Back in 2011, a book titled Love Wins made a big splash in the evangelical world and beyond. The author, Rob Bell, who was serving as a pastor at the time, made some very troubling statements that shed some light on his unorthodox theological positions. The result of the book propelled him out of his pulpit, onto Oprah, up the list of bestsellers by the New York Times, and the rest is history.
Recently, Rob Bell released his new book titled, What Is the Bible? While this new book may not cause quite the dust storm that followed Love Wins, it will have a lasting impact upon his audience. There is hardly a page throughout Bell’s book that doesn’t have a glaring theological error or an interpretative problem. As I read the book, I found Bell to be engaging and good at connecting dots to a storyline, but there are times when he connects the wrong dots, uses an improper hermeneutic, and goes beyond the realm of orthodoxy in his theology.
Bell’s book on the Bible seeks to point out how an ancient library of poems, letters, and stories can transform the way you think and feel about everything. Bell understands the importances of questions and he employs an aged tactic well, but his questions are typically antagonistic toward God’s Word. The problem is, Bell’s book seeks to change the way you feel about the Bible as he diminishes the authenticity and sufficiency of God’s Word. This is not a book about defining the Bible as much as it’s a book about how to read and understand the Bible.
Problems Defining the Bible
A proper definition of the Bible always begins with God, but Bell flips this to a heavy focus on the human author. He writes the following line at the beginning of chapter 2, “In the beginning, someone wrote something down. That’s how we got the Bible. Some people wrote some things down” (p. 19). While that is true, some 40 different human authors wrote something down over a period of 1,500 years—that’s not the proper starting place. The proper starting place is with God—the source of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16).
In a slick manner that doesn’t come right out and question the authenticity of God’s Word, Bell writes, “That’s years and years of people sitting around fires and waling along hot dusty roads and gathering together in tents and homes and courtyards to hear and discuss and debate and adapt and change these stories, poems, letters, and accounts” (p. 20). In a simple little line that contains much truth, Bell inserts the idea of people changing the Word of God. At this point, it’s abundantly clear, Bell’s view of the Bible is corrupt and he is seeking to pass along his broken understanding of God’s Word to his readers.
In a similar vein, Bell continues, “The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing—they were selecting and editing and choosing and making decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t” (p. 21). Is that true? Did the human authors gather as much information as possible and then sift through it to see what furthered their agenda? This approach to the Scriptures diminishes the authenticity of God’s Word and relegates it down to the level of a religious editorial rather than holy Scripture.
While Bell claims that we shouldn’t read the Bible as if it simply fell out of the sky, and I would wholeheartedly agree, we can’t approach the Bible as if it’s “profoundly a human book” as he suggests (p. 22). The Bible is profoundly God’s book. Tragically, Bell completely overlooks the divine authorship of Scripture. Yes, the human authors and their intent matters when interpreting the Bible, we can’t be unbalanced in our approach to God’s Word. After all, it is God’s Word—not man’s word.
Remember how Romans 5:12 happened? It started with a conversation between Satan and Eve in the Garden of Eden where Satan asked her, “Did God say…?” The devastation of sin began by casting a shadow of doubt on God’s Word. In this book, Bell aligns himself with the motives of the enemy rather than the motives of God. Lowering a person’s view of Scripture will not strengthen the faith of God’s people.
Problems Interpreting the Bible
Anytime you interpret a document, it doesn’t matter if it’s an e-mail, the Constitution of the United States, or the Bible—the method you employ will determine the outcome. Loose hermeneutics will result in loose conclusions. A balanced approach to the definition of the Bible that focuses on the divine authorship of Scripture and properly connects the human authors in their appropriate place will lead to a proper method of interpretation.
When it comes to the science of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), it’s best to see God as the source of Scripture. Paul makes this point clear as he instructs Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16. At this point, the divine author and the human author are in proper sync—resulting in one intended meaning of the text that was recorded. However, on several different places, Bell makes loos statements such as, “You can read this story lots of ways” (p. 30). Actually, it’s best to read the story the way it was intended by God and the human author.
Bell concludes the third chapter by writing, “Did you see what just happened there” (p. 31)? The sixth chapter begins by saying:
When you read the Bible:
You can read a verse and study the individual words.
You can reflect on a sentence.
You can look for insight in the flow of several verses together.
You can study a paragraph or a chapter (p. 47).
These statements are indicative of the fact that Bell is teaching his readers how to interpret the Bible. As Bell finishes the ninth chapter, he encourages his readers to be inquisitive—sometimes flying close to the surface of the text and sometimes flying higher. He exhorts his readers to “keep asking, hunting, searching, questioning, assuming that there’s more going on here” (p. 78). His counsel is not terrible, but how he encourages them to search and connect dots leads to the wrong conclusion.
In the thirteenth chapter, one focused on the story of Jonah, Bell writes the following:
What do I think? I don’t think it matters what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish. If you don’t believe it literally happened, that’s fine. Lots of people over the years have read this story as a parable about forgiveness” (p. 103).
The fact is, the story of Jonah is not about a fish. Bell is right about that. However, to undermine the literal qualities about the story is to diminish the miraculous and this is an ancient trick—one Thomas Jefferson employed in his attempt to moralize the teachings of Jesus. The problem with Bell’s conclusion is that Jesus interpreted the story of Jonah through a literal lens and applied it to His own death, burial, and resurrection—and we know that was literal (see Matt. 12:40).
Problems with the Theology of the Bible
Through the book, Bell deliberately writes with a choppy method, circular reasoning, asking and answering questions along the way. On many different levels, he remains ambiguously unclear about where he stands on specific theological matters. But, that’s not true regarding every issue. Tragically, Bell makes it explicitly clear where he stands regarding the nature the Bible as he consistently points to the human rather than the divine authorship, connects the flood of Noah to ancient flood stories, places Jesus’ resurrection in long line of other resurrection stories, and claims that the Levitical sacrificial system emerged from a long line of ancient sacrificial methods to false gods.
As he comes to the conclusion of his book, the last main section (part 4) is comprised of 15 short chapters that answer popular questions about the doctrines found in the Bible. In one chapter devoted to Jesus’ death, Bell comes to some troubling conclusions. Bell claims that Jesus didn’t have to die—he was murdered. Cloaking his doctrine with ambiguity—Bell seems to sidestep the answer. If the Bible is merely a human book, as Bell teaches throughout his book, the storyline of the Bible will be confused. As Bell writes on page 244:
God didn’t set up the sacrificial system. People did…The sacrificial system evolved as humans developed rituals and rites to help them deal with their guilt and fear…Over time those forces came to be personalized, so it wasn’t just the sun—it was the sun god. And then gradually those forces and gods were given names. And personalities. And attributes. And over time this one particular story emerged about one God who stood over all the others, who was doing something new in the world.
That sounds spiritual, but it’s biblically incorrect. God, in eternity past—long before any human beings were in existence—established the sacrificial system. In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23).
The fact is, Jesus’ death was not only the “definite plan” carried out by the foreknowledge of God—but He was also called the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” by John the Baptist (see John 1:29). If Jesus was viewed as the fulfillment of the Levitical sacrificial system as God’s Lamb and as Peter suggested that the cross—although horribly evil and murderous—was the plan of God, it would be incorrect to suggest that people set up the sacrificial system.
In his chapter on predestination, as you can imagine, it was never unpacked grammatically, historically, or theologically. It was merely dismissed with one question and answer and a few confusing conclusions between the two. At one point, Bell writes:
When I have been asked whether some are chosen or not, I always ask, How would you ever know such a thing? and more importantly, How would that ever make your life better (p. 253)?
The obvious answer to Bell’s question is simple—because God has communicated this truth to us in Scripture. Secondly, it makes our life better in the sense of coming to understand a proper revelation of God and His divine sovereignty over His creation. This should bring all of God’s children comfort.
Near the end of the book, Bell has a chapter (36) focused on the nature of God’s Word. The title comes in form of a question—Is It the Word of God? By now, it’s no surprise the way Bell answers the question. He says:
So the Bible is the word of God? Yes. Lots of things are…So one of the main points of the library of books that some refer to as the word of God is that there are lots of words of God and you can and should listen to them all? Exactly (p. 266-67).
In the footsteps of ancient liberals, Bell distracts his readers from the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture—and points them away from the Bible to God’s creation. Once again, this is backwards. General revelation—although important—is an insufficient guide that rests upon the special revelation of God’s Word. In a similar way of thinking, in his chapter on inerrancy, he asks if Luke ends his book with Jesus’ ascension because there was an ancient theory that Emperor Caesar, at the end of his life, ascended to the heavens to sit at the right hand of the gods. He concludes his chapter by asking and answering a very important question:
So is the Bible inerrant?
I have a higher view of the Bible than that (p. 282).
Finally, in the last pages of his book, Bell writes a note to his readers titled, “A Note on Growing and Changing.” It’s a little more than 3 pages of encouragement to push the limits, seek freedom from your former bondage, and celebrate it. He writes:
Groups have a center of gravity. Families, friends, churches, offices, and schools all have a dominant consciousness, a center of gravity, a party line. It’s the often unspoken agreement that keeps things running smoothly based on what to believe, how to behave, what’s acceptable, and what isn’t…This is why some churches ban books, this is why certain topics are off-limits at family gatherings, and this is often why people use words like heretic (p. 319).
Actually, we reserve the word heretic to describe people who have swerved from the faith or who teach a false gospel—attacking the very Word of God. Unfortunately, this is precisely the place where Rob Bell has moved. Possessing the articulate abilities of a smooth communicator, he leads people to embrace faulty interpretative methods that lead to a wrong view of God and wrong conclusions on essential biblical doctrines.
God is bigger, the Bible is greater, and our salvation is sweeter than the message delivered in Rob Bell’s book.
A copy of Rob Bell’s book, What Is the Bible? was sent to me by the publisher—HarperOne for the sole purpose of providing this review. The quotes cited in this review are taken from the published version of the book as received directly from the publisher and are documented by page numbers in the end notes.
Nearly 20 years after he promised to never write another book on parenting, Paul Tripp has once again entered the world of parenting—and his book is well worth your time. His book is centered on the type of parenting that brings lasting change. He writes in chapter four:
Here’s the bottom line for every parent: the change that has to happen in each of your children, you can’t create…This means that you and I have to be willing to let go of those old, human-power parenting habits. We have to stop with the loud voices, the escalating threats, the subtle name calling, words of condemnation, ever-worsening punishments, telling our children how much more righteous we are than they, the silent treatment, and withholding affection when they’ve upset us.
From the very outset, Tripp points to the sobering reality that all children belong to God and not to their parents. This foundational truth will enable parents to recognize their roles and responsibilities in the task of parenting from a gospel lens as opposed to a worldly approach. Only then will parenting be meaningful and God glorifying.
How many times have you witnessed parents who work hard at scaring their children into a certain type of behavior suitable to them? Maybe you’ve also witnessed the bribing mother who lures her children into an approved behavior through money or other material possessions. In either case, such parenting approaches the child in a wrong manner that will not bring God honoring change. Only through a direct parenting style that’s focused on the heart of the child will the parents see genuine change that honors God.
Tripp also points out the need for parents to value their children and to demonstrate that value by their investment of time. To show love to a child involves a real time investment that’s more than passing one another in the living room of your home. Tripp’s book on parenting is centered on a certain type of gospel centered discipleship. We are called to make disciples, and what better place to begin than in the home with the children entrusted to your care?
Tripp unfolds this discipleship model from the very beginning of the book as he makes a clear and powerful statement at the beginning of the first chapter. He writes, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” Tripp explains that your children’s capacity to worship is “the most important biblical insight for parents” (157).
I recommend this book as a resource for parents of all ages who desire to disciple, shepherd, and lead their children to Christ while raising them to be faithful parents in the future. Discipleship involves more than shouts and threats. It involves spiritual care and instruction that leads children to see their corruption in God’s law and their singular hope in Jesus Christ.
In 2008, William Paul Young wrote a book titled The Shack that was instantly a best-seller. It ascended to the top of the best-selling lists (including the New York Times and Amazon), and like many successful books often do, it has now morphed into a movie. The book originally written as a Christmas gift for a family has sold over 20-million copies and become one of the top 70 books in the history of printed books.
Recently the trailer for the movie based on Young’s book was released. The movie itself is set to be released in 2017, but the hype and anticipation has already started to build. That’s to be expected when you have people like Eugene Peterson making statements such as, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!”  To be honest, the trailer for the movie was greatly appealing and demonstrated a high quality that will likely be very successful. Why should Christians be concerned? What lessons can be learned from the success of The Shack that might help us all moving forward?
A Word About the Book—The Shack
The book itself demonstrates the fact that William Young is a good writer. Through the use of written language, Young captivates the reader with masterful descriptions of mysterious theological subjects and doctrines. This is always a wonderful way to teach the Bible and has long been employed by men like John Bunyan and C. S. Lewis, but in the case of The Shack, the teaching is sub-par, or to use the language of Albert Mohler in his review of the book back in 2010—”sub-biblical.” 
The book is based on the story of a man named Mackenzie (goes by Mack) and his encounter with the godhead following a horrible tragedy where his daughter (Missy) was brutally murdered in an old shack after being abducted during a family vacation. Although Young tackles some very difficult subjects related to human tragedy, in his attempt to point people to God, he instead points people to an African-American woman named Papa (who transformed at one point into a gray-haired man), a middle-aged man named Jesus who was of a Middle-Eastern descent, and a small woman of Asian descent named Sarayu. This is where things derail from the biblical theology tracks in an epic train wreck.
Like many books that become popular in evangelicalism (such as Heaven is for Real), when people are captivated by the emotion of hardship or tragedy, they’re often willing to accept the false teaching that walks through the open gates of their heart like a Trojan horse. Although William Young is a gifted communicator, what he communicates about God in his book The Shack is simply not true and it’s heresy. Therefore, no matter how his skill is with the English language and his ability to captivate his audience, if what he speaks isn’t true and if it violates the God of holy Scripture, we must avoid it. Although the movie can’t be reviewed, what can be accurately predicted is that no matter how well the acting and production of the movie is—the stench of heresy is already detectable from a distance.
A Call for Christian Discernment
Heavenly tourism books have become widely popular within the evangelical community in recent years. It seems that if one wants to be successful in the area of fiction and non-fiction, if a story can be captured about a person’s trip to heaven (or in this case – to a shack) where he or she interacts with God and returns to tell the vivid story with eye-popping details, it’s a sure recipe for success. This is a lamentable fact, and one that the evangelical church must come face-to-face with (Prov. 15:21).
As the psalmist declared in Psalm 119:66, we as God’s children should long for clear, controlled, and robust discernment. Since the Scriptures are God’s Word and the church is “a pillar and buttress of truth,” we must be able to “guard the good deposit” that has been entrusted to us (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim. 1:14). Therefore, laziness when it comes to biblical truth has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. There’s no reason a book like The Shack should find its way to the top of best-selling lists by the help of the Christian community.
Lessons to be Learned
Early in 2016 I was preaching in a conference held on the campus of a large Southern Baptist Church. Between sessions, I was given access to their library and coffee shop area where I could read and pray. As I browsed around the bookshelves, the paradox of evangelicalism was apparent on the shelves of this church’s library. On the same shelf separated by just a few books were two very different books by two very different authors—Sara Young’s Jesus Calling and Paul Washer’s The Gospel’s Power and Message. This is where we are as evangelicals, so long as Jesus’ names is used or the title contains Christian vocabulary, it’s readily received and granted access to the local church’s library.
Lessons to be learned from The Shack and other heavenly tourism books that fall into this same category are numerous. There are far too many lessons to learn than I have time and space to mention, but one noteworthy lesson is—doctrine matters. If we attempt to teach the Bible with stories, illustrations, anthropomorphism, and humor, that’s wonderful, but those stories, illustrations, anthropomorphisms, and humor must be communicated with theological precision. We don’t want a surgeon operating on us who has been guilty of medical malpractice, and that same principle is true when it comes to those who teach us the Bible.
This successful book that boasts of Christian theology presents an inaccurate view of the Trinity, reverses the masculinity of God into a feminine goddess, denies Jesus of His sovereignty as a member of the godhead, and maligns the proper understanding of the Holy Spirit. One of the core errors of the book is the improper understanding of submission and a rejection of Trinitarian hierarchy. It seems that there is a constant imbalance and misunderstanding of the roles and relationships between the members of the Trinity throughout the book and certainly will be played out in the movie. Tim Challies concludes in his thorough review of The Shack back in 2008, “Overall, I had to conclude that Young has an inadequate and often-unbiblical understanding of the Trinity.” 
