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Tim Challies

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5 years 3 months ago
Another book about the gospel. We have seen the release of all kinds of books about the gospel lately—books defining the gospel, books preaching the gospel, books sharing how to live with the gospel at the center of life. Is there any room for another one? Absolutely there is, and Trevin Wax has delivered it in the form of Counterfeit Gospels: Discovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.

Wax is convinced there is crisis in the church today, a crisis created by counterfeit gospels—gospels that appear to have elements of the real thing, but which are, at heart, fraudulent. This crisis has 3 elements:

  • A lack of gospel confidence - we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change life.
  • A lack of gospel clarity - we are unsure of what the gospel message truly is.
  • A lack of gospel community - devoid of confidence and clarity, our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness. We’ve lost what makes the church the church.

Against this crisis Wax proposes that the gospel is like a three-legged stool with each leg absolutely critical to a proper understanding of the message; without each of the 3 legs, the stool cannot stand. First, there is the gospel story, which is the overarching grand narrative we find in the Scriptures. Second, there is the gospel announcement, which is that Christ died for our sins and was raised. And third, there is the gospel community, the people who herald the grace of God and spread the good news of what Christ has done.

In what becomes a very helpful grid that runs through the rest of the book, Wax first introduces one of the legs and then contrasts it with two related counterfeits. For example, in the book’s first section he writes about the truth, the story of the gospel and he then contrasts it with 2 counterfeits: the therapeutic gospel and the judgmentless gospel. Each of these is a perversion of the gospel story. The therapeutic gospel confuses spiritual symptons with our spiritual disease while the judgmentless gospel insists that there will be no judgment of hell against sinners.

In the second part he writes about the gospel announcement and contrasts it with the moralistic gospel and the quietist gospel. Then in the third and final part he looks at gospel community and contrasts it with the activist church and the churchless gospel. At the end of it all he circles back to where he began with a joyful celebration of the gospel and a call to tell the story, to make the announcement and to invite other people into this community.

Counterfeit Gospels has much to commend it, both in terms of content and in terms of structure. Wax has crafted a book that flows in an exceptionally useful way from the Introduction to the Epilogue, leading the reader past the counterfeits and to the beauty of truth. Through it all he presents the gospel in all its strength and power. His passion and love for the gospel is contagious. The danger of writing about counterfeits is that we risk being distracted by what is fraudulent; if we are not careful, the frauds can appear attractive. Ultimately, though, truth always wins and that is exactly the case here. The truth is shown to be beautiful while the counterfeits expose themselves as exceedingly ugly and vulgar. Ultimately truth triumphs.

Read this book to refresh your understanding of the gospel, to remind yourself of the fraudulent gospels that may have creeped into your heart or mind, and to rejoice in the beauty of the true gospel, the only one that saves.

6 years 2 months ago
The Marriage Bed is a helpful little book from Ray Rhodes who has also written several titles dealing with family worship. This book[let], weighing in at just 32 pages, is a biblical guide to sexual intimacy. Responding to the inevitable critique that this topic has been covered enough times, Rhodes offers four defenses for writing about it once more: 1) Misinformation about the topic abounds and there is room for a book that falls in the space between legalism and licentiousness; 2) His experience in pastoral ministry has shown that problems with marital intimacy continue despite all of those other books; 3) He has specifically focused on applying the gospel to marital intimacy; 4) The ministry he serves, Nourished in the Word Ministries, exists in part to strengthen marriages and families through biblical teaching and he has written with that kind of ministry in view.

The book’s format is simple, moving quickly through an overview of what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage. Rhodes includes a section on Creativity in the Marriage Bed where he looks to the Song of Solomon but, thankfully, without stooping to a kind of interpretation that seeks to explain each metaphor as a specific sexual act. Instead, he looks to the Song for wisdom on creativity, on enjoying not just the act but the experience of sex. Having done this, he turns next to Hindrances and Remedies to a God-Centered and Intimate Marriage Bed and looks at issues such as fatigue, physical inability, past hurt, immorality and rejection. The remedies he suggests are practical and always grounded in the gospel.

He wraps up the book with a Seven-Day Plan for Cultivating Intimacy in Your Marriage, a useful plan that sets aside seven days to focus on what the Bible teaches about marriage and the purpose of sexual intimacy within it.

The fact that this book is so short is both a strength and a frustration. I was a little disappointed because there is so much more he could have said; yet its short length makes it very accessible. Overall, The Marriage Bed is a helpful little book and one that offers a lot of wisdom in just a few short pages. Best of all, it is grounded in Scripture and full of gospel.

6 years 4 months ago
There are few issues of theology that confuse me more than issues related to social justice. Those who advocate Christian humanitarianism, those who tell Christians that they are responsible before God to fight injustice, to feed the hungry, to free the oppressed, are able to provide a compelling case and they are able to tap into a deep vein of guilt. It is difficult to hear of poor and hungry children and not feel that the primary mission of Christians must be to feed such people. And yet when we look around we see that ministries or organizations that make such a task their primary calling so quickly fade into theological obscurity. The social gospel so often trumps the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Into the fray step Christian Buckley and Ryan Dobson with their book Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross. They want to find that sweet spot between justice and gospel, that place where we can hold tightly to the gospel of Jesus Christ while still emphasizing the importance of social action.

Humanitarian Jesus is made up of two parts. In the first part, which seems to be written largely by Christian Buckley, the authors provide the theological basis for social justice. And here is where the book is at its best. The authors emphasize again and again (and again after that!) the importance of sound theology. They want Christians to know that first and foremost they must be grounded in the Bible. Buckley and Dobson understand the tension so many of us feel when looking at issues related to social justice. “Some of us resist or diminish temporal engagement because we are focused on the call of Scripture to proclaim the gospel, and see this life as a mere momentary passing. Others resist the gospel and the scriptural implications of death, heaven, and hell, and focus instead on the good that can be done on earth by being living illustrations of God’s great love.”

They say as well, “Christ was and is principally concerned with eternity and the reconciliation of the lost. Fundamentally, Christ came to earth to seek and to save, not to heal and feed. Just as Christ came to provide the only means for spiritual reconciliation with the Father, He calls the redeemed to the specific task of continuing His ministry of reconciliation.” They emphasize here and in so many other places that Christ’s most foundational task was to seek and to save the lost; he did not come primarily to feed people, but to save them. And we are to imitate him in this. They go on to say, “Jesus was a humanitarian, but of a unique kind. He healed to reveal true healing. He fed to reveal true food. He quenched thirst to reveal everlasting water. Christ’s actions were temporal, but His intended impact was for His every word and deed to be eternally transforming.” So here they set Christ as the model for the kind of humanitarian work they want Christians to commit to—work that points people to Christ.

As the book continues, the authors provide some friendly critique of the social gospel. They realize that many who emphasize the social gospel have very quickly left behind the true gospel. In the midst of doing humanitarian work, so many have lost sight of the work of saving souls and even the necessity of doing so. But where the authors seem to go just a little bit beyond what I see in Scripture is in their discussion of evangelism. “Evangelism,” they say, “includes the sharing of the gospel and the meeting of needs. It includes the challenging of injustice and the championing of the oppressed. … We don’t meet needs because it gives us the chance to share Christ, but because it is part of who Christ is, and if He is in us, it is part of who we are.” And so here they make humanitarian work a necessary component of evangelism.

Let me emphasize again that what the authors do very well in this section is emphasize sound, biblical theology—a theology that includes humanity’s fall into sin, that includes Christ’s atoning work on the cross, that includes both heaven and hell. This alone is enough to mark this book as very different from so many dealing with social justice. Before the authors want to call anyone to do humanitarian work, they want to call them to the gospel, not just as a message that saves, but as a message that gives direction to all of life.

In the second part the authors conduct a series of 15 interviews with people who are involved in some sort of social justice ministry or organization. Interviewees range from Ron Sider to Tony Campolo, from Francis Chan to Mark Batterson. I found these interviews a rather strange addition to the book. I felt that they added very little in terms of benefit; some were useful, some were not; some emphasized what the authors emphasize, others went the other way. Though the authors want to emphasize the primacy of sound theology, a guy like Tony Campolo has long since forsaken any kind of biblical theology. This section confused me and disappointed me. It felt at times like it was the easy way out in which rather than writing another 100 pages of material the authors could simply include interviews with a wide variety of people. And at other times it felt like it was directly opposed to the message of the rest of the book and especially so when interviewing people who have set themselves in direct opposition to the gospel that saves.

At the end of Humanitarian Jesus I am as perplexed as ever. Largely I still see things the way I did before. There is a time and a place for humanitarian work, no doubt. Christians can have great ministries serving the poor and the oppressed and in so doing can have remarkable opportunities to share the gospel. And yet still the history of Christianity shows that when Christians do this, the gospel quickly becomes secondary and the work itself becomes the gospel. I still see the Bible primarily emphasizing charity given to other believers; when I look at Acts and the epistles, this is what I see most—Christians helping other Christians as a sign of love and fraternity. Now of course there will be some who engage in humanitarian work outside the context of the local church, but it seems to me that the closer we come to making this a necessary part of the Christian mission, the more likely we are to see the gospel diminish.

I’m sure my confusion shows in that last paragraph. The more I read on this subject, the more perplexed I become. Am I saying that Christians should not engage in humanitarian work? Of course not. And yet still I do not see from the Bible that Christians absolutely have to as a necessary component of their evangelism. Maybe someone who reads this review can leave a comment and help me out of this mess of confusion.

6 years 5 months ago
When I was a teenager, growing up within Canada’s Dutch Reformed tradition (despite not being Dutch—long story), Tuesday nights were Catechism nights. My parents would drive me to the church where the pastor, or occasionally one of the elders, would teach us the Heidelberg Catechism. Every class would begin the same way—with reciting the questions and answers we had been told to memorize the week before. I would always sit my friend Brian so we could whisper hints to one another when we got stuck. Actually, he and I continually found new and inventive ways of cheating, of making the pastor believe that we had done our work even when we hadn’t. Nevertheless, over the years I did press that catechism into my mind and at one point probably could have recited almost all of it. Many years have gone by and most of it has faded, though interestingly I can still recite the first and the last of the 129 questions; I still know what is my only comfort in life and death and what ‘amen’ means.

As much as I disliked Catechism nights and as much as I came to dread publicly reciting the answers, I have often since expressed my gratitude for them. Though I was sometimes quite committed to not learning, still I did learn and those classes, based on that old document, helped lay a theological foundation in my life. That Catechism teaches sound theology and does so in a time-honored way. As the church emphasized the importance of theology, taking time to deliberately lead their teenagers into a systematic faith, they taught us that the Christian faith could never be less than theology. They didn’t just tell us what to believe, but they taught us how important it is to believe what is true.

The Good News We Almost Forgot is Kevin DeYoung’s attempt to introduce the Heidelberg Catechism to a new generation. And it seems that at a time when so many people are describing themselves as “Reformed” it is worthwhile looking to the historic roots of the Reformed tradition. Though the catechism was published almost 450 years ago, it remains relevant. The gospel it professed at the time of the Reformation is the very gospel we treasure today.

The Catechism is structured around the church year with 52 chapters correlating to the 52 Lord’s Days. DeYoung follows this same structure in the book. For each chapter he simply provides a short explanation as to what is being taught and why it is important. Thus The Good News We Almost Forgot is really a kind of basic roadmap to the Catechism, a short commentary of sorts on a document that helped form the church.

Months ago Kevin asked if I’d write an endorsement for the book. I was glad to do so and here is what I wrote:

When I was a teenager, Tuesday nights were Catechism nights. I would go to church and, under the tutelage of the pastor, both study and memorize what I affectionately called “Ye Olde Heidelberger.” The deep truths of that document provided a firm foundation for my growing faith. Even as a teen I realized that at the very heart of the Heidelberg Catechism is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet I cannot deny that it has been many years since I last studied it. In The Good News We Almost Forget Kevin DeYoung dusts off that old Catechism and proves that it is as relevant today as it was 450 years ago. Its truths are timeless, its encouragement unchanged. I am grateful to Kevin for introducing this venerable document to a new generation of believers. May they find hope and joy in the One it celebrates.

If you are interested in theology, if you are interested in church history, if you are interested in seeing how the gospel has remain unchanged over the centuries, you will do well to read this book. Well-written and winsome (as are all of DeYoung’s books) I know you’ll benefit from it.

6 years 9 months ago
I kind of wish I had read The Trellis and the Vine in 2009 instead of reading it on January 1, 2010. That way I could have put it in its rightful place on my list of the best books published that year. As it stands, though, the most I can say now is that it’s the best book I’ve read so far in 2010. But that is little praise, I suppose, considering I am now only three days (and three books) into the new year. We may have to suffice it to say that this is an exceptional book, one that ought to be read by any pastor or church leader (and any interested layperson, at that). It is one that would definitely have made it onto my list had I read it immediately after its release instead of a couple of months later.

The Trellis and the Vine is a metaphor Colin Marshall and Tony Payne use to introduce a mind-shift in ministry that they insist will change everything. That is no small claim. A trellis, of course, is a structure that is used to support, to hold up, a vine. In this metaphor the trellis refers to the administrative work within a church, those tasks that, though important, are not actually directly related to discipling people. Vine work, on the other hand, is those tasks of working with the vine, drawing people into the kingdom through evangelism and then training them to grow in their knowledge of God and their obedience to him. As the authors say, “The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel.” The problem, though, is that trellis work tends to take over from vine work. Perhaps it’s because trellis work is easier and less threatening; perhaps the trellis work looks more impressive. But for one reason or another, many Christians, and pastors in particular, soon find themselves consumed with trellis work, leaving them little time and attention for the vine. “Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that in many churches, maintaining and improving the trellis constantly takes over from tending the vine.”

What Marshall and Payne suggest in this book is that most Christian churches need to undergo a radical re-evaluation of what Christian ministry really is. They need to go back to the very basics to understand the aims and goals of ministry, to learn how it proceeds and to see afresh the part we play in it. The authors argue that “structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines, and that most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.” They offer a list of eleven changes of mindset that may be necessary for churches: from running programs to building people; from running events to training people; from using people to growing people; from filling gaps to training new workers; from solving problems to helping people make progress; from clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership; from focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships; from relying on training institutions to establishing local training; from focusing on immediate pressures to aiming for long-term expansion; from engaging in management to engaging in ministry; from seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.

Having done this, they show that every Christian is called to be a vine worker. This is not the exclusive domain of pastors or elders, but is the call of God upon all believers. “At the most basic level,” they say, “the Bible says that Jesus doesn’t have two classes of disciple: those who abandon their lives to his service and those who don’t. The call to discipleship is the same for all.” The basic agenda for all disciples is to be a disciple-maker. This does not point us simply to evangelism, but also to assisting other Christians grow in holiness. Whether evangelizing or discipling (or “training” as they prefer), the basic call of the Christian is to speak God’s Word to others. Therefore every Christian is an evangelist and every Christian is a minister. Marshall and Payne point to the concept of “gospel partnership” which they say “is the normal Christian life. It means standing together united in the gospel, determined to live as citizens of heaven in the midst of our corrupt generation, longing and striving to see the gospel be defended and proclaimed, and bravely copping the conflict, struggle and persecution that inevitably follow.” Meanwhile, the heart of training “is not to impart a skill, but to impart sound doctrine.” We are to train one another to reject false doctrine, and to conform hearts and lives to sound doctrine. “Good biblical training results in a godly life based on sound, health-giving teaching.”

Such shifts in mindset will necessary impact just about every other aspect of church life, extending even to the preaching of the Word and the call of some Christians into full-time service for the gospel. The authors cover such topics within the book, even going so far as to (dangerously and maybe a little mischievously) title a chapter “Why Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient.”

The Trellis and the Vine, a book I am sure I will read again very soon, helped me to see, more clearly than ever I think, how much of what passes for ministry within a church is really “mere” trellis work. Of course such work is important but it can so easily taken on undue prominence and become the heart of the church’s work. Meanwhile, the vine, the people, suffer neglect. In the past I have been involved in “trellis” churches and can attest to the grave danger they pose. This book has given me so much to think about, so much to reflect upon.

Mark Dever declared The Trellis and the Vine “the best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry.” That is no small praise from a man who has dedicated much of his life’s work to that very subject. I am inclined to agree with Dever (who is infinitely more qualified than I am to make such an assessment). This is a very good book and one that offers vast amounts of godly, biblical wisdom. I give it my highest recommendation and would be thrilled to see it in the hands of every pastor and church leader.

Here is a short video in which Dever introduces the book:

7 years 1 month ago
According to George Barna, there have been approximately 75,000 books on parenting published in the past decade. I sometimes feel like I have read all of them. It strikes me, though, that publishers must feel the same way and that, hopefully, they think hard before releasing yet another book into such a crowded marketplace. I at least wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to P&R with the release of William Farley’s Gospel-Powered Parenting. And I’m very glad that I did.

The purpose of the book, as you might gather from the title, is to focus on the gospel as the most important power in parenting. It is not the parents—their efforts, prayers, hopes, dreams—that ultimately ought to shape parenting. Instead, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the power that needs to be at the center of all we are, all we do, as parents. And this is exactly what Farley teaches through the 230 pages of Gospel-Powered Parenting—he shows how to apply the gospel to every aspect of parenting and, further, how the gospel is really foundational in all that we do as parents. We cannot effectively teach or discipline or care for our children if we ignore the gospel. This is the message of the book and it is one we, as Christian parents, do well to ponder and to heed.

Along the way there are a few things that Farley does particularly well and I’d like to draw attention to a few of these unique emphases. First, he focuses on the vitality of marriage as an absolute key to good parenting. One of the best things we can do as parents is to love one another and build a strong, healthy marriage. Where many marriages suffer as mom and dad increasingly give themselves over to the needs (or perceived needs) of their children, Christian parents must remain first and foremost committed to one another. Says Farley, “Marriage-centered, not child-centered, moms usually exert the greatest influence on their children for Christ and his kingdom. This means that your weekends away with your husband, alone, might influence your children more than all your teaching and disciplining combined. Your children are watching, and it gives them great joy and security to see their parents loving each other.”

Second, Farley pushes back hard against the growing seed of Christian isolationism that advocates removing our children from the world as the sure means of protecting them from the world. Instead, he teaches that a good offense is the best defense. “A defensive mind-set worries about the evil influence of Halloween, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or non-Christians on the Little League team. Although parenting always involves some protection, this should not be the main focus for biblical parents. Often this defensive mentality is the fruit of legalism. The legalistic parent usually assumes that his or her children are born again. But this parent has little confidence in the power of the new birth. Therefore, parenting is all about protecting children from evil outside influence.” Later he writes, “This book will assume that effective parents equip their children to overcome the world—not by changing and controlling their environment (things external to their children), but by going after their children’s hearts.” This is a very important message and one I have rarely seen in other parenting books.

And third, he is relentless in pursuing fathers, teaching that it is the father who is primarily responsible for parenting children. It is the father to whom Scripture addresses all instruction in regard to raising children and it is the father to whom almost all books on child-rearing were addressed until recent times. It is the father who bears the heaviest burden of responsibility. Of course mom is intimately involved in each aspect of raising godly children, but it is dad who is ultimately responsible. And again, this is a message rarely taught today.

These three messages, and others like them, set this book apart. I wondered, as I closed the cover, “could this be the best book I’ve ever read on parenting?” Perhaps it is not in an entirely objective sense, but what I do know is that it told me exactly what I needed to hear at this moment and did so more than any other parenting book I’ve read. It had just the right combination of affirmation (your struggles are universal struggles, your joys are universal joys) and exhortation to both encourage and challenge me in all the right ways. I highly recommend it to any and every parent. 

8 years 1 month ago
Preaching is not just for preachers. Every Christian can, and, I’m increasingly convinced, should be educated about the task and calling of the preacher. I am convinced that there is great benefit in all Christians becoming students of preaching. This applies even to those who will never stand behind the pulpit and bring the Word of God to His people. The book I would recommend to laypersons wishing to learn about preaching and to pastors wishing to learn how to preach better, is Al Mohler’s He Is Not Silent. Just released by Moody Publishers, this book is a brilliant and insightful look at the task and challenges of preaching in a postmodern world. It is not a how-to guide and is not a dry exhortation valuable only for those with theological degrees; instead, it is a compelling, winsome, biblical case for understanding the utter centrality of preaching to Christian worship.

This postmodern world has lost its respect for preaching. Once regarded as the center of Christian worship, preaching is now seen by so many Christians as something that is supplemental instead of instrumental. In the Foreword to this book John MacArthur writes, “One of the clearest lessons we can learn from church history is that strong biblical preaching is absolutely vital to the health and vitality of the church. From the birth of the New Testament church until today, every significant phase of authentic revival, reformation, missionary expansion, or robust church growth has also been an era of biblical preaching.” Indeed, from the church’s earliest days to the Reformation, through revivals and awakenings, it is always preaching that has been the tool God has used to call, draw, change and revitalize his church. And in the face of history’s testimony, “it is remarkable that over the past half century (or longer) evangelicals have devoted vast quantities of energy and resources to the invention of novel church-growth strategies that tend to discount biblical preaching.” We have taken our eyes off Scripture and off the testimony of history.

Mohler begins his examination of preaching by discussing the state of preaching in our day, turning to Dickens and his famous words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Though there are signs of great promise and though many Christians are renewing the emphasis on preaching, there remain thousands of churches where the preaching of the Word is minimized or forgotten all together. Mohler offers six factors which together have contributed to undermining the role of preaching in the church and to define it as something other than the exposition and application of the biblical text. Here we see how the world has invaded and shaped the church.

Having set the stage, Mohler puts preaching in its proper context at the very heart of Christian worship, looks to the Trinitarian nature of preaching and then defines true, biblical preaching as being expository in nature. After a chapter defining this type of preaching, he looks to the preacher’s authority and purpose, to the importance of preaching the Bible’s big story and to the importance of every pastor being a theologian. The book wraps up with a look at the particular challenges of preaching to a postmodern culture, with an exhortation to preachers about the urgency of their task and an encouragement to preachers drawn from the ministry of Ezekiel. An Epilogue provides a brief biography of Charles Spurgeon and discusses his contagious passion for preaching.

This is a book that will challenge and, I hope, shape many pastors. I cannot imagine the pastor would could not derive some benefit from it. Mohler, a great preacher in his own right, is passionate about this topic and speaks as a preacher to other preachers. If you are a pastor, read this book! You will find it a source of great wisdom and great encouragement.

But, as I indicated a short time ago, I think it is also an ideal book for all Christians to read and absorb. Let me illustrate this way. If you were to commit to going to a baseball game at least once per week for the rest of your life, I suspect you would want to understand the sport. Though you would always know that you would never be out on that field, you would still want to know what makes a great player great; you would want to understand how a pitcher faces a batter and attempts to outwit him with a mixture of pitches, speeds, breaks and locations; you would want to see how a manager attempts to set the perfect lineup to face the opposition. Without such knowledge you would not fully understand the game and would not derive as much pleasure and benefit from it. What you take from the game is in many ways contingent on your understanding of it.

In the same way, understanding preaching will help the Christian in many ways. He will know what kind of preaching he should expect and what kind of preacher to seek out; it will give him new respect for the preacher and for the difficulty and uniqueness of the task; it will give him reason to praise God for His gift of preaching and preachers. As Dr. Mohler writes, “A theology of preaching begins with the humble acknowledgment that preaching is not a human invention but a gracious creation of God and a central part of His revealed will for the church.” Of course he must read carefully and humbly, knowing that his preacher is imperfect and prone to sin. But his understanding of preaching will teach him how to listen, when to listen and why he must listen to the preaching of the Word.

This is the third book from the pen of Dr. Mohler we’ve seen in 2008. In my view, it is the best (at least of the three I have read to this point). Though Mohler aptly addressed culture and new atheism in his previous two titles, there is a new kind of passion in this book. Mohler calls for the “re-centering” of an element of worship that has been pushed to the periphery. He does so with confidence based on Scripture and in a way that can appeal to any reader. Buy it, read it, and while you are at it, buy a copy for your pastor.

Here are a few quotes I culled from the book—a few of the many notable quotes.

“The audacious claim of Christian preaching is that the faithful declaration of the Word of God, spoken through the preacher’s voice, is even more powerful than anything music or image can deliver.”

“If we do not come face-to-face with our sin as individuals and as a congregation, we have not seen God, and we have not worshiped Him.”

“The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. If we as pastors are truly serious about giving our people a true vision of God, showing them their own sinfulness, proclaiming to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and encouraging them to obedient service in response to that gospel, then we will devote our lives to preaching the Word. That is our task and our calling—to confront our congregations with nothing less than the living and active Word of God, and to pray that the Holy Spirit will thereby open eyes, convict consciences, and apply that Word to human hearts.”

“The health of the church depends upon its pastors functioning as faithful theologians—teaching, preaching, defending, and applying the great doctrines of the faith.”

9 years 2 months ago

A review of Tullian Tchividjian’s new book.

There can be no question more important to a person than this one: “Do I know God?” Those who do know Him have the privilege of being adopted into the family of God and being assured of an eternity in His presence. Those who do not have no such privilege and no such hope. In America the vast majority of people claim to be Christians and claim to know God, but so many lives simply do not bear this out. People may know about God, but they do not know God as He is. And so many will perish, going to the grave with some kind of false assurance, thinking they know God when really they do not. It does us all good to ask not once but throughout life, “Do I know God?”

God wants us to know Him and not only that, He wants us to know that we know Him. He wants us to be able to find certainty in this most important relationship. This certainty, the certainty that allows us to have confidence that we are saved and that God loves and will preserve us, is the subject of Do I Know God? by Tullian Tchividjian. Though not a household name, his full name provides some important context: William Graham Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of Ruth and Billy Graham. As a young man he rebelled and ran from the faith, but was radically saved in 1993 and has since entered the pastoral ministry having first graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In 2003 he founded New City Presbyterian Church in Florida where he serves as pastor.

Tchividjian wrote this book to show that we can have assurance of our salvation and to teach the reader how we can have this kind of certainty. “The Bible makes it clear that if you’re confused about which group [those who know God and those who don’t] you belong to, you don’t have to remain confused. If you do have a relationship with God, he wants you to know it. And if you don’t have a relationship with God, he wants you to know it.”

This book, then, is his attempt to give credible answers to any sincere spiritual seeker who may be asking that all-important question.” Of course we live at a time when doubt is the highest absolute. We can believe what we want, but we always need to maintain a “healthy” doubt, admitting that we could be (and perhaps probably are) wrong. God’s assurance flies in the face of this doubt.

The format of the book is as follows. Tchividjian first looks at what a relationship to God actually means and how we are to enter into one that is genuine. He identifies six ways that people deceive themselves into thinking they know God when in fact they do not and then seeks to assist the reader to examine himself through a kind of rigorous personal inventory. The purpose of such an examination is to determine if the reader really is showing the traits of one who believes. And finally, he suggests three practical spiritual disciplines that maintain the relationship with God and cause it to flourish.

The book is pastoral in its tone and is laced with stories and anecdotes from Tchividjian’s pastoral ministry and from his own testimony. The endnotes show who has guided Tchividjian in his understanding of this most important theology: Packer, Sproul, Stott, Piper, Ryle and others all make appearances. The book closes with a Study Guide suitable for personal or group use. Tchividjian is a capable writer and one who makes a good personal connection with the reader. The book is suitable for any audience.

Do I Know God? is a helpful and biblical response to that all-important question. With the answers grounded in the character of God and built upon the testimony of Scripture, this book will serve anyone who may be wondering or wavering. I’m glad to recommend it.

The book is currently available for pre-order from Amazon (with a ship date of around August 21) and will soon be available from other retailers.

9 years 3 months ago
I typically try to avoid posting book reviews two days in a row (especially after posting both reviews at Discerning Reader), but I wanted to be sure I drew sufficient attention to Richard Phillips’ new book Jesus the Evangelist. I have written about the book once before (link) while reflecting on what I learned from studying the account of Jesus at Jacob’s Well. But that was just one of the many beneficial lessons I drew from the book. So I’m going to post the review here today in the hope that you will also be excited by this book and consider purchasing a copy of it. Many Christians are convinced that Reformed Christians do less than their share of evangelism. A book like this should help prove that there is no theological reason that Reformed Christians should be anywhere but on the front lines of sharing the gospel with others.

Jesus the Evangelist had its genesis in a series of expository sermons Richard Phillips preached on the gospel of John. As he studied and explored the book, he immediately saw John’s continual emphasis on the theme of gospel witness. As a talented expository preacher, Phillips’ sermons took the theme of the passage and he preached sermons on “the privilege and obligation of evangelism.” Having preached the sermons, he realized there would be value in compiling into book format what John teaches on the subject of evangelism. Jesus the Evangelist is the result and he hopes it will service to “both motivate and instruct the practice of evangelism among Christians.”

The book is written for two audiences. The first is the many committed Christians who do little in the way of evangelism. This book is meant to enhance the zeal of these people by emboldening their witness with biblical wisdom, guidance and instruction. The second audience is those who are zealous in their witness but who would profit from understanding Jesus’ approach to evangelism that they may ensure they are evangelizing in a way that is consistent with Scripture. After all, many who seek to witness for Christ in reality do nothing that genuinely approaches biblical evangelism. Phillips hopes to instruct these people so their knowledge may match their zeal.

The book is structured around chapters 1, 3 and 4 of John. In the first part, examining John 1, Phillips focuses on John the Baptist, the man who came to bear witness to the light, and drawing from his ministry biblical principles of evangelism. The second part, examining John 2, looks at Jesus encounter with Nicodemus and teaching from that story the theology of the gospel. The final part observes Jesus practice of evangelism as we see it in John 4 where Jesus interacts with the woman at Jacob’s well. An appendix deals with the important matter of the relationship of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, providing a brief look at biblical principles that should embolden our witness.

While it is clear that this book is based upon expository sermons, beyond very consistent chapter lengths, it does not have the “feel” of a sermon and potential readers should not allow that knowledge to turn them away from it. Were they to do so they would be missing out on a real treasure. While I have read widely in this subject matter, rarely have I found myself so convicted as I was while studying Jesus the Evangelist. The reason is clear. Rather than depending on surveys, statistics and guilt to motivate evangelism, Phillips turns instead to Scripture and allows the Holy Spirit to work encouragement through the Word. Inherently centered upon the Bible, the book never veers from the Word, never turns aside from plumbing the depths of the Scriptural witness about evangelism.

As I read the book I found myself feeling optimistic that this book may reach an audience beyond the Reformed churches. Many who profess Christ today desperately desire that the church spend more time studying Jesus and following His example. This book offers just such an opportunity. It teaches how the Lord Himself evangelized and how He drew people to Himself through gospel witness. It relies on Jesus to teach the theology and practice of evangelism.

I hope this book is read widely and read meditatively. Unique in a crowded field, Jesus the Evangelist is biblical exposition at its finest, simply opening Scripture, teaching the reader about the character of God, and allowing the Spirit to bring about conviction and action. I recommend this book to any and all believers.

9 years 3 months ago
A person does not have to be married for long to realize that marriage is a lot more difficult than it may seem. Certainly it is a lot more difficult than God intended for it to be. With the fall into sin came the rise of the self, with the loss of perfection came the dominance of sin. Even the best marriages are now tainted by sin, by selfishness, by a distinct lack of love. Every marriage represents the joining of two sinners. Though they love each other, they fight constantly to love each other as much as they know they should.

While the shelves at bookstores, both Christian and mainstream, are groaning under the weight of books dealing with marriage, few of these books offer assistance with the root of all of the problems we encounter in our relationships. Few of them get to the heart of the matter, looking deep into the human heart and prescribing the biblical cure. Into this void steps Dave Harvey with his book When Sinners Say “I Do,”, a book that is justly garnering much positive attention. C.J. Mahaney says it “provides clarity in conflict, hope in despair, and points the way to a joy-filled, God glorifying marriage.” Jerry Bridges says it “will be helpful for any married couple whether they’ve been married five weeks or fifty years.” And Randy Alcorn calls it “a wonderful book” that is “honest, refreshing, practical, and above all biblical.” What has inspired these glowing endorsements is the book’s focus on the harsh reality of sin and the beautiful reality of grace.

When Sinners Say “I Do” is a book that focuses a lot of attention on sin. In fact, the first half of the book focuses predominantly on this topic. This may seem unnecessary to some and even depressing to others, but to ignore sin is to ignore one of the greatest human realities. “My friends,” writes Harvey, “when sin becomes bitter, marriage becomes sweet.” And so he writes about sin and grace in order to promote enjoyable, God-glorifying marriages. This is not a how-to book or a step-by-step to a happy marriage. It does not offer ancient secrets or knowledge that has until now been hidden. Rather, it simply offers the Bible’s realistic take on the reality of human sin and the power of the gospel to build and sustain healthy, happy, marriages that honor and glorify God.

I can’t say it better than Paul David Tripp. In the book’s foreword he writes, “This book grasps at the core drama of every married couple. This drama is no respecter of race, ethnic origin, location, or period of history. It is the one thing that explains the doom and hope of every human relationship. It is the theme that is on every page of this book in some way. What is this drama? It is the drama of sin and grace.” Harvey deals frankly, honestly and unrelentingly with sin and on the basis of that foundation allows grace to shine in all its beauty. Though every marriage for all time will be the union of two sinners, God is good to grant grace that we can have relationships that are strong, vibrant and that bring glory to God.

Piercing in its description of sin and unrelenting in pursuing sin to the deepest recesses of our hearts (and thus, of our relationships), When Sinners Say “I Do” is a most welcome contribution in a busy marketplace. I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to any couple and, indeed, to any single person as well. It is one of the best books on marriage and relationships that I have had the privilege of reading. We all need to see our sinner as bitter so that grace can be sweet. This book’s biblical focus will bring both sin and the Savior into clear focus, helping us to build strong relationships centered upon Christ for His glory.