The Word Explored – Dave Jenkins (2021)

Dave Jenkins, The Word Explored (Peterborough: H&E Publishing, 2021), 100 pp.

We live in a culture that is biblically illiterate for the most part. I recently spoke to a friend who lamented that many people have never heard of Jonah? My initial response was, “Who?” After a hearty chuckle, the tone turned serious as scores of biblical haven’t the slightest clue about the character of the Bible, let alone the plotline of Redemptive history.

The Word Explored by my friend, Dave Jenkins sets out to offer practical solutions for the problem of biblical illiteracy. The book is light on diagnosis but places a heavy emphasis on prescription. Jenkins’ prescription includes an urgent appeal to hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on the Word of God.

One of the great appeals of The Word Explored is the emphasis on application. Jenkins makes it clear that Bible input is critical but without practical application, all efforts fall flat. The author includes personal examples of how Scripture has impacted his life and enables him to worship the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and truth.

The Word Explored is an ideal book for new Christians but is also a powerful encouragement for seasoned believers as well. I commend this excellent book and trust that it will receive a wide reading for the good of the church and the glory of God!

R.C. Sproul: A Life – Stephen J. Nichols

Stephen J. Nichols, R.C. Sproul: A Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 371 pp.

On December 14, 2017, Dr. R.C. Sproul entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He was greatly used by God as he reintroduced Reformed theology to the evangelical church. He articulated the doctrines of grace with passion, courage, conviction, and authority.

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols explores the man that captured the hearts and minds of people around the globe in his recent book, R.C. Sproul: A Life. Nichols is the president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. As such, he is uniquely qualified to offer this definitive biography of R.C. Sproul.

Nichols skillfully guides readers on a detailed journey of Dr. Sproul’s life story – from Pittsburgh to Ligonier Valley to Orlando. He highlights the critical points in R.C.’s life including conversion, Seminary, the founding of Ligonier Ministry, and beyond.

Summary

Dr. Sproul was a teacher, preacher, evangelist, and defender of the gospel of Jesus Christ. R.C. taught the truth, defended the truth, and worked tirelessly to proclaim the truth to the nations. The final sentence of his last earthly sermon is a fitting tribute to his life: “So I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul (1939 – 2017) fought the good fight. He finished the race. And he kept the faith. Enter into the joy of your Savior where you will reign with him unto all eternity.

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

The Plurality Principle – Dave Harvey (2021)

Dave Harvey, The Plurality Principle: How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Church Leadership Team (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021).

“The quality of your elder plurality determines the health of your church.” This is the premise that undergirds Dave Harvey’s new offering, The Plurality Principle. The subtitle, How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Church Leadership Team nicely summarizes the essence of this practical volume.

Harvey prepares readers for this thought-provoking journey by providing a short roadmap. Five observations will keep leadership teams on track and moving in a Godward direction:

  1. How healthy pluralities keep the church moving forward.
  2. How healthy plurals can be designed to work.
  3. How healthy pluralities create a context for elder care.
  4. How healthy pluralities offer authentic community that’s characterized by vulnerability, honesty, and growth through self-disclosure.

In what follows, the author presents the biblical case for a plurality of elders in the local church. He adds, “A plural-leadership model is foundational for the local church. Plurality not only reflects the co-equality, unity, and community expressed by the Trinity (2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21). It serves the church in at least six other ways.”

  • Plurality embodies and expresses the NT principle of interdependence and the diversity of gifts among members of Christ’s body (Rom. 14:4-6; 1 Cor. 12).
  • Plurality acknowledges human limitations by recognizing that no one elder or bishop can possess the full complement of gifts God intends to use to bless and build the church (1 Cor. 12:21).
  • Plurality creates a leadership structure where men must model the unity to which God calls the whole church (John 17:23; Rom. 15:5; Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:14.
  • Plurality creates a community of care, support, and accountability that guards the calling, life, and doctrine of the leaders (1 Tim. 4:14, 16; Titus 1:6-9).
  • Plurality provides a mechanism to deal wisely and collaboratively with the institutional necessities of the local church.
  • Plurality contradicts the idea of a singular genius and replaces it with what the Bible calls an “abundance of counselors” (Prov. 11:14; 24:6) who collaborate, lead, and guide the church together.

Additionally, Harvey builds a case for the “first among equals” and offers practical advice for senior pastors. Building a culture of care and accountability is at the heart of the book.

