Welcome to the EMC blog, a digital repository of godly wisdom, spiritual direction, and practical advice lovingly offered by our ministry team. May these resources serve to guide and enrich your lifelong journey of faith.

Book Review: Unimaginable

I was very excited to begin reading Jeremiah Johnston’s book Unimaginable: What Our World Would be Like Without Christianity. I enjoy reading apologetics and have spent time teaching this material. The evils of the church throughout history comes up at points and I was excited to dive into this work. Johnston is a lucid and accessible writer, making this a pretty easy read.

World Before Christianity
As I began reading the first section regarding the world prior to Christianity my hopes grew higher. Generally, Johnston’s work on the first century was his strongest portion (that’s what his degree is in), however even there I noticed a tendency to overemphasize the evil, darkness and despair of the ancient world. He paints a picture of the entire ancient world being completely racist and hating women. While we’ve come a long way in these areas and Christianity has led the charge for sure, he seems to take the approach of a critical theorist in analyzing the ancient world.

World Without Christianity
The second portion of the book where he seeks to demonstrate the world without Christianity, by showing the lives and fallout of prominent post-enlightenment atheists is where I struggled the most with this book. A lot can and should be said about the implications of atheism on our worldview and even its fallout through the centuries, but Johnston makes some arguments that delegitimize his credibility.

First (though not necessarily a major point) he seems to engage in Bulverism, when he psychologically explains why some major thinkers reject Christianity. When discussing Feuerbach he ends the section telling the story of his father running off with his mistress and concluding “the experience of rejection of this nature…may well have contributed to Feuerbach’s cynicism and atheism” (77). Similar fallacious argumentation is given to Freud and even Christopher Hitchens as he writes, “A weak father, a faithless mother, and an immoral, lapsed clergyman primed Hitches to reject God and [posit] religious faith ‘poisons everything’” (105). Knowing the Hitchen’s brother Peter is a devout Christian, makes this a peculiarly curious case.

At some level this book is the flip side of those from the new atheists. Both make the different sides into monoliths, picking and choosing only good things for their side and just the negatives of the other. While Johnston’s tone is generally a bit more charitable he doesn’t seem to deal with any evidence against his thesis. While the new atheists often try to demonstrate (as referenced before) “religious faith poisons everything” Johnston presents the Church with completely clean hands and all the evils post-Enlightenment are produced from the emergence of atheism.

What I would have liked to see was a positive case for Christianity. Going in depth how it was the Christian values at work that drove the abolitionist movement (touched on in the book), how Christianity was central to developments like public education, hospitals, charities, behind Martin Luther King’s call for justice, and a host of other great accomplishments due to implementing Christian values. Rather than treating the participants as monoliths, take samples of the greatest change-makers of society who were propelled by their Christian faith. It seems more space was spent trying to tear down the opposition, with some dubious methods than making the positive case.

I received this copy for free from Crossed Focused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: Pray About Everything

Paul Tautges, in his short book Pray About Everything: Cultivating God-Dependency seeks to call churches and pastors to create a culture of prayer in the church.

While it is framed as an appeal to pastors, the content is accessible and beneficial for laypersons, since the bulk of the book are sermonettes designed to be given to a congregation to help instill prayer as a high value. The appendices at the end, give further ideas of how to implement pray as a central focus in a church or small groups.

I appreciate his focus on what pray should bring out in the prayer (God-dependency) as he calls the people of God to a life of prayer. His sermonettes are short but meaningful as he provides significant substance in short pieces.

I’m not sure if this book will be revolutionizing the pastor’s view on prayer, though there are great reminders throughout, but it’s more to show the pastor how to implement a pray-focused life in the church.

I received a free copy through Cross Focused Reviews and was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: The Resurrection Fact

The Resurrection Fact attempts to deal with many of the philosophical and historical arguments against the resurrection. If you are new to the discussion, it will acquaint you with many of the arguments for the proponents (e.g. N. T. Wright, Gary Habermas, W. L. Craig, etc.) as well as many of the skeptics (Bart Ehrman, J. D. Crossan etc.). Having been relatively familiar with both sides, I found the book helpful in summarizing and giving evidence against skeptical arguments.

This format is helpful as you encounter skeptical arguments that typically draw on one of the works they consider, giving the reader a chance to brush up on a particular topic. One of the great strengths of this book, as opposed to others, is that it uses scholars across a wide range of disciplines: history, theology, philosophy and even law. Most books deal with one aspect, this one gives solid summaries of each.

Throughout the book they not only reveal the facts, as discernible by a historian, but deal with the underlying presuppositions of the skeptical in analyzing the facts. The case made for the resurrection I believe is compelling.

My critiques of the book are largely the same critiques given to books that are collections of essays: the varying quality/helpfulness between chapters and a tendency to have redundant information. Since the authors are dealing with a very specific subject, they will often repeat many of the facts and ideas previously discussed. To their credit though, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t more redundant.

I received a free copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for a free review. I was not required to write a good review.

Book Review: Lighthouse Faith

Fox News religion correspondent Lauren Green writes a compelling book in Lighthouse Faith. She encourages her audience toward making God a living reality in your life. She packages arguments, illustrations and anecdotes that she’s uncovered through her extensive career in a lucid and compelling way.

You hear the echoes of Tim Keller, her pastor, in her writing, which I appreciate. She doesn’t necessarily provide new information or arguments, but packages them nicely and briefly. Green also does a great job of helping them to connect to her audience not just logically and intellectually but emotionally. She writes to the heart, but unlike many, does not come across as manipulative or contrived.

As a pastor, one of the things I appreciated was the anecdotes scattered throughout to illustrate the points. Her seasoned work as a reporter has given her windows into some incredibly helpful stories that help illustrate many different themes that come up in my preaching. They were consistently helpful, engaging and would give real life examples of why these things matter.

If forced to be critical, I would say at times the writing can be redundant and there was a couple factual errors (like ascribing the Dark Night of the Soul to Aquinas and not St. John of the Cross), but overall she did a great job.

This book was provided to me free of charge through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a good review.

Book Review: Bible Studies on Mark

William Boekestein’s new book Bible Studies on Mark has set out to help lay persons study this incredible book of the Bible.

Boekestein’s writing is clear and accessible even for the novice. He takes great care to not lose the reader by filling in with anecdotes, illustrations, and helps to introduce basic theology as you come across words, phrases, and themes. He assumes almost no knowledge of the Bible, so he will explain basic terms like Christ, parable, etc. Continue reading Book Review: Bible Studies on Mark