Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond. Reformation Trust. 138 pages. 2011

****

While in Edinburgh, Scotland recently, we visited St. Giles Cathedral, and parking space 23, which marks the spot of John Knox’s grave. I was sickened to see a tour guide defaming Knox, dancing on his grave and encouraging his tour group to do the same. He called Knox an anti-Semite and misogynist. What could cause such behavior about someone I consider a hero?
In this book from the Long Line of Godly Men series, Douglas Bond writes that critics have found much in Knox to attack. Like the prophets of old, Knox was hated and feared by some, and honored and respected by others. He was not unaware that even in his own day that he was perceived as a thunderbolt, uncharitable and severe. In addition, Bond tells us that it is fair to say that much of the enduring hostility toward Knox is rooted in his doctrine of predestination. The English Parliament condemned Knox’s books to public burning 140 years after his death, and for the most part, Scotland has resented the life and ministry of Knox.
But Bond tells us that Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian, especially the one who feels his own weakness, but who nevertheless wants to serve Christ in a troubled world. Christ was at the center of every dimension of his life. It is this, and this alone, that made Knox mighty in his weakness.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and reviews of ~
~ Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson
~ God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies by Costi Hinn
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
I’M CURRENTLY READING….

The author gives us an overview of his Knox’s amazing life and legacy in the first chapter, and then in following chapters investigates how he was transformed from weakness to strength in various dimensions of his character and ministry. He writes that Knox’s life teaches that the most-timid saint becomes a formidable giant when strengthened by the almighty power of God in Christ alone.
Knox’s life story is one of being sentenced as a galley slave for nineteen months, suffering physically, being mentored by John Calvin, contributing to the translation and study notes of the Geneva Bible, clashing with Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”), leading the Reformation in Scotland and witnessing extraordinary revival spread throughout Scotland in the summer of 1559, leading a  committee of five to complete the Scots Confession in four days, serving as minister at St. Giles in Edinburgh, and writing two Books of Discipline.
The author tells us that prayer was the engine that advanced Reformation in Scotland, and Knox was the foremost prayer warrior in the realm. As minister of St. Giles Edinburgh, he preached sermons three or four times a week, each of which lasted up to three hours. Christ was the unrivaled center of Knox’s message, and the Bible alone was his source for that message. Although manuscripts of Knox’s sermons are limited, the recurring theme of the final triumph of Christ Jesus and the gospel in Scotland is plainly evident. He would rail against tyrants—political or ecclesiastical—who set themselves against the Most High, and he would tenderly call lost sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.
Knox found time to write a great deal—everything from encouraging letters to theological treatises. In his writing, like his preaching, Knox wanted Jesus to be made manifest. His writings display passion, tenderness, and theological clarity.
Knox reserved his thunder for the influential elite. For the commoner, however, Knox had nothing but compassion and patience. He sought to encourage and help all who were needy, but he seems to have had a special compulsion to help women, pastors, and lay leaders in the church.
The book includes two appendices:
Appendix A: Time Line of John Knox and the Reformation
Appendix B: The Scots Confession of Faith
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox is a helpful introduction to the life and ministry of the great Scottish Reformer.

Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 248 pages. 2019
****

Sinclair Ferguson is probably my favorite living theologian. His latest book, one of the best I’ve read this year, is a significantly revised edition of his first book, published in the UK in 1980 as Add to Your Faith, and in the U.S. as Taking the Christian Life Seriously in the U.S. in 1981. The book would be appropriate for believers in any stage of their Christian walk.
The author tells us that the writers of the New Testament had a deep concern to see Christians grow to spiritual maturity. Mature Christians possess the qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, because he alone has exhibited them perfectly. We must go on to maturity, because Jesus went on to maturity.
The author spends a lot of time in Hebrews, which he calls “the letter about maturity”. In that book, Jesus’ experience is seen as the foundation for our going on to maturity. In addition to the teaching of Hebrews, the author tells us that we should not be surprised that there are frequent references to the importance of spiritual maturity in Paul’s letters. The author tells us that If maturity was the great goal of the apostles’ ministry, then it ought to be a goal in our own lives too, and the deep desire of our hearts. He also looks at Psalm 119, which he refers to as “the psalm of maturity”, Psalm 131 and also Ephesians 6.
Subjects that the author touches on are hindrances to maturity, indwelling sin, spiritual discernment, the Father’s pruning, abiding in Christ and living in union with Him, God’s guidance, assurance of salvation, suffering, tests, trials and temptations, opposition and perseverance.
Throughout the book the author refers to many heroes of the faith such as John Bunyan, J.C. Ryle, Anselm, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, John Owen, Robert Murray M‘Cheyne, and many more.
The author tells us that there is no easy way to maturity, no shortcuts. The path to maturity is: Lay aside your own ambitions. Lay aside your own wisdom. Lay aside your own self-assurance. Make the Lord your ambition. Make the Lord himself your hope and your only wisdom.

I highlighted a number of passages in this excellent book. Here are 20 of my favorite quotes:

  1. Ability to focus our gaze, fill our minds, and devote our hearts to Jesus Christ is a basic element in real Christian growth. Inability to do so is a sign of immaturity.
  2. Secret failure cannot remain hidden. If we do not deal with our indwelling sin, it will eventually catch up with us.
  3. Grace, not man-made rules and regulations, produces spiritual maturity.
  4. Growing in spiritual discernment is an essential element in spiritual maturity.
  5. The Father’s pruning includes his providences and interventions in our lives, which are designed to produce in us mature and well-rounded Christian character.
  6. In a sense our Lord bore more fruit through his dying than through his teaching, and through going to the cross than through his coming to the manger.
  7. Abiding in Christ, living in union with him, drawing all our spiritual resources from him, involves allowing his word to ‘abide’ in us, that is to fill our minds and affections and dominate our lives.
  8. Feeding our minds with the word of Christ is essential if our hearts are to be filled with the joy of Christ.
  9. Applying the precepts and principles of Scripture with the Spirit’s help leads to a life of obedience and ultimately to Christlikeness.
  10. God has made it possible for his children to enjoy assurance. More than that, as a loving Father he wants us to be sure of his love for us.
  11. Faith alone justifies, through Christ alone. It is Christ alone who saves through faith. Assurance is our enjoyment of that justification and salvation.
  12. If God has given his Son for our salvation, we can be sure he will withhold nothing from us that is for our good.
  13. For rather than destroy the purposes of God, afflictions in our lives form an important part of those purposes. Ultimately, they serve to build rather than demolish the believer’s assurance of salvation.
  14. Assurance of salvation is assurance of Jesus. He becomes everything to us.
  15. Knowing that the Lord will lead and guide us is one of the great stabilizing blessings of the Christian life.
  16. Wanting God’s guidance means seeking his will and not my own.
  17. God’s guidance in our lives today is related to his long-term ongoing work of transforming us. It is shaped to our growth in grace. His goal in the specific guidance we seek is secondary to the life-transformation he is determined to pursue.
  18. The way God’s sovereign will unfolds for us is through our knowledge of, and submission to, his revealed will.
  19. Sin is the internal enemy of spiritual growth.
  20. For the more we see our sin the more wonderful the grace of Christ will seem to be.

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies by Costi Hinn. Zondervan. 224 pages. 2019
****

I first became aware of the author when I saw him in the excellent 2019 film American Gospel: Christ Alone. See my review of that film here. This important new book is partly autobiographical and partly a critique of what has become known as the prosperity gospel, sometimes known as the health and wealth gospel. The author is qualified to write on the prosperity gospel as he was part of it, serving in his uncle Benny Hinn’s ministry. He shares intimate details about the life he was saved from so that the reader can be saved as well or help save others, knowing of course that only the true gospel has the power to save.
He tells us that the prosperity gospel is damning and abusive. It exploits the poor and ruins the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The book is about the true gospel, and no matter the cost, the true gospel is always more important than people pleasing. He challenges the reader to see for themselves whether the prosperity gospel is a gift from God that can make us all rich, or whether it is a weapon for greed mongers and charlatans.
He writes of being born into a Greek Orthodox family, and then his uncle Benny being converted to an extreme version of westernized Christianity. A critical point for Benny was going to Pittsburgh in 1973 with a friend to hear faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman. Over the next year, Benny felt God’s presence visiting with him in his room, preparing him for his special ministry. By 1983, Benny had founded the Orlando Christian Center, and three of his brothers joined him in pursuing church vocations. He built the church by pairing Bible teaching (with his special views added) with a healing ministry (using Kathryn Kuhlman’s methods). The ministry grew quickly, and thousands filled the seats of the church in Orlando. The brother who worked with Benny the longest throughout the years and revered him the most was the author’s father, which is how Costi got so close to the center of the action. His father would follow closely in Benny’s footsteps, taking the same ministry model and planting a church in Vancouver. He writes that crowds came and money poured in, and the family began “living the dream”. Signs, wonders, miracles, and prosperity preaching gave them a life his father only dreamed about as a kid. His father would often tell the family that they were the most special family in the Christian world and they should be proud that their uncle was the most anointed man of God of their day and age. By 1999, Benny Hinn was the most famous and controversial prosperity preacher and faith healer in the world.
Costi’s job in his uncle’s ministry was to be one of his uncle’s personal assistants when they traveled, and to be a “catcher” during the healing services. As a catcher, he stood on the stage with his father or uncle, and when people “fell under their power” (or what many Christians call being slain in the Spirit), he caught them. In less than just two years of working within the movement (not including growing up in it), he enjoyed more luxury than he ever could have imagined. All of it was paid for by donations from desperate people who believed that giving a prosperity preacher their money would result in their living this lifestyle too. He writes of frequenting bars and nightclubs on trips, spending thousands of dollars and enjoying their own version of prosperity living, often times just hours after working in a healing service and putting on a gospel show.
His family would move from Canada to California, keeping their nearly ten-thousand-square-foot mansion in Canada (valued at just over $3 million), and adding a $2 million ocean-view home in California. He writes that with each purchase and lifestyle addition, the demand for funding increased.
The author writes that it had been prophesied over him since he was a young boy that he would carry on the family legacy of faith and propel the family name to greater heights. Over a period of time and through God’s providence, he would begin to see what appeared to be shortcomings of the prosperity gospel, and he began questioning it. He read the book The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, which stated that Hinn was a false prophet and a heretic. He writes that questions swirled in his mind over the course of several years, and eventually the answers came in the most unlikely ways. He writes of going to Dallas Baptist University to play baseball. There, he began to hear the true gospel and the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. He states that the prosperity gospel takes the sovereignty of God and tosses it aside, claiming that we can control the God of the universe.
He writes about dating Christyne, who would eventually become his wife. He was told that if he married her, an “outsider”, because she didn’t speak in tongues, he would lose the anointing on his life.
His theology was shaken when his mother got a brain tumor and no amount of prayer or faith could heal her. He writes that the experience put a serious hole in the prosperity gospel foundation he had come to depend on in the face of adversity. His mother’s tumor became another layer on the mountain of evidence building against the prosperity gospel.
He would eventually leave the prosperity gospel and accept a part-time youth pastor job. He writes that God would strip everything away his and his wife’s hearts in ways they had never imagined. He went from living in nearly ten thousand square feet to living in six hundred square feet. But he finally had peace and could sleep at night.
In preparing for a sermon, using a commentary from John MacArthur, he writes that the gospel suddenly made sense to him. He saw that his life existed for the glory of God, not for his own glory. God’s highest purpose was not to make him happy, healthy, and wealthy; it was to give God glory. He repented of his sins, false teachings, and life of hypocrisy. He confessed to God that he had twisted his gospel for greedy gain, and he asked him to forgive him and give him a fresh start.
As his theological understanding changed, so did his heroes in the faith. He turned to the Bible and studied the trustworthy leaders who stood tall in the New Testament. He writes that it became painfully clear that the Hinn style of ministry was nothing like the real gospel ministry described in Scripture. He also began to read and be influenced by good teachers such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Martin Luther and many others. He then enrolled in seminary. He found that everything that biblical history, church history, and modern-day faithful preachers described about false teachers and greedy church abusers fit the profile of the Hinn style of ministry.
He writes that the modern-day momentum of the prosperity gospel began in the 1950s, and that Oral Roberts was, in many ways, the lead prosperity gospel pioneer of the modern era. He adamantly taught and defended his belief that Jesus’ highest wish is for us to prosper materially and have physical health equal to his peace and power in our souls. One of Benny Hinn’s heroes was Oral Roberts.  Throughout the book the author refers to many current prosperity gospel preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar. Today, the prosperity gospel has exploded to become one of the most popular teachings in the world. It has overtaken continents like Africa and South America and is even changing the landscape of Latin America and the world’s most Catholic country—Brazil.
The author tells us that for now, the prosperity gospel is here to stay and is spanning the globe, doing damage to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is an evil that poses as blessing but is truly a curse. It appears to be a loving extension of God’s goodness but is arguably the most hateful and abusive kind of false teaching plaguing the church today. He writes that every church, every pastor, and every Christian should stand against it. He writes that we have to relentlessly call the prosperity gospel what it is: evil. We also have to maintain biblical balance in our understanding of health and wealth.
He shares a list of ten suggestions you can use when navigating this subject with friends and family. Each item on the list contrasts some biblical truths with prosperity gospel deception. As the book ends, the author challenges the reader by asking what we will do about what we have learned in the book?
The book includes two helpful appendices – “Frequently Asked Questions”, the questions most people ask after the they hear the author’s story and “Recommended Reading”, resources that have helped the author find answers to the questions and the confusion brought about by his former false beliefs.
The author plans to use proceeds from this book to fund theological education and resources for pastors and leaders who have been exploited by the prosperity gospel.

Here are 15 quotes from the book that I found helpful:

  1. In the prosperity gospel world, it is perfectly normal to mix ministry with business and use ministry money to fund business ventures.
  2. The prosperity gospel certainly denies the sovereignty of God to the extent that it demeans God to the position of a puppet and elevates man to the position of a puppet master who makes confessional demands by faith. It does this by considering faith as a force and God as the one who must respond to our faith. This is a heretical twisting of true faith.
  3. All roads that the prosperity gospel paves lead to hell.
  4. Prosperity theology teaches that it’s always God’s will to heal everybody, and that if they are sick, it’s their own fault because they don’t have enough faith or haven’t given a special offering to get healed.
  5. The prosperity gospel appeals to the deep longing of every human heart for peace, health, wealth, and happiness.
  6. The prosperity gospel uses Jesus Christ as a pawn in its get-rich-quick scam.
  7. Whether by passive silence or active participation, we allow false gospels to get a footing. We need to take responsibility together, whether we believe we should or not, to eradicate evils like the prosperity gospel.
  8. One of the reasons that people are blind to the dangers of the prosperity gospel is they are blissfully unaware of just how anti-Christian it is.
  9. The prosperity gospel distorts the biblical gospel by making the Good News all about you and all about stuff.
  10. The prosperity gospel promises people the abundant life that Jesus offers only to deliver a gospel with no Jesus at all.
  11. The prosperity gospel is obsessed with money and material gain. To argue that is to argue that gravity does not exist.
  12. It is no stretch to say that there are millions of false converts in the world today who think they are saved, but they are being deceived. That’s why our mission is so vital.
  13. Prosperity gospel preaching must be outlawed across evangelicalism, and those who preach it and partner with it should be avoided.
  14. Christian joy is not dependent on circumstances.
  15. Contentment, not riches, should be the goal of every believer.

  • My book reviews on Goodreads. Check out more than 250 of my book reviews that have been posted on Goodreads.
  • Book Briefs. Kevin DeYoung shares a few thoughts about books he has been reading the past few months.
  • How David Brooks Meandered Toward God. Gordon T. Smith reviews the new book by David Brooks. He writes “The Second Mountain remains a splendid spiritual autobiography worthy of wide attention. In it, we see a profound depiction of the grace that seeks out those who might be seeking God.”
  • Amazon Bans Books on Conversion Therapy. Denny Burk writes “What Amazon has done is really chilling. They have now set the precedent for banning Christian teaching about sexuality from the books that they sell on their platform.”
  • ‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work. Jeff Haanen reviews The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America by Oren Cass. He writes “Christians should join in Cass’s call to restore the dignity of work in America, rounding out his policy argument with the rich resources of our own tradition. We should also recommit to studying which of our favorite policies—on both ends of the political spectrum—actually do more harm than good.”

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

The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur

We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”?  MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer.  For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges.  The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?

This week we look at the Introduction. Below are a few of my takeaways from this section:

  • Nothing matters more than what Scripture says about the good news of salvation.
  • This book grew out of seven years of study in the Gospels. As I immersed myself in the gospel Jesus taught, I became acutely aware that most of modern evangelism — both witnessing and preaching — falls far short of presenting the biblical evangel in a balanced and biblical way.
  • The more I examined Jesus’ public ministry and His dealings with inquirers, the more apprehensive I became about the methods and content of contemporary evangelism. On a disturbing number of fronts, the message being proclaimed today is not the gospel according to Jesus.
  • The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them that they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God. Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord.
  • This new gospel has spawned a generation of professing Christians whose behavior is indistinguishable from the rebellion of the unregenerate.
  • The church’s witness to the world has been sacrificed on the altar of cheap grace. Shocking forms of open immorality have become commonplace among professing Christians.
  • Enthusiastic converts to this new gospel believe their behavior has no relationship to their spiritual status — even if they continue wantonly in the grossest kinds of sin and expressions of human depravity.
  • What is needed is a complete reexamination of the gospel. We must go back to the basis for all New Testament teaching about salvation — the gospel proclaimed by Jesus.
  • The doctrine of salvation is basic to all we teach. We cannot confidently point people to the way of life unless we get the gospel right.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 39 years and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Before retiring I served as a manager at a Fortune 50 company; I'm a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and in leadership at my local church. I enjoy speaking about calling, vocation and work. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinders themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever, and my two StandOut strengths roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book and 2 Corinthians 5:21 my favorite verse. Some of my other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Prodigal Son (originally titled A Tale of Two Sons) by John MacArthur and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music, with Lecrae, Trip Lee and Andy Mineo being some of favorite artists.

One thought on “BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

  1. I recieved a copy of “the gospel of Jesus” when we visited John MacArthur’s church the other year. Thanks for the reminder, and the other good reviews 🙂

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