Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Culture

The Colson Way – Owen Strachan (2015)

colsonGospel-spreading, Jesus-loving, and worldview-shaping.  These short phrases describe a special man.  This man was bold, unafraid, and merciful.   He was filled with compassion for people and longed to see social justice in America and around the globe.  These are only a few brief descriptions of the former hatchet-man.  This man served under President Richard M. Nixon.  This man served time in a federal penitentiary.  His name – Charles Colson.

Owen Strachan provides an invaluable service to the church in his latest book, The Colson Way.  While the primary target is American millennial evangelicals, the author’s message should reach all age groups and is destined to not only inspire a new generation of leaders but also warn against moral decay and worldview erosion.  The book is a primer on the importance of loving one another and making a mark for the gospel – a gospel which is characterized by truth, grace, forgiveness, love, and mercy.

Strachan explores the formative years of Mr. Colson and walks readers through his days in the White House which ultimately led to a short stay in the “Big House.”  The Providential path of pain that Colson traveled led him to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  As a result, his life was transformed by Jesus which resulted in a series of unexpected events that would have an effect on people around him and thousands of people who never met him.

The author chronicles the various ministries of Chuck Colson, especially Prison Fellowship which spans around the world and offers hope, peace, and forgiveness to prisoners.

Strachan summarizes the Colson life creed:

“His God-given role in the kingdom was to go to the needy, the suffering, and the forgotten, and to minister grace to them … As a former prisoner, disgraced in the public eye, he never lost sight of just how freeing the gospel truly was.  He knew what it was to have lost everything, to be at the mercy of routines and regulations that were not of his choosing, and to taste shame and guilt that left only to return.”

This fascinating book not only introduces readers to the life and legacy of Charles Colson; it also serves as a primer for living with a bold faith in the public square.  It is a clarion call to young evangelical leaders.  It is an invitation to proclaim, defend, and live the truth in a world which is hostile to the truth of the gospel.

This much-needed book will serve the church well and prompt much discussion and debate.  Better yet, it will lead a new generation of leaders to the front lines where the battle is fought, and where our Commanding Officer beckons us to heed His sovereign call.

Highly recommended – 4.5 stars

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Culture · Theology

GOD IN THE WHIRLWIND – David Wells (2014)

wellsJeremiah warned the people of God.  He did not shirk his responsibility.  And he never winked at sin.  Jeremiah spoke the truth with clarity and passion.  We are in desperate needs of prophetic voices in our day.  We need men like Jeremiah who are unafraid of compromisers and capitulators.  We need men like Jeremiah who shoot straight and stand straight.

David Wells is numbered among such men.  He has been standing straight and shooting straight since he first published No Place for Truth: Or What Ever Happened to Evangelical Theology in 1993.  I remember the deep impact that Wells writing had on me in those days as a rookie pastor.  Over twenty years later, Dr. Wells continues to shoot straight and stand straight.  He continues to warn the people of God, much like Jeremiah warned Israel in the Old Testament.

Yet, some people just can’t come to grips with reality.  One reviewer on Amazon compares Dr. Well’s with a “grumpy old man.”  He continues, “God in the Whirlwind” is big on complaining, lamenting, and raging against what is wrong and very short on how to make things better.”

At 75, Dr. Wells is getting older.  This much is true.  But to compare him to a grumpy old man is the height of arrogance and the epitome of disrespect.  Dr. David Wells is the author of at least twenty books and has taught at Gordon-Conwell Seminary since 1979. Currently, he is the Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell.

David Well’s latest book, God in the Whirlwind is an honest look at culture and Christianity.  He calls followers of Jesus Christ to cast aside the therapeutic vision of God and embrace the God of the Bible who is fully transcendent and immanent, what Well’s refers to as God’s “holy-love.”  Well’s argues for a fresh vision of God that will transform individuals and impact communities for the sake of the gospel: “… We need a fresh vision of God and his character of holy-love.  Our understanding of his greatness gets worn down, sometimes worn out, by the constant rubbing against our highly modernized life  It is this vision, though, this knowing of God, that puts steel into spines and fire into Christian hearts.  When we are God-centered in our thoughts, God-fearing in our hearts, when we see with clarity what his character of holy-love is like, he begins to have weight in our lives.”

4.5 stars

Highly recommended!

BOOK REVIEWS · Culture · Discipleship

RISKY GOSPEL – Owen Strachan (2013)

owenWhen is the last time you took a risk – something really risky; something adventuresome, something costly?  Whatever the reason is, many people have failed to step up to the plate.  Hoards of Christ-followers have failed to live up to their calling before almighty God.

Owen Strachan’s newest book helps Christians reach for something greater; something that is all-together God-honoring.  The subtitle captures the essence of the book – Abandoning Fear and Building Something Awesome.  In Risky Gospel, the author urges readers to live according to God’s design.  For “God doesn’t want his people to be fearful, but faithful.”  Strachan rightly argues that believers are called to live boldly for God, to demonstrate courageous faith, even in the midst of suffering and adversity.

Strachan is the executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  As such, he makes a strong case for complementarianism and sets forth a winsome case for building families according to the Scriptural mandate, a vigorous Christian life that is led by godly men and supported and encouraged by godly women.

The author encourages readers to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit who empowers them to live in the way that God intends.  This power is fueled by the gospel and is available to every Christ-follower.  And it is expressed  in our homes, in our careers, in our communities, and in our gospel witness.

Strachan urges readers to risk everything they have for the glory of God.  Please recognize, this has nothing to do with self-effort.  Rather, it has everything to do with the gospel, which is summarized beautifully by Dr. Strachan: “Gospel risk, then, is grounded in an unshakable foundation: God.  It is possible through divine grace, secured through the cross of Christ and activated in our lives by the resurrection of Christ.  Sin is defeated; Satan has lost; the law is kept; we are counted righteous in the heavenly courtroom, all because of Jesus.  Now we are freed and empowered by the Spirit to count the cost, forsake all the paltry pleasures of this world, and life a life of faith.”

There is so much to commend here.  The author writes simply without being simplistic.  He writes in a popular style that will appeal to a younger audience.  It is very obvious from the start, that this author is plugged into contemporary culture and understands the hot-buttons of the younger generation.   References to popular musicians and current television programs bear this out.  Yet at the same time, Strachan is introducing readers to the Puritans and inviting them to join him in a rigorous study of systematic theology.

One review of the book maintains that Risky Gospel is uninspiring.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the book should target a younger audience, this does not negate the bold reality and challenge the Strachan presents.  This is good stuff.  This is gospel stuff.  God is honored by this kind of writing.

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · Culture · Discipleship

THE GRAND WEAVER – Ravi Zacharias (2007)

Our culture has for the most part been washed ashore on a beach littered with relativism and0310324955_b pragmatism.  Anyone who aspires or seeks refuge in something larger than him or herself is caught on the horns of a dilemma – either admit the hopelessness of such a pursuit or embrace transcendent truth that derives from the absolute-personal God which leaves the well-meaning pilgrim in a posture of responsibility and accountability before Him.  Ravi Zacharias addresses these concerns in his notable work, The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives.

The author sets out to demonstrate why life matters, how life matters, and how a sense of purpose ultimately rests in the hands of a sovereign God.  Zacharias discusses important themes such as calling, morality, spirituality, freewill, worship, and destiny.  He vividly shows readers how God designs the events of our lives, like a weaver who forms a beautiful tapestry.

Ravi Zacharias never ceases to amaze me with his ability to not only analyze culture but also probe the depth of the human heart.  His blending of theology, apologetics, and philosophy is deeply encouraging and valuable.   Interestingly enough, the one who is so good at encouraging people also infuriates some who are committed to atheism, agnosticism, or radical postmodernism.  When I finish a book by Dr. Zacharias, I generally think to myself, “I’m glad this guy is on our team!”

4 stars

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 dyin.” 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 participate 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 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. 

4.5 stars

Apologetics and Worldview · BOOK REVIEWS · CULTURE · Culture

ECHOES OF EDEN – Jerram Barrs (2013)

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs sets out to explore literature and the arts and its relation to the 1433535971_lhistoric Christian faith.  With a deep commitment to the Christian worldview, the author helps readers navigate their way through the minefield of the arts.

One of the chief contentions of the author is that “great art contains elements of the true story: the story of the good creation, the fallen world, and the longing for redemption.”  He argues that people long for a return to Eden – where truth, beauty and righteousness reign.

Barrs shows readers how books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings constitute great art by recalling the “echoes of Eden.”  But in a bold move, the author also demonstrates how the so-called Echoes of Eden emerges in works by Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and J.K. Rowling.

Echoes of Eden is a book that Christians need to study and reflect on with a sober mind and an open heart.   I felt as if I were reading a new book by Francis Schaeffer – a high compliment to the author.  But beware: Readers will be challenged to “think Christianly” as Schaeffer used to say.  Some readers will walk away convicted.  Others will walk away challenged.  At the end of the day, every reader will benefit from reading Barr’s work.

4 stars