BOOK REVIEWS

Lewis On the Christian Life – Joe Rigney

lewisJoe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 310 pp.

He is the author of several best selling children’s books that guide young readers into the land of Narnia. He is the novelist from the United Kingdom and popular professor at both Cambridge and Oxford who single-handedly captured the hearts and minds of thousands (if not millions) of people around the globe.

Clives Staples Lewis is the subject of the most recent offering of Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Life series, edited by Justin Taylor and Stephen Nicole. This book, penned by Joe Rigney is an excellent overview of the worldview and intellectual contributions of C.S. Lewis.

Rigney writes as an unashamed Lewis bibliophile and liberally dispenses praise for his hero’s accomplishments. While the work alerts readers to the highpoints of Lewis’s’ life, the majority of the book is devoted to major themes that emerge in his life. Topics include the gospel, prayer, the problem of evil, the devil, the church, and hell, to name a few.

Most refreshing is Rigney’s transparency concerning some of the weakness in C.S. Lewis’s theological framework – especially his view of the atonement. Rigney is able to disagree with deep respect but still offer a critique that is helpful and God-honoring.

I have read several books which tap into the genius of C.S. Lewis. Rigney’s work is among the best of them. It is a solid contribution to the Crossway series – one that will be celebrated by many in the years to come.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

How To Be a Perfect Christian

perfectioinHow To Be a Perfect Christian (New York: Multnomah, 2018) 192 pp.

How To Be a Perfect Christian is a user manual for the spiritually motivated zealot. The subtitle perfectly expresses the inner longings of such a person: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living.

In a mere 192 pages, the authors wonderfully capture the essence of the perfect Christian life. Step-by-step instructions are given that denote which church to attend, which music to listen to, which churches and movies to avoid, and the critical practices that don the ecclesiastical vita of the person seeking Christian perfection.

The authors admonish, “Keep the plates of self-righteousness spinning to prevent your carefully constructed facade from cracking.” This sentence cuts through all the satirical edginess that permeates the book and brings readers back to reality.

But in the final analysis, How To Be a Perfect Christian actually guides spiritual zealots away from self-righteousness and straight to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Instead of faking smiles and completing checklists, the Christian life would be about beholding the unspeakable glory of the Creator and living to please Him and make Him known in a dying world.”

How To Be a Perfect Christian will make genuine Christ-followers laugh. It will prompt wide smiles. But it will also lead to deep reflection about the lengths many of us have gone to live in our own strength in order to merit favor in the eyes of a holy God. This book (despite all its silliness and wittiness) is a stern rebuke to anyone who is trapped by legalism. As such, it will anger the Pharisee. It will spur the Sadducee. And it will draw the ire of the religious fundamentalist. For these reasons, How To Be a Perfect Christian is a stunning success.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. @WaterBrookMultnomah #Partner”

BOOK REVIEWS

Expository Exultation – John Piper

pipJohn Piper, Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018) 328 pp.

Expository Exaltation by John Piper is the final installment of a three-part series. Piper launched the series with A Peculiar Glory, which addressed the truthfulness of Scripture. Reading the Bible Supernaturally focussed on reading the Bible for the ultimate purpose of worshipping God. Expository Exaltation not only completes the trilogy – it satisfies the thirst of preachers around the world who have eagerly anticipated a new book on preaching by Dr. Piper:

“This God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-sustained worship – expressed in worship services, daily sacrifices of love, and eternal perfection – is the goal of Expository Exaltation.”

These words encapsulate the intentions and goals of the author and alert readers to the treasure chest that lies ahead. But before he gets started, the author makes sure that readers understand the purpose of preaching:

“The purpose is that God’s infinite worth and beauty be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.”

In a word, Expository Exultation is enthralling. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this book, which may, in the final analysis, turn out to be one of the most important books that John Piper has penned to date. Piper captures the essence of the preaching task and marshalls an army of resources to support his claims.

