Archives For Practical Theology

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It is a feeling that still haunts me. Around this time 2 years ago, I was about to experience burnout. But I didn’t know it. Based on the trajectories I had setup, I’m not sure reading this book would have stopped it at that point, but it couldn’t have hurt.

This is a deceptively simple book. In Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash offers just what the subtitle promises: seven keys to a lifelong ministry and sustainable sacrifice. They are:

  1. We need sleep
  2. We need Sabbath rests
  3. We need friends
  4. We need inward renewal
  5. Beware of being on a platform
  6. Beware of discouragement
  7. Pursue in ministry because joy motivates you

Nothing here is necessarily revolutionary. However, Ash puts them in a framework that includes many personal stories (almost one per chapter), as well as some opening material that distinguishes between sacrifice and burnout. He then offers a big neglected truth (we are creatures of dust), before offering his four practical implications of that truth (see 1-4 above) and then three motivational questions to ask yourself. After working through those, there is a postscript from a medical doctor explaining burnout and then some suggested readings.

While the first four items above should not be surprising, they are things those of us in ministry need to remember regularly. When I experienced burnout almost two summers ago I think it was primarily because of lack of sleep, lack of true Sabbath rest (I had been taking a day off, but not really resting), lack of quality friendships (or at least spending time with friends I had) and lack of regular inward renewal (wasn’t really doing a quiet time to speak of). As a result, I hit a wall at the end of the semester and basically had generalized anxiety disorder for most of the summer and didn’t really come out of it until early the following year. I survived, but I certainly don’t want to feel that way again any time soon (or ever really).

All that to say, this book is worth putting on your shelf (after you’ve read it) if you’re in ministry. As the subtitle suggests, these keys are not for ministry in general, but are kind of back-end suggestions (or principles) for how your ministry and level of service can be zealous but sustainable.  Some forms of zeal can be maintained in their intensity for a short period of time. But, eventually, like me, you might hit a wall, and spend a summer wondering how you’re ever gonna move on and get back to your normal self.


Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable ServiceEpsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, March 2016. 112 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.

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Although I don’t blog about the topic very often, I have had a research and personal interest in the church’s relationship with the gay community for quite some time now. Notice I didn’t say “what the Bible says about homosexuality.” Despite some revisionist attempts to re-read certain passages, I think a traditional understanding of sexual ethics is correct. I realize that claim itself is open to interpretation. However, I think the intention for sexual relationships set forward in Scripture entails typical heterosexual monogamous unions.

Having said that, I still think it’s a different story when it comes to moving from what Scripture teaches to how we should apply that teaching to our contemporary situation. While homosexual behavior is soundly rejected in Scripture, certain other issues like transgender and intersex are not even mentioned. Much less is the question of how to care for and love those who either openly live a gay lifestyle, or are struggling not to do so.

Often in conversations like this, there is a divide between Biblical teaching and personal experience. What I mean by that is that some proudly proclaim what the Bible says but don’t have any experience with the gay community. Others have the experience, and so have a difficult time taking Scripture at face value. As an example, the strongest book offering a revisionist account of Scripture so that it is open to affirming homosexual relationships is James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. However, the author tells readers in the introduction that he began to re-think things when his son came out to him as gay. Once I read that, it was no surprise where he landed by the end of his reconsideration of the relevant New Testament passages.

When I was reading Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just An Issue, I could tell he was up to something different. After an opening chapter that orients readers to Sprinkle’s experience with both the people and the issue, he spends 6 chapters working through all of the main Biblical passages related to homosexuality. He is well acquainted with both the traditional arguments and revisionist accounts and is not afraid to critique either. While his tone makes you feel as if he is going to land in an affirming position toward homosexual relationships, he instead offers a well nuanced traditional understanding of sexual relationships.

This helps illustrate the two different audiences Sprinkle is writing to. On the one hand, he is writing to those who hold a traditional (non-affirming as he calls it) position on homosexuality. To them, he encourages a stance of sympathy and love that lacks the the moral hypocrisy that can creep in. He also takes away some less than sound arguments that can be used to condemn homosexuality from Scripture. On the other hand, he is writing to those who might hold an affirming position and pleads with them to reconsider what Scripture says. He gently critiques affirming arguments, while also writing as someone who is acquainted with those who live a gay lifestyle and those that affirm those who do.

