Category Archives: Book Reviews

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.

 

Face Time by Kristen Hatton

Hatton, Kristen. Face Time [Your Identity in a Selfie World]. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017. 130 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

Kristen is a pastor’s wife and mother of three teenagers. She leads a small group Bible study for teens. She has also written Get Your Story Straight. You can find out more at KristenHatton.com.

Summary

Divided into two parts, Kristen first lays the foundation of what are true identity is in light of who Christ is. She spends five chapters detailing the problems every teenage girl faces and points them to Jesus Christ who took on all of our sinful problems and offers us the gift of salvation…or, more importantly, His identity in exchange for our own.

The second part looks at twelve common false identities every teen-aged girl faces. From issues of comparison to materialism to drinking and sex and self-harm, Kristen explains how Jesus offers a better identity.

Review

Kristen’s experience with teenaged ministry is obvious on every page. She offers sound advice and keen insight into how the Bible speaks to the teenaged girl today. Her stories offered in the second part of the book are real-to-life and will certainly resonate with the reader. Her counsel is clearly rooted in Scripture.

She offers excellent reflection questions and offers great journaling prompts to help the young women wrestle with the Biblical truths and compare those to the lies Satan would have us believe. What I love the most about this book is that the veneer is beginning to crumble on the social media world. Kristen is dealing with an epidemic in the church of identification crises that are plaguing just about everyone…perhaps no group more than teen-aged girls.

Recommendation

Written for teen-aged girls, I actually found that this book would be great for teen-aged boys as well. That being said, I highly commend this book to parents of young women entering, or already in, their teen years. Youth pastors would do well to pick up this book and assign it as a group study (probably with a woman leading) for teen-aged girls.

Devoted to God by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Ferguson, Sinclair B. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016. 296 pp. $18.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

Sinclair Ferguson does not need much of an introduction to readers here at Christian Book Notes. I have reviewed a few of his books in the past. He is a prolific writer of deeper works of theology, commentaries, and even children’s resources. He has served as the minister of First Presbyterian in Columbia, SC and continues to serve as Professor of Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas as well as a Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries.

Summary

Divided into 10 chapters with 5 appendices, Sinclair Ferguson offers an in depth look at sanctification. He begins with what for some may be a redefinition of sanctification. For most, and this is correct and biblical, when we think of sanctification, we only think of being set apart by God. The title offers a slightly different, albeit positive perspective on sanctification. That is, we are not only set apart by God, we are devoted to Go. Though both perspectives are true, one is negative and one is positive. Focusing on the positive changes the entire dynamic of sanctification. That is what the rest of the book is about.

Each chapter builds on the previous wherein the reader is shown progressively what a life of sanctification looks like in the life of the believer. It is rooted in Scripture and offers a game plan, or as the subtitle claims, a blueprint, for working out your salvation.

Review

I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding sanctification as a believer. Ferguson does the church a huge favor by changing the perspective from negative (set apart from the wold) to the positive (devoted to God). In so doing, he elicits thoughts of how we are willing to sacrifice whatever we need if it will enable us to do what we most enjoy. For the Christian, this ought to be God-centered every time. Ferguson helps with that.

The appendices are pure gold and could provide the basis for a few shorter booklets as they look at the foundation for our sanctification as found in the Triune Godhead and His revealed Word, the Bible.

Recommendation

Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God needs to be read by every Christian. It has, in my estimation, already set itself up as a modern day classic at the general level and even more so at the specific level of sanctification. The church is indebted to Sinclair for authoring an accessible, yet meaty, book that discusses a most important aspect of the Christian faith.

Between Us Girls by Trish Donohue

Donohue, Trish. Between Us Girls: Walks and Talks for Moms and Daughters. Greensboro:New Growth Press, 2016. 144 pp. $17.99. Purchase for less at Westminster Books or for Kindle.

Introduction

Trish is a wife and mother living in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She has two sons and two daughters and it was her desire to disciple her girls that lead to her writing this book. She and her husband, Jim, attend Covenant Fellowship Church where Jim is pastor.

Summary

Instead of chapters, Trish divided this book into 26 walks in which she offers guidelines for mother and daughter talks. Each walk has questions a mom can ask her daughter and also the daughter can ask her mother. The topics range from prayers to family and clothing and focus.

Review

As a husband and father, I read this book with my wife and two daughters in mind. I must confess that some of this was lost on me as I would never have considered some of these discussion in the way that Trish lays them out.

That, however, is one of the greatest strengths of this book. Many parents are at a loss on how to intentionally disciple their daughters (especially dads!). The conversation points are nothing super spiritual. Rather, they are the products of meditation on Scriptural principles and watching her own daughters grow and wrestle with the importance of walking in their faith.

Far from a legalistic manual, Trish has offered mothers a wonderful guide to help kick start many conversations in order that they might disciple their daughters with greater intentionality.

I mentioned fathers earlier because I am one. For those single dads with daughters, this resource may prove extremely insightful to you as well. Granted there are certain aspects of motherhood and womanhood that you will never be able to understand, but this resource will help you to engage your daughter with the timeless truths of Scripture in such a manner that you probably would never come to on your own.

Recommendation

I recommend this resource to all mothers looking to disciple their daughters. As mentioned above, single fathers would do well to peruse this resource as well.

Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 6

Sibbes, Richard. Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 6. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001. 550 pp. $27.00. You can purchase Volume 6 at The Banner of Truth for $24.30. You can purchase the complete set of 7 volumes for $162.00 at Westminster Books or for a mere $10.00 on Kindle.

Introduction

I have reviewed many of Richard Sibbes’ books in the past. This is now the sixth of seven volumes in his collection of Works produced by The Banner of Truth Trust. It has taken me almost a year to get this far for a myriad of reasons, but one thing I know is that this set of works has been invaluable to my personal walk with the Lord.

Summary

Volume six contains the well-loved works Josiah’s Reformation, The Saint’s Comforts, and The Heavenly Conference. It also includes lesser known writings like Angels’ Acclamations and The Successful Seeker.
Each work is a series of sermons preached and then published by the Puritans.

Review

What more can be said about Richard Sibbes that I have not already said? He is truly a surgeon of the soul. Each sermon quickly gets to the heart of the problem as found in the sinner, which is all of us, and then slowly unpacks the healing balm of the Word of God as the prescribed cure. What I love the most about Richard Sibbes is his practical life applications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. On every page, and in nearly every paragraph, the reader is shown grace and mercy.

Perhaps more than any other volume, Volume 6 is full of well-known sermons by Sibbes thanks largely to The Banner of Truth Trust continuing to publish the individual sermons and series in the Puritan Paperbacks series.

Recommendation

At this point, I can tell you all day how much the Puritans have meant to my personal walk with the Lord. It would do you well to become familiar with a few of them. Specifically, Richard Sibbes. There are some Puritans who are tougher to read than others. Sibbes is tough only because he pulls no punches with his preaching and consequent writing.

 

To Flourish or Destruct by Christian Smith

Smith, Christian. To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 342 pp. $45.00. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Christian Smith may not be known to many readers here at Christian Book Notes, but at least one of his key phrases he has developed is. If you have ever said or heard the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” then you are somewhat familiar with Christian Smith. This phrase, coined in 2005 was popularized in his work Soul searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. In 2010 he published another volume, What is a Person? that is the forerunner to To Flourish or Destruct. You can find all of his other books here.

Dr. Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. It is here that he directs the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. You can read more about his work on Critical Realism here.

Summary

Divided into 9 chapters over 278 pages with 56 pages of end notes, this is not going to be a Sunday afternoon leisurely read. After introducing the subject matter and reason for writing this book, Smith looks at the basics of what he calls Critical Realist Personalism. This is where I was introduced to his work on What is the Person? The second chapter lays a foundation for rethinking why we do what we do, or what are the motivating factors for the actions we take.

Chapter three is an argument against social situationism (relativism) and chapter four offers a historical look at the various theories of human nature and motivation that have found traction in sociological studies and understandings of the person.
In chapter five, Smith begins to unpack the paradigm shifting understanding of personalist theory and how and why we are motivated to action. This is contingent upon his understanding of human goods (which he finds six) and interests that exist across time and cultural boundaries. Chapter six, the shortest chapter, explains how and why we must be motivated toward flourishing as a person and consequently as a society. He spends the last chapter seeking to understand failure, destruction, and evil.

Review

First, please allow me to say that this review for this website will not do justice to the critical review that is necessary for a work of this magnitude.

Second, I am not going to get too technical in this review, but you must understand that this is very much a technical book. It is more a college level text book dealing with social theory.

I picked this book up to read along with a friend who wanted to understand Personalism. He explained to me that it was helping him to understand the importance of the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (see Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39). As I read the first 35 pages or so, I could see hints of this.

I was not prepared, however, for the paradigm shifting view of the person versus the individual. He argues, “To be a person…is to exist and operate as a governing center of consciousness and action oriented toward pursuing certain purposes” (p. 42).

As he unpacks this definition, albeit briefly (which is why I purchased What is a Person?), he moves to what I believe is the linchpin of his entire argument. He explains why humans should never be called individuals because, “The individual is not what a human being is, but rather a construction of a misguided theoretical tradition, foisted upon humanity by intellectual visionaries and ideologues” (p. 48). I wrote in the margin that the individual is sovereign and independent and can be abstracted while the person is dependent and is an intimate reality.

This was a watershed moment for me in that I hadn’t realized how deeply influenced my way of thinking was as I wrestled with the Imago Dei. In other words, this theory of Personalism is the outworking of understanding what it means to be created in the image of God. Furthermore, as you read his brief historical overviews, you will quickly understand that we have all been impacted by the individual view of sociology because it is taught in every single high school and college introductory level class as it has been the prevailing view for over 150 years.

My greatest critique of the book is Christian Smith’s obstinate refusal to apply the Christian worldview as the foundation for this argument. I have talked with him and he assures me he offers his reasons in a couple debates, but at the time of my writing this review, I have not been able to read the abstracts of those debates.
All throughout the book I have struggled with the theological aspect of Personalism and, according to the end notes, seems to be largely rooted in the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

Personally, I find this theory to be rooted in Scripture. What has most amazed me is as I did my research I found that this view was held by many of the leaders in the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s as well as some mainstream Christian denominations and Roman Catholic theologians.

Regardless of this critique, Smith tackles the problem of evil as well as the solution of love even though most sociologists shy away from both discussions.

I will surely continue unpacking what I have read for a long time to come. It has already helped me to understand and see the world from a new perspective…one I thought I had but did not.

Recommendation

My point in writing this review is to bring attention of this view to a wider audience. I believe many conservative evangelicals, and I dare say many in the Reformed community, would do well to read this book. While it is not written from a theological perspective, Biblical Christian theology is inescapable. It has proven to be a paradigm shifting book for me and a book that I have told others has already been one of the most non-theological books I have ever read.

If you are a Christian who enjoys thinking hard, I highly commend this book to you. I have not found a better and more accessible treatment of the subject matter yet, but I am looking.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by Alvin Reid

Reid, Alvin. Sharing Jesus {without freaking out} Evangelism the Way You Were Born to do it. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. 144 pp. $16.99. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Alvin Reid holds the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism as well as serving as the senior professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. More than teaching on evangelism, Dr. Reid (Doc) also serves as pastor to young professionals at Richland Community Church in Wake Forest, NC. He is interactive on social media and is always willing to help and instruct any who might ask him. Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention he one proud grandpa to whom this book is dedicated. You can find out more and get bulk discounts at http://www.bhacademic.com/sharingjesus/.

Way back in 2009, I reviewed Doc’s textbook Introduction to Evangelism.

Summary

Divided into eight chapters, Doc sets out to explain how he has found great success in his evangelism ministry. The answer is quite simple just from looking at the chapter titles. Chapter one discusses the importance of spreading the word without overcomplicating the message. Chapter two explains the message of grace and mercy over and above the message of anger that so many preach today.

The third chapter begins to deconstruct the walls we have built to evangelism by looking at the need for conversations instead of the sales pitch presentation. Continuing the conversation explanation, Doc moves in chapter four to show how you are vital to the mission of God even though you cannot do this in your own power.

As he continues to build the conversational model of evangelism, he turns to conversation starters and transitions that will help you to engage anyone with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sixth chapter takes this even further by instructing the reader on how to let the other person help you. In other words, as you get to know them through a conversation, they will point you to their need of the gospel.

Once you begin to transition to the gospel, you will find that that you are able to talk more freely about the things of the Lord, but you will need to be careful as you must also talk with more than words. Chapter seven is devoted to showing the reader the importance of living out your faith in the context of sharing your faith.

The final chapter argues for making friends instead of making visits. Here, Doc wants you to have a plan of action before you go into any situation in order that you might effectively share the gospel more readily.

Review

BOOM!

This is just what the church needs! Yes, you can argue that we have the Bible and that we have many different methods of proclaiming the gospel, but the fact of the matter is, here in America, we are simply not doing what we have been commanded by our Lord and Savior. Doc Reid has been proclaiming the gospel for many years and, to be honest, has challenged me greatly in his success rate.
This is not to say that evangelism is all about success rates and models and strategies, but it is to say that Doc’s ministry is proof that the Word of God does not return void (Is. 55:11). As I been blessed to listen to Dr. Reid present a number of times in the state of Missouri where I live, I have learned much from his ministry. One area I find that has helped him to be more effective is the location of where he lives and ministers. His town of Wake Forest is larger than my county in Missouri.

That being said, as this book shows, it is not about the size of the community as much as it is about the size of the God who has commissioned you to this mission. Doc shows that the key to effective evangelism is having a strategy in place before you engage with the message. The key to evangelism is realizing you are engaging people not statistics.

In Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out, Doc explains that our mission is evangelism for the sake of seeing souls saved and not for the sake of numbers and statistics and honor at state conventions. Doc shows how sharing the message of salvation in Christ alone is natural to the one who has been born again because the new creation in Christ has a message to proclaim. Doc simply equips the new creature to do what God has enabled him or her to do.

Recommendation

Christendom owes a great debt to Doc Reid for his humility and accessibility as an academic thinker on the topic of evangelism. More importantly than that, he has modeled for the Christian what consistent obedience to the Great Commission looks like in the local context of evangelism. As the evangelism team leader in my association, I have been looking for a resource that I could give to my pastors that they would want to read and implement in their own ministries. I have found that resource. I highly commend this book to everyone who calls on the name of Christ as their Lord and Savior and who wants to be a better soul winner in their own ministerial context.

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.