Category Archives: Recommendations | Books

Update on Recommended Books

Recommended Books is now updated. Enjoy!


Best Books of 2008

Here are the best books that I read this year.

  1. You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester
  2. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey
  3. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells
  4. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp
  5. The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It by Os Guinness
  6. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller
  7. Christ and Culture Revisited by D. A. Carson
  8. Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
  9. Mission and the Coming of God by Tim Chester
  10. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert M. Wolters
  11. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures by Dennis E. Johnson
  12. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach by Vern Sheridan Poythress
  13. Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp
  14. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
  15. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck



Some books that disappointed me

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright

Though well written and very helpful at times, his understanding of the Gospel makes this a very confusing/dangerous book. Not recommended.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

The first five chapters are quite good but the last two run out of steam abruptly. I guess I just expected more from Dr. Keller particularly in light of Reason for God.

Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View by Brian J. Walsh and Richard Middleton

For all the recommendation, it’s a curious thing that a Christian Worldview is supposed to demolish Capitalism and replace it with a modified Socialism. First half fair; second half propaganda.

The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright by John Piper

Three fourths of the book involved explaining Wright’s view and the other fourth was a weak defense of the biblical doctrine of Justification. This books needs to be read with Counted Righteous in Christ for any benefit— in my humble opinion.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

It was rather disappointing with all this book’s insight that it ends with the declaration (albeit humble) that changing culture is only ultimately in God’s hand. The first two thirds of the book candidly withheld this conclusion. Still worth the read, just have lower expectations of influencing the culture around you.

Surprisingly Good Books:

The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones and A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All (Living Way: Emergent Visions) by Doug Pagitt

Jones’ book is worth the read and well written. Pagitt’s is heresy with a capital “h” but a good manifesto on Emergent theology and missiology; a must read for those who want to understand this movement.

Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck

Didn’t think this book would live up to the hype. It did. Well done.

Christ and Culture Revisited by D. A. Carson

I don’t know why I doubted the contribution of this book before I read it. It’s a great read and very astute. Read it.


Some other top book lists of 2008.

Tim Challies
David Dockery
Tullian Tchividjian
Trevin Wax
Tony Reinke

Andreas Köstenberger


Best Books Thus Far

2008 is half over. Here are the best books I’ve read so far this year, in order.

  1. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey
  2. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller
  3. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Resources for Changing Lives) by Paul David Tripp
  4. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells
  5. Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
  6. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures by Dennis E. Johnson
  7. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach by Vern Sheridan Poythress
  8. Do I Know God?: Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian
  9. The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John M. Ensor
  10. Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World by J. Mark Bertrand
  11. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens by Neil Cole
  12. Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought by W. Andrew Hoffecker

The Necessity (and Danger) of Contextualization

In Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (retold in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, free book here and audio: 2006 Desiring God National Conference ), David F. Wells has a fascinating story that demonstrates the necessity of contextualization:

The country’s ambassador was an American who has lost his seat in Congress and wanted a judgeship. That didn’t work out, so he settled for being an ambassador to Sarkhan. He did not believe in trying to understand the history and the customs of the people of Sarkhan, and he discouraged the embassy staff from doing that too. And in this account, the United States sends off to Sarkhan a gift of rice, and so it’s carried to Sarkhan in American ships, transported in American trucks. It is a wonderful ceremony. There are all these American officials stand­ing around, making a formal presentation of this gift. What they don’t realize is that some Communists sneaked in and stenciled “This Is a Gift from Russia” on the bags of rice, written in Sarkhanese. So here you have the American officials making these very formal speeches about this gift that they’re giving, and the problem was they didn’t understand the language. They didn’t know what was actually happen­ing and what the people understood from the ceremony.

Theology is undoubtedly about timeless truth that we have in Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But it is timeless truth that needs to be brought by God’s people into their own particular context.

He warns:

This, right now, has become a very agitated discussion right across the front, and it’s especially interesting in missionary circles. There is a movement now among some missiologists who are arguing not sim­ply that missionaries should adapt the culture of the place where they go—dressing like them, learning their customs, language, history (what the ambassador should have done in Sarkhan)—but they’ve actually gone one step further and argued that people can receive Christ within the context of other religious cultures such as Hinduism and Islam. They can receive Christ without leaving those contexts and religions. So in this missionary context you really don’t have a church, because, of course, a church would very often imperil Christians: the moment they’re baptized, they get killed. This is a way, they’re arguing, to pen­etrate these cultures.

Here, in my judgment, a line has been crossed that is fatal to the gospel and to Christian faith, and derogatory to Christ. What you really have is a synthesis, the paganism of the Old Testament against which the prophets prophesied. We can’t have Christ and these other religions, but we also can’t have Christ and our own cultural practices where those practices and those beliefs violate what an understanding of Christ and a following of Christ requires. So it requires discernment on our part to see how we can get alongside people and speak their language, learning what habits, practices, and customs we can adopt without violating the truth, but also how that timeless truth can be made to intersect with the way in which people think.

Finally, he contends that expository preaching must be contextualized:

I happen to believe principally in expository preaching. But if I have a critique of expository preachers, it is that some of them think that once they have unpacked the truth of a text, they’ve done their work. And sometimes this is reinforced by the belief that the Holy Spirit will accomplish what they haven’t done. God in his grace undoubtedly does do that, but if simply reading the Bible was sufficient, why would God have given to the church teachers and preachers or teaching preachers? Preachers need to take that additional step. And especially here in America—as people are coming out of an increasingly pagan­ized culture where the Christian memory gets more and more distant, where people in the pews understand less and less or bring less and less of a Christian worldview with them—it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds. The line must be drawn so clearly that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not, and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. It goes all the way from people sitting in pews in America to missionaries who are doing their evangelism in a Hindu or Islamic context. (pp. 168-170)

God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams is the one best book I’ve ever read.

Matters of the Heart

Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor is a highly recommended book on dating/courting. Here are some thoughtful quotes.

Idyllic love is pornographic in the sense that it presents a relationship as we idealize it rather than as it comes. In pornography love is idealized as sexual satisfaction without intimacy, friendship, or obligations. It is not real, in romance novels it is idealized as intimacy, friendship, and mauls sacrifice and suffering, with no body noises or smells. This, too, is unreal.

Idyllic love is idolatry because it places on a man what only God can provide. No man can fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart because these longings belong to God alone and cannot be filled by another. Our desire for a healthy, tender, passionate, enduring, mutually fulfilling life with a good man or woman will always he a work in progress. There is no perfect marriage, only two people pledged to live together for better and worse. The best lover is still a sinner. [p. 48]

In contrast, I am the only condom my daughter will ever need. I am her protection. I have modeled for her what kind of man to look for in marriage by how I live and love her mother. I have shown her what to look for—someone who values integrity and lives in submission to God, someone who works hard for his family and laughs loud with them and can’t keep his hands off his wife. My boys too are watching and learning from me. [p. 57-58]

Wendy Shalit: “The best predictor of someone’s future behavior is their past behavior,” warns YM magazine in 1998. This is what used to be known as a reputation. All the questions a woman might wonder when it comes to the man she’s about to become involved with-—Is he moral? Is he good? And does he know what it means to be a man?—have been reduced to this. For we are not supposed to care if he’s moral (who knows what’s moral?), or if he’s good (who knows what’s good?), and above all we are not allowed to ask if he knows what it means to be a man. That, of course, would be extremely uncool because that would be sexist. One cannot ask about male honor because male honor is supposed to be oppressive to women. Every woman of my generation knows this—we learned it with our ABC’s. (p. 66-67)

Continue reading

Moralistic Preaching: Its Main Weakness


In Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, Dennis E. Johnson points out the weaknesses in moralistic/exemplaristic of OT saints, being a direct model for New Covenant believers absent of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The great weakness of moralistic, exemplaristic preaching is its tendency to enlist Old Testament examples in order to lay ethical obligations on hearers without showing how Christ kept covenant faithfulness where the negative examples failed, and how Christ’s perfect righteousness fulfills even the best obedience offered by the Old Testament’s most positive examples. By “cutting the corner” and bypassing the text’s “fulfillment in Christ” …in a desire to show the text’s relevance to hearers’ daily struggles and relationships, moralism excises from the biblical narratives the source of their life-changing power, which is their testimony to the saving mercy of God in the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus. When Christ and his all-fulfilling role as Lord and Servant of the covenant are left out of the “equation” the narratives of Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, David, and Nehemiah are subtly transformed from gospel into law: “Do this and live”; “Imitate X and live.” The law, however, as “holy and righteous and good” as it is as a divine standard (Rom. 7:12) is weakened by our fallen, sinful nature and cannot impart the life and spiritual strength needed for us to obey its commands or emulate its positive exemplars (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:2 1; 2 Cor. 3:6-9). (p. 234)

Since the grace of the exodus set the context for the stipulations that Israel was to observe as the Lord’s servant, how much more should Christian preachers expound those many biblical texts that shine the spotlight on the responsibilities of God’s covenant servants (whether commandments, wisdom maxims, or narratives that profile faithful or unfaithful responses to the Lord of the covenant) by calling attention to God’s gracious provision of Jesus, the Servant who kept covenant commandments and bore covenant curse in our place! But our exposition of imperative texts does not stop with what Christ has done for us; it also extends to what Christ, by his Word and Spirit, is doing in us. In the context of his achievement of our redemption, the Spirit’s gracious, persistent application of redemption in our sanctification is good news as well. (p. 367)


11 Innovations in the Local Church

11 Innovations in the Local Church: How Today’s Leaders Can Learn, Discern and Move Into the Future by Elmer L. Towns, Ed Stetzer, and Warren Bird is a very useful survey of 11 various innovations that have occurred in the local church in the last decade or so. The 11 innovations are:

  1. Organic House Churches
  2. Recovery Churches
  3. Multi-site Churches
  4. Ancient-Future Churches
  5. City-Reaching Churches
  6. Community Transformation Churches
  7. Cyber-Enhanced Churches
  8. Nickelodeon-Style Children-Focused Churches
  9. Intentionally Multicultural Churches
  10. Decision—Journey Churches
  11. Attractional Churches

The purpose of the book is summarized in the following:

I have become convinced that two of the biggest issues for evangelicals in the next 10 years will be ecclesiology and missiology. Ecclesiology (“study of church”) helps us to understand what a church is and how it should function. Missiology (“study of mission”) helps us to see what methods and ministries will be most effective at reaching our community. (p. 235)

The authors provide a reductionistic, though operative, definition of what a church is:

Our working definition of church is “an assembly of professing believers, uniquely indwelt by Jesus Christ, under the discipline of the Word of God, administering the ordinances and led by spiritually gifted leaders.” This definition of church is an irreducible minimum. We need to measure all innovations by the seed of this truth and ask the question, “Does this innovation bear the marks of a New Testament Church?” (p. 18)

The authors are more critical of some innovations over others.

For example, concerning multi-site churches, Stetzer poignantly declares:

One reason that many of these multi-site churches are growing is that they are “better” than the churches already in a community. They offer more quality and people are attracted to such. But at some point, the gospel cannot and must not attract people simply because we do it better. it must ultimately be about Jesus, the gospel and sacrifice—and that does not require a video screen and a national structure.

As a missiologist, I (Ed) always ask if it is reproducible. If something can’t reproduce, it has natural limits on its ability to expand and influence. For some models of multi-site churches, multiplication of leaders can be hard. You can always start another site, but what about creating new leaders who develop other leaders? It is comparably easy to start another campus, but it is quite hard to grow another Andy Stanley! (pp. 93-94)

I found the chapter on Nickelodeon-Style Children-Focused Churches to be intriguing and worrisome. Regarding Andy Stanley’s children’s program, UpStreet, in that church:

The leadership believes that they only have a short window of time before a kid becomes a teenager (only 364 weekends). They say that every kid must realize three things: (1) They need to make wise choices; (2) they can trust God no matter what; and (3) they should treat others the way they want to be treated. Therefore, every week they try to get across one basic point that will lead to wise choices. They want every phrase, every story and every song to somehow highlight one of those three choices. (p. 168)

UpStreet gets across those choices in an eerily mechanistic way.

While the kids are in UpStreet and the adults ate in their worship hour, the leadership divides the 70 minutes of UpStreet into the following:

• 10.6 minutes getting ready to listen

• 12.4 minutes listening

• 15.1 minutes singing

• 6.3 minutes praying

• 24.9 minutes hanging out with their group and talking about everything they’ve learned

The leadership says, “We’re never sure what happens to the other .7 minutes, but we’re sure it’s a meaningful time.” (p. 169)

Interesting. The authors question the missional effectiveness of such children’s programming in an increasingly secular/post-Christian ethos.

The children’s ministry does reach Christians seeking a church and, to some degree, the interested unchurched. However, our culture seems to be increasingly secular, which makes us question why more churches are focusing on the interested unchurched segments of society. Generally, people who are open to being reached by a “better version” of church have already responded. What is needed now is a new way to reach beyond the low-hanging fruit of those with a religious memory who hope their children will have a religious upbringing. (p. 184)

Elmer Towns recalls his experience of coming back to the US from Laos and the cultural difference of Christianity in each.

When I looked at their faith in Christ through the eyes of their own culture, rather than through the eyes of my American culture, I began to realize the bias I was bringing with my questions. Back in the United Stares Christianity is the dominant faith. Many people think oft heir country as a Christian nation, and they even think of themselves as Christians because they live in a culture that they perceive as heavily shaped by Christian values.
As a result, in American evangelism we emphasize a crisis decision in order to help people distinguish a living faith from a cultural Christianity. One view involves a faith relationship with Jesus Christ and the other labels you a Christian solely because of the place you were born or the good works you’ve done. (p. 198)


When people are forced to make a salvation prayer too soon, they only repeat empty words and are therefore nor truly born again. He claimed that when preachers used a call to salvation only as a formula, their converts didn’t possess eternal life. They entered the church and were baptized, and many times they were persuaded that their soul was secure, but they were actually lost forever. Billington believed that American church rolls were filled with names of people who claimed to be Christian but were never saved. (p. 208)

The call for attractional churches to deal with consumerism was refreshingly powerful.

It’s simply not possible to lead an attractional church without appealing to people—and lost people are often “appealed to” by attractional churches. We live in a consumer-oriented society, and appealing to consumers is both a part and a result of being an attractional church.

So the question is not whether consumerism exists or whether churches appeal to consumers. Instead, the question we should be asking is, What will churches do with consumers (the unchurched) when the Bible calls us to a life of sacrifice and service? Attractional churches with conviction will lead the uncommitted consumer to become a committed disciple. (p. 229)

Regarding City-Reaching Churches they state:

Simply put, Christians and their churches need a vision that’s bigger than their neighborhood. They need a vision to reach a city, its people and its potential. That so means reaching more than just people who look like us; it means engaging men and women from every tongue, tribe and nation (see for a helpful tool to identify the “nations” within a city).

If you don’t read the entire book, the last chapter is well worth your time.

Yet all of out innovations, whether bold or common, haven’t done much good in terms of addressing the Church’s deeper issues. After 50 years of sprucing up our churches and spicing up our worship, the culture is less reached and those who go to churches are less committed. There is something wrong and innovation has not “yet” answered the deeper issues. And yet church innovation still matters.

Some assume that because methodological innovation is not working, there is something wrong with the gospel and the Scriptures. Thus, they innovate their theology. The logic goes like this: If we just changed our view of the atonement, sexuality or Scripture, that would “fix” the problem of the Church. Beyond the obvious difficulty that such a solution is theologically problematic, there is another problem: It doesn’t work! It’s been tried many times before. The Modernists of the early twentieth century tried to accommodate Christianity to modern science; they ended up scientifically correct but spiritually bankrupt. In the 1960s, some of the mainline denominations tried to think outside the box in the name of relevance. Sadly, many ended up irrelevant because they had no message other than the often fuzzy message of culture—do good, try’ hard, be “spiritual.” After they innovated away the Scriptures, even the unchurched were no longer interested. (pp. 236-237)

Jude 3 tells us to contend. First Corinthians tells us to contextualize. They both matter. The focus here is on what to contend for and what to contextualize in the innovated church. Are there some things for which we are to contend with the church? Yes. There are theological, moral, spiritual and communal issues for which we are to contend. Are there some things to contextualize and innovate in the church? Yes. The challenge is to know which is which. Our challenge to you is to sort that out for your particular context. (p. 238)

Whenever Christian people decide that the church does not matter, they end up following the world’s agenda and the church is soon marginalized to irrelevance. However, whenever the Christian people decide that the world does not matter, they end up in sectarian irrelevance. Both are dead ends of Kingdom growth. Instead, the church must be viewed as both essential for the gospel but also essential to the world.

The church matters to the mission of God, in every era and in every culture. In theological terms, though the missio dei is larger than the church, the missio ecclesia is to fulfill the mission of God in the world with the help of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the church is to fulfill the mission of God. The church is His hands and feet and lips in the world. Ultimately, we must not degenerate into a false sense of the church as “institution.” When the church continues to perceive itself properly and operate as the “people of God,” then the evangelistic mandate is kept alive through the missio dei. However, if the infectious attitude of the world that regards the church only as a religious or political establishment begins to hold sway among Christians, then the temptation faced is that survival of a local congregation or denomination is the ultimate goal. (p. 239)

If we did not innovate, we would still be meeting in synagogues on Saturday. Innovation is needed, but biblical discernment must come first. If not, we can innovate away what church is. Churches often wish to do ministry out of the box. That can be a good thing, depending on how you define the “box.” If by box we mean traditions (often past innovations) that have lost their meaning in contemporary culture, we can and should innovate so that the gospel can be more clearly presented. If, however, the box is the biblical church and its essentials, our innovation is compromise, not contextualization. (pp. 240-241)

Also, remember that a method that works in one culture may flop in another. Because cultures are different, it takes different methods to reach people in different cultures. The same thing can be said about time: Methods change over time. What worked 200 years ago, such as the circuit-riding Methodist preacher who focused on church planting, often doesn’t work today. Therefore, we need to remember the following:

• An effective method is always the application of a principle to culture, so look behind every method to see if it’s based on a biblical principle.

• The methods (innovations) mentioned in this book may not be effective one, two or three decades from now.

• These methods may not work outside the United States in a different culture.

• These methods may not work in every place inside the United States, because the American society has so many cultures that tradition may work in one place and not work in another. (pp. 240-241)

Bottom Line!

So what can you learn from this book? Always keep your focus on the gospel message. Don’t change it, and don’t let anyone else change it for you. But when they sing the gospel message by a different instrument, if you don’t like it, at least pray for those who sing it, and grow in Christ because of it. (p. 245)