Spring Book Reviews

My reading from the last few months has included some really great books! Here are some short summaries. If you see something that interests you, click on over for a full review. As always, if you come across any good books, let me know about them!

“Here’s Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math” by Alex Bellos

I’ll be honest: I bought this book based on the title alone. I don’t really like math, and was shocked to discover that the genre of “recreational math books” actually existed. However, this ended up being a really fun and interesting book of math-related stories and a pure joy to read! A very pleasant surprise!

Recommended for: People who love numbers and/or short stories. Even if you hate math, you’d probably still like this book. Read the full review.

“The Family Worship Book: A Resource for Family Devotions” by Terry L. Johnson

The title pretty much describes this one. It is a resource book to aid husbands and fathers to carry out our mandate to lead our families in worship in the home. In addition to several helpful and encouraging practical considerations, it contains a hymnal, a ten year Bible reading schedule, Scripture memory aids, two catechisms, and some historical writings on family worship. It has been a huge benefit to my family; Nate loves to go grab the book off the shelf every night!

Recommended for: Husbands and dads. Read the full review.

“Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God” by David Platt

This is the sequel to David Platt’s runaway success, Radical. I’ve been encouraged to see many from our church reading the first book, and hope that this one will prove to be as popular! I actually found it to be more helpful than the first one, though I don’t think one should read it without having first read Radical. The first book has transformed the way many Christians think about their faith; its sequel aims to do the same for the church. After all, individual Christians can only do so much to change the world around them. It is the Church through whom God has promised to bring His purposes to completion before Christ returns!

Recommended for: Everyone who read and enjoyed Radical. Read the full review.

“Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning” by Nancy Pearcey

At the year’s halfway point, this is holding steady as my favorite book of 2011. Nancy Pearcey was a student of Francis Schaeffer, and continues his work in the field of apologetics and worldview studies. This is absolutely the best book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read quite a few!) on the impact of art, music, and literature on our culture, and the Christian’s role in shaping the culture and resisting the “secular assault”.

Recommended for: Those with an interest in pop culture and the arts, or who wish to advance the cause of Christ in our culture. Read the full review.

“Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem” by Jay W. Richards

Despite the cheesy subtitle, this is a very good book that corrects what the author identifies as eight economic myths which are commonly believed by both proponents and opponents of capitalism. He makes a very strong case for a free-market economy being the best available option, though tempers our expectations by reminding us that there can be no “perfect” economy this side of the Lord’s return because all men and all systems are tainted by sin. He also contrasts Biblical ethics with the philosophies of capitalists Ayn Rand and F.A. Hayek.

Recommended for: Those with an interest in politics and/or economics, regardless of your views on capitalism. Read the full review.

“George Müller: Delighted in God” by Roger Steer

George Müller’s legacy is one of prayer and great faithfulness. A 19th-century playboy-turned-preacher, he is most known for the orphanages he founded, which cared for over 10,000 children during his lifetime. He also kept a remarkable prayer journal, in which he recorded well over 50,000 answers to prayer! As if that weren’t enough, he also began a new career as a traveling evangelist when he was in his 70’s, and still managed to preach in 42 countries (many multiple times) without the benefit of high speed travel. This biography was an incredible encouragement to me, and a boon to my prayer life.

Recommended for: Fans of biographies, orphans, and/or prayer. Read the full review here.

“Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices” by Mosab Hassan Yousef

This is the New York Times bestselling autobiography of the son of the head of the Hamas terror organization, who joined an Israeli counter-terrorism espionage force and eventually became a Christian. He talks about the difficulties encountered living this double life (not least of which was the decision to hand his father over to the authorities rather than risk his almost certain assassination), and about his love for the Palestinian people. It’s an incredible story from someone whose obedience to Christ’s call to “love your enemies” carried some very weighty consequences.

Recommended for: Those who seek insight into the complex political and religious landscape in the Middle East, from someone with a very unique perspective. Read the full review.

“The Monster in the Hollows: The Wingfeather Saga, Book Three” by Andrew Peterson

I love reading non-fiction as much as anyone (and more than most), but nothing beats a great story! Andrew Peterson’s “Wingfeather Saga” has been one of the most enjoyable sets of books I’ve read in a loooooong time. This is the third in the series, with one more due sometime next year. I can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly for families with children. The books aren’t children’s books per se, but they will definitely have a certain appeal for kids as well as their parents!

Recommended for: Fans of The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other epic fantasy fiction series, which pretty much includes everyone who has ever read those book. You’ll love these, too! Read the full review.

“Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom” by Ron Paul

I intend to read books by several candidates in the run-up to the next presidential election, but this was my first. The latest from Dr. Paul is a great overview of his entire political philosophy; rather than focusing on any one issue, he devotes a few pages each to 50 topics, from Abortion to Zionism. I find him to be an intriguing man, and am curious to see how he fares in next year’s primary.

Recommended for: Politically-interested folks who want to stay as informed as possible about those who are contending for our votes. Read the full review.

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

One of the best selling books of the last half decade, the authors of Freakonomics sought to apply the science of economic thought to fields other than finance. After all, one of the prime motivations of the book was the belief that economics is a wonderful method for finding answers, but that most economists just don’t ask interesting questions. The result is a fascinating and totally original book that asks and answers questions like, “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” and “How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents?” It’s a best seller for a reason!

Recommended for: Readers who like something a little different. Read the full review.

“The Portage to San Cristóbal of A.H.” by George Steiner

This is one of the most controversial novels written in the last several decades. Steiner, a Jew, writes a piece of alternative historical fiction in which Hitler did not die in 1945, but escaped to hide out in the Amazon. A group of Nazi hunters finds him, and tries to take him to trial, but traveling through the rainforest with a 90-year-old man is difficult. The main controversy comes in the end, when Hitler speaks in his own defense at his trial, not only rationalizing his actions, but insisting that Jews ought to be indebted to him. The novel creates some very provocative questions in the minds of readers about the nature of evil and the power of words.

Recommended for: Philosophers, historians, and people who don’t mind a book that challenges the intellect. Read the full review.


Book Review Survey

I haven’t put any book reviews on here in about five months, but I’ve added a whole lot on my personal blog. Here’s a quick summary of the books I’ve reviewed since my last post on here, with links to the full reviews for those who are interested in learning more. Lots of great books out there (I’ve only included here the ones that I recommend)!

“Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper

One of the most influential books in my life. If you want to kick-start your passionate pursuit of God, this one will do it!

Recommended for: Absolutely everyone. Read the full review.

“The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name” by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Easily the best children’s Bible I’ve seen. It presents every story as more than a story, by constantly pointing to Jesus Christ. Nate’s not quite old enough for this one, but he still loves to look at the pictures!

Recommended for: Anyone with young children or grandchildren. Read the full review.

“Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by J.I. Packer

Re-read this on the 50th anniversary of it’s publishing. It’s a modern classic that brilliantly deals with arguably the most difficult concept in Scripture: reconciling God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility.

Recommended for: Anyone with a heart for seeing lost people saved… which had better be you! Read the full review.

“The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings” by Peter Kreeft

An educational and enjoyable investigation of the philosophical worldview of J.R.R. Tolkien evidenced in his books about Middle-Earth.

Recommended for: Fans of the LOTR series. Read the full review.

“Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People” by Calvin Stapert

A professor of music from Calvin College writes about the history and significance of one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of music… and one of my personal favorites!

Recommended for: Those who love Handel’s Messiah, or music history. Read the full review.

“The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men” by Dr. Richard D. Phillips

A short but excellent book focusing on God’s calling for men at home, work, and church. Much more Scripturally sound than many other popular men’s books, such as Wild At Heart.

Recommended for: Men and the women who love them. Read the full review.

“Religion Saves (and Nine Other Misconceptions)” by Mark Driscoll

A sermon series preached by Mark Driscoll to address nine big questions collected in an online poll, expanded and edited into book form.

Recommended for: Those who have questions about things like birth control, sex, and predestination. Read the full review.

“The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges

God tells us to “be holy as I am holy”… but how do we do that? This is one of the best attempts to answer that question. A book to read over and over.

Recommended for: All Christians. Read the full review.

“Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality” by Wesley Hill

A thought-provoking and heart-wrenching testimony of a Christian man tempted with homosexual desires, who has chosen celibate obedience to God’s Word and reliance upon the Holy Spirit to resist temptation.

Recommended for: Those with a heart for ministry to people experiencing same-sex attraction. Read the full review.

“Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” by Andy Crouch

A very influential book about the Christian’s role in influencing culture. Lots to think about in this one… I’ll probably read it again at some point.

Recommended for: Christians who wonder how best they can make a difference in the world using the gifts God has given them. Read the full review.

“The Sword: A Novel (Chiveis Trilogy Book 1)” by Brian Litfin

The first in a new fantasy fiction series set several centuries in Earth’s future, where a supervirus and nuclear war have killed off most of the population and sent the world back to the bronze age. After hundreds of years of polytheistic religion, God’s Word is rediscovered and once again begins to turn the world upside down.

Recommended for: Fans of fantasy fiction, or those who just love a good story. Read the full review.

“The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin” by Douglas Bond

Another novel, this one a work of historical fiction. The story follows the life of John Calvin through the eyes of a lifelong rival. More exciting than a traditional biography, but contains many quotes from historical works by Calvin and other great Reformers.

Recommended for: Those with an interest in church history or historical fiction. Read the full review.

“The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John H. Walton

A controversial book published in 2009 proposing a very non-traditional reading of the Bible’s first chapter. I can’t affirm all of the author’s conclusions, but I was fascinated by this book. I love books that make me re-think my convictions.

Recommended for: Those interested in the creation/evolution debate. Read the full review here.

“Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

A response against the dearth of anti-church books that have hit the shelves of Christian bookstores in the last decade. It is refreshing to hear a rational, honest appeal for Christians to love and actively participate in the life of Christ’s bride.

Recommended for: Anyone, but especially those who are disillusioned or disappointed with the church. Read the full review.

Gospel-Driven Life, The, Michael Horton, 978-0-8010-1319-5“The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World” by Michael Horton

There have been a lot of books written recently about what should “drive” the life of a Christian. This one brings the focus back to where it must always be: the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our responsibility to proclaim it in word and deed to a world that desperately needs it.

Recommended for: Everybody; we can all use more gospel, and Horton is a wonderful teacher. Read the full review.

“Romans (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary)” by R.C. Sproul

One of my favorite preachers writing a commentary on the best book in the Bible = a winning combination! I’ve now read the first two commentaries in this series and both have been excellent. I can’t wait to continue the series as more are published!

Recommended for: Serious students of God’s Word looking for a substantial but readable (i.e. – not too academic) commentary on the book of Romans. Read the full review.

“From the Library of A.W. Tozer: Selections from Writers Who Influences His Spiritual Journey” complied by James Stuart Bell

A unique concept. Bell has compiled a daily reader focusing on eight themes prominent in the writing os A.W. Tozer. The readings are taken from books found in Tozer’s personal library; he was known as a voracious reader of good books… no wonder I like him so much!

Recommended for: Tozer fans, and those looking for a good introduction into the writings of great authors from throughout church history. Read the full review.

“The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life” by Bradley Green

A professor of theology from Union University traces the connection between the intellect and the Christian faith, and why institutions of learning have always followed the spread of the gospel.

Recommended for: People who are tired of hearing that Christianity must be anti-intellect. Read the full review.

Any books you’d like to recommend? Share them in the comments!

Book Reviews – September & (Half of) October

“The Space Trilogy” by C.S. Lewis

Not nearly so well known as his later work, The Chronicles of Narnia, this was Lewis’ first fiction series. As a matter of fact, these were some of the first and most influential books ever written in the science fiction genre. Unlike the Narnia series, these novels are not written on a popular/children’s level, but they are still engaging and fun stories. Though Christian/religious themes are prevalent in these books, they are not as well developed as they are in Narnia. This probably has much to do with the fact that Lewis was still a recent convert to Christianity when he wrote these books, and later recanted some of the beliefs he’d held at the time he wrote these books (such as a firm belief in Darwinian evolution).

The three books in the trilogy are quite different from one another in style, though it is all one story. The first book is more typical of what we recognize as “science fiction”; it has a lot of action, and a new world to explore, complete with several fascinating creatures. The second book is almost entirely dialogue. There are only three characters in most of the book, who spend most of the novel talking with one another (this description probably sounds boring but it was my favorite of the three books). The final book is the most well-known, and has a story which focuses on a corrupt secret society and the small band of (mostly) Christian people who are resisting it. Interestingly enough, the main protagonist in this series, Dr. Elwin Ransom, is modeled at least partly after Lewis’ close friend and fellow Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings.

Recommended for: Fans of C.S. Lewis, the science fiction genre, and/or novels that make you think.

Read the full reviews for Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

“Redemption Accomplished and Applied” by John Murray

I finally got around to reading this after it languished on my reading pile for a REALLY long time. Nearly every pastoral “recommended reading list” I’ve seen includes this book, so I thought I’d better get around to it. I wish I’d done so sooner!

Though it’s a bit dry and difficult reading at times, it’s easily the most thorough examination of the doctrine of salvation I’ve ever seen. What could be more worthy of our time? The book is divided into two parts. The first builds a foundation for our understanding of the atonement: Why was it needed? Did it have to be Jesus? Did He really pay it all?

In the second half, Murray systematically explains the many components of redemption, and seeks to determine the order in which they happen. These components are: effectual calling, regeneration, faith & repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ, and  glorification.

I can honestly say that I have a much more thorough understanding of what is possibly the most important doctrine in the Bible after having read this book.

Recommended for: Christians willing to devote some serious study to a difficult doctrine. Just to warn you, though: you’ll probably want to have a dictionary handy!

Read the full review here.

“The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer

Tozer’s a man I really admire, though I may not agree with him all the time. He had only an 8th grade formal education, yet became one of the most respected and influential pastors/theologians of the 20th century. He believed that all he needed was the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and good books, and he could learn whatever he needed to know! He always read (and wrote) from his knees, asking the Spirit to grant him discernment and understanding in what he read. My kind of man!

The book itself is a short, but powerful, Scripture-saturated plea for Christians to make their pursuit of God a life-long endeavor, not something that ends at our conversion. Tozer expounds on ten aspects of a Spirit-led life, exhorting us to live lives worthy of our calling.

Recommended for: Those who have been blessed by the writings of modern authors like Francis Chan and David Platt, whose writing has obviously been influenced by Tozer.

Read the full review here.

“Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood” by Mark Driscoll

A wonderful and super-short (less than 40 pages) book on fatherhood by one of my favorite preachers. It’s amazing how Driscoll is able to cut straight to the point in so few words, as he covers a lot of ground very quickly, yet clearly.

Those unfamiliar with Driscoll’s style may be shocked at his bluntness, but he is thoroughly biblical. This is a much-needed reminder of the incredible responsibility that Christian dads have to shepherd their families well.

Recommended for: Dads especially, but there are also great things to be learned by men who are not yet dads.

Read the full review here.

“Understanding Dispensationalists” by Vern S. Poythress

Unlike most books on the “end times”, this book seeks not to advance or discredit a particular system of eschatology, but rather to promote understanding and civil dialogue between Christians with differing views. This is a welcome addition to a conversation that has always tended to divide rather than unify believers.

Dispensationalism (characterized by a belief in the separate but parallel destinies of Israel and the Church) has been the predominant eschatological view in America for most of the last century, but is far from universally accepted. Unfortunately, dispensationalist preachers, scholars, and popular writers have tended to misrepresent opposing viewpoints, and many dispensationalist laypeople are unaware that there even are other viewpoints. Similarly, non-dispensationalists tend to overlook the many nuances of this system of interpretation, failing to realize that it does have many merits. There is far more to it than it’s most recognizable component: the belief in a 7-year period of tribulation preceded by the “rapture” of the Church.

Poythress, a non-dispensationalist, took a sabbatical from his teaching position at Westminster Theological Seminary to study at Dallas Theological Seminary, a school which was founded for the teaching of dispensationalism. His goal was to write a scholarly work that would present dispensationalism on its own terms to other non-dispensationalists, in the hopes of being a first step toward changing the tone of this “in-house” debate. Considering that many of the book’s endorsements are written by prominent dispensational theologians, I believe he succeeded. I certainly have a better understanding of this system of interpretation as a result of this book, though it is not the interpretive view that I hold.

Recommended for: Christians with an interest in studying the “end times”.

Read the full review here.

“Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever

I recently re-read this book, which is probably the best (from a Baptist perspective) lay-level book written on ecclesiology — the doctrine of the church. Considering we are in the process of conducting a search for a new pastor, I think it is important to be reminded what kind of man we should be seeking, and what kind of church body we ought to be.

Dever identifies nine “marks” which are evident in a healthy church, and gives doctrinal and practical guidance on how to maintain or become this kind of church. Though he is writing in part to pastors, this is a book meant to be read by anyone with an interest in the health of the Body (hopefully all of us). One of the things that makes Baptists Baptist is our belief in congregational authority in our churches. This means that, though we are led by specially appointed men, we are each responsible to some degree for the discipline and discipleship of the church. We must each know what the Bible says the church is, as well as our own role in it. In my opinion, there is no better place to start that process than with this book.

Recommended for: All church members, in the hope that we will all be better equipped to support our pastor search committee in prayer as they seek God’s man for our pulpit.

Read the full review here.

Book Reviews – July & August

Another round of recent reviews:

“The Plight of Man and the Power of God” by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Dr. Lloyd-Jones is one of the most gifted thinkers and theologians of the last century. This book is based on a series of lectures delivered by this British preacher in 1941. He is primarily expounding upon Romans 1:16-32, with the effort of demonstrating that the man-centered philosophies of the world were pure folly. Then, as now, people did not like to think of themselves as sinful. Humanists taught that man was basically good, and that no more wars would be fought after the Great War, because we’d somehow evolved beyond all that. When it came to God, people had no trouble with his attributes of love and mercy, but rejected his holiness, justice, and wrath. After all, if man is not sinful, what’s to punish?

Lloyd-Jones instead insisted that we cannot properly understand God’s love and mercy without a proper understanding of our own sinfulness and God’s holiness. Only when we realize our plight (that because of our sin we are hopelessly separated from a Holy God) will we begin to comprehend the true power of God (to punish sin, but also to restore sinners) and the necessity of our salvation. Therefore, Christians (and especially preachers) must not shy away from teaching the difficult doctrines.

Recommended for: People with a good grasp of basic theology looking to dig deeper into the doctrines of sin and salvation.

Read the full review here.

“Our Home is Like a Little Church” by Lindsay Blair and Bobby Gilles, illustrated by Tessa Janes

I picked up this little children’s book based on someone else’s recommendation, and I hope you’ll do the same by mine! This is absolutely the best book of its kind I’ve seen. It has fun illustrations, and teaches a really great message for the whole family. Our homes are supposed to look like little churches, and “Pastor Dad” has the responsibility to lead it. In just a few short pages, it teaches children valuable lessons about prayer, worship singing, Scripture reading, and loving one another.

Recommended for: Every family (no matter whether or not you have young children), but especially for Dads.

Read the full review here.

“The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World” by John Piper and Justin Taylor, general editors

Basically a transcript of the plenary sessions of a conference from 2006, each chapter is written by a different author — the speakers from that conference. Each one addresses a different aspect of postmodernism, and how Christ reigns supreme even when the world rejects him. It reminded me of a quote by the great Dutch theologian of the 19th century, Abraham Kuyper: “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'”

The focus is primarily on the relationship of the Church to the world. The list of speaker/authors is pretty impressive: John Piper, D.A. Carson, David Wells, Voddie Baucham, Mark Driscoll, and Tim Keller. Each is excellent!

Recommended for: Anyone struggling with how to understand or articulate the differences between postmodernism and a biblical worldview. Might be particularly helpful for college students.

Read the full review here.

“Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education” by Douglas Wilson

This book is probably the single most thorough book on the nature and philosophy of Classical Christian Education, which is the foundation of Highland Rim Academy, where I serve on the Board of Directors. By way of self-disclosure, I’m not recommending this book because I want you to come to Highland Rim! Rather, I wanted to get involved with Highland Rim because I read this book.

Wilson is a pioneer in Christian education, having started an association of schools in the early 80’s which is now expanding rapidly. The premise is that Christians have a biblical mandate to educate their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and that there are certain ways in which this is best achieved. Though he contrasts Classical Christian Education with public schools, traditional Christian schools, and homeschooling, this book focuses on the positive aspects of CCE, rather than the negatives of other forms of education.

Not everyone will agree with Wilson on every point, but at the very least it will cause you to think about Christian education in ways you may never have done.

Recommended for: Everyone, especially parents and teachers.

Read the full review here.

“Excused Absence: Should Christian Kids Leave Public Schools?” by Douglas Wilson

This small book is really a companion to the book above, though it may certainly be read separately. Whereas the first book concentrated on promoting a particular kind of Christian education, this one weighs the pros and cons of the type of schooling in which 85% of American Christian parents enroll their children. It’s certainly an eye-opener, and a book every parent owes to his or her children to read.

Recommended for: Same as above

Read the full review here.

“Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal” by T. David Gordon

Easily the best book I’ve read recently on song selection for worship services!  The author argues that the lack of hymns in most worship services is NOT due primarily to differences in preference. Rather, for several reasons, the typical congregant (generically referred to as “Johnny”) is unable to sing hymns. These reasons range from a lack of understanding of theological terminology to poor musical instruction to a general disregard for formality in our society.

While on a practical level I don’t agree with the author on every point, philosophically I believe he’s right on. This book has definitely made me reconsider my personal approach to corporate worship… and not just music. There are implications here for how we dress, how (not just what) we sing, and how we treat one another as members of Christ’s body.

Recommended for: This is a must-read for every worship leader or pastor, and also highly recommended for laypeople.

Read the full review here.

“The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline” by Jonathan Leeman

This book, written by a Southern Baptist, is especially needed among Southern Baptists, who seem to have almost completely neglected the doctrines of church membership and discipline. It raises many questions: Who does God say belongs to the church? Who does the church say belongs? Is there a difference between those two answers? Isn’t it unloving to discipline people for sin? Doesn’t God say that judgment belongs to him? Who are we — sinners ourselves — to call out others for their sins?

The interesting thing about this book, which tackles some very difficult and unpopular subjects, is that it is really primarily a book about the nature of God’s love. Rather than begin with practical suggestions for the implementation of discipline and membership requirements (as most books on these subjects do), Leeman says that membership and discipline are really two ways of demonstrating God’s love. Therefore, we must have a right understand of God’s love before we can have a right practice of membership and discipline.

Though hefty (well over 400 pages), this book is written on a popular level, and is accessible for any reader. We as Christians, and especially as Southern Baptists, have GOT to get a grasp on this! The local church is of extreme importance to our Lord, and so it must be for us as well.

Recommended for: All Christians, but elders (pastors) and deacons especially especially.

Read the full review here.

“The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ With Confidence” by Thabiti Anyabwile

Since Muslims are currently observing Ramadan, I thought it would be an ideal time to read this book, written by a former Muslim who just happens to be one of the best Baptist preachers I’ve ever had the privilege to hear live! It’s a very encouraging reminder of the power of the Gospel for salvation to everyone who believes, even Muslims.

Written in a conversational style, it’s a quick and easy read that gives some valuable insight into the lives and beliefs of a people group far too often reviled — rather than loved — by Christians. Though we won’t ever hear it from mainstream news sources, God is doing an incredible work throughout the world right now, bringing many Muslims to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ!

Recommended for: Lovers of sinners

Read the full review here.

Book Reviews – June Edition

Time for some quick summaries of another month’s worth of reading!

“When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

This is a book that will make you re-think the whole concept of mission trips! The authors show how, more often than not, short-term mission trips and local church and parachurch relief organizations actually do more harm than good. They identify the root of the problem, and then show Biblically and practically how Christians can work to achieve true poverty alleviation. They provide a definition of poverty that is much more holistic than simply a lack of material things, and remind us that Man’s greatest need is not food, water, or shelter, but Christ.

Recommended for: Anyone who has gone on a mission trip, or who may go on one in the future. Also, for those who feel a special burden to minister to the poor and hurting… which ought to be everybody!

Read the full review here.

“John (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary)” by R.C. Sproul

In addition to being by far the most easy-reading Biblical commentary I’ve seen, this book contained a ton of fresh insight on the book of the Bible I’ve probably read more than any other. I love the way that Sproul teaches in his sermons, lectures, and writing, and this book is no exception. If you’ve never read a commentary on a book of the Bible, this is a great place to start. It will really give you a love for studying the Word!

Recommended for: People looking to dig deep into Scripture, but don’t necessarily want a verse-by-verse commentary.

Read the full review here.

“Rescuing Ambition” by Dave Harvey

This is certainly a unique book. Harvey takes a look at a character trait that has received a bad rap: ambition. Rather than portray it as a negative, as many in the Church have done, the author teaches that ambition is actually a God-exalting trait that is especially prone to being perverted to sinful use. When “rescued” from its selfish uses, Godly ambition becomes a powerful took that is much needed in the Church.

Recommended for: Christians who are ambitious for God’s glory, and who feel called to do great things!

Read the full review here.

“God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology” by Michael Horton

I read this book because I am interested to learn more about this system of Biblical interpretation. I’m not sure I’m fully in agreement with everything taught by covenant theologians, but there is a lot of merit to what they have to say and I wanted to try to understand it on its own terms. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t as “introductory” as I’d hoped. It’s still good, but heavier reading than I expected. At least I feel I have a firmer grasp on what Covenant Theology is, though!

Recommeded for: Serious theology geeks who don’t already know this stuff.

Read the full review here.

“Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus” by D.A. Carson

Don Carson is one of my favorite Bible teachers, and I know anything he writes is going to be good! This book is a pretty quick and easy read, based on a series of sermon/lectures he delivered in 2008. He looks at five aspects of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection that are particularly “scandalous”. How often we forget how offensive the message of the cross is! The writing style is very engaging and keeps the reader interested throughout the teaching of a message that, while familiar, we can never hear enough!

Recommended for: Absolutely everybody!

Read the full review here.

Book Reviews – May Edition

Time for some quick summaries of another month’s worth of reading!

“The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation” by Michael Reeves

This is a very succinct and riveting summary of Church history during the time of the Protestant Reformation. It focuses on the major players (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, etc) and events (various Church councils, the Diet of Worms, scores of martyrs, etc) of the Reformation in Germany, Switzerland, France, and England, and how these affected the entire world and changed the course of history. There are several biographical sketches of bit players who either challenged or aided the work of the great Reformers. Reeves also includes a brief history of Catholic theology to provide context for the need for reformation, as well as an introduction to the Puritans who continued the work of “always reforming” for several centuries.

Recommended for: Those with an interest in the history of the Church but who don’t want to read entire textbooks to get the basic idea.

Read the full review here.

“Church Planting is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things” by Mike McKinley

As the title suggests, this is a book about church planting. Specifically, it deals with the author’s experiences in “church revitalization” — a type of church planting when, rather than starting from scratch, church planters work to revitalize the ministry of a dead or dying church. This is doubly beneficial, because in addition to creating a new public testimony for Christ’s Kingdom in a community, it also removes a bad one. The book focuses on the unique challenges that are faced by planters of new and revitalizing churches, and the fact that God does not use “super-Christians” to accomplish great works, but rather uses “wimps” who rely solely on God’s grace to do anything.

Recommended for: Church planters, pastors/members of small churches, and those who wish to add vitality to the ministry of any church, large or small.

Read the full review here.

“Christianity and Liberalism” by J. Gresham Machen

This is a now-classic book written in 1923 in response to the growing influence of liberalism in Protestant churches, particularly in Europe and America. More relevant today than ever, much of what Machen penned almost eight decades ago has now proved to be prophetic. The problems faced and anticipated in the 1920’s are the same problems faced by the Church today… just as they have been faced by Christians throughout the past 2000 years. Machen’s cogent refutation of liberalism and optimism for the triumph of the work of Christ — both in its ultimate eschatological fulfillment and in the preservation and prevalence of the Church until His return — makes for a very informative and encouraging read.

Recommended for: Those who care deeply for the Church and her testimony amid a fallen and falling world.

Read the full review here.

“Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce” by John Piper

This is a short (only 76 pages) biography of one of my favorite historical figures. Most of us know him as the man who worked tirelessly for the abolition of the British slave trade, and then of slavery itself. While that was his greatest accomplishment, it was not his only accomplishment. Piper’s biography explores the theological basis for Wilberforce’s policies, and the source of his joy and perseverance. Easily readable in a single sitting, this is a book that will encourage Christians by revealing the heart of a man who really made a difference in the world, by God’s grace.

Recommended for: Lovers of great biographies, and those who want to see how faith and politics really can be combined in a powerful way!

Read the full review here.

“What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert

Like its title, this book is short and to the point. Gilbert writes a much-needed book to remind each of us what the true Gospel really is. All Christians speak of “gospel”, but many do not truly know or understand what it means. As the Gospel is so foundational to our faith, it is imperative that we know what it is! “What Is the Gospel” makes these truths refreshingly plain, reminding us that while the Gospel is “simple”, it is never “easy”. Living in that Truth and applying it to our lives is the lifelong pursuit of believers that will never be fully realized until Christ returns in Glory. The Gospel is not an introductory topic from which “mature” Christians move beyond. It is the sum and substance of everything we believe; it is our daily bread and the source of our strength. True believers never tire of hearing the Gospel!

Recommended for: Absolutely everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike.

Read the full review here.

“The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism” by Kevin DeYoung

While many Christians today run from the concept of “catechism”, this type of theological training (in which students memorize sets of questions-and-answers) is one of the greatest tools that the Church has developed for growing believers into maturity and implanting the Gospel in our hearts. This particular book explores the Heidelberg Catechism, though there are many others. Written in 1563, this catechism divides 129 questions-and-answers into 52 sections, allowing those who study it to progress systematically through an understanding of theology over the course of a year. DeYoung’s book is similarly divided into 52 chapters, expounding on each of the questions addressed by the catechism. It’s quite good, though there are some areas in which Baptists will disagree with the author.

Recommended for: Those who want to expand their knowledge of theology, and parents interested in catechizing their children.

Read the full review here.

“Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters” by Joshua Harris

This is unique book that explores theology from a very different perspective than most. Rather than simply defining theological terms or intensively studying Scripture, this is a book that seeks first to show why it is important to study theology. As the author states, everyone has a theology — and understanding about who God is. It is therefore important to make sure that what we believe about God is actually true! This book is Harris’ personal story of how he came to love theology, and how God has used it to change his personal and vocational ministry. He makes deep theological truths very accessible to those with no prior theological training. Those familiar with Harris’ earlier books will recognize his easy, conversational writing style that draws readers into the story while engaging them with deep spiritual themes.

Recommended for: Any Christian, but particularly those who seek a deeper knowledge of theological truths but don’t know where to begin.

Read the full review here.

“Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto” by Mark Levin

This book is a collection of political essays by talk show host Mark Levin. It was one of the bestselling books of 2009, so I was curious to read what he had to say. This book actually presents far more than a political philosophy; it presents a comprehensive worldview. My review of the book focuses on how Levin’s worldview compares with a biblical Christian worldview. It is said that politics and religion don’t mix, but the reality is that one’s worldview affects what one believes about everything, politics and religion included. It is therefore vital that we have a biblically-based worldview that informs our decisions in every sphere of life.

Recommended for: Readers who have a firm grasp of Scripture, and can separate fact from opinion in political discourse.

Read the full review here.

Book Reviews – March & April

It’s been a while since I updated the Worship Ministry blog with the latest book reviews and recommendations, so here are summaries of the books I’ve read and reviewed since early March:

“Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt

This is the very first book written by David Platt, a preacher in Alabama I’ve had the privilege of hearing live several times. I absolutely believe this is a book that will change the Church in America… it’s that good! Platt challenges us to radically change the way we think about our responsibility as Christians, and to live sacrificially according to our call. For those who enjoy the writing of Francis Chan, you’ll find this is in a similar vein. A must-read for every Christian.

Recommended for: Anyone with a pulse

Read the full review here.

“Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers” by Patrick Kavannaugh

This is a series of short biographies of prominent composers, focusing on their spiritual beliefs. While there are some good parts, there are also times where the author exaggerates (if not downright misleads) regarding some composers’ commitment to Christianity. Upholding as Christian examples men who had profoundly unbiblical ideas about God such as Richard Wagner and Frederic Chopin tarnishes the testimony of true followers and lovers of Jesus Christ such as J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel.

Recommended for: Musicians and lovers of music who may not have the time or inclination to read more thorough biographies of these great composers.

Read the full review here.

“Right Behind: A Parody of Last Days Goofiness” by Nathan D. Wilson

A heavily satirical book which pokes fun at the “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Wilson writes good-natured but pointed and valid critiques of everything from evangelical society to dispensational theology to the terrible writing evident in most Christian fiction, and in the Lahaye/Jenkins series especially. This is definitely not a book for everyone, but I found it a fun and easy read.

Recommended for: Lovers of parody and satire who are familiar with the original series.

Read the full review here.

“Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture” by Max McLean

A great book about reading the Bible aloud in corporate worship settings. In addition to addressing a rare subject, this book also has a lot to teach about worship in general. While you’re at it, be sure to check out Max McLean’s solo dramatic reading of Mark’s Gospel on YouTube. He demonstrates the power of the Word!

Recommended for: Christians gifted in the creative arts, and those with a passion for Scripture and a desire to read it publicly as an act of corporate worship.

Read the full review here.

“Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t” by Stephen Prothero

This is a fascinating book by a secular religious studies professor. While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, the two chapters on church history and the “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” at the end are well worth the price of the book.

Recommended for: Those with an interest in the history of religion in America and an interest in learning about the basic tenets of other major world religions.

Read the full review here.

“On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” and “North! Or Be Eaten” by Andrew Peterson

These are the first two installments of a new fiction series called “The Wingfeather Saga”. Written by singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson (you may remember him from his “Behold the Lamb of God” concert at Stevens Street a few years ago), these books are meant to be enjoyed by children, but are on a level that adults will love as well. In this way, they are very similar to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”, though I’m sure Peterson would hesitate to have his work compared to those great literary classics!

Still, the Wingfeather books have much merit of their own, and will be enjoyed by fans of the genre. While not specifically “Christian” fiction, they do touch on many spiritual themes, and are coming from the pen of an author with a decidedly Christian worldview (another similarity with Tolkien and Lewis). The situations faced by the characters in the story will lead to many great discussions between parents and children, providing opportunities for teaching Biblical truths.

Recommended for: Fans of the fantasy fiction genre, and especially for those with children.

Read the full reviews here for “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” and “North! Or Be Eaten

“Stuff Christians Like” by Jonathan Acuff

This book is based off of Acuff’s popular “Stuff Christians Like” blog, where he has garnered quite the following due to his funny yet insightful essays on the evangelical subculture. He has a pretty good take on why we do the things we do, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. The book does include a few of the more popular posts from his blog, but consists primarily of new material. Like the blog, the book is fun, but surprisingly convicting at times.

Recommended for: Fans of wit, sarcasm, and side hugs, who don’t mind having a little fun at their own expense.

Read the full review here.

“Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World” edited by C.J. Mahaney

This is a relatively small book with chapters by five different authors dealing with various aspects of worldliness with which Christians struggle. I especially appreciated the way the book finds a balance between engaging and avoiding culture. The whole book was good, but the chapters on media and music (from which I posted a quote on this blog last week) stood out as being particularly helpful.

Recommended for: Christians who may be struggling to love God more than the things of this world, or for those who are ministering to others dealing with addiction or a lack of discernment.

Read the full review here.