BOOK REVIEWS

Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat – Andrew Wilson (2019)

catAndrew Wilson, Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 32 pp.

It is rare to find a children’s book that contains a combination of stunning artwork, creative writing, and orthodox theology. Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson, achieves all three of these objectives.

First, the illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia instantly capture the attention and imagination of the reader. A quick glance through the book reveals a skill that is unmatched and rivals the art found in any children’s book on the market. Frankly, the illustrations here are a breath of fresh air in a Christian market that too often peddles content that is substandard and boring. Kudos to Helena Perez Garcia for her fine work!

Second, Andrew Wilson presents a story geared to children that is easy to understand and engaging. At the center of the story is girl who faces a troubling situation and is met by a talking cat who guides her on a path of biblical wisdom and truth.

Finally, and most important, is that commitment to orthodox theology. The path is encouraged by the cat is one that is paved by the principles in the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q1: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Q2: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

It is disturbing that some reviewers have equated this book to “moralism.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This work is grounded in grace and beckons children to trust in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. My hope is that Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat leads to many gospel-centered discussions between parents and their children and grandparents and their grandchildren.

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

Uncategorized

The Eclipse of the Gospel and the School of Hard Knox

Veritas et Lux

A Powerful Man

I stood in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clouds gathered overhead and people walked curiously through the front doors. Here, the famous reformer, John Knox faithfully tended the flock until his death in 1572.

Once inside this massive cathedral, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of this place. I was overwhelmed by the architecture – the awe-inspiring flying buttresses that point worshippers to the transcendence of God. A single elevated pulpit is located in the center of the sanctuary. It stands strategically above the worshippers, which symbolically places God’s Word above sinful creatures.

John Knox brought reform to Scotland and re-energized a nation that had all but forgotten God. Knox helped awaken a nation that neglected God’s truth which led to a virtual eclipse of the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes Knox as a man who preached “with the fire of God in…

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BOOK REVIEWS

The Pursuit of Excellence – George Sweeting

exGeorge Sweeting, The Pursuit of Excellence (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019), 196 pp.

Our days are characterized by a general lack of discipline and lethargy. Even many Christians have afflicted by mediocrity and aimlessness. Dr. George Sweeting’s recent book, The Pursuit of Excellence is a help aide for anyone weary of these troubling trends.

Sweeting is the former president of Moody Bible Institute, a true veteran of the Christian faith. I had the honor of sitting under his teaching in my doctoral program in the late ’90s  in Seattle. His commitment to the faithfulness to Scripture and allegiance to the lordship of Christ has never wavered. The Pursuit of Excellence is yet an another example of Dr. Sweeting’s influence in the evangelical world.

His recent work begins with a bold challenge that calls Christians to a life of excellence. Such a challenge is grounded in the very character of God who is the source of all excellence: “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). Sweeting adds, “Excellence is never cheap. It’s costly … Excellence requires desire plus discipline plus determination.” The remainder of the book is a powerful minder of this fundamental reality.

The author unpacks nine qualities that help define a life of excellence. The qualities include faith, character, action, single-mindedness, love, suffering, prayer, wisdom, and staying power. These combined qualities are the building blocks that followers of Christ must pursue to lead a life of excellence. All the aforementioned qualities, of course, are grounded in the grace of God and his sovereign purposes for his people.

The book concludes with an examination of Christians who emulate the qualities outlined in the book. Leaders like William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, and Joni Eareckson Tada are presented as exemplars of excellence.

Dr. Sweeting has been writing since the early ’70s and continues to encourage and bless the church with his gifts. This book is no exception. It is sure to encourage and equip many followers of Christ and help them pursue a life of excellence!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Something Needs to Change – David Platt

plattDavid Platt, Something Needs to Change, (Multnomah, 2019), 208 pp.

In an age where it has become in vogue for pastors to question the Christian faith, compromise the faith, or even abandon the faith – David Platt is a breath of fresh air. The fiery Washington D.C. pastor and author of Radical is back with another thought-provoking book, Something Needs to Change.

Pastor Platt invites readers on a life-changing journey to the rugged Himalayan trails where he encounters poverty, human trafficking, and a host of problems that lead to personal crisis and life change.

Platt is not content to hoard his life-changing journey; he wants to share it with others. He wants to challenge others and inspire them to something greater. According to Platt, then, something needs to change. A few highlights help summarize the general flow of the book. The author intends:

  • To integrate what we know in our minds with our hearts and feel genuine compassion for lost people (my words).
  • Challenge readers to engage their hearts with a broken world.
  • Motivate readers: “What we need is not an explanation of the Word and the world that puts more information in our heads; we need an experience with the Word in the world that penetrate the recesses of our hearts.”
  • Spur reader to take action: “We need to dare to come face to face with desperate need in the world around us and ask God to do a work deep within us that we could never manufacture, manipulate, or make happen on our own.”

The real beauty in this book is found in Platt’s insistence to steer clear from the social gospel. To be sure, the author never minimizes the massive human need for food, shelter, medicine, or education. He never skits the difficult subjects of poverty, human trafficking, or disease. These are all areas that followers of Christ must address when the opportunity arises. Yet, these physical needs are penultimate. The greatest need of every image bearer is the gospel. The greatest need of human beings is being in a reconciled relationship with a holy God. The greatest need of creatures is redemption.

The response to social justice alone makes this book a worthy read. Too many churches are neglecting the purpose of the church by drawing lines that maximize social justice and minimize the gospel. Something Needs to Change is the biblical antidote to the misplaced emphasis of the so-called social justice movement.

David Platt is to be commended for his heart and passion for the truth. But strong dogma never discourages maximum impact. Rather, strong dogma demands maximum impact – so that God might be glorified among the nations!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Not Home Yet – Ian K. Smith

not homeIan K. Smith, Not Home Yet (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 167 pp.

One of the recent encouraging developments in the church is an interest in biblical theology. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” This grand promise is the theme of Ian K. Smith’s recent book, Not Home Yet.

Dr. Smith argues, “Home is where we belong.” Therefore, he urges readers to set their sights and affections on their heavenly home. But some will be surprised to learn that “Jesus’s return to this earth is the focus of the Christian’s hope, and this return will not just be for a visit, to pick us up and take us home to heaven. He is coming to stay. The new Jerusalem will descend to earth, and we will be at home, with Jesus, on earth.”

“The aim of this book,” writes Ian Smith “is to reawaken (resurrect even), a biblical understanding of the earth and God’s mission to it.” The author skillfully guides readers along the biblical plot line that leads them to their heavenly home on the new earth, where they will reside for all of eternity.

Smith’s work is a rich combination of scholarship, yet he never isolates those who have not enjoyed the benefit of a theological education. His writing is clear, straight to the point, a biblical from start to finish. In the end, he accomplishes his objective by re-engaging readers and helping them understand God salvific plan and redemptive purposes for his people.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking – Raleigh Sadler (2019)

vulRaleigh Sadler, Vulnerable (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 267 pp.

“Preach the gospel – and if necessary use words.” This pithy quote by St. Francis of Assisi has captured the hearts and minds of many. The sentiment sounds right and may even feel right but fails in the final analysis to do justice to the gospel. Yes, the gospel is meant to be lived. Yes, the gospel makes a difference in the lives of others and demands sacrificial service. But St. Francis falls short in the matter of proclamation. We may serve people and love them but if we fail to proclaim the message of the good news, the “gospel” loses its efficacy.

Raleigh Sadler’s book, Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking works hard to maintain a commitment to proclaiming the gospel and reaching people by engaging them at every level. The heart of the author is unveiled at the beginning of the book and serves as the general theme of the book: “Jesus Christ motivates vulnerable people, like you and me, to love other vulnerable people for us, to the point of death.” Christ’s vulnerability, then, serves as a supreme example for his people and motivates them to love others.

Sadler exposes the trafficking industry and calls Christians to make a difference. His ultimate aim is to eradicate all human trafficking. Vulnerable is filled with stories of people who have been marginalized, manipulated, or trafficked in some way. The interview with Michael Horton is the highlight of the book as Dr. Horton weighs in on the subject of trafficking. “I’m not a co-redeemer with Christ when I’m opposing human trafficking; rather I’m witnessing to that redemption that Christ has already won, and will one day consummate when he returns bodily,” writes Horton. Such a perspective provides a keen biblical balance that remains obedient to Scripture but also steers clear from any liberalizing proclivities of the so-called “social justice” movement.

Vulnerable is not an easy book to read. The pain and suffering that the author reveals, however, is a reality that Christians must face. The only answer is the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Letters to My Students: On Preaching (Vol. 1) – Jason Allen (2019)

letJason K. Allen, Letters to My Students – On Preaching (Vol. 1) (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 173 pp.

In 1869, Charles Haddon Spurgeon published Lectures to My Students. The book is packed with preaching helps and anecdotes that pastors have benefited from for almost one hundred and fifty years. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary takes a play out of Spurgeon’s playbook in his recent book, Letters to My Students.

The first in a series of books addresses the subject of preaching and is arranged in three sections: 1) Preparing to Be a Preacher, 2) Preparing Your Sermon, and 3) Growing in Your Preaching

The great advantage of Dr. Allen’s book is that contains a wealth of practical instruction for beginning preachers and veterans alike. While the book is introductory in nature, it does a good job holding the attention of experienced preachers. Frankly, much of the basic material is necessary review for men who have stood in the pulpit for most of their adult lives.

I’m eager to see Letters to My Students reach the next generation of preachers for Christ and build up men who have been serving for some time.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The White Flag Unfurled

wf

These are troubling times. We live in a day which is marked by theological error and apostasy. Leaders are falling, truth is routinely maligned, and compromise is celebrated. A glance across the cultural milieu reveals an unfurled white flag. The white flag has been hoisted high and a diabolical deal has been struck. This flag reveals a horrifying reality which must be addressed, namely – final surrender in the church.

The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church diagnoses our current condition and offers biblical action steps for marching forward in a way that glorifies God. It is call to faithfulness in age that is characterized by weak knees, passivity, and capitulation. It instills courage in weary Christ-followers who toil in a post-Christian era.

“Here is a passionate call from a pastor’s heart, from a man widely read, who sees with great clarity the difficult situation the church now faces, with opposition without and weakness and compromise within, who believes the battle will be won by the faithful believing and by the courageous teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God.”

DR. PETER JONES, Director, TruthXchange, Author of “The Other Worldview,” Escondido, CA

Pre-order the Kindle version here!

The paperback version will be available on Amazon, soon.

BOOK REVIEWS

Free to Focus – Michael Hyatt

hyattMichael Hyatt, Free to Focus (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 250 pp.

The subtitle of Michael Hyatt’s newest book, Free to Focus is a fitting summary of the content – A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less. Readers familiar with Hyatt know that he has created a unique reputation as being a successful businessman who is committed to efficiency and impacting the lives of people.

Free to Focus accomplishes its intended aim as the author unfolds a three-step process which promises a more productive life that achieves more by doing less.

The three step process to productivity includes STOP, CUT, and ACT. Stop is a foundational step that encourages a time of reflection. Readers are urged to formulate a plan: “Productivity should ultimately give you back more time, not require more of you.” Hyatt borrows Stephen Covey’s popular “true north” model, which sets the stage for greater productivity. The author comments, “True productivity is about doing more of what is in your Desire Zone and less of everything else.” Such a strategic move creates margin, which in turn creates personal freedom.

Critical to this process is the step which involves rejuvenation, what Hyatt refers to as “energy flexing.” Rejuvenation, then, involves sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercise, connecting relationally with other people, play, reflecting, and unplugging electronic devices. Hyatt adds,

Amazing things happen when we Stop. We create space to Formulate, to get a clear picture of where we want to go and what we want our lives to become. We take the time to Evaluate, understanding exactly where we are and what our current situation looks like. And we make the time to Rejuvenate, investing in ourselves and our energy reserves through intentional steps forward in our best, health, and relationships.

Step 1, then, is the place to begin for anyone who seeks to become a more productive person.

Cut is the second step, which entails three critical elements. First, eliminate everything that falls outside the Desire Zone. Several practical tips are offered to enable people on the go to “say no” to special requests and projects.

Second, automate involves implementing steps such as self-automation or routines that help build consistency into the ebb and flow of life. Hyatt also includes an emphasis on template automation, which helps create margins and relieve stress in one’s life.

Third, delegate ”boosts well-being by reducing our number of stressful, disliked tasks, and by helping us regain a sense of control over our schedules.” Most people resist delegation but the author insists on implementing it for maximum productivity. Indeed, “to become a master delegate,” writes Hyatt, “you must develop the patience and attentiveness to match the task to the person. When you do, you’ll set yourself up for unbelievable success.

Act is the final step in Free to Focus. The author focuses on three more critical elements. Consolidate helps prioritize one’s weekly calendar. Designate helps priorities tasks. Various tools are offered to make this a reality. Activate is the author’s way of encouraging readers to eliminate distractions and interruptions. His counsel is extremely valuable here and we are bombarded with distractions, especially of the digital variety, throughout the day.

Summary

Free to Focus is a helpful book that makes a solid contribution to the growing number of resources that address personal productivity. Michael Hyatt refers to “free to focus tools,” which can be accessed online and includes several templates that help gain the necessary clarity and disciplines to move toward a more productive life. In the final analysis, Hyatt’s goal to help readers achieve more by doing less is accomplished in spades.

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

Biography · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE

A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin

godward gaze pixPick up a copy of my latest  book for less than a buck in this Amazon Kindle Countdown!

https://www.amazon.com/Godward-Gaze-Holy-Pursuit-Calvin-ebook/dp/B07SJJM1GP/ref=tmm_kin_title_sr?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1565006219&sr=8-1

A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin is a snapshot of a man on mission. It is about one man who set his sights on the Celestial City and never looked back. His name is John Calvin. He was a pious man, driven by God’s glory and a love for Scripture. His holy pursuit was rare among men and a model for followers of Christ. David Steele points readers to a truly remarkable man – a biblical expositor, a theologian, and a courageous reformer. Calvin changed a city and helped changed the world. His godly example may change your life.