Week Six Giveaways for 10 Weeks of Free Books Contest

Book Giveaway for Thursday, August 26, 2010

Contest Rules

  • Eligibility: Contestants must be credentialed Assemblies of God ministers and subscribers to MinistryDirect.com. Subscription to MinistryDirect.com is free for all credentialed AG ministers. (If you have questions about your subscription, please email [email protected].) For some books, eligibility may be further limited, for example, to senior pastors, youth pastors, children’s pastors, worship pastors, etc.). Employees of the General Council are ineligible for this contest.
  • Entry and Winning: Eligible contestants must email George Paul Wood at [email protected] before Thursday at 1:00 p.m. CDT. Their emails should include the following information: (1) Name, (2) Contact info, and (3) order of preference for books being given away that week. Books will be given away in order of name drawn and highest book preference still available.
  • Promise and Promotion: Contestants who win a book promise to read and post of review of it on their MinistryDirect.com blog within 30 days of receiving it. MinistryDirect.com will promote the book reviews within MinistryDirect.com itself and also on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Multiple Entries and Wins: Contestants may enter the contest each week. Winning contestants are eligible to re-enter the contest only after they have read and reviewed already won books on their MinistryDirect.com blog.


Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay (New York: Scholastic, 2010). $17.99, 400 pages.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins comes to a bloody end with Mockingjay, the series’ final volumes. (I reviewed the first two volumes here and here.)

The story takes place in North America, sometime in the future. A civil war between the Capitol and its thirteen districts resulted in the annihilation of District 13 and the imposition of the Hunger Games on the remaining twelve. For seventy-five years, each district has sent one girl and one boy between the ages of 12 and 18 to kill or be killed in the arena.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark represent District 12. At the end of that year’s game, Katniss and Peeta are the final contestants. Instead of killing one another, however, they deliver a choice to the Capitol: either both live or both kill themselves.

Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games ends. The Capitol lets Katniss and Peeta live. Knowing, however, that Katniss (especially) is a threat to the Capitol’s political interests, they inaugurate a new hunger game, where previous victors fight one another. At the end of the book, a rebellion breaks out, with Katniss being rescued by forces from the long-thought-annihilated District 13 and Peeta being held captive and tortured by the Capitol.

Mockingjay begins several weeks after the end of Catching Fire. Katniss is recovering from her wounds, when District 13’s leader, President Coin, recruits her to serve as the face of the rebellion against the Capitol. The rebellion rescues Peeta, who has been tortured and brainwashed, but in the process of the fight, Katniss learns that neither President Coin nor District 13 are on the side of the angels.

Mockingjay is a very dark and violent book, especially to be produced by Scholastic for the “young adult” market, i.e., teenagers. It doesn’t glamorize war. Indeed, it verges on moral equivalence. But it does raise profound questions about nationalism, war, terrorism, and moral choice.

My primary criterion for good fiction is whether I can put it down once I’ve started to read it. Starting with The Hunger Games, I couldn’t put this book down, and I could barely wait for the next book of the series to be published. Now that the series is over, I’m looking forward to Suzanne Collins’s next series.


P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Epilogue: God Is What Life Is All About

Over the past forty-two days, we have studied Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5–15), focusing specifically on the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (verses 9–13). If we want to experience God through prayer, we must:

  • make time and space for God (verses 5–9a),
  • focus on God’s powerful love for us (verse 9b),
  • prioritize God’s agenda for our lives (verse 10),
  • ask God for whatever we need (verse 11),
  • seek God’s forgiveness and send it to others (verse 12),
  • and trust God in trying times (verse 13).

In this epilogue, I want to conclude our study with a brief note about the traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer: “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Like most modern translations, the New International Version (NIV)—which I have been using throughout this study—relegates the ending to a footnote rather than including it in the main body of the text. Why? Because the earliest and best manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel do not include the ending. Nor do any copies of Luke’s Gospel. It appears that Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” The ending was added sometime later in the early centuries of Christian history.

But should we continue to pray this ending even though it is merely traditional? As far as I am concerned, “Yes” and for three reasons:

First, the sentiment the ending expresses is wholly biblical. Compare it with the various doxologies in Revelation—4:15; 5:12, 13; 7:12; 11:15, 16–18; 12:10; 19:1, 2—for example. It says essentially what they say: God is the kind of God who deserves to rule over the creation he made, he has the power to do so, and he does so with such unfailing love and justice that he deserves all the honor and praise we can give him.

Second, we should continue to pray the traditional ending because it is useful for worship. Many Americans cannot summon up any sympathy for history and tradition. We always look for what is “new and improved” rather than what is “tried and true.” When it comes to ending a prayer, however, I doubt that the traditional ending can be improved upon for its beauty or truthfulness.

And third, we should continue to pray the traditional ending because, in the final analysis, God is what life is all about. When we pray, our first request is that his name—that is, his reputation, fame, and honor—be hallowed. Why not conclude the prayer by exalting his kingdom, power, and glory? Too often, we live life as if our concerns were all that mattered. The Bible teaches us, however, to be ruthless God-centered, God-focused, and God-saturated. As John Stott has written, “in the Lord’s Prayer, Christians are obsessed with God…. True Christian prayer is always a preoccupation with God and his glory.” Only as we give our best attention to God’s concerns will we find our own needs met (Matt. 6:33).

So let us pray to “our Father in heaven,” for his is “the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

Day 42: How to Be a Failure

One of my father’s best sermons is entitled, “How to Be a Failure.” It goes something like this…

These days, we often hear messages about how to be a success. Rarely, however, do we hear a straightforward message about how to be a failure. And yet, the fear of failure drives people more than hope of success, so perhaps we ought to pay attention to what makes for a “successful” failure. The story of the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:10–17) offers us three principles that, if followed, will help us fail every time.

The first principle is this: Look at the size of the task. Often, we face tasks that are, from our vantage point, gargantuan in size. Certainly the twelve apostles faced a seemingly impossible task when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” The them in this case meant 5,000 men. Adding in wives and children, the crowd easily numbered between 10,000 and 15,000 people. If you want to be a failure, you must always keep the size of the task first and foremost in mind.

Second, look at how little you have. If you were asked to feed 15,000 people, what would you do? I suppose you would put together a budget and find a caterer who could deliver the maximum amount of food at a minimal cost. What if, however, you had neither money nor caterer? Then, quite frankly, you would be one of the twelve apostles.

How much food do you need to feed 15,000 people? What restaurant can supply that food on short order? How much is it going to cost? What do you do if you do not have enough money? What do you do if there is no restaurant in the first place? These are the kinds of questions the apostles no doubt asked, and they are the questions asked by everyone who wants to be a spiritual failure.

The third principle of failure is this: Leave God out of the picture. From the disciples’ point of view, there simply was not enough food to feed the crowd—only five loaves and two fish. From Jesus’ point of view, this was more than enough. The difference between their two perspectives was a difference of faith. Jesus did—and the disciples did not—trust God to make up the difference between their huge need and their meager resources to meet it.

The world in which we live is filled with many temptations and trials. Indeed, it is a world at war, spiritually speaking, and we must be appropriately armed. Often, we feel overwhelmed by our trying times and too weak to fight the battle at hand. Do you want to be a failure? Look at the size of the task. Look at how little you have. And leave God out of the picture. If you want to succeed, however, start with God. Through prayer, we bring our overwhelmed weakness to God and receive power to live another day.

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

Many Christians think of evangelism as an act of proclamation. And that is certainly what it is. But because they don’t feel called or able to proclaim the gospel, they feel they cannot contribute at all to the church’s evangelistic task. In The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, John Dickson points out that Christians promote the gospel in many ways: through prayers, money, the works of the church, godly behavior, public worship services, and daily conversation. Pastors who want to lead evangelistic churches should read this book, and so should parishioners who may be skittish about proclaiming the gospel but long to promote it.

Day 41: Arm Yourselves

In Ephesians 6:14–18, Paul describes “the full armor of God”: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Although drawn from the weapons of a first-century Roman soldier, the armor Paul describes has modern counterparts. We might speak of the web belt of truth, the body armor of righteousness, the combat boots of peace, the Kevlar helmet of salvation, and the M-16 of the Spirit, for example. However “the full armor of God” is described, notice three things about it:

First, it is intellectual, moral, and spiritual in nature. Notice the key words: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, word of God. If the devil’s battle strategy consists of deception and distortion, our defense must be based on discernment. We must know the truth and be capable of acting upon it, in other words. Our knowledge of the truth comes from the word of God, that is, the Bible. According to Hebrews 4:12: “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” But not just anyone can use the Bible rightly. It takes a certain kind of character, just as it takes a certain kind of training to fight with a sword or properly shoot an M-16. The beginning point of that character is faith, which leads to salvation and results in “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Second, the armor of God is primarily defensive in nature. It protects us from “the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Only the sword—the Bible—is an offensive weapon. When used properly, the Bible is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and it is “useful for…training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Third, God’s armor is best used in the context of a prayerful life. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions,” Paul writes, “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Soldiers can only win battles when they are in constant contact with the general’s staff, which lays out the battle plan, coordinates forces, allocates reserves, and leads the army to victory. The same is true of Christians in their relationship to God.

We cannot even begin to win the spiritual war we are fighting without him.

Thursday Book Vlog for August 26

In this vlog, I…

That’s a lot of talking for 10 minutes.


Day 40: We Are at War

In Ephesians 6:10–13, Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Our temptations and trials are not just that. Rather, they are battles. We are at war.

I write these words in 2010. For the past eight years, the United States’ military has been engaged against combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the nature of its battles has changed, so have the arms used to fight them. In Afghanistan, special operations forces at first waged war against the Taliban on horseback. Now they use Predator drones. In the first part of the war in Iraq, the Army and Marines used tanks and heavy artillery. Later, in response to the enemy’s use of guerilla tactics, American forces engaged in counterinsurgency tactics, including cordoning off entire neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house searches. In both cases, the identity of the enemy and the nature of the battle determined the kind of weapons and tactics to be used.

The same military principle holds true when it comes to spiritual warfare. Who is our enemy? It is not “flesh and blood”—people like us, in other words. No, in a sense, all people (whether they have come to faith or not) are captives of a malevolent power from whose grip the Lord would deliver us (Gal. 3:22). That powerful enemy is the devil.

We live in a scientific age in which belief in the existence of demons is considered as reasonable as belief in the Tooth Fairy. Apropos of that skepticism, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Instead of making a case for the identity of the enemy, I want to touch on the nature of the battle. The devil’s tactics consist of deception and distortion. Remember how the snake tempted Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1–7), and you get a glimpse of how the devil makes war on us all. First, he deceives us about God’s commandment (“You will not surely die…”), then he distorts God’s motivation (“For God knows that when you eat of it…you will be like God”), as if God were jealous in a petty way.

The only way to fight deception and distortion is with discernment. For such discernment, we need to don “the full armor of God.” More on that tomorrow.


Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Shaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 2010). $17.99, 256 pages.

In this book, Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger refute the “Bauer thesis,” namely, that “there was no ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘heresy’ at the inception of Christianity but only diversity.” Instead, they demonstrate that orthodoxy was original and normative, while heresy was late and counterfeit. To read my complete review, click here. If you’d like to purchase the book, click on either the picture or the link above.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Shaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 2010). $17.99, 256 pages.

In 1934, Walter Bauer published Rechtsgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im Ältesten Christentum, translated into English in 1971 as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Krueger summarize the argument of that book, the “Bauer thesis,” as follows: “close study of the major urban centers at the end of the first and early second centuries reveals that early Christianity was characterized by significant doctrinal diversity, so that there was no ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘heresy’ at the inception of Christianity but only diversity—heresy preceded orthodoxy.” In light of that diversity, Bauer concluded that the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy reflected the triumph of a particular Roman form of Christianity over other forms in the fourth through sixth centuries, which was subsequently projected by the newly minted orthodox back onto their opponents in the theological debates of the second and third centuries, who now were described as heretics.

In The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Köstenberger and Kruger argue that the Bauer thesis is demonstrably false, on both historical and exegetical grounds (Part 1). Despite these manifest failures, however, the Bauer thesis continues to influence our understanding of the historical development of early Christianity.

Part 2 examines this influence in the debate over the extent of the New Testament canon. If earliest Christianity was irreducibly diverse, as Bauer claimed and as scholars such as Bart Ehrman continue to claim, then the 27 books of the New Testament reflect the literary choices of the winning side. Köstenberger and Kruger challenge this interpretation of history in Part 2. They argue that the canon begins to arise, in the New Testament period, as a result of the authority inherent in the apostolic office, whose teachings were committed to writing for future generations. From a very early period in the late first century, the writings associated with the apostles—especially the fourfold Gospel and the collection of Paul’s thirteen letters—were known, cited, collected, and distributed among churches. Other writings, such as the Gnostic gospels, which often claimed apostolic provenance, were not even written until the second century, when the apostles had passed from the scene, and espoused ideas that had no rootage in first-century Palestinian soil, the milieu in which Jesus was formed and to which he ministered. Moreover, despite exaggerated claims that the proto-orthodox (Ehrman’s preferred name for orthodox Christians in the first three centuries) arbitrarily excluded Gnostic gospels and other second century writings from the biblical canon, the historical record reveals that they were never considered in the first place, precisely because of their late date and non-apostolic provenance. What evidence we do have indicates that 22 of the 27 canonical New Testament books were early on and almost universally agreed to be authoritative, forming the core of the canon.

In essence, Part 1 argues that there is such a thing as normative Christianity. Part 2 argues that the New Testament canon evolved naturally out of this early orthodoxy. Part 3 considers whether modern readers can know that the New Testament documents we have accurately reflect these early apostolic documents. Through writings both academic (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) and popular (Jesus, Interrupted), Ehrman has argued that the answer to this question must be no. Textual criticism has revealed the massive number of textual variants in our extant manuscripts of the New Testament. Further, close study of these variants has revealed—in many cases—a tendency by orthodox scribes to make the text explicitly theologically orthodox. Consequently, one simply cannot know what the apostles themselves taught, for the winning side in the debate of the second and third centuries has corrupted the Scriptures beyond all possibility of repair. The problem with Ehrman’s argument is both logical and factual. Logically, we cannot know that the orthodox corrupted the text unless we have a pretty good idea of what the text originally said. Factually, text critics are confident that we have a pretty good idea of what the text originally said because, when it comes to the number of New Testament manuscripts, especially contrasted to the number of manuscripts for other ancient documents, we suffer from what Eldon Jay Epps called “an embarrassment of riches.” The overall quality of these manuscripts indicates that Christian scribes took their copyist duties seriously and performed them professionally. Moreover, the vast majority of the textual variants that have been documented are entirely trivial, while those that are major do not affect any doctrine, since they are not the only biblical texts that speak in favor of a doctrine. Luke 7:53-8:11 is a well-known textual variant, which textual critics are certain (or as close to certain as textual critics can be) was not part of the original Gospel of Luke. It is not in the earliest and best manuscripts, it was not known to early second century commentators on Luke, and it is sometimes found appended to late copies of the Gospel of John. Remove that wonderful story of Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery and what happens theologically? Nothing. No doctrine hangs on any textual variant, even the major and still disputed textual variants.

In sum, contrary to Bauer and Ehrman, orthodoxy preceded heresy. It was original and normative, while heresy was late and counterfeit. The question that rises as the result of Köstenberger and Kruger’s demonstration is why the Bauer thesis still has legs. If it has been refuted in the particulars, why does it live on in general? “The reason it does so, we suspect”—write Köstenberger and Kruger—“is not that its handling of the data is so superior or its reasoning is so compelling. The reason is rather that Bauer’s thesis…resonates profoundly with the intellectual and cultural climate in the West at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” That climate, “contemporary culture’s fascination with diversity,” is a thoroughgoing relativistic pluralism. I suspect that the authors are onto something important with this observation. The major failing of The Heresy of Orthodoxy, in my opinion, is that they didn’t argue this thesis with as lengthy and well-documented a case as they offered in demolition of the Bauer thesis.


P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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