How to Be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee: Winning Satire with a Point

How to Be a Perfect ChristianHow to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living

by The Babylon Bee

eARC, 208 pg.
Multnomah, 2018
Read: May 13, 2018

I’m pretty sure my introduction to the concept of satire came from the works of “Jovial” Bob Stine (this was before he discovered you could make a bazillion dollars selling horror books to kids) — The Sick Of Being Sick Book, The Cool Kids’ Guide to Summer Camp, Don’t Stand in the Soup, and How to be Funny. I hadn’t thought of him for years. Until I read How to Be a Perfect Christian, that is.

I’m not trying to suggest that this book is the equivalent of satirical children’s books from the early 80’s and late 70’s. But it’s exactly what someone who grew up reading that kind of thing should read. Also, I’m glad I got to spend a few moments remembering Jovial Bob Stine, and I wonder if I still have those books somewhere (and how un-funny would my own kids think they are).

If you’ve ever read anything from The Babylon Bee, you know what to expect from these guys. If you haven’t — you either should, or maybe this isn’t the book for you.

Styling itself as a guide to sanctification — there’s even a handy ruler at the end of each chapter helping the reader to note their progress — How to Be a Perfect Christian is a hands-on guide to making progress in Cultural Evangelicalism. There’s a chapter on picking the right Church (what can they do for me?), what things to volunteer for at church (minimum of work, maximum of exposure/attention), how to use social media (if your Quiet Time doesn’t result in an Instagram post, was there a point?). There’s a wide variety in the types of jokes here: there are dumb and obvious jokes, some subtle, some clever — all pointed. Which is the idea, they’re pointed so they can deflate contemporary American Evangelicalism — its cultural (sociopolitical/cultural) manifestations, anyway.

Yes, sometimes the prose contradicts itself — because the target or punchline on page 70 is different than the target or punchline on page 47. But that’s okay for two reasons — 1. the jokes land on both pages 70 and 47 (these numbers are made up, by the way), and 2. this books isn’t really trying to make a coherent, consistent argument. At least not for the first 98%, anyway. But the jokes are funny — not all of them laugh out loud funny, but they’ll elicit a chuckle or a grin. Some might just leave you with a general sense of amusement. Most will find a way to strike home (and there are a few duds — but everyone will have their own list of duds, I don’t think there’s one in the book that everyone will dislike).

More importantly, everyone will find themselves at the receiving end of the serrated edge of the satire more often than they’d like. But not in a guilt-inducing way, but in a — “hmm, I should probably work on that” kind of way. Which, I trust, is the point.

The last two percent (for those clever enough to do the math) that I pointed at earlier? Yeah, that’s what the whole book driving toward — the lampooning is for fun but there is an overall point under-girding everything. A point, that’s both well earned, and very needed, by cultural Christians, sincere and thoroughgoing Christians, and a waiting world.

Solid satire — laughs with an edge — directed toward a deserving target. The conclusion was equally on-point and earned. I honestly expected less from this book — yes, I knew there’s be good laughs along the way and that the necessary sacred cows would be shot at — I just wasn’t sure if The Babylon Bee could pull off a piece this long, and count the whole thing as a pleasant surprise.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from WaterBrook & Multnomah via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

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Grace Alone–Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl R. Trueman

Grace Alone--Salvation as a Gift of GodGrace Alone–Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Carl R. Trueman
Series: The 5 Solas Series
Paperback, 243 pg.
Zondervan, 2017
Read: October 8 – 22, 2017


After struggling through three books in this series, I will admit to some trepidation about this one — thankfully, Carl Trueman is an author I have a bit of experience with, so I figured it’d be worth the effort. Thankfully, there wasn’t that much effort, and the book was absolutely worth the time.

Trueman organizes this book differently than the others — in Part 1, he considers Sola Gratia in Scripture and Church History. Trueman surveys the idea of grace alone through both Testaments (it’s easier than some would lead you to think to find it in the Old Testament), looking at individual texts as well as themes throughout the books. I would have liked this to be a bit longer — but I really can’t complain about it. Following that, Trueman focuses on the teachings the Church throughout history about Grace — starting with the early church, focusing on Augustine and his Confessions as emblematic of the first centuries of the church. Then he continues to focus on Augustine, but shifts the focus to the controversies sparked by the Confessions with Pelagius and his followers as the prism through which the (Western) Church discusses and teaches Grace since those days. In the next chapter, Trueman focuses on Medieval theology about grace using Aquinas as the example. Following that we get chapters on Luther and Calvin (and those who’d be allied to Calvin’s branch of the Reformation), shaking off the accumulated tradition and misunderstandings to get back to the core of Scriptural and Augustininan teaching (with help from Aquinas). Would I have appreciated another chapter or two about post-Reformational history? Sure. But they weren’t necessary to fulfill Trueman’s aims, and we get a taste of what they’d offer in Part 2.

Part 2 is title “Sola Gratia in the Church.” Grace is communicated to Christians via The Church, Preaching, Sacraments and Prayer and so Trueman a. defends that idea and then proceeds to discuss how God goes that in chapters devoted to each of those. For those of the Reformed tradition, there is nothing ground-breaking or controversial here, although Protestants from other traditions might find some of the ideas challenging. These are solid chapters of the kind of teaching I expected from this series, and I appreciated them.

In the book’s Conclusion, Trueman attempts to address the questions: “What would a ‘grace alone’ church look like today? What would characterize its life as a church? How might we recognize such a church when we see it?” The answers to these questions are a mix of doctrinal and practical ideas that he lists in ten points showing the interconnections between them. This conclusion (in building on what came before) is worth at least half the price of the book — just fantastic stuff.

I still have one to go in the series, so I may have to modify this, but this one is by far the best of the bunch — accessible, pastoral and thorough without sacrificing depth. Trueman doesn’t seem to get distracted by pet details, nor to just beat the same obvious deceased equines on this topic. If you’re going to read just one of the five, let this be it. Alternatively, if the some of the others have left you wanting, give this one a shot, I think you’ll appreciate it.

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4 Stars

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job by C. J. Williams

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of JobThe Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job

by C. J. Williams

Paperback, 96 pg.
Wipf and Stock, 2017

Read: August 27, 2017


Just some quick thoughts on a quick read…

Williams begins this brief book with a chapter on typology, what is it and why should we use it. Essentially, his definition of a type is: a living prophecy concerning God’s promised (centering on Jesus) for the benefit of God’s people throughout the ages. Which is a pretty handy definition, made more so by the rest of his discussion.

That accomplished, Williams applies it to the book of Job, and its central figure. Essentially, he gives a chronological survey over 10 chapters showing the typology involved. I found these chapters refreshing in their perspective, and instructive for how to look at other biblical texts in the same light. The last chapter, “What the Book of Job Means Today,” applies it to the Christian reader, what can his takeaway be from the book as he seeks sanctification, which was pretty helpful.

This is not a commentary on Job (I’d love to read one in this vein, especially by Williams), he’s brief by design. I think he could’ve been slightly less brief without making the book inaccessible or too involved. This brevity frequently frustrating — he’ll give an idea in a sentence, or disagree with a thought in a sentence, that could easily have been a paragraph (the latter was more annoying to me). Just a little more development of some of these ideas would’ve greatly improved the book.

A helpful way of seeing how typology can be faithfully utilized, as well as a reminder of the character of our Lord seen in the lives of His saints. A good use of an hour or two of your time.

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3 Stars

Prayer by Ole Hallsby

PrayerPrayer

by Ole Hallesby

Papberback, 176 pg.
1994 (originally 1931), Augsburg Fortress

Read: September 3 – 10, 2017


The section from Calvin’s Institutes on prayer is fantastic, Wistsius’ book is incredibly helpful, Luther’s little A Simple Way is pretty good, as is Matthew Henry’s Method, but none of them have been as much help as this little book by Norweign Lutheran Ole Hallesby (at least that’s my guess, I’ve had years to chew on those others, only a couple of weeks for Hallesby). I heard of the book briefly on an episode of Christ the Center this summer, and then they devoted an entire episode to it later — I was halfway through the book when that second episode was posted, thankfully, they didn’t say anything that spoiled the ending. If not for those podcast episodes, I probably would’ve gone my whole life without ever hearing of this book. That would’ve been a shame.

He doesn’t set out to write a comprehensive book on the subject, or a systematized theology of prayer, but to present “a few simple rules for the benefit of souls who are fainting at prayer.” It’s not much of a rule book, thankfully, as much as it wants to be — more like a collection of helpful suggestions.

Hallesby describes two things that make up the attitude of prayer — helplessness and faith. Faith that Jesus can and will answer our prayers and a realization that we are helpless and need him to even pray. What he writes about helplessness is worth the price of the book alone. I think it’s changed the way I pray already. I would quote a bit of it here — and I started to, but I wasn’t sure where I’d stop. So let me just encourage you to grab the book.

I also really appreciated his discussion of how we “think we must help God to fulfill our prayer,” by giving Him lists of suggestions for how to and times when He can answer us. Instead, we are to faithfully pour out our need to Him, and then trust that He will answer as He sees best. I’d really never thought of it in those terms but we really can end up trying to tell God the best way to go about helping us — which flies in the face of our admitted helplessness in a given situation.

Hallesby covers the work of prayer, the struggles we may have in it, some suggestions for how to learn to pray better, as well as giving some answers to common questions about prayer (that seem to be the same questions I hear others having almost 100 years after this book was written, probably questions believers had 100 years before that, too). Throughout the book, you get a strong sense of a pastoral heart behind the words and advice, which makes it all much easier to heed.

It’s not a perfect book by any means — most of my problems have to do with the fact that I’m not a Lutheran, nor a Pietist. So, anything that leans too heavily on those traditions/characteristics are obviously going to at least raise my eyebrows, but on the whole those aspects of the book are quibbles. For example, his definition of prayer involves letting God help us, or his aversion to pre-written prayers (that one has many allies in my own tradition, so it is more of a note than anything). More substantial concerns are his utter lack of reference to — much less use of — the Psalms or the Lord’s Prayer. A book on prayer that doesn’t even touch on those is mind-boggling. None of these concerns or quibbles detract too much from the book — and they’re certainly outweighed by the help the book gives.

Pound-for-pound, the best book on the subject I’ve read. Easy to read, encouraging, convicting and insightful. Highly recommended.

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4 Stars

Christ and Covenant Theology by Cornelis P. Venema

Christ and Covenant TheologyChrist and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants

by Cornelis P. Venema

eARC, 504 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017
Read: July 23 – August 20, 2017


The doctrine of covenants is in many ways the heart of Reformed Theology, defining Reformed Christianity and marking the dividing line between it other forms of Protestantism. Which is not to say that after 400 years and change that we’ve managed to work out all the details. Even now controversies (of varying degrees of heat) over aspects of Covenant Theology keep blogs, twitter and theologians busy. This particular tome is a collection of essays by noted theologian and author, Cornelis P. Venema, on some of these issues. They’re all slightly re-worked articles originally published in various journals, books, etc. but in one handy collection for those who haven’t tracked them all down before.

Broken into three sections, the book covers the relationship between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace; the relation between Covenant and Election (particularly as applied to children of believers); and then “Covenant Theology in Recent Discussion,” which focuses on the Federal Vision and N. T. Wright’s view of justification.

In a nutshell — I found Part 1 to be the most intriguing, Part 2 to be the most helpful, and Part 3 didn’t do much at all for me. But that’s me, and I can’t imagine that my experience will be replicated. I’m not going to spend a lot of time summarizing his arguments — I couldn’t do a good job of that; it’s beyond the scope of this blog; and it’d take far too much time to read — he does a better job of it anyway (or just read Ferguson’s foreward, which gives an excellent overview).

Part 1, “The Covenant of Works and The Covenant of Grace” focuses on the a couple of problems surrounding the concept of the “Covenant of Works” — in chapter 1, he explores some criticisms of the concept, the history of its development and then defends it (at least in is Westminster Confessional form). Venema then moves on to look at the ways in which some contemporary Reformed theologians are seeing to find a “republication” of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic covenant. He begins with building the case for Republication, drawn from some of the primary sources, and then critiques it. I won’t say I’ve read everything on this topic in print, but I’ve read enough to get the issues, and this is probably the fairest job I’ve seen describing the position. It’s also a pretty good critique, showing many of the problems inherent to it. This was very helpful to me, and I expect, for many.

Part 2 is wider in focus — he devotes two chapters to looking at Herman Bavinck’s understanding of Covenant, Election and the relationship between the two. Bavinck is becoming one of my favorite theologians and this study, pulling from many of his works, was useful focusing on these themes. Venema then spends two chapters on the teaching of the Canons of Dort about children of believers who die in infancy — there’s an overall pastoral tone to these chapters (and the Canons), with some good historical overviews of what lead to it and how the Canons have been used since their writing while dealing with grieving parents and others. These two chapters probably helped me more than any others in this book. Finally, leading from both of those, Venema applies the doctrine of the Covenant to the baptism of children. I read this in the original book it was published in, and it was one of the better chapters in that book — it’s still good now.

The third part dragged for me, I’ll admit. Venema does his characteristic thorough job laying out the issues with both the so-called “Federal Vision” and N. T. Wright’s ideas about justification as seen in his interpretation of Romans 5. I know better than to think that the issues surrounding the FV or NPP are dead, and I know that the issues are important enough that we need to keep exploring and expounding on them — but man, I devoted so much time and energy in the early 2000s to the FV in particular that unless he had something new to say, I just wasn’t going to get anything out of it. These chapters were a good overview and analysis, with some very good elements of critique. I do think that those who are newer to the topics, or haven’t spent a lot of time on them will profit from Venema’s work here.

What can I say about the writing? Venema’s very dry, very careful. When it comes to some of these topics, passions can flare, rhetoric can overtake even the more sanctified writers, getting them to say things more casually than they ought, even recklessly. Veneama avoid that, going out of his way to attempt to be fair to his opponents, while making it clear where he stands. This can be annoying if you’re looking for a quick answer to a controversy, but a great boon if you’re trying to understand it. It’s that care, that patience, that fairness that makes his critiques as effective. You don’t get the impression that he’s creating strawmen, or presenting the worst of his opponents, so the problems he points to are significant and deserving of your attention.

I know this book will not appeal to many — if the subtitle “Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants” doesn’t catch your interest, this book isn’t likely to do much for you. But if your ears perk up to just one of those areas, this is a very helpful book, a sure guide through some of the hotspots of the contemporary Reformed Church.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

The Vanishing American Adult (Audiobook) by Ben Sasse

The Vanishing American Adult (Audiobook)The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance

by Ben Sasse

Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., 9 Min.
Macmillan Audio, 2017

Read: July 24 – 26, 2017


I typically don’t like to do this, but in the interest of time, I’m just going to use the text from the publisher’s page to describe the book:
Raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents and coddled by well-meaning but misbegotten government programs, America’s youth are ill-equipped to survive in our highly-competitive global economy.

Many of the coming-of-age rituals that have defined the American experience since the Founding: learning the value of working with your hands, leaving home to start a family, becoming economically self-reliant—are being delayed or skipped altogether. The statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.

From these disparate phenomena: Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse who as president of a Midwestern college observed the trials of this generation up close, sees an existential threat to the American way of life.

In The Vanishing American Adult, Sasse diagnoses the causes of a generation that can’t grow up and offers a path for raising children to become active and engaged citizens. He identifies core formative experiences that all young people should pursue: hard work to appreciate the benefits of labor, travel to understand deprivation and want, the power of reading, the importance of nurturing your body—and explains how parents can encourage them.

