Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry


Let’s be honest: many Christians have done a poor job of showing love to the homosexual community and to those among us who deal with same-sex attraction. Far too many have used particular verses to hammer people into submission, rather than explain the Bible’s position on sexuality as a whole.

That’s why we need books like Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry. In this short book, Allberry explains the biblical view of sexuality and addresses many of the common questions people ask about homosexuality. But more than that, this is a book about the gospel, and King Jesus’ call demands upon the life of all who claim to follow Him.

This is an important book for Allberry to write. He’s is a pastor in the United Kingdom. He believes the Bible is true and authoritative in all it teaches.

He’s also a man who deals with same-sex attraction. So, as you can imagine, he knows about that which he writes. There’s a real sensitivity in his approach, both from a pastoral perspective and also from that of one who has had to wrestle deeply with these issues.

There are two areas that I personally found incredibly significant. The first is dealing with our tendency to place too much or too little emphasis on a given subject. When it comes to homosexuality, many want to take the (relatively) few references made to it and declare that it doesn’t matter. But, Allberry writes, “The Bible does not frequently make direct reference to how we are to care for creation, but that does not let us off the hook from following what is said in the places where it does.”

[Read more…]

Letters and Life by Bret Lott


Writing is tricky business.

Everyone writes things throughout their day, so everyone thinks they can be write (as the staggering number of abandoned blogs testify). And because everyone thinks they can do it, they have a hard time appreciating the work of a writer (even when they like that writer’s work better). For the writer, it’s incredibly difficult to balance the tension between wanting to write something that’s going to benefit people and something that’s going to actually be read (the two are not always the same). Then there’s the constant cycle of self-doubt, feeling like you’re faking it… but maybe that part’s just me. So when a writer finds some some degree of success, people start asking: what’s the secret?

Bestselling author Bret Lott (sort of) answers this question in his new book, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian. In this book, Lott shares a series of essays blending practical take-aways for prospective writers along with a look at his own life as he comes to grips with the death of his father.

Readers might be surprised to learn that Lott is a Christian. Although I knew of him from my college-job days as a bookseller, I had no idea about his faith. So his opening essay, “Why have we given up the ghost?” was quite a surprise, opening with the Apostles’ Creed and moving into his experiences of God’s supernatural work in the world—all while defining “literary fiction” (which, he says, is distinguished from popular fiction by it’s willingness to “confront us with who we are and make us look deeply at the human condition”).

As he continues through his essays on the relationship between art, faith and the world, precision, influences, and Flannery O’Connor, he takes advantage of the opportunity reorient the Christian writer’s understanding of his or her craft around a Christian worldview. [Read more…]

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson


Christians don’t really know what to do with questions. Some of us seem afraid to ask anything; others seem terrified to receive answers. But questions were never meant to be a source of angst nor a mask for unbelief.

In his new book The End of Our Exploring, Matthew Lee Anderson challenges us to examine the heart behind our inquiries and embrace the God-glorifying design of asking questions—to see them as opportunities to edify and encourage, to grow in our faith.

Better questions means better answers

After reading this book, one thing is abundantly clear: Anderson is a uniter. He finally brings “progressives” and “conservatives” together—but it’s not to hold hands and sing “Kumbuyah.” Instead, he recognizes that both are guilty of the same thing: simplistically approaching questions.

Many progressives tend to view certainty as the great enemy of faith; doubt is the mark of true faith and humility (ironically, they’re very certain about this). Many conservatives, conversely, either see asking questions as either a sign of a shipwrecked faith or a rebellious spirit. If they don’t eschew questions altogether, they do rush to be the answer police, giving (and gleefully receiving) an easy answer and moving on.

But neither approach leads to maturity; both leave us childish in our approach to the Christian faith. “If we want people to think adult thoughts, then we should stop catering to their felt needs for quick answers,” he writes (74).

But being simplistic about answers isn’t the only problem—we have difficulty even coming up with the right questions. Anderson writes:

We Christians should not be so answers oriented that we render ourselves incapable of coming up with the questions ourselves. We might think it a miracle that anyone learned about the Bible before we had study guides, given our total dependence upon them. What questions could the early Christians have possibly asked without the prompts we now have? And how did readers ever learn from books without prepackaged questions at the end of each chapter? If we are going to move beyond being a community that simply regurgitates “easy answers,” then we must also be willing to put an end to spoon feeding the questions. (74)

Do you get a sense of the difficult balance Anderson is trying to describe here? He is emphatic that we need to ask more and better questions about our faith, and especially the Bible—and we need to expect to have those questions answered. [Read more…]

The Big Story by Justin Buzzard


Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Do I have a purpose? Answers to such questions make up our worldview, and our worldview drives the course of our lives whether we’re aware of it or not. For many of us, however, the stories of which we’re a part are simply inadequate to answer these kinds of questions.

In The Big Story, Justin Buzzard upholds the story of Scripture as the only one able to “explain all the beauty and all the brokenness we see in this world, to make sense of our desires, dreams, and disappointments” (11). He urges readers to consider the story they’re living in, to recognize the gaps and failings of competing worldviews, and to embrace “the old and ongoing story of the Bible.”

Much to Like

Buzzard, lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California, presents the Bible’s narrative in five acts: Jesus, God, creation, rebellion, and rescue.

Beginning with Jesus is the right decision, one unfortunately passed over by many books attempting to show the power in the story of redemption. He is, after all, the main character in this unfolding drama—and the whole point of the story. Whether for him or against him, everyone must somehow respond to him. His presence is too disruptive for us to remain neutral or silent. Buzzard makes this point clear: “People have to respond to Jesus because . . . he doesn’t leave things as they are; he both attracts people to himself and meddles with their lives” (17).

Anyone who has put his trust in Christ understands this process. Again, Buzzard writes, “Jesus doesn’t adjust to us, and he doesn’t submit to our whims. We adjust to Jesus and submit to him. Jesus is King, not an accessory” (115). Once again, Buzzard is exactly correct: King Jesus lovingly hates your status quo. [Read more…]

The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper by Robert Bruce


It seems the Sacraments are a source of confusion to many believers today. Much ink has been spilt on different views of baptism; many blog posts and debates have been had about how often to have communion… but of late, it seems too few people are talking about what the Lord’s Supper actually is.

How should we view the Lord’s Supper? Is it a mere ritual, or is there something deeper behind it?

To find an answer, sometimes the best thing to do is to look to the saints of old. The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper offers the insights of Robert Bruce, one of Scotland’s most influential spiritual leaders from the 16th century. This book collects five of his sermons addressing the sacraments in general, the particulars of the Lord’s Supper and the preparation of our hearts.

To some looking to study this important matter, Bruce’s book might seem like an odd choice. The original sermons were preached in the late 16th century, with the Protestant Reformation in full swing and continuing to sweep across Europe. Because of this, much of the book is focused on refuting the Roman church’s understanding of the Mass while explaining the Reformed (and more specifically the Presbyterian) view.

An extremely beneficial element of his theology of the Lord’s Supper actually comes from Bruce’s understanding of the sacraments in general: They are a “holy sign and seal that is annexed to the preached Word of God to seal up and confirm the truth contained in the same Word” (33). It’s not just that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol or a sign—a concept that we have no problem understanding even today—it’s a seal of a promise. [Read more…]

1,500 Quotations for Preachers


As a writer, it’s super-helpful to have a collection of great quotes from books, TV shows, movies, songs—pretty much anything really. You never know when one might help illustrate a point I’m trying to make. The books in my library have huge chunks underlined, bracketed or otherwise highlighted with nuggets of (what I believe is) gold.

But, y’know, it’s a real pain to have to type them out when I actually need them.

Many pastors and writers have similar issues. For pastors especially, sermon prep time is at a premium and the best use of time may not be retyping a passage of a book just to add some punch to the weekend’s message. That’s where 1,500 Quotations for Preachers, a new resource from Logos Bible Software, comes in handy.

This new five volume series contains quotes from over 100 authors—including  Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, G.K. Chesterton, and dozens more—covering a variety of topics, from the age of the earth to the return of Christ and everything in between.

The quotations contained are organized by church era—the Early Church (covering the years 100–600), the Medieval Church (600–1500), the Reformation (1500–1650), the Puritans and the Modern Church (1650 forward)—as well as by title, theme, and associated Scripture references. Each quotation is also linked to the original resource in your Logos library (where those resources are available, naturally), making it easy to verify the context of any given statement and gain additional insight.

For example, if I’m writing or teaching on Titus 3:10, I can search through my library and I’ll find the following quote from Tertullian:

Our faith owes deference to the apostle, who forbids us to enter on “questions,” or to lend our ears to newfangled statements, or to consort with a heretic “after the first and second admonition,” not (be it observed) after discussion. Discussion he has inhibited in this way, by designating admonition as the purpose of dealing with a heretic, and the first one too, because he is not a Christian; in order that he might not, after the manner of a Christian, seem to require correction again and again, and “before two or three witnesses,” seeing that he ought to be corrected, for the very reason that he is not to be disputed with; and in the next place, because a controversy over the Scriptures can, clearly, produce no other effect than help to upset either the stomach or the brain.1

And I’ve also got an accompanying slide for use with a sermon or presentation:


The slide can be exported as an image file or sent directly to Keynote or PowerPoint.

How can you not love this?

Writers and pastors, do not pass 1,500 Quotations for Preachers by. This is a terrific resource, one I can guarantee is going to get a lot of use in the coming years. I’m thrilled to have in my Logos library—and I’m sure you will be, too.

TItle: 1,500 Quotations for Preachers, with Slides (5 volumes)
Editors: Elliot Ritzema, Elizabeth Vince and Rebecca Brant
Publisher: Logos Bible Software (2013)

Buy it at:

Manhood Restored by Eric Mason


As a rule, I don’t like books about being a “biblical man.” Too often they resort to describing a specific kind of guy: one who’s wild at heart, wants to slay a dragon, climb a mountain and play with power tools.

I am none of those things.

In fact, I’m forbidden from using power tools because I’m so inept. So if those are the things that define being a biblical man, what does that make me?

Fortunately, Eric Mason doesn’t resort to trite depictions of being a man of God in his new book, Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole. He gets that men aren’t motivated by declarations, covenants and promise rings to do more and try harder to be better men. Manhood needs to be transformed by the gospel. And this book is about how the gospel does exactly that.

Mason tackles four broad subjects, dealing with:

  • God’s original intent for mankind and sin’s distortion of it
  • “daddy deliquency” and the destruction of the family
  • Jesus as the restorer and supreme example of biblical manhood
  • a restored manhood’s affect on worldview, sexuality, vision (think leadership), family and church

I was surprised at how frequently I found myself underlining and commenting in my copy of the book. Every chapter is saturated with rich biblical teaching on manhood, the seriousness of sin and our only hope: the gospel. [Read more…]

Jesus the Son of God by D.A. Carson


Jesus is the Son of God… but exactly do we mean when we say that?

The answer may not be as simple as we may think. After all, Jesus isn’t the only person in Scripture referred to as God’s son—Adam, is God’s son (Luke 3:38), Israel (corporately) is God’s son (Ex. 4:22), Solomon is God’s son (1 Chron. 28:6), the Israelites (individually) are “sons of God” (Deut. 32:8), as are peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) and even the angels, in some sense (Job 2:1).

“So in what way is Jesus’s sonship like, or unlike, any of these?” asks D.A. Carson in Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed. “Why should we think of him as God’s only Son?” (Kindle location 84)

Carson knows there’s good reason to understand Jesus in this sense—after all, how we understand Christ drastically affects our understanding of the Christian faith. If we get Jesus wrong, everything else collapses. And, as Carson points out, this necessarily includes understanding his sonship.

Carson’s examination of this important title is focused on the following areas:

1. “Son of God” as a christological title
2. “Son of God” in select passages
3. “Jesus the Son of God” in Christian and Muslim contexts

In section one, Carson’s goal is to remind readers that in the Bible “‘son(s) of God’ can refer to a diverse range of beings” not simply the second person of the Trinity (location 369). Thus it carries with it a diverse range of meanings, all of which are only understood within their context. [Read more…]

Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson


While “doctrine” is a dirty word in some circles, there are times when I wonder if it’s become a bit of a cliché in some of ours. Many of us in the “new Calvinist/YRR/whatever-you-want-to-call-this” movement love to talk about the importance of sound doctrine and why it matters. We have systematic theologies and commentaries, apologetics books and cultural critiques. But sometimes we forget to talk about what doctrine does in the life of the church, practically.

In Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God, Bobby Jamieson doesn’t give us another book on why doctrine is important. Instead, he reminds us how orthodoxy leads to a healthy church—one committed to the fulfilling of the Great Commission in the spirit of the great commandments.

Sound doctrine: for life in—and the life of—the church

Jamieson, assistant editor of 9Marks and managing editor of the 9Marks Journal, hooked me the moment I read his definition of sound doctrine: “Sound doctrine is a summary of the Bible’s teaching that is both faithful to the Bible and useful for life” (17).

How many other clear and helpful definitions of sound doctrine have you encountered—definitions that balance knowledge and practice? We understand the first easily enough, but when we neglect the second we tend to get into trouble. Application testifies to how firmly we actually hold to our beliefs, confirming the genuineness of our convictions or betraying the hypocrisy of our hearts. For example, what effect does how we treat one another have on the outside world? Does it attract or repel? Do people look at our congregations and really see a group of believers committed to one another? We’ve all heard stories of ugly church splits, divisiveness, pride, and cliquishness that leave people saying, “If that’s what a church is, I’m out.”

This is what sound doctrine lived out protects us from. It brings about greater unity when handled humbly. It increases our awe of the Lord and grows us in personal and corporate holiness. It drives our witness before the watching world and increases our love for one another. [Read more…]

Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

why-cities-matterHow should Christians approach cities?

Some approach the city as an enemy at worst or something to be exploited at best—its resources have value, but beyond that, it’s best left alone. Others give the qualities of a city little thought whatsoever, blending into its surrounding culture, but not really engaging it in a way that confronts its idols.

But is it possible to see the city as an opportunity for furthering the gospel?

Pastors Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard believe the answer is an emphatic yes. As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, Christians need to think rightly about the city—to recognize the power cities have to shape culture and spread ideas. Why Cities Matter is their effort to help Christians think biblically and strategically about the city and cultivate “a deep vision for a global movement of the gospel in cities” (20).

Um and Buzzard set themselves up with a tremendous challenge in Why Cities Matter. Over the course of six chapters, the authors explain:

  • the importance of cities (chapter one);
  • the characteristics of cities (chapter two);
  • what the Bible says about cities (chapter three);
  • the necessity of contextualization (chapter four);
  • the storyline of the city (chapter five); and
  • developing a ministry vision for the city (chapter six).

Among the most helpful aspects of these chapters is the breakdown of the makings of a city—that cities are centers of power, of culture and of worship. Cities represent safety, government and economic opportunity. They serve as the cultural engines for our nations and our world—their greatest export is ideas. And cities “are built upon the things from which humanity attempts to derive its ultimate significance” (32)—cities reveal what we worship.

This idea of worship, in fact, comes up again and again. Um and Buzzard show readers how worship impacts everything in a city—its history, its values, its hopes and dreams—and how only the gospel can truly change its story. [Read more…]

I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer


Why do some people make a big deal about church membership—is it all that important? Does it really make a difference whether I sign a piece of paper or not? Do I get some sort of added perk?

These are the kinds of questions I’ve heard (and sometimes asked) whenever the subject of church membership has come up. Why do we ask them? I suspect it’s because most of us don’t understand the purpose and value of membership.

Then I read I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom Rainer. As president of LifeWay Christian Resources and having served as a pastor, Rainer understands that a healthy church equals healthy church members. This new book offers and explains six commitments of church membership:

  1. I Will Be a Functioning Church Member
  2. I Will Be a Unifying Church Member
  3. I Will Not Let the Church Be About My Preferences and Desires
  4. I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
  5. I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
  6. I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift

The strength of this book will be immediately clear to its readers: Rainer is direct, confrontational of wrong attitudes, but extremely pastoral in his approach. He doesn’t take any of his points and shame the reader into some form of begrudging submission. Instead, he challenges us to examine ourselves as we read and commit to being true members of our local churches.

Take, for example, his approach to service. Often we have to cajole people into serving. We have multiple announcements about a particular gap—usually in kid’s ministry—where the need is clearly laid out.

Then, the next week, it’s laid out again. And again.

And again.

You get the idea.

Why does this kind of culture exist, where we have to repeatedly ask—and sometimes come close to beg—people to serve in what they consider their church home?

It’s because we don’t understand that a healthy church member is a functional one. “We who are church members are all supposed to function in the church,” he writes. “The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists” (16).

One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: “How can I best serve my church?” You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church.

In every chapter, even the most active member will likely find something that stirs us to question how we view our roles in the church—are we building up or tearing down? Are we making church about “me” or are we striving to count others above ourselves, putting their needs and preferences ahead of our own? Do we see membership as a gift—and are we teaching our families to value it?

These are important questions and Rainer handles each one exceptionally well.

One thing you won’t find in I Am a Church Member? An appeal to any particular form of church governance. This is important because the relationship of membership to organizational structure (congregational vs elder-led) always needs to put a back seat to the essentials of what membership means. One can easily get so caught up in debates over what form of governance is “better” that we miss the point that structure is help to members’ growth in Christlikeness, not a hindrance.

Although extremely valuable for individual reading, I Am a Church Member is best read in the context of a small group discussion. The questions at the end of each chapter are thoughtful and open-ended enough that you can actually engage in some meaningful dialogue in a group context. Regardless of your role in the church, this is a book you want to read and engage with. If read carefully, it will stretch you in how you view church membership, and you’ll come out the other side better for it.

Title: I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
Author: Thom S. Rainer
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group

Buy it at: Amazon

Courtesy of B&H and Shelton Interactive, today I’m giving away two copies of I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer. To enter, leave a comment and tell me why church membership matters to you and how this book might contribute to the culture of your church.

Bound Together by Chris Brauns

boundtogethercover1The place of community in the Christian life seems increasingly complicated for those of us living in the West. We don’t seem to really get it. Some seem to live as though they can do life as “just me and Jesus;” that our actions impact no one but ourselves and community is a nice-to-have, rather than an essential.

Chris Brauns wants to change that. In Bound Together, he shows us how all we are inextricably connected to one another (whether we like it or not) and all that entails for good and bad.

Brauns’ demonstrates this using what he calls the principle of the rope—”the simple truth that our lives, choices, and actions are linked to the lives, choices and actions of other people” (25). Understanding this principle is central, he argues, to truly grasping not only the Christian faith, but all of human history.

Think about all the different ways we’re affected by the decisions of others. You can probably come up with a list of ten things before you finish reading this, whether significant or fairly innocuous. That’s the principle of the rope in practice.

Scripturally we see this most explicitly shown in two places: The fall of man and redemption in Christ.

If we weren’t tied to Adam—if we were fully autonomous—then we would not be under his curse. We would be as free to sin or not sin as he was. And yet our experience clearly demonstrates this isn’t the case. Instead, we see that we are equally as sinful as Adam; that we choose to sin because of who we are; when Adam fell, he pulled us down with him. [Read more…]

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado


If you’re a parent, you know how hard it can be to find good books for children.

Kid’s books tend to swing too far into the simplistic or go so far over the reader’s heads that they lose interest. Balancing isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to write a story for little people on a big subject: the love of God.

In The Boy and the Ocean, Max Lucado offers a really sweet story of a mother and father describing the wondrousness of God’s love as they play in the ocean and climb mountains. Throughout the book, Lucado repeats this refrain:

God’s love is like the ocean… It’s always here. It’s always deep. It never ends. God’s love is special.

My middle daughter in particlar, Hannah, is quite fond of the book. She picked it up right away and asked to have it read to her daily for the better part of a week. The story is just right for a three-year-old’s comprehension level, so parents will be pleased with the book in that regard. And because Lucado writes with a distinctly poetic rhythm, our kids tend to be mesmerized when we read it.

Where the book really shines, though, is in the artwork. Illustrator T. Lively Fluharty’s art is stunning. We loved his work in The Barber Who Wanted to Pray and were thrilled to see it again in The Boy and the Ocean. Among our favorite spreads is the one that follows, where the boy sleeps “with the sound of the ocean in his ears”:


We love great art and Fluharty’s paintings alone make this book worth having in your family’s collection.

The story, like I said, is sweet—but that’s all it is. Where the book falls short, unsurprisingly, is giving a real sense how special, how deep, how unending God’s love really is.

While Lucado does a nice job with the “God’s love is deep like the ocean,” he doesn’t take the opportunity to say “and this is how God has shown us how deep his love truly is.” What you get is a half-truth in the book—one that parents are going to want to make sure they complete with their kids both during storytime and in the day-to-day.

In the end, there are a lot worse books you could get for your kids than The Boy and the Ocean. A gospel-driven book, this is not; but it is an opening to a gospel conversation with your kids. And if that’s what Lucado set out to do, then he’s succeeded admirably. If not, then I guess that says something else, doesn’t it?

Title: The Boy and the Ocean
Author: Max Lucado (illustrated by T. Lively Fluharty)
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

A much-needed kick in the teeth


One of the best books I read in early 2010 was Josh Harris’ Dug Down Deep. Back when I reviewed the book, I called out the last chapter, “A humble orthodoxy” as being worthy of being a book unto itself.

It seems others felt the same way.

Harris’ new book Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down was released just a couple weeks ago. The book revisits and expands on the content of that final chapter, showing how doctrinal humility affects our heart and attitudes, views of others and our relationship with God.

I read it on the way home from the Gospel Coalition National Conference and it was a much-needed kick in the teeth. Here’s one passage that particularly gripped me:

How can we be arrogant about a truth that is completely outside of anything we’ve done? If we had earned the gospel, we could be arrogant about it. If we had somehow created the truth, then we could copyright it and control other people’s access to it. But the truth is a gift from God to us. It has changed us only because he extended his mercy to us. How then can we not extend mercy to others?

Sound doctrine is vital. Godly example is essential. But they are not enough. Apart from humility of heart, we will be like the Pharisees and will use the truth as a stick to beat others over the head. And God will be dishonored in that. If we would honor God, we must represent truth humbly in our words, in our demeanor, and in our attitude.

I have a hard time remembering this lesson. Sometimes I suspect it’s because of insecurity. I’m not always as confident as I want to be, so the louder I get, the more right I must be.

Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about. Maybe.

But humility and orthodoxy are fast friends. One doesn’t really have one without the other. This is a lesson I need to be reminded of again and again. And God is gracious to provide the reminders at the right time.

Because the book is an expansion of Dug Down Deep‘s final chapter, some might be tempted to write it off as unnecessary.

Don’t do that. Humble Orthodoxy may not be a whole-cloth new work, but it serves as a great (short) heart check. Read this book; then go back and read it again.

Title: Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down
Author: Josh Harris with Eric Stanford
Publisher: Multnohmah (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon