500 Years of the Reformation

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Protestant reformation when on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenburg. Although reformation ideas had been circulating long before Luther (think Jon Hus and Joh Wicliffe to name a few), he kickstarted one of the biggest movements in modern world history. The celebration of the Reformation has both societal and spiritual implications. Western society owes its foundation to many of the landmark events of the Reformation. But most significantly the Reformation sparked a spiritual revival that we are still feeling the effects of today.

The theological ideas of the priesthood of all believers, the sufficientcy of Christ, and the sovereignty of God all found their renewal in modern history through the work of the reformers. The basic doctrines of all evangelical churches would not be possible without the Reformation. Although, there came to be factions and sects within the Reformation, all modern followers of Christ owe a grate deal of gratitude to the work of God during the time period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For this reason, I have selected a reading plan for 2017 that will focus mainly on the German reformation through the work of Martin Luther, but will touch on the reformation in Switzerland through the work of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli and the English reformation through the work of William Tyndale and others. Below is a selected list of the biographies, histories, lectures, theologies and other resources I will be using this year and I reccomend them to anyone interested in deepening their own study of and appreciation for one of the most important eras of Church history.

 

 

 

Book Review: Gospel Fluency

imageWhat is the gospel? The gospel is the central teaching of the Bible and Christian life, what the Apostle Paul called the “first importance” (1 Corinthains 15:3). Namely, it is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Theologically, it is the way in which sinners can come to have a relationship with God through the work Jesus on the cross. His righteousness is exchanged for ours and we are counted as righteous before God. All believers in Jesus would claim to know this truth, as well they should. But do all believers in Jesus truly allow this truth to have its full work in their lives? This is what Jeff Vanderstelt discusses in his new book Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life published by Crossway.

If the gospel is to be of first importance, it must be preeminent and affect every area of the Christian’s life. But as Jeff Vanderstelt argues in the book, not all professing believers are fluent enough in the gospel for it to work itself out in their lives. Gospel fluency, like knowing any language, takes practice and applying to all of life. The more it is used, the more proficient one becomes. But unlike knowing another language or skill, the work of the gospel is shaped in the life of believers through the Spirit of God as it is applied on a regular basis. Better put, the more one applies the gospel, the more they allow the Spirit of God to work in their lives.

The book is well laid out into five parts. Part One named “Gospel Fluency” sets up the remainder of the book by laying out the argument for the need of applying the gospel to all of life. Vanderstelt argues that all people struggle with unbelief. Some people are fully unbelievers, in that they do not yet believe in Jesus. But even people who profess to follow Jesus do not believe that His work is sufficient in certain areas of their lives. Vanderstelt displays this truth through stories and saturates the book with scripture to make his point. Becoming more gospel fluent continues the work of sanctification in an effort to become more Christlike in every area of life.

Part Two named “The Gospel” is a basic theological treatise on the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. He walks through the entire Bible to demonstrate the work of God in history to restore what was broken by sin. Again he saturates the section with scripture and highlights his points through stories of his pastoral and personal experiences. Parts three and four named “The Gospel in Me” and “The Gospel with Us” demonstrate that Jesus is the hero in the lives of individual believers and how this is displayed in the life of the Church. The rhythms of rememberance through worship and the Lord’s Supper serve as reminders for the need of the gospel through community.

Part Five named “The Gospel to Others” demonstrates the importance of the Church being on mission in the world to share the truth of the gospel with others. This is accomplished when individual believers all the gospel to affect all of their lives in family, work, and leisure. As followers of Jesus rub elbows with all types of people daily, they have opportunity to live and share the gospel. The Church accomplishes this by displaying the love of Jesus to the community collectively and by equipping believers to be on mission.

Gospel Fluency is an excellent practical theology of the gospel and I highly reccomend this book as resource for pastors, church leaders, and individual believers to grow in the gospel. The way Vanderstelt ties Biblical truth with story demonstrates the power of the gospel in real lives. This is highly encouraging for all believers and churches. He does not propose a fool proof model for church growth and discipleship. The gospel model he lays out in the book has been used throughout Church history and is the only hope for the Church in the future. The gospel is the first importance and without that hope, our faith is in vain.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: No Easy Jesus

imageIf you have been a follower of Jesus for more than a few seconds, you realize that (to use a Southernism) “it ain’t easy.” To think otherwise is to miss the point. In fact, His very mission on earth was not easy. Why would we, as His followers, think that following Him would be? In being our way of salvation Jesus took the narrow road, and he calls His followers to do the same. This is what Jason Mitchell discusses in his new book No Easy Jesus (Tyndale).

Throughout the book Mitchell draws a distinction between the easy Jesus and the real Jesus. He defines the easy Jesus as a convenient savior that is there when we need him and stays out of the way for the most part. This is a Jesus that is made in our own image. On the other hand, the real Jesus is the Jesus described in the Bible. He is the Savior who stepped out of the glory of heaven and dwelt among us. He didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. The real Jesus got into our mess and was crucified in our place. The real Jesus defeated death and rose again on the third day.

Following the easy Jesus doesn’t take much effort. It is…well…easy. This is a version of Jesus that doesn’t require much out of those who follow him. Following the real Jesus, however, takes grit as Mitchell puts it in the book. It isn’t easy to leave all and follow Him. The real Jesus calls us to get messy like He did. This means that we might get hurt, because we have skin in the game. It is not enough to say that we have faith in Jesus, we must also be obedient to His call. A life lived by faith in Jesus will always lead to living in faithfulness to Jesus.

Following the real Jesus also means not pretending that we have it all together. But being willing to be vulnerable by admitting and living with our weaknesses. It means saying no to certain desires and temptations and constantly reminding ourselves that Jesus is enough for us. The real Jesus calls us to forgive, to trust Him in times of need, grow in our pain, seek His best with intimacy, steward well the gifts/resources He has given us, and love others like He does. This way of living isn’t easy, but over time it can because second nature as we humbly surrender to the Holy Spirit.

No Easy Jesus is a great reminder to stop evaluate what version of Jesus we are following. Are we following the easy Jesus of our own imagination, or are we following the real Jesus as revealed in Scripture. I reccomend this book as a good resource to anyone who is tired of following the easy road and is serious about following the real Jesus. It is full of real life stories of people who have counted the cost and remind that it is worth it.

 

 
I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, & James

imageOne of the most important aspects of the Christian life is staying rooted in the Word of God. The Scriptures are the basis of our faith and bring life to those who study and apply it. Yet, many believers would admit that it is a struggle to find the time in our fast paced society. Admittedly it is difficult. But we find the time for food, sleep, relationships, entertainment, etc. Even in our fast paced society we all find time for the things that are most important. If studying and applying God’s Word is a priority for us, we will find the time for it. The Explore by the Book series is a great resource to aide in personal Bible study. This new series published by The Good Book Company takes material from their Explore Quarterly series and adds space for journaling to better aide personal study. The newest volume in the series is 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, & James by Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry.

 

Features of this Volume

The portion of the gospel of John chosen for this study is packed with practical truth. Sam Allberry refers to it as “Jesus preparing his disciples for the world we now live in.” This portion of John is centered around the time immediately preceding the crucifixion. It is the last time Jesus will see his disciples before his trial and brutal death. He is preparing them for the time when they will no longer have him, but promises to send the Holy Spirit to empower them to live all that he has taught.

The letter from Paul to the Romans is a deep well of truth based primarily on the church knowing, understanding, and applying the gospel message to their daily lives. Paul opens the letter by calling the gospel “the power of God.” He spends the rest of the letter unpacking the truth of the gospel that no one is good and all are spiritually dead in sin. Yet, the climax of the letter is chapter 8, which is riveted with the joy of the freedom found in Jesus.

The epistle of James is a practical letter written to Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire. He discusses topics such as true faith, taming the tongue, partiality, guarding against the false idol of money, and taking care of the vulnerable. This letter remains a relevant resource to the church today.

 

Features in the Series

* Daily Format: This series is set up for daily scripture reading on a quarterly basis. It is important for followers of Jesus to be in the Word daily. Just like we must eat food daily for physical sustenance, believers must feast on the Word daily for spiritual sustenance. The format is set up to allow for thirty minutes each day, which is doable in the midst of busy lives. But daily reading is also a commitment, but one that will prove worth it over time.

* Reading Portion: The series encourages reading significant portions of Scripture directly from one’s personal Bible or Bible app. This is important for two main reasons. (1) It allows the reader to cherish the Word and (2) it allows the reader to study the Bible in context. Many contemporary devotionals provide a small portion of Scripture which is most likely taken out of context. Most of the time is spent reading the devotion and not the Scripture itself. Resources that encourage reading significant portions of Scritpure daily serve the reader well. As the old adage goes, “You can give a person a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

* Application and Journaling: The application questions and space for journaling provide an important aspect for daily Bible reading. Many devotions simply tell you what the author thinks about certain verse or topic and may even bring some encouragement, but it does not apply directly to the readers life. The application questions provide the opportunity for the reader to take what they just read and apply it directly to what is going on in their lives at the moment. This fosters growth and feasting on the Word. It causes one to cherish the Word more, when they see that it applies to their lives personally.

* Prayer: A crucial aspect of daily devotional time is prayer. Devotional reading is good, but one must take time and speak to the Lord about how that passage of Scripture is convicting, teaching, and growing them. The guided prayers printed in the book serve as a launching pad for deeper prayer and application.
I would personally reccomend the Explore by the Book series and specially this volume to anyone looking for a resource to guide them in personal study. The guided but flexible format allows the resource to be tailored to everyone’s learning style and schedule. It will take a minimum of thirty minutes each day, but on days that time allows one could spend extended time in study and prayer. This series is formatted for personal study, but it could also be used in a small group or Sunday School setting as well. I am personally thankful for the ministry of The Good Book Company, because they provide excellent resources for churches and individuals.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: Christ All Sufficient

imageI find it difficult to write a review of a exposition on a biblical book, because I don’t want to inadvertently critique the Scriptures. However, expositional texts are important because they can help illuminate a specific Scripture verse, passage, or book for use in the church. Expositional texts or commentaries can be separated into two basic categories (1) academic and (2) layman. An academic commentary will be based in the original Hebrew or Greek and can be difficult to use unless a person is proficient in those languages. A layman’s commentary may reference the original language but will breakdown the text in such a way that it is conducive for preaching, teaching, or personal study. This is what Brian Hedges does in his new book Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians.

Many Christians might think that a commentary is only for pastors. It is true that the average churchgoer does not know Hebrew or Greek. However, this is no excuse for not diving into the Word for further study. Resources like Christ All Sufficient, which I would consider a layman’s commentary, provide great tools for deeper study.

At this point I will review a few of the features in the book that aide in further study of the book of Colossians for preaching/teaching or personal study. First, Hedges provides a great outline which walks systematically through the text. The book of Colossians was originally written as a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Colossae. A good outline allows the reader to put each verse in context and help understand the Apostle’s train of thought. Hedges not only breaks down the text in a basic outline, but breaks it down verse by verse. This aides a more comprehensive study of the text.

Second, the book provides good exposition of the text. Not all books that claim to be expositional are good. The point of an expositional resource is to “expose” the text and reveal what it is trying to say. Some “expositional” books impose on the text the agenda of the author. Hedges, of course, adds his own voice, viewpoint, and style into the writing. However, he does an excellent job of exposing what the text is saying. He does this in a few ways: (1) he references keywords, defines them, and applies them in context. (2) He cross references with other scriptures to provide a biblical theology of what is being discussed. (3) He references other sources such as commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources.

Lastly, Hedges writes the book with a pastoral heart. When the Apostle Paul originally wrote the letter to the church at Colossae he did so for the purpose of reminding the church of Christ’s sufficientcy. In the same way, Hedges exposes what Paul is saying and applies to the church today. We can get distracted by many things in this world, but when we remember that Jesus is enough and can provide the strength we need to face any circumstance.

I highly reccomend Christ All Sufficient as a resource for studying the book of Colossians. Whether you are preparing for a sermon series, Sunday School class, small group, or personal study Christ All Sufficient is a great resource.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life

img_0081Human beings are not simple creatures. We are a complex web of what we think, what we believe, and how we behave. All three aspects of the human experience affect how we relate to God, ourselves, others, and our circumstances. In personal ministry and faith based counseling, these aspects must be kept in mind, because the root issue may connected to something different than the issue at hand. This is what Dr. Jeremy Pierre discusses in his new The Dymanic Heart in Daily Life published by New Growth Press.

 
Most of us are not as self-aware as we would like to admit. Many times our behavior is connected to something deeper than what is on the surface. When we can get past the superficial issue, down to the root of what is going on in our heart we can begin to see growth and healing. For many of us we need help doing that which is why we turn to friends, pastors, and counselors for help. Whether you are the friend, pastor, or counselor it is important to be equipped to point the person seeking counsel what is truly going on in the heart.

 
In the book, Pierre gives a biblical theology of the human heart and its dynamic nature. He shows how what we think affects our beliefs (desires) which in turn affects our behavior and how that relates to the world around us. The goal of ministry and faith-based counseling is to look past the behavior to what is truly going on in the heart. Many times behavior can be modified by repenting of wrong thinking and beliefs, which is the theory of neuthetic counseling. Sometimes, however, additional psychotherapy and/or medication can be helpful. Pierre seems to point to a faith-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach in personal ministry and counseling. Basically, our behavior can be modified when we reorient our thinking and beliefs to match what Scripture says about who God is and who we are. The goal is to help others become more self-aware and help them apply the gospel to every day life situations.

 
Pierre does an excellent job of making this concept of faith-based CBT applicable in peronal biblically based ministry for church leaders who are not formally trained counselors. He also does an excellent job of providing real life examples of how this approach can be applied in every day life. This book is an excellent biblically based resource for pastors, ministers, and counselors who desire to serve their parishioners and clients well. It is a great side table guide to better understand how the gospel applies to the dynamic heart of people in every day life.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book. 

Book Review: “Kill Devil” by Mike Dellosso

imageThe definition of great fiction is when the reader has difficultly determining where the story begins and reality ends. Great fiction draws the reader in and makes them feel like they are living in the midst of the story. The reader sees, hears, and feels what the characters see, hear, and feel. In essence the reader becomes the characters. This is the type of writing that is displayed by Mike Dellosso in his new book Kill Devil, the second book in the Jed Patrick series published by Tyndale House.

In Kill Devil, Jed Patrick and his family are trying to start a new life after leaving the Centralia Project. He thinks they are off the grid when their cover is blow and are thrust back into the throws of working with the CIA. Jed is in possession of classified information that can bring down the Centralia Project and they want the information destroyed. The storyline moves briskly from Idaho to Denver to Alcatraz. Jed thinks he is being enlisted to take down the Centralia Project, but discovers that he is in fact working for them again. With his daughter’s life at stake, Jed must wade through murky waters to discover the truth.

Mike Dellosso does an excellent job of capturing the readers interest. His writing style is much like Lee Child or Brad Thor. The reader is made to feel like they are Jed Patrick living the story as it unfolds. Dellosso moves the story along briskly and gives the reader just enough information to make them what to keep reading. Unlike some thrillers where it is easy to figure out “whodunit,” Dellosso does an excellent job of throwing in plot twists that makes the reader second guess where the storyline is going. The short chapters give a “teaser” effect that makes you want to start the next chapter to find out what happens next.

If you love reading a good thriller, Kill Devil is a good book to consider. I reccomend the Jed Patrick series it to anyone who loves Jack Reacher, Robert Langdon, or Scot Harvath. I could not put the book down and finished it in just a few days. I would, however, reccomend reading Dellosso’s book Centralia first because it provides some back story that you miss if you jump right into Kill Devil.
I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book.