Monday, September 19, 2011
The Bible presents two very important, yet seemingly contradictory truths:
• God is sovereign and his will is ultimately accomplished
• Human beings have a degree of freedom and are responsible for their actions
Whole theological systems have been developed in church history to explain how both of these could be true or how one redefines the other--Calvinism and Arminianism being the most well-known, with Open Theism and Molinism gaining large followings in recent years. In the third edition of CHOSEN BUT FREE Norman Geisler seeks to present a balanced view, a view that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, yet is somehow a middle ground between the two.
Ironically, Geisler calls his balanced view Moderate Calvinism, a term I'm confident all genuine Calvinists would reject. If the Balanced View were to be given a label, it would probably be most in line with 4-point Classical Arminianism.
There is a sense in which no one will be truly satisfied with anyone's particular presentation of the issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility/free will, no matter how biblically thorough or well argued. CHOSEN BUT FREE is a great book, and Geisler argues his case well by looking at all the biblical evidence and coming to the conclusion that Calvinism as it is normally defined fails to live up to the biblical witness. Obviously, he doesn't cover every single verse meticulously. No one ever does, and Calvinists will no doubt be able to deconstruct many of his arguments through standard Calvinist logic. Yet he raises some very important questions.
For example, Geisler shows the clear biblical evidence of humanity's ability to choose otherwise and compellingly argues that the standard Calvinist view of human freedom redefines it in such a way as to completely obliterate human responsibility. He includes several quotes to show that church fathers up to the time of the later Augustine believed in the freedom to choose otherwise. He presents a compelling case for humanity's ability to cause their own actions.
The cornerstone of Geisler's balanced view is the rejection that God's determination is based on his foreknowledge or that his foreknowledge is based on his determination. Because God is a simple being, these two attributes have to be simultaneous in him. For example, believers are elect according to foreknowledge rather than based on foreknowledge. His view sounded somewhat similar yet clearly different from Molinism. The similarity to Molinism, though Geisler doesn't expressly state it, is that God actively uses his foreknowledge of human free acts as he orchestrates the history of the world to his desired end. Though he uses the word determination, he's quick to point out that God is not the cause of all things. If that were the case, then God would be the author of evil, a belief the Bible rejects. The existence of evil logically and biblically leads to the existence of free creatures who determine their own acts. Since God determined that creaturely freedom would exist, he made evil possible, yet wasn't the cause of it. Though all of this is compelling, I'm not sure that it was adequately explained and illustrated, or even if it could be. I was left wondering what exactly he meant when he said that God "knowingly determined and determinately knew" all that would happen. It still seemed quite close to the Arminian position that God's determination is based on his foreknowledge. Still, because it is a biblical mystery much like the Trinity, Geisler makes a good attempt at describing how human freedom and divine sovereignty are both true. I think I still rest on a view that has God actively using his foreknowledge to orchestrate history to his desired end, though not Molinism.
CHOSEN BUT FREE is packed with just as many appendices as regular chapters, covering topics such as faith preceding regeneration, the five points of Calvinism, John Calvin's view of unlimited atonement, and faith as a gift.
The book, of course has its weaknesses. At times it seems that the author is trying to rescue John Calvin from the theological system that bears his name. What he calls Extreme Calvinism is actually Calvinism as it has been commonly known. Geisler calls himself a Moderate Calvinist, and no one who heard that term would imagine any other system than 5-point Calvinism, so it's a little deceiving, if not entirely unhelpful in the conversation among believers about the issues involved. What he calls Extreme Arminianism is more commonly known as Open Theism, which could possibly cause people to confuse Arminianism and Open Theism when they ate two radically different systems.
Being another book that no one will be completely satisfied with, CHOSEN BUT FREE is still a great resource for anyone trying to wrestle through the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate.
I received this book for free for review from Bethany House.
Guilt. Anger. Greed. Jealousy. Emotions that inhabit the human heart and poison healthy relationships. In ENEMIES OF THE HEART (formerly titled IT CAME FROM WITHIN), Andy Stanley tackles the inherent sickness of our hearts that causes us to miss out on a life filled with joy and enduring connections with other human beings and God. People who often do things that cause them to ask where that action came from, which includes everyone, often aren't willing to face the simple truth that our hearts are sick. We do what flows from our hearts. And it's not working.
Guilt causes us to feel that we owe those we've offended. Anger causes us to feel like everyone owes us. Greed causes us to want more and more. Jealousy caused to feel that God owes us. Guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy can only be combatted by confession, forgiveness, generosity, and gratitude. These four habits, Stanley says, will bring healing to our hearts and to our relationships.
Stanley is a compelling communicator, and he faces the enemies of our hearts head-on.
I received this book for free for review from Blogging for Books.
In churches there's been a frequent dynamic in which the senior pastor of the church and the youth pastor of the church don't see eye to eye on many things. It's troubling because it's one of the primary reasons many youth pastors don't stay long at a church before moving on to the next unhealthy senior pastor/youth pastor relationship. If you're a youth pastor in this position, you may wonder if there's any hope for a good relationship and why your greatest hopes and dreams for ministry are being stifled. If you're a senior pastor in this position, you may be at your wits end of not understanding why every youth pastor does what he does and why it feels like he's trying to usurp your authority. Because it's a tension I've seen and experienced, I was excited to see that Doug Franklin wrote a book called THE DISCONNECT: BRIDGING THE YOUTH PASTOR AND SENIOR PASTOR GAP.
Franklin covers five foundational areas that will improve any Youth Pastor/Senior Pastor relationship if both are intentional about putting the books concepts into practice. The book covers:
• Understanding each other's core values
• Money perceptions
• Aligning expectations
• Having a shared mission
The idea of understanding the core values that drive each other's decisions and actions alone would improve the relationship tremendously.
The book is actually conveniently divided in half--one half for youth pastors and one half for senior pastors. They cover the same material from the two different perspectives, and it would be a helpful idea for a youth pastor and senior pastor to go through the book at the same time. The book even includes exercises at the end of each chapter for the youth pastor and senior pastor to go through together.
THE DISCONNECT is a great and timely resource to help youth pastors and senior pastors understand each other's point of view and build healthy mutually beneficial relationships that will make ministry more of a joy than a tug of war.
I received this book for free for review from Group Publishing.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
If you've ever wanted to start blogging but aren't sure where to begin, or you've been blogging, but you're not sure how to maintain a blog people would be interested in, then you'll definitely want to check out Bryan Allain's new book 31 DAYS TO FINDING YOUR BLOGGING MOJO.
Allain has been blogging for years, and this book is an insightful and practical guide on how to be a successful blogger. Allain believes that everyone has something important to say from their own unique perspective, and his book is an intensely helpful contribution to helping people learn how to communicate powerfully and authentically through their own blogging platform.
The book covers topics such as target audience, blogger perspective, content, gaining readers, guest posts, and more. Allain is a humor writer on his blog, and his ability to make others laugh shines through in his book, which made it a very enjoyable read even as I was learning the ins and outs of running a blog.
This will be a vitally helpful book for anyone who currently blogs or is interested in blogging. And you can read it a chapter a day the way it was written, or you may find yourself wanting to keep going because Allain is so funny and you're loving the learning process he presents. Either way 31 DAYS TO FINDING YOUR BLOGGING MOJO will make you a better blogger if you follow its advice.
You can buy the book as a PDF file at 31daystomojo.com or for Kindle at Amazon.com
I received this book for free for review from the author
EARTHEN VESSELS by Matthew Lee Anderson is a biblical exploration of how the human body matters to our faith. Our bodies are the medium through which we interact with the world and the people around us, yet few evangelicals consider the theological implications of living through our bodies. Anderson points to the incarnation of Jesus as the pattern for viewing the human body as vital to our spiritual journey with God.
Anderson addresses topics such as sexuality, tattoos, death, the effects of social media on the human body, and our culture's drive to alter the human body into an image we'd be more pleased with. Using ample Scripture quotations and quotes from both the most respected and the most controversial of Christian thinkers, Anderson puts forth a thought-provoking dialogue on the most important aspects of being human in a human body.
I especially loved the chapter on spiritual disciplines and the role of the body in our spiritual transformation. This is an insightful book to get people thinking about important issues concerning the body.
I received this book for free for review from Bethany House Publishing.
For centuries theologians and philosophers have studied, formulated, and debated how God can be completely sovereign over the totality of events and creatures of his creation, yet human beings maintain a degree of freedom required for them to be morally responsible for their actions. Is God's sovereignty defined as a meticulous causal determination of all things in creation, or does God's sovereignty rule over a creation where humans have a degree of limited and derived freedom where they are the genuine cause of their own actions? If God's control is meticulous, what is the logical conclusion to the problem of evil? Are human beings really responsible for actions they did not ultimately cause? These are the questions people have wrestled with and a new book published by Zondervan brings together four Christian thinkers with four views of how God's providence actually works in the world--FOUR VIEWS ON DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
The book features Paul Kjoss Helseth with the view "God causes all things," William Lane Craig with the view "God directs all things," Ron Highland with the view "God controls by liberating," and Gregory A. Boyd with the view "God limits his control."
Helseth's view is clearly Calvinist as he describes God as "omnicausal," predetermining everything in his creation exactly as he wants it. The problem with this view is that it logically leads to God as the author of evil and human beings are held responsible for something God planned.
Craig presents the Molinist position, which states that God exercises his meticulous sovereignty primarily his omniscience, specifically God plans the world factoring in the actions of free creatures utilizing what Molinists call "middle knowledge." While this view has its appeal because it appears to allow for genuine human freedom, I think it ultimately fails because what "free" human decisions people make are decided by God beforehand. Craig's view of libertarian freedom is decidedly different than the way it is usually defined and really falls more in line with Calvinism's compatibalist
freedom of inclination.
Highland's view isn't labeled as Calvinist, but it clearly is from reading it, which makes the book only three views of divine freedom. Highland's view suffers the same problems as Helseths, though he presents some important insights about the freeing nature of salvation. His discussion on what evil is and its place in our world is very contradictory in that he defines evil as that that God does not will, yet God's will controls all things. The logical conclusion from his argument is that evil doesn't even exist, a statement he comes just short of making.
Finally, Boyd presents us with the open theist position. This position states that God cannot know for certain what free actions human beings will perform because they are impossible to know until they happen. Open theism redefines God's omniscience as the ability to know all things that are possible to know. Boyd makes the mistake of misinterpreting the biblical witness that God know that future, including all free actions, infallibly and for certain. Open theism denies one of the core attributes of God's nature. That bring said, Boyd is a warm and thoughtful writer, and I enjoyed his essay. I felt that it lacked the arrogance of the Calvinist writers, although I found much disagree with. However, Boyd presents some interesting insights on libertarian freedom. I also enjoyed his discussion on character solidification.
Each of the four essays are followed up by a critique by the other three presenters. These do a great job of exposing the inherent weaknesses of each view.
Though I don't subscribe to the Arminian view, I think this book would have been improved by including it. All in all, this book is very thought-provoking and a great resource for evaluating your own conclusions about God's providence.
I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Every single person on the planet is dead, and none of them know it. Stripped of every single emotion except fear, people are only a shell of what it once meant to be human. While there are no feelings of pain, disappointment, or sadness, there’s also no experience of love or joy. Humanity simply floats along, merely existing and nothing more, believing they’re alive.
This is the post-apocalyptic world of Ted Dekker’s new fantasy-thriller FORBIDDEN, co-written with Tosca Lee, the first installment of THE BOOKS OF MORTALS trilogy. 480 years have passed since the world’s final global-scale war that prompted a group of scientists to eliminate emotions from humanity’s genetic code. A unified world Order, void of the things that drove men to kill, rose from the ashes of humanity’s destruction. All this in the name of peaceful existence.
In the midst of this world a young man named Rom is given an ancient vial of blood wrapped in a vellum with the power to resurrect humanity’s emotions. Rom drinks and feels what it’s like to be alive for the first time. But being alive is forbidden, and he’s on the run, searching for answers of how to reawaken humanity. With new emotions he’ll face pain like he never knew could exist, as well as love. Living is all about love, after all. And his race against impossible odds centers around the prophecy of young boy who will rescue the world from their death and the people who want him dead.
I got an advance copy by winning one of Ted Dekker’s Forest Guard missions on Facebook. My initial thought was that this is possibly Dekker’s best book to date. The addition of Tosca Lee as cowriter was brilliant. The story is intense and emotional all the way through, especially as a story about people reawakening to emotion for the first time in their lives.
The world the story takes place in is very well crafted and believable. The world we know is not only ancient history, it’s barely even remembered. Without emotion the world’s religions have become extinct, though there is still a certain form of religion that all the people on earth adhere to. A religion void of passion or love.
The characters are really the highlight of the story. Rom, the protagonist, is an unlikely hero. His journey of discovering his new emotions is gut-wrenching, and his experience reveals a certain sympathy toward those who believed that the world would be better off without emotion. Saric, the antagonist, was clever and determined, and his emotional journey shows the struggle and evil that uncontrolled emotions often lead to. It’s an incredible exploration of human emotion and the need for genuine love. The other characters, such as Feyn the soon-to-be Sovereign of the world and sister of Saric, the keeper called Book, and the little boy Jonathan are equally as unforgettable.
The storyline centers around a prophecy about a rescuer that Rom and his friends must find and protect. Like Dekker’s CIRCLE TRILOGY before it, this looks to be a beautifully told epic redemption story that is reflective of the ultimate redemption story of Jesus Christ.
Dekker’s stories are all about discovery and exploration of life’s most important questions, and I’m excited to see where Dekker and Lee take this story. I just wish I didn’t have until June 2012 for the second book in the series.
Countless people have come away from the Bible believing that there is a stark difference between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus, the God of the New Testament. It seems like God in the Old Testament is angry and frequently expressing his divine wrath toward humanity. Then Jesus comes along who is "full of grace and truth." It's often thought that grace is a novel concept to the New Testament, instituted by the arrival of Jesus. But Andy Stanley in his book THE GRACE OF GOD dispels the myth that the Bible presents us with two drastically different Gods. Andy Stanley takes us on a beautiful journey through redemptive history to show that grace has been a defining characteristic of God's relationship with humanity even from the beginning.
Stanley has a remarkable way of drawing out the implications of a biblical text to show its freshness and relevance to a modern audience. I especially loved Stanley's handling of the Ten Commandments, showing that the Law was given as a confirmation of a relationship rather than a requirement to institute a relationship.
I've always loved Andy Stanley's preaching and his insights into leadership, and this book is a great addition to his communication of the Bible. The writing is thoughtful and warm. This a great resource for anyone wanting to understand the grace of God better.
I received this book for free for review from BookSneeze.com
Monday, September 12, 2011
It's sometimes easy to forget that the church as Jesus envisioned it is to be an unstoppable force, a relentless love-giving pursuer of the hearts of humanity for Jesus Christ. When Jesus ascended to heaven he left his followers to continue the task of making disciples. As Paul said to the Corinthians, "We've been given the ministry of reconciliation as if God were making his appeal through us." Surrounded by countless people suffering from separation from the God they were created to know and love and journey and enjoy life with, the church can't be a silent entity, but instead a life-giving and hope-generating force in a dark world. The church as Jesus envisioned it risks everything to reach everyone, and that is the premise of John Bishop's book DANGEROUS CHURCH.
John Bishop is the senior pastor of Living Hope Church, a multi-site church he planted in Washington, and DANGEROUS CHURCH is a moving journey through his experiences of pastoring a church that takes great risks to reach people with the gospel. Bishop peppers in among his personal stories his recommendations for a church to become a dangerous church.
The book is broken up into four sections:
• Risk Everything
• Reach Everywhere
• Release Everyone
• Remember Only God
The book could be summarized by the call to making introducing unbelievers to Jesus the primary focus of the church. That is the heartbeat of God, so it should be ours also. If the church hopes to draw people to Jesus, then it must be defined by grace.
Bishop believes the church needs to put an incredible amount of focus on its weekend services to make them welcoming of unbelievers who are invited by members. He seems to see this as the primary way to introduce people to Jesus. While I agree that the church needs to provide a nurturing environment for unbelievers, I wish he would have talked more about the evangelism that takes place outside of a church building when people share their faith and people respond to it...then they get involved in a church. Churches need to be ready to communicate the gospel any given weekend, but church members need to be prepared any given day to communicate the gospel outside of their church. Without that kind of equipping, it seems that members will rely on church leadership to the evangelism of people they've already built relationships with.
I loved the chapters on communication of the gospel and hiring the people that Jesus would hire. The book is packed with motivating insights to be a church that people encounter God in. Bishop clearly cares deeply about his church and his love for God bleeds through every page. DANGEROUS CHURCH is an important book for churches who want to be a culture-shaping force in the world.
I received this book for free from Zondervan for review.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Seven-year-old Eva Travis loves her father relentlessly and unconditionally, no matter what. But will her love for him be enough to rescue him from surrendering to his inner darkness and doing something he'll forever regret, losing all he holds dear along the way? Sam Travis awakens one night to the sound of his dead brother calling his name and the sounds of a civil war battle outside his home in Gettysburg. Soon he begins to discover the journal entries of a conflicted civil war soldier written in his own handwriting. As the entries keep coming, Sam loses himself to something sinister more and more and distances himself from his wife and daughter. Something's going on. Something very bad needs to be done, and Sam is the chosen one for the task. Will the love of his daughter and Jesus be enough to bring him back from the darkness before it's too late?
DARKNESS FOLLOWS by Mike Dellosso is a beautiful story of the love of a daughter for her father set in the context of a very creepy story. Dellosso's story paints evil in the darkest of colors, only to show us the breathtaking light that shines into that darkness. The book has an ominous feeling throughout that kept me hoping the direction Sam Travis was taking wasn't really going to happen. The love of his daughter is profound. It was a beautiful depiction of the gospel of Jesus with love as the only cure to eradicate the darkness within us.
The storyline was captivating. As a father myself, I found the book a call to love my wife and children relentlessly. As a follower of Jesus, I found the book a call to love people far from God relentlessly because the love of Jesus is the only cure to killing the darkness and satisfying the soul.
DARKNESS FOLLOWS is a supernatural thriller that will keep your heart racing and your soul crying out for hope to the very end.
I received this book for free for review from Charisma House Publishers
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Chris Buckley is haunted by the dangerous people watching his every move and the oppressive darkness of the town of Solitary. Not knowing who he can trust, he continues his journey of discovering the deepest darkest secrets of Solitary, even as he tries to find the people responsible for killing the girl he had grown to love. The town is covering up something deadly and sinister, and at the center of the mayhem is a creepy church pastor named Jeremiah Marsh. Who is he? Why does he hold so much power with the people of Solitary? Why isn't anyone trying to stop him? Chris' world becomes consumed with exposing Marsh for who he is while avoiding letting anyone else get hurt by being close to him.
In GRAVESTONE Travis Thrasher continues the intriguing story he began with SOLITARY, and the book takes the story to a whole new level. While I've enjoyed every Thrasher novel I've read, The Solitary Tales seems by far the most captivating of stories. I couldn't stop reading until the end, and I'm more than ready to read the final two installments of the series next year. The story has the mysterious feel of the TV show LOST, which is great for anyone who was a fan of that show.
The characters of GRAVESTONE are compelling. Iris was an interesting and pleasant addition to the story, as well as Chris' art class partner Kelsey. It was great to get to know Poe more, and, of course, the unwrapping of Jeremiah Marsh's storyline keeps me hooked all the way through. The story is told from Chris' point of view, and it gives us a very believable look into the mind of a teenage boy going through the most insane of circumstances.
GRAVESTONE is a young adult novel in the vein of the TWILIGHT series, and it will appeal to a teen audience well. However, its appeal isn't limited to the YA age group. Thrasher has written a consuming story that explores the nature of good and evil, and I would recommend the series to anyone who wants to explore compelling faith-based fiction.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
When Jesus walked the earth people came from everywhere to experience the things he could do and hear the controversial and hope-inducing things he would say. Thousands of people would follow him from town to town. Until Jesus began to make statements that caused his "followers" to come to a point where they needed to define the relationship. Were they following Jesus simply for what he could do for them, or because they genuinely wanted to know him and experience the reconnection with God he came to offer. For many, "fan" would be a more accurate description of their relationship to Jesus than "follower." Fans of Jesus loved what he could do much like fans today love what a football star or a famous actor can do. But fans don't have a relationship with the person they're a fan of, and they're likely to turn their backs when their hero doesn't do something they like.
In his book NOT A FAN, Kyle Idleman takes us on a journey through Jesus' life as revealed in the Gospels and the encounters he had to draw peoples' true motivations out into the light. Many of the people who interacted with Jesus were fans, but he wanted them to be followers because a relationship that will satisfy us to the core of our being is what Christ came to offer.
I love the author's heart that was poured into each chapter and the little doses of humor throughout. Jesus takes center stage as he relates how the experiences of people like Nicodemus and the rich young ruler look similar to our experiences today. There's also inspiring stories of people who have grown from fan to follower at the end of each chapter.
NOT A FAN will be a challenge to the core motivations of many who call themselves Christ followers, especially those who find themselves deeply dissatisfied with the way their connection to God has been going. It's a call to relentlessly pursue the heart of Jesus instead of what Jesus can do for us.
I received this book for free for review from Zondervan through NetGalley.com
The message of the gospel is desperately needed in our world, but it often seems like the message is diluted and shrouded in confusion by all the noise surrounding us. What exactly is the gospel? Why do we even need it? What's so great about it?
In COUNTERFEIT GOSPELS Trevin Wax leads us through six ways the gospel is often altered and the implications of each of these "counterfeits." Wax compares the gospel to a three legged stool, with three vital elements supporting and revealing what the Bible refers to ad the gospel:
• The Gospel Story
• The Gospel Announcement
• The Gospel Community
Each of these are needed to accurately communicate the gospel, but a neglect or alteration of any of the legs of the stool will lead to one of the counterfeits Wax explores.
Trevin Wax does a great job of explaining each of the gospel elements as well as describing how each of the counterfeits manifest themselves in our world. The book was a great reminder that the gospel is truly very good news found in knowing Jesus and being a part of the story he's telling and the community he's creating.
I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for review through NetGalley.com