Trolls & Truth by Jimmy Dorrell

trolls-and-truthJimmy Dorrell, Trolls & Truth: 14 realities about today’s church that we don’t want to see (215 pages, Birmingham, USA: New Hope Publishers), 2006.

Jimmy Dorrell has been a church pastor with a difference. He and his wife moved to Texas in the late seventies and began a church under a bridge, correct, under a bridge. He and his wife have ministered to numerous homeless and less-fortunate people over many years and so this book is mostly about his story and ministry with challenging thoughts regarding church.

Each chapter of the book begins with a real life illustration of a person or persons who has been involved in his Dorrell’s church. He then uses this story as a launching pad into talking about the way the church “does church”, particularly to those who are homeless or disabled, struggling with mental illness or certain addictions.

Dorrell gives an interesting insight into his church and ministry. It is interesting to read of the ways in which he and others within his church have reached out to those struggling with these issues. It is good to see that he goes back to the Bible in terms of making his points. However, I do find he seems to take some passages out of context or reads into them things that are not there. It is certainly a book that makes one think about how to reach people who are not normally involved in a church (particularly in the society where I live) but I think a little more balance regarding the Gospel and how that works alongside helping the needy.

Overall I thought the book was OK, I wasn’t particularly enamoured about it because it seemed to lack the theological backing and Gospel focus. But, still thought provoking.

2.5/5

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Book Review: What is a Healthy Church?

healthy-church-214x300Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church? (126 pages, Wheaton, USA: Crossway), 2007.

Mark Dever is a big proponent for the local church. Previously he has written a number of books about the local church and what is important about it. This one is no different and is essentially a more concise version of one of his previous books, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

While only a short volume Dever packs a number of important topics within. In part 1 he details what a healthy church is, then goes on to talk of the three essential marks of a healthy church (expository preaching, Biblical theology and a Biblical understanding of the Gospel) in part 2. Part 3 is made up of six important marks of a healthy church, that being a Biblical understanding of conversion, evangelism and membership while also talking about church discipline, discipleship and leadership.

It is a very good book and one that certainly gets you thinking about a theology of the local church. I particularly like the way in which he has thought through the different and more important elements of the local church. What else is good is that he doesn’t give a model of ministry or different ideas of how church should be run but rather is giving large Biblical concepts as an over-arching guide to ones ministry philosophy. While he does talk about eldership, he doesn’t go into how one should order a service, what kind of music, how to make the place acceptable to ‘outsiders’ or visitors. What he does do is push for a church that is Biblically-centred, that is in the world but not of the world. 8/10.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years_Donald MillerDonald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life (250 pages, Nashville, USA: Thomas Nelson), 2009.

I have to admit that i was rather sceptical about this book when i first received it. Donald Miller is known as an ’emergent guy’ and that somewhat put me off immediately. I know, it speaks particularly bad of me, but hey, that’s just the way i felt – i’ve asked for forgiveness.

With that said, i didn’t really know what to expect of this book. Coming from a Christian publisher and somewhat hinting at a biography of sorts i suppose i was thinking this would be a journey through Don’s life. And that is what it was, a journey through Don’s “Story” as he put it, but in a very unusual but yet captivating way.

The book is a story of his life over a particular period in his life which spans about a year or two. That i think is the gist of book. I have to admit that i am still a little uncertain as to what the point of his book is, if it is just to tell a story then he has achieved that. However, if he has wanted to purvey some sort of point regarding God, Jesus and the Christian life then he has left a little to be desired.

Toward the beginning of the book (the first 50 pages or so) the implication of what he says is that one should always be looking out for a better ‘story’, choosing to make a better ‘story’. That use of the word ‘story’ simply meant adventure to me. The illustrations that Don used were adventurous and the choices that he and his friends seemed to make were more adventurous ones than other ‘options’ (read: life choices) available at the time.

The way Don writes is attractive, he sucked me in to his “story”. I must commend him for that. The way in which he told illustrations from his life and the way in which he moved ones emotions up and down kept me wanting to keep going. He is a brilliant writer and storyteller and many of his experiences seem like great experiences to have.

However, i do have a few problems with the book:

First, to me it was a book without a point, as i’ve said previously. It was a good book, but just so fluid that i couldn’t work out what he was trying to say to me as the reader. When looking at the short reviews by big names in Christian circles like Rob Bell, Max Lucado etc. i had the impression that it was going to be a really life-shattering and “disturbing” (Rob Bell) book. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. I was 50 pages in and didn’t know where he was going, what he wanted me to take away from it etc. and this continued until the very last page.

Second, choosing a better “story” implied that one should take more risk and be more adventurous in the choices we make from day-to-day. I thought this could lead down a path which could actually be destructive to some people rather than bringing them life changing transformation. I wondered why we wouldn’t make choices more in-line with what Christ would want rather than a bigger and better ‘experience’. That is not to discount that a life with Christ is not adventurous by any stretch of the imagination, however, if our choices are simply based on what we think is more adventurous then we may indeed not be doing what God wants us to. It just seemed a little selfish to me with no consideration for what the Spirit may be saying to us and how God may want to use us.

I would still come to the conclusion that it is an OK book. It is an easy read and as i said, written really well. I would recommend it to people if they’d like something of a moving ‘story’. Overall, 6/10.

Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed

youngrestlessreformedcollinhansenCollin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A journalist’s journey with the New Calvinists (158 pages, Wheaton, USA: Crossway), 2008.

In recent years there has been an enormous increase in youth and young adults being interested and wrestling with Reformed Theology. Hansen, a journalist with CT, travels the USA interviewing the leaders that are sparking this movement. It is somewhat of a biographical, church history type book but makes for very intriguing reading. It is amazing to see how Reformed Theology and Calvinism has made its way into churches and university groups around the country and quite possibly the world.
Hansen begins by nailing what he believes was the spark that lit this proverbial match, Louie Giglio and the Passion Conferences. The emphasis on God’s glory and the vision of a powerful, all-transcendent God through the teaching of John Piper began what is now quite clearly a movement. Hansen gets the opportunity to interview John Piper in his home (what an experience that must have been!) and talks with a number from the Passion conferences and from Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

SBTS is next on his radar, where Al Mohler, some 15 years ago began a Calvinistic resurgence by taking over the presidency of the college. The influence he, the college and the large evangelical staff within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has sporned many new church plants and new pastors with a passion for the doctrines of grace.

Hansen continues to shoot around the country talking with all the leaders and detractors of the movement. He looks at original sermon manuscripts and notes of Jonathan Edwards at Yale University and speaks with a number of enamoured Edwards fans. He interviews both C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris about their role in producing charismatic Calvinists through their church, Covenant Life, and which has also produced a number of church plants under the Sovereign Grace banner. Of course, no book regarding the increase in Calvinism can be done without speaking of the booming congregation at Mars Hill Church, Seattle, where Mark Driscoll is based.

Along the way Hansen also talks to a number of others, including those who do not agree with the theology or methods of what has been happening. The SBC is a good example of this where many pastors are reticent to give Calvinism a foot in the door. However, due ot the influence of Mohler and the SBTS it cannot be helped. Other university professors and preachers around the country who disagree with this theology are humble but concerned with this rising tide.

I thought it was a great book. Coming from a reformed theology, Calvinistic type thought and having been heavily influenced by the likes of Piper, Mohler, Mahaney, Driscoll, Dever and the like i was very encouraged to see God working in wonderful ways through this movement. But, it wasn’t seeing these big guys and hearing from them that was the most encouraging. It was hearing of the small churches and youth groups who are steadily and faithfully proclaiming the Word. It certainly makes you want to get involved and learn and practice this theology and then teach it to others. May i be pushed by God to do so and be enraptured at his grace and glory.

Overall i’d give it an 8/10. I liked it a lot. I’m sure some people would be concerned about this rise, but i think it’s great.

Fearless by Max Lucado

fearlessMax Lucado, Fearless: Imagine your life without fear (180 pages, Nashville, USA: Thomas Nelson), 2009.

“Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness” so says Lucado. And in this new release from his pen he reasons that we can have a life without fear if we are to trust and have faith in God and his goodness. In the twelve main chapters Lucado touches on the following topics, using his illustrative best and continually coming back to Jesus:

The fear of…

1. Disappointing God

2. Running out

3. Not protecting my kids

4. Overwhelming challenges

5. Worst-case scenarios

6. Violence

7. The coming winter

8. Life’s final moments

9. What’s next

10. That God is not real

11. Global calamity

12. God getting out of my box

Lucado obviously has an introductory and concluding chapter. The book also has a discussion guide at the back of which is rather comprehensive. It can be used for groups or personal use.

Lucado writes well. I like the way he has tackled these topics which are most likely the ‘major fears’ within society. His use of illustrations and the explanation of the passages  is great and really captures the reader.

This is a Christian living-inspirational type book which helps to transform ones thinking regarding fear and the fears that we mull over in our heads or feel pressed upon us. Lucado does an excellent job at showing the way of Jesus and the promises he makes to take courage and trust in him. The book focuses on Jesus and is not particularly wish-washy like other main-stream Christian books can be. I would recommend it to anyone who is particularly fearful about things, but also for anyone who wishes to trust and hope more in Jesus.

7/10.

Unity

The following post is something I had published in The Witness, the monthly Victorian Baptist magazine in 2009.

Unity seems to be something which is hard to find in the church today. Well, maybe it’s always been hard to find, church history seems to suggest so too. It’s surprising isn’t it; one would think that the church would be the one place that is united.

If we look outside the church there are plenty of things that unite people. Football unites supporters like nothing else here in Melbourne, but sport in general does that in almost every nation (let’s not mention the Ashes). Community events show a united people, look no further than Black Saturday and the out-pouring of unity that has come from that. But we could also think of book clubs, favourite cafes, the RSL, the local lawn bowls club and the like. Being part of a community, being part of a family, brings unity and commonality.

In recent months I have been pondering unity within the church.

It’s been hard to nail and hard to find.

If we are honest with ourselves we must recognise that there is a wealth of disagreement that occurs within the church. These may be things like where the pulpit should be placed when one is preaching, to the ways in which we reach our community with the Gospel, to the various theological positions church members have. Differences occur, they are bound to, but quite often they cause disunity rather than mutual encouragement and respect.

While on holiday a couple of months ago I read volume one of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Whitefield was a preacher who spread the Gospel throughout the UK and America in the 18th century. He was one of the first to preach outdoors, outside the church building, and for his day this was radical. Instead of avoiding such “corner preaching” like the plague, which we tend to do, Whitefield was able to preach to tens of thousands at a time. What impressed me most about his character was the way in which he tried to be unified with other believers. Wherever he went he would first stop by the local church or parish, and in his theological disputes with John Wesley he continued to pray and hold him up as a brother in Christ.

Whitefield modelled, what I believe many in the church today miss, unity.

Paul speaks no better about unity than in 1 Corinthians 12 & 13. Beginning with the illustration of the church being one body with many parts he moves on to the most crucial point regarding unity, love. While one may be particularly enamoured by the passage regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13 it actually stems out of Paul’s thinking regarding unity and the body of Christ. It is love which is most central to unity, it is love which is most central to Paul, and it is love which is most central to our faith. It is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Christians are to be marked by love and to be unified by love.

That love is best expressed when we head to the cross. That sacrificial, God-exalting, sinner-redeeming love is most clearly seen through Jesus’ death and unifies all believers to love others rather than themselves.

Why is it that churches split, that conflict occurs, that disunity abounds?

It is because there is no Christ-like love.

Why does a supporter of a footy team actively go to all the matches and buy the team scarf? Why does a community rally in the face of adversity? Why does unity occur?

It is because there is love.

“Unity through diversity” seems to be a current catch-cry but perhaps “unity through love” might be a better way to put it.

Through the cross of Christ and the love of Christ unity is at its peak.

Compelled By Love by Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation

In three parts Stetzer and Nation write about the love of God, the love of the church and the love of believers.

The primary and central point of this book is love. It challenges and opens-wide the readers imagination as to what love really means, both from Christ’s perspective and our living-it-out perspective.

In each part and then in each chapter the centrality of the cross is shown to be the essence of love. God’s love is shown through the cross, the church is identified by love, founded on the cross, and the believer is living in love through the power of the cross.

I think this is one of the best books i have read all year. It was challenging and convicting as it showed me the way of love. It highlighted how far the church today has drifted from its purpose to love God and love their neighbour. Through sound exposition and poignant illustration Compelled by Love encourages one to think how central love is in their life.

At the end of each chapter there are a handful of discussion questions which could be used individually or as a group/mentoring type study. They are insightful and challenging questions based on what has been said in the chapter. I think much can be garnered from each chapter as one stops to think about what they just read.

With a focus on Jesus and a focus on being missional this book is an excellent resource and an excellent word to the church (individually and corporately) today.

Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation, Compelled by Love: The Most Excellent Way To Missional Living (211 pages, Birmingham, USA: New Hope Publishers), 2008.

Evangelical Truth by John Stott

evangelicaltruth stottJohn Stott and his ministry is well known and well respected throughout the world. He has written numerous books and articles, and up until his death in 2011 he was considered a worldwide Christian leader.

In this little book of 149 pages Stott explains the essentials of the Christian faith and makes a strong plea for unity. Here, toward the end of his life, Stott continues to write with great insight, making you think about the primary and secondary issues within the Christian faith. There is constant debate between Christians, now more than ever it seems, over all sorts of theological and social issues. Stott believes these issues should be discussed, but at times there is a need to lessen the vigour and closed-handedness of these debates.

Evangelical Truth has five chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. The three main chapters cover the following areas: the revelation of God, the cross of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the introduction Stott gives a brief rundown of his definition of evangelicalism. He pitches this definition against that of fundamentalism and liberalism. Within this chapter he also gives information about evangelicalism has evolved and its main historical turning points within the church.

The chapter on revelation, as expected, is based on the revelation of God through the bible. Stott speaks of general and specific revelation, progressive and personal revelation, inspiration, authorship, biblical authority. He touches on the debate between the sufficiency of scripture and also the inerrancy of scripture. Here Stott makes his stand against using the term ‘inerrancy’.

Chapter three is essentially the gospel. It is the message of the cross well explained. He gives a helpful explanation of ‘justification by faith’, and grapples with what disciples and mission are. It is the shortest chapter in the book but also the most concise and straight-forward. It was good to hear the gospel again.

A final chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit makes Evangelical Truth truly trinitarian. The topics of assurance, holiness, purity, community, mission, and hope are all covered. Stott is really telling the reading of how the Holy Spirit works; in the New Testament and his continuing work today. This is a good chapter and well explained.

To conclude, Stott summarises his point and pleads with the reader to be united with Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. He calls for Christians to endure hardship and wants to be an encouraging voice within that. You can really see in the writing that Stott has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the gospel, is passionate about the things of God, and wants Christians around the world to be united under the gospel. He encourages all believers to lead with humility and to love one-another with Christian love.

A great primer of the Christian faith. Get on it.

John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea For Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (149 pages; Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press), 2003.

Power Through Prayer by EM Bounds

EM Bounds is known as a prolific prayer-warrior, mainly because of his many and various books on the topic. While they were written many, many, years ago they are still greatly relevant for our soul today.

“Power Through Prayer” is a book written particularly for ministers, that’s certainly the impression you get from reading it. Bounds encourages everyone, but particularly those who preach, to come back to prayer, to fight for prayer, and to do all things with and through prayer. Bounds stresses the power that comes through prayer, and through close communion with God in prayer you soul will be lifted high unto the heavens.

Bounds tells tales and stories of people of the past who have spent many hours on their knees fighting for their congregation, the people they minister to. Throughout the book there are various quotes about prayer from famous churchmen in Christian history, including a special affection for David Brainerd, the young American preacher and Indian missionary of the 18th century. They are very inspiring and perfect for an Instquote if one could be bothered. In fact, much of the book is quotable as he wrestles the reader to the ground, urging them to take up a prayer ministry. There is constant encouragement to spend time in prayer, praying for the sermon, and the souls of men and women.

An example of this would be:

“What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.”

Even though the book is only 128 pages it is an inspirational book. It will shake you up and help you understand the power of prayer in the Christian life. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is wondering about prayer and its importance. It is an excellent book, and you can even download a free PDF of it here.

E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (128 pages; London, UK: Marshall, Morgan & Scott).

Richard Baxter On The Pastor and Recreation

Richard Baxter on recreation for the minister:

“Recreation to a minister must be as whetting is with the mower – that is, to be used only so far as is necessary for his work. May a physician in plague-time take any more relaxation or recreation than is necessary for his life, when so many are expecting his help in a case of life and death? Will you stand by and see sinners gasping under the pangs of death, and say : “Go, doth not require me to make myself a drudge to save them?” Is this the voice of ministerial or Christian compassion or rather of sensual laziness and diabolical cruelty?”