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The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
by Stephen R. Prothero
Edition: Hardcover
90 used & new from $0.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but an unsurpassed artifact., June 28, 2012
The American Bible features the very best of the American canon, from the overlooked to the overused.
The book contains some of the most important theological and ideological texts that have sparks some of the most heated and defining arguments of our national identity. The list of texts is impressive and vast. Spanning from Noah Webster to Malcolm X to Dwight Eisenhower (and a pleasant surprise visit from Woody Guthrie, a personal hero). For many texts, it displays them in their fullness or the book offers a relatively comprehensive description of the artifact and then lets the culture wars rage. Prothero has gathered responses, articles and sound bites from people all over the theological and political spectrum weighing in on some of the most important artifacts in the American canon.

In The American Bible, Prothero has captured the spirit of the culture wars without saying much at all. Like a photojournalist, Prothero doesn't need to say much at all to make his point clear. His point being, we need to talk to each other again. This volume is a call to civil discourse. If anything, that we could learn about those on the other side of important issue and not demonize them but dialogue with those who hold to different beliefs. Prothero is asking that we put off our airs of superficial politeness and put down our weapons of cultural trench warfare in favor of conversation. Few texts have done this as well as The American Bible. It is not like the book inspires you to go sentimentally hug a fellow American as much as is prompts you to tackle the tough stuff within our cultural identity, particularly our relation to the Divine God. Unlike many well-meaning Evangelicals, Prothero does not insist on crusading our way back to a "Christian nation" nor does he suggest we throw away Christian theology or morality like many liberals. He simply presents undeniable realities of faith, disagreement and the American way of life.

I would certainly not say this is a perfect book, the structure was a bit choppy trying to read all the way through, and sometimes I felt like he represented Christians a bit too politically with his choice of contributors and commentators. It does not flow supremely well, making it a difficult "read", but excellent for reference or select topical reading.

But overall, it is one of the best things that I have read in a while and kindled quite an aesthetic nostalgia for the rich Americana stories that so mystify me. It also gave me hope that the gospel can be a part of the American discussion. Not just in a "keep `Christ' in Christmas" sort of way, but in a truly radical, intellectual and dialectic way. I plan on keeping this book as my coffee table book and returning to it somewhat frequently for reference. Very rarely do I come across something as unique and important as The American Bible.


Gospel Wakefulness
Gospel Wakefulness
by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.39
60 used & new from $3.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book on being "utterly captivated by the gospel", October 26, 2011
This review is from: Gospel Wakefulness (Paperback)
I am convinced that every couple of years the American church needs to switch up its vernacular to keep from getting too used to its own words. It is not that words ever go bad, but that we grow forgetful; we fall asleep, if you will. In Gospel Wakefulness, Wilson doesn't say anything new, but instead, he says the same old thing Christians have been saying for 2000+ years, that,

"In myself, I am the chief of sinners. In Christ, I am the righteousness of God" (P. 145)

Gospel Wakefulness is a book not written with a new message, but with a message written for a new generation, fighting the same battle as their predecessors: the fight of faith in Christ alone. Like concepts such as "Christian hedonism" and "revivalism" laid down by Godly thinkers and writers of years past, "Gospel wakefulness" is a similar awakening by the Holy Spirit encouraging us to behold Jesus "with the eyes of faith you always assumed were there" (p.33)

The idea is timely, yet timeless. Wilson lays down a realistic vision for a change in the Christian's affections, facilitated by the gospel's changing power alone. In a time in history where lukewarmness dances dangerously with cause-driven Christianity, Gospel Wakefulness comes out of a place of gospel-obsession. This book has the wonderful potential to act as an alarm clock to rouse sleeping Christians, beckoning them to wake up to the good, free grace of the gospel. The gospel-awakened heart "[has] tasted the goodness and lost [it's] taste of the pale imitations" (p. 64).

Gospel Wakefulness is one of the most loving, yet urgent critiques of `Christian culture' that I have read in a while. Wilson never insults the church, but he is not ready to concede to the unhealthy culture it has fostered. He says,

"My hope is in the kingdom God so much that I have found it frustrating to speak with people who place their hopes in the kingdom of America or Christian culture and for them to speak with me ... you will find your gospel centrality a head-scratcher to some of your brothers and sisters (P.64-65)

and ever so poignantly,

"Christians, many of us are living lives of disregard and consequently having little impact. Despite our big buildings and our big budgets and our big publishing empires and our big voting blocs and our big events and our big numbers, we are living in such a way to be disregarded. We are making lots of noise . . . inside our inconsequential bubble" (p.181)

But if the book were to just be some sharp critique of the church for its lack of gospel-centrality, it might as well just be some blog written by a 20-year-old kid with a chip on his shoulder...

But instead, Gospel Wakefulness spends most of its pages probing the soul of the reader, exposing idols and misplaced hope by fixating the soul on the gospel of Jesus. The book led my to a deeper awareness of my ugliness and greater awareness of the beauty of the gospel each time that I picked it up. Since this book is entitled Gospel Wakefulness, I would say that it did its job.

Gospel Wakefulness is a book written with a skillful mix of conversational and academic voice. Wilson is frank, sometimes dropping lines too good not to tweet and at other times (with a fantastic self-awareness) Wilson drops high-brow stuff like,

"The extent to which your soteriology is monergistic - most Calvinist nerds know what I'm talking about here - is the extent to which you ought to know that your pride is a vomitous affront to God" (P. 83)

Along with skillfully quoting a bevy of wise Puritans and theologians of times past. All tied in with some well placed humor, a constant gospel-preoccupation and a holy brashness. Gospel Wakefulness proves itself readable, gospel-steeped, convicting, and quotable.

My only complaint (if it can even
be called that) is that I was at times left wanting more. Wilson spends most of the first half of the book unpacking the concept of gospel wakefulness and the second half applying the gospel to particular areas. Mind you, it isn't split up like "theory ' application", but is a dipping of particular areas of interests of the Gospel-Wakened Christian into the gospel of Jesus. And there are simply some more things I wish Wilson would have treated this way (The chapter "the gospel-wakened church" could be an entire book itself, as could the chapter on prayer). But I truly could not recommend this book more strongly to anyone Christian, non-Christian, leader or follower who desires to be "utterly captivated by the gospel" (p.18), as I truly was.


Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support (Re: Lit Books)
Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support (Re: Lit Books)
by Brad House
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.81
101 used & new from $0.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic resource for leading and living in biblical community., October 16, 2011
'Community', with the bold subtitle "Taking your small group off life support" was written with a clear goal to do just that, however unpopular it may be. This book comes at a timely point in the Reformission movement where we have a bevy of churches, leaders and small group attendees who are tired of the old systems and methods of "community" that seem to be nothing more than an awkward social gathering, yet are unsure on how to cross into organic and truly gospel-made community.

The Foundation:

Community, broken into three major sections, starts out by laying a theological groundwork for community in the church. This first section does what it was written to do, which is remind the reader of the gospel and the gospel's communal implications, which is essential to building any foundation or vision because "A clear view of God puts life into perspective" (P.37). House uses a host of effective charts, graphs and diagrams to create a clear understand of the church's biblical call to community and the practice of that call. Community is able to successfully avoid being theoretic and successfully springboards into a healthy deconstruction of the current state of the social purgatory that is most churches "small groups ministry".

The Health Plan:

House gets to the root of the problem, which is, community has become an "event, rather than a lifestyle" (P.96-97). So House digs and digs and digs so much so that you will read this and hopefully feel some holy discontentment in this area. House talks about why non Christians do not and would not feel comfortable in the typical `small group' setting in the Church, and where we Christians have built barriers instead of bridges to the culture around us (p.128) by the way we do small group. House deals here especially with `barriers' (defined as `Issues of practice, culture and perception that inhibit the progress of the gospel" P.128) that tend to be legitimized, accepted as inevitable and pardoned in our church, such as expecting minimal time commitment, flipping the conversational switch from "small-talk" to "spiritual" in the after dinner `drum-circle' (P.98), and that unavoidable awkwardness in most small group settings. But within this second part of the book, House does not leave us out to dry, but offers stories, models and insights as to how to practically break the cycle of unhealthy community in both gospel-founded and culturally conscious ways (the exact purpose of this blog!). In this part of the book especially, House says things that I truly haven't heard before that sharpened my understanding and motivated me to action.

Treatment:

Community finishes with a section that cleans up and restores order to everything the first two sections have dissected. This is the part where House clearly articulates practical leadership needs, potential pitfalls in rebuilding as well as lay out the framework that has worked so well for Mars Hill, a 10,000+ person church with networks of intimate community and pastoral care that a church of 150 would be lucky to see. One of the most interesting things about this section is House's detailed layout of Mars Hill's community group leader training outlines, (including homework for leaders, and leadership meeting structure) along with a fantastic appendix that includes a blank outline for those interested in using Mars Hill's model.

By the end of the book church leaders should feel significantly more prepared to train up new leaders, reach out to the community around them and experience more concrete, gospel-centered fellowship in the context of small group community. I would strongly recommend this book to church leadership and those who are not satisfied with the depth of their small group and want to start gospel-change. And while the book was not perfect, some topics were neglected and I was left with a few questions mostly on leadership expectations and discipleship, Community is an exceptional Operator Manuel for gospel-driven small groups that make disciples, build cultural bridges and love people well.


Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus
by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.69
112 used & new from $3.77

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about the Gospel, through the lens of parenting. Very Worthwhile, June 3, 2011
A book on parenting may seem like an odd book for me to read and review, considering the fact that I am neither a parent or even have a wife to make that happen anytime soon. So naturally, I was a little timid in wading into this book and felt somewhat unqualified to read and review it. Until I read it. I was somewhat relieved when I began reading the book and they were really just talking about the gospel! After reading and considering Give Them Grace I feel less qualified to parent in the future, yet more confident in grace to sustain me as a parent, and as a single dude.

Give Them Grace doesn't seem to be on par with any other parenting books out there (but I do confess I am a 'parenting book' rookie, this is the first one I have read). It was about parenting, but at the same time it wasn't, it was about grace; honest, uncomfortable, counterintuitive grace. This is clear by the introduction, which focusses Law vs. Grace in parenting, Romans 6-8 style,

"Although we long to be faithful parents, we also rest in the fact that our faithfulness is not what will save our children. Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting... Our children will be saved only through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit who works at the direction of our heavenly father."(p.20)

Right from the beginning that is the meta-narrative of this book: grace, grace, grace, grace. Now, to be sure, the book is incredibly practical and down-to-earth, yet it is not a forced or detached practicality, but an application of the gospel into practical situations. By bringing into focus a clearer view of who God is and what Jesus did (the gospel) Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson attempt to understand what that means in the nitty-gritty of parenting and life. As a non-parent reading this book there were some situations that I could not personally relate to (even looking back to my upbringing) but without fail, in every chapter I was confronted with grace and my own false views of God.

The failures and sins of parenting are not addressed with practical "step-by-step life applications" but by holding an uncomfortably honest mirror up to our hearts and beliefs about who God is. Not a lot of books have convicted and convinced me of my need for mercy like Give Them Grace. And I think that was sort of the point. Fitzpatrick and Thompson wage a gospel-preoccupied war on "moralistic deistic parenting" because of the casualties it has claimed, starting with the shocking truth that,

"They [children][have been] taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message. Scratch the surface of the faith of young people around you and you'll find a disturbing deficiency of understanding of even the most basic tenets of Christianity" (p.18)

Out of this conviction, this mother-daughter team has written a book where methodology is not central, but belief is central. Every chapter they preach grace in an uncomfortable way and in a freakishly radical way, so much so, that it has the potential to offend and unsettle both the religious and the irreligious reader with the gospel.

And I think possibly my favorite part of this book is the writing style and intentionality of the language. In the "gospel-centered" crowd, as much as we hate to admit it, we have our own lingo that we have the tendency to manipulate and occasionally allow a subtle self-righteousness to slip in (another post for another time). But Give Them Grace was not written in Christianese, but in a blunt, culturally relevant dialect. The gospel is explained repeatedly, grace is explained and then applied with surgical precision to the heart of the reader. Fitzpatrick doesn't mince words and isn't messing around with politeness when the gospel is at stake:

""Christian" parenting books are not parenting books if their primary message is law...many conscientious parents have bought so deeply into these faux-christian methods that they are utterly terrified when they hear that they need to stop trying to manipulate their children by prescribed methods" (p.161)

Words like this force the reader to confront their own unbelief and to accept or reject grace. If the reader of this view is convinced of law-based living then this book about grace, ironically, will lead the reader to honest despair of their condition. With hard truths like "Our job [parenting] is not hard, it's impossible" the book does not allow moralistic, religious wiggle-room. Instead humbles us with unmerited grace and applies it to the hard work of parenting.

To be fair, like any book, Give Them Grace isn't a perfect book. There are a lot of topics I wish they had decided to cover more in-depth such as single parenting, etc. But a lot of my criticism is very micro, since I was reading this book specifically to review it. And all that said, I still I actually had very few quarrels with this books.

As I mentioned before, this is my first experience with a "parenting book" but by the end, I looked foreword to reading it because I knew it was good for my child-less soul. Not just a an exercise in parenting to use in the future, but as a reminder of God's wonderful, free, ill-deserved grace on a train-wreck like me.

Overall rating| 9/10

(Review from [...] courtesy of Crossway Books )


Note to Self (Foreword by Sam Storms): The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself
Note to Self (Foreword by Sam Storms): The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself
Price: $8.79

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars written from the trenches of Spiritual Warfare, April 19, 2011
Last week (4/12-4/14) at The Gospel Coalition 2011 we were loaded up with free stuff (or, swag, if you will). Even more so for us bloggers fortunate enough to attend Band of Bloggers on Tuesday. On the Band of Bloggers panel was Church Planter and fellow Acts 29 guy Joe Thorn. Thorn is a great guy and I have had the pleasure of meeting and listening to on several occasions, so when I found out he was writing a book and it was getting published though Re:Lit, I was stoked. I was even more stoked when I found out those signed up for Band of Bloggers would be getting a pre-released copy!

It's a small book, not very intimidating and the text is of readable size: a good weekend read. But what a weekend it was, between Note to Self and The Greener Grass Conspiracy, I forcefully, yet lovingly was kicked in the rear end by the Gospel.

Note To Self is really like nothing I have ever read. It's made for the trenches, battle tactics in the Spiritual War we fight as Christians. It is sort of to the Good Guys what The Screwtape Letters is to the Bad Guys, letters from the trenches. The concept is simple yet brilliant. It's Joe (or you) preaching the Gospel to yourself amidst 48 real-time situations that we all have and will continue to face. What Joe does in Note To Self is take a section of scripture and in about 500 words engages in "self talk" as Martyn Lloyd Jones would call it.

Every section starts off with a rich verse of scripture at the top of the page and then the words Dear Self... What happens after that is straight up, honest Gospel talk. Every chapter points back to Jesus and how the Gospel actually matters pertaining to whatever subject Joe is dealing with. The way Thorn writes, you can tell he is not just some armchair theologian, but is living the fight with those, like me, reading what he writes. It is apparent that he gets the Gospel and he gets his sin when he says:

"Dear Self,

You are proud, and what makes this so dangerous is that you don't realize just how proud you are....What you need is a clear picture of God, yourself and your hope; this only comes through law and gospel. You must see yourself as you really are -- creature, not Creator; sinful, not righteous; undeserving, not deserving; dependent, not independent; made for his glory, not your own... This is the theology that erodes pride, builds humility and produces joy." (P. 108)

