John Tegart

About John Tegart

John's Blog
My name is JP Tegart, I live in the beautiful state of Utah. I am an avid reader, and teach frequently at my local church. I have a BS in Biblical and Theological Studies from Liberty University. Come join me on my journey through lots of good books!



Reintegration Book Review

Reintegration Book Review

Reintegration

by Ashley Bogner
Length: Approximately 11 hours. To read (327 pages).
TCB Rating:
four-half-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Reintegration is young adult fiction with an agenda – to contrast a hopeless and Godless worldview with a hope-filled biblical worldview. In other words, Reintegration paints a startling picture of man without God and contrasts it with man changed by God. Reintegration uses Katherine Holladay’s romance with Matthew Braddock to explore the deep waters of disillusionment, doubt, faith, love, and self-sacrifice. Reintegration is more than a young adult romance novel with biblical material shoehorned in; it’s a biblically rooted and compelling story.

Who should read this?

This book is written for a general audience. I would be comfortable recommending this even to non-believers (especially to non-believers). The evangelistic undertones running throughout the book’s typical YA pattern make it an effective vessel for the gospel. I also would recommend it to any Christian who wants to be challenged spiritually. Reintegration deals with self-sacrifice and the male lead lives out a bold faith that is willing to die for Christ and His gospel. Katherine and Matthew wrestle with the reality of sacrificing all for Christ in the dystopian setting of the book. Young men and women alike would benefit from Ashley Bogner’s depiction of biblical manhood and womanhood in the face of persecution.

Reintegration Book Review 1SUMMARY

As previously stated Reintegration is intended for all audiences. It doesn’t matter whether you are a believer or not – this book has something for you. Ashley Bogner’s work is meant to showcase the radical difference between a humanistic (and ultimately nihilistic worldview) and a biblical worldview that values human life and truth. Reintegration ultimately is still fiction meant for the enjoyment of the reader. Even though it does an excellent job at provoking thought and reflection it also entertains.

The book’s structure is relatively simple. It is divided into 32 nameless chapters, each averaging approximately 10.25 pages. Every chapter has an installment-like feel to it, as if you were tuning into next week’s episode. Each chapter flows well into the next and it doesn’t feel disjointed at all. The chapters maintain their individual integrity without compromising the literary whole.

Reintegration -as I said before- uses entertainment as a platform for biblical truth. Ashley Bogner illustrates well the dangers latent in our culture of tolerance gone amuck by showcasing their logical extremes. Characters throughout the book are brainwashed into believing that disagreeing with someone else is a capital offense and that telling anyone they are wrong is a heinous crime.

The laws of the fictional Federation declare that anyone who tells someone they are wrong is to be branded an “Intolerant” and, “Intolerants” well… they aren’t tolerated. The Federation’s firm opposition to truth and making anyone feel the guilt of their sin quickly results in human life being treated with callous disregard. Human beings are executed simply for telling someone that they disagree.

Early on, the consequences of a truthless culture manifest themselves. Katherine is confronted by a dilemma – murder a man she knows nothing about or erase him completely. At other times characters respond against truth with wanton violence  or with apathy or a lack of moral standards.

Katherine rightly struggles with these things, and, without going into too many spoilers, her struggles drive the plot. I feel it is safe to say that Reintegration is a book with a clear message: life without God is not only hopeless but merciless – and life with God is filled with hope and joy.

The chief “argument” of Reintegration is that man needs God. There is, however, more to the book than that. Ashley Bogner doesn’t just provide a sappy story that facilitates a tacked-on Christian motif. She provides a glimpse into the radical difference that biblical principles make in every day life.

For instance, early on we’re meant to see the contrast between Katherine Holladay and her best friend Chelsea. Katherine is quiet, “plain” and rather prudish. She isn’t interested in chasing boys, she’s not interested in gossip. Chelsea is a flirt who goes through men incredibly fast and is miserable throughout the book. Matthew Braddock is portrayed in a similar fashion to Katherine, he’s not at all tempted by Chelsea’s attempts to flirt with him because he isn’t looking for a good time.

The stability and strength of the main character’s friendship and romance keep the story grounded. Some might accuse it of being sappy or being a modern-day fairytale but there is a biblical sweetness to it. Katherine and Matthew aren’t boring in their relationship yet there is nothing inappropriate about it.

Reintegration proves that an old-fashioned romance doesn’t have to be boring. The absence of sexual themes is noticed but their presence is not at all missed. Katherine and Matthew each do an excellent job of convincing you they are in love without being explicit.    

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ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Reintegration entertained me, convicted me, and got me thinking. I really enjoyed this book. I don’t particularly care for young adult fiction (not my thing), but I loved this. It was nice to see a Christian book take on the task of wrestling with biblical themes while telling a compelling story. Reintegration does that and does it well. Neither the gospel nor the story hinders one another. It’s a slow build up to the gospel in the book but when it gets there the story runs with it. You can feel biblical undertones all throughout the book. This isn’t a “Christian” book; it’s a Christian book that is gospel centered.

I personally found the male lead Matthew to be challenging. His love for family causes him to cross behind enemy lines and his love for God causes him to risk everything for the sake of the gospel. Matthew sets the bar incredibly high for biblical manhood. Likewise, Katherine was compelling too. She provides a voice for a lot of women in America who feel alienated or bizarre because they’re not running through men or throwing off traditional gender roles.  

Strengths:

Reintegration’s greatest strength probably comes in the form of its seamless intertwining of biblical themes with good storytelling. We don’t have characters preaching sermons or ham-fisting biblical themes into random conversations. Instead we have a patient story that introduces the gospel as an explosive force that changes the landscape of the story. Reintegration is not a cheap Christian knock-off of a popular literary form, it is a good book with a biblical message at its heart.

Of course, the writing is top-notch as well. You would not be able to tell that the author has never written a book before. It flows well and illustrates its scenes very well. The language is accessible but not dumbed-down. The first person present tense was well used and adds a great deal to the story. The deep subjects addressed in the book find themselves at home in a first-person narrative. It gets better and better as the story goes on.

SKIP AHEAD TO THE WEAKNESSESS SECTION IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS

Katherine’s conversion is perhaps one of the best uses of first person writing I’ve ever seen. Her progression from brainwashed Regulator to disillusioned renegade and ultimately to believer in Christ works well with it. Getting to read the mental commentary of Katherine while she walks through the unmaking and remaking of her life is a treat. Overall, it provides a breath of fresh air in the world of Christian fiction.

Weaknesses:

This section is harder to quantify. All books, even the classics I give a 5.0, have flaws and weaknesses. Fiction is trickier than theoretical works given its highly subjective nature. Some might criticize the book and say that perhaps it should get to the gospel more quickly but I would disagree. I think the timing and pacing of the book are excellent. Young Adult fiction may not be every reader’s cup of tea, but it occupies a massive portion of the fiction market. YA fiction is also a genre flooded with Godless material and that makes it prime for a book like Reintegration.

We live in a culture filled with supposedly Christian fiction that really isn’t. Listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22b “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (ESV). This passage has been abused countless times truly, but in this case I think Paul himself would give a hearty amen to using YA fiction to reach the lost and glorify God. Had I any major criticism it would be this: the sequel isn’t out yet! I was deeply engrossed in the book and quickly forgot about any notions of literary criticism.

 

CONCLUSION

Reintegration is excellent! It’s entertaining, convicting, and refreshing. It does a better job of illustrating the Christian life and the cost of following Jesus better than any other Christian fiction I’ve ever read. It’s fun, sweet, and family friendly, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Ashley Bogner is an extremely talented writer and I am looking forward to the sequel Underground when it comes out in the future. This book belongs on your bookshelf! Go buy a copy and read it and then give a copy to your friends that don’t know Jesus!

four-half-stars
By | 2018-06-01T02:58:48+00:00 May 29th, 2018|

Lectures to my Students Book Review

Lectures to my Students Book Review

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

by C.H. Spurgeon
Length: Approximately 30 hours. To read (911 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

In his masterpiece, Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon passes on a lifetime of wisdom, experience, and theological study to young ministers. Lectures is a mixture of practical, and theoretical homiletics (the study and discipline of preaching), combined with humorous anecdotes, serious testimony, and transparency about the Christian Life. Charles Spurgeon provides a portfolio of experiences and lessons that Seminary cannot. If you want a ground level view of ministry that will challenge and motivate you – look no further.

Who should read this?

Any Christian man who is entering the ministry ought to read this book. Spurgeon addresses numerous aspects of pastoral ministry and preaching. The layman will benefit as well. Christian ministry involves more than just preaching and teaching and Spurgeon’s aged wisdom provides many helpful insights. While it might do the average church goer good to have greater understanding of what their pastors face, it may not be of the most use. However, I would maintain that even those not called to the ministry can benefit spiritually, by gaining insight into a pastor’s life, or raising their own standards for what a minister ought to be. Who knows, some lay people who feel no calling may have that notion challenged. This could be the spark that ignites the fire.

Lectures to my Students Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Charles Spurgeon makes it clear who the book is for – theses are transcripts of his lectures given at his preaching college. He makes no bones about the fact that this book is meant for ministers chiefly. Much like today, Spurgeon found himself preaching amidst a famine for God’s Word. Therefore, he gave his lectures and compiled them into a written form with the hopes of instructing future preachers in a more godly manner.

The book is divided into the following parts:

  1. First Series – 11 chapters (pages 1-215) – The first set is primarily concerned with the characteristics, both spiritual and physical, of preachers.
  2. Second Series – 10 chapters (pages 219-426) – The second set of lectures is chiefly aimed at dealing with the Spiritual nature of ministry.

III. Third Series – 7 chapters (pages 429-635) – The final set of lectures is devoted to exploring illustrations, anecdotes and other tools for providing color to preaching.

  1. Appendices – A and B (pages 636-654) – These two appendix entries provide resources that Spurgeon suggests using.
  2. On Commenting and Commentaries – 4 chapters (pages 655-911) – The final section of the book contains his hand-picked catalogue of commentaries that preachers can source.

As an aside, the physical construction of the book is impressive. The newer version I have (Banner of Truth – published 8/1/2008) is hard bound and feels built to last. Even the paper is high quality! The formatting makes it easy to read as well, all around I certainly recommend this 2008 edition.

Charles Spurgeon takes a casual and light-hearted, yet serious tone throughout this book. He mixes anecdotes, illustrations, theology, quotations of Scripture, personal wisdom, poetry, literary allusions, history, science and the list goes on. His writing is warm and personal, yet authoritative and powerful.

Charles Spurgeon repeats throughout Lectures to My Students that he is seeking to prepare the next generation of preachers to share the gospel. He pulls no punches in his denunciation of weak, bible-less preaching and often ridicules it. Spurgeon also explores every component of preaching: voice, posture, positioning, preparation etc. If you can imagine an aspect of pastoral ministry, he addresses it.

Charles Spurgeon’s got something to say: (1) – there is a dire need for gospel centric preaching, (2) – preaching is a high calling and should be undertaken seriously, (3) – we must always be preparing the next generation for ministry, and that (4) – preachers will be challenged from all directions. These themes undergird the entire book. The biblical roots of this book are woven throughout the whole.

With 911 pages to cover there are too many arguments to sufficiently address them all. However, some stand out. First, Spurgeon advocates for expository, gospel centric preaching. His arguments extend from numerous biblical examples of how Jesus, Paul, Peter and so on all preached – with a text. He goes on to provide illustrations of the power of expository preaching on producing conversions, repentance and changed lives, while simultaneously mocking and denouncing empty preaching. Spurgeon writes with personal experience and biblical authority.

Secondly, he advocates for care in personal preparation for preaching. He doesn’t speak of homiletics so much as he does personal holiness. The man of God must first be a godly man in his eyes. The worker must be instant, in and out of season. Finally, he contends for thorough preparation in all aspects of preaching, focusing on voice, situational awareness and study, to name a few. He argues that in order to have the freedom to be extemporaneous and be used by the Spirit one must be prepared: the preacher must study, pray and practice. His arguments are defended with numerous personal examples, counterexamples and Scripture.

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ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Lectures to My Students is a masterpiece. I have only been preaching for a short time but I can say with certainty that this will certainly remain a favorite. I cannot pronounce it my favorite as Preaching and Preachers, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is what ignited my passion for preaching. That said, Lectures has challenged me and given me great insight into preaching. I find myself counting down the days until I can preach next! I think that anyone considering ministry needs to read this book, it remains relevant despite being more than a century old. Spurgeon has challenged me to really improve my preaching and teaching.

Strengths:

The greatest strength of Lectures is the experience of Charles Spurgeon. A lifetime of preaching shines through on every page. He can write with such authority because his own experience and legacy prove him right. Furthermore, his endless supply of witty anecdotes and moving stories will grip you. His experience manifests in numerous ways, for example in the fifth chapter of the second series “Open-Air Preaching – Remarks Thereon”, he warns against preaching with your back against apartments because someone might drop a flower pot on your head! He draws this warning from the personal experience of having known a preacher this happened to. This is only one example of many similar anecdotes.

The great power of Spurgeon is his reliance upon the Bible at every turn, even his most practical considerations are theologically backed. He was motivated solely by the Word of God. Lectures to My Students has secured my confidence through its reliance on Scripture. Spurgeon’s commitment to the Word expresses itself through his exhortations urging students to preach the Word and nothing else. He does not condemn topical preaching, but he rightly argues that it ought to occupy a position subservient to expository preaching.

Thirdly, Lectures to My Students differs from other homiletics works by being exhaustively thorough with the topics it chooses to address. Charles Spurgeon does not complete a chapter without providing biblical basis, practical examples, contemporary and historical anecdotes and illustrations for each principle he puts forward. This is most pronounced, I feel, during the “Third Series” of lectures where he provides innumerable examples of each principle in his 7 chapters.

Weaknesses:

The greatest weakness of Lectures to My Students is its length. There are few disparaging things one can say about this book, but the massive size can be daunting to the lay reader (I certainly was intimidated by it!). It’s also in a slightly older variation of English which can take some getting used to as well. Reading this book requires a significant time commitment. That being said, one can cherry pick passages or take each lecture individually since they are all complete wholes. These minor flaws hardly tarnish an otherwise flawless work.  

CONCLUSION

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Lectures to My Students is a masterpiece. There are innumerable books on preaching, yet this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. For those lost in the wilderness of dull preaching, Lectures to My Students is a pillar of fire.

Hardly a relic from a bygone age, Lectures is a solemn reminder and a powerful exhortation to preach the Word. This should be required reading for everyone who desires to preach. If you haven’t read it, well, what are you still doing here? Go read it!

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

“Our great object of glorifying God is, however, to be mainly achieved by the winning of souls. We must see souls born unto God. If we do not, our cry should be that of Rachel, ‘Give me children, or I die.” – page 413.

“The ambassadors of peace should not cease to weep bitterly until sinners weep for their sins.” – page 413.

“Pray over the Scripture; it is as the treading of grapes in the wine-vat, the threshing of corn on the barn floor, the melting of gold from the ore.” – Page 95.

“[On commentaries] Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” – Page 659.

five-stars
By | 2018-04-16T03:31:26+00:00 April 16th, 2018|

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Book Review

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Book Review

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

by Donald S. Whitney
Length: Approximately 10 hours. To read (304 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney combines practical insight, biblical exposition and pastoral counsel into one dynamic package. Dr. Whitney masterfully identifies the biblically ordained methods of spiritual exercise that discipline us “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7-8). Spiritual Disciplines is a step-by-step guide to practicing personal holiness. Dr. Whitney provides an overview of Scripture’s methods for personal sanctification, explains them and gives a how-to guide for each of them. If you are stuck in a rut spiritually, frustrated by your lack of growth in Christ or wanting a deeper relationship with Him – this is the book for you.

Who should read this?

This book is written for any Christian from any walk of life. I would not hesitate to recommend this to ANY professing believer. These disciplines are relevant to all Christians and are divinely instituted for the development and growth of all Christians. If you’re newly converted and want to know how to progress from here and live a life pleasing to God: read this book and practice it. If you’ve been a Christian for a while but want to grow more in faith and practice: read this book and practice it. If you’re seasoned but feel like you’re drifting from God: read this book and practice it. Dr. Whitney does such an excellent job of laying out the basis for the Christian life I would be comfortable even recommending this to a child. There are so few books that are relevant to all Christians but this is one.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The How: (Who’s it for and what’s the context?)

As previously indicated: this book is for all Christian believers. Regardless of whether or not you’re young or old, new or seasoned, male or female, the basic biblical principles contained within will enrich your walk with God. Dr. Whitney is writing with the intention of addressing the lack of discipleship inside of western Christianity and seeking to equip believers with the tools they need to grow.

One of the major drawbacks to cultural Christianity can be the tendency to assume that everyone knows the basics. This is certainly not true. Many have grown up inside the church having absolutely no idea how to commune with God or how to develop spiritually. Therefore, it can be necessary to explain how to do that, one step at a time. Which is exactly what Dr. Whitney does.

Spiritual Disciplines is divided into 13 chapters:

  1. The Spiritual Disciplines – 2
  2. Bible Intake (Part 1) – 21
  3. Bible Intake (Part 2) – 37
  4. Prayer – 79
  5. Worship – 101
  6. Evangelism – 119
  7. Serving – 141
  8. Stewardship – 159
  9. Fasting – 191
  10. Silence and Solitude – 221
  11. Journaling – 249
  12. Learning – 271
  13. Perseverance in the Disciplines – 287

Each chapter follows the same format: introduce a spiritual discipline, shows its biblical basis, explain it and apply it. Dr. Whitney has a modern, simple and yet colorful manner of writing throughout. Historical anecdotes, humor and biblical exposition fill the pages and make for an enjoyable and convicting read. His language and tone are accessible and make for easy but spiritually challenging reading.

The Why:

Spiritual Disciplines is out to make changes – changes in your life style, perception of God and private character. It isn’t a book with a message so much as it is a book with a method. I think Dr. Whitney would agree that if he’s trying to say anything it’s this: put the power of the Bible into action in your life. Spiritual Disciplines wants you to become a radically different person by making small changes and letting the Word of God into your life.

We cannot drift into holiness or godly character; we can only discipline ourselves for it. The Christian life doesn’t end with being born again – it begins! Therefore, we must learn how we are to live and to grow to be like God in this life. Spiritual Disciplines takes a patient and thorough approach to laying out blueprint for spiritual development.

The What: (Arguments and Basis)

The argument from Dr. Whitney is fairly simple: discipline yourself toward godliness or drift away from godliness. There is no middle ground. In each chapter he takes up this same basic argument afresh in answering objections to each discipline and presents the biblical basis for each of the spiritual disciplines.

Some argue against disciplining ourselves on the notion that it’s legalism – which he refutes early on by presenting the Doctrine of Justification by faith alone (Romans 3:21-26). This careful balance prevents legalism (earning our salvation), and licentiousness (believing that because we are saved by grace we can live in sin) from ensnaring us. Dr. Whitney argues for a continuous, life-long and grace-fueled spiritual exertion that draws us closer to God.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life changed my life. Other than the Bible itself no other book has influenced me as much as this one has. I grew up in the church but spent many years in a spiritual doldrum. After a period of back sliding and drifting from God He found me and brought me back home. A few years passed and I was beginning to grow deeper in my relationship with God and then I was given this to read by my pastor and my life was never the same. Finally, I knew how to grow in the way my heart yearned for. I had been reading the Bible and praying and even sometimes journaling, but this gave me a variety of approaches to try and drew my attention to other neglected disciplines such as: silence, solitude, fasting and meditation.

I had been told to meditate on God’s Word but had no idea how to do it! If you’ve ever been given unclear spiritual advice on prayer, meditation, fasting or evangelism then this book will help you. I’m a very literal man and having a careful study guide to Christian living was a Godsend. My gifts were fanned into flame and I was able to apply the theology I had been studying so carefully. It is impossible to recommend Spiritual Disciplines enough. Spiritual Disciplines is an oasis in our modern wilderness.

Strengths:

The greatest strength of Spiritual Disciplines is its mission: to get people reading, studying and living out God’s Word in every aspect of life. The foundational level of the material makes it accessible, relevant and comprehensive all at once. Second to that is its faithful exposition and explanation of biblical texts undergirding each spiritual discipline. You’re not just reading Dr. Whitney’s personal opinion on growth in godliness. He presents his work straight from the Bible. If you differ with him on any subject you can go straight to the text and see where he derives the idea from. He also does a faithful job of dealing with objections or obstacles that might hinder us from practicing the disciplines he outlines.

Another tremendous strength of this work is the thorough nature of it. Though Dr. Whitney only devotes a chapter (at the most two) to the principles outlined, those chapters are dense and informative. Dr. Whitney does more than just explain what the disciplines are. He details a variety of practical methods for practicing them. For instance in Chapter 3 – Bible Intake (Part 2)  he describes 17 methods for meditation on Scripture! You will not be able to say “I don’t know how to meditate” after reading that I promise! I didn’t find every single method helpful, but I found 3-4 that were and they dramatically improved my retention of Bible reading.

Weaknesses:

There are a few weaknesses of this work that should be mentioned however. Spiritual Disciplines’ exhaustive nature can be overwhelming sometimes. The tremendous number of options can be intimidating. Presenting 17 methods for meditation can be helpful to some and can be a little daunting or confusing for others. Similarly, because the book addresses so many different spiritual disciplines it can be difficult to put into practice as well. I know when I first started reading the book I began to make large-scale changes to my daily rhythm and found myself stretched too thin. However, I quickly realized that one must make these changes at whatever pace they can handle.

Another danger is that sometimes we profess with our mouths that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, but we live like it depends on us. We have to be mindful that we will not practice the spiritual disciplines perfectly otherwise our failures will demoralize us. Dr. Whitney is acutely aware of this and the gospel shines all throughout the work. He also prefaced the book with a warning against these dangerous extremes as well. All in all, I would consider these criticisms to be insignificant in comparison to the gain that comes from understanding the spiritual disciplines and employing them in daily life.

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CONCLUSION

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life may very well be one of the very best books ever written. It’s concise, simple and ever-applicable regardless of your age, background, ethnicity or station in life. I cannot help but notice that others agree as I’ve lost count of books, sermons and blog articles that source Dr. Whitney’s masterclass treatment of Christian discipline.

As I said before no other book except the Bible has so dramatically affected me and my perception of reality. My personal times of communion with God have been radically and gloriously altered by this spiritual workout routine. If you want to grow in godliness go and get this book.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.” – page 22.

  • “Fifth, the Spiritual Disciplines are practices derived from the gospel, not divorced from the gospel.” – page 8.

  • “There are times to speak to God, and there are times simply to behold and adore in Him in silence.” – page 229.

  • “No one grows into Christlikeness without learning about it. . .” – page 278.

  • “Learning that’s mostly by accident does not lead to godliness. We must become disciplined, intentional learners if we’re going to become like Jesus.” – page 279.
five-stars
By | 2018-04-12T03:14:35+00:00 April 14th, 2018|

Life Together Book Review

Life Together Book Review

Life Together

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Length: Approximately 4 hours. To read (122 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-half-stars
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Book Overview

What is Christian community, and what should it be like? Those are the questions that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is out to answer in his classic, Life Together. Far from a guide to church programs, Life Together is a careful study of the DNA of Christian living. Bonhoeffer offers a unique perspective on the structure and function of Christian living worth reading.

Who should read this?

Regardless of age or vocation, every Christian should read Life Together. Bonhoeffer’s work is timeless and thought provoking. He adeptly lays bare the anatomy of Christian community in a way that people of all walks of life can appreciate and benefit from. Anyone that wants a clear, concise, academic analysis of the foundation of Christian living will want to read this. It will be most beneficial to those in lay-leadership but it will help anyone willing to put in the effort.

Life Together Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The Author

Dietrich Bonhoeffer remains one of the most famous figures in Christianity of the twentieth century. He is best known for his book, The Cost of Discipleship, and also for his stalwart resistance to the Nazi regime during World War 2. Bonhoeffer’s experiences in the years before the Nazis rose to power also helped shape his views on Christian fellowship. He studied in the United States and pastored in Barcelona, Spain. Bonhoeffer’s life certainly make his theology and views worth consideration.

Understandably, during the rise of the Nazis and World War 2, he applied himself to understanding just what made up real Christian fellowship. During the years prior to World War 2 the line between cultural Christianity and sincere Christianity was blurry. The Nazis rose to power and in short order German Christians found themselves forced to confront the reality that their nation and its religious institutions were heading into darkness.

It’s no wonder that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was keen to write on the true nature of Christian fellowship; the very concept itself was in dire need of definition.

Structure

Life Together is divided into five chapters:

  1. Community
  2. The Day with Others
  3. The Day Alone
  4. Ministry
  5. Confession and Communion

Style

Bonhoeffer presents his findings in a very academic and philosophical tone. The work is dense, yet precise – ideally suited for the contemplative reader. Though it requires some mental mastication, Life Together is suitable for Christian readers in general.   

Purpose

Life Together dispels the false ideas of what Christian community is. Bonhoeffer’s polemic is directed against “false fellowship,” and the superficial nature of cultural Christianity. After demolishing the idea “false fellowship” in chapter one, Bonhoeffer presents his blueprint for Christian community. In each chapter he alternates between correcting faulty views of Christian living and presenting the truth. Simply put: Life Together tears down the broken house of cultural Christianity, and starts building the house of God.

Bonhoeffer’s not trying to start a revolution in Life Together, but a Reformation. Life Together isn’t concerned with the newest or most optimal structure or strategy for community building, but in returning to its biblical roots. The intention is to provoke thought, to get people thinking about the Christianized world in which they live and analyzing just how Christian it really is. Life Together is a guide book on how to escape silos and superficiality, and embrace sincerity and spiritual intimacy.

Substance

In the first chapter, “Community”, Bonhoeffer lays foundation of Life Together – the value and rarity of true Christian fellowship, and it’s basis in the biblical gospel. It’s here that Life Together makes two important distinctions: 1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (Broadway: Harper One, 1954), 79.– Christian fellowship is no mere human objective or ideal, but rather a Divinely instituted reality, and 2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 91. – it is not a psychological or emotional reality, but a spiritual one.

This stands in stark contrast to the “human” fellowship he describes, one that is rooted in humanity’s innate desire for pleasure and power, which pervades all attempts of mankind to generate fellowship apart from God. He concludes that it is only possible to love people for who they are in Christ and through Christ for their sake, and Christ’s own sake.

The second chapter, “The Day With Others”, presents the basic blueprint of Christian community. Bonhoeffer begins in the morning and ends with sleep, detailing step-by-step a simple outline for how Christians might live daily. Of interest is his treatment of how Christians should handle the Psalms. From the Psalms he extracts the following truth: we cannot in ourselves dare to pray any aspect of them, whether it be the Psalms of innocence, or those petitioning God to rise in anger or those of despair.

Rather, we are only able to pray the Psalms in and through Jesus Christ Himself, as He is the One praying them. Afterward, Life Together argues for daily singing and worship, reading of the Bible, prayer, spiritual fellowship at the dinner table, and, finally, God honoring work. He ends the chapter with a reminder that sleep humbles us and places us each into God’s hands.

The third chapter, “The Day Alone”, might come as a surprise to people – a whole chapter about being alone in a book about community. Yet, Bonhoeffer, determined to leave no stone unturned, examines one of the most important aspects of Christian fellowship: the individual. The contents of this chapter are reminiscent of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He places great importance on what we take out into the world, and what we bring back into the fellowship, and vice versa. He argues that true faith and fellowship are tested during the day alone. Therefore he prescribes a number of measures to take for the care of the individual’s soul.

Silence and solitude are the foundation of this chapter. Bonhoeffer writes, “We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God.” This serves as the introduction to meditation, prayer and intercession respectively. Bonhoeffer’s premise is simple: if you desire to enjoy sincere Christian fellowship, you must first be a sincere Christian.

The fourth chapter, “Ministry”, examines the various that Christians living in community can, well, minister to one another. He observes that it is the natural inclination of all human beings to elevate themselves above others and be judgmental toward them. Conversely, he points out that being justified by grace and service of others are the remedy and inextricably linked. Unfolding from this proposition the chapter provides instruction on just how that service is to be rendered.

Holding the tongue is where he begins. “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words.” He proceeds to furnish a variety of Scriptures regarding speech: James 3:2, 4:11-12; Psalm 50:20-21; and Ephesians 4:29 specifically. Meekness and humility come next. He argues that our pride must be replaced by awareness of our sinful nature, and that we must extend the very same grace God gives us to our brothers and sisters: selfless service and forgiveness. He moves on to listening and helping. They are fairly self-explanatory.

To truly minister to one another is to be an active and concerned listener. Helping is precisely what it sounds like: meeting the physical needs of others and aiding them in even the most menial ways. Bearing with one another and preaching the Word to one another, follow after. He argues that Christian life is overlooking offenses and speaking into each other’s lives with God’s Word, in exhortation and rebuke. Finally, he ends the chapter by setting forth the paradigm shattering biblical definition of authority and leadership: humble service of others.

The final chapter, “Confession and Communion”, is shorter and simpler than the others, but no less important. The premise is: sincere Christian community will produce communal confession of sins, and sincere confession of sin will protect fellowship from pride and hypocrisy. If we are honest about our sin, this achieves two things: (1) – we will be fully exposed to one another, able to see other as the sinners we really are and to accept one another, (2) – we will guard against pride as we are reminded of our sinfulness and God’s great grace.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective

I must admit that when it comes to Bonhoeffer I’m biased. I admire him and absolutely loved The Cost of Discipleship. My verdict is in: Life Together is fantastic! No other book on Christian fellowship and community has affected me as much as this one.

Bonhoeffer has hit his mark in providing a simple, yet satisfying take on Christian community. His careful study of the pillars of fellowship gave me a lot to think about and dramatically affected how I chose to lead in ministry.

Strengths

Life Together’s strength is its simplicity; it doesn’t advocate a program or a growth strategy but is rooted in God’s Word. Bonhoeffer reminds us of the Spiritual disciplines of service (Matt 20:26), study of Scripture (2 Tim 3:15-17), prayer (1 Tim 2:1-3) and singing (Eph 5:19). He capitalizes on this by carefully analyzing each of his points. He takes each point like a diamond and turning it over and over to see every facet. Life Together is both simple and theologically rich.

He makes theology both accessible and indispensable to the reader. His simple approach, meticulous examination, and theological precision make Life Together a delight to read and enriching to the soul.

Weaknesses:

Life Together does not have any major problems, but still has flaws. The most obvious is this: it can be difficult to follow at times. Life Together is intellectually dense, and requires careful reading. Bonhoeffer likes to paint vivid pictures which can cause the reader to get lost in them at times. Bonhoeffer’s penchant for high philosophy contributes to this, as well as the fact that the book was translated from German into English. Life Together is a book with an agenda.

Whether or not this is a point of detraction is entirely up to the reader. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it, but I like it when my books try to do something to me. Life Together can also be slightly unclear in certain places, specifically in the second chapter, “The Day With Others”. Without some knowledge of Bonhoeffer, it can be confusing. He actually experimented with monastic living! Which shines through there. This isn’t insurmountable as the principles still shine through.    

CONCLUSION

Life Together is essential for anyone looking for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of Christian community. It’s a classic, one that has shaped many readers, myself included. I’ve read numerous books on fellowship, ministry and discipleship. Life Together is unique and timeless in its approach. Books like Growing Up by Robby Gallaty and The Trellis and the Vine by Payne and Marshall are useful and practical, but Life Together stands out among all of them as an absolute must read.

I would not recommend neglecting those other books by any means, but they don’t offer the unique and insightful perspective that Life Together does. This book belongs on your shelf. Go read it, now.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in a visible fellowship with other Christians.” – Pg. 18.

  • “…a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. Among men there is strife. “He is our peace,” says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:14). Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man. Christ became the Mediator and made peace with God and among men.” – Pg. 25

  • “In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst o f a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16).” – Pg. 112

  • “Alone you stood before God when He called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out.” – Pg. 77
four-half-stars
By | 2018-02-22T02:04:01+00:00 February 23rd, 2018|

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