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.

5 Reasons Why We Should Still Read The Book of Leviticus Today

Studying the Book of Leviticus

Studying the Book of Leviticus

I just finished reading the Book of Leviticus this morning for the second time this year on my quest to finish two canonical readings for 2012. In honor of that reading, I have finally published my next list page (see my list of lists), called the 613 Mitzvot Laws or Commandments of the Old Testament, many of which are found in the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is one of those books that Christians tend to want to ignore, while those in the opposite camp tear it apart Hebrew letter by Hebrew letter. About a year ago I actually debated with another Christian about the worth of even reading this book, and he was convinced there was nothing of importance or worthy in Leviticus for us to read today. This was no uninformed, unintelligent Christian, he has a PhD, is a leading scientist in his field, and has a heart for important social justice issues, but Leviticus was not for him (nor really any of the Pentateuch). At that time I did a lousy job at explaining why this book, and every one of the 66 books of the canon, are all still very important and relevant to read in the 21st century. Since that conversation I’ve never really been able to rectify my lack of knowledge in Leviticus and reasons why it is important to read.

This second go-round I started reading Leviticus back on August 14th and finished up today, August 21st, so reading the entire book does not take that long if you read a little bit each day. I will say, Leviticus is not a very difficult book to read, but it is a difficult book to understand, especially in light of our culture today. We are so far removed from the customs of the sacrificial systems and just overall life during the 13th-15th century B.C., it’s very hard for us to understand, within the proper context, how to apply Leviticus to our life today without reading, study, contemplation, and meditation on these 24 chapters.

So here are a few reasons why all Christians should still read this book today. I’m going to skip the obvious reason of because it is part of the canonical Bible, and go on to others, but this is first and foremost. We should read it, because it is part of the writings given to us by God himself through Moses.

Reasons We Should Still Read Leviticus Today

1. It’s the Enemy’s Favorite Book to Tear Apart (Think Shellfish, Polyester, Tattoos, and Homosexuality)
They, the enemies of Truth, call it a book full of contradictions and hypocritical living. This is generally because they don’t understand the book in context any more than we do, but they can read the obvious to make stupid arguments like Christians still eat pork and wear polyester, therefore homosexuality is not a sin (see Homosexuality, Polyester, and Shellfish for reasoning behind this tired debate).

Apologetically speaking, we should know what this book says, because it is used as an excuse for everything under the sun in the 21st century. The book has a great narrative that is often overlooked by the fact that it is a list of laws. These “laws” range from capital punishment for adultery, to not cutting your hair, to laws on homosexuality, to not getting a tattoo because it follows the evil Canaanite tribal practices. Why is it acceptable for Christians to get a tattoo, or eat pork, but not put adulterers to death? Understanding this book in proper context shows exactly why some laws are historically customary for their culture and time, and why some are moral obligations that transcend time.

2. The Theological Holiness Code Developed in Leviticus is Still Used Today
In 1 Peter 1.15-16 the Apostle Peter says, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” That is a direct quote from Leviticus 11.44, which is then repeated several times such as in Leviticus 19.2. In seminary circles this is called the “Levitical Holiness Code” from chapters 17-27. It mainly deals with the idea of sanctification, the idea of holiness affecting how one lives in the covenant community.

For Christians today living in the 21st Century, the New Testament applies to Christians using the same principles of life stated in 11:44, and many of the “holiness codes” still show us what is displeasing to God (cf., 19:11-18, 35-36). On the other hand, as noted above, there are also symbolic aspects of the holiness code we no longer follow such as prohibiting garments of two different kinds etc.

3. To Understand How the Work of Christ Saves the Soul
Studying Leviticus today gives us an extremely important understanding of the sacrifice that Jesus made as the Christ when he died on the cross. The animal sacrificial system may be totally foreign to us now, but this enables the 21st century reader to understand why Christ’s sacrifice is one of salvation.

4. The Festal Calendar of Israel in Leviticus Shaped the Christian Calendar We Still Use
The three main festivals, or sometimes called the national pilgrim feasts of Israel, are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Booths. Most of our modern day church denominations from Baptist to Catholic still follow these festivals. These celebrations today find their climax in the corresponding days known as Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost.

5. Because Without Leviticus the Other 65 Books Don’t Make Any Sense
Every book is intertwined with every other book. This is a huge reason to me. If you are reading Kings or Nehemiah, or one of those other “important” books, you are reading part 11 or part 16, but you never read part 3. Knowing and understanding Leviticus is crucial to understanding any of the other books, just the same as reading and studying Kings is important to reading Matthew.

What sense does Christ being crucified on the cross make without knowing how the sacrificial system works? I understand you can watch the Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars movies out of order and you can still understand them individually, but don’t they make a whole lot more sense as a whole?

So there you have it. Five reasons why Leviticus is important for us to read today. I know these points aren’t developed very extensively, but it that wasn’t really the point.[1]


[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

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.

The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People Who Turned From Other Beliefs to Jesus :: Review

I am still trying to catch up on my book reviews on my website. The Unexpected Journey is a book I read a while back but hadn’t had the chance to review yet. If you are at all involved in other world religions as they compare to Christianity this book is worth exploring. Overall this is not a book that is going to tell you the ins and outs of every world religion but it does cover the experiences of individuals who converted to Christianity from Islam, a Satanist, Jehovah’s Witness, New Age, Agnostic, Atheist, to Hinduism and more. There are of course many books on other world religions that are more explanatory in nature, but this one still serves a purpose in Christian evangelism.

Below is an excerpt from my full review which can be found in my writing section or the pdf can be found Book Critique of The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People Who Turned From Other Beliefs to Jesus by Thomas Rainer. In light of world events it is always important to understand other world religions. The violence over the Quran burning in Afghanistan right now is a great example (see also Does Freedom Mean Allowing Idiots to Burn the Quran?).

Content Summary of The Unexpected Journey

In The Unexpected Journey, Rainer walks his readers though a methodical approach to exploring other world religions outside of Christianity and how to reach those people for Christ.  The journey takes Rainer and his wife to many different states to interview twelve different people.  These people were once believers in a religion other than Christianity, who turned to Christianity, and have continued to grow, through various trials, for their new faith in Christ.  Each different encounter or interview is written in its own chapter in the form of a journal entry discussion on how each person made the conversion.  Some background details on each particular world religion are included and, each chapter ends with questions relating to how Christians can reach people still believing in various other world religions.

Rainer starts off on this journey of interviews with Mormonism and Rauni’s story.  Rauni and her family were deeply engaged in the Mormon church by the time they moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, coming with years of experience in the Mormon church.  After a closer examination of the teachings of Mormonism and the bible, Rauni’s decision was to leave the church and turn to nothing after feelings of mis-trust in all forms of religion and a harsh treatment from her former faith.  Eventually Rauni made the decision to turn to Christ and she and her family, still today, live near Salt Lake City, the heart of the Mormon Church, with the unique ability to talk to others struggling with similar issues.

The next journey takes Rainer and his wife to Chicago to meet with a former Orthodox Jew named Steve Barack.  After a brief explanation of the Jewish faith in comparison to that of Christianity, Rainer tracks Barack’s story through the twists and turns that would eventually bring him to an Assembly of God church and on to a faith in Jesus.  As Rainer explains from the interview, Barack learned the possibilities of becoming a Jewish Christian, a believer in Christ who is still able to maintain his Jewish heritage.

As Rainer continues his journey and the interviews he is next taken to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City to meet Dr. Ravi, a once karma deficient Hindu, who would take a long journey to belief in Christ.  His conversion, much like many Rainer interviewed, came at a huge cost to himself and his family.  As is Rainer’s familiar pattern by this point, the author examines Hinduism in a brief form and then ends with a short discussion on how other Christians can reach those in the Hindu religion.

In the next several interviews Rainer travels to several other states, and even conducts one meeting in his hometown of Louisville, KY.  Rainer and his wife speak to Mrs. Jones, from Pennsylvania, who claims to have been an Atheist.  Mrs. Jones took the unexpected route and goes from believing in nothing or no higher power to faith in Christ, to becoming an effective apologist.  Rainer points out that, as Jones explains, “What I really needed was a Christian who had the guts to tell me that I wasn’t the marvelous and upstanding person I considered myself to be.” (Rainer 2005, 74)

Rainer goes on to explain a little about the Atheist worldview and shows why it is so difficult for an average Christian to reach an Atheist.  As the author explains, Jones points out that she and many of her Atheist friends knew scripture far better than their Christian counterparts, but the one thing they could not counter was the love some Christians showed her.

The next several interviews that Rainer conducts are with worldviews that do not have the highest number of followers globally, but are still important for the Christian witness to understand.  Rainer and his wife went to West Virginia to speak with a Jehovah’s Witness, Paul, who like the others went into his religion with a full effort to promote the Jehovah’s Witness worldview and eventually came to a miraculous discussion for Christ.  Paul’s cost of leaving the Jehovah’s was costly as well and Rainer tells such a touching story of how Paul’s life was changed by Christ.

Next, Rainer evaluates the interviews from those with such wide-ranging worldviews as an Agnostic, a former witch, a Buddhist, New Age, a Satanist, and a compelling story from Dr. Townsend, a former believer in Unitarianism.  As is the case with all the interviews, each interviewee comes to know Christ as their savoir through incredible circumstances and although these are some of the less followed religions, they are still worthy of note to a Christian who believes everyone should be given the story of Christianity.

One of the last interviews Rainer conducted and wrote about was a conversion of a Black Muslim to that of Traditional Islam and then to Christianity.  This particular interview is perhaps the most noteworthy one out of all the interviews conducted.  Muslims, and the overall worldview that is Islam, empowers a huge number of people in the world and this religion is more dominant in our day, in 2010, than perhaps it was even at the time the author wrote The Unexpected Journey.  Because this religion is so dominant in parts of the world, and encompasses so many people, it is an important interview to conduct.

The journey for Mumin Muhammad started from hate as he rose through the ranks of the Muslim faith culminating in a personal trial that would cost him his friends, his family, and his job.  As Rainer points out with this interview, it is so difficult for a Christian to reach those of the Muslim faith, but Mumin shows God can and does work among all peoples.

Evaluation of The Unexpected Journey

Rainer’s The Unexpected Journey takes on a complicated task of interviewing several people and trying to glean from these people the best way for Christians to reach out to others who believe in religions other than Christianity.  Rainer pulled together what had to be an enormous amount of information and found a format and method to share this collective information in a journalistic style.  Not only is this extremely helpful in the finished product for his readers, but it allows the reader to compartmentalize each chapter and find ways to place themselves into the stories being told.  This format lends itself well to readers, from seminary students, to the casual interested layperson of the church, who takes an interest in reaching others for Christ.

As Rainer walks through each chapter he humbly addresses the presuppositions that are common among many Southern Baptists and fundamental Christians.  This is an important aspect of each interview and the book in general.  As Christians form their opinions on how to live out their own faith they often create stereotypes of other religions and people.  Rainer speaks to the heart of this issue by coming out with his own stereotypes in the text and addresses them with the person being interviewed.

A more puzzling aspect of The Unexpected Journey was the particular religions Rainer chose to include in the book.  The author briefly touches on these issues but does not make any real indication as to how these were chosen to be included.  This would not normally be of concern to the reader except that the premise of the text is to follow a journey of someone who left a religion and moved to faith in Christ.  Some of the religions, which all took up at least one full chapter in the book, were very small in comparison to those practicing other religions worldwide, and some perhaps may not even be considered religions to many Christians.  This is a minor point for the effectiveness of the overall text, as all the people the author did interview had changed lives for Christ, no matter where they came from.

Perhaps concentrating on the largest or major religions of the world, which encompass the largest number of people, could have been beneficial.  It would have allowed a deeper understanding of each story and world religion.  Where many Christians will probably come into contact with a Muslim or someone practicing Islam, few may come into contact with a Satanist or New Age believer.  While the information was interesting, it probably didn’t cover a large enough group of people.  While the information is useful in a select number of situations it probably does not provide enough information for the reader to be able to be an evangelistic witness to those people groups.

Overall, The Unexpected Journey presented a journey, not only for those people interviewed in each chapter, but Rainer also took the reader through a journey to better understand many different worldviews and how to reach each of those people for Christ.  The organization of the text was easy to understand for readers of all levels, and the author presented his findings in a way that could easily be taken from the book and brought into real life situations.

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

After months of looking at “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt, i finally decided i had to go ahead and read this book. Having read and studied several books and/or articles that discuss the concepts and failings of what we call the “American Dream”, I already had my own opinion about the topic, but still think it’s a worthy topic today. Radical ended up not really being focused so much on the American Dream as it was to focus away from the concept.

Whether we acknowledge it or not we are probably influenced by this concept in one way or another, and much of the time it tends to be a self-focused concept, how do I maximize my 401k, get that house, car, computer, whatever. Radical attempted to remove that self-focused concept and replace it with a global evangelistic focus that Jesus calls for in Matthew 28.

The book is a compilation of a sermon series given by the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Dr. David Platt, after he returned from several international missional type trips a few years ago. i have read a few other reviews that have also suggested listening to the complete sermon series in addition to reading the book. Many have said it takes the book even deeper, so eventually I hope to listen to those as well. After a longer introduction period of a few chapters, Platt goes through seven truths, which are the premise for the text and lead to Platt’s conclusion, and eventually to his call to action. The truth statements come from this evaluating proclamation…

If people are dying and going to hell without ever even knowing there is a gospel, then we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream.

The Seven Truth’s of Radical:

  • TRUTH 1 : All People Have Knowledge of God
  • TRUTH 2 : All People Reject God
  • TRUTH 3 : All People are Guilty Before God
  • TRUTH 4 : All People are Condemned for Rejecting God
  • TRUTH 5 : God Has Made a Way of Salvation For the Lost
  • TRUTH 6 : People Cannot Come to God Apart From Faith in Christ
  • TRUTH 7 : Christ Commands the Church to Make the Gospel Known to All Peoples

With each explained in detail, Radical proceeds into the final call to action with, what I read as the ultimate conclusion of the text.

…that means there is only one potential breakdown in this progression [of truths] —when servants of God do not preach the gospel to all peoples

This leads into Platt’s call to action. A one year plan, in five steps (or points), that intend to bring the believer into closer alignment to the truths in the Gospel message instead of continuing on a path towards the elusive American Dream.

Concluding Critique About Radical

For those with an evangelical background Radical will be a hard but familiar call to constantly evaluate our lives against the truths of the Gospel. Not only does it cause us to examine our lives more closely but it gives specific, tangible examples (or points) which are easy to evaluate, like reading the bible completely in one year (either you did or you didn’t).

Some may see this as works, or a process or program, but I don’t believe that is Platt’s message to believers at all. The Gospel is a call to live a radical life unlike that of the world, and Radical confirms this. It isn’t about a program to do this or that, it is about a life changed, and living a lifestyle for God not for self.

For those with a more liberal theology, or those who view some sermons as annoying guilt trips, Radical will probably be seen more as another radical pastor calling on people to give up all their worldly possessions, give them to the “poor” and go somewhere overseas to spread Christianity (which actually is in the bible too, but no doubt some will find it annoying to say the least). While they will appreciate the social consciousness aspect to Radical’s call, some will see it as an “evils of riches” guilt trip.

It is not a book that is going to answer all the questions, but it will stretch the believer into thinking beyond ourselves and the small boxes we tent to live in, especially here in the United States. Some questions that came to mind were:

  • How much is enough?
  • What can we live without for the sake of the Gospel?
  • Where do we spend our time and is it worth our time?
  • What do we see in ourselves when examining our life against scripture?
  • What will we do with the five action items in Radical?

It is always interesting to see if a book stands the test of time. One way I look at the effectiveness of a book is how well does the author make their arguments, and will the book survive the initial pop culture publication. In other words, does the author make convincing enough arguments to make the book either (1) entertaining, (2) does it make you change or examine the way you think, or (3) does it even change your actions and how you live. In short, does the book shape you in some way or form.

Since I rarely read books for their entertainment value, I hope for one of the latter points, and that is where Radical lands. It made me think, it changed the way I do a few things, and it caused me to take a hard look at my long term calling. I would highly recommend Radical to anyone who has a teachable spirit and is willing to take a new look at old ways of doing Christianity beyond Sunday morning.

It's a Cop-Out to Blame God for Human Irresponsibility

I have been slowly going through Dave Earley’s book called 21 Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People, and today I re-read his original premise for the book that he states as “The Reason No One Wants to Hear”, which basically covers original sin in the human condition.

Ultimately God gave Adam and Eve a choice to follow evil or good, and they chose evil, resulting in a blood line of sin for all of humanity. Yet we still continually ask the same question, just phrased in a million different ways, “why does God ‘allow’ this or that bad thing to happen”? As Earley puts it, what we really should be asking if we are honest with ourselves is “why do so many good things happen to bad people”. Even Jesus made the statement in Luke 18:19 (and Mark 10:18), “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”.  Clearly we are not God, but many of us still strive to better understand God’s will, and that includes questions about evil, suffering, and sin.

Earley quoted Knechtle’s Give Me an Answer, on the matter of evil and human nature, who stated:

How can you blame God for starving babies in Ethiopia when the best-selling books in the United States are on dieting, on how to take the extra fat off? It is not God’s fault people are starving today. The earth produces enough right now to give every person 3,000 calories a day. The problem is that some of us hoard so others go to bed hungry. It is a cop-out to blame God for human irresponsibility. If a person gets drunk, drives his car across the median, and sends your friend to an early grave, will you blame God? Do you blame God for Hitler’s seven million murders?  That would be escapism. The vast majority of human and evil suffering is the direct result of human irresponsibility.

I haven’t made it all the way through yet but I’m working on it, and I’m grateful to a fellow brother who mailed it to me a month or so ago, thanks Hershel.

Quick Review of 90 Minutes in Heaven

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I wanted to do a quick review of the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Pastor Don Piper and Cecil Murphey because the story is so compelling I couldn’t put the book down (at least until I got about half way through the book). I had this book on my shelf for over a year before I picked it up last Saturday. The story was totally and completely unknown to me before last Saturday and it was simply the time and place for me to read this book, especially with everything going on with Deborah in the last few months.

The story is about a pastor who actually died in a car crash on the way home near Huntsville, Texas, and was then later revived. He goes into as much detail as possible about his visit to Heaven and then his subsequent recovery when God decides to answer the prayers of His people and brings him back to life.

90 Minutes in Heaven, while not a highly theological or doctrinal piece, has an incredible explanation of Heaven and that alone is worth the price of the book. Piper does only spent about 1-2 chapters on his heavenly experience, something I would have enjoyed reading for most of the book, then basically spends the remainder of the book on his arduous recovery. It was still exactly what I needed to read just at that particular time, and for that I’m grateful.

Another book I am currently reading by a different Piper, called Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper, is a great book as well, and if I can ever get through the entire book I will post a review as well.

Critique of Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

This week I finished up a review and critique of a book I have been wanting to read for quite some time, Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis. I find it very difficult to actually provide an adequate “critique” of someone, like Lewis, who was obviously so much farther advanced in his own understanding of scripture, but this was the task at hand.

Part of reviewing books like this is now, fifty years since Lewis wrote Reflections on the Psalms, it almost has to be looked at in a synoptic fashion, taking all of Lewis’ works into account.  Lewis at the time hadn’t written a serious “religious work” in almost ten years.  He had received a scathing review of Miracles, published in 1947, and some say this was the reason he hadn’t written another “religious work”.

Nevertheless Reflections was, overall, a great book, and one that every Christian should try to read at some point.  If there was one aspect of Reflections that made me take notice, it was Lewis’ somewhat Anglican-esque view of scripture where he refers to some of the Psalms as “evil”, and slightly questions it’s proper place in the cannon.  I have always known Lewis’ theology to be slightly less than a “Reformed Theology“, but in Reflections it was made more apparent than in his other books I have read so far.

Below you will find part of the academic critique I gave on the book.  You can read the essay in full located at Book Critique of Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis.

Critique and Review of “Reflections on the Psalms”

Lewis’ Reflections has been widely criticized and praised, by both scholars and lay people, since it was first published in 1958.  With fifty years hence, an emotional review of Reflections’ strengths and weaknesses can be somewhat more objective than it could be in the late 50’s.  Lewis certainly provides a unique perspective on the Psalms, one that can still be seen as a unique study fifty years later.  His writing style, much like his other works, is easy to read, yet deep in thought.  Reflections transitions well from one subject to another, but the author has a tendency to move back and forth between sections of negativity to those sections, which contain a more positive evaluation.

Early on, Lewis tries to remove his own history of apologetics and religious knowledge from the rigors of scholarly criticism by stating the book is written for lay people, basically by a layperson, but this is hard to take at face value.  For an author of apologetic works likes Mere Christianity, and a professor at the prestigious University of Oxford in England, this request may have at the time, fallen on deaf ears.  If the reader is to take Reflections as a serious literary work on the Psalter, a conclusion hard to argue against, one must also evaluate the arguments and suppositions of Reflections as such.

Lewis’ use of modern day “common” language, or perhaps crude in some cases, which is used throughout the book, like “priggish”, goes towards his approach to appeal to the more modern lay reader, but his scriptural references and ideas have a much deeper meaning.  Lewis claims in the introduction to only be “comparing notes” and not to “instruct”, but Reflections helps the reader to understand ancient poetry and literature, and takes an more Anglican approach to the Psalms that is almost foreign to a modern day evangelical Protestant.  In this respect, Reflections largely instructs from beginning to end.   Lewis does not gloss over the most difficult issues presented, though he does leave the reader wondering what he has left out “as his own interests” led him to do.[1]

Where Lewis leaves himself open to criticism is in his view, and somewhat veiled ideas, of scripture.  As previously quoted, early on Lewis states that “all Holy Scripture is in some sense – though not all parts of it in the same sense – the word of God” leaving open to the reader which parts of the “Holy Scriptures” Lewis finds to be the true “word of God” and which parts he does not.[2] Only a few pages later Lewis explains.

At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain [the Psalms] away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious… and we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves.

So should the reader understand the Psalms “as the word of God in a different sense than Romans”, and if so, in what sense are they different?[3] This phrase, “in some sense”, is not isolated to Reflections.  In one of Lewis’ letters, written to Clyde Kilby on May 7, 1959, just after Reflections was published, Lewis again stated “if every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights, then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must in some sense by inspired.”[4] This interpretation of the Psalms may not adequately take into account the enormous context of the Psalms being a large collection of poems, written by many different authors, dating back to at least King David.  While the task of trying to summarize such context into a small book would be difficult on any account, Lewis’ view of the evil portrayed from within the scripture could need further examination, especially in light of current Hebraic poetry research, which has come about since Reflections.

Overall, Reflections shows itself to be a worthy and valuable text when taken in it’s own context of mid-twentieth century Anglican scholasticism.  Although Lewis may not have wanted to see Reflections viewed as a scholarly work, it is hard to put aside a masterful author such as Lewis, and he more than accomplishes his goals from beginning to end.  Reflections in the 21st century may be best viewed as one part of a whole in the complete works of C. S. Lewis, but it still instructs and teaches a better understanding of the Psalms.  In a short but thoughtful work, Lewis “helps to remind us [that] we worship the one true and eternal God.”[5]


[1]Lewis, 6.
[2] Ibid, 19.
[3] John W. Robbins, “Did C. S. Lewis Go to Heaven?,” The Trinity Review (Trininty Foundation), no. 226 (November, December 2003), 2.
[4] W. H. Lewis, ed., Letters of C. H. Lewis, Revised Edition, ed. W. H. Lewis (New York, NY: C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1988), 480.
[5] Lewis, 44.

The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

I finally got back into the reading swing a few months ago and first on my list was a book that had been on my list for a long time, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  This book, even after having finished a complete reading, is so monumental that it would require several more readings, at a much slower pace, to even begin to comprehend it’s value.  First published in 1746, written around the time of the Great Awakening when “affections” were running wild (many people would have a dramatic “religious awakenings” with loud wailing and moaning but not a true change of heart), this book must have been seen by the people of North Hampton at the time as quite a controversial book.  Today, The Religious Affections has the honor to be listed among the classics delivered by some of the greatest theologians, but if read in context of today’s culture, and viewed as being directly applicable today, it might be seen as even more controversial today than it did in the late 18th century.

Still, it’s truths are so relevant, it’s pious statements so profound, it tends to show how far we have come (or how far we have slid) from the “religion” of the Great Awakening. Where Edwards was once trying to discern true affections from Pharisaical outcries, we the church in the 21st century are similar to the 18th century church of North Hampton in some respects.  We have and show almost no true affection in worship to God, a breaking of the will by the heart, for a God who deserves the utmost adoration for every breath we take, and yet we posses more entertainment emotion (for lack of a better phrase) than any generation in previous history.

As the book opens, Edwards puts forth nine evidences that true religion lies much in the heart of the affections.  In seminary (of all places) it has often been said to me that a mature Christian needs both the head and the heart, both knowledge and true affections towards God.  If you are in the camp that uses “knowledge puffs up but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1) to excuse yourself from study you are missing half of what Paul is saying, and the same is true to those who only seek after knowledge.  Any surface reading of scripture clearly shows that God insists on both, and Edwards certainly agrees.  “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” [1]

In these nine evidences Edwards lays out his thesis and speaks directly to the church of the 21st century.

That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion (Romans 12:11) and to “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord… serving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all thy soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

While we certainly can claim we don’t have dull and lifeless worship services (in fact we can claim the opposite since our worship “production” can rival that of the Discovery Channel at this point), we can still have a lifeless and dull heart.  Paul in Romans 12 isn’t saying the dB rating of the worship should be vigorous, he is saying that “our hearts [should be] vigorously engaged” in worship.  John takes it one step farther when talking about the church in Laodicea saying that Christ utterly detests a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16).

I would highly recommend The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards to anyone who might be interested.  It certainly was a challenging read, it wasn’t the most straight forward easy to read pop-Christian publication that tends to make the rounds today, but I wouldn’t expect it to be either.  Books that we fully understand from a quick initial read probably don’t further our understanding in the subject at hand and Affections is one of those pieces of literature that could be read over and over again.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, (Carlisle, CA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press, Inc., 1986), 30, 27.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright :: Review

This review can also be found in my writing section in a PDF download format. In the text by Christopher J. H. Wright titled Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Wright outlines a precise argument for the existence of Jesus of the New Testament, as seen from within the Old Testament.  It is evident, from the opening chapter, that Wright’s intention for writing this volume was to take his readers deeper into the life of Jesus while showing the audience a side of Jesus not often studied in the current evangelical culture today.

This review will present an overview and critique of Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament through a summarization of the text and a discussion on Wright’s conclusions.

Wright, born to missionary parents serving in Brazil during the Second World War, grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as an Irish Presbyterian and was educated in Cambridge in the 1960’s.  Before being ordained in the Anglican Church of England in 1977, Wright served as a high school teacher, and later would go on to serve as an associate pastor before moving his family to India to teach at the seminary level.  Wright continues to work as an author and is the International Director for Langham Partnership International (LPI), a ministry that works with other pastors, publishers, and educators.

Wright has authored several books that focused attention towards interacting with the Old Testament, God, and the Holy Spirit.  With the depth of Wright’s books, He is sometimes viewed as an author who writes more for those seeking solid food than for the spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Summary of “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament”

Wright takes on the task of showing Jesus in the Old Testament by examining Jesus in five different dimensions; the story of Jesus, the promises declared and fulfilled, and His identity, mission, and values.  Pulling heavily from the book of Matthew, Wright takes time in the first section to examine the importance of the genealogy of Jesus in a way not often addressed by the casual congregant.  This in depth look at the foundation of the story of Jesus is tied back to the Genesis stories and the historical context of Abraham to David to Jesus Himself.  While the book of Matthew does this as well, Wright goes beyond Matthew to pull from historical information including a look at how Jesus interacts with historical Israel and the inter-testamental period (Wright 1992, 19-24).

In the second section of the book, Wright reviews the promises of Jesus from the time they are declared in the Old Testament text, methodically moving through the various covenants, or guarantees, made leading up to and including the New Covenant promise of the New Testament.  Wright equates the covenants of the Old Testament to that of tributaries, which all feed into a main large stream, and that the life of Jesus must be viewed in light of all the previous covenants.  According to Wright, the New Testament writers based their knowledge of Jesus and His ministry upon already known Hebrew scriptures, showing that the Old Testament “declared the promise which Jesus fulfilled.” (102)

Section three focuses on identifying Jesus as son.  In this section Wight looks at the relationship the New Testament has with Jesus and compares that to the family relationship that Israel has to God (118).  Expressed in the father-son relationship, the comparison made is shown through the attitude of God, and the expectations of God, towards the Israelites, and broken down from a national level to a personal level. (122)

As Wright moves through the main portions of his text into section four, the discussion turns to the mission of Jesus, the expectations of the Jews at the time of His ministry, and how His mission is related to the Old Testament.  Relying heavily on the book of Isaiah here, Wright identifies Jesus, the Servant, with the Israelites and with the coming restoration of Israel from captivity (158, 161).  The argument continues by pointing out the promise and message of God was to first go to the Jews, then to the Gentiles as Paul stated in Romans.  Wright concludes this section with a look at the mission of the church as servant, highlighting the historical abuse of servant-hood by the church that it must now overcome (180).

The fifth and final section examines, in depth, the scriptures and values that Jesus pulled from during His earthly ministry.  Wright shows how much Jesus relied on the Old Testament, and the Law, from everything to being tested in the wilderness by Satan to His many parables while teaching others.  As Wright systematically walks through the teachings of Jesus he again points out the universal message of salvation is to go out in obedience to God, first to the Jewish nation, and then to the Gentiles, while correlating Jesus’ words in the New Testament to that of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  As Wright concludes, he takes a look at Jesus and his use of the book of Psalms and the reign of God.  Examples are taken from various Psalms that show reference to Yahweh as king, sitting on the thrown of God, and how God’s rule aligns with human life on earth, even in it’s current form (243).

