Taking Counsel

I am not a talented swimmer. Actually, I am not a swimmer at all. Never trained in the water, I do not know how to swim. If I would slip into the deep end, I would be in trouble. At best, I could fight to keep my head above water. Left to myself and without training in how to swim, my chances of making it out of the water are slim. As a pastor and Bible college professor, I admit I have similar feelings when it comes to biblical counseling.

Competent to Counsel

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14, emphasis mine). When Paul encourages the Romans of their ability to instruct one another, the picture he is painting is these believers are competent to counsel one another. They can swim in the deep end of instructing one another. While I was blessed to take one course in biblical counseling in my undergraduate, I received no further training in biblical counseling in my seminary program. I had the basics of biblical counseling but not anything more. At best, I was keeping my head above water.

My lack of training was further exposed when I began serving in pastoral ministry as an associate pastor. My interaction with the people in the church I serve opened my eyes to the various issues and problems these different groups and ages of people face. I began seeing more of a need to grow in this area of biblical counseling. This especially hit a tipping point this summer as I engaged with students at our summer church camp. A good number of the children came from broken families. As the camp speaker, I knew I could only do so much within a span of a few days. I shared the gospel with them, and I pointed them to the hope they can have in Jesus Christ. Yet, I sensed I could have better addressed particular desires and particular battles the youth were facing. It felt as if I told them to swim without training them how. Simply put, I felt incompetent for the task.

Time to Train

This pastoral concern of caring for others reaches both the church and the academy. As I continue in pastoral ministry and as I teach college students, the need to give biblical counsel will only grow. The matter is not whether I will counsel or not. The matter is will my counsel be robustly biblical or not. In order to prepare myself to meet the complexities of pastoring and shepherding people, I must take counsel. I must learn from other Christians on how to counsel biblically when the questions and situations one is facing are complex and multifaceted. I need training. Just as training is important in for swimming, training is essential in biblical counseling. For this reason, I am excited to share with you beginning this Fall, I am taking biblical counseling training courses with Rod & Staff Ministries. My intention is to work toward becoming a certified biblical counselor. As I take this necessary step, would you pray with me God would grow me to be “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct”? May the training I receive be for other’s good and for the God’s glory!

Book Review: Reformation Women

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Any discussion on the Reformation will likely bring up names like Martin Luther and John Calvin. And rightfully so. These men had a great impact on church history. Yet, what lacks in most discussions on the Reformation is a recognition of the women who lived then and made an impact during their lifetime. Some may fear to uphold women’s contributions during the Reformation might blur the complementarian view given in Scripture, that is men and women are equal in dignity and worth but they are distinct in roles, men entrusted with the responsibility of servant leadership and women given the call to help and submit. However, I find those fears unwarranted. As men and women’s distinct roles are meant to complement one another, I believe men and women’s contributions in the Reformation complemented each other as well. Rebecca VanDoodewaard believes this to be the case too, as evidenced by her new release Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth. In this updated text of James I. Good’s Famous Women of the Reformed Church, VanDoodewaard introduces us to fairly unknown women of the Reformed faith who committed their lives to the cause of the Reformation.

In this revised and expanded work, VanDooewaard sketches twelve biographies of these Reformation women. Each of the women in the book come from different backgrounds but a mutual love for God and His Word, a care for people, particularly the hurting, Protestant refugees, and children are found in each. These women were hospitable, opening their homes to many. They also faced many hardships, whether they feared for their husbands during a dangerous time of ministry or struggled with the pain of losing children to death. Above all, these two women, while not well-known, knew the cost the Reformation brought with it against the Roman Catholic church. These Reformation women stood firm in their commitment to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. They held to the truth we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, and the Scriptures alone, as the Word of God, are our ultimate authority.

The stories of such women are, as the author says, “an essential element in church history” (ix). While all made unique contributions, the women are an example of faithfulness to the Lord, His Word, and His church. Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDooewaard will introduce you to women of the Word who fought for the truth of the Word and can give us the courage to fight for that same truth today!

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

Book Review: Pray About Everything

Earlier this year the church where I serve as associate pastor began holding monthly prayer services. Each time I have participated, I have been blessed. The unfortunate reality is many do not get to experience this blessing because a concentrated time of corporate prayer is all too rare. Sure, Christians emphasize the priority of personal prayer, as they should. Most books on prayer reflect this importance. What lacks is an intentionality on corporate and congregational prayer. That is why I am thankful for my senior pastor’s initiative to begin a prayer service, and it is why I am excited to share with you Pray About Everything: Cultivating God-Dependency by Paul Tautges. This book teaches all Christians how to pray biblically and equips Christian leaders on how to lead their congregations in prayer.

The book is divided up into three parts. In part 1, Paul Tautges lays the foundation for cultivating God-dependency by pointing the reader to how God uses prayer in the life of His people (chapter 1) and by showing the reader how to pray according to the will of God as revealed in Word of God (chapter 2). In part 2, he builds on the foundation, equipping the reader, particularly with Christian leaders and pastors in mind. He devotes seven chapters to seven potential prayer meeting messages. The message themes include: praying in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), praying for unbelievers (John 16:8-11), praying for governmental leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), praying with a forgiving heart (Matthew 6:12-15), calling for your elders (James 5:13-18), how husbands get their prayers answered (1 Peter 3:7), and when the Holy Spirit prays (Romans 8:26-27). The last third of the book continues to equip the Christian leader on how to encourage prayer among the congregation and equip them for their own times of prayer.

Pray About Everything is a go-to resource for pastors and Christians who desire to pray biblically according to the will of God and to pray corporately with the people of God. While I wish Pastor Tautges would have devoted a chapter to praying for workers, based on Matthew 9:35-38, I am aware there is only so much space one has in a book. Yet, with a title like Pray About Everything a chapter on praying for workers would have fit nicely alongside the chapter on praying for unbelievers (chapter 4). Minor critique aside, what may be the most valuable section of the book for the Christian seeking to improve their prayer life is the appendices. The appendices can nicely be implemented into the life of the Christian and into the life of a church. Not too many books encourage both but this one does. I gladly recommend Paul Tautge’s Pray About Everything: Cultivating God-Dependency to every church member and church leader who desires to be a contributing part of a praying church.

I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

Book Review: The Good Book

Nearly every home in America owns a Bible. However, surveys and statistics from various sources show biblical illiteracy is present in our culture and even in our churches. In other words, people may have Bibles laying around at home but those Bibles are not being opened in their hands. What biblical illiteracy leads to is a group of people Deron Spoo, pastor and author, calls ignostic, “someone who is ignorant about the subject of God” (Spoo 15). This is one of the reasons for which Deron Spoo set forth to write a resource to teach people the message of the Bible. The result is The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible’s Biggest Ideas.

In The Good Book, Pastor Spoo lays out 40 chapters broken into eight sections, with each section containing five different selections of Scripture. In such a brief work, he makes it clear from the beginning, “we’ll focus on the best-known passages of Scripture that form the basis of the faith” (Spoo 17). While he refers to the book as a guidebook to the Bible, he admits the depths are too deep to be explored in such a concise volume. Nevertheless, Deron Spoo serves the reader as a guide, leading them through the story of the Bible.

The Good Book by Deron Spoo is ideal for Bible beginners who are looking to understand the Bible in perspective and its passages in context. While the more experienced Bible reader may benefit (Spoo 18), the primary audience for this book is for those who do not have a great amount of knowledge of God’s Word. The book is easy-to-read, featuring concise and compact chapters, making it a fit for devotional time. Each chapter does impress upon the reader the need to apply the passage they are studying. I would greatly encourage the reader to follow the practice Pastor Spoo describes, “read the Bible selections first. Each chapter will take about five minutes to read. Then, after reading the entire Bible passage, read my brief exploration of that passage. Finally, I encourage you to reread the Bible chapter with the benefit of knowing more about the context and content” (Spoo 19).

The book does not come without critique, though. Two in particular are worth mentioning. The first concerns the point of the book. The subtitle to The Good Book states the book contains 40 chapters that reveal the Bible’s biggest ideas. While it is certainly true many of the Bible’s biggest ideas are expounded upon in the volume, his choice of a passage like Judges 16 reveals his philosophy. To be fair, he does state the focus of the book will be “on the best-known passages of Scripture” (Spoo 17) and his choice of Bible portions are more art than science (Spoo 18). The issue is the subtitle could have been rephrased to fit the book’s philosophy. Something like 40 Chapters that Put the Bible’s Best-Known Passages in Context (or Perspective) may have worked just as well.

The first critique is a minor detail. The second critique is a matter of understanding God’s Word. Deron Spoo wants to point the reader to the Bible’s biggest ideas and even says himself, “The Bible, from the first word to the last, points to the person of Jesus” (Spoo 21). What he says in theory, he fails to do consistently in practice. He teaches on Genesis 3 but makes no comment on the promise of Genesis 3:15. In 1 Samuel 17, he mentions the importance of David in the Bible, but he fails to mention how this event points to the greater David, Jesus Christ. Although the author does not describe how the passage points to Christ in those instances, in other places (Genesis 22, for instance) he does briefly draw the connection to Christ. If all of Scripture points to Jesus, wouldn’t it make sense to see how each chapter’s big idea leads us to the biggest idea of all, Jesus Christ?

Even with these critiques, The Good Book by Deron Spoo is a good resource to put into the hands of Bible beginners who are seeking to grow in their understanding of the Word of God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C Cook via Litfuse Publicity Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

If interested in learning more about this resource, click here.

Book Review: Forensic Faith

As a pastor, it gives me great joy to share with people the hope of the gospel. As a young adult, I realize my generation and culture is skeptical and even hostile to Christianity. To their honest questions and to their objections, how am I to respond? I want them to know this hope but what do I do with their opposition? Sadly, too often in the church we have not taken seriously the questions posed. However, if we believe the Christian faith to be true, we must be willing to defend the faith. There are answers to skeptic’s questions and there are responses to their objections. Our faith is not based on mere experience but is affirmed by compelling evidence. As Christians, we should see it as our calling to know our faith and defend our faith with evidential faith. But where do we begin? The answer is J. Warner Wallace’s Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith.

In Forensic Faith, cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace puts forth his final work in a trilogy teaching Christians and non-Christians alike of the evidence for God’s existence and the Christian faith in particular. Yet, this third volume does not merely teach. Rather, Detective Wallace takes us behind the scenes and trains Christians to live out their calling as Christian case makers. In order to “embrace and model a forensic faith” (Wallace 59) Christians need to follow the example of Christ and throughout church history (chapter 1), to be trained in serving others and protecting the faith (chapter 2), to put into practice skills to be a Christian case maker (chapter 3), and to carry out the principles to share what Christians believe and why they believe it (chapter 4). These necessities are just the start. It is also helpful to be assisted with answers to common challenges (“Rebuttal Notes”) and to be given recommended resources to help equip you further (“Evidence Locker”).

Mr. Wallace goes beyond teaching; he trains and equips the Christian to be a case maker for the faith. He shows the Christian faith is not accidental belief but evidential belief. Throughout the book, Wallace lists profiles of people who have exhibited forensic faith as well as giving definitions, challenges, and assignments. These elements, in addition to the chapters overall, will show the Christian the importance of forensic faith and how they can be a Christian case maker. What the author puts forth is a case-making approach for evangelism.

If you are a believer who desires to see people know the hope of Christ, then getting equipped in Forensic Faith by J. Warner Wallace is for you. If you are a curious skeptic to the Christian faith, allow J. Warner Wallace to walk you through the steps revealing the Christian faith as an evidential faith. Simply put, this book serves both the Christian believer and the skeptic. In a day and age where young people are asking questions and considering leaving the faith, this resource by J. Warner Wallace prepares us to take on the challenge.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C Cook via Litfuse Publicity Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

Check out the book trailer here and purchase the book here.

Book Review: Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

Our culture finds itself amid a sexual revolution. We see the acceptance of same-sex marriage and the openness to transgenderism. For those who hold to the truth of the Bible, we know what God’s Word says and we know we must call sin what it is. Within the church, however, this is where we are tempted to stop. We are clear in our biblical teaching on sin concerning homosexuality and transgenderism. But we need to also share the hope people who struggle with these sins can find in Jesus Christ. A man who has struggled with same-sex-attraction himself, Pastor Ron Citlau sees the need to share this hope. That is why he has written Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted: Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and Those Struggling with Homosexuality.

In this work by Citlau, his aim “is to show the rich provisions available for the same-sex struggler who wants to follow Jesus” (Citlau 23). To make his point, he divides the book up into two sections. In part one he lists out the obstacles that stand in the way of God’s gift for the same-sex-attracted. These obstacles include gay Christian identity (chapter 1), gay marriage (chapter 2), and the spiritual friendship movement (chapter 3). With the obstacles exposed, the next step is to recognize the gifts the same-sex struggler can embrace. Ron Citlau mentions five gifts: the church (chapter 4), healing communities and Christian therapy (chapter 5), singleness (chapter 6), marriage (chapter 7), and prayerful lament (chapter 8). The book closes with final thoughts for both church leaders (chapter 9) and a word of hope for the same-sex-attracted (chapter 10).

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted is a clear resource for Christians as they think through how to care for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. What Ron Citlau puts forth in his book calls Christian leaders and the Christian same-sex struggler to hold to biblical conviction while also calling Christian leaders to show Christlike compassion. In his note to church leaders, Citlau says, “Don’t just learn the issue; be part of the gospel solution” (Citlau 155). While there are portions of the book where I may not have seen eye-to-eye with the author in theology or practice, chapter 5 in particular, one must commend this book on putting forth a solution and not merely stating the issue. Moreover, maybe the most foundational chapter of the book is the opening chapter on the obstacle of gay Christian identity. At the heart of the sexual revolution is this matter of identity. Pastor Citlau calls for a biblical corrective on identity by showing gay Christian identity to be an obstacle, not a gift, to the same-sex struggler. In his section on gifts, the most profound chapter may be the gift of prayerful lament (chapter 8). For the same-sex attracted who struggle and it appears there is no end in sight, this chapter is helpful. Throughout the book, the purpose of transformation in the context of the church community is where the same-sex attracted will be directed toward hope.

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted lays out a biblical vision where true gospel transformation can happen. This book is for the same-sex attracted who seeks to live according to the Word of God even as they struggle and this book is a call for the church to be Christians of conviction and compassion.

I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

Examining Ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-34)

I have always been intrigued by the job of a detective. Pieces of evidence and details people may gloss over detectives stop and study. They take a closer look, examining the material. Their purpose in doing this is to find something that will expose the person guilty of the crime. Now, translate the work of a detective to Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper. As Christians, we must hear the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:28). In other words, before we partake of remembering and proclaiming Christ by eating the bread and drinking cup, we need to examine our hearts. The reason we ought to examine ourselves is to see if there is any unconfessed sin in our lives. If there is unconfessed sin, the proper response is to repent of it. We are to do the work of a detective, if you will, by studying and examining our own hearts. If we refuse to examine and repent, then we partake in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (11:27). This does not come without consequences. These consequences of partaking unworthily speak to the significance of the Lord’s Supper.

What exactly are such results? In two words: guilt and judgment. For the person who eats the bread and drinks the cup without examining their heart, the word of the Lord says that person is guilty concerning the very thing they are supposed to be remembering and proclaiming in taking the Lord’s Supper (11:27). Put another way, in the Lord’s Supper we, Christians, remember and proclaim the death of Christ. When we partake of the elements in an unworthy manner we sin, revealing our guilt. Moreover, the Christian who fails to examine themselves eats and drinks judgment on themselves. For the Corinthians, the unexamined issue was around church unity and caring for others in the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–22, 33–34). Although division was the specific concern Paul addressed in the Corinthian church, any unconfessed sin leads to partaking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Whatever the sin may be, what is this judgment one eats and drinks upon themselves? It is the disciplinary judgment of God (11:31–32). For Christians, they are in Christ and cannot be condemned as unbelievers in the world (see Romans 8:1). However, a follower of Christ does face the discipline of God when they have unrepentant sin in their life (see Hebrews 12:6). Simply put, to neglect examining yourself before partaking in the Lord’s Supper is to bring the disciplinary judgment of God upon yourself. For the Corinthians, this disciplinary judgment took the form of weakness, illness, and even death (11:30). For us, it may take a different form. We may not become physically ill and may not die, but there will most assuredly be serious consequences.

Therefore, the next time you partake in the Lord’s Supper, examine your heart and life. The purpose of taking the elements, the bread and cup, is to remember and proclaim the death of Christ, not to bring the judgment of God upon yourself (11:34). In examining ourselves and repenting if need be, we honor the Lord by taking His Supper in a worthy manner.

Reflection Questions:

  • How does 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 relate to the significance of the Lord’s Supper?
  • Why is it important to examine yourself before you partake of the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper?

This post was written by EBG Lead Writer and Founder Theron St. John. His joy is serving God and His people, both in the church and the academy. He is the associate pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and an adjunct professor at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis.