Tuesday, August 23, 2011

131 Christians Everyone Should Know - Book Review

Review of 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that I just posted over at Amazon.

"131 Christians..." really proved to be something of a hit or miss title for me.  I started to incorporate it as part of our family worship, but ultimately abandoned it entirely for a number of reasons.  First is that most of these biographies, far from being captivating insights into these people's lives, actually reads like a droll, static textbook from a secular college.  Even otherwise exciting accounts of people like Hudson Taylor and David Livingston are here presented as somewhat cold and factual, without some of the more exciting episodes or accounts of the miraculous (Taylor in particular, whom I've read a number of biographies of, has some thrilling accounts of God's miraculous provisions, but the 'Christian History' editors decided to leave those out, which is a little bit telling of the ambiguity of their genuine Christian perspective.

The thing I realized is that this isn't "131 Vibrant, Faithful Christians of a Solid, Biblical Testimony", but rather a breezy overview of 131 folks, some stupendous (Calvin), some not so (Finney), that these editors somehow thought worth of writing dull biographies of.  The flavor seems cold on Calvinism, mild on the historic misdeeds of Roman Catholicism, and at times leans favorably towards mystical flavor - which today appeals more to the new agey crowd (and shoppers at Lifeway stores) but not necessarily to me.

Notably missing, much to the detriment of this book, were Christians like John Owen, Richard Baxter, J. Gresham Manchen, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Cornelius Van Til, or even missionaries like Amy Carmichael or George Mueller, and yet the book included T.S. Elliot and Billy Sunday?

Most troubling is the inclusion of Henry VIII, who's section the editors ridiculous titled as "Defender of the Faith" (a title given to Henry by a Pope, mind you.)  Henry was a murderous adulterer, with an awful track record and hardly what I'd consider a "Christian" that I "must know".  I'm surprised the authors of the book didn't give "Bloody Mary" a chapter with another Papal-approved title such as, "Mary, Darling of Roman Catholicism".  The lack of genuine Christian history is really showing here as the authors completely overlooked Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII's martyred daugher who had a powerful testimony of faithfulness during her short life, and would truly belong in a book about Christians that you should know.  This book is genuinely about "Man for All Seasons" bad theological history going on here.

One star simply because this serves as a mediocre overview of some historical figures throughout church history, but there have been far better biographies written.  In fact, much more highly recommended would be John Piper's Christian Biographies at Desiring God.  These are far more energetic, emotional and edifying, unlike what the Christian History editors have presented here.  In fact, some comments from Piper on Erasmus really seem to fit the spirit of how the writers presented this "131 Christians" book.  These Christian History edits, as with Erasmus, seem to have a "touch of irony, a superior ambiguity", as if "to be dogmatic about the full theology of Christ was to be distasteful, below the best, elite humanist heights."  I think Piper nailed it with Erasmus, and the glove fits this stale title as well.

Skip it, and check out Piper's bios instead.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Family Driven Faith' by Voddie Baucham

I just finished Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham, a book I actually read most of a few years ago, but I finally got around to finishing.  There is a lot to really enjoy from this book, primarily being the theme of calling fathers back to leadership and discipleship of their families and the centrality of family worship in the home.  Indeed, it wasn't until at Voddie's church and hearing Don Whitney visit and talk about the importance of family worship as a regular, focused feature of the Christian home, that we started implementing this as well.  We've visited with friends who, following dinner and games would welcome us into their family worship, for hymns and Bible study, and its a wonderful blessing (plus it gives you ideas of things to incorporate into your own family worship as well.)
Voddie's focus on this in the book is wonderful, although I wish he could have gone a little bit deeper.  To be honest, sadly, I think the idea of worship in the home is such a completely lost concept in mainstream Christianity that a book like this almost needed "baby steps" of how to get started.  For instance:

  • Catechisms - Which catechisms should be used?    Which ones skipped?  How much?  Which ones are best for which age groups?
  • Hymns - Which hymnals?  which are good, which are worth skipping?
  • Bible study guides - There are a gazillion to choose from, and I've been blessed by studies like the Big Book Of Questions & Answers About Jesus by Sinclair Fergusen, but I'd love to know of others.  

True, Scripture reading is always going to be enough, but like that Ethopian talking to Phillip in the book of Acts, sometimes it helps to have someone explain a certain book to you.
Those are the types of things that went through my head while reading Family Driven Faith.  For any parent looking to revitalize the home as a place of worship, and to work to cultivate a genuine faith and Biblically-centered worldview with their children, this book is worth checking out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Essential Anabaptist Mennonite Doctrines and Practices

A link to some of the Essential Anabaptist Mennonite Doctrines and Practices.  While some of it is still hit or miss for me, I think they are one of the few groups that gets it right with head coverings, family and church/state relations, etc.

Biblical Genres

  • Legal
  • Narrative
  • Poetry (songs, praise, laments, stanzas of Hebrew thought)
  • Wisdom literature (Proverbial wisdom)
  • Gospels - both doctrine and narrative.
  • Logical Discourse - the epistles.  Books like Romans.
  • Prophetic - future prophecy.  Vast have already happened.
The epistles are primarily Paul.
  • Expository - expounding various turths and doctrines
  • Hortatory - "Go out and do" (indicative vs. imperative)
Structural analysis - every writing has a structure that can be observed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

John G. Payton Biography

Here's a link to an excellent message about the life of John G. Payton. What's so noteworthy about Payton's life isn't just his own remarkable mission work to the New Hebrides, but the details of the powerful Christian walk that John's father James had. Per the message, James never felt a specific calling into the ministry and did not intrude into it, but he Biblically guided his own children with a tremendous amount of prayer for them, and a message like this really speaks especially to fathers specifically as to the impact that your shepherding and guidance has on the life of your own children.

1 John 3:3-9

(This is from a devotion I wrote for Alpha-Omega a few years ago...)

And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning The Son of
God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. [1 John 3:3-9 NAS]

This passage speaks about how all of our own efforts to purify ourselves are completely futile.  Works-based righteousness will NEVER succeed in making us righteous in God's eyes.  Ultimately, our righteousness is only obtained through the work of the Holy Spirit, calling us repentance and belief in Christ alone.  Sanctification is God working in us, and us manifesting outwardly that inward working of the Holy Spirit. The legalist would say, "I obtained righteousness myself, and God is happy with what I achieved", when in actuality, the correct attitude of the believer should be one of "God DID IT within me, and I'm forever grateful that he overcame my own sinful, fallen nature in order to do it." One of the things that makes Christianity distinct from all other religions of the world is God's perfect grace, and that our salvation is not based on our own works and perfecting of ourselves, but rather its God who alone perfects us.

I was reading some of Calvin's remarks on the book of I John, and he makes the observation that John "plainly declares that the hearts of the godly are so effectually governed by the Spirit of God, that through an inflexible disposition they follow his guidance" Calvin later continues that "God testifies that he gives a new heart to his children, and promises to do this, that they may walk in his commandments.

We as believers should all take comfort in knowing that God's grace is sufficient in our lives, and that our righteousness is not dependent at all upon us or our works, but instead is solely a gift of God through Christ
Jesus our Lord.

Q&A with Dr. Waldron and John Divito

Some fair observations made about the FIC model (although right off the bat Dr. Waldron gets it wrong by pronouncing Dr. Baucham's name as "VAH-dee". The rejection of systematic age-segregation ministry could be seen as overreacting, yet at the same time Voddie makes good points in that, if this system works, why do so many kids in this model turn from their faith when they go off to college.

I would agree with the observation that FIC churches reject nurseries for babies. I have no problem with nurseries, and one of the things I found with Voddie's church was that even though there was no nursery per se, there would still be a gathering of women in the back room on any given Sunday with their fussy babies, so why not just make an accommodation for them?

Now one thing I think Dr. Waldron did miss was that FIC model churches ofter place a much stronger emphasis on father-led worship in the home, particularly encouraging the daily practice of family worship (more than just simple, trite and irregular devotional times). I had never heard of this prior to attending Voddie's church and it definitely introduced a very important practice into our own home, with daily hymns, Bible reading and prayer as a family.

Q&A with Dr. Waldron and John Divito | Waldron on the Family Integrated Church from MCTS on Vimeo.