Write more better: learn to play!

All this week, I’ve been sharing advice on how to improve as a writer. Among other things, writers need to embrace simplicity, be coachable, and read a lot. But one of the worst things a writer can do is play it safe. I don’t mean intentionally trying to be controversial or anything like that. I mean never try anything different. They stick to their strengths continually, and never attempt to develop in any areas of weakness.

Tip 4: learn to play.

Write more better tip 4

For a writer to grow, he or she needs to be willing to try new things. Here are a couple of key things I’d suggest:

Play with genres. If you write children’s stories, try writing a non-fiction article. If you write on theology, write a poem. These never have to see the light of day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying. One of the best I know in this regard is Stephen Altrogge, who regularly releases short stories, collections of essays, and serial novels through Amazon. This is also why I’m glad my work requires me to write differently than I would here. I write fundraising material during the day (when I write anything). I write about theology and books here. You can’t think about these the same way. And this is a really good thing for me because it makes me a more nimble writer.

Engage in word play. There’s a reason I called this series “Write more better,” and it’s not because my grammar is terrible. It’s because it’s fun to play with words—pay attention to the rhythm of your writing, effectively wield irony, alliteration and other literary devices for the good all who read your work. Try to write something that makes you smile! When I can see an author’s love of words in what he or she writes, I get excited.

Don’t underestimate the value of “fun” as a writer. When you’re in a rut, it shows. When you play it safe, your readers know it. But when you experiment, you’re more creative and engaging (even if the only person who knows about your experiments is you).

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

There are a whole bunch of new 99¢ deals from Crossway:

I Turned My Phone Off, and No One Died

Craig Thompson:

While on vacation, she suggested (strongly suggested perhaps) that I take a vacation from my phone. She even circulated rumors among leadership in the church that the best way to reach me while on vacation would be to contact her and she would relay the message. She felt that this plan would at least cause people to think twice before they texted, called, or emailed me. She was right.

An interesting thing happened when I turned my phone off; no one died and the world did not stop turning.

When Sinners Preach to Sinners

Jeff Robinson:

How are God’s undershepherds to come to grips with this daunting reality? How do we reconcile the all-too obvious truth that we are sinners preaching to sinners? How do we get our congregations over the notion that we are not popes, we are not monastics who descend from the cloister each week where we’ve been holed up, busy dodging the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Sin even dwells in monasteries, because sinners live there. But many of the people to whom we are called to minister don’t really believe this about us, and when we sin, and we will, some of them write us off as phonies or Pharisees. In the early months of pastoral ministry, a man told me I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor because I sinned. He seemed a bit stunned when I admitted that, though I believed his case for ministerial perfectionism unbiblical, I acutely felt the tension of a my standing as a saved-by-grace-sinner calling other sinners to walk God’s inspired line.

Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches

Jonathan Leeman:

I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these apply to churches that use a video preacher. Over half apply to churches who employ a preacher on every campus. Some of these are grounded in biblical or theological principles; some are matters of prudence.

The Cross & the Sword: A Christian Response to Fictional Violence

Aaron Earls:

Why do American evangelicals embrace fictional of violence in our entertainment, while shunning depictions of other sins?

I believe there are some legitimate reasons, but we would do well to think through the issues and remember our own tendency to approve what we enjoy.

Two Searching Questions About Happiness

David Murray:

“Worldly people pretend to the joy they have not; but godly people conceal the joy they have.” Matthew Henry

Why do some unbelievers seem to be incredibly happy, while some believers seem to be incredibly sad? Matthew Henry’s explanation is that the unbelievers publicize pretend joy, whereas believers privatize real joy.

Write more better: read!

There are certain authors whose books are about as much fun for me to read as chewing glass. Some are written so poorly that, in my cynical moments, I wonder whether their authors are functionally illiterate or simply hate words. Most of these are written by pastors and academics, sadly.

There are several reasons for this: some, while being very well-spoken, lack writing skills (they’re only being published because they have a big church). But others either don’t read or read too much of the wrong types of books.

And so comes today’s tip for becoming a better writer:

Tip 3: Read. A lot!

Write more better tip 3

This advice is well-known, particularly to those familiar with Stephen King’s On Writing, or Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy. Both are strong advocates of writers being readers:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” King writes. “There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of.”

“Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it … Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading you will not be able to remember,” Wilson likewise encourages. “The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them.”

Both advocate reading in terms of sheer volume, but another concern needs to be raised: variety.

Writers—especially Christian writers—desperately need to vary their reading. I’ve never really had a problem reading a lot, but I have frequently had issues varying the genres I read. It’s easy, especially when one writes a lot of contemporary theological issues or reviews books written with Christians in mind, to get stuck reading only books of that sort. This was me up until a couple of years ago when my friend and colleague, Amber, called me out on it and challenged me to start reading fiction again, which I’ve been doing increasingly ever since.

What’s been fun for me in reengaging fiction, beyond enjoying good storytelling, has been looking at how authors are using words–the emotions they’re trying to convey, the response they’re encouraging, what they’re doing to keep me following along and interested… This is really helpful from a practical standpoint (as well as being a lot of fun).

Some may read this and object, saying, “But I don’t like fiction.” Okay. My wife is right there with you. Try it anyway. But try the right stuff. Go to your public library, for goodness’ sake. Ask for recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. Heck, read the blog post I’ll write on this sometime next week! But even if you never want to write fiction, you should still read it. It’ll make your non-fiction work better.

To be fair, being a reader doesn’t make one a writer. Many people read a great deal yet still cannot string together a coherent sentence (without the help of a well-paid ghostwriter). Regardless, while not all readers are writers, exceptional writers are readers.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals for you:

What not to get your pastor for pastor’s appreciation month

Eric Geiger:

…I am grateful for the few folks in every church who remember Pastor Appreciation Month, likely because the Christian radio station they listen to reminds them. Because I am no longer a “pastor” as my full-time job, I feel some freedom to speak a bit bluntly about some of the gifts our pastors, your pastors, may be in jeopardy of receiving this year. If you have given your pastor some of these gifts before, don’t feel bad. There is no condemnation here. Only grace. And your pastor really did know you cared, was honored you remembered him, and likely thought, “It is the thought that counts.” But I want to be helpful and encourage you NOT to get your pastor the following this year.

The Hound of Heaven (trailer)

This short film written and directed by N.D. Wilson looks fantastic:

How the News Makes Us Dumb

Kevin DeYoung:

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Repenting of Our Lack of Sleep

Scott Slayton:

We often fail to think about what our daily habits say about our view of ourselves and our view of God. When we push ourselves morning to night seven days a week for days on end we demonstrate that we have a Messiah complex. We think the world will fall apart if we are not constantly doing something. We face a major dilemma though. We cannot keep going day in and day out without feeling terrible and lashing out at the people around us. We were not made to function on a lack of sleep. The Psalmist says in 121:4, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Only God does not need sleep. He is the one who made the world and who sustains the world. The world would fall apart if he took only a moment off, but we are not him.  Much to our chagrin, we find that the world continues to function quite well while we sleep. Sleep reminds us that God is God and we are not. John Piper said this as only he can, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”

Does Apologetics Convert People?

Clint Roberts:

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with.

Social Media and the Sensation of Missing Out

Joey Cochran:

Social media is both a blessing and curse as we all know and have experienced. One curse is that it facilitates the sensation of missing out.

For example, have you ever gotten onto Instagram to see pictures from all your friends who are at the same event together? But you didn’t go. Your immediate response of dismay, envy, and justification for why you didn’t go or why you weren’t invited is how you manage that sensation of missing out. Or have you ever gotten on Twitter and discovered an unreal conversation that went on for swipe after swipe of your forefinger? Did you not feel those twinges of dismay and envy again? Did you feel a tractor-force beam pull to exhaust fifteen to thirty catching up on the conversation and then add a triumphal tweet of your own? This sensation of missing out is a beast to tame. It will own you until you own it. Here’s two things to remember about your sensation of missing out.

Write more better: be coachable

I’ve never met a good writer who has it all figured out. The best I know are eager for feedback. This isn’t because they love having their egos stroked, but because they want to get better at what they do. As much fun as praise is—I mean, who doesn’t love reading an encouraging comment (they’re not just an urban legend!) or a thoughtful review of a book you’ve written?—it doesn’t help you become a stronger writer.

For that, you need thoughtful critique. And you also need humility in order to learn from it. Which takes us to the second tip in our quest to become better writers:

Tip 2: be coachable.

write more better tip 2

Being coachable is primarily an issue of character. It means being humble enough to evaluate oneself honestly and to receive instruction and correction where needed. As a writer, there are several groups you must be willing to hear from:

Editors. One of the most difficult moments of writing my second book was when my editor told me, “What you’ve said is right and good and true, but you’re losing focus. I need you to re-work it.” Hearing this, I was disheartened. After all, I’d put in a ton of work already, and the idea of more wasn’t terribly appealing (since I was trying to avoid a season of writing from after dinner until 1 am). But the criticism was bang-on. So, I got to work and we wound up with a better book as a result.

Why do I share this? Because good editors are your best friends. They’re there to help you sharpen your words and ideas, and help steer you back in the right direction when you’re going off on a rabbit trail. Listen to them!

Audience. Yes, our writing is “for” us, but it’s also for other people (or else, we would keep diaries instead of blogs). My favorite moments here have been receiving constructive criticism in a comment and taking that as an opportunity to revisit what I’ve written (this happened last week, in fact). An engaged audience is really helpful to learn where you’re lacking clarity, making a weak argument or a strong point. Listen to them!

Peers. This is a funny group, because they sometimes act as our editors (informally), other times they are a part of our audience, and a lot of the time they’re simply there to help us push through a block or work out an idea. They’re also really great at providing hard critique in a way that doesn’t crush your spirit. Listen to them!

But the ability to listen to any of these really comes down to your character. You can “hear” what’s said and not do anything with it, but your writing will suffer for it. But if you can be humble and learn from the critique (or outright criticism) you receive, and act on it, you’ll be much better off.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of new ones from B&H today. Here are a few of the highlights:

The 3 Things I Miss Most About Pastoral Ministry

Trevin Wax:

A pastor recently contacted me. He is considering a leadership position in a Christian organization, and he’d read something I wrote six months after starting at LifeWay, a post in which I offered some reflections on stepping out of pastoral ministry. In seeking to discern God’s will for his next phase of ministry, he wanted to know if my feelings had changed since then.

In short, I affirm everything in the original post, including my comments on vocational calling being expressed through various avenues and ministry tasks. But even though I am thrilled to be doing the work God has called me to during this season, I still miss local church ministry. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Jimmy Draper used to tell people who work at LifeWay, “The day you don’t miss local church ministry is the day you should probably resign.” What he meant was this: you’re better at serving churches when your heart beats for Christ’s Bride.

So, in response to the pastor who asked, here are three aspects of pastoral ministry I miss.

3 Types of Hypocrites

Mike Leake:

All of humanity, this side of full redemption, play the role of a hypocrite. We often hear the charge leveled against the church that we are filled with a bunch of hypocrites. This charge is true—at least in part. For the most part when someone says that to me I simply agree and tell such a person that we’ve always got room for one more.

While it is true that we are all hypocrites, there is another sense in which we are of a different stripe of hypocrisy. The Puritans saw three sorts of hypocrisy.

Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Today’s the day for Ligonier’s Google Hangout with Peter Jones. Be sure to join in at 4 pm to discuss his new curriculum, Only Two Religions.

Pastors Shouldn’t Have Trade Secrets

Erik Raymond:

I remain firmly convinced, based upon Scripture and my experience, that pastors should not be in competition with one another. They should support, root for, rejoice in, and serve to ensure the other’s growth. One major implication of being gospel-centered is that we actually want to see the gospel advance. In order to do this we have to be willing to put the good news about Jesus and his kingdom ahead of our own little, imaginary, personal kingdom.

The Dignity of Our Deterioration

John Piper:

…when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God established a connection between moral depravity and physical deterioration. He intended to make clear that, even if we ignore the dreadfulness of a sinful heart, we will not be able to ignore its witness in the debility of the body.

This is a hard pill for beautiful and robust boomers to swallow. We have been strong. We have been pretty. Even sexy. And now we realize: We will never have it back. It is over. For good. Until death stops the process we will only get weaker, more wrinkled, more mottled.

Write more better: write simply

Most of my training has come on the job. I didn’t go to school for journalism or anything like that. I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. So, when I’m asked the question, “How do I get better at writing,” I feel a little embarrassed. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not).

I’m kicking off a new blog series called Write more better: Unoriginal (but helpful!) tips for writing well. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be sharing a few tips I’ve found helpful on the journey to being a writer. If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, I hope you’ll find this series helpful.

Alright, let’s get started.

Tip 1: Write simply.

write more better tip 1

What do I mean by “write simply”?

Three things: Avoid technical language. Keep your sentences simple. Don’t be a show-off:

Avoid technical jargon

Now, there are times when technical jargon or other big words are unavoidable. When it is, we should bring clarity by explaining what they mean. But any time we can avoid jargon, we should. Often, we use jargon not because we must, but because it’s convenient. This does a disservice to our readers and paints us as being a bit lazy.

Keep your sentences simple

While there are appropriate levels of complexity, overly-complicated sentences tends to suggest we don’t know what we’re doing.

Take this sentence for example:

A chief programmatic outcome is to ensure beneficiaries have developed sufficient relational skills to thrive.

I’m sure you can figure out what I’m saying here, but there are easier ways to write it. If I were writing with simplicity in mind, it might look a little more like this::

We are going to teach people how to make friends because it’s important.

The first makes you die a little on the inside. The second actually tells you something.

Don’t be a show-off

The best way to summarize this point is as follows:don’t use “utilize” when “use” will do.

I hate people using the word “utilize.” Just hearing the word is like fingernails running down a chalkboard, something that amuses my coworkers greatly. While I don’t believe most people mean it this way, using unnecessary big words often comes across as showing off. You’re trying to impress us with your vocabulary, but you’re really only making yourself look silly.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of deals to start your day:

Look for this week’s eBook deals from Crossway shortly.

Three Things to Remember When You Read the Bible

Jonathan Parnell:

You can never just read the Bible.

There is something deep happening. It’s something more glorious than the universe. Whether you open these pages before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, whenever you read the Biblesomething miraculous is happening. After all, you are not just any ordinary person, and the Bible isn’t just any old book.

How Captain America should have ended

Ten characteristics of an aspiring pastor

Brian Croft:

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive.

So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important for pastoral ministry and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life.

The 6 Ingredients of Jesus’ Bitter Cup

Nick Batzig:

When we think of the cup that was placed before Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we tend to think of it merely in terms of the wrath of God–since that is what the cup most clearly symbolizes in the writings of the OT prophets. While we would never dare reduce it to something less than this, there is certainly more intended by the sight of the cross. When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God.

A Coming Familypocalypse

Joey Cochran:

My family is important to me; I love my wife and three children dearly. I believe we are better together than apart. This should be the attitude of every father, right? Absolutely! Dads should cherish and enjoy their families. They should long to be with them and feel pain when apart. They also should fight to keep families together through thick and thin.

This conviction should be a shared conviction with all humanity. As humans, we should cherish the idea of family. Otherwise, how would we perpetuate and propagate our race?

Yet, occasionally, I get this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I observe the culture around me, that these are not shared feelings.

Culture as common grace

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

People tend to glory in Shakespeare, as if he were responsible for his powers, but he was not. He had only what he had received. All these gifts that man and women have come from God. And that is why true Christians, as they look out, not only upon creation, but even at culture, discover a reason for glorifying and for praising God.

You see, what is wrong with culture is not the thing itself, it is rather that people give their worship, their praise and their adoration to those men and women who have produced the works rather than to the God who enabled them to do it. But if you look at these things under the heading of common grace, you will see that they all bring glory to God because it is through the Spirit that He dispenses these general gifts to humanity. We shall be reminded later of how our Lord Himself tells us that God sends His rain upon the evil and the good and causes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust—it is the same thing. The God who sends rain and sunshine and gives crops to the evil farmer as well as to the Christian farmer, dispenses artistic and scientific gifts in exactly the same way, indiscriminately, to bad and good, saved and unsaved. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Great Doctrines of the Bible vol. 2: The Holy Spirit, 25-26

The weird and the witty: The annotating Spurgeon

People who know me and my reading habits know that I love to mark up, mess up and beat up my books. I write a LOT of notes, and have little conversations with authors in the margins of my hardcopy books. Sometimes these are pretty funny (at least for me), but other times, they’re expressing my deep frustration with what I’m reading—at least when it’s wrong.

And all who’ve seen my now-lost ARC of Love Wins said, “Amen.”

One of my favorite books to mark up was the first edition of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (which remains one of my least favorite books, but that’s another story).

At the time, I happened to be reading with a red pen in hand and as I did, I found myself fully crossing out entire pages, and writing a simple and direct response:

No. Read your Bible.

I should also mention that I’d been a Christian for all of a year at the time.

But thankfully, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it turns out I’m in good company, as Adrian Warnock reminded those who follow him on Twitter yesterday when he shared a masterful bit of annotating by Charles “Oh, snap!” Spurgeon:

spurgeon-annotation

Spurgeon, never one to let his opinion remain hidden, certainly gave us a clear picture of what he thought of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s work, didn’t he?

Do you mark up your books? What’s the funniest margin conversation you’ve had with an author?

Seven books I abandoned

medium_5438459663

When the teacher warned his son, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), he wasn’t kidding. There are so many books out there to read—and even more that may make you feel ashamed for ever having read them.

I’ve shared a number of book lists over the last few months—on books new Christians should and shouldn’t read, on homosexuality, and prayer, among others—and today, I wanted to shake things up a bit: instead of telling you about books I think you should read, I want to share a bit about a few books I’ve abandoned.

Some of these are good books that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into. Some are terrible ones that were simply too awful to finish. And some might be on your bookshelf right now. Here’s a look:

Moby Dick by Herman Mellville. I know this is a classic work, but oh my gosh, it is one of the most awful books I’ve ever read. Or tried to read. I think I got through about 100 pages and wound up watching the movie instead.

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It’s Too Late by James MacDonald. I know some people love his books, and there’s probably an unspoken rule that I’m supposed to because I go to a Harvest church, but I’ve never enjoyed any book I’ve read by MacDonald. I’ve tried several and gave up each time within a couple of chapters (in fact, there’s only one I ever managed to finish). They are consistently terribly written and painful to read.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. This one is probably a surprise since I really enjoy Keller’s work. He is always thoughtful and well-written (which itself is a wonderful contrast to so many books written by pastors). This one, I think, is a victim of timing: I was just in the wrong headspace when I was trying to read it, so it was abandoned. Perhaps I’ll try again someday.

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur. This, again, might be a shocker to some. There’s much that I agree with in the book, but dang, MacArthur’s tone makes it difficult to finish most of what he writes. This is one of those that I came really close to completing, but it took me a couple of years of picking it up and putting it down. It’s since left my personal library.

Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House. My first thought as I started reading it: small groups, the Mars Hill way. That’s probably not giving House’s work a fair shake, but that combined with its dull (though technically correct) writing didn’t inspire me to finish it.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink. Pink’s work is actually pretty well-written, and the research he presents is always fascinating (I especially enjoyed Drive). But this one just didn’t grab me. So, I never finished it (though my son did destroy the dust jacket).

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Again, another well-written book, but it just didn’t grab me. It’s on my “try again sometime” list, so we’ll see.

So those are a few of the books I’ve abandoned. What are some of yours?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of freebies for you today:

  • CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (Amazon | iTunes)
  • Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure by Daniel Hochhalter (Amazon | iTunes)

Get Knowing Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Knowing Christ: The I AM Sayings of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Spirit of Revival by R.C. Sproul and Archie Parrish (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Wearing Christianity on Your Sleeve

Leon Brown:

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever’s image of what it looks like to “force my religion down his throat.” That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy

Samuel Jones:

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of frustration that came over me. Walking out of a movie is not a rewarding experience. As someone who loves the cinema (even when it is totally empty and in a decrepit remodeling state, as was the case last night), I enjoy the mere experience of entering a narrative, regardless of how poorly executed a narrative it might be. Leaving Guardians of the Galaxy was an admission of defeat on my end, not the movie’s. I left because of me. I just didn’t have whatever it took to enjoy the film.

Only Two Religions: A Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Be sure to attend this Google Hangout with Peter Jones on September 30th at 4 pm (EDT), where he will be discussing his new teaching series, Only Two Religions.

Domestic Violence and a Pastor’s Response

Donna Gibbs:

I am presently working a case in which the church is providing firm intervention, loving support, godly instruction, as well as a way out if necessary. I have great confidence in the outcome of this situation. I have another unfortunate case in which the pastor and leadership are abandoning a wife whose life will clearly be jeopardized if she doesn’t leave. They are abandoning her based on their belief that the husband is to have all authority and that she is not fulfilling the role of a scriptural, submissive wife in her efforts to take a stand against the abuse. These cases represent the wide dilemma of the church at large, and the dilemma of you in particular, as a pastor.

With that said, what should your role as a pastor be regarding cases of domestic violence in your church?

Called to Speak ‘Freakish’ Truth

Ben Stevens:

What do you do when your beliefs start sounding “freakish” to people around you? That’s the dilemma of 21st-century Christian rhetoric. Like Russell Moore, I don’t think the situation is going to get easier anytime soon, so we should be thinking hard about the fundamental posture we take when presenting our convictions to the outside world.

As far as I can see, those speaking up for Christianity in the public square today usually rely on one of three approaches. The three differ from each other dramatically, and everything we say is colored by the approach we choose. Let me introduce them briefly and tell you which one seems most appropriate given the nature of the moment and our message.

Can I Really Trust the Bible?

can-i-really-trust-bible-cooper

There are a lot of really great books out there on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Some of these tend to be on the academic side, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the formation of the canon and so on. Others are more devotional in nature, designed to edify and encourage believers as they seek to have confidence in this book which is so important.

These approaches are good and helpful, but many readers want something that’s a bit more direct and to the point. This is what Barry Cooper offers in Can I Really Trust the Bible?, the latest in The Good Book Company’s Questions Christians Ask series. Over the book’s five chapters, Cooper offers compelling answers to three key questions:

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The inescapable force of circular logic

These three questions absolutely essential to any serious study of the nature of the Bible. If the Bible does not claim to be, seem to be, or prove to be God’s word—if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny—then we must reject the notion of the Bible being God’s word. If it’s a duck, we cannot call it a swan. And so we are wise to consider what the Bible says about itself in order to verify its nature.

Which, of course, leads to that common critique many Christians face—the charge of circular reasoning. But, Cooper notes, “When you think about it, it’s impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of circularity in our arguments: we all appeal to authority of one kind or another, even when we don’t realise it.” He continues:

…if I say: “The Bible is my highest authority because it can be proved rationally”, the argument would be self-defeating. I’d be appealing to an authority other than the Bible (rationalism), implying that it (and not God’s word) was the real measure of trustworthiness.”

This level of candor is refreshing to read in any book on this subject, and very much needed. We don’t need to deny that, yes, we’re use circular logic—why? Because (as Cooper notes above) appealing to anything other than the Bible implicitly places authority over the Bible in something other than the Bible.

Authority and evidence

 

This doesn’t mean, though, that appeals to outside evidence are invalid. For example, one of the most common challenges to the Bible today is whether or not we can know for certain what it said in its original manuscripts. If we can’t have any certainty on this, we can’t have any real confidence that what is found in the Bible as we know it today is what was intended by its original authors. But the embarrassment of riches we have in the form of ancient manuscripts—some dating back to within just a few decades of the events described—are a wonderful example of how God’s people have faithfully maintained the message.

…although we no longer have access to the original biblical documents, all is not lost. The truly enormous number of surviving copies enables experts to reconstruct the original with great accuracy. This process of comparing copies is called textual criticism, and as a result, scholars are able to say: “For over 99% of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”

 

It’s appropriate to mention evidence like this, not as a gotcha, but to help illustrate the point: if early Christians didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, why would they have been so meticulous in making copies, so much so that the variations that exist affect no major doctrine of the faith (and most are limited to things like typos)? Evidence of this sort doesn’t prove the point, but it does lend additional credibility to the point the Bible itself makes.

Breaks no new ground, but refreshing nonetheless

Having said all that, readers should be aware that they’re unlikely to find anything they’ve not already read in any number of other books on this subject. The arguments are as solid as what you’ll find in Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, R.C. Sproul’s Can I Trust the Bible? or Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. And while Cooper may not break new ground, Can I Really Trust the Bible? is a refreshing and encouraging read that would be excellent to share with those looking to study this important topic.


Title: Can I Really Trust the Bible?
Author: Barry Cooper
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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