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D Glover (northern bc, canada)
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Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
by John Piper
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yea though I walk through the valley..., Feb. 10 2010
This volume addresses a very important subject and in light of the recent (and ongoing) disaster in Haiti along with many more in recent memory, this is a timely offering. For any readers already familiar with the works of John Piper, it will come as no surprise that this book is an exploration of the comprehensive and absolute sovereignty of God, in this case as it relates to the subject of suffering. The chapters are as different as the experiences and writing styles of the authors who pen them. Some chapters are dedicated to a biblical exegetical defense of the sovereignty of God over suffering, answering the many modern teachings which would deny that God has any responsibility for much less direct ordination of the suffering in the world (John Piper, Mark Talbot). Some chapters are more biographical, discussing the experiences of the authors and what they have learned from and about God through it all (Steve Saint, Joni Erickson Tada). Others are more pastoral, taking a counseling approach to the discussion (David Powlison, John Piper). Some are meant as an exploration of the causes and nature of systemic forms of individual and societal suffering (Carl Ellis Jr.). Wrapping up the book are sections by two of the authors (Piper and Powlison) about their own bouts with cancer.

The book is very obviously a compilation of separate essays, with the main continuity coming from the chapters contributed by Piper. Some chapters are stronger than others in both content and writing style (some are clearly transpositions of verbal presentations). As a result and because of the varying focus from chapter to chapter, if you are reading cover to cover, it will seem to shift gears rather abruptly. However, this is not necessarily a weakness. It tends to keep discussions of different aspects of suffering and God's sovereignty over it within tidy units which can easily be referred back to in future, some likely more frequently and usefully than others. At the same time, there is an overall spirit that all the authors share across their various approaches to the topic - all authors are committed to the absolute sovereignty of God even in the hardest things a person will ever face. As such, they also all believe that, for Christians, this is a great comfort, knowing that God is at the helm even in the darkest times and that he is working even the worst things out for the good of his children and his glory. Simultaneously, God uses such suffering to call unbelievers to himself.

Particularly good is the discussion of how Jesus himself, as God incarnate, suffered in his earthly ministry so that he could be a sympathetic high priest. This entering into the curse and suffering on the part of the redeemer is something too often missing in a self-centered, entertainment oriented and suffering averse modern church culture.

This is a topic that is all too often avoided, mishandled or simply falsely taught about in the church today. Much of the church (like the surrounding society) chooses some form of escape in order to avoid facing discussions on the relation between God's sovereign rule and suffering. Suffering itself cannot be avoided however, so this frank, honest and biblically faithful discussion will serve the church well if it has the maturity to head these authors. God is Lord of all, including suffering. Like a good novel, we should not expect every chapter of our lives to end happily. However, as believers, we have the promise of God that the story ultimately ends joyfully, with all tears dried and all wounds healed. This book recalls a spiritually flabby and immature church to viewing suffering in this life as a part of the overall victory that belongs to all who are followers of Christ.

Mark Of The Christian, The
Mark Of The Christian, The
by Francis A. Schaeffer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.56
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5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Unity as a Defense of Christianity, Jan. 15 2010
In this little booklet (actually a chapter from one of Schaeffer's books), Francis Schaeffer briefly examines Jesus' prayer in the Gospel of John for unity and love in the Church. Schaeffer shows how, when the church is unified and Christians love each other, this proves to a watching world that God the Father sent Jesus his Son and that for the redemption of the world. At this end of the day, after all the best arguements for the faith have been made by the most brilliant of apologists, it is Christian's love for each other, which necessarily spills over into the world, that speaks loudest and most effectively in the defence and growth of the Christian faith. Indeed, without unity and brotherly love, the Church has no reason to believe that anyone should heed anything we say. Francis Schaeffer called biblical, loving Christian unity, "the final apologetic".

Great Leaders of the Christian Church
Great Leaders of the Christian Church
by John D. Woodbridge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.49
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Summary of Key Figures from Church History, Jan. 15 2010
A very good albeit brief summary of most of the key figures in church history from the apostles to C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and Billy Graham. It mostly follows the Protestant stream post-reformation. Each article is brief (4-6 pages) but biographically and theologically accurate, having been written by a long list of well recognized Christian scholars. Functions as a great intro to church history and key figures for those who don't have the time to sit down with a biography on each one.

Against Christianity
Against Christianity
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.15
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5.0 out of 5 stars Calling the Church to reject "Christianism", Jan. 14 2010
This review is from: Against Christianity (Paperback)
Peter Leithart has written a book calling the church to manifest the life of the kingdom of God, the kingship of Jesus Christ, in all the world through all we are and do. Part of this task is identifying some of the many ways the church today has adopted the values and traits and assumptions of the surrounding culture. This is essentially a call to the church to abandon "Christianism" (what Leithart is calling "Christianity") and become the kingdom of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ manifest in all things in the world. This means subjecting all thought and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and seeing every area of existence as under the comprehensive and authoritative reign of Christ rather than the pervasive current dichotomy between sacred and secular so rampant in the church.

This book has sparked some controversy, or perhaps it is more accurate to say it has fanned the flames of a controversy that has long been crackling away. As readers of these reviews can see, there are some who have accused Peter Leithart of being a heretic because of this book. Of course if it is heresy to believe that faith is more than mere mental assent to a set of systematically organized doctrines; if it is heretical to believe that the other side of the coin of faith is faithfulness and an obedient life in areas we currently don't want God to mess around in; if it is heresy to believe that one's Christian faith truly lives (or at least is consciously growing) in obedient submission to the Lord Jesus in all things in order to be considered biblical faith, then Leithart is guilty as charged (and so were the reformers, who Leithart's accusers consider to be their forefathers in the faith). In fact, if this is the definition of heresy, than heretics abound even among the apostles and prophets.

In "Against Christianity", Leithart argues that Christianity has essentially become just another willing party under the cultural umbrella of the reigning and near universal assumed dichotomies of our day. The church is not its own unique and biblical culture but is just a subculture; a subset of the overarching culture of the day. In this short little unconventionally formatted book, Leithart shines a bright and unwavering spotlight on the follies of a church that has adopted the presuppositions of many generations of unbiblical thinking and practice, becoming unable to judge that much of what it rejects or denies are the very things it is called to be and do and much of what it accepts is diametrically opposed to the gospel.

I suspect that at least some of the objections raised to this book are, whether consciously or subconsciously, objections to its format. Leithart calls it "theological hiku". I think his presentation is effective in that he is using an unconventional, unscientific and unsystematic medium to communicate a message to call the church out of its captivity to modernist, compartmentalized thinking. The medium is an important aspect of the message (which Leithart argues at length, along with other things, in another recent book Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture). When God sent prophets to speak to a generation lost in cultural accommodation and idolatry, he frequently had them communicate their message in unconventional ways - ways that added to the affront of the message and made the recipients uncomfortable. And that is what the church needs to become, uncomfortable, before it will wake up out of its stupor.

Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It
Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It
by Os Guinness
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars A call to end flabby thinking, Jan. 8 2010
I read this some years ago and its relevance has not dwindled in the mean time. Some might argue that our culture has a problem with our bodies being unfit as well and they have a legitimate point but overall, we are far more consumed with the image of fit bodies than we are about the state of our mental health. In this short book, Guinness calls the evangelical church, which continues largely to follow the lead of culture in the area of mental atrophy as in most things, to shape up our minds by knowing God's Word and cultivating critical thinking. This is not an exhaustive study and Guinness doesn't provide much for thoroughgoing solutions here but he does a good job of identifying, summarizing and tracing the development of the problem, albeit briefly. I recommend this book to those who genuinely want to cultivate a godly Christian mind but who don't yet recognize the issues we struggle with in our culture and the church of our day as well as to those who don't yet even realize there is a problem. Other good books on this topic are The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Amusing Ourselves To Death and Discipleship Of The Mind.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dictatorship of Entertainment, Jan. 5 2010
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Neil Postman's scathing critique of the effects of television on American culture is hardly less applicable today than in the mid 80's when it was first published. In fact, with the advent of other potentially mentally debilitating electronic media like the internet, the message of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is arguably more important then ever.

Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.

This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned. And Postman has the insight to realize that TV is at its most dangerous when it is trying to be the most responsible, serious and educational, since this medium effectively equalizes all things to the level of entertainment. If one is still going to watch TV after reading this book, Postman effectively argues that the junk and pulp is the best and least dangerous thing to watch. As TV has raised dish soap and soft drinks to the universal, daily public consciousness, it has lowered political discourse, history, world events, economics, religion, philosophy, science, education, art, etc., to the level of TV commercials and mindless soap operas. TV has turned political and religious leaders into celebrities which has had the effect of trivializing their messages and placing them on equal footing with other celebrities (like talk show hosts, actors, and fictional characters, who are now more often looked to as authoritative figures - think Oprah, Dr. Phil, Larry King, etc.). In fact, most often, politicians and religious leaders, etc., are on a lower level than other celebrities since they are often working with a lower production budget. TV has deposed content and rational argument from the place of primacy in public discourse, a place once dominated by the written word, and replaced them with speed-of-light image and manipulative emotional appeal.

In my opinion, Postman puts too much faith in education to help save us from the plague of TV and electronic media. However, that we need saving from this and other mind-withering media is quite clearly argued. Postman does not advocate ridding the world of TV (as if that were even possible now), but he argues that people must be equipped and educated to see what TV and electronic media does to individuals and societies who don't understand the all pervasive power of such media.

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" should be read and taken seriously by everyone, but no one more than parents who want to teach their children to think critically and independently. Since it was originally written, this message is even more crucial since electronic media has broadened to include new and even more potentially subversive technologies. And we are being duped to thinking that something like the internet is increasing and improving public discourse. If I could, I would give this book 7 stars.

The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Author Who was Brilliant...the publisher who was less so, Dec 18 2009
As others have thoroughly reviewed the details of this story, I will reserve my comments for the overall impression I received from reading this short book. In typical Chestertonian fashion, which is to say non-typical, the reader is guessing until the end and the world in this book is not what it seems. Good men seek to infiltrate, undermine and hold at bay the forces of anarchy and lawlessness in the universe. Or perhaps they are unwittingly aiding them.

"Thursday" reads something like a more intelligent John Buchan novel, say "The Thirty Nine Steps", but with prose taken several levels higher and with a conflict that is cosmic in scope rather than temporal. Here men fight the dark forces in the universe rather than the dark forces of pre-WW 1 Germany. Here men fight a struggle in their own hearts and minds to a degree that makes their outward struggle pale in comparison. Here the fabric of the universe is exposed as unbreakable and fragile at the same time. For those looking to see a sharp, point by point parallel with spiritual reality, don't dig deeper than G.K. intended. In a fragment from an article published the day before he died, he warns against this by recalling the subtitle: "A Nightmare". This is not meant to be a consistent symbolic parallel with the world as we know it. The story is loaded with commentary without being preachy and symbolism without being pedantic but this is not allegory or even consistent metaphor. While one can see shades of this same spirit in the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis, Chesterton's world is not as parallel to ours, not as similar...and yet more so. It is for very good reason that this book has received the accolades it has.

Speaking of the subtitle, Penguin has foolishly left the subtitle, "A Nightmare", off the cover of this otherwise nice edition. This was foolish because of the importance Chesterton placed on it in the fragment of an essay that Penguin did publish in the back of this volume. Apparently many were misreading or reading into this story for some fully consistent Christian symbolism and Chesterton had to recall readers and reviewers to their senses by reminding them of the subtitle. This is not intended to be reality but rather a bad dream. And in many places it reads just that way.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
by G.K. Chesterton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.56
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Author Who was Billiant, Dec 18 2009
As others have thoroughly reviewed the details of this story, I will reserve my comments for the overall impression I received from reading this short book. In typical Chestertonian fashion, which is to say non-typical, the reader is guessing until the end and the world in this book is not what it seems. Good men seek to infiltrate, undermine and hold at bay the forces of anarchy and lawlessness in the universe. Or perhaps they are unwittingly aiding them.

"Thursday" reads something like a more intelligent John Buchan novel, say "The Thirty Nine Steps", but with prose taken several levels higher and with a conflict that is cosmic in scope rather than temporal. Here men fight the dark forces in the universe rather than the dark forces of pre-WW 1 Germany. Here men fight a struggle in their own hearts and minds to a degree that makes their outward struggle pale in comparison. Here the fabric of the universe is exposed as unbreakable and fragile at the same time. For those looking to see a sharp, point by point parallel with spiritual reality, don't dig deeper than G.K. intended. In a fragment from an article published the day before he died, he warns against this by recalling the subtitle: "A Nightmare". This is not meant to be a consistent symbolic parallel with the world as we know it. The story is loaded with commentary without being preachy and symbolism without being pedantic but this is not allegory or even consistent metaphor. While one can see shades of this same spirit in the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis, Chesterton's world is not as parallel to ours, not as similar...and yet more so. It is for very good reason that this book has received the accolades it has.

Excused Absence
Excused Absence
by Douglas Wilson
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Absence, Dec 2 2009
This review is from: Excused Absence (Paperback)
In this brief book, Doug Wilson argues from Scripture, history, pedagogy and the current state of secular public schools to put forward a strong case for, and defense of, the obligation of Christian parents to ensure their children receive a thorough and holistic, biblically faithful Christian education. In so doing, Wilson smashes much of the fuzzy thinking on this emotional topic. Readers will likely either love or hate this book and this is largely due to Wilson's straight forward and unapologetic presentation of his views. Regardless, it ought to be read for its content and sound reasoning whether or not the style offends some people's sensitivities.

There are a number of aspects of the public vs. Christian education debate addressed in this book albeit in a summary fashion. Wilson's approach is refreshingly broader and more foundational than the many attempts to merely suggest reforms to the public system. Wilson argues that the state system has been wrong from the start and therefore there never was an idyllic past that we should be aiming to recapture. Parents are forbidden by Scripture to abdicate their responsibility to educate and disciple their children in the Lord to another party or authority.

This book addresses the false belief that an education that doesn't refer to God is a neutral education. There is no such thing as value neutral education. If a school system leaves God out, it is not neutral; it is by definition anti-God. Teachers and curriculum may not ever come out and assert that there is no God but by excluding any mention of him, students learn by default that God is irrelevant to any field they are studying.

Wilson also clearly shows that state-run education was birthed out of a world-view which embraced the thinking that man could perfect himself through education. This same world-view denied the biblical Christian doctrine of the fall and inherent sinful nature of humanity. If built on these foundational assumptions, the edifice of public education by definition must directly contradict the biblical understanding of humanity's need to repent and renew relationship with God before any learning process can truly be considered gaining wisdom and understanding. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

Wilson points out that our relativistic culture has made truth, beauty and goodness relative. Even the public schools can't practically function this way, however, so contrary to God's standards, they adopt standards that serve the interests of the state as a competing authoritative deity rather than holding to biblical standards of truth, beauty and goodness.

If parents are called to teach their children to "take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ" and if "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ", and if Christian parents are to teach their children all day, during all activities, at home and away (Deut. 6:1-9), than Christian education cannot be relegated to Sunday school, Bible studies or family devotions. There is a Christian way to think about all things, math, history, science and language included, because God is Lord of those things too. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, so if a person does not fear and honor God, any facts they might learn cannot even start them down the road to the destination that knowledge is supposed to arrive at.

The section on answering objections to Christian education is very helpful and at least somewhat sympathetic to the good intentions of those who put forward such arguments.

Wilson's conclusion: Christians are told to render unto Caesar that which bears his image but unto God that which bears his. As our tax dollars bear the image of the state, we must regrettably continue to fund public education but since our children are made in the image of God, we are forbidden by he in whose image they are made to render them to anyone but God. Therefore, a Christian education is the only option for Christian parents concerned with obedience.

For more indepth explorations of this subject, see Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education, The Case for Classical Christian Education, Repairing the Ruins: The Classical and Christian Challenge to Modern Education, Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning.

EVANGELISM AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
EVANGELISM AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
by J. I. Packer
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Sovereignty of God in Evangelism, Dec 2 2009
In this excellent little book on evangelism, Packer accomplishes a number of very important things. He first of all shows that all Christians practically and inherently pray as though their efforts of evangelism ultimately depend on the will of God, even when those same folks don't consciously and officially affirm the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Also, Packer shows that in order to ensure God's results in our efforts to evangelize, we need to use God's methods to share God's message. These are powerful and much needed correctives in our day, when the gospel is all too often edited to become the message that people want to hear rather than the one they need to hear and when the methods used are the ones that cultural marketing strategies recommend rather than the ones that God has commanded in his Word.

Packer does a great job of destroying the false caricature created by Arminian flavored groups of reformed theology's understanding of evangelism. Far from sitting back and not doing anything and leaving everything to God, Calvinism/Reformed theology is the only perspective that can consistently go forward with the unadulterated gospel in the timeless and faithful methods of witness laid out in Scripture with the full assurance that God will bring the increase. Arminian theology and its modern hybrids are always tempted and in practice usually act like evangelistic methods and message need to morph in order to bring people to the point of decision. Packer is careful to keep God's part (bringing the increase) and the Christian's part (sowing the seed) in evangelism clear.

Packer does this and much more and he does it all with a winsome and irenic spirit. This is, bar none, the best book written on biblical evangelism. It should be read by every Christian. Seven stars!

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