Isaiah For You – Tim Chester

Tim Chester, Isaiah For You (Epsom, Surrey: The Good Book Company, 2021), 227 pp.

Isaiah For You, by Tim Chester is the latest installment in the God’s Word For You series. This series is designed to help readers learn biblical content and make direct application to their hearts. Each book in the series strives to be Bible-centered, Christ-glorifying, relevant, and be read in an easy manner.

Isaiah For You accomplishes the stated goals above as Dr. Chester unfolds the rich theological meat in God’s Word. A short introduction orients readers to the historical background of the book and gives them enough material to begin studying the book of Isaiah with confidence.

Each chapter includes a short readers guide, a summary of the main points that serve as a sort of mini commentary. The remainder of each chapter includes an explanation of the main features that inform both the mind and the heart.

The most important feature of Isaiah For You is the Christ-centered application that occurs throughout the book. Dr. Chester constantly guides readers back to the cross and helps them focus on the gospel. This work is suitable for beginning Bible students and will also serve as an encouragement to those well versed in Old Testament studies.

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

Reviving the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Once there was a day when the nib of a pen would intersect with a piece of paper, revealing the contemplations of a thoughtful person. The end result would yield a letter that would inspire a willing recipient and breathe fresh courage into a human soul.

Less than 200 years ago, letter-writing flourished in the American colonies. Yet, the convenience of technology has all but extinguished the power of the pen. The convenience of text messages and emails have replaced the personal touch of the letter. Indeed, the art of letter writing is nearly dead. For this reason, it is time to revive the lost art of letter writing.

A Rekindled Friendship

The strained friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is well known and documented. Thankfully, Dr. Benjamin Rush intervened and convinced Adams to renew his friendship with Jefferson. The second president of the United States responded with a letter to Jefferson. Subsequently, the two men exchanged letters back and forth until their respective deaths, which occurred on the same day – July 4, 1826. The power of pen and ink combined with some thoughtful words supercharged a friendship on the brink of collapse.

A Rekindled Art

A handful of letters have arrived in my mailbox over the past several years that left a meaningful mark and provided much-needed fuel to propel me in a Godward direction:

  • An affirming letter from my father
  • A letter of personal counsel from Dr. John Piper
  • A letter of encouragement from my grandfather, Samuel Barger
  • A letter from Pastor Wayne Pickens, who mentored me in the defining years of pastoral ministry

One letter from my 89-year-old friend, Bruce who recently went to be with the Lord sits permanently in my study:

“Knowing you is to learn, as our Lord measures it, more than just the message of Scripture. You sow also of yourself in His name. More than His word you teach by example, tireless sacrificial giving for His glory and in furtherance of His love …”

Each of the letters above are safely preserved and serve as a permanent reminder of a special time in my life.

Opening a timely and encouraging letter is like receiving oxygen at the summit of Mt. Everest after a grueling climb. It is like salve on a wound in need of healing. A letter is a welcome guest that is never turned away.

It is not too late to revive letter writing in our generation. I suggest we revive the art of letter writing for at least five reasons.

1. Personal Touch

First, a letter is personal. Taking time to compose words on a page, sealing the letter in an envelope, and dropping it in the mail involve a series of additional steps and effort but the payoff is worth it. The personal touch of a letter deeply impacts the one who receives it.

2. Powerful Memories

Second, a letter helps enshrine memories that preserve friendships, provide a permanent record of significant thoughts, and instill hope for the future. When I read a memorable letter, it helps recall significant thoughts and feelings that may have otherwise been forgotten.

3. Permanent Keepsake

Third, a letter becomes a personal and powerful memento. An email can be cataloged in Evernote or saved in some other digital format. An email can even be printed and tucked away for future reference. But an email can never replace the special quality of the written letter.

4. Portrays Selflessness

Next, a letter is an act of selflessness. It takes a certain amount of discipline, time, and creativity to craft a meaningful letter. Such a pursuit, then, involves an intentional act of kindness or selflessness as the one composing the letter must think of others before herself. One might say that letter writing is a way of fulfilling the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT).

