Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t)

Posted by on Sep 1, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living

Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t)

index Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesnt) In recent years, few issues have caused as much ink to be spilled as the conversation on the gospel. Whether it has occurred in books, blogs or at conferences, much of the conversation has tended to lean towards only answering the question, “What is the gospel?” Thankfully recent days have seen a refocusing of efforts on understanding the relationship between justification and sanctification. This conversation on the nature of sanctification has left many confused on the topic and many more up in arms. It has even caused some in the Church to have serious disagreement to the point where they no longer work together because they differ over the topic. Seeking to bring clarity to a confused topic Douglas Bond wrote Grace Works! And Ways We Think It Doesn’t).

Doug’s book is not your typical book on the gospel. First, Doug isn’t a pastor but he is an elder. Doug isn’t a professor but he is a teacher who speaks at conferences and leads history tours. He is perhaps most well-known for his excellent biographies. Doug’s approach in Grace Works! is to bring his considerable knowledge of church history to bear on a topic where many are confused. As he does so, he opens the Scriptures to help God’s people understand not only what the Bible teaches but what the Church has taught on the gospel.

There are two ditches to avoid when talking about sanctification. The first ditch to avoid is overemphasizing our effort to the exclusion of grounding that effort in the finished work of the gospel. When this happens people hear messages that are moralistic—that, is do all you can do by your own effort. This isn’t the gospel. The second ditch is legalism. We demand that people do things a certain ways. From my experience in Reformed churches the second ditch is the one that is most prevalent, because while doctrine is rightly emphasized, love for one another is neglected. The Bible teaches the indicative (what Christ has done) and the imperative (what we are to do) in tension for a reason. The indicative is to inform how we obey the Lord (the imperative). When we emphasize instead the doing part of the gospel divorced from what Christ has done we are preaching not just half a gospel but a different gospel entirely. This is why we need books like Grace Works! to remind us of not just what the gospel is but the power and authority of the gospel.

Grace Works! has seven parts to it. In part one, the author considers how the gospel can be undermined. In part two the author considers how the gospel is distorted and how we should understand the grace of God. In part three the author looks at law and gospel. In part four the author considers how to understand grace and works. Part five helps readers understand how to interpret the Bible and how we often misinterpret the central message of the Bible. Part six contributes to the goal of the book by helping readers understand the importance of confessions to the life of the Church. The book concludes with a call to embrace the gospel in every facet of the Christian life and the ministry of the local church.

Grace Works! is a very important book for two reasons. First, this book clears the air on not only what the Bible teaches about the gospel and what it demands but also what the Church has taught on this topic. Finally, this book is written in such a way that every Christian can understand what it’s saying. Whether you are a lay person new to the gospel-centered conversation or a long-time participant, Grace Works! has something for you. This book will orient you to the conversation through it’s able handling of the Word of God and emphasis on what the Church has taught. I highly recommend this book and pray the Lord will use it powerfully to awaken God’s people to the truth of His Word on what the gospel is and what it demands.

Title:  Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t)

Author Douglas Bond

Publisher: P&R

I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Healed at Last: Separating Biblical Truth From Myth

Posted by on Aug 29, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living

Healed at Last Book Review   Healed at Last: Separating Biblical Truth From Myth As the old saying goes, there are two certain things in life – death and taxes. Due to the impact of sin, our bodies undergo a process of decay that will eventually result in all of us eventually succumbing to the ceasing of all bodily functions. No matter how healthy we eat, how much we exercise, or how many vitamins we take to try and put off decay, death will come knocking at some point. While this may sound rather morbid, understanding what Scripture says about the reality of this physical decay, whether that decay happens over time or whether it springs upon us from birth or later in life in the form of some disease, is vitally important. With the plethora of televangelists and other so-called faith healers claiming that if you touch the television screen, send in a prayer cloth, or simply muster up enough faith you can then be healed, clarity on this issue is needed. Scott Blackwell, in his book Healed at Last: Separating Biblical Truth From Myth efforts to provide that need clarity.

Scott Blackwell makes it clear he is one who has suffered since the age of three with a variety of rather debilitating health problems. Such health issues led him to a place in life where he wondered why God was not answering his repeated prayers for physical healing. It was only after God got a hold of him that Scott finally realized that it is only through a true understanding of the gospel message that true healing can take place. While physical healing may not be in God’s plan for Scott, he began to recognize that one day, full and complete redemption will take place and the decay that permeates the universe at present will be replaced with wholeness and perfection, an eternity of everlasting joy in the presence of our Creator God. It is this movement towards redemption that serves as the talking points for Scott’s helpful book.

Blackwell rightly declares his repulsion for the popular obsession with supernaturalism evidenced in the ministries of phony faith healers and those who prey on those who are suffering. Blackwell describes such an obsession in the Christian community as an “immature and blinkered understanding of Christian faith, life, and the testimony of Scripture.” I appreciated Blackwell clearly outlining why so many are attracted to the supposed evidence of miracles, specifically the idea that “miracles are evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit; miracles are evidence that Christ has conquered the world; miracles are evidence of the supremacy of Christ; and the absence of miracles is evidence of personal or spiritual failure.” Such nonsense has jaded many individual’s perception of Christianity and served to make God nothing more than a cosmic healer that can be summoned to act for our personal desires if one only has enough money to give to the one who can help do the conjuring or if enough faith can be summoned on the part of the individual.

Blackwell does an excellent job of engaging these aforementioned myths noting in response that, while Jesus did perform miracles, the primary purpose of His coming was to be the propitiation for our sin. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not some magician with the miraculous being the evidence of His existence or evidence that He is around and not asleep on the job. Blackwell rightly reminds the reader that the role of the Holy Spirit is to “teach us the significance of Jesus’ actions and words…The Spirit shines a spotlight on Jesus, on the person and work of God the Son.”

Furthermore, Blackwell aptly notes that those who claim to be working miracles in Jesus’ name are often the very charlatans noted by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23, namely those who claim to do the work of the Lord but who in the end will be told by God Himself, “I never knew you.” These are harsh but very true words. Blackwell also notes that unless our lives are centered on Christ with Him as the focus of all we do, then Scripture becomes nothing more than a “tool – a means, a magic lamp which, when rubbed the right way, releases the genie inside to grant me the realization of all my dreams and goals. This version of Christianity is sanitized and sanctified selfishness.” Those who are not focused on the reality that one day, when Christ returns, this decay will be done away with, have that desire twisted into an expectation of restoration in the here and now, something that just might not be within God’s will for that individual. Even if healing takes place, death will still visit all of us. Blackwell avers that “it is a godly and righteous passion” to year for that time. With that said, he also declares the need for all to remember that “When my body becomes frail and illness strikes…I only need to look to the cross to remember that I find all of my joy and hope in Jesus alone.” We can have great confidence in the resurrection of Christ and the conquering of the grave, knowing that while our bodies may fail us, ultimately death knows no sting.

Blackwell also does an excellent job of outlining what the Old and New Testaments have to reveal concerning physical healing noting that, “Healing miracles in the Bible always serve a specific purpose and are never an end in themselves.” What is that purpose? The purpose is always to bring glory and focus to God. In fact, physical healing in this life is a reminder of that future healing, the return to the time of perfection and complete wholeness we started with in the beginning prior to sin. Blackwell also reminds the reader that healing and also the lack thereof is a reminder of God’s sovereignty, His faithfulness, His holiness, and His provision. While physical healing may take place through the hand of God acting on our behalf, the most important healing is that of restoration of relationship with God through the cross of Christ. Blackwell repeatedly drives that important point home to the reader for it is only through the cross that future physical healing can take place in eternity.

I recommend this book for anyone who is experiencing physical maladies or those who need to grasp the true biblical picture of what healing is all about. Far too many have been suckered into a false understanding of healing, typically due to the unbiblical teachings and machinations of those who claim to be speaking healing but instead are doing the complete opposite. Having an eternal and Christ centered understanding of this issue is highly important and Blackwell does an excellent job of reminding the reader that redemption and restoration will one day split the Eastern sky when Christ returns to fully and completely deal with sin, death, and decay for all eternity.

This book is available for purchase from Matthias Media by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Matthias Media via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue

Posted by on Aug 28, 2014 in Book Reviews, Theology

Resisting Gossip 196x300 Book Review   Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging TongueGossip. Admit it. We all fall prey almost daily to this insidious cancer. The urge to talk about someone in a manner that is not full of grace and truth is far too common in our lives despite the persistent commands throughout Scripture to avoid such activity. How do we deal with the temptation to gossip? What does gossip look like? Why is it wrong to engage in gossip? Answers to these and many other valuable questions on this topic are addressed by Matthew Mitchell in his timely and helpful book Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue.

Mitchell deftly defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” That definition is pregnant with meaning which Mitchell fleshes out in this excellent book. He rightly notes right from the start that “Gossip is hard to resist.” But how can we identify gossip and differentiate it from what is at times needed conversation or guidance when dealing with our fellow man? Is talking about someone when that individual is not present always classified as gossip? To help define what gossip is and what it looks like, Mitchell digs in to his previously provided definition noting that according to Proverbs 18:8, gossip is quite often a choice morsel that goes down to our inward parts. Thus, gossip is both “talking and listening.” We are guilty of gossip whether we actually say anything in the gossiping conversation or not.

Furthermore, Mitchell explains that gossip flows from the heart. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33-37 where he declares “the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” This is a rather frightening thought. Gossip comes from the overflow of our hearts. It is something by definition that we actually delight in doing. Mitchell rightly notes “The residue of indwelling sin lingers within us and continues to create evil motivations even when we are Christ followers.” Dealing with gossip is a daily and continuous battle. Since this is a heart issue dealing with gossip must take place by the power of the Holy Spirit replacing the urge to speak ill of others with the desire to speak grace and truth to our fellow man.

Mitchell also identifies helpful ways in which we can resist the temptation to gossip. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road and the part of the book I think is most helpful. In this section, Mitchell necessarily gets a bit “nerdy” by explaining some of the meanings to key Greek words used in the New Testament in relation to gossip. Understanding what these words mean is essential to better grasp how gossip reveals its ugly head in our lives. For instance, the word slander used in James 4:11 is the Greek word katalaleo meaning “to speak against someone, to talk them down, to speak ill of them, to disdain someone or to run somebody down verbally.” As Mitchell rightly explains, we have to make judgments and thus making judgments in relation to others is not inherently evil. He explains that when we “rush to judgment”, engage in “prideful judgment” or “unloving judgment”, we enter into the domain of gossip, the malicious and purposeful tearing down of others.

After establishing what gossip looks like and the ugliness that forms the basis for that activity, Mitchell next outlines ways to avoid the insidious cancer that is gossip. Instead of tearing others down, we are to do what the Apostle Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:29, namely only speaking that which builds others up according to what they need. Mitchell helpfully avers “Overcoming gossip is not just about what not to do but what to do.” This involves putting off that old man and its desires of the flesh and instead putting on Christ. Mitchell states “Doing this comes not through our self-effort but out of our faith in Christ and our new identity in Him.”

Another way to resist gossip is to practice active listening. Now listening can also be an evil activity given that we can participate in gossip by listening and not actively breaking off the unfruitful and unloving conversation. Thus, “How we are listening is determined by why we are listening. The key is to listen in love.” If we listen for the purpose of building up and weighing our response, a response that should be an imitation of Christlike love, we are on the path to breaking the pattern of gossip in our lives.

Gossip is a poison, one which has infected us all more often than we would like to admit. Mitchell’s book is replete with sound biblical advice containing the prescription that will dig at the root of this cancer in our lives. The only way to rid ourselves of this cancer is to have our hearts endure the life changing chemotherapy found in God’s Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit. I highly recommend this book by Mitchell for all believers, especially those who find themselves struggling with the sin of gossip which is pretty much everyone.

This book is available for purchase from CLC Publications by clicking here.

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Book Review – Christian Answers To Hard Questions: The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Apologetics, Book Reviews

Pagan Heart of Todays Culture 194x300 Book Review   Christian Answers To Hard Questions: The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture Today’s Christian is confronted by challenges on nearly every side with the rising tide of relativism, secularism, paganism and many other “ism’s” that vie for the attention and affections of Christians. Following his excellent book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference and many others, Dr. Peter Jones, the director of TruthXchange has written a helpful book distilling his excellent teaching on understanding our culture. Dr. Jones book looks at postmodernism, polytheism and Gnosticism showing how they are part of an ancient religious worldview that seeks to impose its view upon Western culture.

Having read other works by Dr. Peter Jones what I appreciate about his writing is he aims to help readers understand not only what is going on in our culture but also how we can reach the culture with the gospel. In a culture that is rapidly changing, we need writers and speakers like Dr. Jones to help God’s people to understand the times that we live in and to help us to speak the timeless message of the gospel to an ever-changing culture. This what Dr. Jones book The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture does well. This booklet doesn’t contain everything that Dr. Jones has said about these matters. Think of this booklet as a primer to wet your appetite. To read more, I encourage you to read One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference by Dr. Jones. Nevertheless, reading The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture will help readers to gain some insight from a leading thinker/writer on cultural issues. I highly recommend this booklet to understand cultural issues through a biblical worldview.

Title:  Christian Answers To Hard Questions The Pagan Heart of Today’s culture

Author Peter Jones

Publisher: P&R

I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Taking God Seriously: Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets

Posted by on Aug 26, 2014 in Book Reviews, Theology

Taking God Seriously Briscoe Book Review   Taking God Seriously: Major Lessons from the Minor ProphetsWith the exception of Jonah and a few passages in Malachi, the books of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament are far too neglected. Perhaps it is due to their content or lack of endurance on the part of believers in regards to their yearly Bible reading schedule. Whatever the reason, many are highly unfamiliar with the important issues addressed by the Minor Prophets and therefore miss the importance of their message for believers today. Pastor Stuart Briscoe in his book Taking God Seriously: Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets seeks to bring back to the forefront these valuable books, driving home the overarching messages of the prophets from long ago and most importantly, why we need to pay attention to what they have to say.

As the subtitle of the book implies, Briscoe elaborates on the major lessons revealed in the books of the Minor Prophets. His overall intent is not to exegete every minute detail. Conversely, he provides the reader with valuable insight into the overarching message and most importantly, how believers today can cross the principalizing bridge of biblical exegesis to apply the truths found in these books to our lives today. To that end, Briscoe is highly successful in his efforts.

Despite studying the Minor Prophets at various times in both Bible College and Seminary, admittedly I remain largely unfamiliar with the message delivered by the Minor Prophets. After reading Briscoe’s book, I have a newfound appreciation for their message. Far too many approach the prophetic books of the Old Testament in an attempt to glean some sort of hidden or long-lost prediction of future events in an effort to unlock the “mysteries” of the eschatological puzzle. That is the wrong approach. As Briscoe so rightly notes:

“The primary objective of the prophet in the Old Testament, however, was not prediction. The prophets certainly had a predictive aspect to their ministries, but foretelling was not their primary objective. Thus, when we study prophecy we should not be treating it as a crystal ball through which we can see into the future. We should be looking at the messages of the prophets primarily as statements made by men of God who heard what God had to say and relayed that message to their contemporaries.”

The message the prophets so often relayed to the people of their day was one of returning to their first love, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had rescued them from bondage and called them to be a people of His own who were to be a light to the nations.

Many of these Minor Prophets were used by God in some rather interesting ways. A case in point is that of the prophet Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute who would in turn be unfaithful to him to include bearing him children that were not his own. This was all for the purpose of demonstrating to the people of God their own tumultuous and unfaithful relationship with God. I appreciated the time Briscoe spent examining the Hebrew word hesed, an important term in the Old Testament pregnant with meaning. As he notes, this word’s meaning is quite hard to pin down specifically; however, the idea of faithfulness and steadfast love is most often attributed by scholars as its fundamental meaning and application. In the life of Hosea, in particular his relationship with his unfaithful wife, we see not a rejection by Hosea of his wife, but rather God commanding Hosea to purchase back his wife despite her constant rejection of the covenant marriage relationship. An interesting element of what Hosea did for Gomer (his wife) compared to the price received by Judas when he betrayed Jesus is the amount of money paid in each instance. Briscoe aptly explains that while Hosea paid 15 shekels for Gomer, the value of a slave at half-price, the full price of a slave, namely thirty pieces of silver, was what Judas received. This is interesting because it notes the great price Jesus paid for his bride, an unfaithful bride at that.

Another valuable aspect of this book is in Briscoe’s discussion of Obadiah, the shortest of the Minor Prophets at a mere 21 verses. Contained in those verses is a powerful reminder that God is sovereign and that He and He alone controls the affairs of men. As Briscoe rightly avers, “If we Christians believe that the Lord is Sovereign, that He is moving inexorably toward the ultimate and final establishment of His eternal kingdom, we must have an entirely different view of the developments in our world.” God called Obadiah to speak out against the Edom. Obadiah’s message was that God was intimately “at work in the military and political lives of these neighbors of Judah.” In fact, God was executing His plans to complete perfection. Furthermore, Edom would endure God’s judgment due to their arrogance and “misplaced security”. Subsumed in this very short prophetic book are three very important issues for us today that are aptly outlined by Briscoe in his discussion. Those points are “God works out His purposes in the actions and affairs of mankind”, “Pride always comes before a fall”, and “The King is building His kingdom and He will prevail.”

These are just two short examples of the fine exegetical work and the important elements of application for modern believers that Briscoe provides the reader in this outstanding book. I highly recommend this book for all believers, in particular pastors and those who have either neglected the Minor Prophets or who might need a refresher course in what they have to say. Since all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, and training in righteousness, having a solid grasp of the Minor Prophets is highly important. Pastor Stuart Briscoe has done an outstanding job in this book of sharing what God has to say for us today in the books of the Minor Prophets. I encourage everyone to reengage these books at the earliest moment and to use this book as a helpful guide.

This book is available for purchase from CLC Publications by clicking here.

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Book Review– The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Long Line of Godly Men Profiles)

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History

17171594 209x300 Book Review   The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Long Line of Godly Men Profiles)Martin Luther towers not only as one of the intellectual giants of Western civilization but arguably as one of the most influential men who has ever lived. Luther was a precise theologian, prolific author, fierce debater, captivating teacher and much more. While there is much talk abut Luther, what is often neglected is that he was a pastor and passionate preacher. In his new book, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther, pastor, author, and conference speaker, Dr. Steven Lawson writes to help readers understand not only who Luther was, but also why his ministry is important today.

The book has six chapters. In chapter one, Lawson explores the life and legacy of Luther. Chapters two provides the foundation for the book by explaining Luther’s views on the doctrine of Scripture. Chapter three and four show how Luther’s view of Scripture worked itself into his sermon preparation by illustrating how Luther, not only held to a high view of God’s Word, but, sought to apply it to his life and his hearers. Chapter five and six look at the boldness of Luther in the pulpit. The book concludes with a call for more Luther’s, those who passionately study the Word of God in order to declare the Word with authority and power in the pulpit.

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther is a very good short biography that will help pastors, Sunday school teachers and lay people understand the significance of Martin Luther’s ministry. Luther, along with Calvin helped bring the gospel to a land, to people groups and nations that were in need of the gospel. There is the same need for reformation around the gospel as the church is always to be reforming around the Word of God. This is exactly why we need biographies like this one on Luther to remind us of how the gospel has transformed people’s lives in the past and how it will in the present and future. Luther was a man of deep gospel-shaped conviction and vision. His life was set ablaze by the gospel. I encourage you to take up and read this book. As you read I pray your passion will be renewed and your vision expanded to the glory of God.

Title:  The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Long Line of Godly Men Profiles)]

Author: Steven J. Lawson

Publisher: Reformation Trust (2013)

I received this book for free from Reformation Trust for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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