Tag Archives: review

5 Books Worth Laboring Over on this Labor Day

Deborah and Her Pancakes at IHop in Auburn

Deborah and Her Pancakes at IHop in Auburn

It was a nice lazy rainy Labor Day in Auburn today. For some reason it seems to rain on Labor Day. I would only know this because last year I noted it was a rainy Labor Day due to Tropical Storm Lee. This year Hurricane Isaac is long gone but we did have a nice storm front come through, giving us some much needed rain for the second half of the day. I thought it would be great to start off this Labor Day holiday with a big stack of pancakes and then labor over one of the many books I’m trying to read right now. Deborah and I were able to get the pancakes today, but I never got to the reading part, instead opting to redesign my blog.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to labor over books. I thought by now reading would come easy, or easier, but I still have to force myself to read. I know this is in part due to the multi-tasking, sound-bite culture I’m a part of, but I know reading is of the utmost importance. Even Paul said as much himself (2 Timothy 4:13).

It probably takes me 2-3 times as long to read a book, but I do get through them. Each book I finish changes me, even if ever so slightly, but I am, at least in part, a compilation of every book I have ever read. On my currently being labored over reading list is The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. Call it some tech form of ADHD or something, but I like to bounce around from book to book. I’ll leave those three for another day.

Below are five books well worth your time, and these five books I’m laboring over myself. I have read cover to cover the first book on my list, but the rest I am slowly and methodically laboring over page by page.

5 Books Worth Reading on Labor Day or Any Day

  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
    If you are reading a book right now, and haven’t read this classic book, just put down all other books and read this one first. This is truly the book of books, one of the best books I have read to date, mainly because it provides great instruction on how to better understand what you are reading. For my full critique of this book, see the review here.
  • 25 Books Every Christian Must Read by Renovaré
    Ok, so this book is like a whole list of it’s own, but if you are looking for a fantastic starting point for some of the greatest books ever written, this is a great place to start. This book is #37 on my bucket list, not this book, but all the books in this book. Most are epic volumes, like Calvin’s Institutes and Augustine’s City of God, but they are classics for a reason.
  • The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by David Brainerd and edited by Jonathan Edwards
    Not the easiest book on the list to read, but a real incredible look at the life of a believer and missionary. Brainerd’s diary shows how someone tried to understand how to serve a sovereign God while fighting depression and illness.
  • The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
    This was a total unknown to me until I read it through some footnote in some book, which might have been #5 below, at this point I don’t remember. This book is just an overpowering book. John Wesley said that of all the definitions of Christianity that he had encountered, the best was that of a Scotsman who lived in the 17th-century. He said: “Christianity is the life of God in the soul of man.” It’s a short read, and an easier book to read, but one of unending depth that requires time to digest.
  • God’s Passion for His Glory : Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards
    This book, the only one on the list that isn’t currently available on Kindle (although it was when I bought it in 2011), is two books in one. In the essay The End for Which God Created the World, the great theologian Jonathan Edwards proclaimed that God’s ultimate end is the manifestation of his glory in the highest happiness of his creatures. John Piper adds as a Part One to this essay in the form of a fantastic biography on Edwards, one that makes the Edwards essay easier to understand.

How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth Book Review Critique

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth Book Review Critique

This review below is a summary of the full review (you can read the full review here or go to my Writing Section under “reviews”) for a book called How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. This particular book has been on my list to read for quite some time now, but I was finally forced to read it for my current Hermeneutics class. If you don’t want to read the book all the way through cover to cover, there is some good reference information contained in the first few chapters and the appendix, which contains good info about many commentaries.

The need for a hermeneutical book such as How to Read the Bible is a testament to the greatness of Scripture itself because “either you understand perfectly everything the author has to say or you do not. If you do, you may have gained information, but you could not have increased your understanding,” and that is what the authors here intended to facilitate.[1]  The strength of How to Read the Bible comes from the overall guide and tone, in general terms, given to the reader, and the methodical details presented in each section or chapter.  This guideline, while far from being a step-by-step process to Biblical understanding, does give the reader general principles to better understanding the Biblical literature, and how the Biblical authors intended their writing to be understood.  This was achieved in a manner that can be easily understood by readers of all levels, and yet provided enough depth to maintain the attention of those readers quite familiar with hermeneutics.

