Practicing the 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, So You Can Talk About God with Anyone (Wheaton: Q Place, 2017)

This primer is published by a ministry which calls itself Q Place, which is an organization focused on evangelism and fellowship through “small groups of 2-12 people who meet to discuss questions about life, God and the Bible” (p. 7).  It is a companion to the 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversation book written by Mary Schaller and John Crilly (p. 6).  The contents are to be “facilitated, not taught” (p. 6) for, as we discover later, the authors believe our “fast-paced culture of distractions and media overload provides very little time to think and process individually what you believe about God” (p. 87).   A facilitator is more of a guide than an expert or source of information, therefore “the focus is on the learner, not the one teaching” (p. 87, cf. pp. 86, 93). The authors rightly state that most unchurched people are not being pursued by Christians (pp....

Gregory of Nyssa, Sermons on The Beatitudes paraphrased by Michael Glerup

Gregory was considered one of the “big three” church fathers (along with Gregory of Nazianzus and our subject’s older brother Basil) who fought for Trinitarian theology when it was attacked in the fourth-century.  This book is a paraphrase of his fourth-century sermons on the Beatitudes.  Unfortunately, the paraphraser, Michael Glerup, went far beyond attempting to reword Gregory’s thoughts for modern readers, choosing instead to update the sermons as if they were written today.  Therefore, concepts and ideas that would have never entered Gregory’s mind are frequent.  For example, Glerup talks of hedge-funds (p. 22), New Ageism (p. 26), self-esteem (p. 43) and references to characters in The Lord of the Rings (p. 105).  As a result readers of this volume cannot be certain what Gregory actually taught and what Glerup is imposing. While we appreciate Gregory’s defense of Trinitarianism, especially at the Council of Constantinople in 381 (p. 15)...

Apostate, the Men who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson

Author Kevin Swanson is attempting to trace the philosophical and literary threads that have shaped our modern Western civilization.  He believes that the ideas created by certain influential thinkers and authors are responsible for the destruction of the Christian West.  These ideas are now being popularized by influencial forms of media and entertainers and absorbed by the majority of people.  The result is a perfect storm that will result in the collapse of the world system as we know it. Swanson focuses his attention on numerous philosophers from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche, and five literary giants: Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Twain, Hemingway and Steinbeck who he holds responsible for the present apostasy, the rise of humanism and the decline of Western civilization (pp. 3, 19).  He calls these men Nephilm after the corrupt giants who lived before the flood (p. 18).  Surprisingly, Thomas Aquinas is...

God’s Forever Family, The Jesus People Movement in America by Larry Eskridge

God’s Forever Family tells the story of the rise, development and influence of the Jesus People (or Freaks, as they were called at the time).  The actual movement was short lived, being birthed directly after the 1967 “Summer of Love” in Haight-Ashbury.  As the hippies flocked to San Francisco to smoke weed, take LSD, engage in immorality and live on the streets, the Christian community began to seek ways to reach those young people for Christ.  At first a few who were saved out of that culture began to form ministries and they were soon joined by some churches that caught the vision.  As many hippies came to Christ the efforts to reach them snowballed and the methods became more creative.  It was determined early on that hippies would most effectively respond if the conservatism methodology of the church was abandoned and music, messages and programming that mirrored the...

Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, Four Views Ed. by Bruce A. Ware

Perspectives follows the pattern of similar books presenting contrasting views on doctrinal issues.  In this case, the all-important doctrine of God is in focus with Paul Helm presenting the Classical Calvinistic position, Bruce Ware a modified Calvinism, Roger Olson the Classical Free-Will stance, and John Sanders Open Theism.  Following each article the other three offer their critiques.  The approach has value in fairly, if briefly, describing a theological position and having qualified scholars challenge those positions, giving a fuller understanding of what is being taught and what is at stake. Paul Helm leads off but apparently missed the memo concerning the direction this volume was headed.  Instead of explaining Classical Theism as intended, he spent his time discussing the more narrow doctrine of predestination and attacking the other three views.  Helm’s major contribution to the designed subject matter is found in his responses to the other essays.  This is...

Follow the Master, How Jesus Made Disciples by Paul Barreca

In Follow the Master Paul Barreca is offering a helpful, concise discussion of discipleship.  He primarily follows the pattern given by Jesus in His discipleship of the Twelve.  I appreciated his observation that Jesus’ method was very similar to God’s instruction to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  Banking off this, Barreca sees discipleship best taking place through use of example and gradually entrusting believers with spiritual responsibility (p. 31). The author believes all Christians are disciples (pp. 37-38) even though the actual word is replaced by other descriptions in Acts and the epistles (p. 36).  Whether we are developing mature disciples is not subjective, rather the author draws from John 15:1-17 five marks of a mature follower of Christ (p. 53).  Four models of how to develop disciples are discussed: traditional (church attendance), follow-up programs, one-on-one and small groups.  Barreca favors the latter in conjunction with the other three,...

Next, Pastoral Succession That Works by Willam Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird

Next is written by two Christian men, one being the research director for Leadership Network and the other the founder of the Vanderbloeman Search Group which connects churches and ministries with the right leadership.  The big idea is that every church and pastor needs a succession plan.  Much of the book is taken up with stories of succession successes and failures.  While the authors claim to examine about 200 pastoral succession case studies (p. 9) from churches of all sizes (p. 14), the reality is that most of the stories concern megachurches and high-profile pastors.   Success is also consistently measured by numerical size and growth, no matter how that is attained.  Additionally, pastors of every stripe are showcased, from Joel Osteen to Paula White, Jeremiah Wright, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Schuller.  The type and size of the churches mentioned greatly diminish the value of the book, in my opinion.  ...

Sanctification Debates Part 1

(Volume 24, Issue 1, January-March 2018) Throughout church history the issue of sanctification, how Christians change, grow and mature, has been hotly debated.  Those who cling to the Reformed position on salvation, that is, salvation is a gift of God based completely on His grace (sola gratia), received entirely by faith in Christ alone (sola Christos), totally apart from our merits (sola fide) have not always agreed on how the saved, regenerated individual “work out salvation” (Phil 2:12).  Until recently most have concurred that spiritual growth, or fruitfulness, is an inevitable result of our new nature and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, such maturity was uneven and depended on many factors, but regeneration was sure to produce some evidence of spiritual change.  But today this commonly held belief has been challenged on two fronts.  Before we delve into these, a short review of other positions...

How To Think A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs acknowledges that thinking is hard (p. 128), which explains why “relatively few people want to think” (p. 17) at all.   Thinking, as defined by Jacobs, is not the decisions we make but the process we take (p. 14): “Thinking is a power to be finely aware and richly responsible” (p. 49).  It is not a mere science, which adheres to a set of rules, but primarily an art which is “notoriously resistant to strict rules” (p. 29).  Given such fluidity in understanding thinking, and our natural avoidance of it, is important to grasp the obstacles that must be navigated if we are to learn to think. Jacobs mentions several: Social acceptability (p. 21). To think risks losing our place in a particular social subset to which we have become attached.  We have an instinct for consensus (p. 22) and thinking will jeopardize our identity with our “in...

What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell

In What Is the Bible?, Rob Bell does for the Bible what he did for Hell in Love Wins – completely distorts it to the point that it loses all meaning and purpose.  Using his now familiar style of asking more questions than providing solutions, Bell creatively and effectively leads his readership to consider his views on Scripture as being superior to more orthodox ones.  In the process he guts the Bible of its true value. Bell promises to teach his eager audience how to read the Bible in a whole new way (p. 4, cf p. 219).  What he does, in fact, is merely repackage in modern form the same old ideas stemming from the early days of Higher Criticism.  In the 18th century leading churchman such as Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) successfully floated that the Bible was a human book, written by men to...