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Seizing Life for the Glory of God

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Book Blurbs: April 2017

#1 – I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude That Makes the Difference by Thom S. Rainer (published by B&H Publishing, 2013). This book does not say enough about the mindset that a member of a local church should have towards his fellow members. The attempt at covering subjects like unity, preferences, desires, prayers, leadership, and church membership falls short of being a compelling resource. There are much better books on the subject. BOOK RATING: 6 out of 10 stars.

#2 – Hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn (published by Multnomah Books, 2014). I found this book on a bargain shelf for $5 at Mardels – not thinking much of my purchase. After reading the first two chapters, I realized the gem I now owned. The balanced view of our free will and God’s sovereignty is no better represented and derived from Scripture than Alcorn’s book. There is not any other book I will recommend on the subject than this one. The middle chapters are admittedly not as helpful, but the first few and last few chapters are worth whatever you can buy it for. BOOK RATING: 10 out of 10 stars.

#3 – We Cannot Be Silent by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (published by Nelson Books, 2015). Vintage Mohler. This is a helpful commentary on the changing views on sexuality in our culture. While Mohler does not give a biblical defense of God’s view of sexuality, he does rightly “flag the issues” and trends our culture is experiencing as it moves away from God’s design of marriage and sex. If you are looking for a Christian perspective on these issues, this is the book for you. BOOK RATING: 9 out of 10 stars.

#4 – Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship by Paul Tautges. (published by Shepherd Press, 2015). This is a good book to put in the hands of someone who wants to see the similarities and differences between discipleship and counseling. The author does a fabulous job building a theology for why we counsel in the church and why it is a necessary part of our personal and communal sanctification. BOOK RATING: 10 out of 10 stars.

#5 – A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper. (published by Crossway Books, 1997). Jesus assumed every Christian will fast. John Piper rightly elevates the discipline of fasting to a means of worship. This is not a book of “how to’s” when it comes to fasting but a book answering the “why’s” of fasting. BOOK RATING: 10 out of 10 stars.

6 Books I Would Read If They Were Written

From Some Dead Guys

J.C. Ryle on pastoring. The reason we don’t have more writings by J.C. Ryle is that most of his library was burned down about fifty years after his death. But the little I have read of his pastoring style, he was worthy of emulation. This man wrote tracts (or pamphlets) for each member of his church and hand-delivered them monthly to personally encourage and instruct his congregants. That is a man who loved his sheep!

John Wesley and George Whitefield co-authoring a book on the atonement. These men – one a Calvinist (Whitefield) and the other an Arminian (Wesley) are such godly men who loved the Lord and His Word. How about reading a back-and-forth where these men critique each other’s view on the nature on the atonement? I bet we would witness a sharing of the truth in love but also discover incredibly intriguing biblical banter on a very controversial subject. By the way, these men had profound respect for each other and I am confident this would come out in a book such as this.

John Calvin’s commentary on Revelation. I would read this for two reasons: (1) he never wrote a commentary on this N.T. book and (2) he is one the most brilliant commentators in church history.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on his assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. If you know Bonhoeffer, you know that he was once a pacifist and defended that from Scripture. Due to the genocides taking place in WWII and his own understanding of the abuses of slavery, Bonhoeffer rejected his pacifism and sought to kill Hitler. I would love to read a book detailing the process by which Bonhoeffer went through that led him to change his mind on violence. What passages meant the most and why? Were the men encouraging or discouraging his pacifistic views? What were they saying? Did he regret taking that stand against Hitler in light of Romans 13?

From Modern Men

J.I. Packer on the trinity. Since I love this man’s book Knowing God and his writing style is so accessible to the layperson, why not a book on each member of the trinity, covering attributes, nature, and ministry?

Wayne Grudem on teaching. Other than R.C. Sproul, I can’t think of anyone alive today who is better at taking big truths and communicating them in simplistic ways. I would love to read Grudem on how he teaches. What is his philosophy of teaching? What fundamentals and concepts does he follow? What advice would he give men and women in formal teaching ministry? How does he encourage men and women to grow in their teaching?

If any of these books exist, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! They will go straight to the top of my “Must Read List.”

 

Book Blurbs: March 2017

Here are some books I had the privilege of reading this past month and some brief thoughts about each one.

#1 – Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities by Steve Gladen (published by Baker Books, 2011). This author is the Pastor of the Small Group Community at Saddleback Church in CA. Their church has more than 3,500 adult small groups. While I believe there is great value in having ministry philosophies and purpose statements, this book goes way too far on the structure of small group ministry. I found myself lost in the many acronyms, hierarchies and flow charts. Small group ministry may need to have a certain level of complexity for a megachurch like Saddleback, but I didn’t find too many helpful insights on how to be intentional with your small group ministry. Seems like a small group of Christians, gathering to enjoy fellowship, prayer and time in the Word is simple enough. BOOK RATING: 6 out of 10 stars.

#2 – Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (published by Crossway Books, 2017). My Dad says he would rank this #3 for systematic theologies behind W.G.T. Shedd and Wayne Grudem. Not having read Shedd, I would concur with his comparison to Grudem. This is a helpful resource, but not the “gold standard” for systematic theologies. At times, it reads too scholarly for most Christians. The formatting and outline is hard to follow as well. It lacks the doxology emphasis of Grudem, but does contain extensive bibliographies at the end of each chapter like Grudem. The one section of the book I would give high praise is Ch. 7 on soteriology – very thorough and thought-provoking. BOOK RATING: 8 out of 10 stars.

#3 – Look and Live edited by Matt Papa (published by Bethany House Publishers, 2014). I am sure this author is a fine music leader at his church in Raleigh, NC. And after reading this book on God’s greatness, I can see the carryover to writing song-lyrics and this book. At times, the book was hard to follow, because instead of forming thesis and logical statements that support these statements, he would just write one or two words and then a period, as if he was trying to emphasize a truth – like you might in a song and not in a book. I’m not gonna lie – I didn’t enjoy the book very much. It was hard to follow and didn’t have as much Scriptural support as I had hoped. BOOK RATING: 5 out of 10 stars.

#4 – Church History 101: The Highlights of Twenty Centuries by Sinclair B. Ferguson, Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. Haykin (published by Reformation Heritage Books, 2016). My only criticism of this book is its brevity. And when I say the book is brief, I mean it (only 99 pages). Surely this book is meant to be read by someone who doesn’t have a timeline in church history. If you are wanting substance, this book is not for you. But if you want to know the names and events of each century that you should study further, this book can be of use to you. BOOK RATING: 9 out of 10 stars.

#5 – Jesus: The Only Way to God by John Piper (published by Baker Books, 2010). How can someone be saved? This is the question that is answered in this short book (123 pages). And Piper does a great job addressing different O.T. and N.T. passages. It might be a little scholarly for some, but still readable. I would recommend giving this to non-Christians who would consider themselves intellectual or fans of reason. BOOK RATING: 9 out of 10 stars.

#6 – The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (published by Penguin Random House, 2017). The author capitalizes off the continual un-Christianizing of culture by suggesting that Christians ought to form communities of faith (not churches) that are committed to prayer, fasting and more instruction from the Word. That sounds good but it suggests too much withdrawing from society when Jesus has not changed our mandate to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:16-20). Even though some men I respect endorse this book, I cannot say this is a good strategy for living faithfully in light of the downgrade of Western Society. BOOK RATING: 7 out of 10 stars.

 

UPDATED: The Top 20 Books I Want to Purchase to Read

I am in between reading material right now, but thought I would stay as close as possible to the theme of reading books. So here goes.

I have a “Most Wanted Book” list that has served as a Christmas wish list over the years and even a place I can refer to when I want to buy some new books. I should also say that these books don’t necessarily represent books that I believe will become “my favorites” as some point, but just books I want to read for a number of different reasons.

Instead of sharing the whole list with you, which probably has around 150 books, here are my top 20 most desired books (in alphabetical order).

  1. And So To Bed: A Biblical View of Sleep by Adrian Reynolds
  2. Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges
  3. Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch
  4. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle
  5. Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul
  6. For the Glory: Eric Liddel’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton
  7. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by Jonathan Gibson
  8. Habits of Grace by David Mathis
  9. How the West Really Lost God by Mary Eberstadt
  10. How to Talk So People Will Listen y Steve Brown
  11. If You Bite and Devour One Another by Alexander Strauch
  12. Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson
  13. Life of John Calvin by Alister McGrath
  14. Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester
  15. Prepare Them to Shepherd by Brian Croft
  16. Puritan Practice of Meditation by Joel Beeke
  17. Red State Religion by Robert Wuthnow
  18. Side by Side by Ed Welch
  19. What About Free Will? by Scott Christiansen
  20. The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

Book Review Blurb: The Shack

By Warren Ryan (Elder at Wichita Bible Church) and Charles Heck (Teaching Pastor at Wichita Bible Church)

The Story

The book centers around a man by the name of Mack. Mack is a husband and father who, while on a family vacation, experiences a parent’s worst nightmare – the kidnapping of his young daughter Missy. Missy’s abductor, who turns out to be a serial kidnapper, and Missy are never found after a frantic search by local and national authorities.

A few years pass and Mack and his wife Nan are still dealing with the absence and presumed death of their little girl. One day, Mack receives a note from an individual named “Papa” who invites Mack to meet Papa and a few others at this run-down abandoned shack up in the mountains where the supposed murder of Missy occurred.

Image result for the shackPapa is the name that Mack’s wife Nan calls God. Perplexed and disbelieving this is a note from God, Mack goes to this known shack anyway. Upon arrival, Mack is greeted by Papa who is God the Father and is depicted as an overweight, African American woman. Then there is Sarayu, who is the Holy Spirit, and appears in the form of an Asian woman. Finally, there is Jesus, who is a simple Middle-Eastern male figure but seems to be amused about his humanity, as if His deity is an afterthought.

The days in the shack with this supposed trinity turns into a time of healing for Mack as he is taught by these figures about forgiveness, the purpose of suffering, living with purpose, dealing with grief, God’s judgment, and love.

The end of the book produces a “renewed” Mack who has accepted Papa’s purpose in allowing his girl Missy to be abducted and killed and forgiving the kidnapper.

Our Primary Concerns

There are a plethora of issues this book presents, even though this is a fictional story. In short, a reader will discover blasphemous depictions of the Godhead and direct contradictions of Scripture throughout. Here are just a few of the problems:

  1. Depiction of the Godhead. God never displays or even suggests He could be manifested in the form of a woman (pg. 80); the same is true of the Holy Spirit (pg. 85). Both depictions of God are blasphemous to the true nature of our God. No one has the right to depict the Father and Holy Spirit in human form, which is a violation of the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:4).
  2. Perversion of God’s justice. God is full in all His attributes. In other words, He is never less loving than He is gracious. And He never ceases to manifest any of His attributes. In a dialogue between Papa and Mack, Papa claims to not have the responsibility of punishing sin (pg. 119). This is a direct contradiction of Scripture that tells us God does not absolve the sins of the guilty (Exodus 34:7). While there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), there is for those who reject Him (II Thessalonians 1:8-9), even though Papa claims to not be into condemnation (pg. 227).
  3. Reasons for Jesus’ death. Many reasons can be supplied for why Jesus came to die, but certainly one of them IS NOT because we are worthy of love, as Sarayu claims (pg. 164). Romans 5:10 tells us we were God’s enemies when Jesus died for us.
  4. Direct contradictions of Scripture.
  • I John 2:6 tells us that we ought to walk as Jesus walked, and yet the figure depicted as Jesus in this book says, after being asked about the ‘What would Jesus do’ question, that Jesus is never to be copied (pg. 150).
  • Later in the book, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is attacked as Sarayu claims that the Holy Spirit has a “fondness for uncertainty” (pg. 206). Yet, we know a ministry of the Holy Spirit is leading us to certainty – to truth (John 16:13).

Our Secondary Concerns

  1. Poor suggestions for dealing with grief. As Mack’s grief increased over Missy’s disappearance, the author suggests his grief can no longer be attended to through the means of prayer or songs, and Scripture is never even mentioned as a source of help (pg. 63). It is that triad of means of grace – music, praying, and the Bible – that is our best source of comfort. The absence of these means of grace suggest subjective means for finding real help. In fact, later in the book (pg. 81), Sarayu tells Mack that they are going to allow him to dictate the terms and in his timing. Ironically, many who have read this book claim that it has helped them see how to deal with grief, even though Mack is only able to come to terms with his grief after he has a supernatural meeting with his deceased daughter and supernaturally enabled to find and bury her remains—events that are not going to be replicated for anyone who is dealing with grief.
  2. Jesus’ experience on the cross. In an attempt to bring comfort to Mack about not being alone in his suffering (pg. 96), Papa tells Mack that at the cross he never left Jesus, and yet Jesus cried out that very idea of being forsaken (Mark 15:33-34).

The Issue of Its Genre: Fiction

Regardless of the genre, words matter. Fiction and non-fiction both teach. There is a worldview presented or represented in every movie, television show, and book. The Shack is no exception. While some argue this book is fiction and should not be taken literally, we cannot discount the flagrant misrepresentation of God and His Word as represented above. The author clearly has an agenda to present to the readers a god that he has created from his own imagination, but that he obviously prefers to the God of the Bible. The vocabulary of this book carries weight, as many have testified how this book either drew them closer to God or was even the best theology book they have ever written.

The Danger of False Teaching

The Scriptures are replete with warnings about false teaching and false teachers, including 2 Timothy 3:8, where some men are described as having corrupt or depraved minds and stand in opposition to the truth. The author of this book stands opposed to the truths of who God is, and what he is like, and has created an alternative god who is more to his liking—a distorted, perverted version of the true God. We are called to be “sound in the faith,” and “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). We are to assiduously avoid looking to other sources beyond the Scriptures to try to gain some further or different knowledge of God, or some other means of living out our lives of faith. God reveals himself as he really is through his Word. (And, in the ultimate irony, while presenting these erroneous portrayals of God, Mack laments that he has been led astray by others’ teachings (page 183)!)

Concluding Thoughts

The Word of God is never to be updated, changed, added to, subtracted from or altered in any other way (Revelation 22:18-19). No one will truly be helped by this book—believers and outsiders alike are seduced and led astray from the truth of God’s word by presenting an image of a god that the author only wishes could be. Therefore, we do not recommend this book as a resource for any Christian’s sanctification and would also warn all those who read it that they are exposing themselves to false teaching.

Other Reviews to Consider

Some Scripture for meditation: 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-2:1; 2 Peter 2.1-22

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