Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. Crossway. 224 pages. 2020
****

Every once in a while, a book comes along that just blows you away. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund is one of those books. This was a book that I was influenced to read because so many people I respect were writing good things about it and recommending it. As a result, my wife and I read and discussed the book, which is comprised of relatively short chapters.
Ortlund tells us that the book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. It is written, in other words, for normal Christians. In short, it is for sinners and sufferers.
In the book, the author simply asks what the Bible says about the heart of Christ, and considers the glory of his heart for our own up-and-down lives. The author takes either a Bible passage or a teaching from the Puritans (especially Thomas Goodwin), and considers what is being said about the heart of God and of Christ. He doesn’t focus centrally on what Christ has done, but instead who he is. The two matters are bound up together and indeed interdependent. But they are distinct. Letting Jesus set the terms, the author tells us that his surprising claim is that he is “gentle and lowly in heart.” The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. He tells us that for all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, Jesus’ supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.
The message of the book is that we tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says. The book reads almost like a devotional. One way to approach it is to read a chapter a day over your morning coffee. Another is to read and discuss with others.
Here are 20 of my favorite quotes from the book:

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of…

  • The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church by Albert Mohler
  • Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word by Matt Smethurst

BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
I’M CURRENTLY READING….

  • Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.
  • He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart.
  • The Jesus given to us in the Gospels is not simply one who loves, but one who is love; merciful affections stream from his innermost heart as rays from the sun.
  • The wrath of Christ and the mercy of Christ are not at odds with one another, like a see-saw, one diminishing to the degree that the other is held up. Rather, the two rise and fall together.
  • The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.
  • When Jesus, the Clean One, touched an unclean sinner, Christ did not become unclean. The sinner became clean.
  • Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and sufferers he spoke with and touched in his earthly ministry.
  • When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them.
  • His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.
  • The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself.
  • Jesus deals gently and only gently with all sinners who come to him, irrespective of their particular offense and just how heinous it is.
  • What elicits tenderness from Jesus is not the severity of the sin but whether the sinner comes to him. Whatever our offense, he deals gently with us.
  • Rather than dispensing grace to us from on high, he gets down with us, he puts his arm around us, he deals with us in the way that is just what we need. He deals gently with us.
  • Look to Christ. He deals gently with you. It’s the only way he knows how to be.
  • Looking inside ourselves, we can anticipate only harshness from heaven. Looking out to Christ, we can anticipate only gentleness.
  • It is not what life brings to us but to whom we belong that determines Christ’s heart of love for us.
  • Just as we can hardly fathom the divine ferocity awaiting those out of Christ, it is equally true that we can hardly fathom the divine tenderness already resting now on those in Christ.
  • The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace.
  • His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort.
  • He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin. But he loves you.

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church by Albert Mohler. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2020
****

The author, a seminary president and the host of the popular podcast The Briefing, borrows Winston Churchill’s title as he sees a gathering storm that already presents itself as a tremendous challenge to the faithfulness of the Christian church. He writes that it is a gathering storm of the secular age. The most familiar word for the process we are witnessing is secularization. The challenge faced by Christians in the United States today is to see the storm and to understand it, and then to demonstrate the courage to face the storm.
For regular listeners of The Briefing, many of the topics (abortion, family, sexual revolution, religious liberty, etc.) in this important book will be familiar. This is a book I read and discussed with a few friends. Here are my main takeaways from each chapter:
Chapter One: The Gathering Storm Over Western Civilization

  • Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.
  • One of the clearer developments in the past two decades has been the inevitable collision between religious liberty—America’s most cherished “first freedom”—and the newly invented sexual liberties. It has become clear that the entire LGBTQ movement represents a clear challenge to anyone who would hold to the historic, biblical position on sexual morality and marriage.
  • Historic Christianity is now increasingly either rejected outright or relegated to having no significance in the culture. Many people in the most privileged sectors of our modern societies do not even know a believing Christian. They are no longer even haunted by the remains of a Christian frame of mind. They are truly secular.
  • We must, with every fiber of our God-given strength, with full dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, with every ounce of conviction we can muster through prayer, with unwavering courage, protest this secular moment.
  • The attempt of secularism to usurp the rule of the Son of God amounts to the height of human folly. Nothing will prevail over our God. Nothing can withstand the power of the gospel.

Chapter Two: The Gathering Storm in the Church

  • The secular age exerts a subtle but constant influence on churches and Christians. If not careful, churches will look less and less like churches and more and more like the secular world around them.
  • Discipleship to Christ makes objective demands on conduct, virtue, and morality. The God revealed in holy Scripture issues commands to his people, and God calls his children to live in obedience to his commands and statutes.
  • When churches and denominations surrender to the forces of secularism, they do so because they departed from the “rock,” namely, the lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • The obedient church of Jesus Christ cannot just preach a biblical morality; it must live out that morality. Otherwise, our words will ring hollow.

Chapter Three: The Gathering Storm Over Human Life

  • The Christian worldview affirms the sanctity of human life at every moment, from fertilization to natural death. Thus, every abortion amounts to the murder of an unborn child.
  • American Christians must not only work and argue for the preservation of unborn life, but we must also pray for it.
  • The only real answer to the culture of death is the gospel of life.

Chapter Four: The Gathering Storm Over Marriage

  • Marriage is about our happiness, our holiness, and our wholeness—but it is supremely about the glory of God. When marriage is entered rightly, when marriage vows are kept with purity, when all the goods of marriage are enjoyed in their proper place, God is glorified.
  • Marriage is not greatly respected in our postmodern culture. For many, the covenant of marriage has been discarded in favor of a contract of cohabitation.
  • Our culture is so sexually confused that the goods of sex are severed from the vows and obligations of marriage.
  • A society that disbelieves in God will eventually disbelieve in marriage.
  • A stable and functional culture requires the establishment of stable marriages and the nurturing of families. Without a healthy marriage and family life as foundation, no lasting and healthy community can long survive.

Chapter Five: The Gathering Storm Over the Family

  • The secular storm and the sexual revolution aim to normalize its entire transgender ideology.
  • Secularism sets out to redefine humanity.
  • The secular age will not tolerate worldviews that challenge its comprehensive vision for humanity.
  • Faithfulness to Christian teaching now places parents outside the mainstream and could potentially lead to a termination of parental rights.
  • Christians need to understand what is at stake. The end of parental rights is the end of the family, and eventually, the end of human civilization as we know it.

Chapter Six: The Gathering Storm Over Gender and Sexuality

  • The single greatest impetus of the sexual revolution was the advent of birth control, which began to transform the notion of the “possible” and gave way to an onslaught of consequences no one saw coming.
  • The LGBTQ revolution demands not only equality but also the suppression of divergent worldviews, namely, the Christian worldview. Any moral code that denies the new sexual rights must be silenced,
  • Sadly, many churches have capitulated to the demands of the sexual revolution. It will take extraordinary conviction to resist their revolution. We are about to find out which churches, denominations, and Christian institutions are capable of this resistance.
  • We cannot see Revoice as anything other than a house built upon the sand. Revoice is not the voice of faithful Christianity.
  • The sexual revolution—now undermining the very structure of humanity as male and female—represents a direct challenge to what Christians believe and teach and preach.
  • Biblical Christianity must speak the truth in love and seek to be good neighbors to all, but we cannot abandon the faith just because we are told that we are now on the wrong side of history.

Chapter Seven: The Gathering Generational Storm 

  • The coming generations do not see themselves as related in any formal or binding sense with churches, formal beliefs, or religious institutions. These young adults are considerably less religious than their parents, less committed to formal doctrines, and less involved, not only in church life, but even in such activities as volunteering in charity work and social organizations.
  • The problems facing the coming generations are massive with enormous cultural, social, political, and theological ramifications.
  • Delaying marriage, the deconstruction of the family, and the advent of social media have all had both a liberalizing and secularizing effect on America’s generations.

Chapter Eight: The Gathering Storm and the Engines of Culture

  • Our responsibility is to think clearly, carefully, and critically about how our culture is being influenced, and what this means for Christians seeking to live faithfully in a secular age.
  • The cultural products we watch and read and listen to are sending moral messages, constantly. Hollywood controls the narrative, and if you can manipulate the narrative, you govern the mentality, worldview, and character of a culture.
  • Hollywood utilizes its creative authority to craft compelling narratives in step with the moral revolution—especially the LGBTQ agenda, but increasingly on abortion as well.
  • Corporate America’s desire to build its brand has moved many companies to engage in virtue signaling—a show of support through advertisement or company policies that tilts its hat toward the LGBTQ movement. By sending this signal, companies reveal to the larger culture their place on the “right side of history,” and their desire to live as part of the future rather than a now discredited past.
  • The monopolistic power of the social media giants is unprecedented in American history. Add to this the fact that Silicon Valley is rather astonishingly one-sided in its politics, and we can see the huge challenge now facing anyone who holds to a contrary worldview.

Chapter Nine: The Gathering Storm Over Religious Liberty

  • If they maintain the House, regain the Senate, and secure the presidency, Democrats will have all they need to unleash a full-scale assault against religious liberty by making the Equality Act law.
  • We cannot understand the transcendent value of religious liberty without these three essential words: God, truth, and liberty, and in that order. Every one of these words is indispensable.
  • These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision.
  • Religious liberty is being redefined as mere freedom of worship, but it will not long survive if it is reduced to a private sphere with no public voice.
  • The very freedom to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and thus so is the liberty of every American.
  • If we lose religious liberty, all other liberties will be lost, one by one.

Conclusion: Into the Storm

  • For Americans, the intensity of this storm picks up with the backdrop of a presidential election. Christians must realize that the more enduring contest is not between rival candidates but between rival worldviews.
  • Only the Christian worldview is sufficient to answer the demands of secularization, nor can any other worldview provide the framework for true human flourishing. Silence in this age is not an option—indeed, silence and retreat are tantamount to failure.
  • If we take our stand upon the revelation of God, no revolution—not even a revolution in sex and gender—can confuse us. If we take our stand in any other authority, every revolution will engulf us.
  • The gathering storm is real—and we can see it, and we dare to see it for what it is. But Jesus Christ is Lord, and he promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail over his church. And that is enough.

Appendix: The Storm Over the Courts

  • For several decades now, the courts—and the Supreme Court in particular—have taken unto themselves powers that should be in the hand of Congress or the White House. In most cases, the courts have taken up issues that Congress was either unwilling or unable to resolve. In other cases, the judiciary has usurped power for itself.
  • The competing visions for the Supreme Court center on divergent hermeneutics—different ways of reading a text. For decades, more liberal justices and law professors argued for the idea of a “living Constitution” that would evolve with the maturing nation. Conservatives, on the other hand, argued that any text, including the Constitution, should be interpreted in light of the author’s original meaning, looking to the actual text at stake.
  • If the American people wanted to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage, Congress could have legalized them through the legislative process.
  • Whoever appoints judges to the federal bench and justices to the Supreme Court controls, in large part, the future of the nation.
  • Christians understand that there is more at stake in the storm over the courts—including the future of religious liberty. At no time in our nation’s history have the courts been such a focus of attention—and rightfully so.

Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word by Matt Smethurst. 10 Publishing. 63 pages, 2019
****

The author tells us that some of us are intimidated by the Bible while others of us are bored with it out of sheer familiarity.  He tells us that how we approach things matters in a huge way, and without the right heart postures, we’re not yet ready to start reading our Bible. In this short, but helpful, book, he covers nine of these heart postures. You won’t approach the Bible in the same way after reading this book. Below are a few takeaways about each heart posture:
Approach your Bible prayerfully.

  • I am convinced that a prayerless approach to God’s Word is a major reason for the low-level dissatisfaction that hums beneath the surface of our lives.
  • What does it look like to approach your Bible prayerfully? It means not rushing into your Bible reading, expecting the pages to magically microwave your cold heart.
  • When you open your Bible, don’t expect to be put under some mystical spell. Speak directly with the Author. Ask the Spirit to unblind you to the beauty staring you in the face.

Approach your Bible humbly.

  • Your Bible is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and heart of God.
  • We should never take for granted that the exalted Creator would befriend the work of his hands. But that’s precisely what he did.
  • The Bible you possess is evidence that God loves you and wants a relationship with you.

Approach your Bible desperately.

  • Is it more accurate to say I’m willing to hear from God or that I’m desperate to hear from him?
  • Your soul will wither and die without your Bible. Approach it desperately.

Approach your Bible studiously.

  • We study God to praise God. And we cannot praise what we do not know.
  • The purpose of theology is to stoke your worship, to deepen your love, to fuel your mission, and to sustain your life.
  • Do you want deeper worship? Richer joy? Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn says? Then approach your Bible with a learner’s posture, asking the Author to teach you marvelous things.

Approach your Bible obediently.

  • Biblical obedience is not about keeping an arbitrary set of rules; it’s about living in accordance with our design, in harmony with our Maker.
  • The Bible is not an arbitrary list of prohibitions; it’s an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine.
  • Approach your Bible obediently, because obedience produces joy.

Approach your Bible joyfully.

  • You were made to be happy in a happy God.
  • Far from being a peripheral subtheme in Scripture, joy is the heartbeat of God.
  • Despite what our culture tells you, real joy is not found in listening to yourself; it’s found in listening intently to God.
  • The purpose of the words of Jesus and his apostles—the purpose of your Bible, friend—is to flood your heart with joy.

Approach your Bible expectantly.

  • Friend, no matter how much life has let you down, God’s Word never will. It can bear the weight of your expectations. It is unlike anything else you own.
  • When you come to your Bible, come with anticipation. I assure you that among its pages you’ll discover everything you need, and more than you expect.

Approach your Bible communally.

  • Don’t let this week go by without inviting another believer to meet with you regularly to read God’s Word.

Approach your Bible Christocentrically.

  • The Bible has one ultimate plan, one ultimate plot, one ultimate champion, one ultimate King.
  • From beginning to end, your Bible is an epic story about Jesus.
  • Approach the Scriptures Christocentrically—with a view to how the Bible in its entirety centers on Christ, the one in whom all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). the way we treat the words of God reveals what we really think and feel about him.

The author tells us that approaching our Bible well is nothing less than an act of worship. He finishes the book with recommended resources in a few categories (study Bibles, guidebooks for studying and interpreting Scripture, books that give a good overview of the larger story of the Bible, and books if you’re a parent or caregiver).


  • Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace. My new book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace is now available in both a paperback and Kindle edition. Check out a FREE sample of the book (Introduction through Chapter 2).
  • Robert Davis Smart – Waging War In An Age of Doubt: A Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Practical Approach to Spiritual Warfare for Today. In this episode of the Equipping You in Grace podcast, Dave Jenkins and Robert Smart talk about the relationship between union with Christ and spiritual warfare, extinguishing the arrows aimed at discouraging and distracting Christians from their identity in Christ, along with his book, Waging War in an Age of Doubt: A Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Practical Approach to Spiritual Warfare for Today.
  • Jen Hatmaker and the Made-to-Order Gospel. Alisa Childers reviews Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You by Jen Hatmaker. She writes “Served up with equal parts self-help, psychology, storytelling, and spirituality, Fiercecontains some advice that will no doubt be helpful on a practical level. Yet while Hatmaker self-identifies as a Christian leader, her interpretations of Scripture, statistics, and studies seem rooted in a worldview that opposes biblical Christianity.”
  • Is White Fragility a Helpful Resource for Christians? Tim Challies recently wrote three articles on the best-selling book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. He writes “I cannot recommend White Fragility as a useful resource for Christians who wish to think well—which is to say, to think biblically—about issues of race, racism, and racial reconciliation. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a book that would be less helpful or more destructive. It is built upon a rotten foundation, it unfairly redefines terms, it sets a trap, it prescribes and demands unhelpful actions, it minimizes much more helpful voices, and it is ultimately without hope. Those who want to see the end of racism and to experience true reconciliation will find themselves farther from it, not closer to it, if they read and heed DiAngelo.”
  • A Way With Words. Tim Challies reviews Daniel Darling’s new book A Way With Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good. He writes “Even this brief overview should be enough to make it clear to all of us that A Way with Wordsis a much-needed book.”
  • 20 Quotes on Loving Church Members with Different Politics. Matt Smethurst shares 20 quotes from Jonathan Leeman and Andy Naselli’s new booklet How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics? He writes that is an ideal resource for church leaders to recommend and give away to their congregations during this contentious election season.
  • New Tim Keller Book. I’m looking forward to Hope in a Time of Fear: The Lesson of Resurrection and the True Meaning of Easter by Tim Keller, which will be published March 9.

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 Chapter 16: The Vine and the Branches. Here are some of my takeaways from the chapter:

  • One of the recurring themes of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and miracles was His absolute equality with God.
  • Every time Jesus called God “My Father,” He was underscoring His deity.
  • As the Father cares for the Son, so He cares for those joined to the Son by faith.
  • Spiritual pruning is the necessary process whereby the Father removes everything that limits our fruitfulness. He cuts out sins and other distractions that sap our spiritual strength.
  • Spiritually, the equivalent of a fruitless branch is a phony Christian — someone who professes faith in Christ but does not really know Him. These are branches that only appear to be connected to the True Vine.
  • Branches that abide in the True Vine will never be removed.
  • Barren branches have nothing to look forward to except awful, fiery judgment. Fruitful branches, those actually abiding in the True Vine, are in the hands of a loving and gracious Vinedresser. As He carefully prunes and tends us, there may be some pain in the cutting. But we can be certain that He is doing it for our own good so that we will bear much fruit for His glory.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 40 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.

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