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Amy Carmichael: Beauty For Ashes
Amy Carmichael: Beauty For Ashes
by Iain H. Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.64
37 used & new from $7.64

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Figure, March 14, 2015
History is chock-full of fascinating individuals, and over time I am attempting to meet more and more of them through the pages of great biographies. Amy Carmichael is one of those people I had heard so much about, but I had never gotten around to actually reading an account of her life. But when I saw that Iain Murray’s latest work is a brief, accessible biography of Carmichael, I knew I had to give it a go. I’m glad I did.

Carmichael is one of those people who had an unusually powerful sense of God’s calling on her life, and an unusual level of dedication to the Lord and to his work. As a young woman she determined that she would dedicate her life to foreign missions, and this despite many trusted people in her life attempting to dissuade her. She left her native Ireland and soon settled in India where she became involved in rescuing women and girls from temple prostitution, saving them from lives of utter misery. In 1901 she founded Dohnavur Fellowship which soon grew into a bustling home for hundreds of abandoned or rescued young men and women. She penned many books and, through her life of service, convinced many other people—and women especially—to consider becoming missionaries.

Based on Murray’s biography, there are several things about Carmichael that stand out. The first is her unshakeable confidence in the Lord and in his purposes. Though she suffered deeply, and though she witnessed so much of the misery of others, she maintained utter confidence in God. Closely related is her confidence in her calling. Once she arrived in India, she never left—she remained there for her entire life and, as far as I can tell, never seriously entertained the idea of returning home to a more comfortable life and setting. She also determined that she would emulate George Muller in refusing to ask others to support her work; instead, she committed to prayer and relied upon God to provide all that her mission needed. Not surprisingly, God was faithful. In these ways and others she makes an interesting and important subject for a biography.

Of course she was human, so struggled with sin, and Murray deals well with her flaws. While he does not dwell on them or allow them to become the story of her life, he acknowledges that she was not without her temptations and theological foibles. The most unfortunate of these foibles was her tendency to allow subjective impressions to take the place of God’s Word in her life, directing her actions in ways that later proved misguided. She is hardly the first to succumb to this temptation, and a few occasions in her life show just how important it is that we keep impressions in their proper place—as impressions, and not necessarily as the voice of God.

Murray’s biography is short—almost too short—but it is powerful and tells the story of a fascinating life. There are many things we can, and undoubtedly should, learn from Carmichael’s life. This short work is a great place to begin.

Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes
Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes
Price: $10.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read, March 7, 2015
Nancy Pearcey’s bestselling and award-winning book "Total Truth" made quite a mark on my life. It was, to my memory, the first book I had ever read on worldview, and its explanation of the way our world divides the sacred and the secular has not only stuck with me, but has helped me better understand and explain the culture around me. Though Pearcey has written another book between then and now, I consider her new work, "Finding Truth," the true sequel to "Total Truth."

In "Finding Truth," Pearcey offers 5 principles meant to unmask our culture’s endless worldview alternatives to Christianity—secularism, atheism, and the like. There are all kinds of books that make a similar promise, but this one has a noteworthy difference: Pearcey looks to Romans 1 to find a kind of apologetics training manual for identifying and challenging any other worldview.

At the start of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he claims that all humanity has access to evidence for God’s existence, and then describes what happens when people refuse to acknowledge him. As people turn away from God, they suppress the truth that God makes known to them through creation and through human nature. People hide from God by creating idols, God substitutes. These are not merely idols of wood and stone, but also ideas, any idea that provides an alternate explanation for the meaning and purpose of life. Idols have consequences, and God gives up those who worship them to a debased mind, so that they become futile in their thinking and dishonorable in their behavior. While most explanations of this text dwell on behavior, Pearcey focuses on the mind, showing the ways in which the unbelieving mind is affected by sin so that an entire worldview becomes completely opposed to God.

In Romans 1 she finds five strategic principles that “provide a basic game plan for making sense of any worldview across the board—even the cutting edge ideas of our day—and then to craft a compelling positive case for Christianity.” Here is a brief explanation of each.

Principle 1. Identify the Idol. Every non-biblical worldview begins with some kind of a God substitute—an idol. If human beings will not worship the God who created them, they will still worship something—something that provides an alternate explanation of the world’s origins or that provides an understanding of the meaning of life.

Principle 2. Identify the Idol’s Reductionism. Once we identify the idol, we need to look for its reductionism, the way in which it leads to a low view of human life. When one part of the creation is deified or idolized, every other part will necessarily be denigrated. Why? Because one part is always far too small to explain the whole thing. Reductionism is always dehumanizing.

Principle 3. Test the Worldview: Does It Contradict What We Know About the World? The third step is to test the worldview against the facts of experience, which is to say, the truths of general revelation. Though people will continue to suppress the evidence of God’s existence, what God has created continues to challenge them, because physical nature and human nature constantly provide evidence of a Creator. Therefore every idolatrous worldview will fail to fit the evidence and will, instead, contradict the facts of general revelation.

Principle 4. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict Itself? Every reductionistic worldview is, on some level, self-defeating. It commits suicide by reducing reason to something less than what is reasonable. We need to look for the way in which it contradicts itself and collapses internally. (An example is the relativistic claim that there is no universal truth even though this statement is, itself, meant to be a universal truth.)

Principle 5. Replace the Idol: Make the Case for Christianity. By focusing on the points where reductionistic worldviews fail, we can offer a better and more compelling alternative. We can do this by finding those inevitable places where other worldviews borrow from the Christian worldview and expose themselves to critique.

"Finding Truth" has many commendable strengths. For one, Pearcey shows again and again just how far people will go to suppress the knowledge of God. They will go to any length to deny what is right in front of their noses and—even closer—right within their own hearts and minds. She shows this in a broad range of alternative religions and philosophies, pointing always to the consistency of the Christian faith.

While she shows that all other worldviews are insufficient and illogical, she does not discard them altogether. Instead, she shows how they do contain some genuine insights, and then shows how their best insights are inevitably and illogically stolen from the Christian worldview.

She also provides a compelling intellectual argument for the Christian faith. I appreciate what Gregory Koukl says in his endorsement: “This is one of those books that not only challenges the critics; it also gives a huge dose of confidence to the Christian who will catch himself walking away from its pages saying, ‘Gosh, this stuff really is true.’”

Pearcey promises that the principles she lays out will “provide you with the tools to recognize what’s right and wrong with any worldview—and then to craft a biblically informed perspective that is both true and humane.” She makes the promise and she delivers on it. "Finding Truth" is, all-in-all, a worthy successor to "Total Truth."
Comment Comments (22) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2015 7:54 AM PDT

Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?
Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?
Offered by HarperCollins Publishing
Price: $7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Balanced, February 28, 2015
The pushback against the radical Christian life is in full swing. It was inevitable, I think, and healthy. Books like Radical and Don’t Waste Your Life were meant to battle Christian complacency, but in some ways they over-corrected, giving less than a holistic and realistic view of the Christian life. And now authors like Michael Wittmer are attempting to recover some balance.

In his new book Becoming Worldly Saints, Wittmer means to answer this question: Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy your life? Is it possible for you to be fully committed to the Lord and still find time to enjoy life’s pleasures? Or, as some seem to feel, do we need to live lives of utter frugality, sending all our money to the mission field? Are we responsible to share the gospel with absolutely every person we encounter? Should we really feel that constant low-grade guilt that accuses us that we are not doing enough for the Lord? In short, how do we resolve the tension between the pleasures of earth and the purpose of heaven?

Wittmer’s answers are as compelling as any I’ve read. His concern is that in all the good things we do for the Lord, we forget the importance of being human and enjoying God’s good creation. “Our lives will shrivel if we allow our passion for redemption to smother the pleasures of creation. Being a Christian must not become an obstacle to being human. But the problem is even worse in reverse: When we eliminate our earthly pleasures, we inevitably limit the reach of our heavenly purpose. If we want to attract people to Jesus, our lives must be attractive.” We, of all people, ought to enjoy this world and display our love of life.

Our temptation is to make a harsh distinction between loving the Lord and loving the world he has made. However, “Our love for Jesus and his world is not a zero sum game. Attention given to creation is not stolen from its Creator. The more we enjoy God’s gifts for their own sake, the more we can appreciate him. And thank him for, and love with him. … Thank God for the privilege of being human and of being here. Then go have some fun.” God and have some fun and trust that God enjoys your fun as much as you do.

Wittmer structures the book around the story of Scripture—the great work God is doing in this world, which proceeds under the familar headings of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. He shows that God created this world so we could enjoy it and that he still expects that we will find enjoyment in it. He corrects those people who live only for tomorrow, as if the pleasures of this world are meaningless. He shows that our responsibility in this world is to love God, serve our neighbor, cultivate the earth, and rest, and that we need to maintain a balance between these. He shows that the tension we feel is an inevitable result of man’s fall into sin, and he attempts to bring peace between the urgency of the gospel and the demands of being human. In every case he succeeds well.

Can you serve Jesus and still enjoy life? “It starts with your call and ends with it too. Do whatever God is calling you to do, no more and no less. Do it with all your might; then go to bed. Your life will count for eternity, and you’ll probably even like it.”

Becoming Worldly Saints was a joy and a relief to read. Grounded firmly in Scripture and in the best of Christian tradition, it offers a powerful and compelling vision of the Christian life that is equally exciting and attainable. This isn’t settling for a lesser vision of the Christian life—this is living out what the Bible says.

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
Price: $9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get Equipped!, February 28, 2015
We are witnesses today to a massive culture shift. Things we used to hold sacred are now subject to mockery; evils we would never even have dreamed of are now regarded as normal and beautiful. And everywhere we look, Christians are on the front lines—whether they like it or not, they are on the front lines. They are on the front lines of the battle between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage; they are on the front lines of the battle for life in the womb; they are on the front lines of the battle against sex trafficking and pornography. Wherever our culture delights in evil, Christians are attempting to speak with clarity and authority.

David Platt has observed this culture shift and in his new book calls upon Christians to ensure they will not stand idly by. Counter Culture is, according to the subtitle, a “A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography.” Platt calls on Christians to wade into the cultural battlefield and to represent Jesus.

He begins with the gospel. He believes that the gospel is meant to compel the Christian to take action, saying “the gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it provides the foundation for countering culture. For when we truly believe the gospel, we begin to realize that the gospel not only compels Christians to confront social issues in the culture around us. The gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around—and within—us.” The gospel creates confrontation through its most outlandish and offensive claim:

"[T]the most offensive and countercultural claim in Christianity is not what Christians believe about homosexuality or abortion, marriage or religious liberty. Instead, the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet. Every one of us stands before him guilty of sin, and the only way to be reconciled to him is through faith in Jesus, the crucified Savior and risen King. All who trust in his love will experience everlasting life while all who turn from his lordship will suffer everlasting death."

With the gospel foundation in place, Platt sets out to draw attention to some of the most pressing issues of our day, and to show “how the gospel moves Christians to counter all of these issues in our culture with conviction, compassion, and courage.”

The heart of the book is a chapter-length examination of several major culture concerns: Poverty, same-sex marriage, racism, sex slavery, immigration, abortion, persecution, orphans and widows, and pornography. In every case Platt outlines the issue, shows how the gospel speaks to it, and then calls the Christian to action. He is a gifted writer and storyteller and often interweaves the chapters with tales of people he has met and situations he has encountered in his many travels. He is also a gifted theologian, and draws both deeply and accurately from the wells of Scripture. Inevitably some will wonder how this book compares to his bestselling book Radical, and I would say it has all the passion and intensity, but with far more nuance.

In the end, his call is both strong and convicting. Early in the book he lauds Christians for the ways they have already countered culture, but expresses this concern: “On popular issues like poverty and slavery, where Christians are likely to be applauded for our social action, we are quick to stand up and speak out. Yet on controversial issues like homosexuality and abortion, where Christians are likely to be criticized for our involvement, we are content to sit down and stay quiet. It’s as if we’ve decided to pick and choose which social issues we’ll contest and which we’ll concede. And our picking and choosing normally revolves around what is most comfortable—and least costly—for us in our culture.” He is exactly right, and in this book he brings needed balance, dwelling not only on issues that will earn applause, but also the issues that will earn criticism or even persecution.

Platt believes that “[t]he greatest way to achieve social and cultural transformation is not by focusing on social and cultural transformation, but by giving our lives to gospel proclamation.” I agree entirely. His hope for our generation is this: “May it be said of us that we not only held firm to the gospel, but that we spoke clearly with the gospel to the most pressing issues of our day.” Counter Culture will equip you to do that very thing.

God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement
God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement
Price: $8.49

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clear and Winsome Work, January 24, 2015
I didn’t actually intend to review this book. It showed up at my door and a brief glance turned into a quick skim turned into a full read turned into a review. As a committed reader always looking for something new and interesting, I just love it when that happens.

There is a new religious movement alive today that is gaining momentum and claiming followers. Like so many movements before it, it began in the United States and has since spread around the world. I have seen many manifestations of it right here in Canada. It is called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and it is the subject of God’s Super-Apostles, where it receives some well-deserved scrutiny.

The New Apostolic Reformation is a movement that is set on returning apostles and prophets to the church. Its adherents believe “that God always intended for apostles and prophets to govern the church, not only the early church, but the church during each generation. Yet their rightful place of rule has been neglected by Christians for centuries,” replaced, in most cases, by pastors and elders. This movement is apostolic because it restores apostles and prophets to the church, and it is a reformation because its leaders hold that, like the Protestant Reformation before it, it will transform the church.

NAR is associated with well-known leaders like C. Peter Wagner, Rich Joyner, Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson, and Cindy Jacobs, and organizations such as The International House of Prayer, The Call, GOD TV, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Charisma magazine. You may know you have encountered it when you hear buzzwords like activation, dominionism, generational curse, prayerwalking, soaking, or spiritual mapping. There are currently something like 3 million people in America who are actively associated with NAR, and hundreds of thousands or even millions more who would be loosely associated or who have been influenced by its teachings and teachers. It is, in short, a powerful and growing movement.

In God’s Super-Apostles R. Douglas Gievett, professor of philosophy in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, and Holly Pivec, a researcher and journalist, combine forces to examine and respond to the NAR movement. Modeling their work after the Bereans of Acts 17, they look at this new movement and then simply turn to God’s Word to see if it can be supported by the Bible. And, not surprisingly, they find that many of the movement’s boldest and most distinct claims are not only missing from Scripture, but completely opposed to it.

They first look to the NAR teaching about apostles, then go to the New Testament examples and descriptions of Apostles, and compare the two. NAR’s beliefs and leadership do not hold up well under such examination. The authors do the same with prophets, and again find that NAR offers something very different from what the Bible holds out. Then they look at some of NAR’s distinct teachings about spiritual warfare and the promise (which often becomes a threat) of apostolic unity. They close with an examination of miracles and miracle workers, disputing NAR’s understanding of miracles and casting doubt on the many of the claims of miracles.

This book may draw some comparisons to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, but even while it reaches many of the same conclusions, it is a very different work in that it focuses far less on individual manifestations of the movement’s flaws and foibles, and more on a framework meant to understand and interpret it. It may be tempting to immediately write off the authors as people who have a deeper agenda than exposing the worst of the movement, but they anticipate and answer this: "Some readers may suspect that the authors are anti-charismatic. They may expect us to argue that the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12—including the gifts of prophesying, healing, and speaking in tongues—are no longer active in the church today. This is not our objective. Many Christians around the world, including charismatics and classic Pentecostals, believe that the miraculous gifts are still active, and we do not dispute their belief. We’ve tried to show that NAR teachings do not represent the views of most charismatics or classic Pentecostals, but are, rather, entirely different."

If I have a concern with the book it is its logical and methodical style. Of course I found this very helpful, but I am not sure how many of NAR’s adherents will be convinced. You have heard it said that you cannot reason someone out of an irrational position and, sadly, many people who are swept up in NAR may be almost immune to the kind of reason the authors bring to bear here. They have been trained to look past the Bible to signs and wonders and prophecies; many have tacitly or even outright denied that the Bible is their norming norm, their sole final authority. Yet the authors have done the right thing and simply held up NAR to the light of Scripture; it is my hope that many people within the movement will read the book and at least consider it.

