Book Review: “The Mentoring Church”


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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.

 

 

 

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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”


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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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Book Review: “CSB Reader’s Bible”


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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: “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament”


syntaxOnce you have learned the basics of reading Koine Greek, a beginner student starts being able to read longer passages and units with only occasional help from a Greek Lexicon or Bible language software. But there are still thorny passages that defy explanation, even after several lexicons or grammars have been consulted. These threaten to frustrate and discourage the student from reading in the original language. However, resources like Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament attempt to fill that gap and aid the student in deciphering intermediate and difficult passages.

“The primary aim,” the introduction states, “is to provide concise explanations of syntactical, clause-level features that may not be immediately obvious to the beginner.” This is intended to be a companion resource that one reading the Greek New Testament would have open (or readily accessible) while reading in order to facilitate a smooth understanding of the text.

Does it succeed in its aim? I used the Syntax Guide in a variety of settings: in a Greek exegesis class focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, in preparation for teaching a weekly Sunday School class for adults, and for sermon preparation. I found that it in every instance I consulted it, it gave good readings for difficult passages. Most of the time it simply provides a translation. Occasionally it cites the entry in BDAG where the definition it gives for a particular word can be found and cross-referenced. And sometimes it goes even further, providing an explanation for what is going on at the grammatical level instead of just translating the difficult phrase in question.

There were times it did not cover a phrase that I hoped that it would and there were other times that it simply gave a translation instead of a longer explanation. But those were the exceptions. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament will be an excellent help to any beginning or intermediate student of New Testament Greek looking for a help in growing in their understanding of NT Greek.

4 stars out of 5


Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. 629 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

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

Book Review: “Discipling” by Mark Dever


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“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
—Matthew 28:19-20a (ESV)

Discipleship: Jesus commands his followers to do it. But what does discipleship look like? Where do we disciple? And how exactly do we do it?

Mark Dever has written Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus, the latest entry in the 9 Marks series “Building Healthy Churches,” in order to answer some of these basic questions. The stated goal of the book is to “help you understand biblical discipling and to encourage you in your obedience to Christ” (19).

Not sure where to start with discipling other believers or not sure how discipleship should fit within the context of the local church? Start here.

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Review: Ministry in the New Marriage Culture


mithmc“Same-sex marriage is here. So what do pastors and church leaders do now?”

So reads the first lines emblazoned on the back cover of this book, the latest offering from Jeff Iorg, the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (which, disclaimer, is also where I am studying to complete my MDiv). Dr. Iorg is the editor of this book and has assembled 15 of the leading minds either from or affiliated with the seminary in order to address both this large question and many of the other related questions that follow.

Following the Introduction (chapter 1), the book is divided into three sections: Biblical Foundations for Ministry (chapters 2 & 3), Theological Foundations for Ministry (chapters 4-6), and Models and Methods for Ministry (chapters 7-15).

The first section, Biblical Foundations, is a brief overview of some of the biblical teachings and principles from the Old and New Testaments on marriage and sexual ethics. The book’s point of view on the issues is the historic (or non-affirming) teaching of the church on sexual ethics in general and homosexuality in particular. These two chapters are valuable for anyone who has not done an extensive study of the subject themselves but are also not the point of the book. Those looking for exhaustive treatments will want to look elsewhere, though these chapters serve as an appropriate starting point.

The Theological Foundations section covers Gospel Confidence, Ecclesiology, and Sexual Ethics. Of the three, the chapter on Ecclesiology by Rodrick Durst is a standout: it does an excellent job of bringing historical situations in the history of the church to bear on the current circumstances, is filled with encouragements to the reader, offers case studies of potential church issues, suggests practices that will be of benefit in resolving these issues, AND goes further than most of the other chapters by addressing trans* issues (a step not all of the authors take).

The Models and Methods section is the bread and butter of the book and will most likely be the most helpful of all the sections to pastors and other church leaders. In particular, the Preaching chapter by Tony Merida and the Legal Challenges chapter by Jim Wilson are incredibly valuable resources. I feel the chapter on legal challenges, while not for everyone, would be worth the price of the book all by itself to church leaders for its practical advice and suggestions on ways to preemptively protect churches from possible litigation and liability.

Answering Objections:

But wait, some might ask: why do we need another book by fifteen cisgender, evangelical, conservative authors (who are almost all white to boot)? What could they add that is possibly worth listening to? Don’t we need more voices who don’t represent this point of view?

The first part of the answer to that question is YES! We need more diversity in the conversation. I will not argue on that point. However, this book is diverse in its own way.

This is a book that is not directly arguing the abstract and/or theological question of same-sex marriage. It is instead focused on the practicals–what to do–in light of the legal realities that the churches maintaining the historic teaching are faced with and is mainly addressed to those who already agree with its theological perspective. For the book’s audience, this is a necessary book. There are few resources out there (to my admittedly limited knowledge!) that perform the function this book sets out to accomplish.

Is it a perfect book? No. Some chapters fall flat or come across as tone-deaf. Few will agree with every suggestion that every author makes (at least I don’t). And the book falls far short of answering every possible answer to the problems and opportunities churches will face in this arena. But while it doesn’t provide all the answers, it at least is beginning to ask the right questions and inviting the reader to answer them for themselves.

5 stars out of 5


Jeff Iorg, ed. Ministry in the New Marriage Culture. Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2015. 264 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Book Review: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles by Eugene H. Merrill


chronThere are so many different commentaries out there that it can be overwhelming to try and find a useful one! Both in my personal studies at GGBTS and as an employee at the library on campus I’ve seen the benefits of using a good commentary instead of a poor one.

So what do I think of the Kregel Exegetical Library volume on 1 & 2 Chronicles? It’s an excellent balance of helpful exegesis of the text and application of the material that would work equally well for the preacher and for the student or reader wanting to go deeper in their study of Chronicles.

A few specific points. First, the author. Eugene Merrill is an Old Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary who has written, among other things, Kingdom of Priests. Definitely a plus to have him writing this commentary and bringing his expertise to bear.

Commentaries fall somewhere on a range from scholarly/technical to pastoral/application. The one end will examine a book verse-by-verse (and perhaps word-by-word!) in a thorough analysis of the historical background, original language, and original meaning while the other end will focus on what the text means for us today and how we can apply it.

While this commentary falls more towards the scholarly side, it is by no means inaccessible to the pastor or layman. The author provides a discussion of each unit of text (rather than word-by-word) and includes textual critical notes, exegesis and exposition, and the occasional excursus of ideas or application of theology.

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles is a well balanced work that would make a solid addition to any study library.

4 stars out of 5


Eugene Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 2015. 640 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

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

Top 7 Books I Read in 2015


As of yesterday I’m all finished with my final exams and papers for the semester, so what better way to celebrate then look back on the best books I read this year?

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2015 but rather the best that I personally read this year. So without any further ado…..The Top 7 Books of 2015!

_240_360_Book.1491.cover1. Scary Close by Donald Miller

From my earlier review of the book: “Scary Close is a book of truth spoken in grace. It’s refreshing and encouraging and a must-read for any fan of Don’s, anyone seeking insight on intimacy, or anyone simply hungry for authenticity in a world where it’s far too uncommon.”

2. Home by Marilynne Robinsonhome

The central theme of this novel may very well be summed up with the following quote from the book: “It expresses the will of God to sustain us in this flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” p. 102.

Marilynne Robinson has been a favorite author of mine ever since I read Gilead and this follow-up was a treat start to finish. Can’t wait to dig into Lila (her latest novel set in the same town as Gilead and Home) soon!

 

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3. S. (Or Ship of Theseus) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

An incredibly ambitious meta-novel that works on every level. The book within the book, “The Ship of Theseus,” is a novel in the style and tradition of Coleridges’ “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and would be an excellent work in its own right. The history of its fictional author, V.M. Straka, and the question of his identity and potential involvement with a shadowy cadre of writer/secret agents is similarly intriguing and well-conceived. And the story of Jen and Eric’s in-the-margins relationship adds yet another compelling and exciting layer to it all.

S. is a one-of-a-kind story of identity, change, struggle, and love. The most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time.

4. Preaching by Timothy Kellerpreaching

It wouldn’t be a list of Josh Ray’s favorite books if there wasn’t a book by Keller on it, right?

Tim Keller’s Preaching is another home-run. While perhaps not as life-changing or spectacular as Prayer, this volume is filled with insights and wisdom from cover to cover. The chapter on “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind” and the bibliography of the best other books on preaching are each worth the price of the book alone!

And you don’t need to be a preacher to read it. “This book,” says Keller in the introduction, “aims to be a resource for all those who communicate their Christian faith in any way.” (P.S. Here’s a post I did with some of my favorite quotes from it!)

baxter reformed5. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

An indispensable guide and exhortation to not just preach to the crowd but teach to the individuals and families. It’s earned a place on my reference shelf for the future!

Baxter has written a book that doesn’t shy away from leaving you like you just got punched in the teeth with some good old gospel truth but that also leaves you encouraged and exhorted to minister faithfully. A keeper for sure.

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6. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

There’s a reason that this book is perhaps the most widely-read book aside from the Bible in history. A collection of insights and meditations on Christ’s example and our proper response to it, the Imitation has much to teach us today about the Way of Christ.

orthodoxy7. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I was blown away by how relevant and insightful Chesterton’s testimony of how and why he found Christianity convincing was over 100 years after he wrote it. It seems our world is not so different than it was then. Orthodoxy is a refreshing and revealing diagnosis of some of the ills of modernity and powerfully communicated defense of the faith. (It’s also intriguing for a fan of C.S. Lewis to see the ways he was influenced by and came to resemble Chesteron).

 

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?

FREEsources-“Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life” by Stephen J. Nichols


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Crossway is giving away a FREE ebook copy of Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life for anyone who completes a short (5 question or so) survey about where they learn about new books. This giveaway is open today through March 15th. I have not read this entry yet but I have read the entry in this series on Jonathan Edwards. If this book is anything like that one then you should definitely get your hands on a free copy! Here’s the link to get started:

–> FREE copy of Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life <–

(and here’s the link to the Amazon page if you’d like to read some reviews first)