June 20, 2015

Poverty: The Poverty of Nations by Grudem and Asmus

Today I'm adding 'The Poverty of Nations' by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of 'Poverty'.

Theologian Wayne Grudem and economist Barry Asmus have teamed up to write a very helpful directive for solving the poverty that plagues much of the world. 

At the beginning of the book, the authors propose that if a poor nation wishes to become wealthy, the correct goal is 'to become a nation that continually produces more goods and services each year.'  This requires a nation to 'be willing to examine its official policies, laws, economic structures, and cultural values and traditions to see whether they promote or restrain increases in the goods and services that the nation produces.'  The book then proceeds to outline a complex solution involving seventy-eight specific factors that should be examined by all countries.

I like this book.  I like this book a lot.

I like that the book is Biblical.  The authors consistently demonstrate that the truths it proposes are based on God's truth.

I like that the book is based on real research data.  The veracity of the authors' thesis is demonstrated by the citation of numerous studies and various accounts from world history.

I like that the book answers objections.  The authors are not living in an ivory tower.  They are fully aware of opposing views and deftly counteract them.  For example, the major moral objections to free markets are answered in detail.

I like that the book is well structured.  Grudem's books are consistently well organised and this one is no exception.  Just take a look at the 'detailed' table of contents and you'll see what I mean.

Quite frankly, I haven't seen a better book on the subject of poverty.  Buy it, read it, and start to encourage its principles today and the world will, in all likelihood, be a better place as a result.

June 12, 2015

Revival: Revival by Lloyd Jones

Today I'm adding 'Revival' by Lloyd-Jones (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of 'Revival'.

This is a book of sermons from a pastor keenly interested in the subject of Christian revivals. 

Lloyd-Jones explores:
(i) the need for revival;
(ii) the hindrances to revival (e.g. unbelief, doctrinal impurity, defective and dead orthodoxy, spiritual inertia);
(iii) the characteristics of revival (also distinguishing what is not true revival);
(iv) praying for revival.

One of my only quibbles with the book is that some of the sermons are based on texts that aren't clearly about revivals.  For example seven of the twenty-four chapters are on the narrative of Isaac digging wells in Genesis 26.  Lloyd-Jones is able to apply broad principles from this text, but other texts may have been preferable.  Please don't misunderstand me on this point.  The book is truly Scriptural, particularly in comparison to other books on the subject.  But Lloyd-Jones exegesis does seem strained at times.

Nevertheless, I loved the passion that Lloyd-Jones clearly has for revivals and his desire to see the church of Christ embrace revivals.

For example, he writes: 'Even evangelical writers do not mention revival.  They do not even think of it.  And surely this is to quench the Holy Spirit of God because the Holy Spirit not only has what we may call his ordinary work, he has his extraordinary work, and that is revival.  Of course, we must evangelise, of course we must preach about being filled with the Spirit, yes, but over and above that we must cry unto God to pour out his Spirit upon the whole Church.  And that is revival, the descent, the outpouring of the Spirit over and above his usual, ordinary work; this amazing, unusual, extraordinary thing, which God in his sovereignty and infinite grace has done to the Church from time to time during the long centuries of her history.

Examine again your doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and in the name of God, be careful lest, in your neat and trimmed doctrine you are excluding and putting out this most remarkable thing which God does periodically through the Holy Spirit, in sending him upon us, in visiting, in baptising us, in reviving the whole Church in a miraculous and astonishing manner.'

Every Christian should hunger for true revival.  And this book will encourage such an appetite and invigorate all readers to seek revival from our powerful God.

June 09, 2012

False religions: Kingdom of cults by Walter Martin

Today I'm adding 'Kingdom of cults' by Walter Martin (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of 'False religions'.

In John's gospel Jesus taught that he is the only way to the Father. 

Yet many do not believe Jesus is the only way and have developed their own different ways to the Father.  Thus the Christian is left in great confusion about many of these ways, particularly when they seek to evangelise people from false religions.  Without knowledge of their adversaries, the Christians are usually poorly equipped to fight.

So how does one learn about the many false religions, cults and sects that are out there, particularly when many are secretive and not honest about their teachings? 

That's where the 'Kingdom of Cults' steps in as a helpful resource.  Walter Martin's work has become quite a classic, initially appearing in 1965, and receiving revisions in 1985 and 2003.  (Disclaimer: I have read the 1985 edition cover to cover and flicked through the 2003 edition).

Initially the book spends three chapters helping the reader to understand cults in general, including the psychological nature of them.

Then individual chapters are dedicated to:
(i) Jehovah's Witnesses;
(ii) Christian Science;
(iii) Mormonism;
(iv) Spiritism;
(v) The Theosophical Society;
(vi) Zen Buddhism;
(vii) The Baha'i Faith;
(viii) The Unity School of Christianity;
(ix) Herbert Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God - Anglo-Israelism;
(x) Unification Church;
(xi) Scientology;
(xii) Eastern religions;
(xiii) Islam;
(xiv) Cults on the World Mission Fields;

Then three chapters at the end give advice on how Christians can evangelise those enslaved in cults. 

There is also an appendix examining:
(i) Seventh Day Adventism;
(ii) Unitarianism;
(iii) the Rosicrucian Fellowship;
(iv) Swedenborgianism.

The book is excellent. 

The research into the cults is often copious and evidence for what the cults teach is not paraphrased but quoted to assure the reader that Martin's views are not contrived. 

Moreover, Bible passages are regularly quoted throughout the chapters to show the inexperienced Christian how a particular cult's teaching is false in light of the Scriptures.

My only problem with the book is that it doesn't dedicate enough space to some cults.  This is understandable as in writing such a book one would have to choose which cults of the many to concentrate on and how much detail to give.  I'm guessing that Martin chose to spend more time on those cults that are a considerable challenge to the English-speaking Western Christian audience and so this decision is reflected in the book.  But as this book was first written in 1965 it shows its age.  For example, Islam may not have been more than a blip on the radar of Martin in 1965, but today it is of great importance to the Western Christian.  To illustrate, in the 1985 edition Islam receives only 4 pages of treatment compared to the 88 pages on Jehovah's Witnesses (the 2003 edition appears to try and rectify this problem by including 30 pages on Islam, but nevertheless this is in comparison to 100 pages in that edition on Jehovah's Witnesses).  Thus you should be aware that some chapters will leave you begging for more.

But as an introduction to many of the cults, Martin's work will help you lovingly bring many from false ways to 'the' way.

March 09, 2012

Fear of man: When people are big and God is small

Today I'm adding 'When people are big and God is small' by Edward Welch (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Fear of man.

Man is not called to live alone.  Therefore living in relationship with other humans should be a delight.  But since sin has entered into the world, our relationships with others are broken and dysfunctional.  In fact, one of our biggest problems is that we have become afraid of others - we all struggle with fear of man.

Ed Welch's book is an encouragement to overcome the fear of man that drives us into further sin and pain.  Fear of man is particularly dangerous because as Welch says, 'we replace God with people.  Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others.'

Thus the first part of the book is dedicated answering how and why we fear others.  Particularly why we fear that people see us, reject us and physically hurt us.

Then the second part of the book teaches you how to overcome the fear of man, particularly by fearing the Lord and delighting in service to him.

If you struggle with a fear of others, which every honest person would admit they do, then this book will nip that fear in the bud and replacement it with a much more joyous fear: the fear of the Lord.

February 11, 2012

Suffering: Help! I have breast cancer

Today I'm adding the 'Help! I have breast cancer' by Brenda Frields (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Suffering.

Suffering is a difficult subject to understand in any context, yet because of the painful world we live in, it cries out to be understood.

Books on the Christian response to suffering abound.  Some end up being very philosophical and difficult to read, while others appear too simplistic and shallow. 

Frields' small book is one of the best resources I know on the subject.

Firstly Frields' work is Biblically sound.  The gospel is clearly affirmed as the primary hope for sufferers and explained in detail (meaning this book could be given to a suffering non-Christian).  It also provides an excellent list of thirteen Scriptural reasons why suffering is a gift from the sovereign Lord.

Secondly the book is from someone highly qualified to speak on the subject.  Frields has experienced the suffering of cancer and speaks honestly of her experience and the heart searching that it brought.  Hence, a whole chapter is dedicated to the common question among sufferers, 'Is God punishing me?'

Thirdly, the book is easy to read and short.  Although some sufferers may be ready to delve into heavy, long works on suffering, from my experience the suffering itself may keep people from having the stamina to read such books.  Whereas Frields' book is readily accessible.

The only problem with the book is that it has a strong focus on cancer, even to the extent of including the word 'cancer' in the title.  Thus people with another form of suffering may consider the book irrelevant for them.  That would be an unfortunate conclusion.  I think the teaching in this book can be applied to most suffering contexts.  Republication as simply a good book on suffering would be a most welcome development.

December 10, 2011

Baptism: The baptism of disciples alone

Today I'm adding the 'The baptism of disciples alone' by Fred Malone (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Baptism.

The subject of paedobaptism (infant baptism) is controversial.  This is easily evident from the enormous amount of ink which has been spilt on paper over it.

But, in my opinion, among the many volumes on the subject Malone's book has to be the best.

After giving an account of his own gradual realisation of the Baptist position, Malone divides the book into two parts.

Part One gives some preliminary Biblical principles of interpretation which should always be used when studying the Scriptures, including when it comes to baptism.  Although paedobaptists use such principles elsewhere, they seem to neglect them when it comes to baptism.

Then in Part Two, Malone carefully refutes the erroneous paedobaptist arguments, including:
(i) The covenant theology of the Bible;
(ii) The relationship between circumcision and baptism;
(iii) The proof texts concerning baptism;
(iv) Jesus' attitude toward children;
(v) The disjunction of the baptism of John and Christian baptism;
(vi) The argument of silence;
(vii) The argument of expanded blessings;
(viii) The testimony of tradition.

Then a number of Appendices are provided which also include a discussion on the proper mode of baptism (immersion vs sprinkling).

Although there is some repetition at times, Malone writes clearly.  He also speaks without hostility to those who disagree with him (which is something that cannot be said about many paedobaptist writings on the subject).  But Malone is not afraid to outline the dangers of paedobaptism: 'It is my belief that infant baptism will lead to a presumption of salvation for children by those children and their parents, ultimately leading to a decline in experiential religion in each succeeding generation of paedobaptists, at least until a revival restores born-again Christianity for another season.  This is one reason why, in my opinion, we often see a cycle of decline, revival and decline in paedobaptist churches throughout history.'

This is a very important work that should encourage Baptists to continue holding to their Baptist beliefs as Scriptural, and hopefully persuade some paedobaptists to seriously reconsider their theology.

October 15, 2011

Roman Catholicism: Nothing in my hand I bring by Galea

Today I'm adding the 'Nothing in my hand I bring' by Ray Galea (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Roman Catholicism.

Protestant titles on Roman Catholicism seem to swing to two extremes.  One extreme is that the author appears to be so favourable to Roman Catholicism that the book doesn't appear to be written by someone 'protesting' against Roman Catholicism.  The other extreme is that the author writes in such a heated and condemning manner that you certainly wouldn't be able to give the book to a Roman Catholic friend (and possibly not even able to give it to some of your Protestant friends!).

However Galea's book walks nicely between these two extremes.  He is careful to distinguish where Roman Catholicism is wrong, but does so winsomely.

After an initial chapter explaining his own Roman Catholic background and eventual acceptance of Protestantism, Galea begins to help the reader understand the crucial differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  He includes chapters on:
(i) the Lord's supper (Mass);
(ii) authority of Scripture;
(iii) justification by faith alone;
(iv) grace;
(v) Mary.

One of the most important points Galea makes is that for Roman Catholics, religion is often more about belonging: 'Catholicism is as much, or sometimes more, about belonging than believing. You are born a Catholic, and as I used to be told, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic".'  Whereas Protestant Christianity requires personal faith in the fundamental teachings of Scripture.  And it is using Scripture that Galea shows the errors of Roman Catholicism for those who are willing to believe, rather than simply belong.

On the whole the book is well written and quick to read.  Some may have a problem with its length, but it is not supposed to be a comprehensive survey of Roman Catholic dogma.  Rather it is a brief overview of an enormous subject.

If you're looking for a fair-minded book to help you understand why Protestants protest against the Roman Catholic faith, 'Nothing in my hand I bring' serves as a helpful introduction.

September 17, 2011

Bible dictionary: New Bible Dictionary edited by Marshall et al

Today I'm adding the 'New Bible Dictionary' edited by I Howard Marshall et al (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Bible dictionary.

Every Christian should own a reliable Bible commentary, a systematic theology and a Bible dictionary (I have previously recommended the ESV Study Bible as a good one volume commentary and Grudem's Systematic Theology - although if you're really pressed for cash, the ESV Study Bible has a brief but reliable systematic theology in its back pages).  The dictionary that I want to now recommend is the New Bible Dictionary.

I only try to review books that I have read cover to cover and so far I've been able to do that on this blog.  But I'm afraid I haven't read this dictionary cover to cover.  Nevertheless I have used it extensively in my own reading and research over previous years.  I've also used other Biblical dictionaries, but not to the same extent as this one.

Why do I recommend this dictionary? Firstly, it has a long history of accepted use in the evangelical church and is now in its third edition.  Thus it is up to date on recent Biblical research, unlike older reliable dictionaries that are available.  Secondly, I've read many writings of the editors and contributors and know them to be good authors in their own right (e.g. Packer, Guthrie, Bruce).  Thirdly, from my sporadic reading of the articles, I have found them to be well written and theologically sound.  Where there are multiple views on a subject, opposing views are
presented even-handedly.  This is in contrast to some other dictionaries on the market, particularly those written by scholars that have fallen prey to higher criticism.

Thus, if you have a question about a person, place, subject or doctrine, I encourage you to purchase this dictionary and make good use of it.  You will save yourself a lot of stumbling around in the dark, and possibly save your pastor some time!

September 03, 2011

God's will/guidance/decision making: Decision making and the will of God by Friesen

Today I'm adding 'Decision making and the will of God' by Garry Friesen (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of God's will/guidance/decision making.

Books on God's will abound and the teachings contained within them are diverse.  After reading a number of them you almost come away thinking that no two books agree on the subject.  What makes Friesen's work better than others is that it doesn't just add another view to the bundle, it spends a long time tackling unbiblical views of God's will before it then uses a Biblically saturated argument of what God's will actually is.

Firstly Friesen spends Part 1 and 2 of the book primarily critiquing the popular view that God has one special will for you that you must find above all else.  Then Part 3 explains the true way of wisdom as contained in God's word.  Then Part 4 applies this way of wisdom to the big decisions in life such as marriage, ministry, missions and vocations.  As an added bonus there are a few excellent appendices - one being mini reviews of current popular books on the will of God.

The book has stood the test of time and been revised for the 20 year anniversary by tightening up the arguments and providing answers to Frequently Asked Questions that Friesen has received over the years.

My only criticism has to do with the headings throughout the chapters.  They are often designed to be witty, but if you use this book as a reference work, the headings become unhelpful.  They don't really explain what the section is about and so simply grab your eye and then confuse you.

But I do think that this is currently 'the' book to read on God's will.  It is long, but I think a good book on this subject has to be long considering how much confusion there is on the issue.  And if you are serious about discerning the will of God, you will happily plough through it.

August 20, 2011

Apologetic method: Tactics by Koukl

Today I'm adding 'Tactics' by Gregory Koukl (Available from Amazon) to the Master Reading List under the category of Apologetics.

Apologetic books defend the Christian faith and so usually are packed full of historical data and rational arguments.  'Tactics' by Koukl is a rather unusual addition to the plethora of apologetic titles available.  Rather than broadly defending the Christian faith and appealing to non-Christian readers, this book is aimed at Christians and its main focus is teaching a method of argument.

In Chapters One and Two Koukl convinces the reader to use tactics in their witnessing.  Then Chapters Three, Four and Five teach Koukl's 'Columbo Tactic' which is the primary thesis of the book.  The Columbo Tactic means you ask questions 'in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation.'  Koukl explains: 'There are three basic ways to use Columbo.  Each is launched by a different model question.  These three applications comprise the game plan I use to tame the most belligerent critic.  Sometimes I simply want to gather information.  Other times, I ask a question to reverse the burden of proof, that is to encourage the other person to give the reasons for her own views.  Finally, I use questions to lead the conversation in a specific direction.' 

Thus the first two questions you would ask using the Columbo tactic are: (i) What do you mean by that?; (ii) How did you come to that conclusion?  The third question is a leading question that requires knowledge of some kind to move the conversation where you want it to go.  In order to accomplish the last question, you would need to equip yourself with material provided by the Bible and other apologetic books, not Koukl's book.

The rest of the book just gives advice on how best to use the Columbo tactic, including the different types of arguments that people will use against it.

The book is well written and convincing.  It has many entertaining Socratic dialogues given by Koukl from his own life.  And each chapter finishes with a nice summary of what has just been taught which helps drum in the technique.

If you feel that your persuasion of unbelievers about the truth of Christianity could be much better, Koukl gives you a helpful game plan.  Read it today so that you can make the most of every opportunity that the Lord sends you.