Who is the Master?

As I was working on a paper for my Ligonier Academy program, I had to stop and consider this passage from Peter Jensen’s book, The Revelation of God:

In the end, the Bible is the most reasonable of all books, for it conforms with reality. It is our culture that is irrational, our minds that are darkened. Just as the gospel commends itself to us by making sense of our experience, so too does the Bible. It insists on bringing moral judgment to bear on our existence, and revealing the truth about the human heart. It brings before us a standard of morality and godliness that would absolutely transform the world were we to live in accordance with its precepts. It provides a pattern of the relationship between the sexes that endorses the difference while affirming the equality. It majors on forgiveness of the wounded conscience. It gives hope for the future. Undoubtedly it cuts across many of the ideas held most dear in the culture. It is all the more important, therefore, that Christians should not capitulate to the contemporary mores. It is the difference of Christianity that will make the biggest impact, and, if indeed the Bible is the word of God, we may be sure tha tit will prove to be centred on ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24).

In short, human reason in all its variety is a most useful servant of the gospel. But where reason or tradition becomes the masters of the gospel, dictating how the word of God may come to us, it serves only that evil from which God aims to free us.

Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, pp. 177-178

As I’ve read this over and over again, I keep coming back to one thing:

At the heart of all the controversies around the Bible and its reliability seems to be one issue—control.

When it comes studying to the Bible, who is in control?

If God has revealed Himself through the Bible, then we are obliged to obey. Yet, because it seems foolish to us naturally, we seek to ignore it. We rebel against because we want control.

But the Bible refuses to obey us.

It keeps pointing out the foolishness of our minds, the irrationality of our thinking. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures and free us from our bondage to our desire for human autonomy and allow us to understand and obey what can often seem so paradoxical.

Thinking about this has made me consider how I read and apply Scripture with great care. Am I doing so, hoping to control it or be brought under its control?

I’m praying it’s the latter.

Do You Journal?

I’m not talking about a manly version of keeping a diary (although if you keep a diary, that’s cool…), I’m talking about journaling what God is teaching you through your regular Scripture reading.

Do you journal?

For years, I’ve done it and it’s been very worthwhile, particularly from the standpoint of looking back and seeing what God’s been teaching you over the years. My friend Adam and I were talking about this last night over bison burgers and I’d mentioned that it’s very humbling to look back on things you wrote 3, 4 or 5 years ago that you thought were really insightful and intelligent and think, “Man, I was an idiot!”

Maybe that’s just me, though.

And even though I’ve always really enjoyed journaling, it’s fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. I always have things to ponder from my reading (some of which ends up becoming posts like these), but I’m not always writing it down.

This is probably a trend I should reverse.

So do you journal? If so, how do you keep yourself on track with doing it?

Around the Interweb

Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore

Crossway just released the trailer for Russell D. Moore’s new book, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. Take a look:

 

(HT: Crossway Blog)

Introducing ESV GreekTools

This is a phenomenal new add-on to ESVonline.org that allows you to interact with the Greek text of the New Testament. Here’s a video explaining:

 

Crossway is offering this new tool at an introductory price of $9.99 (regular price $14.99). This is a tremendous deal for such a great resource. I’ve got it and am really enjoying it.

Also Worth Reading

TGC Bonus Session: Listen to the audio from the panel discussion, God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty

Adoption Story: There was a girl, fifteen years old…

Spiritual Growth: The Tragedy of a Self-Centered Life

Contest Winners: The winners of the Don’t Call It a Comeback giveaway are Andrew Hall and Ben Thorp. Congratulations, gentlemen!

In Case You Missed It

Book Review: Don’t Call It a Comeback edited by Kevin DeYoung

This week I was at the Gospel Coalition’s 2010 National Conference and had the opportunity to live blog the event. Here are my notes from eight of the plenary sessions:

Al Mohler: Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus

Tim Keller: Getting Out

Alistair Begg: From a Foreigner to King Jesus

James MacDonald: Not According to Our Sins

Conrad Mbewe: The Righteous Branch

Matt Chandler: Youth

Mike Bullmore: God’s Great Heart of Love Toward His Own

D.A. Carson: Getting Excited About Melchizedek

Emily and I also took some time to reflect on our experiences at the conference: day one, day two and day three

Building (and Rebuilding) Your Library

About a week or so ago, Nathan Harbottle asked me a great question on Twitter:

If you had to start your personal library over, what would be your first 3 purchases?

Interestingly enough, this something I’ve had to do before. When I first started my library, it was books by Rob Bell, Erwin McManus and I think one book by Craig Groeschel. (I even had a copy of Wild at Heart. I never read beyond chapter 3.)

It was not a terribly robust library, nor was it terribly deep.

Then, for some reason, I decided to get a copy of 18 Words by J.I. Packer, and it rocked my socks. It also set me on a path to building what I think is becoming a fairly well-rounded, theologically sound library.

So, back to Nate’s question. What three books would be my first purchases if I were starting over again?

