BOOK REVIEWS

Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self – Jen Oshman (2020)

Jen Oshman, Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).

Self. The very word makes postmodern people proud. After all, we are encouraged each day to please ourselves, nurture ourselves, and congratulate ourselves. Self-promotion is considered a virtue in our age. This propensity to narcissism is part of the warp and woof of contemporary culture. Self-absorption is so prevalent that Ryan Holiday takes the subject up in his recent book, Ego is the Enemy. It appears that “we” are the hero in our own epic drama. Tragically, this drama has an ending that is anything but happy.

Jen Oshman’s recent book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self addresses the alarming trend of “me, myself, and I” which has not only invaded the postmodern milieu; it has also subtly crept into the church.

First, Oshman sounds a jolting, yet necessary alarm. She issues a warning that the banner of narcissism is in our midst and it aggressively and relentlessly competes for our attention. While the book is primarily addressed to women, the principles apply across the board. The author notes that we have moved from “relying on self to deifying self,” a shift that has been encouraged as various worldviews have morphed on a godless trajectory.

Second, Oshman moves from cultural diagnosis to theological purpose. She rightly notes the purpose of the Creator as he fashioned people in his image to glorify his name. The contrast between God’s sovereign purposes and our culture is stark:

God says, “I made you in my image to live for my glory.” Culture says, ‘Be self-made in whatever image you like and live for your own glory.’ This is a counterfeit calling, and it’s killing us.'”

Most important is the prescription which is prescribed by the author. This prescription is both radical and exclusive. And it is fixated on a person, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Oshman closely follows the Pauline imperative in Colossians 2:6-7 and commends her readers to get rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, and established in Christ. Anything less will lead to frustration and despair in this life.

The dominant message in Enough About Me one of rest and reliance. The author writes, “ … We can really rest – because we are established in Christ. He is in control. And he is good. And he is alive. He always ensures that his will comes to pass for our good and his glory.” This Christ-exalting theme is a sure foundation and is the ultimate antidote for anyone who has grown weary with platitudes and worldly promises.

Enough About Me is a much-needed book, especially for women in the church who are searching for hope and joy in all the wrong places. Jen Oshman is a faithful and reliable guide who offers one answer – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her wise counsel will benefit readers who find themselves adrift in our postmodern age and help cut through the fog of uncertainty. I trust that Jen’s book will receive a wide readership and benefit many in the days to come.

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

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Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

Veritas et Lux

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in…

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Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault On Mind, Morals, and Meaning – Nancy Pearcey (2010)

Nancy Pearcey has done it again.  Her book Total Truth captured the attention of thousands and helped equip a new generation of thinking Christians.  While some consider the term “thinking Christian” somewhat of an oxymoron (think, “military intelligence,” or “jumbo shrimp”), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, clear thinking  and warm-hearted devotion are crucial characteristics for anyone who professes faith in Christ.  Anyone who rejects the notion of a “thinking Christian” should pause and consider the thought process generated in order to make the claim!

Pearcey’s newest masterpiece, Saving Leonardo is as the subtitle suggests a call to resist the secular assault on mind, morals, and meaning.  The primary assertion: “The only hope lies in a worldview that is rationally defensible, life affirming, and rooted in creation itself.”

THE THREAT OF GLOBAL SECULARISM

In part one, the author clearly articulates the necessity of a Christ-informed worldview.  She challenges readers: “Do you have the tools to detect the ideas competing for your allegiance in movies, school textbooks, news broadcasts, and even Saturday morning cartoons?”

Pearcey reveals the goal of the book at the outset: “The goal of this book is to equip you to detect, decipher, and defeat the monolithic secularism that is spreading rapidly and imposing its values on your family and hometown.”  As such, she calls Christians to abandon the “fortress mentality” that has been prominent for years; a mentality that gravitates to isolation from the world.  Rather, Christ followers ought to become familiar with their audience and engage with them on a worldview level.    “The first step,” writes Pearcey, “is to identify and counter the key strategies uses to advance the global secular worldview.”

Next, Christians must understand how secularism views the nature of truth.  Pearcey demonstrates how empiricism has spawned what we know today as the fact/value split.  This divided concept of truth is the most important feature of a secular approach to epistemology and is “the key to unlocking the history of the Western mind.”  The author is quick to explain the biblical concept of truth; a notion that was the theme of Total Truth: “Because all things were created by a single divine mind, all truth forms a single, coherent, mutually consistent system.  Truth is unified and universal.”

The fact/value dichotomy finds values in the so-called upper story (a scheme developed by Francis Schaeffer).  These values are private, subjective, and relative.  Values include religious claims and personal preferences.  Fact are found in the lower story.  These facts are public, objective and universal.  The author gives numerous examples of how the fact/value dichotomy is diametrically opposed to the biblical view of truth.  For instance:

  • “Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “Science yields facts but not ‘value judgments’; religion expresses values but cannot ‘speak facts.'” – Albert Einstein

Clearly, values posed in the fact/value dichotomy are never considered to be true.  Rather they are expressions of an opinionated individual; i.e. a so-called “bigoted Christian.”

TWO PATHS TO SECULARISM

Part two uncovers two paths to secularism, namely, the Enlightenment and Romantic movements respectively.  The Enlightenment (or Analytic Tradition) is fixated on reason and relies on the scientific method.  Immanuel Kant plays a central role here with his nature/freedom dichotomy.  Various worldviews have been spawned as a result of Enlightenment thought including empiricism, rationalism, Darwinism, logical positivism, linguistic analysis, utilitarianism, and materialism.

The Romantic stream (or Continental Tradition) relies on story and is fascinated by myth and imagination.  Again, various worldviews have resulted including idealism, Marxism, deconstruction, phenomenology, existentialism, pantheism, and postmodernism.  Both streams are reductionistic and the author is careful to bring this point home repeatedly.

Pearcey dissects both streams carefully and skillfully.  Her depth and insight is very helpful and encouraging.  The final two chapters are the most helpful and practical.  The author prompts readers to give up the typical Christian fortress mentality:  “Christians must go beyond criticizing the degradation of American culture, roll  up their sleeves, and get to work on positive solutions.  The only way to drive out bad culture is with good culture.”

The author reminds Christian parents that they cannot protect their children from unbiblical worldviews.  But they can “help them develop resistance skills, by giving them the tools to recognize false ideas and counter them with a solid grasp of biblical concepts … Christians are responsible for evaluating everything against the plumb line of Scriptural truth.”

Nancy Pearcey is picking up where Francis Scheaffer left off.  And she gives Schaeffer the last word on the subject: “One of the greatest injustice we do our young people is to ask them to be conservative.  Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary … We must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.”

BOOK REVIEWS

Christian Worldview – Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck, Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, and Corry C. Brock, Ed. Christian Worldview (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 140.

“And in this struggle, every man of Christian profession should assemble under the banner of the King of truth,” writes Herman Bavinck in Christian Worldview. This volume was originally translated from the updated edition which appeared in 1913.

The editors get to the core of Bavinck’s agenda:“It is only the Christian worldview that provides true harmony between God and the world, God and the self, and the self and the world.” The answer, then, to the deepest questions of the human heart are found in the Christian worldview.

Unfortunately, as Bavinck argues, “A unified world-and-life view is lacking, and therefore this word is the slogan of our day.” This is a lamentable reality, especially since the author is writing over one hundred years ago. Since that time, the Christian worldview has slowly eroded in many minds which render the church weak and ineffective.

The church would do well to recover the basic tenets of the Christian worldview. My own view, however, is that Bavinck’s work is probably not the first place to turn. Christian Worldview is designed for those who have been theologically trained and understand the fine-tuned arguments that he presents. Readers would be better off exploring Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, Worldviews in Conflict by Ronald Nash, Revolutions in Worldview by W. Andrew Hoffecker, Ed. or Tactics by Gregory Koukl.

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.

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS

Finding Truth – Nancy Pearcey (2015)

Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey is another fine contribution thataa deserves to be read.  The author maintains with Romans 1 that all people have access to general revelation. As such:

  • We all have access to evidence for God through creation.
  • We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.
  • We all create idols to take the place of God.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols to a “debased” mind.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols – to “dishonorable” behavior.

Pearcey builds upon her earlier works, both of which are best sellers.  Total Truth argued for a unified view of truth and the obliteration of sacred/secular split.   Saving Leonardo   sought to help people develop skills in critical thinking.  Finding Truth  introduces readers to five principles which help make sense of competing worldviews and make a positive case for historic Christianity.  The five strategic principles are summarized below:

  1. Identify the Idol.  Anything which is presented as eternal and unchanging is an idol.  This principle helps us get to the heart of mankind’s propensity to erect idols and bow down to them.  By way of contrast, Christianity refuses to begin with creation and an epistemological starting point.  Rather, the beginning of knowledge rests in a transcendent Creator who is sovereign over all things.
  2. Identify the Idol’s Reductionism.  Pearcey notes, “The link is that idols always lead to a lower view of human life … When one part of creation becomes deified, the other part will be denigrated.”  Reductionism, is therefore, a fool’s errand as the creation is elevated to a status that God never intends.
  3. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict What We Know About the World?  Since idols always fail to satisfy, people will begin to realize that they cannot live according to the logic of their presuppositions.  They are either forced to live in the real world – which is to oppose their worldview or they live in accordance with their worldview which contradicts reality.
  4. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict Itself?  The competing worldview, at this point becomes self-defeating.  The author notes, “Everyone who proposes a reductionist worldview must make a tacit exception for his own thinking – at least, at the moment he is stating his claims.  But that too, creates a logical inconsistency.”  Thus the worldview fails.
  5. Replace the Idol: Make a Case for Historic Christianity.  As it becomes apparent that a competing worldview fails, the apologist must make a strong case for the viability and truthfulness of the Christian worldview.  “By identifying the points where non-Christians are free-loading, we can be confident that we are addressing areas where they sense the need for something more.”

