Pastors' Library

Concise Life of Christ

James Stalker, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 2008, 471 pages, ISBN 9780899576992, $17.99, hardcover

More than forty-five years ago this book was on my seminary reading list. I was pleased to see that the book had been revised and updated and issued in a new format. The original volume by James Stalker, the eminent Scottish preacher and theologian, was published in 1891. Footnotes, originally written in German, have been translated by German teacher, Ron Cates. Some punctuation has been revised to make the text more readable.

Stalker divides his work into three sections. The first section, "The Life of Christ," gives us the social, economic, religious, and cultural background into which Jesus the Christ was born. His ministry can be divided into three sections, each comprising approximately a year each. The first year, one of obscurity, was in and around Judea. He taught in Jerusalem and in the parts of Judea. Not much is revealed about His first year.

The second year was one of popular favor. He ministered mostly in the north of the country. He selected His disciples, taught extensively, healed many people, and generally gained the accolades of the masses. His enemies-Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians-sniped at Him from the edges, but they could not turn popular favor against Him.

During the last year of our Lord's life His enemies grew increasingly hostile. They tried to embarrass Him by hard questions designed to turn the masses against Him. Their plots against Him were finally successful, and He was put to death, but Christ gloriously rose from the dead and then commissioned His followers to spread the Good News throughout the world.

Stalker tells this beautiful story in smooth flowing language that keeps the reader transfixed for the next event.

The second section of the book is titled "Imago Christi-The Example of Jesus Christ." In it, the author surveys the influence of Christ in the home, state, church, and society. Jesus was a worker, soul winner, preacher, teacher, and a student of Scripture.

In his third section, Stalker examines the things Christ taught about Himself. The Lord Jesus revealed Himself as Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Redeemer, and Judge.

Glen Jones

Target: All
Type: Life of Christ
Take: Highly Recommended

 

Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

Steven Waldman, Random House, 2008, ISBN 9781400064373, 205 pages, $26.00, hardcover.

Most believers would argue that the United States of America was founded as an intentionally and expressly Christian nation by a group of men who, for the most part, believed in God and His Word. Many secularists, on the other hand, contend that the Constitution's general silence on matters of faith shows that the country was founded as a secular republic by Founding Fathers who were highly skeptical of organized religion.

In Founding Faith, Steven Waldman attempts to show that both groups are only half-right in their assessment of the religious aspects of the nation's founding. With thorough scholarship and an engaging style, he contends that the facts have been distorted by the polarized rhetoric of today's culture wars and seeks to present a balanced overview of the (at the time) unheard of ideas of religious freedom that guided the founders' plans.

As he delves into the lives and motivations of the Founding Fathers (specifically Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison), Waldman uncovers in each a paradox: disdain for clergy, doctrine, and Scriptural accuracy paired with conviction of the Creator's sovereignty, reverence for the teachings of Jesus, and value of Christianity's impact on society. He weaves together their stories to show how the unraveling of state support of religion propelled the Revolution and ultimately allowed Christianity to flourish in ways it could never when tied to the government.

While he writes from a perspective that at times seems somewhat antagonistic to orthodox Christianity, Waldman's book succeeds admirably in disappointing conservatives and liberals by allowing the founders to speak in context. He shows that our nation was not wholly conceived in biblical Christianity or enlightenment rationalism but rather struck a balance that protected the Church by restoring it to its status an entity of believers rather than an institution of government.

His implicit point is that the issues are more complex than we'd like them to be, and that the unique story of America's beginning should teach us volumes about how to live as Christians in today's world.

Justin Lonas

Target: All
Type: History
Take: Recommended

 

Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers

Eugene H. Peterson, Eerdmans, 2008, ISBN: 9780802829542, 264 pages, $24.00, hardcover.

You're not going to like this book.

This book cannot be read quickly. You're busy. No matter how good it is, or how reliable the source that recommended it, if reading a book slows you down, you will probably get a chapter or two into this one and lay it aside.

What you will miss by laying it aside is a long, intimate walk in the company of Jesus, listening to His perceptive use of stories, listening in on His prayers, and learning just how much He longs for your company.

This book doesn't lend itself easily to sermon-making. Effective, 21st century American church leaders need effective prompts to help serve God's people meaningfully, but also to manage time effectively. A good book won't take longer to deliver a benefit than we have time for.

But if you don't slow down for this one, what you lay aside is a perspective on the life, times, and ministry of Jesus, that, if considered carefully will deepen our understanding, and our capacity to serve others in Jesus' name.

If Peterson is serious, the way we've been thinking about following Christ probably needs to change. Pulpit Helps wouldn't be publishing a review of a heretical book but this one is probably at odds with your accustomed thinking. First-century Jews and 21st Century Americans do not think alike.

Bridging that gap is difficult but necessary work if we are to grasp what Jesus was saying on His terms, not the terms of our contemporaries. Peterson wants to bridge that gap by focusing on Jesus' use of language in his parables and prayers. If you slow down long enough to read this book well, you will find new appreciation for language, and a new way into meaningful relationships with family, parishioners, peers, and even with God in Christ.

Maybe I should let you decide if you like this book or not.

Bob Gerow

Target: Disciples-in-the-making
Type: Parables & Prayers
Take: Read at your own risk!

 

 

Experiencing Leadershift: Letting Go of Leadership Heresies

Don Cousins, David C. Cook Publishers, Colorado Springs, CO, 2008, 253 pages, ISBN 9781434768544, $22.99, hardcover.

Many churches today have a faulty view of the biblical gift of leadership. That, contends Don Cousins, presents a serious problem in carrying out the Great Commission. "In our culture, people place a great deal of emphasis and value on SNL (strong natural leaders), while the church emphasizes and values, the gifted leader.' The concept is essentially the same, but the language is modified to make it sound more spiritual" (p.13). Cousins believes that this phenomenon lacks basis in from the Bible.

The leaders that the Holy Spirit endows are not formed from a cookie cutter. Gifted leaders come in many sizes and shapes. The concept of trying to be a great leader by emulating another successful spiritual leader confounds the principle of Spirit-endowed leadership. Leadership success cannot be measured by worldly standards.

Cousins identifies four marks of gifted leaders: 1) they build a team of workers, 2) they develop strategies to carry our their ministry, 3) they develop a structure to see that everyone has a role to fill, and 4) they allow staff to carry out their strategies. The author consumes the remainder of the book addressing these points.

The author makes several additional major points in this discussion. First, biblical leaders are not called to be "successful", they are called to be faithful. Second, the faithful leader must manifest the fruit of the Spirit in his/her personal life. Third, serving the Lord Jesus by serving others is the leader's calling. Fourth, credit for the work we do must come in God's due time. That may come later than sooner. Fifth, our own spiritual life must not suffer in the name of "serving."

Glen Jones

Target: Church Leaders
Type: Spiritual Gifts
Take: Highly Recommended

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