Book Review: Exalting Jesus in John

I previously reviewed another commentary in the “Christ-Centered Exposition” series: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. Here is what I said then to introduce the commentary series:

“A good commentary can be an invaluable aid to pastors, students, professors, and Christians in general. But not every commentary is equally suited for every task. Some excel in giving background information, others focus on the technical details of text criticism or the original languages, and others are more application-focused. Choosing the right type of commentary for the right task is a critical first step!

The Christ-Centered Exposition series is edited by David Platt, Daniel Akin, and Tony Merida. They have four goals for this commentary series, which they list in the introduction. 1) They seek to display exegetical accuracy. What the Bible says is what they want to say. 2) This series has pastors in view. It is designed to aid in sermon prep and drawing out the themes and applications from the text, not to be academic in nature. 3) They want the series to be known for helpful illustrations and theologically driven applications. And 4) they want to exalt Jesus from every book in the Bible.”

This volume of the commentary series is divided into over fifty sections, some of which cover a few verses (e.g. 14:1-3) and others which cover whole chapters (e.g. chapter 7). Each of these sections contains unit-by-unit analysis of the verses it covers and uses the CSB (Christian Standard Bible) translation. Additionally, the sections are full of example illustrations, introductions, applications, and so on. While it is by no means necessary to go at this pace, each section has enough material to fill an entire sermon (at this pace, you could take over a year to preach through John’s Gospel!).

johnEach chapter of the commentary begins with a “Main Idea” summary that encapsulates the theme or main point of the unit of Scripture. Then comes an outline of the section that will be covered and an exposition of each section of the passage according to the outline. At the very end of each chapter are questions for discussion and reflection.

You might wonder if a volume in this series is necessary for each of the Gospels. “Is it that hard to exalt Jesus and point to him when you are preaching a passage that is explicitly about him?” “Isn’t this sort of series more useful for the Old Testament?” My answer is that a volume like this is CRITICAL. I have sat through too many sermons that begin with a passage from the Gospels but jump off the passage like a diving board into current events, “hilarious” stories, or confusing theological polemics to think that it is impossible to preach from the Gospels and yet miss the point entirely. Volumes like these are powerful examples and reminders of how to keep the main thing the main thing by preaching “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

My conclusion for this volume mirrors my thoughts of the previous volume that I reviewed: this commentary specifically and the series in general do exactly what they aim to do and do it well. If you’re looking for a verse-by-verse analysis that goes into great detail about the historical/socio-rhetorical background or parses every single Hebrew word and explains them you won’t find that here. But if you’re looking for a resource to help you teach and preach the Bible more and more Christocentrically, this is the series for you! I recommend this book and series to all pastors and Bible-teachers looking for an accessible yet robust commentary that takes the Bible seriously and makes much of Jesus.

5 stars out of 5

Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in John. Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2017. 415 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Thanks to Holman Reference and B&H Bloggers for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!


Book Review: “Forgiveness and Justice”


During seminary, the topic of forgiveness (both divine and interpersonal) was one to which I devoted a lot of time and study. So I was excited to see a new publication treating the subject from Kregel Publications.

In Forgiveness and Justice, Dr. Bryan Maier addresses the subject from the perspective of a professor, minister, and counselor. Of those three areas, the counseling focus and background come through most strongly. While there is engagement with the Biblical text, the book is not primarily academic. While there are clear applications to the use of these ideas in the context of a church body, it is not the main focus of the book. It is the counseling arena that informs the main ideas of the book and that receives the most attention.

Of particular note is Maier’s treatment of how the Imprecatory Psalms impact our idea of forgiveness. For instance, he discusses how and what we ask victims of abuse to do as they consider their situations and whether there can be any forgiveness there.

I found the book to be interesting and yet not what I expected. If I had come to it knowing more about its approach (more counseling than academic or pastoral) I feel that I would have benefited more from it.

Dr. Maier does a good job breaking down the idea of forgiveness, questioning what it is and is not, and forming a detailed definition that will give the reader much to consider. His expertise and experience with the topic are clear, and the book is written clearly and succinctly. I enjoyed it despite it not being exactly what I thought it might be.

3.5 stars out of 5

Dr. Bryan Maier. Forgiveness and Justice. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2017. 230 pp. $16.99.

Thanks to Kregel Publications  for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Book Review: “The Mentoring Church”


If you read the literature, you’ll quickly find that churches are supposed to be (or CAN be) a wide variety of things. Churches are supposed to be Purpose-Driven, Simple, Center, etc. But one thing that I had not seen before was the idea of a mentoring church. So Phil Newton’s book from Kregel Publications caught my eye.

What does the book contribute to the conversation about churches and mentorship?

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Top 7 Favorite Books I Read in 2017

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Another year draws to a close and—as I did in 2014 and 2015 (but somehow not 2016!)—I’ve selected the Top 7 books that I read in 2017.

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2017 but rather my favorites that I read this year. They are presented in no particular order and are a mix of fiction, essays, biography, and sci-fi/fantasy.

abofman1. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Though Lewis wrote close to 3/4 a century ago, society has continued ever further down the track that Lewis diagnoses and dissects in these pages and his thoughts are perhaps even more relevant.

