How Can We Love a Holy God?

One of my favorite passages from R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God:

The simplest answer I can give to this vital question is that we can’t. Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls. Without Him we can do nothing of righteousness. Without Him we would be doomed to everlasting alienation from His holiness. We can love Him only because He first loved us. To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.

If we are in Christ, we have been awakened already. We have been raised from spiritual death unto spiritual life. But we still have “sleepers” in our eyes, and at times we walk about like zombies. We retain a certain fear of drawing near to God. We still tremble it the foot of His holy mountain.

Yet as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain a deepe- love for His purity and sense a deeper dependence on His grace. We learn that He is altogether worthy of our adoration. The fruit of our growing love for Him is the increase of reverence for His name. We love Him now because we see His loveliness. We adore Him now because we see His majesty. We obey Him now because His Holy Spirit dwells within us.

The Non-Negotiables

Over on Facebook, I’ve been asking readers what they think are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith. The discussion thus far has been really helpful, so I wanted to bring readers here into the discussion as well:

What, in your mind, are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith? What are things that, if you don’t believe them, are indicators that you might be outside the faith and what things can you be severely wrong on but still probably scrape through as though snatched “out of the fire”? 

Some of the points that have been hit so far include the nature of God, the person & work of Jesus Christ (this encompasses things like the virgin birth and his life of perfect obedience), justification by faith alone and the Bible as the only inspired and authoritative word of God. So what I’d like to know from you is what else?

Is there anything would you include that hasn’t been included? Anything you’d take away? Do you believe there are such things as non-negotiables at all?

Why is Narnia Okay, But Not Princess and the Frog?

My sister asked this question over the weekend—and it’s a good one. Why are we okay with allowing our kids to watch The Chronicles of Narnia, but not okay with The Princess and the Frog? In her mind it seems strange and understandably so. On the surface, it might seem inconsistent, given that both have magical elements and a basic “redemptive” storyline and both have some scary elements. So why do we let our oldest watch the former and not the latter?

Outside of personal experiences that play a huge role in our decisions in what to and not to watch, we’ve found that there are some pretty clear differences:

1. “Pretend” versus “real” magic. The more fantastical elements of the Narnia films are exactly that—fantasy. Magic healing potions, glowing swords and enchanted dragon treasure are very different than practices which can be and are performed in reality by practitioners of voodoo. This is a particularly important aspect for us as Emily and I have both had experiences dealing with the occult.

2. Worlds and worldview. The Princess and the Frog offers a worldview where all is one. “Good” magic and “evil” magic are flip sides of the same coin, and man and nature are on equal terms. This is a worldview that is antithetical from Christianity’s necessary distinction between Creator and creation, mankind from the rest of creation and a clear distinction between good and evil.

3. The nature of redemption. In The Princess and the Frog, redemption is found within—the lead character discovers that all she has to do is believe in herself and if she tries hard enough, she can make her own dreams come true. In Narnia, while the movies are less strong on this point than the books in later installments, redemption comes outside the self. This is most clearly seen in Aslan’s sacrificing himself to pay the blood debt Edmund owes to the White Witch—and as a result breaks her hold not only on Edmund but on the people and land once and for all. Edmund’s redemption comes not from his penitent attitude, but from the sacrifice of another. Even in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for all its flaws in translating Eustace’s storyline, gets one thing right: Eustace is restored to human form not by his changing his ways, but by the intercession of another.

All this said, we don’t believe the Narnia movies are perfect films that we can just plop the kids down with and say “have fun.” Prince Caspian is far too intense for our oldest to handle, so we’ll be holding off on that one for a while. They also goof on a number of the things that make the books great (this is something Trevin Wax has helpfully pointed out in his assessments of Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader). But here’s why they’re still far more helpful at this stage than a lot of other films—they offer us a more natural opportunity to both explain the similarities and differences to what our family believes in a way that allows us to consistently point our children back to the gospel and focus primarily on what we’re for rather than what we’re against.

Question for readers—if you’ve got kids, how do you determine what is and isn’t appropriate for your kids to watch?

He Descended into… Hell?

Cross in Winter

Have you ever sat down and read some of the creeds of the Christian faith? I’ve recently been looking at the Apostles’ Creed, one of the oldest that has been preserved for us. It’s amazing to how the early church distilled the essentials of Christian doctrine: An early formulation (although without explicit explanation) of the doctrine of the Trinity (“I believe in God the Father . . . and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son . . . I believe in the Holy Ghost”). The distinction of the creator from His creation (“Maker of heaven and earth”). Jesus’ virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection on the third day.

And in the middle of it, there’s this odd line:

“He descended into hell.”

Not too long ago, the question of what this means came up when we were visiting some old friends for dinner. They attend a church that recites the creed as part of its liturgy and our friend found he couldn’t recite this portion. The idea of Jesus going to Hell didn’t make sense and he wondered if I could explain. So I started to see what I could find out. While researching, I turned to J.I. Packer’s little book, Affirming the Apostles’ Creed and found an interesting explanation. What Packer asserts is that the part of the problem—aside from the creedal statement being based on an extremely difficult verse to interpret (1 Pet. 3:18-20)—is a translation issue. Here’s what Packer writes:

The English is misleading, for “hell” has changed its sense since the English form of the Creed was fixed. Originally “hell” meant the place of the departed as such, corresponding to the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol. That is what it means here, where the Creed echoes Peter’s statement that Psalm 16:10, “thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades” (so RSV: av has “hell”), was a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus rose (see Acts 2:27-31). But since the seventeenth century “hell” has been used to signify only the state of final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna. What the Creed means, however, is that Jesus entered, not Gehenna, but Hades—that is, that he really died, and that it was from a genuine death, not a simulated one, that he rose.

In other words, while one must be careful to avoid speculation on the precise meaning of a difficult text, what this could mean is that the creed is saying that Jesus really died—He didn’t fake it as some suggest (such as proponents of the swoon theory—that he merely passed out on the cross and people thought he was dead; incidentally, here’s a great clip of Matt Chandler’s reaction to that theory). But all speculation aside, here’s why Packer suggests this line of the creed matters so much:

What makes Jesus’ entry into Hades important for us is not, however, any of this, but simply the fact that now we can face death knowing that when it comes we shall not find ourselves alone. He has been there before us, and he will see us through.

Because Jesus has conquered death, it no longer has power over us. Christ’s victory is complete and we need not fear. “He has been there before us, and he will see us through.”

Book Review: Die Young by Hayley and Michael DiMarco

Big cars, big money, big houses… these are many of the elements of what’s considered “success,” both outside the Church and (depending on who you talk to) within. We chase after the next promotion and we switch jobs as soon as the old one stops satisfying. We seek happiness in the next toy when the old one isn’t nearly as sparkly and bankroll it on a piece of plastic. We’ve buried ourselves under debt in the pursuit of happiness and have nothing to show for it.

But this is not what life is to be for the Christian. We’re not to be pursuing a life of self-exaltation—we are to put our pursuit of these things to death. We are to bury ourselves in Christ. This is the point of Hayley and Michael DiMarco’s new book, Die Young. In this book, the DiMarcos take the pursuit of self head on as they examine the paradoxical world of the Kingdom of God, where death brings life, less means more, weak is strong and slavery to brings  freedom.

Die Young is a very fast yet challenging read. The DiMarcos’ writing style is casual and punchy—it reads almost like a very excited conversation. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, though, as it means you can wind up breezing past some really solid material if you’re not careful. Additionally, peppered throughout the book you’ll find “Here lies…” sidebars—personal confessions from the authors admitting their own struggles putting their pursuit of putting “self” to death and how they’ve dealt with the consequences of their sins in these matters. These candid and vulnerable confessions are really helpful to read, but their placement is really awkward, often breaking up the flow of a chapter. I often found that I was skipping over them altogether just so I could finish the thought of the paragraph or even the entire chapter before coming back and reading them.

But make no mistake, whatever flaws this book may have, its explanation of the seeming paradoxes at the heart of the Christian life is well worth your time. One of the strongest examples comes in their chapter on humility, “Down is the New Up.” There, they write: [Read more...]

In Defense of Neatniks

No one likes being called a neatnik or a nitpick—especially a theological one. The nickname conjures an image of a guy sitting in his mom’s basement surrounded by Calvin’s Institutes, The Westminster Catechism, Systematic Theology (Horton’s, Berkhoff’s and Grudem’s) and dozens upon dozens of commentaries. Think a serious Star Wars fan—but sub in Jesus for Luke Skywalker.

Now to be sure, there are some folks who are definitely a bit too… intense about their preciseness and forget that misspeaking is different than being a heretic. Likewise, one can be so focused on the trees that they miss the forest (which a frustration I’ve got with a book I’m reading with my men’s group right now). But I wonder if sometimes we label some folks theological neatniks as a cover for our own sloppiness? That rather than own up to a mistake or do the hard work of making sure that what we’re saying is actually right in the first place, we allow our pride to take over and brush it off by saying, “Stop being such a nitpick!”

But as I’ve continued to read Excellence by Andreas Köstenberger, I’ve been wrestling more and more with whether or not this is the right attitude. In fact, in the second chapter, Köstenberger writes something completely blew my mind:

Far from being optional, excellence is in fact a divine mandate that applies to every aspect of our lives, for God himself is characterized by excellence. Mediocrity, sloppy workmanship, and a half-hearted effort do not bring glory to God or advance his kingdom.

If excellence is indeed a divine mandate (and it is, since Jesus declares that we are to “perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” in Matt. 5:48), then it would seem that we do not have the luxury of not striving to be as precise as possible in what we say, think and do—especially when it comes to our theology. Indeed, if Köstenberger is correct in his assertion, then one could go so far as to say that God is glorified by theological precision. By no means does this mean that we cannot and will not make mistakes—we can and we will as long as the presence of sin remains. Nor does it mean that we can ignore context—like when you really, really want to correct the person who says “expresso” instead of “espresso,” but you don’t because then you’d just be annoying. (Sometimes you just have to let something slide if you don’t want to get punched at Starbucks.) But what it does mean is that we should always strive to be as accurate as possible and to be quick to admit error whenever our mistakes are brought to light.

So here’s the question—what does our conduct say about us? Are we more likely to brush off critics—whether they’re our critics or those of people whose work we appreciate—by calling them neatniks and nitpicks or are we willing to listen and be corrected when needed? A so-called neatnik might be annoying, but he might also be an instrument of grace being used by God to sharpen our minds and bring glory to Him through theological precision.

Around the Interweb

Revival is Always Christ-Centered

Jared Wilson:

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous – to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

Also Worth Reading

Attitudes: How To Disagree Online Without Being A Total Jerk

Learning from Criticism: Kevin DeYoung offers a helpful critique of this week’s super-popular “Jesus vs. Religion” video and Jeff Bethke’s response is a wonderful model of how to accept correction with humility.

Christian Culture: The Elephant Room as a Snapshot of Contemporary Evangelicalism

Interview: Darryl Dash interviews Daniel Darling about his Friday Five series

In Case You Missed It

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

Critics, Criticism and Character

The Fruit of Repentance (an excerpt from Awaiting a Savior)

Book Review: The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski

Kindle Deals for the Christian Reader (January)

The Pursuit of Excellence and the Character of God

John Owen: Who Was This Word?

Octavius Winslow: In What Way Has God Hallowed His Name?

In What Way Has God Hallowed His Name?

From the earliest revelation of His will, God has been intent upon this great matter–the vindication of the holiness and supremacy of His great name. His entire work of creation has been to make His name–which is Himself–known and renowned in the earth. All nature testifies to its existence, illustrates its power, and reflects its glory.

Bold unblushing atheist! you are rebuked and confounded by the heavens above you and by the earth beneath you. Creation, in its countless wonders and beauties, witnesses for its Maker and hymns His praise; while you, His intelligent and deathless creature, in the depravity of your heart do boldly declare, “There is no God!” or, in the deeper depravity of your life exclaim, “No God for me!” How will you tremble in the last dreadful day! As these heavens are rolled up in a scroll, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth passes away, they will do homage to the power and the fiat of their Creator; while you will stand at His dread bar convicted, sentenced, and condemned for the crime of having sought to efface His being, His name, His glory from the universe.

Believer in Christ! read the name of God in the works and wonders of creation! Your Father in heaven made them all, your Redeemer molded them all, the sanctifying Spirit quickened them all, and all testify to the power and wisdom and goodness of Him who permits you in filial love to call Him–”Father!”

Octavius Winslow, The Lord’s Prayer, as published in The Works of Octavius Winslow (Monergism Books, Kindle Edition)

The Fruit of Repentance

Disgusted by the Israelites’ false worship, God spoke repeatedly through his prophets: “You say you worship me; you say you are right in my sight, yet your lives reveal you to be liars!” But God’s rebukes were joined by another message, a message of hope and reconciliation and cleansing.

If the people would repent and turn to God, he would hear them and turn from his anger. And perhaps surprisingly, God emphasizes that this change of heart in the people would be reflected in a change of behavior—their repentance would bring about a revival of justice. The Israelites’ change of heart toward God would be evidenced, in no small part, by a change of heart and action toward the poor and oppressed:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause…. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. (Isaiah 1:17, 58:9b-10)

. . . .

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:23-24)

It might seem strange to see the word “justice” used in connection with caring for the poor. After all, this word tends to function a bit fluidly in our culture. Different people use it in various ways. For some, it’s an issue of equality, protecting the rights of one person from being infringed upon by another. For others, it’s a matter of retribution, ensuring that those who commit a crime are prosecuted. These are right and true and biblical as far as they go.

But “justice” carries a deeper meaning in Scripture than our culture allows. That’s because justice is grounded in and stems from the character of God himself. As Wayne Grudem puts it so succinctly, “whatever conforms to God’s moral character is right,” or just because “all his ways are justice . . . just and upright is he.” In whatever God does and declares, he is both just and righteous because he is just and righteous by his very nature.

So what has he declared to be just? Is it not to “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted”? Is it not to “correct oppression”? Is it not to obey him in all that he commands—especially in caring for the poor and needy among us?

That’s what it means to be faithful to God’s covenant, and…that’s exactly what the Israelites were incapable of doing. It’s what Samuel meant when he said to King Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” It’s what Jesus meant when he told the disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Covenant faithfulness is obedience—obedience motivated not out of obligation or duty or a desire to score points with God but out of love for God. 

As we try to obey God in all areas of our lives—how we use our time, money, and talents—there is not a single aspect of life that is not affected, including how we relate to others. Jesus told his disciples that the greatest commandments of all are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” because “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” If you separate the second of those commands from the first, you fail to obey either one. The Bible could not be more clear about this.

Loving our neighbor in real, tangible ways is as much a “proof” of our salvation as anything else. How we relate to God directly affects how we relate to others. Unfaithfulness to the Lord will lead to a lack of concern for our neighbor—but the opposite should also be true.

And who is our neighbor? The parable of the Good Samaritan answers plainly. Someone who has a genuine need, a need we become aware of, and a need we are able to meet, even if it results in inconvenience to ourselves—this person is our neighbor.

(Adapted from Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, pp. 53-56)

Who Was This Word?

Says the apostle, He was God. He was so with God (that is, the Father), as that he himself was God also; — God, in that notion of God which both nature and the Scripture do represent; not a god by office, one exalted to that dignity (which cannot well be pretended before the creation of the world), but as Thomas confessed him, “Our Lord and our God,” John 20:28; or as Paul expresses it, “Over all, God blessed for ever;” or the most high God; which these men love to deny. Let not the infidelity of men, excited by the craft and malice of Satan, seek for blind occasions, and this matter is determined; if the word and testimony of God be able to umpire a difference amongst the children of men. Here is the sum of our creed in this matter, “In the beginning the Word was God,” and so continues unto eternity, being Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the Lord God Almighty.    And to show that he was so God in the beginning, as that he was one distinct, in something, from God the Father, by whom afterward he was sent into the world, he adds, verse 2, “The same was in the beginning with God.” Farther, also, to evince what he has asserted and revealed for us to believe, the Holy Ghost adds, both as a firm declaration of his eternal Deity, and also his immediate care of the world (which how he variously exercised, both in a way of providence and grace, he afterward declares), verse 3, “All things were made by him.” He was so in the beginning, before all things, as that he made them all. And that it may not be supposed that the “all” that he is said to make or create was to be limited unto any certain sort of things, he adds, that “without him nothing was made that was made;” which gives the first assertion an absolute universality as to its subject.

John Owen, A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (from The Ultimate Collected Works of John Owen)

The Pursuit of Excellence and the Character of God

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Andreas Köstenberger’s new book, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. I’m only in the earliest pages, so this is by no means a review (though you can almost certainly expect one), but you know a book’s got you hooked when you notice the first chapter’s subtitle:

“The character of God is the grounds of all human excellence.”

Read that again and let it really sink in. It’s going to start messing with you right about…


It’s tempting to read a line like that and say, “I should hope so” before quickly moving on, but think about it—how many of us actually have a working definition of excellence? On more than one occasion I’ve been reminded that, because of the gift and curse of my personality type, I have exceedingly high expectations. The bar for “excellent” is pretty darn high (and it’s one that I’m not sure I could even attain). But even then, it’s not even close to the standard that God has, which is Himself.

Köstenberger writes:

Systematic theologies generally do not list “excellence” as one of God’s attributes. For this reason it may appear at first glance that excellence is not all that important. This conclusion would be premature, however, for excellence can be viewed as an overarching divine attribute that encompasses all the others. Everything God is and does is marked by excellence. Wayne Grudem discusses God’s summary attributes of perfection, blessedness, beauty, and glory as “attributes that summarize his excellence.” Perfection indicates that “God lacks nothing in his excellence.” . . . On a basic level, we may think of excellence as the quality of standing out or towering above the rest, being eminent or superior (though not feeling superior, which is the essence of pride), and distinguishing oneself in some extraordinary or special way. As mentioned, God’s excellence is the ultimate point of reference for all true human excellence. Perhaps God’s attribute of perfection is most closely related to his excellence. God excels and is so far superior to all other beings in every way that perfection becomes the appropriate word to describe his excellence.

Imagine that this was our definition of excellence—not confusing “good enough,” “acceptable” or “okay” for excellence, but God Himself being the standard. How would that change how you work, how you parent, how you run your business or do ministry?

This is not an issue of “trying harder” or “doing better”—God gives us the grace by which we are capable of doing anything. My concern is that perhaps many of us have the bar set far too low because we’re using the wrong measure. Moms measure themselves against the celebrity moms, Christian bloggers measure themselves against better-known bloggers, preachers measure themselves against more eloquent or skilled preachers… But if God is the measure of excellence—if He is the standard and sets the standard at perfection—then this should drive us to a holy discontent in our work while driving us to see our greater need to rely on His grace to accomplish work that is truly excellent.

Kindle Deals for the Christian Reader (January)

Here are a few great deals I’ve found for Christian books for your Kindle—If you see any that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

New Additions:

Crossway has a number of titles by (and about) Francis A. Schaeffer on sale for $3.99:

Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes (back on sale for $3.99)

Saved from What? by R.C. Sproul—$5.69

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (2009 anniversary edition from Crossway)—now up to $3.99, which is still a terrific deal

All Shepherd Press titles are $3.99, including:

Robert Gundry’s New Testament Commentaries:

Unlocking the Bible Story: Old Testament Volume 1 by Colin S. Smith—$2.51

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor—$2.99

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce A. Ware—$1.79

Unfriend Yourself by Kyle Tennant—$3.19

No Other Gospel by Josh Moody—$3.03

Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes—$3.99

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund P. Clowney—$7.69


Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely About Right and Wrong by Norman Geisler and Ryan Snuffer—$2.99

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper (it’s back up to $7.39, but still worth getting at that price)

Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas J. Köstenberger (it’s back up to $8.69, but still worth getting at that price!)

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning by Nancy Pearcey is back up to $11.69

Still Available: [Read more...]

Book Review: The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski

We are always on the look out for great resources to help teach our kids about the Christian faith and we’ve come across a number of great Bible storybooks, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The most recent addition to our collection is The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testamentswritten by Marty Machowski. Over the course of 158 stories, The Gospel Story Bible walks families through the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—in order to help kids get a grasp on the big story of Scripture and God’s plan for salvation through Jesus Christ.

At this stage, we’ve been reading The Gospel Story Bible (mostly) nightly with our oldest daughter at bedtime. She asks lots of questions during and after the story is complete, wants to look at the pictures and enjoys using the discussion questions provided whenever we’ve got time to actually go over them. Machowski also does a great job of keeping the essential details of the stories intact while keeping the language accessible. This is no easy feat. Many of the books we’ve got here at home–even the ones we really like—tend to be a bit too complicated or a tad to over-simplified (to the point that I sometimes have to correct the book, something that’s never fun during story time). Machowski strikes the right balance between accuracy and age-appropriate comprehension and for this I’m grateful. This is perhaps most noticeable when touching on a serious topic like God’s wrath and judgment. This is something you don’t see in a lot of storybook Bibles, even pretty decent ones like The Jesus Storybook Bible. Machowski doesn’t shy away from the hard truths of Scripture, but there are no scare tactics. He speaks plainly and appropriately, always returning to the hope found in the gospel.

Perhaps the greatest feature of this storybook Bible is its versatility. It can be used for bedtime stories for the little ones, dinnertime discussion with the older kids and as a basic primer for the parents in telling the story of Jesus in a way that kids will understand. It’s also nice to see how well it works in conjunction with our family devotional book (for which we happen to be Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to Godalso by Machowski). This has been an interesting experience—and a profitable one—as it gave us the opportunity to reinforce our dinnertime discussion out of Long Story Short and now preview what we’ll be coming to in the next few weeks.

Moving briefly from content to art, A.E. Macha’s visuals are quirky, clever and striking—she’s done a phenomenal job of communicating the stories without using too much detail, playing with different textures and patterns and keeping the characters appropriately abstract (this is especially important for those concerned about the appropriateness of depicting Jesus). You’ll almost certainly be looking for little easter eggs in the artwork (you’ll see what I mean when you read the story of the Flood).

Of all the storybook Bibles we have, I’d say The Gospel Story Bible is the best of the bunch so far. The stories are concise and faithful to the Scriptures, the artwork is engaging and the discussion questions are extremely helpful. I’d encourage any parent (especially one already using Long Story Short) to get a copy of this book to share with their children.

Title: The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments
Author: Marty Machowski (illustrated by A.E. Macha)
Publisher: New Growth Press (2011)

Critics, Criticism and Character

No one likes criticism. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who has ever enjoyed having their faults pointed out, especially when it’s on a subject you really care about. And let’s be honest, critics—perhaps ironically, especially the Christian ones—can be vicious. The last week has been no exception as we’ve seen from all the hubbub around Real Marriage. There’s a lot of back and forth on what’s good and what’s not so good about the book, and sometimes it gets a bit too personal. So there’s a sense in which I can definitely understand the following:

When asked to respond to his critics, Driscoll said he hadn’t read any of the reviews but that “sometimes reviewers will reveal more of their own struggles than actual problems with the book.” (From Dan Merica’s article, “Pastor’s detailed book on sex divides reviewers, sparks controversy“)

This is not yet another article about Real Marriage and Mark Driscoll (I’ve already got two—a general review and a follow-up if you’re looking for my thoughts on it). But it is about a few lessons I’m learning from his critics and how he is (at least publicly) handling them so far:

1. Some critics do need to be ignored. Sadly, a lot of folks write truly vicious things about those with whom they disagree. Maybe it’s because of a personal experience (like those who run the “[insert church name] victims” blogs); maybe it’s out of a warped desire to contend for the faith (Jude 3); maybe it’s because they just don’t like the person they’re talking about. Criticism based in pure emotionalism or are based in character rather than content should be ignored. I took quite a few nasty shots from a big-time former pastor’s fans when I criticized his book last year. The healthiest thing I did was ignore them. If I didn’t, I’d probably never have slept (and neither would my wife). Some people really are best left ignored (cf. Titus 3:10).

2. Don’t write off every critic. Even though some critics should be ignored, it doesn’t mean that all critics should be disregarded. This is what’s perhaps most frustrating about the quote above, where Driscoll says that “sometimes reviewers will reveal more of their own struggles than actual problems with the book.” Consider how it can be taken by those who have objections not based on preference but on thoughtful biblical interpretation. If someone reveals an error in how we use Scripture, and they’re right, then we should never disregard them—we should thank them. Thoughtful critics are good for our sanctification. They are one tool by which God grows us more and more into the image of Christ, by giving us the opportunity to humbly listen to and act upon legitimate concerns and criticisms. Further, careful and thoughtful critics—even those we don’t know personally—actually reveal that they love us enough as fellow believers to tell us the truth. Good critical thinking doesn’t comes from an intellectual ivory tower; it takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable, because the critic will often become the one being criticized. But for the critic that desires to show an abiding love for God and a deep love for others will, it’s a risk that’s worth taking.

3. Have real friends, not sycophants. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals,’” wrote Paul (1 Cor. 15:33). This little verse is really important to both critics and those whose work is being criticized. It’s easy to create an army of people willing to tell us everything we do smells like roses, either because they want to be our friends and think that sucking up is the way to go, or they just want something from us. But a real friend is one who will tell you when you’re off track, who will call you out when you’re succumbing to your pride or when you’re flat out acting like a fool. Real friends, like good critics, are a tool used by God to make us more like Christ. If we don’t have these kinds of people in our lives, then we need to carefully examine how we live and who we associate with. Yes-men will tell you want you want to hear, but real friends will tell you the truth.

Those are a few of the lessons I’m learning so far. How about you?