Finding Truth is an essential toolbox for thinking Christians.  Pearcey does a dual service for readers as she not only instructs them to analyze and demolish competing worldviews (2 Cor. 10:5); she encourages readers to go deeper in the Christian faith which is informed by biblical reality and rock-solid facts.   A more accurate description, however, would be a treasure chest.  This is required reading which will only enrich one’s Christian life and effectiveness in the marketplace of ideas!

5 stars

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

BOOK REVIEWS

On the Road With St. Augustine – James K.A. Smith (2019)

James K.A. Smith, On the Road With Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019), 240 pp.

The postmodern prophet and rock star, Bono Vox laments, “I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, these city walls, only to be with you. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” U2 isn’t the only one tapped into the inner drive and existential angst of the ages. Augustine had them beat by 1,600 years! “Oh Lord, you have created us for yourself but our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” It appears that Bono and Augustine have something in common!

James K.A. Smith is on a similar quest and is eager to share the fruit of his efforts in his most recent book, On the Road With Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Smith’s work is an invitation to meet Augustine on the path that will lead to the culmination of his hopes, dreams, and desires.

Readers are in for a treat, especially the ones who have caricatured Augustine as a stuffy academician who puffs on a pipe, panders to the educated elite, and pontificates with an accent. Smith notes, “The Christian gospel, for Augustine, wasn’t just the answer to an intellectual question (though it was that); it was more like a shelter in a storm, a port for a wayward soul, nourishment for a prodigal who was famished, whose own heart had become, he said, ‘a famished land.’” As such, the “famished land” of many professing Christians will be laid bare. The fertile soil of Augustine will help nurture, strengthen, and revitalize travelers who dare to follow his lead.

The most endearing feature of Smith’s work is the emphasis on what he refers to as a “refugee spirituality.” Such an approach is desperately needed in our day, especially when most people seem content in the here and now and are satisfied with temporal trinkets: “Imagine a refugee spirituality,” writes Smith, “an understanding of human longing and estrangement that not only honors those experiences of not-at-homeness but also affirms the hope of finding a home, finding oneself … it’s about knowing how to make the journey, how to adopt the posture of the refugee who travels light.” Tragically, many American Christians are so burdened with temporal trinkets, they cannot even envision Augustine’s prescribed pursuit.

Smith traces the Augustinian path and focuses on several fascinating subjects that every pilgrim must wrestle with: freedom, ambition, sex, and death to name a few. On the Road With Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts is a treasure map of sorts. Readers will see a totally new side of the Bishop of Hippo. Thoughtful readers will be prodded and poked. But they will also be encouraged and edified. They will be forced into a corner and challenged to weigh these heavenly realities and ultimately find their rest in God and the gospel of His Son.

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS

Don't Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul – Jason Meyer

Jason Meyer, Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 154 pp.

Everyone faces discouragement, some more than others. More extreme examples of discouragement have many faces – chronic anxiety, fear, panic attacks, and depression are only a few manifestations of discouragement. Jason Meyer addresses the epidemic of discouragement in his book, Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul. The author writes, “Discouragement can be defeated only when the full truth of everything that is for us confronts and conquers the half-truth of fear and despair.”

The book is filled with practical examples of dealing with discouragement and is laced with biblical ammunition for defeating this deadly foe.

Part one, How to Fight for Sight shows readers the importance of focusing on the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. Meyer adds, “Vanquishing discouragement is never automatic nor easy. It is a hard-fought fight for sight.” Indeed, “we lose heart when we lose sight of all that we have in Jesus. When we lose sight of Jesus, we see only half the picture, we believe half-truths, and we are robbed of hope. But as believers, we are called to fight back.”

Part two, How to Defeat Despair provides practical help for the battle. It builds on the strong foundation that was developed in part one. “Whenever we begin to lose heart,” writes Pastor Meyer, “we should take the gospel and press it into the deep places in our hearts where discouragement loves to hide.” Specifically, the author fixes his attention on three streams of despair: past failures, present disappointments, and future fear. The gospel is applied to each arena of discouragement which leaves followers of Christ in a position of strength, not strength that they muster through their own resources, but strength from Another, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the end, Meyer reassures his readers that God has not written the final chapter. He encourages them to think and live with an eternal perspective. He urges them to cast their cares on the risen Savior who will, in the final analysis, make all things new. What a day that will be!

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

BOOK REVIEWS · CHRISTIAN LIFE · CULTURE · Culture

Death By Living – N.D. Wilson (2013)

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Grasshoppers, swings, dirt, traffic jams, puppy dogs, and blue skies. N.D. Wilson appears to be captivated by everyday objects and everyday situations. He appears to be captivated by life. Living life is what his new book is meant to convey – really living life. But living also means dying.  So the author wordsmiths his way into the heart of readers by painting portraits of life and death – most of which arise from his own life and the lives of his family and extended family.

Death by Living is a plea for people to living life as God intends. In other words, to quote Red from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dying.” Wilson challenges readers to get busy living which of course will culminate with death: “How much of the vineyard can we burn first? How fast can we run? How deeply can we laugh?  Can we ever give more than we receive? How much gratitude can we show? How many of the least of these can we touch along the way? How many seeds will we get into the ground before we ourselves are planted?”

A theme that runs through Wilson’s work is that life is a story. Life is a story that each of us participates in. Indeed, we write our stories every day.  But the author maintains, “there is a difference between asserting that life is a story and actually living life like a story. And there is another difference between living life-like a story and living life like a good story.”  Living life like a story, therefore, is part and parcel of the Christian life.

The author helps readers see what real living looks like: “Grabbing will always fail. Giving will always succeed … Our children, our friends, and our neighbors will all be better off if we work to accumulate for their sakes … Don’t leave food uneaten, strength unspent, wine undrunk.”

Wilson urges readers to live with all their might. And while he never mentions Jonathan Edwards, I hear a strong Edwardsian influence throughout the book. Edwards himself penned 70 resolutions that reflect many of the propositions in Death by Living. One of those resolutions is to “live with all my might, while I do live” (Resolution 6). Nate Wilson argues in the same vein, which of course, is undergirded by America’s greatest intellectual: “Laugh from your gut.  Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life.  And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.”

Death by Living will elicit laughter – lots of laughter.  I found myself reading portions of Wilson’s work to my wife and she would laugh with me.  In fact, I haven’t laughed so hard in a while!  Some won’t find Wilson’s humor funny – which makes me laugh even harder!

Death by Living may prompt tears. There is a realism here that is hard to come by these days. This author speaks in candid terms.  Taking prisoners simply isn’t an option.  All the cards are on the table.  Readers are left to determine a whether the “hand they’ve been dealt” will result in joyful, Christ-saturated living or death by a thousand qualifications.  Far too many have simply thrown in the towel.  Wilson argues from an entirely different perspective as he encourages readers that “life is meant to be spent.”

One reviewer compares Wilson to John Eldredge – what is likely meant to be a compliment. Sure, whatever.  I prefer as I have done elsewhere [See my review: Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl] to compare Wilson to Dennis Miller, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis – no doubt a true compliment!  Death by Living is about the gospel but it never comes across in “preachy” tones.  It’s a celebration of a life lived and ended well.  It’s about a life that is lived passionately and faithfully.  Death by Living is about living with gusto; about living with passion; about living to honor Christ.  But real living also requires dying.  We are called to finish strong and die well – all to the glory of God!

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Walking With Jesus on Campus – Stephen Kellough (2019)

Stephen Kellough, Walking With Jesus on Campus (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019), 183 pp.

One of the most invigorating seasons of life is during college. New friends, new terrain, and educational opportunities provide are the new proving grounds. But college life is also a training ground. The rigors and pressure of academics, athletics, and complex relationship pose new challenges that tend to be intimidating. Time away from open present new temptations and an array of choices that were previously unmet during high school days.

Stephen Kellough addresses these challenges in his book, Walking With Jesus on Campus. He aim is to help Christian students rearrange their spiritual priorities in order to thrive during their college days. Simply put, he sets out to help students care for their souls during college.

The foundation is securely set in Galatians 5:16 that admonishes followers of Christ to walk according to the Spirit. Such a walk is an indication that we are “making progress in the Christian life,” according to the author.

Kellough presents several challenges that students face in college that pertain to temptation, workaholism, perfectionism, and purity.

One area that is stressed is the need for a safe and godly community. “Believers,” writes Kellough, “have a common need for each other and a distinctive purpose together for the advance of Christ’s kingdom.” Authentic community, then, involves friendship, a Godward gaze, and biblical accountability. The author continues, “Our God has not created his people to function as lone rangers but are designed as relational beings. Within the body of Christ, God intends for us to live in community – depending upon each other and depending upon our Lord.”

Ultimately, students are encouraged to walk on wise steps, to walk on the path that is blazed by our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a path is one of obedience, discipleship, devotion, service, and worship.

Walking Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul During College is a basic book that accomplishes its aim. College students are encouraged to study these pages and benefit from the pastoral wisdom of Stephen Kellough. Their souls will be encouraged and they will be prepared to flourish during an important season of life.

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