BOOK REVIEWS

Between Life and Death – Kathryn Butler

deathKathryn Butler, Between Life and Death (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 214 pp.

These are perilous times. Our day is marked by pragmatism and situational ethics. The current milieu, for the most part, is not informed or undergirded by biblical principles.

As our loved ones reach the end of their days, it is important that we refuse to allow culture to dictate our medical and ethical decisions. Between Life and Death by Kathryn Butler helps navigate the bumpy path which ends in death. Butler is a trained physician and trauma surgeon who recently left her medical practice to homeschool her children. She brings a wealth of biblical wisdom to light and offers guidance which is a reflection of the counsel of the holy.

Personally, Between Life and Death was a difficult book for me. No one likes to think about the implications of death but Dr. Butler forces the issue with truth and grace. Each chapter is laced with take-home points which apply the truths of a given chapter.

The strength in this book is the author’s commitment to biblical authority and its emphasis on people made in the image of God. These image-bearers have great worth and dignity in the sight of God. As a result, each person must be treated with kindness and respect.

When the life of an image-bearer hangs in the balance, each person must “determine whether treatment promises recovery or only prolongation of suffering and death,” writes Butler.

Another helpful feature in Butler’s book is the example of a Sample Directive. This helpful tool may be used as a sort of template that readers can apply to their own unique situation.

Overall, Between Life and Death is a helpful book, one that is sure to educate people and guide them on a biblical path that glorifies the Lord.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Grace Defined and Defended – Kevin DeYoung

calKevin DeYoung, Grace Defined and Defended (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 130.

Whenever Kevin DeYoung pens a book, I devour it – quickly. DeYoung writes with biblical precision. He writes with clarity. And his writing exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. His latest book, Grace Defined & Defended is no exception.

This short book is a summary and exposition of the Canons of Dort. The Synod convened from 1618-1619 and crystallized the Reformed position concerning soteriology.

DeYoung reproduces the historical Canon of Dort and provides a short commentary that explains and defends the content. Misconceptions are erased and the doctrinal ore is successfully mined and served up in a readable and devotional manner.

The selling-point of Grace Defined & Defended is its ability to drive readers to the Canons of Dort – a document that most contemporary believers have never heard about, let alone read.

DeYoung’s ability to unpack and explain this 400-year old confession is unparalleled and should be devoured by followers of Jesus. Readers who affirm historic Calvinistic orthodoxy will be edified and encouraged. Fence-sitters and Arminians will be challenged and convinced. And all readers, in the final analysis, will exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo gloria!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Passions of the Heart – John D. Street

street

John D. Street, Passions of the Heart (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2019), 308 pp.

We find ourselves in the midst of a culture that is awash in sexual sin. Yet ironically, there are very few resources available to help people deal with this vexing problem. Some books minimize sexual sin and even ignore its pernicious effects on the lives of people. Other books address the subject aggressively but fail to subject it to the weight of biblical revelation. Instead of approaching sexual sin through the lens of the gospel, it is dealt with psychologically, which in the final analysis is unhelpful.

John D. Street offers a different approach; one that is biblical, timely, and practical. The book is arranged in three parts.

Part One: The Nature of the Heart and Its Passions

Dr. Street sets the stage by helping readers understand the complex nature of the human heart. If the human heart is an “idol factory,” as Calvin says, this section shines the spotlight on the idols that are produced daily in hearts and lives around the world.

The author’s aim is to highlight the deception nature of the heart. Such a view runs counter to conventional wisdom that says lays claim to the autonomous heart. I need, “Trusting your feelings and allowing them to dictate your choices is the dogma of the day.”

Ultimately, trusting one’s heart will lead to catastrophe and ultimately, damnation. True repentance is evidenced by the pursuit of purity, righteous indignation, pursuing holy fear, deep desire for God, zeal for truth, and a desire for justice.

The author shows how “heart idolatry” manifests itself and how the end result is enslavement, in this case, sexual sin.

Part Two: The Motivations of Sexual Idolatry

The author digs deeper into the heart of sexual sin by revealing its hidden motivations. Various desires such as self-pity, discontentment, anger, and fear are exposed as sinful motivations that undergird sexual sin.

A helpful diagnostic test is offered that helps clarify heart motivations. Honest interaction is sure to lead to spiritual benefits, including a conscience which is cleansed and freedom from sin’s guilt.

Part Three: The Characteristics of a Pure Heart

The final section proves to be the most helpful as Dr. Street sets forth the criteria for lasting heart change, which is found exclusively in the gospel: “The gospel is intended to be not only a message of salvation to the unbeliever but also an ongoing message of change for the believer.” In my mind, this observation is missing in many churches. As a result, it is neglected in many Christian lives.

The gospel reveals sin and applying the truth of the gospel brings death to the flesh. Street adds, “The heart ruled by sexual lust must be ministered to in such a faithful and determined way that the Holy Spirit may use the gospel to transform the enslaved person by the power of God. This is the beginning of lasting change from stubborn and enslaving sexual sin.”

Summary

Passions of the Heart: Biblical Counsel for Stubborn Sexual Sins contains a wealth of biblical resources that will both equip biblical counselors and challenge sexual sinners to turn from their sin and cast all their hope upon their Savior, banking on his redemptive benefits found in the gospel.

Highly recommended.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – Mark Vroegop

darkMark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 211 pp.

Life is a series of events that is filled with moments of intense joy and seasons of pain and suffering. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop is concerned with the later. The author is acutely aware that people who live in a fallen world will inevitably face what William Cowper refers to as the “dark clouds of Providence.”

There have been a few notable contributions in recent days that address the subject of suffering. Tim Keller’s, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering and Paul David Tripp’s, Suffering are two examples of books that tackle the subject of suffering that are faithful to Scripture and offer readers a glimpse of hope through the prism of Scripture. Like the aforementioned books, Vroegrop wrestles with subject. But Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is unique in that is focuses on the subject of lament.

“The aim of this book,” writes Vroegrop, “is to help you discover the grace of lament – to encourage you to find deep mercy in the dark clouds.” His mission is accomplished in three parts:

Part 1: Learning to Lament/Psalms of Lament

Part 2: Learning from Lament: Lamentations

Part 3: Living with Lament: Personal and Community Applications

The author defines lament as “a prayer that leads to trust.” Such a prayer leads to two crucial questions:

  • “Where are you, God?”
  • “If you love me, why is this happening?”

Lament, then, is “the transition between pain and promise.”

With this solid foundation, the author shows how Christians are both commended and commanded to make lament to God.

Ultimately, painful seasons of life can be “platforms for worship.” These seasons lead the people of God to trust him fully and deeply. “Trust,” writes Vroegop, “is believing what you know to be true even though the facts of suffering might call that belief into question. Lament keeps us turning toward trust by giving us language to step into the wilderness between our painful reality and our hopeful longings.”

I found Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy to be an immensely helpful and practical book. This book gives believers permission to grieve – even wail and mourn. But after grief comes another day, which leads to worship.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is intimately tied to the Word of God and directs the people of God to the pathway that leads to him. Indeed, as the author notes, “Lament is the language of those stumbling in their journey to find mercy in dark clouds.”

Five takeaways are offered as a means of encouragement:

  • “Lament is how we tunnel our way to truth.”
  • “Lament is how we experience grace no matter what we face.”
  • “Lament gives us hope because it gives us a glimpse of truth.”
  • “Lament vocalizes a desire for justice that is unfulfilled.”
  • “In dark clouds, there is deep mercy as we discover the grace of lament.”

Readers will truly discover how to apply the grace of God in this well-written and deeply God-honoring book.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Finding Quiet – J.P. Moreland (2019)

jpJ.P. Moreland, Finding Quiet (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 225 pp.

J.P. Moreland is one of the most influential Christian philosophers and thinkers of our generation. His writing has wielded a powerful influence in my life for nearly twenty-five years. His most recent book, Finding Quiet, is his most personal, transparent book to date.

In Finding Quiet, Dr. Moreland recounts his battle with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Moreland has a God-given gift to communicate complex ideas in an understandable way. Anyone familiar with his writing will be familiar with his scholarly approach. But this book, as mentioned above, is deeply personal and gut-wrenching. I found myself moved at various points throughout the book and was encouraged by the author’s willingness to share some of the deepest pits that nearly consumed his life. This kind of transparency is difficult to find, especially in the academic world.

The author not only tells his grim tale; he guides readers along a path that helps them understand how he gained victory over anxiety and relief from panic attacks. One of the most beneficial aspects of this work are the many tools that Moreland shares; tools that enable readers to walk toward wholeness and healing and conquer anxiety and depression.

To be clear, Moreland is firmly tethered to the Word of God, a reality that he makes plain throughout the book:

“Properly understood, we will see that presenting two members of your body – your brain and your heart muscle – to God as instruments of righteousness (which includes emotional flourishing and overall health) can be important in replacing anxiety and worry with deep peace and joy.”

But he is also committed to utilizing the latest research and resources that help anxious souls find relief and solace. For instance, as the author notes, “Anxiety is largely a habit wired or grooved into one’s brain and nervous system that becomes activated when one encounters certain triggers.” In response, several tools are offered to assist people in their quest for peace. Moreland graciously presents these tools, not as dogmatic solutions, but as options that people can consider that matches their unique needs.

Some Reformed thinkers (myself included) may find some of the discussion uncomfortable and even objectionable but thoughtful consideration of Dr. Moreland’s recommendations is suggested.

Personally, the two most powerful principles that the author presents include the commitment to living a life of gratitude and treasuring key Scriptures to help win important emotional battles. Several practical tips are offered to help cultivate an attitude of gratitude and Scriptures are offered that have been personally meaningful to the author.

I urge readers to explore Finding Quiet and benefit from Dr. Moreland’s God-centered wisdom. Again, not everyone across the board will agree with each of his conclusions – but all can certainly benefit from the fruit of his labor. My prayer is that this book will be a mighty source of strength for many people who battle depression and anxiety.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God – Matthew Barrett

noneMatthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 283 pp.

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett is a book for our times. Better put, it is a book that is desperately needed in this generation. Many books that explore the subject of theology proper are fraught with errors. Barrett’s book is quite the opposite.

None Greater takes readers on a journey which is undergirded by the theological wisdom of Anselm, Augustine, and Aquinas. Barrett stands on Anselm’s shoulders in particular and argues, “God is someone whom none greater can be conceived.” This theme strikes a welcome chord in a culture that is drowning in views of God which are weak, fragile, and unbiblical. At the outset, the vision of God is one of grandeur and glory; a vision that is a vivid portrayal of the God of the Bible.

Barrett invites readers to explore God in all his glory by exploring a series of attributes including infinity, aseity, simplicity, immutability, impassibility, timeless eternity, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, ommisapience, righteousness, goodness, love, jealousy, and glory.

The chapter on impassibility is especially helpful as the author presents a very difficult doctrine in terms that are easily understood and digested. Each attribute is discussed in light of Anselm’s helpful view that God is someone than whom none greater can be conceived.

The net result leads readers not only to a better understanding of God, but one that leads to a worshipful response. Barrett shows the practical benefits of following and worshiping this great and glorious God: “The same infinite power of the Almighty that raised Jesus from the tomb is at work in us who believe.”

This work stands in a solidly Reformed tradition, but is designed for pastors and laymen. It is my pleasure to highly commend this book. I trust that it will receive a wide reading and impact the next generation for God’s glory!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Logic of God – Ravi Zacharias

raviRavi Zacharias, The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials For the Heart and Mind (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 301 pp.

Ask students of apologetics, “Who has wielded the weightiest influence in the 20th century?” There may be a variety of responses, and will, no doubt include the well-known names of Francis Schaeffer, Gresham Machen, and C.S. Lewis. Each of these influential thinkers are with their Savior in heaven.

Who has stepped in to continue the legacy of these titans of the faith in our generation? In my mind, Ravi Zacharias must be included in that list. While his first book, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism was largely unrecognized, it came at a crucial juncture in my Christian journey and continues to serve me over twenty-five years later. Since that day, Zacharias has continued to write in the field of apologetics and has influenced thousands of students around the world.

Ravi Zacharias has encouraged Christian thinkers to craft careful biblical arguments and equipped them to engage people in the marketplace of ideas. But he has also challenged the skeptical mind with his brilliant intellect, keen insight, and winsome personality.

The Logic of God is the newest offering by Zacharias. This book contains 52 Christian essentials for the heart and mind. The book is targeted to Christian readers but it would be an excellent resource for skeptics to consider as well.

Each chapter follows a predictable pattern. A topic is introduced, a Scripture is offered, and a brief 2-3 page discussion ensues. At the end of each chapter, readers are invited to consider a series of reflection questions and to walk down a path of personal application.

As an avid reader, I must say that Zondervan has gone to great lengths to make this a beautiful book. The hardback edition includes high quality glossy paper. The writing style is engaging and lucid. The person and work of Jesus Christ is celebrated. The Word of God is treasured. And readers are challenged to think through the exclusive nature of truth. Indeed, as the author notes, “Truth by definition is exclusive … The law of contradiction does apply to reality: two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of noncontradiction is to affirm it at the same time.” Such a statement reveals how Zacharias alerts readers to the importance of philosophy and how good philosophy contributes to effective apologetics.

One of the things that emerges in this book is Ravi’s passion to wed reason and faith. This makes his style unique and resembles the pattern that Francis Schaeffer popularized in the twentieth century. Zacharias writes,

“The connecting of faith and reason is the wonderful journey of the soul. When one’s thinking is set aright again and when the flesh has its shackles broken, the mind and body come under God’s liberating and fulfilling plan. Then we see as He designed us to see. When we come to know our Creator, the questioning is not for doubting but for putting it all together and marveling at His wonders.”

Zacharias has a gift for blending rationality and experience and wouldn’t think of having it any other way. His approach is desperately needed in these postmodern times.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Reformed Systematic Theology – Volume 1: God and Revelation – Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley

beekJoel R. Beeke & Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology – Volume 1: God and Revelation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 1213 pp.

Our generation is fraught with challenges that militate against the Christian faith. We are constantly battling heresy, both inside and outside the church. The propagation of lies is commonplace and the repudiation of truth is part of the fabric of contemporary culture.

Thankfully, we are blessed with many resources that help encourage and equip us for living the Christian life, even in the midst of the rising tide of apostasy. The past twenty years, we have been blessed with an impressive array of systematic theology texts, which include the likes of John Frame, John MacArthur, Wayne Grudem, and Michael Horton.

The latest work is a labor of love from Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God is the first volume and includes an extended prolegomena, the doctrine of revelation, and the doctrine of God. Each major section introduces readers to the biblical fundamentals and critical areas of concern.

What makes this work special is the emphasis on what key thinkers in church history have said about a given doctrinal reality. The authors have done their homework and have done the “heavy lifting,” which enable students to focus in on the subject at hand. But make no mistake: While the authors lean on writers from another generation, it is never done in a way that overshadows the authority of Scripture. Sacred Scripture has the first and last word on every subject.

Frankly, I found this volume enthralling. While it weighs in at over 1,200 pages, I found the reading to be engaging, illuminating, and educational. But more than anything, Reformed Systematic Theology points readers to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. This work succeeds in leading readers to the cross of Christ. It is here that we are humbled and challenged to worship before his majesty.

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

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.