Review: Finally Alive

John Piper, Christian Focus, 2009, 203 pages, 4 of 5 stars

51B1pSVLWTL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Pastor, author, and theologian John Piper lucidly unpacks the doctrine of regeneration in Finally Alive. But after so many top-sellers, why pen a work on the new birth? He illustrates. The Christian research firm, Barna, suggests born-again Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. Piper finds the equation of church-going evangelicals with regenerated Christians a profound mistake and defamation to the term born again. The rest of the book is to show why.

Piper writes to illustrate the radical change rebirth makes in the life of a sinner (viz. 1 Jn. 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:4, 5:18). What brings the sinner is what will keep the sinner. Scriptural preaching? Yes. Miracles? No. “This is one of the great dangers of signs and wonders: You don’t need a new heart to be amazed at them. The old, fallen human nature is all that’s needed to be amazed….” (30).

“Whether the conversion experience is emotional (like Augustine) or sober (like C.S. Lewis), the born-again Christian (an acknowledged redundancy) will live differently.

Summary and Strengths

Though Finally Alive is divided into five sections, 90% of it is a commentary on John 3 and the book of First John. I appreciated his interpretation of the must disputed “born of water and the Spirit” passage in John 3:5. He gives four reasons why water is not referring to baptism but instead to one of two aspect of the new birth in Ezekiel 36: cleansing of the old (“water”) and creation of the new (“spirit”).

I wish he had delved a bit into the other views of water. I spoke to a pastor recently who believes adamantly “water” is referring to physical birth. The strength of this view appears to be the context, since Nicodemus had just spoken about physical birth in v. 4. It actually goes against the context, however, because Jesus in v. 5 is correcting Nicodemus, not building on his misunderstanding. He was a renowned teacher and he still missed it (v. 10). Piper didn’t touch on this but should have to strengthen his own argument. Continue reading

Review: The New Well-Tempered Sentence

Karen Gordon, Mariner Books, 1993, 147 pages, 3 of 5 stars

51X4G9M7Q1L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_Like flannel pajamas in a wedding march, jocularity and jest seemed out-of-place in a grammar book. But everyone stayed until the final vows and I finished the whole book!

The NWTS is a creative book on punctuation designed to make the reader gasp, guffaw, and giggle. Long on puns and short on punctiliousness, it teaches grammar with sass and verve and answers those thorny punctuation questions piercing my side.

Can an explanation point fit mid sentence? Should it go inside or outside the quotation marks? Really now. Is a verbless sentence like the former allowed? When do ellipses come in threes and when in fours?

My favorite chapter was on the comma, that curvaceous acrobat too often littering our sentences. Should the comma divide two independent sentences? What about simple items in a list? Gordon answers, then moves to colons (“forthcoming is her middle name”), italics, brackets, semicolons and more. Per the author, too many parentheses is sophomoric (we all know how annoying that can be!).

My one complaint is the nude graphics covering every other chapter or so. Intended to be whimsical, the sketches were tawdry and a deal breaker for younger audiences. Still, this little volume hit its mark, so much so that I didn’t insert an apostrophe in “its”. I like paperbacks that are not abashed to use borscht, puissance, lugubrious, chintz, and fichu on the same page. By the end of the book, I was combing for the well-turned phrase more than the well-placed comma.

Missionary Minds: Shipe in Tanzania

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.17 PMAaron Shipe, his wife Nicole, and their seven children are missionaries in Tanzania where they are church planting in the small village of Mapea. Though the church consists of over 15 tribes, their primary focus is to contact the lesser-reached tribe of the Datooga. For more, visit their blog.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not have a wife who is fully dedicated to the ministry.
  2. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Hebrews 12:1-4 has been a consistent help to me as I consider the sufferings of Christ and the pattern He laid for me. My struggles have not been to the point of bloodshed. I may be mocked, harassed, robbed and deceived, but I have not suffered as my Savior or as other Christians throughout history. These verses are telling me to toughen up, stop looking at myself, and focus on my Savior.
  3. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Many missionaries hurt the ministry with their wealth. Well-intentioned generosity can lead to false disciples.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I was talking with college students and recounted the two years my brother and I lived together in college (chuo). Unknowingly I told them we had lived together for two years in a bathroom (choo). Their unbridled laughter clued me into my mistake. When I was preaching on the judgment of God, I inadvertently mispronounced the word judgment and spoke instead about female reproductive organs. Embarrassing!
  5. What role does the foreign language play in your ministry? Without Swahili, there is no ministry here in Tanzania. There are no English speakers in my entire church nor a single person even proficient in English in our surrounding villages. Tanzania has over 120 tribes and therefore over 120 languages. In Tanzania, Swahili is king.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.39 PM
  6. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? The world has become much smaller because of the expansion of technology and the improvement of transportation. As a result, many missionaries come in for short stints and throw money after missions. They start churches and build buildings but their disciples are few. Missions is becoming more focused on outward humanitarian projects and “sound bites” and less geared toward the hard, often discouraging work of disciple making.
  7. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Spiritually, the lack of oversight often breeds laziness. Physically, they face muggings, traffic accidents due to chaotic road conditions, and sicknesses like malaria, TB, and meningitis. There are also the emotional/relational dangers of living in a foreign culture. Many marriages are tried significantly by culture shock and the challenges of living far from friends and family.
  8. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? True intimate friendships with Tanzanians are very difficult because of the cultural/economic/educational differences. We have many friends, but the barriers to intimate friendship are many.
  9. If we visited you, what is the place we would have to see? Ministry wise, the Sunday worship service with the believers in Mapea. From a tourist point of view, you would need to see the Tarangire and watch the animals come to the river in the evening.
  10. What is the best advice you have ever received? God is looking for faithful men not famous men.

