Three Things You Can Do When You’re Reading a Bad Book

Given the amount of reading I do, I am extremely thankful that I end up reading mostly really good books. There are always a few that leave me with a bit of a “meh” feeling, but by and large there aren’t too many that have made me regret ever having read them.

Still, there are some that are just so awful that I don’t know quite what to do with them. And after I’m done, I find myself in an even more precarious predicament—I don’t want them on my bookshelf, nor do I want to give them away, lest they wind up on someone else’s. So what, then, shall we say, dear brothers and sisters? What can you and I do when we find ourselves reading really bad books? Obviously, burning them is not an option (unless you’re trapped in the wilderness and you need then for kindling, then it’s cool), but there must be something that can be done with them that doesn’t involve giving them away and risking untold irritation to other readers.

In order to help, I’ve come up with three thing you do when you find yourself reading a really bad book:

1. Mark it like you’re a high school English teacher. Nothing is more fun that whipping out a nice red pen (I like these ones) and crossing out whole sections of a book. Plus, it sometimes it helps to put a big fat “F” on the title page when you’re through. It’s cathartic.

2. Run a play-by-play on Good Reads. Your commentary not only allows you to vent your frustrations, but entertain tens of people (depending on your friend’s list) in the process! For a great example, check out Aaron Gardner’s play-by-play on this book.

3. Build a fort. With all the books about people taking trips to heaven and vampires dating werewolves, I could build the most wicked-awesome “princess castle” ever, as Abigail prefers to call them.

Or, y’know, you could just stop reading it. But where’s the fun in that?

Got another idea to add to the list?

Around the Interweb

Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

C. Michael Patton offers this insightful article:

First of all, no one hates Rob Bell (or at least they should not). But, speaking for myself, I am very comfortable handing out C.S. Lewis books by the dozens while I don’t keep a stock of Bell books on hand. There is not a book that Lewis wrote that I don’t encourage people to read and grow from. Even A Grief Observed, where Lewis attempts to retain his faith in God, questioning everything, in the middle of the crucible of doubt and pain, is one of my favorite books to give to people who are hurting. But I doubt I would ever recommend one of Bell’s works to establish someone in the faith. In fact, I might only recommend them for people to see “the other side.” Let me put it this way (and I must be very careful here): While I fully embrace and endorse the ministry of C.S. Lewis, I do not endorse or embrace the ministry of Rob Bell.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth your time.

Also Worth Reading

Themelios: The new issue of Themelios is available at The Gospel Coalition

Generosity: A PLAN for Giving Generously

Life: Only Trusting In God Can Keep Me From Freaking Out

Funny: Tim Hawkins is always good for a laugh—

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Life and Technology: Are You an Internet Busy-Body?

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Inerrancy, Inspiration and Authority: A Clearing of the Throat

Inerrancy, Inspiration and the Character of God

5 Ways to Get Attention in the Christian Blogosphere

Awaiting a Savior: Review Round-up 3

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Richard Sibbes: A Holy Despair in Ourselves is the Ground of True Hope

Christmas Shopping for the Bible Guy (and Gal)!

A Holy Despair in Ourselves is the Ground of True Hope

A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope. In God the fatherless find mercy (Hos. 14:3); if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven, for the God who dwells in the highest heavens dwells likewise in the lowest soul (Isa. 57:15). Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep. He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak (Ezek. 34:16). His tenderest care is over the weakest. The lambs he carries in his bosom (Isa. 40:11). He says to Peter, `Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15). He was most familiar and open to troubled souls. How careful he was that Peter and the rest of the apostles should not be too much dejected after his resurrection! `Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter’ (Mark 16:7). Christ knew that guilt of their unkindness in leaving of him had dejected their spirits. How gently did he endure the unbelief of Thomas and stooped so far unto his weakness, as to suffer him to thrust his hand into his side.

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Kindle Edition)

How Do You Become Poor in Spirit?

