Titus For You

titus-for-you

I realize it’s probably a bad idea to have favorites when it comes to the Bible, but I kinda do. If I had to make a top five list for books of the Bible, Titus would be on it. For years, Titus has been one of my “go-to” reads—when I don’t know what to read, I turn there. And I always find something in its three chapters. In it, Paul is direct, challenging, encouraging… basically, everything you would expect from a message from an older man to a (presumably somewhat) younger one.

But up until recently one of the things I had not added to my library was any sort of devotional material or commentaries of significance about this epistle. So, when I learned about the latest edition of The Good Book Company’s God’s Word For You series, Titus For You by Tim Chester, I was pretty excited. Even when I on occasion disagree with some of his emphases, I’ve always counted on Chester to offer faithful interpretations and thoughtful applications of the Scriptures.

Showing the truth is true

In this regard, Titus For You is no different. Like the previous volumes in this devotional commentary series, Titus For You offers readers a basic understanding of the text with lots of space for personal reflection and application. In this regard, again, Chester’s exposition is (as expected) clear and careful. In his explanatory notes, however, Chester intentionally focuses on an important aspect of Titus that’s easy to overlook—that “godliness shows that the truth is true.”

“This truth that accords with godliness would be in contrast to other teachings that self-identify as ‘truths’, but do not produce godly lives,” he writes. “In this sense godliness authenticates the truth; godliness shows that the truth is true. Or, better still, it shows that the truth is living because of the fruit it produces.”

This is important because it’s a necessary filter through which you need to see the rest of the book. Godliness authenticates truth—how we live affirms or denies what we profess to believe—and how we live is inevitably replicated in others. This is why character matters so much in the qualifications of elders, and why Paul encourages older godly men and women to teach and train the younger. We replicate what we’re like in others, for good or ill.

And this is why limiting the demands of godliness is so dangerous. When we reduce godliness “from becoming Christlike to becoming a little less like our culture in a few ways,” we set up a false witness. We become known as people who don’t do certain things, as opposed to people who love Jesus and serve others wholeheartedly. “Christian maturity is exchanged for not sleeping around, not getting drunk, and turning up to Bible study,” which is just kind of sad.

We are all called to commend the gospel to one another so that we live gospel-shaped lives that are fit for purpose—the purpose of doing good. And we will only do this as we learn to live out the gospel, enjoying God’s good gifts in a way that brings glory to him and good to us. Legalistic abstention is no more the gospel of grace than licentious abuse is; and running to the first extreme in order to escape the other is to swap one error for another.

The fuel and fire of obedience

For me, the standout material in Titus For You, really comes toward the end of the book, as Chester reminds readers that salvation—and the godly living that is a result of it—is truly all of grace. And there is nothing better than grace:

“There is nothing more that he could have given. He has given us himself,” Chester writes. “There is nothing more that he could have done. He has done everything.… There is nothing more that he could have promised.… He saved us to become heirs, looking forward with certain hope to an eternity spent enjoying everything that Christ deserves.”

Faithful encouragement doesn’t need to be groundbreaking

While Titus For You doesn’t break new ground, it would make a welcome addition to any reader’s devotional literature. This book, in a nutshell, is chock-full of simple, faithful encouragement, the sort that more us desperately need. That might not be terribly groundbreaking, but it certainly doesn’t go out of style.


Title: Titus For You
Author: Tim Chester
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

everPresent

everPresent

There’s a new trend in the gospel-centered publishing world: recovering a sense of locality. The time and place in which we live and minister—the physical location God has placed us—this really, really matters. Or, at least it should. Sometimes we struggle to see why we live where we do, what God’s purposes might be in that when we’d much rather live in some far off “exotic” land. And so pastors are rising to the challenge, reminding us how the gospel affects our sense of purpose in the place we are and how we might benefit the world around us by being present.

Jeremy Writebol is the latest voice in the choir with his new book from Gospel-Centered Discipleship, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. In this concise book, Writebol asks readers to reprioritize their sense of presence in light of God’s omnipresence—and because there is nowhere He is not, we should see everywhere as an opportunity for worship and missional living:

How would it change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place? (25)

Being present in light of God’s omnipresence

The first half of everPresent contains its strongest material. Writebol does a terrific job connecting our disconnection with “place” and the gospel itself, pointing readers back to the Fall. We feel dislocated because our souls have been dislocated from the place where they were intended to reside: in proximity to God. And our dislocation is only solved by God relocating us in Christ.

Every religion in the world is constructing systems and paradigms to get us home. The reality, however, is that none of them work. None of them can adequately do the job of restoring the dislocating reality of our sin.… How do we get home? We get home by way of Jesus. He has done everything to bring his dislocated brothers and sisters back to the Father. (48)

A bit repetitive

As much as I appreciated the first half of the book—and again, it is really, really good—the second half is where it falls apart for me. This isn’t because what Writebol says is bad or wrong; it’s simply that there’s nothing I’ve not read in a Tim Keller book or any of the dozens of authors advocating a “missional” lifestyle. As a result, the second half comes across a bit repetitive, if only because it seems like that area has been more or less exhausted.

A strong portrayal of one side of being present, but more balance is needed

Now, that said, I do have one particular issue I feel is important to bring up: marriage and singleness. Much of what Writebol shares in chapter five, which deals with the subject of cultivating a households and families, is very good. In fact, there’s little I would disagree with. Here’s an example:

The goal of conceiving and cultivating children isn’t just to have well-adjusted adults who won’t make a larger mess when they enter the world. The goal of the gospel- shaped home is the sending of our children to live in their homes and bear witness to the relocating power of Jesus as King over all kings. This is often the reason the Scriptures describe the church as a household (Eph. 2:19). In the same way the church is called to make disciples, develop, and then deploy them, the home is a first place for the making of disciples, developing, and then deploying them. The missionary strategy of the church is first played out in the home itself. (79)

This is an example of a passage I wouldn’t have much to disagree with. As a parent, I strongly resonate with what Writebol advocates here. I want my home to have this kind of culture, where our children are discipled and deployed to reach others. And honestly, I can’t think of a Christian parent who would’t want that.

The concern for me arises not so much in the content as the seeming elevation of marriage as the ideal:

The home is the place where Kingdom citizens fulfill the mandate to cultivate a new generation of loyal followers of the King. By implication this means that, as God allows, every Christian should endeavor to get married and have children. Making a home for the Kingdom means, at the most basic level, fulfilling the mandate to make babies. This does not mean that every Christian will be married and have children, but again, as God allows, this should be the default intention of our home lives. (75)

While, again, I agree to a point—every married Christian should endeavor, as God allows, to have children, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the assertion that every Christian should endeavor to get married (even with the necessary caveat of “as God allows” in place). The Bible presents what seems to be an elevated view of singleness for the purpose of ministry. Single believers have a flexibility and freedom for the pursuit of mission that those of us who are married and have children simply don’t.

For example: as a parent and provider for four other people, I have to filter all the opportunities I receive through their needs: does this take away from my ability to emotionally and spiritually invest in my family, does it allow me to provide for their physical needs, and so on. But a single believer, ultimately, only has one serious question to answer: is this the place where I am best able to further the work of the gospel? There is much freedom there, something we would do well to remember in any discussion of locality and being present.

Now, in reading the book, it’s clear that Writebol is not intending to marginalize single Christians as second-class believers. It’s simply that he winds up showing only one side of a powerful witness from believers who are invested in the places they live. I would have loved to have seen the other side given as much attention for a more balanced perspective.

Overall, despite what I perceive as a few missteps and the repetitive feel of the latter half, there is much to be appreciated about everPresent. As an introduction to the conversation and a discussion starter, it is very good and well worth reading. Just don’t let it be the only book you read on the subject.


Title: everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present
Author: Jeremy Writebol
Publisher: Gospel-Centered Discipleship (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

delighting-law

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me'” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Is it My Fault?

is-it-my-fault-holcombAs we sat in the school auditorium where our church meets, I could feel my wife seething beside me. Our pastor had come to a crucial text in one of the gospels—Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As we listened to our pastor strongly (and faithfully) teach on what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, Emily became increasingly agitated. Not because of anything that was said, but what hadn’t been: what about women who are being abused?

To many, the Bible’s teaching on divorce seems too simplistic to deal with these issues. Bad counsel based on incomplete teaching leaves many women (and men) feeling trapped, with nowhere to turn when their spouses begin to spiritually, psychologically, physically or sexually abuse them. When the abuse somehow becomes their fault in the counselling session, or they’re too ashamed to even say anything at all—or don’t even know if it “counts.”

Whose fault is it?

Emily’s anger was birthed from experiences of these feelings in both her childhood and adolescent years, and her empathy for several friends who have experienced abuse in their marriages.1 If we’re to offer any sort of hope and encouragement to those suffering from domestic violence, we need to know what the Bible has to say to them.

This is why books like Is It My Fault? are so necessary. From its opening pages, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb offer a compassionate and biblical look at the problem of domestic violence, beginning with five words victims need to hear: It is never your fault.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You did not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.” (21)

These truths should be obvious, but for someone in an abusive relationship, they’re anything but. And truthfully, I’m not sure how obvious they are to some of us who aren’t, either. For example, we tend to look at marital problems and try to figure out how divide responsibility for those problems equally between spouses. And while this is certainly true in the average problems that come with marriage and relationships, we need to be careful to not apply this too broadly. Sometimes, it really is the problem just one person—and in the case of domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, it is always the abuser’s fault.