While I don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, I benefited from reading Sprinkle’s book and would strongly recommend it. It is hard to imagine a more pressing discussion about what faithful Christian living and response involves. The final three chapters of this book dig more deeply into that, and Sprinkle offers some wisdom for a way forward. His style throughout is very conversational (in a way that may annoy some), and so for many may serve as a gentle corrective to their current views. For those it doesn’t convince, it still represents a viewpoint to be reckoned with. If this is something you wrestle with (either theoretically or existentially), you should pick up a copy of Sprinkle’s book.


Preston Sprinkle, People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An IssueGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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I believe I mentioned this already, but I’ve been teaching a spiritual disciplines class at church. We opted to call it Rhythms of The Christian Life, and at this point we’re 4/5 done. Because of that, I went back through my books on spiritual disciplines to prepare. Earlier this month, Habits of Grace:Enjoying Jesus Through The Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis came out and its a book I wish I had from the beginning. But, thanks to Crossway, I was able to get a PDF to read and review.

Mathis provides an excellent, yet concise, foundation for the disciplines in the introduction (which you can read in full here). He reminds us that these can be means of grace, through which God works in our lives. He then divides would could be an unruly collection of practices into three headings:

  • Hear His Voice (Word)
  • Have His Ear (Prayer)
  • Belong to His Body (Fellowship)

There is a fourth part that serves as a coda, but this three-fold division does much to simplify the topic. John Frame makes several appearances in the book so I’m wondering if there’s a latent triperspectivalism.

For the class that I’m teaching we started with a week on Sabbath and then inserted a separate week on fasting/silence/solitude after prayer. Mathis includes fasting, silence, and solitude under his section on prayer. He also includes journaling there. This certainly makes sense, given that these are the most private disciplines and taking time away for silence and solitude gives space for journaling, fasting, and prayer.

I’m glad that Mathis included the final section on fellowship and there also discussed the typical means of grace (the preached word, communion, baptism). This underscores the overall framework he has placed the disciplines within. It is also helpful for people like me who might opt to stick with the private disciplines. I need to be reminded that just as I read my Bible expectantly, I should gather for corporate worship and community with similar expectations for God to show grace.

If you’re looking for a good intro book on the spiritual disciplines, I’d highly recommend starting here. It’s what I’ll be recommending to my class as our time together closes out next week. It might also be the suggested reading on the front end for this class when I teach it again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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In a related vein, you might also want to check out Keith L. Johnson’s Theology as Discipleship. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to read this one toward the end of last year. In this book, Johnson argues that “the discipline of theology and a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ are integrally related because the practice of theology is one of the ways we participate in the life of the triune God.” He hopes to “show how the study of theology enriches Christian practice and how faithful obedience to Christ enables the learning of theology” (12).

This book arises out of an introductory course in theology Johnson teaches at Wheaton. As his argument proceeds, it is presented through close theological readings of Scripture (13). Before that, the opening chapter gives some background on how theological study fell on hard times. After talking about ways to move forward, the following chapters dig deeper into topics like union with Christ (chapters 2-3), the nature of the Word of God and our posture toward it (chapters 4-5), and the mind of Christ (chapter 6).

The final chapter lays out some principles for what “theology in Christ” looks like. Ultimately, we practice theology as disciples of Christ when:

  • We measure our thinking and speaking about God by the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture (156)
  • Our thinking stays within the limits of our faith in Jesus Christ (158)
  • We seek to live obediently in the pattern of the incarnate Jesus Christ’s obedience to God (161)
  • We do our theological work for the benefit of others (166)
  • We use our theological work to serve the church and its mission (171)
  • We pursue both truth and unity (176)
  • We display confidence while avoiding defensiveness (179)
  • We utilizing the insights of non-theological disciplines to enrich our thinking (182)
  • We pursue our theological work with joy (186)

While this is a fairly short book, it packs a punch. It is a good example of theological reading of Scripture being used to defend theology as a practice of Christian discipleship. At places, it can feel a bit dense. In terms of tone, style, and content, it’s a book for people like me primarily. But, in terms of argument, it is aimed at those who are questioning whether the study of theology is worth pursuing. That might make the book itself a hard sell, since I’m already convinced it’s worth pursuing, but I don’t think I could give this book to one of my college students who is questioning the pursuit of theology, because that usually goes hand in hand with an aversion to reading. If they liked reading, they’d already be an easy sell to do some theological reading. If they’re not, I wouldn’t see this book as convincing them, even though I think it has a strong argument. Not necessarily a reason to not check this book out, but a potential issue it might have in making an impact.

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Lastly, thanks to Zondervan I was able to read Julius Kim’s Preaching The Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons. I’m not typically a fan of things with “gospel-centered” in the title or subtitle. Not because I don’t like the gospel, or want things “centered” on it (whatever that might actually mean), but rather because it can be faddish. Kim’s book however, is not.

I was interested in picking this up since I joined the preaching planning team at our church this past fall. I had been helping with research for a couple of years off and on. Recently, our church transitioned from being a campus of a larger church movement to an independent church. As that was happening, our pastor setup up a weekly preaching meeting to collaborate and plan the sermons and series. The mechanics of it all, might make for another interesting post. Here, I’ll just note that although I don’t preach often (outside of chapel at school really, and even that is not usually a “sermon”) I am interested in the design and delivery of sermons.

The first two parts of the book cover the basics of Christ-centered preaching. The final two parts of the book are devoted to the delivery and design of sermons so that they might not only be true and good, but also beautiful. This latter focus is what sets Kim’s book apart. Having sermons that are true and good are common goals among preaching books. The latter, while not ignored, is not usually as explicit as Kim makes it. In the last part specifically, Kim incorporates insights from recent studies in neuroscience in order to unpack how to design and deliver the sermon. He also deals with verbal and non-verbal communication as it pertains to the delivery.

All in all, this makes Kim’s book worth checking out if you preach regularly. It is concise (just over 220 pp), but covers quite a bit of ground. In some ways, it might be a better book for people who are already familiar with the techniques of Christ-centered preaching and have either been practicing it for a while or are well read in these kinds of books. It is introductory enough to work well as a class textbook, but maybe not as a stand alone read. Because of what Kim includes about design and delivery though, I think it definitely deserves to be in the mix of books that provide good instruction for preaching.

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In our small group at church we’ve been doing a Hebrews Bible study. Not a Hebrew Bible study mind you, but a study covering the book of Hebrews. This past week, we looked at 5:11-6:12, with a bit of 6:13-20 toward the end. As we were engaged in discussion and study, I noticed a connection between 5:11 and 3:12-14 that got me thinking.

In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s Hebrews 5:11-14:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

We tend to construe “dull of hearing” as pertaining to gaining knowledge. But from context, both here and earlier in the book, I think it has more to do with obedience. Part of that is because the two words are closely related, especially in the context of Hebrews. This connection also features prominently in a recent book on listening. Ultimately, to “obey” is to “hyper-listen” or to listen deeply.

On this understanding, someone is “dull of hearing” if they are “slow to obey.” While it could be construed as not listening well on Sunday mornings, I think it has more to do with listening to God in general, specifically through his Word, and evidencing that you’ve heard by how you live. This comes out more in 5:14 as the contrasting position is called “mature” and that is defined as having “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This more or less describes the wise person in the book of Proverbs, and implies that you distinguish good from evil in order to practice the former instead of the latter. We could say then that listening closely leads to living wisely.

With this in mind, think back to 3:12-14, which again if you don’t have it memorized is:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice how important the community is for helping each other avoid sin’s deceitfulness. The word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which is the same word underlying “Paraclete”, the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit indwells believers, then they are able to function as a mouthpiece for the Spirit, doing his job (in part) in the context of Christian community. By being part of an active church body, you are “partaking of the Holy Spirit” if others are exhorting you toward living a godly life (cf. 6:4 and what this might mean in that context).

I tend to think that the way this should work is similar to an aspect of the way I teach piano. Often, I find myself listening very closely as a student plays through a song that they practiced during the previous week. It is rare that a song is played completely mistake free. However, as I’m listening closely and paying attention, I can discern the intentionality behind many of the notes. What I’m looking for is evidence of correct thinking behind the playing.

One thing that is difficult in being a piano teacher is that I’m essentially listening to someone play a song so I can point out their mistakes. I’ve had to think through how to do this well so that it’s not a drudgery to sit through lessons (for me and the student). I’m sure many of you had that teacher growing up. You know, the one that pointed out every single mistake, quickly saying “Wrong!” as soon as your finger touched that F that should have been an F# because you forget you were playing in the key of G.

What I try to do is to either wait for the student to correct the error themselves, or even wait until the end of the piece and ask, “What did you forget?” at which point they remember themselves that all the F’s were supposed to be sharp. Other times, when I wrong note is played, I’ll say “close” letting them know it wasn’t quite right, but in a way encouraging them that they’re right there and then they have the opportunity to move to the correct note on their own.

Thinking back to Hebrews 3 passage, it involves a similar kind of listening. Rather than pointing out every mistake individuals in our community make, we should listen closely to the overall melody their life is making. We should encourage them when the notes they are playing are close to the mark, and perhaps not rush to calling out every error along the way. If we are truly living in community together, we have more than passing interaction with one another and can discern patterns in others’ behavior that might need to be addressed. 

Like a piano teacher that generally sees his students for a concentrate amount of timing weekly, we should seek to spend concentrated time with close community weekly. Doing so allows us to really listen to one another and even better exhort and encourage more melodic living in harmony with the Spirit within us.

 

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If one were to put together a list of influential theologians in the history of the church, Augustine would certainly be near the top. In terms of sheer literary output, not to mention kick-starting a genre (autobiography), Augustine towers over other theologians. Yet, he was primarily a pastor (bishop) for his day job. As such, he had much to say when it came to living the Christian life. Thanks to Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series, you can read many of those insights in one place.

When compared to the other authors in the series, Augustine may seem out of place. The book itself is a bit out of place in terms of style. Gerald Bray chose to divide up the nearly 200 pages into only 5 chapters. Those five chapters give readers a window into Augustine’s life and background, his Christian faith, his influence as a teacher, his role as a pastor, and his impact on today. These chapters are bookended by a rundown on the Latin titles of Augustine’s works (and their English translations) and suggestions for further reading.

So far, you could have gathered much of this yourself by an attentive reading of the table of contents (which is the first step of good book reviewing mind you). You may still be wondering why Augustine made the list for this particular series. He is the oldest author by far, and the only pre-Reformation selection. Toward the end of Bray’s book I think he gives a good reason:

Augustine had the good fortune, if we can call it that, to have lived in the last generation of antiquity. After his death, it was still possible for some people in the Latin West to get a good classical education, as the careers of Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Gregory the Great remind us, but the were exceptions. The old Roman world no longer has urban centers where a large educated public eagerly debated philosophy and theology. Classical allusions fell on increasingly deaf ears as fewer and fewer people were brought up on the literary treasures of pre-Christian times. For many, Augustine – and especially The City of God – became the lens through which they read about what had gone before. He was the source, the encyclopedia of knowledge, through which the whole of antiquity, pagan and Christian, was distilled (192).

In the opening chapter, after his biographical sketch of Augustine, and before his short description of basic beliefs, Bray breaks down all the categories of writing Augustine left us:

  • Autobiographical
  • Philosophical
  • Exegetical
  • Doctrinal
  • Apologetical
  • Pastoral and Monastic
  • Polemical
  • Letters and Sermons

As he notes, “No ancient Christian writer has left us a larger corpus of writings than Augustine” (29). He left over 100 books, 307 known letters, and 583 sermons. If you math, you could figure out that Augustine averaged 3 books a year during his writing career.

With all this in mind, Augustine becomes the obvious candidate for inclusion in this series. He “was the greatest of the Latin (Western) church fathers” (191) and is the window in what came before him for much of the Western world. As far as influential Christian writers of his stature, perhaps Aquinas deserves inclusion in a series like this, but I can’t see him making the cut for various reasons.

Turning back to the book itself, the second chapter begins the exposition proper when it comes to Augustine’s understanding of the Christian life. Here, Bray guides readers through Augustine’s conversion, devotional life, family life and personal values, his choice of lifestyle (celibate), and his general life of faith. In chapter 3, the focus shifts to Augustine as a teacher of the Bible, as well as philosophy (briefly in regards to things and signs) and theology. Chapter 4 turns to his pastoral work, particularly the trials of parish life and his preaching.

In the final chapter, Bray kind of summarizes all that came before, but in the context of how it relates to our world today. He notes two emphases of Augustine’s that are relevant, especially in our modern world:

  • His emphasis on the relationship of the individual to God (198)
  • His adherence to the church (200)

We can tend to opt for one of the other, yet Augustine held both strongly. In addition Bray notes several teaching emphases that continue to have impact:

  • The human race is united in sin and rebellion against God and cannot save itself (201)
  • The Word of God is to be found in the Bible and nowhere else (203)
  • God is a Trinity of love (206)
  • God created the world for a purpose (208)
  • The Christian’s life is a journey that we walk by faith (210)
  • The Christian mission is important wherever it is exercised (212)

Taking all of these together provides a good snapshot of Augustine’s teaching as it related to the Christian life. I would say after reading this that there is much for modern evangelicals to learn from Augustine, even if we might disagree with some of his theological leanings. But, that’s probably true of pretty much every author featured in this series. Bray does an excellent job of presenting Augustine sympathetically, but without overshadowing that Augustine comes from a very different time and place and saw the world much differently than we do.

As a minor criticism, I would have liked to have the chapters laid out in a more digestible form. The chapters are long compared to other volumes in this series and the headings are not numerous. I found that it was hard to read in spurts. Bray can obviously divide up the material however he likes, and I do like his conceptual layout. Perhaps if I had not read nearly all the other volumes already, I wouldn’t have had a chapter length expectation in play. As I’ll say though for pretty much all the volumes in this series, it is one you should take, read, and hopefully grow in your walk with Christ as a result.


Gerald Bray, Augustine on The Christian Life: Transformed by The Power of God. Wheaton: Crossway, October, 2015. 232 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Thanks to the generosity of Crossway, I will be posting reviews of the Theologians on The Christian Life series over the next several months. I have one more to finish reading, but since I just recently finished Augustine on The Christian Life, I’m ready to get started.

Recently, I’ve wanted to refocus my attention on the basic of living the Christian life. Some of that is because of teaching commitments (at school and soon at church). Some of that is because of just feeling rusty myself in terms of basic spiritual disciplines. Another part of it is my fairly longstanding interest in the relationship of good works to the life of faith in Christ. When you add all these together, it should make for a good spring series.

I thought it might be interesting to do the series chronologically by theologian rather than book release date. This particularly series unfortunately only has Augustine before the Reformation, but given some of Bray’s comments, it is probably a justified choice (more on that in the actual review). There are more 20th century theologians than I think any other single century. Also, were it not for Wesley, it would be a fairly monochrome sample of Reformed authors (the Germans being mild outliers).

Regardless, in this stack you have some of the most influential Christian theologians and their thoughts on the Christian life. I thought it might be interesting to move through them in a way that gives a brief overview of each book, notes which ones are stronger contributions than others, and over time, note what themes are held in common by each of these writers. With only one title left to read (Bonhoeffer), I have a pretty good idea what these themes might look like, but it will be clearly as I actually start writing the reviews. By next week, I’ll hopefully have Augustine ready to go and then we’ll see how it goes from there!

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Well, it’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time at the end of the year when everyone gets jazzed about Bible reading plans. I haven’t seen the posts pop up yet, but I’m sure the week after Christmas they’ll be here right on schedule.

While I’m all for Bible reading plans, it really is not that effective if you just power through a reading plan without understanding what your’e reading. I would imagine that’s why many people have a hard time getting through a “Bible in a year” plan once Exodus wraps up. Leviticus and Numbers can join forces to tank any resolve you have leftover from January and put an end to your efforts mid-February.

A way to avoid some of this is to learn the basics of biblical interpretation. There are many, many resources you could use for this, but I’d recommend starting with Sinclair Ferguson’s From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The Bible. I wouldn’t necessarily make it the only book you read on the topic, but it is an excellent place to start.

The subtitles give you the three parts that the book is divided into. First, Ferguson offers a trio of chapters on the trustworthiness of Scripture. He provides a good foundation that helps readers to see that the Bible is actually God’s Word. The implications of this should be that we make a priority of reading and then applying it.

Toward that end, Ferguson devotes the second part of the book to helping you read the Bible better. The first chapter in this section covers reading in general. The second chapter gives readers several “keys” for reading well. They are:

  • Context
  • Jesus
  • The unfolding drama
  • Biblical logic
  • Each part of Scripture should be read according to its literary character

These could have been presented in perhaps a more memorable way. But, they give readers “handles” for how to handle the Word of God correctly. When we read, we should ask questions about the background context (historical, cultural, literary), as well how it fits into the larger story of Scripture and relates to Christ. We should also develop the ability to read using biblical logic (which is easier said than done) and then read Scripture according to its genre of literature. These are pretty basic ideas, but they are not necessarily common sense and might not be something that every Christian has just naturally thought of in their Bible reading.

Going off the last key above, Ferguson devotes the following chapter to explaining how to read prose, poetry, wisdom, and prophecy well. Then, the following chapter does the same for Gospels, Epistles, and visions. Notice that these seven genres give us the way the Old and New Testaments are organized. The final chapter in this section is a brief Bible study using the keys to examine Ruth.

This makes for a natural transition to the next section on applying Scripture. The trio of chapters here are short, but help readers navigate the use of Scripture, how it takes root (using the parable of the sower) and how to draw practical applications. Ferguson follows up with several appendices, two on divine guidance through reading Scripture, one with more references for further reading, and the last is a Bible reading plan that I happen to use.(which D. A. Carson blogs on here).

Ultimately, this book isn’t a last word on the topic. It is an accessible introduction to reading the Bible profitably as God’s Word. Since many people can make a renewed commitment to do that as the New Year comes, this book would make a good companion resource to help broaden and deepen your reading. If you’ve read many books already on the topic, you won’t necessarily need to add this to your collection. However, simply because Sinclair Ferguson is the author, you might want to anyway.


Sinclair Ferguson, From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The BibleCarlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust , July 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

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I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in book blurbs. However, when it’s a book on discipleship and wide-range of pastors from a wide-range of backgrounds endorse it, I think that’s worth something. While there is certainly not a shortage of books on discipleship, some have more to offer than others. What makes Robby Gallaty’s Rediscovering Discipleship interesting to me is his focus on understanding how Jesus approached discipleship.

The first part of the book is devoted to this topic and draws heavily on Jewish studies to illuminate the first century context. I had brief Rob Bell flashbacks while reading, but found the insights to be solid. The first chapter gives a general overview of how rabbis discipled others. Chapter 2 nudges readers to “think like a Hebrew” and sketches out the contours of a Hebrew worldview. Chapter 3 deepens this by focusing on how visual the teaching of Jesus was. Chapter 4 gives background on the sociological dimensions of Jesus’ choosing of his disciples (and how it was counter-cultural). The remaining three chapters in this part of the book turn to explaining how discipleship fell on hard times in the local church. Particularly interesting and helpful here is Gallaty’s explanation of discipleship post-Reformation and then Wesley’s role in systematizing it.

The second part of the book unpacks Gallaty’s method of disciple-making and ends with helpful answers to frequently asked questions. It essentially comes to discipleship groups of 3-6 people that have the MARCS of a healthy group:

  • Missional
  • Accountable
  • Reproducible
  • Communal
  • Scriptural

None of this is particularly revolutionary. Given that, if you’ve read widely on this topic, I don’t think you’ll glean any insights that are radically new. You might in the early part of the book, which I found particularly insightful. The strength of Gallaty’s book is not necessarily a new method, but perhaps a new framework (the Jewish first century background) to illuminate that method, and a narrative that explains why discipleship has fallen away in recent times and why it’s difficult in our current culture. The title then is apt as Gallaty is helping readers rediscover something that isn’t new. Rather, it’s something that is very hit or miss in the local churches in our culture.

In that light, I think Gallaty’s book is most helpful to people who have attempted to disciple others and not found much success. His book can help explain why and give the insight needed to press on faithfully. It is also encouraging and empowering for people who haven’t been involved in discipleship. Gallaty takes the command to make disciples seriously, but this isn’t the kind of book that will make people who haven’t discipled feel guilty. Instead, he guides readers by giving them the tools they would need to successfully start discipling others. I would say that everyone is capable of discipling someone else, or even multiple someone else’s. With a brief guide like this, you’ll have what you need to get started.


Robby Gallaty, Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First WorkGrand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. ETS may be an academic conference, but the participants generally are committed followers of Christ. As such, you’d want to check out these three books, even if they aren’t technically featured titles at a conference like ETS.

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Last week, Tim Keller’s latest book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in The Psalms showed up in the mail. In some ways, it is like a sequel to Prayer, since Keller highlighted the importance of praying the Psalms in that book (see my review). This devotional basically models that approach.

The basic structure of the book is a breakdown of the entire Psalter. January 1st starts with Psalm. December 31st ends with Psalm 150. Obviously for that to work out, you don’t read an entire Psalm each day. Instead, it ends up being around 5-7 verses (give or take) per day with a short commentary and then a prayer. It’s one page per day and this is one of Keller’s small books, if you know what I mean.

There is a brief introduction (4 pgs) that helps orient us to the importance of the Psalms, and inadvertently mixes up David and Gordon Wenham (the latter of whom wrote an excellent study of the Psalms). As far as a plan for getting through the book, Keller says,

We structured this daily devotional so it can be used in three different ways. The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm yourself…

The second way to use the devotional is to take the time to lookup the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer…

The third way to use the devotional is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then as three questions and write out your answers:

  • Adore – What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
  • Admit – What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
  • Aspire – What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once you have answered these three questions, you have your own meditation on the psalm.

This meditation becomes the basis for your prayer and Keller says “this will take you into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.” I think I’d like to start this latter path at the beginning of the year and I bet you’d benefit from doing the same.

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Thanks to Banner of Truth, I was able to get a copy of Mark Jones’ Knowing Christ. In some sense, it is kind of sequel to J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. From what I understand, Jones sent Packer a manuscript for one of his infamous blurbs. Instead, Packer decided to write a foreword and send that back. While Packer blurbs a plethora of books, I doubt there are many that he spontaneously decides to write a forward to.

As for the book itself, the tone is meditative and devotional, yet it is still theologically rich. The chapters are on the shorter side and are supplemented by a study guide in the back with 2-5 questions per chapter. That would make this an ideal book club choice, or better yet, a book to take your discipleship group through. It is a concise Christology that is accessible to the average reader. In terms of theological depth and devotional richness, I’m not sure there is a better option as an introduction to think deeply about the person and work of Christ. There are certainly some classics that cover the same ground, but Jones’ here is fairly comprehensive in his subjects. Other authors might go deeper into certain aspects, but this book covers all the necessary basic ground.

Given the Christmas season coming quickly upon us, this is a book you might want to set aside time to read through during Advent season. Given that there are 27 chapters, you could start the weekend after Thanksgiving and read right up until Christmas. I’ve already given it a general read-thru, but I’m thinking about already giving it a more focused re-read as we move toward Christmas.

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Lastly, thanks to Crossway, I was able to read Paul Tripp’s latest, Awe: Why It Matters For Everything We Think, Say, & Do. Like many if not all books Tripp writes, he notes early (second sentence of the book) that he is primarily writing for himself. He is biblical and conversational in explaining why and how we have an “awe” problem and what we can do about it. Notes to other sources are minimal as Tripp is able to draw on a depth of pastoral insights that come from his own ministry as well as personal struggles.

In the opening chapter, Tripp makes several key points about awe which more or less shape the expositional that follows. They are (17-21):

  • Awe is everyone’s lifelong pursuit
  • God created an awesome world
  • God created you with an awe capacity
  • Where you look for awe will shape the direction of your life
  • Awe stimulates the greatest joys and deepest sorrows in us all
  • Misplaced awe keeps us perennially dissatisfied
  • Every created awe is meant to point you to the creator
  • Awesome stuff never satisfies

In the remaining chapters, Tripp explains how this leads to a war for our awe (chapter 2), and also shows how these ideas apply to church, parenting, work, and ministry (chapters 11-13, and 3). He also shows how it underlies materialism (chapter 8) as well as how most conflicts are awe conflicts. I found this book to helpful, and probably worthy of further thought and digestion. In some ways, it is a very basic idea that might not require reading the entire book to grasp. On the other hand, if you have an awe problem, you might want Tripp’s writing to help awaken you from aweless slumber.

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About a year ago, I was able to get the first volume in Bob Kellemen’s Equipping Biblical Counselors series. That volume, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, was a kind of systematic theology of counseling. In that book, he mentions an additional volume, which has thankfully just been released. While the previous volume was more on the theoretical side, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ moves into the overtly practical side.

Bob has been concerned to equip the local church’s counselors for quite some time now. He personally reached out to me a few years back and sent me his Equipping Counselors For Your Church, which I devoted three posts to interacting with (here, here, and here). Since then, I’ve done some reviews for a site The Biblical Counseling Coalition and Bob has continued to send me books he publishes or edits.

One thing that immediately stands out on browsing through this book is that Bob likes lists. I like lists too, so we’re set. The opening chapters in Section 1 provide 5 portraits of the biblical counselor, 8 ultimate life questions, 4 resume qualifications of the biblical counselor and 2 guideposts and 4 compass points of biblical counseling. Those four compass points are unpacked in successive sections in the remainder of the book. They are (16-17):

  • Sustaining: “It’s Normal to Hurt”—Learning how to weep with those who weep by offering biblical sustaining care for hurting people.
  • Healing: “It’s Possible to Hope”—Learning how to give hope to the hurting by offering biblical healing comfort and encouragement for suffering people.
  • Reconciling: “It’s Horrible to Sin, but Wonderful to Be Forgiven”—Learning how to be a dispenser of Christ’s grace by offering biblical reconciling for people struggling against besetting sins.
  • Guiding: It’s Supernatural to Mature”—Learning how to disciple, coach, and mentor by offering guiding wisdom for people growing in Christ.

Each of these compass points is unpacked in a list. To give an example of one, here are the 5 healing relational competencies:

  • Redemptive, Relational Mind and Soul Renewal (Cropping Christ Back into the Picture)
  • Encouraging Communication (Celebrating the Empty Tomb)
  • Scriptural Treatment Planning (Pursuing Christlikeness)
  • Theo-Dramatic Spiritual Conversations (Healing Theological Trialogues)
  • Stretching Scriptural Explorations (Healing Biblical Trialogues)

Alert readers will notice that this spells RESTS and that Kevin Vanhoozer is involved to some extent. You may also wonder what a trialogue is, but you could probably figure that it is a dialogue between counselor and counselee but with the intent of involving the Holy Spirit and Scripture in the conversation.

While this gives you an idea of the content, the layout focuses the material into a workbook rather than a textbook. As Bob explains, “We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community” (17). He goes on to explain,

We don’t learn to be effective counselors simply by reading a book—no matter how profound the book. We don’t learn to be skilled people-helpers simply by engaging in role-play scenarios or even by watching experienced counselors—though both of these are very helpful methods. We learn to be effective biblical counselors through face-to-face gospel ministry where we speak the truth in love to one another.

Here’s the most important piece of advice I can offer you as you work your way through Gospel Conversations: do not try to use Gospel Conversations simply as text to read or a lecture to give. That’s not how I designed it. I’ve designed Gospel Conversations as an experiential training manual that promotes real and raw, vulnerable and open relationships among your equipping group members (17).

With that in mind, it is probably best to use this book as the focus of a book club with leaders in your church. I am hoping to do that with the small group leaders that I coach, probably starting in the new year. We could all use some growth in this area and Bob has provided an excellent resource. Each chapter has several sections of workbook like questions that readers can go through, but they are aimed at being used in community. In that way, Bob doesn’t simply provide a resource that is helping you grow your factual knowledge, but one that is helping to expand your experiential knowledge of what it means to truly care like Christ. I’m looking forward to diving in more fully and guiding some others along in the process. I’d highly recommend trying to do the same if you can.


Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like ChristGrand Rapids: Zondervan, September 2015. 400 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!