Considering the cost of education

education-debt

If I could do it again, I’d like to think I’d do it all differently… but I’d probably be lying. What am I talking about? College.

See, I went to college (the first time) from 1999 to 2002, studying graphic design at a community college in my city. I didn’t have any real savings—though I took two years off between high school and college, all I had to show for it in the end was the beginnings of a debt problem!—and no significant experience managing my personal finances.

My parents did what they could to help, but in the end, my education was paid for almost entirely with student loans. So, when I graduated, I had a diploma, no job and about $15,000 in student debt demanding to be paid.

Now, I get it: for many people, this isn’t a large debt load. In fact, it could have been a great deal more. I was initially accepted into a private art school in the United States, when I had aspirations of being a comic book artist. Had I gone down that road, I would have had at least $60,000 to contend with (and likely much more). And today, as a seminary student, I’m reminded of this once more. When I paid my tuition for one course at the end of January, it was roughly two thirds of the tuition for my entire first year of community college.

But at the time, this was a terrifying amount of money—especially since my first professional jobs only paid $10 or $12 an hour. I was making the minimum payments every month (and then only barely), with a plan to have it all paid off within 10 years (because that was the way the bank structured it).

I don’t currently have any student debt. Lord willing, I won’t accumulate any as I complete my seminary degree (and if you’d like to be a part of making that a reality, I’d surely appreciate it). And if the Lord allows, our children will not have to worry about student debt (though they may need to make some concessions to make that a reality).

But I am concerned for many out there who are going to college and university. And I am greatly concerned about many young people who are going to seminary. What I’m concerned about is that too many of us are failing to consider the cost of our decisions. We are becoming slaves of the lenders (Proverbs 22:7) for degrees that may not actually help us move forward in our future goals and ministry—or worse, in some cases may actually hinder us!

So what are we to do here? Here are five recommendations:

First, examine ourselves. What are we really passionate about? What do we want to do with our lives? Will it allow me to better serve the Lord? These are questions that I wish I’d asked myself more carefully during my first go-around in post-secondary education, and I think I asked fairly well prior to applying for seminary. I want my education to have a purpose, to allow me to move forward in my ministry and career (even as I gain some level of personal satisfaction just from having done it).

Second, plan your education route. These considerations should leads us to ask about the route we’re going to take: do we need a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree? Are we more suited to a technical skill and thus would be better served by going to a trade school or apprenticing? Are we risking making ourselves overqualified and therefore unemployable by pursuing too much education? (And this is all I’m going to say right now about Christians and PhDs…)

Third, save and find creative ways to pay. A desire we have for our children is that they complete their post-secondary education as close to debt free as possible. One of the ways we’re helping with that is by starting their savings plans now. While we’re not talking huge dollars at the moment, they’re already off to a good start. This should be our approach, regardless of our age and stage in life. Investigate scholarships, grants and bursaries. Save for as long as you can. If we’re serious about doing something, it’s better to wait and do it right without creating new stresses for our families.

And this is where I have grave concerns for many going to seminary. Let’s be honest: seminary is crazy expensive, and ministry jobs tend to not pay all that well (I’m already in a ministry job, so I’m not concerned about that part). While making money isn’t the primary motivation for people getting a degree, and certainly shouldn’t be a factor regarding ministry, it’s a reality we need to be mindful of. For a number of us, seminary is a must. For many more, we’d be better served by just listening to RTS lectures on iTunes U.

Which leads me to my next point…

Fourth, if we take on debt, commit to repaying as quickly as possible. Although the Bible doesn’t explicitly call debt wrong (though it comes awful close and never puts it in a positive category), we cannot forget that it is a type of slavery. If you borrow money, it must be paid back in a timely fashion (whether that’s the timeline agreed upon between the borrower and the lender or sooner). Do not approach this lightly. Do not be careless. And certainly do not choose to not pay it at all or declare bankruptcy in an attempt to get the debt wiped out. If you do this, as many people in my home province have done for decades (to the point now that your student loans stick with you even in bankruptcy), you are stealing from the lender. So if we’re going to take on debt, we need to take the responsibility to pay it back seriously.

Finally, pray and seek counsel. If you’re not praying throughout your education planning, you’re almost certain to make the wrong decision. If you’re not seeking wise counsel from others, you’re probably going to blow it. We all have blinders, and we all need God’s wisdom—and the insights of others—to help us see what we would otherwise miss (both positively and negatively).

Education is a wonderful thing. But be wise as you pursue it. Be sure to carefully consider the cost.


An earlier version of this article was first published in 2010. Photo credit: Pile of Cash via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

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A Tip for Seminary Students

Mike Leake:

I came to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 2009. I was excited to be able to learn from some of the world’s greatest professors. I figured I would learn so much and that I would grow in my relationship with the Lord in ways I didn’t imagine. My first semesters didn’t disappoint.

After awhile, though, my soul started to ache a bit.

Dear Gay Community: Your Kids Are Hurting

Heather Barwick:

Do you remember that book, “Heather Has Two Mommies”? That was my life. My mom, her partner, and I lived in a cozy little house in the ‘burbs of a very liberal and open-minded area. Her partner treated me as if I was her own daughter. Along with my mom’s partner, I also inherited her tight-knit community of gay and lesbian friends. Or maybe they inherited me?

Either way, I still feel like gay people are my people. I’ve learned so much from you. You taught me how to be brave, especially when it is hard. You taught me empathy. You taught me how to listen. And how to dance. You taught me not be afraid of things that are different. And you taught me how to stand up for myself, even if that means I stand alone.

I’m writing to you because I’m letting myself out of the closet: I don’t support gay marriage. But it might not be for the reasons that you think.

Of Crows and Crowns

Check out this video for a new song from Dustin Kensrue’s upcoming album, Carry the Fire (which you should really pre-order):

Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?

Joe Carter tackles the common notion that all denominations are in decline. But is it true? His answer: Not even a little bit.

Christians and college debt

Samuel Jones:

Student loan debt is no longer a minor macroeconomic footnote. Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies instead dubs it a “time bomb,” a gravely serious economic stranglehold on millions of Americans. Collins notes that student loan debt is already higher than the US’s total credit card debt and will, according to some economists, balloon even more at the turn of the decade. One report released last year estimated that 70% of graduating seniors carry debt out of college and that the average student debt was just south of $30,000.

Glory Hunger

Glory hunger (1)

As positively unchristian as it sounds to say, it’s not wrong to seek glory. In fact, it can be quite good—as long as we’re seeking the right glory. This, however, is where we all fall down because the glory we seek is usually for ourselves. We want people to think we’re a pretty big deal. We want to make a name for ourselves. We want to be somebody. And we will gladly rob God of glory and honor to get it.

In other words, when seeking glory is about seeking it for ourselves, it’s a very bad thing indeed.

This is where Glory Hunger by JR Vassar is so helpful. As in Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition before it, Vassar assists us in combating the shallowness of our glory hunger as he examines its origins and the only source of satisfaction we will ever need.

We are all narcissists now

“Has a generation ever been so concerned with its own glory?” Vassar asks as he considers our nasty social media habits (58). After all, we value blog posts based on how many likes and tweets and pins and comments they receive; we tweet and Instagram our best duck faces (or, if you prefer, blue steel1). We consider ourselves more important because we have people following our Twitter account and Facebook page. We even have services like Klout which tell us how influential we may be.

We are, most assuredly, a painfully narcissistic generation, and it is destroying us:

Narcissistic people rarely have deep friendships and usually don’t really desire them. They have fans but not friends. They have the admiration of others but not intimacy.… Narcissists tend to use others to build up themselves, but do not invest or give in relationships. … A narcissistic glory hunger is destructive primarily because it means that one has taken a life direction that is opposite to reality. (58-59)

Don’t gloss over this too quickly. Stop and really consider it—and especially those of us who serve in some form of vocational ministry. One of the trends I see that absolutely terrifies me is the “lonely leader” archetype. No one understands him. No one appreciate him. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself.

The problem here is that it’s a delusion. Leadership is lonely only because we choose for it to be. The only reason people don’t know us or understand us is because we don’t let them. And I wonder if it’s because we secretly (or not so secretly) really like it? We like being seen as the embattled leader, standing up against the forces of the world and our defiant congregations, when, really, we’re just stroking our own egos. It makes us feel good to be admired from a distance because if people actually knew us, they’d see that we’re kind of a hot mess. We might look good on the outside, but we’re a complete disaster.

(Is anyone else getting a bit uncomfortable here?)

Refocusing glory by becoming realists

So what do we do about this? If we are so narcissistic that we love to be seen as being vulnerable (without actually having to be vulnerable), if we are so in love with our own selves and our own glory… we’re in a lot of trouble, aren’t we?

True though this may be, Vassar doesn’t leave us hopeless, though he does continue to push on us to think correctly:

Imagine attending the 2014 New Year’s fireworks show in Dubai, which, at a cost of nearly six million dollars, was the largest the world has ever seen. As you gaze into the sky in amazement, feeling the rumblings in your chest from the explosions, some kid yanks on your pant leg and tries to sell you a ticket for a viewing of the Roman candle he is about to set off.… We are the glory hogs with our little Roman candles; God’s just a realist. (83)

“When mans’s glory is raised against God’s, the bottom line of the riches of God’s glory reveals the utter bankruptcy of man’s” (82). Our attempts at glorifying yourselves can’t begin to compare with the glory that inherently belongs to God. We need to see it this way, not because we should wallow in self-pity, but because we need to realize that the only true rescue we can find from taking our eyes off ourselves! If we want to be free from a self-focused glory hunger, we need to be realists as God is a realist. His glory is better than ours. He is more important. We should seek to become like John the Baptist, who, after Jesus’ ministry began to grow, simply said, “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

And this is the cure for our insatiable glory hunger. This is the one thing that can satisfy it. It’s not in achieving whatever goal we’ve set for ourselves—it’s by taking our eyes off ourselves.

The cross deflates us and serves as a clarifying lens that allows us to see our true condition. When we are tempted to boast in ourselves, the cross tells us we are not awesome.… When you are tempted to think highly of yourself, remind yourself why Jesus had to die. Let the cross measure you, not your accomplishments or your failures for that matter. (90)

The happiest we can be is when we’re forgetting about “me”

If there’s one thing from Glory Hunger that should stick with us, it’s this:”The happiest people are those who are most free from personal glory hunger and refuse to compete with God for glory” (96).

We’re not going to be happy until we actually stop trying to make a name for ourselves. We won’t find what we’re looking for there. The world wasn’t made to function that way, nor were we. It’s only we stop thinking about our own glory and focus on God’s, that we will know true glory. And only then will we be satisfied. Glory Hunger is a strong reminder of this truth, and it’s one I hope will be appreciated by all who read it.


Title: Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel, and Our Quest for Something More
Author: JR Vassar
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

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Isn’t the Christian View of Sexuality Dangerous and Harmful?

Sam Allberry:

You won’t find Jesus teaching that your life isn’t worth living if you can’t be fulfilled sexually—that a life without sex is no life at all. You won’t see biblical Christianity insist that our sexual proclivities are so foundational to who we are—and that to fail to affirm such proclivities is to attack people at their core. All this comes not from biblical Christianity but from Western culture’s highly distorted view of what it means to be a human. When an idol fails you, the real culprit turns out to be the person who urged you worship it, not the person who tried to take it away.

On a related note, you should also read Christopher Robins’ response to City Church San Francisco’s announcement regarding their stance on homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

God, Make Me a Looker

Lore Ferguson:

This past week my pastor taught on active faith expressed in works. I don’t know that I would have had ears to hear his words quite so well had I not been soaking in the richness of George Muller’s biography for the past few weeks. Multiple times while reading a physical sob rose in my throat and tears filled my eyes. It was not wonder at the faith of Muller (though that was there), but wonder at the God in whom he trusted and the gift of faith on which he acted.

Who was St. Patrick?

A great excerpt from Christian History Made Easy:

On Sentimentality and Christian Writing

Ted Kluck:

That said, many people rip Christian writing because of how overtly sentimental it often is. But, I don’t think it’s sentimentality that kills Christian writing as much as it is a propensity for making the message trump the characters in the story. In making the “takeaways” obvious, we kill any shot we had at telling a decent story. Writing is hard enough without having to include an obvious subheading every four lines and having to shoehorn in a Bible verse that was specially harvested (often out of context) to prove my point.

Switching to a 5 day work week

Justin Buzzard shares some really good stuff here about why he’s made this switch. Pastors and ministry folks, consider it carefully (especially if your “season” of busyness too closely resembles winter in Narnia).

The evolution of the Batman films

This is a really great piece of art:

Batman evolution poster for print

If you’re a fan of such things, be sure to order a print from the artist.

The number one way to encourage rebellion

legalistic leadership

I’ll admit it: I’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak. It doesn’t come out often, but it’s there.

See, I like rules. Specifically, I like rules that make sense. I appreciate decisions that I understand (even if I don’t agree). I can’t stand when people take power trips (especially when they have no real power or authority anyway). I have no patience for those who act like arrogant so-and-sos. I really struggle with heavy-handed bureaucracy. I chafe whenever I’m told to “just do it,” no matter what “it” is…

This, naturally, puts me at odds at times with authorities. I don’t (usually) defy them, but I certainly don’t comply with joyful obedience. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. In fact, it’s almost a sure bet that some, maybe most, of you reading this have a similar kind of reaction.

Why do we do this though? Is it simply because we’re sinful people that always want their own autonomy? When we chafe under reasonable rules, and humble leaders, yep. But what about when it’s the leader who habitually leaves his or her decisions unexplained, who tends to power trip, or just wants what he or she wants? Then, I’d suggest it may be reacting to something else: legalism.

Legalism has a number of manifestations, obviously, but one of the chief ways it reveals itself is in arbitrary behavior. If you don’t think you need to explain your decisions or positions and people should just obey, you’re probably a legalist. If you demand your own way and use your authority (or emotional or spiritual manipulation) to make sure people comply, you’re probably a legalist. If the only “right” way to practice a particular spiritual discipline is the way you happen to be most comfortable, you’re probably a legalist. If you think “because I said so” is actually a good reason for someone to obey any and every command, you’re probably a legalist.

And guess what? This is the number one way you encourage people in their rebellion and to undermine your authority.

It’s worth repeating: not all of the blame for this lands on the shoulders of those we perceive as legalistic or domineering. We are, by nature, sinful people who desire complete and total self-rule, as mentioned above. But without removing the need to honestly evaluate ourselves, we ought to recognize that legalism certainly doesn’t help us become more holy, humble, coachable and compliant.

And here’s the rub: this isn’t a problem that can be solved with more rules. If you’re a pastor or a manager or a supervisor or anything else for that matter, you can’t have a meeting with those you lead and say, “There will be no more of X, Y, or Z,” any more than you can say, “We’re going to do even more of A, B, or C!” All either does is further undermine your authority and push people deeper into their resistance. Jerram Barrs explains this well:

Legalism fosters rebellion against parents, schools, and churches, and ultimately against God. Whenever we add to God’s Word we immediately increase the likelihood of resistance to our authority. … If we try to make worship obligatory, we will produce either spiritual arrogance or superficial observance and a resistant heart. (Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 174-175)

Though Barrs writes with church ministry in mind, we can all apply this regardless of our context. The more rules we heap upon people, the more they will resist. The more we demand a certain kind of posture, the more people will openly defy us or comply while hating you in their hearts.

So here’s what we need to ask ourselves:

First, if we primarily identify ourselves as leaders in whatever capacity we serve: Does our posture bring life or death? Are we overbearing? Are we domineering? Are we truly as patient as we think we are, and doing our best to explain our decisions? Or do we try to solve problems by making more policies and procedures?

Second, for those who sit under leaders we perceive as legalistic or domineering: Are we actually thinking rightly about those who lead us, or are we misinterpreting their behavior? If we are right in our thinking, what are we going to do about it? Just as more rules won’t solve rebellion, so too rebellion won’t eliminate legalism. So, how can we protect our hearts from hate? How can we prevent bitterness from taking root? And how can we extend love and grace to our legalistic leaders, who may not even realize how they appear?

There are no easy answers to these questions, on either side. But they are worth asking, if we ask in the right spirit, and with a desire to do something with what we learn.

 

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s Crossway deals highlight Kevin DeYoung:

Also worth checking out:

  • The Millennials by Thom and Jess Rainer—99¢
  • Lit! by Tony Reinke—$1.99
  • Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian—$1.99
  • Churchless edited by Barna and Kinnaman—$1.99 (should be interesting to see what the research they’re dealing with says)

Poor white people need Jesus and justice, too

Anthony Bradley:

While urban, justice-loving evangelicals easily shame white, suburban, conservative evangelicals for their racially homogenized lives, both communities seem to share a disdain for lower-class white people. “Rednecks,” “crackers,” “hoosiers,” and “white trash” are all derogatory terms used to describe a population of lower-class whites who have suffered centuries of injustice and social marginalization in America, especially from educated Christians.

What scares the new atheists

John Gray:

It’s impossible to read much contemporary polemic against religion without the impression that for the “new atheists” the world would be a better place if Jewish and Christian monotheism had never existed. If only the world wasn’t plagued by these troublesome God-botherers, they are always lamenting, liberal values would be so much more secure. Awkwardly for these atheists, Nietzsche understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of these religious traditions. As a classical scholar, he recognised that a mystical Greek faith in reason had shaped the cultural matrix from which modern liberalism emerged. Some ancient Stoics defended the ideal of a cosmopolitan society; but this was based in the belief that humans share in the Logos, an immortal principle of rationality that was later absorbed into the conception of God with which we are familiar. Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values.

Delivering a bionic arm to a 7-year-old boy

This is a terrific ad:

Four Characteristics of Legalism

C. Michael Patton:

These characteristics of legalism that I am going to list here are not to mean that anyone who ever does any of these things is a legalist. Think of legalism as a sliding scale. Some of us practice legalistic tendencies here and there (I know I sure do). Some can find themselves practicing more of these on a regular basis and are more legalistic. Some can be full-blow legalists in all of these areas.

David Bazan, a Musical Counterfeit Detective

Kurt Armstrong:

What to do with Bazan? That’s more or less how it’s been with him all along, and probably how it ought to be. When he still called himself a Christian, Bazan only sang a handful of Jesus-y songs, but since his religious defection, he seems to find it hard to sing about anything else. “What to do with Bazan” has always been genuinely troubling, not so much because he’s a doubter, but because he’s such good artist. The older he gets, the more human folly he observes; the more folly, the more shiny idols there are to swing at. His work is usually pretty brutal, so poignant and unflinching that there are times it literally keeps me up at night, but it’s still worth my time, attention, and money because it remains so piercingly true.

Your Preaching is Not in Vain

Erik Raymond:

From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).

Every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace

every breath

It’s easy (and tempting at times) to look at the world and consider a “hunker down in the bunker” mentality. The world, after all,  is a pretty messed up place. Western nations seem to be racing back to the decadence and depravity of 1st century Rome. Terrorists are destroying cultural artifacts and murdering people throughout the Middle East. It’s no surprise that there are some who are fully expecting God to rain down fire any moment—and even more who are surprised that he hasn’t already!

But even as we watch the world seemingly go to hell in a hand basket (as some might flippantly put it), even as we see things get progressively worse from a certain point of view, we should remember that the very fact that we’re around at this moment is purely an act of God’s grace.

God could have destroyed the world immediately upon the first man and woman’s fall into sin. He could have ended it all right then and there, and possibly even have started afresh. Why he didn’t, we don’t know. But we do know, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “that God decided, in His own inscrutable and eternal will, not to do so.” Lloyd-Jones continued:

How can the world go on existing at all in sin? The answer is that it is kept in existence by this power that the Spirit puts into it. It is the Spirit who keeps the world going. Human life is prolonged both in general and in particular. ‘The goodness of God,’ says Paul in Romans 2:4, ‘leadeth thee to repentance.’ Peter says the same thing in his second epistle: ‘The Lord … is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9). God is patient and long-suffering; to Him a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years. He keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment. (God the Holy Spirit, 26–27)

That last line in particular is extremely important. God “keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment.” And this is why God has not yet deemed it time to pronounce his final judgment: he is pouring out his grace upon the world so that all who would turn to him, will. He is patient and long-suffering not because he needs to, but because he is good.

In other words, every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace. Thus, every one of us breathing right now—including every single one of us who acts as though God doesn’t exist or who worships some sort of false god—owes each breath to God. It is a gift of grace to all, just as it rains upon the just and unjust alike. This grace has a purpose, that it would ultimately lead you to give thanks to the one who gives it. But this grace has a limit. Someday, the time will come when his patience reaches its limit. He will pronounce his final judgment. Will we be ready?

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon’s Big Deal sale is now on, with tons of great eBooks on sale. Here are a few standouts:

Several volumes of the Holman Commentary series are also on sale for $1.99 each:

Today is also the last day to take advantage of this week’s eBook deals from Crossway:

 The Nine Types Of Christians You Meet On Facebook

Yep.

Cage-Stage Calvinism

R.C. Sproul:

Cage-stage Calvinists are identifiable by their insistence on turning every discussion into an argument for limited atonement or for making it their personal mission to ensure everyone they know hears—often quite loudly—the truths of divine election. Now, having a zeal for the truth is always commendable. But a zeal for the truth that manifests itself in obnoxiousness won’t convince anyone of the biblical truth of Reformed theology. As many of us can attest from personal experience, it will actually push them away.

A Good Mentor Points Out the Cliffs

Mike Leake:

This is why we need mentors. We need people who have felt the pull of the plummet. We need those who have tasted the lustrous fruit and found it empty—men and women who know where the edge of the cliff is to be found.

Why Can’t the Church Just Agree to Disagree on Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung:

All of these third ways regarding homosexuality end up the same way: a behavior the Bible does not accept is treated as acceptable. “Agree to disagree” sounds like a humble “meet you in the middle” com­promise, but it is a subtle way of telling conservative Christians that homosexuality is not a make-or-break issue and we are wrong to make it so. No one would think of proposing a third way if the sin were racism or human trafficking. To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy. Faithfulness to the Word of God compels us to view sexual immorality with the same seriousness. Living an ungodly life is contrary to the sound teaching that defines the Christian (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 1:16). Darkness must not be confused with light. Grace must not be confused with license. Unchecked sin must not be con­fused with the good news of justification apart from works of the law. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommuni­cation (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6:12-20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).

Justification by reading doesn’t work either

justification-books

When it comes to reading, I like to plan ahead. I usually have a goal of about 100 books that I want to read (which is goofy, I know); it’s enough that it requires significant commitment, but not so much that it’s completely outside the realm of possibility. However, as 2015 has progressed so far (granted, we’re only 2.5. months in), I’ve noticed my reading has slowed down drastically compared to years past. Where I normally I would have read somewhere around 20+ books, I’m only at—gasp—18.

I’m about two weeks behind in my Bavinck reading (and have already adjusted accordingly). I’m not quite finished a book for school that I really should have completed a few days ago (because it’s an easy read and I’ve been lazy). Thus, I’m feeling a bit dumb. Why? Because I’m “behind.”

And, yes, I realize it’s dumb to say thats behind. According to Gallup, only 28 percent of Americans read more than 11 books in a year, and 23 percent don’t read even one book. That is terrifying. And yet, for book lovers, and particularly the Christian blogging crowd, we have this weird love affair with books, as though our value is determined by how many books we’ve read or reviewed this year.

Again, I know this is dumb. And yet so many of us seem to be guilty of it.

