Book Review: Shepherding God's Flock

Having become involved in certain areas of leadership in my life, I jumped at the opportunity to read this book, "Shepherding God's Flock" edited by Benjamin Merkle and Thomas Schreiner. This book is a compilation of multiple essays consisting of chapters that examine biblical leadership in the New Testament, historical developments of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church (more on that later), church leadership models across several denominations, and practical considerations for church leadership in our time.

This book is a moderately "academic" read. For example, it goes into in-depth historical developments of leadership in the Catholic Church over several chapters, which is fine for a history book, but somewhat off-topic for a book focused on church leadership. Perhaps I mistakenly expected more practical application as opposed to church history. The history portions are enjoyable and enlightening though they may be out of place.

The first four chapters of this book, which examine church leadership through simple examination of the relevant New Testament texts represents the good "academic" portions of this book. The implicit points of application that arise out of the theological examination of church leadership in these chapters are particularly helpful. For example, in his examination of the Pauline epistles, Thomas Schreiner states, "Orthodox doctrine, Paul insists, leads to love, and hence orthodoxy is immensely practical" (p. 91).

The final chapter caps the book off with multiple practical considerations for forming and "doing" church leadership in this age.

Overall, I would recommend those in church leadership read this book to mainly firm up their doctrine of church leadership. Some of the history is a little irrelevant in my opinion. It is also worth noting that most of the authors represented in this volume are coming from a credobaptistic, elder-led, congregation-ruled perspective.

I received this book for free from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.


Book Review: A Passion For The Fatherless

If you are on the right track, you will get to the right destination. If one attempts orphan-care without sound theology driving their efforts, trouble is bound to happen. "A Passion For The Fatherless" by Daniel Bennett offers a sound theological treatment of orphan-care and adoption and the necessary practical outcomes. The chapters in Part One, which are devoted to the underlying theology of adoption – spiritual and natural – display a solid grasp of the ultimate point of orphan-care: to display the glory of God’s grace. The author exegetes and applies passages in Ephesians 1 particularly well.

I was very pleased with the comprehensive treatment of issues related to orphan care throughout Part Two. From passages on materialism to strong disclaimers about the difficulty of adoption, Daniel Bennett continued to impress this reader with his treatment of multiple issues related to orphan-care. This book is profoundly theological and I cannot stress this point enough. One chapter on decision making and God’s will particularly impressed me, and although it seems odd to find such a book on orphan-care, it fit well. Another chapter offers a brief and compelling look at church governance and how elders can equip their flocks to care for orphans in a thoroughly biblical manner.

Finally, in Part Three, Bennett devotes two chapters (out of twelve!) to a practical method to starting an orphan ministry in a local church. Have I stressed how profoundly theological this book is? Ten out of twelve chapters are devoted to the theological underpinnings of orphan-care. And the final two chapters give a good outline to starting a orphan-care ministry.

Overall, I believe this book is an excellent example of how churches should approach any given “ministry”: deeply engage the underlying theological issues first and then get to work. If a church follows a theologically reinforced strategy to orphan-care, God will certainly be glorified. “A Passion For The Fatherless” is a great place to get started.

I received this book for free from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.


Book Review: Urban Apologetics

"Urban Apologetics": the title of this book greatly intrigued me when I heard of it since I am a member of a local church whose building is located in an urban environment and is also beginning to take greater strides to bring the gospel to the urban environment in which our building is located. This book, by Christopher W. Brooks, campus dean at Moody Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Evangel Ministries church in Detroit, serves as a good primer for people seeking to sharpen their thinking and living as they bring the gospel to those who live in an urban environment.

The first two topics Brooks addresses, the relevance of the gospel to the modern city and the two sided-coin of evangelism and apologetics, lay the foundation of Brooks' later chapters which address specific hot-topic issues relevant to America's urban communities.  Brooks' stated goal of this book is to "bring about a greater connection between urban Christians and those who do the work of apologetics and theology" (p. 15). I believe this book serves as a good introductory primer for prospective urban apologists.

