“In spite of the way we have all insulted God by our preference for other things, God, in his unspeakable mercy, has done what we cannot do for ourselves, to give us a future and a hope in him. He did something on the cross. He did something when he gave us spiritual life and inclined our heart to believe in Jesus. And he does something every day. The result is that we find ourselves— unworthy though we be—in his presence and at his right hand, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. And everything in our life changes.”
John Piper in Living in the Light: Money, Sex & Power
In Go, Preston Sprinkle addresses the topic of discipleship in the context of contemporary American Christianity. Based on a 2015 survey compiled by the Barna group, the author hopes to dig deeper into what he sees as a lack of authentic Christian discipleship today. Sprinkle suggests that the result of ineffective discipleship has led to major declines in church attendance and mature believers. In each chapter, the author analyzes how traditional approaches are failing to grow believers in different areas such as Bible literacy, missions, and relationship building. For example, in chapter 6, Sprinkle points out that the absence of adequate biblical knowledge results in stunted spiritual growth that will inevitably lead to the departure of disoriented church members. In chapters 8 and 9, the author challenges readers to rethink the structure of their church and what steps can be taken to simplify such as reducing unnecessary budget items in order to use those funds to reach out to those who would never dream of entering a church building. Thus, the underlying theme of the book is that current discipleship models are much too stringent, inflexible, and unwelcoming to allow for vibrant discipleship and community to take place. The author agrees that even some megachurches can do well in growing its people but states that the vast majority of American churches are falling short in building up its members and fostering a loving community.
One point though that I find somewhat disconcerting is the author’s heavy reliance on the Barna group survey to draw broad conclusions that may not be necessarily true of the highly varied American church landscape. Every research methodology has its strengths and weaknesses thus using a single survey’s data with limited external support may result in establishing conclusions that would easily corroborate with the book’s premise. I am not suggesting that all of what Sprinkle points out is untrue but I am proposing that a better approach may have been including greater dialogue and interaction with a wider collection of research data, opinions, and observations to form a more informed analysis. Christianity in America consists of a plethora of churches with different historical, socio-economical, and cultural variances. Thus a more encompassing analysis of the data would help make the author’s claims more convincing.
I would recommend this book to Christians eager to reflect on how genuine discipleship can take place in their churches. Although the author tends to paint with a broad brush, his observations are thought-provoking and will challenge readers to re-evaluate their own understanding of what Christian discipleship and community should look like. Moreover, there are many ideas and suggestions that could serve as useful templates to engage those who are uncomfortable with the typical American church context. The advice and suggestions given are practical and actionable allowing readers to think more deeply and creatively about how discipleship is being addressed in their own church community. Despite the many discipleship methods we may use, the crucial point is that we remain committed to make disciples of all nations not on our own ability but through the power of the Holy Spirit and Scripture.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a book review.
In A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, a group of past and present Reformed Theological Seminary professors present a broad overview of the New Testament with an emphasis on the redemptive-historical perspective. Similar to the Old Testament volume, each chapter is dedicated to one or a group of NT books and proceeds to discuss the background, author, structure, outline, message, and theology pertaining to the text. Without silencing critical opinions, the authors offer balanced discussions on contentious issues such as authorship but remain firmly rooted in orthodoxy and the Reformed tradition. The handbook assumes a good grasp of the NT in particular and the Bible as a whole and is written for astute learners, lay leaders, and pastors. Thus, the applications and implications the various authors draw out aim to be relevant to church and ministry. At the end of the book, there are several appendices that offer helpful guidance on the formation of the NT canon, NT textual criticism, the Synoptic gospels, and the NT writers’ interpretation of OT texts.
I would greatly recommend this book to any Christian hoping to dig deeper into the New Testament canon. Despite the academic slant, the many reflections and thoughts packed into this handbook make the material suitable even for devotional reading. One of the strong points of this book is the constant reminders of the many connections between the Old and New Testaments. As Christians, we need to be familiar with the entire counsel of God if we hope to faithfully witness to those around us and attain greater spiritual maturity. For me, the most helpful part in reading this book is a renewed appreciation of the NT authors themselves and how the divine author used their circumstances to write down the inspired Word of God. I find that when I read the Bible I often jump right in trying to figure out the text’s meaning or applications without considering the author’s thoughts and emotions. It is a magnificent thought to consider that the Holy Spirit chose to use each unique human author including their strengths and weaknesses to reveal Himself to us. May we all diligently study and treasure God’s Word as we seek to glorify Him.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a free review copy of this book from Crossway.
In Between Pain & Grace, Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer hope to encourage readers to develop a biblical theology that informs their understanding of pain and suffering. In examining different biblical examples of suffering including Job, Joseph and Jesus, the authors make helpful observations on how pain is an unavoidable part of our lives. However, suffering does not define our lives as our identity is found in Christ, the God-man who has experienced more suffering than any human being could ever bear. Besides analyzing biblical narratives, the book also discusses several different aspects of pain and suffering that often tear apart both the individual and the immediate community including sexual abuse, family tensions, and mental illness in an honest and practical manner. In each of the chapters, the authors seek to help readers understand the complexity of pain and how it permeates both individual and community life on many different levels. Furthermore, Peterman and Schmutzer bring out the message that though the brokenness of fallen creation and humanity is immensely deep, God is the One who most intimately knows our pain in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The book offers no easy solutions but point to Jesus as the One who can sympathize with us when we feel despair and disappointment. This does not mean that we simply sit there and bemoan the hardships and calamities we experience. Rather, the authors state that Christians are to actively prevent future suffering to the best of our ability while also engaging in lament and comfort those who are presently suffering. Peterman and Schmutzer repeatedly urge readers to go beyond mere patchwork solutions but to realize that pain and suffering runs deep in the human experience and often takes a slow and gradual process of healing which is found ultimately in Christ.
One part of the book that I wrestled with is the discussion on the immutability and impassibility of God. The authors argue against the classical understanding of divine immutability and impassibility as removing all emotion from God. The authors point out several biblical passages that describe God as being angered or hurt as not merely anthropomorphisms but as actual descriptions of God’s experience. On one hand, I find it helpful that the authors remind us from biblical examples that God is not uninvolved and void of emotion. However, the authors also seem to suggest that God reacts as humans do when encountering disturbing events which may imply that God changes through the interactions between Him and His creatures. I mention this not necessarily as a critique to the authors as I am a novice on the topic and assume the authors did not have the opportunity to fully explain their perspectives within the one chapter committed to the subject. I do however encourage readers to engage more deeply in understanding the subjects of divine immutability and impassibility as the implications are significant in terms of how we view God’s involvement in pain and suffering.
I would recommend this book to all who hope for a biblical understanding of the complexity of pain and suffering. The book strikes a good balance between academic and leisure reading allowing a wide audience to benefit from the material presented. The authors remind us that Jesus has conquered all including pain, sin, and death. While we groan under the heavy burdens in life, we fix our eyes firmly on our risen King who will one day return and set everything right. However, this does not imply that our present sufferings are meaningless as the pain we experience causes us to grow in spiritual maturity and greater dependence on Christ. God is not distant and aloof but is intimately involved in our lives and understand pain through His Son who took on flesh and became our sympathetic High Priest. Suffering and pain will never be eradicated in this present age but as children of God we yearn and look forward to the eternal bliss in the age to come.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.
“We live in a culture that promotes self-esteem. And I am concerned that this attitude has permeated the body of Christ. We see ourselves as better than we are. We look at sinful society around us, and we can be like the Pharisee who prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men’ (Luke 18:11).”
Jerry Bridges in The Blessing of Humility