The five best and worst Christmas songs ever

Around Christmastime, I’m usually informed by someone that I’m something of a grinch. My heart seems to be three sizes too small… at least when it comes to Christmas music.

Although I try to have a bit of yuletide cheer, I’m generally not a fan of the songs. So many are just kind of, well, terrible. Either theologically inaccurate, badly written and performed, or some combination thereof.

But that’s not to say all of them are awful. Some are really, really good. So today, I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of comparing and contrasting, with what I believe are the five best and worst Christmas songs ever.

Best: “This is War”

I love this song a lot, even if it’s not super-cheery in tone:

Worst: “It Must Be Santa”

This song is six kinds of terrible—and Bob Dylan made it even worse:

I’m pretty sure this is one of the songs that will be played in Hell. On repeat.

Best: “Go Tell it on the Mountain”

Jacob Moon does a great job on this one:

Worst: “Last Christmas”

Any version is terrible, but here’s Taylor Swift’s (since I hear it every time I go to the grocery store):

Best: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”

Worst: “Wonderful Christmas Time” 

The post-Beatles years were not always kind to Paul McCartney, as evidenced by the following:

Best: “O Come, Emmanuel”

There are so many terrific versions out there, but this one is excellent:

Worst: “Santa Baby”

Because nothing says “Christmas” like prostitution for presents:

Best: “The 12 Days of (Canadian) Christmas”

Because I’m Canadian:

Worst: “Mary, Did You Know?”

This one’s extra cringe-worthy in its Technopraise (seriously??) remix:

So those are a few of the best and worst from my perspective. Did I miss anything?

Links I like

The Age of Intolerance

Interesting and insightful piece from Mark Steyn:

But no matter how nice you are, it’s never enough. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, in his career-detonating interview with GQ, gave a rather thoughtful vernacular exegesis of the Bible’s line on sin, while carefully insisting that he and other Christians are obligated to love all sinners and leave it to the Almighty to adjudicate the competing charms of drunkards, fornicators, and homosexuals. Nevertheless, GLAAD — “the gatekeepers of politically correct gayness” as the (gay) novelist Bret Easton Ellis sneered — saw their opportunity and seized it. By taking out TV’s leading cable star, they would teach an important lesson pour encourager les autres — that espousing conventional Christian morality, even off-air, is incompatible with American celebrity.

Dr. Who meets A-ha

What happens when 80s pop meets Richard Swarbrick’s 50th anniversary Dr. Who animation? This:

Must Christians believe in the virgin birth?

Albert Mohler:

With December 25 fast approaching, the secular media are sure to turn their interest once again to the virgin birth. Every Christmas, weekly news magazines and various editorialists engage in a collective gasp that so many Americans could believe such an unscientific, supernatural doctrine. For some, the belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is nothing less than evidence of intellectual dimness. One writer for the New York Times put the lament plainly: “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time.”

Aren’t There Enough Christian Books Already?

Barnabas Piper:

And that’s really the issue with Christian books: not enough of them are actually interesting. Are there enough Christian books? Yes, if you mean books that write promises God won’t keep. Yes, if you mean books that ride trends instead of meeting needs. Yes, if you mean books that ride in the same wheel ruts as so many before instead of treading new ground. Yes, if you mean formulaic, redundant, platform-driven, artless compilations of blog posts or sermons. Indeed, there are too many of these kinds of books.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

These deals from Crossway end today (look for new ones soon):

Also, for those who love big giant theology books, you’d be crazy to pass on Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction ($7.99), The Christian Faith by Michael Horton ($8.99) and Historical Theology by Gregg R. Allison ($7.99).

Make sure what you share is actually true

Aaron Earls:

It can happen to any of us. It does happen to almost all of us.

We see a story online that shocks us, however, this one seems true enough.

Normally, we check things out before we share them, but this is so unbelievable we need to get the news out as soon as possible.

We post it on Facebook or retweet it. Before we know it, others have shared the story.

Only then do we find out the truth – it was fake.

Celebrate with all the good cheer you can afford

candle-lr

We have nearly arrived at the great merry-making season of the year. On Christmas-day we shall find all the world in England enjoying themselves with all the good cheer which they can afford. Servants of God, you who have the largest share in the person of him who was born at Bethlehem, I invite you to the best of all Christmas faire—to nobler food than makes the table groan—bread from heaven, food for your spirit. Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!

