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.

Murray keeps the story moving with colorful descriptions of Amy’s life as a missionary in India. Several things made her a non-conformist and a woman ahead of her time. She never married and yet was the unquestioned leader of the orphanage–even when qualified men arrived. She was Keswick in her theology and determined by nature. She arrived in India in 1895 and died there in 1951 without ever taking a furlough. She is known primarily for her deep affection of the Indian orphans at Dohnavur and the dozen or so books she penned, including If and Things as They Are. 

Murray doesn’t hide her flaws but does not succumb either to today’s unmitigated penchant for discovering something (anything!) to criticize about the hero of the story. For example, he is insightful enough to see that Amy’s ugly split with Stephen Neill–though heartbreaking–was the right thing to do. Neill (A History of Christian Missions) certainly made many contributions to missions, but some of his liberal ideas would later vindicate her.

On a personal note, our ministry is already benefiting from this bio. Amy’s “brown eye/blue eye illustration” I used in a sermon recently has been making its way through our rural African congregation to the great delight of the villagers. This is an excellent read for young people, laymen, mothers, and girls interested in missions, though the gold standard of Amy’s life still remains the work by Elisabeth Elliot.

Advertisements

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.

Most striking about Pulpit Aflame is the lineup of contributors. It’s an All-Pro of preachers, a roster including MacArthur, Sproul, Ferguson, Beeke, and Thomas. Chapter one is a biography of Lawson’s life and ministry, with the next twelve chapters discussing the mandate, meaning, motivation, and method of preaching.  Continue reading

Review: For the Glory of God

Daniel Block, Baker, 2014, 432 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-8-05-57-amFor the Glory of God is a clear and concise biblical theology on the nature of worship. If worship were a golf ball, each chapter would commence at the tee box of Genesis and finish on the greens of Revelation.

Daniel Block is an OT scholar at Wheaton College, the author of numerous books and the senior translator of the NLT Bible. His goal in For the Glory of God is this: how does one determine the right kind of worship? The answer is crucial, for in the modern world, one’s “worship style” has become the church’s calling card—the ID that every visitor requests. “These days if people ask what kind of church you attend, they are probably not inquiring about denomination, but about worship style: traditional, liturgical, or contemporary?” (Loc. 180) Continue reading

Review: The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters

Albert Mohler, Bethany House, 2012, 225 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-6-14-00-amMohler argues that far too much of what passes for leadership today is mere management. “Without convictions you might be able to manage, but you can never really lead.” (26-27)

The author has room to talk. At 33 years old, Mohler took over as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary–an enormous but theologically sinking organization. Since then, he has led the school through one of the greatest institutional turnarounds in modern history. Seminaries almost always move left. Rarely do they become more conservative, but that is exactly what happened at SBTS. In the book he pulls often from what he learned through those difficult years and how it has helped him as a leader. He does a great job throughout the book of creating ethos.

This would be an excellent book for the church leadership to read through. Anyone who knows Mohler immediately recognizes his rare intellectual acumen. He is biblical, courageous, and relevant. As I read, I found myself greatly motivated to become a better leader in my church and home.  Continue reading

Review: A Serrated Edge

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2013, 121 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-4-37-12-pmIs sarcasm, ridicule and scorn a valid weapon of communication for Christians? Erasmus tried it; Luther perfected it. But what about today’s Christian?

Is satire like formal debates: fun to do but not persuasive to the masses? It isn’t the argument people hate but the vehicle in which it is carried. Right? Maybe Erasmus would have changed had Luther not been so cheeky. Why anger your opponent by angering him with mockery?

Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church (Moscow, Idaho), argues satire is a lost art and is both legitimate and good. Jesus used it and so should we—provided we do so skillfully. He writes:

A common argument against the satiric approach is that it is counterproductive; it turns people off. The problem with this argument is that it is simply not true. A certain kind of person is turned off, that is true enough, but another kind of person is attracted to the ministry because of it and flourishes there (loc. 943).

Strengths and Weaknesses 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: 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