Although a bit of a loose example, consider the recent shootings in Santa Barbara, California, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger stabbed three people to death, shot three more, and left 13 more injured, before killing himself. Why did he do it? Because “girls have never been attracted to me.” What surprised me with this wasn’t Rodger’s placing the blame for his yet-to-be-committed crimes on women, but because some online commenters seemed to agree, saying that if he wasn’t a virgin, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Yeah. Someone actually said that.

What is domestic violence?

Keeping this in mind is especially important when you consider how tricky it can be to develop a concrete definition of domestic violence. You need a broad enough definition that captures the full spectrum of abuse, yet doesn’t leave every reader paranoid that they’re either being abused or an abuser themselves. How is it defined in Is It My Fault?

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner. (57)

Despite being a little clinical, and maybe a bit lawyer-y, this definition is very strong. I believe the key word here is “pattern.” An abuser isn’t necessarily someone who says something stupid and hurtful once (again, if that were the case, we would all be abusers). An abuser is someone who makes an intentional behavior of it. This doesn’t mean that sinful and hurtful words don’t need to be dealt with (they do!); it just means we ought not label the one-time offender—depending on the nature of their offense—as being guilty of domestic violence. (There’s no such thing as being just a little stabby.)

What will God do about it?

The first several chapters of the book offer extremely necessary definitions and categories that readers may lack—beyond a definition of domestic violence, they may not know what the cycle of abuse looks like, or what types of personas exist among abusers, all of which the Holcombs provide. But the strength of the book really comes through when the authors turn to the Scriptures to show readers what God says about this issue. The picture shown here is of a God who “hates abuse, viewing it as sinful and unacceptable” (107), and “delights in rescuing the oppressed (2 Sam. 22:49)” (108).

This isn’t always easy for us to believe, though. After all, in our day-to-day circumstances—especially those in abusive situations—struggle to see God at work. They cry out asking for the Lord to deliver them, just as David did many times in the psalms. But it’s the tension we all face. Suffering and pain are real, but deliverance is real, too, even if it doesn’t come when or how we might wish it did. Despite how it may seem at times, “God is not standing idly by to watch evil run its course he will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation” (113).

What I appreciate throughout the authors’ reflections on several psalms is how they hold this tension. They don’t offer a pat “God’s in control,” although that would be easy to do. They dig into the reality of the pain, the difficulty of the circumstances. But they don’t leave us there. Instead, they redirect despair to hope, showing how we can be confident that God’s deliverance will come.

This, arguably, may be the most important practical takeaway for readers (aside from the very helpful action plan in the appendices). When the darkness won’t seem to lift2, we need the hope that God is not ignoring our circumstances. That God is at work, even when we can’t see it. That His promises are still true—and because His promises are true, hope cannot be extinguished.

What will we do about it?

Is It My Fault? will provoke some strong feelings in its readers—anger that abuse happens at all, perhaps temptations toward seeking vengeance, and a longing for Jesus’ return and the coming of the new creation. What I hope it does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.


Title: Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence
Authors: Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
Publisher: Moody (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Know the Heretics

Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb

“Heretic” is one of those words we struggle to use well. Often times, you see it used in one of two ways—either liberally or ironically. One equates all disagreement with apostasy, the other pretends disagreement doesn’t matter at all.

Both rob the word of its power.

Justin Holcomb understands the seriousness of heresy and what it means to call someone a heretic—it is “a weighty charge that [is] not made lightly, nor [is] it used whenever there [is] theological inaccuracy or impression” (14).

So how do we learn to use this word wisely? By knowing what heresy really is. And so, we have Holcomb’s newly released Know the Heretics. This short book introduces readers to several heresies that have threatened the church throughout history, and how the controversies surrounding each—whether it be the requirement to obey the Law, the existence of original sin, or the Trinity itself—helped shape the church as it is today.

Learning from the past to understand the present

It’s tempting to pretend that ancient heresies don’t matter anymore because, well, they’re ancient. But this tendency is our chronological snobbery at work. We like to think we’re beyond the problems of the ancient world; that because we are so much more advanced, we couldn’t possibly fall prey to the same errors our spiritual forbearers did.

You know what they say about those who ignore the past, right?

That’s why we need a book like this one. “This book is a case study of fourteen major events when the church made the right call—not for political or status reasons… but because orthodox teaching preserved Jesus’ message in the best sense, and the new teaching distorted it,” Holcomb writes (12).

These case studies confront readers with our core problem: apathy. Take Sabellianism—a form of Modalism—for example. The reason this error gained ground so easily wasn’t because it was intellectually sound or vigorously defended. It gained ground simply because we have a tendency to be apathetic. The idea of the Trinity as best we understand it from Scripture—that there is one God who exists in three persons (Father, Son, Spirit)—is one of the chief areas in which our apathy reigns.

It’s not that we don’t care, though. It’s just that the idea of the Trinity is too hard for us to comprehend fully. “Compared with the idea that God is merely one, the orthodox answer might seem overly complex and philosophical, or an unnecessary later addition to the authentic Christian faith” (85).

So we wind up not thinking about it too much, and use really bad analogies to describe it—often ones that themselves find their roots in Sabellianism. But, as Holcomb notes, “Trinitarian theology…takes seriously the idea that God has revealed himself in Scripture and wants to be known, and that he has revealed himself in a certain way” (85). And so, the Bible forces us to answer the question of whether or not God is one or three.

Just as practically, having a sense of the Trinity better helps us respond to the claims of other religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who actually view biblical Christianity as Sabellian:

Since many of the errors that these groups ascribe to mainstream Christianity are actually Sabellian in nature, it is useful to know the middle road that orthodox doctrine strikes between unity and distinction. Being able to articulate concisely what the Trinity is, how it makes the best sense of Scripture and how it affects our salvation and the worship of God can be valuable in witnessing to others as well as developing our own relationship with God. (86)

The Trinity also helps us see the power of the gospel at work—in fact, it’s safe to argue that without the Trinity, there is no atonement. Only if Christ is God as well as man could He pay for the sins of the world. Without the three persons of the Godhead agreeing from before the foundations of the world to redeem and rescue sinners, we’re left with a deficient view of the gospel that sees it as some sort of back-up plan.

These are the truths we ignore at our peril.

Understanding God’s purposes in heresy

Reading Know the Heretics is equally disheartening and encouraging. It’s disheartening simply because it’s easy to see the heresies of the past still making the rounds in our day, in one form or another, as (mostly) sincere people ask sincere questions, but accept wrong answers. These lies continue to be propagated, and men and women continue to be lead astray, thinking they know God when they are in fact rejecting Him.

But it’s also encouraging because, in learning more about the heretics of the past, readers gain greater insights into God’s purposes in allowing these aberrant teachings to exist—to strengthen the Church’s understanding of the truth about—and love for—God. “In order to love God, one must know who God is… right belief about God—orthodoxy—matters quite a bit” (156).

  • Without the Marcionites, we may never have formally developed the canon of Scripture.
  • Without the many heresies surrounding the nature of God and Christ, we might never have had the doctrine of the Trinity clarified.
  • Without the Pelagian error, we might not have as significant an understanding of the grace of God in saving sinners.

In that sense—and in that sense alone—we should be thankful the events and teachings Holcomb describes, not because falsehood is praiseworthy, but because the truth about God is.

Particularly valuable for those taking their first steps into studying church history, Know the Heretics offers powerful insights into the past and practical relevance for today. Read it carefully, learn from the past, and be encouraged for the future.


Title: Know the Heretics
Author: Justin Holcomb
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak

preparing-teens-college-chediak

My niece is heading off to college this fall. This is weird for me… partly because it reminds me how far away I am from my own teens and college years. But when I think of my niece, I don’t think of an almost 18-year-old getting ready to take a first step into adulthood. I sometimes still think of her as a six-year-old wanting to play dress-up and paint on the carpet with nail polish.

But it also makes me realize that I really don’t have that long before one of my kids is ready to go to college. My oldest daughter is 7, and she’ll be 17 before we know it. So how do we start preparing ourselves—and eventually her—for that big milestone?

That’s much of the heart behind Alex Chediak’s new book, Preparing Your Teens for College. Written as a series of 11 conversations to have with your teen over the course of several months (or years), this book addresses everything from encouraging your child to own their faith to how to save for tuition.

A few thoughts on reading this book:

1. You don’t actually have to read this book in order. Although it can be beneficial to read through it from start to finish, it’s not necessary. You might want to start off simply reading the most pressing topic for you at the moment.

The section I most deeply resonated with during my read through (which was one I also turned to almost immediately upon opening the book) was the conversation on financial responsibility. I went to college almost entirely on student loans. I didn’t learn how to manage money during high school, so I had virtually no savings. I came out of school with a fairly sizeable debt load, but no skills on how to manage money. So that debt grew. And grew. And grew… It took a long time for me to learn how to manage money responsibly, and this is something I want to pass on to my kids, particularly the most foundational element—who our money actually belongs to:

Your teens don’t have much money yet. Now is the time for them to start thinking about money in a way that recognizes it all belongs to God, not us, and that we’re to use it to advance his purposes. Only from this firm foundation can they learn to properly manage it. (202)

This mindset is absolutely what I want for my kids. I want them to understand that how we use money is ultimately about furthering God’s purposes in the world, not satisfying our every passing fancy. Simply, because God desires for us to be generous and wise with the money He’s provided, we need to pray earnestly and think carefully about how we give, spend and save. This is

2. You don’t need to have a teen to read this book. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t have teens yet. But I have one child who is fast becoming one. And in some ways, I feel like I’m the exact target audience for this book because what Chediak repeatedly encourages us to remember is that none of these conversations are one-and-done. They should happen over a long period of time, laying a foundation and building based on your child’s age and maturity.

For example, I’m not going to have a conversation with my oldest daughter about sex right now. She isn’t really ready for an in-depth discussion on the topic. But I will (and have) talk to her about the purpose of boyfriends and girlfriends, and how the purpose is to get to know the person you’re going to marry, which is why we need to think carefully about who we spend time with.

This principle of building on a foundation is important for every topic discussed, from encouraging godly friendships and maintaining sexual purity, to developing godly character and teens internalizing their faith.

3. You’re going to be challenged to look at your parenting. This is especially true as you consider how to help your child discover his or her gifts and abilities or whether or not your child should go to college or university at all. Many of us have bought into the notion that wanting more for our kids means making sure they’re better educated or in a more distinguished field… But sometimes this is simply our own idolatry at work. We want to live out our unfulfilled dreams through our kids, instead of nurturing the unique person God has made them to be—and let them own that:

Perhaps you’ve always thought they’d make great doctors, or you have your sights set on them taking over the family business or going into ministry. Look for fruit in their lives and hearts to see if any of that makes sense. Whatever happens, remember that they are the ones who have to live wit the consequences. So give them space to own these decisions. (286)

4. It’s very “American.” This is not going to be an issue for the majority of the readers of the book, since they’re going to be Americans. But as a Canadian, there are a few things that don’t translate. These are mostly related to some of the practical tips on saving, terms related to degrees, and the like. This is a very minor quibble since, again, the author is an American writing to a primarily American audience. But it’s a good reminder for us non-Americans to focus more on the principles provided than the particulars.

Preparing Your Teens for College is one of those books that you don’t know you need to read until you read it. It’s packed with practical wisdom, sound theology, necessary challenges and much-needed encouragement for parents. Whether college is weeks or years away, you will benefit from reading this book and starting the conversations that will help your child thrive in college and beyond.


Title: Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More
Author: Alex Chediak
Publisher: Tyndale House (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

Evangelism by J Mack Stiles

Our church has always been very clear on stressing the need for evangelism. Whenever our local missions pastor preaches, it almost always turns into a sermon on evangelism (especially when he’s trying not to). We have a local missions team that goes out every week to open-air preach and interact with individuals on the streets of our city, sharing the gospel at every opportunity.

But then, about a year ago, we did something really bold: we took all of our small groups through a personal evangelism workshop. And the response?

*crickets•

I was a small group leader at the time, taking my group through the course. It was really challenging material, but presented in a way that took a lot of the fear out of evangelism. But despite its initial “failure,” the impetus behind offering this training is a good one—a desire to create a healthy culture of evangelism, one where it’s seen as a normal part of the Christian life.

I have a hunch Mack Stiles would stand up and cheer if he knew this was something our church attempted (and continues to nurture). Why? Because that’s exactly what his latest book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, is all about.

Evangelism: it’s not about the results

If there’s one thing Stiles wants you to understand, it’s this: evangelism is not about programs or events. It’s not a technique or a specific kind of response. Many of our problems creating a healthy culture of evangelism stem from a lack of a biblical foundation. We count declarations of faith, hands raised, cards put in a bag, people walking down aisles… but do these things really mean anything? Maybe, but maybe not.

Regardless, if we’re going to see a culture of evangelism take root, “we must be very careful to conform our evangelistic practices to the Bible, because this honors God,” he writes (24).

And so, he begins by defining his terms—specifically, what evangelism means.

“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade,” Stiles writes. “This definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal” (26-27).

…the definition does not require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is.

Those four elements in Stiles’ definition are key: teach, gospel, aim, persuade. Without those, you don’t really have evangelism. Our goal in evangelism is to communicate the gospel with the purpose of persuading our hearers that it is true. That doesn’t mean browbeating or extorting a profession of faith out of them. It just means speaking with conviction about the truth of the gospel.

This, I think, is one of the places we all get tripped up. We tend to speak almost apologetically about the gospel, or we wring our hands, break out into a sweat, and worry about saying the wrong thing. But this is also where it’s helpful to remember something crucial: “conversion is required, but conversion is a function of genuine faith, which is given by the Spirit” (37). In other words, you’re not responsible for the result. You’re only called to be faithful and speak.

What a culture of evangelism looks like

So what does a healthy culture of evangelism look like? Stiles is pretty honest that it’s impossible to instruct people on everything that goes into it, but he can describe the yearnings that surround it. He breaks these down into 11 points:

  1. A culture motivated by love for Jesus and His gospel
  2. A culture that is confident in the gospel
  3. A culture that understands the danger of entertainment
  4. A culture that sees people clearly
  5. A culture that pulls together as one
  6. A culture in which people teach one another
  7. A culture that models evangelism
  8. A culture in which people who are sharing their faith are celebrated
  9. A culture that knows how to affirm and celebrate new life
  10. A culture doing ministry that feels risky and is dangerous
  11. A culture that understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism

There’s so much that could be said about each of these, but notice how they all work together. You can’t have a culture of evangelism without any of these points. If the people attending week in and week out aren’t passionate about sharing their faith, then no amount of encouragement from the pulpit is going to change that. It’s something that builds from within the body, and something that needs to be celebrated.

Simple, but not.

Create and cultivate the culture you want to see

Creating a culture of evangelism isn’t a one-and-done thing. You can’t preach a series on evangelism or offer an occasional course, pat yourself on the back and say, “nailed it.” You have to be intentional about creating and cultivating the culture you want to see, but there’s only so much control any church leader really has.

Why? Because “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”

In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church.… The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism. (65-66)

Do you feel the tension there? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to force the change from the top or programmatize evangelism. But it doesn’t work that way. A church only becomes more evangelistic as its members become more evangelistic. And this is big, scary stuff. Church leaders can and should model it, but the members have to own it.

Thankfully, it’s a vision that I believe every faithful Christian can own. We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism. It’s what I want to see in my own life and in the lives of all the members of my church. How about you?


Title: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus
Author: J. Mack Stiles
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson

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Oftentimes Christians are accused of being too confident in their beliefs, or using “faith” as a way to shut down questions or concerns from those exploring Christianity.

There’s no room for questioning. No room doubt.

Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson get this. They don’t want to scare off doubters or make people shy away from questions. But they do want them to be willing to do something with their doubts—find answers. Enter: Raised?: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection.

In its four easy-to-digest chapters, Dodson and Watson offer readers an engaging look at what it means for Jesus to have been raised from the dead and why it matters, beginning by challenging the foundation of modern day skepticism.

Possibility before plausibility

For many who doubt the resurrection of Jesus, the authors argue, the problem begins with their foundation: do we have a category for the supernatural? By and large, we in the West have discounted such things as impossible. So when we hear stories of miraculous events, we automatically assume there has to be a natural explanation for them. The flood account in Genesis, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth… you name it, there’s a naturalistic alternative.

But those who are truly looking for answers need to ask, “Is this position truly open-minded?”

It certainly seems biased and closed off to possibilities we may not have personally experienced. Shouldn’t we at least be open to the possibility of Jesus rising from the dead? In fact, many are willing to believe in the supernatural teachings of Buddha, Vishnu, and Eckhart Tolle, but what about Jesus? If we are to consider fairly the plausibility of the resurrection—whether it happened or not we must begin with its possibility. (19)

This is so important for those investigating the Christian faith to understand—if you’ve already discounted the miraculous, you’re going to be profoundly disappointed with Christianity, because it hinges on a miracle.

 

At the risk of belaboring the point (which itself is the foundation of the first chapter of Raised?, not the entirety of the book), we need to have to get this straight: If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christians are to be pitied above all others because we’ve put our hope in something untrue (1 Cor. 15:19). And worse, if what we’ve put our hope in is a lie or a delusion, then we’re doing terrible evil to others by encouraging them to believe it, too.

But if we’re right, and the resurrection is true, it changes everything.

What the resurrection really means

The remaining three chapters of the book offer a look into the implications of the resurrection and how we move from doubt to belief:

  • Chapter two is an overview of the big story of the Bible using the “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation” paradigm (which is essential in a book geared toward non-Christians).
  • Chapter three examines what faith really is.
  • Chapter four looks at what happens when we trust in Jesus.

Each of these chapters is filled with solid, helpful material. Probably my favorite element of the three comes from the third chapter, where the authors press in a bit more on the nature of doubt. Doubt, they argue, isn’t the lack of belief—it’s just the belief in something else:

In his observations of pluralistic societies, Lesslie Newbigin noted that “doubt is not an autonomous activity.” What he means is that doubt is not self-sufficient—it cannot exist on its own. Doubt does not live in a vacuum. It is propped up by faith in something else. To doubt one thing is to have faith in another.… if you put your faith in one company or spouse, you are—at the same time—expressing doubt in other companies or potential spouses. You are doubtful they are the best possible fit, uncertain they are the one for you. Meanwhile, you have faith in the other company or spouse. To put it another way, if you doubt one thing, it’s because you believe in another. (61-62)

Can you tell discussion of doubt made an impression on me? The reason for that is simple: this discussion really is the strongest element of Raised.

There are a lot of excellent books dealing with the evidence side of the argument, but few address the epistemological side of it. How we know something and what we can know to be true is critical for us to deal with when faced with a generation that’s uncertain of what can be known at all. But Raised? offers a thoughtful and welcome apologetic for a newer generation of doubters. If you’re looking for a helpful outreach resource for your church or a book to give to an unbelieving neighbor, you’d do well with this one.


Title: Raised?: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection
Authors: Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

deyoung-taking-God-at-his-word

The Bible is the most important—and most controversial—books ever written. Its message of world destroyed by human sinfulness and redeemed only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an affront to our modern sensibilities.

So it’s no wonder this book is constantly under attack, is it? For centuries, skeptics of all stripes have done their level best to debunk the Bible’s reliability. And Christian scholars in kind have written many wonderful treatises expressing why the Bible can be trusted.

The problem is, most of those treatises aren’t written to the people who need them: average people coming to church on Sunday morning. For the average Christian, there aren’t a lot of good, engaging books on the reliability of Scripture. So, Kevin DeYoung decided to write one.

His latest, Taking God At His Word, offers readers an easily digestible look at what the Scriptures say about themselves and why we, as Christians, can and should trust them—and more than that, why we should love the Bible.

Why do we need to love the Bible?

Taking God At His Word begins with its conclusion: God’s people are not to simply assent to God’s Word, they are to love it. Our approach to the Bible is not to be one of dreary subservience, but of delighted submission, something illustrated in Psalm 119’s exuberant language. And this is DeYoung’s entire purpose in writing the book.

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts.… I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (16)

Note how careful DeYoung is to ground this delight: we’re not to come to the Bible with a subjective emotionalism; our feelings don’t guide how we are to view the Bible. Instead, because the Bible is true, clear, essential and authoritative we can feel an immense amount of joy and gladness!

But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, many of us don’t live there, or if we do, it’s not all the time. But getting there is possible—not easy, but possible. It means we have to understand what the Bible says about itself.

What does the Bible say about itself?

DeYoung’s knack for taking complex ideas and making them accessible is on full display as he unpacks what the Bible says about itself. In doing so, he outlines four essential truths about Scripture:

  1. God’s Word is enough. The Bible is sufficient for all our needs and to grow us into maturity as believers.
  2. God’s Word is clear. The Bible’s message can be accurately (if not completely) understood by ordinary people using ordinary means.
  3. God’s Word is final. The Bible is our ultimate authority over all matters, and we are to sit under its rule.
  4. God’s Word is necessary. We need the Bible in order to know God and to know the way of salvation.

Entire books can easily be written on each of these four subjects (and have), but DeYoung gives readers just enough to be grounded and certain in how the Scriptures speak to each of these truths. Of them all, the one we see near constant attack on is the Bible’s authority—and often this challenge is made by undermining its clarity.

Take homosexuality and same-sex marriage as an example. A number of well meaning professing believers want to believe homosexual practice is not in conflict with the Christian faith, and that this is not an issue clearly spoken of in Scripture. A few of the common arguments:

  • Maybe Paul wasn’t referring to monogamous homosexual relationships in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6; maybe he was only speaking of nonconsensual acts.
  • Jesus didn’t really speak on the issue, so how can we know what Jesus would say?
  • Perhaps there is a trajectory that is set in motion through the gospel that would mean that even though Paul said it wasn’t acceptable, it is now.

Notice the common traits: each argument attempts to obscure the clarity of Scripture, either by questioning the author’s clear intent or arguing from silence. And as soon as we lose the clarity of Scripture, we lose its authority. It’s the old serpent’s trick once again: “Did God really say…?”

God’s word is final. God’s word is understandable. God’s word is necessary. God’s word is enough. In every age, Christians will do battle wherever these attributes of Scripture are threatened and assaulted. But more importantly, on every day we will have to fight the fight of faith to really believe everything we know the Bible says about itself and, even more challenging, to live accordingly. (93)

Can we take God at His Word?

Getting to the place of delight DeYoung advocates for is hard, but it’s necessary. We will continually be challenged from without and within on whether or not this book we claim is the Word of God is what it says it is. But we have good reason for confidence—not from external evidence (although we do), but from the Bible itself. Taking God At His Word does a wonderful job of reminding readers that this book is what it says it is: the knowable, necessary, authoritative and sufficient Word of God—the only place where we may learn of the One who has come to rescue us from our sin, and of the hope He offers for tomorrow.

Friends, if this is really true, how can you not delight in it?

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.


Title: Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The first time I heard Justin Wise speak on social media I was impressed.

It was the first session—actually the pre-conference workshop—at a conference for Christian creatives in Canada. Wise was speaking on how churches need to embrace their websites as their new front-door. And as he laid everything out, with tons of practical examples, I had two reactions:

  1. People really need to listen to this guy
  2. This is going to be really hard for some folks to swallow

Many of the people occupying the leadership roles in churches, non-profits, and for-profit entities are digital immigrants. They remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, and Facebook. Many of them use social media, but struggle to understand how to do it. Others don’t bother with it at all, seeing it as a distraction, a fad, or a time-suck that gets in the way of getting real work/ministry done.

But, Wise argues, digital communication is not a good thing for a church to engage in—it’s necessary if they’re actually serious about reaching people with the gospel. And that’s really the heart behind his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, where Wise unpacks the “why” of social media, with a bit of how sprinkled in along the way.

Mission and ministry in social media

If you could boil the why down to one thing, it’s really this: Churches need to be engaging social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever the next thing is that’s going to take the world by storm—not because it’s hip and trendy, but because it’s about mission and ministry. Where people are, Christians must be as well. But the difference, and maybe the most challenging aspect of it, is that mission and ministry in social media requires two-way communication.

“For many, many years, churches communicated in the same fashion you and I drive down a one-way street: traffic only moved one way,” Wise explains. “Churches broadcasted a message and never anticipated a moment where the congregation would start speaking back.”

But social media has changed this dynamic.…For the church, and virtually every other sector of society, the shift to social permanently turned the tables in the public’s favor. Social media gave people a voice, and they’re not going to give it up easily. (30)

This is the challenge many of us have when engaging social media. Because the expectation is two-way communication, you actually have to engage people. You have to talk to them when they talk back and share content that’s not all about you. And this is also where so many organizations—including some of the world’s biggest brands—fall on their faces. So if you’ve just realized that you’re doing the digital equivalent of shouting into an empty room, take heart: you’re not alone and you can change this.

But in order to do it, you have to know the values of a social media culture, what it likes and dislikes. What it thinks, how it feels… This is, essentially, the “nasty” business of contextualization, becoming all things to all people so that some might be saved. And even as we seek to understand—or humbly admit we can’t make the leap ourselves and bring in people to help us—we find more opportunities to push back.

Challenging a mediated world

Even as “online” and “offline” become increasingly blurred, we’re going to find ourselves having to confront the tendency to hide in the digital realm with more force. Humans were not meant to hide behind screens and smartphones (and yes, I understand the irony of me even saying this in a digital medium). Real relationships can form and be nurtured online, but the best kinds of relationships form in the real life.

I suppose the inherent danger of online communities is when there is a mistaken belief they can serve as a one-for-one replacement for in-person communities. They can’t (and shouldn’t). Offline trumps online.

Having said that, online community is definitely preferable to no community whatsoever. Lives have been changed, saved, and redeemed all because gospel-centered online communities exist. (155)

You can see the tension here, can’t you? I think Wise is certainly correct that “digital community is better than no community” to some degree, but the fact that this also points us to a legitimate issue in our context: that even as we develop a sound theology of digital communication, we must develop a robust eccesiology to compliment it. This is the difficulty many of us have with idea of online services—while streaming the service can certainly beneficial, how do we challenge people to engage in reality?

Years ago, I was part of an active hobby-focused online community. People would talk about the primary subject (comics), but would also delve into all kinds of other topics, including sharing deeply personal details about their lives (not in a TMI kind of way. Usually). Folks would meet at conventions for drinks. Users who lived in the same cities would get together every once in a while for a meal if the suggestion was tabled… But in the end, when someone stopped visiting the site, it was like they never existed. In an instant, those relationships were severed. The connections weren’t really all that deep.

This is the challenge we face when we deal with the implications of online ministry. How do we build real connections that aren’t easy to sever? This is something Wise doesn’t thoroughly address in the book because, honestly, I don’t know if he or anyone else is equipped to put forward an answer. But make no mistake: if we’re serious about being gospel-minded, gospel-centered people who want to engage the digital realm for mission and ministry, this elephant in the room must be named and addressed.

The beginning of a much deeper conversation

The Social Church is not the last word on social media and the church, nor should it be. Instead, it’s best to see this book as the continuation (or possibly the beginning) of of a conversation we’re not quite ready for: a much deeper discussion on how to do ministry in a simultaneously bigger and smaller world. But whether or not we’re truly ready, it’s a conversation we need to have.


Title: The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication
Author: Justin Wise
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

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