The Key to Your Expected End by Katie Souza

Katie Souza’s life was a complete mess.  Drugs, crime and violence led to imprisonment, where eventually she came to Christ who turned her life around and gave her a specific purpose – her “expected end.”  Souza’s expected end was to start a ministry for prisoners and to write this book to aid in their spiritual transformation.  The author bases most of her teaching on Old Testament Israel, in particular its exile and captivity, and directly applies Israel’s experience to prisoners today.  She writes, “The Captivity Series: The Key to Your Expected End is a study of the exiles in ancient Israel taken from the Old Testament Scriptures.  Its purpose is to teach you about ancient Israel’s imprisonment, then help you apply this knowledge to your own incarceration” (p. 13).  Seeing Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise all can claim, especially prisoners, Souza believes God will bring freedom to all who apply…

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Tony Reinke seeks to answer the question, “What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life (p. 20)?”  Few questions are more pertinent in an age obsessed with technology in general and the smartphone in particular.  While the smartphone was invented barely a decade ago (p. 15), one is now owned by most people and is checked on average every 4.3 minutes (p. 43).  Reinke appreciates the valuable tool that the smartphone has become but at the same time recognizes the dangers.  As a result, highlighting useful components of smartphone use, each of the twelve chapters zeros in on a unique danger.  Some of the more serious dangers include: smartphone addiction, distractions, increased loneliness and isolation, living vicariously, illiteracy due to short attention spans, misplaced hero worship, seeking approval of people rather than God, wasting time, online slander, and secret vices. Reinke does not recommend…

The Benedict Option, A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher believes that the culture war which began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s, has ended in defeat for Christian conservatives (pp. 3, 79) and there is no hope of being reversed (p. 89).  Ultimately all faith among European and North American Christians will disappear (pp. 8, 12, 46, 202) and the only hope for them is a strategic withdrawal from business-as-usual in America (p. 2).  In search for a model of survival Dreher turns to the sixth century monk St. Benedict.  During a time of similar societal corruption Benedict withdrew to a cave for three years, eventually emerging to found 12 monasteries (pp. 14-18) and create a Rule (The Benedictine Rule) which showed the monks (and now us, by extension) how to order one’s life to be receptive to God’s grace (pp. 15, 47, 50-54).  It was this monastic system, best exemplified by Benedict, that kept the…

Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture by Mark A. Yarhouse

What the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-4) called gender identity disorder, the DSM-5 now calls gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria is not a synonym for terms such as transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, gender bending, transvestism or intersex.  Instead it refers to “experiences of gender identity in which a person’s psychological and emotional sense of themselves does not match or align with their birth sex” (p 19).  The psychological world has no concern about those with gender dysphoria unless it causes significant stress.  At that point it is considered a condition needing treatment and is capitalized as gender dysphoria (pp 19, 85-100). The author, Mark Yarhouse, has his PsyD from Wheaton College and is now a professor of psychology at Regent University and represents the Christian psychological approach that, at best, could be described as integrationalist.   Yarhouse’s views depend primarily on research and psychological analysis rather than Scripture,…

Strength in the River Lessons in Hope from Suffering Saints of the Bible by Steve Swartz

Strength in the River is written for Christians who are going through sorrow, pain, suffering and trials from any number of sources.  Especially in focus, as the first chapter indicates, are those who have endured pain for a long time and think it is never going to stop.  For such people, Steve Swartz turns their attention to the lives of 14 individuals found in Scripture who battled with similar situations.  At least one major biblical principle is drawn from the lives of each individual, the majority of which are very helpful.  For example, the life of Jeremiah focuses on the sovereignty of God, and James tells us that maturity in Christ, not solving the problem, should be our primary concern.  Jesus gives the perfect example of submissiveness; Abraham points us to the integrity of God and Ruth demonstrates how godly character can shine through even in the worst of circumstances. …

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

Todd Billings, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, was in his late thirties when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2012.  Rejoicing in Lament chronicles his journey through chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, suffering, and uncertainty about his future.  From the time of his diagnosis Billings immersed himself in the study of Scriptures, especially the Psalms (p. ix).  His insights from Scripture, forged in the furnace of pain and anxiety, make up the heart of this book.  Billings offers no pious platitudes but rather tackles the hard questions with clarity and boldness.  His conclusions will benefit both those suffering similar illnesses and those attempting to show compassion and understanding to people who are ill. I wondered as I read the book, however, if Billings’ strength as an author and theologian might also be his weakness. His strength lies in his deep insights and in wrestling thoroughly with…

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider

Originally published in 1977, Rich Christians, now in its sixth edition, is perhaps the most important book within the Christian genre calling for social justice. While everything from environmental issues to politics is addressed, the thrust of the book is alleviation of poverty throughout the world. Sider’s book has been studied, critiqued and embraced for decades now and needs little review from me. However I will contribute a few thoughts. While Sider admits that much progress has been made since the original publication of Rich Christians (p. 5), much more needs to be done. There are a number of balanced and helpful ideas within its pages including admissions of the benefits of market economics, although he has several problems with it (pp. 150-156), and nevertheless still calls for redistribution of wealth (pp. 232, 235). He rightly draws attention to the vast need of the poor throughout the world and multiple…

Slow Kingdom Coming, Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan

Kent Annan would be in the Shane Claiborne ecclesiastical camp which focuses almost entirely on social justice within a Christianized context.  The contention of Annan, and others holding his view, is that we are in the kingdom of God now, but the kingdom has not yet come in all of its fullness – the “already, but not yet” theological position.  This means, according to Annan, that we can participate with God in bringing in the kingdom (pp. 39, 98, 115).  This idea has been in existence for a long time, and eschatologically is normally called postmillennialism.   Postmillennialism has historically been expressed in two forms: evangelical, which teaches we partner with God in bringing in the kingdom through evangelism.  As the gospel is spread ultimately the majority of people will become Christians and Christ’s kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven.   The liberal form of postmillennialism teaches that…

Helping Johnny Listen, Taking Full Advantage of the Sermons We Hear by Thadeus L. Bergmeier

While there are numerous books written to help preachers communicate better, there are few written to aid the listener to get the most out of the sermons they hear.  Helping Johnny Listen is one of those few, and it is a good one.  Bergmeier defines preaching as the “Proclamation of the Scriptures to a group of people for the purpose of calling them to change something in their lives” (p. 12).  If this is the case it is only logical, and biblical, that the Lord will hold the listener of such sermons accountable to how they listen and what they do with what they hear (pp. 15-26).  On a practical level, both physical and spiritual preparations are essential.  Physically the hearer should come rested, learn to focus and ignore distractions, be in regular attendance and engage their minds (pp. 31-46).  Spiritually we should come hungry for the Word, worshipping God,…

Onward, Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

Onward was Christianity Today’s 2015 “Book of the Year.” It is written by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a rising star in both the SBC and in evangelicalism. Onward, in essence, is an overview analysis of our times and especially of the Christian subculture. We, in America, live in a post-Christian (pp. 2-10, 24-26, 30, 32, 46), or perhaps pre-Christian (p. 218) era, in which the culture around us is becoming increasingly secular. Even the Bible Belt is collapsing, yet Moore is happy to see it go for a number of reasons (p. 3). First, much of the Bible Belt, and much of evangelicalism for that matter, preaches not the true gospel but the “almost-gospel” (see p. 172) in which Christian values have been misunderstood as the gospel (pp. 6, 16, 30, 178). Secondly, much of today’s church has…

He That Is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer

He That Is Spiritual is a classic book on spirituality that has shaped the Christian community’s thinking for almost 100 years. Much solid teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how it applies to the believer is found on its pages. Chafer devotes a chapter each to the filling of the Spirit, not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. He concludes with a chapter detailing issues surrounding salvation and practical steps to take in applying all that has been taught. However, Chafer’s teachings are not without controversy. The three principle ones are: The existence of a carnal Christian. Drawing principally from I Corinthians 3, Chafer sees three clear classes of humanity: The natural, the spiritual and the carnal. The natural man is the unbeliever, the spiritual person is the one who is filled and walking in the Spirit. The carnal Christian is…

The Resolution for Men by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

This book’s origin is found in the Christian movie Courageous. For those inspired by the movie to be men of God, or even for those having never seen the film, The Resolution of Men provides a helpful tool to place into practice certain resolves that characterize the man who follows Christ. The opening words set the pace: This book is an unapologetic call for men to live courageously for the faith and their families. It is designed to strategically challenge you to become the man God created you to be (p. 1). The means to accomplish this goal, according to the authors, is to declare and endeavor to keep, “The Resolution” which consists of 12 promises loosely based on Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (p. 5). Part one of the book is a challenge to commit to the resolution while part two…

Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart by J. D. Greear

Many Christians lack the assurance of their salvation, either as a result of faulty teaching, their own personal sins, confusion about saving faith, or a combination of all of these and more. Pastor J. D. Greear has struggled with the same doubts and writes this little volume to help others who are dealing with similar reservations. At the same time Greear wants to be careful not to give false assurances of regeneration. He believes Satan loves to deceive believers into being unsure of their salvation and delude unbelievers into thinking they are saved (p. 6). Faith, or the saving response, as the author sees it, is repentance and belief in the gospel (p. 7). But repentance and belief are not two separate steps, they are part of the same whole: “Repentance is belief in action” (p. 40). And while he cautions against an overly radical Lordship position that places too…

What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has written this book to provide a biblical defense of the traditional understanding of homosexuality by Christians for 2000 years (p. 15). The book seeks to answer the following question: “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing” (p. 15)? In response the book breaks down into two parts, the first dealing with the five most debated and relevant biblical texts related to homosexuality (p. 19). These are Genesis 1-2, God’s design for marriage; Genesis 13, Sodom and Gomorrah; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, concerning the Old Testament’s condemnation of homosexual practices; Romans 1:18-32, the New Testament’s prohibition of homosexual behavior; and specific meaning of Greek words used for homosexuality in the Bible. Part two addresses seven of the most common objections to the traditional view…

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, Being Friends in Grace & Truth by Glenn T. Stanton

Glenn Stanton is on staff with Focus on the Family and as part of his ministry conducts lectures and debates on gender and sexuality. He is well equipped, both doctrinally and practically, to intellectually write a book on homosexuality and the church. He, as well as Focus, is 100% committed to the biblical view of sexuality (pp. 11-12). The question is how do we stay faithful to Scripture and deal truthfully and lovingly with those who believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle and should be condoned by the church? Stanton provides much to consider beginning with six fundamental truths: Everybody is a human person. No exceptions. Every human person is of inestimable worth and value, none more than another. No exceptions. Everyone is deeply and passionately loved by God. No exceptions. Unfortunately everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. No exceptions. All, as children of Adam, are tragically…

Hearing God, Developing a Conversational Relationship With God

Hearing God was previously published by Regal (1984), then by Harper (1993), and finally InterVarsity (1999) under the title of In Search of Guidance.  This updated and expanded edition is published under the Formatio wing of InterVarsity Press which offers numerous books promoting spiritual formation and “Christian” mysticism.  At the heart of both spiritual formation and mysticism is God speaking beyond the pages of Scripture.  For this reason Hearing God is an important book, written by one of the premiere leaders within the movement.   That Willard is merely updating the same message he delivered nearly 30 years ago shows that the spiritual formation movement has not changed its basic teachings.  And what are they?  In essence, that we can live “the kind of life where hearing God is not an uncommon occurrence” (p. 12), for “hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship and obtaining guidance is…

Pure Grace by Clark Whitten (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2012); 171 pp., paper $11.49.

The basic concern of author Clark Whitten is that legalistic, performance-based “religion” has eclipsed grace-based Christianity in the lives of countless believers.  He calls for a return to what he terms “pure grace” and claims to see evidence of a “grace reformation” forming that will far exceed anything during the time of Luther and Calvin (pp. 23, 143-158). There is much to commend in Pure Grace.  For example, within its pages we find the following correct teachings: • Legalism is devastating, not only for salvation but also for sanctification (p. 18).• Christians are not under the Old Testament Mosaic Law (pp. 21, 55-62).• Church age believers have been given a new nature, such that they are now fundamentally saints not sinners.  This does not mean they no longer sin, but that they have been transformed so that they are saints who sin, not sinners who sin (pp. 26-27). • Jesus did not die to…

The Sacred Journey, by Charles Foster (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 229 pp. plus xxi; paper $12.99

This book is part of The Ancient Practices Series, published by Thomas Nelson and edited by Phyllis Tickle.  The premise is that pilgrimage is essential to spiritual formation and Foster is seeking to provide answers to three questions: 1. How did anyone ever think that a journey, such as a journey made by a barn swallow, had any religious significance?2. Was he right?3. If he was, what should we do with the insight (p. xiii)? The author attempts to support the view that pilgrims and nomads are superior to city people and civilization in numerous ways: 1. Pilgrimage is what is meant by when Jesus said, “Follow Me” (pp. 25, 212).  2. Distorting biblical concepts, such as claiming Abel was a tramp while Cain was the founder of civilization (p. 37, 42), and Sodom is what happens when man stops wandering (p. 56).3. Terah, Abram and Lot were hippies (p. 57).4. God is a camper and a…

The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, by Timothy Keller (New York: Dutton, 2008, 151 pp., cloth $9.99.

The Prodigal God has received much notice and praise in the evangelical community.  The editors of World Magazine even proclaimed it their “Book of the Year.”  The accolades are understandable given Timothy Keller’s helpful apologetic approach (see his Reason for God), his winsome evangelism methods and his ability to turn a phrase, causing some to compare him favorably to C. S. Lewis.  Keller is on the mark throughout much of the book.  He is correct, for instance, that the story of the prodigal son is about two boys who are lost, not one.  Both the rebellious, obviously sinful younger brother and the self-righteous, legalistic older brother were disobedient to their father and needed to repent and “come home” (pp. 10-11, 18, 36).  Both brothers wanted their father’s possessions but sadly not their father (pp. 18, 36).  Keller rightly points out that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation (p.…

Loving the Way Jesus Loves, by Phil Ryken (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 222 pp., paper $14.99

In Loving the Way Jesus Loves Ryken does a fine job describing love as taught in 1 Corinthians 13.  The uniqueness of this book is, after dealing with each facet of love as found in the Pauline epistles, Ryken then illustrates it with an episode from the life of Christ as found in the Gospels.  The effect is to put shoes on love and watch as it travels about in real life situations. Ryken devotes one chapter each to twelve descriptions of love as provided by Paul.  I particularly appreciated chapter three, “Love Is Not Irritable,” chapter five, “Love’s Holy Joy,” chapter eleven, “Love Forgives,” and the last chapter, “Love Never Fails,” but every chapter has valuable insights.  This volume also comes with a helpful study guide for small groups. There are a handful of questionable comments such as when the author wrote that the new commandment given by Jesus…

Leading with Love,by Alexander Strauch (Littleton, Colorado: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2006) 201 pp., paper $10.49.

The title of this book is actually  “A Christian Leader’s Guide to Leading With Love” but with few exceptions it is a guide to any believer seeking to walk and serve in love.  After demonstrating the indispensable nature of love in Part One (the first three chapters), Strauch dedicates Part Two (chapters 4-9) to an excellent study of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  The author carefully explores the characteristics of love given in this passage.  He is both biblically sound and practical, lacing the study with insight from over 30 years of ministry within the church.  This section is applicable to anyone, whether in leadership or not.  It could also serve as a wonderful tool in counseling, or as an aide in preparation for teaching on love.  Part three (chapters 10-18) is entitled “The Works of a Loving Leader” and is more directly aimed at pastors, elders and others who are in…

Golf’s Sacred Journey, by David L. Cook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 126 pp., e-book $9.99.

This is a novel about golf with a message about living.  The storyline concerns a young pro-golfer wanting desperately to make it to the big leagues (the PGA tour).  Thinking he is closing in on his goal, he has a classic meltdown in an important tournament.  At the end of his rope, he wanders to the little town of Utopia, Texas, where he meets a former golf coach who mentors him in golf and life.  In “Karate Kid” fashion the coach improves the young man’s game through other activities such as fly fishing, tossing washers, piloting a small plane, painting, and by introducing him to a revolutionary new kind of putter.  In a week’s time the young golfer’s game is transformed and he wins the biggest tournament of his life.  But the coach also teaches the young pro that there are things in life far more important than golf (p.…

One Thousand Gifts, A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2010), pp. 237, Cloth $16.99

Ann Voskamp writes this bestselling book from an educational background in psychology and as a mother of six and farmer’s wife.  But her life has been shaped largely by the accidental death of her sister when the author was four (pp. 10-13).  Whether this tragedy was the main cause for Voskamp’s other emotional and spiritual problems can’t be determined, but we witness throughout One Thousand Gifts the tortured soul of one trying to find her way in life. She admits to periods of cutting herself, taking medication for depression, fear, anxiety attacks, and agoraphobia (pp. 144-149).  As is often the case, such emotional struggles led her to explore psychological theories which show up in her belief that she has rejected herself (p. 205), and in numerous statements such as, “The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling” (p. 136) and, “It’s impossible to give thanks and simultaneously…

The Liturgical Year, the Spiritual Adventure of the Spiritual Life, by Joan Chittister (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009) 217 pp., cloth $17.99

The Liturgical Year is part of the Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson, which, according to Phyllis Tickle (the General Editor of the series) involves seven ancient practices that inform all the Abrahamic faiths (p. xviii).  This volume is devoted to the liturgical year and the liturgy presented from the framework of the Roman Catholic community (p. xv).   This would be expected since the author is a Benedictine nun who believes “the liturgical year is the arena where our life and the life of Jesus intersect” (p. 16).  It is the liturgy that binds the faith community together and deepens our understanding of spiritual life (p. xiv). As Chittister and the Catholic tradition understand it, “The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over…

Jesus – Safe, Tender, Extreme by Adrian Plass (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 290 pp., cloth $23.99

Adrian Plass is a Christian author who has written many books detailing his experiences as he navigates through life.  His writing is humorous, vulnerable, refreshing and enjoyable.  He does not pretend to be a theologian (something he would not want to be anyway, see pp. 142, 145); he is “simply allowed to be a man with a broom, sweeping away the rubbish that prevents others from passing further in and further up, and [he] tends to do this by talking about what Jesus does and doesn’t do in [his] life” (p. 13).  To a certain degree Plass does sweep away some “rubbish,” such as when he deals openly and honestly with his own struggles with depression (p. 79) and doubts (pp. 40-44), when he points us to central truths such as loving and obeying Jesus (p. 139), when he reminds us that spiritual growth is not passive but calls for…

Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, by Ruth Haley Barton, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), cloth, 164 pp., $11.49.

Two of the essential spiritual disciplines within the Spiritual Formation Movement are the overlapping ones of solitude and silence.   Ruth Haley Barton, who writes extensively on such subjects and is the founder of the Transforming Center which is devoted to spiritual formation through the means of contemplative practices, does a good job in this volume of describing exactly what is meant by silence and solitude by those who teach spiritual formation.  On the positive side Barton calls her readers to occasionally slow down, disengage, and rest in the Lord.  Coupled with meditation on the Word and prayer this is good counsel to us all, especially in the overly busy, constantly running and production-oriented world in which we live.  But she miscues early on by confusing silence with God’s presence, “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God Himself” (p. 19). …

A Quest for More, Living for Something Bigger Than You, by Paul David Tripp (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008). 210 pp., paper, $17.99

If you are familiar with the writings of Paul Tripp, the subject and emphasis of this book will be what you would expect (see my review of Instrument in the Redeemer’s Hands for a fuller understanding of Tripp’s key ideas).  Tripp wants to expose his readers’ hearts.  He wants us not to be content with everyday lives, even the good things, but to find our satisfaction and life in Christ alone.  In this particular volume Tripp frames these two options of living as big kingdom and little kingdom living.  In little kingdom living we “constrict our life to the shape of our life” (pp. 22, 30).  Tripp insists that it is in the little kingdom that most people live and the little kingdom is inadequate for the life God intends for us.  This is why in our hearts we have a constant desire for something more.  That quest for more…

The Peacemaker, A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts, by Ken Sande (Grande Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 281 pp., paper $14.99.

