Monday, February 20, 2012

My Review of GOSPEL-CENTERED HERMENEUTICS by Graeme Goldsworthy

Photo Credit: Intervarsity Press

Graeme Goldsworthy has become a leading voice in the area of Biblical Theology, focusing on the overarching cohesiveness of the biblical narrative and a christocentric study of the Bible. For Christians, it can often be difficult to understand how the Old Testament is meant to fit into their theological framework. It wasn't written to us, yet it's considered the word of God, so what is it saying to us? Hermeneutics, or the study and interpretation of the Bible, can itself be a cumbersome task at times. What is meant to be the end result of our time studying the word of God.

Graeme Goldsworthy has written an extensive book on the issues involved called GOSPEL-CENTERED HERMENEUTICS, and it is thorough, insightful, and practical. Goldsworthy explores the presuppositions we come to the Scriptures with and how those presuppositions affect our hermeneutical practice. Goldsworthy outlines how the Bible in its entirety is about Christ and his work on the cross. People often start with a man-centered approach to the Scriptures, but proper hermeneutics must start with the presuppositions of the Bible as God's word to reveal the gospel of Jesus. Instead of approaching the Bible asking, “What am I supposed to do?”, we approach it with the question of “What has Jesus done for us?”

Goldsworthy spends several chapters exploring the history of hermeneutical methods and exposes the inherent flaws in some approaches such as the allegorical approach used by many throughout the centuries. He looks into the role of typology in looking at the Old Testament as Christians and contrasts it with allegorical interpretation.

One of the greatest chapters is on Biblical and Systematic Theology. Goldsworthy asserts that Systematic Theology is born out of Biblical Theology. Finally, after touching on contextualization, Goldsworthy devotes a chapter on putting gospel-centered hermeneutics into practice.

The book is lengthy and a little dry at times, but it is vital information for those who take studying the whole Bible seriously. It would be a great resource for pastors to convey this information to their church members. Best of all, it puts Christ at center.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Redemptive Visual Storytelling: A Review of HOLLYWOOD WORLDVIEWS by Brian Godawa

Photo Credit: Intervarsity Press

I've always loved storytelling, and though I usually prefer reading stories, I enjoy some really well done visual storytelling as well. The Harry Potter movies, The Dark Knight, and Inception are some of my favorite movies, and LOST and Smallville were my favorite TV shows when they were on. Once Upon a Time is my current favorite. All great stories with high concepts that draw viewers into something big. My favorite types of stories are the ones where the writers create a whole mythology that the story they're telling takes place in.

In his book HOLLYWOOD WORLDVIEWS: WATCHING FILMS WITH WISDOM AND DISCERNMENT, screenwriter Brian Godawa explores the area of visual storytelling through the lens of faith in Jesus. Specifically, Godawa looks at how Christians are to watch films and television and the criteria of what qualifies as something we should or should not watch. Godawa asserts that storytellers write from their personal worldview and their stories reflect this. Hollywood worldviews often clash with the Christian worldview. Therefore, not only do we need to be firmly established in our own biblical worldview, we need to understand why other worldviews don't line up with our own. HOLLYWOOD WORLDVIEWS was written so that Christians will take seriously the entertainment choices they're consuming and make wise decisions about it. After all, there are many movies and television shows that Christians shouldn't embrace.

What I loved the most about this book is the chapter that explores story patterns. Godawa points out that all stories have redemption as their core. The difference in worldviews is about how redemption is achieved.

Godawa explores different worldviews such as existentialism and postmodernism and how these are reflected in certain movies. He also shows how many of the things we're uncomfortable with in movies are present in the biblical narrative, though just because something is in the Bible doesn't mean we should watch it as entertainment.

After a very interesting exploration of how Jesus and Christianity are portrayed in popular movies, Godawa gives some ways to be discerning about our entertainment choices.

Like Godawa's other book WORD PICTURES, HOLLYWOOD WORLDVIEWS is a compelling look at the role of storytelling in the human experience and the ways that God communicates through images and metaphors. It helps readers see redemption and specifically Christian redemption as the foundation of the best stories. Christians can become more discerning moviegoers by reading this book.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Photo Credit: Baker Books

I discovered Steven James several years ago when I read a collection of short biblical reflections of his called STORY. He's an incredible storyteller who clearly knows how to create compelling stories that tap into some of the most fundamental of human struggles.

Struggle is inherently human as people wrestle with temptation. In FLIRTING WITH THE FORBIDDEN: FINDING GRACE IN A WORLD OF TEMPTATION, James takes us on a journey through the Bible as we look at some of the events of some of the most memorable characters of the Bible. James proposes that we often forget that people in the Bible dealt with many of the same temptations we do. James recounts some of the temptations Bible characters faced through first-person narratives. In this way, the reader is drawn into the emotions and circumstances people like Joseph and David might have experienced. Story incarnates truth in a way that mere propositional truth doesn't.

Of course, James takes creative freedom in recounting the stories in FLIRTING WITH THE FORBIDDEN, but his commitment to being biblically faithful, as well as telling a compelling and thought-provoking story, is evident on every page. Readers will see the temptation of Joseph with Potiphar's wife in a whole new way that reveals the complexities and struggles of being faithful to God's desires for his life. Some of the most stirring portrayals are the interactions people had with Jesus. For example, James tells the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter from the perspective of one of the hired mourners at her death. There's even a haunting first-person narrative from the perspective of Satan during the three years of Jesus' ministry.

Each story clearly connects our human condition to the people who walked with God in the Bible and helps bring these stories to life in our imaginations. Ideally, reading these stories will drive readers back to the Bible to see it with fresh eyes as a story about our walk with God, as unpredictable and complicated as it may be.

James follows up each story with exploration and encouragement from the pages of Scripture. Steven James is clearly a storyteller, but he's also a man passionate about the God of the Bible. His approach in FLIRTING WITH THE FORBIDDEN is one that I appreciate and believer that others will benefit from as well. We all struggle. The Bible carries us into a journey with God and his grace that is poured out on us and teaches us to say no to ungodliness. FLIRTING WITH THE FORBIDDEN is a realistic recounting of both the struggle and the journey.

I received this book free for review from Revell Books

Introversion as an Inherent Strength: My Thoughts on Susan Cain's Ground-Breaking Book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING

Photo Credit: Crown Publishing

One-third to one-half of the people we interact with on a daily basis have introverted personalitiesquiet, reflective, sensitive, drawing energy from solitude. Yet, as author Susan Cain reveals in her new book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING, it can be quite challenging to live as an introvert in a world that is characterized by what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal.” Whether in school, business, or religious institutions, people are often expected to be outgoing and life-of-the-party types, and this is viewed highly, while the quiet and reflective types are often viewed as socially flawed. Introverts often grow up in a culture where they are encouraged to become pseudo extroverts to be successful or just to get by.

As an introvert, I know how easy it can be to view introversion as a weakness to be overcome. I can recall many times growing up when people would comment on how quiet I was as if it was a bad thing and the struggle to be quick on my feet in conversations with people. For several years I was a youth minister in a church culture where youth ministers were expected to be clear extroverts. Just a quick glance at youth minister job listings reveals the desire of most churches to have someone who is “outgoing.” While I've learned to do what needs to be done as an introvert, there have been many times when I've viewed my introversion as a crippling weakness. That is, until I think about my three-year-old daughter who is also an introvert. I listen to the same comments said about her that I've heard all my life, yet I know she's exactly as God created her to be, which means that introversion is vital to who she is. And vital to who I am.

QUIET is a timely exploration of the advantages of being an introvert in a world that is often dominated by the Extrovert Ideal. It is a call for introverts to embrace who they are and call upon the strength of their personalities to be successful and make a marked impact upon the world. Through compelling research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience, as well as real-life examples of some of the most influential introverts, Susan Cain reveals that introversion is not a weakness, but instead a genuine personality type that has a distinctive set of strengths that are just as needed as those of the often more gregarious extroverted types.

What are some of these advantages to being an introvert? Introverts enjoy being alone and drawing energy from solitude. They're often very reflective, careful, and resilient. This combination often means that introverts are some of the most creative people in the world. Introverts have given us Harry Potter, the iPhone, Google, the theory of gravity, and The Cat in the Hat. QUIET opens with the inspiring story of Rosa Parks who relied on her quiet strength to make a change in the racial discrimination of the 1950s.

Cain guides introverts on how to rely on their free will to develop extroverted traits that are genuine to who they are and useful in certain contexts. This is called free trait theory. Though we'll never be genuinely naturally outgoing, we can find things that we're passionate about that help us to interact successfully within the Extrovert Ideal.

Introverts are often erroneously viewed as anti-social. I love when Susan Cain points out that introverts aren't anti-social, but differently social. Cain reveals how introverts can be socially strong by relying on our inherent “soft power” and our ability to ask questions and listen attentively.

One of the most helpful parts of the book that I appreciated the most was the chapter on raising introverted children. As parents of an introverted child, my wife and I want our daughter to have the best opportunity to develop into a healthy and confident individual who makes a difference in the world. We know this means raising her with her introversion as an intentional focus.

QUIET gives me hope for people like me and the many other introverts who struggle within an extroverted culture. The book reminds me that introverts have purpose and inherent strength. The book should be read by introverts and extroverts alike in order to understand each other better. I have no doubt that QUIET will be one of the best books I've read in 2012 and one I'll return to again and again.

I received this book for review from Crown Publishing

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Review of DESTINY AND DELIBERATION by Joseph Kvanvig

There have been many attempts to provide a working model of how God could be fully providential over a creation of genuinely free creatures. Calvinism tends to provide a model that makes sense, but requires a redefining of what genuine free will is. Arminianism, at least the kind that doesn't adhere strictly to what Arminius himself taught, tends to focus more on the human freedom aspect without providing a compelling account of how God could also be fully providential over every aspect of creation from beginning to end. Molinism is an interesting model that seeks to affirm genuine providential control and genuine human freedom by proposing that God sets the circumstances that he knows will bring about his desired effects through human free actions. Molinists appeal to a type of knowledge in God called “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom” that exist in the mind of God prior to his decision to create. Therefore, the truth of these is outside of God's control. God is able to use his infallible omniscience to orchestrate the world using human free decisions. This is an appealing model, but has its flaws. Not to mention, the Bible doesn't definitively support it. Open theists deny God infallible omniscience of the future, which renders an all-encompassing providential control impossible for God.

I'm always interested in reading people's thoughts on these issues, which takes me into the realm of philosophy of religion at times. DESTINY AND DELIBERATION is a book by Jonathan L. Kvanvig, a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. Kvanvig explores the flaws of Calvinism, Open Theism, and Molinism in depth and proposes a model based on deliberation in creation. Not that God actually goes through a process of deliberation. Kvanvig merely presents a model to help explain how God could be in control and humans could be genuinely free. He explores the doctrine of hell, he concept of losing one's soul, universalism, and creation. The model Kvanvig presents is called Philosophical Arminianism.

There's much to the book to cover in a short review, but the model is similar to the Molinist position. When it comes to models of divine providence, most models tend to make things unnecessarily complex. i found that to be the case with this book. I also found points of disagreement in his handling of the doctrine of hell. However, in studying models of divine providence, this is a good look at the issues as Kvanvig looks at the flaws of Open Theism and Molinism in depth. I'll be interested in reading a more scholarly review of the book.

I received this book for free for review from Oxford University Press

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Review of GRACE, FAITH, FREE WILL by Robert Picirilli

Photo Credit: Randall House

GRACE, FAITH, FREE WILL by Robert E. Picirilli compares and contrasts the soteriological teachings of Calvinism and Arminianism. Specifically, Picirilli advocates a specific branch of Arminianism he calls Reformation Arminianism, showing that James Arminius' thoughts about salvation were very much in the tradition of the Reformation. Picirilli takes a careful look at exactly what Arminius himself said in response to Calvinism, as well as articulating some of the most important implications concerning salvation from Arminius' teaching. The strength of this book lies in the book's layout. The topics covered are:
1. The Plan of Salvation
2. The Provision of Salvation
3. The Application of Salvation
4. Perseverance in Salvation

Picirilli carefully lays out the Calvinist framework for each of these topics before exploring the Reformation Arminianism perspective, providing clear and insightful contrasts on what each of the two sides believe. He also includes some exegetical work of key Bible passages to close out each topic.

I really resonated with Picirilli's handling of God's divine foreknowledge and the distinctions between certainty and necessity. Essentially, God knows certainly what anyone will do before the foundation of the world, but he doesn't know it as a necessity. This shows how humans can have true freedom. He also covers an unlimited atonement and the nature of faith as the condition of salvation.

The most significant point that I part with Arminianism on is the concept of conditional perseverance or the ability of a believer to “lose” their salvation. Picirilli does a fairly detailed look at a key passage in Hebrews 6:4-6. While I've looked at this passage about the impossibility of an apostate to be restored to repentance countless times, due to several other passages that seem to make eternal security certain, I question what the writer of Hebrews meant by “impossibility.” It seems obvious to me that there lies no impossibility with God to save anyone, so why does the writer say it is impossible to restore to repentance? It seems to me that Hebrews 6 is a call to persevere in very stark language, as well as a call to continue in spiritual growth. It's about forward movement rather than backward movement. I don't believe that libertarian free will requires the ability to lose salvation, and that God intends to finish when he started. Picirilli spends a lot of time refuting many of the verses that I would turn to point to eternal security. However, I'm still not convinced, but it does move me to study this particular issue more in depth.

One of the parts about this book that I enjoyed the most was the short biographical sketch of James Arminius included near the beginning. It's interesting to see how Arminius' thoughts developed and how influential he was in getting people to rethink the implications of Calvinism.

GRACE, FAITH, FREE WILL is another important book in the divine sovereignty/human freedom debate with some incredible insights and ways of formulating some of the most difficult theological concepts. Anyone wanting to wrestle with the issues should include this book in their research.

I received this book for free for review from Randall House

Friday, February 10, 2012

Christocentric Bible Study: A Review of HOW TO READ THE BIBLE THROUGH THE JESUS LENS by Michael Williams

Photo Credit: Zondervan

The whole Bible is about Jesus, but that can be difficult to see because Jesus doesn't actually appear on the scene in the Bible until the New Testament. So how does the Old Testament relate to Jesus? How do all the individual stories of the Bible point ultimately to Jesus and the gospel he came to accomplish?

Michael Williams has written a very helpful book that walks through these questions called HOW TO READ THE BIBLE THROUGH THE JESUS LENS. Williams journeys through each book of the Bible and shows how each book points ultimately to the story of Jesus. As readers walk through each book of the Bible, the theme of each book is revealed, and Williams takes a look at it specifically through “the Jesus lens.” This is incredibly eye-opening as you discover important things like how the sacrificial system of the Israelites prefigured the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. We're also given contemporary implications, and because Bible study is always about changing us, Williams includes helpful “hook” questions for each book.

The book's design is similar to HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL IT'S WORTH and HOW TO READ THE BIBLE BOOK BY BOOK. Each of the chapters is concise and clear. It's important for any believer to understand the Bible's overall storyline and how it is meant to point us to Jesus, and this book takes the guess work out of it. This is a very well-written book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a helpful addition to their Bible study library.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gospel-Centered Parenting: A Review of INTENTIONAL PARENTING by TadThompson

Photo Credit: Cruciform Press

Christian parents have an incredible privilege and responsibility to introduce their children to Jesus and his redemptive plan for their lives. My wife Lindsey and I have three very young children, and this is one of the things about parenting that we're looking forward to the most. Our hope is that each of our children will come to love Jesus and find their greatest joy in him, and that they will find their faith as foundational and integrative with their whole lives as they grow into adulthood. But this doesn't happen accidentally. A family going to church regularly isn't enough. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of teens who grew up in church graduate from church at the moment they graduate from high school. David Kinnaman's book YOU LOST ME has provided incredible insight on this problem.

Clearly, to raise children who love Jesus and pursue the desires of his heart relentlessly requires an intentional kind of parentinga kind of parenting specifically focused on their spiritual formation. Tad Thompson has written an incredibly insightful and practical book that addresses this issue called INTENTIONAL PARENTING. Thompson's premise is that discipleship of our children is merely supplemented by our church activity, and it's their everyday lives with us that most shape who they will become from a spiritual perspective.

Thompson gives some important categories to get parents focused on exactly what biblical content they want to impress upon their children. These seven categories and their implications for discipling my children were my favorite part of the book. The seven categories are:
1. The Gospel
2. The Big Story (Biblical Theology)
3. The Big Truths (Systematic Theology)
4. The Great Commission
5. Spiritual Disciplines
6. Christian Living
7. Worldview

Thompson unpacks each of these categories with specific focus on the Gospel. I can imagine my children growing up with a solid anchor of what God wants for their lives as a result of impressing these things on their lives.

I love Thompson's description of the goal of discipleship with our children: “The ultimate goal of discipleship is that our children will come to delight in the grace of God and desire to love and obey him.” Thompson also describes four “spheres” of family discipleship, which are very helpful to show how parents can live out family discipleship day in and day out.

INTENTIONAL PARENTING is published by Cruciform Press. The books by Cruciform Press are short and focused on issues that are vitally important to believers. INTENTIONAL PARENTING is just such a vitally important book for Christian parents. For anyone who has wanted to raise their children to genuinely know and love Jesus, yet haven't been sure how to go about it, this book will be one of the most helpful you will have ever read.

I received this book for free for review from Cruciform Press

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

What if you could change the outcome of one major event in the past? What would the effects be? How widespread would they be? If you could go into the past and change it, would you want to?

Jake Epping is a divorced high school English teacher who comes across a portal into 1958 in the diner of a friend named Al. When Al appears to him one day looking suddenly several years older, and dying of cancer, Jake learns that Al wants him to travel into the past and stop an important moment in American historythe JFK assassination. Al believes that countless lives will be saved if this one event is made to have never happened. Jake reluctantly agrees to the mission only after deciding to test the theory by stopping a tragic moment that happened in the life of one of his GED students. Jake enters a world where all the technological noise and distraction of our modern world is unheard of. He experiences a whole new life as a man named George Amberson, falls in love, and undertakes the difficult task of watching every move of Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to stop the tragic events of November 22, 1963. Will he succeed, and what will become of the world if he does?

11/22/63 is the first novel by Stephen King I've ever read. I've been very familiar with his work for my entire life since many of his books and stories have been made into movies. 11/22/63 isn't one of the horror novels King is most known for. Instead, it's a dramatic exploration of time travel and alteration of history.

The story is told in first-person point-of-view from Jake's perspective. This helps us to know and understand Jake really well. We see everything through his eyes, filtered through his motivations. The story world is brilliantly crafted. The descriptions of the world of 1958-1963 genuinely gives you the feeling of actually being there.

I loved the way King handled the concept of time travel with a portal that took Jake to one specific time and place each time he went into it. The novel is well researched concerning the events surrounding the JFK assassination. Overall, it's a dramatic almost adventure-like story that carries you into the experience of the protagonist. King clearly knows how to craft a compelling story, as his career and successes have clearly attested to. 11/22/63 is a great story, and I'll be interested to check out some of his other writings.

I received this book for free from Scribner

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Creating a Movement: A Review of TRIBES by Seth Godin

Photo Credit: Portfolio

Human beings are intuitively relational. People join communities to belong to all the time. People join together based on common interests, desires, or shared experiences. A group or “tribe” of people can be incredibly influential and spread life-altering ideas throughout the world. Groups of people have the power to change the world. For example, Christianity began as a small movement of about 120 people two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. That movement has become worldwide and continues to spread through the “tribe” of people who follow Jesus.

Every group needs someone to lead, someone to harness the incredible potential of the group. Seth Godin tackles these ideas in his book TRIBES. Godin knows that people want to be part of something important, something innovative. People also want to follow someone who has a great idea. Godin tells us that everyone has the opportunity to be a leader. We simply need to find our tribe. According to Godin, people are looking for someone to follow who thinks outside the box. People are looking for the heretics, the people who question the status quo, the people who change the world.

Building a tribe is important if we're out to make a difference and change the world. It's important for the spread of any important message. Tribes are also important because they provide a context for meaningful connections between people.

TRIBES has some important ideas for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, church leaders, and anyone else who wants to leave a lasting mark in our world. It's a relatively short book, and it's divided into easily readable sections. Overall, it's a great book from the innovative mind of Seth Godin, and it would be beneficial for anyone to check out.

I received this book for free from Portfolio, a division of Penguin Books

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Uniquely You: Review of STANDOUT by Marcus Buckingham

Several years ago I was introduced to the StrengthsFinder assessment developed by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. The premise of the StrengthsFinder assessment was to uncover the areas where a person is naturally gifted in order to approach anything in lifeschool, work, relationships, etc.from a position of strength. Not everyone is good at everything, and it's more productive to focus on building on and harnessing our strengths rather than trying to make our weaknesses into strengths. I loved the concept, and I felt empowered by discovering my top 5 themes of talent. It's helped me to understand areas where I would be most gifted and understand why I'm not as gifted in other areas.

Marcus Buckingham, a leadership expert and strengths champion, has taken the concept of the StrengthsFinder a step further in his new book STANDOUT. STANDOUT is about innovation. Specifically, Buckingham defines innovation as “novelty that can be applied.” The basic premise of the book is that not everyone can do something the same way with equal effectiveness. Innovation is often packaged and mass produced to be put into practice by anyone, regardless of their individual giftedness. But Buckingham illustrates that a specific innovation might be remarkable in the hands of one person and unexciting and sometimes detrimental in the hands of another person. Innovation, Buckingham says, “is transferable only if the person you are delivering the innovation to has the same strengths as the person who created it in the first place. What is effective and authentic in the hands of one person looks forced, fake, and foolish in the hands of another.”

Everyone is unique and brings their unique personality to everything that they do, which means that their uniqueness impacts everything they do. STANDOUT, like StrengthsFinder, is about uncovering what is unique about you, specifically your strengths and your specific personality traits. This helps you form a trajectory for what it is you would be most impactful doing.

Using the new STANDOUT online assessment, you can discover your top 2 of 9 “strength roles”:

The bulk of the book unpacks these nine strength roles by giving descriptions, areas where you are likely most powerful, and how to put it into practice. One of the features I love most about these descriptions is that Buckingham includes some suggestions on how to describe yourself in contexts such as job interviews and performance reviews based on your strength roles.

Marcus Buckingham stands as a voice of hope for helping people make a substantial impact in the world. STANDOUT is another important tool to help people be the best that they can be.

I received this book for free for review from Thomas Nelson