Review: The Heart of the Bible

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2005, 143 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a list and explanation of fifty-two key passages every Christian should memorize

John MacArthur wanted to encourage his congregation to memorize more Scripture. He chose 52 passages that reflected ten main themes–the heart of the Bible. The 2-3 page explanations on each passage are theologically rich and easy to understand.

Pros: (1) This is a great book to give new Christians at their baptism. As they begin their Christian walk, these pages will encourage them to memorize and understand the Bible’s foundational passages.

(2) The book fits well into a one-year course. Our little African church is memorizing one passage for each week of the year.

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Review: Blessed

Kate Bowler, Oxford, 2013, 337 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: a lucid, concise and superbly researched historical account of the prosperity gospel—the best in print.

Bowler took years visiting health and wealth churches around the US in research for this book. Ironically, incurable colon cancer struck this young Duke professor as the book was going to print.

She argues the prosperity gospel (PG) centers on four themes: faith (a power turning words into reality), wealth (faith in the pocketbook), health (faith in the body), and victory (faith’s final goal). These topics became four of the five chapters.

The book’s subtitle (‘a history of the American prosperity gospel’) could just as well remove the word “American” since much of the PG round the world pulls from the US anyway.

Pros: (1) She names name by the hundreds. In this regard, she’s Paul-like (1Tm. 1:20). They called Puritan Richard Sibbes the sweet-dropper. Bowler is the name-dropper. She’s coming after you if you’ve influenced American prosperity over the past 100 years (e.g. Jakes, Cho, Lake, Bakker, Roberts, Meyer, Peale). Her favorite target is Joel Osteen. (2) Her tone isn’t polemical. She writes as an objective researcher. I consider this a plus because good arguments don’t need white knuckles and red faces to terrify the reader. (3) The lengthy bibliography on PG/Word of Faith works is invaluable.

(4) She must have researched a million pages of PG literature (cruel and unusual punishment) and then gives the reader the choicest dreck. For example, “Plant the seed of faith and put away the Washington’s” or this gem from Creflo: Dollar “I own two Rolls-Royces and didn’t pay a dime for them. Why? Because while I’m pursuing the Lord those cars are pursuing me” (p. 134). (5) Bowler excels at showing how earlier metaphysical mind-power repackaged itself into positive thinking (‘picturize, prayerize, actualize’) which repackaged itself into the modern prosperity message.

Cons: Besides the occasional Scripture reference, Bowler rarely interacts with the Bible. True, this is a history, but I expected more from a professor of religion.

Conclusion: Most missionaries and pastors should read this because most missionaries and pastors do battle royal against the PG in their ministry. This book gives the historical underpinnings of the deadliest poison within Protestant churches. The daily Christian should consider this hardback as well since “soft prosperity” (think Osteen) is more pervasive in the church and home than they know.

Quotes:

“[Speaking in tongues] became the gateway drug for other gifts of the spirit” (70).

“At Paula White’s Without Walls church, a feminine aesthetic pervaded the sanctuary and encouraged giving through the provision of floppy pink envelopes which tithers were encouraged to wave during the service” (129).

“John G. Lake and his ‘God-men’ theology pumped confidence into the veins of faith believers who called each other ‘overcomers,’ ‘dominators,’ and ‘little gods’” (179).

Review: What’s Your Worldview?

James Anderson, Crossway, 2014, 112 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an interactive storyline designed to help the reader identify and clarify their worldview and its implications.

Don’t read this little paperback from cover to cover. Follow the “Choose Your Own Adventure” plot to help you discover the consequences to your worldview (e.g. atheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc.) and other big questions (“Does God exist?” “Is there more than one true religion?”).

Pros: (1) Creative. The book is short. But it must have taken considerable thought to piece it together. (2) This is a nice, little title to give the unbeliever in the cubicle next to you. The size won’t intimidate him and it will make him think. (3) This is a good refresher on apologetic terms like Nihilism (what does that word mean again?) and Deism (“a halfway house on the road from Theism to Atheism”). (4) This is a good refresher on apologetic arguments, like why the problem of evil is harder for the atheist than the Christian. (5) His six-page intro on worldviews was excellent.

Cons: (1) Anderson tries to be unbiased but is sometimes timid (“some worldviews…walk with a pronounced limp”) or feeble (“the Christian worldview has a lot going for it”). Actually, all other worldviews are dead wrong! (2) The “end of the trail” on the Christian worldview was weak. If I traveled this far, at least give me a taste of Whitefield.

Quotables: “Worldviews are like [brains]: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one.” (12)

Review: Boyhood and Beyond

Bob Schultz, Great Expectations Book Co., 2004, 217 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Jane Austin wrote that surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

Even more surprising than quoting Emma in a review on masculinity is the shock I received after reading Bob Schultz’s book on raising boys. He’s a carpenter by trade, so that’s promising. But he’s also the father of three girls and no boys. Still, Boyhood and Beyond is superb. I’ve reviewed books on father’s bringing up daughters as well as raising sons. Schultz is the best I’ve read on the latter.

In past mornings I’ve read this paperback (or the sequel) at family worship to my wife and six children. It’s good for my daughters too because it teaches them traits to look for in a husband. The whole family loves it. Here are three reasons why.

First, the book is manly. You picture Schultz sitting down in his shed with rolled up flannel sleeves, writing with pencil and paper. There’s not a Macbook Air in his zip code. He’s old school. He quotes from the KJV and bolsters his points with masculine illustrations you want your sons to hear: shooting turkeys, chopping firewood, tending the orchard and fixing the chicken coop.

Second, the book is well-rounded. There are thirty-one chapters covering topics like hard work, the value of an old man, perseverance, initiative, overcoming temptation, and personal responsibility. But it’s not just a book on standard character traits. Where will you find a man encouraging your sons to make inventions, think in analogies, write thank-you letters or have a pilgrim mindset? You will here.

Finally, the book is biblical. Though I must say the illustrations and stories were the delicious appetizer and dessert of every chapter, the main course is always rooted in Scripture. On each page he teaches in a way young and old can understand. I’ve even used it as a discipleship tool with the male teens and twenty-somethings in our African village.

“Developing in manhood is a process,” Schultz writes. In a world that has lost its way regarding gender roles, Boyhood and Beyond is a great tool in helping boys become men.

John Paton Roundup

John G. Paton was one of the great missionaries to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. He labored during the Great Century of Missions at the same time as Adoniram Judson, William Carey and Hudson Taylor. His colleagues on the islands are lesser known because (1) many of them were killed and (2) those who survived were unable to publish an account as vivid and winsome  as Paton.

Improving upon Paton’s Autobiography is impossible–like trying to find an English word that rhymes with silver. Every page is special and deserves to be read by Dad at family devotions, missionaries before assailing the field, pastors in need of anecdotes, and kids in search of adventure.

But for those who cannot imagine reading a 500-page hardback published over a hundred years ago, consider my book on Paton’s life published by Banner of Truth.

Below are a few radio interviews I’ve had over the past year on the life of Paton. The programs cover Paton’s exploits and philosophy of ministry as well as some insight into our ministry here in South Africa.

  1. VCY America Radio
  2. Reaching and Teaching Podcast
  3. Janet Mefferd Radio

For some brief reviews of the book, check out Tim Challies and World Magazine.

Review: The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed to Love Homosexuals

Tim Bayly, Joseph Bayly, Jurgen Von Hagen, Warnorn Media, 2017, 180 pages, 5 of 5 stars

As the car of American culture hurls off the cliff of biblical morality, it’s good to know there are still faithful men that can see through the fog of today’s sexual revolution.

One example is Tim Bayly and his book The Grace of Shame: Seven Ways the Church has Failed to Love Homosexuals. Bayly is a PCA pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana (one of America’s gay meccas) and a contributor at the insightful blog warhornmedia.com.

The subtitle makes one think this is just another liberal Christian apologizing for the church’s Neanderthal oppression of today’s sexual minorities. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Continue reading

Review: Only a Prayer Meeting

Charles Spurgeon, Christian Heritage, 2010, 254 pages, 4 of 5 stars

What happened to the prayer meeting? First we changed the name to “mid-week service.” Now it’s gone altogether.

It is common these day for churches to abandon the Sunday PM gathering. The prayer meeting is even less popular. Surgeon grabs us by the lapels and urges the reader never to abandon this sacred task. “I would have you vow that the prayer meeting shall never be given up while you live” (137).

This book is a series of studies on prayer meetings and prayer meeting addresses. Most people would yawn and close the book at this point, but Spurgeon is so full of verve, insight, color and illustration, the pages turn quickly. Continue reading