Book Reviews

The Christian’s Greatest Need (Reading Notes)

“That practice which is alike the most holy, the most general, and the most needful in the spiritual life is the practice of the Presence of God. It is the schooling of the soul to find its joy in His Divine Companionship, holding with Him at all times and at every moment humble and loving converse, without set rule or stated method, in all time of our temptation and tribulation, in all time of our dryness of soul and disrelish of God, yes, and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and actual sin.

We should apply ourselves unceasingly to this one end, to so rule all our actions that they be little acts of communion with God; but they must not be studied, they must come naturally, from the purity and simplicity of the heart.” (Brother Lawrence, The Spiritual Maxims)

Book Review: “Power In The Pulpit” (Vines & Shaddix)

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Authors

Dr. Jerry Vines served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 2006. He was educated at Mercer University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary. Vines also served as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988-1989. Dr. Jim Shaddix is the pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon.

Purpose of the Book

Vines and Shaddix stated that this book’s specific purpose “is to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly.” They emphasized that pastors who preach on a weekly basis, as opposed to itinerant preachers, have a difficult job before them on a consistent basis. In fact, they stated, “Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening.” Vines and Shaddix both agree that effective expository preaching needs to be emphasized and that is exactly what they seek to do in this book.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons.  Vines and Shaddix explained in detail the preparation for exposition, the process of exposition, and the presentation of the exposition.  All three are vital to the work of an expositor.  A main concern of this book is to define the task of expository preaching and the qualifications of one who takes on this task.  Vines and Shaddix stated that this person must be called of God and participate in activities that help build a healthy heart, mind, and body.

Vines and Shaddix also offered a five-step approach to develop expository sermons.  Each step is progressive and the final product is an expository sermon that communicates a central truth, which is applied to a contemporary audience. A major concern for Vines and Shaddix is that many people view expository sermons as lectures, which are often boring.  They stated, however, that the text has a message for a contemporary audience and this must be communicated effectively. A sermon is not complete unless the text is applied to the contemporary audience and Vines and Shaddix emphasized the need for application in expositional preaching.

One of the major aspects of the expository method is the systematic preaching through books of the Bible.  Vines stated, “more profit will be realized by a systematic, book-by-book approach” than any other approach to preaching. They encouraged expositors to approach preaching from a canonical perspective.  Not only did they insist that it is beneficial to preach the whole counsel of God, they also made mention that one should study and preach with an understanding of all Scripture.  They wrote, “You must determine how your passage fits in with the overall context of the book in which it is found, as well as with the total revelation and message of the Bible.” This method, if used, will allow the expositor to preach canonically, draw one central truth from the text, and apply it to the contemporary audience.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Vines and Shaddix offer an expository approach that pastors can implement on a weekly basis. Too often pastors stray away from the disciplined study of the text because of the time it takes to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.  However, the method in Power in the Pulpit allows the expositor to follow a step-by-step outline for accomplishing this task.  Scripture states the disciples gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Expositors must decide that to fulfill their responsibility, in feeding the sheep, they must be as committed as the apostles and this method offered by Vines and Shaddix gives a great weekly plan to follow.

The greatest weakness of this book is the lack of emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the expositional process.  While there is a great deal of information concerning the specifics of doing exposition, there is little mention that the expositor must rely on the Holy Spirit.  The expositor can only experience true power in the pulpit when the Spirit is upon him.  It would have been extremely beneficial had Vines and Shaddix explored and emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more in the expositional process.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great resource and step-by-step plan to follow. Vines and Shaddix offer encouragement and instruction in a way that the average pastor will appreciate.

Book Review: “Life Is Mostly Edges” (Calvin Miller)

edgesCalvin Miller graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science degree and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He pastored for over 30 years and spent his last years as a professor at both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He was an accomplished poet, author (over 40 books including The Singer Trilogy) and artist. Dr. Miller went to his forever home with Jesus on August 19, 2012 leaving behind a wife and two children.

