Book Review: Economic Shalom by John Bolt

61L8+NrY67LIn the closing statements of  Economic Shalom: A Reformed Primer on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing, John Bolt sets forth the goal he has achieved with this volume, “I have put forth an unapologetic affirmation of a free-market economy set with in a liberal democratic polity.”  If that statement sounds confusing to you then you’re not alone. I struggled through this volume which addressed such issues as Economics, Morality, Stewardship, Capital, and Consumerism. Topics that do not get much thought among the general landscape of Reformed theology.

In the opening chapter Bolt comes to a definition of Economics that rears itself throughout the rest of the book. Bolt defines Economics as, “that practical and moral scientific study of the one aspect or dimension of human behavior that involves stewardly exchanging, by free moral agents, scarce things of value for the sake of profit.” I admit after reading that statement several times I still don’t understand fully the idea behind Economics. Bolt goes on to develop this definition and the principles that govern human flourishing which leads the reader to a clear understanding of the topic at hand by the time the epilogue is reached.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing chapters in the volume is chapter 3 titled, It Takes a Village. In this portion John Bolt lays out a biblical suggestion to Flourishing Life in Human Society. I find this chapter most helpful because of the vocation I find myself in and the family I am helping to flourish. John bolt points us to God’s law in helping to guide the readers on a path to flourishing. “We can make it rather simple by saying that flourishing comes from heeding God’s laws. The so-called ‘second table of the law’ –commandments five through ten- are a good place to start.” Reading further on Bolt makes the statement that really hits when he, almost prophetically, tells us “And, we should add, so will societies [flourish] that honor marriage between free men and women and support the families they produce.” That statement for me drew together the entire chapter and the subsequent ideas Bolt examines.

Bolt goes on to describe, in no great detail, the idea of sphere sovereignty which comes to us from the brilliant neo-Calvinist mind of Abraham Kuyper. Here John Bolt points us to Christ and all his glory in saying, “To state it differently, worship of the true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, is the true key to human flourishing.” To me the book could have ended on that note and would have been a home run but much more study is needed on how sinful man and a broken culture can find themselves fulfilling the worship of God in the world today.

Overall this volume was well put together and easy for the reader to follow along the thought patterns of John Bolt. While terms are defined and ideas worked out in all the chapters, personally I found myself lost in the myriad of ideas which come along with economics. It’s not a subject I have studied much of and so I found myself a little bit behind even in this primer on the subject. In all the chapters John Bolt seems to point to Christ over and again which makes this volume not only a primer on economics and human flourishing but on Christ and the glory due to him. If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to human flourishing and what that means in society then I would highly recommend this volume.

 Economic Shalom: A Reformed Primer on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing
John Bolt/Christian's Library Press, 2013
Review Copy Courtesy of Christian's Library Press

Building Something Awesome with Owen Strachan: A Review.

81SzEOwl72L._SL1500_Let’s be honest with each other, if we can, for just a moment. We all want to build something awesome in this life, even if we do fly the banner of Christ. We wanna be known for something, we want to leave a legacy that our children can look back to and say, “That’s what my Dad/Mom did”. There seems to be an ever-present problem, however, which finds itself manufacturing this attitude in us today, and its called sin. Of course we want to build something awesome, but it’s not because we want God to get the glory. We want the glory, we want the fame, we want people to think we’re awesome. One thing about that….we’re not, and we need God to show us the truth about ourselves. But are we willing to risk it all for a glimpse at the truth?

Owen Strachan has engaged the Church with his timely book, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome, to combat this, “I’m awesome” attitude. He notes the meaning of a true Christian as one who, “Sees that Jesus Christ and his righteousness are the needs of our heart and the apex of our satisfaction. Through the Spirit, we’re able to see that Jesus is worth it all” (48). He also points out that the apex of our problem. “Sin does crazy things to our minds. It makes us weak. It makes us fools. And it leaves us unwilling to risk, and therefore unwilling to gain the whole world in Jesus. I am convinced that a big part of what is keeping modern Christians from spiritually flourishing is this: our self-identity.” (48)

Owen encourages Christians to live this life without playing it safely. He pushes us to involve risk, not only in our faith, but also in our families, vocations, communities and personal witness. The two areas which I find the most help for my own soul were chapters 5 (Risky Families) and chapter 9 (Risky Citizenship). Not only am I a father to two children but I must also care for my wife’s heart while living this life with an element of risk. Owen comforts my fears in leading my own family when he tells me, “You have to risk to build a strong family. You have to trade in dreams of self-driven comfort, ease, quiet, mobility, and indulgence for the self-sacrificial but far more enjoyable goal of leading a family to know and worship God and glorify him together through a happy, disciplined, loving home. The demands of the family are great. But its rewards are greater.” (97)

In a time of narrowing values and the decline of churches in the United States, being a public witness for Christ may cost us more than it has in the past. While growing up, though not a christian, I felt relatively at ease in this life. I had no major worries or problems other than my older brother picking on me. Today I have some major hurdles to climb over as I seek to share my faith, protect my family, build God’s church, and fulfill his calling to love him and love my neighbor. Owen calls us to be more than salt and light. He doesn’t negate the value of being those things but he pushes us to so much more in Christ. He calls me to live in the public spectrum while maintaining a level of risk which is in line with the gospel.

“The people of god cannot live only for themselves. In obedience to Christ, believers must make themselves a presence for good wherever they are. Some will know far greater freedom than others. If you’re living in a country that bans Christianity, you’ll have far less opportunity to be publicly engaged on crucial questions than evangelicals in freer societies. But every Christian in every place can be salt and light, being a godly, courageous witness to Christ.” (188)

Owen finishes up this book by relaying the story of Matt Chandler, who I’ve noted elsewhere, has been very instrumental in my own walk of faith. Chandler is a guy who grabs your attention from the moment he begins speaking and doesn’t let you go til he’s done tearing you down with the word of God and building you up with the very same word. Guys like Matt Chandler, guys with great families and large churches, shouldn’t have to go through troubles in this life…right?

The truth is that guys like Matt, like Owen, like you and I face troubles in this life. Christ told us we would and it’s a wise thing to listen to the words of Christ. Owen encourages us at the close of this text by saying that living for Christ isn’t risk at all, it’s the surest work we can undertake. With the power of the Trinity and the deposit of our inheritance, to not live for Christ would be the biggest risk we can take in life. He calls us to remember Christ who went before us and faithfully walked in this way before us.

At the end of this book as I reflect on the things Owen has taught me, I can hear one echoing refrain throughout the pages of this text which finds an anchor in Hebrews 13:20-21. Owen points us to Christ from the opening of this book to its final words. I would recommend this book to all those who are struggling to follow Christ fully and also for those who think they already are. We won’t be done with out work until, as Owen says, “We’ll be in glory, and we’ll celebrate what the gospel accomplished for us by God’s awesome grace; we risked the world, losing nothing…and trust Christ, gaining everything. 

Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome
Owen Strachan/Thomas Nelson, 2013
Review Copy Courtesy of Booklook Bloggers

Review: Introducing Biblical Theology by Sigurd Grindheim

biblical theologyFor those not familiar with the distinctions between the four major types of theology it can be a daunting task to search out the four and then find the differences. We need a simple, easy to follow volume which presents to us the major loci of theological topics in a language even the untrained can understand. Sigurd Grindheim has provided that text for us in his volume; Introducing Biblical TheologyThis book is a volume which finds itself in a market devoid of introductory works in this category of theology. Historical works abound, Systematics are all the rage, and pastoral texts have a hard time staying on the shelves, but this niche, apart from big names like Geerhardus Vos, have largely been ignored among the broader church in today’s landscape.

Grindheim begins by placing the anchor of this volume in  Luke 24:27 which explains to us that, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus understood the Old Testament to have one central thread which ran through all the pages of the testament he himself used several times. Grindheim makes this point a little more clearer when he tells us, “There is a story that runs through all of the biblical books: the story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, This is the story of the Triune God, the God who interacts…In this book, we will learn from Jesus and the apostles how to read the Bible, and we will see how the good news about Jesus Christ emerges as the central theme.”

Personally, this book felt a lot like reading a systematic theology, overlapping in some areas. I’m still not quite sure of the difference between the two disciplines of BT and ST other than the fact that BT seems to run in a straight line from Genesis to Revelation and ST seems to take those straight line topics and connect both ends of the line into a coherent and cogent circle of topics. This book did an excellent job of taking the Bible and making its story line accessible, answering many of the questions I have had since becoming a Reformed young man. Grindheim took me on a journey from beginning to end and never failed to keep my attention even through the lesser understood portions of God’s word.

To find an introductory work with this level of clarity would be a near impossible challenge in today’s market. The thought-provoking questions at the end of the chapter are exactly the thing i needed in order to interact with the text in a more direct way. Instead of long drawn out exposition of the Greek and Hebrew, Grindheim instead chooses to produce fruit that hangs low so that those of us who don’t know how to climb the tree may eat of its produce. A 32 page, double-columned Scripture index clearly shows the life of one who has spent a considerable amount of his life in study and we who read it are the benefactors of such time well spent.

Introducing Biblical Theology
Sigurd Grindheim/Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013
Review Copy Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing