All posts by Gary Shultz

Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine

Eswine, Zack. Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014. 144 pages. $9.99. Purchase at Westminster for less or for Kindle.

Note: The review first appeared in The Pathway.

Gary L. Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

Many Christians know what it is like to go through dark times of the soul, whether because of circumstances, disposition, or dryness in one’s relationship with God. Many other Christians know what it is like to watch those they love go through those dark times, wondering how they can help or what they can say. Sometimes those dark times persist, becoming so overwhelming that all of life seems to be a burden and a struggle. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune from depression.

Yet for many in the church, depression is a taboo subject. Some Christians assume that depression is always a result of sin, is really just a bad attitude with another name, or that Christians are immune from depression because of the promises of Jesus Christ. These false assumptions have hurt many people struggling to see how God can help them through their long bouts of grief and anxiety. This is where a book like Spurgeon’s Sorrows is so helpful. Zack Eswine, a pastor in the St. Louis area, uses the experience and preaching of Charles Spurgeon, a well-respected and beloved pastor from the past, to help us understand what depression is and how Jesus Christ offers grace and hope even in the midst of the darkest times.

Charles Spurgeon was the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a Baptist church in London, for 38 years in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As pastor of one of the earliest megachurches, Spurgeon regularly preached to thousands of people. Early in his ministry, at age 22, Spurgeon was preaching when someone falsely yelled, “Fire!” The panic that resulted left seven people dead and 28 seriously injured. Married for less than a year, with newborn twins, Spurgeon was blamed by many for the disaster. All of this stress had a profound effect on Spurgeon’s disposition, and left him struggling with depression not only in the aftermath, but for the rest of his life. Depression was a subject he returned to in his preaching again and again.

The book is divided into three sections: understanding depression, learning to help those with depression, and learning daily helps to cope with depression. Eswine uses Spurgeon’s experience to help us understand that even the most faithful Christians can battle depression. Sometimes depression results from painful circumstances or spiritual crises, but sometimes depression is a result of a person’s physical chemistry or disposition from birth. Spurgeon believed this about himself, and often encouraged those in his congregation suffering from depression to seek out not only spiritual causes and remedies, but physical ones as well. Yet no matter the cause or the depth of the depression, there is help in Jesus Christ.

So learning how to help those who suffer from depression or working to overcome our own depression means acknowledging that depression does happen, even to Christians, and that there is no one-size-fits-all cure. Coming to see ourselves in Christ, and that his grace is deeper than our sorrow no matter the cause or the depths of our despair, is what brings genuine hope. Jesus Christ himself suffered with us and for us as the “man of sorrows,” and comes to us in our own unique pain and circumstances. Eswine helps us remember that as we strive to remember and pray Jesus’ promises, take advantage of the natural helps he gives us in creation, and choose life over death, we experience his grace. We might even come to a time where we being to see what God is doing in our lives through our suffering.

Who Moved My Pulpit? by Thom S. Rainer

Rainer, Thom S. Who Moved My Pulpit: Leading Change in the Church. Nashville: B&H, 2016. 143 pp. $12.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Note: This review was first published in The Pathway.

Gary Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

Nine out of ten churches in North America are either declining or growing more slowly than their communities. As Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, states near the end of this book, “We are reaching fewer people. Our back doors are open widely. Church conflict is normative. Pastors and church staff are wounded. Many have given up altogether” (124). Yes, there are exceptions to this reality, but they are exceptions. Most churches need to do things differently. Most churches need to change.

The title of this book is drawn from a true story. An established pastor of 23 years, with eight of those at his current church, begins altering his preaching style in an attempt to reach younger adults in the community. He makes the changes incrementally, leading his congregation to understand why he is changing his style and giving them time to adjust to it. The changes go well, resulting in growth, and eventually the church embraces the new style.

Then the pastor decides that the church’s current pulpit did not fit with his new preaching style, so he replaces it. Unfortunately, he does it without telling anyone, assuming that people would understand or at least not care all that much about such a minor issue. But the church does care, and without exception people voice their opposition, even going so far as to replace the new pulpit with the old one without informing the pastor. While he is still at the church, the pastor believes they lost about two years of ministry momentum from dealing with the fallout over that seemingly minor change.

The purpose of this book is to help pastors and church members lead their churches to change, and to do it well. The above story illustrates why change in established churches can be so difficult. First, leaders don’t always lead change well. Though usually well-intentioned, sometimes leaders act before praying, don’t think through unintended consequences, fail to communicate, don’t deal with people issues, and react poorly when their attempts at change are rejected. Second, church members often refuse to accept any changes in the church. According to Rainer’s research, only 25% of a typical established church is open to change. The rest fall into one of five kinds of church members: those who deny the need to change, those who feel entitled to doing church their way, those who blame everyone but themselves for the church’s problems, those who lodge complaints at any hint of change, and those who are confused about what needs to be changed.

Change is possible, however. The heart of the book is a roadmap for leading change. There are eight steps, with a chapter devoted to each one: stop and pray, confront and communicate a sense of urgency, build an eager coalition of people open to change, become a voice of vision and hope, deal with people issues, move from an inward to an outward focus, pick low-hanging fruit that allows your church to see immediate successes, and continue to implement and consolidate change, because the process never ends.

We need more change-agents in the church. We need people who love God, love their churches, and love people outside the church enough to do what is necessary to try and reach them with the gospel. We need leaders with courage, commitment, and vision. Rainer is clear that his roadmap is not just another program or a quick-fix solution, but a biblical approach to helping churches move toward health and obedience to the Great Commission. There are all kinds of wrong ways to lead change, but there is a right way.

God at Work by Gene Edward Vieth, Jr.

Vieth, Jr., Gene Edward. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002. 176 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or for Kindle.

Note: This review first appeared in The Pathway.

Gary L. Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

Work is hard. Although God originally created us to live with him in a perfect world, fulfilling our tasks in flawless harmony with him, one another, and the creation, we now live in a sin-cursed world where we make our ways by the sweat of our brows, with thorns and thistles frustrating our harvests. Work is often monotonous, boring, and thankless, something to endure rather than a blessing to celebrate. Even jobs that make a real difference in peoples’ lives, that come with high pay and an enhanced reputation, wear people down. Despite the amount of time we all spend working, whether paid or not, we often struggle to see the purpose of our work, or how we can possibly do our work to the glory of God.

Historically, the doctrine of vocation was meant to address these concerns. While we typically use the term “vocation” today as just a fancy word for “job,” the term comes from the Latin word for “calling,” and originally meant much more than just a “job.” We are called to salvation through the word of the gospel (2 Thess 2:14), we are called to a particular act of service in the church (1 Cor 1:1-2), and we are called to be married or single (1 Cor 7:15-20). The doctrine of vocation helps us understand that our careers, along with our callings in the family, the church, and the community, are God-given. It also gives us insight into why God has us work and how we are supposed to work.

Gene Vieth’s purpose behind God At Work is to help us recover the doctrine of vocation and the practical difference it makes in living for God. He begins by exploring the purpose of vocations, discovering your vocations, and how God works in and through vocations. He then examines the various vocations to which every person is called, and finishes the book by addressing some common questions and problems with the doctrine.

All people, believers and unbelievers, have multiple callings. Every person is called to live as a citizen of a particular community and country, with the attendant responsibilities that entails (Rom 13:1-7). Every person is called to serve other people with their unique gifts and abilities, whether in the home or in the workplace. All people are called to be in families, and might even have several vocations in their families, such as father, son, and husband. There is one key vocational difference between believers and unbelievers, however, as believers are called through the gospel unto salvation and then called to live and serve in the church, the people of God (1 Pet 2:9-10).

God’s purpose in our vocations is for us to honor him by fulfilling our callings among the people he has put in our lives. I am supposed to serve others through my vocations, and you are supposed to serve others through your vocations. When this is happening as it should, everyone is constantly giving and receiving. Concerning work, I didn’t harvest the grain that went into my biscuit for breakfast, and I didn’t bake it either; others did this on my behalf through their vocations of farmer and baker, even if they didn’t do so consciously. In exchange, I pastor, preach, teach and write. Behind all of this is God, who works through both believers and unbelievers. The difference for us as believers is that we are to live out our vocations by faith, as followers of Jesus Christ. God calls us to work, in all the areas of our lives, in order to bless us and bless others through us, for his glory and for our good.

The SBC and the 21st Century edited by Jason K. Allen

Allen, Jason K., ed. The SBC and the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal, Recommitment. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016. 269 pages. $29.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Note: This review was first published in The Pathway.

Gary Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

What does the future look like for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)? The SBC is one of the largest denominations in the world, with over 15 million members and over 40,000 churches in the United States alone, but both membership and baptism numbers have been slowly declining for several years. For Southern Baptists, this decline raises questions about our methods of reaching people for Christ, our faithfulness to what we say we believe, and our attitude toward our culture. How should we minister and witness going forward in a rapidly changing world?

In September of 2015 Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MWBTS) in Kansas City, MO hosted a symposium to consider these issues. This book, edited by Jason Allen, the President of MWBTS, is a collection of those presentations along with several other essays addressing the SBC’s future. Divided into three sections, these essays address three important questions. Will the SBC grow more unified around its convictions and mission or fragment over secondary doctrinal differences? Will the SBC continue to maintain its Baptist identity while engaging and partnering with other evangelical churches? Finally, will the SBC be willing to think through its structures, programs, and efforts to most effectively reach this world for Christ or will it continue to do the same things it has always done?

The heart of the SBC is collaborative ministry, exemplified by the Cooperative Program, through which SBC churches together fund missions, education, and other denominational institutions at both the state and the national level. Yet a host of issues threaten this collaboration, including differences of opinion on how to cooperate, doctrinal disagreements, and methodological preferences. Including essays by denominational leaders such as Frank Page, Thom Rainer, and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Executive Director John Yeats, the first section addresses questions of how Southern Baptists should continue to cooperate. These essays highlight the importance of the Cooperative Program, state conventions, and engagement with the broader evangelical community in helping the SBC accomplish its mission, but also stress that they are means to that end, not the end in and of themselves.

While the heart of the SBC is collaborative ministry, the identity of the SBC is found in its doctrine. At this point in its history, the SBC has united around the truths expressed by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. However, the rapid changes in our culture continue to challenge our theological foundations. The second section, including contributions from Albert Mohler, David Dockery, and several professors from MWBTS, highlights the need for solid convictions on doctrines such as regenerate church membership, human sexuality and gender, and the nature of the church.

As necessary as cooperation and doctrine are, they are meant to keep us on mission for our Savior. The third group of essays, with chapters from denominational leaders such as David Platt, Ronnie Floyd, Jason Allen, and Paige Patterson, speak to the future of the SBC’s missions institutions as well as the continuing relevance of preaching, prayer, and theological education. Ultimately, doctrine, mission, and ministry complement one another, and the SBC must continue to stay strong in each area in order to effectively reach the coming generations for Christ.

After I finished reading this book my main takeaway was hope. God in his grace has used the SBC to reach millions of people for Christ. As we continue to unify around our mission, stand boldly on our doctrine, and commit ourselves to gospel witness and ministry, I believe that God will continue to use the SBC for his glory. These essays will encourage and equip you and your church as we look towards a future of fulfilling the Great Commission together.

Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness

Guinness, Os. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015. 272 pages. $22.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or for Kindle.

Note: This review first appeared in The Pathway.

Gary L. Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to be a witness of his life, death, and resurrection. Yet we live in an age when fewer and fewer people in our culture are interested in the truth of the gospel, and more and more people are resistant or even hostile to it. In response, many Christians and churches have simply given up on evangelism, hoping their lifestyle or commitment to social justice will be enough to influence their neighbors toward Christ. Others, resisting the pressure of our culture to stop sharing the gospel, continue to witness as if most people were interested in what Christians have to say. Even if they do end up getting a hearing, a reliance on cookie-cutter approaches to evangelism often obscures the message and keeps them from connecting to others.

If we are to be effective witnesses of the gospel today, we need to recover the art of persuasion, of presenting the gospel to people who don’t agree with us or care about our message. This is the purpose of Os Guinness’s latest book, Fool’s Talk. According to Guinness there are three kinds of fools in the Bible. The first fool, the one we are most familiar with, is the fool who refuses to acknowledge God. The second type of fool is very different: the person who is not actually a fool at all but who is prepared to be treated as a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:10). The third type of fool in the Bible goes a step farther, and is prepared to be treated as a fool for Christ’s sake so that he can speak truth to power, shaming and subverting the wisdom of the world. This of course is what God did on the cross through the death of Christ (1 Cor 1:18-31).