Purpose of the Book

“At the age of seventy-two, I have grown honest about the best years of my life. I have lived those years – all of them – past threescore and ten, knowing all along that this life was never mine. It has belonged all the way through to another.” So begins Calvin Miller’s memoir of his life and ministry – an account of his love for his Savior and the journey of following Him through the years.

Organization and Content

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: The Early Years (1936-1955), Part 2: Staying Human While Being A Pastor (1956-1991) and Part 3: The Professor Who Liked Teaching But Loved Learning (1991-2007).

Part 1 focused on Miller’s growing up years and the difficulties he experienced. His father had little to do with the family and it is evident that Calvin’s mother (Ethel) was a wonderful lady. She worked hard to provide for the family and he spends many pages lauding her love for Jesus and her family. Miller was exposed to the gospel early in his life through various churches in Enid, OK.

My favorite part of the book was in the second section, which focused on Miller’s years as a pastor. He pastored one church for 4 years until he left to plant another church where he remained for 25 years. Westside Church grew from 10 members to over 2,500 in that period of time. There were numerous ups and downs during these years as a pastor and I enjoyed hearing the stories of triumph and disappointment.

Part 3 was interesting as Miller discussed his departure from the pastorate and journey to the seminary. He recounted the two struggles right before leaving his church and the interesting dynamic of seminary life. Southwestern was embroiled in the Conservative Resurgence when Miller came on faculty and it is evident he failed to see many positives in this struggle. I did get the feeling that Miller appreciated his time at Beeson, especially due to the interdenominational nature of the school and faculty.

Personal Evaluation

I honestly felt like I was sitting down with Calvin Miller over a cup of coffee as I read this book. His transparency was refreshing and his honesty was heartfelt. For me, his transparency and honesty was a bit scary as well. As a pastor, I took much of what he said about the church and pastors to heart. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. It is very easy to forsake your family and even your personal walk with Jesus in the ministry. This is scary and yet I can identify times in my own ministry and life when this has been true.

I also sensed a bit of freedom after reading this memoir. Calvin Miller was not your “typical” pastor (whatever that means!) in that he was more artsy and introverted than you might think a pastor should be. However, it was clear he loved people, his Savior and the local church. He was who he was and God used him in a mighty way. This was a great encouragement to me to just simply be me!

I would definitely encourage pastors to pick up this book and read it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Never have any special group in your church who knows the critical ins and outs of your dreams, while the bulk of the people are in the dark. The janitor should know everything the chairman of the board knows, right?”

“Keep every plan out in the open, and you’ll never get in trouble. Keep the church finances that way too. Let everybody know freely everything you know, and don’t have any special people you try to placate by giving them information first. When everybody owns the church and its dreams, the church is healthy. When there are little secret pockets of informants, decay is in the wind.”

“Most who have fallen in love with Christ didn’t choose to be fervent. They have just seen the Son, high and lifted up, and have no choice but to fly in his direction. Such remarkable passion is a kind of gift. I have known many Christians across my span of years. In fact, most everyone I have worked with has called themselves Christian. But among all the Christians, I have known only a few of them who seemed to have that natural— or supernatural—inclination of clinging to their God.”

“Some of the ‘big’ pastors I know seem to enjoy being ‘big.’ They own a sense of success and fame that satisfies most of them. And they are revered generally for being deeply spiritual men, even loving men. But the best of pastors realize that good sermons are not just flashy rhetoric. Sermons are only noble when they are so ‘see-through’ that the pastor’s need for God is clearly visible through his words.”

“What I specifically learned was that people can forgive a leader whose vision may be errant, but they will never forgive a leader who isn’t visionary.”

“I had quit busying myself with the things of God and busied myself with God himself. I didn’t mean to quit thinking about the things of God; it just happened that my focus on God had replaced the good stuff of my life with the best stuff.”

