Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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20 More Great Quotes from ‘The Prodigal Prophet’ by Tim Keller

The Prodigal Prophet is quite simply the best book I’ve read this year. I recently shared my review and 20 of the best quotes from the book. Below are 20 more great quotes from the book:

  1. To work against social injustice and to call people to repentance before God interlock theologically.
  2. When you say, “I won’t serve you, God, if you don’t give me X,” then X is your true bottom line, your highest love, your real god, the thing you most trust and rest in.
  3. When Christian believers care more for their own interests and security than for the good and salvation of other races and ethnicities, they are sinning like Jonah. If they value the economic and military flourishing of their country over the good of the human race and the furtherance of God’s work in the world, they are sinning like Jonah. Their identity is more rooted in their race and nationality than in being saved sinners and children of God.
  4. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.
  5. We learn from Jonah that understanding God’s grace—and being changed by it—always requires a long journey with successive stages.
  6. As long as there is something more important than God to your heart, you will be, like Jonah, both fragile and self-righteous. Whatever it is, it will create pride and an inclination to look down upon those who do not have it. It will also create fear and insecurity. It is the basis for your happiness, and if anything threatens it, you will be overwhelmed with anger, anxiety, and despair.
  7. Jesus is the prophet Jonah should have been. Yet, of course, he is infinitely more than that.
  8. Christian identity is received, not achieved.
  9. Here we see God’s righteousness and love working together. He is both too holy and too loving to either destroy Jonah or to allow Jonah to remain as he is, and God is also too holy and too loving to allow us to remain as we are.
  10. One of the main reasons that we trust God too little is because we trust our own wisdom too much. We think we know far better than God how our lives should go and what will make us happy.
  11. Life in the world is filled with storms—with difficulties and suffering—some of which we have directly brought on ourselves but many of which we have not. In either case, God can work out his good purposes in our lives through the storms that come upon us (Romans 8:28).
  12. There’s love at the heart of our storms. If you turn to God through faith in Christ, he won’t let you sink. Why not? Because the only storm that can really destroy—the storm of divine justice and judgment on sin and evil—will never come upon you. Jesus bowed his head into that ultimate storm, willingly, for you.
  13. A God who suffers pain, injustice, and death for us is a God worthy of our worship.
  14. One of the main concerns of the book of Jonah is that believers should respect and love their neighbors, including those of a different race and religion.
  15. Individual Christians can and should be involved politically, as a way of loving our neighbors. Nevertheless, while individual Christians must do this, they should not identify the church itself with one set of public policies or one political party as the Christian one.
  16. Jonah resents God’s mercy given to racial “others.” His race and nation have become not merely good things that he loves but idols.
  17. It is common for us to insist that everyone “respect difference”—allow people to be themselves—but in the very next moment we show complete disrespect for anyone who diverges from our cherished beliefs. We sneer at people more liberal than us as social justice warriors; we disdain those more conservative than us as hateful bigots.
  18. What makes a person a Christian is not our love for God, which is always imperfect, but God’s love for us.
  19. To ground your identity in your own efforts and accomplishments—even in the amount of love you have for Jesus—is to have an unstable, fragile identity.
  20. When you become a Christian you don’t stop being Chinese or European, but now your race and nation don’t define you as fully as they did. You do not rely on them for worth and honor in the same way. You are a Christian first and Chinese or European second.
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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy by Timothy Keller. Viking. 272 pages. 2018
****

The Prodigal Prophet is quite simply the best book I’ve read this year. It offers many insights that I never considered about the small (four chapter) book of Jonah, and makes helpful applications to our current culture. Depending on your political persuasion, and stance on the current immigration debate, chances are you may not agree with everything he writes.
Keller tells us “The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour”.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and a review of Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands from The Lord to His People by John MacArthur
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
I’M CURRENTLY READING….

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NEW AND UPCOMING BOOKS

Here are several new or upcoming books, in a variety of genres, that I’m looking forward to (descriptions are courtesy of Amazon):

Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles

To be published June 26.

“When the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback went down with a torn ACL in week 14 of the 2017 NFL season, many fans—and commentators—assumed the Eagles’ season was over.
Instead, Nick Foles came off the bench and, against all odds, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in history.
How did Nick get it done—winning MVP honors, silencing the critics, and shocking the world? How did the man who was on the verge of retiring just two seasons earlier stay optimistic and rally the team to an astounding win? How did he stay ready despite numerous trades and discouraging injuries, able to step up in the moment and perform at the top of his game?
Believe It offers a behind-the-scenes look at Nick’s unlikely path to the Super Bowl, the obstacles that threatened to hold him back, his rediscovery of his love for the game, and the faith that grounded him through it all. Learn from the way Nick handled the trials and tribulations that made him into the man he is today—and discover a path to your own success.” Continue reading


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Book Review: Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller

book_review
Making Sense of God, An Invitation to the Skeptical – Tim KellerMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller. Viking. 336 pages. 2016
****  

This book is considered to be a prequel to Tim Keller’s excellent 2008 book Reason for God. The author wrote the book to bring secular readers to a place where they might find it even sensible and desirable to explore the extensive foundations for the truth of Christianity. He compares the beliefs and claims of Christianity with the beliefs and claims of the secular view, asking which one makes more sense of a complex world and human experience. He challenges both the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the belief that secular, nonreligious people are basing their view of life mainly on reason. He then compares and contrasts how Christianity and secularism seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.
Who is the book written for? The author states that if you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then the book is written for you. In addition, if you have friends or family who feel this way, the book will be of interest for you and them as well.
He gives us two reasons to read the book. The first is practical. He first states not whether religion is true, but only to make the case that it is by no means a dying force. The second reason is a personal one. He writes that if you are experiencing unquiet and dissatisfaction in your life, they may be signs of a need for God that is there but which is not recognized as such.
This is a weighty read, not one that you will read through quickly. Of the many topics that he covered, the two that I got the most out of were his discussions of identity and particularly the problem that morals pose for secular people.
The author includes a list of five books for further reading that will give readers a good overview of Christian beliefs presented in the context of most contemporary arguments for and against their validity.
This was one of the best books I read in 2016, and I highly recommend it.  Click on this link to read more reviews of Tim Keller’s books. Continue reading


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Why I Would Recommend You Don’t Go See the Movie “The Shack”

the-shackKnowing that I enjoy going to the movies, I’ve already had many friends ask me if I was planning to see the upcoming film adaptation of William P. Young’s best-selling 2007 novel The Shack. When I tell them that I’m not going due to serious theological issues in the book, they usually respond that they don’t know or care too much about theological issues, they just loved the book.

Several years ago, when it seemed like everyone I talked to was reading the book (the book has sold an incredible 22 million copies to date), I decided to read it myself. I wanted to see why it was resonating with so many people, even some of my friends who didn’t regularly attend church. And while the book can speak to those who have experienced a tragedy or lost a loved one, I had serious concerns about the way the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were portrayed.

To help you be discerning as you consider whether or not to watch the film or read the book (as interest in the book has been rekindled with the release of the film), I offer the below perspectives from three respected Christians teachers.

  1. Tim Keller. In this article Tim Keller writes “But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
  2. Tim Challies. In this article (which also links to his lengthy review of the book), Tim Challies writes “The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.”
  3. Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn writes “Unfortunately, increasingly few people these days are well grounded in the Word and have both the knowledge and the discernment to filter out the bad while embracing the good. That means that some people, perhaps many, will fail to recognize the book’s theological weaknesses, and therefore be vulnerable to embracing them, even if unconsciously. Sadly, I personally know some who have been led down a path of universalism through their understanding of the book and what they have heard the author say, either publicly or privately.”

I know these comments won’t be popular with many. Please seriously consider them when making your decision about whether you will see this film. And if you disagree with what is written here, please let me know and why.  Also, if you need good materials that address the topics in the movie such as “Where was God when I lost my loved one?” I would be glad to give you some recommendations.

Blessings!


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My Review of “Explore by the Book”

explore-by-the-book-90-days-in-john-14thru17-romans-and-james-by-timothy-keller-and-sam-allberryExplore by the Book: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans & James by Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry. The Good Book Company. 192 pages. 2017
***

Explore by the Book looks at John 14-17, with verse by verse readings/commentary written by Sam Allberry, Romans, written by Tim Keller, and James, written by Allberry. The 90 devotionals included in this book are taken from the Explore Quarterly devotional.  The book is referred to as an “open Bible devotional”, in that you will need to keep your printed or digital Bible open as you use these studies. You’ll be asked questions throughout so that you think about the text. While it is commendable to provide a product which will have you interact with the Scriptures such as this, I feel it was a major misstep to not include the actual Scripture text (or at least a hyperlink to the passage in the e-book edition), being discussed in the book. I read almost all of my books in the Kindle version. As I read the book, I had to constantly exit the book and look up the passage in my Kindle version of the Bible. This decreased my devotional experience with the book.

It is suggested that you set aside a half an hour a day for 90 days to work through these studies, and to respond to the questions that are provided. Each study has sub-sections of the passage covered. After each small chunk of teaching there will be questions to address, and one or both of the headings Apply, and Pray. You are to use these sections to turn what you have read in the Bible and speak back to God.

This book, which features excellent content, would best be read in the hardback edition, which comes with ribbon marker and space for journaling.  It is suggested that before you read each study that you read the passage and then include several things:

  • The Highlight: the truth about God that most struck you.
  • The Query: the questions you have about what you have read (and your best attempt at answering them).
  • The Change: the major way you feel the Spirit is prompting you to change either your attitudes, or your actions, as a result of what you have read.

After you have completed each study, record:

  • One sentence summing up how God has spoken to you through his word.
  • A short prayer in response to what you have seen.

Explore by the Book is a wonderful concept that is best used with the hardback edition of the book and a physical copy of your Bible open. I would not recommend the e-book format, due to the concerns expressed above.


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Prepare to Celebrate the Christ of Christmas with these Three Wonderful New Books

Over the past year three of my favorite authors – Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg – have written wonderful books about the true meaning of Christmas. Enjoy my reviews of these books below – better yet read these books! – as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Hidden Christmas, The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim KellerHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. Viking. 154 pages. 2016
****

Tim Keller states that the ideas expressed in this short book were forged not in writing but in preaching. Each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text that he delivered in Christmas services across the decades.

He tells us that Christmas is a Christian holy day that is also a major secular holiday, resulting in two different celebrations, each observed by millions of people, which brings some discomfort on both sides. His fear is that the true roots of Christmas will become more and more hidden to most of the population. In this book he aims to make the truths of Christmas less hidden. He looks at some passages of the Bible that are popular because they are read each Christmas.

In the first chapters of the book, looking at the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the gifts God gave us at Christmas. In the following chapters, looking at the Gospel of Luke, we consider how we can welcome and receive those gifts.

Through the Christmas story, Keller tells us about the Gospel. This is a book that I recommend you read and discuss with others, which I am doing with friends in a book club at work. Keller says many things about Christmas and the Gospel that I appreciated. A few of them are:

  • To accept the true Christmas gift, you have to admit you’re a sinner. You need to be saved by grace.
  • Christmas is not simply about a birth but about a coming.
  • Christmas shows us that Christianity is not good advice. It is good news.
  • Christmas means that God is working out his purposes. He will fulfill his promises.
  • Christmas tells us that despite appearances to the contrary, God is in control of history, and that someday he will put everything right.
  • Christmas means that for those that are believers in Christ, there is all the hope in the world.
  • The doctrine of Christmas, of the incarnation, is that Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human.
  • No one is really neutral about whether Christmas is true. If the Son of God was really born in a manger, then we have lost the right to be in charge of our lives.
  • Christmas means that the King has come into the world. But the Bible tells us that Jesus comes as King twice, not once.
  • Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter.
  • Christmas means illumination and spiritual light from God; it means reconciliation and peace with God by grace; it means God taking on a human nature.
  • Christmas means the increase of peace, both with God and between people.
  • The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.
  • Christmas means that salvation is by grace.
  • Christmas means you can have fellowship with God.
  • Christmas and the incarnation mean that God went to infinite lengths to make himself one whom we can know personally.
  • The incarnation, Christmas, means that God is not content to be a concept or just someone you know from a distance.
  • The joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.

Child in the MangerChild in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 216 pages. 2015 
****

This book was published just before Christmas 2015. Sinclair Ferguson is one of our day’s best Reformed theologians. I have read many of his books and heard him speak many times at the Ligonier National Conference. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in numerous churches and seminaries throughout the world, and is also a Ligonier Teaching Fellow. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed and was blessed by this new book.
Dr. Ferguson writes that this book sets out to explore the question of the real meaning of Christmas. He tells us that when we find the answer we realize that it isn’t only for the Christmas season. He states that at the center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. He does so because he is at the center of God’s story. Christ who is the creator of all things has entered his own creation in order to become our Savior. That is what gives Christmas meaning. It is what gives history and our lives meaning too.
He writes that the heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger, who is destined to be bound again later in life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary. He tells us that the meaning of Christmas is this: the Light of the world has come into the darkness of the world, in order to bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and to illuminate them with the grace of forgiveness. He tells us that Christmas is not coming, but it has already come. The Word already has been made flesh. He already has lived, bled, died, and risen again for us. Now all that remains is to receive him. For Jesus is the meaning of Christmas.
He tells us that Philippians 2:5-11, which he calls a bold, even a daring passage, tells the inside story of Christmas. As we mature as Christians, we begin to count others as more significant than ourselves. This is what the Christmas gospel does. Or to state it differently, this is what the Christ of Christmas does. But he does so only when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.
The author tells us that the New Testament does not obligate Christians to celebrate Christmas. However, he writes, the wisdom of the church throughout the ages suggests that if we do not celebrate the incarnation of Christ deliberately at some point in the year we may be in danger of doing it all too rarely, perhaps not at all.
In his writing and speaking, Dr. Ferguson has a wonderful way with words. Here is an example as he writes of the birth narrative: “The one who populated the forests with trees lies within the bark of one. The one who has always been face to face with his Father now stares into the face of his teenage mother. The one whom the heavens cannot contain is contained within a stable. He who cradles the universe is himself cradled in an animal’s feeding trough.”
Today, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. The author states that they love to hear Christmas music, even to sing the familiar Christmas carols. But, he tells us, their hearts seem to go cold when they hear about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The response is then, whether they say it or not, “Let’s sings the songs, but don’t talk to us about being saved from sin!” Let us enjoy Christmas without Christ!”
Finally, Dr. Ferguson tells us that the true meaning of Christmas is seeking, finding, trusting, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.
I so enjoyed reading this book just a few weeks before we celebrate the birth of the One who came to save us from our sins. Ferguson writes about Jesus, “The heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger who is destined to be bound again in later life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary.”

Christmas Playlist, Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas – Alistair BeggChristmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 80 pages. 2016
****

This new book is about Christmas songs, but not necessarily Christmas songs you might have anticipated. Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor for 33 years at Parkside Church in Cleveland, looks at four songs of the first Christmas, which were heard before, during and after the birth of the baby who lies at the heart of the real Christmas.  This is a “playlist” that helps us to prepare for Christmas properly, and to celebrate Christmas joyfully.

In this short book which reads like an extended sermon, he looks at the following four songs:

  • Mary’s Song. This is a song inspired by her role in the events of the first Christmas, but in which she doesn’t sing about herself, but about God. The author writes that it is the first Christmas song in history.
  • Zechariah’s Song. The author writes that Zechariah is singing about the truth that God has turned up. And he has turned up to redeem us—to pay the price, bear the cost of freeing us and restoring us so that we can know him and live with him again, forever.
  • The Angel’s Song. The angel’s choir declares what this baby will achieve: “On earth peace.” The peace of God that invades a life is based on the discovery of peace with God.
  • Simeon’s Song. Simeon was a devout believer in God who was patiently waiting for the promises God had made to be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw these promises begin to unfold. About his song the author writes “And this is why the wooden food trough led to the wooden cross, and why you will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter. Christianity is not good advice about what we should do. It is the good news of what Christ has done. Christianity does not proclaim that you are worth saving or able to save yourself. It announces that God is mighty to save.” He goes on to write that between the events of the first Christmas Eve and the first Easter Sunday, Simeon’s words had come true.

This is a book about four songs that tell about the gift of redemption through faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The author writes that Christmas provokes a decision. At that first Christmas, Jesus came to you. Now you must decide whether you will come to him.  This would be an excellent book to give a non-believer to read and discuss together.