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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Book Reviews

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Picador Modern Classics. 256 pages. Rep Mti edition 2017

The new film Silence, from director Martin Scorsese is based on this 1966 novel of historical fiction written by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Scorsese, who writes the Foreword, had wanted to make a film of this book for many years. In the Foreword he writes about the problem of Judas, a theme that will come up throughout this book.
The novel is primarily written in the form of a journal and also in the third person by its central character, Father Sabastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese missionary. Father Rodrigues and his companion Father Francisco Garrpe arrive in Japan in 1639; the Christian church is underground to avoid persecution. Rodrigues has travelled to Japan to investigate reports that his former teacher and mentor, Christovao Ferreira, has committed apostasy.  The priest had not been heard from since 1633 when he was last seen in Nagasaki.
Their contact in Japan is a drunken man named Kichijiro. He denies when asked if he is a Christian. He is the Judas character in this book. He will show up again and again in the story.  Just when you think you can trust him, he will disappoint you, and then he shows up again. Can he be trusted? Or, will he betray the priests and turn them into the Japanese authorities? The Judas theme is key to this book. Father Rodrigues will often refer to Jesus’ words to Judas, “What thou must, do quickly” (John 13:27).
Father Rodrigues will also compare his situation with that of Jesus. The magistrate, Inoue, who is responsible for the interrogation and torture of all captured Christians, is the Pilate character in the book.
The book includes themes of faith, doubt, silence (of God, the sea, land, night and people), solitude, pain, betrayal, strength, weakness and martyrdom. Does God even exist? He has been silent in the midst of the persecution of the Japanese Christians.
The subject of apostasy is another key to this story. The Japanese not only want the peasant Japanese Christians to deny their faith by trampling on an image of Jesus (referred to as a fumi-e), no, they want priests themselves to commit apostasy. If they don’t, the peasant Christians will be tortured to death.
The book is well-written and very descriptive. You can feel the heat, rain, and the insects that Father Rodrigues encounters in “the swamp”, as Japan is referred to in the book. Tension builds as Father Rodrigues encounters his former teacher Father Ferreira.
SPOILER ALERT!  *** Ferreira has indeed apostatized, taken on a Japanese name, taken on another’s wife and children, and is writing a book to refute the teachings of Christ. He tells Rodrigues that he was to get him to apostatize. He goes on to tell Rodrigues why he had apostatized. ***
We go on to read about what happens to Rodrigues. Will he apostatize? Will he ever hear the voice of God, or will he remain silent?
As I read this book I wondered if I would be able to keep from denying Christ if my wife was being tortured. I pray that I would.

Gospel Hope for Anxious Hearts: Trading Fear and Worry for the Peace of God by Charles Spurgeon. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 170 pages. 2016. 

This is the second book I’ve read from the new Rich Theology Made Accessible series, the first one being on prayer by John Calvin.  The book includes ten wonderful sermons by the great Reformed Baptist Charles Spurgeon, preached from the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London where he served for 38 years. Among the topics covered in these sermons that will encourage believers are care, anxiety, peace, fear and rest. My only suggestion for improvement would be an Introduction to the book, giving the reader some context to these wonderful sermons – when they were preached, why these particular sermons were chosen, etc. I highly recommend this wonderful collection of sermons by Spurgeon, which are great for devotional reading.

  • What Does The Shack really teach? Lies We Believe About God Tells Us. Tim Challies reviews the new book by the author of The Shack. He writes “In Lies We Believe About God, we see Paul Young apart from the subjectivity of narrative. And as he proclaims what he denies and affirms, he outs himself as beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. This book is a credo for false teaching, for full-out heresy. I do not say this lightly, I do not say it gleefully, but I do say it confidently. Christian booksellers should be utterly ashamed to sell this book or any other by its author. Christians should not subject themselves to his teaching or promote his works, for he despises sound doctrine that leads to salvation and advocates false doctrine that will only ever lead away from God.” (my emphasis)
  • Scandalized by the Substitute: A Response to Young and Gungor. Owen Strachan responds to musician Michael Gungor who called the atonement “evil” and “horrific” on Twitter and Paul Young, author of The Shack, who calls God a “cosmic abuser”.
  • Amazing: If You Lay All 20 Million Copies of The Shack End-To-End Around The Equator, It’s Still Heresy. The Babylon Bee-Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire reports “The math genius also provided several other interesting tidbits about The Shack, such as the fact that if you stacked all copies of the bestseller on top of one another, it would still contain copious amounts of blatant and unbiblical statements about essential Christian doctrines like the nature of God, salvation, and the Trinity.”
  • Faith Alone. Tim Challies reviews R.C. Sproul’s book Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification. He writes “For as long as R.C. Sproul has been involved in public ministry, he has stood firm against theological error while battling boldly for doctrinal truth. In Faith Alone, he demonstrates the critical importance of affirming and protecting that great Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone. Always respectful toward others, he proceeds carefully, biblically, and with unrelenting force. This book remains as important and relevant today as when it was first published.”
  • Whom Do You Serve—the Dragon or the Lamb? Kevin Halloran reviews the new book The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. He writes “Though 2017 is barely underway, it’s safe to say The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb will be one of the year’s most important ministry books. Every ministry leader will benefit from this wake-up call for many who’ve embraced less-than-biblical attitudes toward power”.
  • No Little Women. Tim Challies reviews Aimee Byrd’s new book No Little Women. He writes “Byrd’s hope is that No Little Women “will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” I am confident it will help in both of those ways, and am glad to recommend it. Men, women, pastors, and laypersons will all benefit from reading and considering it.”
  • Do You Have an Inadequate Understanding of God? Watch this one minute video as John MacArthur explains that many of the problems that exist in the present day church begin with an inadequate understanding of God. In his new book, None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible, John MacArthur shows that the best way to discover the one true God is not through philosophical discourse but a careful study of Scripture—the primary place where God has chosen to reveal Himself.
  • Your Work Is a Cursed Blessing. Justin Dillehay reviews James M. Hamilton Jr’s new book Work and Our Labor in the Lord, which we are also reading through here. He writes “The book is full of solid exposition and pointed application. Hamilton’s passion for and ability to communicate the Bible’s big picture make Work and Our Labor in the Lord a pleasure to read. Not always easy—still work. But never toil.”
  • Book Briefs. Kevin DeYoung shares capsule reviews of some of the books that he has been reading this year.
  • An Intro to the Institutes. Derek Thomas writes “The opening sentence of John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion alone is worth a lifetime’s contemplation: ‘Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’”
  • Book Review: ‘The Productivity Project’. Erik Raymond reviews The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey. He writes “You may not agree with everything you read in this book but you will be challenged to evaluate your work in general and your time, energy and attention in particular.”
  • Unlimited Grace. Watch this 15-minute interview with Bryan Chapell as he talks about his new book Unlimited Grace, one of my top books of 2016. Read my review of the book.
  • Books of the Year – Sort ofWorld Magazine looks at the best books of the last nine months of 2016.
  • 20 Quotes from Sinclair Ferguson’s New Book on Sanctification. Justin Dillehay shares these quotes from Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson, which was my top book of 2016. Read my review here.
  • 3 Helpful Books on Productivity: Essentialism, Deep Work, and Reset. Andy Naselli writes “I recently read three helpful books on productivity. I still think the best overall book on productivity is Tim Challies’s Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. But these three books served me by reinforcing and supplementing Do More Better.”
  • Happily Ever After: Finding Grace in the Messes of Marriage. The thirty devotional readings (from John Piper, Francis Chan and many more), in Happily Ever After have been assembled to shape, challenge, and inspire your and your spouse’s (or fiancé’s) vision of marriage. Download the book for free.
  • Are You a Deep Worker or a Shallow Worker? David Murray reviews the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. He writes “Most worryingly, there’s evidence that this shift to shallow work cannot be easily reversed but rather produces a permanent reduction in the capacity to do deep work.”
  • Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. This new book by Eric Metaxas will be published October 3.
  • On My Shelf: Life and Books with David Murray. Ivan Mesa asked David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction, his favorite biographies, the role of reading, and more.
  • David Platt’s Guide to Navigating Unprecedented Social Change. With the re-release of Counter Culture, and in our context of tremendous racial and political turmoil, David Platt joins Collin Hansen on The Gospel Coalition podcast to discuss our era’s rapid pace of social change, churches that care as much about slavery as marriage, and the implications of our behavior for international missions.

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

Jesus 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?

This week we look at highlights from Epilogue: Living Outside the Lines

* When faced with Jesus’ claim that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” that no one comes to God the Father except through him, we have to choose. Do we believe him—or not? Will we accept him—or not?
* In the midst of your questions, doubts, and disappointments, are there any Christians in your life whose lives have shown you glimpses of something different, something more beautiful and lovely, even something admirable?
* To remain true to the purpose of this book, I will finish by stepping outside the lines a bit and share some advice with my fellow Christians. Interestingly, the advice comes from an essay called “Top 10 Tips for Christian Evangelism (From an Atheist).” The atheist writer’s name is Daniel Fincke, and his advice is written especially for Christians. Whether you agree with every piece of his advice or not, I hope that you find it helpful.

Studies 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 13 from Volume 2, “Increasing Faith”:

* His essential argument is that we, as Christians, are to be different from the Gentiles.
* The statement is that if I am guilty of being worried and anxious about these matters of food and drink and clothing, and about my life in this world, and certain things which I lack-if these dominate me and my life, then I am really living and behaving as a heathen.
* The heathen know nothing about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and know nothing about God’s way of salvation. They are entirely ignorant of the view of life which is taught in the Bible.
* The heathen who hold this pagan view of life generally view the things that happen to us in one of two main ways. There are those amongst them who believe that everything in this life is accidental. That view is sometimes known as the `theory of contingency’ which teaches that things happen without rhyme or reason, and that you never know what is going to happen next.
* The other view, commonly called `fatalism’, is the extreme opposite of that. It teaches that what is to be will be. It does not matter what you may do or say, it is going to happen. `What is to be will be.’
* The Christian view, on the other hand, the one taught in the Bible, and especially at this particular point in the Sermon on the Mount, is what can
be described as the doctrine of `certainty’. Life, it says, is not controlled by blind necessity, but certain things are certain because we are in the hands of the living God.
* What our Lord is saying is that, if you are living a life full of anxiety and worry, you are virtually spiritually dead and taking the pagan view of life.
* You can always tell what a man’s philosophy of life is by the way in which he lives and by the way he reacts to the things that are happening round about him. That is why a time of crisis always sifts people.
* That is what we are seeing all around us; that is the way in which the majority of people seem to be living today. They argue that, since you do not know what is going to happen next month or next year, the essence of wisdom is to say, `Well, let’s spend all we have; let’s get the maximum pleasure out of life now.’ Thus they are quite negligent of consequences and quite heedless about their eternal destiny.
* I suggest, therefore, that there are certain questions which we should always be putting to ourselves. Here are some of them. Do I face the things that happen to me in this world as the Gentiles do? When these things happen to me, when there seem to be difficulties about food, or drink, or clothing, or difficulties in some relationship in life, how do I face them? How do I react? Is my reaction just that of the heathen, and of people who do not pretend to be Christian? How do I react during a war? How do I react to illness and pestilence and loss? It is a very good question to ask.
* But let us go further. Does my Christian faith affect my view of life and control it in all matters? I claim to be Christian, and hold the Christian faith; the question I now ask myself is, Does that Christian faith of mine affect my whole detailed view of life? Is it always determining my reaction and my response to the particular things that happen? Or, we can put it like this. Is it clear and obvious to myself and to everybody else that my whole approach to life, my essential view of life in general and in particular, is altogether different from that of the non-Christian? It should be.
* Do I always place everything in my life, and everything that happens to me, in the context of my Christian faith, and then look at it in the light of that context? The heathen cannot do that.
* Nothing can happen to us apart from God. He knows all about us. If it is true to say that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, then we must remember that we are never in any position or situation outside God’s knowledge or care.  If we were but to grasp this, it would surely cause worry and strain and anxiety to be banished once and for ever.
* Once more we find our Lord repeating Himself. He says: You are concerned about these other things, and you are putting them first. But you must not. What you have to put first is the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
* In practice it means that, as children of our heavenly Father, we should be seeking to know Him better.
* We can paraphrase our Lord’s words thus: If you want to seek anything, if you want to be anxious about anything, be anxious about your spiritual condition, your nearness to God and your relationship to Him.  If you put that first, worry will go; that is the result.
* Put God, His glory and the coming of His kingdom, and your relationship to Him, your nearness to Him and your holiness in the central position, and you have the pledged word of God Himself through the lips of His Son, that all these other things, as they are necessary for your well-being in this life and world, shall be added unto you.

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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