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Revelation: Triumph of the Lamb

Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, has a lot of important and relevant things to teach us. Here are a few highlights from the introduction… 

1. Revelation Is Given to Reveal.

2. Revelation Is a Book to Be Seen.

“One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appear to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (p. 9).

3. Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament.

“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (p, 13).

4. Numbers Count in Revelation.

For example, “The number seven symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and completeness” (p. 15).

5. Revelation Is for a Church under Attack.

“Our interpretation of Revelation must be driven by the difference God intends it to make in the life of his people. If we could explain every phrase, identify every allusion to Old Testament Scripture or Greco-Roman society, trace every interconnection, and illumine every mystery in this book and yet were silenced by the intimidation of public opinion, terrorized by the prospect of suffering, enticed by affluent Western culture’s promise of ‘security, comfort, and pleasure,’ then we would not have begun to understand the Book of Revelation as God wants us to… Always, in every age and place, the church is under attack. Our only safety lies in seeing the ugly hostility of the enemy clearly and clinging fast to our Champion and King, Jesus” (19).

6. Revelation Concerns “What Must Soon Take Place.”

7. The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ.

“Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme—despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers—is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him” (p. 23).

C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet

Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.

Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.

Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.

How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How cans science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.

Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything”[1] and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.”[2] He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”[3]

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The ten most popular posts of 2019…

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

An Easter Devotional

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I wrote the blog series, “Psalms of our Suffering Savior,” to help us “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8)

 

 

A Brief Theology of Emotions

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We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?

 

Holding on to Hope: 10 Actions Steps to Fight Depression

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 9.20.06 PM1. Call out to God 

There are all sorts of Psalms in Scripture in which the psalmist calls out to God in distress. The Bible encourages us to call out to God and be real with Him about where we’re at

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20 of the best books I read in 2019

Here are twenty of my favorite books that I read in 2019. I think I only read three fiction books this year. I need to fix that. I plan to read quite a bit more fiction next year. Anyhow, here’s some of my favorites… (in no particular order)

  1. Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
    by Ravi Zacharias
  2. Safely Home by Randy Alcorn
  3. Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction to Christian Witness by Josh Chatraw and Mark D. Allen
  4. Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How To Heal by Ben Sasse 
  5. How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson
  6. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
  7. Alienated American: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse
     by Timothy P. Carney
  8. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story by Christopher Yuan
  9. Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough
  10. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr by Clayborne Carson
  11. Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success by John C. Maxwell
  12. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
  13. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
  14. Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness by Jeffrey D. Arthurs
  15. An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
  16. Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
  17. Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr. 
  18. To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
  19. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  20. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Out of all the books I read last year, Remember Death by Matthew McCullough, is the one I would suggest you read over all the rest.  

Read it. 

A Pre-Civil War “Conversation” on Slavery

Introduction

In writing this I read and analyzed two pre-Civil War articles.[1] The first article we will look at argues in favor of the continuation of slavery. The second article is written in response to the first and argues for immediate abolition. After looking at both articles we will look at the differences between the two articles.

My thesis is that some, like Buck, advocated for the continuance of slavery mainly based upon the belief that slavery was permitted because it was similar to the slavery permitted in the Old Testament. Others, however, like Pendleton, argued against slavery because they believed it was inherently dissimilar to Old Testament slavery.

In Favor of the Continuation of Slavery

Since “the subject is one of great moment in its moral, social and political bearings”[2] Buck decided to write on the subject. “So that… [people] may be prepared to act conscientiously and intelligently, and have no occasion to repent of their action when it is too late to undo it.”[3] So, it was “under… these considerations [that Buck] consented to prepare a series of articles.”[4]

Buck says, “God approves of that system of things which, under the circumstances, is best calculated to promote the holiness and happiness of men; and that what God approves is morally right.[5] Buck then talks about the “nature and design of Human Governments.”[6] He says, “In searching the divine record, therefore, we shall find that form of government which, under the circumstances, was best calculated to promote the moral and social happiness of the people, was sanctioned and approved by God.[7]

The first form of government was the patriarchal, which Buck gives a brief analysis of. Next he lays out what he sees as being established through his belief that God has a good purpose for human governments. First, he says, “God has beneficent and gracious designs to be accomplished in behalf of the human family.”[8] Second, God is happy to use human and governmental instruments. Third, it is in accord with God’s infinite wisdom “to promote his beneficent and gracious designs in behalf of our lapsed and degenerate world.”[9] Fourth, a very powerful and enlightened leader is best suited to bring about the good that God intends for humanity.

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Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles

I really appreciated Elliot Clark’s book Evangelism as ExilesHere are some of the things that stood out to me:

“Picture an evangelist. For many of us, our minds immediately scroll to the image of someone like Billy Graham—a man, maybe dressed in a suit and tie, speaking to a large audience and leading many to Christ. As such, we tend to envision evangelism as an activity—more commonly a large event—that requires some measure of power and influence. In communicating the gospel, one must have a voice, a platform, and ideally a willing audience. It’s also why, to this day, we think the most effective spokespeople for Christianity are celebrities, high-profile athletes, or other people of significance. If they speak for Jesus, the masses will listen. But this isn’t how it has always been. Not throughout history and certainly not in much of the world today” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

Elliot Clark gives six essential qualities of a Christian exile on mission:

“With the help of God’s Spirit, such believers will be simultaneously (1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful. They will be (3) humble and respectful, yet speak the gospel with (4) authority. They will live (5) a holy life, separate from the world, yet be incredibly (6) welcoming and loving in it. While these three pairs of characteristics appear at first glance to be contradictory, they are in fact complementary and necessary for our evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

From the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

Here is a long string of quotes I found instructive:

“over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God… “Knowing the fear of the Lord, ” [Paul] explained, “we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11)… The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed… our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

“In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God… Fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

“According to Peter, we’re to honor everyone. Take a moment and turn that thought over in your mind. You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).

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Some of the most significant theological books I have read…

Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most significant theological books I have read.*

___________________________

*This is a personal list of books that helped me in a particular way at a particular time. This is not a list on the best and most significant theological books; that list would look different.

30 Insights to remember from Preaching as Reminding

I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…

“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).

Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).

“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).

“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).

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Remember Death by Matthew McCullough

“Even if your life plays out in precisely the way you imagine for yourself in your wildest dreams, death will steal away everything you have and destroy everything you accomplish. As long as we’re consumed by the quest for more out of this life, Jesus’s promise will always seem otherworldly to us. He doesn’t offer more of what death will only steal from us in the end. He offers us righteousness, adoption, God honoring purpose, eternal life—things that taste sweet to us only when death is a regular companion” (Matthew McCullough, Remember Death, p. 25)

“If we want to live with resilient joy—a joy that’s tethered not to shifting circumstances but to the rock-solid accomplishments of Jesus—we must look honestly at the problem of death. That may be ironic, but it’s biblical, and it’s true” (McCullough, Remember Death, p. 27).

“If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us” (p. 28).

McCullough quotes Ernest Becker from his book The Denial of Death: “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” McCullough goes on to say, “There is a massive disconnect between what we feel about ourselves and what death implies about who we are” (p. 68).

“Death says your less important than you’ve ever allowed yourself to believe. The gospel says you’re more loved than you’ve ever imagined” (p. 74).

“Wisdom never pretends things are better than they are. Never shrinks back from acknowledging the harsh realities of life” (p. 87).

“Death has an unmatched ability to expose the flimsiness of the things we believe give substance to our lives” (p. 99).

“Death exposes our idols for what they are: false gods with no power to save” (p. 107).

“It is Resurrection or vanity” (p. 110).

“The God who made us has come to us, entered the darkness we have chosen for ourselves, absorbed the just punishment for our sin in his death, and made new life possible in his resurrection” (p. 113).

“Loss is universal, not exceptional. It’s guaranteed, not unexpected. Every relationship is lost to time. So is every penny of everyone’s wealth, and ultimately so is every life. Loss isn’t surprising. It is basic to the course of every life” (p. 122).

“Life works like a savings account in reverse. Zoomed out to the span of an entire life cycle, you see that no one is actually stockpiling anything… Everything you have—your healthy body, your marketable skills, your sharp mind, your treasured possessions, your loving relationships—will one day be everything you’ve lost” (p. 122-23).

“It’s useful to practice paying careful attention to the experiences of people who have lived before you” (p. 123).

“We need to recognize that our problem is far worse that we’ve admitted so that we can recognize that Jesus is a far greater Savior than we’ve known… Honesty about death is the only sure path to living hope—hope that can weather the problems of life under the sun, that doesn’t depend on lies for credibility” (p. 150).

“The Bible never asks us to pretend life isn’t hard… The Bible never asks us to lighten up about the problems of life” (p. 153).

“Death-awareness resets my baseline expectation about life in the world” (p. 160).

“The brokenness I experience—the frustration, disappointments, dissatisfaction, pain—is not a sign of God’s absence. It is the reason for his presence in Christ” (p. 160).

Things to remember from Timothy Keller’s book Center Church

1. “Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sin… But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude—new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration” (Timothy Keller, Center Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], p. 67).
 
2. “It is quite easy to assume that if we understand the gospel accurately and preach it faithfully, our ministry will necessarily be shaped by it—but this is not true. Many churches subscribe to gospel doctrines but do not have a ministry that is shaped by, centered on, and empowered through the gospel. Its implications have not yet worked their way into the fabric of how the church actually does ministry” (Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 28).

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