Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I recently read Carl Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  This powerful little book offers some great  insights into various topics including preaching.  Here are a few excerpts from Professor Trueman’s book (republished by Christian Focus Publications).

The sermon: God’s Method

For those, however, standing in the line of the Reformers, humanity, even in its highest natural spiritual exercises, is in a state of utter rebellion against God, and no elaborate string of words, no compelling argument, no passionate speech will ever bring a single individual to Christ.  It is only as those words bring with them the Holy Spirit of God bearing witness to Christ that the sermon becomes adequate to its task.  Thus, we preach, we speak the words of God not because this is the marketing method most likely to appeal to the unbeliever but simply because this is God’s appointed means of coming to individuals and bringing them to faith.  Indeed, precisely because it is so weak and hopeless by the world’s standards, it brings that much more glory to God when souls are saved and lives turned round through this medium.

Of course we must use language with which the congregation is familiar; of course we must be aware that we are talking to people in the twenty-first century and not the sixteenth; and of course we must be culturally sensitive in what we say; but preach we must because this is God’s chosen means of spreading the news of the kingdom.  Preaching is not just a communication technique, and must never be considered as such; it is bringing the very words of God to bear upon the life and needs of sinners and of the congregations of God’s people.  For this reason, if for no other, the sermon must remain central in our worship…..

When preaching fails

Furthermore, it is surely no coincidence that the marginalizing of the sermon is evangelical life has led not so much to a collapse in zeal for the gospel – for there are many, particularly young people, who come from churches where preaching is not central yet have an enviable zeal – but has led to a dramatic decline among the laity in knowledge of exactly what that gospel is.  Working with evangelical students, it never ceases to astound me how little some of them know.  Yes, they love Christ and trust him for forgiveness; but ask them why they have confidence that he forgives them or what the cross achieved, and one is often confronted with a reply which speaks about some nebulous experience or feeling which they have rather than a reference to the cross or to covenant promises.

The reason for this lack is almost always their church background: fellowships where great emphasis may well be placed upon a vital and vibrant Christian life but where preaching is at a discount.  The result is that their minds are empty of great Christian truths and their faith has less than fully stable foundations, being built on pious experiences rather than a well-thought-out biblical and doctrinal worldview rooted in the identity of God himself as found in his revelation.  We need to know that we can be confident that God is faithful because of what he has done throughout history, not because we ourselves had some experience at some point in time; and how are we to know this unless somebody tells us?

The preacher’s responsibility

The first thing that a preacher needs to realize, therefore, is the seriousness of the task he is undertaking:  on his shoulders rests the responsibility of giving his people solid rock on which to build their lives; and in preaching, he is moving the divine Word of God from the divinely inspired text through the words of his sermon to the hearts and minds of his people.  He is thus handling, so to speak, the Word of God, something which is both an immense privilege and an awesome responsibility.

He must therefore take care that he gets it right and that his attitude towards the task is one appropriate to its gravity.  As Richard Baxter declared, ‘I preached as a dying man to dying men.’ The pulpit was thus no place for clowning or levity or entertaining his congregation; every Sunday it was a place where, perhaps for the last time, he had an opportunity of speaking to men and women about the great things of God.  We, of course, live in age where entertainment is one of the be-all-and-end-alls of life; but Christianity is always to an extent counter-cultural, and this is one point on which we cannot afford to be anything else.

The preaching ministry is thus something which should not be entered into lightly; nor is the sermon something which either minister or congregation should approach in a light or trivial manner.  The preacher has the responsibility of both expounding God’s truth and of doing so in a manner which confronts his congregation with the awesomeness of God’s greatness and holiness and the vastness of his grace and love.

It takes, therefore, a particular kind of man with a particular calling to perform this task.

The Two Best Books on Leadership

Just came across Matt Perman’s recommended books on Christian leadership over at The Gospel Coalition and felt compelled to add my two favorites to the list:

Additions?

