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Category Archives: Book Reviews

I usually review books that are of a Theological or from a Christian Worldview – I am sometimes asked to review books sent to me by publishers of all stripes – I usually read, review, and recommend books that help you grow in your love for and walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Book Review of Dodson and Watson’s “Called Together: A Guide To Forming Missional Communities”

Outgrowing The Ingrown Church

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Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

One of the most difficult things for churches to do is to stay missional when they are established or become missional when they are plateaud or declining. For years theologians and pastors have asked the question: “How can we outgrow the ingrown church?” Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson have planted thriving churches that are missional and constantly reaching out in the context of community in their respective cities: Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. There are many ways to be missional as a church, but perhaps one of the most simple, flexible, and successful ways is via small “missional” groups. This book is written as a guide or handbook on a proven and effective way to reach out in your community without compromising the Gospel, edification, or fellowship.

The error that most churches fall into is establishing small groups that are ingrown – what I like to call “holy huddles.” These are groups that are inward (people already in the church) focused. There is nothing wrong with care groups or specialized groups for individuals that are focused on certain needs. However, churches also need to have groups that are outward focused and missional if they are going to keep the gospel alive and thriving in their communities. In this guide the author’s model and teach how this can be done in your own church context and community.

The goal of this guide is to establish and equip missional communities so that the church can be outreach oriented, focused, and intentional. The author’s define a missional community as “a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space. They aren’t fancy. In fact, they can be a messy community of everyday citizens who are devoted to Jesus, to one another, to their neighbors and their city.” In writing this guide the authors will help you “imagine and form a missional community that is true to your calling” of being salt and light in your community. Crucial to the success of a missional community is in its intentional application of the following: (1) sharing life together; (2) a focus on the gospel and its daily application of faith and repentance; (3) care for your city; (4) caring for your neighbors/hood; and (5) making and multiplying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The guide is divided into three parts designed to be studied and applied by a small “missional” community group. Each week the session consists of a biblical theme with handouts composed of key themes, verses, and applications and ideas for next steps for missional endeavors in your community. The appendix contains weekly handouts; leadership role distinctions (each group is composed of a host, discussion facilitator, prayer coordinator, meal coordinator, and missional leader – the qualifications and roles for these individuals are described in detail at various points in the guide). Missional communities invite people into a community that “isn’t centered on their needs, hobbies, or passions but the gospel of Jesus and His mission (essentially the opposite of most small groups).

Part One consists of four sessions/weeks on the Gospel: (1) What is the Gospel? (2) The Gospel is Personal. (3) The Gospel is Missional. (4) Living the Gospel. Crucial to the success of a missional community is its understanding of, implementation of, and application of the gospel which they define as: “the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through His own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us.” The gospel is essentially composed of three aspects: (1) The gospel is doctrinal: it changes what we believe about ourselves and Jesus. (2) The gospel is personal: it changes who we are by transforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus; (3) The gospel is missional: it changes where and how we live for the sake of Jesus and His glorious Kingdom. The focus of these four sessions is that the gospel ceases to be something you agree with or can recite and rather becomes something you live in community with your missional community. This bucks against the individualism of western culture and is actually a return to the model that Jesus set for His own disciples – “missional community.”

In Part Two the focus of weeks five and six are on how the gospel of Jesus is at the center of community by reminding one another of the gospel. Community is based on the early church model from Acts 2:42-27. Both what makes for biblical community and what does not make for biblical community are studied and discussed with great ideas for the application and implementation of true biblical community centered in the gospel. The focus is very much on meeting needs in your neighborhood and with your neighbors as you live out the gospel in community together.

Part Three is composed of what it means to be a “missional” community and how to be missional “together” in your community. The last session (9th week) talks about the commitments that the missional community will make with one another. These commitments are based on what the missional community will do “by God’s grace.” The authors give multiple ideas for the application of what it means “specifically” and “intentionally” to live out the gospel in community. There are many examples of ways that missional communities can attempt to be outreach oriented in their respective cities.

I can’t recommend the concept of “missional communities” highly enough, and this book is a wonderful place to start to launch your own missional communities wherever you are. I hope and pray that this book will be the first of many guides in helping outgrowing the ingrown churches of America and beyond. I personally want to thank Jonathan and Brad for writing this book and hope it’s the first of many to be written as a  very practical guide to help churches make and multiply disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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E-Book Review of William Lane Craig’s “Does God Exist?”

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E-Book Review By David P. Craig

Just because this e-book is short (approximately 60 pages) does not mean that it is simplistic or not weighty. This treatment by Craig packs a wallop. At the outset Craig lays out the outline or skeleton for his cogent articulation and reasoning for the existence of God thus: “A good argument must obey the rules of logic; express true premises; and have premises more plausible than their opposites.” Put simply, a good argument for the existence (or non-existence) of God must meet three conditions: (1) obey the rules of logic; (2) its premises must be true (correspond with reality); (3) have premises that are more plausible than their opposites.

Craig begins with the Cosmological argument for the existence of God in by developing the following formulation: (1) Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. (3) The universe exists. (4) Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God. He then gives philosophical and scientific evidence demonstrating that the existence of a God that is a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal Creator of the universes makes more logical sense than the plausibility of His non-existence given by atheistic philosophers and scientists.

The second argument unfolded by Craig is called the Kalam Cosmological argument and is set out in this simple formulation: (1) Everything that begins to exists has a cause. (2) The universe began to exist. (3) Therefore, the universe has a cause. Craig delves into some complicated mathematical arguments in this section to show the amazing cogency of the Kalam argument. He also gives some compelling evidences from astronomy via studies by Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin. He also appeals to the Second Law of Thermodynamics and thus concludes: “On the basis of both philosophical and scientific evidence, we have good grounds for believing that the universe began to exist. Since whatever begins to exist has a cause, it follows that the universe has a cause.”

The third argument developed by Craig is the Teleological or Fine-tuning formulation: (1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to physical necessity, chance, or design. (2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance. (3) Therefore, it is due to design. Here Craig tackles Richard Dawkins central argument from his book “The God Delusion” head on and proceeds to tackle his seven objections one at a time. Craig carefully dismantles Dawkins objections and gives a very plausible defense of the argument of design as a reasonable explanation for God’s existence.

The Moral argument is simply stated by Craig in the following manner: (1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. (2) Objective moral values and duties do exist. (3) Therefore, God exists. Craig concludes his ethical defense for God’s existence in this way: “The moral argument complements the cosmological and design arguments by telling us about the moral nature of the Creator of the universe. It gives us a personal, necessarily existent being who is not only perfectly good, but whose commands constitute our moral dues.”

Craig’s last argument is based on the classic Ontological argument as espoused by St. Anselm in the 11th century and in the modern era by the great theistic philosopher Alvin Plantinga: (1) It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists. (2) If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world. (3) It a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. (4) If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world. (5) Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world. (6) Therefore, a maximally great being exists. (7) Therefore, God exists.

Taken together the five arguments developed by Craig make a compelling case for the existence of God – especially when compared with the counter arguments atheists give in their own apologetic of plausibility for God’s non-existence. I highly recommend this clear and intellectually sound defense of the cogency of God’s existence as the best plausible argument for our own existence which brings purpose and meaning to one’s life through the culmination of God revelation in sending His Son Jesus so that through Him we can be reconciled and restored in a right relationship with Him by His grace and for His glory.

Craig concludes why the defense of God’s existence continues to such an important window to the Gospel in our day stating, “Christians who depreciate theistic arguments because ‘no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments’ are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contact. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the Gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved. As we progress further into the 21st century, I anticipate that natural theology will be an increasingly relevant and vital preparation for the reception of the Gospel by thinking people.”

