Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review: Living Without Worry

In his book Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, Timothy Lane hopes that the reader will see "a real person who needs help," (Kindle location 111), because he struggles with worry and needs daily encouragement and help.  The author acknowledges that non-Christians may be reading his book.  Even though he does not present the Gospel at this point, he does encourage the reader to "read what the Bible says about your life," (Kindle location 111).

Mr. Lane looks at Christ's Sermon on the Mount and asks those Christians who are prone to worry whether they are living for the Kingdom of God or for the world (Kindle location 219).  I found this area quite powerful as I analyzed what I truly focused on throughout the day and where I placed my hope.

In chapters 3 and 4 the author looks at how past sins and experiences may lead to current worry.  He states that "our angst over sin should always drive us to the cross, rather than to worry," (Kindle location 453).  Again, he acknowledges the non-Christian reader (Kindle location 438), but again he does not present the Gospel at this point.  In addition, he defines a non-Christian as "someone who has never truly asked Jesus, the Son of God, to take your sins, bear your judgment and experience your separation."  I disagree with Mr. Lane's soteriology that someone can 'accept Jesus into their heart'.  In Ephesians, God tells us that He chose His elect and predestinated them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).  There is no offer of salvation in the Bible.  The call from John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul is to repent and believe.

Nevertheless, I think that the Mr. Lane provides an adequate Gospel presentation when he notes that the most basic problem is man's rebellion against God and that man is a sinner in need of forgiveness (Kindle location 550).  He goes on to say that God addressed this [rebellion] in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and through faith in Him sins are forgiven.  This is a clear Gospel message that should have been included when the author was specifically addressing non-Christians.

The author encourages prayer and Bible reading to combat sinful worry.  He specifically recommends biblical meditation on the book of Psalms (Kindle location 606).  Mr. Lane also looks to the power of the Holy Spirit within the believer, the promises of God in the Bible, and the encouragement of fellow believers as resources to combat anxiety.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by Living Without Worry, but chapter 10 raised some concerns.  First, the author describes the Apostle Paul as "struggling with anxiety", and declares that Paul, "like you, struggled with deep worry," (Kindle locations 1529 and 1543).  Mr. Lane also states that "Paul is no super-saint with whom you cannot identify.  No, he is just like you," (Kindle location 1536).  However, the Bible describes Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ who preached the Gospel to the Gentiles and could work signs and wonders for the glory of God.  In addition, he is the most prolific writer of the New Testament.  No Christian is like the Apostle Paul.  Christians should not psycho-analyze any biblical figure, and we should not read ourselves into the text.  To support his claim that Paul struggled with anxiety, the author cites 1 Cor. 2:3; even so, this verse in context is talking about Paul's preaching of the Gospel.  Matthew Henry states that "He [Paul] did not affect [pretend] to appear a fine orator or a deep philosopher; nor did he insinuate himself into their minds, by a flourish of words, or a pompous show of deep reason and extraordinary science and skill."

Finally, Mr. Lane summarizes what he has presented and then quotes what he thinks God is actually saying to the reader and to the Apostle Paul (Kindle location 1565 and 1594).  Because the author is attempting to speak for God and even add to God's Word, he is providing extra-biblical revelation that is condemned by the Bible (Rev. 22:18).  In addition, it is not only presumptuous of the author, but also borderline blasphemous.

Therefore, I have mixed feelings about this book.  I really appreciated the in-depth look into worry and how the Bible addresses it.  Mr. Lane gives sound helps and biblical application.  Yet, his psycho-analysis of biblical characters and direct quotes of God outside of His Word are very concerning.  Thus, I cautiously recommend this book for the mature Christian who is struggling with excessive worry and anxiety, but it should be read with discernment.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: Uncovering the Life of Jesus

Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote Uncovering the Life of Jesus: Six Encounters with Jesus from the Gospel of Luke as a guide "for anyone who is genuinely seeking; who has honest questions and who wants to find out about the real Jesus," (p. 5).  This book is a very quick read at just 59 pages long.  Each chapter has a set of questions and a blank area for notes to help the reader reflect on the ideas presented.

It's commendable that Ms. Pippert writes out the Scripture referenced in each chapter.  This is an important part of witnessing and sharing the Gospel because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, (Rom. 10:17).  Nevertheless, the author's language when explaining the biblical text and asking thought-provoking questions not only implies that man can decide to "accept Jesus", but it also encourages the reader to read himself into the biblical text. 

Ms. Pippert recalls her own experience about reading the Bible and says that she "couldn't reject something that [she] had never examined," (p. 5).  She goes on to say that "it's impossible to make an informed decision without first investigating the evidence."  However, in Ephesians, God tells us that He chose His elect and predestinated them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).  There is no offer of salvation in the Bible.  The call from John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul is to repent and believe.

In addition, the Bible is "written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name," (John 20:31).  Therefore, to rightly handle God's Word, believers should not read themselves into the text, but they should see Jesus in all that is written from Genesis to Revelation.  Ultimately, the Bible is about God, not man.

This book describes six biblical encounters with Jesus.  The narrative accounts included by the author show the divinity of Jesus Christ through His acts of healing and forgiving and describe His crucifixion, death, and post-resurrection appearance.  In Chapter 5, Ms. Pippert looks at the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  She also talks about sin and how "the judgment for our sins fell on Jesus instead of us," (p. 49).  In her conclusion to this chapter, she questions the essence of man's problem and provides an answer by quoting John Stott:  "The essence of sin is substituting ourselves for God," (p. 50).  This definition of sin is sorely lacking and too narrowly defined; self-idolatry is just one aspect of sin.  According to the Baptist Catechism Question 17, "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God, (1 John 3:4)."  Without a right understanding of sin, there can be no godly sorrow that works repentance to salvation, (2 Cor. 7:10).

In Chapter 6 the author describes the resurrection of Jesus, but specifically looks at the biblical text regarding His post-resurrection appearance.  While the eye-witness accounts of Jesus are important, it is His resurrection that should be in focus when explaining the Gospel (1 Peter 1:3).  Therefore, the biblical texts she references do not flow into a clear picture of the redemption and propitiation accomplished by Jesus Christ.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is succinctly summarized by the Apostle Paul: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Finally, Ms. Pippert ends her book like she began by encouraging the reader to place himself within the biblical text and promoting her man-centered view of salvation.  She states that Jesus' resurrection fulfilled the prophecy of Isa. 53:5-6 and leaves the reader with these questions on page 59:  "Suppose you witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.  Then suppose the risen Lord appeared to you, just as he did to his disciples. What do you think he would say to you?  How would you respond?"  This is not the Gospel.

Because of Ms. Pippert's synergistic approach to salvation, I would not recommend this book as a witnessing tool for the unbeliever to read, nor for the believer to share.  However, if you want to treat the Bible as just another piece of literature, then it's an adequate resource to learn about the historical Jesus.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: Honest Evangelism

In his book Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It's Tough, Rico Tice hopes to help the reader "experience some of the heavenly joy in finding the lost," (Kindle location 82).  Mr. Tice states that "God is the great evangelist, the great seeker and finder of people; and he's called his followers to the same pursuit and the same emotion," (Kindle location 90).

In his first chapter, Mr. Tice talks about his schoolboy experiences of persecution when he told his classmates about Jesus.  Based on his experience, he says that "[m]any people don't like the gospel," (Kindle location 119) and that if Christians talk about Jesus, they are going to get hurt (Kindle location 126).  While his statements are true, it's not because of the author's experience.  It's true because God's Word tells us that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that will perish (1 Cor. 1:18); and Jesus Himself says that the world will hate Christians, and that the world hated Him before it hated us (John 15:18).  After relaying his experience of rejection, Mr. Tice clarifies the purpose of his book: "So the reason I've written this book, and the reason I'm talking about hostility to the gospel as well as the joy of the gospel in this opening chapter, is just to be very honest."

One of the problems with this book is how the author defines salvation.  He says that God is sovereign in salvation (Kindle location 662 & 670), but then he uses language that also points to man's decision in salvation; which means that ultimately, God is not sovereign, man is.  In Ephesians, God tells us that He chose His elect and predestinated them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).  There is no offer of salvation in the Bible.  The call from John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul is to repent and believe.  While Mr. Tice says that he believes that God is sovereign in salvation, he writes differently.

First, he has a universalist view of Christ's death on the cross.  To Mr. Tice, Christ's death was efficient for everyone, but only effective for some.  He quotes Isa. 53:5 and then says, "Can you see what the one with all authority was doing for you?  Can you see how he loved you?  He was dying for you," (Kindle location 286).  If Christ died for all and God is all-powerful, then all men should be saved.  But the Bible clearly shows that some men will go to hell, (Luke 16:23); therefore, Christ did not die for all.  His blood shed on the cross for the remission of the sins was not wasted.  It was a measured amount for the elect's sake.

Second, Mr. Tice uses wording that depicts a synergistic view of salvation.  As the author persuades Christians to witness because the reality of death and hell he says: "There are no more chances--God gives people this life to make their decision.  He treats us as adults, and gives us what we've chosen--life with him, or life without him," (Kindle location 422); and then again he says, "If we give our lives to him [Jesus]," (Kindle location 849).  If man can choose whether or not he's saved, then God is not sovereign.  Yet the Bible is clear that there is no free will in salvation.  Salvation is a monergistic work of God.

Finally, Mr. Tice tells us that hell is deserved because people reject Jesus (Kindle location 430).  However, the Bible tells us that all people deserve to go to hell because of the inherent sin nature from Adam and because of actual transgressions (Rom. 3:23, 5:12).  It is by grace through faith that the elect are saved; it is a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Because I don't agree with Mr. Tice's soteriology, I also did not agree with his reason for evangelization.  The author guilts the Christian into talking about Jesus because hell is a terrible reality that a true Christian should want people to avoid, and the new creation is a wonderful place that Christians should urgently want people to enjoy (Kindle location 468).  Yet, the Bible states that Christians share the Gospel because pastors are called to go, baptize, and teach (Matt. 28:19-20) and others are to be ready to give an answer for the reason of their hope (1 Peter 3:15).  Ultimately, all things are to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Next, the author gives some suggestions on how to talk about Jesus to others.  He says that Christians should not "just wait for someone to ask you about Christianity and wonder why they never do," (Kindle location 720).  For women especially (who are not permitted to be pastors, 1 Tim. 2:12), and men not called into ministry, this statement directly contradicts 1 Peter 3:15 which tells believers to be ready to give an answer.  An answer is given in response to a question.

According to the author, to properly evangelize a Christian needs to remember three words: Identity, Mission, and Call, or tell people who Jesus is, why He came, and what He wants.  In order to engage people, a Christian needs to remember an additional three words: Understanding, Agreement, and Impact, or Do they get it? Do they agree? and What are they going to do about it?  Then Mr. Tice makes this statement:  "Faith is not just knowing the content of the gospel, nor even agreeing with it; it is personally placing my trust in the person at the heart of it: the Lord Jesus," (Kindle location 749).  The author does not provide a reference because this is not a biblical statement.  The Bible shows that saving faith is a work of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the unregenerate and by faith the Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word of God (Eph. 2:8; Acts 24:14; 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 14, para. 1-2).

Finally, Mr. Tice goes on to say that (emphasis mine): "If possible, I'd want to get the Bible open and show them where I was basing my explanation," (Kindle location 757).  Using man's reason is not effective.  Whenever we speak of Jesus, we should be using His Word because faith only comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

In conclusion, I was very disappointed with Honest Evangelism.  Rather than focusing on the Gospel clearly defined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, the author chose instead to use non-biblical terminology such as "Jesus said his mission was to be the dying King and then to be the risen King," (Kindle location 821).  This language is found in Greek Mythology, not in Christianity.  The author mainly focuses on his experience of being rejected and ridiculed for talking about Jesus and extrapolates his fear of rejection onto others as to why people don't share the Gospel--either because they don't love others or they have idols.  Mr. Tice's view of salvation is not consistent, and his advice on how to talk about Jesus is trite and full of man's logic.  Therefore, I would not recommend this book for any Christian as a tool on how to share the Gospel.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.