Throughout, the author ably defends the original theme of the “plurality principle.” His book is a helpful addition to a growing body of books that address biblical eldership.

Highly recommended.

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

Practicing Thankfulness – Sam Crabtee

Sam Crabtree, Practicing Thankfulness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 138.

Some of the best gifts come in small packages – an engagement ring, a ticket to Europe, a diamond pendant. From time to time, a small book will hit the shelves that pack a powerful punch. Such is the case with Sam Crabtree’s, Practicing Thankfulness.

Crabtree’s little book is barely 100 pages but is filled with biblical wisdom, practical encouragement, and even contains some much-needed admonition. The book revolves around the author’s definition of gratitude:

Gratitude is the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good.

Crabbtree builds an unshakeable edifice around this definition by demonstrating the need for gratitude, the wisdom of gratitude, and the end result of gratitude. A chapter that is especially helpful, Portrait of a Grateful Heart helps readers understand the need to be utterly transformed by Christ. In other words, what we truly need is not merely to be thankful; our hearts must be transformed by Christ. The author adds, “Our hearts pivot on the word of Christ. Either they swivel toward him in wonder and gratitude and affection, or they swivel away from him in stubborn, truth-suppressing pride or apathetic indifference.” In the end, gratitude toward God reveals that a person has a regenerate heart, one that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The author reveals the dangers of ingratitude. Indeed, “the very dividing line between glory and dishonor is whether a person gives thanks or not.” He adds, “Thanklessness is at the root of homosexuality, covetousness, envy, murder, and a whole array of foolish and faithless derailments, as clearly stated in Romans 1:21-32.” The entitlement mindset, which has American young people in a death grip is laid bare in this chapter as the author compares the thankful person with the ingrate.

In recent years, a growing number of books and resources have focused on the subject of gratitude. Crabtree’s book is unique in that his encouragement is intimately connected to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person may grow in his or her ability to express gratitude but such an exercise falls dreadfully short if it fails to acknowledge the supreme gift Giver, namely, the Creator of the cosmos. In other words, a person may express gratitude but prove to be an ingrate if God is not honored, acknowledged, and glorified.

Practicing Thankfulness, while challenging throughout, is a deeply warm and practical book. Sam Crabtree writes with the heart of a pastor and one who has not yet arrived. Readers will be enriched, educated, and moved to action. They will grow in their ability to practice gratitude, which will pay rich dividends to everyone in their circle of influence. Most of all, God will receive the glory and they acknowledge him for every good gift – even small packages.

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

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers – Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 221 pp.

Dr. Dane Ortlund has gained a reputation for writing Christian books that are solid, edifying, and gospel-centered. His newest work, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers is No Exception. Ortlund uses Matthew 11:29 as the basis for his book:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The author writes, “This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes.” Ultimately, Ortlund is jealous to draw the attention of readers to the heart of Jesus Christ.

23 chapters await readers who will be captivated, encouraged, and loved y their Savior. Some readers will need to readjust what they have previously learned about Jesus and move in a more biblically oriented direction. Ideally, this book should be read one chapter at time, in a devotional sort of way. Such an approach will allow the mind to be sufficiently instructed and the heart to be filled with encouragement.

A few citations will give a sense of the tone and direction the book takes:

Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. he is the most understanding person in the universe.

The Jesus given to us in the Gospels is not simply the one who loves, but one who is love; merciful affections stream from his innermost heart as rays from the sun.

It is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over-celebrated, made too much of, exaggerated.

Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and suffers he spoke with and touched his earthly ministry.

If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on the way to heaven.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is packed with heart-warming scholarship and Christology that moves the soul. It is eminently practical and encouraging from start to finish. It will prove to be one of the most important Christian books in 2020!

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

The Attributes of God: An Introduction – Gerald Bray

Gerald Bray, The Attributes of God: An Introduction (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 159 pp.

Gerald Bray offers the latest installment in the Short Studies in Systematic Theology Series by Crossway Books. The series is designed to introduce readers to a specific theological subject and equip the next generation of Christian leaders. The great strength of this series is brevity. Readers are able to spend a short amount of time and receive maximum benefit from the top-notch scholars in this series.

