Simple Church (2006)

It’s been several years since I first read Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric 0805447997_b
Geiger.  The second time through was a good refresher as the authors remind readers about the importance of returning to “God’s process for making disciples.”

Simple Church argues that healthy churches have a simple plan for making disciples.  Four key words describe the process that is presented in the book:

  1. Clarity
  2. Movement
  3. Alignment
  4. Focus

Clarity sets forth the ministry blueprint.  Clarity is “the ability of the process communicated and understood by the people.  Without understanding, commitment wanes.  Understanding precedes commitment.”

Movement is the “sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.  Movement is about flow.  It is about assimilation.  Movement is what causes a person to go to the next step.”

Alignment is “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.  Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.”

Focus is “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.  Focus requires saying “yes” to the best and “no” to everything else.”

Each of the above steps gives church leaders the necessary framework to begin with a simple plan for making disciples.  This model will require a radical paradigm shift in most churches.  Some sacred cows will die.  But more disciples will be nurtured in the long run.  Simple Church is an important contribution and contains some critical components that lead to the establishment of a healthy church.

Good and Angry – David Powlison

David Powlison, Good and Angry Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016, 246 pp. $17.99

Anger is a subject that most people can relate to. Many people battle a problem with chronic anger that lashes out at others and demands that specific needs be met or this high-toxic anger will continue to escalate. David Powlison address the problem of anger in his most recent book, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness.

Powlison’s primary objective is to teach readers how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with their anger. The book is comprised of four sections, each of which help contribute to the stated objective above.

Section One: Our Experience

The author carefully introduces readers to different kinds of anger that emerge in people. At the end of the day, the descriptions become self-portraits, requiring each reader to examine any anger that may be smoldering in their hearts.

Powlison identifies a wonderful paradox and acknowledges that God blesses people who admit their brokenness and their need for help. The author adds, “Sanity has a deep awareness, I need help. I can’t do life right on my own. Someone outside me must intervene. The sanity of honest humility finds mercy, life, peace, and strength. By contrast, saying we don’t need help keeps us stuck on that hamster wheel of making excuses and blaming others. The end result isn’t life and peace; it’s self-righteousness, self-justification, alienation, and bitterness.”

So like a seasoned surgeon, Powlison identifies areas of need that readers need to acknowledge and confess. This is the first step in the right direction and prepares the humble for section two.

Section Two: What is Anger?

This section uncovers the essence of anger. At its core, anger expresses, “I’m against that.” Anger is seen to be comprehensive in scope. Powlison observes:

  1. Your body operates in agitated mode.
  2. Your emotions operate in the hot displeasure mode.
  3. Your mind operates in judicial mode.
  4. Your actions operate in military mode.
  5. Your motives operate in Godlike mode.

But anger is not what some think it is. Powlison notes that anger is a combination of good and bad: “Your anger is worth brilliant and appalling. The shifting line between good and evil plays out when it comes to your anger, like everywhere else. Your anger is God-like to the degree you treasure justice and fairness and are alert to betrayal and falsehood. Your anger is devil-like to the degree you play god and are petty, merciless, whiny, argumentative, willful, and unfair.”

Section two also contains an excellent treatment on the wrath of God. The author demonstrates the necessity of wrath and shows how wrath is an essential attribute in God. He observes four powerful principles that concern God’s anger:

  1. God’s anger falls on Jesus.
  2. God’s anger disarms the power of sin.
  3. God’s anger delivers us from the pain of others’ sin.
  4. God’s anger protects us from ourselves.

“These realities nourish our hearts,” writes Dr. Powlison. “God’s loving anger resolves the entire problem of evil in a way that brings him inexpressible glory and brings us inexpressible blessing … The truth is that you can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger.”

Section Three: How to Change

Section three focuses on practical ways to move from sinful anger and lives in ways that promote peace and glorify the Lord. The author includes a very helpful list of eight question that helps readers shift their focus on eternal things. The questions include:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How do I turn to God for help?
  7. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

Section Four: Tackling the Hard Cases

In section four, the author continues to wrestle with practical cases that readers will resonate with. He makes it clear that God expresses righteous anger. It is at this point that the book drives home the reality of the gospel: “He is angry at all injustice, every betrayal, any time wrongs are done to another … His response to evil is to do the greatest good thing the world has ever seen. He sends his own Son as a man of sorrows who enters and knows our suffering. He sends his own Son as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of his people. God doesn’t want you to ‘just get over it’ or to gloss over what you have suffered as if it didn’t really matter. He wants to help you become good and angry as well. He wants you to become merciful, purposeful, hopeful … It takes courage to face the evil done to you and to then turn toward your God, who suffered unimaginable evil on your behalf.”

Summary

Good and Angry is a terrific book that is forged in the fire and bathed in the Word of God. The gospel runs throughout, urging the followers of Christ to follow his example and treasure him above all things. My prayer is that Powlison’s work will be a blessing to many; that the promises and purposes of God would be clearly revealed and that his people would be served well as a result of this excellent work.

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

Purchase your copy today at https://www.amazon.com/Good-Angry-Irritation-Complaining-Bitterness/dp/1942572972/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473699555&sr=8-1&keywords=good+and+angry

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.

A Different Kind of Happiness – Larry Crabb

crabbLarry Crabb. A Different Kind of Happiness. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. 245 pp. $13.24

These days, happiness appear to be a hot topic. David Murray packaged several books about happiness under the title, A Bundle of Joy: Six Books on Christian Happiness. And Randy Alcorn made a very important contribution with his book, Happiness. Larry Crabb’s new book, A Different Kind of Happiness is a welcome addition and offers new insights which will encourage readers in their Christian journeys.

Crabb presents the purpose of the book at the outset: “To think through what it means to really love and to explore the truth that sets us free to relate closer to the way we wish we could, to love like Jesus.”

Four questions drive the book and help fulfill the purpose presented above:

  • Is there a kind of love, a better kind, that brings joy when it is given, not when it meets with a satisfying response from another?
  • Is there a kind of happiness that survives both the most damaging relational pain caused by another and the most discouraging and devastating of circumstances?
  • Is there a connection, a cause-effect relationship, between offering undistorted love and experiencing strong happiness?
  • Is Jesus-like happiness as a good feeling, or is it better known as a living and sustaining reality, an awareness of both loving life as it should be lived and a freedom to do so?

Crabb suggests two kinds of happiness:

“Second-thing happiness” is what we experience when life goes well. We feel blessed. We feel happy. Goals are achieved, spiritual disciplines are practiced. Ministry takes place. All these things lead to a feeling of happiness.

“First-thing happiness” is experiencing the joy of Jesus. It is the happiness that Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry. It is the joy that came as he freely gave of himself. We too, experience this kind of joy as we share the overflow of Jesus in our own lives.

A Different Kind of Happiness guides readers on the narrow path in pursuit of the kind of life that Jesus delights in giving his people. This is a weighty book, packed with personal reflection and pain. Crabb writes with a stunning degree of transparency, rarely found among Christian authors these days. He wrestles with doubt, loss, illness, adversity, and uncertainty.

Crabb is candid about the opposition he has received over the years. A few observations that may help critics, both in the past and the present include:

  • An emphasis on the gospel that is unapologetic.
  • An alignment with the New England Puritans.
  • A radically God-centered orientation.
  • A repudiation of the secular counseling model.

These observations should go a long way in appeasing Crabb’s critics and invite a new audience of readers that may have been frightened away by any negative reviews.

I don’t agree with everything Larry Crabb writes. But one thing he does: he makes me think. He makes me ponder. He asks difficult questions. This book is no exception. I invite readers to read Dr. Crabb’s latest work. Some quiet reflection and time to ponder the principles here will prompt deep encouragement and lead to a different kind of happiness.

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

Designed for Joy – Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell, Ed

joyOwen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell, Ed. Designed For Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 144 pp. $10.92

Designed For Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice is an important book with a message for our generation. The editors, Jonathan Parnell and Owen Strachan team up with a well-seasoned team of writers that address the matter of gender from several different angles.

Topics range from masculinity and femininity to singleness and marriage. The subjects of parenting and purity are dealt with along with matters of gender and maturity. In one sense, this is a broad book designed to reach many people. In another sense, the book is very targeted as it subjects each subject to the gospel message.

The writing is clear and biblical. Each chapter hits the bullseye dead on, with stunning biblical accuracy. Each of the writers bring a perspective of complementarianism which views men and women as equals with specific roles to carry out to the glory of God.

It never ceases to amaze me that the most important books these days receive reviews that are critical and mean-spirited. One reviewer says this about the book: “This book is well-intentioned, but I feel it’s worth noting that the scholarship, particularly in the women’s sections, is very sloppy. There is little reference to biblical principles for the assertions they make around women’s roles …” To the contrary, the scholarship is commendable and designed to reach a popular audience.

Designed For Joy is a book for our day. May God raise up a new generation of Christian writers who bring a depth of clarity and God-centered wisdom to bear on these matters.

Unparalleled

wilsonJared C. Wilson. Unparalleled. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. 233 pp. $9.25

Unparalleled by Jered C. Wilson cuts through the postmodern fog and alerts readers to the message of Jesus and his gospel. Wilson’s book highlights the compelling case for historic Christianity and draws out the features that make it unique.

Wilson paints with a broad brush but includes enough details to illicit an appropriate response from his audience, either believers or unbelievers. Topics include the nature and essence of God including an excellent discussion on the Trinity. The author discusses the doctrine of man, Christ, and salvation in a way that will attract long-time followers of Christ as well as people who are investigating the Christian faith.

Readers unfamiliar with Wilson will be immediately lured in by his transparency, clear writing, winsome style. In the end, the author succeeds in setting forth a lucid case for the Christian faith. Anyone who reads Unparalleled will be touched, encouraged, and prompted to seek the face of Jesus Christ. Indeed, he is the most unique and compelling Person in the universe.

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

The Glorious Reality of Grace

brownSteve Brown. Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016. 158 pp. $17.99

Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart by Steve Brown is a “wake-up call” book. This book intends to shake Christ-followers and wake them up to the glorious reality of grace. The author points his finger a lot in this book. Much of the finger-pointing is at himself – as he shares about his own personal struggle with sin. His admission is enough to make the unsuspecting Pharisee bristle, “What qualifies a man to write a book who has not yet conquered his sinful proclivities?” If a thought like that crossed your radar screen, The Hidden Agenda is for you.

Steve Brown maintains:

  • People have hidden agendas
  • People wear masks that ultimately hurt the ones we love
  • People generally live in fear that their hidden agendas will be exposed

The hidden agenda is “a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote, or hinder.” People fear the hidden agenda will come into the light which leads to rejection, punishment, shame, or failure.

The author encourages readers to dispose of their hidden agendas. He encourages them to be transparent about their struggle with sin. He writes, “Nobody speaks from Sinai, and when you appear to be an outsider to the human race, you truncate the message you communicate. You need forgiveness and encouragement as much as anybody. You need to cut some slack for the people you serve and they need to cut some slack for you.”

In communicating his desire for readers to dispose of their masks, he uncovers the motivation for writing the book: “I’m writing this book because I have a passion about God’s people creating spaces where masks aren’t necessary, where we can experience the freedom and joy of no longer being ashamed in the darkness behind our masks. Life is hard, our sins are great, and the wounds are deep. We simply can’t do this thing without one another, and the loneliness is making us crazy.”

Brown is quick to point out the failures and faults of Christians who feel as if they have “arrived.” He contrasts this self-righteous mindset with a powerful principle: “Every time a believer starts feeling good about personal righteousness and purity, at that point God is brought down to the believer’s level and becomes something less than the holy, righteous, and pure God of the Bible.”

The author encourages readers to shed the masks and dispose of the hidden agendas once and for all. He reminds them, “They are crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Such a death and resurrection means forgiveness, redemption, acceptance, and love from a holy God. Brown argues, “The key to being reasonably free of hidden agendas and masks is remembering you’re dead and the key to knowing and applying that is the Holy Spirit.”

All this discussion leads to the most important part of the book where Brown guides readers on an important theological journey. Readers are reminded of their position in Christ, namely – they are justified, imputed with the righteousness of Christ, and adopted by God. The author writes, “You’re forgiven, you’re clothed, you’re adopted, and you’re sanctified. In the face of those truths, you now have a safe place . . . and his name is Jesus. You don’t have to impress, manipulate, lie, or pretend anymore.”

The topic of sanctification is an important theme in The Hidden Agenda. Brown rightly notes the distinction between definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification (without using the theological lingo). This places him in the center of the Reformed stream. Yet, some accuse Dr. Brown of antinomianism. The author speaks candidly about these accusations and denies them outright.

I understand why some would charge Dr. Brown with antinomianian. Yet such a claim for a man who believes in and preaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone has no merit and falls flat. The argument is erroneous and the accusation unfair.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues, “I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation” (Romans 6, pp. 8-9). Lloyd-Jones continues, “There is no better test of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism.”

As noted above, Brown responds to the charges of antinomianism. However, this response in my mind does not go far enough. Perhaps the topic is beyond the scope of the book. Perhaps another book is needed to thoroughly address this matter.

All in all, Hidden Agenda is a wonderful read. Brown writes in plain language, offers helpful illustrations that cement the principles he presents, and guides readers in a direction that honors and glorifies God. Perhaps the most helpful thing about Hidden Agenda is the transparency of the author. He is candid about his own battle with sin, which in my mind qualifies him to weigh in on this crucial topic.

An important disclaimer: If you are easily offended, don’t read this book. If you take yourself too seriously, toss this book in the trash. If being politically correct or phony is your way of life, move on to a book that will match your Pharisaical propensities.

But if you’re tired of living in bondage, pick up a copy of Brown’s book. If you’re tired of playing games living a facade, pick up Hidden Agenda and devour the godly wisdom that Steve Brown presents. Your worldview will be adjusted, your outlook will be transformed, and the masks will end up the rubbish bin – where they deserve to go! May readers be awakened to the glorious reality of grace and revel in the mystery and majesty of the gospel!

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