In one scene, Jesus poked his head into the dining area to inform Papa that he had put the tools they would need just outside the door. Papa thanked Jesus, who kissed him on the lips and left out the back door. Where do we ever see Jesus informing the Father of anything in the Bible? In another scene, Jesus communicates the following to Mack:
Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.
If that’s not bad enough, Jesus goes on to communicate another ancient heresy to Mack by saying, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus continues by saying, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”
Mack responds to Jesus, “Do all roads lead to Christ?” Jesus then provides an answer that points to universalism—“Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” The answer to Mack’s question is an obvious rejection of verses such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 that teach the absolute exclusivity of Christ. Jesus doesn’t travel down the road of Mormonism to find people. Sure, Jesus can find lost sinners anywhere, but to suggest that “those who love” Jesus come from every system that exists is a tragic error. To communicate that Jesus doesn’t want to make anyone a Christian is a tragic mistake, and to teach people that Jesus wants to “join us” in our transformation into sons of Papa is a reversal of roles. Jesus is sovereign and we respond to Him. We love because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). This book, although celebrated by many Christians is an anti-Christian book and will subsequently become an anti-Christian movie.
One final take-away that we must learn from such books and movies is that God has one primary method of delivering His revelation to us and it’s through holy Scripture. To bypass the Bible and learn about the Trinity through The Shack is to do yourself a great injustice and the results will be catastrophic. God has a proper and fitting revelation of Himself, and He has unveiled that glorious revelation in the pages of sacred Scripture—not The Shack or any other book like it. Ancient mysticism has crept back into the church in our day, and unfortunately it’s widely popular. Why not just come to know God, true Christian theology, and a proper response to the deepest human suffering by reading God’s book—the Bible?
Indictments to be Received
The success of The Shack is a true indictment on the shallowness of mainstream evangelicalism. The church is not only called to evangelize the world with the gospel, she is also called to have biblical discernment. That lack of concern when it comes to understanding the Bible and the core essential teachings of Scripture among many evangelical Christians should bring about great concern. When bookstores, even Christian bookstores, are willing to peddle books like The Shack and other sub-Christian titles, we should be greatly concerned. Albert Mohler writes:
The Shack is a wake-up call for evangelical Christianity…The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us — a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine. 
A further indictment must be centered on the pulpit in the evangelical church today. Christians, if taught properly each Lord’s Day from the pulpit, would detest such books as The Shack. If robust teaching was the common diet, books like The Shack would be so unsuccessful that a movie producer wouldn’t give it a second thought—because in his mind he needs the evangelical church to buy tickets to watch it. Therefore, when the pulpit is shallow, dysfunctional, and sub-Christian—you can expect the people to crave that same type of entertainment.
Pastors guard your people by telling them the truth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, please make the movie version of this heretical book far less successful by staying home.
Statement by Eugene Peterson can be found as a glaring endorsement written on the front bottom of the paperback version in most cases.
I was given this book as a gift earlier this year by Tony Reinke titled, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ. It’s one of the books in a series on the Christian life published by Crossway. Other titles feature men such as Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Edwards, Luther, Packer, Schaffer, Warfield, and Wesley. As you can imagine, the entire series is worthy of your time.
From the beginning, I expected the book to be organized more as a biography, but as Reinke makes clear from the start, this isn’t a biography about Newton. While certain elements and events of Newton’s life are used in the writing of the book, it’s purpose is to see the Christian life through the lens of John Newton. As the subtitle makes clear, his lens was from the perspective of “To Live Is Christ.”
The book starts with a breathtaking review of a stormy night on the sea on March 21st, 1748 that literally shook Newton to his core. Fittingly so, this book begins with that event, and just as God often does, He uses storms and natural laws to awaken people to His sovereignty. Newton, the author of the most famous Christian hymn in English history, was a man who came to embrace a robust view of God’s sovereignty. As Reinke makes clear, “Grace is a battering ram. Grace is forced entry” (40). And that’s exactly how it entered Newton’s life as a twenty two year old depraved sailor.
Reinke, in a much needed statement of clarity, writes, “The Christian life is not comfortable. God makes us no promises to remove difficult circumstances, or alleviate our pains, or protect us from suffering, but he does promise sufficient grace for all our wants and needs” (43). We live in a world that looks to God as a “genie in a bottle” or a fairy of blessings rather than the God who sustains us even in the midst of the storms of life. In fact, as Newton came to understand, there is always a purpose in the storms of life.
In chapter three, Reinke does an excellent job of allowing us to see the world through Newton’s eyes. He explains that Newton believed that every human is hardwired to thirst for abiding joy that can only be satisfied in God (67). At this juncture, he cites Newton extensively and the footnotes are worthy of attention.
From every aspect of the book, Reinke strikes a good balance between the life of Newton and the Christian life that is common to all believers. From personal hardships to pursuits of joy in God, the book does an excellent job of visiting the 18th century experiences of John Newton while bridging the gap to our modern culture.
Reinke likewise does a good job of putting on display the language of Newton too. His use of metaphor was not only good for his poetry and hymn writing, but his preaching too. He was not a boring or stale preacher because he tapped into the soul with lucid language and like a “master craftsman” he connected well with his audience (41).
One of the truths that Reinke brought to the surface from the early pages and continued to demonstrate throughout the book is Newton’s love for God’s sovereignty. He quotes Newton as saying, “I am an avowed Calvinist” (26). He goes on to quote Newton as saying, “He loves us because he loves us…He loves us because of who he is, not because of what we are” (261). This may come as a surprise to the many Arminian congregations who use his famous song each week in their weekly worship services, but John Newton was not ashamed of his theological convictions. Reinke explains:
Once asked if he was a Calvinist, Newton plunked a lump of sugar into his tea, stirred the hot liquid, and said, “I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writing and preaching as I use this sugar. I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed, and diluted” (26).
One of the things I appreciated about this book was Reinke’s engaging style of writing and his ability to weave Newton and our modern Christian life into one story. In other words, Newton was his starting place but through his application the truths came home clearly. He used Scripture to drive the point home and bridge the gap successfully.
One of the weaknesses was the lack of structure in Newton’s life story. Although Reinke makes it clear from the beginning that his desire is not to provide a biography of Newton, it would have been nice to have some structure especially to the end. I was left wanting more of the end of Newton’s life. Reinke did bring us back to the reality of Newton’s idea (as he shared it with Calvin) that “all the world’s a stage, all the creation’s a theater, and all the Christina’s life is a dress rehearsal for glory” (267). He likewise reminded us of the theme or motto of Newton’s life “None but Christ” (266).
I recommend this book to you. It’s not an academic book written for the theology classroom or for the pastor-theologian. It’s a well written book that would be good for your entire family.
I recently picked up a book by Nate Palmer titled, Servanthood as Worship – The Privilege of Life in a Local Church at a conference I attended. I had not read anything by Nate Palmer before this book, but quickly I was sucked into the main premise of the book and before long, I had finished the first half without hardly blinking an eye.
The need for humility and servanthood in the church today abounds. We Americans live and die by the sword of pride. We often become so self consumed that we fail to look at the needs of others around us. This cripples the church and suffocates genuine humble minded service.
I particularly enjoyed Palmer’s focus on the motivation behind our service. Are we serving to be seen by others? Are we serving to climb the ladder of positions within the church? Are we serving to impress God? These are all heart related factors that must be considered when it comes to our service within the local church.
As you will notice, Palmer pulls from baseball and other areas of life as a means of illustrating his point regarding service. At one point, he talks about Brooks Robinson and how he played the game of baseball. He points out that although he was a gifted athlete with exceptional skills, he would not have been capable of playing the game and throwing out baserunners if there was not a team surrounding him on the field. All players need the context of a field and other players if they are to play the game. In the case of the church, everyone matters. All parts of the church context have their own level of importance and without the different parts being in place and functioning, the church would fall apart.
Although we all serve God from the particular giftedness that He has granted to us, we must always be reminded that our service is not intended to satisfy God’s holy justice. Palmer writes, “We do not serve for salvation, but from salvation. Serving is intended to magnify the gospel, not replace it.”
If we are all honest, we need this healthy reminder that Palmer provides for us in this short, yet impactful book. We need to remember that serving God is not for the ultra spiritual in the church or for the professional ministers alone. We are all gifted by God and the church functions to accomplish its mission through humble servants who long for God to gain much glory. It would do us all well to pause our busy routines and look around us to see if we can serve someone else other than ourself and our own family for a change. In so doing, we are not merely serving them, but serving God.
Nate Palmer and his wife, Steph, have three young kids and serve at GraceChurch Frisco in Dallas. Nate has been a management consultant and now works for the software firm, SAP. He holds an M.A .from Reformed Theological Seminary and his articles have appeared in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.
You can buy Servanthood as Worship – The Privileges of Life in a Local Church from: Cruciform Press
Last June, I was placed on a list to receive the prepublication copy of Don Whitney’s second edition to his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Few books exist that transcend time so well as this book, yet Whitney still found a way to add excellent content and updates to his classic. Only now have I finally found time to write a review of his book, and with great delight I hope to encourage you to purchase this book, read it, make notes, and revisit the pages of this book over the course of your spiritual life.
As a marathon runner, I recall my early days of pounding out the long runs in preparation for my first marathon. I can still remember the lack of preparation that led to the pain of blisters, muscle fatigue, and mental challenges that accompany the marathon. As I look back, I can see how some simple early adjustments related to my choice of shoes, socks, and my overall running plan could have prevented much frustration. Don Whitney’s book is a great resource for your journey in the Christian life. All new Christians should have it, and the aged Christian should revisit it often.
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Whitney’s book is thirteen chapters in length and covers ten spiritual disciplines:
Bible Intake (2 chapters)
Silence and Solitude
In the early pages of his book, Whitney writes:
The word rendered “discipline” in the New American Standard translation is the Greek word gumnasia from which our English words gymnasium and gymnastics derive. This word means “to exercise or discipline,” which is why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 4:7 as “exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” the English Standard Version as “train yourself for godliness,” and the New International Version as “train yourself to be godly.” It’s a sweaty word with the smell of the gym to it.
Like marathon running, we all find excuses. Most people I know hate to run and often tell me that they can’t run. They tell me of their knee pain or their surgery that prevents them from running long distances. While I understand what they are telling me to be true, I also know that the reason they choose not to run is likely based on their distaste for the discipline of running as opposed to the perpetual knee pain.
I know a man who after suffering a catastrophic injury in a factory had to have surgery to repair his leg by the insertion of a rod. His doctor told him that he would never run again. He went on to run in the Trans-American Footrace (running across the entire United States of America from coast to coast). He set the record for the fastest time to cover the entire Appalachian Trail (approximately 2,200 miles). He likewise went on to set the record for the fastest time on the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California at Mexico’s border to Canada (2,663 miles). We can always do more than we think if we dedicate ourselves to the task.
Don Whitney covers important spiritual disciplines and provides a biblical foundation, historical examples from men such as the Puritans, and deals with the popular excuses that often fuel a lack of discipline among Christians. For instance, when discussing Bible memorization, he writes, “Most people think they have a bad memory, but it’s not true.” He goes on to say, “most of the time memorizing is mainly a problem of motivation.”
In fact, that type of language is all throughout Whitney’s excellent book. He continuously insists on having a plan and organizing your effort to remain spiritually disciplined. From prayer to journaling, every aspect of the Christian life requires a plan of action. The people who refuse to have a plan typically burnout quickly in their Bible reading, prayer, and other important spiritual disciplines.
It’s not about reading the Bible in 365 days. That may not be possible for your reading speed and time. Nevertheless, you should chart your progress and have a plan to read through the Bible over time (many Bible reading plans exist online and are easy to use). Just like running a marathon requires discipline, so does the Christian life. Each individual discipline requires a plan and commitment to persevere in the faith.
As you set goals, establish plans, and chart your progress on the way to the Celestial City, I urge you to get a copy of Don Whitney’s book to aid you in this process. As much information as he provides, it’s laced full of wisdom and encouragement. A few claps and cheers on the side of the road will help you persevere toward the finish line in the marathon. Like a helpful aid station in a marathon, Don Whitney’s book serves as a major source of encouragement in the Christian life. I think you will agree!
Dr. Whitney came to Southern from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation for ten years. He has authored six books, includingSpiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and is a popular conference speaker, especially on personal and congregational spirituality. He served in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years.