Bray’s work, The Attributes of God: An Introduction provides an overview of God’s attributes and drills down into two attributes in particular – God’s essential attributes and God’s relational attributes. Essential attributes, what theologians like Louis Berhof refers to as “incommunicable attributes” include simplicity, incorporeality, invisibility, aseity, infinity, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, impassibility, immutability, and eternity – to name a few. The author shows how these attributes are grounded in Scripture and how they are expounded in church history.

God’s relational attributes (or communicable attributes) include attributes such as righteousness, holiness, goodness, mercy, and love – to name a few. Again, Bray links these attributes to Scripture and shows how they are taught in church history.

The author wraps up his discussion with a thoughtful chapter that reveals how relevant this subject truly is. Bray adds, “The all-important distinction between God’s essential attributes and his relational ones is the key to understanding how God can understand our suffering and at the same time be able to rescue us from it. God’s eternity and his immutability are necessary for us to have assurance of our salvation.”

Readers will benefit from reading this work and the other offerings in the Short Studies in Systematic Theology Series. It will be a small step in the right direction as they seek to grow deeper in grace and build a strong edifice of knowledge for a lifetime of ministry.

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

Reformed Systematic Theology: Man and Christ – Volume 2 – Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley

Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Man and Christ – Volume 2 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), 1159 pp.

For the past several years I have maintained the discipline of reading at least one work of systematic theology. This year, I have the privilege of reading and reviewing Reformed Systematic Theology: Man and Christ – Volume 2 by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley

I referred to the first volume in this series as engaging, educational, and enthralling. Beeke and Smalley pick up where they left off and continue to help readers magnify the great worthiness of Christ and his gospel.

Volume 2 begins with a study of anthropology and offers an exhaustive treatment of the subject through a Reformed lens. The author unpacks the essentials of this important branch of theology and provides the necessary exegesis, evidence in Scripture, and church history. Each chapter concludes with practical application that draws readers to the throne of grace.

Next, the authors carefully teach the doctrine of Christ. Readers are introduced to the person and work of Christ and are acquainted with his threefold offices of prophet, priest, and king. Beeke and Smalley add, “Though his sacrifice is the foundation of our salvation, his intercession is central to its application, for Christ ever lives as the Mediator of the new covenant, and all grace comes to us through him.”

Many will be intimidated by this behemoth of a book. Yet, a disciplined student will be rewarded by a careful reading of this important text. It not only educates and encourages – it challenges each person to come face to face with our Savior and meditate on his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Read this book prayerfully and anticipate a blessing beyond belief.

Highly recommended!

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

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.

Christopher 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.

What Does The Bible Teach About Homosexuality? – Kevin DeYoung

aI read an important book today.  It is not a weighty theological treatise.  It is not a book about spiritual formation.  And it certainly is not written to inspire.  This book is about homosexuality.  Like it or not, in our culture, the topic of homosexuality has moved from stage left to center stage.  Everyone is talking about it.  Many people are affirming homosexual relationships – liberals and conservatives alike.

I recently read Steve Chalke’s booklet, A Matter of Integrity.  The author, who happens to be a Baptist pastor, seeks to legitimize and normalize homosexuality.  The booklet is written with tones of grace and the author appears very kind.  The only problem – the book is dead wrong.  The book opposes Scripture.  And the book fails to glorify God.

Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality addresses a controversial topic with grace but never at the expense of truth.

Part One – Understanding God’s Word

The author guides readers through a maze of texts and helps them unravel what Scripture really says about homosexuality.  His tone is gracious.  Yet he is unafraid to proclaim what God proclaims – homosexuality is a sin to be repented of.  Everyone who turns from their sin may find peace and forgiveness that flow freely from Jesus who paid to set sinners free.  DeYoung is quick to demonstrate that homosexuality is not acceptable in God’s economy.  But he is even more eager to point people to a God who forgives:

“The God we worship is indeed a God of love.  Which does not, according to any verse in the Bible, make sexual sin acceptable.  But it does, by the witness of a thousand verses all over the Bible, make every one of our sexual sins changeable, redeemable, and wondrously forgiveable.”

Part Two – Answering Objections

DeYoung has left no stone unturned here.  In part two, he answers typical objections and responds with grace and truth.  All his answers are supported by the weight of Scripture.