Lewis defends objective truth and natural law—or ‘Tao’ as he terms it—against those who would try to ignore or disprove or subvert it. He ponders the final result of man’s conquest of Nature and cautions against blindly following the idea of progress until we progress so far that we lose ourselves in the process.

Left me with much to ponder and wrestle with, as well as much to thank Lewis for. One I will definitely return to often!

silence2. Silence by Shūsaku Endō

A deep meditation on what makes true faith, the challenges and dangers of contextualization of the gospel message, suffering and persecution, and coming to terms with past failures. A challenging, striking, and thought-provoking read.





3. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton combats common misconceptions and errors in his popular-level sketch of the outline of history. He shows how man is unique among the universe (and the other animals) and also how Christ is unique among men. I love his observation that to believe that there is no Creator or higher power requires believing in three miraculous occurrences: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of man.  Really appreciate his perspective on history and how things are often the opposite of how they are presented by the skeptic of the church.

fell4. The Fellowship by Philip and Carol Zaleski

A marvelous portrait of The Inklings that is as much a book of literary criticism as it is biography. Lewis and Tolkien receive—of course—the most attention, but I was surprised by how interesting Barfield and Williams’ lives, beliefs, and careers were as well.

This is a must-read for any serious fan of Lewis and/or Tolkien! A true tour de force that deftly manages to give equal attention to these extraordinary men and their literary subcreations which have gone on to transform our world. If you’re anything like me, you will finish this book with a list of ten or so works either written by these authors or that deeply influenced them to add to your list of books to (re)read this year.

wonder5. Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper

If Charles Taylor is right and we live in a “disenchanted” age, and if James K.A. Smith is correct that “you are what you love,” then how does our approach to living the Christian life change? What is different about our day-to-day experience as followers of Jesus? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines in our modern, secular world?

Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World is Mike Cosper’s attempt to “lift the veil a little bit on how the world has shaped us, how we’ve learned to see things through the lenses of disenchantment” (162). If that sounds interesting to you, head over to my full review.

stand6. The Stand by Stephen King

This year was the year that I finally read some of Stephen King’s works. Yes, somehow I had managed to avoid the master of horror/fiction until recently, but I finally gave in and read a handful of his books. I’m through six of the seven Dark Tower books, read The Eyes of The Dragon, and slogged through Insomnia (ironically a snooze-fest), but found The Stand to be the best of the bunch.

Two groups of survivors of a worldwide cataclysm band together: one around a spiritual and mysterious old woman and the other around an enigmatic and dangerous man known as The Walkin’ Dude. Their struggle for survival becomes a clash between Good and Evil as they all attempt to forge new lives in the ruins of what came before.

Incidentally, if that reminds any of you of the TV show Lost, there’s a reason: this book was one of the major inspirations for the show!

fool7. Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Fate is the conclusion to the second trilogy to star FitzChivalry Farseer and The Fool. Hobb has built a fascinating world that is both enjoyable and unique. Fool’s Fate functions as a marvelous capstone to both this second trilogy and the story that has carried on from the first trilogy. Hobb’s works are much more in the Tolkien/Robert Jordan/T. H. White school of fantasy than the George R.R. Martin/grim and gruesome/Joe Abercrombie syle. If you’re interested in a new fantasy series, then start at the beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice.


What about you? What were the highlights of your reading this year? Any on this list that you read too? Or any that now have piqued your interest?


Book Review: “She Reads Truth Bible”


For several years now I have seen many of my female friends share posts on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook about a Bible reading plan and online community called She Reads Truth. It always seemed like these friends were encouraged by participating in this community and I was always glad to see people excited to get into God’s word.

More recently, I have been excited by all the new Bibles Holman Bible Publishers have been putting out. I previously reviewed the CSB Reader’s Bible and loved it, so when I saw that there was an opportunity to check out a new Holman Bible Publishers release and that the Bible was a collaboration with She Reads Truth, I knew that I had to take the opportunity.

So what is the verdict on the She Reads Truth Bible? What makes it unique and is it worth investigating for yourself? Let’s take a look together at this recent release from Holman.

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The Gospel of Stranger Things

Since Stranger Things season 2 was released this weekend, here’s a satirical view on preaching and using cultural analogies:




Book Review: “CSB Reader’s Bible”


For those of us who have been reading the Bible for a while, there are parts of our reading experience that we take for granted. But these very same features make it a strange sort of book. Take verse numbers and study Bible notes. These can be incredibly helpful, but they also clutter up the page and are not found in most other types of books (aside from textbooks, religious works, and academic resources). And chapter numbers in the Bible are much more frequent than chapter breaks in other sorts of books. Additionally, they can artificially segment off our Bible reading into tidy little units that lose the important context of surrounding verses. This is not to mention section headings, headers, cross-references, and other features! These factors can be imposing to first-time readers of the Bible and also can keep us from experiencing the books of the Bible as belonging to the genres in which they were originally written: as a letter or group of poems or as a story.

In response to these potential issues, Bible publishers have begun to put out Bibles that they refer to as Reader’s Bibles. I already had an ESV Reader’s Bible, so when the chance to review a CSB Reader’s Bible came, I jumped at the opportunity.

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Book Review: “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper

Photo by Greg Becker on Unsplash

If Charles Taylor is right and we live in a “disenchanted” age, and if James K.A. Smith is correct that “you are what you love,” then how does our approach to living the Christian life change? What is different about our day-to-day experience as followers of Jesus? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines in our modern, secular world?

wonderRecapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World is Mike Cosper’s attempt to “lift the veil a little bit on how the world has shaped us, how we’ve learned to see things through the lenses of disenchantment” (162). Cosper’s main argument is that participation in our world and its “disciplines of disenchantment” (27) has a powerful and formative impact on who we are becoming and our relationship to the transcendent and the spiritual. We cannot expect that our intake of narratives and rituals from our culture will have zero effect on our spiritual lives. Furthermore, we would be foolish to think that a mere influx of spiritual information will be enough to counteract our embodied experiences. The solution to our disenchantment isn’t that we need to know more spiritual things, but rather that we need to put them into practice. “We need to orient our lives around a different set of stories” (ibid.). Enter the spiritual disciplines.

In each of the seven chapters, Cosper begins with specific ways our disenchanted world impacts us and then has a section called “Pathways” where he recommends spiritual practices that offer specific ways to counteract that effect on our lives. For instance, the third chapter focuses on our modern pursuit of spectacle and hype and its corresponding impact on our engagement with Scripture. The pathway section of the chapter discusses Ignatian prayer and praying the Psalms. Chapter Five, “Abundance and Scarcity,” tackles our consumer mindset and gift-giving practices, suggesting the pathways of fasting and feasting as ways to embody the economy of the kingdom rather than the materialism of Mammon.

Throughout the book Cosper maintains a conversational tone and peppers in anecdotes and stories. Cosper acknowledges that this short book is “just scratching the surface” and describes his approach as “almost like a walking tour of a city—a casual stroll where I’ll point some things out and tell an interesting story or two along the way” (5). The goal is “not to be comprehensive…but to provoke some different ways of seeing” (6).

I found the book to do just that: inspiring me to reexamine my daily practices and consider new ways to orient myself spiritually. I have especially been thankful for his discussion of “breath prayers” (which are exactly what they sound like: prayers you can say in a single breath). I’ve been using “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” from Luke 18:13 and the individual petitions from the Lord’s Prayer, but you can use any short prayer that fits in a breath.

Recapturing the Wonder accomplishes what Cosper sets out to do and will serve as a wake-up call for many. It is a solid practical application of ideas from Taylor, Smith, and others, and speaks to us right where we are in the midst of our modern secular environment. For anyone looking for new practices to help orient themselves towards the transcendent, Cosper is an able and helpful guide.

5 stars out of 5

Mike Cosper. Recapturing the Wonder Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. 180 pp. Paperback. $17.



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The Fundamentals of Christian Leadership and Ministry

Untitled Design

“Fundamental to all Christian leadership and ministry is a humble personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, devotion to him expressed in daily prayer and love for him expressed in daily obedience. Without this, Christian ministry is impossible. In addition to this, being Christ’s subordinates, we are accountable to him for our service, for he is our Lord and our judge. This fact brings both comfort and challenge.”

—John Stott, Basic Christian Leadership, 101.

In his book Reordering the Trinity, theologian and church historian Rodrick Durst shares an observation about books that has stuck with me ever since I first read it. “I subscribe to the theory that good books have a few great pages. Great books have everyone else’s great pages on that subject” (25). These simple sentences have transformed the way I read books: I’m always on the lookout for a book’s great pages and evaluating whether a book is good or great by how many great pages it has (and how many great pages from other people’s books it has).

Page 101 is one of the great pages in John Stott’s Basic Christian Leadership. I love this discussion of the fundamentals of Christian leadership. If we attempt to lead in any capacity in the church without a humble personal relationship with Christ and if our devotion and obedience are sputtering or nonexistent, how can we expect to lead others and encourage them to do the very same things we ourselves neglect?

Alec Motyer emphasizes the same critical reality, counseling that “the minister must never cease to be an ‘ordinary believer’ humbly walking with God in the light of his word” (Preaching?, 123). You never graduate from the school of prayer. There is no promotion from the necessity of regular communion with Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” —John 15:5 (ESV)

Let’s abide in the Vine. This isn’t a choice between effective ministry and less effective ministry, or an abundance of fruit versus slightly less fruit. It’s fruit or nothing. Possibility or impossibility. Apart from daily abiding, there is nothing for us.

But let’s not forget that this opportunity to abide in Christ is not a checklist to complete, a law to fulfill, or a way to earn anything from our Lord. This is not a guilt trip, it is an invitation! It is not another burden to shoulder on our own, it is a burden to relinquish and lay at Christ’s feet. Ministry leadership and ministry success depend on our abiding in Christ not because our abiding earns success but because it’s our admission that we can have no lasting success without coming to Jesus. So abide in Christ and walk humbly with him, letting him produce the fruit. Follow close in his footsteps, and others will naturally come along too.