Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review of “Beyond Opinion”

Posted: April 17, 2011 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews

Zacharias, Ravi (editor). 2007. Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN

I want to thank the fine folks at Thomas Nelson for providing this review copy. Ravi compiles a great group of folks to author the various chapters in this volume and they all represent their assigned topics quite well. While all of the contributors and chapters were great in content, I wish to briefly review 5 chapters that I found to be the most helpful personally.

Dr. Alister McGrath does a tremendous job in his chapter, “Challenges From Atheism”. McGrath has quite the reputation for his ability to dialogue with the new aggressive atheism that is represented by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others.  This chapter provides a nice brief history of the debate, documenting the rise of atheism in the west with the likes of Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell and others. McGrath notes the irony of how atheism has historically bound people into oppression while it was peddled under the pretense of its liberating power from the opium of religion. The thought was that if you could get rid of God, then life would be much happier and rid of guilt and shame. Well, we all are made to worship, so the new idols in atheism usually became the leader of the state. The oppressive regimes of atheistic communism revealed the odious nature of a Godless culture. McGrath notes the falling of the Berlin wall as the people’s revolt against oppressive atheism.

McGrath theorizes that 9/11 was instrumental for the new atheism as many atheists made their case that religion “poisons everything”. There was a proliferation of books that followed 9/11, given rise to the new era of aggressive unapologetic atheism.

McGrath spends the rest of his chapter responding to what he labels as 4 of the “fundamental atheist challenges”. He cites them as follows: 1) Christianity, like all religions, leads to violence, 2)God is just an invention designed to console losers, 3) Christian faith is a leap in the dark without an reliable basis, and 4) The natural sciences have disproved God. McGrath’s response are brief, but yet effective. This chapter serves a great little primer for any who wishes to understand the history of atheism and its resurgence in the past decade.

Dr. John Lennox pens another wonderful chapter in this compilation, “Challenges from Science”. Lennox catalogues the main Christian doctrines that are under attack from the scientific community, namely creation and other associated doctrines like providence. Lennox dispels the myth that Christianity and the discipline of science are mutually exclusive enemies. Lennox lists a who’s who of the scientific community that were theists (most of them Christian). Lennox vindicates Galileo as a Christian, who was challenging the prevailing notions of the Aristotelian scientific paradigm more than seeking to defy the church. It just so happened that everyone held the same general scientific convictions at the time.

Lennox deals with a whole host of issues that the reader would find pertinent in light of what’s going on in modern Evangelicalism and science. He also is quite persuasive in noting the limitations of science. Many scientists don’t even claim the discipline of science to have a totalizing answer to all things. If the sum of all things is matter, then one would actually be consistent in claiming science as totalizing, however it usually ends up saying more about things than evidence warrants. Lennox is not advocating a dichotomy between science and philosophy as much as he is simply noting the limitations of one discipline without the other. In this sense, he views science and faith as allies and commends many wonderful scientists who conducted their work for the glory of God. Such a motive didn’t interfere with or disrupt their scientific enquiry, but actually made sense of it in a way that was liberating and awe-inspiring. Oh that we would have more scientists with such a frame of mind and heart.

Joe Boot explores “Broader Cultural and Philosophical Challenges” and essentially commends the role of faith in believing. You must want to believe in order to believe or all the evidence in the world will do nothing. Boot examines the spiritual nature of doubt in apologetics, as well as “the clear sight of faith”. He reminds us of the following (166):

The great problem facing a skeptic, then, is him- or herself, not a lack of evidence or adequacy of reasons to believe. We tend to find only what we want to find and to see only what we want to see. The fallen human desire to escape the reality of God is very strong.

Boot subsequently provides helpful information to keep in mind when dialoging with skeptics. He commends “stealth” apologetics, which requires a much more savvy approach than mere dictation of facts. One must acknowledge that a skeptic is dealing with deeply spiritual doubts and speak to that person with some level of empathy of seek to woo them to Christ, hopefully seeing faith arise with the desire to know the truth.

Ravi Zacharias pens what I found to be the most useful chapter, “Existential Challenges of Evil and Suffering”. It is simply one of the best treatments I have seen on the issue of evil and suffering in chapter form…I will leave it at that.

There was one other chapter that I found very helpful. Danielle DuRant’s chapter, “Idolatry, Denial, and Self-Deception: Hearts on Pilgrimage through the Valleys”, explored some common challenges for the believer throughout their journey. What we assent to as believers may at times be challenged, and certainly at other times we may feel dry in the heart in regards to the truths that ought to bring us joy and comfort.

All in all, I would commend this book. There are a total of 14 chapters beyond the 5 I especially enjoyed and all of them are educational, edifying, and useful for Christian witness. I suspect I will reference this book again and again throughout pastoral ministry.

Book Review of Jon Walker’s Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship”  

I am working on making my book reviews more concise and to the point. I have a way of writing books about books.

Lowdown: Jon Walker does a great job in examining the issue of discipleship and summoning the voice of Bonhoeffer in response to many of the contemporary struggles of the church, particularly the church in America.  

Summary: Walker devotes 25 of the 28 chapters specifically to “being like Jesus…” He touches on areas of prayer, vocation, and loving one’s enemies among many other pertinent concerns for discipleship. In many ways this book is similar to John Piper’s classic, “Desiring God”, in that the primary focus is on Spiritual formation within the more common categories of our life’s concerns.

My Thoughts (Good and Bad): I enjoyed reading the book and think that this may very well rank with one of the better modern books on Spiritual formation. Walker is redundant, but only so far as Scripture is redundant in saying the same thing over and over again so that we can be absolutely clear of what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

Walker sounds like an Ana-Baptist, very similar to Richard Foster, but offers the necessary qualifications on certain issues–like loving one’s enemies not requiring absolute restriction of self-defense when necessary. There are times, however, when Walker sounds anti-credal, anti-liturgical, and almost anti-ecclesiastical. My concerns are that one can walk away from this book thinking that discipleship is pretty much between Jesus and I, and therefore renders the church as a useless appendage in ones pursuit of being a true disciple.

I’m sure that Walker has no intentions of leading people away from the church, but I suspect that his ecclesiology leaves something to be desired. If anything, giving Walker the benefit of the doubt, I am thinking that he only intends to accentuate the fact that discipleship does in fact consist more in how we actually live our life moment by moment and less to do with an hour on Sunday. If that’s the case, I can yield an “Amen”. Even so, we must not make everything sacred to the point where we simply view the administration of the Word and Sacraments on the Lord’s day has having no more significance that personal prayer during the week.

Bottom Line: Overall, I would heartily commend Walker’s book, along with Piper’s “Desiring God”, and some other classics from the likes of Jerry Bridges. I prefer this book over Dallas Willard and Richard Foster’s writings. Paul anguished for the Galatians that Christ would be formed in them and Walker seeks the same in resurrecting some powerful insights from Bonhoeffer. I think that Bonhoeffer would be happy with Walker’s treatment. I certainly agree with Walker’s premise that grace is costly and not cheap. Too many churches are peddling cheap grace and thus not stimulating the body to true discipleship. This book will be a kick in the butt for most and hopefully cause you to pause at times for some introspection and prayer. To that end I pray that God will use this book.

For an interview with Walker about the book, I recommend:

There is a great book that I read some time back, titled “Believer’s Baptism: The Sign of the New Covenant in Christ”. There is a chapter titled, “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” by Stephen Wellum, which is a response to some recent works such as Gregg Strawbridge’s, “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism”.

Wellum’s chapter summarizes well the whole idea of how baptism relates to the covenant and why covenantal paedo-baptists and credo-baptists disagree. You will want to read both Strawbridge and this book. They represent two of the better current books from both perspectives. Wellum’s chapter is available for free via pdf at this link:

I am so grateful to Zondervan for publishing this series and I commend them on their choices for commentators. All of the commentators represent a broad stream of solid Evangelical scholarship and exegesis. I chose to review the Ephesians commentary by Dr. Clinton Arnold (NT professor at Talbot seminary). I am familiar with Dr. Talbot’s previous work, especially his monograph, “Ephesians: Power and Magic”. He has done some great work on the topic of Spiritual warfare as well.

I can’t review this entire commentary or else my review would be hundreds of pages, so I will redact my feedback to that which I specifically like about the “Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament “ series itself.  As a point of reference, I own about 50 commentaries on Ephesians and will compare and contrast the Zondervan series with some of the others I own.

What’s to Like?

  1.        The wide double-column format. I love this feature which you don’t find in many other series’. I personally read commentaries by keeping my thumb in a page and constantly looking back and forward to maintain a “Forest” view perspective on the text. With the double-column format, one has access to a total of 4 columns when viewing the open book with 2 pages open. I personally love this.
  2.        Literary Context Section. T. David Gordon suggests, in his book, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach”, that many pastors simply don’t know how to read and engage in basic literary analysis. The very first subsection within each passage section is dedicated to literary context. Surveying the commentary, I was pleased to find this section deal with such things as genre, type of speech, repeated words and themes, among other things. This is invaluable for the person who really wants to understand the oral culture and how the written text would be heard to the listeners. Our culture is becoming increasingly illiterate, not that we don’t know how to pronounce words per se, but that we don’t know how to perceive certain literary features within the text.
  3.        Main Idea. Many commentaries don’t distinguish the forest from the trees and leaves the reader thinking every single word is a really big deal, thus focusing on the trees and not seeing the forest, or flatlines the text in such a way that one only sees the forest and fails to acknowledge the beauty of particular trees.
  4.        Translation and Graphical Layout. This is my most favorite feature. Some commentaries may include some sort of chiastic structure outline of the text, but this series actually provides a true outline based on syntax, noting particular clauses within the pericope. This alone is worth half the price of the book (with the additional features making the commentary a good investment).
  5.        Structure. The structure section provides something of a chiastic structure of the text, noting parallelism, etc. At this point, you might think the commentary overkill on all the subsections dealing with the passage, but this just confirms how important it is to see the text on its own terms before you even get to Arnold’s exegesis. All good exegesis requires this preliminary work and Zondervan chose to enhance this often neglected preliminary work that is usually absent in many commentaries.
  6.        Exegetical Outline. Yes, there’s even more before you even get to the commentary on the text. The exegetical outline provides a good skeletal outline that could very well serve as a homiletical outline for the preacher/teacher.  Such an outline is pretty common in most commentaries, but I appreciate how this outline comes after the previous labors which point to the summation.
  7.        Theology in Application. This section is somewhat similar to what you would find in the NIV Application Commentary Series, however the NIV series emphasizes more of a hermeneutic “So What?” answer that is helpful in bridging the text to contemporary concerns, whereas this series engages in Biblical Theological and Systematic Theological applications. Compiling all of the “Theology in Application” could very well  serve as a Biblical Theology work on Ephesus as a standalone book that could well retail for $15 alone.


Bottom Line:

I admit that the $36.99 retail price may seem steep; however this is less than the comparable Pillar series ($44) and Baker exegetical series ($44.99). Note that this volume is over 500 pages and double columned in the commentary portion of the text, whereas the Baker series is the same in pages but single columned in the commentary section, making this essentially larger in raw word count.

I highly recommend this volume for all pastors and would commend it to a general lay audience as well. I will be purchasing this series as I preach through NT books in the future.

A Book Review of William P. Farley’s, “Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting”

William P. Farley is pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, WA, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace Ministries network of churches.

Farley strikes the balance beautifully between the absolute freedom of God in His sovereignty to regenerate the heart of the elect along with God’s sovereignly prescribed means for parents in raising their kids. This balance protects parents from being negligent and passive in the name of God’s sovereignty (“My kids salvation rests completely in God and has little or nothing to do with me”) or presumption that the prescribed means operate as an assembly line where we simply create Christians by pushing the right buttons (“If I parent exactly how God wants me to, then my kids will absolutely be Christians”).

We, therefore, don’t parent as if it completely depends on God, nor as if it completely depends on us. These complexities of means and God’s overarching Sovereign purposes have long confounded God’s people. Godly parents may see their children rebel, whereas Godless parents may see their children radically regenerated by God’s Spirit. Having said that, Farley acknowledges that God generally works through means and that negligent parents will generally see the consequences in their children, whereas Godly parents will generally see greater evidences of grace operating in their children.

If anything, Farley advocates parenting that is completely dependent upon God’s grace in the discharge of the prescribed means He calls us to.

The most striking and insightful aspects of the book for me personally can be summarized in the following points:

–          We must parent with one eye on eternity. Farley states, “…the Christian does not parent for this life only”.  We have 18 short years to not only influence their short time in this life, but also for all eternity.

–          Our aim is not to create “moral” kids. We ought not solely seek behavioral modification in our children. This alone will create nice little hypocrites who are further away from the Gospel of grace. While we must discipline and certainly condemn certain behaviors, we must always be pointing our kids to the cross and the Gospel.

–          Theology is enormously practical in how we parent because we should seek to emulate the “communicable” attributes of God towards our children. If we don’t know God, then we will paint a distorted picture of His nature to our children.

–          Regardless of schooling convictions (Christian school, public school, home school), the one factor that most influences our children’s Spiritual wellbeing is the faithful and consistent attention of parents. Farley concedes that public school might be too harmful for some and that all parents must use discretion. Having said that, a particular “method”  won’t work apart from parents who honor God above all.

–          Marriages preach the Gospel.

–          Dads matter more than any other factor in the perseverance of children’s interest in Spiritual things and church attendance into adulthood.

–          Lastly, Farley said, “Love God more than your children”. He cites many examples from pastoral ministry where families placed their kids above God and have gone on to pay a dear price with the apostasy of their children. If the parents weren’t valuing God more than the weekend soccer games, etc., why should we expect our kids to honor God more than __________ (fill in the blank).

Bottom Line:

I commend this book for parents. There is no shortage of books on parenting, but I think Farley brings out many good points and pastoral life illustrations that will be helpful and hopeful for most parents.

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Jonathan in Book Reviews, Christ & Culture

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen was released recently by Crossway Books and presents a readable, comprehensive view of two-kingdom theology. I’m just a youngster in terms of theology, especially that of a reformed flavor, so I was excited to dive in with VanDrunen and stretch my brain.

The main premise is a counter to the “transformationalist” view of culture that seems to be pervasive with emergent theologians, those who ascribe to the New Perspective on Paul and neo-Calvinists (depending on your definition of neo-Calvinists). In transformational theologies, the church and Christians are about the work of restoration, as we march across creation and culture putting things back how they were meant to be before all this sin and death entered the world.

Whilst that can sound all well and good, the ramifications of that worldview are twofold:

1) When Scripture asserts that this world will be put away and a new heaven and a new earth will come, we have to reject any of the cataclysmic language that accompanies such claims. Instead, the new heaven and earth will come by a restoration to utopia.

2) VanDrunen states that when we embrace a transformationist view of culture, we cling to the work of Adam in the common kingdom rather than living in the grace of the redemptive kingdom which Christ has already won for us by living the life Adam, and each of us, should have lived. (more…)

Entrusted with the Gospel, edited by D.A. Carson 
Copyright © 2010 by The Gospel Coalition 
Published by Crossway

 This book a series of expositions that were given at the 2009 Gospel Coalition National Conference. If you don’t know much about The Gospel Coalition, please check them out. It is a great network that our church is a part of. It represents a broad sector of Evangelicalism that is committed to Gospel-centeredness, Biblical exposition, and faithful pastoral ministry.