Charles Spurgeon (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, p. 92)

Living in her Old Testament faith

candle-lr

Mary was not chosen because of any human merit, not even for being, as she undoubtedly was, deeply devout, nor even for her humility or any other virtue, but entirely and uniquely because it is God’s gracious will to love, to choose, to make great what is lowly, unremarkable, considered to be of little value. Mary the tough, devout, ordinary working man’s wife, living in her Old Testament faith and hoping in her Redeemer, becomes the mother of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 28-29)

My favorite articles to write in 2013

keyboard

Yes gang, one more list! This week I’ve shared my top reads of 2013, as well as my favorite books to review. This list is a little different, and is likely the last one I’ll be sharing about the year that is nearly done.

Any good writer will tell you that it takes a lot of effort to write—not to simply to write well, but to write at all. It’s actually a lot easier to not. And very often, we writer types tend to be our own worst critics (y’know, when we’re not inflating our own egos by watching how many Facebook likes we’ve received.). But no matter how much we tell ourselves we should quit, there’s always something we’ve written we genuinely like.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post—my favorite articles of 2013.

These are articles representing some of the work I’m most happy with from the past year, although not necessarily the most read (though some of them are). I hope you’ll give them a read if you haven’t already:

Hope for timid evangelists

You wouldn’t think this is a terribly hard thing to do, but it seems to be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a sense of hesitation set in before doing something even as simple as sending an email asking a pretty open-ended question. When I see that people are ready and willing to answer these questions (some as pointed as “where do you believe you’ll spend eternity and why?”), I feel a little silly.

But here’s the good news—God’s Word offers much hope for timid evangelists like me, especially in the gospel of Luke. Here are five truths we can embrace.

Why I won’t read your book on visiting Heaven

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.… 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.

Does the Bible permit polygamy?

One doesn’t have to look hard to see that many of the “heroes” of the faith were polygamists—Abraham had multiple wives and concubines; Jacob had multiple wives and concubines as well. Even the greatest kings of Israel, David and Solomon, had multiple wives.

So… does that mean it gets a green light—or at the very least, a proceed with caution? Nope.

What does the Bible say about worship?

This is the important thing to understand, then, about worship. It’s not merely about singing, it’s about reverence—it’s about having a biblical fear of the Lord. At its most basic level, then, you could define worship as the humbling of yourself before the One who is your better. This, naturally, has serious implications.

3 reasons why some churches don’t grow (that you don’t usually hear)

There seems to be a lot of pressure for pastors to have “successful” ministries—and by successful, what’s really meant is to have big numbers. While numbers are not wrong (they can be very good, in fact), we’ve got to be careful about how we think about church growth, and what it means to be successful as a church.

Consider preschool before the pulpit

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes—and often one of the hardest things for a novice preacher to do is find opportunities to practice their skills. One place they may want to consider: Children’s ministry.

God’s gag reflex

God—the One who made the world and everything in it, the One who holds all things together with but a word—has declared what is right and what is wrong. Our opinions on the issue don’t matter one bit. Jesus hates sin. He hates it so much that He became it so those who would believe should not have to suffer its consequences.

“Is he humble?”

A few years ago, a friend gave me an unexpected, but much needed corrective. He told me that, despite my many good qualities, I tended to have the appearance of arrogance about me. It hurt to hear that, but in a good way. It made me realize how much my character makes a difference in how people perceive what I do and say. I’m certainly not perfect (as my wife and my coworkers would attest), but Lord willing, I think I’ve made some progress as a man pursuing humility.

The real secret of keeping millennials in the church

But the real reason millennials are abandoning the church isn’t because they’re dissatisfied with the answers to any of these questions. And it’s not because they can’t find Jesus in the typical evangelical church. The reason many leave is they don’t know Jesus. 

Sin makes smart people stupid

Honestly, it’s easy to mock something like this, and sorely tempting. But for Christians, who have, by God’s grace, been given the Holy Spirit, who have the written Word of God at our fingertips, this is a reminder—and maybe a warning for us.

 

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan and Thomas Nelson have put a ton of titles on sale from their catalogue. Obviously, it’s going to be a bit hit-and-miss, but here are a few worth checking out:

The Culture of Like

Aimee Byrd:

Really, what’s going on beneath much of our playful, self-indulgent, liking banter ruse is the fact that it’s all a marketing ploy. Is it a coincidence that I liked a fitness website and now I get ads run on my page for losing weight and breast implants? I don’t know, maybe some comments I’ve made about exercise also contributed. But the point is, advertisers are trying to customize to our liking. Every commercial on TV now wants us to like them on Facebook. Their crazy computer spiders (how creepy is that?) skulk on our every cyber-move and pounce in with the customized add. Liking a website is their free ticket to advertise their latest sell.

Merry Christmas from Chuck Norris

Remember Van Damme’s ultimate splits commercial? I think CGI Chuck’s got him beat:

When nothing created everything

Joe Carter:

Throughout history people have been awed and thrilled by retellings of their culture’s creation story.

Aztecs would tell of the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes, Phoenicians about the Zophashamin, and Jews and Christians about the one true God—Yahweh. But there is one unfortunate group—the children of atheistic materialists—that has no creation myth to call its own. When an inquisitive tyke asks who created the sun, the animals, and mankind, their materialist parents can only tell them to read a book by Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins.

But what sort of story are they likely to find? Should they be told, as famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking claims in his book The Grand Design, that “the universe . . . create[d] itself from nothing”?

Since Hawking’s explanation is a bit too drab and not specific enough for bedtime reading, I’ve decided to take the elements of materialism and shape them into a purportedly accurate, though mythic, narrative. This is what our culture has been missing for far too long—a creation story for young atheistic materialists.

Get Saved From What? in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Saved From What? by R.C. Sproul (ePub) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Who is the Holy Spirit teaching series by Sinclair Ferguson (audio and video download)
  • The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul (audiobook)
  • Reformation Profiles teaching series by Stephen Nichols (audio and video download)

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

22 Productivity Principles from the Book of Proverbs

Eric McKiddie:

Some of these principles you can find in secular productivity literature today. (Indeed, many of the proverbs can be found in secular ancient Near East literature, verbatim.) But seeing them in God-breathed Scripture reminds us to adopt those principles with a God-centered perspective. Other principles in the list don’t get as much ink or pixels in productivity books or blogs. Let us consider how to incorporate those in our mindset and our workflow, so that we can glorify God all the more in the work that we do.

Three ways we can live out our faith publicly

word-balloons

Sometimes we read things in the Bible that don’t jive with our experience, or seem to be confusing. We see the seeming tension between God’s sovereign will and our moral culpability or that the gospel call is to go to all, and yet not all will receive it (nor, it seems, can they). These are but two popular examples. But one place where the Bible shows no tension whatsoever is this:

Being public about your faith.

“There is absolutely zero tension in the Bible between being a ‘private’ and a ‘public’ Christian,” writes Owen Strachan in Risky Gospel. “In a similar way, there is no biblical tension between loving others in word (witness, proclamation) and loving them in deed. The Lord wants both, and if we only focus on proclamation (or the reverse), we miss the mark” (195).

Strachan hits on something we too often overlook: We seem to think we can go about our lives being Christian in private, but not necessarily having to “be” Christian in public. This is, in fact, what our culture encourages by telling us, “you can believe whatever you want to believe—as long as you keep it to yourself.”

And many of us (myself included far more than I’d like to admit) seem okay with it. Yet, if Strachan is correct (and he is) it’s anything but. Why should we demure from being openly Christian in the public square—especially considering we still live in a culture where being a Christian is more or less safe (even if it’s going to win you as many friends as bringing gazpacho to a barbecue). We know we’re not going to be murdered for being Christians, and yet, we get scared. Why?

I suspect it’s because we don’t know how to “be” Christian in public. For some, the only examples of public Christianity they’ve seen are those of Pat Robertson and James Dobson—a highly politicized focus on traditional moral values. Others haven’t really seen an example at all, and so feel completely inadequate, as if they’re going to somehow do it wrong.

I suspect, though, that living out a public faith is easier than we might think. Here are three things that might help:

1. Be concerned about social issues—but get involved in them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the corner outside the hospital holding up a sign pleading for the end of abortion (but it might). It simply means that where there’s a need you see, you should get involved. And in case you’re wondering, sharing videos on Facebook (remember Kony 2012?) or buying a t-shirt from Sevenly doesn’t count. Volunteer at a street mission or homeless shelter; get involved in an after school program for kids. Sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion. Do something that causes you to invest in people.

2. Talk about Jesus—but talk about Jesus like he really matters to you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be out on the corner street preaching (though, again, it might). It simply means speaking like a human being about Jesus in a way that shows he really matters to you. So talk about going to church when the barista asks you what you’re up to on Sunday morning. Talk to your coworkers about what you’re working through in your small group. Wherever you can in a way that’s natural, talk about Jesus. Seriously, people aren’t likely to rip your head off.

3. Repent—but repent well. This doesn’t mean owning all of the faults and failings of Christians from days gone by—it simply means owning yours. Or, y’know, having character. This mean we don’t use sketchy language like, “a mistake was made, and if anyone was offended I apologize.” Instead, we say, “I did X and it was wrong, please forgive me.” We own what we do wrong and accept the consequences.

While no doubt there’s more to it, this should be a good starting point for living out our faith publicly. What are some strategies you’ve found helpful?

Links I like

Re: Mark Driscoll

Jared Wilson:

Pastor Mark, if you’re reading this — you are losing us. Forget about the “haters.” We ain’t them. We are the ones who love you, who want to see you succeed and prevail. And we won’t stop, no matter what tribe you’re in or which conference stage you take. But we want you to take responsibility for your actions and your attitude. It does not commend grace. We want you to walk in repentance. We want you to seek the way of Christ in more humility, to drop the image and the posturing, and remind us of what drew us to you in the first place: the fame of Christ’s name, not the protection of your own. What would the truth of the gospel have you do? What would adorn the gospel? What would make Jesus look big? I believe it would be a reversal of the trajectory of pride you have been on. I’m asking you to turn around and show us why we were so drawn to you in the beginning. I’m asking you to show us Jesus. He has become lost in your shadow.

The Gossip Rag of the Reformed World

Tim Challies:

I had an idea! What if I rebrand this site Reformed People and make it the gossip rag, the tabloid, of the Reformed world? This much is true: I would never run out of people to discuss and evaluate. Just last week I received emails or phone calls concerning at least five open and active people issues, celebrity issues, that I could write about. And those are only the ones I can remember a week later. I won’t rebrand, of course, but the point is, there could be a site dedicated only to gossip and people news that concerns our little corner of the Christian world. Worst of all, I think people might actually read it.

What Must You Leave Behind?

Kevin DeYoung:

What must we leave behind if we are to follow Christ?

The simplest answer is that we must leave behind idolatry. That’s the very first commandment—you shall have no other gods before me. They don’t have to be obvious representations of the divine; they don’t have to be stone or wood or marble. There are all sorts of gods: education, athletics, marriage, choice, power, self-expression, beauty, achievement. Whatever you give your whole life for, there’s your idol.

What If Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter?

Mike Leake:

“Everybody’s opinion is valid,” said the teacher as she parroted the curriculum. It was one of those happy-feely Monday’s where the school was trying to help us love one another, accept differences, and play nice. We likely would have sang Kumbaya if it wasn’t so offensive to the atheists.

One of my wise-cracking friends asked what I thought was a pretty solid question. “What if my opinion is that no other opinion is valid?”

I don’t remember her answer. And I didn’t really care, nor did the kid asking the question. We just wanted to laugh. But I actually think that he had a good point. What if everybody’s opinion really isn’t valid?

My favorite books to review in 2013

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Yesterday I shared some of my favorite books to read in 2013 (many of which I reviewed). Today, I want to share a few of my favorite books to review.

(And no, this isn’t a case of “I just liked so many books I couldn’t limit the list,” as you’ll see in a minute.)

These are not all books I enjoyed, nor are they all books I’d recommend you read yourself. But all were books that challenged me in some way as I tried to figure out how to best review them, whether because of disagreements with the content or because the genre was something I’d never tackled before. Simply, they were some of the books that let me exercise my critical thinking skills.

So, with that in mind, here are the reviews I most enjoyed writing in 2013:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Why’d it make the list? Being familiar with Evans’ work, I knew I wasn’t likely to agree with her conclusions in the book from the get-to. But the challenge here was finding ways to articulate my disagreement in a way that would be helpful and appreciate the good points of the book.

One of my concluding lines was “On some points, A Year of Biblical Womanhood offers some extremely helpful insights. On others, though, it comes across as petty and juvenile,” so I’m not sure how well I succeeded there.

Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau

Why’d it make the list? While the book is a bit stuffy in its writing style (it skews academic), its subject matter is too important not to give careful consideration. I’ve seen attempt to present a balanced view of the major positions on human origins. Rau did a very good job of this, as well as pointing out the often overlooked role of our presuppositions in interpreting scientific data.

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

Why’d it make the list? Trevin’s book is one of the first serious attempts I’ve made at reviewing a work of fiction. In fact, it might actually be the first fiction book I’ve reviewed. And any time I need to start a review writing, “Clear Winter Nights is not an ugly book,” I think it means I had some thinking to do.

Does God Listen to Rap? by Curtis Allen

Why’d it make the list? Because controversial subjects require a lot of thought. Allen clearly worked hard to address the concerns about Christian rap from a biblical perspective and his arguments require careful consideration.

God’s Good Design by Claire Smith

Why’d it make the list? This book had almost the opposite problem of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Because I’m in agreement with the arguments made by the author, I still needed to figure out how to think through these with a degree of objectiveness. Again, not sure how well I succeeded there, so you’ll have to be the judge.

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado

Why’d it make the list? Mostly because reviewing a book geared toward children is incredibly challenging. At the risk of being obvious, writing a book for kids isn’t the same as writing for adults. There’s more nuance you can include in a book for big people that doesn’t work well with little ones. Nevertheless, I think I stand by my conclusion: “A gospel-driven book, this is not; but it is an opening to a gospel conversation with your kids. And if that’s what Lucado set out to do, then he’s succeeded admirably.”

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

Why’d it make the list? This was, far and away, the most challenging review I wrote all year for me personally. I found myself with a large list of concerns, as well as a number of things I appreciated about the book—which, in hindsight, actually were some of my concerns!

So those were a few of my favorite books to review. Although a number of them are books I’d probably recommend you not read, hopefully checking out the reviews will help you understand why I like the process of reviewing so much.

Links I like

Rural vs Urban Ministry

Really great conversation between Jared Wilson and Stephen Um:

We Need Another First Impression of Christmas

Barnabas Piper:

We only get one first impression at anything. There is no going back to re-live or re-experience them. They fade over time and all of the experiences between the first one and the present form an entirely new impression. We lose that sense of wonder, fear, amazement, or intrigue. Instead you become comfortable, at ease, or maybe apathetic or annoyed.

Except when we get to experience something through the eyes of someone else.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are a few new ones:

Along with those, Westminster Books has a number of “real” (ie. print) books on sale:

…along with TONS of titles on sale in their bargain/clearance section. Go check them out.

How Not To Repent

David Murray:

I suppose we all still hoped that despite appearances, there had been true repentance, that Haggard really had owned his sin, taken responsibility, accepted the blame, and sincerely confessed his guilt.

But a recent blog post raises a huge question mark against that hope. In Suicide, Evangelicals, and Sorrow, Haggard used the recent suicide of another megachurch pastor’s son, Isaac Hunter, to continue his attempts at resurrecting his name, reputation, and ministry. His post really is an almost perfect example of how not to repent.

So why highlight it? First, because it will help us to spot these characteristics when dealing with others who have fallen into public sin and scandal. Sadly, there are predictable patterns to these things that we’d do well to acquaint ourselves with so that we are not duped.  And second, because we can use it as a personal heart-check to examine how we respond to our own sin.

What the Bible Actually Says About “Calling”

Ron Marrs:

Whatever the use, it is clear that there is little consensus on what “calling” actually is. It seems to me that its use has devolved into one of those “Christianese” words that people use and trust that everyone understands.  What makes things even more interesting is that the word is often used in our culture, even by unbelievers, to describe what a person feels like they were put on this earth to do.  There is no “caller” even though they feel “called.”

 

My favorite books of 2013

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading well over 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I’m not sure how they were even published… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year:

Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

From my review:

One thing is clear as you read Jesus on Every Page: Murray’s excitement for the subject matter is palpable, particularly when he shares 10 ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus can be found in creation, in the characters we meet, in the Law itself, in the history of God’s people, in the OT prophets, in the work of Israel’s poets… Christ is everywhere—even showing up in person on occasion.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

death-by-living

From my review:

N.D. Wilson’s writing is an acquired taste. His writing isn’t entirely linear. He follows the rabbit trails of his mind wherever they lead. He leads you to conclusions in a way that’s sometimes so subtle it’s easy to miss. But, if you follow him where he leads as he celebrates lives lived well, you’ll see this important truth: our lives are meant to be spent. As much as we lament time passing us by, as much as we loathe the idea of death, we can see even death as a gift.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Boring by Michael Kelley

boring-michael-kelley

From my review:

For years, a number of authors keep saying they want to write about why it’s okay to be “ordinary.” I’m glad one finally did. Boring is a much-needed book, one that is sure to be a relief for many weary Christians who are exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the radical, even as it calls us to a greater demonstration of faith: being obedient right where we are.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

From my review:

Too many of us struggle to understand how to ask questions well or even understand the purpose of a question. But Anderson gives us a framework for asking the right questions in the right way that I’m sure will be valuable for years to come. This book is a wonderful gift to readers of all stripes; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

fantastic-flying-lessmore

This book, written for kids five and older, is a wonderful love letter to reading, and a fantastic reminder that regardless of how you read, it’s story that really matters.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson

sound-doctrine-jamieson

From my review:

Jamieson’s book is thoughtful, helpful, and packed full of wisdom. It succeeds in reminding us that sound doctrine truly is for all of life—and it’s a book you can’t easily walk away from without feeling at least a touch of conviction. Indeed, we all too easily take the implications of our doctrine for granted.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Five Points by John Piper

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From my review:

Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people.Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

is-god-antigay-allberry

From my review:

…the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover even the worst of sins. Homosexuals aren’t a special class of sinner outside the reach of the grace of God. In Is God Anti-Gay?, Allberry does a tremendous job of equipping Christians to think biblically about homosexuality and, Lord willing, to use what they know to reach the homosexual community with the love of God and see them, like all sinners, “repent and believe.”

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

fortunately__the_milk

The second non-traditional entry on this list (scary, isn’t it?). If you were proto-emo in the 90s, you were a fan of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy comic, The Sandman. This book is not The Sandman. Instead, this is a fun, quirky story for kids 8–11 where the only angst comes from wondering when Dad’s going to get home with the milk. I really enjoyed it (even if my daughter didn’t).

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

sensing-jesus

From my review:

Sensing Jesus, by the author’s own admission, is meant to be a slow burn. If you blast through this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. “Apprenticeship needs meditation and time,” as he puts it (27). Readers would do well to take Eswine at his word. Read slowly and thoughtfully. Make lots of notes. Be willing to recognize where you see yourself in its pages, and consider how God might challenge you through it to recover the humanity of your ministry.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


And just for fun, here are a couple of honorable mentions:

  • Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris (my review)
  • The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson (my review)
  • Crucifying Morality by R W Glenn (my review)

See what made the cut in years past:

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

Links I like

Nothing That Is Possible Can Save Us

Tullian Tchividjian, quoting David Zahl:

Auden’s meaning becomes clearer when we consider problems of a less everyday nature. The kind that keep us up at night. I was speaking with a friend recently who had just separated from his wife. He told me, “I’ve done everything I can think of. Even couples’ counseling hasn’t helped. She just doesn’t want me. It’s going to take a miracle to save our marriage.” He had pursued all the right options, and nothing had worked. The problem was simply beyond him. So it is with us. Our condition is not fixable. That is, we can empirically say that the solution to human nature has not been found in the realm of “what’s possible.” Instead, we need a miracle to save us – from ourselves, from our sin, and ultimately, from death.

No More Gender: A Look into Sweden’s Social Experiment

Trevin Wax:

If Sweden is our future, then we are in trouble. The idea of humanity as completely neutral in terms of gender is foreign to a Scriptural understanding of who we are. Human beings bear God’s image, and God made us male and female. He didn’t make us merely human. He made us gendered beings.

What’s at stake in this discussion? Human flourishing. We don’t flourish when we suppress or ignore gender distinctives. Such an existence creates a flatter, duller society. Instead, we flourish when we embrace our maleness or femaleness as God’s gift to us – intended for our joy and His glory. The differences between men and women aren’t obstacles to overcome; they’re glorious and beautiful.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals from Crossway:

Also on sale:

Moral Mayhem Multiplied—Now, It’s Polygamy’s Turn

Albert Mohler:

As most Americans were thinking thoughts of Christmas cheer, a federal judge in Utah dropped a bomb on the institution of marriage, striking down the most crucial sections of the Utah statute outlawing polygamy. Last Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups of the United States District Court in Utah ruled that Utah’s anti-polygamy law is unconstitutional, violating the free exercise clause of the First Amendment as well as the guarantee of due process.

In one sense, the decision was almost inevitable, given the trajectory of both the culture and the federal courts. On the other hand, the sheer shock of the decision serves as an alarm: marriage is being utterly redefined before our eyes, and in the span of a single generation.

Who determines meaning?

Denny Burk:

How can you tell the difference between a good interpretation of a text and a bad interpretation? This is the fundamental question that every reader has to answer in trying to understand the message of scripture.

The traditional approach has been to recognize the author as the ground and the guide of textual meaning. If you want to know the meaning of the text, then you must discern the author’s intent in writing that text.

The “New Criticism” of the early twentieth century dethroned authorial intent and argued instead that meaning is a property of the text quite apart from the author. Texts have “semantic autonomy” as it were, and it is a fallacy to think that we can read the minds of authors.

From about the 1960′s until now, reader-focused methodologies have come to the fore. On this understanding, meaning cannot be identified with authorial intent or with a property that inheres in the text. Such approaches define meaning as the reader’s response to the text.

Which of these approaches is correct? Is meaning defined by the author, the text, or the reader? Recently as I was reading through 1 Timothy, I came across a text that seems to have a bearing on this question. In 1 Timothy 1:8, Paul writes, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” Some observations…

I’m giving you a whole pile of books for Christmas!

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and this Christmas, I have the privilege of giving some of you a ridiculous pile of great books! In partnership with the fine folks at Crossway Books, David C. Cook, Thomas Nelson, B&H Books, and Cruciform Press, I’m giving away a whole pile of books (keep reading for the complete list). But there’s more than books this time around—Logos Bible Software has generously included three copies of the Logos 5 starter base package, featuring nearly 200 books! You’ll need to sign up for a free Logos account in order to win (which you can do here); you can also download free apps to read your books on any device here. Here’s a look at all the books in this year’s prize pack:1

… and don’t be surprised if you see some more items added to the list before the giveaway is through! Best of all, three of you will be receiving this fantastic collection of books! You read that right—there are three sets to win. To enter, all you need to do is use the PunchTab widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2013?

This contest ends on Friday, December 20th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!

One final note: Logos Bible Software would like to send a special thank you to all participants who enter using the email entry option in the Punch Tab app (nothing spammy, I promise!). As a thank you from Logos, you’ll receive a discount on the purchase of several titles, including To Live is Christ To Die is Gain for $14.95 (regular $16.95), and 15 percent off both The Pursuit of God and Spiritual Waypoints.

Links I like

What Do Protestants Protest?

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Sadly in our day, not much of anything. Luther, of course, began the Reformation by posting his 95 theses. His chief concern was the sale of indulgences. Underscoring that concern were two principle concerns—the singular authority of the Bible, and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Luther, along with the other magisterial Reformers, argued that the Bible is our alone ultimate authority in binding our conscience with respect to our faith and practice. It denied that the church provided either a compelling interpretation of the Bible, or a second source of infallible information.

The Power of the Word

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bPXGupb0d8

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Be sure to check out this weekend’s list as many are ending today!

Too Big Not To Fail

Jared Wilson:

Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.

The lesson appears plain: if you really want to fall, get big.

The danger of a how-to

Timothy Raymond:

Somewhere along the way, evangelicals embraced a different definition of what makes a Christian. While we once defined a Christian as someone who confesses the gospel and gives reasonable evidence thereunto, we slowly, imperceptibly but eventually, concluded that a Christian is someone who strives to follow Christian ethics. The entire ‘Christian’ core shifted from those who embrace the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints to those who live a certain lifestyle. And given this redefinition, I was being too hard on the Roman Catholics. “If my good Catholic neighbour attends church every week, reads his Bible, sings the same doxology we sing, opposes abortion, and supports traditional marriage, does it really matter if he thinks Jesus’ body is literally present during the Lord’s Supper?” I suspect the vast majority of our church members would answer in the negative.