BOOK REVIEWS

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age – Tony Reinke

specTony Reinke, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 154 pp.

We live in an increasingly visual culture. As a pastor, I hear the relentless sound of the postmodern drumbeat: “The average person cannot sit through a forty-five-minute sermon,” I’m told. Yet that same person will sit in a dark room for nearly four hours and watch Lord of the Rings. I am convinced that the aversion to listening to a sermon has more to do with affections than ability. That is, we are drawn to what we love. And we are increasingly captivated by the visual – screens, televisions, video games and an endless array of visual stimuli. A visual smorgasbord surrounds us and offers a rich array of pleasures and satisfaction. But do these visual delights (or spectacles) come with a hefty price tag?

Tony Reinke examines the visual dilemma in his new book, Competing Spectacles. A spectacle is anything that garners attention from the eye, be it good or evil. Reinke is chiefly concerned with answering one question: “In this ecosystem of digital pictures and fabricated sights and viral moments competing for our attention, how do we spiritually thrive?”

Anyone who thinks that Reinke is over-reacting should etch this statement on their minds and tape it to their televisions:

The spectacle’s goal is to make spectators and to keep them spectating.

Taken from this perspective, most would agree that the goal to keep spectators spectating is succeeding. Our visual world is sucking people in and it appears that turning back is not an option. The net result is a people who appear satisfied but are dying on the inside.

Briefly, Reinke diagnoses the problem of spectacles and challenges readers to be aware of the ever-present tension. Indeed, the spectacles in the world lure unsuspecting eyes and promise a full array of benefits, yet in the final analysis, is found wanting. On the other hand, the supreme Spectacle offers eternal joy and pleasure (Ps. 16:11).

But the author goes further. He argues that the supreme Spectacle is more comprehensive and enchanting than we ever dreamed: “The local church is where we go to find the Lord’s Table and baptism and the preaching of the Word, where those repeated spectacles call us again and again for a response of worship and repentance and joy.”

The Challenge of Competing Spectacles

No one can point a judgmental finger at Reinke – for he steers clear from all brands of legalism. He urges evangelical eyes to be disciplined and discerning: “Each of us must reckon with this radical eschatological promise of Christ in our personal media diets.” The challenge is to reject the profane and to “develop personal disciplines to resist the impulse to fill our lives with vain spectacles.”

The most urgent and penetrating aspect of this book concerns those who are bored with Christ and his gospel, a problem that appears to be an epidemic in this media- saturated generation. “In the digital age,” writes the author, “monotony with Christ is the chief warning signal to alert us that the spectacles of this world are suffocating our hearts from the supreme Spectacle of the universe,” Reinke adds:

Over time, spectacles taken in unwisely will make our hearts cold, sluggish, and dull to unseen eternal delights.

Soul boredom is a great threat, and when our souls become bored, we make peace with sin.

Reinke takes a page out of the C.S. Lewis playbook: “The worst trade in the universe is playing in the shallow pools of the world’s spectacles instead of diving deep for the treasures of eternal worth.” So while Lewis’s “mud pies” attract the masses, most people turn a cold should to the “offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age is a timely book that is thought-provoking and deeply challenging. Reinke’s diagnosis and description of the visual dilemma is clear and sobering. The prescription he offers is convicting and compelling. The prescription for this visual tug-o-war is nothing less than being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ Jesus. The author concludes:

The Christian’s battle in this media age can be won only by the expulsive power of a superior Spectacle. Christ is our safety and our guide in the age of competing spectacles, the age of social media. He is our only hope in life and death, in the age to come, and in this media age.

Competing Spectacles is a stunning book that will open many eyes. My prayer is that as the Spirit of God educates people through Reinke’s excellent work that they would, in turn, exalt the superior Spectacle, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. Then and only then will “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Vulnerable – 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 once and for all end 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

A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Advance – Tim Keesee (2019)

keeseeTim Keesee, A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Cause (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 286 pp.

Most young people aspire to be like someone. The people they emulate are athletes, rock stars, and actors. These people serve as heroes to the upcoming generation. But Tim Keesee has a different set of heroes in mind. Keesee is thinking about heroes who embrace biblical values, live according to a Christian worldview, and keep eternity in their range of sight. The kingdom of God is at the forefront of their minds.

In A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Cause, Keesee presents a series of journal entries that he has written over the past several years. The entries tell the tale of a cadre of Christians who value the kingdom of God and strive to share the gospel with the nations.