 

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Book Review: Kevin DeYoung’s “Just Do Something”

Doing What God Has Revealed In The Bible

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A Book Review by David P. Craig

When I was in my teens I read a great book (still in print) called Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen and Robin Maxon. It was a watershed book for me in helping me with how to make biblically informed decisions. Over the years I’ve recommended the book to many who have have sought my counsel on the question “How can I know the will of God for my life?”. The problem with the book by Friesen and Maxon is it’s length (It was based on Friesen’s doctoral dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary). It’s a great book, but it’s length is prohibitive for many. Here’s the distinct advantage of DeYoung’s book – essentially the same principles and content – in 300 pages less!

DeYoung focuses on the facts of what God has revealed in the Scriptures so that we can best discern wisely what he wants from us. He makes a good case that God never intends for us to know “specifically” what He wants us to do (vocation), where He wants us to live, or who to marry (among many other questions we ask); however, DeYoung shows what God wants us to be like (Jesus) and how this purpose (sanctification) informs our decision-making. In the final analysis DeYoung writes: “Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God…the will of God for your life is pretty straightforward: Be holy like Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God.”

The author does a wonderful job of using practical illustrations to show how we worry, procrastinate, and flat-out sin by not doing what we know to do, as we put out fleeces, wait for signs, and pray as we wait for God’s discernment. He shows that oftentimes we are paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision or being out of God’s will, when what we really need to do is focus on what God has revealed in the Scriptures clearly that we are to do (principles, commands, and boundaries). Just Do Something is biblical, practical, theologically astute, and can be read in a few hours. I highly recommend it for any Christian of any age whose chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. This will now be my new “go-to” book when people ask me: “How can I know God’s will for my life?”

 

 

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Book Review: Heaven – From Crossway’s Theology in Community Series

A Comprehensive Biblical Look At Heaven

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Book Review By David P. Craig

Having already read Suffering and Goodness of God (2008); The Glory of God (2010); The Deity of Christ (2011); The Kingdom of God (2012); and Fallen: A Theology of Sin (2013) I was anxiously anticipating this sixth installment of the Theology in Community Series. Heaven (as all the other books in this series) did not disappoint. Each book in this series features chapters written by different theologians; pastors; and scholars that demonstrate how the particular theme is taught in history, systematically, biblically, and its practical relevance and ramifications for the modern Church.

Robert Peterson (PhD, Drew University; is Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary) opens the book up with four ancient and modern stories of how false teaching on Heaven has resulted in some cases tragically. He then examines the Noetic effects of sin on our understanding of Heaven. In closing his chapter he asks and answers seven common questions people ask concerning Heaven: (1) Will everyone go to Heaven? (2) What happens when believers die? (3) What about purgatory? (4) Will we recognize others in Heaven? (5) Will we be married and enjoy sex in Heaven? (6) Will there be sorrow in Heaven over those in Hell? (7) What kind of bodies will we have in heaven?

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN.) tackles six key texts on Heaven in the Old Testament: Genesis 28; Exodus 24; 1 Kings 22; Job 1-2; Isaiah 6; and Daniel 7. In each passage Ortlund mines exegetical, theological, and practical principles that we learn about Heaven as taught in the Old Testament. Earth and Heaven are currently very distinct, but the unfolding revelation of Heaven from the Bible as Ortlund makes clear is that Heaven and Earth will one day be transformed together into the dwelling place of God.

Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews; is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes about the language of Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The word we typically translate as “heaven” in English from the Greek is used 161 times in the Synoptics and Acts. Pennington demonstrates in his chapter that the word for Heaven conveys various ideas. He brings out the crucial aspects of how the worldview of the biblical writers and of our own day are in conflict and how we need to return to a biblical worldview in order to make sense of Heaven as a real physical and non-abstract place.

Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) approaches Paul’s teaching on Heaven in three distinct ways: (1) How Paul understands Heaven according to the Old Testament; (2) How Paul thinks about Heaven in a Systematic and meditative way; and (3) How Paul hones in on Heaven as the believer’s final, and future state prior to and as a result of Christ’s Second Coming.

Jon Laansma (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College) writes concerning how the 8 general canonical epistles (Hebrews, 1&2 Peter, James, Jude, 1-3 John) represent the distinctive perspectives on heaven by sketching out their primary concerns and contours with references to their pastoral intentions. He is very helpful in showing how the Christological elements of Heaven are tied to the practical concerns of Christians on Earth.

Andreas J. Kostenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) explores the distinctive contributions that John makes in his Gospel and the book of Revelation to helping us understand what Heaven is and what it is like.

Robert A. Peterson writes his second essay in this compilation on Pictures of Heaven that are portrayed throughout the Scriptures. Taking into consideration the story line of the Bible (creation–fall–redemption–consummation) Peterson demonstrates how the Bible is a picture book that sketches the gospel story of these four stages of the story line by using five pictures to illustrate the gospel: Heaven and Earth; Sabbath Rest; The Kingdom of God; The Presence of God; and The Glory of God. Peterson presents a masterful biblical theology of Heaven and ties it into the macro-storyline of the Gospel from Genesis to Revelation.

Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne; is Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School) writes about two themes in his essay: (1) Heaven as Understood before the Coming of Christ; and (2) Heaven as Understood since the Coming of Christ.

Stephen F. Noll (PhD, University of Manchester; is Vice Chancellor Emeritus of Uganda Christian University) gives a biblical theology of angels (good and evil) and about their relationship to God and us in Heaven as revealed in the Scriptures.

Ajith Fernando (ThM, Fuller Theological Seminary; is Teaching Director of Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka) addresses how the reality of Heaven helps Christians who are being persecuted historically and in the present. He spends the bulk of his chapter showing how the “biblical foursome” of (1) Evangelism triggers (2) persecution. (3) The presence of Christ helps us bear the persecution and gives a foretaste of heaven. (4) The Heavenly vision helps us be faithful amidst persecution. Fernando reminds us the prospect of Heaven is a great motivation to be faithful in taking up our crosses and following Christ.

David B. Calhoun (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary; is Professor Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary) closes out the book by writing about his own struggle with cancer and how suffering and pictures of the hope of Heaven are crucial when going through the hard trials and tests of life.

All of the essays in this book were biblical; theologically thought-provoking; dealt with current practical scenarios; and were gospel centered and Christ exalting. I highly recommend this book for Christians who want to learn what the Bible has to say rather than much of the subjective drivel that is being churned over Heaven in many of the popular books of our day.

*I was furnished with a copy of this book for review by the publisher and was not required to write a favorable review.

 

 

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Book Review: Greg Forster’s “Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It

Renewing Your Vision for Cultural Change

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

As a Senior Pastor one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced over the years is how to keep and shepherd a flock in holiness and influence the world without being contaminated by it at the same time. Tim Keller is a pastor who has been able to do both. Tim writes the forward to this book and his own churches vision statement is as follows: “We at Redeemer Church (Manhattan, New York) seek to build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal in New York City and the world.”

What Dr. Forster does in this book is show how this type of vision is desperately needed in the Western Church today. He shows historically how churches in Europe and America were once the primary influencers in culture and how that now they are more influenced by the culture than influencing culture. Forster’s knowledge of history and theology allows him to make penetrating insights into how Christianity has lost ground in influencing society, and yet offers hope in how to turn this paradigm around.

According to Forster the “exilic challenge of the Israelites in Babylon is the permanent state of the New Testament church. If so, we should consider the Lord’s instructions to His people during the Babylonian Exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Forster uses this passage as a stepping stone to develop the idea of “whole-life” discipleship which encompasses the walls inside and outside of our churches. He forges practical ways and examples to penetrate our communities with the gospel in the context of our families, workplace, educationally, socially, and politically.

In the final analysis Forster has written a book that is especially helpful for Christians and Churches that have become “ingrown”, “inward-focused,” “isolated,” and “self-absorbed.” He gleans principles from the Bible and the Reformation that are particularly helpful in getting the Church back on track in the balancing act that is theologically deep and practically relevant. I highly recommend this book for pastors, lay-leaders, and Christians of all stripes that seek to become ambassadors for Christ who make a difference in our communities and in our world for our joy and God’s glory.

 

 

 

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REPLANT by Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick: Book Review

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A Story of Hope For Dying Churches – Review By David P. Craig

Estimates from some church experts (e.g. Ed Stetzer) on the state of churches in America say that approximately 4,000 churches close their doors every year. This book is the story of a one time mega church in downtown Kansas City that began in the 1800’s and how it was in danger of dying in the early 2,000’s and how it was turned around into a thriving church again.

It’s a good story of how “cartel’s” work to bring about paralysis and decline in churches (lots of churches have these types of cartels) and how an interim pastor (Mark Devine – a professor at Midwestern Seminary) had the wisdom and wherewithal to weather the storm and in God’s good providence see a positive outcome for this particular church – with the help of another mega church from St.Louis led by Darrin Patrick (author of Church Planter and For The City).

The book isn’t really a handbook or manual on “how to” replant a church, so much as it is just the story of how two churches came together to save a dying a church. It is a story of God’s grace and providence in bringing together the right people at the right place at just the right time to make a big difference in Kansas City.

I think it’s a wonderful story that I hope will “play out” in different venues around the world. If there are any principles to be gleaned from the book it would be the following: (1) The importance of a shared vision among the leadership team; (2) The importance of wise and godly leaders praying fervently for their local church; (3) The importance of being flexible and willing to change as a church (not changing the gospel – but changing forms and functions for the sake of the gospel); (4) The importance of cooperating with the greater body of Christ and taking risks for the sake of Christ’s Church (that it’s something worth risking for!).

I recommend this book especially for leaders that are in churches that have plateaued or are in decline. It will give you some ideas, warnings, red flags to watch for, and will also encourage you by giving you some positive steps to glean from in the St.Louis and Kansas City connection. There is not just one way to “replant” a church, but it will encourage you to know that God loves His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. My hope is that God will use this book to motivate, encourage, and give ideas to struggling churches and that they will thrive once again for His glory and His Kingdom!

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review on Phil A. Newton’s “Elders in the Life of the Church”

Transitioning to A Biblical Model of Leadership

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

It’s been my experience that most churches are way off base in their leadership structures. In light of what the New Testament says about leadership in the churches this is difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless Phil Newton has done a great service to the 21st Century church by providing an introductory guide to developing a biblical infrastructure for churches that take being biblically based and effective seriously.

Newton divides his helpful book into three sections:

Part One is composed of answering the question: Why Churches Should have Elders. In Part Two Newton exposits  three key texts on how Elders functioned in the New Testament: Acts 20:17-31; Hebrews 13:17-19; and 1 Peter 5:1-15. In giving a thorough exposition of each passage he demonstrates how Elders are models for their congregations; how Elders and the congregation work together in harmony; and how their primary calling is to be spiritual leaders for the good of the congregation and God’s greater glory.

In my opinion the most helpful section of the book is in part three. In this section Newton shows how a leadership team can transition into a fully functioning Elder Leadership in the Church with Deacons as well. All four examples are of large Baptist churches going from a Diaconate Board to two separate functioning boards of Elders and another of Deacons.

Giving a step-by-step process Newton shares from personal experience [South Woods Baptist Church] and from the experience of other well-known ministries (Mark Dever’s [Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.], Jeff Noblit [First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama], and John Piper’s [Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.] transitions from Deacon Board structures to adding Elders into the mix). The process is slow, methodical, and takes into consideration traditions, a thorough study of biblical passages on leadership, and how the principles are studied and bandied about in teams. The process for the four cases studied is very helpful to keep in mind no matter what background your church has, and where it’s at in the transitional process.

I think this is an excellent book for leadership teams to study and for pastors, staffs, deacons, and elders to use in seeking to become as biblically effective as possible in seeking to develop a healthy infrastructure for the good of the Church and the glory of God. What I especially like about Newton’s book in particular is that he doesn’t impose any particular church government upon a church, but allows the Bible to speak for itself. He encourages a thorough study of the biblical evidence in arriving at one’s model of church government. I highly recommend this book as an extremely helpful guide in leading one toward a more biblical model of church government.

 

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