The Book of Man by William J. Bennett

The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood

William J. Bennett

Thomas Nelson: 2011

Dr. William J. Bennett’s Book of Virtues is a favorite in our house. At dinner time, bath time, or bed time, the children ask me to read a story or poem from “the big book,” as they call it. And I’m always willing to; Bennett’s Book of Virtues has as much to offer the parents as it does the children.

I expected the Book of Man to be like the Book of Virtues, only for little boys. But the readings are more for older boys or men. Still, the subtitle, “Readings on the Path to Manhood,” is appropriate. After all, what man doesn’t continue on the path to manhood?

Bennett asks:

“What does it mean to be a man today?…While the plot, actors, and scenes are constantly changing, the virtues, characteristics, and challenges of manhood remain the same today as thousands of years ago.”

On how to be a man, Bennett says, “More can and should be said. That is what I offer here. There are examples worthy of emulation, stories worth knowing, lives worth studying and remembering, and counsel worth hearing…”

Bennett’s quotes span the time from Pericles to Colin Powell, while the characters range from Robert Murray M’Cheyne to Jimmy Carter.

Stories about men like Theodore Roosevelt or Martin Luther King Jr. are always inspiring, and Bennett gives us plenty. But equally inspiring are the stories of men like Terry Toussaint, Fort Valley, Georgia’s “proud sanitation worker.” Toussaint was inspired by Martin Luther King’s speech to a crowd of street sweepers in Memphis, TN:

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures….sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, `Here lived a great street sweeper…’”

“For Toussaint, it’s all part of the day’s job. At fifty years old, he starts every day at 4:45 A.M. and never misses a day of work.” “I’ll always be the best that I can be at [whatever job I have],” says Toussaint.

Bennett examines manhood in every arena: Man in War; Man at Work; Man in Play, Sports, and Leisure; Man in the Polis (community); Man with Woman and Children (this section alone is worth the price of the book); and Man in Prayer and Reflection.

Not all of the selections are inspiring, nor do they all represent the best in man: “Marines are a different breed; we’re made to go after people. If you’re not killing someone or being killed, you’re not happy.” But, as Bennett says, there is something to be learned from each of them.

While my little boy isn’t ready for this book, I look forward to our reading it together when he’s older. I hope these selections will benefit, encourage, and inspire him as they do me. In the meantime, I’ll continue to use this excellent book to help me down my own path to manhood.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

Born of God by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Born of God: Sermons from John, Chapter One

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Banner of Truth: 2011

488 pages

Highly recommended.

No mortal can exhaust the truths in the Bible. Or even, it seems, in one verse of the Bible. But that didn’t stop D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from trying. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the man whose sermons on Ephesians fill eight volumes, whose sermons on Romans fill fourteen volumes, and who could preach for an hour on the text, “But God,” (Ephesians 2:4) preached thirty-two sermons almost exclusively from 3 verses.

Lloyd-Jones began preaching from John’s Gospel in October of 1962. Even though this series was only “to occupy him at intervals,” it is still remarkable that he was but in the “early chapters” when he retired from Westminster Chapel, London, in 1968.

This newest volume of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons, titled Born of God, consists of ten sermons from John 1:17, eighteen sermons from John 1:12-13, and four others from neighboring verses.

In this series, unlike in many of his others, Lloyd-Jones did not set out to go verse by verse through a book, or portion, of the Bible:

“I propose, God willing, not to give a detailed, consecutive exposition of John’s Gospel, but rather to pick out the application of the teaching to the state and condition of the Christian in this world.”

He primarily applies the texts in two ways: by warning presumptuous professors to examine themselves, while encouraging true Christians to grow in assurance.

Lloyd-Jones says that it is every Christian’s duty to be joyful: “Without the joy there will not be much strength and without strength we shall fail in our representation of our Lord and Master and all that he stands for.” But, for this joy to be full, a Christian has to understand what Christ has done for them. And for that, they have to understand their plight without him. This, Lloyd-Jones says, is the right use of the law:

“Those who dismiss the law will never know much about grace….If I have preached the law in such a way as to make somebody say, ‘I’m completely and entirely hopeless and unless I can be saved by someone outside myself, I’m done for,’ then I have preached it properly.”

