Review: Os Guinness’ Fool’s Talk (IVP Books)

Os begins by setting out two propositions: first, we are in “the grand age of apologetics” (16) and second, “We have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it”(17 italics original). His game plan? Bringing together the art of apologetic and evangelism. Divorce the two and you get Christians only concerned with winning arguments and not people or just concerned with ABC repeat-after-me tactics. When the two are combined, you have arguments that take other’s belief seriously, are actually concerned for people, and are aimed at the heart.

I’m a recovering ABC repeat-after-me evangelists and grew up in a tradition that could be manipulative when inviting people to Christ. So even though in my head I know persuasion isn’t bad sometimes I find myself suspicious when the word pops up in the context of evangelism. If you’re like me, you might have thought, Shouldn’t we just proclaim the gospel and allow the Spirit to work?

What I loved most of all was how cruciform and Spirit-dependent Os was through out Fool’s Talk. He made clear our arguments rest on the cross of Christ which is folly to an unbelieving world and the power of the Spirit (28). Persuasion doesn’t mean deception or cheesy bait-and-switch tactics. It means approaching apologetics-evangelism with excellence like we would anything else.

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Review: Fear and Faith by Trillia J. Newbell (Moody Publishers)

OK you may be wondering why I am reviewing Trillia Newbell’s Fear and Faith—a book for women. I found myself wondering how I related to so much of what Trillia wrote. Don’t get me wrong. Fear and Faith is geared towards women. She addresses seven prevailing fears for women—fear of man, the future, other women, tragedy, not measuring up, physical appearance, and sexual intimacy. But she fundamentally deals with core fears of the human heart.

Fear and Faith is about how, when we place our security in the Lord, we too can wear strength as our clothing (Proverbs 31:17)” (18). We do that by fighting fear with the fear of the Lord (17). She says later, “We fear Him because we know Him—a knowing that is intimate and initiated by Him” (113). Knowing God produces a healthy fear that destroys the destructive kind of fear.

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Review: G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim’s God Dwells Among Us (IVP)

God Dwells Among Us exemplified biblical study in service of every day mission. Beale and Kim state upfront, “The goal of this book is to strengthen biblical conviction for sacrificial mission” 14. In this regard, this book succeeds on all fronts. They argue further,

“Mission does not begin with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, but mission is God’s heartbeat from Genesis 1 until the new heaven and earth become the dwelling place of the Lord God Almighty in Revelation 21-22” 16.

They accomplish this by first laying the foundation for this claim.

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Review: D. A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Praying with Paul (Baker Academic)

When I first became a Christian the primary way that I learned to pray was by praying the prayers in Scripture. Sometimes I prayed them word-for-word, but often I would take texts as launching points and then move on to pray in my own words according to the structure, content, and principle illuminated in them. Though I later made two Christian friends who prayed amazingly eloquent and Spirit-filled (not pretentious) prayers, in my early months as a Christian I didn't encounter a pray-er whose praying I wanted to emulate. I don't think my struggle to find a model of prayer outside the Bible is uncommon. Cartoonist Adam Ford has humorously portrayed the way many Christians pray in a comic titled, “If we talked to people the way we talk to God” (see comic to right).

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Review: N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus (IVP Academic)

The Challenge of Jesus challenged my understanding of who Jesus was and is. In a way that Wright often does, he chops the feet off both conservative evangelicals and liberals. This can be both a strength and weakness. I found my understanding of the significance of the Temple for Christ’s vocation and for the gospel story expanded (more on that later). My only gripe if I must have one was that in several places bold statements are made without citation (see 45, 106, 131, 147). In many cases, these were statements I quite agreed with and wanted to further dig into the topic, but there was nothing to follow up on.

The Challenge of Jesus shows off Wright at his best. He interacts with the historical Jesus crowd and he does so on their terms as a historian and, in my opinion, conclusive shows that Jesus was a real person who actually died and actually was raised from the dead. He also very deftly situates his task within the its proper context. He shows why we needed the Enlightenment (19-20), where modernism failed, and where postmodernism took over and where it too failed, and he does all this with an eye towards who Jesus is.


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Review: Michael Reeves’ Rejoicing in Christ (IVP Academic)

About half way through in the margins of my copy of Rejoicing in Christ, I write “punchy, down to earth, and full of merriment.” That’s my review. Reeves surprises (meant in the most positive fashion) with equal parts verve and gladness. He’s not afraid to turn a phrase or punch you in the nose with an arresting metaphor. I found myself lost many times in worship as I read. That is rare and to be praised. Reeves has done it again.

What’s odd about Rejoicing in Christ is that Reeves admits it’s run-of-the-mill:

Once upon a time a book like this would have utterly run-of-the-mill. Among the old Puritans, for example, you can scarcely find a writer who did not write—or a preacher who did not preach—something called The Searchable Riches of Christ, Christ Set Forth, The Glory of Christ or the like. Yet today, what sells? What puts the smile on the booksellers face? The book that is about the reader. (9)

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Review: Joshua Ryan Butler’s The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Thomas Nelson)

One of the most perennially difficult questions concerning God is related to His goodness: How can He be good when suffering and evil exist? Isn't God a sadistic, egomaniacal monster for sending countless people to the torture chamber of hell for refusing to worship Him? How could He command the Israelites to slaughter the Caananites in the Old Testament? These are not only some of the biggest objections non-Christians have to the Christian faith, but they are issues Christians struggle and wrestle with as well. In The Skeletons in God's Closet, Joshua Ryan Butler offers a fresh approach to answering these questions by confronting the popular caricatures of hell, judgment, and holy war and demonstrating that in the actual photographs God is good. While we tend to think that hell, judgment, and holy war are the skeletons in God's closet, Butler shows us that when properly understood, these difficult topics show that God is good to His very bones.

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Review: William Boekestein’s Bitesize Biographies Ulrich Zwingli (Evangelical Press)

Whenever I’m offered one of these Bitesize Biographies I jump at the opportunity. They are light reading but enjoyable. I find them a restful interlude between reading thicker books. All of that doesn’t mean they are not quality reading though. I’ve been out of seminary many years, so they help dust the cobwebs off my church figures and history. William Boekestein’s Zwingli biography hit all the notes for why I enjoy this series.

Zwingli is an interesting figure in the Reformation. You don’t hear much about him except his views on the Lord’s Supper and he doesn’t have as large a follow as say a Calvin or a Luther. With that said, I found the section discussing his relationship with Luther most interesting. Some of the same arguments against him made by Luther then I hear now from Lutherans still and often in a similar tone. It also saddens me because the two men who as Boekestein said had much common ground in Christ couldn’t extend grace enough to call the other a brother in Christ.

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Review: Thomas C. Oden’s A Change of Heart (IVP)

The title A Change of Heart gets at two main threads through out this book. First, Oden changes heart on issues of politics and theology—moving from a liberal socialists to a classical Christian rooted in the truths of the early Church Fathers. He contrasts these times of his life well when he says in the first part of life he was mainly concerned with novelty in his theology but after his change of heart he committed to writing nothing new (144). “To be orthodox is to be grounded in the earliest consensual classic Christian teaching” (161). Second, God actually changes Oden’s heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. This change comes through many ordinary means and through friendships with those who he loved but disagreed with.

Prior to reading this memoir, I knew very little of Oden. I knew he had moved from liberal to more conservative on the authority of Scripture and I knew he was Arminian. After reading this memoir, I’ve realized I must read more of Oden. As I mentioned, he relentlessly pursues mere Christianity in the theology of the Church Fathers. I’ve read many memoirs by mostly young millennial and have come to pretty much loath this genre. Partly because most of these memoirs drip with faux humility and usually show how their mind changed by taking some road trip or going to college or some other “major climax” to their story (“In college days I was wary of the temptation to focus any serious religious arguments tied to my own personal experience” 177). I’m always left wondering, “Will this matter in 40 years.” Oden gets why I think I feel this way

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Review: Robert A. Peterson’s Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (Crossway)

Union with Christ was integral in the soteriology of the Reformers, and especially that of Calvin. As Marcus Peter Johnson notes in One With Christ, “when Calvin wrote of being united to Christ, he meant that believers are personally joined to the living, incarnate, crucified, resurrected Jesus...this union with Christ, which Calvin described in strikingly graphic and intimate terms, constituted for him the very essence of salvation. To be saved by Christ, Calvin kept insisting, means to be included in the person of Christ. That is what salvation is” (Johnson 12, emphasis original). And it wasn't just a heady doctrine, either; for the Reformers, union with Christ had multifaceted implications for the life of the believer and the life of the Church. Many, myself included, can attest to a fundamental change in personal spirituality as well as approach to life and ministry upon discovering and plunging the depths of the doctrine of union with Christ. I've therefore been delighted by the steady stream of excellent books on the topic in recent years (e.g. R. Letham, J. Billings, M. Johnson, C. Campbell, G. Macaskill, etc), many written from a Reformed perspective. Naturally, I was very eager to read the latest offering from Robert Peterson, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ.

Structurally this book is similar to the volumes in Crossway's Theology in Community series, with a bulk of the book (twenty chapters in this case) providing a sweeping overview of what the entire Bible has to say about the topic. Then a chapter is devoted to a biblical theology of union with Christ, followed by seven chapters treating the doctrine from a systematic perspective.

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Review: Daniel Strange’s Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock (Zondervan)

“It is not enough to say what other religions are not: we must know what they are, for this affects our missiology and praxis” —Daniel Strange

How is a Christian supposed to talk with an individual deeply committed to another religion? How is the Christian to appropriately respect a person’s religious convictions while holding to the exclusivity of salvation found in Jesus Christ? How should a Christian relate the details and nuances of another religion to the truth claims of Christianity? It is for questions such as these that Daniel Strange tries “to develop and deploy a biblically rich and nuanced theology of religions” (32). This effort culminates in Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rocks.

Their Rock starts with some clarifying bluntness. Strange states, “evangelical theology of religions has been stunted in its growth” (32). He believes this has occurred due to justified, but nevertheless over-focused, defenses of “the exclusivity and uniqueness of Christ” and “questions of soteriology” (32).

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Review: Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions (Thomas Nelson)

Hannah More. Have you heard of her? I hadn’t before seeing advertisements for Fierce Convictions pop up on several of my social media feeds a few months back. The cover made me think of Jane Austin. It also stated More was a “Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.” That’s all I knew.

Well I just finished Fierce Convictions —I loved it. It’s my surprise best read of the year so far. I enjoy biography so I was expecting to be entertained. But this book hit all the high notes for me. Swallow weaves in themes that I love—friendship, justice, fortitude, sacrifice. The story is well-crafted and honest. And More’s life has something to teach us all.

Early on Swallow tells us, “But with this letter, along with many other words from her pen, More painted a picture she hoped might move her friend’s imagination. Perhaps then his heart, mind, and actions would follow” (xviii). Imagination. Something that played a crucial role in More’s success as a writer and also as a social activists. Her writing was successful in changing hearts, minds, and actions because it attacked the imagination of a nation.

Swallow starts by re-telling the history of More’s family. She avoids the well-worn hagiography. She’s honest when the picture is blurry and sets the stage for the rest of More’s life. She also goes on through the book to tie More’s life to other interesting people of that time and also major events that More influenced. The meat of the book deals with More’s rise to prominence in London as a writer who was successful in her interaction with those above her natural station and also uncomfortable eventually receding back to the country.

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Review: Scott Sauls’ Jesus Outside the Lines (Tyndale House)

I’ve appreciated Scott Sauls’ writing ministry for some time now. He is honest about his own struggles and need for grace. His writing is firmly rooted in the amazing truths of the gospel. And he tackles flammable cultural issues with a firm winsomeness. All of that leaks into Jesus Outside the Lines. It’s always disappointing to pick up a book that starts strong, but fizzles out by the end. Jesus Outside the Lines starts strong and gains momentum like a wave. The book begins with Sauls stating, “I am tired of taking sides . . . . Are you?” (xi). And each chapter builds on the core truth that “When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and least offensive people in the world” (xiv).

Sauls starts with the hot topic—politics. He points us back to the kingdom of God as our primary citizenship, not the party on our voting card. He says, “[T]he Kingdom of Jesus advances through subversive acts of love—acts that flow from conservative and progressive values” (17). He ends with the ever-pressing topic of doubt about Christianity. These discussions form an inclusio of sorts for everything in between.

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Jerry L. Walls’ Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Brazos Press)

“You cannot rationally be indifferent to heaven and hell.” (14)

A title like Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (henceforth, HHP) is bound to provoke interest. The idea of a Protestant purgatory is not novel (as is proven in the book itself) but certainly uncommon to many ears. As an important element of Catholic theology rejected in the Reformation, a Protestant doctrine of purgatory might sound like an oxymoron. Hence the natural interest many will have in this title by theologian/philosophy Jerry L. Walls.  HPP is the distilled product of three academic books spanning over a decade proving Wells is no novice on these issues (16). This is no half-baked publication from an emerging theologian. This level of understanding and writing is achieved by a longtime philosopher and professor and makes HPP lucid, enjoyable to read, and provocative.

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Deborah Harrell & Jack Klumpenhower’s What's Up: Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are

Jack Klumpenhower’s Show Them Jesus was my dark horse favorite book of 2014. I had never heard of Klumpenhower and had heard nothing about the book. But man did it blow me away—the deftness with which Klumpenhower revealed Jesus was refreshing.

I immediately jumped at the opportunity to receive this new project he partnered with Deborah Harrell to write. I received a teacher’s guide and student’s guide for What’s Up: Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are.

I trialed this with my two oldest daughters. I took bits from each lesson and used it in family worship. They loved it. It’s fresh, engaging, and aimed for the heart. Harrell & Klumpenhower tackle issues, insecurities, and sins that kids deal with daily.

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Review: John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve

In May, I read John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One and was challenged by Walton’s Scriptural handiwork and exegetical focus. “As interpreters of Scripture and as theologians, we are accountable to the biblical text ” (12).

It was a set up. I didn’t know at the time, but The Lost World of Adam and Eve was a companion volume expanding the thesis of Genesis One. In a nutshell, Walton argues the creation account is primarily about function, not material origin. Once you’ve agreed with him on that point, it’s hard not to agree with him in Adam and Eve.

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