A great book on prayer is on sale for Kindle today at a ridiculously cheap price. Well worth the $1.99 to get and devour. Enjoy!
I confess that I can struggle with this. I wonder though how this also applies to Pastors and “books”. I am all for redeeming the time and making the most of every opportunity, but digital devices and/or reading material of any kind, even if it’s sermon prep, can achieve this same catastrophic end.
Well its time for another brief book review. I recently finished Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft, published under the Re:Lit banner of Crossway books. Leadership and leadership development is a passion of mine, so when books like this come out, I’m usually on top of reading them. This one slipped by me though for a few months before I dived into it.
The reason is because this has been one of the busiest season of my life. In addition to my full-time pastoral role at Christ Church Santa Fe, I continue to serve other pastors as a Research Consultant. But also two months ago we welcomed our fourth child into the world in Luke. We are excited, but to any parent the first few months are the hardest (re-adjusting to an infant’s needs, lack of sleep, etc).
In that context, Kraft’s book was a breath of fresh air. I have to say that in the pages of Kraft’s book I did not read anything new, necessarily. Kraft is coming from a Navigator background, and myself having come up through Campus Outreach, I recognized many of the principles from other great books (thinking of LeRoy Eims, J. Oswald Sanders, etc).
But there was more. Kraft also weaved in some good principles and examples from the business side of leadership principles. While I said there was nothing new, what was refreshing was to see someone integrate the biblical principles, theology of resource stewardship, and the practical insights and outworking in a context where leadership and effectiveness is prized highly.
Kraft wrote this with a particular audience in mind – that of the vocational ministry leader. Every book needs a focus, so he should not be faulted for that. Everything that he talks about is applicable to anybody. His definition of a Christian leader I found to be quite heplful and refreshing in making room for leaders of various sizes and shapes: “A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing [that's huge] servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon [also huge] vision from God.” (24, Kindle edition).
You can tell by my inserted comments what I like most about Kraft. He both affirms the role of key/Senior/Primary leadership, but also the “with others” context that permeates the Biblical witness as well as the experiences of many business leaders. Look at Apple computers (my example, not Kraft’s): where would Apple be if Steve Wozniak hadn’t been working with Steve Jobs (or vice versa). This was the biggest strength, in my opinion, of Kraft’s book.
The other most helpful section of his book were the sections on Formation (chs. 7 & 8 especially) and Fruitfulness (ch. 11). These chapters alone are worth the cost of the book. They are filled with great principles and packaged in a way that can be readily assimilated into whatever context you find yourself engaging as a leader.
Chapter 7 is especially helpful in forcing leaders to think through not just what they have learned (past tense) but at what rate are they currently learning (present). The leadership dynamic that is most challenging – to leaders and their organizations – is resting on the laurels of previous work, accomplishments. This is seen in the drastic statement that should never be the determiner of a course of action (though it should be informative to any course of action): “In my experience…”. I am all for cataloguing experiences, learning from them and implementing them into the present for a desired future, but when they alone are what determines what is done, how its done, when its done, and why its done, we as leaders have effectively stopped growing, reflecting, learning and therefore leading. Kraft’s thoughts in chapter 7 help shatter that paradigm, and for this I am most thankful for his work.
For all of its strengths, I do wish that Kraft had spent a little less time trumpeting thoughout the book his own personal philosophy of how he is seeking to be a purposeful leader. I’ll explain that. Normally, I think its a good thing when leaders know, own and share their personal passion. For Kraft, his passion is to “develop leaders who develop leaders” essentially. I share that passion with him. But what can happen when we make statements like this is we tend to warp our definition of leaders to a particular type of leader. The effect this can have is that other types of leaders are automatically discounted, not because they aren’t leaders, or not even senior level leaders, but because they don’t fit the mold of what pops into our head when we say “a leader who develops leaders.” This is a systemic problem in a lot of discipleship-heavy ministries (especially college student ministries) that I think this rhetoric tends to merely exacerbate the problem, rather than speaking truth into it.
With that said, though, I can heartily recommend Kraft’s book, and would counsel any pastor or ministry leader to have it, digest it, and work it out, into your life and various ministries. That one complaint is not indicative of Kraft’s whole work, just a disagreement on frequency of use and wording. His thoughts, experiences and insights into leadership effectiveness for ministry leaders in the 21st century are extremely valuable and would assist anyone engaged in humbly leading others for the glory of God.
Worth it = Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft
My time for book reviews has been sparse as of late. That is why taking the time to write something up on Tullian Tchividjian’s new book Jesus + Nothing = Everything should carry a little extra weight if you are considering purchasing this book.
Let me start off by saying that this is the first book by Tullian Tchividjian that I have read. I cannot be labeled a “fanboy” who is doing this out of some misplaced devotion to another person. I have read a few articles of his over at The Gospel Coalition that I have found usually helpful.
This book was given to me by Crossway publishers to read and post several Tweets about tomorrow. I took on the assignment out of my interest in the book, especially its title. You see earlier this year I had the privilege of leading a group of 12 men through a study in the book of Galatians. One of our first discussion questions, after having read through Galatians several times, was to each describe the gospel in your own words. The one that stood out to me and several of the other guys was “Jesus + Something = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” Naturally, seeing a title of a upcoming book with that same premise peeked my interest.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything does a great job unpacking the gospel both doctrinally and practically, and it does so without being obtuse or fluffy. I have found every chapter worth reading, and each is full of sound but intriguing insights into the nature of the gospel and how it affects our lives.
And that for me is its strength. It takes the truth of what Jesus has done for us in all of its glorious heights, and applies to the deepest and darkest corners of my heart, particularly those that want to stroke my ego and claim that I can somehow attain or maintain my relationship with God by anything I can contribute. I can’t. Grace doesn’t work that way. Instead, it works like Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Another strength of the book is the full-orbed picture of the gospel. If you tend to follow the theological discussions in the blogosphere (are we still using that word?), you’ll know that over the past few years, discussions on the gospel have taken the line of justification by faith for the individual, or cosmic restoration of all things. Either/or. What I love about Jesus + Nothing = Everything is that Tchividjian doesn’t discuss the gospel along those lines. Instead, he agrees with Paul who writes over and over again that the effect of Christ’s redeeming work covers ta panta – all things. Thus the “everything” in the title. And he does so without sacrificing or losing the great and principle doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” A rare feat to achieve when the context of the conversation is set in false dichotomies.
Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything will find a place on my bookshelf, both to revisit personally and to hand out to people in my church, or friends I’m having ongoing conversations with regarding the gospel and the Christian faith. Its that good, and I commend it to you all for your consideration.
If you are wondering where more of the substance, or quotes, from Tullian Tchividjian’s book is in a review, I would encourage you all to follow me on Twitter (@gensheer) where tomorrow, I will be tweeting select quotes throughout the day and using the hashtag #JPNE.
UPDATE: I have recently come across another review of this book that I would like to include in my own blog. It is more theologically critical of the book and particularly with the confusion over whether the gospel is more than just “justification by faith”. I personally do not think Tchividjian’s book has to lead to this critics conclusions, but it is something worth thinking about when reading any book about the gospel. I found the review helpful in providing a perspective I didn’t include in my own, but also, that I do not think undermines the integrity or value of Tchividjian’s book.
Having just finished the “Acts” portion of my Acts and Paul class yesterday (part of the reason why my activity has been minimal on here), I thought I would share a significant quote on the christian life and God’s interaction. This quote comes from The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption by Dennis Johnson.
Let me just say, if you are personally studying through Acts, or planning on teaching, do not do so until you have gotten and read this book (or at least, read it along your study/teaching schedule). This is a great book, and it really shed some light on the significant thrust of the book of Acts, instead of offering up random insight into mot of the particular events. Well worth the money and the time to read The Message of Acts.
Here’s the quote:
“However correct their statements in Bible studies or Sunday school classes may be, in practice many Christians really assume that God’s ‘interference’ in people’s lives pretty much came to a halt sometime in the past – perhaps in the apostles’ time, perhaps at the Reformation or some revival of bygone days, but surely before our time.
Would we say this out loud? Never! But our meager prayer lives, our anxiety, our dependence on novel techniques in evangelism, our hope in technology to solve spiritual problems, our doubt that loving discipline can restore wandering brothers or sisters to repentance and reconciliation – all these testify to our unspoken assumption that God’s real action is in the past and in the future, but not in the present.”
Fellow brothers and sisters, God is continuing to work in our lives. Believe that, then go live in light of it.
Well, yesterday I came home and had several new books waiting for me. I thank the folks at Crossway who keep on sending me good and interesting reading material. I want to highlight a couple of these and tell you all to be on the lookout over the next couple of months for some reviews.
The first book to mention is Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. This book had been previously published only in the UK, but thanks to Crossway and the new publishing banner of Re:Lit, it is now available here. I have only scanned through the book, but the first chapter is promising. The gospel is word-centered and mission-centered, so our churches need to be based on the word and on mission – love it! I actually first about this book from a friend of mine over in South Africa (cheers Stephen!)
Book #2 – Wordliness, by multiple authors, but edited by a pastor’s pastor, C.J. Mahaney. I wasn’t sure what to think of this book when I first started seeing it pop up on the web, but knowing C.J.’s other books (Humility: True Greatness and Living the Gospel-Centered Life) and pastoral heart (if you need some exposure, go check out his blog), I’m confident that this book will be insightful and helpful in discerning where and how the gospel applies to our world in our cultural situation.
Book #3 – Reforming or Conforming edited by Gary W. Johnson and Ronald D. Gleason. This book appears to be a collection of various scholars critiquing the emerging church movement. I haven’t dove in at all, but I will be interested to see if they distinguish between emerging and emergent. Some of the chapters do seem fascinating (like “It’s Wright, but is it Right? An Assessment and Engagement of the “Emerging” Retreading of the Ministry of Jesus.” Caveat: I find myself being hesitant to read books like this. I have read some thoughts by some of these guys on the internet and find myself not agreeing with their conclusions. That being said, I do find myself appreciating the concerns they bring up. Reading this will hopefully bring the fundamental issues to the front with constructive critique and positive assessments instead of just the reactionary tendencies demonizing those who differ.
Book #4 – Death by Love: Letters From the Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. This book looks fascinating. Its written as a series of letters addressing real live situations and people, with the full theological truth of the gospel. I wasn’t expecting that, and I like it. I honestly can’t wait to get into reading this one. It seems to have a lot of potential of to help all pastors and lay leaders alike appreciate the depth of theological reflection, without losing sight of its pastoral implications. This book also features some helpful answers to FAQ’s concluding each chapter (thank you Dr. Breshears for that!). This is similar to their previous book, Vintage Jesus.
So, if you haven’t already done so, you should subscribe to my blog (button on the top right) and watch out for these forthcoming reviews.
Harry Reeder, III writes as a seasoned pastor, who has both planted new churches and re-vitalized established churches. This passion has led to his ministry Embers to a Flame, with annual conferences and ongoing consultation services. This book, The Leadership Dynamic is birthed out of Reeder’s conviction that the church’s mission is best served and not complete until we reclaim the position of being a leadership manufacturing plant – a place that defines, develops and then deploys leaders out into the world.
For Harry, this is more than abstraction, it is also the answer to the question of what he would do in ministry differently if he were to go do it all over again – develop leaders out of a biblical model and framework, rather than the usual models of business, or more specifically “contemporary capitalism” with an emphasis on pragmatism and consumption of wealth, rather than the creation of it in order to do good (”traditional capitalism”). Harry writes “The church must escape the swamp of greed-driven leadership prevalent in contemporary corporate America and ascend the high ground of gospel-driven leadership described in God’s Word,” (15).
Harry Reeder does a very good job outlining the current state of the church and its leadership crisis. He likens our situation today to dealing with the “cultural steroids” the church has for years injected into its various leadership programs, paradigms and structures. He writes:
“In fear of rejection and with an incessant need for popular affirmation [the church today has] injected the church with cultural steroids to make it ‘relevant and acceptable,’ hoping that somehow the result will be that people will then ‘accept’ Jesus and the church will become bigger and stronger and therefore more influential,” (25).
The danger is that just as in athletics, steroids only produce an “immediate embellishment[s] of size and acclaim] (25), while paving the way for eventual disease and death. Harry is not denying the need for effectively communicating to the culture around us; just the infusion of worldly principles governing the church and the church’s leadership development over those that Scripture teaches. “Eventually, thoughtless accommodation to the world becomes capitulation to the world – and our witness for the Lord is rendered useless,” (29). And Harry rails just as hard against the opposite danger of traditionalism as he does this cultural accommodation.
But he writes from a hopeful perspective, that “The Christian church must become a leadership factory and distribution center for the world, and by the grace of God, it can – if we return to both the biblical definition of leadership and the biblical method of producing leaders for the church and the world,” (15).
The rest of the book launches from this point and explains what Reeder calls “3 D Leadership” – what it means to define leadership the way Jesus does, develop them according to Scriptures model, and then deploy them into the world to further the church’s mission – to glorify God and bring His creation into joyful submission to Him. Each chapter expounds these three main points, with helpful lists of principles, insightful applications and general traps to be aware of and avoid.
This book is clear and compelling. It makes a strong case for the kairos (appointed time) moment the church finds itself in, and offers sensible and Scriptural applications for this season. As well, reading (and listening to) Harry’s thoughts is an engaging, challenging and thought provoking experience. Plus, he tells great stories.
I honestly could not think of anything to critique in this book. For a contemporary book on leadership and the church, The Leadership Dynamic excels at laying out the current need and Biblical paradigm for addressing that need appropriately.
This book is for anyone who feels compelled to lead in any setting as a Christian.Whether you are a Senior Pastor, or CEO; a freshman in college or a community group leader, I suggest you get this book, read, apply and refer to it often.
My Take Away & Recommendation
Read and apply this book both personally and corporately in your immediate leadership context. It will be worth your time and Christ’s church will be better served for it.
FYI – Be looking for a future post with an interview I was able to conduct with Dr. Reeder coming up here sometime in the next couple of weeks. [If you haven't already subscribed to my feed, now would be a good time!]
Michael Spencer, over at Internet Monk, has recently interviewed David Powlison regarding his contribution to the ESV Study Bible. [If you are looking for a single, solid resource for your personal library, let me recommend this study bible to you. It is not only a great translation of the Bible, but this Study Bible contains a wealth of supplemental material to help you understand the historical context of the Scriptures with pertinent, and not overpowering information. Back to Powlison.]
His focus was on reading the Bible and personal application – a task which can often be divorced from understanding the original setting, context and application of the text to its original audience.
The whole interview is helpful (click here for the whole thing), but this quote I found most interesting:
[DP] Just read the sermons of Charles Spurgeon! His applications were often wise and biblical because he had such a refined sense for the unified teaching of Scripture and Spirit. But he rarely communicates what any passage means in context, and I think that is a liability as a role model. Readers and preachers less grounded than Spurgeon will have fewer checks on the temptation to make odd applications.
I’d probably pose your question in a slightly different way, saying “yield a wise application” rather than “yield a Spirit-revealed application.” The Spirit is the source of all wisdom, for believers and unbelievers alike. If a secular psychotherapist says to an angry, entitled, manipulative husband, “You are angry, entitled, and manipulative, and you need to learn how to love your wife and not be so self-centered,” I’d rather say that those words are wise, cohere with Scripture, and express a common grace goodness of the Spirit, instead of saying they were Spirit-revealed. That counselor is missing the saving grace of Christ that is Spirit-revealed in the Word, and that ought to find expression in counseling.
With all the recent flurry of news, updates and excitement regarding the forthcoming ESV Study Bible, I wanted to draw your attention to the other ESV Study Bible, The ESV Literary Study Bible and give you all six reasons why it will have a prominent place on my shelf, and why you should consider it as well.
- Readability: The Literary Study Bible formats the text so that it reads like most other books, longer lines straight across the page. I have found that this makes reading the Bible at breadth easier, or at least more manageable. For class this past semester, I had to read through all of the Prophetical books and the Gospels. I tried reading them with my regular ESV, and then the Literary Study Bible, and found that what I read in the Literary Study Bible, I retained more readily and the effort seemed not as labor intensive.
- Usefulness: The readability aids in its usefulness – as like most of us I’m sure our struggle is not in the reading of 1-2 paragraphs, but in entire books and sections of the Bible – but it has other features that make it more useful. The sections that begin every book lay out the main themes of the book, overall flow and structure, as well as your regular Bible introduction information. The 3-5 minute investment before each book really pays off, again in retention and in following the train of thought of the Biblical author.
- Leland and Philip Ryken: The father and son team on this Study Bible is certainly worth the price of the book. Both of these men bring a much needed emphasis on understanding the Bible with its literary aspects, as well as its theological, historical and moral aspects. It is not overstated to say that if you can understand the literary aspects of the text, then you are closer to the central message of the text, and the Ryken’s bring this out in a way that is helpful, though not overdone.
- Structure: In addition to the intro sections, each book features breaks in the text that lay out and help identify significant aspects of the upcoming text. This is absolutely great for gaining a sense of the overall argument or flow of a book.
- The Ryken’s: ‘Nuff said. But you should definitely check out the Leland Ryken article in the book Preach The Word. It alone is well worth the price of that book! I’ll actually have something up on the blog about that book in a couple of weeks.
- Literary Focus: I hinted at this already, but one of the most beneficial things I’ve learned while in seminary is to see and study the Bible within its literary dimensions. So often we take for granted that the Bible is a communication act where a human author wrote these pages to human audiences. Sure this was superintended by the Supreme Author, but we will fail to truly grasp the full force of the text if we never consider the literary dimensions involved in human communication that comprise the Bible.
The ESV Literary Study Bible is an invaluable resource in assisting us as pastors and teachers of God’s Word in gaining such an understanding, and that is why I will continue to use it even after the launch of the New ESV Study Bible coming out this Fall.
Let me commend to everyone who reads this blog the book Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and co-Authored with Gerry Breshears. I have mentioned it in some previous posts (here), but want to take the time to give you all a brief synopsis, and my take on why I think it would be worth your time reading. First, my synopsis.
This book does a fantastic job at doing systematic theology regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ with the typical, everyday skeptic or new Christian in mind – and that is invaluable! After having just taken a seminary class on the subject (Christ and Salvation), I must say that I was hard pressed to select one of the many books we had to read as a good resource to put in the hands of somebody either questioning Christianity or recently brought into the family of God regarding this important, and sometimes daunting, subject.
Driscoll’s book does an excellent job, first identifying the major questions and point of discussion. The book is oriented around 12 key questions; they are:
Chapter 1 Is Jesus the Only God?
Chapter 2 How Human Was Jesus?
Chapter 3 How Did People Know Jesus Was Coming?
Chapter 4 Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?
Chapter 5 Why Did Jesus’ Mom Need to Be a Virgin?
Chapter 6 What Did Jesus Accomplish on the Cross?
Chapter 7 Did Jesus Rise from Death?
Chapter 8 Where Is Jesus Today?
Chapter 9 Why Should We Worship Jesus?
Chapter 10 What Makes Jesus Superior to Other Saviors?
Chapter 11 What Difference Has Jesus Made in History?
Each chapter then discusses the controversy (or controversies) surrounding these questions, both in their historical and contemporary setting. Spread throughout the chapters are various quotes or insights that are pulled from not only the Christian tradition, but from pop culture and other religions. Driscoll then does an excellent job pointing to scripture and what the Bible says regarding these questions and various interpretations, or problems, we may have. Dr. Breshears then concludes each chapter with a most helpful FAQ that probes into a handful of subquestions that fall under each larger question. This format makes this a great resource for 99% of the people who would be interested and who walk through the doors of your church, or favorite local coffee shop or pub.
Now, some people may be put off by one of two things, or perhaps, both: 1) Systematic Theology, or 2) Mark Driscoll. First, regarding the Systematic Theology. I know its en vogue to question or downplay the significance of Sys. Theology these days in favor of Biblical Theology, but that really is a shame. I am personally of the opinion that we vitally need both. We need our Biblical Theology to help inform our Systematic Theology, and we need our Systematic Theology to help understand our Biblical Theology. That being said, this book is a welcome Systematics book which keeps the story of Scripture alive and in view, while being relevant and thorough in probing the subject of Christology.
Now, for those put off by the fact that its Mark Driscoll, let me say that there are several Driscoll-isms that come through in this book, and you may not like that. I would encourage you to still read this book and ask: “Does this book communicate the truths of Christ’s person and work in a way that is true to Scripture, honoring to God, edifying to believers, and accessible to non-believers?” I think for anytime we find ourselves criticizing another brother for his personality or style, if we can slow down to consider those questions, we would be better served than making quick conclusions. I believe that Driscoll comes out on top regarding all of those questions.
I wanted to read Vintage Jesus for a very selfish reason (And no, its not because I like reading everything Driscoll puts out – even though I do!): I wanted to understand how to communicate theology in a way that is faithful to scripture and engaging to non-Christians. Having read Vintage Jesus, I can say that I have a somewhat better understanding of how to do so, and for that, I am grateful. This is why I commend this book to you – whoever you are!
Whether you are a believer wanting to be challenged and strengthened in understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ, or a a seminarian looking to be challenged in how to communicate the truths of Scripture, or a non-Christian questioning how any rational human being could believe in such a story that centers on this one person, your time will be well served by reading this book.
My personally favorite part of this book is the section Driscoll deals with the fact that “Jesus was a dude.” Great stuff – funny, insightful and challenging. The book is scattered with great content communicated in witty ways. I again, highly recommend this book to you.