Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Just Jones: Sometimes a Thing Is Impossible . . . Until It Is Actually Done by Andy Andrews. Thomas Nelson. 272 pages. 2020
***

Just Jones is the third book in the Noticer trilogy, following 2009’s The Noticer and 2013’s The Noticer Returns. The books are partly non-fiction (Andy Andrews and his wife Polly are included, and the majority of the book takes place in Orange Beach, Alabama, where Andrews lives), and mostly fiction, revolving around a mysterious old man name Jones. Not Mr. Jones. Just Jones.
Jones is an interesting character. He shows up and disappears without notice. He can make things happen that are beyond belief. He is a noticer. He notices things that other people overlook, most of which are in plain sight. He notices things about situations and people that produce perspective, or a broader view. Throughout the book, Jones also shares his personal philosophies on a variety of subjects.
The book begins with a confusing “Prologue”, which is later made clear. We then meet 27-year-old Keely, who is in a Florida jail cell with Jones. Keely is in jail on a charge of drunk and disorderly, along with hitting a police officer. We never find out why Jones is in jail. Jones calls Andy to pick him up from jail. They haven’t seen each other for six or seven years.

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Meeting Jesus: The “I Am” Sayings of Jesus by R.C. Sproul. Banner of Truth. 88 pages. 2019 
***

In this short book – the only one authored by R.C. Sproul that has been published by Banner of Truth – Dr. Sproul looks at looks at eight “I am” sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John which reveal his true identity and teach us the truth about him. Those sayings are:

  • The Bread of Life
  • The Light of the World
  • The Door
  • The Good Shepherd
  • The Resurrection and the Life
  • The Way, the Truth and the Life
  • The True Vine
  • Before Abraham Was, ‘I Am”

This book reads like the content may have been originally delivered as sermons, or as a teaching series from Ligonier Ministries. Interestingly, there is no “Introduction” or information about the author, as you would normally find in a book.
Sproul, who died in 2017, was a spiritual mentor for me. In this book, he characteristically delivers solid theological teaching in an easy-to-understand manner. Below are ten of my favorite quotes from the book:

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The Nazarene: Forty Devotions on the Lyrical Life of Jesus by Michael Card. IVP. 168 pages. 2020
****    

It is hard to measure the impact of Michael Card in my life through his music, writing and teaching since first being introduced to his music via his 1984 Known by the Scars album when I was still a relatively new believer. A special highlight for me was our church being blessed to host him for two of his Biblical Imagination conferences/concerts several years ago, and my wife and I travelling to Ohio for another.
This new book is divided into four parts, with one part for each of the four Gospels, with ten devotions included in each part. Each devotion begins with a scripture passage(s) that the devotion aligns with, as well as the lyrics from one of Card’s songs from his Biblical Imagination series albums. Each devotion concludes with a key lyric from the song that Card comments on.
As you approach the book, you can choose to simply read the song lyrics, or as I did, listen to the song. You can also choose to read one devotional each day, or read several at a time, as they are relatively short. Listening to the songs and following along with the lyrics gave me a new appreciation for the skill in which Card brings scripture into his song lyrics. This is something that I have for too long taken for granted.

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I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith by Lecrae. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2020
***

This well-written book is Lecrae’s follow-up to his 2016 book Unashamed (see my review of that book here). This new book expands on some of the topics the author touched on in his first book, such as trauma from sexual and physical abuse, and being abandoned by his father. The book also addresses criticism he received for collaborating with mainstream (non-Christian) rap artists, for speaking out about police brutality, beginning with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and his “loosening ties” with white evangelism. The book deals with serious issues such as trauma, loss of faith, deconstructing his faith, hurt from the church, politics, substance abuse, depression, and ultimately restoration. The book is a good companion to his Restoration album. See my review of the original album here, and the additional songs included on the expanded new Deluxe Edition here.

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Made for His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith by Alistair Begg. Moody Publishers. 192 pages 2018
****

This is a revised and updated edition of the author’s 1996 book, which I read and enjoyed when it was originally published. In this book he looks at the subject of pleasing God in light of putting God first, spiritual fitness, prayer, sacrifice, relationships, vocation, suffering, the heedful life, intellectualism and materialism, humility, and evangelism. He writes that the list is not exhaustive, but selective, and represents something of his own spiritual pilgrimage. He tells us that we could think of the chapters of the book as signposts for the journey of life.
The author writes that we want to learn to be able to say with Paul, “We make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). All of our desires, decisions, aspirations, and affections should be governed by our prior determination to please God.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this wonderful book, more in some chapters than in others, which you might expect. Below are a few of those passages I would like to share with you:

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Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn. B&H Books. 322 pages. 2020

****

In this well-written authorized biography, Ellen Vaughn tells the colorful tale of how Elisabeth “Betty” Elliot came to be, through her adventures in the jungles of Ecuador. A second volume will continue with the rest of her story.
By effectively using a good amount of Elliot’s own writings from her journals and letters (a practice Elliot began when she was only eleven), the reader gets pulled into her incredible story as a missionary, translator, wife, mother and author. Even though I knew some of the facts about this part of her life, I found that I couldn’t wait to get back to the book to continue reading.
The “Foreword” is written by Joni Eareckson Tada, who considers Elliot a hero, and calls her “the most remarkable Christian woman of the last century”.  Elliot herself saw Irish missionary and writer Amy Carmichael as a hero, writing that she was her first spiritual mother, someone who taught her the shape of godliness.
Elliot, who is referred to as Betty in the majority of the book, was born December 21, 1926 in Brussels, Belgium. The author writes that she was far from perfect and made plenty of mistakes. She writes that defining her core was a healthy willingness to die, stating that she really did see dying to self, and taking up her cross to follow Jesus—at all costs—as a biblical mandate to be obeyed.

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Joy in the Sorrow: How a Thriving Church (And Its Pastor) Learned to Suffer Well by Matt Chandler and Friends. The Good Book Company, 240 pages. 2019
****

David Roark, Communications and Resources Director at The Village Church, is the General Editor of this unique book. He writes that the hope of the book is to tell you that even though we will all suffer; we can find hope and purpose in that suffering. The book includes chapters from pastors and ministers and members, and former pastors and ministers and members, of The Village, a church located in Texas, where Matt Chandler is one the lead pastors.
Each chapter of the book represents someone’s story—and what God has shown that individual in and through their suffering—that has been a part of the church’s bigger story. Some of the chapters are written by people I was familiar with (Matt Chandler, his wife Lauren Chandler, hip-hop artist Tedashii and his wife Danielle, and writer Lore Ferguson Wilbert), and some were written by people from the church that I was not familiar with.

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Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ by John MacArthur. Reformation Trust Publishing. 143 pages. 2018
****

In this book about Jesus Christ and the Gospel, from one of our most respected pastors and authors, John MacArthur tells us that a right understanding of Jesus Christ is essential to understanding many other vital truths, particularly the gospel and salvation. He tells us that there is no good news apart from Christ, and how we answer the question “Who is Jesus?” has significant and ultimately permanent consequences. The right answer alone can lead to salvation.
The author addresses that there are even those who identify themselves as evangelicals that teach that there is more than one way to get to Heaven. He tells us that today the word evangelical is so ambiguous that it doesn’t really mean anything. A high percentage (between 45 and 65 percent of so-called evangelical Christians), are convinced that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. He writes that a “radically abridged and ambiguous view” of the gospel has captivated the church today. But there is no “back door” to heaven. If we don’t know the true God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will suffer the fury of God. Jesus made it clear to people that they needed to repent and believe.

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A Company of Heroes: Portraits from the Gospel’s Global Advance by Tim Keesee. Crossway. 284 pages. 2019
****

The author is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated his excellent ten-part video series Dispatches from the Front. Much of this book has the feel of those videos as he travels around the world to visit believers. These believers are heroes to him, and they should be to us as well. They trusted him to tell their stories despite the risks they face as they live on mission in hard places. He has shared jungle paths, desert roads, and city streets on five continents with these believers. They are heroes for the ways in which they magnify the grace and power of the risen Christ. They are foot soldiers in the long campaign as Christ builds his church across the centuries and among all peoples. The author writes that every time he goes to another corner of the world and sees the church growing and the gospel changing lives, his view of God gets bigger.

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Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, edited by Tim Keller and John Inazu. Thomas Nelson. 237 pages. 2020
***

Books in which a different author writes each chapter can be tricky. You might connect with one author and not another, and that’s just how I found this book. I found myself fully engaged with some chapters, while others were frankly a chore to get through.
I was attracted to the book by the fact that one of the editors, who also wrote a chapter, was Tim Keller, one of my favorite authors, and Lecrae, one of my favorite musical artists, also wrote one of the chapters. Among the contributors, I was also familiar with Sara Groves through her music, and Trillia Newbell through her writing and Tish Harrison Warren, through a book of hers my wife had recently read. The subject of the book caught my attention as we live in a very divided culture, including among those who identify as Christians.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of
~     The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created by Jane Leavy
~     Ben Hogan: An American Life by James Dodson
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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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