Links I like

Why We Need More Churches in Small Towns

Matthew Spandler:

Few people question the legitimacy of church planting in major cities. Yet more than 62 million people live in rural America. Pockets of the unchurched and dechurched are scattered throughout rural communities and small towns. And the most effective means of reaching them is church planting. We must plant churches, then, both in metropolitan America and in small-town America.


This wins the Internet

If you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you probably won’t get this:


Make a Relationship Investment Plan This Year

Tim Brister:

Jesus planned his relationships. He entered into relationships with a specific group of people with a purpose in mind. Those relationships were meaningful and intentional. Those relationships also had a stewardship to them, meaning that the exchange (giving and receiving) of life would carry on into the lives of others. Just a cursory look, for example, in the life of the Apostle Paul you see how sweet and endearing his relationships were with the people of whom he invested his life.


Why should pastors have mentors?

Brian Croft:

I have been a bit caught off guard with how sad I still am that my dear friend and pastoral mentor, Jackson Boyett is gone. Even though it has been a year since the car crash that took the life of Jackson and his wife, the grief remains fresh. I miss learning from him. I miss our conversations. I miss his joyful face to face welcome. I miss how I could ask him the most off the wall question about a pastoral issue, and with very little hesitation, oozes with wisdom in his response. Recently, the Lord in his kindness, allowed me to discover an email I did not realize I still had, that was from Jackson about a month before he died.

Book Review: Who Do You Think You Are by Mark Driscoll

who-do-you-think-you-are-book

Who am I? There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t asked this question on multiple occasions and with good reason—our understanding of our identity changes directly affects how we think, speak, feel and act.

It’s no wonder then the Scriptures repeatedly remind us of who we are in Christ. And yet, we seem to have a problem. We ask the question, “Who am I?” and all too often come up with the wrong answer. “We’re continually forgetting who we are in Christ and filling that void by placing our identity in pretty much anything else” (2).

Who Do You Think You Are? is Mark Driscoll’s attempt to correct what he describes as a tragic error.

This world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are—children of God made in his image—and define ourselves by any number of things other than Jesus. Only by knowing our false identity apart from Christ in relation to our true identity in him can we rightly deal with and overcome the issues in our lives.

Drawing from the book of Ephesians, Driscoll identifies 15 elements of our identity that Christians need to understand. These range from the fundamental of being united with Christ and made new, to being gifted for ministry and truly forgiven and blessed by Him.

Of all the strengths of this book—and there are many—the greatest is Driscoll’s evident love of the gospel. Readers can’t go more than a few pages without the good news of Christ’s life, death and resurrection being revisited. Reading this reminded me how good Driscoll’s work can be when he’s focused on the most important things. There’s conviction in his words—they actually matter to him.

Where the book shines is when you can feel his conviction and a genuine pastoral care come through. Among the chapters most strongly exhibiting this are chapters two (“I Am in Christ”), three (“I Am a Saint”), and eleven (“I Am New”). Each of these offers a significant corrective to the reader, one that certainly left this one encouraged, rather than condemned. I’ll share a few examples quickly.

First, on the relationship between identity and our actions:

God knows that what you do flows from who you are. As Christians, we live from our identity, not for our identity. We are defined by who we are in Christ, not what we do or fail to do for Christ. Christ defines who we are by who he is and what he’s done for us, in us, and through us. Understanding this information is the key to your transformation. (19)

On viewing ourselves the way God does:

Rather than sinners, the Bible overwhelmingly calls us “saints,” “holy,” or “righteous” more than two hundred times. Biblically, then, the primary identity of a believer in Christ is not as sinner but as saint. While we still struggle with sin in this life, as Christians, our identity is not found in our sin but in Christ’s righteousness. (35)

On our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God’s impact on our behavior:

Our identity as adopted children of God also means transformation in our behavior—obeying our Father and living a life imitating our big brother Jesus by following in his footsteps. We put off the things of the past life (the old man) and turn wholeheartedly to those things that reflect the life and character of God (the new man). God doesn’t bring us into his family only to turn around and punish us with constricting rules. Rather he sets up family rules for our good. Our flesh wars against our spirit, telling us that true life only comes when we indulge our fallen desires. God knows better. True life is only found in the holy joy, love, and peace that flow through us by the work of his Spirit. In this life, we must continually choose the things of God, obeying our Father, the source of lasting joy and life. (178)

These are just a few examples of the really wonderful truths Driscoll shares with readers of this book. And they should be accepted with thankful hearts.

As much good as there is in Who Do You Think You Are? there are a few things I found a bit curious. None of them are deal breakers, but do merit a mention.

The first comes with chapter five, “I Am Appreciated.” The significant issue I have here has less to do with the content—there’s a wealth of encouragement for readers in it—than it’s basis. The chapters begins quoting Ephesians 1:15-23, yet the content is only loosely based on Paul’s saying how he gives thanks for the believers at Ephesus in his prayers (Eph. 1:15).

This is a repeated pattern with Paul, something Driscoll is right to draw our attention to. However, I’m not sure it’s the strongest place to build a clear case for God’s appreciating us. Unless I’m misreading it, the verse speaks more strongly to the need for pastors to appreciate the people God has entrusted to their care. Does God appreciate us in Christ? Sure. But the passage in question really doesn’t speak strongly to that (indeed, I can’t think of one off the top of my head that speaks to it at all).

Second is a bit of what seems to be needless hairsplitting in chapter eight, “I Am Afflicted.” There, Driscoll lists 14 different kinds of affliction he sees in the Bible—Adamic, punishment, consequential, demonic, victim, collective, disciplinary, vicarious, empathetic, testimonial, providential, preventative, mysterious and apocalyptic. However, in reading his description of each, I had difficulty discerning a significant amount of difference between many of them (providential and mysterious, consequential and disciplinary, among others). The categories come across a bit like the theological version of the seven signs of aging.

The final less than stellar element of this book has to do with format. Because the book is, essentially, a collection of sermons (albeit ones that are only now being preached), each chapter fully stands on its own. As a result, there’s a great deal of (arguably unnecessary) duplication of material, and a book that could have been around 150 pages comes in at close to 250 (for example, the chapters on reconciliation and forgiveness could have been merged sinc the two concepts are interconnected). This is a concern not limited to Driscoll’s work, but with many books today, and it’s something I’d love to see publishers and editors push to improve.

All that said, Who Do You Think You Are? is the most promising and helpful material I’ve seen from Driscoll in a long time, and arguably his strongest book yet. While there are some things that need to be taken with a grain of salt, readers are sure to benefit from a careful reading.


Title: Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ
Author: Mark Driscoll
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Finding the Middle Ground

Barnabas Piper:

We in the church are as culpable as anyone of our own false dichotomies and extreme views. We pit social justice against theology and millennials against boomers. We call disparate ecclesiologies “satanic” and are quick to cast the first stone at those who interpret the Bible differently or read a different version of it. But, hey, our books sell really well. We are a regular marketplace of profitable extremism.


10 Steps to Read 50 Books in 2013

Josh Stringer:

The catalyst for my journey toward fifty books was when I was given a copy of Lit! by Tony Reinke about a year ago. I had read books on “how to read” before but this one was different. Reinke instills the value of reading all kinds of books from a redemptive point of view. He also gives practical tips on reading well, widely, and efficiently.

I took some of Reinke’s principles, made a plan, set a goal, and got to work, with the result that I read fifty books last year. Here’s ten ways you can do it this year.


The Problem with Resolutions

Amber Van Schooneveld:

All this has reminded me of the problem with resolutions: They are inherently reliant on our own strength to accomplish a task. Most people don’t say, “I’m going to seek God and his help to allow me to eat healthy and make good life choices.” They usually say, “I’m going to lose weight.”


Famous Bible Translation Mistakes Throughout History

C. Michael Patton:

Here are some of the more infamous and fun mistakes that translators and printers have made throughout the years.

He puts the burden on and at His own time will remove it

rainbow-valley

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:14-16)

No rainbow of promise in the “dark and cloudy day” shines more radiantly than this. God, my God, the God who gave Jesus — orders all events, and overrules all for my good! “When I,” says He, “send clouds over the earth.” He has no wish to conceal the hand which shadows for a time earth’s brightest prospects. It is He alike who “brings the cloud,” who brings us into it, and in mercy leads us through it! His kingdom rules over all. “The lot is cast into the lap — but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” He puts the burden on, and keeps it on — and at His own time will remove it.

John MacDuff, The Rainbow in the Clouds (Monergism Books edition)

Knowing God is a personal matter

Jesus-Reaching-Out

Knowing God is a matter of personal dealing, as is all direct acquaintance with personal beings. Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you. Knowing about him is a necessary precondition of trusting in him…but the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him.

John Owen and John Calvin knew more theology than John Bunyan or Billy Bray, but who would deny that the latter pair knew their God every bit as well as the former?…If the decisive factor was notional correctness, then obviously the most learned biblical scholars would know God better than anyone else. But it is not; you can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct. The reason is that the former will deal with God regarding the practical application of truth to his life, whereas the latter will not.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Kindle edition)

Why I won’t read your book on visiting Heaven

second_coming

Not too long ago, I received a copy of one of the many books on someone’s alleged trip to heaven and back. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages before putting it down.

This was probably the biggest trend I noticed in the “Religion and Spirituality” category of publishing over the last couple of years (especially since the wild success of Heaven is for Real), one I hope won’t continue into 2013.

I chose to not read the book about visiting heaven I received—and will continue to do the same for one reason:

They’re almost certainly not true.

That may seem like a nasty bit of prejudgement, but here’s the thing: the Apostle Paul was “caught up to the third heaven”and what he saw and heard “cannot be told, which man may not utter” (see 2 Cor. 12:2-4). Paul in these verses describes this vision of heaven in the third person—which some commentators suggest means he was so hesitant to even talk about it at all, especially in the context of his self-defence against the “super-apostles” at Corinth.

So why do so many people feel they’ve got a freedom that Paul did not?

Some may ask, “but what about other heavenly visions in Scripture?” There are a few experiences recorded. One in particular (Ezekiel) is filled with such peculiar imagery it’s probably not a good idea to base your full theology on it. The others (in Isaiah and Revelation) have a consistent focal point: Jesus.

Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne with the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3) His response? To utter a prophetic curse upon himself and wish for his own death (Isa. 6:5). He recognized his own sinfulness and knew he had no right to stand before the Lord. John’s experience was much the same, falling at the Lord’s feet “as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

They saw the Lord and were humbled and terrified, until the Lord intervened. Isaiah’s unclean lips were made clean with a coal from the Lord’s altar; John was told to “Fear not.” And their right response was worship of Jesus.

But back to Paul. His speaking of being caught up into paradise”—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows,” he reminds us (2 Cor. 12:3)—was for a single purpose: to quiet the needless boasting about visions.

In effect, he was saying, “If you really want to see who’s got the greater ‘achievements,’ I win.” But he does so in a very interesting way—rather than boasting in his successes (after all, he was instrumental in converting a massive amount of people, and planting dozens of churches), he boasts in his weaknesses. He tells of his many shipwrecks, lashings, beatings, being left for dead, and of the “thorn in the flesh” the Lord permitted to persist.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This is something we ought to keep in mind as we read or hear of others’ experiences. If what you read or hear does not model the same attitude as that of Paul, Isaiah and John—postures of meekness and humility, a fearful trepidation of even discussing such things!—then beware. I realize many of these authors are trying to be genuinely encouraging to people who are hurt, lonely and grieving, but they don’t need 72 Seconds in Heaven—they need Revelation 4, 5 and 21! There is no greater comfort for us than what’s found in the Scriptures. Christian, look nowhere else.

Links I like

How to Start a Pastoral Training Program in Your Church

Mark Rogers:

Over the past couple years I’ve regularly received inquiries from pastors interested in starting a pastoral training program of their own. These conversations always encourage me. But they also remind me that getting started can be tough. Here’s some practical help for those interested in beginning an internship or training program at their church.


Get John for $5 at Ligonier.org

The ePub edition of John by R.C. Sproul is $5 today during the $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Also on sale:

  • Believing God: Twelve Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept by R.C. Sproul Jr (ePub)
  • Silencing the Devil teaching series (audio and video download)
  • God Alone teaching series (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 Eastern.


Things People Should Never Say They Never Heard at Your Church

Kevin DeYoung:

As a pastor, there are certain things I hope the people at my church will never say they never heard. These are not necessarily the most important doctrines of the faith (though some are). Rather, these are the things we easily assume our people know, but often still miss.

And when they miss these things they can end up missing everything.


Four Keys to Better Blogging

Jonathan Howe:

Over the past six years, I’ve served as a designer, editor, administrator, and marketer for a number of blogs, including this one. If you know me personally, you know some of the sites I manage. I currently have my hands on about 6-8 sites per week and edit, post, or shape around 50 posts per week. As you can tell by the lack of frequency of my posts here, it leaves little time for me to write much of my own content. However, it does allow me to see what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to blogging.

So what works?

Introducing the new book reviews page

book-reviews

Readers of this blog know I read a lot and consequently write a lot of book reviews (around 48 per year). Figuring out how to archive and present them all has been an ongoing challenge.

A couple years ago, I created a new page for reviews that brought a lot of order to the site… but it quickly became a bit clunky and time-consuming to update. Everything—and I do mean everything—had to be added to a table manually and after a while, I just couldn’t keep up. I needed something that could be more or less left alone (beyond some initial category updating) but keep everything up-to-date.

After much searching, I finally found a plugin for WordPress that lets me do what I want, and voila!

review-page

A screen shot of the new book reviews page

The new page features nine titles per screen of clickable (and mobile friendly!) images showing you every book review on the site, starting with the most recent. Simply click the image and you’re set!

The new version of the reviews page is still a work in progress, but I’d love your feedback. What works? What doesn’t? Is there anything you’d like to see done differently?

In the meantime, head on over to the new book review page and start reading!

Links I like

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis joint work discovered

The beginning of a joint book by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien has been discovered in a manuscript book in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

An American academic called Steven Beebe, of Texas State University, San Marcos, had seen the material some years ago, but has only recently realised what it is. It is written in Lewis’s hand in the same notebook that contains early drafts for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician’s Nephew.


The economic impact of The Lord of the Rings


Be Strong and Courageous (and Not a Boy-Man)

Owen Strachan:

I recently had the opportunity to see The Bourne Legacy, which is way better than the critics had made it sound and totally worth seeing for adults. . . . Anyway, it struck me afresh how impressive the lead character of the Bourne movie is as a man. He’s in control, assertive, aware of others, physically fine-tuned, and one who meets any challenge in front of him. This kind of man is strikingly different than another avatar of modern cinema, the boy-man, who pops up repeatedly in the films made or led by Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and many others.


Praying for Evangelists and to Be a Better One Myself

Thabiti Anyabwile:

This year (actually last year, too) brings a renewed focus on personal evangelism for me. I’m excited about it, though I don’t rank myself among the world’s best evangelists. I suspect my weaknesses fall into two broad categories: insufficient encouragement and no specific enough plan. I suspect we all perform better when we have people spurring us on and when we have some definite sense of what we’re trying to achieve. An evangelist without a plan is not an evangelist at all, to modify Nietzsche.

Book Review: Multiply by Francis Chan with Mark Beuving

multiply-cover

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus commanded as he ascended into heaven (Matt. 28:19a). This is the mission of the church and the sacred duty of everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

So… how do we do it?

“Why is it that we see so little disciple making taking place in the church today?” ask Francis Chan and Mark Beuving in their new book, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples. “Do we really believe that Jesus told His early followers to make disciples but wants the twenty-first-century church to do something different?”

None of us would claim to believe this, but somehow we have created a church culture where the paid ministers do the “ministry,” and the rest of us show up, put some money in the plate, and leave feeling inspired or “fed.” We have moved so far away from Jesus’s command that many Christians don’t have a frame of reference for what disciple making looks like. (Kindle location 299)

In MultiplyChan and Beuving offer the frame of reference they see is missing. Divided into five parts, Multiply looks at the call to disciple-making individually and corporately, the storyline of Scripture and provides practical guidance on how to study the Bible.

Parts one and two serve principally to motivate readers to do the work of making disciples. Chan—whose reputation for challenging the lethargy of the North American church is well-known—pulls no punches in reminding readers that disciple-making truly is the responsibility of every believer. “The pastor is not the minister—at least not in the way we typically think of a minister. The pastor is the equipper, and every member of the church is a minister.” (Kindle location 354)

God has not called you to make disciples in isolation; He has placed you in the context of a church body so that you can be encouraged and challenged by the people around you. And you are called to encourage and challenge them in return. (Kindle location 382)

This is difficult for many of us to accept, but it needs to be properly understood. If we are Christians, we have a responsibility to the other believers in our local church. “Church” isn’t the hour and a half we spend on Sunday—it’s something that requires opening up our lives to others and encouraging them to obey Jesus as we are learning to likewise.

The interconnectedness of disciple-making is what makes it so difficult in a context where, frankly, you can get away with hiding pretty easily. But the truth of the matter is clear: “It’s impossible to ‘one another’ yourself. It’s impossible to follow Jesus alone. We can’t claim to follow Jesus if we neglect the church He created, the church He died for, the church He entrusted His mission to.” (Kindle location 519)

Parts three through five offer a thorough overview of the Bible’s storyline, as well as solid guidance on how to study the Scriptures. This, honestly, is probably the most immediately practical aspect of what’s offered in Multiply. It’s also one of the most fundamental aspects. “For a Christian, nothing should seem more natural than reading the Bible,” the authors write (Kindle location 946). And yet, so many struggle to do it. We either are distracted, believe the lie that it’s hard to understand, or are just so wracked with guilt that we can’t bring ourselves to do it.

Whatever the case, we have to understand that studying the Bible isn’t optional—if we are to make disciples who love and obey Jesus, then they (and we) need to actually know about what God is like, what He’s done in history, and what He’s promised to do in the future. “God in heaven wants us to know certain things about Himself, and He uses the Scriptures to reveal these things” (Kindle location 1008).

For me, reading through the authors’ 15-chapter overview of the storyline of Bible was a pure joy. If you’ve ever read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you know how helpful it is to have your reading of the Scriptures grounded in the big story. By providing these chapters, the authors have done readers a great service—in part because of their own obvious excitement about it!

You can tell that Chan and Beuving really love the Bible—and they want you to love it to. They want you to feel the sense of urgency about knowing the Scriptures, and knowing the God who is revealed in the Bible’s pages. In fact, they made me want to start reading the Bible at Genesis 1 again!

Multiply isn’t really a book for solo reading—although I benefitted from an individual read, it was when I was discussing the material with others that I found it most helpful (as my wife can attest from me talking her ear off). It really is intended as a discipleship tool and it is a good one, to be sure. I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Multiply, working through it with a friend and beginning to invest in others using the material Chan and Beuving have provided.


Title: Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples
Author: Francis Chan with Mark Beuving
Publisher: David C. Cook (2012)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Links I like

Abortion — 1¢ eBook Sale

To mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust are we are offering the eBook edition of R.C. Sproul’s Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue for only 1¢ at the Ligonier store.

In Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue, Dr. R.C. Sproul provides well-considered and compassionate answers to the difficult questions that attend termination of pregnancy. Dr. Sproul strives for a factual, well-reasoned approach informed by careful biblical scholarship. He considers both sides of this issue in terms of biblical teaching, civil law, and natural law.

This offer ends on January 31st.


Christ and the Academy

An interview with D.A. Carson from the latest issue of Tabletalk:

Tabletalk: When did God call you to ministry and what were the circumstances that surrounded your call?

D.A. Carson: I was well into a degree in chemistry at McGill University, with well-formed plans to pursue a PhD in organic synthesis, when the Lord began to tug me in another direction. God used several independent influences. The first was the pastor of the church I was attending in Montreal. He told me one summer that he wanted me to serve as his apprentice. I told him that he probably had me confused with someone else. After all, there were several in our college-and-careers group who were contemplating pastoral ministry, but I wasn’t one of them. He assured me that he had not made a mistake—I was the one he wanted. We had a substantial argument, and I “won.” I did not serve as his apprentice. But that was the first step in jogging me to consider a change of direction—and all the pastor was doing, of course, was obeying 2 Timothy 2:2.

When I worked in a lab in Canada’s federal government (plugging away at a problem connected with air pollution), I discovered that some of my colleagues hated their work and longed for retirement, while others idolized their chemistry and dreamed of the big breakthrough that would win a Nobel Prize. I wasn’t in either camp. I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing, but chemistry was not God. I was, after all, a Christian. At the time, I was devoting my weekends to helping another young man plant a church in the Ottawa Valley. That, too, began to tug at my heart. That autumn, I heard a missionary preach on Ezekiel 22, where God says, “I sought for a man to stand in the gap before me, but I found none.” The Spirit of God used that sermon to make every fiber of my being want to cry out, “Here am I! Send me!” So I never pursued graduate chemistry, and in due course, after more fledgling experiences in ministry, I went off to gain an MDiv in a small seminary in Toronto. That was the autumn of 1967.


All This We Will Do?

Aimee Byrd:

New Year’s Day brings out the best of intentions. In fact, we want to make it official by creating a list. As the new year begins, we reflect on where we are in life. Think about the influence of this day—we don’t even make a list of resolutions on our birthday! And yet, we are compelled to evaluate ourselves once a year and think about how we can improve. Glorious visions dance in our heads of our skinnier, healthier, more magnanimous selves. We are more likely to invest some of our money into a gym membership, organic foods, and charitable causes. In January things are looking up…and then comes February.


My Greatest Hope for 2013: No Change at All

Joe Thorn:

Like most people, as we head into 2013 I am hungry for change. In our cities, our culture, our families, and even in ourselves we want some things–many things–to be different. A new year brings hope that “it” will get better. The underlying reality of this desire is that things are not as they should be. The world is corrupt, our lives are incomplete, and people are broken.

But for all of the change I do desire, my greatest hope for 2013 is actually no change at all.

We have sailed into the new year of grace

surrey2

This is the first day of a new year, and therefore a solemnly joyous day. Though there is no real difference between it and any other day, yet in our mind and thought it is a marked period, which we regard as one of the milestones set up on the highway of our life. It is only in imagination that there is any close of one year and beginning of another; and yet it has most fitly all the force of a great fact. When men “cross the line,” they find no visible mark: the sea bears no trace of an equatorial belt; and yet mariners know whereabouts they are, and they take notice thereof, so that a man can hardly cross the line for the first time without remembering it to the day of his death.

We are crossing the line now.

We have sailed into the [new] year of grace…therefore, let us keep a feast unto the Lord. If Jesus has not made us new already, let the new year cause us to think about the great and needful change of conversion; and if our Lord has begun to make us new, and we have somewhat entered into the new world wherein dwelleth righteousness, let us be persuaded by the season to press forward into the center of his new creation, that we may feel to the full all the power of his grace.

Adapted from Charles Spurgeon, “Sermon for New Year’s Day.”

The Backlist: The Top Ten Posts on Blogging Theologically

top-ten

Let’s take a trip back in time to see the top ten posts in December:

  1. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  3. I’m giving you a whole pile of books for Christmas! (December 2012)
  4. My Favorite Books of 2012 (December 2012)
  5. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  6. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  7. Broken, yet intricately woven (December 2012)
  8. His Name was Smeagol (April 2010)
  9. Through the Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon (December 2012)
  10. 12 Books I Want to Read in 2012 (and Think You Should, Too) (December 2011)

And here are the ten most viewed posts for 2012 (you’ll notice a lot of similarity with the list above):

  1. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  3. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  4. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  5. Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll (December 2011)
  6. The Dos and Don’ts of Book Reviews (or at least how I do them) (January 2011)
  7. The Bible’s Not About You… (August 2010)
  8. Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words (July 2009)
  9. Marriage, Mystery and the Gospel in Real Marriage (January 2012)
  10. Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (March 2011)

If you haven’t had a chance to read any of these posts, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check them out.

3 things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2013

keyboard

At the end of 2011, I wrote about three things I hoped to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2012. There, I explained I hoped to see more solid theology blogs by women get appropriate recognition, satirists and “discernment” bloggers to chill out and grow up, and for bloggers to spend less time focusing on controversy and more on Jesus.

Of all of these, probably the one I was most concerned about was the final one. In 2011, there was one topic everyone was talking about: Rob Bell and Love Wins. This year we saw a few significant dust-ups — a room full of pachyderms; Jesus, religion and poetry; and dating and marriage, among others — but nothing so all encompassing. Even so, this year’s public challenges gave me a lot to consider a few things I’d like to see in the blogosphere in the coming year.

1. A more thoughtful approach to engaging with controversy online.

This is probably the most difficult challenge we face in the 21st century. The Internet provides us with so many opportunities for spreading the gospels and growing in Christ. But it also provides numerous opportunities for us to sin. This is, in part, because we don’t know how church discipline and the Internet work together.

Think about Matthew 18:15-17 for a minute:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Critical to this issue is the following: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” How do the Internet and the Church in this context come together? There is no easy answer. Some think it’s perfectly acceptable and appropriate to take an issue online, to the court of public opinion, in response to this command from Jesus. Others believe it’s anything but acceptable.

I’ve seen numerous websites appear sharing extensive grievances (typically—and somewhat disturbingly—accompanied by multiple years’ worth of saved personal correspondence). In many cases, I can see things from both sides. I understand the hurt those behind these sites feel… but I have some very serious reservations about the motivating forces behind the decision to go public, and the way in which it’s handled. We must be careful to avoid giving the devil a foothold in our lives by letting bitterness fester (cf. Eph. 4:26-27).

What does this have to do with the Christian blogosphere? First, we must consider how to respond to attempts to ignite controversy. Most of the time, the best thing we can do is to not share a link, post a response, or allow comments promoting such things. It’s not wrong to be aware of such issues, but it’s probably unwise to give them airtime.

Secondly, it would be beneficial for Christians to spend a great deal of time prayerfully considering the implications the Internet has for the global Church. Because we’re more interconnected than ever, we need to figure out how best to faithfully obey the principle of Matthew 18:17. This not something that can be solved in a blog post here, a single meeting, or a conference. But it is something we need to deal with.

2. Public personalities need to own personal responsibility.

This is the second great challenge we face, and something that again has no easy answer. Any of us who have a public personality must realize that our actions have consequences. Our attitudes and behavior need to reflect the convictions we profess, lest we be revealed as hypocrites. Practically, this means we need to consider how what we say and do will affect others. We don’t want to cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble, but neither do we want to cover fear of man in the guise of love. It’s a tough balance, and one I certainly haven’t mastered, but it’s something I’d love to see take hold among Christians engaging online.

3. Give the grace you have received in Christ.

We’ve seen many examples of people forgetting that behind the pixels are people just like you and me. I have life outside of this blog (thankfully). So do you. Yet, it’s easy to forget that when we read text on a screen. Even as those who have some degree of public notoriety need to own personal responsibility, we should extend to them the same grace we have received in Christ. This does not mean we overlook blatant ongoing patterns of public sin (such as those who repeatedly show a lack of self-control, whether emotionally or otherwise), but it does mean we seek to give the benefit of the doubt, thinking the best of them as much as we are able, and doing all we can to bring concerns to their attention in a Christ-exalting fashion.

These are a few things I’m hoping to see this year. How about you?