We have a man crisis in our culture and our churches—so what do we do about it? Darrin Patrick offers his insights in Church PlanterContinue Reading...
Archives For Reviews
What do you think of when you think about the rural church (if anything)?
Outdated methodology? Gradually decaying buildings? Rapidly aging congregations? Ineffective in reaching people for Christ?
This list might seem harsh, but more often than not, this is what many of us think of when we consider the rural church. And the reality is that it’s sadly true. Without a powerful revitalization of rural congregations, thousands of churches won’t make it through the next decade.
Shannon O’Dell, pastor of Brand New Church, believes that revitalization is possible—that the rural church can actually be an incredibly effective instrument for advancing the Kingdom of God. And in Transforming Church in Rural America, O’Dell shares this vision as he recounts how God did it in his own church.
O’Dell never wanted to be a rural pastor. His dreams were to pastor a big urban church, with a big urban congregation, budget and building. He didn’t want to be stuck in the sticks. But God called him there, to a small church of 31 people. In the years since he arrived, he’s seen people at their worst as he tipped a few sacred cows and at their best as God matured the men and women of this church for His glory.
When I read the first few pages, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to get. So I was quite pleased to find that the principles that O’Dell shares ultimately all center around the same thing: Making disciples.
“[The church grows] congregants rather than a congregation,” O’Dell writes (p. 105). “We build people, not organizations. If we build organizations, we will end up with buildings and programs that serve only themselves.” Continue Reading…
Title: The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ
Author: John MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)
Who is Jesus Christ? Just about everyone has a different answer to this question. Some see Him as a great moral teacher and ultimately a really nice guy. “Gentle Jesus, meek & mild.” A Jesus who is, ultimately, easy to ignore.
But is that the Jesus of the Bible? According to pastor and author John MacArthur, the answer is an emphatic “no.”
And in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ, MacArthur carefully examines the Scriptures to show readers the powerful and provocative character of Jesus of Nazareth.
As MacArthur leads his audience through a study of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees, he reveals that every encounter was antagonistic—and instigated by Jesus Himself. So opposed was He to false religion, that, writes MacArthur, “[b]y today’s standards, Jesus’ words about the Pharisees and His treatment of them are breathtakingly severe.” (p. 21)
MacArthur’s examination of Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders of His day bring to light the author’s concern about the state of modern evangelicalism—that we’ve confused niceness for godliness, which has resulted in an anemic faith that has sacrificed a willingness to earnestly contend for the Truth for a willingness to accommodate virtually any and all viewpoints or perspectives, no matter how contrary they might be to biblical Christianity. Continue Reading…
Title: Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East
Author: Bryant Wright
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
It’s rare that a day goes by when there isn’t a new story in the media about the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Despite attempts to forge a lasting peace, there is none to be found. Temporary cease-fires give way to full-scale conflict. Suicide bombers wreak havoc throughout the region. Iran’s president has stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map. It seems like no matter what action is taken, no matter who is involved in peace talks, it just keeps going.
Buy why? Why is there such turmoil in this region—and why is Israel at the center of it?
The root of the problem, says author Bryant Wright in Seeds of Turmoil, lies in the sinful actions of one man: Abraham.
In part one of Seeds of Turmoil (which is the bulk of the text), Wright walks readers through the biblical account of the birth of Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael, and of the rivalry between his grandchildren, Jacob and Esau, explaining how the prophecies made about each are still coming to bear in our present age.
These chapters read very much like sermon or lecture transcripts. There is a great deal of repetition that in a series of messages would feel quite natural (reminding & reinforcing what was learned the week prior); however, in print form it falls a bit flat as a reader moves from one chapter to the next in relatively quick succession.
Even still, I can understand why Wright felt the need to cover the same ground in multiple chapters—it’s important to stress that the conflict that exists today is, in a very real sense, a conflict between two “brothers.”
Had Sarah, in an act of unbelief, not told Abraham to sleep with Hagar (which he did without complaint), Ishmael would never have been born and God would never have said of him that he would be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12)—a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the modern Arab nations of the Middle East. Similarly, had Jacob not stolen the blessing of Esau, there would not be the strife that exists between Israel and Edom (modern-day Jordan).
These chapters also do a solid job of stressing the seriousness of sin. Abraham committed (consensual) adultery. Jacob committed identity theft. And the consequences are felt to this very day. Continue Reading…
Title: The Boy Who Changed the World
Author: Andy Andrews
Publisher: Thomas Nelson/Tommy Nelson (2010)
Andy Andrews is an author who desires to inspire. In the last book of his I read, The Noticer (reviewed here), Andrews sought to show readers how a bit of perspective on their circumstances can completely change their outlook on life. In his latest, The Boy Who Changed the World (a children’s book), Andrews seeks to encourage young readers to make the most of their lives.
Andrews quickly tells the stories of four men: Norman Borlaug, a farm boy from Iowa who grew up to develop a seed that has helped feed billions of people; Henry Wallace, 33rd Vice President of the United States who, as a boy, loved learning about plants and, as an adult, hired Borlaug to develop his “super seed;” George Washington Carver, a student who taught Wallace all about plants (and later became a teacher & scientist who discovered 266 different things you can do with peanuts); and Moses Carver, a farmer who rescued young George from bandits who’d burned down Carver’s barn and raised George as his own son.
As Andrews shows, each one affected the others in ways that none of them could have anticipated. If Moses hadn’t rescued George, George would never have gone on to teach Henry about plants. And if Henry hadn’t learned about plants, he’d never have gone on to be the Secretary of Agriculture and then Vice President, and he’d never have hired Norman to develop his super seed.
In these inspirational tales, Andrews wants children to know one thing: “Your life matters more than you know.” This is a good message for children (and adults, too).It’s a reminder that the decisions we make have far reaching consequences, for good and bad; you never know what’s going to happen because chose to serve in the children’s ministry at your church. You never know the impact of a great teacher or even a dad who spends real quality time with his kids.
Because the book (like all of Andrews’ books) is designed to inspire broadly, it’s a strong moral message. Where The Boy Who Changed the World falls flat is that because it’s so focused on inspiring kids to see how their lives matter, (“God made your life so important…”), if taken alone, the message can leave kids (and adults) thinking, “Wow, God made me really special. I must be really something,” but miss the fact that He does so for His glory and not our own.
All that said, I did enjoy The Boy Who Changed the World and am comfortable sharing with my daughters. I believe that parents will, overall, find the book helpful and be able to use it to encourage discussion as a family about how God might use each of us to make an impact in our communities and (maybe) the world.
An electronic copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publishers
Title: Permission to Speak Freely
Author: Anne Jackson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
“What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?”
When Anne Jackson published that question on her blog in May, 2008, she wasn’t prepared for the response. 497 comments (and counting) later, she knew she’d hit on something significant: A large number of people feel like they can’t be open and honest about their struggles with their church.
Jackson knows something about this. As the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor, Jackson struggled with pornography addiction, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, sexual abuse at the hands of a youth pastor and depression. For years, she never felt the freedom to share these things with anyone but those closest to her (including her husband). In Permission to Speak Freely, Jackson shares her struggles and what she’s learned about the healing & freedom that comes from opening up about our sins, temptations and abuses we may have faced.
This book is messy. Jackson’s writing is alternatingly funny, raw, and at times all-together heartbreaking. Reading her struggles with depression and attempts to push away her husband… this really hit me hard as a man whose wife struggles with depression.
In all honesty, the fact that she could even gather up the courage to share her struggles the way she has in Permission to Speak Freely is to be applauded. It’s extremely helpful for others to know they’re not alone in facing depression, sexual temptation, pornography addictions… The worst thing we can do to ourselves in our sin is to convince ourselves that we’re the only ones who face whatever it is that tempts or has power over us. Sharing her experiences with pornography, drugs and depression shows others that they too can overcome. They can speak up. They can be healed. They can have hope.
This—what she refers to in the book as “the gift of going second”—is a great gift indeed.
Title: Ryken’s Bible Handbook
Authors: Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and James Wilhoit
Publisher: Tyndale House (2005)
Studying the Bible can be a challenge. While the majority is relatively straightforward, there are many passages and books that don’t make sense to the average reader. How do you properly interpret a book like Revelation? How do you apply the Proverbs, the Parables or the Song of Solomon?
And where do you start to look for answers?
Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and James Wilhoit’s Ryken’s Bible Handbook is a great starting point. This book provides a book-by-book overview of the entire Bible, complete with notes on the context, the key themes and doctrines, key words and phrases, tips for teaching and even historical perspectives.
Much of this information is really a student or teacher’s dream come true! Because I’m a bit of a geek about these kinds of things, I really appreciated reading the insights of the three authors, especially because they give a little different perspective than your average study Bible. While there is definitely some crossover, the authors have a little more space to go in-depth into the subject matter. The tips for reading & teaching are exceptional as they give little nuggets to direct the flow of application questions you might ask in a small group or points to bring up in a sermon. They also point out things for you to watch for in your reading.
Especially helpful for me, though, were the articles on reading each literary style. One of the great struggles I’ve had in teaching and preaching is making sure I’m honoring the text as literature. You don’t preach the Psalms the same way you would a narrative passage of the Gospels or Acts. You don’t teach a parable the same way you would Proverbs. But by understanding each unique style that appears in the Bible, I’m better able to communicate that and avoid coming up with interpretations that are completely off-base.
For example, by knowing that many passages contain satire (the exposure of human vice or folly, often accompanied by humor or sarcasm), you’re better able to understand many of Jesus’ own comments.
Take Matthew 19:24. Here, Jesus says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” If you take that literally (as some commentators have), you end up in this kind of crazy place where you have to suggest that there was a tiny gate in the wall of Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that a camel could only pass through if it were crawling.
Or, if you read it as satire, you see the rebuke—that the love of money is a snare and it’s easier for the impossible to happen (a camel fitting through the eye of a needle) than for one who is consumed with the love of material wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Understanding the literary style helps you better understand these passages and actually be able to see glimpses of Jesus’ sense of humor.
Ryken’s Bible Handbook is an invaluable resource to any student of the Bible. It’s helpful, insightful and well worth the investment.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review by the publishers
Title: Anne Bradstreet
Author: D. B. Kellogg
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)
The colonization of America in the 17th century was a fascinating time period. The circumstances that drove men and women to travel for weeks to forge a new life for themselves in what would become the United States are beyond what most of us can fathom. And the story is often told as acts of relentless heroism and bravery in the face of uncertainty.
Except when it comes to the Puritans. The Salem witch trials and an inflexible attitude & work ethic are, sadly, what the bulk of us think of when we consider the Puritans who founded much of New England.
And because of this, it’s easy to overlook figures like Anne Bradstreet, a devoted Puritan, wife, mother and… poet. Published as part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series, Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg offers readers a taste of the life of this extremely unusual figure.
And unusual she was. Continue Reading…
Title: The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)
When I was a kid, the only time I ever heard the word “catechism” was when a friend grumbled about how he couldn’t be wait to be done with it when he was thirteen. I had no idea what a catechism was, but sounded horrible—obviously it was some sort of hellish torture device. So imagine my surprise when I eventually learned that it was a simply a series of questions and answers about the Bible. (In all fairness, I’ve also come to realize that for someone who doesn’t believe the Bible or have a desire to know more about Jesus, it would seem rather hellish.)
Kevin DeYoung knows all about this. Growing up in the Christian Reformed Church, the Heidelberg Catechism was a part of his life. While he always appreciated it, it wasn’t seen as something terribly exciting. But it was in his seminary days, seeing the reaction of his fellow students, that he was reminded of just how meaningful the Heidelberg Catechism really is. “My classmates were seeing something many of my peers had missed. The Heidelberg Catechism is really, really good” (p. 16).
That, ultimately led DeYoung to write The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. DeYoung structures the book as a devotional commentary, sharing his insights on each of Heidelberg’s 129 questions over 52 Lord’s Days. The catechism’s questions are run opposite each of DeYoung’s essays, allowing readers like me to appreciate the Heidelberg for itself.
That, honestly, is one of the things I appreciate most about The Good News We Almost Forgot. I love learning about historical Christian thought and seeing the catechism’s structure—covering the broad topics of guilt, grace, and gratitude while explaining the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer—is fascinating. Continue Reading…
Title: Rescuing Ambition
Author: Dave Harvey
Publisher: Crossway (2010)
Ambition is rarely considered a virtue for Christians. Historically, it’s carried with it connotations of seeking after personal glory and fame; of desiring for my own greatness, rather than God’s. But Dave Harvey wants to change our understanding of ambition and show us that being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean being selfish. That’s why he wrote Rescuing Ambition.
In this book, Harvey walks readers through a biblical understanding of ambition, beginning with our creation. “We love glory,” he writes (p. 21). “We were created to look for it and to love it when we find it.” It’s why we love rock stars, actors, authors, athletes. It’s why we want to be those things. There’s glory there, even if it’s fleeting.
And God doesn’t condemn seeking after glory—in fact, says Harvey, he commends it. But the glory we’re to seek after is His. It’s Christ. Christ is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3), and therefore the object of godly pursuit. To seek after glory is to seek after Christ and the things he pursues.
This is to be our ambition.
As Harvey continues, he shows us how our ambitions have been corrupted by sin as we’ve “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). Thus, naturally our ambitions turn in on ourselves, where we seek to make ourselves great. However, Harvey says, the opposite occurs. We actually make ourselves smaller by trying to make ourselves great. Worse, we place ourselves under God’s wrath. He writes: Continue Reading…
It’s hard to find great kid’s music that’s both fun to listen to and has rich content. (Parents reading this, can you back me up on this?)
When I learned about this record, I was intrigued. We’ve got very little children’s music that I’d consider great, especially that provides us with opportunities to talk about faith with our kids (which is a fun thing to do with a three-year-old; the baby doesn’t have much to say yet). With a family vacation on the horizon, I listened to a couple of samples (see below) and decided to give it a shot.
What was the verdict?
Meet the Rizers blew me away. Seriously.
Tyson Paoletti of Tooth & Nail Records and Greg Lutze (both members of Mars Hill Church in Seattle) had an idea for an album of Scripture-based, guitar-pop worship songs for kids. As parents, they were also looking for a way to teach Scripture memorization as a value in their homes.
This desire led them, ultimately, to create this record.
By taking nine passages from the Bible and setting them to music, Meet the Rizers allows children (and parents) to not only listen to some catchy, head bopping music, but to learn to memorize Scripture.
The idea is very clever and the execution is top-notch. And honestly, I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been to arrange the music for each verse. It’s evident that a great deal of care has been taken with each song to make sure the integrity of the Scripture is maintained while not sacrificing musical quality. While all the songs are catchy, a particular favorite of is Psalm 8:1. Because the psalms are mostly songs, it was fascinating for me to hear one set to music. And the arrangement works so well—it’s fun to listen to and easy to memorize.
So what was our oldest daughter’s reaction?
When I put the record on for the first time, Abigail saw the picture and immediately assumed that it was a cartoon. After I explained to her that it there was only audio, she still insisted on having the large image on the screen. (She continues to ask for the big picture when we’re at the iMac.)
On the drive to our vacation, she gleefully bopped along to the music in the backseat. This was after listening to it three times in the house before we left.
Now, every time I take her anywhere, her first question is, “Can we listen to Meet the Rizers?!”
This is a good problem to have, but it also means I need to find more children’s music of this caliber.
Meet the Rizers sets the bar high for future releases from the group and for kid-friendly music in general.
If you’re looking for something for your next road trip or to put on while you’re hanging around the house, don’t pass up this record.
Title: Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things
Author: Mike McKinley
Publisher: Crossway (2010)
Church planting is kind of the en vogue thing these days. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace, and Harvest Bible Fellowship (among others), church planting has never (as far as I’m aware) been more front of mind as an effective and God-honoring approach to missions.
So, how do you do it?
In Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things, Pastor Mike McKinley doesn’t exactly answer that question, but he does share what he learned while replanting Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, VA, with a great deal of humility and more than a little sanctified sarcasm.
As a seminary student in 2004, McKinley met with his former pastor, Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Dever told him that Capitol Hill was going to start planting churches, and they wanted McKinley to be their “guinea pig church planter.” Continue Reading…