How does one therefore become `poor in spirit’? The answer is that you do not look at yourself or begin by trying to do things to yourself. That was the whole error of monasticism. Those poor men in their desire to do this said, `I must go out of society, I must scarify my flesh and suffer hardship, I must mutilate my body.’ No, no, the more you do that the more conscious will you be of yourself, and the less `poor in spirit’. The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Read this Book about Him, read His law, look at what He expects from us, contemplate standing before Him. It is also to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and to view Him as we see Him in the Gospels. The more we do that the more we shall understand the reaction of the apostles when, looking at Him and something He had just done, they said, `Lord, increase our faith.’ Their faith, they felt, was nothing. They felt it was so weak and so poor. `Lord, increase our faith. We thought we had something because we had cast out devils and preached Thy word, but now we feel we have nothing; increase our faith.’ Look at Him; and the more we look at Him, the more hopeless shall we feel by ourselves, and in and of ourselves, and the more shall we become `poor in spirit’. Look at Him, keep looking at Him. Look at the saints, look at the men who have been most filled with the Spirit and used. But above all, look again at Him, and then you will have nothing to do to yourself. It will be done. You cannot truly look at Him without feeling your absolute poverty, and emptiness. Then you say to Him,

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.

Empty, hopeless, naked, vile. But He is the all-sufficient One-

Yea, all I need, in Thee to find, 0 Lamb of God, I come.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in The Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Edition)

Inerrancy, Inspiration and the Character of God

A few days ago, we started digging into this question of inerrancy—the idea that the Bible is completely and totally truthful in all that it says. This doctrine is one of the most critical, but is tied to a larger issue, one of authority.

If the Bible truly is inerrant, then it’s authority over how we think and live cannot be questioned (even if we are uncertain as to how we should interpret some of what it says). But why would it have such total authority—where does this authority come from? The answer is a simple and complicated one:

The Bible’s authority is derived from the character and authority of God.

Of all the ways God is described, as being merciful, faithful, full of steadfast love, there is one description that encompasses and controls all these: His holiness. God is completely and utterly perfect in all He says and does—and in His being.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” the angels sing. “The whole earth is filled with His glory!” (Isa. 6: 3) This holiness, this perfection, undergirds everything else that is true about God.

His love is a holy love.

His wrath is a holy wrath.

His truth is a holy truth.

And because God is holy, everything He says and does will always be completely and totally truthful.

The claim of God’s complete and total truthfulness is not something that is tucked away in an obscure part of the Bible, but rather it permeates the entire thing. It’s rare to find a book that doesn’t make an appeal to the truthfulness of God in some fashion. Some are more obvious, such as in Numbers 23:19, which boldly declares, “God is not man, that he should lie.” Likewise, as Paul reminds Titus of the assuredness of the hope of eternal life, he does so by appealing to the truth that God “never lies” (Titus 1:2). Again and again, the claim is made:

“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.” (2 Sam. 22:31; Psa. 18:30)

“Every word of God proves true…” (Prov. 30:5)

“The rules of the Lord are true…” (Psa. 19:9)

“…all your commandments are true.” (Psa. 119:51)

“The sum of your word is truth…” (Psa. 119:160)

“…the word of the Lord in your [Elijah’s] mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:24)

“…your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

These are but a few of the places where we are repeatedly and emphatically told that all that God says is truth. So, the question is, can God’s Word declare something untrue?

No. Because He is holy, He can be nothing less than perfect. Because He is perfect, He can be nothing less that completely truthful. It would be against His character to be anything less.

So we have to be really careful as we consider this question of inerrancy. Because God so strongly identifies with His written word (cf. Psa. 119:42; John 17:17), we risk impugning His character by suggesting that Scripture errs (even if we suggest that it is still infallible—a subject for a future post). And God identifies strongly with His written Word, not simply because He has ordained it be His method for revealing His character, but because He was intimately involved in it’s writing and continues to use it as His means of saving and sanctifying His people.

Scripture is “God-breathed,” says 2 Tim. 3:16, as God the Holy Spirit worked through the unique personalities of every author to set forth the exact message He intended for humanity. It “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). God’s Word—His written Word—has power unlike any other book ever written.

The question for us, then, is what do we do with it? Do we continue suppress the truth in our unrighteousness—do we risk impugning the character of God by suggesting that He could err? Or do we, like the Thessalonians, accept it, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13)?


Once a Man has the Love of Christ in His Heart…

The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it.

Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart, you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there. It is a plain lie to suggest that people who regard this knowledge of the love of Christ as the supreme thing are useless, unhealthy mystics.

The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent ours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century. God forbid that we should ever make the activity an end in itself.

Let us realize that the motive must come first, and that the motive must ever be the love of Christ.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Unsearchable Riches of Christ: An Exposition of Ephesians 3, 253

Awaiting a Savior: Review Round-up 3

It’s been a few weeks since I last gave an update on Awaiting a Savior. Since the last update, I wrapped a month-long interview series on The Cross Current Radio, got to answer a bunch of questions for my friend Daniel Darling and had my mind blown by some really cool stuff that’s been happening just in terms of reaction to the book (sadly, I can’t really talk about most of that). However, the reviews I’ve seen come in over the last few weeks have been fantastic!

God’s been very kind in giving this book favor with those who are reading it—take a look at some of their thoughts:

While Awaiting a Savior proves an excellent read as a biblical introduction to issues of poverty, Armstrong builds upon the work of other authors on the subject offering many insights that the well-read will surely find invaluable. To present a book that is short, easily understood, foundational, theologically deep, and insightful to readers from a variety of backgrounds is no easy feat! But I believe that Armstrong accomplished this well by the grace of God.

Andrew Guastaferro for The Gospel for OC

Initially I was tentative to read this book as I was fearful it was yet another in a long line of books inspiring us to live ‘radical’ lives of Christian discipleship. Radical discipleship is not wrong in and of itself, but focusing on ourselves and what we must do instead of Christ and what He has done, and is doing is. Mr. Armstrong completely put me at ease in this regard as I read his book. This is a book that is saturated with Jesus.

Chris Canuel

I loved this book. It was both convicting and encouraging. Most of all, it points us to that glorious day when those called by the Lord will enjoy eternity with him in a new heavens and a new earth, with no sin in his perfect economy of grace and justice. All praise be to God!

Aimee Byrd

Once you’ve read the introduction, your mind begins to question all other attempts at dealing with the issue of poverty. After all, the whole world is trying to deal with the issue of poverty. . . . The appendix, while only three pages in length, is much needed today. Personally, I think that if all you read is this appendix, you will begin to realize that a paradigm-shift must take place when striving to deal with the issue of poverty. You will begin to think of poverty not so much as a lack of material possessions but a lack of a knowledge of the gospel. That is extremely important and is a message that must be heard.

Terry Delaney

The less than generous Christian will be convicted by their lack of generosity and desire to help the poor both physically and spiritually (Chapter 7). The overly optimistic Christian who thinks poverty can be dealt a fatal blow because of their ministry will be brought back to earth with the stark realism of sin and Jesus’ own statements about the poor (Chapter 6). It directs our attention to the consummation of all things and a new heaven and a new earth (Chapter 8). I highly recommend this book to Christians who are wrestling with how to help the poor around them. In fact, the sections in Chapter 7 “Should I Give at All”, “To Whom Should I Give” and the Appendix are worth the price of the book for their practical advice on giving and helping the poor.

Mike Hyatt

Understanding that the root of poverty is sin, and realizing that poverty will continue as long as sin is present in the world allows us to love and serve the poor freely as an act of worship. It also reminds us that though we must do what we can to help relieve suffering in the world, we should also be pointing those in need to the Savior. . . . This book will help anyone confused or frustrated about how Christians can best show mercy to the world. I think it would also be helpful for anyone planning to serve areas of the world where poverty is rampant.

Staci Easton (author of The Organized Heart)

The shining truth in Aaron’s book is that poverty is an outgrowth of sin and that any attempts to provide a fix that don’t deal with the human heart will always fall short. It’s a provocative statement that could easily be met with disdain by founders of philanthropic organizations in the world, and even mercy ministries within the local church. In a world where we’re very concerned with finding a “fix,” Aaron makes the point that Christ is truly the only fix for a suffering world. Charitable works and generosity are an outgrowth of overcoming the poverty in our souls without Christ.

Louis Tullio

This book is practical and full of grace. I loved the practical suggestions at the end, and the way the author tackles the guilt associated with our giving throughout the book.

Ed Goode

This is a book that I greatly recommend as a tool to train the young people who want to come and do missions to poor countries. In Latin America, sadly to say, we receive many missionaries, many youth groups that come every summer to help build churches, and paint walls, and sing children’s songs in poor areas; but we need to go deeper, we need to go to the root of poverty: sin in the heart man.

Becky Pliego

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out their reviews—and I’d love it if you’d order a copy of the book at Cruciform Press or Amazon.

5 Ways to Get Attention in the Christian Blogosphere

One of the common concerns I’ve seen come up again and again about blogging (and Twitter… and Facebook…) is that it’s inherently selfish. Well, while I think that critique is a tad overstated, there’s no denying that blogging certainly can stroke our egos.

No one said that pride was logical.

Or intelligent.

There’s a sense in which we all (even introverted weirdos like me) love attention—and on the internet, it’s surprisingly easy to get it. Now, the best way to get people to pay attention to what you’re saying is to have something worth saying… but sometimes that takes too long. Here are a few ways you can get attention on the internets (even if they’re not the right way):

1. Start a “Victims of big church/popular preacher” blog. Controversy sells. And speaking of controversy…

2. Start an online “discernment” ministry. There is an art to the discernment ministry. I’m always impressed at how someone can write a post smashing Rob Bell by citing something by Mark Driscoll can then turn around and smash Driscoll in the next post (or paragraph). That takes serious skill. Although I’m not sure it’s what Jude had in mind when he exhorted us to contend for the faith.

3. Post about sex. You’ll be guaranteed to get the wrong kind of traffic, but you’ll probably get a boost (and maybe someone will stop and read a gospel appeal…)

4. Choose a nemesis. Whether it’s public school, giving babies formula or Mark Driscoll, you’ll probably get some crazy traffic. Or at least crazy comments.

5. Quit blogging (or at least post that you’re thinking about it). Read the comments from people telling you how much they’ll miss you. Blog more than ever. Repeat ad infinitum.

Did I miss any?

(P.S. It should go without saying that this post was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek.)

Inerrancy, Inspiration and Authority: A Clearing of the Throat

Recently, I wrote about whether or not it matters if Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. As I briefly explained, what we believe about these letters is a huge issue, particularly in how it impacts our view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. As I wrote previously:

So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.

Why? Because they would contain a lie.

More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, in that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.

This last point, that you either have to embrace a subjective view of Scripture or chuck the whole thing, is fairly contentious. It is very black and white. So, I want to begin digging a bit deeper into the issue of inerrancy to help give you a sense of why I believe it truly is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important—and one of the most misunderstood. What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant? Is it a man-made doctrine? Is it something that we have to read into Scripture, or is it something that Scripture reveals to us?

Like all the debates surrounding Scripture, like the existence of Adam & Eve, gender roles within the Church and so many others, there is another question at the heart of the issue—a question of authority. What we believe about Scripture says a great deal about who we believe to be in authority over us. If Scripture is truly what it says it is—the Word of God—then it is our ultimate earthly authority in all matters.

Before we start really digging into what Scripture says about itself, it’s important to lay a foundation for discussing the subject. And to do that, we need to understand what inerrancy does not mean. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Putting Unity First

Tim Challies offers an article that’s well worth reading:

Today it seems that unity, and especially unity from one group of professed Christians to another, often comes at the cost of theology. In his masterpieceEvangelicalism Divided Iain Murray says “The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.”

Read the rest.

Who Wrote the Gospels?

Excellent video featuring Dr. Michael Kruger, Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and co-author of The Heresy of Orthodoxy:

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Also Worth Reading:

Christian Living: Joel R. Beeke on Getting Back into the Race

Preaching: Storytelling and Preaching: Not the Same

Current Events: Penn State and The Danger of Insular Communities

Mission: Trevin Wax offers 5 nagging questions about DeYoung & Gilbert’s “Mission of the Church”. Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert offer a friendly response and flesh out the last point with one more post.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Does it Matter if Paul Didn’t Write the Pastoral Epistles?

Book Review: Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson

What’s On Your To-Read Pile?

Richard Seebes: Is There More Mercy in the Stream Than in the Spring?

When Men Counsel Women (video)

Choosing a New Preaching Bible

Christian Scholars in the Secular Academy (video)

The Inauguration of a New Form of Life

Consider Your Ways

Is There More Mercy in the Stream Than in the Spring?

Physicians, though they put their patients to much pain, will not destroy nature, but raise it up by degrees. Surgeons will lance and cut, but not dismember. A mother who has a sick and self willed child will not therefore cast it away. And shall there be more mercy in the stream than in the spring? Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who plants the affection of mercy in us?

But for further declaration of Christ’s mercy to all bruised reeds, consider the comfortable relationships he has taken upon himself of husband, shepherd and brother, which he will discharge to the utmost. Shall others by his grace fulfill what he calls them unto, and not he who, out of his love, has taken upon him these relationships, so thoroughly founded upon his Father’s assignment, and his own voluntary undertaking? Consider the names he has borrowed from the mildest creatures, such as lamb and hen, to show his tender care. Consider his very name Jesus, a Saviour, given him by God himself. Consider his office answerable to his name, which is that he should `bind up the broken hearted’ (Isa. 61:1). At his baptism the Holy Ghost rested on him in the shape of a dove, to show that he should be a dove like, gentle Mediator.

See the gracious way he executes his offices. As a prophet, he came with blessing in his mouth, `Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), and invited those to come to him whose hearts suggested most exceptions against themselves, `Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden’ (Matt. 11:28). How did his heart yearn when he saw the people `as sheep having no shepherd’ (Matt. 9:36)! He never turned any back again that came to him, though some went away of themselves. He came to die as a priest for his enemies. In the days of his flesh he dictated a form of prayer unto his disciples, and put petitions unto God into their mouths, and his Spirit to intercede in their hearts. He shed tears for those that shed his blood, and now he makes intercession in heaven for weak Christians, standing between them and God’s anger. He is a meek king; he will admit mourners into his presence, a king of poor and afflicted persons. As he has beams of majesty, so he has a heart of mercy and compassion. He is the prince of peace (Isa. 9:6). Why was he tempted, but that he might `succor them that are tempted’ (Heb. 2:18)? What mercy may we not expect from so gracious a Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) who took our nature upon him that he might be gracious? He is a physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of a broken heart. He died that he might heal our souls with a plaster of his own blood, and by that death save us, which we were the procurers of ourselves, by our own sins. And has he not the same heart in heaven? ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ cried the Head in heaven, when the foot on earth was trodden on (Acts 9:4). His advancement has not made him forget his own flesh. Though it has freed him from passion, yet not from compassion towards us. The lion of the tribe of Judah will only tear in pieces those that `will not have him rule over them’ (Luke 19:14). He will not show his strength against those who prostrate themselves before him.

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Kindle Edition)