BOOK REVIEWS

The Call – Os Guinness

callOs Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 247 pp.

Twenty years ago, Os Guinness penned The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Since the release of his timely book, the matter of vocation has been at the center of many lectures and discussions.

Thomas Nelson recently repackaged The Call which is revised, expanded, and included a new preface. Guinness sets forth the thesis early in the book:

“This book is for all who long to find and fulfill the purpose of their lives. It argues that this purpose can be found only when we discover the specific purpose for which we were created and to which we are called … Nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose.”

The author develops the theme of calling with great skill and dexterity. He explores calling from a variety of angles and is quick to remind readers that calling is ultimately grounded in God’s purposes for his people. “Calling,” writes Guinness, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

Guinness dismantles false views of calling and replaces these views with solid and substantial reality: “We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.”

Calling is an immensely helpful book. The principles that Guinness shares are timeless. These transcendent realities helped shape cultures and continue to shape the way people live their lives. “Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life,” writes Guinness. Anything less is tantamount to idolatry.

I commend Calling without reservation and trust that many will be strengthened by this work that is destined to become a classic.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Preacher’s Catechism – Lewis Allen (2018)

allenAllen Lewis, The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 216 pp.

I am a big fan of catechisms. So when I learned about The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen, I was intrigued. Actually, I jumped at the chance to read and review this book. Little did I know that this powerful little book would break me and convict me. It would mold and challenge me. It would encourage and edify me. The Preacher’s Catechism is remarkable in a myriad of ways, a few of which I will briefly describe below.

First, The Preacher’s Catechism is a book targeted to preachers. While some may consider this narrow target audience as ill-conceived, this strategy works well and helps accomplish the ultimate ends of the author.

Three convictions govern this book, which are set forth in the opening pages:

  1. The church needs preachers who last and thrive.
  2. Preachers must understand how preaching works, and how their souls work.
  3. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is an outstanding resource for the heart needs of every preacher.

With the governing convictions in place, Allen Lewis determines to utilize the pattern of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by targeting specific questions and answers to preachers. The book is arranged in four parts:

Part 1: The Glory of God and the Greatness of Preaching

Part 2: Jesus for Preachers

Part 3: Loving the Word

Part 4: Preaching with Conviction

Summarizing the essence of The Preacher’s Catechism is an impossible task. But at its very heart is a series of gospel-centered challenges and soul-stirring encouragements. This work is like a theological battering ram that is designed to crush pride, self-sufficiency, false motives and deeds of the flesh. But make no mistake. The author does not intend to merely convict preachers; his ultimate aim is to encourage them. Once the feeble scaffolding of the flesh is sufficiently toppled, the author winsomely directs the attention of preachers to the cross. “Listeners need to know that the preacher is contented in his God and rejoicing in his Savior,” writes Allen. He continues, “When our lives as preachers are filled with a sense of amazement about the grace that is ours in Christ, others start asking questions about that grace and seeking it for themselves.”

To call The Preacher’s Catechism a success would be a profound understatement. For this book captures what is truly important about pastoral ministry. It is a vivid reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. It serves preachers by admonishing them and encouraging them. But in the final analysis, it leads preachers back to the cross. It graciously beckons them to not only preach Christ crucified but to cherish the old rugged cross and lay claim to the saving benefits that Christ wrought for his elect.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Counseling · Discipleship

When I Am Afraid – Edward T. Welch (2010)

When I Am Afraid by Edward T. Welch is a short book.  It is also a very powerful book.  The author sets forth his intended goals at the beginning of the book.

  • You want to hone your spiritual instincts so that you turn to  Christ when anxious thoughts arise.
  • You want to know what Jesus says because when you turn to him in this way his words go deep.
  • You want to be less fearful and anxious and more content and hopeful.
  • You want to be more confident that God’s communication to you in the Bible speaks meaningfully to all the struggles of life.

Welch tackles fear and anxiety at the outset.  He admits, “to be human is to be afraid.”  Therefore, the responsibility of the reader is to recognize and isolate fear and anxiety.  He affirms, “So sometimes you will see that your fears mean you are trusting yourself rather than the Lord.  But you will always find that fear and worry are opportunities to hear God, to either turn toward him or to keep facing him and grow in trusting him.”

In chapter two, the author continues to focus on the need to trust God.  He sets forth some practical principles that point to God’s promise to deliver his people:

  • We trust in God not because he delivers us from every fearful situation, but because he alone is King.
  • He will always be with us in fearful situations.
  • He will deliver his people, but at times his deliverance will be more sophisticated than we can understand.
  • God will give you grace when you need it.

Chapter three discusses the relationship between fear and money.  Welch writes, “When you turn away from securing your own kingdom, which teeters on bankruptcy anyway, you get the true kingdom.”

Chapter four summarizes the fear many people have concerning death.  Chapter five contains practical counsel for dealing with the fear of man: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25).

Welch goes to the core of the matter in chapter six with a good discussion regarding the promises of God: “God is not passive in his nearness.  When God says he is present, it means he is doing something on your behalf.  He is giving you manna.  He is keeping promises and giving grace when you need it.  God is never passive, and certainly he is never powerless.”

Chapter seven makes an appeal to Psalm 46 and leads the reader to the redemptive work of Christ: “With the Cross of Jesus proclaiming that your sins have been paid for, and with his resurrection assuring you that he is now the reigning King, you can trust him for the future and focus on today.”

When I Am Afraid is worth reading.  Edward Welch steers readers away from the precipice of selfishness and directs them toward the work of Christ.  He clearly articulates the biblical reality that “love expels fear.”  Built into the book are a series of thought-provoking questions and space for biblical meditation and response.  When I Am Afraid would be best utilized in a small group Bible study or a one on one discipleship.

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture – John Feinberg

lightJohn S. Feinberg, Light in a Dark Place (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 799pp.

Many issues have come to the forefront for Christians in recent years. However, I cannot think of an issue of greater importance than our view of the Word of God. This crucial matter is addressed by John Feinberg in his recent work, Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture. This is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series, which is also edited by Dr. Feinberg.

The Doctrine of Scripture (or Bibliology) is one of the branches of systematic theology and is the starting place for anyone who desires a thorough look at sacred Scripture. Indeed, our doctrine of Scripture frames our whole approach to the Christian life.

John Feinberg clearly and comprehensively outlines what Scripture, theology, and reason teach about the Word of God. He discusses in great detail the usual themes that occur in the study of Bibliology, including revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, authority, canonicity, illumination, perspicuity, sufficiency, and preservation. Each of these themes is subjected to careful study and analysis. Feinberg is meticulous in his approach and holds views that are Reformational, conservative, and informed by church history.

No stone is left unturned here. Light in a Dark Place is a massive piece of literature. Weighing in at nearly 800 pages, readers who desire an in-depth look at Bibliology will not be disappointed. Like the other volumes in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series, Feinberg’s work educates, encourages, and helps equip the next generation with the unshakeable, authoritative Word of God.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Dangerous Good – Kenny Luck

luckKenny Luck, Dangerous Good: The Coming Revolution of Men Who Care (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2018), 195 pp.

Dangerous Good: The Coming Revolution of Men Who Care by Kenny Luck is directed at Christian men who want to make a difference. It is a short book that contains ten powerful lessons which are designed to push men in the right direction. These lessons are prompted and informed by Scripture, which runs against the cultural grain in every instance. For instance, Luck makes this lament early on: “Don’t take your masculine identity too seriously, or people will label you as narrow-minded, intolerant, or just stupid.” This lie is confronted and challenged throughout the book.

The author is concerned about shaping men whose hearts are completely sold out to God. To accomplish this end, Kenny Luck sends readers to the Word of God and invites them to participate in a revolution. This revolution is nothing less than the kingdom of God that is already/not yet.

Dangerous Good is an encouraging and informative book. Christian men who take Kenny Luck’s counsel to heart will not only be better off – they will find themselves are the center of a revolution of men who care.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Caring for One Another – Edward T. Welch

art of careEdward T. Welch, Caring for One Another (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 71 pp.

Each Christmas, like most families, we gather around the Christmas tree. After telling the story of the birth of Jesus and celebrating his incarnation, we open presents. When I was a child, I remember gravitating toward the big presents. After all, bigger is better. “The bigger the package, the better the present,” I reasoned in my seven-year-old mind.

Sometimes people approach books with the same mentality. “How could a small book influence anyone’s life?” So goes the conventional mentality. But consider, one of the greatest speeches in American history was the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. But this short speech only contains 272 words. The Declaration of Independence only has 1,458 words. Clearly, bigger is not always better. Indeed, these two documents help forge the history of America!

Edward T. Welch’s newest book is no exception. Caring for One Another is an exceedingly short book. The book is compromised of a mere 71 pages. But like the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, this book packs a powerful punch.

Dr. Welch describes eight ways to cultivate meaningful relationships. Each lesson begins with a biblical principle. The principle is explored and expanded and practical suggestions are offered that are specifically designed to care for the needs of people. Finally, the author includes helpful questions at the close of each chapter for personal and group discussion.

Caring for One Another is a small book with a big message. The central message is the gospel of Jesus Christ which fuels willing souls and equips them for a lifetime of ministry.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

Dangerous Calling – Paul David Tripp

1433535823_lPaul David Tripp’s book has been titled incorrectly.  Dangerous Calling should be titled, Lessons in the Woodshed.  The author guides pastors to the woodshed again and again and again.  While this is clearly not the most glowing and winsome way to begin a book review, readers will see firsthand that the author is committed to telling pastors the truth and leading them out of the desert of sin and into the high places of victory.

Part One:

In the opening section, Tripp explores pastoral culture and expresses deep concern from the start.  His primary argument: Many pastors are headed in the wrong direction – and fast!  The author draws the reader in by using his own life and ministry as an example of one who was headed for disaster – both in his ministry and in his marriage.  Evidently, pastors around the country are in a similar situation.  Some pastors are ignoring the need for biblical community, neglecting personal worship and devotional priorities, and carry the attitude that they have “arrived.”

Part Two:

Next, Tripp uncovers a problem among pastors that appears to be somewhat of an epidemic, namely – the danger of forgetting the majesty of God: “It is that familiarity with the things of God will cause you to lose your awe.  You’ve spent so much time in Scripture that its grand redemptive narrative, with its expansive wisdom, doesn’t excite you anymore.”

Tripp reminds pastors to regain their sense of awe by cultivating humility, tenderness, passion for the gospel, confidence, discipline, and rest.  He urges pastors, “… Run now, run quickly to your Father of awesome glory.  Confess the offense of your boredom.  Plead for eyes that are open to the 360-degree, 24/7 display of glory to which you have been blind … And remind yourself to be thankful for Jesus, who offers you his grace even at those moments when that grace isn’t nearly as valuable to you as it should be.”

Part Three:

Finally, Tripp warns pastors of the danger of “arrival.”  He confronts the propensity of pastors who falsely assume that they have nothing more to learn, what he refers to as “self-glory.”  His challenge is bold and timely: “You and I must not become pastors who are all too aware of our positions.  We must not give way to protecting and polishing our power and prominence.  We must resist feeling privileged, special, or in a different category.  We must not think of ourselves as deserving or entitled.  We must not demand to be treated differently or put on some ministry pedestal.  We must not minister from above but from alongside.”  Challenges and admonition like this appear throughout the book; challenges that call pastors to be servant leaders.

 Each page is filled with sobering challenges for men who call themselves a pastor/shepherd/elder.  Indeed, there are many  “lessons in the woodshed” but the author does not leave pastors in a hopeless condition.  Rather, he applies the gospel to pastors who have been wounded in light of unconfessed sin, pride, and arrogance.   I believe that Paul David Tripp has accurately accessed the condition of pastoral ministry.  But the assessment is not the most important observation.  What stands at the center of this discussion is the gospel.  Pastors must return again and again to the gospel.  It is true that pastors must deliver the message of the gospel from the pulpit each week.  But pastors must also preach the gospel to themselves.  They must see themselves as recipients of grace; sinners in need of grace; sinners in need of forgiveness.  May God raise up a new generation of pastors who are humble, contrite, and tremble at God’s Word (Isa. 66:2b).

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning

grudemWayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 1212 pp.

Wayne Grudem has become a household name in evangelical circles over the years. His landmark book, Systematic Theology, is used in Bible Colleges and Seminaries around the world. I have personally taught through his excellent book at least six times. As a result, hundreds of men and women have been equipped and edified in the Christian faith.

Dr. Grudem’s newest offering, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning is a wonderful companion to Systematic Theology. The book weighs in at over 1,200 pounds and will likely turn some readers away. But walking away from Grudem’s book would be like gazing at a massive treasure chest and refusing to open it for lack of time or desire. Both responses would be tantamount to foolishness.

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book as the author establishes the foundation for Christian ethics by grounding his discussion in the holy character of God and sacred Scripture. Indeed, the essence of Christian ethics is living Coram Deo, and to the glory of God.

The remainder of the book is organized around the Ten Commandments. The basic outline is as follows:

  • Protecting God’s Honor
  • Protecting Human Authority
  • Protecting Human Life
  • Protecting Life
  • Protecting Property
  • Protecting Purity of Heart

Grudem does not leave any stone unturned here. Every ethical topic imaginable is explored. Each topic, of course, is subjected to uncompromising biblical standards.

Christian Ethics is a breath of fresh air that will embolden followers of Jesus Christ and challenge them to live with God-centered resolve in a postmodern ethos that has forgotten God. It is not only a response to the zeitgeist that surrounds us; it is a rally-cry for faithful Christians to live in a way that pleases the triune God!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Aging Brain – Timothy Jennings

brainTimothy R. Jennings, The Aging Brain: Proven Steps to Prevent Dementia and Sharpen Your Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 283 pp.

The Aging Brain by Timothy R. Jennings, MD addresses the growing problem of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. At the heart of this book is the idea that these pathological states may in some cases be avoided with a healthy lifestyle and choices. The book is arranged in four parts:

Part 1: History and Aging

The author is realistic in his assessment of aging. He understands that aging is a normal part of life and is a result of the Fall. But the effects of aging can be curtailed through a series of lifestyle changes. “The purpose of this book,” writes Dr. Jennings, “is to lead people to healthier lives, which slow the aging process and reduce the risk of dementia.”

One of the central takeaways of Part 1 is that a healthy brain requires a healthy body. So the author recommends a series of lifestyle changes including proper nutrition and regular exercise as a means of preventative care.

Part 2: Oxidative Stress and Aging

In my mind, Part 2 is the most helpful and most interesting section of The Aging Brain. Dr. Jennings discusses the three factors that lead to oxidative stress (inflammation) and aging which include obesity, sugar, and toxins (tobacco, illegal substances, and alcohol abuse). The author includes several actions steps that lead readers in a direction of health, which in the final analysis result in a healthier brain and longevity.

Part 3: Lifestyle and Aging

Part 3 includes several practical steps that lead to brain health including exercise, sleep, regular rest (sabbaticals), a healthy worldview, and stress management.

Part 4: Pathological Aging

Part 4 focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, more practical steps to help prevent dementia, and a short section that describes how to care for a loved one with dementia.

Critique

The Aging Brain is a helpful resource for anyone who seeks help in understanding the various pathological states, such as dementia. The medical and scientific discussion is readable and accessible to anyone who is willing to put in the time for study.

One of the most attractive features of The Aging Brain is the learning points that the author concludes at the close of each chapter. Also included is an action plan. Here, the author suggests practical steps for moving in a healthy direction that promotes brain health.

While much of the book is helpful, The Aging Brain does not come without weaknesses. First, the author refers in some places to God as the “higher power.” I understand his desire to reach a broad base of readers who may not be followers of Christ. However, the reference to God as a “higher power” is not only unhelpful; it proves harmful as readers may be subtly encouraged to turn to a false god.

Second, the author discourages readers from believing in a deity who is a “punishing god.” It is unclear whether he means the “punishing god” of Islam or the God of the Bible who is a God of wrath and promises to punish every unrepentant person, in the final analysis (John 3:36; 1 Thes. 1:9-10).

Third, the promotion of self-forgiveness is included which proves unhelpful and ultimately, idolatrous.

Summary

These theological disagreements are significant but should not prevent readers from benefiting from the medical wisdom that explodes from this book. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater would be a mistake. Instead, I urge readers to carefully digest the material in The Aging Brain which will involve biblical discernment and discretion.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Walk On – Ben Malcolmson

ben.jpgBen Malcolmson, Walk On (New York: Waterbrook, 2018), 209 pp.

Walk On by is the inspirational tale of a young man who dared to follow his dreams onto the football field and beyond. Ben Malcolmson dreamed the impossible when he decided to play as a “walk on” during his days at the University of Southern California. Pete Carroll was the coach during those days which makes for a very interesting story.

Malcolmson not only shares the story about his athletic pursuits; he clearly describes how his relationship with Jesus Christ began and was fostered in those early days at USC.

Sports enthusiasts will appreciate Malcolmson’s heart, passion, and grit. His love for God shines clearly in these pages as he gives honor and glory to his Savior for enables his hands and guiding his feet.

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