NIV Reader’s Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. To be more precise, according to LifeWay Research, while 87 percent of all Americans own a Bible, 53 percent have read little to none of it. Only 1 in 5 Americans have read the Bible at least once.

No doubt there are many reasons for this disparity between ownership and readership. The Bible is a big book, for one thing. Differences between ancient culture and contemporary culture mean the Bible is not always easy to understand, for another. Finally, it teaches us about God and His ways. If you think God is easy to understand, think again! As the apostle Paul put it in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Alongside size, age and complexity, I’d like to suggest one more reason why people don’t read the Bible: format. My NIV Thinline is printed with two columns per page and 8.4-point font size. (NIV stands for New International Version, by the way.) It has chapter and verse numbers, section headings and footnotes. Other formats include cross-references on each page.

And then there are study Bibles. My NIV Study Bible has 2,560 pages and weighs in at 5.4 pounds. (Strangely, no one calls it a Fatline even though it’s huge.) In addition to all the above, it has over 20,000 study notes, as well as 400 full-color pictures, maps, charts and illustrations. The biblical text is printed in a readable 10-point font, but everything else is much smaller and therefore harder to read.

Now, there are many advantages to packing all this information into a single-volume Bible. It’s an economical way to provider readers with high-end scholarship they need to understand God’s Word. It also makes the Bible look like a dictionary, encyclopedia or textbook, and we all know how little Americans like to read those.

That’s why I’m glad that so-called Reader’s Bibles are the new trend in Bible publishing. Each page has exactly one column. Font size is bigger. There are no chapter or verse numbers, let alone section headings, footnotes or cross-references. Prose is printed in paragraphs; poetry is printed in stanzas. The Bible is printed like an ordinary book, perfect for ordinary readers.

For some time now, I have used the ESV Reader’s Bible for daily devotional reading. (ESV stands for English Standard Version.) The format makes it easier to read and enjoy Scripture over longer periods of time. The problem is, the ESV is not my preferred translation. The NIV is, but there was no comparable NIV product.

Until now.

This month, Zondervan released the NIV Reader’s Bible with both imitation leather and hardboard covers. It is comparable in size to the ESV Reader’s Bible. The table below lists the two Bibles’ respective pages, font size, trim size and weight:

 

NIV Reader’s Bible ESV Reader’s Bible
Pages 1,984 1,840
Font size 10.5 9.5
Trim size 5.25 x 8.5 inches 5.25 x 7.75 inches
Weight 44.8 ounces 32.7 ounces

 

While both the ESV and the NIV are reliable translations, the NIV is typically easier to read, in my opinion. It was updated in 2011 to track changes in the English language since its original publication in 1978.

When you combine the NIV’s ease of reading with the fact that it is the best-selling contemporary translation in the United States, especially among evangelical Christians, using it is an obvious choice. It is likely the translation used by your pastor, in your pew Bible and in Sunday school and small group curriculum. The NIV is a solid translation from reputable scholars in readable English.

And now, the NIV Reader’s Bible puts that readable translation into a readable format. The NIV Reader’s Bible became my go-to devotional Bible the moment I received it. I hope you will give it a look too. The NIV Reader’s Bible will help turn you from a Bible owner to a Bible reader.

 

Book Reviewed
NIV Reader’s Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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

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Rebel in the Ranks | Book Review


October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. On that date in 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted a document calling for academic debate on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Saxony. The posting of this document — titled, Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, or more popularly Ninety-five Theses — inaugurated the process whereby Luther broke with the Roman Catholic Church, the end results of which are still felt today.

The consequences of the Protestant Reformation are the subject of Brad S. Gregory’s new book, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World. Luther and other Protestants intended to reform the Church. That was their stated aim. However, it is not that consequence, but three other unintended consequences that capture Gregory’s attention.

The first was “the proliferation of so many rival versions of Protestantism.” Protestants agree that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the final authority for Christians in matters of faith and practice. They came to this view as their debates with Roman Catholic theologians about indulgences and other matters raised the question of what authority everyone must acknowledge as the final authority in such matters.

The problem was that acknowledging Scripture’s final authority did not result in a unified interpretation of Scripture. Instead, Protestants argued amongst themselves: Lutheran versus Zwinglian versus Reformed versus Anabaptist. To this day, while there is one Roman Catholic Church (at least nominally), there is no one Protestant Church — only Protestant churches, who still disagree among themselves, often to the point of breaking communion with one another.

Secondly, Gregory argues, “Just as the reformers never intended to pave the way for any and all interpretations of God’s Word, so they never intended to facilitate endless doctrinal controversy or recurrent violence, let alone to divide Christendom itself.” Again, their stated aim was to reform the Church, not to break it. And yet, it broke nonetheless.

Part of the reason for this was that in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion was always “more-than-religion,” as Gregory puts it. He explains what he means by way of a contrast: “Religion today is a distinct area of life — separate from your career, professional relationships, recreational activities, consumer behavior, and so on. None of this was true in the early sixteenth century: religion was neither a matter of choice nor separate from the rest of life.” Because of this, controversies in religion became controversies in society, culture, politics and economics. The Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th century were the most violent expressions of these conflicts, but not the only ones.

These two unintended consequences, in combination, defined the major political problem modernity had to solve. If people cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible, and if their disagreements lead to social conflict and war, what must be done to achieve peace? The answer that began to emerge in the 17th century can be captured in a single word: secularization.

Gregory defines a secular society as “one in which religion would be separate from public life, becoming instead a matter of individual preference.” If religion in medieval society was more-than-religion, then religion in modern society had to become less-than-life. It had to become a component, not the whole. This diminishment of the scope of religion was accompanied by an increase in the scope of personal freedom. Medieval Christendom may have been dominated by a Christian worldview, but in modern society, individuals “can believe whatever they want to believe about morality or purpose and live their lives accordingly.” In short, as Gregory notes, “The Reformation is a paradox: a religious revolution that led to the secularization of society.”

There are benefits to this secularization, of course. Religious freedom — more broadly, freedom of conscience — is the most obvious one. But there are downsides as well. Secularization was meant to bring peace among warring Christian nations, but secular societies have not proven themselves to be necessarily peaceful ones, as the fate of 20th-century Communist nations so tragically attests.

Indeed, secular societies are characterized by what Gregory calls “hyperpluralism.” If it was hard to unite societies divided between Protestants and Catholics (or among Protestants), how easy will it be to unite a society where 51 flavors of religion, non-religion and irreligion are on offer?

“So here we are,” Gregory concludes, “so very free and so very far away from Martin Luther and what he started in a small town in Germany five hundred years ago.”

 

Book Reviewed
Brad S. Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World (New York: HarperOne, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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

Mere Sexuality | Book Review


How should Christians think about human sexuality? That is the question Todd Wilson asks in his new book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. Wilson (Ph.D., Cambridge University) is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, and cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His is a timely book, given the sea change of opinion and practice that has washed over Western culture since the middle of the 20th century.

“Did you know,” Wilson asks, “despite a genuine diversity of views expressed along the way, the church has held to a coherent view of human sexuality for centuries?” With a nod to C. S. Lewis, he calls this view “mere sexuality,” that is, “what most Christians at most times in most places have believed about human sexuality.”

The book touches on “a whole range of biblical, theological, cultural, and practical questions.” These include biblical and theological reflections on biological sex, gender identity, marriage, sexual intercourse, celibacy and homosexuality.

For example, Chapter 2, “The Sexuality of Jesus,” looks at what the Incarnation says about sexuality. Many who write on this topic look at Jesus’ words and actions for guidance. What did He teach about sexual immorality? How did He interact with sexual sinners?

