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: 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: 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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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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Review: Timothy Keller’s Romans 8-16 For You

Romans 8 saved me. The Spirit awoke my heart to the glories of God’s love for me. I had spent years wavering until that powerful chorus in chapter 8 sunk into my heart—no condemnation. Keller says the concerns addressed in this chapter are “the central question of the Christian life”—“Is there anyone or anything that can separate me from Christ’s love for me?” (Kindle Locations 717-719). He’s right!

The second half of Romans has some complex doctrines—election, Israel, the Church, women in ministry, and Christian obedience to name a few. Keller handles these complex doctrines with precision, clarity, and winsomeness. I love the balance as well with touching the hard truths, but still staying connected to the everyman voice of the For You series. This volume will be my go-to introduction for discussing these truths with new believers—especially election in Romans 9.

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