Book Review: Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One: Revelation, Scripture, and the Triune God edited by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel

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Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One  edited by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel  More Info on Amazon.com  My Rating: 5 Stars

Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One

edited by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel

More Info on Amazon.com

My Rating: 5 Stars

Accessible Study of Christian Theology for All – Even Those Who Don’t Think They Need It!

This work has so much to commend. In a sentence, this is popular-level theology at its best! What the authors hope to accomplish, they deliver. In their introduction, the authors Drs. Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel, who are Dallas Theological Seminary professors, promise the following:

Exploring Christian Theology will offer introductions, overviews, and reviews of key orthodox, protestant, evangelical tenents without belaboring details or broiling up debates. The three ECT volumes [this one is volume 1], compact but substantial, provide accessible and convenient summaries of major themes; they’re intended as guidebooks for a church that, overall, is starving for the very doctrine it has too long avoided” (page 9).

Along with these, this book features important biblical texts, helpful charts and diagrams, boxes of Bible verses to memorize written out, recommended books for further study along with their accessibility (beginner, intermediate, advanced), history of the main teachings, summaries of key ideas, a glossary of unusual and significant terms, practical implications, and more.

Think that doctrine and theology are irrelevant? Or that all you want is Jesus, not religion? Consider these words from the book:

“Have you ever talked with people, maybe even other Christians, who think theology doesn’t matter? ‘I want Christ, not Christianity!’ they might say. ‘Don’t give me doctrine, just give me Jesus.’ Yet no matter how right such sentiments might feel, they ultimately ring hollow, for the question arises, which Jesus do these people want? … The Jesus of Mormonism? Of Islam? Of Buddhism? Of rugged American individualism? … What distinguishes the actual Jesus from all counterfeits is that … He is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16). This truth is undeniably doctrinal, unmistakably theological. Not all supposed ‘Jesuses’ are equal…. To have a fruitful Christian life, we need an accurate Christian faith” (page 31).

These authors do a great service to the Church by providing solid meals that are aimed to feed God’s people and help them have fruitful Christian lives, motivated by right doctrine that leads to practical Christian living.

An example of a helpful summary box is below. These are dangers to avoid when studying the doctrines of Revelation and Scripture:

Seven Dangers to Avoid
1. Unnecessary Elective Surgery
2. Watered-Down Wine
3. Hearing Without Hearing
4. Cold, Dead Orthodoxy
5. Arrogant Reading
6. Doctrine-less Discipleship
7. Christian Pole-Sitting” (page 85).

The authors do a good job of explaining what each of these seven dangers are (with real-life examples) and how to practically avoid them. Clear, everyday language pervades this book, making it accessible to any Christian and many nonbelievers.

One additional feature that is worth mentioning is the chapter towards the beginning entitled “The Christian Story in Four Acts.” Picturing the Bible ‘s overall story as like a theatrical production, this is a helpful 10 page summary of the four main acts (think of a play) in Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

If you or your small group are looking for an enjoyable, faithful, and practical guide to the doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), then Exploring Christian Theology, Volume One is for you!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1) by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

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The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1)
by Jerry Jenkins & Tim LaHaye
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 4 Stars

Whether or Not Some Will Be “Left Behind” Someday, Live in Light of Christ’s Soon Return

When I was a teenager I did a fair amount of reading. I enjoyed fantasy and science fiction and when it came to novels rarely did I go beyond these two genres. Series such as Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and the like were ones I devoured. One of the few series (maybe the only one) that I read in its entirety was Left Behind: The Kids. Written for ages 10-14, this series of 40 books (based on the adult series with the same name) follows the adventures of four teenagers—Judd, Vicki, Lionel, and Ryan—who are “left behind” following the rapture as they seek to live for God during the seven-year tribulation period as the end draws near.

Left behind? Rapture? Seven-year tribulation period? These terms may be new to you, or perhaps you’ve heard them before in church but aren’t quite sure what they mean. All of them refer to a specific interpretation of the end times as spoken about in the book of Revelation. As told in the novel, here is a good description of what is meant by the term “rapture”:

As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. “Someday,” he said, “Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won’t that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?” (8-9)

The idea is that one day Christ will return for His bride, the Church, and secretly snatch them from the earth to be with Him in Heaven during a seven-year period of unprecedented tribulation that will occur on the earth as God pours out His wrath. This book (along with the rest in the series) portrays what life might be like for those “left behind,” a term referring to folks who thought they were Christians and who realize once the rapture happens that they were fakers all along.

As far as fiction goes, this book and the rest in the series are well-written. They are engaging and the authors do a good job of developing the four main characters and weaving their lives together as they fight for survival in earth’s last days. The issue I have is whether the whole notion of a secret rapture is biblical. And then, of course, there’s the speculatory nature of how such a rapture might occur. To begin with, I am not convinced that a secret rapture is mentioned anywhere in Scripture, not even in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. I encourage you to look up those verses and try to imagine how Paul could have been more clear that this was a public and loud event that all or most would see. After all, he describes that the event will include “a cry of command,” “the voice of the archangel,” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.” I’m not sure how he could have been clearer. My main point here is not a detailed refutation of the pre-tribulation rapture scheme, but to get you, my reader, to honestly consider the underlying assumptions that are inherent in the view.

Furthermore, I find it interesting how the rapture is portrayed on a global scale. A few quotes from the book describe it well:

A nurse vanished as a woman was about to give birth, and the baby disappeared before it was born. A groom disappeared as he was putting his bride’s ring on her finger. Pallbearers at a funeral disappeared while carrying a casket, which fell and popped open, revealing that the corpse had vanished too (89).

Over the backs of the seats ahead of him he saw blankets, pillows, and full sets of clothes. Glasses, jewelry, even a man’s wig lay on his seat (84).

every single little child on the plane had disappeared (88)

mass disappearances that occurred in every country at approximately midnight, Eastern Standard Time (97)

I give Jenkins and LaHaye credit for imaginatively coming up with—in a compelling way—how the world might be affected one day by a rapture (at 12:00am EST, no less), but I’m not sure that this sort of fanciful thinking is particularly helpful for the Church. It’s no surprise to me, at least, that hardly anyone outside of North America holds to this view of the end times.

Regardless of whether there will be someday a rapture akin to what is described in this novel, all readers can take from this book the importance of being ready for when God will wrap up all of history. Whether His church is secretly taken away to be with Him in Heaven for seven years or instead meets Him in the air to welcome His return to wage war on the earth and also rule with Him, we should all be reminded to live in light of His soon return.

 

Update: For a concise summary of biblical reasons for why Christians won’t be raptured before the tribulation, go here.

Book Review: What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith by David Jeremiah

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What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears With Faith
by David Jeremiah
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 4 Stars

Overcoming Fears with Faith in the Goodness and Power of God

I have to admit it—often when I read a nonfiction book I am hoping for fresh insights and fresh perspectives. I want to learn something new, or at least hear something in a new way that strikes me. As I began reading David Jeremiah’s What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith, this was my desire. While I found fresh material throughout—especially three of his chapters—the rest sounded like what I’ve heard before. Don’t get me wrong. There was little I disagreed with. It’s just that most of the book wasn’t exceptional. It was standard fare—things I have heard numerous times from numerous speakers. This isn’t all bad, for there is a place for reminders (cf. 2 Peter 1:12). I just prefer my reminders stated in fresh ways, I guess.

For a sampling of which fears Jeremiah addresses, go ahead and peruse the table of contents:

  1. Disaster: The Fear of Natural Calamity
  2. Disease: The Fear of Serious Illness
  3. Debt: The Fear of Financial Collapse
  4. Defeat: The Fear of Failure
  5. Disconnection: The Fear of Being Alone
  6. Disapproval: The Fear of Rejection
  7. Danger: The Fear of Sudden Trouble
  8. Depression: The Fear of Mental Breakdown
  9. Death: The Fear of Dying
  10. Deity: The Fear of God

As can be seen, Jeremiah addresses a wide range of fears. I think it’s fairly safe to say that all of us have feared at least something on this list, so for that reason alone, this book would be worth looking at. Honestly, while much of the book is ordinary as I mentioned above, the one chapter worth reading is the very first. In fact, it alone is worth the price of the book in my opinion. It is a great summary of the fear of natural calamities stated in ways that are fresh and engaging. Here’s an example:

Those who define God solely by the evil He allows overlook the flip side of their complaint. Yes, there is evil in the world, but there is also an enormous amount of good. If God is not good, as they claim, how do they account for all the good we experience? Is it fair to judge Him for the evil and not credit Him with the good? […] In a world that contains tragedies, we must realize that they’re vastly outnumbered by blessings (16).

Here’s another familiar reminder that’s worth hearing again:

The one way to walk boldly and confidently into an unknown future is to stake everything on the power and goodness and faithfulness of God (xiii-xiv).

Maybe I’m being too hard and unfair on Jeremiah in calling most of his book “familiar” and “standard fare.” I just don’t find his writing all that more engaging than most. Therefore, I give this book 4 stars because of solid content, yet not 5 because of its average delivery.

Book Review: What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me? by David Platt

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What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me? by David Platt More Info on Amazon.com  My Rating: 5 Stars

What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me?
by David Platt
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 5 Stars

Following Jesus is More Than a One-Time Decision

Churches are filled with people who seem content to have casual association with Christ and give nominal adherence to Christianity. Scores of men, women, and children have been told that becoming a follower of Jesus simply involves acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words. But this is not true. Disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, and John show us that the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it is a summons to lose our lives (p. 23)

It is possible to have a prayed a prayer to receive Christ with as much sincerity as you could muster and still not be a Christian. Following Jesus entails far more than repeating a short prayer. As David Platt makes clear in his booklet What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me?, there is a cost in following Jesus that is born out in one’s life. When we come to Jesus in saving repentance and faith, our thoughts, feelings, and actions are decisively changed by Him.

As we trust in Christ, he transforms our tastes in such a way that we begin to love the things of God that we once hated, and we begin to hate the things of this world that we once loved (p. 30).

Platt is concerned by the stories of so many folks who have prayed a prayer and then went on to live as if nothing had changed. The reality is, maybe nothing did change! The evidence that one has truly come to Christ is found in how one lives, thinks, and feels.

Platt is careful not to say that salvation is based on the changes in our lives. We are saved by faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone—in fact, no amount of works on our behalf can earn salvation in any sense. Faith trusts in what Christ has accomplished for us. We cannot save ourselves, and Christians know this.

Salvation happens apart from our works, but it always leads to works. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we will bear fruit. Not perfectly, but really bearing fruit. And ultimately, we want to bear fruit! In coming to Jesus, we taste and see that He is good and we begin to desire Him above all else! Our affections are decisively changed.

We discover that Jesus is the supreme source of satisfaction, and we want nothing apart from him. We realize that he is better than all the pleasures, pursuits, plaudits, and possessions of this world combined (p. 29).

All who profess to be Christians need to know these truths. Some may learn them, realize they were never saved, and truly turn to Christ for the first time. To God be the glory!

Platt’s booklet is a great reminder and summary of all of these truths. Therefore, I recommend this resource as very helpful for evangelism and discipleship to aid folks in understanding that following Jesus involves one’s whole being. In fact, this is one of the best, shorter resources I know of for such a purpose!

A couple more great quotes:

Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adap tation, innovation , or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives , our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live (p. 26-27).

Jesus did not claim to be one dish on the buffet line of spirituality from which we can pick and choose the elements that best suit our taste. And if his claims are true, then his call demands everything, and we have no other choice—like those fishermen before us—but to drop everything and follow him (p. vii).

Book Review: A Shred of Evidence by Kathy Herman

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More Info on Amazon.comRating: 5 Stars

A Shred of Evidence
by Kathy Herman

More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 5 Stars

A Gripping Story Illustrating the Effects of Gossip and the Impact of Trusting in God Amidst Tragedy

Truly a page turner, Kathy Herman’s fictional book A Shred of Evidence does not disappoint readers as she carefully tells the story of the explosion of gossip in small town Seaport. Throughout the novel, Herman continues to develop her characters with many complexities and reveals more and more of their hearts, motives, and how seemingly small conversations can have big, lasting impact. I could not put this down and I read it over the course of two days (a rarity for me). One of the strongest points of this book is that it does not merely entertain, but it gets you to really think about the consequences of gossip and how faith in God can really change things for the better. Stating that gossip is harmful is one thing, but showing what it can do through down-to-earth characters in a gripping story is quite another. This would be a great book to read with a group to discuss. I highly recommend this novel to anyone wanting an enjoyable read who doesn’t mind learning some valuable lessons along the way.

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