Book Review: Church by A.W. Tozer

We Are the Body

For many Christians, the Church that Pastor Tozer describes in this new collection is almost a foreign entity given the diluted experience that they have each week. Tozer had a deep love for God and His Church, and it pours forth on the pages of this newly published collection. Many of the words have been previously published but Moody Publi418289shers has assembled new topical collections of these and other unpublished works on themes important to the modern church. The ‘Church’ collection is inspiring reading as Tozer speaks of the importance of Christ’s Bride, not criticizing for long, but rather, reminding the reader of the world-changing purpose of the assembled Christians.

For those familiar with Tozer’s writing, each chapter is the expected gem. His holiness and earnest devotion to God’s Church is not sanctimonious, it draws the reader deeper and deeper in an invitation to the same devotion. The Church is not a social organization, a club to which we can give passing notice. It is the living, breathing organization through which God works to affect the spiritual transformation of His world. Tozer can be both gentle and firm as the moment dictates and, in both instances, the reader is encouraged to commit themselves and be likewise.

If you are new to Tozer, consult the classics alongside this volume: The Pursuit of God and  are good primers. If Tozer has long been on your reading list [as he has mine] you will savor his words and be encouraged in your faith and your ministry, as you probably expect

Fitted with the Gospel of Peace

The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.

This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”.  Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.

“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!”  Romans 5:10

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.

The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7

Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Book Review: Feels Like Home by Lee Eclove

Let me say this up front, this belongs in every pastor’s library and should be read regularly. Pastor Eclov has given the Church a necessary corrective to the attractive, grow bigger at all costs attitude that can become the dominant outlook in your church. This was not the intent of the Lord when he handed Peter the keys; we were not to adopt the worlds values and methods in the hope that we might be able to ‘share’ the gospel with those who come to the show. The Lord’s plan was to live the gospel, joyful and sacrificially, showing (not telling) what Jesus has brought about in our lives together.

Eclov emphasizes the community of believers over the show. The Church is to be family, celebrating and worshipping and bearing one another’s burdens, all in testimony to what Jesus has done for us. This is the picture of church St. Francis had in mind when gave that famous proclamation to ‘Preach the Gospel at all time times, and if necessary use words.’ Though unsaid in the book, Eclov’s guidance reminds the church that the Gospel is not just for evangelizing, it is for us to give to one another to lift, to calm, to encourage, to love.

Church as home, church as family. Reminders of the sometimes forgotten nature of ministry that Pastor Eclov walks through in encouraging chapter after convicting chapter. Growth for growth’s sake is not a biblical guiding principle, church as family is. Read this excellent book (ignoring the mid 70’s cover art) and then prepare to read it again, little by little. Thank you Lee.

Book Review: The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage

The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.

Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.

“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.

 

Book Review: Zealous for Good Works by Todd Wilson

Pastor Wilson turns the Church’s attention to the much quoted but less applied New Testament epistle of Titus and its core message. The Spirit inspired the author of that letter to not only leave his worker Titus on the Greek island of Crete to organize the Christians there, but gave the principles by which he was to do so as well. Using as his objective that the Church be the city on a hill that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, Wilson leads the reader through the points of Paul’s letter and helps us to understand how his marching orders for Titus apply to the Church today.

For such a brief book the value is immense. Wilson expertly exegetes the equally brief letter and helps the reader to see the big idea in each of the passages. ‘Zealous’ is not a gnostic promise (Jabez et al.) of discovering some new hidden secret, but rather, it is an eminently practical look at the principles that Paul gave to Titus that address many of the shortcomings of the Church in our age. Three that are discussed in the book are the poor level of discipleship, the chasm of credibility (that is, the difference between what we say and what we do) and the effect that these have on how we apprehend the missional opportunity ahead of us.

Read ‘Zealous’ with your bible close by. It is likely you have read Titus multiple times (if you are picking up a books such as this) but much of that reading has been focused in the Eldership requirements. Wilson deftly leads the reader to see that Titus contains so much more practical application for the Church beyond those instructions. For example, Wilson stops us in a passage often seen as preamble, Paul’s greeting in 1:1-4 to point out the importance of preaching and the power of the gospel. The gospel is both the content and the power of preaching something that can be missing in today’s environment of therapeutic deism. A city on hill is not built on the pillars of making people feel better where it teeters and shifts with every new personal demand. It is founded on the unchanging glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The only disappointment I had with the book was that it was over so quickly. The more I think about it though, the length of the book is exactly right given the brevity of the profound instruction in its source. I have a new hunger to dig into Titus and preach it in the future. In the meantime, the study guide included at the back of the book is a bonus for church leaders seeking to present their people as salt and light in the world. Buy this, read this and read it again.

Chicken soup for the Giver’s Soul

 

I Like Giving - Brad FormsmaI Like Giving by Brad Formsma

The subtitle of the book is ‘Practical Ideas, Inspiring Stories’ and Formsma doesn’t disappoint on either count. I Like Giving is 210 pages of encouragement to engage generous giving as a lifestyle rather than viewing it through the lens of ten percent. The illustrative stories that compose the majority of the book do two things; they primarily give us inspirational stories retelling the giving experiences of the author and others but also provide insight into the long-term effects that giving can have as God works through the provision of others. It is the end-end result that we usually never get to see that is often the greatest benefit of a gift.

The book is a breezy read that will inspire you to take action, even it is just to pass the book on to someone else who might likewise be inspired. Formsma emphasizes that an important line needs to be crossed in our lives, transitioning from thought to action. It’s one thing to be inspired and have your heart warmed and yet another to be inspired, lace up your sneakers and go give. The biblical author James makes the same comment, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

I’m grateful to WaterBrook Press who provided this book for review.