A look at The Gospel Transformation Bible

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The Bible market is a peculiar one, and not just because there’s such a thing as a Bible market. There are hundreds of different variations available today:

Metal-ensconced Bibles. Kids’ Bibles. Women’s Bibles. Bibles showing you how to be a prosperity preacher. Interlinear Bibles. Klingon Bibles… I’m pretty sure there may even be a scratch-n-sniff version coming out soon (if not, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, you’re welcome)!

We ESV fans have plenty to choose from, too. The ESV Study Bible is certainly the best known by far, but there are a few others. And now they’ve added a new (and much-hyped) version to the family: the Gospel Transformation Bible. In this study Bible, readers are shown how the gospel permeates the entire text of Scripture, beginning in the first verse of Genesis and culminating in Revelation with explanatory notes written by the likes of Scotty Smith (John), Jared Wilson (Jude), Justin Holcomb (Acts), Ray Ortlund (Proverbs), Jim Hamilton (Hosea), and dozens more.

There’s a lot that I could say about this, but let’s get down to the most important, and most obvious, question: What makes the Gospel Transformation Bible different from other study Bibles?

The answer really comes down to purpose. This is a study Bible intended to go after the hearts of readers, to aid in their worship of the Lord. While the notes included definitely explain the text, they’re less technical than those of the ESV Study Bible and geared toward application in light of the gospel. The goal of the authors is not to simply give readers more information, but to encourage heart transformation.

One of my favorite sections comes from Holcomb’s notes on Acts 7:1-73, Stephen’s speech before he is stoned to death. Commenting on this passage, he writes: [Read more...]

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax

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From my earliest days as a Christian, bad Bible teaching frustrated me, but it was all around me. A steady diet of “how-to” sermons and “what does this mean to me” Bible studies left me feeling twitchy. I wanted to “go deeper”—even though I had no idea what that meant.

Initially, I thought it was all about technique. So I started a Bible study where we more or less just focused on the Bible. We covered the basic questions pretty well: “What does the text say,” and “what does it mean?” But what I missed pretty consistently was “How am I to live in light of this?” The people in our group wound up getting their heads filled with knowledge, but not necessarily having any sort of heart transformation come as a result.

I continued to stumble along through our Bible study, slowly figuring out that going “deep” isn’t just about good information, nor is it about good application. It’s about helping people see Jesus clearly in all of Scripture, and how we might become more like him as a result. But you know what would have helped me get there a lot faster? Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax.

In this book, Trevin cuts to the heart of the “going deeper” dilemma by providing a succinct analysis of the problem at hand (our lack of depth and failure to see how everything centers on Jesus in the Scriptures), a powerful exposition of the gospel itself, followed by three practical chapters on what it looks like to show Christ in the Scriptures, from exposition to application to mission. [Read more...]

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

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Every so often, I read a book that leaves me feeling conflicted. Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke is one of those. Bethke, who shot into the spotlight two years ago when his video, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus,” exploded online. Within three days it was seen six million times. Within two weeks, that number had jumped to 16 million. Today it stands at 26 million views, with well over 60,000 comments.

It seems that Bethke struck a nerve, doesn’t it? The fervor surrounding the video—and the discussion and dissection across the evangelical landscape—led to the inevitable: this book. In Jesus > Religion, Bethke digs into the heart of his poem, the truth that Jesus is (as the subtitle says) “so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough.”

A millennial writing to millennials

When I say I’m conflicted about Jesus > Religion, it’s not because there’s not a good deal to like about it. Bethke captures well the very real problem of the gospel-less gospel, the moralistic therapeutic deism that permeates so much of evangelicalism, that assumes that faith is really all about being a better person, and God exists to bless me (but he certainly isn’t my master).

It doesn’t work. We all know it, and Bethke is the latest among many voices to say it:

The reason we aren’t fulfilled or satisfied by our version is Christianity is because it isn’t Christianity.

We have religion, but we don’t have Jesus
We have a good role model, but we don’t have God.
We have theological debates, but we don’t have the living Word.
We have good works, but we don’t have the source of good works.
We have love, but not the God who is love. (12)

Where Bethke is different from many of his contemporaries, though, is he isn’t ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than falling in with the disgruntled children of mid-80s evangelicalism, he advocates pursuing a deeper faith with the atonement of Jesus its the center. As he shares this vision, he couples it with his own story of faith—growing up poor, raised by a single mom, sleeping on a mattress in the hallway when his sister moved in, discovers his love for baseball, eventually girls and booze… and then he met Jesus for real, and it was like a light was switched on.

This is what more young people, the second- and third-generation Christians need to hear. That the gospel is bigger than their parents’ or grandparents’ examples (good or bad). That you shouldn’t judge Jesus based on the grumpy and hypocritical folks claiming his name. This is a good message, a needed message, and one that it’s helpful for millennials to hear from one of their peers.

And yet…

So why do I say I feel conflicted about Jesus > Religion? Well, aside from the forced distinction between “religion” and “Jesus” that the Bible doesn’t feel is necessary to make (something others have already addressed), here’s the thing: I’m not sure this was the right time for Bethke to write this book.

That might sound strange, but hear me out. In Jesus > Religion, Bethke and publisher Thomas Nelson have shrewdly capitalized on the cultural zeitgest, and are sharing a good message. But reading the book, it doesn’t feel like Bethke “owns” that message. He doesn’t really have a voice of his own. At least, not yet.

Tim Challies once described Bethke as a popularizer of ideas; I think this is a very astute observation. When you read this book, you can clearly see his influences. Keller, Driscoll and so many others scream through Bethke’s prose. This is a common problem among those of us who are younger or less experienced. There’s a natural tendency to ape our influences, intentionally or otherwise. Think about the young preacher who listens to a lot of sermons by John Piper. What’s he going to do in his first several sermons? He’s going to try to preach like Piper does. At least, so long as he perseveres, until he finds his own voice.

Reading Jesus > Religion is like that. It reads like a book by a young man only beginning to figure out who he is in relationship to the Lord and others. Only beginning to figure out what his voice really is. What really leaves me conflicted is that I know how many mistakes I made trying to figure out what my voice is (which I’m only just starting to find, really), and I can’t help but wonder what this book would have looked like had it been written by a Jefferson Bethke with a few more years under his belt.


Title: Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough
Author: Jefferson Bethke
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)

A look at the Spurgeon Commentary on Galatians

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One thing you cannot deny about Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century English Baptist preacher, is he was prolific. He wrote dozens of books, preached thousands of sermons, taught hundreds of students… but one thing he never did write: a commentary on Galatians. So if you wanted to find some thoughts of Spurgeon to share on a particular passage from this wonderful New Testament epistle, you’d have to scour through an intimidating pile of sermons and books.

So Logos Bible Software decided to do something about it, compiling material from Spurgeon’s preaching and writing into a handy commentary, Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. Some time ago, the gang at Logos sent me a copy and asked me to take a look. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. It’s helpfully organized. Organization is crucial to any book, but especially so in a commentary. You need to know Elliot Ritzema, the editor of this volume, has done an exceptional job of compiling the very best of Spurgeon’s teaching on Galatians, and organizing it by exposition, illustration and application, with the source material clearly listed at the end of each section.

This structure is very helpful for me. I can target my searching based on my needs. So if I want to check my interpretation against Spurgeon’s, it’s easy enough to do. Ditto if I’m just looking for an illustration point for a book or a sermon, or some guidance on how to apply the text.

2. It’s extremely quotable. This is a surprise to exactly no one who is even remotely familiar with Spurgeon’s work. Reading his work is always a delight, and this commentary is no exception. Here’s a favorite illustration that stuck with me on the need to continually preach the gospel:

Remember John Bunyan when he refused to give up preaching. They put him in prison and said to him, “Mr. Bunyan, you can come out of prison whenever you will promise to cease preaching the gospel.” He said, “If you let me out of prison today, I will preach again tomorrow, by the grace of God.” “Well,” they said, “then you must go back to prison.” He answered, “I will go back and stay there if need be till the moss grows on my eyelids, but I will never deny my Master.” This was the stuff of which the godly were made then. May the Lord make many of us to be like them—men and women who cannot and will not do that which is evil but will, in the name of God, stand to the right and the true, come what may!

And just for fun, here’s another example of some terrific application of Galatians 1:6-10:

If the life of the man should be blameless as the life of Christ, yet if he preaches to you other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, take no heed of him. He wears but the sheep’s clothing and is a wolf after all. Some will plead, “But such and such a man is so eloquent.” Ah! Brothers, may the day never come when your faith shall stand in the words of men. What is a ready orator, after all, that he should convince your hearts? Are there not ready orators caught any day for everything? Men speak, speak fluently, and speak well in the cause of evil, and there are some that can speak much more fluently and more eloquently for evil than any of our poor tongues are ever likely to do for the right. But words, words, words, flowers of rhetoric, oratory—are these the things that saved you? Are you so foolish that having begun in the Spirit by being convinced of your sins, having begun by being led simply to Christ and putting your trust in Him, are you now to be led astray by these poetic utterances and flowery periods of men? God forbid! Let nothing of this kind beguile you.

There are more examples than this, but I think you get the point.

3. It’s stood the test of time. The thing with older material (even in new packaging), is when it’s more than a century old, you know it’s going to be worth reading (even if you disagree). There’s a richness to Spurgeon’s writing that is sorely lacking from many of today’s teachers and preachers (even then best of them), so reading through this commentary has been a treat.

All this to say, I would, without hesitation, recommend Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. This is a very, very good resource, and one that will surely be a terrific addition to any Logos user’s library.

Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan

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In the whole “radical” Christianity discussion, there’s an elephant in the room. We know the goofy, “it’s a wonderful life” style of faith doesn’t work. We’re stressing ourselves out chasing the American dream, but we’re not really sure how to change it. So we hear the call to radical obedience, to take big risks in following the Lord, and our hearts resonate, but we’re not sure where to go with it. So some of us find ourselves back on the proverbial treadmill, but instead of chasing the American dream, we’re chasing after attempts to be radical “enough.”

But that doesn’t work either. And so we’re stuck with the pachyderm eating all our peanuts. We need to know, “What do I actually do with this?”

Owen Strachan wants to give readers a bit of encouragement—being a sold-out follower of Christ is not going to be easy, but it might look pretty ordinary. This is the message at the heart of his new book, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.

What Strachan presents in this book is a compelling and realistic vision of following Christ in the everyday. Boldly following Jesus doesn’t mean you have to sell all your possessions and move to the mission field. But it does mean living out your faith unashamedly at work, at school, as a husband, a wife or a child—in short, it means being faithful to Jesus, even when it’s inconvenient. [Read more...]

Does God Listen to Rap? by Curtis Allen

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I’m not a fan of rap music. I’ve never had a particular moral objection to it; it’s just that, outside of a song here and there, it really doesn’t appeal to me all that much. So it’s been fascinating for me to learn some Christian folks have got their britches in a bunch over whether or not rap is inherently immoral. Honestly, I’d never given it much thought beyond “I don’t really dig it.” Maybe you’re the same way.

I’m glad, though, not everyone’s like me when it comes to thinking carefully about rap music. Curtis Allen, a pastor at Solid Rock Church, Prince Georges County, Maryland (who also raps under the monikers of Voice and Curt Kennedy), wants us to think deeply about rap music—to think about it theologically and philosophically. He shows us how in his new book from Cruciform Press, Does God Listen to Rap?: Christians and the World’s Most Controversial Music.

Personal stakes and submission to the Lord

To say Allen’s got skin in the game is an understatement. Not only is he a rapper, but he’s the first one to have been invited to rap at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 2006—an event that revealed to him how serious a debate was raging over Christian rap. His performance was immediately picked apart online, his lyrics dissected, and his salvation questioned. And although he spent a great deal of time defending rap in song, online and in the media, he eventually found his own answers were shallow.

I realized I needed something a little deeper to hold onto. I could relate to what the critics were saying. I understood how you could take the position that rap can’t glorify God.… I understood where rap came from and why so much secular rap is what it is. I knew all about rap’s entanglements with sin and rebellion. I’m from that. I get it. But I really wanted to know how rap—or any music, for that matter—can glorify God. Realizing my position was actually biblificial (biblically superficial), I decided to start from scratch.… Rap’s critics make a strong case that most of its cultural origins and connections are far from godly, and I needed to see what those criticisms really mean for this art form I love so much.

Allen shows a great deal of humility in his desire to “start from scratch” when addressing rap, something I suspect few of us would have. As I wrote above, I’d never gone past thinking about preference. Developing a biblical view on something like rap music—or music in general—that takes guts. It takes courage to put your convictions on the table and say, “If the Bible genuinely says this is wrong—either in precept or principle—then I must obey.”

So what did his examination find? How much guidance does the Bible offer when addressing a subject like rap music? A great deal more than you’d expect.

