The4thDave Reviews: “Strange Fire” by Dr. John MacArthur

Polemical writing has been part of church life since the very beginning, as the early church fathers addressed heresy and misunderstanding that had crept into Christian thinking. This kind of direct, passionate debate and critique served to clarify unclear doctrine, mark false teaching, and warn the Church of error and its potentially disastrous consequences. Part of the reason polemicists were effective was that they were trustworthy witnesses. If you try to critique or correct a trend of teaching or thinking, it serves your purpose to have a track record of faithfulness and to demonstrate that you “have some skin in the game.”

In recent years, however, the skins of Christian pastors and laity have thinned, and polemical writing is no longer seen as a bracing but necessary corrective. These days, the genteel constitutions of church folk have moved them to call such writing “unhelpful,” “over-critical,” “divisive,” “hateful,” even sinful! “Discernment” has transformed in the minds of the American church from a necessary and praiseworthy Christian trait to an epithet, slapped on writers and teachers who dared to criticize the Top Men of the church denomination or theological “tribe.”

I bring this history up, because when it comes to books like Strange Fire by Dr. John MacArthur, there are mainly 2 reactions from Christian readers: those sympathetic to his message will uncritically approve it, and those opposed will write Dr. MacArthur off as an angry, old-fashioned critic without giving him a fair hearing. If you find yourself in this second group, I ask you to hold your fire and give the author a fair hearing, out of respect for the fact that he has proven himself faithful for four decades.

In Strange Fire, Dr. MacArthur takes a hard look at the Pentacostal/Charismatic movement and how its influence has spread into parts of the Evangelical church. He looks at the key elements of charismatic teaching (specifically, modern apostleship, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing) and painstakingly compares modern examples of these “signs” to the Bible’s account of such signs in the early church. He cites hundreds of sources and a host of direct quotations from notable figures in this movement. Throughout the book, Dr. MacArthur makes the case (rather convincingly) that the Charismatic movement is rotten down to its roots, riddled with false teaching and plagued by a legion of liars, frauds, and fools.

After unmasking the strange fire of Charismatic phenomena, Dr. MacArthur then takes the last section of the book to explain from Scripture the office and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. Rather than simply tearing down what is broken, Dr. MacArthur builds a solid foundation in its place to edify the reader and teach true doctrine. This section is particularly strong and very encouraging.

The “cessationist vs. continuationist” debate rages on in Evangelicalism, and Dr. MacArthur weighs in firmly in the Cessationist camp. Even so, he doesn’t see continuationists as his enemies, but he entreats them as brothers to reconsider the implications of their beliefs. The last chapter of Strange Fire is actually entitled “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends,” and he does treat continuationist readers with a friendly and fatherly affection.

The book has a few weak points or deficiencies. (Am I allowed to say that about a MacArthur book?) First, I struggled a little bit with the tone of the book, early on, as Dr. MacArthur savaged false teachers. However, I realized that this tone was Paul’s tone, and Peter’s, and Jude’s, so it is appropriate to bluntly call out wolves. However, it would be easy for the tenor of some of Dr. MacArthur’s writing to distract or discomfit weaker or more sensitive readers. Second, I wish more time could have been taken in addressing the “Jesus-dream” phenomena that continuationists point to in places with little Gospel influence, such as parts of the Middle East. I think readers would have benefited from Dr. MacArthur’s take on this issue, since it comes up regularly in debates about modern sign gifts. Finally, during some of the stories of past Charismatic figures, Dr. MacArthur at times engaged in a bit of lurid speculation and seemed to dwell on the details of their sins a bit too much. His intention was to demonstrate that their words were not consistent with their lifestyles, but a few points may have crossed the line of good taste. Again, it’s important to understand who and what we’re dealing with when it comes to some of these false teachers, but such writing also gives easy excuses for critics and doubters to put the book down.

Final Analysis: Strange Fire is a powerful critique of Charismatic theology and certain continuationalist assumptions. It is grounded in faithful Scriptural exposition and detailed scholarship. Critics of this book will, at best, be able to argue with Dr. MacArthur’s tone and perhaps some of his conclusions, but the bulk of his argument is sound.

If you have wrestled with the Continuationist vs. Cessationist argument, or have wondered about Charismatic beliefs, Strange Fire presents a clear and well-considered position on these issues.

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Note: The sponsor (Thomas Nelson) provided an electronic copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. The preceding thoughts are my own.

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United Around What?

