LEADERS WHO LAST – Dave Kraft (2010)

C.H. Spurgeon writes, “Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”  Spurgeon poignantly alerts us to the danger of indwelling sin.  The writer of Hebrews warns against that sin; the “sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1a).  Tragically, many Christian leaders fail to heed the warning of Spurgeon and the book of Hebrews.  Theological compromise leads to liberalism.  Moral compromise leads to immorality.  Few Christian leaders, as a result, finish strong.

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft serves Christian leaders well by turning their attention to the standards set forth in the Word of God.   Kraft writes, “The greatest and most pressing need in the body of Christ today is an army of leaders who have a vision of a desired future and are called and anointed by God.  These leaders possess a fire burning in their hearts that can’t be extinguished.  They are motivated and led by God to intentionally, passionately, and effectively influence others.”

Kraft argues that leaders (and pastors in particular) have four key responsibilities, namely, shepherding, developing, equipping, and empowering.    Three sections provide a helpful framework for developing the author’s argument.

PART ONE: FOUNDATIONS

Kraft presents five areas that should characterize the life of every leader.  The center hub represents the power of Christ.  Four additional spokes make up the “leadership wheel” and include purpose, passion, priorities, and pacing.

“Leadership” writes Kraft, “begins and ends with a clear understanding of the gospel and being rooted in the grace of Jesus Christ as a free gift.”  I might build on the author’s presupposition by adding that no amount of talent, speaking ability, giftedness, or charisma can replace a working knowledge of the biblical gospel.  So many churches appear successful on the outside.  Some Christian leaders and pastors (especially some young pastors) appear to have it all together on the outside.  But when the gospel is compromised and the core truths of the Christian faith are neglected, tragic results are waiting around the corner!  When a pastor begins to compromise the doctrine of hell, the exclusive claim of Christ, or the authority of God’s Word he willingly embraces a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6-8).   The leadership foundation must be established for any kind of tenure in ministry.  And Kraft does an excellent job developing the “leadership wheel.”

PART TWO: FORMATION

In part two, the author narrows his focus.  He discusses the leader’s calling, gifts, character, and growth.  Finishing well should be a high priority for every Christian leader.  Kraft presents five helpful suggestions for achieving this important goal:

1. Maintain a vibrant relationship with Christ.

2. A posture of learning.

3. Identifiable goals and self-control.

4. Supportive personal relationships and family.

5. Clear vision, strong biblical convictions, perspective, and surrendering to the lordship of Christ.

PART THREE: FRUITFULNESS

Part three summarizes the leader’s vision, influence, and legacy.  The section on vision is especially helpful.  Kraft writes, “A leader is a person who is dissatisfied with the way things are.  He has a God-given burden, a vision, and a call to see something different.  He wants to see something change, to build a new future.  He then begins to communicate what he thinks and where he wants to go.”

Kraft is calling for visionary leaders to step up to the plate; leaders who have a “destination in mind and possess the ability to take others along on the journey.”  He makes a strong case for visionary leadership.  These leaders must:

1. Develop the vision.

2. Communicate the vision.

3. Implement the vision.

Leaders Who Last is a book that every pastor should read, absorb, and put into practice.  Dave Kraft writes with the heart of a pastor and clearly communicates essential leadership skills that should be included in the makeup of every Christian leader.  Every leader who intends on finishing strong needs to read Kraft’s book.  The principles are biblical and practical.  No theory here.  Highly recommended!

RADICAL – David Platt (2010)

Radical by David Platt is not for the faint at heart.  The author calls readers to a life of God-centered discipleship; a life that pursues Christ, worships Christ, and obeys the mandate of Christ.

Platt aggressively confronts the primary tenets of the so-called American dream and challenges readers to re-evaluate priorities in light of Christ’s call to discipleship: “Jesus has commanded each of us to make disciples and this is the means by which we will impact the world.”

Platt admits that making disciples is not easy: “We must live for them, love them, serve them, and lead them … In the process you will multiply the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Additionally, the author argues that disciple making involves intentionality: It is a “command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves … Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about a relationship.  As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples – sharing the life of Christ.”

The author calls Christ-followers to commit to a one year radical experiment:

1. Pray for the entire world.

2. Read the Bible from cover to cover.

3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.

4. Spend  your time in another context.

5. Commit your life to a multiplying community.

Radical is a cross between John Piper’s Desiring God, John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, Walter Chantry’s Today’s Gospel, and The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer.  It is a serious book for serious followers of Christ.  Indeed, “Your life is free to be radical when you see death as reward.”

Platt continues a theme that Piper has stressed for years, namely – God is the Gospel: “This, we remember, is the great reward of the gospel: God himself.  When we risk our lives to run after Christ, we discover the safety that is found only in his sovereignty, the security that is found only in his love, and the satisfaction that is found only in his presence.  This is the eternally great reward, and we would be foolish to settle for anything less.”

One of my best friends from Belarus has summed up the essence of Platt’s work: “In the final analysis, the only the thing that matters is a relationship with God and relationship with people.”  Belarussian Christians are truly living radical Christian lives!

Radical is God-centered, Christ-saturated, biblical, thought-provoking, passionate, Great Commission-minded.

4.5 stars

MEANING AT THE MOVIES: Becoming a Discerning Viewer – Grant Horner (2010)

Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner is not designed as a set of glorified cliff-notes for Christian movie buffs.  Rather, it is as the author notes, “An extended meditation on why we have movies at all, why they are so powerful, and why Christians need to think deeply and theologically about film art – indeed, about all human cultural production.”  These words alone were enough to draw me in.

Horner endeavors to explain the curse as a two-fold problem, namely, the search for meaning and death.  He holds, “Culture is what we produce in our futile attempts to understand the world.  It is what we believe and what we do to deal with the twin problems of meaninglessness and death.”  This is where movies emerge, which are in the eyes of the author, “the modern-day equivalent of philosophy,” or “the absolute center of modern culture.”

Practical Considerations

The author builds a strong case for developing Christian discernment (a discipline that seems to grow weaker by the day among Evangelicals).  He argues that when we walk away from movies we should be “stronger for having been exposed to error, and exposing it as error.”

Horner proposes a simplified definition of worldview I rather like: “Who believes what about what and why?”  The five elements that emerge in this definition may be directly applied to movies and promote Christian discernment.  He builds on his initial definition by adding the following: “A worldview is any collection of ideas and their attendant attitudes that attempt to explain and systematize, at some level, how the universe works.”

Horner rightly maintains that ideas never occur in a vacuum.  “Ideas are related to other ideas … Most ideas that claim to be new are merely rehashed versions of old ideas” (think, New Age movement and recall the original lie in the garden, for instance).  Accordingly, he sets out to briefly explain the dominant worldviews that are entrenched in culture including theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, and pantheistic monism.

Discernment is crucial.  The author notes, “If you watch a film with the powerhouse combination of a mind saturated with Scripture and a working understanding of the major worldview systems, you will in many cases be able, even with a single viewing, to analyze a film with a high degree of discernment.”

The author continues to sharpen the discerning skills of the reader in a chapter entitled, “How to Interrogate a Movie.”  Thoughtful questions are encouraged, including:

1. What view of anthropology is presented?

2. What metaphysical view is presented, i.e. ultimate reality?

3. What is the view of destiny, i.e. random or determined?

4. Is the universe progressing or decaying?

5. What ethical framework is presented, i.e. moral absolutism, relativism, or pragmatism?

6. Is the film in the modern or postmodern stream?

Horner adds, “The next time you watch a movie and don’t think biblically, you’ll be disobeying God.”  This sharp and necessary admonition catapults the reader immediately into section two.

Analysis

The second half of the book is devoted to exploring various aspects of film including comedy, “the invention of fear for pleasure,” romance, and dark themes that emerge in contemporary movies.

Horner’s discussion on fear is worth the price of the book.  He writes with great insight here: “Because we are wired to gain pleasure from the fear of God, yet as a race we do not fear him, we find ourselves in the rather perverse position of experiencing certain pleasures coming to us in the form of highly manufactured and densely controlled fears packaged as entertainment.  I believe this is why ‘fear for pleasure’ has become such a profitable  sector of the film industry.”  He argues that people in general want control over the things they fear.  They want to “limit that fear within prescribed boundaries, which [they] can never do in the case of the ‘fear of the Lord.'”

Meaning at the Movies is a good resource to turn for thoughtful Christians who are concerned with the content that is being propagated on the silver screen.  Horner’s analysis is biblical and balanced.  And he demonstrates a good working knowledge of movies and the worldviews that lurks behind the storyline.

AGAPE LEADERSHIP – Robert Peterson and Alexander Straunch (1991)

Robert Peterson and Alexander Strauch summarize the life and leadership of Pastor R.C. Chapman in Agape Leadership.

More than anything, Agape Leadership puts flesh and bones on the elder qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Peterson and Strauch cover the pertinent biographical information that one might expect.  But the critical elements concern the leadership lessons that emerge from the life of R.C. Chapman.

Chapman (1803-1902) is portrayed as a godly man.  He was committed to the Word of God, prayer, evangelism, and the local church. His friend C.H. Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

R.C. Chapman’s life reminds me of a church I visited in Belarus.  I noticed a sign in Russian above the pulpit.  I asked the pastor to translate.  He responded with great humility, “Ah, the sign says, ‘We preach Christ crucified.'”  Chapman’s passion was to do just this.  His aim in life was to preach Christ crucified.  May his tribe increase!

PUJOOLS: MORE THAN THE GAME – Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth (2011)

Pujols: More Than a Game by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth is a thoughtful and informative account of baseball all-star, Albert Pujols.

The book chronicles the journey that Pujols took from the Dominican Republic to the big leagues.  The authors’ provide a detailed look at Pujols pilgrimage which is an inspiring rags to riches story.

Pujols contains the typical biographical data that appeal to baseball fans.  But this is more than a statistical smorgasbord.  It is a rich account of Pujol’s personal faith in Jesus Christ and the difference the gospel makes.

And the gospel has truly impacted Pujol’s life.  The glory of God is clearly revealed in his life through the Pujols Family Foundation (PFF), through his marriage, and by his attitude and actions on the field.

Lamb and Ellsworth carefully assure readers that Pujols’ statistics are legitimate.  In other words, the record books need not place a “check mark” next to 408 career home runs or 1230 career rbi’s.  This baseball player is clean and the authors do a terrific job in arguing Pujol’s base.

Pujols serves as an inspiration to young people who are looking for heroes to emulate.  The book demonstrates the value of hard work, integrity, and persistence.  But most importantly, Pujols shows the importance of doing all things for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program.

CAN I KNOW GOD’S WILL – R.C. Sproul (2009)

R.C. Sproul consistently writes excellent books.  He has a unique ability to make difficult theological truths understandable.  Can I Know God’s Will? is no exception.

Chapter one explores the meaning of God’s will.  Dr. Sproul makes it clear that the will of God is no matter to trifle with.  Indeed “to search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance – depending on what will of God we seek.  To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out-of-bounds.”

Sproul argues that Christians have a habit of looking for simplistic answers that yield unhelpful and unbiblical  results.

The author rightly notes that the will of God is spoken of in more than one way in Scripture.  The first Greek term he explains is boule, which expresses a “rational and conscious desire.”    This term is contrasted with the Greek word, thelema which means “an impulsive or unconscious desire.”

Sproul points out that boule usually refers to God’s providential and predetermined plan (see Acts 2:23) while thelema has more to do with a will of consent, desire, or command.

This leads to a discussion of the decretive will of God and the preceptive will of God.  The decretive will (or will of decree/secret will) is what God ordains in eternity past:  “When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.”  Sproul warns against restricting the will of God to the sovereign will.  He warns against embracing a “what will be, will be” attitude which is in the final analysis a “sub-Christian form of fatalism.”

The decretive will of God stands alongside the preceptive will of God (or will of command/revealed will).  The preceptive will of God is violated and disobeyed by people every day.  Sproul continues, “The preceptive will of God is found in His law.  The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will.”  Sproul also introduces God’s will of disposition which is “tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.”

The author includes a helpful section on righteousness  and argues that “true faith manifests itself in righteousness … We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life – from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces.”

