the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Reviews

JDFM

March 21, 2014

Brian H. Cosby. Reclaiming Youth Ministry From an Entertainment Culture. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012, 160 pp., $12.99.

For years the model in youth ministry was to pursue the shock effect, eat copious amounts of greasy pizza, play games, and if possible connect Jesus through that with a simple message. Attendance in youth ministries was seen as the prize to pursue, from not only church leaders but also youth ministers. The idea seemed to have been, “If they come, we have reached them,” or at least that’s how it seemed to many of us (28). Moving from one high to the next was a never-ending pursuit, mirrored in the culture-at-large by the constant stream of “I’m bored” posts on Facebook. More so, youth ministries were segregated from the greater life of the church, removing the students from regular contact with senior adults and even their parents. The strange irony is, through Cosby’s experience in youth ministry, students are hungry for truth, doctrine, fellowship with the church, and challenging discipleship. This book is a response to the entertainment culture in many churches, with a plea for youth ministries to be foundationally about the gospel and to redefine “success” from numbers to faithfulness in ministry.

Cosby’s book is well-organized, with the middle chapters structured around the “means of grace” that he lays out in Chapter 2 as foundational for student ministry: the Word, sacraments, prayer, service, and community. He defines them as the ways that God works as he sees fit for the building up of his church (24). They are not ways of achieving salvation, but instead are seen as ways to build up students to be conformed to the imago Christi. For Cosby, the centrality of every youth ministry is the gospel, which he outlines as justification by faith. Service and ministry are seen then, not as paths to heaven by themselves, but a means of “strengthening our faith in His sufficiency, not ours” (31).
The Word preached and taught stands against a culture that is driven by what it can see. The response has been to diminish the role of exegetically-driven preaching and replace it with a casual story time with Scripture references throughout, even with visual cues on the screen behind the speaker. The premise is that because students are visually-saturated, this should be reflected in how they are taught. Cosby, however, is quick to point out that many students are able to memorize songs, so the transition to memorizing and treasuring Scripture should be natural.

Prayer is likened to the need of teenagers for authenticity, honesty and relationship, which are promoted in culture as coming from entertainment. The difficulty for many students is that they are exposed to passionless public clichés which robs students of intimacy with God and leads to burnout. Prayer is more than something done before a meal or trip; it is intercession, supplication and ultimately doxology (55). Entertainment starves students, but prayer as a means of fellowship with God and personal transformation leads them to the all-satisfying Christ.

One critique of Cosby at this point is his treatment of the “memorial” view of the Lord’s Supper, which he considers to be the prevalent interpretation of the Supper among Protestant evangelicals today. His premise is that the diminished view of the Supper among youth, and the church in general, comes from the acceptance of this view. The memorial view, in my opinion, is not at fault for the Supper being sidelined in churches. Instead, as Cosby points out, it comes from a diminished view of the Word preached and taught. The treatment of the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 in itself demonstrates the significance of the Supper, with deadly consequences for its irreverence. If the Word is rightly divided, taught, and applied for what it is as the authoritative, inspired revelation of a holy and sovereign God, then a light treatment of the Supper is inexcusable.

Service and community are two means of grace that Cosby introduces that are not typically seen under that term, but are appropriate for the purpose of his book. Service is a means of grace whereby God grows our faith, extends our love, and brings us joy and peace (77). Community is a means of grace whereby God confronts our sin, feeds our faith, transforms our minds, and grows our love (96). These two confront the same product of entertainment, entitlement, with the biblical ethic of humility. Service to the “least of these” provides a model for Christian living, rather than the pursuit of shallow joy and ultimate meaninglessness. It removes the constant desire for the high points and replaces it with the ethic of giving, which is best demonstrated by serving and ministering together. Community is supplied in the local church that cannot be found in any parachurch or civic organization or Facebook group. It provides safety among those whose identity and eternity have been found in Christ to be free from hypocrisy, judgment and condemnation. Cosby uses the idea of the “D-Group” as a model for biblical community in student ministry (105-109) that is built on solid content, small size, age/gender division, consistent meeting, trained and called leaders, and an emphasis on discipleship evangelism.

In the last chapter, Cosby lays out the wisdom of a leadership team and some practical steps on how to build a leadership team in a student ministry. With the common perception that the average youth minister stays at a place of service for around 18 months, there is a great need to apply these principles to avoid the pressure that comes from a “Lone Ranger” mentality of ministry leadership. Building a team spreads decision-making, praise/blame, and creates a collective wisdom base greater than any single leader. There is also a section on purpose and vision in student ministry that serve as a way to unite the team and give a clear picture of where the ministry is headed. The last paragraph in the book bears enough weight that it deserves to be copied here:

With all my heart, I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying Treasure that He is, and feed His young sheep with the means God has provided. May the gospel of Christ fill your heart with grateful praise and guide your steps toward your heavenly home. (124)

This book is an incredibly helpful tool for youth ministers, regardless of theological persuasion. Though Cosby is writing from a Reformed Presbyterian background, his principles transcend doctrinal convictions and get to the heart of the issue: youth ministry can be far more than what many settle for. The individual reader will have to wrestle with Cosby’s theological persuasions and come to their own conclusions of agreement or disagreement. That said, it must be emphasized that Cosby is orthodox in his theology, holding to the primary doctrines that unite Christians under the gospel of justification by faith.

The book is organized in such a way that his prescriptive steps can be easily applied to a current ministry context. The appendices allow for the student minister to both examine himself and also his relationship with church officers and parents. Again, his language may be confusing for those outside Presbyterian circles (but ultimately I found it very helpful in terms of understanding polity and pointing out my own blind spots), but the core is universal: youth ministry is not done in a vacuum, it is done within the context of a local church and alongside the God-given parents of the student.

This is a book for any youth minister who seeks to make an impact that transcends the gratuitous use of the word “epic” in the entertainment culture to truly give students something epic, Jesus. In a world that seeks to replace substance with cheap thrills, this book offers something that is more satisfying and ultimately what students are looking for in their lives. The students in churches are tired of what has been pushed at them by not only MTV but also their youth ministry. Give them what they want, challenge them, teach them the Truth, and let the Holy Spirit do what a fog machine and light system cannot: make them into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scott Douglas
Minister to Youth
Westside Baptist Church

Water of the Word: Intercession for Her, 2nd edition. By Andrew Case. Louisville: CreateSpace, 2010, 248 pp., $8.99.

One does not have to be in pastoral ministry long to see the disconnect that can take place between the biblical teaching of marriage and what many marriages look like in the real world. To fight back against the tide of divorces and discontentment, there has been of late many great resources by seasoned pastors, such as Timothy Keller and Mark Driscoll, to aid in cultivating healthy marriages. In Water of the Word, Andrew Case discusses a helpful but often neglected area of marriage––prayer.

Specifically, Case focuses on the husband’s intercession for his wife. Cases uses Ephesians 5:25–26 (ESV), “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” to point husbands to love their wives. It is crucial to “pray with all zeal and all knowledge for her” (8). This review will look at the two parts that make up this book.

The first section of the work is made up of an introduction and instructions. Both of these sections are vital to the book as they explain the theology behind the book as well as a way to use the book. In the introduction, Case begins by properly tying the relationship of husband and wife as a symbol of Christ and His Church. He writes: “Jesus Christ prays for us. He prays for His Bride. He sets the glorious example of the husband who never tires in making intercession for her. It is a breathless wonder, a staggering and stupefying truth. Are you a husband like Jesus? Do you want to be?”(7). Case then moves to one of the more helpful points of interceding for one’s wife, that is, a husband cannot give a wife everything she needs, only God can. He notes: “we are not God. There are many things a husband cannot do for his wife that only God can do. We are very small, very weak…therefore praying for her is not optional”(7). It is based on a desire to follow Christ and to love one’s wife that a husband must pray.

The way to read the book, as described in the introduction is to use the prayers as a “springboard” to bring intercession before God for one’s wife (10). The prayers themselves make up the vast majority of the book. Case bases each prayer on a passage of Scripture and includes the Scripture reference. He also gives a helpful scriptural index and bibliography which is well worth the price of the book. Beyond the Scripture references, about half of the prayers contain a thought provoking quote from a Christian leader.

The Water of the Word is a helpful devotional for husbands who are looking for a practical way to begin praying for their wives.

Jacob Dunlow
Pastor, Vassar Road Baptist Church
Ed.D Candidate, 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Prayers of an Excellent Wife: Intercession for Him. By Andrew Case. Louisville, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009, 245 pp., $8.99.

Marriage is not easy. What many struggle with is the connection from the desire to have a God-honoring marriage and its practical outworking. In Prayers of an Excellent Wife, Andrew Case writes a devotional for women who are seeking to intercede for their husbands before God. Case’s work is divided into two sections, the first being a preface and instruction to the reader and the second being the prayers themselves.

The first section lays the theological and biblical groundwork for the book. Case begins with a helpful discussion of the biblical texts surrounding the creation of women and a wife’s responsibilities in marriage, based on her creation. As Case notes: “The implications of a woman’s origin are profound. Her dignity and worth, her necessity, her role in life and marriage, and her unique beauty have been established by God from the beginning. She was made to be a man’s faithful helper. And there is no greater help she can offer him than her prayers on his behalf to the One who alone can provide perfect, sovereign help” (9). It is from this position that Case exhorts his readers to pray for their husbands.

The instructions that Case provides are critical to getting the most form this work. Sometimes a devotional work becomes little more than a vehicle for mindless ritual. Case warns against this, urging readers to make each prayer ‘your own’ and to use the prayers as a ‘springboard’ (12). In doing this, readers are given freedom to take the prayers offered by Case and customize them to their own unique situation.

The bulk of Prayers of an Excellent Wife contains prayers for women to use in interceding for their husbands. Each prayer is based off Scripture, and readers can easily use it to guide their daily Scripture reading. In fact, one great feature of the book is the collection of Scripture and bibliography in the appendix. About half of the prayers in the book are accompanied by an encouraging quote from a Christian leader. The quotes help to spur the thinking of the reader as they work through the text of the prayers.

In Prayers of an Excellent Wife, Case gives Christian women a solid Word-centered devotional work on praying for their husbands. If you or members of your church are looking for a resource like this, I would recommend this book as a good place to start.

Jacob Dunlow
Pastor, Vassar Road Baptist Church
Ed.D Candidate, 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Setting Their Hope in God: Biblical Intercession for Your Children. By Andrew Case. Louisville, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010, 247 pp., $8.99.

“Seldom is there more exuberance than that which erupts when a new soul enters the world” (8). These words begin Andrew Case’s work Setting their Hope in God: Biblical Intercession for Your Children.

Many parents are familiar with the joy that comes with the arrival of a child. But shortly after comes arrival of the stress of trying to be a “good parent” to their children. The age in which we live puts tremendous stress on parents to make sure that their children receive the best education and are involved in the best extracurricular activities. But as Case notes in his work, “[O]ur duty remains to prayerfully labor and laboriously pray for their salvation and welfare. The parents who neglect this, even while offering their children every other worldly comfort and opportunity, waste their reward and do their children great harm” (9).

For parents who follow Christ, the desire to give their child a good life must be eclipsed by their desire to obey Paul in bringing up their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).” But what all goes into this instruction and discipline? In Setting their Hope in God, Case looks at the unseen aspect of raising children in the Lord, that is interceding for them before God. This review will look at the two major sections of the book.

In the first section, the preface and introduction provide the proper biblical perspective on praying for children. Along with a helpful collection of Bible verses that shows the importance of praying for your children, Case includes an edited work by William Scribner that was originally published in 1873: An Appeal to Parents to Pray Continually for the Welfare and Salvation of their Children (12-19).

The second section of the book presents a collection of prayers. Case urges parents to take these prayers and customize them to their own situations, not simply read them word for word (20). The prayers, like Scribner’s work quoted earlier in the book, revolve around the topics of salvation for children and intercession for their well-being. Each prayer is based on Scripture and is God-centered. As with his other devotionals, Case includes many quotes throughout the book from Christian leaders, past and present, to strengthen the prayer time.

Parents who are looking for a simple, clear work to spark their prayer life for their children should consider Setting Their Hope in God.

Jacob Dunlow
Pastor, Vassar Road Baptist Church
Ed.D Candidate, 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

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