My 52 Books #12 “Kings Cross” by Tim Keller

As Bridgeway church is coming to the end of a year and a half of diving into Mark, I thought I would take up Keller’s work on the subject.  While there are many views on who Jesus is in contemporary culture (Just google his name to see a plethora of ideas), the best place to get a clear picture of who He is, what He taught, and whether He should mean anything to us is at the original sources.  While the other gospels are much more comprehensive concerning Jesus’ teaching (Luke and Matthew) and His divinity (John), the gospel of Mark gives us a fast paced narrative of His life and work for us, so as to stress the big picture/main point.  It is broken up into two sections:

-His identity as the God-Man (Mark 1-8)
-His purpose in dying on the cross (Mark 9-16)

If you are looking for an overview commentary with great pastoral care on the gospel of Mark, this would be your book.  While there is certainly a theological richness to it (it’s Tim Keller of course), Keller reaches further into everyday application for the reader as he expounds on the major passages that flow from one of the earliest writings in the New Testament.  Each chapter could be a sermon in and of itself.

One thing I enjoyed most about Keller’s insight in this volume is his ability to expound on the differences between gospel and religion in the Bible.  Jesus makes it undoubtably clear that there is a vast gaping span between working your way to God and receiving His grace.

Concerning the religious/work righteous: “They all have the same logic: If I perform, if I obey, I’m accepted.  The gospel of Jesus is not only different from that but diametrically opposed to it: I’m fully accepted in Jesus Christ, therefore I obey.”

“The gospel isn’t advice: It’s the good news that you don’t need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you.  And it’s a gift that you receive by sheer grace – through God’s thoroughly unmerited favor.  If you seize that gift and keep holding on to it, then Jesus’ call won’t draw you into fanaticism or moderation.  You will be passionate to make Jesus your absolute goal and priority, to orbit around him; yet when you meet somebody with a different set of priorities, a different faith, you won’t assume that they’re inferior to you.  You’ll actually seek to serve them rather than oppress them.  Why?  Because the gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King.  Not just someone with power and authority to tell you what needs to be done – but someone with the power and authority to do what needs to be done, and then offer it to you as good news.”


My 52 Books #11 “Raising a Modern Day Knight” by Robert Lewis

Seeing it is that I just had a son (Andrew Stephen), I thought this would be appropriate to dive into this work that was recommended to me around the time Adelyn was born.  I am embarking on a journey into the unknown.  My father wasn’t there for me, and I am picking up the pieces as I go to learn how to raise a son who loves Jesus and exemplifies what a real man is.  But I am not alone nor without help.  I have been surrounded by godly men over the last 8-9 years and have been given tremendous resources (including this book!) to instill in the coming generation a fire and passion to live for God.

If I could hand one book to the father of a son this would be that book.  Unlike a lot of self help books on parenting that are built more upon the modern culture than Biblical principles, this book demonstrates Biblical manhood and offers incredibly good advice in the inauguration of a boy becoming a man.

The concept of a rite of passage for a growing boy is the underlying theme that guides the flow of the message.  In light of the ancient process of knighthood, the principles of this effort offer great insight as to how we can be building men with our boys today.  Boys grow up not being given the training nor the encouragement to develop into what a man is.  I’ve come across many, before reading this book, who have flat out told me, “I don’t know if I am a man.”  As a man burned by his father, my heart and soul affirms Robert Lewis’ desire, “I intend to use my hurt for their gain.  I intend to make sure the curse of the invisible dad goes no further than me.”

The 3 ideals of a knight are:
A Vision for Manhood
A code of Conduct
A Transcendent cause

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” – Proverbs 29:18
This rings true for those who have no idea what manhood is.  As Mark Driscoll once put it, “I know a lot of boys who can shave.”  Many think they’re men, but are really the emulation of a joke.  In raising a man, the reality of what one is must be disclosed both verbally and physically.

A real man:
-Rejects passivity
-Accepts responsibility
-Leads courageously
-Expects God’s greater reward

While trying to instill a Biblical code of conduct is important for your growing Knight, the way you set the example will be the determining factor.  It should be obvious, but we often forget and need the reminder that it is Word AND Deed that must go hand in hand in order for it to be real.

When looking at the ultimate expression of a man, one should look no further than Jesus Christ.  When looking to the Creator-God for which to live out this manhood endeavor, look no further than Jesus Christ.  He is the God-MAN that gives of Himself, so that we might live.

There are many rite of passage examples offered that I am definitely going to re-examine and mold into my own for Andrew.  Reading this book really set a fire in me to take this seriously, and I am looking forward to his progression.
“Every dad begins fatherhood with a distinct and awesome advantage: the unstinting admiration of his son. Wise dads recognize their privileged position and build upon it by modeling the message they preach to their sons. They know that words are only as strong as the sources from which they arise.”  May we never take that for granted.  We may not be perfect in our own rite, but those in Christ are apart of the One who is, and His grace is sufficient.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

My 52 Books #10 “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Upon completion of a summer semester of school, God has blessed me with a son!  Andrew Stephen Bartol was born last Sunday @ 11:42am and is an absolute joy to our lives!  Lisa’s in the healing process and the in-laws are in town!  Life here is good 🙂

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” is a revolutionary work that has impacted me tremendously.  Do you ever get a quote that just strikes your heart?  A single sentence that makes you want to dwell on it for a long period of time?  This book offers all of that in abundance.  And not only a single sentence here or there, but entire paragraphs that just expound on the Scriptures and pierce the heart.  It truly is “grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

It’s about understanding the glue that ties the community of the church together.  The gospel is the center, the core focus, of how communal life with the church is even possible.  There are great warnings about straying from this, but also great encouragements as to how this can last with His power.  It is a great tool for avoiding division.

His Lutheran bent is very blatant, which is probably my only drawback.  A number of “should’s” and “oughts” on secondary matters that do not need to be there.  But if taken as suggestions I think it would help many (but not all).  His passivism also shines through a little bit, but knowing where he ended up theologically at the time of his attempting to kill Hitler should give an indicator that he would probably edit that out in a future copy, had he not been executed by the Nazi regime.  Maybe.

Life together under the Word of God, as our great authority, and prayer is what guides us as a community to the very heart of God.

His take on morning devotions was also very convicting.  There are numerous examples, throughout the Scriptures, of giving our morning thoughts and prayers to God by godly men.  And while it is not a prescription for doing this as law, it does describe the great benefits of being with God before the days begins.  “At the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him whom our whole life belongs.  ‘Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ (Eph. 5:14)”

Overall, if anyone were looking for a book that encapsulates what Christian community should look like, this is one of the first books I would offer.  It is probably one of those books that gets better with each time it is read.

My 52 Books #9 “God and Evolution” edited by Jay Richards

I had to take a week off recently, as there was a lot of pressure with finals week and the anticipation of having a new baby on the way!  Summer classes are officially done, and we are just days away from having a little boy or girl (we decided to wait).  In light of the final paper on Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design, I decided to read a few books on the subject that were very beneficial.  We had a secular textbook (one of the last chapters is titled, “the Fact of Evolution.”), and alongside the other articles and books that support that view I felt that I had a good balance of the two arguments.

How do you gain purpose from a purposeless structure?  How does intelligence come from an unintelligent source?  If you unpack these questions in the numerous arenas of evolution, you will wind up finding a vast number of holes in the arguments that those propagating both theistic evolution and neo-Darwinian evolution affirm.  In this book, Jay Richards, of The Discovery Institute, compiles a series of articles by various authors from three major Judeo-Christian religions to clear up the fog that many tend to create when caught up in a discussion about this subject.

In my opinion, the Protestant section handled the best evidence for Intelligent design, while the Catholics and Jews seemed to focus more on their religious tradition’s views on the subject, at the same time trying to show their people how intelligent design makes more sense to their own system of beliefs (which it does).  That was probably my only complaint with the book (The Pope’s ideas hold little weight to Biblical Christianity, let alone the scientific community).
Otherwise it was a well thought out and very thorough representation and defense of Intelligent Design to both the neo-Darwninian and theistic evolutionists.

The deeper we dive into molecular biology and the more we gain information concerning this world within the world, the harder it is becoming to defend the concept that we simply evolved over the course of billions of years from the spontaneous generation of a single cell.  The idea of “Junk DNA” is quickly becoming obsolete and the bacterial flagellum (look it up, it’s fascinating!) demands a look at the idea of a designer.  The question of how complexity and information came from non-complexity and non-information for the formation of the first cell is one of the giant holes in the evolutionary argument, which is, in this case, a matter of science fiction rather than real science, since there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

The other major problem lies with those who seek to reconcile theistic evolution with God.  Usually an attempt to reconcile all of the corruption in the world (though some to just remain neutral and passive in ignorance), theistic evolutionist’s will attempt to pass it off from God to leaving it up to evolution to build His creation for Him.  This offers no fix to the problem of evil, as that simply “passes the buck”, and makes it look like God is a Charles Manson figure who never killed anyone, but let evolution do his dirty work, as it is a brutal system built upon death to achieve a greater species (at least that’s how the theory goes, though each successful mutation is a loss of genetic information).

 “If God has delegated his creative activity to the functional equivalent of the Gnostic Demiurge, then he has merely passed the buck.  There is no payoff in this scenario unless God fails to know or control the future.  In that case, God may be less implicated in the natural evil described in the Darwinian narrative, but he is no longer providentially guiding his creation in any rational sense.” (pg 303)

This subject is not something that can just be passed aside as non-issue, since it affects the way we see God, ourselves, and how we live.  In the midst of all the supposed chaos in the media and in our schools, this is one subject that will not be a luxury to remain neutral on in our coming future.

My 52 Books #8 “Who made God? Searching for a theory of Everything” by Edgar Andrews

If you have been looking for a book that dives heavily into both the scientific and theological realm, this is what you’ve been looking for.  Dr. Andrews sets out not primarily to address the immediate attacks from the new atheists of today (though he does that), but to explore a hypothesis of the God of the Bible, using the methods of science and reason.  There was about 10% of the details that I did not understand (Quantum Mechanics is WAY over my head), but in each case he was clear as to his point, and even breaks it down for the every day man, so that it is understandable.

He addresses common mistakes that scientists have made concerning the presuppositions of a purely naturalistic universe and zeros in on the false dichotomy between religion and science (seems like science has been hijacked by a non-scientific worldview).  The issue of origins is put to the test in great detail, and all of the major questions of how we came to be are addressed.  It was either God or turtles (inside joke for an infinite regress).

The initial question of the book is quickly put to rest, because the question within the question must be asked in order for “who made God?” to make any sense.  That question being, “who is God?”.  If God, for the sake of His hypothesis, can be known as the uncreated Creator, then the original question turns into, “who created the uncreated one?”, which is a nonsense question, since the answer is found within itself.  Now that doesn’t necessarily prove the existence of God (he travels great lengths toward that in the rest of the book), but it does put to rest a presuppositional question that many believe is the dagger to the theist’s heart.

Not only is this man an expert in his field, but he is also a great communicator.  What could be a dry and drawn out book is instead easily accessible and sometimes funny.  The best part about this book, to me, was found in the fact that his progression in the second half deals in every way with the progression of my current science class.  Dealing with cellular biology and DNA just fascinates me.  He then shows the ridiculousness of having information (i.e. the information stored in DNA) come from non information through the series of evolution by natural selection.  But all the while being fair toward each side of the argument by representing them well.  Simply put, I have not found a better book on this subject that is as technical and to the point, as well as having such an easy flow for the reader.

If you have a scientifically driven friend or relative who is skeptical about Jesus, this would be a great starting point for him/her.

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”).