ESV Pastor’s Bible

ESV Pastor’s Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017. 1,360 pp. $39.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for much less.

Introduction

It is no secret that I prefer the English Standard Translation of the Bible as evidenced by the number of reviews I have written on this particular translation. It is no secret that I am a study Bible junkie. This Bible, however, is not a study Bible per se.

Summary

From Crossway:

A pastor depends on the wisdom of Scripture for all aspects of ministry. What truths can be relied upon in seasons of celebration and in those of sorrow? What does the Bible have to say to us about marriage, sickness, and death? The ESV Pastor’s Bible was designed to help pastors draw wisdom from God’s Word for specific situations requiring pastoral care, such as baptisms, weddings, hospital visits, or funerals. In the front matter, back matter, and throughout the text, the Pastor’s Bible contains articles written by pastors offering practical help for crafting a sermon, planning a special service, leading congregational prayer, conducting premarital counseling, visiting the sick, and resolving conflict within the church. Compiled under the guidance of seasoned pastors R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O’Donnell, this substantial but portable edition is a great all-in-one resource for the on-the-ground pastor.

Review

Obviously, this Bible is not going to be one every Christian will want to purchase for themselves as it is designed to be a resource for the pastor.

Unlike many Bibles today, there are a few pages in the front to keep record of marriages, births/adoptions, and deaths. The contents include the 2016 text edition of the ESV Bible in addition to a number of articles and guidelines for various services that a pastor may be asked to officiate.

One of the lead articles is from Kent Hughes, one of the two editors of this Bible along with Douglas Sean O’Donnel, about the disciplines of a godly pastor. This was adapted from his seminal work, 10 Disciplines of a Godly Man. This article is definitely worth the consideration of the man of God who has been called and set apart to shepherd the people of God.

Between the two testaments, the editors have included some 40 pages worth of outlines for various services like weddings and funerals as well as elements of the usual worship service like invocations, communion, benedictions, baptisms (both infant and believer’s), and benedictions.

All of the articles interspersed throughout the text of the Bible are drawn from previously written material from the likes of Charles Spurgon and John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson and J.C. Ryle. These all serve as excellent reminders and great resources of encouragement for the pastor.

Recommendation

If you are a pastor, especially, a young pastor, I would highly recommend you consider this particular Bible whether you use the ESV translation or not. If you know someone who will be ordained, this would make a perfect gift for his ordination. The Smyth-Sewn binding makes this a Bible that will stand the test of time.

Voices from the Past, Vol. 2 Edited by Richard Rushing

Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, Volume 2. Edited by Richard Rushing. Edinburg: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016. 432 pp. $28.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

The first volume was released back in 2010 and was well received by many. Richard Rushing, who served as the editor for both volumes, also edited the Pocket Puritan of Thomas Case’s When Christians Suffer released in 2009.

Summary

As with the first volume, this second volume is a daily devotional of Puritanical writings from over 25 different Puritan writers. There are 366 daily readings that are meant to be read day by day. Also, in one of the three indices there is a topical guide that will take you to a particular area of interest for the reader in the event that they have a specific need on any given day.

Review

While it is always difficult to review a disjointed work such as a daily devotional, it is easy to tell another person why they ought to read a particular devotion. In the case of Voices from the Past Volume 2, I would say that the depth, even in one page of text that the Rushing has selected for each day will hardly be surpassed by any modern day devotional.

Yes, there is a language barrier of sorts as the Puritans wrote in a form of English hardly used today, but these are so short of readings that this should pose no problem for the modern reader. In fact, the reader, in my estimation, will find that they are able to understand far more than they realize in a shorter amount of time than they anticipated.

One more reason I believe you should consider this daily devotional is the manner in which the Puritans handled the Word of God. Again, compared to modern day writing and preaching (most of the books by the Puritans were sermons adapted into books) the Puritans say more in one paragraph than many pastors and writers say in one sermon. Rushing has selected the choicest of sentences and combined them into one daily devotional. Regardless, the Puritans are known for their depth and should be modeled today.

Recommendation

I obviously highly recommend this resource. My hope is that this devotional, like its first volume, would be an introduction to the larger body of Puritanical works. From there, as you are introduced to the great depth of biblical exposition, I believe the foundation for a genuine revival will be laid and a sincerity of faith will begin to take hold within Christendom that has not been seen in over a century.

 

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.

The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, Volume 1 edited by Christian T. George

The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 1. His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854. Edited by Christian George. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2016. 560 pp. $59.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

I have reviewed one other book, way back in 2009, by Christian George entitled GodologySince that time, George has become a renowned Spurgeon scholar and serves as the curator of The Spurgeon Library as well as assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. You can read more at Spurgeon.org.

Summary

Divided into 2 parts over 560 pages, the first part offers an introduction to the book as well as the larger proposed 10-volume series. Here, the reader learns that though the sermons were never lost to history, they were lost to publishing history. In essence, George has set out to see the completion of what Spurgeon himself desired to accomplish though he had to abandon that attempt for reasons explained in his autobiography.

The second part which comprises the overwhelming majority of the text shares the sermons from notebook 1. This notebook contained some 77 sermons ranging from 85 words to 571 words. These were not the complete sermons as much as they were the outlines for the sermons preached between 1851-1854.

Review

These notes and outlines are heavily annotated with remarks by Christian George that offer insight and explanations into what he was saying or why he corrected a text. Each sermon shows a facsimile on the facing page that shows precisely what Spurgeon wrote in his own hand with his own dip pen. George has done the reader the service of transcribing (and in some cases translating!) what Spurgeon wrote.

A definite modern adaptation to this resource is found on pages 34-45 offering pie charts and graphs and word clouds that break down all of the information found within the 77 sermons. From word counts to percentages of sermons found in various testaments and books of the Bible to the distances Spurgeon would travel in order to preach.

All of this adds another layer to those interested in the Prince of Preachers. My one contention is the use of the glossy paper as it makes writing your own notes nearly impossible (and certainly impossible with a dip or a fountain pen of which Spurgeon would be appalled 🙂 ).

Recommendation

My hope is this new publication, and the yet to be published remaining 9 volumes will introduce a new generation to the power of the preached word through one of the greatest pastors of any generation. This first volume deserves a wide readership and a prominent place in any pastor’s library. My prayer is that the Lord would use this series to raise up a new generation of preachers passionate for God’s glory as revealed in His Word specifically through the proclamation of it in the local pulpit.

Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 5

Sibbes, Richard. Works of Richard Sibbes Volume 5. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001. 550 pp. $27.00. You can purchase Volume 5 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 fifth 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

At over 540 pages, volume 5 contains the rest of everything Sibbes wrote regarding his exposition of the epistles of Paul save 1 & 2 Corinthians (Volumes 3 & 4). Also included in this particular volume is The Art of Divine Contentment and Salvation Applied.

Review

Personally, The Art of Contentment is one of those sermons of yesteryear that needs to be printed and distributed widely today. In our day and age of transient life and consumerism, there are many who struggle with contentment. Sibbes, surgeon as he is with the scalpel of the Word, cuts right to the heart of the matter and offers sound biblical argumentation as to how and why we are to be content in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Each of these expositions (the individual sermons will be dealt with in volume 7) takes the reader deeper into the Word of God than most pastors are either willing or able to go in their own preaching. Though dated in language and cultural context, many of the applications remain timeless and offer the modern reader much food for thought in how we are to apply the Word of God to all of life.

Recommendation

The reason to purchase volume 5 as a stand alone is due in large part to the 20 pages of The Art of Contentment also known as The Art of Divine Contentment. This set has proven to be hugely beneficial to my soul and to my walk. Pastors, you would do well to read this book and be filled with practical applications from arguably one of the greatest expositors to have ever preached the Word. Christian, read and be fed.

This Life I Live by Rory Feek

Feek, Rory. This Life I Live – One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed it Forever. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2017. 240 pp. $24.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Rory Feek is one of Nashville’s premiere songwriters. He has written two of my favorite songs: Some Beach performed by Blake Shelton (this my “Delaney’s Law” song!) and Someone You Used to Know by Collin Raye. He and his wife recorded an album of her favorite hymns.

You can find out more at This Life I Live.

Summary

Joey and Rory Feek were enjoying a steadily growing fan base in country music when Joey was diagnosed unexpectedly with a rapidly spreading cancer. This vibrant and beautiful young woman would soon be on a unique journey for which no one is ever fully prepared. Her husband, Rory, and children, Heidi, Hopie, and Indiana, were beside her each step of the way. Rory, a prolific songwriter, entrepreneur, farmer, and overall tender man, has seen God bless his life in countless unexpected ways and had started a blog, thislifeilive.com, not really knowing its purpose other than he needed to write. That purpose soon became clearer when Joey’s cancer battle hit.

By inviting so many into the final months of Joey’s life, this astounding couple captured the hearts of millions with their powerful love story, the manner in which they were handling the diagnosis, and the inspiring simple way they had chosen to live their lives.

In this vulnerable book, Rory takes us into his own challenging life story and shows what can happen when God brings both his presence and the right companion into our lives. He also gives never-before-revealed details on what he calls “the long goodbye,” the blessing of being able to know that life is going to end and taking advantage of it. Feek shows how we all are actually there already and how we can learn to live that way every day. He then goes into detail toward the end of the book on what it’s like to try to move on with your life once you’ve “had it all.”

Review

This book is a behind the scenes look so to speak at a public portrayal of one couple’s battle with an aggressive, and ultimately, terminal cancer. Joey entered in the presence of her Lord and Savior on 4 March 2016. There was a Facebook page in which Joey and Rory shared quite a bit of detail with those who were interested. This led to much attention and consequently allowed them to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world watching and hoping.

As we all do, they traversed the unknown with courage and shared many pitfalls and concerns with their “fans.” This book, This Life I Live, takes a step back less than a year later and offers a different more personal perspective.

It reads more like a private journal and a stream of conscience thought project. In other words, it can be quite raw in some areas which adds to the allure of the book. Far from perfectly edited, it shows the reader that the social media persona was not a facade.

What comes through on most every page is their faith in Christ and the hope that even though the cancer was going to take Joey’s life, it would not destroy her spirit.

Recommendation

If you are into love stories, feel-good stories, or stories of faith, I recommend this book. It will keep you up at night wanting to know more (even though you know how it ended!) and bring tears and laughter sometimes in a matter of two pages. Readers will enjoy the raw look and learn that even the “famous songwriters” put their jeans on one leg at a time.

Counseling the Hard Cases edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert

Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2012. 332 pp. $32.99. Purchase at Westminster for less. Or, you can purchase for the Kindle for $9.99.

Note: This was adapted from a review of a book for a seminary class.

Introduction

There has been an erosion of the inerrancy of Scripture in many churches in the latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. This is witnessed in the varying perspectives of the authority of the Bible when it comes to counseling members of the church. Often, the pastor will delegate the counseling to the “professionals” who have been trained instead of seeking to tackle the problems himself using the Bible. Fortunately, Counseling the Hard Cases offers an apologetic for the continuation and revival of a biblically-based approach to counseling.

Each contributor has served extensively in the field of biblical counseling. Many of them are teachers and a majority of them have doctorates of varying degrees. In other words, these men and women are experts in their fields and while we may not attain their level of expertise as pastors or lay leaders, we do have the same Bible as our source material and can have the confidence that the Word of God will greatly aid us during our counseling.

Summary

Divided over eleven chapters with a lengthy introduction (chapter 1) and a few concluding reflections, editors Lambert and Scott offer ten different counseling situations that most pastors would not typically engage for the simple fact that the Bible does not necessarily speak to these issues. Chapter two is the first case and it comes out swinging as Laura Hendrickson looks at sexual abuse. Steve Viars deals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in chapter three while Heath Lambert offers counsel on Postpartum Depression.

Chapters five and six look at paralyzing fear and anorexia – both seemingly difficult topics to counsel solely from the Scriptures. Chapters seven and eight deal with how to counsel two recently popular disorder diagnoses: Bipolar and Dissociative Identity. Kevin Carson looks at how to counsel those wrestling with homosexuality while Robert Jones counsels addictions and adultery. Jon Babler shows the reader that not every case is going to be a hard case even though it seems to be from the start.

Critical Evaluation

I must confess that I was already in the “nouthetic camp” when I began reading this book. I was genuinely excited to see how the various counselors interacted with the counselees through the many different subjects. In that regard, each contributor, and therefore the entire book was successful in showing that the Bible is sufficient to counsel believers in most every area of life (there are some times where medical treatment must be sought and that should, of necessity, be out of the hands of the pastor or counselor).

I will be honest, there were many times I would find myself weeping while reading this book because of the sins that were committed by or against the counselees. Specifically, the sexual assault and the anorexia had me in tears. But as I would read the chapters, I would find myself “cheering” for the outcome to be the Lord’s grace and mercy shown to each counselee through His Word applied in their lives.

The chapter on counseling those wrestling with homosexuality hit close to home for me personally. I had a joint counseling situation where the counselee professed to be gay and Christian. The other counselor and I did not handle it very well and made some of the errors Kevin Carson warns against in his chapter. Needless to say, this chapter stuck out as evidence of one of the greater failures in my ministry.

Perhaps one of the key components of this particular resource is being able to “sit in” on the counseling sessions from beginning to end. It helps to see that the counseling is a process and it takes much time. Sometimes, the counseling will last longer than a year while other times it will last a few weeks. Most of the time, it seems that counseling individuals and couples will take a minimum of 3-4 months. This is a huge help as far as expectations are concerned for the pastor and for the counselor.

This book has already become an indispensable resource in my library and has given me great hope as a pastor whenever I find myself tackling these tough cases. I highly commend it to every Christian if for no other reason than it shows that the Bible is sufficient for life’s problems when properly applied.

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books