The Mystery Of The Cross: Bringing Ancient Christian Images To life by Judith Couchman

It goes without saying that the Cross is one of history’s most iconic symbols. Its image recalls THE one event and THE one person of human history – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

But how did the image of the cross develop in the early church from a symbol of torture and deathto a sign of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Judith Couchman takes you on a delightful journey through Church History examining images of the cross in the early church. The book is divided into seven parts; The Cross in Pre-Christian Times; The Cross and the Suffering Savior; The Cross and the First Believers; The Cross and Early Religious Freedom; The Cross In Everyday Life; The Cross In Early Church Life and The Cross and Its Eternal Power.

Each chapter is filled with wonderful pieces of information, from the historical to the implausible yet fascinating stories of Hebrew tradition. Couchman writes in a clear, easy and flowing way that at times is so disarmingly personal as to touch your emotions. But there is much more to this book than information – there is a strong spiritual content and winsome insight. At the end of each short chapter Couchman manages to bring the subject back to the solid foundation of faith, rooting it into a real context of our life in Jesus Christ and his salvation.

There are 40  chapters in this book that makes it ideal for a Lenten Mediation. However, don’t wait until Lent to buy this book. Buy it now, read it and then re-read it slowly, and meditatively during Lent. At least that it what I am going to do!

Buy the book HERE

Trust In An Age Of Arrogance by C. Fitzsimons Allison

Wisdom is not just about knowledge. True wisdom has a spiritual edge. One who is truly wise is one who has grown in knowledge and love of God – who sees and understands their own true state of weakness from the firm rock of faith and trust in Christ; who has traveled the road of faith, not faultlessly but with perseverance and humility.

Bishop Fitz Allison is wise. Having spent some time hearing him preach and teach, I know he is a man who is still learning and growing, despite his learning, status and achievements, ecclesiastically and academically. 

This book is filled with wisdom. Ttaking Matthew 16:6  (“beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”) Fitz tackles the huge twin issues within the church of the secularism and arrogance of the Sadducees (I am SURE this world is all that there is), the self-righteousness of the Pharisees (I can achieve this / I am not that bad) both of which reveal the insidious view that we are in some sense free to ‘make’ decisions. 

Fitz’s thesis is that we are not free. We are in bondage. We are selfish. Our natural tendency is to want the universe to revolve round us.

It is only in Christ, and by submitting to Christ that we can be set free. It is only when we understand that those around are not free but in bondage that we will begin to love as Christ loved us – knowing that people need Jesus – they need his love, his justice – his forgivness.

 This book is packed with a lifetime of learning, understanding and reflection. Fitz takes us on a powerful and humbling journey as he unpacks these issues with a wisdom which comes from a deep relationship and love of Christ.

This is a true elder of the church speaking. Buy this book – read it – and be richly blest.

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great by Benjamin Merkle

Why should you read a book about Alfred the Great. Who IS Alfred the Great. Alfred lived in the 800’s (born 849) and was a King in the British Isles (England). During this time the Vikings (the Danes, from Europe) would travel the English Channel and attack and plunder parts of the British Isles. By the time Alfred was of age the Vikings had attacked and conquered most of the British Isles. Only Alfred’s kingdom was left and the Vikings were determined to take it. The rest of Alfred’s like was spent as a King repelling the Vikings attack.

This does not read like normal history books – it is easy and has a nice flow to it. It is definitely for those who do not know much about this period of history.

Why should you read the book? Alfred is quite a remarkable man. One who began his public life by leading an army into battle without any experience and yet realized that whatever else he must do – he must stand at the front of the army, shoulder to shoulder with his men. This was a pattern that continued throughout his life – being at the front of his armies as he fought the invading Vikings, achieving victory after victory. And even in defeat Alfred learned and grew in wisdom. A natural strategist Alfred changed the face of England. He created a standing army, ready to meet any invaders (the traditional method had been to call the men from their farms and crops to gather to fight an invading army, a slow and laborious process – Alfred soon realized that the delay in gathering these men from their farms damaged their ability fight and be flexible.) He also realized that those who died and did not return to their farms damaged local economies through lost crops.

He became a master at out witting the Viking and was a mighty fighting machine. And yet he showed mercy and compassion – allowing defeated armies to leave instead of just slaughtering them.

Alfred is smart, savy, brave and a born leader who never let set backs defeat him, but adapts and finds a way to move forward and win.

That’s why you should this book.

THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE: The ministry Mind Shift That Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Mark Dever has put this book in the top ten reads of 2009. He says “This is the best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry.”

Possibly.

My first impression was “Welcome to the conversation – a little late, but welcome nonetheless.” What Marshall and Payne have written about here has been written about many, many times in the past 10 years or so, mainly by Emergent type folk.

A lot of their suggestions and conclusions have already been suggested and concluded in various books about church ministry. What Marshall and Payne do here is articulate it through a very biblical framework – more so than other books – as well as offer a concrete way of doing church differently, and that is what makes the book good.

Their fundamental point is simple – yet transformational if churches understood it – Disciple making should be the normal agenda and priority of every church AND every Christian disciple.

EVERY Christian’s focus should be to BE a disciple and to MAKE disciples and Churches and pastors are meant to be facilitating that process.

This requires a shift of focus for churches and ministries. Early on in the book they give 11 such shifts that must take place:

1. From running programs to building people
2. From running events to training people
3. From using people to growing people (huge shift away from church ‘volunteers’)
4. From filling gaps to training new workers
5. From solving problems to helping people make progress
6. From clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
7. From Focusing on Church polity to forging ministry partnerships
8. From relying on training institutions to establishing local training
9. From focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for longterm expansion
10. From engaging in management to engaging in ministry
11. From seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.

This cannot be achieved through superficial change, or implementing small groups. In fact, for Marshall and Payne the issue goes far deeper than just starting small groups. In fact, they argue that small groups are not the issue. The small groups need to be TRAINING groups; trained on how to read the Bible, pray with each other, work on spiritual growth. Without this drive and focus small groups are useless. Even preaching is not sufficient. Yes, you heard that right; Tony Payne and Colin Marshall say on pg 102 that, Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient. Preaching is ONE form of the ministry of the word – not THE form.

It is always coming back to the issue of ongoing, continuous training and discipling of ALL members of the church.

One of the most interesting discussions in the book revolves around calling. How does one know that they are called to ministry, The current model is to wait for someone to say ‘I feel called to ministry” and then the process begins.

This is not a biblical approach for the authors. They say that pastors and elders should be talent scouts. Scripture suggests that people are called and set apart by others (see Timothy). Pastors should be actively recruiting suitable people within their churches and challenging them to expend their lives for the work of the gospel.

They write:

“When we try and discern what it is that makes that role special [the one called out for ministry] in the New Testament it’s not full time verses part time or paid verses unpaid. It’s not that some belong to a special priestly class and others don’t. It’s not even that some are gifted and others aren’t because all have gifts to contribute to the building of Christ’s congregation. The key thing seems to be that some are set apart or recognized or chosen, because of their convictions, character and competency and entrusted with the responsibility under God for particular ministries.”

Their summary proposals are:

Summary Propositions

1. Our goal is to make disciples
2. Churches tend towards institutionalism as sparks fly upwards
3. The heart of disciple-making is prayerful teaching
4. The goal of all ministry – not just one-to-one work – is to nurture disciples
5. To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker
6. Disciple-makers need to be trained and equipped in conviction, character and competence
7. There is only one class of disciples, regardless of different roles or responsibilities
8. The Great Commission, and its disciple-making imperative, needs to drive fresh thinking about our Sunday meetings and the place of training in congregational life
9. Training almost always starts small and grows by multiplying workers
10. We need to challenge and recruit the next generation of pastors, teachers and evangelists

As I have said, while the main content and issues have been raised many times, what makes this book special is the solutions and suggested models which the authors put forward as a way forward. Too many books in the past have raised the problems but have never given substantial proposals or suggestions for a way forward. This book gives a biblically focused framework to allow you to work through the 11 required shifts thus becoming a church which trains disciples to be disciple-making disciples.

Imperium by Robert Harris

I love historical fiction – and my word, this is historical fiction at its best. I loved this book. The story revolves around Cicero and his climb into the top places of Roman politics. The story is told from the perspective of Cicero’s slave who is also his scribe.

Right from the beginning Harris draws you into the world of ancient Rome. His descriptions are rich but not over done – you easily image the scenes as he describes to you the Senate room, Pompey’s villa, Cicero’s home. The book never stalls and you are constantly taken to each event in Cicero’s life without over dramatization or unlikely segues. A great read. I will now read the rest of Harris’ books in this series.

Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ by Thomas Torrance (edited by Robert Walker)

This is the companion book to `Incarnation’ and in a similar fashion its contents have been complied from the notes of the late Thomas Torrance, comprising of over 25 years of lectures given to students in Christology at New College Edinburgh.

As with the first volume, this is really a remarkable work. Torrance takes you on a journey through the theology of the atonement, examining it from every possible angle. As you read through this book you soon realize two things; Firstly, this is theology at the very highest level; scholarly, in-depth, and yet readable. Secondly, it is immensely pastoral. You can sense the passion and love that Torrance had for Jesus Christ. This is true theological reflection – not just for academic purposes, but also in order to elicit a change in our thinking and in our spiritual life. This is what has struck me reading these two books. I have not just `learned’ information about the Incarnation and Atonement, but I have been challenged, encouraged and even moved by understanding deeper the immense work of Jesus Christ in his life and ministry; his death and resurrection. Is this not what theological study should lead to? Such is Torrance’s skill in his prose that I found myself drawn into each chapter not just by what he wrote but also by how he wrote. I challenge any reader not to come away from this book enriched and rejoicing at what Jesus Christ achieved through the atonement.

Far be it for me to declare these books as future classics (that must be done by those with far more influence and weight than myself) – these are two of the very finest books I have ever read on Christology.

GOD IS GOOD, GOD IS GREAT: Why Believing In God Is Reasonable and Responsible Edited by William Lane Craig & Chad Meister

Atheism is no longer simply about ‘not believing’ in a God or an intelligent designer. New Atheism has arrived and it has gone on the offensive. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others are now not just refuting the existence of God, spirituality, heaven or hell, they are proclaiming the message that to believe in a God, or in intelligent design is irrational and dangerous. The only sure and true ‘truth’ that can be relied upon is science.

These new atheists are pro-active – almost evangelistic in their zeal. Their mission is simple – to actively turn people away from any form of theistic belief.

This book is a powerful and substantial response to the claims and arguments of the new atheists.

The authors take on Dawkins et-al head on, unafraid of tackling the toughest of subjects including ‘Are The Old Testament Laws Evil’, ‘How Could God Create Hell’, ‘God Evil and Morality’. There are also chapters on ‘Arguments for God’, ‘The failure of Scientific Atheism’, ‘God and Physics’& ‘God and Evolution.’

What I find wonderful about this book is the breadth of the scholarship from Christians, philosophers, theologians and  scientists. From Dr William Lane-Craig, a philosopher, theologian and strong apologist of the Christian faith, to Michael Behe, a top scientist in the area biochemistry and Anthony Flew a well known former atheist who have both declared that evolution is not possible without an intelligent designer.

This book is by no means anti-science. Indeed, the aim of this book is to show clearly that the claims and arguments of the new atheists simply do not stand up to intellectual, scientific and philosophical scrutiny. And it succeeds.

God Is Good, God Is Great provides the reader with a wealth of wonderful information that, while scholarly, is readable and most importantly encouraging. But for me, the most impressive thing about this book is that it is incredibly balanced. Each author writes carefully, clearly and logically not making any outlandish statements or rash leaps in their argument.

There is now no need to worry about what Dawkins, or Hitchens or Harris says. There really is no need to be on the defensive when people raise the apparent objects to theism which is advocated by the new atheists. This book will give you the depth, understanding and confidence to respond directly and to the heart of the issues.

This book is for both christians and non-christians, those interested in science, those who have no scientific background, those who simply want to be better informed and those who wish to study the arguments fully and those who want to be apologetically armed.

The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher

When my first, very small book, was published, I had to learn that not everyone would like the book. People had different reasons; from dislike and disagreement to indifference. However, you soon learn and have to accept that if you put your personal thoughts into print and make it public you have willingly opened yourself to other people’s response and opinions. You also have to remember that people are speaking about what they have read and the content of the book, not about YOU or who you are as a spouse, parent, friend etc.

I say this because as I read this book for  review for Thomas Nelson I knew it would be a very unfavorable review. What I am going to say is about the content of the book, not about the person.

This book is the authors experience and reflection on Holy Communion. It is almost a spiritual journal.

The problem is that it is theologically awful. Her understanding of God the Father, Jesus Christ, Communion and the gospel cannot be called historic Christianity. It is not what scripture teaches on these issues.

As a Priest in the Episcopal Church I really cannot endorse the views in this book.

Gallagher’s view of Communion is something “devised cleverly by and for human beings, to help us get in touch with the Holy.”

Devised by human beings? I think not. Communion and it’s practice comes from God himself, Jesus Christ, God as a human being, illustrating to his disciples the night before his death the significance of what is about to happen, and for this reason we are to remember it.

