Thursday, December 15, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2016 (Pt. 3) (Dec. 15, 2016)

          Most all believers know that an atheist claims to not believe in God’s existence, but beyond knowing that, few have really worked through and wrestled with their arguments.  Most believers are taught the atheist is wrong – end of story.  But it is fruitful to hear, and try to understand, their arguments.  They are much simpler to refute by the average believer than one might think.  In The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs, Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy present atheistic beliefs in the atheist’s own words.  Geisler and McCoy do not spin or even do that much critique but instead quote many leading atheists extensively and expose conflicts between their, frequently contradictory claims.  Those claiming to be “atheist” are on the rise, therefore the average believer needs to become more familiar with this position in an effort to defend the Word of God.  Another great apologetics work I read this year was The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.  The book is an outline of Christian belief and answers the major objections that are frequently leveled against Christianity. 

          Cultural engagement is not an option for Christians.  We are not only losing the culture war in America, but we are losing, bit by bit, our religious freedom and it will only get worse.   The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has begun publishing a series of simple, straight-forward books to address the biggest issues of the day.  I read the newly published The Gospel & Religious Liberty by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker.  We must fight for religious liberty or we will wake up one day and realize we no longer have it as the luxury we once knew.  The culture is finding new, and often creative ways, to try and silence the church.  The church in America is under ever increasing attack.  How should we respond?  Moore and Walker’s book is a great tool to help believers answer that all-important question.  I also read The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation from the same series by Moore and Walker.  It is insightful and helpful when it comes to understanding the problems we face in the area of race relations and offers Scripture-based solutions.  Race-relations have become a big issue in recent years and Christians need to know how to address it with biblical truth and grace.

          Country music fans will enjoy Country Faith: 56 Reflections from Today’s Leading Country Music Stars compiled by Deborah Evans Price.  The format of this book is, singers share their favorite verse and what it means to them; particularly how it has helped and encouraged them along the way.  There are many heart-felt insights that are highly applicable to every-day life.  We enjoyed reading through this book during our family devotion time in the evenings.

          Whether we like it or not, homosexuality is an issue that is not going anywhere.  Believers have struggled to respond to a rapidly changing culture.  Some are sadly compromising on the issue in ways that the Bible does not support, while others are rigid and dogmatic and even unloving toward persons struggling with this particular sin.  Where is the right balance?  Glenn T. Stanton’s book Loving My LGBT Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace & Truth helps us understand how we can build healthy friendships with members of the LGBT community for the purpose of winning them to Christ.  The book does not compromise on biblical truth concerning issues of sexuality, but it does offer a slightly different approach than other books on the subject of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism.  I believe this is a much needed book for most believers.

          Over the past few years I have found commentary survey books very helpful.  This year I enjoyed reading through Old Testament Commentary Survey: Fifth Edition by Tremper Longman III.  I had read an earlier edition and have also read the New Testament equivalent by D. A. Carson.  When you prepare to study a book of the Bible, there is no shortage of commentaries available and it is overly optimistic to assume they are all good.  These summary books give a very brief critique of available commentaries on the various books of the Bible.  These are must-haves for all pastor’s libraries, but laymen also may find them helpful.

          In 1958 John Stott’s book Basic Christianity was first published.  Since then more than 2.5 million copies have been sold.  The book is a true classic.  The book covers such basic topics as “Who is Christ?”  “The character of Christ,” “The resurrection of Christ,” “The death of Christ,” “Salvation in Christ,” “Becoming a Christian,” “Being a Christian,” and much more.  The book is simple and basic, in one sense, just as the title indicates; however it is actually quite thought provoking and challenging.  It first challenges the non-Christian with the explicit reality of lostness in which they are living, then moves to the claims of Christ which are substantial and then to certain realities that should always be present in the lives of believers.  It is this latter part that especially gets challenging for Christians.  This is a book all believers should read.  Further, it is a very good choice of a book to place in the hands of a non-Christian or to place in the hands of a new believer.

          There are several short books, mainly by popular authors, that examine the Christmas story.  I have read many of these through the years.  One of the latest, which only came out this fall, is Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller.  Keller’s approach is a little different than most of these type books.  It is actually quite pointed and challenging along the way.  It certainly caused me to think deeper than I have while reading other books on this similar subject.  Reading this book will likely help you to better understand Christmas.  I think Keller is one of the best contemporary authors and would recommend your reading anything of his you come across.


I hope you find this year’s recommendations helpful and enjoyable!  Merry Christmas to each of you!  Thank you for reading my weblogs these past 9 ½ years, and for your positive feedback.  You are greatly appreciated!


