A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History
Larry Witham, Harper One, San Francisco, 2007, ISBN 9780060854270,295 pages, $24.95, hardcover.
For obvious reasons, Pulpit Helps is not in the habit of reviewing books written from outside of the Christian perspective. On rare occasions, however, a well-researched and thoughtfully written volume can provide insights that the inside view overlooks, and inadvertently remind believers of their call to reach the world. One such book is Larry Witham's A City Upon a Hill.
Witham shows convincingly the undeniably Christian motivations for America's settlement and foundation and tracks the whole of the nation's history through the oratory of her clergy, from the Pilgrims and Puritans to Billy Graham.
The book is divided into three sections: the Colonial Period (1600-1800), the National Period (1800-1900), and the Modern Period (1900-present). In the first, Witham's discussion of the idea of "public religion," as described by Cotton Mather (in his later years) and Benjamin Franklin, sets the stage for the two currents of Christianity that continue to run through our culture: the sincere, active and personal faith taught by most churches and the vague pietism espoused by most mainline denominations and political discourses.
The second and third sections describe this divide and its various developments. The author shows the parallel worlds of the liberalization of theology and the great evangelistic and social reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the split between Fundamentalism and liberal Protestantism of the 1920s and 30s, and the ascendance of mass media evangelism and Christian political movements of the last 50-60 years.
Witham offers a needed reminder that Christians are defined as much by what we say as by what we do. Even as our sermons have motivated the men and women who shaped our country, they have often cast the church in other molds than as Christ's instrument on earth. The steady decline of theology in the book's timeline shows that the "public religion" so many have aspired to can bring acclaim from men, but rarely, if ever, produces lasting changes in their hearts and lives. Commitment to the Word of Truth, prayer, godly fellowship, and disciple-making have always been the mark of the true church, and as such should be the theme of all our public and private discourse.
Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society
Sue Edwards, Kelley Matthews, and Henry J. Rogers, Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008, ISBN 9780825425240, 237 pages, $16.99, softcover.
In today's social climate of rampant sexual immorality and marital infidelity, we are foolish to think that the same problems cannot be found in the church. This insightful book proposes that it is possible for Christian men and women to work together in ministry and in the secular workspace without indulging in sinful behavior.
The authors take great care to emphasize the value of women in Christian ministry. Separation into male and female spheres, according to the authors, does not address the biblical challenge for believers to treat each other as members of a Christian family. The book recounts the ministry of several New Testament women. The sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus was not rebuked by the Master. Mary, who shirked her domestic duties to sit at the feet of Jesus, was commended for her faith. Paul mentioned Phoebe, Priscilla, and others who had been a great help to him. God is honored, the authors contend, when men and women work together in purity to proclaim Christ.
The writers point out the value of siblings in helping a brother or sister understand the ways of the opposite sex and prepare for healthy ministry relationships. Brothers can help sisters understand the needs and actions of other males. Sisters can prove invaluable in pointing out to a brother how to understand the female perspective.
Rogers points out that men should build spiritual fences to ward off sexual temptations. Keep meetings with women in an open atmosphere, don't get into detailed discussions about one's marriage or personal life, frequently bring up one's wife and family and its positive influence, and never give another woman the idea that you are dissatisfied with your marriage.
On the whole, the book raises some thorny questions that need to be asked. The best way to avoid the darkness has always been to live in the light, even when that may be difficult.
Glen H. Jones
Type: Christian Behavior
Take: Highly Recommended
Better Off Than You Think: God's Astounding Opinion of You
Ralph Harris, Evangel Publishing House, 2007,. ISBN: 9781928915959, 156 pages, $16.99, softcover.
"Many of us have come to believe that our behavior and thought life reveal more about who and what we are than what the Bible says" (p. 9). That is Harris' thesis behind writing this book. He contends that many believers have developed a much lower opinion of ourselves than what God thinks about us. Our fixation with the here-and-now of this world has obscured our vision of who we are and what we are going to be in the future.
We have been crucified with Christ and joined together with Him. The old person is passing away and a new life is taking its place. Harris enjoins Christians to lay hold of the holy promise of who we are in Christ; in short, we need to live as if we believe what we say we do.
But what about all those sinful things I think and do? We must realize that the new person inside has a competitor. The old nature also lives within us. Paul tells us to count ourselves dead to the things of the old nature and alive to those of the new nature. "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies" (Rom. 6:12).
Living by a set of rules will not create a holy life. The flesh tempts us to try to live the Christian life in our own strength. Instead, we must put aside the self and let the Holy Spirit rule our thoughts and conduct.
The author reminds believers that God will not disown them if they fail to walk in the Spirit. He points out that the Corinthian church affords a perfect example of a loving and forgiving God. This church was so worldly that one might have difficulty identifying them as people of God, but Paul said to them, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:2). Harris reminds us that God doesn't want to destroy us; He wants to rescue us from ourselves.
Glen H. Jones
Type: Christian Living
WEB XTRA -
The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church
Paul W. Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, editors, Eerdmans, 2008, ISBN 9780802803917, 435 pages, $35.00, softcover.
Most believers would agree that Christ's great commission to make disciples of all nations in Matthew 28:18-20 is the central command for the church. Even so, the subject of evangelism is construed in many different ways by different churches and denominations.
Chilcote and Warner contend in their introduction that the flurry of "how-to" and "hands-on" books on evangelism published in recent years often lack the theological grounding to have a lasting impact. Their answer to the problem is this collection of 30 essays from intellectual "heavyweights" such as John Stott, Lesslie Newbigin, and Stanley Hauerwas.
The book is divided into 6 sections: 1) Defining the Ecclesial Practice and Theology of Evangelism, 2) Biblical and Historical Sources for the Study of Evangelism, 3) The Study of Evangelism in the World of Theology, 4) The Study of Evangelism among the Ecclesial Practices, 5) Evangelism in Diverse Ecclesiastical and Ecumenical Settings, and 6) Evangelistic Praxis in Diverse Cultural Contexts. It also includes an afterword on the Continuing Conversations and New Trajectories in the Study of Evangelism.
The word "Study" in the title accurately reflects that this is first and foremost a scholarly book. The heady discussions and academic styles employed by the writers are not for the faint of heart. The contributors develop their essays on scriptural principles, but many also bring personal experience and cultural studies to bear on their conclusions. Several essays tackle thorny issues such as social justice and multiculturalism from diverse viewpoints, and many readers may rightly take issue with some interpretations.
One thing the editors and contributors collectively agree upon is that evangelism, in its various forms, is commanded, never suggested, by Scripture. The book clearly shows that differing theological perspectives can and should come together on the central idea that Christians are to be about spreading the Good News and the love of Christ to the world.