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August 25, 2011

Forgive me for sharing a list of 30 Minute Reviews even though I posted another batch yesterday. I have a big backlog of books piled up on my desk, and having spent at least 30 minutes in each one of them, I am eager to provide these short reviews. Publishers are releasing plenty of good books these days and I’m glad to be able to draw your attention to a few of them.

Come to the WatersCome to the Waters by James Montgomery Boice - Though James Montgomery Boice died over 10 years ago, his words live on. In this new book, D. Marion Clark has compiled a year’s worth of daily devotionals drawn from Boice’s sermons and unpublished writings. They are based upon texts from Genesis all the way through Revelation. In his introduction to be book Clark writes, “These devotions are not intended simply to make you a better person. They are to lead you again and again to your only hope—Jesus Christ—for glorifying God. If you ever heard Dr. Boice preach or if you have ever read one of his books, you will know roughly what to expect here: systematic, God-honoring, Christ-exalting exposition of Scripture that is not only preached but also applied.

Everyday PrayersEveryday Prayers by Scotty Smith - One morning Scotty Smith decided he would open up the Bible, turn on his laptop, and begin praying through some of his favorite verses of Scripture. In order to force himself to move at a slow pace and in order to help with his concentration, he elected to type out these prayers. A few weeks later this had become a habit and from there a discipline and a delight. He began to share select prayers with a few friends, then with a list of people and then on a blog. I have often linked to or reprinted those prayers. Baker has now taken 365 of them and compiled them in a book aptly titled Everyday Prayers. What has always appealed to me about Smith’s prayers is that, compared to some other prayer books (such as The Valley of Vision) they are just so normal; they are in the language I use every day. For that reason I find them tremendously helpful.

August 24, 2011

Here is another batch of 30-minute reviews. These are all books I have received over the past few weeks, but have been unable to read in full. Instead, I have given each of them at least 30 minutes and tried to get as much of a feel for the book as possible in that time.

Unseen RealitiesUnseen Realities by R.C. Sproul - Unseen Realities is a rarity in that it is an R.C. Sproul title published by Christian Focus instead of Reformation Trust (which is associated with Ligonier Ministries). I have read quite a lot of what Dr. Sproul has written on the subjects of heaven, hell, angels and demons and he is always both biblical and practical. Dr. Sproul remains one of my favorite teachers and in this small volume—a collection of selected writings on the topics—he helps us understand those things that we must believe even without being able to see or touch them. He shows how these things truly matter and how they necessarily impact our lives in the here and now.

Practicing AffirmationPracticing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree - Since 1997, Sam Crabtree has been serving as Executive Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Unless I am mistaken, Practicing Affirmation is his first book and it comes with quite an interesting subtitle: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God. I would be tempted to say this is a niche topic except that (I hope!) we all seek to offer words of praise and affirmation to those who are not God. At some level, then, this book must apply to all of us. According to the publisher it “sounds a call to recognize and affirm the character of Christ in others. When done well, affirmation does not fuel pride in the person it refreshes, but honors God. All who are discouraged in relationships will find wisdom and practical insight in this book.” It comes endorsed by C.J. Mahaney, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Joni Eareckson Tada and includes a foreword from John Piper.

January 26, 2011

The Christian FaithI recently received a copy of Michael Horton’s massive new systematic theology. It’s a big, heavy hardcover that weighs in at around 1050 pages. Several people have asked me if I would offer a review. I wish I could, but honestly, to review this book would be far beyond my capabilities. Not only would it take me weeks to read (though they would be profitable weeks, I’m sure) but I just do not have the theological background to offer anything more than the most cursory review. I’m aware of my limitations.

Having said that, I’ve looked through it enough to conclude that it seems likely to be the Presbyterian equivalent of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology—the contemporary go-to for those seeking to learn about a particular point of doctrine coming from a defined point-of-view. It is laid out in a very attractive and useful way and in that way it removes some of the intimidation factor that comes through its topic and its bulk.

Horton’s book got me thinking. If I were to sit down to write this kind of a work, one that for many authors represents a magnum opus, how would I want to begin it? What words do you use to introduce a work of this magnitude and one that represents a lifetime’s study and thousands and thousands of hours of writing? I just had to know. So I went to my bookcase and pulled every systematic theology I could find. To satisfy my curiosity I turned to the first pages of each and wrote out the opening sentence. And here they are:

  • Prolegomena (lit: pro, “before,” and lego, “speak”) is the introduction to theology. (Systematic Theology by Norman Geisler)
  • In 1949, the English playwright and novelist Dorothy Sayers observed the common antipathy in her day toward doctrine: “ ‘Dull dogma,’ they call it.” (Michael Horton)
  • In this book I will introduce you to the discipline of systematic theology. (Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame)
  • In every science there are two factors: facts and ideas; or, facts and the mind. (Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge)
  • Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. (The Institutes by John Calvin)
  • What is systematic theology? (Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem)
  • One may rightly say Christian theology is study or organized treatment of the topic, God, from the standpoint of Christianity. (Systematic Theology by Robert Duncan Culver)
  • Works on dogmatic or systematic theology generally begin with the doctrine of God. (Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof)
  • Humans are wondrous and complex beings. (Christian Theology by Millard Erickson)
  • Hundreds of the world’s space scientists are spending vast sums from their nations’ treasuries trying to make meaningful contact with imagined rational beings living in deep space. (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond)

Looking at that list, I don’t think there are too many conclusion we can draw, are there? Except, perhaps, that Calvin gets the prize.

October 30, 2010

I receive a lot of books in the mail. If I were to go through them and categorize them, I suspect I’d find that one topic stands apart from the rest—prayer. I’d be surprised if any topic receives as much attention as this one. I suppose this shows that we Christians struggle with prayer—that we just aren’t confident that we are praying well, that our prayers are heard.

I’ve read quite a few books on the subject and wanted to point to 5 that I’ve found particularly helpful. Here they are, in no particular order.

Praying BackwardsPraying Backwards by Bryan Chapell. Where this book helped me most was in leading me to pray with an increased reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. Here’s how I phrased it in my review: “This book was such a joy to me. It removed a burden I have so often felt in prayer, that I need to say, feel or know just the right things in order to make my prayer effective. But I had never fully understood the Spirit’s role in prayer, that He intercedes in every prayer, taking my limited, far-too-human perspective, and presenting to the Father a prayer that is beyond time and space - a prayer that is formed through the Spirit’s omniscience. No wonder, then, that God can and will answer prayer! I know now that my role is not to feel the need to pray great prayers, but it is to continue to grow in godliness - for even the simplest prayers can be pure and sweet to the Father - that I may more and more resemble the Son to whom I am united.” [Westminster Books | Amazon]

A Praying LifeA Praying Life by Paul Miller. One of the areas in which this book spoke to me was in the way it moved me away from structure, at least in certain cases. We’ve all been taught ACTS or another model for prayer. These are often very helpful guidelines for praying carefully and systematically. But where Miller helped was in freeing me from those under certain circumstances so I could pray “randomly,” praying as my mind moved from one thing to the next. There is a certain freedom I’ve found in that, realizing that structure is not the same as depth. In my review I point to another strength. “Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is Miller’s unrelenting emphasis that prayer cannot be an add-on to the Christian life; it cannot be supplemental but must always be instrumental. This book will equip you to understand prayer properly and, on that firm foundation, to commit yourself to it, with confidence that God is willing and able to hear and answer your prayers.” [Westminster Books | Amazon]

October 28, 2010

Last week I spent a day in Grand Rapids and most of that day was taken up with meetings at the head office for Zondervan. As you probably know, Zondervan will be publishing my next couple of books, so we had a series of meetings to discuss, among other things, marketing plans (that’s right—we met to figure out how we can force you to part with a few of your dollars and hand it to us!). We also shot a bit of video and talked about plans for the next book.

As I was touring around the offices, I found quite a few interesting new products, some of which I knew of already and some of which were entirely new to me, that I thought I’d make you aware of. And make sure you read to the end—I’ll make it worth your while (or someone’s while, anyway). Here are a few of the products that caught my eye:

God So LovedGod So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity by Kelly Kapic with Justin Borger - You may know the name Kelly Kapic as one of the co-editors of the modernization of John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you haven’t got a copy of that book, well, you really need to. It’s a good one. Kapic is also the author of a new book called God So Loved, He Gave. He  managed to get endorsements from a long list of people including Tim Keller, Jerry Bridges (who calls it “an amazing book”), Bryan Chapell, Michael Horton and quite a few others. Here’s the publisher’s description: “God So Loved, He Gave places the practice of giving within the larger story of God’s generosity. Here we discover how our participation in the overflow of divine giving is vitally connected to the Trinitarian nature of God, the unfolding drama of Scripture and ultimately the Gospel itself.” And here is Jerry Bridges’ glowing endorsement: “God So Loved, He Gave is an amazing book. In it Kelly Kapic deftly moves from our being recipients of all God’s generous gifts through Christ to our being stewards of God’s gifts as we share them with others. This book is both encouraging and challenging. It should be read attentively and prayerfully.” [Westminster Books | Amazon]

A God-Sized VisionA God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge. According to the publisher “In A God-Sized Vision, Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge recount the fascinating stories of revivals throughout history—from biblical times to the Great Awakenings to more recent revivals in China—strengthening your understanding of God’s work in the past and deepening your faith in the possibility of revival today.” This book also sports quite a list of endorsers including Tim Keller and Jerry Bridges (deja vu), Nancy Leigh DeMoss, George Marsden and D.A. Carson. Here is what Keller says about it: “The importance of spiritual revival and the necessity of conversion is being questioned in many evangelical and Reformed circles. I’m so glad that this book is appearing now, as a witness both to how God has worked in the church in the past and what he can do in the future.” [Westminster Books | Amazon]

The Reason for GodThe Reason for God: Conversations on Faith and Life (DVD) - Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God has proven to be a hit and even made its way onto the New York Times list of bestsellers. “Captured live and unscripted, pastor and author Timothy Keller meets with a group of people over six sessions to address their doubts and objections to Christianity. Using literature, philosophy, real-life experiences, and the Bible, Keller and the group explore the truth of Christianity.” This is one that I haven’t yet had time to watch, but I do intend to do that soon. From the bit I have seen it looks like a great setting for conversation and quite a unique format in which to discuss big issues: Isn’t the Bible a myth? Why does God allow suffering? How can God send good people to hell? [Westminster Books | Amazon]

September 14, 2010

Today I’ve got another batch of books that I didn’t review. Life is such that there are lots of great books that I just cannot find the time to read and many other books I’m simply not qualified to review. These books tend to find their way into these round-ups of the ones I received and looked at but for one reason or another just couldn’t review. I list them here in the hopes that at least some of them will be of interest to at least some of you!

SAFESafe: How to Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Your Home by Wayne LaPierre. “This year, hundreds of thousands of American families will face natural and man-made disasters including floods, fires, hurricanes, tornados and more. Millions of adults and children alike will be killed or seriously injured in preventable accidents - family crises that don’t have to happen. Millions more will be victimized by criminals, burglars, child predators, identity thieves and scam artists. If you want to take the right steps to prepare and protect the things that are most important to you - your family, your home, your financial future - then you owe to yourself and your family to read this book.” It’s rather an interesting idea, I suppose. This book simply shares ways that you can prepare yourself to be safe from crisis and disaster.

CatholicismCatholicism: East of Eden by Richard Bennett. “Richard Bennett was born into a devout Roman Catholic home in Dublin Ireland. His early years were spent in Belvedere Jesuit School. Eight years of theological instruction for the priesthood followed under the instruction of the Dominican Order with his formal education culminating in 1964 at the Angelicum University of Rome. As a young priest, Richard (Peter) was assigned to the West Indies. He spent the next twenty-one years in Trinidad, mostly serving as a parish priest applying Roman Catholic teaching to everyday life. After a serious accident in which he nearly lost his life, he began to seriously study the Scriptures. After fourteen years of contrasting the teachings of Rome with biblical truth, he was convicted by the Gospel message through God’s grace alone and in 1986 he formally left the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood.” This book addresses the 21st century issues of Catholicism and does so with candor, with empathy but, most importantly, with biblical firmness. If you are grappling with Catholicism, this is a good resource to turn to.

Collected Writings on ScriptureCollected Writings on Scripture by D.A. Carson. “God’s Word has always had enemies, but in recent years the inspiration and authority of Scripture have been attacked with renewed vigor. Respected scholar D. A. Carson has written widely on the nature of Scripture over the past thirty years, and here presents a timely collection of his work in two parts. In part 1, Carson selects essays written on such themes as how to interpret the Bible, recent developments in the doctrine of Scripture, unity and diversity in the New Testament, and redaction criticism. Presenting a theologically balanced and confessional perspective, Carson defines the terms of a number of debates, critiques interpretive methods and theories, and suggests positive guidelines for future action. Part 2 presents critical reviews of nine books dealing with the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Though substantial in content, Carson’s detailed reviews will foster careful thought and perspective in those who are relatively new to the debates surrounding biblical inspiration and authority.”

September 08, 2010

Summer is over and publishers are now preparing to roll out a whole new season of books. Many publishers wait until the fall to release their best books, hoping that the coming Christmas season will lead to increased sales. In the general publishing world this means that we will see new titles by Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, and even George W. Bush (who between them will outsell all Christian authors put together). Even Susan Boyle (yes, that Susan Boyle) is getting in on the act. Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars is another title that is going to be flying off store shelves.

The Christian market will also see a lot of books making noise. I have spent some time combing through publisher catalogs and am going to share with you some of the books I am most looking forward to this fall.

Before we begin, here are a few caveats: Do note that I have not yet read any of these books. I have seen manuscripts for a couple of them, but no more than that. Also, not all publishers maintain a public list of their forthcoming books (though all of them should!) so I may well have missed some exciting titles. Note as well that what I have put within quotes is description provided by the necessarily-biased publishers. Finally, these are all books set to publish between now and the end of 2010. And I think that is enough caveats. Let’s have at it.

Christ Formed in You

Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by Brian Hedges

I have done quite a bit of thinking about the centrality of the gospel to the Christian life in general and to my life in particular. It has been tough going! I am very much looking forward to having Brian Hedges’ help as I seek to turn thoughts into action. “The central claim in Christ Formed in You is that it is God’s purpose to change us by progressively making us more like Jesus, and that this happens only as we understand and apply the gospel to our lives.” I have thought a lot about the centrality of the gospel and am looking forward to having this book guide me as I attempt to move from thought to action. At the end of the introduction to the book Hedges writes, “In each of these chapters, my aim has been to connect the dots between the gospel, the goal of Christlikeness, and the specific aspect of spirituality under discussion.” That sounds like just the thing! (October 1 | Shepherd Press | Pre-Order)

Letters to a Young Calvinist

Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition by James K.A. Smith

Letters to a Young Calvinist provides pastoral and theological counsel, encouraging converts to and participants in this tradition to find in Calvin a vision that’s even bigger than the New Calvinism might suggest. Noted Reformed philosopher James K. A. Smith contends that much of what traffics under the banner of New Calvinism reduces ‘Reformed’ to a narrow concern with Calvinistic soteriology. Smith introduces New Calvinists to the ‘world-formative’ Christianity that was unleashed with the Reformation, presenting the Reformed tradition as an Augustinian renewal movement within the church catholic. Offering wisdom at the intersection of theology and culture, he also provides pastoral caution about pride and maturity.” I may well be among those who is Reformed more in soteriology than in a well-rounded way, and I am looking forward to being challenged by what “Reformed” means in its historical context. (November 1 | Brazos Press | Pre-Order)


Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin R. Stapert

Attending a performance of Messiah is a Christmas tradition I love and I am eagerly anticipating this book which seeks to make that tradition even more enjoyable. “George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed indifference — and even misunderstanding.This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase listeners’ understanding and appreciation of Handel’s majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence.” While we are on the subject, have you purchased your Messiah tickets yet? They are probably on sale right now. (September 15 | Eerdmans | Pre-Order)

Think Piper

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

If you read my blog consistently, you know that I am not one who automatically reads the newest books by John Piper. But in this case I’m very intrigued as the life of the mind is an issue near and dear to me. “John Piper’s newest book will help Christians think about thinking. Focusing on the life of the mind helps us to know God better, love him more, and care for the world. Along with an emphasis on emotions and the experience of God, we also need to practice careful thinking about God. Piper contends that “thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God.” So how are we to maintain a healthy balance of mind and heart, thinking and feeling? Piper urges us to think for the glory of God. He demonstrates from Scripture that glorifying God with our minds and hearts is not either-or, but both-and. Thinking carefully about God fuels passion and affections for God. Likewise, Christ-exalting emotion leads to disciplined thinking.” (September 30 | Crossway | Pre-Order)

August 30, 2010

It is time for another of these irregular roundups of books that I didn’t review. It’s not necessarily that these are bad books or ones I purposely chose not to read and review. It’s just that, life being what it is, I cannot read them all. So here are a few that came in this week that I wish I could have read but that I just did not have time for. And here are a couple that I wouldn’t read if you paid me.

The God Who Is thereThe God Who Is There by D.A. Carson. “It can no longer be assumed that most people—or even most Christians—have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many don’t know the difference between the Old and New Testament, and even the more well-known biblical figures are often misunderstood. It is getting harder to talk about Jesus accurately and compellingly because listeners have no proper context with which to understand God’s story of redemption. In this basic introduction to faith, D. A. Carson takes seekers, new Christians, and small groups through the big story of Scripture. He helps readers to know what they believe and why they believe it. The companion leader’s guide helps evangelistic study groups, small groups, and Sunday school classes make the best use of this book in group settings.” It looks like a very useful book. I may well go through it with a small group at some point.

Getting the Reformation WrongGetting the Reformation Wrong by James R. Payton Jr. “Most students of history know that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg Church door and that John Calvin penned the Institutes of the Christian Religion. However, the Reformation did not unfold in the straightforward, monolithic fashion some may think. It was, in fact, quite a messy affair.” This one looks quite interesting, though I suspect it’s best left to those who have at least some background in church history in general and Reformation history in particular. So I would not recommend making this book your introduction to this period of history. I believe we’ll have a review of this at Discerning Reader before wrong (but someone else called dibs on it!).

The Faithful ParentThe Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family by Martha Peace & Stuart W. Scott. “A compelling read, this book offers practical advice and biblical hope to parents of children of all ages. Most parenting books, outright or indirectly, promise a good outcome if you only follow their suggestions. The Faithful Parent contains a wealth of practical, biblically-based suggestions, but it maintains that the most important relationship in any family is vertical—between parents and God. It is the Christian parent, in being faithful, who glorifies God. Look inside to discover how the faithful parent has the biggest impact on his or her children.” It’s not like we are hurting for more books on parenting, but this one comes from two good authors and comes highly recommended by Ted Tripp, Wayne Mack, Lance Quinn and Al Mohler. I appreciate that this book’s emphasis is particularly on drawing your children into a relationship with the Lord.

The Boy Who Came Back from HeavenThe Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin & Alex Malarkey. Don Piper’s 90 Minutes from Heaven has spawned all kinds of imitators and this is the latest and greatest. It’s another book that seems to clash with Scripture but which we are all supposed to just accept because the authors say it’s true. “In 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered an horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex—and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. “I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus,” a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious. Of the angels that took him through the gates of heaven itself. Of the unearthly music that sounded just terrible to a six-year-old. And, most amazing of all … Of meeting and talking to Jesus. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is the true story of an ordinary boy’s most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex’s eyes, you’ll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father’s love.”

A few quick hits: