Book Review – Letters to an American Christian

It’s not polite to talk religion or politics…

…so let’s write a book on both.  Yeah…I wouldn’t have bought this book, but sometimes being a book reviewer forces me to read things I would normally run away from, which is usually a good thing.  I love to talk “religion” [note the intentional quotes], but truth be told I actually despise politics and avoid talking about it entirely. [Except in my head usually when I’m scrolling through Twitter…]  I can’t stomach the partisan rhetoric, the divorcing of a biblical world view for a political party and the overwhelming bloat and corruption that has come to be systemic.  

Now that I have that out of my system…let’s talk about this book.  Bruce Riley Ashford is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and regular contributor to religion and politics topics at places like Fox News.  The book is a series of “letters” between himself and a young Christian who is looking for guidance and perspective in how his new faith should interact with the world of politics.  This makes for a fun and enjoyable read.

Riley, as smart as he is, sees plenty of guys like me.  Christians can’t disengage from politics, as ugly as it may be sometimes.  “Our Christian faith functions as the deepest motivation for contributing for the common good of our nation…it gives [us] the courage to criticize powerful politicians, corporations, or influencers even there might be negative repercussions for doing so.” [6-7]

The world and the politics reflected in it are, undeniably, embedded into an overall God-centered worldview and a solid biblical theology.  The Bible tells us that sin is alive and well because of the rejection of God as our King.  “It should be no surprise that the realm of politics is twisted and corrupt.” [14]  I knew this was coming…I needed to hear this, and the first two chapters gave a great foundation and a great tone to begin.

I was very happy to see it doesn’t take Riley long to place a stake in the ground not only in a Biblical worldview of all things, including politics – but to also identify the most important political assembly – the church.

Yes, I reacted negatively to this at first as well, but the author defined his terms well “the church is political in the sense that it is the only divinely instituted embassy for Christ’s Kingship. And for that reason, it is the one policy assembly in which every Christian American should participate.” [31-32]

The church is a physical representation of the spiritual kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  This claim was not lost on the early Christians.  So much so that “Paul had to remind them to give proper respect to the Roman government and resist the temptation toward anarchy. If that were true of Jesus – the founder of our faith – and true of his first followers, doesn’t it make sense that God’s set-apart community today, the local church, would be similarly political?” [33]

Keeping boundaries in place is therefore very important here.  “Whereas statism is a situation in which the government exceeds its proper limits, ecclesiasticism is a circumstance in which the church oversteps its bounds.” [43]. We are not called to “take the place of government or control it.  On the other hand, governments and political leaders are not called by God to appoint pastors, baptize church meets, or interpret the Bible.” [41]. I was very happy to read this as well, in today’s world we can count on a steady stream of lane-swerving from both camps.

So…we need “Christian thinkers who will soak themselves in the biblical narrative and Christian tradition so that they will be able, reflexively and intuitively, to challenge the reigning narratives of the political, parties, and cable news networks. So they will counteract the foolishness that dominates our nations public square and the incivility the degrades our public discourse.” [54]

That might be my favorite paragraph in the whole book.    Of course, I’m totally still chicken to jump into a political discussion. To that end…the author spends the rest of the book reviewing a “Christian view on hot-button issues.”

I would commend these remaining chapters to you, as the author faces them head on with a solid biblical worldview, with a healthy balance of grace and love. I can’t say I agree with him on his perspectives and/or tone, but this is why we as Christians need to engage on politics and hot-button issues.  We need to be encouraged to think outside of our own thought patterns and be challenged on some things, and affirmed on others.

The third and final part of the book offered many helpful encouragements, I found his identification of four opportunities before us:

  1. We need to reintroduce God to the public imagination.
  2. We need to decenter ourselves in our political endeavors, God is the point.
  3. We need to reframe public issues in light of the gospel.
  4. We need to revitalize cultural institutions.  [IOW…don’t shrink back..get involved.]

I commend this book to all who are, perhaps like me, fearful to engage in political thought…it should be like all things – we do so with a solid biblical filter in place and all for the glory of God as we shine the light of the gospel to all.

Advertisements

Book Review – The Supremacy of God in Preaching

41aW95Yh5uL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_[No…I’m not reading a book a day.  I have been very lax on posting reviews, so while the wifey is out of town, I’m trying to catch up…]

Cards on the table: I’m a Piper-Head.  He was so instrumental in my coming to faith…so helpful, so powerful…I could go on.  So naturally, I absorbed The Supremacy of God in Preaching.

First written in 1990, when I had a sweet mullet and used to wear argyle socks, it was revised in 2004.  Piper comes out swinging right from the [Revised] Preface – “Preaching is worshiping God over the Word of God – the text of Scripture with explanation and exultation…this includes understanding with the mind and feeling in the heart.” [10].  You can guess how nicely that will set up a huge Piperian wordfest – and it does.

In the [Original] Preface, Piper starts by dropping “People are starving for the greatness of God.  But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure.” [13] No matter what the trouble is, this “vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach…the living out of a God-bosotted [See…I told you…] life and worldview.” [15] This sets the foundation for the rest of the book.

Piper divides the book up into two main parts – Why God Should be Supreme in Preaching and How to Make God Supreme in Preaching.

Part 1 he further sub-divides into the Goal, Ground, Gift, and Gravity of Preaching.  The goal of preaching is the glory of God.  Do people take away from our worship services, and particularly our sermons a sense of the glory of God?  He quotes Mather “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” [25]. Preachers – this is our job – proclaim the glory of the glorious God.

This isn’t possible without the ground of preaching, which is the cross of Christ.  “Preaching is the heralding of the good news by a messenger sent by God.”  This is essential, for without the cross there is no solution to the fundamental problem of how sinful humans can be reconciled to a perfect, glorious God? Quoting Sproul “Man-centered humans are amazed that God should withhold life and joy from his creatures. But the God-centered Bible is amazed that God should withhold judgment from sinners.” [34].  “It horribly skews the meaning of the cross when contemporary prophets of self-esteem say the the cross is a witness to my infinite worth, since God was willing to pay such a hight prices to get me.”  [Todd White, anyone?]. Piper writes “What should shock us is that we have brought such contempt upon the worth of God that the very death of his Son is required to vindicate that worth. The cross witnesses to the inline worth of God and the infinite outrage of sin.” [36].

The gift or preaching is none other than the power of the Holy Spirit – we are utterly dependent on it.  “Without it, nothing of abiding value will be achieved no matter how many people may admire of coney or enjoy our illustrations or learn from our doctrine.” [42]. The Spirit’s Word is the Bible – we preach the Word…all of it. [Said the Preacher who just finished preaching Hosea. Yikes!].  Piper offers a few practical steps of how to rely on the power of the HS – I admit to the Lord that without Him I can do nothing and therefore pray for help.  I trust and act in the confidence that God will fulfill His Word and then thank God when it’s over for sustaining me. [47-49]

The gravity and gladness of preaching includes both the weight of compassion for the lost, and also a genuine love for his people that leads to joy in the ministry of the Word.  Piper, being Piper, expounds on joy – “If you are indifferent to your joy in ministry, you are indifferent to an essential element of love. And if you try to abandon your joy in the ministry of the Word, you strive against God and your people.” [56!] “The gladness of preaching is biblically essential if we would love men and glorify God!” [57]  We should not go too far with this, as Piper cautions that “laughter seems to have replaced repentance as the goal of many preachers, and is seems to be the stock of many preachers that they must say something cute or clever or funny”. [59]. Absolutely.  This is always a real and present pressure and temptation.  Yet we must hold both the gravity and gladness in balance and tension.  It goes back to God’s Word and the power of the gospel – “preaching is part of God’s security power. He calls effectually by the Word and he keeps effectually by the Word.  Heaven and Hell are at stake every Sunday morning.” [62].  Since this is so vital, [and I need them to sink in] he gives a few practical steps:

  1. Strive for practical, earnest, glad-hearted holiness in every area of your life.
  2. Make your life – especially the life of your study – a life of constant communion with God in prayer.
  3. Read books that were written by men or women who bleed Bible when you prick them and who are blood-earnest about the truths they discuss.
  4. Direct your mind often to the contemplation of death.
  5. Consider the biblical teaching that as a preacher you will be judged with greater strictness.
  6. Consider the example of Jesus.
  7. Strive with all the strength you have to know God and to umber yourself under his mighty hand.

Part 2, for those of you who know Piper, will not be shocked to learn that it is grounded in the preaching and life of Jonathan Edwards. [see #3] How we make God supreme in preaching, is helped by looking at a man like Edwards – a “God-besotted preacher.”

What Edwards preached and how he preached were owing to is vision of God. [77] Two inferences follow – one that the goal of all that God does is to preserve and display his glory and that the duty of man is to delight in God’s glory. [79].  This not only included holy affections, but also a faith that is of course initially placed in Christ for salvation, but then diligently preserved.  “Preaching is a means of grace to assist the saints to persevere. Perseverance is necessary for final salvation. Therefore, every sermon is a “salvation sermon” – not just because of its aim to convert sinners, but also in its aim to persevere the holy affections of the saints and so enable them to confirm their calling and election and be saved.” [#Boom, 81]

What sort of preaching flows from all this? One that…

  1. Stirs up holy affections.
  2. Enlightens the mind.
  3. Is saturated with Scripture.
  4. Employs analogies and images.
  5. Uses threat and warning.
  6. Pleads for a response.
  7. Probes the workings of the heart.
  8. Yields to the Holy Spirit in prayer.
  9. Is broken and tenderhearted.
  10. Is intense.

“People are starving for the greatness of God. This is the heart pang of every human being. One a few know it. If only people could articulate the silent cry of their hearts! Christian preachers, more than all others, should know this truth – that people are starving for God.” [108]

Lord, may I know this in my soul and walk in this more deeply each day.  Thank you,  Preacher Piper.

Book Review – Church Elders

Church_Elders_large9Marks has always provided rock solid resources for the local church – but what makes them so helpful is that they are so accessible.  They have a knack, that reminds me a lot of Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace, to be unassuming, and “entry level” and then be able to go deep quickly and not shy away from the meat.  For this I’m very thankful.

Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne is that kind of book.

I can relate to the title of the Intro – “I’m an elder.  Now what?”  – as I’m fairly certain I said those exact words when I became a lay elder almost 10 years ago.  Now on the “other side” as a “vocational” elder, I can see the look of bewilderment on the faces of men as they step into the office.  Again, this is where a book like this is very helpful.  It will become required reading for all new elders for sure.

I believe this is the first book I’ve read by Jeramie Rinne and I found his writing to be clear, informed, and mixed with just the right amount of light-heartedness.  He writes “this book is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders.” [15] and he accomplishes that well, not only for elders, but for church members as well.  Pastorally, the more that we can highlight the biblical perspective of elders, the better our people will understand the purpose and calling of an elder.  He provides practical, yet grounded points that should serve the church well.

  1. Don’t Assume.  Just because someone “looks” like elder material, or [worse] says they ‘should be’ an elder, doesn’t mean they are Scripturally qualified. [See 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1] Do you have a true inner hunger to shepherd the local church?  Do you exemplify Godly character? Can you teach the Bible? Do you lead your family well? Are you male? Are you an established believer?
  2. Smell Like Sheep.  Rinne summarizes the elder’s job as “shepherd the flock…to be more precise, elders are under-shepherds who serve the Good Shepherd by leading his sheep.”[35] This means we have to know them…be in relationships with them.  One sentence I highlighted and underlined was this – “Eldering is more about people than programs.” Yes and AMEN.  We aren’t a board of directors…we are shepherds. Rinne, rightfully so, pushes on the mega-church = corporation model.  The pastor isn’t a CEO, he is a shepherd of people.
  3. Serve Up the Word. The words Pastor and Teacher go together. [46]. Elders need to be actually teaching the Word of God in some capacity.  Preaching, leading Bible studies, small group discussion, one on one discipleship.  We also need to be protecting all teaching from false doctrine.
  4. Track Down the Strays. We keep watch.  We count sheep.  Who is missing?  Where did they go? Did they fall thru the cracks? Specifically, we watch over the members of the church and encourage the attenders to commit to membership so they can be better cared for. There are different varieties of straying sheep:  sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep.  Elders take notice of the flock and get involved.
  5. Lead Without Lording. Elders have clear Biblical authority to direct the affairs of the local church [74], BUT that doesn’t mean we are dictators. No power trips allowed.  He gives some practical thoughts:  chose humble elders, delegate to deacons, remain accountable, honor the Word, replicate yourself, and trust the congregation.  The great paradox to keep in mind is that an elder is simultaneously a shepherd and a sheep, a leader of the flock and a follower of Jesus, an overseer of the body, yet a dependent part.  [83]
  6. Shepherd Together. Eldering is a “team sport.” We are called to a team of elders, it’s not a solo mission.  We share the load, have many gifts, we sharpen each other, and we love and enjoy each other.
  7. Model Maturity.  When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying “Here is an official church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.” [101]  This makes me gulp in fear when I read it.  Rinne provides some more context “…he isn’t the only example, he isn’t the perfect example, not the best example for every virtue…but he is a duly designated model nonetheless.”   Thus, elders, we need to watch our lives closely and make gospel progress.
  8. Plead for the Flock. Straight up – elders are called to prayer. In a techy example that resonated with the nerd that I am, Rinne writes “Try not to think of prayer and an extra activity tossed into your already overloaded schedule. Rather, think of it as the operating system on which all the of the elders apps run.”  #GOALS. We are called to pray publicly, privately, as a team of elders, and personally with the sheep.

I found this to be an excellent resource for both aspiring and established elders alike.  Let us commit ourselves to the work of shepherding the flock of God that he purchased with the blood of His Son, Jesus.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

(Acts 20:28 ESV)

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Pastor and Counseling

I’m a big fan of 9Marks and their resources.  I have found them consistently helpful and accessible.  This book, The Pastor and Counseling, is no different.  Deepak Reju [Pastor of Counseling at Capitol Hill Baptist in DC] and Jeremy Pierre [Biblical Counseling Professor at SBTS] team up to write a fantastic book.

Counseling is an unavoidable element of pastoring.  I’m profoundly grateful for a great seminary education at SBTS, and also organizations like ACBC that stress the centrality of biblical counseling. Pastors, we aren’t giving advice.  Our people are coming to us for instruction in the Word of God and the application of it to their problems.  BUT, this is not without compassion.  This book succeeds on both ends of that spectrum.

And as the Word of God centers on Jesus Chris, so then must our counseling.  Jesus Christ is the means of change. Jesus Christ is the goal of change. [18]

The book is logically divided up into three main sections:  concept, process, and context and also has a few handy appendices in the back.

Right away, the authors challenge us pastors to make sure we are not having a “pulpit-only” ministry.  Ours is a personal ministry as well.  We identify with the weakness and sin of people, speak to God on behalf of the people, and speak to people on behalf of God. [28]. We have to get involved.  Yes, it is messy.  Yes, there is drama. Yes, it will take time.  But…that’s the nature of compassionate biblical pastoring, kids.

So, where to start?  This book offers three initial goals:  Address the presenting problem, display the relevance of the gospel [it’s always relevant!], and help people grow in Christlikeness.  “The main confidence of the pastor is that if a person belongs to Christ, God has pledged himself to the task of renewing him or her.” [38]

Aaaand there it is.  Transparency time.  As a pastor who counsels, this is the elephant in the room in all biblical counseling sessions…”IF a person belongs to Christ…”  Biblical counseling doesn’t “work” unless you are a Christian. I’ve had more failed counseling cases then I’d like to admit, but all of them were because people weren’t made new in Christ or refused to submit to the authority of His Word.  This is one of the biggest challenges in pastoral ministry, how to help people who are up to their ears in the misery of sin, yet refuse to submit fully to Christ.  I was curious to see how Reju and Pierre addressed this.

But getting back to the meat of the book – how do we actually do this?  The authors answer that question with three basic steps:  You listen to the problem. You consider heart responses.  You speak the truth in love. [49]

All of this requires a relational connection grounded in mercy, love, and respect.  I appreciated how practical and honest the authors were as they explained this – sometimes that is hard when you “are dealing with folks that are shifty, egocentric, foolish, arrogant, or just plain infantile.” [61].

Once the relational connection is established, explore the concern [listen well and ask good open-ended questions]; display hope [one of your primary jobs, there is always hope in the gospel!]; and set expectations. [homework, next meetings, etc.]

In the meetings that follow – get updates, follow up on homework, continue to explore the concern, and offer redemptive remedies. This will be the bulk of the rest of your meetings, but second to “is this person a real Christian” – how we actually do this is the biggest challenge.  The authors rightly point out that it requires patience.  We can all see the behavior is wrong, but what is motivating the behavior, the inner heart workings, are not immediately known.  This takes time to draw out.  We can’t simply “tell them what their idols are and then admonish them to worship God instead.” [76]. This is the great temptation for us pastors.  Why aren’t they getting it?!  “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” [1 These 5:14]. I sincerely appreciated the authors emphasis towards the compassion we should have and felt adequately convicted.

But…there has to be balance.  This too was well covered.  “Consider the 80/20 rule.  The person you’re helping needs to be responsible to do 80 present of the work in any given counseling session, with you guiding him or her with good questions, a few Scripture texts and appropriate advice.” [86] Amen.

The authors also took this opportunity to remind the readers of a few important considerations. Primarily of which is “Is this person saved?”  Again, due to the importance of this question, I would have liked to have seen this broken out into a full chapter…or even a full book.  [Anyone?!].  We will also be called to ministry to the unbelievers, and there is a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in it for us – but there needs to be more practical application of how that relates to counseling from the word of God to someone to doesn’t submit themselves to it.  #EndSoapbox

That brings us to the final meeting.  Sooner or later, you have to figure out when to end meetings.  Counseling can either have a positive ending, or a negative one.  Hopefully, it’s obvious that the positive ending would be that real, lasting, biblical change happens. Buuuut…that’s not always the case.  Dare I say, I think it’s probably the minority due to the effects of sin.  Sometimes counseling has a negative ending.  There is no change, they aren’t interesting in actually applying the 80% effort, they don’t trust you, they need more help than you can offer [90-91]…and what wasn’t mentioned that I wish was which is probably bigger than all of them – “they really won’t submit to the authority of the Scripture because they aren’t legit Christians.”    Sadly, after a negative ending we usually never see them again…until a few months or years later when the problems didn’t actually go away and they return for help.  This leads to the final section, how do we create a culture where helping others is in the DNA?

Pastors, we are the primary shaper of the church’s culture. [104. I just actually got scared typing that.]  “The way to glorify God is to make disciples. This task should be in the departs part of a pastor’s value system.” [105 – Giant AMEN].  The authors point out a few key expectations to lay down.  Membership – does your church have a high value on biblical church membership?  Equipping – are our people being equipped by the pastors/elders for discipleship through teaching and modeling? Third, connecting.  You have to actually be with people and encourage your people to be with each other as well.

Sometimes, despite doing all of this “right” there still are times where you may need to refer out to another counselor, or even medical “professional” help.  I sincerely appreciated the authors bold stance on this, as I’ve personally walked thru a few very painful seemingly “dead end” counseling situations and can see new hope springing from a fresh counseling perspective with someone else.  The authors provide a helpful overview of this sensitive topic, but emphasize the centrality of God’s Word.  “A guy with a Bible is not enough.” [122]. Pastors/elders:  we need to actively guide any referrals and resist the temptation to just pass someone off because we are tired.

This book was extremely encouraging to a tired soul who has walked through many difficult counseling situations.  I recommend it to all pastor and elders diligently laboring in God’s church for His glory as we walk beside our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

 

 

Book Review – Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons

OK, so true story, I finished this book weeks ago, but have not posted a review.  I think what finally makes me post it is the fact that I’m nearly done with another book and I don’t want to be in the place of having to post two reviews. That would be weird.  Anyway…onward.

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons is another great resource from author Thabiti Anyabwile and 9Marks.  I received this book [among many others] in my goodie bag and it is indeed a goodie.

71qIfSbyeJL.jpgThe book, as one would expect is very well organized into three helpful sections – deacons, elders, and pastors.  Also, as one would expect, all the chapters are solidly biblically based – and by that I mean the chapter content is all based on a particular qualification for an elder or a deacon.  There are 28 total chapters but they are short and impactful.

So, when it comes to deacons, think not of high church Baptist style, but rather think of Acts 6 –

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”  (Acts 6:1–3 ESV)

Anyabwile steps thru each of these, and more deacon qualifications in a systematic and helpful manner.

Likewise, elders are clearly identified in Scripture in such passages as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Elders are called to shepherd the flock of God, but doing so knowing that “ultimately, the shepherd we need is Jesus himself.” [49]

Last, the author provides a section on pastors, which at first I found a little odd, as pastors and elders are used interchangeably in Scripture.  The qualifications for each are the same, with the grand exception of a pastor being one who is called to be an elder full time and receive his income from it.    Thabiti writes about this difference “on the one hand, a senior pastor has the same basic tasks as an assistant pastor or a lay elder.  On the other hand, the leadership demands are different. More issues stop at my desk for decision, input and direction.” [111]

One of the primary ways this is manifested is the regular preaching of God’s Word.  All elders must teach, but there is something different about the man who is called to be the primary teacher, Sunday after Sunday, of God’s Word to a particular body of believers.  This should be a weight and responsibility that drives us to our knees in humility and supplication for God to empower us to do this diligently!

With so much misunderstanding about the role of the church, flat out false teaching, and confusion about church leadership, this book is a breath of fresh air and a challenge.  This should find it’s way onto every pastor, elder, and deacon’s book shelf.

 

 

Book Review – Defining Deception

This is a bold book.  It is a personally revealing and transparent book. It is a humble and sensitive book [see the Preface – “The Heart of the Authors”]  It is a book that will make lots of people uncomfortable.  I’m sure many people are angry about this book.   It’s a book that will make many people stop and think about the music they listen to and the teachers they repost on Facebook and Twitter, and what they are actually teaching and promoting about the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit in healings, tongues, spiritual experiences, and prosperity.  [Think “Word of Faith” and “Name it Claim It…” God wants me to have a car, I just have to speak it into existence and receive it with thanksgiving. A la Osteen and Copeland…]

Therefore, this is also a colossally important book at a very important time.

option-5

I have been looking forward to reading Defining Deception, since I stumbled upon the news of it’s upcoming release on the Twitter.

As a Pastor, one of the hardest parts of my “job” is to gently, yet clearly, identify false teaching and as a result have hard conversations with people about it.  One of the worst parts of my “job” is the painful untangling of years of false teaching and helping sort through the spiritual corrosion that bad theology leaves behind in it’s wake.  It shipwrecks faith, undermines marriages and relationships, and spreads like the flu on social media.

For this reasons and more, I’m very thankful for this book.

I was also surprised by the focus of this book.  I was thinking with someone like Costi Hinn, nephew of infamously famous false teacher, Benny Hinn, that it would focus primarily on him.  Indeed some time is spent on Uncle Benny – but Costi and Wood also present a balanced, comprehensive, and historical survey of the Pentecostal and New Apostolic Reformation landscape.  To say the conclusions are terrifying would be an understatement.

Nearly 1/3 of the book is devoted to a history of Pentecostalism and it was well worth the history lesson to see the twisted theology of the forefathers of these modern movements.

However, one of the most noteworthy modern movements is Bethel Church, Bill Johnson, and their band Jesus Culture.  Now, I get it. JC is a ridiculously talented group of musicians.  Years ago, when I first heard “Your Love Never Fails,” I didn’t stop playing it for about a month.  I even did it in church at a worship night. [I simply couldn’t wait to capo my Telecaster and chug it up.] The lyrics [at that time] didn’t have any red flags.  But then I discovered the theology of the ministry at large and needless to say, I stopped listening and never lead that song again.  Yet, so many simply don’t know. Yet, I didn’t know the scope and depth of the heresy. This book will help.

The authors spend a chapter identifying legit doctrinal errors in Johnson’s teaching with [jaw-dropping] quotes from his book that fly in the face of orthodox Christianity and are in direct contradiction to the Word of God. There are too many errors to list here, but this isn’t little stuff, this is HUGE stuff.  Not squabbling over eschatology, but like the deity of Christ and the authority of Scripture over and above our experience.  As the authors so clearly put – “A regenerated life surrendered to the Holy Spirit will always point back to Scripture for faith, theology, and practice. Christianity has held this truth for 2,000 years, and no self-professed modern-day apostle or prophet should lead us away from this foundational truth.” [105]

The book closes with a very helpful appendix section with an honest and personal testimony from Costi, amongst scores of others who have had their eyes opened to the purity and power of the true Word of God centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Another appendixes include a helpful FAQ section, clear teaching on what Scripture actually says about speaking tongues, being slain in the spirit and healings.

In this current spiritual milieu with so many voices, I’m very thankful for this helpful, clear, and strong voice crying out for a return to God’s truth in His Word.  Our experiences and feelings cannot drive the bus, our hearts will lead us astray. This book defines that deception and it needs to be read. That is clearly what is happening with false teachers preoccupied with the supernatural and the experience.  May we have the courage to call it what it is in our lives, pulpits, and relationships to the glory of God.

 

 

Book Review – If You Only Knew

91Q8sZbrKwLThis book caught my eye immediately for two main reasons.  First, I thought [correctly] it was the wife of Austin Stone Worship Leader Aaron Ivey.  [Can you say “Jesus is Better“?  If you haven’t heard this song, STOP and go listen now. Seriously.  It’s OK.  We’ll wait.]

Second, it’s the author’s “unlikely, unavoidable story of becoming free.”  Many of us have a dark past and I’m no different.  I love to hear stories of redemption, and always have hopes that the gospel will outshine the darkness, especially in the re-telling of the story.  Jamie succeeds mightily at this.

If You Only Knew” [B&H, 2018], by Jamie Ivey is a refreshing, vulnerable [borderline uncomfortably so], and best of all – thoroughly gospel-grounded look into the journey of faith.   [One that doesn’t look as neat and tidy as sometimes we can represent it to be in our churchy churches.]

I’ll come clean.  I started to read this book and was filled with “meh” and thought “Oh boy.  Please don’t let this be another ‘I-used-to-be-awful-but-then-God-restored-everything-and-now-I-speak-everywhere-and-have-3M-Insta-followers’ book.”  As a Pastor, I see plenty of ‘regular’ people who actually don’t have everything restored.  Again, I am stoked to say “This is not one of those books.”

I totally get the pain and loneliness of having a sinful past and then walking into church where everyone looks so dang perfect.  I definitely remember thinking,  “If they only knew my story, they’d probably run for the door.  I’m not as perfect as they are.”  I get it. It’s the old square peg/round hole with a healthy dose of an identity that’s not rooted in Christ.  However, as Jamie writes – “When seen through the eyes of the gospel, our stories are not obstacles to our freedom; they are actually the key to unlocking it.” [9]

The author powerfully confesses how self-imposed labels can paralyze one’s spiritual and emotional health.  [“F” = Fake; “W” = Whore; “U” = Used, etc.]  Jamie writes “Not only until years later did I begin to realize that the only one obsessively focused on all these letters was me…and those letters don’t match up with God’s letters”  [27/29].  She boldly and very transparently chronicles, possibly sometimes with a little too much detail, a deep past of sexual sin and the wreckage and heartache it caused.  All the while, trying to fit in this God that she was taught about all her life.

I can also throughly relate to this – the challenges of growing up in church, especially in the theologically light 80s and 90s [flannel graphs, Christian rock and “True Love Waits” need I say more?] and yet not truly understanding the gospel.  “Knowing where to find the Sermon on the Mount and truly believing what Jesus meant when He said it are two vastly different things. Spending time at church and living like you are the church are not the same.” [47]

All sin is at it’s root is a decision to please self rather than please God.  Whatever we are thinking we need to please self – sex, substances, attention from others, fill in the blank.  The author also doesn’t let us off the hook.  In this social media fueled world, we crave attention and glory.  Addressing this and hitting a book theme, Jamie writes “But I know deep down where my desire comes from.  It’s from wanting to be truly known and loved for exactly who I am. And that’s something I’ve discovered can only come from God.” [66]

This is the role of the church, to clearly point people to the love of God in Jesus Christ and  boldly stand on His Word.  Jamie exhorts us to continually make the church where people don’t “feel unwelcome to be real.” [81]

Our churches have to be this place, I completely agree and my people will tell you I say “It’s OK to not be OK…we just can’t stay there…” [thanks Chandler] many weeks from the pulpit.  A faithful, biblical church is where people should see the blood soaked cross, standing center stage, proclaiming we all need a Savior, and in fact he pursues us in his overwhelming love and grace.

This is what turned Jamie Ivey around.  God pursuing her.  Indeed I can relate to this as well and I’m sure many can.  God’s love comes after us and in the author’s word “leads us to a point of unavoidable vulnerability that felt more crippling to me that anything I’d ever been through before.” [88]  Amen.

This relationship with a God who pursues us isn’t neat and tidy.  It’s full of fits and starts in the beginning.  We “stumble [our] way toward trusting Him.” [117]. I felt conviction in my heart as Jamie told her story of failure AFTER surrendering to Christ and becoming new.  It’s such a vulnerable time, all the appetites of our old, newly dead self all up in the mix.  It caused me to think about new Christians, new church members, and how much they need our support, biblical friendship and grace.  Just because someone makes a really dumb decision, doesn’t mean they aren’t saved.  We are all capable of great sin. May God cause us to persevere.

What I learned from this book was that grace is needed, because this is a long haul.   It’s not an instantaneous thing.  Jamie writes that this took her years to get [156].  Even in all that, my self-righteous wondering “How common is this to take years to get it?” This be a disconnect on account of me being male.  Upon checking with my lovely wife, she verified that indeed my man-ness may be revealing itself in a lack of grace.  It does take years, especially with extensive sexual sin and especially for women.  This is why it’s all the more critical to keep preaching the gospel of Jesus, for only in that is true hope of healing and renewal.

I thoroughly appreciated the way Jamie opened up a gospel fire hose in the closing chapters of this book and went deep dive.  She carefully, and biblically, and passionately preaches the life giving gospel in this book and it was what I was hoping for.

Make no mistake, sin is profoundly destructive.  Jamie, at great personal risk, tells us that clearly from her story.  But what I really like about this book is that as great as the damage of sin may be, Jesus truly is far greater in his ability to save and renew.  Let’s help each other stop looking so long at our sin and look at our Savior.