Dissolution by C.J Sansom

512vj7pSypL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_Vacation for me means novels. I love historical novels and so this one caught my eye. A new author, Sansom was a lawyer in London whose degree was in History. Dissolution is the first in a series of ‘Tudor’ detective novels. Set in 1537, during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer in the service of Thomas Cromwell – Henry VIII powerful Chancellor. The murder of a commissioner at a monastery prompts Cromwell to send Shardlake to investigate and to find enough evidence to close the monastery. Shardlake is a firm reformer and fully supports the dissolution of the corrupt monasteries and the eradication of catholicism in England.

The novel revolves around the investigation of Shardlake and how he gets the murderer. On the one hand this is a simple historical detective story but on the other hand, the book is an interesting presentation of the issues of the time and how Thomas Cromwell acted, the death of Anne Boleyn and whether the destruction of the monasteries were just – al of which was fascinating to read alongside the fiction. A fun and impressive first novel.

Bible Overview By Steve Levy (With Paul Blackham)

41Qne-avKPL._SL500_AA240_OK, as you may have guessed by the previous few posts – I really like this book. In my humble opinion it is way better than Vaughn Roberts , God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-Line of the Bible.

The primary reason I like this book is the theology. Levy does not just give an overview but he unpacks, and (more bravely) he lays out HIS theological view of each section. I say bravely because lots of people write books such as these so not to upset or offend people. Levy lays out what will be for some a radical, and in my opinion, completely right theological understanding. The bonus of this book is the appendix whereby Paul Blackham answers common questions / objections to some of the positions espoused by Levy. while not diminishing Levy’s work – the cost of the book is worth this alone. A book I will recommend.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez

41Afxxr3d+L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_In 1992 I took a YWAM course which lasted about 8 months. One weekend a month a friend and myself would drive to Harpenden and spend the weekend. The course was called ‘Think Again’ – a worldview course. It was there that I first read and encountered James Sire (The Universe Next Door) and Francis Schaeffer. I remember each weekend looking forward to watching another segment of Schaeffers film How Then Should We live which is a great analysis of the rise and decline of Western culture from a Christian perspective. He tackles each period of history The Roman Age ,The Middle Ages , The Renaissance, The Reformation, The Revolutionary Age , The Scientific Age , The Age of Non-reason , The Age of Fragmentation, The Age of Personal Peace & Affluence, Final Choices. 

Colin Duriez studied for a while at L’Abri with the Schaeffers and interviewed Schaeffer in the 80’s. This is book is not an indepth analysis of Schaeffer himself as a person, but rather a look at his work and ministry. The book is well written, and is a fascinating account of how the Schaeffers ended up starting L’Abri in Switzland.

A great read.

The Essential Bible Companion: Key Insights For Reading God’s Word by John H Walton, Mark L Strauss & Ted Cooper Jr

51yVn5We+bL._SL500_AA240_This is really a great little book. It provides a two page synopsis of every book of the Bible. each color page has Key Concepts; Key Terms; Key Teachings and Purpose sections – all with some illustrations and or maps etc. The skill and usefulness of this book is the way it summarizes the contents and yet gives you such a depth of information.

A great resource. I have recommended and used it with my Historical Books of The Old Testament Class. Here is a sample from 1-2 kings

Bibleessentials1   bibleessentials2

John (IVP New Testament Commentary Series) by Rodney Whitacre

419KSEW57FL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_This was written by my bosses former lecturer at Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh. It is a good commentary. The advantage of this commentary is its size. This makes Whitacre’s comments concise and to the point, which you must NOT take to mean light. Whitacre is far from light on the text. He has great insight into the Gospel of John and often I would find things in here which were not even mentioned in Hendriksen, Keener or Kostenberger. Also his writing style is easy to read and you can sense the pastoral side of Whitacre. While Hendriksen was my favorite to use, Whitacre is the commentary I would recommend first to those who want to begin studying John.

The Gospel of John: A Commentary – 2-Volume Set by Craig Keener

41P0Y32EFSL._SL500_AA240_I liked Keener’s commentary on Matthew and like what he has written elsewhere. This two volume commentary on John is good. It has a wealth of historical background information – which some people do not like. There were a few times (only a few mind) where I  just want to get to the meaning of the text. There were a few places where I completely disagreed with him on the meaning of the text. But overall this is a useful addition to your studies in John.

John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) by Andreas J. Köstenberger

41H40F0M1YL._SL500_AA240_I liked this commentary because Kostenberger gives you great overviews of other scholars view points in a  concise, easy to understand way. he is far btter at that than Don Carson is in his commentary on John. I have always felt Carson’s commentary to be over rated. Kostenberger’s clear and easy style helps you through the various issues of a passage. He sometimes missed or sketched over things which Hendriksen would some time in, but for the overall picture and summary of the passage you could not go far wrong with this one.

The Gospel of John: A Commentary by William Hendriksen

John_Hendrikson  A while back I mentioned that we had finished a year long Bible Study with the men’s breakfast group on John’s Gospel (see HERE) Over the course of the year I read a number of commentaries – and this one, by William Hendriksen I liked the most.

The enjoyable and useful thing about Hendriksen is that he stays in the text – and he aims to 1) understand the text and 2) seek application from the text. He also employs biblical theology at all times, cross referencing and referring to the whole canon.

Hendriksen’s insights are often powerful and inspiring, and even when you don’t agree with him, you can’t but help admire the thoughtful exegesis he has taken you through.

A great commentary to have on John’s Gospel.

Being Consumed: Economics And Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh

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Can we live different lives, socially and economically as Christians. Cavanaugh say we can – and really we must.

This is a great, small book. It’s 100 plus pages are meaty – much to chew over. And much to challenge us. Cavanaugh’s call is clear and simple, “From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor and communities so that real communal discernment of the good can take place”.

Of course most Christians are aware of the plight of factory worker around the world making designer clothing (Liz Claiborne jackets) which while retailing at $178, cost only 77 cents per jacket (56 cents an hour). And of course most Christians are concerned. It is just that most Christians are too lazy (yes, fingers pointed at me too!!) to change our shopping habits. But is it possible to be a business and give to the community? Cavanaugh details the pain-based Mondragon Co-operative which was founded by a priest in 1956. The company employs 60,000 people and has annual sales of $3 billion. But it’s philosophy is based on the principles of distributism: this idea is that a just social order can only be achieved through the distribution of property and a recognition of the dignity of labor. Mondragon is entirely worker owned and worker governed. It is based on a system of one vote per worker. Their philosophy is that labor hires capital, instead of capital hiring labor. The highest paid worker can make no more than six times the lowest paid. 10% of surpluses are given directly to community development projects.

Not only is the company successful and laborers highly satisfied with their work, but the communities in which Mondragon plays  a significant part enjoy lower crime rates, lower rates of domestic violence, higher rates of education, and better physical and emotional health than neighboring communities.

There is much more to this book – but I’ll leave you to find out for yourself.

Buy it HERE

The Principle of the Path: How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be by Andy Stanley

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Every decision you make sends you down a path. And every path has a destination, good or bad, painful or joyful, fruitful or damaging.

Most of us do not take into account, or calculate the possible destination of a decision. From a person who has drunk too much deciding to drive home to the well educated, middle class, successful person who decided to finance a new car  they cannot quite afford, or invest in a stock which is a gamble, or even to having an extra marital affair.

Andy Stanley’s book examines how people, even smart, well educated people, make decisions which lead to the path of disaster or ruin, and how we can begin to avoid traveling such paths.

As a pastor of a large church, Stanley often sits listening to a congregation member explaining why things have gone wrong in their life thinking “How on earth did you not SEE that coming?” Stanley writes regarding a friend whose lung cancer has returned;

“Our hearts are broken. But no-one is totally shocked. He’s smoked since he was a teenager. Does that make it any less painful? Nope. Do I still pray for him? Yep. Does God still care? Absolutely. Will forgiveness reverse this? No. Will his teenage son learn something through this? I hope so. Does everyone who smokes dies of lung cancer? No. Is God punishing him? I don’t believe so. He chose a path…..”

Over spending, bad purchases, poor investment decisions, smoking, taking drugs, driving too fast, buying houses you can’t afford, poor relationship decisions are all decisions which send you on a path which has a destination – bankruptcy, foreclosure, diseases, serious injury, divorce etc.

So, what is Stanley’s solution? Using the story of King Saul and David, when David had opportunities to kill Saul, but refused because Saul was still God’s anointed, Stanley lays this principle out for us:

David honored the law, principles and wisdom of God and the story ended well…..God’s will for your life will always line up with his law, his principles and his wisdom.

That is the key – even in the most emotionally charged situations, if we focus on God’s law, principles and wisdom we will gain clarity, and if we then ACT on these three things then our decision will take us on a path where it’s destination is God centered.

This of course requires us to submit – submit to God. Choosing the right path begins with submission to God, not information, or even direction – but submission.

Stanley unpacks what this looks like throughout the book. Submission is not easy – and it does not mean an easy path. One of the last stories of the book illustrates this. A dear friend of the Stanley’s had cancer. In a conversation with her she told them that “Once I was able to accept the cancer as coming from the hand of my heavenly Father I was okay.” This statement stunned the Stanley’s. She explained that she believed that God had the final say-so over what could and could not enter her life. She didn’t pretend cancer was a good thing. She didn’t believe cancer was from God. She believed it was part of his plan for her. This gave her peace. She had submitted to God – and therefore the path she traveled was a God centered path.

Of course, not all our dreams or hopes will come true. Stanley’s last chapter, Road Closed, is a useful look at what happens when through either one decision, or not fault of our own, our path is stopped and our hopes and dreams end.

