Embracing Followership

Allen Hamlin Jr, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture. Bellingham: Kirkdale Press, 2016, 237 pp. $14.99

True leaders will always have followers. At the heart of leadership is the assumption that a certain group of people is committed to following a given leader. Most books that address leadership focus on role of the leader, exclusively. Allen Hamlin’s new book, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture takes a different approach.

Hamlin tackles the opposite end of the leadership spectrum by focusing on what it means to follow. The goal of the book, then, is to “determine how we can engage in our followership role with excellence.”

Embracing Followership is organized into six parts. Each part examines a different facet of what it means to “follow” with integrity and excellence. The parts are outlined below:

Part One: Misconceptions and Realities of Followership

Part Two: The Opportunities of Followership

Part Three: Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

Part Four: Followership in Relationship with Leaders

Part Five: Followership in Relationship with Other Followers

Part Six: Followership in Relationship as a Leader

Uses

Followers from a wide variety of backgrounds will benefit from Hamlin’s work. Pastors serving in associate roles will find this material especially useful. As one who served as an associate pastor for twenty years, I can testify that this role in particular will define the true nature of followership. Associate pastors have a choice: They can tuck under the authority of their superior by supporting, defending, and complementing them. Or they can subtly undercut and marginalize senior leadership. The former option is the only path to success.

Followers are in a strategic position where they can enhance a given leader’s ability to succeed. Hamlin observes, “When I am behind and alongside my leader, I have the opportunity to contribute where my leader is lacking.”

The theme of embracing followership is an empowering concept that every person needs to build into the fabric of their lives. It is a an important theme that is underemphasized in leadership circles. Hamlin’s work is a needed corrective to a misunderstood and neglected subject.

One critique may be in order. While Hamlin is clear about his Christian commitment, the book appears to target a broader audience, which is understandable. However, whenever Christian presuppositions are minimized, the force of the content lacks the authoritative punch that readers need. This criticism aside, I recommend Embracing Followership and hope this work receives a wide reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Hello Bicycle

Anna Brones, Hello Bicycle: An Inspired Guide To the Two-Wheeled Life. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 185 pp. $11.40

I got my first bicycle when I was six years old. It’s been over forty years since I learned how to ride a bike. These days, taking a long ride is one of the most enjoyable things I do.

Hello Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life, by Anna Brones explores the many-faceted world of cycling. The first thing that readers will notice is the extraordinary layout of the book. The book not only has a nice feel; it is loaded with creative artwork that only adds to the content.

Second, this is a practical book. Beginning, intermediate and advanced cyclists will benefit from Brone’s cycling wisdom. A quick glance at the table of contents provides a good overview of the author’s strategy:

  • Why Bicycles?
  • What Do I Need to Know to Ride?
  • Taking Care of Your Bicycle
  • Biking For All Activities
  • Essential Provisions
  • More Than Just a Ride

Much of the material is very basic, so beginning riders will profit the most from this work. However, the author also includes some excellent ideas for nutrition and even adds some favorites recipes that all riders will benefit from.

Hello Bicycle is a fun read that should be devoured by anyone who spends time in a saddle. Good work, Anna Brones!

The Temple and the Tabernacle – J. Daniel Hays

J. Daniel Hays, The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places From haysGenesis to Revelation Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016, 208 pp. $11.89

A good book review will help readers determine the good, the bad, and the ugly in a given title. There is nothing bad or ugly in J. Daniel Hays’ new work, The Temple and the Tabernacle. In fact, describing the contents of this book as “good” would be a massive understatement. Dr. Hays sets out to explore the majesty and importance of the dwelling places of God. Beginning in the Old Testament, the author works he way to the culmination of Redemptive history where we find the people of God gathered before his throne, worshipping him in the new heavens and the new earth.

A Brief Synopsis

Six features make The Temple and the Tabernacle especially noteworthy.

First, this is an absolutely beautiful book. The pages are high quality and high-quality photographs and artwork are seen throughout, illustrating different facets of the temple and the tabernacle.

Second, this work is written with different learning levels in mind. Everyone from first year Bible students to seasoned pastors will benefit from the clear writing, throughout.

Third, this work adheres to the testimony of Scripture. The author is careful to cling to the biblical record as he unpacks the various aspects of the temple and the tabernacle.

Fourth, this work explains the big picture, without discounting the details. Hays notes, “Remember that the whole point of building the tabernacle is to create a proper place for the presence of God to dwell in the midst of his people and to travel with them.”

Fifth, this work is Christ-centered. In a book like this, it would be easy to get caught up in the minutia by focusing on the finer elements of the temple and tabernacle. The author does spend a considerable amount of time helping readers understand these things. But as he observes at the beginning of the book, “We want to move beyond the ‘stones’ to grasp the eternal theological truths being revealed to us about God through his presence in the temple/tabernacle.”

The author clearly describes the distinction between an Old Testament economy and the beauty of the new covenant:

“The system of encountering the presence of God that Christ inaugurates is superior to the old tabernacle system at every point. His one perfect sacrifice eliminates the need for any more blood sacrifices, and through this sacrifice Christ provides perfect cleansing for his people, declaring them to be completely ‘holy’ before God … Thus the sacrifice of Christ and the new covenant that he inaugurated enable Christians today to encounter the presence of God in worship and service in a direct manner. He dwells inside each of us.”

Finally, this work exalts God in his majestic holiness. Readers will immediately be struck with awe as they encounter the Old Testament portrait of God, learn of his absence due to Israel’s apostasy, and filled with wonder as they come face-to-face with Jesus in his return to the temple. The author notes, “When the second temple is built, first during the time of Haggai and then by King Herod the Great, there is no mention of the return of the presence of God to dwell in the temple. The presence of God does not return to the temple until Jesus Christ walks through its gates.”

The Temple and the Tabernacle is a book I’ve waited for since my days as a Bible College student. The scholarship is impeccable, and the high points of the Christian worldview appear throughout. Readers will be encouraged as they are reminded of the great reality of the temple and tabernacle. But more than this, they will be motivated to worship God in all his holiness.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Release the Prisoners!

 

Andy Farmer, Trapped Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016, 180 pp. $17.99

Thousands of Americans flock to Alcatraz, the penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. Of course, this intimidating fortress has since closed its doors to violent criminals and lawbreakers. Brave guests may choose to stand for a few moments in one of the tiny cells and imagine what it would be like to be locked up for years and possibly even serve a life sentence.

Imagine being incarcerated for a moment. Your freedoms would be severely curtailed. Your abilities would be stifled. Your options would be limited. Such is the life of an inmate.

While some may imagine the horror of being detained for an indefinite period of time, thousands of people experience this every day. A multitude of people live in a self-imposed prison – in bondage to eating disorders, pornography addiction, substance abuse and a host of other activities that leave them hopeless and discouraged.

Andy Farmer addresses the real problem of addiction in his new book, Trapped. The subtitle, Getting Free From People, Patterns, and Problems accurately describes the heart of this author as he offers hope and freedom to people who would otherwise continue to live in a prison house of sin and shame. Indeed, the purpose of the book is to point readers to a redemption story that can set them free.

The author presents several real life examples of people who face a self-imposed prison. He argues that redemption is possible; that hope is possible as people turn to Christ for deliverance.

Real redemption, Farmer suggests is:

  • Freedom from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13).
  • Freedom from slavery to sin (John 8:34).
  • Freedom from the sentence of death (Rom. 7:4-6).
  • Freedom from the guilt of our trespasses and sins (Eph. 1:7).
  • Freedom from the oppression of Satan (Heb. 2:15).
  • Freedom from the deceptive snares of the world (2 Peter 2:18-21).

Redemption, according to Farmer is “a holy freedom.” He adds, “The Bible gives us the wonderful news that we weren’t simply redeemed from sin, we were redeemed for God. We have been brought out of sin into the gracious and loving reign of our Redeemer King.” So true freedom is not a commitment to autonomy; rather true freedom delights in living for God and glorifying God!

This God-glorifying approach to life runs counter to the therapeutic model and secular approaches to counseling. The God-glorifying model in this book encourages weary travelers to embrace the grace of their freedom, embrace the identity in their freedom, and embrace their calling in their freedom.

Ultimately, the author seeks to lead imprisoned people out of their traps. The topic of addiction is addressed from a biblical perspective. Addiction is presented as a “full-bodied worship of an idol that controls and defines its subject.” Farmer shows how the “gospel of redemption is the only treatment that brings the power, change, and hope that can transform broken addicts into whole-hearted worshippers of God.”

Summary

There is much to commend here. At least three features make the book a necessary tool on every pastor’s shelf and every biblical counselor’s desk:

First, the book presents a realistic look at addiction from a seasoned pastor. Farmer acknowledges the pain of addiction, the guilt of addiction, and the bondage of addiction.

Second, the book includes a robust treatment that is Bible-saturated and gospel-centered from start to finish. When so many are rushing to the local counselor or therapist for worldly advice, Trapped offers real help that is grounded in godly wisdom.

Finally, the book is grace-enabled. The author is quick to point readers to the all-sufficient grace of God: “God promises that as you walk that way, he will give grace for change, light for the path, and mercy for stumbles along the way.”

My prayer is that Trapped will be an encouragement to many people; that they will experience the life-transforming effects of the gospel. May many prisoners find their freedom in Christ and be delivered from their bondage forever.  So release the prisoners! “For freedom Christ has set us free …” (Gal. 5:1a).

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Resting in Free Grace – Resisting the Free Grace Movement

grudem

Wayne Grudem, Free Grace Theology: How Free Grace Diminishes the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 160 pp. $11.42

Theological disputes have a tendency of generating more heat than light. The controversy surrounding the so-called Free Grace movement is no exception. Ever since the landmark book by John MacArthur was published, The Gospel According to Jesus, competing camps have vigorously fought to maintain their ground. Indeed, both positions including the Free Grace view and the so-called Lordship position have fought as if their lives depended upon it.

But the debate did not find its genesis in the musings of John MacArthur. The debate is as old as the Protestant Reformation itself. The age-old questions remain: How does a sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? On what basis is this sinner justified? What role (if any) do works play at the moment of justification? Is sanctification a necessary component of the Christian life? And, are works a necessary result of justification?

Disheartened, discouraged, and dismayed. These three terms do not adequately describe my thoughts about the initial reviews of Wayne Grudem’s new book, Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. One review observes, “Wayne Grudem is a Reformed Calvinist, so his views are skewed through Calvinist lenses.” The initial reviews fail to show any degree of constructive interaction with the book. One wonders if these early reviewers even bothered to read the book.

The Free Grace movement, whose primary tenets are found in Zane Hodges book, Absolutely Free. In that book, Hodges maintains,

… Lordship thought abandons the straightforward meaning of the word ‘believe’ and fills the concept of saving faith with illegitimate complications. The result is that the saving transaction is made much more complex than it actually is. But salvation really is simple and, in that sense, it is easy. After all, what could be simpler than to ‘take the water of life freely.’

The primary tenets of the Free Grace movement include:

  • A two-tiered discipleship, or two classes of believers, those who believe but do not follow Christ and those who believe and cast all their hope and future on Christ.
  • No calls to repentance in evangelism.
  • Giving assurance to people who are backslidden or have denounced the Christian faith.
  • Rejecting the notion that good works accompany justifying grace.

Dr. Grudem’s primary contention is that the New Testament clearly teaches two principles which stand in opposition to the Free Grace movement:

  1. Repentance from sin (in the sense of remorse for sin and an internal resolve to forsake it) is necessary for saving faith.
  2. Good works and continuing to believe necessarily follow from saving faith.

Grudem’s arguments against the Free Grace movement are summarized below:

First, the Free Grace movement misunderstands the doctrine of justification by faith alone and as a result, fails to truly teach the doctrine that Luther said, “is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.”

Second, the Free Grace movement undermines the gospel by refusing to require repentance in the proclamation of the gospel.

Third, the Free Grace movement offers false assurance to people who make a profession of faith, but may in the final analysis not possess saving faith.

Fourth, the Free Grace movement fails to emphasize the fiducia component of faith, that is, a personal trust or adherence to Christ.

Fifth, the Free Grace movement embraces interpretations that are highly unlikely.

These arguments against the Free Grace movement are further explained in the five chapters of the book. My own view is that Dr. Grudem has succeeded in successfully refuting this movement. He should be commended for the gracious tone throughout this work. He does engage in rigorous polemic but does so without caricaturing his opponents. While he argues strenuously against the Free Grace movement, he admits it is not a false gospel. However, it is a diminished gospel.

Some may argue that the so-called Lordship controversy (a term that Grudem dislikes) is over. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Free Grace movement continues to influence people and diminish the gospel. Wayne Grudem’s excellent work is a needed corrective and a gracious response to a troubling trend.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

The Bride(zilla) of Christ

kluckTed Kluck & Ronnie Martin, The Bride(zilla) of Christ: What To Do When God’s People Hurt God’s People. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2016. 198 pp. $10.15

Anyone familiar with the writing of Ted Kluck knows that he’s an expert at keeping real, sharing from the heart, and applying the truth of the gospel to everyday living. In his new book, The Bride(Zilla) of Christ, Kluck teams up with Ronnie Martin to answer an important question that is also the not so subtle sub-title of the book: What To Do When God’s People Hurt God’s People.

Both authors have a fair amount of experience in the local church and have many stories to tell. Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time will no doubt, have similar stories to tell. Honest people will admit that some of these stories are bad ones: Church splits, gossip, adultery, division, and a host of other sins have a tendency to emerge in the church, just like any organization.

Kluck and Martin write from different perspectives – but are both settled in the fact that the gospel speaks to every hurt. It is the gospel that has the power to reconcile severed relationships. And most of all, the gospel reconciles a holy God with a sinful people.

Writing a fair and honest review is difficult for me because I have been a big fan of Ted Kluck for several years now. Having said that, I must admit that the book is written in a rather haphazard way. Perhaps the intent was to write a book from the heart that didn’t read like a theological treatise. If that’s the case, mission accomplished.

The “scattered feel” of the book does not, however, detract from the overall message. Kluck and Martin clearly describe some of the church hurts and heartaches but are quick to prescribe the healing balm of the gospel.

A few quotes made the book worth reading for me. My hope is that these citations will motivate readers to give the book at try:

“Every time we use our hurt as a reason to disconnect, isolate, disassociate, or abandon, we’ve not understood the forgiveness we have in Christ and how it needs to manifest itself to others.”

“Whenever we let our minds gravitate to the heart that’s been leveled at us, we are simultaneously forgetting the hope that Christ extended to us on the cross.”

“The shocking thing to come to grips with is that we’re not any better than the people who have hurt us, even when that hurt has been a one-way bullet fired right into our heart.”

What stands out in this work is the hope that Christ offers us in the gospel. Kluck and Martin should be commended for writing such a transparent book that has the power to encourage many people. Their book is recommended, especially for pastors who have endured a “dark night of the soul” or had the unpleasant experience of being beaten up by the sheep.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

What Christians Ought to Believe – Michael Bird (2016)

Michael F. Bird.  What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine creedThrough the Apostles’ Creed.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. 237 pp. $18.99

What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael F. Bird examines the Apostles’ Creed and guides readers step-by-step through this important document.

In chapters 1 and 2, the author highlights the importance of creeds. He notes, “The creeds constitute an attempt to guide our reading of Scripture by setting out in advance the contents and concerns of Scripture itself. The creeds provide a kind of ‘Idiot’s Guide to Christianity’ by briefly laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith. In that sense, a creedal faith is crucial for a biblical faith and vice versa!”

The author highly commends the Apostles’ Creed and notes that it contains the essential elements of the Christian faith: “If you ask me, the Apostles’ Creed is probably the best syllabus ever devised for teaching basic Christian beliefs … The Apostles’ Creed is basically a bullet-point summary of what Christians believe about God, Jesus, the church, and the life to come.”

Michael Bird brilliantly not only sets for the case for the Apostles’ Creed; he does so in a winsome and understandable way. The author teaches the Creed, line by line, drawing the attention of the learner to our final standard of truth – sacred Scripture.

While much of the book is encouraging and worthy of commendation, the chapter which unveils the atonement is disappointing. Bird rightly introduces readers to the various views of the atonement and provides a basic definition for each view. However, he stumbles by not advocating penal substitutionary atonement. Bird writes, “My exegetical-theological intuition is to gravitate toward the victory theory (Christus victor) as the integrative model for the atonement since it effectively combines the motifs of recapitulation, representation, ransom, sacrifice, and triumph.” I urge readers to study Pierced For Our Transgressions, edited by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach for a better look at this matter.

Overall, however, this work is a wonderful look at the Apostles’ Creed and should be welcomed by evangelicals. Teachers will find this resource to be a helpful tool in the classroom and parents are encouraged to use this book in discipleship for budding disciples.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.