I had the opportunity to review Bound Together: How We Are Tried to Others in Good and Bad Choices by Chris Brauns. Brauns weaves an idea called The Principle of the Rope throughout the book. What is the principle? Simply: we are bound to other people, who represent and determine identity. The principle links us to the fall of man through the sin of Adam. Brauns faithfully outlines the gospel, moving from original sin to Christ. He says “Though we first experience it (principle of the rope) as the worst possible news, (it) is ultimately good news. The principle of the the rope is what underlies the good news of the gospel, namely, that if we are roped to Christ, we are bound to him that nothing – not even the rope that ties us to Adam – can ever separate us from his love” (59). So, we respond to the suffering of this life, acknowledging that we are roped to Adam through sin and thus we expect suffering, and look with trusting eyes to the rope of the Gospel, from which we are roped to Christ.
Brauns outlines images of our union with Christ found in Scripture:
- living stones
- physical body
- branches on a vine
- relational intimacy
- relationship as children of our heavenly father
After defining the principle of the rope, defining original sin and pointing to Union in Christ, Brauns asks the question that the entire mental health industry struggles to answer: who is at fault. When you suffer, to whom do you look? Our is a society that seeks blame and avoids personal responsibility at all cost. This was driven home when recently I reflected that an individual played a part in the suffering experienced by his larger community. The look was damning and masterfully covered in shame. The principle of the rope moves us past looking for blame. Brauns summarizes, “Our solidarity in Christ is more powerful than our solidarity in sin with Adam.”
The second half of the book turns from the indicative to the imperative: applying the doctrine of original sin and Union with Christ. The principle of the rope results in a joyful Christian who pursues community with others, both in the church, in marriage (for some) and even through the pains of family turmoil and even in death.
I highly recommend Bound Together for those pursuing a biblical worldview. It will guide you, encourage you and help you help others as you seek to live a life rooted in the Gospel.
*Humble Orthodoxy*, by J. Harris is a short book about a much needed topic. How can one be serious about theology and not be arrogant. How can one engage in conversation about weighty matters and not worship the god of being right. In a culture in which anything goes and everything is questioned, being defensive about theological matters is easy. Harris makes a b-line to the gospel as he considers a right response. Halfway through the book I wondered if Harris was going to get to the “how to.” Yet, I am reminded that the gospel is about heart change, which provides the root to allow the fruit of humility to grow. I plan on returning to the book as I wrestle with how to engage others in theological conversation.
Metaxas has done it again. Eric Metaxas, in his new book 7 Men provides a portrait of seven men who have shaped history. These seven men and Metaxas make eight men for whom we should be very grateful.
In the introduction Metaxas encourages one to have heroes? Who are your heroes? At the time of writing this review I watched my brother-in-law retire after 21 years of service to the Navy. Such dedication and longevity is often unheard of in our culture. Men committed to the gospel, driven by conviction and courageous willingness to overcome the battles they face are a rare breed. Metaxas explains “courage means to have ‘heart’…God’s idea of strength,” is “to have a heart like a lion.” He continues, “A man who has heart can be described as lionhearted.” What lionhearted men do you look up to?
Metaxax provides a glimpse of the following seven men who were/are lionhearted and what they gave up in the process.
1) George Washington “gave up extrodinary power.”
2) William Wilberforce “gave up the chance to be a prime minister of England.”
3) Eric Liddell “gave up the acclaim of millions to honor God.”
4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave up “his freedom and safety.”
5) Jackie Robinson gave up “the right to fight back.”
6) Karol Wojtyla gave up “his whole life to God….he gave up his right to himself.”
7) Chuck Colson gave up “everything to God” and in doing so realized he is “truly free.”
Be challenged by the men, yet look not to them, but to the God of these men, and like them, die to self, be lionhearted.
In Ken Idleman’s God’s at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart, write’s of the battle of the heart. Idleman starts with an intriguing statement: “Idoltary isn’t an issue; it is the issue.” Biblical counseling will often lead us to explore rival hopes. Our heart is naturally inclined to hope and we misplace hope in love of people, places and things rather than pursuit of the one true God. So, in a sense, I agree with Idleman, that this is an important issue. However, the issue is our fundamental need for reconciliation with God, which leads us to the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be the issue that we come back to. Idleman leads us to Christ throughout the book, though the gospel is often not central.
Idleman begins with asking great questions. Rival hopes can be difficult to identify and the timely interrogative can help the diagnosis. Some helpful interrogatives:
- What disappoints you?
- What do you complain about the most?
- Where do you make financial sacrifices?
- What worries you?
- Where is your sanctuary?
- What infuriates you?
- What are your dreams?
Idleman rightly states that these things are not bad in and of themselves. It is good and well to dream, to seek sanctuary. The primary issue is when these felt needs are ultimate as compared to eternal needs.
Idleman then walks through several prominent rival hopes found in an affluent Western culture, which he categorizes as pleasure, power and love. They are:
Though not exhaustive (if this were possible) the list is a great and challenging start. Each chapter on specific rival hopes ends with equally helpful questions.
In each of these sections Idleman takes us to the only hope for this life, found in the person and work of Christ. Idleman wisely helps us see how these rival hopes can be fulfilled in Christ. He says:
- Jesus is our portion, our feast
- Jesus is our greatest joy imaginable, our satisfaction
- Jesus is our passion
- Jesus is our purpose
- Jesus is our provider
- Jesus is our identity
- Jesus is our everything
All in all the book does well to point to rival hopes and turn toward Christ. Yet, identification of rival hopes, could become a rival hope. I fear that an unhealthy introspection could result from asking all these good questions and considering rival hopes. The war though, has been won, the battle is over, won by Christ himself. Fight sin, yes, but as you do, acknowledge that you are not the victor, but Christ in his perfect substitutionary death is victorious.
We are a society of images – obsessed with what we look like, what we think we look like and what we feel like we look like. We pick a mate based more on looks that on character. We spend money, time and significant energy to maintain image. Mark Driscoll, in his book Who Do you Think You Are? tackles our image, the Doctrine of Image. He begins with a fundamental understanding that we all worship some image – either the Creator or the created. Driscoll states, “Underlying our sinful false worship is the fact that our identity has become rooted in our idolatry.” He then gives the helpful acronym:
The call of the gospel is clear: turn from idol worship and worship the Creator. The gospel is clear and consistent throughout the book. An exposition of Ephesians, the book walks through these simple, yet profound truths of how identity in Christ uproots idols:
I Am in Christ
I Am a Saint
I Am Blessed
I Am Appreciated
I Am Saved
I Am Reconciled
I Am Afflicted
I Am Heard
I Am Gifted
I Am New
I Am Forgiven
I Am Adopted
I Am Loved
I Am Rewarded
I Am Victorious
If you come to the book expecting another attempt at creating positive self-esteem, prepare for the radical idea that gospel-esteem will involve thinking of self less and more of Christ.
The story of Nick Vujicic at told in *Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action* is, without doubt inspiring and encouraging. The strength of his character and faith are clear throughout. Nick clearly looks to put his faith in action as he is open to the possibilities found through the challenges of his life – no different from the gospel call for any believer in Christ. Written stories of faith often serve as a light to others who are weak in the midst of their own troubles. For this, I am grateful to the ministry of Nick.
I was particularly atuned to the chapter entitled “Matters of the Heart.” Nick talks of how his “self-image” changes as he “accepted that God” loved him. He writes of how his new fear of God progressively changed his fear of man. No longer was he held in bondage to shame, but free to live a life of faith.
Vujicic says, “Put your faith in action. Pray for God’s guidance, focus on being the best person you can be, and open your heart to the possibilities and opportunities that will comee to you.” So faith in action = being your best despite ones circumstances. Yet, in the gospel faith in action = looking to the goodness of God and his goodness, power and activity despite ones circumstances. The emphasis is on the goodness of God, demonstrated through the perfect sacrificial work of Christ, rather than one’s own “best.”