There is much to commend here; more than one review can cover.  However, Kevin DeYoung helps readers understand what is at stake in this debate and uncovers four vital issues that every Christian should be concerned with.  I urge readers to purchase the book and study these powerful warnings:

  1. The moral logic of monogamy is at stake.
  2. The integrity of Christian sexual ethics is at stake.
  3. The authority of Scripture is at stake.
  4. The grand narrative of Scripture is at stake.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality will not be the most inspiring book you’ll read all year.  However, it may be the most important book you read.  It is a book that may cause you discomfort.  It is a book that will certainly cause you to reevaluate your position on homosexuality.    Ultimately, this book will point you to the Book.  And sacred Scripture clearly reveals God’s position on homosexuality.  Homosexual behavior, like any other ungodly behavior, is sin; a sin which must be repented of and forgiven.

The Supreme Court has spoken.  Their historic decision on June 26, 2015, will leave an indelible mark on American history.  But God has also spoken.  Our sovereign God has the final word on every subject and in every nation.  Our response must be to submit to his authority and render joyful obedience.  Unfortunately, obedience is being jettisoned in the highest court of the land.

May readers approach this subject with minds and hearts that are open to God’s revelation.  May they be challenged and moved to obedience.  And may the gospel open doors of hope so that many will find their rest in Christ the Savior!

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

Providence – John Piper

John Piper, Providence (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 710 pp.

2020 was a year of pain, suffering, and anguish. COVID-19 impacted countless lives, crushed the economy, overwhelmed our health care system, and influenced the presidential election. By mid-December, the virus claimed over 300,000 lives in the United States alone. We were told what is classified as “essential” and what is not deemed “essential.” Stay home-stay orders, social distancing, wearing masks became a normal part of daily lives.

The lockdowns had a devastating effect on thousands of people. Businesses were permanently closed, many churches stood at a stand-still, and hopelessness ruled in many hearts. One report suggested that suicide rates among young adults skyrocketed due to the pandemic.

In the midst of this crushing heartache, John Piper released his newest book, Providence. I received an advance copy and began diligently reading this massive book, weighing in at over 700 pages.

Dr. Piper lures in readers with a four-fold invitation:

  1. An invitation into a biblical world of counterintuitive wonders.
  2. An invitation to penetrate through words into reality. While the term “providence” is not found in Scripture, the reality of providence occurs on every page of the Bible.
  3. An invitation into a God-entranced world.
  4. An invitation to know God in a more intimate way.

Once readers become aware of the theological terrain that lies ahead, the 700 pages to follow are much less daunting.

The book is arranged in three parts. Part one explores a definition and a difficulty. The difficulty wrestles with the notion of divine self-exaltation. Piper discusses the typical negative creaturely response to a God who finds pleasure in exalting himself. The author demonstrates that anyone who resists the idea of a self-exalting God has fallen prey to a sinister mindset. Indeed, “The idea that God is unattractive to us because he acts for his own glory cloaks a deeper resistance: he is unattractive because he is God.”

Part two focuses on the ultimate goal of providence. Three areas are discussed which include:

  1. God’s ultimate goal in providence before creation and in creation.
  2. The ultimate goal of providence in the history of Israel.
  3. The ultimate goal of providence in the design and enactment of the New Covenant

The great benefit of part two is delighting in the big picture of God’s providence. From before creation, to the cross, and the final glorification of the elect, we find God orchestrating every detail for his glory and for our good. As Piper writes, “God is supremely committed to the display of his glory for the admiration and enjoyment of all who will have it as their supreme treasure.”

Part three reveals the nature and extent of providence. The author skillfully demonstrates how God’s providence reigns over all things including the weather, world leaders, circumstances, and the demonic realm. Piper shows how God’s providence superintends over sin and triumphs in conversion.

In the end, Piper gloriously describes the final achievement of providence in the return of Christ, the glorification of his elect, and his reign on the New Earth. He writes, “The great goal of providence is the shining forth of the glory of God in the holiness and happiness of his people through Jesus Christ.”

My own experience as I neared the end of Providence was a keen sense of disappointment that the book was drawing to a close. Frankly, Providence helped me maintain a God-centered perspective, even in the midst of a tumultuous year.

Providence is a theological tour de force. It is heart-warming, mind-riveting, and soul-shaping. My hope is that Piper’s great accomplishment, dare I say his magnum opus, will have a similar impact on countless people around the world. There is no question that John Piper’s Providence will be one of the most read and treasured books of 2021.

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