Right Thinking In A Church Gone Astray, Finding Our Way Back To Biblical Truth by Nathan Busentiz

Right Thinking is a collection of articles written by a dozen men associated with The Master’s Seminary, Master’s University and/or Grace Community Church and edited by Nathan Busentiz, professor and Dean of Faculty at TMS.   Some years earlier a similar book, Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong, was published from the same source dealing with ethical and social issues.   This present volume supplements nicely the earlier work, however focusing more directly on matters related to the church.  There are three sections of five chapters each: the church and contemporary issues, the church and sound doctrine, and the church and the Great Commission.  Within each section there are chapters dealing with contemporary and pressing challenges to truth, the church and the Christian life.  As expected with a multiple authored book, various styles and approaches are evident but each writer covers his subject well, with obvious research and biblical insight.  Subjects…

Church Elders, How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne

Human leadership of the local church is delegated in the New Testament to elders (also called overseers and pastors or shepherds—p. 73).  Jeramie Rinne has written this little volume “to provide a concise biblical job description for elders” (p. 15).  His target audience is not only elders and those who aspire to be elders, but the entire congregation which needs to understand God’s instructions for church leadership (p. 15). Rinne does an excellent job of interweaving biblical teaching and practical application.  The author correctly lists and explains the qualifications for elders (pp. 18-30) and details their primary ministries of teaching the Word (pp. 48-50), defending sound truth (pp. 50-56) and shepherding the flock (pp. 32-41).  Concerning the latter, Church Elders offers a nice section on how to keep track of members who are straying (pp. 57-69), as well as specific ways to encouragement and pray for the flock (pp. 109-120).…

Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (revised and updated) by Frank Viola and George Barna

Frank Viola and George Barna believe that virtually everyone misunderstands the church because they draw almost everything they do from pagan sources instead of the New Testament, and thus the modern church has become an organization and an institution rather than a living organism.  The solution is to return to the New Testament model which describes the organic church which the authors define as “simply a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs.  Organic churches are characterized by Spirit-led, open-participatory meetings, and nonhierarchical leadership.  This is in stark contrast to a clergy-led, institution-driven church” (pp xxiii; see also pp 240-241).  The organic church has no human leadership, organization or formal teaching, meets in homes with no more than 35 people (pp 43-44), and is the only authentic expression of the local church, according to Viola and Barna. …

Facing Leviathan, Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers is a pastor, author, and “cultural commentator” living in Melbourne, Australia.   In the earlier days of his ministry he was well-known as a leader in the counter-cultural, organic, “hipster” style of Christianity until he began to realize that such ministries have little longevity due to lack of structure (pp 19-24).   As a matter of fact, churches of the type he was planting last on average of only three years (p 23).  Facing a personal crisis of faith along with growing chaos in his ministry, Sayers began to analyze competing models of church leadership.  As the church at large attempted to minister to the rapidly changing culture he identified two general responses: to let the culture determine the church and skepticism (pp 7-9).   Facing Leviathan offers a third approach in which the task of leadership is taken “out of the hands of the alpha male and the creative genius,…

Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism by Douglas R. McLachlan

The author clearly outlines the direction and purpose of this book in the Preface, and I believe he succeeded in what he set out to accomplish. We begin our task by defining the hindrances to a balanced Fundamentalism and identifying those ingredients which have prohibited authenticity in its super-structure.  Following that we continue with a discussion of four key areas of ministry, which, if understood properly and fleshed out biblically, could enable us to take a giant step toward reclaiming an authentic variety of Fundamentalism.  These areas have to do with servant leadership, urgent evangelism, expository preaching, and Christian separation.  Finally, we close with a call for Biblical revival, the ultimate solution to the ills which face any community of believers in Jesus Christ. McLachlan warns of many pitfalls facing Fundamentalism, deals with important issues and biblical texts, such as 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (pp. 126-132), and offers much guidance and…

Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Surprised By Hope attempts to “recapture the Christian answer to death and beyond and the nature of our task as we wait” (pp. XII-XIII). Said differently the book addresses two questions: “What is the ultimate Christian hope?” and, “What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?” (p. 5). Wright sees hope for the first question in the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees the resurrection of the believer. He provides strong arguments for the historical resurrection of Jesus (pp. 53-76), and repeatedly affirms that, while Christians enter the presence of God at death, their ultimate destiny lies in their bodily resurrection and life on the new earth (pp. 28, 41, 171-172). These discussions are the strongest features of the book. Wright stumbles, however, when he attempts to resolve his second question – what hope does the resurrection give for present transformation of the…

Mission Drift, the Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

Mission Drift describes the all too common drift from the original purpose and mission that organizations (the authors are primarily focused on Christian non-profit and churches) experience in time. Two dimensions of drift are described—personal and institutional (p. 12). The authors state their goal as: We want to name and illustrate the causes of Mission Drift. We want to help you clarify the missions of the organizations you most love. And we want to equip you with the safeguards to reinforce and protect them (p. 30). I believe Greer and Horst achieve their goal through a number of avenues. First they provide excellent stories of organizations such as the YMCA (pp. 11, 68-69), Harvard University (pp. 16-17, 144-146), Yale University (p. 18), Franciscans’ food banks (pp. 19-20), Christian Children’s Fund (pp. 24-26), ChildFund (p. 41), Pew Trust (pp. 60-64) and Veggie Tales (pp. 98-99), who have drifted radically from their…

