Oct 30, 2013

Clear Winter Nights - A Book Review

The older I get and the longer I am a Christian, the more I value reading and the importance of a good book.  I try to read a variety of books in order to be balanced.  One area that I like to read is good fiction.  Some pastors and Christians only read books on ministry, theology, and the Christian life. They view fiction as a waste of time. Some Christians only read fictional books, but never venture into good books on theology or the gospel because they see it as above their heads.  So, I was intrigued to see that Trevin Wax had recently written a fictional work that also was designed to teach deeper theological truths.  So, I was excited to pick up a copy of Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After.  The book subtitles itself as "Theology in Story" and that is a very apt description.  I appreciate Trevin's gift of writing and his understanding of the gospel and its importance.  Trevin serves as the managing editor of LifeWay's new curriculum "The Gospel Project".

While Clear Winter Nights is a fictional work, it makes an important contribution to the current trend of gospel-centered writings that have been offered in recent years.  It's the story of a young man named Chris and the week that he spends with his elderly grandfather who is a retired pastor. The reader walks with Chris as he is going through a crisis of belief brought on by several factors: the challenges of his liberal religious professors, the recent ending of his engagement to the woman he loves, his grandmother's death, and the recent news that his earthly father wasn't the man that he thought.  These events have left Chris jaded, confused, angry, and resentful.  When his grandfather experiences his own health crisis, Chris steps in to help by staying with him a few days. As they reconnect, Chris' grandfather brings the depth of the gospel and the word of God to Chris' struggles.  He forces Chris to wrestle with questions and truths he had once blindly accepted, but has recently abandoned. This is the process of sanctification and growth.  It's the struggle of a young man actually learning to own his faith through trials and doubt. The author does a fantastic job helping the reader to see that faith is not just a personal belief in something. Ultimately it's a search for the truth, and truth is found in a person, Jesus Christ.

Clear Winter Nights is the kind of book that every Christian can read and appreciate.  The story is short - a mere 147 pages - but laced with important gospel truths. The storyline is very relevant and believable. The struggles of the lead character are relevant to many who have grown up in the Christian church but have struggles reconciling what they have been taught with an increasingly secularized culture that has abandoned objective truth for a more personal, subjective experience.  I commend Trevin for what he has brought to the table and highly recommend you read Clear Winter Nights and pass it on to your friends who may be struggling with doubt.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multinomah for review and publication on this blog. I was not required to write a positive review of this book or its authors. 

Oct 8, 2013

The Pastor's Justification - A Book Review

Jared Wilson is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. He has a solid grasp on the gospel and a gifted writing style that keeps the gospel from becoming rote and academic.  I was very excited to receive a copy of his book, The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in your Life and Ministry.  This may be one of the most important books to my personal ministry that I have read in a long time. Jared does a masterful job of bringing together the calling to ministry and the daily implications of the gospel that we pastors, we are stewards of that same gospel, so often forget.

Ministry is an exhaustive exercise of trying to prove your worth and calling by trying to convince others, who are also fallen, sinful creations, to live the gospel. Every time we as pastors get together, we ask about the same metrics: "How many do you run in Sunday School?", "How many did you have in worship Sunday?", and "How many have you baptized this year?"  When you add to this equation that 85% of churches in America, including mine, are plateaued or declining, then you come out with a mix of pastors that are stressed about numerical success, depressed about their current ministry context, looking for greener fields somewhere else, or questioning their own calling.  The statistics about the spiritual health of pastors and ministers are frightening:

  • Each month, about 1,500 ministers leave ministry altogether either by moral failure, ministry burnout, or forced termination.
  • About 70% of pastors are fighting depression of some sort
  • 50% of ministers say they would probably leave the ministry if they could find another job that would pay them what they are currently making.

This is why Jared Wilson's book is of fundamental importance and a clarion call in a desperate time.  Jared is a pastor who lives in the trenches of ministry every day.  He also has a profound ability to bring practical application of the gospel to everyday life. He shows us exactly what Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 that the gospel is not just something that has saved us, but that it is "the gospel in which you stand and by which you are being saved" presently.  Perhaps the desperate and tragic state of our churches is due to the fact that our pastors are not preaching the gospel to themselves everyday.  Perhaps our obsession with numerical success has blinded us to the fact that we are perfectly accepted by our Heavenly Father because of Christ's righteousness no matter how many people didn't show up last Sunday.  Perhaps the biggest reason there is a fundamental ignorance of the gospel in thew pews of our churches is because there is a fundamental ignorance of neglect of the gospel in the pulpit.  The issue of gospel application to the minister's calling and work is of fundamental importance and Jared does a masterful job of showing this in The Pastor's Justification. He shows how the gospel makes pastors holy, confident, watchful, free, humble, and justified. He also shows how the issues of faith, grace, Christ, God's word, and God's glory apply to the daily and weekly grind of ministry.

As I began reading this book, my first thought was, "I wish this book had been given me when I was in seminary."  I think that every person who seeks to minister in Christ's church should pick up a copy, absorb it, digest it, and master it.  This isn't a book you will fully comprehend in one reading.  The truths of this book will take years to digest and apply.  If you are a pastor, youth minister, worship leader, children's minister, lay minister, or just a concerned church member, you should definitely read this book.