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.

Think of Strange Fire (2013) as the sequel to Charismatic Chaos (1992). Same topics but tighter arguments and updated names. A conference with the same name launched the book. Heavy praise and criticism followed. In typical fashion, MacArthur goes right for the jugular. He rebukes dozens of authors and preachers (e.g. Hinn, Copeland, Osteen) in nearly 600 footnotes. He tackles nearly every key passage from the opposing side, and—contra media allegations—does not address just the extreme cases. He pinpoints the errors of orthodox men he would call friends, like John Piper, Don Carson, and Wayne Grudem. Continue reading

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Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching

Alec Motyer, Christian Focus, 2013, 148 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-1-49-40-pmThe renowned British scholar Alec Motyer passed on to glory a few months ago. For all of his academic accomplishments, his book on Bible proclamation shows he was first and foremost a preacher.

Why have a book on preaching anyway? Aren’t preachers born, not made? Motyer says most sermons are poor because they are muddled (“muddle is the characteristic mark of the ill dressed window, the careless baker, and the bad sermon”). So a preacher can improve if only he learns to be plain and unmistakable. Not everyone can be a good preacher, says the author, but no one need be a bad preacher. Continue reading

Review: Parables

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2015, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-11-28-28-amI was very much helped by this recent book by MacArthur on the parables because he corrects so much sloppy thinking about the parables. Yes, the parables made hard truths understandable to those with ears to hear. But they also purposefully hid truths to those with hardened hearts. The latter is an idea rarely heard.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand….’You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive’ (Mt. 13:13-14).

MacArthur addresses about a dozen of the forty or so parables. The chapters are short and Scripture saturated, making the book a great tool for Bible studies. And as with any MacArthur book, expect no political correctness or nuance, as seen in his explanation of the rich man and Lazarus: “Jesus’ primary intent is to produce in sinners a terror of eternal hell….Hell is punitive, not remedial. People in hell don’t get better” (170, 174).

Review: Paul the Missionary

Eckhard Schnabel, IVP, 2008, 518 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-59-09-amFrom time to time, most missionaries have asked themselves why their ministry is not as successful as the Apostle Paul’s. “I must be using the wrong strategy,” we groan. And it is certainly understandable to search for patterns in his ministry in hopes of garnering the same triumphs. But Paul was fruitful, Schnabel argues, not because of methods but because of the Holy Spirit’s work.

This theme is among the many reasons I consider Paul the Missionary among the top five books I have read on missions. It is a challenge to missionaries to (re)evaluate the goals and methods of their ministry in light of the work of the apostle Paul.

Schnabel’s goal is to examine “Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods he used” (30).

And just in case we were wondering what a missionary is, he defines him as one who establishes contact with unbelievers, proclaims to them the gospel, leads them to Christ, and integrates them into a local church.

Did Paul have a missionary strategy? Schnabel says no in that he didn’t use a carefully nuanced, well-formulated game plan but yes in that he did have a broad and flexible goal to preach the gospel to as many people as possible while relying predominantly upon the Spirit’s power to change lives.

Common Misconceptions about Paul and Missions

Schnabel’s greatest strength is exposing popular misconceptions about missions and Paul’s ministry. I have consolidated six of them:  Continue reading

Review: The Power of Speaking God’s Word

Ellsworth, Christian Focus, 2000, 144 pages, 3 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-9-22-55-pmPaper is a poor conduit of heat. So are sermon manuscripts poor conduits for preaching. So says Ellsworth on this paperback about preaching memorable sermons.

Here is a book on the oral nature of preaching, an exploration of what spoken communication (orality) means for the proclamation of God’s Word. Continue reading

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.