Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Speaking God’s Words

October 22, 2008

I’ve read a number of books on preaching over the years and have just finished reading another- Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Words. It is possibly one of the most helpful and challenging of all the books that I have read on the subject. It is useful on a number of levels. First of all it seeks to present a biblical theology of preaching which is very helpful. Secondly, he deals not only with preaching but what he describes as a ‘ministries of the word’ which I found stimulating and challenging. Thirdly, he deal with preaching within the context of the work of ministry which is a very helpful section for thinking through the place of God’s word in church ministry. Fourthly, he gives quite a bit of space to the issue of application which I again found helpful and challenging.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a theology of preaching or anyone engaged in ministry. Sadly it i no longer in print from IVP and second hand copies are ridiculously expensive. But there is now a reprint available at a reasonable price on the Internet. Very helpful.

Keller’s Reason

October 14, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Tim Keller’s Reason for God. I enjoyed it greatly, found it encouraging and also a challenge to engage others with the great gospel in a world that is tossed about with all kinds of ideas. It’s always difficult when you’re already persuaded to weigh the arguments made in an apologetic work. But Keller’s work is helpful on a number of levels.

First of all, the arguments he is dealing with are contemporary arguments and how they are put in the contemporary world. He does not try to engage with straw men as some apologists seem to do. Secondly, there is much to learn from the clear yet irenic tone of his work. I’m reminded of Francis Schaeffer’s words that the aim is to win a  convert not an argument. His tone is very different from the virulent tone of Dawkins, Hitchens et al. Thirdly, he deals very well with the whole demand for ‘cast iron certainty’ that many seem to seek today. His approach that in building the case for Christianity we are not trying to make the whole case rest on our ability to make watertight arguments but to encourage others to weight the overall evidence is a useful approach. Fourth, and perhaps above all, Keller is writing from his own experience. These are the arguments he has engaged in and with as he has engaged New Yorkers as he has seen the church grow in the city.

My biggest problem with Keller’s work, and it’s my problem rather than his, is how we deal with these arguments not with the intelligentsia of New York but the middle class, apathetic materialists I encounter. A book about that is one I would really like to read.

Velvet Elvis Has Left the Building-IV

September 23, 2008

I stumbled across my copy of Velvet Elvis and decided to finish it and complete my postings on it- you can read the others elsewhere on my blog. What I read in the concluding chapters alarmed me but did not surprise me in the light of the earlier chapters. His suggestion that at the heart if the gospel is the message that Jesus believes in me and God has faith in me is just downright unbiblical. What did Jesus say, ‘The Son of Man came to help mankind fulfill its potential’? No,He came to seek and to save the lost. What did the early church proclaim, ‘Believe in yourself and everything will be fine’? No, repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Bell’s message is a travesty of the gospel.

The chapter where he then goes on to tell us that hell is full of forgiven people who have chosen to live outside God’s story is another travesty of the gospel. As is his half-baked suggestion that hell is this world gone wrong and that we are created to bring heaven to earth. This a shambolic distortion of the gospel.

Whilst I appreciate his call for the church to seek to make the gospel more of a practical reality in the world I disagree that the church has been created by God to serve the world. No, the church has been created by God to worship Him. Also his suggestion that the early church did not preach the resurrection because everyone believed in gods dying and rising displays a basic ignorance of Scripture. (What Scripture Bell uses throughout usually displays his complete inability to handle Scripture accurately).

This book is simply a terrible book and I continue with that sense of alarm that it is being widely promoted in Christian book shops. Much of what Bell says is simply not Christianity. I know some of you will think I’m too hard on Rob Bell. This is not a personality thing. So if you want to respond to this post don’t try to defend him as a great guy- I’m sure he is. But let’s deal with the ideas he is pushing in the name of Christianity.

The Truth of the Cross- Again

June 4, 2008

I’ve mentioned this book before but at last have managed to read the whole thing. Its a funny little book in appearance- slightly bigger than A6 in size. But the content is great as Sproul sets out a biblical and historical view of the atonement. He sets this view out very clearly and very simply. It is good book for anyone to read in this day when this view of the atonement is being undermined. Certainly it would be helpful for anyone seeking a clear understanding of the biblical view and/or anyone  young in the  Christian faith.

Rising from the Ashes

May 24, 2008

As my handle Sibbesian suggests I love those words of Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus that he will not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking flax. Harry Reeder’s book ‘From Embers to a Flame’ has caused me to think about those words not only in a personal context but also in the context of the church. Reeder’s book is about the revitalisation of what to the human eye are dying churches. Here in this book he helps the reader to think through biblical principles that he has put into effect in his own ministry. It is a helpful book that is of value to any church leader. As someone involved in a small church there was much here that we have considered but there was also a lot of food for thought, a lot to challenge and yes, inspire. For those in difficult church situations it offers no magic bullet but it does offer hope for those prepared to commit themselves to seeing the local church revitalised.

We have met the enemy, and he is us

May 19, 2008

I’m not sure who Kris Lundgaard is but the book he has written, The Enemy Within, is one that deserves to be widely known. In this short book he distills the essence of two of John Owen’s tomes on temptation and sin and how to overcome these. In doing so he has created a very readable and practical book on what has sadly become a much neglected topic amongst Christians. In Lungaard’s book there is a good deal of what used to be called the cure of souls. With Owen in the background he wisely diagnoses the disease of sin, offering advice on how to recognise the symptoms and how to effect a cure. Here is a book that will profit every Christian and I cannot recommend it enough.

Testing the Spirits

May 16, 2008

One of the great needs of our day it seems to me is the need for us to consider the nature of religious experience. For an age that is so taken with the idea of religious experience there is comparatively little examination of such experience. Instead it seems to increasingly be the case that all religious experience is considered to be authentic religious experience. Previous generations took the task of examining the nature of religious experience much more seriously. And whilst lacking the tools of modern psychology they also understood it remarkably well.

