Three Book Recommendations


Each issue of Influence magazine carries three book recommendations, which I usually write. Here are my three recommendations from the May/June 2018 issue. (They are cross-posted here with permission.) Yesterday, I posted a longer review of Immerse: The Reading Bible, which also appears in that issue.

Celebration of Discipline (40th Anniversary Edition)
Richard J. Foster (HarperOne)
“Superficiality is the curse of our age,” writes Richard J. Foster in Celebration of Discipline. “The desperate need for today is … deep people.” These words ring as true in 2018 as they did in 1978 when Celebration of Discipline was first published. And spiritual disciplines are still the way to produce depth. As Foster summarizes the matter in the book’s new foreword, spiritual disciplines are “the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.” If you’re looking for help in overcoming the superficiality and distractedness of the current age, start with this book, which is 40 years young.

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

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu
Brian C. Stiller (IVP Books)
“For two thousand years, the rise and fall of Christian faith has had much to do with renewal and revival,” writes Brian C. Stiller. The last century especially has witnessed the largest sustained movement of people to faith in the Church’s history. In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Stiller identifies five “drivers” behind this growth: the Holy Spirit, Bible translation, indigenous leadership, engagement of the public square, and holistic forms of ministry. “Living in the midst of this resurgence,” he asks, “we can’t help but wonder: will it carry on?” The only way to find out is to lean in to the Spirit even more.

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

Small Church Essentials
Karl Vaters (Moody Publishers)
“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.” That’s good news for small-church pastors, but it doesn’t let them off the hook. “Small churches are not a problem,” Vaters writes, but neither are they “a virtue, or an excuse.” What small-church pastors need is a broader understanding of church health and growth. “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry,” Vaters writes. If you’re looking for “field-tested principles” for leading a small church, check out this hopeful, helpful book.

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

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Introducing the AG’s New General Secretary | Influence Podcast


On Monday, April 23, 2018, the Assemblies of God announced that Rev. Donna Barrett would succeed Dr. Jim Bradford in the office of general secretary. Her term beings June 1, 2018. This was an historic announcement, given that Barrett is the first woman in the denomination’s history to serve on the Executive Leadership Team. In today’s podcast, I talk to Barrett about her life and ministry and how God has led her to this point in time.

Episode 137 Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction of podcast topic
  • 00:47 Trending Up sponsor ad
  • 01:24 Introduction of Donna Barrett
  • 01:53 Life, conversion and call to ministry
  • 03:01 Why we need to create environments where youth can sense God’s calling
  • 06:01 History of ministry and leadership positions
  • 08:28 What the general secretary does, and what Barrett brings to the office
  • 11:54 Experiences as a woman church planter
  • 16:06 Why it’s important for Pentecostals to make a biblical case for women in leadership, as well as for women to be “at the table” of leadership
  • 20:16 Shifts in thinking from local church to national office, and advice for pastors going through transitions
  • 24:36 Conclusion

P.S. This is crossposted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2017 (SOTB), 87 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, only 50 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible, listen to it, or pray with it at least three or four times a year.

How can we help people move toward greater Bible engagement?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I want to focus on a new Bible product I believe merits attention. It’s called Immerse: The Reading Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers created in Alliance with the Institute for Bible Reading. You can read more about it at ImmerseBible.com (BibliaInmersion.com for the Spanish version).

Immerse is designed to take the church — from junior high to senior adults — through the Bible in three years. It presents Scripture in six high-quality, low-cost paperbacks or e-books.

  • Messiah (New Testament)
  • Beginnings(Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  • Kingdoms (Joshua–2 Kings)
  • Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi)
  • Poets (Job–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations)
  • Chronicles (1Chronicles–Esther, plus Daniel)

According to its website, “Immerse is built on three core ideas: reading a naturally formatted Bible, reading at length, and having unmediated discussions about it together.”

While most Bibles are formatted like a dictionary — a two-column format with scholarly apparatus, including chapter and verse numbers, headings, cross-references and notes — Immerse presents Scripture in a single-column format and eliminates the scholarly apparatus entirely. According to SOTB, 8 percent of U.S. adults cite difficult layout as a significant frustration when reading the Bible. Immerse’s formatting reduces that frustration.