Unfortunately, the book’s weakness, which cannot be understated, comes from the author’s discussion on translations, and their overall choice of the TNIV to underline their text.  Readers today, in 2012, have the benefit of almost a decade of scrutiny towards the TNIV, which the authors did not have when revising How to Read the Bible in 2003.  One would hope their scholarly opinions might have changed somewhat since the publication date.  Any revised edition to the text in the future should include a completely rewritten section on translations, or the authors could leave more of their personal opinions to the side, allowing the reader to decide on their own which translation is best given the information in the book.  This suggestion would follow the author’s own statements when they stress the importance of finding a text where the authors “discuss all the possible meanings, evaluate them, and give reasons for his or her own choice.”[2]  This was attempted, just not executed as well as one would have hoped for.

Overall, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth is, and will be, an excellent source for beginning a study in hermeneutics.  The text is not an end all of hermeneutical material, but well worth the investment in time to complete.  Any student, laymen, or individual interested in understanding Scripture to its fullest possibility will benefit from the work of Fee and Stuart.  This review and critique examined the manner in which the authors achieved the task of being obedient to the Biblical texts through teaching a hermeneutical process, and for the most part, the authors accomplished this task admirably.


[1] Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1972.

[2] Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God :: Review

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God Review

Up for a quick book review today is a book called The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, which I finished up a few weeks ago. This small book (176 pages) was published back in September of 2009 by John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, and Mark Driscoll come together with worship pastor Bob Kauflin, counselor Paul Tripp, and literature professor Daniel Taylor to discuss the power that words have, and how our speak can both edify and vilify our brothers and sisters in Christ.  This book came out of the Desiring God National Conference in 2008 with the same name (2008 National Conference Messages), and each author takes a chapter in their own specialized field to discuss the impact of words on our life, specifically that of Scripture. All in all a great, quick, read for those Christians interested in words.

I will admit that from the start I didn’t expect much from this book other than a good collection of a few sermons, but I was quite surprised by its depth of content and overall usefulness in application. The book isn’t broken up like this, but below are three sections or reasons I found quite valuable, and a book I would highly recommend reading.

  • The Power of Words in History
    The Power of Words takes a great look at the history of words, spoken and written, and how people like Luther and others used their power of words to change the church, even if it was crude at times. It was needed. Look at what Luther was fighting, and we can see that mocking and crude speech like this is sometimes called for.

    Luther argued that his theological opponents avoided the Bible: “I cry: Gospel, Gospel, Gospel! Christ, Christ! Then they reply: The fathers! The fathers! Custom, Custom! Statutes, Statutes! But when I say: The fathers, custom, and the statutes have often been in error; matters of this kind must be settled by a stronger and more reliable authority; but Christ cannot be in error—then they are more speechless than fish. (location 1576)

  • The Power of Words in Application
    Along with the historical look at how we use speak The Power of Words takes a practical approach to our speech today. Scripture has so much to say about how we should speak, and when we should refrain from speaking, how devastating the tongue can be, and how we can use it to lift people up when they are down.

    We foolishly assume that our real struggles with sin are in the areas where we are “weak.” We do not well understand the depth of sin until we realize that it has made its home far more subtly where we are “strong,” and in our gifts rather than in our weaknesses and inadequacies.

  • The Power of Words in Music
    The last section was the most unexpected section, but also contains the most valuable affirmation of music and its importance in our earthly Christian walk. I really didn’t expect a section on music that talked about words and speech, but this section took the book from being a good book to being a great book. If you are at all involved in the music life of the church (and technically we all are), this section should be a must read. Three great points (of many) that were made on the power of music today were stated by Bob Kauflin saying:
  1. There’s certainly a place for expressing our subjective responses to God in song, but the greater portion of our lyrical diet should be the objective truths we’re responding to: God’s Word, his character, and his works, especially his work of sending his Son to be our atoning sacrifice.
  2. We conclude that a certain beat, volume, chord progression, instrument, or vocal style is evil in and of itself. But unless those aspects are spelled out in Scripture we should be cautious about assigning a moral value to them.
  3. An increasing number of churches have adopted the practice of offering different services for different musical tastes. While that decision can be well intentioned, I believe the long-term effect is to separate families and generations and to imply that we gather together around our musical preferences, not Jesus Christ.

Overall, The Power of Words is one of those books that is such a quick and easy read that even if you have a slight interest in how words and speech affect our walk with Christ, you should pick up this book. Each author or contributor adds to the value of this book, and even though you might not agree with everything they stand for personally they have put together a great collective word on the power God placed in the written and spoken word.

Martin Luther’s Table Talk on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

A good bit of seminary work is reading the classics from Calvin and Luther going back all the way to Augustine. There is a good reason, they have a huge amount of collective knowledge we can all still learn from today and apply to our own ministry. Table Talk is the classic text written by Martin Luther that launches into “a relentless attack on the ethics and consciences” of Christian religious practices (the Church of Rome or the Catholic Church as we know it today).[1] The text is broken up into 45 “Of” treatise with a final conclusion on the Treatise on Indulgences.

Luther’s language, and the translation from German to English, still retains the form of his day, making it a little harder to understand in the 21st century, but the points are still clear.  His arguments are more or less similar to the differences between the Catholic faith and Protestants that still exist today.

Starting in chapter CCCLVI and going through chapter CCCLXV, Luther takes a look at number fourteen on his list, “Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” which deals with how the Roman Church was using the Lord’s Supper sacrament in the late 15th and early 16th century, but recognizes its ordination at the council of Constance as well.[2]  Three points to take away from this section are (1) the altering of the sacrament by raising it, (2) the substance of the bread and wine, and (3) the ex opera operato and the effectiveness of the sacrament.

As was fitting within the culture of his day, he held no punches when explaining his views on the subject.  “The ignorant wretches are not able to distinguish between the cup and fasting… one has God’s express word and command, the other consists in our will and choice.”[3]  Luther starts his argument with a lengthy explanation of how the papists have justified their actions in altering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  He then proceeds through a step-by-step process of pointing out their errors, calling it an abominable idolatry by raising the “sacrament on high to show people.”[4] Luther says this practice should be “utterly rejected,” and he calls on churches to abolish this idolatrous practice, some of which did follow his recommendation.

The next point is one Luther does not spend much time discussing, although it becomes one of the biggest points of contention between the Roman Church and Protestants, and still is today. The argument, which argues the actual substance of the bread and the wine, and whether it does contain the actual flesh and blood of Christ himself, is still discussed today.  Luther in section CCCLXII almost alludes to this practice, but it is clear that he is referring to the substance of the sacrament, “which is spiritually received by faith… not doubting that Christ’s body and blood were given and shed for us.”[5]

The final point to look at within this section of Table Talk is the ex opera operato, which the Catholic Church said pertained to the efficacy of the sacrament.  This Latin phrase that means “from the work done” pertains to the work done by Christ, the sinful nature of those priests who give the sacrament, and whether the sacrament is effective or not depending on who is giving the sacrament.  Luther’s point was they “do not hold the sacrament as Christ instituted it,” therefore they don’t actually have the sacrament at all, and they are not justified because of ex opera operato.


[1] Martin Luther, Table Talk of Martin Luther, 1st, trans. William Hazlitt (Orlando, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2004), ix.
[2] Ibid, 225.
[3] Ibid, 225.
[4] Ibid, 227.
[5] Ibid, 228.

A Review and Critique of The Four Views on Hell

I just finished off another book. Every time I’m able to finish a book I think it’s a really amazing thing to me, still. Below is part of a review I did on this particular book called The Four Views on Hell (Amazon). Even though I had to read the book for a seminary class it was still worth the read, though perhaps not quite as closely as I had to read it.

The Doctrine of Hell is something rarely taught anymore in our churches, and it’s an important part of the Christian faith, and our story as fallen beings. There is much more of the prosperity gospel preached today than the reality of a real place of separation from God, an eternal punishment, for those who do not trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. For those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead, will be saved.

If you would like to read the entire review, you can read Book Critique of Four Views on Hell by Walvoord in a pdf form.  Below is the summary of that review.  The book does take a good look at four different views of Hell, basically, the Traditional View (Orthodox or Literally View), Annihilationism, Purgatory, and Universalism.

