Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Book Reviews

Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened by Clinton Heylin. Lesser Gods. 320 pages. 2017

The author writes that this book is very much about Dylan’s own response to both his newfound religious beliefs and the reaction it engendered by a cynical media. It serves as an excellent companion to Dylan’s recently released eight-disc edition of Trouble No More: The Gospel Years (The Bootleg Series Vol. 13). I enjoyed listening to the 102 songs on the box set as I read this book.
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. Dylan would follow that album with the poorly recorded Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two of the Midwest shows on his 1981 tour.
The author provides a detailed look at this fascinating period, detailing these three recordings, and the various other songs that Dylan wrote and recorded, many of which have just now been released. He also provides a very interesting look at Dylan in concert, from the early shows in which he only performed his new Christian songs and none of his older songs.
So, what really happened? The author states that Dylan, through the ministry of the Vineyard, accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. He then attended an intense three-and-a-half-month course studying about the life of Jesus and principles of the faith. Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth seems to have been a significant influential part of Dylan’s discipleship. This was a particularly prolific time of songwriting for Dylan.
The author tells us that the reaction from the fans and critics on the first night in San Francisco when he played only his Christian songs, would set the tone for six months of shows and define the likely critical reception when Slow Train Coming’s follow-up album, Saved, was released the following June. For that album, for the first time in his career, Dylan planned to go straight from the road to the studio. Although the album had some very good songs on it, the official release was poorly recorded, with little of the passion the songs had in concert. It was also a critical and commercial failure, and included cover art that Dylan’s label wasn’t happy with. The cover art was later replaced.
During this time, Dylan would often offer mini-sermons, or “raps” as the author refers to them. Many of them had to do with the end times.  Later, Dylan would begin to do some of his older songs. It is not described why he made the change to begin including his older songs.
The author spends a good deal of time on the recording of the Shot of Love album. Again, Dylan had several good songs, but the officially released album was a disappointment, not including “Caribbean Wind”, a song he had spent a lot of time on. The author calls the album an “atrocity”, and indicates that Dylan would often show up three hours late to the recording studio, keeping everyone waiting.  On both Saved and Shot of Love, Dylan would frustrate his producers with the way he approached recording an album.  Dylan’s “Gospel Period” would end with a concert in November 1981, with him indicating that he had no plans to tour again until 1984.
The book contains a helpful appendix that details a chronology of concerts and recordings, and one that contains some alternate “raps” (mini sermons) delivered in concert.
Dylan fans who would like to know more about his Gospel period, and those who buy the new Bootleg Series project will enjoy this book.

A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society by Stephen J. Nichols. Reformation Trust Publishing. 164 pages. 2017

I have to admit, it’s easy to get discouraged these days when we see where our culture is going on issues such as marriage, gender and life (abortion). Stephen Nichols writes that we need vision in this time of change. The pressure is on dissenters from the culture shift. The author states that in this time of tolerance and pluralism, when the Bible is seen as irrelevant compared with cultural trends, it is not a time for Christians to cower, cave or capitulate.
Nichols writes that today truth is seen as elastic. You share your own reality. Truth about marriage, gender and life is whatever you shape it to be.  How are Christians to respond in such times? Our confidence must be in God.
The author states that the emphasis of the book can be found in Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, based on Psalm 46.  God saves us, helps us and keeps us. Our strength and confidence is in God, not us.  God delights to demonstrate His power in the lives of His people.  We miss out when we fail to put our confidence in God.
Throughout the book the author helpfully uses Scripture (Isaiah, Genesis, etc.) to illustrate his points, as well as writings from church history, including Calvin, Luther and Edwards.  He asks the reader ‘in our current culture, will our authority continue to be in the Word in God?’ There certainly is an assault on the authority of the Bible today.
He tells us that we must reaffirm, not rethink, the Bible.  We must take a stand.  We can stand firm in Christ and the Gospel.  Our time is not a time for retreat, but advance.  Being “in Christ” is our identity. We share in his sufferings; Our weakness is made perfect. In Christ, we can be confident.  He writes that as King, Christ reigns and rules over all things. This is our basis for confidence.
We can also be confident in the Gospel. Do we believe in the power of the Gospel? Paul and Peter did. The Gospel will succeed over all odds and opposition.
Nichols writes that we are children of God. We are adopted. We have confidence in who we are and who we will be. We can endure hardships because we know the end of the story. Now is a time for conviction and a time for confidence.
I was encouraged in reading this small book. Even in a culture that increasingly is at odds with Christianity, we can be confident in the Bible, in Christ and in the Gospel.

  • Tim Keller Wants to Help You Become Wise. Matt Smethurst writes “In their new devotional, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs, Keller and his wife, Kathy, guide us thematically through the Book of Proverbs over 365 days. (This is a follow-up to their daily devotional on Psalms.) With biblical reflections and sample prayers on every page, this is an illuminating and edifying resource. I asked Keller about preaching Christ from Proverbs, interpreting “contradictory” verses, becoming a Proverbs 31 man, and more.”
  • Free R.C. Sproul E-Books. Reformation Trust Publishing recently released three new free e-books in R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series. Get them now.
  • Book Review: Seven Leaders, by Iain Murray. Max Benfer writes “But in the end, this is a book about men of conviction not men of convenience. It’s a book about men whose main desire was to remain faithful to God—men who fought theological battles, wore holes in their knees from praying, encountered bitter disappointment and grief, and yet are remembered because, in the end, they knew that the churches they shepherded were Christ’s, not theirs.”

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

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. 224 pages. 2017

In this important new book, Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, draws on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, and shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. He takes readers beyond the typical questions of what, where, and when and instead challenges them to answer provocative questions like, Who do we want to be as a family? and How does our use of a particular technology move us closer or farther away from that goal? Anyone who has felt their family relationships suffer or their time slip away amid technology’s distractions will find in this book a path forward to reclaiming their real life in a world of devices.   Here’s clippings from Chapter 6 – The Good News about Boredom

  • Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition. The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been.
  • The ones who used to be able to see this ordinary abundance in all its glory, in all its full capacity to delight and transfix our attention, were children.
  • There is one result of our technology: we become people who desperately need entertainment and distraction because we have lost the world of meadows and meteors.
  • We will stay indoors some days and evenings, yes, and enjoy the best art and entertainment that our astonishingly creative fellow human beings have created—but by enjoying the best, on purpose, rarely and together, we’ll become the kind of people who can also find the best in anything, wherever we are, even alone. We’ll become the kind of people who can never be bored.

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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