Book review: Why Bother with Church ? by Sam Alberry

Here in France, church commitment is a real issue. Most people see church as something optional. Church is a voluntary based organisation. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t attend, and when my local church doesn’t reach my expectations any more, I find another one.

In many churches, a minority are faithfully committed to the church but the majority isn’t. They will attend most Sundays unless they have something better to do, or feel too tired to go to the service. Most will never bother with a midweek meeting. In one church I know, it seems that some members only attend services when they are on duty like preaching or leading the service.
“Why bother with church ?” is a helpful little book. In a few pages it gives compelling reasons why believers should bother with church. It concludes with the question “Why on earth would I not bother with church?” There are only 6 short chapters and it is an easy read. The first chapter is a quick introduction to Ecclesiology: “What is church?”. The other chapters answer various practical questions: why do I need church? What makes a good church ? There is also a chapter on church government. The last two chapters: “How do I survive church ?” and “How can I be a good church member? are especially helpful.
I liked that the author doesn’t push his own ecclesiology (he is an Anglican), but at one point, he wisely tells his readers that if they want to go deeper on a specific issue, they should talk with their pastor.This little book is practical and pastoral. You will understand that the reason you find church boring “has to do with the mindset with which we arrive week by week.” So instead of coming to get something out for yourself, try to think how you can serve others.Read “Why bother with church”. Use some of its arguments in conversations. Get a few copies and hand them over around you. Make sure that young believers read it and understand it. Personally, if I were to use it, I would take each chapter heading and make a series of sermons. Actually, I wonder whether it started as a series of sermons.

Book review: “Preaching by ear” by Dave McClellan

I received an electronic copy of this book free of charge against a fair review.

There is no doubt that every preacher would agree that preaching is an oral task. Yet, the majority of us preachers rely on a literary style. This helpful little book powerfully argues that we should go back to an oral style, and that a specific method is required if we are to preach in an oral style. The author highlights a few principles from antiquity’s best orators: Augustine, Aristotle and Quintilian.

In the second part, he tries to give a biblical basis for his argument and outlines his own method. He advocates the use of  a sermon map rather that an outline.

It is a helpful book, but not a homiletic manual. The most helpful principle I got from reading this was from Quintilian’s idea of Vir Bonus. The author explains:

The Latin term vir bonus, meaning a man of virtuous character, is perhaps the feature for which Quintilian is best known. For Quintilian, there is no separation of speech and speaker. Who a person is irrepressibly leaks into what is said.31 “We are to form, then, the perfect orator, who cannot exist unless as a good man, and we require in him, therefore, not only consummate ability in speaking, but every excellence of mind” (Institutio oratoria, preface, 9).
For Quintilian, an orator draws deeply upon something as he speaks. It is not the external brute facts of a given case or matter, but the personal grasp a speaker has upon the situation as informed by moral character. The well from which he draws is internal and personal. “I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man, and even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be” (1.2.3). An unprincipled preacher simply cannot draw deeply from internal resources so as to react to the moment in a grounded way. If the preacher is passing along secondhand truth, the essential connections between mind and mouth are missing.

I thought I would give a go at some of the principles outlined in this book, and decided to preach from a sermon map and not type an outline. I used a sermon I had preached once or twice before, but it worked well. I carefully mapped my thoughts, drawing some of the ideas instead of writing words. I thought it helped me. You may want to have a go at it. here is my map for a sermon on the Flood.

Genese 6 Sermon

Book review: “Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply preaching” by Alec Motyer

I’ve got quite a large collection of books on preaching, and I try to read something on the subject on a regular basis, at least once a year. Alec Motyer’s book will stand as one of my favorites. It is quick and fun to read. The author covers all the areas of preaching from choosing and studying the text to delivery. He also talks about the preacher himself.

It’s not an homiletic manual, so I don’t think it would be that helpful for complete beginners. But it is a great refresher for those of us who are called to preach on a regular basis. It is a quick read and offers all sorts of helpful tips. It also removes some of the guilt feeling that can come after reading a more technical homiletics manual. While these manuals often leave you with the impression that if you don’t follow their rules to the letter, you will fail, Motyer doesn’t make you feel like that.

I would definitely recommend this book to any preacher, and read it on a regular basis as a refresher and encouragement.

I received the book free of charge in electronic format in exchange of a review, and I was not expected to write a positive review.

Book Review “A neglected Grace” by Jason Helopoulos

A Neglected GraceAlthough we never had Family worship when I grew up, I’ve long been convinced of the necessity of family worship. My convictions were reinforced a few months ago when a young man working with students here in France told me that many young people from a christian background who arrive in university have difficulties sharing the gospel. Even formulating the basics of the faith seems a challenge.

In France, secularism is so much part of our culture that even Christian families do not speak about God outside of church. People claim they have a “quiet time”, but they don’t speak together about spiritual issues. Parents do not teach their children about the gospel. They leave that into the hand of the Sunday school and the youth group. When you think that there is only one Sunday meeting, and maybe a youth group every other week, it means that the message that children hear most is the secular one.

I know there are exceptions, but they are few. In my experience, the majority of French Christian parents do not teach their children about Christ at home.

This recent book was a helpful addition to my collection of books on family worship. It offers a sound biblical grounding for family worship and gives practical advice. It is also realistic. People who speak on family worship often give an idealistic view of the practice, with quiet children listening and answering questions. It is discouraging for most families. The reality is often very different. I have got 3 young boys, and I must admit that many times I have shortened our time of worship together because of the noise and shouting. But Jason Helopoulos’ book is honest: family worship is a struggle with young children, but we must persevere. It is aimed at encouraging rather than discouraging by offering a romantic view of family worship. Jason Helopoulos doesn’t hesitate to share some of his struggles, and those of others. By doing this, he encourages us to persevere.

We live in a world that is trying to pull our children and ourselves away from the gospel. How can we make sure that every sphere of our lives are God centred? By gathering together as families to worship God. It doesn’t take long, it is doesn’t require a theological degree, and it will benefit every member of the family. This book will help you towards that goal.

Book review: “the gospel call and true conversion” by Paul Washer

The Gospel Call and True ConversionThis book is a most welcome volume on a most important subject: conversion. There’s much confusion on the subject in the evangelical scene today. Many people are rushed into false assurance when it is clear they have never understood the gospel, repented and believed. It is time to go back to the Word of God and ask ourselves whether our idea of conversion is biblical or not. I am afraid that for many people around, it isn’t.

Reading this book was helpful. It goes back to basics, and offers a healthy criticism of today’s unbiblical gospel. It confirmed my conviction that we don’t call people to repentance anymore, and that inviting Jesus into one’s heart is not biblical.

It will be helpful to anyone who is concerned about the many people around them claiming to be “born again” without showing any signs of change in their lives. Read it, underline it, apply it… It will be worth the effort

I was sent a review copy by “Cross focused reviews”