Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

This book was so incredibly to read. I began reading it at a very formative period in my personal theological walk and it’s definitely reinforced a certain level of respect for the Eastern Orthodox church. It’s not uncommon for the Orthodox to be left out of the conversation when it comes to theology. There are probably a couple of reasons for that, but I think by leaving them out of the conversation, we miss the richness of tradition and theology that has existed in the church for centuries.

For an introduction to the theology of the Eastern church, I highly recommend Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology by Andrew Louth. It is definitely introductory material, but for the interested reader, this book could be beneficial. The concepts he introduces are rich but he is not able to delve into them as deeply as the reader might like. This is a feature of the book that allows him to cover a wide variety topics in a short amount of space.

The book is organized into chapters, each covering a certain topic such as the Orthodox view of the Trinity, Christology, icons, and even eschatology. Surprisingly, he does not spend much time talking about Orthodox ecclesiology or apostolic succession, which might appeal to the Protestant, or non-Orthodox reader. Protestants especially will not agree with every thing stated, but might find it interesting, as I have, to explore the beliefs of the Eastern Church.

I enjoyed this book and reading about the theology of something so vastly different from what I was used to. Hopefully you will too!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

The Glory of Grace

The Puritans have been likened to giant Redwoods. It’s not that we are standing on their shoulders so much as in their shadows. While plenty of quality material is being published in the modern day, there is a reason the Puritans are still read and loved by pastors, theologians, and laymen. The language used may be a little difficult to understand, but the wisdom contained in the works of the Puritans is timeless.

Thankfully, the Glory of Grace by Lewis Allen and Tim Chester edits the language of the puritans gently, retaining the original beauty and insight of the Puritan authors, but increasing readability. They’ve also added helpful headings in the content to introduce the argument. The end of each chapter also offers suggestions for further reading.

In this 200 page volume you will find excerpts from many well-known men and one woman from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Glory of Grace serves as an excellent introduction to the works of the Puritans. Each chapter contains information about a single person, who they are and some of their circumstances, what to look out for in your reading, and then the actual reading of the Puritans themselves.

Readers will be experience the wisdom of John Owen on communion with God, contentment with Jeremiah Burroughs, Richard Sibbes on Assurance, Thomas Boston on the Bible, the rich poems of Anne Bradstreet and 6 other amazing authors. Over all, this is a very well put together book on the Puritans, the perfect introduction to their insight. Each chapter offers real wisdom so that the reader doesn’t merely walk away thinking “I know more about the Puritans now” but walks away enriched and personally better for it.

Many thanks to Banner of Truth for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Plugged In

Every so often there is a new book that I really really love. It may not be incredibly groundbreaking, but it makes me see something in a new light or it influences the way I think about something or change how I do something. Plugged In by Daniel Strange is one of those books. The concept seems simple enough: Connecting your faith with what you watch, read, and play. And to be honest, the delivery is pretty clear and straightforward as well. Using the subversive fulfillment approach, Strange guides readers in thinking about the culture or “stories” they are consuming, the narratives that are being fed and then challenges them to engage with culture in a way that will make them better witnesses.

Strange shows in his introduction that Christians will often respond to worldly culture in 3 ways: the holy huddle, sanctified bubble, turning a gospel presentation into a rant about morality, or outright conforming to culture. He then proceeds to offer another option in being gracious and truthful in our engagements with the world.

Culture can have multiple different meanings, but the definition Strange uses for Plugged In is “Culture is the stories we tell that express meaning about the world.” Culture expresses what is viewed as important, heoric, valuable, or wrong. We create and consume culture every day, that much is obvious. In the first chapter, the author gives sort of an introduction to not only what culture is, but also why Christians should care about it. I think something very important that he notes in this chapter is that we are cultural beings whether we like it or not. Recognizing this and that sin an unbelief manifest themselves differently in different cultures makes it easier to identify and engage with cultural idols.

Throughout the book, you will find multiple Bible references, including an entire chapter looking at the book of Acts chapter 17, but you’ll also find quotes from multiple solid sources such as Bavinck, Kuyper, Frame, and the Heidelberg Catechism.

There is a certain theological depth to the book, in my opinion, that gives it an excellent foundation on which to speak about the things. The first few chapters are more foundational than practical, he discusses things like the fall and the result being that we destroy culture as much as we create it, sunbeams of God’s common grace, as well as shadows of God’s wrath.

Chapter four is an excellent chapter titled “Can I Watch…?” which addresses the question with wisdom. He states frankly that “it depends” and continues to explain what it depends on such as conscience, character, context, and sanctified common sense. There is a certain tension between cultural enjoyment and cultural indulgence and idolatry. It requires wisdom and discernment to know the difference. This was an interesting chapter to me because he offers something called the “5 solas test” involving practical questions drawn from the 5 solas of the reformation to determine if something would be good to watch.

The last portion of the book is more on engagement with the culture. Strange examines Paul’s subversive fulfillment approach in Acts 17 and summarizes it in four steps that encourage readers to engage on a meaningful level. The four steps involve listening, looking for the idols, exposing them and showing where they fall short, and showing Christ as the subversive fulfillment of what they are actually longing for.

This is not your typical out-of-date and out-of-touch book on culture for Christians. Strange appears very well attuned to the culture of the day and the stories we hear and though he isn’t quite telling us what is what in our culture, he will absolutely equip his readers with the thinking skills necessary to engage with it.

I would highly recommend Plugged In to anyone who lives in a culture. For me personally, this is a book I’ve greatly enjoyed reading and appreciate. While it is not age specific and would be helpful to many, I think teenagers and young adults would benefit immensely from this. It is not a “cultural engagement for dummies” but for disciples and will help readers think theologically about the culture where they find themselves.

Many thanks to the Good Book Company for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Is God Anti-Gay?

Is God anti-gay? A controversial question on a controversial topic. The answer Sam Allberry offers in the introduction to his book Is God Anti-Gay? is No. “But he is against who all of us are by nature” Allberry immediately follows his answer by saying. The author affirms the love God has for his people but also maintains the sinfulness of homosexuality throughout this work.

Reading this book it’s clear that Allberry cares very deeply about this issue and for those struggling with same-sex attraction, whether inside or outside the church. He knows what it is to experience this unwanted attraction so he is able to speak tenderly about this issue, but does not deviate from the truth of scripture.

In the first chapter, Allberry lays out what biblical marriage is. I absolutely love that he begins here because it’s easy to focus on the few passages dealing with homosexuality and ignore the positive case that scriptures makes about God’s design. He lays out his case that God is not against sex, “Genesis 1-2 shows us that God is for sex. It also shows us that sex is for marriage.” Various scriptures are examined, especially the words of Jesus regarding marriage and sexual immorality to make his points that marriage is based on gender rather than feelings of commitment. Again, it is great he starts here because, as he notes at the end of the chapter, “The Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage is the foundation for how Christians are to think about the whole issue of sexuality today.”

Chapter two is equally important as he examines the passages dealing explicitly with homosexuality. He explains the meaning of the Greek words Arsenokoitai, Malakoi, and porneia and presents a solid, if brief exegesis of key texts like Genesis 19, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Here he also deals with the issue of Christians experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction, addressing concerns such as if we can really expect these Christians to live celibate. He shows readers that however ingrained it may be, homosexual behaviour is not inescapable. It’s possible for someone living a homosexual lifestyle to be made new by God.

In his last three chapters, Allberry looks at homosexuality both inside and outside the church. How should Christians handle it when they find themselves with these unwanted attractions? How should churches deal with homosexuality? He offers multiple ways churches can help same-sex attracted members and offers encouragement to those struggling with temptation. Allberry points out in chapter three that we live in a culture that defines our core identity by our sexuality. Though some temptations may remain, the fundamental identity of the same-sex attracted Christian has been radically changed. Each chapter is handled with care as he addresses topics like how to share Christ with homosexual friends and how to respond when a friend comes out to you.

This little book is only 91 pages, but contains a lot of grace and truth with many scriptural quotations. The author does not shy away from sobering truths. He states plainly that homosexuality is outside of God’s design and a sign of God’s judgement. But something unmistakable is Allberry’s tenderness in dealing with this topic.

At the end of a few of the chapters, Allberry tackles multiple questions of relevance such as Should Christians attend a gay wedding? Aren’t Christians being inconsistent regarding old testament laws? or Can’t we agree to disagree?

We have to think carefully when dealing with this issue as Christians. Homosexuality is a very real issue and unfortunately many Christians experience same-sex attraction. Is God Anti-Gay will equip readers to know how to respond to certain objections with truth and grace and to share their faith with their gay friends. While not exhaustive, this is an important work and short enough to keep its readers attention. Christians who struggle with same-sex attractions will also be encouraged by this book and be assured that there is repentance and their identity is in Christ, not their sin.

