In the interest of “something is better than nothing,” here are a few blurbs and comments on some books I’ve recently completed reading:

Title:  Don’t Call it a Comeback:  The Old Faith for a New Day

Author:  Kevin DeYoung (ed.)

Publisher:  Crossway, 2011; 252 pp. $16.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Kevin DeYoung is fast becoming one of my favorite writers.  I don’t always agree with everything he writes (but couldn’t that be said of every author?), but I appreciate the clarity and precision with which he writes.

This book is not entirely his work; he served as the editor for it, though he also contributed a chapter.  The aim of the book is to demonstrate what Christians ought to believe and how they are also to act — what does it look like to live out our faith in Christ and what are the most important components of our faith?  And these twin purposes are rooted in theology — everything about our lives is theological and our theology shapes how we live.

The section on what we are to believe includes chapters on topics like theology proper, Scripture, justification, sanctification, and Christology.  The section on our conduct of life includes chapters on considerations like:  work, social justice, homosexuality, abortion, gender, the church, and missions.

While the chapters are somewhat uneven, overall the book is very helpful.  I particularly found the opening chapters helpful:  “The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation” (DeYoung) and “The Story of Evangelicalism from the Beginning and Before” (Collin Hansen).

Representative quote:

A couple generations ago twenty-year-olds were getting married, starting families, working at real jobs, r off somewhere fighting Nazis.  Today thirty-five-year-olds are hanging out on Facebook, looking for direction, and trying to find themselves.  We have been coddled when we should have been challenged.…

As you try to reach the next generation for Christ, you can amaze them with your cleverness, your humor, or your looks.  Or you can amaze them with God.  I need a lot of things in my life.  There are schedules and details and a long to-do list.  I need food and water and shelter.  I need sleep.  I need more exercise, and I need to eat better.  But this is may greatest need and yours:  to know God, love God, delight in God, and make much of God. [DeYoung]

Read this book if you need to think more deeply about God and grow in particular ways towards greater godliness.

Title:  Resolving Everyday Conflict

Author:  Ken Sande

Publisher:  Baker Books, 2011; 116 pp. $9.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Ken Sande has written extensively on the topic of conflict resolution, most notably in his book The Peacemaker.  This book does not include any new primary material that differs from that work, and in fact it appears to be a condensation of that work.  Yet the value of this book is that it makes the essential part of The Peacemaker more accessible.

The primary value of this book is that those who do not have time to dedicate to a longer reading of Sande’s first work, will find this work quite readable.  It could be read in as little as a couple of hours or an afternoon, and it could also be read over a period of days with reflection on each chapter.

And in spite of its brevity (116 pp.), it still includes the most important biblical truths about conflict resolution, including his four Gs of conflict resolution:  glorify God, get the log out of your own eye, gently restore, and go and be reconciled.  In these chapters he articulates helpful principles like the seven A’s of godly confession and the four promises of forgiveness.

This is a book that I am sure I will be recommending often in counseling and a book that I will turn to myself for reminders of my basic responsibilities in resolving conflicts.

Representative quote:

There’s a problem with most of our confessions.  We naturally make weak and evasive apologies.  Our sinful self-righteousness compels us to play down our faults, minimize our guilt, and make excuses for our wrongs.…Many people never learn to admit their wrongs honestly and absolutely.

Read this book if you ever find yourself in conflict or know anyone who has ever been in conflict.

Title:  “But God…”

Author:  Casey Lute

Publisher:  Cruciform Press, 2011; $5.45 (as an ebook)

Recommendation (4-star scale): 

Some of the more compelling stories and didactic passages in Scripture include two remarkably simple words:  “but God.”

In this brief work, Casey Lute offers exposition and application of nine of those passages: Noah (Gen. 8:1), the Red Sea (Ex. 13:18), Nehemiah (Neh. 9:17),  the incarnation (Ps. 40:6-8), the cross (Rom. 5:8), the resurrection (Acts 13:30), election (1 Cor. 1:27), salvation (Eph. 2:4), and perseverance (2 Tim. 2:19).

A believer in Christ does well to always remember two truths:  he is a sinner and that God is gracious and has made full provision for man’s sin.  These two simple words, “but God” embody much of the message of God’s great grace.

Representative quote:

…the late James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—‘but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”…To the left of “But God” in Scripture appear some of the worst human atrocities, characterized by disobedience and rebellion. To the left of “But God” is hopelessness, darkness, and death. But to its right, following “But God,” readers of Scripture will find hope, light, and life. Following God’s intervention, the story of Scripture becomes one of grace, righteousness, and justice.

Read this book if you need encouragement in the magnificence of God’s grace.

Title:  Licensed to Kill: a Field Manual for Mortifying Sin

Author:  Brian Hedges

Publisher:  Cruciform Press, 2011; $5.45 (as an e-book)

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

Every believer’s battle is his battle against sin.  All believers still feel the pull of the flesh towards man-satisfying, God-unglorifying thoughts and deeds.  How will he combat the flesh?  How will he fight the fight of faith?  How will he (to borrow the Puritan’s word) mortify what God has already killed?

It is this theological priority that Brian Hedges addresses in Licensed to Kill.  To borrow the words of John Owen, he writes on the topic of how to kill sin so that it will not be killing you.

One of the tensions of all theologians is how to balance the indicatives of Scripture (what God has accomplished for us) with the imperatives of Scripture (what we must do in obedience to God).  Hedges achieves a healthy and righteous balance of these realities, reminding us not only of what God has done on our behalf through the cross so that sin is reckoned to be dead, but also what we do in response to God’s work for us to kill daily what has already been defeated at the cross.

I have read a number of the works published by Cruciform Press, and of the ones I’ve read to this point, this is by far my favorite.  A very helpful book.

Representative quotes:

If we want to kill sin, we must aim at the right target. That target is not merely bad behavior but the sinful desires of the heart that produce the behavior. Mortifying sin will certainly bring about changes in what we say and do, but we need more than external reformation. Many people change their behavior without changing their heart to any significant degree. But Jesus is concerned about the root and motivation of sinful behavior—our drives and desires—not simply the behavior itself.

So when you see an exhortation to “kill sin,” resist any impulse to think you can deal a once-and-for-all death blow to your sinful nature. Mortification is an umbrella term for a whole range of activities designed to gradually weaken the power of sin in your life — the range of activities we will spend the rest of this book examining.

Read this book if you ever sin and if you need encouragement in the battle against sin.