The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

the-adam-quest

Some time ago, an excellent article appeared online reminding us that “pixels are people.” Behind every podcast, blog, and book we consume, there is a living, breathing human being made in the image and likeness of God.

Including those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps nowhere is this point easier to forget than in the origins debate. For some, this is a clear dividing line—if you subscribe to evolution in any form, you’re selling out the gospel. Others would rather stick their fingers in their ears and run away than engage the conversation. The debate gets too heated too quickly, and, when we’re not careful, people get burned.

This is what happened to Tim Stafford’s son, Silas. “Silas got burned by the fight over Genesis,” he writes in his latest book, The Adam Quest. Silas loved geology and chose to major in it in college, but his love for this scientific field began to cause friction with friends who insisted the earth is young.

If Silas wanted to be a serious Christian, he had to get out of geology. Whatever geologists believed about the age of the earth was completely wrong. . . . They could not let the subject alone. I imagine that they felt they were courageous Christians, speaking up for scriptural truth and refusing to let a friend go down the path of ungodliness. In practice, though, they drove Silas away from faith. (2)

Silas is by no means alone; many—on both side of the debate—have felt alienated from Christian fellowship over this matter. Their love of science and their faith seem at odds, and they’re unsure how to reconcile the two. But Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, wants to show them that science and sincere faith aren’t diametrically opposed. And he does so by humanizing the debate—introducing readers to 11 scientists, each of whom professes faith in Christ, and each of whom holds differing views on origins.

Novel approach

This approach—which is the most compelling reason to read The Adam Quest—will surely frustrate many of its readers, even as it elates others. As long as a position remains an abstract concept, it’s easy to ignore the “human” factor. That is, we can quickly forget that our rhetoric in debating various views really does affect people. Like Silas’s friends, we don’t notice the effect of our words. We’re too busy trying to win an argument to realize we’re losing the person.

But humanizing doesn’t just remind us of the people affected; it rounds out the perspectives on each view. Although Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, and Georgia Purdom espouse young earth creationism, by reading each’s story you begin to see their nuances to the position. You realize it’s built on something more than a literalistic approach to Scripture. These are not foolish, naïve men and women. They are extremely thoughtful, winsome, intelligent, and most importantly, humble. Nowhere does this characteristic shine more clearly than in Stafford’s profile of Wood: [Read more...]

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s still remember the intensity of Zack’s confronting Jessie about her popping caffeine pills,1 or the time he got drunk at a party and totalled his dad’s car. The “very special episode” of our favorite sitcoms always served to drive home a moral lesson that would have made most later Star Trek writers cringe.

Strangely, this is what we seem to do with the parables of Jesus:

  • We look at the parable of the good Samaritan and we see a moral impetus to love our neighbors…
  • We read the parable of the foolish builder and are told to always be sure to “count the cost” of our choices…
  • We hear the parable of the wise and foolish stewards and are reminded to use our gifts wisely…

…but if this is all we’re getting out of Jesus’ parables, we may need to look a little harder.

“When these oft-repeated stories from Jesus strike us as sweet, heartwarming, or inspiring in the sentimental sense rather than the Spiritual sense, we can be sure we’ve misread them,” Jared Wilson writes in his latest, The Storytelling God:

A generation of churchgoers grew up hearing the parables taught more along the lines of moralistic fables—illustrations of how to do the right things God would have us do. And they are that. But they are more than that. Some of these narratives are only a few lines long, but every parable, long or short, is fathoms deep and designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship. When we treat them as “inspiring tales,” we make superficially insipid what ought to be Spiritually incisive.

Wilson’s point throughout this book is simple: the parables are not the “very special episodes” of Jesus’ teaching ministry—instead, they are tales designed see the glory of Jesus.

Defining parables beyond morality

Our difficulty, though, begins as one of definitions—what is a parable, exactly? In a nutshell, Wilson suggests that rather than simply seeing as short stories or sketches, we should understand Jesus’ parables as “wisdom scenes,” illustrations running alongside their points and meant to “reveal them in rather immediate ways.”

Viewing the parables in this way allows us to embrace the multi-faceted approach Jesus often took in telling them, while at the same time forcing us to let go of our tendency to moralize them (or even relegate them to mere illustrations). Ultimately, this view drives home the purpose of the parables, which is to give us glimpses into what the kingdom of God (and God’s reign) looks like. And what that looks like is, for many, something wholly offensive.

