Blessed are the BalancedEven before I went to college I wanted to go to seminary. In my mind I was as good as already there. Unfortunately, not everyone I discussed it with felt the same about seminary in general. I distinctly remember having a discussion in college with a friend about going to seminary. He was not a fan. In fact, his answer for not going left me speechless. It was an answer I would hear many times in college. “Seminary kills your passion for ministry,” they would say. It was a statement I just couldn’t process at the time and never identified with while in seminary. I do believe that a person could go to seminary and have their passion for ministry dwindle but this is NOT the norm and does not have to happen to anyone. My experience in seminary, and that of many others I know going to different schools than myself, did nothing but fuel my passion for ministry. This is not to say that I, or others I knew, never fell prey to some of the pitfalls seminary can present. But in the end, I came out the better for having gone and would encourage others to do so as well. Going to seminary requires a delicate balance of living life.

Realizing the need to help seminarians understand and balance on this delicate tightrope, Paul E. Pettit and R. Todd Mangum have teamed up to write Blessed are the Balanced: A Seminarian’s Guide to Following Jesus in the Academy. Both seminary grads themselves who now work at seminaries, Pettit and Mangum guide prospective and present seminary students through the complex challenges that seminary presents. The challenges of our spiritual, academic, relational and ministry life mix together to make seminary life challenging and us in need of balance.

Overview

Through six chapters the authors set out to “explain how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that can lead to spiritual burnout when one enters into an academic study of God and the Scripture,” and seeks to show how “students of God and the Scriptures can achieve a healthy balance between both rigorous academic scholarship and a growing piety.” (8) In chapter one the authors put before the reader the key to balancing their time in seminary – by becoming a mature Christian through growth in Christ-likeness, producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit and walking in the light of God’s truth. (21) This, the authors rightly argue, can be done while in seminary. Balance can be achieved in seminary like in any other place in life.

Chapter two explores the dynamic relationship between learning more about God and applying it to living more for God. Unfortunately, there is not an automatic correlation between our knowledge of God and our walking with and living for God. We must, by the grace of God and work of the Spirit, out into practice what we are learning. Seminary is a unique pitfall in this regard because most of the classes are focused on learning more about a certain subject whether it be Greek, theology or history. There is an exponential growth in knowledge in seminary and it is hard to know when and where to put it into practice. Many times you cannot put a lot of it into practice until you are done and in your first ministry. This “knowledge dump” that you receive in seminary is not a waste. “The training is not purposeless, but the training is for purposes that are beyond the training ground itself,” the authors perceptively state. (55)

Chapter three outlines disciplines for your spiritual and academic life that are basic but not always apparent when entering into seminary. For the spiritual life the authors discuss things like confessing sin to God, fasting, fellowship, prayer and worship. For the academic they suggest things like eating right, exercise, being diligent in your research and honest in the citation of your sources.

Chapters four and five offer a lot of good spiritual advice and biblical counsel in regards to some of the negative effects that a burst in knowledge, when not kept in check, can have on a person training for ministry. For instance, there can be a tendency to use ones knowledge as a power tool to leverage ones own agenda and keep the voice of others drowned out. The authors wisely advise that “if the minister can use his or her knowledge and abilities to strengthen the voice of others, then that knowledge, ability and skill can be a source of service, rather than a source of power or domination.” (102) Another challenge those entering the ministry have is that they are moving from a more academic setting to a more practical ministry setting. It is hard at first not to preach like you are teaching a language class. While seminary is a time when knowledge is dumped on the minister-to-be, the first few years of ministry can be a time when the minister is dumping their knowledge on their congregation. One must try to avoid this.

The final chapter briefly address the value that friendships in seminary can have on you. The key concept here is to be grounded, and cultivating a variety of friendships in a variety of places are the key to keeping yourself grounded in real life. Seminary, like college was, is not an ideal or permanent setting to spend ones entire life. It is meant to be temporary. But even during this temporary time in your life you need to cultivate friendships to help bring your head to the ground. In doing so, you will find that many of these friendships will help to keep you balanced and will carry with you beyond your time in school.

Conclusion

Blessed are the Balanced is the kind of book I wish were around when I was in seminary. While I had a good experience, there are things I was blinded to that were never brought to my attention. The authors have helped you think about things that you will not on your own. Unlike the salesman who tries to sell you something you didn’t know you needed – that you in fact do not need, they give advice you didn’t know you needed – but actually need. I see this book being useful for three kinds of people. First, for the person considering seminary (whether sure or not). It will give you a more realistic vision for what it can be like. Second, for the person already in seminary to open their eyes to the world they are living in now. If you follow their advice and counsel you will save yourself, and those you minister to in the future, some trouble. Finally, for the person who is done with seminary and in the beginning of their ministry. It is never too late to change and having already completed school you will be in the best position to understand what the authors are saying and see what needs to change in yourself.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Here is Our GodThe Gospel Coalition (TGC) is an international ministry based out of the USA under the leadership of Tim Keller and D. A. Carson. TGC is being used by God to assist Christians, local churches and missionaries around the world to equip them for ministry and in their understanding of Scripture. For the latter, TGC has a rich and deep ministry which provides resources in various forms to help believers understand Scripture better. One of these resources is the semi annual conferences they hold which has general and breakout sessions. The conferences are centered on a theme which the general sessions focus on and the breakout sessions are available for other areas of focus.

In 2012 TGC held its first women’s conference titled Here is Our God: God’s Revelation of Himself in Scripture. The general sessions address eight theophany passages beginning in Exodus and ending in Revelation. TGC decided to put these sessions in book form carrying the same title as the conference itself. The contributors and their passages are as follows:

  1. Tim Keller – Exodus 19
  2. Paige Brown – 1 Kings 8
  3. John Piper – Isaiah 6
  4. Carrie Sandom – Psalm 40
  5. Nancy Leigh DeMoss – Matthew 17:1-15
  6. Jenny Salt – 2 Corinthians 12
  7. Kathleen Nielson – Revelation 4-5
  8. D. A. Carson – Revelation 21-22

The central point of the theme that runs through the book is that through His self-revelation in the Old Testament God is pointing us to Christ as revealed in the New Testament. One thing that particularity stood out to me in Tim Keller’s chapter (Exodus 19) was the connection the writer of Hebrews makes with Christ and Exodus 19. In Exodus 19 the Israelites have great fear and distance between then and God as Moses (their mediator) is on the mountain with God. But when Christ comes He becomes the mediator to the Father and we are brought near to Him – no more fear and distance. D. A. Carson’s final chapter on Revelation 21-22 is the perfect end to this series of text’s on the theophany passages covered. Together these chapters really put the whole Bible together in terms of God’s revelation of Himself to man and His presence with us.

If you want to read what was taught at the 2012 TGC National Women’s Conference then pick up Here is Our God. It serves as a great mini-biblical theology and it is easy to use for your devotions or in a small group. It is even good for those who attended and want to revisit the great teaching they heard.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Illustrated Life of Paul by QuarlesSecond only Jesus Himself, there is no other person about whom more ink has been spilled than the Apostle Paul. The last (but certainly not the least!) of the Apostles and writer of thirteen books of the New Testament, Paul is a central figure within the New Testament and the history of the Christian church. While much of the writing on Paul addresses his theology, there are fewer books that deal with his person, life and missionary journey’s.

Seeking to add to this body of literature Charles Quarles, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written Illustrated Life of Paul. Over the course of nine chapters Quarles covers the life and ministry of Paul from his pre-conversion as an oppressor of Christ’s followers to his finals days in a Roman prison where, as a follower of Christ, he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and hindrance.” (Acts 28:31)

Summary

Quarles begins by introducing the reader to Paul himself. Here we look at his family background, citizenship as a Roman, job skills and religious education and career. Chapter three deals at length with Paul’s (as Saul) Damascus road experience with Christ that resulted in his dramatic conversion. This is first introduced by showing Paul’s pre-conversion anti-Christian zeal. Admittedly, Quarles has to fill in some of the details as to what Paul’s life might have been like during this time. He mentions some question as to whether Paul was one of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin that voted to stone Stephen, nothing that if he were he did not mention it later “in Philippians 3 when he recited his Jewish credentials.” (20)

Chapters four, six and seven cover Paul’s three missionary journeys. The order of the chapters follows from one city to the next while giving detail about the occasion of his visit and background about the city itself. When discussing cities in which Paul later wrote letters to a church there Quarles makes the connections between the book and the specific issues Paul addressed like sexual immorality in Corinth (32, 120). Smaller cities where Paul did not spend much time are given a few paragraphs and cities to which he either wrote a letter or we have more information on are given much more space (Corinth, Antioch, Philippi, Athens and Ephesus which receives a considerable amount of space). As is expected, Quarles follows the book of Acts for a timeline and itinerary of Paul’s travels. He also has an excursus dealing with the events between Paul’s first and second missionary journey as it relates to the events described in Acts 15:1-2 and Galatians 2:1-4, concluding that the Galatian even preceded the Acts event  (78).

Chapter five covers the Jerusalem conference concerning the issue of circumcision for Gentile believers. Chapter eight tells the story of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey and then his trip to Rome where he would be arrested, tried and then freed. The final chapter in the book discusses Paul’s final arrest where he would live out his final days in a Roman prison. Using knowledge of the prison system of the time and some indicators from the New Testament, Quarels sketches out how the final days of Paul’s life most likely were.

Evaluation

Illustrated Life of Paul is a wonderful overview of the life and ministry of Paul. As the title indicates, this is an illustrated look at the life of Paul with many full color pictures of maps, paintings and places that are relevant to the topic at hand. Not only are there many helpful pictures to aid the reader in gaining a better grasp of Paul’s life, but Quarles does a masterful job of painting pictures in readers minds with his words. His wedding of the text of Scripture with historical and cultural information goes a long way to creating a fuller picture of Paul’s life and ministry and gives the book less of a clunky feel as if reading a textbook.

Overall this is a helpful and up-to-date book on the life and ministry of Paul. This would be great for personal study, will aid pastors in preaching and teaching and can be used as a text for college and possibly graduate level classes (though for graduate level classes this needs to be supplemented with other works).

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

How can I be sure by StevensDoubt. For some it is the seedbed for growth and for others it is a miserable, dark and depressing pit. Everyone has doubts about things. For instance, I doubt I will ever climb Mount Everest, go to the moon or live to see the Lions have a winning season (sorry Lions fans). But while these are doubts that have little to no impact on my life, what about doubts that hit closer to home? What about doubts that strike at the heart of our personal beliefs which shape our decisions and everyday lives? What about doubts that center around our deepest held religious beliefs? What if I doubt the genuineness of my own faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior?

Doubt is a normal part of the Christian life and seeking to address this issue John Stevens has written How can I be sure? And other questions about doubt, assurance and the Bible as part of the Questions Christians Ask series from The Good Book Company. In this short and accessible book, Stevens scratches the surface on the place of doubt in the Christian life and how to handle it with Biblical counsel.

Many Christians have false ideas and impressions about the nature of doubt and its place in the Christian life. Perhaps it is the false ideas about doubt that cause too many Christians to struggle with it as mush as they do and for as long as they do. After all, if a doubting Christian were looked down upon by his or her peers would they be more likely to tell someone about them?

Stevens wants doubting Christians to be freed from the chains of doubt in their lives by helping them to understand the nature of doubt and how to address its root causes as well as attending symptoms. While there are many things a Christian can doubt about the content of their Christian faith, Stevens hones in on the doubt some Christians struggle with in regards to being saved at all. For some professing believers, doubt about their own salvation can lead to a strong assurance of their salvation while for others it can lead some to leave the faith all-together. Stevens hopes that doubting Christians can see that “the very circumstances that cause us to doubt may be the means that God uses to test, refine and strengthen our faith.” (35)

So what is the answer to doubting ones salvation? Simply put, Stevens responds with the gospel itself. It starts with trusting in what Jesus has done for sinners. It is understanding the basics of the salvation message that we are called to believe that form the grounds for our assurance of salvation. Further, it is seeing the fruit of the work of the gospel in our lives that can bring us more assurance of our salvation. Too often traveling evangelists and preacher will try to cause Christians to doubt their own salvation by telling them, “If you can’t remember the time and place when you were saved then you probably are not saved! Come down the aisle today and seal this day in your minds! Write it down in the front of your Bible so you don’t forget!” But this gives saving power to the memory of a person which is not the focus of the Bible. No doubt God calls us to remember many things lest we forget them, but the consistent witness of Scripture is to what one believes in the present. Stevens responds well to this when he says,

The good news is that it doesn’t matter that you can’t date the precise moment that you came to faith in Christ. That time is known to God. What matters is that you are trusting in Jesus now. Present faith is the primary evidence that you has been born again and received the gift of God’s salvation. (43-44)

With all of the many helpful things Stevens addresses in how to deal with ones doubts, I think the above statement succinctly states the heart of where to begin with dealing with a believers doubts about their salvation. Who and what are you trusting right now for your salvation? Is it Jesus or someone/something else?

How can I be sure? is a wonderful, clear, Biblically based response to the Christian struggling with doubts about their own salvation. Stevens strikes a good balance between offering Biblical counsel with gentleness and yet not beating around the bush with the seriousness of the situation – the destiny of ones soul and eternal relationship with God. I recommend this book for new Christians who are still wrestling with their new found faith and even more seasoned Christians who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death that can be doubt.

I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Media for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How will the world end by RinneHow will the world end? is a question people have been asking since before Jesus walked the earth. Answering this question has been the focus of many books and movies throughout the years. Who can resist a good end-of-the-world thriller like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow or The Terminator? These movies all give a variation of how the world might come to an end.

What is interesting about these movies is not their differences, as to what threatens mankind’s existence, but their similarity, in that mankind always triumphs over its seemingly impending demise. But when the end of the world does come will man really escape and live to see another day the way they knew life before? Is there a Christian take on the end of the world? Seeking to answer these questions and more, Jeramie Rinne has written How will the world end? And other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ. As part of the Questions Christians Ask series from The Good Book Company, this is a mini-primer of sorts on Christian eschatology.

The chapters are written in order to answer six basic questions about the end times: (1) how will the world end?, (2) what will happen before Jesus comes back?,  (3) how will Jesus come back?, (4) will Jesus come back before or after the “Millennium”?, (5) what happens after Jesus comes back?, and (6) how should we live until Jesus comes back? Throughout the book are some short asides addressing some further questions like the nature of the antichrist and the rapture.

As a primer, the book aims to help Christians see the big picture the Bible presents about the end times before getting hung up on some of the finer details. Contrary to how Hollywood presents end-of-the-world movies, Rinne points out that the end of the world will not come about as the result of asteroids, aliens or bad environmental practices and neither will mankind be able to overcome its judgment. No, the end of the world will come about from a lamb – the Lamb of God, which is Christ Himself. Taking his que from Revelation 6:12-17, Rinne shows how it is the revealing of the Lamb that precipitates the end of the world. Far from presenting Jesus as tame, meek and mild, Revelation 6 describes the revealing of the Lamb as “the great day of the wrath of the lamb.” (vs. 17)

The primary passages Rinne answers the questions from are Matthew 24 and Revelation 6, 19 & 20 while also addressing issues in 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 2 Peter and 1 John. While Rinne has a slew of New Testament references he only points to two Old Testament references: Isaiah 34 (14) and Daniel 7 & 12 (70-71). This shines light on the only weakness of the book. I think if there were more OT references then it would have given readers a chance to seen more continuity between the Testaments on the end times.

This one criticism aside, How will the world end? is a great mini-primer on Christian eschatology for the inquiring Christian looking to get their feet wet on the subject of eschatology. This is a great lead in book for small groups on eschatology from which more in-depth discussion can emerge. It would also serve well an unbeliever who has questions about Christianities understanding of the end times. This is a great book to have on hand for quick use.

I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Media for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1 Samuel For You by ChesterThe Good Book Company continues its devotional/commentary series, God’s Word For You, with 1 Samuel For You by Tim Chester. This series of books follows a threefold pattern: first, a person can read the book for greater insight into a book of the bible; second, reading the book allows the reader to be fed by applying the text to life and third, it gives you guidance to lead others through the book of the Bible for greater understanding and growth.

The book of Samuel is a transitional book from the depressing and defeating days of the judges to the beginning of the kings of Israel through the rise and fall of Saul and his replacement David. 1 Samuel is also a narrative/historical book which gives an account of part of the history of Israel. Tim Chester likes to refer to it as “preached history” because it does more than just give an account of the history of Israel. Through the accounting of history “we are being shown who God is and how he rules his people; and we are being shown Jesus, his Christ.” (9)

Like with all narrative, in order to extract the theology of the text one must be willing to do some digging in the text that is beyond just a surface reading. When you begin to examine the Hebrew language and the literary elements of the narrative, the text and story begin to come alive. This is one thing that Chester does so well. He picks up on the nuances and details of the text just enough to bring the text to life without drowning the reader with too much information in too short a space. For instance, Chester picks up on the theme of barrenness with Hannah that has been preceded by Rachel, Sarah and others (12-13), the judgment irony of the kings of Israel that looks back to the time of the Judges (66), Saul as a type of Adam instead of a true redeemer-king (87) and of course the forward-pointing focus on Christ that runs from beginning to end.

As with all of the books in the God’s Word For You series, 1 Samuel For You is exactly the kind of book that gets you right to the heart of the text by getting you into the text without overwhelming you with it. Like John Stott, Tim Chester writes with his own unique style that is engaging and penetrating. 1 Samuel For You should be on the book shelf of every Christian.

I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Media for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Job by Chris AshIf you search for “suffering” on Amazon in the books section you will find almost 11,800 results. If you search for “help for suffering” on Google there are 151 million entries to choose from. Indeed the world is a place full of suffering people looking for help. You cannot read more than four chapters into the book of Genesis without encountering suffering in the lives of the first two people God created and the first family they made. In reading through the pages of Scripture one encounters suffering at almost every turn. Ironically, it is Job, the oldest book in the Bible, which solely addresses the subject of suffering and how god relates to it and the sufferer.

Tackling this rich, long and sometimes puzzling book, Christopher Ash has written Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. This is the most recent installment in the Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Staying true to the series, Ash writes from the heart of a pastor as he seeks to show the reader the glory of God in Christ through suffering in the life of Job.

Job, Ash argues, is a book that reveals to us what kind of world we live in – a world full of suffering, and much of it is seemingly pointless. But Ash wants to focus the reader on a smaller aspect of the world – the church. In Job we see a man who endures all the suffering a person could imagine. In his friends we see responses that are detached from the reality of suffering and the God who has the answer to our suffering. Ash states, “The book of Job will force us to ask what kind of church we belong to” (19). This examination takes a look at the prosperity and therapeutic gospel. Both of these gospels are fake and threaten the church constantly. To Ash, Job is a corrective to these false gospels and outlooks on life before they gained their contemporary popularity.

The answer to these two false gospels is the gospel of Jesus Christ. While Job was a blameless man, he was not perfect. Concerning the foreshadowing of Christ in Job, Ash says that

The book ultimately makes no sense without the obedience of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death on a cross. Job is not everyman; he is not even every believer. There is something desperately extreme about Job. He foreshadows one man whose greatness exceeded even Job’s, whose suffering took him deeper than Job, and whose perfect obedience to his Father was only anticipated in faint outline by Job. The universe needed one man who would lovingly and perfectly obey his heavenly Father in the entirety of his life and death, by whose obedience the many would be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). (21)

Woven throughout the book, Ash demonstrates how the book of Job destroys the false message of the prosperity and therapeutic gospels and points us to Jesus as the true Savior. For example, in Job chapter three we see the brokenness of Job as he tries to articulate his response to his great loss. Job is in a dark place and so was Jesus when He hung on the cross and said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (84). Though Job was a blameless man who greatly suffered, Jesus was a sinless man who suffered even greater because His suffering was wholly unjust.

But while Job addresses the subject of suffering, it is not primarily about suffering. Ash constantly points the reader to God who is in control of the suffering, who reveals Himself in the suffering and who carries Job through the suffering. Because Job is about God, it is about Jesus. Ash states,

Job is passionately and profoundly about Jesus, whom Job foreshadows both in his blamelesness and in his perseverance through undeserved suffering. As the blameless believer par excellence, Jesus fulfills Job. As a priestly figure who offers sacrifices for his children at the start and his friends at the end, Job foreshadows Jesus the great High Priest. (436).

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross is a wonderful and compelling commentary on Job. Ash ably explains the text, is attentive to the difficult issues it can present and faithfully presents the book as focusing on God and foreshadowing Christ. Ash has a gift of making a difficult book much easier to understand. This is a commentary on Job that every pastor should have in his library and any Christian should read for their personal Bible study.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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