Friday, January 28, 2011

Video Review: BASIC.Follow Jesus by Francis Chan

This is the second review of Francis Chan's BASIC series. To read the first review of the series in general and the first video Fear God click here.

Have you ever been asked (or been the one to ask), "What does it really mean to be a Christian? To really follow Jesus? What is the church really supposed to look like and what should it be doing?"

Follow Jesus picks up where Fear God leaves off. While each of these visually stunning videos can stand alone, both the teaching and the visual "parable" flow seamlessly from one video to the next to show the natural progression of the Christian journey. As in the first video, Francis Chan neatly strips away all of the often confusing Christian-ese surrounding the ideas of church and following Jesus and paints a picture that he describes as both simple and difficult.

The BASIC series lends itself perfectly to the small group (both teen and adult) and addresses the fundamental building blocks for the Christian life and the Church. These videos are visually exquisite, intellectually stimulating and theologically solid.

Publisher's description for Follow Jesus: "What does Jesus mean when He tells us to follow Him? Are we supposed to just agree with what He says, or does He really mean we're supposed to do the things He did and live the life He lived? Once we understand how to follow Jesus, we see the hard life that might be in store for us, and then the real question becomes not how, but why we would want to follow Him in the first place."

You can watch the trailer for BASIC.Follow Jesus here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: A Place for Truth

Theological books aimed at the academic crowd are often written over the heads of the average reader (myself included). A Place for Truth, however, does not fall into that trap, aided by the fact that each chapter was first a speech and the content delivered verbally.

Originally presented for The Veritas Forum on Harvard campus, this book represents almost two decades of talks and lectures from some of Christianity's leading thinkers. Topics range from atheism to faith and science, from social justice to the Christian worldview, and they are addressed by such notables as Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Francis Collins and N.T. Wright. Tim Keller's chapter, "Reason for God: The Exclusivity of Truth", was a personal favorite despite the fact that I'd probably read every word before already in his book by the same name.

Overall, this book handles some weighty material in a much more accessible way than one might expect from the presenter's pulpit at Harvard. I, for one, would not be disappointed if The Veritas Forum and these subsequent printed volumes continued for decades to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Christian apologists, skeptics and those questioning whether the ideas of Christianity can stand up in the marketplace of ideas

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two great deals over at the Westminster Bookstore

Right now over at the Westminster Bookstore there are two books that are 45% off the cover price that I've been hearing a lot about:

The first is Michael Horton's systematic theology, The Christian Faith.

List Price: $49.99
Westminster Bookstore: $27.49 - 45% Off

Publisher's Description: The most important systematic theology since Louis Berkhof's 1932 magum opus. Interacting with movements within the Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, award-winning scholar Horton offers a brief synopsis of biblical passages that inform a particular doctrine; and surveys current and past works with contemporary emphasis on exegetical, philosophical, practical, and theological questions. Includes an extensive bibliography.

The Christian Faith is written for a growing cast of pilgrims making their way together and will be especially welcomed by professors, pastors, students, and armchair theologians. Its features include: (1) a brief synopsis of biblical passages that inform a particular doctrine; (2) surveys of past and current theologies with contemporary emphasis on exegetical, philosophical, practical, and theological questions; (3) substantial interaction with various Christian movements within the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, as well as the hermeneutical issues raised by postmodernity; and (4) charts, sidebars, questions for discussion, and an extensive bibliography, divided into different entry levels and topics.

The second is R.C. Sproul's Abortion.

List Price: $15.00
Westminster Bookstore: $8.25 - 45% Off

Publisher Description: In this book, Dr. R.C. Sproul employs his unique perspective as a highly experienced pastor-theologian and a trained philosopher to provide well-considered and compassionate answers to the difficult questions that attend termination of pregnancy. Dr. Sproul strives for a factual, well-reasoned approach informed by careful biblical scholarship. He considers both sides of this issue in terms of biblical teaching, civil law, and natural law. This edition includes a new foreword by Dr. George Grant and has been updated to reflect developments in the issue. Appendixes provide further background on the issue of when life begins and list sources for pro-life resources.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book giveaway: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

Rejoice, CiC readers! A miscommunication somewhere between myself and Crossway books means free stuff for you! I've received two review copies of The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders and the generous people over at Crossway would rather me give the extra copy to one of you than send it back.

And in keeping with such generosity, I will be giving you two chances to win:
Leave a comment to this post and you will be entered into the drawing once. Leave a comment to my review of The Deep Things of God that will be posted in the next couple weeks and you'll be entered again. (Of course, give me some way to contact you if you win. Anonymous comments with no contact info are useless!) Sometime after the review is posted, I'll take all the valid entries and draw one randomly.

That's it! So leave your comments, tell your friends, and if you don't win, out friends over at the Westminster bookstore have The Deep Things of God at the best price online: $11.81 (34% off the list price).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur

I have long respected John MacArthur for his passion for God's sovereignty, his devotion to biblical studies, and his love for the truth. His tenacity for the truth, however, became a repeated Achilles' heel in this book.

I agreed with many of MacArthur's premises in The Jesus You Can't Ignore in principle: Jesus did not shy away from conflict, in fact he seems to pursue it often with the religious leaders of his day. Jesus did not soft-pedal around his points of disagreement with them. Many Christians today are afraid to step on any toes in defense of the Gospel.

However, there was one distinction that I felt was not made clear enough often enough. Jesus did not handle all his conflicts in the same manner, he did not treat all his audiences with the same aggression. In fact, Jesus reserved his fiercest combativeness solely for the religious leaders of the Jews. Jesus held those who "were entrusted with the oracles of God" to a higher standard. Many others (the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Pilate, the disciples) had wrong beliefs that Jesus addressed in a manner far different from the manner he used with the Pharisees and their ilk. While the Gospel essentials were worth fighting for, both his audience and subject matter influenced the response that Jesus delivered.

The Jesus You Can't Ignore fails to make this distinction often enough and reads like a overly reactive response to the new postmodern, permissive, and passive Christian stereotype. MacArthur's battleground seems to revolve around "the truth" rather than the Gospel and fails to make some important distinctions (i.e. Gospel essentials vs. non-essentials, Christians vs. non-Christians, sincere but mistaken believers vs. malicious twisters of the Gospel). It would be a great mistake to tell Christians to handle each and every confrontation with the same aggression as Jesus did in his disagreements with the Pharisees.

Unfortunately, when we shift from contending for the Gospel to fighting for the truth, the battle lines we draw exclude everyone we disagree with and every disagreement becomes grounds for a fight. Everyone would be much better off taking the whole counsel of Jesus' example in addressing conflict both as bold and gentle, at times harsh and other times cordial.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of MacArthur

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Seven Ages of Christ

My sincerest apologies to Shakespeare for the abuse of his genius that is to follow.

Christmas is a great time of year - aside from Christian perspectives of the Incarnation, it seems to be a time when people make the effort to come together. In Britain it is also a unique time for Christianity to have what is an unrivalled public soapbox from which to proclaim the Gospel. However, I noticed this year that despite this potentially powerful position the messages were rather weak. It seems as if the concept of the nativity and the 'baby Jesus' is all that matters, diluting the Gospel into the importance of being nice and of people coming together. The sociological importance of this is clear and worthy of mention, but I think we miss out on the cosmological significance of exactly who and what Jesus is as Eternal Lord and Saviour.

Now it strikes me that there are roughly seven "ages" of Jesus within the Bible that somehow reveal qualities of Jesus, particularly within the context of the Trinity. Yes, the Christmas story is a great story, but it pales in comparison to the entire Biblical account of the man who left eternity to come into a fallen world. Yes, the incarnation is a part of this, but there are also significant events before and after His eathly ministry. What follows is an attempt of an aide memoire for the entire person of Jesus.

The Word: before the beginning of time Jesus was (John 1:1-4). He is eternally begotten of the Father and had shared in an eternal relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He was was seated at the right hand of the Father and enjoyed eternal relationships of holy love, yet He willingly left this so that this love could be shared with fallen man (Phil. 2:6-11).

The Incarnation: certainly it is infinitely humbling that Jesus would become a man - and not only a man but a baby. Defenseless, frail and dependent. The Word through whom everything was created now as one of the universe's fragilest states. There can be no greater dignifying act for humanity as the Incarnation.

The Man: Jesus grew and worked as a carpenter - imagine that! The Word working as a manual labourer. During His childhood and adolescence He was without sin and from an early age was focussed on His Father's work, astounding those that heard the wisdom of the Heavenly Child (Luke 2:41-51).

The Son of Man and the Suffering Servant: Jesus speaks freely of His upcoming destiny which would mean He would become the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53) en route to becoming the Son of Man who can approach the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13). Jesus was aware of His destiny and slowly revealed His true nature and path to the disciples. It would involve His own personal suffering, so that we may not know such pain.

The Transfiguration: here we begin to see Jesus in His true light - His physical appearance changes to that of God described in His throneroom (Isaiah 6:1-5; Dan. 7:9-10) The discples present there get a glimpse of the truly divine nature of Christ.

The death and resurrection of Jesus: the significance of Jesus' death can never be overstated. The cross was the purpose of His earthly life (John 17) and the resurrection was the seal of this work. With the resurrection Jesus was restored to the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33), where because of His work we may also find ourselves (Eph. 2:4-7).

The Judge: the role many of us would forget about Jesus - He will come again to judge the earth (Rom. 2:15-16.) This may seem unpalatable but it through Christ that creation will become fulfilled and united once more (Eph. 1:9-10). He after all is the only one worthy to judge creation.

Now this in no way represents the whole character and roles of Christ, but as miraculous as Christmas is we can forget the man the day remembers. We can never keep an entire Biblical account in our fallen minds, but we should at least try. It is our duty to remember who and what Christ is - that truly is good news to all men.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Readers of this blog will know that I have long been a fan of Andrew Peterson, sparked first by witnessing the incredible Behold the Lamb of God program, an event that both anchors the Christmas holiday in biblical history and transcends the season all at once. Needless to say it now anchors and transcends the season each year as well.

My wife and I attended again this year and Andrew opened the program reading the introduction from The Jesus Storybook Bible. I know this has made the blog rounds, but for any who haven't read it yet, I thought I would share it:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they're downright mean.

No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne-everything-to rescues the ones he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is-it's true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
Well, that put me over the edge and I had to see this book for myself. And it is everything that all the buzz has been making it out to be. The theology is relentlessly Gospel-centered, the writing is eminently readable, and the illustrations are delightful (I'm allowed to say that, I have a two-year old). I look forward to reading this Bible to my daughter for years to come (and reading it for myself in the meantime).

Sally Lloyd-Jones thanks Tim Keller in the acknowledgments and there is no disguising his fingerprint on this work (I mean that as a compliment in every way). My only concern is that the book will actually last long enough that my daughter can read it for herself.

The Westminster Bookstore is selling The Jesus Storybook Bible for the best price I could find online: 43% off the list price at $9.75. If you'd like to see more, there's a cool looking video about it on YouTube.

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review: Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

The title for this book, Church Planter, is in my opinion a very unfortunate one—and I mean that in the very best way possible. This is an excellent book that should be read by anyone in Christian ministry, and I fear that the title will prevent many people from considering picking up a book that should have a much broader audience than the name suggests.

The subtitle, however, gives us a perfect breakdown of the book: "The Man, the Message, the Mission". The first section, "The Man" is probably the portion with the smallest audience. Geared towards those who would fall into the category of biblical pastor/elder, these chapters work through the qualifications and characteristics that make for a faithful and godly church leader.

The last two of the three sections, "The Message" and "The Mission" break down in simple and accessible terms the ideas of the Gospel and the work of the Church. And it is in these sections that I feel the book hits a broader audience of every pastor, every elder, every Christian taking a serious role in the Great Commission (which should be all of us). The chapters addressing the sin-exposing, idol-shattering nature of the message and the contextualization and city transformation of the mission were particularly insightful and compelling.

Darrin Patrick has given the church an excellent all-in-one resource for bringing up teachers, pastors, elders, and leaders in the church that far outreaches the implied scope of the title.

The Westminster Bookstore has Church Planter at 33% off the list price ($10.71), the best price I've found.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: All church leaders and in-training, anyone with a passion for the Gospel

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway.