Gospel-centered discipleship: 7 questions with Brandon Smith

Recently it was announced that Gospel-Centered Discipleship would have a new director, Brandon Smith.


Brandon is a freelance writer, with work appearing in newspaper, radio, and popular online resources such as The Gospel Coalition, Baptist Press, and Church Leaders. He is also the Associate Editor for The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and Director of Communications at Criswell College.

Brandon kindly took a bit of time to share with me why he’s excited about his new role with GCD, his own experiences in discipleship, and what he loves about writing.

Sound Words: Listening to the Scriptures, one of the many eBooks produced by Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

1. What excites you about what’s going on with Gospel-Centered Discipleship?

Gospel-Centered Discipleship has made its mark in the past few years by offering articles and eBooks that are practitioner-tested, gospel-centered, community-shaped, and mission-focused. I’m eager to continue that trend. We have a slew of talented contributors and authors who are dedicated to advancing the gospel and helping equip the Church to do the same.

I’m also thrilled to say that we are planning to expand our ministry into exciting new territories. We are dreaming up ways to better equip local churches and their people to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and we want to be more intentional in developing a more hands-on approach toward equipping disciples to be disciple-makers. We also see great partnerships with like-minded ministries on the horizon that will focus on all of us working together to resource the Church for Jesus’s sake. God has been good to us, and we’re only getting started!

2. Who are the people who’ve had the greatest impact on your faith? Why?

I’d say the most influential person on my life is the first pastor I ever served under. Even before I became the youth pastor on his staff, he discipled me and served me in a way that I’d never seen before. He showed me how to disciple someone in the way that Jesus did: by loving, rebuking, forgiving, and teaching. I owe much of my character as a pastor, husband, father, and friend to him.

On a broader note, the Puritans have made a large impact on me as a person. Their regard to deep doctrine leading to resilient devotion is encouraging. The rich, God-exalting way that Thomas Watson writes has particularly shaped me spiritually. The Great Gain of Godliness wrecked me, and I always encourage others to read it with a humble, prayerful heart.

[Read more...]

Bound… together? 3 questions with Chris Brauns


Recently, I reviewed Chris Brauns’ new book, Bound Together. Around the same time, I had a chance to ask Chris three questions about the book, which he kindly answered with a thoroughness I’ve rarely seen!

Check out the interview below and keep reading to see how you can win a copy of the book for yourself:

In Bound Together, you identify a serious problem—the creep of individualism into the church. How did we let things get this bad?

The question of how radical individualism made its way into the 21st century church is an important one. Answering properly would require a survey of the developments of the Enlightenment. But let me try giving a concise answer:

Radical individualism was the inevitable trajectory of the Modern Age with its emphasis on individual autonomy. Over time, the radical individualism that came to permeate the West in the modern age has affected and shaped the Church. [Read more...]

Torn to Heal: 5 questions (+ a giveaway) with Mike Leake

Leake 364

Another book on suffering?

It’s so easy to write off books on this subject, especially when so many are already in print (both good and bad). But Torn to Heal: God’s Good Purpose in Suffering isn’t one to ignore.

While our culture does its best to insulate us from pain and suffering, God wants us to embrace it for his glory. Mike Leake gets that and in this book, he encourages us to face suffering not with stoic disinterest or dualistic defeatism, but with the redemptive purposes of Christ in view.

Over the last couple years I’ve gotten to know Mike thanks to the wonders of technology. He’s the associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Jasper, Indiana, has two young kids, is pursuing his M.Div from Southern Seminary and writes a great blog at MikeLeake.net.

Mike recently took a few minutes to answer some questions about the Torn to Heal, why he wrote it and how he hopes it will be a help to readers.

And keep reading to see how you can win a copy of this terrific new book.

1. What made you want to write a book on suffering?

In one sense I’ve been writing this book for years. As I’ve battled my own periods of darkness, developing a theology of suffering has been a necessity. I’ve also witnessed the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:4 first hand. As the Lord has brought comfort and healing to me I have been able to point others to the same fountain that has given life to me. On the other hand, I’ve also witnessed believers get slaughtered by unhealthy views of suffering. I believe John Piper is correct “wimpy Christians will not survive the days to come”. A robust theology of suffering is necessary.

2. Do we really need another book on suffering? What makes this one unique?

As I mentioned above I believe a sound theology of suffering is needed for everyday believers. The best book that I have read on suffering is How Long O Lord? by D.A. Carson. It’s a superb treatment of the topic of suffering. Yet if I’m being honest most people in my congregation would feel overwhelmed reading it. My hope is that Torn to Heal will give the same robust theology of suffering but in a more accessible manner.