I’m not going to weigh in on today’s events; enough people are talking about that. I’ve got something else in mind today. I want to talk about the calls by many pastors for more unity in the Church, as a reaction to the Charleston tragedy.

[I guess I need to say this right off the bat, because the Internet is a place of stupid assumptions, so you have to be explicit about EVERYTHING: The Charleston shooting was a brutal act of racist violence that is completely indefensible. The man responsible should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This attack was an attack on the Church, but more specifically on African-American believers in the Church. We can’t miss that detail in our discussion of it. Racism *is* part of this discussion, but I’m not going to talk about it right now. It doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important. I’m just taking a different angle on all this, today. Okay? We clear on all that? Thanks.]

Last week, I heard a pastor praying, in reference to the Charleston shooting, that the Church would come together and be unified as Christ prayed we would be. He prayed that we would join across denominational lines and become one, as we were meant to be.

Now, I will say that I know this pastor, and I know that he affirms sound doctrine (even if we may disagree on some of the finer points). But the way he prayed didn’t sit right with me.

Doctrinal distinctives (and by extension, denominational distinctives) matter. I know it’s a popular attitude to eschew such distinctions and instead hold to a naïve comment like “I just follow the Bible” or “I’m on Team Jesus.”  That’s all well and good, kiddo, but HOW we follow Jesus and HOW we interpret the Bible matter. Right doctrine produces right practice. If you think you can get right practice without right doctrine, I’ve got a stack of NOOMA DVDs to sell you—never mind, you probably own them. (OOOH, BUUUURN.)

I’m a Southern Baptist (at least for now…that’s a different conversation for another time). And I do believe I can have fellowship with believers from other traditions.

But the nexus of our unity is not centered on the mere phrase, “I’m a Christian”–because a lot of people call themselves Christian and live out a religion that is antithetical to the Christ of Christianity.  Rather, Baptists like me can have unity with (for example) some Presbyterians and some Lutherans and some of those non-commital Non-denoms (c’mon guys, pick a side!) because we hold to the same Gospel. If a professing believer holds to the absolute truth of Scripture; the triune nature of God expressed in those Scriptures; the reality of man’s sin and separation from God; salvation that is only received by grace through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross; and a hope in our future inheritance based on Jesus’ bodily resurrection—then we stand on the same ground. We can disagree on the implication of some of those truths, but we have to start there before I can feel comfortable calling you my brother or sister.

Does that make me a fundamentalist? No. Because a fundamentalist’s list would be much longer than that (and God bless you, if that’s you—I don’t see you as the enemy). What that makes me is, Lord-willing, faithful to sound doctrine and the Gospel once delivered to the saints, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

I talked to a friend about this pastor’s prayer, and he observed, “Times of tragedy are not really the best time to start arguing over doctrinal distinctives.”  It’s a fair observation, and I understand where he’s coming from. But I’m not expecting that pastor to use his prayer to dig into systematics. However, an unqualified “unity” (even from the mouth of a pastor who believes the Gospel) is a dangerous thing to say, because it can give the hearer the impression that mere nominal unity was the point of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

What did Jesus actually say about unity in that “High Priestly Prayer”? In John 17:20-21, Jesus prays, ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  But what does He pray just before that?

 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”  (John 17:14-19)

Our unity is born out of our common understanding of the truth of God, revealed in Scripture. This truth sanctifies us, makes us holy.

Here’s the point, friends: if we truly seek unity across denominational lines as the body of Christ, we must center our unity on the unchanging truth of the Gospel, found in the perfect and powerful Scriptures. Any other unity is a false foundation of sinking sand.

“Father God, in light of all that is going on in our country, I pray that You would call Your people back to Your perfect Word. I pray that we would become a people who walk in Your ways and obey Your commands, a people who pray for Your Kingdom to come and Your Will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. And as we pray these things, Father, I ask that You would unify Your true church, the born again and redeemed members of many denominations and churches, around the only standard we need to embrace wholeheartedly: the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, expressed in the pages of Scripture. Help us to love Your truth, so that we can be sanctified by Your truth. By our faithfulness to Your truth, expressed in our love for one another and our compassion for those outside the family, the world will know that we truly are followers of Jesus. Be glorified in our lives, Father. We live to bring You praise. We pray this in the name of our Savior and King, Jesus. Amen.”

Paul’s Rules for Social Media Interactions

There are certain Bible verses or passages that can trip you up as you read them. You’re humming along through a passage when suddenly you’re stopped cold. In that moment, you may have the thought, “Really? Is this really here? How have I missed this before?”

Last week, I had this experience with Titus 3.

In the letter to Titus, Paul is giving instructions to Titus to “put things in order” in the church on the island of Crete, by identifying and training elders to lead the church, and by teaching the people to live in a godly manner.

Then, in verse 2 of chapter 3, Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) says this:

“[Remind them] … to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

I had to stop and re-read that verse. Then I started thinking about social media.

What if we actually followed these commands on Facebook and Twitter and in our blog posts? How would it change how we write, and what we write about? How would it affect our responses to others?

Before any of you sound the alarm, I’m not turning into a Raised-Pinkie Blogger™ who blanches at the slightest hint of online critique. There is a time and place and approach for critical thinking and critical writing, and when it comes to theology, it’s important to recognize false doctrine and even to mark false teachers. The Apostle Paul himself had no qualms about “naming names,” and since it’s part of the Bible, one can safely assume that God ordained those specific and personal warnings.

But if we claim to be followers of Jesus who hold up the Bible as our standard for faith and conduct, we can’t ignore the clear commands of Scripture that govern our interactions with others, even if those interactions are through a computer screen. We can’t excuse reputation-slandering, quarreling, and rudeness by draping them in reformers’ robes. We don’t reflect Jesus when we do this.

Contend for the faith, Christian, but contend without becoming contentious. Speak clearly about doctrinal error, but do not speak evil of your brother who is in error. Be firm about the truth, but gentle in your answers to those who question you. Show contempt for the Enemy and his works, but treat all people–the God-hating, the corrupt, the deluded, the confused, the proud, the ignorant, the naive, the worldly, the cowardly–with perfect courtesy.

I’ll freely admit that I’m not very good at all this. But by God’s grace, I’ll grow in it. If I truly want to follow Jesus, how can I do otherwise?

UPDATE: Please see a few more comments on this issue in the “Comments” below. Thanks.

The4thDave Reviews: “The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo” by Jared C. Wilson

Full Disclosure: I’m a Jared Wilson fan. While I wouldn’t call myself a full-on “fanboy,” I have told my wife on at least one occasion that I want to be Jared when I grow up. (He would be appalled at that statement, for the record.) What I mean is: I want to be a faithful expositor, a gentle and loving pastor, a skilled and challenging writer, and a faithful husband and father. When Paul tells Timothy to put into practice what Timothy sees in Paul’s life, I think of men like Jared Wilson.

With that on the table, then, you’re probably inclined to think that I am incapable of fairly reviewing Wilson’s book, and as a result, my review can’t be trusted. Well, I hope that won’t keep you from taking seriously my next statement:

The Prodigal Church is one of the best books I’ve ever read about ecclesiology, and it needs to be put into the hands of every pastor and seminary student. Full-stop.

In The Prodigal Church, Wilson examines the shift in the American evangelical church toward an “attractional” or “seeker-sensitive” church model. In a measured and fully Biblical manner, Wilson examines the theological and ideological underpinnings of these approaches to “doing church.” He praises what is praiseworthy and critiques what is deserving of criticism. Wilson raises questions that need to be raised and challenges assumptions we in the Evangelical church make about how we conduct ourselves in corporate gatherings. (In a sense, he’s pulling an “Ian Malcolm”–pushing past the question of “if we could” to ask “if we should.”)

One of the sections that I thought was particularly powerful was his examination of the role of pastor-as-shepherd, and how the “CEO model” of church leadership completely misses the power and weight of the Scriptural office of pastor. When talking about Jesus’ instruction to Peter to “feed My sheep,” Wilson writes:

Jesus is referring to a shepherd’s personal care for the flock, and specifically He is helping Peter see that his (Peter’s) role must reflect the work of Christ Himself. “If you love me,” in other words, “you will do for others what I have done for you.” And we do not see Jesus simply handing out resources and programs to His disciples, but sitting with them, walking with them, eating with them, praying with them, touching them and correcting them. He does not hide behind His office door labeled, “Messiah for Preaching and Vision.” He is sweating and crying and sleeping in front of them. And He dies for them.

Wilson goes on to say that this means “we ought to put an end to the notion that The Program is the key to spiritual growth… Systems may aid the discipleship process, but discipleship is not a system.”

I really appreciated that the subtitle bore out in the content of the book: The Prodigal Church is most definitely a manifesto–but it is truly and sincerely gentle. Wilson writes with honesty and directness, but also with a disarming humility. He gently and pastorally pleads his case, and does so convincingly.

I also appreciated Wilson’s final chapter, in which he shares some very honest and painful stories from his own life. At first his account might seem irrelevant and perhaps even inappropriate, but Wilson does this to demonstrate how the true message of the Gospel provides hope for people who are struggling, and how the Church’s mission is to be a beacon of that Gospel hope.

Who Should Read This:

If you are not interested in questions of how the Christian Church functions, then this book won’t interest you.

However, if you have concerns about church growth and methodology, or you want the local church to function in a healthy and holy manner, this book is incredibly important and applicable.

So here’s my pitch:

  • If you are in full-time ministry, buy and read this book immediately. It will bless you and challenge you.
  • If you are a lay-person and a church member, buy this book and give it to your pastor. Write a nice note letting him know that you appreciate his ministry and faithfulness and want to encourage him, and include that note with the book.
  • If you’re a Christian but not a church member, get connected to a Bible-believing local church. Seriously, I shouldn’t have to remind you.

I’m serious about this: Read the book. I’m planning on buying several copies for pastors I know, as an encouragement to stay faithful to the Scriptures when it comes to serving the church of God.

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Please Note: I was provided a free electronic copy of the book under review from the publisher, Crossway, in exchange for an unbiased review. The above comments are my sincere opinions of the book reviewed.

A seat at His table.

The stressful, beautiful, detail-oriented part was over. We stood before our friends and family, repeated the words, made the vows, and exchanged rings. The whole thing went off without a hitch. Then a short reception for the guests of the ceremony, with delicious food and lots of laughter. But the real feast wouldn’t happen until a few hours later, when family and close friends gathered for supper.

The room was perfect. It was simply but elegantly decorated, warmly-lit by the dying of the day that  filtered through the windows along the parallel walls. Tables were encircled with beloved faces, happily chomping fajitas and crunching tortilla chips and salsa. Occasionally, the crack of a can of Cheerwine soda punctuated the happy hum of reminiscence and conversation. We ate as if we were ending a fast, until our bellies were fully satisfied. We embraced friends and relatives, thanked them for coming. We almost didn’t want to leave, as much as we were ready to speed off into the night, fast approaching the first midnight of our new life together.

It was the most joyful meal I have ever eaten; and it will pale into nothingness in the light of the future Feast to which it pointed.

There will come a day, almost too wonderful to comprehend, when Bridegroom and Bride gather together before the host of heaven, and we sit together at table with the Master of the Feast. We who were once spiritually destitute, pitiful, helpless, lame and blind of spirit, enemies and beggars who were invited to come to the Feast through absolutely no merit of our own, will sit with the One who rescued us, and enjoy the bounty of Heaven.

We will be clothed, not in our shabby earthly best, but in Christ’s own righteousness, pure and clean. We will be welcomed as sons and daughters of God with rejoicing, and we will get to see our Lord face to face.

There will be no more goodbyes, no more sad tears, no need to exchange contact information and promise to keep in touch. There will be no goodnight, for night will fade into memory as we breathe anew in the shining eternal Day.

The feast will go on forever, and the joyful celebration will not end, as we the redeemed of God will share stories and songs of how our Savior Jesus ransomed us from darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of His marvelous light. We will rejoice and worship God together in absolute delight.

It’s hard to imagine such a day. It will be beyond any human description. And the more we think on it, the less powerfully the trinkets of this life will allure us.

I confess, I am easily distracted by the junk of earth.

But I pray that my mind may be continually drawn to my Savior Jesus, whose blood has pardoned my sin and  purchased my entrance to His Kingdom, and whose resurrection secured for me a seat at His table.

We are Family.

It was a wonderful anniversary weekend. Thanks, friends, for your congratulations and warm wishes. We had a great time hanging out with friends and loved ones, and eating way too much delicious food.

We also spent Sunday morning with a different church family than we normally do. The service was different than our home church in several ways, and it had a very different vibe, but it was an encouraging and edifying experience.

It served as a reminder to me that the various local expressions of Christ’s church are not combatants or competitors but rather family–each local body part of the worldwide Body. Just as the churches of the first century prayed for and supported each other, we can and should pray for and support other churches that are holding fast to the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

So, here’s a challenge for today:

Christian, the Scriptures teach us to pray for those who hold positions of authority and service in the Church. I trust that you are praying for your pastors/elders/deacons/teachers. If you are not so praying, I would urge you (by the example of Scripture) to do so. Speaking as a Sunday School teacher, we appreciate your prayers and encouragement.

But on top of that, I would encourage you to find another faithful church in your area–a church that teaches and lives out the Gospel faithfully–and pray for them as well. Pray for their pastors, their elders, their deacons, their teachers. Pray for their unity. Pray for their effectiveness in reaching lost people in their community with the Good News.  And then maybe send the pastor an email, just letting him know that you’re praying for the church he serves.

Happy Monday, family. God bless you.

Winner, winner.

The second greatest gift God has given me (after salvation from my sin through Jesus) is my beloved wife. And both of these gifts are fully and completely an act of His magnificent grace.

This weekend is our first wedding anniversary. It’s amazing that it’s already been a year. It seems both shorter and longer–shorter because it feels like it’s flown by, and longer because life with my beloved feels so natural and right.

So, in honor of the weekend, here are 30 reasons I’m thankful to be married to my beloved H. :

  1. She reminds me of the Gospel when I fall back into thinking I need to earn approval from God.
  2. She loves the Scriptures.
  3. She writes me encouraging notes on colorful cards and sticks them in my bag without my realizing.
  4. Her eyes. They’re a rich chocolate brown, and they enchanted me from our very first “non-date” date.
  5. She cooks delicious healthy food, and is the primary reason that I’ve become a healthier man over the last year.
  6. She also cooks delicious UNhealthy food (less often, now), which has also helped me become a happier man over the last year.
  7. She creates beautiful artwork using all sorts of media.
  8. Whenever she encounters a craft idea, DIY project, or new recipe, her first thought is always, “I bet I could do that myself.”
  9. And she usually does. And it’s usually amazing.
  10. She grows things. Flowers, herbs, vegetables.
  11. She keeps talking about owning chickens one day, so we can have fresh eggs. I don’t think I’ll be able to talk her out of that.
  12. She loves children, and is deeply passionate about caring for hurting children.
  13. She will be an incredible mother one day. I can’t wait to see that.
  14. She’s insightful and empathetic. This will make her a phenomenal counselor.
  15. She is gracious with my weakness, and forgiving of my thoughtlessness.
  16. But she still holds me to my word, and expects me to follow-through, and this challenges me to be a better man.
  17. She recognizes her own sin, and is quick to repent and apologize.
  18. She reads books. This habit is becoming more and more rare in our world, so I’m thrilled that ours will be a reading household.
  19. She asks me how I’m doing, and what she can do to help me.
  20. She prays for me, and prays over me.
  21. She recognizes when I’m exhausted and insists that I rest.
  22. She is smart. She would deny it, but she is really clever.
  23. She’s determined and doesn’t give up. This has made her strong in heart and will, and it will continue to serve her well throughout her life.
  24. I love her smile.
  25. Snuggling up with her on the couch is one of my favorite things.
  26. She accepts me as I am, and makes me feel strong and respected and valued. That is huge for me.
  27. She loves her in-laws (my family). That’s a blessing.
  28. She loves our Sunday School class, and looks for ways to pour into the lives of the women in our group.
  29. She’s not just my wife–she’s my best friend. There’s no one with whom I’d rather spend time and have fun.
  30. When I realized that our budget wouldn’t allow for any extravagant anniversary presents or out-of-town travel, she smiled and said, “As long as you’re with me, I’m happy staying right here. Celebrating anniversaries isn’t about big gestures. It’s about being thankful for another year together.”

I have often joked that, in every relationship, there’s a clear “winner”–the person you look at and think, “How in the world did they get such an amazing spouse?” And as much as my wife will try to argue the point, there is no contest, folks. I’m the “winner.”

Happy anniversary, Beauty. I thank God every day for the privilege of being yours.  You are a gift of grace to me. So here’s to one year down–and, Lord-willing, fifty or sixty more to go.

The4thDave Reviews: “Centralia,” a novel by Mike Dellosso

The Pitch: Peter Ryan wakes up and discovers his wife and daughter are missing. When he reaches out to friends for help in finding them, he hears the startling news: they’ve been dead for 2 months, victims of a car crash. Yet something inside Peter’s head won’t let him rest–he just knows that they’re alive. Peter’s home is then invaded by masked gunmen, and somehow Peter is able to dispatch his attackers with deadly accuracy. Wait–Peter’s just a mild-mannered laboratory researcher who’s never even fired a weapon before. How is this possible? What happens next proves that nothing is what it seems, even in your own mind.

The Review: It’s been a while since I’ve really delved into Christian fiction, but in my experience, it’s a rare thing to find a work of Christian fiction that’s actually worth reading. Well, my friends, I present to you Centralia, a thriller by Mike Dellosso that is not just worth reading–it’s actually really good. And it’s not just the plot that’s good–it’s very well-written. The dialogue felt natural and the characterization was solid. There were no points where the descriptions or dialogue made me roll my eyes. It was consistently strong all the way through.

If you are a fan of action movies of the spy/conspiracy variety, the plot description above has already got your mind guessing what the big reveals are going to be. As I started reading the book, I had a host of expectations on how it was going to go down. The author consistently defied my expectations. He understands the genre he’s writing, and so he sometimes incorporates certain genre tropes–only to subvert others. There are a dizzying number of fake-outs and hair-pin turns in the storyline, and it really did keep me on my toes as a reader. In fact, there were at least a half-dozen busted theories in my head about how things were going to turn out, by the time I read the last page. (Truth be told, I’m kinda sad that one of my theories in particular didn’t pan out; but I have no complaints about how the author closed it out. He was able to “stick the landing,” which was a feat in itself.)

I really don’t want to tell you more than that, because I’d hate to spoil anything (else).

As far as content issues/concerns: This is a military/spy thriller of a sort, so there is a pretty high body count. And while Dellosso is a bit graphic in describing some of the action, he’s not gratuitous or gruesome. But if you’re squeamish about such things, take that into consideration.  As far as inappropriate language–there was none that I could remember, not even taking the Lord’s name in vain. (I could be wrong, but no instances come to mind.) I appreciated that.

The Faith Question: A huge challenge in Christian fiction is how to deal with faith. Most of the time, this is addressed through preachy monologues, trite sentimentality, or just plain goofy theology being espoused. This type of writing is cringe-worthy at best, which is one of the reasons why I’ve stayed away from Christian fiction for so long.

What I appreciated about this book is that, while faith in Jesus wasn’t at the forefront, it was an consistent undercurrent. There is no clear Gospel message presented (though you could arguably see some Gospel impact in characters’ lives), which I can’t help but be a little disappointed about. Then again, I don’t know how it could have been done without feeling completely forced. On the other hand, it is very clear that the type of faith the author is describing here is not faith in an amorphous “God” but faith that is specifically in Jesus. I really appreciated that there was no cop-out here on the author’s part. The protagonist talks plainly and consistently about trusting in Jesus and looking to Jesus for hope. (I admit, I usually get a little twitchy when people use the phrase “trust in Jesus” without explaining how or why; however, in the context of this story, pressing the message further would have felt like the author was shoehorning in an altar call out of a sense of duty.)  All told, Centralia presents faith in Jesus as a reality in the characters’ lives, and the author seeks to portray that as honestly as possible.

Bonus props: The “reading group” questions at the back of the copy I got are really challenging. There are some serious issues raised in the book, and I liked that some of the questions they provided didn’t shy away from those issues.

Final Analysis: Centralia is great. I devoured it in the space of a couple of days. If you like action movies and want to enjoy a gripping story without all the foul language and sexual content that pervades so much of popular storytelling, give Centralia by Mike Dellosso a try. I guarantee that I’ll be looking up his other titles.

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Please Note: I was provided a complimentary paperback copy of the book by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are my own views.

Junior-Varsity Husbanding.

I’ve been talking with some guys lately who are also in their first year of marriage, and one of the struggles I keep hearing from them is that they all recognize they need to grow in spiritual leadership. I guess this is pretty common among first-year Christian husbands.

I shared last Monday how my spiritual walk has been dry lately, and how God has been pressing me to repent and return. One of the unintended consequences of that dryness is that I have been failing to encourage and nurture the spiritual growth of my wife.

She is a born-again daughter of God; she has a relationship with Christ that does not rely upon her relationship with me. But part of my responsibility to her as her husband is to help strengthen and cultivate her spiritual life–to wash her with the water of the Word, so to speak. If I am to help her grow and flourish as a person, I cannot ignore this aspect of her life.

I know I haven’t been leading well in this area, because I haven’t really been growing lately in this area. I’ve repented of this, and want to grow, but I would like some advice on how to strengthen her spiritually.

So, fellow believers, can I ask you for some ideas? How do you encourage and support your spouse’s spiritual life and growth?