God’s Super-Apostles is a clear and winsome work that provides just the right depth of examination, and that comes to clear and biblical conclusions. It is worth reading whether you wish to better understand NAR or if you wish to evaluate its claims.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2015 6:34 PM PST

On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse
On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse
by Deepak Reju
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.72
30 used & new from $12.37

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please Read It!, January 17, 2015
If I could mandate that at least one leader from every church had to read a single book, I don’t think there are too many I would choose ahead of On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church. It’s not that it is the best book I have ever read (though it is plenty good) or that it contains the deepest theology (though there is plenty of good doctrine within its pages). It’s that too many times the purpose and witness of the church has been tarnished by her failure to offer safety and protection to children. This book offers assistance where so many churches have failed.

Deepak Reju is a Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at (Mark Dever’s) Capitol Hill Baptist Church and father to five young children. From that vantage point he sees the danger and the devastation of abuse and its prevalence within the church. And from that vantage point he provides an excellent resource that is meant to help.

On Guard has three broad purposes: to protect children from the horrors of child abuse, to fill a gap in Christian publishing and resourcing, and to provide a comprehensive approach to preventing and responding to child abuse at church. In all three areas Reju succeeds well.

In the book’s first few chapters Reju describes and defines the problem of child abuse in the church and deals with some too-common misperceptions. He shows how and why child predators often hide in plain sight within the church, knowing that it may be the safest and easiest place to prey upon children. The heart of the book is eight chapters that each describe a strategy for protecting against abuse; these range from creating and implementing a child protection policy, to screening staff members, to getting familiar with people and resources in your local community. The final three chapters provide strategies for responding when someone has made an allegation of abuse or when a known child abuser professes faith and asks to come into church membership. Several appendices provide helpful supplemental information such as case studies and sample child protection policies.

Of all that Reju teaches in this book, the most important may be the parts dealing with the profile of the abuser. We tend to caricature pedophiles, trusting that our instinct and intuition would alert us to their presence. The fact is, though, that predators fit many different profiles and we are easily fooled. Predators are adept at grooming a church community and then grooming individual children; when and if the abuser is discovered, churches often react with shame and guilt, trying to cover up instead of bring to light. Not only that, but even though false reports of abuse are rare, people often assume innocence and fail to take seriously the possibility of abuse. It is a horrible mess, but just a little authoritative guidance through a book like this can go a long way.

“Protecting the children under your care is a way to preserve your gospel witness in your community.” Not only that, but “Our ethical and moral responsibility as Christians is to protect the children whom God has entrusted to us.” I became convicted of these facts a few years ago and helped implement an Abuse Prevention Policy that is now in effect in our church. This book has both solidified my belief in the importance of such a policy, and given me many ideas for making it better.

Please, read this book, or at least ensure that someone in your church reads it. I plan to hand it to all those who oversee children’s ministries within our church and to discuss it with them. I hope you will do the same. Do it for the sake of the children and do it for the sake of the gospel.

The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity
The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity
by Dave Ramsey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.81
88 used & new from $9.48

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mix of Strengths and Weaknesses, January 10, 2015
Let me tell you: It’s not easy being filthy rich. You would know, wouldn’t you? Most of us feel like we live in poverty, but that’s only because we restrict our comparisons to the people closest to us. When we elevate our gaze a little, we see that most of us qualify as being among the richest people in the world. Compared to the mass of humanity, we have fantastic wealth.

For many years Dave Ramsey has taught people how to manage their money well, and countless thousands of people can testify to his impact on their lives. While much of his effort has gone into helping people climb out of debt and live financially sustainable lives, he is now turning his attention to the matter of leaving a legacy.

In his new book The Legacy Journey he deals head-on with first-world wealth and a host of related issues. He builds this legacy journey around a 4-part framework: Now, Then, Us, Them. In the Now stage he wants you to focus on the most immediate issues like getting out of debt, living on a budget, and preparing for emergencies. The Then stage begins to look down the road a little, preparing for retirement, saving for college funds, and setting a future vision. When it comes to Us, it is time to begin to accumulate a generational legacy which will build wealth to leave to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And then, with those other pieces in place, comes Them, where you can look around the world and use your wealth to make a major impact on other people’s lives and well-being.

