May’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in May:

  1. Four and a half books I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian (May 2014)
  2. 5 books every new Christian should read (May 2014)
  3. Is anyone really surprised? (May 2014)
  4. 7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher (January 2014)
  5. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  6. 160 of the most terrifying words I’ve ever read (May 2014)
  7. One of the books that most deeply affected my faith (May 2014)
  8. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011)
  9. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  10. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Seven really great book covers (May 2014)
  2. New and noteworthy books (May 2014)
  3. Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (May 2014)
  4. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  5. When the h-word slipped (May 2014)
  6. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  7. How to talk when we talk about God (May 2014)
  8. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  9. 3 reasons I’m reading more fiction (May 2014)
  10. Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb (May 2014)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Christian, you can’t win the Internets!

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Blogging—oh, let’s be honest, the Internet—has a tendency to encourage a certain, shall we say, zeal for one’s viewpoint. Simply, many of us just want you to know you’re wrong and make sure you know it (and we won’t let Wheaton’s Law stand in our way).

Emily reminded me of this last night when discussing an article she was reading. Ever since we started thinking about homeschooling, Emily’s been reading the blogs of homeschoolers to get a sense of what to expect. What’s she’s found has been… “interesting.”

Yesterday afternoon she was reading a 2009 article by Reb Bradley on her mistakes as a homeschooling mom, where she confessed that her approach was far too “me-centered” and consumed with outward appearances than the actual well-being of her children. (It’s long, but really good.)

Then she found a response article that, in a nutshell, said, “Nope, you’re wrong; you were right the first time, and you’re wrong to feel the way you do. Here are some Bible verses.”

You can see why this might be unhelpful, right?

Although the Internet encourages a certain kind of zeal for one’s own views, we should always strive for something better. The Internet is not something you can win, therefore we shouldn’t try.

Instead, we should try to do these things:

1. Take a deep breath. Don’t get your fauxtrage on, friends. Or at least, don’t post/tweet/update/pin/plus/twerp when you’ve got it on. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Have a cookie. Get away from your device for a while to see if your rage is legit or you’re just a rampaging rageoholic. Who knows? You might just be gassy.

2. Try to actually understand the point. This might be a tall order, but I’m confident it can be done. A great way to do this is to ask good questions, which also means avoid leading or entrapment style ones whenever possible.

3. Keep our mouths shut. Sometimes the best thing we can do when we disagree with something on the Internet is to just say nothing. This is especially important when we’re dealing with other people who really, really want to goad you into a fight with click-baity blog posts and tweets. Remember, those people are trying to win the Internets, too. And if you take the click-bait, they win.


photo credit: Jan Tik via photopin cc

April’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in April:

  1. Who are the false teachers? (April 2014)
  2. New Easter devotional: The Last Days of Jesus (April 2014)
  3. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  4. Would Paul have used video? Here’s a better question… (April 2014)
  5. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  6. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  7. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011)
  8. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung (April 2014)
  9. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  10. Why I may (not) be live-blogging #T4G14 (April 2014)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  2. My top 5 highlights from #T4G (April 2014)
  3. Evangelism by Mack Stiles (April 2014)
  4. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  5. 4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie (March 2014)
  6. What’s on your to-read pile? (April 2014)
  7. The glamor of God-honoring grammar (April 2014)
  8. Choosing a New Preaching Bible (November 2011)
  9. Why I Believe Amillennialism by Matthew Svoboda (July 2010)
  10. The one reason you should support the Gosnell documentary (April 2014)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Why I may (not) be live-blogging #T4G14

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Over the last few years of attending conferences, I’ve tended to live-blog them, taking copious notes and sharing them here in real-time or something close to it. This year, although I have no doubt I’ll be taking lots of notes, I’m not sure if I will be live-blogging at T4G. It’s hard work and fun work… but man, it’s a lot of work.

So here are a few reasons why I may or may not do it this time:

1. My notes tend to be more like on-the-fly, loosely paraphrased transcripts. I don’t catch everything, but I do manage to get about 80 percent of what’s said in a pretty faithful form. This is tricky to do, but I know a lot of people find them helpful.