Learning to think biblically about music

To show readers what Scripture says, Allen takes us through a number of what he calls theomethodosophical exercises. “This is a method that starts with and remains grounded in good theology but throws in some basic logic and philosophy where needed,” he writes. “It’s not too different from what somebody else might call common-sense speculation.” [Read more...]

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

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Pastoral ministry is a strange animal. For many pastors, it’s good work—important work—but it’s easy to become discouraged. The burden seems too great and they’re ready to throw in the towel. Then there are pastors who seem to have it all together. They might’ve published a book or two that have gotten some attention, have a generous salary, research assistants, support staff and/or conference speaking gigs… and yet on the inside, they’re being crushed by the weight of their responsibilities and (real or perceived) fame.

Interestingly, whether they’re on one extreme or the other, many pastors share the same problem: they may be seeking their justification in something other the work of Christ.

“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one,” writes Jared C. Wilson in The Pastor’s Justification. “We’re a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles…denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something [all] have in common … a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel” (17).

It’s this “antidote” that The Pastor’s Justification is really all about, covered in two parts: “The Pastor’s Heart,” an exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-11, and “The Pastor’s Glory,” an examination of the five solas of the Reformation.

Solving pastoral problems starts with the pastor’s character

One thing should be abundantly clear reading this book: this isn’t another “how to be a better pastor” book. Wilson is far less concerned about techniques and best practices than he is about the heart of the pastor. And he wants pastors to recognize something critical they may too often forget and something rarely talked about in leadership conferences:

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem” (29). When a pastor sees people as problems to be solved, or the congregation he’s leading as being less appealing than the one he imagines leading in his daydreams, or he’s slipped away from shepherding to domineering… the problem lies with the pastor’s heart, not with the people. Which is really just another way of saying it’s all about the pastor’s character.

This is the reason Wilson spends so much time on the pastor’s heart. If he just said, “Here’s how you deal with situation ABC,” it wouldn’t be even remotely helpful if the pastor’s a train wreck. [Read more...]

A brief look at The Select Works of D.A. Carson (7 vols.)

If you’re a regular reader, you know one of the theologians I respect most (and quote most frequently) is D.A. Carson. Carson, the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition, is among the best theological minds of the last 30 years, writing or editing more than 60 books covering a wide range of subjects, sometimes exposing our exegetical fallacies and other times critiquing shifts within the church and the larger culture.

Recently, the folks at Logos Bible Software gave me a chance to look at the seven-volume collection, The Select Works of D.A. Carson. This collection contains some of the best set contains some of the best of Carson’s diverse body of work, including:

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A couple of things you can always be certain of when reading Carson are his fidelity to the text and his snippy wit. Whether he’s talking about the proper use of tone in pronouncing biblical Greek:

It is very difficult for modern English speakers to pronounce Greek accents in terms of musical pitch. To be sure, we use pitch in English; but it is used idiosyncratically, changing somewhat from speaker to speaker, and according to the shade of meaning intended. We distinguish, for instance, the emphatic ‘Yés!’, the open but questioning ‘Yè-és?’, and the doubtful and perhaps ironic ‘Yé-ès’. In Greek of the period before the New Testament, however, the tonal system was a fixed part of the language and helped to establish the essential meaning, just as varied pitch helps to establish meaning in Chinese. Many grammarians repeat the story of the actor Hegelochus who, when quoting a line from Euripides ending in γαλήνʼ ὁρῶ (‘I see a calm’), pronounced a circumflex accent instead of the acute, and brought the house down: γαλῆν ὁρῶ means ‘I see a weasel’. (Greek Accents, 18)

or preparing to trounce various arguments in the KJV only debate:

In what follows I shall not argue that the vociferous defenders of the [Textus Receptus] are knaves or fools. I shall seek to demonstrate, rather, that their interpretation of the evidence is mistaken. Moreover I shall point out logical fallacies in their exposition and the alarming way in which they cite arguments in their own favor without examining those arguments. Their presuppositions in favor of the TR have made most of them careless about determining the truth of many of their oft-repeated contentions, with the result that not only their interpretation of the facts is incorrect, but also their alleged “facts” are far too often simply untrue.

. (The King James Version Debate, 58)

or confronting our own sometimes unwitting hypocrisy in the area of self-denial:

We must not stand on our rights. As long as defending our rights remains the lodestar that orders our priorities, we cannot follow the way of the cross.

This sort of self-denial is easy enough to admire in other believers. One can formulate all sorts of interesting theological lessons deriving from Paul’s treatment of what to do about meat that has been offered to idols. But the power of this position of principle becomes obvious only when we are called upon to abandon our rights. (The Cross and Christian Ministry130)

I know many of these examples are a bit on the “think-y” side, but I hope you see in even these short excerpts Carson’s desire to clearly communicate the truth in a meaningful way—even when that truth is about the nature of the text itself!

Although he’s clearly an academic, his work isn’t meant simply for those who reside in the ivory towers of academia. It’s meant to challenge, encourage and inspire those of us who find ourselves wallowing in the muck of the nastier bits of life and ministry. He approaches the academic with a pastoral heart, which is something quite unusual.

Which brings us back to The Select Works of D.A. Carson. Logos has compiled an excellent collection in this resource; it’s one that is sure to be a wonderful blessing to pastors and academics alike and one I’m very grateful to have in my theological toolkit. Check it out or consider the individual titles, won’t you?

Five Points by John Piper

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What’s the stereotype of the Calvinist? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll probably hear something like this: he’s a grumpy, joyless, theological nitpick who obsesses over an acronym and secretly (or maybe not so secretly) relishes the thought of people spending eternity in Hell.

But should this be the case?

Should the so-called doctrines of grace really lead to a lack of grace among God’s people?

John Piper certainly doesn’t believe so. Instead, he firmly believes that our doctrine should bring us joy. So, with that in mind, he’s penned this short book, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace. In ten easy-to-read chapters, Piper sets TULIP—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints—in its historical context, offers a brief biblical survey for each, as well as the personal and historical testimonies of many faithful men of God who truly did believe that these truths are essential to our faith.

Piper’s goal is less about defending the five points of Calvinism for the sake of defending Calvinism as it is helping readers better see God—not just for the sake of knowing what He is like, but enjoying Him. “[T]o enjoy him we must know him. Seeing is savoring,” Piper writes. “If he remains a blurry, vague fog, we may be intrigued for a season. But we will not be stunned with joy, as when the fog clears and you find yourself on the brink of some vast precipice.” (8)

What’s most helpful in the book is, I believe, Piper’s honesty about his own view of the five points. One can’t help but come away from the book thinking Piper isn’t as much a fan of the modern construct of TULIP as he is the realities they point to:

  • He sees the implications of the doctrine of total depravity—of man’s open and continual rebellion against his Creator—and it causes him to wonder at the mercy of God.
  • He sees the necessity of understanding exactly for whom Christ died, but not so he can rejoice in the fate of those who die apart from Christ, but because the definitive nature of the cross should cause us to rejoice and to realize that Christ’s sheep are far more numerous than we might be tempted to believe.
  • He sees the unconditional nature of election as being a wonderful beacon of hope, for if salvation depended on anything but God loving us simply because He loves us, we’d be doomed.

Piper’s point again and again is simple: when we see the five points rightly, they should cause us to give thanks for the wondrous grace of God.

If we want to go deeper in our experience of God’s grace this is an ocean of love for us to enjoy. God does not mean for the bride of his Son to only feel loved with general, world-embracing love. He means for her to feel ravished with the specificity of his affection that he set on her before the world existed. He means for us to feel a focused: “I chose you. And I sent my Son to die to have you.” (52)

Not too long ago, I was roped into an online conversation about the angry perception of Calvinists and the problem of TULIP. One gentleman pointed out that he sees a consistent problem with TULIP—that it leads not to joy but to condemning anger. When reading this book, I had this person in mind. Is this the kind of book I’d give to this man? Did it perpetuate the stereotype he believes is more or less true of many who hold to the five points—is this yet another “angry Calvinist” manifesto?

Although he doesn’t shy away from calling into question certain interpretations of Scripture’s teaching, Piper’s language is far from combative. Instead, there’s more of an earnest sense of wonder that permeates the book’s pages. Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people. Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.


Title: Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Christian Focus (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

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Christendom is dead. Now let’s set aside our differences and get to work telling people about Jesus.

If you wanted to sum up Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, in a sentence, that’d be the way to do it. And make no mistake, pronouncing Christendom, the age of cultural Christianity, dead is no overstatement, even if declaring the American church dead is. A quick survey of the cultural landscape in America (and the West in general) shows how much has changed, and it’s definitely not in favor of Christianity. So what are Christians to do? Are we to retreat and wait for Jesus to return? Are we to give up our distinguishing characteristics and blend into the culture?

We do not need more retreat, Driscoll says. We need resurgence:

This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, “the laborers are few”—in part because the prophets of doom are many.… This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.

A strong cultural critique

There is much to appreciate about A Call to Resurgence, starting with its intent. Driscoll’s greatest strength has always been his appraisal of the cultural climate in North America, and this is no less true in the case of this book, which is why chapter two shines. Here Driscoll offers a succinct description of many of the contributing factors to the death of Christendom—pornography, the acceptance of homosexuality, bad dads, a lack of generosity, intolerant “tolerance,” and the resurgence of paganism in its many forms.

I believe it’s no overstatement to say this is the book’s standout chapter, especially his breakdown of the “new paganism,” which owes a massive debt to Peter Jones’ excellent book, One or Two. Driscoll explains well its roots as described in Romans 1:18-32, and its various expressions, from atheistic one-ism (the idea of a pure naturalism) to pale imitations of Christianity (notably moralistic therapeutic deism).

A confused message on the essentials

While Driscoll is often insightful in identifying cultural issues, his assessment of biblical ones is too often simplistic. This is especially clear when he describes the various “tribes” within evangelicalism. These, he says, are united by their common agreement on the following black-and-white issues: [Read more...]

Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

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Millennials are leaving the church in droves (or so some say)—they’re tired of the passionless, go-through-the-motions, infotainment form of Christianity that promises a good time but doesn’t change the world.

So how do you get them to stay?

Caleb Breakey offers Millennials a compelling reason in Called to Stay: if you’re fed up with playing church, if you want to be part of a church moving toward love, unity and a deep longing for Jesus, you need to be part of the solution to fixing it.

He calls this infiltration.

Infiltration and intentional discipleship

“Infiltration is about using your power and influence to the fullest inside the church,” he writes. “If we want to make a difference in this world, we must become Infiltrators of our churches” (25-27).

What Breakey calls infiltrating is simply a call to intentionality in your faith—essentially he’s saying if you say you’re a Christian, be in it to win it. Be engaged in your church, be involved in the lives of others. Actually live out that whole “spurring one another to love and good deed” thing.

Breakey repeatedly gets this exactly right—if we want to see people grow in their faith, if we see our local churches struggling, we need to invest ourselves there. Don’t go searching for the perfect church, because it’s not out there (and you’ll ruin it if you find it). This is definitely a message all believers—young or old—need to hear, again and again.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is Breakey’s understanding of the need for empathy. “If we are ever to sharpen each other as one sword sharpens another, we need to be willing to step into the minds of others, think as they do, and then use what we’ve learned to push both them and ourselves to deeper commitment to Jesus” (140). [Read more...]

To Live is Christ to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler

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I remember my first thought after Jesus saved me: Now what?

I’d been a Christian for all of 30 seconds and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay where I was, which is a good thing because I was a total mess (and not just in terms of the way I’d been living to that point).

Some assume the Christian faith is a one and done experience—Jesus saves you, then you coast through life on a get-out-of-hell free card, as though nothing you do matters from that moment forward. But the Bible says just the opposite: When you look at a letter like Philippians, you see an eager expectation for believers to grow and mature. To become more than they are at the moment of salvation.

“God wants us to grow from being infants in Christ to being mature in Christ,” writes Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church and author (with Jared Wilson) of To Live is Christ to Die is Gain (11). Based on his teaching series on the book of Philippians, Chandler challenges readers see the picture of Christian maturity Paul paints and pursue it with vigor.

Growth is about character

If you had to summarize this book with one word it’s this: character. Chandler stresses this point over and over again, explicitly and implicitly, thought out its pages. True growth only happens as our character is conformed to Christ. This is why we see the qualifications of leaders focused not on abilities, but on character. Who you are and what you’re like matters far more than what you can do. Chandler summarizes it well, “If the gospel is true, your life should look like it’s true” (51). And this all starts with your heart. [Read more...]

Broken Vows by John Greco

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If you want to kill a conversation, bring up divorce. Even though our culture treats it as no big deal, divorce is weighty. Something breaks within us when we hear that a friend or family member’s marriage is ending. And with good reason: Instinctively, we know divorce “shouldn’t” happen. It’s not remotely what God designed for marriage.

But, as John Greco puts it in his new book, Broken Vows, “If marriage is two people becoming one flesh, as the Bible says, then divorce is like that flesh being torn in two without anesthetic.”

This was certainly Greco’s experience, when he learned his wife wanted a divorce and had no interest in pursuing counselling. Not only did her decision end their marriage, it ended his career—the church he was called to pastor rescinded the call and he was left broke, unemployed, and bearing the mark of the “scarlet D” (to borrow a phrase).

And yet, despite all the hardship he experienced, despite all the pain and emotional anguish he suffered, he can look back and say, God was good in this. And this is what he wants readers to learn. He wants us all to see “a gospel-centered life learns to recognize everything—even seemingly bad things—as being the very best from the hand of a loving God and Father.”

In all honesty, this is a difficult book to review. I’ve never been divorced, nor do I plan to be, Lord willing. But I am a child of divorce and I’ve seen multiple family members divorce. And friends, too. So it’s hard to say, “this particular point really spoke to me and here’s how I’m applying it.” I’m just not in that place.

Despite the book not speaking to my specific experiences, there are still a couple of important things I’ve been able to glean from the book:

First, this book will be extremely beneficial for those counselling divorced believers. If you’re a lay counsellor, pastor, small group leader or if you’ve got friends, you’re going to have to deal with divorce sooner or later. And what divorced men and women in our churches in our congregations is not guilt and shame over having their marriages end; they need love and support from people who care about them.

Greco candidly shares his experience of finding hope and healing on the other side of divorce, and manages describe the wrongs done to him without painting himself as the innocent victim. This is especially helpful because this is the kind of mindset we need to help others model, not just those who are divorced, but all of us—we must clearly acknowledge the sins committed against us, but we must be honest about our own sins, as well. Greco’s example in this book will surely help others do likewise.

Second, this book reminded me why marriage is constantly under attack. Why? Because marriage is not only a wonderful gift from God, but it is meant to be a picture of the gospel. When a marriage is functioning as God intended, it’s a living illustration to all the world—it screams, “This is what our Savior does for His bride!” This is a wonderful and glorious thing. Witnessing a healthy marriage, where a wife is submitting to her husband and her husband is sacrificially loving her, says more about the gospel’s power than many a sermon.

But a broken marriage, a marriage where sin has torn apart what God has united, mars this reality. This isn’t to say that there aren’t biblical reasons to get divorced (see Matt 5:32), but when divorce occurs, it’s an ugly, painful thing. It subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) tells the world that maybe Christ isn’t sufficient after all.

Regardless of whether you’ve experienced divorce or not, Broken Vows will surely be a valuable addition to your bookshelf. For those who’ve experienced divorce, I pray that you’d see God’s work in you reflected in His work in its author. For those who haven’t, I pray it gives you a greater sense of compassion for those who have been divorced and allows you to better love and serve them to the glory of God.


Title: Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God
Author: John Greco
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press

One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian

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Tullian Tchividjian’s a troublemaker—but that’s not a bad thing.

He’s taken a lot of heat for the radical picture of grace he paints Jesus + Nothing = Everything and Glorious Ruin. He’s been accused of blurring the lines of justification (our position before God) and sanctification (the process of growing in holiness). It’s even been suggested that the kind of grace he preaches is the kind that leads to license…

Wherever you land on Tchividjian’s teaching, you can’t deny one thing: he is totally captivated by the grace of God, and he wants you to be, too. If that’s what you take away from his new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, then you’ll be in good shape because, clearly, we’ve got a problem getting a grip on grace.

Grace: the cure to performancism

Too many Christians are running themselves ragged trying to please God—as if our faith is primarily concerned with our behavior modification rather than the good news of what’s already been done for us. And so we work ourselves silly, seemingly in an attempt to pay God back for saving us (even if we don’t realize it). “We conclude that it was God’s blood, sweat, and tears that got us in, but it’s our blood, sweat, and tears that keep us in” (24). We burn ourselves out and then wonder why Christianity isn’t “working” for us.

This is what Tchividjian combats in One Way Love, the idol of performancism; he wants to kill that cruel mistress dead as he reminds readers again and again that, “grace is a gift, pure and simple. We might insist on try on to pay, but the balance has been settled (and our money’s no good!).” (29) [Read more...]