Book Review – “Fool’s Talk” by Os Guinness

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As a lay apologist, I am always looking for good books on the topic.  I have heard Os Guinness speak more than I have read things by him, but I knew that I liked what I heard.  When I saw he released a book on apologetics, I immediately added it to my “to read” list.  Guinness’ book, called Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, did not disappoint!

The first thing I want to point out is that the book is dense.  Not in a bad way, but it is certainly  not a quick read.  Guinness includes a lot to think about, and it is both deep and well rounded.  Honestly, I’m not sure I feel qualified to write a review after reading it only once, but I will have to read even slower the next time, so I am going to give it my best shot.

Fool’s Talk is an interesting addition to the apologetic genre.  It is not a book primarily filled with answers to tough questions, although there are some.  It is not primarily a book on methodology.  In fact, Guinness points out a few times throughout the book that he is no fan of scripted methodologies of apologetics or evangelism.  To Guinness, we should know the person we are talking to well enough to have a genuine conversation that is geared toward the needs of the hearer.  I suppose I could describe Guinness’ book as being a primer on why apologetics is necessary, with many reminders as to the ultimate goal: loving people enough to persuade them into God’s kingdom for their benefit.

Along those lines, then, Guinness’ book is also a crossover into evangelism. Again, nothing scripted.  Rather it is an encouragement that the reason for apologetics is not ultimately about “winning” an argument.  Instead, the goal is heart and life transformation of those we are reaching out to.

Guinness tackles various subjects such as why people fail to believe, how to “turn the tables” to expose the presuppositions (and the weakness of those presuppositions) of the hearer, how to trigger more of  desire for our hearers to know God, understanding that our lives must increasingly match our talk, and more.

I found myself wondering throughout the book whether Guinness would support more of an evidentialist-based approach or a presuppositionalist-based one.  Guinness ends up answering that question in the book, and I love his answer:

“One of the most futile arguments in contemporary apologetics is the debate between the so-called evidentialists and presuppositionalists. But what should be clear from this description of the journey toward faith is that the answer is not either-or, but both-and and which-when.  Both presuppositions and evidences are a key part of our apologetics approach, and the real question is which to focus on and when.” (p. 246)

Guinness then proceeds to explain how someone who is hardened to Christianity is in need of more presuppositional explanations, while someone who is open is in need of more evidentialist ones.  I think that he does a phenomenal job of bringing together something that is normally divided (and often harshly so).

Throughout, Guinness reminds us that the goal is love.  We love people.  We want them to know God. Therefore we must recover the art of Christian persuasion.  It is not about being smarter than others.  It is not about winning an argument; if all we do is win arguments, we may be winning small battles but ultimately losing the war for the hearts of people who need to know God in Christ.  It is about knowing the love of God and life in His kingdom and wanting others to know and experience the same.  That is the goal of Christian persuasion, and it is a much-needed reminder for those of us who delve into apologetics.

I truly believe every Christian needs to read this book.  It needs to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.  And then it needs to be implemented in our lives.  If we can lovingly recover the art of Christian persuasion, the Church will make great strides in leading people back to God’s loving kingdom.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review – “Four Views on Hell”

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Zondervan’s “Counterpoints” series is a great series.  It allows readers to learn about multiple views on an issue with each presented by a proponent of that view followed by responses from the other authors in the book who hold to different views on the same topic.  This give and take allows strong representatives of the various views to have a small discussion for us to read and consider.  Recently, Zondervan released an updated version of a previous book, Four Views on Hell, and I requested a copy from BookLook Bloggers to read and review.

The four views presented (with the author who presents it) are eternal conscious torment by Denny Burk (the traditional view), terminal punishment/annihilationism by John G. Stackhouse Jr., [Christian] universalism by Robin A. Parry, and a protestant understanding of purgatory by Jerry L. Walls.  Preston M. Sprinkle provides an introduction and conclusion to the book.

I certainly feel I have a better understanding of the various views after reading the book.  Each viewpoint is well presented, and the responses are very well done.

I do feel that Denny Burk’s responses were the least kind.  It’s not that he was outright rude, but whereas the other authors seemed to try to find as much good as they could in the other contributors’ essays, Burk did so almost dismissively before jumping into his refutation of their views.  Stackhouse, Parry, and Walls seemed much more generous in their responses to each other.

I also have to admit that the essay on purgatory seemed out of place in this volume.  As Walls explains it, purgatory, from a protestant perspective, is strictly sanctifying, and is only for believers who are already destined for Heaven.  Walls admits that his view on Hell is essentially a view of eternal conscious torment, if I understood him correctly, as it has the clearest Scriptural support and the longest tradition in the history of the Church.  In his explanation, the other views on Hell would bear the burden of proof to overturn such a longstanding view.  Perhaps purgatory was included in the book because some mistakenly associate it with Hell and punishment, but once it is explained, it seemed very out of place.

What I liked is that all the authors are clear that they believe that some aspect of Scripture supports their view.  They are all Christians, all believe Jesus is the only way to God, and all turn to Scripture for support.  None of the views are entirely devoid of Scriptural support, although some rely on Scripture more than others.

If you are looking for a balanced book to help you understand the various Christian viewpoints on Hell, this book, though far from exhaustive, is a great place to start.

*Note: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  

Book Review – “Habits of Grace” by David Mathis

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Lately I have been greatly desiring to grow in the spiritual disciplines as a means of growing closer to God and being transformed into the image of Christ.  I have read books by Dallas Willard and Don Whitney in the past.  When I heard about Habits of Grace by David Mathis (published by Crossway), I was excited to read through it.

In many ways, this book is very similar to many books that are out on the spiritual disciplines.  There is, however, one thing that makes this book distinct.  It breaks the disciplines down broadly into three categories: Hear His Voice, Have His Ear, and Belong to His Body.  Mathis explains that the organization of the book is intended to “help Christians young and old simplify their various personal habits of grace, or spiritual disciplines” (location 194, Kindle edition).

The first category covers Scripture reading, study, meditation on Scripture, and memorization of Scripture.

The second category covers prayer (both individual and corporate), fasting, and journaling.

The third category covers fellowship, corporate worship, listening to preaching, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and listening to rebuke (a very interesting addition, and one I found very inspiring).

There is a separate section that covers missions and evangelism, managing our money, and managing our time.

I appreciate the Bible-centered focus of this book.  Whitney’s book is similar.  Not all books on the disciplines emphasize the importance of Scripture by referring to it throughout the book.  Habits of Grace, however, keeps the word central.  There is also an emphasis on the grace of God being the central means of our growing in the disciplines.  It is God’s working in us, not our striving on our own power, that enables us to be transformed into the image of Christ.

As I have been memorizing Scripture recently, the chapter on memorizing really hit me.  I also like the chapter on journaling.  Mathis does a good job emphasizing how journaling can be an extension of meditating on Scripture and prayer to God.  I have always focused on journaling as primarily a way to record what I am thinking or doing, so this focus was an interesting one for me to consider.

One of the most powerful chapters to me was the chapter on using time wisely.  I have been struggling lately with feeling like I often waste too much time, and this chapter really hit home to me how important it is to see our time as a gift from God to be stewarded just as we might steward our money or possessions.  I would like to read this chapter a few more times to really internalize it.

I highly recommend picking up Habits of Grace if you are looking for a short, Bible-centered book on spiritual discipline.  You will not regret it.

*Note: I received a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “When You, Then God” by Rusty George

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God makes many promises to us throughout His word.  Sometimes, however, those promises are conditional.  When You, Then God by Rusty George hits on some of these ways that God blesses us as we take certain steps.

Some of the aspects George brings up are “when you trust God’s love, then God will invite you to partner with him,” “when you walk with Jesus, then God will help you look like Jesus,” “when you relax, then God will guide you,” and “when you place your hope in God, then God will give you hope,” among others.

George begins the book by opening up about how he realized that although he gave lip service to knowing and believing God’s love, he realized that he really did not.  This set him on a path to discover God’s love in a deeper way.

He then proceeds to tackle two errors in understanding the Bible: the “Thou  Shalts” and the “Never Minds.”  The former live in legalism, building rule upon rule on top of what the Bible says, missing God’s grace.  The latter dismiss much of Scripture, believing it does not apply to us today.

A better way is to realize that God’s word does apply to us, but that God is after our good in the process.  That partnership where we work and God works with us is the focus of the rest of the book.

To me, the best chapters of the book were the chapter dealing with anxiety and the last chapter, where George emphasizes the need not only to know God’s word but also to put that word into practice in our lives.  He explains that we need to constantly be learning the word of God and doing what we are learning.  If we learn without doing, we are not living out our faith.  If we do without learning, we can begin to live incorrectly.  Both are important.

When You, Then God is a great read to remind us of some of the precious promises in God’s word and what our part is in seeing those promises come to fruition in our lives.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.  

 

Living Out the Word

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I apologize that it has been so long since I wrote a post that was not a review of some sort.  Things have been very busy with work lately.  (Perhaps I should read Crazy Busy again.)

I did want to make a quick post just as an encouragement.

I finished memorizing Philippians finally, and I have had some time to reflect on the memorization process, especially meditation, as well as the idea of applying what I am learning.

As I was reciting the other day, I felt a check in my spirit about whether or not I was living out what I was memorizing.  Here I am reciting phrases like “do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV) and “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4, ESV), and I found myself wondering if I am actually doing this?

Am I living the Scriptures and letting them transform my mind (see Romans 12:1-2), or am I just storing up information that is not making a difference in my life?

All of the memorization, reading, and study we do means nothing if it does not bring about life change.  That is the goal, after all: to know Christ more intimately and to be transformed into His image.

This comes about not just by memorizing Scripture but by meditating on it, praying it, and making a conscious effort to apply it and live it out rather than just hoping something will happen without my actively putting forth effort.

Sure, life change comes about as a result of grace, but like Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.”  God’s grace enables me to put forth the effort it takes to walk in the Spirit and live out the word.  I am to “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in [me], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).

I want to encourage you to actively begin committing Scripture to memory.  Take it with you in your heart and mind so that you can think about it throughout your day and let it seep deep down into your soul to change you into the image of Christ.  Then make a concentrated effort to live out what you are memorizing.  You will never regret aligning your life with the living word of God.