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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

R.C. Sproul: Defender of the Reformed Faith by Nate Pickowicz. H&E Publishing. 140 pages. 2022 
****

In this warmly written and concise biography of R.C. Sproul, pastor and author Nate Pickowicz shares an appreciation that many of us have for the life and ministry of R.C. Sproul, who went home to be with the Lord in December, 2017. He writes that Sproul’s five decades of ministry loosely reflected the five solas of the Reformation.
The author focuses primarily on Sproul’s public ministry, quoting liberally from Sproul’s books and on his defense of the faith. Each chapter begins with a quote from Sproul.
The author’s fast-moving biography tells us that Sproul knew at 13 years of age that he would marry Vesta Voorhis. They would marry in 1960. He writes of Sproul’s father’s multiple strokes and death, telling us that it would be his father’s suffering that would drive him into the arms of the Suffering Savior, writing about his conversion in his dormitory room in 1957.

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What Does It Mean That God Is Sovereign? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Ligonier Ministries. 77 pages. 2022
****

This is one of the newest books in R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series, all of which are free in the digital edition. These books/booklets offer clear answers to the most common and difficult questions about the Christian faith. In this volume, Sproul looks at God’s sovereignty over nothing, creation, salvation, human actions and evangelism.
Sproul writes that when we say that God is sovereign, we are saying that His power is supreme in all reality, and no power in heaven or on earth can possibly resist the power of God. He tells us that there are four ways that God is sovereign. He is sovereign over nature. He is sovereign over history and human affairs. And He is sovereign in His inherent right to impose obligations on His creatures, to say to them, “Thou shalt not do this” and “Thou shalt do that.” He writes that God is sovereign, not we ourselves, and His sovereignty extends to all things, not only the creation of the world but the sustaining and governing of the world, and what we describe as the laws of nature only describe the ordinary ways that God in His sovereignty governs nature.
As with all of Sproul’s teaching, he communicates what can be hard to understand subjects in an easy-to-understand manner.

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BOOK REVIEW:

Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar by Alan Shipnuck. Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. 2022
***

Alan Shipnuck conducted nearly two hundred interviews for this book (players, caddies, swing coaches, etc.). He only spoke to Phil Mickelson once for the book, and that one call has caused all sorts of problems for Mickelson (his comments about Saudi Arabia and the PGA Tour), which continue to this day.
The author writes that Mickelson, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, winner of six major championships and 45 PGA Tour wins, tied for eighth all-time, is an enigma. His fans adore “Lefty”, who responds to their cheers with a grin and a “thumbs up”. But his longtime caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay (who Mickelson owed $900,000), stated “Nobody knows Phil Mickelson. Nobody. I spent twenty-five years standing next to the guy and he’s still a total mystery to me.”
In this book, the author shares both positives (how he has helped other players, his philanthropic work, his generosity with those in the service industry, and his random acts of kindness), and negatives (his ties with men of ill repute, his huge gambling debts – he had gambling losses totaling more than $40 million in the four-year period 2010–14) – and becoming involved in a messy insider-trading case) about Mickelson.3 The author tells us that the book is an attempt to reconcile the multitudes within Mickelson, and help us understand who the real Phil Mickelson is.

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Unguarded by Scottie Pippen with Michael Arkush. Atria Books. 303 pages. 2021  
***

Scottie Pippen is one of the greatest players in the history of the National Basketball Association. He is a six-time world champion with the Chicago Bulls and a member of the Hall of Fame. He also won two Gold Medals as a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball team. I, along with my family, was blessed to see the Bulls play in person many times during their incredible run, even though tickets were incredibly hard to get. It was a very special time in sports, one that I doubt I will ever see again.
Until now, Pippen has not written his autobiography, though his career was certainly worthy of one. After watching the acclaimed 2020 ESPN documentary The Last Dance, (for which teammate Michael Jordan was paid $10 million and no other Bull was paid anything), Pippen decided it was time to tell his story. He writes that there is a great deal in the ESPN documentary that has no business being in there, and also that a great deal that should have been included has been left out. Pippen writes that the documentary failed to give his Hall of Fame career the treatment it deserves. He states that The Last Dance was Jordan’s chance to tell his story, and Unguarded is Pippen’s.

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BOOK REVIEW:
All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football, and the First Miracle Season by Kurt Warner with Michael Silver. HarperOne. 284 pages. 2013 
****

The recent film American Underdog was based on this 2000 book about the incredible story of Kurt Warner. While I was somewhat disappointed that the film did not emphasize Warner’s Christian faith (read my review of the film here), that is not the case with this book.
The book tells the now well-known story of Warner, from being the starting quarterback at Northern Iowa University only his senior year, not being drafted, playing in the Arena Football league with the Iowa Barnstormers, stocking shelves for minimum wage at Hy-Vee to make ends meet, and playing in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals. He was eventually signed as a backup quarterback with the St. Louis Rams and when the starter was hurt in the preseason, Warner got the chance he had been waiting years for, and he made the most out of it leading the Rams to the Super Bowl, where Warner was named Most Valuable Player.
Warner’s parents divorced when he was four. He was raised in the Roman Catholic church, and though he doesn’t remember having much passion for his religion back then, he was an altar boy, and went to confession and Sunday school.
The book tells of his meeting his future wife Brenda, then a divorced mother of two, at the Wild E. Coyote bar. It was Brenda who was a Christian at that time, with Kurt becoming a Christian later on.
The book shows how his faith grew to the point that he now wants to be a role model for Christ in everything that he does. He writes that sharing his faith and glorifying Jesus is the central focus of his time on this earth.
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed American Underdog, and would like to know more of the Warner’s story.

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The Babylon Bee Guide to Wokeness. Salem Books. 214 pages. 2021
****

If you are tired of all of the wokeness in our culture, this hilarious new book from the folks at The Babylon Bee is for you. On the other hand, if you want to be woke, and thus be on the right side of history, this book is also be for you.
I’ve been a fan of the Christian satire site The Babylon Bee for several years. The book is creative and extremely funny as it looks at wokeness in America (and it doesn’t even touch on our military (perhaps in volume 2), and uses stick figure illustrations throughout.
To give you a flavor of the book, here is their definition of what being woke means:
“Realizing the problems in your life are not your fault. In fact, when you really think about it, nothing is your fault. Blame everyone else for your problems. This is the first step to being woke.”

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Paul McCartney The Lyrics 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney and Paul Muldoon. Liveright. 905 pages. 2021
****

This book is the result of approximately 50 hours of conversations about Paul McCartney’s songs over 24 sessions between McCartney and Paul Muldoon that took place between 2015 and 2020. In all, 154 of McCartney’s songs are included in the book. The lyrics of the songs are included, along with McCartney’s thoughts about the song, including what specifics lyrics were about, and how the song came to be. Many rare photographs are included in the book. McCartney wrote the Foreword and Muldoon the Introduction.
Along the way, you’ll find out interesting information such as:
•“Here, There and Everywhere” is McCartney’s favorite of his songs.
• He would include “I Saw Her Standing There” among his best work.
• McCartney’s parent’s attitudes weren’t religious, but they were good people and they showed McCartney and his brother a good way. In school and in church, he was given more formal religion, but he writes that his own sense of goodness, of a certain kind of spirituality, had already come from home. Today, he is not particularly religious in any conventional sense, but rather believes in the idea that there is some sort of higher force that can help us.
• 98% of his songs come from a musical idea, not a lyrical idea.
McCartney states that the life he has led – as a musician, performer, singer, songwriter – is incredible. He still feels like he’s just playing at it.
The book, which is beautifully put together, includes some adult language sprinkled throughout. Although in excess of 900 pages, the book is not intimidating, as the lyrics and photos included make the book read much shorter.
The book is a joy for McCartney/Beatles fans, and is a good companion to the six-part McCartney 3,2,1 television series McCartney did with Rick Rubin.


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The Dawn of Redeeming Grace: Daily Devotions for Advent by Sinclair Ferguson. The Good Book Company. 160 pages. 2021

****

Sinclair Ferguson follows up his 2018 Advent devotional Love Came Down at Christmas with The Dawn of Redeeming Grace, based on the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Ferguson tells us that Advent is all about the new beginning God has made possible by sending his Son for us and that Matthew’s opening words are good news for anyone who needs a new beginning.
Each of the twenty-four devotions ends with the lyrics of a hymn and a prayer. I enjoyed reading and discussing this book with my wife Tammy and also with a group of friends this past Christmas. I would recommend it to you for your devotional reading during the next Advent season.
As Christmas approaches, the author invites us to join him in exploring what Matthew says about those days that marked the dawn of redeeming grace and about how Christ’s light breaks into our lives today.

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40 Days of Grace by Paul Tripp. 96 pages. Crossway. 2020
***

One of my favorite books of devotional readings is Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. 40 Days of Grace is one of four small books of forty devotionals that have been taken from that book. The other books are 40 Days of Faith, Hope and Love. My recommendation would be to read the original New Morning Mercies, rather than these individual books.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from 40 Days of Grace:

  • Grace is the bottomless, treasure-laden mine of divine help. There simply is nothing comparable to God’s amazing grace.
  • Grace is more than just a story, it’s more than just a theology, and it’s more than just a powerful force—no, grace is a person, and his name is Jesus.
  • You no longer have to hope and pray that someday you will measure up, because Jesus has measured up on your behalf.
  • If you find more joy in serving God than yourself, you know that grace has entered your door, because only grace has the power to rescue you from you.
  • You measure up in his eyes even on those days when you don’t measure up, because Jesus measured up on your behalf.
  • God has welcomed you into his arms, but he’s not satisfied. He will not leave his work of redemption until every heart of every one of his children has been fully transformed by his powerful grace.
  • Only grace can cause you and me to abandon our confidence in our own performance and place our confidence in the perfectly acceptable righteousness of Jesus Christ.
  • Real freedom is only ever found when God’s grace liberates you to live for one infinitely greater than you.
  • Just as in the first moment we believed, we are always completely dependent on the grace of the Savior for every spiritual need.
  • Grace forces you to feel the pain of your regrets, but never asks you to pay for them, because the price has already been paid by Jesus.
  • We’re all still a bit of a mess; that’s why we need God’s grace today as much as we needed it the first day we believed.
  • On your very worst day and on your very best day, you are blessed with pleasures that come right from the hand of God. That tells you that you don’t get these pleasures because you’ve earned or deserved them, but because he is a God of grace.
  • Grace means that when God calls you, he goes with you, supplying what you need for the task at hand.

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  • Bryan Chapell Devotional. Daily Grace: 365 Daily Devotions Reflecting God’s Unlimited Grace is a new book of daily devotional readings by Bryan Chapell who served as President of Covenant Theological Seminary and more recently as Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.
  • Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold. My wife Tammy recently published a book about HOW to study the Bible. The book is available on Amazon in both a Kindle and paperback edition. She writes “Maybe you’ve read the Bible but want to dig deeper and know God and know yourself better. Throughout the book I use the analogy of making a quilt to show how the Bible is telling one big story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. Quilting takes much patience and precision, just like studying the Bible, but the end result is well worth it.”
  • 23 Tips from 23 Years of Book Reading. As an avid reader, I appreciated these reading tips from Tony Reinke.

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

Providence by John Piper

The providence of God is his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe. God’s providence carries his plans into action, guides all things toward his ultimate goal, and leads to the final consummation.

John Piper draws on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry to lead readers on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history.

Exploring the goal, nature, and extent of God’s purposes for the world, Piper offers an invitation to know the God who holds all things in his hands yet remains intimately involved in the lives of his people.

You can download the PDF of the book free from Desiring God.

Watch this six-minute video as John Piper talks about the book, and this interview with Dr. Joe Rigney of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

This week we look at Chapter 23: A Bath of Truth and the Gift of Birth. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:

  • Christ walked into death of his own accord. And he walked out of his own accord.
  • The praise of the glory of Christ, manifest supremely in dying and destroying death for his people, was the plan of the ages, and the purpose of all that has ever come to pass in the all-encompassing providence of God.
  • It belongs to God, and God alone, to have absolute sway over life and death.
  • Conception and birth are in the hands of the Lord.


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R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen Nichols. Crossway. 402 pages. 2021
****

R.C. Sproul, who went home to be with the Lord in December, 2017, was a spiritual mentor for me. Though I only met him when he signed books for me at Ligonier conferences over the years, he taught me Reformed theology through his books, teaching series and conferences. I was excited when I heard that Stephen Nichols was writing this first biography of Dr. Sproul, and purposely read it slowly, not wanting it to end. Nichols used the access he had – interviews with Sproul specifically for the biography, interviews with Sproul’s wife Vesta, access to Sproul’s personal library and personal notebooks, as well as access to people who knew him for decades and knew him best – to write a thorough a loving biography of Sproul.
Nichols’ biography takes us through Sproul’s life – from being called Sonny from the day he came home from the hospital, to drawing his final breath in a Florida hospital surrounded by family as the last notes of his “Highland Hymn” played on a CD player.
Nichols writes of Sproul, who thought of himself as a “battlefield theologian”, founding the Ligonier Valley Study Center in 1971 near Pittsburgh before moving Ligonier Ministries to Orlando, of meeting and marrying Vesta and being mentored by John Gerstner. He spends time quoting from some of Sproul’s more than one hundred books, including his classic The Holiness of God. He writes about Sproul’s work on the subject of the inerrancy of the Bible and the controversy over the doctrine of justification that arose with ECT (“Evangelicals and Catholics Together”) in 1994, the latter of which cost him friendships with J.I. Packer and Charles Colson. Sproul would say that ECT was the most painful part of his whole career.
The heart of Sproul’s ministry was teaching people who God is. Martin Luther was a mentor for him as much as John Gerstner, and as much a friend to him as was James Boice and John MacArthur.
Nichols looks at Sproul’s legacy and contributions. For me, the thing that I most appreciate about Sproul was his ability to take difficult theological topics and present them in a way in which I could understand them. Nichols writes that Sproul took the complex and made it clear and understandable, without distortion. He made it compelling. He was persuasive.

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