Monthly Archives: June 2011

My 52 Books #7 “Our Story” by the Quecreek Miners, compiled by Jeff Goodell

This is a fascinating story about 9 miners, in the town of Quecreek, Pennsylvania, who wound up trapped in the depths of a coal mine for 77 hours.  The way it was told, however……That’s another issue.  If this book were picked up by a novel writer or pretty much anyone who can tell a good story, it would have been a great read.  Instead it was written like an hour long news report with a narrator filling in the gaps between the member interviews.  This approach does give a lot of direct quotes from the miners and their families, but it also leaves in the poor grammar and speech that makes them sound a lot less intelligent than they probably are, and doesn’t leave you sympathizing with them by the way they actually experienced the trauma.  It was lot of, “we thought we was gonna die”, without digging into the progression of that reality.  I usually wouldn’t say this, but it could have used a little hollywood flavor to get the reader engaged with the story.  It would definitely make for a good novel/movie, but it just didn’t deliver in this book.

While I never really had an interest in mining (still don’t), it does give you a good picture as to how life in a coal mine works, and the desperation in a persons life that might lead someone to that field of work.  Overall, I think the story itself could make for a great novel or movie (if done well), but this was read like someone just interviewed the miners and their wives and then compiled the quotes to make a book.  I don’t usually give books away, but this might end up at Goodwill very soon.


My 52 Books #6 “The Case for the Real Jesus” by Lee Strobel

If you have been swimming in the sea of modern scholarship (whether you are a teacher or college student), you are bound to run into a number of arguments against the Bible.  When Lee Strobel first set out toward writing “The Case for Christ”, he was an atheist looking for hard facts.  He did not want to jump into Christianity because his wife did.  There was no room in his skeptical framework for blind faith.  That is another review, but he was given enough information to make an educated decision (which Jesus demands for all who would come to Him, Luke 14:27-33) and he has since been a great advocate for the authenticity of the gospel of Christ.  Yet that does not mean that he/we stop asking questions.

In this book, Strobel makes his way around the world to tackle the current issues raised toward the Bible.  A number of the arguments that are addressed concern not only the reliability of the Scriptures, but whether the surrounding culture of the time may have had any influence in it’s progression.  One of the great aspects of Strobel’s writings is found in the fact that he does not claim to have the answers to the questions raised.  But seeks them out by playing devils advocate to experts who say they do.

The first item addressed is the old claim that there were conspiracies in the churches struggle for power and that there were other books, just as credible as the New Testament writings, that were edited out (ever get that claim?).  Books like the gospel of Thomas, Judas, Mary Magdalene, and the Secret Gospel of Mark.  The only problem with these is that they were written in the 2nd and 3rd century (way too far removed from the actual events), and do not hold up to the critical historical criteria for what would be considered historically credible for the time they claim, let alone the fact that many of them contain really strange material.  Some of these are certified hoaxes (i.e. Secret Mark), and others either give no credence to the historic Jesus or are simply additions with a gnostic bent.

Other questions concern whether there were mistakes or deliberate tampering with the text at the time.  “Only about one percent of the manuscript variants affect the meaning of the text to any degree, and not a single cardinal doctrine is at stake”.  It is the equivalent of punctuation errors.  There is just no evidence that there was scribal tampering (The telephone analogy crashes and burns here).

The issue of whether there are credible arguments against the resurrection is addressed, and well….  After checking this out (I love the fact that there is a good sized section for the citations in the back), I would say with a great deal of confidence that the evidence for the resurrection, historically speaking, is far greater than many of the things we take as historical fact.  It’s just a matter of digging to find it.

The chapter I found most appealing was the topic, “Were Christian beliefs about Jesus stolen from pagan religions?”  We hear this stuff getting pumped out of community colleges (even some major universities), to students who are given no resource to fact check any of it.  It’s a sad reality, but many are buying it.  There are “simply no examples of dying and rising gods that preceded Christianity and which have meaningful parallels to Jesus’ resurrection.”  They were debunked years ago, but still reside on the tongues and papers of fringe scholars.

The question of questions, which deals with a lot of postmodern mindsets these days is, “Should people be free to pick and choose what they want to believe about Jesus?”  There are a lot of inconsistencies with the relativism that comes with postmodernism, and in this case religious relativism falls very short with what corresponds to reality.  Yes we should all be free to believe what we want  (I’ll fight for your right to do that until the day I die), but it would be far greater to know the Jesus of faith and history than one we fabricate with our imaginations.  Jesus is the embodiment of truth.  Love and Truth are a Person.

Overall, this would be considered a great supplement and adds a number of tools to the box  to help those who have been deceived by the lies that this world brings.  The evidences can be presented all day long, but it is only the Holy Spirit who can awaken the eyes of those who refuse Him, and that is done through the good news of Jesus Christ (See my review on “what is the gospel”).

My 52 Books #5 “Communicating for a Change” by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones

I have sat through countless messages by numerous speakers, ranging from all sorts of subjects.  Some of the time they are easily forgettable (the brain can only process so much at once, while the rest gets filtered out).  Yet on many other occasions I can look back and articulate everything that was spoken to me.  Why?  Well, because for most of those instances, the speaker stuck to a single point and expounded on it to the point where it would never leave you.  In this book, Stanley’s one point method is brought to the table, primarily for preaching, but it can apply to many areas of public speech, especially when the speaker wants something important to remain with his audience.

The book is broken into two halves, with one being primarily a fictional narrative between a preacher and a truck driver, all the while teaching the practicality of the one point method in mind.  The second half breaks down into what was discussed in the first half through greater detail.  I don’t know why, but whenever the retired truck driver spoke, Sam Elliott’s voice came to mind.

I can see where some might get a little hung up on this idea.  Especially people who preach for a living.  In my opinion, this seems like it would work out better for those who do topical messages or series rather than expository preaching, but the principles that it contains can be extremely helpful for both.  I can understand the push back, but he does make his case for the why and answers the objections he typically gets pretty well.

Preaching here is seen in the same way as taking someone on a journey.  This layout gives a number of helpful guidelines in the process.

-Determine your goal:  what do you want to accomplish and where do you want your listeners to end up.

-Pick a point:  One point in which the rest of the message will revolve around.

-Create a Map:  The “Me We God You We” approach to getting the hearer on the same page as you.

-Internalize the message: He stresses that the message you preach is really not yours unless you can speak it out without glaring at your notes.  He sees preaching as more of a one way conversation or the sharing of a story between the speaker and hearer, rather than a lecture.

-Engage your audience:  This is the means of keeping the attention of your audience.  Simply speaking like you’re reading a book will lose your hearer very quickly.

-Find your voice:  Watching and studying how you preach can help you focus more on simply being yourself when you get in front of people, rather than creating a persona that is different than who you are.  This will show your authenticity and humanity to others.

-Start all over:  There is not much worse than getting stuck in a message or the preparation thereof.  So these tools offered can help you get out of the mud.  Ask questions like:

What do they need to know?  Information

Why do they need to know it?  Motivation

What do they need to do?  Application

Why do they need to do it?  Inspiration

How can I help them remember?  Reiteration

Overall, I think this book offers some invaluable wisdom for public speaking, but I would not leave this as your only resource.  I was told that if you were to only read two books on this subject, this would be one and the other would be “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” by John Piper.  I’ll have to get to that one in the near future.

My 52 Books #4 “The Sacrament of Evangelism” by Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie

While other books on the subject of evangelism tend to focus on the “how”, this little gem dives heavily into the “what” and the “why”.  Root and Guthrie know full well that there are enough methods out there to express the same Jewel of a message called the gospel, so instead of focusing all of their attention on teaching the reader how to share the gospel with others, they assume that you already are, and encourage you greatly as to the foundation of what we’re doing (or supposed to be doing) and why, so that we might continue running the race with confidence in the One for whom we are running.  Like a cup of water for a marathon runner, this is a very encouraging series of motivational boosters.

The baseline for the catch phrase in this book is rooted in the understanding that God’s presence can be found in everything (since He is omnipresent), “from the majestic to the mundane”.  So “whenever we respond to the gift of God’s presence, we call that mutual effort – God’s grace and our response – sacramental.”

Some approach evangelism as getting on board with a mission where God “needs” us.  This is a terribly sad way of doing evangelism, and really puts a burden on people that Jesus never intended.  Some come to it with a, “They’re going to hell, and it’s up to us to bring Christ to them so they can steer clear of that terrible place of torment.”  This will get really discouraging when people do not respond positively to the message of turn or burn*.

So what?  What is the real motivating factor that should drive the body to the great commission? (matthew 28:18-20).  It is the knowledge that God is already at work in everything and everyone, so to approach the lost is not to bring Christ to them, but to come on board with what God is already doing in a persons life (sacramental).  So if we want to be closer to the heart of God, that will take place by obeying His commands to make disciples (which means sharing the gospel of Christ with them and inviting them to give their lives to the heart of God).  “It is not a question of whether God is at work in His world.  It is a question of whether those who claim to follow Him will participate with Him in this sacrament.”

Like a child going to his fathers workplace to help out, the child will not thwart the fathers plans if he doesn’t participate.  So the same, we need to know that God’s plan is not thwarted by our lack of involvement.  He can give voice to a rock to bring completion to the work of the church if He so chooses.  But He is inviting us to be apart of what He is already doing, so it is a matter of love/desire for Him and the passions that He is pursuing (people).

I cannot really scratch the surface here, so I would simply recommend this tool for anyone who is interested in being a disciple maker.

* The “Turn or burn” or “Come to Jesus to simply escape hell” is a counter productive message, as it points primarily to the negative and does not explain the positive aspect of the gospel to people.  To many, Jesus is another type of hell, so while it is important to express the bad news, it should come with reason (Acts 24:25), and the good news of grace should be the ground breaking message that follows.
Most people do not understand that they are sinners before a holy God (go ask anyone on the street if they think they’re a sinner or a bad person to get a good feel of the affects of the self esteem movement in our culture), so to simply say “you’re going to hell” is like a swat team busting in your home, putting you in cuffs and hauling you to jail without trial or reason.  It makes no sense.  But if they were to come in and point out that you’ve been caught with a million marijuana plants in your backyard and charges of heinous crimes, it would make all the sense in the world.  You would then understand a need.  This is why I appreciate the use of reasoning with the conscience by the law (10 commandments) as apart of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the soul to lead to the treasure of Christ.

For resources and books on the “how”, I would recommend: (“Tactics” by Greg Koukl is a great tool) (begin by listening to “Hells best kept secret” and “The Way of the Master” by Ray Comfort) (James White has a TON of great resources)
“The gospel and personal evangelism” by Mark Dever
“Evangelism and the sovereignty of God” by JI Packer
“The soul winner” by Charles Spurgeon
“Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman