Review of Progress in the Pulpit

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Progress in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix have written a resources that belongs on every preacher’s reading list. As one who benefited from their previous work Power in the Pulpit during my college years I was excited to see this work come to print.

This book is comprised of four main sections. The first section defines the task of preaching and the factors that shape it in and out of the pulpit with attention given to the cultivation of godliness, developing a preaching plan, and discipleship in and out of the pulpit. The second section addresses development of the sermon covering issues such as Bible translation, sermon points, word studies, and most importantly how to preach Christ-centered sermons. The third and final section addresses issues regarding delivery such as clarity of communication, giving an invitation, evaluating preaching, and teaching about preaching.

One of the most important chapters in this book is chapter 4 in which Jim Shaddix addresses the relationship between personal discipleship and pulpit discipleship. As Shaddix notes in his introduction to the chapter there is an assumed division between the pulpit and discipleship which in my opinion has probably contributed greatly to unhealthy churches. The last chapter was also particularly helpful in explaining the importance of teaching people the importance of preaching and how preaching is itself and act of worship.

Whether you’ve been in the pulpit for weeks or for years there is something in this book that will help you make progress in the pulpit.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Review of Pastoral Theology

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Pastoral Theology by Daniel Akin and R. Scott Pace is a book that stands apart from other books on the issue of pastoral ministry. Whereas many books on ministry focus more on the how-to of ministry the authors of this book provide a biblical theology of pastoral ministry.

This book is divided into three main sections. In the first section the authors provide a look at the trinitarian foundation of pastoral ministry. In a day where pragmatism is so emphasized it is refreshing to read a book that emphasizes the character of God and the importance of having one’s identity centered in Christ. The second section provides a look at the issues of anthropology, ecclesiology, and missiology. The authors rightly point the leaders to the relationship of God’s grace and compassion in the ministry. The last section addresses the practical God commanded tasks that underscore the work of pastoral ministry. The authors address the pastor’s role as under-shepherd of God’s flock, the role of preaching,  and the priority of family in pastoral ministry.

I believe that this is one of the most important books on pastoral ministry that has been written in recent years. I would commend every pastor to buy this book and read it as what is lacking in much of evangelicalism today is a biblical understanding of pastoral ministry and this book is a helpful corrective to that.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Chasing Contentment

Chasing Contentment

Chasing Contentment by Erik Raymond is one of the best books I have come across this year. In this book the Raymond draws on his own person study and the works of Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson in addressing the topic of contentment.

As is noted right on the cover we live in a discontented age. Almost every aspect of our culture seems to encourage discontentment so that our discontentment can become a source to profit from. I think the definition provided:”the inward, gracious, quiet spirit, that joyfully rests in God’s providence” is one that captures the biblical understanding of contentment. After defining contentment Raymond explores how we learn contentment. One of the keys to contentment as Raymond points out is understanding what we really deserve in light of our sin against God. Too often believers can drift into discontentment because they have not rightly understood the enormity of sin and God’s amazing grace. Throughout this book Raymond encourages the reader to see the pursuit of contentment in terms of our relationship with God and the promises of God something especially evident in the books closing chapter.

I would recommend this book to any pastor I know. Many pastors are prone to discontentment and even those who might not be still minister to people who are largely discontent in life. In a day an age where everything is telling us we need newer, better, and more this book points us to the path of true contentment in God’s care and provision for us in this present age.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the ebook from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention

In Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention Jarvis Williams and Kevin Jones have gathered voices from across the SBC to speak to a vital issue in Baptist life. Anyone familiar with the history of the convention knows that the SBC came to existence because of a disagreement with northern Baptists over the appointment of slaveholders as missionaries. As a Southern Baptist I readily acknowledge that the Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of the issue, slaveholders should not have been permitted to serve as missionaries, in fact were the churches in step with the New Testament ethic it would have condemned the slavery practiced in their midst.

In the first two chapters of this book Albert Mohler and Matt Hall address the root and historical causes of racism in the convention. Jarvis Williams draws on biblical steps toward remedying racism. Walter Strickland addresses the theological nature of racism. Craig Mitchell addresses the issue in light of Christian ethics. Kevin Smith’s chapter which stands out addresses the importance of the pulpit and the pastor’s personal example in addressing racism. The closing chapters of the book address steps needed to address racism in the more institutional aspects of Baptist life with attention given to the progress that has been made in Baptist life.

You might ask why this book is needed. I would point to that fact that I know pastors who have in their ministry had to push back against racism in the local church. One particular pastor at one point in his ministry had deacons who wanted a bylaws revision that would require the dismissal of a worship service should an African-American show up. I’ve had members of my own church admit to the fact that the world they group up in was blatantly racist. We can also look at our present, I pastor a church in an area that is half white and half black but my church isn’t. I am absolutely convinced that the ongoing segregated nature of Sunday morning worship speaks volumes about the fact that work is needed in this area. I hope many pastors will pick this book up and take the work of racial reconciliation seriously.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Word Centered Church

Word Centered Church a revised edition of Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman demonstrates the vital role the Bible should and must have in the life a local church. Given the fact that by and large the Bible does not have a central place in the life of many local churches this is a timely book.

This book is composed of three main sections. The first section addresses the ways in which God’s word functions. The second section addresses the role of the sermon which is to come from the Word. The final section addresses the word’s place in the life of the local church. Churches are to sing the word, pray the word, disciple with the word, and spread the word through personal evangelism.

While many pastors I know might agree with the centrality of the word in preaching I think the attention that Leeman gives to singing and praying the word are helpful correctives given the current conditions in many churches. Many leaders in the church would be greatly helped if they considered the importance of affirming the word of God in what is sung by the congregation. Leeman also addresses a clear problem in the prayer life of local churches in how divorced it is from biblical example and precept. In many church prayer meetings one would be hard pressed to hear the reverberation of God’s word in the prayers made.

Whether pastor or layman this book will prove to be helpful in thinking through the central place the Bible should and must have in the local church if we are to be faithful to God.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Review of Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching

In Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching the various contributors have provided an important resource for pastors. Many pastors avoid preaching the Old Testament for the simple fact they don’t know how to preach it.

A large chunk of the Old Testament is narrative, and often when it is preached it is mishandled. Lawrence Turner helps pastors understand the importance of plot in preaching the narrative passages. Paul Kissling likewise focuses in on narrative but with an eye toward preaching on characters. Christopher Wright’s work on preaching the law is particularly helpful in understanding the principles which apply to today. Through each chapter of the book every major genre and the major sections of the Old Testament are addressed with the closing chapters providing guidance in how to deal with difficult texts and how to preach Christ from the Old Testament in such a way that one does not butcher the text.

As a preacher I have to be honest that until I read this book I had not given the Old Testament the attention it deserves in my preaching ministry and had thus robbed my hearers of a balanced diet so to speak. This resource has reminded me of the importance of preaching the Old Testament and has helped me to think through how to actually preach the Old Testament in such a way that is faithful to the text and beneficial to the hearers.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

Alvin Reid is a go to author for me when it comes to the issue of evangelism since I first read his earlier title Introduction to Evangelism. If we’re honest it seems we’ve made evangelism so complicated and so frightening that most professing Christians would rather have a root canal than attempt to evangelize someone. Reid’s latest title helps remove some of the fear that holds back many from being faithful witnesses to Christ.

What Reid presents in this book is a common sense approach to evangelism that is often missed in the church. Chapter one addresses the need to focus on the simple message of the gospel. Chapter two  provides a good overview of the biblical gospel message. Chapter three focuses on moving to an more natural evangelism where we converse with people rather than lecturing them. Chapter four shows that the power lies in God and how we as individuals are instrumental in evangelism. Chapters five and six addresses prayer and how to engage in gospel conversation. Chapters eight and nine address the importance of developing the relationships we have with those we are seeking to share the gospel with.

I think this book needs to be read by every Southern Baptist pastor. As it is we are a denomination in decline and that decline is owing to an absence of evangelism and discipleship in local churches. Reid helps us to see evangelism as what it was in the New Testament the regular lifestyle of all believers seeking to be salt and light.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Pray about Everything

Pray about Everything is a classic under a new title. This work was previously published by Day One under the title Teach them to Pray.  This is one of the best resources to guide pastors in placing an emphasis upon prayer in the life of the church.

Chapters one and two address the importance of constant regular prayer for regular everyday believers. Chapters 3 through 9 provide reflections on important passages involving prayer. The appendices which is worth the price of the book provide valuable resources to help pastors cultivate prayer in every aspect of the church’s life from the pulpit to small group gatherings.

I would recommend this book to every pastor I know. If we’re honest with ourselves one thing that most churches struggle with is placing a proper emphasis on prayer. As it is many churches have a prayer meeting where prayer, real prayer rarely happens. I firmly believe that the church will never rise above the prayer life of its members and if this is true it would explain much of the decline facing many churches as we seem to have lost focus on our dependence upon God. I hope that other pastors will read this book and be inspired to place a renewed emphasis on prayer in their churches.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review

What are we for?

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In The Pastor as Public Theologian Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer makes the following provocative observation, “What are pastor-theologians for? The short answer: for cultivating life and for coping with death. “Death” is more than the moment of dying. It is rather the sense of an ending that casts its dark shadow over everything else in our stories (Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian, pp. 104-105).”

We know that death is certain, we all say the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Yet there is in our culture and even in our churches a certain unwillingness and inability to cope with the reality of death. I once visited a man who had been just diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 80s and in light of the doctors prognosis had opted not to receive treatment. This does not mean that he had begun to cope, or was willing to begin the process of preparing for death. Quite the opposite. During the months before his passing he did not mention the word cancer, even to his wife. On one particular occasion he did express that he was expecting a miracle and shared with me a booklet by Norman Vincent Peale that he had been given on the subject of claiming miracles.

The challenge for pastors today in my opinion is to minister to a people who have been conditioned by the culture to ignore the reality of death in every day life. I believe philosopher Luc Ferry clearly points the predicament of man in ignoring death:

Death is not as simple as ane event as it is ordinarily credited with being. It cannot merely be written off as ‘the end of life’, as the straightforward termination of our existence…Death is, in the midst of life, that which will not return; that which belongs irreversibly to time past, which we have hope of recovering. It can mean childhood holidays with friends, the divorce of parents, or the houses or schools we have to leave, or a thousand other examples: even if it does not always mean the disappearance of a loved one, everything that comes under the heading of ‘Nevermore’ belongs in death’s ledger ( Luc  Ferry, A Brief History of Thought, pp. 4-5).

Death lies lurking in every area of life, casting its shadows everywhere. Which means the liberating light of the gospel needs to be brought and applied to every area where death casts its shadow. Lets us be committed to knowing how to minister to those going through death’s shadows in every day life.

 

Spurgeon and Suffering to Win Souls

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In The Soul Winner, Spurgeon recounts a particular incident when his emotional suffering was used to bring about the conversion of a man who was in the midst of suicidal despondency. Spurgeon states the circumstances surrounding the message as follows:

Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in spirit, or my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words.1

It was a combination of spiritual and physical suffering that in Spurgeon’s understanding enabled him to preach his text. His preaching of the text did not prove to be successful because of his study, it proved to be successful in reaching the despondent man because Spurgeon had lived in the shadow of the text which he was preaching. Spurgeon knew personally the soul anguish of feeling forsaken of God and he knew the cure for the despondency as well. After making clear that he would not have been able to reach out to the man in question had he not suffered in such a way as to enable him to preach his text from personal experience, Spurgeon exhorts those who would win souls to see the importance of suffering in soul winning. Spurgeon begins by putting forward the premise that one would undergo a painful procedure to save lives, so it is with soul winning. Spurgeon says,:

Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves.2

One cannot get past this reality, that in order to reach sinners in a world of suffering with the gospel of a glorious and gracious Savior, one must walk through suffering and suffer likewise. We cannot be good to our people who suffer unless we know what it is to suffer. It does souls good to hear the promises of God and the gospel from the lips of one who has suffered and been encouraged and comforted by them. The choice before the minister is either to suffer in order that one might bring the gospel comfort to the afflicted, or to avoid suffering and being almost entirely useless to those you would do good.

1 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1963), 185-186.

2Ibid., 187-188.