BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

HELP MY UNBELIEF – Barnabas Piper (2015)

“I believe; help my unbelief!” cried the father of a demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24).  This cry of anguish is the cry necessarily which emerges from the mouth of every believer.  Why?  Our faith is growing.  Our faith is incomplete.  We are works in progress.  We still have much to learn.  In fact, Barnabas Piper argues, that questions are normal, even healthy in the Christian life.  This is the essence of Piper’s newest book, Help My Unbelief

When the man in Mark 9 cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief,” he was uttering more than a mere statement.  Piper adds, “Requests can stem only from belief, even it is just the tiniest inkling of belief.”  This kind of reasoning should breathe hope, strength, and confidence in believers who doubt from time to time.  For the very act of doubt, precipitates saving faith!  Once again: we are in process.  We are still growing.  God is in the process of refining our faith.  And he will complete the good work he started!

Piper introduces readers to the idea of “believing doubt.”  He says, “Believing doubt will always anchor in God’s character and word as unshakeable and then take on questions that harass and attack.”  While much harm can come from doubt, Piper maintains, “Doubt can save us from much trouble and lead to much knowledge … Doubt that seeks the truth and stems from the belief that God is the source of all truth.”

But the author also presents the idea of “unbelieving doubt.”  “When unbelieving doubt poses a question, it is not interested in the answer for any reason other than to disprove it … These doubts are the wild monsters that wreck faith and destroy the simplistically peaceful Christian lives so many people try to lead.”

This doubt can surface in several ways – intellectual, emotional, or even theological.  Truth be told, every Christian battles with unbelieving doubt.  This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “See to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”

God has given us certain evidences of saving faith which include repentance, prayer, and humility: “Through repentance, prayer, and humility believers move away from unbelieving doubt and grow in holiness.  The refusal to do these things is a spiritual red flag and evidence of wanting to be one’s own god.”

Piper discusses disobedience as unbelief: “Disobeying the command of God is disbelieving His character … He [God] is authority itself, the essence of perfect, flawless authority.  To disobey is to deny this about him.”  Piper also discusses obedience as belief.  In a statement to is dripping with the wisdom of his father, he adds: “Obedience is not the end; God’s satisfaction in us and our pleasure in Him are.  It doesn’t feel tangible in the moment, but as we grow in belief, we will find it gaining power over the desire to sin.”  Pure Christian hedonism!

Walking in obedience to God is not a magic formula or a recipe for perfection in the Christian life.  The author rightly notes, “Belief [which is to say – obedience to God] does not mean sin will go away … True belief is that which perpetually, magnetically pulls us toward the ‘not yet’ of Revelation 21.”  Believing the promises of God and being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ leads us in the direction of the new earth where Jesus will make all things new!

Help My Unbelief is a plea for a faith which is transparent and vulnerable.  It is a call for vibrant Christian living in the face of unanswered questions.  And if offer hope for people who are desperately looking for answers.  The search for answers is welcomed here.  Indeed, the search for truth is a vital part of the Christian life.  The book is a call to action; action which is grounded in biblical faith.  While faith may waver and is “prone to wonder” as  Charles Wesley wrote, we can be assured that God will never leave us or forsake us.  He will complete the good work he started.

“I believe; help my unbelief” represents the tension, the need the promise for every follower of Jesus.  We do believe.  We do live every day in great need.  Our belief is imperfect, so we cry out for help.  But that cry come from a place of belief.  We hold fast to God even as we feel pulled by the current of doubt, fear, and temptation.”

– Barnabas Piper

Highly recommended!

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 · 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 · 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 · Discipleship

The Prayer of the Lord – R.C. Sproul (2009)

Much of what passes for “prayer” these days is either geared to the heretical health and sproulwealth gospel or is drowning in neo-Gnostic babel.  Subjectivism, emotionalism, and narcissism dominate such thinking and have no place at the evangelical table.

R.C. Sproul brings clarity to the subject of prayer in his book, The Prayer of the Lord.  Dr. Sproul guides readers through the Lord’s prayer in a way that we have grown accustomed to for over 40 years.  Sprouls’ treatment is practical and deeply theological.  He counters some of the erroneous arguments that are set forth concerning prayer and sets forth the crucial principles for maintaining a vigorous prayer life.

Sproul’s work is a terrific place for new believers to start and will serve as an encouragement for seasoned Christians as well.

BOOK REVIEWS · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Discipleship · Gospel · Puritans

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God – Timothy Keller (2014)

Over the past twenty-five years, I have read books on prayer by thekeller Puritans and Reformers, the Quakers and the contemplative writers, the Desert Fathers, and even some living authors who think they have something unique to contribute to the discussion.

Timothy Keller’s newest work, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God is quite frankly the best book I’ve ever read on prayer.  This short review will only touch the tip of the iceberg; so I encourage readers of Veritas et Lux to read this incredible book for themselves.

Keller’s work is divided into five parts:

  1. Desiring Prayer
  2. Understanding Prayer
  3. Learning Prayer
  4. Deepening Prayer
  5. Doing Prayer

The book aims to show that  “prayer is both conversation and encounter with God” and demonstrates that prayer is both “awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.”

