is God-man who will fulfill the kingdom promises.

Part 1: Kingdom in the Old Testament

The major aspects of the Old Testament shine light on the kingdom of God. We learn a crucial redemptive lesson early in the book:“History does not just move on for the covenant God, he pushes it forward through the power of his Word as the saga strains toward its kingdom goal.” According to Schreiner, the Law revives hope in the kingdom. The Prophets foreshadow the kingdom. And the Writings articulate life in the kingdom.

“The kingdom will come through covenant,” writes Schreiner. Additionally, “God’s plan is to make a place, through a future King, so that his people might dwell with him again.” Indeed, this kingdom will come to pass through covenant. These observations crystallize the primary theological realities concerning the kingdom and set the stage for the kingdom in the New Testament.

Part 2: Kingdom in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Gospels embody the kingdom. Acts and the Epistles emphasize kingdom community. And Revelation shows how the kingdom goal is achieved. But one sentence may summarize the whole book and bring a final answer to questions that may be posed concerning the kingdom. Schreiner writes, “The cross establishes the kingdom; the kingdom comes through the cross.” The awareness of this great reality not only informs and educates; it inspires hope for today and hope for the future!

The great benefit of The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross is found in its devotional qualities. I found myself deep in study, probing the mystery of the kingdom, exercising my mind and recalling my years of training in Bible College, Seminary, and beyond. But throughout this work, I was also drawn into worship as I contemplated the reality of the already, not-yet kingdom. Highly recommended.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan For Humanity – Daniel Fuller (1992)

The Unity of the Bible by Daniel P. Fuller sets out to discover the theme that gives coherence to the teaching of Scripture.  It presents the logic behind God’s unfolding revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  Dr. Fuller writes, “Only by seeing the whole of God’s purpose in creation and redemptive history can one appreciate God’s individual actions in realizing this purpose.”  The author sees a need to summarize the whole Bible along the time line of redemptive history, instead of getting trapped in timeless categories that have been popularized in the discipline of systematic theology.  The bottom line: God does everything in the creation of the world and its history in order to uphold the glory of his name (Isa. 48:9-11).

Part One

Dr. Fuller maintains the Bible proceeds according to a plan.  Beginning with the creation of the world, it then relates and interprets a series of historical events that lead to the grand climax and goal of the world’s history.  He overviews the formation of the Old Testament canon and points out that God has always been in the business of working for the benefit of his people so long as they trust in him (Isa. 64:4).  The emergence of the New Testament canon is presented with careful attention given to the closing of the Apostolic age.

Part Two

Part two is devoted to explaining the foundations of redemptive history by doing an inductive study of Genesis 1:1-3:24 and by demonstrating God’s necessary work of being a Trinity.  Fuller argues persuasively that God’s purpose in creation and redemption is “that the earth might be filled with the glory of his desire to service people and … to do them good with his whole heart and soul.”  The author proceeds to explain man’s responsibility in responding to God’s purpose and outlines the purpose of hell (for those who fail to respond to God’s purpose) and the riches of God’s mercy demonstrated on the cross.

Part Three

Part three details the Abrahamic covenant and a comprehensive treatment of faith’s futuristic and past orientation is presented.  Specific steps are given for battling attitudes of unbelief.  The author argues that the justified and forgiven sinner always perseveres in faith.  The purpose of the law is also discussed and is seen by Fuller to be in continuum with the gospel rather than in contrast.

Part Four

Part four explain the plan of God in getting the gospel to the world and includes an important discussion on the kingdom of God and the conversion of Israel.

Summary

Dan Fuller writes with clarity and backs his views up with solid biblical theology and thorough exegesis.  The author maintains a Berean mindset as he surfaces key points which challenge my Bible study habits and encourage me to dig deeper.  This book like no other has challenged my thinking in significant ways and has influenced my approach to studying redemptive history and teaching practical issues of the Christian life.  The Unity of the Bible is an underrated masterpiece.  It is a true encouragement for those weary of classical dispensational charts that are riddled with proof texts.  This work offers a better approach – a true biblical theology that is sure to encourage many in the days ahead.

BOOK REVIEWS

New Calvinism: New Reformation or Theological Fad? – Josh Buice, Ed.

calvinJosh Buice, Ed. The New Calvinism, Christian Focus, 2017, 127 pp. $14.99

“Calvinism is back,” writes David Van Biema, in a Time Magazine article, entitled ‘The New Calvinism.’ The featured article, which was written in 2009 was included in a list of “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” That’s quite a claim for a secular magazine to make, yet the article tapped into a trend that has been and continues to shake up the evangelical world. The New Calvinism, edited by Josh Buice attempts to evaluate the so-called ‘new Calvinism’ and sets out to determine whether we are on the brink of a new reformation or if this popular doctrinal movement is only a theological fad.

To be fair, it would be important to note that the authors of The New Calvinism are committed to biblical Calvinism. Each contributor, including Josh Buice, Paul Washer, Steven Lawson, Conrad MBewe, and Tim Challies are convinced about the great realities that were recovered by the sixteenth-century Reformers, namely, that sinners are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on the Word of God alone, for the glory of God alone.

Each contributor speaks favorably about the new Calvinism, but each brings a set of concerns as well. Opponents of Reformed theology will not likely be convinced by the convictions of these essays. But those who are committed Calvinists will be challenged by the warnings in this powerful little book.

The topics include Sola Scriptura, the doctrine of the church, sanctification, spiritual power, and discernment. The contributors rightly challenge some of the abuses which have surfaced in some churches. After challenging these pitfalls, the authors provide biblical correctives, which will insure a path forward that honors God.

This volume honors the best of historic Calvinism and treasures a biblical tradition that was recovered during the Reformation and is being rediscovered in our times. The authors are charitable and level-headed in their critiques – but most importantly, each one clings to the Sola Scriptura principle. Indeed, “Calvinism is back.” Our responsibility is to guard the truth and to and remain faithful to the timeless principles of God’s Word.

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