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Book Review

Book Review: When Narcissism Comes to Church

June 7, 2023

Originally published: “Chuck DeGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (Grand Rapids IVP: 2020),” in Themelios 47, no.2 (Fall 2022), 428-29 or online here.

Occasionally, a book is published that is “for such a time as this.” This often happens when a crisis or something about the current cultural moment invites deep reflection on a particular topic. In this moment, Chuck DeGroat has written a manifesto for our age: When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. In this important work, DeGroat provides a lucid and sobering tale of what happens when narcissism invades communities of faith. Written both from personal experience and academic research, this work is one that faith leaders would do well to consult as the world faces a crisis of narcissistic leadership, both inside and outside the church.

The problem with labels is that they often get thrown around haphazardly. Such is the case with the key term in the book’s title: narcissism. In fact, DeGroat notes that the use of the term greatly increased “during the 2016 election cycle, when Donald J. Trump found himself in the crosshairs of both amateur and professional diagnosticians” (p. 3). This work, though terse, explores what narcissism is, how it is manifesting in our current cultural moment, and a way forward for both narcissistic systems and leaders. DeGroat approaches the subject with both honesty and compassion: honesty in that he does not shy away from raw descriptions of narcissistic tendencies found in some individuals; compassion in that behind every narcissist is a heart full of shame, fear, and isolation.

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Book Review

Book Review: Forgive

May 31, 2023

Originally published: “Timothy Keller, Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? (New York: Viking, 2022),” in Themelios 48, no. 1 (Spring 2023), 241-42 or online here.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and killed nine African Americans during a Bible study. Grief-stricken families in the city and throughout the country were mourning in light of such a tragic event. Members of the courtroom and thousands of Americans were awestruck though, when families of the victims looked at Roof and said, “I forgive you.” National responses to those three words were mixed: some admired the courage it took to forgive, while others scorned the families for extending forgiveness towards another mass murderer. Forgiveness is an incredibly complex and difficult topic, especially in the current state of American culture. While many argue that forgiveness culture is fading, in his latest book, Forgive, Timothy Keller demonstrates why every human person both has an indelible need for forgiveness and why we ought to forgive others (p. xv–xviii).

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Book Review

Book Review: The Letter of James (Pillar New Testament Commentary Series)

May 31, 2023

Originally published: “Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, 2nd ed, PNTC, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021),” in Presbyterion 48, no.1 (Spring 2022), 275-76.


The Book of James, while small in size, has been a storm of controversy over the centuries of church history. For some, James consistently ranks as their favorite book in the Bible—for others, the most unhelpful and confusing book of the Bible. Many are aware of prominent pastors and scholars from church history who spurned the book, such as Martin Luther calling James “the epistle of straw.” Almost two thousand years after its initial writing, the book of James is still inspiring conversation among christians, scholars, and pastors. In the second edition of his commentary, Douglas J. Moo has provided us a thorough exegetical analysis of the book of James that is both rigorous in its scholarship and helpful in its pastoral application. 


A book review is only helpful to the extent that the reviewer can engage the material in whom the material was written to. In this case, the Pillar New Testament Commentary series is written primarily for pastors, Bible teachers, and serious students of the Bible. For those familiar with the series, you will find comfort in the depth of exegetical analysis while not succumbing to a slough of academic minutia that is irrelevant to the present work you are engaged in. While Moo does engage in scholarly and academic debate (such as the ongoing debate about the role of works compared to the Apostle Paul, or the issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul), this monologue is not simply an academic tomb. Pastors and Bible teachers will find an invaluable depth of insights that will aid in their preparation for sermons, lectures, and Bible studies. As is customary with a commentary like this, Moo interacts with the Greek text but students of the text who are unfamiliar with Greek will not be lost or confused. Knowledge of the original languages will help in your understanding but it will also not detract from value of this work. 

Potentially the most helpful part of Moo’s latest commentary is its 64-page introduction that deals with various important topics such as genre, author, date, and difficult theological issues that arise from the text. By far the most controversial section of James is found in chapter 2, where James deals with the subject of faith and works. There has been significant disagreement on how to interpret James’ view of faith and woks compared to the Apostle Paul. Moo provides an excellent overview of various interpretations that surround the ongoing debate between James and Paul. For those unaware of the dialogue in academic circles, Moo will bring you into the conversation while also providing a clear interpretation of James’ view of faith and works, which aligns with the traditional Protestant understanding. Lastly, in this section, Moo lays out several theological themes that are highlighted throughout the letter, so that as you read through the individual notes, you can pick up on the major structural themes of James. The introduction serves as a helpful roadmap for the rest of the commentary. 


