May 06

More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, by William Hendriksen ★★★★★

I read this book about 20 years ago and decided to re-read it because of its persisting value in defining how I read and understand the book of Revelation. Hendriksen speaks as an amillennialist, interpreting the book of Revelation as seven sequential parallel stories of human history from the first to the second advent. The overarching theme is that of the saints are more than conquerors in this world, a world that seems to totally beat down the Christian faith. When John wrote the book of Revelation at the end of the first century, persecutions were occurring and there was a great question as to whether or not Christianity would survive. Revelation gives seven recounts of Christians not only surviving but of coming out of the struggles of life as uber-conquerors. I’ve appreciated the amillennial view as a distinct improvement over premillennialism with its very bizarre means of forcing interpretations of Scripture that simply don’t flow naturally, and of post-millennialism, which forces a structure to Scripture that is highly inconsistent. I suppose that no view of eschatology is perfect, and even amillennialism has its inconsistencies, yet seems to read most naturally into the description of the present and future in the Scriptures. Some day it will all come clear, but until then, regardless of the view, our primary focus needs to be that of living holy, devout lives, never wavering from the truth of Scripture.

There is a sense of a story repeating itself in Revelation when reading the book from chapter 1 to chapter 22. Many times, the saints are drawn up into glory and evil defeated. These repetitions are easier to see once pointed out. They are as follows:

Revelation 1: An introduction to the book of Revelation
Revelation 2-3: The story of Christianity when viewed from the example of the churches (the lampstands)
Revelation 4-7: The seven seals (not referring to the Ingmar Bergman film)
Revelation 8-11: The seven trumpets
Revelation 12-14: Christ versus the dragon, the two beasts, and the harlot Babylon
Revelation 15-16: The seven bowls
Revelation 17-19: The defeat of the dragon and his allies
Revelation 20-22: Ultimate Victory through Christ and the new heaven and earth

A careful reading of the book of Revelation with the divisions as seen above will point out that we are simply seeing human history from different perspectives. The greatest perspective is that of Rev. 20-22, where the dragon (Satan) is bound, and the gospel able to go out throughout the whole world. This should excite the saints to no end. Amillennialism is NOT Pessimillennialism as has been proposed by others, but offers the most optimistic view of world history: Christ and the saints ALWAYS come out victorious against evil. The warnings in Revelation against the dragon (Satan himself), the first beast of the sea (world governments), the second beast of land (also called the false prophet, being the world religions and institutions of human construct), and the harlot Babylon (the seductions of wealth, economics, power, sex, fame, and unrestrained freedom), should alert the Christian of the attack on our faith coming in from all sides. We need not fear. We can peek to the end of the story and see how it will all come out. Those who are faithful are guaranteed to be more than conquerors.

I appreciated that Hendrikson did not just provide a summary interpretation of the book of Revelation, but also provided a framework for reading the book. His insistence in constantly bringing to mind the theme of the book of Revelation, of grasping the context and purpose for which the book was written, and of viewing Revelation not as a blow by blow account of the story of history but as providing general themes as to human history, all are relevant to having the best grasp as to what this book is saying. In reference to the last point of the book NOT providing detailed history, general events are those happening throughout the Christian era, such as the differing types of churches, the opening of the seals, the four horsemen, the blowing of the trumpets, and pouring out of the bowls, are all judgments from God happening throughout the Christian era, though perhaps intensifying at the end of our epoch. Henrickson is often very helpful at grasping the symbolism of the book, even though often I felt that many other alternative interpretations could still remain faithful to the text.

Others have since written commentaries on the book of Revelation based heavily on the model discussed by Hendrikson. The last generation of scholars has produced a new generation of excellent thinkers, offering fresh insights into this book that are not difficult to understand once one grasps the overall means of reading and interpreting Revelation. More than Conquerors remains on my list of top books of all time, and one that you also might consider reading.

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Apr 17

Prepare to Meet Your God, by Rich Hamlin ★★★★

This short book of 155 text pages is a compilation of sermons that Rich Hamlin preached on the book of Amos in the year 2011 at the Evangelical Reformed Church in Tacoma, Washington. These sermons are very characteristic of the style of Rich’s preaching. In this volume, you will find solid, substantial preaching with both explanations of the text as well as applications that the listener may take home with them. Amos was a shepherd from Judea, but whose ministry was to the northern ten tribes of Israel. The preaching was that of the judgment of the Israelites for being unfaithful to their God. Rich makes clear that the truths taught then are still most relevant in today’s world and must be heeded. Rich’s preaching is not flowery, it is not deeply expository, he doesn’t impress the hearer with his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, or with his ability to quote the most obscure sources. Yet, it is preaching that always reaches the heart and soul of the listener. These are sermons most worthy of being read and taken to heart.

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Apr 11

Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost, by Michael Walsh ★★★★★

In this book, Michael Walsh details 18 battles where the battle was extremely lopsided and the battle was to the death. At times, an army was entirely wiped out, as in the Teutoburgerwald under Varus in the year AD 9, or at Khartoum. Other times, there are harrowing escapes of a few survivors that live to tell the tale, such as at Rorke’s  Drift, or at the Chosin Reservoir. The author (Walsh) has written a number of books, though most of them are fictional. He has acted as a movie reviewer for Time Magazine. He has also written under a pseudonym for National Review. One would imagine that Walsh is most interested in gory stories, stories with excitement and intrigue. Yet, Walsh makes it very clear from the opening prologue and introduction that that is not the case, and lays out his intentions for the book. War seems to be an inevitability, and peace an exception to the rule. Not that war is desired; the Romans were correct in stating “Si vis Pacem, para Bellum”. Even though the United States has been in nearly perpetual war since it was founded, we live in a society that has sanitized war, making war bloodless, an activity fought by gentlemen strickly standing by guiding rules and principles of engagement. The current US intention of making the war machine politically correct, balanced between the sexes and individual physical capabilities has lost sight of the true nature of war. Revenge, personal honor, patriotic pride, lust for power or wealth, and other emotions will cause one to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, and not out of altruism, which is rarely noted among combatants. The leading introduction to this book is necessary in order to set the tone as to the author’s intentions. Walsh then marches through the chapters of this book providing synopses of various battles, including Thermopylae, Cannae, Teutoburg, Masada, Hastings, Szigetvár, the Alamo, Custer’s last stand, etc., and ending with the story of Walshes’ father fighting at Chosin Reservoir. The last battle ends on a personal note since Walsh was able to interrogate his father (who fought at Chosin) about his thoughts and reactions in the midst of battle when all seems to have been lost. Indeed, it is uncommon for the warrior to return to society eager to speak about their experience, and most often, will remain silent until coaxed to recount the battle details. A few of these battles were not taught in school, and were unfamiliar to me, such as the battle for Sigetvár. A few Amazon commentators noted that Walsh was not perfectly accurate in all of his historical comments, and such may be the case, though those inaccuracies do not distract from the main thesis of the book.

I enjoyed this book. Walsh provides excellent commentary on the nature of war, even though he does not seem to seek alternatives. Much of his diatribe seems directed at current US policy towards the military, where the sexes are confused and intermingled, where standards are lowered, where personal feelings ascend to trump the nastiness and reality of war. This is a great book to read for those who like war history. It is a light read and can be read within a week time period.

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Mar 19

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands ★★★★★

I started reading this book in November of last year and then was interrupted by 8 other books which needed to be read first. Those reviews are below. I now return to this text. First, I may comment on how I chose this text. There were not many biographies of Ben Franklin, and I was a bit leary of the author, who I was unfamiliar with, and hesitant after being disappointed with one other author that was well-acclaimed but failed to write what I consider to be a satisfactory account of the person in question. Though this book was long (at 716 pages and small print), it was a delightful narrative of this great man. 

Brands begins where one would expect, at Franklin’s birth in Massachusetts. Ben Franklin grew up in a Calvinist environment but rejected it. He learned the printing trade, and concomitantly mastered the art of writing. Franklin, while still young, escaped the Calvinist atmosphere of Boston, and settled in Philadelphia, first plying the trade of printer and publisher, and eventually moving on to bigger and better things. He quickly became politically involved, working on bettering Philadelphia, doing sundry things such as starting the first college in Pennsylvania (eventually becoming Penn State U), starting a fire department, and working on bettering the life and education of Philadelphians. Franklin had a deep curiosity regarding science, and did much to improve our understanding of electricity, including naming a positive and negative “side” to electricity. Franklin’s mind was free to explore all of the sciences, and throughout his life maintained a curious and investigative mind. Eventually, he became the Postmaster-General, a position that led him into further political prominence.  The development of issues between the 13 colonies and Great Britain led to Franklin being sent to London to act as an ambassador for American concerns. For most of his stay in London, he developed strong friendships and a few enemies. Franklin had no intention of promoting independence for the USA until matters in London forced him to think otherwise. Toward final events that led to war, Franklin found himself turned upon by his British friends and realized that the war need not happen; corruption that was rampant throughout the political structure of Great Britain led heavily to an inability to work out differences with the colonists. Franklin returned home but soon after sent off to France to serve as an ambassador and to appeal for funds to serve the war ends against England. Finally, long after the end of the war, Ben returns home to Philadelphia, though somewhat hesitantly, concerned over his poor health. Interestingly, Franklin seemed to greatly enjoy both London and Paris a little too much, and spent much of his life in those countries. Franklin served as an elderly advisor in the writing of the constitution and was a great advocate in getting it signed by all thirteen colonies. His final years were then few, and spent in pain from bladder stones and other aches and pains. Even then, Franklin’s inventive mind knew no rest, for example, coming up with a rolling printing press, or proposing that the earth’s magnetic axis would occasionally flip. 

There are several chapters included that explores at length Benjamin Franklin’s thinking. Laced throughout the remainder of the book are many details as to the mind of Ben Franklin. Ben was a great moralist, and many quips that are common to us arose from his pen, first from his Poor Richard’s Almanac, and then from his many letters and writings. Franklin rejected basic Christianity in his early Boston years, and even when he came in contact with the great Evangelist George Whitefield, spurned the Christian faith, noting that he denied the deity of Christ, though he looked to the Jesus stories as a means of moral instruction. Even still, Franklin was active in proposing for prayer during the writing of the Constitution (which was turned down), and in relying on God for the composition of our Constitution. Indeed, he fits the bill as a Deist, which was true of so many of America’s first politicians. In the first chapters of this book, I felt that Brands was being sloppy in his account of Franklin’s life, creating fictional Michener-style prose, rather than real history. Thankfully, such was not the case, and Brands relied heavily on detailed autobiographical notes that Franklin wrote throughout his life. Brands’ writing style is particularly appealing, in that he is never insulting to the reader, but constantly providing minor historical facts to inform the reader of the greater context of the events that affected Franklin’s life. Concluding, this is a book that I can heartily recommend. You will enjoy reading it, and hopefully coming out much more enlightened on the real Ben Franklin. 