The first chapter features John Piper, with the message “Feed the Flame of God’s Gift: Unashamed Courage in the Gospel” (2 Tim. 1:1-12). In Piper-esque fashion, the exposition is passionate and offers much exhortation. Just as Paul called upon Timothy to “fan the flame” in the discharge of his ministry, so also must contemporary Gospel ministers tend to their calling. Piper says,

Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel. Feed it, Timothy. Do that. Fan that flame. Feed that fire. And every time you preach the Word of grace to yourself and strengthen your heart with blood-bought promises of life and help, look deep into eternity to see why you are doing this.

Piper also reminds us of the incredible suffering that Paul encountered and reminds us that we must fan the flame in the face of suffering…in fact, it’s the only way to survive through suffering.

The second chapter, “The Pattern of Sound Words (1 Tim. 1:13-2:13)”, was my favorite. Phillip Ryken draws attention to the trait of faithfulness, which is necessary to persevere in ministry,

Ministry takes courage—sometimes unusual courage. It takes courage to expose idolatry or to cross ethnic and social lines with the gospel. It takes courage to stand up and say that Jesus is the only way, not just for Christians, but also for Muslims and atheists. It takes courage to go to the hard places in the world and share the gospel. But this is what faithfulness requires.

Ryken also contemplates the mentoring ministry of Paul to Timothy and how Timothy is called to train other faithful men as well. We have an example of apostolic succession, not through the ordaining of infallible mouthpieces, but rather through the deposit of the Gospel. We also must contemplate how our ministry is fruitful in raising up faithful men who subsequently train others as well. He proceeds to draw upon the faithful illustrations given by Paul: Soldier, Athlete, and Farmer. These illustrations are not coincidental, but share a unifying theme of focus and discipline. This is what ministers are called to. Summarizing his treatment of these illustrations, Ryken shares the following,

All three of the occupations that Paul mentions require faithful hard work and dedicated, undistracted labor. All of them entail hardship and suffering. But they also hold the promise of a reward. “Beyond warfare is victory, beyond the athlete’s effort is the prize, and beyond agricultural labor is the crop.” So work faithfully for the gospel reward, which God will bring in his own good time.

 God’s reward for faithful ministry is beautifully illustrated by the story of Luke Short, converted at the tender age of 103. Mr. Short was sitting under a hedge in Virginia when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel. As he recalled the sermon, he asked God to forgive his sins right then and there, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, the following words were inscribed on his tombstone, “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

Here is the truly remarkable part of the story. The sermon that old Mr. Short remembered had been preached eighty-five years earlier back in England! Nearly a century passed between Flavel’s sermon and Short’s conversion, between the sowing and the reaping. Sooner or later, by the grace of God, faithful work always has its reward.

Lastly, Ryken draws our attention to the faithfulness of our Savior and Father. It is because of His faithfulness that we show any semblance of faithfulness in our ministry. It is His faithfulness that upholds His own name in spite of our unfaithfulness,

It is not just our persons that are accepted by God because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, but also our services, that is, all the things we do for God in ministry. We are called to be faithful in the sacred trust of gospel ministry. But the acceptance of our ministry does not depend on our faithfulness to God, but on his faithfulness to his Word. Admittedly, our ministry isn’t what it could be. At times we may wonder whether anything we have ever done for Jesus is worth anything at all. Or perhaps, after failing, we doubt whether God can still use us. It is at such times, most of all, that we need to remember Jesus Christ and know that we are loved and accepted by God. Even our own ministry is accepted on the basis of his perfect life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection.

Even if we are not really sure if we could ever be any kind of success in ministry, we should still try for Jesus, and when we fail for Jesus, we should believe this promise, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

The third chapter, “The Marks of Positive Ministry (2 Tim. 2:14-26)”, offers surprisingly mature insights from the relatively young Mark Driscoll. Driscoll defines three basic categories for people: positives, negatives, and neutrals. Essentially people fall in one of these groups. Just as Timothy calls Paul to deal with the “negatives”, so also must pastors deal with this laborious task of calling out the negatives in one’s fellowship.  Driscoll offers this fairly comprehensive list of what these negatives are: (more…)