Book Review: Asking the Right Questions

BLOG Asking the Right Questions

In Asking the Right Questions, Matthew Harmon introduces a series of thoughtful questions that help Christians understand and apply God’s Word. The author first argues that familiarity with the entire biblical metanarrative is crucial for Christians to rightly appreciate how a particular passage fits into God’s redemption plan. Moreover, Harmon insists that all reading of Scripture should be Christ-centered and approached with an emphasis of how the gospel gives us hope in response to the effects of the Fall. Harmon’s method can be summarized in eight questions. The four foundational questions focus on what we learn about God and people and how to relate to them. The four application questions revolve around what God wants us to think/understand, believe, desire, and do. In addition, the book includes three helpful appendixes including tips for those who teach the Bible to small and large groups and a brief introduction to reading different genres within the Bible. Although the ideas that Harmon presents are relatively simple, the suggestions are accessible first steps to engage Scripture in a reflective, systematic manner. However, the author also rightfully points out that we can only understand Scripture when we humbly ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and apply the truths to our hearts and minds.

I would recommend this book to all Christians and especially those who feel challenged in reading the Bible daily. Many new believers feel daunted by the task and often become discouraged early on resulting in a stunted spiritual life. Harmon argues that a good starting point for believers is to read the Bible and ask appropriate questions to help bring out the riches of the biblical text. Furthermore, we must have eager, humble hearts that asks for the Spirit’s guidance as we seek His wisdom and truth which leads to repentance and faith. Christians, regardless of how long they have been converted, are commanded to be immersed in God’s Word and this book is a wonderful resource for those looking for a place to begin. Those who aim to mature in their faith should strive to access more advanced resources on biblical interpretation and hermeneutics that will further refine and expand their ability to comprehend and integrate Scriptural truth into their lives.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: How Does Sanctification Work?

BLOG How does Sanctification Work

In How Does Sanctification Work?, David Powlison examines the topic of sanctification and its practical outworking in the Christian life. Powlison points out that sanctification is described as having past, present, and future tenses in the Christian walk of faith. We know that Christ has accomplished salvation for us and made us acceptable to God at a distinct point in history and we know we will be made perfectly holy when He returns. However, how should we aim to grow in our sanctification as we live out our everyday lives? Powlison argues that sanctification is much less a defined process but involves a combination of five factors: God Himself, His Word, wise counsel of others, circumstances, and our own heart to shape us into a deeper relationship with Him and others around us. Thus, sanctification is not a process that we can actively manage or force but a gradual progression in understanding how God is working in our lives through various means. Another vital point that the author makes is that we often subscribe to one-dimensional, generic responses to those who seek our help in discussing their progress in sanctification. However, Powlison warns that dispensing one-liners carelessly is rarely helpful and may even lead to greater confusion in trying to ascertain how God is moving in our lives. Instead, Powlison argues that when we allow ourselves to be shaped by Scripture and the Spirit, we can be more aware and in-tune with how God is working in our lives and those around us. The author devotes much of the material to examining moments in his own life and those around him to show how God uses ordinary moments to bring about greater spiritual maturity.

I would gladly recommend this book to Christians who have become discouraged in their pursuit of sanctification. We often try to grow in our holiness by committing to a list of spiritual disciplines or focusing on a bunch of scriptural truths to fuel our efforts. Powlison does not discount the need for fostering godly habits and cleaving to God’s Word but he suggests that sanctification is a complex process in which we are growing towards greater childlike love for God and generous love for others. To do so, we need to be thoroughly familiar with the Bible and how to appropriately apply biblical truths to our current circumstances. Furthermore, when we are looking to counsel a fellow believer, we need to learn the art of dispensing wise advice customized to the specific individual’s situation instead of haphazardly giving out advice without careful thought.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: My Jesus Bible

BLOG My Jesus Bible

In My Jesus Bible, young children are invited to follow the story of Jesus from His birth, life, death, and resurrection. Each of the chapters are brightly illustrated with great attention to detail. Moreover, each story remains largely faithful to the biblical text with slight adjustments to tailor the material towards the target audience (ages three to five) such as using the word “helpers” instead of “disciples.” The stories highlight critical points in Jesus’ life such as His temptation in the desert, His baptism by John the Baptist, and His first recorded miracle at Cana. However, there are two weakness that I noticed while reading the book. Firstly, the chapters do not include the specific biblical references pertaining to the respective narrative. Knowing where to find the story can help children draw the connection that the story is found in the Bible and not merely a fictional tale. The second weakness is that the gospel message seems to be somewhat muted as the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross is not made clear. For young readers being introduced to the gospel, it is an opportune time to bring up the concept of sin as children may end up quite confused as to why Jesus had to die in the first place if He was so kind and loving to those around Him.

I would recommend this small book that chronologically retells the story of Jesus in an abbreviated manner while maintaining the integrity of the Scriptural text. The pages contain attractive pictures and the book itself is made of sturdy cardboard material that enables toddlers to turn the pages easily. Moreover, this resource provides a suitable foundation for kids to become familiar with Jesus and His story as they eventually move on to read lengthier children Bibles. As mentioned above, the significant drawback though is that human depravity was not emphasized sufficiently which may impair young children’s initial grasp of the gospel message.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I was provided a review copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers.

Book Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

BLOG As Kingfishers Catch Fire

In As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Eugene Peterson hopes to help us achieve greater congruence between what is preached on Sunday and how we live our lives on the other six days. The book is a collection of sermons preached over a span of nearly three decades while Peterson was pastor of his congregation in Maryland. The sermons are grouped into seven parts that focus on the biblical books written by Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John. Peterson emphasizes repeatedly that we need to look intentionally beneath the superficial realities of our daily work, routines, and tasks to perceive how God is using the most minute details to transform us into the image of Christ. Although the text and message of each sermon is unique, the underlying theme focuses on how the creative, powerful Word of God opens our eyes to see how God moves in and through our lives. Furthermore, we are not merely audience members watching His grand narrative unfold but active participants in joining God as He transforms, recreates, and renews all things through His Son. Instead of passively receiving God’s Word in the pews, the author invites us to use Scripture as the prism by which we can see life properly in God’s perspective. Even though these are past sermons that include dated references and allusions, the keen observations and applications are just as relevant to Christians today.

I would recommend this book to those who struggle to link the glorious truths of God’s Word to the ordinariness of our daily lives. We often succumb to the temptation to divorce what goes on during Sunday mornings with the activities in the rest of our lives. As such, we fail to realize the power of the Bible and how its truths enliven us to experience the beauty and joy of following Jesus. Peterson urges us to allow our worship, may it be through song, word, and sacrament, to infiltrate every part of our daily thought, word, and deed. As a seasoned pastor and scholar, Peterson masterfully identifies the crucial linkages between Scripture and life enabling us to see how even the arduous tasks we face each day can become opportunities to taste and see the grace and love of God.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from The Crown Publishing Group in exchange for a book review.

Book Review: The Life of the Church

BLOG The Life of the Church

In The Life of the Church, Joe Thorn concludes his three-book series on the church as the redeemed people of God by discussing what biblical church life should look like. The first two books examined the heart of the church as found in the gospel and the marks of the church in its ordinances and practices. In this book, Thorn focuses on three aspects of church life which he summarizes as the table, the pulpit, and the square. The table is the gathering of church members in settings other than Sunday worship may it be in a small group on a Friday evening or a group of families having a BBQ cookout on a Saturday afternoon. The author argues that these small, often informal, meetings throughout the week allows Christians to obey the commands in the Bible to love and build each other up. The pulpit represents the formal gathering of church members on Sunday to worship God through song, prayer, preaching, giving, and blessing. Thorn rightly emphasizes that all worship should be offered through faith (spirit) and Scripture (truth). The Word is central to the worship of God so all things that we do should be faithful to the Bible instead of taking after the leadership’s or congregation’s personal tastes. Lastly, the square concerns how the church corporately and its members individually reach out to its surrounding community to bring renewal, restoration, and hope through the gospel. There are many opportunities available for believers to become the salt and light that attracts nonbelievers to the truth of Christ such as sharing the gospel at a coffeeshop or displaying God’s mercy while serving at the local soup kitchen.

I would recommend this book along with its two companion books to all those who seek a biblical understanding of the church. In many churches today, the focus and goal has shifted to utilizing all the congregation’s resources and efforts to become seeker sensitive and culturally relevant instead of being focused on God and His Word. Thorn skillfully distills the doctrine of the church to the most basic level so that all believers can benefit from the material. Moreover, the author writes with a pastoral heart that beats with a passion to show God’s glory through His people. Without compromising the essential truths of the Bible, Thorn provides clear, helpful insights and advice on how churches ought to recover the heart, character, and life of the body of Christ.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.

Book Review: The Gospel According to Paul

BLOG The Gospel According to Paul

In The Gospel According to Paul, John MacArthur aims to lay out the gospel message that the apostle Paul preached and embodied as Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles. MacArthur’s motivation to write the book is due to his concern that the gospel message is being increasingly eroded in our times especially in respect to the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus. Thus, the book is a careful exposition of the good news of Christ as preached through Paul who was inspired by the Spirit to write the bulk of the New Testament. MacArthur focuses on the book of Romans but draws widely from the apostle’s other epistles while also comparing what Paul preaches to what Jesus taught in the Gospels. The chapters are systematically arranged to present the gospel using the five points of Calvinism as the underlying framework with a special emphasis on the atonement as the satisfaction of God’s wrath and justice. The author argues that as God is a righteous God who cannot overlook sin, it was necessary for a suitable sacrifice to be offered to propitiate the wrath of God. To entirely pay for the sum of the human race’s unrighteousness, only the Son of God who is the perfect God-man to atone for our sins fully. Christ’s death was necessary and sufficient in allowing us to be declared righteous in the sight of God. At the end of the book, there are four appendixes that further complement the author’s message and defense of the penal sacrifice of Christ.

I would recommend this book to believers and non-believers alike who want a biblical and succinct summary of the gospel. Many people today are looking for a revamped version of the gospel that tweaks its message to fit their ideologies and tastes. In this book, MacArthur masterfully defends the key aspects of the orthodox Christian faith by showing what is written clearly in Scripture by the apostle Paul. Furthermore, the author defends against contemporary attacks on the gospel such as the Emergent movement and the New Perspective on Paul. Christians need to hold firmly to what is taught in Scripture and remain vigilant against any false gospel that attempts to corrupt the good news of Jesus Christ.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I was provided a review copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: Reformation Theology

BLOG Reformation Theology

In Reformation Theology, Matthew Barrett along with a host of reformed scholars offer a summary of the major areas of reformation thought in the sixteenth century. Focusing primarily on the magisterial reformers, the authors paint a vivid picture of the multifaceted dimensions of the theologies of the main reformers such as Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and Melanchthon. However, the authors do also take efforts to interact with the thinking and influences of related parties including the early church fathers, the medieval Roman church, and the radical Reformers along with other reformation movements in England, France, and Scotland. The chapters explore key topics including justification by faith, union with Christ, and the sacraments while also looking at lesser considered areas such as the reformers’ views on eschatology and the image of God. Each topic is prefaced by an overview of the historical, social, and theological contours before delving into the core issues. Moreover, instead of examining all the different nuances of each subject, the authors chose to interact with the most influential voices such as Calvin’s Institutes and the Reformed confessions. In addition to the many useful footnotes at the bottom of each page, there are lengthy lists of primary and secondary resources at the end for readers to access for further information.  The one drawback of the book in focusing so narrowly on the first and second generation reformers is that there is substantial amount of informational overlap in the sources and ideas presented among the different chapters. Nevertheless, this book serves as an accessible introduction to both laypeople and students alike as the authors are largely successful in condensing the material to concentrate on the most essential aspects of each topic.

I would most definitely recommend this book to those who are unfamiliar with the key issues at stake in the Reformation. A good understanding of our Protestant heritage is important for contemporary believers who often are not even familiar with the history of their own denominations. By studying how the reformers worked out doctrinal issues in the sixteenth century, we can gain greater knowledge and perspective in how we can face challenges to those same controversies, albeit in a different form, in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, we can come to a greater appreciation of the massive struggles, tensions, and sacrifices of those who have gone before us to recapture the vital truths of the Christian faith.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Crossway.