In the final analysis, Sproul maintains that the will of God is a serious matter to consider for every Christian.  We must embrace the distinctions that surface in Scripture that concern the will of God.  We must resist any inclination to uncover the secret aspect of his will.  On the other hand, we must strive to obey the revealed will of God and pursue righteousness.

Chapter two overviews the meaning of man’s will.  The author urges readers to examine how the will of man functioned before the fall and how it consequently functions after the fall.  He applies Augustine’s classic formulation which outlines four possibilities:

1. Able to sin

2. Able not to sin

3. Unable to sin

4. Unable not to sin

This helpful discussion leads Sproul into an exposition of man’s radical fallenness.  He argues with Augustine that post-fall man no longer has the ability “to not sin.”  He continues to articulate the anthropological position of the bishop of Hippo: “Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will and moral liberty.  Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.”  Additionally, he compares Augustine’s views with Jonathan Edwards in his monumental work, Freedom of the Will. While they differ at some points on terminology, their views are virtually identical.

Sproul boils the subject of free will into a clear sentence that we are so accustomed to:  “Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness.”  He stands on the shoulders of Jonathan Edwards by reasserting his view: “Not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment.”

The author presents the dominant position that has emerged in the church (and contrasts the Augustinian position).  This view wrongly holds that the will is “free from any internal rule of disposition or desire.”

Chapter three discusses God’s will as it relates to vocation.  The author seeks to answer four questions that help answer the vocational dilemma that is so common:

1. What can I do?

2. What do I like to do?

3. What should I like to be able to do?

4. What should I do?

Finally, Dr. Sproul provides helpful advise for those seeking God’s will when it comes to marriage.  His arguments are biblical, balanced, and encouraging.

The book under consideration is a short book.  But make no mistake – this is vintage Sproul!  Once again, R.C. makes difficult truths understandable and readable.  His writing is typically clear and biblical.  While brief, Sproul’s work is perhaps the best work I have read on the will of God to date.

4.5 stars

One or Two – Peter Jones (2010)

One or Two, another important book by Peter Jones contrasts paganism with historic Christianity.  Jones refers to these worldviews as one-ism and two-ism respectively.

One-ism is the erroneous belief that all reality is one. One-ism believes “that all is one and shares the same essential nature.”

Two-ism, which describes the historic Christian faith acknowledges a Creator-creature distinction.  “Two-ism believes that while all of creation shares a certain essence (everything apart from God is created), the Creator of nature, namely God, is a completely different being, whose will determines the nature and function of all created things.” God is outside his creation (but is at the same time intimately involved with it) and is sovereign over all.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part One describes a church that desperately needs to return to the truth set forth in Romans 1.  Jones describes two kinds of worship, one in which the creation is worshiped (which represents one-ism and is a lie).  The other kind of worship, namely, biblical and God-centered worship is fixated on the Creator (which represents two-ism and is the truth).

Jones warns, “Neo-pagans infects the church by dressing up as the Christian faith.”  The author clearly sets forth the purpose behind the book: “Only a clear understanding of the two worldviews based on either the Truth (Two-ism) or the Lie (One-ism), will open our mouths to speak the truth with love and courage that honors the person of the triune God.”

Part Two is an exposition of Romans 1 in light of the concerns raised in the previous section.  The author skillfully contrasts the Truth and the Lie by pointing to specific examples. Three critical issues are contrasted, namely, the truth and lie concerning God, spirituality, and sexuality.  Jones demonstrates how the three areas are interrelated.  He argues, “Mess with your sexuality, and you will mess with your worship.  Mess with your worship and you will mess with your thinking about God.  Mess with your thinking about God and you will mess with your sexuality.  No matter which exchange you make, you will begin to adopt a Oneist spirituality and ultimately expose yourself to the judgment of God.”

Part Three focuses on personal application.  Jones challenges readers to soberly examine the choices that stand before them.  He clearly describes the deception of One-ism: “One-ism exchanges the God of Two-ism for ‘the god of this world,’ who is not a god but a creature, the epitome of Evil.  Without the true personal God, without the heavenly Father, we creatures – lonely orphans in an impersonal universe, worshiping idols of their own making – are left to ourselves to devour one another.”

Once again, Peter Jones strikes at the core of neo-Pagan lie.  He clearly and lovingly warns readers to steer clear of this diabolical worldview.  But the warning also includes joyful proclamation, namely, the hope of eternal life found in Jesus Christ.  Jones is a straight shooter.  He combines an informed mind with a warm heart and sounds a necessary alarm in a culture that is growing increasingly secular and pagan.

 

DECISION POINTS – George W. Bush (2010)

Decision Points by President George W. Bush is a book that every American ought to read.  The former president chronicles his early days in politics and honestly shares his weaknesses and decisions that he regrets.

Decision Points is possibly the most honest and candid book I have read to date.  Mr. Bush consistently takes the blame for decisions he made and refuses to cast blame on others. He congratulates others on their successes when he could have taken the credit himself.  Indeed, Mr. Bush embodies the sentiment of President Reagan who once said, “There’s no limit to what you accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Mr. Bush discusses decision points that concern stem cells, war, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis. This well written memoir bears witness to the importance of strong character, moral integrity, and a love for God, country, and freedom.  And while the former president is primarily concerned with the consequences of his decisions during his time in office, this is a vivid reminder of the importance of future decision points, crucial turning points that will impacts generations to come.

4 stars

THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS: On the Equality of the Persons of the Trinity – Volume 21

ON THE EQUALITY OF THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY

In this short, untitled fragment that was originally written on a salvaged letter cover, Edwards demonstrates how “the personal glory of each of the persons of the Trinity is equal, though each one, as they have a distinct personality, have a distinct glory.”

Edwards argues that the divine essence of the Trinity is undivided and independent in two senses:

1. “With respect to its being, but not with respect to its relative being … that the divine essence should be what it is, is not in any respect in any dependence or by derivation.”

2. “The divine essence is independent and underived in another respect, i.e. it is not dependent on any arbitrament or voluntary communication.”

In typical Edwardsean fashion, he is delving deeply into the mystery of the Trinity.  He reiterates the importance of understanding the three person distinction and the equality among the members of the godhead.

A MIND FOR GOD – James Emery White (2006)

“Thinking Christianly” is the purpose of James Emery White’s, A Mind For God.  He writes early on, “While short in length, it sketches out a very large challenge and investment: to develop our minds in light of a biblical worldview that is then used to think Christianly in the world.”

The author reaches his intended goal.  First, he explains the Christian mind and stresses the importance of recognizing and submitting to propositional revelation.  “The Christian mind is a mind that operates under the belief that there is something outside of ourselves that we must take into account.”

Second, the author develops the cultural mind.  In so doing, he explains the cultural battle that faces every Christian, namely, moral relativism, autonomous individualism, narcissistic hedonism, and reductive naturalism.  James Emery White argues essentially that Christ-followers must recognize these cultural competitors and respond in a biblical and winsome way.

Third, the author spends time developing the importance of developing good reading skills in order to nurture the Christian mind and provide a solid foundation for intellectual development.  Scripture, of course, is the centerpiece of the strategy here.

Fourth, there is a certain body of truth one ought to know if he or she is to nurture a properly informed Christian mind.  Included among the most important items are biblical, historical,  and theological literacy.  “Before a mind can contend with culture,” White argues, “it must first ground itself in a sound and vibrant Christian theology.”

The author stresses the need for spiritual discipline: “We need to recapture a sense that the development of our minds is a spiritual discipline.”  He props up specific rules for reading, learning, and reflection.

Finally, James Emery White brings everything together by making an appeal to the lordship of Christ, the issue that stands at the crux of Christian mind development and discipleship.  He writes, “This is the vanguard of Christian thinking – knowing how to live and then working to make the kingdom of God a reality for others to be able to live as well.”

I really enjoyed this book.  James Emery White has the perfect blend of Bible, cultural awareness, passion for the truth, and creativity. A Mind for God is a welcome addition to my own book, Developing a Christian Mind in a Post-Christian World which creates a workable framework for “thinking Christianly.”

4.5 stars