Wednesday, June 26, 2013


WHAT IS NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY? by A. Blake White is a very short introduction to a system of theology that seeks to let the Bible inform its core tenets and stands somewhere in the middle between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. At less than 50 pages, I was able to read the book in a couple sittings.

I grew up exposed to Dispensationalism, but as I read the Bible for myself, I discovered much I didn't agree with. Then when I discovered Covenant Theology, I found some things that were good, but still a few things I felt didn't line up with the Bible. I appreciate NCT's insistence on letting the Bible speak for itself and found White's book to be very clear on the foundation that NCT stands on.

As this book was a foundational introduction, I'm interested in reading more about some of the implications of this approach to the Biblical covenants. For example, the role of the written moral code in the New Covenant Believer's life. I think this is where it gets controversial and where I'd like to see some more clarification. I'm also interested in the implications for approaching Old Covenant prophecy.

I really enjoyed the clarity of this little book and its focus on Christ's completed work. Particularly, I would recommend this book to someone trying to understand how Dispensationalism departs from an accurate interpretation of the Bible.

Review copy provided by New Covenant Media

Photo Credit: New Covenant Media

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review of KINGDOM COME by Sam Storms

I began following Jesus at a time when the Left Behind series of books was entering the height of popularity. I was reading each one that came out, and as a new believer I just assumed this was how the end times were going to happen. I stopped reading the series about halfway through when I realized that one of the books I had just read covered only one day in what was supposed to be a seven year tribulation. I got weary of how long the story was going to drag out, but I still believed that was basically how things were going to happen. I read LaHaye's commentary on Revelation, and although a few things didn't make sense to me, I accepted it as an accurate interpretation. In my twenties I picked the series back up. By then I was a lot more knowledgeable about theology, and I found myself getting really frustrated by the idea that was communicated in the books that Gentile believers are second-rate to the nation of Israel. Obviously, the authors didn't say that explicitly, but that was the sense I got. I read about thirty pages into the second-to-the-last book and stopped. I couldn't take it anymore. When I read the Bible, a lot of things didn't seem to line up when I considered what dispensational theologians taught, especially concerning the timing of the Rapture, the nature of the Millennial Kingdom, and the separation of the church and Israel into two distinct programs by God.

All that to say, I've been waiting for someone to write a book to deconstruct all of what wasn't making sense to me from the dispensational viewpoint. KINGDOM COME by Sam Storms is that book. Storms recounts his journey out of dispensational theology that reminded me of my own. The book seeks to look at all the relevant texts to get a good understanding of what the Bible teaches about the end times. The result is a carefully constructed argument for an amillenial position.

Storms looks at the relevant passages and shows how much that dispensationalists see as prophecy was actually fulfilled in the past. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit to communicate an accurate view of biblical eschatology. I couldn't think of one passage that wasn't dealt with. All the important topics, such as the Rapture, the Millennium, the antichrist, Daniel's 70 weeks, and the bounding of Satan. The chapters on the antichrist and the mark of the beast are particularly interesting because I had never read from this perspective before. The author is respectful in the way that he argues against opposing viewpoints.

I'm not ready to call myself an amillenialist, but this book is definitely one that has helped me understand a proper end times interpretation better and one that everyone interested in eschatology should read. I don't agree with the author on every point, but there is much that I do, and it has me pointed in the right direction to study it further.

Review copy provided by Mentor Books

Photo Credit: Mentor Books

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review of BIBLE STUDY: A STUDENT'S GUIDE by Jon Nielson

For a few years I was a youth pastor in a church, and during that time I was always searching for a really good resource to get students studying the Bible on their own. I found a few resources that I adapted, but I recently came upon a book that I would say is the perfect resource for getting teenagers to study the Bible for themselves, understand it, and be changed by it. The book is BIBLE STUDY: A STUDENT'S GUIDE by Jon Nielson.

Nielson takes some of the foundational doctrines we adhere to concerning the Bible and phrases them in a way that students can understand. He uses plenty of illustrations that connect these truths about the Bible to the students' lives. Nielson spends five chapters helping students understand that the Bible is God speaking, powerful, understandable, literary, and one big story that makes sense of all our stories. After laying a foundation of why Bible study is important and how it is possible for everyone, the book gives some very practical steps for actually studying the Bible. I love how Nielson shares the steps he's used with his own youth and college ministry groups. This is a book that's all about getting students to commune with God.

BIBLE STUDY: A STUDENT'S GUIDE is a book that should really be in the hands of every pastor, youth pastor, and parent of teenagers because it describes Bible study on a teenage level better than anything I've seen. It's also a challenge to adults to be very intentional about teaching students to study the Bible. It's definitely a book that should be in the hands of every teenager.

