BOOK REVIEWS

Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self – Jen Oshman (2020)

Jen Oshman, Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).

Self. The very word makes postmodern people proud. After all, we are encouraged each day to please ourselves, nurture ourselves, and congratulate ourselves. Self-promotion is considered a virtue in our age. This propensity to narcissism is part of the warp and woof of contemporary culture. Self-absorption is so prevalent that Ryan Holiday takes the subject up in his recent book, Ego is the Enemy. It appears that “we” are the hero in our own epic drama. Tragically, this drama has an ending that is anything but happy.

Jen Oshman’s recent book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self addresses the alarming trend of “me, myself, and I” which has not only invaded the postmodern milieu; it has also subtly crept into the church.

First, Oshman sounds a jolting, yet necessary alarm. She issues a warning that the banner of narcissism is in our midst and it aggressively and relentlessly competes for our attention. While the book is primarily addressed to women, the principles apply across the board. The author notes that we have moved from “relying on self to deifying self,” a shift that has been encouraged as various worldviews have morphed on a godless trajectory.

Second, Oshman moves from cultural diagnosis to theological purpose. She rightly notes the purpose of the Creator as he fashioned people in his image to glorify his name. The contrast between God’s sovereign purposes and our culture is stark:

God says, “I made you in my image to live for my glory.” Culture says, ‘Be self-made in whatever image you like and live for your own glory.’ This is a counterfeit calling, and it’s killing us.'”

Most important is the prescription which is prescribed by the author. This prescription is both radical and exclusive. And it is fixated on a person, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Oshman closely follows the Pauline imperative in Colossians 2:6-7 and commends her readers to get rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, and established in Christ. Anything less will lead to frustration and despair in this life.

The dominant message in Enough About Me one of rest and reliance. The author writes, “ … We can really rest – because we are established in Christ. He is in control. And he is good. And he is alive. He always ensures that his will comes to pass for our good and his glory.” This Christ-exalting theme is a sure foundation and is the ultimate antidote for anyone who has grown weary with platitudes and worldly promises.

Enough About Me is a much-needed book, especially for women in the church who are searching for hope and joy in all the wrong places. Jen Oshman is a faithful and reliable guide who offers one answer – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her wise counsel will benefit readers who find themselves adrift in our postmodern age and help cut through the fog of uncertainty. I trust that Jen’s book will receive a wide readership and benefit many in the days to come.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Don't Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul – Jason Meyer

Jason Meyer, Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 154 pp.

Everyone faces discouragement, some more than others. More extreme examples of discouragement have many faces – chronic anxiety, fear, panic attacks, and depression are only a few manifestations of discouragement. Jason Meyer addresses the epidemic of discouragement in his book, Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul. The author writes, “Discouragement can be defeated only when the full truth of everything that is for us confronts and conquers the half-truth of fear and despair.”

The book is filled with practical examples of dealing with discouragement and is laced with biblical ammunition for defeating this deadly foe.

Part one, How to Fight for Sight shows readers the importance of focusing on the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. Meyer adds, “Vanquishing discouragement is never automatic nor easy. It is a hard-fought fight for sight.” Indeed, “we lose heart when we lose sight of all that we have in Jesus. When we lose sight of Jesus, we see only half the picture, we believe half-truths, and we are robbed of hope. But as believers, we are called to fight back.”

Part two, How to Defeat Despair provides practical help for the battle. It builds on the strong foundation that was developed in part one. “Whenever we begin to lose heart,” writes Pastor Meyer, “we should take the gospel and press it into the deep places in our hearts where discouragement loves to hide.” Specifically, the author fixes his attention on three streams of despair: past failures, present disappointments, and future fear. The gospel is applied to each arena of discouragement which leaves followers of Christ in a position of strength, not strength that they muster through their own resources, but strength from Another, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the end, Meyer reassures his readers that God has not written the final chapter. He encourages them to think and live with an eternal perspective. He urges them to cast their cares on the risen Savior who will, in the final analysis, make all things new. What a day that will be!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Talk the Walk – Steve Brown (2019)

talkSteve Brown, Talk the Walk (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019), 152 pp.

Whenever I read the work of Steve Brown, I am challenged, encouraged, and forced to think deeply. And sometimes, he is downright irritating! Dr. Brown’s newest book, Talk the Walk is no exception. Longtime readers will recognize Brown’s witty way with words, self-effacing personality, love for the gospel, and his uncanny ability to back you into a corner.

Talk the Walk is a book about evangelism. But it’s not a typical book about sharing one’s faith. Rather, it is a book about effective evangelistic influence. Tragically, the influence of some Christians has been found wanting, to put it mildly. Brown laments this sobering reality and urges his readers to pursue is different path, one that is filled with both grace and truth.

The subtitle of the book, How To Be Right Without Being Insufferable is an accurate description of the content and the heart of the author. Brown acknowledges up front that Christians are a people of the truth. In short, they are right. Christians are beneficiaries of a meta narrative (a big story that unveils ultimate reality) – the correct meta narrative. But the theme of the book is more about conveying the truth in a way that is compelling and winsome. Instead of focusing on theological minutiae, Brown challenges readers to look outward in order to make an impact on the lives of hurting people. People need the truth but they also need to see the truth modeled before their eyes.

The author reveals several ways that Christians can put the truth to good use in the marketplace of ideas. Instead of merely “being right,” Brown encourages his brothers and sisters to “live right” and to live in light of the truth.

Careful readers will notice that Steve Brown loves the Word of God. He loves the gospel. And he loves the truth. But he is unwilling to abandon a strong Christian testimony. This is unacceptable and is fittingly mocked along the way.

I personally benefitted from Talk the Walk and trust that many more will be prompted to move beyond the church walls to make a difference for the sake of the gospel. Then and only then, will they talk the walk.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls – Matthew Barrett , Ed.

docMatthew Barrett, Ed. The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 912 pp.

Martin Luther boldly declared, “Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” John Calvin argued that justification is the “hinge on which religion turns.” In the sixteenth century, scores of people found these arguments both biblical and compelling. The Roman Catholic Church deemed Luther and Calvin as heretics.

Fast forward to the current generation. While much has changed over the past five hundred years, the biblical wisdom of Luther and Calvin still stands. Many in the church trumpet the grand reality of justification by faith alone. But some continue to deny or discount this critical doctrine. Tragically, some of the dissenters are preaching in Protestant churches. At stake is more than a mere doctrine, important as that is – what is at stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls is edited by Matthew Barrett. Dr. Barrett comes with impeccable academic credentials and is supported by a cast of world-class scholars and theologians. This book both a theological tome and a treasure chest. It is not for the faint-hearted. And it is certainly not designed for the armchair theologian.

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls is arranged in four parts:

  1. Justification in Biblical Perspective
  2. Justification in Theological Perspective
  3. Justification in Church History
  4. Justification in Pastoral Practice

This book leaves no stone unturned. The team that Barrett has assembled has examined every theological, biblical, and historical angle that pertains to the doctrine of justification. The fundamental standing of position before a holy God is addressed with depth, breadth, integrity, and God-centered wisdom. The combined efforts have yielded a work that should be used for generations to come and will be of great service to pastors, professors, and followers of Christ.

Those who discounted Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth-century did so at their own peril. Of greater importance is the repudiation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. To discount this cardinal doctrine is not only dangerous; it is tantamount to theological treason.

I commend The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls and trust that it will receive a wide readership.

Highly recommended

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.

BOOK REVIEWS

A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Advance – Tim Keesee (2019)

keeseeTim Keesee, A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Cause (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 286 pp.

Most young people aspire to be like someone. The people they emulate are athletes, rock stars, and actors. These people serve as heroes to the upcoming generation. But Tim Keesee has a different set of heroes in mind. Keesee is thinking about heroes who embrace biblical values, live according to a Christian worldview, and keep eternity in their range of sight. The kingdom of God is at the forefront of their minds.

In A Company of Heroes: Portraits From the Gospel’s Global Cause, Keesee presents a series of journal entries that he has written over the past several years. The entries tell the tale of a cadre of Christians who value the kingdom of God and strive to share the gospel with the nations.

