Book Review Roundup: August and September 2014


Since starting seminary I’ve had WAY less time to read for pleasure (although I’m certainly enjoying my readings for class!). So most of this list is made up of books I finished prior to starting classes. But here a few of the books I read over the past few months and some brief thoughts about them. Ratings are out of 5 stars.

9781433526367Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson (3 stars)

I enjoyed several aspects of this book. Wilson is a great communicator and funny at times too. I highlighted like crazy because he just says things in a memorable way many times. But the book has some issues that detracted from it in my opinion.

First, the good stuff. Wilson states that “gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly.” It is “not a second conversion experience…but rather a deeper and fuller appreciation of…conversion.” What Wilson is really writing about is gospel-centrality. The gospel is or should be the center of every aspect of your life and here’s what that looks like. Wilson further defines this wakefulness to the gospel as a two-step process: be utterly broken and utterly awed. He reverently and gloriously describes Christ, his Word, and the place the gospel deserves in our lives. Very passionate stuff.

As far as the negatives go, the book seemed to have some structural issues. Every chapter (or almost every chapter) he includes a story from a friend or acquaintance to tie into his overall point. Good idea, but the stories were a lot more miss than hit for me. Many of them seemed more mystical than anything. Also, at times the chapters felt like a series of strung-together blog posts. There was a “flow” issue. Nothing too serious, but distracting nonetheless.

If you don’t mind some digging, there are nuggets aplenty to be found here!

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay (4 stars) alrassanus

The Reconquest of Al-Rassan is at hand. The three hundred year golden age of the caliphate’s rule is ending, and three characters-a Jaddite commander named Rodrigo Belmonte, a Kindath doctornamed Jehane, and an Asharite poet and soldier named Ammar ibn Khairan-are caught in the middle. The world is changing and they must find their place within it.

Now, the Reconquest is just an imaginative retelling of the Reconquista of Spain. The Jaddites are Christians, Kindaths are Jews, and Asharites are Muslims. The map that’s included is basically a sliiiightly changed map of Spain. But the thin veneer of fantasy over the historical events actually works and allows Guy Gavriel Kay to place his characters in very interesting positions where ethnicity, religion, and friendship/romance all swirl together to make some very complex and interesting choices for the characters.

This was initially recommended to me for someone who enjoys George R.R. Martin’s works because (among other things) of the way they draw on the War of the Roses for inspiration. Definitely enjoyed it and considering reading some of his other works.

JOH08BH_200x1000John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology  by Buck Parsons (4 stars)

A volume of 19 essays on the life and belief of John Calvin. The purpose of this volume (as stated in the introduction on page xvi) is “best served if the reader comes to the conclusion, ‘I ought to be reading Calvin himself!'” Measured by that standard, this volume was a success for me.

Fewer names conjure up the same mixture of adoration and abhorrence as Calvin (or the eponymous theological system of Calvinism) does. It seems people are either convinced that his views are next to gospel or the worst of heresy with little grey area. Whatever your prior thoughts, this volume sketches Calvin’s personal history, character, and beliefs and invites you to consider the man himself. An excellent introduction for those wanting to know more about Calvin.

My main critique would be that the chapters were at times of uneven quality. It is hard to avoid this when you take the anthology approach and have many different authors, but it seemed that even some of the chapters that should have had a similar focus were (literally AND figuratively) on different pages. The clearest example is the five chapters that address the doctrines of Calvinism. Some of the chapters addressed what made the doctrine of Calvinism they focused on distinct (the chapters on election and perseverance of the saints) while others focused on broader theological definitions (the chapter on atonement, for example, dealt with atonement as a concept and not the distinctives of limited atonement). Finally, I found the chapter authored by John MacArthur to be less objective and balanced than the others. Hence my subtraction of a star.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (5 stars)81sMcTc4vPL._SL1500_

This book on the spiritual disciplines is a classic for good reason: Foster both equips the reader practically and encourages the reader passionately to pursue the disciplines with the ultimate goal of communing with Jesus. He constantly brings the focus back to pursuing a relationship with the living God and cautions that rote repetition of any of the disciplines is meaningless without a thirst to know God.

The chapters are divided into the Inward Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), the Outward Disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and the Corporate Disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration). I found myself continually challenged and stretched in the best way possible. This is a book to read slowly and savor. Time and time again I found myself setting the book down to reflect or pray. Both a helpful book to read straight-through and also to serve as a reference in the future as a refresher.

What about you? What are you reading right now or hoping to read soon? Thoughts on any of these books that I’ve read?

 

Practical Meditation: Look at the Book


The Bible is unique: it stands alone among all the other books to have ever been written. And I’m not just referring to its popularity-it is unique in that it’s a library of many books written at different points in history to a people who lived long ago and yet (miraculously! Praise God!) it is still relevant to us today.

