30 September 2010

Book Notes-September 2010

1. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (2010).  This book is essentially Bill Craig's "Apologetics for Dummies", yet I still felt too dumb to truly understand his depth.  Dr Craig is such a deep thinker who clearly reasons like a philosopher.  I deeply appreciate his views, particularly on the moral argument and the cosmological argument for the existence of God.  With that said, if I were a newbie to apologetics, I would get materials from Greg Koukl or Lee Stroebel instead as they provide just the kiddie pool that most of us amateurs need.  3.5 stars.

2.  Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt (2010).  When I started this book, I was immediately struck with the similarity to The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World and Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.  Platt, the pastor of a large megachurch in the south, issues a challenge to American Christians.  He suggests that many churches in America are plagued with a desire for comfort, security, and self-sufficiency, which he notes is contrary to the gospel of Jesus which promises difficulty and persecution.  He urges readers to "give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously."  When I read books like these three I mentioned, I struggle to reign myself in from cashing in my chips on the American dream and moving half way around the world proclaiming at the top of my lungs "to live is Christ, but to die is gain!"today.  But perhaps...perhaps...that is what God is calling us to do.  4.5 stars.

4. The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur (1988/2008).  This book is not for the faint of heart.  Near the end of the book, MacArthur refers to himself as a controversialist in that he brings up challenging things because he refuses to abandon the gospel.  The premise of this book is "lordship salvation."  In other words, MacArthur argues that although salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, a saved person's life will necessarily show evidence of increased sanctification and holiness.   To be clear, he does not believe that perfection will be, or even can be, obtained on earth, but that when a person is born again, he is truly a new creation who will look differently to the world.  He flatly denies the concept of "carnal Christianity" and spends much time raising a challenge to those who would claim Christ as savior, but fail to claim him as Lord.  4 stars.

5. The Pursuit of Holiness [PURSUIT OF HOLINESS] by Jerry Bridges (1978/2006).  On the book's jacket, Charles Colson wrote, "I believe this is a modern classic. Few books have had the influence on me that this one has."  Although I have yet to see the influence in my life, I pray that it does.  Bridges wrote an exceptionally readable, but important book about holiness.  Holiness is a concept that many Christians do not understand, perhaps because it is not often addressed in churches today.  I found myself eager to read more and apply what I was reading.  This is probably amongst the top 5 Christian books I have read (certainly top 10).  5 stars.

6. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (RE: Lit) by Mark Driscoll (2010).  Doctrine has a different flavor than other books he has written. It is an overview of several major categories of Biblical doctrine (e.g., creation). He clearly shows his hand theologically, which is not unexpected with any sort of systematic theology. There are many points where I agree with him, some where I don't, and some where I think there is simply a lot of mystery yet. I have preferred other books of his more than this one, but it is worth reading, particularly if you are looking for an accessible systematic theology. 3.5 stars.

7. Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ by John Piper (2008).  This book, as Piper's books so often do, highlight the perfect sovereignty of God.  Piper reviews many of the "spectacular sins" of the Bible such as Joseph's betrayal by his brothers and Jesus' betrayal by Judas and he talks about how God ordained those actions all for the glory of Christ.  This short book is unique in its focus, but a worthwhile read. 4 stars.  

29 September 2010

Anemic Faith

My friend Pam sent me a link to a Yahoo News story about a recent Pew study.  The Pew forum sampled over 3000 people about their religious beliefs and some of the conclusions were shocking (or perhaps not).  Self-proclaimed evangelicals reportedly know less about religion than atheists and agnostics.  What was even more surprising was the lack of knowledge that Evangelicals know about their own professed faith.  Lest we evangelicals read the article and think, "well at least we scored better than Catholics," we should rather ask the question about whether we are truly loving God with all of our mind.

Perhaps nominal Christians are afraid that a serious intellectual look into their faith will leave them wanting.  I assure you, it will not.  Perhaps nominal Christians are more focused on their big screen TVs than they are on the sovereign Creator of the universe.  I assure you, He is far more worthy of our attention. 

Individual Christians need to take initiative to learn the Bible and to study it deeply.  Proverbs 4:7 reads, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight."  How can we share the gospel with others if we do not even know what we are talking about?  Romans 10:14 says, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"  How are we to preach if we don't even know Whom we preach about?!? 

Brothers and sisters, take the initiative and step out of the bumper sticker theology that is a plague in the American church today.  Flee from an anemic faith derived from T-shirts, coffee mugs, and Doctor Phil.  Study the word.  Read early church fathers.  Explore apologetics.  Sit under Biblical teaching and take notes.  

Do not be afraid that your faith will fall short--we have the answers to life.  Go learn them.  

If you want to learn more, here are some places where you can start:

HT: Thabati Anyabwile for the pic

22 September 2010

The Cost? My life

I found myself walking down a road.

     On each side
                selling my sins
each beckoning me to come
     selling lust,
          selling gluttony
               selling pride.
Each promising to meet my deepest needs
     my deepest desires.

The cost?
     My life.

I visited the shops,
     I sampled their wares.
          I became "a regular"
          They gave what I "wanted"
               yet I was left wanting.

I did not know what to do.
     I sat down
          I squeezed my eyes tightly
          I tried to block out the sounds
               still beckoning me

As my desire grew...
I would return...

Then He showed up,
     He beckoned me, saying,
          "My child,
          do not shut your eyes,
          do not close your ears,

               look at Me
               listen to My voice.

     "I promise to meet your deepest needs
          your deepest desires

"The cost?
     My life."

Joy Grows in Holiness

I recently finished Jerry Bridges' book, The Pursuit of Holiness, which is one of the best books I have read and certainly the best on the topic of holiness.  Briefly, Bridges exhorts believers to seek holy, disciplined lives.  Consequently, I have been thinking about holiness, not so much in terms of reading my Bible more, or praying more, or doing spiritual things; rather, I have been examining the sin in my life and considering what it says about my holiness.  Holiness is not an addition of Godly things to my life, or a subtraction of worldly things from my life, but rather a transformation of my life to look more like Christ.

The book has had somewhat of an unexpected effect upon me, I confess, as I think about my sin.  I have struggled with too many sins of the flesh to count, but one that consistently rises to the surface is gluttony.  I am either looking forward to my next binge, or eating in an over-controlled way.  Neither gluttony, nor overcontrol, represent godliness because in each instance, food remains the focus.  In fact, I am increasingly realizing that my obedience is not an issue regarding food at all--it is, I suppose, related to breaking the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). 

A surprising gift, I have discovered is that, with obedience comes joy.  Not only joy in pleasing the Father, but enjoyment of His good gifts as well.  Last night, we enjoyed a simple dinner of soup, bread, and cinnamon-chocolate dessert bread with good friends.  The flavor was amazing, yet I felt little desire to overeat. 

I am slowly realizing that obedience to Christ is great gain and with it comes a profound joy, not only in Christ, but also in His creation. 

09 September 2010

Book burning and the sovereignty of God

I rarely watch the news anymore, but it has been hard to ignore the widespread outrage at the proposed action of Terry Jones, the pastor of a 50 person church outside of Gainsville, Florida.  If you have somehow managed to isolate yourself more than I do, let me summarize: Jones has proposed "International Burn a Koran Day" on September 11, 2010.  Jones has generated a media blitz that fairly universally condemns his plan.  Criticisms include cultural insensitivity; misrepresenting Christ; and endangering the lives of troops, missionaries, and expatriates.  My google reader has been flooded with posts (e.g., 22 words, Kevin DeYoung) about this in the past few days.

I cannot say that I have much to add except to say that this action is no surprise to God.  God is sovereign.  Proverbs 16:4 (NIV) says "the Lord works out everything for His own ends, even the wicked for a day of disaster."  This action, which is understandably condemnable, is a part of God's plan. 

Christians, rather than adding our voices to the cacophony of criticism, perhaps we can use this foreordained event to show individuals the real Jesus, the holy son of God who humbled himself, coming down into human history as a man and lived a sinless life, dying on the cross to take away the sins of all who would dare to believe in Him.