This is really a great book for all believers to read. But primarily for me, I will give this book away to young people – especially those going to college, young youth pastors and young ministers. Another ‘must’ read book for apprentice and leadership programs, and with the study guide in the back it will serve as an excellent book for discussion.

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T Wright

310hx5qHRIL._SL500_AA240_If you read my previous comments on Piper and Wright (HERE, HERE and HERE) then you will understand when I say, Piper lost!

This really is a great book. I think Wright has been given a very bad press about his views on Imputed righteousness – and while there are a great many people whom I respect and know who think Wright is close to abandoning orthodox belief, this book shows no signs of this. It is sound – well argued and thorough. Wright affirms and stands on the theology of both Calvin and Luther on this issue and upholds the law-court metaphor of justification and righteousness. In reading this I saw very little difference in John Piper and Wright’s overall theology (something which wright says in the book – the gap between them is really very small). What separates them then? Why does Piper get all hot and bothered about Wright? Well, contrary to popular opinion wright does not deny imputation. He accepts that we are declared righteous by faith in Christ. However he does reject an imputation which says that Christ’s ‘active’ obedience (instead of his ‘passive’ obedience) could replace our sinful status in God’s eyes. In other words, for Piper, we are imputed ‘moral’ righteousness – for Wright, the righteous is never ‘ours’ – its always God’s righteousness – but he DECLARES us righteous through Christ.

I read an AWESOME review of Wright’s book by a great theologian, Craig Bloomberg – you can check it out HERE.

He articulates Wright’s book very well (better than i could). But he raises two great points – the first is that this debate is such that ‘few can accurately describe just exactly what is being debated’. Many know that Piper disagrees with Wright but few could  actually explain the issues. People are calling Wright a ‘heretic’ on an issue they could not articulate. Mmmmm!

Secondly, Bloomberg writes (at Piper) “Those who find sixteenth century formulations of theology the best ever produced in Christian history and not to be tampered with in any fashion even on the basis of scripture itself, will struggle with Paul’s repeated references to the Christians being judged according their works.” I find that with Piper he s0metimes upholds the Reformation and it’s theological position, rather than the text itself.

On this occasion, Wright has clearly trounced Piper’s argument to the ground, using scripture and very sound exegesis. I’ll end with a somewhat damning quote from Bloomberg re Piper:

Paradoxically, for all Piper’s stated desire to center on God’s glory, his preoccupation with individuals’ salvation at the expense of the larger social, ecological and eschatological dimensions of Paul’s doctrine leaves him with a much more human-centered gospel than Wright’s.

Ouch!

Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer by C.S. Lewis

51RHTM0FR3L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_This book was published after Lewis had died. They are letters apparently to a fictional character called Malcolm, hence this book is listed as fictional. However, there is much of Lewis in here – from veiled references to past tragedy’s (the loss of his wife and even possibly his illness towards the end of his life) and his openness about prayer. There is much in here to chew on – Lewis’ defence of the liturgy as worship, and even his defence of the doctrine of purgatory (Dante’s not Thomas More’s). But most of all you see the human side of Lewis – the one who struggles in prayer as we do; but yet who also has those WOW moments when the Lord moves powerfully. A valued book to have on prayer.

Missional Renaissance: Changing The Scorecard for the Church by Reggie McNeal

51k6X7SJI2L._SL500_AA246_PIkin2,BottomRight,-13,34_AA280_SH20_OU01_Mmmm, not sure what to say about this book. The best way I personally can describe it is that it is a book coming in on the back end of a conversation which began 9 YEARS AGO!. This book is out of date – by three years. What I mean by this is that people like Mike Riddell (The Prodigal Project , Deep Stuff , Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West), Gerard Kelly (RetroFuture: Rediscovering Our Roots, Recharting Our Routes) Eddie Gibbs (Church Next) Alan Jameison (A Churchless Faith) & Pete Ward (Liquid Church) to name but a fraction of the books on my bookshelf published between 1999 & 2003. Reggies book adds nothing to this conversation. Back in 2003-2005 we were involved with a fledgling missional church. I really struggled to finish this book or motivate myself to read it, which was disappointing. But this may not be old hat to you. If you are new to missional / emerging thinking then this is not a bad place to start.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

518hGWRuzCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big-search,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I finished readings Angels and Demons today. I started it last night. It’s an easy read. You can figure out the plot and the ‘bad’ guy’s identity very quickly and the writing is very straightforward.

Without revealing the plot – what is interesting is the discussion of science and faith. There are some very interesting ‘dialogues’, summaries and suggestions regarding science and faith – obviously which comes from Dan Brown himself. One very interesting suggestion is that the ‘scientist’ in the book (who is also a priest) manages to create something from nothing in a lab – thus proving Genesis.

The interesting issue is that while the scientist priest thinks his discovery will enhance and solidify faith and God’s existence – others in the church believe it would diminish and undermine faith – and thus the battle begins.

There are many half truths, misrepresentations and inadequate thinking to frustrate Christians in this book BUT some of the questions raised are worth engaging with.

Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From growing by Geoff Surratt

41D9S0q80bL._SL500_AA240_What a great title huh! And what ARE the ten stupidest mistakes? Trying to do it all; Establishing the wrong role for the Pastors Family; Providing a second rate worship experience; settling for low quality in children’s ministry; promoting talent over integrity; clinging to a bad location; copying another successful church; favoring discipline over reconciliation; mixing ministry and business & letting committees steer the ship.

Over all the book is OK. In my own opinion I don’t feel that the book fulfills the potential the title gives. However, there are some good chapters in here -Trying to do it all; Establishing the wrong role for the Pastors Family & promoting talent over integrity are the best chapters of the book. Pastors should stop trying to DO everything and learn to delegate – and then NOT to interfere just because it is done differently. The pastors role at home and how ministry effects his wife and family is KEY. And the chapter on promoting talent over integrity is good. We are too easily swayed by gifting – often promoting the gifted volunteer quicker than we should and without due attention or discernment to the persons spiritual life.

The other chapters I did not thing were the MOST stupid mistakes that could be made and the content was not that good.

Even so, I would tentatively say that the cost of the book is worth the three best chapters, especially for those coming into the ministry.

Cross Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer

51P4F9YPH7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_Duane Elmer is a colleague of Don carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. I first heard Duane Elmer when he taught on a course I did in 2005 at Ywam, UK. We were a class of 15 and Duane spent an entire week teaching on Cross Cultural Conflict, and Servanthood.It was quite simply awesome!  Duane is a missionary. He has lived in South Africa and has traveled widely teaching missionaries on culture. check out his other books HERE & HERE.

This book is especially good. His main thesis is this: we cannot serve someone we do not understand and we can’t understand someone until we have learned about, from and with them and we can’t learn about someone until there is trust and in order to build trust the person we are speaking with needs to know we accept them and value them as a person and before we can communicate acceptance the person must experience our openness to them and openness requires that we are willing to step outside our comfort zone to initiate and sustain relationships in a world of cultural differences.

Each letter which is in bold is a chapter where Duane unpacks that concept. This is not just a book for missionaries and cross cultural studies it is a book for all people in all situations. It is one of the best books on humility as a leader and cultivating servanthood in the church.

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Caliborne

51eLdziMbGL._SL500_AA240_There is much in this book that Christians, the Church (big C) and the church (congregations) can learn from Shane Caliborne. A passion for the poor, widows and the fatherless – a drive to show God’s love in the community – a desire to support and protect those who are defenseless or who are in need. This is the call of the athlete who is participating (Caliborne) to the armchair athlete who talks the talk but does not get off his butt (majority of church).

This book is filled with stories which will invoke a range of emotions – laugh, cry, angry and sad. You should also come away from this book with some admiration for Caliborne – not many Wheaton grads will want to go to India and work with lepers, the poor and destitute, the workers of sweet shop workers (he spent three months with Mother Teresa).

In saying all this – here is my problem. In Shane’s desire to love as Jesus loved – to have the compassion that Jesus had on the poor, he never speaks of the Jesus who said that those who did not believe would go to hell – or be burned in the fire or thrown out into the darkness. In the three months he spent with Mother Teresa, he never mentions that as he washed lepers, or tended to their needs he told them that they must give their lives to Jesus Christ, for that would be the most important thing for them to do.

Shane is part of the Simple Way community – a ‘modern monastic’ movement. He runs the Alternative Seminary, which, while he does recommend Walter Brueggeman & Dietrich Bonhoeffer he also recommends Marcus Borg and NO major Systematic theologian.

What we need is the PASSION of Shane Caliborne, with theology. Why can’t we do the practical work of Shane Caliborne and Simple Way alongside reading John Calvin, Wayne Grudem, Charlie Hodge, Matthew Henry, Richard Baxter, Stott, Packer etc, etc. Surely being in the community helping and loving people is important – but more important than feeding the poor is that people know Jesus and secure their eternal destiny. It is one thing for people to be feed – its another that people will full bellies are still destined for eternity without God.

That it what I see at thewayofjesus.com – practical action with theology. I didn’t see it in The Irresistible Revolution.

A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller

41WHEzkOn1L._SL500_AA240_Talk about stirring up a storm and then it just whimpering out. The reviews were ecstatic. Yes another book on prayer but…. this one is…. .

Not for me. This was just another book on prayer (not that reading a book on prayer is bad – Miller says nothing bad, or unhelpful or unbiblical). And I am sure many would find much in this book of help. I just found it rather uninspiring, espeically against some of the classics out there.

For me the talk did not match the reality about the book. I struggled to finish it, and was glad when I had.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem

51ED3pui+EL._SL500_AA240_I have to say that I was skeptical about this book – not that Grudem would be bad, but that his great Systematic Theology could be reduced to 160 pages and keep any resemblance of depth.

But I was wrong.

This is an awesome resource for new Christians, or apprentices looking for an introduction to systematic theology. This past year I have worked a lot with John Frame’s book Salvation Belongs To The Lord which itself is a condensed summary of his much larger books. I found Frame at times clumsy and not clear on a number of issues. Grudem is neither of these. His larger Systematic Theology is excellent and despite its immense readability it is still a tad daunting to tackle if you are starting to study doctrine. This little volume is SO accessible and SO clear that this is now my first choice for any apprentice I might have in the future as an intro to doctrine.

Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc by Kevin DeYoung

51dqeoumf7l_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Remember the book We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be? Well, DeYoung was one of the authors. This time he is writing solo. It’s not a big book, but it is a useful one.

He is tackling topic of seeking God’s will for your life. Too many Christian’s have wasted months and years trying to figure out something which is clearly in the bible for them. I have taught on this topic many times and DeYoung follows the same line of thought I have. The scriptures clearly tell us what God’s will for our life is – to grow in Godliness – to serve Christ – to tell others about him etc, etc. In fact, too many Christians have spent years trying to figure out which job they should take to the neglect of the commands of the Bible. DeYoung rightly turns this on its head. God wants us to to focus on those things which are important – the growing in faith, godliness, fruits of the spirit etc – not on which job or college you should go to. In fact God does not really care which job you take as long as you DO that job to best of your ability and to glorify Christ. If in doubt, seek to obey God’s commands in everything you do – and then just DO something.

I liked this book. And I think its a great book to give teens.

Faith and Pop Culture by Christianity Today Study Series

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 I have been skeptical about Bible study series that examines pop culture. Part of the reason is that my wife is a dancer and choreographer and through her I have met actors, directors, artists, musicians – all who make their living in the arts and all of whom are believers. Almost all the Bible study material I see about the arts or pop culture is shallow, and negative. Yet the people I know who are in the arts are passionate Jesus followers.

 

When I received this book for review I was not expecting much. However these eight, small group, studies on Pop Culture pleasantly surprised me.

 

Each study begins with an article written by one of the Christianity Today writers on the topic to be studied. Then you can follow one of two options to launch a group discussion. The come further discussion questions, reflections & passages from scripture – all helping you and the group explore the given topic.

 

The eight studies explore art, literature, sports, and television – should all entertainment be family friendly, violence in entertainment, Christians in Hollywood and is the cultures cry of entertainment compatible with a life of faith.

 

These are very deep subjects and are challenging to explore, especially in a group context. I especially liked session 5 – ‘Cover Your eyes’ – must all entertainment Christians enjoy be family friendly. Jeffery Overstreet’s excellent article will raise many questions and cause much for discussion, thought and prayer.

 

My only ‘criticism’ of these studies is that there is a LOT to do in the sessions. To keep a session to say an hour will need much discipline – partly because you want to tackle all the questions. Of course you can run one session over two weeks.

 

However, I think this is a very useful and well-done Bible Study resource. It will certainly be a change of departure for the normal small group study – and that for me is definitely a good thing!!

THE NOTICER BY ANDY ANDREWS

_225_350_book50coverThis book is officially launched tomorrow (28th April). I read this book two weeks ago but Thomas Nelson asked that the review not appear until the 27th April. Check out Andy Andrews’ web site The Noticer Project.

How many self-help books have you bought in the past six months? Three months? Are you drawn to reading books with titles such as “How to Heal Your Marriage” – “The Way To Success” – “Discovering Your Purpose”? If you are anything like me, then probably not.

 

Andy Andrews does something quite remarkable in his new book “The Noticer.” He manages not just to entertain you with his story telling, he manages to use his ability as a storyteller to teach you, encourage you, counsel you, challenge you and move you.

 

The story revolves around an elderly man called Jones. Not ‘Mr” Jones, but just Jones. He seems to arrive into the lives of people who are in desperate need. Nobody knows where he is from, where he goes or how old he is. He is known by different names – to a Mexican it is Garcia, to a Chinese woman it is Chen. Yet he seems to know everyone, and he knows how to give a new, different perspective on any situation. So many lives are changed, indeed, have been changed and yet before anyone can get to know him well, he leaves, or just disappears.

 

The story is told through the eyes of a young Andy – homeless, alone and crying under a pier on a beach when he first met Jones. This short, brief encounter changes the direction of Andy’s life forever, and he does not see or met Jones again for nearly 30 years, when all of a sudden he arrives in Andy’s town again –looking just the same and carrying the same old briefcase he always seemed to have.

 

We are never told who Jones is. Yet as you read each encounter with each person he is the encourager, the helper, the counselor; he is wise, truthful, loving, kind, honest.

 

With each encounter you nod in agreement at the wisdom of Jones’ words and advice – you feel yourself thinking of your own life, your own situations thinking how you might apply what you are reading into your own life.

 

This is indeed a self help book, whether you realize it or not – but it is certainly the most enjoyable self help book you will read.

 

One of the mysteries of the book is who is Jones. To some extent this question is left to the reader. As a Christian I see the divine in Jones, but that is never said in the book.

 

A very enjoyable book from a skilled story-teller.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out Of The Box by The Arbinger Institute

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This is the second book I have read this month that has taught profound principles through a ‘story’. The first book was sent to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers for review of a book published this month – and I will post that review in 10 days time.

 

Both books read like a short novel. In this book Tom Callum has only been at Zargrum for a month. He is a senior manager. All of a sudden he is called into his bosses office, Bud Jefferson, for a meeting – a meeting which lasts a day and a half, and is undertaken by all new mangers. It is a meeting which transforms Tom Callum – a meeting where he is told that he is in the box, as is everyone – and being in the box was a problem – and he needed to learn to be out of the box.

 

What is the box? How do we get in it and how do we get out of it? That is what this whole book, 171 pages, unpacks.

 

Briefly and extremely simply, the box is us when we look at others as objects – people who can be used, or abused, shouted at or blamed for failures. When we are in the box we focus on ourselves – and we blame others; we betray and deceive ourselves. Being out of the box is when we look at others as people – when we try and help them – support them, view them as collegues in a company all working towards the same goal. Interestingly, the book argues that we cannot get out of the box by ‘doing anything’ – but only when we stop trying and start acting differently towards others.

 

We are too often in the box and we need to be aware that we are.

 

This sounds very simplistic but believe me – its not. The book is EXTREMELY profound – and it is not a Christian book – it is a business leadership book. And yet it teaches Christian principles – it teaches about sin – being in the box – (although the book would never use that term – in fact it uses the term self betrayal and self deception) and I speaks of a Christ centered, self sacrificial love which cannot be manufactured (again, the book never uses this term).

 

Bud Jefferson takes Tom Callum on a journey of self discovery – it is a challenging journey for the reader – and for the Christian reader / leader, it will challenge how we do leadership training. This book lays out the issues of working in an organization better than almost all (notice the word almost, not all, but close) the Christian leadership books I have read.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds by Chris Brauns

51souurjrel_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_

Forgiving those who have hurt us is one of the biggest hurdles for anyone – including Christians. Chris Brauns book will touch some tender buttons, especially for those who have been seriously hurt or abused by others, whether through words, or physically.

 

Brauns takes us through a scriptural journey of forgiveness, its biblical definition, how we are to forgive and how we are to cope with those who hurt us and are yet unrepentant.

 

Braun’s key definition of forgiveness is a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.

We are to forgive as God forgave us. One of the points that Brauns makes early on is that forgiveness is dependant upon repentance – you cannot forgive until the one who has done something against has repent. God’s forgiveness is dependant on those who repent.

 

I understand Braun’s point and agree with it. However, I would have liked him to have unpacked more the connection between forgiveness and loving your enemy. By definition, an enemy has not repented – but Jesus calls us to love our enemy – to pray for them and to do good to them. Can we do such things WITHOUT having forgiven our enemy first, even in our own heart?

 

One thing Braun’s does make clear – Christians should respond in two ways to unrepentant offenders – #1 – resolve not to take revenge; #2 – proactively love.

 

Also, Braun makes an interesting claim on pg 145. He argues that forgiveness is dependent upon repentance. But what about Jesus on the cross – Father forgive them says Jesus. He writes:

 

Jesus did not forgive them. If you think carefully about this passage, you will see this is the case. Jesus prayed that those who crucified him would be forgiven in the future – he did not thank God that they were already forgiven. If they had already been forgiven, such a prayer would have been superfluous. 

Mmmmm. Not sure about that. I need to give that some thought.

 

However, overall this  is a very useful book.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messages by T. David Gordon

411yqoulxhl_sl500_aa240_This book is only 105 pages – and I read it last night – but boy does it pack a punch!

The title is a take on the famous books by Rudolf Flesch is the 60’s Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What To Do About It & Why Johnny Can’t Write: How To Improve Writing Skills. 

This book does not mince its words – and there is a reason for this. David GOrdon was diagnosed with cancer and his initial prognosis of survival was 25% chance. As a professor and former church pastor he felt he could not die until he had written about the poor preaching which is prevalent in our church today. He wrote this during the 11 months of treatment he received for the cancer – hence it is blunt and deliberately so.

For Gordon, less than 30% of ordained church ministers can preach at best, a mediocre sermon. The other 70% simply cannot preach. He recounts a story of a humble, godly elder who, having been asked by Gordon if they realized the new pastor they had just hired could not preach, replied “of course we know he could not preach.” He went on to say that in the 30 years of being an elder he had never met a pastor who could preach – and that his rotary club has better public speakers. 

This challenged Gordon – who in his own experience has generally found the same experience. 

Now, this is not about the ‘stars’ of preaching. This is not trying to say we need to be George Whitefields, or Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon. Gordon’s point is that in the average church, with the average congregation, the average pastor is unable to deliver even a mediocre, competent sermon.

Gordon argues that there have been presentations, films, plays or concerts where we have watched without once looking at our watches or thinking “when will this end”. This is because the presentations were well done. Gordon’s argument is that sermons today are listless, rambling, disorganized – which will make even a 10 min sermon endless!!  

Gordon rates a sermon by asking the following questions: does the significant point of the sermon arise out of the significant point of the text? If ten people are asked after the sermon what was the sermon about, will at least eight of them give the same answer? Does the sermon significantly engage the mind or is it full of commonplace-cliches, slogans and general truths? Do the earlier parts of the sermon contribute to the latter parts? Could the hearers compare notes and reproduce the outline of the sermon?

The reason for incompetent sermons? – the lack of being able to read texts. The average American reads 9 book annually. There has been a decline of literary reading in 20 years of 10%. Our modern culture is illiterate – not just biblically but generally.

Gordon makes a distinction between reading for INFORMATION and READING a TEXT. The first is to scan for information – the second is to read slowly, drinking in the style and composition of the text – noticing the small things – taking the book line by line. You simply can’t read Shakespeare’s sonnets for information – you’ll miss the point of the sonnet – you have to read the text – slowly and deliberately. 

This is also the problem with Bible reading – we have a culture and a habit of reading the Bible for information – not to read the text, slowly, deliberately, drinking in the words. That is why so many can read the bible through year after year and never be changed.

Preachers today read the Bible as they read everything – speed reading. This means they cannot write – and have lost the art of composition. Which means sermons are not based on the text, lack a main point and have applications which do not come from the text.

Gordon implores the church to change. Start learning to read slowly, deliberately – drink in some classic texts – learn to read not just for information.

While I think that Gordon paints the problem with a broader brush stroke than necessary the problem is real. I have met very few competent preachers in the church – even the ones who are hailed in our own diocese as good preachers I have found to be less than mediocre

This is a good book – and should be on the MUST READ for all ministry training courses!

Passing The Baton: A Handbook For Ministry Apprenticeship by Colin Marshall

ptbI have been involved with planning, running and supervising Apprenticeship year schemes for over 10 years. Taking one, two, three or even five young people and planning a year for them to grow and learn in ministry can be a daunting task. Of course there are many apprenticeship programs out there. Setting one up is only half the work – good teaching, good assessment, good reading, good coaching, good mentoring and of course good theology all go into the mix to make such a program a good one.

This is a good book for those who run apprenticeship ministry schemes. It is practical, speaking from their own experiences of an established two year apprentice program  which has run since the mid 1970’s. There are suggestions for structuring, running, assessing, training and mentoring your apprentice(s). Even if you have an established program it would be useful to get this and read it if only to see that others are on the same track as you. 

There was very little new to me in the book – and all the suggestions I have already tried and used in the various programs I have run and started – which is encouraging. 

This is a definitely MUST READ if you are planning to start an apprentice program because it would

Christianity In Crisis 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

51p8s7hlzl_sl500_aa240_I chose this book to review for Thomas Nelson primarily because of the title. I had not heard of Hank Hanegraaff before but the title caught my eye and I was curious in what way did Hanegraaff believe Christianity was in Crisis.

 

Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, TD Jakes and others are all very familiar names on Christian television. They appear to have very successful ministries. But what about their theology? What do they actually BELIEVE, and what message are they preaching.

 

Hank Hanegraaff has combed through the theology, talks and beliefs of these preachers and has exposed what they truly belief – and it is not orthodox, biblical understanding of God. In fact, much of what they believe and preach will shock you.

 

In one way this book made me frustrated and angry. Frustrated that such preachers are given such exposure and angry that so many people are being led by them.

 

Hanegraaf’s research is heavily footnoted this supporting what he is writing not as hearsay but as documented and on the record. Such as Joel Osteen’s belief that Jesus did NOT finish the work of redemption on the cross – in fact Osteen says it is far from finished; or John Hagee’s belief that Jesus wore designer clothes, “Jesus had a seamless robe so valuable that Roman soldiers gambled for it at the cross. It was a designer robe”; or Joyce Meyer who says that Jesus, having spent 3 days being tormented in hell by demons, is resurrected as the ‘first born-again man’; or finally TD Jakes who encourage people to raise their wallets up to heaven and pray that God will heal their money.

 

These are but a few of the many examples Hanegraaf refers to in this book showing the lack of basic, foundational theological understanding.

 

This book does not focus just on the bad – the last section of the book outlines  a strong, basic understanding of faith and Christianity – called Back To Basics, which balances and provides the plumb line of foundational belief.

 

If you are, or have been involved in the Faith Movement then this book will be of help to you. If you are wondering what the Faith Movement is, or you have heard of TD Jakes, Benny Hinn et-al and wanted to know more – this book is also for you.

 

Much of the book will shock you and even make you depressed. But it is important to understand what these preachers and teachers are truly saying to so many people.

Passing The Plate: Why Americans Don’t Give Away More Money by Christian Smith & Michale O Emerson

41ge8i4nltl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_“Christians in the United States who are actually members of churches earned a total collective 2005 income of more than $2 trillion. Christians in the United States who actually attend church twice a month or more often or who consider themselves strong or very strong Christians earned a total collective 2005 income of also more than $2 trillion. Needless to say, more than $2 trillion earned every year is a huge amount of money. It is more than the total Gross Domestic Products of every nation in the world except, at most, the six wealthiest, United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom and France.” pg 12

This is not the most amazing statistic in this book. in fact, having just learnt the immense wealth of American Christians, one of the most amazing, if not shocking stats is:

“At least one out of every five American Christians – 20 percent of all U.S. Christians – gives literally nothing to church, para-church or nonreligious charities.”

The mean % given by Christians is 2.9% of income. 2.9%!!!!

This book is filled with such stats and results of surveys taken regarding the giving habits of US Americans and it is an eye opener. Of course the book builds towards the big question – WHY!

“Everything involved in the matter of voluntary Christian financial giving takes place within the larger context of a massive economy, powerful culture and ubiquitous advertising and media industries that are driven by and dedicated to the promotion of mass consumption…. Therefore every Christian impulse to generously give money away inevitably runs up against potent counter-impulses driven by mass consumerism to instead perpetually spend, borrow, acquire, consume, discard and then spend more on oneself and family.  Such forces are not merely matters of personal values but are structured into deep rooted institutions of employment, transportation, media, home ownership, entertainment and material luxuries…..”

In other words, Christians are caught up, hook line and sinker, in the world and how the world thinks. We have bought houses we can barely afford, cars which we can barely afford, High Definition T.V’s which we can barely afford. 

What challenged me from reading this book is (and this is my take on it) – Christians need to begin getting lower mortgages, to buy less expensive houses (i.e. we can afford this much but lets buy a  house $100,000 / $50,000 less so we can give more to the kingdom) – buy cheaper cars, buy cheaper T.V’s, buy cheaper phones, buy cheaper clothes so that we do have extra money in our budget to give to the kingdom. We may be ABLE to afford the $500,000 house, but lets make a choice to buy the $300,000, or even $200,000 house BECAUSE WE WANT TO GIVE TO THE LORD –  let THAT be the reason and driving force of our spending decisions – We may be able to afford the new SUV at $30,000, but lets buy the $14,000 used car so that there is room in our budget to give money away.

In other words, a radical transformation from Christians on the issue of money could literally change the world.

One thing is for sure – more of the $2 trillion income of christians needs to get out of Christians hands and into the world.

Iraq: Searching For Hope by Andrew White

51ecayjvaol_sl500_aa240_I first heard about Andrew White in 2005. I did a three month course at YWAM called Foundations In Intercultural Studies – which focused on Reconciliation. I wrote a blog for the course as it happened which you can read HERE

Andrew White knows Iraq. He was involved with reconciliation and peace in Iraq before the war. He has been involved at levels that few have. This book will both challenge you and, if you have strong opinions on the war in Iraq and deposing of Saddam Hussain, you will be shocked.

Much of the book documents Andrew’s remarkable relationship with this ancient nation. However in chapter 3, Andrew tackles the question, “Is The War Justified” – and for Andrew White, he writes that is was indeed justified. Knowing what it was like for the people of Iraq before the war, under the tyranny of Saddam, and the aftermath of the war, he completely believes it justified. He acknowledges mistakes were made, but ultimately, he says  Had the war really been necessary? I still say yes. 

Where there weapons of mass destruction? Andrew does not spend long on this but as someone who has spent years talking with Iraqi people he writes: Although no WMD were ever found, the intelligence for their existence was very strong, as many, many people tell of their own roles in helping to conceal these weapons. I don’t know why these stories, too numerous to be merely inventions, have not been related by the media. Nor do I understand why the countless accounts of people being injured and even killed, while moving these weapons have not been reported.

Andrew goes on to say that Saddam did possess WMD – he murdered countless kurds using them – he also tortured and suppressed his people. To some extent Saddam was a WMD.

Another area which has been criticized in the media receives praise from Andrew White. The military. The longer I have spent in Iraq, the more respect I have gained for the military. Their job is so critical, and yet they are so misunderstood….The people I see, however, are committed and highly professional – and ready to sacrifice their lives.

Andrew White has spent years under the danger of death and kidnapping in order to work for peace and relationships and reconciliation. He is a remarkable man and this book is worth reading. I know many Christians with social consciences who have spouted their belief and even propaganda about the rights and (mostly) wrongs of the war in Iraq. They should read the book of one who is in the know – who has more understanding about Iraq than almost anyone – who has seen, spoken too, made relationships with those in Saddam’s government, the new Irawi government, the military and other high ranking officials. This book will open your eyes to some of the intricacy’s of Iraq .

Buy it!