Joshua 1:8 says (in the 1984 NIV): “Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” And yes, that command was to the Israelites and referred specifically to the Torah. But the principle is just as valid for us today: we have God’s words and he invites us to spend time in them.

I wanted to pass on a resource today that I hope will encourage some of you like it has encouraged me to further study and eventually to meditate on the Word. Because let’s face it: meditation (and even study) on/about/of the Bible can be a daunting task. “Where do I even begin?” we might ask. “How long will it take?” “Can I really keep this up?” “Who will teach me?”

If you need that first kick in the pants, a gentle reminder, a fresh method, or something in between, let me suggest John Piper’s new “Look at the Book” series. In this series he shares short (usually 8 or 9 minute) videos where he takes a short text (a verse or two) and tries to understand it, study it, see how it relates to itself and other passages, and shows you how to do the same. The video is not of him, but of the text itself and the marks/highlights/underlines that he’s making using a computer. It’s simple, it’s reproducible, and it’s beneficial. I did it myself the other day and am very pleased with the encouragement and refreshment it’s been to me!

From my time yesterday
From my time yesterday

I’ll link to two videos here. First the introductory video (that restates what I’ve said in the post but much more eloquently and inspirationally haha) and then an example of one of the videos itself. Of course, if you’d rather check it all out yourself then you can go right now to the source: http://www.desiringgod.org/labs . I hope you’re blessed by this and by your resulting times in the Word of our Lord.

The intro:

The example: 

 What has been your experience in studying and meditating on the Word? Do you have a similar or different method? What encourages you and keeps you going? I’d love to hear about it! 🙂

Monday Morning Music-“This I Believe” by Hillsong


Part of our reading for my Church History class here at Golden Gate was some of the various creeds that the Church has used over the past few centuries. It reminded me of this song that I enjoy from Hillsong and want to share with you.

What an amazing privilege to share these beliefs with those who have gone before us in the journey of faith that following Jesus is!

(…of particular interest to me is what portions of the song are actually from prior creeds and what the songwriters added themselves. But no need to go into all that detail analyzing it if you don’t want to! 🙂 )

I Am Groot-Transition, New Beginnings, and Isaiah 6


 

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A few weeks ago at our orientation for GGBTS, Dr. Durst shared a devotional on Isaiah 6. He started from the beginning of the chapter-Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on the throne and Isaiah’s call to go and speak to the people of Israel on God’s behalf. The chapter is a familiar one to me and yet God still spoke a distinctly new thing to me through it. (side note: isn’t it amazing and wonderful to hear new things continually through the Word? I love it!)

I’d never really focused on the last verse of the chapter before. After volunteering to accept God’s call, Isaiah asks in verse 11 how long this mission to speak for the Lord is to last (which is a good question, although the timing brings to mind Merry and Pippen’s stunt in the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring where they insist on accompanying Frodo with the Ring and only after being accepted say, “Great. Where are we going?”).

God’s answer is that Isaiah is to speak until judgement comes upon the people (v-11-12). This is probably not what Isaiah wanted to hear (although I have no way of knowing and this is just informed conjecture). I know if I were in Isaiah’s shoes (sandals?), what I’d want to hear from God would be more along the lines of “Until the whole nation repents and you are a national hero!” or “Until I call you to a different task” or even “Until you’ve faithfully obeyed me even though not many have repented.” But to hear the Lord effectively say “Obey my call until the nation is destroyed in judgement for its sins and taken into captivity and the land is mostly forsaken”? Wow…I don’t know how I’d react to that, honestly.

But, hard as the answer is, that’s not where God leaves things. He’s told Isaiah that it won’t be an easy ministry by any means and that there’s an incredibly hard transition coming, but his last words to Isaiah here leave him with hope:

And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump. -Isaiah 6:13

A remnant will remain. Even in his judgement on the people who have forsaken him, God will spare and preserve some. And from this stump will come new life! (Hence the Guardians of the Galaxy reference-sorry if that’s spoilers for any of you, but c’mon! It’s been out for quite a while now.) It’s hard not to think of God’s messianic promise in the midst of cursing the snake in Genesis 3:15 that Eve’s offspring (literally seed in Hebrew) will crush the serpent’s offspring under his heel. From this remnant comes a Messiah.

God’s promises have not failed, his purposes have not been thwarted. He remains faithful. post-tbird

What a joy and comfort to know that God is a God who-even in the midst of judgement and punishment- is in the business of fresh starts, new life, restoration, and reconciliation for his chosen people. New life from the ashes of the stump.

Monday Morning Music-“Surrender All” by Jesus Culture


A familiar set of (powerful) lyrics set to a new and different tune.

All to Jesus I surrender All to him I freely give

I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.

Oh that we would live fully surrendered to him! Help us to surrender more and more to you, Lord.