“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
“So that’s the balance that we want to see—honesty, urgency, and joy. Honesty and urgency with no joy gives us a grim determination (read Philippians). Honesty and joy with no urgency gives us a carelessness about time (read 2 Peter). And urgency and joy with no honesty leads us into distorted claims about immediate benefits of the gospel (read 1 Peter).”
Mark Dever in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
In Whisper, Mark Batterson asserts that God speaks to us in multiple ways but most often in a whisper which could be a feeling, emotion, or circumstance. In the first part of the book, the author describes his own experiences in hearing God speak to him in subtle ways that proved to be providential and supernatural. The second half identifies seven different “love languages” that Batterson suggests as being valid ways that God communicates His will to us. Batterson highlights Scripture as being the primary guide to knowing God’s will but suggests that other means such as desires, dreams, and pain can also be genuine opportunities to hear God’s voice. Much of the evidence produced is based on his own church planting and life experience along with a wide array of popular and academic sources that support the seven proposed methods. Biblical support lies mainly in Old Testament narratives such as Gideon and his fleece which the author argues is an example of how we can discern God’s promptings. In summary, Batterson’s views are like many other popular books on the topic of searching out God’s will which rely heavily on personal experience and subjective interpretation of the results as evidence of correctly discerning His will.
Although I agree with Batterson that we need to be attentive to the Spirit’s promptings in our lives, I found many parts of the book concerning. Firstly, the usage of biblical texts for support are strained and the interpretative methods used are troubling. For example, in Chapter 2, Batterson references a Jewish book titled The Book of Legends as a viable translation of Psalms 29:4 to support his view that God customizes His voice to fit “the unique strength of each and every person.” From a plain reading of the verse in its context with mainstream evangelical translations such as the ESV and NIV, the psalmist is simply adoring the power and majesty found in God alone. There is no obvious connection that one can identify to show that God’s strength is apportioned to each person in a unique way as Batterson asserts. Secondly, I find it problematic how the author attempts to gauge whether following a certain sign or prompting as being God’s will by pointing to the results as empirical proof. Not only is such an argument illogical but there is also no means by which we can test whether choosing an alternative would have resulted in better or worse results. For example, Batterson suggests that God’s whisper moved him to plant his church and its coffeeshop which resulted in soaring attendance numbers. However, how can we objectively determine that opening a coffeeshop is necessarily God’s will for Batterson instead of a laundromat or supermarket? Lastly, I find it disturbing that the author does not address the spiritual aspects of seeking God’s will. Without a deep spiritual life characterized by holiness and spiritual maturity while being constantly connected to Christ and His Word, there is little chance that we are walking in ways that God desires.
I would not recommend this book as a reliable resource on finding out what God intends for our lives. I am not denying Batterson’s claims that what transpired in his life is God-ordained, but I have reservations about his methods of finding God’s will. We must acknowledge that God speaks to us through the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit and the Bible as His written Word. Any other attempt to find God’s will outside of these parameters is merely conjecture and must be tested accordingly. All Christians should seek to follow God’s will by living Spirit-filled lives that are informed by Scripture so that we grow in spiritual maturity and closeness to God. When we are in sync with God’s Spirit and Word, we can be confident that the next steps we will take will be within God’s divine will and pleasure.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from The Crown Publishing Group in exchange for a book review.
In Culture, A.W. Tozer urges Christians to be mindful that all things shall pass but we will stand one day to give account to our Maker. Alike the other Tozer books published by Moody Press, this volume is a collection of writings and sermons through the years that center around the subject of Christianity and culture. The particular challenge I perceive in compiling this book is that Tozer was an exemplary preacher and all his sermons contain valuable applications that relate to how Christians ought to interact with the world. Thus, readers may find that each chapter topic diverges significantly in being somewhat more or less connected to the main theme of culture. For example, Chapter 8 is about paying income tax to the government while Chapter 22 involves how science and philosophy are inferior to Christ. In each chapter, Tozer is unapologetically resolute in his defense of orthodox Christian doctrines and beliefs arguing that the ways of the world are staunchly against what the Bible teaches. One part of the book that caught my attention is Tozer’s explanation of how the cross intersects with every part of our lives. Tozer begins by outlining how we often try to segregate our religious life from all other aspects thinking that Christianity is just another component of our routines. However, the preacher argues that genuine faith will not allow us to compartmentalize our lives to mitigate the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, faith in Jesus compels us to subject every part of our lives to God in ways that are often completely contrary to what the world teaches. Despite being ostracized and ridiculed by the those around us, we will enjoy deeper fellowship with God when every corner of our lives is subjected to Him.
I would recommend this book to all Christian believers who hope to be a powerful witness for Christ to those around them. Tozer would likely be appalled by how many preachers and churches today dilute the gospel in the name of cultural relevance. Christians should neither retreat into enclaves to escape the world’s influence nor lower God’s standards for the sake of gaining more converts. Rather, we should immerse ourselves in the ebb and flow of life while being salt and light in a generation that is increasingly hostile to God and His people. Our mission is not to create heaven on earth but to prepare our hearts by living upright, holy lives for when our true King returns to make all things new.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.
In Understanding Scripture, Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner, along with a host of scholars, argue from various angles how we can be confident in the authority and authenticity of the Bible. The book is composed of seven parts containing short essays by contributors including J.I. Packer, John Piper, and Vern Poythress. The first two parts focus on more general aspects of Scripture such as how to interpret the Bible and guidance on reading Scripture devotionally. The latter five parts discuss more technical aspects of how we know that the Bible we have now is the very Word of God despite having no original manuscripts. Specific topics such as archaeology and the history of biblical languages provide readers with a broad overview of the extensive work that scholars and laypeople have undertaken through the eras to make our contemporary Bible translations possible. For the most part, each chapter is written in plain terms that would be comprehensible to both new and mature Christians although some areas tread into academic discussions such as Greek usage in different manuscripts. However, this short book serves as an accessible starting point for any individual who wants to delve deeper into the subject matter from a conservative scholarly perspective.
I would recommend this book to believers and nonbelievers alike as the evidence presented by the contributors are sufficiently convincing for both groups. One must marvel at how God has kept the transmission of His written Word intact throughout the ages despite wars, natural disasters, and human error. Moreover, the power and truthfulness of the Bible is seen simply in that no other piece of literature in the world has been copied, translated, and read as much as the Bible has. In our rapidly changing world, we can rely on the Bible as the unchanging, holy standard that tells us who God is and how we are to respond to Him as His creatures.
In The Disciple-Making Parent, Chap Bettis presents the idea that parenting is essentially the process of helping our kids grow as disciples of Christ. The book is split into three large sections each containing short chapters that relate to a specific aspect of parenting. Bettis writes with great conviction and urges parents to take seriously the biblical command to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. The author begins in Part 1 with a broad overview of what gospel-centered parenting is and how the gospel needs to be the foundation by which parents build their framework to discipline, motivate, and encourage their children. In Part 2, Bettis moves on to discuss parenting in the context of the Christian home and how to train young hearts to love His Word and His people. The last portion of the book is largely practical such as training kids to understand and defend their faith along with age-specific aspects of parenting such as multimedia usage and friendships. The most thought-provoking idea Bettis suggested is the observation that parenting is a spectrum that progresses from intentional discipline in the toddler years to wise counsel as the children prepare to enter adulthood. Bettis laments that many parents either flips these two around or focuses solely on one parenting style throughout the childrearing years. The author notes that these approaches ends up becoming a hindrance to maturity and ill-equipping children to face life’s challenges when they need to make moral decisions on their own. Throughout the book, the author offers plenty of practical advice from his own experience but wisely cautions against following his suggestions unwaveringly as he notes that no human-conceived method can guarantee parenting success. Rather, Bettis asks parents to pour out their hearts to God and rely on Him as their source of strength and wisdom to make prudent parenting decisions. Furthermore, whether our children end up following or straying from Christ is not within our control thus parents need to learn to commit their children to the Lord while faithfully undertaking the weighty but joyful role of parent-disciple maker.
I readily recommend this book to all Christian parents looking for a concise yet comprehensive resource on raising children to be mature followers of Christ. Although readers may not agree with all the parenting tips, the book is full of valuable observations and ideas that will prove helpful for any Christian parent who hopes to raise God-honouring children that love the Lord and His people. Moreover, Bettis confesses his own failures and reiterates at various points in the book that childrearing issues need to be evaluated with wisdom and humility using Scripture and the Holy Spirit as trusted guides. The gospel informs our parenting in that we do not need to rely on our righteousness or faithfulness to be good parents. We, along with our children, are fellow recipients of grace through Christ who not only took on our sins but currently intercedes on our behalf before the Father when we fail as fathers and mothers. Rather than punishing ourselves for another unsuccessful attempt at family devotions, we can come to our merciful God to ask for forgiveness and strength to take up the task again.
In You are What You Love, James Smith contends that it is our hearts, not our heads, that rules the passions, habits, and routines of our lives. The author points out that contemporary thinking credits our mind as being the one at the driver’s seat in deciding how we should order and live our lives. However, Smith argues from Scripture, philosophy, and experience that it is our hearts that need to be recalibrated before any long-lasting, transformative change can take place. The premise of the book is that our surrounding culture pulls us away from God through ungodly liturgies and our best strategy to counter such attacks is by reorienting our hearts through developing godly liturgies and practices. The first step then is to discern what cultural liturgies we undertake regularly without much thought and determine what underlying values are informing such practices. For example, Smith explains how our visits to the mall can be viewed as worship in a modern-day pagan temple as it seeks to attract thousands of restless souls to come find fulfillment and happiness through consumerism. Nevertheless, those who enter are not only unsatisfied but leave with thoughts of envy, self-loathing, and despair. In each chapter, Smith goes on to dissect key areas of our lives to unmask how cultural liturgies inform the way we live. To effectively recalibrate our hearts Godward, Smith proposes that we need to return to the rich heritage of the Christian faith and adapt classical liturgies that the church has practiced through the centuries into the rhythms of everyday tasks and routines. The author argues that rooting ourselves in the trusted old paths of our Christian forerunners is the most effective approach to guide our heart affections through the onslaught of antagonistic provocations by our culture.
I gladly recommend this book to all Christians as we find society’s worldviews to be increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. The New Testament is replete with warnings that the world is staunchly anti-Christ thus believers need to be vigilant and prepared to counter Satan’s attacks. Smith asserts that the war for our allegiance is not fought in the mind but in the heart. By integrating the classical liturgies of our robust Christian faith such as prayer and catechisms into our everyday routines, our heart affections will be reshaped to yearn for more of Christ and less of the world. Most importantly, we should not view these liturgies as the ultimate goals but the means of grace by which we can grow in the grace of God and by the power of His Spirit.