Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Ruth (Food for the Journey Keswick Devotionals) by Alistair Begg with Elizabeth McQuoid. IVP UK. 72 pages. 2017 
**** 

The Food for the Journey series is a new series of 30-day undated devotionals, which takes messages by well-loved Bible teachers from the Keswick Convention and reformats them into accessible daily devotionals and in a size that will fit into your jacket pocket or handbook. This particular edition features devotionals from respected pastor Alistair Begg on the Old Testament book of Ruth.  Each day of the devotional from Begg ends with a newly written section (perhaps by the co-author Elizabeth McQuoid), designed to help the reader apply the passage from Ruth to their own life and situation.
We are told that it was into a whirl of social, religious and moral chaos that the book of Ruth was written, reminding the children of God that there was hope; that a remnant of true faith remained; that God was continuing to work in the lives of ordinary people as they went about their daily chores.  Begg tells us that this is the only book in the Bible entirely devoted to the domestic story of a woman. He states that the book shows the amazing compassion and empathy of God for the back streets and side alleys and the people who feel themselves to be last, lost and left out. He encourages us by stating that God is still preoccupied with people like Naomi, telling us that God sets his love and affection on unlikely people, in unlikely contexts, doing routine things. He states that quite surprisingly, God chooses to work his eternal purposes out in the ordinariness of the lives of ordinary people.
I’m encouraged to see this new series of books. Consider adding this book on Ruth to your devotional reading. Continue reading

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 824 pages. 2017
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of today’s most respected Reformed theologians. In fact the late R.C. Sproul called him his favorite theologian. Anytime Dr. Ferguson publishes a new book it is going to get my attention. This eight-hundred plus page volume is no ordinary book, and will be a welcome addition to any pastor’s library.
The book, which covers many of the themes and tasks of Christian ministry, is broken into five major sections, which include 39 chapters. The major sections are:

  1. Pastors and Teachers: Three Johns
  2. John Calvin: Pastor-Teacher
  3. Puritans: Pastors and Teachers
  4. The Pastor and Teaching
  5. The Pastor and Preaching

The title of the book comes from Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11. The author tells us that many of these chapters were first published in relatively obscure places in the context of busy pastoral ministry. Now, he sees how the essays seem to self-select and rearrange themselves into a coherent whole. He hopes that these pages will encourage other pastors to stretch themselves beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation and accept invitations to study, speak and write on subjects outside of their norm.
He encourages pastors and teachers to utilize their gifts for fellow pastors. He sees this book as representing some of the gifts that the Lord has given him for others who have an interest in and a concern for the ministry of the gospel.
Although this is a massive volume, each chapter is an entity on its own. The author states that readers can enter and leave at any point they choose as no chapter is completely dependent on the previous chapter or any other chapter in the book. Though a seminary graduate, I’m a ruling elder not a preaching pastor. The arrangement of this book will allow me to focus on those sections that focus on teaching, rather than preaching, for example.
I look forward to benefiting from the wisdom contained in these pages for many years. This would be an excellent addition to any minister’s library. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Rescuing Christmas: The Search for Joy that Lasts by Carl Laferton. The Good Book Company. 66 pages. 2017
****

The author tells us that while Christmas is a day of great enjoyment for many, sometimes he just finds himself wanting to get through Christmas day intact. Face it, the Christmas season can be both joyful and stressful. Christmas can also be a very sad time, reminding you of who you’ve lost or who you’ve never had, or of what you’d hoped to achieve or change this year but never did. Perhaps this year for a very good reason you’re simply trying to “get through Christmas”. In this short book, the author asks us to imagine whether Christmas could be rescued from the stress or sadness of just getting through Christmas. He asks us to imagine a joy that lasts and endures past Christmas. He tells us that indeed, Christmas does offer that kind of joy. He tells us that the people who experienced the first Christmas and understood its meaning found a joy that did not fade, and we can as well.
The author writes that if we get the meaning of the first Christmas this Christmas season, then we will get the feeling of joy, and find that it is a feeling that lasts. That’s the aim of this book, in which he focuses primarily on what happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
He tells us about the Magi who came from the east to Judea. He states that the gifts they gave to the Christ child tell us why the meaning of Christmas can be summed up in the word “rescue”. He tells us that the gift of gold tells us what we are rescued from. The gift of frankincense tells us what we are rescued for. And the gift of myrrh tells us what we are rescued by. The author writes that these gifts tell you everything you need to get the message of Christmas, and to feel overjoyed by the message of Christmas, just as the Magi did.
The author states that we are rescued from our rejection of God, we are rescued for relationship with God, and we are rescued by the death of God’s son Jesus. He tells us that when we understand that the meaning of Christmas is rescue – a rescue from our rejection of God, a rescue for relationship with God, a rescue by the death of God – then we begin to see that true joy is found not in getting to Christmas, or in getting through Christmas, but in getting Christmas—in grasping its meaning and experiencing its feeling.
This small book is priced such that you can buy multiple copies to give to friends and family, and I would encourage you to do just that this Christmas season. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau. 354 pages. 2014.  
****

Lecrae is one of my favorite music artists. His new album All Things Work Together is brilliant, and one of the top releases of the year. Recently, he announced that he is “divorcing ‘white evangelicalism’”. Read John Piper’s response here. I was saddened when I read this, and reached out to Lecrae. He suggested a number of books I could read to help with understanding where he was coming from. From those books, my wife Tammy and I chose to start with Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This well-written and powerful book weaves in some stunning statistics about the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., while telling the heart-breaking story of Walter McMillian (and many others) from thirty years of his work.  It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Bryan’s story began in 1983 as a 23-year old student at Harvard Law School working with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). SPDC’s mission was to assist condemned people on death row in Georgia. When he finished his internship he was committed to helping the death row prisoners he had met. He returned to law school with an intense desire to understand the laws and doctrines that sanctioned the death penalty and extreme punishments.
His time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system. This is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
He writes that there are more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, with an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records. Other statistics about the U.S. prison system that I highlighted from the book were:
• We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
• One in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.
• By the mid-1980s, nearly 20 percent of the people in jails and prisons had served in the military.
• Convincing empirical evidence that the race of the victim is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty.
• By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino.
• Over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 296 pages. 2017
****

The author is one of our best current biographers having written major works on Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, as well as shorter biographical works. In this book he aims to separate the facts from the myths about the great Reformer’s story, as he looks at Luther “warts and all”. Assuming that most are familiar with the main points of Luther’s life, I’ll focus on unique aspects of Luther’s story that this book offers.
The first myth he addresses is that Luther’s family were humble peasants. In reality, he writes, Luther’s father was a miner. Another myth that the author dispels is that Luther’s father was harsh, strict and severe.
The author writes that others (Wycliffe and Huss, for example), sought to reform the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther, though few remember much about those early Reformers, compared to what we know about Luther.
The author as is his custom, fully embraces his subject giving us a detailed life of Luther. However, much of what he dispels as myth, I’ve learned from Luther scholars such as R.C. Sproul, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves and Roland Bainton.
As a monk, Luther dealt with the issue of how are we to be forgiven of our sins. A 1,600-mile round-trip to Rome was key for Luther. There he wondered “Who knows if it is true?” There he saw the immorality of the priests, with them doing masses in as little as 9 minutes.
Metaxas gives us a different take on Luther’s famous breakthrough about justification by faith in Romans 1:17. Basing his speculation on Luther’s own words, the author speculates he may have had this breakthrough while sitting on the toilet.
The author also speculates that perhaps Luther actually didn’t nail his famous “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Church door after all, but that this was posted by a custodian.
At the Diet of Worms Luther was asked to recant his writings. After asking for time to consider the request he delivered his response the following day in both German and Latin. His response included his famous “Here I stand” and appealed to his conscience. The author tells us that conscience in Luther’s time did not mean what it means today (appeal to our own truth). Instead, it meant appealing to God’s truth.
Another myth that the author dispels is Luther’s famous throwing of an inkwell at the Devil. The author indicates that event never happened.
Luther, a former priest and monk, would marry Katie, a former nun. The story of the escaped nuns being smuggled in fish barrels is a myth, according to the author. Luther grew to deeply love Katie, and would sadly lose two daughters to death. The author states that he valued women more than most men at that time.
The author highlights conscience, dissent and freedom as he discusses Luther’s legacy. The book includes some adult language; most, if not all, from Luther’s writings. The audiobook version is well-read by the author, who brings his characteristic wit to the task. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves.  B&H Publishing Group. 211 pages. 2013 
**** 

The author, who has written extensively on the Protestant Reformation, states that the Reformation was a revolution, and revolutions not only fight for something, they also fight against something, in the case of the Reformation, this was the old world of medieval Roman Catholicism.  He states that most Christians at the time were looking for the improvement, but not the overthrow, of their religion. They were not looking for radical change, only a clearing-up of acknowledged abuses.  He tells us that the Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome, but a positive movement about moving towards the gospel.
In this fast-moving history, the author, using his knowledge and wit to introduce us to John Wycliffe (who organized a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English), indulgences, Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on All Saints’ Eve, Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Mennonites, John Calvin and his ministry in Geneva, and William Tyndale, whose life’s work was translating the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew into English.
He writes about John Knox, the history of the English Reformation, including the Puritans, who thought that the Reformation was a good thing that was not yet complete. We are introduced to the preacher Richard Sibbes, the Westminster Assembly and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. And much, much more.
The author asks if the Reformation is over. He writes that Roman Catholicism continues its belief in purgatory and indulgences, sure signs that the traditional Catholic doctrine of justification is at work. He states that without doubt, there has been something of a change in Rome, but concerning those theological issues that caused the Reformation, no doctrine has been rescinded. As a result, while attempts to foster greater Christian unity must be applauded, it must also be recognized that, as things stand, the Reformation is anything but over. Continue reading