Saturday, February 10, 2018

Graciousness: Tempering Truth With Love (Book Review)

"Peacemakers are people who breathe grace to others in the midst of conflict. Since we cannot breathe out what we have not breathed in, this process hinges on our moment-to-moment relationship with God" (Ken Sande as quoted by John Crotts, pg. 68).

Zealous for truth. That's me. Expressing the truth with more zeal than love. Sadly, that is also me at times. This side of heaven, I imagine I will always be able to benefit from some practical methods for cultivating graciousness. That's why I was excited to read John Crotts' latest book, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love.

Crotts spends the first half of his book laying a biblical foundation by examining the Bible's commands for Christians to be gracious, setting forth the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul as positive examples and the church at Ephesus as a cautionary tale of sorts. The second half of the book aims at highlighting practical ways to cultivate graciousness by considering our hearts, the value of others, and our actions, as well as specific suggestions for cultivating graciousness in community.

Graciousness is well written and offers wise counsel. For example, Crotts advises his readers not to merely read books about graciousness but to read biographies about those who exemplify it and adds this beautiful explanation:

"Theoretical kindness provides instruction, but lived kindness adds authenticity and tangibility to principles" (pg. 127).

To that end, Crotts makes excellent reading recommendations. The influence of outstanding works such as Ken Sande's Peacemaker, Paul Tripp's War of Words, David Powlison's Speaking the Truth in Love, and Donald Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (among other titles) can be clearly seen within the pages of Graciousness.

All-in-all, if you are looking for a book that will remind you afresh of the truths of God's Word and the Gospel which will help you to infuse your conversations with graciousness, you will find this to be a worthwhile companion. It is a short, easy read in which Crotts handles Scripture faithfully and is a good, general primer on the subject. Crotts writes: "Raw conviction without gospel hope produces despair" (pg. 130). Readers are likely to find both within the pages of Graciousness.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for sending me a complimentary copy of Graciousness in exchange for my honest opinion!

Here are some additional excellent books that have helped me cultivate graciousness in specific areas:

  • General - Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (This book does a really great job of practically demonstrating ways that we can affirm others when we are particularly tempted to be critical, especially when it comes to unbelievers with whom we have very little in common and even often find ourselves in disagreement. It has been a number of years since I have read this book, but I can still helpfully recall examples from this book. The illustration that I probably mentally re-visit most frequently is one in which he strikes up a positive conversation with a pro-choice protester while on a pro-life march. It's quite the conversation and wonderfully instructive! For more of my thoughts on this book, you can read my review.)
  • Marriage - When Sinners Say, "I Do" by Dave Harvey
  • Parenting - Everyday Talk by Jay Younts

Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Review: The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

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Notable features of The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy from the Publisher:

  • Gospel-centered Bible stories expressed in ways that speak to toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Children will learn the good news of God’s love for them.
  • Traces God’s perfect promises through fifty-two Old and New Testament stories.
  • Brightly colored illustrations by Trish Mahoney highlight each story and add fun [teaching] elements [such as counting, opposites, patterns, and object recognition] to keep young children’s attention.
  • Each story ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to reinforce the message.

My Thoughts:

There is much to love about The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy. As noted in the Publisher's description, this book has a lot of visual appeal and fun elements that make it a joy to read with toddlers and preschoolers. These engaging teaching elements combined with frequent questions make it a delightfully interactive book. The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible also contains a lot of amusing words and interjections like "Pop!", "Sssluuuurrrrrp", and "Hooray!" Most importantly, the entertaining aspects of this book are not an end in themselves but a means to communicating the glorious truth of the Gospel to young people: they are sinners in need of a Savior, Jesus Christ. Throughout the story Bible, key truths to remember, most often pointing to God's character and work, are highlighted in bold letters, and each lesson seeks to point to Jesus Christ in some way. While the connection to the larger redemptive storyline wasn't always clearly demonstrated and the main point of the Biblical account wasn't always the focus of this author's retelling, this story Bible was generally faithful to the text of the Bible and clearly presented the Gospel throughoutThe Beginner's Gospel Story Bible is a fun and worthwhile addition to the libraries of those with toddlers in their lives.

(Please note, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible does contain artistic depictions of Jesus Christ.)

**Many thanks to New Growth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: The Good Portion: Scripture

"…happiness cannot be fully discovered as long as we remain ignorant of God's Word" (95).

Do you long to hear from God and to know Him more intimately? Do you spend time in the Bible daily, share it with others, and turn to it first in the face of trials, suffering, and weakness? Do you find yourself longing for and delighting in the Word each day? Are the Words of God in the Bible more precious to you than your most valuable possession and sweeter to you than the sweetest treat? How and when we approach the Bible betrays what we believe about the Bible

Christian Focus Publications has begun a promising ten-book series called The Good Portion. In in its first volume, Scripture, Keri Folmar shows us where and how we can hear God most clearly. Her ultimate goal is to "shed light on the treasure and the sweetness of the sacred Scriptures" (pg. 17). She begins by addressing the nature of the Scriptures as God's revelation of Himself and then, progresses to the characteristics of the Bible that naturally flow as a result of its Author. She shows us that the Bible is, above all, about a relationship with the living God. Utilizing insightful analogies, she demonstrates the practical implications of what we  believe about Scripture, including how those beliefs influence our handling of the Word.

At first glance, Folmar asks questions that may appear to have easy answers:

  • Can we know God?
  • How can we know God?
  • Is the Bible really God's Word?
  • Has the Bible been corrupted?
  • Can we trust the Bible? (and what difference does it make)?
  • Can we understand what God has to say?
  • Is the Bible really necessary to know God?
  • Is the Bible enough for us today?

However, Folmar reveals that there is much more to these questions than initially meets the eye. Most importantly, she encourages her readers to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ as the central character of the Bible. Folmar rightly recognizes that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture and yet, reminds her readers that this help does not negate the need for hard work (111). Affirming that "there is only one right interpretation" to the text before us, Folmar helpfully shares "several overarching principles or guidelines for interpreting the Bible" (111-112). Additionally, she illustrates the importance, role, and limitations of historical and cultural context for determining meaning. If we fail to answer these questions in accordance with the Scriptures, we will believe the wrong things and live in ways that do not honor God.

Keri Folmar’s bibliography includes some of the best works on the Scriptures including John Frame's Doctrine of the Word of God, Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited, and Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. Throughout The Good Portion: Scripture, Folmar seeks to make biblically faithful, Scripture saturated, sound doctrine accessible to a wider audience. She avoids getting bogged down by over-technical vocabulary without diluting the truth. At the close of each chapter, Folmar includes a chapter summary and numerous questions covering both content and practical application making this book a good option for group or individual study. Although there were a couple of places where I would have liked to see more depth, Folmar intentionally weeds out excessive details to keep this book manageable and ultimately, provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

In a day when women are longing to hear a word from God, Keri Folmar shows us that we need look no further than the Book that He has already graciously given us. All we need to do is take it up and read it well. I pray that this will open many women's eyes to the wonder of the Word and its Author and whet their appetites to study with vigilance seeking to rightly divide the Word of truth!! May we derive sustenance from the Scriptures that enables us to bear fruit (128).

"Believer! There is enough in the Bible for you to live upon forever. If you should number the years of Methuselah, there would be no need for a fresh revelation [Methuselah lived 689 years!]; if you should live until Christ should return to the earth, there would be no necessity for the addition of a single word; if you should go down as deep as Jonah, or even descend as David said he did, into the depths of hell, still there would be enough in the Bible to comfort you without a supplementary sentence" (Spurgeon as quoted by Folmar, 165).

*Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for sending me a complimentary copy of The Good Portion: Scripture in exchange for my honest opinion!