My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

19 February 2007

Books

So for my absence from your bright, shiny screens. Like most of you, life and snow combine to render me busy...but not too busy to read, of course.

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Mark Dever's ministry philosophy 9 Marks of a Healthy Church has turned into the foundation for a wide-reaching ministry aimed at revitalizing lagging chruches or simply kicking them in their Biblical keisters. At their website, 9Marks presents a great resource of articles, book reviews, and audio interviews - any pastor would do well to bookmark their site and use it as a source of encouragement and learning.

The book that started it all is centered around Pastor Dever's (Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C.) conception of what a healthy church looks like:
  1. Expositional preaching
  2. Biblical theology
  3. The gospel
  4. A Biblical understanding of conversion
  5. A Biblical understanding of evangelism
  6. A Biblical understanding of church membership
  7. Biblical church discipline
  8. A concern for discipleship and growth
  9. Biblical church leadership
It's hard, if not impossible, to disagree with his assesesment that unfaithfulness in many of these marks persists in today's churches. While each reader could probably substitute one or two other "marks", it would also be hard to argue that any church consciously striving for faithfulness in these nine areas would be missing something. In the book, each "mark" gets the same treatment: a chapter-length, Biblical defense of what it is and why it's important. I especially appreciated the chapters on expositional preaching and a Biblical understanding of conversion.

The negative side of the book is not any of the teaching, but the simplicity of the teaching. As Dr. Dever aims at helping the church by convincing her leaders of what a Biblical church looks likeI think he could have delved into the Biblical teaching on these topics more significantly than he did. One of the blurbs on the back reports that
Nine Marks is required seminary reading, which is disappointing - again, not because of the book's faithfulness, but because of its simplicity. Readers who are presbyterian by conviction will find a few other points to quibble with, as Dr. Dever writes from a muted-but-present Baptist background.

I did enjoy this book and appreciate the reason it was written; originally, I read it to see if it was something our session could benefit from reading together. In the end, I decided to go with something more consciously presbyterian and pastoral, John Sittema's
With a Shepherd's Heart. Nine Marks is a fine book of solid ecclesiology; perhaps it might become the basis for a more in-depth book in the future.

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The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard is a highly readable, extremely helpful book about our fight against sin. Lundgaard begins by acknowledging his dependence on the venerable John Owen, whose two books, Mortification of Sin and Indwelling Sin, form the theological backbone of this book. Anyone who has read John Owen realizes the great work Lundgaard has accomplished by making Owen's dense, theological, Puritan writing easily understandable.

The problem of sin faces every believer and it doesn't always make sense - "In what sense has Christ defeated sin in the believer?" The answer is that he has overthrown its rule, weakened its power, and even killed its root so that it cannot bear the fruit of eternal death in a believer. Still - and this is amazing but true - sin is sin; its nature and purpose remain unchanged; its force and success still grab us by the throat.

Through a series of short chapters (with discussion questions included at the end), the author begins by examining the power of sin in a believer - what is it, how does it work? As I read this, I felt like I was getting a sneak peek at the enemy's playbook, or as Bryan Chapell put it, a "remarkable reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines..." If Lewis' Wormwood and Screwtape were devils conniving against a soul from the outside, Lundgaard would have us also recognize the incredible enemy lying inside - what the Apostle Paul calls our flesh.

Throughout the book and especially toward the end, Lundgaard is our general in the battle against sin, teaching us to use our weapons against sin, teaching us to keep our eyes on Christ - especially His cross - and encouraging us to never let up in the battle.

The Enemy Within can be read in short order (I shot through it in a couple plane rides) - but should really be read slowly. The Biblical teaching in this book is exactly what need for the ever-present battle against sin - and is best digested through meditation and prayer.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough; for you who read it, you will likely be spurred on to read John Owen's writings as a followp-up, which is an added benefit. The Enemy Within would be a great book for accountability partners, small groups, men's groups, etc. For the good of your soul and the purity of the church, read this wonderful book!

2 comments:

Robbie said...

Jared,
I have read Lundgaard's book twice now and our student Bible study is based loosely from that book and also John Owen's works. I share many of your thoughts. The best thing that i enjoyed about it, was how the book showed freedom and liberty in Christ.

On Dever's book, I know he came out with several books lately, he was a busy man. One of them entitled The Deliberate Church, might satisfy your desire to see a longer and more substantial book.

take care,

Karen in Scotland said...

Thanks for the suggestion - I am keen to read Lundgaard's book. Romans 6 is a mighty reminder that the bondage power of sin has been not just broken but smashed by Christ at Calvary. (And yet too often I find myself on the road back to the old master.)

God bless, and congrats on the organisation of Immanuel RP. Praying with you.