Using this Bible, a church’s small groups or Sunday School classes meet twice a year for eight weeks each time to read and discuss one of Immerse’s six paperbacks, starting with Messiah. Reading each paperback takes 20 to 30 minutes daily, five days a week, for the duration of the small group. This is what Immerse means by “reading at length.” Thirty percent of U.S. adults say lack of time is a significant Bible reading frustration. By delimiting how much and how often participants read, Immerse’s program addresses this concern.

During meetings, a leader facilitates open discussion around four questions:

  1. What stood out to you this week?
  2. Was anything confusing or troubling?
  3. Did anything make you think differently about God?
  4. How might this change the way you live?

State of the Bible 2017 found that readers are motivated to increase Bible reading when encountering difficulty (41 percent), a significant life change, such as marriage or childbirth (17 percent), or contemporary discussions about religion and spirituality in the media (17 percent). By focusing on four open-ended questions, Immerse encourages readers to ponder what the Bible teaches in the specifics of their lives.

Several other features of Immerse are worth highlighting. First, it uses the New Living Translation of Scripture (NLT). According to SOTB, 16 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by the Bible’s difficult language. The NLT features readable, idiomatic English for a broad audience.

Second, within each paperback, Immerse reorganizes the books of the Bible in an interesting fashion. For example, the standard New Testament order of books is Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, other epistles and Revelation. Messiah pairs each gospel with letters related to it: Luke–Acts with Paul’s letters, Mark with Peter’s and Jude’s letters, Matthew with Hebrews and James, and John with John’s letters and Revelation. This helps readers see thematic connections between each gospel and its associated letters.

Third, Immerse provides resources to help readers understand the theological, historical and literary context of each book of the Bible. All six paperbacks include brief introductory essays. And the website includes free aids for small groups: a weekly 3-minute video that introduces each week’s readings, audio files of daily Bible readings, and downloadable guides for pastors, small-group leaders and participants.

God inspired the Bible to equip us for holy living (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If we don’t use it, however, it does us no good. Immerse offers church leaders a well-thought-out strategy for guiding readers through Scripture.

Books Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, 6 vols. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017).

P.S. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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

The Judiciary’s Class War | Book Review


In this new Encounter Broadside, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (aka Instapundit) argues that “Front-Row Kids” have taken over the federal judiciary, rendering decisions that both reflect and reinforce the prejudices of their social class.

As Reynolds describes them, Front-Row Kids—the term is Chris Arnade’s—are the people “who did well in school, moved into managerial or financial or political jobs, and see themselves as the natural rulers of their fellow citizens.” By contrast, “Back-Row Kids” “placed less emphasis on school” and not surprisingly “resent the pretensions, and bossiness, of the Front-Row kids. Back-Row Kids are more plentiful, but Front-Row Kids are more powerful, as they’re the ones who for the most part lead America’s institutions, both private and public.

The Judiciary’s Class War is a short essay, so Reynold merely sketches the outline of an argument that needs to be made more fully elsewhere. Still, it is a suggestive argument. Given that, for example, all nine Supreme Court Justices hail from only three law schools—Harvard, Yale, and Columbia—perhaps it’s time that the court look a little more like America. Isn’t that what diversity is all about, after all?

Book Reviewed
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, The Judiciary’s Class War, Encounter Broadside No. 54 (New York, Encounter Books, 2018).

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

One Blood | Book Review


The most heated conversations I’ve witnessed on Facebook had to do with race. Whether the topic was Confederate statues or Black Lives Matter, the conversations typically began politely enough but almost inevitably degenerated into the online equivalent of a shouting match. Many words appeared in ALL CAPS. These conversations both surprised and disappointed me.

Unfortunately, most of these conversations were between Christians. American society is divided, and American churches all too often reflect rather than correct those divisions. That saddens me immensely. We can do better. For the sake of the gospel, we must.

One Blood, according to its subtitle, contains John M. Perkins’ “parting words to the Church on race.” I’m not sure that’s right, however. While race is the context of the book, its text is reconciliation. Perkins writes: “Biblical reconciliation is the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship” (emphasis added). Given America’s tortured history of race relationships, how can Christians lead the way in reconciliation? That’s the question the book examines.

Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association. Born in 1930 to black sharecroppers and raised in New Hebron, Mississippi, Perkins knew sorrow from an early age. His mother died of pellagra when he was an infant. (Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency that causes its victims to starve.) His father abandoned him at a young age. His brother, a World War II veteran, was murdered by a deputy marshal. When he was 17, his family urged him to migrate to Southern California in the hope he wouldn’t suffer his brother’s fate.

It was in California, at the age of 27, that Perkins became a Christian. In 1960, he and his wife and children returned to Mendenhall, Mississippi, to start Voice of Calvary Bible Institute, a ministry focused on personal evangelism and biblical literacy. Alongside this ministry, however, he and his wife, Vera Mae, began to minister to the material needs of members of their community. And he began to advocate for civil rights and public school desegregation. In 1970, he led a boycott of white-owned businesses that landed him in jail, where he was beaten by police.

In the following decades, Perkins increasingly became a black evangelical voice for civil rights, at a time when many white evangelicals were suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated justice, of course, as well as help for the economically disadvantaged, but above all, he continued to urge reconciliation.

One Blood outlines the biblical case for reconciliation, as well as the kinds of practices that make it possible. More than any other, this single paragraph encapsulates the message of the book:

The Church must speak out with one voice against bigotry and racism. We have been too quiet. The time is now. A platform has been placed in front of us and we must speak with clarity and truth. We’ve made a mess of things, but there is a path forward. It will require us to hold fast to [God’s] vision for one Church and the biblical truth of one race. We need to lament our broken past and be willing to make some personal confessions about our own part in that mess. Then we’ll have to be willing to forgive and move forward toward true repentance. We must be committed to the right until the battle for reconciliation is won. And we must never forget that our power is not in guns, weapons, or armies. Our power is on our knees before God.

Perkins leaves no doubt that reconciliation is a gospel issue. “For too long, many in the Church have argued that unity in the body of Christ across ethnic and class lines is a separate issue from the gospel. There has been the suggestion that we can be reconciled to God without being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture doesn’t bear that out.”

At the outset, I mentioned my surprise and disappointment with conversations about race I have witnessed on Facebook. One Blood was surprising, too. Given what Perkins has seen, heard, and been subjected to in his 87 years of life, the lovingkindness of his message is stunning. It doesn’t detract from the hard truths he mentions about our nation’s — and the Church’s — failings with regard to race. Nor does it lessen the responsibility to make things right. But it does engender hope.

Book Reviewed
John M. Perkins with Karen Waddles, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

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

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

Translating the Great Commission


Produced by Barna Group in partnership with Seed Company, Translating the Great Commission examines aspects of Christian missions, including knowledge of the Great Commission, the definition of missions, the relationship of evangelism and social justice, and the role and value of Bible translation. As usual with Barna reports, Translating includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative research, together with expert Q&As and infographics. It offers a valuable snapshot of current opinion about these aspects of Christian missions.

Book Reviewed
Barna Group, Translating the Great Commission: What Spreading the Gospel Means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2018).

What’s Driving Christianity’s Global Growth? | Influence Podcast


In this episode, I talk to Brian Stiller about five drivers behind Christianity’s explosive growth worldwide.

Stiller is a global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and author of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity, recently published by IVP Books.

To learn more about Brian Stiller, visit BrianStiller.com.


Episode Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction of podcast
  • 00:45 TruFire Sunday school curriculum sponsor ad
  • 01:08 Introduction of Brian Stiller
  • 01:18 What From Jerusalem to Timbuktu is about
  • 03:30 Evangelicalism’s explosive growth over the last century
  • 05:46 An overview of the five drivers behind this growth
  • 07:28 Driver #1: The Holy Spirit
  • 11:57 Drivers #2 and 3: Bible translation and indigeneity
  • 19:19 Drivers #4 and 5: Engaging the public square and holistic ministry
  • 24:29 Hopeful or fearful about Christianity’s future?
  • 27:39 How to follow Brian Stiller or the World Evangelical Alliance online
  • 28:20 Conclusion