Untangling Emotions – J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith (2019)

emotionsJ. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith, Untangling Emotions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 225 pp.

Most people have experienced the frustration of trying to untangle the laces on a pair of tennis shoes. Frustration only escalates as the knot tightens which leads to a sense of heightened angst. This normal occurrence vividly depicts how many people approach their emotional lives. People approach emotions in different ways: Some deny their emotions; others allow their emotions to dictate their lives.

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith helps clear the fog about this confusing matter. The authors seek to nurture the emotional lives of their readers and ultimately point them to the Savior.

The book is arranged in three sections. The first section, understanding emotions, is a candid look at the way we live our lives. One of the most helpful aspects of this section is that emotions turn us Godward: “Every emotion you ever feel reflects your loves, or what you worship.” The authors examine the emotional life of Jesus and reveal how he lived to God’s glory. Real change is found in submitting our emotional lives to God.

Section two, engaging emotions, explores how we engage with God. “Engaging emotions” according to the authors, “without engaging God is a recipe for disaster.” The authors stress the importance of evaluating our hearts (which is a summary of our emotional lives): “Changing your feelings is not your biggest goal. Instead, we want to let our evaluation of our emotions drive us to act in ways that will actually have an impact on the deep loves and treasures of hour hearts.”

The final section, engaging the hardest emotions, tackles some common issues that people battle, namely – fear, anger, grief, guilt, and shame. I found the third section very helpful and touched a nerve in me. The above emotions are discussed candidly and subjected to the light of biblical revelation.

The truly encouraging aspect of this book is wrapped up in the reality and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “The end of the story really is radical, complete comfort. No more tears. Every earthly pain a ‘light momentary affliction’ compared with the glory of heaven. And yet the trials we’ve been through and the sins we’ve committed are exactly the things that now make our souls hunger and thirst for redemption and God’s restoring all things. Our tears whet our appetite for heaven.”

Untangling Emotions is a deeply meaningful book. The writing is plain, but also penetrating. It carries the full weight of biblical authority but never comes across in judgmental tones. There is much wisdom to be gleaned here – so much that I will certainly revisit these pages in the days to come.

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


12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You – Tony Reinke

iphoneTony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 224 pp. $11.51

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You is the title of Tony Reinke’s latest book. Anyone who owns a smartphone understands the power and productivity of such a device. But along with these gains come several shortcomings that Reinke addresses in his book.

After initially reviewing the table of contents, I automatically assumed that Reinke would encourage users to ditch their smartphones. The author writes, “Our joy in God is at stake. In our vanity, we feed on digital junk food, and our palates are reprogrammed and our affections atrophy.” But Reinke is merely alerting his readers to the implicit dangers of smartphones. Like anything else, a smartphone may be used for the glory of God or may be used for evil purposes.

Much of the book is devoted to surfacing idols of the heart and making necessary adjustments. For instance, the author challenges his readers to carefully evaluate every tweet and post online:

  • Will this ultimately glorify God?
  • Will this stir or muffle healthy affections for Christ?
  • Will this merely document that I know something that others don’t?
  • Will this misrepresent me or is it authentic?
  • Will this potentially breed jealousy in others?
  • Will this fortify unity or stir up unnecessary division?
  • Will this build up or tear down?
  • Will this heap guilt or relieve it?
  • Will this fuel lust for sin or warn against it?
  • Will this overpromise and instill false hopes in others?

The heart must be ruthlessly and relentlessly evaluated or the smartphone may render a given user a fool. Unfortunately, this clever device has made idolatrous inroads into the hearts of many people and the result is nothing less than tragic: “Submission to a created thing, such as a smartphone, is idolatry when that created tool or device determines the ends of our lives.”

Reinke encourages careful contemplation as well as disciplined restraint:

“So as Christians, we push back our phones in the morning – in order to protect our solitude so that we can know God and so that we can reflect him as his children. And we push back our phones during the day – in order to build authentic eye-to-eye trust with the people in our lives and in order to be sharpened by hard relationships …”

In the final analysis, Reinke neither condemns or condones smartphone use: “It is just as idolatrous to blaspheme a phone as it is to worship a phone,” writes the author. “The solution is for us to wisely enjoy the smartphone – imaginatively, transcendentally, as something that should deepen wonder.”

At the end of the day, we face a two-fold challenge in the digital world. Reinke asks readers to consider:

  1. On the external front: Are we safeguarding ourselves and practicing smartphone self-denial?
  2. On the internal front: Are we simultaneously seeking to satisfy our hearts with divine glory that is, for now, largely invisible?

I was personally moved and challenged by Reinke’s book and commend it to others to read and absorb.

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


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).

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

THE WALK: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus – Stephen Smallman (2009)

When I coached tennis in college I placed a tremendous amount of stress on fundamentals.  My players were filled with chagrin when I told them to leave their racquets at home.  The reason: We would devote ourselves to fundamentals of good tennis before we ever stepped onto the court.

Understanding the fundamentals are important in any endeavor including the Christian life.    Stephen Smallman concentrates on the fundamentals of Christianity in his book, The Walk.


In part one, Smallman generally defines a disciple as “one who is devoted to learning the ways and following the example of a teacher or master.”  However, he specifically states, “A disciple of Jesus is one who has heard the call of Jesus and has responded by repenting, believing the gospel, and following Jesus.”  He rightly describes true conversion as “faith and repentance” (or two sides of the same coin).

The author boldly promotes the notion that there is “no distinction between a disciple and a Christian.”  How often have you heard someone say, “My buddy is a Christian but he is not yet a disciple.”  Or, “My uncle has not made Jesus, lord of his life.”  Smallman repudiates these erroneous beliefs with clear, gracious language and biblical arguments.

The big story of Scripture is explained, namely, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.  Additionally, the author includes a helpful discussion on the authority of Scripture and the importance it plays in the life of a disciple.


Part two includes four important components of discipleship:

  • Know the gospel itself
  • Know how you came to believe the gospel
  • Know the benefits of believing the gospel, i.e. doctrine
  • Live a life that flows from the gospel, i.e. gospel obedience


The book concludes with a practical section on disciples making disciples.  The author continues to drive home the point concerning discipleship, that is, “The call to salvation is also a call to follow Jesus as his disciple … Discipleship involves a total surrender to become ‘living sacrifices’ … Following Jesus on his mission also means that his disciples are now participating in the plan of God to bring all nations into the light of the gospel.”

Justin Taylor rightly remarks, “Stephen Smallman has given us a great gift with this book.”  The book is written with new believers in mind.  It is simple without being simplistic.  It is relentless in its presentation of the gospel.  All the arguments are linked to the cross of Christ.

This book includes helpful and practical assignments at the end of each chapter.  Use The Walk with new believers and those in need of renewal.  It is sure to be a valuable discipleship tool for years to come.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Counseling · Discipleship


Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp is a superb introduction to biblical counseling.  However, Tripp’s book should not be confined to a mere counseling resource.  Rather, his work is about the simplicity of personal ministry.  It is call to live a life that is rooted in the reality of God’s Word.  Additionally, the book is “rooted in the belief that God has called and positioned all of his children to live as ambassadors.”

The core truths of an ambassador summarize the primary tenets of the book:

1. We need God and his truth to live as we were meant to live.

2. Each of us has been called by God to be his instruments of change in the lives of others.

3. Our behavior is rooted in the thoughts and motives of our hearts.

4. Christ has called us to be his ambassadors, following his message, methods, and character.

5. Being an instrument of change involves incarnating the love of Christ by sharing in people’s struggles.

6. Being an instrument of change means seeking to know people by guarding against false assumptions, asking good questions, and interpreting information in a distinctly biblical way.

7. Being an instrument of change means speaking the truth in love.

8. Being an instrument of change means helping people do what God call them to do by clarifying responsibility, offering loving accountability, and reminding them of their identity in Christ.

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands is an important resource.  First and most importantly, Tripp’s work is biblical.  This book is drowning in a sea of biblical truth!  The book is practical and offers many practical tools to enable ministers to help and encourage hurting people.  And the book is intensely personal.  Indeed, the emphasis on personal ministry (ministry that can be done by any Christ-follower) is one of the greatest strengths of the book: “In personal ministry we call people to exercise faith in new and deeper ways – to forsake things they have done for years and do things they have never done before.  We call them to new motives, purposes, and goals … We call them to give up things that have been precious, and to do all these things not just once, but with long-term commitment and perseverance.”

4.5 stars