Timothy Keller is very quickly becoming one of my favorite authors to read. His last book, Generous Justice, was fantastic and skillfully addressed thTimothy Keller is very quickly becoming one of my favorite authors to read. His last book, Generous Justice, was fantastic and skillfully addressed the important issues of social justice and the gospel, generosity, and God’s heart for the marginalized in a profound way. Now, just a few months later, he’s following up with King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.
Built off a sermon series done by Keller at his church in Manhattan, King’s Cross is basically a guided tour of Jesus’ life in the book of Mark, as Keller traces key themes throughout the gospel. Divided up into 2 sections (The King and The Cross), Keller shows how Mark builds on different ideas and how different narrative sections further the gospel storyline. The result is an encounter with Jesus that is truly intense and forces readers to make decisions about what they will believe about the man.
I was struck throughout the book by how well Keller is able to make familiar stories jump off the page. There’s an immediacy he’s able to create in the narrative where the principles illustrated feel directly applicable to my life. He mines the scripture for the timeless doctrines being taught, and expertly puts his finger on the pulses of modern listeners to confront them with the truths.
My favorite chapters were “The Dance,” which deals with the eternal relationship of the Trinity in perfect harmony with one another, “The End,” which discusses Christ’s death on the cross, and “The Beginning,” where Keller explores the implications and hope of Christ’s resurrection. Keller is able to paint pictures in his writing that the Holy Spirit uses to enlighten my mind to new facets of these familiar stories I’d never seen. It’s a challenging yet joyful experience to read a Tim Keller book.
King’s Cross is not going to be another Reason for God. It’s aimed squarely at believers for the most part, but there are also times where Keller anticipates objections that non-believers and believers alike may have to what Jesus says. His stellar apologetic nature comes out in these times and is very helpful. It’s a similar experience for me to reading C.S. Lewis at times. Reason for God is still probably one of the best books to give to non-believing friends or family, but this might be a great follow-up book to facilitate an encounter with the Jesus of the Bible. I would highly recommend this book for all believers....more
I decided to read Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill based on Abraham Piper’s recommendation on his blog, 22 Words. Hill is close friend of Piper’s, anI decided to read Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill based on Abraham Piper’s recommendation on his blog, 22 Words. Hill is close friend of Piper’s, and Piper described the book as “unique and important.” I could not agree more.
Washed and Waiting is basically Hill’s story of what it looks like for him to seek to live a godly life, walking by faith in Christ, and seeking to be more like him daily. He describes his struggles against sin, his resolve to keep fighting, and how God has been teaching him things through the Scriptures and people that have been put in his life to support and teach him.
One other thing: Wesley Hill is gay.
I’ve read other books about the tension between Christianity and homosexuality, some good, and some very bad. I have to agree with Piper, though, that this was very unique. Hill is a believer, and believes the Bible is God’s Word and thus has authority in his life. He knows that being a believer means not only relying on the finished work of Christ for salvation, but also seeking to live in a way that brings God glory as the inevitable result of that faith. He also believes that Bible is clear that homosexuality is not in line with God’s created intent for homosexuality and thus a sin. Therefore, Hill has made the choice to live as a celibate, homosexual Christian.
This book is packed with interesting and heartbreaking sections. Hill is a very good writer, and is able to relate narrative from his life in a detailed, engrossing manner. He’s succinct (the book is only 150 pages) while still feeling thorough. He also discusses biblical doctrines in ways that feel very real as he shows that believing biblical truth isn’t the same as attempting to live it out when some of your core desires go against that truth.
Here’s probably the best summary statement made in the book:
“Washed and waiting. That is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do” (p. 50).
This book served two purposes for me:
1) It made me stop and really think about how hard it must be for gay people, especially believers who struggle against it. Imagine being told all your desires for intimacy could never be acted upon, that you could never look forward in this life to having that level of closeness with another person. Hill recognizes heterosexual believers have faced a similar struggle if they never marry. The difference, though, is that the very desires themselves seem sinful for the gay person. 2) It made me stop and re-frame some of my own struggles with sin. There’s a fantastic section of the book that deals with the idea of unfulfilled desires, and how the believer is told not to simply obey their impulses. This applies very uniquely to the gay person, but it also applies to all believers. Our physical appetites, our sexual desires, even our desire for sleep can become sinful things to fight against because of our sin nature. This type of thinking made Hill’s discussion of the redemption of all things feel extremely hopeful, as he looks forward to a time when he won’t be attracted to other men, and I won’t have to fight against my sinful desires either.
Christianity has struggled to find a balance with how to address the sinful nature of homosexuality without demonizing those who recognize their need to fight against it. This book strikes that balance for me. Hill is very clear about the Bible’s teaching, but that doesn’t make his obedience to it easy, and it’s obvious he’s only made it through because of supportive believers in his life. I wish every gay believer had these kinds people to love, support, and encourage them. If more people read this book, more of them probably would....more
Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed came out back in March of 2008, and captured within it the story of many young evangelicals my age. He tCollin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed came out back in March of 2008, and captured within it the story of many young evangelicals my age. He told stories of the resurgence of faith and zeal among young believers discovering the doctrines of grace, and how they were looking to older generations (John Piper, John MacArthur, etc.) for guidance in their beliefs and practices.
Another movement among young Christians around that time was the Emergent Church, a more liberal, socially-conscientious group of people trying to find new ways to explore faith and “do church” for today’s younger generation. They were full of zeal, but very lacking in biblical truth in many areas. In response to that movement, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck came out with Why We’re Not Emergent, which articulated traditional Christian doctrine within the context of young modern culture in contrast to the methods of young people in the Emergent Church.
Those 3 authors mentioned are all contributors to Don’t Call It A Comeback, a new collection of essays from some of the most influential, young evangelical pastors and leaders. The book, according to the foreword by D.A. Carson, aims to “unpack what Christians ought to believe and how they ought to act and…articulate the essentially theological nature of evangelicalism.” The result is a spectacular assortment of short essays dealing with everything from the history of evangelicalism (including a discussion of the ways the meaning of the term has changed), the basic doctrines universally believed by evangelicals throughout history, as well as how those beliefs should manifest themselves in areas like vocation, families, worship, social justice, gender, and abortion, among others.
The list of contributors is a virtual who’s who if you’re up to date on the movers and shakers in the young evangelical landscape. Kevin DeYoung, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, edited the book and contributed the introduction and the fantastic first chapter on reaching this generation with the gospel. Other standouts for me (although all chapters were strong) included Hansen’s historical review of evangelicalism, Jonathan Leeman’s chapter on the holiness of God, Greg Gilbert on the gospel itself, Russell Moore on the Kingdom, Justin Taylor on abortion, and Tullian Tchividjian on worship. Like I said, though, there really isn’t a weak contribution to found here.
The format of the book is great, with each chapter being about 10-12 pages, making it a sufficiently-deep yet quick read. The book does a great job of articulating what it looks like to be a twenty- or thirty-something evangelical, Bible-believing Christian today. I am so grateful for men like D.A. Carson, John Piper, John MacArthur, and others who have faithfully taught and demonstrated the gospel over the years, but I’m also extremely grateful for men like the ones who wrote this book who are stepping up to fill those shoes, ready to teach a new generation how to be faithful men and women of God. I highly recommend this book for anyone under the age of 40, but also for all believers who love reading gospel-saturated truth....more
The gospel seems very simple. We are saved by grace, through faith, in Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. What does it mean to be saved “by faiThe gospel seems very simple. We are saved by grace, through faith, in Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. What does it mean to be saved “by faith,” though, and why is it so easy to distort practically in our lives into legalistic, pride-building law-keeping? We’re saved by faith, so why do we go back to the law, inadvertently communicating to the world that to be a Christian means to follow all the Bible’s rules so God will approve of us?
Those are essentially the questions that the book of Galatians in the Bible answers, and these and other questions are answered well through Josh Moody’s new book, No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons from Galatians Why Justification by Faith Alone is the Only Gospel. The book is based Moody’s expositional sermons through the book in his Wheaton, IL church.
This book actually took me a while to warm up to. I’m not sure what exactly it is about Moody’s writing style, but the first 100 pages or so felt a little disjointed at times to me. The points were helpful, but the arguments in each chapter didn’t seem to always flow perfectly and sometimes a point just jumped out of nowhere to me. I’m not sure if that reflects more on my attention through those pages or not because by the latter half of the book, I was really enjoying and being edified by this book. It’s extremely relevant to our everyday lives.
Although I’ve read it numerous times, I’ve never done a thorough, in-depth study of Galatians, and reading this book is basically that. It’s not a commentary, but its close. Moody walks through the book, with each chapter tackling a few verses of Paul’s indictment of law-keeping as a way to be justified before God. I found Moody’s exegesis of the scriptures very helpful, and his applications were always spot on. His pastor’s heart comes out in many places as well.
Legalism is still alive and thriving today, even within the Protestant Church that would heatedly argue that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone. The legalism we fall into is subtle, as was the kind that had crept into the Galatian Church to which Paul was writing. Our fallen human minds, driven by pride and wanting to control our own salvation, are prone to fall into legalism and moralism, regardless of our attempts to do otherwise, which is why I loved digging into Galatians so much. This book was very helpful in my own Christian walk as I try to fight against those tendencies, and I think most believers would be very helped by it as well....more
Last year, Crossway released Bryan Litfin’s first novel in the Chiveis Trilogy, The Sword. That book introduced readers to Teofil, a noble army guardsLast year, Crossway released Bryan Litfin’s first novel in the Chiveis Trilogy, The Sword. That book introduced readers to Teofil, a noble army guardsman, and Anastasia, a beautiful peasant woman 400 years into our future. Civilization was destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, and many things from our culture were lost, including the Bible and Christianity, for the most part. In The Sword, though, Teo and Ana find an ancient copy of the Old Testament and come to believe in the Creator God described in its pages, a God known to them as Deu. The Sword ended with the main characters forced from their homeland and into exile because of their faith.
In the second installment, The Gift, Litfin picks the story up right where he left off, and we join Teo and Ana on their search for the missing New Testament, which they know will fill in many of the gaps they see in the Old Testament. Of course, there are powers at work that will do anything to keep this from happening, including the Exterminati (I know, subtle), an organization of shamans who oppose the Christiani and who rid the “civilized” world of “defectives,” those who they deem less than perfect due to mental or physical handicap.
(Side note: Litfin clearly wanted to communicate ideas about certain issues within this story, such as the value of all humans, including the disabled. There’s also a subtle discussion of homosexuality and how Christians respond to that. Occasionally these things feel forced into the plot and can be pretty abrupt.)
The most fascinating part of this book to me was watching the characters think through what the New Testament might say. With their only knowledge of Deu coming from the Old Testament, their knowledge is incomplete and simply wrong some times. They know that Iesus Christus, the “pierced one” from the cross, was likely the suffering servant talked about in the prophets, but they don’t know how his death helped the Promised King. They know much about the character of God and have a sincere and real faith in Him, but they agonize over not knowing the whole story about the King. This drives their search for the New Testament.
This provides a great context to consider what it looked like for people before Christ who were waiting for him, but weren’t really sure what they were waiting to see. Many had no idea that the Suffering Servant and the Promised King were one and the same. There are very interesting thoughts to consider at times in The Gift.
Despite the interesting premise, as a novel, the book does lack at times. The dialogue feels a little stilted at times, and Litfin clearly wants to communicate a worldview that comes with a vocabulary that feels unnatural in the book’s setting. The action sequences are quite good, however, and as with The Sword, the attention to the detail of the real-life settings is spectacular. I just couldn’t get passed some of the dialogue that jolted me out of the story occasionally.
Overall, though, I would recommend the first two books of this trilogy. Solid Christian fiction that seeks to portray a biblical worldview within fiction is pretty lacking in the marketplace (unless you happen to enjoy stories about the Amish). Although these books suffer from some of the same problems that plague Christian movies (forced plots and dialogue, lack of subtlety and nuance at times), it’s still very nice to see talented authors attempting to imbed biblical truths in a fictional story that will draw readers who might not sit down with a systematic theology, but might be positively influenced in their views of God by a solid epic story....more
If you follow my blog or read my reviews very much at all, you know of my…shall we say, interest in the ministry of John Piper. “Interest” doesn’t capIf you follow my blog or read my reviews very much at all, you know of my…shall we say, interest in the ministry of John Piper. “Interest” doesn’t capture it at all, really. The running joke in my Bible study is how many Piper references I can throw out when I’m teaching. I respect the man immensely and while I read widely and across theological and other boundaries, I lean heavily on him for many of my theological positions because he makes such strong, biblical cases for his.
