Category Archives: Helpful Book Reviews

Helpful Book Reviews – 05-11-13

Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down by Joshua Harris – … “humble orthodoxy” grows in the rich soil of God’s grace with an unrelenting focus on the glory of God and the welfare of others. Arrogant orthodoxy and humble heterodoxy have one thing in common: they flourish best when focused on your own interests. A doctrinal stalwart who’s proud and condescending is usually just concerned with being right; a person who’s too nice to say anything confrontational is only worried about self-preservation. Neither was an option for the apostle Paul. “For Paul, [preservation of Christian orthodoxy] wasn’t about proving someone else wrong, winning an argument, or adding people to his little club. For Paul, orthodoxy made the difference between life and death, heaven and hell” (9). So “truth matters,” Harris writes, “but so does our attitude” (12). – Derek Brown

Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church edited by John Muether and Danny Olinger – This book isn’t a detailed history of the OPC – although it does contain some OPC history.  Between these covers you’ll find the authors explaining the truths of Scripture, the doctrines of Reformation theology, the power of preaching, the motivation for missions, the beauty of the gospel, and the importance of the confessions.  More specifically, here are the titles of a few essays: “The Legacy of Charles Hodge,” “Tongues Today?,” “Was Adam Historical?” “Catechetical Instruction in the OPC,” “Called to the Ministry,” and “The Ruling Elder in Church Planting,” among others.  So far I’ve enjoyed the article on tongues by Gaffin and the discussion of missions by Mark Bube.  I’m also looking forward to reading the chapter on redemptive historical hermeneutics as well as Godfrey’s article on the OPC/URCNA relationship (perhaps he’ll rightly tell the URC to aim towards a more Presbyterian polity!  Stay tuned….).  Actually, most of the articles look like good reading.  I hope to read them over the course of the summer. – Shane Lems

Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton – What I found most helpful was his organization of thoughts and the ease of which he approaches different subjects. Many people, including Horton himself, say that this text is a gutted version of his larger systematic work, Christian Faith. Though gutted by about half the depth as his larger work (Horton took out ~500 pages), Pilgrim Theology is a steller introduction to systematics. Pertinent theological terms are highlighted, typically given their own special attention off to the side, and included in the glossary at the back of the book. Following the glossary, Horton has supplied his (visual) readers with a chart that takes students from the Scriptures to application in an array of concepts (in the same format that he has written his entire systematic theology in, from Drama —> Doctrine —> Doxology —>  Discipline). The chart is followed by Scripture, Subject, and Author indexes. –

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Helpful Book Reviews – 04-27-13

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien – ichards and O’Brien identify nine areas where interpretive problems commonly arise. Some cultural differences are obvious, others lurk beneath the surface, while a third class is extremely difficult to detect and thus poses the greatest danger to the reader of Scripture. The point is that most of these differences go unsaid, being implicit rather than clearly expressed. The first group, explained in chapters one to three, consists of cultural mores, the copious scriptural references to race and ethnicity in Scripture—with the overtones and undertones conveyed to the original readers—and varying significance given to different literary genres. In the second group, Richards and O’Brien contrast the rampant individualism of American society with the corporate and collectivist cultures that prevail in the East. They devote a chapter to the honor-shame nature of the Oriental world in contrast to the dominance of individual conscience and guilt in the West (following Augustine). Indeed, there are radical differences between the two worlds. In the final section, attention turns to the prominence of rules in the West vis-à-vis relationships in the East, to the concepts of virtue and vice, and to a Western obsession with individual, personal relevance that assumes Scripture was written directly to and for me. – Robert Letham

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G. K. Beale – Perhaps Beale’s most distinctive contribution to NT biblical theology is his emphasis on the role new-creation plays both in how one understands the kingdom, and in how one understands everything from justification to judgment in the New Testament. Christ’s resurrection was the promise and presence of the new creation, invading our world of space and time. The uncreating of evil has begun, and the recreation of a new world has commenced – and our very spiritual lives with the progress we make in sanctification, is part of God’s making all things new (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:5). – Bob Hayton

Helpful Book Reviews – 04-20-13

Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp – Remaining in awe of who God is and what he does is not something that comes easily to us as human beings. When something is new and unfamiliar it’s easy for us to be fully engaged and excited. Overtime that interest wanes and we find other things to excite us. As minister’s that really shouldn’t be an option for us. Yes, it is our privilege to preach Christ – but even more so it is our reason for being alive to delight in him. Once we begin to slack in our cultivation of awe, or lose it all together, our ministry suffers. The role of pastor doesn’t make sense without God, so don’t try to do it without him. – Best Seminary Blog

Helpful Book Reviews 04-13-13

Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes by R.W. Glenn  – “Reducing the Christian faith to a lifestyle” — Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are perhaps most famous for this trait, but a number of other evangelical groups have this tendency as well. In our zeal for protecting children from the evils of this world, and in our desire to live holy lives we sometimes turn faith into a religion, and the gospel into a sub-culture replete with its own rules and customs. Nostalgia for the good old days when sinful lifestyles weren’t on full display in public, and a fondness for large families and wholesome fun — these can be good things, but they can also define us. The problem comes when our familiar way of life, holy as it may be, becomes what we live for and what is most important to us. It takes the place of the gospel and the role of Christian doctrine, and this lifestyle-orientation can keep our kids from true Christianity. But don’t hear just my word for it. – Bob Hayton

Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down by Josh Harris – Sound doctrine is vital. Godly example is essential. But they are not enough. Apart from humility of heart, we will be like the Pharisees and will use the truth as a stick to beat others over the head. And God will be dishonored in that. If we would honor God, we must represent truth humbly in our words, in our demeanor, and in our attitude. – Josh Harris

The Homosexual Debate and the Church Edited by David Longacre – Another excellent aspect of this book is the practical message it provides on how to interact with those who have fallen prey to the lie that homosexuality is a viable alternative and supported by Scripture, or at least the false idea that Scripture is silent on the issue. In the essay titled “Homosexuality: Balancing Truth and Mercy, John Freeman avers “Most people find it easier to speak the truth, and then run from any additional involvement. It is easier to tell someone they are wrong than to help them out of their error. This is not truly Biblical…we need to realize that God commands that we love this way. God does not call us to do the impossible. God only calls us to do things that He enables us to do.” So demonstrating mercy to those who are involved with promoting, supporting, or living out the gay agenda must go hand in hand with speaking the truth of God’s word. This does not mean the sinful lifestyle of homosexuality can be viewed as okay or allowable in God’s sight. The issue is speaking the truth in love allowing the power of God’s word to pierce the inward man with the light of truth. In this case, instead of walking about with signs that say “God hates homosexuals”, the proper approach is to sit down with the individual, listen to their position and then share with them what God says is the boundaries for proper sexual relationships. –

Helpful Book Reviews – 04-06-13

Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn A. Moots – This is likely to send up a hue and cry about the perils of an incipient theocracy, but remember that all our prejudices against theocracy do not keep us from winding up with one, but merely ensure that whatever theocracy we settle on will be ruled over by a theos who is ashamed to show his face or admit his name, and will be subsequently managed by economic illiterati, and then refereed by black-robed chin-strokers, with fully half of them having their robes over their heads. Nothing has been the same since the vestal virgins unionized and went on strike, and their new uniforms are terrible. – Doug Wilson

Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris – This is a book that I would love to put in the hands of a lot of people I have encountered over the years. First and foremost, though, it is a book I needed to read. It is a book I need to read again. It is a book I plan to read regularly. It rebuked, encouraged and challenged me in very helpful ways. If you have a blog or you regularly peruse blogs (especially if you comment on them), if you just plain love theology and desire to believe what is right and true, then do yourself a favor and read it as well. – Tim Challies

Helpful Book Reviews – 03-16-13

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath – The book’s subtitle aptly captures his portrait of C.S. Lewis: an eccentric genius who was also reluctantly prophetic to his generation and to our own. Lewis’ eccentricities were many. McGrath looks deeply into the strange relationship with the mysterious Mrs. Moore, finally saying what biographers have been reluctant to admit: that for many years Lewis was living in a common-law relationship with the mother of one of his dear friends. He looks as well at Lewis’ unexpected marriage to Joy Davidman and tries to discern whether this was a marriage of convenience, whether it was a gold-digging woman taking advantage of a naive man, or whether there really was a spark between the two. He examines Lewis as a friend, a brother, a professor and an unexpected celebrity. – Tim Challies

The Intolerance of Tolerance and A Queer Thing Happened to America – While these two books provide an unsettling view of our nation and its future, Christians who want to be prepared to provide a faithful witness when it is difficult and who are in places of responsibility for preparing others to face the future would do well to read one or both. – Starr Meade

Black and Tan by Douglas Wilson – In Wilson’s view, the South should have been sufficiently “Christian” to practice slavery as the Bible regulates it. The southern situation, being better than the Roman situation in which Paul wrote, was subject to NT teaching. He understands that “the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground” (p. 52). But failing to treat them in a biblical manner, God severely judged both the South and the North (judging the South with the North). – Thabiti Anyabwile

Helpful Book Reviews – 03-09-13

The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church… and How to Prepare by John S Dickerson – Dickerson compares the state of Evangelical Christianity in America today to the days before the recent financial recession that shook our country. Evangelicals in America have long been assumed to be a powerful juggernaut – a force to be reckoned with. Various polls put our numbers at between 25 and 40% of the population. But this sense of health and vitality is misplaced. Dickerson points to several pollsters who from a variety of perspectives and with independent measures all place the size of Evangelicalism at between 7 to 8.9% of the population — about 22 million strong. What makes this picture all the bleaker is that the Church is losing a high percentage of its young people and failing to keep pace with the growth of the general population. – Bob Hayton

Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice by Edwards W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett (page 61) – The book is structured very simply. Allowing and recognizing varieties within these major categories, Klink and Lockett provide first a definition / description and then an examination of a representative spokesman for each of these approaches. The relation of OT and NT, the unity and/or diversity of theological content, sources (Scripture only or backgrounds also?), subject matter, and disciplinary location (Is BT a churchly or academic field?) — each of these topics is taken up under the consideration of each approach before surveying the work of the given representative scholar. In the end, Klink and Lockett have provided a helpful summary-introduction to this complex field of study. – Fred Zaspel

The Intolerance of Tolerance by D. A. Carson (page 70) – There is a interweaving of biblical, theological, and cultural awareness that is an example of scholarship and exactly what one would expect from Carson. Chapter eight, “Ways Ahead: Ten Words,” is worth the price of the book for those who are seeking the way ahead. Many will be interested in this book who have yet to grasp the issue, but feel the uncomfortable tension when they are charged with “intolerance.” This volume will wonderfully assist them in understanding what is at stake, expand their knowledge of the history of thought and how we arrived at such a place, and provide them numerous examples that demonstrate how this new tolerance is working itself out in our culture. There will also be those who already understand the issues, but have not completely worked through the implications for the Christian faith or how to respond in a loving and biblical manner. Again, this volume will be an invaluable resource to these people, and Carson’s “Ten Words” will provide counsel and encouragement to those who want be bold in the face of challenges to the exclusivity of Christ and his claims. – Nate Wood

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath – The prolific and well-known Christian apologist McGrath can obviously identify with the tensions felt by Lewis and other public intellectuals. Popular academic writers will and should come under special scrutiny – they must abide by the same scholarly standards that got them into an academic position, while writing in such a way that the general reading public can appreciate their work. But especially among Christian scholars, we certainly need those who are willing to bridge the gap. Unlike many of Lewis’s Oxford colleagues, we should give those who attempt to reach a broader audience the benefit of the doubt. Reliable public intellectuals are essential for cultivating the Christian life of the mind, a task at which Lewis labored heroically. – Thomas Kidd

Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher – Greg Dutcher is a Calvinist pastor who is concerned about some of what he sees in today’s New Calvinism. Calvinism is “in” today; this is a cause for joy for those who, like me, believe that Reformed theology is a pure and accurate expression of New Testament theology, but with Calvinism’s trendiness come certain dangers and challenges. – Tim Challies

Helpful Book Review 03-02-13

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.- Pastors may find God at Work to be a useful tool as they translate theological language related to sanctification into laypeople’s vernacular. And any reader will be encouraged as Veith explains how all our roles and obligations serve God’s greater purposes. God at Work is probably not what you want if you’re looking for a comprehensive treatment of how to live as a Christian in the workplace. So read this book remembering that, “The doctrine of vocation is a theology of the Christian life, having to do with sanctification and good works. It is also a theology of ordinary life” (157). – Ben Wright

Everyday Church by Tim Chester, Steve Timmis –  The main premise of Everyday Church is that churches in the United Kingdom, and increasingly in America, are facing a post-Christendom world yet relying on evangelistic methods left over from Christendom. For generations we have tended to subsist on capital generated by a church-saturated culture, but now that the culture has shifted underfoot we are overdrawing our account.  – Bobby Jamieson

The King James Only Controversy by James White – When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief! – Shane Lems

Helpful Book Reviews 02-23-13

Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community by Dolphus Weary – “How many Christians do you know who don’t look like you?” Dolphus pointedly asks. He challenges churches to reach out to other congregations of different racial composition, and provides two pages of ideas for how racially different and divided churches can partner together in kingdom work. According to Dolphus, when Christians who don’t look like each other come together in the ways he proposes, three powerful things happen (165-166):  1. They actually address a real need in their community.  2. They show the world what racial reconciliation looks like by coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ and living out the unity Christ desires.  3. Because of that unity they offer a compelling witness to the world that Jesus is Lord of a united people, answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17. – David Murray

Helpful Book Reviews – 02-15-13

Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian – Why do we bother looking for ways to disguise our hurts, though? Why is it we’re so afraid to own up to our suffering? It’s because we’ve bought the lie that Christians aren’t supposed to get discouraged, that setbacks and suffering aren’t supposed to be part of the equation of the life of faith. We’re afraid that we’ve done something wrong, afraid of somehow incriminating God in the tragedy of human existence and feel like we have to get God off the hook when hurt bares its fangs because… Isn’t that all supposed to end once we place our trust in Jesus? It doesn’t, of course, but we want to pretend that it’s that simple because most of our ideas of sanctification relate to “victory over sin.” We fetishize victory (whatever that actually is) and usually tend towards letting the culture of our church define it rather than Scripture. This reinforces our distaste for suffering and compels us to hype up (or flat out concoct) the least bit of progress we make and to rationalize all of the sad, painful parts of our lives. – Ian Olson