Monday, June 29, 2015

Rainer calls us to say, "I will..." rather than "I want..."

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, wants to see Christians take an active role in their churches. There are two words we are all too quick to say in church: “I want…” We easily grow dissatisfied when we’re focused on ourselves. Rainer believes that an outward focus will leave us saying something different: “I will…”

I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian is a follow up to Rainer’s 2013 bestseller I am a Church Member. Here he calls believers to echo the attitude of Christ, putting others first before their own wants. It’s a call to regularly attend and participate in the life of a local church, connecting with other believers in small groups and giving joyfully and abundantly to support the work of the church. It’s a challenge to pray and to step out in faith to witness to others and see how God can use us to be a blessing to our church rather than only looking to receive a blessing ourselves.

These are not new ideas. These traits have been covered in other books at other times by other authors. But books like I Will are necessary reminders of how we are to be involved in the local church and the attitude we must have to be healthy and productive members of the body.

The audiobook is narrated by George Sarris. His narration is top quality, deep, and smooth. Rather than merely read the book, Sarris uses inflection and pauses to make it sound more like someone does when they talk, drawing our attention to what he is saying or pricking our ears for what he is about to say. It’s a top-notch production all around.

I received this audiobook from christianaudio in order to write this review.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Song of Songs: an allegorical take on it

I am a big fan of the Focus on the Bible commentary series. They’re relatively short—the ones I’ve read were under 200 pages. This makes them accessible to everyone. There’s a reason I’ve never read all the way through my 1,000+ page commentary on Acts. It’s too long for that!

I recently had the privilege of reading through a review copy of their newest volume on Song of Songs by James M. Hamilton, Jr. The author happens to be a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I am currently studying for my M.Div, but as of now I’ve yet to take any classes with him. He’s written numerous books including God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, a popular-level commentary on Revelation, and a commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah. Hamilton writes not only as a professor, but also as a pastor. Song of Songs was born out of a sermon series he preached, and a quick Google search would likely lead you to the recordings that form the foundation of his book.

The book’s subtitle is telling: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation. Those are probably the biggest words in the book, so don’t let that scare you off. What he means is that his commentary looks at how Song of Solomon fits into the whole Bible. He takes a more traditional view of the book as an allegory; first, referring to God and Israel in the Old Testament, and second, referring to Christ and the Church. The book comes on the heels of other popular explanations that view the book as little more than a celebration of love and sex within marriage. Mark Driscoll, who was a controversial yet popular pastor until his resignation last year, preached a very explicit sermon series on the book that led to criticism from John MacArthur, another pastor, in a multi-part blog series titled The Rape of Solomon’s Song. A commentary that addresses the text without sounding like a bunch of over-sexed boys in a men’s locker room is a welcome reprieve.

Much of what Hamilton says, especially after the first few chapters, is insightful and helpful for understanding this book of the Bible. His explanation of the allegory squares with many sermons and messages I heard growing up in a small, traditional Baptist church. I’m just not convinced by everything (and in some sections, hardly anything) he says from the allegorical approach. My disagreement is merely a matter of degrees in some instances, but other times I wholly reject Hamilton’s insinuations. I agree that there is definitely a parallel between the groom and the bride and God and Israel. Yet Hamilton presses in on the details and makes assertions that stretch the bounds of reason.

For example, at one point the groom, in praising his bride, says that her eyes are like doves. Hamilton says, “With all the land imagery in this passage, perhaps this comparison is meant to recall the dove that Noah sent out from the ark after seven days to see if the waters had receded from the new creation after the flood.” Apart from the word “dove,” in what way and for what reason would this passage be hearkening back to the story of Noah? As my father likes to say, “Evel Knieval couldn’t make that jump!”

Early on he states, “I don’t remember being taught to read the book as a member of the bride of Christ waiting for Jesus the bridegroom. As a Christian, that came naturally.” It may come natural to someone raised in a Christian environment who is trying to understand Song of Songs in terms of what he’s already seen in the Bible. But many of the places where Hamilton sees Solomon alluding to another passage is only visible to people who want to see it. It’s telling that his first chapter has footnotes about other, more detailed commentaries, stating, “I disagree with Garrett’s suggestion…” and, “I say this in spite of the fact that…” and, “Against Estes…” Garrett, who is also a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written two commentaries on Song of Songs, both of which are much more in-depth. Although I haven’t read either of his commentaries, I’m much more inclined to check them out before returning to Hamilton’s volume.

If your leaning is more towards the allegorical approach, however, I don’t think you’ll find a more straightforward and concise treatment of the book from a trustworthy theologian than this one.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ministering to the overlooked: widows

Brian Croft is quickly becoming a go-to guy for insight on shepherding the people of God. He now has a plethora of books about practical matters of being a pastor, and I was fortunate enough to pick up a review title on a subject you won’t find many books addressing: Caring for Widows.

Caring for Widows is actually coauthored with Austin Walker, a minister from Wales. Walker takes the first half of the book, outlining the biblical warrant for caring for widows. He points to the Old and New Testaments to show that God cares deeply for widows, a group of people often overlooked and neglected. As anyone committed to the authority of the Scriptures can tell you, if it’s important to God, it better be important to us.

Croft picks up with the second half of the book, providing advice and guidance on how to put that knowledge into practice. A minister’s first duty is to minister the word, and that ministry should also be the primary way we minister to widows. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or that it should occupy the vast majority of our time spent ministering to them. Croft explains how everyone—not just ministers—can minister to widows in the hospital, in their home, or in a nursing home, and much of his advice derives from good hospitality practices.

This book is a worthy addition to a minister’s bookshelf because it succinctly and faithfully guides readers to practice true religion (James 1:27). Every pastor needs to have a heart for ministering to widows, and this books can be had for about $10.

Many thanks to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My favorite goofs from Jurassic World

I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic World when I saw it in theaters this past weekend. In 1993, Steven Spielberg brought Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park to life. For the first time ever, audiences—including a kindergartener named Andrew—saw something so amazing, they wanted so hard to believe it could be real.

Two lackluster sequels later, audiences finally have the opportunity to see something that is worthy of being included in the Jurassic franchise. Jurassic Park's dinosaurs are much more life-like because they used puppets and animatronics, whereas Jurassic World makes near-exclusive use of computer-generated images (CGI). Still, this new movie is full of fun and excitement. Chris Pratt's playful banter and all-around manliness and Bryce Dallas Howard's portrayal of an uptight career-woman may be somewhat stereotypical, but I, for one, appreciate a little old-fashioned man's-man-rescues-damsel-in-distress action.

Any science fiction/adventure film requires we suspend our disbelief, but even still, there were a number of moments in the film that I thought, "What?" Although these didn't keep me from having a good time, here were my favorite "goofs."


1. What happened to Christmas?

At the beginning of the film it's established that it's Christmastime. There's snow in the U.S., and there's Christmas music playing in the airport where two young brothers say goodbye to their parents on their way to the park. But that's the end of any reference to Christmas. I realize Jurassic World is on a tropical island, but don't theme parks decorate for and run special events to recognize and take advantage of the holidays?

2. Why didn't they check the tracking implant?

The hybrid Indominous-Rex (I-Rex) seemingly escapes from its paddock because they can't see it on their heat scanners. Rather than immediately verify its location by its tracking implant (which they do as soon as it really escapes), they go right into the paddock to check out the spot where they think the I-Rex climbed out. Because of this, the non-Chris Pratt characters inside the paddock get eaten and they let the dinosaur out of its cage to wreak the havoc that ensues throughout the rest of the movie. Don't you think you'd want to know where the creature was before poking around inside its cage?

3. Why abandon a search-and-rescue mission to watch a dinosaur die?

Imagine that you knew your nephews were alone in the jungle with a ravenous I-Rex on the loose, and you're partially to blame for it. Then imagine you convince Chris Pratt to take you out there to find them and bring them back to safety. Would you take time out of your search to cuddle a dying apatosaurus while they were still in danger? I realize the filmmakers were trying to show us how Bryce Howard's character starts to see the dinosaurs as real animals, but, come on, is that more important than saving some kids?

4. Why is everyone so miserable?

Remember, Jurassic World is on an island. With hotels. We even see the inside of one of the VIP suites, and they "spared no expense." So how come, when they're waiting to evacuate the island and there are dinosaurs on the loose, everyone sits around looking hot and miserable when they could go back to their posh hotel and wait out the dino-disaster in style? Everyone is in the main commercial area of the island, and with the exception of Jimmy Buffet drinking martinis, most look miserable. If all the attractions were closed, wouldn't you just go back to the hotel and enjoy the cable TV and air conditioning?

Friday, June 12, 2015

This reminds me why I love my church

Side By Side reminds me why I love my church. In the book Ed Welch talks about the ins and outs of being a part of a community where believers care for each other. In the first section, “We are Needy,” he tells us things we know deep down, but we frequently live in denial of them: we need help dealing with the challenging aspects of life; we need help dealing with our sin. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we have it all together, the truth is we are needy, and God has given us the church as a helpmate.

The second part of the book, “We are Needed” talks about how to integrate into our Christian community, connect with new people, become more intimately acquainted, and be there for each other in the good times and bad. This is where I was reminded why I love my church. No church is perfect, but I’ve been able to become close to a number of families at my church, and we do these things on a regular basis. It’s a kind of community that is sadly not as common as we might expect. Even still, this section gave me new ways of encouraging this kind of community and connecting with others in more personal ways. His chapters on praying for each other and talking about sin were probably the most beneficial because I find these are the two easiest areas to neglect, or, in the case of talking about sin, act unbiblically.

The narrator of the audio book, Arthur Morey, is evenly paced and has a grandfatherly quality to his voice. At times the book would benefit from more fluctuation in style, but that’s only a personal preference. His reading is still top notch.

I received this book from christianaudio in order to provide this review.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A man more Americans knew than George Washington

George Whitefield is one of the most influential figures in American history, yet his life and ministry are largely unknown apart from the occasional person who knows he was instrumental in the Great Awakening. A number of biographies are available about him, but one of the most recent, and likely one of the most readable, is that by Steven J. Lawson, a professor, pastor, and author of 20 books.

This volume comes in at 156 pages, and rather than focusing solely on the details of his birth, life, and death, Lawson’s focus is on Whitefield’s ministry—his evangelistic zeal. Despite having learned a little more about Whitefield than I would guess the average person would know, I learned new things and developed a better appreciation for the man. He may have been famous, but he had his hecklers as well, and worse. Occasionally people would throw rotten fruit and vegetables at him. Once someone even threw a dead cat on stage when he preached. Additionally, there were a number of assassination attempts against him. Through it all, he stayed faithful to his mission and was seen and heard in person by more Americans than George Washington.

Because this isn’t a cradle-to-grave biography, some readers who prefer that style would be better served by a different book. Also, Lawson doesn’t look much at Whitefield’s family, and there’s nothing negative said about the man. He certainly did a lot of great things and was a sincere and devout individual, but everyone has some warts.

Finally, I should say that the audiobook version that was provided to me by christianaudio is narrated by Simon Vance, one of the best professional narrators I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. After browsing their website, it looks like they contracted with him to narrate the rest of the books in the biography series by Lawson.