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.

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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?”

Once Upon A Time In Beirut by Catherine Taylor

Once upon a time beirutHaving lived in the Middle East for a couple of years, and studied its history while at university, I am always drawn to books depicting personal experiences of it.

Catherine Taylor, a professional journalist from Australia, tells of her life and travels of the Middle East in this little gem of a book. She and her husband were based in Beirut for three to four years, from post-9/11 to 2005. During this time they travelled the region, including visits to Iraq during and after its occupation.

This journalistic-biography is very pleasant to read. It just flows; and there are plenty of stories to get wrapped up in.

The experiences Catherine has come across as amazing. And the ease in which she adjusts to life in the Middle East is commendable. Her and her husband’s story skip along at t great pace, and reflect what any Westerner living in the Middle East would and should feel. I can certainly relate to many of the stories she tells, particularly in her interactions with people, the places she visits, and the experiences with various religious expressions.

It was great to get more of an insight into the nature of city life in Beirut. The clubs, pubs, eateries, cafes, streets, shops, swimming pool, hairdressers, and the like are experiences to be treasured when in the Middle East.

I found what Catherine says regarding living in the Middle East to be true. The enduring mind-set of the Lebanese people after the Civil War, the exuberant and nationalistic support post-Hariri’s assassination, and the recovery after the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in 2006 all ring bells. The survey and investigation as to what went on in various parts of Lebanese history is told through interviews with close friends, Hezbollah officials, Sunni’s, Palestinians, and others. This gives different points of view to the historical narrative of Lebanese history.

I think the book would have been improved if there was a greater focus on the Hariri assassination and its after effects. While Catherine was not there at the time of the bombing and assassination there is only one chapter dedicated to it.

Overall this is a good read and gives a basic understanding of life, for a Westerner at least, in the Middle East. It is not a cultural thesis, and nor should it be read as such, but for a little glimpse into the milieu of the region it is worth the read.

Catherine Taylor, Once Upon A Time In Beirut: A Journey To The Heart Of The Middle East (364 pages, Sydney: Bantam), 2007.

George Whitefield (Vol 1) by Arnold Dallimore

This great volume comprehensively describes the life and times of George Whitefield.

Starting with his early years right through to the age of 26, Arnold Dallimore describes the wanderings and impact of this young man. Using previous biographies, and the more important journals of the man himself, Dallimore outlines Whitefield’s contribution to the spiritual state of Britain and America during the 18th century.

This book is brilliantly illustrated with stories of his time at home and at school. There is detailed analysis of his time at university, where he became a true convert of Christ and became firm in his understanding of the doctrines of grace.

GeorgeWhitefieldv1and2

His travels throughout Britain and America take up considerable pages, but these are very much the guts of his ministry. The book ends with Whitefield about to face more trials as he returns to England for the second time.

As I’ve written previously, there are a number of things to take away from this work. His preaching ministry is a powerful manifestation of the Spirit, and his courage in the face of adversity is something to behold. He began preaching while in his teens, and soon began speaking to crowds upwards of 20-30,000 people. Such was the power of his preaching.  Furthermore, there is a sense of his overwhelming love for his fellow brethren, wanting to be united with the many ministers and other preachers.

This is only book one of a two volume set, and there is much depth and content to be gleaned about the man. It’s worth the read.

Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life And Times Of The Great Evangelist Of The 18th Century Revival (vol. 1, 590 pages, London: Banner of Truth Trust), 1970.

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

In this book Jerry Bridges writes about a number of sins the Western church has, for some odd reason, decided it’s OK with.

The author focuses on the verse from 1 Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”, and tackles the issues such as pride, selfishness, ungodliness, unthankfulness, anger, self-control (or lack thereof), impatience, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and many others.

Grounded in the doctrines of cross and the sovereignty of God, Bridges calls his readers to take a long, hard, look at themselves. He encourages people to see the way following Jesus impacts their lives, each and every part of it. Behind that thick wall of pride what do we think and do that we tell ourselves is OK in little doses but really isn’t? It is a very searching and convicting book, highlighting the work of the Spirit to convict his readers about those sins he comments on.respectable sins by jerry birdges

This is a really good and thought-provoking book.

Bridges challenges each individual to be humble before the Almighty and recognise that there are sins, sins which we ‘take for granted’, that need to be confessed and repented of.

At times you might debate whether or not everything he mentions are actually sins, but he writes in a humble and good-natured way that urges godliness. I found it a book that slaps you around the head a bit–but in a good way.

It’s not a long book, finishing up at 181 pages. It would be a good book for small group discussions, or a preaching series. I’d encourage anyone wanting to flee from sin or grow in godliness to pick this book up, and read it.

Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting The Sins We Tolerate (181 pages, USA: Navpress), 2007.