Tag Archives: book

Book Review: Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis

total-churchTim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total Church is one of my favorite reads in the last couple of years. I’ve been in the process of reading and digesting this work for much longer than I would have expected with a 200 page book. But every time I would start to read again, the content was so good, so challenging, and so helpful, that I would find myself re-reading chapters, and encouraging others to get a copy and re-read chapters with me. To date, this has been the most helpful book I’ve read in helping to plant Basileia Church. This is the book that I most want all the people of Basileia Church to read, and it’s the book I want all my friends considering church planting to read.

So what is it about? The subtitle of the book tells the whole story:  “A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.” In the authors’ own words:

“This book argues that two key principles should shape the way we “do church”: gospel and community.  Christians are called to a dual fidelity: fidelity to the core content of the gospel and fidelity to the primary context of a believing community. Whether we are thinking about evangelism, social involvement, pastoral care, apologetics, discipleship, or teaching, the content is consistently the Christian gospel, and the context is consistently the Christian community” (15-16).

Further, Timmis and Chester explain:

“Being gospel-centered actually involves two things. First, it means being word-centered because the gospel is a word––the gospel is news, a message. Second, it means being mission-centered because the gospel is a word to be proclaimed––the gospel is good news” (16).

The rest of the book is basically an explanation and exegesis of these two statements. Following the introduction,there is a chapter on the gospel and a chapter on community, and then the rest of book covers all of the topics that flow out of these two foundations: evangelism, social involvement, church planting, world mission, etc.

The thing that makes this book great is that it is deeply theological and deeply communal. Many would lead us to believe that a church can either be deeply theological or deeply communal, but not both. The argument is usually described like this: “If a church chooses to be good at community, it will come at a cost to theological obedience. Or if a church chooses to be theologically astute, then it will come at a cost to true community.” This is a classic liberalism versus conservatism argument. Liberals apparently do community well, but at a cost to good theology. Whereas conservatives apparently do theology well, but at a cost to true community. Chester and Timmis paint a different picture altogether. (And as a side note, I would argue that it’s not good theology to be bad at community, and it’s not good community to be opposed to hard truth).

To put it another way, the type of church that Chester and Timmis are describing feels very post-modern in a communal sense but not very post-modern in a theological sense (I realize I may not be using post-modern in the most correct sense of the word, but just ignore that for a second and follow my train of thought). It’s very obvious that Chester and Timmis deeply believe the Bible. They don’t don’t deny propositional truth, and yet they’re describing church in a way that feels very at home in a post-Christiandom. What they’re describing sounds not only plausible in my city, but exciting. This description of church will work among people with little or no Christian background (which is increasingly the situation we find ourselves in within the urban centers of America). And Chester and Timmis don’t seem to simply be reacting to the changing culture around them, and thus scrambling to try and figure out how to “do church” these days. Rather, they seem to be reflecting deeply on the Scriptures and trying to figure out how to “do church” period. The authors are actual practitioners, not just theorists. They came to believe what they believe by reflecting on the Bible, putting it into practice, and seeing what happened. The result is both theologically pleasing and pragmatically feasible. A rare combination in the midst of pendulum-swing-prone-Christianity.

Here’s the other reason I really love this book. It’s teaching me how to share my faith in a way that feels both authentic and obedient to the Bible. I’ve struggled all my life to share my faith the way that the Bible commands. It always felt contrived and sales-pitchy. I knew I was supposed to do it, in fact I wanted to do it, it just never felt right.  Lots of times I shared, I was trying to be obedient to God, but it didn’t feel like it was doing any good. But now, finally, I’m seeing what living a life of mission looks like. The result has been that I look forward to sharing my faith with new friends. I don’t feel embarrassed to share the gospel. I can see that the gospel really does change lives. Is it still difficult at times? Yes, certainly. But it now feels more like a new way of living, a way of life where all of my life is mission, instead of a segmented time where I try to be obedient to the Great Commission for a couple of hours. This is life-changing. This is authentic. This is New Testament.

I love this book. You should read it.

5 out of 5 cups of black coffee.


Five Sentence Review: For the City by Darrin Patrick & Matt Carter

for-the-cityLast weekend, myself, Logan, and Gibby headed off to the mountains for our first ever Basileia Church staff retreat. We had a blast, spent much needed time in strategy planning and prayer, and discussed a book by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter entitled For the City. The book describes what it looks like for a church to so impact a local culture that the community notices and loves the church, even if they don’t agree with everything the church stands for. It’s a rather simple book with a lot of personal stories and some basic, but very important, principles about missional living. If you’re wanting to figure out what “missional” is all about, this is a very basic introduction that excites and encourages as it teaches.

3.5 out of 5 cups of black coffee


Book Review: The Lazarus Vendetta by Robert Ludlum & Patrick Larkin

the-lazarus-vendettaThe Lazarus Vendetta is the fifth book in The Covert One Series created by Robert Ludlum and written in conjunction with other authors. This is the first of the stories written by Patrick Larkin, and the results while acceptable, are not overtly impressive. My main complaint is that the story itself is too far-fetched and unbelievable. As a result, the reader remains an observer of the action rather than a participant in the action. Good stories, I would argue, so envelope the reader that she no longer feels as if she is reading at all. Obviously, believability in every detail is not the essential element to make a story work, but it is fairly important in the thriller/spy genre, especially if said story is set in modern times. Despite how well the other elements of the story may be developed, ultimately the book falls flat if the reader can’t imagine the events actually happening in real life. And The Lazarus Vendetta is just a bit too far gone to be fully enjoyed. Longtime readers of The Covert One series will also note that Larkin’s style is a bit different than other authors. Most notably he’s more graphic (gory), and some of the traits of main characters are portrayed differently. For instance, Fred Klein was addicted to his pipe in the last novel, but his obsession is hardly mentioned at all in this story. In one scene, Jon Smith suddenly develops a conscious towards a would-be attacker and nearly dies as a result. I don’t dislike the book, but it falls a bit short when compared to the stories Gayle Lynds has written in the series. As it goes, Gayle Lynds is the best author in the Covert One Series so far, with Patrick Larkin and Phillip Shelby a distant second and third.

2 of 5 cups of black coffee.


Book Review: M.A.S.H. A Novel About Three Army Doctors

MASHI’m an avid M.A.S.H. fan. I grew up in a household with parents who watched the reruns nearly every night. My mom especially seemed to have it perpetually on. But I never really understood the appeal of the show until I started watching it myself. It’s weird how you pick up on a select number of your parents’ habits as you grow older. But you do. It seems like we all do. Eventually you realize that you’re a lot like your folks, and it scares you a bit. Honestly though, it’s a happy, understanding sort of scared. Like you somehow know them better and love them more deeply, but secretly wonder if your kids will one day look at you like you’re crazy.

In my mid-twenties I picked up a personal love for M.A.S.H., and over the course of three years, I watched through the entire series. Eleven seasons, twenty-four episodes each (usually anyway), for a grand total of 251 total episodes. Steadily one episode after another I watched, and it became a part of my life. When I finished the series, there was a sort of melancholy that set upon me, like I’d lost a good friend, and life would never quite be the same. It literally felt like I was leaving college or something. I felt that way because it’s a show about characters. And you grow to like those characters, even love those characters, and you feel like they’re a part of your life. Now they’re leaving, and it’s sort of sad. I loved M.A.S.H. not just for the characters though, I also loved it because it transported me to another place, one with war and death and adventure and humor and cold nights and hot summers and meaning and moodiness and all-around life. It’s a show about life, about humanity, and I love it.

The movie upon which the tv show was based is a little different. Not too different, but different. Same characters, many of the same actors, but with a much darker sort of humor. It’s a bit of a scandalous movie, touching on subjects that at the time, and even now, seem too taboo to talk about. You watch, and you laugh, and you’re not sure if you should be laughing. A sort of Southpark approach decades before Southpark existed. Many who like the tv show don’t appreciate the movie, and many who like the movie don’t appreciate the tv show. Personally I love them both. And by saying that, I’m not trying to make any sort of moral evaluation, I’m just admitting that I like them.

