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Tim Challies

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christian living

11 years 4 months ago

It is always big news when a new book is released under John Piper’s name. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, while listing Piper as a co-editor, contains only a few pages of Piper’s writing, with the rest being written by eleven other authors. The book is divided into five parts and eleven chapters. Allow me to provide a brief overview of each of these.

The first part is entitled “God and Sex.” The first two chapters comprise John Piper’s contribution to the book. Piper asserts two weighty points. First, that sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully. Second, that knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality. Essentially he wants the reader to believe that sex was given to us so that God could use the language of sex as metaphor so we could know Him more fully. He makes quite a weak attempt at proving this assertion with passages from Ezekiel and Hosea. Unfortunately he is far from convincing and offers no substantial proof. While what he states may be true, and God may have created sexuality as a way to know God in Christ more fully, I do not find that Scripture explicitly tells us so. Thankfully these chapters are short and the book soon picks up steam.

The third chapter, written by Ben Patterson, tells us that sex is good because the God who created sex is good. God is glorified greatly when we receive His gift with thanksgiving and enjoy it the way he meant for it to be enjoyed. We can only glorify God in our sexuality when we use it as He intends for us to use it.

The second section deals with “Sin and Sex.” The highlight of the entire book is David Powlison’s chapter on “Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken.” He provides biblical wisdom and encouragment for people who have abused sex, or who have been sexually abused. His counsel is loving and pastoral and will surely bring a glimpse of light to many for whom sex has become darkness. Many books have a chapter which alone validates the purchase of the book, and I would suggest that for Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, it is definitely this chapter.

Albert Mohler takes over for the fifth chapter and writes about homosexual marriage being a challenge to the church. As always Mohler is well-researched and insightful. He counsels Christians to love homosexuals (and every other person) more than these people love their sin, but still to see homosexual marriage as a frontal assault on the institution of marriage. While homosexuality is a grave sin, we must not regard it as being the worst of all sins (as we are prone to believe). While it is surely an awful sin in God’s eyes, we are all sinners and not one of us is innocent when it comes to sexual sin.

Part three deals with “Men and Sex.” Mark Dever and several co-authors challenge single men to live lives of sexual purity. They encourage men to adopt courtship as a model, for they feel it is more biblical than dating. I am not entirely convinced of this, but when I think of my daughter beginning a relationship some day, I certainly hope she courts instead of casually dates. This chapter is very similar to what one would read in any of Josh Harris’ books.

Chapter seven is written by C.J. Mahaney and is entitled “Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God.” This is the first I have read of Mahaney but very much enjoyed this chapter and hope to read more of his books. He provides wisdom from The Song of Solomon and interprets this book as being about sex and not being primarily an allegory for God’s relationship to His church - an assessment I agree with. He challenges the married man to ensure that he has touched his wife’s heart and mind before he touches her body and provides many practical pointers for doing just that.

Part four, “Women and Sex,” is comprised of two chapters, and as with the men, the first of these deals with single women and the second with those who are married. Caroyln McCulley encourages women to be content with their singleness and helps women see how they can even be a snare to marriages if they are not careful. Carolyn Mahaney writes for married women. The chapter is short and not awfully informative. It includes a fairly typical list of encouragement for wives - be attractive, be available, be anticipatory, be aggressive and be adventuresome.

The final section deals with history and sex. Justin Taylor writes about Martin Luther’s sexual revolution, showing the importance of Luther’s contribution to the Protestant understanding of marriage and sexuality. Mark Dever closes the book with a chapter examining the Puritans and their understanding of sex.

Like most books which are written by several authors, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ seemed a little uneven. The chapters did not always flow naturally from one to the next, and some were far better than others. However, it is safe to say that while there are not many people who would find equal value in each of the chapters, any reader, whether married or single, male or female, will find at least a few of them exceedingly valuable. The collective wisdom of these men and women of God is a valuable contribution to understanding that sex is given by God and is to be used for His glory. I recommend this book.

  Evaluation Support
After the first two chapters it is very solid.
Written to be accessible to nearly anyone.
A unique take on a subject that has been written about many times.
It is critical that we place even our sexuality under the supremacy of our Savior.
I recommend this book to any and all believers.
More About Ratings & Reviews

This book was reviewed as a program offered through Diet of Bookworms. Visit the Diet to read many other reviews of this title. You can support the Diet by purchasing the book through our Amazon affiliate link.

11 years 5 months ago

Let me be honest up-front. I did not finish this book. I believe it is only the second book, of the 100+ I have reviewed, that I did not complete. I read the first several chapters and was so disgusted by what I was reading that I elected to merely skim the remainder of the book. After all, I’m a busy guy and have an entire shelf of unread books awaiting my attention. Why would I want to waste my time on what is, unfortunately, complete trash?

Escaping The Matrix by Gregory Boyd and Al Larson is, according to the cover, a guide to “setting your mind free to experience real life in Christ.” The reality is that unless Christ requires that we use the latest in pseudo-occult psychological techniques to free our minds, this book will do nothing of the sort. Indeed it cannot, because much of the teaching of this book directly contradicts the Scripture.

The first clue to the trouble within this book came only two pages in, where the authors explained that the key to living a life freed from the chains of the past is to be found in The Matrix movies. In fact, the majority of the book is structured around the themes of the movies, and the authors are as likely to proof-text their teachings with quotes from The Matrix as they are from the Bible. The reader is even treated to a quote from one of the movies at the beginning of each chapter.

Instead of providing a detailed review (something I have disqualified myself from doing, since I merely skimmed much of the book) I thought I would provide an overview of the authors’ technique for “setting faith for the true you” and then refer you to a review written by a person who is much more qualified to comment on these issues than I am.

Escaping The Matrix culminates in an exercise that is designed to “help you collapse the negative Matrix-oriented faith that you are currently doing and install a biblically grounded faith about God’s will for your life.” There are seven steps:

  1. Form a mental picture that re-presents you doing an emotion, attitude or behavior that you believe needs to be changed in your life. Once you have it, set it aside and perform a pattern interrupt.
  2. Ask God to give you a picture of what you would look like if you manifested the truth of who you are in Christ. Take a snapshot of this you and enjoy the photograph.
  3. Delete all background elements of your future picture and change it to be made out of diamond. Place the negative picture in front of the positive picture so you can see the negative through the positive.
  4. See Jesus’ hands grasping the positive picture and smashing it through the negative. Hear and see it burst ito pieces and fall to the ground.
  5. Now see Jesus and you sweep up the broken glass. Dump the pieces into a wastebasket and see and hear Jesus congratulate you for getting rid of a Matrix lie.
  6. Gaze on the positive picture and make it bigger and brighter. With your internal voice, say to your soul that you and the Holy Spirit together will make thie positive picture happen.
  7. Ask God for His wisdom to help you discern things in your life that need to be altered to ensure the true you is manifested.

I suppose we are supposed to set aside our reason and believe that this is biblical methodology. Strangely, however, I can find no examples such in Scripture. And what’s more, I know of no examples in all of church history. It seems Larson and Boyd have stumbled onto some critical knowledge that has been hidden from us until discovered by the Wachowski brothers and digitized into a series of sex-and-swearingf-filled R-rated movies. The Lord truly must work in mysterious ways for this to be true.

But instead of ranting and raving about this, I thought it would be more profitable to direct you to a much more helpful, educated review. Regardless of whether or not you intend to read this book, I would encourage you to read Dr. Mike’s Review at Eternal Perspectives. Mike uses great words like neuropsychology, experiential psychotherapy, and soteriology and suggests that “this book is the latest of a seemingly unending chain of psychologically- and psychotherapeutically-informed attempts to facilitate sanctification. Some of the points made are true and valuable; at the same time, it commits some serious, prevalent errors concerning the nature of salvation and sanctification in the Christian life.”

Needless to say, I recommend this book only as kindling. And even that is too good for it.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Mind & Media as a gift from Baker Books for the purpose of this review. I am not affiliated with Baker Books and was not paid for the review (not that I seriously think they’d pay me after such a reivew). Furthermore, I plagarized this disclaimer from Eternal Perspectives and remain unapologetic about having done so.

11 years 6 months ago

When I read and review a book I attempt to do so as objectively as possible. After all, each book should be taken on its own merits. It is not entirely fair to cast presuppositions gained from previous books onto an author’s later works. It is not unusual for an author to come to better or worse understandings as his life progresses. A person whose theology once seemed rock-solid, could, unfortunately, write a book later in life that seemed to be anything but orthodox. I say this to preface my review to John Eldredge’s latest book, Captivating. I attempted to be as objective as possible when reading the book, but found it to be nearly impossible. The book was clearly designed to ride the wave of Eldredge’s previous success, and most notably his best-seller Wild at Heart. Wild at Heart is mentioned on the front cover (“Best-Selling Author of Wild at Heart”) and the back (“What Wild at Heart did for men Captivating will do for you”). It was mentioned again in the second sentence of the introduction and was often quoted, even at length, throughout the book (as was The Sacred Romance). There is even an 8-page excerpt of it at the back of the book. While this may provide credibility to those who enjoyed the first book, I found that it cast a shadow over Captivating.

John Eldredge has gained prominence within Christian circles as a leading author who addresses issues of concern to men. He has written several best-selling books. Wild at Heart, the most popular of these, is also the most controversial. There have been extensive reviews and examinations of the book and many have expressed concern that it contains consistently poor theology. Captivating marks a new stage in Eldredge’s ministry, as it is written specifically for women. The back cover tells us that “What Wild at Heart did for men Captivating will do for you.” It promises to “unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul.” This book is co-written by Eldredge’s wife, Stasi, and represents her first publication.