Interacting with “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament”

Wright has taken a complex topic, one that is rarely discussed in the evangelical “New Testament” Church of today, and presented a historical and possibly more complete biblical view of Jesus.  As is often the case in the 21st century Church, many fail where Wright has succeeded in conceptualizing a true picture of Jesus portrayed in the Old Testament.  Although at times Wright uses large blocks of Old Testament text tied together to describe seemingly less complex conclusions (see 107-116 to conclude Jesus is the Son of God), he provides a valuable resource for the Christian able to consume “solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).[1]

The initial section largely pertaining to the genealogy of Jesus started an important basis for interweaving the life of Christ and the stories of the Old Testament.  Something seen as perhaps not stimulating enough for the modern reader, the genealogy is of the utmost importance and provides that direct connection of Jesus to the Old Testament.  Wright properly compares and contrasts the less interested Christian, and other concepts he has discovered in areas throughout the Old Testament, as the ‘Caroling Christians’ (8).  This premise used to describe our modern day luke-warm Sunday going Christians of our culture today is not only something that Wright brings to light, but he also indirectly charges those current teachers and pastors with the responsibility of connecting Jesus with the Old Testament, and therefore bringing discipleship to the ‘Caroling Christians’, and the Church body.

As Wright moves forward, he often pulls from history and what it offers in teaching and reproof.  His look at the inter-testamental period showed how much the Jew of that time depended and relied on scripture (23), later showing that Jesus also relied on the Old Testament text as well, even going as far to point out the obvious, that Jesus didn’t even read the New Testament (ix).  The author makes the point to show how utterly deficient the modern, or post-modern, Church is in understanding the importance of the Old Testament text in regards to their own faith.  While this is most certainly the case today as countless scholars and pastors have pointed out, Wright could have examined this even closer going beyond the preface of the text, although the completed work is a conclusion to this premise.  Jesus did not have the New Testament to use and evaluate His own life, as Wright points out, Jesus answered the questions of His own life by using the text of the Old Testament.[2]

As Wright continues into the heavier sections of the book he does not stop challenging his reader to a higher understanding of the complex issues at hand like the differences between a guaranteed promise and it’s corresponding fulfillment with the predictions made (68).  The extended discussion on the covenants, or international treaties as he properly describes them, is so vital to understanding the Old Testament and how it relates to Jesus, that Wright does well in almost placing a mandate on pastors and teachers to examine these topics in greater detail for the benefit of their own students (78-80).  Many full-length scholarly reviews have been completed on Wright’s work, most complimenting the ability of Wright to explain a more proper understanding of the relationship between Israel, God, and His Son Jesus, while taking an approach using biblical scholarship rather than systematic theology.[3] Paul Alexander notes that Wright’s work can “help us avoid becoming practical Marcionites” by only preaching the Old Testament as an introduction to the New Testament.[4]

Conclusion

Wright presents the Church with an opportunity to bring the Old Testament back into the fold of Sunday morning worship.  Jesus Himself relied on the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, which is often put aside in the more modern form of evangelism.  Although possibly repetitive at times, Wright’s arguments are presented in a clear and rationale manner and provide a concise correlation between the Jesus of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament.  A thorough examination of this book, and perhaps Wright’s other two books as well, would not only benefit the reader but those people the reader currently leads in faith.

Works Cited

Alexander, Paul. “Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.” IX Marks. September 2008. http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-knowing-jesus-through-old-testament (accessed June 25, 2010).

Murray, David P. “Jesus never read the New Testament.” The Gospel Coalition. April 21, 2010. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/04/21/jesus-never-read-the-new-testament/ (accessed June 25, 2010).

Wright, Christopher J. H. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.


[1] Brian Tubbs, “Jesus and the Old Testament: A Review of Christopher J.H. Wright‟s Book on Jesus in the OT.” Suite101, May 11 2007, http://protestantism.suite101.com/article.cfm/jesus_and_the_old_testament (accessed June 25, 2010).

[2] David P. Murray, “Jesus never read the New Testament,” The Gospel Coalition, April 21, 2010, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/04/21/jesus-never-read-the-new-testament/ (accessed June 25, 2010).

[3] Tubbs, 2007.

[4] Paul Alexander, “Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament,” IX Marks, September 2008, http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-knowing-jesus-through-old-testament (accessed June 25, 2010).