The book is comprised of seventeen chapters that chronicle stories of God’s grace in the lives of His people. The brave warriors surveyed in this volume come from different backgrounds and serve in different parts of the world – from London to Leningrad and from Afghanistan to Armenia. Yet each hero has a common goal. Each hero has a passion to spread the supremacy of Jesus to every ethnos for the glory of God!

One sentence sums up the whole book as Keesee refers to some missionaries faithfully gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. Here’s the glorious sentence:

When I first visited, these missionaries were blazing trails both linguistically and literally as they traveled as far as the road would take them – and then walked on in order to spread the fame of Jesus to every corner of this remote borderland.

This sentence may as well appear on every page of the book. For the gospel pulsates on every page. Jesus is exalted in every story. Resurrection hope permeates this volume.

A Company of Heroes should be devoured by Christians who cherish the gospel and have a passion for the nations. This book will help shape readers’ passion for evangelism and world missions. It will inspire, encourage, and may even convict a few people.

The gospel’s global cause is growing and the mighty work of the Holy Spirit cannot be stopped. So let the nations be glad!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Rule Of Love – Jonathan Leeman (2018)

ruleJonathan Leeman, The Rule of Love (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 174 pp.

Submission and authority is a hot topic these days. Tragically, however, most people are not flocking to read about it, let alone embrace this important reality. Jonathan Leeman explores this subject in his book, The Rule of Love. The subtitle nicely captures the essence of the book: How the Local Church Should Reflect God’s Love and Authority.

Leeman’s intent is to help readers understand what love and authority truly are. As such, the main goal of the book is to “refashion our views of God’s love and authority and their relationship together.” Also in play is the responsibility of the church to administer discipline in a biblically appropriate manner – and to maintain the crucial distinctive of love and authority.  “We need to remember something about love and rule that our ancestors in the garden forgot,” writes the author. “For God, love and rule aren’t two things but different aspects of one thing.”

So Leeman draws the attention of readers to the magnificence of God’s love. He demonstrates first, that God’s first priority is himself. That is, God’s love is first and foremost is a God-centered love. The author adds, “The Father gives his righteousness and glory to the Son and delights in that glory above all. The Son, in turn, gives his righteousness and glory to the Father and delights in that glory above all.” Evidently, Christ did not think of us “above all” as the popular song suggests. Leeman refers to the God-centered love as the “archetypal boomerang of love.” Brilliant!

This God-centered love has a series of massive implications for the church:

  1. God’s love motivates the church to evangelize and do good.
  2. God’s love motivates the church to identify church members and practice church discipline.
  3. God’s love motivates the church to teach and disciple the nations.
  4. God’s love motivates the church to worship.
  5. God’s love creates a distinct and holy culture.

Second, God’s love for sinners is described in glorious detail. At the heart of this discussion is how the Father sent the Son into the world to win his bride. Leeman includes a helpful discussion on what he calls contra-conditional love (as opposed to the unconditional love of God). My suspicion is that the author is building off the excellent work of David Powlison who has emphasized the same point in his book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional. ”Love” according to the author, is “affectionately affirming that which is from God in the beloved, and giving oneself to seeing God exalted in the beloved.”

The takeaways for the church are crucial:

  1. Making disciples must be uppermost in the church’s mission.
  2. Christians should be a people of compassion and justice.
  3. Christians should seek to display God’s glory in their lives together and apart.
  4. To belong to a church is to belong to a covenant.

Summary

The Rule of Love is a book that deserves to be read and studied by many. It is a book that should be read and re-read. The bottom line in a pluralistic and pragmatic culture: “To preach and teach is to exercise loving authority because it points people to God’s revelation. To disciple is to exercise loving authority because it seeks to see people conformed to the image of God. To evangelize is to participate in loving authority because it tells the nations that God is their Judge and King, and that he offers a way of pardon.”

The Rule of Love is a counter-cultural book that will challenge the unsuspecting to action and urge the unrepentant to be transformed. Walking away from this book unchanged is impossible. I recommend it highly!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel – Christopher Yuan (2018)

holyChristopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel (New York: Multnomah, 2018), 234 pp.

Rosaria Butterfield calls Christopher Yuan’s book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel “the most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times.” That is quite a statement from such a respected woman. After a thorough reading, I concur that this indeed is a powerful and timely book.

Christopher Yuan is a professor at Moody Bible Institute who marks out our identity as human beings in this book. He clearly reveals that we are image bearers of God, created with a purpose for God’s glory. However, each creature has fallen short of God’s glory and has been plunged into a state of sinfulness – by nature and by choice. Yuan establishes biblical sexuality and builds upon this foundation by exploring the biblical basis for marriage and singleness.

The theme of holy sexuality is at the center of the book. Holy sexuality, which is radically contrary to the zeitgeist we’ve grown accustomed to consists of two paths: “Chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.” Yuan explains, “Chastity is more than simply abstention from extramarital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan maintains that the term holy sexuality is necessary since current terminology does not adequately or accurately reflect the biblical standard of sexual expression. He argues, “The purpose of this phrase is to transcend the current secular paradigm of sexual orientation that is unable to point toward God’s clear intent for sexual expression.” Holy Sexuality is meant to eliminate the confusing jargon which is usually associated with this controversial subject. Yuan adds, “Instead of deterring how we ought to live based on enduring patterns of erotic desires, God’s call for all humanity, quite simply, is holiness.”

The matter of homosexuality has been vigorously debated in recent days and has been especially elevated since the recent Supreme Court decision that legalized so-called “same-sex marriage.” Personally, I struggle with much of the literature that is either for or against “same-sex marriage.” It is hotly contested on both sides and generally produces more heat than light. But Dr. Yuan’s book takes a different path. Never once does he deviate from the biblical path to purity. He maintains the biblical boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman and sets forth a case that is both compelling and compassionate.

Christopher Yuan has written a thoughtful and compelling book. It is grounded in sacred Scripture and faithfully reflects the teaching of Scripture. Yuan’s convictions are uncompromising, yet he writes out of a deep and authentic love for people in the homosexual community. His tone is always charitable, yet he never compromises the teaching of God’s Word. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel is a much-needed corrective to the overly simplified approach that some Christian writers take. It avoids the pitfalls typically associated with this subject and leads readers to a place of faithfulness and fulfillment. Christian readers will be encouraged and challenged by Dr. Yuan’s heart. And readers who struggle with same-sex desires will be patiently instructed by a writer who writes with patience and biblical fidelity.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

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

BOOK REVIEWS

The Gospel Comes With a House Key – Rossaria Butterfield

rossariaRosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With a House Key Wheaton: Crossway, 2018, 240 pp. $15.82

“Imagine a world where the power of the gospel to change lives is our to behold.” This is the soul-stirring, gospel-focussed message that Rosaria Butterfield proclaims in her most recent book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key.

The author aims to inspire readers to follow her example of radical hospitality that reaches out to family, neighbors, and complete strangers. The book is packed with personal examples of how this kind of Bible-saturated hospitality can invade a willing home.

One theme that will no doubt draw critics is the matter of patriarchy. Butterfield calls her female readers to accept their God-ordained call to submit to the authority of their husbands and reap the benefits of this biblical-minded obedience: “Imagine a world where biblical patriarchy – the benevolent leading of servant-hearted fathers – made all of us breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the good fathers would protect us from the roving gangs of evil men,” writes the author.

But she continues by articulating how this countercultural model of manhood and womanhood should play out among Bible-believing Christians:

“The godly submission of a faithful wife to her head – her husband – does not diminish the power and strength that God has given to women but instead channels it to serve the most important people first … Godly patriarchy means rule by the godly fathers, the good men who sacrifice their lives for the protection of their family. In God’s hands, when the good fathers lead, the roaming gangs of violent men are kept in check and away. We need godly patriarchs because sin is real, and the droving gangs of male violence are real too. If men aren’t trained to lead by God’s design, they often destroy by Satan’s command.”

The theme of biblical patriarchy stands in the background yet provides the fuel for the larger theme of gospel-driven hospitality. The Gospel Comes With a House Key is a challenging, thought-provoking read that will prompt many discussions and even debates in the days to come. The end result will be a strengthened church whose covenant members commit themselves to demonstrating radical hospitality for the good of the neighborhood as well as the nations.

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