The Peacemaker Ministries, and its flagship book under review here, is too well known to need much by way of comment by me.  Sande has provided the body of Christ a great service by thoroughly presenting the teaching of Scripture on the subject of unity and peacemaking.  This is a marvelous source for personal use as well as a tool for counselors who will inevitably deal with conflict.  The only drawback I see is that the length of the book may prove overwhelming to some readers.  There is a children’s edition that might be used in such a situation. The book is organized along the guiding principles of Peacemakers, also known as the Peacemakers Pledge (pp. 235-237).  These principles are: • Glorify God (chapters 1-3)• Get the log out of your eye (chapters 4-6)• Go and show your brother his fault (chapters 7-9)• Go and be reconciled (chapters 10-12) When following these principles still…

Satisfy Your Soul, Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality by Bruce Demarest, (Colorado Springs: NavPress 1999), 312 pp., paper $10.50.

Dr. Bruce Demarest, longtime professor of theology and spiritual formation at Denver Seminary, offers this book as a polemic for what is commonly called spiritual formation, a method of spiritual development created and promoted for centuries within Roman Catholicism.  Demarest assures us repeatedly that he is evangelical in doctrine (see p. 10) but discovered something lacking in his life which his theology could not address. He similarly assumes that those reading this book have a similar need in their souls (pp. 7, 17, 22).  Due to the author’s perceived lack of spirituality he decided to participate in a six-week residential program at the Renewal Center at the Roman Catholic Benedictine Abby in Pecos, New Mexico (pp. 23-24). There he was instructed that “for centuries Christians understood what it meant to ‘live by the Spirit’….[but today evangelicals] are not taught how to find the growing edge of our souls—where we hunger…

Downtime, Helping Teenagers Pray by Mark Yaconelli (El Cajon, CA: Zondervon, 2008), pp. 286, paper $21.50

This is yet another book by Mark Yaconelli attempting to promote contemplative Christian living among young people (see his Contemplative Youth Ministry and Growing Souls).   Although much of Downtime speaks of prayer, the real topic of the book is rest—how to find relief from anxiety, with prayer being the means of providing that relief (pp. 19, 23-25, 43, 59, 60, 67, 136-140). Yaconelli believes the best way to obtain this kind of rest is through practicing the methods found in ancient Christian tradition.  By Christian tradition what the author means is the Roman Catholic contemplative tradition found in the life of the desert fathers and mothers and various Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics (pp. 21, 128, 137,268, 270, 273).  He draws his teaching almost exclusively from the mystics: Meister Eckhart (pp. 27, 33, 35, 167)Brother Lawrence (pp. 36, 55, 186)St. Seraphim (p. 50)Thomas Merton (p. 54)Teresa of Avila (pp. 54,…

Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001, 298 pp., $16.99.

Welch makes clear from the outset what he is trying to accomplish: “What is the basic point of this book?  Theology makes a difference.  It is the infrastructure of our lives.  Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins.  Build it well and you will be prepared for anything.  The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup.  Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. XVI). The author interacts much with the teachings of Alcohol Anonymous, recognizing a number of positive features of the program but identifying its limitations as well.  One of his major concerns with AA is that while it teaches that addictions are sinful (or wrong) choices it ultimately promotes the disease model (p. 37).  When sin is seen as a disease, both its DNA and its cure is changed from the biblical teachings which focus…

I Surrender All by Clay and Renee Crosse, with Mark Tabb (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 173 pp. paper $9.99

I Surrender All is the true story about well-known Christian recording artist Clay Crosse’s enslavement to pornography which nearly destroyed his marriage, his career and his life.  As Clay admits, he was never a strong Christian but the Lord had gifted him with marvelous singing ability.  With his breakout song “I Surrender All” in 1994 Clay was catapulted to the upper echelons of the Christian entertainment world.  Clay saw himself as an entertainer, not a minister, and while his music lifted high the enthusiasm of his audiences, his spiritual life bounced along near bottom.  Clay and his wife Renee were content to enjoy the fruits of success: money, possessions, awards and applause.  Neither saw the need for a deeper walk with God, seldom reading the Bible or being involved in their local church.  In addition, they had desensitized themselves against worldly habits and amusements, so it was just a short…

Uneclipsing the Son by Rick Holland, The Woodlands, TX: Lress Biblical Resources, 2011, 146 pp. paper $12.00

Uneclipsing the Son offers a simple, solid reminder that the Christian life is all about Christ.  In the clutter of living this is a message that we all need to hear.  Holland’s thesis is that in the many activities and options available to the believer our focus on Christ is easily eclipsed.  Sin, in particular, causes Christians to lose their passion for the Lord.  To “uneclipse” the Son it is necessary to step back and “recalibrate, refocus, re-energize, renew and recommit” (p. 111).  Holland offers many suggestions on how to do this including remembering the gospel (pp. 14-23), renewing affection for Christ (p. 66), fighting sin (pp. 86-89) and understanding and participating in the Lord’s Table, to which he devotes a whole chapter (pp. 111-121). Uneclipsing the Son is good stuff—biblical, practical, easy to read, and providing a message that we all need to take to heart.  This would be…

Sanctuary of the Soul, Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011, 166 pp. Paper $16.00

Sanctuary of the Soul is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  The Sanctuary of the Soul adds virtually nothing to Foster’s previous works all the way back to his Celebration of Discipline written in 1978.  He still draws from the same sources of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics:  Teresa of Avila (p. 29, 38, 78-79, 152), St John of the Cross (p. 81), Thomas Kelly (p. 33), Agnes Sanford (pp. 121, 141, p. 43), Francis de Sales (p. 38), George Fox (p. 34, 54), Henry Nouwen (pp. 42-43), St. Benedict (p. 46, 90), Thomas Merton (pp. 61, 131, 135), Evelyn Underhill (pp. 62, 105), Mother Teresa (pp. 66, 134), Kierkegaard (pp. 66, 144), Madame Guyon (pp. 73-75) and St. Francis (p. 135).  It is from these “masters of the spiritual life” (p. 36) that Foster draws…

Sacred Chaos, Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Have, by Tricia McCary Rhodes, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008, pp. 183, paper $10.00

Sacred Chaos is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  Rhodes’s book would be typical of formatio publications, many of which I have already reviewed.  She mostly recommends the same ancient Roman Catholic practices that other authors in the series recommend: The Jesus Prayer (pp. 115-117), spiritual breathing (p. 64), lectio divina (pp. 68-71), use of icons, incense, candles, prayer beads, etc. (p. 75), finding your divine center (p. 76), consultations (pp. 93-98), the prayer of examen (pp. 100-104, 164), breath prayer (p. 106) and fasting (p. 130).  The usual sources are quoted and recommended: Theophan the Recluse (p. 9), Anne Rice (pp. 37-38), Mother Teresa (pp. 63, 126-127), Thomas Kelly (p. 76), Catherine of Siena (p. 77), Bernard of Clairvaux (p. 77), Madame Guyon (pp. 79-81), Francois Fénelon (p. 81), Ignatius of Loyola (pp. 100, 102), Francis…

No More Christian Nice Guy, by Paul Coughlin (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005) 224 pp, paper $13.99

Paul Coughlin has recognized a real problem that exists in the Christian community and indeed throughout Western society.  In the last couple of generations men have lost what it means to be men.  In general, some men err on the side of aggressiveness while others become passive, even doormats in order to avoid conflict and trouble (pp. 83, 139, 217-218).  It is the latter group that Coughlin targets, calling for masculine men who are neither passive nor aggressive but assertive (p. 93).  The catalyst for the author’s concern is his own life as a passive, Christian Nice Guy (CNG) stemming from his abusive home life and his training in the church.    Coughlin believes it is time for a new approach—one that he believes has not been in much use for 2,000 years (p. 27).  The back cover tells us “John Eldredge gave men permission to be ‘Wild at Heart.’  Paul…

No More Christian Nice Girl by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. Degler, PhD. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 224 pp. paper $14.99

While No More Christian Nice Girl is co-authored by Paul Coughlin who wrote No More Christian Nice Guy (see my review) this book has a very different flavor.  Gone are the majority of the over-generalizations (not all) and the often belligerent tone.  However, Nice Girl is far more psychological in nature, as one might expect from the co-author Jennifer Degler who is a licensed psychologist.  This book could be categorized as a self-help manual drawing almost entirely from psychological and observational sources.  It is by no means, however, a book based on the Bible.  Scripture is rarely used, and when it is it usually is taken out of context or distorted.  There are references along the way of the assertive side of Jesus, and a helpful appendix doing the same, but the principles found within this volume do not primarily emerge from Scripture. And therein lies the major flaw of…

Politics–According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem. Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2010, 619 pp, cloth $35.00

Politics—According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem applies the teachings of Scripture to key political issues and argues for Christian involvement. The author makes no attempt to find a middle-ground position that appeals to all, but allows his hermeneutic to drive his conclusions. This work heavily favors the Republican platform. The book is divided into three parts: Basic Principles, Specific Applications and Concluding Observations. The first part supports Grudem’s thesis of significant Christian influence, outlines the role of government, touches upon a Christian worldview and examines the power of the judiciary. What is the purpose of civil government? Does the Bible support democracy? Should believers only vote for Christian candidates? Grudem’s answers are thought-provoking, most notably, his discussion of ultimate power in a nation (pp. 124-150). However, not all of part one is adequate as Grudem only has four pages of biblical support for his position of significant influence (pp.…

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg. Grand Rapids, Zondervan , 2002. 269 pp. Hard, $18.99

Ortberg, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, published The Life You’ve Always Wanted in 1997 and expanded it in 2002.  The book provides a good taste of the style and content of the teaching at Willow Creek and its many clones.  Concerning style Ortberg is entertaining, interesting and enjoyable.  He uses freely and well numerous stories and illustrations that present his understanding of the Christian life as inviting.As for content much of what Ortberg offers is helpful, practical and biblical.  The book, however, is heavily laced with the teachings, and teachers, of mysticism and Roman Catholic traditions and rituals.  The authors he draws from and quotes are a virtual Who’s—Who of mystics both past and present: Richard Foster (pp. 9, 81, 100, 112, 113, 143)Dallas Willard (pp. 10, 27, 35, 43, 52, 66, 92, 106)St. John of the Cross (pp. 36, 157)Thomas Kelly (pp. 76, 140, 150)Thomas Merton…