2. I don’t want my note-taking to be distracting to other attendees. Conference venues like the Yum Center tend to not be set up to handle live-blogging well. And because my tendency is to not be a gentle typer, I am concerned about my clickety-clacking distracting the other attendees.

3. Not live-blogging gives a little more flexibility to my schedule. I don’t “have” to be there on time or at all, if something requires my attention elsewhere (I’m thinking a work or family-related emergency).

4. Sometimes it’s fun just to sit and watch. I’ve never really just sat back and watched at one of these. This might be a good thing to try.

5. Sometimes sharing the material online is fun, too. I’ve received a number of emails from folks saying they’ve found my notes helpful in the past, and I do appreciate having the opportunity to help others when possible.

6. There’s a livestream. The livestream is really handy and allows people to listen in as they go about their day.

So what say you all? Live-blog or not live-blog?

March’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in March:

  1. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. God might call you to be ignored (March 2014)
  3. Memorizing God’s Word: Colossians (July 2013)
  4. Kindle deals for Christian readers (March 2014)
  5. Are Christians really free to smoke pot? (March 2014)
  6. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  7. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  8. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  9. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  10. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Have the courage to apologize (March 2014)
  2. Where is Jesus Christ? (March 2014)
  3. The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson (March 2014)
  4. Jehovah Tsidkenu (March 2014)
  5. Four pieces of leadership “wisdom” you should totally ignore (February 2014)
  6. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  7. 4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie (March 2014)
  8. Being present, as Christians, with lost people (March 2014)
  9. A quick look at some new books (March 2014)
  10. Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile (March 2014)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Links I like

How it’s all going to end

Sam Storms (it’s an oldie, but a goodie):

This work of the Spirit in restraining human sin is called “grace” because no one deserves it. That God inhibits their sin is an expression of mercy to those who deserve judgment. It is called “common” because it is universal. Both saved and unsaved, regenerate and unregenerate, are the recipients of this divine favor. It is not restricted to any one group of people and it does not necessarily lead to salvation.

When the Bible Is Hard to Understand

John Knight:

Like most of you, I’m just a guy in the pews. I have no formal theological education. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew. I have a full life with my family, my job, my church, and several other activities scattered within. But I wasn’t content to end with whatever I “thought” the passage meant. I wanted to understand what God meant by these hard texts and therefore, I pulled out study Bibles and commentaries and looked over sermons preached by my pastor and other trusted expositors.

Why you should never self-diagnose using the Internet

HT: 22 words (via Z)

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Greg Thornbury:

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you’re thinking, I’m with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.

4 Reasons I Still Prefer Books Over eBooks and A Note to Blogger Review Programs

Mike Leake:

Using my Kindle on my iPad is growing on me, I must confess. I’m reading more and more books that way. But I’m finding that these are mostly books that I read for sheer entertainment value. If I really want to chew on a book then reading it in electronic format is pretty much useless.

Today I am sharing four reasons why I still prefer actual hold-in-my-hand-and- smell-the-pages books over their computerized version. I also will add a note to publishers and blogger review programs.

February’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in February:

  1. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament (February 2014)
  3. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  4. Four pieces of leadership “wisdom” you should totally ignore (February 2014)
  5. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  6. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  7. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011)
  8. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  9. The universal disease of all mankind (February 2014)
  10. Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller  (February 2014)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  2. Can you pray for us?  (February 2014)
  3. Your presuppositions shape your response (February 2014)
  4. 7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher (January 2014)
  5. Invest by Sutton Turner (February 2014)
  6. A brief look at the 9Marks series  (February 2014)
  7. Leland Ryken wants to help you study The Pilgrim’s Progress (February 2014)
  8. A brand-new site (February 2014)
  9. The original Christian hipster (February 2014)
  10. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer (February 2014)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Five things I’ve learned from five years of blogging

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So it’s been a couple years since I last wrote a state of the blog type piece and I figured I’m overdue, especially since five years ago today, in a moment of sheer madness and desperation, I hit the publish button on a WordPress blog. Five years later, I’m still hitting publish (and some days, it still feels like a bit of madness and desperation involved).

So in honor of the blog’s fifth anniversary, I thought I’d share five things I’ve learned along the way:

Controversy is boring. I’ve said it many, many times, but it’s worth repeating: controversy might get a lot of traffic, but it’s boring to write about. Honestly, I don’t know how the watchblogger types do it. Honestly, I think I’d go nuts if I only wrote about what stupid thing some yahoo who thinks too highly of himself did this week. Sometimes controversy is unavoidable, but only when it’s coming at you like a multi-car pileup on the highway. If you’ve got time to hit the brakes, do.

Breaks really, really matter. Fairly early on, I set August as the month where I’d take a break from blogging (it started as a week and expanded from there). Taking a break helps clear the head and give you fresh perspective—which, when you write daily, you really, really need.

Interacting with others is fun. Not every post has to be a 100 percent original thought. My favorite times are when I’m engaging with something I’ve read and working through the implications in my own life. This is one of my favorite (recent) examples. Whether it’s another blogger’s post, a news story or a passage from a book, this has been some of the most rewarding writing for me.

Encouraging spouses are the best. My wife is a big help around here. She regularly listens to me ramble on about an idea I’ve got, gives feedback when I’m working on a post, suggests topics to write on. Occasionally, she even writes something herself, too! If Emily weren’t supportive of what I’m doing, I’d probably have to quit.

Followers and stats don’t equal influence. Whether you’ve got 20 or 20,000 readers, five followers or 5000 on Twitter, or two friends or 2000 fans on Facebook, influence isn’t about numbers. Influence has far more to do with what’s happened as a result of what you’ve written, rather than how many times someone potentially saw it. Most of the time you never hear what’s come from it, but every so often you get a comment or an email. And when you get those little glimpses, it’s a great time to give thanks to God.

So those are a few things I’ve learned (and relearned) over the last five years of blogging. Thanks for making it fun, friends!

 

January’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in January:

  1. 15 signs your church is growing in the right way (January 2014)
  2. 7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher (January 2014)
  3. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  4. Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2014 (January 2014)
  5. Is church growth all about the pastor? (January 2014)
  6. A look at The Gospel Transformation Bible (January 2014)
  7. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  8. The shocking secret to finding God’s will (January 2014)
  9. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011)
  10. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  2. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  3. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  4. 6 quotes Christians need to let lie fallow (January 2014)
  5. It’s not a cold—it’s cancer! (Janury 2014)
  6. 14 books I want to read in 2014 (and think you should too) (December 2013)
  7. You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus (January 2014)
  8. Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke (January 2014)
  9. Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax (January 2014)
  10. That awkward moment in kids ministry when… (January 2014)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Links I like

Yes, We Are Judgmental (But Not In the Way Everyone Thinks)

Kevin DeYoung:

Is there a piece of biblical wisdom more routinely ignored on the internet, not to mention in our own hearts, than Proverbs 18:17?—”The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” I’ve never been accused of serious misconduct that I knew to be patently false or horribly misunderstood. But if I am someday, I hope folks will remember the book of Proverbs. “”If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13). Too often we are quick to speak and slow to listen. The world, the flesh, the devil, and the internet want us to rush to judgment, when the Bible urges us to suspend judgment until we’ve heard from both sides. It happens all the time: pastors sinfully judge parishoners based on hearsay, church members criticize pastors without knowing the whole story, citizen assume the worst about politicians whenever another Scandalgate emerges, kids attack their siblings at the first whiff of error.

Exegesis has Consequences

Anthony Carter:

Ideas have consequences. Since the dawn of Western philosophy, we have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of this axiom. From the influence of John Locke upon the founders of America, to the disastrous results of the influence of Karl Marx in Communist Russia and Friedrich Nietzsche in Hitler’s Germany, it can hardly be argued that ideas don’t have consequences. Yet, not only do ideas have consequences, but so too does exegesis.

Band of Bloggers

After a one-year hiatus, Band of Bloggers is returning this year in conjunction with T4G, and the topic is a doozy—building platform and the gospel:

There’s a lot of pressure today for pastors and leaders to build their “platform” in order to gain an audience and building influence. This is especially true if you are seeking to publish a book. With all the encouragement to self-promote and brand your identity online, how does this relate to the gospel call of taking up your cross and denying yourself? How do we make much of Christ when it seems so necessary to make much of our work?

The Biggest “Contradiction” in the Bible

David Murray:

When people criticize the Bible, they often point to contradictions. “The Bible says this here, but says the opposite over here!” This proves, they say, that this cannot be God’s book, it’s no different from any other human book with the usual errors and mistakes.

A Few Good Men, Not a Few Good Yes-Men

Carl Trueman:

Whether one is in a congregational or presbyterian church, the twin issues of transparency and leadership accountability are vital to healthy life. There must be transparent processes whereby the elders and minister can be held to account by congregants. And there must be a culture among the elders whereby the minister is held to account for his life and doctrine. It is not complicated: a decent book of church order and a few good men, elected by the congregation, are all that is needed.

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2014

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For the last couple of years, I’ve shared a few things I’d like to see change in the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 2012 and 2013 editions). Looking back over these past dreams has been fascinating for me. What we’ve seen in the last year, and in particular the last several months, has been a greater confirmation that we don’t handle controversy well, and our public personalities struggle to understand what it means to take personal responsibility. So one thing we can be sure of is I am no prophet.

This—the controversy and shameful public behavior, not the not being a prophet—has been an ongoing frustration for me. Why? Because the whole thing casts a dark shadow on our witness. And that’s got to stop. We need to be less about whatever bonehead move Celebrity Pastor X made this week and more about the gospel. Here are three ways I’d suggest we do that:

1. Bloggers practicing Titus 3:10. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” wrote Paul to Titus. A while back I wrote on this in a more in-depth fashion (specifically on what makes a person divisive), but we should remember the seriousness of Paul’s words: If a person is being divisive—whether it’s a church member stirring the pot through gossip and slander, or Christian celebrities who crash conferences and seem to lack any sort of real accountability1—then you should have nothing to do with them.

Don’t read their books. Unsubscribe from their blogs. Stop following them on Twitter. Stop paying attention and those problems will, in time, go away on their own.

2. Bloggers actively serving in their local churches. Something peculiar I’ve noticed is that a number of people seem to treat their blogs as their ministries. But they don’t appear to be involved in any meaningful way at their local church beyond showing up on Sunday and singing off-key for a few songs. Blogging is an effective aspect of ministry, but it should always be an add-on to their ministry in the real-world. So serve people, whether it’s by leading a small group, joining an evangelism team (if your church does street witnessing), volunteer in the nursery or toddler room… do something that stretches you and benefits others.

3. Bloggers who don’t think too highly of themselves. No blogger—especially not a Christian one—should walk around thinking they’re a big deal. Whether you’ve got 10 followers or 10,000,000, it really doesn’t matter that much. It doesn’t matter if you don’t weigh in on every significant issue. (Or any of them, for that matter.) Focus on creating content that’s edifying—for yourself and others. What is the Lord teaching you through your regular study of his Word? How is he working in your life? Think on these things—and share the ones that should be shared.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in 2014. More importantly, I’ll be doing what I can to adhere to them. How about you?

Five blogs you should be reading in 2014

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There are a lot of really great well-known sites out there that are consistently worth reading—Tim Challies, Trevin Wax, and Jared Wilson, to name but a few. What makes them great? Aside from theological astuteness, they’re enjoyable to read. This is something we need more of in the Christian blogosphere.

Fortunately, there are a number of well-written blogs out there that are worth your attention. Here are five bloggers I think you should keep your eyes on in 2014:

Matthew Svoboda

Matt and I connected back in my early blogging days (nearly five years ago now) when he was running a blog called Evangelical Village. Since then, he’s quit blogging, tried to come back to it a couple of times, joined the staff of a thriving church in Spring Hill… and now he’s started blogging again (but this time he really means it!). He’s a sharp thinker, great to chat with over coffee, far too young for the beard he has, and definitely someone you should keep your eye on.

Julian Freeman

Julian’s a friend from Toronto, and the pastor at Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. What I love about Julian is you won’t find him blogging every day or even every week necessarily. He tends to only write when he’s got something to say. Whether intentionally or accidentally, he’s embraced Scott Stratten’s rule of blogging: post when you’ve got something awesome to say.

Matthew Sims

I’ve been connected to Matthew on Twitter for at least a year now, and have always enjoyed both what he shares and interacting with him. At his blog, you’ll find a good mix of thoughtful book reviews and original content (he just wrapped up an Advent devotional series that’s quite good).

Mike Leake

You’ve probably heard of Mike by now, but if you haven’t, well, here you go. He’s really good at writing thought-provoking material that doesn’t chase controversy. And because he’s a pastor vocationally, that side of him really shines through, especially when encouraging us to pray for our wives, sons and (in January) daughters.

Kim Shay

Kim’s a fellow Canadian, who is always worth reading. Because she’s at a different life-stage than many bloggers—she’s been a Christian for more than five minutes and her kids are all grown up—there’s a bit more of a graceful savviness that comes through in her writing, especially when she occasionally touches on a controversial issue (or person).

My favorite articles to write in 2013

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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.

 

Critical thinking is good for your soul

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

There’s a line I shared in my little eBook on how to write book reviews that goes like this:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not to be sycophants. Don’t write a review that sounds like it was written by one.”

I want to take a bit of time today to expand on that a little more.

One of the mistakes I see less experienced bloggers make—which, by the way is a really bizarre statement to make (when did I become one of the more experienced bloggers??)—is always writing positive reviews. They seem to be wowed by every single book they read!

Now, I know there are some bloggers who only write reviews of books they like, and that’s fine, if your genuine, heartfelt conviction is you only want to talk about books you unabashedly love. But honestly, I can’t go there. Why?

Because critical thinking is good for your soul—and it’s a skill we sorely lack in our culture, Christian and otherwise. The Bible calls critical thinking “discernment,” which is referred to as both a discipline and a spiritual gift. Basically the idea is being able to identify truth from error, and doing so requires effort. It’s like exercising. The more consistently you do it, the stronger your muscles get, and the more your endurance increases.

So what do you need to do? The best way to know how to identify truth from error is to know the truth really, really well. So you read your Bible, you study it diligently. You work hard at this.

But then you need to put it into practice. There are two ways I do this: the first is I periodically read books I know I’m unlikely to align with theologically (such as A Year of Biblical Womanhood or Love Wins). This allows me to both test my own assumptions as well as think through the arguments and implications of other works. The goal, particularly when reading a book like this for review purposes, is to develop a balanced, helpful critique.

The other way I put it into practice is by, as I explained in the eBook, treating the author as secondary to the message. This is especially important when reading someone you like. Because you’ve got your own biases at work, you’ve got to be diligent to push through and not assume—whether because the author is a personal friend or an influential figure you admire from afar—what’s being written should be given a pass. Doing so is both dishonoring to the author’s intentions1 and damaging to you as a Christian. Thinking critically about the material from trusted sources has allowed me to dig into my own assumptions in a way that even reading opposing views doesn’t.

This was certainly the case when reviewing Why Cities Matter, which actually helped me to focus my views on urban ministry a little more definitively (in that I’m now far less comfortable saying we should focus on urban contexts at the expense of rural ones in order to “reach the culture”). Driscoll’s new book helped me work out my views on video preaching and think about the implications of a teaching pastor divorced from the body.

Finally, moving beyond the personal, there’s the benefit to those reading the review: when you read a critical review, you’re seeing a model of how to think critically. When I write a critical review, I don’t want you to just know what I think, I want you to see how I got there. I want you to see how I think and use what’s helpful in your own thinking.

Obviously I’m not advocating slamming books for the sake of slamming them. And I don’t want anyone to feel bad about writing predominantly positive reviews. What I am advocating for is careful, consistent, thoughtful discernment. A little good ole fashioned critical thinking is good for the soul, both your own and your reader’s.