Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Good Summer Reads

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good summer reads

If You Can Keep ItIf You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 272 pages. 2016

The author, one of my favorites, writes of the promise of liberty for the new nation as was laid out in the Constitution. He states that although the current situation in America is grave (more about that at the end of my review), much of the promise has already been fulfilled.

The book title comes from a quote from Benjamin Franklin. In response to a woman about what kind of nation the Founders had given the American people, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it”.  Metaxas asks if we can keep it and if so, how?

He writes that America was founded on the idea of liberty, and that America exists for others. Its mission is to the rest of the world.  Our exceptionalism is for others. He writes that the concept of self-government was a new idea.

Metaxas writes of the “Golden Triangle of Freedom”, a concept that Os Guinness (to whom the book is dedicated), developed in his book A Free People’s Suicide. This is the concept that Freedom requires Virtue; Virtue requires Faith; and Faith requires Freedom.

Metaxas writes that America’s Founders knew that communities that took their faith seriously tended to be virtuous in the way that self-government required.  Faith in turn requires freedom, because unless people are free to practice whatever faith they choose, that faith is coerced by the state, and therefore not real faith at all. He writes that unfortunately, as a nation, we have largely forgotten the ideas on which our country was founded upon.

He writes about what it means to be an American, and that most people wrongly understand the concept known as the separation of church and state, and also believe that it is in the Constitution, which it is not.

He writes about the role of British preacher/evangelist George Whitefield in forming America,  a fact that was new to me. He indicates that Whitefield showed that different denominations could co-exist in the new country. Whitefield taught that each person was equal in the sight of God, and that each person could have a direct relationship with God through the new birth. Metaxas writes that some call Whitefield the “Spiritual Father of the United States”.

Throughout the book Metaxas writes of heroes such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.  He states that in the past fifty years, we have moved to the veneration of heroes in America to the suspicion of them.

He writes about the importance of the character of a leader and the role that character plays in our leaders. He states that is important because leaders influence us. As a result, leaders should be held to a higher standard. He writes that you cannot have self-government without virtuous leaders.

He discusses the exceptionalism of America, an idea that has been under attack by some, indicating that it was the virtuous behavior of the people based on their faith in God that made America exceptional. He writes that America is about doing good to others. We exist for others. He cites Winthrop, Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan in saying that America is a city shining on a hill. Lincoln even went so far as to call America God’s “almost chosen people” and that the idea of America was a holy calling.  He sadly states that this is largely forgotten now.

He talks about what it means to love this country, an idea which has fallen on hard times in the years since the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. He states that when looking at America, you have to look at both sides, the good and the bad.

He writes of what he calls the “miracle” of the Constitution, telling us that those involved were at an impasse. Ben Franklin, of all people, exhorted them to pray and ask for God’s help. After they did, things seemed to move along, and many who were there said that it really did seem miraculous.

The author, who does an excellent job narrating the audiobook version of the book, loves his country, despite its faults. This is an inspiring book.  He writes that our current situation is grave and that we are a nation that has forgotten what it is at the core. But as much as he writes about the role of religious liberty being at the core of our nation, he doesn’t begin to address the many ways that liberty is being squelched in our country today.

Metaxas is an important voice in our culture today, in many ways coming to the forefront in his address at the sixtieth annual National Prayer Breakfast, which was turned into the book No Pressure, Mr. President! The Power Of True Belief In A Time Of Crisis: The National Prayer Breakfast Speech. I would have liked much more about our current state, building on what he writes here. I hope there is a follow-up book that addresses those issues and suggestions on how to get back to our core.

Paul McCartney The LifePaul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman. Little, Brown and Company. 864 pages. 2016

The author, who has previously written books on the Beatles and John Lennon, begins and ends this detailed look at the life of Paul McCartney with two meetings he had with him, nearly 50 years apart. Norman had been critical of McCartney in the past, turning down an opportunity to interview him, writing a mean piece about him on the release of “Mull of Kintyre” and stating that John Lennon was ¾ of the Beatles when promoting his book Shout. So Norman was surprised that when he decided to write a comprehensive biography of McCartney, that the former Beatle gave his tacit approval of the project and even said he would help to connect the author to key people.

Norman provides the reader a fair, but mostly positive look at the artist that he states has been underestimated by history. Many McCartney and Beatles fans will be familiar with the details of the Beatles years. Norman takes us from McCartney’s birthday 74 years ago, up to almost the present day, including the horrendous marriage and following divorce to Heather Mills and his current marriage to the former Nancy Shevell.

Paul was born in 1942. His mother died in 1956 of breast cancer at the age of 47. His father James would have to raise Paul and his brother Michael by himself.  Paul met John Lennon, who he would feel a life-long competition with, at a Quarryman gig at a church, where the real Eleanor Rigby was buried in the church cemetery.  Paul was later asked to join the band, with George added later. The band’s first single was Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” on the “A-side” and the only credited McCartney/Harrison composition “In Spite of All The Danger”, which McCartney is playing on his current “One on One” tour.  Ringo would later replace Pete Best on drums, as their name changed to the Silver Beatles and then the Beatles. Norman writes about the influence on them of Elvis, Skiffle music and Buddy Holly.

The importance of producer George Martin is hard to estimate. The first single he worked on was “Love Me Do” and Martin would continue to work with the Beatles and McCartney through the 2006 Love remix project.

Norman not only details McCartney’s musical life with the Beatles, Wings and solo, but also his personal life, including time with girlfriend Jane Asher, and wives Linda, Heather and Nancy. He doesn’t shy away from his use of drugs, including his bust in Japan in 1980 that resulted in the cancellation of a tour that he was planning there.

He touches on a few of his and the Beatles failures, notably the Magical Mystery Tour and Give My Regards to Broad Street films, and is honest about the critical reaction to his post-Beatles music, which has at times been inconsistent.

He spends a good deal of time documenting the end of the Beatles, both as a band and a business.  He writes that Paul was furious with what producer Phil Spector did to his songs “Let it Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book which will be appreciated by McCartney and Beatles fans. The audiobook edition was well-read by Jonathan Keeble.

Book News

  • Good Good Father BookGood Good Father. Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett have written a children’s book that will be published October 4.
  • If You Can Keep It. Watch this special Socrates in the City event with host Eric Metaxas as he discusses the key themes of his new book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.
  • Is American Liberty Over? Kathryn Jean Lopez of The National Review interviews Eric Metaxas about his new book If You Can Keep It.
  • The Bestsellers: The Jesus Storybook Bible. Tim Challies continues this series by looking at Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible. He writes “We gladly commend it to families with young children and have purchased the curriculum for use in some of our children’s programs at Grace Fellowship Church. It remains one of my top picks in its genre.”
  • Christianaudio Free Book for July. Christianaudio’s FREE audiobook for July is a good one – The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler. Here is a description “In a culture where the foundations of attraction, love, marriage, and sex are rapidly eroding, Matt Chandler offers an eternal, counter-intuitive perspective from the biblical book of Song of Solomon. Scripture says we’re to nurture our hearts above all else — yet we are inundated with songs, movies, and advice that contradict and cheapen God’s design for love and intimacy. In The Mingling of Souls, he reveals the process Solomon himself followed — Attraction, Courtship, Marriage…even Arguing.”
  • BefriendBefriend Looking forward to Scott Sauls’ new book Befriend, to be published October 4. My wife and I are currently reading and discussing his Jesus Outside the Lines.
  • 15 Books That Have Formed Me as a Christian. David Qaoud shares 15 books, other than the Bible, that have formed him the most as a Christian.
  • Jerry Bridge’s Seven Standout Spiritual Lessons. Tim Challies shares seven big lessons Jerry Bridges learned over the course of his sixty-plus years of being a Christian from his book God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence. 
  • 10 Possible Signs of Book Idolatry. How many of these signs suggested by our friend Kevin Halloran are you guilty of?
  • Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. David Murray shares about his upcoming (March 2017) book Reset, a book for men that has grown out of his counseling ministry to Christian men, and especially pastors, who have been suffering at various points on the spectrum of Stress > Anxiety > Burnout > Depression.
  • Summer Reading: For Every New Book, Read Two Old Ones. A few Southern Seminary few faculty members recommend one new book and two old ones in the same category for summer reading.

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Jesus Outside the LinesJesus Outside the Lines BOOK CLUB

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls

This is a book I’ve been wanting – and not wanting – to read for a while. I’ve wanted to read it because I enjoy Scott Sauls’ blog posts and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the book. He’s a pastor in the same denomination I serve in, he served with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, graduated from Covenant Seminary and is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. What’s not to like about the guy? I’ve not wanted to read the book because I think it’s going to challenge me to get out of my comfortable box. How about reading along with Tammy and I? We start this week with the some highlights from the Introduction to the book:

  • I decided to write this book because I am tired. Tired of taking sides, that is.
  • [It is] outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us off on righteous indignation.[1] The commitment to feeling 1) right and 2) wronged is a fairly common phenomenon.
  • Tim Keller writes, “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”
  • When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world. Having received such grace, Christians have a compelling reason to be remarkably gracious, inviting, and endearing toward others, including and especially those who disagree with us.
  • Are we known by what we are for instead of what we are against?
  • The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.
  • Christians from differing perspectives can learn and mature as they listen humbly and carefully to one another.
  • As St. Augustine reputedly said, “In nonessentials, liberty.” To this we might add, “In nonessentials, open-minded receptivity.”
  • We Christians must allow ourselves to be shaped by other believers. The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.
  • Is it possible for those who believe and those who do not believe in Jesus to disagree with each other on sensitive subjects and still maintain meaningful and even loving friendships with one another?
  • As a follower of Jesus, I believe it is not only possible but that it is an essential part of Christian life.
  • Disagreeing about sensitive subjects can reveal pain, sorrow, and complexity. It is with this truth in mind that Christians must navigate the complex and often paradoxical waters of conviction and love.
  • Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? Jesus tells us the answer is yes. And he shows us the answer is yes.
  • What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love?

Next time we’ll look at Chapter One of the book. Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.

This week we look at Chapter Two in Volume Two, “How to Pray”

  • The whole point of the teaching here is our Lord’s devastating exposure of the terrible effects of sin upon the human soul, and especially sin in the form of self and of pride.
  • The essence of the biblical teaching on sin is that it is essentially a disposition. It is a state of heart. I suppose we can sum it up by saying that sin is ultimately self-worship and self-adulation; and our Lord shows (what to me is an alarming and terrifying thing) that this tendency on our part to self-adulation is something that follows us even into the very presence of God.
  • This is our Lord’s instruction to Christian people, not to the non-Christian. It is His warning to those who have been born again; even they have to be careful lest in their prayers and devotions they become guilty of this hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
  • The trouble with the false way is that its very approach is wrong. Its essential fault is that it is concentrating on itself. It is the concentrating of attention on the one who is praying rather than on the One to whom the prayer is offered.
  • There are two main errors underlying this whole approach to God in prayer. The first is that my interest, if I am like the Pharisee, is in myself as the one who is praying. The second is that I feel that the efficacy of my prayer depends upon my much praying or upon my particular manner of prayer.
  • Another form which this takes is the terrible sin of praying in public in a manner which suggests a desire to have an effect upon the people present rather than to approach God with reverence and godly fear.
  • Public prayer should be such that the people who are praying silently and the one who is uttering the words should be no longer conscious of each other, but should be carried on the wings of prayer into the very presence of God.
  • The second trouble in connection with this wrong approach arises when we tend to concentrate on the form of our prayers, or on the amount or length of time spent in prayer.
  • The one thing that is important when we pray anywhere is that we must realize we are approaching God. That is the one thing that matters.
  • First of all there is the process of exclusion. To make sure that I realize I am approaching God I have to exclude certain things. I have to enter into that closet.
  • The principle is that there are certain things which we have to shut out whether we are praying in public or whether we are praying in secret. Here are some of them. You shut out and forget other people. Then you shut out and forget yourself. That is what is meant by entering into thy closet.
  • The next step is realization. We must realize that we are in the presence of God. It means realization of something of who God is and what God is. But above all, our Lord insists that we should realize that, in addition to that, He is our Father.
  • Finally we must have confidence. We must come with the simple confidence of a child. We need a child-like faith.
  • I must get rid of this thought that God is standing between me and my desires and that which is best for me. I must see God as my Father who has purchased my ultimate good in Christ, and is waiting to bless me with His own fullness in Christ Jesus.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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