The Deeper Journey, the Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

The Deeper Journey is published by the formatio wing of InterVarsity Press.  Formatio books are dedicated to the promotion of classical Christian mysticism and this particular book serves formatio’s goals well.  Mulholland begins with the standard opening often found in mystical and emergent literature—that is, convincing his readers that there has to be more to their Christian life than they are presently experiencing.  Once the reader is on board he is shown why what he has known previously is completely off base and then he is enlightened concerning the new and improved methodology—in this case classical Roman Catholic and Quaker mysticism.  Even when Mulholland teaches biblical principles he consistently illustrates his points with the best known Roman Catholic and Quaker mystics:  Thomas Merton (pp. 20, 91, 114, 115, 135, 144), Thomas Kelly (pp. 97, 149, 150), Henri Nouwen (pp. 102-103, 119), Francis of Assisi (p. 18), John of the Cross…

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006; pp. 191, hardback, $17.00 Sacred Rhythms is a typical book published by the Formatio wing of InterVarsity Press.  Formatio books are dedicated to promotion of ancient mystical practices, largely from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Quaker traditions, under the banner of “spiritual formation.”  Barton’s book could serve as a primer to this mystical world which was largely unknown to most evangelicals until the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines in the mid-1970s. The opening quote by Elizabeth Dreyer maps out the direction for the rest of the book:  One can begin one’s (spiritual) quest by attending to the desires of the heart, both personal and communal.  The Spirit is revealed in our genuine hopes for ourselves and for the world.  How brightly burns the flame of desire for a love affair with God, other people, the world? …

Devotional Classics by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith

In his effort to promote classical Christian mysticism, what he calls spiritual renewal, Richard Foster has written many books, spoken throughout the world and founded the organization RENOVARÉ.  One of his literary efforts is to introduce the writings of the mystic in a collage such as the earlier Spiritual Classics and this volume Devotional Classics.  Devotional Classics provides fifty-two selections from fifty-two authors representing five traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice and evangelical.  Many of the selections come from well-known Roman Catholic mystics such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross.  There also are at least seven Quakers including  Thomas Kelly, George Fox, Isaac Penington, John Woolman and Hannah Whitall Smith.  The reader unfamiliar with the wider body of works from these individuals will not be able to glean from most of these devotional offerings…

Good News for Anxious Christians, 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary

Cary, a philosophy professor at Eastern University, challenges what he calls “the new evangelical theology” which is “a set of supposedly practical ideas about transforming your life that gets in the way of believing the gospel” (p. x).  The techniques that he covers “all have the characteristic that they turn you away from external things like the word of God, Christ in the flesh, and the life of the church, in order to seek God in your heart, your life, your experience.  Underneath a lot of talk about being personal with God, it’s a spirituality that actually leaves you alone with yourself” (p. xi). With this premise in mind Cary goes on to attack ten “sacred cows” of the new evangelicalism.  As a college professor he constantly sees these faulty ways of Christian living and thinking in his students.  These young people have grown up in an evangelical environment that…

Grace Is for Sinners by Serena Woods

Grace Is for Sinners tells the story of Serena Woods.  Woods’ childhood was nothing short of horrific which led to many of her tragic choices.  But by God’s grace she came to Christ as a young woman and according to her testimony was growing rapidly in the Lord.  She married, had an aspiring career as an actress and a sweet life.  Then in three weeks she had an affair with her best friend’s husband, became pregnant and her world fell apart.  But this book is not so much about her failures as about her perceived failure of Christian friends toward her during this period in her life.  The book is poorly written with a huge number of broken sentences, wrong punctuation and incomplete thoughts which are all very distracting.  But I see at least two positives.  First, Woods seems sincere in her efforts to convince God’s people to extend grace…

Slave by John MacArthur

For various reasons English translations of the Bible, going back to both the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it, have mistranslated the Greek word doulos.  Doulos means slave, yet virtually all English translations substitute “servant” even though there are at least six Greek words for servant and doulos is not one of them (pp. 15-16).  The net result of this mistranslation is a misunderstanding of the Christian’s status before the Lord.  Servants are hired, can quit, have certain rights and can refuse to obey.  Slaves are owned, have no rights and quit or disobey only at their own peril.  MacArthur has done us a great favor by reintroducing this truth to the people of God.  If we do not know our spiritual identity we will inevitably be confused in our Christian walk.  Unfortunately most of us have a misconception of what slavery meant when the New…

Relationships, A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp

Relationships is vintage Paul Tripp.  He (along with co-author Tim Lane) takes the same principles that he most clearly articulated in his signature work Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands and applies them more specifically in each of his other books.  Whether the topic is marriage, midlife, parenting or relationships, the problems and solutions are the same.  The aim of the book is stated in the first chapter: This book will help you look through the shattered glass of our sin to see the glory of a Redeemer who is ever-present, always at work to rescue and change us (p. 2). Lane and Tripp attempt to accomplish their goal through a number of means.  First, they pull the rug out from under our cherished misconceptions.  For example, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself” (p. 7).  They remind us that…

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

Radical has been a New York Times bestseller and is reminiscent of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in its call for radical lifestyle changes, especially in material ways, and in spreading a two-tiered gospel of reconciliation with God and caring for the poor.  I appreciated Radical more because it is less condemnatory, legalistic and guilt-driven.  In addition the true gospel is better explained and emphasized (pp. 30-36; 143-160).  In fact Platt clearly remarks, “People’s greatest need in the world is Christ.  To meet people’s temporary needs apart from serving their eternal spiritual need misses the point of holistic biblical giving” (p. 195). I believe the author is on target to call God’s people to examine their materialism and take appropriate biblical steps to prioritize their finances to maximize the spreading of the gospel (pp. 127-128, 194-196).  Platt is also correct that Jesus’ “megastrategy” was to make disciples (pp. 90-106); a fancy…

The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard

Out of his own struggle with sin Lundgaard turned to the great Puritan John Owen for help.  He devoured Owen’s books Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin with apparently great personal benefit.   But realizing that few would wade through these tomes Lundgaard decided to “kidnap” Owen (p. 14) and simplify his teaching through use of modern language and examples.  I think he went a little overboard in this regard but overall he succeeds in his purpose. The Enemy Within describes well the struggle that every believer has with sin.  Suitable warnings of sin’s deception are given and many means of dealing with sin are identified.  I don’t believe this little volume offered anything new but it serves as a good overview of biblical teaching, even though  I was a bit disturbed by several Old Testament references taken out of context.  Most of these texts were addressed to Israel concerning…

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

Although Bridges wrote The Pursuit of Holiness in 1978 it remains a helpful and pertinent tool in the Christian’s progress toward godliness.  It offers profound yet simple and practical discernment into how the child of God is to grow in Christ-likeness. “To be holy is to be morally blameless,” Bridges tells us.  “It is to be separated from sin and, therefore, consecrated to God” (p. 19).  Few would argue with this definition; the problem is in the “How?”  To this question many opinions and theological systems have been offered throughout the ages.  Bridges presents a solid and biblical balance between “just do it” and “let go and let God” (pp. 21, 53-54, 82-85).  Since much errant teaching has been promoted at these two extremes, I found Bridges’ explanations to be one of the most helpful parts of his book. Another valuable balance is struck in relationship to holiness and salvation.…

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

The basic thesis of Crazy Love is sound.  Since God loves us with a crazy, inexplicable love, our love for Him should be just as crazy and our resultant lifestyle should be radical in its sacrifice for Christ.  Chan has no patience for “lukewarm Christians” (pp.  22, 65-88, 97-98), who are chasing the American dream rather than passionately following Christ.  This is an important and needed message for many in the Western church today, which may explain the popularity of Crazy Love, especially among the youth, many of whom are not content with the status quo.  In attempting to stress his theme and persuade his audience Chan does well in pointing us to the greatness of God (pp. 30-38), telling us “frankly, you need to get over yourself…your part is to bring Him glory” (p. 44).  So far so good; sadly not much else is helpful in Crazy Love. Crazy…

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian D. McLaren

McLaren continues to redefine the Christian faith in this latest effort, which follows up his book Everything Must Change.  Under McLaren’s pen Christianity as defined in the Bible is now totally unrecognizable.  Without question McLaren has walked away from biblical Christianity, so much so that even Scott McKnight writes a semi-negative review in Christianity Today (March, 2010). A New Kind of Christianity is structured around ten questions that the author constantly fields at his lectures (pp. 18-23) leading to the proposal of a new thesis (the 96th, tacking on to Luther’s 95 theses): It is time for a new question, a quest across denominations around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.   The book is filled with McLaren’s trademarks: extreme and bizarre straw men (pp. 6-7,…

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

It was suggested to me recently that Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was the most valuable book for those interested in biblical counseling.  Having read numerous books on the subject I was somewhat skeptical of that assessment; having now read the book I would have to agree. If there is a complete volume on biblical counseling this is it.  Tripp writes well, is faithful to Scripture (with a couple of exceptions), provides much biblical insight, offers case studies, gives practical tools and develops an overall framework for counseling those in need.  Tripp’s premise is that our problems flow from our hearts.  If we are to help people live to the glory of God and handle their troubles properly we must address the heart.  We must expose what is in the heart, analyze what is found in light of Scripture, and call for a biblical response. This emphasis on the heart…

The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

This volume is a sequel to Christless Christianity in which Horton admonished the evangelical community for leaving Christ out of, or at least on the fringes of, its ministries and message.  In The Gospel-Driven Life Horton delivers on his promise to show us the way back—and forward.  It was written for those tired of the hype and chasing the latest fad (pp. 13, 17) who simply want “to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death in His Son, Jesus Christ” (p. 11). I believe Horton accomplished his stated goal, hammering home over and over from every conceivable angle that the essence of Christianity is the good news (p. 20).  The author persistently points the believer to the external facts of Christ and His redemptive work and away from an inner, subjective introspection.  He challenges…

Longing for God by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe

There are two stated purposes for this book:  First to explain the seven paths to God that have developed throughout Christian history and secondly to awaken readers so that they may grow in knowledge, understanding and commitment to God and to wrestle with the depth and riches the writers show-cased in this volume.  These purposes are fulfilled by presenting the seven primary paths to God, which according to the authors are: • The right ordering of our love for God • The spiritual life as journey • The recovery of knowledge of God lost in the Fall • Intimacy with Jesus Christ • The right ordering of our experience of God • Action and contemplation • Divine ascent For each pathway represented, short biographies and overviews of the writings of three or four individuals are given to explain what each entails.  The majority of the twenty-six persons highlighted would be from the contemplative/mystical stream of Christian history;…

The Christian and Social Responsibility by Charles Ryrie

While all Christians understand the importance of spreading the gospel they are not always in agreement concerning what the gospel is.  The Lausanne Covenant states, “World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world” (p. 14).  John R. W. Stott explains this statement: “I now see more clearly that not only the consequences of the commission but the actual commission itself must be understood to include social as well as evangelistic responsibilities” (p. 18).  As is reflected in these quotes evangelicals increasingly understand the gospel to include social implications.  The gospel is not only concerned with man’s spiritual condition but also with his physical.    Ryrie disagrees.  Through careful examination of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, Ryrie finds no evidence that the church is called to solve the social ills of the world.  Believers are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ…

Death by Love, by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

In this volume Mark Driscoll, with help from professor Gerry Breshears, clarifies many of his theological positions via a unique format: personal letters.  He explains that each of the twelve chapters “begins with the introduction of someone I have worked with in my role as one of the pastors at Mars Hill Church.  I then proceed to write a personal letter to him or her explaining one side of the great jewel of the cross so that the person and work of Jesus are made intensely practical for that person’s life” (p. 13). In many ways this proves to be a good approach as the truth of Scripture is personalized and thus more easily applied.  Driscoll’s trade-mark “in-your-face” personality shows up regularly, but not to the level of crudeness for which he has become (in)famous.  He pulls few punches, but compassion shines through as well. Theologically, Driscoll is largely on…

Fasting by Scott McKnight

Fasting is one of eight books in “The Ancient Practices Series” published by Thomas Nelson under the general editorship of Phyllis Tickle.  The idea behind this series is that there are seven ancient practices, or disciplines, coming out of Judaism and taught and observed by the ancient church, that need to be incorporated into the lives of Christians today.  Brian McLaren wrote the initial book in the series, mapping out the purpose and direction for the other volumes on individual disciplines.  Fasting is McKnight’s assignment. McKnight‘s approach and emphasis concerning fasting is somewhat unique among Christian thinkers, both past and present.  He attempts, with limited success, to develop three stages of fasting which he labels “A,”  “B” and “C.”  The idea is that fasting is merely the natural, inevitable response of a person (“A”) to a grievous or sacred moment (such as sorrow or spiritual desire) (“B”), which may or…

Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren

Everything Must Change is a large diverse work in which McLaren dabbles in everything from economics to politics to the eco-system to Jesus.  The author believes our planet is facing a perfect storm (his words) involving crises of four kinds.  He calls them: • Prosperity crisis—an unsustainable global economy that is overwhelming the environmental resources. • Equity crisis—caused by the growing gap between the rich and the poor with respective fear and resentment. • Security crisis—War and violence is the inevitable outcome of the equity crisis.  • Spiritual crisis—World religions, including and especially Christianity, have failed to address these issues with Jesus’ “framing story,” i.e. worldview. It is these four crises that McLaren believes desperately need to be addressed, but Christianity has misunderstood what Jesus wants us to say about these issues.  We need to rescue Jesus from our false understanding about Him and what He taught (pp. 72-73).  Jesus true “framing story” must…

The Spirit of Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Reviewed by Bob DeWaay Published by Twin City FellowshipCritical Issues CommentaryP.O. Box 26127 St. Louis Park, MN 55426 Practices called “spiritual disciplines” that are deemed necessary for “spiritual formation” have entered evangelicalism. Recent encounters with this teaching narrated to me by friends caused me to investigate these practices. The first experience involved my friend and co-worker Ryan Habbena who went back to seminary to finish his masters degree. Here is his experience in his own words: I recently took a seminary course on the book of Luke. It was a summer intensive and was one of only two classes being offered at the time. About midway through the week, while the class was steeped in trying to discern the intent and significance of the book of Luke, we began to hear the echoes of mystic chanting coming through the walls. As it turned out, the other class being offered was…

The Attentive Life, Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by Leighton Ford

I am often asked my opinion about particular Christian leaders.  I am hesitant to answer such questions because “the times [and people] they are a-changing.”  A case in point is Leighton Ford.  Ford is best known as an effective evangelist who has been closely associated with Billy Graham.  Throughout his long ministry (he is now approaching 80) he has had the reputation of one who preached an uncompromising gospel message, even if some of his ecclesiastical associations were compromised in the process.  It would appear that it has been these compromised associations that has led to Ford’s spiritual position as outlined in this book. The Attentive Life gets top-billing in the recent advertisement release by InterVarsity Press promoting the formatio series of books which they claim “follow the rich tradition of the church in the journey of spiritual formation” (p. 229).  What is really taking place is that, under the…

Life with God, Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation by Richard J. Foster

Life with God was published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Foster’s first and best-known book, Celebration of Discipline.  The original volume in many ways changed the landscape of evangelical Christianity by introducing “Christian” mystics, mostly from Roman Catholicism, to evangelicalism.  Accompanying the mystics was the idea, heavily promoted by Foster, Dallas Willard and others, that mysticism offers a superior way of knowing God than other Christian traditions.  In just three short decades since the publication of Celebration of Discipline mysticism has infiltrated virtually every Protestant denomination, school and organization.  Life with God is Foster’s latest attempt to keep the mystical ball rolling. Foster is correct to state that the Bible should not be studied for knowledge alone (p. 4), although I can’t think of anybody who teaches anything close to this.  Nor does Foster deny the value of Bible study, although he warns that we should not try…

Sabbath by Dan Allender

Sabbath is the third volume in the Ancient Practice series published by Thomas Nelson, the first of which is Finding Our Way Again written by Brian McLaren. Allender is the founder and president of Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle (no connection to Mars Hill Church pastored by Mark Driscoll). Allender develops his book around three core premises: keeping the Sabbath is a commandment and thus is incumbent upon every child of God; the Sabbath is to be a day dedicated to delight; and the Sabbath is a feast day which remembers our leisure in Eden and anticipates our play in the new heavens and earth (p. xiii). It is important to note that Allender does not draw any of his premises from Scripture but rather from Jewish tradition (pp. 11-12), ancient and modern practices and rituals created and imagined by Allender and those in his mystically oriented camp. For…

Christ and Culture Revisited by D. A. Carson

More than fifty years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote Christ and Culture (see my review) which became the definitive work on how Christians are to interact with their culture. Niebuhr offered five options, illustrating each with individual leaders from church history, and, where possible, from Scripture. D. A. Carson has decided to revisit Niebuhr’s conclusions with less than a sanguine evaluation. To Carson, one of Niebuhr’s categories is unbiblical while each of the other four can be found, to some degree, in Scripture (pp. 60, 200, 206). To camp on any one of Niebuhr’s possibilities, to the exclusion of the other three biblical alternatives, would be pure reductionism, something Carson carefully wants to avoid (pp. 82, 145, 225-226). Carson meanders in his examination, chasing down definitions of culture (pp. 1-2, 68-85), postmodernism (pp. 87-94), secularization (p. 116), and authentic Christianity (p. 121), and interacting with key cultural leaders such as…

Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt

Yoga has become wildly popular in the West in recent years, promoted as a science and an exercise program conducive to good health. Dave Hunt, in this well researched book, wants us to know that yoga has its roots in, and is the very heart of, Hinduism. Its goal is to get in touch with a god or gods and to experience enlightenment – oneness with the universe (p. 35). While physical yoga is advertised as stretching exercise and quiet meditation to slow us down and bring calmness in the midst of a hectic world, the facts are that physical yoga is designed to lead to spiritual yoga (pp. 18, 92, 152-153). Thus, yoga can easily become a gateway to Eastern mysticism. Christians involved in yoga, or contemplating such, would do well to read and digest what Hunt has to say and flee any form of yoga. As Hunt writes,…

Turning to God by William Barclay

A Study of Conversion in the book of Acts and Today This is a welcomed little book on the subject of conversion. Barclay, a well known biblical scholar, traces the use and meaning of the word “conversion” throughout the New Testament, focusing most of his attention in the book of Acts. Along the way he discusses repentance, baptism and the application of all of these things to the church today. Excellent!

Work Excellence by Charles M. Garriott

The ambition of Garriott is to provide for his readers a biblical perspective of work (thus the subtitle). In this he partially succeeds. Work Excellence is an uncomplicated book addressed, I would think, to those either young in the faith or those who have never thought seriously about what Scripture has to say about work. Some good principles are given, as well as fine biblical examples of men like Daniel and Joseph. I also believe that Garriott’s chapter on our calling to specific employment is well balanced. More serious readers may be frustrated that Garriott did not wrestle with the more thorny issues—but this clearly was not his intent. More problematic was the author’s forcing passages of Scripture, which were dealing with other issues, to undergird his principles on work. The parable of the talents (chapter one) is not addressing work ethics nor is the story of man seeking eternal…

Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

Winner of the 2002 Gold Medallion Book Award, the Family Christian Bookstores’ 2002 book of the year award, proclaimed by Charles Swindole to be the best, most insightful book he has read in at least five years, having already sold over three million copies, Wild at Heart is surely a must read for Christian men. After all it promises to help men to discover the secrets of their souls. Unfortunately, despite all the hype, Eldredge fails to deliver because his book is an absolute disaster biblically. We are not talking here about a few out of context verses and some unfortunate statements. This book is so profoundly flawed that it makes Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life appear to be a masterpiece in biblical exegesis (which it is not) by comparison. How bad is it? So bad that even Christianity Today wrote a negative review. When Christianity Today, which embraces everything…

Who Are You to Judge? by David Swavely

One thing you have to say about David Swavely – he is an equal opportunity offender. In this excellent volume on judging others, Swavely manages to offend almost every one of his readers. His premise is simple: “The sin of judging is negatively evaluating someone’s conduct or spiritual state on the basis of nonbiblical standards or suspected motives” (p. 8). With this definition most would probably agree – in principle. It is when this principle intersects our way of living that the trouble begins. Who Are You to Judge? challenges our thinking in the areas of music, working mothers, birth control, gambling, alcohol consumption, demand feeding, frequency of the Lord’s Supper, home/Christian school vs. public school, fasting, movies, television, art and even coffee drinking. Swavely is not content with abstract principles. If he were, he would probably attract more fans but, then again, his work would be far less valuable.…

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper

Almost all of John Piper’s popular books (as opposed to his more theological works) have developed the same theme—desiring God. Piper works from his oft repeated premise, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” In one form or the other Piper has unpacked this statement in many books, articles, his website and numerous conference engagements. This emphasis on desiring God, or experiencing joy in the Lord, now characterizes an army of Christians who follow Piper’s teaching. Some of these followers have interpreted Piper to mean that joy is the defining identity of the believer: that joy in Christ and a passionate desire for God is what assures a person that He is truly born again and that if one lacks such joy one is not a Christian; additionally, this joy must be spontaneous and obeying God while lacking spontaneous joy is tantamount to legalism.…

When Heaven Is Silent by Ronald Dunn

When Heaven Is Silent is a poignant book written by Pastor Dunn in the wake of his son’s suicide. Writing many years after his son’s death (and wisely so), Dunn communicates that he has known the full force of great loss, shattered dreams and the depression that often accompanies such an experience. He writes with compassion, humor and depth about a common struggle shared by many people, Christians not excluded. At his best, Dunn draws from Scriptures such as Job and the Psalms to show that depression has been a regular visitor even to the most godly. Dunn details many causes for depression and offers insight for dealing with it. What he does not offer are easy solutions. Pain, disappointment, sin, false expectations, loss and suffering have all been ordained by God. As Augustine said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil…

What the Bible Teaches About Guidance by Peter Bloomfield

Having just published a book on the subject of “God’s will,” entitled Is That You Lord?, with Evangelical Press, I was eager to read Bloomfield’s book, by the same publisher on the same subject. I am happy to report that our books dovetail nicely. While somewhat different approaches were taken, we arrived at the same conclusion—that Scripture alone is sufficient for guidance in the life of the believer. One helpful insight not found in my book is an excellent critique of Wayne Grudem’s New Testament prophecy theory. Grudem has taught, and Christendom has accepted, that during the New Testament era (aka the church age) God is still giving prophecies. However, unlike those given during Old Testament dispensations those prophecies may be partially inaccurate and/or misunderstood by the prophet. Bloomfield does a fine job poking holes in this theory. Overall, What the Bible Teaches About Guidance is an excellent book, thoroughly…

What Is So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey

Without a doubt, Yancey is one of the most talented writers in Christian circles today. He is interesting, readable, thought provoking, and often chooses topics of real interest. This volume is typical Yancey. In the early chapters I thought I might be on to a good read that I could recommend to others. Yancey told some marvelous stories, pointed clearly to ways in which we Christians often live in “ungrace,” encouraged us to think through the issue of grace and make proper adjustments — much of this was good. But Yancey has a fundamental flaw that runs throughout all of his writings — he doesn’t always draw his thoughts and principles from Scripture. His sources are more likely to be great saints from the past (occasionally from the present), his own reasoning, and experience. He surely quotes C.S. Lewis as often as the Apostle Paul or Jesus. And while Lewis…

War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis

I have read much that is negative about War on the Saints, and so, was pleasantly surprised that it contained more helpful information than I would have expected. Unfortunately, there is also much to raise our concern. It needs to be remembered that Penn-Lewis wrote her famous book in the wake of the Welsh Revival of 1904-06. That revival, which is still seen by many as a great work of God, spanned numerous extreme spiritual movements that have done great harm to the cause of Christ over the last century. The book was also written in collaboration with Evan Roberts, the early leader of the Welsh Revival, who for whatever reason, suffered an emotional breakdown in the midst of it and ended up hibernating for the rest of his life in a bedroom in Penn-Lewis’ house. It is important to know these things because War on the Saints is largely…

War of Words by Paul David Tripp

Words are powerful. Words are dangerous. Few things in life have more potential for both good and evil as the tongue. For this reason Scripture has much to say about our speech, and endless books of all stripes have been written on communication. Of such books that I have read I believe War of Words is the most valuable. First of all, Tripp is biblical. He writes not from a psychological but a scriptural perspective. He lets the Word rebuke, correct, teach and train us. Secondly, Tripp is transparent. I truly enjoy reading a book in which the author admits his own struggle with compliance to what he knows is true. Tripp fills the book with examples of his own battles and failures with words. He is, like us, not a finished project. He too is in process. Next, War of Words is practical. While tethered tightly to the Scriptures,…

Walking with God by John Eldredge

“Our deepest and most pressing need is to learn to walk with God. To hear his voice,” says John Eldredge (p. xi). Further he assumes that “an intimate, conversational walk with God is available, and if you don’t find that kind of relationship with God, your spiritual life will be stunted” (p. 7). In order to aid us in this type of intimate walk with God, Eldredge offers an autobiographical series of stories which take place during a recent calendar year. In reading Walking with God two very positive traits stand out in the author’s life: sincerity and vulnerability. Eldredge’s passionate desire to walk with God and be what God wants him to be is evident throughout. While one can never truly know the heart of another, all signs point to the author’s desire to be a godly man. At the same time his vulnerability is ubiquitous. He opens his…

Walking in Divine Health by Don Colbert, M.D.

Discernment on the part of the Christian is needed not just in the areas of theology and morals but in the very practical issues of life as well. Take health for example. How many believers are completely duped by the latest fad diet, bogus claims on nutrition or advertisements for some wonder pill that will absorb all of their body fat? The numbers are legion. It is no wonder then that a book like this one catches on in the Christian community. And why? Because it is written by a physician who claims to be a Christian. That is enough for many. It doesn’t take an in-depth study of this little volume to recognize gaping holes in its credibility. Start with the foreword, written by none other than Benny Hinn. Hinn claims that God wants you healthy and that healing is part of the atonement of Christ. This alone should…

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Rob Bell is one of the fresh young voices now representing the emerging church movement. His background is in alternative and punk rock music and he mentions no theological training or connection with a recognized denomination or organization, yet he founded a church in 1999 that immediately moved to mega status. His message apparently has incredible appeal. But what is his message? Bell echoes many of the themes found in the writings of other emergent leaders, such as Brian McLaren. For example: 1) Redefining the gospel message. Bell seems to have a better grasp of the gospel than McLaren but, like a fly buzzing around, he never quite lights long enough for us to be sure. He admits to Christ coming to bring forgiveness, righteousness and restoration. But he is critical of people having to believe the right things (the gospel) to get “in” (pp. 34-35). 2) Who is “in”…

Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones

This book is an absolute treasure, thoroughly biblical, extremely practical and well-written. Jones tackles a problem (sin) with which every believer must deal and, rather than offer some psychological mumble-jumble, takes the reader directly to the Word of God. The issue of anger is framed and handled as the Holy Spirit intended. As a result, the reader is given biblical instruction and hope. Uprooting Anger would be helpful for any individual struggling with anger (and who does not at times?). It is also highly valuable for use in counseling and as a Bible study. I intend to make use of this volume in all three ways. I would offer two caveats of a minor nature. First, used as a counseling tool it would take some guidance by the counselor. Just handing most Christians this book might result in overload. Breaking it down into bite-sized portions will be needed in most…

Today’s Conflict, Tomorrow’s Crisis by D. James Kennedy

James Kennedy, in Today’s Conflict, Tomorrow’s Crisis, is dealing with a number of moral and ethical issues facing America at the turn of the 21st century. Among the fourteen topics Kennedy addresses are clear moral sins such as homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. He then sandwiches in evolution and capital punishment (of which true Christians often have different opinions) and tops things off with highly debatable subjects such as government, religious liberties and religion in public schools. The strength of the book lies in its quick overview of the issues, giving vital statistics and up-to-date status of the latest developments. Therefore Today’s Conflict serves as a useful reference on these pertinent matters. Unfortunately the weaknesses in the volume are many. First, due to the format (attempting to handle 14 explosive issues in one 200 page book) all information is superficial at best. Secondly, there is a glaring weakness in the information…

To Own a Dragon, Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father by Donald Miller and John MacMurray

Donald Miller’s writing style is often humorous, always vulnerable, interesting and sometimes crude (pp. 19, 22, 87, 99, 106), yet To Own a Dragon is not the attack on conservative Christianity that Miller’s best-known book, Blue Like Jazz, was. This volume is more of the musings and development of a young man growing up without a father. Children living in a home where the father is absent will often face serious ramifications and Miller is no exception. Miller has worked through, and is working through, many of these implications in his own life and this book details this journey.   Miller tells the reader that he does not miss having a father any more than he misses having a dragon (hence the title). But he does wonder if he missed out on something important. As he reflected on these things, he had the opportunity to live with John MacMurray (co-author)…

The Wealthy Barber/The Beardstown Ladies’ Stitch-in-Time Guide to Growing your Nest Egg by David Chilton/The Beardstown Ladies

Here are two excellent books, dispensing pretty much the same financial advice, but from unique angles. The Wealthy Barber is especially suited for men, full of snappy comebacks, smart-aleck remarks and allusions to sports. Rather than simply laying out financial principles Chilton takes a more entertaining approach, which is stated in the Preface. “Rather than inundating you with intimidating charts and graphs and a series of lifeless numbers, The Wealthy Barber will both entertain and inform you. Through fictional conversations between Roy Miller, our financial hero, and his barbershop patrons, you will learn that sound financial planning is not only relatively simple, but it can also be fun.” Stitch-in-Time was the second effort by the famous Beardstown ladies on the subject of money and investing. The first, The Beardstown Ladies’ Common-sense Investment Guide, chronicled the ladies’ investment club success in the financial world, and is filled with helpful information on…

The Upside of Down by Joseph M. Stowell

Stowell’s book on handling the difficult times of life is for the most part a positive experience. The author is an entertaining and gifted communicator who is also well versed in Scripture. He writes simply. As a matter of fact my biggest concern about The Upside of Down is that in an effort to connect with his reader, whom he assumes, perhaps rightly so, is not particularly sharp, Stowell “dumbs-down” much of his message. He is therefore not able to handle in meaningful ways such tough questions as the problem of pain and suffering. Nevertheless, interwoven throughout the far too plentiful stories (he gives 11 stories in chapter three alone) you will unearth some nuggets of truth. Unfortunately, you will also find some junk, such as the oft’ repeated angel story (p. 61), and a strange statement, “God runs a phenomenal risk when He entrusts His work and reputation to…

The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

Alcorn is a gifted and articulate writer who has authored numerous books on Christian living. The Treasure Principle promises to help us “discover the secret of joyful giving,” an issue that appears to be very dear to Alcorn’s heart. Alcorn decries the materialism of the majority of believers, and calls us to reduce our lifestyles, re-examine our priorities, and make abundant joyful giving a focal point of our lives. To all of this we say “amen.” We need Christian leaders who will call us away from our passion for “stuff” and to draw our attention to true riches. For some this book may do exactly that, but for most I believe it misses the mark. (e.g. pp. 65-66, 71) First, it is too extreme. Most illustrations given are of super-givers, the likes of which most of us could never match. This reminds me of books on prayer in which we…

The Ten-Second Prayer Principle by Mark Littleton

Every Christian knows he should be praying, but Mark Littleton shows us how to actually do it! This is one of the most practical books on prayer I have ever read. It’s loaded with suggestions and practical ways to effectively pray in our busy lives. Instead of feeling guilty about a lack of prayer, Mark helps us see how we can integrate intercessory prayer into our lives on a continual basis. Well thought out, the book details 10 principles for ten second prayers that will change your life. If your New Year’s resolution is to increase prayer in your life, this is the book for you! The author does a fantastic job applying key biblical principles on how to pray without ceasing and how to give thanks in everything and for everything. Written in Mark’s easy-going narrative style, The Ten Second Prayer Principle is a quick read yet comprehensive. It’s…

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen

Spiritual abuse is a real and serious issue. It is one of the defining characteristics of all cults in which human leaders hold more power and authority over their followers than the Word of God. Unfortunately spiritual abuse is not limited to cults and false religions but can all too often be found in evangelical and fundamental circles. Pastor David Johnson and counselor Jeff Van Vonderen recognize this problem and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is their effort at identifying and offering a remedy. They define spiritual abuse as “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment” (p. 20). They further qualify this definition by offering several helpful distinctions (p. 24). For example, it is not abusive when a spiritual leader makes a decision that does not agree with…

The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren

McLaren is at it again in this latest effort to promote the emergent church movement. He really did not write anything in The Secret Message of Jesus that is not in his previous volumes, although he does seem to soften his rhetoric a bit. For example, having taken a lot of flak for his previous statement that “clarity is overrated,” he now says that he has some things he wants to say “clearly” about “what Jesus’ message really was” (p. 7). But herein lies the problem. McLaren believes that the church has never understood the real message of Jesus (see Appendix 1). Very early, the church “twisted” what Jesus (and Paul) taught into a gospel of “justification by grace through faith, the free gift of salvation, Christ being a substitutionary sacrifice for…sin” (p. 91). That is not the gospel at all according to McLaren, the gospel is that “the kingdom…

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Manning is a former Roman Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry. He has recently divorced his wife. He is a recovering alcoholic who lapses every so often. He is a product of pop-psychology and Roman Catholic mystics rather than Scripture. He is on the cutting edge of the contemplation prayer movement which is steadily leading evangelicals toward Eastern mysticism. He is questionably a universalist who has nothing good to say about the church but adores AA. Yet somehow he is all the rage among many evangelicals. The Ragamuffin Gospel is praised and endorsed by Michael W. Smith, Rich Mullins, Max Lucado, Eugene Peterson and Philip Yancy. It is the testimony of a beat-up, knocked-down sinner being saved by the grace of God. That’s the good news; no doubt this message centering on the grace of God is the primary draw of the book. There is nothing wrong, actually…

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Warren has emerged as one of the best selling authors in Christendom. His first book, The Purpose Driven Church (see our review of this book) has greatly influenced churches throughout the world, due certainly to the fact that the church he pastors, Saddleback Church, is one of the largest churches in America, and a trend setter among new paradigm churches. There are a number of similarities between The Purpose Driven Church and the book under review at this time. Both, for instance, offer some good sound advice, helpful biblical insight and practical suggestions. And both are riddled with errors throughout. The highly discerning reader can perhaps sift through the wheat and tares and make a good loaf of bread, but most readers, I fear, will swallow the poison along with the substance. Which leads me to ask, “Who is Warren’s audience?” I realize that this book will sell in the…

The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb

Let’s start with the positive in The PAPA Prayer—there is so little to commend it won’t take long. The PAPA Prayer is defined through the acrostic PAPA: P: Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship. Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify. A: Attend to how you’re thinking of God. Again, no pretending. Ask yourself, “How am I experiencing God right now?” Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force? Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa? P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you’re real in your relationship with Him. How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure? A: Approach God as the “first thing” in your life,…

The Next American Spirituality by George Gallup

Gallup’s contention, based upon numerous surveys and research, is that Americans are more spiritual than ever. As a matter of fact, it is trendy to be spiritual. But to be spiritual must be distinguished from being a Christian, or for that matter, even religious. The author writes, “Contemporary spirituality can resemble a grab bag of random experiences that does little more than promise to make our eyes mist up or our heart warm.” As the church attempts to reach out to those in the American culture we must recognize this salad-bar approach to spirituality. People seem to want some kind of spiritual encounter; they are just not too particular as to what kind. In addition, while a large percentage of Americans claim to be born again (47%) and go to church (44% each week) and read the Bible regularly (38%), nevertheless biblical illiteracy is epidemic. Most Americans have no clue…

The Mantra of Jabez by Douglas M. Jones

This is an absolutely hilarious (I laughed until I cried) parody of Bruce Wilkinson’s, The Prayer of Jabez. Jones, pretending to be Wilkinson, pokes fun at the ridiculousness and superficiality of the original book, and in doing so reveals just how unscriptural The Prayer of Jabez is. Jabez lovers will surely be offended by The Mantra, but perhaps they will pause long enough to recognize the gaping holes in Wilkinson’s teachings. The author has done the church a service by writing this little 52-page booklet. It should be mentioned that Jones’s own theology is suspect. Since he is poking fun at everything that moves it is hard to pin down his own views, but he definitely is not pre-trib in eschatology, he seems to stand behind a social agenda for the church rather than the spreading of the gospel, and he may even question faith-alone as the means of salvation…

The Lord Told Me, I Think by Don Matzat

It was my assumption upon picking up Don Matzat’s little book The Lord Told Me, I Think, that a debunking of the mystical approach to decision making would be found. Was I ever wrong!! Matzat, a conservative Lutheran, pastor, author, and radio personality claims to have seen, years ago, the errors of the Charismatics, subsequently leaving that movement. But he had better look behind him – he left one foot behind. This book takes as mystical view of God’s leading as almost any Charismatic one; Matzat just leaves out tongues and some of the extreme claims of revelations. The author takes the tired and misguided position that God gives personal leading and direction through circumstances, advice, hunches, feelings, prophetic words, visions, dreams, etc (e.g. pp. 22-23, 69, 112, 119-128). Over and over he makes the unfounded claim that Scripture gives “clear commands and promises about being led by the Spirit”…

The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian D. McLaren

This is the final installment in McLaren’s fictional trilogy promoting his pathway to a new kind of Christianity, adhered to by a new kind of Christian. McLaren is the leading spokesperson for the emergent church movement which is essentially a postmodern mode of Christianity. McLaren apparently believes that, in order to create a new kind of Christian, certain central doctrines must be deconstructed—which, in everyday terms, is to gut them of their meaning and redefine them according to one’s own preference. In this case the doctrine on the cutting floor is hell. The traditional view of hell simply cannot be tolerated in a postmodern world which prizes tolerance and plurality. But getting rid of hell proves quite testy; to do so McLaren must also deconstruct the gospel. To deconstruct the gospel he must deconstruct Scripture. To deconstruct Scripture he must vilify conservative (dare we say it Fundamentalist) Christians. To vilify…

The Invisible War by Chip Ingram

Chip Ingram is the president of Walk Thru the Bible, having replaced its founder Bruce Wilkinson. Formerly he had pastored Santa Cruz Bible Church, which is situated in a part of the country he claims is a hot-bed for demonic activity. It is out of experiences mostly at Santa Cruz that Ingram formed his views concerning spiritual warfare as presented in The Invisible War. In many ways the book is to be commended. Ingram offers much biblical insight concerning Satan, his demons and the demonic strategy at work in the world system. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of each of the book’s four main sections, the author offers an outline which combined could serve as a syllabus for a course on demonology. If these, and other biblical teachings throughout the book, could be isolated from the rest of the information, The Invisible War would be an excellent…

The Habits of the Mind by James W. Sire

Sire describes himself as an intellectual wannabe, who wannaus to be intellectual wannabes too. Part of this book is an inspiration in exactly that direction, as the author identifies true intellectuals, discusses ideas, and presents practical helps. On the other hand, there is much that disturbs me here. For example, Sire’s favorite intellectual turns out to be John Henry Newman (to whom is devoted two chapters and numerous references). Newman was a Protestant who became heavily involved in the Oxford Movement and eventually converted to Catholicism. It is this Roman Catholic thinker, who denied the truths recaptured at the Reformation that is used as a model for the Christian intellectual. To me, who makes no claims to be in the intellectual camp, the use of Newman is only valuable to demonstrate how smart people can make incredibly dumb choices, when they reason outside of the box of Scripture. Newman is…

