My favorite books of 2013

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading well over 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I’m not sure how they were even published… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year:

Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

From my review:

One thing is clear as you read Jesus on Every Page: Murray’s excitement for the subject matter is palpable, particularly when he shares 10 ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus can be found in creation, in the characters we meet, in the Law itself, in the history of God’s people, in the OT prophets, in the work of Israel’s poets… Christ is everywhere—even showing up in person on occasion.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

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From my review:

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.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Boring by Michael Kelley

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From my review:

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.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

From my review:

Too many of us struggle to understand how to ask questions well or even understand the purpose of a question. But Anderson gives us a framework for asking the right questions in the right way that I’m sure will be valuable for years to come. This book is a wonderful gift to readers of all stripes; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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This book, written for kids five and older, is a wonderful love letter to reading, and a fantastic reminder that regardless of how you read, it’s story that really matters.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson

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From my review:

Jamieson’s book is thoughtful, helpful, and packed full of wisdom. It succeeds in reminding us that sound doctrine truly is for all of life—and it’s a book you can’t easily walk away from without feeling at least a touch of conviction. Indeed, we all too easily take the implications of our doctrine for granted.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Five Points by John Piper

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From my review:

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.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

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From my review:

…the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover even the worst of sins. Homosexuals aren’t a special class of sinner outside the reach of the grace of God. In Is God Anti-Gay?, Allberry does a tremendous job of equipping Christians to think biblically about homosexuality and, Lord willing, to use what they know to reach the homosexual community with the love of God and see them, like all sinners, “repent and believe.”

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

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The second non-traditional entry on this list (scary, isn’t it?). If you were proto-emo in the 90s, you were a fan of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy comic, The Sandman. This book is not The Sandman. Instead, this is a fun, quirky story for kids 8–11 where the only angst comes from wondering when Dad’s going to get home with the milk. I really enjoyed it (even if my daughter didn’t).

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

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From my review:

Sensing Jesus, by the author’s own admission, is meant to be a slow burn. If you blast through this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. “Apprenticeship needs meditation and time,” as he puts it (27). Readers would do well to take Eswine at his word. Read slowly and thoughtfully. Make lots of notes. Be willing to recognize where you see yourself in its pages, and consider how God might challenge you through it to recover the humanity of your ministry.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


And just for fun, here are a couple of honorable mentions:

  • Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris (my review)
  • The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson (my review)
  • Crucifying Morality by R W Glenn (my review)

See what made the cut in years past:

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

3 gift ideas to share Christ with your kids

I have a confession: I’m woefully behind on my Christmas shopping this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been this far behind since before Hannah, our second child, was born. And, of course, it’s her we’re struggling to find the right gift for.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. If so, I hope today’s post can be a help. Here are three gift ideas to share Christ with your kids:

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The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul.

Ligonier Ministries has a number of resources available for children, but this is one of our favorites in the Armstrong house. This book weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier Ministries, Westminster Books or Amazon).


Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt.

This book, a child-friendly exploration of Psalm 23, helps children “grow in their understanding of the metaphors the psalmist used in composing this beloved poem. But more important, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the one who is the subject of the psalm: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier MinistriesWestminster Books or Amazon).

(Incidentally, Westminster Books has these two titles along with The Prince’s Poison Cup available as a set.)


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Buck Denver Asks: What’s in the Bible?

Phil Vischer began producing this DVD series a number of years ago, walking children through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. While obviously there are going to be a few quibbles here and there due to your particular theological emphases, the series itself presents a very good—even excellent—look at the core truths of the Christian faith in a way that’s highly engaging for kids.

(Learn more or buy it at Amazon or What’s in the Bible)


So those are three gifts I’d encourage parents to check out for their kids. What are a few ideas you’ve got?

How to write a great book review

“How do you write a great book review?”

I have a love-hate relationship with this question. It’s wonderful to see that people want to know how to do this, and it’s a real privilege that they seem to enjoy mine enough to want to know how I write mine. But—and there’s always a but, isn’t there?—I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I get asked. You see, I have a confession:

Most everything I know about writing good reviews, I learned from other bloggers.

That’s why I’ve put together this new little eBook, How to Write a Great Book Review.

This book isn’t intended to be “how to write a review like Aaron Armstrong.” Honestly, I don’t believe I’m pretentious enough to say that my reviews are always worth emulating (at least, I hope I’m not!). Instead, I want you take the principles I’ve learned over the last several years from writing a couple hundred different reviews, work them into your own routine and go to town!

Download a copy of How to Write a Great Book Review.

But it’s not just my advice you’ll read here: a short while before diving into this project, I asked a few of my friends in the blogging community to offer up some of their best advice for book reviewers. Their advice is worth far more than anything I can offer on my own, so I’m grateful for their contributions.

I hope you find the book helpful. Enjoy!

Of bloggers and book hoarders

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Up until recently, A&E ran a creepy show called Hoarders, showing the struggles of people who can’t part with their stuff and their road to recovery. These are people who are living surrounded by overwhelming amounts of stuff—and often in terrifyingly unhealthy situations.

One of the things I really appreciate is the kindness of a number of publishers who send me a lot of books. This is really kind since they don’t have to do this (and I don’t always read what is sent—because it simply isn’t possible). But it also makes me a bit nervous. How do I balance the self-imposed sense of obligation that comes with receiving a book? Do I read it? Give it a shout-out and be done with it? Say nothing at all?

Worse, there’s a tendency to want more (which may well be an example of what the Bible calls “coveting”). It doesn’t matter if I can get through it or not, it doesn’t matter if I can start it or not—when I see a book I get excited about, there’s a temptation to get it.

And before you know it, my shelves are double (or triple) stacked, and my kids are building forts out of my book collection.

Which brings me back to Hoarders. Something that really hit home for me (and my wife) over the last year is the similarity between bloggers—whether they receive books or other products—and hoarders. If we’re not careful, we can let these things pile up and they overwhelm us.

Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about three basic rules that help me keep a bit of control over the growing number of books in our house. Hopefully these will be helpful for you too:

1. Pass up. If someone sends me an email asking if they can send me a book, there are times when I wind up not responding at all (usually because it gets lost in the sea of awful that is my inbox). But often, I find myself having to respond and say “thanks, but no.” Sometimes even to books that sound interesting to me.

Even if you’re not in a position where people are asking to send you material, if you’re just going to the book store, this is an important practice to get into the habit of. When you’re looking at a book, maybe ask, “But what I really need is…” and see what you’d actually fill in the blank with. Chances are, it’s not the book that’s in your hand.

2. Prioritize. One of my early mistakes as a blogger was failing to prioritize. I signed up for too many review programs (which I now don’t use) and requested too much material. I wound up in a place where I didn’t really know where to start.

These days, I tend to choose what I’m going to read based on:

  • If I have an outside assignment (such as when I’m reviewing a book for The Gospel Coalition)
  • If it’s part of my research for a book project
  • If it’s a book that will help me serve others
  • If it’s something dealing with a cultural issue that interests me

These are pretty broad categories, but they still help me a ton simply because they force me to be a bit more particular in what I’m reading and not try to do too much.

3. Purge. This is the hardest one for book lovers in general, but is the most exciting one for my wife. But if a book is on your shelf for more than a year and you’ve not opened it, it’s probably time to give it to someone else. If you read a book and it was terrible, strip the cover and recycle it.1 If you read a book and you loved it, but know you’re not going to read it again, give it to someone else. It’s rare that you’re going to have the chance or desire to go back to most of the popular level material you’re reading, so it’s just fine to say goodbye to it.

You don’t need the books you’ve not read, and you don’t need to keep most of the ones you have. There’s no shame in admitting it and a regular purging of your books gives others the opportunity to read something potentially really great.

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

As the earth screams through space, balanced exactly on the edge of everyone burning alive and everyone freezing solid, as we shriek through deadly obstacle courses of meteor showers and find them picturesque, as the nearest fiery star vomits eruptions hundreds of times bigger than our wee planet (giving chipper local weathermen northern lights to chatter about), as a giant reflective rock glides around us slopping the seas (and never falls down), and as we ride in our machines, darting past fools and drunks and texting teenagers, how many times do we thank God? We are always in His hands, but we often feel like we are in our own. We can’t thank Him for every breath and every heartbeat, but we can thank Him every day for not splatting us with the moon or letting us drop into the sun.…

In a bed or on the battlefield or on asphalt in shattered glass beneath a flashing light, we are God’s stories to end. How many drunks has He spared you from? Thank Him before you ask to be spared from another. How many breaths have you drawn? How many winter winds have tightened your skin? How many Christmases have you seen? How many times has the sky swirled glory above your head like a benediction?

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Search for moments in your story for which you can be grateful.

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, 139-140

What should I review?

I just got back from a trip to Colorado Springs (day job related). After a fantastic welcome by my kids that included Hudson nearly walking outside barefoot shouting “Car-car!” and Abigail attaching herself to me like a spider monkey, I found a wonderful present waiting for me from my friends at Crossway:

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Image via Pressgram

If you’re struggling to see all the titles, here’s the complete list:

I’m very excited to dig into these over the next few weeks, and perhaps even sharing a few thoughts.

Now, here’s where I need your help: If were going to review one, which should it be?

What’s on your to-read pile?

Every so often I like to share a few titles on my reading pile. Here’s a quick look at what’s currently on tap:

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Image via Pressgram

If you can’t see all the titles, they are:

  • The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Explore the Divine Mystery of Human Origins by Tim Stafford (Amazon)
  • Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (Westminster | Amazon)
  • The Unfolding Mystery by Edward Clowney (Westminster | Amazon)
  • The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod (Westminster | Amazon)
  • Fight: A Christian Case for Non-violence by Preston Sprinkle (Amazon)
  • Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek (Second Edition) by William D. Mounce (Amazon)

What’s on your to-read pile?

Save on CONTEND until November 21

“Contending is not an add-on to living the Christian life. It is not some distinct function or special mode. It’s just being serious about our faith.” That’s how I describe the task of contending for the faith in my recent book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World.

This book isn’t the typical apologetics book, offering readers answers to common questions about the faith. Instead, it’s a call to see contending as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived—to see contending not as a separate discipline, but as a natural outworking of our Christian faith.

And from now until November 21st, Contend is on sale for 99¢ for a digital edition (ePub/Kindle/PDF) and $6.99 for a print edition! 

For more on the book, here’s a look at the trailer:

Praise for Contend:

Contend, by one of evangelicalism’s most promising young writers and thinkers, is exactly the kind of book the church needs in our moment.… Armstrong’s gospel-saturated writing, coupled with deeply instructive practical examples, will equip the church to be as bold as a lion, and to roar as Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and Machen before us.”—Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History, Boyce College

“At a time of great theological confusion and emotional calls to content-less “unity,” a time of politically-correct “can’t-we-all-get-alongism,” here is a balanced and passionate appeal especially to young believers from a young author, Aaron Armstrong, to take seriously their commitment to Jesus in all areas of life…”—Dr. Peter Jones, Executive Director, truthXchange

Contend is a fine combination of concise biblical exposition, down-to-earth examples, contemporary illustrations, and challenging practical application.… It’s not only an ideal book for discipling a new believer, but also for shaking the more mature out of dangerous complacency and passivity.”—David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

This sale ends November 21st, so be sure to take advantage while you can! 

The blessing/curse of first generation faith

I’m a first-generation Christian; I didn’t grow up in a community of faith; I think I went to Sunday school twice in my entire life. I became a Christian at the age of 25. This is both a tremendous blessing and a heavy responsibility. On the one hand, it’s really exciting because we’re raising our kids and teaching them about who Jesus is, and why He matters.

On the other hand, there’s always that concern that they could see Christianity as the “default;” that if you’re a part of the family, you’re a Christian (even if you have no real understanding of what that means).

That’s one of the things I really appreciate in the early pages of Jeff Bethke’s book, Jesus > Religion. Here’s how he describes himself pre-conversion:

“Saying I was a Christian seemed to get me further with my friends, family, and society than saying I was not. Being a Christian made life easier for me. But I didn’t actually love or serve Jesus.”

As a parent, those are terrifying words, ones I hope my children never identify with. But oddly, as much as I never want to hear these words come from my kids, and as terrifying as they are, they’re not words that fill me with a paralyzing sense of dread.

This isn’t because I’m an A-plus Christian parent. I make a LOT of mistakes. I sin against my kids all the time. But when I sin, I remind our kids that I need Jesus’ help, too. This is why I don’t find the negative side of being a first generation believer overwhelming—the continuing of a “legacy” of faith (if you’re a fan of such language) isn’t in my hands—it’s in Jesus’. The only responsibility I have is to faithfully live out the faith given to me, and teach our kids why.

