Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore

This is not really a new biography anymore – written in the mid 90’s. I read this around ten years ago and having read the two volume autobiography of Spurgeon I wanted to read this again.

Dallimore is a wonderful writer. His master piece, two volume work on George Whitefield (Vol1 here & vol 2 here is incredible. However, I don’t think he is quite as good here with Spurgeon, despite the limited space. Spurgeon was an incredible, passionate, god focused, Christ centered man. His ministry was huge, his ability amazing and his drive unquenchable.

He was the pastor of the first modern ‘mega’ church. The Metropolitan Tabernacle in South London, the Church he built (physically) and pastured for the last 30 years of his ministry until his death, would be packed with over 5000 people every Sunday.

Spurgeon was converted at the age of 15 years of age almost by accident (if you can say that about a Calvinist!!). He was sent home from the boarding school he attended due to an outbreak of fever. While at home he attended a small Methodist Chapel one Sunday morning. No more than fifteen people were there due to a snow storm the previous evening. Dallimore, (quoting Spurgeon himself) writes:

“The minister did not come that morning: he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up to the pulpit to preach. Now it was well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was – ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the end s of the earth.’ He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text…….When he had managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you don’t obey my text: but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”….I saw at once the way of salvation…”

And hence the journey for Spurgeon began.

This book is a wonderful introduction to Spurgeon – and by reading it I hope you will be encouraged to read his sermons and his books.

C.H.Spurgeon Autobiography Vol 2

What can i say – an awesome read!! This second volume of Spurgeons life goes from the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (1861) to his death in 1891. Spurgeon was really the first mega church pastor – a consistent regular congregtion for nearly thirty years of 5000 plus – plus hundreds of thousands who read his sermons and magazine throughout the world.

A man of phenomenal energy who quite literally worked himself to death for gospel and ministry. He read 6 books PER WEEK and by the end of his life had preached to over 25 million people and written 140 books.

Great read!

A Short History of Christianity by Stephen Tomkins

Actually, a REALLY short history of Christianity. Tomkins manages to squeeze the entire history of the church in 242 pages – and he does as good a job as you can. Of course he skips huge areas and does not expand on some areas I thought he should have but overall you get the sense of how the Church and christianity progressed. Also, Tomkins style is very easy, which is a bonus when it comes to history!!

The weakness with the book is largely down to its size. There are some places where to skip chunks of info is more confusing – the chapters on the reformation are a little in adequate, as are the explanations for the west and east split in the 11th century. Also you are bombarded with a LOT of information which you are likely to forget.

With regards to its use to teach church history, I still think that if you are going to do a short course on Church History Mark Noll’s book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is ideal and the book I would (and have, for a 12 session course) use. Noll focuses upo the ten decisive turnin points – which give you a deeper, more profound understnding of the most vital aspects of Church History, which I think is more helpful. In any event, every student and believer should have a copy of The History of Christianity and / or Justo L. Gonzalez’s two volumes The Story of Christianity (volume 2) for reference.

But otherwise I really enjoyed Tomkins book.

What Is A Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile

This would have been a ground breaking book for me if I had read it before November 2007. As it is, having read ReThink (check out my review HERE, HERE and HERE)
which I think is a step further and more theologically focused this book does not have the radical-ness for me that it might have had. In saying that, this is still a book to read to get your thinking around family based youth ministry and making parents a main foundation in youth ministry, both in terms of ministering TO and providing resources FOR and having them join IN youth group.

Family Based Youth Minstry by Mark Devries

This would have been a ground breaking book for me if I had read it before November 2007. As it is, having read ReThink .
which I think is a step further and more theologically focused this book does not have the radical-ness for me that it might have had. In saying that, this is still a book to read to get your thinking around family based youth ministry and making parents a main foundation in youth ministry, both in terms of ministering TO and providing resources FOR and having them join IN youth group.

The Shack by William Young

The Shack by William Young has become a huge best seller, as well as a source of controversy. You can read various reviews from Christians which are both very negative HERE some very positive HERE. I had no intention of reading this book until I received an emaiil from a friend and fellow youth minister, who asked me whether I had read it and I said no, but suggested we read it together and blog about it (check out his fine blog HERE).

I will post more in the coming days but these are my initial thoughts and reflections. The Shack is about a guy called Mac who now lives in the aftermarth of his young daughters murder. She was murdered in a shack by an evil person. Some years after the murder Mac is convinced that he has to go back to the shack for a weekend – he does not know why, but he goes and there discovers three people, who in fact are the Trinity. God the father is an African American woman, God the Son is white young man in jeans and the Holy Spirit is a woman who seems very artistic and ‘floaty’ (my term for a person who is constantly dancing around). Here in the shack Mac has a conversation with God. Much of the conversation revolves around his anger at why God would allow his daughter to die.

The book tackles two huge theological issues in a novel – the Trinitarian relationship and the problem of evil and God’s role in suffering.

Can a novel, a fictional story bring light to topics on which many scholarly books have been written? Of course, the author would say that is not the purpose of The Shack – but then again, he enters into these topics and dialogues from a ‘god’ perspective – which is to do and present theology. Whatever else is said – this is a theological book simply because of the topics he is tackling and by the fact he tries to explain them from God’s perspective (more on that in later posts).

My first reaction then, to this novel, is that it is heretical from the time that Mac meets God at the Shack. The author has all three members of the trinity at the shack and God the father as an Afican American woman.

Exodus 33:18-22 says: Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

21 Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

No-one has seen God the Father – no-one CAN see God the father and live. Also it goes against the commandment to make an idol.

Yes, I know its a novel – but it claims to be Christian and it claims to be about the trinity. Having Jesus there is fine (the representation of the invisible God!!), even the Holy Spirit is fine – but not God the father.

In fact this is one of the biggest objections I have with Mormonism. They claim Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son and when i object and say that would make Joseph Smith greater than Moses and that God himself has said no-one can see Him, they struggle – but thats another issue.

The Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

With the past few weeks being SO busy (Mystery trip to Florida – Camp Chaplian and speaker in Charleston for a week, VBS this week) I have had little time for reading. But I managed to finish this a week or so ago. That Hideous Strength is a wonderful read. My colleague here told me that its one of the most significant and prophetic books of the 20th century.

The story is set in a small english town around a university professor who is wanting to ‘get on’ in the world and make his mark. He gets involved with an organization called N.I.C.E. who recruit him and then slowly ask him to do some questionable things. Mark (the young professor) is lead to wrestle with his conscience. Meanwhile his wife has become friends with another group who realize that her recuring nightmares are actually prophetic. This is a plain old battle between the spiritual forces of good and evil. It also is a statement on how evil subtly gets into society and tries to turn it for its own purposes.

If you read some of the reviews on Amazon they don’t really get to the heart of what Lewis is saying in this book. Yes, Merlin makes an appearance but also see that Lewis is making a striking statement about the fact that we have demonic forces who will try and destroy what God is doing – but that God has his faithful people, who do not use the same methods but as they trust in God they will see ultimate victory.

The Silent Planet trilogy is not as well known as Narnia – but it should be!! A great set of books – go read them.

Why We’re Not Emergent by Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin deYoung & Ted Kluck

Unlike DA Carson who did not read a whole lot on Emergent with his book, these guys have read 5000 pages of Emergent literature.

Their aim is not to try and denounce emergent, its leaders or those who claim to be emergent evil people, but they do, in the most thorough of ways, point out the immense errors that many in the emergent church leadership are advocating – errors which really place many of those who adhere to them outside the historic, and apostolic christian faith (i.e. questioning the virgin birth, the resurrection, the incarnation, the atonement, historic creeds, fundamental doctrines).

Their assessment is not new (largely because I agree with them and have already thought about these issues) but it is so well put together – so well written and so well argued that all in emergent should read it and engage with it.

Interestingly many of the big emergent guns (as far as i am aware) have not engaged with this book. Maybe its too close to the truth. Andrew Jones did a semi-serious, largely pot shot at the book on his blog (here) but was slightly rebuked by Scott McKnight of Jesus Creed:

Well, Andrew, you might be spoofing everyone but I read that book, talked with one of the authors, and I didn’t take away anything other than a serious critique of emergent. In fact, I’d say they are calling anything that smacks of liberal theology “emerging/emergent.”

This is a great book and should be read and digested by all who claim any affiliation with the emergent church – positive or negative.

Prelandra by C.S.Lewis

The second book in this creatively written fantasy novel by Lewis. Dr E Ransom, having returned to earth from his trip to Malacandra (Mars) Ransom is told by the elidil (angels) that he is to go on another trip. Perelandra is told from the perspective of Ransom after his return from this trip. The book is really an allegory of the Garden of eden – Ransom arrives on Perelandra, a world which is almst fluid – there is no fix land, just floating Islands. He meets a woman who is ‘young in knowledge – but growing every day’. She seems to grow and mature hourly. Then, all of a sudden another human being arrives in a space ship, (Dr Divine Weston). It becomes clear that soemthing supernatural is controlling him and he does his best to turn the woman away from following Maleldil (God). The story is a clever account of a human being fighting evil face to face. Ransom, once he realizes what is happening, physically fights Weston, but Weston has supernatural (possessed) strength. A number of times Ransom cries out to Maledil (God) asking how he, a mere mortal, could possibly fight this evil creature. But help does come!

Aliens, space travel, other worlds all sound very odd and yet Lewis’ brilliance keeps it from being corny.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

This is not a bad book. In a sentence it is an exhortation to get serious about your faith – to start to truly obey, love, and honor the Lord with our lives, with our money, with our time and with our bodies.

It is passionate and comes from Chan’s own journey, one which he describes and transformational.

I got a little bored with it, primarily because he would repeat a point over and over when I would want him to move on – also it is high on exhortation but a tad short on depth – but I would not hesitate to give this to a new believer or a young person.

Surprised By Hope by N.T.Wright

How dow e view the end time, heaven, and life after death and how do they relate to what it is to be a christian on earth.

This book will really challenge the majority ‘view’ on these issues. For Wright, fundamentally, believing we will spend eternity in heaven is a misreading of scripture – also, to believe that heaven (as in in the sky!)is the after-life or resurrection is a misreading of scripture.

Wright challenges his readers to look towards a more ‘physical’ concept of heaven. He uses the phrase, “life after life after death..” to say that our eternal destiny shall be in our physical bodies on a physical earth – when heaven and earth shall be made NEW (Revelation). When we die our spirits may go to be with the Lord but this is NOT an eternal state, or heaven – this only happens at the judgment of the world when our bodies are reunited with out spirit and we are again fully human (as in having a perfected body) living in the restored creation. For Wright this also means that heaven (or hell) should not be the ultimate focus for Christians – but what ROLE we as human beings have in God’s process in redeeming creation. he writes:

“Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all.”

This means, for Wright, that eternity BEINGS NOW, right here – as we begin to partner with God in the process of him restoring creation through the message of the Gospel and awaiting the end of the age.

So for Wright Christians should be fundamentally involved with society at every level, living out our salvation and living in the eternity which has begun here on earth but not yet fulfilled.

N.T.Wright is a world class scholar and this book is very carefully argued – much of which confirms some of my own thinking on this topic.

Out Of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

The Space Trilogy is perhaps CS Lewis’ least known stories. The Silent Planet is the first book and is about Dr E Ransom who, while on a walking holiday and looking for a place to stay, stumbles upon a large house, is kidnapped and taken to an alien planet. Ransom escapes from his captives and roams across this new planet meeting strange creatures and then meeting the spiritual guardian (angel) of the planet. This leads to the adventure of the rest of the books.

This is an extremely creative, fun and enjoyable book. Highly recommended.

The Surburban Church by Albert Hsu

The author of this book, in the epilogue writes this

“When all is said and done, how has suburbia shaped my world view and christian experience? As a product of surburbia I have been far more individualistic and self-autonomous than I ought to be. My experience of community fairly weak. I am fragmented and anonymous. I am largely disconnected from the natural world of God’s good creation. I tend to to view life through the lens of consumer culture and every action and decision is made with self interest and consumption as the conscious default setting. I am insulated and isolated from the needs of the world.” pg 197

This perfectly sums up the content of the book. It is a study of how suburbia arose, how it has effected spirituality and faith and how we SHOULD live in this created ‘community’ called suburbia.

The author encourages breaking out of the individualism of suburbia and reaching out into the community, living a life which is counter-surburban.

While I found the first half of the book hard going (in terms of interest) the second half has some interesting discussions on out reach and church life in suburbia.

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

I don’t mean to have a dig, but this book is so much more superior to any emerging church book written, and it is written by teenagers.

Alex and Brett Harris discuss the issue of low expectations which are not just laid upon teens but is accepted by teens and teen culture of play and fun. For the Harris’ enough is enough. They want to blow away the notion that teens are unable to understand anything complex or important – that they can’t do things which is vital, or make a difference. The Harris’, who have clerked for a supreme court have show that not only is it good to have higher expectations, but that it is biblical.

They write on page 50 “We are convinced that the teen years are the primary time God has given to us for strict training….Prov 20:29, “The glory of young men is their strength.”

The book is very challenging – they ask questions such as “Are we doing things now that will equip us for the greater things God may have for us to do? These are the fundamental questions for this season of our lives.”
And the bulk of the book focus upon the five different kinds of hard things which they encourage teens to do:

1. Things that are outside your comfort zone
2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required
3. Things that are too big to accomplish alone
4. Things that don’t earn immediate pay off
5. Things that challenge the cultural norm

Let me end with a quote from them:

“We’ve noticed that the fence that keeps us from breaking out of our comfort zones is nearly always built of fear – fear of weakness, discomfort, failure, humiliation. We’ve noticed something else too: you can’t live by fear and live by faith at the same time. As Paul wrote in 2 TIm 1:7 “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.” And when we read the Bible heros who accomplished big, hard things for God, we discover the main job requirement: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6).”

This is a book which we will give to every member of our youth ministry!

The New Christians By Tony Jones

This has been described as the definitive book on the Emergent Church movement out there. To some extent it should be, having been written by Tony Jones, national coordinator of emergent village.

Tony’s goal, from my perspective, is to to provide a rationale, as well as a framework as to how emergent came to be, why it came to be, what it is and how it functions within the christian community. He achieves all of these and with regards to the how and why emergent came to be, the story is fascinating.

Also, I have been challenged and to some degree, influenced by some emergent writings (or at least I call it emergent writings) authors such as Len Sweet and Mike Riddell (clarification – not all of Sweets and Riddells books are good, however some are really excellent, Aqua Church, Soul Cafe and Soulsalsa & Threshold of the Future by Riddell).

For Tony Jones and others in the emergent movement, the church in its institutionalized form as well as a large part of ‘traditional’ theology has become a huge problem – a barrier to those coming into or even remaining in the church.

This is a major part of the books focus – out laying the problems – and it seems to be something which many emergent books do well – tell us the problems, and why current theological frameworks do not work, but they are every light on how to move forward. Part of this, of course, comes from the acceptance that there may be many ways forward and we should not nail it down. Even so, what we see within emergent is an organization which I think will begin to struggle NOT to create its own particular theology and identity – emergent will and maybe already has entered the world they dislike – denominationalism. As it grows, as it develops it will morph and form into something – I think thats inevitable – the question is how will those inside emergent respond to this? Is this not already evident by the fact that they have the post National Coordinator?

The issues with this book, for me, were:

1.It really says nothing new – nor, to use their terminology, adds anything to the conversation. Same old same old.

2. What I cannot understand is why the deconstruction of traditional church structures and ways of doing church (which is not a bad thing) HAS to be linked to the deconstruction of theology. Yes, theology has been used as a weapon – yes people have had wrong theology – yes people have mis-interpreted the bible, but in all these errors it is NOT THE BIBLE that is wrong, but how fallible, sinful human beings have engaged with it.
Tony says the Bible is complex – but the answer to that is surely yes AND no – no because the message of salvation, of the gospel is clear but yes, the Bible, being the word of God is complex and mysterious and deep – but it is also knowable for us to live our life around.

3. Tony says that the emergent phenomenon began when leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith. That’s OK – but I would also want a conversation on how the Faith of the Living God will affect postmodernism. Surely thats just as good (if not better!!)

4. I know this comes from my conservative theological roots, but I struggle Tony’s assertion that emergents can speak with confidence, and passion but not with certainty because they do not know what they might be wrong about. Can we not speak with certainty that Jesus IS God? That Jesus rose BODILY from the grave? That to trust in Jesus is to have eternal life. Are these not certainty’s. And for Tony I am sure they are but it does not come across as clearly.

5. I disagree with Tony’s statement that one becomes a better interpreter sitting at a dinner party, engaging in a conversation. The Bible suggests that at some point the conversation must stop (be put on hold!?!) and action take place – that the interpretation becomes active in life.

6. My biggest struggle with emergent and Tony’s book is his views on scripture. ALL scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness (2 Tom 3:14-16). This is a certainty. Tony, on pages 144-146 appears to tackle the errors of scripture – using Noah’s drunkedness and subsequent curing of Canaan and also Jepththah’s daughter in Judges (were the father makes a vow to God to sacrifice the first thing he sees and its his daughter!) Tony says that this cannot really be God’s sovereign plan because it is so distasteful. He argues there is NO MORAL IN JEPHTHAH’s STORY, but we should approach this passage by allowing it to infect us, to live inside of us, like a virus.

No Tony – there is a moral and it crosses the testaments – it is that the man’s mistake was to make a foolish vow to God and so he must keep his vow, even though it means the loss of his heritage as a jew (no grandchildren will come to him) and the daughter (and this is my opinion) will go to heaven – her life ends on earth through no fault of her own, and she is taken into eternity with her God. Yes this is a tough passage but you cannot, and must not dismiss it because it is the word of God and it is there to say something to us.

The end of the book describes Tony’s church, Solomons Porch. it is a radical church – a postmodern church and by the way he describes it I instantly like it. I think how they do it sounds creative, fun and worshipful – what frustrates me is that emergent cannot see that you can live in a postmodern society, with a creative faith declaring the living God with a strong biblical foundation which takes the scriptures to be the absolute word of God and to accept that to teach God’s word in a creative way requires dedication to study.

As I said before – deconstruct the church if you must – but do not deconstruct scripture in such a way that removes it as the absolute word of God. If that makes me a fundamentalist – so be it.

Matthew by D.A. Carson

This is really an excellent commentary. Verse by verse, but because of the limitation of space (only 272 pages) the comments are straight forward, orthodox and expository. Carson is insightful and challenging. A really great companion to studying mathew.

A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew by Craig Keener

Keener is a ‘fun’ commentary because it is not a verse by verse expository commentary like France, but more of a general comment on themes or section of pericopes. Keene also likes to delve into the jewishness or cultural background, drawing out interesting parallels. This on its own, it think, would not be a thorough enough exegesis, but it makes a wonderful supplement to preparing a study.

The Gospel of Matthew by RT France

We began to study Matthew in our Tuesday morning men’s breakfast Bible Study in January 2007 – we have just finished it!! I was using three commentaries for this series, and I did read them all. This one is an expansion of Frances smaller commentary which he wrote over 10 years ago.

This is a thorough treatment of Matthew as well as fairly technical, and while it can be a little laborious at times, France is challenging, orthodox and draws out the meaning well.

Letters From A Skeptic by Greg Boyd

Our Wednesday morning Men’s Breakfast Book Club has started a new book. We are tackling Greg Boyd’s book, “Letters From A Skeptic.” We have just finished Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell, which really did cause some terrific discussion, both about its good points and its significant bad points.

Letters from A Skeptic will undoubtedly create just as much discussion. I read this book a while back and really enjoyed it. They are letters between Greg Boyd (a pastor and professor of Apolgetics) and his father who was not a believer. His father throws up some really tough questions and Greg tries to respond. The end result of this correspondence was that Greg’s father not only become a believer but his whole character changed.

Things we will have to watch for in the discussion each Wednesday morning over coffee, scrambled eggs, smoke sausage and grits will be Boyd’s Open Theism. It came up a bit in the first few chapters this morning – but it is good to engage with this. Overall, Boyd’s open theism does not detract too much from the usefulness of the book in getting people to think in an apologetic way.

Should be fun!!

Reforming And Always Reforming by Roger Olson

This is an articulate, challenging and well argued book. Olson makes a very strong case in showing some the of the weaknesses of the conservative evangelical position, not least the unconscious habit of raising ‘systems’ of theology, or theological traditions (i.e. puritans) to an equal place of scripture. And for conservatives, their response to this book needs to contain some gratitude and balanced self reflection at some of Olson’s points.

In saying this, there are some issues that came to my mind as i read the book. Firstly, I was surprised that he rates Brian McLaren as an evangelical (post-conservative) theologian when much of his recent writings would move him away from such a position.

Secondly, while his point about the constructive task of theology is very interesting, just how far, or different can we, or should we make the doctrine of the trinity for example? Surely there are doctrines which should not be changed, or adjusted. Granted we must see the difference between what we call doctrine and what is actually human tradition – but even so we need to be careful on this. Are we always reforming everything?

This is a book conservatives should read – not because it will necessarily change your views, but it will help you understand your position.

Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger

The sub-title to this book is perhaps a little over stated – I don’t think this was God’s process for making disciples, but the authors approach is certainly interesting and has much to say on the process of making disciples.

The main point of the book is that Churches need to revert to an intentional, strategic, thought through, simple process/method of discipleship which the whole congregation know about and can articulate.

The book takes the reader through the steps of developing this simple process – using research, and examples. One thing is for certain, while the end process will be simple – that is having your simple, straight forward, discipleship plan – getting there will not be simple. The authors encourage and expect a church to self evaluate – be honest – work through a vision and then do ONLY the vision, dumping all other ministries which do not have their place in the process.

I think there is much to like about the book – a planned, strategic process which the entire church knows about is a great goal to work towards. However, I would suggest that their research did not include many liturgical churches and the unique issues that are found within liturgical churches. Also, to arrive at the point of the simple church may require a massive re-focus and re-direction of the church, which will not be simple for many – and will almost certainly require a long, long and very possibly difficult process.

Finally, the book reads a little bit like 15 steps to certain success – there are no examples of failure or a church who struggles. A dose of reality may have been helpful.

The Misunderstanding Of The Church by Emil Brunner

Firstly, I am not sure whether the book is worth the $35 price tag for 120 pages!! Emil Brunner was a swiss theologian who went toe to toe with Karl Barth over Natural Theology (Barth rejecting Natural Theology and Brunner defending it). I have not read a whole lot of Brunner and I have just received his first volume of his ‘Systematics’ which I will get around to reading.

Brunner’s thesis in this book is that the current church and the New Testament Ecclesia are not the same thing. He argues that the current church has transformed away from what the Ecclesia was in the New Testament and has become an Institution – something which is alien to the concept of Ecclesia.

So what is his definition of the Ecclesia? It is a communion of persons and nothing else. It is the body of christ, but not an institution. The word institution crops up a lot in this book – Brunner is adamant that the institutional church is something never intended by Jesus, and it has caused problems, such as the sacraments becoming the mode of salvation instead of a sign of the the salvation already received in Christ; and the separation of clergy and laity which Brunner sees as a travesty and the major problem of the Institutional church.

Brunner argues that the Ecclesia was a group of spirit filled people who lived a holistic lifestyle – no separation of normal life and spiritual life. The Ecclesia took the idea of service and of fellowship and of growing in the Lord very seriously, but also the commands to love your neighbor and to bless your enemy.

It is clear that for Brunner the power, presence and effect of the Holy Spirit and adherence to the LIVING word of God, in a communion of people is paramount to the Ecclesia. A group of people who truly know and have the Holy Spirit and live in such a way. Brunner says what we need is the Holy Ghost who is promised to faith in Jesus Christ and who, where He is powerfully operative, brings about that freedom in obligation and that sense of obligation in freedom, that responsibility in fellowship, which far removed from all collectivism as it is from all individualism. What we need is first and foremost this understanding of things which would set us free from a false ecclesiasticism for the purpose of communion with our brethren. We need thus a real communio sanctorum: it is the only answer to communism falsely so called. In other words the call to serve, to give your life for others, to live in the communion of the body of Christ is freedom, not obligation and the obligation to obey Christ and to live in such a way is freedom.

Wow!

You get the sense that Brunner longs for a church freed from the shackles of ritual and instead consists of spirit filled, word loving people who are in real community with each other.

Brunner’s vision is not a bad thing for people within the Institutional church to get hold of. Brunner does not call for the end of Institutional church but I think his hope for the book is that people would read it and grasp onto a true understanding of BEING the body of Christ together.

That would not be a bad thing for the church.

The Lotus and The Cross by Ravi Zacharias

One of our young people has been engaging with Buddhism and so we have begun to read up on some books in order to teach the differences between Buddhism and Christianity. We found Ravi Zacharias’ book a great ‘give’ away for those who want a straightforward yet creative way of seeing the differences in approach and philosophy between the two views. Ravi’s book takes the form of a conversation between Jesus, Buddha and a woman who has aids. The last chapter is a great, two page summary of the whole book. A great little resource.

Living A Cross Centered Life by C.J Mahaney

I am reading some books on the Cross in the run up to Easter. This is one which I have been meaning to read. Mahaney produces a passionate and systematic view of the Cross, even though it is only 166 pages. Not only is this a passionate call to focus on the cross, it encourages us to live a cross entered life – not because it would enhance your christian walk (it would) but because we SHOULD be living a cross centered life as believers. Do we understand what the cross achieved? Do we know the significance of Christ’s life and death? Do we realize that we put Christ on the Cross? Have we appropriated the work of the cross to us?

Manageable, readable and passionate.

Sex Is Not The Problem; Lust Is by Joshua Harris

 

51bom77rl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_I think this book would appeal to both teenagers and parents, although I would give the parents the book first to read.

This is not explicit in its language but it does tackle the difficult questions. The premise is that sex is a god thing – created by God, to be enjoyed and treasured within the framework of marriage. The issue which both single and married people struggle over and leads them into problems is lust.

Lust is so dangerous – so powerful that our attempts to create pacts or contracts with ourselves are not going to work. In order to combat lust we need to immerse ourselves into scripture and to immerse ourselves into a strategy to avoid lust – a strategy which includes support from others.

We must not just combat lust, or avoid it – we must learn to hate it – we must understand why it is so evil – how it seeks to rob us of God’s plan for us. Also, lust is Insatiable – it can never be satisfied, regardless of how much we seek. Harris quotes Ephesians 5:3, that there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity among you.

Harris writes:

A little lust is not OK That’s why God calls us to the daunting standard of not even a hint. This means there’s no place for lust to exist peacefully in our lives. We are to fight it on every front.

Harris lays out not just the reason for combating lust but a blue print to help in the battle. The first is to pray and study scripture regularly; identify the sin; take steps to stop, remove temptation, block websites etc; seek fellowship as a means of grace by finding a godly person, or group of people to support you and to pray with each other.

Good, godly advice.

Memoirs Of An ordinary Pastor by Don Carson

51ooh6a5fl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_I love reading biographies. George Whitefield, John Wesley, William Booth, William Tyndale, Thomas Cramner, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Martin Bucer and Charles Hodge to name just a few that I have read.

But I have always thought we should have a publishing company ready to publish the life’s of the those unknown pastors who toil and serve God faithfully yet without any larger recognition.

This is why I picked uo this book. Of course, DA Carson is very well know – one of the most prominent New Testament Scholars of our time. Yet his father, Thomas Carson is not so well known. That Don Carson, a prolific writer of theology would spend time working on a small book about his father is wonderful.

And this book should be read by every pastor – because it is an encouragement to them in persevering in their calling; the struggles, the joys, the introspection, the fear of failure, actual failure, the gap between how you think of your self (inadequate) and how others can view you (as a blessings to them).

Don is not over sentimental, nor is he critical – with a balance that contains great affection, he outlines the work and life of an ordinary pastor.

Salvation Belongs To The Lord by John Frame

51fcrfvpfhl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_1John Frame has written a fine, fine book. As introductions go it is extensive but it also well written, and no where does it assume prior theological knowledge, and when appropriate, Frame explains the theological terms as he goes along.

Frame covers every major doctrinal theme. And although this is not an issue, he does it from a conservative reformed perspective. He is a five point calvinist (limited atonement and double predestination – which is not my position – I am a four point calvinist!!!!) but that does not diminish the clarity, depth and godly work of this book.

If you want to begin serious study of Doctrine this is the place to start – once you have read this, tackling a Grudem, Reymond, Geisler, Hodge or even Berkhoff will be considerably easier and more fruitful.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

51fcrfvpfhl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_A novel about the building of a 12th cathedral. Yeah, thats what got me – couldn’t resist it. And its not a bad novel. Follet knows his history as he engagingly tells the story of a master builder whose ambition is to build a cathedral, and whose life changes dramatically, forcing him and his family almost to starvation.

There is the evil villan, William Hamleigh, the scheming bishop Waldren Brigod and the Prior Philip, as they battle each other all for differing motives. The Prior is portrayed as a Godly man who struggles with doubts and motives, but deep down he is a good man.

At 900 pages plus it is along novel, but it is not a boring one.

If you like historical novels then this is a must read. If you have never read a historical novel before then this might be a good place to start.