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Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

I suspect that the topic of discernment is one that, while important, is not often examined by Christians. That this is the case is evident when looking at life in our mainline evangelical churches. Anymore, anyone that mentions that name of God or Jesus is considered part of the crowd. Too often, barely any thought goes into which shepherds the flock is following or which wave the church is riding.

It’s a bit scary that I remember the last time I heard about a book on the actual topic of discernment. True there are many books critical of unbiblical theology, and for good reason. What we don’t see are book written on how to think about these matters Biblically. In this respect, “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment” by widely-read blogger, Tim Challies, provides a good entry into a seldom examined and yet critical aspect of Christian life.

For the most part Challies is clear and gets quickly to the point. Sometimes authors can make the subject accessible enough that the reader doesn’t feel challenged. It’s a strength for an author that can make a useful book seem shallow. This is nearly the case here, though it is offset by it’s isolation in the landscape in Christian publishing.

My favorite chapter, Chapter 8’s “The Dangers of Discernment”, is a wise anticipation of the abuses of testing all things. Every discipline suffers from under use. In American culture, under use of discernment is the spirit of the times. However, those pockets of hyper-vigilance have historically bred the disdain for doctrine that is so popular today. Challies lists several kinds of abuses in discernment that pain me to agree. For my money, I’d like to see future printings use a larger font for this entry.

This book, short as it was, probably could have been a bit shorter. At several points throughout the book I wasn’t convinced that subsequent points were distinct enough to warrant elaboration. The final chapter, an exercise in practicing discernment, went counter to the simplicity of the book by rolling through seventeen steps.

Challies’ book makes a good tool for ministering to fellow believers who need to be introduced to discernment. Where I see this book being most useful is for a particular Christian demographic: mainline evangelicals who have not learned to be critical thinkers. Many of these Christians do not read outside of popular Christian literature if they read at all, they consider theology proper inaccessible and even divisive, and they tend to value the unity of the visible church above truth or being “correct”. Challies can be helpful in these cases because it is not heavy handed and yet it makes a convincing case.

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For those of you who have not already read this when it was originally posted over at irishcalvinist.com, here’s my recent review of “(Re)Thinking Worldview” by J. Mark Bertrand. (It was a real kick to see the review noted at Bertrand’s website, definitely a blogo-history moment for me!)

rethinkingcovers.jpg(Re)Thinking Worldview is a fun read that will challenge your thinking at its deepest level while barely breaking a sweat. J. Mark Bertrand is a bit wordy at many point, my only complaint, but the investment turn out to be worthwhile every time.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. One, Bertrand finds it easy to be heady without being intimidating. On the surface, the subject of the book seems intimidating. The subject (Christian worldview and its implications) is one with which every Christian needs to be familiar, and Bertrand does well to make it accessible to most readers.

Two, only the first third of the book is actually spent defining worldview. The rest of the book is devoted to the ethical implications of our worldview as Christians. I really enjoyed Bertrand’s foray into the Christian’s view of art. He manages to embrace the post-modern emphasis on storytelling over dogmatics while maintaining the Christian’s responsibility to communicate truth.

Further, I greatly appreciate the way Bertrand shows the reader what it means to be an active consumer of information rather than passive. It makes all the difference in the world when the believer is deciding what it means to simply read a book or watch a movie. It helped me to cement some ideas I’d had about the Christian’s view and use of art, and took me a few steps further.

As the subtitle reflects, this is a book about thinking, living, and speaking. Worldview is an exciting subject to me, as a subject that covers all of these elements. I was encouraged to read an author who shares the same kind of passion for these important subject. “(Re)Thinking Worldview” is a great introduction to Christian worldview, sure to get newcomers excited as well. More than that, as the subtitle reflects, it is a book about thinking, living, and speaking as well. Believers would do well do allow Bertrand to instruct them.

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I love Francis Schaeffer. For my money, there is no one better to express deep thoughts about the Christian worldview, fully and briefly. Reading Schaeffer is like savoring a good meal. I plan to read a lot more of him.

First of all, cool cover. Maybe the best ever.

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More than that, “Christian Manifesto” looks at the theological basis for government and examines the Christian’s responsibility toward government that is failing its responsibility to uphold justice. The first fifty pages or so are classic Schaeffer. Biblical philosophy is brought to bear on the origin of government; justice exists outside of law, and so governments are liable to rule on the basis of what is right. Law, on the contrary, does not determine what is right, it only upholds it. Loved it.

Still, where I was excited and challenged by the opening chapters, I lost interest in the last two-thirds. There Schaeffer argues that Christians have the duty to resist unjust or immoral governments. I just didn’t buy into public protest as civil disobedience in the US. Too little is said to establish what exactly demands resistance and how far to go. Abortion was the case-in-point, and the book didn’t reach much beyond that. Really, I was hoping that the book would shape my thinking of how Christians should participate in politics, but was left wanting.

At the same time, “Christian Manifesto” is worth the read because Schaeffer still provides a great deal of food for thought in just around 140 pages. Though the book is full of legal citations from the early 1980’s, Schaeffer was ahead of his time in anticipating the post-modern worldview that we know so well today.

His ideas are always challenging, and even where you disagree you will find your worldview sharpened.

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I’ve recently finished one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in quite some time. Mark Driscoll’s “Confessions of a Reformission Rev.”is that book. Quite a lot has been said about Driscoll over the last year or so. He is the infamous “cussing pastor” mentioned in the popular and controversial “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. He is closely linked with Doug Padgitt and Brian McLaren as he worked with them earlier in his life before splitting with them over their theological drift. My guess is that Driscoll is one man who many think they know without having heard him speak for himself.

For this reason alone, I decided I needed to find out what he was about: everything I have come into contact with that has to do with him has been compelling, for better or for worse. Say what you want about him, he is never boring, and more than that, his influence is on the rise.

So I read the book. It did not disappoint. I’m reading “The Radical Reformission” right now, but that will have to wait. My reaction was both strong and mixed. Let me explain:

  1. Mark is, I believe, unnecessarily crass… a lot. He does not cuss in the book, but admits that he has struggled with swearing in the past. At the same time he is known for crossing comfort barriers in his preaching. In his book the words are not the issue so much as the phrases. You could call is crass, you could call it coarse, or you could call it frank. To his thinking it is a part of identifying with culture. You may disagree. At times I did.
  2. Mark calls the teachings of Padgitt and McLaren as heretical, yet insists on calling them friends. Go figure.
  3. Mark has a different idea of the church’s purpose than I do. He rejects the attraction-heavy, market-driven approach of Willow Creek, but he does believe that the church must market itself to unbelievers to a lesser degree. He remarks that his church is more for those unsaved people they are trying to reach than for the ones already there. He calls this being “missional.” Many people have now hijacked this term to justify becoming worldly in the name of evangelism. For Mark, being “missional” means having a singular drive to go into culture and see people saved. This is a right pursuit, but I believe that the first purpose is for the equipping of Christians for the work of service (Eph 4:11-13), under which evangelism falls.
  4. Mark goes a little to far in my opinion in accommodating to culture. This is a very touchy issue. He rightly observes that most Christians do not want to accommodate to culture at all; most want to drag converts into their own culture. When living IN the world, there is always the risk of becoming OF the world (1 Cor 5:10, James 4:4). I think Mark crosses this line a bit. I am reading “The Radical Reformission” right now, which addresses this question, so I am withholding judgment for now.
  5. Mark asks us to be more considerate of the cultures of the unsaved (in his case, the unchurched, ultra-liberal, punk rock culture of Seattle) while he mocks other subcultures. He picks on the ultra-conservative a lot. He unintentionally implies that the legalists are less deserving of patience than the heavily tattooed, pot-smoking crowd.

One the other hand:

  1. Mark convinced me that I do not truly love the unsaved like I should. He commended me for loving the people in my church but criticized me for not caring about my neighbor. I would classify this as a life-changing conclusion.
  2. Mark pushed me to re-evaluate the Church’s obligation to it’s community. This conclusion mirrors my personal reflections and extends them to the Church as a whole. He paints churches with too broad brush strokes, but he sums up the basic types of churches relative to their views on evangelism.
  3. Mark helped me rethink my ideas about how to contextualize the gospel to different subcultures. I would say that I have understood that context is important to the gospel (see all of Acts 17) but that I may have been too legalistic in what I expected of converts. In other words, I have expected that they should become like me. Christians and churches can exist inside subcultures rather than having to conform to mine.
  4. Mark has challenged my thinking about what is Christian liberty and what is worldliness. Again, I would say that I have not been a legalist about what passes and Christian liberty, but I have probably been too narrow. He has drawn me to examine exactly why some of my hang-ups exist. Whether I agree with him or not, I understand it better for myself.

The guy who titled a chapter “Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want To Use it to Buy Bullets” is definitely worth a read. Love him or hate him, he’ll make you think.

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“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek is a surprisingly easy read given it’s size and attention to detail. Thumbing through the pages and scouting it’s contents, charts, and index, I expected to be hunkering down for some serious digestion. Despite this pleasant surprise, my overall reaction to this work was ambivalence.

On the one hand, Geisler and Turek serve up some incredible encouraging evidences for the Biblical account of creation. I loved boning up on my knowledge of the Laws of Thermodynamics, and the basic laws of logic, like the law of non-contradiction and the “excluded middle”. As a Christian, I find these things exciting because science does indeed point to a theistic God, and their defense of Scripture, the person of Christ, and especially the Resurrection are vital to my faith.

On the other hand, it is the application of these evidences by the authors that I can’t agree with. The use of evidences is great for the encouragement of Christians, but I find their belief that evidences (both scientific and philosophical) are crucial to evangelism to be contrary to passages like Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In the Forward the authors make several bold statements. Acknowledging that “Proof, of course, is no substitute for faith.” (p.7), they go on to say that evidences are instrumental in removing “intellectual obstacles” leaving them “naked to confront their real demons.” In the Preface, the authors jointly state: “We came to believe through evidences.”

In my opinion, Jesus closed the debate on this topic in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. When the rich man asks that Abraham send Lazarus back from his bosom to appear to his own family so that they would repent, Abraham says this: “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:29-31.)

This is very hurtful of the authors’ argument. Though they correctly note that the Resurrection is the lynchpin of the Christian faith, they err in thinking that proving the Resurrection is grounds for belief. the problem faced by the unbeliever is not lack of information or argument, but spiritual death (Eph 2:1-3).

In this, their Arminiansim is evident, particularly in the closing chapter. Failing to see the real obstacle, the solution provided is faulty.

As a side note, I also tire of recounting arguments in which such-and-such the noted expert in his field, was cornered into admitting that his argument was false but still wouldn’t cave. There’s definitely a lot of that here. These two authors are obviously tapped into the debate circuit, and though it is often noteworthy, it gets old.

All that aside, believe it or not, I actually liked this book. The book drives home the point that everyone has faith. the question is, what is the object of your faith. God is rational, His creation is rational, and when we start with the right premise we can reach the correct conclusions. Faith is not blind, it is supremely reasonable. All other beliefs other than Christianity lack sufficient support for their assumptions, Geisler and Turek do a good job of impressing this upon the reader. While I wholeheartedly disagree with the authors’ intent to use the book as a tool for evangelism, it still remains a great tool for encouragement as Christians learn that their faith is valid.

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Read ye! Read ye!

Oh fun! A  book review at Ikonograph!

I just finished “Spirit Empowered Preaching” by Arturo G. Azurdia III. I am a teacher at my church, and I have read a handful of books on the subject of preaching. This is probably my favorite. It does not give any advice about preaching mechanics, though there is certainly a place for that. As the title states, it largely focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching.

We dedicated Calvinists can definitely shy away from matters of the Spirit. We acknowledge the importance of the Spirit and understand it’s ministry, but we are also wary of the common abuses of the Spirit (or what is attributed to the Spirit, anyway).

Azurdia does a nice job of laying out the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the explosion of fruitful evangelistic preaching during the Apostolic period, especially after Pentecost. He shows the link to Jesus’ promise concerning the “greater works” in John 14, His ascension, and the coming of the Spirit. Particularly, he spends a lot of time stressing the design of God is paralleling the revelation of His Word and the Spirit’s provision of power.

I also enjoyed his contrast between the preachers Spirit-given fire to preach and see conversions, and his personal powerlessness to accomplish these goals. Azurdia acknowledges that this can be a source of tension and frustration for the pastor. he also note the responsibility of the congregation not to quench the Spirit; that the congregation itself can squelch the preachers desires.

Top to bottom an easy read, short, full of great quotes, and TOTALLY Scriptural. Pick it up if you are looking for a book to help add some zip to your preaching!

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