This is one example of where the gospel is lacking in this book. For this reason, I would be hesitant to recommend this book to anyone not rooted in the gospel.
A friend suggested the book Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking to me and so I was glad to request it for review. My excitement is self-disclosure of being an introvert. It is not a badge I wear, but being around me for any amount of time would quickly reveal this aspect of my personality.
I appreciate three things about this book (more, but for the purpose of this review, I’m limiting it to three):
1) Cain does not just talk about introversion, but provides practical tips. For example, she talks about working with introverts and parenting introverts. Both of these sections seem down to earth and very helpful, both for those who are introverts and those who are less than introverts. I do wonder if those who with more extroverted tendencies will read the book, as these sections may be most helpful. The book likely is read by introverts, and the value of these sections may be lost.
2) I appreciate the encouragement to pursue silence and solitude. In an increasingly loud and media filled world it is often difficult to find moments of silence. Even in my rural home I cannot go outside without hearing a distant neighbor’s air conditioner or dryer running or plane flying over. Noise seems to be the addiction of our culture. Though our modern conveniences add much to life, they can distract one from the importance of slowing down and simply being still.
3) Cain is not fatalistic. As a therapist I am constantly on guard of the tendency to label people. It is wise and helpful to identify personality types and important to categorize disorders for the purpose of treatment and understanding. However, the tendency is to use these labels as pejorative. I cringe any time I hear anyone talk of people by their personality type of “disorder.”
While reading the book I heard a sermon by John Piper on Hebrews 11: 39-12:2 titled “Running with the Witnesses.” His comments below articulate this point well. He says:
One of the criticisms I have of some forms of Psychology (not all) is the tendency to neutralize texts like this by labeling people with personality types that have no value judgments attached. For example, if a person tends to be passive you give them one label, and if they tend to be aggressive, you give them another label. No type is better than another type. Then along comes a text like this which says that passivity and coasting and drifting are mortally dangerous. The race might not be finished if we don’t become vigilant and lay aside not only sins, but also weights and hindrances. If we are not careful, we can be so psychologically fatalistic that we read over a text like this and say, “O that’s not for me, that’s for Type A people, or INTJ’s.” That would be a tragic mistake.
I know that there are personality differences, some more passive and some more aggressive. Each has its weaknesses and strengths. The passive people are in danger of coasting and neglecting and drifting and the many enslavement’s that result. The aggressive people are in danger of impatience and self-reliance and judgmental-ism. And there are strengths: the passive people are less prone to murmur and complain and retaliate. And the aggressive people are more given to bring about needed change.”
We would do well to avoid the trap of fatalism, as Cain does here.
Randy Alcorn’s *The Goodness of God* is a condensed version of his book *If God is Good*. I give this book five stars for two reasons:
1) This is a vital message in a world that often struggles to answer how a god could possibly be good in the midst of a world filled with great suffering. It is a difficult question to answer and Alcorn does well in providing a clear, thoughtful, biblically sound response.
2) It is small. I liked the idea of this book because it is condensed. Though the theological truth is weighty, we should be able to provide a simple answer to such a complex issue. This will be a great resource to give to those in the midst of suffering. I was critical of the length of Alcorn’s *If God is Good* simply because, in the midst of suffering, reading a detailed theological work may be the last thing I can or want to do. For this reason, I appreciate the length of this book.
I was interested in this book given a recent interest in different periods of Christian history. If you are looking for detailed information about the man William Tyndale, this book may prove to be less than helpful. However, a lot of information about Tyndale is not available, evidently. The authoer speaks of others in history, in an effort to fill in the gaps. This was a surprise, though the author does address this.
Tyndale was a man of conviction. Tyndale left the church with a translation of the bible directly from the original text. This was viewed as heretical and resulted in being burned at the stake. His conviction resulted in his death. This was the greatest reminder from the book. Many tend to have few convictions, other than having the conviction to not have clear, absolute convictions. It is often helpful to learn from history and we would do well to learn to, like Tyndale, live and die by our convictions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”