Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy With God by Tim Anderson

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I’ve thought for some time that I needed some help on the theology of intimacy with God that was more depth and less fluff. There are so many who claim to be the golden ticket that it is refreshing to find someone who would prefer to dig out what the Scriptures truly say. When you think about it, there are not that many books that help us at this more theological level. There’s probably an experiential book on intimacy with God released every month but that usually doesn’t translate into us knowing anything more about it. Tim Anderson has clearly felt the same way and has made a grand attempt to step into the void. I’m not sure that this book fully settles the question, but it’s the best one I’ve gotten so far to get the discussion started.

Don’t skip his introduction as he makes it about what he’s trying to accomplish and the wide array of thinking that has to be sifted through to make sense of the subject of intimacy with God. The first half of the book comprising four chapters most scratched my itch. His defining intimacy with God forces us to think concretely about all the nebulous thoughts swirling around. Chapter 2 addresses the subject regarding philosophy and theology with some of that theology being the most helpful to me. Chapter 3 on linking the Fall of Man with intimacy with God was one of the best in the book and did clear up some real questions for me. The chapter on God as our Father tied in some important information as well and made sense of the role of fathers in our lives that is often written about today.

The chapter on interpreting biblical images of marriage and Christ perhaps got a little off track and in some cases, I felt split the hair too finely. Some of the pages on hermeneutics and how to interpret the Song of Solomon might have been better in another book too. There were additional chapters that addressed intimacy with the Holy Spirit and how suffering might be involved. A final chapter on songs of intimacy did not materially add to my understanding because I did not know every song discussed. I can see how that would have been a helpful exercise in his class, but I thought it was, perhaps, less effective in the book. Though he was cautious not to go the How-To route, a real theological discussion for how to apply the more pertinent things his book told us might have been in order.

Though I still say we need more, this book is an outstanding start. I appreciate what was shared here and the work that went into it. It’s nice to know that he read so across the spectrum to make sure he got a thorough idea of what’s believed in Christianity. It added something nice to when he discussed the theological directives of Scripture itself. I’ve scribbled several helpful notes from this fine book. Now I just need to figure out myself how to put it all in practice.

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.

Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson

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Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to read new works by Sinclair Ferguson that come along. I’ve been blessed immensely and have greatly expanded my doctrinal understanding of many points. I don’t always agree with him, but he can’t be dismissed carelessly as he thinks deeply before pen ever touches paper. As it turns out, this work on maturity or growing up and going on in the Christian life is a revised volume of the work he wrote in his earlier days. It’s not as overtly doctrinal as other works of his that I’ve read, but the doctrinal underpinnings are obvious throughout. As the title suggests, it has a devotional flavor and is really geared to propel us forward in our Christian lives.

The book is simply set up. There are five subjects of growing up, standing firm, facing difficulties, pressing on, and maturity that gets anywhere from 1 to 4 chapters each. Some sections were more valuable to me than others, but that probably has more to do with needs in my life rather than a wavering quality of writing.

His first chapter throws down the gauntlet for why maturity is so critically important to Christians. A few paragraphs in and Ferguson refuses to allow us to think that there’s some magic formula to rush the process of maturity. As he says, it takes time and patient progress. There are several hindrances, which he outlines carefully, but the Bible also presents a process that will lead to maturity – a process that we should cooperate with. Later, he’ll talk about the key of abiding in Christ and what he calls full assurance. He tackles what guidance is as well.

In the next section, just as you would expect if you’re familiar with Ferguson’s writings, he outlines the problem of sin. From there he’s going to talk about handling temptation and fighting the enemy. In one of the best sections of the book, he talks about coping with suffering. In the section called “pressing on”, he explained serving faithfully and running patiently. He concludes with one chapter on maturity itself.

The book is well written. He marshals much Scripture, disperses much doctrine, and gives practical, balanced help. There’s none of the cheesiness of so many current titles on the market today. If you want realistic help, a help that understands that sanctification is a lifelong affair as is the maturity that springs from it, then 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.

Vertical Marriage by Dave and Ann Wilson

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Since the Christian book market is inundated with marriage books, what makes this book on vertical marriage stand out? The chatter I heard recommended it and I wanted to see for myself. I noticed that Dennis and Barbara Rainey spoke highly of it and even wrote the Foreword, so that was in its favor. The title suggested that the book would help us tie our relationship back to God, so that was a plus. I wasn’t familiar with Dave and Ann Wilson, but since Dave was a pastor, I figured I would enjoy it even more. I’ve read a lot of these type books, and though this one covers much familiar territory by its end I felt it made a distinct contribution.

The funny thing is I didn’t like this book right away. We often say that books where the authors are transparent are the most helpful, yet I was about to believe I’d finally found the one that was too transparent. This book relates at least 20 of the most notorious arguments these authors ever had with each other during their marriage. They were gory! Once as I was reading, I said out loud: “Dave, you’re an idiot”. They discussed how they struggled and almost lost their marriage, and at one point I was wanting to divorce them! As the chapters rolled on, the value of this book for me came into focus. It finally hit me that if my arguments with my wife were recorded in such detail as these are, then listeners would quickly interject: “Jimmy, you’re an idiot”.  In some strange way, that really helped me. I could never write a book like this one where the authors were raw on steroids, but apparently the Wilson’s have the fortitude to be able to share and help in this special way. They didn’t write a theological treatise, but a practical conversation.

Another criticism that vanished by the last page was how little I felt the authors were explaining their premise of vertical marriage. What became clear earlier was that they were giving excellent insights into conflict resolution, the real difficulty of marriage between two sinners, and how to think like your spouse who is so different than you. I can hardly recall a marriage book that so forces you to get inside your spouse’s head. That’s how those ridiculous arguments given in the book ended up being of great value. As it turns out, they brought their premise of vertical marriage home to us in the last two chapters. It worked. They made their point. It was a point worth being forced to confront.

This is a great book, but you’d better buckle your seatbelt. I’ll definitely rate it as a marriage book worth getting from the glutted marriage book market. It stands out among the pack.

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.

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.