Thursday, July 24, 2014

China's Reforming Churches

China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom Edited by Bruce P. Baugus

The explosion of church growth in China has been happening at an alarming rate.  The house church movement has seen dramatic growth over the past 25 years.  Yet, what is happening in the church of China as it connects to Reformed worship and practice?  These and other questions are ones tackled by the contributors to the new book entitled China’s Reforming Churches edited by Bruce Baugus.  The book is split into four sections that outline the history, present state, challenges and tradition of Presbyterianism in China.  With 13 chapters, a conclusion and two appendices, the book provides a thorough analysis of the issues regarding Presbyterianism in China.  

Michael M. traces the early Protestant missionary involvement in China to Robert Morrison in 1807.  With restrictions on proselytizing, Morrison in his twenty-seven years in China was able to translate the Bible into Chinese, found a college, put together a Chinese-English dictionary and do many other activities that promoted Christ (10).  Coming from a conservative Presbyterian conviction, Morrison also relied heavily on the WCF as he taught his way through the Scriptures.  Even throughout the early missionary efforts, there was no less than 12 particular Presbyterian and Reformed church bodies in China, from the northeast to other eastern provinces (see pp. 32-33 and table on 32). 

One of the fascinating challenges of the Christian faith in China is the relationship between the way the culture views the faith and the participants of the faith.  One government scholar from China writes, “In the eyes of the average Chinese, Christianity is still regarded as a religion of the West and an “imported product” of Western culture….In China’s mainstream media and publications, Christianity has only changed from having a negative role to a “neutral” one; its presence it tolerated without the need for public criticism (109).”  There is still not widespread openness to the publication of Christian materials in China.  Yet, there moving from a negative to a neutral (if neutral positions even exists) can lead Christianity to a better viewpoint for most Chinese.

One of the challenges of promoting Biblical Presbyterianism is China is the often mish mash of certain Presbyterian practices within house church movements.  “When these churches began to discuss the possibility of establishing a presbytery, it became clear that they wanted to maintain the status quo of episcopal structure and diversity of practices (127).”  The structure of Presbyterian government, including Presbyteries, is designed so that each member works together as part of organic unit.  If one pastor engages in practicing infant baptism but another adamantly rejects this teaching, how does unity continue in the church?  I would add that the complicated relationship between Presbyterian denominations in America connecting with churches in China often add to the turmoil that exists in these local congregations.  The way forward is not to pick up a certain few elements of Presbyterianism and adopt them, but to carefully seek to form Presbyterian practices that each elder commits to as a whole. 

I really enjoyed this book, even as it was written by many contributors.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Titus for You by Tim Chester

Titus for You by Tim Chester

We are often unfamiliar with the Pastoral Epistles in the church.  Church government and leadership puzzle us because we’d rather get on with the show.  Yet, the book of Titus, is such an important book for the church today.  Pastor Tim Chester gives us much to chew on as he opens up the book of Titus to us in his new commentary, Titus for Everyone, published by thegoodbook company.  In the introduction, Tim brings out the point that appointed church leadership is part and parcel of the book of Titus, but this is important in the context of evangelical zeal for the gospel.  The process of appointing church leaders should not denigrate zeal for the gospel but promote life giving energy for the good news of Jesus Christ (12). 

Tim quickly gets into some troubling waters for many Christians when writes about the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Why preach the good news if God is the one who elects sinners?  Tim writes, “But for Paul it had the opposite effect.  He knew there were people out there who God had chosen to make alive.  All they needed was someone to preach the gospel.  And he could be that person.  If he preached, then those who God had chosen would put their faith in Christ.  It might be a long process, but God would save his elect (16).”  The very fact of God’s choosing or electing sinners for salvation should push us to see the grand occasion we have for proclaiming God’s salvation in Christ.  Paul knew that the gospel being proclaimed depended upon his words, his life, and his witness to what Jesus had done for him.  Tim reminds us that Titus finds this harmony of sovereignty and proclamation at the heart of God’s mission in the world. 

Tim’s emphasis on grace in writing about Titus 2.11-15 is also very illuminating.  He writes, “Grace does not simply prepare us for the future age (by saving us from God’s judgment).  Grace also shapes our lives in the present (78).”  There is a sanctifying grace that we inherit and a saving grace that we experience but also future grace.  Paul is pleased to talk about the appearing of Jesus in light of his grace and glory.  What does this mean for present believers?  Well, for one, it means that we do not live the Christian life like a man alone on a raft at sea, but amidst a believing community that shares in the same grace.  Tim’s outline of (Grace has appeared, What grace teaches us, Glory will appear, an How grace teaches us) is helpful in understanding the comings of Jesus.

Overall, this short commentary is very beneficial in outline the major contents of Titus.  While being bother pastorally sensitive and theologically solid, this commentary will be a great resource for pastors and students alike.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and thegoodbook company for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton) by Jonathan Allen and Aimee Parnes

A crushing defeat at the hands of Senator Barak Obama in the 2008 election could have made Hillary’s political legacy vanish, but this did not take place.  Rather, Hillary is galvanizing efforts for re-election in 2016.  In this new book, HRC, written by Jonathan Allen and Aimee Parnes, we are taken into the poltical machinations surrounding Hillary’s decisions, what led to her demise in 2008, and how she handles her position now.  Filled with stories, gossip, and analysis, this book is biography is sure to irk some and inform others. 

Allen and Parnes begin the introduction by  voicing reason to her failure at the 2008 bid by writing, “The failure of her 2008 presidential campaign could be attributed in part to the way she rewarded longtime allies with jobs that they were ill-equipped to execture,…(5).”  Not only this, but many key supporters early on for HRC changed their endorsements near the opening of Super Tuesday (Claire McCaskill, Ted Kennedy, and John Lewis, 12-13).  Further, the political machinery of Obama was running right through the Capitol at a dizzying speed, even snapping up the likes of Jason Altmire, who had supported Bill in his early career.  The changing of the guard was taking place well before Hilary’s people caught on. 

The chapter on Promise and Peril was my favorite.  The authors take the route of describing Hilary’s travels to the Middle East amongs the Arab Spring, rallying for peace and speaking forcefully.  Right before the fall of the Tunisian state, Hillary gave a speech that was powerful and memorable.  The authors write, “Hillary aides still recall that members of the State Department’s traveling press corps raved about her speech (212).”  Cutting to the chase and pointing fingers at the would be terrorists was not a common approach that Hillary took in speeches, but this was no time for skating around words.

Although this book had some good insight into the Hillary political machine, it is filled with gossip also.  I would recommend the chapter on the Arab Spring.

Thanks to Crown Publishers and the Blogging for Books program for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Worshipping with Calvin

Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism by Terry L. Johnson

Having been a long time conversation partner in the worship debates and the development of Presbyterian worship and theology, Terry L. Johnson is the right person to write a book with the name Worshipping with Calvin.  Terry builds a case for Reformed Worship along the lines of it being bible filled, church aware, gospel structured and spirit dependent.  Also, he rails against the contemporary worship movement with its emphasis on emotional highs and loose structure as providing no theological and biblical foundations for believers to truly grow in their faith.  What turns out is a book that is well-researched and builds a strong case for the enduring legacy of Reformed Worship.

In speaking about the nature of prayers of the Reformation Terry writes, “Consequently, while all the prayers of the Reformation era orders of service are based on Scripture, they followed the Patristic example in that some were prescribed and others were “left to the discretion of the minister,” as the rubrics say of Calvin’s prayer of illiumination (113).”  The nature of their prayers was drawn from the pages of Scripture itself, prayer for civil authority, Christian ministry, all men, sanctification of the saints, and for the afflicted, while the very words of the prayers were sometimes left to the creativity and mind of the preacher.  What this did was allow the congregation to hear prayers from its minister that were in keeping with God’s Word that would enrich and teach, while giving some liberty to the heart of the minister.  This kind of bible filled prayer was key in keeping with the gospel message of the Scriptures, bringing God’s Word to bear on even the prayers, so personal and beautiful, of the ministers. 

One of the most obvious but much needed admonitions of Terry to his readers is his writing about tradition.  At one point he writes, “First, by honoring universal practice congregations can join hands in worship with the church of the past, the church triumphant, using the forms that they used before us; singing their hymns and psalms, praying their prayers, preaching expositorily (as they did), and generally using their order (265).”  There is a common bond we have with the church going back centuries and this is no less apparent in our structures of worship, preaching, and prayers.  Terry makes the case earlier that the early church fathers moved through preaching Sundays book by book through the Scriptures.  Reformed churches that carry on this practice remain in solidarity with these ancient fathers and their practices. 

I would say the greatest weakness of the book is Terry’s kneejerk reaction to the Contemporary Worship Movement.  His criticism that the Contemporary Worship movement gives way to market driven approaches and pop culture is spot on, yet he offers no takeaway from these approaches that is positive.  He quotes from Sally Morgenthaler about video clips being used in church service but offers no way in which these clips could be used for believer’s good.  I’m not part of this contemporary worship movement but I’ve seen my share of video clips in Reformed and Presbyterian evangelical churches that is not over the top but really emphasizes the points of the sermon.  Terry gives a rather unbalanced view of Contemporary Worship and blacklists the entire movement without giving credence to those churches (Reformed) that use these elements well.

I really enjoyed this book, especially the chapter on how the church has a past to contend with, a past with a rich view of worship.

Thanks to EP Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for review.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's Best Next by Matt Perman

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman

Gospel-driven life, gospel preaching, gospel living, are we done yet with the tag?  Yet, as I picked up Matt Perman’s new book, What’s Best Next, I think the gospel used here is crucial to the entire book.  The book is about how we see work, productivity, and the gospel intertwined together.  In reality, you come away with a book that relates the good news and work to many areas of life including business, your core principles, mission, love, and good works.  My initial response to the title and the cover was that this was going to be a boring book about work and faith, but boy was I wrong.

Matt goes into the discussion of productivity with a razor sharp aim on the key issues.  He comments concerning intentionality that, “What we see here is that love for God should also lead us to be concerned with time management (65).” Our faith is not to be sequestered in a corner where moth and cobwebs appear but as an impulse to make intentionality, time management, and putting first things first in order.  Referencing Mike Allen, Matt also indicates that the greatest obstacle to productivity is the amount of input that we receive on a daily basis (64).  It is overwhelming to deal with email, texts, and other avenues of communication in our global world.  Not only is an obstacle to deal with the amount of input, but it is also a challenge to know how to put priority matters in order and less priority matters as well. 

We would all do well to read and re-read Matt’s chapter entitled Put Others First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life.  He writes, “The guiding mindset of our lives is to be: how can I do good for others?  How can I benefit my neighbor?  In other words, the good of others is to be the motive and criteria for all that we do.  The good of others is “what’s best next.” (87)  Rather than placing the motivation for good in our self-satisfaction, turning outward toward our neighbor allows our love to be evidenced by others.  I would also add a caveat here; namely, the good that we do to our neighbors does not help them if we don’t know their personalities, their wants and the things they desperately need.  Material means are great, but many times people desire a listening ear or a friend to play with their children.  By serving others in this way, we show them the love of Christ very clearly.

One key thing mentioned by Matt is worth repeating here about workflow.  He writes, “I’m not advocating checking email once a day.  I do advocate checking it in batches, rather than continually, because otherwise you are essentially interrupting yourself all day (212).”  Why is this so important?  Well, for one, constant email checking (guilty as charged) can move you away from focusing on your primary or most important tasks of the day.  Second, checking constant email moves you away from human interaction at times when a face to face conversation is the best kind of communication.  Matt has some really good points here that are worth going back to.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about work and the gospel.

Thanks to Zondervan and BookLook Bloggers for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.