I have little doubt that in a short while we will have many detailed, critical analyses of this book available to us - reviews that will be far more detailed and insightful than any I could write. I do not intend to write an extensive review, primarily because of the subject matter. I could address the theology of the book, but would have no comparison to the subject matter. After all, I do not read many books geared specifically for women. Perhaps I should. Regardless, this book is so closely tied to Wild at Heart that many of the criticisms levelled at that book will apply also to this one. In Fool’s Gold, edited by John MacArthur, Daniel Gillespie writes a lengthy critique of the book and levels four main charges at it, saying it has an insufficient view of Scripture, an inadequate picture of God, an incomplete portrait of Christ and an innacurate picture of man. Those all apply to Captivating as much as they did to Wild at Heart.

Like Wild at Heart, this book is built around three premises. Every woman wants to be romanced, to play a role in her own adventures and to display beauty. The book is roughly divided along these lines. “The longings God has written deep in your heart are telling you something essential about what it means to be a woman, and the life he meant for you to live. Now we know - many of those desires have gone unmet, or been assaulted, or simply so long neglected, that most women end up living two lives. On the surfce we are busy and efficient, professional, even. We are getting by. On the inside women lose themselves in a fantasy world or in cheap novels, or we give ourselves over to food or some other addiction to name the ache of our hearts. But your desire is still there, crying out to be set free, to find the life your desires tell you of. You can find that life - if you are willing to embark on a great adventure” (page 19). The adventure is written on the pages of this book.

In place of an overall critique, allow me to express a few of my concerns with this book:

  • As with Eldredge’s previous books, this one relies heavily on stories and, in particular, movies to express teaching. I counted the movies and arrived at a list of thirty-eight that are mentioned either implicitly or explicitly. Many of them are mentioned multiple times. There were also many references to novels and songs. While there were also numerous references to the Scripture, these were most often drawn from only a few passages and were often used outside of their proper context.
  • I was surprised to see that the book paid scant attention to those passages of the Bible that particularly address women. I do not recall any attempt to interact with Paul’s epistles; Proverbs 31 received only one mention, and it was only in the context of sneering at the church’s fixation with that traditional role model. In fact, the only passages that received any significant attention were Genesis 2 and 3. The authors rewrote Genesis 2:18, which most translations render similar to “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” They turned to a commentary and translation written by Robert Alter and suggested a better translation of the verse is “I will make a sustainer beside him” (page 27). Strangely, though, they later seem to indicate that a man does have some sort of authority over his wife.
  • Eldredge’s emphasis on extra-biblical revelation has carried over from his other books. In this one, for example, he writes aout a time when the Holy Spirit told him to buy an Emmylou Harris CD for his wife (page 120). He also indicates that the Spirit will tell us when we need a bubblebath, a movie or a run (page 145), if only we listen to Him.
  • Eldredge rehashes the worst of The Sacred Romance, drawing extensively from Hosea and Song of Solomon and using sexual terminology. He says that God has a deep, fiery, passionate love for women and that He wishes to romance us. “Think of one of the most romantic scenes you can remember, scenes that made you sigh. Jack with Rose on the bow of the Titanic, his arms around her waist, their first kiss. Wallace speaking in French to Murron, then in Italian: “Not as beautiful as you.” Aragorn, standing with Arwen in the moonlight on the bridge in Rivendell, declaring his love for her. Edward returning for Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, and professor Behr returning for Jo at the end of Little Women. Now, put yourself in the scene as the Beauty, and Jesus as the Lover” (page 114). This clearly goes far beyond the biblical metaphors for God’s love.
  • The authors tell us that the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus are mentioned because of their vulnerability (page 155). The ridiculous teaching about Ruth, first printed in Wild at Heart is repeated here.
  • Ironically, while God is presented as a wild Romancer, He is also presented in an emasculated form. We are told that God has been wooing you. We are told that “you are meant to fill a place in the heart of God no one and nothing else can fill. He longs for you” (page 120). This almost seems to indicate that God needs us to make His joy and satisfaction complete. There are often several references to our need to minister to the heart of Jesus through our worship. All of this portrays an inaccurate understanding of God.
  • There is a strange emphasis on spiritual warfare. Stasi writes about dizzy spells which she felt were caused by Satan. There are multiple references to binding Satan and casting him and his minions away.

For sake of brevity I will cease. While some of these are only minor concerns, others are clearly more significant. Overall, this book is little more than Wild at Heart rewritten for women - with a soft, feminine cover in place of the harsh, masculine one. Like its predecessor it contains far too much poor theology and draws as much from popular culture as it does from the Word of God. While there was some benefit for me in reading about the hearts of women, there must be better resources available that would do this in a more biblical manner. Despite the risk of stating the obvious, I would caution Christians against reading this book.

11 years 6 months ago
I have never much enjoyed art galleries. This may be a little-known fact, but I am color-blind, and I’m sure this explains why art has never had much appeal to me. After all, if I see reds, greens and browns all as shades of brown, surely art is far less appealing to me than to those whose eyes work as they were meant to. But I remember one time when I was a teenager, my family travelled to Washington, D.C. with my aunt and uncle, both of whom are artists. Walking with them through the National Gallery brought about an entirely different perspective. Because they understood art, they were able to explain it to me in a way I had never considered. They showed me variations in texture, spoke about the difficulty of different types of shadowing and lighting, and the different media artists use. It opened my eyes, and in that period of time I came to understand and appreciate art so much more deeply than I had before, despite my limitations.

I think also of a small museum that was situated on the grounds of an airport near my house. This museum housed some of the finest vintage aircraft in the world, including the world’s only Lancaster bomber that was still in operational condition and that still flew. It often took to the skies and flew over my home. It was one thing for my friends and myself to go and look at all the planes, perhaps even imagining that we understood what it was like to stare out at a cold, dark sky, keeping a watchful eye for enemy planes. But it was another thing altogether to watch the veterans who had given their best years to the war, and who had spent countless hours inside these planse - so many hours that they still knew the planes inside and out, even fifty years later. The tears in their eyes as they watched the Lancaster fly over their heads spoke of a knowledge far beyond anything I would ever understand.

All this by way of introducing the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Just like an artist best appreciates an art museum and a veteran best appreciates the aircraft he once flew, in the same way there may be no better guide for the twenty-third Psalm than a shepherd. Phillip Keller grew up in East Africa, in the midst of a culture that was still rooted in the ancient traditions which the Psalmist knew. Keller was also, for many years, a shepherd, who was well acquainted with the language David employed in this best-loved Psalm.

Keller guides us phrase-by-phrase through this poem, pausing often to reflect on the nature of the shepherd and his flock, and stopping to give stories based on his experiences. He guides the reader throughout to reflect on the love of the Savior and to see the deepest meanings in each part of the Psalm. The reader will find, as the author did, that “…it is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep. Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing” (page 65).

At times I wonder if Keller has not stretched the metaphor just a little bit too far. For example, he contends that the meaning of “thou preparest a table for me” is not that God has prepared a banquet feast, as I have long supposed, but that “table” refers to the top of a hill which a shepherd diligently prepares before the arrival of his flock for their summer pasturage. “Thou anointest my head with oil,” according to the author, is drawn from the shepherd’s task of putting oil on a sheep’s head to ward off the pests that can drive a sheep to distraction. I must say, though, that he provides ample evidence that perhaps we have misunderstood the latter part of the Psalm and that David really was holding to the metaphor of sheep and shepherd.

In either case, it does not detract from the book. This is a wonderful little book that gave me much to think about, and as my wife can attest, plenty to talk about. Above all, it led me to understand, in a deep and moving way, just how much the shepherd (and thus the Shepherd) loves his (His) sheep. It shows just how involved in the lives of his flock the shepherd must be, and how utterly helpless the sheep are without him (Him). It is amazing how much I learned about a Psalm I thought I knew so well.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 is a fascinating, moving book and one whose content will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend this book - it will cost only a few dollars and take only a few hours to read - for any believer, young or old.

11 years 7 months ago

Brian Flynn is the founder and director of One Truth Ministries and leads “Now Age” seminars before churches and groups around the United States. But long before he felt such love and concern for the church, he was a psychic medium who hated Christianity with every fiber of his being. Running Against The Wind is the story of his radical transformation.

The book begins as an autobiography. Through the first five chapters Flynn traces his life. He was born into a Roman Catholic family, but one which soon gave up on the Church. When he was a child he developed a fascination with Tarot cards and experimented with Ouija boards – his introduction to the occult. As he grew up, he became increasingly disillusioned with Christianity, soon identifying himself as an agnostic Catholic. He joined the Air Force and his life began to spiral out of control as he dabbled in drugs, Transcendental Meditation and the rock and roll lifestyle. After leaving the Air Force he decided to become a psychic medium and enrolled in a year-long program under the tutelage of a spiritual advisor. He writes about meeting and communing with the spirit guides who helped provide him the information he needed to make accurate assessments during his psychic readings. At this point in his life he was sinking deeper and deeper into the occult.

But God saw fit to save Brian from the midst of this occult world. Through a series of events in his life, Brian was radically saved.

The day after professing faith in Christ, Flynn did something he had never done before in his life – he rented some pornographic videos. He spent that evening in his apartment getting drunk and watching pornography. The next day he was so hung-over that he called in sick for work, but then rented more pornography and spent another day drinking. All the while his spirit guides were taunting him, telling him how this proved that he was not a Christian. He writes, “And then I saw it! The answer came to me in an instant. As if a veil was lifted from my eyes, I saw something I had never seen before. The reason they were resisting me was because they were opposed to Him. They hated Jesus…I realized my guides were opposed to Jesus because they were demonic. They did not want me to become a Christian, because they were not of God. Satan, in his attempt to keep me where I was, revealed who he was! In order to stop me, he had revealed himself to me. He was now exposed.” He emerged from this crisis of faith with knowledge of who the lord of the occult and New Age really is.

Having been saved from such a lifestyle, imagine the betrayal Flynn felt when he learned that many practices with roots in the occult and New Age had made their way into the church. One particularly foundational moment is when he was teaching a class in his church, warning against the inroads of mysticism, only to learn that across the hall another leader was helping people explore contemplative prayer practices through the teachings of Richard Foster. Flynn was eventually forced by the leadership to leave that church.

At this point the biographical portion of the book ceases and the author turns instead to a description and evaluation of various occult and New Age practices. He writes about astrology, yoga, reiki, labyrinths and more. Many of these practices are increasingly accepted in Christian circles. He introduces many of the men and women who have introduced these practices to Christians, focusing particularly on Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning and Richard Foster. He also warns about spiritual directors such as Ruth Haley Barton (until recently a staff member with Willow Creek Community Church) and Tilden Edwards. The book concludes with a chapter entitled “New Church on the Horizon” where the author expresses concern with Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church, Rick Warren and Saddleback, and the Emergent Church, each of which is promoting various aspects of Christian mysticism.

Running Against The Wind is a valuable contribution to the church’s understanding of the inroads of New Age teachings into Christianity. Who better to warn Christians about this than a man who was once committed to these very teachings? Flynn, along with others (A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen, available from the same publisher is an excellent companion volume) have sounded the alarm and shown the very real dangers in allowing occultic, New Age practices to infiltrate Christianity. I pray that the church will heed these warnings.

11 years 8 months ago
I almost always carry a journal or notebook with me so I can scribble down thoughts as they come to me during the day. Some of these turn into articles and others turn into devotional material. More often than not I look at them weeks or months later and have absolutely no idea what they mean or what I was thinking when I scribbled them down. Recently I saw a comment in a notebook that did make sense to me. I had written about the difference between my friend Jason and myself when we sit down with a guitar on our laps and a sheet of music in front of us. I can read the music and strum those strings and make nothing but awful, painful sounds that bear little resemblance to music. Jason, on the other hand, can sit down and make music at will, even with no sheet music in front of him. The difference between Jason and myself is not necessarily inate musical ability or the quality of our guitars. The difference is in disciplined practice. Jason has dedicated thousands of hours to honing his skills so that it seems to require little effort to play the music. The freedom to play with this skill has come only at the expense of dedicated, disciplined effort.

Don Whitney uses this same metaphor to show the importance of being disciplined in the pursuit of godliness, for there is freedom in discipline. The freedom to grow in godliness - “to naturally express Christ’s character through your own personality - is in large part dependent on a deliberate cultivation of the spiritual disciplines.” (From the back cover)

And so this book is an examination of spiritual disciplines - disciplines provided by God which are designed to help us grow in godliness, allowing us to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. The disciplines Whitney writes about are:

  • Bible intake
  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Evangelism
  • Serving
  • Stewardship
  • Fasting
  • Silence and solitude
  • Journalling
  • Learning

The book is prefaced with an examination of the reason for disciplining ourselves in the spiritual disciplines and Whitney teaches here that we are to do all things for God’s glory. Because God requires each of these disciplines of us, there is danger in neglecting any of them. Each of the disciplines is then examined in the light of bringing glory to God through them. The book closes with encouragment in persevering in the disciplines, even in the inevitable times of spiritual dryness.

Each of the disciplines is drawn from and examined in the light of Scripture. The author shows how the Biblical basis for each discipline, explains how it will help the Christian grow in godliness and provides practical suggestions for beginning the practice. Each chapter closes with a section entitled “More Application” where the reader is challenged to put these practices info effect in his life.

One of my favorite aspects about Whitney’s writings, in this book and his others, is that he draws heavily from the Puritans and from other great Christians of the past. This is especially important in a discussion of spiritual disciplines as these are practices that were regarded more highly in the past than they are today. When we examine such practices, there is much to learn from these great believers.

While the vast majority of sources cited in this book are from Puritan and other Reformed authors, there were several references to Richard Foster. I questioned Whitney about this and he replied as follows: “…since it was not an academic book, I didn’t want the emphasis to be critical (in the academic sense), but rather simply to set forth in practical ways what I thought the Biblical teaching on the subjects to be, and to find good supportive quotations. Occasionally it served my purposes to quote Foster. But I never tried to sound as approvingly of him when I quoted him as I did with most other writers. For instance, I never said something like, ‘As the GREAT Richard Foster said,’…it was before Foster had started Renovare and before he had tipped his hand on some other matters.” He also referred me to a couple of article he has written which show his thoughts on Christian mysticism (link and link 2). Lest I make a mountain of a molehill, I was completely satisfied with Whitney’s answer and in no way do I feel that his references to Foster’s work detracts from the powerful message in Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life. I merely did not wish to have people see the references to Foster in the bibliography and be scared away from a wonderful book.

I found this book powerful and above all, convicting. Because it is so Biblical, continually returning to the Word of God, it allowed the Spirit to act and convict me in areas of my life where I have become lax. While I rejoice that God has allowed me to become disciplined in some areas of life, I know now that there are many others where I must make changes, lest I stunt my spiritual growth. I highly recommend this book for private or group study (Please note that there is an associated study guide which can be purchased seperately).

11 years 9 months ago
As believers, we often fall prey to the assumption that those who are busiest, are most spiritual. We look at the people in our churches who are involved in all the committees and are at every meeting and assume that they are the ones with the greatest measure of spiritual health. But do you think that is the measure God uses? Or does he have a different set of criteria by which He judges spiritual health? This short but powerful book examines the Bible’s teaching on this matter.

As one might expect by the title, Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, this book presents the reader with ten criteria that can point towards spiritual health. The crux of the matter, the theme that flows throughout the book, is this: is your character becoming more like Christ’s? Here are the ten questions the reader faces:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

Each of the questions is approached and evaluated in the light of Scripture and in a way consistent with Reformed theology. In the introduction Whitney writes “In our day, as in theirs [the Puritans], the timeless process of discerning one’s spiritual health involves questions and tests. My purpose in writing these pages is to act as a physician of the soul - to ask questions and suggest spiritual tests that can, by the help of the Holy Spirit, enable you to self-diagnose your spiritual health.” This book bears a great resemblance to the writing of the Puritans in the sense that they were continually searching their hearts before God to discern where sin had taken hold of their lives. Their honesty and diligence in this matter was clearly influential in Whitney’s writing.

There are a couple of places where the author could have taken a misstep but did not. When I saw that a chapter was dedicated to sensitivity to God’s presence I began to wonder how the author would approach this topic, and was glad to see that it bore no resemblance to the practices of Brother Lawrence and the other mystics that are so popular today. Instead he introduces the six ways we should understand the Bible’s teaching on God’s presence and how the believer is to practice them.

Far from being yet another self-help or an easy-answer, ten-step book, this one is deep and penetrating. Reading this book and meditating on the questions will be sure to move believers towards a deeper relationship with Jesus. I highly recommend it!

11 years 9 months ago
The silence. This book is all about the silence. Whether that silence is part of the religious practice of Buddhists, Hindus, Sufi Muslims, New Agers or Contemplative Christians, Ray Yungen, author of A Time of Departing argues convincingly that it is all one and the same. As the subtitle suggests, a universal spirituality is changing the very face of Christianity. This universal spirituality is born from the religions of the East and is slowly infiltrating the Christian church, primarily through the New Age movement. Ray Yungen has studied this religious movement extensively and writes this book in response. It is an alarm sounded by one with a deep love for the church. “This book is not just another attempt to explain the New Age, but rather, an alert to the church of how and through whom New Age thinking is currently creeping into our pulpits, Sunday school classrooms, prayer groups, and Bible studies.” The primary way the New Age has joined with the evangelical churches is through mysticism and contemplative prayer.

Contemplative prayer has been practiced by professed Christians since the early days of the church. Once a practice known only to a few Catholic mystics, today it is quickly gaining popularity in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Many prominent Protestant leaders have endorsed the practice, either explicitly or by declaring their respect for those who teach it. Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Robert Schuller, leaders of the church growth movement have all spoken favorably of it and have been involved in conferences where it is taught and practiced. The leaders of the Emergent church endorse the practice as a way of drawing closer to God. Many youth leaders and organizations have begun teaching it to children and teens. Catholic teachers such as Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning, following in the footsteps of Thomas Merton, teach the value of the practice and are respected by Protestants and Catholics alike. Because of its increasing popularity, Christians need to educate themselves about the meaning and source of this practice.

In the introduction Ron Comer writes, “like two rivers merging together, Easter and Western religious thought are joining together, thus gaining momentum towards a one world religion in which all paths lead to God. A person who understands the unfolding of this new paradigm is Ray Yungen.” (Page 15) Sure enough, contemplative prayer is a practice derived from the Eastern religions and is entirely foreign to Scripture. Those who practice it, allowing their minds to enter the silence of contemplation or meditation, open themselves to a practice that is foreign to the Bible, and even more serious, is completely opposed to biblical Christianity.

These words are from the author’s conclusion. “Let us be mindful that deception is subtle, and we must be alert. All of life and truth are resting on what God has proclaimed in the Scriptures. Any teaching not supported by the Bible is not of God. May you know in your heart and mind that you are not one of the deceived, and may you, with all your heart, show your love for God by loving His Living Word. And finally, may you press on towards the upward call of God and be found ready - for there will indeed be a time of departing! This book will prepare you to avoid deception and will sharpen you, that you may not be one who departs from the faith. It is short, at 137 pages, and is easy to read. Perhaps its greatest quality is that it is biblical, continually turning to the Scriptures to allow God’s Word to bear witness against Contemplative practices. It is alarming without being alarmist. I recommend it to all believers - those involved in these practices and those who would like to know more about the dangers.

11 years 9 months ago
I have often lamented the overuse of the term “life-changing” amongst Christians. It is not unusual to hear people walk away from a particularly captivating sermon or conference saying “that changed my life!” The real measure and test of life change is time, for only in time will we really know what has made a significant impact on our lives. Having established that I do not use the term lightly, I would like to suggest that Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey may just be a life-changing book. As believers we collectively spend millions of dollars and countless hours reading about Christian living - making our homes better, making our families better, making our lives better, discovering our purpose, rediscovering our masculine soul or our feminine soul and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There are some who love to supplement with the study of theology or church history, and those are great pursuits. But if we buy so many books and read so much, why do we dedicate so little time to examining and studying worldview? I do not mean to indict the reader and clear my own name, for in all the reading I have done, this is the first book that deals predominantly with that topic.

Total Truth is subtitled “Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity” and this is the task to which Pearcey dedicates the book. She shows how Christians have adopted a worldview that is bound and influenced by our culture, so that we now understand Christianity through a secular worldview. She teaches that the opposite needs to be true - that we need to see society through a distinctly Christian lens, allowing a Christian worldview to interpret all that we see, do and think. She says “This book will address [the hunger for a Christian worldview] and offers new direction for advancing the worldview movement. It will help you identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of ‘religious truth.’ It will walk you through practical, workable steps for crafting a Christian worldview in your own life and work. It will teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world.” (Page 17) In short, the purpose of the book is to help Christians free their faith from its cultural captivity and to see that Christianity is not merely religious truth, but is Total Truth - truth about the whole of reality. “The purpose of a worldview is to explain our experience of the world-and any philosophy can be judged by how well it succeeds in doing so. When Christianity is tested, we discover that it alone explains and makes sense of the most basic and universal human experiences.”

As a devotee of Francis Shaeffer, Pearcey borrows heavily from his writing and ideas. Most notably, she understands, as did Shaeffer, that Christians have mimicked the world in adopting a two-level worldview which she calls a fact/value split. It can be represented as follows:

Individual Preferences
Binding on everyone

In the upper level are values which are mere individual preferences and on the bottom level are facts which are binding on everyone. Facts represent knowledge drawn from and proven by science and in this way they are considered objective and rational. On the other hand, on the top level are values which are considered subjective and a product of tradition. Thus are not binding beyond the individual’s conscience and are essentially irrational. They have little to say about reality. This split has pervaded all aspects of society.

The thesis of this book is “the key to recovering joy and purpose turned out to be a new understanding of Christianity as total truth - an insight that broke open the dam and poured the restoring waters of the gospel into the parched areas of life.” The first step in recovering a Christian worldview is to understand the bifurcated worldview which is inherent in our postmodern world. Having understood that we have made false disctinctions between secular and sacred, we can begin integrating our faith into every area of life so that we bear a consistent witness throughout. Politicians are beginning to come to the realization that politics is downstream from culture. In order to change the politics of our nations, we must first influence the culture, and to do that we must reclaim a Christian worldview. “Ordinary Christians working in business, industry, politics, factory work, and so on, are ‘the Church’s front-line troops’ in the spiritual battle. Are we taking seriously our duty to support them in their warfare? The church is nothing less than a training ground for sending out laypeople who are equipped to speak the gospel to the world.” That is the subject of the bulk of the book - training and sending laypeople who can share the Gospel with the world. Pearcey continually exposes those areas that have been polluted by a secular worldview and explains how Christians need to reclaim them.

After Pearcey thoroughly deconstructed our society’s postmodern worldview in the first few chapters of the book, I found I did not have as clear an idea as to how I could rebuild a Christian worldview. But perhaps this is because there are no easy answers - there is no happy W.O.R.L.D.V.I.E.W. acronym that will allow me to follow a 9-step program to worldview reconstruction. The key is to acknowledge the deficiency of holding a two-level worldview and by immersing myself in Scripture, allowing God to shape and mould me as He sees fit. A Christian worldview must necessarily flow from the study and application of God’s Word. I need to understand and believe that Christian Truth is a unified whole, equally encompassing all of life.

In reading books written by intellectuals, rather than pastors and teachers, I have often found that their theology is shaped more by the Catholic intellectuals of days past than by the Protestant theology. This is not the case for Pearcey. She strikes a good balance of praise and criticism in her presentation of Protestantism, generally defending the actions and motives of the Reformers and believers of history. Similarly she praises various Catholic scholars (such as Aquinas) for contributions they made, but is necessarily harsh when discussing their shortcomings. Throughout the book, the author maintains this important balance. It was wonderful to see that Pearcey presents significant, deep theology that clearly aligns with the Reformed understandings of the Scripture.

I am in agreement with Al Mohler who said “Total Truth is one of the most promising books to emerge in evangelical publishing in many years. It belongs in every Christian home, and should quickly be put into the hands of every Christian young person. This important book should be part of the equipment for college or university study, and churches should use it as a textbook for Christian worldview development.” Pearcey has crafted a masterpiece that is intellectually stimulating but still accessible and practical. It will challenge, motivate and change. I give it my hearty recommendation.

11 years 10 months ago
I recently heard someone say “I follow all 9 of the 10 commandments.” It is true, isn’t it, that we continue to regard each of the other 9 commandments as being integral to the Christian life, but have disregarded the fourth. A few years ago I read an article written by an unbeliever and published in a major newspaper where she questioned how Christians could simply disregard this commandment. Her conclusion was that it was mere disobedience - that Christians disregarded the commandment simply because following it would conflict with our lifestyles. Was she on to something, or did she merely misunderstand the relationship of the Old Testament to the New - a very common problem with believers and unbelievers alike?

Call The Sabbath A Delight is the first book I have read dedicated entirely to the subject of Sabbath observance in the post Old Testament era. I have read bits and pieces of information regarding why we should or should not continue to honor the fourth commandment, but never a book-length treatment. This particular book is written by a Presbyterian pastor and published by Banner of Truth which should give a pretty good indication of which side the author will take. He represents the view that I was raised with. I was raised in a Presbyterian home and attended Reformed schools and churches and was continually admonished to keep the Sabbath holy. I spent one year of my life in Scotland and there we were taught that we were not even to play with friends on Sunday, but were instead to read our Bibles and study our Catechisms. While the author, Walter Chandry, may not be that strict, he clearly believes that Christians have abandoned a practice which we need to rediscover out of obedience to God.

A common argument against observing the Sabbath in our time is that Christ did away with the moral Law when He died for us. Underlying this observation is a belief or assumption that the Sabbath was somehow a burdensome obligation for God’s people, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The Sabbath was a creation ordinance, for even in a perfect world God rested on the seventh day and declared it as being set apart to Him. So when we examine this issue we need to do so free from a bias that the Sabbath was an obligation. On the contrary it was a wonderful privilege, given by a loving God. Any harm that befell the day was the fault of sinful humans who are adept at turning anything wonderful into something burdensome.

The author covers the following topics:

  1. The Commandment is Holy
  2. The Commandment is Spiritual
  3. The Commandment is Good
  4. Does the NT Teach the 4th Commandment?
  5. Sabbath Observance: Mosaic and Christian
  6. Motives for Sabbath-Keeping
  7. Which Day of the Week in the Sabbath?
  8. Difficult Cases of Conscience

I will leave you to read his arguments on your own if the topic interests you. His conclusion is that the Sabbath, as a creation ordinance, continues to this day so that God requires that we continue to honor it even today. “No age has ever more intensely needed Sabbath-keeping than ours. Attempts to scrap God’s moral law and to replace it with institutions and schemes of human invention are miserably failing. Sabbath-keeping in isolation is not an answer to all man’s ills. Yet, this law is intimately related to all others and has a necessary connection with the other branches of God’s moral code. Where even small segments of mankind have succeeded in implementing a joyful observance of the Sabbath, they have reaped enormous benefit. It is time for us, too, to call the Sabbath a delight and to return unto the Lord.”

While his arguments are compelling, I am not sure that they are strong enough to convict the evangelical who has never even considered that the Sabbath may extend to our day. His argument is valuable, though, for it represents the view held by many Presbyterian and Reformed believers. Their belief is one which many, if not the majority, of Christians held until recent times.

As for me, I admit with some shame that I do not honor the Sabbath as I used to. I refrain from working and try to set the day apart, but certainly do not treat the day in a way which would make my Presbyterian friends proud. Do I believe that the church would benefit from returning to honoring the Sabbath? I certainly do. But do I truly believe this is an obligation? That is where I am not quite so sure. I struggle with this issue and intend to keep reading about it, studying both perspectives.