There is much in this book that is good and helpful. On the positive side, Ramsey pushes hard against simplistic financial thinking that owes more to latent socialism than to the Bible. He deals very well with the spiritual side of money, showing how money can be the best of servants or the worst of masters. He teaches that all money is God’s money and that we are to think of ourselves as stewards rather than owners of our wealth. He shows how building wealth and building a legacy of wealth is, and is meant to be, hard work, and proves the importance of properly training our children to understand money. And he provides sound counsel on thinking about the future and planning for it while avoiding the most common pitfalls. These are all the things he is known for and the things he does so well—they represent genuine strengths. But there are some weaknesses as well.

My most significant concern is Ramsey’s sloppy use of the Bible. Much of what he teaches is wise, but then he makes the unfortunate choice to back it with out-of-context Scripture. Here is an example: “Your goals must be in writing. Habakkuk 2:2 says, ‘Write the vision and make it plain.’ There is spiritual power in writing down your goals.” If there is, we certainly don’t learn that in Habakkuk 2:2! His misuse of Scripture weakens rather than strengthens his book.

In a similar vein, this entire book, and even the idea of the legacy journey, is premised on Proverbs 13:22 which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Ramsey takes this Proverb literally and universally and makes it God’s instruction to each of us, saying that as Christians we are to accumulate enough wealth that we can leave a substantial inheritance to our children and their children. But I am not convinced. Proverbs was written in a specific culture where land and inheritance had a very different meaning than they do today. While it may be good and generous to leave wealth to our children, I am not convinced it is a biblical mandate. This is especially the case today when lifespans are increasing and we now inherit our parent’s money in our 60s or 70s, typically long after we really need it. And even then, what is the purpose of stockpiling millions so I can leave it to my kids and they can leave it to their kids who can leave it to their kids? Why not put that money to work right here and right now? Ramsey counters this by looking at people like Bill Gates who mean to give away their fortunes: “On the surface, that may sound like a good or generous thing—and it is. The problem is, though, one of the biggest personal fortunes in the history of the world will totally vanish within one generation. Even though the money will be spent in wonderful ways, it will still be gone forever.” But that money is not gone—it has been converted to good purposes. If anything it has been elevated, not lost!

Ramsey also comes across as a little defensive about wealth. Much of the book deals with accumulating wealth and rewarding hard work with a comfortable lifestyle. That is a tension we all feel, I think, but I’m not sure that he does much to resolve it. His counsel generally leads away from generosity and toward comfort—perhaps not the Bible’s consistent emphasis. I understand the tension and understand his emphasis, but it may be too simplistic to say, “Our ability to build wealth, use wealth for the kingdom, and enjoy the wealth God gives us all boils down to whether or not we can keep that wealth in perspective. And that’s a matter of contentment.” Yes and no. But at some point we need to feel and deal with that difficult relationship between our comfort and the poverty of so many others.

And then there is my concern that this legacy journey essentially calls on people to spend almost all of their lives giving ten percent of their income to the Lord’s work, and to only really crank up the generosity in that fourth and final stage. Yes, we need to learn to live free from debt and prioritize caring for our families, but with the Bible’s constant calls for sacrifice and generosity, it seems odd that lavish generosity would be left to the end. Planning to be generous and accumulating wealth in order to be generous is not the same thing as actually being generous.

All-in-all, The Legacy Journey is a helpful book with many strengths, but it still left me unsatisfied. As an overall strategy for faithfully stewarding God’s money, I am just not convinced. I think there must be stronger, more biblical, and more satisfying answers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2015 4:56 PM PDT

Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ
Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ
Price: $9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Book!, December 13, 2014
I get a little nervous when I see an artist jump mediums. Not all artists make that transition from one medium to another—good authors have written awful songs and great songwriters have written really bad books. But Matt Papa has made it work. He has recorded some excellent songs (e.g. Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery) and has now also written a fantastic book. In Look and Live he wants you to behold the soul-thrilling, sin-destroying glory of Christ. Even better, he will help you do it.

The book begins with the assumption—the biblically safe assumption—that we are worshippers. The question is not if, but what we will worship. If it is really true that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert on anything, well, we all become expert worshippers at fourteen months of age. We were created to worship and we will worship. “As human beings we are plagued with inordinate affections. We love green pieces of paper more than God. We love balls made out of pigskin more than God. We’ve shown we even love apples more than God. We, like Esau, have traded our birthright—the dignity of our shameless, joy-filled, glory-beholding, glory-reflecting existence—for a bowl of beans.”

What is the solution to this misplaced worship?

"We don’t need more willpower. We don’t need to get ourselves together. We need a greater thrill … a more captivating beauty. What we need is a vision of God. We need to see glory."

And for that reason Papa’s goal here is “to help you overcome idolatry and certain sadness by pointing you to the all-satisfying, sin-destroying glory of Jesus.”

He does that by reflecting on the glory of God, and then seeing the glory of God as it is displayed in creation, mission, obedience, suffering, and, especially, the cross of Christ.

He draws deeply from the wells of church history and also from the best of today’s writers. Papa’s strength is not so much in saying new things, but in distilling the best of the Christian thinkers of yesterday and today. He writes meditatively and reflectively. His joy and delight is contagious. He may be at his best in chapter 4, “The Blazing Center,” where what he writes is deep and beautiful and brilliant. It covers familiar territory but in a fresh and free way. It may be one of the best chapters of any book I’ve read this year and it will bear repeated readings.

When I preach I always try to share the gospel differently—to use fresh words and fresh ways of saying those same old truths. It’s not that there is new content to the gospel message, but there are ways of saying it that restore and recover some of that excitement. And that is what Papa does here.

By way of critique, I do wish had had focused a little more attention to the resurrection. We love to behold the cross, and need to behold it, but we also need to behold the empty tomb. Without the empty tomb, the gospel is incomplete.

When an artist is successful in one medium, he may well be offered opportunities to participate in another, and that’s exactly where some too many bad books come from. But this, this was the book Papa was meant to write. It’s a good one and I can’t recommend it too highly.

John Stott's Right Hand: The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead
John Stott's Right Hand: The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead
Price: $9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Joy to Read, December 6, 2014
Here’s a new book that combines two things I love: Books that come from off the beaten path, and ones that deal with interesting but ordinary people. As it happens, John Stott’s Right Hand was privately published after being turned down by trade publishers, and it tells the life of a fascinating but relatively unknown individual.

John Stott’s name is known around the world. For decades he was one of Evangelicalism’s most prominent voices. His ministry impacted millions and his legacy will endure for generations. What most people do not know is that for 55 years Frances Whitehead served alongside him as his secretary. But she was more than that. She was his gatekeeper, stenographer, typist, encourager, and enabler. Fittingly, before he died he also made her executor of his estate. This book tells her story.

Whitehead first encountered Stott when she, as an unbeliever, began attending his church. She was a young woman working for the BBC and would sometimes walk across the road to visit his church on her lunch break. Going into that church she would hear Stott preach, and over time the words he preached began to take root, and she came to faith. It was not too long after her conversion that Stott asked her to serve as his secretary. She accepted the position, little knowing that she would hold it for more than five decades.

For all those years Stott and Whitehead labored side-by-side, both of them remaining single and both of them remaining singularly focused. She typed his books, she kept people from interfering with his rigid schedule, she organized his life, she drove him to and from the airport, and she even traveled with him on many occasions. She sat beside him in the nursing home when he went to glory, and eulogized him at his funeral. She was his helper and right hand through almost his entire ministry.

Of course people will naturally wonder about the nature of the relationship. Was it romantic? Did they ever struggle with feelings for one another? Is it even possible that they could work together so closely and for so long while maintaining a platonic relationship? Indeed, it is.

"John’s and Frances’s ability to work together so closely for so long was a mark of grace. Two single people of similar age working long hours, under pressure, in pursuit of the same goal, would, for most mission agencies or churches now be avoided. It is a tribute to both of them that for twenty years, before the study assistants arrived, they succeeding in working so closely as a team of two. They both had a high level of inner discipline, partly innately and perhaps partly the product of their upbringing and education. While unspoken to one another, they resolutely did not allow for romantic hopes to take root; embarrassment and awkwardness would have undermined a remarkable working friendship."

"It was a unique partnership, and one for which the English language perhaps has no word.In an age which underplays the dignity of serving, it is hard to understand that aspect alone of Frances’s make-up, a woman so able in her own right. Her role was texture, layered, diverse. It has been described as a kind of “marriage without the marriage.”

What kept them from transgression, or even true and godly romance, was their shared sense of calling. Stott believed God had called him to a life of singleness so he could give himself to writing, teaching, and raising up leaders. Whitehead believed God had called her to a life of singleness so she could serve Stott. Mark Labberton says, “It was a relationship of mutual honor and love, respect and affection, playfulness and partnership, independence and interdependence. John was able to do what he did because Frances was able to do what she did.”

Whitehead’s life is interesting because she is an interesting person, but it is interesting as well because it intersected the life of such an important figure. She allowed him to be who he was, and she allowed him to do what he did. Those of us who have benefitted from Stott’s books and commentaries and other efforts have unknowingly benefitted from Whitehead’s long service. She is one of those unsung and unknown Christians who faithfully served her Savior by serving one of his servants. I am thankful that we can now know her story as well as Stott’s, because it is, really, just one story in two parts.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $8.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best, November 29, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Hold on! Is it a book about prayer? Another book about prayer? Is there any possible way we can benefit from yet another book on the subject of prayer? Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God answers with a decisive yes.

Now here’s the interesting thing. There is not much new in this new book. As Keller says, the best books on prayer have already been written. So instead of pursuing novelty (see The Prayer of Jabez or The Circle Maker or a thousand other books) Keller looks to the past, to the deep wells of Christian history, and draws heavily from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards (and, in more recent history, Edmund Clowney). He understands that any new insights on prayer tend to go farther from rather than closer to biblical truth. Instead of looking for new secrets to discover or keys to unlock, Keller looks for fresh ways of saying those old things. Again, there is nothing profoundly new in this new book, but that is its strength, not its weakness.

Keller begins his book in an interesting place—the tension between two kinds of prayer. Christians tend to describe prayer in one of two ways: communion-centered or kingdom-centered. Communion-centered prayer is “a means to experience God’s love and to know oneness with him. [Such authors] promise a life of peace and of continual resting in God. [They] often give radiant testimonies of feeling regularly surrounded by the divine presence.” Kingdom-centered prayer “sees the essence of prayer not as inward resting but as calling on God to bring in his kingdom. Prayer is viewed as a wrestling match, often—or perhaps ordinarily—without a clear sense of God’s immediate presence.” He opts to discard the either-or view and will not drive a wedge between the two. Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God.

This is not to say he advocates the kind of prayer you might find among the Roman Catholic mystics whose books remain so popular today. In fact, he pushes firmly against mysticism, against meditation as being an emptying of the mind rather than a filling of it, or against rapturous but mindless prayers. But still he leaves plenty of room for true communion with God, and for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit who may bring Scripture to mind and cause us to understand it better in those times we are prayerfully meditative. Even as he teaches these things, he leans on the Reformers and Puritans.

As I began to read, I had thought that Keller’s purpose in the book might be to try to resolve the mysteries of prayer. Over time, though, I came to see that this is not the case. There is much about prayer we cannot understand and may never understand on this side of eternity (and perhaps even after). Keller peers into these mysteries, but he does not attempt to resolve them. He understands that prayer will always be difficult and never over-promises, never lays out a plan that, if followed, will supposedly bring guaranteed or overwhelming results. We can grow in our understanding of prayer and our skill at prayer, but we will never solve it, and will never pray perfectly.

One particularly interesting aspect of the book is Keller’s definition of prayer. Few books on prayer pause to actually define prayer, but Keller gives it his best shot. Prayer, he says, is a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God. This accounts for the universality of prayer—all religions, and very nearly all human beings, pray. They pray because they have some knowledge of God through his creation. But as God awakens the hardened hearts of his people, Christians are now able to pray on the basis of much greater and much more specific knowledge. Thus, for the Christian, “praying is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.”

Early in his book Keller critiques most books on prayer as being “primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover.” This is what he has attempted to do, and it is exactly what he has done, as displayed in the book’s five parts: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, Doing Prayer. He has written a winsome, well-rounded book that leads through theory and into practice. It is one of the strongest books on prayer I have ever read and it receives my highest recommendation.

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