Many thanks to the Good Book Company for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

ESV Jesus Bible

I’m surprisingly pretty impressed with the black leathersoft ESV Jesus Bible. The physical quality of the Bible is very nice, especially for being leathersoft, a sort of bonded leather. It lays flat and is much more flexible than other leathersoft or imitation leather Bibles I’ve had. The Bible also has a much nicer feel than one might expect.

I love the plain black aesthetic of the Bible. It has imprints on the spine that match the box and identify the publisher, translation, etc., but there is no ink on the cover. I like it a lot personally because I can carry it around church without it being flashy. The front cover has a minimalist cross that, again, is an imprint with no ink. I love that about this Bible. There are two ribbon markers, one in silver and one in black that pair nicely with the black and white theme. The silver gilting is also a good colour choice.

The Publisher lists the following features:

  • Complete text of the English Standard Version (ESV)
  • Introduction by Louie Giglio
  • 66 book introductions highlight the story of Jesus in every book
  • Seven compelling essays on the grand narrative of Scripture by Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and Randy Alcorn guide you to treasure Jesus
  • Over 300 full-page articles and nearly 700 sidebar articles reveal Jesus throughout all of Scripture
  • Room for notes and journaling throughout
  • ESV concordance
  • Two ribbon markers
  • Leathersoft cover lays flat when open
  • 8.7-point type size

Regarding the content, I like the idea behind it. The whole of scripture testifies to the centrality and importance of Christ, the Messiah, from prophecies, shadows, types, and Christophanies in the Old Testament, to Jesus being made flesh in the New. The Jesus Bible will help the Christian see Christ on every page. One thing I really appreciated is that though Christ can be seen all over, it is not forced. They don’t appear to bend scripture in order to make it relevant when it isn’t. The contributors draw from passages and show where Christ is present, how passages relate to the gospel of Christ, or walking with Christ.

There are seven longer articles interspersed through the Jesus Bible by contributers such as Ravi Zacharias, John Piper, Randy Alcorn, and Louis Giglio. I really enjoyed Zacharias’s on the uniqueness of Christ.

There are no verse-by-verse study notes, which I would have loved to see in this Bible. However, there are numerous small articles on about 1000 passages, ranging in length and topic from unity in Christ, Christ’s once for all sacrifice, Jesus and the Law, and even touching on Old Testament prophesies of Jesus.

Initially, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the notes. Some of them seem kind of fluffy, but other times the notes contain rich devotional material. I wish certain places were a little more doctrinally rich, though. In some places, such as Hebrews, you’ll find interesting introductions to things like Christology in general, but I would have loved to see it be more thorough. Understandably though, there is not much space. It is still solid material, and I think considering the allowance of space, the Passion writers did very well. The more I read, the more I grew to enjoy it and see that there are plenty of places where the writers richly point to Christ as our great God and Saviour.

I definitely think of this Bible less as a Study Bible and more of a devotional aid. I really enjoy it, and think it will be good for others to help see that Christ is not merely a character who makes his first appearance in the Gospel of Matthew, but all throughout scripture.

The notes are entirely Christ-centred and have very little doctrinal lean, aside from the necessary doctrines regarding Christ, such as his divinity. The Christian of any denominational background can enjoy this Bible without cringing at someone else’s doctrine. However, those who deny essential Christian teaching about Jesus will probably not enjoy it as much.

Each book has an introduction with a brief timeline and a highlighted verse. In addition to this is a page emphasizing one aspect or attribute of Jesus that can be found in the following book. Some of these are: Jesus Our Great King, Eternal Salvation, and Divine Advocate.

Overall, it’s a nice Bible. I really love the black leathersoft cover and use this as the primary Bible I carry with me to church. Personally, I enjoy using it for devotional readings. The ESV translation is also one of the most solid in my opinion and a personal favourite. The ESV Jesus Bible would be a good fit for a Christian of any level. For the new believer, I think this would be excellent to introduce the person of Christ and his centrality in all of scripture. For the older Christian, this rich devotional aid will remind us to fix our eyes on Christ as well as inspire a growing love for Jesus.

Many thanks to Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this Bible in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Mere Calvinism

“Mere Calvinism” by Jim Scott Orrick is another book on the doctrines of grace as summed up in the acronym TULIP. Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, and Perseverance of the saints make up what are commonly referred to as the 5 points of Calvinism. Many Calvinists, including Orrick occasionally prefer different or more precise language to describe these doctrines so at times the author explains where he might use different words than those just listed.