For those who have the first edition of Moo’s commentary, you may be wondering if it is worth the investment of picking up the latest edition. I would unequivocally advocate for pastors and Bible teachers to pick up the second edition as substantial improvements have been made. The first edition was published 20 years ago and since that time, significant monographs, books, and commentaries have been published. In the second edition, Moo has the opportunity to engage with the most recent scholarship. Furthermore, Moo has rewritten several sections of the commentary and has provided a significant increase in length to the commentary as a whole (the commentary is 30% longer than the previous version). For those on the fence in the acquisition of the latest version, I would highly recommend it as this revision contains notable improvements that will help in preparation and study. 

While many Christians love the book of James due to its conciseness, one should be aware that this commentary does spend significant time working through each individual verse. Once Moo finishes his introductory remarks, the commentary devotes 255 pages to exegetical notes about the text itself. Keep in mind, the book of James is 108 verses, meaning that Moo will spend a little over two pages on each verse. Obviously, some sections are longer than others, but it is helpful to keep in mind that this commentary is thorough, not terse.  Nevertheless, Eerdmans Publishing has consistently published excellent academic and pastoral commentaries and this latest edition is no exception. This commentary will help you not only understand the book of James better, but Lord willing, will help you to live it as well. To give you a flavor of the commentaries aim and style, I close with the words from series editor D.A. Carson:

“When God speaks to us through his word, those who profess to know him must respond in an appropriate way, which is certainly different from a stance in which the scholar projects an image of autonomous distance. Yet this is no surreptitious appeal for uncontrolled subjectivity. The writers of this series aim for an evenhanded openness to the text that is the best kind of ‘objectivity’ of all. If the text is God’s word, it is appropriate that we respond with reverence, a certain fear, a holy joy, a questing obedience. These values should be reflected in the way that Christians write. With these values in place, the Pillar commentaries will be warmly welcomed not only by pastors, teachers, and students, but by general readers as well” (xi).

Book Review

Book Review: Truth Over Tribe

May 24, 2023

Originally published: “Patrick Miller and Simon Keith, Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, not the Donkey or the Elephant. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2022),” in Presbyterion 49. no 1 (Spring 2023), upcoming.

Reflecting on the last five to ten years of cultural changes is both dizzying and confusing. While there have always been disagreements among Americans, even strong disagreements, it seems that disagreements have become intensified. From political responses in 2016 and 2022 to reactions to Covid-19 to dealing with racial tension—it seems that Americans are more divided than ever. Local pastors Patrick Miller and Keith Simon address the issue of tribalism and polarization in their latest book Truth Over Tribe, which is both a diagnostic of our current cultural moment and proposed solutions for the church moving forward. Miller and Simon yearn for the church to be filled with people “schooled in the ways of enemy love, humility, meekness, and truth-telling” (19). This book is their attempt to inculcate such biblical virtues into American Christians so they can be more faithful to God and loving towards their neighbor. 

The authors diagnose the present reality of American culture as tribalism, the instinct to form isolated groups, which rarely, if ever, interact with one another. This is happening politically but more than ever, tribalism is fracturing relationships, work-dynamics, and cultural unity that Americans have enjoyed through years past. As pastors, Miller and Simon have numerous examples of how tribalism has both impacted their particular church and their community at large in Missouri. The book assumes that the reader affirms that tribalism is harmful or at least one is growing weary of the heightened polarization in our culture. The book is intended for this particular audience and I fearful that those who are on the extreme edges of the tribes may not heed the call toward action. Many people who live on the extreme right or left may have no trouble with their tribalism or they completely blind to it. This book is written for Christians who yearn for a better way to engage our culture with the love of Jesus yet are struggling how to speak the truth in love. 

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Book Review

Book Review: Faith in the Son of God

May 19, 2023

Originally published: “Kevin McFadden, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ- Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021),” in Presbyterion 47, no.2 (Fall 2021): 181-82.

If you spend any time around New Testament scholarship, you will inevitably bump into the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate (or, with the preponderance of writings, you may slam into it!). Two thousand years later, much ink is being spilled on the Apostle Paul, and one of the primary debates is surrounding how to translate this short Greek phrase. In his latest book, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ-Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology, Kevin W. McFadden, Associate Professor of New Testament at Cairn University, defends the historical approach of translation, rendering the phrase “faith in Christ.” Through careful exegesis of the debated eight πίστις Χριστοῦ phrases, an analysis of broader ways to engage the debate, and a robust understanding of Pauline theology as a whole, McFadden presents a commendable piece of scholarship that opponents of the historical view must reckon with. 

For those unfamiliar with the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate, a majority of English speaking scholars now advocate for a translation that renders the phrase as “faithfulness of Christ,” rather than “faith in Christ.” Perhaps you are wondering if it even matters? Is not the faithfulness of Christ and our faith in Christ both important? Can Greek grammar and Pauline theology advocate for both views? While McFadden would agree, he would also argue strongly for the historical view, noting that “this debate is significant because of the relationship of these eight phrases to Paul’s entire theology and especially his view of justification and salvation (and thus, by implication, our view of salvation)” (24). Therefore, a proper understanding of the πίστις Χριστοῦ is not merely a matter of grammar, but of theological precision that has huge implications for our understanding of justification, salvation, and even the gospel itself. 

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Book Review

Book Review: You Are Not Your Own

November 8, 2021


In the last 18 months, I continue to hear the current state of people’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health in one word: weary. For many, the realities of Covid-19 have only exposed what has been slowly boiling under the surface for years—we live in a culture that drives us to survive not to thrive. After a long day, we put our heads on the pillow and wonder, “Is everyone this tired?” Yes. Everyone is this tired. In his latest book, You Are Not Your Own, O. Alan Noble helpfully diagnoses some of the problems of Western culture, namely that we live in an inhuman culture that is slowly suffocating the life out of our souls.

The mantra of Western society is “I am my own and I belong to myself,” which means that “the most fundamental truth about existence is that you are responsible for your existence and everything it entails. I am responsible for living a life of purpose, of defining my identity, and interpreting meaningful events, of choosing my values, and electing where I belong” (4). While freedom brings about unlimited possibilities, carrying the weight of defining value, purpose, and identity is not only unrealistic and exhausting—it’s impossible and in the end, damaging. We were not designed to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, let alone every decision, which in the end determines whether or not I lived a life of purpose and meaning.

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Book Review

Book Review: A Burning In My Bones

May 25, 2021

Throughout the last year of the pandemic, I have devoured the writings of Eugene Peterson. It all started when I picked up a copy of his memoir (The Pastor)—I was awakened to a vision of pastoring that was new and fresh. Peterson’s presence, his ability to be quiet and slow, and his attentiveness to prayer has shaped me as a pastor. When I saw that Winn Collier would be writing an authorized biography of Eugene Peterson, I knew it was a book that I couldn’t pass up.

At times, it can be hard to write a review of a biography. What do you include? How do you review a person’s life story? What do you highlight? How do you review a biography without including spoilers? In attempts to avoid spoilers, I would like to summarize Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson in three ways: the life of Peterson, the pastoring of Peterson, and the personal impact of Peterson.

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Book Review

Book Review: One With Christ

April 8, 2021

What is the central premise of the Christian faith? For most Christians, a well-packaged presentation about sin and the death of Jesus providing forgiveness would be customary. Perhaps others would say that God has communicated to us in the Bible. Still, others would point to a biblical worldview that shapes morality. With so many streams of emphasis among Christians, what is the central doctrine of the Christian faith? In his latest book, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, Marcus Peter Johnson, professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, proclaims with gusto the driving doctrine of the entire Bible and the Christian faith: union with Christ.

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Book Review, Books

Book Review: Gentle and Lowly

November 30, 2020

Every year, thousands of books are published in the non-fiction Christian genre. Some are novel, others are republications of older works; most are not worth reading (remember C.S. Lewis’ maxim: read one old book for every new book that you read). Yet, every once in awhile, a modern author publishes an absolute gem that will serve the church for years to come. This year, Dane Ortlund, son of Ray Ortlund, has published one of the most helpful, encouraging, and needed books surrounding the person of Jesus for the every-day Christian. Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly seeks to answer the ultimate question that many of us wrestle with: How does Jesus really feel about us?

For many Christians growing up in the West, we are completely unaware of how our familial and cultural upbringing has shaped the way we view God and live in our Christian life. As a culture that values productivity, success, and hard-work, many times these mentalities bleed into our view of God. While we would not outright proclaim this, many of us functionally live our lives as if God is a boss rather than a father, a master rather than a friend, someone to appease rather than someone to enjoy. But, for those of who are in Christ, have our cultural glasses blinded us to the true character of Jesus towards us? Ortlund wishes to exchange your Western glasses with biblical ones, helping you to see that Jesus’s primary disposition is gentle and lowly.

Perhaps Ortlund’s book was so impactful for me because I felt like he was writing directly toward me: someone who is often “discouraged, frustrated, weary, disenchanted, cynical, and empty” (pg. 13). In the pit of despair, how does Jesus feel about us? While this sort of questioning may seem foreign to how we talk about God, Ortlund is unafraid to ask such bold and inviting questions. Through the use of biblical passages and puritan writers such as Thomas Goodwin, Ortlund beckons the weary Christian to the promise land of better rest in the biblical Jesus.

Put simply: Gentle and Lowly was by far the best book I read in 2020. My hope and prayer is that I may savor the words of Ortlund so that I may love Christ more deeply and also experience his love more often. For those Christians who are tired, discouraged, cynical, and frustrated, allow this book to be a balm to your wounded soul. To give you a simply taste of the healing you may encounter, please reflect deeply upon these words from the first chapter:

“His yoke is kind and his burden is light. This is, his yoke is a nonyoke, and his burden is a nonburden. What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’s yoke does to his followers. We are buoyed along in life by his endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives into our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart. It what gets him out of bed in the morning.”

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (pg. 23).
Book Review, Ministry

Book Review: Reset

June 24, 2020

In this present historical moment, humans across the world have more access to information and opportunities for connection than ever before. Particularly for Americans, life is often described with one simple, yet repeated word: busy. The ever-growing demands of modern life coupled with our general restlessness given the advancement of digital technology in the forefront of our lives has caused us to become a people marked by burnout. For many, the concept of life being slow, calculated, methodical, or even restful is not only foreign, it’s impossible. In a short yet incredibly helpful book, professor David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), invites Christians in Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture to undergo a personal deconstruction so that they may in turn find more freedom and joy in this world.

When reading books surrounding rest, retreat, minimalism, or a host of other topics surrounding the one general theme of rest, many authors will choose to go in one of two directions. On the one hand, many authors will seek to convince you that you need to make significant changes in your physical and emotional life (work changes, more sleep, etc). On the other hand, other authors will you invite to discover the realm of spirituality (thus, the uprising of meditation and mindfulness). One of Murray’s greatest strengths is composing a picture of the whole human: physical, emotional, and spiritual. He does not offer simple platitudes that will only last for a minute but gives you a comprehensive picture of a life lived in Christ, which effects the way we pray, eat, sleep, and recreate.

After personally experiencing burnout, Murray invites his readers to find the richness of a life not marked by busyness, stress, and chaos but through an identify shaped by the work of Christ, which flows to every facet of life. Fundamental to our problem is not whether we have good time management (though that is important), but whether or not our lives are anchored to the grace-giving identity of being found in Christ. Critical to all of our restlessness, Murray seeks to apply the finished work of Christ as the foundation to all living.

Lest we think that Murray simply invites Christians to read their Bibles and pray more, Reset offers you a beautiful holistic life that is shaped around grace and rest. In other words, how does your sleep, diet, goals, technology use, spiritual disciplines, church attendance, and goal setting shape the person you are becoming now? Coupled with both biblical and practical wisdom, Murray will challenge the way you live so that you do not have to encounter burnout like many Americans are in this present moment.

This book, in particular, is helpful to pastors, as Murray writes as one who understands the demanding challenges of ministry. If you are a pastor or ministry leader that is experiencing the alarm signs of burnout, please, for the sake of your soul and your family, pick up Murray’s book and put in the hard work of self-examination. In the beginning of the book, Murray invites you to take an inventory of your current soul status. For many, this may be the gift that you desperately need. God is inviting you to find healing and rest in Christ, not so that you may do less for the King, but so that you may endure to the end with a heart that still loves God, your family and children, and your neighbor as yourself.