Book Review: 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith, by Gregg Allison

The problem with most theology books is accessibility. Whether it’s the jargon, the heady material, or the large page count, for the average Christian reader who just wants to understand God better the theology book shelf gets pretty bare.

The option is usually theology lite. Picking up books that are weighted more towards theological platitudes than deep truths is the modus operandi of most of us. But the thirst to know more is still there.

Gregg R. Allison attempts to slake that thirst. His book on 50 core truths is literally a theological text book but written in a very accessible manner. The sections are presented in the traditional systematic theology of the protestant tradition. And each section is then broken down into easy to read chapters with simple scripture references and ready-made teaching outlines. Obviously, this work is tailored for Sunday School teachers and small group leaders. Yet because of its simple and systematic layout it can find a place on anyone’s bookshelf.

Allison writes in the conservative tradition, and as such he doesn’t provide much space for the debates about each doctrine. That’s both good and bad. This works best as a theological primer with an eye towards knowing that there are diverse voices out there. After all, you have to learn to walk before you can dance.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Open to the Spirit, by Scot McKnight

Full disclosure: I grew up in a Pentecostal church with a decidedly charismatic bent. I remember hearing older saints cry out in the middle of service in an “unknown tongue” and then wait while someone else declares the “translation.” It was normal for me, but eventually I learned it wasn’t normal for everyone.

Scot McKnight didn’t grow up like I did. And because of that, he has a different take on the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather than providing a fully-fledged theology on the topic, he’s written Open to the Spirit. The book has a more devotional slant to it. And because of that, it outlasts the endless theologies written on the topic.

But the real element of uniqueness is McKnight’s personal perspective on the topic. He provides some of his own biography as a way to frame the argument in favor of a more fervent and vital presence of the Holy Spirit in our churches. He didn’t grow up in a charismatic church, he doesn’t serve in one now, and his own experiences were mostly positive. As an outsider, though, he may have a better handle on it and gives a fuller polemic for churches who resist the move of the Spirit.

Unfortunately I felt several times in this book that being open to the Spirit meant going halfway. He is not willing to fully embrace all aspects of the charismatic perspective – including prophetic and miraculous gifts. That’s to be expected, though. But I wonder if writing in conversation with two other voices – one for and one against these items – may produce a fuller examination. Regardless, the work presented by McKnight is definitely worth your time!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.


Book Review: After Acts, by Bryan Litfin

Have you ever watched a movie based on true events? At the end they run an image of each main character and give you a short sentence or two about what they’ve been up to since the story ended. Or maybe you’ve seen those “Where are they now?” segments in magazines or on TV. We love to find out, along with Paul Harvey, the rest of the story.

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the main characters of the New Testament after the final words were written, then you can go through hundreds and hundreds of extra-Biblical writings. You can learn Latin and Greek and Armenian. You can filter through all the existing early documents from the Church Fathers. You can weigh whether what they say is true or false or legend or myth.

Or you can pick up After Acts and let Bryan Litfin do that for you. He takes all the material that we have on the lives of the Apostles and other biblical figures and weighs them out. He can do this because of his extensive background in church history. And since we don’t have the same background, we can trust him.

Did Mark really found the church in Alexandria, Egypt? Did Thomas make his way to India or Edessa? How did Peter really die? These are the types of questions that Litfin answers. And along the way he gives some great insights into the compilation of the New Testament texts, the assembling of the cannon, and the early politics of the Church.

Litfin’s assessment is fair (although admittedly conservative), but he gives you a sliding scale rather than a full “yes” or “no” answer on each issue. At the end of each chapter he lists a few of the major theories about the character and then grades them (A to F) on whether or not they’re reliable. That way you can decide for yourself. But the rest of the story? Litfin does a great job giving you that.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, by D. A. Carson

I’ll admit it. I love commentaries. I’m kind of a commentary junkie. If you don’t like trudging through line after line of biblical criticism, grammatical analysis, or inter-textual dialogue, then this book is still for you.

With D. A. Carson’s other, more famous work in John (his Pillar Commentary), this provides a nice companion piece. And it reads more like prose than scholarship.

He opens with a narrative take on John 13, the foot washing and Judas story of the Last Supper. It’s important to frame the following, dialogue driven text of chapters 14-17 of John with the more artistic and flavorful story of the disciples’ final moments with Jesus before the cross. Context adds weight.

But Carson’s work here is not light. He still deals with all the details of the text, driven by the idea of “What should we learn from this?” As such, any audience can learn something.

This is a reissue of the original 1980 edition. It’s good to see “classics” coming to new light and being brought before new audiences. Carson has always been a favorite scholar of mine. In fact, the commentary I mentioned earlier was the very first one I purchased after graduating college. I’ve added several more, and I’m always willing to pick up one of D. A. Carson’s. I hope you will too.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Paul and His Team, by Ryan Lokkesmoe

“What does the Bible say about leadership?”

All too often that question is never answered. The question that’s actually answered is, “How can I use the Bible to support this latest leadership principle that I want to promote?”

That’s not the case with Ryan Lokkesmoe’s book, Paul and His Team: What the Early Church Can Teach Us about Leadership and Influence. He first delves into what it means to have influence. We all have it is some measure. And so, just as the master who handed out “talents” in Jesus’ parable, we’re expected to do something with it. Handling that influence is the essence of leadership.

Next, Lokksemoe digs deep into particular Pauline passages to find the most important leadership lessons. Instead of working the text backwards (“What does this say about what I already believe about leadership?”) he works it the right way round (“How can this story, this text inform my leadership process?”).

This book is great for pastors and church leaders, but can also find room on the shelf of Christian leaders – CEOs, managers, shop owners, teachers – anyone who follows Christ and has a following, basically. Pick it up next time you see it and enjoy!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: The Burden is Light, by Jon Tyson

Get this book! Well, not now. Because it doesn’t come out until March 2018. But when it does – Get this book!

In The Burden is Light, Jon Tyson wants to help you live a life free from the tyranny of performance so so-called success. And it all comes down to living well and avoiding “misliving.”

How we live reveals what we truly believe; everything else is just talk.

Tyson covers 8 main ideas that hold us back from living the life God intends for us, and each is intricately tied into the cultural pressures of performing to a specific standard or meeting an external measurement of success. Instead, we should embrace an alternative model, one that is exemplified in the life of Jesus.

Those 8 cultural pressures and their alternatives are…

Comparison / Calling

Competition / Compassion

Control / Surrender

Complacency / Passion

Judgment / Mercy

Pride / Humility

Distraction / Presence

Take a look at that list. If you have an issue with even one of those areas, this book is for you. It’s a great book to read with a group of people, or just take a chapter at a time over a week or a month or two months. Go deep in the area that you need help in most. This book is set up just for that.

And go tell Jon Tyson how much you enjoyed it. I know I will!

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.