5. Proclaims a Blessing

Finally, a letter is a way of proclaiming a blessing. At the heart of a blessing is the need for acceptance. “Genuine acceptance,” writes John Trent, “radiates from the concept of the blessing.”1 A letter has a way of unleashing a person to become all that God intends them to be. It is a way of communicating the kind of support that is empowering and life-changing. A letter has a way of inscribing an indelible seal of blessing on the soul of one of God’s image-bearers.

black and silver fountain pen

A simple letter has the power to inspire hope, instill confidence, and initiate action. A letter communicates devoted love and lifts the human spirit. A letter unshackles the hands and feet, inspires hearts and minds, and communicates love and support to the people we care about.

Reviving the lost art of letter writing begins with you. Who will you influence or encourage today with a simple letter? Who will be the recipient of your timely wisdom or counsel? Who will be inspired to take a step into the great unknown because they received a letter from you? Who will be challenged by your courageous words? Whose life will be changed forever because you took the time to craft a well-thought-out letter? Let us, then, revive the lost art of letter writing – one letter at a time.

  1. John Trent, The Blessing (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 28.

Good News of Great Joy – John Piper

John Piper, Good News of Great Joy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 141 pp.

Every time John Piper rests the nib of his pen on a piece of parchment, the church benefits in spades. His latest offering, Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent is no exception. Each short devotional is drawn from a passage of Scripture that draws the reader to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Various doctrinal themes are explored in Piper’s most recent devotional including the incarnation, the peace of God, the providence of God, penal substitutionary atonement, and of course – the gospel of Jesus.

Good News of Great Joy is a heart-warming and gospel-centered book. I read the book in two sittings but plan to read each chapter during Advent with my wife.

Highly recommended!

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

The Person of Christ: An Introduction – Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum, The Person of Christ: An Introduction (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 206 pp.

The Person of Christ: An Introduction by Stephen J. Wellum is the most recent installment in The Short Studies in Systematic Theology (Crossway Books). Dr. Wellum’s goal is to call the church back to the glory of Christ by recovering the centrality of Christ. He argues:

The life and health of the church depends on a correct Christology, rooted and grounded in an accurate theology proper – yet not merely a Christology confessed but one that leads us to faith, trust, and confidence in our Lord Jesus and to an entire life lied in adoration, praise, and obedience to the triune God.

The author presents his case for a robust and Bible-centered Christology in three parts. First, he lays a strong biblical foundation. Second, he establishes a strong theological formulation by focusing on how the doctrine of Christology developed in early church history. Readers will be encouraged to see the depth and precision of the church fathers as they hammered out concise statements that concerned the person and work of Christ. Finally, the author presents a theological summary, namely – the orthodox identity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is much to meditate on here. The uninitiated may be overwhelmed by the depth of material but will find that perseverance pays off in the end. Readers who have studied Christology will certainly benefit from this excellent book and will no doubt turn back to Wellum’s excellent treatment of a very important subject.

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

The Pastor as Counselor – David Powlison

David Powlison, The Pastor as Counselor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 76 pp.

Posthumous publications are a mixture of pure joy and sorrow. Joy superabounds when a favorite writer is “resurrected” and an unpublished manuscript sees the light of day. Sorrow rears its ugly head because the realization that this writer will never write again sinks in.

The Pastor as Counselor by David Powlison is a vivid reminder of the impact he had on the church and the world. Powlison was a rare blend of scholar and shepherd; a man who possessed a stunning intellect but carried himself with godly humility. His posthumous publication is a testimony to his character, pastoral heart, and love for God.

The Pastor as Counselor is warm and hard-hitting. It will motivate and encourage some; it will rebuke anyone who fails to take pastoral counseling seriously. Powlison had a way of telling the truth and applying biblical principles in a penetrating and gracious way. This work is no exception.

In my mind, one sentence summarizes the book: “As a pastor, you understand that every person you meet today needs to awaken, to turn, to trust, to grow, and to love God and others. Everyone needs counseling every day.” One might say that this sentence is a beautiful summary of what drove Dr. Powlison in his earthly life.

My hope is that many readers take heart and receive the God-centered counsel of David Powlison. The result will only help, strengthen, and encourage individuals and churches. Dr. Powlison left a legacy and an example for Christians to emulate in the day ahead. To God alone be the glory!

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

The Visual Word: Illustrated Outlines of the New Testament Books – Patrick Schreiner

Patrick Schreiner, The Visual Word: Illustrated Outlines of the New Testament Books (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2021), 179 pp.

The Visual Word: Illustrated Outlines of the New Testament Books by Patrick Schreiner is a real delight. First, the book is absolutely beautiful. Moody Publishers pulled out all the stops on this project by producing an extra-large book, suitable for a coffee table that is graced with vivid colors and top-quality binding and pages.

