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Archive | Book Reviews

So You Want to Start a Book Club

Or at least I do. In fact, this year I’ve put out the call to my local church, assembling into one glorious band of reading brothers all those who have shown interest, or even partial interest, seeing how I’m not above cajoling the hesitant.

I’ve never done this before. Nor have I been a part of one. So it’s uncharted territory. But it sounds like fun.

Here’s how I envision it (and perhaps such visions of grandeur will inspire someone in another local body of believers to start a book club). I imagine us men tackling a book a month. The text could be political in nature, or theological, or cultural, or historical or whatever. No door stoppers. No arcane manuscripts from days medieval. Just good, thought-provoking books that not only challenge the mind, but sharpen the spirit. Or simply elicit joy.

I then imagine us sitting around together, once a month, like Oxford dons ornamented with cigars and golden drinks. As the evening waxes long, and as the shadows from the suit of armor in the corner deepen, we continue to pontificate into the night, solving the world’s problems and cracking the deep mysteries of life.

So that’s basically the format. […]

King of the One Liners

I recently began reading JC Ryle’s Thoughts for Young Men with one of our sons. Once again I was taken with Ryle’s ability to bring theology to life with great wit and clarity. As a pastor, he challenges me to think more deeply about crafting messages that can be remembered easily. As a reader, it just makes me happy. Ryle didn’t live in the age of Twitter, but I thought you might enjoy reading some of his great one-liners from the first chapter of this great little book. Perhaps it might also be an encouragement to add this to your reading list. 

The Trumpet Blasts that Were Never Heard

We live in times where the church is needing to think through her relationship with the state and the rulers over us. This is not the first time in the history of Christianity where we have had to meditate on our doctrine of the magistrate or our relationship to those in authority. This is not the first time that we have had to choose between losing our right hand and losing our left. Where would you turn to read about the relationship between the church and an oppressive government?

Looking for a book on the relationship between the church and a tyrannical government may be useful for the church in the next few decades. Consider the following statements:

* It is not by birth that one can rule over a people; those under him must approve of that rule.
* Those who practice idolatry or are living publicly scandalous lives are not to be placed in public office.
* If a ruler proves to be a tyrant or is willfully disobedient to God’s Word, then not even an oath can keep him in office.
* If people too quickly or without due consideration put someone in office and it is later found that he is […]

The Shoemaker’s Dream

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote a touching short story entitled “Where Love Is, God Is.” In the story we are told that a cobbler named Martin had suffered a series of difficulties, including losing his wife, several children, then finally his three year-old son. A visiting missionary one day tells Martin he should devote himself to serving God and leaves him with a New Testament. One night Martin falls asleep while reading the Gospel of Matthew.

Martin then dreams, and hears the Lord promising to come to him. The next day, the shoemaker encounters several people in need whom he assists. Later that evening, the Lord speaks to Martin in the darkness, repeatedly saying “Is is I,” and at each of these instances the faces of the people Martin had helped that day are brought to his mind. Based on Matthew 25:31-46 regarding how our Christian faith should lead us to help those in need, Tolstoy’s story highlights the truthfulness of Jesus’ words from this passage: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (25:40).

The Shoemaker’s Dream is a wonderfully done children’s book rendition of Tolstoy’s work. A project of […]

A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest

Looking for great new read-aloud books for the family? My brother and sister-in-law who serve as missionaries in East Africa recently gave us a glimpse into their world and beyond with a short children’s novel titled A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest (Greensboro, N.C.; New Growth Press, 2015). This little 150 page story echoes part Pilgrim’s Progress and part The Lord of the Rings.

The ten year old boy, Mu, awakens in a mud hut on his uncle’s compound as a mistreated orphan. As he fetches water at dawn, he is met, to his great surprise, by a talking chameleon named Tita. Tita latches onto Mu’s collar and directs him on the adventure of a lifetime across the African landscape. Readers are vividly led with Mu on his quest down pothole covered roads, through mission compounds, up mountain trails, and over rivers and streams. Where is he going? And whom can he trust amid the family members, missionaries, and others he encounters, including the strange realm of talking animals?

The African adventure amid many perils opens new vistas for Mu, but most of all, the quest probes Mu’s inner self. Who is he, really? What is life all about? What are […]

Clarification on Mortification

Last week I treated a short section of John Owen’s work The Mortification of Sin. Without seeking to go through the entire work, I wanted to follow it up with another post or two on other portions that I have especially found helpful.

I, as others, have found Owen’s treatment deeply insightful and purifying with respect to my own heart motivations. Here are two recommendations from influential authors.

John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.” —Jerry Bridges, author of The Pursuit of Holiness

I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern; and I owe more to [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.” —J.I. Packer

In speaking of this subject, it is important to review the meaning of mortification.  Mortify means to put to death.  Our calling as believers is to put to death our sin.  In Romans 6:13, Paul  commands, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.”  So we must be crucifying the flesh or be engaged in the work of mortification as Christians. Yet, as Owen points out, […]

When Trouble Comes

So many resources to point you to!

Justin Taylor interviews Philip Ryken below regarding his new book When Trouble Comes. Though I have not yet read it, I respect these men greatly and enjoyed this interchange over lunch today. As Dr. Ryken speaks personally about his own struggles, it is helpful to hear him explain how he turned to the means the Lord has given us to persevere during troubling times. Many folks are going through such times, so perhaps you as I would be benefited by reading this work and making it available to others.

Screaming Life

I’m very happy to highly recommend the “for such a time as this” work and artistry of this sister in Christ.   Pastors and other Christian counselors take note:  If you want an experienced, empathetic, incisive, eye-opening and heart-enriching understanding of the broken, aimless hearts abounding in our culture, read Lacey Sturm’s The Reason   It’s quietly iconoclastic in tearing down the shallow cultural assessments and pseudo-spiritual advice offered up by pop-Christianity’s baptized agnosticism, which glorifies brokenness and uncertainty (so long as they’re experienced in community) as the marks of authentic, honest faith.  And its heartfelt substance fleshes out answers so often left as stillborn theological theory by writing efforts which rightly promote truth and our ability to know it with certainty, but which present it dry and cold to the reader, giving the unintended impression that God has nothing full of life to say to generations reared on the belief that he’s dead.      

Avoiding Hyper-Calvinism as We Preach

Could it be that, in heart and practice, many of us in Reformed churches are not preaching evangelistically because we allow our Calvinism to bind us rather than propel us as it should? Perhaps we can learn from a controversy in Spurgeon’s time.

When it comes to controversies and Charles Spurgeon, the conflict he is most known for was the “Down-Grade Controversy” toward the end of his ministry. The Down-Grade was a battle against late Puritan ministers who began sliding toward liberal doctrines, philosophical and moralistic preaching, and less than holy practices. This controversy received its name from Spurgeon who warned: “We are going down hill at breakneck speed.”

Yet, as Iain Murray makes known in his book Spurgeon v. the Hyper Calvinists, Spurgeon faced a lesser known but equally dangerous controversy. In his early ministry he was attacked by reformed ministers because they believed he was offering the gospel too freely.

These ministers taught that in preaching the gospel care should be taken that sermons spoke only to the elect. Thus, they preached (and taught others to do the same) that when people are called to respond to the gospel, they are not to be called to believe in Christ directly but rather they are to ask for faith […]

The Pursuit of Holiness: On the Passing into Glory of Jerry Bridges

When I was converted by Christ at the University of Michigan in the early 1980’s, the Lord used the ministry of The Navigators as his tool to open my mind and heart to Jesus. Within the early months of my new life, my mentor gave me a book that became the first one I read as a new believer. That book was The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.

What a treasure of a book! What a way to begin my Christian journey! I learned at the very beginning of my Christian life that I was responsible now, in the grace of Christ, to be holy before the Lord.  Yet what a battle that would be. As Bridges explained so clearly:

As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.”

The clear Bible teaching, sound doctrine that I later learned was based on Bridges’ love of the Puritans, and eye-opening illustrations such as “even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb” resounded in my newly regenerated heart. The Pursuit of Holiness helped set me properly upon the paths of righteousness on which the Good Shepherd leads all who follow […]