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.

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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)