Category Archives: Books on Monthly Theme

Costly Grace by Rob Schenck–Book Review

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Rob Schneck has the gift of leadership.  Growing up in the 70’s he converted from nominal Judaism to evangelical Christianity.  His faith journey took him through a variety of roles:  van driver and lay preacher at a shelter for heroin addicts;  Assembly of God pastor; activist in the anti-abortion movement;  supporter and leader of the religious right; minister to a number of top government officials and now founding president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute.

Rob’s memoir is an honest account of one man’s struggle to fulfill his God-given calling.  He freely admits his failures (lack of attention to his family, being influenced by pride and prestige, being judgmental, etc.)  I think most Christians who are seeking to grow in faith will identify with Schneck as he wrestles with God, allowing himself to be changed and molded in the process.

Verdict:  I couldn’t put this one down.  It’s a new release so you should be able to borrow or request it from your local library.

 

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A Quote by Eugene Peterson

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For those who have not heard of him, Eugene Peterson is a Presbyterian pastor and author of more than thirty books. I have read quite of few of them, and would recommend him as a Christian author.  He is best know for his contemporary rendering of the Bible, The Message.  This quote comes from his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and I think it addresses well the reality of living together as a Christian community.

“But, of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people.  They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ.  They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations.  Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken), a drag.  But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith.  If God is my Father, then this is my family.

So the question is not, ‘Am I going to be part of a community of faith?’ but ‘How am I going to live in this community of faith?’  God’s children do different things.  Some run away and pretend the family doesn’t exist.  Some move out and get an apartment of their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard.  And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them.  And some, determined to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.”

 

A Reformation Reading List

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You know I can’t let a month go by without recommending some reading.  I found this Reading List for Lutherans.  What could be more appropriate for our month on the Reformation.  Let us know if you plan to read some of these.

A Reading List for Lutherans Quality, Lay-Friendly Books That Will Stretch and Shape the Lutheran Mind Easy reading: *                    More challenging: **                    Really challenging, but worth it: *** prepared by Gene Edward Veith
BASIC LUTHERANISM Gene Veith. Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals.* I wrote this one. It’s the book that I wish I had found before I became a Lutheran. It explains the Lutheran distinctives and the richness of Lutheran spirituality in what I hope is a lucid and engaging way. Scot A. Kinnaman, ed. Lutheranism 101.* A comprehensive, easy-to-read guide to Lutheranism, written in form of short articles, sound-bites, sidebars and illustrations. J. T. Mueller. Christian Dogmatics.** A systematic survey of Lutheran doctrine, as understood by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, with Bible verses to back up every point. This is a summary of Francis Pieper’s fourvolume Christian Dogmatics. Steven D. Paulson. Lutheran Theology.*** Some may think Lutheranism is staid and respectable, but this book shows just how radical and mind-blowing Lutheranism — with its teachings about the Law and Gospel, the Word and Sacraments — really is.
THE CONFESSIONS The Book of Concord. As the definitive authority in all things Lutheran, this book is in a category by itself. The creeds and the catechisms*; the Lutheran Confessions of faith (Augsburg, Smalcald Articles, Formula of Concord, Treatise on the Primacy of the Pope)**; the extended defenses of those Confessions (the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and the Thorough Declaration of the Formula of Concord***.
LUTHERAN CLASSICS C. F. W. Walther. Law & Gospel. ** The founder of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod explains to 19th-century seminary students how to properly distinguish the Law and the Gospel and how to preach them so as to bring sinners to Christ. This book offers both stimulating theology as it lays out the distinctive Lutheran approach to Scripture and comforting devotional reading as it plumbs the depths of what Christ has done for us. Bo Giertz. The Hammer of God.* This is a novel by a Swedish bishop, depicting three generations of Lutheran pastors, who each have to deal with the religious fads of their day — pietism, rationalism, liberalism — ultimately finding in their ministries the strength of Lutheran orthodoxy. Martin Chemnitz. The Two Natures in Christ.*** Chemnitz is second only to Luther among the great Lutheran theologians. His brilliant work on Christology — dealing with the incarnation, whereby Christ who is truly God and truly man atones for our sins and the “communication of the attributes,” whereby Christ’s body and blood are truly present in Holy Communion — is a hallmark of Lutheran theology. Charles Porterfield Krauth. The Conservative Reformation.** Written in 1871 by an American Lutheran scholar, this book is a masterpiece of historical theology, showing the differences between the conservative Reformation of the Lutherans and the more radical Reformation of the Calvinists and Anabaptists. Moreover, it shows how those differences remain important today.
WORKS BY MARTIN LUTHER The Freedom of the Christian.** This early work by the Reformer proclaims the freedom we have in the Gospel. It also lays the groundwork for Luther’s doctrine of vocation. This treatise sets forth the classic paradox of the Christian life: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” And it teaches how we are to be “little Christs to each other.” Sermons.* Luther is among the most pastoral of theologians, and his many published sermons show him as a vivid expositor of God’s Word and, for all of the polemical fury that sometimes breaks out, as a compassionate minister to troubled souls. In his sermons, we often see Luther’s humor as well as his wisdom as he applies God’s Word to the ordinary people of his time.
Letters of Spiritual Counsel.* Here we see Luther’s pastoral heart, as he offers spiritual counsel to ordinary Christians of his day who struggle with some of the same issues that we do today. Commentaries.** Luther’s theology is drawn from the Bible, so his Bible commentaries are some of his profoundest works. Two good places to start are his Commentary on Galatians, which is a sustained critique of works righteousness, and his Commentary on Romans, whose explanation of justification by grace through faith led to the conversion of John Bunyan and John Wesley. His commentaries on the Psalms make rich devotional reading and his multi-volume Commentary on Genesis contains, among other things, a thorough treatment of vocation and the Christian’s life in the world. Bondage of the Will.*** This full-throated argument against the humanism of the Renaissance genius Erasmus is considered some of Luther’s greatest theological writing, but it is not for the faint of heart.
BIOGRAPHIES OF MARTIN LUTHER Roland Bainton. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.* This is an acknowledged masterpiece of the art of biography — compelling, easy-to-read and insightful into Luther’s tumultuous life and times. Martin Brecht. Martin Luther. 3 vols.** This exhaustive multi-volume treatment is the definitive scholarly biography of Luther. Heiko Oberman. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil.*** A deep psychological and spiritual treatment of Luther.
LUTHERAN THEOLOGY Hermann Sasse. We Confess Anthology.** This German theologian defied Adolf Hitler and his attempts to Nazify the Christian Church. He later emigrated to Australia, where he served as a seminary professor and as a major influence on confessional Lutheranism around the world. This book collects a number of Sasse’s works on Christ, the Sacraments and contemporary theological issues. See also the two volume collection of Sasse’s letters and essays, The Lonely Way. Francis Pieper, Church Dogmatics. 4 vols.** The definitive systematic theology for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, sketching out each topic in detail with full Scriptural evidence. Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics.** An ongoing series of volumes — six so far with more to come — by different authors, updating Pieper’s work and addressing contemporary theological issues. Oswald Bayer. Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation.*** A distinguished contemporary theologian shows how Luther’s theology addresses modern and postmodern thought in a sophisticated way. Robert Kolb and Charles Arand. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Theology for the Contemporary Church.* Two major LCMS scholars of the Lutheran Confessions show their relevance and that of Luther to contemporary issues in the Church.
VOCATION Gene Veith. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.* My book explores Luther’s doctrine of vocation on a popular level. Paul Althaus. Ethics of Martin Luther.** An important theological scholar explores Luther’s teachings about life in the world, including both Luther’s doctrine of vocation and his doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Gustav Wingren. Luther on Vocation.*** The key book on vocation with paradigm-shifting insights on every page.
THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS Richard C. Eyer. Pastoral Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering.* A hospital chaplain tells about how he applies Luther’s theology of the cross — as opposed to the more common “theology of glory” — as he ministers to the sick, the suffering and the dying. Alister E. McGrath. Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough.** A prominent British theologian explores the centrality of the theology of the cross in Luther’s life and thought. Gerhard Forde. On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518.*** A sometimes controversial theologian, an advocate of what he called “radical Lutheranism” explores some of Luther’s most radical ideas. In addition to Forde’s commentary, the book includes an edition of Luther’s Heidelberg Theses, in which the reformer outlined his teachings about how God comes to us in suffering and weakness, rather than in success

The Will of God by Leslie D. Weatherhead –Book Review

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Following God’s will is obviously part of leading a pious life. However, many Christians feel this is easier said than done.  Is everything that happens, good and bad, part of God’s will?  If bad things are not God’s will, why do they happen?  How can we discern God’s will for us, personally.  In this short book, Leslie Weatherhead gives his insights into these questions.

He begins by discussing God’s will from three different perspectives:

  • God’s intentional will
  • God’s circumstantial will
  • God’s ultimate will

God’s intentional will is always good; for example, tragedy, illness and death are never God’s will for us. Adam and Eve were created to live eternally with God.  However, sin came into the world and now affects all that we do and are.The Will of God by [Weatherhead, Leslie D.]  Because God allows us to suffer the consequences of sin, bad things happen.  The world, the flesh and the devil can temporarily thwart God’s will.  Even then, through His circumstantial will, God is able to bring good out of bad things.  A person who experiences suffering may go on to grow in their faith, to reach out to others in similar circumstances,  to found a program, write a book, or undertake other activities which turn that suffering into blessing.  God’s ultimate will will always prevail.  God is omnipotent, and His ultimate plans for our lives cannot fail.  The Book of Revelation tells us that in the end all evil will be defeated and there will be no more “death or mourning.” (2:14)

Weatherhead’s advice for knowing God’s will?  Know God.  The more we worship, pray and study, the more we walk with Him daily, the more we practice our piety, the better equipped we will be to understand and do His will.  Other suggestions include:

  1. Listen to our conscience
  2. Use common sense
  3. Seek good advice from friends
  4. Read great literature and history
  5. Heed the voice of the church
  6. Pray for “inner light”

This book was originally published in 1944 so some of the examples and anecdotes are a bit dated;  however, I think most Christians would find it logical,  easy to read and full of helpful thoughts and suggestions.  I give it five stars!

 

Being a Family Blessing

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In Sunday School recently, we had a discussion about our church family, and how we should relate to these people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are meant to be a blessing to the family of God, and that isn’t always easy.  I found this quote from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and I think it addresses the situation well.

 But of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family.  The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people.  The do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ.  They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations.  Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken) a drag.  But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith.  If God is my Father, then this is my family.

 So the question is not, “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?’  but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?”  God’s children do different things.  Some run away and pretend the family doesn’t exist.  Some move out and get an apartment of their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard.  And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them.  And some determined to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.

Which kind of a family member are you?  Do you bless others, or do you just want to be blessed?

Talks On The Song of Songs — Book Review

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Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a French abbot and reformer, was a founder of the Cistercian monastic order.  He spent 18 years writing sermons which served as a commentary on the Song of Songs.  He died before completing an exposition of  the entire book. He only made it through the third verse of Chapter 3 in 86 sermons!  Bernard saw the bride in Song of Songs as a representative of both the individual soul and the entire Church;  The Bridegroom is, of course, Christ. The book became for him, an allegory of the spiritual life, and more personally his own life with God.

This book is not easy reading, and not for everyone.  The copy I have is edited and modernized by Bernard Bangley and is still slow going.  I used it as a devotional years ago, reading one small section carefully each day.   Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning:

You have studied, denied yourself, and meditated constantly for a long time.  I am sure you are prepared for a diet of solid spiritual food.  The Song of Songs is tasty bread.  Let’s break it and enjoy a substantial meal.

The Song of Songs is a book we don’t often study or spend time with.  You might give this book a try and find it well worth the effort.

100 Days With Jesus–Book Review

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This little gem of a book would make a wonderful gift for a friend.  It includes a presentation page, thick glossy pages and a beautiful photograph with each reading.  The author, Diann Cotton, first got the idea when she found a page in her Bible listing over 250 names and attributes of Jesus.  She began studying one or two a day, hoping to know Jesus better by the end of the year.  Her own research, prayer and reflection led to the book.

100 Days with Jesus by [Cotton, Diann]

Perfect to be used as a daily devotional, each reading includes a name or description of Jesus, the scriptural basis for the name, a definition, prayer and reflection question. The entries are ordered alphabetically, so you can easily find a particular name. The questions could easily be used as a journaling tool if that is part of your daily routine.

Interested in learning more, or purchasing this book?  Click on the link below:

https://beta.lifeway.com/en/product/100-days-with-jesus-P005793050

Out of the Depths — Book Review

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Out of the Depths” is the autobiography of John Newton, author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Don’t pick this book up because you want to hear more about Newton as a hymnist — it’s just not there.  Instead, the book focuses on his spiritual journey.

Out of the Depths by [Newton, John]

Born to a devout mother who dies when he is seven, Newton strays from the faith.  As a young man he becomes willful, arrogant and disappointing to his father.  His life reads like some of the great stories of the Bible.  He is runs away like Jonah, is shipwrecked and beaten like Paul, and like the prodigal son finally comes home to God, his Father.  He experiences both wealth and want, becomes a sea captain, a slave trader, a servant (little better than a slave himself) and finally a pastor.

Here is what he had to say about his life:

“They (true believers) are as one body, animated by one spirit;  yet their experiences, formed upon these common principles, are far from uniform.   The Lord in His first call, and His following providential actions, regards the situation, temperament, and talents of each and the particular services or trials He has appointed for them.  All are tested at times yet some pass through the voyage of life much more smoothly than others.  ….We must not, therefore, make the experience of others in all respects, a rule to ourselves nor our own a rule to others.  ….My case has been extraordinary…it is to be expected that after such a wonderful, unhoped for deliverance as I had received, and after my eyes were somewhat enlightened to see things aright, I should immediately cleave to the Lord and His ways with purpose of heart and depend no more on mere flesh and blood.”

This book was a fairly easy read and I enjoyed it (the copy I had was revised and updated for modern readers).  Each of us, like Newton, has a faith journey and we should spend some time reflecting on it.  How has God led you to the place you’re at today?  I’d like to hear about that.

The Case for Christ – Book Review

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I just finished reading the book “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel and I felt I should mention this book to others.  I love reading articles and books that confirm the Bible in history, and Lee Strobel’s book fits that description perfectly.

A movie has been made from this book and I have to tell you that I haven’t seen the movie, yet.  I’m more a book person and will read the book, if available, before I see the movie.  I’m always asked how the movie compared to the book and usually I have to say that there is always more details in the book.

Now, this book is wonderful for anyone who is wanting to include historic facts to their evangelism.  Lee Strobel, who was once an atheist, goes on a quest to prove Jesus didn’t exist.  His wife came home one day and told him she was now a Christian and he had to prove how wrong she was.   Lee, who is a well known investigative reporter, starts interviewing the experts from all over the country, bringing all the questions and doubts that he and others have raised.  At the end of each chapter there is a list of questions for deliberation or for group study.  Lee gives a full list of citations and a topical index at the end for further study.

The book is in three parts: Examining the Record, Analyzing Jesus and Researching the Resurrection.  In each part is the transcripts of his conversations with each expert.  It’s not what I would call an easy read.  While you are reading you need to pay attention to what is being said.  However, the book flows and pulls you into Lee’s quest up to the part where he makes his own decision to follow Christ.

For any skeptics that are reading this I would encourage you to pick up the book or, at least, see the movie.  For the Christians reading this, I would encourage you to read the book so that you can add some of the references to expand your knowledge of Biblical history.

“Ancient Words” a song by Michael W. Smith kept playing in my head once I got about halfway through this book.  Here are the lyrics and a link to hear the song.

“Ancient Words”
Holy words long preserved, For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart, Oh, let the ancient words impart

Words of Life, words of Hope, Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam, Ancient words will guide us home

[Chorus:]
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
Oh, let the ancient words impart

Holy words of our Faith, Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice, Oh heed the faithful words of Christ

Holy words long preserved, For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart, Oh let the ancient words impart

[Chorus:]
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
Oh, let the ancient words impart

Here is a youtube video of the  song.  I apologize if there are ads; you can’t get away from them these days:

 

A Moment To Breathe – Book Review

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A Moment to Breathe

 

 

During this time of year we all need just a moment to breathe.  I think this devotional book would be good for that reason.  The full title is: A Moment To Breathe; 365 Devotions that Meet You In Your Everyday Mess.  This book is from the (in)courage community.

The days are numbered so you can start anywhere; starts with Day 1 and goes through to Day 365.  Each page is a page of encouragement for everyday living. The stories are true to life and show examples of how we, as women, can live our lives helping and encouraging others.  Each start with a bible verse (indexed in the back of the book) and ends with a thought to take with you during the day or for meditation.

I think it would be a great addition to any woman’s library.

 

http://www.lifeway.com/Product/a-moment-to-breathe-P005796426