Church Unique, How Mission Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini

Will Mancini leads Auxano, a team of church consultants (although they prefer the word “navigators”) who are training pastors on how to “do church” in the 21st century. Church Unique lays out the ideas and goals of Auxano. In many ways Church Unique is much like many church management books written in the last 50 years. It emphasizes vision, teaches how to form and implement strategy, and virtually insures success if you will but follow the principles within. Mancini is a motivational writer, par excellent. His use of superlatives is extensive. In fact, they are used so often as to lose their effect; after all, not everything can be mind-blowing and earth-shaking. Like other books of this genre, Church Unique is also complicated. To actually work Mancini’s system well from the book alone would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Those serious about applying these ideas will no doubt need…

Defense of the Truth by Michael Haykin

This is a marvelous little book (only 129 pages) which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and, at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today. Some of the key characters found in Haykin’s book include those we term the “Church Fathers:” Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, Athanasius, Augustine and Patrick. The value of the book is multi-facet. We are provided with: Information concerning some of the heresies and challenges which faced the early church. Sketches of the lives of several Church Fathers, as well as their antagonists. Details of how some important doctrines (the Trinity in particular) were debated and ultimately accepted. A general history of the first centuries of Christianity. I particularly found the story of the ebb and flow of premillennialism very interesting, The Defence of the Truth is an excellent book, informative yet easy…

What’s Right with the Church, A Manifesto of Hope by Elmer L. Towns (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 223 pp. Hard $11.99

The church is constantly being criticized by friend and foe. This is not hard to fathom as the church is a big, slow moving, easy target that is flawed because it is made up of flawed people. Much recent criticism is deserved, some is not. Towns has grown weary of those who make it their mission to point out what is wrong with the church, usually to promote their own agendas. George Barna is referenced as one such person (p. 219). As a result Towns wants to pin-point some of the things that are right about the church. He focuses on twelve items, devoting a chapter to each. They include being right about Jesus, the Bible, conversion, sin, family and the Great Commission. Several of these chapters are very encouraging. I also found helpful Towns’ overview of six different worship styles prevalent in America today, complete with their strengths and…

The Tangible Kingdom, Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008) 195 pp, Hard $17.99

As I progressed through The Tangible Kingdom I kept feeling that I had read this book before and, in a sense, I have. Essentially, I read the same message in 1971 in David Main’s Circle Church, in Girard’s Brethren, Hang Loose in 1972, in Snyder’s The Problem of Wine Skins in 1975, again in Tucker’s The Church Change or Decay in 1978 and Tillapaugh’s The Church Unleashed in 1982 and on and on. More recently the works of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have repeated the same themes, which are basically that the church is a mess, has lost its way and must either change or die. Fortunately for us, so the message goes out, all these authors have discovered the “secret sauce” (as Andy Stanley calls it in his books) and they are here to share the ingredients. Halter and Smay follow this pattern to a tee (see pp.…

Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 350 pp., Hardcover $24.99

Endorsed by everyone from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels to Dave Ramsey, Steven Furtick and Jeff Foxworthy, Deep and Wide reveals Andy Stanley’s “secret sauce” (p. 17) which he believes makes his church not only great but a model others should adopt. Stanley’s goal has been to create a church that unchurched men, women and children love to attend (p. 11) and by all accounts he has succeeded. The first of five sections tells the story of the birth of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, first as an extension of his father’s (Charles) church, then as a split, in which several thousand people eventually left the mother church to join Andy’s. Andy knows this is not the best way to start a church, but is honest and transparent enough to admit that this is what happened. Conflicts with his famous father were inevitable and Andy chronicles those as…

Vertical Church, What Every Heart Longs for, What Every Church Can Be, by James MacDonald (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 320 pp., Hard, $22.99

James MacDonald is the well-known pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, a megachurch near Chicago. Harvest’s church planting ministry has founded numerous Harvest Bible Chapel churches throughout the United States and Canada. MacDonald writes this book to encourage churches to return to a vertical focus on Christ and His glory which he thinks most churches have abandoned. The author believes the local church should be built on four pillars: proclaiming the authority of God’s Word without apology, lifting high the name of Jesus through worship, believing firmly in the power of prayer, and sharing the good news of Jesus with boldness. Concerning worship MacDonald mocks what he calls “shoulder-up” worship and calls for “whole-person,” enthusiastic, loud worship (p. 173). He often claims Harvest’s worship services are “window-rattling, earth-shaking, life-altering experiences” (pp. 112, 186, 303), and that people line up outside and run down aisles because God is going to meet them…

Be Careful How You Listen, How to Get the Most Out of a Sermon by Jay Adams, ( Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 160 pp., paper $11.99

This book was originally published in 1991 under the title A Consumer’s Guide to Preaching. Since there are many books dealing with how to preach but few on how to listen to preaching, Adams decided to republish the book for a new audience. Adams states, “I have written this book because of the dearth of material devoted to genuine concern for preaching from the listener’s point of view. So far as I know, there is no other book like it” (p. 9). While a few others now exist (see my reviews on Expository Listening and The Family at Church), this little book is very helpful. Adams’ writings are always biblically based and practical. Be Careful How You Listen is no exception. The author deals with preparation for listening, the listener’s attitude and expectations, how to analyze a sermon, the various types of sermons, discernment, and even how to handle a…

The Family at Church, Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings,by Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 80 pp., paper $5.40.

This book has been recommended by Ken Ramey in his book <em>Expository Listening</em> as a virtual goldmine, but I did not find it so. While there weresome helpful insights and advice, overall it was dated and far too linked to the Reformed traditions to be of significant value to those not in lock-stepwith those traditions. As evidence, in the 66 pages of actual text there were 66 references to Calvin, Spurgeon or the Puritans. There were far morereferences to this group and their opinions than to Scripture, which was often used out of context (see pp. 34, 41). The second half of the volume was devoted to prayer meetings. Here Beeke has in mind primarily the mid-week style of prayer meeting, for which he offersnot only encouragement to have such but even rules for how they are to be conducted (pp. 67-72). While this reviewer believes strongly in corporate prayer,we…

The Gospel Commission, Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, by Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Baker Books: 2011), 316 pp. paper $16.99.

Previously, Horton has written extensively on the central message of Christianity, Christ and the gospel. In Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life Horton challenged the diluted messages increasingly replacing biblical teachings and focused on what the Scriptures actually proclaim. In this sequel, Horton turns to the central mission of the church and demonstrates how “mission creep” (pp. 8, 11, 16, 246, 293) threatens to undermine the one mandate given the church—the Great Commission. Horton defines mission creep as “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes” (p.8). When applied to Christianity there is “a tendency to expand the church’s calling beyond its original mandate” (p. 16). As a result “conservative Protestants today are…in danger, not so much of being attacked by New Atheists as of surrendering a robust confidence in God and his Word to a culture of marketing and entertainment, self-help and…

Worship: The Ultimate Priority, by John MacArthur (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), pp. 192, cloth $14.99

John MacArthur’s new book is a rewrite of his classic from thirty years ago.  Though evangelical worship has degenerated further since then, he did not have to change much of the text; no doubt, due to its solid biblical basis to begin with.  More importantly, his theme that a believer’s whole life should be an expression of worship is timeless. In recent decades, the contemporary evangelical church has abandoned the sufficiency of God’s Word with regard to worship and has embraced pragmatism, i.e., whatever works.  This has led to surveys of the unchurched instead of surveying the Scriptures, trying to meet “felt needs” of the churched instead of their true spiritual needs, and a priority of entertainment over spiritual edification.  What is claimed to be contextualization (a necessity for missionaries in foreign cultures) is nothing more than old-fashioned consumerism in the U.S.  It is the opposite of Jesus’ injunction to…

What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), pp. 283, paper $10.00

The authors contend that determining the mission of the church “is the most confusing, most discussed, most energizing, and most potentially divisive issue in the evangelical church today” (p. 25).  Scot McKnight claims that recent interest in social justice, or what he calls missional “represents the biggest shift in evangelicalism in the last century” (p. 142).  I believe these men are correct.  Much ink has been spilled of late promoting the social agenda and a good book challenging missional thinking—drawing us back to Scripture to carefully analyze such thinking—was needed.  This is that book.  It is well done, carefully researched, scripturally based and extremely practical.  It is also written by the right men.  Both DeYoung and Gilbert are highly respected by the young, Reformed, and restless crowd that is most likely to swallow the missional agenda without much reflection.  If nothing else, What Is the Mission of the Church? should…

New Evangelicalism by Paul Smith. Costa Mesa: Calvary Publishing, 2011, 215 pp. paper $12.00

Paul Smith is one of the original founders and leaders of the Calvary Chapel Movement, in my opinion the most doctrinally sound and biblically oriented of the charismatic/Pentecostal organizations.  In this book Smith is not bashful about presenting his and Calvary Chapel’s theological distinctives which include:  the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, salvation by faith alone, pretribulational/dispensational eschatology and a firm stance on the fundamentals.  While I would differ with Smith on cessationalism and present day use of spiritual gifts, I would stand with him on the doctrines above.  Smith’s burden is to sound a warning concerning the theological shift that has taken place, and continues, in much of evangelism.  On the negative side I do not place much store on what might be called his conspiracy theories which attempt to trace many of America’s social and moral failings to a gathering of intellectuals in 1905 (p. 9) or the …

Whatever Happened to the Gospel by David Nicholas. Bloomington, IN: Crossbooks, 2010. 148 pp. paper $13.95.

David Nicholas, longtime pastor of Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, Florida, is concerned about how the gospel is presented, especially in pastoral preaching.  He calls his approach the Bad News/Good News and insists that both must be presented clearly, and in detail, in every sermon. The author’s gospel presentation is clear and biblical.  He decries approaches such as Rick Warren’s (pp. 32-33) and rejects the views of the emergent church leadership (pp. 86-89).  At the very least Whatever Happened to the Gospel could serve as a good primer, and/or reminder, of what the gospel message is.  The one area that I would question is the mandate, as Nicholas sees it, to present the gospel in full at every service of the church.  I can find no biblical warrant for preaching the gospel each time to the church gathered.  Neither by precept nor example do we see this model presented…

Worship in Song, A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, by Scott Aniol, Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2009. 281 pp. paper, $17.99.

Scott Aniol, who serves as the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, writes this book for two reasons: first, to distinguish between secular music, that might be appropriate for everyday use, and sacred music, especially in the context of the church gathered; second, “Newer generations are increasingly rejecting conventional arguments for a conservative music philosophy.”  Aniol believes it is time for another voice (p. viii).  This volume is divided into three sections, the first wisely devoted to laying the foundation.  Here strong support for biblical sufficiency is given (see p. 1) and a definition of worship is sought.  Anoil ultimately defines worship as “a spiritual response to God as a result of understanding biblical truth about God” (p. 30).  The two responses that are essential are affection and action (p. 33).  This leads to one of the most helpful insights in the book—the difference between passions and affections.  Drawing heavily…

The Glory Due His Name: What God Says About Worship by Gary Reimers. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2009. 100 pp. $9.95

The Glory Due His Name by Gary Reimers is a welcome addition to the Bob Jones University Seminary “Biblical Discernment for Difficult Issues” series. Gary Reimers is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greenville, SC, and a professor of theology at Bob Jones University Seminary. Reimers teaches worship theology to both undergraduate ministerial students and in the seminary, has spoken on the subject in pastors’ meetings around the country, and has made the subject the focus of personal study for many years, well-equipping him to write on this important topic. Running throughout this short volume is an overarching theme that worship is about God, for God, and determined by God. This refreshingly God-centered, Scripture-rooted emphasis is a much-needed one in worship discussions. Reimers begins, then, by looking to Scripture to determine “true worship’s essence and elements” (Chapter 1, p. 4ff). He starts by describing what he considers “the…

Perspectives on Family Ministry–3 Views edited by Timothy Paul Jones

For decades throughout North America the emphasis in youth ministry has been on numbers, excitement and fun.  But more and more church leaders have come to recognize that such an emphasis does not develop disciples.  As a result the current conversation centers on how we must structure our ministries so that our children grow up to love and serve Christ.  What is being recognized by many is that the missing ingredient in discipleship of children is the family.  The church has often operated as if it was the primary means of spiritual development of youth and therefore parents must relinquish that role to youth pastors and leaders.  But Scripture is clear that the parents, and especially fathers, are the primary discipleship-makers of children.  With this in mind a number of approaches dedicated to returning to family-oriented spiritual development have emerged.  The three most prominent of these are detailed and debated…

Family Integraded Church by J. Mark Fox

I believe this book is mistitled.  Rather than a detailed study of how to structure and run a family-integrated local church, Fox has given us a chronicle of the history and philosophy of the church he has pastored for 18 years.  To be sure, one of the key components of Antioch Community Church is the centrality of the family and the importance of parents, particularly fathers, to disciple their own children.  But the book is much broader than that and includes his view on everything from elders to church finances to body life to church planting.  The majority of Fox’s ecclesiastical philosophy is grounded in Scripture and well worth considering.  Many pastors and churches would benefit by adopting much of Fox’s understanding of the New Testament church.  Fox uses a folksy writing style which might appeal to some but may seem a little casual to others.   He talks about the…

Transitioning by Dan Southerland

Transitioning has been a popular book since the beginning of the 21st century, detailing how a church can transition from a traditional to a purpose-driven model and thus experience phenomenal growth and success (p. 151).  Transitioning is a simplified version of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church with a heavy dose of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God thrown in for good measure.  The result is a book heavy on vision, methodology and technique and light on biblical exposition. Southerland would protest this last sentence even though he believes that the first reformation was about the message, this second one (the one he is heralding) is about method (p. 14).  He would protest because his book is liberally sprinkled with Scripture passages and because the whole book is loosely wrapped around the Old Testament book of Nehemiah.  Unfortunately, with rare exception, all of Southerland’s scattered quotations are either out of context or misinterpreted…

Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger

I began reading Simple Church with high expectations.  I like the basic concept, as I understand it, and even “borrowed” the name to entitle a sermon I recently preached on Acts 2:43 which identified the essential ministries of the local church (evangelism, prayer, study of Scripture, fellowship and the ordinances).  To me this defines what the church should be—the simple church.  Unfortunately, what I read in Simple Church did not take the reader back to the New Testament for its paradigm but to extensive research mostly within the Southern Baptist Convention.  The result was a mixed bag, and this should be expected given the authors’ premise that “research seeks to discover truth” (p. 197).  This is clearly a flawed statement.  At best research reveals facts, more likely trends.  Only the Word of God can give us truth.  By looking to research instead of Scripture for “truth” we must expect the…

Revival by Martin Lloyd-Jones

Several years ago, while preaching through the book of Romans, I determined to read through Martin Lloyd-Jones’s eight volume set of commentaries on the first eight chapters of that great epistle.  While I did not always agree with Lloyd-Jones, I found the first seven volumes covering Romans 1-7 rich and rewarding.  He constantly hammered home the importance of grounding everything in Scripture rather than following the fads and wisdom of the times.  Shockingly, in his commentary on chapter eight, Lloyd-Jones reversed course, substituting eisegesis for exegesis.  This is because he allowed his particular view on revival to shape his understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit.  And Lloyd-Jones’s view of revival has been shaped by his take on church history rather than Scripture. In Revival we see the same pattern, just a little more comprehensively.  The book is based on several Old Testament stories and some of the most…

Meetings That Work by Alexander Strauch

Strauch has written a most helpful manual that accomplishes exactly what its subtitle states – “A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings.”  Any board of elder would benefit from reading and implementing the ideas in this little (90 pages) book. In general, Meetings That Work presents both biblical and practical helps for elder meetings.  Biblically, Meetings That Work is right on the money. For example, Strauch writes:  Redesign meetings and agendas to represent what the Bible  says the role of elders should be…meetings will deal with truly important issues: defining and clarifying the church’s beliefs and principles of ministry, developing a distinctive mission and  vision, evaluating major ministries, improving pastoral care, and  planning for the future. (p. 42) Strauch continues by identifying the three core responsibilities of elders:  people, prayer and the Word. (pp. 42-49). On the practical side Meetings That Work deals with everything from frequency of meetings, record keeping, developing an…

Heavens on Earth, Utopian Communities in America, 1960-1880 by Mark Holloway

In the 1800s America could boast of over 100 utopian communities with a total combined membership of over 100,000.  The founders of these societies usually came from Europe in their quest to establish heaven on earth in small communities of like-minded people.  Almost all of these efforts were religious in nature, adopted some form of voluntary communism and had aberrant views of sex—often advocating celibacy or, at best, tolerance of marital relationships or the other extreme, free love. Holloway examines the most important nineteenth-century utopian communities including the Shakers, New Harmony, Fourierism, Brook Farm, Bishop Hill, Amana and Oneida.  A brief history of each society is given along with its basic beliefs and reasons for its demise. Eventually the idealism behind such efforts faded away along with optimism of the times and such utopians ceased being attempted.  Heavens on Earth is a very interesting history of a unique period in American…

The Burned-Over District (The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850) by Whitney R. Cross

The Burned-Over District is a description of the religious character of Western New York during the first half of the 19th century (p. vii).  The events and movements in the Burned-over District have left an astounding impact on the religious, political and social development of American culture.  Prohibition, emancipation of the slaves, numerous cults and utopian societies, and several questionable Christian methodologies and theologies all find their roots in this exciting time and place.  Cross, who never tips his hand to reveal his own spiritual allegiance, begins with the Great Revival of 1799-1800 (what many call the Second Great Awakening).  While Kentucky got most of the attention from historians, Cross makes a case that the most significant affect of the Great Revival was found in Western New York.  The Revival spawned a desire for “enthusiastic” expressions of Christianity which would define the first half of the 19th century.  In the…

Christless Christianity (The Alternative Gospel of the American Church) by Michael Horton

Horton comes out with both guns blazing in this critical analysis of the church in America.  As the title suggests, he is accusing the church of being nothing less than “Christless.”  That is, the church has become so distracted by everything from false teaching (examples given include Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer) to energy-sapping programs, to faulty understanding of the purpose and mission of the church, that it has lost Christ Himself in the mix.  Christianity need not explicitly deny any key foundational teaching to become Christless; it merely needs to buy into a “series of subtle distortions and not-so-subtle distractions” (p. 20).  “My argument in this book,” Horton writes, “is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous” (p. 23).  It is for this reason that “precisely the most numerically successful versions of religion will be the least tethered to the biblical drama…

The Transformation of American Religion by Alan Wolfe

The message of this book, Alan Wolfe tells us, is that religion in the United States is being transformed in remarkable ways (p. 3). By that Wolfe means that both traditional American religions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism) are changing to accommodate the culture; and that the religions flooding into our borders (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) are also being transformed as they melt into the American pot. The result is fewer and fewer distinctions between religions, but more importantly, fewer distinctions between religions and the culture. The vital message of the book for evangelical Christians is that our culture is rapidly defining the church, rather than the church impacting society. The church is becoming a place where people are given what they want in Christian-like wrapping. Or as one Baptist megachurch minister put it, “I take what is worldly, and baptize it” (p. 195). Wolfe is a remarkable discerner of our times. He…

The Smell of Sawdust by Richard J. Mouw

Mouw is a conflicted man. He has a love/hate relationship with Fundamentalism and he doesn’t know quite what to do with it. On the one hand he was saved and discipled by Fundamentalists who taught him to love the Lord, cherish the Bible and reach out to people. He knows that many of the stereotypes concerning Fundamentalism are nothing short of slander. Still he faults Fundamentalists for their anti-intellectualism, worldliness, separatist spirit, “false-witness-bearing” toward other Christians, their view of Israel and Jews and dispensationalism. At the same time, from the perspective of one who has observed for decades both the changing world and the views of Fundamentalism, he admits they have been right far more than wrong but seldom get credit. Not only have their pronouncements and predictions come true but their love for Christ and His Word has remained constant. They are people of conviction, and willing to lose…

The Expansion of Evangelicalism, the Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney by John Wolffe

This is the second volume in the five volume series, “A History of Evangelicalism,” and covers the history of evangelicalism from the 1790s to the 1840s. Wolffe, professor of religious history at The Open University in England, chooses to discuss the movement of evangelicalism during this period by tracing various historic threads which helped shape Christianity in the English-speaking world. These threads include revivals and revivalism, the place of women within the church (a number of influential women are discussed), evangelicalism’s affect on society, especially the slavery issues and abolition, and attempts at unity as the evangelical church became more diverse and increasingly splintered. Not everyone will be pleased with this approach as so many things outside these threads are neglected but, in fairness, with any attempt at covering 50 years of evangelical history in 250 pages the author is forced to choose some elements and ignore others. Overall, Wolffe…

The Dominance of Evangelicalism, The Age of Spurgeon and Moody by David W. Bebbington

This, the third volume in the “A History of Evangelicalism” series, outlines the exciting nineteenth century developments within Christianity. Bebbington provides four marks that identified evangelicals: their belief in the inspiration and final authority of the Bible, the centrality of the cross and the substitutionary death of Christ, conversion of the lost by faith alone, and activism—an urgency to spread the message of Christ throughout the world. As a result of these characteristics there was a remarkable unity among evangelicals. Even amidst the diversity of doctrinal opinion and philosophical differences, there was a commonality focused around the gospel. Nevertheless, intramural battles were often volatile. For one thing, Western society was shifting from the “age of reason” (the Enlightenment) to Romanticism with its minimizing of reason and focusing on will, spirit, emotion and imagination (pp. 148, 162-166). It was also the era in which Calvinism began to decay and was rapidly…

Inventing the “Great Awakening” by Frank Lambert

In American revival history the Great Awakening (a term actually applied one hundred years later to the New England revival of the 1730s and 1740s) is the Holy Grail. It is the revival by which all other revivals are compared, the revival of the type that so many seek today. Other revivals have come and gone. They are debatable, even within revival oriented circles. But not the Great Awakening. It is considered, beyond question, to have been one of the greatest movements of God in church history, on par with Pentecost and the Reformation. So when Frank Lambert dares to title a book Inventing the “Great Awakening”he is truly invading holy ground. Holy grounds are places where you take your shoes off, not where you drop kick sacred church history. But Lambert does it anyway, and he does it well. Using abundant primary sources Lambert espouses a different understanding than…

Fundamentalism and American Culture, the Shaping of the Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 by George M. Marsden

Marsden has become the unofficial church historian dealing with Fundamentalism. This particular volume, which concerns itself with the origins and early days of the Fundamentalist movement, is one of Marsden’s best efforts. While Marsden is not a Fundamentalist himself (and at times it shows) for the most part he is fairly objective. He recognizes that while the movement was a reaction to cultural changes and influenced by philosophical theories such as Scottish Common Sense Realism (pp. 14-16), it nevertheless grew primarily out of a literal understanding of Scripture. Fundamentalism’s roots are traced to Calvinism, the Holiness Movement and Dispensationalism. As the movement began to crystallize it became predominately premillenial with Dispensationalism leading the way. However, strong Reformed Calvinists such as J. Gresham Machen would play a vital role, especially on the intellectual side. Theologically, Fundamentalism was largely a reaction to growing liberalism of the late 1800s and its Social Gospel.…

A Concise History of Christian Thought by Tony Lane

Church historian Tony Lane has supplied us with a marvelous account of church history from the Church Fathers to modern times. He arranges his book according to individuals, highlighting key players in church history, briefly identifying their views, major works and influence. Along the way important events such as church councils, creeds and confessions are referenced as well. This approach has the effect of linking movers and shakers of the church with the development and formation of theology through time. It would be hard to recommend this volume too highly. It is a thorough, delight to read and a great reference tool. There are few weaknesses, although I will mention two disappointing omissions. First, there is no index. This will greatly hamper the student doing research. Second, although the book was published in 2006, Lane ends his treatment of church history with the ecumenical movement in 1999. As a result,…

The Doctrine of Endless Punishment by W.G.T. Shedd

This is a standard work on the subject of hell and punishment of the wicked by one of the great theologians at the end of the nineteenth century. After giving the reader a bit of historical background on the subject Shedd develops a two-prong argument to prove that punishment for the wicked is endless. First, he uses a biblical argument, tracing the meaning and use of words such as Sheol, Hades, Gehanna, and everlasting. Shedd then argues rationally, seeking to show that eternal punishment of the damned makes sense both to God and man. This helpful study ushers the reader into the heart of the issues, most of which have not changed substantially over the last one hundred years. That Shedd believes in endless punishment is certain, the form that punishment takes is not addressed. That is, whether the author takes a literal or metaphorically view of hell is never…

Women in the Church, a Fresh Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas J. Kostenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner and H. Scott Baldwin, Editors

Perhaps the finest analysis of the most important passage surrounding the role of women in ministry controversy, Women in the Church is a book worthy of study. All the authors contributing to this work take the conservative, traditional view that women, while equal in essence with men, are restricted from certain leadership and teaching roles in the church. What is unique about this volume is that the eight contributors do not simply rehash one another’s points, but rather each contributes a specialized essay: Chapter 1, A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century, by S. M Baugh, deals with the all-important historical setting of the first recipients of the epistle of First Timothy. Here the author exposes the error that Ephesus was an exotic, feminist, social-religious culture devoted to the fertility deity Artemis. In fact in the Greek pantheon Artemis was a virgin representing purity, not sexual indulgence. She was…

Women in Ministry, Four Views by Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse, Editors

Using an increasingly popular format the Clouses have placed within one volume not only four separate views on the role of women in ministry, but have given each author the opportunity for rebuttal of the positions of the others. I find this an interesting and useful methodology as knowledgeable scholars can challenge, refute, correct and even call the bluffs of their counterparts. In this volume Robert Culver supports the “traditional view” proclaiming not only that women are not to take certain leadership positions in the church, but that the reason for this restriction lies in her nature. A woman is more susceptible to temptation through deceit and it is not in her nature to lead men. He even challenges the radical feminists to give up and quit since, “normal, universal, female human nature is against them” (p41). A less extreme understanding is taken by Susan T. Foh in her essay,…

Willow Creek Seeker Services by G. A. Pritchard

G. A. Pritchard, a Ph.D candidate in 1989, decided to write his doctoral dissertation on the most influential church of modern times, Willow Creek, near Chicago. For a year he researched every facet of the ministry of this huge church. The result would be, “Approximately two-thirds of this book is a description of what Willow Creek is doing and why” (p.15). This section was largely an uncritical account of the methods, philosophies and programs at Willow. The last third of the book would be a critique of the Creekers. I found this work extremely fair and on target. Creekers are doing many things right. Their objectives and motives seem to be honorable, and they are not without their “successes.” But Willow Creek fails in its first step – they begin with man and his need rather than with God and His Word. This ultimately distorts and corrupts everything they do…

Why One Way? by John MacArthur

This is a very small book with a very powerful message. MacArthur pulls no punches as he stakes his claim on truth as opposed to a world, and too often an evangelical church, that has caved into postmodern concepts. MacArthur wraps his message around 6 words: objectivity, rationality, veracity, authority, incompatibility and integrity. Each of these words represents a facet of biblical Christianity that is under attack today. Why One Way? offers a compelling argument for a return to these standards. Highly recommended!

Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement by Dan Lucarini

The title explains the uniqueness of Lucarini’s story. The author obviously takes issue with contemporary Christian music (CCM)—many others have done the same. But Lucarini does so from the perspective of an insider. He had devoted much of his life to CCM. He believed in its philosophy, its purpose and its power to aid in worship and attract unbelievers. He endeavored for years to switch the evangelical church from traditional music to CCM and was successful. But as he analyzed the product of his efforts, as well as CCM itself, in the light of Scripture he became increasingly more disturbed. He discovered divisiveness instead of unity, false doctrine instead of Bible accuracy, self-centeredness instead of worship, corruption instead of edification. How could this be in a movement seemingly so devoted to the praise of God? But the more he considered, the more it made sense. CCM has borrowed its methods,…

Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church? by James Sundquist

I believe that many well-intentioned Christians get involved in movements that ultimately do not honor Christ, not only because they lack discernment, but also because they have no real knowledge of the source and direction of that movement. James Sundquist goes a long way in solving both of these problems (lack of discernment and lack of knowledge) as it pertains to “The Purpose Driven Life.” What the average Christian does when reading a Christian book, attending a seminar or analyzing a movement, is to filter through the information and experience, swallowing the tasty morsels, and spitting out the rest. As long as he is left with a pretty good taste in his mouth he is content to discard the unappetizing parts. To some degree this is true of all human efforts (e.g. books), including Mr. Sundquist’s as well as my own. But Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church? documents the…

What Would Jesus Say about Your Church? by Richard Mayhue

Mayhue is a master of the overview. Every book of his that I have read could be used as a text book on the subject at hand. What Would Jesus Say about Your Church is no exception. Mayhue surveys the seven churches of Asia from Revelation 2-3 plus the New Testament churches of Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Antioch and Jerusalem. When he is finished the reader has a solid understanding of each of these churches and how they pleased and/or displeased the Lord. Mayhue is a careful exegete of Scripture, so what you find in these pages is true to the Word – almost a novelty in Christian literature today. What you will not find in this book is an analysis of the contemporary church, but that is not his purpose. His purpose is to identify marks of a God-honoring church so that we can examine ours in the light of…

What is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever

Mark Dever has carved a niche for himself in the Body of Christ as one calling the church back to a biblical perspective. As the influential pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and director of 9Marks Ministries, he and his team are providing God’s people with excellent tools to accomplish this objective. What Is a Healthy Church?, an abridgment of his larger work Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, is one of those helpful tools. In a gentle but pointed way Dever cuts away layers of manmade ideas of what forms a healthy church and replaces them with biblical insight. To Dever, a healthy church is not one of a particular size (usually big), nor one with incredible and unending programs, but “a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word” (p. 40). Correspondingly, the church finds its life as it listens and…

Twelve Keys to an Effective Church by Kennon L. Callahan

This is one of those books that is being touted today as a resource on growing a church, in fact, it is little more than a secular business approach on how to market the church. Written in 1983 this volume is no longer on the cutting edge, but its methodologies can be easily discerned in many churches today that are involved in the church growth movement. That is not to say that Callahan has no advice worth heeding. The church growth experts often have decent insights and practical suggestions. It is wise (and not unbiblical) to suggest that a church should have nice, clean, attractive facilities, after all, man looks on the outside, it is only God who sees the heart. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning ahead and setting goals. The problem comes when we buy wholesale into the marketing mentality and ignore the true church growth…

The Role of Women in Ministry Today by H. Wayne House

Wayne House has written an excellent book taking the conservative approach to the involvement of women in Christian ministry. Of the books that I have read on the subject this is easily the best. House is a clear analytical thinker who writes well, and thoroughly covers his subject. The book examines the role of women in history, both secular and ecclesiastical; lays out the battle lines that have formed in today’s church; and effectively deals with the key New Testament passages on the subject (I Cor 11:1-16; 14:33-36; I Tim 2:8-15 and Gal 3:28). In addition he offers hundred of footnotes for the student who wants to dig a little deeper. My only criticism is that he danced around the “head covering” issue of I Cor 11.

The Market Driven Church by Udo W. Middelmann

Middelmann is president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, longtime worker at Swiss L’Abri, born and raised in Germany. With this background he is in a good position to evaluate the paradigm shift in the modern American church from a unique perspective. As a European who spends much of his time in the United States, he is able to contrast the European church and society with those of America. In Europe, churches resemble museums, impressive as history and tradition, impotent to affect culture. The European churches are hollowed out institutions to which few people pay much attention. But in America the church is everywhere. It influences our culture, demands our time, and is a vital part of our lives. In these ways the American church is light years ahead of the European church. So it is with deep sorrow, it would seem, that Middelmann believes the American church is wasting…

The House Assembly by Albert James Dager

Dager describes his book as “a guide for those desiring to start a house assembly after the pattern of the first-century ecclesia.” In truth he does a pretty good job of accomplishing his stated goal. For those who, out of necessity or desire, wish to establish and/or participate in a house church, Dager’s book has much to offer. There are some excellent chapters on church leadership, spiritual gifts, and functioning of the body. He supports biblical positions on women’s role in the church, baptism, and the gospel and has an interesting appendix on music. While there is much to commend in The House Assembly, there is also much that is disturbing as well. First, Dager paints with an extremely broad brush. In his mind, virtually all traditional churches are apostate, all pastors are control-freaks, out for the money and personal gain, and everyone in the traditional church has misunderstood the…

The Global House Church Movement by Rad Zdero, Ph.D.

There seems to always be some segment within Christianity which is trying to take God’s people back to the “original church.” Since the Reformation there have been numerous such efforts. Some of the better known have included the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ), Quakers, Moravians, the Brethren and the Anabaptist. Ultimately these efforts either lose their focus and morph into the type of organization they once rejected or they lose their influence and fade into the background. As a result, every so often a new “restoration” movement begins using much the same rhetoric, denouncing the same kind of excesses, rallying around the same battle cries and always promising to return the church to its New Testament roots. The House Church Movement is the latest rendition and, like those of the past, brings both good and bad to the table. On the positive side, the House Church Movement, like similar movements…

The Feminist Mistake by Mary A. Kassian

A certain world-renowned theologian, philosopher and church historian could tell us the name and hairstyle of Martin Luther’s wife’s second cousin, when she was born and when she died. He could diagram every major movement in church history, all the key players and what they believe. But when asked recently what he thought of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, he admittedly had not read the book and had no understanding of the issues. Something is wrong with this picture. I feel somewhat the same way about Kassian’s The Feminist Mistake. On the positive side, this is an excellent book. Her research is superb, her writing skills are excellent and her conclusions are biblical. Without question, Kassian has rendered a great service to God’s people in writing The Feminist Mistake. I can think of no other volume that traces the feminist movement so clearly and with such copious documentation. For the…

The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball

The Emerging Church is one of the best known offerings from the leaders of the movement which bears this name. This is partially due to the fact that sidebar comments, endorsements and forewords are written by illuminaries such as Brian McLaren, Rick Warren and sadly, Howard Hendricks who seems to have lost all discernment in his latter years. Warren is a surprising entry as well, due to the obvious fact that he and his seeker-sensitive approach to ministry is what the emerging church is rejecting. As a matter of fact, Kimball apparently had never experienced anything but seeker-sensitive churches prior to founding his church, Vintage Faith, in Santa Cruz, California. As a result he has “straw-manned” all evangelical churches into the seeker model and has reacted to them. This should be kept in mind as the book is read, as should the fact that the Vintage Faith Church had only…

The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander

Mark Dever is a pastor with strong and definite ideas about the church. Readers will warm to his ideas based upon their own church background and convictions. Dever’s church is Southern Baptist with some unique distinctions. Like most Baptist churches it is congregational in polity, which will not resonate with many. Unlike most Baptist churches it is elder led, which will rankle any normal Baptist (p. 131). Southern Baptists may take offense at Dever’s emphasis on keeping the membership roll “clean” and on multiple elders giving leadership to the church. Seeker-sensitive church leaders will be offended at Dever’s views of worship, entertainment, and the gospel (he provides a wonderful biblical definition). Non-reformed believers should be unhappy with Dever’s misuse of Ezekiel 37:1-14 to proclaim that Christians today have a new heart (pp. 35, 105, 197), as well as his abuse of Colossians 2:11-15 to force the same conclusion (p. 105).…

The Compromised Church by John Armstrong, Editor

A few years back Armstrong edited an excellent book entitled, The Coming Evangelical Crisis in which a number of Christian leaders contributed. This is a sequel to that volume, also containing chapters written by a dozen or more evangelicals. But, like many sequels, The Compromised Church simply did not live up to its predecessor. This is not to say that certain articles were not of value, some were excellent, but on the whole it was rather flat at best, and disturbing at times. In the way of highlights one may read David Wells’ introduction. Wells is always worth reading, although even he admitted that he has already said about all he can say on this subject in his own books. There were also excellent chapters on corporate worship (3), baptism (7), church discipline (8) and mysticism (11). Armstrong’s own chapter (13) on the calling to ministry I felt was quite…