Gallagher’s view is that Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me” was meant to be taken “by the disciples and everyone who came after him to remember what they had together. What they made together. What it meant to be together.”

No, that is not what it means. The words are not meant to be a call to the benefit of community. It is about the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world; by the breaking of his body and shedding of his blood to free us from the dominion of sin.

More worrisome is her assertion about sin. She says that there is “too much focus on personal sin and especially sin having to do with sex… Sin has to be about larger matters, Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time talking about personal conduct (obey the commandments was his general rule); his teachings were more about justice.”

I am sorry, but the Sermon on the Mount is about personal conduct. Matthew 19 is about how we act with others and conflict resolution. There are so many more examples, but I’ll stop there.

Finally, I believe Gallagher’s view of who can take communion is unbiblical. She says that “Communion is so important to me that I don’t think there should be rules about who can take it and who cannot… [And then, speaking in terms of feeding people in a soup kitchen where no questions are asked about who the person is or what they have done before they are fed she says] “It was not up to us to ask questions and be the judges of who should be fed. And this is true for communion as well. Jesus practiced a radical faith: everyone was welcome at his table.”

Really? Really? Yet scripture says “for the one who eats [the bread] and drinks [the cup] without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

There is a complete lack of the gospel message in this book. Jesus, Gallagher asserts, is a person of compassion, acceptance and the upholder of justice – which is true. But there is no mention of the other side of Jesus’ message – that people MUST repent or experience darkness and the gnashing of teeth. This Jesus says that one not dressed correctly for the wedding banquet will be thrown out. If you are unprepared, like the 5 unwise virgins, you will not be known by Jesus. The point of Jesus’ ministry – of the incarnation – is to show people that they are trapped in sin, in a darkness which will destroy them –  but there is good news. If people repent, turn to Christ, confess their sins, and give their entire lives to Jesus they will find the love and reconciliation of the Father in Heaven and the promise of eternal life.

I do not recommend this book.

Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ by Thomas F Torrance (Edited by Robert Walker)

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This volume (and the companion volume on the Atonement) is made up from the notes of the late Thomas Torrance, comprising of over 25 years of lectures given to students in Christology at New College Edinburgh.

Edited into the final book form by Robert Walker (and Torrance’s nephew) it reveals the deep and rich thinking of this great modern theologian. Through this book you encounter a level of interaction with the topic of the personhood and life of Christ rarely seen. Lecturers can (and most do) just regurgitate other scholars views and thinking giving overviews and comparisons, peppered with a little of their own thoughts. Reading this book, you realize that this was not Torrance’s method of teaching. He lectured from the depth of his own thinking and study, which makes him original. Yet it is not ‘original’ thinking in the sense of new, or divergent ideas that take you on strange and unfamiliar paths. No, it is rooted in scripture and orthodoxy and ultimately in Christ himself, God who became man. And so, on another level it is not original thinking. Torrance’s skill is to draw you into the ancient, established and eternal truths of Christ, but he does it in such a griping way as he weaves through each topic and chapter like a master weaver. A very simple and brief example of this is seen when Torrance writes:

Any Christological approach that starts from the man Jesus, from the historical Jesus, and tries to pass over to God  and so to link human nature to God, is utterly impossible. In fact it is essentially a wrong act: for it runs directly counter to God’s act of grace which has joined God to humanity in Christ. All attempts to understand Jesus Christ by starting off with the historical Jesus utterly fail; they are unable to pass from man to God and moreover to pass from man to God in such a way as not to leave man behind altogether, and in so doing they deny the humanity of Jesus.

It’s almost poetry!

This is not a book for beginners. It is definitely hard going and it’s a book that you need to work at. It will stretch your thinking and your brain. But, if you are willing to make the investment of time and energy, you will reap a wonderful return in terms of understanding the person and life of Christ and the incarnation.

Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community by Charles Marsh & John Perkins

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I have been involved with the issue of reconciliation for about 5 years now. My wife and I (and our son who was 2 years old at the time) spent 3 months on an intense residential course on Biblical Reconciliation before we moved to the States. For three months I was steeped in lecturers and books on reconciliation. The paper that I wrote for the course, The Paradox of A Divided Church Called To Be Reconcilers To The World, was published as a chapter in a book. I also edited a resource book for schools on Biblical Reconciliation. It was for these reasons that I was excited to review this book.

Charles Marsh (Seminary Professor) and John Perkins (Civil Rights activist) team together to write on God’s movement towards ‘Beloved Community.’ As John Perkins writes, God is calling me to help churches see and incorporate as an essential part of discipleship. The captivity of the church to our culture has left us so divided.

The church has a massive, God given role in reconciliation and it needs to embrace this call. The gospel itself is a call to reconciliation – turn back to The Father who desires to be restored in relationship with his children through his Son Jesus Christ; The Church is called to be a blessing in places of brokenness, so God sends us to the jails. God wants us to interrupt this broken system with his love.

The chapters are shared between Perkins and Marsh. When you read Perkins chapters you literally hear his cry leaping from the pages – the cry for the church to get serious about true reconciliation; serious about being involved with a broken world; serious about community that is attractive, discipleship based and reconciliation focused. Christians have spent a lot of time talking about who Jesus is without paying attention to how he lived.

Community based church is a key feature for the authors. A Church that simply attracts people who commute in and out is not as asset to a community. They contribute very little, if not nothing to the community (accept traffic problems on a Sunday). A Church that is made up of people from the community is an asset to the community – investing time and energy in those with whom they live with to declare God’s reconciliation and to be an illustration of reconciliation to the community.

Of course the two key areas that need this is racial relations and those in poverty and time is spent on these issues. John Perkins insights into the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s are very insightful. Much has changed and much progress has been made since Martin Luther-Kings death some 40 years ago, but there is more to be done; We’re not there yet, but we are living in a new time. This is a time for re-building. I pray that every Christian, young and old alike, would have the courage to give themselves fully to God’s movement toward reconciliation and beloved community in society.

My only difficulty with the book was that some of the chapters were a little disjointed. Sometimes I was not sure where the chapter was heading. But overall this is a great little book. This book should be read by all Christians but especially pastors and church leaders so that reconciliation gets into the DNA of the church. Definitely recommended.

Lloyd-Jones: Messenger Of Grace by Iain Murray

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have read Iain Murray’s seminal two volume work on Martyn Lloyd-Jones (ML-J) that you do not need to read this book.

Much of the contents of this book do not appear anywhere else, and this work reveals something more about ML-J than the biography.

You sense the immense respect Murray (who was an assitant to ML-J for three or so years) has for this man, although this is not a sugar coated account of his work, Murray does not agree with ML-J on some issues.

This book tackles ML-J’s approach and views on three issues – the importance of preaching; the importance of assurance of salvation in christianity and ML-J’s view of the Holy Spirit.

The book is a mixture of analysis by Murray, especially on the controversial issues, such as his distancing himself from JI Packer, the call to evangelicals to leave their denominations and the effect it had on ML-J’s reputation (see the chapter entitled ‘The Lost leader or the Prophetic Voice’); notes taken from an address ML-J gave to pastors on preaching; quotes on various aspects of doctrine from ML-J and finally a book review written by Murray on Mark Noll’s book Is The Reformation Over. Why the book review? ML-J was strongly against Roman Catholicism and his decision to stop working with JI Packer on the Puritan Conferences was because of Packer’s commitment to an ecumenicalism which included Catholics.

This book looks at ML-J from a different angle and it is fascinating. One of the bonuses of the book is that comes with a CD of an evangelistic sermon ML-J preached in the early 60’s. It is an amazing  sermon and worth the price of the book.

 

The Search For God And Guinness by Stephen Mansfield

41TTGsEZD5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I confess that the package from Thomas Nelson sat on my desk for a few days. I had a tinge of regret in agreeing to review this book, which is why it remained unopened. However, once I opened up the book I was hooked.

Now, I knew Stephen Mansfield is a good writer. I have read his short biography of Winston Churchill, which was good. Also, I have met Stephen. I was on the management team at Derek Prince Ministries when we hired Stephen to write Derek’s biography.

And his writing skills are clear in this book. His style draws you into this story of the amazing Guinness family; the faith of Arthur Guinness, his legacy and how their faith translated into action. There are hardships; family struggles, disappointments and tragedy but you see God’s grace a work in this story, a story which is not that well known outside of Ireland.

Even the chapter on how beer was ‘discovered’ is so well told that you are fascinated. If only some of the major corporations in our day would take a fraction of the approach of Arthur Guinness and the example he left behind, the business world would be turned upside down and inside out.

A fun, informative, well written and enjoyable read.

Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver

51ARc2+8D9L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_Another fictional book. Jeffery Deaver (as I understand it) is a well know author and has many successful novels. Roadside Crosses, on one level is a good crime thriller. A series of attempted murders are linked to crosses which are left on the roadside. Unlike memorial crosses which indicate an anniversary of a road death, these roadside crosses have the current date on them – indicating that a killing will happen.

The agent in-charge of the investigation, Kathryn Dance, stumbles into the world of blogging and internet gaming. This forms a fascinating and very interesting sub-plot.

The prime suspect soon becomes a teenager who had been viciously attacked on a blog thread. Travis had been involved in a fatal car accident. His character is systematically attacked on the blog by other students from Travis’ school. It is these students who are now being attacked. The blog is hosted by a guy who takes pleasure in outing ‘injustice’ ‘hypocrisy’ and revealing ‘truth’ about people.

Deaver examines a ton of issues in this novel, including the ethical implications of blogging and how people regard what is posted on a blog as ‘truth’ without any thought that it might not be true; the intense speed at which rumors spread through blogging and the damage such rumors can cause.

Add the good writing and the wonderful twists, especially towards the end, then you have the ingredients of a great read.

Find Your Strongest Life Yet by Marcus Buckingham (Reviewed By Lauren Winslow)

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When I first started reading Find Your Strongest Life I wondered how a man could write a book for women and be able to really get at our issues.  Well, he did and I think too that a lot of the suggestions, ideas, and advice in this book can be for men also- they can at least understand the woman side of things by reading it.  Find Your Strongest Life also appealed to most genre of women- single, married, those with children and without, old, young etc.  Marcus is a visionary writer, the book was easy and fun to read.  It left me with a sense of betterment for myself and knowledgement about myself.  I know that I do contribute to my world and now I know more of how I do that.  I am able to develop this contribution more fully and peaceably.

I did however, felt like God should hold a bigger place in this book.  The book focused very much on individuals doing things for themselves, that we hold the power.  In some ways we do hold that “power” but I think we have it because of our spiritual beliefs.  I believe that God is someone we can turn to for help with our problems, getting insight, and more.  Spirituality gives peace and happiness and fulfillment to our lives.  God is our biggest stronghold and supporter.

I disagree with Marcus in that women are more unhappy these days because we are not supposed to be career women.  Marcus leans towards thinking that women need to be successful in their career and explains how to that.  Most women in our society are working mothers and it is just too much to handle.  Women were created by God to raise children, the next generation and be helpers for their husbands.  Children should not be raised in daycare’s or by anyone other than their parents.  Children are very much influenced by their environment and need to be nurtured as they grow up.  When women accept their responsibilities as a whole, our society and culture will flourish- children will be better off, marriages will be better off, because the woman’s will not be distracted by a career.

The Way Home by George Pelecanos

41CHvT+QN6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I am reading more fiction – recommended fiction. This was recommended to me a while back. I have never read George Pelecanos before but I hear he is a well known writer.

This was an interesting book.  The story revolves around Chris Flynn. A boy who came from a good, middle class family, made choices – the wrong ones – and ends up in a prison for teenagers. His father, Thomas Flynn – a man who had worked to create his successful business without a college education also made choices – bad ones. Choices about how he spoke to and dealt with Chris; how he coped with the situation with his son personally and internally. After Chris is released from prison he works for his father laying carpets. He finds a bag stuffed with money. Another choice. And the novel hinges on this choice and the consequences which follow. Interestingly, Pelecanos also shows the consequences of making the right choices.

The novel raises interesting questions about the father / son dynamic. There is an interesting line which says:

It was true what some folks said: When your kid is a failure, your life has been a failure (pg 62)

Thomas Flynn struggles with the fact that his son’s failure is his failure; that regardless of what else he achieves in life, his son’s failure means his life HAS been a failure – his desire to see his son do BETTER than him and yet in fact, his son seems to do worse. And Chris Flynn, who has tried to live up to his fathers expectation but realizes he can’t and gives up trying.

Where do you look to and in what do you base your criteria for success. Of course Pelecanos is not a christian but his underlying answer is not to base it in or find it in your children, or in your parents. We fail. We disappoint. And this is another area this book touches.

There is also a strong statement on friendship. Chris’ closest relationships are with some of those he did time with – his best friend is murdered, and even the one boy whom he hated in prison turns out to be his savior.

Cryptic? I am not going to give spoilers for this book – it is a good read – well written, interesting topics which are deftly dealt with – even to the last paragraph which took the wind out of me as I came to the end of the book. Not all good endings remain good endings, and Pelecanos brings this out wonderfully in his final paragraph.

Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response To Today’s Most Controversial Issues by John MacArthur (and the leadership team at Grace Community Church)

519Uw2Rl-fL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I have not read a great deal by John MacArthur. But I was intrigued  with this book. It’s contents page tackles some great topics including Video Games And A Biblical World View, Making media Choices for You And Your Family, Euthanasia, Suicide and Capital Punishment, Illegal Immigration and Border Control – all from a Biblical perspective.

The book is divided into four parts and each part tackles a theme; Entertainment and Leisure, Morality and Ethics, Politics and Activism & Tragedy and Suffering.

These are solid, biblically based essays on important topics. This is a great introduction to these areas for people who want a relatively short introduction. If you have read some theology, then what is in here will not be new, but drawing together into one volume such topics will prove to be a useful resource. I will be tutoring a seminary level course in Christian Ethics this fall and several of these essays are already photocopied and ready to be given to the class as ‘further’ reading.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

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With Dan Brown’s writing there is no finesse, subtleness, or creativity in revealing the plot lines/secrets. Dan Brown is like an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator rather than a Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom.

Yet, like a Schwarzenegger movie, Brown is a good story teller and it is difficult not to enjoy his novels. Of course his views on Christianity and the Bible is ludicrous but they are now quite irrelevant. In fact in this book Brown simply blends in with the general view of our culture regarding Christianity and the Bible. He is obsessed with the world of suppressed secrets and religious freedom – freedom to have any belief and still be credible. The Lost Symbol focuses upon the Freemason’s and the search for the pyramid which will lead to a Masonic ‘map’ which in turn leads to the revelation of the all powerful ‘word’.  Washington DC is the  center of this plot. A city riddled with secret meanings. The main ‘bad’ guy is Mal’akh, a man who is intent upon discovering this all powerful ‘word’ and thus be given power beyond belief. He is violent, angry, clever and ruthless in his quest. Robert Langdon is drawn into the plot deceptively, as is the CIA.

I will not give away any plot spoilers, so you will have to decide whether or not to buy the book or borrow the book, and read it for yourself. Is it a profitable thing to spend a day or so reading this book? I am not sure. It depends if you refer an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Richard Attenborough classic.

Baptism: Three Views (Paperback) by David F. Wright (Editor), Sinclair B. Ferguson (Contributor), Anthony N. S. Lane (Contributor), Bruce A. Ware (Contributor)

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As a conservative evangelical and an Anglican priest, I have often been in discussions where I am asked how I can possibly defend infant baptism.

And it is a good question. I often have conflicted sense within me. I was brought up within a Free Church tradition, which baptized adult believers and dedicated babies. My transition into ministry within the Anglican church, first as a youth minister required to teach confirmation classes and then as a priest, required to baptize babies, I have had to spend some time thinking this through.

This book sets out the position for each understanding. Each chapter consists of the defense of one of the positions (Bruce Ware is for believers baptism, Sinclair Ferguson for infant baptism and Anthony Lane is for a mixed practice). Then the other two contributors give their response to that position, and the chapter concludes with a final response to the two other responses. Hence this book is just under 200 pages and three chapters long!

However, despite being under 200 pages, these are densely packed pages – filled with historical theology and exegesis of passages. Bruce Ware in defending believers baptism is somewhat aggressive, beginning his chapter with these words: …the sad fact is that our different views of baptism mean that in all likelihood significant portions of Christ’s church are failing to carry out what Christ has commanded, even if this failure stems from good motives.

For Ware there is no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic or post apostolic period – not until the third century do we have any firm evidence for infant baptism practice. Biblically Ware argues that Paul, in Colossians 2:12 rules out infant baptism, for he says that new life becomes a reality through faith. Hence, for ware, baptism is a sign of regeneration. Also, Ware rejects any symbolic link between circumcision and baptism. He argues that if such a link was meant to be then why is it not stated as such in scripture.

Sinclair Ferguson disagrees. He argues (in a brilliant chapter) that circumcision and baptism share the same core symbolism which points to and is fulfilled in Christ. Ferguson, very interestingly asks whether baptism is a seal of faith or a seal TO faith. His belief is that it is TO faith. He writes:

Baptism signifies and seals the work of Christ crucified and resurrected and the communion with God which is ours THROUGH FAITH.

This was the point of circumcision; it was not a seal of Abraham’s faith response, but of the (covenant) righteousness which he received through faith.

What is Ferguson’s response to the silence of infant baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic period? I am not sure he answered this as thoroughly, but for Ferguson, you cannot argue from silence and thus that is why the issue demands theological engagement. Also, he uses Acts 2:39, which says:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you  in the name of Jesus Christ  for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive  the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and  for your children and for all  who are far off, everyone  whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Coming from a covenantal position, Ferguson argues that the phrase for the promise is for you and for your children means the covenantal principle remains inviolable. The children of believers receive the same promise as their parents and are therefore to be baptized.

Of course, Ferguson reminds the readers that infant Baptists are not against believers baptism and indeed practice believers baptism. The issue is never infant or believers baptism – but whether infants can biblically be baptized as well as adhering to the practice of infant baptism.

Without disrespect, the strength of the book is in the interaction between Ware and Ferguson. Anthony Lane’s position (that both practices are allowed in Scripture) is the weakest and it is clear from Ware’s response that he does not think it a valid view. Ferguson engages far more respectfully with Lane.

This book is worth the money simply for Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter defending infant baptism, but it is also a great way of seeing the issues involved between infant and believers baptism. While the chapters are dense, they are well written and engaging, giving a lot of information. Whether anyone will actually be persuaded by the arguments to the extent of changing their position is doubtful. But you will come away will a strong respect for the positions and maybe, for the believers baptism advocates, not quite as quick to dismiss or disregard infant baptism.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

31FEzxERWfL._SL500_AA215_This is a monster novel – 650 pages. But it is a wonderful read. This is a novel about Thomas Cromwell set mostly in the period 1527-1535. Cromwell was in the service of Cardinal Wolsey when Wolsey was the senior advisor to Henry VIII. Wolsey fell from favor and eventually died on his way to trial and Cromwell became a trusted advisor to Henry rising to the position of Secretary – master minding Henry’s desires. Cromwell was lawyer. The novel begins with Cromwell’s childhood – the hard life he lived – the running a way from home – the independence desire to survive – but it soon moves into his life as a married man in the service of Wolsey. Mantel makes it clear that Cromwell was a reformer – owning a copy of Tyndales New Testament – a book outlawed at that time in England. She also creates wonderful moments between Cromwell and Thomas More whom she paints as an eccentric – often shabbily dressed, but also as a champion for the mother church. Historically this is a very accurate novel – fictionally, it is very clever. The dialogue is swift and sometimes complex, not knowing if you are reading the characters thoughts or actual conversation with someone. However, Mantel draws you into the story as she develops the characters. She never makes Cromwell a hero – is he good, bad, amoral? You find yourself feeling strongly for him when he loses his wife and child to the sweating sickness, but she also draws out his ruthlessness in his pursuit to do Henry’s will. The novel ends mid-way through Cromwell’s career. He is still in power at the end and she does not tackle his downfall. If you love historical fiction then this is a must read. It is currently on the Booker shortlist.

Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear by Max Lucado

_225_350_Book.72.cover Fear is something that can paralyze us. Fear of the future, fear of the present, even the fear of the past can all make life impossible to live. And then comes the fear of people, of illness and death.

We all have fears. And the issue is not that fear will ever go away – but how do we cope with our fears. Do we suppress them, ignore them or submit to them. Max Lucado’s new book Fearless gives us a guide to how to put faith before fear.

Each chapter tackles an aspect of fear – some more general (Fear of worst case scenarios), some specific (fear of not protecting my kids). Through illustrations, stories and scripture references, we are shown the broader view (God’s sovereign presence and his promises) that scripture gives us, and through this to draw comfort, faith and strength that fear is not the place to retreat to when we encounter the difficulties and tragedies of life.

This is certainly a ‘hope’ book. You are meant to be able to read each chapter and come away feeling strengthened and encouraged. But this may also be a slight weakness in the book. Not everything turns out well, and while Lucado does acknowledge this, I would have liked a chapter called  “The Fear Of When Things Don’t Turn Out Well.” More biblical exegesis, or digging deeper into some of the passages used was, in my opinion, needed.

Also, on a minor point, I found the switching of Bible translations a little annoying. Lucado uses everything from the Amplified Bible, The Message, to the NIV and NASB. It at times seems that the translation is used to prove his point.

This is a great introduction to the topic of fear and will be a wonderful first step in giving people encouragement. But it should be only a first step book – further reading would be required to truly have a life that is without fear.

The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God’s Transformation of the World by Darrell Johnson

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On one level all the ingredients that you might expect to be in a book on preaching is here in this book; the process from reading, to exegesis, to preparing the sermon, to the delivery and, of course, on the life of the preacher.

But this is far from a standard book on preaching.

Johnson’s assertion  is that the task of a preacher is to open the text in such a way that the text itself does what only the text can do.

It is HOW he unpacks this assertion which is so different and refreshing.

Johnson’s strong conviction in this book is that (1) when the living God speaks, something always happens, (2) when the preacher speaks God’s speech, God speaks; (3) therefore, when the preacher speaks God’s speech, something always happens.

And the process by which this happens is through expository preaching

Now, before I go on, I will address one area of disagreement I have with Johnson (a minor one). While I am in total agreement that expository preaching is necessary and indeed vital, he comes close to lessening other modes of preaching (i.e. topical preaching). Topical preaching, Johnson writes leaves too much to the preacher’s ability to come up with the content of the sermon….[and[ topical preaching can give an impression about the Bible that is not accurate. On this I would disagree with Johnson, although I do understand his point.

Johnson’s definition of  expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do only what the text can do. This is what Johnson means when he says “when the preacher speaks God’s speech, something always happen” – and this is what makes Johnson’s book so much more than just another book on preaching.

Part 1 of the book examines this fascinating and exciting point – preaching should mean something ALWAYS happens. How that happens is through the Holy Spirit. Divine transformation takes place; the preacher is participating with what the risen Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is doing in and with and through the text.

Part 2 of the book (Human Mechanics of Participating)  looks at how to develop the sermon, the person of the preacher and the life of the preacher – all good and useful chapters.

Part 3 looks at both the physical and spiritual place the preacher stands when they enter the pulpit – standing in the mystery – standing in the spiritual  power of the gospel which has been proclaimed to the world.

The epilogue is in the form of a sermon, while there are some wonderful suggestions for preparing sermon series in regard to the church year.

Johnson quotes extensively from various sources and books on preaching.

It is, however, Chapter 7, Walking the Sermon into Everyday Life which is worth the price of the book alone, and a chapter EVERY preacher should read.

Johnson begins the chapter with applying the text is not the preachers responsibility. This goes against most homiletical teaching (and congregational expectation). He goes on to make a distinction between applying the text and implying the text. No, this is not semantics to Johnson – he argues that a preachers job cannot be to apply the text – that is the role of the Holy Spirit. What a preacher should do is to imply the text – to present the congregation with the truths of the text so that they see that this is what necessarily happens. Imply conveys the idea of accepting the logical inherent consequences of the truth.

This leads us to change from the standard question (how should we apply the word) to asking a different question, where is the word leading us and will we co-operate and enter in. What is the reality into which the text is introducing us. Once we know this we have the answer to how should we apply this, an answer which can only be fulfilled through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

This I loved. You can literally hear a collective sign of relief from preachers around the world. I also think  it is a vital piece of teaching in this book.

The Glory of Preaching combines in a very real way the spiritual aspect of preaching as well as the practical aspect without losing its focus or direction. In this short review I have only scratched the surface of this book – but it is a book I thoroughly recommend to ALL preachers and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging And Traditional by Jim Belcher

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How far is too far? Where in terms of theology, ecclesiology, worship, preaching and mission do we draw the line in the sand and say this is too far and has lost sight of orthodox or biblical Christianity. And with regards to ecclesiology, or worship, or contextualization, where the Bible is interpreted differently, by what criteria do we even being to decide that something is too far?

These are some of the issues that have been raised with regards to the Emerging Church movement. Criticisms and even charges of heresy have been leveled against Emergent leaders and their methods, while the emergent leaders accuse the traditionalists of being out of touch, irrelevant and stuck in the past.

Jim Belcher’s new book, Deep Church, looks to steer a third way between the emergent movement and the traditionalist / reformed approach. Why a third way? According to Belcher there is good to be found in both positions. The birth of Emergent came from the desire for the church to be more engaged with our postmodern culture. They raise excellent questions at some of the irrelevance and detachment of the traditional church. Each chapter of Deep Church is an analysis, critique and response to seven ‘protests’ of the emerging movement against the ‘traditional’ Church; 1. Captivity to enlightenment rationalism, 2. A narrow view of salvation, 3. Belief before belonging, 4. Uncontextualized worship, 5. Ineffective preaching, 6. Weak ecclesiology & 7. Tribalism (i.e. unwilling to engage the culture). The traditional church in response claims to stand on 2000 years of historic Christianity which they feel the emergent movement is simply discarding. Of course the debate (or argument) that usually takes place between these two sides too often focuses on the extremes of each tradition, and making any unity or move towards each other very difficult.

Belcher writes clearly and with objectivity. He represents both sides with fairness acknowledging both the good and the bad. He also writes as someone who has traveled this journey and personally wrestled with the issues on both an intellectual and practical level. Neither is he writing from a position of here-say or assumption. Belcher has visited the churches, spoken with and has even becomes friends of many of the leading emergent figures.

Belcher’s response in each chapter is his proposed third way and it is the core of the book. This is no symbolic attempt to mediate between the two sides. This is a very real, practical and reasoned proposal for being church. From my perspective the emerging church has been stuck in ‘critique’ mode. Its only message being “the traditional church is dying”. All the books I have read have not really moved the ‘conversation forward from critique to real action. The traditionalists have also been stuck in critique mode, offering no real response. Here, in Deep Church, Belcher offers a way forward – a real response. 

What I love about the book is that unlike other recent books that have tackled the emergent movement, Belcher speaks as one who has a real foot in both camps. He sees the real issues that the emergent movement have raised, but he is not willing to accept the complete re-write of historic Christianity which some in emergent are moving towards. For Belcher the anchor, or the line in the sand for the emergent movement should be the authority of scripture and the traditional historic creeds and confessions of the ancient church. But that should not quench creativity in worship, relevant and exciting (but biblical) preaching and strong community which leads to a real and transformative commitment in Jesus Christ as savior.

For this reason Belcher’s book is both timely and important.

I have commented (here & here ) on my own frustrations with the emergent movement. I have appreciated the questions they raise and have sympathized with their frustrations. I was involved with an emergent type church in the UK and I have even had a chapter published in a book edited by Spencer Burke here in the States. But I also feel that too often they cross the line of biblical Christianity.

Belcher’s book thoroughly resonated with me and it is a book I would highly recommend and encourage people to read.

Stand: A Call For The Endurance of The Saints Edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor

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Some stories stick like mud. Whether it’s because it is shocking, sad, funny or surprising, you can hear a story just once and then recall it easily for months and years ahead. For me, one such story was told by the preacher of when he was a young seminarian who began to date a daughter of a prominent pastor. Having had dinner at the family home one evening, the father called the young seminarian out onto the porch and said to him “Make a list of you class mates. In 30 years time, out of your class of 20, only 5 will still be Christians and in the ministry – the rest will have fallen away.” The preacher did make that list and 30 years later he tracked down his former class. His late father in law was right – 6 remained believers and in ministry. This story, or illustration (or maybe warning) has remained with me. It reminds me, that as one wise person said, ministry is not a sprint, but a marathon, and the key is, how will we finish!

We can have the passion, call, desire to preach and minister the gospel now, but will we in 25 / 30 years time after times of hardship, persecution, attack and disappointments. Such words (hardship, persecution, attack and disappointments) are not on the vocabulary list of young, new pastors. However in “Stand: A Call For The Endurance of The Saints” edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, John MacArthur writes in his chapter “I’ve been in one church long enough to see just about every kind of attack on my character, life and ministry.” Indeed, MacArthur shares how 5 of his young interns, men whom he had mentored, tried to have him unseated as pastor – or the 250 members of his church, including elders and leaders, who left because they found his preaching too long and irrelevant. Why did he stay?  He writes “there wasn’t anyone handing me any invitations. That was by the grace of God however.”

Other contributors to this small book are John Piper on why retirement is not biblical and that we are not to be a people longing to stop – Jerry Bridges encouragement to keep the four essentials for finishing well (daily time of focused personal communion with God; daily appropriation of the gospel; daily commitment to God as a living sacrifice; firm belief in the sovereignty and love of God), Randy Alcorn who gives the challenge that endurance requires brave courageous decisions on the daily basis on how we live and Helen Roseveares on endurance on the mission field.

This book is only 154 pages – short enough to cover in a devotional time each morning. Yet its contents should be an encouragement to us to think about the future – and this prepare ourselves for the long haul – to prepare ourselves to finish well.

Thoroughly recommended.

God At War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict by Greg Boyd

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Many friends of mine will be dismayed that I have read this book. Greg Boyd is Pastor of Woodland Hills Church. He is also known as a (moderate) Open theist. I have listened to many (not all) of his sermons and you would never really know that he was an Open theist – which is why I call him a moderate. His sermons are biblical (he is preaching through Luke’s Gospel) and inspiring. Another reason why I call him a moderate open theist is that he does believe that what God determines happens – he is not like Clark Pinnock who has rejected all notion that God can know the future. Boyd does not agree with this – but neither does he agree that EVERYTHING is determined and known by God.

I have read many of his other books – including “The Myth of A Christian nation” and “God Of The Possible”. I do not agree with him on all his theology but Greg Boyd’s theology is well thought out (even if you disagree with him) – he reads widely (no, massively!! His reading habits are incredible – 15 books a week I believe he said) and his passion is for Jesus Christ.

But even such an introduction will not pacify my friends regarding this book. Here, Boyd begins what will become a three volume series (his second volume “Satan and The Problem of Evil” has been published for sometime, his third volume has not yet been released). His thesis is clear – there is a war going on – God is at war with evil – Jesus Christ’s life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension was foremost about overcoming evil – he dealt a death blow to satan and re-captured his rightful rule over all creation. And while the outcome of the war is settled the church has an important battle to fight -to fight the effect of evil in the world today.

Boyd’s thesis is a direct challenge to the classical-philosophical conception of God allowing or divinely ordaining a particular evil to transpire. For Boyd this is not what the biblical text supports. He says that evil is real – it is indiscriminate – it comes from Satan and evil human beings. Boyd writes:

“that God has a higher, all encompassing plan that secretly governs every event, including the evil intentions of malicious angelic and human beings, and that somehow renders all these evil wills “good” at a higher level…generates a truly hopeless position.”

For Boyd, the issue of evil starts with the correct framing of the problem. Again, he writes:

“The problem of evil in the New Testament is not the classical-philosophical theistic problem of finding a particular transcendent divine purpose behind every particular evil: Jesus and his disciples assume that there is none. The ‘buck stops’ with the evil beings, human or otherwise, who perpetrate evil. For Jesus and his disciples, the ‘problem of evil’ is simply the problem of overcoming evil by the power of God. It is the task of setting up the kingdom of the Father in a war zone where it is resisted.”

Boyd does not shy away from scripture in this volume. He is constantly doing exegesis on scripture to frame his argument. Whether you agree with his exegesis is one thing – what is impressive is that he brings the tough passages to the table and he shows how he handles them.

Boyd is never dull. And this book is an enjoyable read because of the way he has written it – even if you diametrically disagree with his thesis it is worth reading – and there is much to take away and ponder.

A Serious Call To A Devout & Holy Life by William Law

41PA0DcEemL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_A classic book, originally published in 1728. William Law is a puritan. And he writes like a puritan – but what he writes is so worth reading. While this book may be difficult to read (330 pages) if you are not used to reading the puritans, it is worth trying. His whole point is that we must get serious as believers in our devotional life. What is devotion? He define sit as:

…a life given, or devoted to God. The devout, therefore, are those who live no longer to their own will or the way and spirit of the world, but live to the sole will of God, consider God in everything, and serve God in everything.

He goes on to say:

If we do not live unto God in all the ordinary actions of our life, and make him the rule and measure of all our ways, we cannot be said to live unto Him at all!

The goal of such a life is transformation & change. 

As I said, if you are not used to puritan writing, you may find the middle chapters repetitive, and his reasoning ‘long winded’ – but the danger in skipping over such chapters is to miss the nugget of great insight which the puritans can give to us.

A classic which should be read today – and one which should inspire us to be diligent and vigilant in spending time with our God and allowing his word to change how we live.

Everyday Greatness Inspiration for a Meaningful Life By Stephen R. Covey and David K. Hatch

_225_350_Book.66.cover We can all be inspired by stories, true or fiction. There is something about reading or hearing how someone over came adversity, struggles and massive odds to prevail, survive or even to die well.

Everyday Greatness is such a book. It’s 400 plus pages are filled with inspirational and moving stories which will draw from all your emotions. Taken from Readers Digest, each story is meant to move and encourage us to live life differently. Stephen Covey ends each story with a summary and a comment on what you have read, often drawing out a principle which we, the reader, can apply to our own life. At the end of each section, there are some Reflections – questions to challenge us to take what we have read further in a practical way.

One of the really useful aspects of the book is at the end of each section /chapter there are a number of pages (sometimes up to seven) filled with quotes from other people relating to the section you have read. As a preacher this resource of quotations is remarkable and , I would venture, worth the cost of the book itself.

My only caveat is that this is not a Christian based book – the content is not related back to the Gospel or to Jesus Christ. What I mean by this is that the chapter on Humility, for example, encourages US to be humble. I would argue, as a Christian Minister that we can only truly attempt to walk in humility in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the book itself was very enjoyable and as I said, the quotes are worth having.

William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague

51R630PI4aL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I have just finished this large, 500 page biography of William Wilberforce. William hague, the author, is an MP in the British Houses of Parliament and former leader of the Conservative Party. He represents Yorkshire (as did William Wilberforce) and this is Hague’s second major work. His first was a biography of William Pitt the Younger, friend and contemporary of Wilberforce as well as Englands youngest Prime Minister. His first book was excellent and this is equally good. Of course, if you have seen the film Amazing Grace then you may feel you need not read the biography – wrong! Hague shows the depth of faith which Wilberforce had – the struggles of spear heading the abolition movement and the intense humility of the man, as well as his integrity.

Hague truly unpacks Wilberforce – in a very thorough manner and this book is well worth the journey and time. Hague is turning into an accomplished historian / biographer – I wonder who he will tackle next!!

Escape from Reason: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thoughts by Francis Schaeffer


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Having recently read a biography of Francis Schaeffer it awakened some of the course and reading I had done some 16 years ago on Schaeffer (see post HERE). I went back and have begun re-reading Schaeffer (after 16 years its really like the first time of reading him).

Schaeffer was so far ahead of his time. He was tackling post-Modernism in the late 60’s and early 70’s and when you realize that this is when his books were written you then understand the immense impact Schaeffer had on others thinking so early.

This book simply but also profoundly argues that when you remove God and the teaching of the scriptures from ANY area of life, science, art, mathematics, philosophy, you go below the line of despair. Schaeffer’s argument is that this is exactly what has happened. Scientists, mathematicians, artists, philosophers are searching for the answer to life and meaning in a way which will lead to despair and meaninglessness. Only Christianity has the answer. Schaeffer writes:

Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to speak clearly of the fact that its answer has the very thing modern man has despaired of – he unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life.

What also struck me was how poignant this book is with regards to what is happening in the Episcopall church today. Depart from the ‘true truth’ (Schaeffer’s great term – scripture is not just true, its TRUE thruth) and you will lose your moorings and descend into heresy.  It is not enough, Schaeffer says, to invoke the name of Jesus or use Jesus’ name – “Jesus himself did not not make a distinction between his authority and the authority of the written scriptures.” Remove Jesus from the authority of scripture and you simply have another contentless banner.

A great little book. Let me end with a quote from Schaeffer which encapsulates his thinking:

Christ is Lord of all – over every aspect of life. It is no use saying that he is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Lord of all things if he is not the Lord of my whole unified intellectual life. I am false or confused if I sing about Christ’s Lordship and continued to retain areas of my own life that are autonomous. Any autonomy is wrong. Autonomous science or autonomous art is wrong, if by autonomous we mean free from the content of what God has told us. This does not mean that we have a static science or art – just the opposite. It gives us the form inside which, being finite, freedom is possible.

Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty To Delight by J I Packer & Carolyn Nystrom

418Ddw1ai8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I really liked reading this book – which both challenged me and made me eager in my prayer life. Sometimes such books can leave you feeling daunted or a little condemned that your prayer life is not quite up to scratch. Not this book – using many different sources, stories, encouragement and sound biblical advice it will encourage you (as it did me) in praying and trying different things (lectio divina, journaling, using the BCP, the Lord’s Prayer, corporate prayer and much more). A solid, well written and winsome book on prayer. Well worth reading.

The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin by Douglas Bond

51v92p4wE7L._SL500_AA240_As most of you know it is Calvin’s 500th birthday. This new novel on John Calvin really attracted my attention – a NOVEL on John Calvin – how would the author pull this off? Well, he pulls it off – and he does it VERY well.

The story is told from the perspective of Jean-Louis – the son of a tanner and who grew up with Calvin. Jean-Louis is overcome with jealousy and hatred for Calvin and his success – a hatred which leads to Jean – Louis becoming Calvin’s servant and also an informer for the French Government who was trying to destroy any who professed and advanced the reform faith. The book is in fact Jean-Louis’ confession. A brilliant piece of writing which uses fiction alongside historical fact. Much of the Calvin’s words are taken from real letters and his theology form his Institutes. 

This is a GREAT intro to Calvin and his life. Joel Beeke – a reformed theologian and president of the Puritan Seminary as well as author of many books on Calvin writes:

 “Douglas Bond introduces John Calvin to us in a gripping way, colorfully taking us back to Geneva and its times, unveiling Calvin as the principled man of action, commitment, and love that he was. The Betrayal makes for an exciting read, showing the great Reformer’s heart for theology, piety, and doxology, while almost effortlessly and implicitly undoing caricatures about Calvin along the way. If you want Calvin and his times brought to life in a page-turner, this is the book for you!”