Our democracy depends on responsible, contributing adults to function properly—without them America falls prey to populist demagogues. A call to arms, The Vanishing American Adult will ignite a much-needed debate about the link between the way we’re raising our children and the future of our country.
The first third or so is Sasse laying out the problems with the 30-and-younger set (and the parents and grandparents that got them and their society in the sorry state they’re in). The next two-thirds are his suggested solutions, what he believes parents can do to help raise a generation with the necessary rigor and grit to make it. Nothing here can be implemented like blueprints — these are all just things to get parents thinking. Even if the reader disagrees with Sasse (as I do frequently), you get the feeling that he’s more concerned with people and parents thinking about these ideas and doing something about them, even if it’s what he doesn’t think needs to be done.

There’s a chapter devoted to helping our children and teens become critical readers — talking about the necessity of being more than just functionally literate, but people that interact with books — good books, as well as entertaining books. People reading this blog should find a lot to love (and a little to demur with) in this chapter — I almost listened to it twice in a row it was so good.

The book is largely a-political. Yes, politics does enter into it. Yes, if you agree with him (before or after reading the book), it’ll likely lead to certain political moves — but people on all points on the political spectrum should be able to get something out of this book. Just because Sasse is a U.S. Senator, don’t think that this is a book about that. He does highly value “republican” values — but he usually goes out of his way to stress that it’s “small-R republican” he’s referring to. Ditto for the Christian point of view he writes from — Sasse’s very up-front about that, but goes out of his way to show how non-Christians (or even Christians from different traditions) can agree with much of the book, or disagree constructively.

There was problem with the audiobook — there’s no text to refer to. There’s so much that you want to go back and re-read, notes you want to take, quotations/citations you’d like to double check. The literature chapter alone needs to be re-read. And it’s just such a pain to do all that with an audiobook. Trust me, get the hardcopy. The audiobook is a very effective advertisement for the hardcover. It is good to hear Sasse read this himself.

There’s a lot of this book that I just don’t get — I’m not saying he’s wrong, necessarily, but I don’t think he’s always as right as he thinks he is. But I’m telling you, I thought a lot about what he talked about — I talked a lot about the content of this book. I’m looking for ways to put some of this into practice, and wish I’d done a better job of doing it years ago.

Agree with it or not, this is a book well worth reading.

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5 Stars

Christ Alone–The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen Wellum

Christ AloneChrist Alone–The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Stephen Wellum
Series: The 5 Solas Series
Paperback, 314 pg.
Zondervan, 2017
Read: June 11 – July 9, 2017

So, Stephen Wellum tackles the solus Christus Sola, the exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ as our Redeemer. It doesn’t get the press that some of the others do, but it’s as essential to the Reformation as the rest.

He begins with survey of the Biblical material surrounding the identity of Jesus Christ — as Messiah and as God the Son Incarnate. This was some solid work — I had a hard time engaging with his writing, I can’t say why, but he just didn’t hook me. It likely had to do with the fact that this book was on the heels of outstanding works on the same idea by Machen and Vos — and a related book by Crowe. Wellum demonstrated a lot of familiarity with contemporary scholarship on the topic — from all parts of the spectrum. Every few pages, I’d come across a paragraph or so that’d be really helpful. But the rest was just something I slogged through.

Part 2 focused on Christ’s Atoning work — the heart of the book, for sure. He spends two chapters defending and articulating the doctrine of the Penal Substitution. There is much to commend here — well, much to endorse, I think it could’ve been stated in a more interesting way. The biggest issue I had with his presentation here is that he reduces everything else recorded in the gospels to an “extended prologue” to the passion narratives. That’s not a characterization on my part — he states that.

The third Part focuses on the use of the doctrine in the Reformation and today, both in reference to Roman Catholicism and the wider contemporary culture. I think there was a lot of promise to this section and I wish is was better developed. As it was, it came across half-baked. Although, at this point, I’d pretty much given up on the book and maybe it was better than I thought.

On the whole, this series has been a disappointment to me — I’m going to finish it (I own one I haven’t read yet, and my series OCD is going to compel me to get the last). This one more than the others. I wouldn’t say don’t read it — there’s some really good bits here and there, and there’s nothing wrong anywhere, in fact, it’s pretty helpful. But, I don’t know, I just can’t tell anyone to go grab it, either.

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3 Stars