Book Review – “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace

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I love apologetics.  I love reading on various arguments, explanations, and ideas on explaining and defending a Christian worldview.  Naturally, I was very excited when David C. Cook publishers offered to provide a copy of God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace for me to read and review.  I have read Wallace’s previous book Cold-Case Christianity, and I enjoyed it immensely.  This, too, was a good book by Wallace.

God’s Crime Scene argues for the existence of God from the ground up.  In the book, Wallace uses his experience as a cold-case detective to examine the evidence we see in creation to determine whether it points to a Creator or not.  As such, the book is intended to help those who question God’s existence see good arguments as to why He does exist.

The chapters examine the beginning of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the appearance of design in creation, the existence of consciousness, the existence of free will, the existence of morality, and the problem of evil.  As Wallace concludes each chapter, he puts together an “Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile.”  Ultimately, Wallace argues that the “Suspect” (quotes in Wallace’s book) responsible for the world as we know it is:

  1. “external to the universe
  2. nonspatial, atemporal, and nonmaterial
  3. uncaused
  4. powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe
  5. specifically purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life
  6. intelligent and communicative
  7. creative and resourceful
  8. a conscious Mind
  9. free to choose (and create) personally
  10. the personal source of moral truth and obligation
  11. the standard for good by which we define evil” (p. 193)

The layout of each chapter is to start with a legal case and the accompanying evidence as a way of analogy to the evidence to be examined from Creation.  Wallace then tackles all of the attempts to explain the evidence by looking “inside the room,” or looking only at natural, material causes.  He shows why those explanations fail to explain the evidence before looking elsewhere for an explanation for the evidence in question.  In the margins of the chapter Wallace includes “Expert Witness Profiles” (small biographical bits regarding people he cites in the book), “Cold Case Approach” information (explaining how a cold-case detective would look at evidence), and “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag” (extra tips to explain how detectives and jurors look at evidence to make decisions).

There are many selling points for those who wish to go deeper.  There are copious notes throughout, and often these notes add more information (full quotes from authors, explanations, etc.) rather than just citations as to where Wallace got information from.  Another inclusion is a section for each chapter in the back of the book called “The Secondary Investigation.” This section will take the information discussed in each chapter and go in more detail.  Finally, Wallace includes “Case Files: The Expert Witnesses.”  This section is a small bibliography for each chapter, providing titles of books that provide more information for those arguing from “inside the room” (the naturalistic arguments) and those arguing “outside the room” (the theistic arguments).  I especially like the fact that Wallace is willing to include titles that would argue against his case for others to read, as it shows that Wallace believes his arguments will stand up under scrutiny.

Who will benefit most from this book?  First, those who are atheist or agnostic who are open to considering other viewpoints will benefit.  Second, Christians/theists who are looking for assistance in understanding how to argue for a Creator.

I do need to take a minute to clarify a few things for people to understand if they are trying to decide whether or not to read this book.

First, this book takes an Intelligent Design approach, as far as I can tell.  It assumes modern scientific understanding of things such as the age of the earth and universe, the Big Bang, etc.  Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) are still able to use things from the book that don’t require a YEC stance.  But they will have issues with some of the assumptions that Wallace (and those he cites) makes.

Second, because it takes an Intelligent Design approach to arguing for the existence of God, it will fit in more with someone who holds to classical apologetics or cumulative case apologetics.  Presuppositionalists may have issues with the way Wallace makes his case.  As far as I can recall, no Scripture is cited in the text itself, and the only Scripture referenced is in the notes for the “Closing Argument.”  For classical apologists, this is a plus, as it shows that one can potentially argue for a theistic understanding of God without quoting chapter and verse.  For presuppositionalists, this may likely be a downside, as it doesn’t start from what they consider the ultimate authority to make the argument.  I still think anyone can glean much good from the book, but it was a point worth mentioning for those who take things like the above into account.

The last thing that potential readers need to note is that this book will not provide evidence to take someone all the way to considering Christianity.  It is not intended to.  Wallace himself points this out in the book:

“If the evidence in this book has been compelling to you and you’ve decided a Divine Creator is the best explanation for the evidence in the universe, you’re now among the vast majority of people on our planet who accept that proposition.  But given the variety of theistic worldviews available, which, if any of them, is true? The case for God’s existence presented in this book might apply to a number of religious systems positing a personal God, particularly the monotheistic traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  I would encourage you to investigate the claims of these systems with equal vigor.” (p. 203)

Wallace goes on to explain how he came to believe in Christianity, and he points out that he talks about how he came to that conclusion in Cold-Case Christianity, so he does point people to reading that could take them further.  For those considering this book, however, please understand that it does not argue all the way to Christianity; it stops with the existence of some form of a Creator.

Overall, this is a good book to read for those interested in arguments for the existence of a Creator/Intelligent Designer.  The layout and methodology is definitely unique, and it would make a good addition to anyone’s library who is interested in apologetics.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  

 

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Time Flies

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Sometimes we need a reminder of how our time flies.  I had such a reminder the other day as I was reading the Scriptures.

Psalm 39:4-5 says, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.  Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (ESV)

Somewhere along the way we get this idea that we have unlimited time.  We get the idea that we are immortal, and that there is always tomorrow.  James 4:13-15 warns us about this.

Perhaps it is a result of our desire to ignore death; if we ignore death’s reality, then certainly it will never come to us, right?  But the reality is that death comes whether we want it to or not.  Unless the Lord returns, we will all face death at some point, and we do not know when.

The psalmist asks God to “let me know how fleeting I am!”  He wisely wants God to remind Him of how quickly his life will pass.

He describes his days as “a few handbreadths.”  A handbreadth equaled about four inches.  The idea being that in the grand scheme of things, his life was not very long.  He then says that “all mankind stands as a mere breath.”  The word for “breath” is a word meaning “vapor.”  Think about going outside on a cold day and breathing out.  The breath that you see disappears quickly; it is a vapor.  That is the idea of how long (or short) our life is on earth.

In light of these things, we should consider how we are living.   How are we using the time that we have, fleeting as it is?  What things are we doing to ensure that we are “making the best use of the time”? (Ephesians 5:16, ESV)

Are we wasting it on things that won’t ultimately matter?  Are we investing it wisely in spiritual growth and time with family and friends?  Are we using our time to bless others?  Or are we selfishly hoarding it all, always waiting until later to use our time wisely?

There was an old saying that I remember hearing Leonard Ravenhill say, although I don’t think it was original to him.  It says, “Only one life; ’twill soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

How true that all is.  We only have one life on this earth, and as the psalmist reminds us, although in different words, “’twill soon be past.”  The only things that will last are those things done for Christ.

Now this doesn’t mean that we can do only “spiritual” things (like reading the Bible, praying, etc.).   But whatever we are doing needs to be done to God’s glory.  And we do need to think about how our time is being spent.  Perhaps there are some better ways we can be using our time.

This life is a gift from God, and we will never regret the things we have done for Christ. Let us be sure we are using our time wisely.  After all, it is “a mere breath.”

Book Review – “The End of Me” by Kyle Idleman

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Having read Not a Fan and Gods at War by Kyle Idleman, I was interested in his new book The End of Me.  David C Cook publishers was kind enough to send me a copy to review.

The subtitle of the book is “Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins.”  This adequately sums up the main focus of the book.  Idleman shows how the ways of Jesus are often completely opposite of the ways of the world, and that in order to grow in Christ, we must adopt Jesus’ ways, which requires us to go against the normal ideas we have about how life works.

The book is divided into two parts.  In the first part, Idleman focuses on four of the beatitudes (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the humble/meek, and the pure in heart), showing that we must come to the end of ourselves before we can be used.

The second part shows us that, in Idleman’s words, “we will see that when we get to the end of ourselves and realize we aren’t strong enough, smart enough, or talented enough, then ironically we are in the best position to be used by God in significant ways” (p. 15).

Throughout the book, Idleman uses both Scripture and anecdotes to help us understand how all of this works.

Interestingly, I found the very last chapter of the book to be the best.  In some way, it seemed the most practical and hard hitting.  Just two examples will show what I mean.

First, he basically summarizes the thrust of the rest of the book:

“This book has been a kind of path,  treasure hunt if you will, and on it we’ve followed Jesus through his teachings.  We’ve seen how he turns the world’s views inside out and upside down.  He simply cuts against the grain of how we naturally think, and we realize that to follow Jesus, we need to retrain our minds to focus through spectacles we’ve never worn before.  The key to thinking his way is an utter surrender, a giving up of the old ways, which never would have worked anyway” (pp. 196-197)

What a great summary!  I almost think it would have been helpful to lay that out in the introduction to set the stage.

The second example of how helpful the last chapter is says,

“Each day is a new narrow gate.  The problem with dying to myself is that it’s so daily.  I have to make the choice over and over again.  I can live for myself or I can live for Christ, which means picking up my cross–at the drugstore, at the gas pump, in my living room, in traffic.

“Not only must I serve the people I love and admire, and those who can make my life easier, but dying to myself also means serving those I don’t really like or understand and even those who have hurt me.  How can you serve a husband who is apathetic rather than loving? A wife who never speaks an encouraging word? A child bent on rebellion? How do you serve the coworker who talked behind your back? The rude guy across the street? The driver who takes your life into his hands on the highway? It takes dying to yourself. If Jesus can wash the feet of Judas, then it’s time for me to come to the end of myself and follow his example” (pp. 204-205)

What a powerful reminder!  Living the way of Christ takes place most when we are serving people who require us to die to ourselves in order to serve them.  It’s easy to serve those we love and to serve when we get something in return.  It requires the life of Christ in us to love those we have issues with or who have issues with us.

In reality, the entire last chapter (all 21 pages of it) is full of wonderful reminders and truths.  To me, the last chapter, alone, is worth getting the book.

The only issue I had with the book was the humor that Idleman puts throughout.  It’s not so much the humor in the main body of the book that throws it off, but the humor in the footnotes seems a bit much.  I’m sure that is just Idleman’s style.  In defense of the author, he was probably just trying to take a tough topic (coming to the end of oneself) and make it a little easier to take in.  In my opinion, however, it seemed to take away from the overall impact of the book.  I would feel really convicted (in a good way) and then come across a footnoted joke that seemed to just rob the moment of its force and impact.

One example of the joking that Idleman does is during a part where he is talking about how much time people spend on entertainment and staring at screens.  While making a great point about how busy we are (as a way of filling emptiness in our lives), we find this note:  “If you’re reading this on a tablet, you’re absolved. In fact, let’s take the time you spend staring at a screen to read this book and credit that to your account. So play a few games of ‘Flappy Bird’ on me” (p. 125)  In my opinion, the note, while humorous, seemed to jump in and take away the seriousness of the moment, a seriousness which was much needed.

Overall, The End of Me by Kyle Idleman is a great book.  It serves to remind us that it is not all about us and that we must come to the end of ourselves so that God can do His work through us.  I definitely recommend this book!

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Desiring the Kingdom

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What is our deepest desire?  What is it that keeps us up at night, longing for it more than anything else.  What is it that we would give up everything for with no hesitation?  Is it money?  A new job?  A spouse?  Children?  Let’s check Scripture and see what we should be desiring above all else.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-47, ESV)

Amazing, isn’t it?  The kingdom of heaven (the active reign of God both now and in the future in heaven) is compared to a treasure and a pearl of great value.  Its value is so great that in both of these parables the men sell all that they have in order to get it.  They literally are willing to give up everything just to get the treasure and the pearl.

Do we view the kingdom of God like that?  Are we willing to give up our most precious things, even if it means giving up everything, to attain the kingdom in our lives?

This is not saying we are desiring something (God’s kingdom) more than we are desiring God Himself.  In actuality it is the kingdom of heaven precisely because it is the reign of God Himself; the two are inseparable.   By desiring the kingdom, we are desiring God Himself to be with us and rule over us.

There can be no half-hearted measures here.  We must hit a point where we desire this above all else.  “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV)  We are to seek it first, as our primary object of desire.

Let us pray that God will increase our desire for Himself, and that we will actively pursue that desire with everything we have.

Praise and Rejoicing Rather Than Negativity

My current Bible-reading schedule had me in Psalm 33 and 34 the last few days.  And some of the verses really got me thinking.

Psalm 33:1 says, “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.” (ESV)

Psalm 34:1-3 says, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.  Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (ESV)

I would love to be writing a post right now explaining how I have come to a place in my life where this is true of me.  In reality, I am writing out of conviction.  It’s amazing how God’s word truly is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV)  In this case, as I read God’s word, I felt the reproof and correction of God in my life.

The word tells us that “praise befits the upright;” in other words, if we are following God, praise is fitting for our lives.  Why shouldn’t we be in a state of praise?  We have access to God through Jesus Christ.  We have forgiveness of sins and abundant life through Christ’s death and resurrection.  We have the indwelling Spirit to transform us and walk with us through this life. And we have the promise of being with God for all eternity.  Praise befits us, not grumbling and complaining.  Unfortunately, there has been more of the latter in my life recently.

In reality, I should be “bless[ing] the LORD at all times.”  The praise of God should “continually be in my mouth.”  The praise of God cannot be continually in my mouth if my mouth is filled with complaints.  I have to make a concentrated effort to ensure that praise is coming from my mouth rather than negativity.  This will require the grace of God in my life, as I cannot do this on my own.

Realizing what my problem is is a lot easier than correcting it.  I know I should be praising God and rejoicing always.  But apart from God’s working in me, I will fail miserably at it.

I think I need to take up the discipline of celebration, actively finding things to celebrate and rejoice in.  Only by retraining myself to speak positively, praising God and rejoicing in everything with thanksgiving (see Philippians 4:4-6), will I be able to live out the message of those psalms.

I want to end this post by encouraging you to join me, as David did us as the readers and hearers of the psalm, “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”

Book Review – “It’s Not What You Think” by Jefferson Bethke

It’s not often that I finish a book and immediately want to reread it, but that is the case with this book.  It’s Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke is a book that I will definitely be recommending to others.  I think that every Christian should read through this book, especially those of us who are thoroughly set in a Western mindset.

The subtitle for the book is “Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die.”  With this title and subtitle, it seems to fall in line with other books I have been reading recently by N. T. Wright and Dallas Willard (both of whom Bethke cites and quotes in his book).  Bethke writes to help us reorient ourselves and break out of some misconceptions we have regarding Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus.

In the Introduction Bethke points out, “One of the scariest questions we have to ask ourselves is, what if we aren’t seeing Jesus properly?  What implication does that have for our lives?  What if Jesus isn’t who we think?  I believe he’s always catching us off guard, creatively challenging us, pursuing us, and loving us” (xxv).  It’s a great set of questions, and I believe that we have managed to misunderstand some things in Christianity.  Bethke’s book goes a long way in helping us readjust our understanding of Jesus.

The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Your Story’s Not What You Think: Love Defined You Before Anything Else Did
  2. The Temple’s Not What You Think: It’s God Pitching His Tent in Your Backyard
  3. People Are Not Who You Think: They’re Neighbors to Love, Not Commodities to Use
  4. You Aren’t Who You Think: You’re a Person from the Future
  5. The Sabbath’s Not What You Think: You Rest As You Play
  6. Worship’s Not What You Think: You Become What You Behold
  7. The Kingdom’s Not Where You Think: It’s Not in the Sky; It’s Here Now
  8. Brokenness Is Not What You Think: You Must Embrace Your Scars
  9. The Table’s Not What You Think: It’s Not Just a Meal; It’s a Sacred Space

Each chapter tackles an issue that is often misunderstood in Christianity, according to the author, and tries to reexamine it afresh through another look at the Scriptures, especially as understood from a first-century Jewish context (which is, after all, the context through which Jesus came).

For example, in chapter 7, Bethke tackles the idea that the kingdom is primarily about a future place we will go to. Obviously, we will be in Heaven one day, and that is never in question.  But when we reduce the kingdom to primarily a future event, we miss out on a lot now.  Bethke writes:

“Growing up, I always thought our hope was that we would get evacuated, that one day I would get snatched up into the sky and leave this nasty and evil earth.  But from the very first sentence God seems to be about restoration.  He doesn’t want us to leave; he wants to come here himself.  That God’s reign and rule would be established in our finances, academics, sexuality, and jobs.  That God would dwell with us” (136).

We need to be reminded of this!  Jesus is our King, and He came to set up a new kingdom (a new dominion and way of living) now, which will, of course, be fully consummated in the future.  But we are already living it now, if we follow Him.  This idea ties in to the subtitle, reminding us that salvation is not merely about forgiveness of sins, but is about a new life (an abundant life) that starts now.

While I may not agree with everything Bethke says, I agree with most of it, and it needs to be heard.

I would strongly encourage everyone to get this book and read it slowly and thoughtfully.  I believe it will help your relationship with Christ grow, and will offer a correction to some of the misunderstandings of Scripture we have built up over the years.  Read it and be blessed!

Note: I received this book free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – “The Reformation Study Bible”

I love reading through various study Bibles.  Each one brings its own unique take on Scripture, allowing us a deeper glimpse into the text and bringing new ways of applying it to our lives.  When I heard about the updated Reformation Study Bible, I immediately wanted one.  Ligonier was nice enough to give me a copy to look at and review.

The text base of The Reformation Study Bible is the 2011 edition of the English Standard Version (ESV).  I have grown to love this translation, as it strikes a good balance between being literal and readable.

This Bible is massive, with 2534 pages, not including the maps and a few blank pages.  The text is black throughout (no red-letters to mark the words of Jesus).  To some this will be a welcome format, as it keeps us from elevating some parts of Scripture over others; to other people, however, they like being able to glance quickly and see when Jesus is talking.  The paper used is very thin (it has to be to keep the Bible from becoming even more bulky than it is), so I cannot see using it as a note-taking Bible unless one is very careful about the pen/pencil used to keep from having a lot of bleed through from one page to the next.  The text is single column, and it contains cross references in the inside margin of each page.  There are some black and white maps throughout.  There is a concordance in the back as well as a Bible reading plan, a table of weights and measures, and a section of color maps.

The notes throughout are solid.  While I do not consider myself Reformed in doctrine (although I find myself very sympathetic with most of the Reformed views), I cannot help but notice that Reformed authors, teachers, and pastors tend to take us much deeper into the text than others, with few exceptions.  This is one reason that the majority of authors I read are Reformed/Calvinistic in their stance.  I read through the notes fully for Jonah, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 John (all portions I have memorized) to get an overview of what the notes were like.  I found much food for thought in all of them.

While glancing through other notes, I came across some that clearly show that the editors are cessationists (they do not believe in the continuation of sign gifts today) and at least one entry I read leaned towards a paedobaptist stance (baptizing infants as a sign of the covenant) as opposed to a credobaptist stance (baptizing believers upon confession of faith), although several notes also discuss baptizing believers who commit to be disciples.  In defense of the text in question, the author does a good job of presenting arguments for and against infant baptism, but ultimately the author seems very accepting of the idea.

The introduction to each Bible book contains information on the following: the title of the book, the author, the date and occasion of writing, the genre, literary features of the book, characteristics and primary themes of the book, theology of the book, the book in context of the larger story of the Bible, pointers to Christ in the book, a history of interpretation of the book, and special issues related to the book. This is followed by an outline of the book before the actual biblical text starts.  These discussions provide a lot of wonderful insights into each book.

Scattered through each book are articles discussing a range of topics.  For example, those in Genesis are “Human Beings Created in the Image of God,” “Covenant of Words,” “Original Sin,” “Covenant,” and “Infant Baptism.” Matthew contains “Excommunication,” “Legalism,” and “The Sacraments.”

This Bible contains the following Topical Articles: Apologetics, The Bible in Church History, The Bible vs. Other Sacred Texts, Canonicity, Covenant Theology, Creeds and Confessions, Hermeneutics, The Inerrancy of Holy Scripture, Interpreting Scripture by Scripture, New Testament Textual Criticism, Old Testament Textual Criticism, The Preaching of the Reformation, The Reformation, and Worship.

One of the most handy parts of this Bible are the collection of Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms in the back.  It contains the following: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Westminster Larger Catechism, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, and The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  While I do not agree with everything in all of the creeds and confessions, there are some wonderful insights in them.  Take the following from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question – “What is the chief end of man?”  Answer – “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Who can do anything but say “Amen!” to that?

The above is enough to make this a welcome addition to anyone’s library.  As of the time of this review, however, the publishers are throwing in even more.

When you purchase The Reformation Study Bible, you get an access code that gives you several e-books, some video teachings, a 6-month subscription to Tabletalk magazine (which I subscribe to and love), and a 3-month subscription to Ligonier Connect (a site containing multiple teaching sets which you can watch at your own pace).

The e-books included are the following: Everyone’s a TheologianFive Things Every Christian Needs to GrowBy Grace AloneIn Christ AloneThe Daring Mission of William TyndaleThe Expository Genius of John Calvin, and Believing God.

The teachings included are as follows: Dust to GloryAttributes of GodA Survey of Church History (Volumes 1-4)Lessons from the Upper RoomWhat is Reformed Theology, and Why We Trust the Bible?

I have not heard anything yet about the 6-month subscription to the magazine, although it is not a huge deal, as I am already subscribed, so they may have just added to my current subscription.  And while I received the Bible probably a few months ago, I have not heard any word on access to Ligonier Connect.  Granted, other than one initial email, I have not really pursued the matter, so I cannot say much about it.  I would love to have had a chance to try it out and comment on it here, too, but this is a review of the Bible primarily, so it is not a huge loss.

I believe that the packet included with the Bible lists the above as being “more than $400 in additional Bible study resources,” and I believe it.  It is well worth the cost of the Bible for the Bible alone, but with this additional material included, it definitely increases the value.

If you are interested in a solidly Reformed study Bible, this is the one for you.  If you are not Reformed yourself, be aware that this leans very strongly in that direction.  Personally, I like expanding my understanding, even into areas that I may  not agree with 100%, so it was a great opportunity to be able to review this Bible.

Note: I received this Bible free from the publisher in exchange for and as compensation for my honest review.