Expository Exultation should be read by rookie and veteran preachers alike. It should be read and re-read. Every Bible College and Seminary professor should immediately add this work to their list of required reading for preaching courses.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire

reaMay 31, 2018, is the thirtieth anniversary of President Reagan’s speech at Moscow State University. On that day, our 40th president stood before a packed house of enthusiastic students who listened to a message of freedom and hope. Lurking behind Reagan was a mural of the Russian revolution and the bust of Vladimir Lenin. When press secretary Marlin Fitzwater was asked about this strange pairing, he replied, “If anybody would ever appreciate Lenin having to spend an hour and a half looking at the backside of Ronald Reagan, it would be the president.”

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire by Bret Baier celebrates the life and legacy of President Ronald Reagan. Baier provides an inside look at the Reagan administration and the events leading up to his monumental speech at the Moscow State University.

President Reagan inspired hope in each of the participants that day:

Standing here before a mural of your revolution, I want to talk about a very different revolution that is taking place right now, quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict. Its effects are peaceful, but they will fundamentally alter our world, shatter old assumptions, and reshape our lives.

We do not know what the conclusion will be of this journey, but we’re hopeful that the promise of reform will be fulfilled. In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope: that freedom, like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoy’s grave, will blossom forth at last in the rich fertile soil of your people and culture. We may be allowed to hope that the marvelous sound of a new openness will keep rising through, ringing through, leading to a new world of reconciliation, friendship, and peace.

Baier comments, “He was a messenger of hope, seducing them with their own longings, which he knew they had. How could they resist the poignant cry of their countryman?”

One cannot help but recall that President Barack Obama uttered similar words, namely, to “fundamentally transform America.” But the vision Obama was after had more to do with big government, higher taxes, escalated regulation, and minimized religious freedom. Reagan demanded the opposite and he understood that the Soviet people yearned for this kind of freedom.

At the end of the speech, the audience gave Reagan a standing ovation. Baier reports, “Reagan later quipped that while they were cheering, he’d glanced behind him and seen Lenin weeping.”

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire is a stirring historical tale of freedom that chronicles the ascent of Ronald Reagan to the highest office in the land. Brett Baier accurately and passionately recounts the details of his presidency and the leadership gifts he shared with the American people and the world.

BOOK REVIEWS · History · Politics

Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? – W. James Antle III (2013)

freedomThere are three unshakable realities in life: Death, taxes, and an ever-expanding government.  The reality of death is one that each person must face.  Taxes are indeed a reality, but as every conservative argues, taxes in America must decrease or the economy will inevitably falter.  And while every American must deal with the reality of death and taxes, the growing federal government can and should be marginalized.  This final reality can and should be altered.  The new reality should be a smaller, leaner, more efficient government.  Herein lies the argument in W. James Antle’s book, Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

The author has done his homework in this well-written book.  Ten chapters guide readers on a journey that informs, educates, and most importantly, warns.  Any thoughtful American will appreciate the contrast between the big government promoted by the current president and the smaller government that was prompted by our nations greatest president, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

W. James Antle is no pushover Republican.  He not only warns readers about the manifold dangers of big government.  He also reports some of the Republican failures and compromises which have not served our nation well.

The author does not offer “pie in the sky” solutions either.  In fact, he is critical of any conservative who suggests such an approach.  Rather, he recognizes the rocky road before our great nation and suggests practical steps to smooth our path to greater prosperity.  But he does not write under any delusional pretense or promote a utopian vision.  He understands the road to a smaller government will not be easy.  He writes, “Sometimes it will seem impossible.  But like a parent yanking his child to safety at the last second before he dashes into the street, Divine Providence has pulled this nation back from the abyss before.”  Indeed, the path forward will be marked with pain.  But the pain now will be worth it in the days to come.

Conservatives must be prepared for the rocky road to smaller government.  The author rightly adds, “Conservatives who stick to their principles on taxes and spending get the Grover Norquist treatment.”  That is to say, anyone who argues for lower spending, lower taxes and smaller government will be unfairly demonized.  The attack adds against Paul Ryan during the last election cycle prove this sad point.

While the author sets forth several points which militate against big government, none is more important than the principle of liberty.  In President Reagan’s farewell address, he articulated this bold principle in vivid terms: “There is a clear cause and effect there that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”  However, Reagan’s law is evidently not etched into the liberal mindset as liberals and progressives seek to expand the federal government.  With this expansion comes the erosion of liberty.  The author aptly sums up this matter: “As government grows beyond its constitutional boundaries, it really does devour freedom.”

Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?  The author asks the right question and gives the right answer.  The only question is this: Do we have the courage to move in the direction of a smaller federal government?  Any negative answer will result in an erosion of freedom; the same freedom that was such an integral part of the dream which was articulated by the founding fathers.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Politics

The Conscience Of A Conservative For The 21st-Century

0804138109_bThe reason that I am a Conservative can be summarized by three important influences:

1. The influence of my parents and grandparents.

2. The leadership of President Ronald Reagan which restored American exceptionalism.

3. The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater

The Conscience of a Conservative was written by Barry Goldwater in 1961.  I didn’t read it until I was a high school student and later read it as an adult.  It left a profound mark on me and continues to wield a mighty influence.  But a new book by former U.S Representative Allen West could easily serve as the new barometer for Conservatives.  Indeed, it could easily be considered The Conscience of a Conservative for the 21st century.  Guardian of the Republic is Congressman West’s plea to restore the vision of the founding fathers.  It is his earnest appeal to return to the ideological roots that make America great.

Part I: My Conservative Roots

Part one explores the background of Congressman West, a Lt. Colonel in the military who was raised in Atlanta and influenced by his parents which shaped him into the man he is today.

Part II: Conservative Principles

Part two is a primer on a conservative ideology which stands in the tradition of President Ronald Reagan.  The author includes the basic philosophical and historical framework which undergirds a strong conservative stance.  Among these principles include limited government, fiscal responsibility, a free market, individualism, a strong national defense, and an understanding that all of man’s freedoms come ultimately from God.

West includes three “pillars of conservative thought” which include effective and efficient conservative government, peace through strength, and traditional American values.

None of these are new ideas.  But the reframing of these conservative principles is a welcome reminder which should call America back to her founding principles.

Part III: Conservatism in the Black Community

Part three may be the most interesting section.  The author calls black Americans to return to their roots – for they “fail to understand the soul of [their] souls.”  West reminds readers the reason for the establishment of the Republican Party: “the abolition of slavery through the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.”  Yet many social programs only create dependency on the government and enslave people in the final analysis.  What’s the bottom line?  West argues that these programs are tantamount to a “twenty-first-century economic plantation.”  Slavery ended long ago, yet a new brand of slavery continues – a kind of slavery that needs to be abolished once again.

Part IV: The Future of the American Republic

Congressman West pleads with Americans to stand alert.  He challenges Americans to wrestle with some critical questions that will have an impact on the future direction of our country:

Do we want an opportunity society or a dependency society?

Do we prioritize preeminence of the individual, or dominance of the state?

Will we choose individual exceptionalism or collective relativism?

Do we value wealth creation and expansion, or wealth redistribution?

Will we bet on economic freedom or economic enslavement?

Do we stand for principle or for party?

Do we want policy or politics?

Congressman West warns readers, “If there is to be a future for this republic, we must elect good leaders, not highly marketed, well-politicized petty usurpers and impostors.”

While Congressman West has been caricatured as an “outcast” by some and a “war criminal” by others, nothing could be further from the truth.  He has been falsely maligned and his character has been unjustly impugned – all in keeping with Saul Alinsky’s horrible diatribe, Rules For Radicals.  Allen West is a breath of fresh air in a day when political expediency and opinion polls appear to rule the floor of Congress and the White House.  Congressman West is a man who says what he means and means what he says.  He is unmoved by the banter of political pundits.  And he refuses to be intimidated by the progressive agenda which is steeped in the ruinous ideology of socialism.  Allen West has led by example.  He has served our nation well.  He has guarded the Republic with honor, courage, and dignity.  Perhaps he can wield his influence in the Oval Office one day.  America would be a better place with this principled man behind the most powerful desk in the world.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

Reagan On Leadership – James M. Strock (1998)

098407743X_lHe is the man who inspired the United States of America after four years of economic disaster in the Carter administration.  He is the man who called out a Communist leader as he stood before the  Brandenburg Gate in Germany.  He is the man who is largely responsible for the demise of the former Soviet Union.  He is the man who restored faith in the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  His name – President Ronald Wilson Reagan.

President Reagan was a first-rate leader.  His approach to leadership emerges clearly in James Strock’s excellent project entitled, Reagan on Leadership: Executive Lessons From the Great Communicator.

Part one discusses President Reagan’s approach to Leadership.  The author notes the importance of crafting a compelling vision.  Anyone who is familiar with Ronald Reagan will admit that he was the master of vision casting.  Reagan’s leadership was tough and decisive.  He proposed policies with boldness and humility that was laced with a depth of character the many Americans relegate to the good ol’ days.

Part two discusses the Management philosophy of President Reagan.  A plaque that set on his desk in the Oval Office communicates the heart and soul of his approach to management: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”  He repudiated a micro-management approach and was happy to delegate authority to his staff.    He said, “The way I work is to identify the problem, find the right individuals to do the job, and then let them go to it.”  So his management philosophy had an inherent trust in people.  His desire was to unleash the gifts and talents in others for the benefit of the American people.

Part three overviews Communication.  Of course, Reagan is best known as the great communicator.  In a poignant moment, the former President admitted, “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.”  And so the leader of the free world inspired Americans with lower taxes, a strong military, and a smaller government – three pillars that have all but crumbled under the current administration.

Part four focusses on Self-Management.  The author zeroes in on the character qualities of courage, authenticity, confidence, optimism, empathy, grace, charm, discipline, constancy, perseverance, and humility to name a few.  These are the marks that made the made.  The combined total of these characteristics shaped the man that we know as President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan on Leadership is a reminder that leadership matters.  It is a reminder that great men are great leaders.  It is a reminder that character matters; that leaders are made, not born.  This is a book that is greatly needed in our day and will help inspire the next generation of leaders committed to the rise of conservative values and policy.

BOOK REVIEWS

From Death to Life: How Salvation Works – Allen S. Nelson IV

deathAllen S. Nelson IV, From Death to Life: How Salvation Works Conway: Free Grace Press, 2018, 200 pp. $10.99

The doctrine of salvation is awash on a sea of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Marked by the curse of sin, the image-bearers of God have a need to “earn” their salvation. “Surely, there must be something I can do to merit favor before a holy God,” says the modern man. This false “gospel” is propagated in churches around the world and creates chaos and confusion. A works-based “gospel” is not only found in Roman Catholic dogma; it is also found in many so-called evangelical churches.

Allen Nelson’s book, From Death to Life is a much-needed corrective and is a positive step in the right direction. The subtitle expresses the essence of the book – How Salvation Works. In this short but powerful treatise, the author sums up the message of the gospel: “God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” This gospel is summarized by five points which make up the basic argument in the book:

  1. The gospel must be proclaimed.
  2. God must move.
  3. The sinner must respond in faith and repentance.
  4. God justifies the sinner.
  5. The sinner grows in the Lord over a lifetime.

Nelson articulates each of the above points and argues strenuously from the Word of God. One striking thing about this book is the author’s ability to both confront error and commend truth. For instance, he is quick to confront (and condemn) pragmatism, seeker-sensitivity, antinomianism, cheap grace, and altar calls. But he also commends bold proclamation, faithful ministry, and authentic faith which is driven by the biblical gospel.

Nelson explains each aspect of salvation with precision and biblical faithfulness. He weaves in the biblical doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints in a careful and winsome fashion. Indeed, this is an ordo of salutis for the common man.

I commend From Death to Life for students, pastors, and Christ-followers who are eager to digest a solid, gospel-centered book that is committed to historical orthodoxy, robust theology, and a soteriological framework which is faithful to Scripture!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Gospel Comes With a House Key – Rossaria Butterfield

rossariaRosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With a House Key Wheaton: Crossway, 2018, 240 pp. $15.82

“Imagine a world where the power of the gospel to change lives is our to behold.” This is the soul-stirring, gospel-focussed message that Rosaria Butterfield proclaims in her most recent book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key.

The author aims to inspire readers to follow her example of radical hospitality that reaches out to family, neighbors, and complete strangers. The book is packed with personal examples of how this kind of Bible-saturated hospitality can invade a willing home.

One theme that will no doubt draw critics is the matter of patriarchy. Butterfield calls her female readers to accept their God-ordained call to submit to the authority of their husbands and reap the benefits of this biblical-minded obedience: “Imagine a world where biblical patriarchy – the benevolent leading of servant-hearted fathers – made all of us breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the good fathers would protect us from the roving gangs of evil men,” writes the author.

But she continues by articulating how this countercultural model of manhood and womanhood should play out among Bible-believing Christians:

“The godly submission of a faithful wife to her head – her husband – does not diminish the power and strength that God has given to women but instead channels it to serve the most important people first … Godly patriarchy means rule by the godly fathers, the good men who sacrifice their lives for the protection of their family. In God’s hands, when the good fathers lead, the roaming gangs of violent men are kept in check and away. We need godly patriarchs because sin is real, and the droving gangs of male violence are real too. If men aren’t trained to lead by God’s design, they often destroy by Satan’s command.”

The theme of biblical patriarchy stands in the background yet provides the fuel for the larger theme of gospel-driven hospitality. The Gospel Comes With a House Key is a challenging, thought-provoking read that will prompt many discussions and even debates in the days to come. The end result will be a strengthened church whose covenant members commit themselves to demonstrating radical hospitality for the good of the neighborhood as well as the nations.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

Reagan on Leadership – James M. Strock (1998)

098407743X_lHe is man who inspired the United States of America after four years of economic disaster in the Carter administration.  He is the man who called out a Communist leader as he stood before the  Brandenburg Gate in Germany.  He is the man who is largely responsible for the demise of the former Soviet Union.  He is the man who restored faith in the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  His name – President Ronald Wilson Reagan.

President Reagan was a first-rate leader.  His approach to leadership emerges clearly in James Strock’s excellent project entitled, Reagan on Leadership: Executive Lessons From the Great Communicator.

Part one discusses President Reagan’s approach to Leadership.  The author notes the importance of crafting a compelling vision.  Anyone who is familiar with Ronald Reagan will admit that he was the master of vision casting.  Reagan’s leadership was tough and decisive.  He proposed policies with boldness and humility that was laced with a depth of character the many Americans relegate to the good ol’ days.

Part two discusses the Management philosophy of President Reagan.  A plaque that set on his desk in the Oval Office communicates the heart and soul of his approach to management: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”  He repudiated a micro-management approach and was happy to delegate authority to his staff.    He said, “The way I work is to identify the problem, find the right individuals to do the job, and then let them go to it.”  So his management philosophy had an inherent trust in people.  His desire was to unleash the gifts and talents in others for a the benefit of the American people.

Part three overviews Communication.  Of course, Reagan is best known as the great communicator.  In a poignant moment, the former President admitted, “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.”  And so the leader of the free world inspired Americans with lower taxes, a strong military, and a smaller government – three pillars that have all but crumbled under the current administration.

Part four focusses on Self-Management.  The author zero’s in on the character qualities of courage, authenticity, confidence, optimism, empathy, grace, charm, discipline, constancy, perseverance, and humility to name a few.  These are the marks that made the made.  The combined total of these characteristics shaped the man that we know as President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan on Leadership is a reminder that leadership matters.  It is a reminder that great men are great leaders.  It is a reminder that character matters; that leaders are made, not born.  This is a book that is greatly needed in our day and will help inspire the next generation of leaders committed to the rise of conservative values and policy.