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, December 12, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2016 (Pt. 2) (Dec. 12, 2016)

There are a multitude of books available on prayer and all have some value if read and applied.  However, few books on the subject really get to the heart of the matter.  Timothy Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God is perhaps the best book I have read to date on the subject of prayer.  It is easy to read, yet highly profound.  He draws heavily on the writers of the past such as Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Muller, and many more, while using contemporary illustrations and applications.  Prayer is not an act/work we perform, but rather a way of living.  As we live in close fellowship with God, we work hard to grow closer to Him and Keller covers many ways by which this may be accomplished.

          One of the saddest realities of parenting for many Christians, is to see their children act, in varying degrees, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable.  Many parents, and grandparents, weep because one they love, and one who knows better, has succumbed to the allure of the world and its ways.  Many well-meaning parents and grandparents are saying and doing the wrong things as they work to try and remedy the problem.  Sadly, in many cases they are pushing their loved one further away and making the situation worse.  In his very helpful book Reaching Your Prodigal: What Did I Do Wrong?  What Do I Do Now?, author Phil Waldrep explores the pattern in the Lord’s parable and what we can learn and apply to our situation as we long for that day the prodigal returns home.

          Churches are struggling these days when compared with their former glory.  Efforts by some to try and reinvent church have largely failed.  Scripture teaches us to “return to the old paths.”  Further, what seems new is not really so new anyway, after all the wisdom of Solomon taught there is nothing new under the sun.  That is why the church of the Lord Jesus needs to wake up and experience true revival or renewal.  Charles Swindoll’s book Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal was challenging and enjoyable.  He writes to the church as a whole, as well as to pastors admonishing all to awake and get back to the basic tasks of believers such as exposition of the Word of God, church members being willing to be taught, sharing of our faith, discipleship, ministry, prayer, etc.  We have been seriously adrift for some time and we need to wake up!

          I enjoyed reading Thom Rainer’s latest book Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church.  This is a quick read with some good insight.  There is not a lot of new information in addition to what you would find in other books on the subject by Rainer, but it was helpful and, at points, entertaining.  I also re-read and taught through his book I Will: 9 Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian. It also, is well worth your time to read.

          John Piper has been one of my favorite authors for many years.  His depth helps me understand many subjects with more clarity.  His book Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power: Making the Most of Three Dangerous Opportunities shows the dangers of how these three alluring areas tend to trap us.  We have fallen for many lies and we have learned ways to rationalize our sins.  Satan distorts God’s gifts.  He cheapens them and makes them dirty and tells us we are not satisfied with the limits God has prescribed.  Piper helps the reader see, from the Scripture the goodness of God in these areas in a fresh way, as well as helping the reader face areas in his/her life that are not as pure as one might think.

          American education has undergone many major and minor changes over time.  But one thing is very clear.  God was once the centerpiece and now is out entirely.  Up until around the year 1900, The New England Primer was widely used to help teach children to read and understand the basics.  One will be amazed at, not only the saturation with references to God, but also the significantly more rigorous academic expectations of children and their learning.  This inexpensive book should be obtained and read by everyone, as we need to see how far we have drifted.

          This past spring I taught through the Book of Esther on Sunday evenings.  It was my third time to do so in the course of my years in ministry.  Among the commentaries and related books I used, which I would recommend, are The Message of Esther by J. A. Motyer from “The Bible Speaks Today Commentary Series.” Charles Swindoll’s book Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity from his “Great Lives from God’s Word” series, was also a great help.  The Queen and I: Studies in Esther by Ray Stedman shed a lot of light on the book for me.  The one however I would say do not miss when studying the book is Inconspicuous Providence: The Gospel According to Esther by Bryan R. Gregory.  This thoughtful and well-written book gives a tremendous background, and great insight throughout concerning God’s master plan.

          I greatly enjoyed preaching through the Book of Jonah during the summer of 2016.  This is the second time I have preached through the book in my ministry, but the first time I did not go into a lot of depth.  However, this time I took my time and spent 9 weeks.  Truly this book is a treasure trove that sheds a lot of light on several different truths such as God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness, God’s long-suffering nature, God’s determination to use certain people for his glory, God’s sovereignty, and God’s enormous love.  Additionally, we understand more about such negatives as rebellion against God’s will, and consequences for our actions from this book.  Also we gain a better understanding of hell and separation from God by studying chapter 2; also, Jesus’ comparison of Himself and Jonah and being in the belly of the fish/earth.  I read through 8 commentaries that were helpful in varying degrees but the two books I would recommend most for laymen are The Remarkable Journey of Jonah: A Scholarly, Conservative Study of His Amazing Record by Henry M. Morris; also Jonah: A Study in Compassion by O. Palmer Robertson.  Both bring home the teaching of the book in a straightforward, user-friendly way.  James Montgomery Boice has a couple of volumes which cover all of the Minor Prophets.  His section on Jonah was very good and extremely helpful in my study.  Also, I would give honorable mention to Billy K. Smith and Frank S. Page for their volume on Jonah in the New American Commentary Series (NAC).