This is appropriate, of course, but Wilson thinks we ought to look deeper at what Jesus’ person teaches us about human sexuality. He writes:

The Son of God, though biologically sexed, lived a sex-free, fully contented life. Not an easy, pain-free existence, but a whole and deeply and richly human life. This is a remarkable fact — one that confronts all of us, whether we’re same-sex-attracted or straight, married or single. It also confronts our secular culture and the evangelical church culture as well — I suspect in some uncomfortable ways. I find it’s easy to forget (and tempting to resist the idea) that I don’t need sex to be satisfied. Jesus didn’t, and yet he was supremely satisfied in God…

One of the main claims of mere sexuality, as it has been articulated and practiced throughout the church’s history, is that while sexuality (our being biologically sexed as male and female) is central to what it means to be human, sexual activity is not. If we want to be fully human, we have to embrace our sexed bodies. But we don’t have to engage in sexual activity to be fully human. The life of the Son of God makes that perfectly clear.

The Incarnation itself, in other words, challenges the “pervasive and powerful cultural myth” of “our hypersexualized contemporary culture,” namely, that “sexual activity is essential to human fulfillment — that you can’t be human without it.”

I quote this particular passage not because it is the end of Wilson’s discussion — the book goes on for five more chapters — but because it is a badly needed example of how doctrine can inform practice. We cannot present a Christian view of human sexuality unless we have examined it through a theological lens. What we believe about Creation, the Fall, Christ, the Resurrection, and eschatology shapes — at least, it should shape — how we think about and practice sexuality.

Mere Sexuality is written for a broad audience, so it can be read profitably by pastors and laity alike. It would make a good text for discussion in book clubs and small groups. I highly recommend it.

 

Book Reviewed
Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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

Our Deepest Desires | Book Review


For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith. This interest led me to study philosophy in college and accounts for quite a few books in my library. But over the course of my ministry, I have discovered that arguments — the logical kind, not the yelling-and-screaming kind — have a limited power to change minds.

Blaise Pascal identified a reason for this limitation in his Pensées. “Men despise religion,” he wrote. “They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” Notice the verbs: despise, hate, are afraid. This is the language of affect, not intellect; of roiling desires, not calm, cool reflection. On this account, Christian apologetics often fails because it treats people like the Vulcan Dr. Spock rather than the all-too-human Captain Kirk.

Pascal outlined a three-pronged strategy for apologetics in light of this truth about human nature:

The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is true.

We might call these three prongs negative apologetics, apologetics from desire, and positive apologetics. Negative apologetics rebuts arguments against Christianity, showing that they are false. Positive apologetics makes arguments for Christianity, showing that it is true. Pascal’s crucial insight is that apologetics from desire play a crucial role. People must “wish it were true” in order to see “that it is true.”

Although Gregory E. Ganssle doesn’t cite Pascal in Our Deepest Desires, I get the impression that his book is a Pascalian project nonetheless. “The claim that this book will explore,” he writes, “is that the Christian story makes sense of our deepest longings. That is,” he goes on to explain, “the story that Christianity sets forth fits well with the things we value most and with the kinds of people we want to be.”

What kinds of things? Ganssle names four key values: persons, goodness, beauty and freedom. These values are, he believes, transcendental and universal. They are the kinds of things all people must take into account as they try to construct a good life.

Take persons, for example. Ganssle shows that “what we value most is connected to our personhood.” This is the case for two reasons: “The value of the things we pursue for ourselves is enhanced because we have human capabilities, and we value other people intrinsically.” In other words, we are persons (not pigs or peanuts or planets), so the good life we pursue must be appropriate for us. Moreover, that good life is relational to the core.

What story makes best sense of this fact? Ganssle contrasts the Christian story with the atheist story throughout the book. Let me cite a representative example of each story, then add in Ganssle’s argument.

First, a representative example of the Christian story:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7–12).

Ganssle writes: “In the Christian story, the most fundamental reality is intrinsically relational” (emphasis in original). God is a Trinity of persons in eternal relationship of love with one another. This eternal Trinitarian love has implications for the doctrine of creation: “God’s love for the created order and particularly for the persons God created is an overflow of the love among the distinct persons within the divine nature. Love overflows into creative giving.” Given this reality, it is not surprising that “the content of Christian ethics centers on love and service to others.”

Now, for a representative example of the atheist story — by atheism, Ganssle means evolutionary naturalism, the “unguided Darwinian story” of human origins — consider this famous quote from the infamous Bertrand Russell:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

In this story, Ganssle points out, “our relational nature arises solely from our biological nature, which in turn arises from the underlying physics. In these accounts, the human drive to form and value relationships found its impetus in the need to survive.” So, yes, relationship is part of the atheist story, but as Ganssle points out, this is “an accident of evolutionary history.” He goes on to conclude: “Our beliefs about these relational virtues do not track with the deep contours of reality. So, although the meaning and value of relationships are not incompatible with atheism, they do not fit well with the atheistic story.”

Notice that Ganssle hasn’t argued that the Christian story is true. He’s simply argued that it’s a better fit to our deepest desires about personhood. He makes similar arguments about goodness, beauty and freedom. These transcendental values — our deepest desires — fit better within the Christian story of reality than in the atheist story. To use Pascal’s words, the Christian story is “attractive.” It is the kind of story “good men wish … were true.”

Obviously, there’s still a place for negative and positive apologetics. We have to show that Christianity is true, not false, after all. But if arguments from desire have moved people from scorn, hatred and fear of religion to curiosity about it, or even an openness to “reverence and respect,” then our arguments stand a far better chance of being persuasive.

Our Deepest Desires is a short book, but Gregory E. Ganssle should be congratulated for how much deep and interesting insight he has packed into its pages.

 

Book Reviewed:
Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

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

Trending Up | Book Review


If it weren’t for Johannes Gutenberg, the Protestant Reformation might not have happened. Why? Because Gutenberg’s movable type press made it possible to print and distribute Martin Luther’s spiritual broadsides quickly and inexpensively. The medium facilitated the movement.

Today, we are witnessing a communications revolution even greater than Gutenberg’s. Information technology has made it possible to communicate the gospel instantly, globally and personally via social media. Christians need to harness these media for Great Commission purposes.

Trending Up shows how. Written by social media professionals from a variety of denominations, churches and nonprofit ministries, the book outlines social media strategies for churches and other ministries under five headings:

  1. Why Social Media?
  2. Content Strategy
  3. Story: Your Church’s Story and God’s Story
  4. Connecting with Your Church
  5. Reaching Your Community

If the ministry you lead is looking for a primer on social media, start with this book. Case studies of social media campaigns appear throughout, showing how content strategy plays out in real-life settings. Additionally, the book contains an appendix of books, websites, blogs, platforms and other resources for further investigation.

Near the end of the book, Mark Forrester writes: “Social media is equal parts art and science — and zero parts magic. Don’t let anyone tell you different. As with any form of communication, we must give painstaking attention to make sure our choice of words and images are appropriately reaching our community and resonating in our specific context.” In other words, Gutenberg facilitated Luther, but Luther had something to say that was worth facilitating in the first place.

The same must be true of us. Technological innovations have made it possible to amplify our message. Let’s make sure people hear the gospel loud and clear on our social media.

 

Book Reviewed
Mark Forrester, ed., Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today’s Church (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

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

The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity | Book Review


The debate about gender roles between complementarians and egalitarians is one of the most contentious among evangelical Christians. Complementarians believe that God created a hierarchical relationship between men, whose role is to lead in home and church, and women, whose role is to graciously submit to male leadership. Egalitarians believe that the hierarchical relationship between men and women is not God’s creative design but rather the result of the Fall. For egalitarians, Christ’s redemptive work reverses the curse of sin, places men and women in relationships characterized by mutual submission, and frees both men and women to lead as God calls and empowers them.

Among some of the neo-Reformed complementarians affiliated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), it used to be acceptable to prove their position not only by appeal to specific biblical texts (e.g., Ephesians 5:21–32; 1 Corinthians 14:34–35; 1 Timothy 2:11–15), but also by appeal to the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, did not Paul write, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3, ESV)?

Complementarian Jared Moore explained the logic of this argument in his review of Bruce Ware and John Starke’s One God in Three Persons:

If complementarians can prove that there is a hierarchy in the immanent (ontological) Trinity, then they win, for if a hierarchy exists among the Three Persons of God, and these Three Persons are equally God, then surely God can create men and women equal yet with differing roles in church and home.

Thus, complementarians found a way to maintain male-female equality even as they denied that women could be leaders in home and church.

This argument was first articulated by George F. Knight III in 1977. It received institutional expression in the Danvers Statement of 1987, the charter of the CBMW. After that, it was articulated and defended most voluminously by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware in numerous books and articles, including Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the most widely used theology text in evangelical seminaries. According to these theologians, to deny fixed role relations between the sexes was tantamount to denying the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father, thus placing the denier outside the pale of orthodoxy and on “a new path to liberalism,” as the subtitle of Grudem’s 2006 Evangelical Feminism.

I say this argument used to be acceptable among these complementarians because it is now widely recognized — even by many of them! — to be heretical, a corruption of Trinitarian doctrine as formally defined by the councils of Nicea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (A.D. 381) in the Nicene Creed. (In January 2017, for example, after a yearlong debate about EFS in complementarian circles, CBMW took the extraordinary step of explicitly affirming the Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity.) Kevin Giles charts the rise and fall of the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity in his book of that title. Giles is an Australian Anglican minister who has argued against the eternal functional subordination of the Son — the name complementarians gave their Trinitarian doctrine — since the 2002 publication of his book, The Trinity and Subordinationism.

Rise and Fall is an eye-opening, theologically helpful book. Why? Not only because it traces the history of a bad idea, but because it explains how that bad idea became so prominent among some theologians in the first place. Giles points to bad theological method as the culprit.

…the complementarian theologians got the doctrine of the Trinity wrong because they had a wrong understanding of how evangelical theology is “done.” They thought that with the Bible in hand they were free to construct the doctrine of the Trinity with virtually no reference to the historical development of this doctrine or any reference to the creeds of confessions of the church. In their mind, systematic theology was simply a summary by individual theologians of what they thought the Bible teaches on any doctrine. For them, an evangelical who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture had in the Bible the answer to every theological question.

This is where Giles’ book hits close to home. As a Pentecostal, I am neither a Calvinist nor a complementarian. However, this same theological method is prevalent among my tribe. As Protestants, we affirm sola Scriptura, Latin for “by Scripture alone.” In other words, we believe that Scripture is “the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and practice,” as the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths puts it. So far, so good.

The problem is that we Pentecostals — along with many other evangelicals — often operate as if sola Scriptura meant what Giles calls solo Scripture— “No creed but the Bible!” There’s a huge difference between saying that the Bible is the only infallible source of our theology, however, and saying that it’s the only source whatsoever. As a historical matter, that’s not what the Protestant Reformation meant by sola Scriptura. The Reformers affirmed the orthodox doctrinal tradition of the Church, even as they appealed to Scripture to critique the corrupt traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. They didn’t throw out the Nicene baby with the indulgence bathwater. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this October, it might be helpful to keep the Reformers’ theological method in mind.

Giles wraps up The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity with a 30-page summary of how the doctrine of the Trinity developed in history. It is a good example of how tradition and reason, subordinate to infallible Scripture, produced Nicene orthodoxy. But that very orthodoxy creates a problem for complementarians. As Giles puts it: “Given that the complementarian doctrine of a hierarchically ordered Trinity has now been abandoned, even by leaders of the complementarian movement, and that they have agreed that 1 Corinthians 11:3 neither subordinates the Son nor women, the reality of a major crisis for complementarian theology cannot be denied.”

How that crisis will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but Giles concludes the book with a quotation by complementarian Calvinist Andrew Wilson: “I’m quite optimistic about the fallout from the whole debate…. I think correctives are good. I think robust challenges to faulty formulations of doctrine will, in the end, produce health rather than decay.

To which this Arminian, egalitarian Pentecostal voices a hearty, “Amen!”

 

Book Reviewed
Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge


My friend Carter McDaniel reviewed this book for InfluenceMagazine.com, but I thought I’d give my two-cents’ worth too:

“Influence always outpaces authority,” writes Clay Scroggins. “And leaders who consistently leverage their authority are far less effective in the long term than leaders who leverage their influence.” Scroggins identifies four behaviors that will help readers leverage their influence: lead yourself, choose positivity, think critically and reject passivity. He also gives sage advice for challenging authority as a second-chair leader, when that becomes necessary. His bottom line advice? “Practice leading through influence when you’re not in charge. It’s the key to leading well when you are in charge.” This is an insightful book for second-chair church leaders and young ministers.

Book Reviewed
Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

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

The Western Star | Book Review


The Western Star is the thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s series of mystery novels featuring Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming’s (fictional) Absaroka County. It’s also one of the best. How good? I read it in one sitting—four hours glued to my chair wondering what would happen next.

The novel includes three narrative arcs. The first finds Walt in Cheyenne to argue against the parole of a killer he arrested in 1972.

The second takes place in 1972, when Walt is a newly minted deputy of Lucian Connally and accompanies him on a junket of Wyoming sheriffs aboard The Western Star, a steam locomotive from which the book draws its title. When two of the sheriffs go missing, one presumed to have murdered the other, Walt gets dragged into solving the case.

The third narrative arc concerns Tomas Bidarte, a criminal first introduced in A Serpent’s Tooth, who wants to kill Walt, but only after making his family suffer first. These three arcs come together in the book’s explosive conclusion, which, I have to admit, I didn’t see coming. And while they come together, they don’t completely resolve.

In other words, The Western Star made me hope that Craig Johnson finishes his fourteenth Walt Longmire novel really soon. I want to know what happens next.

 

Book Reviewed
Craig Johnson, The Western Star (New York: Viking, 2017).

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

Basic Christianity | Book Review


What does it mean to be evangelical? Derived from the Greek euaggelion — “gospel” or “good news” — the word describes things that are related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the Reformation, it has been used as shorthand for Protestants generally. With the Great Awakening, it began to be used of a specific type of Protestant: Bible-based, Cross-centered, conversion-required and action-oriented.

Now in the United States, the word more often than not is used to describe a brand of partisan politics, at least in the popular press. This is unfortunate, because the gospel itself cannot be reduced to partisan politics. It is bigger and more fundamental than that. John Stott’s Basic Christianity helps readers remember this by outlining a truly evangelical understanding of Christianity.

Stott writes: “Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible.”

Over the course of 11 short chapters, Stott covers who Christ is, the nature and consequences of sin, the atoning work of the Cross, and the necessity of responding to Christ personally.

In the Preface, Stott pens this brief description of basic Christianity:

We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly, to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust in him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.

Over the course of its nearly 60 years in print, Stott’s little book has found a remarkably broad audience — internationally and ecumenically — and for good reason. It is biblical, orthodox and evangelical in the best sense of the word. I recommend it highly. An individual can read it profitably, but I think the best way to read it is with a group. The third edition helpfully includes group discussion questions at the end of the book.

Stott first wrote Basic Christianity in 1958 for a British audience. It has been revised twice, in 1971 and 2008. As far as I can tell, this 2017 Eerdmans reissue is nearly identical to the third edition. Changes include a new cover and minor reformatting of the text. The biggest change is that all Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 edition of the New International Version.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Stott, Basic Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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

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