Hearers & Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer

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Kevin Vanhoozer is one of our sharpest theological minds today. He so often breaks into territory that no one else tackles. He may wrestle with a multitude of heavy theological works, but he is the guy to bring it to the rest of us. Since his latest subject here is that of making disciples, particularly from a pastor’s point of view, and since there’s a glut in the market on discipleship, he shows the league apart that he works in amongst a world of works that all say the same thing. Make room among all the dime-a-dozen discipleship titles on your shelves for this provocative volume to have a prominent place. This book is one for a pastor to lay as a foundation for our work. The subtitle accurately lets you know what you are getting yourself into: A pastor’s guide to making disciples through Scripture and doctrine.

After a clear introduction, Part One that is made up of four chapters explains why discipleship matters. He champions the importance of theology in making disciples. Chapter 2 is so profound that it could be pulled out of this book and presented as commentary on our age, at least involving fitness and body image which has taken on its own religious pretensions. I shared that chapter with some in my family as making clear things that I was ashamed I had never thought of. The next chapters explain the importance of taking disciples from hearing to doing and in building up the body of Christ.

Part Two in four more chapters digs into working out discipleship. Pastors should be challenged by his analogy of our being the eye doctor and general practitioner of the church. Next, he looks at the disciple as a member of the church, which is sadly so de-emphasized in our day. I found myself not fully agreeing with all he said in the chapter on the communion of saints, but there are some fair correctives there that may keep us from running off into the other ditch. The final chapter, wisely, looks at us as children of God who are disciples as “fitting image of Jesus Christ”.

You can often judge how much I find value in a book by how much I underline and notate throughout. My volume of this book is marked all over with usually something on every page. This book is for those who want to think, so pick it up and read slowly and you will be in for a treat.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Preaching As Reminding by Jeffrey Arthurs (Books on Ministry #24)

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We’ve been blessed with many fine books on preaching. There are classics from previous centuries as well as winners from our day. I should know as I’ve been blessed by many of them. On the other hand, because it’s such a popular subject the inundation of titles has led to a few dull books that say nothing new at all. Fortunately, Jeffrey Arthurs stepped into a niche that I don’t feel other authors have properly addressed and has given us something beautiful to help us as we preach God’s word. Since we live in an age of rampant forgetfulness, his work is extremely timely as well.

The help he gives has been meticulously studied out and thoughtfully presented. He makes a powerful case for his premise that preaching is an act of helping people remember before he jumps into practical guidance for preaching itself. He traces both remembering and forgetting through Scripture and proves its prominence. He even handles the science behind memory adeptly though I imagine that is not his normal field of work as a professor of preaching and communication. You will likely so agree with his reasoning that you will find him a trusted guide by the time he gets around to telling you how to improve your preaching.

There is no letdown at all when he transitions to practical help in preaching. Beginning in chapter 4 when he discusses style as a tool for stirring memory, he explains how style is a tool of persuasion and how each preacher needs his own style as well as to improve that style. He gives wonderful suggestions to that end. Next, he reminds us that story or narrative is especially effective in helping people remember. His chapter on delivery is a great reminder for us all as he digs into the details including the important nonverbal signals that we send.

If I were assembling a list of the key books on preaching, I would have to include this perceptive volume. I’m thoroughly impressed with what Mr. Arthurs had to say between these covers.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Pastoral Rule for Today by Burgess, Andrews, and Small

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This book is designed to bring pastors back to our core work. A trio of authors, John Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph Small, take seven historical characters to remind us of what ministry is supposed to look like. This work was an initiative by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and certainly has the flavor of that body throughout the book. Since I’m not a Presbyterian, I found myself at odds with the authors on some of their conclusions. On a more important note, however, I did pause to reflect on some areas of my own ministry that I feel was truly profitable for me. The biographical section on the historical theological figures was enjoyable as were several of the ultimate admonitions for those in ministry. Sometimes the path by which they reached those admonitions was something not particularly scriptural to my mind. Further, the authors seem to have an overblown reverence for the monastic lifestyle. While taking the time to truly meditate on God’s word and remove yourself from the hustle of life is of the utmost value, monastic life has not led to a superior spirituality in many documented cases. It is, then, with a caveat that I recommend this book.

The historical figures used to illustrate what the authors call pastoral “rule” were Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John Calvin (no surprise), John Wesley (a little bit of a surprise), John Henry Newman (a questionable choice for some of us), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of the best chapters in the book). The introductory chapter on why pastors need a “rule” was intriguing. Augustine was used to describe that monastic life while Benedict was used to illustrate obedience “in the context of community”. That obedience as well as what was shown in the life of John Calvin turned out to be the most overtly Presbyterian chapters in the book as it pushed a church hierarchy that fits well with their system. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of its lack of scriptural support. Gregory the Great was mined to show the importance of disciplined prayer. The chapter on John Wesley was extremely timely for our generation as it showed the importance of choosing your words carefully. While I’m not a big fan of John Henry Newman, the principal shared about the need for serious study of the Scripture was well taken. The chapter on Bonhoeffer, who wrote Life Together, had the best insights on community in the book. The concluding chapter on making a contemporary pastoral rule had many helpful insights.

As I said above, this book did get me to thinking about some things that needed addressing in my own life and ministry. You can add a star if you are Presbyterian or hold to the author’s overall views about ministry. Worth pondering!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Legacy of Preaching–A Great Two-Volume Set!

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Every preacher will want this set! Occasionally, a book about the history of preaching will come along and serve as a mighty motivating force for preachers. Dedication, zeal, power—all put on display in the lives of the best preachers of days gone by. It’s been at least 20 years since a book that blends biography and preaching counsel in a way that makes you want to grab a biblical text and get going has come along. This set, edited by Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, and Dwayne Milioni, has filled that lacuna for our generation.

Improving on the works of previous decades, this book employs a winning design. First, specialists on the subject were secured to pen each entry. Second, each writer had to follow the same format: historical background (biography), theology of preaching, methodology for preaching, and contributions to preaching. There’s even a helpful bibliography for each entry. This format was particularly helpful. You got to know the preacher and his preaching. You could say that the approach maximized the impact you could glean from each one.

Volume One covered the Apostles to the Revivalists. You got to think of Paul and Peter as preachers before heading into some of the Church Fathers. Next, Medieval times were covered including Bernard of Clairvaux, John Huss, and Girolamo Savonarola. The Reformers including Luther, Tyndale, and Calvin as preachers were given a look next. Puritan greats Perkins, Baxter, Owen, Bunyan, and Henry were great selections in that group of preachers. Only four revivalists were covered including Edwards, Wesley, and Whitefield, but they were preaching giants.

Volume Two that covered the Enlightenment through modern times was even better. I love Nineteenth-Century British preaching and so was Part One here was my favorite in either volume. Alexander Maclaren and Charles Spurgeon are two of my favorite preaching heroes and real insights could be gained from their entries. I’ve read much on both of them, but I learned more here. The story of Gipsy Smith surprised me too.

Many more outstanding entries finished out the book. You might quibble over a few selections or omissions, (Where was G. Campbell Morgan?), but these volumes are pure gold. Mark them off as must-have books for the preacher! I’ll be consulting my set many times in the coming years I’m sure.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Scrappy Church by Thom Rainer

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Scrappy Church continues a series of wildly popular small hardbacks on church issues by Thom Rainer. This one strikes me as different than some of the earlier ones. It’s less practical this time, yet much more a plea. He seems to be asking us to take what he has been saying over several of his previous books and have the courage to just do it. It reads something like a don’t-give-up entreaty or maybe a start-now appeal. There could be, then, a little less information in this title, but more persuasion.

Rainer is in his wheelhouse in his declaration that God isn’t done with churches yet. He sees the issues and is well aware of the difficulties, but there’s no doubt he believes what he’s saying. There’s no sugarcoating in these pages, but no excuses either. Being a megachurch may not be in a church’s future, but distinct progress is possible to his mind.

The approach that’s given beyond the appeal is wrapped up in a turnaround cycle of outward deluge, welcome readiness, and backdoor closure. After you read this book you will likely agree that these three are the outline of the work that’s needed. I know I got some ideas out of this book and some challenge too. Another winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

Counseling Techniques: A Comprehensive Resource for Christian Counselors

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This book is the best resource on Christian counseling that I’ve seen. I’m sure it would be a winning textbook for students and a major resource for counselors. Let me add, though, that as a pastor, I found the book fascinating as well. I’m not ready to be a professional counselor just because I have this book at my fingertips, but I can much better grasp what help they might be able to accomplish in a variety of difficult situations. What was offered in this volume was so clear and well written. The amazing consistency across the book shows an excellent editorial effort too. You could easily forget that every chapter was written by a different author as the continuity was seamless. It didn’t read like a dry textbook at all.

The book is divided into three main parts: theory-based strategies, population-based strategies, and clinical-based strategies. All three have captivating subjects to reveal. Coping skills strategies, attachment-oriented strategies, couple-focused strategies, and the last 4 chapters on special marriage issues were among the most helpful. The REACH forgives model in chapter 20 was as biblical as it was stimulating for counseling sessions.

Each article points to the literature without stalling in it. Summaries are refreshing and to the point. Examples that bring concepts alive are often provided. Compassion is always evident as is grace for our brokenness. Again, it’s not my field, but I can’t imagine how a book that covers such a wide swath of counseling issues could be any better. I predict I’ll always be glad to have this resource within reach!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

An All-Round Ministry by Spurgeon–A Beautiful Reprint! (Books on Ministry #23)

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What a beautiful reprint of a classic has Banner of Truth given us in this volume! What a wonderful book worthy of this first-rate presentation! This book has been reprinted repeatedly since it was put together after Spurgeon’s death from his passionate addresses to preachers and those training to be. This hardback, though, is the nicest I’ve ever seen. It’s the one you will want on your shelves—one that will last for years and can be passed on.

If you are not already familiar with this book, you should understand that it differs from his famous Lectures To My Students. That fine book is more practical about ministry and is something of a handbook. An All-Round Ministry is all feeling and fire. Spurgeon became more isolated among English Christian academia as liberal headwinds began shifting and strengthening in his day. For him, it was Christ, the Gospel, and souls! The Gospel had not lost its power and he gives one impassioned plea after another in this book for preachers to not become unmoored from what we were called to do by Christ.

Be sure to read the fine introduction by Iain Murray. He excels in this kind of writing and enriches what you are about to read from Spurgeon.

All twelve addresses strike at the preacher’s heart. All call for loyalty to Christ and zeal. A few of the later ones reflect the battles he endured regarding the Downgrade Movement, but all speak to our passing opportunities. This book contains the exact encouragement we all need from time to time! It’s an essential book for preachers.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Spirit-Led Preaching (Revised Edition) by Greg Heisler

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Most books on preaching, and I’ve read a lot of them, only give a cursory mention of the Spirit’s role in preaching. The better ones sometimes give a chapter. Besides a book by Tony Sargent on the preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I’m not aware of any book like this helpful volume by Greg Heisler that probes the Spirit’s role in preaching. Even the Sargent book, as awesome as it is, doesn’t guide us through the whole sermon preparation process step by step with an eye on the Spirit as does this book. I somehow missed the first edition of this work, but this revised edition was a blessing and a reminder to me.

Chapter 1 challenges us to see that the most vital element, the Spirit’s help, may be missing in our preaching. What’s worse is that we may not have even felt the loss! Chapter 2 probes exactly what Spirit-filled preaching is. That aforementioned loss may mushroom for you in this chapter. If you somehow slip through without concern through chapters 1 and 2, chapter 3 will bring you before the tribunal. Jesus, the Prophets, and Paul all clearly highlight the essentialness of the Spirit in preaching. That must be the standard for us as well. Since there’s little doubt of being all in at that point, chapter 4 works through the doctrine of illumination. Here the nuts and bolts meet the Spirit. We who love the Word, and the exposition of it, find how complimentary Word and Spirit are to each other in chapter 5.

Chapter 6 looks at the Spirit and sanctification. Here the preacher himself and the Spirit are in view. The next chapter takes the preacher again through the sermon preparation process from text selection to ready to preach again with the Spirit. Chapter 8 glides into sermon delivery with the Spirit. Chapter 9 is a breath of fresh air as it takes the Spirit to the congregation. The value of listening is even probed. Chapter 10 is something of a challenging summary.

I’m impressed with this book. Its contents are desperately needed in our day of programmed, sterilized preaching that would rather give pointers for self-improvement than deliver the Word of God that throbs with life and has the power of the Spirit to bring it to life for you. Every preacher needs a library of key books on the ministry. Make sure this book is in yours.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Small Church Essentials by Vaters

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Someone should have written this book a long time ago! We pastors of small churches often get our ideas from their wrong sources and evaluate ourselves by the wrong guidelines. Enter Karl Vaters, a pastor of a small church himself, to bring us back to a place of biblical and ministry sanity. Many of the conclusions he shares are those that I have come to over the course of my ministry, and he says them in a helpful way here. This book deserves a wide readership.

Part one is three chapters on how small does not equal broken. He reminds us that most pastors will pastor a small church. We are setting ourselves up for some sort of depression if we think a large church is the only possibility for success while it”s clear most of us will not reach that plateau. He works to help us balance embracing the beauty of a small church while giving it our all. There’s no bashing of large churches here, just a reminder that maybe the Lord has always intended there be many small churches to carry out His plan.

Part two is four chapters on thinking like a great small church. Here’s where we see how erroneous thinking has sent us off the rails. He teaches us better ways to measure church growth than the usual numbers-only approach. Part three becomes more practical as five chapters explain how to bring new life to an existing small church. Whatever you do, don’t miss chapter 12 on “a new way to see small church vision-casting”. It’s worth the price of the book. Some pastors will be liberated by it. The final section becomes even more practical in his discussion of embracing and becoming a great small church.

Every pastor of a small church ought to read this book soon. So many of the church help books out there today leave a pastor feeling dejected. Those books claim to light a fire under you when they’re more like water dousing the flame. This book succeeds where the church gurus fail. You will be challenged to embrace your calling and pursue it for the glory of God. Finally, a modern book that can really help pastors of small churches!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

On Pastoring by H.B. Charles Jr.

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This book is real. It doesn’t sound academic but is more of the I’ve-done-it-and-lived-to-talk-about-it variety. H. B. Charles Jr. has pastored for 25 years and has been through battles and crises, so you feel that he understands as you reflect on your own in the ministry. The spiritual temperature of this book is high, its God-honoring viewpoint is apparent, its proclamation of the primacy of the Word in preaching is clear, and its general encouragement to stay at it is unwavering.

Mr. Charles covered every topic that you’ve come to expect in these type volumes, but here you find more heart. There’s a rawness that says the author has learned through both success and failure. There are things he’s been taught by others as well as things he’s learned the hard way. In some cases, his main benefit is the affirmation of your own conclusions that have also developed in the turbulence of ministry. He will encourage you to never lose the awe of your call, nor the wonder of your work, even if you are inflicted with the occasional scar.

The book is divided into three main parts: the pastor’s heart, the pastor’s leadership, and the pastor’s public ministry. Each part gets 10 down-to-earth chapters. I agreed with his conclusions again and again. I appreciated the needed reminders of what I already knew. All in all, this book left me encouraged. What could be higher praise for a book on pastoring?

I received this map free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.