Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

What is the Gospel? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 109 pages. 2020. 
****

In this new book in R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions series (all of which are free in the Kindle edition), he looks at the important issue of the gospel. We often talk about the gospel, but if asked, would we be able to tell someone just what the gospel is? The gospel isn’t our personal testimony, for example.
Sproul indicates that there is perhaps no more important question for us to answer than what the gospel is, because the answer we give will help to determine our eternal destiny. The gospel tells us how we can be saved from our sin. It is therefore crucial that we search the Scriptures carefully in order to clearly articulate what God tells us about how we may be saved.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


One Line Drive: A Life-Threatening Injury and a Faith-Fueled Comeback by Daniel Ponce de Leon with Tom Zenner. FaithWords. 225 pages. 2021
***

This book, written by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon is about how his life changed after being hit in the head by a line drive by the Iowa Cubs’ Victor Caratini on May 9, 2017. In an instant, his life changed forever. He had no idea that almost dying that day would be a gift from God. He writes that as strange as it sounds, the injury he suffered was, in some ways, the best thing that has happened in his life. He now thinks of his injury as a wake-up call. It showed him just how far he had to go to grow in his journey as a Christian.
The book takes us through that horrific incident – he had a large epidural hematoma and skull fracture, the hematoma being what turned it into a life-and-death situation, his recovery, his battle to make it to the major leagues – his path took him through four colleges and five minor league towns – and his transformation and the spiritual growth that took place during that period.
Daniel’s head absorbed the full force of the impact of the batted ball, with excessive bleeding taking place on the inside of his skull near his brain. If it wasn’t for the quick decisions and actions of trainer Scott Ensell, Daniel could have died.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. 343 pages. NavPress. 1991
****

I’ve read most of the books written by Jerry Bridges, who went home to be with the Lord in 2016. I first read this book in a class at Covenant Seminary about eight years ago, and I recently read and discussed it again with a friend.
Bridges writes that the Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. He tells us that it is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians. A key point is that many of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. That is, if we have performed well (had our “quiet time”, etc.), then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. Bridges tells us that though we are saved by grace, we are often live by our own performance. The realization that our daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on our own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter by Tim Keller. Viking. 272 pages. 2021
****

Tim Keller tells us that he began this book on the resurrection and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Writing in such dark times helped him see in the resurrection new depths of comfort and power.
In this book, Keller looks at what Christ as the resurrected one gives to us for life now. He focuses on the resurrection as a key to understanding the whole Bible and to facing all the challenges of life—suffering, personal change, injustice, moral clarity, and the uncertainty of the future. I read with particular interest his five case studies of people who met Jesus after his resurrection and his discussion of unrest and dissatisfaction regarding all social relationships (between economic classes, the races and nationalities, and the sexes). He tells us that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians have the resources for a transformation of social relationships that can be a powerful sign to the watching world.
A key theme throughout the book is what he refers to as “The Great Reversal”, an idea which he writes is at the heart of the gospel. Keller tells us that the cross and resurrection is the Great Reversal. Christ saves us through weakness by giving up power and succumbing to a seeming defeat. But he triumphs—not despite the weakness and loss of power but because of it and through it. His basic thesis of the book is that the resurrection, the Great Reversal, brings us both the power and the pattern for living life now connected to God’s future new creation. The way up is down, that the way to strength is through weakness, and that God has a plan and walks with us in the midst of our suffering, fragility, and helplessness.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? (Revised and Expanded Anniversary Edition) by John MacArthur. Zondervan. 385 pages. 2009 
****

At the beginning of 1978, John MacArthur began preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, verse by verse, a series which eventually lasted seven and a half years, comprising 226 sermons. After completing that series, MacArthur wrote this now modern-day classic to distill his observations about how Jesus proclaimed His own gospel, and to take a hard look at the truths He included in the gospel message. His chief goal was to take an honest and in-depth look at Jesus’ gospel and His evangelistic methods. He knew that the book would be controversial, as he wrote it in part as a response to an already-existing controversy.
He writes that there is no more important issue than the question of what gospel we ought to believe and proclaim. He tells us that he is convinced that our lack of clarity on the most basic matter of all — the gospel — is the greatest detriment to the work of the church in our day, and nothing matters more than what Scripture says about the good news of salvation. He writes that the theme of the gospel according to Jesus is that He came to call sinners to repentance.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 184 pages. 2021 
****

 

I’ve enjoyed several of Paul Tripp’s devotionals over the past few years, my favorite being his New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. His latest devotional gives us 40 readings, some in poetry form, leading up to Easter. Each reading begins a short statement, which may have originally been one of the author’s tweets. He suggests using this devotional as your stimulus and guide as you stop, consider, mourn, confess, pray, and give your heart to thanksgiving.
Through these readings, and the “Reflection Questions” included at the end of each selection, we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross. The author writes that the horrible, public sacrifice of Jesus should ignite not only our celebration, but also our mourning.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

The Characters of Easter: The Villains, Heroes, Cowards, and Crooks Who Witnessed History’s Biggest Miracle by Daniel Darling. Moody Publishers. 208 pages. 2021
****

Daniel Darling follows up his popular The Characters of Christmas book (see my review of that book here), with a similar book about the characters of Easter. The book is easy to read and engaging, but don’t mistake that for this being a simple book that you will not learn from. Darling offers much information about the history of the period and the background of the characters that you might not have previously been aware of. Like the previous book, I read and discussed this one with a group of men I’ve been meeting with to read and discuss books for many years now. Also like the previous book, this book includes study questions at the end of each chapter, along with suggested hymns and songs related to the chapter that are helpful whether you are reading the book individually or with a group.
The author tells us that Jesus took upon Himself your sins so you could enjoy intimacy with your Father, and that Easter means those who are in Christ will be made alive, spiritually and physically. By looking at unlikely disciples, unprepared civil authorities, and unscrupulous religious leaders in this book, we can learn more about the setting in which Jesus lived and died, and we will gain a great love for God’s long and sure plan of salvation and rescue.
I highly recommend this book to you. Below, I’ve provided two takeaways from each of the chapters of the book:

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


My Heart Cries Out: Gospel Meditations for Everyday Life by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 256 pages. 2019
****

After reading a few other devotional books by Paul Tripp (New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional, and A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble), I looked forward to reading his latest book of devotional readings. This book includes 120 meditations written in the form of poetry, accompanied by beautiful photography by Tim Kellner. For the book, Kellner traveled to ten countries and five continents. The photography selections are meant to reflect the content and themes contained within the poetry. After each meditation, there is a related Bible verse, questions and a Bible passage for further study and encouragement on the subject matter of the meditation.

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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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Don’t Hibernate: Stand the Test of Time

I listened to Alistair Begg’s excellent teaching series The Hand of God about the life of Joseph and God’s providence. It’s one of my favorite sermon series, and there is a corresponding revised book of the same title.   John Piper has also released a new book entitled “Providence”.
Toward the end of Pastor Begg’s series, and the end of Joseph’s life, is a message titled “Famous Last Words”. Joseph, who has led an incredible life, is now 110 years old and has stood the test of time. Begg then asks us if we are going to buy into the mythology that what we do in life is kill ourselves for as long as we can, to line the nest in which we plan to hibernate, so that the whole of life is just a preparation for hibernation. Or, will we, like Joseph, stand the test of time?
Perhaps you are already retired, or are close to it. Continue reading