Review copy provided by P&R Publishing

Photo Credit: P&R Publishing

Review of THE THEOLOGY OF AUGUSTINE by Matthew Levering

Augustine of Hippo was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in history. I was introduced to Augustine a few years when I read about him in a Bible Study book I was going through. From there I decided to read his Confessions, which forever sealed in my mind that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God. In almost any theological book you read, you'll probably see Augustine's name mentioned at least once and probably several times. Augustine was a prolific writer of a large body of work in the area of theology. With so many works to his name, how does someone grasp exactly what Augustine taught? Where do you start?

Michael Levering has written an incredible and accessible introduction to Augustine's thought in his book THE THEOLOGY OF AUGUSTINE. In this book, Levering looks at seven of Augustine's most important works. His disects each, giving summaries and hitting on the high points of Augustine's theological thought in each. You'll learn how Augustine saw the Bible and his approach to it. You'll be exposed to the passion with which Augustine pursued God.

This book gets me even more excited about studying Augustine further and functions as a very readable introduction to Augustine's theology. 

Review copy provided Baker Academic

Photo Credit: Baker Academic

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Alister McGrath's biography of C.S. Lewis was an incredible exploration of one of the greatest minds in the history of Christian thought. I've always enjoyed reading Lewis because of the way he explains concepts in a way that is refreshing and inspiring. I found McGrath to have that kind of way with words in his exploration of Lewis' life. He takes the exploration a step further in a new companion book to the Lewis biography, THE INTELLECTUAL WORLD OF C.S. LEWIS.

THE INTELLECTUAL WORLD OF C.S. LEWIS is a collection of essays that take a deeper look into some of the ideas in Lewis' writings and the intellectual landscape that influenced much of his thinking. McGrath looks at Lewis' own autobiography and convincingly shows that Lewis' own chronology of his conversion was incorrectly remembered. He looks at the philosophical landscape at Oxford and its impact on Lewis. We're shown the role of the concept of myth in Lewis' acceptance of Christianity. McGrath looks also at Lewis' apoligetic method, his argument from desire, and his role as a theologian.

While McGrath's biography of Lewis was an illuminating exploration of what shaped the man who would become one of the most quoted men of all time, THE INTELLECTUAL WORLD OF C.S. LEWIS takes us on an even deeper journey into the development of Lewis' thought over time. It's clear that McGrath drew from a vast amount of research, and this book takes the reader into some territory that will undoubtedly leave them better equipped to engage in intellectual discussion concerning the things that captured Lewis' above all else.

Review copy provided by Wiley-Blackwell

Photo Credit: Wiley-Blackwell

Review of GLIMPSES OF GRACE by Gloria Furman

I read a lot of books on the Gospel and how to apply it to everyday life. My wife is an incredible woman and mom to our three young children. When I discovered there was a book about the Gospel in the midst of living everyday with the joys and struggles of being a mom, I knew it was something I wanted to check out.

GLIMPSES OF GRACE by Gloria Furman is a book about seeing the life of being a mom through the lens of what Jesus has done in the Gospel. As my wife has been reading it, I've been reading it as well to better grasp how to understand the role she has been placed in as the mother of our children. I'm encouraged by Furman's clear exploration of the Gospel and its implications in the mundane areas of life. The author encourages moms to rest fully in the work of Jesus.

I'm blessed to be married to a woman who loves our children deeply and cherishes the opportunity to help them understand and embrace the Gospel in their lives. GLIMPSES OF GRACE serves as practical encouragement for living in light of the Gospel as a mom.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of SOVEREIGN by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee

It’s been fifteen years since Rom Sebastien learned the truth that everybody in the world was dead, stripped of all emotion but fear. Six years ago, Jonathan, the boy the ones who were awakened to emotion and known as Mortals believed would bring life to the world through his blood and become the true Sovereign, was killed at the hands of Saric, the leader of the deadly Dark Bloods. Rom, Jordin, and a few other Mortals believed they were meant to take Jonathan’s dead blood and bring love and life to the world. They began calling themselves Sovereigns. Though they were once many, they have been hunted and many of their number killed by Dark Bloods and the ones once aligned with Jonathan while he was alive, now known as Immortals. The Dark Bloods and Immortals are both more powerful than the Sovereigns. Roland and his band of Immortals want to rid the world of Sovereigns and Dark Bloods and rule Byzantium as the superior race. The Sovereigns are on the brink of extinction. One of their own has released a virus that will kill Dark Bloods and Immortals alike, leaving the world with only Corpses and the remaining Sovereigns. The virus, like the virus that stripped the world of its emotions generations earlier, will return the world to one void of life. Rom knows this isn’t the way Jonathan would have wanted. He goes to Feyn, the now ruthless leader of the Dark Bloods, to foolishly plead for her surrender to Sovereign blood, which Jordin goes to the Immortals to one as one of their own to find a way to preserve Sovereign blood. As the Dark Bloods and the Immortals, combined with the deadly virus, close in, the Sovereign blood, and the life and genuine love it is supposed to bring, is in danger of becoming permanently extinct.

SOVEREIGN is the conclusion to The Books of Mortals trilogy by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. The Books of Mortals is an allegory of the redemptive history told in the Bible, and it brings much that humanity wrestles with to the forefront of your thoughts and emotions as you’re reading. Trilogies are always my favorite types of stories, and the third book in a trilogy is always almost always an incredibly intense ride to the finish. SOVEREIGN is no exception. The stakes have never been higher. No one is safe, and Dekker and Lee make it clear that by the end of this book, either the world will be alive again or death will finally reign permanently supreme. And there were certainly moments in the story that I wasn’t sure how this could end up okay in the end, or even what okay was going to look like. Ted Dekker has a way of painting a situation as hopelessly impossible as can be, and this ability to create heart pounding suspense has always been one of my favorite parts of his writing.

In the first two books of the series, the main protagonist of the story was Rom Sebastien. In SOVEREIGN Jordin steps into that role. Rom is, of course, in the novel, but not as much as you would expect given his role in the story. In fact, there are no scenes told from Rom’s point-of-view. While I thought the story was good and it kept me interested all along, I wished that Rom’s point-of-view hadn’t been taken out. However, the way the story progresses, it does make sense why we wouldn’t see into Rom’s inner world, so I can understand why Dekker and Lee might have done it.

Jordin’s journey is one that feels tragic most of the time. She loved Jonathan, but Jonathan is gone, and though she wants to believe that he lives on beyond death, she feels alone. Being Sovereign doesn’t seem like she would have thought. Or like any of the Sovereigns would have thought. This is one of the themes that resonates throughout the story: who is it that is truly alive? Can you tell from outer appearances who is really alive? Does being alive mean being well off in life?

The Sovereigns are greatly misunderstood in what they are trying to do. More than that, Jonathan’s desires are greatly misunderstood even by the Sovereigns. What is the life that Jonathan came to bring? What does it look like? Would it meet their natural expectations? As the story moves along, nothing is what it seems. Dekker and Lee introduced a story in which we came to believe that the solution to the story problem was life and a restoration of emotions, but, much like God did through the Bible, they reveal to us that the story solution isn’t what we think. It’s much more, and it doesn’t look like we expect.

As an allegory SOVEREIGN perfectly captures the struggle that Christians and non-Christians alike have with what it means to truly be alive. Jesus was greatly misunderstood, just as Jonathan was in this story. And at times it feels like we’re utterly alone and that Jesus isn’t there, much like the Sovereigns felt in the story. It’s in this story that Dekker and Lee show us what it means to truly love and trust Jesus and what being alive truly looks like.

I loved SOVEREIGN and hated to see it end, but I felt like I had learned something incredibly important through its story. The Books of Mortals series was a brilliant recasting of redemptive history that will stay with me for a long time.

Review copy provided by FaithWords

Photo Credit: FaithWords

Friday, June 14, 2013

Blog Tour Review of TORN TO HEAL by Mike Leake

TORN TO HEAL by Mike Leake is a biblical look at the role of suffering in our lives. The problem of suffering is inevitably one that everyone struggles with at some point, especially if you believe in an all-loving God who wants good for those who believe in him. Leake looks at suffering as a way in which God refines believers, developing their character and their faith. He does this by appealing to a story in the book of Hosea where God compares himself to a husband who has been cheated on by with his wife, the nation of Israel. In this particular story, God personifies himself as a husband who takes away all the good things that he gave his wife and strips her bare before all of her adulterous lovers. Honestly, it’s a pretty intense and disturbing scene. Leake uses this story and several other passages of Scripture to describe a God who loves his people enough to “tear” them so that they can be healed. The goal of the book is to outline some surprising benefits to suffering.

No doubt the Scriptures indicate that suffering tests our faith in God and provides an opportunity to grow. I like how this book encourages us to see suffering as an opportunity to grow. However, the book takes a deterministic approach to God’s causation of every event that happens in history. This, of course, means that all suffering is ultimately intended by God, even if it is immediately caused by secondary agents. And if you believe that suffering is meant to help you grow, then it’s not far off to assume that every instance of suffering that ever happens is meant to bring about some good in the world. As Paul said, “Everything works together for good for those that love him.” But what about when people don’t grow from suffering? What if it breaks them instead? What about unbelievers? Surely, suffering sometimes leads unbelievers to embrace Christ, but not always. Though I agree with the author that suffering can be opportunity for our faith to be tested and for us to grow, it seems like a deterministic approach to God’s sovereignty would lead someone to honestly raise the question of why there is so much wasted suffering in the world. Why is there so much suffering that produces no good at all?

Another concern I have with the common approach to suffering is that people begin to replace God’s role in their lives as God with something I call “the event catalyst.” What is supposed to cause us to change? God, obviously. That’s his role as God. If God changes us and acts as the catalyst to our change, then he is indeed the God of our lives. But sometimes people only change as a result of suffering. I won’t argue that some people are driven to God and change as a result of what they come to believe about God in the midst of their suffering, but I believe many people rely on suffering as an event catalyst to change. When suffering and not God causes us to change, the suffering replaces the role of God. Does God use suffering to bring about change in us? He can and does. But is it necessary? Only in so much as we, as fallen creatures, won’t submit otherwise. God wants to us to place our faith in him and change as a result of our faith in him. I believe suffering is used by God, but may not be in every instance intended by God specifically to bring about change in us.

Obviously, I’ve raised a lot of questions, and there are many others that I have on the subject, but as this is a review of TORN TO HEAL, I want to simply say that I appreciate Leake’s heart toward helping people wrestle with this difficult issue. It raised some questions in me, especially concerning the episode in Hosea that I will continue to wrestle through, so I appreciate him facing the issue head on. Definitely check out the book and be encouraged to latch onto Christ in the midst of suffering.

Review copy provided by Cruciform Press

Photo Credit: Cruciform Press

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review of WHO CAN BE SAVED? by Terrance L. Tiessen

In his book WHO CAN BE SAVED? author and theologian Terrance L. Tiessen goes through a thorough exploration of one of the most troubling questions in all of Christianity. The question concerns the fate of those who never get the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus. How does God judge them? What exactly is the criteria for being rescued by Jesus in this life?

Tiessen expores the Bible to show the Christocentricity of salvation, while also showing that God has been and always is active in revealing himself to people throughout the world. Tiessen’s exploration shows how God uses life’s circumstances to bring people into a position to come to him. The interesting part of this book is Tiessen’s look at various world religions and how God can even use the tiniest grain of truth in any religion to help point people in his direction.

I loved how this book showed salvation by faith throughout all of redemptive history because we often fail to understand how it was that people under the Old Covenant were saved. I’ve grown to appreciate Tiessen’s work, though I don’t subscribe to his Calvinist conclusions on soteriology.

WHO CAN BE SAVED? is a great book on the incredible topic of salvation and how God works in the world to redeem people. It gives both hope and motivation for spreading the gospel message.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

Review of TEACHING AS LEADERSHIP by Steven Farr

I'm not a teacher, but I'm currently working on my alternative teaching certification. I used to teach in a church context, and I'm really excited about transitioning to teaching in an academic context. But I also want to learn as much as I can to be an effective teacher. I picked up TEACHING AS LEADERSHIP by Steven Farr of Teach For America. In the book, the author covers six proven principals of some of the best teachers. They are:

Set Big Goals
Invest Students and Their Families
Plan Purposefully
Execute Effectively
Continuously Increase Effectiveness
Work Relentlessly

The author shows how the best teachers exhibit these principals and gives how-to advice on how teachers can carry these principals into the classroom. I was drawn to this book because of its focus on leadership and a teacher being a leader. The book is good for teachers who truly want to invest in the lives of students and help them to be the best that they can be.

Review copy provided by Jossey-Bass

Photo Credit: Jossey-Bass

Review of VIRTUOUS MINDS by Phili

I'm a father of three children, and I want my children to develop into responsible Christ-following adults. This of course includes behavior modification driven by faith in Jesus, but there's also the element of intellectual character, which is the way our minds develop. VIRTUOUS MINDS by Philip E. Dow explores this important area of intellectual character development.

Dow spends a great deal of time unpacking seven intellectual virtues. These are things like intellectual courage and intellectual curiosity. These virtues will serve children and even adults well as they learn and interact with the world. He then shows how these plays out in everyday life and what it looks like.

This book is a unique look at child development, and it is ideal for educators and parents. I know that the ideas in this book are important to my wife and and me as we raise our children to exhibit godly character.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

Review of EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD by N.T. Wright

The problem of evil is one that I, like almost everyone else in the world, have wrestled with ever since becoming a Christian. In EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD, thelogian N.T. Wright wrestles with this problem head-on by focusing on a God who does respond to evil. He examines the Bible to reveal the ways that God has fought against evil throughout history.

As the title of the book suggests, Wright focuses much of this book on the epitome of God's defeat over evil in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Wright paints a picture of God's ultimate defeat and removal of evil in the new heavens and the new earth. He suggests that we don't live just waiting for this moment, but living lives of justice toward others in light of the world God is bringing about. In this way, we act as agents of God in the fight against evil.

No one has ever definitively solved the problem of evil, and this book won't do it either, but it does present God as one who is against evil and doing something in response to it.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press