I tried to read this book keeping in mind how I felt first exploring the doctrines of grace and what I wanted from or did not like about works on the same topic. One major thing I wanted was thorough exegesis of Calvinist proof texts, which is more suited for a commentary than a short book such as this. In his chapter on limited atonement Orrick offers a wonderfully compiled list of passages which plainly state the doctrine. He does not, nor do I believe he sets out to offer an extensive exegesis of each specific verse, however he does an excellent job of explaining and laying the foundations of these doctrines. I would say compared to other works, “Mere Calvinism” is actually one of the more thorough in explaining what each doctrine means and the biblical foundation for believing them. I also found his explanations of what world and all mean in context to be beneficial.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for the new Calvinist to gain a more solid foundation in what they believe, “old” Calvinists looking to refresh their knowledge, or the curious non-Calvinist who simply wants to know what Calvinists believe, don’t believe, and why.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Learning Biblical Hebrew

I was both intimidated and excited to pick up “Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension: an Introductory Grammar” by Karl V. Kutz and Rebekah L. Josberger. Their bios are on the back of the book as follows:

Karl V. Kutz (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) is professor of biblical languages at Multnomah University in Portland, OR. For over two decades his teaching and mentoring of students in the language and literature of the Hebrew Bible has cultivated students’ passion for the biblical text , shaped and transformed their lives, and led to the establishment of an outstanding program for the study of the Hebrew Bible.

Rebekah L. Josberger (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, OR. Since coming to Multnomah in 2009, she has focused on developing a solid Hebrew program that enables and encourages students to learn Hebrew well enough to use it for personal growth and ministry long after they leave seminary. She teaches Old Testament with a focus on biblical theology and continues research related to Torah.

I have no formal experience in Hebrew, but learning it has been a recent interest of mine so I was delighted for the opportunity to read this. From the point of view of a layman, this Hebrew introductory grammar may be a little difficult to grasp without the aid of a classroom education, but I do think it is possible through patience, diligence, and focus. Prior experience with the language could be helpful, but I do not believe necessary in order for a new student to be able to comprehend the material, provided that they devote the time and energy required.

In chapter 3 Syllables and Reading Hebrew, the authors state “One of our goals in this grammar is not just to teach you facts but also to help you integrate them so that you come away with an understanding of how the language works” which is one of this grammar’s greatest strengths, not merely presenting facts to be memorized — though there is some of that — but also explaining the “why” or the principles that are vital to understanding the language.

The companion workbook, which was recently released, contains the exercises and vocabulary referred to at the end of each chapter and will likely benefit the student more than reading the grammar without it.

In the back of this grammar are 6 appendices covering an introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew accents, creating a grammatical diagram, creating a thematic outline, transliteration, and verb paradigms which contains helpful verb charts.

Whether one is considering picking up “Learning Biblical Hebrew” as a seminary or Bible college student, or as a layman seeking to dig deeper into the riches of one of the original languages of scripture, this introductory grammar will be a valuable resource to have on one’s shelf. I suspect I’ll be referring to it frequently in the future.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Sex, Purity, and the Longings of a Girl’s Heart

One of the biggest struggles of the Christian walk is sexual sin and temptation. Whether it’s masturbation, pornography, erotica, sexual fantasies, homosexual desires, just about everyone struggles with sexual sin in some form, including women. For a lot of people, lust is a “guy issue” which is why a lot of content on fighting sexual temptation and dealing with sin seems directed at men. This can cause a lot of women to think that their struggle makes them weird or different and so they don’t speak up about it and receive the help and guidance we all need. That’s what makes “Sex, Purity, and the Longing’s of a Girl’s Heart” by sisters Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal so important and so vital. The authors inform us that it is not a “guy” thing or a “girl” thing, it’s a human struggle.

In this book, both authors share from their own experience. Beal, at the time the book was written, is able to offer her perspective on the topic of God-defined sexuality as an unmarried woman, which was complimented well with the perspective of her married sister Clark. Both are able to offer their respective views and advice accordingly.

This is not your typical fluffy purity book. The girls from GirlDefined Ministries delve deep into the issue at hand, dismantling misconceptions and harmful lies that our society feeds us about sexuality and femininity. They address false narratives surrounding purity and speak on pursuing purity out of a heart that seeks to honour God. My overall impression is how very real this book is. It doesn’t dance around the tough or convicting issues, Clark and Beal deal with the heart of sexual sins and are not afraid to name them. But throughout the book, they leave their readers with a promise of hope of redemption for those of us (all of us) who are sexually broken.

In the very first chapter they share the gospel, which is exactly what sinners need to hear, whether they are already justified or are just having their eyes opened to it for the first time, the hope of the good news is so vital to dealing with sin and temptation. The entire book is heavily sprinkled with passages of scripture to support Clark and Beal’s points and to encourage the reader. The book is theologically sound and I was actually surprised to see them quoting from some of my favourite teachers such as John Piper, John Owen, and Tim Challies.

Clark and Beal have an excellent way of getting to the heart of the issue, of desiring God and finding fulfillment in relationship with him. They have an entire portion on the meaning of the word yada and how it applies to various relationships including with our God. But it’s also practical. They don’t just show you where your heart should be, they also give you practical advice for how to take steps toward overcoming a struggle with sexual sin.

“Sex, Purity, and the Longing’s of a Girl’s Heart” is a book I would recommend to every teenage girl, every young adult female who finds themselves struggling with shame, brokenness, questions, longings, sin. It’s not the only book written for women on the subject, but if you’re only going to read one book on the topic, I would recommend this book.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Humble Calvinism

If you’ve ever met a Calvinist, you’re probably thinking that “Humble Calvinism” sounds like an oxymoron. If you’re thinking this to yourself, you probably understand exactly why a book on humble Calvinism is necessary. In his book “Humble Calvinism” J. A. Medders explains not only why humble Calvinism is not contradictory, but that the doctrines of grace should cause us to be some of the most humble people.

Unfortunately, Calvinists have developed a reputation, especially over social media platforms, for being… much less than humble. Why is it that those who profess the doctrines of grace so often lack it? It might be easy to blame the doctrines themselves, but the fault lies with Calvinists, such as myself. The issue arises, as Medders will state throughout his book, when head knowledge doesn’t reach the heart.

The book deals with the doctrines of grace often summed up in the acronym TULIP, but that is by no means all this book is. Medders explains the meaning of TULIP, or the 5 points of Calvinism, but just as importantly he explains what this should affect in us and how these flower petals should humble us.

I actually really love the tone that Medders takes throughout. He does not sound accusatory or annoyed. He sees there is an issue and addresses it with gentleness, as one who has experienced a lack of humility in the past.

There is a short interlude where Medders explains a little of the theological jargon, so readers of any level of knowledge can enjoy this book without getting lost.

There are multiple books that get suggested to a new Calvinist such as various works by the Puritans, Calvin’s Institutes and everyone’s favourtie systematic theologies. I truthfully think this book deserves to be suggested to new Calvinists who are still in the “cage stage” as well as people who have been Calvinists for a time and may believe themselves to be out of this stage. I, and I’m sure others who will read this will put this book down feeling convicted, humbled or both. Certainly a good read.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: 5 Minutes in Church History

I’ve been a fan of the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History with Stephen Nichols for a while. In 5 minute segments, Nichols informs his listeners of some topic or character from church history. This book of the same name is based on some of these podcast episodes and, true to its name, each chapter takes roughly 5 minutes to read.

Church history is a fascinating topic, 2000 years of God’s faithfulness, 2000 years of God working in and through the lives and hearts of his church. Sometimes it can seem sort of boring, not because the topic is boring but because sometimes it is presented in a very dry, boring fashion. This is not always a bad thing, but for the person who likes things, short, sweet, to-the-point, yet still informative and meaningful, I would recommend this 150 page introduction by Stephen Nichols. He keeps his readers attention by keeping the chapters short, but packs enough information into them that the reader walks away having learned something.

The book is split into four parts. Beginning with the early church, Nichols provides an overview of John’s disciples Ignatius and Polycarp, the catacombs, the council of Nicea in 325, and other topics. He moves onto the middle ages introducing us to topics like the five ways of Thomas Aquinas and the year 1516, providing an excellent segway to the next portion on the protestant reformation. Readers will likely be somewhat familiar with Luther and maybe his wife, but there were some very fascinating chapters in this, some of which I was unfamiliar. Most touching I think, was the bravery spoken of by the four men who wrote and signed the Guanabara Confession of Faith which was immediately followed by their martyrdom. Finally, Nichols brings us to the modern age with names like Jonathan Edwards, J. Gresham Machen, B. B. Warfield, Francis Grimke, and Eric Liddell.

“5 Minutes in Church History” is a solid book, great for the beginner or busy person to begin their study of church history.

I received an a e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.