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Tim Challies

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5 years 3 months ago

Its Not FairA couple of months ago I was having one of those mornings. I was in a grumpy mood to begin with and was grumbling as I headed downstairs to find that the children’s lunches remained unmade. With just a few minutes before they had to be out the door and on the school bus I set to work on one of my least favorite routine jobs. As I did so I grumbled, “It’s just not fair!” And in that very moment I had a little epiphany. Nothing’s fair. Fairness is not a concept that has any business in the Christian life. I gain nothing by focusing on fairness. I repented and got to work with a whole new attitude. The day got better. The more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized that there was something to my thought that day. Worrying about fairness is a spiritual and emotional dead end.

It was not long after this little episode that a new book showed up in my mailbox. Written by Wayne Mack and Deborah Howard it is titled simply It’s Not Fair. Mack deals with the very attitude I had fallen into. “From years of personal and counseling experience,” he writes, “I know that nothing is more damaging to us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally than responding to the unpleasant, unwanted, and (in our judgment) undeserved attitude of life with the ‘it’s not fair’ attitude.” We fight against this attitude with a properly knowledge of who God is. “Nothing is more helpful to us in overcoming the tragic results of being infected with the ‘it’s not fair’ attitude than possessing the knowledge of who and what God really is and the implications of that knowledge.”

In this book, Mack focuses on four aspects of God’s character that he thinks are the most useful in counteracting and destroying the devastation brought about by the “it’s not fair” attitude. He looks to God’s wisdom, love, sovereignty and justice. These characteristics, taken individually and together, counter an attitude that we are somehow getting less than we deserve. “Sometimes we are angry at other people, and sometimes we’re angry about situations or circumstances. Ultimately, we are angry with God, regardless of how well we disguise it—even to ourselves.”

And so he turns to God’s omniscience and wisdom to show that God knows all that is happening and that he makes no mistakes; he turns to God’s love to show that he loves us deeply and to encourage us to see God’s character not through our feelings but through the lens of Scripture; he turns to God’s justice to show that God will not and cannot do anything that is unjust or unfair and that God is committed to giving us what we need, not what we want; and he looks to God’s omnipotence and sovereignty to show that God is in control of all of life’s circumstances and that nothing happens outside of his will. Final chapters focus on practical application and case studies.

This book had its genesis in a biblical counseling class. The origins are visible throughout. There are vast amounts of Scripture included in the book and long studies in the character of God. Each chapter concludes with an appropriate hymn and with questions for study and application. It is an eminently practical book and one that looks always to the heart. It is a book that answers sin with gospel. I am glad to recommend it to you. I think it is a valuable read for any Christian and one that may have a useful place in a church library.

Buy it at Monergism Books

5 years 4 months ago

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the writing of prominent Christians of days past. Christians have turned with renewed interest to church Fathers, to Reformers and to Puritans. One of the chief benefits of this interest has been the many “interpretations” and contemporary adaptations of classic books. Taylor and Kapic, working with Crossway, have edited two volumes of John Owen, giving us updated versions of Owen’s classic texts on the Holy Spirit and on Sin and temptation. Also from Crossway comes Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms’ interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections.

The book begins with a Preface serving as a brief apologetic for the book. Expressing his debt to Edwards, Storm writes of all the times he has recommended Edwards’ works only to hear that people have given up, unable to plow their way through the dense texts. “Nothing grieves me more than to hear that yet another has started reading Edwards only to give up, frustrated by his style or overwhelmed by the complexity of his argumentation.” Finally giving in to the need to create an interpretation of Edwards that can extend his reach to those unable to face his books on their own, and having read the Affections at least ten times, Storms wrote Signs of the Spirit. What he offers is something more (or perhaps something less) than a contemporary rendering. Instead, it is a succinct summary. Where Edwards may take five or six pages to make a point, Storms will try to make it in just a few paragraphs. And he will do so without much of the difficult sentence structure and archaic prose that marks Edwards’ original.

The format of the book is straightforward. After the Preface and an Introduction that sets the context in which Edwards wrote The Religious Affections, Storms simply follows Edwards, offering one chapter for each chapter or section of the original. Sometimes summarizing and sometimes quoting directly, Storms captures the essence of each of the book’s sections. At the end of it all, he does the same for Edwards’ Personal Narrative, a book he says provides a “penetrating gaze into [Edwards’] own soul, together with his spiritual struggles and triumphs.”

I read Signs of the Spirit alongside The Religious Affections and benefited from it. Where I found the original obscure, far more often than not I found help in Storms’ book. It makes for a valuable companion to The Religious Affections and one that would be at home in the hands of anyone who seeks to read, enjoy, and benefit from the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

 

5 years 5 months ago
After the publication of The Reason for God, Newsweek hailed Tim Keller as “a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century.” That is a lofty comparison and one I’m sure must make Keller quite uncomfortable. Yet at some level the comparisons are becoming undeniable. Keller’s ability to communicate to believers and unbelievers alike and to do so on an intellectual level clearly parallels that of Lewis. Where Keller’s first book offered an explanation as to why we should believe in God, his second, The Prodigal God, focuses on Jesus’ best-known parable (and arguably the best-known and most-loved story of all-time) to challenge both believers and skeptics.

In this book Keller makes no claim to originality. He states forthrightly that the message he conveys here is based on a sermon first preached by Dr. Edmund Clowney. That simple sermon, a fresh take on the parable of the Prodigal Son, changed Keller’s life and in many ways shaped his ministry. Over the years he has often taught from this parable, both at his church and elsewhere, and he has seen God’s hand of blessing in this message. And here he offers it in the form of a short book.

Traditionally, readings of the parable of the Prodigal Son have focused on the younger son and his reconciliation with his father. We learn from such readings that God is willing to receive all those who wander from him. Yet too often we overlook that third character—the older brother. Were the story only about the father and the younger son we would expect that the Pharisees, among those who first heard Jesus tell this parable, would react with joy. Yet we know from Scripture that they walked away in disgust and disbelief. Why? Because the parable pointed to them as examples of the older son. As Keller says, Jesus’ purpose in this parable “was not to warm our hearts, but to shatter our categories.”

He begins by ensuring the reader has a sense of Jesus’ original audience as he taught this parable. There were two groups near Jesus at the time. The first was tax collectors and sinners while the second was composed of Pharisees and teachers of the law. The tax collectors and sinners correspond to the younger brother—people who left the traditional morality of their families and social groups and engaged in what others would consider wild living. The religious leaders, on the other hand, correspond to the older brother, representing the moral and obedient who have never turned from the traditions of their culture and religion. Where the first group seek God through some kind of self-discovery, the second group seeks him through a type of moral conformity. Jesus’ message is that both of these approaches are wrong and in this parable he offers his radical alternative. “There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord,” says Keller. “One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good.”

While Keller focuses attention on both of the brothers, he gives more time to the elder brother. He wants the reader to know that a self-imposed standard of morality is not the same as truly knowing and following Christ. He wants those who are outwardly religious to search their hearts to see if there is an inner faith that goes along with the outward conformity. He challenges Christians with the fact that churches tend to be havens for the older brother kind of believer. “Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners doesn’t have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.”

It is rare that a book effectively spans an audience of both believers and skeptics, but Keller bridges that gap. For skeptics this is a presentation of the gospel message of human sin and God’s extravagant grace; for believers it is a recounting of a story that never grows old. For skeptics it is an encouragement to be like the younger son by turning to the loving father who welcomes all who come to him; for believers it is a means of examining hearts to see if we have become like the older brother, so secure in our position that we take the Father’s love for granted and even resent it when that love is extended to those whom we feel are less deserving of it.

Though it is unlikely that The Prodigal God will achieve the same level of numerical success as The Reason for God, it remains an exceptionally useful and valuable contribution. While the book’s audience is broad, it may well prove most beneficial to Christians. It will set the gospel before them in a fresh way, forcing them to do some difficult but necessary heart work.

Parenthetically, The Prodigal God is this year’s second major book dealing with the parable of the Prodigal Son. John MacArthur also wrote about it in A Tale of Two Sons. In both cases, these authors focus fresh attention on the older brother; in both cases they accurately convey the sense of the text. While The Prodigal God is an excellent book, I think I almost preferred MacArthur’s take through his slow, steady exposition of the text. But honestly, both books are well worth reading.

*****

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5 years 6 months ago
5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow is a book about Christians and farming. R.C. Sproul suggests five things that every Christian needs to grow—barley, wheat, corn… OK, I’m just kidding. But don’t you think the strangely ambiguous title could fit such a book? In reality, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow is a reprint of a small book published in 2002 by Thomas Nelson. Revised, expanded and given a great new cover, the book has been republished by Reformation Trust, the publishing division of Ligonier Ministries.

Just as any living organism has requirements if it is to grow and thrive, in the same way Christians have God-given requirements that are necessary elements if there is to be any growth in grace and godliness. In this book R.C. Sproul describes five spiritual “nutrients” crucial to spiritual maturity: Bible study, prayer, worship, service and stewardship. In the Introduction Sproul borrows the biblical metaphor of athletics and writes, “Christians are called upon to train, to make sacrifices, and to embrace certain disciplines in order to give God ‘our utmost for His highest.’ This book deals with five of those disciplines: Bible study, prayer, worship, service and stewardship. Just as Olympic athletes work hard to achieve their best performances, our diligence in attending to these aspects of the Christian life will help determine our effectiveness in serving our Lord.”

Sproul teaches that the Word of God is God’s instrument for both conversion and spiritual growth. “By immersing ourselves in the Word of God, we begin to gain the mind of Christ and learn what discipleship is.” He offers advice on getting started in reading the Bible suggesting both methods and resources that will assist the new believer. When it comes to prayer, Sproul distinguishes between prayer as a duty, a privilege and a means of grace before offering practical tips on praying effectively. The chapter dealing with worship speaks of God’s regulations in worship, of the importance of worshiping in both spirit and truth and of the importance of preparation for times of worship. He then writes about service, saying that it is a practice essential to a vibrant faith and discussing the nature of servanthood. In the book’s fifth chapter he looks at sacrificial stewardship, discussing the tithe and the value of investing in the kingdom of God. And finally, in chapter six Sproul addresses a variety of relevant questions and answers (“Does God hear, act on, or grant the prayers of unbelievers?” “Should worship services have any focus on unbelievers?” “How often should a church celebrate the Lord’s Supper?”).

This is a small book, gift-sized really, and one that is very easy to read and digest. It is an ideal book to hand out as a gift or to give to a new believer. It offers introductory wisdom on disciplines that are crucial to the Christian life. Yet there is enough here that even a long-time believer will find biblical wisdom to challenge his Christian walk.

You can buy it at Westminster Books or at Amazon:

5 years 6 months ago
Dr. Albert Mohler has released four books this year and they have had very different origins. Atheism Remix began as the W.H. Griffith Thomas Lectures Mohler delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary early in 2008; He Is Not Silent is an original work, written as a book; Culture Shift and his most recent work, Desire and Deceit, began as articles written over a period of years, most of which were posted at Mohler’s blog. Each of these books speaks to a different subject that is of great importance in our cultural context.

Desire and Deceit is subtitled “The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance.” In this book Dr. Mohler addresses issues related to sexuality and, in particular, issues related to contemporary challenges on biblical sexuality. It begins in a unique spot, quoting J.R.R. Tolkien and the biblical wisdom he shared with his sons, warning them to avoid the devil’s snares in deviant sexuality. From here Mohler looks at lust in both a secular perspective (quoting philosopher Simon Blackburn) and a Christian perspective (reviewing Joshua Harris’ book Not Even a Hint, a.k.a. Sex Is Not the Problem, Lust Is). Two chapters look at issues related to pornography while ten turn to homosexuality. Mohler wants his reader to understand that the acceptance of homosexuality on the part of Christians can only be done at the expense of critical doctrines and ultimately only at the expense of Christianity itself; the two cannot co-exist. He offers character studies of Alfred Kinsey and Andrew Sullivan, shows how male friendship has been negatively impacted by the widespread acceptance of homosexuality, looks to boys raised by lesbian mothers, and explains the historical developments that allowed homosexuality to become accepted and celebrated in our culture. A final three chapters look to the age of polymorphous perversity, turning to Freud and his followers who championed the idea that every child is a clean slate when it comes to sexual identity; it is only restraint and repression that keeps people from becoming who they are really meant to be. Overall, the book presents a solid, useful primer on issues related to sexuality and the many ways our culture is turning from biblical categories of sexuality.

Those who, as I am, are regular readers of Dr. Mohler’s blog, may find that they recognize some of the chapters. In fact, several of these chapters are almost unchanged from their original form. Though there is some thematic cohesion in the book as it moves from topic-to-topic and chapter-to-chapter, the book’s genesis as scattered blog posts does show even as the book gets printed and put between two hard covers. Unavoidably, the book reads more as a series of articles than as a work that moves consistently and logically towards a certain conclusion.

I suppose my sole wish for the book is that Dr. Mohler would have dedicated just a little more time to proposing solutions and to suggesting how Christians are to live in the midst of new realities. Certainly there is some of this, but not as much as I might have liked. It may be that this is unavoidable in moving articles from a blog format to a book. Still, a little more application would have been nice.

Desire and Deceit completes the list of four books coming from Dr. Mohler’s pen in 2008. Like its predecessors, this book is both valuable and timely and is worth adding to any library. It deals with real issues and offers valuable guidance on them. If I were to rate the books by the order I think you should read them, I would rate this one second behind He Is Not Silent (and ahead of Culture Shift, with Atheism Remix falling behind that).

5 years 6 months ago
Death by Love is Mark Driscoll’s fourth book (or eighth if you count the “A Book You’ll Actually Read” series of booklets released earlier this year by Crossway) and the second to be released in the 2008 calendar year. It follows Vintage Jesus, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and The Radical Reformission. Along with Vintage Jesus it is the second to be co-written with Gerry Breshears. Death by Love is unique among Driscoll’s books in that it is serious in tone from the first page to the last; gone is the sometimes-irreverent humor and gone is the biographical theme. In place comes a deadly-serious look at deadly-serious theology.

The book is written in quite a unique format. Following the model of the biblical epistles, Driscoll writes letters to his congregation—individuals who have come to him for pastoral counsel through the years of his ministry. He writes letters to address their issues in light of the gospel. “Our approach is an effort to show that there is no such thing as Christian community or Christian ministry apart from a rigorous theology of the cross that is practically applied to the lives of real people.” By perusing the table of contents the reader can quickly see the themes of the book and the contexts in which Driscoll writes about them:

Introduction
We Killed God: Jesus Is Our Substitutionary Atonement

“Demons Are Tormenting Me”
Jesus Is Katie’s Christus Victor

“Lust Is My God”
Jesus Is Thomas’s Redemption

“My Wife Slept with My Friend”
Jesus Is Luke’s New Covenant Sacrifice

“I Am a ‘Good’ Christian”
Jesus Is David’s Gift Righteousness

“I Molested a Child”
Jesus Is John’s Justification

“My Dad Used to Beat Me”
Jesus Is Bill’s Propitiation

“He Raped Me”
Jesus Is Mary’s Expiation

“My Daddy Is a Pastor”
Jesus Is Gideon’s Unlimited Limited Atonement

“I Am Going to Hell”
Jesus Is Hank’s Ransom

“My Wife Has a Brain Tumor”
Jesus Is Caleb’s Christus Exemplar

“I Hate My Brother”
Jesus Is Kurt’s Reconciliation

“I Want to Know God”
Jesus Is Susan’s Revelation

Appendix:
Recommended Reading on the Cross

Similar to Vintage Jesus (and the forthcoming Vintage Church), Mark Driscoll writes the bulk of the text while Gerry Breshears offers questions and answers relevant to the topic at the close of each chapter.

The book is targeted at a general audience and is intended to share with these people a biblical theology of the cross. “We write this book not with the intention of pleasing all of the scholars who may find here various points about which to quibble. Rather, our hope is to make otherwise complicated truths understandable to regular folks so that their love for and worship of Jesus would increase as they pick up their cross to follow him. Additionally, we write in hopes of serving fellow pastors and other Christian leaders who bear the responsibility of teaching and leading people. We are heartbroken that the cross of Jesus Christ is under attack by some and dismissed by others. This book is our attempt to respond in a way that helps to ensure that the cross remains at the crux of all that it means to think and live like Jesus.”

In most cases, Driscoll covers the topics well. He writes with a true pastor’s heart and shares deep and important theology with the reader. He grounds all help, whether it is to overcome lust or doubt or marital infidelity, in the cross. He constantly turns the reader’s gaze to the cross and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The great strength of Death by Love is the “realness” of the book. This is no abstract theology torn from any genuine context. Instead, it is theology from the battlefield of pastoral ministry. It is a pastor’s attempt to offer comfort or demand repentance from the people God has called him to lead.

Those, like me, who have expressed disappointment with the occasional moment of irreverence in Driscoll’s former books will find little to complain about here. The writing is serious and carries a gravitas appropriate to the subject matter. While there are moments of heart-rending pain and depravity in these letters, they represent real-life situations and a pastor’s reaction to them. While the book’s theology is largely sound, there are a couple of exceptions. Many readers will object to what Driscoll teaches in Chapter 8, “My Daddy is a Pastor.” This chapter is written to Gideon Driscoll, Mark’s youngest son. Here he encourages his son not to take faith for granted but does so in the context of a doctrine known as “unlimited limited atonement.” This is guaranteed to alienate most of his audience since so few people hold to it (Bruce Ware being one notable exception). While I’ll grant that Driscoll does a good job in explaining the doctrine (or doing so as well as it can be explained), it was not convincing. Some may also struggle with the chapter on being tormented by demons and on Driscoll’s teaching on that subject.

What makes Death by Love so different from his other books is what makes it good. Driscoll holds his tongue, refusing to bring his trademark humor to this book. In this case it is a very good thing as the subject demands a serious tone. Driscoll looks at real-life crises and offers biblical wisdom and hope. While I have struggled in the past to recommend Driscoll’s books, I have little hesitation in recommending this one.

5 years 8 months ago
Have you ever noticed that when someone says, “Don’t look at that!” you immediately look at it? I remember as a kid I used to delight in finding something gross and rotten and disgusting and showing it off to my friends, seeing who would flinch first as we dug around with sticks inside some rotten carcass. Perhaps I was a disturbed child but I don’t think my experiences were unusual. After all, there are any number of web sites that specialize in showing off the disturbing images of war, violence and stupidity. People have a fascination with spectacle. How else do we account for so-called reality television (not to mention the multitudes of Olympic blooper reels making their way across the Net right now)?

My father loves the spectacle that is TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network). He derives some strange pleasure from watching half-crazed preachers ranting, raving and begging for other people’s money. The programming on TBN and other similar channels has come to highlight spectacle. Many who consider themselves Christian are simply no longer satisfied with the simple Gospel, but feel the need to add to it. The preaching of the Word, a simple message delivered in a foolish way by a foolish person, gives way to outrageous claims of miracles, tongues and supernatural experiences. Hank Hanegraaff calls this Counterfeit Revival and those who practice such things Counterfeit Revivialists.

This book claims to go behind the scenes to uncover the contradictions, false experiences, spiritual deception, and seductive allure of esoteric experience masquerading under the banner of truth. Through almost 300 pages, Hanegraaff exposes this movement for what it is - a fraud and one that is becoming increasingly bold and increasingly dangerous. The book is written around five major headings which form the acronym FLESH: Fabrications, Fantasies and Frauds, Lying Signs and Wonders, Endtime Restorationism, Slain in the Spirit and Hypnotism. This is a handy list and one we could well apply to the Lakeland Revival down in Florida that got so many so excited.

Following a detailed examination of each topic, the author concludes that there is no biblical support for most of what masquerades as the Spirit’s work within these circles. Manipulation, rather than the Spirit and the Word of God, is the primary tool of the Counterfeit Revivalist.

While this book is helpful, I couldn’t help at times but to feel like the boy staring at the rotting insides of a stinking corpse. After a while I felt Hanegraaff had proven his point with sufficient examples that he could have probably left out several of the chapters. On the bright side, the reader is treated to some valuable lessons from history and even receives an overview of true revivals from days past. As an added bonus, the author provides detailed teachings from the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Speaking of which, for an outstanding summary of what Edwards taught on revival, check out this series from the Ligonier blog.

Long on symptoms, short on diagnosis and shorter still on cure, I still found this a helpful and interesting book. I trust that it will help many from being led astray into the rottenness that is found at the fringes of the charismatic movement. If only some of those people in Lakeland had read it before wasting so much time and energy chasing the promise of a revival that has proven, I think, to be counterfeit.

 

5 years 8 months ago
Though I’ve gone on record as a skeptic of global warming and of the catastrophic man-made climate change that is so much in the news today, this certainly does not indicate that I care nothing for the environment. If anything, the reading I’ve done on the subject of global warming, while failing to convince me that CO2 emissions are wrecking the world, has reinforced in my mind the importance of caring for the planet God has given us. I have become interested in a Christian response to environmental issues and decided to read a couple of books on the subject. One that was recommended to me is Serve God, Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth.

Not too long ago, Sleeth was rising through the ranks as chief of the medical staff at a prominent hospital on the East coast. He began to see more and more of his patients suffering from cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases. He began to suspect that there were environmental issues involved. Somehow the earth and those who live on it are in trouble of their own making, he concluded. Sleeth eventually quit his hospital job to focus on writing and speaking about environmental issues, seeking to do so from a distinctly Christian point-of-view. He sold his large home and moved his family into a much smaller one; he evaluated his family’s lifestyle and found ways of drastically reducing their environmental impact. And then he wrote this book.

Serve God, Save the Planet asks the following questions: How can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life? How can I help people today and in the future? How can I be less materialistic? How can I live a more charitable life? What would happen if I led a slower-paced existence? What is the spiritual prescription for depression, anxiety, and anger? How can I become a better steward of nature?” It is a book meant to guide Christians as they first think through the issues and then begin to take action. He feels that Christians, with their understanding of the origins of the world and with their knowledge of its Creator, are uniquely able to lead the task of creation care.

Through the book’s sixteen chapters, Sleeth deals topically with areas related to creation care. He looks at our society’s fixation with “stuff,” at the food we eat (and its origins) and at the homes we live in. He is occasionally overstated (“Nothing is worse for the environment than a broken family”) but usually measured and deliberate. He shows how many of our society’s fixations (materialism, television, entertainment) are linked together and how together they have a serious environmental impact.

The book is not without its weaknesses. One weakness is that Sleeth is better at suggesting easy solutions than working through the implications of the tough ones. For example, he states that the world’s population is growing too quickly to be sustainable (and provides a clear and understandable metaphor for this). But when it comes to a solution for this issue, all he can suggest is this: “Ethically designed and distributed birth control is an essential remedy if humanity is to survive its own success.” That is easy to say, but the ramifications are massive. Do we allow wealthy Westerns to continue to procreate while forcing birth control upon impoverished Africans? How do we convince so many billions of people to go along with this plan? What if one massive people group (Muslims, for example) refuse to play along? It’s an easy solution to propose but one that is nearly impossible to successfully implement. A second weakness, is that Sleeth seems to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” He accepts man-made global warming as a given and blindly accepts the usual solutions. For example, he stresses the need to recycle, but does not wrestle with the fact that recycling is often as big a polluter, or even a more of a polluter, as simply throwing items in the trash. Consider, for example, that recycled paper needs to be heavily bleached to remove inks and that this bleach is fed into lakes and rivers. And consider that the material to be recycled has to be trucked to recycling centers and hauled to a factory and so on. All of these actions create, rather than prevent, pollution. Recycling is not the “golden key” he makes it out to be. Such difficult issues make no appearance in this volume.

Those complaints aside, the book is good and helpful in many ways. Sleeth offers some good thoughts on environmental issues and does so in a readable, compelling way. His anecdotes, drawn mainly from a long career in medicine, add human interest to what has the potential to be a rather dry topic. Though not a big-picture, philosophical look at the issues, Sleeth’s volume is worth the read for its practical value. The book’s appendices are valuable guides to reducing energy consumption and reducing waste. He gave me a lot to think about in terms of lifestyle and the waste a Western lifestyle can produce, both in time and in materials.

Having said all of this, I do intend to keep looking for a more satisfying book and one that can more fully ground creation care in the Word of God. To this end, I am turning to Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. I suspect he will fill in some of the gaps missing from Serve God, Save the Planet (while doubtlessly missing out on some of the practical value of Sleeth’s volume).

5 years 9 months ago
Though it has been thousands of years since it was written, and though countless people have made valiant attempts to decipher it, it seems as though we are no closer than ever to reaching a consensus regarding the Song of Solomon. Should it be read literally, as a poem that deals with love and sex? Or is this only a superficial meaning beneath which we will find a whole world of allegorical meaning pointing us to Christ? Or might it be some combination of the two, where it speaks both literally and allegorically? Christians continue to disagree.

In A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex and Marriage, a book geared primarily, I suppose, to married or engaged couples, Derek Thomas offers his understanding of Song of Solomon. By the book’s title you will know that he offers a literal reading. He asks the reader to keep three things in mind: first, that Song of Solomon is a book about love, marriage and sex; second, that in teaching us about intimate relationships in marriage, it helps us understand how marital union reflects Christ’s relationship to the church corporately, and the believer individually (though he argues that this is not its primary intent; third, he reminds the reader that Song of Solomon, strange and difficult though it may seem, is God’s inspired and inerrant Word and must be treated as such. “The Holy Spirit thought it necessary that we be given these love poems to teach and exhort us to love more deeply the one he has provided to share our lives with.”

Through eight chapters, then, Thomas provides some exposition of the Song and a good deal of valuable application. An excellent appendix offers information about the historical interpretations of the book and a list of recommended resources for further study. Though it seems clear that the content of this book arose from a teaching series, it does not read as a collection of sermons. Instead, it reads as a collection of wise advice from a man (and his wife) who have been married for over three decades. Using Song of Solomon as his text, he shares biblical wisdom on an always-difficult topic. It certainly widened my understanding of this portion of Scripture and gave me much to meditate upon as I think about my own marriage.

I was glad to see that Thomas did not treat the Song of Solomon as if it is a book of sexual technique, meant to guide us step-by-step in the bedroom. I’ve often read interpretations of each of the poem’s elements that use it to defend all kinds of behavior, good or bad, and I’m quite sure this is often done at the expense of a fair reading. This book offers nothing in the way of technique but much in the way of the big picture. Also, while Thomas insists on a literal interpretation of the Song, he does not go into any great or graphic detail. He remains cautious and dignified, focusing more on the aspects of love and marriage than on pure sexuality.

A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex and Marriage is a short book and one that is easy to read, both as a “Christian living” kind of book and as an overview of the Song of Solomon. I recommend it.

5 years 10 months ago
Crimson is a word, a color, that figures prominently in the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that each of us is born into this world encrimsoned, covered with the blood required of those who sin against God. And without further blood, further encrimsoning, there can be no remission of this sin. Blood cries for blood and that Scripture is clear that every person will die encrimsoned in either their own blood or the blood of a divine substitute.

In a thin volume published by Christ Church of the Carolinas, author deTreville Bowers writes about the importance of living an “encrimsoned” life—one marked by faith in Christ and by continued dependence upon Him. With a clear dependence upon the Scriptures and upon the writings of the Puritans, the book encourages Christians in the transformation from people marked by their own blood to people marked by the blood of Christ. It encourages the kind of abandonment to God and to His purposes that is so foreign to the unregenerate man and to the world around. It reassures that the natural man, though encrimsoned from birth, can be washed whiter than snow by the blood of Jesus. Only crimson can remove crimson, leaving pure white.

Here are a few choice quotes from the book.

“God’s perfect will is never to give His children the positions, possessions or pleasures that will result in their harm. Oftentimes, His children accrue to themselves associations, involvements and pursuits that bring them harm—they desire God’s permissive will rather than His perfect will, and God gives them over to themselves in that regard.”

“You cannot be wholly integrated when the remnants of your lusts stiff-arm God. God will never call upon you to surrender an ambition you do not have! No one can be abandoned to God as long as he holds the one ambition God is calling him to surrender.”

“Satan drives—the Holy Spirit leads. Satan will ferry you to the pinnacle while the Holy Spirit escorts you to humility. Satan leads you into indulgence, whereas God’s Spirit leads you into abstinence. Satan exalts you in order to tear you down, but the Holy Spirit reveals your weaknesses in order to build you up in Christ.”

“Everyone either sails into God’s holy presence upon the sea of Christ’s blood, or they shall surely continually drown in hell in the flooding baptism of their own blood.”

“The process of your becoming conformed to the image of God’s Son is held hostage by your unwillingness to surrender your will to Him. Your will suspects the unfolding of God’s ministry of righteousness in your life.”

Encrimsoned is a small and attractively-produced hardbound volume available from Christ Church of the Carolinas. They say “The writings have a fee associated with them but if you can not afford the fee, please advise and we will gladly send it you to et gratis.” You can contact the church to ask for further details.

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