Missionary Minds: Meyers in South Africa

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.54.58 PMSeth Meyers lives with his wife and five children in Louis Trichardt, South Africa where he is church planting among the Tsonga people.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not enjoy and see that you have some ability with language.
  2. What are the most common errors that missionaries make?
    1. They choose to work among cultures that have more light than the least-reached places.
    2. They do not devote themselves to language mastery.
    3. They do not pray as if it is their lifeline in a war.
    4. They may be gullible about the nature and power of culture as a tool in Satan’s hand to bind men with a greater fastness in darkness.
    5. They are hasty to accept professions of faith without evidence of repentance.
    6. They devote their time to other labors rather than churchplanting.
    7. They raise more support than the average national pastor assuming that they must continue an American standard of living.
    8. They don’t actively look for a way to get around the 40-churches model of deputation that requires years to raise support and a lengthy furlough.
    9. They don’t commonly cultivate a love for theology and books.
    10. They are content with a superficial knowledge of Christ and His Spirit.
  3. What missionaries (past or present) have been most influential on you? William Carey for his tireless work ethic and broad scope (evangelism, teaching, translation, and botany). John Paton for his absolute devotion to his Savior and the lost. Don Richardson (author of Peace Child), for giving me zeal while in college to reach the least-reached. Paul Schlehlein for his fellowship in all the details of life, ministry, and theology
  1. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Second Timothy 2:10, “I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Revelation 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’”
  2. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? Globalization has produced more of a universal culture. Among other fruits, this brought American revivalism including crusades, instant conversions, speakers, synthesized music, and celebrities even to the rural villages.
  3. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? (1) Laziness and inefficiency since they have no one to watch them. (2) Cynicism since missionaries often come from a culture that has had deeper exposure to the gospel. (3) Superficial answers to problems like poverty. (4) Increased crime or persecution.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I told a group of baptismal candidates from three different villages in Tsonga that they will hold their noses, I will place them in the water, they will “get wet,” and they will come out. But by adding one extra syllable to the verb for to be wet, I told them to relieve themselves.
  5. What is the best book you’ve read on missions? William Carey by S. Pearce Carey.
  6. Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of missionaries? The Swiss missionaries who translated the Bible into Tsonga. The Welsh missionaries who translated the Bible and evangelized in Madagascar in the early 1800’s.
  7. What is the best advice you have ever received? “Where’d you learn to preach like that?” A question not meant as a compliment by a man who heard me preach in 2002. It produced a crisis that led me to expositional preaching.

Missionary Minds: Wuori in Ecuador

P1030673Steve Wuori, his wife Veronica and their three children minister in Ecuador. Saved at 27, he entered seminary at 28, and at 31—one month after graduation—arrived on the mission field. His tasks include church planting, education, jail ministry, and evangelism in the Amazon jungle. He has worked with Latinos but mostly with Kichwa and Shuar Indians.

  1. Who or what played the greatest role in your call to missions? When I first arrived at seminary I was averse to becoming a pastor. Then God gave me a desire to preach. Then He gave me a desire for missions. I thought that the US had received the Gospel and was full of churches. Other places have not received the Gospel and are without churches. As Paul wrote in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” I had studied Spanish for 7 years in high school and college and saw this as God preparing me for a work even while I was an unbeliever. Shadow of the Almighty had the most direct impact regarding where my place of service would be.
  2. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Any missionary who is not planting reproducing churches through discipleship, training pastors, and allowing the congregants to do their own work including establishing their own buildings is making a mistake. Where I minister, missionaries will go to a place, evangelize for a few days, and then leave someone with almost no biblical knowledge as the “leader” of the “church.” They return sporadically to visit one of their numerous church plants. What would our heroes of yesteryear say about this?
  3. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? With what may be called my “lack of success”, I look to the Old Testament saints who were also called to preach where the people would not heed their call to repentance: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Noah, Lot.
  4. What adventurous tale in your current context can you tell us? Our arrival in the jungle was met with a town meeting. We were summoned and threatened with stoning and the burning of our home if we did not immediately leave. I pulled out the machete for the first time and cut a path through the thick jungle brush for my wife to flee if they came in the night. We prayed and trusted in God. I believed it was His calling for me to remain in that place. The Indians never attacked.
  5. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Death threats, disease, continual sickness due to poor drinking water and unsanitary living conditions, animal attacks, witchcraft.
  6. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first arrived? (1) Not to build a church with my own money or mission funds. (2) The Indians hatred of the white man. (3) That I would not be immune to the lack of success in planting churches in the jungle.
  7. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? I’d like to change the word from “misunderstood” to “unknown” or “incomprehensible.” The deep-seated Indian hatred of the white man consumes so many of them.
  8. What missionaries (past or present) have been most influential on you? Jim Elliot, John Paton, Hudson Taylor, Paul Schlehlein
  9. What is the best advice you have ever received? If there is anything else you can do, do it, because when you are suffering only your call will get you through.
  10. The biggest blind spot Western churches have in relation to missions is _______. In many places where missionaries are located, there is no need for them. Most cities throughout the world are very similar to US cities in that they are full of churches. Missionaries should go to the places where the Gospel is not being preached, or establish pastoral training centers in the already evangelized areas. Of course in some parts of the world there is a great need for orphanages and other such missionary work.

Missionary Minds: McPhail in Cambodia

Missionary Minds is a series of ten-question exchanges with missionaries around the world.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.34.16 PMForrest McPhail and his family have been involved in church planting and evangelism in Cambodia for most of 15 years. He has worked with missionaries from several different missions in several locations, including the capital city of Phnom Penh, the rural provincial capitals of Pursat and Samraong, and most recently, the city of Siem Reap. Presently, he is seeking ways to assist other missionaries, particularly those laboring in Cambodia.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You think it is the height of spirituality; you think it the greatest way for Christians to prove their devotion to Christ; you are not primarily concerned with evangelism and being a cross-cultural disciple maker; you are not willing to make long-term sacrifices
  2. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? People fail to understand the spiritual pressures and oppression faced on the mission field. They only think of missions in practical categories. People tend to think that missionaries do not need spiritual accountability, and rarely offer any. I have literally asked maybe five pastors over the years to provide some kind of regular spiritual accountability for me, and none have done so.
  3. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first arrived? Almost everything I know now I did not know when I first arrived! That is one reason why I wrote my book!
  4. Who or what played the greatest role in your call to missions? Pastors that took my burden for Gospel ministry seriously when I was in junior high and high school made a huge impact on me. When it came to missions, God used missionaries serving in Thailand (Jim Hayes) and Cambodia (J.D. Crowley) to direct us to where to serve in cross-cultural missions.
  5. What role does the foreign language play in your ministry? Absolute necessity for witness and discipleship. Cambodians are increasingly studying English, but very few speak English well enough to understand the Gospel and its truths without the use of their own language, Khmer. English teaching, or allowing Cambodians to practice their English on you, can be an effective means of building relationships in the community—just don’t do it in your church meeting place!
  6. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? The movement of peoples, diasporas, and the ease of travel and access to many places has added whole new dimensions. There is a need to cooperate more and realize that we are sowing and watering in conjunction with others like never before. Lone missionaries tackling large areas are no longer the need many places today.
  7. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Greater pressure to perform; the burden of beginning ministry in darker places of the world; genuine spiritual fellowship and accountability options are limited; it is easier to get caught in narrow-mindedness if missionaries are not actively fellowshipping with others; sin problems and ministry deficiencies and problems can go undetected much more easily; temptation to be in a state of continual doubt over what you are to do because you are solely in charge of your daily life and ministry.
  8. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Trusting in the power of money over the power of the Gospel; trusting the methods and giftedness over the power of the Holy Spirit; lacking faith in what the Gospel can do, and what it is doing, through them; counting success according to visible and measureable attainments; frustration at God when He does not work according to our ambitions or timetable; failing to take prayer supporters seriously.
  9. What is the best book you’ve read on missions? Let the Nations Be Glad (Piper); The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (Nevius); Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours (Plummer and Terry); Building on Firm Foundations (McIlwain); Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Allen); The Indigenous Church (Hodges); We are Not the Hero (Johnson)
  10. If we visited you, what is the place we would have to see? Angkor Wat and its many temples are among the World Heritage sites and are one of the few remaining wonders of the ancient world still standing. In the last twenty years, Angkor Wat and its temples, located in Siem Reap, have become one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world. They are monuments to the world system apart from God in every way, and will get you stirred up to preach the Gospel!

Review: The Bondage of the Will

Martin Luther, Baker, 1525/1957, 322 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.19.57 PMEarly in the 16th century, two great minds collided on a topic with tremendous implications. On one side was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist scholar of unsurpassed learning. No one in Europe could rival his deftness in linguistics. His witty tongue was evident in his best-selling satire In Praise of Folly.

Though Erasmus was an ardent Roman Catholic, he was not a theologian, nor did he care to be. And the amicable Erasmus would rather do his fighting behind a desk than brawl behind a pulpit. As one author put it, he could never stand contra mundum.

It would be difficult to find an equal mind with greater dissimilarity than Martin Luther. He was the antithesis of everything Erasmus valued. Bombastic and brash, Luther had been convinced monasticism was the surest way to heaven—that is, until he found the Gospel in Romans 1:17. His Ninety-Five Theses, previously idling in the parking lot, would now be parked just outside the Vatican.  Continue reading