Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Radical Together" Book Review

In Radical Together, the follow up to David Platt's extremely successful Radical, Platt seeks to look at the underlying foundation of the message in Radical--the gospel. In some ways, this book looks at the foundation of what makes the church, the church. I believe, with complete honesty, that Radical Together has the potential of transforming the way churches do church.

In six brief chapters, Platt outlines some pretty radical (no pun intended) suggestions that, if understood and applied, would make a huge difference for the church in America. In chapter one, entitled "Tyranny of the Good", Platt suggests that the greatest enemy of the church are actually good things. In chapter two, entitled, "The Gospel Misunderstood", Platt suggests that "the gospel that saves us from work saves us to work." In chapter three, entitled "God is Saying Something", the primary focus is given to God's Word and its effectiveness in ministry. In chapter four, entitled "The Genius of Wrong", the author proposes that "building the right church depends on using all the wrong people. In chapter five, entitled "Our Unmistakable Task," Platt reminds us that Christians are living and longing for the end of the world. Finally, in chapter six, entitled "The God who Exalts God", we are reminded that "we are selfless followers of a self-centered God."

For readers of John Piper or John MacArthur, there is really nothing revolutionary here. However, I believe the effectiveness of this book lies in Platt's plain, forceful writing style. He has a way of communicating truths we are familiar with in new and powerful ways. My personal favorite chapter was chapter four as it reminded me yet again of the power of preaching God's Word clearly. It is a chapter that should be meditated upon by all in ministry.

In conclusion, Radical Together provides an excellent "kick-in-the-pants" for the church in America by reminding us what the gospel is. In some ways, however, this book is also a needed balance to Radical for this book is less focused on what YOU need to do and is more focused on what GOD has already done and is doing. As a result, this book is more focused on orthodoxy (right belief) than orthopraxy (right practice) whereas it seemed Radical was the other way around. This is a great book and one that will surely benefit all who read it.

*Thanks to Multnomah Publishing for providing me a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*

Monday, May 30, 2011

"A King and a Kingdom: A Narrative Theology of Grace and Truth" Book Review

There has been no shortage of narrative theologies written in the past five years. Books such as Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell, and The God Who is There by D.A. Carson are just a few of the many titles that rehearse the narrative of the Old and New Testament, thus providing a panoramic view of the totality of Scripture.

I'll admit...it has gotten a bit tiring.

Enter Jim Thompson's A King and a Kingdom: A Narrative Theology of Grace and Truth. I will admit that I was hesitant to read yet another narrative theology. I mean, after all, haven't we read enough? Do we need yet another spin on how the Bible fits together?

Here is the simple fact about Thompson's book: you NEED to read this book.

The structure of the book itself is straightforward enough. The first two chapters lay the groundwork for the rest of the book by establishing both the Bible's authority and the total aim (or chief ends) of theology and man. Both chapters, while not revolutionary, are eloquently written and set the tone for the rest of the book.

Chapters 3-7 are the meat and potatoes of the book (sort of!). Here is where the narrative theology begins. Without detailing everything, I will state that Thompson's Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel motif is as convincing as any other concerning the overarching structure of the Bible. In some ways this paradigm is broad enough to encompass many other views as well. As a result, Thompson's reading of the text is both fluid, flexible and accessible.

It is also coherent. Whereas some narrative theologies lose the reader or fail to show how each part of the unfolding drama relates to the larger theme, Thompson continually hammers upon the Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel theme--somehow without getting repetitive!

I will also say this--most narrative theologies get bogged down in their selection of which stories to highlight and how much depth to go into each section. However, Thompson thankfully avoids this issue. I felt that he dealt with the appropriate sections with both conciseness and yet with enough detail to satisfy most. Perhaps one of the reasons Thompson succeeds here is because he actually employs footnotes, which allow him to both clarify and expound without getting the reader bogged down in the main text. Also, throughout the book are numerous charts which keep the actual flow of the text moving nicely.

As excellent as chapters 3-7 were, however, I felt that the latter half of the book is what separated A King and A Kingdom from the rest. Here, Thompson takes an extra step and merges his narrative theology to four issues in systematic theology (soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology and eschatology). Each chapter expounded on how the Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel motif fits into the larger whole of Christian theology and into the believers' daily life. Doxological, practical and intriguing, each chapter was drenched in fascinating insights on how narrative and systematic theology merge together. To me, these chapters really set apart Thompson's book and brought the whole thing home for me.

There are small issues, but nothing substantial. First, Thompson adopts a somewhat common view that the gospel message is "that [Jesus] came, he lived, he died, he rose, he ascended, he sent the Spirit, and he will return" (100).  Focusing exclusively on 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and Romans 1:2-4, many such as N.T. Wright have stated that Paul's gospel is focused exclusively on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. While true in some respects, in Acts 13:26-47 Paul explicitly states that justification is a vital part of the Gospel proclamation. This may be a case of just not being able to say everything all the time (something that theologians love to pick at one another about). Since Thompson relies on Wright so much, however, it would be interesting to see exactly how justification works in Thompson's overall scheme--something spelled out a bit more clearly in one location within the book.

Second, and this has less to do with Thompson's book and more to do with my own understanding of Scripture, I still remain largely unconvinced that there is one central, dominant theme throughout the entire Bible. Perhaps it is my multiperspectivalism showing through but I lean more towards the idea that there are many themes that cohere together to simply show us God (wait...did I just make a dominant theme?). That said, if any theme is right, it would likely be Thompson's proposal of Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel. However, these are extremely minor quibbles for an otherwise outstanding book.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay A King and A Kingdom is that it made me want to open my Bible and read it. There were times I wanted just to dive into the text and worship God. This is a Gospel-centered and saturated book that ignites both the heart and mind. Thompson has a gift of taking hard concepts and boiling them down efficiently yet in a way that maintains the concept's majesty.

Thompson reminds us what sort of God we serve and does so with passion. I found myself engaged in worship and falling more in love with God as I read each chapter. Simply put, do not miss A King and a Kingdom: A Narrative Theology of Grace and Truth!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Oneness Embraced" Book Review

Oneness Embraced by Tony Evans is an outstanding, weighty book that deserves wide circulation. In it, Tony Evans traces what he calls a "kingdom agenda" for both blacks and white. Dr. Evans pulls no punches--he addresses issues such a racism, divided worship, and stereotypes heads on. However, at no point in the book does he seem to be beating a dead horse. Each chapter struck me as fresh and relevant to the conversation.

Perhaps the greatest strength in Evan's book is that it is profoundly biblical. Nearly every chapter oozes with scripture citations and stories. Evans is a masterful expositor of God's Word and, as a result, his book should be considered a significant theological contribution to race-related discussions. 

The most enlightening chapters to me were his chapters on the history of the black church. Not only were they informative but they also challenged many of my own presuppositions. Evans draws attention to black people in the Bible and church history and, subsequently, that chapter was the most exciting to read.

In the final few chapters, Evans outlines a strategy for advancing the kingdom. As a result, Evans moves seamlessly from theology to application. While I would have preferred that he spend a bit longer spelling out in greater detail his strategies, he at least points the way forward and provides some good resources for the pastor/missions strategist.

I suppose the biggest flaw in the entire book is its length. While each chapter is necessary, Evans at times repeats himself and advances his argument little. There were times where anecdotes and illustrations would last pages, simply to advance one point. I found myself thinking at times, "I get it! Let's move forward!" As a result, I think the book could have been significantly shorter. Nevertheless, it is still a good (albeit lengthy) read.

I would recommend Evans book. As someone who has not really delved into this critical issue, I found this book to be an excellent introduction and stimulating read. Hopefully, this book will receive widespread circulation and attention.

*Thanks to Moody Publishing for providing me a free review copy in exchange for a fair review*

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Heaven Revealed" Book Review

Heaven Revealed by Paul Enns is an insightful book that is full of both joy and hope. While I certainly did not agree with with Enns on everything he wrote, I often found myself celebrating and rejoicing in this profoundly biblical book.

Enns, who lost his wife some six years ago, seeks to answer questions many people have about Heaven. Full disclosure is needed here: Enns is a dispensational premillenialist. As a result, he interprets the passages on Heaven in a very literal way. Again, while I disagree with some of Enns' conclusions, I largely celebrate the work he has done here.

Rather than exploring the contents of each chapter (which would be quite the feat considering the amount of material Enns is able to cover per chapter), it is best to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the book as a whole.

First, Enns is profoundly biblical. Each chapter is full of scripture quotations.
Second, Enns is a very clear writer. He is a very good communicator of the truth.
Third, Enns is very thorough. He often raised questions that I had not considered and answered the efficiently.
Fourth, Heaven Revealed is a fascinating read. To be honest, there were times I had trouble putting the book down! It is also profoundly readable!
Fifth, Enns is very personal and as a result, the book is very applicable. Enns writes from the heart and discusses how the doctrines he presents helped him through the grieving process. This is a book pastors should read, if for no other reason than to understand how the joy of Heaven can reach into the hearts of those who are grieving.

First, while Enns is profoundly biblical, there are times that his presuppositions get in the way. There are many times when he extrapolates more from the text than is actually there. More than once I found myself saying, "But that isn't what the text is talking about!"
Second, Enns theological system presents a distorted view of the kingdom of God. As a result, he views God's rule as purely futuristic rather than already/not yet.
Third, Enns completely ignores Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, a book which has large implications for the doctrine of Heaven. While I understand that Enns was writing for the layperson, it seems inexcusable to at least not interact with perhaps the most important book written on a popular level on the topic of Heaven in the past few years. Considering that Enns has endnotes throughout the book, his exclusion of Wright becomes even more baffling.

That said, though I disagree with many of Enns' conclusions, the book as a whole is a good resource and should be read. While I personally think Wright's book is a better (more accurate) understanding of eschatology, I nevertheless was greatly enriched by reading Heaven Revealed.

*I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not
required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.*

"Our Triune God" Book Review

Our Triune God by Philip Ryken and Michael LeFebvre is an outstanding introduction to both the doctrine of the trinity and its relevant application to everyday life. While it is a short book (clocking it at just 114 short pages), it packs much into each chapter.

Chapter one, entitled "The Saving Trinity", explains the roles of the Father, Son and Spirit in salvation. This chapter basis most of its structure and exegesis off of Ephesians. Perhaps the best part of the entire chapter is Ryken and LeFebvre's summation of our salvation and the assurance we possess via the interaction of the Trinity. There is nothing new explored within this chapter--just rock-solid truths that can preach!

Chapter two, entitled "The Mysterious Trinity", is the meatiest of the entire book (which is saying alot ) and, for me, the most informative and helpful chapter. Not only do the authors provide an extremely helpful analogy when discussing the logic of the Trinity, but they also seek to explore the Old Testament roots of the trinity. They do not settle for mere proof-texts. No, these authors engage in serious reflection of where the Trinity can be found. This is an outstanding chapter and instantly became a chapter I will be going back to again and again.

Chapter three, entitled "The Practical Trinity", is based upon an exegesis of John 14-17 (which is known as perhaps the climax of all Trinitarian thought from Jesus' perspective). The authors walk us through God's love for himself as displayed in the Father, Son and Spirit and how that impacts our lives. This, to me, was the most practical chapter and again, one I will be turning to again and again.

Chapter four, entitled "The Joyous Trinity", explores various Trinitarian texts that reflect God's joy in himself and how that impacts believers. Though not my favorite chapter, it is nevertheless a very good one and really caps off the entire book nicely. At times the chapter struck me as a bit disjointed but that is a rather small complaint for such a tremendous book.

Overall, this book is an excellent primer on the Trinity and goes far deeper than most within the pews normally go. This book is a challenge for pastors to think doctrinally, realizing that doctrine (even when it seems most abstract) is applicable. This is a book that will challenge theologians as well to teach the relevance of the doctrines they hold so dear. Ryken and LeFebvre marry both doctrine and application together quite well in this small book. As a result, Our Triune God provides a refreshing look at the Trinity.

*Thanks to Crossway Publishing for providing a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*