Category Archives: Book Reviews

All books reviewed according to God’s Word.1 Tim. 1:10, 11Phil. 4

thumbs down: Simply Good News, Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good by N. T. Wright

Simply Good News, Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It  by N. T. Wright
(New York: Harper Collins, 2015) 189 pp, Hard $24.99

Christianity Today proclaims N. T. Wright to be the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist since C. S. Lewis (on the dust cover). If so, then whether you agree with him or not, what Wright says carries considerable weight. In Simply Good News Wright is defining the gospel and working out its implications. He repeatedly, and correctly, states that the gospel is not good advice; it is a good news message about an event that has changed everything (pp. 4, 16). But Wright’s understanding about this event (which includes the cross and the resurrection) is not what many would assume. He agrees the message that Jesus died for our sins and took our punishment so that we could be saved and go to heaven is true, but it is a distorted message, which does not go far enough and in some ways is a message which the Western church (a constant theme within the book, pp. 5, 23, 65, 77, 79, 82, 83, 85, 86, 90, 94, 114, 124, 130, 138, 163) has simply got wrong (pp. 5, 23, 65). How so? First, getting people to heaven and keeping them out of hell was never God’s plan (pp. 6, 98, 107, 148). God’s plan was about His kingdom in which heaven comes to earth (p. 7). Wright is confused about the new heaven and earth, seeing them as virtually synonymous (pp. 91, 163), but technically he is correct that believers will spend eternity on the new earth. However, I find it interesting that Wright and his ilk pay little attention to what happens until the new heaven and earth are created. That millions of believers have spent perhaps thousands of years in heaven seems to go unnoticed. But Wright’s message is that “the good news is not about how to escape [the world]. It [is] about how the one true God [is] changing it, radically and forever” (p. 13).

Wright habitually depreciates certain aspects of the biblical gospel, claiming it is not the message of Jesus and the apostles, then immediately turns around and says that none of those things is totally wrong (pp. 19, 25, 65, 69, 70, 73, 81, 97, 102, 154, 162). In effect this would minimize any criticism of Wright’s views. For example:

In particular, the church has latched onto a way of speaking about the gospel that goes like this: You are a sinner, deserving death; Jesus died in your place; therefore believe in Him, and you’ll go to heaven after all. This can be shortened even further to something like, Jesus took my punishment…Just to be clear, this theme (Jesus dying in my place) is indeed prominent in the Bible (p. 65).

In particular, Wright wants to distance the Christian faith from the concept of a God of wrath and replace Him with a God of pure love (pp. 68, 69). This creates an unbalanced view of the Lord who in the Bible is a God of infinite love but who is also holy and rightly judges sin. He even neatly sidesteps the clear message of God’s wrath in Romans 1:18ff and manages to reduce, through carefully selected verses, the wrath of God to rescuing love (pp. 70-72) and the restoration and transformation of all creation (p. 72). Of course, if one can virtually eliminate the wrath of God they can also eliminate hell. He is able to do so by framing traditional views of hell as medieval distortions of God still clung to by the Western church (p. 98).

What exactly is Wright’s gospel then? It is not human beings rescued by God through Jesus—we imagined this (p. 97) – nor that we need to be reconciled to God—we imagined that, too (p. 97) although he strangely admits that these things are true (p. 97). But the full or whole gospel, according to Wright, is that because of what Christ has done a whole new universe is coming. And this is good news for the whole of creation (apparently all humanity as well) and not just for “a few humans who get the magic password that lets them off the hook and into heaven after all” (p. 97). What a sad distortion of the biblical depiction of saving grace received by faith (Eph 2:8-9). The gospel according to Wright is the restoration of God’s original intention for the planet. He writes, “God made humans so that he could look after his world through this particular creature. His intention was to bring his creation forward from its beginnings to be the glorious place he always intended and to do so through this human family” (pp. 97-98). The gospel is God reclaiming the earth so that “the world would be healed, transformed, rescued and renewed” (p. 36). And “what was holding back the kingdom was the dark power, the force of evil itself. On the cross, that power was defeated” (p. 46). At that point Christ’s kingdom was re-established on earth and our task is to help bring the kingdom to its ultimate glory (pp. 54-55):

The good news is that the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection…The ancient sickness that had crippled the whole world, and humans with it, has been cured at last, so that new life can rise up in its place…That one day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now. This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything less (p. 55).

With this kind of gospel it is a short step to making the mission of the believer that of “working to make the world” a better place (p. 77). Since, according to Wright, the idea of Jesus taking us to heaven is seriously misleading (pp. 90, 93), and the idea of Jesus returning is complex, all that matters is creating the new heavens and earth, which are the same place (p. 91). The complete gospel includes restoring this earth (pp. 98-100, 158). We must work with God to bring about this change on the planet (pp. 118-120).

Wright concludes Simply Good News by saying that we can become good news people only through prayer (p. 153). He then presses the Lord’s Prayer into service to explain the gospel. It should be noted that the Lord’s Prayer never mentions the gospel but it fits Wright’s agenda that the gospel is basically the kingdom of God (p. 158):

The good news is that the living God is indeed establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven, through the finished work of Jesus, and is inviting people of all sorts to share not only in the benefits of this kingdom but also in the work through which it will come to its ultimate completion (p. 164).

“It is time for God to become king—here and now” (p. 161) and it is time for us to “become transformed people who are then transforming the world” (p. 169).

Wright’s gospel is the familiar “already/not yet” view which teaches that the kingdom is now (but even more is coming) concept. The biblical gospel of reconciliation is given a nod but the “whole” gospel is working with the Lord to transform this planet and return it to its original glory. The full gospel then becomes not only the biblical gospel but is also combined with the social gospel of the world’s transformation through the instrumentality of believers prior to the return of Christ. It should be noted that Wright does not really engage with the important biblical texts dealing with the gospel. Simply Good News is not an exegesis of Scripture. It is an understanding of the purposes of God through the lens of a particular amillennial/postmillennial understanding of the kingdom of God. This is a dangerous book.

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/12-doctrine-and-theology/936-simply-good-news-why-the-gospel-is-news-and-what-makes-it-good-by-n-t-wright-new-york-harper-collins-2015-189-pp-hard-24-99

Church Unique, How Mission Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and C

Church Unique, How Mission Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini

(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008) 271 pp. plus XXVII, hard $16.99

Will Mancini leads Auxano, a team of church consultants (although they prefer the word “navigators”) who are training pastors on how to “do church” in the 21st century. Church Unique lays out the ideas and goals of Auxano. In many ways Church Unique is much like many church management books written in the last 50 years. It emphasizes vision, teaches how to form and implement strategy, and virtually insures success if you will but follow the principles within. Mancini is a motivational writer, par excellent. His use of superlatives is extensive. In fact, they are used so often as to lose their effect; after all, not everything can be mind-blowing and earth-shaking. Like other books of this genre, Church Unique is also complicated. To actually work Mancini’s system well from the book alone would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Those serious about applying these ideas will no doubt need to hire Auxano as consultants. As such, Church Unique serves as a great advertisement for Auxano, at least to those who are excited about its vision for the church.

Mancini claims that he will engage in all the great ideas and opinions about the church today and offer the missing link of his strategy (p. XIX). The purpose for writing the book was “to challenge you to find your ‘Church Unique’—that is, to live a vision that creates a stunningly unique, movement-oriented church” (pp. XXII, cf. p. 77). The promise is “to present ideas on how to discern your ‘corporate grace’ and surrounding microculture, as well as how to synthesize these into your unique Vision Pathway. More than that, it gives you a Vision Integrated Model” (p. XXIV).

As became evident throughout the book, Mancini sees past church vision and strategy, primarily as found in the seeker model, as out of step with the times. These strategies worked in their day but no longer (pp. XXV, 17-26, 46, 137, 147). Mancini is not so much depreciating the vision and strategies of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels (pp. 28-33, XXVI-XXVII) as he is offering an “alternative to classic strategic planning” (p. XXV). The important take away is that if church leaders want to be always on the cutting edge they must be chasing the culture. This means that if Church Unique is presenting the latest and most hip modern church strategy for today, it will be replaced soon by a new system that is more in tune with tomorrow’s culture. Ultimately it is culture, not Scriptures, which determines the direction of the church (more on this at the conclusion of this review).

Church Unique is presented in four parts (see pp. XXVI-XXVII).

Part one exposes the nature of the vision vacuum in churches today.

Part two clarifies vision. “Clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leaders. If you do nothing else as a leader be clear” (p. 51, cf. pp. 52-55).

Part three offers five components that will articulate vision which are unique to a given church.

Part four teaches leaders how to advance their vision.

This reviewer found it interesting how often the author criticized the ideas and strategies of the past church marketers and replaced them with his ideas and strategies, merely changing the terms. He rejects the vision statement of the church growth era then offers his own (pp. XXV, 19-22, 28). He rightly depreciates the leadership conference era (p. XXVI) but in essence replaces it with the church consultant era. He often downplays the “nickels and noses” number game as a measure of success (pp. 23, 34, 37, 80, 105, 193, 220) but then touts Andy Stanley’s “clarify the win” principle that is all about numbers (pp. 38, 65). He replaces the vision, mission and purpose statements of the past with “kingdom concepts and vision frame” (pp. 84, 166) and “developing your own brand” (p. 237), via snappy logos and strategy icons (pp. 237-242) and use of secular marketing firms (pp. 223-224, cf. pp. 65-66, 93).

Due to the rapid changing culture long term planning is now obsolete according to Mancini (pp. 24-26, 36, 45, 47, 165). Each church must now develop its own unique mission. This is an improvement over Rick Warren’s “church in a box” which attempted to clone successful churches, such as Saddleback, throughout the world. But how are leaders to determine their unique vision? In addition to examining their specific culture and determining what they do better than anyone else, they must hear the voice of God. Apparently, if leaders listen carefully enough, and learn to distinguish the voice of God from all other voices, God will give leaders their unique vision (pp. 12, 72, 171-172). That vision however will almost certainly look like the “simple church” concept, as popularized by the book by this name, and epitomized by Andy Stanley (pp. 22, 60, 136, 141-144, 149). The simple church, in which attendees are expected to do only three things (attend a weekend worship service, join a small group, and get involved in one, and only one, ministry) has replaced the program-oriented seeker church of the recent past, as Mancini sees it.

It is important to note that it apparently matters little what vision a church chooses, as long as it is unique: “The central strategy you choose is not as important as whether there is ownership and integration around whatever strategies you choose” (p. XXVII, cf. pp. 88-89). Of course in order to work out this new vision those pesky “pirates” (i.e. church members stuck in the past) who do not buy in will have to be eliminated (pp. XXVII, 212-213).

Mancini introduces, but expounds little, on a number of questionable theological concepts: the ancient-future movement (p. 76), the five-fold ministry view drawn erroneously from Ephesians 4:13 called ADEPT (p. 95), that the church exists for those on the outside (p. 124) which is a faulty ecclesiology, and red letter Bible study (pp. 160-161). These ideas and others should be expected since Church Unique is published by the emergent Jossey-Bass and is one of the books offered by the Leadership Network which publishes books by Brian McLaren (pp. XI, XVII-XVIII). [COLOR=green]He also mentions favorably Mark Driscoll (p. XXIV), Rob Bell (pp. 58-61), St. John of the Cross (p. 63), Leonard Sweet (p. 176), Dallas Willard (p. 184), and Erwin McManus (p. 232).

Mancini rarely engages with Scripture and when he does it often misses the point due to his faulty hermeneutics (see pp. 25, 44-50, 89), in addition to his emphasis on red-letter study of the Bible mentioned above. This leads to the fatal flaw in Church Unique: it does not draw its understanding of the church from Scripture but rather from culture and what is working today (pragmatism). The overall message that each local church should look for its unique thumb print and make good use of that DNA (pp. XXIII, 6-7) is helpful. But when an author, organization or church begins (and ends) with culture rather than Scripture to develop its DNA for the local church, it will stray from God’s design. Culture is not unimportant, but when we develop our churches around culture, creating vision and strategy as a result, without first consulting in great detail God’s vision and strategy for the church, we will inevitably miss the point. This is what Church Unique does, as did its predecessor, the seeker church. It’s the same old song, just different verses.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/5-church/934-church-unique-how-mission-leaders-cast-vision-capture-culture-and-create-movement-by-will-mancini-san-francisco-jossey-bass-2008-271-pp-plus-xxvii-hard-16-99

The Last Word by N.T. Wright

The Last Word by N.T. Wright

N. T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham (Anglican Church), prolific author and biblical scholar, and is best known to many as the unofficial liaison between the New Perspective on Paul and evangelicalism. This work does not deal specifically with the NPP, rather Wright is trying to foster an understanding of Scripture which allows for and even nurtures such views. Wright is proposing what he calls a “new understanding of the authority of Scripture.” Exactly what is this new understanding?

Let’s begin with the positive. By definition, Wright states “that the authority of Scripture must mean…‘the authority of God exercised through Scripture’” (p. 25). With this stripped-down definition we can agree. God’s authority is bigger than Scripture—it includes all that He is and does. Still Scripture is God’s written word and carries the full authority of Himself in all it proclaims.

The Last Word provides much in the way of historical insights. Here we find some of the past abuses of Scripture: allegorical hermeneutics (pp. 65-70), Gnostic teachings (pp. 60-65), elevation of tradition by Rome (p. 75), the influence of the Enlightenment (pp. 82-92), postmodern and deconstruction challenges to truth (pp. 96-100), modern day promotion of experience as an arbitrator of truth (pp. 100-105) and morphing the Bible into either a rule book or a mystical instrument (p. 64). Wright also offers some helpful examples of misreading Scripture from both the right and the left (pp. 106-111) (although I found it amusing that he placed the pretribulational rapture view in the same category as the prosperity gospel and in support of slavery and racism).

But all is not well in Wright’s understanding of Scripture. He warns us as early as the subtitle that his is a “new understanding.” This new understanding not only differs from the above-mentioned understandings of Scripture but with the Reformers as well. He likes the Reformation’s emphasis on the literal sense (approaching the Bible by attempting to discern what the first writers intended) (p. 73). But the Reformers erred, according to Wright, because they did not understand the “narrative view” of Scripture (p. 76). During the Reformation era Scripture was “seen as a repository of true doctrine and ethics, and indeed the supreme [I]‘authority’….”[/I] Under the narrative view Scripture is seen as the “great narrative, the overarching story of God and the world” (p. 20). The narrative view is unpacked later (pp. 121-127) and to a point has much to commend it (but see below). As a humorous side note, Wright, who earlier debunks Dispensationalism as fanciful speculations (p. 54), develops his narrative view around five dispensations—which he “wisely” calls stages.

While there is much of value in what Wright is saying, he does not go far enough. He begins his assault by asking, “How can a story be authoritative” (p. 26, see p. XI)? Next, he undermines the quest for objective truth by associating it with both modernity and Fundamentalism (his favorite object of scorn) (pp. 9-10). And, since reading the Bible in search of objective truth is taboo, how should it be approached (through a narrative grid)? “We read Scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be” (p. 115).

Pretty nebulous stuff, but this is the best that Wright can do since he believes we can know precious little from Scripture with any degree of certainty (pp. 90-91). As a matter of fact, Scripture does not even have to be historically accurate for us to live under its authority (pp. 95-96).

When the dust has settled, Wright’s definition of authority is indeed new. “God’s authority, if we are to locate it at this point, is His sovereign power accomplishing this renewal of all creation…. God’s purpose is not just to save human beings, but to renew the whole world” (p. 29). And God’s revelation is not localized in Scripture but is on-going: “God is continually revealing Himself to and within the world He has made” (p. 31).

While Wright’s “new understanding” of the authority of Scripture is an upgrade from some in his camp, it nevertheless falls short of the mark. To Wright, Scripture is the big story of God’s work in the universe (narrative view of Scripture). It is not necessarily an infallible or inerrant story nor can it be understood with certainty. We should not approach it in a search for objective truth, for that is not its purpose. Rather, the Bible is simply one of the tools that God is using to save the planet. We need to use Scripture as an aid to help us find our own place in this project. We may not be able to nail down truth or be certain of our theology which will change as time goes by, but we can be part of the narrative that God is writing. Our obligation is to submit to the lordship of Christ and “through baptism and membership in the body of Christ” (p. 116) become part of the story. I believe that some find this to be an intriguing understanding of Scripture and the Christian life but it is a false one.

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/138-bible-bible-studies/910-the-last-word-by-n-t-wright

The Circle Maker Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greate

The Circle Maker Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears By Mark Batterson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 217 pp., Paper, $14.99

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., is offering a new way of praying (see advertisement on page 233) based on a Jewish legend of Honi the Rainmaker, also called Honi the Circle Maker (pp. 11-13, 226). Honi supposedly drew a circle in the dirt, stepped into that circle, and prayed for rain to end a devastating drought in first century B.C. God, according to the myth, answered that prayer. When Batterson discovered this story, one which is almost certainly per myth and not historical, it forever changed the way he prayed (p. 21). Now he circles his prayers, either by stepping into a drawn circle like Honi or by walking around the object of his desire, as the Jews walked around Jericho in the Old Testament. By circling our prayers, apparently they are more likely to come true producing a miracle. If my count is correct, and I am sure I missed a few, “miracle” shows up 166 times averaging almost one appearance per page of actual text. While certainly God can and does bring about miracles today, Batterson has cheapened the meaning and reduced it to the accomplishment of an improbability rather than the reversal or defiance of the laws of nature that the Lord set in place. Walking on water is a miracle, the purchase of a piece of property that was hard to get is not. Batterson does not distinguish between the two.

The Circle Maker is much like The Prayer of Jabez. Both promise miracles if we will but follow little known and obscure prayers found in the past. Despite the fact that these prayers are not taught or mandated in Scripture, and not even drawn from Scripture as in the case with Honi, a unique system of prayer is based on these stories.

I will not go into great detail in this review as I intend to write an in-depth article on [COLOR=green]The Circle Maker. However, here are some concerns in addition to the fact that the whole system is based on an ancient myth and not Scripture:[/COLOR]

We are told that every promise in the Bible is ours to claim, no matter the context (pp. 15, 17, 41, 53-55, 59, 89-90, 100-101, 128, 131, 151, 199).

Prosperity theology abounds (pp. 15, 51, 71, 180-188, 197-198).

Drawing circles around what we want will give us miracles and fulfill our dreams. After all, “God said it, I’ve circled it, and that settles it.” (pp. 16, 23, 37, 64, 79-80, 94, 129, 138).

God will apparently prompt us regularly, and the prompting and revelations carry the full weight of His promises. It is these subjective promises that we can claim, not just biblical promises (pp. 17, 26-30, 40-41, 63, 67-68, 76, 93-95, 107, 115, 117-121, 125, 131, 154, 200-202, 208).

New age and prosperity teachings concerning visualization + faith + claiming what we desire are evident (pp. 24, 25, 185).

Continual distortion of Scripture, the most blatant of which is Habakkuk 2:1 (p. 159), in which the author inserts “circle” into the verse to support his theology.

Batterson is clearly misguided in The Circle Maker yet he is endorsed by John Ortberg and Rich Wilkenson (Peacemakers founder) and is friends with Louie Giglio and Andy Stanley (p. 36). The Circle Maker is not a stand-alone book; it has generated an industry including a video series as well as student editions, prayer journals and more.

No true Christian wants to minimize the power of prayer, which is perhaps the central theme of this book. But it must be prayer as taught in Scripture not based on myth and/or invented by people.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/895-the-circle-maker-praying-circles-around-your-biggest-dreams-and-greatest-fears-by-mark-batterson-grand-rapids-zondervan-2011-217-pp-paper-14-99

If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? Finding Meaning and Hope in th

If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley, One Man’s Journey,

by Robert B. Somerville (Santa Clarita, CA: Xulon Press, 2014), 243 pp., Paper $14.39

Robert Somerville is a professor of Biblical Counseling at the Master’s College as well as a fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counseling. He has counseled hundreds and taught many others how to apply Scripture to life’s problems for decades. Such people are not supposed to get depressed, but Dr. Somerville did—severe, clinical depression. This book describes his journey through what he calls his “dark night of the soul” (pp. 17, 197) (This is an unfortunate term that some are using today to describe depression. Actually it originates with St. John of the Cross, in his book by this title, as the first step toward mystical union with God, known commonly as purgation). But this work does more than describe a man’s journey; it also offers extremely helpful insight and biblically accurate means of dealing with depression.

Each of Somerville’s ten chapters opens with a Puritan prayer and ends with a story of other Christians who have traveled the same road. Each of these stories is written by the individual whose life is being described. Somerville covers a wide variety of topics including symptoms of depression (p. 18), the lack of hope (chapter 2), causes of depression (pp. 69-71), tools to avoid sinful responses which lead to depression (pp. 71-85), guilt (chapter 5), the physical components of depression and the need to care for our bodies (chapter 6), anxiety (chapter 7), how to express our concerns to God, using the Psalms as a guide (chapter 8), joy (chapter 9), and help for the caregiver (chapter 10), written by Somerville’s wife, Mary.

Each chapter is biblically sound and offers practical ideas and suggestions. Scripture and ways to use Scripture during times of depression are abundant. The book includes seven valuable appendixes which explain the gospel, guide the reader in how to study the Bible, pray along with the Psalms, provide hymns of comfort and point toward other resources that will provide aid for those who suffer depression.

Throughout the volume Somerville offers numerous exercises and projects that, if applied, will help a depressed person tremendously. However, in my opinion, very few in need will actually take these steps because the very nature of depression leaves most with little motivation or initiative. For this reason the best use of If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? is as a resource for biblical counseling or a book study for a small group or adult Bible class. Homework assignments from the book could be given that should prove very useful. I recommend this book highly.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/886-if-i-m-a-christian-why-am-i-depressed-finding-meaning-and-hope-in-the-dark-valley-one-man-s-journey-by-robert-b-somerville-santa-clarita-ca-xulon-press-2014-243-pp-paper-14-39

If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? Finding Meaning and Hope in th

If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley, One Man’s Journey,

by Robert B. Somerville (Santa Clarita, CA: Xulon Press, 2014), 243 pp., Paper $14.39

Robert Somerville is a professor of Biblical Counseling at the Master’s College as well as a fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counseling. He has counseled hundreds and taught many others how to apply Scripture to life’s problems for decades. Such people are not supposed to get depressed, but Dr. Somerville did—severe, clinical depression. This book describes his journey through what he calls his “dark night of the soul” (pp. 17, 197) (This is an unfortunate term that some are using today to describe depression. Actually it originates with St. John of the Cross, in his book by this title, as the first step toward mystical union with God, known commonly as purgation). But this work does more than describe a man’s journey; it also offers extremely helpful insight and biblically accurate means of dealing with depression.

Each of Somerville’s ten chapters opens with a Puritan prayer and ends with a story of other Christians who have traveled the same road. Each of these stories is written by the individual whose life is being described. Somerville covers a wide variety of topics including symptoms of depression (p. 18), the lack of hope (chapter 2), causes of depression (pp. 69-71), tools to avoid sinful responses which lead to depression (pp. 71-85), guilt (chapter 5), the physical components of depression and the need to care for our bodies (chapter 6), anxiety (chapter 7), how to express our concerns to God, using the Psalms as a guide (chapter 8), joy (chapter 9), and help for the caregiver (chapter 10), written by Somerville’s wife, Mary.

Each chapter is biblically sound and offers practical ideas and suggestions. Scripture and ways to use Scripture during times of depression are abundant. The book includes seven valuable appendixes which explain the gospel, guide the reader in how to study the Bible, pray along with the Psalms, provide hymns of comfort and point toward other resources that will provide aid for those who suffer depression.

Throughout the volume Somerville offers numerous exercises and projects that, if applied, will help a depressed person tremendously. However, in my opinion, very few in need will actually take these steps because the very nature of depression leaves most with little motivation or initiative. For this reason the best use of If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? is as a resource for biblical counseling or a book study for a small group or adult Bible class. Homework assignments from the book could be given that should prove very useful. I recommend this book highly.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/886-if-i-m-a-christian-why-am-i-depressed-finding-meaning-and-hope-in-the-dark-valley-one-man-s-journey-by-robert-b-somerville-santa-clarita-ca-xulon-press-2014-243-pp-paper-14-39

Discovering Romans ~ S. Lewis Johnson, jr.

We All Need Romans

We all need Romans. —S. Lewis Johnson

It’s true, we do all need the book of Romans, for in these 16 chapters, the Apostle Paul presents a systematic theology that reveals and convicts of the true nature of man, of man’s need for a Savior, of the God who sent that Savior and of the Savior Himself. Paul goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge of these things and appeals to how the realities of Christ must practically work themselves out in the life of redeemed men.

And so, who better to unearth the treasures of Romans than one of the more gifted preachers of modern times, S. Lewis Johnson? Johnson was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and is well known for his years pastoring Believer’s Chapel in Dallas. Johnson passed away in 2004, but his teachings remain available and continue to bless those who have ears to hear.

For some time, it has been rather unfortunate that the teachings of Johnson were not captured in written or commentary form as a means of making them even more accessible to Christians. Until now. The Church can be exceedingly thankful to Dr. Mike Abendroth for his efforts in compiling Johnson’s notes and teachings on Romans into an accessible, clear, robust commentary, Discovering Romans.

The subtitle of this work, Spiritual Revival for the Soul, could not be more accurate. As the reader delves into the truths of Romans as explained by S. Lewis Johnson, he cannot help but feel refreshed as he basks in the glories of the truths of Paul’s magnum opus. Said Fred Zaspel in his review of this book:

Discovering Romans displays Johnson’s exegetical precision and theological depth as well as his simplicity of style and passion of heart. It’s a commentary you can safely encourage anyone to read, and Christians of all levels of understanding will find its reading time well spent.

(Source)

Johnson had a way in his teaching of putting on display the zeal with which Paul proclaimed the gospel and the truths of God. The teaching contained in this book exalts Christ with that same gospel proclamation. It also does not cower in the face of the “hard teachings” that are contained in Romans. Truths such as God’s choosing of the elect, and God’s command to the Christian to live in obedience and holiness shine forth in a way such that they cannot be denied, but rather must be embraced as the call of God to His own.

It is foolish to spend much time in additional review or praise of this work, for the reader’s time would be better spent actually reading Discovering Romans and using it as a study tool to work through Paul’s letter. Let me close this post, then, with a few magnificent truths expressed by Johnson as he exegeted this great epistle:

In closing his teaching on chapter 8 of Romans, Johnson says,

The chapter that began with “no condemnation” concludes with “no separation,” for eternal life is ours. Like a graft in a strong shoot, we partake of the heredity and inheritance of the divine Son, with whom we are forever united.

(146)

Johnson embarks on his exposition of chapter 12 of Romans with words such as the following:

What can be more practical than right thoughts about God? In fact, all life that pleases God can issue only from right theology and right thoughts about our triune God.

(193)

The renewing of our minds is the manner of transformation, and since the mind of Christ is found in the Word of God, it seems plain that the renewing of the mind is to be found in the contemplation of the Scriptures. (195)

In compiling these teachings of S. Lewis Johnson, Pastor Abendroth has given a great gift to Christ’s Church because, as was stated at the outset, we all need Romans.

http://www.donotbesurprised.com/2014/11/we-all-need-romans.html

Discovering Romans ~ S. Lewis Johnson, jr.

We All Need Romans

We all need Romans. —S. Lewis Johnson

It’s true, we do all need the book of Romans, for in these 16 chapters, the Apostle Paul presents a systematic theology that reveals and convicts of the true nature of man, of man’s need for a Savior, of the God who sent that Savior and of the Savior Himself. Paul goes beyond mere intellectual knowledge of these things and appeals to how the realities of Christ must practically work themselves out in the life of redeemed men.

And so, who better to unearth the treasures of Romans than one of the more gifted preachers of modern times, S. Lewis Johnson? Johnson was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and is well known for his years pastoring Believer’s Chapel in Dallas. Johnson passed away in 2004, but his teachings remain available and continue to bless those who have ears to hear.

For some time, it has been rather unfortunate that the teachings of Johnson were not captured in written or commentary form as a means of making them even more accessible to Christians. Until now. The Church can be exceedingly thankful to Dr. Mike Abendroth for his efforts in compiling Johnson’s notes and teachings on Romans into an accessible, clear, robust commentary, Discovering Romans.

The subtitle of this work, Spiritual Revival for the Soul, could not be more accurate. As the reader delves into the truths of Romans as explained by S. Lewis Johnson, he cannot help but feel refreshed as he basks in the glories of the truths of Paul’s magnum opus. Said Fred Zaspel in his review of this book:

Discovering Romans displays Johnson’s exegetical precision and theological depth as well as his simplicity of style and passion of heart. It’s a commentary you can safely encourage anyone to read, and Christians of all levels of understanding will find its reading time well spent.

(Source)

Johnson had a way in his teaching of putting on display the zeal with which Paul proclaimed the gospel and the truths of God. The teaching contained in this book exalts Christ with that same gospel proclamation. It also does not cower in the face of the “hard teachings” that are contained in Romans. Truths such as God’s choosing of the elect, and God’s command to the Christian to live in obedience and holiness shine forth in a way such that they cannot be denied, but rather must be embraced as the call of God to His own.

It is foolish to spend much time in additional review or praise of this work, for the reader’s time would be better spent actually reading Discovering Romans and using it as a study tool to work through Paul’s letter. Let me close this post, then, with a few magnificent truths expressed by Johnson as he exegeted this great epistle:

In closing his teaching on chapter 8 of Romans, Johnson says,

The chapter that began with “no condemnation” concludes with “no separation,” for eternal life is ours. Like a graft in a strong shoot, we partake of the heredity and inheritance of the divine Son, with whom we are forever united.

(146)

Johnson embarks on his exposition of chapter 12 of Romans with words such as the following:

What can be more practical than right thoughts about God? In fact, all life that pleases God can issue only from right theology and right thoughts about our triune God.

(193)

The renewing of our minds is the manner of transformation, and since the mind of Christ is found in the Word of God, it seems plain that the renewing of the mind is to be found in the contemplation of the Scriptures. (195)

In compiling these teachings of S. Lewis Johnson, Pastor Abendroth has given a great gift to Christ’s Church because, as was stated at the outset, we all need Romans.

http://www.donotbesurprised.com/2014/11/we-all-need-romans.html

One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World

One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World

by Tullian Tchividjian

(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013) 236 pp., paper $14.99

Tchividjian is tired and exhausted (pp. 28, 198) and believes that others are too in their attempts to perform up to God’s standards (pp. 20-22, 62, 147). Many, he believes, think that God loves them only if they are changing and growing (pp. 30, 52, 199) and thus they conceive of God’s love as conditional (pp. 30, 52, 199). The author thinks that Jesus came to liberate us from this demand to measure up (p. 36). And since even when we are at our best we do things that need forgiveness (p. 54), our only hope is found in God’s grace. Instead of living by grace most Christians apparently operate on the basis of law, attempting to follow a set of rules to obtain the favor of God. But instead of improving, people get worse when the law is laid down, for law reveals sin but is powerless to remove it (p. 91). What we must understand is that everything we need is found in Christ (p. 188) and, therefore, our lives rest on God’s love of us, not on our love for Him (p. 115).

Tchividjian is rightly concerned that we should not preach “humanity and it improved” instead of “Christ and Him crucified” (p. 131). In all of this he is not against obedience (p. 129) or even rules, which he sees as necessary for life to function. But keeping rules (p. 194) is not a condition for God’s approval (p. 155). Good works are important however, but not for God. Rather they are important to our neighbors (pp. 200-202).

In all of the things Tchivijian is on the mark but there are concerns:

1. He often makes unbalanced statements such as.

“Grace doesn’t make demands, it just gives” (p. 33). Yet God makes demands, for example, after detailing God’s grace in Ephesians 1-3 Paul immediately writes, “I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling” (4:1).

He quotes Steve Brown claiming that children who run from grace always come back (p. 57). Really? Always?

We apparently will never be grateful because we are told to be (p. 153), yet does not God command us to be thankful (Col 3:15-17)? Did the Lord not know that commands are bad motivators and produce legalists?

The author claims grace got Jesus killed (pp. 170-174), but the Gospels present other motives, such as claiming to be God, challenging the power structure in Israel, and exposing the sins of spiritual leaders.

His claim that “moralism will produce immorality” (p. 193) is a strange and unprovable comment.

His statement that “only unbelief is called sin by Christ” fails to note Jesus’ condemnation of many sins (see Matt 5-7, 23). Others could be cited but these communicate the idea.

2. Tchividjian forces grace into biblical accounts where better explanations are at least debatable. Was it really on the basis of grace, as the author claims, that the Prodigal Son was given his inheritance (p. 42)? And does God forgive unconditionally—without repentance (p. 175)? First John 1:9 seems to contradict this when it lays down the condition of confession for forgiveness.

3. Attempting to explain or define grace is a problem it seems (see pp. 103-104), so the author most often turns to examples from his experience and many of these examples give us deep pause. Tchividjian believes it was grace to give his disobedient son his phone back after open defiance (pp. 160-162), and it was grace for a friend to buy his son a new car after he got drunk and wrecked his old one (pp. 164-165). And it was grace for his father to give him blank checks to fund his rebellious lifestyle as a young man (p. 56). Whether these are examples of grace or bad judgment could be debated, but of course in these stories all turned out well. However, this is basing our actions on pragmatism not Scripture (pp. 186-187). And in what world are Mel Gibson and Bernie Madoff examples of those whom God has pursued to give His grace (p. 132)? In this regard it was sad to see [COLOR=Green]Tchividjian trot out Brennan Manning as a champion of grace[/COLOR] (pp. 43-44, 210, 226). For the author to even consider Manning, a former Roman Catholic priest, a Christian calls into question his understanding of the gospel.

4. Tchividjian makes a number of excellent observations about law, especially offering Machen’s quote “A low view of law always produces legalism—a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace” (p. 96). And he rightly shows that law cannot heal us spiritually, rather it exposes us and informs us of God’s nature. But if God’s commands backfire and actually provide the opposite of their intention has God failed when He makes demands? This is at least implied in Tchividjian’s comments concerning God giving the law to Israel, Jesus demanding his disciples to take up their cross, Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians, and even the initial prohibition to Adam and Eve (pp. 86-87). Doesn’t the Lord understand law and human nature? The author does not sufficiently address this.

5. This leads to perhaps the most glaring weakness of One Way Loveit is not based on careful biblical exegesis. Very little scriptural analysis is found, and most of the passages cited are not handled well. Philippians 3:7-9 (p. 145), John 3:20 (p. 147), James 4:1-2 (p. 151) and Romans 5:8 (p. 175) are used but none carries the freight the author wants it to handle. By taking scriptural passages out of context, rather than carefully examining the pertinent texts, Tchividjian manages to reduce every problem to law and find every solution in grace. This reductionism leaves out a vast storehouse of truth while narrowing the Christian life to grace, and grace alone.

6. This is all the more frustrating because Tchividjian sees even attempts at “application” as legalism, therefore he refuses to give us some “how-to’s” in order to experience grace because he fears he would be taking us back to law (pp. 154-155). He has boxed himself into a “grace” corner and he cannot find a way out.

I was conflicted when I read One Way Love. Tchividjian is spot-on concerning much of his analysis. Yet he lacks a balanced, biblical understanding of the sanctification process perhaps because he attempts to filter Scripture through his own experience. At any rate since the author does not make a sound argument drawn clearly from Scripture, his ideas need to be carefully challenged with an open Bible. Followed at face value many of these ideas will lead to an unbalanced Christian life.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/870-one-way-love-inexhaustible-grace-for-an-exhausted-world-by-tullian-tchividjian-colorado-springs-david-c-cook-2013-236-pp-paper-14-99

One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World

One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World

by Tullian Tchividjian

(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013) 236 pp., paper $14.99

Tchividjian is tired and exhausted (pp. 28, 198) and believes that others are too in their attempts to perform up to God’s standards (pp. 20-22, 62, 147). Many, he believes, think that God loves them only if they are changing and growing (pp. 30, 52, 199) and thus they conceive of God’s love as conditional (pp. 30, 52, 199). The author thinks that Jesus came to liberate us from this demand to measure up (p. 36). And since even when we are at our best we do things that need forgiveness (p. 54), our only hope is found in God’s grace. Instead of living by grace most Christians apparently operate on the basis of law, attempting to follow a set of rules to obtain the favor of God. But instead of improving, people get worse when the law is laid down, for law reveals sin but is powerless to remove it (p. 91). What we must understand is that everything we need is found in Christ (p. 188) and, therefore, our lives rest on God’s love of us, not on our love for Him (p. 115).

Tchividjian is rightly concerned that we should not preach “humanity and it improved” instead of “Christ and Him crucified” (p. 131). In all of this he is not against obedience (p. 129) or even rules, which he sees as necessary for life to function. But keeping rules (p. 194) is not a condition for God’s approval (p. 155). Good works are important however, but not for God. Rather they are important to our neighbors (pp. 200-202).

In all of the things Tchivijian is on the mark but there are concerns:

1. He often makes unbalanced statements such as.

“Grace doesn’t make demands, it just gives” (p. 33). Yet God makes demands, for example, after detailing God’s grace in Ephesians 1-3 Paul immediately writes, “I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling” (4:1).

He quotes Steve Brown claiming that children who run from grace always come back (p. 57). Really? Always?

We apparently will never be grateful because we are told to be (p. 153), yet does not God command us to be thankful (Col 3:15-17)? Did the Lord not know that commands are bad motivators and produce legalists?

The author claims grace got Jesus killed (pp. 170-174), but the Gospels present other motives, such as claiming to be God, challenging the power structure in Israel, and exposing the sins of spiritual leaders.

His claim that “moralism will produce immorality” (p. 193) is a strange and unprovable comment.

His statement that “only unbelief is called sin by Christ” fails to note Jesus’ condemnation of many sins (see Matt 5-7, 23). Others could be cited but these communicate the idea.

2. Tchividjian forces grace into biblical accounts where better explanations are at least debatable. Was it really on the basis of grace, as the author claims, that the Prodigal Son was given his inheritance (p. 42)? And does God forgive unconditionally—without repentance (p. 175)? First John 1:9 seems to contradict this when it lays down the condition of confession for forgiveness.

3. Attempting to explain or define grace is a problem it seems (see pp. 103-104), so the author most often turns to examples from his experience and many of these examples give us deep pause. Tchividjian believes it was grace to give his disobedient son his phone back after open defiance (pp. 160-162), and it was grace for a friend to buy his son a new car after he got drunk and wrecked his old one (pp. 164-165). And it was grace for his father to give him blank checks to fund his rebellious lifestyle as a young man (p. 56). Whether these are examples of grace or bad judgment could be debated, but of course in these stories all turned out well. However, this is basing our actions on pragmatism not Scripture (pp. 186-187). And in what world are Mel Gibson and Bernie Madoff examples of those whom God has pursued to give His grace (p. 132)? In this regard it was sad to see [COLOR=Green]Tchividjian trot out Brennan Manning as a champion of grace[/COLOR] (pp. 43-44, 210, 226). For the author to even consider Manning, a former Roman Catholic priest, a Christian calls into question his understanding of the gospel.

4. Tchividjian makes a number of excellent observations about law, especially offering Machen’s quote “A low view of law always produces legalism—a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace” (p. 96). And he rightly shows that law cannot heal us spiritually, rather it exposes us and informs us of God’s nature. But if God’s commands backfire and actually provide the opposite of their intention has God failed when He makes demands? This is at least implied in Tchividjian’s comments concerning God giving the law to Israel, Jesus demanding his disciples to take up their cross, Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians, and even the initial prohibition to Adam and Eve (pp. 86-87). Doesn’t the Lord understand law and human nature? The author does not sufficiently address this.

5. This leads to perhaps the most glaring weakness of One Way Loveit is not based on careful biblical exegesis. Very little scriptural analysis is found, and most of the passages cited are not handled well. Philippians 3:7-9 (p. 145), John 3:20 (p. 147), James 4:1-2 (p. 151) and Romans 5:8 (p. 175) are used but none carries the freight the author wants it to handle. By taking scriptural passages out of context, rather than carefully examining the pertinent texts, Tchividjian manages to reduce every problem to law and find every solution in grace. This reductionism leaves out a vast storehouse of truth while narrowing the Christian life to grace, and grace alone.

6. This is all the more frustrating because Tchividjian sees even attempts at “application” as legalism, therefore he refuses to give us some “how-to’s” in order to experience grace because he fears he would be taking us back to law (pp. 154-155). He has boxed himself into a “grace” corner and he cannot find a way out.

I was conflicted when I read One Way Love. Tchividjian is spot-on concerning much of his analysis. Yet he lacks a balanced, biblical understanding of the sanctification process perhaps because he attempts to filter Scripture through his own experience. At any rate since the author does not make a sound argument drawn clearly from Scripture, his ideas need to be carefully challenged with an open Bible. Followed at face value many of these ideas will lead to an unbalanced Christian life.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/870-one-way-love-inexhaustible-grace-for-an-exhausted-world-by-tullian-tchividjian-colorado-springs-david-c-cook-2013-236-pp-paper-14-99