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.

Resplendent Bride by E.M. Welcher

Welcher, E.M. Resplendent Bride: Essays on Love & Loss. Dubuque: ECS Ministries, 2016. 160 pp. $9.95. Purchase at Amazon or for Kindle.

Introduction

Welcher is a young man who married the love of his wife and hoped to grow old in the ministry together. He currently serves as pastor of First Christian Church, Glenwood, Iowa. You can follow him on Twitter.

Summary

Divided into three parts, Welcher offers a brief biographical look at his and Danielle’s life and marriage and the diagnosis of cancer in the first part. The second part looks at the first year following Danielle’s home going to the Lord while the third part offers reflections a couple years removed from the trial.

Review

Many times, congregations want to know how a pastor handles a tragedy like death in an accident with an elektrische scooter. Evan Welcher shows how he did so in this very intimate book. Full of various essays, Welcher points the reader to God at what can only be described the most difficult time of his life. Furthermore, his sense of humor is on full display throughout the book. For example, chapter 12 is entitled ‘The Leader dies in Christianity’ with a footnote explaining, “This was adapted from a sermon…because I’m a preacher.”

Not meant to be a deep theological study on death and a proper biblically-influenced response to the trials of life, it is abundantly clear that Welcher does have a depth of faith and knowledge of doctrine that has supported him throughout the entire ordeal.
As you follow Welcher’s remembrances of his bride and growing faith in Christ, you will be challenged to a deeper faith yourself. You will laugh and cry (sometimes on the same page!) and through it all, you will see a mature faith, forged in adversity and death, on full display. These essays can be read devotionally and meditatively, but they should not be read lightly. Though he grieves publicly, he does so with the hope of eternity in heaven and knowing that he will see his bride again in all her glory.

Recommendation

Granted E.M. Welcher is not a “household name,” but that is what makes this book so appealing and commendable to you. Being able to see how a regular believer with faith in the Lord walks through the valley of the shadow of death is a blessing from the Lord. I highly commend this book to anyone facing the loss of a spouse or loved one as an example of what Christian grief looks like.

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.

Prayers for Trump by Charles M. Garriot

Garriot, Charles M. Prayers for Trump: Petitions for the 45th President. Washington D.C., Riott, 2017. 95 pp. $18.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

I have reviewed Charles’ previous book, Prayers for Obama. With a new President comes a new round of prayers. You can find out more at MinistryToState.org.

Summary

Divided into 12 chapters, Garriott offers a devotional-esque commentary on a passage of Scripture and then offers a written prayer for the President specific to the topic of the chapter. For example, there is a chapter entitled petition for truth and another entitled petition for family. By the end of the book you will have prayed for most every area of the President’s life public and private and will have done so from the Book of Proverbs.

Review

This may be a dangerous book to write today given our current political climate. Garriott is not concerned with that perception, however. His overarching concern is that we pray for “kings and all who are in high positions.” While President Trump is not a king, he is most certainly in a high position. As Christians, we are commanded to pray for our secular leaders who have been put there by God (Romans 13:1).

Garriott offers objective, Biblically informed and saturated prayers for the President. For that, we should be thankful. Not only do these prayers become a sound starting point for praying for the President, but they become a diving board from which you can also jump into deeper prayer for the leader of the USA.

Recommendation

Regardless of your political leanings or whether you like the man who is the President of the United States, as a Christian, you are mandated to pray for him. Charles Garriott is concerned for Biblical fidelity over and above political affiliation. Every Christian would do well to read this book if they struggle to pray for the President…especially if they struggle because they disagree with him.

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.

The Puritans Day by Day edited by H.J. Horn

The Puritans Day by Day: Puritan Quotations for Each Day of the Year. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016. 408 pp. $23.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

Originally published in 1928 by Stanley and Martin, Co in London as The Puritan Remembrancer and was edited by H.J. Horn. It has been reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust for a new readership in the 21st century.

Summary

From the Banner of Truth’s website:

Here in The Puritans Day By Day, this unique selection from a wide range of reading, we have a noble army of memorable sayings. They have been drawn mainly out of the writings of the Puritans, men who excelled in their power of deep insight into both the word of God and the human heart, and who also had the rare gift of quaint and distinctive expression. The compiler of these ‘pearls of wisdom’ has traveled extensively through a wide range of devotional literature, and has provided us with a year’s supply of wise sayings that are as fresh and new as they are piquant and tender.

The Puritans Day by Day will be particularly helpful to young preachers, who would do well to keep this volume, with its careful ordering and its full indexes, close to hand. In days when minds are dull and spirits are weary, they will find it to be a rich source of mental and spiritual refreshment.

Review

Unlike other daily devotionals, this devotional is only quotes by (mostly) Puritans arranged in a topical order day by day. Each day has a seemingly random topic followed by a passage of Scripture. This is followed by anywhere from four to ten quotes dealing with that particular topic.

For example, on 3 April (I choose this date solely because that is my birthday) the topic is Holy Scripture, the verse is simply, “the holy scriptures” – 2 Timothy 3:15. Following are nine quotes from Thomas Fuller, Martin Luther, Thomas Watson, and Richard Sibbes.

As you can tell, this is not a devotional in the classic sense. What makes this devotional valuable is obviously the gathering of the quotes. Perhaps more importantly than that is the three indices at the back of the book. These include an alphabetical list of persons quoted, a canonical list of the Bible passages referenced, and an alphabetical list of the topics covered.

Recommendation

This resource is more than a devotional in my estimation. It becomes an excellent resource for rich quotable material. It is full of great wisdom and insight and will drive the reader to want to know more about the great God they serve. I use my copy for sermon prep (when you need that perfect quote) as well as for social media engagement (most of the quotes are tweetable).

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.

ESV Devotional Psalter

ESV Devotional Psalter. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017. 464 pp. $29.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less.

Introduction

From Crossway’s website:

The Psalms are the only extended portion of Scripture written to God—they are prayers. As such, the Psalms are uniquely suited to foster communication with God, which is the purpose of this edition. The ESV Devotional Psalter pairs each of the 150 psalms with brand-new devotional content, guiding readers to thoughtfully interact with and pray through the Scriptures.

You can find more information at Crossway.com.

Summary

There are many features to this Psalter. To begin with, the font is a larger 11-point type that offers easier readability. Each Psalm is arranged in a single-column format on a thicker, cream-colored paper that is ideal for writing in without concern of bleed-through.

Complete with a ribbon marker, the reader can readily find where he or she left off the last time. The devotional content offers explanation and application of the particular Psalm being read.

Review

One might ask why do we need another Psalter and that would be a fair question. The ESV Devotional Psalter is meant to enable you to engage God through His Word guided by a little explanation. Whereas most niche Bibles are edited by a particular person or a team of people, the ESV Devotional Psalter offers anonymous devotionals. From what I have been able to find, there is no information available as to who wrote the devotional content. Personally, I find this to be of greater benefit as we often run the risk of being devoted to the person who wrote the notes or content instead of the Word of God and what the devotional content points us to.

Furthermore, the devotional content is written to offer a quick understanding of the historical context of the Psalm and what was taking place biblically as well as how it applies to the Christian today. By being “generic” in audience, the reader of the ESV Devotional Psalter will find specific application to his or her own life.

I also found the thicker paper to be ideal for writing my own thoughts next to both the Psalm and the devotional content. Due to the thickness of this paper, this psalter is about the same size as Crossway’s thinline series of Bibles.

Recommendation

For those who are looking to improve their devotional time, you truly cannot start with a better resource. It is just you, the Psalms, and a devotional that will keep you focused on the Psalm. What a way to facilitate your prayer life with laser focus. I love my copy and highly recommend the ESV Devotional Psalter to any Christian.

Forensic Faith by J. Warner Wallace

Wallace, J. Warner. Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for  a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith.  Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 224 pp. $18.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Introduction

J. Warner is a living, breathing cold-case detective with a master’s degree in theology. He lives in California with his wife and four children. His detective work has been featured on television shows like Dateline and Fox News. He has written Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. You can follow him on Twitter where he is pretty active.

Summary

Divided into only four chapters, Wallace sets this book up as if you were a police officer sworn to serve and protect the community. This community, however, has eternal consequences for the one investigating the claims. Chapter one calls the reader out for their distinctive duty as a “Christian Case Maker.” Chapter 2 offers targeted training as the reader prepares to become part of the front-line defense of the faith.

Chapter three offers five practices to help the reader, and consequently, help others examine the claims of Christianity like every good detective approaches a tough case. The fourth chapter offers five principles to help you communicate this evidence as if you were a prosecutor on the case. Even if you have all of the evidence in your favor, you still need to be able to share it with others in such a way that the verdict you are striving after is beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are a few appendices that offer answers to common challenges as well as resource recommendations to help build your apologetic library.

Review

Apologetics was one of my first “loves” after I was saved. I have a fairly large collection of resources dealing with a wide range of apologetic topics including Geisler’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics and Koukl’s Tactics as two resources that I have referred to over and over.

I wish I had Forensic Faith. It is designed well with the illustrations to help cement the principles as well as the “forensic faith” boxes interspersed throughout the book that offer investigative guidelines, training recommendations, definitions, challenges, and even assignments. As a seasoned Christian and apologist (I could never get over how other Christians could not articulate what they believed and why they believed it), the principles in this book are extremely sound and written in a very memorable way.

The caution with apologetics is always the concern that one begins to believe they can argue someone into the faith. If you can convince someone they need Jesus apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, then you run the risk of making someone twice the person of Hell. Fortunatly, Wallace takes the time to explain that he is only offering a training course of sorts to help the Christian better articulate his faith. This is specifically helpful for your teenager who is looking to go to college where the Christian faith is regularly attacked and undermined and even mocked and derided.

Recommendation

If you are a youth pastor or you engage a college-age crowd in the ministry, this is a must own resource. If you want to become better equipped to defend the faith, you could not do much better than beginning with Forensic Faith. Wallace’s style is both engaging and informative and, before you know it, you will be out on the streets as it were tracking down a lead and showing all the evidence of the Christian faith and, Lord wiling, leading people to Christ.

 

Short, introductory reviews of Christian Books