Marriage–A Helpful New Book!

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When I first picked up this book that professes to address marriage in its foundation, theology, and mission in a changing world and scanned the table of contents I thought—what a hodgepodge. Then, after closing the book at its end I thought—it worked! Somehow a book with 5 editors and dozens of authors came out with a unified, big-picture presentation of the Lord’s intention for marriage.

Section 1 contains four chapters on foundational issues. Looking back to the Trinity and its relation to marriage turns out to be the perfect starting place. Just read and you will see. From there, we look at Jesus in particular and the idea of commitment. Marriage gets such deep spade work here that how its presented in Scripture, the mistake of cohabitation, and the “high calling” of marriage along with the dignity of singleness all are unearthed. All these subjects will reappear later, but you’ll be better prepared because of this foundational view.

Section 2 addresses what it calls “description”. It’s almost like another pass at what Section 1 brought out, now with yet more depth. I have no idea how this section somehow presents theological understanding, addresses current societal derailments, and provides help for the challenges of marriage that all married Christians face at varying levels. Embodiment (you’ll enjoy knowing what that means), both the beauty and design of marriage, the biblical necessity of gender, and help with intimacy show up here.

Section 3 gives four helpful chapters on our brokenness in marriage. Again, there’s counsel on repairing that brokenness and restoring the beauty of marriage with even an in-depth discussion of marriage and divorce in Scripture. Section 4 presents four final chapters on mission and marriage. There’s even encouragement and guidance for churches to assist people with marriage.

As I said before, this book far exceeds my initial expectations. In addition to reading it through, it will serve as an excellent resource for a wide array of subjects that intersect with marriage that can be consulted as needed. It’s an attractive hardback that will bless Christians if it gets the large readership that it deserves.

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.

 

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

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This family book will be a blessing to every person whether married or single. It bypasses surface issues at all points and couldn’t masquerade as a self-help book even with the best Madison-Avenue advertising campaign behind it. You might cross something on its pages that would make you want to do “better”, but this book soars in the brokenness of your family. Its Gospel light shines through whether you’ve felt the pain of family or were the perpetrator who inflicted the pain. As is more likely, it instructs when you’ve been part of both. In short, this book succeeds because of where it goes, a place that most Christian family books shop just short of—the foot of the Cross. I can’t be good enough. Spouse, parent, it doesn’t matter; I just can’t. My only hope is at the Cross, the place where I see myself as I am and the place I find redemption.

Besides the awesome material, this book wins as a book on every level.  I’ve read some Russell Moore on blogs, but I must say he impressed me as a writer here. His style was unique and really stood out among family books. Most telling was how he connected with the reader. I felt he was staggering to the Cross with me. He refrained from the allowing the reader to see him as the model husband or the champion father. Like me, he struggles with looking away from the Cross even if he can clearly enunciate why the Cross is the answer.

Moore had me by chapter 2 on “The Cross as Family Crisis”. My excessive underlining shows just how he hit me where I live. He with continued aplomb exposed spiritual warfare in the home, dismantled family idolatry and my using family for my own identity. All the while, he reminded me that the cross tells another story. His chapters on marriage and intimacy were neither trite nor common as he drug us again to the Cross from where we’d be most likely to go kicking and screaming. He stayed true to a conservative, biblically-faithful point of view while not being boxed in by some of its common misapplications too. His discussion of children and parents was equally perceptive and Gospel focused. Even his preview of aging proved I’ll be needing the Cross all the way.

The final chapter on “Free to Be Family” led to misty eyes for me. I’m not sure how to explain how truly wonderful this book is. Get it. You need it whether you know it or not. You need it because having the Cross but leaving it out of your home will mushroom into the most grotesque of errors. This winner is easily a book-of-the-year entry that every believer needs.

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.

The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper

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Ok, so this is different. I’ve reviewed many Christian books and yet never one like this one. I opened it thinking that this book would be a cute idea and closed it convinced the lack of curiosity and wonder both have misled us over the years and strangles us in the present. The author, Barnabas Piper, could be the poster child for positive curiosity for his pervasive love of it. On the first page, the dedication of the book, and throughout the whole book, it’s clear his mother instilled a lusty, vigorous sense of wonder in him. What she instilled, he has imbibed into all of life. He has even absorbed this curiosity and tested its reliability with Scripture. Before you question the biblical thread of his argument, be sure to read him first. I think you’ll be won over. I was.

Part 1 takes three chapters to explain what curiosity is, what it is not, how important it is, and what its lack might cost us—binary thinking and missed or damaged relationships. He further shows how God has filled His creation with wonder and that curiosity has an element of seeking Him. He further digs in the Bible to show the vast difference between childlikeness and childishness. He champions imagination and looks at how culture has run from curiosity.

Part 2 gives eight chapters on “curious about…?” We are told to be curious about the right things before we are reminded of boundaries. Since there are grotesque things that even Scripture tells us not to think about, curiosity is morally bound. Some might wonder if he presents those boundaries distinctly enough, but likely he supposes discernment can guide us there.

I loved his observations; for example, how to balance information and curiosity. He said, “Google is the evil empire making us all dumber, ruining education, and providing easy answers to hard questions. Instead of thinking, we type, and we’re all worse for it.” Exactly!

Several times he reminded us one of curiosity’s best friends: books. Don’t miss either his balanced explanation of open-mindedness.

This timely paperback helped me to be reminded of the value of curiosity and the riches of wonder. That’s worth much!

 

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.

The Gospel & Marriage (The Gospel for Life Series)

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Though this is my first foray into The Gospel For Life series, I’m impressed with its potential. The series aims at major issues of our day and connects them to the Gospel. Once I learned what the series attempts to accomplish, I thought as I read this one on marriage that its presentation is ideal. Perfect for small groups or personal reading, this book edited by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker delivers the goods within the aims of the series striking the right balance between length and depth.

The first chapter by Mary Kassian gives a great overview that sees marriage as God sees it. Chapter 2 by Denny Burk was superb in presenting marriage roles in light of the Gospel—think biblical, conservative, and balanced. Familiar marriage author Dennis Rainey takes chapter 3 to discuss the practical work of marriage and sees it as a place for our Christianity to be displayed. Chapter 4 by Dean Inserra explains how the church should engage the issues of marriage while Andrew Walker explores the cultural shift on marriage in chapter 5. Both kept ties to the Gospel prevalent and wrote engaging help for us.

This book is one I’d be happy as a pastor to recommend to everyone. It’s not exactly a self-help book, yet it helps Christians orient their thinking in one of the most explosive issues of our day. If Christians can’t keep their thinking straight on this defining matter, the consequences will be dire. We need what this book says!

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.

 

 

Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal

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We must have discussions like this one. A couple of decades pass and our very world has changed with smartphones and other electronic devices. It has affected Christians along with everyone else. We are finally pausing to search out the implications of this seismic shift. Several practical Christian books have probed how we might deal with a world that has changed and is not going back. (One by Tony Reinke lies on my desk). In this volume by Craig Gay, however, the broader theological implications are mined. This book is less of how you ought to alter your life in the days to come and more of what does it even mean. Both types of books are needed and I’m rooting for their success.

The author writes with balance. He neither denies his own use of the technology he writes about nor encourages its complete rejection. In fact, his analysis seems to embrace its good at least to the extent of sharing the Gospel and other wholesome features while exercising caution on the other end. Our society has changed. To what extent should a Christian change with it?

To bulk up his premise, the author surveys other paradigm-shifting technological advances from the plow to automated manufacturing. He traces how economic concerns are usually the driving force. He turns his discussion toward theology by considering “ordinary embodied human existence” with the background of the Incarnation of Christ and God’s mission for us.

The book is deep reading. If you find that kind of theological reading difficult, this book will be a challenge. Theological junkies will find it the perfect discussion of an all-encompassing subject. If you can handle academic reading, and enjoy well thought out analysis, this is the book for 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.

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse by Tozer

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This book intrigues me. If for no other reason, these poems, hymns, and prayers moved A. W. Tozer. When I think of what poured forth from his pen, and how it has moved my heart, I’m totally into whatever inspired Tozer.

When I first scoured these pages, I was immediately scolded. Not with a layer of guilt, but with a portion of conviction—I don’t slow down enough even when I read even from my own hymnbook. That deliberate, careful reading was one of Tozer’s secrets that he often tried to expose though usually without our cooperation. He always embraced the label “mystic” even after the term had some ugly baggage hoisted upon its back. The brief Introduction in this book makes the case that is more fully brought out in many of his other writings. Say what you will, but the person Tozer describes as a “mystic” walks with God.

Besides a few hymns (where reading slowly unlocks real treasure), the selections in this collection were unknown to me. Perhaps they aren’t all of equal lyrical value to the reader’s ear, but they are all rich. “Fluff” couldn’t describe any of them. Think more of strong doctrine going after the heart. Other sermons and books can handle the head. There are some expected authors like Wesley and Watts, or even Bernard of Clairvaux, but you’ll see that Tozer must have really loved Frederick William Faber too. And who would have thought of Oliver Wendall Holmes as a mystic!

Your favorites will be different than mine, but they’ll all be good. Look at this stanza from Watts:

Earth, from afar, hath heard Thy fame,

And worms have learned to lisp Thy Name;

But Oh the glories of Thy mind

Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.

 

Or this one by Faber:

O Lord! My heart is sick,

Sick of this everlasting change;

And life runs tediously quick

Through its unresting race and varied range:

Change finds no likeness to itself in Thee,

And wakes no echo in Thy mute Eternity.

 

There’s so much more! The poems are organized around important themes and you can come here for manna when you’re contemplating these subjects.

It’s Tozer. That’s enough to give it the highest rating. It’s his most unusual title and yet is of that same sterling quality. Probably the best book of its kind.

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.

Defending Your Marriage by Tim Muehlhoff

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Here’s a marriage book that takes a fresh, new approach. Tim Muehlhoff looks at our marriage problems in light of the possibility of spiritual warfare. I hadn’t really given that possibility consideration, though I would have said: “the Devil sure fights us”.  My problem (among others) would be never probing what the Bible says about spiritual warfare in this practical way. The author works with Dennis Rainey at Family Life and writes with the graciousness and insight that belies a compassionate, experienced marriage speaker and counselor.

His introduction reminds us that our marriages are targeted by the Devil and that our job is for our marriages to showcase Christ in this world. That’s startling on both counts. Because our culture, including many Christians, is too spooked to entertain the possibility of spiritual warfare, he spends the first chapter making a clear case for it. There’s solid doctrine there. Next, he addresses why Satan cares about our marriages. Along the way, he exposes the failure of the prevalent contractual, or you-do-your-part-and-I’ll-do-mine, view of marriage. Since we all tend to overestimate our contributions while underestimating others, this approach has no hope. As you might guess, marriage as a covenant and as “an outpost for God’s Kingdom” is more appropriate. Covenant says I love like Jesus and not based on what my spouse does.

He discusses how to tell if it’s spiritual warfare rather than normal aggravations. He goes through open doors for spiritual warfare in 4 main categories of 1) sexual sin, 2) religious sins like idolatry, 3) relational sin against others, and 4) public sin. He further explains the 5 top indicators of spiritual warfare: 1) inappropriate anger, 2) sense of impending doom, 3) violent dreams, 4) no longer believing the best about God, and 5) no longer believing the best about you (your self-talk). He also probes how intimacy might play into all of this.

He has a thoughtful look at Adam and Eve and their temptation with great insights. There’s a chapter on using the armor of a Christian that gave real help (the best was the belt of truth). You wouldn’t have guessed it, but he makes great use of the Lord’s Prayer as well.

All in all, this is a fine book that covers a missing niche. I pray I will use many of its sage counsels.

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.

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.