The book is comprised of seventeen chapters that chronicle stories of God’s grace in the lives of His people. The brave warriors surveyed in this volume come from different backgrounds and serve in different parts of the world – from London to Leningrad and from Afghanistan to Armenia. Yet each hero has a common goal. Each hero has a passion to spread the supremacy of Jesus to every ethnos for the glory of God!

One sentence sums up the whole book as Keesee refers to some missionaries faithfully gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. Here’s the glorious sentence:

When I first visited, these missionaries were blazing trails both linguistically and literally as they traveled as far as the road would take them – and then walked on in order to spread the fame of Jesus to every corner of this remote borderland.

This sentence may as well appear on every page of the book. For the gospel pulsates on every page. Jesus is exalted in every story. Resurrection hope permeates this volume.

A Company of Heroes should be devoured by Christians who cherish the gospel and have a passion for the nations. This book will help shape readers’ passion for evangelism and world missions. It will inspire, encourage, and may even convict a few people.

The gospel’s global cause is growing and the mighty work of the Holy Spirit cannot be stopped. So let the nations be glad!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

When Faith Fails – Dominic Done (2019)

faithDominic Done, When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019, 211 pp.

When Faith Fails by Dominic Done is a book that addresses the epidemic of doubt that plagues many people. The subtitle accurately expresses the heart of the book – “Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt.”

The author does a good job at surfacing some of the typical objections that followers of Christ deal with, most notably, the authority of Scripture, the interplay between science and historic Christianity, the problem of evil, and the silence of God.

Mr. Done encourages readers to get comfortable with uncertainty and challenges them to embrace mystery. Indeed, not everything is certain in life and some things must be accepted by faith. This certainly does not preclude vigorous examination, study, research, and scholarship. Rather, it forces the doubter to trust the word of God and rely on the weighty evidences in Scripture and general revelation.

The author pounds the “drum of uncertainty” too loudly for my own personal taste. In some cases, he swings the pendulum too far. Yet, the overall emphasis of the book is encouraging as he wrestles honestly with valid questions, which will ultimately point the reader heavenward.

When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt is a good book for young people those who find themselves on a path of skepticism. The author is honest, vulnerable, and transparent about his own doubt, which renders the book credible and worthwhile. My hope is that many doubters will be strengthened and enriched by this thought-provoking book.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Good Life – Tim Savage (2019)

savageTim Savage, The Good Life: The Surprising Riches Available in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 163 pp.

All people seek happiness. Blaise Pascal reminds us, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end … This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Yet most people stumble in the dark and content themselves with living a mediocre life. But there is a better way.

The better way is the theme of Tim Savage’s book, Discovering he Good Life: The Surprising Riches Available in Christ. Savage explores what Jesus refers to as the “abundant life” (John 10:10). The pursuit of the good life is revealed in the tale of three trees. These trees are the focus of the book.

The three trees include:

  • The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
  • A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse
  • The Tree of Life with Its Twelve Kinds of Fruit

Readers will become familiar with each tree which begins with the fall in the Garden of Eden and proceeds to the prophecy of Christ’s coming and conquest and culminates with Christ making all things new.

Discovering the Good Life is a practical book, one that will serve believers well. It is a good introduction to the Christian life and alerts readers to the promises of God, which must be believed, embraced, and trusted. Ultimately, the good life is found in a personal relationship with God, through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. My hope is that many will discover this good life for the first time as a result of Savage’s fine efforts.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Discipling in a Multicultural World – Adith Fernando (2019)

Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 288 pp.

Discipling in a Multicultural World by Adith Fernando compressive work that describes the essence of the discipling process. Fernando brings a wealth of experience as a longtime director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. His expansive knowledge and lengthy tenure provide a breadth and depth of wisdom that is missing in many discipling resources.

Spiritual Parenthood

Mr. Fernando introduces a subject that is foreign in most discipleship literature, namely, spiritual parenthood. This missing perspective is explored from several different angles and reveals how disciples serve as spiritual parents to their disciples.

The Process of Change

The second half of the book explores how disciples change. The practical section is a primer on sanctification. Fernando addresses real concerns and offers godly wisdom for disciples in an international context.

Discipling in a Multicultural World is a worthy read and helpful addition to a growing list of discipling resources. The real strength lies in its appeal to multicultural contexts.

Finally, a helpful series of appendices is included. Most helpful is a checklist of topics for discussion.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church – James K. Allen, Ed (2019)

Jason K. Allen, Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019), 135 pp.

The heart of what Luther and the reformers discovered during the sixteenth century can be summarized in what we know today as the five solas of the Reformation, namely, that sinners are saved by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (sola Christus), on the Word alone (Sola Scriptura) for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). These concise statements, what Jason Allen refers to as the “perennial touchpoint of theological and spiritual formation.” The solas, then, form an unbreakable bond on which the Reformation was built and on which the church stands.

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church, edited by Jason K. Allen is a primer on the the reformation slogans and the important they have on the church in our generation. Each sola is carefully define, explained in its historical context, and defended biblically. Finally, each author presents the practical application that comes as a result.

These theological realities that the five solas represent not only set sixteenth century Europe on fire; they set individual hearts ablaze wherever they were proclaimed and lived out. And these unchanging truths have the power to spark new reformation and revival in our hearts today.

Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church is a perfect entryway for anyone who seeks to understand why the Reformation still matters. These truths are not optional for Christ-followers. Rather, they stand at the very center of the gospel and should be boldly proclaimed.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Remaining Faithful in Ministry – John MacArthur (2019)

John MacArthur, Remaining Faithful in Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 71 pp.

The mandate to finish strong is the calling of every follower of Christ. Men called to pastoral ministry must carefully heed this call, which is the theme of John MacArthur’s most recent book, Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor.

As his life and ministry drew to a close, Paul the apostle wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The former blasphemer completed his mission on this earth and glorified the Lord both in his life and in his death.

Aspiring to remain faithful is one thing. But actually finishing strong is quite another. Tragically, pastoral failure commonplace, only bringing shame and reproach on the church.

Dr. MacArthur argues that pastors need to shore up their convictions, which help them be faithful in ministry:

  1. Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant
  2. Convinced That Ministry is Mercy
  3. Convinced of the Need for a Pure Heart
  4. Convinced of the Need to Preach the Word Faithfully
  5. Convinced That the Results Belong to God
  6. Convinced of His Own Insignificance
  7. Convinced of the Benefit of Suffering
  8. Convinced of the Need for Courage
  9. Convinced That Future Glory is Better than Anything This World Could Offer

MacArthur briefly explains each conviction. Each chapter is a short, Scripture-soaked spur for pastors who aspire to be faithful ministers. Frankly, every man who intends to finish strong in the Christian race should read Remaining Faithful in Ministry. While the author focuses on pastors in particular, the principles are immediately transferable to all followers of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Why I Love the Apostle Paul – John Piper (2019)

John Piper, Why I Love the Apostle Paul (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 204 pp.

The aim of John Piper’s most recent book is to help readers get to know Paul the apostle. Piper’s motive is that Paul’s “God-entranced soul and his unparalleled vision of Jesus Christ and the authenticity of his life would move you to admire him and believe his message and embrace his Lord.”

The name of the book is Why I Love the Apostle Paul. Thirty reasons are supplied in short, readable chapters as Dr. Piper unpacks the heart and soul of one of the greatest thinkers and theologians of all time.

This book reveals the underbelly or the foundations of Piper’s well-known Christian hedonism. Many have fought against the very notion of such a worldview. Some have cast it aside as heretical; others have discounted it or marginalized its value. The arguments for Christian hedonism that Piper presents are not only biblical; they are robust, logical, mind-shaping, and heart-warming. The central thought of Piper’s Christian hedonism is this:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper’s latest offering, while not necessarily an apologetic for Christian hedonism, is a worthy defensive and brilliant articulation of the philosophy which has undergirded the author’s life and ministry.

Quite frankly, Why I Love the Apostle Paul is an enthralling book. It is certain to open many eyes to the depth, breadth, majesty, and beauty of the gospel. The deep biblical realities that Dr. Piper unfolds are powerful and encouraging. This is a book that deserves to be read over and over again!

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

Doubt and Assurance – R.C. Sproul, Ed. (1993)

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Doubt and Assurance, Edited by R.C. Sproul is a worthy read that is sure to help doubters; those who struggle with assurance of salvation.

Part one surveys the anatomy of doubt.  R.C. Sproul, Alistair McGrath, W. Andrew Hoffecker, Os Guiness, Sinclair Ferguson, and R. Bruce Steward join forces and roll out six impressive chapters that are theologically driven and geared to explain the various aspects of doubt.

Part two covers assurance.  Contributors include Roger Nicole, John Gerstner, Ron Kilpatrick, Steve Brown, and John Richard DeWitt.  These shorts chapters include a brief theology of assurance and alert readers to this important and multifaceted biblical teaching.

4 stars