Woah. Note To Self is really about 136 pages of that. Every single page of Note To Self is drowning in Gospel truths, so much so that it forces you to put a Gospel lens on everything from loving your wife (P.69) to complaining (P.109) to not being a Christian fanboy [personally my favorite chapter] (P.123) to being the Church [close second favorite] (P.87). It is a continual hammering of the Gospel into the thick skulls of prideful people. It doesn't do this directly, but in fact the book is set up as to observe a man preaching the gospel to himself. It is sort of like watching game film of a good team as you prepare for the season.

When I was reading this, I felt as if I was reading Joe Thorn's journal [minus the 'Love you husband' chapter, I just pretended that was his wife writing]. I felt as if I was experiencing a spiritual battle raging, very, very similar to the one that I fight day in and day out. It gives perspective to the war we are truly in and the weapon we've been given, the discipline of preaching [the Gospel] to ourselves. Reading it was challenging, as it confronted a lot of my own personal sin head on and didn't let me shy away from it. It then applied the spiritual rubbing alcohol on to my wounded pride. Every night (as I read it before going to bed) I went to sleep more in love with Jesus than before reading this book.

I foresee this being an incredible resource for the Church in the years to come. As it is small, accessible, practical and biblical. Anyone can pick up this book and get something out of it. And that something is going to be gospel-centered. Because this book is not just gospel-centered, but gospel-submerged, and cannot be avoided. Charis is considering getting a bulk quantity and giving them out at Sunday service.

This book knows its limitations, it doesn't try to be what it isn't. This is not a systematic theology or a book designed to tackle any certain issue at length but a manual on preaching the Gospel to yourself in the midst of spiritual warfare. At times I wish he would elaborate more on some topics and wish he would've written like twenty pages on the issues of work and local church involvement instead of two, but like I said, not the purpose of Note To Self.

Oh, and did I mention how well written it is? It isn't sloppy or indulgent. No word is wasted and the language is intentionally blunt, it comes off sharp and discerning. Joe Thorn also uses the word "legit" on Page 134, which in my book gives him 100% street cred [not a big accomplishment getting street cred from a white guy in central Illinois who listens to Steve Earle, but regardless...]

So whether you are a pastor or a non-Christian that is confused as to what the Christian life actually is or somewhere in between, Note To Self by Joe Thorn is a must read. You will finish the book with a new and more complete understanding of the discipline of preaching to yourself. The book is available now for Kindle at Amazon.com and will be available for purchase at the end of April. It's cheap so do yourself a favor and get this book.

Rating: 9/10

Read more at [...]
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2011 1:19 PM PST


The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
Price: $9.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greener Grass Conspiracy- a battle for gospel-contentment, April 18, 2011
Recently, Crossway was gracious enough to send me (and 99 other bloggers like me) a copy of one of their new books, The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge. I had never heard of Altrogge, but I trusted Crossway, they haven't let me down yet. A few days ago, the small cardboard box with `Crossway' packing tape was sitting in my mailbox, so I started reading, not knowing what to expect.

What I got was a feast for my soul (more on that later). Altrogge writes of a worldwide conspiracy that is keeping the world (and Christians in particular) in bondage. He calls this "The Greener Grass Conspiracy", essentially a plot between ourselves, Satan and the fallen world we live in to keep us from finding contentment in Jesus. Altrogge starts off and convincingly lays out the conspiracy and the players:

"The world makes big, fat promises of immediate pleasure. It flashes its artificially whitened teeth and tells me to enjoy myself. The world lies to me....Satan Joins the world... Satan invites me to find satisfaction in something other than God. It doesn't matter if it's pornography or community service, as long as it's not God. Satan is happy as long as I'm not happy in God. Satan slanders God's character and his goodness. Satan Lies to me. ....My heart doesn't want to be left out of the conspiracy, and so it plays right along with the world and Satan. It tells me that I need to have certain things and I need to have them NOW." (p.12-13)

Altrogge writes with urgency and zeal to uncover and unravel this conspiracy. Stephen is well aware of the Spiritual War we are caught up in, that is "an all-out, no-holds-barred war taking place within us" (p.50). He writes as equal, a fellow brother struggling with the same three enemies aiming to take away his joy as well as ours. His book is practical, honest and pointed, Altrogge says "The Greener Grass Conspiracy" is "more like sweaty, bloody, hastily scribbled notes from a battlefield" than "the memoir of a contented man"(P.14). As you read, you easily connect with Stephen, his honest real life stories, and his imperfect yet mature walk with Jesus. Oh, and did mention, he is absolutely hilarious! I was getting some odd looks reading this book in public because I would laugh out loud somewhat frequently.

Like I said before, this book was a feast for my soul. In the footsteps of giants on the subject of contentment like The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, this book holds a mirror up to our fig-leaves and idols then gently, yet usually painfully points you back to the One who removes our fig-leaves and killed our idols on the Cross, Jesus. Sometimes when I was reading, I wanted to hang my head and weep, as I saw how ugly my sin was (in the midst of his very sarcastic, Jared Wilson-esque sense of humor). Especially in the fourth chapter, "I worship my television", which can be adequately summed up by Altrogge's final words of the chapter:

"But the sweet fruit of contentment can only blossom after you've ripped out the weeds" (P.44)

Altrogge points out both how we get wrapped up in the Conspiracy in both our religion and irreligion, and takes a hard, Gospel-centered line towards both. He urges and pleads with us to find our joy in Jesus, as he fights to do the same. This book is rich in scripture and quotes from dead guys, but it never comes off intimidating or academic but very, very practical. And it's overflowing with proclamations of the gospel, you cannot read this book without being forcefully shoved back to the Gospel of Jesus. It all at the same time wrecks and builds up the soul, purging sin for revelation of the Gospel. Altrogge brings it:

"The Father heaped the idolatry of millions upon Jesus and then punished Jesus as if he was the idol worshiper. It was as if Jesus was the pornography worshiper, job worshiper and vacation worshiper. Ever seen something so disturbing and revolting that you couldn't bear to watch? On the cross, Jesus was worse."(P.61)

The shocking honesty, undeniable wit (including a brief encounter with the King Solomon at Starbucks), amazing readability and Gospelicious nature of "The Greener Grass Conspiracy" have made it one of my new favorite books. I do not say this lightly, as I am pretty critical on books. And by all means, the book wasn't perfect, in fact, I wish it was a bit longer and I wish it dealt more with contentment within the context of Community (it does a bit, but that is a subject I am very interested in). But regardless, it is a Gospel tour-de-force.

One of the best features of "The Greener Grass Conspiracy" was the "Stop-Think-Do" questions at the end of each chapter. These are 5 questions at the end of each chapter that relate back to the content of the chapter, these questions are sometimes hard to answer and don't always let you off the hook with just pondering for a minute and moving on. Altrogge asks the reader to make painful lists, draw graphs and write down gospel-blessings, it's pretty sweet, but your pride will HATE it...."The Greener Grass Conspiracy" is not only good for personal devotions, but as curriculum as well (especially because of its easy readability and study questions provided in the form of the Stop-Think-Do). I am already thinking about ordering several more copies and using them in a small group study for some newer believers.

But at the end of a day, a book of Jesus is not good unless it stirs my affection for Jesus. This book certainly did, it encouraged me and turned my affections toward Jesus like books before it, such as Lloyd-Jones's "Spiritual Depression and Piper's Desiring God have done for me. This is a book for the trenches of Christian living, a book that grips you, pleads with you and asks you to look to the Gospel and say "Courage, dear heart"(P.127). For Christian's, I can not recommend this enough, and for non-Christians, if you are interested in Christianity, this is a great book to pick up to learn what the Christian life is all about: Jesus Christ.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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