Book Review: “How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens” by Michael Williams

How All The Books of The Bible Point to Jesus

I have been waiting for a book like this to be written for a long time. In 1999 in a Doctor of Ministry course at Westminster Theological Seminary I was convicted and convinced that all Bible study, teaching, counseling, discipleship, and preaching must be done with Christ at the center of it all, if it’s to be deemed “Christian.” Jesus Himself said, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them the things concerning himself” in Luke 24:27 on the road to Emmaus. Ever since that time I have sought to read resources that would help me understand and interpret the Scriptures in light of the fact that all of the Scriptures – according to Jesus – are about Him. Yet, the mind-blowing thing to me is how few preachers and Bible teachers ever even get to Christ – unless he is a “tag on” at the end of a lesson or sermon (if that).

I am really excited about this book. Michael Williams has written an easy to read guide that is focused on how to read the Scriptures with a focus on Jesus. In 62 short chapters (about 4-6 pages per chapter) Williams covers the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In each chapter there is an introduction to all the Scriptures showing the historical redemptive development that leads us to Jesus. He then gives a short theme for each book. Each chapter has a Scripture memory passage, followed by “the Jesus lens” section, and then contemporary implications from the book discussed, and “hook questions.”

The back of the book has a helpful series of charts containing five sections of each book of the Bible with a title for each book, the theme, the Christ-focus of the book, the implications, and the key questions that “hook” you. I am going to make it one of my goals to memorize the charts, along with the memory verses for each book of the Bible by putting them on flash cards. I will be consulting this book regularly and can already say with almost absolute certainty that this will be in my top ten for 2012 (of the 150 books I will read and review this year).

Thank you Michael Williams for your gift to everyone who has been waiting for a book like this: a book that answers what the key theme of each book of the Bible is; a book that shows how all of the Scriptures point to Jesus; and a book that gives us the practical implications of Jesus at the center of the Bible and our very lives. I hope that this book will launch a plethora of books in this genre that help lovers of Christ see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and passionately worship and declare Him so much more from the Scriptures than is currently practiced.

*Michael James Williams in his own words: “After my conversion in the U. S. Navy (in a submarine beneath the North Atlantic!), I entered Columbia Bible College, where I received a B.A. (1985). This was followed by an M.A. in Religion at Westminster Theological Seminary (1987) and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (1999). In 2000, I was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, and since 1995 have been teaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. I have also taught courses at Westminster Theological Seminary, the University of Pennsylvania, and brief stints in Limuru, Kenya; Donetsk, Ukraine; and Warsaw, Poland. In addition to articles on Old Testament topics in various reference works and academic journals, and contributing to and editing “Mishneh Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Environment in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay” (2009); I have authored “Deception in Genesis: A Comprehensive Analysis of a Unique Biblical Phenomenon” (2001); “The Prophet and His Message: Reading Old Testament Prophecy Today” (2003); and, most recently, “How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture” (2012). My amazing wife, Dawn, and I enjoy hiking and all things outdoors.”

Book Review: Passages – How Reading the Bible In A Year Will Change Everything by Brian Hardin

Tremendous Motivations For Reading Your Bible Daily

 In Brian Hardin’s own words from his blog on the writing of this book, “In researching the book I discovered that 93% of professing Christians don’t have a daily relationship with the Bible.  I found that a majority of people find the Bible hard to understand.  And yet with these facts comes the startling reality that more than 200 million people in the United States alone would affirm that they believe the Bible is the Word of God and that it is the truth.  It’s an ironic disconnect that believers in Jesus think the Bible is true and contains the path to life but don’t actually learn that path by becoming intimate with Scripture.  This book was written to create a context for that path.  I wrote it to explain that the Bible is not a manual or rule book to live up to, rather, it’s a story….our story.  We can find ourselves in it’s passages.  It’s not a book of exceptions, rather, it’s a book of examples and we are invited as Walt Whitman so eloquently put it to, “contribute a verse.”

I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s fascinating to read this book and hear from Brian how he was led by the Holy Spirit to begin the Daily Audio Bible on the Internet and hear his own testimony of how reading the Bible daily has radically changed his life and the lives of millions of others around the world for the better.

If you have never read the Bible before this book will give you much added motivation for making this very enjoyable discipline a habit for life. The book contains many personal testimonies of people whose lives have been changed for the better that will inspire you to read and listen to God’s Word daily. The book also contains many resources on the Internet to help you begin the exciting journey of Bible reading. In the back of the book there are three reading plans to help you get started.

As a Pastor and Life Coach there is nothing that I can recommend more to help you in your life than to read the Bible and apply it daily. I agree and pray for you what Brian writes and prays at the end of the book, “The Bible is about becoming more like Christ. It constantly invites us to submit ourselves in obedience not to make us miserable but to change us from the inside out…May you find life in God’s Word, my friend, and may true life find you. May he make his face to shine upon you and keep you. May he lift up his countenance on you and give you peace. May the strength of God go with you. May the wisdom of God instruct you. May the hand of God protect you. May the Word of God direct you. May you be sealed in Christ this day and forevermore. Amen.”

Book Review: For Calvinism by Michael Horton

A Balanced and Cogent Defense of the Doctrines of Grace

Michael Horton according to Roger E. Olson (the author of “Against Calvinism”) in the forward of this book writes, “Anyone interested in reading the best case possible for Calvinism must read this book. It is informative, engaging, clear, and self-critical.”

I would like to use Olson’s own adjectives to give 4 reasons why Arminians, Calvinists, or the undecided should take the time to carefully read this book.

1)    It is Informative – the author takes the time to clearly articulate the historical developments preceding the debates before the Reformation, and the resulting consequences leading to our very day. He concisely and cogently defines, describes, and exegetes the key figures, movements, and factors that brought about the distinct views that have come to be known (for better or worse) as Calvinism and Arminianism. The author does a fantastic of job of synthesizing the historical, philosophical, and biblical exegetical elements that make up what we call Calvinism today. Incidentally, Horton makes a great case for why we should call Calvinism the “doctrines of grace” and how this is really what the Bible, Calvin, and many reformers before and after him would prefer – because it isn’t about articulating one man’s “system,” but more about what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation regarding God, man, sin, salvation, and consummation. There is more to Calvinism than the acrostic Tulip.

2)    It is engaging – from tackling misconceptions and misperceptions, Horton pulls the reader into the controversy, but does a fantastic job of disseminating the truth and dispelling the falsehoods of both Calvinism and Arminianism. He has great integrity in seeking to focus on the best of Calvinism and the best of Arminianism and then honing in one what the Bible has to say about the crucial doctrines and how they are interpreted in both camps. I love how Horton develops what he says early on in the book, “It has become a habit to speak of ‘the Reformed faith,’ but properly speaking there is no such thing. There is only the Christian faith, which is founded on the teaching of the prophets, and apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. It is better, then, to speak of the Reformed Confession of the Christian Faith.” In other words, Horton is seeking to articulate what the Bible teaches – the Christian faith – what all Christians believe – because it is merely the “faith delivered once and for all to the saints.” He is more concerned about Christians having a biblical theology, than merely adhering to a system of theology.

3)    It is clear – Horton deals with an incredibly wide expanse of material and synthesizes it all with great theological insight, exegetical precision, and practical wisdom. One of the most outstanding features of the book is when he writes about the missional impact that true Calvinists have made and are making because of their understanding of, and desire to obey the great commission.

4)    It is self-critical – Especially in the last chapter of the book Horton dissects the strengths and weaknesses of Calvinism throughout history and today. He is humble, honest, bold, and courageous in his personal and corporate diagnosis of modern Calvinism, and in rebuking and exhorting all believers to be balanced in their love of God, truth, other believers, and the lost.

I highly recommend this book in that it will do several things: it will help you understand theology better, it’s historical development, and it will help you to be a more careful interpreter of the Scriptures. I believe that it will be used to help Arminians, Calvinists, and the undecided to be careful students of the Word, of church history, and to be gracious toward one another in their pursuit of the truth as revealed in the Scriptures. It will help you to wrestle with doctrine and make you better equipped to know what you believe and why you believe it. It will help you to appreciate your salvation even more because of the heights and depths of a Holy God that has sought us, and bought us, with His redeeming blood. It will encourage you to share the good news with passionate precision of a Savior who has come to seek and to save the lost.

Book Review – Forever: Why You Can’t Live Without It by Paul David Tripp

Typical Tripp – Christ-Centered, Biblical, and Immensely Practical

If you have ever asked yourself questions like: Why is it so hard to find satisfaction? Why is it so hard to find a good relationship? Why do I keep getting myself more and more into deeper debt? Why does it seem like life keeps getting more difficult? Why am I suffering so much? And many other questions like these – than this is a fantastic book for you.

Paul Tripp writes with theological acumen, numerous biblical examples, brilliant illustrations, and practical insights in showing how we were made for eternity and that we need to factor in our lives the fall and the future in order to live in the now. Our current life is simply preparation for our ultimate destination. He shows how we typically view current realities without an eternal perspective and how devastating these consequences are and then shows on the flip side how we were designed to live with Christ at the center of all of life and how living with a forever mindset has gracious overtones leading to great peace and joy.

Tripp delineates specifically how having an eternal mindset makes a substantial difference in our lives in our relationship to God, those closest to us, at work, in our priorities, etc.

I highly recommend this book as “must” reading and an excellent choice to give as a gift to those who are disillusioned, deceived, discouraged, and without hope in this life. The gospel is clearly articulated here over and over in masterful brilliance shows how Christ is our only satisfaction in the now and how all our dreams will be satisfied in eternity through a personal relationship with Him.

Book Review: Four Views On The Spectrum of Evangelicalism – Edited by David Naselli and Collin Hansen

A Scintillating Dialogue on Evangelicalism Historically and in the Present

I love the format of the “Views” books in that they allow the reader to wrestle with and think about crucial issues that oftentimes divide Christians. Instead of having the bias of one author – you get to see an offensive and defensive articulation of each view and weigh the evidence based on the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence given by each author. This new offering in the “Views” series particularly addresses important aspects that unite and divide “evangelicals.” An evangelical is someone who holds to the “good news” as declared from the Scriptures. However, what is the good news? What are the uniting factors of the good news? And what are the boundaries required in disseminating the message, and uniting around the good news in order to penetrate society with the gospel?

The reason this book and the issues are so important is that what is at stake in all of this discussion is the heart of the gospel, and if there is no agreement on the gospel than unity is ultimately a vain pursuit, and the power of the gospel is squelched in isolated enclaves, rather than in a unified front.

In this book the panel of experts specifically focus on three areas in evaluating the spectrum of evangelicalism:

1) They evaluate their views on Christian cooperation with respect to Evangelicals and Catholics in evaluating the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement led by Charles Colson and the late John Neuhaus, which began in the 1990’s. Also, they address the more recent Manhattan Declaration in order to bring more clarity to cooperation among social and theological concerns.

2) They evaluate doctrinal boundaries – what are the “essentials” that make one a doctrinally sound evangelical – specifically with reference to the recent debates over “open” theism (does God know the future).

3) They explain their specific views on key issues related to the atonement with specific reference what it means that Christ took on God’s wrath meant for sinners.

The Four Distinct Views Presented Are:

View #1: Fundamentalism – Kevin T. Bauder (Research Professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis)

View #2: Confessional Evangelicalism – R. Albert Mohler Jr. (President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville)

View #3: Generic Evangelicalism – John G. Stackhouse Jr. (Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada)

View #4: Postconservative Evangelicalism – Roger E. Olson (Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University)

After each writer presents his view there is a response from each of the others with insightful commentary on the others’ views. I found this book to be historically enriching, doctrinally thought provoking, and challenging in its ecclesiological and sociological implications. I hope this book will summon a wide reading and will help balance the thinking, behavior, and unity of all who care about being an evangelical – and more importantly getting the gospel right so that we may speak it and live it boldly in a world that desperately needs to know Jesus and what it means to be a part of His body on earth.

Book Review – For The City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel By Darrin Patrick & Matt Carter

How The Gospel Impacts and Transforms Culture for Christ

Darrin Patrick (Pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, MO) and Matt Carter (Pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Texas) both tell the stories of their calling to plant churches – specifically in the city. The two pastors’ inspire existing churches to think through how we proclaim and live out the gospel, and extend a call to the masses to influence our cities with and for the gospel.

I love Carter’s description of his “church model” taken largely from His reflections on reading about Charles Spurgeon’s amazingly effective ministry in London, England in the mid-1800’s:

“Imagine an urban church so influenced by the power of the gospel that it seized every opportunity to proclaim and live out the gospel for the good of the city. Imagine that this church physically and spiritually served the poorest of the poor, but also lovingly rebuked the wealthy. Imagine this church as the epicenter of straight-up, God-fearing, Spirit-filled, revival, leading thousands of people to eternal life in Christ in just a few years. Imagine a church that built elderly housing, housed all the orphans in the city, and taught wealthy business people to have a ‘double bottom line’ so they could run a profitable business in order to support the work of the church and meet the needs of the city. In other words, imagine a church that boldly preached the gospel and lived out the values of the kingdom. Don’t you want to be a part of a church like that?”

My answer is “yes” I do! Along the way the authors show what a gospel centered ministry looks like from their perspectives of planting and pasturing in Mid America and in the South. The subjects they address are how the gospel relates to contextualization, building community, serving in the city, equipping the saints, suffering, and sharing their weaknesses, failures, and by God’s grace – their successes too.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding and application of the gospel and how to penetrate the culture with the gospel through the ministry of the local church.

Book Review: Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation by Kenneth Boa

Excellent Resource to Help You in Your Pursuit of Becoming More LIke Jesus

 According to the apostle Paul the goal of the Christian life is that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).” I have used this book several times now in classes at my church on developing in the spiritual disciplines in the context of community. This book has it all – good theology; historical theology; and excellent study questions and applications throughout. I have used this book along with Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Allison’s Historical Theology, and Ogden’s books on discipleship to try to balance the mentoring and discipleship process of making theologically culturally penetrating disciples of Christ.

Kenneth Boa’s prayer in is that a result of reading this book you will:

–    develop a greater appreciation for the unique way God has made you;

–    become aware of a wider array of options for your spiritual journey;

–    get out of a possible spiritual rut;

–    desire to experiment with other facets of the faith

–    appreciate the manifold legacy that has been bequeathed to us by those who have gone before us;

–    expand your horizons and be encouraged to move out of your comfort zone

–    have instilled in you a greater passion for Christ and a greater desire to participate in his loving purposes for your life.

Does Boa succeed in the above? A resounding “yes.” I have used this book one on one; in small groups of 7-14 people; and larger groups of 20-40 people. In every case the book has proven to be effective in helping all involved to grow in Christ like qualities, and behavior. Boa has masterfully written a very practical theology of the spiritual disciplines by comparing these disciplines to facets of the gem that we are ultimately becoming in Christ:

Facet #1 – Relational Spirituality: Loving God Completely, Ourselves Correctly, and Others Compassionately.

Facet#2 – Paradigm Spirituality: Cultivating an Eternal versus a Temporal Perspective

Facet #3 – Disciplined Spirituality: Engaging in the Historical Disciplines

Facet #4 – Exchanged Life Spirituality: Grasping Our True Identity in Christ

Facet #5 – Motivated Spirituality: A Set of Biblical Incentives

Facet #6 – Devotional Spirituality: Falling in Love with God

Facet #7 – Holistic Spirituality: Every Component of Life under the Lordship of Christ

Facet #8 – Process Spirituality: Process versus Product, Being versus Doing

Facet #9 – Spirit-Filled Spirituality: Walking in the Power of the Spirit

Facet #10 – Warfare Spirituality: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Facet #11 – Nurturing Spirituality: A Lifestyle of Evangelism and Discipleship

Facet #12 – Corporate Spirituality: Encouragement, Accountability, and Worship

This book is written as a textbook – it is well organized with outlines, introductions, charts, and each chapter closes with questions for discussion and personal application. I think it is one of the most helpful books out there in bridging the typical gaps between books that consider the multi-dimensional aspects of what it means to be human and made and conformed to the image of Christ. Boa weaves biblical theology, human personalities, psychology, etc., to help us see our blind spots and how we can keep chiseling away at what is not like Christ, so we can become the multi-faceted gems that God is working in us to become – through His working and our responsibly working to become like Jesus (Eph. 2:10 and Philippians 2:12-13). I Highly recommend this book – it’s definitely a resource you will use for the rest of your life – individually and corporately.

Book Review: Honest to God by Bill Hybels

Great Guide for Head, Heart and Hands Christianity

One of the things I have been convinced of about Christianity for a long time is that people have strengths primarily in either their intellect, or are action oriented, but few are able to balance their Christian lives in the area of their mind, emotions, and activity for the sake of Christ.

I read this book over twenty years ago, and re-read it again in my forties – and after being a pastor and life-coach for the past twenty plus years – I still think this is the best introduction to living a balanced Christian life available. I think the reason Bill Hybels will finish well (and we can finish well) is because of the responsibility he takes in seriously working out (not “for” – Philippians 2:12-13) his salvation with the help of the Holy Spirit by God’s grace. In this book Bill Hybels gives the practical ways that he, and we can balance our lives through various spiritual disciplines.

Bill Hybels gets a lot of flack from a lot of people in the Christian community for a lot of reasons (I think mainly, because a lot of pastors are jealous of him) – but I think he has proven over many years of ministry that he is teachable, and humble, and by God’s grace will finish well.

In this book Hybels gives practical ways to balance the head, heart, and hands aspects of living out the Christian life. I think the most helpful chapters are:

Chapter 2 – He talks about how to pray, journal, and evaluate your life in the light of God’s Word strategically and intentionally.

Chapter 8 – On how to deal biblically and authentically with the emotions – the heart.

Chapter 13 – In this chapter Hybels writes about the importance of keeping physically fit and how the body is God’s temple.

My only regret (at the writing of this review, June 2011) is that this book is out of print. I sure hope and pray that it will be revised in the near future, so other believers can learn how to practically balance their head, heart, and hands for the glory of God.

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