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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Seal Team Six Howard Wasdin

Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin. Seal Team Six: Memoirs of An Elite Navy Seal Sniper.  New York, NY:
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012. 331 pp.

This is a memoir of a member of the Navy Seals counterterrorism team called DEVGRU or popularly known as Seal Team Six.  The author served pre-9/11 during the 80s and 90s.  At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to be interested but I was surprised as I was read through the book with how much action and real world operations that the author did participate in.  Like most books of the SEAL autobiography genre the book tells us about the author’s childhood and then entrance into the Navy.  As a pastor I thought it was interesting to read of the author’s account of the role of strong men in his life as an influence from the church he attended.  The book goes on to have stories about BUD/S, the rigorous six months selection program a candidate must past before they are accepted into the Seals operational teams.  What set this book apart from the others is the fact that the author gives us an account of the Navy Seals Team Six during the years after its founding by its first commander Richard Marcinko and the post-9/11 era.  Unlike the two eras before and after it, the time period of the 90s is not the subject of most books.

The author participated in the First Gulf War and gave his account of missions infiltrating deep into Iraq.  He was also involved with a take down of a vessel in the Persian Gulf.  Because of his experience and involvement more than other Seals including those in his teams the author Howard Wasdin was able to enter Seal Team Six even though he was much younger and has less years under his belt compare to the typical Seal that applied for this special team.  Wasdin later became one of the top snipers in Seal Team Six.  I love his many stories of training missions and also training with other forces including the Australians and the competition between other US special operation forces.

The most harrowing part of the book is Wasdin’s account of combat in Somalia.  Any readers who have read Black Hawk Down would appreciate the first hand account by Wasdin of the Battle of Mogadishu.  In the book Black Hawk Down the four Seals in that operation was only mentioned briefly in the beginning of the book with the funny account of how one of the Seal’s bowie knife stopped a bullet.  Wasdin’s account gives us more of a picture of how intense the fighting was that day.  Wasdin’s sniping operation helped protected the lives of Delta Force operators and Army Rangers.  Unfortunately Wasdin was seriously wounded during the battle.  The book’s other sad moment was when the author’s marriage ended up in a divorce.  I can’t help but to think of how many Special Operation Forces operators’ marriage often become a casualty due to their husband’s training and deployment schedules.  It prompted me to pray for the marriages of those serving our country.  It also made me prayed for these men to know the Lord Jesus Christ as they emulate Jesus’ example of willingness to lay down their lives for others.

Purchase: Amazon

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Computer Science Discovering God's Glory in Ones and Zeros

 Jonathan R. Stoddard. Computer Science: Discovering God’s Glory in Ones and Zeros.  Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2015. 28 pp.

This is an interesting booklet which argues that the foundation for Christian Science requires the Christian worldview.  The book presents a compact form of Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God from the sphere of Computer Science.  The author believes that without a God who speaks the endeavor of Computer Science would be impossible.  To make this argument the book first explore the analogous relationship between God and Computer Science and then look at two points of contact between the two with the first point focusing on computers as universal computing machines and the second point focusing on programming languages.

I appreciated the fact that the author clearly defined analogical relationship as this has been a source of tension in the past between two schools of apologetics that associate themselves with the label of Presuppositional apologetics.  Here the author defined analogical relationship as “a relationship between the two areas, but there is not a one-to-one correspondence in all areas.”  This is important since any discussion about God must acknowledge the difficulties of talking about God in light of the fact that we are finite.  As Christians we must remember to protect the Creator/Creature distinction.  Thus the author cautions how it is dangerous to describe the universe or God as a computer or even to speak of God as a faster processor, greater bandwidth, etc.  So instead of taking the expected route of staring with computers and working one’s way to God instead the author took the unconventional direction of starting with God as He has revealed Himself and then moving on to show how God gives us a better understanding of computers and computer science.  With this method we should not be surprised to find that the programmer as God’s creature is imaging God.

I appreciated the book’s strong flavor of Van Til’s apologetics.  The book quotes frequently from Vern Poythress, a former student of Van Til who himself is an amazing scholar in his own right, having written broadly from mathematics, science, language, logic and sociology.  I wished the author interacted more with those who rejected Christian theism that have written in the area of computer science and information.  It would have been nice to see a bit of a refutation of competing theories of the source of information in a secular worldview.  But to the degree that this book creatively applied Presuppositional apologetics and a Christian Reformed worldview to a sphere one typically don’t associate with theology I would say this is a book worth reading.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Honest Evangelism Rico Tice

Rico Tice and Carl Lafterton. Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough.
UK: The Good Book Company, April 6th, 2015. 112 pp.

Don’t judge this book by its size.  It is small but packed with a lot of good content.  It is biblical, clear and practical.  British author Rico Tice has written a helpful book for the average church member on why a Christian must evangelize and how to practically talk about Jesus to others.  As someone who for years has evangelized on a weekly basis I felt I was able to profit from reading this.  I’m sure others will too.  If I ever taught a course on Evangelism I would definitely make this a required reading.  This is also a good book for one-on-one discipleship for the sake of training someone to be a witness.  Pastors, disciple-makers and small group leaders should consider using this as a resource.

The book can be divided into two parts with the first four chapters answering the question of why one should be witnessing and chapters five through eight focus on how to share your faith.

As D.A Carson noted in the forward, not many books on evangelism tell you that you will be attacked for your Christian faith when you do witness.  The book lives up to its name by being upfront and honest in the beginning: Witnessing is not easy even for the author who goes on to tell the readers how if you evangelize “you will be hit.”  Tice reminds us that we will be hit throughout the book.  Christians often struggle with the pain-line in which we want to either compromise our message or not share it.  Yet Tice doesn’t bring this up to guilt trip the readers to evangelize.  Instead he reminds us of “the other halves of the story” in which when we evangelize there will be people who hunger for God even when we don’t see all of God’s work in someone’s heart at the moment.  Considering this point that there will be people who hunger for Biblical truths balances the other half that some will hate it.  Chapters two present us three Biblical motivation for why Christians must evangelize even though it is difficult and consideration of these motivations tells us that it is worth it.  The author realizes that some will still not be moved by those Biblical motivations and in chapter three he goes after the manner of the heart by pointing out how when we are not obedient to God’s call to be a witness we are sinning and motivated by some kind of idol in our life that takes precedence over loving obedience to God.  It can be the desire for comfort, fear of man, etc.  The chapter also provides some diagnostic question to help spot these idols so that the readers can know them, confess them to God and repent of it.  I was really blessed and pleasantly surprised with this third chapter and found it very practical.  It is practical enough that I want to be more conscious of when I don’t witness and to be on the alert for some idols in my heart that I need to resist.  This chapter is excellent as it goes to the heart of the manner and focuses on the root sin that has a stronghold on those who don’t evangelize.  Unless one sees the problem first, one would never go about with biblical solutions to the problem of the sin of omission when one does not witness.  I don’t want to give too much of the book away but chapter four consider other biblical truths that we ought to be reminded in order to continue motivate us to maintain our witness to the world.

The second half of the book is real practical concerning how to witness.  The author looks first at what one ought to say and has a helpful three word paradigm for readers to remember: Identify.  Mission. Call.  We want to communicate Jesus’ identity, His Mission and His call upon our lives.  But this is not mere data dump and to properly engage with people the author noted we need three more word paradigm:  Understanding.  Agreement.  Impact.  That is: “Do they get it?  Do they agree with it?  What are they doing about it?” (62).  I think it will be helpful that even after finishing the book one can go over chapter four from time to time to help us really apply this.  The book also acknowledges that there are different personalities God has made and there is no need to artificially become a mode or a specific example of an evangelist that one is not.  The book even surveys the various kinds of personalities in Scripture that was witnessing to establish the point of one can be oneself when witnessing.  Again I don’t want to give away the whole book but one would benefit from his list of helpful questions, tips and book recommendations.

Again this is a very good book on witnessing by Rico Tice.  I say buy it, it is worth the price.

NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Purchase: Amazon 

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In Defense of Theology Gordon Clark

Gordon Clark. In Defense of Theology.
Milford, MI: Mott Media Inc, 1984. 119 pp.

Most Christians if they know anything about Gordon Clark probably know of him as a critic of Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til.  It is a shame that few Christians even among those interested in Christian philosophy, apologetics and Reformed theology know who Gordon Clark is.  In contrast to Van Til, Gordon Clark seems to have written more works at the popular level than Van Til did while remaining less known than Van Til.  This work is one of them.  In this review I want to look at Clark’s work as a full blooded Van Tillian who disagree with Gordon Clark but have found him beneficial to read and interact with.

I appreciated this book because while Clark is capable of writing more technical and difficult work this seems to be the one book that is accessible for lay people that pretty much summarize Gordon Clark’s apologetics.  The book presents a defense of the endeavor of theology while embracing the Biblical worldview and subjecting opposing worldviews to logical scrutiny and refutations.  The flow of the book critiques three groups of people with the first being those who subscribe to atheism, secondly those who are disinterested and the third group being Neo-Orthodox.

I really like his chapter on atheism.  Even if one disagrees with his apologetic methodology it is succinctly stated.  Clark notes briefly that he has problems with the Classical arguments for the existence of God which puts Clark in a different trajectory with his approach towards the question of God’s existence and atheism.  I think Clark persuasively argued contrary to the Existentalists that it is important to first discuss about essence over existence; practically for the topic at hand Clark note that it is important to define what God is and which God we are believing before we ask whether or not it exists because after all the Christian is not engage in prove some kind of bare theism or some other gods that is not the Christian God.  I think Clark’s discussion about axioms and ultimate authority being axiomatic is excellent.  While I don’t necessarily fault the book for fleshing it out given its limited space nevertheless it is important for readers to know that my general criticism of Clark’s apologetics is applicable to the methodology of the book here: I often wish Clark developed more of the implications of Romans 1 for apologetics and shaping how he understands the unbeliever and approaches towards their unbelief.  In particular, I wished he could have seen the apologetic value of the phenomenon in which people suppressed the truth they do know and perhaps lead him to see a role of some kind of transcendental argumentation to make that point.

Clark’s chapter on the disinterested is rather short but he does give more space to critique the Neo-Orthodox.  His survey of the Neo-Orthodox works chronologically backwards since he wishes to begin the readers with better known contemporary writers and then tracing it back their influences.  I think his critique of the irrational claims and methodology of Liberals and Neo-Orthodox is excellent.  Clark is really out to defend the propositional nature of Scripture.

This leads to a chapter length discussion about the role of logic in the Bible.  This discussion is indeed a key component in Clark’s defense of theology, given that the task itself involve the use of logic.  The book ends with a fourth group that is contrast to the first three group in that these are believers of Jesus Christ who loves the Word from the Lord.  He also add in this chapter a discussion about grounding the laws of logic in the Imago Dei that I think should have been better organized to have been part of the chapter on logic.

Overall good book.  If you had to read a book that’s an introduction to Gordon Clark and also get a flavor of his method (and his highbrow sarcasm) then this is the book.

Purchase: Amazon | Also Available as E-Book from Trinity Foundation

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Princeton Seminary 1812-1929 Gary Steward

Gary Steward. Princeton Seminary (1812-1929): Its Leaders’ Lives and Works.
Phillipsburg, NJ: Crossway Books, 2014. 321 pp.

The legacy of Princeton Theological Seminary has been hotly debated over the years yet fascinatingly enough a revival of interests into the theology and professors of Old Princeton has been growing in light of the growth of Calvinistic expressions of the Christian faith.  This book tells the story of Old Princeton during the years of 1812 through 1929 by giving the readers a biographical account of theologians that has defined the Seminary.  I enjoyed how the book not only gave us the life of these theologians but also each biographical chapter on a theologian is followed by a chapter that takes a closer look at the respective man’s particular theological writing and contribution.  This format allows us to get a sense of the “life and doctrine” of Old Princeton.  It also helps to advance the author’s thesis that Old Princeton held to two uncompromising conviction: (1) rigorous academic theologizing which is compatible with (2) personal piety and holiness.  I think Steward does persuasively makes his case and after reading the book I think it is unfortunate that Old Princeton has become so maligned even among Christian circles.

The first chapter of the book covers the founding of Princeton Seminary.  I appreciated the author giving us a larger context of theological education for Pastors prior to the Seminary being formed.  Obviously there was a need before the founding of Princeton.  I learned from the book that before 1746 ministers had only three options for their education: Harvard, Yale or Europe.  It certainly makes one appreciate the contemporary landscape in North America with countless seminary to choose from.  I also learned from the first chapter of the book of the Log College that would serve as a model for Princeton Seminary with its emphasis on spiritual experience and intellectual cultivation.  At first the Presbyterians founded a college (later Princeton University) but eventually the need for a separate Seminary independent from the college led them to found the Seminary.  Early on Princeton Seminary was founded to accomplish the goal of producing men who were capable scholars of the Bible that was able to handle the Scripture in its original languages and faithful to the Westminster Confession of Faith in their application of the Word of God to ethics and apologetics.

The first biographical chapter in the book was on the Seminary’s first full time professor, Archibald Alexander.  Alexander was an incredibly intellectually gifted man.  In an era in which it was hard to acquire books Alexander was able to purchase the library of a minister from Holland that allowed him to become well acquainted with Dutch Reformed thought, early Patristic, Renaissance philosophers and the history of the larger Protestant theology.  With all his contribution in his prime of his life it is amazing to read that he worked hard even towards the end of his life with the last ten years his most productive.  The author also examined more closely Archibald Alexander’s work titled Thoughts on Religious Experience which focuses on one’s examination of religious experience to see if its Scriptural and authentic, thus showing how early in the Seminary history Old Princeton faculty was not only about the mind but ministered with nuance sensitivity in taking into account all of man’s faculty.

Other theologians that the book focused on included Samuel Miller (their second professor in the Seminary), Charles Hodge, James and Joseph Alexander (sons of Archibald Alexander), and Archibald Alexander Hodge (son of Charles Hodge and obviously named after Archibald Alexander).  I was intrigued to learn that Charles Hodge was the first in the faculty to go to Europe to study abroad.  This was in order for Hodge to familiarize himself with the bad theology coming from Liberal scholarship especially from Germany.  Of course later other professors from Old Princeton (and at other seminary I would add, including today) would follow suit.  I wonder if that was a wise precedence for others to follow since one who is not theologically grounded can come back with dangerous ideas and teachings that can “infect” a good seminary.  In the case with Charles Hodge it was beneficial.  I was very encouraged with the biographical account of James Alexander who first became a missionary who later on did much work in reaching the urban poor and develop materials for the Sunday School movement.  The personality of A.A. Hodge with his ability to effectively popularize Princeton theology and illustrate spiritual truths for people’s understanding was equally encouraging for anyone desireingto follow the model of a “Pastor-Scholar” or “Scholar-Pastor.”

I wished the book would have also given a full chapter each on the life of B.B. Warfield and Machen.  Both Warfield and Machen were important figures in the twilight years of Old Princeton but the author lumped the two of them together in a brief sketch in the last chapter of the book.

Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is the historical perspective that one gets to look at the times through the College/Seminary and its faculty.  These faculty members lived through some amazing time period of American history.  Sometimes they also participated in American history such as Witherspoon, Rush and Stockton of Princeton College who participated with the cause of American Independence and even signed the Declaration of Independence!  Yet we also see as a general trajectory a caution among the faculty of the Seminary itself, such as Miller who backed away from the political the older he became, Charles Hodge’s reluctance to fan the flame before the Civil War by even adopting a moderating tone while being against slavery but being cautious towards full abolitionists and Secessionists in the South.  Towards the end of the Civil War Charles Hodge did become more vocal about the Union, even seeing the North’s victory a sign of God’s providence.  Hodge’s own son also was against slavery but was able to see the difficult question and concern for church entanglement politically with the slave question.

In conclusion I was greatly encouraged and challenged by the book and the examples of the theologians of Old Princeton to be a minister of the Word who continue to strive to grow in intellectual ability in articulating, preaching and defending the faith while also continue to grow in personal holiness.  This book would be a great gift to encourage your pastor and also for Seminarians to see their studies with the need to be pastoral.  It definitely encouraged my soul as a Pastor.  I pray that I can follow in these men’s footstep and be to some degree the kind of men these guys were.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Crazy Busy Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung. Crazy Busy.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013. 128 pp.

This book is relevant for everyone.  It is a neat little book on busyness by Pastor Kevin DeYoung.  I used this book in the context of discipleship with one of the members of our church.  I do recommend it for either personal reading or reading in a discipleship context.  In a world in which many people are so busy, this book approaches the subject spiritually.  It is both theological and practical.

I appreciated how early in the book DeYoung tells the reader that he’s not writing this book because he’s mastered the subject but rather he’s writing this for his own edification and that he’s “trying to figure things out.”  His humility and description of his problem is one that would make readers connect with the author.

In the second chapter of the book DeYoung goes over three dangers to avoid when it comes to busyness.  DeYoung reminds us that while there are books that talk about the physical risk of being overly busy, we must not forget the spiritual threat that busyness can be to our own faith.  We must not allow the busyness of work and life rob our hearts and joy while also examining to see if our busyness is a way of covering up the rots in our soul.

The bulk of the book goes over the seven diagnoses DeYoung identifies with the problem of busyness.  They are all very good but two stands out among them for me personally.  It was very edifying to read his discussion about how busyness can be a manifestation of pride.  Here DeYoung gives us what he calls the “Killer P’s” that are the many faces of pride such as the fact that we can be busy because we want to please people, get pats on our backs or desire for perfectionism, etc.  DeYoung poses to the reader a good question to test if our busy work is for God or for our pride: “Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?”  I also appreciate DeYoung’s discussion about technology that strangles our soul.  It is wonderful to see DeYoung address this issue in a world of social media and smart phones.  He’s not doing this to show he’s hip and up to date since he talks about how fleeting technology is, given how fast things change but he’s addressing this pastorally.  I appreciated how in this chapter DeYoung not only talk about the obvious risk of addiction but also the threat of acedia which he describe as something like sloth but has the aspect of indifference and spiritual forgetfulness.  It is the condition where we are busy but not with something important but being busy with being busy, where are content to do things that are purposeless and shallow in the passing of time.

I appreciated how the book ends not with a call to not be busy—but rather DeYoung is realistic in that we cannot forsake all things in order to not be busy.  He does have a chapter titled “Embracing the Burdens of Busyness” and his final chapter was very appropriate in that he tells us that in the middle of all our task, there is one thing we must do even if it’s not man-centered pragmatic: we must make the time to be closer to Jesus.  Excellent!

I highly recommend this book.  There is a reason why it is the 2014 Christian Book of the Year.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Heaven

Smith, Colin S. Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus,     2015.

This book which is 95 pages is packed with ancient Gospel truth, but done in a fresh imaginative and dramatic writing style that does not compromise the veracity and integrity of the Gospel.  The author skillfully brings together sound doctrine, powerful theological accounts of the cross, and  historical accuracy concerning the drama of this account concerning the thief and Jesus Christ.  Here imagination is used properly for the glory of God.

The book covers different scenes that are categorized this way: breakfast, hatred, faith, hope, love, darkness, agony, triumph, and safety.  The main protagonist is the thief at the cross.  His thoughts, feelings, and volition gushes forth from this book.  The account of the thief’s thoughts although imaginative, except for his few words as recorded in Scripture, are sound words that echo Gospel centered truths of how a sinner maybe saved.  I have never witnessed a book that has approach the thief’s account in this manner.

Besides the profound imaginative features, what I found refreshing are some of the precise and deep-seated truths of the Gospel that emphasize the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the sinfulness of man, and the intense reminder that the gates of Hell and Heaven are only inches away from us.  I don’t want to give out too much details about this book.  I recommend buying it and reading it.  It is a great book for an unbeliever who needs the Gospel and for believers who need a profound and refresh way of explaining the Gospel to sinners who are in danger of judgment and in desperate need of forgiveness.

Thief at the cross, “I endured the pains of crucifixion, but I did not experience the agonies of hell.  Jesus endured them for me, so that I would never know what they are like.  The more I think about this, the more staggering it gets” (71).

NOTE: I received this book for free from the publisher Christian Focus Publications through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Purchase bookCFP or Amazon

 

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