The effective urban apologist must be "embodied", pointing to the need for boots on the ground, living in the midst of cities. Social programs attempting to repair the unique destruction sin wreaks in inner-cities or touch and go evangelism blitzes with no remaining presence are both lacking. The effective urban apologist must live out what he preaches in the midst of the city he is heralding the gospel to.

Brooks mentions several other important points in his opening chapters - the rise of "apatheism" and the continuing decline of cultural Christianity in cities, the need to address unique issues urban people face, and the importance of coupling good deeds with gospel proclamation. Brooks strikes the balance well between good deeds and proclamation when he says, "that although love is the primary ethic of the church, winning people to Christ is and always will be the primary mission of the church" (p. 36). To miss the biblical mission of the church would destine an apologetics book to failure, thankfully Brooks retains a proper understanding of the church's mission when considering apologetics and evangelism. Brooks also properly defines the purpose of apologetics as evangelism (p. 40). I personally enjoyed the emphasis Brooks gave to empowering individuals to effectively engage the people in their circles of relationship versus an event-driven kind of evangelism. It will take every man, woman, and child of Christ' church to reach every urban man, woman, and child who have not yet encountered the gospel of Jesus.

The bulk of Brooks' book lies in chapters addressing issues especially pertinent to urban environments: abortion, sexuality, family, religious pluralism, and social justice. In the short space of this book, Brooks gives a proper understanding of the challenges at hand with each respective topic and issues some introductory arguments to deconstruct misunderstandings of and challenges to the respective biblical view on each topic. These chapters should prove helpful to the urban apologist. Brooks, an African-American pastor in Detroit, writes with the insight only gained by living in and ministering to such urban environments over many years.

As with any book review, I need to address the points of disagreement or contention. While I had no strong disagreements with the arguments Brooks presents here, I particularly was curious of his foundational approach to apologetics. One may suspect that the author comes from a more evidentialist apologetic approach based on certain statements he makes. For example when Brooks is addressing the negative consequences of homosexuality, he seems to assign a measure of authority to scientific social research on homosexuality alongside Scripture. I would give Brooks the benefit of the doubt here that he likely does not hold scientific research to the authority level of Scripture even though I would like some more clarity on his approach to addressing secular arguments and the use and authority of Scripture in such arguments.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a helpful primer to Christians seeking to more effectively engage their urban neighbors as they seek to present the gospel to every man, woman, and child.

Note: I received this book for free from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review. Please see the author's page here.


Book Review: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl

I recently read a book which I normally wouldn't read. I don't think that I, a mid-20s accountant with a minor obsession for theology, hymns, old guns, and scotch, would be considered the target audience for "Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom" by Paula Hendricks. However, as luck (and the wonderful connections Twitter can make) will have it, I have somehow found myself in the midst of the target audience of a gaggle of teenage girls swooning after dreamy junior-high boys. As abnormal the topic of this book was compared to my preferred genres and topics, I really like it and would recommend it.

Paula Hendricks, the self-confessedly boy-crazy girl, who blogs at paulawrites.com and is a regular contributor to the True Woman blog, has penned a helpful and brief memoir about her journey from seeking joy in boys to seeking (and finding) her joy in Christ.

Paula breaks down her story in two main parts: her search for happiness in a relationship and her "breaking and remaking" effected by Jesus' gospel. I don't need to be a boy-crazy girl to relate to the experiences she shares and the pains and dead ends of making a relationship an idol. Paula writes each chapter in a colloquial tone which is easy to read and well suited for her presumed teenage girl audience. Each chapter also has questions for reflection which were thought out quite well and would certainly prove helpful.

As a (rather) amateur theologian coming to a book which I normally would not read, I was very curious to see how Scripture would be applied and if it would be handled faithfully. I was quite pleased with Paula's use of the Scriptures and detected no real errors in exegesis or application. On the contrary, I often found myself underlining and marking up many passages which I found to be faithful interpretations and applications of the text of Scripture. For example, I found the tremendously encouraging assertion, "God is a Person - one who's more interested in securing my forever happiness than my temporary happiness" (p.13). Here is a woman who recognizes something that I fear much of the Church misses: the real personhood of God.

One more thing I loved that Paula wrote, which I think shows that she is a trustworthy writer who is planted on some firm doctrinal ground as to how God reveals Himself: "And then I heard Him. Jesus. He spoke to me through Matthew 11:28-30..." (p.92). A writer working through difficult desires and life situations who doesn't look to her circumstances or mystical experiences to hear from God, but hears his voice in the Scriptures? I can really dig that. Oh, and she quoted a favorite hymn of mine and a Thomas Chalmers sermon, so perhaps you should take this review with a grain of salt. Or you can pick up a copy of the book and read it. If you are a teenage girl...or not.


Book Review: What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About

When I first heard of the title of this book, I was a little skeptical. This guy has the gumption to tell us all what the Old Testament authors really cared about? Pretentiousness in the title! Surely this book can't live up to its claim. Welp, I was wrong. This book, edited by Jason DeRouchie, is an excellent introduction to the Old Testament with a keen focus on authorial intent. In this review, I will offer a brief summary of the book and then my reflections.

In this Old Testament survey, several authors and professors walk through each book in the Old Testament in the order of the Hebrew scriptures, which has a definite impact when it comes to understanding the theme of certain books (ex: 1-2 Chronicles). In each chapter, the respective author walks through the purpose(s) each scriptural author had for writing by answering the whos, whens, wheres, and whys of the book. DeRouchie states plainly the purpose of this book: "this survey attempts to present the essence of what is revealed in the Old Testament, with a conscious eye toward the fulfillment found in Jesus in the New Testament" (p.13, emphasis original). This book pairs very well with other works on biblical theology. The chapters are sprinkled with relevant pictures, sidebars, visual and textual graphs, and most importantly, solid biblical exegesis - as far as this amateur theologian can tell.

I was very pleased with the overall content of this book, especially considering that I had never read almost any author contained in this volume before. There are too many helpful things I underlined and noted to share here in this review. I only noted a few items of biblical interpretation which seemed to be a little bit of a stretch. Either way, such items were very minor and not essential to the main meaning of the text in question.

Here is one sample of something in the chapter on Lamentations I found encouraging and readily applicable to my life: "[Speaking of God's faithfulness as the basis for hope in suffering]...therefore, those who look to God have real hope - the confident assurance that he will meet the repentant with real mercy in accordance with his character and promise" (p.405).

I heartily commend this book to everyone who desires to get to know that which composes a large majority of the Bible.

Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received this book for free from Kregel Publications in exchange for an unbiased review.


The Object of Corporate Worship

Mike Cosper, in his book Rhythms of Grace, makes a key observation about the nature of corporate worship. Here is my summary what Mike calls the worship one-two-three:
One: God is the object and the author of worship. 
Two: Worship happens when God’s people are scattered and gathered.  
Three: God, the Church, and the world witness our worship.
I was thinking about the implications of God being the object of our worship and pondered the following ponderings.

Do we worship God according to His self-revelation or to a false image of God? In our corporate worship, God is the only object of our worship and we worship God. We do not gather together to engage in an activity called “worship”; we worship something, namely, God. God is to be the sole object of our worship. When we gather, we direct all our honoring, thanksgiving, praising, exalting, and exulting towards God. As the formerly blind man fell at Jesus feet and worshiped Jesus when he received Jesus’ self-revelation (John 9:37-38), so we are to respond to God as we receive God’s story – the gospel. It makes much sense to then fill our corporate gatherings with Scripture – reading, reciting, preaching – so that there will be no doubt in the congregation as to who God says He is and so that God’s Spirit may actively work in us through the Scriptures.

God’s self-revelation should also cause us to evaluate carefully the words of the songs we sing. Consider the following:

  • Do the songs we sing accurately reflect who God is and what He has done? Are we singing false or faulty doctrine? (This implies one must have and know doctrine first.)
  • Do we have an imbalanced song collection where we focus inordinately on certain characteristics of God and neglect others?
  • Can the songs we sing be sung by one living the normal Christian life or do the songs we sing portray the redeemed life as one of all triumph or as one of gloom?
  • Do the songs we sing represent a mere mishmash of spiritual phrases? Do our songs sound more like a word-bank for worship buzzword bingo – praise, love, glory, fire, desire, king, sing – than coherent lyrics which tell God’s story that we sing along to? Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some popular songwriters, singing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” ad infinitum might not be the best method of vocalizing our praise to God.

There is much more to be thought through and more to be said about such a topic.


The Neglected Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

Should Christians support "same-sex marriage"?

That is the question I have been considering this past week. I have seen several Christian friends and acquaintances come out in support of same-sex marriage via social media recently. I have also heard many raise their opposition to same-sex marriage. I believe that there is an argument against same sex marriage which has been tragically neglected in recent weeks. The argument had two sides, a negative and positive. Let's consider the negative first.

Same-sex marriage, as it is presently propounded, is incompatible with what is good for men and women according to what God has made plain in Scripture. Why? Because same-sex marriage is founded on something sinful - homosexuality. You cannot support same-sex marriage without supporting something which God disapproves. Christians should never encourage anyone to sin, whether they are believers or not. Standing up for same-sex marriage is to promote a life where one can accept homosexual desire and pursue it in the context of a homosexual relationship. Christians should not encourage this. To accept homosexual marriage is to accept sin and Christians should never accept that which brings death to mankind (cf. Romans 1-6).

What is the positive side of the argument? The glorious, beautiful, and tragically neglected side of the argument? Christ, the one to whom Christians should point their same-sex friends to, is scorned. Here is one way of stating the argument all too absent as of late: 

"There is something far better for the homosexual man or woman than to be married to another homosexual man or woman - to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus and be forever married to He who is ultimately and most fully good for men and women - Jesus!"  

We should encourage homosexuals to flee to Christ and repent of their sin (including homosexual passions) and believe in the gospel of grace. Christians can't promote something that brings death (as all sin does) and at the same time promote Christ. I think many Christians mistakenly support same-sex marriage because they have a skewed view of what is marriage, love, happiness, and the ultimate purpose of life. The Bible gives the truth of what is good for men and women: to know and be known by God in Christ. Or, as many have confessed over the years: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. 

I am deliberately leaving many things out of this post for the sake of trying to present a singular point. Comments are open.


The Only Kind of Boasting Allowed - Gadsby #32

There is only one kind of boasting approved by God and that is boasting in Christ. What does it mean to boast in Christ? Is it to exult in the fact that Christ saved you? This is an unthinkable and glorious reality, but I don't think that in boasting in Christ, we become the subject of such boasting. Boasting in Christ rather is proudly exulting in who Jesus is, how He made God just and became the justifier of those who have faith in Him (Rom. 3:26). I think boasting is closer to that. Having said that, this is the only kind of boasting approved by God. Further, the litmus test for evidence of the residence of the Spirit of God is such boasting - exulting in the supreme holiness of God manifested in the Son's life, death, and resurrection with abundant love.

Also, another way to detect the Spirit's activity is to see how much people are heart-gazing at Christ. This is the dominant activity of the Spirit. Do I need to mention that some alleged manifestations of the Spirit may be exactly the opposite of what they claim to be if Christ is not lifted up as the supreme treasure?

    32    C.M.    J. Hart
    “He shall not speak of himself.” John 16:13; 15:26

    1    Whatever prompts the soul to pride,
            Or gives us room to boast,
        Except in Jesus crucified,
            Is not the Holy Ghost.

    2    That blessed Spirit omits to speak
            Of what himself has done,
        And bids the enlightened sinner seek
            Salvation in the Son.

    3    He never moves a man to say,
            “Thank God, I’m made so good,”
        But turns his eye another way,
            To Jesus and his blood.

    4    Great are the graces he confers,
            But all in Jesus’ name;
        He gladly dictates, gladly hears,
            “Salvation to the Lamb.”


Useless Doctrine - Gadsby # 31

Doctrine quickly becomes meaningless if it does not affect your life. Hart repeats this several times in this hymn. What good is election to me if God has not chosen me? What good is justification if Christ' accomplished redemption is not applied to me? You get the picture. But the question still remains: is your doctrine useless?

    31    C.M.    J. Hart
    “The kingdom of God is ... in power.” 1 Cor. 4. 20
    1    A form of words, though e’er so sound,
            Can never save a soul;
        The Holy Ghost must give the wound,
            And make the wounded whole.

    2    Though God’s election is a truth,
            Small comfort there I see,
        Till I am told by God’s own mouth,
            That he has chosen me.

    3    [Sinners, I read, are justified,
            By faith in Jesus’ blood;
        But when to me that blood’s applied,
            ’Tis then it does me good.]

    4    [To perseverance I agree;
            The thing to me is clear;
        Because the Lord has promised me
            That I shall persevere.]

    5    [Imputed righteousness I own
            A doctrine most divine;
        For Jesus to my heart makes known
            That all his merit’s mine.]

    6    That Christ is God I can avouch,
            And for his people cares,
        Since I have prayed to him as such,
            And he has heard my prayers.

    7    That sinners black as hell, by Christ
            Are saved, I know full well;
        For I his mercy have not missed,
            And I am black as hell.

    8    Thus, Christians glorify the Lord,
            His Spirit joins with ours
        In bearing witness to his word,
            With all its saving powers.


The Fruit of the Spirit - Gadsby #30

I'm not entirely sure if I am in 100% agreement with this hymn. Here are a few points of pushback I have:

  • What about the soul who doesn't have "sincere desires" in seeking after Jesus' love? For example, there are many who pursue God in Spirit-idolatry, where miraculous gifts are sought more than God Himself. But if the Holy Spirit only gave "breathings from above" to those who sincerely sought Jesus, we would all be lacking God's great Gift (Rom. 5:4). I am not denying that God withholds Spiritual blessings from those who earnestly seek Him. Such a thought paints the picture of a fickle and malevolent God. I guess my point is here that the Spirit will breath on those whom He wills (Jn. 3:8), through convicting them of their sin (which means that they are presently entangled in sin to be convicted of it - cf. Jn 16:8).
  • "still small voice" - I have rarely seen someone use this phrase properly. When people speak of the "still small voice" they often imply hearing little mental whispers from God. The debate around this phrase/topic is worthy of exegesis from skilled exegetes (i.e. not me). Suffice it to say, when phrases such as this are exported from Scripture and then take on a new meaning divorced from the original text, well, you're doing it wrong.
Other than those minor quibbles, here is one thing worthy of reflection: you can have your "conscience washed from sin". This is not impossible. But beware of the Accuser who will work against you to make it seem impossible.

30    C.M.    J. Hart
The Fruit of the Spirit. Acts 2:3; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9

    1    The soul that with sincere desires
            Seeks after Jesus’ love,
        That soul the Holy Ghost inspires
            With breathings from above.

    2    [Not every one in like degree
            The Spirit of God receives;
        The Christian often cannot see
            His faith, and yet believes.

    3    So gentle sometimes is the flame,
            That, if we take not heed,
        We may unkindly quench the same,
            We may, my friends, indeed.]

    4    Blest God! that once in fiery tongues
            Cam’st down in open view,
        Come, visit every heart that longs
            To entertain thee too.

    5    [And though not like a mighty wind,
            Nor with a rushing noise,
        May we thy calmer comforts find,
            And hear thy still small voice.]

    6    Not for the gift of tongues we pray,
            Nor power the sick to heal;
        Give wisdom to direct our way,
            And strength to do thy will.

    7    We pray to be renewed within,
            And reconciled to God;
        To have our conscience washed from sin
            In the Redeemer’s blood.

    8    We pray to have our faith increased,
            And O, celestial Dove!
        We pray to be completely blessed
            With that rich blessing, love.