Archives For Book Reviews

In Crossway’s ongoing series “The Theologians on the Christian Life” authors aim to provide an accessible introduction to some of the great teachers on the Christian life. The challenge is present in the goal. If you have a great teacher then accessibility may present a problem. What’s more, many (great) teachers are very interesting people. Their lives fill up pages quickly.

This gets intensified further when we consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With a biography named Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy–you can see how the author would have his work cut out for him. In this case, I feel that Stephen Nichols has done a superb job at introducing us to the life and theology of such an intriguing and admirable guy as Bonhoeffer.

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We are thankful that the Bible addresses a wide variety of questions and issues. Throughout church history we have been able to have many important questions answered by the Scriptures. At the same time this comprehensive biblical coverage provides answers that occasionally make people uneasy. Often times these topics are referred to as “controversial issues.” Some people want to avoid talking about these things and others enjoy it. The former out of a distaste for controversy and the latter out of a craving for it. Still others find these topics important and aim to cut through the fog to show what the Bible teaches and why it is important for the church to think through.

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If you are a young pastor what do you do when you get the call that one of your church members has died? To whom do you turn? In most cases you don’t have the time to spend a few hours with a seasoned pastor for training and review in this area. You need help, right away.

This happened to me recently. After the shock I knew I had work to do, but I certainly was not polished in the care for the grieving nor the conducting of a funeral. A friend had previously ordered Brian Croft and Phil Newton’s helpful little book, Conducting Gospel-Centered Funerals. He gave me the book and simply said, “Here. I think this will help you this week.”

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Whenever you set out to teach a topic you have a myriad of challenges in front of you. What does the Bible say? What have other teachers written about this? How does it apply? When someone attempts to do this well, that is faithfully and accessibly, it is a daunting task—for most of us. Kevin DeYoung, however, seems to be a bit different. He’s able to tackle complex and urgent matters faithfully and accessibly.

You could argue that the most pressing issue for the church is to be clear on is the Bible. What we need today is to have confidence in the authority, clarity and sufficiency of God’s Word. Thankfully, DeYoung grabbed his pen and went to work.

In his new book Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, we have this pressing matter succinctly addressed. The book is short (a mere 146 pages) but it is not light nor unaccessible. And his is the beauty of it; a well-written, clear, helpful book on the Bible. DeYoung provides a systematic study, interacts with individual passages, works through implications, and shows how this doctrine has been historically regarded. In other words, he approaches the Bible from a systematic, exegetical, biblical, pastoral, and historical perspective of theology.

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When you read the Bible it is clear that two things are true: a) God is sovereign. b) Man is responsible for his actions. What becomes tricky is the harmonization of these twin truths. One person might say, “If God is sovereign then he cannot hold people responsible.” Another would say, “If man has responsibility to make the right decision, God cannot be sovereign.” Doubtless you have heard and even felt this tension.

The biblical category where this tension tends to get the most attention is the area of Evangelism. How does the truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility mesh together in terms of evangelism?

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I remember being asked to teach a Sunday School Class on Discipleship several years ago. I quickly found out that there are not a lot of good books out there on the topic. Thankfully things are changing!

One especially helpful book is Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel Centered Discipleship. I really like this book. In fact, a number of us at Emmaus went through this during the last quarter. Dodson excels at making theology very practical and application very theological.

A big takeaway from the book is the gospel-identity. If you are a Christian then you are called to be a disciple who makes disciples (Mt. 28.19–20). If you are not doing this then there is a problem. In pointing out the selfishness of a lack of discipleship Dodson serves us well by pointing readers back to the indicative of the Gospel and the active, indwelling, controlling power of the Holy Spirit. His chapter on reliance upon the Holy Spirit was very convicting and helpful. He recycles a lot of John Owen with a 21st Century accent. It’s gold.

I think most people would be pleasently surprised by this book. If you think Dodson is another young pastor trying to be hip and grow a megachurch then you’ll be encouraged to see that he is not about that at all. He is a pastor who is slugging it out in the trenches with the other guys, whether they drink fair-trade or Quick-Stop coffee. And if you think this is another book by a funny, hip guy that you can just breeze through, watch out—he’ll hit you up with theological nun-chucks, quoting Edwards, Luther, Calvin and Owen.

Finally, I like the book because it was derived organically from the local church. Here is a guy who had a burden to disciple so he did it. Then he wrote about how and what he did. I wish I had met Dodson before my Sunday School Class!

Pick up the book at Amazon or Westminster Books.

It has always interested me to watch a professional baseball team warm up on the field. As I look around I see the players in their prime doing things that young boys only can imagine. But there is someone else there if you look close enough. There are the coaches and the seasoned veterans standing nearby. Whether leaning on the batting cages or standing behind the pitcher in the bullpen these coaches are present. They are invaluable to the success of these young players. They teach and tweak. They remind and reshape. They reset fundamentals and they explain things in a nuanced, personal way. Talk to a ball player and they’ll tell you, “These guys are priceless!”

Christian men need the same type of help. Whether you are fouling the ball off your foot, doubling in the gap, or in a slump, you need a spiritual coach to come alongside of you. You (we) need someone to periodically remind us of the fundamentals and explain things in a fresh way. These relationships often come via the local church but they also come via the universal church in the form of writers. Tim Witmer has been one of those guys for me and our church. I don’t know Tim but he has had a profound impact on the shape and life of Emmaus Bible Church.

In his book Shepherd Leader Witmer lays out a biblical plan for pastoral ministry. In my view it is the first thing pastors and aspiring pastors need to read (my review here).

As a follow-up Witmer has written Shepherd Leader in the Home. This book is to help men (not exclusively elders) to be the leaders they are called to be in their homes. In our church about 20 of us have just finished reading and discussing this book together. The feedback I got from the guys was that it was tremendously practical. There was a simple application of biblical truth. Also, there was many memorable nuanced approaches to leading your family. Like the coach who tells stories Witmer opens up the curtain to let us into his world. It’s great.

The basic overlay is:

The Shepherd Knows his Family: In order to lead and love your family you need to know them. Get to work; learn who you love and lead.

The Shepherd Leads his Family: You have got to proactively (not passively) lead your wife and children.

The Shepherd Provides for his Family: Get to work, literally. We have to provide spiritually and materially.

The Shepherd Protects his Family: The leaders cherishes his wife and so he protects his marriage and his children. (This is a very practical and somewhat in your face chapter dealing with sin and temptation. Very good stuff.)

As I asked the guys this morning what they give it for a rating, the consensus was 4.5 / 5 stars. I’d have to agree.

You can purchase Shepherd Leader in the Home via Amazon or Westminster.

*Note: if you make purchases at Amazon, consider entering their site through this blog. It’s kind of like a tip that costs you nothing. (I get a small amount of $ for such Amazon purchases) Thanks!

Like so many readers I am drawn to biographies. I recently picked up a biography on Teddy Roosevelt because I have been intrigued by his almost mythical status in American folklore. Upon seeing Lewis L. Gould’s shorter (100 page) biography on Roosevelt I knew I could not pass it up.

The book is a brisk walk through cavernous museum that is Roosevelt’s life. In this sense it serves to whet your appetite for more while providing a solid introduction to the man who seemed almost larger than life.

It is hard to imagine Roosevelt standing on the public stage in our day. His personality and celebrity status would be magnified even greater than it was in the early 1900′s. Consider the images of him riding with the cowboys in the Midwest or training for the Spanish-American War with his rough-riders! Imagine his opposition to Presidents Taft and Wilson in the day of social media? But Roosevelt was a man for his time and a man for the nation. His shrewdness matched with his celebrity status to keep him in the national spotlight and impact change in our quickly developing industrial country.

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Whenever you have landmark historical events you are tempted to zip past the guy who was intimately involved with the event in favor of the event itself. This was my tendency when I thought about how the slave trade ended in the early 19th Century. I knew the general story of how God used William Wilberforce, the British Government and a former slave ship captain turned hymn-writer, John Newton, to bring about the end of this ghastly practice.

Recently however, I was drawn to pick up the 2007 biography of Wilberforce. To be honest, the “drawing” was the fact that it was a couple of bucks on Kindle and I wanted to read a biography. In keeping with my honesty here: I was a bit overmatched. The story and the presentation arrested me.

The biographer, Eric Metaxes nailed it. He writes in such a fluid, engaging, and witty way you can’t help but be wrapped in. What’s more, he doesn’t get in the way. Like a good referee (or biographer) he stays out of the way and lets the game (story) develop.

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Some books are too long and say too little. Other books seem too brief but still say quite a bit. Tim Keller’s book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness falls into this latter category.

The book is small enough to read over your lunch hour but will need to be digested over a lifetime. Keller walks uses 1 Corinthians as lenses to understanding how the gospel had gripped and transformed the Apostle Paul. The result: gospel humility. Or, in other words: self-forgetfulness.

The book is more like a sermon that gets after you. With probing application that pulls the gospel-train into town, Keller helps show pride and chase it away with gospel.

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Sarcasm is a sword that when wielded deftly can get to hard to reach places in the storehouse of our pride. Some people grab the sword of sarcasm and swing it carelessly, resulting in others getting hurt and embarrassed. Others grab the sword like a literary knight going to work with surgical precision and we are all the better for it.

Carl Trueman is of the latter category. Trueman is deep thinker, adroit writer, and a pastoral theologian. In his book Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone, Trueman looks critically at the landscape of evangelicalism and appeals for Christians to do the same. Along the way he narrates his observations and conclusions in short, arresting, essays.

If you have not read any of Trueman, either on his blog or in his other books, this would be a terrific introduction into his writing. There is a certain style with which he writes that is simultaneously humorous, painful, prophetic, and pastoral. As a guy who is Reformed, (relatively) young, and pastor who has a blog–I am a prime candidate to be greatly offended by Trueman. But I’m not. I’m very thankful for him. His words were particularly helpful for me over my Christmas vacation.

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There are some people that we are just drawn to. They may be interesting, admirable, strange, or a host of other options. We watch them. We listen to them.

Then there are others who we follow. They may or may not be interesting but they are definitely leaders. The compass of their life is calibrated by a compelling vision. We line up behind them and follow.

Dr. Albert Mohler is one of these guys for me. Though I did not attend Southern Seminary I have nonetheless been digesting everything I can get my eyes and ears on from him. As you might imagine, I was excited to hear of his new book, but doubly excited due to the subject he was to tackle: leadership. Dr. Mohler’s testimony of leadership at Southern Seminary and implementation of change and progress are well-documented. The story harkens us to come and hear from him, to learn leadership from this leader.

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Imagine a college football coach calling a team meeting after his players receives accolades from the media and fans for their on the field performance. Instead of pats on the backs he sits them down and gets serious, pointing out a couple of troubling trends with their play. The team may feel good and even look good to fans, but to the discerning eye there are major omissions that bring concern.

In The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung is like that coach (or at least a team captain) on the gospel-centered team. He is pulling aside the squad, amid rounds of applause for its resurgent emphasis on gospel grace, and pointing out the danger of an underdeveloped theology and practice of holiness.

DeYoung writes: “The sky is not falling, and it won’t until Jesus falls from it first. But we don’t have to pretend everything else is wrong to recognize we don’t have everything right. There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.”

DeYoung is calling people back to the biblical concept and practice of holiness. This is an ambitious undertaking in and of itself, but what’s more, DeYoung sets out to do it clearly and concisely (in just 144 pages!). In spite of the challenge, I think he hits a home run. He unpacks the biblical doctrine of holiness and places it within the framework of God’s redemptive purposes. God is a holy God and he has saved his people to themselves be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
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I distinctly remember the first time I heard of John Owen. A friend gave me a copy of The Mortification of Sin. I had two reactions as I read it: first, it was as if the writer was from another planet, and second, I wanted to go to that planet.

What I mean by this is Owen’s writings are unapologetically dense. It is a tough go. For some people it is easier sledding than for others, but all would agree, by comparison to other writers, even Puritan writers, it is work to read Owen. At the same time it is so worth it! It is very good for your soul.

It seems as though Sinclair Ferguson was trying to help guys like me. Ferguson writes John Owen on the Christian Life as a guide into understanding and applying Owen’s writing. Ferguson is a pastor and he interacts with pastoral precision and care. He helps to acquaint you with this very valuable 17th Century English Puritan.

Ferguson provides a brief biography of Owen before moving into his Works. As you might imagine if you are familiar with Owen significant time is spent on the matters of regeneration, sanctification, and communion with God in prayer. There is more but that is really the first half of the book.

I would recommend the book for all Christians but think it to be particularly helpful for you if want to be introduced in a relatively remedial level to the Puritan or if you would like a guided tour of his thought from an expert. All can benefit.

The only copy I was able to find is the cloth-bound hard back from Banner of Truth. I really like this version and have it all marked up. Pick up a copy and get to know your new best (Puritan) friend.

John Owen on the Christian Life is available for a discounted price at Westminster Books

Good friends are hard to find. We agree with this right? Based on the scarcity and the value of our own good friends.

Even more rare are the good friends who consistently speak truth to you. You know what I’m talking about, one of those guys (or ladies) who will sip their coffee in between very encouraging and thoughtful reminders of the goodness of God to his people. Good, gospel friends have a knack for precision with the Bible.

I think Joe Thorn has made a lot of friends. In his book Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself  Thorn not only writes these things to us the readers but he invites us into the conversation he is having with himself. He models faithful application of the gospel.

The book is small (7″ x 5″ 144 pages) and the chapters are short (a page and a half or so) but the content is rich and immensely helpful. I have always enjoyed Joe’s blog and his ability to be brief without lacking substance. This book is the same way, Thorn is able to pack a lot into little container. Think of it like a daily Doppio of gospel.

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Book Review- A Gospel Primer

Erik Raymond —  December 21, 2011

Have you ever noticed that when you eat certain types of food, particularly spicy foods, that the scent from the food stays with you well after the meal? If you were to happen to exercise the next day all of those around you would be aware of your spicy culinary experience. This is the unfavorable sweat.

But, I have also learned to appreciate what I will call, “Gospel-Sweat.” This is a sweat that comes from people marinating in the goodness of the gospel. When you find people like this you want to keep them close. When you find books by people like this then you want to keep their books close. You want to learn from their thinking and experiences.

Milton Vincent appears to be one of these guys. In his short but powerful book A Gospel Primer Vincent models a faithfully engaged Christian who is aiming to be daily overcome by the glory of Christ in the gospel.

The largest chunk of the book is really just a bevy of implications of the gospel. Like a soldier with an infinite amount of shells Vincent just keeps firing gospel truth at you. This is so good because we are so forgetful. In these short (2-3 paragraph sections) we have a number of facts that are true because of what Christ has done for us. There are too many to name here but for example, we have: My Daily Need, Transformed by God’s Power, A Cure for Distrust, Freedom from Sin’s Power, Resting in Christ’s Righteousness, etc. It is great. What I love about this section, in addition to the truth captured in the paragraphs, is the truth in the Scripture as cited in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. The book is loaded with Bible. This is good.

The rest of the book is A Gospel Narrative. Vincent writes in the first person in such a way that shows a deep meditation and delight in the gospel. Its style is conducive to memorization and further meditation.

Finally, in the last section the author, himself a pastor, writes about is testimony of God’s goodness in making him to see and savor the goodness of God in the gospel. This is great stuff.

I can see many uses for this book. It is singular in purpose (helping us to live in light of the gospel) but it is wide in its scope. For example, it is good for a new Christian and for a reminder to a more seasoned believer. It’s good for one struggling in legalism or one prone to licentiousness. It is good for Dads, Moms, sons and daughters. It is for pastors and lay-people. It is for seminarians or nursery workers. If you are a Christian this book will help you. It has, is and no doubt will continue to help me. I cannot commend it highly enough.

A Gospel Primer is available at Westminster | Amazon.

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I would suspect the only thing more challenging than trying to read Jonathan Edwards is to write about him. This has not stopped people from taking up the challenge however. Jonathan Edwards is arguably the greatest mind America has ever produced. Consequently there is significant intrigue into his life and thought. Myself, I have read many books on the great pastor but my appetite is never satiated. I always want more. Whenever I hear of a new book on Edwards it seems to find its way to my Amazon wish list.

God’s Grand Design by Sean Michael Lucas was no different. I was eager to get my hands on this book because it endeavored to tackle the what Edwards believed and how he applied it. In other words, the theological vision of Edwards.

The book breaks into two easy sections: Redemption History and Redemption Applied.

Throughout the course of the book you will be guided carefully by a pastor-theologian who has lectured for many years on this very subject. This fact should not scare you off, instead, it should encourage you. The author takes a glacier and puts it in a tea cup. It is accessible, understandable, and simple. Lucas is a careful teacher, working hard to make difficult concepts clear. As an example, you have the whole business of religious affections. Edwards wrote this to think through and parse out was was truly wrought by God and what was spurious in the days of the Great Awakening. In this Lucas carefully guides you through the writing in light of history, other writers, and what Edwards himself wrote in other places. As someone who has enjoyed but not fully profited from Religious Affections, I was greatly aided here.

The two appendices are excellent. One serves as a reminder of the fact that Edwards was a normal guy (helpful). And the other is a comprehensive list and thoughts on helpful books related to Edwards.

I have read biographies that I wish had more of Edwards’ theological vision in it. This book by Lucas serves to fill that gap. I recommend it alongside of Marsden’s biography on Edwards (or the shorter one by the same author).

As I mentioned, I like Edwards a lot. Therefore it was not tough to get up for the book. At right about 200 pages it went too fast. I wanted it to keep going. I am not inclined to be liberal with the praise for authors but this was the best book I read in 2011. Even if you are not a huge Edwards guy (or girl) you will be greatly edified by the arrangement of and interaction with the theology of Edwards.

God’s Grand Design is available at Westminster | Amazon (Kindle Store also).

*Note: if you make purchases at Amazon, consider entering their site through this blog. It’s kind of like a tip that costs you nothing. (I get a small amount of $ for such Amazon purchases) Thanks!

One valuable tool that we as Christians have is the testimony of the saints who have gone before us. Their lives encourage and refresh us (and many times convict us too). This is why believers should make a priority of familiarizing themselves with faithful saints throughout church history.

At the same time, this is a bit of a daunting task. There are a lot of books written about a lot of people. Where do you start?

In this post I want to highlight some ‘entry-level’ biographies. There are definitely some more in-depth books written that are worth their weight in gold, but that is for another post. This post is for those of us wading into the pool of Christian biographies.

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“You are holding what is destined to be one of the worst-selling books of all time.” – Todd Friel

This is an ‘endorsement’ for a new book entitled The Sovereignty and Supremacy of King Jesus: Bowing to the Gracious Despot by Mike Abendroth. The endorser’s point is simple: people don’t like to be ruled because they want to rule. And therefore, they don’t like Jesus the king because they prefer Jesus their buddy. This of course, is nothing new.

Abendroth has the deck stacked against him a bit. This also helps support the need for such a book.

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In studying and teaching the Bible I am always on the lookout for good resources to help bridge the cultural, historical and theological gaps in my understanding. In my current study I am teaching through the Gospel According to Mark. There are a few references, in addition to commentaries, that have been very helpful in bridging these gaps and developing understanding.

Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament: Just like it sounds, this is a book that catalogs and works through every New Testament citation of the Old Testament.Editors D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale have worked for decades at this study and have compiled a terrific resource for students of the Bible.

In light of the scope of this work it is obviously a reference book and not for skimming. However, the sheer volume should not discourage you; it is accessible. If the passage you are studying is in the NT and it is quoting the OT, this book will help you. (Amazon | Kindle |Westminster Books)

A Harmony of the Gospels New American Standard Version: This book attempts to harmonize the four gospels. By in large it follows the traditional approach. Authors Thomas and Gundry provide a bevy of footnotes and commentary-like thoughts. This book is such an asset when you are trying to piece together the various angles by which the gospel authors provide detail.

Additionally, there are extremely helpful articles in the back about textual criticism. On their own they are worth the price of the book, but combined with the harmony it makes a great resource. (Amazon)

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: Alfred Edershiem was born in the early 19th century in Europe to Jewish parents. He was converted to Christianity as a young man. His book is a gold mine of Jewish culture.

He walks through the gospel narratives and, like a Jewish tour guide, points out details of and behind the life and ministry of Christ. (Amazon | Kindle ($2.99!)

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