Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me

Kevin DeYoung has done it again with his latest book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me. With this work he has provided his readers with a precise and very readable treatise on the Bible. I think this surpasses other works in this genre and will become a standard for Christians and their churches everywhere. Knowing, trusting and applying God's Word today has become a lost art and function today for evangelicals and DeYoung gets us back on track.

DeYoung comes right to the point in chapter 1, The goal of this book is to get us believing what we should about the Bible, feeling what we should about the Bible, and to get us doing what we ought to do with the Bible. Why? Because we are to, Sing, speak, study, store up and pray - this is how men and women of God handle the Scriptures. I couldn't agree more.

Chapter two takes the reader on a brief journey of the historicity of the Bible. This cannot be stated too strongly: From the very beginning, Christianity tied itself to history. The most important claims of Christianity are historical claims, and on the facts of history the Christian religion must stand or fall.
Throughout DeYoung pulls no punches as he ties the Bible to our daily living. For example, referring to 2 Peter 1:16, he states that, Ungodly living is inconsistent with the glory of Christ. That's Peter's point, and it depends on history, on the evidence of eyewitness testimony. Agreed.

The study deepens in chapters four through seven as the author defines and develops an understanding of the sufficiency, clarity, authority and necessity of the Bible. This is where the reader will profit much from DeYoung's artful and adept writing style. An understanding of these four premises is crucial for every believer and these chapters are a great place to start.

Jesus had much to say about the Scriptures and DeYoung brings to light some of these passages when he asks in chapter eight, What did Jesus believe about the Bible? A page later he elaborates, So if you are investigating Christianity or trying to figure out not only what Christians believe but the foundation for everything they believe, this is one of the best places to start: figure out what Jesus believed about the Bible. He continues by looking at some key passages to answer this question.

DeYoung concludes his book with an admirable admonition to Stick with the Scriptures. Keep going, keep pressing forward. It is the heart and soul, the foundation, of everything Christians believe. Don't stop now.

I know there has to be a flaw in this little book but I couldn't find it. Five out of five stars - wonderful book. I learned much and was reminded of much and am thankful for DeYoung's dedication to his readers. This would certainly be a great Sunday school, or home group study book. Every church ought to have a stack of these for new members and visitors. The Bible is the foundation of our religion - we should get to know it well.

Crossway has provided a complimentary copy of this book through Beyond the Page.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community By Joseph H. Hellerman

For the last couple of years the theme of church as or is a family has appeared several times in articles I’ve read online, podcasts I’ve listened to and in my Bible reading. Due to some recent events I had been observing in my life I thought it best to explore and develop a greater understanding of this idea of church as a family. I’ve had Joseph Hellerman’s book, When the Church Was a Family on my shelf for a couple years now. It came into my possession as one of the free books handed out at Together for the Gospel in 2010. Its not the type of book I would have bought or even had a desire to read but I’m glad it was on my bookshelf when I needed it.

Hellerman is a thoughtful and engaging writer. His style, at least for this work, was interesting; he didn’t dumb down any Biblical truths nor did he over complicate his message with four syllable words that only PhD. students understand. Reading it was fluid and smooth sailing all the way.

Hellerman spends more than half the book backing up his thesis that the church is family. He points out that in the Mediterranean world family came first (strong-group society), one’s closest relatives were one’s siblings. Its interesting that it was not one’s spouse. In this world life’s big decisions, as they are today, were what am I going to do (job), where am I going to live and who will I marry. No  major life decisions were made outside the family nor would any of them been made to the detriment of the family. And so it was with the early church. The author takes us through the Old Testament, Jesus’ teaching, Paul’s teaching, the early church, and the Roman world fleshing this out for the reader. At times it was not an easy read as today, as Hellerman points out numerous times throughout the book, we just don’t think this way in today's world. And as the secular world has so influenced the modern church, we as believers do not think or behave this way, either. Many modern evangelicals would set the order of import like this

God  > Family  >  Church  >  Others

Hellerman would set the order this way

God’s Family  >  Church family  > My family  > Others

My take

God  > God’s Family  >  My family  > Church family  > Others

I would set the order this way so we do not lose sight as to what this is all about, i.e., God’s glory.

The last portion of the book is devoted to how to work out the theme of church as family. Several helpful suggestions are laid out that elaborate on examples from Scripture and the Mediterranean world. Sharing of material wealth and goods and relating to one another on a deeper level are two points I found most helpful. Conversely, I also thought this was also the weakest part of the book. Ideas and suggestions for church leaders were weak and/or blatantly obvious. Nevertheless, his personal anecdotes here and throughout the book drove his point home: the modern evangelical church is not living out the Biblical command to live as family and we need to so as to be obedient to the Scriptures.

One drawback to some readers would be the author’s emphasis that the church family is to take precedence over blood family. I, however, would agree with him. He points out that he does not want to minimize the importance of blood family but Scripture, in particular Jesus, points us in the direction of church family having first place. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide. One other area of concern for this reviewer is that at times  he so wants to press home his point that he goes too far. He shares a conversation he had with a church colleague where he stated that he would rather have folks be involved in a home group every week (because it develops the family bond) rather than be in church on a Sunday morning. This is way of the mark, of course. Sunday worship is first and foremost the worship of God and Creator and our worship is required and deserved. Everything else on Sunday is a subset of that. 

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It accurately explains how church congregations should be thinking and working Biblically rather than putting themselves and families first. We are a covenant people and the world will only see this when we are a true church family.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review: What is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton Jr.

~Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic. 
It informs who we are and how we live.~

James M. Hamilton Jr. has done us all a great service by authoring this little volume, What is Biblical Theology? Hamilton lays out in easy to understand language the interconnection and spiritual unity we find in the Bible. He begins by defining Biblical theology and our great need for it. By the term Biblical theology he means, “The interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.” 

From there Hamilton takes the reader on a journey through the meta-narrative of the Bible making the critical connections for the reader from Genesis to Revelation. He further elaborates on the episodes and themes we find. He then narrows his study for us in part two as he explores symbols, imagery, typology and patterns within the pages of Scripture. He defines each term and how they differ and shares many notable passages that exemplify each. For example, Hamilton delineates the interconnection and progression from Adam to Noah to Moses culminating with Jesus and finally the Bride of Christ spending eternity with her husband.

I found this little volume a great help. I would definitely recommend this to a new believer, a teen or adult study class or just as a refresher for a mature Christian. The most useful aspect I believe would be if the reader were to forsake the common notion that the Old Testament is bound up with nothing more than good moral stories. This is most prevalent in modern evangelicalism as the Old Testament is virtually never preached and when done so fails to convey the over-arching story found in Scripture which culminates with the Gospel. Hamilton does well in this area of his writing; inserting comments reminding the reader of the Gospel and making compelling arguments for it in all of Scripture.

What I found most helpful was part three where Hamilton delves into how this all relates to the church, the Bride of Christ. “If you’re wondering what the main point of this section will be, let me come right out and say it: the Bible’s story and symbolism teach us as the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord.” Many churches do not reflect their true character as it is found in Christ. Attending church is something that is done on Sunday before the afternoon football game. Conversely Hamilton posits, “This metaphor of the church as a bride is meant to build our identity. We are to think of ourselves in bridal terms. We are not to commit spiritual adultery against the Lord Jesus.” How truly serious this is. He goes deeper when he explains Paul’s body metaphor from Colossians 3. “The body metaphor also communicates the unity of the church (Col. 3:15). The church is one body that has been reconciled to God through the death of Christ.” “Church membership is built on this body metaphor. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:27, ‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.’ We are joined to one another and to Christ. A Christian who is not a member of a church is like a hand or an eye that is not joined to the rest of the body. …We are united to one another by virtue of our union with Christ.” This is powerful stuff and most worthy of study and due consideration.

This book gets 5 out of 5 stars. Buy it, digest it and apply it in your life. As believers we need to comprehend the Bible's big story and how it relates to us as members of Christ's church. This book will be an asset to the reader.

Crossway has provided a complimentary copy of this book through Beyond the Page.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Training Hearts

I'm not much for devotional books but Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorted Catechism by Starr Meade comes highly recommended and its published by P&R who we can trust. Each question covers six days of daily readings with Scripture texts.

The supply of practical guides to the catechism for passing the faith on to our covenant children falls short of the demand. Starr Meade helps to close that significant gap. I heartily recommend this book.-Michael Horton

A superb, imaginative example of how to teach historic Christian faith to our children. This is a case of the right book coming at the right time.-David F. Wells

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Guest Blogger Book Review - Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons Reviewed by Rachel Cooper

Freefall to Fly is Rebekah Lyons' personal memoir of her search for purpose and meaning in her life. This was a hard read at times. Not because it was poorly written or theologically incorrect. But because it was raw. I have to applaud Rebekah Lyons for her willingness to lay it all bare for the sake of helping others with similar struggles.

A few key ideas stuck out to me in this book. When talking about completing college, getting married, and having three kids, she says -

I was happy with my choice - and still am - but I stopped searching for ways to apply my gifts to the world around me.

She goes on to talk about identity -

Of course I'm called to be a mother...But If I'm not careful, I lose my identity...I love these roles, but I also recognize that deriving one's identity from another person is a short road to resentment.

I wonder if women like me hide behind our husbands, our unfulfilling jobs, or even motherhood because we're afraid of embracing the full person God has created us to be.

These are all statements I'm inclined to agree with. Rebekah continually affirms throughout the book the love she has for her children and her husband. I was left with no doubt that she would go to the moon and back for her family. However, having grown up in the church herself, she makes it a point to say that she was never encouraged to explore her gifts and how she might use them to impact the world for the gospel. In fact, she says that she always felt that to aspire to anything outside of motherhood was to somehow aspire for something less in her life.

I personally never really understood the need to "find yourself" or what "finding yourself" even means. However, motherhood does something to a woman. Rebekah talks about women seeming to put their gifts on a shelf when motherhood arrives. She points out, of course, that there are seasons for everything. Some seasons require lots of time and attention to our loved ones and little time for developing our gifts and talents. But if we never take the box off the shelf, we may never complete the calling the Lord has for us. So when seasons change and the diaper changing, bottle feeding, potty training stages are over, we need to be ready.

I rated this book 4 stars. There were a few things I would've liked to see - 

  1. I would've liked to see more attention given to where our identify does come from. I felt like she only skimmed the surface.
  2. She really harped on the idea that finding your calling and meaning brings purpose to your life, which is what we're all searching for. But I would've liked to see more focus on being obedient to the call of God. Not just trying to fulfill a sense of purpose.
  3. I know this was written as a memoir, but I think more references to specific Scriptures and even other resources for those suffering from anxiety and depression would've been helpful.

Overall, I liked this book. It got me thinking how we're raising our daughters in the church and what message we are sending them regarding marriage and motherhood. I also had never considered the idea that a lack of purpose and meaning can lead a lot of women down a path of anxiety and depression. This book just furthered my belief that too many of us are going through the motions, and we are all in need of a faith and a gospel that we are living out every day. - Rachel Cooper

To read more from Rachel Cooper check out her blog, A Jacket For All Seasons.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton

For a discerning and insightful review of Michael Horton's book, Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever, head over to the Gospel Coalition's website.As the reviewer notes, Horton's work is a good combination of history, theology and commentary on Calvin's life without hagiography. I never tire of reading Calvin or about Calvin and I look forward to delving into this book.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Slogging Along...

Author Dale Ralph Davis is a favorite of mine. I've always benefited from his writings and now we have a new work to enjoy, Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

Product Description
Dale Ralph Davis plunges right into the middle of King David's hard times with a study that is resonant for our lives. King David's faith brought him through the muddy parts of life. Will we find that depression is our final response to a hard path? Will faith carry us across? Find the encouragement that Psalms 13-24 hold for the Scripture-filled life.

Editorial Review
Dale Ralph Davis is among the finest expositors of the Old Testament alive today. His style is unique and his content infectious. A pastor at heart, his insights are always governed by an absolute loyalty to the text, a belief that the Bible was written for today as much as yesterday, and a desire to encourage his readers to fall in love with Scripture and to trust it. These expositions of Psalms 13-24 tantalizingly suggest there may be further volumes given the enormous success of the first set (Ps. 1-12). What a treasure that would be! In the meantime, these expositions are pure gold. ~ Derek Thomas(Senior Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina)