Archives For Book Reviews

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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