Book Review: Word-Centered Church

BLOG Word Centered Church

In Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman argues that the Bible is the primary means by which the church as the body of Christ is redeemed, renewed, and transformed. Leeman approaches this subject with multiple angles by analyzing how Scripture is God’s power in the pulpit, the congregation, and the world. The author offers a helpful analogy in explaining how the Bible works in our lives by describing the transmission of God’s Word as reverberating in the hearts and minds of those who receive it. When Scripture is proclaimed faithfully, we witness spiritual renewal and revival in its hearers may it be through the preacher’s exhortation during the Sunday worship service, the prayers of the saints on Wednesday night’s prayer meeting, or during family worship on Friday evening. The book is divided into three parts examining the nature and function of Scripture, the preaching and proclamation of Scripture, and the role of Scripture in the church and the world. Leeman calls all Christians to love, meditate, and speak Scripture so that we, individually and corporately, can continue our transformation from depraved, spiritual corpses into Spirit-filled living bodies redeemed as the children of God and sanctified to become His temple. I greatly appreciate how the author approaches this topic through the lens of the local church which makes the observations and applications presented relevant to both clergy and laity alike.

I would gladly recommend this book to all Christians as the Bible should be central to all who put their faith in Christ as the living Word of God. Many churches have turned to using marketing, psychology, and business strategies to attract and retain non-believers and believers instead of focusing on the Bible as the authority and power of God that enables people to know and love God. Leeman pleads for the people of God to be saturated with Scripture and allow its richness and goodness to overflow into every arena of our lives and especially in the spreading of the gospel. The Bible is not an antiquated book of wise sayings and good advice but the most common means of grace by which the Spirit employs to convict, correct, and encourage us to increasingly reflect the image of God.

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

Book Review: My Great Big God

BLOG My Great Big God

In My Great Big God, Andy Holmes and Marta Alvarez Miguens team up to introduce young children to God and His attributes through twenty Bible stories. Although the book is not considered a children’s Bible, the chapters progress from creation and ends with a reiteration of the Great Commission to tell others about how great God is. Many of the stories selected are typical but some are interesting choices such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. Of the Christian children books I have read, this one has the most vibrant illustrations with careful attention to detail. For example, in the story about Joseph and his brothers, each individual is uniquely crafted with different clothes and physical attributes. As for the content, what I found most captivating is the author’s ability to summarize the entire story in a small paragraph. Also, the author maintains an appropriate balance of being true to original story while allowing some room for imagination. Furthermore, Holmes applies rhyme and meter in his sentences which makes the reading fun and engaging for both parents and children alike. The reading level would be suitable for ages two to five but younger children would likely enjoy having parents point out the bright pictures and sound out the catchy sentences.

I would gladly recommend this wonderful book to all kids who want to learn about our great God who creates, sustains, and rules over all things. The book is helpful in focusing on how the biblical narrative reveals God to us rather than simply drawing out a moral lesson that we can learn. Moreover, it is imperative for young children to attain a strong grasp of who God is as this has significant implications on how they view the world that they are exploring every day.

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

Hamilton on Work in Heaven

“We can scarcely imagine it, but everything that makes work miserable here will be removed. All our sinful concerns about ourselves will be swallowed up in devotion to the one we serve. All our frustration that we have to be doing this task, not that other one we prefer, will be abolished because of our experience of the one who gave us the assignment. All inclination to evil will have been removed from our hearts, so we will enjoy the freedom of wanting to obey, wanting to serve, wanting to do right. And the right that we have to do will no more be in conflict with needing time with kids or friends or spouse, because we will have forever. Never again will we fear that our work is futile, vain, monotonous, or meaningless, because we will see clearly that the significance of our work springs from the one we serve.”

James Hamilton Jr. in Work and Our Labour in the Lord

Book Review: The Heist

BLOG The Heist

In The Heist, Chris Durso presents the message of God’s lavish grace using the analogy of a thief stealing precious treasure to illustrate how Jesus took away our guilt, shame, and sin. The main premise of the book is that sinners desperately need God’s grace and God has already extended this grace to us through His Son. Durso retells the story of the infamous robbery undertaken by Leonardo Notarbartolo in 2003 to draw similarities between the meticulous preparation and execution of the crime to the incarnation of Christ as planned before creation and carried out covertly at the appointed time. The author also references the parable of the prodigal son as an example of how we are all lost and in need of the extravagant grace of God. Those familiar with the parable will understand that the prodigal’s story is a metaphor to describe the experience of how sinners finds grace through Jesus. The twist in the parable though lies in that the older brother who self-identifies as being righteous turning out to be just as in need of grace as the younger one. The greatest strength of the book lies in the author’s ability to present the gospel message of grace in a creative and engaging manner while being grounded in biblical truth. Moreover, I greatly appreciate how the author emphasizes the reality of our sinful condition and our responsibility to repent and turn away from a life of sin. At the same time, Durso reminds readers that we are unable to save ourselves and are doomed without the grace of God as extended through Christ. Holding these two truths in balance is critical to a biblical understanding of grace and salvation especially as wafts of antinomianism has been propagated in recent times.

However, one question that I would also like to raise is whether it is helpful to refer to Christ’s mission to save us as a heist. I am not too concerned with the negative connotations associated with a heist which the author himself eagerly defends against repeatedly in the book. What I am more troubled with is the necessity and usefulness of using a heist to capture the truth of the Incarnation. Except the chapter headings and a few details on how Notarbartolo was a mastermind thief who staged a grand robbery, the arguments in the book squares largely upon the parable of the prodigal son. Moreover, when we read the gospel accounts, we see that though Jesus aimed to be subversive in the early days of His ministry, His identity and mission is progressively revealed through Christ’s own words and actions. Jesus does not stealthily steal away our sins and die a quiet death on the cross leaving us to somehow search our way back to the Father. Rather, Jesus proclaims Himself as being the only way, truth, and life who comes to seek the lost in order to restore us to the Father. Naturally, I recognize that all analogies are imperfect and exact similarities are not to be expected but I find that using the term “heist” seems unhelpful given that the author is able to bring out the gospel message so well in retelling the parable of the prodigal son.

I would recommend this book to both believers and non-believers alike as the message of grace that is found in Jesus is necessary for all. Durso passionately urges those who still walk in sin to receive God’s unmerited grace that is freely extended to all. Despite how we blatantly reject God and head down our own sinful ways, the Father sends His Beloved unblemished Son to redeem us from the sin, guilt, and shame that we burdened ourselves with.  Furthermore, those who have already experienced such grace should be eager to extend mercy towards those who are still lost by calling them to embrace God’s grace instead of casting them away like the older brother. For all who are weary and burdened by the stranglehold of sin in their lives, now is the time to awaken to the abundant grace found in Jesus who paid the price for our sins on the cross and covered us with His blood so that we can be justified before the Father and adopted into His family.

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: Every Job a Parable

BLOG Every Job a Parable

In Every Job a Parable, John Van Sloten argues that every vocation creates opportunities to know more about God. The author draws on a vast array of different vocations including hairstylists, language translators, and florists to show how God’s characteristics can be seen in the action being performed in those professions. Van Sloten begins in stating that work is God-ordained and is one of the most important arenas in which we can image God. Thus, work is an entryway by which we can more fully understand who God is and how He wants us to reflect His character in our dealings with the world. Moreover, the author describes our vocations as modern-day parables in which God teaches us about Himself using even the most mundane details of our work. Just as when Jesus used many work-based parables to teach his followers about God and His kingdom, the author asserts that God is also doing the same today through our jobs and the jobs of others. For example, in chapter four, Van Sloten describes how sanitation workers, sweepers, homemakers, and cleaners may seem to have unimpressive jobs but he or she is, in a way, participating in God’s work in cleaning up the world and making it new again. In the latter portion of the book, the author discusses how our jobs play a part in God’s grand plan to redeem and recreate our fallen world. Lastly, the author provides some suggestions on how we can be more attentive to receive and learn more about God and ourselves in our daily work and the work of those around us.

I would recommend this book to those who struggle to link their everyday work to God and His purposes. Many Christians often swerve towards the two extremes of either idolizing their careers as their lifelong pursuit or discounting their jobs as merely bringing bread to the table. Van Sloten reminds readers that work is a gift from God to allow us to gain greater knowledge of Him and bring about His redemptive plan. May the Spirit open our spiritual senses to gain greater appreciation of how various aspects of our jobs can lead us to a deeper understanding of God.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a book review.

 

Book Review: Living Life Backward

BLOG Living Life Backward

In Living Life Backward, David Gibson invites readers to examine their lives by considering that death is the inevitable reality that we must all face. Despite this apparently pessimistic outlook, the author argues that the central theme in Ecclesiastes is the call to fully enjoy all the joys of life while keeping in mind that all these pleasures are only bland morsels in comparison to what we will experience in eternity. Gibson summarizes the major ideas presented by the Preacher with four words namely pleasure, pain, perspective, and preparation. Firstly, we need to recognize that we have a good God who created a good world that reflected His goodness but was tarnished by man’s sin. Despite creation being polluted by sin, the pleasures of this life are not completely lost thus we are to readily and thankfully enjoy all God’s gifts in the different facets of life. Secondly, we should not be surprised by the reality of pain as we witness the numerous tensions, brokenness, and setbacks in our fallen world. Although pain is to be expected, we need to learn to place our hope in God who will one day restore and transform all things to and for His glory. Thirdly, all that we undertake should be done with a God-fearing perspective knowing that we are His creatures and all that we come to possess and enjoy are based upon His lavish grace. Lastly, we need be prepared to give account before God when we stand before His throne thus all of life should be taken seriously but not somberly. Each chapter of the book examines a section of Ecclesiastes of which the author succinctly highlights the pertinent parts of the passage that correlate with these four prominent themes.

I eagerly recommend this book to all Christians as the conflicting messages we receive in our contemporary culture are at odds with what the Preacher teaches us. The two prevailing viewpoints in culture aligns closely with the two extremes that Ecclesiastes precisely warns us against. The first is frantically trying to squeeze out all that life offers by pursuing endless workhours, frivolous partying, or innumerable hobbies. The other end of the spectrum is fatalistic pessimism that leads to disinterest and apathy towards all things good that God has placed in our lives. Gibson points out that Ecclesiastes teaches us to take the middle road by focusing our energies on living in the present but with the understanding that everything will quickly pass away and we will face judgement before God. Armed with this perspective, we are released from chasing our insatiable desire for more while energizing us to get up from our beds to appreciate the bountiful pleasures that God has blessed us with. The pleasures of this life are not intended to make us want to live forever in this fallen world but to give us a foretaste of the much greater glories that we will experience in the new heaven and new earth.

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

 

 

Book Review: How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets

BLOG How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets

In How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets, Peter Gentry hopes to help readers learn how to appreciate biblical prophetic literature as intended by the biblical authors. The author’s main premise is that we often employ a Western perspective to interpret the Bible in a logical manner which inadvertently leads us to draw erroneous conclusions on what the text is saying. Instead, Gentry advises that we should become acquainted with the Eastern background, culture, and language that the biblical authors were immersed in so that we can appropriately comprehend what is trying to be conveyed not only in the individual words but also the literary form of the original text. Instead of being a step-by-step handbook or a scholarly textbook, the book is a short collection of specific topics that the author believes would be instrumental to help readers grasp the basic elements of his suggested approach. The first two chapters involve using a redemptive-historical lens in reading the prophets that centers upon the covenants that God established with mankind that points to the future restoration of all things through Christ. Chapter 3 concerns the repetitive nature of Hebrew literature that serves as the key underlying literary structure in various genres in the Bible but especially prominent in the prophets. Chapter 4 considers the relationship between the oracles concerning foreign nations and how these prophecies connect with God’s grand plan of redemption and restoration. The last three chapters deal with specific issues in understanding future predictions including the use of types and antitypes, apocalyptic language, and short-term/long-term fulfillment of prophecies. The book concludes with an appendix that examines the literary structure of Revelation as a fitting case study to tie in the ideas presented throughout the chapters.

I would gladly recommend this book to all those who struggle in reading the biblical prophets. Although the topic may be relatively dry for most readers, the author is able to keep the concepts simple and illustrations concise so that a wide audience can appreciate the helpful pointers and illustrative examples presented. I concur with Gentry that many contemporary Christians use a Western, post-Enlightenment perspective in reading the Bible that ends up extinguishing the literary beauty and wisdom of God’s written revelation. Moreover, I would argue that in addition to equipping ourselves with the right tools to study Scripture, we need to also foster a love for reading the entire counsel of God with joy, marvel, and expectation as His Word is the primary means by which we can taste and see that the Lord is good.

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