“When I dropped my guard and focused on Christ, what I had tried to make happen, happened automatically. The church began to grow. And the growth made me ponder again the promise of relinquishment. Letting go of any drive releases the soul, and those who can’t quit struggling in an attempt to realize their dreams will be the last to realize them. I had done nothing very remarkable. I had learned the lesson from a fellow struggler, a blind pilgrim, who taught me that the secret of success is not ‘busianity,’ it is ‘Christianity.’”

“Herein lies my greatest fears for the Emergent Church: in its attempt to start where the culture is, it rarely stops and asks, ‘Is this where the culture should be?’”

Book Review: “Famine In The Land” (Stephen Lawson)

lawson_famine_in_the_land__53510__69691_zoomDr. Stephen J. Lawson serves as the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He has pastored churches in the states of Arkansas and Alabama for over 29 years. Lawson has received degrees from Texas Tech University (B.B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is the author of 15 books including The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Faith Under Fire, and Made In Our Image. Dr. Lawson is married to Anne and they have three sons, Andrew, James, and John, and a daughter, Grace Anne.

Purpose of the Book

Lawson wrote, “Famine in the Land directly addresses what, I believe, is the crying need of the hour, specifically that the modern-day pulpit be restored to her former glory of generations past, days when God’s truth was fearlessly proclaimed – days when doctrinal clarity, theological precision, and heart-searching application once poured forth from pulpits.” His desire is to encourage pastors to recover expository preaching so that their congregations can be fed the Word of God.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into four primary chapters that address (1) the priority of biblical preaching, (2) the power of biblical preaching, (3) the pattern of biblical preaching, (4) and the passion of biblical preaching. Lawson weaves in a tremendous amount of exposition as he works through each of these topics.

In the first chapter, Lawson examines the priority of biblical preaching that is found in the early church. He wrote, “With many ministries forsaking a steady diet of biblical exposition, where is an effective model to be found in which preaching and teaching God’s Word is the main entrée? What does it look like when a church is being served the meat of God’s Word? One need look no further that to the first church in Jerusalem, born on the Day of Pentecost and firmly planted in the soil of newly converted hearts.” The early church witnessed leaders who viewed dividing the Word of God as a solemn and great responsibility. This resulted in an explosion of growth in the early church and a people who were devoted to the Word of God. Lawson stated that the church must recover this vision for biblical preaching if it desires to make an impact in the world today.

In the second chapter, Lawson focuses on the need for biblical preaching that is courageous and compelling. He stated, “The crying need of the hour is for divine power to be restored to evangelical pulpits.” Lawson emphasized that this will only happen when God-called men boldly proclaim the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit. He highlighted the preaching ministry of Jonah in this chapter and focused on Jonah’s courageous, compelling, confrontational, and compassionate preaching. This is a model for preaching in the contemporary church and needs to be recovered.

In the third chapter, Lawson emphasized the need for preachers to expound the Word of God. The Bible must be the central focus of the sermon regardless of the latest fad in contemporary preaching. He used Ezra as the biblical example and wrote, “All biblical preachers and teachers would do well to follow this pattern of Ezra’s ministry, which involved knowing (“study”), being (“practice”), and doing (“proclaiming”).” Ezra was a devoted student of Scripture, obedient to what the Scriptures taught, and diligent to preach it’s truth to others. These characteristics should also be true of contemporary preachers.

In the final chapter, Lawson discussed the need for passionate preaching in the church today. He wrote, “Passionate, biblical preaching from God-dominated men must be restored to the pulpit.” Lawson emphasized this point by looking at the charge Paul gave to Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to be passionate about the preaching ministry because if he was faithful to proclaim the Scriptures, people’s lives would be changed. Lawson closed by encouraging preachers to emulate the life of George Whitefield. He wrote, “May the holy flame of each God-called preacher burn brightly in this dark hour, faithful to the end.” This is a tireless call but one that preachers must pursue with every ounce of their being until the end of their lives.

 Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Lawson is able to communicate a great amount of truth in such a short book. He also uses a tremendous amount of Scripture to support each and every claim he makes throughout the book. This is beneficial because it demonstrates to his reader exactly what he is writing about. It is clear that Lawson has a passion for God’s Word and for preachers to faithfully proclaim it to their people.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it is more descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. While Lawson calls for a return of expository preaching in the contemporary church, he never really shows how to accomplish this. It would have been extremely helpful if he could have walked through some of the steps that must be taken for this to happen. I believe this would have allowed him to address the great need for expository preaching in the church and then provide a solution to restore its practice.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great source of encouragement. Lawson pushes all the right buttons to cause preachers to take serious inventory of their life and ministry. His passion is contagious and reflects his love of God’s Word and God’s glory.

Book Review: “Between Two Worlds” (John Stott)

betweenDr. John Stott was born in London in 1921 and served at the All Souls Church, Langham Place in London for 35 years (from 1945-1950 as vicor and from 1950-1975 as rector). He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (French and Theology) and Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge where he was ordained as an Anglical clergyman. Stott was a central figure in British evangelicalism during his ministry and he founded and served as the honorary president of Langham Partnership International. He has written numerous books including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and Evangelical Truth. Dr. Stott went to be with the Lord on July 27, 2011.

Purpose of the Book

Stott wrote, “I confess to being – for reasons which will emerge in the following chapters – an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching both for evangelism and for the healthy growth of the Church. The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it any less necessary.” His desire is to help preachers bridge the gap between the biblical and contemporary worlds, while also recognizing the necessity of both.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into eight chapters yet, these chapters can be organized into two sections: (1) History and theology of preaching and (2) Practical considerations of preaching. The first four chapters focus on the history, theology, definition, and objections to preaching while the remaining chapters address the more practical components of the preaching task. Stott emphasized that the historical and theological aspects of preaching must not be bypassed in favor of the practical aspects.

In the first chapter, Stott takes a historical look at preaching from the time of Jesus to the twentieth century. He emphasized that preaching has been the foundation of the church and there is a broad tradition of preaching since the time of Jesus. It is essential, then, to examine the historical basis of preaching in any endeavor to discuss contemporary approaches.

Stott focused on the contemporary objections to the preaching responsibility in chapter two. He addressed objections such as the anti-authority mood in contemporary culture, the cybernetics revolution, and the church’s loss of confidence in the gospel. Stott addressed each objection from a biblical perspective and settled on the proposition that biblical preaching will be the best way to address these concerns.

In the third chapter, Stott examined the theological foundations for preaching. He emphasized that theological convictions concerning God, Scripture, the church, the pastorate, and the task of preaching must be firmly established. When they are established, Stott believes that the objections to preaching will not deter preachers from the ministry to which they have been called.

Stott offered a working definition of preaching in the fourth chapter. The title of the book gets its origin in this chapter. Stott emphasized that the preaching task is one in which the preacher bridges the gap between the “revealed Word” and the “contemporary world.” When this is accomplished the preacher will be faithful to proclaim the Word while also applying the Word to the modern hearer.

In the fifth and sixth chapters, Stott discussed the practical issues surrounding studying and preparation for sermons. He insisted that preachers who determine to bridge the two worlds are called to study and prepare. Stott offered guidance for accomplishing both tasks and a step-by-step method for sermon preparation.

The final two chapters consist of Stott’s practical encouragement for the life of the preacher. He stated that preachers must be certain that their lives consist of sincerity, earnestness, courage, and humility. If the preacher’s life is not characterized by these qualities, it will be difficult to gain respect as one whose life has been transformed by the gospel.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Stott demonstrates a pastor’s heart throughout the work. It is evident that he has a passion for preaching and a passion to see biblical preaching recovered in the local church. His insights are piercing and he is able to balance both the theological and practical dimensions of preaching.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it there is an end to it! This is, by far, the best book I have read on preaching and the responsibility preachers have. I would have liked to see Stott address more issues (namely the mechanics of the preaching event) in the book simply because of his insight and profound wisdom. It is probably the first preaching book that I have finished and wished it were not over.

This book, overall, is a masterpiece for persons who are in pastoral ministry. Those who desire to see biblical preaching recovered in the contemporary church will find an ally in John Stott. He is accessible and yet profound. Between Two Worlds should be on every pastor’s shelf and it should be read at least once a year.

Book Review: “David and Goliath” (Malcolm Gladwell)

After we drop Anna off for her dance class on Monday nights, we head over to the library to pick up some new books for both of our girls. This past week I noticed Malcom Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath on the “new arrivals” shelf staring at me. I interpreted this “stare” as more of a dare – the book was saying, essentially, “I dare you to pick me up and read me!” I have not read any of Gladwell’s other popular books (Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point) even though I have heard from numerous people that they were superb. I made a quick choice that evening and dumped the book into the pile of other books were planning to check out that evening.

About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, where he has been under contract since 1996. He is also a popular speaker (after publishing several best-sellers), delivering speeches at various venues throughout the United States. You can find out more about him and his writing at www.gladwell.com.

My Expectations

I had high hopes as I began reading this book. Amazon reviewers have given it 4 out of 5 stars, which caused me to assume that I would get my money’s worth (yes I know it was free to check out but I sacrificed a good 3 hours of my precious time reading it). Boy, was I disappointed. Apart from the first chapter about David and Goliath, I was not at all impressed. The writing did not flow and Gladwell’s premise was not argued well. There were times I thought about putting the book down and walking away for good. But, after hearing how great his other books were I thought maybe, just maybe I had hit a rough spot. I wish this had been true!

Book Overview

The book is divided into three sections:

1. The Advantages of Disadvantages (and Disadvantages of Advantages)

The premise of this section is that our strengths are not necessarily strengths and our weaknesses are not necessarily weaknesses. Gladwell focused on different people and their strengths/weaknesses. He used their failures to demonstrate that their perceived strength actually turned out to be a weakness (Goliath’s size was likely due to a medical condition that caused him to have difficulty seeing beyond a few feet). The opposite is also true according to Gladwell; perceived weaknesses can often be strengths (numerous people with learning disabilities have succeeded precisely because of those perceived disabilities).

2. The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

In this section, Gladwell examined the lives of people who have grown up in difficult situations (abusive childhood or loss of a parent at an early age) and yet done extremely well. One interesting fact mentioned by Gladwell is that 12 out of our 44 Presidents lost their father early in their childhood. He argued that this difficulty was instrumental in preparing them for their job as President. Gladwell also claimed that the revolving door of difficult circumstances experienced by African Americans, before and during the Civil Rights Movement, actually enabled them to persevere through these difficulties.

3. The Limits of Power

In the final section of the book, Gladwell examined how power can be a weakness. He used several stories to highlight this point. The first is the story of how the British army, who were more resourced and had more weapons, soldiers and military experience, struggled against a weaker army/people in Northern Ireland. He also relayed the story of the Huguenots’ resistance against the Nazi controlled government in France. Even though they were outmanned and outgunned, they still succeeded in resisting the oppressive government.

My Review

First, let me say that I struggled with the man-centered focus surrounding the biblical story of David and Goliath. We have all heard sermons preached from this text that focus on “slaying the giants in our life.” I am convinced this is not the point of the story. If me saying this puzzles you, take some time to watch Matt Chandler’s sermon on the glory of God. I recognize that this biblical story served as as a great backdrop to discuss what Gladwell wanted to discuss but I hate to see this story ripped out of its biblical context.

As I mentioned above, I thought Gladwell’s writing style was choppy and difficult to read. Several other reviewers mentioned this same thing but noted that his other books were not like this. With my reading time as limited as it is, I doubt I will pick up another one of his books. I was just not impressed.

Ok. Being the history nerd that I am, I did enjoy the historical stories that were used throughout the book and that may be its greatest strength. I wish my first experience reading Malcolm Gladwell would have gone better!

Book Review: “Christ Centered Preaching” (Bryan Chapell)

Christ Centered PreachingDr. Bryan Chapell previously served as the president and professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri and is currently the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Preoria, IL. He served in pastoral ministry for ten years before he began his tenure at Covenant in 1986. Chapell earned a BSJ in journalism, English literature, and American History at Northwestern University, an MDiv. in pastoral studies at Covenant Theological Seminary, and a PhD in speech communication at Southern Illinois University. He has written several books including The Promises of Grace, In the Grip of Grace, and Holiness by Grace. Chapell and his wife, Kathleen, have four children, Colin, Corinne, Jordan, and Kaitlin.

The Purpose of the Book

Chapell wrote, “The ultimate aim of Christ-centered preaching is not to burden preachers with a new science of interpretation but to release them to preach the grace of all Scripture that secures and enables relationship with the Savior – making preaching a joy to our hearts and strength to God’s people.” His aim in this book is to encourage preachers to preach Christ in all the Scriptures because it is the union with Christ that brings hope, joy, strength, and peace.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons that are Christ-centered. Chapell accomplishes this by dividing the chapters up into three sections: (1) Principles for Expository Preaching, (2) Preparation of Expository Sermons, and (3) A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages. Each section deals with a different aspect of the preacher’s task and Chapell offers guidance for the overall process of exposition.

In the first section (Principles for Expository Preaching), Chapell focuses primarily on a theology of expositional preaching. He accomplishes this by examining the biblical witness concerning the task of preaching as well as the necessary ingredients for exposition sermons. There is a discussion concerning the Scriptural precedent of expository preaching as well as the importance of God’s Word in the preaching process. His goal in this section is to examine the mandate in Scripture for expositional preaching and lay the groundwork for a discussion concerning the preparation of expositional sermons.

In the second section (Preparation of Expository Sermons), Chapell examines the steps that must be taken to prepare expository sermons. This section is the most basic in the book and it is really a nuts and bolts look at the expository method. Chapell emphasizes that preachers must have a system to follow that enables them to discover what the text means and aids in identifying the best way to preach that text to a group of people. He focuses on the necessity of great exegesis and relevant application with this approach. The overall goal is to communicate God’s truth in a way that transforms people’s lives.

In the third section (A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages), Chapell spends a great deal of time focusing on what he believes is a problem in a majority of contemporary preaching. He believes that every sermon must address the “Fallen Condition Focus” of the text so that the redemption message can be proclaimed. Preachers must be certain that they are not simply preaching a moralistic message. They must be sure to preach the message of grace that can only be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

There are also numerous appendixes at the end of the book that address preaching and pastoral issues. These appendixes specifically touch on matters that Chapell did not address in the text but need to be addressed. Each appendix focuses on an aspect of the preaching/pastoral ministry and answers questions that might arise out of the text.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Chapell offers an expository method that can be easily followed. He describes this method in great detail and it is a method that every preacher can use within his ministry. Another positive aspect of this book is the pastoral heart with which Chapell approaches preaching. It is evident that he is passionate about biblical preaching that changes lives. This is refreshing and offers encouragement to pastors as they read the book and reflect on their own ministries.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it is extremely long and repetitive. Chapell spends a great amount of time reiterating things that he has already said previously in the text. Even though there is a great deal of good information, Chapell did not need to expend the number of words he did. Pastors will recognize this as they read the book and it could cause them to decide not to finish the text. This would not be beneficial to the average pastor because the thrust of Chapell’s book is not seen until the last section in the book.

This book, overall, is a great work for pastor/preachers. Those who desire to preach Christ-centered expositional sermons will find it to be an exceptional work. Chapell passionately pleads for pastors to preach Christ in all Scripture because a relationship with Him is the only true hope in this world.

Book Review: “I Am A Church Member” (Thom Rainer)

I received a copy of Thom Rainer’s book, I Am A Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference, in the mail (out of the blue!) and took some time to read it a month or so ago. This is a short book but one that was extremely helpful. In fact, I thought it was so helpful that I purchased enough copies to give one to every family in our church. As I preached through a series on the church recently, I took one Sunday morning to discuss the role of church members and gave them this book. Several of our members have indicated that they have enjoyed working through the book and have been challenged greatly.

Rainer’s introduction is entitled, “A Tale of Two Church Members,” and focuses on two very different perspectives on church membership. He wrote:

I am suggesting that congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us. We don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies. God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.

The book is divided into six chapters with each title declaring something about the type of church member we should be.

Chapter 1: “I Will Be a Functioning Church Member”

This chapter focuses on the responsibility of church members to be active in using their spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. Rainer wrote:

With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole.

Every member is vital to the body of Christ and when all members are not using their gifts in the body the church suffers! Rainer offered a very helpful question that church members can ask themselves, “How can I best serve my church?”

Chapter 2: “I Will Be a Unifying Church Member”

Rainer opens up with a powerful statement that I believe many people forget: “The world will know if we are Christians or not by the way we who are believers act toward one another.” Many of us have been involved in churches where there was little to no unity but that should not be the case. Rainer indicated that one of the most damaging things to church unity is gossip within the church. Church members have a responsibility to fight for (no pun intended) church unity at all times.

Chapter 3: “I Will Not Let My Church Be about My Preferences and Desires”

This chapter is probably the most important in my estimation. We live in a church culture that is predominately “me” focused. The problem according to Rainer is that church members should relinquish their wants and preferences as soon as they join their local church. He wrote:

But the strange thing about church membership is that you actually give up your preferences when you join. Don’t get me wrong; there may be much about your church that you like a lot. But you are there to meet the needs of others. You are there to serve others. You are there to give. You are there to sacrifice.

Serving others is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do within the church.

Chapter 4: “I Will Pray for My Church Leaders”

Rainer’s challenge to church members in this chapter was encouraging to my soul. He emphasized the need for church members to pray for their leaders, specifically pastors. His reasoning is very clear:

We should not be surprised, then, when we hear about a pastor’s moral failure. We are grieved and heartbroken, but not surprised. The devil is setting traps for pastors – anything he can do to bring harm to the pastor’s reputation. He will stop at nothing – greed, adultery, anger, addiction – to catch the pastor in his trap.

He emphasizes that God works through the prayers of believers – pastors need all the prayers they can get. My hope is that more church members will diligently pray for their pastors and leaders!

Chapter 5: “I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members”

This chapter focuses on the necessity for families to pray for the church, worship together in the church, and develop a love for the church. Rainer offered this helpful thought:

As I grow more deeply in love with my church, I will do all I can in God’s power to bring my family with me. We will pray for our church leaders together. We will worship together. And we will serve together.

We desperately need more families who love the church and who worship, serve, and pray for the church!

Chapter 6: “I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift”

The book ends with a chapter that focuses on the need to see church membership as a precious gift. Rainer wrote:

Church membership is a gift. A gift must be treasured. It should not be taken for granted or considered lightly. Because it is a gift, we must always be thankful for it. And when we are thankful for something, we have less time and energy to be negative.

We need more church members who are grateful for the gift of the local church and membership within the body!

**If you are a church member you need to pick up this book and read it! If you are a pastor you need to read it and get it in the hands of your people!

Book Review: “The Presidents Club” (Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy)

One of my guilty pleasures, outside of reading John Grisham and Robert Whitlow, is reading books on presidential history. Ever since I discovered at the ripe old age of 8 that I had the same last name as one of our former presidents, I have been fascinated with the office and the men who served our nation in this capacity.

I have had the joy of reading dozens of books about our former presidents and even the privilege, thanks to a dear friend, to meet one of them in person several years back. Of all the books I have read, The Presidents Club is by far the most fascinating. Gibbs and Duffy capture the essence of the office in a way that few writers are able to accomplish. Interestingly enough, they also provide an in depth look at the relationships between current and former presidents in such a way that you feel as though you are in the room as the events transpire.

Here are some things I learned and processed through as I read:

1. Easy decisions do not make it to the president’s desk. It is easy for us in the public to play Monday morning quarterback concerning every decision our president makes. The problem with this is that we often have such a limited perspective of what is going on that our opinions would prove simplistic and ill informed if we had the same information before us that he possesses. I use to think that I would love to be the president… not so much now.

2. The president is a lonely person. Even though it appears that the president is always surrounded by a group of people, Gibbs and Duffy explain that every president in recent history has opined that he is the loneliest person in the world. This is sad but understandable. The presidency is an island unto itself – none who find themselves on this island return the same.

3. Every president is worried about his legacy. Regardless of temperament or political party, every president is concerned with how they will be remembered in the history books. Carter has spent his life, post-presidency, trying to overshadow his “failed” presidency. Bush (43) is convinced that his presidency will be remembered much differently that his final approval numbers seemed to indicate. It appears that there is a deep thread of insecurity imbedded in the office.

4. Lines of morality are often crossed in the presidency. I was absolutely blown away by the scandals surrounding the office – everything from Kennedy’s skinny dipping with female interns in the White House pool to Watergate to Clinton’s impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Power can often breed corruption and we have witnessed moral compromise by many of our presidents. It is clear that the president needs our prayers.

If you are interested in presidential history like me, I would encourage you to get The Presidents Club and read it for yourself. I’m sure you will be amazed, disgusted, and fascinated at different points throughout!

Book Review: “The Hole In Our Holiness” (Kevin DeYoung)

The_Hole_In_Our_HolinessI know what you are expecting right now… to read a book review of The Hole In Our Holiness. I don’t mean to disappoint but STOP, GO buy this book and READ it!

This is one of the best books I have read in quite a while. It was both theologically rich and practically relevant at the same time. With the plethora of books out now concerning the gospel (J. D. Greear’s Gospel, Matt Chandler’s Explicit Gospel, Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus+Nothing=Everything), I believe Kevin DeYoung’s The Hole In Our Holiness could easily function as the sequel to each of these books. While they emphasize the truth and necessity of a right understanding of the gospel message (which is desperately needed) they often miss the mark of a calling people to radical holiness.

DeYoung emphasizes that the gospel should not only bring us from death to life but also transform every aspect of our lives to make us more like Jesus Christ. He quoted A. W. Tozer, who said, “Plain horse sense ought to tells us that anything that makes no change in the man who professes it makes no difference to God either, and it is an easily observable fact that for countless numbers of persons the change from no-faith to faith makes no actual difference in the life.”

The book has ten chapters, which explore every “nook and cranny” of a biblical understanding of holiness. DeYoung is transparent and witty throughout the book and I appreciate the fact that he emphasized that holiness is hard work. Many of the recent books on the gospel fail to emphasize the fact that believers are called to pursue holiness. DeYoung wrote, “There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.”

I believe the greatest benefit of this book is the fact that DeYoung did not offer a “magic bullet” list that bespeaks of holiness. Often, the tendency when discussing holiness is to have a list of do’s and don’ts: “Here is what you need to do to be holy” and “Here is what you need to not do to be holy. “ Even though he does not offer a list, he does, however, offer a helpful metaphor with which to understand holiness:

You can think of holiness, to employ a metaphor, as the sanctification of your body. The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good. The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil. The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is coarse or obscene. The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle. The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, humility instead of pride, and thankfulness instead of envy. The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman. The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wile parties. The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer. This is the anatomy of holiness.

Hopefully you have a good idea now of what The Hole In Our Holiness is all about and burning desire to pick up the book and be challenged as I was!

Favorite Quotes

“Too many sermons are basically self-help seminars on becoming a better you. That’s moralism, and it’s not helpful. Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.”

“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to. Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be the most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness?”

“Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”

“Every generation has both its insights and its blind spots. It takes wisdom to learn from the good and avoid the bad.”

“Righteousness is the goal of Christian discipleship.”

“The world provides no cheerleaders on the pathway to godliness.”

“It is the consistent witness of the New Testament that growth in godliness requires exertion on the part of the Christian.”

“Sanctification is not by surrender, but by divinely enabled toil and effort.”