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: 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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Review: Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal

David Gordon, P & R, 2010, 192 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.20.06 PMThe author of this fascinating book is an Anglican who listens to Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin on weekdays but sings high church hymns on Sunday. Why can’t Johnny sing hymns? According to Gordon, it is because he’s addicted to pop culture.

Gordon’s goal is to find out why we have a preference for music that is often literarily, theologically, or musically inferior. He labors to show the inferiority of CCM and why it is an example of “impoverished congregational praise.”

Gordon is wary of using contemporary music in worship services at all, objects to its common use and zealously opposes exclusive use.

Strengths

The greatest value of this book is its emphasis on the style of music, a subject most modern worship books avoid altogether. I once asked Keith Getty if style was neutral. He said yes. But for Gordon, style matters.

Why do we attend a birthday party in a clown suit but not a funeral? Why not use a kazoo at a wedding? Style is not just a matter of personal taste. Style sends a message, like when Rick Warren wears open casual shirts to preach but a suit at Obama’s inaugural address. All music sends a message. Gordon thinks that the message of CCM is entertainment.

Another area where Gordon excels is that he forces those who comply with his perspective to go all the way. You can’t agree with his position and then listen to “Joyful, Joyful” while changing the oil in your car. Sacred music is that which is deliberately and self-consciously different from other forms of music. What does this say about those traditions that listen to Christian music all the time?

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Book Review: Addictions

Edward Welch, P&R (2001), 320 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.26.50 PMVoluntary slavery. This is how Edward Welch defines addiction. His thesis: the root problem of our addictions is not genetic makeup but ultimately a disorder of worship. He centers on addictions like alcohol and drugs but also addresses lying, pornography, overeating, and laziness.

Regarding the last point, my wife once asked our neighbor if she has any hobbies. “Sleeping”, was her reply. This book could help her.

Welch gets the big issue right. Addictions are not the fault of chemical imbalances. The deepest problem is sin, meaning the greatest solution is the gospel. He also shines when digging deeply into the psychological nature of sin, by “psychological” I mean in relation to the mind, not lying on a couch hitting a pillow tagged “Dad”. He is a bit soft on Alcoholics Anonymous but that is quibbling.

Husband, Father, Pastor, Preacher

As father and husband, I was convicted that anger is an addiction (see quote #8 below). As a pastor, I was convicted for not being more approachable. “Ask family members. Are you perceived as humble and patient by those close to you? Are you quick to anger? If so, no one is going to be eager to speak honestly with you” (70).

As a preacher, I need to be more practical in the pulpit. Welsh gives 7 behaviors to spot addicts, 8 ideas for private worship, and 14 ways to remember you are in a battle. P-r-a-c-t-i-c-a-l. He uses every weapon available, be it role-play, homework, or illustrations. Who said Presbyterians aren’t teetotalers? He rails against gateway drugs like cigarettes and alcohol and reminds us that addiction is monolithic. “Everything is alcohol (drug, food, sex) soluble.” Whatever the addiction, it can dilute guilt, alleviate depression, bring pleasure and quiet loss.

Excerpts

  1. Perhaps no other narrative portrays the irrational nature of sin so clearly [than Samson in Judg. 13-16]. With Delilah his lust defied all reason. Over and over she was exposed as a betrayer, yet Samson was intoxicated with her. Although aware of her plotting, his desire still blinded him. (57).
  2. Satan and sin are like wild animals (1Pt. 5:8; Gn. 4:7). There is no subtlety here. No wooing, attractive women. No idol that holds out promises it can’t keep. This is just plain old in-your-face, rip-you-apart warfare. Sin and Satan victimize. They enslave. (60)
  3. Addicts must know that they are being given a gift, and those who are helping addicts must know how to give this gift in a way that reflects its cost and beauty. Beautiful gifts must be presented in the most attractive way possible. Ask the person, “Does what we talk about sound like condemnation, or does it sound like a beautiful gift?” (63)
  4. When an addict is caught, excuses are masterful. They are offered immediately, without hesitation. They are bold, without averted eyes or a hint of “I just got found out.” Inevitably, they will somehow make friends and loved ones feel guilty. (75)
  5. [Use a gentle tongue]. If there is going to be a battle, you want it to be between the person and God, not between the person and yourself. (94)
  6. Being rebuked is not the same thing as being hypocritically judged. (114)
  7. We can quickly identify [evil] temptations by asking ourselves which of our desires prefer to stay in the dark. Which desires do we want to hide from certain people? (230)
  8. Let’s say a husband and father is dominated by anger. When he gives into his rage, he verbally abuses his family and destroys property. Rage is his addiction; he wants it. (241)

Review: What is the Mission of the Church?

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, Crossway, 2011, 283 pages

missionI enjoyed this book. Here’s a whirlwind summary of the ten chapters. (1) The mission of the church is the Great Commission (i.e. making disciples, preaching the gospel). “Mission” is hard to define because it is not a biblical word and it is so broad. Don’t use “ought” for so many kinds of ministries. (2) Several of the most common social justice texts (e.g. Lk. 4:16-21) don’t stand up to scrutiny. The Great Commission is so important because it is a command, the NT has more weight than the OT, it contains Jesus’ final words and it sums up the gospel. “Missions” takes “mission” one step further.

(3) The gospel. (4) Wide and narrow focus on the gospel. (5) An already, not yet, George Ladd-like explanation of the kingdom. (6) A lengthy discussion on the 12 most common social justice passages: Lev. 19:9-18 (love and be generous but oppression doesn’t equal inequality), Year of Jubilee (this was given to a Jewish, agrarian society under the Mosaic covenant), Isaiah 1 (oppression is sinful, not inequality), Isaiah 58 (we should help the poor), Jeremiah 22 (kings should judge fairly and not exploit), Amos 5 (do not excessively tax), Micah 6:8 (don’t steal, bribe or cheat), Matt. 25:31-46 (care for God’s messengers and you’ll be caring for Christ), Luke 10 (don’t love according to race or gender), Luke 16 (don’t love money more than Jesus), 2 Cor. 8-9 (voluntarily be generous with the poor), James 1,2,5 (don’t show favoritism but treat the poor with dignity.

(7) Seven modest proposals on social justice. Help the poor but focus on Christians. A theology of money is complex. “Social justice” is nebulous. The closer the need the greater moral obligation. Capitalism is good. (8) Shalom. (9) There are many good reasons for doing good, such as love, obedience, the gospel and character. (10) The mission of the church is the Great Commission. The worst thing in the world is not poverty, contrary to common belief.

DeYoung is relentlessly biblical—something somewhat unexpected from a young evangelical. If nothing else they successfully hammer home the point that social ministry is secondary because if the church does not plant, nurture and establish new churches, no one else will.

Some of their assertions made me pause and consider and nod and shake. These would be good discussion points around the kitchen table.

  1. Is it true that the “poor in Scripture are usually pious poor”? (175)
  2. Is it true that “we are not told that the Kingdom grows” and that Jesus is not teaching (Mark 4:26-29; 4:30-32) about the growth of the kingdom but that though unimpressive now it will have a glorious end? (133)
  3. Is it true that Christians, regarding God’s good gifts, should “enjoy them the most, need them the least, and give them away most freely”? (179)
  4. Is it true that “supporting AIDS relief in Africa is a wonderful thing to do” (186)
  5. Is it true that “poor nations are not poor because they are less industrious or less capable than workers in the West [but because they live in a corrupt society]”? (189)
  6. Is it true that we must be on guard against the counterfeit gospels of affluence and asceticism? (264).