10 Books Every Preacher Should Read in 2011

There’s no explanation or comment but Al Mohler offers what he thinks every preacher should read in 2011. See his list here. Is there anything you would add to this list (published this year)?

Are You a Dispensationalist?

Here is my attempt to answer this question in an article posted at Christianity.com. I wrote this about eight years ago—so it’s not as nuanced as something I might write today (i.e., I’m so much smarter now, blah blah blah)—but it’s a good representation of where I’m at on the question. In addition, here is a response to my article by non-dispensationalist Nathan Pitchford. The editor of Christianity.com invited me to write a rejoinder to Pitchford’s response, but my schedule would not allow. If you’re looking for the best available explanation of the core elements of dispensationalism, see Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Dr. Michael J. Vlach (Theological Studies Press, 2008), which I reviewed here. It will help you answer the question of whether you yourself are a dispensationalist.

A Festschrift in Honor of John MacArthur

The Master’s Seminary Journal Volume 22, No 1 is a great read for all you expository preachers out there.  My favorite articles were Expository Preaching: The Logical Response to a Robust Bibliology by Dr. Rick Holland and Striking Similarities Between Two Extraordinary Expositors by Dr. Steve Lawson.   Lawson’s article compares the pulpit ministries of D.M. Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur and is a very insightful read.

Three New Books for Men

Father’s Day is fast approaching so I’m always looking for books that rise above the surface of the typical fare. Here are three that grabbed my attention:

Men of the Word: Insights for Life from Men Who Walked with God edited by Nathan Busenitz. I was really excited to receive this book from the publisher. Many character studies of biblical men are often nothing more than launching pads for all types of moral eisegesis but this is not the case with Men of the Word. Each chapter focuses on a key individual from Scripture with God-centered exhortations focused on the theme of “real men” (e.g., Real Men Find Satisfaction in God: Lessons from the Life of Solomon by Rick Holland). Every chapter is written by a different pastor from the staff of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA with a forward by John MacArthur who is the long-time preaching pastor at GCC. There is also two helpful appendices. The first by Bill Shannon is entitled “Real Men Pursue Purity” which is a succinct and helpful guide to helping men fight the battle of sexual purity. I am already using this appendix as a hand-out for men in my church. The second appendix is an excellent study guide useful for personal study or small groups. It is this resource that makes this book ideal as a discipling tool for men in the local church. There is also a biblical reference guide at the end which could be used as a Scripture memory aid for personal or group studies. I highly recommend this book to any pastor, teacher, or man who wants to be challenged to grow as a man of God and be useful in the Lord’s mission.

A Guide to Biblical Manhood by Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas. This is a short, pithy, yet powerful little book. I received it yesterday but was able to read it in an evening, which may be good news for men in your congregation that are not motivated readers or who struggle with large tomes (109 half-cut pages). A Guide is presented in a style similar to that of the old “survival manuals” (see here) which visually caught my attention with clever illustrations and arrangement of section materials. There are three main categories addressed by Dumas and Stinson: a godly husband, a godly father, and a godly leader. The material is brief yet theologically sound and immensely practical.  This is a great little resource to put into the hands of your church’s men or “future men.” Highly recommended.

Pujols: More Than A Game** by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth. The best player in the game of baseball is not wearing Yankee pinstripes nor, as it pains this life-long Braves fan to admit, is he playing in Atlanta. Albert Pujols is by any objective standard the best player in the game today. It’s also apparent that a case can be made for his being the greatest player ever. He has in some ways quietly achieved things that Ruth, Aaron, and Williams never accomplished (let’s not even mention a certain player recently on trial in the Bay Area). In an age where sports are riddled with cheating, doping, sexual misconduct, and giant egos . . . in walks a man who says, “I don’t play for people. I don’t live for people. I live to represent Jesus Christ” (pg. 228). The authors do an excellent job at getting beneath the surface of this towering figure and the result is that Pujols is the real deal. They ask the hard questions about steroids, scandals, and the demanding home life of a modern baseball player. Baseball fan or not, any sports fan will enjoy this well-researched and insightful biography. Well done and highly recommended.

[**Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

I recently finished T. David’s Gordon’s new book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal.  For the mature Christian reader, pastor, or minister of music I would highly recommend this resource even though their is much in the book I do not particularly agree with.  With that  said the book offers some fresh insights on an important topic.   Gordon’s thoughtful quotes sprinkled throughout the book make this resource a worthy investment of both time and money. 

Here are a few of the many thought-provoking quotes found in this book: 

“In such communions, worship had previously been understood as a meeting between God and His visible people.  Worship was a dialogue, if you will: God speaking through Word and sacrament, and His people responding in prayer, praise, and confession.  The decisions that governed such worship revolved around this dialogical conception of worship as a meeting between God and His people.”

In addressing the ‘seeker-friendly meetings’ issue the author writes.

“The failure to make such a distinction creates an unintended irony: that those who are genuinely seeking for God are often repulsed by the so-called seeker-friendly services, which seem to be more about fun than answering life’s most serious question.”

“Young people who attend church see a group of fifty-year-olds playing their guitars in front of the church in order to reach the young will perhaps politely appreciate the gesture, but they frankly regard the music as being fairly lame.”

“Biblically, the goal of youth is to leave it as rapidly as possible.  The goal of the young, biblically, is to be mature…1 Cor 13:11.”   “Extended adolescence is part of what our youth need to be delivered from.”

“The most common argument for employing contemporary worship music is the strategic argument: to reach a culture captivated by pop music, the church must employ such music.  But this argument, as we have just seen, is far from cogent.”

“When the church approaches an individual as a consumer to be pleased, rather than as a recalcitrant sinner to be rescued, the church is no longer doing what it is called to do.”

“The question of what constitutes a suitable or appropriate prayer or song for Christian worship is as old as the apostolic church. Paul addressed the Corinthians on the matter, for instance (1 Cor 14:14-17).”

“We don’t disagree with the past; we just don’t pay attention to it.”

“Johnny hasn’t been persuaded that hymn-singing is wrong; Johnny simply cannot relate to anything that doesn’t sound contemporary.  He cannot shed his cultural skin, the skin of contemporaneity, of triviality, of paedocentrism.  He thinks he prefers contemporary worship music forms to other forms, but in reality he prefers contemporaneity as a trout prefers water; it is the only environment he knows.”

“Johnny is monogenerational outside the church; so he is monogenerational inside the church.”

The most helpful worship resource I have come across are lectures from the Shepherd’s Conference presented by Professor Andrew Snider.  I have also greatly benefited from Paul Jones’ book Singing and Making Music as well as Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters.  I have yet to read Brian Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship or Timothy M. Pierce’s Enthroned On Our Praise: An O.T. Theology of Worship.

Colossians commentaries?

I just finished the book of Revelation, and I’m thinking of preaching Colossians next.  Any good commentary recommendations?

Expository Listening: A Review

I recently read Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Pastor Ken Ramey.  If you have been looking for a book that highlights this topic look no further then here because this is the help you have been waiting for.

Expository Listening (EL) is written by a senior pastor who loves the Lord, the Word of God, and the local church.  The author of EL recently received his D. Min degree from the Master’s Seminary.   The content of this book is the fruit gained from the author’s many years in the ministry trenches.  In this reviewers opinion EL is a tremendous tool to use in either a small group setting or in a home bible study group.

I was able to read this wonderful new book in a couple of hours as it is only 127 pages long.  The size of the book will be particularly attractive to laypeople who do not normally read healthy Christian books. 

The book is divided into the following 8 easy to digest chapters.  Introduction: Welcoming the Word.  1. Biblical Audiology: A Theology of Listening.  2. Hearing With Your Heart.  3.  Harrowing Your Heart to Hear.   4. The Itching Ear Epidemic.  5. The Discerning Listener.  6. Practice What You Hear.  Conclusion: Listening Like Your Life Depends On It.    

The goal of this book “is to create a congregation that share this passion to honor God by being discerning hearers of his, diligent doers of His Word, and devoted lovers of His Word, preaching fanatics, even, who come to church like a thirsty man craving something to drink and whose hearts fervently long to hear the Word preached because they know that in it God speaks to them.”

With many new titles published every year on biblical preaching it is great to find a book that highlights the other side of the coin (biblical listening).  I highly recommend that you preachers buy a copy of this book for your own soul and that you also buy a case of these books for your congregation.  This pastor plans on doing just that.

http://www.kressbiblical.com/products/Expository-Listening:-A-Practical-Handbook-for-Hearing-and-Doing-God%E2%80%99s-Word.html

Review: Life of Paul by John McRay

I recently reviewed a few books for The Journal of Modern Ministry. I will post them here as time allows.

Paul: His Life and Teaching
By John McRay
Baker Academic: Grand Rapids (2003)

John McRay, emeritus professor of New Testament and archaeology at Wheaton College Graduate School, has provided a valuable contribution to Pauline studies with Paul: His Life and Teaching (hereafter: PLT). Many readers of this journal will also be familiar with his previous volume, Archaeology and the New Testament (1991). It is rare to find a book on the Apostle Paul that is both scholarly and useful to the church; yet, McRay has produced such a volume adding his voice to previous conservative scholarship on Paul (e.g., J. Machen, F. F. Bruce, R. Longenecker, R. Reymond).

PLT comprises 479 pages divided into two major parts (Paul’s life and Paul’s teaching). Part One consists of eight chapters which move the reader chronologically through the Apostle’s life from his upbringing in Tarsus to his death in Rome. McRay does an excellent job of keeping Paul in his first-century Jewish and Hellenistic Mediterranean context, avoiding the temptation to read 21st Century theology and ideas back into Paul. The author contends is that Paul should be read as a “first-century Jewish rabbi who accepted Jesus as his Messiah and became an ardent, dedicated Messianic Jew” (11). Noteworthy in Part One is McRay’s chapter three, “Toward a Chronology of Paul’s Ministry.” Dealing with chronology is one of the more difficult issues for Pauline studies. Refreshingly, McRay does not adhere to the critical assumption that the letters of Paul are a “primary” source in conflict with the “secondary” source of Acts. He notes, “Most studies of the problem give little credence to the historical view of Scripture that accepts Luke and Paul as equally inspired” (81). The author’s reconstruction of Paul’s life is not only a fascinating read but an encouragement to Christian perseverance in the face of constant opposition.

Part Two of PLT explores key themes of the Apostle’s theology.  It would be difficult to offer an exhaustive “theology of Paul” in just over two hundred pages. With this in mind, the author explores key theological themes in Paul’s teaching warranting significant discussion (e.g., law, ecclesiology, eschatology). McRay’s discussion of the law demonstrates considerable awareness of the plethora of current scholarship on this “most debated topic among Pauline scholars” (Hafemann, “Paul and His Interpreters,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 671). Though the author acknowledges weaknesses with his position, the author concludes, “His position [i.e., Paul’s] was that a Jew could keep the law but should not impose it upon the Gentiles and that even a Jew could keep it only for cultural and ethnic reasons, not as the means of salvation” (367).

The strength of PLT is the author’s attention to background details without being dry. McRay’s command of archaeological resources and backgrounds made for a fascinating read. There are hundreds of photos, maps, tables, and figures, which provide a rich supplement to the text. The author himself took many of the photos over the course of sixty journeys to the regions of Paul’s travels. The reader is greatly aided by a subject, author, and Scripture index, which assist in the study of textual details. The author also makes judicious use of footnotes where more technical matters are consigned.

This volume is not only worth purchasing but also a necessary text for those desiring to study the life Paul. PLT would make a great text for a college level or seminary class discussion, or for the congregant who desires to deepen his knowledge of the Apostle or the book of Acts. Overall, McRay is to be commended for putting in the hands of the church an accessible volume on a vast subject.

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