The Book Blog

The Book Blog

December 12, 2018

Review of Francis Chan’s Newest Release


I think it’s safe to say many young Christians (and non-Christians) have grown somewhat tired of church in America. The ignorant caricature of an American Christian has hit the mainstream mindset—for reasons that are often valid. In his newest book, Francis Chan shares his similar concerns for the modern church in America and how he feels we need to do a much better job with Christ-centered community.

Chan makes a lot of very good points on his journey to discover the potential of intentional church in modern day America. He diagnoses many of its problems very accurately, especially in relation to the consumerist mindset of church attendees, in which church is all about what you get and not so much what you give. Many times people are looking to be served instead of serve others themselves. Also, the fact that many leaders can grow into a habit of subconsciously preaching to avoid criticism rather than teach the truth regardless of the response. Since, after all, large churches have to maintain a large budget, which also means maintaining as many people as possible. The risk of people disliking the church seems to outgrow the risk of not stewarding its people well.

So, in response, Chan teaches us how to be critics of church rather than participants.

This agenda has its strengths and weaknesses, since many Americans really do need to examine their hearts and spiritual lives and ask themselves, “Is there any fruit in this?” In contrast, there are others out there doing their best to fight against apathy, selfishness, or a lack of fruit. It seems impossible to suppose that every current leader needs to be either renewed or replaced.

The We Are Church model that Chan claims most closely resembles the New Testament model of church includes congregations of no more than 20 to 30 people meeting in homes and planting new churches every year. Its leadership is drawn out of the congregation, meaning there are always two men serving as elders and two more being trained as future elders and church planters. In addition, its pastors (who are almost always bivocational) pursue their careers while pastoring as they’re able. These pastors are generally not seminary-educated because of the speed at which churches grow and spread and the need for new leaders. Compared to most churches, the worship services have a deeper focus on Scripture-reading, prayer, and the expression of each participant’s spiritual gift.

His model, though with its strengths, also carries many obstacles. Much of the weight is placed on the shoulders of unpaid, sometimes untrained pastors. The majority of these pastors have divided attentions with their ministry since they also work to provide for their families, while some even live with Francis since they cannot afford their own place. One can’t help but wonder if this is a model that only Francis Chan could do: a successful pastor reaping the benefits of many public speaking occasions and books. Also, the multiplication of people (though in small groups instead of large) is still viewed as proof of success.

We Are Church was created after Chan left his mega church in California out of the fear it was becoming a cult of personality built upon him. However, does the same risk fall on a house church model that is also strongly balanced on his resources and convictions?

As Christians, we have a collective relationship with God as the body of His Church. At the same time, we also have personal, intimate relationships with God that are between ourselves and Him. I can’t help but feel Chan’s fears for the church are more than just the model in which we meet on Sundays, but also have to do with the personal apathy many have towards their personal relationships with their Savior. It is, indeed, a wretched thing.

November 20, 2018

Advent...like the chocolate calendar?


Does your knowledge of Advent start and end with those cardboard calendars that have perforated windows and chocolate? If so, you might want to brush up on some traditions of Christmas past.

The English word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” The season of Advent is a time when Christians are supposed to think about the coming of Christ, whose birth we celebrate at the end of December. Of course, Advent is in no way prescribed by the Bible as a necessary celebration or remembrance, it is simply observed as a season of the church or liturgical year. The season begins four Sundays before Christmas day and on certain years it can even start in November. Even so, in my many journeys through different churches over time, I have yet to experience Advent as anything more than a few quiet moments in prayer or the beginning of a Christmas sermon series.

It’s important to point out that your salvation does not hinge on whether you remembered Christ is returning before you drove that fork into the Christmas ham. However, having a calendar that revolves around the promises of the Bible is a great way to refocus your attention on the only thing that will truly satisfy and the only thing that is truly lasting.

Now, there are not many traditions that surround the season of Advent except for a wreath and a few candles. Some churches will use the five candles as a buildup for Christmas, with one of four smaller candles lit each Sunday until they light the final, biggest candle December 25. I have seen this practice done before and I have to admit, until now I thought it was a tangible embodiment for the birth of Christ. I even remember the thought, “Do they use candles because in the dark they sort of look like shining stars?” A great example of a fallen human in need of a perfect Savior!

With this in mind, we want to challenge our readers to find more creative and consistent ways of leaning into the promises of God this holiday season, specifically the promise that Christ will return. Ask yourself: What would that mean for your life if He were to come today? What would it mean for the people closest to you, or those you attend church with? Being honest with yourself, does the thought of the second coming fill you with excitement, or something else?

For me, I’m going to ask myself the same question each night before bed: How would I have lived differently today if I knew Christ were coming this very night? I hope that by reflecting on what I could have done differently, I might change my future self in preparation for Him.

God is aware that in our act of remembering we become more conscious of Him. And, as the book of Matthew reminds us, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37-39).

 

November 1, 2018

the furious longing of God


If there were ever a perfect book to read before bed every night to put your mind at ease, it would be the Furious Longing of God. And by this, I don’t mean it’s some fluff piece to make us feel good in that shallow yet guilt-reducing way. This book is a book about how God loves you, plain and simple. But Brennan Manning has managed to take the love of God out of the gift section at your local Christian retail store and put it on full display for everyone to see. He shines a light into the depths of God’s love so that the reader does not just feel better about themselves but forgets themselves completely.

In one chapter of this book, Manning makes a remark about how many Christian authors complain about his pure focus on the love of God and nothing else. But this little book is so impactful because it does just that. Yes, the love of God is not His only attribute, but it is the very thing that will change you from the inside out. The love of God is so provoking, irresistible, hard-to-understand and above all the single thing that can fill a person’s empty soul.

There is a seldom-stated truth, Manning reveals, of how many of us have a longing for God and an aversion to God at the same time. We seek Him while we also flee from Him. We ask for His blessings while ignoring His restraints. We long to desire God alone and then greedily grasp at everything the world offers to us. We are fine with going to church every Sunday and observing the “moral code” of a Christian lifestyle, but we don’t have a love affair with Jesus.

So, how does your love for God feel different from your love for everyone and everything else?

When you start this book you may ask yourself, “Who am I to be loved so perfectly by the most powerful Being in existence?” Then, if you’re like me, when you finish this book you might just realize that it isn’t who YOU are that matters, but who HE is. Who God is remains the only thing that has ever mattered, and the only thing that ever will, forever and ever.

October 18, 2018

Welcome to Adulting Book Review


“An honest conversation,” that is the first impression I had while reading Jonathan “JP” Pokluda’s new book, Welcome to Adulting. In an era where the youth scream out for raw authenticity while churches seem to keep pushing dated materials at them, this book is incredibly refreshing.

JP begins his novel like many other Christian writers—a brief look back at life before Jesus Christ entered the picture. He recounts the first time he met his future boss and mentor, Watermark’s Senior Pastor Todd Wagner, and the exhilarating first experience of doing life with people who care more about the quality of their friendship than their next drinking binge or hookup. Though this book is very much targeted at young adults leaving home for the first time, it is a great reminder to all ages that genuine Christian community is one of God’s greatest gifts.

While reading, I am reminded that our choices do more than fulfill a need in our lives—they also shape who we become. This book thus covers all the major matters of growing up, from that first taste of freedom to problems with authority, from the responsibilities of work that coincide with the need to make money, and even the changing pressures of community or dating. This non-patronizing guide is written with the sole purpose of helping those attempting to “adult” for the first time thrive.

The underlying theme in this book can be summed up quite nicely in this paragraph from the first chapter, where JP addresses those who seek out purpose in the wrong places: “Here’s the deal: I’m not saying your life doesn’t have a distinct, worthwhile, noble purpose. In fact, I’m saying that it does, and I believe that purpose is greater and more fulfilling than you ever dared to imagine. But that’s only possible because there is an intelligent Creator (capital ‘C’) who designed you, specifically you, with a unique purpose in mind. Understanding that purpose will be key in living out your life correctly from here on out.”

We all desire purpose because we were created for it. But if we knew what that purpose was, would that be enough to live it out? That is the question this book asks its young readers. But, you may discover, the answer to that is between you and God.

October 11, 2018

Reformation Week 2018


September 20, 2018

Could Skimming Our Screens Cost Us?


An article posted by The Guardian sheds light on some of the negative, unforeseen ways speed-reading our news feeds and emails may be rigging the way we also process a varitey of other things, like legal contracts or emotions. Because, unaware to many of us, the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain's ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing. These changes are everywhere, from the toddler who chews on her ipad to the grown adult flipping through social media on her ride to work.

As the article tells us, "the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago." In other words, when we began to read, our brains changed for the better. We became deeper, more thoughtful creatures who are able to internalize knowledge, reason, and even take the perspective of someone else. But the reading circuit was not given to us through out genetics, it needs the right environment in order to develop. As human beings, we adapt to our environment's requirements, and so if our reading is primarily fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large amounts of information, so will be our reading circuits.

Even skimming our print books, which is now trending due to our cognitive impatience, is negatively affecting the traits we prize most in humanity. "When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own," the article explains.

It seems a decline in deep reading fosters a decline in both comprehension and the growth of empathy. So, our challenge to readers is to find a good, long book and just loose yourself in it for an afternoon. Your brain (and heart) may thank you for it later.

September 4, 2018

Book Review of From Eden to the New Jerusalem


From Eden to the New JerusalemFrom Eden to the New Jerusalem uniquely captures the Bible stories that tell us who God is, while presenting to its readers a “meta-story” that captures what God is doing from beginning to end. It is this bigger story that answers questions like “why am I here?” or “does god really care about us?” or even “how’s this all going to end?” In From Eden to the New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander takes us on a journey through the overarching meta-story of the Bible—God’s plan of redemption. 

I especially loved Dr. Alexander’s first chapter, which deals with how God creates a garden temple in Eden. The author then follows this same theme throughout the Bible, until the book’s ending in the great garden city of the New Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies becomes the golden city that Abraham and the patriarchs had hoped for and died looking forward to. Readers—DTS readers in particular—will note that the author also emphasizes the church as being built into the new temple along the way.

Even so, the huge strength of this book are the hundreds of connections it finds between Bible passages. More often than not the author saw things I had missed in my own personal studies over the years, even while being a seminary student myself. As the author covers themes of sovereignty, evil, salvation, and the people of God, this meta-story of God’s grand plan seems so obvious and apparent that I wonder why I hadn’t seen it all along. Dr. Alexander has written a book that will help most of us add a greater dimension to our own Bible studies.

August 27, 2018

Book Review of Gay Girl, Good God


There are books that discuss the tensions between sexuality and Christianity, homosexuality and heterosexuality, or sin and salvation. But this book, Gay Girl, Good God, caught my attention because of its raw use of unashamed and unfiltered personal narrative. It’s a story of a girl whose struggle with homosexuality is not just a spiritual battle, but a battle against betrayal and abuse. A battle between the love of self and the love of God. It is the same battle we all face daily when we have to resist defining “good” on our own terms and learn to see “good” as God.Gay Girl, Good God

Jackie Hill Perry starts her story with a journey back to middle school years, where crushes and heartbreak are so new and yet so powerful. For someone struggling with homosexuality, it is not a simple decision to repress or ignore desire. In fact, it isn’t even just desire when it comes to our sexual attraction, but a part of who we are as human beings. God made us sexual. He made us innocent, but sin has made us guilty and ashamed. The story of Jackie’s life—as told by the woman herself—is intermingled with the story of God’s initial plans for creation, of a man and woman called Adam and Eve, who were also persuaded by desire.

Jackie writes at the beginning of her novel, “I defined good on my own terms. It wore whatever definition I decided it should have on for the day. God had indeed been the original one to introduce the concept of goodness into the earth but for me to live in His kind of goodness, faith was required.” This concept alone, that sin is born from our attempts to take from God what is God’s and fit it into a package convenient for ourselves, is a struggle every human being can relate with.

I admire and recommend this book because it doesn’t just tell an interesting story or give a new perspective, but it has the guts to be brutally honest about sex in a church culture that too often prefers to condemn or be silent.

“In their defense, they were not to blame for my unbelief. I just wonder if they would’ve told me about the beauty of God just as much, if not more, than they told me about the horridness of hell, if I would’ve burned my idols at a faster pace,” the book proclaims, challenging its readers focus more on God’s ability to bring joy and light than condemnation and judgement.

July 2, 2018

Created in God's Image Review


Hoekema book reviewIn just one of a three volume set written by Anthony Hoekema, a former professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, I learned how to see God’s image in man more fully. Or, should I write, how to see man more fully, since Hoekema argues that man is God’s image.

Though the Bible tells us man is made in the image and likeness of God, Hoekema argues that, after the Fall, both the material and immaterial parts of man that proclaim God’s image were devastated. God’s image was not taken from us, it is tainted by us. As a result, we are created persons whose Hoekema book reviewmaterial and immaterial aspects are in need of regeneration by the Holy Spirit and salvation through Christ (God’s perfect image).

In his book, Created in God’s Image, Hoekema proclaims, “The image of God in man has been perverted after the Fall. The image is now malfunctioning—and yet it is still there. The loss of the image of God in the functional sense presupposes the retention of the image in the structural sense. To be a sinner one must be an image-bearer of God—one must be able to reason, to will, to make decisions; a dog, which does not possess the image of God, cannot sin.

Man sins with god-imaging gifts. In fact, the very greatness of man’s sins consists in the fact that he is still an image-bearer of God. What makes sin so heinous is that man is prostituting such splendid gifts. Corruptio optimi pessima: the corruption of the best is the worst.”

In other words, sin is a perverse way of using God-given and God-reflecting powers. But why does this relation between God’s image and sin matter? Because if we look at the image of God as not just reason, rationality, intellect, consciousness, will, or even love, then we bear a greater responsibility as humankind. If sin has no independent existence and is always related to God and His will, then it weakens us not just in mind or spirit but as a complete unit. As a whole person we are affected by sin, because as whole persons we bear the image of God.

If you want to understand more of a Reformer's outlook on sin, its devastation of God’s image and its effects on man’s freedom, read this book.

June 25, 2018

Book Review of N.T. Wright's Justification


N.T. Wright’s book, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, is a concise and thorough contribution to the hotly debated conversation regarding the doctrine of Justification, which is defined as the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God. N.T. Wright Justification book Wright clearly articulates his points and addresses many of the critiques he has received regarding his understanding of Justification. In many ways, this book is a condensed treatment of his larger works rather than a new thesis propagating a different position.

One should also note that this book is particularly addressed towards Reformed theologian, John Piper, who had previously written a work of the same name to combat Wright’s views. Whether one agrees with Wright or not, his treatment of various biblical texts in light of its historical context to better comprehend Paul’s understanding of justification is undoubtedly worth reading.

To put it simply, Wright defines justification as a present declaration of an individual’s righteousness (i.e. their being in the right) based off his/her newfound identity in Christ. This declaration follows conversion/regeneration rather than preceding it/being equated to it, and it in no way entails imputation of an alien righteousness (i.e. Christ’s righteousness). To be justified then is to be forgiven of sins, based off Christ’s work on the cross, and to be considered a part of the covenanted people of God.