The Morals of the Story by David and Marybeth Baggett

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How powerful are moral arguments to prove the existence of God? They have always struck me as overwhelmingly persuasive, yet this book is still my first foray into really digging out that concept. I have more of a theological background while this presentation tilts more toward the philosophical side. That’s not to say there isn’t some wonderful theology along the way. There’s plenty of theology as well as deep scholarship as you might imagine from this husband-and-wife scholar team. The scholarship is such that this might not work for beginners yet they do a good job of making it all accessible. As a bonus, they exhibit a pleasant sense of humor throughout. The authors strike me as teachers who would be enjoyable to hear lecture. Some of the historical explanations of where philosophers have moved over the years might bog you down some, but you will end this book with a firmer belief that the moral argument bolsters the affirmation of God’s existence.

The book is divided into three acts. The first one sets the stage in four chapters. Preceding the first act you have a description of the players, the playbill, and the spotlight on Socrates and Paul in Athens. The first two chapters succeed in orienting you in this discussion while chapters 3 and 4 slow down some with a great deal of historical background and scholarly review.

Act two has five chapters that break down moral goodness, moral obligations, moral knowledge, moral transformation, and moral providence. To my mind, the chapter on moral transformation packed the most punch. If you can grasp this section, you will have a working knowledge of all the facets of the moral argument.

Act three is called “enacting the comedy” and is really a concluding chapter that together with the “encore” shows how this material can lead us to some powerful apologetics.

This is an important book that succeeds in what it sets out to do. Its target audience will love it, and we can all glean from it. Our hearts know that if there is no God there are no morals and that cannot be possible!

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. 

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by Alvin Reid

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Alvin Reed writes to any who freak out about witnessing no matter where you are in your Christian journey. The book is accessible enough that either the new Christian or the Christian who has served the Lord for a long time can find help with witnessing. Mr. Reed has already written the more formal and comprehensive Evangelism Handbook, available from the same publisher, but the two books make separate, distinct contributions. There’s no salesmanship, nor prepackaged presentation here. Ultimately, this book wants to make us more thoughtful conversationalists. We just need Jesus to be part of all of our conversations.

There’s a brief introduction that even talks about how to read this book. Chapter 1 makes the initial case that we are to spread the Word but we need not overcomplicate it as so much of our training has led to. He disdains the idea of “Marvel superhero version of soul winning” and confesses that many of us feel awkward in approaching people and talking. His goal is to make witnessing easier and more natural. In the next chapter, he chips away at the idea that God is mad at all of us for our witnessing efforts. No doubt, we are to witness, but He is not holding us responsible for results as we have been told, nor does He miss the fact that He made us with different talents and abilities.

Chapter 3 advances the idea that we think in terms of conversations and not presentations. Chapter 4 reminds us that we have an important part, but that the power is the Lord’s. Chapter 5 is a practical look at conversation starters and signposts in conversations. Chapter 6 reminds us to care, listen, and even expect people to be open to the gospel. Chapter 7 explains that we are to talk but we are to remember the level of acquaintance dictates the level of concern that must be evident. Chapter 8 reminds us that it’s more important to make friends that we can talk to than scheduling official visits. You will notice as you go through all of these chapters that the author has made eight simple principles to help us with witnessing. They are stated throughout the chapters and then they are listed together at the end of the book.

There’s an added eight-week challenge at the end of the book that makes it possible for groups to work through this material.

This book isn’t earth-shattering but could be quite helpful to us in our witnessing if we would just calm down and think about what this author is telling us about a caring, conversational manner of witnessing. This book is worth checking out!

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 W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume

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It’s hard for me to find the words for how outstanding this volume is! Count me as one of those people who finds A. W. Tozer as one of the most penetrating, spiritual writers of all time. This beautiful, hardback collection of three of his spiritual classics can’t be missed. These titles have mostly been available as paperbacks in the past, but now we have something a little more worthy of these treasures. I wouldn’t be surprised if people call this one of the great publishing events of the year.

The first title, The Knowledge of the Holy, must be included in any list of the greatest Christian books of all time. It is, out of an impressive list, Tozer’s greatest work. This book impacted me several years ago, and it was a joy to go through it again. In conversational language he presents God Almighty in a way few ever have before. The theology is incredibly deep yet perfectly accessible. He astutely feels that so much of what’s wrong with Christianity today is our misunderstandings of God Himself. The attributes of God are shorn of any sort of dry, academic language and are presented in a way that makes you love, respect, and be in awe of God more.

The second title, The Pursuit of God, is another of his best-known works. He disdains our resting on the laurels of our conversion and pushes us to go hard after really knowing God. This book makes us thirst after our Lord and is a true masterpiece.

The third title, God’s Pursuit of Man, might fall slightly below the two mountain peak titles above, but it is a true sequel to The Pursuit of God. It moved me as well.

Not only is this volume with its three incredible titles worthy of the reading time of every Christian, I imagine it would change Christianity itself if it were widely read.

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.

Demanding Liberty by Brandon O’Brein

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This book is hard for me to categorize. The author, Brandon O’Brien, warns us in the preface that that might be the case, but I had no idea that it would be thus to such a degree. It’s not exactly a biography, though I came to know Isaac Backus much better. It’s not exactly a historical treatise, but I found places where my historical understandings were off. It’s not exactly a political statement, but I wondered if there might be one just below the surface. I found myself asking what this author was up to quite early in the book, though I never was sure I could answer that question. To be sure, I found the book deeply interesting and hard to put down.

If the author desired to only overturn the applecart of our neatly packaged conclusions, this book was a smashing success. If he had some conclusion he wanted to take us to, then not so much. The titles alone of his previous books, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes and Paul Behaving Badly, had me wondering if he was something of a provocateur. When he admitted that he was a Baptist who had become a Presbyterian and now was writing on a Baptist hero, I wondered if he was something of a rabble-rousing raconteur too. As a Baptist myself, when some of his first comments seemed to overplay the lack of education of the early Baptists, I was sure that it was so. But alas, he was quite fair to the Baptists overall and even seemed to have a real admiration of their dedication and of Backus himself.

He did prove to me that I have been something of a reductionist in how I view the Christian heritage of my country. It was much more of a battle than I carried in my convenient memories, but I retain my amazement at where it landed. On a few occasions, he took that premise a little too far. I’m not convinced that the Jefferson described in the introduction was as anti-religion as he was portrayed, nor do I see the full weight of the parallel of conservative Christians today to their forebears with “a difference between being marginalized and feeling marginalized.” Still, there might be enough truth in it to call for some introspection.

This book held my attention until the last page. I’m still not sure whose side the author is on, or if he even knows. He did, however, ask good questions. My conclusions are ultimately the same, but I would have to admit that my views are a little more nuanced after reading this book.

We are at the point of this review where I’m supposed to give a recommendation. Perhaps if you’ve read this far you already have all the recommendation that I could give you. Clearly, this book influenced me. Maybe you will want to find out if it will have that effect on you.

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.

We Want You Here by Rainer

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This attractive hardback is a resource to put in the hands of visitors to your church. Thom Rainer, who has provided so many church resources, wrote this book. Since guests have such a wide variety of backgrounds, it took a lot of skill to pitch this book at a level that could catch the attention of many. It seems to me that Rainer pulled it off.

The first chapter gives five good reasons that the visitor is wanted at your church. Chapter 2 is one that not so much lowers expectations as it changes expectations. Gone is the idea that the church is a place of perfect people, yet there remains the high expectation that we as broken people will be loving to the broken people who visit us. Chapter 3 advertises the beauty of relationship. Chapter 4 talks about strengthening families in the context of the variety of family situations. Chapter 5 introduces God and is gently evangelistic. Chapter 6 encourages coming and being part of it while the last chapter thanks them for coming.

The chapters are short and easy to read without sacrificing what needs communicating. It’s classic Rainer. As a pastor, I’d be happy to put this attractive resource in visitor’s hands.

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 Leopard Tamed by Vandevort

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I’ve never read a mission story quite like this one. Missions stories make some of the most challenging reading to bolster faith, so I’ve read several such titles over the years. While it’s clear the Lord was at work in this mission story just like I expect in such tales, the frank honesty of the difficulties makes this volume by Eleanor Vandevort unique. The author didn’t even hide the hard questions she had for God in this book. When the back cover says that this book “was too honest for many in 1968”, you can see that this statement is not mere marketing hype once you read the book for yourself. Whoever suggested rereleasing this volume in the 50th-anniversary edition did a favor for us all.

You will do well to read all the preliminaries. Both the Forward by Trudy Summers and the introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition by Valerie Elliott Sheppard as well as the introduction to the original edition by Elizabeth Elliott give the kind of background and perspective that makes the reading of the book more meaningful. Plus, if you’re like me you had not heard of the author, but at least had heard of Elizabeth Elliott. Since I respect Mrs. Elliott, and since she has deep confidence in the author of this book, I began reading this book with complete confidence about the character of an author I’d never heard of.

The author comes out of the gate in riveting fashion when she describes going to watch the rite of passage that young men in Sudan face that entails six horizontal lines being cut in parallel rows on their forehead. I loved how she confessed her original feelings of repulsion for what appeared to be a dark, hedonistic act. It was in this first chapter that she makes us aware of her ability to probe deeply into the meaning other cultures find in certain acts. She was able to separate our faith that we receive from God and should take to the world for our culture that we sometimes confuse with it. That accomplishment alone makes this a book worth reading. Even better, she doesn’t preach at us for confusing our culture with the gospel but just explains the wrestlings in her own soul. Her journey was instructive.

There are all kinds of other thrills. Yes, there’s a scary snake story but as is the case with this author, she looks deeper at their overall view of death and how the young boy would miss out on his markings that proclaimed to the world he was a man. It was a loss the whole family would feel, yet a different sort of loss that we would feel in our culture.

You don’t get very far into the book before you meet Kuac Nyoat, a young man who came to Christ and was trained for the pastorate in the ministry where the author worked. Without a doubt, Miss Vandevort loved, admired, and respected this young pastor. It was through his life that she told her story and tried to separate culture from the gospel. In no way did she sugarcoat his struggles or even his failures. What she was able to do, however, is get to the end of the book with me respecting him just as she did.

This book has the requisite excitement but forces you to do a lot of important thinking too. You will likely enjoy the story so much that you won’t even mind. It’s a beautiful paperback edition and is written so that anyone from a teenager to a seasoned Christian would consider reading it time well spent. It’s a winner that I highly recommend!

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. 

Our Eternal Reward by Erwin Lutzer

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Erwin Lutzer has written several best-selling works that are popular among the rank-and-file of Christianity. I consider him a model preacher and as a pastor personally find great devotional value in what he has to say. In this book, he tackles a subject that is, strangely, rarely written about. There is no doubt that the Bible has plenty to say about rewards for Christians and possible loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ. I agree with him that we do much harm to Christians today by dodging this powerful topic.

He begins his book by describing tears in heaven. Besides mentioning that “God shall wipe away all tears” is in the future tense, he really uses this chapter to explain some misconceptions that we have. The first one is something I hear all the time–our sins are judged on the cross and forgiven, so they couldn’t really be brought up later. He makes a great case for separating judicial forgiveness and fatherly discipline. He also explains that there are both degrees of punishment in Hell and degrees of reward in Heaven. He explains future rewards in a way that doesn’t allow us to take any glory away from Jesus Christ. I thought he did a good job with it.

His next chapter was more specific to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Though he well demonstrates the gravity of it, he never becomes too fanciful as some writers do on the subject. The next chapter discusses what we can gain and reminds us that we must remember the positive side of this biblical discussion. Still, chapter 4 helps us see what we can lose. That is an unpleasant thought that cannot be avoided.

Chapter 5 was the best in the book. In it, he described what Christ will be looking for, or really examining what the Bible says we will be rewarded for. The next 4 chapters contain encouragements to positively strive for rewards and a good Judgment Seat of Christ experience. The final chapter explains the Great White Throne Judgment and even encourages those who have not yet trusted Christ to do so.

This is a fine, encouraging, challenging book. I recommend it to Christians everywhere!

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 Introduction to Christian Worldview–A Fine New Textbook

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It’s great to see this outstanding textbook come down the pike on Christian worldview. Tawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle have teamed to produce an eminently readable book on understanding worldview as it presents itself in a pluralistic age. Teachers will love it for its accuracy while students will appreciate it for its clarity.

The book is divided into three main parts. In Part 1 three chapters introduce worldview, in Part 2 three chapters explain the contours of a Christian worldview, and in Part 3 two chapters analyze various worldviews.

Part 1 succeeds in explaining the overall concept of worldview. Philosophy and logic are expertly brought in while up-to-date examples are provided. For example, it was amazing how one of the author’s love of TV detectives could be brought in on a few occasions to make a great point. I loved it.

When Part 2 transitioned to explaining a Christian worldview, the book continued to deliver. In this case, I was amazed at how well theology, and I mean in-depth theology, was worked into the discussion in a perceptive way.

Part 3 was somewhat less interesting to me but had to be discussed in a book of this nature. Western philosophical alternatives, as well as global religious alternatives, were reviewed. The conclusion tied the parts together in a meaningful way.

You will appreciate, as well, how the book is laid out. In each chapter, you will find reflection questions, illustrations entitled “scenic view”, as well as some charts that really advance understanding. Every chapter ended with a list of things that you should be able to do if you mastered the chapter, a glossary of terms for that chapter, and even a list of possible term paper topics.

This book exceeded my expectations. I’m convinced I will be pulling it down from the shelf with profit in the future. It deserves an A+ rating.

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.

Spiritual Discipleship by J. Oswald Sanders

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This book is the third of J. Oswald Sanders’ volumes republished in attractive paperback editions by Moody Publishers. Though, perhaps, not as extraordinary as his Spiritual Leadership and Spiritual Maturity books, this volume on spiritual discipleship is a worthy read. As the subtitle suggests, Sanders draws out “principles of following Christ for every believer”.

After a brief introduction, he describes the ideal disciple in chapter 1 straight from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In chapter 2, he uses the words of Jesus to describe the conditions of discipleship. The next two chapters are on evidences and tests of discipleship, but I found these two chapters to be the least clear in the book.

The remaining 16 chapters examine discipleship from every possible vantage point. You will read of the disciple’s master (the Lord), his senior partner (the Holy Spirit), his servanthood, his ambition, his love, and his maturity. You will have described the disciple’s Olympics (a review of Paul’s allusions to athletics), compassion, prayer life, rights (meekness is preferred), example, loneliness, the second chance, renewed commission, dynamic, and hope. It’s all excellent fodder to review your own level of discipleship.

The publishers have attached a small group study guide at the end of the book. There’s also a helpful index of Scripture.

If you have read Sanders’ other volumes, you will know what to expect. I’d recommend that you grab all three of these recently reprinted volumes. Sanders knows what spiritual writing is all about. This book is a meaningful, devotional read covering a subject that every Christian should entertain.

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.

Understanding Your Teen by Jim Burns

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Jim Burns is president of Homeword and a radio broadcaster. His other books are in the area of parenting or family issues. In this volume he comes right at the issues that are so prevalent for teens today. He makes you feel at ease by confessing his own shock when his children reach the teenage years even though ministering to families was already his lifework. At 200 pages it’s pitched just right for busy parents today.

Part one is made up of 11 chapters that deal with big picture ideas about parenting teens. The first two chapters aim at helping us understand our teenagers and how they develop. Then he gets into how it might affect behavior appropriately and help their spiritual life. His chapter on a media-safe home is very thorough and balanced. He tackles the subject of sexuality by suggesting we teach healthy sexuality. He further talks about how to handle homework, keep communication open, and our forcing ourselves as parents to understand the changing culture our teens live in. He wisely added the chapter on intimacy between the parents as a way to help your teams. Many overlook this important aspect. The final chapter of the first part is how to deal with a troubled teen. Everyone hopes that will not be their situation, but if the dreaded happened, here’s a great guide.

Part two has 13 chapters that are shorter and narrower. I almost see them as pointed discussions of how to implement the broader concepts learned in the earlier chapters. Here he covers bullying, dating violence, depression, dinnertime, driving, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, obesity, self-injury, sexual abuse, sleep, suicide, and dealing with tragedy.

I appreciate the calm way in which he advises us. He seems at once to be telling us to be diligent and patient. He encourages us not to lose our cool, nor our resolve. He doesn’t suggest that parenting isn’t hard work, yet he explains how the individual responsibility of the teen can never leave the picture.

This book is a solid help in these difficult times for raising teens. I recommend it.

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.