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)

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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

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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

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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?

What to do when you’re stuck

keyboard

If you write long enough, you’re bound to get stuck—and you’re going to need help getting unstuck.

In April, I was hit with a moment or two of inspiration. I finally figured out what I’d like to write about for my next book (if a publisher picks it up—which means, of course, I can’t say hardly anything publicly yet). More than that, I wound up having ideas for two very different books, which, Lord willing, could be very very cool.

Since April, though, aside from a few moments where I’ve been able to dedicate time to these ideas, I’ve been stuck. The proposals sit there, waiting to be completed. The ideas are clear enough in my head. I know why the books would be helpful for readers…

But whenever I try to put the material publishers need together… I get stuck.

Which is really, really frustrating. 

So what do you do? How do you get unstuck on a writing project long enough to get it off the ground?

1. Pray. I’m not talking about the witchcraft-y trying-to-back-God-into-a-corner type of prayer here. I’m just talking about the simple, everyday discipline of coming before the Lord and praying that His will be done that day in your actions. This should be obvious, but I’ll be honest, I’ve been rather feeble in my prayers when it comes to these projects. This is something that needs to change.

2. Get a real deadline—one you have to meet. Whether you set it or you have a friend do it, set a deadline and get it done. (If you’re someone who’s blessed to have an agent, maybe they can help.) Deadlines are great motivators, so set one up. NOW.

3. Eliminate distractions. It might also be that you’e got too many distractions that are preventing you from focusing. Do you have something you need to stop doing in order to be disciplined enough to finish? Email, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix… turn them off.

4. Take a day off. For the vast majority of us, writing is the lowest paying, most laborious, yet incredibly rewarding part-time job we could ever have. Depending on your work situation, it might be good to take a day off from your day job to get stuff done (although this is only realistic if you’ve got enough vacation time available). Get out of the office, shut off your phone and go to it.

5. Be okay with letting it go. The idea might be good, but are you the one to tell this story or share this idea (even if it’s yours)? It might be that it’s nothing more than a fanciful notion, but not something you’re super-passionate about. Sometimes, even when it’s an idea you are passionate about, though, it might be the wrong season of life for you to write it.

I’m working through these things right now regarding my own projects. Right now, I’d say that (aside from prayer) my biggest issue has been distractions. I’ve had a lot of stuff going on that’s really just had me looking for something to take my mind off the events of my day. This week I’ve got some time that’s going to allow me to focus on getting these done in a distraction free environment. Lord willing, I’ll get something accomplished in that time.

But what about you, writers out there? What how do you get unstuck?

Ideas enfleshed

word-balloons

Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God), it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons an unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room.

Behold, a dangerous thinker of thinks! A believer in free-from-any-and-all-goodness! Fear my brainy blade!

Put candy in their bucket. Act scared. Don’t tell them that they’re adorable. Atheism is not an idea we want fleshed out.

Atheism incarnate does happen in this reality narrative. But it doesn’t rant about Islam’s treatment of women as did the (often courageous) atheist Christopher Hitches. It doesn’t thunder words like evil and mean it (as Hitch so often did) when talking about oppressive communist regimes. His costume slipped all the time—and in many of his best moments.

Atheism incarnate is nihilism from follicle to toenail. It is morality merely as evolved herd survival instinct (non-binding, of course, and as easy for us to outgrow as our feathers were). When Hitchens thundered, he stood in the boots of forefathers who knew that all thunder comes from on high.

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent (19-20)

Our self-centeredness is deep

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photo: iStock

We ruefully acknowledge how self-centered we are after we have had an argument with someone. Typically, we mentally conjure up a rerun of the argument, thinking up all the things we could have said, all the things we should have said. In such reruns, we always win. After an argument, have you ever conjured up a rerun in which you lost?

Our self-centeredness is deep. It is so brutally idolatrous that it tries to domesticate God himself. In our desperate folly we act as if we can outsmart God, as if he owes us explanations, as if we are wise and self-determining while he exists only to meet our needs.

But this God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Indeed, the point has already been made implicitly in verse 18. One might have expected Paul to say, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.” Instead, he insists it is “the power of God.…” This is not a slip on Paul’s part; the point is crucial. Paul does not want the Corinthians to think that the gospel is nothing more than a philosophical system, a supremely wise system that stands over against the folly of others. It is far more: where human wisdom utterly fails to deal with human need, God himself has taken action. We are impotent when it comes to dealing with our sin and being reconciled to God, but where we are impotent God is powerful. Human folly and human wisdom are equally unable to achieve what God has accomplished in the cross. The gospel is not simply good advice, nor is it good news about God’s power. The gospel is God’s power to those who believe. The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross.

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry (Kindle edition)

5 books I’m reading this summer

Summertime is nearly upon us; for many of us, this means something very important: the opportunity to take time off work! One of the ways I recharge is to spend time reading. Here are five books I’m planning to read this summer:

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Kingdom Come by Sam Storms

This one is probably going to be my big “plugging away a bit at a time” read:

The second coming of Christ is a matter of sharp disagreement amongst Christians. Many hold to premillennialism: that Christ’s return will be followed by 1,000 years before the final judgement, a belief popularised in the popular Left Behind novels. However, premillennialism is not the only option for Christians. In this important new book, Sam Storms provides a biblical rationale for amillennialism; the belief that 1,000 years mentioned in the book of Revelation is symbolic with the emphasis being the King and his Kingdom.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an by James R. White

What used to be an exotic religion of people halfway around the world is now the belief system of people living across the street. Through fair, contextual use of the Qur’an as the primary source text, apologist James R. White presents Islamic beliefs about Christ, salvation, the Trinity, the afterlife, and other important topics. White shows how the sacred text of Islam differs from the teachings of the Bible in order to help Christians engage in open, honest discussions with Muslims.

Buy it at: Amazon

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The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I grew up watching the film based upon this book, so I think it’s high-time I actually read it:

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

Buy it at: Amazon

The Doctrine of Sin by Iain D. Campbell

This is one of the last books I need to complete for my systematic theology certificate:

Modern theology reveres the names of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Emil Brunner, hailed as the heroes of a new, modern and re-stated Reformation theology – a new orthodoxy for a new age.

In this book, Iain D. Campbell focuses on one doctrine – the doctrine of sin – and views it first in its biblical perspective, and then considers the perspective of the Reformers and Puritans. He compares and contrasts their approach with that of Barth, Bultmann and Brunner. He also shows how the modern theologies have evacuated the Evangel of its power and saving influence by reducing the sin of man to little more than personal dysfunction.

The Gospel is shown to be the power of God to salvation, because there is an emphasis on sin as objective and factual, leaving people in need of the saving work of Jesus Christ. The new orthodoxy is shown to be not a re-statement of the Gospel, but, as Paul reminded his readers long ago, ‘a different gospel’.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

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Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian by Bret Lott

All serious writers know that each word they write reveals something significant about their beliefs, something about their reason for creating, something about the one for whom they write. After all, writing lays bare the soul.

Yet the work of a Christian artist is often pressured to fit into a popular mold, oftentimes forgoing quality for the sake of convenience or acceptance, or even simply because of a lack of the bravery necessary to look square in the eye the world, and to do so with the unflinching eye of Christ.

In this series of intimate reflections on life and writing, critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist Bret Lott calls authors to pursue excellence in their craft through five fascinating essays and an extended memoir that explore everything from the importance of literary fiction to the pain of personal loss.

Learn here what it means to be a writer who navigates the tension inherent to being a Christian in the public square—and to being an artist made in the image of God.

Buy it at: Amazon

Those are the primary books I’m planning to read this summer (there may be others that come up). What are you hoping to read during the next couple months?

When you feel weak and weary…

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently—at least a lot for a guy who normally sits at a desk or a Starbucks to work. One of the great difficulties I have when being away from my wife and family for a long period of time (this morning I leave home and will be away for up to 12 consecutive days) comes in the form of mopiness.

Feeling sorry for myself and focusing on where I’m not rather than where I am.

Because it’s so easy to start feeling like a sad sack when I’m gone for a long period of time, it’s no surprise these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled are so encouraging to me:

Do you feel your will is weak? Do you feel your energy is low? He will come to you; he will strengthen and energize your feeble will; he will enable you to resist temptation. He will take you above the obstacles and difficulties, he will empower you—that is what he has promised to do. He is life, and he will awaken you to life and a knowledge of God and fill you with his power. He will lead you along the journey so that, whatever your circumstances, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11–13). A branch that is in the vine and experiencing the power of the living Christ is alive with life itself.

Where we are weak, Christ is strong for us. And where we are tempted to sin—whether by feeling sorry for ourselves or some more blatant sin—he will enable us to resist temptation. If that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is.

5 books to encourage the offended

Earlier this week, I asked asked the fine folks on Twitter to recommend a book to help someone work through feelings of offense. As I’m finding is frequently the case, I can always count on you guys to come up with great recommendations.

Here are a few of the highlights:

people-pleasing

People Pleasing by Lou Priolo (P & R, 2007)

Full of Scripture and challenging to the reader, Pleasing People takes aim at a problem common in all of us: the desire to be liked by others. But the book also wisely delineates when pleasing people is biblical. The penetrating exercises throughout the text will help readers see how this sin manifests itself in their lives. Pleasing People will be useful for both personal reading and group study.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


When You’ve Been Wronged: Moving From Bitterness to Forgiveness by Erwin Lutzer (Moody, 2007)

Conflict in relationships is inevitable, but healing and reconciliation often is not. Time and again after we’ve tried every option and failed, all we are left with is a load of guilt and pain. Best-selling author Erwin Lutzer shows how the blessing the Lord gives to those who suffer unjustly is worth the pain involved. He also illustrates the need to leave our broken relationships in the hands of God, and move forward in our lives toward freedom. It is only through His healing power that we can overcome the bitterness and resentment that has overtaken our world.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


people-big-welch

When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch (P & R, 1997)

Overly concerned about what people think of you? Welch uncovers the spiritual dimension of people-pleasing and points the way through a true knowledge of God, ourselves, and others.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (Zondervan, 1992)

Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances — Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions — Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others — Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God’s will from our own and give us renewed awe for our Creator — Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations. When confronted with their lack of boundaries, they ask: – Can I set limits and still be a loving person? – What are legitimate boundaries? – What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries? – How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money? – Aren’t boundaries selfish? – Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries? Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend offer biblically-based answers to these and other tough questions, showing us how to set healthy boundaries with our parents, spouses, children, friends, co-workers, and even ourselves.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon


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Who Am I? by Jerry Bridges (Cruciform Press, 2012)

A direct, honest presentation of biblical truth, and all new material from Jerry Bridges, Who Am I? demonstrates for believers that they can and should rightfully claim for themselves an unshakeable, lifelong, personal foundation of confidence in one thing and one thing alone: the gospel of a victorious, resurrected Savior.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Those are just a few of the books recommended—what other books would you recommend to someone struggling with feelings of offense?

5 book reviews worth revisiting

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Over the last four years, I’ve written at least a couple hundred book reviews (give or take), and every reviewing experience has been different. Some leave you with seemingly endless thoughts and takeaways; others you struggle to remember the title.

Today, I wanted to share a few reviews you might enjoy that span the range of the last four years. Some books I loved. Others I found silly. But I enjoyed reviewing all of them for different reasons. I hope you’ll check them out:

Why We Love The Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

In their sequel to Why We’re Not Emergent, DeYoung and Kluck tackle the question: Can we love Jesus but not the Church?

For many, it’s experimenting with disorganized religion, where there’s no authority, everyone speaks and no one really learns anything. For others, it’s abandoning corporate gatherings altogether in favor of possibly having a spiritual conversation on the golf course or at Starbucks.

What Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck offer in Why We Love the Church is a passionate, biblically centered, God-honoring look at the Church—and why, for all her warts, we need to love her as much as Christ does.

The Armageddon Factor by Marci McDonald

Some books are meant to really grow you in your faith with positive encouragement. Others are meant to sharpen you as you’re confronted by silliness. The Armageddon Factor is the latter:

When I first I first heard about this book, I was pretty sure it had to be a joke. After all, Canada is far more post- and even anti-Christian than our friends to the south (that is, most of the people reading this right now). Our evangelical Christian population weighs in at an impressive 3.3 million people. To give you some perspective, we have more families with dogs than we do individuals who are evangelicals. Our political conservatives look more like the Democrats than the Republicans. So the idea just didn’t fit with my understanding of the Canadian landscape. While they may not look like an impressive bunch, McDonald argues, Christian Nationalists—whom she derogatorily calls theo-cons—are on the move and have connections to the highest levels of government.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

While people I greatly respect are divided on this book, I found it incredibly helpful and liberating—I still do:

Do you ever feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in terms of your relationship with Christ? You’re trying, trying, trying to “go deeper,” to serve well, to do all the things that we’re supposed to do as Christians—and you’re just stuck? Why does this happen to us? Why do we feel this constant need to do-do-do, as if we’re trying to impress someone?

Is it because we are?

Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson

Delightfully peculiar is the only way I could describe this book:

Have you ever tried to use your sense of smell to describe how a fresh bowl of fruit looks? What about sight to describe the sound of a two-year-old happily playing in her room? If so, you understand a little more about the challenge N.D. Wilson faced in writing Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World. In this delightfully peculiar book, Wilson attempts to recapture a sense of wonder at the world that God has spoken into being and does so with intriguing and thought-provoking results.

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

If you’ve read “ezer-warrior” in a blog post or book recently, you’ve got this one to thank:

From a male perspective, reading Half the Church was an unusual experience. It’s primary audience is women and James writes with that assumption in mind. In some ways this was quite refreshing as it gave me a glimpse into the female perspective, but it was also difficult at times to relate, particularly as she got into the nitty-gritty of her argument. And her arguments are where things get really interesting.

3 ways to keep you reading old books

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

“Of making many books there is no end,” the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us. If this was true three thousand years ago, how much more true is it today when, in America alone, more than 900 books are released every day.1

Call me crazy, but that seems a bit… insane.

Now clearly, not all of these books is meant to be read by everyone, which would be impossible even for über-reader Albert Mohler!

So how do Christians keep up—and how do we make sure the really great books of the past aren’t left behind?

Here are three suggestions to add and keep classic works in your reading diet:

1. Follow the footnotes. If you’re reading a lot of newer books, pay attention to the footnotes and/or endnotes. Start reading the sources read by your modern favorites. For example, if you’ve benefitted from books by someone like Tullian Tchividjian (say Jesus + Nothing = Everything), you can step back a few decades and read Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life by Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde. Or read Martin Lloyd-Jones and go back and read Puritans like Richard Sibbes. Or if you read John Piper, read Jonathan Edwards, and so on.

The point is simple: Start with the influences of your influences and work your way back. This will give you a healthy starting point for reading older books.

2. Rotate your books. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”2 This is good advice, and we should take it seriously.

While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for the specific numbers Lewis suggests (although I’m not against them by any means), the point is this: don’t just fill your head with new books. I try to read at least one older book for every three to four new, but this can vary depending on circumstances. Because I review books, there’s a greater sense of urgency with newer material that I have to fight against. It’s not possible to read all the new books I want to read, so my goal is to have a healthy intake of new and old.

3. Watch the times and pay attention. Many new books are very good and very helpful, but few have a lasting sense of importance. They’re so grounded in a particular time and context that they’ll be incomprehensible within five to ten years (although I love the book, The Explicit Gospel is one of these).

Where older books have a great deal of strength, though, is showing us how unoriginal theological error really is, as well as the timelessness of the truth.

When J.C. Ryle writes on the Saducees, for example, he writes from his 19th century context—but his point is equally applicable today in the 21st. He describes a kind of person, patterns of behavior, but his language isn’t so tied to this context that we can’t make heads or tails of it. Or consider a more recent example in J.I. Packer and his book, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. There he writes a scathing rebuke to the liberal movement of his day that, if you were to change the locations mentioned, would perfectly describe the climate of North American Christianity today.

Older books remind us that as bad as things seem right now, we’ve been through them all before and the gospel always prevails in the end.

What would you add to this list? How do you balance a healthy reading diet?

What’s on your to-read pile?

Here’s a look at mine:

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

What’s on your to-read pile?

5 books on a subject you’re probably scared to look at

Most people get a bit freaked out when you start talking about eschatology, with visions of Left Behind and Kirk Cameron riding unicorns dance through there heads. (You’ll never get that image out of your head now, will you?)

While many of us neglect studying this subject (primarily because of people talking about locusts being black hawk helicopters and such things), we all need to work out our understanding of the things yet to come.

Why? Because how we understand the world as it is—and how we relate to it—is as equally tied to our understanding of the last things as to our views on the first things. In light of that, I’ve compiled a list based in part on feedback provided by a few followers on Twitter to see what a few helpful resources to assist us in working toward a greater understanding of a difficult topic.


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A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson

In this fair, careful, and accessible study, leading evangelical theologian Millard Erickson provides an overview of various end-times perspectives. Pastors, students, and all those interested in end-times thought will find A Basic Guide to Eschatology an understandable, well-organized examination of the various viewpoints.

Each position Erickson examines includes (1) a brief overview, (2) its history, (3) a more thorough examination of its major concepts and of the arguments offered in support of them, and (4) an evaluation of both its positive and negative aspects. Previously published as Contemporary Options in Eschatology, this book contains an updated chapter that discusses new developments in dispensationalism.

Buy it at: Amazon


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A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times by Kim Riddlebarger

Amillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, preterism. These are difficult words to pronounce and even harder concepts to understand. A Case for Amillennialism presents an accessible look at the crucial theological question of the millennium in the context of contemporary evangelicalism.

This study defends amillennialism as the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age. Amillennarians believe that the millennium of Christ’s heavenly reign is a present reality, not a future hope to come after his return.

Recognizing that eschatology, the study of future things, is a complicated and controversial subject, Riddlebarger provides definitions of key terms and a helpful overview of various viewpoints. He examines related biblical topics as a backdrop to understanding the subject and discusses important passages of Scripture that bear upon the millennial age, including Daniel 9, Matthew 24, Romans 11, and Revelation 20.

Regardless of their stance, readers will find helpful insight as Riddlebarger evaluates the main problems facing each of the major millennial positions and cautions readers to be aware of the spiraling consequences of each view.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views edited by Robert G. Clouse

Since the first century, Christians have agreed that Christ will return. But since that time there have also been many disagreements. How will Christ return? When will he return? What sort of kingdom will he establish? What is the meaning of the millennium? These questions persist today.

Four major views on the millennium have had both a long history and a host of Christian adherents. In this book Robert G. Clouse brings together proponents of each view: George Eldon Ladd on historic premillenniallism, Herman A. Hoyt on dispensational premillennialism, Loraine Boettner on post-millennialism and Anthony A. Hoekema on amillennialism.

After each view is presented, proponents of the three competing views respond from their own perspectives. Here you’ll encounter a lively and productive debate among respected Christian scholars that will help you gain clearer and deeper understanding of the different ways the church approaches the meaning of the millennium.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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Promise of the Future by Cornelius P. Venema

Though we can never, in our time-bound state, know the future in detail, God in his mercy has not left us in complete ignorance of what is to come. His revelation in Holy Scripture has cast a flood of light on what would otherwise remain an impenetrable mystery.

Even among those who accept the Bible’s authority, however, there has never been complete agreement on what Scripture teaches in this area.

This major new examination of biblical teaching on the future of the individual, of the church and of the universe as a whole will be useful both to theological students and to informed non-specialists. Ranging over the whole field, it interacts extensively with recent literature on disputed issues, such as the nature of the intermediate state, the millennium of Revelation 20 and the doctrine of eternal punishment, always seeking to answer the fundamental question: “What do the Scriptures clearly teach?” The Christ centered nature of biblical teaching on the future is emphasized, as is the importance of the church’s historic confessions for an understanding of eschatology. The chief note sounded is one of hope: “God’s people eagerly await Christ’s return because it promises the completion of God’s work of redemption… The future is bright because it is full of promise, the promise of God’s Word.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books (A study guide for this book is also available)


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The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema

Writing from the perspective that the coming of God’s kingdom is both present and future, Hoekema covers the full range of eschatological topics in this comprehensive biblical exposition. The two major sections of the book deal with inaugurated eschatology (the “already”) and future eschatology (the “not yet”).

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


What are some other books you’d recommend on this subject? Leave your recommendation in the comments.

There’s no hope in self-help

This month is sexual assault awareness month.

It’s yet another awareness month I wish didn’t need to be. 

The statistics surrounding sexual assault are staggering—no less than one in four women have experienced it in some fashion; no fewer than one in six men have, too. It’s a sin that robs its victims of more than a sense of safety.

It robs them of their dignity.

So how do we best minister to victims of sexual assault, in whatever sphere of influence we have?

It’s not with self-help. 

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In their important, painful and hopeful book, Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb remind us that self-help is horrible news for those needing to be rid of the stain of sexual sin:

Sexual assault victims are frequently told some version of the following: “One can will one’s well-being” or “If you are willing to work hard and find good support, you can not only heal but thrive.” This sentiment is reflected in the famous quote, “No one can disgrace us but ourselves.”

This is all horrible news. The reason this is bad news is that abuse victims are rightfully, and understandably, broken over how they’ve been violated. But those in pain simply may not have the wherewithal to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” On a superficial level, self-esteem techniques and a tough “refusal to allow others to hurt me” tactic may work for the short term. But what happens for the abused person on a bad day, a bad month, or a bad year? Sin and the effects of sin are similar to the laws of inertia: a person (or object) in motion will continue on that trajectory until acted upon by an outside force. If one is devastated by sin, a personal failure to rise above the effects of sin will simply create a snowball effect of shame. Hurting people need something from the outside to stop the downward spiral. Fortunately, grace floods in from the outside at the point when hope to change oneself is lost. Grace declares and promises that you will be healed.

The Kindle edition of Rid of My Disgrace is on sale right now for 99¢ at Amazon. If you want to know more about the book, you can read my review here, but if you’re ministering to anyone in any capacity, please read this book.

If you don’t have a dollar, let me know and I will buy you a copy.

There’s no hope in self-help. The only thing that can cleanse the stain of sin is the gospel. This is what we must offer victims of sexual assault and this book will help us do it well.

Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology

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When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment.

Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment'” (Matt:522); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment'” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here'” (Matt. 12:41).

Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, pp. 78-79
(available from: Westminster Books | Amazon | Ligonier Ministries)