3. In the book, you suggest that most of us view suffering from the perspective of dualism or stoicism. How does the way we view suffering affect how we approach trial?

If you view suffering from the perspective of a dualist you will avoid suffering at all cost. Yet if it’s true that this is one of the primary means that the Lord uses to bring us into conformity with Christ, we will be fighting against God’s good purpose for our lives. Viewing suffering as a stoic requires closing off sections of our hearts. A refusal to be real with suffering is often a refusal to really “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” It’s a foolish denial.

The same gospel that brings healing and comfort also, by necessity, brings tearing and eventual death to our fallen inclinations. To either run from this (dualism) or deny this (stoicism) will hinder our growth in Jesus.

4. A mutual friend has said he can only write something he’s lived. As you were writing this book, how did you find God applying the truths you were laying out?

Though there might be seasons where it is less intense, suffering is the lot of those living outside of a fully redeemed Eden. As such there is never a time when these truths cannot be applied. For me specifically there are wounds from my past that the Lord is calling me to radically trust Him in. Wounds which require opening up (which means not being a stoic) and wounds which must be viewed from the perspective of eternity.

5. How do you hope your book is going to benefit readers?

My goal for the book is that it would help believers develop a healthy view of suffering and then not be surprised when we have to use it. Someone asked me awhile back if this would be a book that you could hand to someone that was in the furnace of suffering. That kind of depends. If it’s a season of very intense (Job-like) suffering then the last thing people need is a book. They need presence; your presence and chiefly the presence of the Almighty.

Yet at the same time I believe this book can be immensely helpful to those suffering. I believe it was Dr. Schreiner who has said the greatest weapon in suffering is good theology… or something like that. I pray that this book equips people to trust His hand as we endure various trials. I pray that the Lord uses it to give hope to those that feel hopeless. And more than anything I pray that the Lord is honored and glorified.

In partnership with Cruciform Press, this week I’m giving away five copies of Torn to Heal. To enter to win a copy, use the handy-dandy PunchTab app and answer the following question in the comments:

How have you seen God at work in your life through trial and suffering?

This giveaway ends Friday at midnight.

Suffering and God’s Glory: A Conversation with Tullian Tchividjian


Recently I had the opportunity to review Tullian Tchividjian’s new book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free (read the review here). This powerful new book is among the most helpful I’ve read on the subject of suffering because of Tchividjian’s focus on the question of who is with us amid our trials. Glorious Ruin unpacks this fundamental question—“the only [one] God has seen fit to answer, concretely, in the person and work of Jesus Christ” (25).

Thanks to the miracle of technology, Tullian and I had an opportunity to sit down and chat about the book. The result was a 25 plus minute conversation where we discussed:

  • the need for the book;
  • the difference between being theologians of glory and theologians of the cross;
  • suffering honestly as Christians; and
  • Tullian’s hopes for the book.

Rather than give you chunks of the conversation, I wanted to give you the whole thing (with only the most minor edits). I hope you’ll find the discussion helpful. When you’re done, I trust you will purchase a copy of the book for yourself, which is available now at Amazon and WTS Books among other book resellers. You’ll be thankful you did.

Parenting to the Glory of God

A couple months back, I had the chance to sit down with fellow Cruciform Press author Tad Thompson to talk about his book,  Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. In this interview we discuss Tad’s reasons for writing the book, how the gospel applies to parenting and how he hopes readers will be encouraged:

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Intentional Parenting is available through CruciformPress.com, Amazon and several of your favorite Christian book sellers.

The Gospel and the Organized Heart

About a year ago, I received a copy of Staci Eastin’s book, The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos, which I joyfully gave to my wife as a gift (which she appreciated because, a. she loves organization and b. she loves books almost as much as I do). She found the book so helpful she kindly reviewed it here in her first parachute vlog.

While at Together for the Gospel in April, 2012, Staci and I sat down to discuss the book. In our interview, we talk about her reasons for writing The Organized Heart, how the gospel applies to organization and what she hopes readers will learn through the book. Take a look:

The Organized Heart is now available at CruciformPress.com, Amazon, WTS Books and a number of other online book stores.

Fear and Fear Not: Talking The Two Fears with Chris Poblete

For the Christian, the fear of the Lord does not diminish the gospel of grace; it amplifies it. This reverential fear makes his grace more amazing, his mercy more grand, his justice more right, and his love more astounding. The deeper our understanding of what it means to fear a holy God, the better able we will be to fear him as he ought to be feared, and the better able we will be to worship him as he ought to be worshiped.

Chris Poblete, The Two Fears: Tremble Before God Alone

Recently Chris Poblete and I sat down to discuss his new book from Cruciform Press, The Two Fears: Tremble Before God Alone. In this interview, we discuss his reasons for writing the book, whether or not “fear” is consistent with the gospel and what Chris hopes readers will take away from the book:

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Order a copy of the book at Cruciform Press or Amazon.


The Trinity and Adoption: A Quick Chat with Tim Chester #T4ACon

Tim Chester and I sat down for a preview of his talk at Together for Adoption on the Trinity and adoption:

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I’d encourage you to get any of Tim’s books—here are a few to check out:

Gospel Centred Family

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (with Steve Timmis)

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table

Delighting in the Trinity

Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to chat with me for this impromptu video—I hope you’ll check out his books. They’ll be a great blessing to you.

Reformed & Reforming: 3 Questions with Carl Trueman

Recently I had the opportunity to read and review Carl Trueman’s excellent little book, Reformation. Following the review, I had the chance to ask Dr. Trueman three questions about the book and his own appreciation for Reformation theology:

1. What do you most appreciate about the theology of the Reformers on a personal level? Is there any particular point at which you would diverge from their basic principles?

Justification by grace through faith. It is the only thing that makes it possible to really live as a Christian. The day I first understood that doctrine, it was as if a great millstone had been lifted off my back. I felt like Christian at the foot of the cross in Pilgrim’s Progress.

On divergence: given the Reformers themselves were quite diverse on numerous points, it is difficult to generalize. I disagree with Luther on the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper and on the helpfulness of images of Christ. I disagree with Zwingli in his more radical statements on the mere memorialism of the Lord’s Supper. With Calvin, I have little in the way of any disagreement. Of the three, Luther, though, is by far my favourite. His humanity is so clear in so much that he writes and does.

2. Looking back on Reformation and the lecture series that birthed it, do you believe there’s a greater or lesser need for recovering an appreciation for Reformation theology?

There is always a need for promoting the great emphases of the Reformation: scripture, grace, faith. What is Christianity without these? I am encouraged that the so-called Young, Restless and Reformed seem to be picking up on much of this, though a little concerned that the movement may be carried along by personalities and trendiness rather than truth. That is a concern, though, not a positive claim. Only time will tell what real depth the movement has.

3.  Is there anything in the book you would state differently?

Probably! Since writing the book, I have spent a decade in the USA, so my perspective has no doubt shifted on many things. I think the most significant, though, would be those matters I highlight in the new preface: today, I would temper my comments on preaching to make a little more room for application, I would stress the importance of ecclesiology, and I would encourage a greater appreciation of the creeds and confessions of the church as a vital resource for healthy church life and order.

Many thanks to Carl Trueman for taking the time to answer these questions and to Christian Focus for making it possible. If you haven’t had an opportunity, I’d highly encourage getting a copy of Reformation. It will be a wonderful addition to your library and a terrific investment into your own faith and ministry.

Countering the Counterfeits: Trevin Wax on Counterfeit Gospels

Trevin Wax is a pastor, editor at Lifeway, blogger at Kingdom People, and the author of Holy Subversion (Crossway, 2010) and the soon to be released, Counterfeit Gospels (Moody, 2011). Yesterday, I posted my review of the book, and today, Trevin has kindly agreed to answer a few questions related to it and what he hopes readers will learn from it.

What made you decide to write Counterfeit Gospels?

About a year after I wrote Holy Subversion, I began work on a second book proposal that highlights the fact that truth is beautiful precisely because it’s true. The editors at Moody were intrigued by the “beautiful truth” proposal, but they encouraged me to apply that idea to the gospel specifically rather than just the beauty of Christian teaching in general.

As I got to work on Counterfeit Gospels, I had two goals in mind:

  1. I wanted this book to present a compelling view of the biblical gospel so that common counterfeits would be less attractive.
  2. I wanted to deal with common counterfeits that are attractive to me and the people in my local church. I wanted to look deeply into our hearts and root out those counterfeits that tug at us in some way. In other words, I didn’t want this book to be: “What’s wrong with everyone out there?” but “What counterfeits are affecting me in here, in my own heart and life?” What are the counterfeits that we encounter on television, in bookstores, in conversation, in church? In short, I wanted the book to be pastoral in tone and intent.

How do these counterfeits get started?

It depends on the counterfeit.

Some counterfeits get started because we are uneasy with the idea of not fitting in culturally. So downplaying the notion of judgment (“the judgmentless gospel”) or uniting around social causes (“the activist gospel”) enable us to maintain bits and pieces of Christian ethics while drifting from the offense of a bloody cross at the heart of our faith. [Read more...]

5 Questions (Plus One) with Dan Darling

Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of Teen People of the BibleCrash Course, and iFaith (reviewed here on Tuesday). His work has been featured in evangelical publications such as Focus on the Family, Marriage Partnership, Pray!, In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley. His op-eds have appeared in Newsweek/Washington Posts’ On Faith section and other newspapers and opinion sites. He’s also been profiled by The Chicago Tribune, and appeared on TV and radio outlets across America including Steve Brown, etc, Moody Broadcasting Network, Harvest TelevisionThe Sandy Rios Show, American Family Radio, and many others.

Today, Dan’s been kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book—and he’s also offered two signed copies to give away today. Read on to learn how you can win a copy.

And now, here’s Dan:

1. What made you decide to write iFaith? Was there one specific event or was it a series of small things that led to the decision?

It was born out of several years of reflection on the impact of technology on my own personal walk with God. Initially I had this idea for a devotional, “Emails to God,” – like what would we say if we could send God an email. Then it started me on a journey of thinking how we moderns contemplate our relationship with God—positively and negatively. Then the chapters and ideas began to just really flow.

2. As you were writing, how was God working on you in these areas?

Oh, He was working on me in incredible ways. My wife often jokes that whenever I embark on a book, we go through some degree of suffering. It’s almost like God has to wring me through the lesson before I can put it on paper. The first chapter on the subject of waiting was something I really saw worked out in my own life and in my theology. During the writing of that chapter, Angela and I were waiting on several things. I realized how integral waiting is to God’s development of our faith.

I enjoy writing because it forces me into the Word to discover the truth about myself and about who God is.

3. You write that a common belief plaguing believers is the superhero mentality; that is, “the mistaken idea that activity for God is a worthy substitute for intimacy with God.” (p. 81) If this is something that’s come up in your own life & ministry, can you share how you were able to get beyond it?

I’m not sure we ever get beyond this. It’s the holy tension between work and dependency on God. On one level, working hard for God is a biblical, New Testament ethic. And besides the holy calling of building up the body of Christ, work itself is an end, it’s a form of worship. But on the other hand, Christians easily fall into that superhero mentality of Elijah, where we feel like the entire plan of God rests upon our feeble shoulders. We adopt a martyr mentality. And this is really prideful. It is essentially stripping God of HIs sovereignty. [Read more...]

Sit in Front of Your Savior: An Interview with Author Nate Palmer

Nate Palmer is a husband, father of three young kids from Dallas, TX. In addition to working for the software firm SAP, he pursuing his M.A. in Religion online from Reformed Theological Seminary and has had articles published in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.

Nate’s new book, Servanthood as Worship, is now available from Cruciform Press. He graciously agreed to take some time and answer a few questions about the process of writing the book, why you should read it and what’s next.

1. What led you to want to write on service as worship in the first place?

As I wrote in the opening chapter, after an initial burst of excitement after being saved I began to really struggle with serving in the local church. I knew something was wrong and that I couldn’t continue like this. Around that time our church in California decided to send a church planting team to Texas. My wife and I felt God calling us to go with them. I knew this embryonic church would need people to serve a lot more than in an established church, but I questioned if I could do that. I knew I couldn’t serve in the condition I was in. I felt as if I would be a dead weight to the church and a liability to my pastor. So I went to my pastor and told him how I was struggling. We talked, prayed, and read some scriptures. As I was leaving his office, I asked him if there was a more in depth resource I could read – to which he replied that other than a few chapters in various books (he wisely pointed me to a chapter in Donald Whitney’s book) that he didn’t know any. So I decided to write my own – I guess the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” applied in this case.

2. When Cruciform Press picked up the book, what was your initial reaction? Your family’s?

I was absolutely thrilled, shocked, and scared all at the same time. I mean I am a nobody – no platform to speak of, just an ordinary guy who wrote a book on something he stunk at – and here a publisher was picking my little book. My wife, who has been really supportive during the 5 years of writing and rewriting this, was proud and excited for me.

3. What challenges did you find writing this book, if any?

The challenge is to fully cover such a deep subject and feel like I have done it justice.

4. You write about the shift that happened in your own life and attitude toward service, that you from “thrilled to ambivalent to resentful to selfishly ambitious,” all in the span of a few months. Would you say this is a unique experience to you or is it something that’s far too common?

From what I have seen and heard, my experience is not so unique. My attitude shift may have happened faster than most, but everyone at some point feels the same frustrations. It is so common that we even have a term for it called burn-out. [Read more...]

Though Ryle Be Dead, Yet He Speaks! Erik Kowalker on J.C. Ryle and JCRyleQuotes.com

If you’re following anyone in the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” circles of evangelicalism, you’ve probably seen the odd link to a site called JCRyleQuotes.com. This website came out of nowhere a little over a year ago offering daily insights from the works of Anglican theologian John Charles Ryle.

The site’s founder, Erik Kowalker, kindly agreed take answer a few questions about how the site started and why he thinks Ryle connects with so many believers today.

John Charles Ryle (1816-1900)

Image via Wikipedia

1. How did you discover J.C. Ryle? What was it about his work that caught your attention? How did his work impact you personally?

I first discovered the writings of John Charles Ryle [1816-1900] on April 10, 2003. That is the date which is written on the inside cover of Ryle’s book Practical Religion, which a person bought for me while in a local Christian bookstore here in Portland, Oregon. Up to that time, I had never heard of J.C. Ryle.

I actually didn’t even begin reading Practical Religion until just over a year later, on April 12, 2004, for that is the date written on the last page of the chapter entitled Prayer. That chapter impacted my Christian life like no other book on the subject of prayer has ever done. I remember closing the book that night in my college dorm room and feeling like Ryle was speaking directly to me. It was convicting and encouraging, all at the same time, which sort of summarizes the style of Ryle’s books. So, from then [2004] till now [2010] I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the various Christ-centered, God-glorifying writings of Ryle.

2. When you decided to start JCRyleQuotes.com, how did your family react?

I launched the J.C. Ryle Quotes site on August 1, 2009. After several months of reading Ryle’s writings and underlining/highlighting almost every other paragraph, I remember thinking, “Wow! This guy is so incredibly quotable!”

As far as my families reaction to me launching the site, my kids are currently 6, 5 and 2 so they are more into Toy Story 3 and Dora the Explorer. :-) My wife simply said, ‘you do whatever you like Erik.’ :-)

3. Did you expect it taking off the way it has?

If you would have told me that 15 months after launching the Ryle Quotes site that I would have over 170,000 views, I would have laughed you right out of the room. I’m very grateful for “big wig bloggers” like Tim ChalliesJustin TaylorJosh HarrisStephen and Mark AltroggeTrevin WaxNick UvaZach Nielsen, etc. for being so kind as to refer their subscribers towards the site over the past year.

4. How has the site’s success affected you (if at all)?

The site’s success really hasn’t affected me in the least. I still am just Dad to my kids, Erik to my wife and a FedEx courier to my fellow co-workers. I’ve had a few opportunities to be interviewed with radio stations regarding the Ryle Quotes site, but honestly, I’ve turned them down due to being way too nervous. So, this question and answer format is much more up my alley. :-)

5. Why do you think Ryle’s work is connecting with so many people?

I truly believe Ryle’s writings connect with so many people for this one reason: clarity. Ryle has the uncanny ability/gift to make the difficult things in Christianity/theology so incredibly simple to understand. I think Charles Nolan Publishers (who have reprinted many of Ryle’s books) sum up why Ryle connects with so many today:

From his conversion [in 1837] to his burial, J.C. Ryle was entirely one-dimensional. He was a one-book man; he was steeped in Scripture; he bled Bible. As only Ryle could say, “It is still the first book which fits the child’s mind when he begins to learn religion, and the last to which the old man clings as he leaves the world.”

This is why his works have lasted—and will last—they bear the stamp of eternity. They contrast fruit which “remains” (John 15:16) against wood, hay, and stubble. Today, more than a hundred years after his passing, these works stand at the crossroads between the historic faith and modern evangelicalism. Like signposts, they direct us to the “old paths.” And, like signposts, they are meant to be read.

6. Besides Ryle, what other theologians do you have a particular affinity for?

I enjoy reading J.I. Packer and John Stott (both Anglicans) from the present, and have just started reading the Puritan John Flavel from the past.

7. Any final thoughts?

I want to thank everyone who has visited the Ryle Quotes site. When I launched the site I made sure that sole purpose for doing it was for the glory of God and the benefit of His Church, and I still stick to that. I thoroughly enjoy typing out the quotes for others to view Monday-Friday. It truly is a labor of love for my favorite author J.C. Ryle. I trust all who are introduced to Ryle for the first time will realize just how relevant his writings are over a hundred years after his death.

Though Ryle be dead, he yet speaks!