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

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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

Review: The Five Points of Calvinism

The Five Points of Calvinism is a concise and convenient description of the doctrines of grace. First published in 1963, the second edition was published in honor of its fortieth anniversary. Although the new edition is three times larger and offers a plethora of new insight, the body is essentially the same.

The subtitle of the book is also the outline: “defined, defended and documented”. The first 15 pages explain the history of Calvinism. The bulk of this section pairs off the five points of Calvinism against the five points of Arminianism in order to demonstrate their differences.

In the second section, the authors use 55 pages to defend the five points. One by one, the authors present the points, defined and defended by scores of Scripture texts. For instance, just in the section on “irresistible grace” alone, the authors use 103 Scripture verses.

Finally, the book concludes with several appendices, of which I found McGuire’s “A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism”, Spurgeon’s “A Defense of Calvinism” and Daniel’s “The Practical Applications of Calvinism” to be very helpful.

The final section of the body (also the largest—60 pages) presents recommended reading. Three hundred and twenty-eight sources (compared to 104 in the first edition) are documented in annotated bibliography form, which was compiled by Quinn and proofed by Curt Daniel. I found this extremely helpful.

Because the authors contend that there are “thousands and thousands” of works on Calvinism, a condensed summary was helpful. I narrowed the list even more to twenty.

  1. Analysis of the Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin—Ford Battles (421 pages). Battles would take his students through this analytical study of Calvin’s magnum opus in one semester.
  2. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination—Loraine Boettner (435 pages). “Best overall treatment of the subject…one of those rare books that is profitable for both the beginner and the more advanced student.”
  3. The History and Theology of Calvinism—Curt Daniel (521 pages). “One of the most helpful and readable treatments of Calvinism in print. Worth its weight in gold!” Only available through Reformed Bible Church in Springfield, Illinois. Find MP3s here.
  4. The Deeper Faith—Gordon Girod (135 pages). “One of the clearest and most convincing statements of the distinguishing doctrines of the Reformed Faith that can be found anywhere.”
  5. Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views—Dave Hunt and James White (427 pages). “Grew out of …White’s response to…What Love Is This? This book has a debate format and could well go down as the most lopsided debate in church history.”
  6. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God—J.I. Packer (126 pages). Because of its high quality, this book has remained in print for over forty years.”
  7. Sermons on Sovereignty—Charles Spurgeon (256 pages). Includes a brief sketch of Spurgeon’s life and a selection of 18 sermons dealing with some aspect of Calvinism or the sovereignty of God.
  8. Reformed Theology in America—David Wells (287 pages). “This is an outstanding book with a wealth of information and background on the shapers of Reformed theology in America.”

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Review: Darwin on Trial

Philip Johnson, IVP, 1993, 220 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 2.15.50 PMNo statement serves as a clearer harbinger than the title of Johnson’s fifth chapter: “The Fact of Evolution”. While Johnson deftly illustrates that evolutionists do not know how large-scale evolution could have occurred, it is still considered fact in most scholarly circles.

Johnson’s goal is to show that Darwinian evolution has no evidence to prove that biological innovations took place; this was most clearly proven in the first several chapters, which deal with the theoretical (natural selection), experimental (mutations), and historical (fossil record) difficulties that Darwinism faces.

Johnson’s thorough critique on the Darwinian/evolutionary system unearths the clandestine presuppositions of modern-day evolutionists by debunking their faulty logic and showing evidence contrary to the evolutionary system.

Weaknesses

Early on, Johnson tips his hand that he is not a “Biblical fundamentalist” (later defined as a literal, young earth creationist) nor is he sympathetic towards them. Still, he admits that he is a Christian, though his particular slant is that of theistic evolution. He says, “whether animals evolved more than once remains an open question as far as fossils are concerned” (79) and assumes that there were “transitional steps between apes and humans” (85).

Johnson also concedes far too much. After examining some Darwinian evidence, he admits, “birds did somehow develop from dinosaur predecessors” (81). He even appears to soften the Darwinist’s motives by implying that their theory is not presented with “the intent to deceive” (118).

Strengths

First, I enjoyed a critique on the Darwinian theory as seen through a lawyer’s eyes. Lawyers know how slippery language in debates work (e.g. Darwin used the double negative “not immutable” to describe species). Johnson deftly analyzed the motives, presuppositions, and evidences behind every claim of the Darwinists.

Second, I enjoyed the plethora of logical errors that were exposed on the part of the Darwinists (e.g. 34).

Things I learned

First and foremost, Darwinist’s have a religious motive. Man has no value because there is no God to place value upon him. Even if the evolutionary theory is filled with holes, it is believed because the only other alternative is intelligent design, something unthinkable to the Darwinist.

I also learned that evolutionists are militant. Those who do not accept their theory are called stupid, insane, and ignorant. “Theories” with no evidence (like the Piltdown man) are presented as fact as long as possible until it is finally debunked (e.g. Chapter 11 and the graphic account of zealous Darwinists).

“Natural selection” is the Darwinist’s replacement of God. To use the words of Richard Dawkins, it is the “blind watchmaker” that is capable of producing new kinds of organs and organisms. In order for natural selection to take place, however, two things are needed: massive amounts of time and some kind of intelligent force behind it.

Finally, the deathblow to the Darwinian theory is the historical fossil record. According to Johnson, historically, it is this record, not clergymen and preachers, which was the most formidable opponent to Darwinism. Darwin called the fossil problem “the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory” (47).

In sum, Johnson logically and scientifically exposes the myriad of problems behind the Darwinian theory. I would highly recommend this book.

Review: How to Help People Change

Jay Adams, Zondervan, 2010, 224 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.57.27 PMJay Adams is old school, confident, biblical, and one of my favorite authors. For those interested in counseling and wanting an introduction to his work, this would be a start. Pastors are his audience but a thoughtful mother or layman could handle it.

The author’s big point is that preachers teach in order to change lives. We do not proffer bare facts for the intellect. Our byword is Colossians 1:9-10. How does such change come about? It begins on the inside. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for only having outward righteousness (Mt. 5:20).

Adams says this divine inward change comes by carefully following the four steps in 2 Timothy 3:16 (teaching, conviction, correction, disciplined training in righteousness), which divides the four major portions of this book.

A Summary

The first section is on “teaching for the long haul”, as Adams puts it. He encourages pastors to resist their natural reaction to skimp in their instruction by ending counseling upon the first sin of relief, and then hoping the problem won’t recur. Often the drunkenness or fornication continues and God’s name is dishonored. His solution is to teach (i.e. explain and apply) Jesus’ words about radical amputation and the need to take preemptive measures against future sin. He makes heavy use of milieu teaching, homework, and the three-step promise in 1 Cor. 10:13.

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