Thursday, November 29, 2012

Delighting in the Trinity: a book review

“Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God.  To know and grow to enjoy him is what we are saved for…Thus to read this book is not to play an intellectual game.  In fact, we will see that the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness and transforms the very way we look at the world around us.  No exaggeration: the knowledge of this God turns lives around.” So begins Michael Reeves engaging new book Delighting in the Trinity (135 pages from IVP; ISBN 978-0-8308-3983-4).  In this book the author sets out to both explain the Trinity and perhaps most significantly, explain why the triune nature of God is essential to the Christian faith – “the governing center of all Christian belief” (pg. 16).

For many the Trinity is like your weird uncle that shows up at the family gatherings – you have to acknowledge him as family, but you would just as soon not introduce him to your friends.  In my early years as a Christian, well-meaning people used various analogies to try and “explain” the doctrine of the Trinity.  Things like: an egg, a shamrock, three states of water, even streaky bacon.  I found them all to be very unsatisfying - not to mention bizarre.  Later I retreated into the position of thinking and speaking of the Trinity in terms of what it is not – parroting the ancient creeds.  But this left the whole issue somewhat dry and academic – lacking in day-to-day personal connection.  The power and benefit of this little book is that the author steers clear of both academic dryness and evangelical silliness. 

As to the layout of the book, it tackles in chapter form the importance of the tri-unity of God under the following topics:
1.      What was God doing Before Creation?
2.      Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows
3.      Salvation: The Son Shares What is His
4.      The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies
5.      “Who Among the Gods Is Like You, O LORD?”
6.      Conclusion: No Other Choice
Woven throughout are pictures and text boxes which briefly address and explain the issues and the people who have shaped our understanding of the triune nature of God through the centuries.  Early in the book Reeves is very clear that Scripture reveals God to be triune and robustly refutes the idea that the trinity is a fabrication of 4th century theologians. 

Another interesting and helpful feature of the book is that as the author unfolds the beauty of the Trinity he takes the time to compare it to the solitary monotheism of Islam – clearly pointing out along the way that Allah is not identical to the Christian God.  Loving relationships is something inherent in the Godhead (Jn. 17) and it is those loving relationships that explain why God both created and redeems humanity – this is a profound idea and when internalized it will become a powerful motivation for our evangelistic endeavors. 

Michael Reeves is the theological adviser for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in the UK and thus experienced in speaking and writing for that age group.  This results in a writing style that is both witty and practical, making the book accessible for both young and old.  I would recommend this book to those high school aged and above who desire to grow in their understanding of their triune God – for the doctrine of the Trinity has profound implications for both life and ministry.  This would also be a good book for reading together with others and then periodically getting together to discuss.    

Monday, September 17, 2012

Practical Help for Disciple-making

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  We all know this familiar passage of Scripture as “The Great Commission” and as earnest followers of Jesus Christ we desire to do our part in helping to fulfill it - But how?  Many of us feel a little like Moses who protested when called by God to speak to Pharaoh…”Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Ex. 4:10). 

Well I have good news for you.  It comes in the form of a little (103 pages) book entitled “One to One Bible Reading” (ISBN 978-1-921441-981).  In this book David Helm, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, provides instructions for implementing a simple method of discipleship that can easily be used by young believer and seasoned saint alike.  Since God through His Holy Spirit has inspired the writing of His inerrant and authoritative word, He has also through that same Spirit empowered that work to be the means by which He brings about spiritual life and growth (Jam. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Therefore, it is an essentially Christian activity to read that word on a regular basis (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:13).   Helm takes that idea of regular Bible reading, lifts it out of the realm of “private devotions” and applies it to a context of personal discipleship.  The method he outlines in the book has application evangelistically in addition to working with those who have already made a personal faith commitment to Christ. 

Practically speaking, how does it all work?  Pastor Helm outlines a simple 3-step method on how to get started (chapter 4), followed by chapters specifically devoted to the actual planning and organization of the regular meetings.  To get started we are encouraged to pray for God to prepare both us and the person we intend to invite.  The second step is probably the scariest, in that we actually have to open our mouths and invite someone to join us for a time of Bible reading.  It is here that we are called upon to exercise faith in God that He will honor our desire to honor Him and will place it within the heart of those we invite to take us up on the invitation.  The third and final step is to plan when and where you will meet; coffee shops to – living rooms and everything in between provide an ideal setting.

In addressing the subject of: “What will a typical meeting look like?” (chapter 5) Pastor Helm lays out the process:  pray, read out loud (alternating sections of verses), talk about what you have just read and how to apply it to your lives, set a date for the next meeting.  It really is as simple as that.  By utilizing this simple format we are trusting in the power of the Word rather than our own Bible knowledge or eloquence to bring about real change.  If in your reading you encounter a concept or word that you don’t understand, talk about it and then promise you will ask your pastor and get back to them the following week.  Whatever you do, do not turn your meetings into a soapbox for personal agendas, pet theological discussions, or arguments.  Pray, and let the Word do it work.

Beginning on page 43 and finishing out the book pastor Helm gives practical helps in how to build upon this simple method, as well as choosing what to read with different types of people.  He also provides an extensive section of passages and helpful discussion questions for those passages, which will stimulate your creative juices for adding questions of your own.  I find the brilliance of this book lies in its simplicity and accessibility to believers of all stripes and highly recommend it.  May God empower us to start a movement of Bible reading that will turn our world upside down.              

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Did You Expect?

Through the years I have read a number of books relating to the topic of marriage, and after a while they begin to sound pretty much the same.  How pleasantly surprised I was to read the book from Paul David Tripp entitled “What Did You Expect?” (ISBN 978-1-4335-1176-9).  This 287 page book is the fruit of Tripp’s countless hours spent counseling couples through very difficult marriage situations, supplemented by the lessons he has learned from his own marriage.

The theme of the book is that marriage is the union of two sinners who do not realize how sinful they really are, and that marriage is one of God’s powerful tools to bring about His great purpose of conforming those sinners to the glorious image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).  Therefore, problems in marriage should be expected, and even welcomed, as a gift from the good hand of God who is determined not to leave us in our sinful bliss, thinking that the world exists to serve us.  But instead, in marriage we come face-to-face with the reality that the way of the Master is humble service and sacrifice (Mk. 10:45).  Thus, marriage is a training ground for sanctification.

Tripp builds the book around six commitments rooted in his understanding that every “marriage needs the regular rescue of grace” (pg. 20) because every marriage that is not growing in Christ-likeness is giving in to the corrosive effects of sin – there is no middle ground – no standing still.  Tripp writes “you will never become a graduate of grace” (pg. 230).  

The six commitments are:
1.      We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness
2.      We will make growth and change our daily agenda
3.      We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust
4.      We will commit to building a relationship of love
5.      We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace
6.      We will work to protect our marriage
Each of these commitments is explained and applied as the book progresses in logical sequence. 

Through the liberal use of illustrations from his own life as well as many real life counseling situations Tripp draws you in.  By doing so he produces a certain sobriety on the part of the reader as he reflects on his own marriage and how easily it could become derailed through misunderstandings, inattention, selfishness and temporal fleshly priorities. As I read it, I was forced on occasion to put it down, pray for God’s grace and repent of sinful attitudes and actions that like barnacles had accumulated in my own marriage of almost 33 years. 

Tripp rightly notes “In every marriage either giddy romance wanes and is replaced with a sturdier and more mature love, or the selfishness of sin reduces the marriage to a state of relational d├ętente” (pg. 32).  Therefore we need to abandon as soon as possible the wedding day illusions of a fairy tale marriage and recognize that “a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship” (pg. 33). 

In developing this important truth about marriage and worship Tripp correctly notes “When the Bible says that we are worshippers, it means that every human being lives for something.  All of us are digging for treasure.  All of us are in pursuit of some kind of dream…[therefore]…no marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator” (pg. 34) – this is powerful and life-changing truth.   

One final quote: “You will only respond in a way that is right, good, and helpful to your spouse’s sin, weakness, and struggle when you are celebrating the transforming grace of an ever-present, always faithful Redeemer” (pg. 39).  To which I say a hearty Amen!

This book is Biblical, practical, convicting, encouraging, and gospel saturated.  I cannot recommend it highly enough both to those who are just starting out and those who have decades of experience in what Peter calls “joint heirs of the grace of life.” 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Just Do Something

I just finished teaching a two month series to our college ministry on the topic of “The Will of God.” For many in the group this was their first exposure to this critical topic and the process of biblical decision making. This age group is facing many important life decisions as they transition out from under their parent’s authority and unfortunately many lack a framework to intelligently face the decisions that they are being called on to make. But college students are not alone in this quandary – through my years of pastoral ministry I have taught on this subject a number of times, having found that it holds wide interest for the church at large – particularly as the winds and waves of subjectivity, mysticism, and biblical illiteracy toss people to and fro.

In preparing to teach the material this time, I read a good little book (128 pages including endnotes) from Moody Publishers entitled “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will” (ISBN 978-0-8024-5838-4) by pastor Kevin DeYoung. Pastor DeYoung has been the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in Ann Arbor, MI, since 2004. Although he is young, God has given him a breadth to his ministry through writing and conference speaking. I have profited from a number of the things he has written.

In this book DeYoung includes an important statistic which sets the foundation for the entire book (and the reason for my recent series in our college ministry). He writes “In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men completed all the major transitions into adulthood by age thirty. These transitions include leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child. By 2000, only 46 percent of women completed these transitions by age thirty, and only 31 percent of men….”Adultolescense” is the new norm” (pg. 13).

In order to address this problem DeYoung introduces a presentation of the two aspect of God’s will, which he entitles God’s will of decree and God’s will of desire. He notes that God’s will of decree is secret (Deut 29:29), while His will of desire is plain and abundant in the pages of Scripture. In chapter three, DeYoung introduces five reasons why people fret over finding God’s will for their lives, and in reason four he hits upon one that is very pertinent to those of us living in the prosperous West – “We have too many choices” (pg. 32ff.). Later on in addressing some of the weaknesess of the mystical view he writes, “Just because you pray [it] doesn’t mean your decisions are beyond objection…if we say that ‘God told me to do this’ or ‘God’s leading me here,’ this puts our decisions out of the reach from criticism or concerns” (pg. 49).

In his chapter entitled “A Better Way?” DeYoung introduces the discussion with a quote from Matthew 6:25-34 in which Jesus rebukes anxiety for the future and commands a pursuit of the kingdom of God and His righteousness, elaborating the meaning by looking at examples in the life of the apostle Paul. Flowing out of that discussion, DeYoung introduces the doctrine of God’s providence and guidance through the clear statements contained in the Scriptures (Chapter six). The book closes out with a chapter entitled “Work, Wedlock, and God’s Will” in which the principles taught in the book are specifically applied to these two important and potentially scary situations.

I recommend this book for a number of reasons. It is short and readable – thus making it accessible to those wanting help in this area of the Christian life but who are not disciplined in their reading and would be turned off by some of the longer works on this topic. I also appreciate the practical examples that DeYoung has salted throughout the book which help the reader grasp the meaning of his teaching. But perhaps most of all I appreciate the book’s subtitle which in and of itself makes this a book that is well worth the price: “A Liberating Approach to finding God’s Will, OR How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky etc.”