I just finished reading the book, which I had never read before. In case you didn’t know, the book is the genesis of the movie, the tv show, everything. It was written in 1968 by Richard Hooker. Really it was written H. Richard Hornberger because Hooker is a pseudonym, but whatever. It’s a book about three army doctors, their friends, and all the craziness that they caused as surgeons at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Hooker indicated that the storyline was based roughly on his own experiences in the Korean War while stationed at a M.A.S.H. unit. According to Hooker’s son, the lead character, Hawkeye Pierce, was loosely based upon his dad, and in some senses is autobiographical. It makes me wonder how loosely because it’s hard to believe that the characters in this book, affectionately referred to as “The Swampmen,” could really pull off all the comical hijinks that the book entails. Secretly, as a reader of the book, you sort of hope they really did pull off all of the craziness. It seems a bit too over-the-top to be true, but maybe not. And it’s this sort of flirting with the line of reality that makes the entire book work as a pleasing bit of fiction to read.

M.A.S.H. is hilarious. Multiple times I laughed out loud. But be warned! The humor is even darker than the movie. It would be rather easy to find yourself offended if you didn’t know what you were getting into. But as an avid M.A.S.H. fan, I highly recommend it!

4 out of 5 Cups of Black Coffee.


5 Sentence Review: Money: God or Gift by Jamie Munson

money-gift-or-godI haven’t read a ton of books on Christian finance, but this has surely got to be one of the best. In Money: God or Gift, Jamie Munson clearly lays out the basic biblical principles regarding money in the Bible. The book is a quick read (think a couple of days), balanced in its thinking, cheap to buy (only $5 on kindle), theologically focused, practical in application, and includes discussion questions for group study and further probing. The end of the book has useful appendices for planning a budget and resources for further study. This would be my de facto book recommendation for those struggling with finances.

4 of 5 cups of black coffee


Extended Book Review – Paul and the Thessalonians by Abraham Malherbe

paul-and-the-thessaloniansThis book review is more in-depth for biggzipp.com than normal. That’s because I was asked to read and write a review on this book as part of fulfilling some conditions for Acts 29. But I like to post all my book reviews here, so I’m posting it. If you just want the highlights, I suggest skipping to the last section.


Abraham Malherbe’s book, Paul and the Thessalonians, is an expanded version of the Haskell Lectures that he originally delivered to Oberlin College in 1985. Malherbe’s intent in writing is to “illuminate Paul’s method of founding and nurturing churches” (vii). He is focused specifically on the book of First Thessalonians which he argues is unique because it was written to the church just eight months after Paul had originally arrived in Thessalonica (2). In Malherbe’s words, “First Thessalonians reflects this pastoral care of a fledgling church more clearly than any of Paul’s other letters” (2). Malherbe is especially interested in the way in which Paul both mimicked and distanced himself from the moral philosophers of his day. At the time of Paul’s writing, the Roman Empire was filled with moral philosophers and the small communities that formed around these men. Paul was acquainted with the teachings and practices of these philosophic communities, and in contextually appropriate fashion, he compares and contrasts christian community to these other communities in his letter to the Thessalonians. The historical distance of 2000 years makes it hard for the modern reader to pick up all of Paul’s allusions to these communities, but Malherbe – with an excellent knowledge of early Roman philosophic practices – helps the reader to more fully understand the comparisons that the Apostle Paul makes.


This book is divided into just four chapters: 1) Founding the Christian Community, 2) Shaping the Community, 3) Nurturing the Community, and 4) The Christian Community in a Pagan Society. This portion of the review will briefly sketch the contents of each chapter.

Founding the Christian Community
Malherbe begins this chapter by examining the method that the Apostle Paul used in establishing new churches. Acts demonstrates that Paul would typically begin by going to a synagogue and trying to convert Jews. However, it’s fairly obvious that a synagogue was not the longterm location of Paul’s operations. The Apostle Paul tended to work out of the homes of recent converts. He typically taught privately rather than publicly. Street preaching was popular at the time, but not an ideal place to present the Christian message. As Malherbe says, “Paul, unlike the field preachers, did not primarily deliver an individualistic challenge to give up vice but aimed at forming a community of those who responded to his proclamation, for which a teacher-student relationship was necessary” (11).

When one examines the information available in the book of Acts, and the two Thessalonian letters, it seems that the Thessalonian church was established in Jason’s home. The church was composed of a few prominent members of society, but mainly of middle and lower class tradesmen and workers with whom Paul came into contact as a tentmaker. In a large city in the Roman Empire, the home in which Paul taught was most likely an “insula.” Malherbe describes an insula this way, “A typical insula would contain a row of shops on the ground floor, facing the street, and provide living accommodations for the owners and their families over the shop or in the rear. Also on the premises would be space for the manufacturing of goods sold in the shops, and living quarters for visitors, employees, and servants or slaves” (18). Many of the philosophers in Paul’s day chose to instruct their adherents in the workshops of an insula. Paul likely did as well, but rather than teach while others worked, it seems that Paul both worked and taught as an example to his listeners.

Conversion is not simply a Christian tradition, but was a typical response to teaching within the philosophic traditions. In many ways, Paul was mimicking the traditions of the philosophers in his call for persons to repent and be born again. There are however significant differences between Paul and his philosophic counterparts.  Malherbe describes the differences this way:

The content of his preaching, particularly such items as the resurrection of Christ and eschatological judgment was manifestly different…whereas the philosophers stressed the importance of reason and reliance on self in moral growth, Paul refers the moral life to God and the power of the Holy Spirit. The philosophers, furthermore through character education aimed at virtue and happiness, for the attainment of which one could be justly proud. Paul…has in mind a metamorphosis of the intellect that rejects conformity to the world and aims at discerning the will of God. For him the goal is not the achievement of one’s natural potential but the formation of Christ in the believer (32-33).

In summary then, Paul grew a church mainly in the private setting of a home / workshop. He interacted with a wide swathe of Roman society, but especially the regular working class people of the city. He, like the philosophers of his day was aiming at the conversion of his listeners, but whereas they relied on the excellence of their speech to gain adherents, Paul relied upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Shaping the Community
Epicurean converts, Jewish proselytes, followers of moral philosophy, and new Christians all may have been drawn to their new faith because of the refuge that it offered from Roman society. Malherbe surmises that many converts were outsiders in normal society looking for a community in which to belong. However, the life of a Epicurean convert or a new Christian was far from easy. Malherbe concludes that, “regardless of what attraction a cult or philosophical sect might have exercised, conversion brought with it social as well as religious and intellectual dislocation, which in turn created confusion, bewilderment, dejection, and even despair in the converts” (45).

Paul’s primary mode of instruction is by calling new Christians to imitate him. As Malherbe states, “As with serious philosophers, Paul’s life could not be distinguished from what he preached: his life verified his gospel” (54). While much of Paul’s method of pastoral care mimicked that of the moral philosophers, there were significant differences. These differences include: Paul’s greater confidence in his appeal for converts to mimic him, his focus on God’s power as the force which converts people, and the humility which is present in Paul’s boldness. Malherbe ends this chapter by commenting that:

It is striking that Paul reminds them (the Thessalonians) of things that are not in the first instance doctrinal or theological. The greatest stress is on the relationships that were developed both between the Thessalonians and Paul and among themselves, on sexual morality, and on the distress they would continue to suffer for their faith (60).

Nurturing the Community
The Thessalonian church was still unstable and immature when Paul fled from Thessalonica. As such, Paul employed a variety of methods to encourage and care for his converts from a distance. Malherbe lists three specific ways in which Paul cared for this church, “by sending Timothy as his emissary, by writing the letter, and by directing them to continue among themselves the nurture he had begun” (61).

Before sending the Thessalonian letter to the church, Paul sent Timothy to check on the young community. He describes both himself and the church as orphans because of their forced separation from one another. Timothy was sent both to strengthen the young church in their faith, and to remind them of Paul’s intense, fatherly love for them. As Malherbe comments:

Paul’s relief and joy, then, were occasioned by the report that the Thessalonians still looked to him as their model. Paul’s enforced absence had caused him to worry that they no longer regarded him in this way. But his concern extended beyond his continuing to provide them with a moral paradigm, for Paul did not think that his life could be distinguished from his gospel.

Paul’s letter was the second way in which he sought to strengthen this young flock of believers. In writing, Paul followed a common letter form of his day known as the paranesis. In paranesis the writer seeks to influence the reader’s behavior by reminding him of what he already knows. Another common feature of paranesis was to offer examples of the desired behavior, often using one’s self as the example. Paul employs the form continually in his letter to the Thessalonians using phrases such as “you know” and “I have no need to remind you.” He sought to write in a way that made it seem like he was physically present with them when the letter was read.

Lastly, Paul sought to encourage this church through directing them to nurture one another’s faith. Paul encourages this self-nurture of the church by reminding them of their eschatalogical standing. As Malherbe states:

Paul’s readers are not a ragtag group of manual laborers formed by an itinerant tentmaker. Rather, they are a community created and loved by God and occupy a special place in his redemptive scheme. Paul is careful…to characterize the community as not confined to this age. (79-80).

Remembering their place in God’s eschaton and continually encouraging one another would ensure the longterm success of this new church. Community self-care, known as psychagogy, was a common feature of all the moral philosophic communities in Thessalonica at the time that Paul wrote. These communities included the Stoics, the Platonists, and the Epicureans. As has been demonstrated throughout this book, Paul mimicked and adapted the methods of the philosophers – including the use of psychagogy – for his own purposes. The Thessalonians were to build one another up and guard the community through correcting one another when sin was apparent.

The Christian Community in a Pagan Society
An important aspect of the Thessalonian church’s health as a community would be determined by the way they interacted with those outside the community of faith. As such, Paul instructs them to love everyone, live quietly, mind their own affairs, and to work with their hands as a witness to the watching world. This combination of commands was extremely controversial in Thessalonica at the time. For instance, Plato, Seneca, and the Epicureans commended a quiet life that withdrew from political pursuits and focused on life within the community. However, men such as Plutarch thought that the quiet life was simply an excuse to be lazy and cease from work. Paul, aware of this condemnation, instructed his readers to lead a quiet life, but also to work with their hands. Manual labor was also controversial and thought by to be an inferior mode of existence to the Cynics. Cynics tended to use their newfound “faith” as an excuse to quit work, go out preaching in the marketplace, and expect others to care for their needs. According to Lucian, the popular view of the Cyncis was that they “leave their jobs, sponge off people, contribute nothing to society, and meddle in other people’s business” (100). Paul rejects this notion as well. Indeed, it would be impossible for the Christians to demonstrate practical brotherly love for one another if all of them were broke because they had quit working.  Malherbe concludes that Paul, “consciously sought to distinguish Christians from the Epicureans as well as the Cynics” (104).


This book is unique because of its detailed portrayal of the moral philosophic schools that were popular at the time Paul planted the Thessalonian church. Malherbe makes it clear that Paul continually adopted and adapted the methods of these philosophers. This is the first point that I found instructional for twenty-first century pastors. Churches should feel free to take the good ideas of society, examine them closely, and adapt them for their own purposes. We should embrace the good parts of culture (those that are a result of common grace) and shun the bad parts of culture. Where the Bible is silent, we shouldn’t make new rules; we should remain silent like the Bible! This sort of attitude guards pastors from an over-zealous use of the regulative principle.

Secondly, creating disciples is a process where a teacher-student relationship is necessary. Conversions seem to happen suddenly, but are usually the result of a multiplicity of teaching that the convert previously received. Week-in and week-out pastors should preach the gospel to their people. We never know when a seeker may turn into a convert, and we never know how deeply the gospel has sunk-in to the hearts of our people. As Paul employed the paranesis which simply reminded his people of what he had already taught them, twenty-first century pastors labor to remind our people of the gospel that they’ve previously heard.

A third principle that really stood out to me in this book, was the necessity of pastors to demonstrate what the Christian life looks like in their own lives. Paul constantly instructed his converts to mimic Jesus by mimicking him. Pastors should be involved in the lives of their people so that their people know what being holy, parenting well, and working hard looks like. This method of discipleship grows a church that can effectively go into every facet of society and bring glory to God because they’ve seen it demonstrated.

Fourthly, conversion to Christianity can often be a hard road to walk. Everything changes. Converts oftentimes have to make a firm break with their previous way of life. For instance, the homosexual that decides to follow Christ will probably find that nearly everything in his life must change. The church must truly provide a new family, a new community, a new support group, and a new way of life. They must surround one another with love and encouragement. If the church is not a caring family, then it will be impossible for Christians to truly follow the pattern of holiness that Jesus demonstrated.

Finally, pastors should try to work themselves out of a job. I don’t mean that churches don’t need pastors, but a good pastor should teach the flock to care for itself. If pastors teach their people to constantly exhort, encourage, and correct one another, then when transitions in the church take place – a pastor leaves to plant a new church for instance – everything doesn’t fall apart. A congregation that cares for itself allows the church to continually grow larger because church members fulfill some of the responsibilities that the pastors previously fulfilled. New leaders emerge and responsibilities are delegated because the pastors “equipped the saints for the work of the ministry.”


Extended Quote of the Day – Tim Keller

tim-keller“On the other hand, if God exists but is unipersonal, there was a time when God was not love. Before God created the world, when there was only one divine person, there was no lover, because love can exist only in a relationship. If a unipersonal God had created the world and its inhabitants, such a God would not in his essence be love. Power and greatness possibly, but not love. But if from all eternity, without end and without beginning, ultimate reality is a community of persons knowing and loving one another, then ultimate reality is about love relationships.”

– Tim Keller, King’s Cross, 9.

Book Review – The God Who is There – Francis Schaeffer

the-god-who-is-thereI love all things 1960’s culture. Many of the cultural and philosophical changes that occurred during 1960’s still affect Western society today. So, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more of Francis Schaeffer’s writings until now. His discussion of 1960’s culture, and the surrounding decades, expertly offers theological and cultural commentary. And he does so with a heart tuned towards loving–not just callously understanding–his fellow man. The God Who is There is a good book. Having finished it, I now want to re-read, and re-think about many of Schaeffer’s arguments. Though this book was written in 1968, it still demands consideration in 2011. I’m particularly interested in Schaeffer’s thoughts as they relate to postmodernity (or the seeds of postmodernity), and how his arguments for God remain relevant, or conversely, now seem irrelevant, to the cultural milieu of 2011. Lots to think about I know! But I enjoy it! And I desperately want to understand the average postmodern person in 2011.

Extended Quote of the Day – Francis Schaeffer

francis-schaeffer“These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.”

– Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, page 54.

Book Review: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy

gospel-centered-hermeneuticsAbout a year-and-a-half ago, I begin reading Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy, and I just finally finished. I’ve been reading, more like plodding, through this text with my good friend, Richard Baliko. Richard lives in Macon, MS and I live in Nashville, TN, so we video skype once a week and discuss a chapter of the book at a time. I studied hermeneutics in seminary, but not with this book, so reading Goldsworthy’s treatment has been a new experience for both of us.

This is a great book to say the very least, but it’s waaaaaay more technical than I expected (or at least it’s waaaaaay more technical than the previous hermeneutics book I read). However, I can unequivocally say that reading through Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics is a worthwhile endeavor.

The book is broken up into three main sections: 1) Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics, 2) Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics, and 3) Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics. To explain those headings a bit, after setting out a brief vision for how and why hermeneutics should be done in section one, Goldsworthy then deconstructs wrong approaches to Biblical interpretation in section two, and then reconstructs a proper method of Biblical interpretation in section three. Through these sections, which span a little more than 300 pages, Goldsworthy masterfully points everything towards Jesus and His gospel. To use Goldsworthy’s words:

“The purpose of God’s word is to bring us to God through the salvation that is in Christ. It does this by revealing his plan and purpose, by conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and by providing the shape of the presence of God with his people through the Spirit of Christ” (317).

This book has been extremely helpful in expanding my understanding of Biblical theology and its role in proper interpretation, and its up-to-date treatment of more recent trends, such as postmodernity.

I’m no expert, so I can’t say this is the “best” hermeneutics book, but it’s darn good. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a rewarding read.

5 out of 5 cups of black coffee!