Thursday
Aug222013

‘One Year to Better Preaching’ 

Book Review by 
Doug Hibbard

have never met a pastor who did not want to preach the Word of God better than he does. I have met many, however, who want to preach better, but have no idea where to start. A return to the classroom is not practical, and the many textbooks available require a monstrous time commitment to work through.

Into this niche comes Daniel Overdorf’s book “One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills,” published by Kregel Ministry. Packed into these 320 pages are weekly, bite-size suggestions to strengthen one’s skills as a preacher.

Overdorf uses the image of honing an edge.” His presentation is encouraging to the reader: Rather than addressing his audience as if they are bad preachers, he puts forward how to sharpen the strength that is already there.

The book speaks to eight major areas in sermon preparation: prayer and preaching, Bible interpretation, understanding listeners, sermon construction, illustration and application, word crafting, the preaching event (presentation/environment) and sermon evaluation. Rather than taking those in clumps, the exercises are spread out across these areas throughout the year. One week will tackle prayer and the next evaluation, for example, though Overdorf provides a chart to allow readers to focus on one area if that is their need.

The exercises presented in “One Year to Better Preaching” are all useful, though one’s mileage will vary depending on his needs. Some will require trust in one’s congregation, as many pastors may fear creating a feedback group in their church. Consider, though, that congregations evaluate their pastors’ preaching every week anyway. Overdorf’s exercise is simply to harness and guide that energy.

“One Year to Better Preaching” also presents additional resources that add value to the text. These are varied. Some are books suggested for deeper study, others are Web resources to view and some are forms that can be utilized. Especially helpful is the link for a congregational feedback form.

While it might not be the best gift for a pastor, many pastors will benefit from Daniel Overdorf’s “One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills.”

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church, Almyra.

Wednesday
Jul102013

‘Brothers, We are Not Professionals’

Book Review by 
Caleb Yarbrough

In the updated and expanded edition of “Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry,” John Piper, theologian and former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, argues that the pastorate is not a profession, but a supernatural calling in which God seeks to use men to do extraordinary ministry.

“Nothing has happened in the last 10 years to make me think this book is less needed. In fact, instead of going away, the pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened,” writes Piper in the book’s preface.

Through 36 relatively short chapters, six of which are new to the edition, Piper argues that the problem with “professionalism” within the pastorate is that the pastorate is not a profession and professionalism is not supernatural.

“Professionalism carries the connotation of an education, a set of skills,

 and a set of guild-defined standards which are possible without faith in Jesus. Professionalism is not supernatural. The heart of ministry is,” writes Piper.

Throughout “Brothers, We are Not Professionals,” Piper’s tone is consistently one of humility and brotherly love. In each chapter, Piper addresses an aspect of pastoral ministry in which he believes pastors must remove their “professional” tendencies in favor of a basic reliance on God for both inspiration and guidance.

At its heart, “Brothers, We are Not Professionals” is a cry to pastors to recognize the pastorate as a calling, rather than a profession.

“The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. … The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism,” Piper states.

Caleb Yarbrough is staff writer at the Arkansas Baptist News.

Thursday
May302013

Surf the Woods

Book Review by 
Matt Ramsey

Have you ever had a God-inspired dream you abandoned along the journey of life? Perhaps you chose the “safe zone” and let the dream die and now it seems like life is just passing by.

In his book “Surf the Woods: The Ordinary Man’s Trail Map to the Extraordinary Life,” Arkansas native Holt Condren leads readers on a journey of renewed hope that the dreams they once aspired to can be a reality. “Surf the Woods” is the first book from Condren, who is a successful entrepreneur, men’s ministry leader, avid wilderness explorer and lead mountaineer on a team of scientists and archaeologists who are exploring Mount Ararat in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark.

Through personal stories and a series of principles, Condren’s main goal is to help readers move past the monotony of life and start living the fulfilling lives to which God has called them. The author leads readers through what he calls the “Four Dreamer’s Principles,” which are to “plan ambitiously,” “prepare persistently,” “persevere courageously” and “accelerate toward fear.” 

Condren shared the inspiration behind the title of his book. In his early 40s, Condren decided to put his wilderness skills to the test and go on a four-week journey of solitude into the largest contiguous wilderness area in the south central United States. While on the trip, he experienced difficult terrain and had to constantly look at his GPS as he cut new trails with a machete in order to reach his destination. After spending several exhausting hours going just a few feet, Condren decided to try a new strategy. He took one look at the general direction he needed to go on his GPS and exchanged the machete for trek poles and pushed the heavy brush to the side. This allowed him to keep his head up and take a better look at the landscape and helped him better plan his route. Once he had the right tools and had his eyes focused on the goal of finding the best route, he was able to accomplish the goal. He nicknamed this method of wilderness travel “surfing the woods.”

“It is an easy thing to be a dreamer; it is far more difficult to walk effectively in your dreams,” Condren writes. In light of this, he developed what he calls the “Dreamer’s Creed,” which is meant to help people overcome fear and pursue their dreams. The creed states: “I’ll go where I’m scared to go, I’ll face what I’m scared to face, I’ll say what I’m scared to say, to live the dream God has for me.”

The author sums up his book, saying, “If you apply the principles in this book, no longer will you sit back watching a select few live their inspiring dreams. You will start feeling the joy and contentment that goes along with living abundantly. You will be surfing the woods!”

Matt Ramsey is a member of The Summit Church, North Little Rock, and a member of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention staff.

Thursday
May162013

‘Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart’

Book Review by 
Caleb Yarbrough

There have been numerous points of contention among Southern Baptists over the past three centuries; but the eternal destination of human beings who die without accepting Christ has never been one of them. Understanding the necessity of salvation, however, is much different than having absolute assurance of being saved. 

In his new book, “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved,” J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., tackles issues of assurance of salvation, issues he says are an “epidemic” within today’s church.

Greear places problems of assurance of salvation within two categories: lack of assurance and false assurance – the former affecting those who are saved but struggle with doubting their faith and the latter categorizing those who have not yet accepted Christ but falsely believe they have. 

The author cedes that the book’s title is a loaded one and explains his reasoning behind it. Greear writes there is no inherent harm in what he calls the “gospel cliché,” the “evangelical shorthand” used by many evangelicals when they call for unbelievers to make an immediate decision for Christ and “ask Jesus into their hearts” in order to be saved. He says that it is neither heretical to “ask Jesus into your heart” or to press for a decision when sharing Christ with nonbelievers. The problem with the shorthand in reality, Greear writes, is that so many people, even those witnessing, rely more on the “Protestant ritual” of asking Christ into one’s heart, rather than the more biblical concept of gaining salvation through a “posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.”

Through eight chapters (and two appendixes), Greear aims to make the argument that assurance of salvation is not simply a luxury given to a select few, but an essential element of one’s salvation and personal relationship with Christ.

Greear states his goal for the reader at the end of the first chapter, writing, “My prayer is that by the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly where you stand with God.”

Thursday
May022013

Fatherless: A novel

Book Review by 
Valarie Inman

first read about this book in a column on the Religion page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I was so intrigued by the storyline and description that I immediately ordered a copy. It arrived to my home on a Thursday, and other than to eat or sleep, I did not put it down until I finished it – late in the afternoon on a Saturday. Thankfully, I have a very understanding husband and daughter who have realized that once I get engrossed in a book, they are on their own until I finish it.

This is a series of three books, “Fatherless” (available now); “Childless” (available in fall 2013) and “Godless” (available in summer 2014). After finishing “Fatherless,” my copies for the next two books have been preordered, and I cannot wait for them to arrive. 

As the book jacket states in its description, “‘Fatherless’ vividly imagines a future in which present-day trends come to sinister fruition. The year is 2042, and the long predicted tipping point has arrived. For the first time in human history, the economic pyramid has flipped.”

I have wished many times to have a crystal ball to be able to see into the future, but this is not a future I ever hope to see. In the 2042 world, there are too many feeble and old versus vigorous and young. Transition centers are being set up to “help” the old and feeble die, marriage and children are considered a thing of the past, ‘pregenetic’ testing is required if you do want to have children, Christianity is only for religious extremists and churches are almost nonexistent. It is not a world I would want to live in, but it is one I can easily see coming to fruition.  

There are many characters and many storylines – Antonio, who chooses to die because of his disability, a burden to his family, considered a detriment in society, and his family’s reactions to that decision; Matthew, who desires to be a college professor but does not have the means to attend college unless his mother transitions and leaves him the money set aside for her care in her senior years; Julia, who is a feminist supporting the idea that women who marry and have children – “breeders” as she calls them – are somehow faulty in society, but at the same time finding herself yearning for that life; Kevin and Angie, who are a set of Christian parents finding it hard to follow their sense of Christian values and ideals in light of the new world.

The scary part is I see a lot of truth in this book, even though it is supposed to be fiction. This book is not for the faint hearted. It is an intense book to read. It was frightening and fascinating at the same time. Along with laughter and tears, cold shivers went up and down my spine the more I became engrossed in this book because I could easily see this becoming the future of America – my America – our America, an America we as Christians must pray and fight to see that it never happens because if it does, may God have mercy on us all.

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