Emily or I can plant a seed, the other can water, but only God can give the growth.

5 books on my shelf right now

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m always reading something (and hopefully something interesting). Here’s a quick look at a few books that are on my currently reading and to-read piles right now:

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Otherworld: A Novel by Jared C. Wilson

Something strange is happening in Houston and its rural suburb, Trumbull. It starts with the bizarre mutilation of a farmer’s cow, sparking rumors of UFO sightings and alien visitations. It’s all an annoyance for the police, who would prefer to focus on the recent murders in the area. Mike Walsh is a journalist with a nagging editor and a troubled marriage who finds himself inexorably drawn into the deeper story creeping up on all who dare get close enough: a grizzled small town police captain, a depressed journalist, a disillusioned pastor, and a little old man. They are unlikely allies against the otherworld.

I’m about 35 per cent through this one; it’s a fun supernatural thriller with more than a few quotable moments.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian and Cara Croft

Featuring insights from the perspective of both a pastor and his wife–The Pastor’s Family identifies the complicated burdens and expectations ministry brings to the life of a family. Brian and Cara Croft identify the unique challenges that pastors face as husbands and fathers. They also discuss the difficulties and joys of being a pastor’s wife and offer practical advice on raising children in a ministry family. In addition to addressing the challenges of marriage and raising children, they also highlight the joys of serving together as a family and the unique opportunities pastors have to train their children and lead their families.

With discussion questions for use by couples and pastoral reading groups, this book is ideal for pastors and their spouses, pastoral ministry students and their wives, as well as elders, deacons, and others who wish to remain faithful to the care of their families while diligently fulfilling their calling in ministry. The Pastor’s Family equips pastors with time-tested wisdom to address the tension of family and congregational dynamics while persevering in their calling.

Learn more or buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Called-to-Stay-Breakey

Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church by Caleb Breakey

Will You Stay?

Caleb Breakey prays to God you do.

In Called to Stay Breakey takes a refreshingly honest look at the church, the problem of Millennials leaving, and the stark reality of why the church desperately needs them. He holds nothing back as he unleashes an ambitious rallying cry to heal the church and inject his generation’s desire for truth, passion, and conviction into other believers.

Caleb knows that answering the challenge of his own generation leads to a transformed church.

And a changed church can change the world.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


Gray Matters by Brett McCracken

Culture. As Christians we’re encouraged to engage it, create it, redeem it. And today many of us are actively cultivating an appreciation for aspects of culture previously stigmatized within the church. Things like alcohol, R-rated movies, and secular music have moved from being forbidden to being celebrated. But are we opening our arms too wide in uncritical embrace of culture? Can there be a healthy, balanced approach–or is that simply wishful thinking?

With the same insight found in his popular Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken examines some of the hot-button gray areas of Christian cultural consumption, helping to lead us to adopt a more thoughtful approach to consuming culture in the complicated middle ground between legalism and liberty.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


VOWS color 364 96

Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God by John Greco

Marriage is supposed to be for life, but divorce still happens. How can a Christian reconcile the reality of divorce with the biblical view of marriage? How can the wronged spouse forgive? And how can God still be good when bad things happen?

In Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God, Greco doesn’t offer pat answers. It combines Greco’s personal story with a biblical view of suffering. He provides pastoral help for those who have experienced divorce and gives all Christians a way to think biblically about this difficult subject.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press


That’s a quick look at what I’m reading (and going to be reading) over the next few weeks. What’s on your pile?

3 ways my reading habits have changed

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Over the last few years, I’ve read a lot—like a lot a lot—of books. (I may or may not have read enough to qualify for a seminary degree. But, sadly, only from a sketchy school.) Because I enjoy books so much, I find it periodically helpful to examine my relationship with them and to see how my habits have changed. Here are three things I’ve noticed recently:

1. Focusing on one book at a time

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea I could multi-task and read a bunch of books all at the same time. False.

A chapter here and a chapter there doesn’t really help me. Although I feel like I’m admitting a weakness in saying it (since we’re all supposed to be epic multi-taskers today) I need to focus on only one book at a time. When I do, something interesting happens: I read more!

When I’m trying to read multiple things, it just gets messy and I get scattered. Which is no fun at all.

2. Getting okay with quitting—and finding new homes for—books

If you were to look at my “currently reading list” on Goodreads, you might see four titles. Two have been sitting there for, give or take, about eight months. Another has been slowly being picked away at for five. One has been up for two days. Guess which I’m actually reading?

The one I’m picking away at is one that requires much long-term processing, so it’s no wonder I don’t come back to it all that often (despite it being excellent). However, the other two I just had a hard time getting into. And, despite having a peculiar need to finish every book I start, I’m getting pretty okay with saying, “nope, not going to finish.”

I’m also getting better at getting rid of books altogether. Our bookshelves are double and triple-stacked. I’m kind of afraid we’ve accidentally become hoarders (but just of books)! This week, I took a big box of books (enough to fill one shelf) to work and said to my coworkers, “Take whatever you want!” They, happily, took me up on the offer.

And you know something? It felt pretty liberating. (This thrills my wife immensely.) While I’m still taking baby steps with this (figuring out what to get rid of is probably harder than actually getting rid of them), it’s helpful for me to know I can actually do it!

3. Getting okay with reading “just for fun”

Reading’s always been fun for me, but reading books that don’t necessarily have a lesson to be learned or an insight to be grasped. This summer I read The Princess Bride, and it was excellent. But there’s no lesson to be learned there. Ditto a rather ridiculous book spoofing the end of days (long story…). I love learning, but sometimes it’s okay to read some brain candy.

What about you? How have your reading habits changed over time? What do you need to change (if anything)?

New eBook: Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology-Cover

As Christians, we are commanded to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). What we believe, what we think and speak and do as a result, must be informed by and conformed to the truth of Scripture. That’s the heart behind a new eBook I’ve just released: Everyday Theology: Understanding the Ideas We Assume are True.

In seven essays that examine a few common popular ideas and Christian clichés, this short book is intended help readers to think Christianly and examine the tidbits of “everyday theology” we assume are true.

Here’s what a few friends are saying:

A friend of mine once said, “‘God only helps those who help themselves’ is not in the Bible, but it’s common sense.” In this short, punchy book, Aaron Armstrong reminds us that this phrase and others like it are certainly common, but theological nonsense. In just a few pages, Everyday Theology will make you both laugh and cry as you remember all of the times you were guilty of offering others a dose of “common sense.”

Brandon Smith, Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Associate Editor at The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood


In a day and time when quaint sayings and cultural truisms pass for the Word of God, many of us assume that things we’ve always heard are true actually are. Problem is, many of these sayings are only that—just sayings. What Aaron has done with this short book is help us to see over and over how easily we might assume truth and why we must not. I hope this book will help many recover a greater understanding of the true promises of God found in His Word.

Michael Kelley, author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal


We’re all theologians, we just don’t realize it. And some of the trite Christian statements we repeat reveal beliefs that run counter to the Word of God. Aaron Armstrong deconstructs some of our faulty everyday theology in a graceful, but biblical way. You’ll want to get your hands on Everyday Theology and sharpen your theological muscles.

Daniel Darling, author of Activist Faith


In a day when much of what we believe goes unchallenged, Aaron Armstrong with grace and truth speaks the Truth in love to us that we might know the Word and love the Son Jesus Christ. I highly recommend you read this book and pray the Lord uses it mightily for His glory.

Dave Jenkins, Director, Servants of Grace Ministries


Everyday Theology is available now at Amazon for 99¢.

Hope you enjoy!

Read to be challenged, not only affirmed

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

A few years ago, another blogger, who was writing a review of a pretty terrible book, began with the following story:

A professor at Southern (who shall remain nameless) once said in class “Incestuous breeding produces bastard children.” In context, I think what he meant was that serious scholars and pastors should not consume themselves with only reading things with which they agree. It is good for the mind and even sometimes good for the soul to read people who have different opinions and even different theological positions.

This really left an impression on me when I first read it. It still does.

We who live in this peculiar world of the “Young-restless-reformed/gospel-centered/whozamafaceit” have a nasty habit: we tend to be pretty insular in our reading.

While there’s much to like (even love) about writers from this particular group—we are right to appreciate writing that makes the gospel great, to be sure. But there’s a danger, too: if you’re not careful you can wind up only reading and listening to people you agree with.

Your arguments become second- (even third-) hand. Your discernment dulls. You risk becoming, well, kinda boring (and not in a good way).

“Incestuous breeding produces bastard children” indeed.

This is why I try to regularly read people who are firmly within the evangelical sphere who aren’t in the same camp as me. As frustrating as I find them to be at times, it’s helpful to read something by Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley every once in a while. Sometimes you pick up a genuinely good insight that makes it worthwhile.

It’s why I also regularly read material from outside the Christian sphere altogether. Reading books by non-Christian authors allows me to see what people are picking up on via the common grace of God, while also getting a better sense of where the world around me is going.

It’s why I also have a simple rule I’ve been following faithfully for the last several years: Read at least one book a year that I know I’m going to flat-out disagree with. This year, I’ve read at least two, one on being a “biblical” woman, and another that wasn’t even worth talking about by a very famous hipster ex-pastor (there are probably more, but I can’t think of them).

Why would I do this to myself? Do I have some sort of perverse need to bang my head against a wall?

I do it because reading something I disagree helps me to think clearly about what it is I do believe—and why.

It forces me to not rely on the arguments and opinions of others, but to actually interact with the assumptions of someone very different than me, turn to the Bible and see for myself whether or not it lines up, and to see where these authors may be asking the right questions (even if they’re giving the wrong answers).

At the same time, though, this should only be done within the context of an ever-increasing knowledge of the truth. Handing a new believer a Rob Bell book, for example, is rarely going to end well. He or she needs a firm foundation before being able to test the mettle of the voices vying for his or her attention.

The point of reading is not only to be affirmed in what we believe, but also to have our assumptions challenged. Reading outside of our comfort zone allows us to do both—to be affirmed in what we know is true, to embrace truth that is coming from outside our usual sphere of influence, but also to test our discernment to the glory of God.

What have you read lately that’s been particularly challenging for you?

Three books on my reading pile

Lots of books on the reading pile right now. Here’s a quick look at a few:

1. To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler (with Jared C. Wilson)

to-live-is-christ

I’m about halfway through this one. Really, really solid stuff. Here’s a favorite passage:

Who are the dogs? They are the ones who want to mark their faith in Christ by what they do or do not do. And they want to get a list of things that they do well. They want to say, “I’m not as bad as I was in college. I’m not as bad as I was when I first got married. I’m not as bad as you.” And they want to use that as some sort of evidence of their superior spirituality, their higher-quality goodness, their unassailable morality. They are in fact scattered in the imaginations of their prideful hearts.

The dogs stay focused on “I do. I don’t. I have. I never.” And look at what they have done. Look at what they have accomplished. Paul here, as loudly as he can, is saying, “Who cares? I did all that too. On the scale, I’m even better than you!” “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7)…

Paul is unpacking these reasons for you to violently and lustfully pursue Christ at all costs, because even if you get all of those good, morally superior attainments—if you clean up your life and manage to somehow never struggle ever again—but you never get Jesus, you’ve totally lost. You’ve actually attained a whole lot of nothing. In the end, if you look great and sound great and act great, but you don’t know Jesus, who cares?

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books)


2. Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell and friends

dox-theol-book

Worship—whether you’re talking about singing (in the narrowest sense) or every thought, word and deed (in the broadest sense)—has long been a source of fascination/frustration for me. we need a better, more robust theology of worship. Matt Boswell and co. have done an impressive job on this one. Here’s a great example from Zac Hicks’ chapter, “The Worship Leader and the Trinity:”

Many in recent years have commented on the anemic state of much of evangelical worship in the twenty-first century. We are me-focused, a-theological, biblically illiterate, and entertainment-saturated, they say. Many of these critics offer a prescription for recovery, ranging from things as practical as a reform of liturgy or musical styles to things as philosophical as media ecology and aesthetics. I’m convinced, though, that many of these (important) observations find resolution when we begin to be more intentional as worshippers, worship planners, and worship leaders about allowing our worship to take the shape of our beloved Object.

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon)


3. Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley

boring-michael-kelley

I’m probably cheating a bit by including this one since I finished reading it on Sunday. It is, however, so, so good (a more thorough critique is coming soon). Here’s a passage that really stuck with me:

…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)

(Learn more or buy it at: Amazon)


That’s a quick look at my reading pile. What are you reading these days?