What I Read in 2019

It is difficult to understate the value of reading books. As someone said, you need grist for your mill. The books are the grain, your mind is the mill, and your imagination bakes the bread. We need to eat the bread, so make sure it is fresh, and make sure there is plenty of honey butter.

So make sure you find the best books, turn off the TV, get up an hour earlier and read, read, read.

I’m thankful for my books. These are some of my best friends. Their truths keep me going.

My 2019 book reviews can be found here. If you want to skip ahead to just the five-star books, you can look here.

A fuller list of some of the books I read in 2019 and beyond can be found here. My Book of the Year was The Father of Faith Missions by Robert Dann. My Surprise Book of the Year was Passions of the Heart by John Street.

Review: Flags Out Front

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2018, 2016 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: a satirical novel mocking the worst of evangelicalism to show all things rest beneath Christ’s feet

This book brims with current and vital themes in the church: courage under fire; weaponized apologies; strong, chivalrous masculinity; talented, clever femininity; the leprous effects of spineless Christianity; vapid feminism; Islam and her fruit; theological liberalism.

Wilson packages all this in a funny little novel, sprinkles in some romance, rebukes us for our fear and urges us to fight! The Christian flag story is just a platform for Wilson to show that Christ should reign at home, at school, and in the public square.

Pros: Wilson picks the right people to be the heroes. Hollywood loves carrying Jezebel and Ahab away on their shoulders. Not Wilson. I want my sons to be like the college kid Trevor (tough, competitive, and engaged to be married) and my wife to stay like Maria (savvy, beautiful, manager extraordinaire). And I want to be like Dr. Tom: humble and courageous. Wilson knows who the good guys are. These are the ones we’re to imitate (1Cor. 11:1). Continue reading

Review: The New Pastor’s Handbook

Jason Helopoulos, 2015, Baker, 208 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: forty-eight brief chapters of warning and encouragement for new pastors

The genius of this book by Helopoulos (current pastor of University Reformed in Michigan) isn’t necessarily the insight or profundity but the short, direct, biblical, and practical chapters. One can imagine a busy pastor having a young pastor-to-be that needs mentoring. What resource could he turn to?

He grabs the Handbook along with the young intern, bows in prayer, reads the Scripture heading, and then studies the 2-4 page chapter together. Once the parson provides the necessary explanations and fillers on calling, leadership, sermon prep, candidating, hospital visits or whatever the topic may be, an hour and a half has flown by and the meeting is over. Continue reading

Review: Do More Better

Tim Challies, 2015, Cruciform Press, 120 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: a brief, contemporary, biblical, and practical guide to productivity

A couple years ago I reviewed a book on productivity by Kevin DeYoung. This paperback by Challies is about half the size, more practical and just as good. Tim Challies is a family man and pastor that writes a lot. He posts daily on one of the most well-known Christian blogs in the world. He gets a lot done. He writes here to give some tips.

Overview and Strengths: The book contains twelve concise and helpful chapters. Chapter one lays the foundation by giving the readers a six-question catechism on productivity. For example, “What is productivity? Answer: productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I like Challies’ format here. Chapter two describes three productivity thieves. I struggle most with the second.  Continue reading

Review: Marriage as a Covenant

Gordon Hugenberger, Baker, 1998, 340 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: Malachi 2:10-16 teaches conclusively that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.

Years ago I wrote my seminary thesis on polygamy. I thought the most difficult question would be: “What should I do with polygamists wanting to join my church?” I instead walked away from that paper scratching my head and asking: “What exactly is marriage?”

That is, at what moment does it officially begin?  Does marriage start when the bride price is paid, or when there are vows? What if a couple of four decades never exchanged vows? Is marriage an agreement between families, as many today in Africa espouse? What consummates a marriage, the vows or the sexual union? Do answers to these questions differ within various cultures?

Hugenberger–former longtime prof at Gordon-Conwell and pastor of the historic Park Street Church–has been an invaluable aid in helping me unravel these conundrums, especially in the African culture I reside in where the parameters of marriage are often unclear. Though he writes primarily to Westerners, the insights remain indispensable to my setting. Continue reading

Review: Friends of Calvin

Summary: Twenty-four biographical sketches of Calvin’s closest friendships
This wasn’t a page turner but I’d still recommend the book because the chapters are short and the topic of friendship is sparse today in Christian literature. I should say books on godly masculine friendship are rare, not this.
Friends are often best at pointing out another’s weaknesses. Calvin knew he didn’t always have an easy personality. His friends undoubtedly noticed as well. But Calvin also seemed to value friendship more than most because his marriage was short and he had no children. Friends filled in the gaps.
Strengths: There were a number of interesting points about Calvin’s friendships. For example, most of his friends were not from Geneva where he ministered most of his life. Many Genevans were his enemies. His bond with Viret (over four hundred surviving letters between them) was built on trust—Calvin confiding in him some of his most embarrassing sins.

Continue reading

Review: God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel

Costi Hinn, Zondervan, 2019, 224 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an autobiography of Benny Hinn’s nephew and how he finally left the prosperity gospel and found Christ.

You want a history of the prosperity gospel (PG) in America? Read Bowler. A theological treatise against the PG movement? Read Strange Fire. But suppose you have a buddy at work with anointing oil in his cubicle and bumper stickers flashing Isaiah 53:5 (“with his wounds we are healed”). He loves TBN. He reads everything Crefloe Dollar and Joyce Meyer put out. He’ll never pick up a hardcover by Justin Peters or Johnny Mac.

This might be the book to give him. Sometimes stories that put you in the moment (“I carried cash–a lot of cash”, p. 57) can be more convincing than assertions. Benny Hinn is perhaps the world’s most well-known prosperity evangelist. Benny grooming his nephew to be his successor, only for Costi to abandon this teaching and move to orthodox Christianity would be like the brother of the infamous atheist Christopher Hitchens coming to faith in Christ. This happened by the way. God has a sense of humor. Continue reading

Review: African Christian Theology

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, Hippo Books, 2012, 250 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a simplified and abridged theology covering the major themes of systematics and applied to African life today

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop (SWK) wants to be true to Scripture and writes African Christian Theology (ACT) in an effort to take the African situation seriously. This is a thoughtful yet rare contribution to the African church and deserves to be read carefully.

Strengths: (1) ACT interprets theology contextually. Why an African Theology? SWK is correct that “Scripture is always interpreted within a context” (p. xiii). Thus, John MacArthur’s Biblical Doctrine written in 21st century America gives significant attention to doctrines like cessationism and gender roles when John Calvin’s Institutes does neither because it was written in 16th century France. SWK scratches where the African itches. He doesn’t waste time on proofs for God’s existence since rare is the African atheist. Continue reading

Review: A Company of Heroes

Tim Keesee, Crossway, 2019, 288 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: poetic journal entries of known and unknown missionaries and their stories

Below is my endorsement of Tim Keesee’s excellent recent work:

“Peopling that great heavenly choir is among the missionary’s greatest motivations. Tim Keesee compels us to sit at the feet of this great cloud of witnesses by presenting a kaleidoscope of missionary lives. From mosques to Mormons―from first world to third―he urges us to lock shields with the great soldiers and choristers of the past and present. In A Company of Heroes, Keesee writes brilliantly as a reporter and lover of gospel advance.”

Keesee is the founder of Frontline Missions International, an organization which works to spread the gospel to the least reached places in the world. He also produces the missionary documentary series Dispatches from the Front. While traveling around the world, he doesn’t fly at tree top level. He lives and breathes with the people–retelling their stories of trial and triumph.

Keesee is not only a gifted writer but seems to put great value on friendship and building relationships. He esteems what the St. Andrews Seven called “earnest conversation.” Much of what he chronicles are intimate and lively conversations.

Company covers twenty different countries and explores missionaries both time-worn (Georgi Vins, William Carey ) and modern (JD Crowley), well-known (Amy Carmichael) and obscure (Mei Li). I was edified by each chapter, especially chapter 15 “The Broken Sword.” It covers missionaries in Indonesia and explores the nature of risk and the aspect of taking handicapped children to the mission field.

Review: The Case for Classical Christian Education

Douglas Wilson, Crossway, 2003, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: Because all education is religious and incapable of being morally neutral, classical Christian education is the solution.

Wilson has been a head honcho in the classical and home school educational universe for decades. In his view, classical education (CE) is not a luxury but a necessity. Parents have a moral obligation to remove their children from government schools and provide them with a Christian education (Eph. 6:4)—the best option being classical Christian education.

CE is the teaching philosophy that wants to pass on the Western heritage. The goal of CE is rhetoric (a good man speaking well). But one can only reach rhetoric after the first two basic stages of learning: grammar and logic. Thus, the final product of clear thought is clear speech. Continue reading

Review: How to Get Unstuck

Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2018, 288 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: it’s not enough to protect your time. You must protect your focus.

“The Preciousness of Time” by Jonathan Edwards is the best teaching I’ve read on time management because of its theological rigor. From a productivity standpoint, however, Unstuck was more profitable. Matt Perman, a Christian that blogs at Whats Best Next, provides ten principles for maximum productivity. But his greatest contribution is the importance of focus–no easy thing in our preoccupied world.

The secret to effectiveness is concentration, which is focusing on one priority for an extended time.

Concentration gets more done better. The goal is “deep work”, a state of high concentration. It is a kind of super power that most people cannot perform because it has so many obstacles. The formula is: time spent x intensity of focus high quality of work produced. Effective people are able to concentrate (doing one thing at a time) for long periods on the most important things. This takes a lot of practice.

Pros: Perman has spent decades crafting excellent habits of time management. I didn’t want to forget his advice, so I consolidated his book into my own mnemonic device: F-O-C-U-S. (1) Fight distractions. These are the biggest obstacles to deep work because it kills flow. It’s crucial to finish one job at a time because incomplete tasks dominate our attention (“I still have to get this done”) and depletes energy (“I’m so stressed”). Personally, eliminating distractions during deep work includes seclusion, having no access to my phone, closing email and Evernote, doing online reading after the work day, no “work” post 5:30 pm, and no phone checks until after breakfast.

(2) Order the day according to priorities. There’s a difference between responsibilities (duties) and priorities (chief duties). It is vital to give our best, longest and most skilled time to priorities.  It’s not a priority if it doesn’t take high concentration. (3) Complete the task. Start and complete one job at a time. Bach and Handel composed one major work at a time. Rare freaks like Mozart that could do multiple works simultaneously are not the model.

(4) Use large chunks of time to accomplish deep work. Two small chunks of 2 hours are must less effective than one chunk of 4 hours. (5) Stop work when the day is over. End your day at a specific time so you can recharge. You’ll be less effective during the day if you tell yourself you can get tasks done late at night.

Cons: Perman is a Christian and Southern Seminary grad (MDiv in two years) that used to serve on staff at Desiring God. I wish he had used more Scripture in the book. Unstuck has a little too much business/CEO feel for my taste. But I never read books from that genre, so it probably was good for me.

Conclusion: Perman succeeds in convincing the reader to habitually prioritize his day and focus on important tasks for long periods of time. Read chapter 13 if you only have time for one. Chapters 1, 11-12, and 16 were helpful too.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more distracted we are, the more shallow our reflections; the shorter our reflections, the more trivial they are likely to be.”
  2. “If there is a ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective [people] do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” – Peter Drucker
  3. “Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day.”
  4. “The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” Cal Newport

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.

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

Review: Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad, Penguin Books, 1899/2007, 115 pages, 2 of 5 stars

This is a book about the darkness of the human heart. And while the book explores the depravity of specific social evils like colonialism and the African slave trade, this is really a work about man’s soul—the heart of darkness.

Marlow is the narrator who while resting on his steamboat in England tells his friends of his experience in “one of the dark places of the earth.” It appears he was given a job along the Congo River searching for ivory. His real task, however, was to track down an eccentric but savvy ivory trader named Kurtz.

While Marlow repairs his boat, he begins to learn the mysteries surrounding the man who dominates everyone he meets. He is powerful, influential … and evil. The suspense builds as Marlow labors to find the European genius forgotten in Africa, a man apparently near death.

Marlow discovers that it was Kurtz who ordered the natives to sabotage his steamboat. At first the reader is made to believe that Kurtz was “shamefully abandoned” (76), but soon discovers he attacked Marlow in an effort to remain in the heart of darkness as a god to the natives. Perhaps he played this game to obtain more ivory. Maybe he began to believe it. Witchcraft was involved (“it had horns—antelope horns, I think—on its head… some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt”).

Continue reading

Review: The Scripture Cannot Be Broken

ed. John MacArthur, Crossway, 2015, 336 pages, 4 of 5 stars

The Bible is without error, transmitted perfectly with the exact message God gave to mankind.

But the doctrine of inerrancy is under attack today like never before. Those in today’s religious (and evangelical) circles with a low view of Scripture are strangling the church, holding back from her the life-giving oxygen of an inerrant text.

From Spurgeon’s Down Grade Controversy, to German Liberalism, to Emergent Theology, the core argument remains the same: the human penman who transmitted Scripture must bring with them errors in biblical teaching.

The Scripture Cannot Be Broken champions a high view of Scripture. It compiles 14 of the greatest essays on inerrancy of the past 70 years, including authors like B.B. Warfield, J.I. Packer, and John Frame. It recounts the many ways people attack inerrancy, like nuancing inerrancy and infallibility, embracing pragmatic philosophy in the church, and promoting extra-biblical revelation. Often, this comes from the insatiable thirst for approval from academic elites.

The book also addresses a host of common objections to inerrancy, such as circular reasoning, human penman, presuppositionalism, the ambiguity of theópneustos, and the absence of the original autographs.

Conclusion: This book is applicable not only for Scriptural pessimists but biblical conservatives. Beware those in the latter camp. Rarely does one move from liberalism to orthodoxy. As Harold Lindsell said, it is often a one way street in the wrong direction (27).

I found the lists of what inerrancy is not in chapters 10 and 11 very helpful. The best chapter was “The Meaning of Inerrancy” by Paul Feinberg, with a close second going to author Robert Preus.

Excerpts:

  1. “It is impossible to avoid circularity of a sort when one is arguing on behalf of an ultimate criterion. One may not argue for one ultimate criterion by appealing to another.” (114)
  2. “One of the best ways to attack something is to demonstrate that it is unimportant.” (170)
  3. “In any realm of activity the supreme authority must be self-authenticating. It is impossible to get endorsement or confirmation of such utterances by appeal to some greater authority.” (207)
  4. “Although it is indeed a large and heavy burden to have to defend the Bible on all points, it is nevertheless necessary!” (269)
  5. “In Christ you have both the human and the divine without sin. In the Bible you have both the human and the divine without error.” (271)
  6. [By an honest critic of inerrancy] “The opposite of inerrancy is not errancy but the total infallibility of the Bible in matters of faith and practice [alone].” (282)

Review: Strange Fire

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2013, 352 pages, 4 of 5 stars

As one author put it: the Prosperity Gospel is Christianity’s version of professional wrestling–you know it’s fake but it nonetheless has entertainment value.

As a missionary in Africa, I value this book because the errors it addresses are deeply embedded among our people. The slogan “What I confess, I possess” was first coined in the early 20th century by a white American Baptist but is repeated thousands of times over in innumerable 21st century African churches. Continue reading

Review: John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides

John G. Paton, Banner of Truth, 1897/2013, 538 pp. 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of an island of cannibals, their journey out of darkness, and the man who led them to the light.

John G. Paton stands as one of the great missionaries in church history. He was an icon in his day—a household name in Great Britain and Australia. Contemporaries such as C. H. Spurgeon called him the ‘King of the Cannibals’. Continue reading

Review: Slave

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 225 pp. 3 of 5 stars

What is the most unforgivable notion in today’s world? Slavery is good.

In Slave, John MacArthur explores the paradox that people never stop being slaves. Pre-conversion, we are slaves to sin. Post-conversion, we are slaves to Christ. “Although you used to be slaves of sin…you became enslaved to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18, HCSB). Continue reading

Review: Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes

Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, 2015, 168 pages, 4 of 5 stars

If I may audaciously use a baseball analogy for a book published in a country not at all sympathetic to “America’s pastime”, Iain Murray’s Amy Carmichael was an unexpected curveball.

As perhaps the premier Christian biographer of our day, Murray has specialized in lengthy tomes on the lives of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, and J.C. RyleCarmichael, then–barely 150 pages–was a pleasant surprise. I suspect this brevity was in part due to Elisabeth Elliot’s already lengthy bio of Amy. Continue reading

Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-47-47-amThe Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for TruthGod in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtueand Above All Earthly Powers) and emphasizes the same five themes: Truth, God, Self, Christ, and Church.  Wells argues it takes no courage to call oneself a Protestant but much of it to live Protestant truths. This book is a damning and unfettered critique of modern-day evangelicalism. Continue reading

Review: This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism

Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, 304 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-28-29-pmExactly 130 years ago some Swiss missionaries living just a stone’s throw from our village drew attention to some particularly gruesome scenes of cannibalism in Elim.

The missionaries recorded most of these accounts in their private journals. And yet, the modern author (and revisionist) I was reading–now looking back at such claims–believes this material was most likely invented. “Missionaries embellish,” he would say cynically. “Foreign churches expect dramatic stories.” On and on. Continue reading

Review: Pulpit Aflame

Eds. Beeke and Benge, Reformation Heritage, 2016, 188 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-4-01-53-pmWe named one of our sons Lawson, so I was eager to read a book penned in Steve Lawson’s honor. Foundations of Grace is among the most influential books I have read. He is in the top three preachers I have ever heard and has always been a model of kindness in his conversations with me. Continue reading

Review: She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know About Building a Complete Daughter

Robert Wolgemuth, Focus on the Family, 1996, 2014, 256 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-10-43-56-pmI had never heard of Robert Wolgemuth until I watched “Unexpected Grace”, a video directed by my friend Nathan Bollinger for Revive Our Hearts Ministry. It tells the marvelous story of Wolgemuth’s marriage to Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

I found the video so intriguing that I decided to read one of his books. The first volume he ever published, She Calls Me Daddy, was also his best-seller. Since then he has written a number of other books, many of them on family. Having two daughters of my own, I figured this was a good place to start. Continue reading

Review: Wordsmithy

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2011, 128 pages, 3 of 5 pages

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-28-39-amWilson’s Blog and Mablog is the only blog I read consistently, not because we lock shields on every theological matter but because he is such a consummate writer.

So who better to publish a book on skillful scribble than a writing wiz like Wilson? The chapters divide into seven “hot tips” for writing–filled to the brim with advice like using the element of surprise, the importance of reading books on grammar, steering clear of word fussers and the goodly role of a verbal pack rat.

If you want to write well, find a model and follow him. Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy is a good place to start. It’s short, lively, and humorous.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more you know the more you can know.”
  2. “The writer’s life is a scrounger’s life.”
  3. “Interesting people are interested people.”
  4. “The mind is like a muscle, not an attic.”