All this to say, as much as I try to be objective, I’m a little biased in my opinions of Piper’s latest book, A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God. That being said, you should definitely read it.
The book is basically an expositional look at the book of Ruth. This sometimes forgotten book is a treasure-trove of insight into the nature of God, suffering, race, and sexual purity. Piper expertly mines the book’s narrative, pointing out what the author of the book is trying to communicate, then pastorally applies those insights to our lives today to help us face suffering with God’s providence in mind, face sexual temptation with God’s holiness in mind, and approach the diversity of races with God’s plan of redemption through Christ in mind.
I would heartily recommend this book to every Christian, but especially those facing a trial or suffering of any kind. It’s a difficult truth, but God’s sovereignty over all things, including difficult things, is comforting at its core. In the book of Ruth, Naomi learns this, and we need to be reminded of this truth as well. What looked like a hopeless situation to her was actually God working out his plan of salvation for the whole world since Ruth would marry Boaz and enter into the bloodline of Christ.
I have yet to find another author who is able to make the scriptures come alive so much for me. Piper writes with a theological sharpness that fits perfectly with his pastoral tenderness towards those who suffer. He values doctrine but doesn’t beat people over the head with it. He encourages them with it. I consistently find the passion in his writing to be contagious as it stirs me up to study the scriptures even more for myself. And more than anything, he helps me love God more. This book did that for me, and I hope it will for many of you as well....more
Good Christian books on temptation are pretty hard to find. Maybe it’s because Christians like to pretend they don’t fight temptation like we do, I’mGood Christian books on temptation are pretty hard to find. Maybe it’s because Christians like to pretend they don’t fight temptation like we do, I’m not sure, but not a lot of Christian authors are really tackling the subject. Off the top of my head, the only other one I remember reading was John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, which seems to be the standard on the topic. That book opened up many new insights on temptation to me, but I hadn’t seen anything since that helped in that area.
That’s why I was so happy to get Russell Moore’s new book, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. This book was insightful, poetic, convicting, and inspiring to read. Moore has an ability (a la Tim Keller) to be able to take familiar passages in the Bible and connect them in poetic and powerful prose that communicates God’s truth to people in a fresh way. There were multiple times reading this book when I simply had to stop and take a breath from what I had just read (either from conviction or being moved by the truth of the gospel).
Moore begins with a personal anecdote to illustrate the insidiousness of sin and the seriousness with which we should encounter temptation. Then, he uses the analogy of a slaughterhouse to show how many Christians are literally walking to their own destruction willingly, not realizing the danger around them. The metaphor here was striking. These introductory chapters set the stage perfectly for encountering the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert. These chapters delve deeply into Jesus’ temptation for bread (“Starving to Death: Why We’d Rather Be Fed Than Fathered”), the temptation for self-vindication (“Free Falling: Why We’d Rather Be Right Than Rescued”), and the temptation for self-glorification (“Desert Reign: Why We’d Rather Be Magnified Than Crucified”).
These chapters are simply bathed in Scripture, with Moore pulling themes and passages together to paint a beautiful tapestry of the big picture of the Bible, all culminating in the cross of Christ. The themes in each chapter lend themselves well to related discussions about modern evangelicalism that were powerful commentaries in themselves. For example, in commenting on the commonplace occurrence of Christians lampooning caricatures of those who disagree with Christianity, Moore states, “The end result is a self-referential Christian rhetoric that not only fails to persuade outsiders but also fails to protect our own children and grandchildren from what we’re afraid of exposing them to in the first place. That leaves us with what amounts to, in the words of one secularist critic, little more than “a perpetual outrage machine” (p. 123). This statement, in the context of Christ’s temptation to self-vindication, was very convicting for me.
After moving through what we can learn from the three different temptations, Moore’s chapter on some of the more practical ways to fight and resist temptation is simply brilliant. He uses the example of a friend who doubted his faith because of the things he was tempted to do. As Moore explains, the temptation itself is not sin, nor are you unique because you are tempted by it. Becoming a Christian doesn’t eliminate temptation. In fact, it may actually increase it. But we can learn to fight the same way Christ did, through faith in His Father’s character and promises in scripture. If we learn to balance humility and confidence in our faith, we succumb to neither pride nor discouragement as we look to Christ’s finished work on the cross that frees us from Satan’s condemnation and God’s wrath. We are free to fight, and many times, walk in obedience.
Struggling Saints everywhere need to read this book. Modern Evangelicals tend to appear to have everything together as we fear being exposed as not what we say we are (and mostly want to be). We feel isolated. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, this cycle causes us to turn further and further inward into hiding, away from people and more importantly, away from our Father. This book will help you fight those urges. It will help you begin to take steps to walk in the Light. It will encourage you to see yourself rightly in relationship to God through Christ. I believe John Owen would be very happy with Russell Moore’s work here, and I’m thankful for men like them who understand the gospel so well and can articulate the themes and passages to help struggling sinners like me....more
As believers, it should be foundational to our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves. We ought to be able to explain it anytime weThe gospel.
As believers, it should be foundational to our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves. We ought to be able to explain it anytime we need to, strive to live out its truths daily, and we ought to be able to point out error when a false version of it is proclaimed (and be able to use scripture to explain why). Unfortunately, this is not always the case. This is why I’m thankful for books like Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax.
Wax wrote Counterfeit Gospels to address what he feels is a threefold crisis facing the church: 1) A lack of gospel confidence (believing that the gospel message has power by itself); 2) A lack of gospel clarity (our ability to articulate the truth of the gospel and why people need to hear it); and 3) A lack of gospel community (no distinctions between the church and the world, or, worse yet, feeling the church is unnecessary).
To address these issues, Wax proposes a three-legged stool metaphor for the gospel, and this makes up the structure for the book. For each leg – Story, Announcement, and Community – Wax explains the biblical truth of the gospel as it pertains to that area in one chapter, then he takes two chapters to examine two counterfeits that distort or outright deny that truth.
I was a big fan of the structure of the book as it allowed for easy compartmentalization of the ideas being discussed. The format clearly sways towards reductionism at times, and some will balk at the terms and broad brush strokes with which distortions are painted, but these instances are pretty minimal, and overall I think Wax was fair to the different views of the gospel he discusses.
My favorite discussions centered around the distortions of The Announcement, The Moralistic Gospel and the Quietist Gospel, as these are the two I tend to lean towards when I begin to lose sight of the true gospel. The Moralistic Gospel says we can manipulate God and earn his favor (or at least succeed in improving our behavior with His help) by law keeping. This is a dangerous counterfeit that shows up in many conservative, evangelical churches today as many sermons are preached about moral improvement with no mention of Jesus Christ who gave us his righteousness. It’s a subtle counterfeit but very powerful and destructive. The Quietist Gospel, on the other hand, reduces the message of the Kingdom to only individual salvation and creates an “us vs. them” mentality within the church. This is also very prevalent today.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16), and it’s extremely important that we get it right. Books like Counterfeit Gospels are needed resources to help believers think through the different distortions of the message that look very similar to the real thing, but will lead us down dangerous paths if we’re not careful. ...more
The concept of preaching the gospel to yourself is an important one, and one I’ve been hearing articulated a lot more recently. Christians talk a lotThe concept of preaching the gospel to yourself is an important one, and one I’ve been hearing articulated a lot more recently. Christians talk a lot about sermons, evangelism, and other important topics relating to communicating the gospel to others, but we also need to remind ourselves of the truths we say we believe regularly. I’m big on saying we shouldn’t “assume the gospel.” We shouldn’t assume people understand the gospel and move onto “more important doctrines,” and I think that concept applies to ourselves as well. Our daily actions and thought-lives shouldn’t assume the truths of the gospel; we need to consciously remind ourselves.
Joe Thorn’s new book, Note to Self, contains a lot of great examples of how to do just that. Written from a first-person perspective to himself, Thorn tackles all kinds of extremely practical topics and situations as he reminds himself of how the gospel applies to everything in life. Each “chapter” includes some scripture that triggers the thoughts discussed over the next 2 pages. The end result is a collection of 48 “notes” that are great nuggets of truth to meditate on themselves, but also help readers to see how to take God’s Word and work through the practical applications on their own.
I appreciated this book for 2 main reasons. First, it places a significant importance on Scripture. Every note is based thoroughly in scripture. Things get very practical, but every thought finds its foundation in what God has said about himself, us, and the world in which we live. Second, Thorn has a laser-focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the fact that we’re saved by faith alone. He discusses the importance of the law and aspects of God’s justice, but he never lets up on reminding himself that salvation isn’t dependent on works. He exhorts himself to good works; the motivation is never condemnation. This is an important balance to get right, and it’s an important distinction for believers to understand as they “preach” to themselves.
My only real criticism of the book (and I don’t really consider it a criticism), is that the chapters are so short and self-contained, that reading the book in one sitting like I did isn’t nearly as helpful. I plan to come back to this book for use as a devotional because there is too much to think upon in each note to fly through like I did. Unfortunately, the only chance I had to read the book was on a flight during a business trip, so I feel like I probably missed a lot of wisdom that requires more thought than I could give it.
Here’s my takeaway: Read this book. Read it slowly. Learn how to take God’s Word, internalize it, clarify it to yourself, swim in it, wrestle with it, and come out drenched with the gospel of Jesus. Don’t “assume the gospel” in your daily life and live on auto-pilot. Force the truth of the Bible into your heart. This book is a great example of how to do that....more
Having one of the better book titles I’ve heard in a while and addressing a topic very pertinent to my life, I was excited to read Stephen Altrogge’sHaving one of the better book titles I’ve heard in a while and addressing a topic very pertinent to my life, I was excited to read Stephen Altrogge’s new book, The Greener Grass Conspiracy. Contentment is something severely lacking in our world, even (sometimes especially) among professing Christians. I count myself among this group, always looking for the next thing to temporarily satisfy my perceived “needs,” give my life tangible meaning, or divert my attention for a few hours from the part of my life I simply endure. I’m prone to complaining and operate from a sense of entitlement much of the time, feeling (although not voicing) that God owes me more than this.
I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. As Altrogge expertly points out in this book, as humans living in a fallen world with the remnants of sin still clinging to us, we are inclined to selfishness and a longing for what we don’t have. Despite the many blessings we’ve seen God continually pore out on us and the numerous promises of future blessings, we operate from a mindset that subconsciously treats God as a “deadbeat deity” (Altrogge’s term) who we are constantly judging based on our circumstances, situations, and emotional states. God’s just not doing a good enough job running things, we think, and so we aren’t content.
This short treatment on the subject has a very logical flow and the arguments are well-developed over the course of the book, as each chapter builds the case for why contentment can (and should) be found in any circumstance. Pulling from the lives of Solomon, Paul, and his own personal anecdotes, Altrogge builds the case for why simply attaining whatever it is we want won’t lead to lasting happiness. Since happiness can’t be tethered to circumstances or things, it must be latched onto Christ to endure. The argument builds to the middle of the book where the gospel is clearly presented, and then the rest of the book works out many of the practical applications.
My favorite chapter was called “Eat the Meat and Die,” where we see a poignant comparison between the Israelites complaining and subsequent plague from the quail in the desert to our complaining today. The point: God takes complaining seriously. I was convicted by the discussion to do the same with my complaints and see them for what they are: indictments of God and how He’s handling things that affect my life. It’s treason, really.
Altrogge writes with candor, with humor, and with a pastor’s sensitivity that realizes contentment is not easily attained, even if the truths that lead to it are readily acknowledged. His discussion of suffering and contentment was particularly gentle but firm. I found the book enjoyable, convicting, and I will probably go back and read it again to fully digest much of it for my own personal growth (at only 139 pages it a quick read).
My generation is one that operates on principles of entitlement and discontent. Many have even painted discontent as a positive quality, in that we should never be satisfied and should always “push for more.” God’s people shouldn’t lack ambition, but it shouldn’t be motivated by a lack of contentment. Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had learned to be content in any circumstance (which included much more than most of our struggles that lead to discontent). How? Through Christ, who strengthened him. That’s the source of our contentment. This book will help you love Christ more, and in doing so, will point you to the source of true contentment, regardless of your temporal circumstances this side of heaven....more
David Platt came basically out of nowhere with his first book, the New York Times Best-Selling Radical. His themes of abandonment to Christ and callsDavid Platt came basically out of nowhere with his first book, the New York Times Best-Selling Radical. His themes of abandonment to Christ and calls for serving God is any ways possible connected with people across most demarcations we could use to describe them. As many people’s “American Dream” (i.e. 401k, large home, etc.) crumbled around them, the call to a larger purpose that rejected living for those things seemed to resonate with many.
Now, Platt has followed up that book with Radical Together, intended to help people live out the vision cast in Radical within the context of the church. What does it look like for a congregation to really be “radical”? How can church leaders guide their people in serving others? What does it really look like to live a life of all-out relinquishment of self and submission to God’s call on our lives?
I hadn’t heard of Platt before his first book, but I gave a very positive review to Radical (it actually ended up being quoted in the reviews section at the front of this book). I was motivated by Radical to re-examine my life, values, and goals for what I wanted my life to look like. I enjoyed the book, operating on what I’ll call “the assumption of the gospel.” I know that I’m saved by faith alone by grace alone by the work of Christ alone and that nothing I do for God earns me anything. I filtered everything said in the book through that lens. It wasn’t until my wife read the book that I noticed how much of what Platt said could be taken, and how it could feel so burdensome to people. It can sound like works-righteousness, like you can never measure up, be “radical” enough, and that God is continually disappointed by your life and your ability to live a blessed life while others perish from lack.
Platt doesn’t believe that. But I do think he assumed others knew that when writing Radical at times. I assumed that. I think lots of churches assume the gospel a lot. The result is sermons that provide numerous practical ways to serve God and/or live moral lives, but never mention the imputed righteousness of Christ the enables us to serve. People might feel motivated to obey, but when they fail (as we will), they feel guilty. That’s not the gospel.
With this in mind, I was so happy to see Platt give a full chapter to “The Gospel Misunderstood” where he explicitly writes to people who read Radical and came away with a low-level guilt that condemned and paralyzed them. He makes it clear that Christ saves us from work and to work. As he states, only Jesus was “radical enough.” He gets the indicatives and the imperatives right and explicit here. We serve in response to grace and salvation, not to earn it. This is vital and without it, everything else said in the book would just be more weight around weary sinners’ necks. With it, we can be empowered to live lives that glorify God and serve others in response to the grace of Christ.
Like Radical, Radical Together is full of stories from Platt’s church (and others who have shared stories in response to the first book) of people responding to the gospel by doing amazing things for God. He lays the groundwork for discussions within churches by simply asking questions about budgets, programs, missions trips, etc. He doesn’t condemn many things churches do, he just points out that we need to be willing to ask the questions. Is that program really the best use of the resources God has provided? It might be, but are you willing to seek God’s answer?
In many ways, Radical Together is very similar to the first book, just taking a more macro view. I think Platt learned from the feedback he received and didn’t assume the gospel this time around. This book is a great resource for church leaders looking to glorify God with their churches, and it’s a must read for anyone who came away from Radical feeling condemned and not inspired. Platt is a fantastic, humble, gospel-driven, young pastor who is still learning and is a much needed voice in American evangelicalism today....more
I’m a pretty skeptical person when it comes to statistics and research. It’s simply far too easy to make unsubstantiated claims, falsely attach causalI’m a pretty skeptical person when it comes to statistics and research. It’s simply far too easy to make unsubstantiated claims, falsely attach causality when it might not exist, and simply ask confusing questions that don’t really lead to any solid conclusions from the results. Despite all this, I do tend to think there is value in much of the research being done to identify trends (especially spiritual trends), but the value must be reality-checked and taken simply for what it is.
That’s the perspective I brought to George Barna’s newest book, Futurecast. The Barna Group is one of the most recognized research groups in the country, and Barna’s written numerous books about the “intersection between faith and culture.” In Futurecast, Barna attempts to show “how our behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are shaping our future – and what we can do about it now.”
Coming from a distinctly Christian perspective, Barna throws out metric after metric detailing the results of extensive research to paint a bleak picture of the world as it currently is and the direction it appears to be headed. The goal is to educate Christians as much as possible about the trends being observed in the culture so that individual Christians can make a difference in their specific spheres of influence.
There was a lot to appreciate about this book. I applaud the effort of Barna to educate Christians and try to motivate them to be agents of change in the world. I especially appreciated the first 4 chapters (on Lifestyles and Aspirations, Family Life, Attitudes and Values, and Technology). Again, taking into account my skepticism towards statistics, there was a lot that Christians can learn from these chapters about how the world thinks and how the gospel applies to their lives. We don’t need to shape the gospel to these trends, but it’s helpful to know the perspectives people are coming from when having gospel conversations. The gospel is timeless, but culture and perspectives on truth are not. It doesn’t hurt to have the best understanding of people to be able to love them best with the truth.
After these chapters, Barna dives into more research within the Christian and religious realm specifically (dealing with Religious Beliefs, Religious Behavior, and Organized Religion). These were the chapters where I really began to doubt many of the numbers being tossed around (and there are seriously a LOT of numbers thrown around). A good deal of the emphasis is on the fact that Christians are essentially no different from non-Christians. Much of the problem here is measuring essentially immeasurable data, but I’m frankly really tired of hearing this. It’s simply not possible, unless you believe questionable research of “representative populations” over the truth of Scripture. True Christians will live changed lives. It’s simply a necessary mark of true belief. That doesn’t mean Christians always behave perfectly in-line with their beliefs (we wouldn’t need to gospel if that was possible), but this picture of no distinction is misleading and simply false.
Barna’s “Reflections” sections at the end of each chapter typically made me cringe as well. He makes many statements that reveal a clear bias (such as when discussing house churches vs. traditional churches). Also, many of his conclusions simply don’t follow, even from the questionable numbers.
As I mentioned earlier, despite my issues with it, there really are some good things about this book, and I think especially the first few chapters would be good for most pastors to read. In the end, though, as Christians, we have the everlasting Word of God to guide our actions and beliefs. We have the eternal, timeless truth of the gospel to share with people, regardless of the latest trends. There are things we can learn about people today, but their thoughts and actions are just the latest manifestations of the truths about people in Scripture. Trends come and go, but the Word of God remains forever. This is a comfort amidst the pessimistic views of the future painted in this book....more
Are you really a Christian? If you believe you are, you might be bothered that anyone would even ask. I mean, of course you are, right? How dare anyonAre you really a Christian? If you believe you are, you might be bothered that anyone would even ask. I mean, of course you are, right? How dare anyone question that?
So it’s likely to be a little off-putting to some when Mike McKinley begins the introduction to his book, Am I Really a Christian? by making this statement: “This is a book aimed at convincing you that you may not be a Christian” (he even acknowledges he’s kind of a jerk…). McKinley has looked out over the landscape of Christianity (along with numerous biblical warnings) and concluded that there are many people who believe they are Christians but will hear Jesus say these dreaded words one day: “Depart from me; I never knew you.”
So despite the uncomfortable nature of the topic, McKinley’s pastor’s heart causes him to dive in to many of the ways people have been deceived (or deceived themselves) into wrongly believing they are Christians. After all, this is vitally important, and the bible gives numerous warnings to professing believers to examine themselves to see if they really are true believers. Using the analogy of a race, McKinley says that if you had a group of people running a race where finishing meant salvation, but many of them were just standing along the road in their nice running clothes and shoes but not actually running, it would be cruel not to tell them they will never finish the race that way. Their eternal destiny depends on actually running and finishing.
In each chapter, McKinley tackles a misconception about what it means to be a Christian. One of my favorite chapters was “You Are Not a Christian If You Enjoy Sin.” I thought McKinley did a great job here of balancing the truth of salvation by faith through grace alone with our new orientation as believers towards sin. He gets the balance right, guarding against works-salvation on one hand and indifference towards sin on the other.
The other aspect of the book I really liked was the emphasis on the importance of the local church. McKinley pleads with people to get plugged into a good church and not to walk alone, for multiple reasons. Some who are weak in their faith might be discouraged by their doubts and failures and give up, feeling like they don’t measure up in the faith. They need people alongside them to encourage them and point out evidence of God’s work in their lives. Others are prone to pride and performance-based salvation and they need brothers and sisters to call them to repentance and convict them of sin and (sometimes) even question their faith if there is truly no fruit of repentance.
First and foremost, McKinley writes here as a pastor concerned for lost sheep who believe they are on the right path when they aren’t. It’s not always pleasant, but all of us need to examine ourselves to see if our faith is real. God commanded us to do so. In an age when many are content to collect “decisions for Christ” and let them go on their way, it’s nice to see someone calling us to “count the count” of following Jesus and not presume to be in the faith. Our salvation was far too costly to count it that lightly....more