This is a reminder for me that pride and the desire for self-justification have no preferences. Whether something profound or trivial, wherever pride can get a hold, anywhere we can start to think we’re kind of a big deal, it will. But in the end, like other silly sources of comfort and joy, it always fails. Some dude is always going to be further ahead on his reading challenge on Goodreads. We’re going to get busy. We’re going to get bored.

And that’s fine. Just don’t beat yourself up over it.

God doesn’t love us more or less based on whether or not we get through all the books in our “want to read” list. Our righteousness before God is not based on how well read we are or are not.So don’t panic! Justification by works doesn’t work, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. And justification by reading doesn’t work either.

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Resource deals for Christians

Westminster Bookstore is offering some fantastic deals on Crossway’s Gospel Transformation Bible. Get a case for 62 percent off the regular retail price, or individual copies for as low as 50 percent off.

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Acts by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • The Doctrines of Grace in John teaching series by Steven Lawson (download)

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

And one last item for Logos users: my friend Jacob’s book on Forgiveness: a Commentary on Philemon, is available for pre-order. At $9, this is a wonderful addition to your library. (Read more of my thoughts on the book here.)

The context of education

This is a really good lecture by Joe Boot.

How To Be Happy When Someone Leaves Your Church

Mark Altrogge:

Back then, if I heard a new church was starting in town I’d think, “What do we need another church for? We’re here. People should come here. We don’t need another church.” I viewed other churches as competitors. If people went to those churches, there’d be less people to come to our church. I’m so glad God rescued me from that ignorant, conceited mindset.

Shepherds’ Conference 2015

For those interested, the videos of Shepherds’ Conference are now online.

A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism

Kevin DeYoung:

It sounds like the beginning of a joke or a support group introduction, but it’s true: some of my best friends are Baptists. I speak at conferences with and to Baptists. I read books by Baptists (both the dead and the living). I love the Baptist brothers I know–near and far–who preach God’s word and minister faithfully in Christ’s church. I went to a Baptist church while in college and know that there are many folks of more credobaptist persuasion in my own church. I imagine the majority of my blog readers are Baptist. You get the picture. I have thousands of reasons to be thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe in baptizing infants.

And yet, I do. Gladly. Wholeheartedly. Because of what I see in Scripture.

Note: I still disagree, but I appreciate what DeYoung’s written here.

3 Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church

Chris Martin offers some good points worth considering here.

Fierce Convictions

fierce-convictions

For pretty much the entirety of my adult life, I’ve loved good biographies and memoirs. Whether a modern celebrity like Neal Patrick Harris, a tech guru like Steve Jobs, a war hero like Louis Zamperini, or a mathematician like John Nash, it’s fascinating to learn the stories behind well-known (and not so well known) individuals.

Before reading Fierce Convictions, I’d never actually heard of Hannah More. Unless you travel in very particular circles, it’s likely you have not either. After reading, I have only one thing to say: I really wish I’d known about her sooner. In this new biography, Karen Swallow Prior introduces readers to woman who was both an extremely gifted poet and playwright, and a person of deep conviction and compassion.

Social activism and orthodox convictions

One of the great accusations made against conservative evangelicals in our day is that we are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” Our concerns over doctrine, evidently, take precedence over any and all social action. And as is often the case, when we attempt to correct this assumption, slavery is raised. At the western form of slavery’s height in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were numerous Christians who believed it was acceptable to own slaves, including Jonathan Edwards. Though he ended his days a staunch abolitionist, John Newton continued in the slave trade for ten years after his conversion to Christ.

And yet, when we look to Hannah More and her contemporaries (including her close friend, William Wilberforce) you get a different picture. More wasn’t an abolitionist in spite of her orthodox convictions—she was because of them. Throughout her life, this was one of her great passions, and her literary gifts were a valuable resource for the cause.

More’s abolitionist efforts over the decades were said to constitute “one of the earliest propaganda campaigns for social reform in English history.” Indeed, it could be said that More was the mastermind behind some of the abolitionist movement’s most effective campaigns to sway public opinions. Imaginative literature, such as More’s antislavery writings, and other arts were essential to the abolitionist movement because, as has been noted, the slave trade was so hidden from the eyes of the people. (133–134)1

This reminds us of the power of the arts. We cannot deny the power of art, literature, and drama to transform the thinking of our culture. Indeed, we would be utter fools if we tried. Why? Because you change people’s ideas by presenting them in a different way. (And if you have any doubt about this, consider the rapid acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the west. It almost certainly couldn’t have happened without its normalization through popular media.) Abolition would likely not have succeeded without the efforts of an individual like More—someone who was able to bring the issue before the people, so it was no longer hidden from their eyes. Because once you see, you have to do something about it.

But her passion was not limited to abolition: she also desired that people know how to read. So More and her sisters started Sunday schools to teach the poor to read. And why did she do this? Not simply because she valued education (which she did), but because she believed the Scriptures were so important to the Christian life that people must be taught to read so they can read them for themselves (160).

We dare not get caught up in silly notions that orthodox Christianity doesn’t lead to social action. The truth is quite the opposite; consistent belief always leads to action. Or, to say it another way, what we do is the fruit of what we believe. And More is a helpful example in this regard.

Contemporary beliefs and biblical inconsistency

Nevertheless, even though More was greatly concerned with education, seeing learning as the next best thing to religion, she was hardly a revolutionary in her day (and certainly not in ours). Despite her strong desire to teach her nation to read, she would not teach poor children to write. This was an area in which her culture’s influence was stronger than More’s Christian convictions.

This is an important reminder for us: because we all exist within a specific cultural context, how we express our faith is going to be influenced by it. And undoubtedly, there will be some dreadful inconsistencies (as in the case of slavery in the west). Because of this, we need to approach how we express our faith and our values humbly. Perhaps we should be willing to extend grace to our brothers and sisters who wrongly advocated for the practice of slavery, or embraced classism and all that went along with it. Not excuse it, but acknowledge that just as we are troubled or appalled by these things, so too will our descendants by some of our own inconsistencies.

Conclusion

In Fierce ConvictionsKaren Swallow Prior has produced a wonderful treatment of one of the most important social reformers you’ve probably never heard of. It is superbly written, highly informative, and enjoyable to read. If you enjoy biographies, or if you’re concerned at all about the history of the abolition movement, you will be well served by this book.


Title: Fierce Convictions—The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
Author: Karen Swallow Prior
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a great big list of offerings from Zondervan (all around 99¢):

And finally, six by Wayne Grudem:

The Fairytale of Friendship

Amber Van Schooneveld:

My pastor on Sunday shared about the word nostalgia. It comes from the Greek roots of nostos, or “homecoming,” and algos, or “ache.” Many of us (all?) have an ache for our homecoming, whatever we perceive that home to be. Nostalgia connotes backward looking, but I like to think of it as longing for how we think things ought to be.

For a long time, I’ve had a deep nostalgia for friendship.

You Can’t Arrest the Gospel

David Mathis:

Christians are not a dour people, even in the darkness of a dungeon. We don’t whine and bellyache as our society lines up against us and our convictions. We plead. We grieve. But beneath it all we have untouchable strongholds of joy. Even in the worst, most inconvenient, most lonely days, we rejoice. The suffering days are good days for gospel advance. We have great cause to be optimistic about our good news, to “joyfully accept” prison and the plundering of our possessions and even our freedoms.

How to talk on the phone (without sounding like an idiot)

Complementarians and Hypocrisy

Brandon Smith:

A professor once told me, “The problem with complementarianism is not exegetical–it’s practical. We all agree that the Bible teaches it, but we disagree on what it looks like.” This is true, and the compounded problem is two-fold: 1) some complementarians worship the doctrine above the gospel itself or above the implications of the doctrine for Christian living; 2) some non-complementarians are quick to equate it with patriarchy, domestic abuse, etc., leaving some disillusioned about what it actually means to be a complementarian.

Kanye West: Artist, Villain, Human

Cray Allred:

No one has to pay attention to Kanye West. Really, it’s fine to ignore what the producer/rapper/fashion designer (yes, he’s legitimately that) is up to. And lots of people are uninterested in Kanye– if you choose to believe their social media pronouncements. There’s definitely room for playfully dismissing a pop culture lightning rod, such as feeling overly inundated with the blue-black/white-gold dress, showing disinterest in the presidential race, or even light-heartedly boasting in your ignorance of the latest Kanye-related awards show controversy. But whenever people dismiss Mr. West, they typically express their disdain for the man, announcing that he’s in their mental waste bin because he’s their idea of trash. He’s an “idiot”, “spoiled”, a “punk that does not deserve any attention at all”, or worse. People don’t know that they believe in a caricature of Kanye West.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Every story casts his shadow

Love this new promo for the Gospel Project:

How Deep the Root of Racism?

Thabiti Anyabwile:

In the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten a good glimpse into the root system of racism. We thought we could stick the racists into the country’s past, next to a post marked “obsolete,” and gladly forget about it. But the roots of racism run deep. That’s why an entire police department and many others appear shot through with indications of that insidious root system. That’s why we’re now inundated with reports of municipal governments and court systems complying with police to raise revenue on the backs of African Americans. And that’s why we’re watching youtube videos of students on college campuses—both secular and Christian—engaging in acts that are at least stupid and insensitive and in some cases plainly racist.

A Good [Wo]man is Easy to Find

Lore Ferguson:

In my Christian life I have rarely been without a multitude of counselors to mentor and lend me wisdom. I know that is not the portion of every person and many men and women long for godly, older people to invest in and guide them. I do not take these gifts lightly. Here are few thoughts about mentoring that I’ve picked up along the way.

9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church

Kevin DeYoung:

In one sense the nine marks of an unhealthy church could simply be the opposite of all that makes for a healthy church, so that unhealthy churches ignore membership and discipline and expository preaching and all the rest. But the signs of church sickness are not always so obvious. It’s possible for your church to teach and understand all the right things and still be a terribly unhealthy place. No doubt, there are dozens of indicators that a church has become dysfunctional and diseased. But let’s limit ourselves to nine.

Making it Clearer

Jeremy Walker:

Let us not swallow the illusion of a scholarly objectivity when it comes to the truth of God. It is not gracious to call compromise “ecumenism.” It is cruel. It is misguided. It is not gracious to give error a free platform. It is dangerous. It is mistaken. Error needs to be exposed and denied. Truth needs to be explained and applied.

When should we use harsh language?

harsh-language

Yesterday, I shared a bit about how we can be more thoughtful literary evangelists. Toward the end, I made the comment that fiery rhetoric and angry polemics don’t win people, but genuine love and compassion just might. This is something I’ve increasingly been convicted about in recent years, particularly as I think back on ways I’ve spoken in the past that have been utterly foolish.

But this doesn’t mean there aren’t times to use harsh language. In fact, there are times when the only proper response is to be extremely harsh. (Granted these are rare, but they still exist.) So… how do we know when we should and when we shouldn’t? Here are three principles that I believe help us determine whether or not it is appropriate to use harsh language:

1. Is it about my sins and failings? This is something we see Paul in particular model well, as he directs many of his harshest comments toward his own attempts to attain righteousness apart from Christ, which he describes with a Greek word that could be translated as harshly as a word that will make some readers unsubscribe1 (Philippians 3:8). He describes himself as the least of the apostles, the least of all the saints, and even the chief of sinners. He doesn’t hesitate to look at himself very seriously, and doesn’t feel the need to make a compliment sandwich.

Likewise, it is important for us, even as we remind ourselves of God’s grace, that we not sugarcoat our own personal sin. Call it what it is. Don’t mess around with it. Don’t treat it as a pet. Name it and commit to destroying it.

2. Am I addressing sin within the body of believers? This, again, is a time when harsh language is appropriate, but we are wise to temper with grace. Paul’s epistles model this brilliantly, as do the writings of the prophets, particularly Jeremiah. In 1-2 Corinthians, for example, we see Paul chastise the Corinthian church for allowing heinous sin of all sorts, including participating in false worship and perverse sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; 10:14-22). But he also continually points them back to the source of their only hope, which is Christ.

This again, is a helpful reminder for us, whether we are involved in one-to-one discipleship, small groups, or pastoral ministry in some capacity. Though, again, we should be reluctant to do so, we should be very willing to call attention to habitual sin (whether personal or corporate) that is damaging to the entire group.

3. Am I confronting a false teacher who is leading Christians astray? Again, Paul is helpful here. Consider the way he writes to the Galatians about the errors they’ve let seep into the church. He makes it absolutely clear that any teaching that would distort the gospel is the most vile and damnable evil, for example, and that if they’re so intent on practicing the Mosaic Law as a means of attaining righteousness then they should emasculate themselves (Galatians 1:8-9; 5:12). Jesus likewise warns that anyone who would seek to lead his disciples astray would be better off tying a millstone to his neck and jump to his death than face what Jesus has waiting for him (Matthew 18:6). That’s some pretty serious business, isn’t it? (And don’t even get me going on his letters to the churches in Revelation…)

Here is where I think it’s fair to be the least apologetic about using our harshest language. There should be no quarter for heretical teaching whatsoever. If something is wrong, call it out as wrong, whether someone is saying every day is a Friday, your salvation depends on you, or God’s going to make it rain sweet moolah all over your house if you just send in a fat cheque “sow a seed”:

colbert-make-it-rain

*ahem*

But one should be careful in considering how to handle the teacher him- or herself. Without giving room for their teaching, we should remember that ad hominems have no place in the Christian life. Instead, we might be wiser to take the same stance Jude advocates when he reminds us that the archangel Michael didn’t directly rebuke Satan, but instead said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

4. Practice restraint. Jesus, Paul, the rest of the Apostles, the prophets… They all constantly confront the errors found among God’s people and those who think they’re God’s people. And in these instances, there are no caveats, no hesitations, no nothing. But rarely do they direct harsh language toward the lost. To these, they come with kindness, gentleness, and compassion, even as they challenge their way of thinking and their way of believing. So here’s my point: Harsh language, in general, is something that should be used rarely and with great reluctance. As a general rule, if you find yourself eager to do it, you probably shouldn’t, and it’s better to err on the side of turning aside wrath with a gentle word (Proverbs 15:1).