Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

This book is an excellent book. In ten chapters Sweet and Viola give ample evidence in the promotion of Christ, his supremacy and sovereignty. Throughout each and every page there is continual recognition of Jesus and who he is. There is regular reference back to the Bible and seeing how God has been at work throughout history. The authors analyse the current church and it’s “Youniverse” centredness, speaking directly to the heart of the church and her attendees. It is a challenge to the hearts of the readers of this book as it speaks so much truth. The essence of much of the book and it’s aims can be seen in this quote on pg. 100:

“Our problem is this: we have created a narcissistic form of Christianity in which “conversion” is less turning toward Christ than a turning toward success or fame or fortunes. Narcissus never had it so good than in best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centredness wrapping up as ‘spirituality’, which has become the latest fashion accessory for the person who has everything…True “conversion” is to lay hold of Christ, or rather, as Paul corrected himself, to allow Christ to lay hold of us…You are not the point. And we are not the point. Jesus Christ always has been and always will be the point. All the arrows point to Him and not to us”

The theological and scriptural basis on many of their arguments are well-founded. There is a great chapter describing Bethany as the resting place for the Lord while on earth and the truth that comes from those passages in Luke. There is a constant looking at Christ and the Word and then reflecting on that for our day today. In many respects this book is harping on about exactly what John Piper has been harping on about for many years now, just from a different angle and a bit lighter.

The aim of the book is to capture the hearts of those within the church and present a vision of Christ that promotes Him as the “one thing” and the root of Christianity. I think it is an excellent book and well worth spending the time to read. It is an easy read with many illustrations to keep one engaged. You’ll want to re-evaluate your walk with Christ once you’ve read it.

4/5.

I Love My Church

I love my church.

I love that Jesus is glorified at my church.

I love that the Bible is taught at my church.

I love that people are hungry to know more of God at my church.

I love that people are willing to learn the Bible at my church.

I love that there is a growing community of young people at my church.

I love that visitors feel welcome enough to come out to snac at my church.

I love that during the week there are different people from my church meeting together for funsies.

I love that those who come are willing to serve at my church.

I love that there is a sense of the Spirit and of community at my church.

I love that young adults are willing to invest in young people at my church.

I love that there are a number of ‘older folk’ who support the evening congregation at my church.

I love that encouragement can be gleaned from just being with people and hearing their stories at my church.

I love that I have the opportunity to lead people at my church.

I love my church.

I love that it’s God’s church.

A House United by Frank Frangipane

Frank Frangipane, House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division (Grand Rapids, USA: Chosen Books), 2006.

I was given this book by a long-time serving member of my church. It was given to me on the back of a pastor leaving and also their interest in my article in the Baptist Witness. I was greatly encouraged to receive this and have spent a few weeks reading through it.

The central premise of Frangipane’s book is much like his title. He is encouraging believers the world over to quit being so divisive and start taking heed to the Bible’s commands for unity.

The book is in five parts and he comes out strong by talking about the sin of division straight up. I seemed to plough through the beginning of the book and it wasn’t until the last few sections where he captivated me a bit more. I don’t think he was particularly wrong in the beginning of his book but it just took a while to get into. He touches on important topics throughout and uses the Bible correctly in making his points – although he does tend to work interesting angles into his OT exegesis. I wasn’t convinced too much with his chapters on Lucifer and demons but he does hit many nails right on their heads in other parts.

As the book flows he works from stating the sinful nature of church splits and division to looking at areas where division usually starts. The third part that he touches upon is the way in which healing can come about after certain sins and divisions within a church and then encourages all believers to become more Christlike in their hearts.

I think that it is a great book and was quite thought-provoking. He is solidly evangelical and Biblically based and it is hard to argue against what he says. I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through a church split or division, has felt hurt by the church or who wonders why the church isn’t united and how to bring healing to at least a little part of it.

4/5.

Productivity and The Bible

Recently I’ve been quite enamoured with a few organisational/productivity type blogs. They are the kind of blogs which promote and give insight into being more productive and organised.

I have found many of their articles and suggestions really helpful.

For example there was one particular article which promotes getting your email in-box down to zero each day. Since reading that article I have been quite efficient with my emails and would say that the time spent reading the article has been rather advantageous to my life. However, sometimes it takes a while to find that gold nugget of advice or instruction. Sometimes it could mean trawling through 50-100 different posts before something really strikes you and you feel that you can apply it to your lifestyle and that it will make a positive contribution to your life.

I’m glad the Bible isn’t like that. In 1 Timothy 3:16-17 we are told that all Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. This is in order to make a person of God competent and equipped for every good work. Therefore, whenever I open the Scriptures and read what God says I can be confident that I am not wasting my time trawling through to find something that’s relevant – it all is!

If only I spent less time reading blogs and more time in His Word!

I wonder then, is the Bible a productivity tool?

Equipped for Adventure by Scott Kirby

equippedforadventureScott Kirby, Equipped for Adventure: A practical guide to short-term mission trips (186 pages, Birmingham, USA: New Hope Publishers), 2006.

Short-term mission trips are interesting things. Everyone in ministry seems to have an opinion, particularly those within the ‘mission’ community. This is yet another book promoting the use of short-term mission trips but also tells you how to run one. As its title suggests, it is full of practical ideas and helps in order to run a short-term trip successfully.

The book is OK. It has some really good tips regarding the preparation, organisation and debrief stages, but that’s about as good as Kirby gets (which is good, don’t get me wrong).

His main premise of doing short-term mission, stated in the first chapter, could use some work. While he does link it in with a casual reference to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) he seems to focus more on it being an adventure. The impression from those opening pages wasn’t particularly high.

After only recently returning from leading a team myself I do think the practical tips given by Kirby are good. The overall sense of the book is certainly American (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) which does need to be recognised and adapted for other countries/cultures. I think you would call this an entry-level STM trip book, other resources around this, depending on where one is going, would be beneficial.

2.5/5

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

compelledbyloveIn 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; from Christ’s perspective and our living-it-out perspective.

In each part, and 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, and the believer is living in love. All this through the power of the cross.

“Paul’s words tell us that, as we receive the love of Christ in outlives, we’ll willingly let it change the way we think and act. It means the love of Christ influences every decision we make and everything we do; His love becomes our way of life and not mere emotion.” 

This is a terrific read.

It is challenging and convicting, and showed me a greater way to love. It highlights how far the church today drifts from its purpose to love God and their neighbour.

Through sound exposition and poignant illustration Compelled by Love encourages one to think about the centrality of love in their life and encourages the display of that love through action.

At the end of each chapter there are a handful of discussion questions, which could be used individually, in one-on-one discipleship, or in a small group. The questions give insight and challenge of the content of the chapter. Much can be garnered from each chapter as one stops to think about what they’ve 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 today.

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