Reading good books is like listening to good sermons. But with books, I get to tell the preacher to stop talking for five minutes while I mull over what he just said. My pastor doesn’t seem to like it when I do that on Sunday morning. And I get to tell the preacher to repeat what he said 10 minutes ago so I can understand it better in light of what he just said now. My pastor doesn’t like it when I do that either. He’s funny like that. But my books don’t disapprove when I jump from page to page or when I stop to read the endnotes. I learn a lot from biblically based books because they make me think about who God is, what he has done, and what the Bible tells me about living life.
So, I want to share a little bit about the books I read in hope that it’ll stir an interest in you to read some of them too. My most recent review will be at the top of the list. When I write a new review, I’ll move the previous one into a category as the list grows (i.e., marriage, anger, depression, child training, etc.). I pray this is of some use to you and I hope you enjoy…
List of Books Reviewed
War of Words by Paul David Tripp
Out of the Blues by Wayne Mack
Dealing with Personal Sin
Sex is Not the Problem (Lust is) by Joshua Harris
A Fight to the Death by Wayne Mack with Joshua Mack
Killing Sin Habits by Stuart Scott (with Zondra Scott)
The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard
Finally Free by Heath Lambert
A Theology of Biblical Counseling by Heath Lambert
Galatians for You by Timothy Keller
No Falling Words: Expositions of the Book of Joshua by Dale Ralph Davis
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn-Lloyd Jones
God’s Greater Glory by Bruce Ware
Christians think about the Gospel, they usually focus on the what Jesus did on the cross – that He paid the penalty for sin that I deserved. That aspect of the Gospel is true, and it is unbelievably magnificent…but it’s not the whole story. Indeed, Paul prays that you “may have the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). This book helps answer that prayer.
Bridges teaches us about “the riches of his glorious inheritance” by helping us understand a number of aspects regarding the Gospel. He first expounds on how “Jesus not only died for us, He also lived for us” (33). His sinless life, His life where He delighted to do the Father’s will, is attributed to us because of our union with Christ. And our union with Him is what continues to bring us peace because as believers there are times when “the painful awareness of our sin almost overwhelms us,” but that’s when we need to remember “that Christ Jesus has fully satisfied God’s justice for us” (45). Not just at the moment of salvation, but in every moment of our lives.
Indeed, Bridges explains, “regardless of how much you grow in Christ, you will never arrive at a point when your Christian character or conduct will make you acceptable to God. You will always be dependent on the perfect righteousness of Christ” (102). And “the more a person counts as loss his own righteousness and lays hold by faith the righteousness of Christ, the more he will be motivated to live and work for Christ” (113).
He goes on to explain the concepts of God’s wrath, propitiation, and that of the scapegoat, helping us to understand how God can be just yet still forgive us in such a way that He chooses to never bring our sins to mind again. I think one of the most significant aspects of the Gospel that he explains so well is our adoption “that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal 4:5). He explains how understanding what our adoption means gives us comfort and confidence as we come to our Father for all the needs of life and godliness. That adoption ensures that we also continue to be conformed into the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29).
This deeper understanding of the Gospel helps us to see and to get excited about the fact that “during our sojourn here we are not just to wait for our hope of heaven, but are to be actively and vigorously engaged in becoming more like Christ and of extending the rule of Hid kingdom” (154).
The Gospel for Real Life is simply one of those books every Christian should read for a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the Gospel which results in joyful and purposeful spiritual growth.
While I’ve always enjoyed reading the book of Joshua, I had never discovered the richness and practical application that fills the pages of this narrative until reading this book. Davis does a wonderful job bringing the book of Joshua to life with this work that is, first of all, easy to read. This is not some academic tome full of technical and grammatical detail – it’s a work that shows us how applicable the book of Joshua is to our daily Christian walk and is written in an engaging and enjoyable style.
The overall theme is God’s amazing faithfulness throughout Redemption history; as Davis puts it, “God’s promise contains no falling words, only standing ones, upon which we, too, can stand” (8). The book is divided into four sections – entering, taking, possessing, and retaining the land. In each section, Davis shows God’s presence with His people is what ensures their success – God commands Joshua to “be strong and bold” (1:6-9), but “he is to be strong only because Yahweh is with him” (19); that same promise is for us today as we read in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Throughout the book, Davis continuously points out how each phase of taking the Promised Land is a fulfillment of God’s promises, detailing specific ones which go all the way back to Abraham; and “what Yahweh began, he brought to completion” (41). Another theme that runs through the book is that the way that God’s people remain strong in the face of adversity is by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. As he puts it, “the greatest enemy of faith may be forgetfulness” (39).
It would take pages to jot down all the quotable nuggets in the book, but a small sample includes:
- Speaking of God’s sovereignty in the conquest: “Divine sovereignty does not negate human activity but stimulates it. God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that shackles us but a reality that liberates us; not a cloud that stifles but an elixir that invigorates” (93).
- Concerning God’s power over the giant enemies of Israel: “The form of our fears is different; the adequacy of our God is the same” (102).
- In describing the many years required for the conquest of Canaan: “Sometimes we relish the call for heroism but not that for durability. The Christian’s faith is not so much proved by his courage in a sudden crisis as by his faithfulness in daily plodding” (135).
The book is full of insights regarding the historical struggle to win the Promised Land as well as rich, encouraging, and practical parallels to the believer’s walk today.
The subtitle of this book is “Blueprints for Sanctification” and in it, Ferguson promises to work “through some of the most important biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness” (ix). Sounds like a pretty big promise, but since his approach “is not so much a ‘how to’ book as it is a ‘how God does it one,’” Ferguson delivers on his promise. The blueprint he describes at the beginning is the very concept of holiness. Rather than defining holiness as a separation from sin, he points out that God’s holiness must be defined in terms apart from creation since God was holy before anything was created. What he tells us then, is that to be holy “is in simple terms, to be devoted to God” (4). Sanctification, then, is the process of becoming holy which “is the work God does” to separate us from sin and to transform our lives to “reflect his own being and character” (12). And becoming holy is the purpose for which God saved us, that we might in turn have fellowship with the Holy Trinity.
Ferguson then spends some time describing how Scripture first describes the indicatives of the gospel (what God has done for us) which then provides both the motivation and the ability to obey the imperatives (what God commands us to do). The way God transforms us to into His image is through our union and communion with Christ. Ferguson points out that Paul never refers to himself or other believers as “Christians, but rather as those who are “in Christ.” He goes on to say, “believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too” (61). The implications of that statement are enormous: “’every spiritual blessing’ becomes ours in Christ. When we ‘get’ Christ by faith, we ‘get’ everything that is in him to pardon, liberate, and transform our lives” (62). While our justification is by God’s grace, so is our sanctification. And God’s grace does not make our effort unnecessary, it makes it effective.
Ferguson then spends the rest of the book (235 pages before the appendices) fleshing out what all this means in practical terms - just what is it that God does and what is it that we do? As a summary, Tim Challies writes that “Devoted to God is a brilliant work and one that I think is fit to enter the rare company of Christian classics.” I couldn’t agree with him more.
In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus tells us clearly that the real issue with any sin in our life is the heart – what’s inside of us. As we work to overcome sin, it’s sometimes difficult to understand our own heart. Many people who come for counsel do so because they struggle so very much. They know that the way they get angry, or abuse prescription medicine, or look at pornography, or speak rudely to their spouse is sin. They want to change, yet don’t know how. Simplistic answers don’t usually work. People are dynamic. To help people change, we need to get to know and understand the dynamics influences in their lives, and then help them to understand themselves and their relationship with God. In this book, Pierre’s “goal is to give a theological vision of how faith in Christ restores the dynamic human heart and a practical vision of how to help people join in on the process” (5).
Pierre unquestionably succeeds in his goal. He first gives us a theological understanding on the dynamic human heart. He explains how the human heart responds cognitively (knowledge and beliefs), affectively (desires and emotions), and volitionally (choices and commitments). After discussing each of these aspects of the heart in relation to creation, fall, and redemption, he then discusses the context of human experience. The context he explains is how the human heart responds to God, to self, to others, and to circumstances. The good news, of course, is that it’s the Good News that enables change. “The Holy Spirit enables personal faith in God’s Word to conform people’s thoughts to God’s, shape people’s values around what they find precious, and establishes godly priority of commitments. Faith changes everything” (119).
Just as Pierre’s theology is solid, so his practical advice is meaningful and useful. He advises, “To give wisdom, the counselor needs to understand the situation adequately, process it biblically, and speak to it skillfully” (177). He then spends the final chapters explaining what counselors should be trying to learn, what they should be getting their counselees to see, and finally, helping them see how they should respond to their circumstances. Filled with suggested “Questions to Ask,” this section is immensely valuable as a practical aid in counseling.
In summary, this is a “must read” book for any biblical counselor and a “you really should read this” book for anyone who desires have “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” 1 Tim 1:5.
“Counseling is a theological discipline” (11). So goes the very first sentence of Chapter 1. From there, Lambert explores each of the major areas that are normally included in a systematic theology book and shows how each of them apply when we minister to and counsel others. Lambert doesn’t do this in some theoretical way that makes us struggle to apply it. Instead, he starts each chapter with an example of a person who he has personally counseled (changing the names, of course), describes the issues with which they struggled, and brings a specific theological thought to bear on each person’s life issues.
The first area Lambert deals with is the doctrine regarding the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. As he relates his counseling experience with Trenyan, who struggled with cutting herself, Lambert writes, “Whenever you speak, you do it out of a commitment to some kind of wisdom. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a promise that God himself will give you something from him to say in those sacred moments” (38).
The next chapter deals with common grace and how that applies to secular psychology. This chapter is an excellent treatment that explains the areas in which we can agree with psychology and those in which we do not. We always want to investigate physiological reasons as possible reasons for difficult behavior. The main premise, however, is that “when biblical counselors emphasize the use of Scripture to the exclusion of other resources, it is not a denial that accurate information is available in other places. It is a statement that no other source of information, no matter how true, offers the kind of help for counseling that God does in his Word” (84).
From there, Lambert explores how biblical counseling is shaped by a proper theology of God, Christ the Holy Spirit, Humanity, Sin, Suffering, Salvation, and the Church. In each case, he discusses how the different areas of theology affected the way he counseled someone who was struggling with sin and/or suffering. In each chapter, Lambert shows how wonderfully practical theology really is as we look to see how what we believe shapes the way we think, behave, and live in the light of God’s grace and glory day in and day out.
I thought this book was so unique that I placed it in its own category in my list of books. We certainly discuss emotions when we teach biblical counseling, but Borgman’s treatment of the subject is more thorough than I’ve seen anywhere else.
In the introduction, Borgman points out that “emotions are not simply impulses; they are indicators of what we value and what we believe” (26). A common belief, even among Christians, is that emotions “cannot be changed or governed; therefore, God cannot tell us how we should feel” (61). However, Borgman clearly teaches that this is a false view of man. The following quote, though somewhat lengthy, captures the essence of the book:
“Just as God authoritatively commands our moral decisions, he also authoritatively commands our emotions. God tells us how and what we should and should not feel. Our emotions are part of our humanity that need to be sanctified and brought under the authority of God’s Word and into conformity with God’s Word.
The redemptive process is for the whole person; the emotions are an inherent part of what it means to be a person. There are sinful emotional expressions that need to be repented of and put to death. There are Christlike emotions that need to be brought to life and cultivated. As we grow in grace, our emotions will increasingly reflect our new biblical values and evaluations. As godly emotions are cultivated, they will exert a powerful influence on our motives and our conduct” (62).
Borgman goes on to show how “wrong thinking will lead to wrong feeling” (68). Changing wrong feelings then, requires that we think according to gospel truth: “Knowing God – who he is and what he is like, what he has accomplished for us in his Son, and what he has in store for us in the future – is necessary for emotional sanctification” (76). Throughout the book, Borgman expands on these thoughts in a way that is practical and relevant.
The book is easy to read; well, it’s better than that, like a good novel, I actually had a hard time putting it down! Borgman’s writing is that well-organized and interesting. The book is broken down into four sections: A theological understanding of our emotions, sanctification of our emotions, putting ungodly emotions to death, and cultivating godly emotions. Each section is rich and each section is relevant. The bottom line is if you want a great exploration of what the Bible teaches about emotion, read Faith and Feelings.
A reoccurring issue I’ve observed in counseling people over the past years is a lack of understanding of the way the gospel affects our sanctification. The Book of Galatians is a marvelous explanation of that and Keller’s exposition of Galatians brings a valuable clarity to this particular issue.
The Galatians were fully convinced of the work of the gospel in their justification, but had turned to a legalistic approach in order to become more acceptable to God. As Keller explains, Paul was not calling the Galatians to be “better Christians” but “to live out the implications of the gospel” (9). Indeed, “the gospel of grace underpins every step of the Christian life” (27). The gospel frees us from so many things in this life, one of which is being a “man-pleaser” because we are so very “assured of God’s love and approval” (34). This assurance comes from an understanding that is the theme of Keller’s book: “We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope” (10).
This understanding of the gospel provides a motivation for obeying God in every way out of an amazement and gratitude for what He has done for us – saved us while we were completely unworthy, deserving of the eternal wrath of God; and for what He continues to do for us – cause us to continually grow more and more into the image of His Son. This understanding also give us peace even when we sinfully fail, knowing that our “assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably His heart is set on us” (107).
As Keller writes, “To know you are saved by Christ’s work alone brings a joyous ‘boasting” confidence; not a self-confidence, but Christ-confidence” (182). This is an excellent resource for anyone struggling with guilt or legalism in their Christian walk since a right understanding of the gospel give us a peace and a joy-filled motivation to obey.
Keller’s book is easy to read and feels like you’re having a warm conversation. He shares sound and practical insights as he exposits his way through Galatians. He helps us to clearly understand what Paul writes about the gospel implications of unity, how (and why) we are to live, Christian freedom, character, relations, and lots more. The book is broken up into small chapters, making it ideally suited as a daily devotional, or can be just as easily read straight through.
In this book, Marshall and Payne begin by explaining their imagery of the trellis as the church structure and ministries and the vine as the people of the church. As churches grow, there can be a tendency to focus on maintaining the trellis more than growing the vine. They explain that when planning ministry, a focus on the trellis would have us consider church programs and “work out how these programs can be maintained and improved” (18). A “vine focus” on the other hand, would “start with the people in your church, having no particular structures or program in mind, and then consider who are these people God has given you, how you can help them grow in Christian maturity, and what form their gifts and opportunities might take” (18). When doing this, it may become apparent that some of the ministries we’re doing are no longer worthwhile and perhaps new ministries may begin. This shifts our focus from running events, using people, and filling gaps to training and growing people. The result is disciple-making at a number of levels.
After painting a braid picture of a different approach to church ministry, Marshall and Payne discuss an approach to training that is relational and imparts sound doctrine, solid character, and strives for holiness. They then, in a very practical discussion, outline a pastoral ministry that builds co-workers where people grown in “conviction – their knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible, character – the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine, and competency – the ability to prayerfully speak God’s word to others in a variety of ways” (78).
They conclude the book with how to practically work toward this approach, a description of how to use apprenticeships to train people, and a list of resources for training.
Overall, the Trellis and the Vine is full of sound wisdom that should be heeded to make sure our church does not become focused on maintaining programs, but instead focuses on presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:18).
The pain of sexual sin can be absolutely devastating. Rebuilding a marriage after an adulterous relationship takes a great deal of effort, is very difficult, but is possible because of the gospel. Because of the gospel, we can repent and change; because of the gospel, we can forgive as we have been forgiven. When people sin in this way, Ganschow’s book, Living Beyond the Heart of Betrayal, is a huge help. In this book, she adeptly tackles the issues of the heart and mind, and how those desires and thoughts result in immoral behavior. She discusses how one can change their thinking (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23) in order to put off sinful desires and practices and put on the godly ones. Her advice is steeped in Scripture and is practical.
In cases of adultery, both the one who committed the adultery and the innocent party need help, but in different ways. The offender needs to repent biblically (not just feel bad and try to “smooth things over”). That person usually needs help to see what biblical repentance looks like and to change his/her focus from one of self-gratification, to loving the other person. The innocent person has an entirely different set of emotions and thoughts to work through. What is the biblical response when one is betrayed by his/her spouse? Ganschow does an excellent job treating this, dealing with trust as one of the foremost issues, as well as grief, anger, and forgiveness. Chapter 14 is titled “Moving Forward: Together” and is very useful for thinking through the emotional struggles while developing a thoughtful way of rebuilding the relationship.
The good news is that despite the devastation and heartache involved with this sin, rebuilding a happy, healthy marriage is possible. I’ve seen it. Like all things, it’s only possible because this good news is based on the supernatural, life-changing impact of the ultimate good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Elyse Fitzpatrick has written a number of books that are theologically sound and immensely practical, and this is among her best. It was written for those who understand “the tyranny of food and weight” (7) and to encourage them that there is hope and they can change. They can change because that hope rests on God. This book may be particularly powerful because Elyse is transparent as she writes with the hope of helping others. She writes that “struggling with eating, dieting, and even bingeing and purging has been an abiding part of my whole life…I’ve written this book to share with you what I’ve learned on my journey from tyranny to freedom” (13, 17).
Staring from fundamental principles, Elyse points out that the transformation God wants in those who struggle with eating habits is much deeper than establishing good eating habits; instead it is to become more and more like Jesus (Rom 8:29). As we become more like Jesus, we realize that the things we are chasing, like the perfect body size, never satisfy. Instead, enjoying God’s presence and employing our bodies in the service of God are what bring true joy and satisfaction.
Changing destructive eating habits can be particularly difficult when they have become ingrained over years of sinful habits. Many people have tried and tried to stop and change, but have ultimately given up in despair. In this book, Elyse outlines a biblical method of change. She sums it up in four basic steps. “Relying upon the Holy Spirit, you must:
1. Become convinced that your present method of eating is sinful and cease from it;
2. Become convinced that God’s methods for disciplined eating are right and begin practicing them;
3. Seek diligently to change your mind and become conformed to God’s thinking, especially in the area of your eating habits; and
4. Continue to practice these new thoughts and behaviors, even when the struggle gets hard” (83).
If you think this sounds simplistic, please read the book – Elyse spends over 200 pages developing these thoughts with both sound theology and immensely practical help.
For anyone struggling in this area, this book was written for you. Elyse’s writing style is winsome and personal. Her content is biblically based and will help anyone who desires to overcome destructive eating habits “so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, [you can] do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
I wish I had discovered Jerry Bridges twenty years ago. This particular book has been on my bookshelf for around five years and my son Joseph has been encouraging me to read it for almost as long. Wish I had taken his advice sooner. Like Bridges’ other books, The Discipline of Grace is clearly written, encouraging, and practical. The overall theme is the same as his book The Pursuit of Holiness, but he spends more time drawing out what the subtitle calls “God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness.” He starts the book by explaining the basis for our growth in holiness: “The pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise, it is doomed to failure” (14). Understanding that our growth in holiness is anchored in God’s grace is critical because many Christians have the misconception that “we earn or forfeit God’s blessings in our daily lives by our performance” (15). The truth is that even on our best days, we’re not worthy of God’s blessings – He bestows them upon us simply out of His grace and mercy and love. God’s grace is available on our best days and on our worst days. The joy that comes from understanding this is what provides the motivation to pursue holiness in gratitude for what God has done.
As Bridges elaborates on both God’s role and our roles, he helps us to see that both aspects are still of grace: “We could not take one step in the pursuit of holiness if God in His grace had not first delivered us from the dominion of sin and brought us into union with His risen Son. Salvation is by grace and sanctification is by grace” (73). God’s grace teaches us to say “no” to sin and “yes” to putting on righteousness as we are transformed into the image of Christ. Bridges uses the term “dependent discipline” as he explains that “God enables us to work, but He does not do the work for us” (128). God’s grace motivates us and enables us to live a life pleasing to Him. As Bridges puts it, “God’s work does not make our effort unnecessary, but rather makes it effective” (133).
So what is our part? Bridges starts with prayer, which “is the tangible expression of our dependence. He next explains the necessity of making a commitment to pursue holiness. “Such a commitment must allow for no exceptions, no secret sins we want to hold onto, no sinful habits we are unwilling to give up. We must make it our aim not to sin” (148). Bridges also explores what he calls the Discipline of Convictions. By this, he means that we are to memorize and meditate on Scripture with the intention of applying it to our lives in obedience and allowing it to shape our worldview. Bridges also writes about choices – it is in the small, daily choices of life where we decide whether or not to live in obedience. “Holiness of character, then, is developed one choice at a time as we choose to act righteously in each and every situation and circumstance we encounter during the day” (184). Realizing that these daily decisions is what shapes our character, he also encourages us to be watchful (Matt 26:41) – “we must study our own individual propensities to sin. Without knowledge of ourselves and our own particular weaknesses toward sin, we cannot watch against those temptations” (205). This must include areas where we think we are strong, because we can deceive ourselves with delusions of strength. Lastly, Bridges addresses the Discipline of Adversity: ‘There is no such thing as pain without purpose in the life of a believer” (222). Since God is Sovereign in all things, we need to see even the painful things in life as coming from His hand for the purpose of shaping us into the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-29). Quoting Samuel Bolton, God “has regard, in all, to our good here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter, to make us partakers of His glory” (221).
Overall, this is another masterpiece of Christian living. Jerry Bridges has left us a wonderful book that I would encourage every Christian to read and put on the “re-read list” as well.
Jerry Bridges has recently gone to be with our Lord, but he has left behind for us an incredibly rich treasure of wisdom and insight to help us live in a way that glorifies God. The Pursuit of Holiness is one of those treasures. When we teach biblical counseling courses, we always spend a fair amount of time discussing the process of progressive sanctification; e.g., how do we grow in holiness and Christian maturity? Many people misunderstand this process, either believing that God suddenly changes all our desires such that we are no longer tempted to sin, or on the opposite extreme, that our actions don’t matter because we’re “covered by the blood.”
Certainly, there are other variations, but the point here is that a proper understanding of how God designed us to grow into the likeness of His Son is an essential part of the Christian life. Without this understanding, we will waste opportunity to grow and become frustrated and puzzled over many life circumstances and besetting sins. In this book, Bridges clearly explains the process.
Bridges starts out by helping us establish the correct mindset. He states that “God wants us to walk in obedience – not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self.” Holiness is necessary because God commands it and the more we walk in holiness, the greater our joy becomes as we walk in deeper communion with Christ. The desire to please God in every small thing needs to be nurtured since, as Bridges puts it, “It is not the importance of the thing, but the majesty of the Lawgiver, that is to be the standard of obedience.”
There are numerous quotable quotes throughout the book, but the real treasure here is Bridges clear, practical explanation of how to grow in Holiness. He first explains why it is necessary, then how we grow in it. Holiness is a battle which is fought continually as long as we walk on this earth, but we do not fight it alone. God enables us and equips us – with His Word, His Church, and most importantly, with the Holy Spirit Who resides in us. Bridges explains how to establish “habits of holiness,” how we can discipline ourselves toward holiness, and how we shape our wills such that our desires actually become more aligned with those of our Savior. This pursuit of holiness is not all about gritting out teeth and eating horrible tasting food because “it’s good for us.” Instead, it’s about living a joy filled life in Christ and feasting on what truly satisfies (Isaiah 55:1-2). If you haven’t read this book, do so. If you’ve read it already, it’s probably time to re-read it. It’s that good.
This short book is a clear and practical explanation on how life in a local church should be. What’s even better, is that Welch doesn’t just tell us how it should be, but provides a road map for how to get there. What’s even better than that, is that the book is not aimed at starting some kind of program led by pastors, but it’s for you and me. It shows us how I can live in such a way that I experience the life-enriching dynamic that a local church body was meant to facilitate.
Each one of us can use some “stirring up to good works” and some encouragement (Heb 10:24-25); as Welch says, “We were meant to live that way. We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weal people.” Welch spends the first half of the book explaining how, despite our delusion of self-sufficiency, Christ has placed us in a body because we need others to help us grow into spiritual maturity. When things are hard, we need others to comfort us and strengthen us and remind us of Who is in control. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will be able to help others as well.
Welch then spends the second half of the book explaining how we are just as needed as we are needy. And I love how Welch explains the process of reaching out to others in the body. He starts by assuring his readers that if you know Christ and Him crucified, “you are eminently qualified to help others. And there is just one other qualification. It is this: you are an ordinary person. God has determined that run-of-the-mill people do most of the work – not professionals, not experts.” He then provides a way ahead that is elegant in its practicality and simplicity. Welch simply explains how to move toward others in our church and how to have a graceful conversation that leads to friendship that leads to concern for one another that leads to genuine help for one another that leads to walking with one another in wisdom and love. This is a book that everyone in the church should read. We’d be much stronger for it.
Although Harris wrote this book mainly for single men and women, he correctly points out that the principles in the book “aren’t limited to singles or to a certain age group” (13) – they’re applicable to married people as well. Harris starts out by defining the biblical standard of lust. How much is OK? Well, Ephesians 5:3 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (NIV). Harris then explains that “God’s standard of not even a hint quickly brings me to the end of my own ability. It reminds me that God’s standard is so much higher than the standards I place for myself that only the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection can provide the right power and the right motive needed to change me” (27).
The rest of the book is then spent on how to apply the gospel in such a way that we can live up to God’s standards. Harris explains the good purpose for which God has given us sexual desire and how we can cultivate gratefulness for its appropriate place in our lives (Eph 5:4). As he continues to explain how the gospel affects even the sexual aspect of our lives, Harris spends time ensuring the reader understands that “God isn’t just saving us from sin; He’s saving us for a life of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and self-control” (57).
After explaining important concepts, Harris gets very practical regarding how to combat and avoid lust – starting with drawing the line very far from the edge. Quoting Thomas Watson: “A godly man will not go as far as he may, lest he go further than he should” (176). Harris encourages us to fight sin in the small battles well before they become large battles. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “if it takes the edge off your spiritual hunger, then it’s sin” (120). He spends time discussing how to change habits, what real accountability looks like, and the importance of being in regular fellowship. He also points out that change is not instantaneous – lasting transformation “requires diligence and faith and daily dependence on His grace…Holiness is a harvest” (162-163). There’s a lot more practical instruction than I mention here; you just have to read the book!
Overall, this book is both inspiring and practical. It’s a great tool to use with our young adults and, as seems to be the case with any book dealing with holiness, has personal application for everyone.
Many parents fear the teen years. Life in simple with small children, but somehow all the physical and emotional changes that occur in teenagers also complicate parenthood. Tripp puts a biblical spin on this as he tells us that the changes going on in our children provide us “an opportunity to help the teen make conceptual theology become functional, life-changing theology” (24). Like everything else in life, proper parenting starts by first looking into our own heart. Tripp tells us, “every parent needs to ask, ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?...Whose desires rule the moments of opportunity with my teenager—God’s or mine’” (34)? As we then transition that idea to our children, “we need to call our teenagers away from their own glory to a concrete understanding of what it means to live for God’s glory” (58).
Throughout the book, Tripp stresses the importance of building and maintaining relationship. He discusses how to reach the heart of our teens, how to teach what is godly and yet not fall into legalism. It is during the teen years that parents seek to find the balance between granting freedom and providing the guidance and instruction they still need. About a third of the book is centered on setting godly goals for our young people. As parents, we need to be purposeful in what we’re teaching and help our teens to be purposeful during their teen years – to understand and be determined to make these years productive for the kingdom of God and for the strengthening of their own lives.
In the third section of the book, Tripp provides some very specific and practical guidance in chapters titled, “Three Strategies for Parenting Teens,” and “Small Steps to Big Change.” Overall, in Age of Opportunity, Tripp does a masterful job (as he always seems to do!) in helping us understand a God-focused perspective on parenting along with a biblically sound and practical way to approach our God-given responsibilities. If you have teenagers now, or will one day have teenagers in your home, this book will be refreshing and valuable.
This is a book written for counselors and addicts alike. Not only does it provide profound understanding regarding addictions, it’s convicting as we look at our own selfish heart that desires anything more than God. This is not restricted to people who abuse drugs, because, “the thing that drives addictions can be found in every human heart” (13). As Mark Shaw does in his book Addictions of the Heart, Welch points out that “addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (xvi). Throughout the book, Welch helps us sort out these disorders. Indeed, much of the book is spent helping us see where one’s practical theology (how you live) is different from one’s professed theology (what you say you believe). To detect this difference, one merely needs to ask if “you live differently in private than you do in public” (8).
Often times, people wonder how an addict could possibly have gotten there and how he could possible continue in his sin. Welch helps us understand both the physical dependency that develops and, more importantly, the way idols enslave us in our thinking. As he puts it, “Sin is not rational. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t look into the future. It doesn’t’ consider the consequences, especially if they are not immediate. All it know is ‘I WANT – I WANT MORE’” (57).
As Welch helps us understand the mindset of an addict he also helps us understand how to help them out of the slavery they have put themselves into. His advice is concrete and very intentionally based on the gospel. It’s also realistic. Concerning recovery, Welch points out that, “For some reason, we tend to think – wrongly – that immediate liberation from the slavery of addiction is more glamorous than the gradual process of taking a little bit of land at a time…We must remember that for everyone, the Christian life is an ongoing battle. It is a daily process of mortifying the flesh” (113). Recovery (or “transformation” as Mark Shaw likes to say) is simply the life-long process of sanctification – becoming more like Christ – for the addict and non-addict alike.
For once, I was hoping to read a counseling book that was all about someone else but, as seems to always be the case, I get convicted as well! This is a book that will help you if you struggle with addiction, if you are helping others who struggle with addiction, or is you simply struggle with sin.
Mark Shaw draws from a wealth of experience when he writes about addictions. He is a biblical counselor with 24 years of experience working in a variety of settings including faith-based residential programs and dealing with issues surrounding addictions of all types. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Vision of Hope, a biblically based residential treatment program for young women. In the very beginning of the book, Shaw describes the root of addiction. He states plainly, “’addiction’ is a physical symptom of a deeper, spiritual problem of the attitudes of the heart generally called ‘idolatry’ in the Bible” and idolatry can be “any pleasure that becomes so excessively desired that it replaces the desire to worship God” (7). In fact, Shaw calls addiction a “worship disorder” and tells us “your heart must learn to desire to know Jesus more intimately than it wants any temporary pleasure.” (35).
Early in the book, Shaw spends time correcting vocabulary. For example, rather than using the word “recovery,” he maintains that “a Christian addict who is truly willing yet struggling to maintain sobriety is in a process called ‘transformation’ according to Romans 12:2” (17). Instead of “compulsive behavior,” he uses “habitual behavior.” “Compulsive” connotes an inability to stop, while “habits” can be changed through God’s grace. Throughout the book, Shaw plainly labels drunkenness and drug abuse as sin rather than disease, but this actually provides hope because a sinner can repent and change his behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit. Drawing from his experience counseling addicts, Shaw includes a chapter that deals with the self-deception and perishing mentality many addicts deal with, and discusses heart problems such as depression and despair, selfishness, and pride.
As this book was targeted directly to believers who are struggling with addictions, about half of it is devoted to practical ways someone can put off their addictive substances, change their thinking, and put on holiness (Eph 4:22-24). These ways include honest involvement with a mature Christian friend, submitting to restrictions, and putting on responsibility, gratitude, submission, and service to others. Shaw understands that putting off addictions is hard work, and his book is filled with practical advice, admonition, and encouragement. While his writing style is a bit awkward at times, one must remember that this was written for addicts who may need the repetition that would be out of place in a more academically oriented book.
The bottom line is that this is a practical and useful book to use with anyone who claims the name of Christ yet still struggles with abusing drugs or alcohol.
Our pastor just handed this book out to every Sunday School teacher in the church – from preschool to Senior Saints. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why. Although Gospel-Centered Teaching is a very short book, it’s packed with insight and sage advice concerning the way we need to orient our Bible teaching. As we teach through portions of Scripture and diligently bring out pertinent application, we can inadvertently miss the main point. Wax points out that “if all we draw from Bible study are proverb-like teachings for daily living, then we are approaching the Scriptures as if we’re at the center” instead of God (15). Wherever we are in Scripture, we need to bring out the way in which this passage relates to the main point of the entire Bible – the gospel. “We progress in holiness the more we immerse ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me…the unsaved need the gospel in order to know Christ, while the saved need the gospel in order to become more like Christ” (33).
After discussing the big-picture issue, Wax sets forth three questions that help us think through each lesson we prepare:
1. How does this topic/passage fit into the big story of Scripture? The story line of the Bible is often set in terms of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Where does the passage I’m about to teach fall within this narrative and how does it provide context to the gospel? How does it shape my worldview and how does it point to Christ?
2. What is distinctively Christian about the way I am addressing this topic or passage? Would an unbeliever be comfortable with my teaching because it’s a good, moralistic lesson? Would people of other beliefs be comfortable because of the generic references to God and Jesus? Wax states that “our application should not start with ‘Who am I and what should I do?’ but ‘Who is Christ and what has He done?’” (92).
3. How does this truth equip God’s church to live on Mission? Many church leaders struggle with how to motivate people to evangelize. Wax provides great insight when he tells us that we don’t want guilt-ridden evangelists “doing their duty,” but “a delight-filled group of Christians overflowing with love for God and neighbor who can’t help but speak of the One who loved them and Gave Himself for them…We don’t have any trouble talking about the things we love most” (100, 103).
Overall, this book is a great help in keeping our Sunday School lessons, small group discussions, or sermons oriented toward the focal point of all history - “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).
Many couples struggle with communication problems in their marriage. Some have slipped into the habit of speaking rude, unkind words to one another, others complain that his or her spouse doesn’t listen, and others believe their words are misunderstood or twisted. If you fit into any of these categories, this is the book for you.
With his typical insight, Tripp quickly gets to the heart of the matter. This is not a book about communication techniques, but rather it’s about God’s purpose for communication and how we can align our speech with that purpose. Like so many things in life, Tripp points out that “word problems reveal heart problems. The people and situations around us do not make us say what we say; they are only the occasion for our hearts to reveal themselves in words” (55). What these words reveal more often than not is that we speak mainly from our own self-interest – “according to our plan, for our control, and for our own glory” (69) – as opposed to God’s plan, control and glory.
As Tripp puts it, we need to understand God’s mission for our mouths. “We were given the ability to communicate so that our words would help us do his work and bring him glory. He is the source, the standard and the goal of all our talk” (106). Tripp doesn’t stop with telling us what we should do, but explains how to change our thinking which leads to a change in our speech (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). Ultimately, it involves understanding God’s sovereignty over every situation in our lives and understanding what God has done for us, what He is doing in us, and what He desires to do through us. Much of what God does through us involves the words we speak and the manner in which we speak them.
This is one of those books that isn’t just for people who are struggling with communication problems. War of Words is a book that helps each and every one of us align our speech with God’s redemptive and loving purpose for which it was designed.
As our society normalizes and even celebrates homosexuality, a number of professing Christians have been swept up by the swiftly moving currents of our culture and see nothing wrong with this behavior. There are even churches in some mainline denominations that condone homosexual behavior, saying the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality. According to them, what the Bible condemns relates to homosexual cult prostitution or other practices that are very different from a loving, committed relationship between two people of the same sex.
DeYoung addresses these issues in this book, along with many others. One of the main characteristics of this book I appreciate is that DeYoung’s approach and tone is compassionate and pastoral. At the same time, he clearly stands for biblical truth, “defending a traditional view of marriage…and places homosexual behavior – no matter the level of commitment or mutual affection – in the category of sexual immorality” (17). In Part 1, DeYoung looks at each of the scriptural passages that refer to homosexual behavior: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 & 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. With each passage, he first presents the argument of those who try to explain them as dealing with issues other than committed homosexual relationships. He then shows the hermeneutical error in the arguments along with the proper exegesis. In short, there is nothing difficult to understand in each passage – the Scripture plainly and consistently calls homosexual behavior sin.
In Part 2 of the book, DeYoung answers some common objections many people make, such as: “The Bible hardly ever mentions homosexuality,” “It’s not fair, I was born that way” “The God I worship is a God of love,” and others. Again, DeYoung is gentle and compassionate with his answers to each objection, but is also biblical and straightforward.
DeYoung concludes by encouraging his readers to be faithful in the struggle of the day. “In our time, faithfulness means (among a thousand other things) a patiently winsome and carefully reasoned restating of the formerly obvious: homosexual behavior is a sin” (129). This is an excellent book for anyone who is either confused on this issue or who simply wants to be able to present a cogent and compassionate explanation regarding what was “formerly obvious.”
In this book, Burk and Lambert deal with an issue with which faithful Christians sometimes have difficulty. As they state in the preface, “Faithful Christians are united in their rejection of homosexual behavior. However, there is not as much clarity when it comes to issues of orientation or same-sex attraction” (13). In other words, is the desire sinful if it is not acted upon? Another element Burk and Lambert deal with is change. Like any Christian, people who struggle with homosexual desires need to grow in holiness, and “this book also focuses on helping our brothers and sisters in Christ to know how to pursue this change” (14).
The simple answer the authors provide to the first question – is the attraction itself sinful? – is that “Jesus teaches that it is always sinful to desire something that God forbids” (29). Because we are fallen creatures, “all sinful desire springs spontaneously from our nature, but even if it is something unchosen, that does not make it any less sinful” (31). The authors quote Sam Allberry to further explain this idea: “Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” (37).
In Chapter 2 of this book, Burk and Lambert write in a masterful way about desires and temptations. While the main topic is homosexual desires, the theology behind it is applicable to each one of us regardless of the temptation with which we struggle. We must all wage war against sin and all sin is “fundamentally a matter of the heart” (58). We are all called to be transformed and, in the case of those struggling with homosexual desires, “the aim of this transformation is not heterosexuality but holiness” (59). The entire book is excellent, but this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
The last two chapters, the authors deal with the process of change, explaining that “If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you to empower your change in any moral category” (68). It is God Himself who is at work is each of us to make us like Christ and for those who struggle with homosexual desires – or any sinful desire – “God will never waste your struggle. He is sanctifying you” (90).
Burk and Lambert close the book with a pastoral call to “speak the truth, speak the gospel, speak humility” (103). The whole book helps us do that as we recognize our own sinful desires, learn how to put off those desires, and help others do the same.
I have a new favorite child-training book. It’s been around for a long time, but somehow I glossed over this in the past. In this book, Tripp begins by establishing that, even with children, all behavior flows from the heart. Because this is the case, he states, “If you are to really help [your child], you must be concerned with the attitudes of the heart that drive his behavior” (20). After establishing this as the major theme of the book, Tripp explains the two major influences in a child’s life: “The first is his life experience. The second is how he interacts with that experience” (26). For a child, how his family is structured and how family members interact with one another will be the most significant influence. Because the child’s response to God “in the context of those shaping influences” (40) is the actually most significant influence, parents “must be actively shepherding the Godward orientation of your children” (42). Tripp is also careful to make sure parents realize the significance of their authority, pointing out, “you are acting in behalf of God” (48).
After laying the theological groundwork, Tripp devotes six chapters to explaining a biblical balance of communication and discipline. He warns against monologue communication, advising parents to, “Try to understand what is going on inside them” (97). He discusses different forms of communication that are helpful with children as they grow, and then explains the biblical basis, and proper use of, the rod. The second half of the book is a practical discussion of objectives and procedures in the different phases of childhood. In infancy, the child must first learn the importance of authority and obedience. In the childhood, the emphasis turns to character development, and in the teenage years, the emphasis becomes that of shepherding them “in the direction of living out the fear of God rather than the fear of man” (214).
Overall, Shepherding a Child’s Heart is an excellent guide to child training. It is practical and is based in sound theology. This book is also comprehensive in that it shows how the theology of the heart is relevant throughout the life of any child – from infancy to young adulthood – and provides insight into how to apply that theology in every day life. The book is balanced, as it remains focused on heart issues but, at the same time, instructs parents on the importance of authority, obedience, and order in the home. Whether someone is a new parent, or is one with older children Tripp’s book is an invaluable resource to learn about biblical parenting.
by Mike Wilkerson
Suffering is part of life in a fallen world and there are many who suffer in ways that make me shudder and feel sick when I think about it. But God is even there. Using the Exodus of Israel as an object lesson, Wilkerson teaches us how to deal with suffering and experience God as our refuge. Wilkerson notes that we often “measure the trustworthiness of God by our present circumstances” (64) but that’s a mistake. “Because Jesus faced the worst in faith, you and I will never have to” (65) – we have the hope of the ultimate refuge in Christ for eternity, even if we suffer greatly in this life.
Among the many insights in this book is an excellent section about “forgiving yourself.” Wilkerson writes, “Do you ever say, ‘I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself’? If so, your problem is not about forgiveness; it is about pride” (78). He next explains why that is the case and how to fix it, focusing on the importance, above everything else, of receiving God’s forgiveness. After receiving God’s forgiveness, we then learn to forgive others, which can often be costly and painful. Wilkerson discusses this in depth and does an excellent job; this section alone is worth the price of the book.
That being said, Wilkerson hits other topics hard as well. For instance, he deals with the way we often grumble in every day life, saying, “A grumbling heart under deprivation becomes a greedy heart under abundance. Sinful desire can never be satisfied” (114). Ouch and amen. We grumble because we are not satisfied with the true Bread of Life. When we cultivate a proper appetite, grumbling for lesser “needs” quickly ends. Another topic Wilkerson handles well is that of the idols in our heart, telling us, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies” (125). The antidote, though, isn’t just “idol-hunting, but placing our hope in the covenant-keeping God who satisfies more deeply than any idol can ever hope to. The more we know about the living God, the more the appeal to idols simply fades away.
There’s much more that Wilkerson brings to life in this excellent book. If you need some good practical theology to help you work through suffering, or you need to help someone else who’s suffering, read this book. It’s rich.
How can I know God’s will? When making decisions, most Christians want to do what God wants them to do…but how do we know what that is? Do I take the job offer, or keep looking for something else? Is this the person I should marry? Which college should I attend? Where should I live? We face questions like these almost daily – some more weighty than others, and the weightier the question, the more we’d really like clear guidance from God. In this book, Petty does a solidly biblical study on the issue of diving guidance. He first does a biblical survey showing that God does indeed promise to guide his people, then spends some time explaining the difference between God’s sovereign will (what he does) and his moral will (his commands). Petty next explains how all that applies to guiding us as individuals, and includes a helpful case study of a man trying to determine God’s will as he tries to decide whether or not to make a significant career change. In the last section of the book, Petty provides seven elements to biblical decision making that are very useful, practical and, straightforward.
One of the overarching lessons from Petty’s book is simply that the necessity to make decisions in life is part of God’s means to help us grow in wisdom. When I need to make a big decision, I want to pray for God’s guidance, then look up in the sky for the neon sign that tells me what God wants me to do. Simple, straightforward, and obviously spiritual since I’m yielded to God, right? While I think the neon sign would be nice, God’s way of guidance forces me to study Scripture, seek counsel, pray for wisdom, and ultimately trust in his sovereign care. It forces me to grow up a bit as I seek to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). Not that I’ll ever get there, mind you, but biblical decision making is one of the means God uses as he conforms us more and more into the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).
There’s lots more in the book that Petty brings out to deepen our understanding of divine guidance. Overall, I’ll just say that Step by Step is an excellent book for anyone who is wrestling with how to find God’s will in any aspect of his or her life.
In his book, Brauns conducts an in-depth, biblical study on the topic of forgiveness. He starts by exploring motivations for developing a proper understanding and then provides a succinct definition of forgiveness that he then develops throughout the book. Brauns looks at unbiblical viewpoints of forgiveness and contrasts those viewpoints with a biblical perspective. After explaining what are essentially prerequisites to offering forgiveness, he takes time to differentiate between offenses that should be “covered in love” versus those that should be addressed. He covers how to both seek and offer forgiveness, accompanied by reconciliation, and addresses how to avoid bitterness. He also includes guidance on how to respond to those who are unrepentant and those who will not forgive.
Brauns opens this book by explaining how learning to forgive both glorifies God and leads to our own joy and happiness. In developing a definition of forgiveness, Brauns then shares a key principle: “God expects believers to forgive others the way he forgave them” (44). Expanding on this principle, he explains that God’s forgiveness is: gracious (but not free), conditional, a commitment, leads to reconciliation, and does not eliminate consequences. Having offered a definition, Brauns digs into some common misconceptions – what he calls “therapeutic” concepts of forgiveness – showing how these concepts lead to unbiblical thinking.
Before he gets into detail regarding the biblical concepts of forgiveness, he first teaches about the necessity of humility and tells the reader, “humility is a matter of perspective, of seeing ourselves in right relationship to God” (82). He also offers six questions that serve as guidelines for an offended person to use when deciding whether to confront or cover an offense. When it comes time to address an offense, Brauns offers guidelines for that as well, conducting a clear exegesis of Matthew 18:15-20.
Brauns addresses many difficult situations while pointing out that forgiveness is not an option for Christians and that unwillingness to forgive is a sure indication that one has not experienced God’s forgiveness himself. On the other hand, he also explains that if the offending party is not repentant, the believer cannot offer true forgiveness, but must instead be ready to forgive. He ends the book by explaining that, while bitterness can be difficult to avoid, one does it by focusing on the love and providence of God.
Unpacking Forgiveness is an excellent study and counseling tool. Brauns’ approach is gentle, giving the counselor insight into reaching the heart of one who has been hurt deeply by the sinful, sometimes terribly evil, behavior of others. His exegesis and application of several passages of Scripture, but especially Matthew 18 and Romans 12, are clear, insightful, and helpful. In addition to giving his readers a deeper understanding of forgiveness, he has provided a number of specific steps to analyze whether one should overlook or address an offense, how to address an offense, and how to handle difficult cases when biblical forgiveness does not occur. This book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to explore what Scripture says about forgiveness.
Often times, it's good for us to simply learn more about God so we can marvel at who he is. Ware is an insightful theologian who has a knack for explaining the wonderful glories of God in a way we can appreciate and relish. This book is full of that. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” In God’s Greater Glory, Dr. Ware helps us to grow in this knowledge.
As he exposits Scripture, Ware is somehow able to help us understand more of who God is as he works through issues like God’s transcendence (he’s outside and over all things) and his immanence (he’s also present with us in a very personal way); God’s sovereignty and human freedom (that’s an easy one, right?); and how God rules through and with his creation. The second part of the book focuses on the relevance of Divine Providence; in other words, what difference does it make in our daily lives that God is omnipotent and sovereign? If God is sovereign over all things (and he is), why – and how – do we pray? How do these theological musings affect our trust in God, especially when we are suffering? Lastly, Ware describes how even our service to God is actually a gift from him. Ponder that one for a bit. In the end, you’ll sit in awe of the incredible God we serve as you drink in these profound insights regarding who he is and of his greater glory. Read this book and delight in God – it’s good for you.
My new favorite book…at least for now. When people suffer, we can know intellectually that God is completely sovereign, God is infinite in wisdom, and God is perfect in love; but when you’re in the middle of suffering, those words can seem somewhat trite and unfeeling.
What Bridges does in this book is illustrate and unpack those concepts in a way that enables us to really get it. He writes, “Whatever our particular calamity or adversity may be, we may be sure that our Father has a loving purpose in it” (p. 18). Again, this is easy to say, but hard to accept when you’re in the middle of that calamity or adversity. Bridges, however, does a masterful job as he takes us through Scripture to show clearly how God is in control – even when things seem to be out of control. He shows us what Scripture says about God’s sovereignty and love, so when we say (or think) something like, “If God loved me, how could this happen to me?”…we know the answer. Bridges deals with the big picture issues – God’s rule over the nations and over nature. He also deals with the smaller, more personal issues – trusting God for who you are, which includes your limitations, disabilities, and physical appearance.
In the end, Bridges puts it all together, explaining just how we can “give thanks in all things,” which is “not thanksgiving for the evil considered in itself, but for the good that He will bring out of that evil through His sovereign wisdom and love” (p. 224). This is a must-read book for all believers because it teaches us how to trust God even when circumstances in life are difficult and seem so inexplicable…which, in a fallen world, happens to us all.
Counseling the Hard Cases is a book that not only provides instruction to biblical counselors, but great encouragement as well. The encouragement comes from reading about actual cases that, at least for some, may challenge our beliefs – we believe that the Bible is sufficient for discipleship and counseling, but just how do we approach cases like anorexia, OCD, sexual abuse, and Bi-Polar Disorder?
This book encourages us by relating real success stories from expereinced Biblical Counselors and instructs us by bringing us through every step of the process. While certainly not intended as a cookbook approach, general principles are described which are very helpful should we encounter the same kind of problems. These principles include the vital importance of church community, the need to counsel long-term with patience, how truth must often be repeated before being absorbed, and how the goal of biblical counseling is to help people develop a life-long pattern of growing in godliness.
In Counseling the Hard Cases, Scott and Lambert achieve their goal – to demonstrate that Scripture is sufficient in the counseling process, regardless of how difficult they can appear. While this book provides a number of useful principles, ideas, and insights, the real confidence that we gain as biblical counselors is not merely in better knowledge or skill, but in seeing the mighty hand of God as work through the power of His Word. In the end, there are no hard cases for God.
In this book, Welch starts by laying a sound biblical foundation that will help shape the rest of his discussion. He traces the relationship between the Bible and science through the last 200 years, showing how in times past, misapplication of Scripture has contributed to the way many people treat the Bible as irrelevant when addressing scientific issues. The balance, Welch explains, is to pay attention to what is truly scientific while, at the same time, understand what Scripture tells us about the relationship between the mind and body. The conclusion he draws is that behavior originates from the heart and is expressed by the body.While the brain influences what we do, it is not determinative in causing us to sin.
Welch then looks at three major categories of brain problems. In the first category, problems that are truly caused by the brain, he deals specifically with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. With these diseases, and others similar to them, counselors must “distinguish between physical symptoms and spiritual problems” (69), seeking to work with the person’s physical problems while still addressing issues of the heart. In the second category, psychiatric problems that sometimes have physical causes, Welch uses depression and Attention Deficit Disorder as examples. While some issues are not as clear-cut as to the degree of physical influence, he uses the same basic framework in addressing the problems – distinguish between the physical and spiritual, work with the physical limitations, and address the spiritual issues. In the third category, that which does not have a physical cause, Welch addresses the errors of the psychological approach to homosexuality and alcoholism, and explains the biblical approach to counseling those who struggle with this sin.
Welch’s Blame it on the Brain? is full of insight into the controversy between the medicine-approach to psychiatric help and biblical counseling and is very helpful to the non-medically educated counselor.
This is a very practical book that is intended to do just what the title says – strengthen your marriage. In it, Mack covers eight specific topics and includes detailed discussion and study questions at the end of each chapter. Now, let it be noted that I despise most study questions you find at the end of each chapter in other books. I find most of them rather mindless and pretty much always skip them. This book is much different. The study questions are meant to be interactive between husband and wife since this is how the book is meant to be used. The questions aren’t a rehash of what you just read, but take you through a number of biblical passages that deal the topic being covered. After that, husband and wife discuss how each section specifically applies to their marriage and how they can interact and love each other in a more biblical manner.
Mack starts the first section with a chapter on God’s purpose for marriage, which lays a solid foundation for the rest of the book. The next two chapters cover the wife’s and husband’s responsibilities. In each of these sections, Mack first sets the Scriptural principles, then the directed discussion leads to how we live out these responsibilities in our own marriage. The remaining chapters cover how to have good communication, financial agreement, sexual unity, guidelines for raising children, and family religion. By the time you finish this book together, you’ll have a better understanding of what the Bible says about each of these topics and how it applies to you and your spouse personally. And I’m quite certain that by the time you finish the book, you’ll also have strengthened your marriage.
“For most Christians, prison culture is like visiting a foreign land, and the thought of ministering in prisons to those incarcerated is an intimidating prospect.” So writes author Lennie Spitale as he introduces us to prison culture. Spitale speaks with authority since, in his younger years, he was in and out of prison a number of times before being saved in 1975. Since then, he has spent over 25 years sharing the gospel and ministering to prisoners across the country. His book is organized into four sections. In the first section, he describes what most inmates are thinking – the fear, the loneliness, the “tough guy” culture, the anger, etc. In the second section, he explains some specific aspects of prison culture – the complete lack of privacy, the prisoners’ code of ethics, the shrunken world inmates live in, etc. In the third section, he explains the dynamics that occur inside a prison – how most inmates obviously remain anti-authority, the common distrust, the frequent provocations, etc. In the fourth section, Spitale tells us specifically how to engage inmates within their world – one main aspect: most inmates are not so much interested in theology as they are interested in how to fix their broken lives. One of the most beneficial aspects of the book is that in each of these chapters, Spitale also explains how Christian ministers can apply the gospel to bring comfort and change in each of these areas. Reading this book is bound to get you enthused about prison ministry, as Spitale explains how very white for harvest the field is inside most prison walls. Overall, this is a “must read” for anyone who desires to get involved in prison ministry.
Jones starts out by explaining the plan of his book: “This book is written for the average reader who recognizes that anger is a too-frequent issue in his life and a too-prevalent problem in his family, work, and church relationships.” And his plan turns out very well. While we normally feel that our anger is justified, Jones shows us that righteous anger is focused “on how people offend God and his name, not me and my name” or my desires. And righteous anger remains self-controlled. The anger that most of us display seldom falls into this category.
The anger we experience, on the other hand, comes from a heart that is self-centered and, according to James 4:1-3, has four causes: 1. Entrenched, battling desires and pleasures; 2. Unmet ruling wants and desires; 3. Coveting and envy; 4. Selfish motives, even for good things. Number four often strikes home because we can even want good thing too much. Jones then gives us a smoke detector test, or “clues to detecting inordinate desires”: 1. Does it consume you? Do you dwell on it constantly? 2. Are you willing to sin to get it? 3. Do you sin when you don’t get it?
The first remedy when it comes to putting off anger, as with any sin, is God’s forgiving grace. We need recognize our anger as unrighteous and repent of it. Even more, we need to see what Brad Bigney calls “the sin beneath the sin” – what do I desire so much that I get angry when I don’t get it. (As a side-note, Bigney’s Gospel Treason would be a great companion book to this one.) Jones tells us we need to repent of “the rulingness” of the desire, of the way you have been letting it control our anger. He goes on to explain more fully how to handle these desires, whether our anger is displayed outwardly (we blow up or vent) or inwardly (we simmer and seethe). Jones deals with a number of other aspects of anger and does so in a way that’s easy to read, convicting, and practical. More importantly, it’s biblical and needs to be read by anyone who wants to uproot this sin once and for all.
Why do I sin? If God has redeemed me and given me the Holy Spirit, why do I still struggle? And most importantly, how can I win in my fight against sin? In this book, Kris Lundgaard takes John Owen’s great work, The Mortification of Sin, and does a compete re-packaging. Lundgaard doesn’t just update the language, but takes Owen’s main ideas and presents them to us in his own style. The chapters are short, easily readable, and each one focuses on just one key point. He starts with four key truths from Romans 7:21 – sin is powerful, it’s inside us, it “ambushes” us even when we’re at our best but doesn’t rule our heart, and the sin within us never rests.
Sin offers rewards for yielding to it in the pleasures it brings and threatens punishment for resisting in the form of the suffering promised to those who follow Christ. Since out hearts are deceitful, we can’t always see the sin that we should be fighting. But we do fight the sin that we do see and there can never be a truce between sin and the Spirit who dwells within us. Lundgaard goes on to explain how the essence of temptation is deceit – it never reveals the full consequences of any sin. The flesh also tempts us to abuse God’s grace (“It’s not a big sin, and God will forgive you!). So how do you fight all this? First, we meditate on God’s grandeur and glory, meditate in the Word, and meditate on ourselves, allowing the light of God’s word to expose the sin in the cracks and crevices of our heart. Next, we think hard about obedience, looking to obey fully, by faith, from the heart, God’s way, and for God’s goals. Lundgaard develops all these thoughts much more fully and gives us many other insights as well. In all, his explanations about the power of sin and how we defeat sin make this book a genuine help to any believer who desires a stronger walk in holiness.
A lot of people suffer from depression. As the years go by, it seems to be much more common, in the church as well as out of it. In this book, Wayne Mack first helps us understand what it feels like to be depressed, how serious depression can be, and how long it can sometimes take to shake it off. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe and regardless of how much it affects someone, needs to be taken seriously. What Mack also helps us understand is that depression doesn’t “just happen.” There are causes that are important to discover in order to help people out of the deep hole in which they feel trapped. At the risk of being simplistic, depression usually stems from one of three general causes: refusal to deal with sin and guilt, mishandling difficult circumstances (i.e., suffering), or having unbiblical standards (and feeling inadequate based on those standards). Again, being somewhat simplistic, the first cause can be remedied by repentance, as we see with David’s example in Psalm 32. The third cause can be remedied by aligning our values with God’s values, thus rejecting the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). The second one is more difficult and will, in most cases, take longer to struggle through. Here, we need to look deeply at the sovereignty and the love of God. We need to dwell on who He is and all that He has done for us and promises to do for us. Mack tells us we need to talk to ourselves rather than listen to ourselves – as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul…Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” Mack takes us into much more detail and has much more sound, biblical advice for handling both depression and loneliness. Whether you struggle with depression or know someone who does, Out of the Blues will help you…well…get out of the Blues.
As a collection of essays, written over a period of almost 20 years, Seeing With New Eyes is certain to be helpful for a number of counseling issues. In it, Powlison helps the reader understand how to apply the book of Ephesians to a variety of situations. He also shows us how to use Psalm 10 such that we can discover what is in the heart, how to provide comfort, what a godly response looks like when one is suffering, and how the “long view” of life gives an eternal perspective to evil and suffering. Later in the book, Powlison shares another excellent teaching on how to apply Luke 12 to address worry, whether is be about finances, health, security, or any matter at all. He includes a very practical “game plan” for worry, giving us six questions to ask that will help the worrier to identify the specific worrisome area and then what to do about it. Powlison entitles Part Two of the book as “Reinterpreting Life,” and helps us with valuable instruction on how to do just that. His “X-Ray Questions” are excellent and reveal the disconnect between what one professes and how one lives. He helps us establish a plan for change so we can truly make our professing God the same as our functional God. Powlison also explains how God’s love for us causes change in us. Although Christ died for us while we were sinners, He intends for us to change from our fleshly, sinful ways as we become conformed to the image of Christ. He help us understand that we do in fact need to change and that God’s saving grace provides the ability to change. There’s lots more in this book and, overall, Seeing With New Eyes is an excellent resource, offering sage advice on both discovering and addressing issues of the heart.
Dr. Stuart Scott has written a collection of short booklets that are extremely practical when it comes to learning how to live a holy life. Killing Sin Habits is his latest booklet and it proves to be as concise, precise, and useful as his others. He starts out by describing and all too familiar cycle of sin – temptation, feeble struggle, unholy surrender, sorrow and shame, confession and more. He describes 12 steps in all, illustrating the cycle with a clock-face. As Scott puts it, “it is a cycle of lust (desire and worship) that happens just like clockwork” (p.3). The solution? Pulling from Puritan John Owen’s classic work on sin, Scott tells us that in order to put off sin, we need to live the Gospel daily in our lives. Now, that sounds kind of abstract, so Scott tells us some specific things we do in order to live the Gospel daily. Those things include: exercising our faith (believe that the finished work of Christ applies to you and thank God that He is at work in you), exercise a right priority (understand the surpassing value of Christ, walk by the Spirit and choose the righteous alternative), highlight spiritual exercise (renew the mind, make no provision for the flesh, and develop spiritual disciplines), and respond to the radical love of Christ with “an all-out pursuit to please and lay hold of Christ” (p.46). Now Dr. Scott fleshes all this out much better than this short summary can, so if you want a Battle Plan for Killing Sin Habits (which is what he titled Appendix 1), read this book. It’ll do you good.
As a two-part book, Powlison devotes the first half to topics that are helpful for the individual counselor. The first chapter is an application of Psalm 119 that provides comfort for those who are suffering persecution, illness, or from a realization of personal sin. From there, Powlison offers insight regarding the necessities of discipleship, how to prepare for counseling, and how to ask questions that tell us how the counselee thinks about God and his sovereignty over all of life’s circumstances. He then shares how to share pertinent and focused Scriptural application in our counseling, how to use illustrations that make Scriptural application “hit home,” how to listen effectively even to an incessant talker, and finally how to gently lead a psychologized person into truth. In the second half of the book, Powlison addresses topics that are helpful for shaping the church to more effectively disciple its members. In this section, Powlison offers advice to pastors concerning how we should pray (e.g., more for wisdom than for physical needs) and how the ministry of the Word is both public as we preach and private as we counsel. Powlison also shares why it is important for seminaries to train their students in counseling since solid theology is the basis for solid counseling. Lastly, he proposes a set of affirmations and denials as a first draft for a standard creed for biblical counselors. Overall, Speaking Truth in Love is a valuable resource, useful to equip both individual counselors and the church in general.
This is simply a masterpiece of a book that tells us about the amazing life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer came from a family of brilliant people (as one of many examples, his brother Karl-Friedrich was splitting atoms with Albert Einstein and Max Planck in the 1930’s). As a student, Dietrich studied with theologians whose impact is still felt throughout the church today, Karl Barth perhaps being the most noteworthy. But Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian and a caring pastor in his own right. We see Bonhoeffer as a theology professor in Berlin and as a pastor to German congregations in Spain and England; we also see him as a devoted son and brother within his close-knit and rather animated family. The book gives us a fascinating insight into the way godly Germans reacted to rise of National Socialism in the 1930’s and Bonhoeffer’s courageous leadership in the German church during those years. His leadership included forming a new church association (the Confessing Church) and a new seminary in response to the German Church’s acceptance of Nazi anti-Semitism. As the evil of the Nazis became more evident, Bonhoeffer became involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler that was more than four years in the making. The final chapters describe Bonhoeffer’s years in prison and concentration camps where he continued his steadfast devotion to God and caring attitude toward others. Bonhoeffer was driven by a gratefulness for his Savior and a passion to do the will of God. His amazing life reflected that passion to the very end and inspires us to live with that same passion. This book is a great read!
All of us are social creatures to some extent; after all, God designed us that way. The problem is that many of us tend to be too social – by that I mean we can fall into peer pressure and the fear of man. In this book, Ed Welch first addresses the ways in which we tend to fall into the fear of man – being concerned about what people think about me, and being concerned that they will reject me or physically hurt me. Additionally, the world encourages the kind of thinking that focuses on self, encouraging me to exalt my feelings over faith. In some ways, Welch’s solution to these issues is a bit unexpected. I expected sort of a straightforward teaching on how God is so powerful and loving that we shouldn’t allow these things to bother us. Instead, we get a rich, in-depth discussion on how we grow in the fear of the Lord (the person who truly fears God fears no one else), how to examine our skewed desires, and how to appreciate the way God has covered our shame and filled us with his love through the cross. Lastly, Welch teaches us to need people less by serving people more; as a response of the way Christ pursues us in love, so we pursue others in the same way. When People are Big and God is Small is a deep theological approach (but easy to read!) that helps us to see just how big and wonderful God is in our lives – so big that everyone else is quite small by comparison.
Review by Rachel Roy
Beginning with the Beatitudes and continuing to the final verses of Matthew 7, Dr. Lloyd-Jones offers a brilliant in-depth analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. Dr. Lloyd-Jones makes it clear from the beginning that he will not rush through any part of this sermon, and he doesn't. He progresses verse-by-verse, sometimes phrase-by-phrase to unfold what Christ has to tell us. And there is an astonishing amount packed into this Sermon. From his explanation of what it truly means to be poor in spirit, meek, and mourning, to a full exposition of the contrast between the narrow way and the broad door, Lloyd-Jones's in-depth study brings out many aspects that will benefit the Christian seeking to live as Christ. Perhaps the most impressive point Lloyd-Jones uncovers is that this Sermon is not a list of "do-this" rules meant to help us be good, but a call to holiness and the pursuit of God made possible only through the grace of God. For instance, he argues that the famous verse “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4) refers to the man stirred by God to an awareness of his own sin, who then mourns over his own sinfulness. In such a case, Lloyd-Jones notes, God Himself will comfort the mourner by offering the blood of Christ to cover the sin. “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, in conclusion, is a well-written, thought-provoking book that is worth rereading many times.
The title of the book reveals a lot about its contents – understanding that in a marriage, I’m a sinner married to another sinner. Sounds pretty discouraging until we realize that we have the grace of God through Jesus Christ to help make that marriage sweet. In Chapter 1, Harvey writes, “What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage.” From there, Harvey applies theology to how we grow in grace and how God uses our marriage to shape us into the image of His Son. While the message is sober and serious, Harvey’s writing style is light and very funny. He’s easy to read, even when he’s telling you how much you need to change and how you need to lay your life down for your spouse as Jesus did for you. Harvey tells us clearly that marriage is primarily for God’s glory and when we realize and accept that, we acquire a “war time” mentality in the fight against sin. And that sin is in the little areas of everyday life – the way I speak to my wife, the way I react to disappointments, the way I act when I’m tired or feel lazy. Harvey also brings us to what he calls “street-level theology” where we look at humility, mercy, forgiveness, and grace – all within the context of our marriage. In summary, I highly recommend this book not only for anyone struggling in their marriage, but also for anyone who wants to keep from struggling in their marriage.
“Pornography is all around us. It destroys marriages and leaves users with a warped view of sexuality. Sadly, many Christians not only struggle to resist the lure of pornography; they are addicted, trapped by its power.” With this quote, Lambert starts with the bad news, but ends with the good news: “No matter how intense or long-standing the fight, Jesus Christ can, will, and does set people free from the power of pornography.” This book is a toolbox. In it, Lambert first shares the foundation upon which all the tools rest, which is Gospel Grace. From there, he shares eight tools that stem from that grace – tools that will set people free from the pull of this tragic sin and lead instead to a life of holiness before God. I call it a toolbox because the tools are very practical. This is not to say that this is a “do-it-yourself” manual – remember that the foundation is the Gospel Grace and it is Jesus who sets us free. But, in His strength, we also act and that’s when we pick up the tools that Lambert describes and get to work. It’s also not a “do-it-yourself” manual because the tools include accountability, confession, and humility – we need others in the Body of Christ to help fight pornography just as we do with any other sin with which we struggle. In this book, Lambert provides more than tools – he provides hope and counsel for those caught up in this sin. In a short but very valuable appendix, he also provides counsel for families and friends of those who struggle with pornography. If you’re struggling with pornography or counseling someone who is, this book will prove to be invaluable.
The subtitle tells us what this book is all about: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols. Bigney starts by telling us how perplexed he was about the state of his marriage – two people, committed to ministering the gospel, who started out so full of love and joy, now living in a marital “battlefield, and we were opposing forces.” Bigney and his wife finally went to a biblical counselor and, over a period of time and by God’s grace, he led them to see the idolatry in their own hearts that was the root of their sin. Throughout the book, Bigney shows us how idolatry wrecks relationships and blinds us to our own sin. He tells us how to figure out what is really first in our heart (hint: follow the trail of your time, money, and affection). He also tells us how to see the disconnect between our functional theology (how we live) and our confessional theology (what we say we believe). After he shows us how to recognize where we are most vulnerable to sin, he then gives us a “prescription for freedom” so we can kill our idols and live in a way that glorifies God. Bigney has a writing style that is easy to read and is often profound – I highlighted several sections so I can find them again quickly. Overall, this is a great book for personal growth in holiness that needs to be re-read every once in a while to keep the lessons and godly habits alive.
“According to the Bible, every believer should devote himself to being a killer…of sin,” so writes Wayne Mack in his introduction as he sets the theme of the book. Each one of us struggles with sin, but Mack teaches us how to take the fight against sin seriously. Early in the book, Mack quotes Charles Spurgeon (which is one of my favorite lines): “There is enough tinder in the saint who is nearest to heaven to kindle another hell if God should permit but a spark to fall upon it.” Wow. Get the picture? Sin is serious. Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin, but as long as we’re on this earth, sin still dwells in us and most of us don’t grasp its seriousness. Mack talks about fighting against even with what we consider “little” sins because “every small sin wants to be a big sin when it grows up.” In the first half of the book, Mack details why it is so important to fight sin; in the second half, he tells us how to put sin to death. While Mack discusses the way we need to think and the things we need to do, the good news is that it’s not all up to us – God has given us the Holy Spirit who lives in us and empowers us to overcome sin. This book is not about being beaten up by guilt and condemnation. It’s about seeing sin for what it is, understanding how we really can – and really, we can! – successfully put sin to death. No, we won’t be perfect when we’re finished reading the book, or even a year after we’ve read the book, but we’ll be encouraged as we do in fact grow in holiness and become more conformed to the image of Christ.
Dr. Al Mohler understands leadership. He lives it, and has a demonstrated track record of courageous, focused, visionary and successful leadership. In Conviction to Lead, Mohler shares 25 principles that any leader of any organization should know and live by. There’s no secret formula here and this is not a simple “checklist to success.” Instead, Mohler shares an understanding of how Scripture should shape our thinking about leadership and how that applies in very practical terms. This book is both theoretical (“leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction,” p. 19), and very practical (a leader is responsible for his organization’s Internet presence , chapter 21). Though Mohler shares a few vignettes from his own life, the book is not about him – it’s meant to teach those who want to grow in their leadership abilities – and it succeeds quite well.
The 25 principles form the 25 short and readable chapters. In broad terms, he spends a few chapters unpacking what it means to have conviction, lead with conviction, and weave that conviction into the very fabric of the organization such that the original purpose of the organization remains on-track and focused well beyond your tenure as leader. Another theme is that of communication – the leader forms a narrative that captures the essence of the organization’s purpose and vision and communicates that narrative. The communication occurs within as the leader shapes a learning organization by teaching and facilitating learning; it also occur outside as the leader understands how to communicate via social media and with outside media in general. Mohler also explains other essentials such as the importance of character, credibility, stewardship, and decision-making that secular authors also explain, but with the insight of one steeped in biblical thought.
This is a book that leaders need to read and then re-read every few years. It’s compact in that each principle is clearly explained with pertinent, practical application. The book I read belongs to one of my sons, but I now intend to get my own copy to read with a highlighter and pen. It’s that good.