A brief look at The Select Works of D.A. Carson (7 vols.)

If you’re a regular reader, you know one of the theologians I respect most (and quote most frequently) is D.A. Carson. Carson, the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition, is among the best theological minds of the last 30 years, writing or editing more than 60 books covering a wide range of subjects, sometimes exposing our exegetical fallacies and other times critiquing shifts within the church and the larger culture.

Recently, the folks at Logos Bible Software gave me a chance to look at the seven-volume collection, The Select Works of D.A. Carson. This collection contains some of the best set contains some of the best of Carson’s diverse body of work, including:

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A couple of things you can always be certain of when reading Carson are his fidelity to the text and his snippy wit. Whether he’s talking about the proper use of tone in pronouncing biblical Greek:

It is very difficult for modern English speakers to pronounce Greek accents in terms of musical pitch. To be sure, we use pitch in English; but it is used idiosyncratically, changing somewhat from speaker to speaker, and according to the shade of meaning intended. We distinguish, for instance, the emphatic ‘Yés!’, the open but questioning ‘Yè-és?’, and the doubtful and perhaps ironic ‘Yé-ès’. In Greek of the period before the New Testament, however, the tonal system was a fixed part of the language and helped to establish the essential meaning, just as varied pitch helps to establish meaning in Chinese. Many grammarians repeat the story of the actor Hegelochus who, when quoting a line from Euripides ending in γαλήνʼ ὁρῶ (‘I see a calm’), pronounced a circumflex accent instead of the acute, and brought the house down: γαλῆν ὁρῶ means ‘I see a weasel’. (Greek Accents, 18)

or preparing to trounce various arguments in the KJV only debate:

In what follows I shall not argue that the vociferous defenders of the [Textus Receptus] are knaves or fools. I shall seek to demonstrate, rather, that their interpretation of the evidence is mistaken. Moreover I shall point out logical fallacies in their exposition and the alarming way in which they cite arguments in their own favor without examining those arguments. Their presuppositions in favor of the TR have made most of them careless about determining the truth of many of their oft-repeated contentions, with the result that not only their interpretation of the facts is incorrect, but also their alleged “facts” are far too often simply untrue.

. (The King James Version Debate, 58)

or confronting our own sometimes unwitting hypocrisy in the area of self-denial:

We must not stand on our rights. As long as defending our rights remains the lodestar that orders our priorities, we cannot follow the way of the cross.

This sort of self-denial is easy enough to admire in other believers. One can formulate all sorts of interesting theological lessons deriving from Paul’s treatment of what to do about meat that has been offered to idols. But the power of this position of principle becomes obvious only when we are called upon to abandon our rights. (The Cross and Christian Ministry130)

I know many of these examples are a bit on the “think-y” side, but I hope you see in even these short excerpts Carson’s desire to clearly communicate the truth in a meaningful way—even when that truth is about the nature of the text itself!

Although he’s clearly an academic, his work isn’t meant simply for those who reside in the ivory towers of academia. It’s meant to challenge, encourage and inspire those of us who find ourselves wallowing in the muck of the nastier bits of life and ministry. He approaches the academic with a pastoral heart, which is something quite unusual.

Which brings us back to The Select Works of D.A. Carson. Logos has compiled an excellent collection in this resource; it’s one that is sure to be a wonderful blessing to pastors and academics alike and one I’m very grateful to have in my theological toolkit. Check it out or consider the individual titles, won’t you?

Five Points by John Piper

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What’s the stereotype of the Calvinist? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll probably hear something like this: he’s a grumpy, joyless, theological nitpick who obsesses over an acronym and secretly (or maybe not so secretly) relishes the thought of people spending eternity in Hell.

But should this be the case?

Should the so-called doctrines of grace really lead to a lack of grace among God’s people?

John Piper certainly doesn’t believe so. Instead, he firmly believes that our doctrine should bring us joy. So, with that in mind, he’s penned this short book, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace. In ten easy-to-read chapters, Piper sets TULIP—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints—in its historical context, offers a brief biblical survey for each, as well as the personal and historical testimonies of many faithful men of God who truly did believe that these truths are essential to our faith.

Piper’s goal is less about defending the five points of Calvinism for the sake of defending Calvinism as it is helping readers better see God—not just for the sake of knowing what He is like, but enjoying Him. “[T]o enjoy him we must know him. Seeing is savoring,” Piper writes. “If he remains a blurry, vague fog, we may be intrigued for a season. But we will not be stunned with joy, as when the fog clears and you find yourself on the brink of some vast precipice.” (8)

What’s most helpful in the book is, I believe, Piper’s honesty about his own view of the five points. One can’t help but come away from the book thinking Piper isn’t as much a fan of the modern construct of TULIP as he is the realities they point to:

  • He sees the implications of the doctrine of total depravity—of man’s open and continual rebellion against his Creator—and it causes him to wonder at the mercy of God.
  • He sees the necessity of understanding exactly for whom Christ died, but not so he can rejoice in the fate of those who die apart from Christ, but because the definitive nature of the cross should cause us to rejoice and to realize that Christ’s sheep are far more numerous than we might be tempted to believe.
  • He sees the unconditional nature of election as being a wonderful beacon of hope, for if salvation depended on anything but God loving us simply because He loves us, we’d be doomed.

Piper’s point again and again is simple: when we see the five points rightly, they should cause us to give thanks for the wondrous grace of God.

If we want to go deeper in our experience of God’s grace this is an ocean of love for us to enjoy. God does not mean for the bride of his Son to only feel loved with general, world-embracing love. He means for her to feel ravished with the specificity of his affection that he set on her before the world existed. He means for us to feel a focused: “I chose you. And I sent my Son to die to have you.” (52)

Not too long ago, I was roped into an online conversation about the angry perception of Calvinists and the problem of TULIP. One gentleman pointed out that he sees a consistent problem with TULIP—that it leads not to joy but to condemning anger. When reading this book, I had this person in mind. Is this the kind of book I’d give to this man? Did it perpetuate the stereotype he believes is more or less true of many who hold to the five points—is this yet another “angry Calvinist” manifesto?

Although he doesn’t shy away from calling into question certain interpretations of Scripture’s teaching, Piper’s language is far from combative. Instead, there’s more of an earnest sense of wonder that permeates the book’s pages. Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people. Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.


Title: Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Christian Focus (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

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Christendom is dead. Now let’s set aside our differences and get to work telling people about Jesus.

If you wanted to sum up Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, in a sentence, that’d be the way to do it. And make no mistake, pronouncing Christendom, the age of cultural Christianity, dead is no overstatement, even if declaring the American church dead is. A quick survey of the cultural landscape in America (and the West in general) shows how much has changed, and it’s definitely not in favor of Christianity. So what are Christians to do? Are we to retreat and wait for Jesus to return? Are we to give up our distinguishing characteristics and blend into the culture?

We do not need more retreat, Driscoll says. We need resurgence:

This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, “the laborers are few”—in part because the prophets of doom are many.… This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.

A strong cultural critique

There is much to appreciate about A Call to Resurgence, starting with its intent. Driscoll’s greatest strength has always been his appraisal of the cultural climate in North America, and this is no less true in the case of this book, which is why chapter two shines. Here Driscoll offers a succinct description of many of the contributing factors to the death of Christendom—pornography, the acceptance of homosexuality, bad dads, a lack of generosity, intolerant “tolerance,” and the resurgence of paganism in its many forms.

I believe it’s no overstatement to say this is the book’s standout chapter, especially his breakdown of the “new paganism,” which owes a massive debt to Peter Jones’ excellent book, One or Two. Driscoll explains well its roots as described in Romans 1:18-32, and its various expressions, from atheistic one-ism (the idea of a pure naturalism) to pale imitations of Christianity (notably moralistic therapeutic deism).

A confused message on the essentials

While Driscoll is often insightful in identifying cultural issues, his assessment of biblical ones is too often simplistic. This is especially clear when he describes the various “tribes” within evangelicalism. These, he says, are united by their common agreement on the following black-and-white issues: [Read more…]

Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

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Millennials are leaving the church in droves (or so some say)—they’re tired of the passionless, go-through-the-motions, infotainment form of Christianity that promises a good time but doesn’t change the world.

So how do you get them to stay?

Caleb Breakey offers Millennials a compelling reason in Called to Stay: if you’re fed up with playing church, if you want to be part of a church moving toward love, unity and a deep longing for Jesus, you need to be part of the solution to fixing it.

He calls this infiltration.

Infiltration and intentional discipleship

“Infiltration is about using your power and influence to the fullest inside the church,” he writes. “If we want to make a difference in this world, we must become Infiltrators of our churches” (25-27).

What Breakey calls infiltrating is simply a call to intentionality in your faith—essentially he’s saying if you say you’re a Christian, be in it to win it. Be engaged in your church, be involved in the lives of others. Actually live out that whole “spurring one another to love and good deed” thing.

Breakey repeatedly gets this exactly right—if we want to see people grow in their faith, if we see our local churches struggling, we need to invest ourselves there. Don’t go searching for the perfect church, because it’s not out there (and you’ll ruin it if you find it). This is definitely a message all believers—young or old—need to hear, again and again.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is Breakey’s understanding of the need for empathy. “If we are ever to sharpen each other as one sword sharpens another, we need to be willing to step into the minds of others, think as they do, and then use what we’ve learned to push both them and ourselves to deeper commitment to Jesus” (140). [Read more…]

To Live is Christ to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler

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I remember my first thought after Jesus saved me: Now what?

I’d been a Christian for all of 30 seconds and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay where I was, which is a good thing because I was a total mess (and not just in terms of the way I’d been living to that point).

Some assume the Christian faith is a one and done experience—Jesus saves you, then you coast through life on a get-out-of-hell free card, as though nothing you do matters from that moment forward. But the Bible says just the opposite: When you look at a letter like Philippians, you see an eager expectation for believers to grow and mature. To become more than they are at the moment of salvation.

“God wants us to grow from being infants in Christ to being mature in Christ,” writes Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church and author (with Jared Wilson) of To Live is Christ to Die is Gain (11). Based on his teaching series on the book of Philippians, Chandler challenges readers see the picture of Christian maturity Paul paints and pursue it with vigor.

Growth is about character

If you had to summarize this book with one word it’s this: character. Chandler stresses this point over and over again, explicitly and implicitly, thought out its pages. True growth only happens as our character is conformed to Christ. This is why we see the qualifications of leaders focused not on abilities, but on character. Who you are and what you’re like matters far more than what you can do. Chandler summarizes it well, “If the gospel is true, your life should look like it’s true” (51). And this all starts with your heart. [Read more…]

Broken Vows by John Greco

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If you want to kill a conversation, bring up divorce. Even though our culture treats it as no big deal, divorce is weighty. Something breaks within us when we hear that a friend or family member’s marriage is ending. And with good reason: Instinctively, we know divorce “shouldn’t” happen. It’s not remotely what God designed for marriage.

But, as John Greco puts it in his new book, Broken Vows, “If marriage is two people becoming one flesh, as the Bible says, then divorce is like that flesh being torn in two without anesthetic.”

This was certainly Greco’s experience, when he learned his wife wanted a divorce and had no interest in pursuing counselling. Not only did her decision end their marriage, it ended his career—the church he was called to pastor rescinded the call and he was left broke, unemployed, and bearing the mark of the “scarlet D” (to borrow a phrase).

And yet, despite all the hardship he experienced, despite all the pain and emotional anguish he suffered, he can look back and say, God was good in this. And this is what he wants readers to learn. He wants us all to see “a gospel-centered life learns to recognize everything—even seemingly bad things—as being the very best from the hand of a loving God and Father.”

In all honesty, this is a difficult book to review. I’ve never been divorced, nor do I plan to be, Lord willing. But I am a child of divorce and I’ve seen multiple family members divorce. And friends, too. So it’s hard to say, “this particular point really spoke to me and here’s how I’m applying it.” I’m just not in that place.

Despite the book not speaking to my specific experiences, there are still a couple of important things I’ve been able to glean from the book:

First, this book will be extremely beneficial for those counselling divorced believers. If you’re a lay counsellor, pastor, small group leader or if you’ve got friends, you’re going to have to deal with divorce sooner or later. And what divorced men and women in our churches in our congregations is not guilt and shame over having their marriages end; they need love and support from people who care about them.

Greco candidly shares his experience of finding hope and healing on the other side of divorce, and manages describe the wrongs done to him without painting himself as the innocent victim. This is especially helpful because this is the kind of mindset we need to help others model, not just those who are divorced, but all of us—we must clearly acknowledge the sins committed against us, but we must be honest about our own sins, as well. Greco’s example in this book will surely help others do likewise.

Second, this book reminded me why marriage is constantly under attack. Why? Because marriage is not only a wonderful gift from God, but it is meant to be a picture of the gospel. When a marriage is functioning as God intended, it’s a living illustration to all the world—it screams, “This is what our Savior does for His bride!” This is a wonderful and glorious thing. Witnessing a healthy marriage, where a wife is submitting to her husband and her husband is sacrificially loving her, says more about the gospel’s power than many a sermon.

But a broken marriage, a marriage where sin has torn apart what God has united, mars this reality. This isn’t to say that there aren’t biblical reasons to get divorced (see Matt 5:32), but when divorce occurs, it’s an ugly, painful thing. It subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) tells the world that maybe Christ isn’t sufficient after all.

Regardless of whether you’ve experienced divorce or not, Broken Vows will surely be a valuable addition to your bookshelf. For those who’ve experienced divorce, I pray that you’d see God’s work in you reflected in His work in its author. For those who haven’t, I pray it gives you a greater sense of compassion for those who have been divorced and allows you to better love and serve them to the glory of God.


Title: Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God
Author: John Greco
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press

One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian

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Tullian Tchividjian’s a troublemaker—but that’s not a bad thing.

He’s taken a lot of heat for the radical picture of grace he paints Jesus + Nothing = Everything and Glorious Ruin. He’s been accused of blurring the lines of justification (our position before God) and sanctification (the process of growing in holiness). It’s even been suggested that the kind of grace he preaches is the kind that leads to license…

Wherever you land on Tchividjian’s teaching, you can’t deny one thing: he is totally captivated by the grace of God, and he wants you to be, too. If that’s what you take away from his new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, then you’ll be in good shape because, clearly, we’ve got a problem getting a grip on grace.

Grace: the cure to performancism

Too many Christians are running themselves ragged trying to please God—as if our faith is primarily concerned with our behavior modification rather than the good news of what’s already been done for us. And so we work ourselves silly, seemingly in an attempt to pay God back for saving us (even if we don’t realize it). “We conclude that it was God’s blood, sweat, and tears that got us in, but it’s our blood, sweat, and tears that keep us in” (24). We burn ourselves out and then wonder why Christianity isn’t “working” for us.

This is what Tchividjian combats in One Way Love, the idol of performancism; he wants to kill that cruel mistress dead as he reminds readers again and again that, “grace is a gift, pure and simple. We might insist on try on to pay, but the balance has been settled (and our money’s no good!).” (29) [Read more…]

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

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“Man, I’m so busy right now.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a conversation or an email like this. I really hate doing it, but there it is. It’s even worse when a friend or family member opens up a conversation saying, “I know you’re busy, but…”

When it comes to busyness, compared to Kevin DeYoung, I’m a lightweight. He preaches multiple times on Sundays, writes books, blogs, tweets, has all the responsibilities that come with being the senior pastor of his church… oh yeah, and he’s married with five (soon six) kids!

So, realizing he’s got way too much on his plate and has no concept of “margin,” he made the logical decision and wrote another book: Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem.

Crazy Busy isn’t written from the position of having figured out the secret of overcoming busyness. “I’m writing this book not because I know more than others but because I want to know more than I do,” he explains. “I want to know why life feels the way it does, why our world is the way it is, why I am the way I am. And I want to change” (12).

In doing so, DeYoung writes inviting to join him on the journey. This is a nice approach, one I really appreciated throughout much of the book. More often than not, I found myself identifying with his diagnoses of the causes of busyness, which ranged from the overtly sinful (pride in its various forms) to some genuinely good reasons that get a bit off course (parenting immediately comes to mind).

One of my particularly nasty habits is being a bit too attached to my devices. When I got my first iPhone, I played incessantly on it for about two weeks. My wife wanted to throw it into the street (and probably would have if it didn’t belong to my employer). The problem for me, for the longest time, was learning to have boundaries with it. An immediate one we put in place was no cellphones in the bedroom. Another was no phones at the dinner table (something she’s rebuked me for in the past and rightly so). But the worst has been how it fed my inability to rest properly.

I’ve always been terrible at “Sabbath-ing.” I don’t vacation well; I’m always doing something (seriously, I think I’ve got three jobs now). One of the things I’ve had to learn is how to actually take steps to plan to rest. I’ve started planning time off well in advance. I deactivate the Mail app whenever I’m on vacation. So I really resonate with what DeYoung writes about how hard this really is to do:

We all know we need rest from work, but we don’t realize we have to work hard just to rest. We have to plan for breaks. We have to schedule time to be unscheduled. That’s the way life is for most of us. Scattered, frantic, boundary-less busyness comes naturally. The rhythms of work and rest require planning. (98)

Probably the standout chapter of the book is the second-to-last, where DeYoung reminds us that while there are many sinful kinds of busyness, sometimes we’re busy because God has made us to be busy. He writes:

The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things. It’s being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do. So please don’t hear from me that work is bad or that bearing burdens is bad. That’s part of life. That’s part of being a Christian. (102)

As Christians we are meant to work hard for God’s glory. We’re to bear one another’s burdens. We’re to spur one another on to love and good deeds. We’re to witness to our community, and do all we set out to do with excellence. That is hard work. And it will keep you very, very busy. But it’s the good kind of busy—the kind where we spend our energy on one another, rather than on ourselves. This is a kind of busy that we all (myself especially) could embrace with a little more zeal.

And honestly, I kind of wish this is where DeYoung had ended Crazy Busy. There’s much that I appreciated throughout the whole thing, but I found myself left a bit wanting as I finished reading.

It’s not like the “one thing you must do” he writes of in the final chapter is bad—”We must make learning from [Jesus] and taking time to be with him a priority”, he writes (113). This is right and true and absolutely necessary in our continued growth as disciples of Jesus and a fine note to end on. But I walked away from the book… unsatisfied.

Maybe it’s a flaw in the “journeying together” style of the book. Maybe I hoped that DeYoung would be a little further ahead of me on this journey. Maybe I simply had unfair expectations of the book itself. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just didn’t grab me the way I’d hoped.

Reading a book by Kevin DeYoung is never a waste of time, and Crazy Busy is no different. His writing is as sharp and naturally zingy as ever. He does a very good job diagnosing the issue of busyness in our lives, and even if it’s not one of his best works, there’s still a great deal of food for thought.


Title: Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

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Clear Winter Nights is not an ugly book. I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest.

Now, let me explain what I mean by that.

A few years back, the Christian blogosphere went insane when a certain book hit the shelves. It was all anyone could talk about—the book’s message, its author, heaven, hell and the fate of everyone who’s ever lived.

And then the response books started coming out. And while most of these were extremely faithful in defending historic doctrines of the faith… a lot were kind of, well, ugly. They weren’t slinging mud; they just weren’t terribly pleasant to read.

Trevin Wax felt—and, more importantly, voiced—that frustration. So, in the midst of all the ugliness he saw, he wanted to write something sharing the Truth in a way that is not ugly.

So how do you do that? Some opt for cleverness, delighting in wit and wordplay. Others take the harder road: combining theology and story. This is the route Trevin chose with Clear Winter Nights, the story of a young man filled with doubts about his faith who is confronted by the answers to his questions.

Combining theology with good storytelling is tricky. Only a handful of authors do this well: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis…

(Did I mention C.S. Lewis?)

Trevin’s set himself up for quite the challenge with this book: Telling a good story while staying faithful to the truth of Christianity. Doing this well is is no easy feat. The discount bins overflow with books that have tried and failed. When it’s done well, it’s pretty amazing. When it’s bad, it’s really, really bad.

So how did Trevin do?

Despite being a newcomer to writing fiction, Trevin tells a memorable story, one marked by honesty and a genuine love of the Truth. This is mostly due to his characters (even the ones I didn’t really care for). [Read more…]

Boring by Michael Kelley

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We Christians seem to have a love/hate relationship with “ordinary.” We look at the world around us, and want to do something significant, something grand and amazing.

To do something “big and great for God.”

But there are dishes to do. Bills to pay. Bums to wipe.

When our bookshelves and our RSS feeds repeat the refrain, “be radical for Jesus,” I’ll be honest… it’s easy to get kind of insecure.

Am I doing enough? Are there bigger things God has for me than fishing crayons out of my kids’ noses?

Michael Kelley has a great word of encouragement for all of us who’ve ever asked the “enough” question in his new book, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life:

You might be missing the point.

“What if we are looking so hard for these grandiose experiences of significance that we are missing the opportunities for significance right in front of us,” he writes. “What if there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an extraordinary God?” (8)

Boring is all about reorienting us to to this important (but often neglected) reality. Michael Kelley wants to help us stop searching for significance outside our current circumstances, but recognize the inherent significance of everyday life. On this point, he doesn’t mince words:

[T]here is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God. “Ordinary” is a myth. The only reason we think of something as ordinary is because we fail to look for and then grasp the massive depth of the work and presence of God in our lives. (19)

There’s something to this, isn’t there? If God is present and active in our lives, as Scripture says He is, how can anything really be ordinary… even the ordinary acts of going to work, washing dishes, or cleaning up after our kids?

We all love the stories of big crazy “God moments,” but are those the most formative events in our faith? Think about the mission trip experience: you go to another part of the world, you’re immersed in serving others, you maybe even see God do something pretty miraculous… “I’ll never be the same,” you declare, “forever I am changed.” (Or so the song goes.)

And then you get home.

For a while, you make good on your vow, but after a while your zeal fades. The routine reasserts itself. And before too long you find yourself asking, “Why does God seem so far away?”

The problem, is not with the routines of life, but with our understanding of them. The Christian’s faith isn’t perfected through mountaintop experiences, but through the profoundly “average” activities of daily life.

These common, everyday choices are the guts of discipleship. Following Christ is not just about selling everything you have for the sake of the poor (though it might indeed be that at some point); it also involves managing your time; appropriately handling your throwaway thoughts; glorifying God through your eating and drinking; seeing the small things of life as things that either move you toward or away from Christlikeness. Disciples understand the true significance of these choices. (66-67)

Do you see how this understanding relieves a real tension many of us feel? If all we’re chasing is spiritual experiences, looking for the spiritual high, we’ll wind up sitting on our thumbs waiting for a feeling (or, as we like to say, for God to “call” us to something), and missing out on all the opportunities to be obedient to Christ in exceptionally ordinary ways. Just as bad, we’ll be less characterized by “by the strength and fortitude of deep roots”—instead, we’ll be “more like yo-yos, constantly moving up and down the string of life’s circumstances driven by those same feelings we long for.” (71)

Kelley reminds us again and again that we don’t have to sell all we have and give it to the poor to be radical Christians (as if there were such a thing). In some ways, that’s too small a view.

Giving away everything you have? That’s easy (sort of). Obeying Jesus in everyday life? That’s hard.

A regular life isn’t just a series of physical times and moment strung together; it’s a progression of being formed into the image of Jesus. A casual conversation isn’t just a series of words between friends; it’s an interaction between beings made in the image of God. A marriage isn’t just a contract between two people; it’s a walking, talking illustration of the reality of the gospel. Parenting isn’t just teaching kids to be good citizens; it’s seeing our children as arrows of light shot into darkness. And finances aren’t just a few bucks here and there; they are the window into what we love and what we believe. (182)

Imagine what it would be like for the world to see Christians consistently loving and serving their spouses, shepherding their children, managing their worldly possessions with a godly-shrewdness, and engaging with friends in a more than superficial way?

Demonstrating the life-altering power of the gospel in the day-to-day… Call me crazy, but that seems pretty radical, doesn’t it?

For years, a number of authors keep saying they want to write about why it’s okay to be “ordinary.”

I’m glad one finally did.

Boring is a much-needed book, one that is sure to be a relief for many weary Christians who are exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the radical, even as it calls us to a greater demonstration of faith: being obedient right where we are.


Title: Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life
Author: Michael Kelley
Publisher: B&H Books (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

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In the first Bible study I ever led, I did something stupid: I took the group through the book of Daniel. It wasn’t a complete disaster, but in hindsight it wasn’t something I could call good. Why? Because someone kind of important was missing:

Jesus.

At the time I was a far newer believer than today. I loved the Bible, but I didn’t know the “big story” well. I couldn’t see the big picture—that all of Scripture is about Jesus.

If I could build myself a time machine and go and visit past-me, I’d do two important things:

First, I’d tell past-me to smarten up and read some good books before trying to teach a book (any book!) of the Bible.

Second, I’d put a copy of David Murray’s Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament in past-me’s hands.

Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, wants Christians to read the Old Testament Christianly—that is, to see it for the piece of Christian Scripture that it is. It’s the Bible Jesus read. The Bible Jesus taught. The Bible Jesus Himself said testifies to Himself.

So wouldn’t it be in our best interest to know what it says? [Read more…]

Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

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I have this friend, John. He’s got many wonderful qualities (as good friends should). But one of my favorite things about John is when he’s working out an idea. When we’re trying to come up with a hook for a sales piece or batting around ideas for how to start a presentation, a comment or word will grab him. A mischievous grin appears. That’s when I know it’s time to sit back and let John go. At the end of one of these sessions, we don’t always end up with something useable, but we always have a lot of fun trying.

Reading N.D. Wilson always reminds me a little of brainstorming with John—I’m not always sure where he’s going, but I always enjoy getting there.

His latest book, Death by Living, is a great example of this. Here, he encourages readers to reorient their thinking on what it means to live; to “focus on a way of living, a way of receiving life” (xi). How? By seeing that our lives are meant to be given away.

I realize that, for Christians, this is not a terribly groundbreaking idea—after all, this idea is central to the ethics of life in Christ’s kingdom. We are to consider the needs of others ahead of our own, to “decrease” so that Christ might increase, to be “poured out” for the sake of the gospel….

“Lay your life down,” Wilson writes. “Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded” (84).

But you know what?

We clearly don’t get it. If we did, I suspect books like this wouldn’t need to be written. We seem to be confused that our lives aren’t meant for us (and I put myself at the head of the line on this one), so we spend our time pursuing things that don’t really matter. We grab for every moment of importance and significance we can, forgetting it’s kind of pointless.

Grabbing will always fail. Hoarding always fails. Living to live always reaches inevitable and pointless Darwinian burnout—bigger fears, deeper mortal panic. Live to die… Grabbing will always fail. Giving will always succeed. Our children, our friends, and our neighbors will all be better off if we work to accumulate for their sakes. (110)

This is the idea that’s reinforced again and again throughout Death by Living. But the way Wilson does it isn’t be drumming it into our heads through simple repetition—he shows it through stories. “We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—narrative catechisms” (11).

This is where Wilson’s strength as a writer really comes through. He spends little time discussing his family members’ backgrounds, but they’re fleshed out from the moment you read their names. They don’t appear as vapors, mere shadows on a page. They’re actual people (and not only because they’re actual people). Those who’ve tried (and failed) to write fiction will hopefully get what I’m talking about here.

But his stories don’t exist to tickle our fancies. He doesn’t spin yarns merely to entertain, but to show us what ideas putting “on flesh” (19) really looks like. As much as some of us may love abstract concepts, what we believe translates into what we do.

Christianity is no good at all as an idea. Stop thinking that an asserted proposition is the same thing as faith. It’s a start. But it can also be a costume. Enflesh it.…

If you think it, live it. If you don’t live it, you don’t really think it. You are not what you think (or what you think you think). You are not what you say you are. You are what you do. (20-21)

N.D. Wilson’s writing is an acquired taste. His writing isn’t entirely linear. He follows the rabbit trails of his mind wherever they lead. He leads you to conclusions in a way that’s sometimes so subtle it’s easy to miss.

But, if you follow him where he leads as he celebrates lives lived well, you’ll see this important truth: our lives are meant to be spent. As much as we lament time passing us by, as much as we loathe the idea of death, we can see even death as a gift. Because we die, “we can run the good race. We can fight the good fight. Completion exists” (113). Our choice is this: “shall we die for ourselves or die for others?” (83)


Title: Death by Living
Author: N.D. Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books | Vyrso

Judges for You by Timothy Keller

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Some books of the Bible are incredibly inspiring… others are downright disturbing. Judges definitely the latter. It’s a painfully honest look at the fruit of spiritual decline and the depths of human depravity. This isn’t a book you read to get a warm-fuzzy or for moral examples.

Instead, writes Tim Keller, Judges reminds us that the Bible “is about a God of mercy and long-suffering, who continually works in and through us despite our constant resistance to his purposes.” No human hero can rescue us—we need a divine one.

That’s what Judges For You is all about.

The cycle of sin

In this book, Keller walks readers through this Old Testament book, tracing six key themes:

  1. God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it, seek it, or even appreciate it after they’ve been saved by it.
  2. God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just some.
  3. There is a tension between grace and law, between conditionality and unconditionality.
  4. There is a need for continual spiritual renewal in our lives here on earth, and a way to make that a reality.
  5. We need a true Savior, to which all human saviors point, through their flaws and strengths.
  6. God is in charge, no matter what it looks like.

As we read through Judges, it’s easy to see each of these themes at play in their half-hearted (at best!) following of the Lord. From the beginning, the Israelites failed to purge the Promised Land of idols, compromising their prosperity in the land—and most importantly, their commitment to the Lord. From there the cycle begins:

The nation slips into idolatry, doing evil in the sight of the Lord. Angered by their sin, the Lord hands them over to their enemies, who oppress them. The people call out for rescue, and the Lord brings salvation through a chosen leader and peace is restored to the land… at least until the judge dies. [Read more…]

The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul

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We’re a culture with severe trust issues. Politicians have long struggled with this thing called honesty. Employers break their word when it’s in the apparent best interests of the bottom line. Spouses break their vows in the pursuit of “happiness.”

So it makes sense that we’d take our trust issues and put them on God, doesn’t it? When you strip away the nuances of so many of our doubts and questions about God, the thing we really want to know is:

God can really be trusted? 

R.C. Sproul wants to give readers confidence on this matter. To know that the God of the Bible is a promise-making—and promise-keeping—God. His most recent book, The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word, examines the promises God has made and why we have good reason to trust Him to keep it.

Defining “covenant”

When seeking to understand God’s promises, you need to start with the concept of covenant. Our God is a covenant-making God. The concept, therefore, “is integral and foundational to the divine revelation” (9). But what does “covenant” mean and what are the covenants God makes?

Sproul begins by explaining that while all covenants are, at a fundamental level, agreements between two parties or more parties (think wedding vows or industrial contracts), biblical covenants are unique in that they “are established on the basis of a divine sanction. That is, they are established not on the foundation of promises made by equal parties, but on the foundation of the divine promise of God. In biblical covenants, it is God who declares the terms and makes the promises” (11). [Read more…]