Coming to the end of ourselves in Jesus’ parables

The most offensive aspect of Jesus’ parables is that, again and again, they point to Himself as the point of the story. He doesn’t simply tell the story of the Good Samaritan for us to “go and do likewise” (although this is certainly a necessary application), but to reveal to us how He is the true Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of His enemies at the cost of His own life. He tells us the parable of the prodigal son so that we might recognize the Father in the father, whose extravagant (or seemingly reckless) generosity in restoring His sons cannot be matched. He tells us of the man who sold all he had to purchase a field where he’d found a treasure because He is the treasure worth sacrificing all for.

In fact, as Wilson convincingly argues, Jesus Himself can be seen as a living parable—

He is a living parable because he is the inscrutable, eternal, ineffable God become a man, dwelling among men, tempted like men, sacrificed for men. As the parables contain the Spiritual power of awakening or deadening within stories of the human experience, Christ is the Spirit-conceived power of God undergoing the human experience.

Read that again. It makes sense, doesn’t it? At a minimum, it certainly fits with the tenor of Scripture, feeling right at home with the constant call to turn away from ourselves. It attacks our tendency (or desire) to view these stories as being about us and what we do, reorienting us to their true purpose—not to provide a moral imperative (although one can easily see those in the parables), but to point us to the Storyteller.

“Blessed are those who hear him and believe,” Wilson writes. “Condemned are those who are offended by him and disbelieve.”

No more “very special episodes” needed

If The Storytelling God succeeds at anything, it’s putting to death the parables as “very special episodes” mindset. And this is exactly what we all need to get out of our heads. We can do more all we want, trying to earn our way into the Father’s good books—but it’s not going to earn us the brownie points we’re hoping to get. What Jesus offers us in the parables is so much more valuable than “do more betterer”—He offers us the better He’s done for us in His life, death and resurrection.

He is the treasure we seek. He is the pearl of great price. He is the Shepherd who searches for His sheep and brings them home. Why would we want to settle for anything else?


Title: The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile

captivated_anyabwileAbout a year ago, I bought a new laptop, and the first time I turned it on it was magical. Well, maybe not, but it was pretty slick. It went super-fast, did everything I needed it to do… Then, a few months later, my new work computer arrived. And I started feeling a little bit of regret over my personal one. The “shininess” of my computer had worn off and it seemed kind of, well, average. It wasn’t nearly as rad in my eyes as it had been when I opened the box for the first time.

I wonder if some of us see the Easter story that way. We’ve heard so many sermons on it—or preached so many—that it seems like we’re going through the motions. We say, “yay, Jesus is alive,” but really we’re thinking “alright, and now to run some errands!” This should never be. Woe to us who can look upon the death and resurrection of Jesus and say, “meh.”

Thabiti Anyabwile is a man who has not lost his sense of wonder at the cross. He knows that beholding the glory of Jesus is something none of us can do without. This is the heart behind his latest book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

In its five chapters (which originated as sermons preached at First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman) Anyabwile invites us to behold the wonder of the cross as he examines several key passages of Scripture:

  • Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Matthew 26:42);
  • Jesus’ cry from the cross (Matthew 27:42);
  • Paul’s rejoicing over death’s impotence in the face of Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:50-58);
  • The angels’ matter-of-fact questioning of the disciples at the empty tomb (Luke 24:5); and
  • Cleopas’ gentle rebuke to his new travelling companion along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:18)

“Is there no other way?”

Almost all of us at some point have asked the question, “is there no other way?” When we look at the cross, and all the events that lead up to it, we can’t help but wonder if God could have done things differently. If you’ve ever asked the question, fear not: you’re in good company. Jesus asked the same one as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.… if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, 42)

Here is the Lord Jesus—the One who was with God and was God from eternity past—asking if He had to go to the cross. Jesus wanted the cup to pass. But more importantly, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. So, could it pass from Him? No. And this is such good news, Anyabwile reminds us. In fact, we should be glad the Father said no. He writes:

Because the Father answered no, sinners have a merciful and faithful High Priest perfectly intimate with all their weaknesses. We have One we can approach for grace. Because the Father answered no, we have One who stands between us in all our ungodliness and God in all His holiness to reconcile us and reunite us as friends rather than rebels. Because the Father answered no, those who have faith in Christ need never fear the Father’s wrath again; His anger has been fully satisfied in the Son’s atonement. Because the Father said no, we stand assured that our acceptance with God happened on completely legitimate grounds—no parlor tricks, no loopholes, no legal fiction, no injustice to threaten or question the exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. Because the Father said no, we will forever enjoy and share the glory of Father and Son in the unending, timeless age to come.

I am so glad the Father said no.

Insightful, gospel-saturated meditations

Do you see the good news here? Anyabwile doesn’t resort to cheap parlor tricks or emotional platitudes to whoop readers up. Instead, he presents the gospel in all its glory. Over and over again, on page after page, the gospel shines through. And as you read the book, you can’t help but be caught up by its sermonic rhythm (appropriate, since it began as sermons). This makes for a captivating and fast-paced read—to some degree, almost a too fast one!

Indeed, that might be my only complaint about this book. Because it’s a series of gospel meditations, readers should not expect an in-depth treatise on any of the texts examined, which would work against Anyabwile’s purposes anyway. But this is not to say that deeper examination and application isn’t encouraged—it’s just left in your hands, thanks to the book’s reflection questions (which you really need to use—they add so much to the reading experience!).

Because we’re constantly inundated with “new,” we risk becoming a people who fail to take the time to enjoy what really matters. The gospel should never be something we move past, or shrug our shoulders at. This just won’t do. Whether you’ve struggled with familiarity or you’re consistently amazed at the cross, Captivated is a book that will be a great blessing to you.


Title: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Author: Thabiti Anyabwile
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

the-gospel-at-work

You know what I’m really thankful for? That there are people starting to write on the relationship between the gospel and work. This is a subject in which western Christians desperately need to grow in our understanding. Many of us, me included, really struggle to do our work in a Christ exalting fashion. Many of us grumble and complain, and generally struggle to be satisfied in what we’re doing or even see the value in our jobs.

Unless it’s just me who’s guilty of some of these?

Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert tackle this head-on in their new book, The Gospel at Work. Their goal in the book is simple: to help us see how working for Jesus gives meaning and purpose to all of our work, to recognize that “when glorifying Jesus is our primary motivation, our work — regardless of what that work is in its particulars — becomes an act of worship.”1

Idols and idleness

Traeger and Gilbert approach the subject from a different angle than, say, Tim Keller does in his excellent Every Good Endeavor (reviewed here). While one could argue that this is a matter of semantics, the authors are less concerned about delivering a fleshed-out theology of work, as opposed to digging into the practical issues related to how we look at work. In doing so, they spend the bulk of their time examining the twin errors of idolatry and idleness in work.

Signs work is your idol

“Our jobs become idols when we overidentify with them,” they write. “Our work becomes the primary consumer of our time, our attention, and our passions, as well as the primary means for measuring our happiness and our dissatisfaction in life.”2 The key word here is “primary.”

When we give our all to the company at the expense of our families, when our minds are consumed by thoughts of work consistently, when we’re always looking at how we can position ourselves, or even when we see our work as being all about making a difference in the world… This is dangerous stuff, friends.

When work is “primary,” everything else is secondary, and we’ll always be dissatisfied. There’s always a next step, always another rung on the ladder, always a new challenge to overcome… but it will never be enough. [Read more...]

A brief look at the 9Marks series

There are very few organizations I get excited about, but one I absolutely love is 9Marks. I’ve been amazed at the quality of thinking on essential matters of the faith such as church discipline and discipleship, expositional preaching, and, of course, the gospel itself. The example set by many of the leaders involved with this ministry is tremendous. Frankly, even if you don’t agree with all their emphases, you can’t deny they genuinely love the local church and want to see churches become healthier.

This is especially clear when you look at the books published under the 9Marks banner, and this is no less true of the books found in Logos Bible Software’s 9Marks Series collection. Containing eleven volumes published by Crossway, this series covers a wide variety of subjects, from the relationship between God’s love and church discipline to the importance of biblical theology in the life of the local church.

9marks-series

Included in the series are:

For the sake of brevity, here are a couple of key takeaways to keep in mind:

First, each book published is intended to address one aspect of the nine marks of a healthy church.1 These marks are foundational to the organization’s vision of healthy churches but because they’re so rich, they require some serious investigation. You can’t just say “we believe a healthy church is one with biblical church leadership” without explaining what that means and what it looks like, practically.

Second, although many of these volumes are directed toward church leaders, all are accessible to the average church member. I found this to be especially true of two volumes. The first is Mike McKinley’s Church Planting Is for Wimps (which I reviewed here), a volume describing his experience replanting Guildford Baptist Church (now Sterling Park Baptist Church) and the challenges planters face:

…planting and revitalizing take different kinds of courage, and God appoints a particular task for every man. Go where God guides you. As Karen and I thought about our future, we wanted to take the path of revitalizing an existing church…I believe revitalizing may be more difficult at the outset, but I also believe that it offers all the rewards of planting—a new gospel witness—and more: it removes a bad witness in the neighborhood, it encourages the saints in the dead church, and it puts their material resources to work for the kingdom. (Church Planting Is for Wimps, 36-37)

The second is Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, particularly as Dever breaks down the problem we have sharing our faith and makes it a little less scary by admitting his own failures in that area:

Sometimes I’m a reluctant evangelist. In fact, not only am I sometimes a reluctant evangelist, sometimes I’m no evangelist at all. There have been times of wrestling: “Should I talk to him?” Normally a very forward person, even by American standards, I can get quiet, respectful of the other people’s space. Maybe I’m sitting next to someone on an airplane (in which case I’ve already left that person little space!); maybe it’s someone talking to me about some other matter. It may be a family member I’ve known for years, or a person I’ve never met before; but, whoever it is, the person becomes for me, at that moment, a witness-stopping, excuse-inspiring spiritual challenge.

If there is a time in the future when God reviews all of our missed evangelistic opportunities, I fear that I could cause more than a minor delay in eternity.  (The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 15)

The eleven volumes in the 9Marks Series are ones every church leader—and every church member—should have in their libraries. They’re the kind of books that don’t leave you crushed under the weight of trying to “do more,” but constantly point you back to Christ, the One from whom all our purpose and power in ministry flows. I know I’m glad to have them in mine. I trust the same will be true for you as well.

Invest by Sutton Turner

Invest-Book_v2

In ministry, it’s easy to think of certain gifts as being more valuable than others. We look at one man’s ability to handle the Scriptures and applaud. We look at another’s ability to manage an organization and… well, often times we’re not quite sure what to do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate those abilities. It’s just we have a hard time thinking of them as having a purpose in ministry. And as a result, some Christians who want to use their gifts to bless their churches are left in a lurch.

Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission by Sutton Turner is written for people like this. People with serious business skills and a heart for the church, but struggle to see how their gifts can be used to benefit the body. Turner uses his experience as the current executive pastor of Mars Hill Church to help business-minded believers see how they can work for the glory of God, perhaps by considering taking on the role of an executive pastor.

A good reminder of the need for business savvy

The best thing about Invest is the refreshing reminder of the need for business savvy in ministry. “Ministry” should not be code for sloppy planning and procedures. But this is pretty common, sadly. Many who gravitate toward ministry roles tend to be people who want to spiritually guide people, but aren’t particularly savvy with administration or business practices. It my never occur to them to think about things like licensing for the songs we sing on Sundays, or the tax regulations that need to be followed in order to maintain charitable status.

So churches and parachurch ministries alike can greatly benefit from believers who are skilled and passionate about such things. People who care about what the organizational structure looks like and whether or not it actually works in practice, and who care about staff culture and dynamics. We need to be concerned about these things, and, thankfully, God has gifted certain individuals to be deeply passionate about them.

While I appreciate the general premise of the book, there’s a great deal about it I’m concerned about:

[Read more...]

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

evangelism sovereignty packer

The mysterious “they” say the greatest fear of many people—even more than death!—is public speaking. Standing before an audience, whether it’s a group of three or three hundred, is absolutely terrifying for some. But you know something? I think there’s something else that’s far more terrifying, especially for Christians:

Evangelism.

So many of us seem to be terrified of the idea of sharing our faith—we don’t know how to do it, we don’t want to do it “wrong.” But for some of us, our questions about evangelism aren’t simply of the “how-to” variety—they’re all about the “why”:

If God is truly sovereign over all of creation, why do we need to evangelize at all?

Does active evangelism suggest God isn’t really as sovereign as we think?

All of us at one time or another ask these questions, even if it’s only to ourselves. Many of us struggle to see how an all-sovereign God could require human beings to be involved in the work of salvation. At our worst, some fall prey to the notion that we have no need to evangelize at all, while others find themselves without any confidence that God will indeed save some.

J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a sharp corrective to both of these errors. God’s sovereignty is not a barrier to evangelism, Packer argues. Instead, “faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks” (10). [Read more...]

Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller

romans-for-you-Keller

Romans: it’s one of the most intimidating, confusing, and powerful books in the entirety of Scripture. In its 16 chapters, the apostle Paul casts a sweeping vision God’s redemptive purposes—”how God in the gospel makes sinners righteous, but also how this most precious gift of God is enjoyed in our lives,” writes Tim Keller in Romans 1-7 For You, “how it produces deep and massive changes in our behavior and even in our character.”

In his typical irenic fashion, Keller unpacks the message of the first seven chapters of Romans, helping us see the beauty of the gospel and our desperate need for it.

The gospel is for everyone

One of the most challenging issues we face reading Romans—and indeed, all of Scripture—is Paul’s emphatic decree that all of humanity is lost in when confronted by the justice of God.

That we are all, “without excuse,” with no hope to be found in moralism or pleas of ignorance. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Paul wrote in Romans 3:22-23. But he doesn’t leave us without hope. For while all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God, all who are saved “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Moralism doesn’t justify, nor does ignorance. Instead, it is only God’s grace, the gift of redemption found in Jesus. And this is such good news for all of us:

God does not set his justice aside; he turns it onto himself. The cross does not represent a compromise between God’s wrath and his love; it does not satisfy each halfway. Rather, it satisfies each fully and in the very same action. On the cross, the wrath and love of God were both vindicated, both demonstrated, and both expressed perfectly. They both shine out, and are utterly fulfilled. The cross is a demonstration both of God’s justice, and of his justifying love (Romans 3:25-26).

Who is the man in Romans 7—believer or unbeliever?

Although all of Keller’s examination of Romans 1-7 is sound and edifying, perhaps no portion was more helpful to me personally than reading his view of the “wretched man” of Romans 7:7-25. Paul’s exposition of the effects of sin, the desire to do what is right, but being confounded by sin, has left many scratching their heads. Was he talking about Paul the unbeliever or Paul the believer?

Keller believes—and I would be inclined to agree—that Paul was writing of his then-present experience as a Christian, and the conflicting desires we all wrestle with. He writes:

We have, in some sense, “multiple selves.” Sometimes we want to be this; sometimes we want to be that. Morally, most people feel “torn” between diverse selves as well. Freud went so far as to talk about an inner “libido” (filled with primal desires) and a “superego” (the conscience filled with social and familial standards). The great question we all face is: I have divergent desires, different “selves.” Which is my true self? What do I most want?

This is helpful for so many reasons (and not simply because of confirmation bias). The point of Paul’s writing about these truths, that he continued to struggle with sin—and if anything, as he grew older, became increasingly aware of his own sinfulness—is to push us toward deeper dependence upon the Lord Jesus.

We are not justified and then left to our own devices to grow in holiness. If, to borrow an analogy, the gospel merely reset our righteousness back to zero, instead of giving us Christ’s, we’d still be damned. We do not do the things we want to do, and we do the things we don’t want to do. Paul’s point is simple, Keller says: “The unbeliever cannot keep the law (v 7-13); but neither can the believer!”

When we read God’s law properly, and when we look at our own lives honestly, we can only conclude that we are “wretched.” Without accepting this, we will never grasp the glory of the gospel. We will never truly appreciate the gospel of received righteousness. Only if our hearts truly cry at our wretchedness can we then know the hope and liberation of looking away from ourselves and to what God has done. Who will rescue Paul, and us? “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25).

For the good of your soul

Like the other volumes in the For You series, Romans 1-7 For You is not an exhaustive study of Paul’s epistle, nor is it intended to be. As I described the recently released Judges For You, this is a devotional commentary. Use it like one.

Allow Keller’s insights in Romans 1-7 For You to inform your study. Glean helpful insights and illustrations to use in sermons or small group studies. But even as you do, read it with the good of your soul in mind, recognizing afresh all Christ has done on your behalf, and grasping anew the glory of the gospel in Romans.


Title: Romans 1-7 For You
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson

whats-your-worldview-anderson

When I was a boy, I loved “choose-your-own-adventure” novels. There was one I especially loved in my school library, a Star Trek one if I recall correctly. Depending on how you answered a question, Captain Kirk could be romancing a lady with green-skin and low standards, or a Klingon warship could de-cloak and blow up the Enterprise.

In hindsight, the book was pretty cheesy, but there was something really exciting about discovering the outcome of a particular choice. What I chose drastically impacted the story.

Who’d have thought this would make a great template for a book on worldviews? Inspired by “choose-your-own-adventure” novels, James Anderson set out to write a book allowing readers to see how their answers reveal what they believe about life, the universe, and everything. And this is exactly what you’ll find in What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions.

By up to 21 questions—dealing with freedom, truth and knowledge, unity, matter and mind, and pretty much everything in between—Anderson takes readers on a journey to discover their worldview. Depending on how you answer, you may discover you’re a Deist, Christian, Relativist, Skeptic or any one of a number of alternatives.

This is extremely helpful for readers to see, as I’ve no doubt there are many who don’t give any thought to the idea of worldview at all. After all, “worldviews are like belly buttons,” he writes. “Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often. Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one” (12).

He continues:

A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted: you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. Much the same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.

If our worldview is this important, then we ought to be more aware of it. We should wrestle with the beliefs undergirding all our other thoughts and beliefs because it truly changes everything. Take the issue of abortion, for example. What we believe about its validity  as a practice is necessarily tied up in what we believe about the nature of humanity, when life begins, its value… The same can be said of same-sex marriage, poverty alleviation or any number of hot-button issues.

What we believe drastically affects our response, so we should seek to be more aware of the framework undergirding our thinking.

But readers should also be quick to understand this is not an in-depth analysis of any particular worldview. What Anderson offers readers is a basic sketch covering the major points of each of worldview mentioned (21 in all). Although there’s part of me that would love to have seen more, Anderson’s approach is a welcome one since it’s clearly meant as a launch pad for further study, rather than a one-and-done experience.

When I read through What’s Your Worldview?, I immediately began thinking of the different applications for it. I believe there are two distinct uses for it. First, the book would be an excellent tool to use with newer believers or those who are looking for a basic primer on what a worldview is, and what some of the major ones out there look like.

Second, and most importantly, this seems to be an ideal book with which to engage non-believers to open the door to the gospel. The style of the book itself is extremely non-threatening, eschewing editorializing and the temptation to persuade to a specific way of thinking (at least as much as any of us are capable).

In fact, if there’s anything he’s attempting to persuade readers of at all, it’s this: worldviews really, really matter. “Your basic view of the world shapes how you feel about the world and how you engage with the world” (102).  What you believe drastically impacts what you do. What’s Your Worldview? is a wonderful tool to help us understand this truth, and I trust it will be a blessing to all who engage with it.


Title: What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions
Author: James N. Anderson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at Westminster Book | Amazon

Revisiting The Screwtape Letters

The_Screwtape_Letters

When I first came to faith, one of the first authors I read was C.S. Lewis. I’d loved Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, and had read some of the other books in the series, so when I found out he was a Christian, I was pretty darned excited.

The thing I noticed about Lewis’ theological work in contrast to his fiction, is it tends to be slow-burn material. The kind of stuff that, if you rush through it, you’ll miss something very important.

In other words, re-reading is necessary.

So, when I began my little re-reading project about three weeks ago, I knew one of the books on my list would have to be by Lewis. In this case, The Screwtape Letters

The premise, for those unfamiliar, of the book is simple: it’s made up of the “found” correspondence between a senior devil (Screwtape) and a junior (Wormwood), documenting the younger’s mission to prevent a man known only as “the patient” from being won over to the side of their Enemy—Jesus.

The book’s premise itself is fascinating. To negatively communicate Truth—after all, it is written from the perspective of demons—while at the same time exposing falsehood is no easy task. From a purely creative perspective, this is insanely difficult to do well. In the hands of a lesser writer, The Screwtape Letters might well have achieved the same overbearing, heavy-handed moralism we find in later Star Trek series (with fewer cosmic reset buttons employed).

Lewis is no pulp writer, and for that we must be grateful. [Read more...]

A look at The Gospel Transformation Bible

gospel-transformation-bible

The Bible market is a peculiar one, and not just because there’s such a thing as a Bible market. There are hundreds of different variations available today:

Metal-ensconced Bibles. Kids’ Bibles. Women’s Bibles. Bibles showing you how to be a prosperity preacher. Interlinear Bibles. Klingon Bibles… I’m pretty sure there may even be a scratch-n-sniff version coming out soon (if not, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, you’re welcome)!

We ESV fans have plenty to choose from, too. The ESV Study Bible is certainly the best known by far, but there are a few others. And now they’ve added a new (and much-hyped) version to the family: the Gospel Transformation Bible. In this study Bible, readers are shown how the gospel permeates the entire text of Scripture, beginning in the first verse of Genesis and culminating in Revelation with explanatory notes written by the likes of Scotty Smith (John), Jared Wilson (Jude), Justin Holcomb (Acts), Ray Ortlund (Proverbs), Jim Hamilton (Hosea), and dozens more.

There’s a lot that I could say about this, but let’s get down to the most important, and most obvious, question: What makes the Gospel Transformation Bible different from other study Bibles?

The answer really comes down to purpose. This is a study Bible intended to go after the hearts of readers, to aid in their worship of the Lord. While the notes included definitely explain the text, they’re less technical than those of the ESV Study Bible and geared toward application in light of the gospel. The goal of the authors is not to simply give readers more information, but to encourage heart transformation.

One of my favorite sections comes from Holcomb’s notes on Acts 7:1-73, Stephen’s speech before he is stoned to death. Commenting on this passage, he writes: [Read more...]

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax

Gospel-Centered-Teaching

From my earliest days as a Christian, bad Bible teaching frustrated me, but it was all around me. A steady diet of “how-to” sermons and “what does this mean to me” Bible studies left me feeling twitchy. I wanted to “go deeper”—even though I had no idea what that meant.

Initially, I thought it was all about technique. So I started a Bible study where we more or less just focused on the Bible. We covered the basic questions pretty well: “What does the text say,” and “what does it mean?” But what I missed pretty consistently was “How am I to live in light of this?” The people in our group wound up getting their heads filled with knowledge, but not necessarily having any sort of heart transformation come as a result.

I continued to stumble along through our Bible study, slowly figuring out that going “deep” isn’t just about good information, nor is it about good application. It’s about helping people see Jesus clearly in all of Scripture, and how we might become more like him as a result. But you know what would have helped me get there a lot faster? Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax.

In this book, Trevin cuts to the heart of the “going deeper” dilemma by providing a succinct analysis of the problem at hand (our lack of depth and failure to see how everything centers on Jesus in the Scriptures), a powerful exposition of the gospel itself, followed by three practical chapters on what it looks like to show Christ in the Scriptures, from exposition to application to mission. [Read more...]

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

jesus-religion-bethke

Every so often, I read a book that leaves me feeling conflicted. Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke is one of those. Bethke, who shot into the spotlight two years ago when his video, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus,” exploded online. Within three days it was seen six million times. Within two weeks, that number had jumped to 16 million. Today it stands at 26 million views, with well over 60,000 comments.

It seems that Bethke struck a nerve, doesn’t it? The fervor surrounding the video—and the discussion and dissection across the evangelical landscape—led to the inevitable: this book. In Jesus > Religion, Bethke digs into the heart of his poem, the truth that Jesus is (as the subtitle says) “so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough.”

A millennial writing to millennials

When I say I’m conflicted about Jesus > Religion, it’s not because there’s not a good deal to like about it. Bethke captures well the very real problem of the gospel-less gospel, the moralistic therapeutic deism that permeates so much of evangelicalism, that assumes that faith is really all about being a better person, and God exists to bless me (but he certainly isn’t my master).

It doesn’t work. We all know it, and Bethke is the latest among many voices to say it:

The reason we aren’t fulfilled or satisfied by our version is Christianity is because it isn’t Christianity.

We have religion, but we don’t have Jesus
We have a good role model, but we don’t have God.
We have theological debates, but we don’t have the living Word.
We have good works, but we don’t have the source of good works.
We have love, but not the God who is love. (12)

Where Bethke is different from many of his contemporaries, though, is he isn’t ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than falling in with the disgruntled children of mid-80s evangelicalism, he advocates pursuing a deeper faith with the atonement of Jesus its the center. As he shares this vision, he couples it with his own story of faith—growing up poor, raised by a single mom, sleeping on a mattress in the hallway when his sister moved in, discovers his love for baseball, eventually girls and booze… and then he met Jesus for real, and it was like a light was switched on.

This is what more young people, the second- and third-generation Christians need to hear. That the gospel is bigger than their parents’ or grandparents’ examples (good or bad). That you shouldn’t judge Jesus based on the grumpy and hypocritical folks claiming his name. This is a good message, a needed message, and one that it’s helpful for millennials to hear from one of their peers.

And yet…

So why do I say I feel conflicted about Jesus > Religion? Well, aside from the forced distinction between “religion” and “Jesus” that the Bible doesn’t feel is necessary to make (something others have already addressed), here’s the thing: I’m not sure this was the right time for Bethke to write this book.

That might sound strange, but hear me out. In Jesus > Religion, Bethke and publisher Thomas Nelson have shrewdly capitalized on the cultural zeitgest, and are sharing a good message. But reading the book, it doesn’t feel like Bethke “owns” that message. He doesn’t really have a voice of his own. At least, not yet.

Tim Challies once described Bethke as a popularizer of ideas; I think this is a very astute observation. When you read this book, you can clearly see his influences. Keller, Driscoll and so many others scream through Bethke’s prose. This is a common problem among those of us who are younger or less experienced. There’s a natural tendency to ape our influences, intentionally or otherwise. Think about the young preacher who listens to a lot of sermons by John Piper. What’s he going to do in his first several sermons? He’s going to try to preach like Piper does. At least, so long as he perseveres, until he finds his own voice.

Reading Jesus > Religion is like that. It reads like a book by a young man only beginning to figure out who he is in relationship to the Lord and others. Only beginning to figure out what his voice really is. What really leaves me conflicted is that I know how many mistakes I made trying to figure out what my voice is (which I’m only just starting to find, really), and I can’t help but wonder what this book would have looked like had it been written by a Jefferson Bethke with a few more years under his belt.


Title: Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough
Author: Jefferson Bethke
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)

A look at the Spurgeon Commentary on Galatians

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One thing you cannot deny about Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century English Baptist preacher, is he was prolific. He wrote dozens of books, preached thousands of sermons, taught hundreds of students… but one thing he never did write: a commentary on Galatians. So if you wanted to find some thoughts of Spurgeon to share on a particular passage from this wonderful New Testament epistle, you’d have to scour through an intimidating pile of sermons and books.

So Logos Bible Software decided to do something about it, compiling material from Spurgeon’s preaching and writing into a handy commentary, Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. Some time ago, the gang at Logos sent me a copy and asked me to take a look. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. It’s helpfully organized. Organization is crucial to any book, but especially so in a commentary. You need to know Elliot Ritzema, the editor of this volume, has done an exceptional job of compiling the very best of Spurgeon’s teaching on Galatians, and organizing it by exposition, illustration and application, with the source material clearly listed at the end of each section.

This structure is very helpful for me. I can target my searching based on my needs. So if I want to check my interpretation against Spurgeon’s, it’s easy enough to do. Ditto if I’m just looking for an illustration point for a book or a sermon, or some guidance on how to apply the text.

2. It’s extremely quotable. This is a surprise to exactly no one who is even remotely familiar with Spurgeon’s work. Reading his work is always a delight, and this commentary is no exception. Here’s a favorite illustration that stuck with me on the need to continually preach the gospel:

Remember John Bunyan when he refused to give up preaching. They put him in prison and said to him, “Mr. Bunyan, you can come out of prison whenever you will promise to cease preaching the gospel.” He said, “If you let me out of prison today, I will preach again tomorrow, by the grace of God.” “Well,” they said, “then you must go back to prison.” He answered, “I will go back and stay there if need be till the moss grows on my eyelids, but I will never deny my Master.” This was the stuff of which the godly were made then. May the Lord make many of us to be like them—men and women who cannot and will not do that which is evil but will, in the name of God, stand to the right and the true, come what may!

And just for fun, here’s another example of some terrific application of Galatians 1:6-10:

If the life of the man should be blameless as the life of Christ, yet if he preaches to you other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, take no heed of him. He wears but the sheep’s clothing and is a wolf after all. Some will plead, “But such and such a man is so eloquent.” Ah! Brothers, may the day never come when your faith shall stand in the words of men. What is a ready orator, after all, that he should convince your hearts? Are there not ready orators caught any day for everything? Men speak, speak fluently, and speak well in the cause of evil, and there are some that can speak much more fluently and more eloquently for evil than any of our poor tongues are ever likely to do for the right. But words, words, words, flowers of rhetoric, oratory—are these the things that saved you? Are you so foolish that having begun in the Spirit by being convinced of your sins, having begun by being led simply to Christ and putting your trust in Him, are you now to be led astray by these poetic utterances and flowery periods of men? God forbid! Let nothing of this kind beguile you.

There are more examples than this, but I think you get the point.

3. It’s stood the test of time. The thing with older material (even in new packaging), is when it’s more than a century old, you know it’s going to be worth reading (even if you disagree). There’s a richness to Spurgeon’s writing that is sorely lacking from many of today’s teachers and preachers (even then best of them), so reading through this commentary has been a treat.

All this to say, I would, without hesitation, recommend Spurgeon Commentary: Galatians. This is a very, very good resource, and one that will surely be a terrific addition to any Logos user’s library.