Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Maxwell’s Silver Sermon

Charlie looked at the bewildered victims of the crash on the beach and spoke for all when he said, “Guys, where are we?”

If you want to know how we got here (telegraph–television–blogs–Facebook–Twitter) I would highly recommend Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The fact that a majority of blog readers will know the setting, time of day, and characters of the theatrical reference in the opening quote of this post tells us that Postman was on to something. The average consumer receives philosophical, theological, and cultural challenges through entertainment not through sustained conversation, study, or thinking. In fact what is usually passed off as “conversation” in today’s culture, and more to the point–today’s church,  is anything but. If nothing else, read Postman’s eighth chapter “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem” which surveys the televangelist scene of 1985. The players have changed but the issues are all still there. Here are a few choice quotes:

  • “The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment.”
  • “If the delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the same. And if the context in which the message is experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that its social and psychological meaning is different, as well.”
  • “Though their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings, or rather, because their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.”
  • “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”
  • “I think it both and fair and obvious to say that on television, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though His name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the clear message that it is he, not He, who must be worshipped.”

New Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: A Review

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If you’re looking to add a time saving conservative commentary on the Pastoral Epistles to your library look no further than Dr. John Kitchen’s new work, The Pastoral Epistle for Pastors. This 600 page commentary has many useful tools included in it with hard working pastors and diligent church leaders clearly in mind.

The author of this new commentary is the pastor of Stow Alliance Fellowship and has been in pastoral ministry since 1987. He holds degrees from Crown College, Columbia Biblical Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. John Kitchen has authored five previous books, including Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary.

Let me begin by reviewing the end of this book first. Kitchen includes 5 helpful appendices at the end of his verse by verse commentary. Appendix A is a Pastor’s Self-Guided Study of the Pastoral Epistles. Appendix B is a Training Manual for Mentoring and Discipling Future Local Church Leaders. Appendix C is a Topical Index to the Ministry Maxims (practical helps). Appendix D contains many useful Preaching and Teaching Outlines. Appendix E has a profitable Annotated Bibliography section in it to assist the reader with future commentary purchases.

It appears to me that Kitchen is trying to bring the best of 3 commentary worlds into one helpful volume with this commentary (exegetical, expositional, and devotional styles). In the opinion of this reviewer Dr. Kitchen has succeeded. This is a book that every preaching pastor will want to have in his pastoral library collection. My copy has either been on my desk or on my shelf next to Mounce, Fee, & Towner’s commentaries.

Do not take my word for it however.   Here is another review from well known commentator Simon J Kistemaker. “Here is an excellent conservative commentary that aids pastors and counselors who preach and teach the Scriptures to church members and others. It is designed to coach the reader into digging deeper by asking and answering pointed questions that apply to one’s spiritual life. The appendices are a treasure that proves to be eminently helpful.”

Review of Beth Moore’s “Believing God”

As a pastor, I am frequently asked about Beth Moore’s many published books and lectures by ladies who are looking for helpful Bible study materials. While I have perused many of her works I have yet to write a formal review detailing my thoughts and concerns. Our friend Craig Johnson has performed a helpful service and penned a careful and detailed review of one of Mrs. Moore’s more popular works: Believing God. Johnson writes:

My overall impression: While there are many good things about the book, I would never recommend it. In fact, the weaknesses of the book are so significant that I would go so far as to discourage people from reading it – if they are reading it for the purpose of being edified.

Be sure to read his entire review here.

What are you reading?

As a senior teaching pastor I find myself working very hard to stay afloat almost every single week.  Throw a funeral or two into the mix and you have yourself a really exciting week.  I find it challenging to prepare a Sunday AM sermon and a Sunday PM lesson week in and week out.  Pastors have so much to do and so little time to do it in.  Thank goodness God does not want us to accomplish these tasks according to human strength or worldly wisdom.

 On a weekly basis the most important ministry task I face is the Sunday morning exposition.  I find most of my extra reading time is used to supplement my sermon preparation or some other church related ministry.

 For example, this past Sunday I preached through Revelation 5:9.  Outside of Scripture, Bible Works, LOGOS, and numerous Revelation commentaries I used the following resources: John Gill’s Body of Divinity; R.B. Kuiper’s, For Whom Did Christ Die; D.A. Carson’s, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God; & the opening chapters of Elyse Fitzpatrick’s latest book, Counsel from the Cross.

 At night I finished up Mike Abendroth’s Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers.  This was a very application orientated book and one that I would recommend to our faithful readers.  I am ashamed to say that during my first topical series on Biblical Preaching (I delivered these a year ago) that I did not spend a single Sunday talking about the model of Jesus.  Abendroth’s book points out how most of the great books on preaching skip over His wonderful example.

 Other than that I find myself rereading the books we’re using for our leadership training class (9 Marks of a Healthy Church, The Exemplary Husband, and 10 Questions to Diagnosing Your Spiritual Health) or reading books in preparation for my Sunday PM lessons (The Message of the Old Testament).  I am so grateful for the Christian resources that are available today.

But the Puritans didn’t have air condition and other strains of logic

Within days of Spurgeon and MacArthur celebrating the same birthday (see previous post), the current, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s church) has come out swinging at just about every American who dares call himself “reformed” in any shape of the word. Unlike some folks, if the world stopped employing the word “reformed” or “calvinist” I would somehow manage to move on with my life.

It seems that Peter Masters wants to define the word backward to such an extent that the next thing he will have to do is sell his automobile because after all the Puritans didn’t drive cars. Such logic may seemed strained but that is exactly the kind of logical skill one finds in this “review” of Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. What Masters fails to realize is that there is no one leading figure, central publishing arm, seminary, or conference that makes up this broad thing some are calling a movement. Yet that doesn’t keep him from painting with the broadest brush he can find in his quiver. The problem with movements, especially those of a political or theological nature, is that viewed too broadly there is something for everyone to hate. So Master’s looks at everything that gets near the word “reformed” and seeks to, well, hate it. You can read the review for yourself but here is one sampling that is so wrong it doesn’t want to be right:

Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)

Rare guide to exegesis

There are some resources that I believe make unique contributions to the practice of exegesis. One of my favorites is Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology. It’s not perfect but it’s a great place for those who are looking for a “next level” guide. However, I’m often asked if there is a book or workbook that could be used in churches to move a student from text to sermon, one that doesn’t assume a grasp of the languages or even seminary training. That book is the little known Principles and Practice of Greek Exegesis: A Classroom Manual by John D. Grassmick. I don’t believe it has been updated since its original publishing in 1976 and it is still amazingly relevant. Even though it has “Greek” in the title, the process of exegesis is largely the same between the Testaments. I would love to know if others have used this resource.

What was the last book you read?

So what is the last Christian book you’ve recently read?  Would you recommend it?

I recently finished, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology.   If you want to understand this pastor/theologian/scholar/Christian more accurately and deeply then do read this book.   It shows the reader that true Calvinism is so much more than TULIP. 

“The Shack”

Our “Contributor Emeritus” Jerry Wragg made the following observations that we wanted to share with our readers.

In my relatively short 26 years of Christianity, I’ve marveled at the endless stream of bestselling fiction that induces the church to such strong “This-book-changed-my-life” sentiment.

It happened in the 70’s with “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” – And again in the late 80’s-early 90’s with Peretti’s series on spiritual warfare (touted by Peretti as “fiction” in one interview, then as theologically driven in another) –
All through the 90’s, Christian’s became intoxicated (pun intended), not with book-fiction, but with the supernatural-fiction of the laughing “revivals.” Once again, the latest “totally-changed-my-life fad was served up to a voracious evangelicalism hardly stopping to take a breath.

We seem perennially seduced by “answers” to life’s trials coming from every corner of human opinion and experience, in spite of weekly corporate-worship affirmations about the sufficiency of Scripture.

How can “The Shack” teach us anything objective about facing the terrors of life in a fallen world?  How does one man’s fictional encounter with fictional deities provide more comfort than real revelation from the one true and living God? Has it come to this? Do evangelicals really prefer fiction to divine revelation?

I can only conclude that some professing believers often seem more interested in fashioning truth after their own experiences. In other words, though human drama IS our experience, we often would rather assess and face challenges in our own strength and wisdom rather than humbly submitting to God’s yoke. Why would we prefer the inferior perspective of humans? Because it’s just plain easier. God gets to fit Himself through our grid, respond to our burdens according to our timing and comfort, and allow us the pride to “save face” in the event a weakness appears.

“The Shack” is nothing more than the inner-musings of one person advertised and sold as the potentially universal and unconventional way God manifests Himself. And someone says, “This book changed my life!” Oh really? How? In what way were you sanctified by the truth? How was your mind renewed and constantly nourished on the words of faith and sound doctrine? Did you become more holy? Do you now have a greater understanding of the love of Christ which surpasses human, earthly knowledge?

But we are called to be sanctified in the truth…His word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus calls us to “abide in [Him],” and to let His words “abide in [us]” (John 15:7). No human drama, truth or fiction, can fashion our minds and hearts after the Lord Jesus Christ. Beware the novel that pretends fiction with a trojan horse of lies against the truth. Fiction can be fun…but then again, eternity is no fiction!

An Exhaustive List of What I Liked about the Book “The Shack”:

  1. The chapters were short.
  2. The font was just the right size.
  3. The cat’s name was Judas.

Review: Bible Study Magazine by Logos

In a day where serial print media is rapidly fading into history by going digital, it is either a brilliant or bizarre move for a digital publisher to step out in print. The sharp minds at Logos Bible Software have stepped out with a new magazine printed on real, not virtual, paper. It may be the only thing I have ever received from Logos on actual paper. I was recently asked by the publisher to review Bible Study Magazine here at Expository Thoughts and I am glad to do so. I’ve reviewed many books but have never reviewed a magazine, especially one that has only produced one copy thus far.

Full disclosure: I am an avid fan of Logos software. It is a product that suits me very well which my friends will tell you has not always been the case. Nevertheless I believe I can maintain objectivity. When it comes to software and hardware I am a true pragmatist. I represent a minority that believes my computer and all that it contains should serve me as its master. Therefore I am not a believer in companies but a believer in products which is why my computer is a MacBook Pro, my software of choice is Logos, and my drink is Coke Zero. It’s all about me which is not unbiblical so long as we’re talking about computers. So even though I have mucho dollars invested in Logos products, I am hopefully objective enough to offer a fair review of their newest product.

Clearly this is a product that will scratch various itches. It is well produced, polished, and assembled. It has a very high quality feel and appearance. From a design point of view it is top of the line.  From a content perspective, I believe their selling point is mostly accurate: “There is simply no other magazine on the market that focuses entirely on the Bible and Bible study.”

There are fifteen featured sections that include interesting items like basic Greek word studies, brief book reviews, and in-depth studies. The magazine maintains a good balance of helpful articles and interviews from the very basic to more challenging subjects (e.g., the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls). In this particular issue, there is an insightful bible study that takes the reader on an eight-week study tour of Hebrews. One observation is that there seems to be more “about” Bible study than actual Bible study.

The theological tone is broadly evangelical but the “about us” disclaimer makes it clear that it is a non-denominational publication. This is further reflected in the guiding statement of faith, which is the Apostles Creed. I have no heartburn about the Creed but it is interesting that a magazine dedicated to Bible study chooses a creed that says nothing about the Bible. Is this an oversight or is it intentional?

In short I think this magazine is a welcome addition and should encourage Christians in various ways. However, I would offer the following reflections and questions for the keen minds behind this endeavor.  I offer these with charity and great appreciation for what Logos has done in serving the Christian community.

Fifty years ago a food company scored a major marketing coup by producing a cookbook that, in order to be used effectively, required the home cook to purchase food items that were exclusively produced by the publisher of the cookbook. Yes it’s brilliant but it is also troubling. It appears that this marketing strategy is in full swing with Bible Study Magazine. In almost every article and on every page there are call-out boxes or by-lines that encourage the reader to “learn more” at a web address that redirects them to Logos products. Some of these further explorations have price ranges in the hundreds. This is not an accusation but one man’s observation that this has the feel of a bait and switch. These are not free articles but imbedded advertisements at times masquerading as an opportunity to “learn more.” There’s no escaping the fact that this magazine pushes the reader to make purchases at Logos. Even the word search in the “puzzles and comics” section has a note that states, “Puzzle generated by Logos Bible Software.” There may be some readers who perceive that Logos is more concerned with selling a product than fostering Bible study. I don’t believe this is the case but the company has not helped themselves in how they have presented this particular aspect.

Obviously, the bread and butter of print media is advertising but it can also be an annoyance. Over the course of fifty pages there are twenty-three ads, ten of which are full page. The current generation of media consumers enjoys their media with as little explicit advertising as possible (e.g., Tivo, ipods, satellite radio) so this approach seems to move opposite of current trends. I’m no marketing expert and I’m sure Logos folks have done their homework but I am one consumer who seeks to turn off and tune out as much advertising as possible.

What follows are questions that I believe are too premature to be answered succinctly since only one issue has been published. However time will fill in the blanks.

  1. Will the high quality production continue without sacrificing the central dedication of fostering Bible study? I could point to many Christian magazines that have long left their original focus.
  2. Is there a genuine market for this type of media and if so how long will it remain viable in the changing arena of media forms?
  3. Will the costs of production affect the pricing of Logos software?
  4. Should the magazine be sent free to Logos users who have already spent hundreds even thousands of dollars on their software products?
  5. Will advertising continue to dominate space in the magazine or will the company seek other avenues of revenue and sustainability?
  6. Since the target readership is 93% male and 54% church leadership (according to their web site), how will this shape the content and depth of resources to be offered?
  7. Are there real conflicts of interest? Do they want the reader to study the Bible or to buy a product? Regardless of intention the line is not clear.
  8. Is there a better way? Could this be an opportunity for Logos to develop an online community that digitizes the same content with the goal of strengthening local churches? I think of sites like Bible.org, which offer thousands of free articles and resources to the church abroad.

With the above cautions and questions in mind, I gladly recommend Bible Study Magazine to our readers. I want to thank Logos for asking me to review Bible Study Magazine. If history is an accurate indicator then I know we can expect Logos to continue offering quality products and resources.

Click here to subscribe to Bible Study Magazine!

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