Yet he balances this by warning against falling back under the law. The doctrines of grace are essential to keeping believers from legalism, while the law is needed to prevent antinomianism. An understanding of both is needed in order to have true assurance and joy.

So that those with false assurance might be warned, while true Christians would grow in assurance, Lloyd-Jones gives numerous tests for people to examine themselves by. These tests fall under several divisions, including one’s relationship to the Son, to the Father, to the Holy Spirit, to the Church, and even to the devil. Most of these have to do with sanctification because, as Lloyd-Jones says, those born of God will be changed:

“When we are born, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,’ something happens to us. We have a new nature; we are given a new life. That must show itself.…”

For example, Lloyd Jones says that the Holy Spirit works in believers by giving them a desire for holiness:

“He causes us to examine ourselves and he creates within us breathings and longings and a hungering and thirsting after righteousness…a very good test is this: If you are more concerned about being holy than you are about being happy, then you are a Christian beyond any doubt….But if you are more concerned about being happy than being holy, there is doubt.”

Reading this book is thought provoking and edifying. The sermons are easy to follow, yet deep enough to satisfy a theologian. And Lloyd-Jones deals out both conviction and comfort, just as he meant to:

“My dear friends, have I strengthened you? Have I given you assurance that you are a child of God? God grant that I have! But if I have not, if I have disturbed you, if I have made you feel that you are not a Christian—then do something about it. Go to Him, acknowledge and confess it.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Banner of Truth Trust.

Lloyd-Jones: Not Everything That Masquerades Under the Name of Christian is Christian

“Do you have discrimination, my friends?….There is a spirit abroad today that says, ‘Let a man believe what he likes as long as he calls himself a Christian….what does it matter? We’re all Christians together.’ Are we? Have we any discrimination? Have we any tests these days? Christians had to have them in the early church; we need them today. Not everything that masquerades under the name of Christian is Christian; it never has been.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Born of God: Sermons from John, Chapter One

A Guide to Biblical Manhood

Stand Up! A Guide to Biblical Manhood

Randy Stinson & Dan Dumas

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Press, 2011

In A Guide to Biblical Manhood, Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas say that men need to act like men. “We need men who aren’t pre-occupied with their amusements or appearance, but instead are willing and able to take on manly challenges.” These manly challenges primarily have to do with leadership, provision, and protection.

The authors apply biblical examples to men’s roles within the workplace, home, and church. While I have some small disagreements, the overall message is sound, and the advice is helpful. I particularly enjoyed the sections titled, “Twenty Five Things a Dad Should Teach a Boy” and “Eleven Connecting Points between Baseball, Biblical Masculinity and Godly Character.”

The overall theme of this book is that true manhood is about humility and self-sacrifice; we can’t be reminded of that enough. But it has been said a lot lately. Biblical manhood and womanhood top the popularity charts among reformed writers. Anything that can be said has been, many times and many ways. This book offers nothing new, nothing that isn’t already said in many other books like Richard Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate. The strength of this particular book, however, is that it summarizes the others in less than 110 pages. More men are likely to read and benefit from it. And at $5.99, it’s not only a bargain, but the right choice.

Surprised by Oxford

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

By Carolyn Weber

Thomas Nelson, 2011

An unsolicited package from Thomas Nelson lay on my desk. Since I had decided to take a break from reading and reviewing new books, and this was the second to arrive within a week, I considered sending it back unopened. I’m glad that I didn’t.

Carolyn Weber tells how she arrived at Oxford on a scholarship that she worked excessively hard for. She was there to pursue a graduate degree and education. She left with those and infinitely more.

Weber’s honesty is refreshing. She was certainly not seeking Jesus, or even God. As a young, independent, intelligent academic, she didn’t want “Christian” on her resume, and she fought against the gospel, slinging her arguments “like arrows of outrageous fortune.” But her arguments turned to thoughtful questions, and her defenses began to fall as she realized that there was something great missing from her life. “Caro,” a friend of hers said, “I can see the conversion happening on your face….I can hear it in your multilevel homesickness.”

Weber’s conversion was no half-hearted decision. For months she privately read the Bible, and for months she asked tough questions. These questions take her, and the reader, into deep theological territory. Yet it’s always with a fresh and personal perspective; accessible and enjoyable. And the gospel pours from the pages of this book. Weber makes us hungry to dig into the New Testament with the zeal of a new believer.

Weber’s writing is free from pious jargon; she undercuts her own praise of clichés by rarely using them. The author avoids both the superficiality and the pseudo-intellectualism that Christian writers are often guilty of. Hers is exactly the kind of writing that I want to read. And her story is exactly the kind I needed to hear. Alister McGrath describes it perfectly: “A hugely readable journey of cultural and spiritual discovery, sparkling with wit and wisdom.” Surprised by Oxford is the warmest and most enjoyable memoir I’ve read this year.

A Prayer

I thank thee for the waking day,
Wherein you give further grace
To draw nearer thee
Than I am.

I thank thee for a lovely wife,
Who gives me strength and charity;
Give her fresh supplies
Of what I’ve spent.

Thank thee for my children sweet,
Who love despite my faults; to them
What I’m not, I
Pray thou be.

Thank thee for thy sinless Son.
His work, complete and perfect stands,
Gives one like this a
Will to pray.

John Calvin: Man of God’s Word Written and Preached

John Calvin: Man of God’s Word Written and Preached

By Peter Barnes

Banner of Truth: 2011

I should start with an apology for this review. It seems as though reviewers of Christian books feel obligated to give a positive review unless the book contains heresy, or a lack of what the reviewer considers a sufficient dose of the gospel. To that I can’t submit. Those are important. But it is also the reviewer’s job to tell the reader if the book will be worth their time. Is it readable? Does it tell us anything? Does it inspire? If not, it’s not worth the money.

Peter Barnes says nothing heretical–nothing, even, that I disagree with. I had hoped, expected, to love this book, considering the subject, and to sing its praise. To that end, I can say three things. Barnes has done his research, and his book makes us want to read Calvin. Also, for someone who knows nothing about John Calvin’s view of Scripture, this may be a fair introduction. But the book sounds like a seminary research paper, and is as dry.

Barnes has nothing new to say. In fact, Barnes himself says very little. He takes the reformed writer’s obsession with quotes to a new extreme. Regarding how Calvin structured his sermons, for instance, Barnes throws out 6 quotes, and then picks the one he thinks best. Here are the contents of a typical page:

“Dawn DeVries writes….Andrew Blackwood suggests….Not for nothing does William Bouwsma describe….Herman Selderhuis perhaps exaggerates….T.H.L. Parker waxes eloquent….Randall Zachman begs to differ….,” (pages 48-49).

Barnes strives to point out flaws in Calvin’s preaching or writing, as if we should be astonished that the man from Geneva was human. Calvin’s sermon breaks, for instance, were sometimes “unnatural,” or even “somewhat disconcerting.” Barnes spends a few pages describing the abruptness of Calvin’s sermon endings. In one sermon, Barnes tells us, Calvin “breaks off quite suddenly…He then launched into the prayer after the sermon!”

“Nor was his exegesis always entirely convincing.”

The reader may fairly ask: Whose exegesis is “always entirely convincing?”

Barnes amazes us with such insights into Calvin as his belief that “The preacher is called upon to be faithful to God before he is sensitive to the seeker,” or, “Calvin held to what today would be called `intelligent design.’”

“Calvin almost never told anecdotes in the pulpit,” nor does Barnes in his book. It is almost entirely free of narrative or warmth.

Barnes mentions Calvin’s polished writing and speaking. Unfortunately, the simplicity and brevity of Calvin’s style has not rubbed off:

“One ought not be beguiled into thinking that the Lord’s supper with its celebration of the once for all perfect sacrifice of Christ is anything like the Mass where, supposedly, Christ is repeatedly sacrificed,” (page 70).

This style, along with the content, makes Mr. Barnes’ John Calvin unsuitable for the lay person. The shortness of the book and lack of anything new make it useless to the scholar.

Give us this day our daily bread…and water

And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord (Amos 4:7-8).

This week’s paper announced that we are under mandatory water restrictions. For now, all that means is that we can only water our lawns and gardens between 8:00 P.M. and 10:00 A.M. That’s fine. It makes me cringe to see someone’s sprinkler on at 2:00 P.M. while it’s 104 degrees and the wind’s blowing 25 miles an hour anyway.

What worries me isn’t that we can’t water our lawns. It’s that our water supply is so low that we have to be told not to water our lawns.

Yesterday morning I went to visit a local farmer. On the way, I drove over the lake that supplies most of our county with water. I glanced down at the dock from which my little girl Bonnie caught her first fish. Back then, it was a floating dock. Now it sits on dry ground about twenty feet from the water.

Since October, our county has had less than 10 inches of rain. We would have had 21 in a normal year. Still, we’re better off than most of the state. Much of West Texas has had less than an inch of rain in the last ten months. Not only have the rancher’s tanks gone dry, but the water table is so low that the windmills aren’t pumping.

South and Central Texas aren’t better off. Lampasas, a town of about 6,800, is supposedly down to a month’s supply of water.

My friend Donald, the one who I went to visit yesterday, has culled his cow herd from 100 to 25. Despite his having some of the best cared for hay fields around, he’s only been able to cut a few bales this year, and there’s no grazing. He’s feeding as much hay and feed as he normally does in January. But in January, at least he had water. Yesterday he was putting a new motor on his well so that he can pump some water into his dry ponds.

Donald signed a contract to deliver 50 acres of peanuts at $650 a ton. Had he made the crop, with the rising price of inputs (seed, fertilizer, fuel), he might have done a little better than break even. But the crop probably won’t be there at harvest time, despite all the money that he’s put into it.

Donald dug his rows deep to get his peanuts as close to moisture as possible. I stooped down and tried to scratch under a plant. “You’re going to need a sharp shooter if you’re looking for water,” he said. Meanwhile, Donald’s grandson hand watered their watermelon crop, a job that took most of the day. Still, Donald doesn’t give up: “They’re giving us a small chance of rain next week; maybe it will be enough.”

While farmers across the country face another year without crop sales, high commodity prices are the big news. Every day, there’s another article claiming that farmers are “reaping the benefits of record prices.” But the reason crop prices are high is that there are no crops to sell. Farmers are going out of business all across the country; this wouldn’t be the case if they were reaping record prices.

The prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” doesn’t have the same meaning when our pantries are full. We’ve had to give the verse a broader application to make sense of it. It’s time for a more direct application. Maybe we should stop taking for granted that we will have affordable food and clean water. After all, most of the world doesn’t.

Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath

Adherents to new atheism say that religion is irrational, evil, violent, and should not be tolerated. Their movement is “an enthusiastic advocation of atheism and a seething criticism of both religious belief and cultural respect for religion.”

Alister McGrath’s new book, Why God Won’t Go Away, isn’t his first response to the new atheist rhetoric. Besides other writings, he has also engaged in several public debates with the group’s most prominent leaders, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

McGrath knows his subject. He’s read the books of the leaders (Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett), and he reads the blogs of their faithful followers. Having been an atheist himself, McGrath, who is now a prominent evangelical theologian, understands the reasoning of both sides and has much to contribute to the conversation.

McGrath quotes leading scientists, philosophers, more reasonable atheists, and new atheists themselves, to show that new atheism is often dogmatic, bitter, and irrational. Two examples will suffice. In a televised interview, Christopher Hitchens declared Mother Teresa “a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud,” said “millions of people are much worse off because of her life,” and that it was “a shame that there was no hell for her to go to.” Sam Harris, speaking of religion, said that “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Who, may I ask, are the fanatics?

The New Atheist’s main arguments against religion are religious violence, reason, and science. McGrath, with skill and wit, uses their own arguments against them. This is not something that they’re prepared for, so they seem to be changing tactics. One new atheist blogger wrote: “I’m beginning to believe the best we can do is to just shout at them, ‘You’re stupid, you’re idiots, you’re morons!’”

McGrath’s is a small book, but it’s probably the only one I’ll read on the subject. Few thinkers, including scientists or more thoughtful atheists, take the rants of these angry fundamentalists seriously, and the movement as a whole does seem to be “running on empty.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty?

Alister McGrath

Thomas Nelson: 2010

Who’s to Blame: How Barney and Bongo Drums Have Contributed to the Cowboy Church Movement

The big topic in West Texas is the lack of rain. That’s always the case, but especially this year.

Tomorrow’s forecast is typical: 103 degrees with wind. Chance of rain—zero percent. The buffalo grass is blond, the bluestem reddish-brown, both are curly and crunchy. Cattle are disappearing from the pastures. First it was lack of grass, but now the tanks are dry. It doesn’t matter how much grass or hay you have if you don’t have water. And most of the peanuts and cotton were never planted. The farmers who did plant probably won’t yield more than the ones who didn’t.

While the cowman’s funds fade, the cowboy church thrives. The group that started meeting in the cattle auction barn a few years back has become the second largest church in the county. The church is affiliated with the SBC, but the sermons, music, and fellowship cater to those who would rather ride horses than drive Hondas. Last week’s local paper advertised a ranch sorting contest to be held immediately after Sunday’s services.

That there are cowboy churches at all causes some debate. Here’s part of an email a friend sent me the other day:

“There is something about the cowboy churches or biker churches that doesn’t seem right to me. I never have been able to place my finger on it, but basically here is the question that …I can’t answer: what is there about being a cowboy that requires a church dedicated to them?

“Now I know there is lot about being a cowboy and that lifestyle and so forth, but what about it is necessitating all these western heritage churches? [W]hen I bring up my discomfort, I usually feel bad because people say, ‘Well, if one person is saved because of it, then it is a good thing.’ Then if I disagree with that statement about the fictitious ‘one person’ who is saved at all these silly things that we do in the name of Christ and His Church, I look like a total jerk.

John, as a cowboy sympathizer, what is your take on the cowboy church movement, and am I a jerk?”

And my response:

“[Friend], I agree with you completely on this. No, you’re not a jerk. Or maybe we both are, but I think that we are right….

The bottom line is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, matters of essential doctrine (or possible language barriers) should be the only things to divide us. When we create a cowboy (biker, skater, whatever) church, it says that our worldly preferences are the main priority, and that even our church has to conform to our way of life or hobbies. It’s the extreme example of churches having to be ‘culturally relevant.’”

But after my initial email, I thought more. What is it that makes the “cowboy type” uncomfortable in the average church? I think I know, partly because I can sympathize. Maybe the other churches have become too culturally relevant themselves.

Can we blame the man who still works by himself on horseback for 15 hours a day, 30 miles from town (and there are still plenty left around here), if he’s uncomfortable singing girlish pop songs from a movie screen while people wave their hands on both sides of him? Maybe he doesn’t want to hear the college boy—the one with the soul-patch and flip-flops—playing his bongo.

I’m not John Wayne, and I don’t work on horseback 15 hours a day. And while I don’t want to sit on a bale of hay while listening to a sermon from a man wearing his team roping spurs, I would prefer that to a lot of the places I’ve been. Preachers who act like Barney, music fit for little girls, rock concerts, coffee shops, intellectuals, anti-intellectuals, you name it—we have it all. Why not cowboy churches, too? If the mainline churches can have golf tournaments, splash days, and Super-Bowl parties after church, then what’s wrong with a little rough-stock riding?

Maybe this is the bottom line: if we’re going to bring contemporary culture into the churches, we need to accept the cost. Not everyone shares or appreciates our particular culture. If it was easy to find a church where the services consisted of preaching the word, singing traditional church hymns, and prayer (without all the extras), then I bet there wouldn’t be a need for cowboy churches. But if we insist on bringing our pop culture into the church, then we can’t blame the cowboys for leaving.

Comments are open, so fire away.