Bound Together by Chris Brauns

boundtogethercover1The place of community in the Christian life seems increasingly complicated for those of us living in the West. We don’t seem to really get it. Some seem to live as though they can do life as “just me and Jesus;” that our actions impact no one but ourselves and community is a nice-to-have, rather than an essential.

Chris Brauns wants to change that. In Bound Together, he shows us how all we are inextricably connected to one another (whether we like it or not) and all that entails for good and bad.

Brauns’ demonstrates this using what he calls the principle of the rope—”the simple truth that our lives, choices, and actions are linked to the lives, choices and actions of other people” (25). Understanding this principle is central, he argues, to truly grasping not only the Christian faith, but all of human history.

Think about all the different ways we’re affected by the decisions of others. You can probably come up with a list of ten things before you finish reading this, whether significant or fairly innocuous. That’s the principle of the rope in practice.

Scripturally we see this most explicitly shown in two places: The fall of man and redemption in Christ.

If we weren’t tied to Adam—if we were fully autonomous—then we would not be under his curse. We would be as free to sin or not sin as he was. And yet our experience clearly demonstrates this isn’t the case. Instead, we see that we are equally as sinful as Adam; that we choose to sin because of who we are; when Adam fell, he pulled us down with him. [Read more...]

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado

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If you’re a parent, you know how hard it can be to find good books for children.

Kid’s books tend to swing too far into the simplistic or go so far over the reader’s heads that they lose interest. Balancing isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to write a story for little people on a big subject: the love of God.

In The Boy and the Ocean, Max Lucado offers a really sweet story of a mother and father describing the wondrousness of God’s love as they play in the ocean and climb mountains. Throughout the book, Lucado repeats this refrain:

God’s love is like the ocean… It’s always here. It’s always deep. It never ends. God’s love is special.

My middle daughter in particlar, Hannah, is quite fond of the book. She picked it up right away and asked to have it read to her daily for the better part of a week. The story is just right for a three-year-old’s comprehension level, so parents will be pleased with the book in that regard. And because Lucado writes with a distinctly poetic rhythm, our kids tend to be mesmerized when we read it.

Where the book really shines, though, is in the artwork. Illustrator T. Lively Fluharty’s art is stunning. We loved his work in The Barber Who Wanted to Pray and were thrilled to see it again in The Boy and the Ocean. Among our favorite spreads is the one that follows, where the boy sleeps “with the sound of the ocean in his ears”:

the-boy-and-the-ocean-spread

We love great art and Fluharty’s paintings alone make this book worth having in your family’s collection.

The story, like I said, is sweet—but that’s all it is. Where the book falls short, unsurprisingly, is giving a real sense how special, how deep, how unending God’s love really is.

While Lucado does a nice job with the “God’s love is deep like the ocean,” he doesn’t take the opportunity to say “and this is how God has shown us how deep his love truly is.” What you get is a half-truth in the book—one that parents are going to want to make sure they complete with their kids both during storytime and in the day-to-day.

In the end, there are a lot worse books you could get for your kids than The Boy and the Ocean. A gospel-driven book, this is not; but it is an opening to a gospel conversation with your kids. And if that’s what Lucado set out to do, then he’s succeeded admirably. If not, then I guess that says something else, doesn’t it?


Title: The Boy and the Ocean
Author: Max Lucado (illustrated by T. Lively Fluharty)
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

A much-needed kick in the teeth

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One of the best books I read in early 2010 was Josh Harris’ Dug Down Deep. Back when I reviewed the book, I called out the last chapter, “A humble orthodoxy” as being worthy of being a book unto itself.

It seems others felt the same way.

Harris’ new book Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down was released just a couple weeks ago. The book revisits and expands on the content of that final chapter, showing how doctrinal humility affects our heart and attitudes, views of others and our relationship with God.

I read it on the way home from the Gospel Coalition National Conference and it was a much-needed kick in the teeth. Here’s one passage that particularly gripped me:

How can we be arrogant about a truth that is completely outside of anything we’ve done? If we had earned the gospel, we could be arrogant about it. If we had somehow created the truth, then we could copyright it and control other people’s access to it. But the truth is a gift from God to us. It has changed us only because he extended his mercy to us. How then can we not extend mercy to others?

Sound doctrine is vital. Godly example is essential. But they are not enough. Apart from humility of heart, we will be like the Pharisees and will use the truth as a stick to beat others over the head. And God will be dishonored in that. If we would honor God, we must represent truth humbly in our words, in our demeanor, and in our attitude.

I have a hard time remembering this lesson. Sometimes I suspect it’s because of insecurity. I’m not always as confident as I want to be, so the louder I get, the more right I must be.

Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about. Maybe.

But humility and orthodoxy are fast friends. One doesn’t really have one without the other. This is a lesson I need to be reminded of again and again. And God is gracious to provide the reminders at the right time.

Because the book is an expansion of Dug Down Deep‘s final chapter, some might be tempted to write it off as unnecessary.

Don’t do that. Humble Orthodoxy may not be a whole-cloth new work, but it serves as a great (short) heart check. Read this book; then go back and read it again.


Title: Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down
Author: Josh Harris with Eric Stanford
Publisher: Multnohmah (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Crucifying Morality by R W Glenn

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I remember the first sermon series I heard on the Beatitudes, the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-11). The pastor spoke about every characteristic Jesus lists with great conviction—but something didn’t sit right. Every message followed the same basic pattern: each week one or two characteristics were described and then we were challenged to be more meek, be more pure in heart, work harder at making peace and so on.

The problem, I realized later, is this isn’t what Jesus was trying to tell us in the Beatitudes. This well meaning pastor was looking at these verses as commands—as imperatives to obey.

But Jesus didn’t give us these words as more rules to obey.

“The Beatitudes are not commands; they represent the profile of a Christian, the profile of someone who has already come to understand God’s grace and is growing in that understanding,” pastor and author R W Glenn explains in Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes

This is why every approach to the Beatitudes that turns them into commandments to keep, mandates to fulfill, or imperatives to obey turns them into something contrary to what Jesus intended.

Over the book’s 10 short chapters, Glenn unpacks a vision of the Beatitudes that challenges the false ideas we may hold about these verses and points us to our only source of hope: the gospel.

Like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and D.A. Carson before him, Glenn understands that the gospel is at the heart of the Beatitudes. It’s really, really important that we get that.

But why?

Why does a gospel vision of the Beatitudes matter so much—especially when so many people are content to turn this passage into a checklist?

Simply, you can’t make sense of them without it.

The Beatitudes are a representation of the upside down world of the Kingdom of God. “Jesus says you are to be congratulated—sincerely congratulated—if you are the object of people’s scorn, ridicule, and violence, because you know that God’s blessing is on you,” Glenn writes. The idea of blessing coming from scorn… we don’t like that very much.

It’s not fun. But there it is; that’s “radical reality of the Beatitudes” as Glenn puts it.

The gospel, though, helps us make sense of this reality. In Christ, we see how scorn really does lead to blessing, how meekness leads to great inheritance and how our hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied.

But it’s more than this—a gospel vision of the Beatitudes protects us from their impossible standard.

“The Beatitudes are all about what happens to people when their hearts are gripped with the unmerited favor and undeserved acceptance of God,” Glenn writes. If you were to try to attain each characteristic with a checkbox mentality, where would it lead you?

You’d wind up little more than a blubbering puddle of yuck, crushed under the weight of your failure.

When looked at from this perspective—when we see the grace of God at work in the Beatitudes, when we recognize that they’re the characteristics of a renewed heart and mind in Christ—then we truly begin to see them as cause for rejoicing.

Crucifying Morality is a tremendously helpful book, whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned vet. We’re all prone to take the Beatitudes and moralize them or turn them into a rule book for “nice” living. But, as Glenn reminds us, “You cannot put the mind-altering, world-shattering nature of the Beatitudes into neat categories. Jesus won’t let you.”

Take these words to heart, give Crucifying Morality a careful read and work through it’s implications.


Title: Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes
Author: R W Glenn
Publisher: Shepherd Press (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon

God’s Good Design by Claire Smith

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Few issues are as polarizing as what the Bible says about men and women—especially in a world shaped by second- and third-wave feminism.

Feminism is part of “the cultural air we breathe”—it’s so ingrained into our society that it’s just a given. It’s the status quo, and no longer something to be questioned.

This presents a difficulty for Christians desiring to understand the world in light of the Bible. How do we read the Bible in both an intellectually honest and God-honoring way on this topic? Does the Bible show men and women as being completely the same (outside of physiological differences) or is there something fundamentally different about us?

Claire Smith wants us to see that, despite arguments to the contrary, men and women really are different—and that’s exactly the way God intended it. In God’s Good Design, Smith examines the critical texts surrounding gender roles, offering valuable insights into the debate over the responsibilities of men and women within the church and home.

Equal value, different roles

Throughout the book, Smith examines a number of crucial biblical texts dealing the role of women: 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14 (women within the church) and Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31 (women within the home). In these passages we find some of the most difficult words to women within the entire Bible:

  • That women are to be silent and to submit to their husbands.
  • That they’re not to teach but are to have character that wins an unbelieving husband over without a word.
  • That women are created to help men, not rule over them.

Smith’s examination of each passage reflects careful study both of the text at hand and the alternative viewpoints to the historical understanding of each passage. One brief example comes from Smith’s look at 1 Tim. 2, which includes one of the most head-exploding statements you you can read today:  [Read more...]

Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart by JD Greear

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How do you know if you’re really a Christian or not? Is there a way to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re really saved?

These are questions I’m sure we’ve all asked from time to time. But for many, there appears to be an almost fearful uncertainty about their salvation—a fear that they may have professed faith in Jesus, lived faithfully but then, at the end, find out they’re going to spend eternity in hell.

And so maybe they’re not “saved enough,” so they pray a prayer, maybe get baptized again, and are good until the next crisis of faith.

JD Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, knows what this is like. “If there were a Guinness Book of World Records record for ‘amounts of times having asked Jesus into your heart,’ I’m pretty sure I would hold it,” he says as he opens his new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. His early years were a seemingly endless cycle of pray a prayer, get baptized, be jazzed up for a while, have a crisis of faith and doubt his salvation and pray the prayer again.

He’s not alone in his experience. “The Enemy—one of whose names in Scripture is ‘the Deceiver’—loves to keep truly saved believers unsure of their salvation because he knows that if he does they’ll never experience the freedom, joy, and confidence that God wants them to have,” he writes. “But he also loves to keep those on their way to hell deluded into thinking they are on their way to heaven, their consciences immunized from Jesus’ pleas to repent” (Kindle location 236).

He wants genuine Christians to have confidence in their salvation—but he also wants those who have false assurance to understand the truth of their situation. These twin goals drive this short book.

But is certainty something we’re promised—does God want us to be sure that we’re saved? Yes, writes Greear: [Read more...]

Follow Me by David Platt

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“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Jesus told Peter, Andrew, James and John (Matt. 4:19). This call, in many ways, is shocking. These were experienced fishermen—they had jobs, families, nets ready to burst with fish thanks to a miracle performed by Jesus (Luke 5:2-11).

Now they were being told by this relative stranger, “Leave everything and follow me.”

What did they do?

Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matt 4:20)

There’s something powerful in this call—something that believers today, and particularly those of us in North America, may be missing.

A call to self-denial

This call to leave everything seems extreme, even silly. So we dismiss it, treating it as a call for the first disciples, but not something applicable to us today.

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama, wants to correct that. “Somewhere along the way, amid varying cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimized Jesus’ summons to total abandonment,” he writes in his new book, Follow Me (Kindle location 213).

Platt wants to help Christians recover this understanding of the call of Jesus—that becoming a Christian is not, as many have come believe, “acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words…. the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it’s a summons to lose our lives” (location 214).

Put simply, Follow Me is about one thing: Recovering the understanding that the one who truly believes Christ obeys Him—and that necessarily calls us to make disciples. While it seems obvious, if we take a quick look around us, we clearly see it’s anything but.

Many of us are too busy chasing our best lives now to see that the life Jesus calls us to—the life of self-sacrifice—is so much better and more fulfilling than any pleasure this world can offer, even when it causes us grief. So we settle for a good show instead of good fruit. We tell people to “come and see,” rather than us “go and tell.” We have exchanged praying a prayer and one-time decisions for Christ for an all-encompassing view of true worship.

We, like the child in C.S. Lewis’ famous analogy, are far too easily pleased, making mud pies to enjoy a holiday by the sea. [Read more...]

Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau

Mapping-the-Origins-Debate-Rau

“How did we get here?”

It seems like a fairly straightforward question, yet it’s pregnant with meaning because it requires us to consider some other questions:

  • How did the universe come start?
  • How did life begin?
  • How did the various kinds of life—most significantly humanity—come into being?

It’s no wonder, then, that such a seemingly simple question can get even the most laid back person hot under the collar. Indeed, this is too often what we see whenever the subject arises. But is it possible that, to some degree, each side is talking past the other?

Is our rhetoric getting in the way of honest debate and discussion?

Gerald Rau argues that this may indeed be the case—and his new book, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything, is an attempt to correct this error by first explaining the evidence for how life came to be, how each viewpoint interprets that evidence and attempting to show what difference how we interpret the data makes.

Presuppositions and interacting with evidence

The starting point for Rau is presuppositions. “Our worldview and philosophy shape the way we view that evidence from the first time we hear it,” He writes. “Each scientist is working from the perspective of one particular theory, which affects both data collection and interpretation.” (Kindle locations 189, 202)

This is the first significant point Rau addresses: no one is capable of coming to the evidence entirely objectively. Our worldview and its underlying philosophy—in short, our presuppositions—necessarily affect how we view the evidence surrounding the origins of everything. If our worldview is one in which there’s no possibility of the supernatural (naturalism), then we’re going to reject any notion that the universe could begin through anything but naturalistic means. Likewise, the young-earth creationist is more likely to look at the evidence as being proof of God’s direct involvement in the creation of all things.

But the difficulty this represents is that we wind up talking past one another almost all the time. We talk and talk, but we don’t understand because we’re not really speaking the same language.

This is important for us to acknowledge and Rau handles it with great care. Indeed, it’s clear that he’s read carefully the scholarly work of each model and so an attitude of congeniality comes through. He’s generally careful to avoid easy criticisms of any model, which is a breath of fresh air—after all, deconstructing each model isn’t his purpose, explaining them is (but more on that in a bit).

Theological awareness and scientific consistency

As Rau explains how each model in the origins debate interprets the evidence available to them, it’s clear that he’s aware of the theological concerns that come with each position. Every view holds a different relationship between religion and science; some see the two as entirely distinct or complementary domains of knowledge, and others as interacting or overlapping domains. This is yet another point that I’m thankful Rau addresses in this book, even if he only touches on theological concerns briefly. [Read more...]

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

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I’m not sure what more needs to be said about Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical WomanhoodHundreds of reviews already appear on Amazon, dozens have been published on various blogs looking at the book from numerous angles… is there more that can really be said about it?

I hope so, or this is going to be a really short review.

One thing is certain: Evans struck a nerve with her critique of the so-called “biblical womanhood” movement. Taking a page out of A.J. Jacobs’ playbook, Evans determines to see what the hubbub is all about by setting forth on a grand experiment: following every command related to women in the Bible as closely as she possibly can for one year.

So over the course of a year she (among other things):

  • learns to cook (and finds out she kind of likes it);
  • camps out in her yard during her period;
  • holds up a sign letting people coming into town know her husband is awesome;
  • determines to become quiet and gentle in spirit (via centering prayer and mystic practices)
  • practices a month of solitude in church (while also visiting a Benedictine monastery and a Quaker worship gathering); and
  • sits on the roof of her house for part of a day.

These are just a few of the many aspects of her year of “biblical” womanhood described in the book. The question readers are left with after reading of her adventures is: Are they biblical at all? [Read more...]

Sensing Jesus

sensing-jesus

Ministry isn’t easy, if for no other reason than people are involved.

Instinctively we know this, and yet it seems like we expect pastors to be somehow above the messiness that comes with being human. And our fascination with celebrity doesn’t help this tendency. We want to be everywhere, do everything, know everything… We stretch ourselves so thin that there’s little of our humanity left.

Zack Eswine wants to help us recover our humanity—and his new book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.

Divided into two parts, Sensing Jesus examines first the temptations plaguing those in ministry (and, honestly, all of us)—the desire to be everywhere-for-all, the know-it-all and the fix it all—before addressing the solutions to these issues, the recovery of our humanness in Jesus.

At their most basic level, these temptations represent an attempt to usurp God’s incommunicable attributes:

Only God is omnipresent—but we act like we are, trying to be everywhere at once for all people and becoming endlessly frustrated whenever we run up against our boundaries.

Only God is omnipotent—but we try to be, trying to fix all the problems in people’s lives without realizing God’s not intended us to do so.

Only God is omniscient—but we think we are, trying to provide every answer for all questions when sometimes God’s grace to us is most clearly displayed in us saying “I don’t know.”

“Which are you more tempted to pretend that you are: an everywhere-for-all, a fix-it-all, or a know-it-all?” Eswine asks. “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” (56) I can see all of these temptations in my life without looking too hard.

I love information and knowing things, and it frustrates me when I don’t know something. I like being able to solve problems, and not being able to (whether because of ability or responsibility) makes me twitchy.

But the desire to be everywhere is probably what I’ve seen is the most consistent problem for me (though my wife mentioned being a know-it-all is more of what she sees, which means she’s probably right). This is where I’ve noticed all too often that I need to be careful, simply because I’ll take on too many projects, try to do too many things, and either neglect the primary concerns in my life (God, marriage, family), or just go until I drop altogether.

Neither option leads to happiness or increased holiness though, does it? [Read more...]

Brass Heavens by Paul Tautges

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“Why won’t God answer? Is He not listening?”

How many of us have asked this question, whether openly or in secret? There’s something so disconcerting when we pray earnestly, confidently, possibly desperately, and yet it seems to go unanswered.

God is silent. Or so it seems.

Why?

Paul Tautges, in his new book, Brass Heavens, examines several reasons why our prayers may go unanswered. The result is a book that serves as much as a treatise on sin as it does on one of prayer.

This is important for us to keep in mind as our sin does directly affect our prayer life—because Christians have a real, living, active relationship with our Father in Heaven, we can expect what we do to either strengthen or weaken that relationship.

So what are the causes of unanswered prayer? Tautges identifies six reasons why we might not receive an answer to our prayers:

The nurturing of pet sins. “To establish, maintain, or permit the existence in your life of any avenues by which your flesh could seek to fulfill its rebellious desires—this is the cherishing of pet sin,” he writes. “By this you will guarantee the short-circuiting of your prayers. This effort to live two different lives—one in which you cherish God and another in which you cherish sin—is the very definition of being double-minded.”

Neglecting our responsibilities of conflict resolution and offering forgiveness. “Mishandling either area can severely damage not only our horizontal relationships with others, but also our familial relationship with the Father and consequently the effectiveness of our prayers.”

Religious sins. “There is an outward righteousness that is legitimately connected to the true inner righteousness of Christ imputed to us by the Father,” he writes. “But there is also an apparent outward righteousness … of independence and self-justification, a false righteousness that presumes to possess an inherent, self-contained goodness—something only God possesses in and of himself.”

Being an inconsiderate husband. “To live in ignorance of a wife’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical condition, or to be uncaring about what it means to lead and love her as Christ does the church, this is disobedience to God.”

Stubborn pride. “Our self-sufficient pride, our persistent refusal to listen and yield to God, can close his ears to our prayers,” Tautges writes. “When we willfully choose to be stubborn against God’s correction, we become slaves to our own pride and our fellowship with God is interrupted.”

It’s easy to see the connection between all of these sins—they’re interpersonal and often based upon a higher view of self than we ought to have. When our sin causes our prayer to go unanswered, it’s often because we do not judge ourselves with right judgment (John 7:24). We look at our appearance or we look at what others have done (legitimately or otherwise) and too often respond self-righteously.

We too easily become like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).

Is it any wonder God would find that offensive?

This is a constant struggling point in my own own life. There are certain people I find myself looking down upon far too easily—sometimes because of questions about competency in professional areas and others because there’s just something about them that drives me up the wall—and struggling to figure out how to deal with the conflicts at the heart of the matter. But too often, instead of taking my concerns to God in prayer, I’ve let that frustration fester, and waste an opportunity to grow in my faith.

Why do I—and presumably many others—do that? I suspect it’s because I and those like me often forget the most critical reason for unanswered prayer:

It is to test our faith.

God often leaves our prayers unanswered so that we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. Unanswered prayer is a gift from God for our growth—in holiness and in every other good and godly way—and sometimes it has nothing to do with whether we are hanging on to any of the sins described [previously].

When God appears to not answer our prayers, it isn’t necessarily because we’re guilty of a particular sin—the lack of an answer isn’t intended as a chastening act of discipline, but as a means of drawing us closer to Him. “Our faith is our life, and the status of our faith is the most important thing about us,” Tautges writes. “The tests of faith that God sends our way are reminders to keep us focused on what is true and real and primary.”

Of everything Tautges says about unanswered prayer in Brass Heavens, this surely is the most critical for us to remember: prayers may go unanswered not because God is displeased us, but because He loves us enough to say “no.” And this truly is a gift, whether we realize it or not.

This testing of our faith is an opportunity for us to grow not only in patience, but in perseverance. God delights in our asking, and He delights in giving good gifts to His children—and His good gifts will always be those that transform us increasingly into the image of Christ.

While it may be a faux pas for me to review Brass Heavens—after all, I’ve been published twice by Cruciform Press and also work behind the scenes with them on some of their marketing efforts—the subject is one too important to not talk about. Tautges’ analysis of the reasons for unanswered prayer is sound, thoughtful and, most importantly, hopeful. Give this book your careful attention. You won’t regret it.


Title: Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer
Author: Paul Tautges
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press

Book Review: Puritan Portraits by J.I. Packer

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As I’ve gotten older (which sounds pretentious since I’m coming up to the ripe “old” age of 34), my appreciation for history—and especially historical figures—has increased greatly. I love learning about the people who’ve influenced movements and events, especially in the history of the Christian faith.

J.I. Packer understands how important understanding these people is, so it’s no wonder Christian Focus asked him to introduce a number of classic Puritan works released in their Christian Heritage line, introductions now compiled in the recently released Puritan Portraits: J.I. Packer on selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics

This book combines Packer’s biographical sketches of John Flavel, Thomas Boston, Henry Scougal, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Owen and John Flavel, as well as two larger portraits of William Perkins and Richard Baxter, to give readers a sense of the pastoral heart of the Puritan movement.

I have mixed feelings about Puritan Portraits. I really enjoyed much of what it has to offer—but I still found it a bit disappointing.

I love that the emphasis of these works is the practical pastoral purposes of each book. Packer is very deliberate in showing how Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, Bunyan’s The Heavenly Footman and Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, are not mere theological treatises intended to train the mind, but to transform the heart. This shows most profoundly in his introduction to The Mortification of Sin, as he shares how Owen’s work transformed his own heart:

…Owen saved my spiritual sanity. I do in fact think, after sixty-plus years, that Owen has contributed more than anyone else to make me as much of a moral, spiritual and theological realist as I have so far become. He searched me to the root of my being. He taught me the nature of sin, the need to fight it and the method of doing so. He made me see the importance of the thoughts of the heart in one’s spiritual life. He made clear to me the real nature of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in and to the believer, and of spiritual growth and progress and of faith’s victory. He showed me how to understand myself as a Christian and live before God humbly and honestly, without pretending either to be what I am not or not to be what I am. And he made every point by direct biblical exegesis, bringing out the experimental implications of didactic and narrative texts with a precision and profundity that I had not met before, and have rarely seen equalled since. The decisive dawning of all the insight I have ever received from Owen came, however, when I first read him on mortification.

So what’s disappointing about this book? After all, it sounds like I really enjoyed the sketches provided, doesn’t it? Of course I did.

My disappointment with the book comes not so much with the content, but the obvious “introduction” feel each chapter has (which is natural since, as mentioned above, they were first published as introductions). Reading Packer’s commentary on The Heavenly Footman and sketch of Bunyan makes me want to go and read that book, rather than the following chapter. For me, my disappointment really comes down to this disconnect.

A final question: do the Puritans still matter to our day? The 21st century and its concerns seem so far removed from those of the 17th and 18th—what can (or should) we learn from them about pastoral ministry today? Packer’s epilogue concerning the Puritan pastoral ideal offers a resounding yes:

It would seem that the clergy, the church’s spiritual leaders, have largely lost their way, and when the leadership loses its way there is small hope for the rank and file. Now what I urge here is that the Puritan ideal for pastors, which, judged by the New Testament Scriptures on which it is based, has classic status in itself, is the foundational reality on which all ventures in church renewal must be based, otherwise they will fail continually until finally all is lost.

This, fundamentally, is a reminder of why we need to pay close attention to history. If we aren’t familiar with those who’ve come before us, we can’t learn from their example. We’ll be doomed to repeat the errors they made, while missing out on the positive insights they had that we may be overlooking. This is why Packer exhorts readers to consider the Puritan pastoral ideal—not because they are greater than us, but because their insights are valuable to us. Puritan Portraits is a good starting point to understanding this and will hopefully be a valuable resource leading to greater study.


Title: Puritan Portraits: J.I. Packer on selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics
Author: J.I. Packer
Publisher: Christian Focus (2012)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Book Review: Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

every good endeavor

The routine is the same: get up, get ready and get to work. Our commute is a fog. Sometimes our day is, too. And many of us find ourselves wondering, “Is there really a point to all this?”

It seems like work is, at best, a necessary evil. But is that how we should view work? More importantly, is that how God views work?

Tim Keller wants you to see that your work really does matter—and more than that, it’s a fundamental way in which we worship our Creator. Our problem is, we lack a theological foundation to understand how. Providing that is the purpose behind his recently released effort, Every Good Endeavorwhere Keller examines God’s original plans for work, how sin distorts it and how the gospel restores and redeems it.

Keller’s greatest pastoral strength is applying doctrine to everyday life—showing the practical nature of the Christian faith. This book is no exception. Each chapter is rich with implications for the reader in how he or she approaches work.

Among the most helpful aspects of chapter one is Keller’s reminder that the Hebrew word used to describe God at work, “mlkh,” is the very same word used to describe normal human work. This reminds us that:

Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration. (34-35)

This is an important reminder for us today. With so many books on the market offering new ways to look at work—particularly those focused on “results only”—it’s easy to get caught in the trap that work isn’t as important as the rest of your life. It’s the thing you do to do the rest of your life, but it’s a means to an end only. But God values it because He does it. He created it and it is fundamentally good.

More importantly, while there are certainly some kinds of work that are morally wrong, there isn’t really a type of work work that is of lesser value than another. Keller writes, “The Greeks understood that life in the world required work, but they believed that not all work was created equal. Work that used the mind rather than the body was nobler, less beastly. The highest form of work was the most cognitive and the least manual” (46).

This is essential for us to understand, particularly as we see the rise of a new underclass—extremely well educated young people who have no real career prospects. Our education system and culture has for so long pushed the Greek ideal Keller describes that many are left on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of debt and only a Barista job to pay for it. All because we placed more value on teaching jobs than plumbing.

Work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives. We learn not only that work has dignity in itself, but also that all kinds of work have dignity. . . . No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. (49) [Read more...]

Book Review: The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler

conviction-to-lead-mohler

What makes a great leader? Is it a mix of charisma, character and talent? Is it just a bit of luck? If you browse the leadership section at your local bookstore, you’ll find no shortage of answers:

  • Leadership is about influence.
  • It’s about character.
  • It’s about being the “alpha.”
  • It’s about knowing your strengths.

Albert Mohler’s new book, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, takes a slightly different approach. While not ignoring the importance of character, strengths or any of the other points often referenced in so many leadership books, Mohler argues that leadership ultimately comes down to one thing: conviction.

“Wherever Christian leaders serve, in the church or in the secular world, leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction,” he writes (18-19). This new book is fueled by Mohler’s desire to encourage a generation of Christian leaders to lead from their most deeply held, passionate beliefs—their convictions—and to see these as inseparable from the task of leading.

Each chapter, while functioning as more-or-less standalone essays, provides a fully-fleshed out idea of what a convictional leader is. Notably:

  • leaders are writers, communicators and speakers;
  • they are readers, thinkers and teachers;
  • they are stewards, managers and decision makers.

They are these things because they cannot be otherwise. This is something important to understand: Mohler doesn’t say a leader can be a writer but not a manager, or a thinker but not a decision maker. No, a leader is all of these things or else he or she is not a leader.

This is important, especially as you consider the leader as thinker. Mohler writes:

…the leader’s disciplined posture is to lean into the truth and be unafraid of it. He demands that those around him tell him the truth, and he leads by being the truth teller in chief. He does not allow the organization to be tempted by either dishonesty or self-deception, and he models personal honesty. (62)

If ever there was commentary designed to challenge your assumptions about how you lead, it’s this. I know few who could read the above and say, “Yes, my organization or leader consistently exhibits these characteristics.” Truthfully, I’ve met maybe six leaders who would match that description in my entire life. On the other hand, I’ve met far too many who model the opposite of what Mohler describes—men and women who exhibit fear of the facts and hide under a veneer of false harmony instead of embracing the kind of healthy conflict leading with conviction creates.

Convictional leaders—even when you may disagree with their convictions—are people who are easy to respect, because you know what they stand for. They are people who communicate with clarity, consistency and courage. “Convictional leadership requires a constant and consistent message, no matter the context, the audience, or the occasion . . . and no matter what may come,” he writes (95). “A reputation for inconsistency betrays a lack of conviction, and a lack of conviction is the nullification of leadership.”

It’s easy to see how it all ties together—habitual inconsistency indicates a lack of character, which really means a lack of conviction. The “leader” in this position has nothing to draw from for strength and as a result flounders. May this never be said of Christian leaders, in whatever sphere they serve. Instead, we need to root our leadership in conviction—especially our confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ—and allow that to transform the way we lead. “The convictions come first, but the character is the product of those convictions. If not, our leadership will crash and burn” (79).

“I want to see a generation arise that is simultaneously leading with conviction and driven by the conviction to lead,” Mohler writes (20). “The generation that accomplishes this will set the world on fire.” If leaders follow Mohler’s thoughtful instruction, they might even do it. If you’re a leader in any capacity—at your church, at your job, in your school—I can think of no better book to encourage, challenge and grow you in your calling than The Conviction to Lead


Title: The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters
Author: Albert Mohler
Publisher: Bethany House (2012)