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Feb 23

Blood, Sweat & Jesus, by Kerry Stillman ★★★★★

In the year 2009, my wife Betsy and I did several medical mission trips, one to Bangladesh, and the other to Cameroon. While both trips were to remote villages that were of Muslim orientation, there were great differences that we noted in how the hospitals operated as well as the style of the missionaries. The Cameroon experience was in the Sahal, or Extrem Nord of Cameroon, in a small town called Meskine just outside of Maroua. It was a hot, semi-desert environment, and many of the patients lived a nomadic lifestyle. While many languages were spoken, including French, Fulani, Arabic, German, and Hausa, one of the languages was not English. Thus, my communication was mostly in French to patients, and German to the surgeon from Leipzig that I was working with. It was in this setting that we met Kerry Stillman, who was a physiotherapist from England who was working at the hospital. The hospital in Meskine was built in the early 1990s by a trio of families that came out from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were able to construct a mission hospital that has had a tremendous influence on the surrounding villages, and many Muslims came under the influence of hearing the gospel. The most peculiar aspect of this hospital mission that Betsy and I appreciated was that everybody seemed to get along quite well with each other. I say this because it is unusual to see the friendly spirit among co-workers as was seen at Meskine. Scott and Lee Pyles, as well as Danny and Frances Kennison, ran an enjoyable operation that kept peace with the hospital workers as well as patients. Dave and Patsy Alfors (from deepest darkest Africa!), the Kretschmar family from Leipzig, Kerry Stillman, Dr. Jacqueline from the Netherlands, and many others were all a great joy to be around. It was truly a great honor to have worked with them.

Kerry chronicles the events that led up to the founding of the MCWA hospital in Cameroon, based on the inspiration of a surgeon named Bert Oubre. Kerry details the original vision, the Pyles’, Kennison’s, and Oubre’s first trip to Meskine, and how the hospital slowly took shape, including how she was eventually recruited from England. Much of the book that follows are multiple anecdotes on how the hospital touched the lives of so many people in northern Cameroon as well as Chad and Nigeria. Each story was a moving experience of how the faithfulness of a few missionaries was able to bring the gospel and salvation to many people lost to the darkness of Islam. The challenges of becoming a Christian in a Muslim country were emphasized. Finally, events of terrorism from Boko Haram affected the hospital community, ultimately leading to the foreign missionaries pulling out of the hospital, though leaving it operational with native doctors and nurses. Kerry included descriptions of the challenges of life during Ramadan. She describes the process of a Muslim held funeral, and how it differs from a Christian funeral. She also had a chapter that described the many ways in which the hospital had positively affected the village of Meskine. Kerry is a master story-teller, and it was difficult to put the book down. She was artful at painting the lives of so many people whose lives she and the hospital community affected and led to Christ.

I enjoyed this book tremendously since Betsy and I were there in Meskine, worked in the hospital, and saw much of what Kerry wrote about. It brought back precious memories. For those who have never been to Cameroon or this mission, the book is still worth reading. It is a wonderful story of how many lives have been affected and blessed by the gospel and a few missionaries faithful to God’s call in their life. Perhaps someone will be motivated to even spend some time on the mission field?

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Feb 19

The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

This book is the last of three books by Erwin Lutzer that I have been reading, all three having been written recently, and addressing contemporary events. Lutzer, in this book, offers a Christian approach to the many challenges against our faith that we now face as individuals and as a society. The challenges are many. The city has become God’s enemy. Our work environment is hostile to the Christian faith. The state is increasingly mandating laws in direct opposition to faithful Christian living. Technology creates a giant sucking sound on our souls. Confused sexuality is a lie that directly opposes God’s word and destroys individuals and families. Islam and immigration are presenting false gods into our communities, yet offer a mission field for us. The church is being torn apart by false gospels and false beliefs. To all of this, Lutzer offers the challenge of Christians being faithful in loving their God, sharing their faith, and living true to God’s word. Reform must happen both in individuals, as well as in the church itself. Persecution is guaranteed to be increasingly prevalent, and we must greet it as the price of being faithful Christians.

Lutzer is skilled at not only opening up the problems that we face as Christians but also at offering Scriptural solutions to these problems. Lutzer shines his best as a pastor in this book, probably one of his best at addressing contemporary issues that are destroying the church. His call to faithfulness should be both acknowledged and heeded.

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Feb 18

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by Dr. Don Wood, an old professor of mine whom I worked under at Cook County Hospital and at the University of Illinois in the Department of Surgical Oncology. It was a delightful read. The book is short, consisting of 23 chapters, each of which averages 8.53 pages long. Technically, the book might be read in 2-4 evenings, but it would not really have been read under such circumstances. The book is not intended to be a tome that is consumed in a single setting. It is not a devotional, and definitely not styled like a devotional. Though the chapters are short, one would not read the book in the way one would read something like The Daily Bread. Neither is the book an exposition in theological terms on the heart of Christ. One cannot read the book as though they were reading out of Berkhof or Bavinck.

The heart of Christ is an often-neglected topic. There are several approaches offered regarding Christ’s love toward us. Many sermons today skim briefly over the love of Christ for us as sinful people and then challenge us to clean up our act and behave appropriately as good Christian folk. These preachers fear that we will adapt an antinomian theology if “law” is not emphasized. Many others, in touching on the heart of Christ, turn Christ into a limp, unopinionated, all-accepting being. This fictional world of the preacher has no need of a savior averting us from the wrath of an eternal omnipotent God. Both opposites are equally perilous. A diet of nothing but this book would also be highly imbalanced, yet, without this book, the normal American Christian “diet” is also unbalanced. Ortlund does a necessary service to the reader elaborating on an often unspoken topic of Christ’s love toward us, of his care for us, of his gentleness toward those he calls his own. To help Ortlund in this task, Ortlund draws on the wealth of a number of Puritan Divines, including Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, and others. Ortlund sets us straight in seeing that while our proclivity is toward being angry and not loving God and others, it is God’s natural inclination to love us, and will be angry only when persistently provoked. I know of many people who thought of the God of the Old (and New) Testament as a wrathful, angry, unloving God, until they read Scripture, only to have unveiled the wealth of mercy and love of God as displayed again and again throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus (though he is God) is often pitted against God the Father, Jesus manifesting the gentleness and compassion of the Godhead and God the father manifesting the stern judgemental wrath of the Godhead. Ortlund sets one straight in this regard, as such thinking could not be further from the truth, as plainly demonstrated in Scripture.

I highly recommend this book. It is real food for the soul. It is accurate to Scripture. It is a treasure chest of statements attesting to a neglected aspect of Christ’s character, Christ’s love for us sinners. The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock is a more comprehensive wide-angle lens approach to God’s character. This present book is a microscopic description of a single one of God’s attributes, a chapter out of Charnock’s tome. Christ spoke of himself, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)) This attribute of Christ must be near and dear to the heart of every Christian. Ortlund gently draws you into this heart of Christ.

There is another often overlooked aspect of this book worth mentioning. The typography and quality of printing are often overlooked. It is quite noticeable that this volume stands out above most books one would get on the market. The choice of typestyles, spacing, margin size, references, and printing are all far above the normal quality that one would expect. Thankfully, there are also no distracting call-outs. Does it really matter? Absolutely! The quality of typography determines the readability of a text and is often neglected. Crossway is to be commended.

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Jan 16

Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, by John G. West ★★★★★

It’s been a while since I’ve read much about the various evolution/creation debates. I am solidly an intelligent design adherent, as I feel that it is most consistent with the text of Scripture, while not mandating the precise conditions and methods by which God formed the universe and all that is within it. Being a Ph.D. cell biologist myself, I find it incomprehensible that simple unguided random mutations could possibly generate the complex biological systems that we see. That is exactly the point of the intelligent design movement, which has a think tank out the Discovery Institute in Seattle. John West is one of the senior fellows of this institution. In this text, he tackles the issue of how certain political conservative commentators, like George Will or Charles Krauthammer, can claim that their defense of conservative morality and conservative principles could be consistent with a strict Darwinian evolutionary belief system. John West argues consistently otherwise. The chapters in turn cover arguments for traditional morality, the traditional family, free will/personal responsibility, limited non-utopian government, and religion, while also offering a chapter on the further defense of intelligent design when under attack by evolutionists. Dr. West mentions but doesn’t thoroughly develop the argument from the theistic evolutionists, but then, that is mostly another subject.

Darwin’s conservatives show that matters such as traditional morality have improved the survivability of the human species. Yet, as West argues, they are speaking contrary to the majority of evolution scientists, in that their stance suggests that morality would probably not have developed as we see it if morality had emerged from a totally random world. In all the topics that West deals with, it is quite clear that our conservative belief structures would very unlikely not have occurred. I’ll not reiterate the whole of West’s arguments, save to note that they are exceptionally well researched, well thought out, well-referenced, and well expressed in this small tome.

The book is structured well. Later chapters actually read easier than earlier chapters, drawing one into the book to its final conclusions. For any person that addresses the issue of evolution while in the public square, this book is quite helpful at helping one guide their arguments. The book not only refutes the Darwinian conservatives, but also leaves the question open to Darwinian liberals, as to how morality, religion, family, and a western form of government could have ever happened in a world formed by unguided random events. It is interesting to see that arguments against evolution address not only complex biological systems, but also the complexity of the sociological world of morality, religion, politics, economics, law, and family, which cannot be explained as simply random events occurring to products of the primordial slime. The book is very thought-provoking which deserves my highest recommendation.

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Jan 11

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★

This is a short text, easily read in 1-2 evenings, and addresses the issue of suffering from infectious or physical disasters as a Christian. Lutzer wisely doesn’t specifically delve into why we must experience so much suffering, but as a pastor, offers solace that our suffering is in God’s hands and for our best. He quotes frequently from Christians of the past and present that have commented on suffering, as well as offering comfort to the afflicted. It is a good book, and offers a wonderful example of the pastoral manner in which misfortune and grief might be dealt with on this side of glory.

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Jan 09

We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

We sat under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer for 7 years, between the years 1983 and 1990. Those years were wonderful years for us, with great preaching. Though Lutzer is dispensationalist in origin, rarely does he preach in a manner that demands a dispensational context. Lutzer is now retired, and as emeritus pastor, has continued to produce book after book with contemporary cultural relevance. The joy of reading his books is that he writes exactly as he preaches, and one is able to hear his voice as his books are being read. During our time at Moody Church with pastor Lutzer, not only did we hear great expository preaching, but noted that Lutzer was exceptionally skilled at taking critical contemporary issues and placing them in the lens of Scripture. This book is yet another example of that. The book references events that have happened within the last 6-12 months, and is relevant at trying to gain an interpretation to the insanity that is occurring in our government and society. The cover appeals that this book should be read by all Christians in America, and to that I heartily agree.

The book is only 263 pages long of large print type, meaning that it may be easily read in the space of 2-3 evenings for those who do not have television-trained short attention spans. At worst, a chapter an evening for 10 evenings should have the book easily finished off. Each chapter has the same format, with starting introductions to the topic, a full discussion, and then an analysis of a proper Christian response. Lutzer then ends each chapter with a suggested prayer that we should be offering. The chapter topics are, in order, 1) How did we get here?, i.e, what is the problem that this book needs to address? 2) How do we deal with the modern attempt to erase our historical past? 3) How do we approach the contemporary attempt to use diversity to divide and destroy the church. 4) The aggressive removal of freedom of speech, especially if it calls on Christian moral issues is addressed as well as our response. 5) How the propaganda of the left attempts to replace Christian values and morality by stating an even higher noble cause. 6) The attempt of progressives to destroy the youth through a highly sexualized environment. 7) The attempt of the radicals to condemn capitalism and provide socialism as its cure, all in the context of suggesting that it is Biblical to do so. 8) The movement of radical Islam in trying to destroy America. 9) Disagreements are no longer discussable issues, but the radical left uses shaming and ad hominem personal destruction to win an argument. 10) The church in Scripture is being warned to repent and clean up its own act as a best response to an increasingly decedent society.

Pastor Lutzer is most skilled at not only touching the reader’s mind, but also his heart in the issues discussed. This book draws the reader in, and is difficult to put down. Lutzer demonstrates his perceptive insights into what is going on in our society, as well as sensitive, Biblical advice as to how to lovingly challenge and confront the society that wishes to destroy Christianity. After reading the book, I can heartily advise others to read it, as well as to take it to heart.

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