Aside from a good study Bible (I profiled a few here in the “Get Serious About Your Studies” series), I’d recommend getting the following books to start off:

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul (Cover)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

Why? In The Holiness of God, Sproul helps believers gain a better grasp of this all-too-often neglected attribute of God. Sproul is a master at communicating complex subjects in a way that is completely understandable for the average layperson and encouraging a deeper passion for the Lord in his readers.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Why? Knowing God is one of the first books I ever read that left me in awe. Packer’s insights into the central pursuit of the Christian life—not simply knowing things about God, but knowing God intimately—are a great gift to believers.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem

Why? In Christian Beliefs, Grudem addresses 20 essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that is clear and accessible. It also includes chapter review questions that are perfect for private reflection or group study. This is a book that I wish I had had the day after I got saved. Seriously.

As an immediate fourth pick, I’d also recommend getting a copy of Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. It’s packed with great principles on how to study the Bible in a way that will keep you from winding up in some pretty scary places theologically.

What three books would you recommend?

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing a Study Bible

 

Studying the Bible is an essential for the Christian. Yet it seems far many of us seem to take it for granted, myself included. If we study the Bible at all, it’s as a chore—”I have to do this”—instead of a privilege—”I get to do this!”

Through the Scriptures, we learn not how life works best, but how life really is. There is a God who created all things and is in authority over all things. That mankind, made in His image and likeness, rebelled against Him and plunged all of creation into its current state of futility and sin. And that God made a way for mankind’s sins to be forgiven through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

This is such good news, and we should want to know all we can about it, shouldn’t we?

Absolutely. A few years ago I wrote a series called “get serious about your studies,” offering readers a look at a few different resources intended to help them study the Scriptures. Today, I’m revisiting this series, beginning with the most critical area: you and your Bible. More specifically, your study Bible.

Do I need a study Bible?

Despite what many of us have been taught, the Bible isn’t an impenetrable book with a mysterious message requiring decoder rings and multiple PhDs to understand. The truth is, much of the Bible is fairly easy to understand. God wants His people to know Him, regardless of academic achievement. So whether you’re in grade school or grad school, you can understand the Bible.

Even so, we must also acknowledge there are many things that are confusing or unclear to the twenty-first century reader. Much of this is due to cultural proximity—we’re a long way away from the time Jesus and His apostles walked the earth. We live in a completely different context and speak a completely different language. Certain nuances get lost in translation. And let’s face it, the vast majority of us aren’t going to be learning the biblical languages anytime soon.

This is where study Bibles are a wonderful gift to us. A study Bible is a valuable resource to assist the reader in understanding Scripture by providing insight into words and phrases used that we might not understand, as well as historical interpretations of texts. Essentially, it provides a running commentary that you can turn to should you get stuck.

What’s the right study Bible for me?

Choosing a study Bible, like choosing any Bible, can be difficult. There are a number of terrific versions available, so to some degree it comes down to preference. Nevertheless, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering which study Bible to invest in:

1. Translation style. This is probably the most important criterion. The methodology in how the text was translated from the original language can drastically affect your understanding of the words the original authors used and why. The two most common translation methods are “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence.”

  • Dynamic equivalence is essentially thought-for-thought—seeking to capture the ideas the authors were conveying, sometimes at the expense of the original language. The NIV and the NLT are good examples of this method.
  • Formal equivalence tends to be a bit more word-for-word in its translation style; the upside is that you’re going to get a better idea of the actual words used in Greek and Hebrew, however the sentence structure can be clunky. The ESV, NKJV, NASB and the HCSB are probably the best formal equivalence translations on the market today.

While they certainly can be used for more in-depth study, generally speaking, dynamic equivalence translations are ideally suited for devotional reading. If you’re looking to do some serious investigation, lean toward a formal equivalence translation.

2. Notes and supplemental articles. The notes in your study Bible need to actually be helpful in clearing up confusion where possible, and great ones will provide insight into the original language used. Avoid wishy-washy write-ups whenever possible. Supplemental articles on translations, Church history, ethics, the canon of Scripture, reading plans, as well as ones that help you understand the context of each book of the Bible, general themes, etc. are essential. Your notes and articles are the things you’re paying for, so be sure to take some time to read carefully.

3. The contributors. Do your best to know who is contributing notes to your study Bible. While no pastor or theologian is infallible, there are some who you should pay closer attention to. If you have a study Bible featuring notes by the likes of J.I. Packer, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul, rejoice! But if they’re by Joel Osteen, run for the hills.

4. Font size. I know this sounds silly, but it’s actually pretty important. Reading tiny print takes a toll on the eyes. You want to try to avoid eye strain if at all possible.

What study Bibles do I recommend?

There are tons of great study Bibles out there, and here are a few I strongly recommend:

The ESV Study Bible. This is one of the best translation specific study Bibles available on the market today, with contributions by Dennis Johnson, Andreas Köstenberger, Ray Ortlund, and Tom Schreiner, among many others. (Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.)

The HCSB Study Bible. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is increasingly becoming one of my favorite translations to use, combining the accuracy of the ESV with the readability of the NIV. This study Bible features notes written by Richard Hess, Andreas Köstenberger, Robert Yarbrough, Walt Kaiser and more. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon.)

The Reformation Study Bible. This study Bible is ideal for getting a solid grounding in historic Reformed theology, featuring contributions by R.C. Sproul, Graeme Goldsworthy, Peter Jones, Tremper Longman III, Sinclair Ferguson, Leon Morris and more. (Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books,