Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. 224 pages. Crossway. 2017
****

Look around, and many of the people you see will be looking down at their smartphone. It is amazing how smartphones have transformed our culture. This well-researched book by Tony Reinke is both an important one and a timely one.
More than a billion iPhones have been sold since Apple introduced it in 2007. Smartphones are now omnipresent. Amazingly, people check their smartphones about every four minutes they are awake.
The author looks at the positives (all the things they can do for us), and negatives (distractions, easier access to sexual sin, for example) of smartphones. The book is neither pro-smartphone, nor anti-smart phone. He encourages us to consider what impact the smartphone has had on our spiritual lives. He states that we might not know what our smartphones are doing to us, but we are being changed. He looks at the question of what is the best use of our smartphones in the flourishing of our life. The book is more diagnostic and worldview than it is application. The author states that the book will succeed only if we enjoy Christ more.
The author tells us that to look at our smartphone history is like piercing into our souls. Our smartphone habits expose our hearts.
He looks at a history of technology and offers a theology of technology. He shares that those addicted to smartphones are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and have a harder time concentrating at work and sleeping. He looks at the spiritual dimensions and consequences of our digital addiction and distractions. For example, when texting while driving, we are twenty-seven times more likely to have an accident. He addresses topics such as online anger, approval addiction (likes, shares, followers) and the impact smartphones have had on our reading of books, including the Bible. Other topics he looks at are identity and idolatry (do we worship our smartphones, our online presence?), isolation, slander, and the fear of missing out or being left out. Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Learning to Love the Psalms by Robert Godfrey. Reformation Trust Publishing. 263 pages. 2017
****

The author, a respected seminary president and professor, mentions that over the past several years the Psalms have been his favorite book of the Bible. He begins the book by looking at the attractiveness of the Psalms and asks why the book of Psalms is not more important to Christians today. He states that the aim of the book is to help the reader understand and appreciate the Psalms at a new level.
He tells us that John Calvin believed that singing in worship should include only the words found in the Bible. Calvin was responsible for versifying the Psalms, and stated that the Psalms were an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.
The author states that the main theme of the Psalms is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. There are also multiple subordinate themes of the Psalms that he identifies. They are:

-The sinfulness of the righteous
-The mysteries of providence in the success of the wicked
-The mysteries of providence in the suffering of the righteous
-Confidence in God and the future despite difficulties

The author tells us that keeping these themes in mind will help the reader see the basic message of the Psalms more clearly.
We are told that many (73) of the Psalms are specifically credited to David. The Psalms are from the perspective of the King. The New Testament quotes the Psalms 376 times from 115 different Psalms. The author writes that Jesus “fills and fulfills” the Psalms, and that he loved the Psalms.
The author tells us that we need to understand the forms of Hebrew poetry. He mentions the groups, or groupings, of Psalms. There are five sections to the book of Psalms. For each he devotes seven chapters in this book. Each chapter includes an introduction, and then he looks at six or more psalms from that section in detail. He also gives us ten good questions to ask of each psalm.
The book includes helpful questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter. I really enjoyed this excellent book, and I think anyone who would like to learn more about the book of Psalms will as well. Continue reading


Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 256 pages. 2017
****

I can’t think of anyone else that I would rather have write on the Gospel than John MacArthur. The 77-year-old pastor has faithfully served his church for more than 48 years. This is his third book in his The Gospel According To series, with previous books from the perspectives of Jesus and the Apostles.
The author writes that Paul was unlike any of the other apostles with his intelligence and academic credentials. Paul wrote more New Testament books than any other author. He consistently explained and defended the Gospel in his writings.
The author states that next to Jesus, Paul is the model for his pastoral ministry. Paul encourages us to imitate him and he imitated Christ.
The author reviews attacks on the Gospel (lordship salvation, etc.) he has addressed in some of his previous books. This book looks at the Gospel as Paul proclaims it in his writings; it also includes four appendices.
The author writes that the Gospel is under attack in our culture. It is also very much misunderstood by many. Most, if not all other religions besides Christianity, are works-based. They are about what we need to do. On the other hand, the Gospel is what God has already done for sinners. The Gospel is good news for sinners who can’t save themselves. But we first have to recognize that we are sinners and the helpless state of fallen humanity.
Paul has written that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He also wrote that no one seeks after God. Yet many churches continue to design their worship experiences for the “seeker”.
Given sin, how can a man be made right with God? The author states that the Gospel is the answer to that question.
The author goes over Paul’s writing on justification by faith alone (Sola Fide), and that Christians are justified by grace through faith. Justification is a gift. Grace is why the Gospel is such good news.
The author discusses penal substitutionary atonement, which some liberal theologians find abhorrent. He writes about the Great Exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21) and the offense of the cross.
The author writes about the sovereignty of God in salvation, and that our salvation is entirely God’s work. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners. Christ is our perfect substitute.
He also writes about such weighty topics as election, legalism and antinomianism in a manner that laypeople can easily understand them.
Highly recommended!

  • What I’m Reading. I found it interesting to see what Russell Moore has been reading lately.
  • 2017 Summer Reading List for Christians. David Qaoud shares 10 summer book recommendations. I’ve read most of these and have Reset and 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You on my summer reading list.
  • A Stack of Books for the Season: Summer Reading List for 2017. Albert Mohler shares his summer reading list. He writes “The following is my list of ten recommended books for summer reading. This list must be seen for what it is — a recommendation of ten books I am eager to recommend — books that I found thought-provoking and fun. My summer list tends, quite naturally, to reveal what I most enjoy reading in the season. As usual, the list is weighted towards history and historical biography.”

Continue reading


Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews

The Legacy of Luther, edited by R. C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols. Reformation Trust Publishing. 303 pages. 2016
****

This is a wonderful volume to read as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses (which are included in an appendix) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, initiating the Protestant Reformation. This anthology of essays honoring Luther from some of the most respected Reformed theologians today looks at several aspects of the life, ministry and legacy of the great reformer.
This in-depth volume includes a Foreword by John MacArthur and chapters by respected pastors and theologians such as Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, David Calhoun (who I enjoyed two church history courses at Covenant Seminary with), Michael Horton, Robert Godfrey, Gene Veith, Derek Thomas and many others. These essays cover a wide variety of aspects of Luther’s life and ministry, including his life at home, his music, his doctrine of scripture, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, his doctrine of vocation, as a man of conflict, his later years, as a preacher, on the sacraments, and a final reflection from R.C. Sproul on Luther and the life of the pastor-theologian.
The legacy of Martin Luther is vast and varied, and this book offers an attempt to summarize that legacy. The book is written for, and can be enjoyed by, both those who have little knowledge of Luther, and also for those who know him well. The book is organized into three sections – Luther’s Life, Luther’s Thought and Luther’s Legacy.
I highly recommend this book as a way to get to know Luther – warts and all – as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Reading Romans with Luther by R.J. Grunewald. Concordia Publishing. 136 pages. 2017
***

I was interested in reading this short book for several reasons. First, I enjoy reading books about the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, especially during this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Second, Romans is my favorite book of the Bible, and it is also where I was in my reading through the Bible at the time this book was published. Third, I have enjoyed the author’s blog and looked forward to reading a book by him.
The author, a Lutheran pastor, states that the book is meant to introduce the reader to the work of Martin Luther, to explain his words in a way that removes some of the intimidation. He realizes that Luther’s works can be intimidating, and this book is meant to take some of that intimidation away and guide the reader into Luther’s works. The author wants you to look at this book as Luther for everyday life.
The book does not contain Luther’s entire commentary on Romans, but only pertinent paragraphs that go along with the themes outlined in the table of contents. Rather than providing a linear exploration of Luther’s commentary, the author has divided and rearranged it according to thematic teachings in Romans. Continue reading


Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews

The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown.  Public Affairs. 307 pages. 2017
****

Many baseball fans will be aware of Rick Ankiel who was a top pitching prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals. In his rookie season at the age of 21, he started a playoff game for the Cardinals with great anticipation. His career had such promise. As a left-hander, he was being called the “next Sandy Koufax”. Then it happened. He writes that on a day when he asked his arm to be more special than ever, it deserted him. And for the next five years he chased the life he wanted, the one he believed he owed to himself, and the one he probably believed the world owed to him.
I was familiar with his story, but not the details that this honest book will give you. I came away with a new compassion for what he went through as he tried to understand what had happened to him and possible cures so that he could get back to being an elite pitcher with a great future. What happened to Ankiel is called “the Thing” because there’s no diagnosis and no cure. It is also called the monster, the yips and the phenomenon.
But there is much more to his story than what happened on the pitching mound in St. Louis on that fall afternoon.  He writes of his volatile father, who was often drunk, in trouble with the law and abusive to Ankiel’s mother. They were never married and he never acted as though they were, which Ankiel writes explains his half-sister— a whole other family—across town as he was growing up.
He writes about the nightmares, awake in the dead of night, waiting for his heart to settle, cursing the thing that would not leave him alone, not even in his sleep. He tried to drink and medicate those nights away. He tried to pitch them away in the minor leagues for the better part of four years. But four and a half years after “the pitch”, a pitch that even all that time later seemed so innocent, he retired at age twenty-five. His career was over almost before it had started, and yet he was not at all unhappy about it.  But within three hours of retiring as a pitcher, the Cardinals wanted him back – as an outfielder.
Ankiel returned to the major leagues as an outfielder on August 9, 2007, a game I remember watching. Incredibly, he hit a three-run home run in that game. Cardinal manager Tony La Russa stood by the dugout steps, applauding and smiling. Nobody could ever recall seeing that before. Years later, La Russa would recall it as one of the happiest days of his life. As a hitter, Ankiel was soon called “the Natural.”
Ankiel writes of Dr. Harvey Dorfman, a sports psychologist, who played a very important part of his life. They met in the spring of 2000, and Harvey became one of his best friends, in many ways replacing the real father he despised. Ankiel writes that Harvey saved careers, that he probably saved lives, or at least made them exceedingly more livable. He became what Ankiel had hoped for in a father and what his two boys should’ve had in a grandfather.
Ankiel retired for good after the summer of ’13, when the New York Mets released him. All in all, he played for six teams in six cities—St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, and finally New York. Seven years a pitcher, seven years not. He then took a job with the Washington Nationals as their Life Skills Coordinator.
He states that he has written this book about his story for his two sons so that when they are old enough and curious enough they will hear it from his perspective. The book does include a fair amount of adult language and is certainly hard to read at times. Ankiel’s story is sad, tragic and ultimately triumphant. He is a survivor; his life story would make a great movie.
Sadly, he does not speak of having any faith. One wonders how that would have helped him in his times of darkness. Continue reading


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

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