Keller rightly notes, “A book on the essentials of prayer should contain three components: the theological, experiential, and methodological.”  The author succeeds in presenting a lucid theological framework for understanding prayer.  He presents the experiential side of prayer by citing numerous Scriptural examples and drawing on the work of many Christ-followers in Church history.  And he sets forth a workable methodology, which in the final analysis includes many different forms that may appeal to different kinds of people.”  Keller’s book is biblical, engaging, God-centered, gospel-centered, and Spirit-fueled.

Prayer: Experiencing  Awe and Intimacy With God will confront readers with the God-centeredness of Jonathan Edwards, the earthiness and practicality of Martin Luther, and the theological precision of John Calvin.  This work will undoubtedly be used by God to encourage faithful prayer, enlist new prayer warriors, and revitalize a church that has neglected the important discipline of prayer.

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

The Prodigal God – Tim Keller (2008)

Sometimes big things do come in small packages.  The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller is one of those “big things.”

Keller tackles the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  His approach confronts the typical interpretation that fixates on the sin of the younger brother in Christ’s parable – the prodigal son.  Keller does not minimize the sin of the younger brother.  Rather, he emphasizes the heinous nature of his sin and explores the sin of the older brother as well – whose sin that is no less evil than his wayward brother.

The two brothers and their father not only set up the framework for the parable; they provide the basis for Keller’s assertions.  The younger brother is the rebel; the one who sinfully squandered his inheritance.  The older brother despised the act of mercy and grace demonstrated by the father toward the wayward son.  The younger son tries to find happiness and fulfillment through self-discovery.  The older son tries to find happiness through moral conformity.  Keller adds, “The message of Jesus’s parable is that both of these approaches are wrong.”

The remaining sections of the book redefine sin, lostness, and hope – all based on the parable under consideration.  Keller implies that all people gravitate toward one of the two brothers.  He explodes traditional categories and offers fresh encouragement to rebel types and Pharisee types.  At the end of the day, readers are challenged to repent of the sins of self-discovery and/or moral conformity.

The Prodigal God is a reaffirmation of the biblical gospel set forth in categories that are understandable to believers and unbelievers alike.  I plan to utilize this resource as an evangelistic tool.  I also plan to read this little treasure from time to time to remind myself of the gospel realities that emerge in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

4.5 stars

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Church History · Counseling · Discipleship · Theology

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Uncategorized

The Imperfect Disciple

discJared C. Wilson, The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 233 pp.  $13.21

I have a large section of books in my library devoted to the topic of discipleship and Christian living. I also have a much smaller section of books devoted to discipleship and Christian living – books that are actually worth reading and re-reading and focus on the life-transforming message of the gospel. These books emphasize the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. These books glory in the gospel. The books in the small section are written by men like Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, C.H. Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Piper, and — Jared C. Wilson.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is Jared Wilson’s latest offering and it does not disappoint. The subtitle is enough to drive away Pharisee-types and self-righteous do-gooders. The rest of us who stand among the sinful and spiritually marginalized will benefit from this outstanding book.

Wilson articulates the gospel in clear and concise terms. His explanations are not only practical; they are deeply personal. What emerges in The Imperfect Disciple is soul-food for starved Christians. The book is a gold mine for weary travelers. The author has a way of reminding readers that apart from grace they lose; apart from grace they abandon hope; apart from grace, life is only humdrum.

After speaking in plain terms about the sinfulness of sin and addressing people who struggle to get their act together, Wilson pours the grace – and he pours it liberally: “And there is the key to following Jesus not as a defeated person of confidence, of hope, of glory: you are free to own up to your true sinful self because you are set free from your true sinful self.”

For readers who are under the impression that they have their act together, I have a simple plea: Do not read this book. It will only frustrate you, anger you, and cause your self-righteousness to swell. Sinners in need of grace should drink deeply, however, from The Imperfect Disciple. They should see the glory of Christ and recognize that nothing else truly satisfies. And they should turn away from petty idols, what Lewis referred to as “mud pies.” Wilson adds, “Truly I think one reason we aren’t captivated by Christ’s glory is because we have a diminished capacity to be captivated by anything big. We are preoccupied with small things.”

The Imperfect Disciple is one of those landmark books that makes a gigantic splash in the publishing world by challenging minds and transforming hearts. My prayer is that many will dive into this wonderful book and be changed for the better as they become reacquainted with the Savior and taste of his matchless grace.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Leadership

Simple Church (2006)

It’s been several years since I first read Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric 0805447997_b
Geiger.  The second time through was a good refresher as the authors remind readers about the importance of returning to “God’s process for making disciples.”

Simple Church argues that healthy churches have a simple plan for making disciples.  Four key words describe the process that is presented in the book:

  1. Clarity
  2. Movement
  3. Alignment
  4. Focus

Clarity sets forth the ministry blueprint.  Clarity is “the ability of the process communicated and understood by the people.  Without understanding, commitment wanes.  Understanding precedes commitment.”

Movement is the “sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.  Movement is about flow.  It is about assimilation.  Movement is what causes a person to go to the next step.”

Alignment is “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.  Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.”

Focus is “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.  Focus requires saying “yes” to the best and “no” to everything else.”

Each of the above steps gives church leaders the necessary framework to begin with a simple plan for making disciples.  This model will require a radical paradigm shift in most churches.  Some sacred cows will die.  But more disciples will be nurtured in the long run.  Simple Church is an important contribution and contains some critical components that lead to the establishment of a healthy church.