Book Review: The City of God and the Goal of Creation

BLOG The City of God

In The City of God and the Goal of Creation, T. Desmond Alexander maps out the trajectory from Eden to the New Jerusalem to show how God is establishing a city in which His people will dwell with Him forever. The author highlights important clues beginning in the creation story where God creates a garden with the expectation that mankind will be fruitful and multiply over the entire earth. However, due to sin, all of creation becomes cursed and the first couple is banned from Eden. The first mention of city is found in the tower of Babel in which the God-given ability to construct cities is mired by the sin of pride and treachery. Instead of upholding the rule of God, the people gather together to build a city using their own wisdom to challenge God’s authority. Next, the biblical narrative shifts to the center upon the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of whom God chooses to continue His plan to bless the whole earth. As the Israelite nation takes form, Eden is brought into their midst through the tabernacle and later the temple in its design and construction. Moreover, God establishes Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and David as the holy city, mountain, and dynasty in which all nations and peoples can come to recognize the God of Israel as being the one true God. Nevertheless, the kings after David disobey God resulting in the kingdom being destroyed by pagan nations with emphasis on Babylon as being the prime archenemy against God’s people. Despite this, the prophets declare that God’s divine plan to create a holy city continues in the exiled people with the eventual rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem. However, the rebuilt entities are diminished shadows of the original structures and as the New Testament begins, we see that God no longer dwells in physical buildings but in the church through the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as the Son of God, takes on flesh and dwells among His people pointing repeatedly to the heavenly city that will be brought down to earth when He returns to establish His kingdom. Finally, in Revelation, the apostle John describe the vision he sees of the New Jerusalem which is much grander than any earthly city could ever be that will house all those saved by the blood of the Lamb.

I gladly recommend this book to all Christians as it offers an intriguing perspective of how God’s redemptive plan revolves around the concept of city. In our current culture, there seems to be somewhat of a disdain for urban living which is often characterized by crime, stress, and congestion. However, Alexander points out however that God has always intended to transform the world from a garden to a great city where all who put their faith in Jesus can live with God forever. The author states that our current mission as pilgrims heading home is to diligently build up His kingdom through His church as we prepare to enter the New Jerusalem when Christ returns.

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



Book Review: Talking About God

BLOG Talking

In Talking About God, Steve and Cheri Saccone invites readers to tune in to six intriguing conversations that illustrate the joys and challenges of conversing with unbelievers on spiritual matters. The authors mention at the start of the book that many spiritual discussions go awry when we fail to truly listen to those we are talking to. We may be quick to dismiss any doubts without hearing the reasons, offer unhelpful advice without considering the other person’s views, or force our own beliefs without addressing underlying issues. In the six chapters, the authors relay the thoughts and emotions going through their minds as they try to help the other party see God working in each person’s unique circumstances. Instead of dissecting each conversation, I will present several observations that I found helpful. Firstly, despite each encounter being completely unique to the individual, the common thread is a thirst for something deeper to satisfy the longing in each person’s soul. When we talk to unbelievers we need to help them realize this thirst and understand that it is only the good news of Jesus Christ that can quench this thirst. Another point is that each conversation we have with unbelievers moves us either closer or farther away from showing how God is present in their lives. This reminds us to be alert and mindful in how we present the Christian worldview to others at all times may it be in our words or actions. Moreover, except in one of the recorded conversations, every dialogue is in the context of a blossoming friendship between the author and the other party which was developed over many previous encounters and interactions gradually building up trust and openness. Thus, we should be prepared to invest in the lives of unbelievers over days, months, and years instead of hurriedly requesting for a profession of faith in a first meeting. Lastly, the authors repeatedly remind readers that it is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of unbelievers to realize their need for Christ. This also means that we need to pray for the Spirit to give us wisdom to say life-giving words of comfort, encouragement, and counsel at the appropriate moment.

I would recommend this book to all Christians who want to learn how to engage others in authentic, respectful conversations about the Christian faith. For many of us, it would seem much easier to simply invite someone to Sunday worship or a Bible study rather than actively trying to know the person and share the gospel on a personal level. Nevertheless, the stories in this book show that God often uses brief, unplanned chats between friends as instruments of His grace. Moreover, when these opportunities do come, we need to be prepared to share the hope we have in Jesus rather than inadvertently watering down the gospel or sidestepping tough issues in attempt to be agreeable. This book serves as a timely reminder that God uses even the most ordinary conversations and friendships to bring glory to His name.

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

Book Review: Habits for Our Holiness

BLOG Habits

In Habits for Our Holiness, Philip Nation highlights how the practice of spiritual disciplines need to be inflamed by a love for God and His people. Furthermore, Nation argues that none of the spiritual disciplines are beneficial if undertaken in a self-seeking or unloving manner as this defeats the entire purpose of growing in holiness. The author focuses on several different disciplines including solitude, prayer, and fasting while also discussing lesser considered aspects such as leadership, submission, and simple living. The book does not aim to be comprehensive in outlining the numerous approaches to developing a spiritual habit but instead links the different disciplines under the unifying thread of God’s love which we receive and extend outward into our communities. Nation believes that growing in spiritual maturity is not cultivating one’s own holiness in a vacuum but to express the abundance of God’s grace and love through our interactions with others. Thus, the disciplines are never to be practiced in isolation but should be ultimately displayed at home, church, and community. Throughout the chapters, the author is careful to offer practical advice without establishing rules that one needs to follow rigidly. In doing so, everyone is free to adjust these habits to fit into their circumstances while understanding that it does take careful effort and perseverance to grow in holiness.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to grow in greater love for God and others. Despite the negative connotations we may have regarding the spiritual disciplines, we are confronted with the many commands and exhortations in the Bible emphasizing the pursuit of holiness as God’s requirement for all His people. What motivates us to grow in spiritual maturity is the love we receive in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross by which He purchased His Bride with His own blood. Moreover, His Spirit is within us to guide and strengthen us to mature together and be sent out to minister to unbelievers around us. Every spiritual discipline is not intended merely for personal edification but to display God’s radiant glory as shown through His Son.

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

BLOG The Gospel

In The Gospel, Ray Ortlund asserts that both gospel doctrine and gospel culture are essentials for spiritual growth and church renewal. The book can be divided into two halves with the first part outlining what the gospel message entails and the numerous implications for the individual believer, the church, and all creation. The latter part deals with the joys and challenges of the people of God coming together to produce genuine gospel culture that effectively infects everything around us with the sweet aroma of the gospel. In Chapter 1, the author explains the gospel in plain terms using John 3:16 as the primary text and what it means to the unsaved sinner. In the next chapter, Ortlund provides an overview of what God intends for us as the body of Christ and how the gospel saves the church. In Chapter 3, the author discusses the gospel as the redemptive blueprint of the entire cosmos. These three chapters combine to form a biblical framework for understanding the multifaceted nature of the gospel and its wide-ranging effects.  In the last four chapters, Ortlund examines how the realities of the gospel inform the actions and tasks that the people of God undertake within and outside the church walls. As a transformed community, we come to grasp the beauty of Christ by being united with other believers in Him as this allows us to experience the grace and mercy of God in tangible ways. Although there are many challenges, Ortlund proposes three critical elements that churches need to grow namely power, courage, and love that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would recommend this short book to Christians who have lost hope as to how the gospel changes us as the body of Christ. As we spend time with other believers, we often experience many more disappointments than we had expected and our view of the church as the buttress of truth and household of God decimates. However, Ortlund reminds Christians that it is only God who can truly change us and make us more like Him. The church does not display a beauty of her own but only what has been bestowed upon her through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus, instead of trying to improve ourselves by our own efforts, we need to return to the doctrine of the gospel to teach us how to live out a gospel culture that will build up the church and spread the sweet aroma of Christ to the lost.

Book Review: With Love, From Me to You

BLOG With Love

In With Love, From Me to You, Mary Manz Simon and Corinna Ice team up to teach young children the importance of showing God’s love to those around them. The storyline involves cute animals embarking on a train driven by a polar bear carrying a mailbag stuffed with love letters. In each page, the polar bear narrates how to show love to each character troubled in different circumstances such as anger, sadness, or loneliness. The underlying message is that when we show God’s love to others, we will grow to understand and cherish God’s love for us also. This short book is constructed with sturdy cardboard allowing little fingers to easily flip through the pages. Although the words may be harder for toddlers, parents and caregivers can read with them and use this book as a tool to discuss how love can be shown in everyday life.

I would recommend this book to young children ranging from two to five years old who will likely enjoy the eye-catching artwork and simple storyline. Moreover, the various scenarios are commonplace thereby allowing children to see how their actions and words can display God’s love to those who are hurting. It is imperative for kids to learn early on that the love we experience from God is a love that needs to be given to be truly received.

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

Book Review: Enter the Ring

BLOG Enter the Ring

In Enter the Ring, D.A. and Elicia Horton hope to encourage Christian couples to fight to preserve God-honouring marriages. Speaking from their experience working with couples and in their own marriage, the authors argue that the key to glorifying God in marriage is to be rooted in the gospel. When we focus our eyes on the person and work of Jesus, we no longer strive to fulfill our own sinful desires by manipulating or taking advantage of our spouses as we experience true grace, mercy, and love from God. Furthermore, the Hortons assert that how we live out our marriage is a living display of who God is and what He has done for us. Thus, marriage is a tool to fulfill the Great Commission as each marriage is surrounded by numerous interconnected relationships ranging from in-laws to the neighbour next door. The authors discuss common topics including communication, oneness, parenting, suffering, finances, and purity. There is also an epilogue in which the authors offer encouragement and counsel to singles who often find themselves lonely and underappreciated in many churches. The strength of the book lies in the openness of both authors as they share past failures and painful experiences such as their personal bankruptcy early in their marriage. In addition, the two authors write tandem sections in each chapter so that readers can receive both male and female viewpoints in a conversational manner.

I would gladly recommend this book to all Christian couples who aim to bring glory to God in and through their marriages. Our current culture views marriage as simply an agreement to share resources between two people with no expectations of loyalty and steadfastness.  Furthermore, Satan is eager to entice us to satisfy our own sinful desires at the expense of our spouses. The Hortons encourage couples to persevere in the fight to remain faithful to God and each other as a testimony of the power that is found in the gospel. When we fight against our flesh using our own abilities or strategies, we are bound to fail miserably. Nothing other than the blood of Jesus can cleanse us of our sin and unite us to Him and to our spouses.

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

Ortlund on Doctrine and Culture

“Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other. Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We cannot represent him, therefore, within the limits of our own personalities and backgrounds. Yet as we depend on him moment by moment, both personally and corporately, he will give us wisdom. He will stretch us and make our churches more like himself, so that we can glorify him more clearly than we ever have before.”

Ray Ortlund in The Gospel