In this review of Four Views on Hell, each argument was presented and evaluated. The reader was given an argument on Hell where one could quickly see the demarcation lines between each view. However, all four authors stop somewhat short from making a full apologetic case for their particular view in question. They all agree that historically, the Traditional or Literal View is the orthodox view, and then “they all acknowledge it has fallen out of favor” as of late.[21] “Today a number of evangelical churchmen embrace variations of [these views] in terms such as ‘[B]iblical Universalism’, ‘qualified Universalism’, and ‘conditional immortality’” as the alternative to the Literal View and the eternal separation from God.[22]

The underlying issue as to why the Literal view is no longer favored is loosely addressed throughout the book, but has an overall tone in line with our pluralistic society saying no just God of grace and mercy can possibly send anyone to an eternal punishment, no matter the sin. “How can we project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness [Who] tortures people without end,” which is what the Literal view teaches?[23] With this as the general tone of each view, a better examination of the views would be to treat them within the culture setting of today as: The Doctrine of Hell, Annihilationism, Purgatory, and Universalism.

The doctrines that most closely follow Scripture are not always going to be in line with secular society, or liberal theology, but looking at these four views of Hell is beneficial to the reader no matter what theological base they align with today. Of the four views, Crockett’s argument for a less literal view of Hell was well thought out and presented, and makes Hell more palatable to the modern day reader, but Walvoor’s Literal View is still the most orthodox, and most closely aligned with the teaching of Scripture, and therefore, the best alternative of the four.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, 1st Edition, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, Kenneth P. Minkema and Douglas A. Sweeney (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 50.
[2] John Walvoord, Zachary Hayes and Clark Pinnock, Four Views on Hell, EPub Edition, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 7.
[3] Dr. John Walvoord, About Dr. John Walvoord, http://www.walvoord.com/about-dr-john-walvoord (accessed February 15, 2012).
[4] William V. Crockett, Amazon.com Author Page William V. Crockett, Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/William-V.-Crockett/e/B00653NJTU/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 (accessed February 15, 2012).
[5] Zachary J. Hayes, About Zachary J. Hayes, http://www.zondervan.com/Cultures/en-US/Authors/Author.htm?ContributorID=HayesZ&QueryStringSite=Zondervan (accessed February 15, 2012).
[6] Bob Allen, Controversial theologian Clark Pinnock dies, August 18, 2010, http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5451/53/ (accessed February 15, 2012).
[13] Rev Jeff Wright, “Book Review: Four Views on Hell,” Jeff Wright: Exalt Christ, April 03, 2010, http://jeffwright.exaltchrist.com/?p=690 (accessed February 15, 2012).
[18] J. R. Root, “Universalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2001, 2nd ed, 1234.
[20] Eric Stoddart and Gwilym Pryce, “Observed Aversion to Raising Hell in Pastoral Care: The Conflict Between Doctrine and Practice,” Journal of Empirical Theology (Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden) 18, no. 2 (January 2005): 133.
[21] Cris D. Putnam, “Book Critique: Four Views On Hell,” Logos Apologia, March 14, 2011, http://www.logosapologia.org/?p=1725 (accessed February 15, 2012).
[22] R. P. Lightner, “Hell,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2001, 2nd ed., 547-548.

The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds Book Review

Below is a short review of a book I just finished called The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds. It can be read for free here, or on Amazon over here, or even on audiobook over here. If you want the real real short version then pick up this book and read it, it is fantastic, and only takes about 3-4 hours to read.

E.M. Bounds was a man of prayer. Prayer to Bounds was said to be such “a physical reality” that the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing,” was taken as literally as humanly possible. Prayer was said to be as important to Bounds as breathing, and he lived his life accordingly.[1] Bounds had much to pray for as a “Civil War Chaplin and then POW” in Saint Louis, MO before the Civil War ended.[2] As a result of his lifetime of work, The Necessity of Prayer survives to the present day providing spiritual guidance in prayer “for a lifetime of water-drawing.”[3]

Critique and Interaction

The Necessity of Prayer was compiled from Bounds’ manuscripts after his death and is broken up into fourteen short chapters. Within the fourteen chapters are ten discourses about prayer, and how it pertains to faith, trust, desire, fervency, importunity, character, obedience, vigilance, the Word of God, and the House of God. Each chapter has a short introduction quote given by a leader in prayer or from an anonymous, but relevant, source.

Bounds does not start out with spiritual milk, gradually introducing the subject (1 Corinthians 3:2), but rather the author starts immediately with meat, and an in-depth look at prayer and faith. Within the opening chapters on faith Bounds relies heavily on Scripture showing how God’s word is the foundation of prayer. Example after example is given, showing how he drew conclusions, even when it came to those with a lack of faith and prayer such as Asa.[4] Bounds then moves into examples from Elijah, Daniel, and Christ himself, all of who prayed repeatedly, trusting that the Father had heard their requests.[5] As Bounds moves through the different sections he weaves a pattern, which fuses prayer, God’s Word, and each of his ten points until he proves that “prayer should enter into and underlie everything that is undertaken.”[6]  For Bounds this is not just a concept to be studied, this was played out in practical instruction. He admonishes those in ministry who want to be successful to spend twice as long in prayer as they do in the study of Scripture.[7]

Conclusion

E.M. Bounds’ The Necessity of Prayer is a foundation for prayer, and one that should be a priority for any Christian wishing to understand the practicalities of prayer. This publication is written is such a way that any lay-person can read, understand, and glean its wisdom, and any scholar can continue to gain insight for years to come. Bounds relies so heavily on Scripture that his conclusions are less about a personal opinion on prayer and more about understanding the will of God for His people through prayer. There are few modern pastors who seemed to have been more focused on understanding prayer, and as a result, Bounds has given God’s people a call to prayer. “No man loves the Bible, who does not love to pray. No man loves to pray, who does not delight in the law of the Lord.”[8] Bounds uses Jesus in Luke 4:16 to prove this, and then concludes “no two things are more essential to a spirit-filled life than Bible-reading and secret prayer,” and neglecting these two things gives the “Evil One” a great advantage.[9]


[1] E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008), ii.
[2] David Smithers, “The Life of E. M. Bounds, What Others Say About E.M. Bounds: Prayer Makes History,” Jehova.net, http://jehova.net/bounds/bounds-biography.htm.
[3] Bounds, ii.
[4] Ibid, 33.
[5] Ibid, 37.
[6] Ibid, 78-79.
[7] Ibid, 80.
[8] Ibid, 75.
[9] Ibid.

Ministering to the Church At the Expense of the Family

This is an old topic, but one that never goes away, for good reason. Below is basically an excerpt from an assignment in one of my evangelism classes on Servant-Leadership and innovations in the Church, and also serves as a very short review of the book InnovateChurch by Jonathan Falwell. In a three part discussion on leadership, this was topic number one, learning how to minister to the church, but not at the expense of your family.

There are four non-negotiable commitments presented by Jonathan Falwell in InnovateChurch that pastors (and I would add church staff) need to make to themselves, and to God, for effective leadership in the church. As an administrative staff member I will admit, the one I found most difficult to keep is number two: I will not minister to my church at the expense of my family. On the surface, this probably sounds like an easy one to keep, and when I entered into ministry work in 2008 I was committed to this very statement right from the start.

In fact, if your ministry is to be more successful, however that is quantified, it must start with managing your household well. (1 Tim 3.5) There are a few basic things that have kept me focused on the proper balance, or margin if you will. It doesn’t always work in ministry as something, or someone, can always quickly pull you right back in with an “important” issue, or something that needs to be completed right away if you are not diligent.

  1. It is important to make our priorities line up properly, as stated in InnovateChurch
  2. God should be first, our family second, and our ministry third.[1] Saying or writing this isn’t good enough. This actually has to be lived out, and as such, will be proof of its importance in our lives.  How are we making God our first priority? How are we managing our household well, and where do we need to change or improve what we are doing day by day.

  3. We have to learn how to manage our time well
  4. This means learning how to say no without feeling guilty about saying no, even if it is something important. Often times in church ministry, everything is of the utmost importance, mainly because it is most important to the person asking. We cannot get into the habit of allowing our schedule or calendar to control our life in idol-like fashion.

  5. We have to learn how to focus on a few things we do well, and let the others go

This means learning how to delegate without looking back. Learning how to give tasks away is hard, especially if they will not be done as well as if we did them ourselves. This includes learning how to enlist volunteers, and building teams of people who can accomplish what we can’t simply because we can’t work 24 hours a day. Rarely is one person only gifted with the ability to do only one task, but God has gifted us with the ability to do a few things very well. This strikes in the face of our multi-tasking 21st century culture, but delegating allows us to focus on those things we can do very well, or are at least our highest priority.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means of course. I do know that when I have built in margin, giving time to my family, I am more productive, and better focused as a staff member. Sometimes that means the most important place I can be, especially in the evening, is in that chair next to Deborah (and Ebby) in our living room.


[1] Jonathan Falwell, ed., Innovate Church, ed. Jonathan Falwell (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 14.

5 Great Thought Provoking Daily Devotionals for the New Year

I started looking around for a new daily devotional for 2012, and I ended up coming across too many. I came across some really good ones I haven’t read yet, but now have always had all intentions to read. This list, to some, may be a little too high church for them, but the wisdom put forth into these devotionals is pretty amazing, written by some pretty amazingly committed Believers.

I will state the obvious that none of these below will take the place of reading the inspired Word, the wisdom placed into God’s own book far outweighs any of the books below, so if there is only time in the day to read one book, for only a short period of time, make it the Bible instead of any of these books below, and I’m sure each of the authors below would agree with that. With that said, the best online Bible reading plans are located on YouVersion, so check those out as well.

The list below is all linked over to the Kindle version on Amazon, but each has a corresponding paper version. I just gave up on trying to have books shipped, the availability, and usually lower cost, of Kindle books just far outweighs the hassle of paper now, to me, for the most part anyway (see Printed Books vs iPad or Kindle eBooks and the Future of Books from back in March, or this I wrote back in 2009).

  1. The Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
  2. I decided to choose the “updated version” of this classical devotion since it is better annotated on the Kindle version at this point than the “traditional” version (first published in 1935). I think there is a lot of value in the original language of the traditional version, but having read neither in full, I decided to go with one that has a little easier language to start. Oswald Chambers was gifted with extracting the essence of biblical principles and condensing them into potent, thought-provoking, and life-changing devotions.

    They don’t take a lot of time to read, but they can infuse you with the timeless truths of the Bible. In this edition of My Utmost for His Highest, you get updated-language daily devotionals that have become an enduring favorite because Oswald Chambers used his spiritual gifts so wisely and generously. Compiled from lectures given at the Bible Training College in London, to nightly talks in an Egyptian YMCA during World War I, My Utmost for His Highest will lend a powerful spiritual dimension to your walk with God. (some excerpts via Amazon)

  3. Disciplines, a Daily Book of Devotional by The Upper Room
  4. The Upper Room is a publication that is, in part, produced by the United Methodist Church. The Upper Room is a global ministry, which is technically interdenominational, dedicated to supporting the spiritual formation of Christians seeking to know and experience God more fully. While they now produce far more than The Upper Room devotional, this devotional publication has stood the test of time more so than many other devotionals. For more information about their ministry you can visit them at upperroom.org.

  5. A Year with C. S. Lewis by C. S. Lewis
  6. This devotional is a fascinating find to me. It is a publication that C.S. Lewis never put together himself, but editors have taken pieces of his writings to place them in one daily reader. This book of daily readings, culled from C.S. Lewis’s major nonfiction writings like The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Miracles and A Grief Observed, might be called the thinking Christian’s devotional: it is deeper and meatier than most other devotionals on the market.

    With 366 entries (including one for Leap Year) that are typically one or two paragraphs each, Klein has managed to distill some of the most memorable passages from Lewis’s famous corpus. Interestingly, she includes a bit of Lewis trivia for each day of the year, and often pairs the reading with the biographical information: for example, we learn that on March 21, 1957, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham, and the entry for that day is about their marriage. Three separate indices list the sources by book, by day and by selection title or theme. (some excerpts via Amazon)

  7. I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  8. This is the classical Bonhoeffer daily reader. Bonhoeffer put together this set of devotionals upon the closing of his seminary, Finkenwalde, when it was declared illegal and closed by the German Gestapo. The treatise contains Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about the nature of Christian community based on the common life that he and his seminarians experienced at the seminary and in the “Brother’s House” there. Bonhoeffer completed the writing of Life Together in 1938. Prayerbook of the Bible is a classic of Christian spirituality. In this theological interpretation of the Psalms, Bonhoeffer describes the moods of an individual’s relationship with God and also the turns of love and heartbreak, of joy and sorrow, that are themselves the Christian community’s path to God. (some excerpts above are from Amazon)

  9. Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This collection of inspirational writings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is drawn from his many works and presented here as a series of daily meditations to last throughout the year. Organized under monthly themes, these prayers, sermons, meditations, letters, and notes offer readers a new glimpse at how Bonhoeffer understood the meaning of faith and discipleship. Featuring selections from classic works such as The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison, this set of writings follows the church year, making it ideal for year-long devotional use by readers seeking to be challenged and enlightened by Bonhoeffer’s call to find God at the center of their lives. (some excerpts via Amazon)

I guess this is where it gets really high church, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of value in this book. This book, especially this highly annotated copy on Kindle, provides everything from daily prayers to events on the Christian calendar. The Kindle TOC (table of contents) in this book is so extensive, making it quite an impressive Kindle book, and it’s price can’t be beat at only $2.99.

This is the Episcopal version of the Catholic Missal (which is absent on Amazon Kindle in the same version as above), and the book that the Episcopal Church uses in its services. I have only recently been introduced to this book, and it has an amazing amount of wisdom. This Kindle version contains both versions from 1979 and 1789, which contains The Book of Common Prayer, Administration of the Sacraments, Other Rites, Ceremonies of the Church, and The Psalter or Psalms of David. Worth the read no matter what your denomination.

An Old Argument: Academic Theologian vs Discipleship and Bonhoeffer

We Christians seems to be in many pendulum debates amongst each other that have no clear resolution, but this is one of them I hear more than others at times. Those who are deeply involved in discipleship speak about the evils of seminary or staying in a continued state of theological study. Those in higher education (seminary specially) talk about how we are raising a generation or two now that know nothing about their own faith. To me, Jesus is the ultimate example. He was a discipling theologian. He could go toe to toe with the smartest theological minds of his time (see Luke 20:19-40), and he could raise up the “lowly” of his day to become incredible disciples for Christ (see a fisherman named John and a few others).

To me, it has never been an either-or. It has always been both, even if I stink more at one than the other (or quite possibly at both), I think the true follower has to look at the example Christ gives us where both knowledge and discipleship are equally important in the Christians life. We live in an interesting time in history due to the technological advances we have, and this is perhaps widening the gap between theology and discipleship. It has never been easier to be able to get into higher education if you are called to do so, although the work isn’t any easier once you get in there. You also no longer really need that piece of paper that says you know what you are talking about (CT on Why People Aren’t Going to Seminary), to be a good leader or pastor, just ask Perry Noble, and you certainly don’t need a seminary degree to be great at discipleship.

I say all this, because last night I was trudging through the Bonhoeffer biography late last night, and came across Bonhoeffer’s statements on this very subject from way back in the 1940′s. In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, he said:

Bonhoeffer had in mind a kind of monastic community, where one aimed to live in the way Jesus commanded his followers to live in his Sermon on the Mount, where one lived not merely as a theological student, but as a disciple of Christ. (Read more at location 5056)

Bonhoeffer saw that a large part of the problem was Lutheran theological education, which produced not disciples of Christ, but out-of-touch theologians and clerics whose ability to live the Christian life—and to help others live that life—was not much in evidence. (Read more at location 5065)

I called it a pendulum debate because throughout time it has swung back and forth with the landscape of history. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has a great chart of church history and the rate of seminarians to discipleship, but just common sense tells you it swings back and forth. I don’t know that much about Bonhoeffer yet, but the more I learn about him, the more I understand that he, in at least some respects, got it right. Most couldn’t argue that he wasn’t a great theologian, but he was also a man devoted to discipleship.

Reminder Why Christians Shouldn’t Habitually Judge Others

Matthew 7 is the classical section that all non-Christians pull out every time they feel they are being “judged” by others, especially other people who claim to be living as a Christian. But of course Matthew 7 was not written to say that judgements should never be made, only that as Christians, we shouldn’t be “habitually critical or condemnatory of a speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” (BKC, Matthew 7:1-6), and of course it does specifically say “brothers”, so this is flip flopping beliefs and faith in judgement. Not only does it say we should be restraint in our judgement but it is speaking about other believers, not other people in general.

Anyway, I came across this passage from “The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks“, which came from the book “25 Books Every Christian Should Read” by Renovare. I just loved how this Desert Father put it to his fellow believers.

A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him.

The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him. [1]

I just love that. Such a great reminder of what Matthew 7 is really talking about, with great context into viewing our own sin and need for the forgiving grace that God provides.


[1] Renovare (2011). 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Kindle Locations 839-843). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.