16 November 2013

Book Review: "Unleader" by Jane Overstreet

Unleader: The Surprising Qualities of a Valuable LeaderUnleader: The Surprising Qualities of a Valuable Leader by Jane Overstreet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Overstreet compares and contrasts the lives of Saul and David to illustrate the character and qualities of a Godly leader. Best chapter is 4 "Do I Use Up or Build up People Under My Leadership" b/c she talks about a righteous leader helping people to move beyond their potential. (David and the rabble who became "mighty men".) Take-aways: be more interested in the wellfare of followers than of your own; own mistakes and immediately repent of sin; find security in God's love, not in approval or winning; the end does not justify the means.

The book is not without small problems. She was slow in pointing out that Saul referred to God as "the Lord **your** God" (emphasis mine) and then only mentioned 1 of 3 instances. She also didn't point out that Saul was sorry that he disappointed Samuel and not, apparently, that he had sinned against God. But, these are also matters of interpretation and don't take away from the value of the book.

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Book Review: "Christ-Centered Preaching & Teaching"

Short book (36 pages) but good, quick overview of the topic.

Christ-Centered Preaching TeachingChrist-Centered Preaching Teaching by Ed Stetzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compilation of blog posts from Stetzer's blog on Christianity Today. For me, this was a somewhat unfamiliar topic and I felt like they were splitting hairs, straining at gnats in distinguishing between ways to approach Christ-centered preaching. For one not familiar with technical theological vocabulary (soteriology, eschatology, etc.), have a dictionary available. The consensus seems to be that the best preaching and teaching is to take the tack that all of Scripture shows God's plan of redemption that was completed in Christ. Good about pointing out the pitfalls of this approach. The examples of how to treat Samson and Delilah and David and Goliath were very helpful for me and the best part of this short book.

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10 November 2013

Book Review: "Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales"

(I read the Kindle edition.) Really good book. Landon, a former SEC quarterback who was convicted of point shaving, gets out of jail, immediately marries girlfriend & mother of child. In prison, finds faith in God and finishes law school. Finally gets hired by lawyer, Harry, about whom he initially questions his ethics but develops a high respect for his investigative and trial gut sense and, though he doesn't always agree with Harry, realizes that he is ethical.

Kerri, Landon's wife, is a budding investigative journalist who gets some unusual breaks. Both Landon and Kerri are suddenly immersed in intrigues -- murder trial for which Landon is the assistant lawyer to Harry, client is accused of insider trading, Kerri is being "sponsored" by the head of a clandestine security agency and is offered an easy path to a dream reporting job. Things begin to fall apart when 3 lawyers with Landon's firm are killed and Landon takes the lead in the murder case.

There are a number of twists and turns in the book that compelled me to continue reading to find out what would happen. Singer weaves the plot skillfully so that the end is never clear. Both Landon and Kerri struggle with attraction to someone else but are held in check by their love for each other and their strong faith, though Landon's friendship with Rachel crosses an emotional line.

The story deals with friendship, true loyalty, temptations and testing, and faith in ways that I did not find obnoxious. (DISCLAIMER: I share the principles of the main characters. Some will find the Epilogue too evangelistic, but it's consistent with both the faith of the characters and with Singer's 'day job'.) There's even a twist at the end that's reminiscent of O. Henry stories and Jeffrey Archer books and short stories.

To me, the biggest problem with the book is that it seems very unreal to have a rookie, first-year lawyer develop instincts and insights so quickly -- taking on a 1st amendment case, talking seriously about opening his own law firm in DC, etc. Frankly, that's the only reason for 4-stars instead of 5-stars -- Landon and Kerri are just a bit too good at what they do. I thought the book was as good as Grisham and the language was less offensive, as in no foul language. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

09 November 2013

Book Review: "An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, Vol. 1"

John Davenant (London, 20 May 1572 – Salisbury, 20 April 1641) was an English academic and bishop of Salisbury from 1621. He also served as one of the British delegates to the Synod of Dort. (Wikipedia article)

Davenant seems to have advocated a middle-ground position between Arminianism and strict Calvinism termed by one observer as "hypothetical universalism, a general atonement in the sense of intention as well as sufficiency, a common blessing of the cross, and a conditional salvation. All these views stood in close connection with the theology of the well-meant offer of salvation to all." (Hanko, Prof. Herman C., "The History of the Free Offer", Chapter 5)

Davenant's "Expositio Epistola D. Pauli ad Colossenses, had been delivered in a series of Lectures to the Students at Cambridge, as Lady Margaret's Professor. This, as it is his most valuable work, so was it the first he issued. It was published at Cambridge in 1627, republished in 1630, and went into a third edition in 1639; each edition being in small folio. There is also a quarto edition, printed at Amsterdam in 1646. The character of this book has been happily expressed by a popular writer in the following terms: "For perspicuity of style and accuracy of method; for judgment in discerning and fidelity in representing the Apostle's meaning; for strength of argument in refuting errors, and felicity of invention in deducing practical doctrines, tending both to the establishment of faith, and the cultivation of holiness, it is inferior to no writing of the kind; and richly deserves to be read, to be studied, to be imitated, by our young divines."* We may also subjoin the testimony of an invaluable living writer, who in a letter to the translator, observes, " I know no exposition upon a detached portion of Scripture (with, perhaps, the single exception of Owen on the Hebrews) that will compare with it in all points. Leighton is superior in sweetness, but far inferior in depth, accuracy, and discursiveness."" (John Davenant (2013-01-01). 1 - An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians (Kindle Locations 567-576). Hamilton, Adams and co.. Kindle Edition)

Though at times, both because of 19th century English writing and because of the formatting, this book was quite tedious to read, there are some real gems of insight in Davenant's exposition of Colossians 1-2. I especially liked his explanation on Col 2:14-15.

I used the Google Books edition and then used Amazon's app, Send to Kindle, to convert Google's PDF to Kindle format. That resulted in OCR transcription errors and tended to insert footnotes in odd places in the book. A few times it was best to go to the PDF scan in order to find where the actual text left off and continued.

As would be expected in the early 1600s, there is a fair amount of anti-Catholicism in Davenant's writing. He contrast what he sees as an accurate interpretation of Colossians with the Catholic Church's doctrine.

Davenant does an excellent job of explaining Paul's view on the sufficiency of Christ for salvation and the errors of depending on traditions, works, and human effort to gain God's favour.

If you're willing to wade through the difficulties, this is a good book. Purchasing a printed copy of the book from Amazon would probably make for an easier read. Or, reading the PDF scan on a device and app that faithfully reproduces the scan would also be easier (the Kindle eReader does a poor job of reproducing pure PDFs).

08 November 2013

Book Review: Strange Fire, by John MacArthur

Strange Fire (release date, 12 November 2013) is an important book for Christians who long to be faithful to biblical teaching. It will be controversial as Dr. MacArthur takes a very confrontational stance on the charismatic movement. MacArthur is a strident cessationist, believing that the spiritual gifts commonly referred to as "sign gifts" (healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues) and the office of Apostle ceased to exist at the end of the Apostolic Age (roughly the end of the first century AD). He also issues a stern warning about the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" — the belief that those who are truly saved and who have enough faith will experience financial prosperity and physical health He calls out prominent charismatics and accuses them of fraudulent teaching about and use of these spiritual gifts and their teaching on "blessings" (the prosperity gospel), going so far as to say that they are completely unbiblical and are from Satan rather than God's Spirit. A few times, he references a Pew study that concluded that in some countries, 90% of all Pentecostals believe the same as these prominent figures.

MacArthur paints with a very broad brush, splattering paint everywhere. He challenges the teaching of several non-pentecostal evangelicals and calls them to move to a cessationist position on these spiritual gifts — John Piper, Henry Blackaby, and others.

In spite of the fact that I think MacArthur is too broad in his condemnations, this is a good book. It is written in 3 parts, each part having 4 chapters:

Part 1: Confronting a Counterfeit Revival
Ch 1 Mocking the Spirit
Ch 2 A New Work of the Spirit?
Ch 3 Testing the Spirits (Part 1)
Ch 4 Testing the Spirits (Part 2)
Part 2: Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts
Ch 5 Apostles Among Us?
Ch 6 The Folly of Fallible Prophets
Ch 7 Twisting Tongues
Ch 8 Fake Healings and False Hopes
Part 3: Rediscovering the Spirit's True Work
Ch 9 The Holy Spirit and Salvation
Ch 10 The Spirit and Sanctification
Ch 11 The Spirit and the Scriptures
Ch 12 An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends

He concludes the book with an Appendix tracing cessationist thought from the 4th century forward.

Best Chapters: In Chapters 3 and 4, MacArthur uses 1 John 4:1-8 to give a biblical method of testing the validity of any claim to the working of God's Spirit. This is excellent exegesis which builds on an exposition of Jonathan Edwards as he evaluated the Great Awakening of the 18th century. The appropriate questions to ask are:
1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
2. Does it oppose worldliness?
3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
4. Does it elevate the truth?
5. Does it produce love for God and others?

Any supposed movement of the Holy Spirit that does not do all of those, is not a movement of God's Spirit and is, therefore, false.

Key Quotes:

Introduction: The “Holy Spirit” found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practice bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture. The real Holy Spirit is not an electrifying current of ecstatic energy, a mind-numbing babbler of irrational speech, or a cosmic genie who indiscriminately grants self-centered wishes for health and wealth. The true Spirit of God does not cause His people to bark like dogs or laugh like hyenas; He does not knock them backward to the ground in an unconscious stupor; He does not incite them to worship in chaotic and uncontrollable ways; and He certainly does not accomplish His kingdom work through false prophets, fake healers, and fraudulent televangelists. By inventing a Holy Spirit of idolatrous imaginations, the modern Charismatic Movement offers strange fire that has done incalculable harm to the body of Christ. Claiming to focus on the third member of the Trinity, it has in fact profaned His name and denigrated His true work.

Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers. It has warped genuine worship through unbridled emotionalism, polluted prayer with private gibberish, contaminated true spirituality with unbiblical mysticism, and corrupted faith by turning it into a creative force for speaking worldly desires into existence. By elevating the authority of experience over the authority of Scripture, the Charismatic Movement has destroyed the church’s immune system–uncritically granting free access to every imaginable form of heretical teaching and practice.

Chapter 1: Some might argue, however, that such heretical elements represent only the lunatic fringe of an otherwise orthodox movement. More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teachers–with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos–constitute the public face of Christianity.

Chapter 2: Edwards argued with his usually lucid logic that intense physical phenomena such as “tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body or the failing of bodily strength” did not prove anything one way or the other about the legitimacy of a revival.

Chapter 4: A comparison of Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16 demonstrates that the command to “be filled with the Spirit” is parallel to the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” since they both produce the same results (cf. Eph. 5:18–6:9; Col. 3:16–4:1)...It is not possible for God’s Word to dwell in believers unless they are filled with the Spirit; and conversely, Christians can’t be filled with the Spirit without the Word of Christ dwelling

Chapter 6: ...if someone declaring himself a prophet proclaims any supposed “revelation from God” that turns out to be inaccurate or untrue, he must be summarily rejected as a spokesman for God.

Chapter 10: being “slain in the Spirit” is a modern charismatic invention. The practice is mentioned nowhere in the Bible; it is completely without scriptural warrant. The modern phenomenon has become such a common and popular spectacle that the average charismatic today takes it for granted, assuming it must have some kind of clear biblical or historical pedigree. But not only is this phenomenon completely absent from the biblical record of the early church; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Holy Spirit.

...for those who wonder if they are truly being filled with the Holy Spirit, the proper question is not, “Have I had an ecstatic experience?” Rather, it is, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus?”

Chapter 11: ...the Reformation was the inevitable and explosive consequence of the Word of God crashing like a massive tidal wave against the thin barricades of man-made tradition and hypocritical religion.

Recommendation: MacArthur's defense of cessationism is compelling and has caused me to rethink my own position as a non-charismatic continuationist — though I'm probably more accurately labeled a functional cessationist.

There is much truth in this book in spite of the confrontational tone. It is worth reading by both charismatics and non-charismatics. MacArthur's exposition of Scripture should be taken seriously.

UPDATE: John Piper has responded to inquiries about MacArthur's comments related to his views as a continuationist. Frankly, I think both oversimplified the issues, particularly of prophecy, but this is a good counter to MacArthur's comments about Piper: Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos.

(DISCLAIMER: I received this book, Kindle edition, free for pre-publication review from the publisher's Booksneeze blogger's review program. I received no other compensation except for continued participation in the program and have been free to write the review that I think the book deserves.)