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading From 2016 (Pt. 1) (Dec. 8, 2016)

          It has now been nearly ten years that I have been doing an annual “recommended reading” list comprised of books I have read over the previous year that I found the most helpful and most worthwhile.  I have been asked many times if every book I read makes my list.  The answer is that usually about half make the list and about half do not.  Some books are mediocre and some just do not appeal to a very wide audience.  Most of my readers are laymen, so I try to keep that in mind when recommending books.  If a book is more geared toward pastors, I try and point that out.  From the outset, my weblogs have been for the purpose of encouraging believers to think a little deeper about biblical truth and contemporary issues, and that place where the two meet.  My recommended reading list tries to maintain that same philosophy.  With that being said, here is part 1 of my recommended reading list comprised of the best books I have read in 2016.


          Billy Graham’s books have always been good tools to use to introduce persons to Christ both from an apologetics standpoint and also when it comes to some of the basics new believers need to know.  His name recognition and longevity in the public eye give him a lot of credibility with many people.  His book Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond goes through the books of the Bible, starting with Genesis and  continuing through Revelation discussing what each book has to say about Heaven, eternity, and our life beyond our earthly existence.  It is encouraging, uplifting, and a great book to put into the hands of another person; particularly a non-believer or skeptic. It is not particularly deep, but does help the reader to focus on Heaven throughout.

         Every believer needs to have, at least a basic understanding of the Protestant Reformation; most of all the key names associated with it and the main issues at hand.  The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves is a well-written, concise, and enjoyable overview of the Reformation.  The book helps the reader get inside the thinking of the major figures and grasp their positions.  2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  We all need to understand it better.

            This year Michael Reeves became one of my favorite authors.  Do not miss his simple little book Enjoy Your Prayer Life.  It offers great encouragement where prayer is concerned and learning to better enjoy the communion we have with the Father, as Jesus also did.

          Many wonder what happened to the Apostles of our Lord after the biblical account ends.  There are many myths and legends surrounding what each may have done, how he died, where he traveled, etc.  After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin is a great resource to help you separate fact from fiction.  The author does not try and sway the reader to his opinions on matters, but instead merely presents evidence for and against various claims.  Then, at the end of each chapter gives a “report card” and assigns a grade to the likelihood of each claim based on evidence.  I found the book to be extremely enjoyable, helpful, and enlightening.

          Often believers, and even pastors, who have a very high view of Scripture still misinterpret key passages.  There are many places where misinterpretations have grown into “urban legends.”  Author, David A. Croteau, has written a very helpful book titled Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Misconceptions.  Each of the 40 short chapters of the book deal with another “urban legend.”  Examples of the issues he covers include “Did Jesus really sweat drops of blood?” “Was the ‘eye of the needle’ a gate in Jerusalem?”  “Are we not supposed to judge others?”  “Should the words found in John 3:16, and following, appear in red in our Bibles?”  “Does the Bible teach that women should not wear jewelry?”  The layout of the book is very easy to follow, reader-friendly, and helpful.

          Sorrow, sadness, and depression are not pleasant topics, but they are problems real people have to deal with on a regular basis.  How do we handle these things?  I was encouraged by reading Zack Eswine’s book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression.  The “Prince of Preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon suffered from several malady’s including bouts of depression.  The book is an intertwining of Spurgeon's insights into his own depression, depression in general, and Scriptural clarity on the whole issue.  I believe this book is worth your time to read.

          In years past, Christians did not talk about or worry too much about how we got our Bible.  They trusted the Word and believed it simply came from God and was to be revered, honored, and obeyed.  In an increasingly skeptical culture it has now become important that believers know more about the origins of their faith.  In particular, believers need to know about the origins of God’s Word so they can defend false claims leveled against it.  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Timothy Paul Jones, recognizing the need to equip laymen, has put together a concise 6-part study series called How We Got the Bible.  In addition to the DVD sessions, there is a book which is very good and certainly worthwhile to read.  The book contains many charts that help the reader see in clear terms some of the realities in how the Bible came to be.  The DVD sessions and the book chapter titles are identical.  These include “What’s So Special about the Bible?” “How We Got the Old Testament,” How We Got the New Testament,” “How the Books of the New Testament Were Chosen,”  “How the New Testament Was Copied,” and “How We Got the Bible in English.”

          Earlier this year I was privileged to preach through the joyful New Testament Book of Philippians on Sunday mornings.  D. A. Carson’s book Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians was helpful and easy to follow.  Another simple, yet doctrinally sound commentary that was also helpful was Philippians by Geoffery Wilson.  John MacArthur’s volume on Philippians in his New Testament Commentary Series was also solid and useful. For pastors and anyone really wanting to study the book deeply, do not miss Peter T. O’Brien’s The Epistle to the Philippians in the NIGTC series. 


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor