THE LOST ART OF LOYALTY: LEARNING ABOUT LIFE ABOVE THE RIM

Ohio Governor John Kasich made a stunning announcement on June 13, only hours after the Dallas Maverick’s whipped the Miami Heat and claimed their first NBA title.  Kasich proclaimed, “Now, Therefore, I, John R. Kasich, Governor of the State of Ohio, do hereby name the Dallas Mavericks organization, friends, family and fans as honorary Ohioans, with all privileges and honors therein, for the day of June 14, 2011.”

Kasich, never one to mince words, was apparently communicating a message to LeBron James, former star of the Cleveland Cavaliers who jumped ship and fled to Miami in order to claim an NBA title.

The Kasich resolution placed a clear stake in the ground: “NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki chose to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2010, forgoing free agency and keeping his talents in Dallas, thus remaining loyal to the team, city and fans for whom he played his entire career …”

It is true that professional athletes are traded every day, often to the bitter chagrin of the player on the block.  However, too often, players sell out for their own glory.  The net result:  Cities that feels disenfranchised and thousands of little kids who feel let down.

It is also true that professional athletes are businessmen who have the right to earn what the market will bear.  But at what expense and whose expense?  And should the all-mighty dollar ever dislodge loyalty?

Where are the athletes like Cal Ripken, Jr. who played his heart out for twenty-one years with the Orioles?  Or what about a class act like Edgar Martinez who quietly and faithfully endured eighteen years with the Mariners (and many of those years were losing years)?  Where are the heroes like Steve Largent who played fourteen years with the Seahawks or Bart Starr who gave sixteen years of his life with the Packers?  And where are the players who stick it out with one team like Bill Russell and Larry Bird who both played thirteen years for the Celtics?

Some probably think that Governor Kasich took a cheap shot at LeBron James.  My own view is that the good governor simply wanted to make a point about the importance of loyalty – or lack of loyalty.  Perhaps the greater lesson is Nowitzki’s decision to remain loyal to his original team, the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki will never have a drawer full of rings like some NBA stars.  But he can proudly wear at least one championship ring – and he didn’t have to sell out to earn the right to wear it.

My late grandfather used to warn young pastors, “Never sell your soul for a mess of pottage.”  That lesson wears well in the ministry.  And it works just as well on the basketball court.

HISTORICAL THEOLOGY: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine – Gregg Allison (2011)

I waited for Gregg Allison’s, Historical Theology for over a year.  After carefully devouring over 700 pages, Allison’s work does not disappoint.

Historical Theology is patterned after Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology and follows a topical-chronological framework that makes studying historical theology a real delight.  For those familiar with historical theology, a discipline that is often presented in a dull and dreary manner, Allison’s work is a gift that will be utilized and appreciated by many Bible students and pastors.

Historical Theology is arranged in seven sections:

Part 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God

Part 2: The Doctrine of God

Part 3: The Doctrine of Humanity

Part 4: The Doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit

Part 5: The Doctrine of the Application of Redemption

Part 6: The Doctrine of the Church

Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future

Each section follows a predictable pattern that moves readers through the respective doctrinal developments that begin with the early church and proceed to  the middle ages, the Reformation, and the modern period.

The author presents historical developments in a fair and gracious manner.  He alerts readers to matters that pertain to heretical proclivities as well as orthodox dogma.

Historical Theology will no doubt serve as the standard textbook in Bible College and Seminaries for many years to come.

5 stars

PREACHING FOR GOD’S GLORY – Alistair Begg (2001)

Originally published in 1999, Alister Begg’s Preaching for God’s Glory is a welcome reminder that points to the necessity of expository preaching.

Begg argues that preaching should by definition be expository, “Bible-based, Christ-focused, marked by doctrinal clarity, a sense of gravity, and convincing argument.”  He clearly chronicles  the tragic demise of this kind of biblical preaching which is of no advantage to God’s people.

Begg discusses the reason for the departure of expository preaching from so many pulpits.  He is convinced that there is a loss of confidence in the Bible.  He adds, “The expositor is not a poet moving his listeners by cadence and imagery, nor is he an author reader from a manuscript.  He is a herald speaking by the strength and authority of heaven.”

The tragic failure to preach expository sermons has resulted in confusion and malnutrition.  “The tragic medicine,” writes Begg “for this disease is the preaching and teaching ministry that God has established to bring his people to maturity.

Begg explores the nature of expository preaching.  Preachers must begin with the text, stand between two worlds, and show how a given text is relevant in the twenty-first century.

Finally, Begg discusses the benefits of expository preaching.

1. It gives glory to God alone.

2. It makes the preacher study God’s Word.

3. It helps the congregation.

4. It demands treatment of the entire Bible.

5. It provides a balanced diet.

6. It eliminates Saturday night fever (or last-minute preparation).

Preaching for God’s Glory is a worthy addition to a small list of worthwhile books on the preaching task.  Begg does not pretend to offer a  comprehensive look at preaching.  It is, however, a reaffirmation of the importance of expository preaching that must not go unheeded.  Indeed, all pastors must embrace the mandate to preach for God’s glory.

4 stars.

THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way – Michael Horton (2011)

Good books on systematic theology are rare commodities these days.  Wayne Grudem published his phenomenal book, Systematic Theology in 1994.  Robert Reymond followed Grudem in 1998 with A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.  Since those seminal works were published there has been a virtual void.

But Michael Horton appears anxious to fill the void with his latest work, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way.  A recent tweet by Al Mohler reads, “Working my way through Michael Horton’s systematic theology.  It’s weight and significant.”

Reviewing Horton’s work is like trying to describe the beauty of the Grand Canyon in a few short paragraphs.  Impossible!  Generally, the book is organized and readable.  One immediately recognizes the difference in structure.  Instead of traditional categories one normally finds in systematic theology, Horton offers six broad headings:

1. Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology

2. God Who Lives

3. God Who Creates

4. God Who Rescues

5. God Who Reigns in Grace

6. God Who Reigns in Glory

The work is saturated in Scripture and engages with competing worldviews and philosophies.  While some are critical of Horton’s choice to interact with pagan philosophy, his decision adds to the overall value and usefulness of the book.  Engaging on a philosophical level helps readers better establish a strong and coherent Christian worldview.  In my mind, Horton reaches his zenith in Chapter 15 with a mind-numbing and soul titillating discussion on substitutionary atonement.

One significant critique worth noting that comes as a real surprise.  Horton argues, “Jesus Christ, sinless in himself, becomes the greatest sinner who ever lived …” (p. 621).  Much to the contrary, Scripture teaches that God made Christ to “be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Additionally, Scripture teaches that Christ has been tempted in every respect as we are “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  God’s Word never declares that Christ becomes a “sinner.”  One wonders if a typo has occurred here!

Dispensational thinkers will disagree with Horton at points.  Overall, though, Horton’s work is a real winner and will be utilized in the Seminary classroom and pastoral study for years to come.

4 stars

SIGNS OF GODLINESS – Jonathan Edwards (1730)

Jonathan Edwards’ short essay entitled, Signs of Godliness, sets forth a clear thesis that appears at the end of the work: “The grand secret of being real, thorough Christians lies in these two things: in cleaving to Christ as our only portion, so as therein to renounce the world; and in trusting in Christ as our only Savior, in a renunciation of our own righteousness.”

The Puritan divine supports his thesis by pointing to numerous signs of godliness which include:

  • Bringing forth fruit and keeping Christ’s commandments – what Edwards refers to as “universal obedience.”
  • Persevering through temptations and difficulties.
  • Mortifying the flesh.
  • Denying ourselves for Christ.
  • Bridling the tongue.
  • Believing the difficult, the spiritual and abasing doctrines of Christianity.
  • Hungering and thirsting after spiritual good.
  • Having the spirit of Christ.
  • A meek and forgiving spirit.
  • Love and charity which is “the primary fruit of the Spirit.”
  • Loving other Christians.
  • Believing and being heartily convinced that Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
  • Being faithful to God in our own sphere and particular calling.
  • Walking in newness of life and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness.
  • Trusting in God – “Scarcely anything is more frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as the distinguishing character of a godly man than trusting in God.”
  • Choosing and resting in God and Christ and spiritual and eternal good as our portion.
  • Fearing God.
  • A changed heart, which involves turning from sin and turning to God.
  • Humility, a broken and contrite heart, being poor in spirit, sensible of our own vileness and unworthiness, self-abasement before God, disclaiming all worthiness and glory, mourning for sin.
  • Seeing and knowing God and Christ and understanding divine things.
  • Spiritual knowledge.
  • Relishing, savoring and delighting in the Word of God.
  • A disposition to praise God.
  • A delighting and rejoicing in God.

Edwards props up each of these “signs of godliness”  with a host of Scriptures, intending to convince readers of their importance.  His work is a devastating critique of the free grace movement (almost 300 years before its inception) and any theological system that supports a non-lordship approach to Scripture.  One wonders how any antinomian would respond to Edwards’ clear and biblical assertions.

Signs of Godliness beckons Christians to live in a way that is consistent with their calling.  Christ-followers must be a people of humility, gentleness, patience, and love” (Eph. 4:1-3).

DISCIPLINES OF A GODLY MAN – Kent Hughes

Disciplines of a Godly Man is written with the expressed purpose of developing godliness in the life of men.  The book is based on Paul’s admonition to the young pastor Timothy: “Discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).  The book begins and ends with the subject of discipline.  Like bookends that encase divine truth and principles for grace filled living, Dr. Hughes makes it clear that without discipline, godliness is impossible.

The author discusses sixteen specific disciplines which are essential to living a godly life.  They include the disciplines of purity, marriage, fatherhood, friendship, mind, devotion, prayer, worship, integrity, tongue, work, church, leadership, giving, witness, and ministry.  The book is unique in that Dr. Hughes includes spiritual disciplines that are not normally discussed in books of this sort.

Many positives pervade this work.  First and most important, this book is grace filled.  There is not a hint of legalism. The author writes, “God save us from the reductionism of such legalism which enshrines spirituality as a series of wooden laws . . .”  The clear point is made that the spiritual disciplines do not merit favor with God.  Rather their very practice indicates a love, longing and a thirst for Him.  Second, the focus is on building an intimate relationship with Christ, one’s spouse, one’s family, and one’s friends.  There is no cold abstraction here.  This book aims directly at the heart.  Third, there is a bold affirmation of sanctification by faith alone.  Fourth, a helpful list a study questions is included at the end of each chapter.

Disciplines of a Godly Man should be required reading for every Christian man.  Read it, absorb it, and pass it along to another man.

IF YOU BITE AND DEVOUR ONE ANOTHER – Alexander Strauch (2011)

Alexander Strauch serves up another “New York Steak” in his latest work, If You Bite & Devour Another.  Galatians 5:15 is the passage that drives the book as he sets forth biblical principles for dealing with conflict.

Strauch offers readers a ten step process for handling conflict in a biblical and practical manner.  The foundational principles include 1) Acting in the Spirit, 2) Acting in love, and 3) Acting in humility.  The remaining principles help readers deal with specific issues that are generally associated with conflict.  The author encourages readers to control anger, the tongue, and criticism.  Additionally, he invites readers to pursue reconciliation and peace.  Finally, Strauch focuses on dealing with false teachers and controversy with courage and integrity.

Strauch writes in a way that readers have grown accustom to over the years.  The principles are biblical and the application is always practical.  His biblical exposition is faithful to the text and the exegetical legwork is rooted in the cross work of Christ.

Pastors and elders who need help navigating the choppy waters of conflict should place an order for Strauchs’ latest “entrée,”  If You Bite & Devour One Another.

4 stars

NOTE TO SELF: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself – Joe Thorn (2011)

I will never forget the first time I read the maxim, “Preach the gospel to yourself” in a Jerry Bridges book.  What originally appeared counter-intuitive turned out to be an important exercise in humility and a constant reminder of the grace that saved me and enables me to live the Christian life each day – all to the glory of God.

Pastor Joe Thorn writes forty-eight short notes to himself, all designed as a reminder of the ongoing influence and efficacy of the gospel in his life in his new book, Note to Self.  What may appear self-serving at first glance, is in the final analysis a gracious gift the church.  For Thorn’s “notes” are meant to serve all Christ-followers and point them to supremacy and sufficiency of the Savior which culminate in the cross-work of Jesus.

The author draws the boundaries at the outset: “Preaching to ourselves is the personal act of applying the law and the gospel to our own lives with the aim of experiencing the transforming grace of God leading to ongoing faith, repentance, and greater godliness” (p. 23).  Well stated and superbly executed throughout the book.

This short work is divided into three parts:

Part One: The Gospel and God

Part Two: The Gospel and Others

Part Three: The Gospel and You

Thorn has left no stone unturned.  He relentlessly reminds sinners of their desperate need for grace, forgiveness, and mercy.  This work is practical, devotional, thought-provoking, and soul-searching.  But most important, this work is cross-centered, Christ-centered, and gospel-centered.  While readers are privileged to get an inside look at the author’s heart in this biographical devotional, they are at the same time confronted with their need for the gospel in every arena of life.  And students of Reformed theology will appreciate the “backdoor emphasis” on the doctrines of grace throughout.  New comers to Reformed thought will receive a breathtaking introduction to the doctrinal framework that is finally getting the attention it deserves in our day!

Three cheers for Joe Thorn’s, Note to Self.  He has delivered the goods in a fresh, creative, and biblically authentic way.  This good idea that likely found its genesis on the back of a napkin may well become a best seller in a matter of weeks!

5 stars

 

CONCISE THEOLOGY – J.I. Packer (1993)

Concise Theology by J.I. Packer could be considered a miniature systematic theology.  The four general sections of the book are set forth as follows:

(1) God Revealed as Creator

(2) God Revealed as Redeemer

(3) God Revealed as Lord of Grace

(4) God Revealed as Lord of Destiny

Each section contains a short, but extremely pointed summary of a particular doctrine.  The book is not designed to be a comprehensive systematic theology.  Rather it is written with the layman in mind who has a desire to learn doctrinal truth or may not have the time to devote to a larger work.  The precision with which this book is written may encourage readers to study further in a given area.

J.I. Packer continues to write in a way that many have grown to love and expect.  Three basic strengths must be noted.  First, the author emphasizes the greatness and majesty of God.  Packer emphasizes that “theology is for doxology.”  He writes, “The truest expression of trust in a great God will always be worship, and it will always be proper worship to praise God for being far greater than we can know.”  Second, Concise Theology is a superb introduction to Reformed thought.  Yet the author does not “wear his theology on his sleeve.”  This work may appeal to a broad range of people who otherwise may be reluctant to study Reformed theology.  Finally, the most controversial points of Reformed theology are dealt with in an honest and forthright manner.  The most engaging essays include Packer’s discussion on particular redemption, the enslaved will, effectual calling, and the constitution of man.

The church owes a tremendous debt to Dr. Packer’s faithful ministry over the years.  May his tribe increase!

HEART OF ICE – Lis Wiehl (2011)

Lis Wiehl comes out swinging in her third installment of the Triple Threat series.  The setting of the book is Portland, Oregon.  Three friends from different backgrounds work in tandem to neutralize a vicious psychopath.  Allison Pierce is a prosecuting attorney.  Nicole Hedges is a FBI investigator.  And Cassidy Shaw is a news reporter.

Wiehl does a good job introducing the characters, who come across as real people with real dreams.  Various sub-plots are introduced into the story to keep the attention of the reader.

Instead of spoiling the plot which would, in the final analysis spoil the book, I will focus on a few positive themes that emerge in Heart of Ice.

Good clean action

The story telling is good, the action is riveting, and is not filled with the typical junk found in American thrillers.  The plot is believable and linked to the real world.

Reveals the depth of human depravity

The book does a good job at unpacking the sinfulness of the human heart.  While Wiehl never intends to write a treatise on sin, she certainly does do justice to the corruption and radical depravity of the heart.

Demonstrates the power of friendship

The importance and power of friendship is clearly portrayed in Heart of Ice. It vividly portrays the strength one receives as a result of accountable relationships.

The Heart of Ice does not disappoint.  The former federal prosecutor and Fox News contributor has located a niche that will demand more books in the future.

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

3 stars