Review: Following the Call

Following the Call, Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2021.

Summary: A collection of 52 weeks of readings working through the Sermon on the Mount, meant to be discussed and lived out in community.

Back in 2016, I reviewed a collection of 52 readings from the same editor and publishing house, titled Called to Community. This book, similar in format, builds on that earlier collection.

Charles E. Moore has edited a collection of readings organized into 52 weeks of readings with contributions from a wide range of Christians throughout history, from Augustine to Tim Keller, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. The readings follow the Sermon on the Mount, section by section, portraying how a wide range of believers have understood and sought to live under this challenging message of Jesus.

A reading at the end of this collection of readings articulates the intent in creating this set of readings. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

“This word, whose claim we recognize, this word, which issues from his saying ‘I have known thee, this word which sets us at once to work and obedience, is the rock on which to build our house. The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it. Jesus has spoken: his is the word, ours the obedience. Only in the doing of it does the word of Jesus retain its honor, might, and power among us. Now the storm can rage over the house, but it cannot shatter that union with him, which his word has created” (p. 332).

The assumption throughout is that this is a kingdom manifesto, describing the way Jesus’s followers will actually live, rather than some unrealistic ideal. Furthermore, and this is emphasized in the subtitle, the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be lived together and the book is written to be discussed together. Each weeks readings, from one to four writers and covering five to eight pages, are meant to be read, along with the pertinent portion of the Sermon, in a small group. A study guide at the conclusion of the text offer several probing questions and additional scripture passages to aid discussion. The aim is that a group would help one another take steps to live out the Sermon week by week.

The readings are offered in four sections with an introductory article to each section by Moore. They are:

Kingdom Character (Matthew 5:1-16). A highlight in this section was the short reading from Oscar Romero on persecution. He observes: “It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world in any way” (p. 71).

Kingdom Commands (Matthew 5:17-48) Jen Wilkin writes on law and the place of obedience and offers this example: “We don’t train our children to obey us so that they can gain our favor. They already have our favor. We, being evil, train and equip them to obey because it is good and right and safe. And how much more does our heavenly Father love us?” (p. 87).

Kingdom Devotion (Matthew 6:1-18) William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas offer these convicting words: “Those who are being formed by praying, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, holy be your name’ are not permitted to about the holiness of God by attempting to put a leash on God, then dragging God into our crusades and cruelties” (p. 195).

Kingdom Priorities (Matthew 6:19-7:28) Dallas Willard challenged my own understanding of the teaching about pearls before pigs: “Pigs cannot digest pearls, cannot nourish themselves upon them….The reason these animals will finally ‘turn and rend you’ when you one day step up to them with another load of Bibles or pearls, is that you at least are edible” (p. 287).

This is but a tiny sampling of the rich fare offered in these readings. You may wonder if you will find enough to discuss in the few pages and short passage for each week. I suspect once you get going, if there is good trust and spiritual openness among you, that you will find there isn’t enough time.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World

Matthew 5-10

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (originally published as two separate works 1978, 1987).

Summary: An expository study of Matthew 5-10 that focuses on the call to a distinctive life for the disciples of Jesus.

D. A. Carson published a number of his biblical expositions with Baker back in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Baker is introducing a new generation of students of scripture to these studies with re-packaged versions of these earlier works, still strikingly relevant as careful expositions of the biblical text.

In this volume, two of Carson’s earlier works (on Matthew 5-7 and 8-10, hence the long, compound title) have been combined in one reasonably priced book. Part One covers in six chapters the Sermon on the Mount:

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven: Its Norms and Witness (5:3-16)
  2. The Kingdom of Heaven: Its Demands in Relation to the Old Testament (5:17-48)
  3. Religious Hypocrisy: Its Description and Overthrow (6:1-18)
  4. Kingdom Perspectives (6:19-34)
  5. Balance and Perfection (7:1-12)
  6. Conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount (7:13-28)

In this part of the work, I especially appreciated Carson’s discussion of the relation of Jesus and his teaching to the Old Testament, articulating in what way Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. I also appreciated Carson’s unflinching warnings of the judgment awaiting those who fail to heed the words of Jesus.

The second part, also in six chapters, Matthew 8 through 10 under the heading of Jesus’s Confrontation with the World. They are as follows:

  1. The Authority of Jesus (8:1-17)
  2. The Authentic Jesus (8:18-34)
  3. The Mission of Jesus (9:1-17)
  4. The Trustworthiness of Jesus (9:18-34)
  5. The Compassion of Jesus (9:35-10:15)
  6. The Divisiveness of Jesus (10:16-42)

I particularly appreciated his treatment of the authentic Jesus in showing how Jesus breaks all our stereotypes with his personal and costly demands, the surpassing wonder of his authority over all creation, his priority of spiritual and human realities above all else, and his way of repeatedly defying common expectations.

He also makes trenchant observations about the divisiveness of Jesus:

“Clearly then, the fact that the divisiveness of Jesus leads to opposition by the world, and sometimes to outright persecution, is no cause for either paranoid glee or rough belligerence among the people of God. Instead it is cause for sober reflection, careful counting of the cost, wise assessment that fully expects trouble and is grateful when it passes us by. We are no better than fellow Christians in parts of the world where being a Christian can exact a high toll. Often we are less mature, because less tested. The principle laid down in this passage, however is that we as disciples of Jesus should expect opposition, sometimes of the crudest kind, and view it as part of our calling. That is the way the Master went” (p. 335).

While not a technical commentary (he has written a commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary), this work, lightly revised from expository messages, traces the arc from textual meaning to contemporary relevance, as for example, in his exposition of what it means to be “poor in spirit.” He establishes the connection between “poor” and the idea of lowly or humble, a sense of one’s spiritual poverty, and then applies the text pointedly:

“I suspect that there is no pride more deadly than that which finds its roots in great learning, great external piety, or a showy defense of orthodoxy. My suspicion does not call into question the value of learning, piety, or orthodoxy; rather it exposes professing believers to the full glare of this beatitude. Pride based on genuine virtues has the greatest potential for self-deception; but our Lord will allow none of it. Poverty of spirit he insists on–a full, honest, factual, conscious, and conscientious recognition before God of personal moral worth. It is, as I have said, the deepest form of repentance” (p. 22).

The book concludes with two appendices, addressing more technical matters related to the Sermon on the Mount. In the first, he addresses critical issues, that tend to undermine confidence in there being such an address in the ministry of Jesus. The second concerns itself with the different theological approaches to the text, and particularly whether, and how it ought apply to the believer.

As one considers the text of Matthew 5-10, one cannot help but consider who is this teacher, and what will be our response to the life of the kingdom he articulates for those who will follow him. This is a rich text for devotional reading if one is prepared for more than an inspiring or blessed thought. The danger in reading such work is it may make us, in some cases, ask why we do not hear such preaching in our churches. Carson demonstrates the power of expository preaching, which is not in the preacher, but in bringing out what the text says, means, and means for us as God’s people.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Books in this series previously reviewed:

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of JesusD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018. Review

The Cross and Christian MinistryD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993). Review

Review: The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ

The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ
The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ by James Bryan Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

None of us really WANTS to ruin our lives. Yet we often do, James Bryan Smith contends, because we don’t build our lives on the teaching of Jesus and let him shape our character. In this book, the second in his Apprentice Series, Smith takes us through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. His foundational contention is that the gospel of the kingdom Jesus preaches is not about getting us into heaven but rather getting heaven into us, the transformation of our lives as Christ’s new creations, which is what this sermon is all about.

Along the way, Smith takes some reads on the sermon that might be different than you’ve heard before. This begins with the beatitudes, which he argues describe the people who are included in the kingdom. In the command concerning murder and anger, he argues we often live with False Imperative Narratives such as “I need to be perfect all the time” that are sources of fear and anger and that trust in Christ in our brokenness is key to being liberated from anger’s destructive power. Similarly, living in the joyful gratitude for our desires liberates us from lust’s power. Our trust in the security of the kingdom’s promises means we needn’t lie but can tell the truth. We love and forgive our enemies as the apprentices of a Savior who did the same thing from the cross.

One of the most challenging chapters for me was the chapter on vainglory–the practice of doing things to be seen by people. In this, as all chapters throughout the Apprentice Series, Smith includes Soul Training exercises. For this one it was the exercise of secret service, of serving others without letting other, or even the person served, know if possible. The Soul Training exercises throughout provide very practical ways to begin allow Christ to form his character in our lives. In his chapter on avarice and the choice of two masters, money or Jesus, we are encouraged to practice de-accumulation by getting rid of five things. In the chapter on worry, he gives a very specific exercise for turning worry into prayer and releasing this to God. His challenge in the chapter on judgment is to live a day without gossip!

The concluding chapter comes back to where he began, the vital importance of building our lives on the teaching of Jesus in intimate fellowship with him. He shares with us Madame Guyon’s advice to her daughter on living a day devotionally as a means of helping us to develop a “rule” for our days–practices that help us remain in the presence of Jesus throughout each day.

I worked through this book with a group, which is Smith’s recommended way to use this book. I actually had previously read the book but found that working through this deepened my engagement with the practices he commends and provided for many significant conversations with each other on living the good and beautiful life that drew me closer to five others as well as to the Lord whose teaching we were considering.

View all my reviews

I also reviewed the first book in this series, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows.