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 Abandoned Faith

In Abandoned Faith authors Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez explore the influences that have led to an increasing number of millennials distancing themselves from biblical Christianity.  I will admit that I’m not sure that lumping a group of people born in a 30 year window together as a generation is entirely helpful. As one who would fall into the age range of millennials  I think it is important to point out that as technology has rapidly progressed those born in the 80’s grew up in very different world that those born in the late 90’s or even in 2000.

Th first part of this book addresses some of the main causes behind the shift away from Christianity. Some of the causes addressed are the lack of parental involvement in shaping children’s faith in the home, increasing exposure to immoral influences such as pornography, and delayed maturity. The second section addresses challenges and forces influencing millennials. Sections three and four provide practical steps for parents to reach out to millennial children and instill a foundation of biblical faithfulness.

I think the authors provide some valuable insights but as with any book addressing such a wide range of individuals whether what is said will depend on the person in question. One thing is certain is that Christian parents and church leaders cannot continue to ignore the fact that many are growing up and failing to develop a biblical understanding of Christianity.

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

Review of How to Break Growth Barriers

How to Break Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird is a book about equipping church members to carry out ministry. Equipping and releasing church members is the key to church growth according to the authors.

This book has been a helpful reminder of many things I learned in Intro to Evangelism and Church Growth. Like that class the authors argue for what could be called a shepherd-equiper model of ministry. This is crucial because if the members are not equipped to do the work of ministry the size of the church and the impact it has will be contingent upon the number of people the pastor is able to personally minister to.

I believe many churches would push back against the recommendations made in this book as many have a mentality that they hire staff to do ministry rather than seeing a need for all members to be involved in ministry. I would recommend this book as I think it provides valuable insight in how to think about the important connection between facilitating ministry on the part of church members and church growth itself.

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?

pastorspecialist

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

Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_Melville

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.

Review of Preaching in the New Testament

Among the many books that have been published on the issue of preaching Preaching in the New Testament by Jonathan Griffiths truly stands apart. Most of the recent publications on preaching in recent years have focused more on the how to of preaching. In contrast to those work Griffiths seeks to explore what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its priority in the local church.

This book is divided into three main sections. In the first section a biblical theology of the word is presented, the key terms used to describe preaching in the New Testament are explored, and the word ministry of all believers is addressed. In the second section of the book Griffiths narrows in with laser focus on six of the most prominent New Testament passages that address the issue of preaching the word, his work addressing Hebrews and its implications for the church are worth the price of the book. Th third and final section provides an overview of the material covered in previous chapters with some important implications of this work explored.

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times, and rather than argue for the importance of preaching simply based on its importance in church history we must have a biblical foundation for preaching in the church. Griffiths in this work points to the solid foundation for understanding the enduring importance of preaching in the life of the church which is found in the New Testament.

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