Book Mini-Reviews

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I am taking a short break in my series on the Sabbath to make a few comments on some books that I have been reading and interacting with lately. My goal is both to introduce some new (and not so new) books and to help readers avoid books that aren’t worth their time. I also hope that these brief comments will help introduce you to a few books that you might otherwise overlook.  Also, this is the perfect time of year to bless your pastor with a new book or two!

The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley G. Green (2010)

  • Introduction: Starts by posing some questions: What is the link between the gospel and intellectual deliberation, between the Christian faith and learning? Why has the Christian faith always seemed to spur on the intellectual life? What is the connection between the gospel and the mind? He seeks to answer these questions with this small little book (roughly 180 pages). His main theses are: “(1) The Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition of the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life; (2) the Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life might look like (14).”
  • The Good: Green makes brief, but thorough theological explanations for why the doctrines of God, man, and creation have direct impact on a meaningful intellectual life. He makes the case that knowledge cannot be devoid of worldview, and that truth is not value neutral; indeed, even grammar is not ideologically neutral (108). A person’s worldview necessarily makes an impact on their intellectual life, and the post-enlightenment tendency to bifurcate reason and faith is illegitimate.
  • The Bad: His chapter dealing with the postmodern tendency to separate words and meaning was a little disappointing. While a chapter on such a topic is necessary for this discussion, I felt that his treatment was brief and introductory. I was left both wanting more on the subject AND wondering how much the chapter even added to his arguments. The subject is so absorbing that it needs fuller treatment to be beneficial.
  • Overall: I loved this little book. It was refreshing to see someone briefly articulate why a healthy intellectually rigor seems to follow healthy Christianity. I liked the historical theology too; he added contributions from Augustine, Aquinas, and others. I highly recommend this book for any intellectual/academician, teacher, or philosopher.

10 Sacred Cows in Christianity that Need to be Tipped by Jared H. Moore (2013) 

  • Introduction: Jared Moore defines a “sacred cow” in the church as: “a tradition that has been exalted to a position of normalcy without Biblical warrant” (1). He is trying to highlight 10 such cows that need to be “tipped,” or removed from the church.
  • The Good: Moore has done a great job diagnosing many of the problems that have quietly grown in the American church. He prophetically condemns man-centric preaching and any ministry practice that is not explicitly focused on God’s glory. Moore’s firm conviction in the Bible’s authority and sufficiency is clear throughout. Also, his writing style is both concise and clear.
  • The Bad: Brevity. At only 26 pages, this brief survey left me wanting more discussion on each topic.
  • Overall: I appreciated Moore’s insightful analysis of 10 common problems found in churches. His high view of scripture, combined with a clear primacy in God focused ministry, makes this prophetic little book even more powerful. The brevity of the book would make it a good outline or starting point for some important conversations. While I would have loved a little deeper look at each “cow,” I would heartily recommend this little book for both pastors and anyone in the pew.

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert (2013) 

  • Introduction: Lambert seeks to apply the power of Christ’s transforming grace to free believers from the enslaving power of pornography.
  • The Good: This book is saturated with grace. Thankfully, however, he does not remove law. He calls sinners to repent, he gives hope grounded in grace, he gives practical steps to fight for purity, and he shows how God’s grace is the power for transformation. He even gives advice to accountability partners who are trying to help other believers fight against pornography.
  • The Bad: I struggled to find a significant flaw in this book. Perhaps one quibble might be that the book felt as if it were written mostly toward men, instead of addressing both men and women consistently?
  • Overall: I think that pornography is perhaps the most significant pastoral concern for our church today. Lambert has given a powerful tool in the battle against such a silent killer. If I were a youth or college pastor, I would be going through this book with every one of the young men under my care. I highly recommend this book for those who struggle with pornography, for spouses, accountability partners, pastors, parents, and anyone else who may be affected by pornography.

Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, ed. Earl M. Blackburn (2012)

  • Introduction: This is an explanation and defense of baptistic covenantal theology.
  • The Good: The list of contributors is great: Walt Chantry, Ken Fryer, Fred Malone, Ken Puls, Earl Blackburn, and Justin Taylor. Also, Chantry’s chapter on Imputation and covenant theology was very good. That is an area that is seeing a lot of turmoil these days among covenantal adherents, so I appreciated a strong emphasis on the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience.
  • The Bad: I understand that this volume was an explanation and defense of how Baptists could be (and have been) covenantal. However, I sure wish there had been a chapter on the practical and pastoral relevance of covenantal theology.
  • Overall: Great introduction to covenantal theology. For my money, Malone’s chapter on Hermeneutics and Covenantal Theology and Chantry’s chapter on the Covenants of Works and Grace were each well worth the price of the book. Highly recommended.

Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek (2011)

  • Introduction: Belousek wants to examine penal substitutionary atonement and offer a new formulation in light of biblical, historical, and theological evidence.
  • The Good: His book is pretty substantive (650+ pages), and fairly thorough in its study. He hits most of the important passages that address the atonement.
  • The Bad: His driving hermeneutic seems to be that capital punishment is wrong, therefore the cross cannot be seen as punishment. He robs the atonement of any sense of retributive justice, which has HUGE implications for any doctrine of sin, man, Christ…
  • Overall: This book was very disappointing. I was looking forward to reading  what appeared to be a well researched and thorough look at the atonement. However, it ended up being unsatisfying in its exegesis and heretical in its ultimate formulation of the atonement. I would not recommend buying this, unless you want to show somebody what flawed, modern atonement theories are being produced.

The House Where God Lives by Gary Badcock (2009)

  • Introduction: Badcock is a professor of Divinity at Huron University on Canada. This book is an attempt to “see beyond the church itself to the ground of the church’s life, or, to put the same thing more painly, to pose the question of what it is that makes ecclesiology theologically interesting” (xii).
  • The Good: Badcock rightly argues that too many ecclesiology books today are merely practical (or even purely pragmatic). He wants to look at the theological foundation of the church, and to produce what is called an ‘ontological’ ecclesiology; that is, he explores the reason for the church’s existence, not merely how should a church function. He has lots of historical interaction in the book, and is also not afraid to critique the Roman Catholic church. There are also some great reflections on the role of the Spirit in ecclesiology, and the nature of the sacraments.
  • The Bad: Badcock is definately to the left (theologically) of most the readers of this blog. You discover that almost immediately because he, tellingly, sets up quite a little spectrum with Augustine on one end and modern feminists on the other. He claims that neither ends of the spectrum quite have ecclesiology right; the solution is…. wait for it…. Barthian theology (e.g., 60ff.). That one example pretty much illustrates the rest of the book. He follows Barth heavily.
  • Overall: I appreciated his impulse against the pure pragmatism and emotionalism found in much ecclesiology today. He has some helpful stuff on the Holy Spirit and the Church. It was helpful for me to read someone slightly outside my normal theological circle so that I could see things from a little different perspective. I don’t agree with some of his conclusions, but I do appreciate his methodology and his desire to be biblically grounded. I would treat this a lot like I would treat a book on Barth’s theology: it is an OK book for somebody who has a solid theological foundation and likes to stretch himself/herself by reading different perspectives.

The Holy Spirit–In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today by Anthony Thiselton (2013)

  • Introduction: Thiselton seeks to look at the doctrine of the Spirit biblically, historically, and theologically.
  • The Good: The most helpful part of the book was his historical survey of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, particularly the key figures and their theology.
  • The Bad: Thiselton needs a new editor. The book had numerous mistakes throughout. Also, I found the book to be frustrating because he doesn’t show his cards until several hundreds of pages in. Perhaps seeking to remain ‘neutral,’ Thiselton will describe an person’s theology and then give no judgment statements; readers are left to guess whether Thiselton agrees or disagrees with the theology just described. Additionally, Because of the magnitude of his undertaking (biblical, theological, and historical– in one volume!), the book feels like his is skimming along the surface of nearly every area. The size of his task makes depth of study near impossible.
  • Overall: I was super excited to dive into this book. Thiselton’s reputation, especially in hermeneutics, produced much excitement when this book was released. Unfortunately, this book was ultimately disappointing. It was, however, helpful to me in one area: an historical summary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. For that reason alone, I will keep it on my bookshelf as a reference. Other than that, there are other works that I would recommend on pneumatology (e.g., Ferguson, Bloesh, Cole…) before this one.

The Sabbath Complete: And the Ascendency of First–Day Worship by Terrence D. O’Hare (2012)

  • Introduction: O’Hare is a dentist (!) who wanted a more thorough look at the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate. His book is a look at the biblical, historical, and theological evidence.
  • The Good: Like any good presbyterian, O’Hare retains the distinctions within the OT law (i.e., ceremonial, civil, moral). He also has a heavy emphasis on retaining weekly Lord’s Day gathering and worship (xii). His research is very thorough and his writing is lucid and precise. Also, he includes an impressive and helpful bibliography as well as several charts in the appendix that graphically illustrate his conclusions.
  • The Bad: He has a strong distinction between the Sabbath and Lord’s Day; indeed, “the sabbath belongs to the Jews and the Jews the sabbath” (341). Besides this hard, even dispensational-like, disjunction between the Sabbath and Lord’s Day, he classifies the Sabbath commandment as a ceremonial law that is fulfilled in Christ (xii).
  • Overall: This is probably the best treatment of the Sabbath/Lord’s Day issues that has come out since Carson’s work, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, which remains the standard in the field. Indeed, I think O’Hare’s work stands just behind Carson’s in terms of depth and scholarship; they are quite similar, except that Carson’s book rejects the tri–fold distinction of the Law. While I ultimately disagree with his conclusion, this book will have to be interacted with by anyone entering into the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate. I recommend it.

 

Jon English Lee

 

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