Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


J. C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray. Banner of Truth. 275 pages. 2016
****

I was excited to read this new biography of J.C. Ryle, a respected 1800’s theologian/author, published on the 200th anniversary of his birth by Iain Murray, an author who I always enjoy reading. Ryle was born into a family that were leaders in the emerging new merchant class in Macclesfield, England, his grandfather having built a prosperous silk mill, and upon his death left an immense fortune to his son, John, J.C. Ryle’s father. John would become one of the best-known figures in the county, being elected to Parliament.
J.C. was raised in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could buy, but his father took little notice of his children.  He would be sent to a private preparatory school for three and a half years, twenty miles from home.  He would next go to Eton College, which was twenty-one miles west of London, where he spent nearly seven years and begin his love of the sport of cricket. In 1834 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he spent three years. During his first 18 years he writes of being barely exposed to biblical Christianity in his home.
He did not know the exact date of his conversion, but his turning point took place in 1834. He would return from Oxford a different man.
He was attracted to the legal profession in London, where he stayed for just six months due to poor health.  His father’s bank would be ruined and all of his wealth would be lost – his properties, bank, and silk mill. J.C. writes of his life being turned upside down and thrown into confusion, stating had he not been a Christian at this time, he may have committed suicide.
He became a clergyman because that would bring him some income. At Exbury, he would visit each home in his parish at least once a month, but stated that he didn’t really learn how to preach until he was 50.
Resigning due to poor health, he would be offered the rectory of St Thomas, Winchester, serving some 3,000 people in 1843, where he would stay for only five months.
He would meet and marry Matilda in 1845. She would die just three years later of lung disease. He would marry Jessy in 1850, who would become ill six months into the marriage, dying just ten years into the marriage. He would again become a widower with five children.  He then married Henrietta in 1861, and they would enjoy long years of happiness together before her death in 1889.
Of the significance of Ryle’s writing (tracts, addresses, books), Murray writes that they must be appreciated in their wider historical context. He states that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were few popular writers in the Church of England.  Most of his books came about in the same way: Holiness in 1877, Old Paths in 1878, Practical Religion in 1879, Coming Events and Present Duties in 1879. All brought together material previously published as separate tracts. By 1888 it is said that between 200 and 300 tracts of various lengths had been published, with over 12 million issued. From his first tract at Helmingham in 1844, the primary intention was evangelistic and pastoral. He produced a large amount of writing in his difficult years at Helmingham. Murray writes that he could produce so much of enduring value, and that in the midst of many trials, is indication enough that he was himself being fed from rich sources. Ryle would become the vicar at Stradbroke in 1861.
In 1869, he would become a rural dean of Hoxne which involved a measure of oversight for twenty-five other parishes, and in February 1872 he was made an honorary canon of Norwich.
At age 63. Ryle would become the Bishop of Liverpool. Murray writes of challenges that Ryle faced in his leadership. For the sake of unity and better relationships with other Churchman, he urged toleration over what was not fundamental. He encouraged attendance at mixed gatherings such as Convocations and Church Congresses.
One of the greatest disappointments in his life, would be his son Herbert aligning with the opposition theologically. His father saw the strength and unity of the Church in a return to definite evangelical doctrines. Herbert saw the Church attaining peace and unity by the allowance of a broad doctrinal liberty. Murray writes that despite their differences, the bond between father and son had not failed, and that they would remain close.
Ryle was to express regret that he had not come to Liverpool as a younger man when he would have been able to do more. By the beginning of 1899 Ryle’s health was in evident decline. On January 8, 1899, he preached at St. Nathaniel’s on John 17:15. It would be his last time in that pulpit. Passing his 84th birthday on May 10, he would die on June 10.
The book includes appendices on extracts from Ryle and on son Herbert. Continue reading


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My Book Review ~ The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods

The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein. Grand Central Publishing. 256 pages. 2017
****

On this Masters weekend, I thought it would be good to share my review of Tiger Woods new book which commemorates the 20th anniversary of his record-breaking win at the 1997 Masters. Like I have the past few years, I spent some priceless time watching a part of yesterday’s second round with my Dad. But Tiger was not among the participants in this year’s Masters; injuries have once again kept him from participating in a tournament. At only 41 years of age the injuries have taken their toll: his first knee surgery occurred back in 1994 while at Stanford. Between 1994 and 2016, he went through four knee surgeries and three back surgeries, along with other procedures. He admits that he probably came back too early from some of the surgeries, due to his desire to compete and his need for competition.  Perhaps prophetically, towards the end of this book he writes “Still, I don’t know how much longer I’ll play.”
Over the years I have had three favorite golfers – Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger. If they were playing in a tournament, that would be enough for me to tune in to the telecast. Yes, Tiger has had major moral failings – and he writes about the pain that caused his family in this reflective book – but his presence in a tournament will still cause me to take notice. Unfortunately, those instances are becoming fewer and fewer.
In this book he takes the reader through his record-breaking win at Augusta National in the 1997 Masters tournament in which he actually shot a 4 over par 40 on the front nine of his first round. At that time, Tiger’s caddy was Mike “Fluff” Cowan and his coach was Butch Harmon. But this book contains much more than a detailed look at the 1997 Masters.
He talks about his relationship with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Palmer died in 2016. Tiger has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight times. He writes that he will never forget their friendship and Palmer’s counsel to him over the years.
He writes of his father Earl, “Pop”, who died in 2006. Earl had a triple bypass only a month and a half before the 1997 Masters. Despite that, he flew to Augusta to stay at the same house as Tiger during Masters week. Tiger writes that he had so many good times with his father on the course, just the two of them, when he was a kid.
Tiger writes of watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters on television. After that, he made sure he watched the tournament every year. He first played the Masters in 1995 qualifying because he’d won the U.S. Amateur the year before. He writes about his first time playing in the tournament and his feelings about the tournament’s and the club’s history with blacks.
Tiger writes about stopping at an Arby’s on the way home from the course, a ritual he and his friends would superstitiously do each day of the tournament. He writes about greeting Lee Elder after he had signed his winning scorecard. He thanked him for his sacrifices, what he meant to the game, and how hard he fought to make it to the Masters as their first black player in 1975. Tiger told him that his win was all about the black golfers who had come before him, what they had done for him, and that he wasn’t a pioneer. They were the pioneers.
He writes that he had hoped his win would open some doors for minorities. His biggest hope was that we could one day see one another as people and people alone. He wanted us to be color-blind. Twenty years later, he sadly reflects that this has yet to happen.
He briefly writes about his career after the 1997 Masters, including changing his swing. He writes about the changes that have been made to Augusta National and what he thinks about them. Tiger had averaged 323.1 yards off the tee at the 1997 Masters, an amazing twenty-five yards longer than the next guy. He states that after major changes came along for the 2002 Masters it wasn’t as much fun to play the course anymore.
He writes about today’s golf equipment and how far today’s ball flies. He writes “It probably makes me sound like an old-timer saying things were better back in the day, but I don’t see how anybody could say it’s a good thing that the ball is going so far, and that it doesn’t curve as much because it doesn’t spin.”
He writes about his children and their mother Elin, stating that he betrayed her and that his dishonesty and selfishness caused her intense pain. He states that his regret will last a lifetime. He writes that he and Elin have become best friends now as they care for their children. He writes that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about his father, who he admits would have been disappointed in his son’s poor personal decisions.
What are Christians to think of Tiger? He’s had serious moral failings, but writes of his regrets. He has been known to use adult language on the course. He doesn’t talk much about his beliefs in this book, but does write of going to the Buddhist temple where he learned how to meditate. Woods is also one of the greatest golfers of all time. It’s this that attracts me to him, and it’s why I hope that he’s able to get healthy enough to play competitively again. He states that “compete” remains his favorite word, and probably always will.


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BOOK REVIEWS AND NEWS

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. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEW: Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller

Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 130 pages. 2017
****

In his latest book, Mark Miller writes that you ensure you’ll have the needed leaders to fuel your future success when you build a leadership culture. A leadership culture exists when leaders are routinely and systematically developed and the organization has a surplus of leaders ready for the next opportunity or challenge. The author states that he wrote the book primarily for those who can see the value in a strong bench of capable leaders but lack the strategic framework to make it so.
As is his custom, the author teaches through an entertaining fable, much like those of Patrick Lencioni and Ken Blanchard. We meet Blake, the new CEO in a mid-sized firm in a slow-growth industry. Not only is the firm not growing, but it sustained a recent tragedy (explosion) on Blake’s first day on the job, in which six employees were killed. Although the accident was attributed to human error, Blake said that it was actually due to leadership error. Leadership failed and people died.
Blake tells his senior leadership team (minus one, as the head of Human Resources decided to retire about being injured in the explosion), that they need to build a leadership bench, which is not a term they are familiar about.
Blake decides to seek out his mentor Jack, who we met in the author’s previous book Chess Not Checkers. Jack suggests that Blake appoint an interim or hire a consultant to help with the leadership bench issue. Blake decided to reach out to Charles, a rock star in the human resources world to help him out and also to help identify a new head of Human Resources. Although Charles is going through his own personal issues, he agrees to take on the short-term assignment.
As Charles and his team begin their task, they develop a charter, conduct interviews with members of the senior leadership team, and do some benchmarking with leading firms that have built a leadership culture. They want to build a culture where they can say with integrity that leaders are made here. They eventually come up with five commitments of a leadership culture.
I’m fortunate to work in an organization that has a leadership culture. Much of what I read in this book reminded me of my organization. For those who work in organizations that do not currently have a leadership culture, this book would be an excellent first step to take toward building one.