In addition to the quality design, Anthony M. Benedetto provides stunning illustrations throughout the book to help readers cement key truths and principles found in the biblical text.

Dr. Schreiner reveals his purpose in the introduction and provides the necessary background for The Visual Word. Schreiner says, “I believe one of the most important things to do when reading the Bible is to read it contextually. This book helps readers see the big picture and enables them to put the biblical pieces together in an objective fashion; one that does justice to the biblical text.,

Schreiner’s second purpose concerns the visual nature of learning. Most students are helped considerably by linking key truths to an image of some kind. The Visual Word makes good use of this by teaming up with Anthony Benedetto.

Each New Testament book is introduced with a key statement and a general overview of the book. Next, a one-page image is employed that gives readers a quick visual summary of the book. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to unpacking the units of thought, each of which is supported by one of Benedetto’s beautiful images.

It would be impossible to give this book too much praise. It is suitable for beginning Bible students and veteran preachers, teachers, and theologians. Even after teaching the Bible for 30 years, I will be turning to The Visual Word each time I begin a new expository study in a New Testament book.

Many thanks to Patrick Schreiner and Anthony Benedetto for this fine work.

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

What God Has to Say about Our Bodies – Sam Allberry

Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 201 pp.

Anthropology has become a hot topic in recent days. Nancy Pearcey gifted the church with her book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality. Gregg R. Allison made a solid contribution with his book, Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured WorldReenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind – Owen Strachan. And Owen Strachan presented the most comprehensive treatment in his important book, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. Sam Allberry joins the anthropological parade with his work, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies.

Allberry makes his case in three sections – created bodies, broken bodies, and redeemed bodies.

Created Bodies

The author begins by noting that God’s creatures are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Allberry adds, “We could not begin to measure the value of our body, however, it looks and however we feel about it.” The stress here is on the inherent dignity and worth of the body. Surely, this is a much-needed reminder for followers of Christ, especially those who rightly emphasize the depravity of mankind.

Allbery reminds readers that God created males and females. This basic reality is largely forgotten in our culture and is even being recklessly cast aside by progressive thinkers. Males and females are image-bearers, created with a distinct purpose, namely – to glorify God.

Broken Bodies

Allbery maintains his allegiance to the authority of Scripture by holding that God’s image-bearers have dignity and worth before God. Yet, they have been subjected to futility. Sin has introduced shame and brokenness. As such, each creature is brought into this world with a posture of defiance before God. “The greatest evidence of our bodily brokenness,” writes Alberry “is simultaneously ubiquitous and forced out of our minds so that we tend not to notice its significance – our bodies die” (Gen. 2:16-17; Heb. 9:27).

Redeemed Bodies

The author focuses his attention on some of the glorious aspects of the body by reminding readers that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The body, therefore, must be presented to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2). The themes here are unfortunately neglected by many evangelicals as they downplay the body and refuse to properly nourish it and use it in a way the glorifies the Lord.

The book ends on a triumphant note as the author directs the attention of the reader to the promise of a glorified body. The author notes, “The resurrection of Jesus makes our own resurrection as his people a certainty.” Our future, then, is one that is filled with great hope as we long for the day when we will receive a glorified body.

Allberry’s work is greatly needed in our day when secular voices overemphasize the body and when local churches downplay the body. What God Has to Say About Our Bodies strikes the biblical balance by turning our attention to sacred Scripture.

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

Pure in Heart – J. Garrett Kell

J. Garrett Kell, Pure in Heart (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 188 pp.

Scripture provides clear marching orders for us on matters that pertain to purity (1 Thess. 4:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; 2 Tim. 2:22).

J. Garrett Kell recognizes the biblical mandate for purity and helps readers develop a game plan in their battle against sin in his book, Pure in Heart.

Part 1: Promise of Purity

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). This mighty promise undergirds part one of the book and beckons each person to pursue God with holy passion. The longing to see God fuels the resolve, then, of every follower of Christ.

Kell summarizes, “Purity is an orientation of the faith-filled heart that flees the pleasures of sin and pursues the pleasures of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This premise runs throughout the book in the hopes that readers will find their ultimate pleasure in the living God. As the psalmist writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

Part 2: Pathways to Purity

The second half of the book is oriented to application. Readers are encouraged to “feed their affections” by feasting on Scripture, spending time in prayer and fasting, focusing on Christ-centered music, and being captivated by God’s creation. In the end, what severs the attraction with sin is the sight of God and all his holiness and the heavenly home that awaits God’s elect.

Principles of accountability and biblical admonition are offered. Confession of sin is focused on and biblical repentance is a key aspect of part two. Kell adds, “When we succumb to sin, our flesh is inflamed, our peace quenched, our godly desire sapped, our joy smothered, our prayer hollowed, our resolve weakened, and our communion with God and others hindered.”

Pure in Heart: Sexual Sin and the Promises of God is a much-needed book in a culture that is drowning in sensuality. Young men will especially benefit from Kell’s timely pastoral counsel. In the end, they will be drawn to a God that offers eternal life and the most satisfying relationship in the universe.

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

Christianity and Social Justice: Religions in Conflict – Jon Harris

Jon Harris, Christianity and Social Justice: Religions in Conflict (Ann Arbor: Reformation Zion Publishing, 2021), 146 pp.

Christianity and Social Justice by Jon Harris is a user-friendly reference that shows the distinct differences between biblical Christianity and social justice. The book reads like a trail guide that illumines the path of truth and highlights the dangers of social justice.

Harris is quick to point out that social justice is indeed a religion. As such, it is a worldview – one that is at odds with the historic Christian faith. The author presents a brief history of the social justice movement – one that is informed in inspired by Marxism. Categories of thought have been imported from a Marxist worldview and have made their way into contemporary culture and the church of Jesus Christ.

The author reveals how theological liberalism continues to infiltrate the church. This liberalism, which was confronted in the twentieth century by Carl F.H. Henry, Gresham Machen, and Francis Schaeffer is making a comeback and is tragically welcomed by Christian leaders in our generation.

Christianity and Social Justice targets woke Christianity, social justice epistemology, social justice metaphysics, and social justice ethics. It unpacks the “luggage” attached to this movement – none of which is worth salvaging. Indeed, the religion of social justice is a different gospel, one that must be discarded at once. Harris concludes, “Social justice offers what it has delivered every time it is tried: jealousy, envy, bitterness, destruction, corruption, tyranny, and ultimately, civil slavery to an impersonal, centralized bureaucracy. At this crucial moment, it is up to evangelicals, and Americans in general, to decide which path to follow.”

I commend Jon Harris for his careful research and commitment to herald the truth of God’s Word. Readers interested in continuing their study should consult Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice by Scott David Allen, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Voddie Baucham, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It by Owen Strachan, and Just Thinking About the State by Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker.

Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners – Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund, Deeper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 186 pp.

Christians have long been on a quest for the “holy grail” of the Christian life. The popular Keswick conferences that emerged in England in 1875 called it the “victorious Christian life.” Charismatics seek a so-called “second blessing.” Tragically, many evangelicals roll up their sleeves and seek supernatural transformation via will-power or works. These well-meaning followers of Christ are genuinely seeking something great in their Christian journey. They want something more. They are in need of transformation. They merely want to go deeper. Each of the above proposals falls short of the biblical model of sanctification and leaves Christians confused, disillusioned, and discouraged.

Dane Ortlund’s newest book addresses both the need and the desire to go deeper into the Christian life. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners is a book about sanctification. The book strikes the biblical balance between vigorous God-centered striving and trusting the Holy Spirit to produce sanctification. Scripture is clear on this matter:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12–13, ESV)

Ortlund offers nine meditations that push and encourage readers to a biblical model of sanctification. But more important than a model, the author suggests that “we grow specifically by going deeper into the gospel, into the love of Christ and our experienced union with him … we are reflecting on the way our souls must go out to God in Christ to desire, to long for, to receive, to dwell in, to thank him for his endless love. The gospel comes to us in the Scriptures, and in prayer we receive and enjoy it.”

Ortlund is not impressed with sanctification strategies or gimmicks; nor does he offer a series of steps that produce sanctification. Deeper is a book that pleads with Christians to do one thing: LOOK TO CHRIST!

Be astonished at the gracious heart of Jesus Christ, proven in his atoning work in the past and his endless intercession in the present. Receive his unutterable love for sinners and suffers. Stop resisting. Let him draw near to you. Gaze upon him.

Here is a book that is exceedingly warm, theologically rich, informed by Puritanical wisdom, and deeply personal and practical. I commend Deeper and trust that many will benefit from this wonderful book.

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