One example of this is found in the work of Archibald Alexander in his 1844 work ‘Thoughts on Religious Experience.’ In this work Alexander gives detailed consideration to true and false religious experience. As someone who lived through times of revival offers many wise words that all who are interested in the true work of God in their own lives and in the lives of others would do well to read. This work offers a helpful antidote to the superficiality that afflicts the contemporary church. And where sadly many are deluded with regard to the true nature of religious experience. Alexander’s work touches upon issues of eternal consequence which we would all do well to heed. He covers many helpful topics including dreams, true and false conversions, the effects of age on spiritual vigour, the variety of conversion experiences, the relationship between sin and dreams and draws on many historical illustrations of his points.

Velvet Elvis has Left the Building- III

April 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due. Rob Bell’s chapter on holistic Christianity and the need for leaders not to seek validation through their ministry is better than the earlier chapters of the book. But still the questions linger about his understanding of the Christian faith.

For example what does he mean when he speaks of ‘a new kind of Christian faith…for the new world we find ourselves in’? What is wrong with ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’? If the world is changing rapidly does that mean that Christianity has to change with it? Is there something wrong with my faith because I do not see things the way Bell does?

Then there are the New Age type of comments, ‘The energy in the place was unreal.’ What exactly does that mean? Whose energy? Where did it come from? Or ‘We have to listen to what our inner voice is saying.’ Do we? I’m not sure that’s a biblical category? Surely our need is to listen not to ourselves but to the voice of God.

Also there are the statements which play fast and loose with doctrine, ‘It is possible for the cross to have done something for a person but not in them.’ That is not an interpretation of either the atonement or the Christian life that I find anywhere in the Bible- that a person can be truly justified and yet not have their life transformed by the power of God.

It seems to me that there are several possible to understanding Bell’s throw-away lines. One is that he is theologically ignorant-which I doubt. Two, these really are throw-away lines and Bell does not realise what he is saying.  But his work is too well-crafted for that. Thirdly, and most likely, Bell is trying to reinvent the historic language of the Christian faith. He is either doing this because he is trying really hard to be hip- yuck! If that is true he is arrogant and deliberately seeking to alienate other Christians. Or he is reinventing the language because he is reinventing the faith. Only time will fully tell where Bell is going.

Velvet Elvis has left the Building-II

April 24, 2008

I managed another chapter of Velvet Elvis. It struck me as Schleiermacher for the 21st century- Schleiermacher being widely acknowledged as the father of theological liberalism. According to Bell, like Schleiermacher, all our experiences of transcendence are experiences of God. Its difficult not to conclude that Bell’s theology is taking him in the direction of either pantheism or panentheism. It one point he tells the story of a couple getting married who choose a scene of outstanding beauty to exchange vows because ‘something holds it together.’ They agree that same force also brought them together and they agree to call this ‘glue’ God. The problem of course is whether this ‘glue’ bears any correlation to the triune God of the Bible? What authenticates Christian ‘experience’ from all other experience?

Its not hard to see where Bell is going. I imagine little will be said in this book about sin impairs our capacity for spiritual understanding let alone our relationship with God. His arguments will unless I am much mistaken will lead towards inclusivism.

Velvet Elvis has left the Building

April 23, 2008

At long last I have got around to reading Rob Bell’s ‘Velvet Elvis’ -well, starting to read it, I’ve managed the first two chapters and haven’t decided if I’ll bother with the rest. It’s a great title, well laid out and written in a style that makes me feel like an old square. But it is a book that already has raised many concerns. The fact that it is stacked high in a key spot in the local Wesley Owen bookshop is a worrying development. It will be attractive to many young Christians but if this is their diet then we are in for a lot of trouble. Here and there Bell make sense but sometimes its where he makes sense that he is most alarming.

What concerns me about the book is not only what is said but the way in which it is said. it has the appearance of wisdom and yet its basic arguments are deeply flawed. Example- in chapter 1 Bell argues that doctrines ought not to be thought of as bricks in a wall creating an edifice that will crumble should one brick be removed. Instead they ought to be treated as springs in a trampoline which give expression to our experiences of God. Like Bell I find the prospect of jumping on a trampoline more exhilarating than defending a brick wall. But what good is the trampoline if there are no springs? And might you not wish to defend your trampoline every bit as much as your brick wall if someone were trying to steal its springs? Bell is in effect talking gibberish.

Bell also speaks in this chapter of inviting people to join him on his trampoline. (Do they bring their own springs or use Bell’s -I’m not sure!) For him this is how one becomes a Christian by living the Christian life and discovering its reality. It’s a far cry from NT pictures of the Christian life which begin not with an experiment but new birth and wholehearted, life-surrendering commitment to Jesus. What happens in Bell’s version when the experience doesn’t measure up to their expectations as often happens in the course of our spiritual journey? Is there any reality beyond what we experience?

Nor does Bell’s logic improve in chapter 2. Here he gets himself in a right muddle- along with anyone else who cares to listen to him. Here he suggests that Matthew 16:19 is the hermeneutical key to Scripture. According to Bell this is Jesus giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. Clearly that is not what the passage is about. I know of no serious Bible commentator who would suggest that. Bell clearly takes a flier on this one. But then goes on to criticise those who do not interpret the Bible in community but read it on their own. He criticises those who read the Bible assuming they do so free from outside influences- physician heal thyself.

Alarmingly for all that Bell says about reading Scripture in context he he seems to ignore that rule himself. More alarmingly he appears to be leading others down the road that Scripture has no fixed meaning.

This book is so logically flawed and misdirected I’m not sure if it is worth precious time finishing it.