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10 Recommended Books on Prayer

prayerOver the years I’ve read a number of good books on the subject of prayer. Each come from a slightly different approach.  I’m always glad I’ve read the book, but also come away thinking my prayer life is not nearly what it should be. Is that the way you tend to feel after reading a book on prayer?
Here are 10 books on prayer that I’ve read and would commend to you:Tim Keller's New Book on Prayer

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
My wife Tammy and I read and discussed this book over a period of months.  You can see the passages from the book we highlighted as we went through this helpful book here.

prayerPrayer: A Biblical Perspective by Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander was a wonderful preacher who I was blessed to see at a few theology conferences several years ago. His chief concern in this short book is to remind Christians that prayer is fundamental and not supplemental, both in the individual and in the corporate lives of God’s people. This book has the feel of individual sermons that were delivered on prayer put into book form.

A Praying LifeA Praying Life by Paul Miller
I’ve read this book twice (thus far). I first read the book a few years ago after our church hosted one of the author’s A Praying Life seminars, and again last year after we had a providential encounter with the author and his wife Jill in a cable car high above Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Reading this book gives you the feel of sitting down with the author to talk about prayer as he shares many interesting and helpful stories – biblical and about his family, particularly about his special needs daughter Kim – to illustrate his teaching on prayer.

prayerDoes Prayer Change Things by R.C. Sproul
This booklet is part of R.C. Sproul’s excellent Crucial Questions series (which are free in the Kindle edition). I recommend all of the booklets in this series. In this booklet on prayer, Sproul asks: Does prayer make any difference? Does it really change anything? He looks at the place, purpose, pattern, practice, prohibitions and power of prayer.

the-chief-exercise-of-prayer-by-john-calvinThe Chief Exercise of Faith: John Calvin on Prayer
This small book is an excerpt of Henry Beveridge’s 1845 translation of John Calvin’s classic work Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 20. The book is broken down into 52 individual sections. As an example, Section 2 is on prayer defined, its necessity and use. There is much wisdom from Calvin about the subject of prayer in these pages.

a-simple-way-to-pray-by-archie-parrishA Simple Way to Pray: The Wisdom of Martin Luther on Prayer by Dr. Archie Parrish
R.C. Sproul has written “No book has done more to revolutionize my personal prayer life than this little book by Martin Luther. I would recommend it for every Christian’s library.” The description of the book from Ligonier states:
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther’s barber asked him for advice on how to pray. Luther responded with a 34 page booklet showing a simple but effective way to structure a life of devotion. In it, he illustrates prayers through the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.
This book, edited by Dr. Archie Parrish, contains Luther’s booklet and offers other helps for structuring your personal prayer life. Dr. R.C. Sproul, who wrote the foreword, considers this to be among the top fifteen Christian works that have most shaped his life and ministry.”

the-barber-who-wanted-to-pray-by-r-cThe Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R.C. Sproul
This is a children’s book by R.C. Sproul which is related to Archie Parrish’s book above. Ligonier’s description of the book is:
“This imaginative tale from R.C. Sproul, based on a true story, begins one evening with Mr. McFarland leading family devotions. When his daughter asks him how she should pray, Mr. McFarland shares a 500-year-old story about a barber and his famous customer.  Master Peter is a barber well-known to all in his village. One day, when Martin Luther the Reformer walks into his shop, the barber musters up the courage to ask the outlawed monk how to pray. Luther responds by writing a letter to the barber. The barber’s life and many others’ are changed as they encounter a model for prayer by using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed.pray
Sproul’s beautifully illustrated story will delight children and help them learn to pray according to the Bible. The full text of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed will make this a treasured book to be returned to time after time.”
This resource is also available as a short audiobook read by the author.

augustine-on-prayerAugustine on Prayer – Thomas A. Hand
Several years ago, a friend and I read and discussed this book, which is a compilation of the thoughts, words and prayers of Saint Augustine.  The author collected more than 500 of Augustine’s texts about prayer for this book, which addresses questions such as: What is prayer? Why should we prayer? For what and from whom should we pray? How should we pray? I don’t recall where I heard about the book originally, but I do recall that reading and discussing it with my friend was a wonderful experience.

prayerThe Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul
In this short book by R.C. Sproul, he notes that Jesus’ own disciples deemed their prayer lives inadequate, so they turned to their Teacher for help. It was on that occasion that Jesus gave them what we know as “the Lord’s Prayer.” Sproul writes “Jesus’ intent was to give His disciples a model prayer, an example to follow, one that would teach them transferrable principles for conversation with God.”

lord-teach-me-to-pray-by-john-macarthurLord, Teach Me to Pray – John MacArthur
In this short book, John MacArthur provides us with a short primer on prayer, hoping that the book will awaken a renewed passion in us for prayer. He looks at the basics of prayer and when and how often we should pray. He then examines what the content of prayer should be. Finally he looks at some of the sins that will hinder our prayers and how to overcome those sins.

These are 10 books on prayer that I’ve read and can recommend to you. Have you read any of these? What books on prayer have you read and can recommend?


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Book Review: Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller

book_review
Making Sense of God, An Invitation to the Skeptical – Tim KellerMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller. Viking. 336 pages. 2016
****  

This book is considered to be a prequel to Tim Keller’s excellent 2008 book Reason for God. The author wrote the book to bring secular readers to a place where they might find it even sensible and desirable to explore the extensive foundations for the truth of Christianity. He compares the beliefs and claims of Christianity with the beliefs and claims of the secular view, asking which one makes more sense of a complex world and human experience. He challenges both the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the belief that secular, nonreligious people are basing their view of life mainly on reason. He then compares and contrasts how Christianity and secularism seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.
Who is the book written for? The author states that if you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then the book is written for you. In addition, if you have friends or family who feel this way, the book will be of interest for you and them as well.
He gives us two reasons to read the book. The first is practical. He first states not whether religion is true, but only to make the case that it is by no means a dying force. The second reason is a personal one. He writes that if you are experiencing unquiet and dissatisfaction in your life, they may be signs of a need for God that is there but which is not recognized as such.
This is a weighty read, not one that you will read through quickly. Of the many topics that he covered, the two that I got the most out of were his discussions of identity and particularly the problem that morals pose for secular people.
The author includes a list of five books for further reading that will give readers a good overview of Christian beliefs presented in the context of most contemporary arguments for and against their validity.
This was one of the best books I read in 2016, and I highly recommend it.  Click on this link to read more reviews of Tim Keller’s books. Continue reading


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My Review of “Explore by the Book”

explore-by-the-book-90-days-in-john-14thru17-romans-and-james-by-timothy-keller-and-sam-allberryExplore by the Book: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans & James by Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry. The Good Book Company. 192 pages. 2017
***

Explore by the Book looks at John 14-17, with verse by verse readings/commentary written by Sam Allberry, Romans, written by Tim Keller, and James, written by Allberry. The 90 devotionals included in this book are taken from the Explore Quarterly devotional.  The book is referred to as an “open Bible devotional”, in that you will need to keep your printed or digital Bible open as you use these studies. You’ll be asked questions throughout so that you think about the text. While it is commendable to provide a product which will have you interact with the Scriptures such as this, I feel it was a major misstep to not include the actual Scripture text (or at least a hyperlink to the passage in the e-book edition), being discussed in the book. I read almost all of my books in the Kindle version. As I read the book, I had to constantly exit the book and look up the passage in my Kindle version of the Bible. This decreased my devotional experience with the book.

It is suggested that you set aside a half an hour a day for 90 days to work through these studies, and to respond to the questions that are provided. Each study has sub-sections of the passage covered. After each small chunk of teaching there will be questions to address, and one or both of the headings Apply, and Pray. You are to use these sections to turn what you have read in the Bible and speak back to God.

This book, which features excellent content, would best be read in the hardback edition, which comes with ribbon marker and space for journaling.  It is suggested that before you read each study that you read the passage and then include several things:

  • The Highlight: the truth about God that most struck you.
  • The Query: the questions you have about what you have read (and your best attempt at answering them).
  • The Change: the major way you feel the Spirit is prompting you to change either your attitudes, or your actions, as a result of what you have read.

After you have completed each study, record:

  • One sentence summing up how God has spoken to you through his word.
  • A short prayer in response to what you have seen.

Explore by the Book is a wonderful concept that is best used with the hardback edition of the book and a physical copy of your Bible open. I would not recommend the e-book format, due to the concerns expressed above.