What should I review?

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I’m in the very fortunate position to receive many great books (and a few not-so-great ones, too) from evangelical publishers—so much so I can’t possibly read them all in a given year. But I can read some of them. That’s where I need your help:

I want to know what book you want me to read and review.

The last time I tried this, you all were a huge help, so much so, I wound up reviewing two of the books you all were requesting (The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord), so I’m really interested to see which book you want me to review. Here’s a list of five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll name the winner early next week.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

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“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me’” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

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The Bible is the most important—and most controversial—books ever written. Its message of world destroyed by human sinfulness and redeemed only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an affront to our modern sensibilities.

So it’s no wonder this book is constantly under attack, is it? For centuries, skeptics of all stripes have done their level best to debunk the Bible’s reliability. And Christian scholars in kind have written many wonderful treatises expressing why the Bible can be trusted.

The problem is, most of those treatises aren’t written to the people who need them: average people coming to church on Sunday morning. For the average Christian, there aren’t a lot of good, engaging books on the reliability of Scripture. So, Kevin DeYoung decided to write one.

His latest, Taking God At His Word, offers readers an easily digestible look at what the Scriptures say about themselves and why we, as Christians, can and should trust them—and more than that, why we should love the Bible.

Why do we need to love the Bible?

Taking God At His Word begins with its conclusion: God’s people are not to simply assent to God’s Word, they are to love it. Our approach to the Bible is not to be one of dreary subservience, but of delighted submission, something illustrated in Psalm 119′s exuberant language. And this is DeYoung’s entire purpose in writing the book.

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts.… I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (16)

Note how careful DeYoung is to ground this delight: we’re not to come to the Bible with a subjective emotionalism; our feelings don’t guide how we are to view the Bible. Instead, because the Bible is true, clear, essential and authoritative we can feel an immense amount of joy and gladness!

But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, many of us don’t live there, or if we do, it’s not all the time. But getting there is possible—not easy, but possible. It means we have to understand what the Bible says about itself.

What does the Bible say about itself?

DeYoung’s knack for taking complex ideas and making them accessible is on full display as he unpacks what the Bible says about itself. In doing so, he outlines four essential truths about Scripture:

  1. God’s Word is enough. The Bible is sufficient for all our needs and to grow us into maturity as believers.
  2. God’s Word is clear. The Bible’s message can be accurately (if not completely) understood by ordinary people using ordinary means.
  3. God’s Word is final. The Bible is our ultimate authority over all matters, and we are to sit under its rule.
  4. God’s Word is necessary. We need the Bible in order to know God and to know the way of salvation.

Entire books can easily be written on each of these four subjects (and have), but DeYoung gives readers just enough to be grounded and certain in how the Scriptures speak to each of these truths. Of them all, the one we see near constant attack on is the Bible’s authority—and often this challenge is made by undermining its clarity.

Take homosexuality and same-sex marriage as an example. A number of well meaning professing believers want to believe homosexual practice is not in conflict with the Christian faith, and that this is not an issue clearly spoken of in Scripture. A few of the common arguments:

  • Maybe Paul wasn’t referring to monogamous homosexual relationships in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6; maybe he was only speaking of nonconsensual acts.
  • Jesus didn’t really speak on the issue, so how can we know what Jesus would say?
  • Perhaps there is a trajectory that is set in motion through the gospel that would mean that even though Paul said it wasn’t acceptable, it is now.

Notice the common traits: each argument attempts to obscure the clarity of Scripture, either by questioning the author’s clear intent or arguing from silence. And as soon as we lose the clarity of Scripture, we lose its authority. It’s the old serpent’s trick once again: “Did God really say…?”

God’s word is final. God’s word is understandable. God’s word is necessary. God’s word is enough. In every age, Christians will do battle wherever these attributes of Scripture are threatened and assaulted. But more importantly, on every day we will have to fight the fight of faith to really believe everything we know the Bible says about itself and, even more challenging, to live accordingly. (93)

Can we take God at His Word?

Getting to the place of delight DeYoung advocates for is hard, but it’s necessary. We will continually be challenged from without and within on whether or not this book we claim is the Word of God is what it says it is. But we have good reason for confidence—not from external evidence (although we do), but from the Bible itself. Taking God At His Word does a wonderful job of reminding readers that this book is what it says it is: the knowable, necessary, authoritative and sufficient Word of God—the only place where we may learn of the One who has come to rescue us from our sin, and of the hope He offers for tomorrow.

Friends, if this is really true, how can you not delight in it?

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.


Title: Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The first time I heard Justin Wise speak on social media I was impressed.

It was the first session—actually the pre-conference workshop—at a conference for Christian creatives in Canada. Wise was speaking on how churches need to embrace their websites as their new front-door. And as he laid everything out, with tons of practical examples, I had two reactions:

  1. People really need to listen to this guy
  2. This is going to be really hard for some folks to swallow

Many of the people occupying the leadership roles in churches, non-profits, and for-profit entities are digital immigrants. They remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, and Facebook. Many of them use social media, but struggle to understand how to do it. Others don’t bother with it at all, seeing it as a distraction, a fad, or a time-suck that gets in the way of getting real work/ministry done.

But, Wise argues, digital communication is not a good thing for a church to engage in—it’s necessary if they’re actually serious about reaching people with the gospel. And that’s really the heart behind his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, where Wise unpacks the “why” of social media, with a bit of how sprinkled in along the way.

Mission and ministry in social media

If you could boil the why down to one thing, it’s really this: Churches need to be engaging social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever the next thing is that’s going to take the world by storm—not because it’s hip and trendy, but because it’s about mission and ministry. Where people are, Christians must be as well. But the difference, and maybe the most challenging aspect of it, is that mission and ministry in social media requires two-way communication.

“For many, many years, churches communicated in the same fashion you and I drive down a one-way street: traffic only moved one way,” Wise explains. “Churches broadcasted a message and never anticipated a moment where the congregation would start speaking back.”

But social media has changed this dynamic.…For the church, and virtually every other sector of society, the shift to social permanently turned the tables in the public’s favor. Social media gave people a voice, and they’re not going to give it up easily. (30)

This is the challenge many of us have when engaging social media. Because the expectation is two-way communication, you actually have to engage people. You have to talk to them when they talk back and share content that’s not all about you. And this is also where so many organizations—including some of the world’s biggest brands—fall on their faces. So if you’ve just realized that you’re doing the digital equivalent of shouting into an empty room, take heart: you’re not alone and you can change this.

But in order to do it, you have to know the values of a social media culture, what it likes and dislikes. What it thinks, how it feels… This is, essentially, the “nasty” business of contextualization, becoming all things to all people so that some might be saved. And even as we seek to understand—or humbly admit we can’t make the leap ourselves and bring in people to help us—we find more opportunities to push back.

Challenging a mediated world

Even as “online” and “offline” become increasingly blurred, we’re going to find ourselves having to confront the tendency to hide in the digital realm with more force. Humans were not meant to hide behind screens and smartphones (and yes, I understand the irony of me even saying this in a digital medium). Real relationships can form and be nurtured online, but the best kinds of relationships form in the real life.

I suppose the inherent danger of online communities is when there is a mistaken belief they can serve as a one-for-one replacement for in-person communities. They can’t (and shouldn’t). Offline trumps online.

Having said that, online community is definitely preferable to no community whatsoever. Lives have been changed, saved, and redeemed all because gospel-centered online communities exist. (155)

You can see the tension here, can’t you? I think Wise is certainly correct that “digital community is better than no community” to some degree, but the fact that this also points us to a legitimate issue in our context: that even as we develop a sound theology of digital communication, we must develop a robust eccesiology to compliment it. This is the difficulty many of us have with idea of online services—while streaming the service can certainly beneficial, how do we challenge people to engage in reality?

Years ago, I was part of an active hobby-focused online community. People would talk about the primary subject (comics), but would also delve into all kinds of other topics, including sharing deeply personal details about their lives (not in a TMI kind of way. Usually). Folks would meet at conventions for drinks. Users who lived in the same cities would get together every once in a while for a meal if the suggestion was tabled… But in the end, when someone stopped visiting the site, it was like they never existed. In an instant, those relationships were severed. The connections weren’t really all that deep.

This is the challenge we face when we deal with the implications of online ministry. How do we build real connections that aren’t easy to sever? This is something Wise doesn’t thoroughly address in the book because, honestly, I don’t know if he or anyone else is equipped to put forward an answer. But make no mistake: if we’re serious about being gospel-minded, gospel-centered people who want to engage the digital realm for mission and ministry, this elephant in the room must be named and addressed.

The beginning of a much deeper conversation

The Social Church is not the last word on social media and the church, nor should it be. Instead, it’s best to see this book as the continuation (or possibly the beginning) of of a conversation we’re not quite ready for: a much deeper discussion on how to do ministry in a simultaneously bigger and smaller world. But whether or not we’re truly ready, it’s a conversation we need to have.


Title: The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication
Author: Justin Wise
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile

captivated_anyabwileAbout a year ago, I bought a new laptop, and the first time I turned it on it was magical. Well, maybe not, but it was pretty slick. It went super-fast, did everything I needed it to do… Then, a few months later, my new work computer arrived. And I started feeling a little bit of regret over my personal one. The “shininess” of my computer had worn off and it seemed kind of, well, average. It wasn’t nearly as rad in my eyes as it had been when I opened the box for the first time.

I wonder if some of us see the Easter story that way. We’ve heard so many sermons on it—or preached so many—that it seems like we’re going through the motions. We say, “yay, Jesus is alive,” but really we’re thinking “alright, and now to run some errands!” This should never be. Woe to us who can look upon the death and resurrection of Jesus and say, “meh.”

Thabiti Anyabwile is a man who has not lost his sense of wonder at the cross. He knows that beholding the glory of Jesus is something none of us can do without. This is the heart behind his latest book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

In its five chapters (which originated as sermons preached at First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman) Anyabwile invites us to behold the wonder of the cross as he examines several key passages of Scripture:

  • Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Matthew 26:42);
  • Jesus’ cry from the cross (Matthew 27:42);
  • Paul’s rejoicing over death’s impotence in the face of Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:50-58);
  • The angels’ matter-of-fact questioning of the disciples at the empty tomb (Luke 24:5); and
  • Cleopas’ gentle rebuke to his new travelling companion along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:18)

“Is there no other way?”

Almost all of us at some point have asked the question, “is there no other way?” When we look at the cross, and all the events that lead up to it, we can’t help but wonder if God could have done things differently. If you’ve ever asked the question, fear not: you’re in good company. Jesus asked the same one as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.… if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, 42)

Here is the Lord Jesus—the One who was with God and was God from eternity past—asking if He had to go to the cross. Jesus wanted the cup to pass. But more importantly, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. So, could it pass from Him? No. And this is such good news, Anyabwile reminds us. In fact, we should be glad the Father said no. He writes:

Because the Father answered no, sinners have a merciful and faithful High Priest perfectly intimate with all their weaknesses. We have One we can approach for grace. Because the Father answered no, we have One who stands between us in all our ungodliness and God in all His holiness to reconcile us and reunite us as friends rather than rebels. Because the Father answered no, those who have faith in Christ need never fear the Father’s wrath again; His anger has been fully satisfied in the Son’s atonement. Because the Father said no, we stand assured that our acceptance with God happened on completely legitimate grounds—no parlor tricks, no loopholes, no legal fiction, no injustice to threaten or question the exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. Because the Father said no, we will forever enjoy and share the glory of Father and Son in the unending, timeless age to come.

I am so glad the Father said no.

Insightful, gospel-saturated meditations

Do you see the good news here? Anyabwile doesn’t resort to cheap parlor tricks or emotional platitudes to whoop readers up. Instead, he presents the gospel in all its glory. Over and over again, on page after page, the gospel shines through. And as you read the book, you can’t help but be caught up by its sermonic rhythm (appropriate, since it began as sermons). This makes for a captivating and fast-paced read—to some degree, almost a too fast one!

Indeed, that might be my only complaint about this book. Because it’s a series of gospel meditations, readers should not expect an in-depth treatise on any of the texts examined, which would work against Anyabwile’s purposes anyway. But this is not to say that deeper examination and application isn’t encouraged—it’s just left in your hands, thanks to the book’s reflection questions (which you really need to use—they add so much to the reading experience!).

Because we’re constantly inundated with “new,” we risk becoming a people who fail to take the time to enjoy what really matters. The gospel should never be something we move past, or shrug our shoulders at. This just won’t do. Whether you’ve struggled with familiarity or you’re consistently amazed at the cross, Captivated is a book that will be a great blessing to you.


Title: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Author: Thabiti Anyabwile
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Invest by Sutton Turner

Invest-Book_v2

In ministry, it’s easy to think of certain gifts as being more valuable than others. We look at one man’s ability to handle the Scriptures and applaud. We look at another’s ability to manage an organization and… well, often times we’re not quite sure what to do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate those abilities. It’s just we have a hard time thinking of them as having a purpose in ministry. And as a result, some Christians who want to use their gifts to bless their churches are left in a lurch.

Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission by Sutton Turner is written for people like this. People with serious business skills and a heart for the church, but struggle to see how their gifts can be used to benefit the body. Turner uses his experience as the current executive pastor of Mars Hill Church to help business-minded believers see how they can work for the glory of God, perhaps by considering taking on the role of an executive pastor.

A good reminder of the need for business savvy

The best thing about Invest is the refreshing reminder of the need for business savvy in ministry. “Ministry” should not be code for sloppy planning and procedures. But this is pretty common, sadly. Many who gravitate toward ministry roles tend to be people who want to spiritually guide people, but aren’t particularly savvy with administration or business practices. It my never occur to them to think about things like licensing for the songs we sing on Sundays, or the tax regulations that need to be followed in order to maintain charitable status.

So churches and parachurch ministries alike can greatly benefit from believers who are skilled and passionate about such things. People who care about what the organizational structure looks like and whether or not it actually works in practice, and who care about staff culture and dynamics. We need to be concerned about these things, and, thankfully, God has gifted certain individuals to be deeply passionate about them.

While I appreciate the general premise of the book, there’s a great deal about it I’m concerned about:

[Read more...]

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

evangelism sovereignty packer

The mysterious “they” say the greatest fear of many people—even more than death!—is public speaking. Standing before an audience, whether it’s a group of three or three hundred, is absolutely terrifying for some. But you know something? I think there’s something else that’s far more terrifying, especially for Christians:

Evangelism.

So many of us seem to be terrified of the idea of sharing our faith—we don’t know how to do it, we don’t want to do it “wrong.” But for some of us, our questions about evangelism aren’t simply of the “how-to” variety—they’re all about the “why”:

If God is truly sovereign over all of creation, why do we need to evangelize at all?

Does active evangelism suggest God isn’t really as sovereign as we think?

All of us at one time or another ask these questions, even if it’s only to ourselves. Many of us struggle to see how an all-sovereign God could require human beings to be involved in the work of salvation. At our worst, some fall prey to the notion that we have no need to evangelize at all, while others find themselves without any confidence that God will indeed save some.

J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a sharp corrective to both of these errors. God’s sovereignty is not a barrier to evangelism, Packer argues. Instead, “faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks” (10). [Read more...]

Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller

romans-for-you-Keller

Romans: it’s one of the most intimidating, confusing, and powerful books in the entirety of Scripture. In its 16 chapters, the apostle Paul casts a sweeping vision God’s redemptive purposes—”how God in the gospel makes sinners righteous, but also how this most precious gift of God is enjoyed in our lives,” writes Tim Keller in Romans 1-7 For You, “how it produces deep and massive changes in our behavior and even in our character.”

In his typical irenic fashion, Keller unpacks the message of the first seven chapters of Romans, helping us see the beauty of the gospel and our desperate need for it.

The gospel is for everyone

One of the most challenging issues we face reading Romans—and indeed, all of Scripture—is Paul’s emphatic decree that all of humanity is lost in when confronted by the justice of God.

That we are all, “without excuse,” with no hope to be found in moralism or pleas of ignorance. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Paul wrote in Romans 3:22-23. But he doesn’t leave us without hope. For while all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God, all who are saved “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Moralism doesn’t justify, nor does ignorance. Instead, it is only God’s grace, the gift of redemption found in Jesus. And this is such good news for all of us:

God does not set his justice aside; he turns it onto himself. The cross does not represent a compromise between God’s wrath and his love; it does not satisfy each halfway. Rather, it satisfies each fully and in the very same action. On the cross, the wrath and love of God were both vindicated, both demonstrated, and both expressed perfectly. They both shine out, and are utterly fulfilled. The cross is a demonstration both of God’s justice, and of his justifying love (Romans 3:25-26).

Who is the man in Romans 7—believer or unbeliever?

Although all of Keller’s examination of Romans 1-7 is sound and edifying, perhaps no portion was more helpful to me personally than reading his view of the “wretched man” of Romans 7:7-25. Paul’s exposition of the effects of sin, the desire to do what is right, but being confounded by sin, has left many scratching their heads. Was he talking about Paul the unbeliever or Paul the believer?

Keller believes—and I would be inclined to agree—that Paul was writing of his then-present experience as a Christian, and the conflicting desires we all wrestle with. He writes:

We have, in some sense, “multiple selves.” Sometimes we want to be this; sometimes we want to be that. Morally, most people feel “torn” between diverse selves as well. Freud went so far as to talk about an inner “libido” (filled with primal desires) and a “superego” (the conscience filled with social and familial standards). The great question we all face is: I have divergent desires, different “selves.” Which is my true self? What do I most want?

This is helpful for so many reasons (and not simply because of confirmation bias). The point of Paul’s writing about these truths, that he continued to struggle with sin—and if anything, as he grew older, became increasingly aware of his own sinfulness—is to push us toward deeper dependence upon the Lord Jesus.

We are not justified and then left to our own devices to grow in holiness. If, to borrow an analogy, the gospel merely reset our righteousness back to zero, instead of giving us Christ’s, we’d still be damned. We do not do the things we want to do, and we do the things we don’t want to do. Paul’s point is simple, Keller says: “The unbeliever cannot keep the law (v 7-13); but neither can the believer!”

When we read God’s law properly, and when we look at our own lives honestly, we can only conclude that we are “wretched.” Without accepting this, we will never grasp the glory of the gospel. We will never truly appreciate the gospel of received righteousness. Only if our hearts truly cry at our wretchedness can we then know the hope and liberation of looking away from ourselves and to what God has done. Who will rescue Paul, and us? “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25).

For the good of your soul

Like the other volumes in the For You series, Romans 1-7 For You is not an exhaustive study of Paul’s epistle, nor is it intended to be. As I described the recently released Judges For You, this is a devotional commentary. Use it like one.

Allow Keller’s insights in Romans 1-7 For You to inform your study. Glean helpful insights and illustrations to use in sermons or small group studies. But even as you do, read it with the good of your soul in mind, recognizing afresh all Christ has done on your behalf, and grasping anew the glory of the gospel in Romans.


Title: Romans 1-7 For You
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson

whats-your-worldview-anderson

When I was a boy, I loved “choose-your-own-adventure” novels. There was one I especially loved in my school library, a Star Trek one if I recall correctly. Depending on how you answered a question, Captain Kirk could be romancing a lady with green-skin and low standards, or a Klingon warship could de-cloak and blow up the Enterprise.

In hindsight, the book was pretty cheesy, but there was something really exciting about discovering the outcome of a particular choice. What I chose drastically impacted the story.

Who’d have thought this would make a great template for a book on worldviews? Inspired by “choose-your-own-adventure” novels, James Anderson set out to write a book allowing readers to see how their answers reveal what they believe about life, the universe, and everything. And this is exactly what you’ll find in What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions.

By up to 21 questions—dealing with freedom, truth and knowledge, unity, matter and mind, and pretty much everything in between—Anderson takes readers on a journey to discover their worldview. Depending on how you answer, you may discover you’re a Deist, Christian, Relativist, Skeptic or any one of a number of alternatives.

This is extremely helpful for readers to see, as I’ve no doubt there are many who don’t give any thought to the idea of worldview at all. After all, “worldviews are like belly buttons,” he writes. “Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often. Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one” (12).

He continues:

A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted: you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. Much the same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.

If our worldview is this important, then we ought to be more aware of it. We should wrestle with the beliefs undergirding all our other thoughts and beliefs because it truly changes everything. Take the issue of abortion, for example. What we believe about its validity  as a practice is necessarily tied up in what we believe about the nature of humanity, when life begins, its value… The same can be said of same-sex marriage, poverty alleviation or any number of hot-button issues.

What we believe drastically affects our response, so we should seek to be more aware of the framework undergirding our thinking.

But readers should also be quick to understand this is not an in-depth analysis of any particular worldview. What Anderson offers readers is a basic sketch covering the major points of each of worldview mentioned (21 in all). Although there’s part of me that would love to have seen more, Anderson’s approach is a welcome one since it’s clearly meant as a launch pad for further study, rather than a one-and-done experience.

When I read through What’s Your Worldview?, I immediately began thinking of the different applications for it. I believe there are two distinct uses for it. First, the book would be an excellent tool to use with newer believers or those who are looking for a basic primer on what a worldview is, and what some of the major ones out there look like.

Second, and most importantly, this seems to be an ideal book with which to engage non-believers to open the door to the gospel. The style of the book itself is extremely non-threatening, eschewing editorializing and the temptation to persuade to a specific way of thinking (at least as much as any of us are capable).

In fact, if there’s anything he’s attempting to persuade readers of at all, it’s this: worldviews really, really matter. “Your basic view of the world shapes how you feel about the world and how you engage with the world” (102).  What you believe drastically impacts what you do. What’s Your Worldview? is a wonderful tool to help us understand this truth, and I trust it will be a blessing to all who engage with it.


Title: What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions
Author: James N. Anderson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at Westminster Book | Amazon

What to remember when you change your mind about a book

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Maybe you’ve had this experience before—the thought that comes the exact moment after you hit publish:

What if I change my mind?

I’ve written a lot of book reviews over the last five years. Some books I’ve really enjoyed; others I wonder why I ever read in the first place (probably because I got them for free from one of the blog review programs). But for the most part, I’ve never felt a deep burden to go back and change a review once it’s written. Even so, every so often, the temptation strikes:

  • when a book makes its way back into the reading pile and I notice something different about it;
  • when other thoughtful reviewers raise concerns I didn’t even notice during my read through (either because I didn’t pick up on them or I was blinded by a nasty case of “fanboy-itis”); or
  • when the review simply wasn’t very well written.

So what do in these situations? Well, there are a few things you need to remember:

1. Your review is representative of your opinion at the time it was written. This is just the result of time, and (hopefully) wisdom and maturity. Opinions change, writing abilities improve, convictions either firm or soften… it just happens. And when it does, you can change what you’ve written, but it doesn’t mean you have to.

For example, some time ago, I wrote a review of N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. The first time out, it had a few catchy lines, but it was in dire need of a polish. In all honesty, even though I loved the book (still do, too), the review itself was kind of a mess. So I decided to rewrite it and republish it.

But poorly written reviews aside, there are a number of books I’ve reviewed over the years that, honestly, I don’t think I was hard enough on. I wasn’t asking the right questions of them, or I was filling in the gaps for myself. (Here’s one example that comes to mind.) But do I feel a burning need to revisit it? Not really. I’ve got enough on my plate to deal with than that.

2. The shelf-life is short, so you probably don’t need to worry about it. Book reviews tend to be very (VERY) time sensitive, and because so many books are published each week, the book you might have been sure was going to be life-changing may be collecting dust in a remainder bin right now. So if you wrote a review and you feel like you gaffed on it, you probably don’t need to sweat it. it’s likely no one’s reading it these days, anyway.

3. It’s never too late to publish a retraction or clarification. This really comes down to a matter of conscience. If you wrote a glowing review for one of Joel Osteen’s books and have recognized the error of your ways, it’s okay to fix it. If you wrote a particularly harsh review of a book that, after some more time and maybe an additional read, you realize wasn’t so bad, it’s alright to say so.

In other words, it’s never too late to say, “In 2011, I wrote that I believe Real Marriage was more good than bad. Upon careful consideration since reviewing the book, I no longer believe this to be true.”1

Changing our minds is simply part of life. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen to you. So enjoy it when it happens. Leave what should be left alone, alone. Change what needs to be changed. Just make sure you don’t lose any sleep over it.

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax

Gospel-Centered-Teaching

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...]

My favorite books to review in 2013

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Yesterday I shared some of my favorite books to read in 2013 (many of which I reviewed). Today, I want to share a few of my favorite books to review.

(And no, this isn’t a case of “I just liked so many books I couldn’t limit the list,” as you’ll see in a minute.)

These are not all books I enjoyed, nor are they all books I’d recommend you read yourself. But all were books that challenged me in some way as I tried to figure out how to best review them, whether because of disagreements with the content or because the genre was something I’d never tackled before. Simply, they were some of the books that let me exercise my critical thinking skills.

So, with that in mind, here are the reviews I most enjoyed writing in 2013:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Why’d it make the list? Being familiar with Evans’ work, I knew I wasn’t likely to agree with her conclusions in the book from the get-to. But the challenge here was finding ways to articulate my disagreement in a way that would be helpful and appreciate the good points of the book.

One of my concluding lines was “On some points, A Year of Biblical Womanhood offers some extremely helpful insights. On others, though, it comes across as petty and juvenile,” so I’m not sure how well I succeeded there.

Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau

Why’d it make the list? While the book is a bit stuffy in its writing style (it skews academic), its subject matter is too important not to give careful consideration. I’ve seen attempt to present a balanced view of the major positions on human origins. Rau did a very good job of this, as well as pointing out the often overlooked role of our presuppositions in interpreting scientific data.

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

Why’d it make the list? Trevin’s book is one of the first serious attempts I’ve made at reviewing a work of fiction. In fact, it might actually be the first fiction book I’ve reviewed. And any time I need to start a review writing, “Clear Winter Nights is not an ugly book,” I think it means I had some thinking to do.

Does God Listen to Rap? by Curtis Allen

Why’d it make the list? Because controversial subjects require a lot of thought. Allen clearly worked hard to address the concerns about Christian rap from a biblical perspective and his arguments require careful consideration.

God’s Good Design by Claire Smith

Why’d it make the list? This book had almost the opposite problem of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Because I’m in agreement with the arguments made by the author, I still needed to figure out how to think through these with a degree of objectiveness. Again, not sure how well I succeeded there, so you’ll have to be the judge.

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado

Why’d it make the list? Mostly because reviewing a book geared toward children is incredibly challenging. At the risk of being obvious, writing a book for kids isn’t the same as writing for adults. There’s more nuance you can include in a book for big people that doesn’t work well with little ones. Nevertheless, I think I stand by my conclusion: “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.”

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

Why’d it make the list? This was, far and away, the most challenging review I wrote all year for me personally. I found myself with a large list of concerns, as well as a number of things I appreciated about the book—which, in hindsight, actually were some of my concerns!

So those were a few of my favorite books to review. Although a number of them are books I’d probably recommend you not read, hopefully checking out the reviews will help you understand why I like the process of reviewing so much.

Critical thinking is good for your soul

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

There’s a line I shared in my little eBook on how to write book reviews that goes like this:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not to be sycophants. Don’t write a review that sounds like it was written by one.”

I want to take a bit of time today to expand on that a little more.

One of the mistakes I see less experienced bloggers make—which, by the way is a really bizarre statement to make (when did I become one of the more experienced bloggers??)—is always writing positive reviews. They seem to be wowed by every single book they read!

Now, I know there are some bloggers who only write reviews of books they like, and that’s fine, if your genuine, heartfelt conviction is you only want to talk about books you unabashedly love. But honestly, I can’t go there. Why?

Because critical thinking is good for your soul—and it’s a skill we sorely lack in our culture, Christian and otherwise. The Bible calls critical thinking “discernment,” which is referred to as both a discipline and a spiritual gift. Basically the idea is being able to identify truth from error, and doing so requires effort. It’s like exercising. The more consistently you do it, the stronger your muscles get, and the more your endurance increases.

So what do you need to do? The best way to know how to identify truth from error is to know the truth really, really well. So you read your Bible, you study it diligently. You work hard at this.

But then you need to put it into practice. There are two ways I do this: the first is I periodically read books I know I’m unlikely to align with theologically (such as A Year of Biblical Womanhood or Love Wins). This allows me to both test my own assumptions as well as think through the arguments and implications of other works. The goal, particularly when reading a book like this for review purposes, is to develop a balanced, helpful critique.

The other way I put it into practice is by, as I explained in the eBook, treating the author as secondary to the message. This is especially important when reading someone you like. Because you’ve got your own biases at work, you’ve got to be diligent to push through and not assume—whether because the author is a personal friend or an influential figure you admire from afar—what’s being written should be given a pass. Doing so is both dishonoring to the author’s intentions1 and damaging to you as a Christian. Thinking critically about the material from trusted sources has allowed me to dig into my own assumptions in a way that even reading opposing views doesn’t.

This was certainly the case when reviewing Why Cities Matter, which actually helped me to focus my views on urban ministry a little more definitively (in that I’m now far less comfortable saying we should focus on urban contexts at the expense of rural ones in order to “reach the culture”). Driscoll’s new book helped me work out my views on video preaching and think about the implications of a teaching pastor divorced from the body.

Finally, moving beyond the personal, there’s the benefit to those reading the review: when you read a critical review, you’re seeing a model of how to think critically. When I write a critical review, I don’t want you to just know what I think, I want you to see how I got there. I want you to see how I think and use what’s helpful in your own thinking.

Obviously I’m not advocating slamming books for the sake of slamming them. And I don’t want anyone to feel bad about writing predominantly positive reviews. What I am advocating for is careful, consistent, thoughtful discernment. A little good ole fashioned critical thinking is good for the soul, both your own and your reader’s.

How to write a great book review

“How do you write a great book review?”

I have a love-hate relationship with this question. It’s wonderful to see that people want to know how to do this, and it’s a real privilege that they seem to enjoy mine enough to want to know how I write mine. But—and there’s always a but, isn’t there?—I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I get asked. You see, I have a confession:

Most everything I know about writing good reviews, I learned from other bloggers.

That’s why I’ve put together this new little eBook, How to Write a Great Book Review.

This book isn’t intended to be “how to write a review like Aaron Armstrong.” Honestly, I don’t believe I’m pretentious enough to say that my reviews are always worth emulating (at least, I hope I’m not!). Instead, I want you take the principles I’ve learned over the last several years from writing a couple hundred different reviews, work them into your own routine and go to town!

Download a copy of How to Write a Great Book Review.

But it’s not just my advice you’ll read here: a short while before diving into this project, I asked a few of my friends in the blogging community to offer up some of their best advice for book reviewers. Their advice is worth far more than anything I can offer on my own, so I’m grateful for their contributions.

I hope you find the book helpful. Enjoy!