Review: The Art of Forgiving

The Art of ForgivingThe Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of wisdom about forgiveness and how the gospel drives it. There are also a few flies in the ointment. For example, Smedes worries about “fast forgivers” who forgive quickly in order to avoid their pain (p137ff). This makes a lot of sense, not to fake forgiveness or say we forgive when we really don’t, but he never deals with what Jesus says in this regard: “forgive us our trespasses as those who trespass against us”, which is to say, right away because God doesn’t hold our sins against us. He talks about waiting for the right time and quotes Nelson Mandela, “Ah, yes, forgiving, it will have to come to that sometime, but not yet, not while the boot is still on our neck” (p139). It’s hard not to think of Jesus forgiving His mockers from the cross while worse than the boot is on his neck, praying to the Father to forgive them, extending His own forgiveness. In other parts of the book Smedes addresses the problem with thinking we can control others or protect ourselves by not forgiving, but misses it here. Continue reading

Killer Angel

Killer Angel: A Short Biography of Planned Parenthood's Founder, Margaret SangerKiller Angel: A Short Biography of Planned Parenthood’s Founder, Margaret Sanger by George Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A superb narrative in one hundred pages of the woman who embraced the evils of racism, eugenics and sexual immorality which then resulted in her quest for abortion on demand. Everyone should know about her “Negro Project” concerned with “The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed[ing] carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among Whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit” (p. 86).

This is a timely read not just because of the recent work of the Center for Medical Progress exposing the horrors of Planned Parenthood, but because Hilary Clinton openly admires Sanger and has received the Margaret Sanger Award.

View all my reviews

Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell

20816513I read this on Kindle and enjoyed it so much I ordered one with poundage.

This book was so good because Bushnell takes the opposite tack to the vast majority of Christian parenting books. Rather than highlight all the hardships, heavy lifting, uncertainties, and qualifications that make parents feel like raising their kids to love God and walk with him is an exploding minefield, Bushnell takes the Bible’s promises, lobs them up off the glass, catches and slams them home. It’s fun to watch.

The book could be summarized as “I will be your God, and you will be my people” applied to the family. Like he did with Abraham, God calls men and women and their households into covenant with him. Bushnell is not sentimental about kids or about how hard parenting can be, so he avoids presumption. The only way kids follow the Lord is by faith, but faith works by love in raising them. He addresses baptism and church membership, the problem of denying children the Lord’s Supper, Christian education, holidays, hypocrisy, the Sabbath (“a day of humanity”), family prayer and all sort of possible objections.

In such a thorough and serious book, one of the best thing is the impression Bushnell gives of the light, joyful, and gracious environment of the Christian home. You wouldn’t know it by looking at picture to your upper left, but if he put into practice what he wrote, this is a happy man whose house you’d be glad to visit. Christians who are serious about discipleship often create a laborious and fussy atmosphere–let’s make the kids memorize the Catechism all day on Sunday! Bushnell reveals this for what it is: disobedient and counterproductive.

The only regret about this book is that it’s 300 pages long with 130-year-old 19th century prose. That will scare many off who would benefit enormously from it. Take up and read.

Now That I’m a Christian

Now That I'm a Christian: What It Means to Follow JesusNow That I’m a Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus by C. Michael Patton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good introduction and call to discipleship. Aside from erroneously stating that some people (infants, the “mentally unable” and those who die in their mothers’ wombs) are incapable of faith, this book is accurate, sturdy and accessible. I like the way he talks about Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, not ignoring their errors but charitably acknowledging their faith. This book is only missing more of what Ian Murray calls the Puritan hope–confidence in the success of the great commission.

View all my reviews

The Case is in the Singing

I had the pleasure of hearing the good Bishop N.T. Wright on tour last Monday talking about his excellent if pricey little book The Case for the Psalms.

His basic premise is that God gave us an inspired song book, the Psalms. Jesus sang them, and so should we. This need not take away from new songs being written, but the fact that what people usually sing in churches today, if they sing any Psalms at all, is a wee snippet of one here or there, is a tragic loss.

Wright told a story about a man associated with his who hadn’t become a Christian but went with him in a group to the holy land some years ago. Part of the tour included a trip to what is thought to be the high priest’s house of Jesus’ time, and beneath it was a deep and narrow vertical shaft which led to a solitary room. This is probably where Jesus spent his last night alone on earth, no doubt singing Psalms which appear on his lips all the time. The tour guide mentioned the lightless despair and the relevance of Psalm 88, the one with no resolution at the end, which we all feel at times. Wright noticed the man visibly moved by the reality of Jesus facing his death in those circumstances, and later he converted. Counted by the number of times he quotes them, Psalms are one of Jesus five favorite Old Testament books, and certainly the one he sang the most.

Wright’s talk was full of goodness, but two points stood out.  Continue reading

Real Adoption

Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families

By Russell Moore

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” –Romans 8:15

The paperwork is in order. We have been visited, called, chosen and bought with a price. The Spirit of adoption has been earnestly deposited. And yet it’s not complete. Christians are an adopted people, and a people longing for the completion of that adoption: “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). All of creation along with our bodies, scattered and buried and dustified, is moving toward redemption, and that redemption is our adoption.

But if redemption is adoption, what does that mean about human adoption? Does it reflect the redeeming love of our God? And if so, should it be a priority in the church? Russell Moore does an outstanding job rooting the practice of adoption in the adoption, God’s adoption of his people.

Adoption is, on the one hand, gospel. In this, adoption tells us who we are as children of the Father. Adoption as gospel tells us about our identity, our inheritance, and our mission as sons of God. Adoption is also defined as mission. In this, adoption tells us our purpose in this age as the people of Christ. Missional adoption spurs us to join Christ in advocating for the helpless and the abandoned. Continue reading

Rescuing Ambition

I’ve been reading and enjoying Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition very much in large part due to the nuanced view of ambition it gives. One entire chapter is titled Ambition’s Contentment, describing the patience and wisdom that go along with godly ambition. Another chapter is dedicated to ambition for the church, and not just the church in general or the heavenly church where no one ever offends you, but the lowly local one where we’re called to belong.

The book is about ambition for everyone, and it really ought to be. Not everyone is called into leadership (or else who would follow?), but everyone is called to pursue excellence in everything. Everyone will have some opportunity for leadership in the informal sense since everyone talks to others, is called to friendship, and has opportunities however small for influence.

Harvey relates one story particularly helpful in a book about ambition. Bill Patton was a pastor involved in leadership training and church planting. When something came up in his family that made it clear he needed to step out of leadership, he actually did so, appointed faithful men to replace him, and get this, “publicly committed himself to be an active and enthusiastic member of the church he’d founded–to support this church through the transition and to serve them long into the future. He also dedicated himself to leading his family with gospel humility” (p. 195). In Bill’s own words:

The gospel answers my questions of identity. It tells me I am Go’s nonobservant, his child, a worshiper, and a functioning member of his church. My identity as a pastor was always a secondarily identity. I have not lost my main identity…. I responded to the call to ministry in order to glory God. Being a pastor was never, rightly, my chief end. I do not presently have opportunity to serve as a pastor, but I do have daily opportunities. to fulfill my main purpose in life. Asking the question, “How do I glorify god now?” wonderfully liberates me.

True ambition isn’t selfish ambition, what Thomas Watson called the mother of all schisms. The local church needs leaders and members who are committed to the mission of the gospel, one that goes beyond personal circumstances and hopes. Such commitments enable the biblical qualifications for leadership to be upheld and relieves the pressure that is felt when “indispensable” men become disqualified, the kind that Charles de Gaulle said fill our graveyards.  True ambition has courage and takes risks, but it is also selfless and humble.

Practicing Affirmation

Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God

By Sam Crabtree
Reviewed by Jerry Owen

He has raised up a horn for his people, Praise for all his saints, For the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the Lord! Psalm 148:14

We like to think we are wired differently from one another, that some see the glass half-full of sparkling champagne, and others see it half empty with three-day-old Folgers coffee grounds mucking the bottom. Sam Crabtree has done us a great service by putting the practice of affirmation into the disciplines-to-be-cultivated category and not the I’m-not-naturally-inclined-that-way-so-I’m-excused-from-obedience category.

“Affirmation is the purpose of the universe—specifically, affirmation of God” (p. 11). All true affirmation finds its source in the work of God, poured out on his creation. “And the LORD made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1 Chron. 9:25). Solomon is not stealing praise from God, but simply receiving what God gave him. Those who recognize and proclaim this, as the biblical writers constantly do, affirm not just the person who has been blessed, but ultimately the work of God who gave the blessing in the first place. Continue reading

Bibliophilic Confessions

Good thoughts by Keith Mathison’s from his article, worth reading in full, Confessions of a Bibiophile:

Our God is a God who has revealed Himself in a book, in words. We learn about God and His will, therefore, by reading. We learn by reading and reflecting on His Word. We also learn by reading and thinking with the church. This means we read and reflect on the insights of our brethren, those who are still with us and those who have gone on before us. We may also learn by reading with discernment the works of those who have spent time “reading” God’s general revelation. This includes works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and literature.

If I might offer a word of advice and encouragement to my fellow bibliophiles, it is this: As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (12:12). Millions of books have been published, and thousands more are published every year. We cannot read them all, so it is best to read the good ones. If you don’t know which books are the good ones, seek the advice of mature Christians. Find recommended reading lists by churches and ministries you trust.

Finally, while we read to learn about our God and His works of creation and redemption, we must not allow a love of reading to supplant our love for Christ. If we do, our books, even our Christian books, become nothing more than idols. All the reading in the world, if it does not ultimately promote our love of Christ and our brethren, is nothing but futility.