The Gospel Solution by Tom Weaver

Weaver offers a view of the Gospels and the teachings of Christ which he calls “transitionalism.” His premise is that most of what Jesus taught was not intended to be applied directly to the church age. Rather, Jesus was setting the stage for New Testament theology by demonstrating that living under the Law and up to God’s standards, was impossible. Therefore, when we recognize our inability to live perfect lives we are not to despair but to embrace God’s grace. Jesus’ primary purpose was not to instruct the church; it is the purpose of the epistles to do that. Jesus was showing us the impossibility of life under the Law in order to convict men of their need, preparing them to repent and receive grace (pp. 30-32). Weaver has created the term “transitionalism,” but actually it is has many similarities to both dispensationalism and New Covenant theology. Overall I thought…

The God Chasers by Tommy Tenney

While never mentioning directly the hyper-charismatic “revivals” modeled by Toronto and Brownsville, this book nevertheless is of the same genre. Tenney is a God chaser and he wants us to be also. By that he means we should experience the “manifest presence of God” just as the Old Testament Israelites experienced the Shekinah Glory. God’s presence should fall on us (often in cloud form) in such a way that His presence overwhelms us, driving us to uncontrollable weeping (even in the parking lot before anything about God is considered), trance-like states and direct communication from Him. The “old dusty” truths found in Scripture are of limited value, we are told, what we need is new truth as revealed by the presence of God today. This book is an absolute joke. The wonder is that such books continue to be written and continue to grip the hearts of many who claim…

The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey

The End of Religion is published by NavPress Deliberate, which is clearly a promoter of emergent theology and stresses redeeming the world (that is, bringing God’s kingdom to earth through improving earthly conditions), contemplation, mystery-embracing, inclusivism (embracing God’s truth in other faiths), and creative culture (p. 5). The End of Religion does not endorse most of these emphases, and Cavey (in personal correspondence with me) rejects affiliation with the emergent community. However, having the book published by NavPress Deliberate and in addition by quoting or receiving endorsement from many in the movement or on the fringe (Erwin McManus, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Gregory Boyd, Larry Crabb, John Michael Talbot, Jim Wallis, Clark Pinnock and of course Brian McLaren), the reader is left wondering. This is especially true since McLaren, the recognized leader of the emergent movement, wrote an endorsement for the cover and Cavey acknowledges McLaren’s The Secret Message of…

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

Kidd endeavors in this book to inform her reader “about the deep and immense journey a woman makes as she searches for and finds a feminine spirituality that affirms her life” (p. 1). The book is sectioned into the four parts of the journey: awakening, initiation, grounding and empowerment. However, Kidd goes far beyond the typical feminine journey. In this book, Kidd, who was formerly a writer of inspirational Christian literature, is actually chronicling her rejection of biblical Christianity and her move into the “Divine Feminine,” or the goddess Sophia. Her “awakening” is similar to many others who have traveled this path. It begins with mysticism (p. 14), develops interest in Roman Catholic monasticism and spiritual directors, moves to Jungian analysis, and finds encouragement in Gnosticism, Eastern Mysticism and Native American spirituality. All of these elements are abundantly present in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. Where does this all…

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer, who died because of his principles in a Germany concentration camp in 1945, is one of the most frequently quoted individuals by evangelical leaders. This has always surprised me given the fact that Bonhoeffer was a Christian humanist with neo-orthodox leanings. Nevertheless, I decided to read for myself this, his most well known book. Bonhoeffer’s greatest contribution to the Christian community is his teachings on what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace,” he writes, “means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46). In a statement that would strike a great blow against easy-believism of our day he says, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47). To these thoughts, and the theology behind them,…

The Complete Green Letters by Miles J. Stanford

The Complete Green Letters is a compilation of five small books written by Miles J. Stanford espousing the identification and positional truths found mainly in the epistles of Paul. This is a valuable work, especially in light of the fact that identification truths are seldom taught today. There are a great number of books in print dealing with Christian living that make little or no mention of our position in Christ and how it affects our daily walk. Stanford’s work goes a long way towards filling that gap, and in the process refocuses the readers’ thinking. This is a book that is well worth our attention. The following quote catches the essence of what this volume is all about, “Let us cease laying down to the saints long lists of ‘conditions’ of entering into the blessed life in Christ; and instead, as the primal preparation for leading them into the…

The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall

Having read of this seventeenth century Puritan classic in a review written by a Bible institute professor who claimed this to be his favorite book of all times, I thought I would give it a go. I now can understand his enthusiasm, for The Christian in Complete Armour is full of solid instruction, helpful words of wisdom and interesting anecdotes. Gurnall is a very typical Puritan writer who churns out very serious prescriptions for what ails our souls. On the other hand, he is also typically Puritan in his verboseness, love of reason and topical rather than exegetical approach to Scripture. This final Puritan characteristic is Gurnall’s weakness. While this work claims to be a study of Ephesians 6:10-17 in reality the author simply bounces off the text to pursue various related topics. The danger here, one the author falls prey to, is that it is easy to move beyond…

The Battle for Christian Music by Tim Fisher

This is a relatively good book taking the conservative side in the Christian music wars. Fisher does an excellent job of tracing the purpose of music as presented and found in Scripture. Music in the Bible was not for the purpose of evangelism but for praise, instruction and edification. This is a point well worth considering when vast armies of Christians are trying to reach the lost through music, and in the process are willing to compromise their principles to get the job done. Fisher challenges the idea that any and all musical styles are amoral, that only the lyrics make a song Christian or worldly. I believe that the author stakes out the right position, but when the rubber meets the road things get a little bumpy. Even if we concede that certain styles of music may not be honoring to God (which I think we must), who decides…

The Barbarian Way by Erwin R. McManus

Having gone to college during the hay days of the hippie movement and the Jesus Freak Revolution, I find that books like The Barbarian Way cause me a definite sense of déjà vu. In the 1960s and 70s, the Establishment was the great enemy to young mavericks (McManus would call them barbarians) and, since the church represented the Establishment, it too was seen as evil. The church needed to be dismantled, along with the rest of society, and restructured according to the then-emerging barbarian blueprint. I will let my readers decide if society in general, or the church of God in particular, is superior today as a result (you probably can guess my answer). In the wake of the barbarian raid of the 1960s came new Christian leaders who offered creative and “improved” methods for reviving the evangelical church. Robert Girard wrote Brethren, Hang Loose; David Mains provided a new…

The 3:16 Promise by Max Lucado

Max Lucado brings his winsome and creative pen to Scripture’s most beloved verse and the result is mixed. I assume that Lucado is writing an evangelistic tract of sorts as he develops the teachings of John 3:16 around the words: He loves, He gave, we believe, we live. This short book (only 60 small pages) is perhaps also aimed somewhat at the Christian who will further appreciate the gift of salvation that is his. On a positive note we are happy to see Lucado identify sin and the wickedness of our hearts as mankind’s ultimate problem (pp. 15-17). Lucado is also clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to God (pp. 25-26), that we cannot save ourselves, that only Christ and His death on the cross can (p. 27), that faith in Christ is necessary (pp. 29-30), and that Christ died as our substitute ( v. 18-19). Since some…

Streetwise Spirituality by Jim Thomas

Just as Thomas’ first book, Coffeehouse Theology, had a creative title but conservative apologetic approach, so Streetwise Spirituality may sound like a book geared toward baby busters but offers rather standard advice on spirituality. Most of Thomas’ counsel is fine, especially for the younger believer just navigating through the sophomore stage of Christian life. He covers topics such as prayer, trusting, temptations, worship and forgiveness. The last two chapters are easily the worst of his two books. Here he tries to demonstrate how God speaks to us and how He leads into His “particular will” (p. 186). While Thomas’ understanding of how God leads and speaks is pretty normal stuff in evangelicalism, it nevertheless is not supported by Scripture (although he attempts to do so) and is dangerous to spiritual development. What is more disturbing, however, is not so much what he says as are his spiritual connections. He quotes…

Splendour from the Sea by Phillip Keller

What a disappointment! This volume, written by the author of A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty-Third Psalm which is considered by many to be a classic, does not obtain to anything near the status of the earlier work. Splendour is the account of missionaries associated with the Shantymen’s Christian Association of North America, principally those working off the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island. It is an organization and a work of which I was completely unfamiliar. Therefore I enjoyed learning of these dedicated missionaries, and was inspired by their faithfulness to God, and His to them. The accounts of God meeting needs and furthering the work are truly encouraging. On the down side, and I mean way down, are Keller’s views of how God leads and works among His people, especially missionaries. These missionaries are lead almost entirely by mystical impressions (pp. 32,148,170-171); audible voices from God (pp. 44,104,135-136),…

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney

I am often asked if, and in what ways, Donald Whitney differs from those who are promoting mysticism and the ancient practices of Roman Catholicism in evangelical circles. After all, he uses many of the same terms: spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, meditation and the like. At the same time Whitney is a solid evangelical who is presently a professor at Southern Seminary, has the endorsement of men such as Al Mohler and Bruce Ware, and has spoken at The Master’s Seminary. Where does he stand on issues such as the spiritual disciplines? On the one hand we must avoid guilt by association. His use of some of the buzzwords found within the unbiblical Spiritual Formation movement may be questionable but does not definitively mean that he is saying the same thing. For example Jay Adams wrote a little book called Godliness Through Discipline and Kent Hughes wrote The Disciplines of…

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper (Editor)

Thirteen different authors contributed to this volume and, as with all such works, the contributions will be somewhat uneven and overlapping. Nevertheless, most of the efforts are biblical and helpful and a few are outstanding. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ is divided into five parts, each part addressing a different aspect of the subject. Part 1: “God and Sex” written by Piper and Ben Patterson sets the agenda, but is easily the weakest section of the book (more on this later). Part 2: “Sin and Sex” is the highlight of the book. David Powlison has written one of the finest essays found anywhere related to this subject. His chapter, “Making All Things New: Returning Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken,” should be mandatory reading for all those struggling with sexual sin. Mohler’s chapter on homosexuality handles that particular sin well. Part 3: “Men and Sex” first addresses the single…