The way of the third fool is the way to recover the art of persuasion in our Christian witness. This way means embracing a personalized, gospel-centered witness rather than a specific technique in presenting the gospel. Guinness is adamant that when it comes to our witness, there is no single method that will reach every person. Jesus never spoke to anyone the same way, and neither should we. Gospel-centered witness means embracing the heart and the mind, using stories and/or rational arguments depending on the person. It means getting to know a person, loving them in the same way that God loves them. We are not called to share our faith out of guilt or a desire to compete for cultural influence, but out of love for God and others. We must reconnect apologetics and evangelism, making sure our best arguments for the gospel are in the service of leading people to Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Fool’s Talk, and the biggest reason you should read it, is that Guinness doesn’t just explain the need for recovering the art of persuasion or what it means, but takes the time to walk through how to do it. He presents several broad responses we can employ as we talk to people about Jesus, encouraging the use of humor, creativity, imagination, and compassion. He includes chapters on how to respond to questions we can’t answer, how we should react to the charge of hypocrisy, and on engaging people wherever they are on their spiritual journeys. Relentlessly biblical and well-aware of our contemporary culture, this book encourages and equips us to be the gospel witnesses God calls us to be.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel, 2017. 262 pages. $25.00. Purchase for less at Amazon or on Kindle.

Note: This review was first published in The Pathway.

Gary L. Shultz, Jr., Reviewer

Thirty-six years ago a philosopher named Alisdair MacIntyre declared that Western culture had lost its way, similar to the Roman Empire before its fall, and that those living virtuous lives could no longer participate in this culture. Instead they must form alternative cultures that would allow them to survive this new “dark ages” with integrity and morality intact. The last sentence of his book, After Virtue, called on us to await a new leader who would help us live out our Christian faith in the midst of a culture that rejected it, “another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.”

Rod Dreher builds upon MacIntyre’s work, both his warning and his proposed solution, with the “Benedict Option.” This is the idea that in light of current conditions in our culture and our churches, conservative Christians in America can no longer live the way we’ve been living. Our culture has abandoned virtue and embraced a way of life that denies our humanity. We must make a “decisive leap” into a counter-cultural way of living for God in every area of our lives, focusing on community, discipline, and passing on our faith to the next generation. In other words, the church must actually be the church. Otherwise we are lost, and can only expect continuing assimilation to our culture from one generation to the next.

For his explanation of what this way of life should look like, Dreher appeals to the actual St. Benedict, Benedict of Nursia (480-547). Benedict went to Rome for his education as a young man and was shocked at the corruption and decadence of the city. Instead of embracing his life of privilege as a government official’s son, Benedict decided to live as a hermit, focusing on prayer and meditation. After three years of this, Benedict was invited to lead a monastery, and would eventually establish twelve monasteries of his own. To guide his monks, Benedict wrote a book now known as The Rule of St. Benedict.

Dreher weaves together his account of visiting the Benedictine monastery in Nursia today with a description of Benedict’s Rule, which calls for establishing a community ordered and centered around Christ. It contains strict instructions for prayer, work, and social life. Dreher is not calling on us all to be monks, but to apply these principles to the church today. The Benedict Option calls for a new way, which is really an old way, of approaching politics, church, education, community, and work. It demands that we resist our culture’s ways of thinking about sex and technology. It means building a culture in the church through witness and spiritual discipline that will not only help people walk with Christ but impact others around us. For how can we win people to something we don’t really have?

Dreher’s book is worth reading and thinking through. His analysis of our current cultural climate and the failure of the church to adequately respond to where we are today is essentially correct. His overall strategy of focusing on the purity and strength of our Christian communities is sound. We cannot love the world if we hope to live for Christ and actually change the world. We must start taking our faith seriously, for our own sake and the sake of our children.

I recommend the book with two caveats, though. First, you will not agree with everything Dreher says. He is Eastern Orthodox and has strong convictions about the importance of liturgical worship. He believes parents should only homeschool or enroll their children in Christian classical education. His historical understanding of how our culture got to this point is somewhat simplistic and open to question. You don’t need to agree with these things to benefit from Dreher’s insights. Second, Dreher tends toward a defensive and isolated posture, while the Bible calls us to something different. We are not monks, but kingdom witnesses taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, knowing that the gates of hell cannot prevail against Christ’s church. However, The Benedict Option, understood and practiced in light of our mission, will help us be those kingdom citizens Jesus saves us to be.

 

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

Corbett, Steve, and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor or Yourself. 2nd ed. Chicago: Moody, 2014. 288 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster Books or on Kindle.

How can North American churches appropriately and effectively work to alleviate poverty at home and abroad? Drawing from their extensive experience, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert wrote When Helping Hurts to answer this question. Corbett and Fikkert work together at the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, a research institute that seeks to equip churches to minister to low-income people, and teach together at Covenant College in Lookout, GA in the areas of community and economic development. Two motivations drive this book: North American Christians, particularly with their vast wealth, are not doing enough about poverty; and when they do attempt to do something about it, their methods are often more harmful than helpful.

When Helping Hurts has four parts, each containing three chapters. Part 1 provides a biblical and theological understanding of poverty, with Chapter 1 focusing on the nature of the gospel and the mission of the church, Chapter 2 on the nature of poverty itself, and Chapter 3 on a biblical understanding of poverty alleviation. Part 2 concerns general principles that should guide our understanding of helping the poor. These include recognizing the different kinds of intervention a situation might call for (Chapter 4), utilizing the poor’s assets whenever possible (Chapter 5), and enabling those you are helping to participate in the process (Chapter 6). Parts 3 and 4 provide practical strategies for putting the principles of Parts 1 and 2 into practice, including advice on short term-missions trips (Chapter 7), working in your own community (Chapter 8), and how to get started (Chapters 10-11).

With over 225,000 copies of the first edition (2009) sold, When Helping Hurts has had an immense impact on evangelical poverty relief work, and this is a good thing due to the book’s strong gospel focus and useful strategies. The authors rightly ground poverty alleviation in the gospel and a holistic understanding of salvation. Chapters 2-3 are particularly helpful in this regard, highlighting how human beings are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, and that every person is poor in the sense of hurting in their relationship with God, themselves, others, and creation. Therefore helping low-income people must take all of these relationships into account, and not just physical, material needs. As the authors state, “poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again” (p. 77). This idea leads to one of the strongest points in the book, which is that the goal of poverty alleviation is not to make the materially poor into middle or upper-class North Americans, or even to make sure they have enough money, but to restore people to a “full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be,” in all four relationships (78).

The authors build upon this strong gospel-centeredness by offering several practical applications. Churches must work to combat the individual and systemic causes of poverty, to identify assets that the poor already have instead of duplicating those assets, to empower the poor to help themselves instead of just doing things for them. This means the default response of churches and individual Christians cannot be to just give more money or things to help the poor, as it too often is (though in cases of immediate need this might be necessary). The authors rightly demonstrate why this default response is most often not only unnecessary but hurtful (106-09). Churches must do the harder, more time-consuming, but much more effective work of developing relationships and leading people to help themselves as they realize their dignity as created beings through the gospel. The authors’ much needed critique of the typical short-term missions trip is along these same lines (161-80), as too often these trips are focused on short-term relief at the expense of long-term development.

The book does have some minor weaknesses. Corbett and Fikkert don’t adequately distinguish between the church’s mission, Jesus’ mission, and the individual Christian’s mission, (e.g., pp. 14, 37, 40-41, 44, 73-75), and a book such as Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilberts’ What is the Mission of the Church? would be a helpful supplement. The authors also conflate what the Bible says about helping the poor inside the church with helping the poor outside of the church (e.g., pp. 38-42). Additionally, some of the strategies the authors propose, such as setting up micro-finance institutions for people in developing nations, seem to be beyond the capabilities of the average-sized church. None of these weaknesses take away from the overall value of the book, but do have the potential to lead to confusion or discouragement.

I recommend When Helping Hurts to pastors, deacons, missionaries, and any involved in Christian benevolent ministry. The book is written to be used in group studies, and as a pastor I profitably led our deacons through the book using the questions and activities provided by the authors. This resulted in several positive changes for our church’s benevolent ministry and a deeper appreciation for the holistic nature of the gospel. The second edition adds two additional chapters, a new foreword by David Platt, and a new conclusion, but these additions don’t necessarily warrant a new reading if you have read the first edition. If you haven’t, this book offers insights too good to pass up for a minister of the gospel.

Ministry in the New Marriage Culture by Jeff Iorg

Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.  Edited by Jeff Iorg.  Nashville: B&H, 2015.  264 pages.  $14.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Note: this review first appeared in The Pathway, the Missouri Baptist Convention newspaper.

We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to what the Bible teaches us about sexuality, gender, and marriage.  Christians seeking to live out their faith beyond their homes and churches have faced resistance, criticism, accusations of discrimination, and in some cases legal action.  Religious liberty bills designed to safeguard the freedom of those who seek to live out a biblical ethic have recently been signed into law in both North Carolina and Mississippi, and they have met with condemnation and opposition.  This condemnation and opposition led Georgia’s governor to recently veto a religious liberty bill in his state.  In our own state of Missouri a fierce fight is underway within our state government concerning whether or not voters should even have a voice on this issue.  Regardless of government action, it is clear this hostility and disagreement is not going to go away.

As Christians and churches we face the challenge of living out our faith in a culture where many people not only consider our beliefs to be wrong, but immoral.  We need to know what the Bible teaches about these subjects and how we should minister to people in our culture in light of this teaching.  That is the purpose of Ministry in the New Marriage Culture, a volume of fifteen essays offering practical answers to ministry dilemmas raised by same-sex marriage. Jeff Iorg, the President of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, edits the book, and most of the essays are written by leading Southern Baptist scholars and ministers.

Iorg introduces the book by presenting several plausible scenarios.  A boy comes to your church’s VBS, hears the gospel, gets saved, and then shows up next Sunday with his parents, two men.  How do you respond?  What do you do if one of the boy’s parents gets saved, and then wants to get baptized?  How would you counsel a friend or church member who owns a photography business and is asked to work at a same-sex wedding?  What would your church do if a girl who had grown up in church and was still a member moved back to town and came back to church, but now identified as a man?  Yes, we believe same-sex marriage is wrong, and we can’t compromise those convictions, but how do we minister the gospel to broken families, hurt parents, confused children, and others who need to hear more than “you’re wrong?”

The book is divided into three sections, each of which helps answer this question.  After the introduction, the next two chapters explain the biblical foundations for ministry in our new marriage culture.  The three chapters after those explore the theological foundations for this type of ministry from an understanding of the gospel, the church, and sexual ethics.  Even in these chapters, however, the focus is on ministry, and putting these truths into practice.  The last nine chapters all concentrate on particular areas of ministry and concern, including counseling, youth ministry, children’s ministry, legal issues, and preaching.

We can’t think that these are just issues for other churches in our places in our country.  As a pastor in central Missouri in a conservative small town, I have ministered to a number of people affected by these issues, and continue to do so in increasing numbers.  People throughout our churches, not to mention our communities, need to hear and experience God’s grace in Jesus Christ as it concerns marriage, gender, and sexuality.  This book will help you to do that in a way that helps, not hurts, whether you are a ministry leader or just a concerned believer wanting to make a difference.

 

Gary L. Shultz Jr.

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

Ortlund, Ray. The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 136 pages. $14.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or on Kindle for $9.99.

Note: This review was first written for The Pathway, the newspaper for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The gospel is the good news that God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, die on the cross in our place, and rise from the dead so that we can have life. Jesus rescues us from the judgment we deserve for breaking God’s laws, brings us into the kingdom of God, and grants us eternal life. This message of salvation through grace is the defining truth of Christianity and the point of the entire Bible. The gospel is what we must believe in order to be Christians, and it is the message we must proclaim to a lost world so others might come to know Christ. The gospel is the center of any church that brings any glory to God.

But these truths raise an obvious question. If the gospel is the heart of our faith, than why do we not always see its saving power when we look at our families, our churches, or ourselves? Why is it that instead of experiencing the good news of great joy in our lives and our churches that people sometimes experience cries of distress or complaints or gossip or bitterness or mocking laughter or even hate? Unfortunately it is all too possible for us to believe and teach the truth of the gospel but not actually practice it.

This is why Ray Ortlund, Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, wrote The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. If we are to be people and churches that please God and make a difference for him we must not only believe the gospel (though we must do that), but we must live out the gospel. The gospel must be our doctrine and our culture. This means constantly examining ourselves to make sure the gospel is our center, because it doesn’t happen automatically. This book helps us to do just that.
The first three chapters explain the depth and breadth of the gospel.

We must resist the tendency to reduce the gospel to our own individual relationships with God. While all people must believe the gospel for themselves, God does not just save us individually. He saves us to be part of a church. But even here we have to be careful, because if we think of the gospel only in terms of ourselves or even our churches, we are still missing the big picture of what God is doing in this world. We must believe and live out the gospel so people can see a glimpse of heaven on earth through us, and put their faith in Jesus Christ now, while they still have a chance. The gospel is as big as the universe.

Once we understand the gospel we are able to live out the gospel, and Ortlund gives practical advice on how to do that in the last four chapters of the book. The gospel leads us to invest in each other, offering an alternative to the isolation and competition of this world. The gospel leads us to forsake self-assurance and hypocrisy and exult in Christ together. The gospel gives us power, courage, and love necessary to bear witness to Christ no matter what, so we can be the “fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor 2:15).

Ultimately, through the gospel God makes us beautiful, so that the beauty of Jesus Christ could be seen in us. Every Christian and every church I know could look more like Jesus and have a deeper grasp of his gospel message. Therefore every Christian and every church I know would benefit from reading and doing the things in this book.

Preaching by Jason C. Meyer

Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason C. Meyer. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2013, 368 pp. $22.99. Purchase for less at Westminster Books. Purchase on Kindle for $12.99.

This review first appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society – 2014.

Jason Meyer’s goal in writing Preaching is to answer the question, what is preaching? While many books currently flooding the market offer answers to this question, Meyer’s book is stands out for three reasons. First, Meyer provides a detailed survey of what the entire Bible says about the ministry of the word and preaching, giving us his definition of preaching at the beginning of the book and then exhaustively demonstrating how Scripture led him to his definition.

Second, Meyer carefully distinguishes between preaching in Scripture and today’s preaching from Scripture, showing us how these two types of preaching relate and how they are different. Third, Meyer explicitly bases all of his instruction of what expository preaching is and how it should be done on the biblical theology of preaching he develops.

Meyer follows Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Words in treating preaching as a ministry of the word, though his focus is on preaching and everything he says about the ministry of the word he applies to preaching. He defines the ministry of the word as “stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word” (21). Stewarding God’s Word focuses on the content of preaching, which is the stewarded word of God, the words with which God has entrusted his servants. Heralding God’s Word emphasizes the tone of delivery, or how the stewarded word should be preaching. Stewarding and heralding are closely related because the herald’s authoritative tone is only legitimate as he faithfully stewards the word given to him. Leading people to encounter God through his word stresses the fact that preaching leads to a moment of decision for its hearers. Once the preacher has stewarded God’s Word by heralding it, the listeners are now called to steward God’s Word. When they do this they encounter life and blessing from God, when they do not do this they encounter death and curse.

Preaching contains five parts, and after reading the first part the latter three can profitably be read in any order (I read Part One first, then Part Five, Part Three, Part Four, and finally Part Two). Part One offers a big picture biblical theology of the ministry of the word, including definitions of what preaching is and how it should be done as well as broad overviews of the Bible’s structure, its storyline, and the role God’s Word plays in the drama of Scripture. The last chapter in Part One outlines ten paradigms of how God’s Word is stewarded throughout the entire Bible, from the covenant of creation to the stewardship of the word today by pastors in local churches. Part Two then offers a detailed look at each one of these paradigms of stewardship, with helpful application for today’s preachers in each chapter. Part Three applies the findings of the first two parts to expository preaching today, explaining what it is, how it should be done, and why it should be done. Part Four of the book examines the relationship between the doctrines of Scripture and sin and preaching and explores the validity and place of topical preaching. Part Five is the conclusion, offering some big-picture applications to the preacher.

Meyer has written a book on the theology of preaching that should be a standard for years to come. Graeme Goldsworthy and Edmund Clowneys’ books on preaching and biblical theology offer some similar findings, but neither one is as comprehensive or detailed as Preaching. Meyer is careful to continually draw applications from the theology he writes, and the book keeps the local church pastor in mind from start to finish. While his biblical survey of the ministry of the word is comprehensive, Meyer never gets too technical for the average pastor or bogged down in details that distract from his purpose. He consistently keeps the big picture in mind and incorporates everything into the purpose of his book, which is to help busy pastors understand what the Bible says preaching is and what that means for preaching today. He is readable, relatable, and shares his own experiences when appropriate, always for the reader’s benefit. I would recommend this book to any preacher, especially students and those who are beginning their ministries, as it provides a strong foundation and justification for what we are called to do in proclaiming God’s Word.