Experiencing the Trinity

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When most people hear “Trinity,” they think to Carrie Ann Moss’ character in the Matrix movies. When many (most?) Christians hear “Trinity,” they think “concept of God I (maybe) affirm, but don’t get.” But how many think of the Trinity as practical—a source of encouragement and comfort when you’re at the end of your rope?

Joe Thorn does, and we should be grateful for that. Because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t his latest book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God.

Preaching to ourselves

Born out of Thorn’s self-described “dark night of the soul,” Experiencing the Trinity  was written because the author himself needed to be reminded of the truths found within. Working too hard for too long with too little rest left him burnt out and in need of help. And where he found the greatest help was in God’s Word, by preaching the gospel to himself.

Even as he writes to help us “reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief” (18), Thorn openly admits he’s writing because he needs the reminder, too. And this is something too many of us writer types forget too quickly: when we write, it’s really helpful that what we’re writing be something we’re living or working through ourselves, especially when it’s on issues of faith. It adds weight to what we’re saying for our readers to know our words aren’t theoretical. We don’t think this is maybe kinda sorta helpful possibly. We believe it’s helpful to you because it helped us.

So when Thorn writes a simple phrase like, “Your hope is not your own obedience, but the obedience of Jesus Christ” (73), it’s because he’s had to wrestle with it again and again (like hopefully all of us have). We don’t get away from this reality as we grow in our faith. If anything, we’re forced repeatedly to realize just how often we rely on ourselves instead of on Christ.

We try to make deals with God, or we make sweeping statements about all the things we do in service to him… but none of that brings us any true comfort. If anything, it leaves us in a bigger mess than before because we’re focused on the wrong thing. We’re looking at ourselves, rather than Jesus, because seeing him and knowing him—or, beholding him—changes everything:

You cannot feel your way to the glory of Jesus, for it is essentially the totality of who he is and what he has done. You must give yourself to not just knowing about him, but knowing him. And the more you know him, the less appealing the world becomes, the less painful your trials are, and the more you grow in contentment, because this glorious Christ is yours and you are his. (1o3)

That’s good news, isn’t it?

The right book for the right time in my life

Note to Self, Thorn’s first book, was a much-needed and timely encouragement. Experiencing The Trinity, likewise, came at just the right time in my life—a time when I’ve been really reminded that it’s easy for me to run on fumes, and carry on as though everything is grand for a fairly significant period period of time. And for the most part, people don’t seem to notice. (Which either says a lot about them or me, I’ll leave it for you to decide, dear reader.)

When I read his encouragement to “draw near to the Lord by faith,” and “set your heart on his promises and ask for his divine assistance,” (88) I really feel the pull—the way the Lord is using that encouragement as if to say, “Hey you, pay attention: that means you, too.” The Lord will indeed provide for those in need. When he writes that the comfort of the Holy Spirit that may not be relief from temporal discomfort but “rest for your soul” (119), it’s not just for other folks—it’s me, too. So maybe I shouldn’t forget that, huh?

Not your ordinary devotional

I’m generally not a fan of “devotional” books—the ones filled with pithy encouragements, designed to brighten your day. It’s not that they’re bad, because many are quite good, but I’ve found too many paint too small a picture of God. But I have a pretty simple rule: if Joe Thorn writes it, I read it. What he offers in Experiencing The Trinity is a book that blends appeals to the head and the heart they way they were always meant to be. As a result, it actually succeeds in what it aims to do: give encouragement for the weary, not through sweet sentiments, but by proclaiming our spectacular God. While you may still not “get” the Trinity (and if you don’t, you’re in good company), you will grow in your appreciation of the importance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and find some relief for your weariness in the process.


Title: Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God
Author: Joe Thorn
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Why haven’t I been reviewing a lot of books lately?

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One of the early features of this blog was book reviews. I started writing these almost by accident. I was broke, liked reading, discovered blogger review programs, and away I went. That’s literally about as much thought as went into starting.

But recently, I’ve been writing far fewer reviews. Where at this time last year, I’d probably written 20 or more, I’ve written maybe 10 (which, in all honesty, is still probably quite a bit considering the average 18-to-29 year old finishes nine books per year). I still love writing them because they’re among the most challenging things to write.

So why haven’t I been writing them as often? A few reasons:

1. They’re exhausting. Up until about six months ago, I was probably writing at least one book review every week. Think about that for a second: to write one of these every single week meant having to have read at least one book every single week (usually more), and to have enough time to think through what I’ve read. I think I hit a wall because, even though they’re fun to write, they’re such a difficult thing to write well.

2. Changing demands on my time. I’m always trying to make sure I’m leading a healthy lifestyle, one that includes getting a decent night’s sleep (which is very hard for me). The one class I was taking for seminary last term took up a great deal of my time with writing reflection papers on the books I was reading, as well as my term paper, which took nearly as much time to write in terms of effort as half of my second book. I’m also getting ready to make good on some promises I made back in April to write some book proposals, which means on the off chance one gets picked up, I’ll probably be spending a lot more time working on whatever one of those turns into. Then there’s this other idea I’m just starting to plan out… (But I’ll talk about that another time.)

3. I’ve been a bit bored with what I have been reading of late. Something I’d mentioned in my recap of last year’s re-read project is many of the books I’ve been reading have been well-written, but they’ve felt fairly safe. I haven’t really felt strongly about the books I’m reading, even the good ones. So if they’re not inciting a passionate response in me, I’m probably not going to be inclined to share too much about them.

So does this mean I’m done with reviewing books? Not even a little. It just means I don’t know what my routine looks like yet for writing reviews. Maybe I’ll get back to doing one a week. Maybe I’ll do one every other week or every month. It really all depends on whether or not a book I’m reading actually warrants me writing about it.

My favorite books to review in 2014

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Recently, I shared some of my favorite books to read in 2014 (many of which I reviewed). Today, I want to share a few of my favorite books to review.

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.

So, with that in mind, here are the reviews I most enjoyed writing in 2014:

Rising Above a Toxic Workplace by Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra

Why’d it make the cut? Business books in general are pretty tough to review. And this one was especially tricky given the content of the book, and avoiding speaking ill of others.

You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan

Why’d it make the cut? This was fun to review simply because it wasn’t a typical marriage book—since it isn’t really a book about marriage.

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Why’d it make the cut? Because writing anything that remotely resembles a balanced review of a book by someone as polarizing as Furtick is nigh-on impossible. (Read the review at TGC.)

Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why’d it make the cut? Okay, this wasn’t a review in my traditional style. However, reading the book again after several years away from it, it was fun to see what would still be relevant in it today. Apparently, quite a bit.

Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Why’d it make the cut? There was a lot that hit close to home reading and reviewing this one, which made both a lot more challenging than I anticipated.

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

Why’d it make the cut? While last year’s Mapping the Origins Debate was a good—if a bit stuffy—take on the origins debate, this book was all about the people behind the views. We often leave out the human factor in these debates, but it is absolutely necessary if we intend to have meaningful discussion with those holding differing views.

Invest by Sutton Turner

Why’d it make the cut? In some ways, this was even harder to review than Driscoll’s A Call to Resurgence, the book that spurred the events that ultimately brought an end to Mars Hill Church. Why? Because it was, ultimately, a book about turning your senior pastor into a celebrity, rather than making much about Jesus.

The Gospel Transformation Bible

Why’d it make the cut? Because it’s a BIBLE.

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

Why’d it make the cut? Bethke’s youth—both in age and experience in the faith—shines in the book, for better and worse. The entire time I read this book, and as I reviewed it, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was really the right time for him to have written this. It’s not bad, but his strongest ideas are heavily borrowed from others.

What should I review?

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Every so often, it’s fun for me to ask your advice on what to review. The very first time I asked was back in 2010, and wound up reviewing Sun Stand Still as a result. The next time, I reviewed The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord. And most recently, with your encouragement, PROOF and Facing Leviathan.

And now, I’d love your help once again! Here are five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll let you know which to expect a review of in a few days.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

You and Me Forever

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If you’ve read more than one or two Christian marriage books, you may have noticed they tend to follow a pretty standard template. For a marriage to be successful, husbands and wives need to:

  • Understand how God has intended them to be (with some sort of discussion of Genesis 2);
  • Have frequent sex;
  • See how their relationship represents the gospel (as per Ephesians 5); and
  • Have frequent sex. Frequently.

And then Francis Chan went and wrote a marriage book. Or did he?

Chan and his wife, Lisa, give readers a decidedly different take, one suggests that as good as it is it try to make your marriage better, our main focus—whether in marriage or singleness—needs to be something bigger: God. This is the big idea behind You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The Chans want readers to picture marriage as a vehicle for mission, an opportunity for Christians to carry out our mission to make disciples of all the nations.

Sounds pretty lofty, huh? So how’d they do?

Marriage problems are God problems

“As a pastor for over 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that most marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are God problems,” Chan writes (20). “They can be traced back to one or both people having a poor relationship with God or a faulty understanding of Him.”

This, among all the many wonderfully helpful things you’ll read in this book, is probably the most important—and also the most contentious. While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, certainly, many of us are too quick to call everything a cigar.

Or (to mix metaphors) we treat symptoms, but not illnesses. The problem with this is what happens when you leave an illness untreated? It only gets worse (and in some cases, eventually kills you).

So think about it in a marriage: if a husband is domineering, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in his relationship with God, if one exists at all. If a wife commits adultery because another man understands her and makes her feel special, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in her relationship with God, looking to other people for affirmation instead of the Lord.

The same can be said of virtually any problem we face. They all start with our relationship with God. And that’s what makes it so contentious. Chan’s tendency is to get to the heart of an issue right away, rather than easing his audience into that knowledge. And because of his, shall we say, abrupt style of springing such things upon us, it’s easy to be turned off. But the more you sit with what he says, the more you realize it’s true (most of the time, anyway).

Marriage is for mission

This theme continues throughout the book, as both Francis and Lisa continually remind readers that marriage is a tool for the spread of the gospel:

Beautiful people make beautiful marriages. Jesus is the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth. Your best shot at having a beautiful marriage is if both of you make it your goal to become like Jesus. (91)

Our mission does not call us to neglect our marriages. But a marriage cannot be healthy unless we are seeking His kingdom and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). (97)

Whether as individuals or as couples, our mission is to make as many disciples as we can during our time on earth… We should be constantly asking ourselves the question: How can we free up more time and resources for making disciples? (98-99)

There is an urgency to the period of time in which we live—after Jesus’ resurrection and before His second coming. We have callings from God, and those callings are bigger than our marriages. Seeking His kingdom must be our first priority, and if we’re not careful, marriage can get in the way. (114)

This, again, is a necessary reorientation for many of us (even if there are some cautions I want to address). We should be examining our lives from the perspective of our clearly stated purpose: to make disciples. If we are in Christ, each and every one of us is called to this in some way, shape or form. There is no denying it.

And if we have children, mission starts at home. We want our kids to know the gospel, to see the beauty of Christ, to see Christianity as something more than just going to church for a couple hours on Sunday. We want them to see that it involves sacrifice, sometimes including sacrificing time with them for the sake of the gospel…

How much should mission disrupt marriage?

But we also want them to see something else: sometimes the sacrifice we make is saying “no” to a good opportunity in order to be with them. Chan writes:

I work a lot. And I definitely travel more than most. Hardly a week goes by where I’m not jumping on a plane, wishing I could just stay home with my family. Some would call this bad parenting. I would argue that. I don’t neglect my children by any stretch of the imagination, but there are many times when I know God has called me to serve Him in ways that disrupt the family routine. I genuinely believe that it’s good for my kids to observe this. (165)

I sympathize with this a great deal. There are times in our lives when our family routine is disrupted. Because of work commitments or speaking engagements, I’m away from home probably five to six weeks of the year. While that might seem light in comparison to the schedules of many authors, speakers and pastors, we take it very seriously. When I have the opportunity to speak somewhere, we consider not only the opportunity, but the cost for our kids who are all very young. And there have been many times when I’ve had to say no to really good opportunities because where I’m most needed is at home playing cars on the floor with Hudson.

(There was also the time I went to Nashville and back in 36 hours when Emily was days away from giving birth to the boy, but…)

The point here is simply this: sometimes where we will be most effective for the sake of the mission will be away from home. But this is not license to “take care of the ministry and let God take care of your family,” as so many of a previous generation advocated (with their lives if not their words). I fear for the one who neglects his family in the name of Christ, because I can’t see it going well for them. Instead, what we need to do is find the right balance (in as much as something as unbalanced as ministry is). While we might have good opportunities to be used effectively away, sometimes it’s still best to be right here.

A marriage book that’s not about marriage

You may have gotten to this point and thought, “Great, it sounds like Crazy Love: Marriage Edition.” As tempting as it might be to say, it’s not entirely true. Yes, it has all the emphases of “radical” Christianity that you see in Crazy LoveRadical and so many others. No, it’s not without it’s problems (personally, I do feel Chan’s explanation of disrupting the family routine could be better fleshed out). But in the end, You and Me Forever succeeds in giving us a different kind of marriage book—one that’s less about marriage and more about the gospel. And that, for me at least, is a welcome change of pace.


Title: You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity
Authors: Francis and Lisa Chan
Publisher: Claire Love Publishing (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

What should I review?

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I’m in the very fortunate position to receive many great books (and a few not-so-great ones, too) from evangelical publishers—so much so I can’t possibly read them all in a given year. But I can read some of them. That’s where I need your help:

I want to know what book you want me to read and review.

The last time I tried this, you all were a huge help, so much so, I wound up reviewing two of the books you all were requesting (The Gospel Transformation Bible and Delighting in the Law of the Lord), so I’m really interested to see which book you want me to review. Here’s a list of five options I’m considering:

…or something else! If these choices look a bit too “safe,” recommend something else!

So how about it—if I were going to review one of these books, which should it be?

Let me know in the comments over the next couple days, and I’ll name the winner early next week.


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

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“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me'” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

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The Bible is the most important—and most controversial—books ever written. Its message of world destroyed by human sinfulness and redeemed only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an affront to our modern sensibilities.

So it’s no wonder this book is constantly under attack, is it? For centuries, skeptics of all stripes have done their level best to debunk the Bible’s reliability. And Christian scholars in kind have written many wonderful treatises expressing why the Bible can be trusted.

The problem is, most of those treatises aren’t written to the people who need them: average people coming to church on Sunday morning. For the average Christian, there aren’t a lot of good, engaging books on the reliability of Scripture. So, Kevin DeYoung decided to write one.

His latest, Taking God At His Word, offers readers an easily digestible look at what the Scriptures say about themselves and why we, as Christians, can and should trust them—and more than that, why we should love the Bible.

Why do we need to love the Bible?

Taking God At His Word begins with its conclusion: God’s people are not to simply assent to God’s Word, they are to love it. Our approach to the Bible is not to be one of dreary subservience, but of delighted submission, something illustrated in Psalm 119’s exuberant language. And this is DeYoung’s entire purpose in writing the book.

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts.… I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (16)

Note how careful DeYoung is to ground this delight: we’re not to come to the Bible with a subjective emotionalism; our feelings don’t guide how we are to view the Bible. Instead, because the Bible is true, clear, essential and authoritative we can feel an immense amount of joy and gladness!

But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, many of us don’t live there, or if we do, it’s not all the time. But getting there is possible—not easy, but possible. It means we have to understand what the Bible says about itself.

What does the Bible say about itself?

DeYoung’s knack for taking complex ideas and making them accessible is on full display as he unpacks what the Bible says about itself. In doing so, he outlines four essential truths about Scripture:

  1. God’s Word is enough. The Bible is sufficient for all our needs and to grow us into maturity as believers.
  2. God’s Word is clear. The Bible’s message can be accurately (if not completely) understood by ordinary people using ordinary means.
  3. God’s Word is final. The Bible is our ultimate authority over all matters, and we are to sit under its rule.
  4. God’s Word is necessary. We need the Bible in order to know God and to know the way of salvation.

Entire books can easily be written on each of these four subjects (and have), but DeYoung gives readers just enough to be grounded and certain in how the Scriptures speak to each of these truths. Of them all, the one we see near constant attack on is the Bible’s authority—and often this challenge is made by undermining its clarity.

Take homosexuality and same-sex marriage as an example. A number of well meaning professing believers want to believe homosexual practice is not in conflict with the Christian faith, and that this is not an issue clearly spoken of in Scripture. A few of the common arguments:

  • Maybe Paul wasn’t referring to monogamous homosexual relationships in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6; maybe he was only speaking of nonconsensual acts.
  • Jesus didn’t really speak on the issue, so how can we know what Jesus would say?
  • Perhaps there is a trajectory that is set in motion through the gospel that would mean that even though Paul said it wasn’t acceptable, it is now.

Notice the common traits: each argument attempts to obscure the clarity of Scripture, either by questioning the author’s clear intent or arguing from silence. And as soon as we lose the clarity of Scripture, we lose its authority. It’s the old serpent’s trick once again: “Did God really say…?”

God’s word is final. God’s word is understandable. God’s word is necessary. God’s word is enough. In every age, Christians will do battle wherever these attributes of Scripture are threatened and assaulted. But more importantly, on every day we will have to fight the fight of faith to really believe everything we know the Bible says about itself and, even more challenging, to live accordingly. (93)

Can we take God at His Word?

Getting to the place of delight DeYoung advocates for is hard, but it’s necessary. We will continually be challenged from without and within on whether or not this book we claim is the Word of God is what it says it is. But we have good reason for confidence—not from external evidence (although we do), but from the Bible itself. Taking God At His Word does a wonderful job of reminding readers that this book is what it says it is: the knowable, necessary, authoritative and sufficient Word of God—the only place where we may learn of the One who has come to rescue us from our sin, and of the hope He offers for tomorrow.

Friends, if this is really true, how can you not delight in it?

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.


Title: Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The first time I heard Justin Wise speak on social media I was impressed.

It was the first session—actually the pre-conference workshop—at a conference for Christian creatives in Canada. Wise was speaking on how churches need to embrace their websites as their new front-door. And as he laid everything out, with tons of practical examples, I had two reactions:

  1. People really need to listen to this guy
  2. This is going to be really hard for some folks to swallow

Many of the people occupying the leadership roles in churches, non-profits, and for-profit entities are digital immigrants. They remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, and Facebook. Many of them use social media, but struggle to understand how to do it. Others don’t bother with it at all, seeing it as a distraction, a fad, or a time-suck that gets in the way of getting real work/ministry done.

But, Wise argues, digital communication is not a good thing for a church to engage in—it’s necessary if they’re actually serious about reaching people with the gospel. And that’s really the heart behind his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, where Wise unpacks the “why” of social media, with a bit of how sprinkled in along the way.

Mission and ministry in social media

If you could boil the why down to one thing, it’s really this: Churches need to be engaging social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever the next thing is that’s going to take the world by storm—not because it’s hip and trendy, but because it’s about mission and ministry. Where people are, Christians must be as well. But the difference, and maybe the most challenging aspect of it, is that mission and ministry in social media requires two-way communication.

“For many, many years, churches communicated in the same fashion you and I drive down a one-way street: traffic only moved one way,” Wise explains. “Churches broadcasted a message and never anticipated a moment where the congregation would start speaking back.”

But social media has changed this dynamic.…For the church, and virtually every other sector of society, the shift to social permanently turned the tables in the public’s favor. Social media gave people a voice, and they’re not going to give it up easily. (30)

This is the challenge many of us have when engaging social media. Because the expectation is two-way communication, you actually have to engage people. You have to talk to them when they talk back and share content that’s not all about you. And this is also where so many organizations—including some of the world’s biggest brands—fall on their faces. So if you’ve just realized that you’re doing the digital equivalent of shouting into an empty room, take heart: you’re not alone and you can change this.

But in order to do it, you have to know the values of a social media culture, what it likes and dislikes. What it thinks, how it feels… This is, essentially, the “nasty” business of contextualization, becoming all things to all people so that some might be saved. And even as we seek to understand—or humbly admit we can’t make the leap ourselves and bring in people to help us—we find more opportunities to push back.

Challenging a mediated world

Even as “online” and “offline” become increasingly blurred, we’re going to find ourselves having to confront the tendency to hide in the digital realm with more force. Humans were not meant to hide behind screens and smartphones (and yes, I understand the irony of me even saying this in a digital medium). Real relationships can form and be nurtured online, but the best kinds of relationships form in the real life.

I suppose the inherent danger of online communities is when there is a mistaken belief they can serve as a one-for-one replacement for in-person communities. They can’t (and shouldn’t). Offline trumps online.

Having said that, online community is definitely preferable to no community whatsoever. Lives have been changed, saved, and redeemed all because gospel-centered online communities exist. (155)

You can see the tension here, can’t you? I think Wise is certainly correct that “digital community is better than no community” to some degree, but the fact that this also points us to a legitimate issue in our context: that even as we develop a sound theology of digital communication, we must develop a robust eccesiology to compliment it. This is the difficulty many of us have with idea of online services—while streaming the service can certainly beneficial, how do we challenge people to engage in reality?

Years ago, I was part of an active hobby-focused online community. People would talk about the primary subject (comics), but would also delve into all kinds of other topics, including sharing deeply personal details about their lives (not in a TMI kind of way. Usually). Folks would meet at conventions for drinks. Users who lived in the same cities would get together every once in a while for a meal if the suggestion was tabled… But in the end, when someone stopped visiting the site, it was like they never existed. In an instant, those relationships were severed. The connections weren’t really all that deep.

This is the challenge we face when we deal with the implications of online ministry. How do we build real connections that aren’t easy to sever? This is something Wise doesn’t thoroughly address in the book because, honestly, I don’t know if he or anyone else is equipped to put forward an answer. But make no mistake: if we’re serious about being gospel-minded, gospel-centered people who want to engage the digital realm for mission and ministry, this elephant in the room must be named and addressed.

The beginning of a much deeper conversation

The Social Church is not the last word on social media and the church, nor should it be. Instead, it’s best to see this book as the continuation (or possibly the beginning) of of a conversation we’re not quite ready for: a much deeper discussion on how to do ministry in a simultaneously bigger and smaller world. But whether or not we’re truly ready, it’s a conversation we need to have.


Title: The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication
Author: Justin Wise
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile

captivated_anyabwileAbout a year ago, I bought a new laptop, and the first time I turned it on it was magical. Well, maybe not, but it was pretty slick. It went super-fast, did everything I needed it to do… Then, a few months later, my new work computer arrived. And I started feeling a little bit of regret over my personal one. The “shininess” of my computer had worn off and it seemed kind of, well, average. It wasn’t nearly as rad in my eyes as it had been when I opened the box for the first time.

I wonder if some of us see the Easter story that way. We’ve heard so many sermons on it—or preached so many—that it seems like we’re going through the motions. We say, “yay, Jesus is alive,” but really we’re thinking “alright, and now to run some errands!” This should never be. Woe to us who can look upon the death and resurrection of Jesus and say, “meh.”

Thabiti Anyabwile is a man who has not lost his sense of wonder at the cross. He knows that beholding the glory of Jesus is something none of us can do without. This is the heart behind his latest book, Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

In its five chapters (which originated as sermons preached at First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman) Anyabwile invites us to behold the wonder of the cross as he examines several key passages of Scripture:

  • Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Matthew 26:42);
  • Jesus’ cry from the cross (Matthew 27:42);
  • Paul’s rejoicing over death’s impotence in the face of Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:50-58);
  • The angels’ matter-of-fact questioning of the disciples at the empty tomb (Luke 24:5); and
  • Cleopas’ gentle rebuke to his new travelling companion along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:18)

“Is there no other way?”

Almost all of us at some point have asked the question, “is there no other way?” When we look at the cross, and all the events that lead up to it, we can’t help but wonder if God could have done things differently. If you’ve ever asked the question, fear not: you’re in good company. Jesus asked the same one as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.… if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, 42)

Here is the Lord Jesus—the One who was with God and was God from eternity past—asking if He had to go to the cross. Jesus wanted the cup to pass. But more importantly, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. So, could it pass from Him? No. And this is such good news, Anyabwile reminds us. In fact, we should be glad the Father said no. He writes:

Because the Father answered no, sinners have a merciful and faithful High Priest perfectly intimate with all their weaknesses. We have One we can approach for grace. Because the Father answered no, we have One who stands between us in all our ungodliness and God in all His holiness to reconcile us and reunite us as friends rather than rebels. Because the Father answered no, those who have faith in Christ need never fear the Father’s wrath again; His anger has been fully satisfied in the Son’s atonement. Because the Father said no, we stand assured that our acceptance with God happened on completely legitimate grounds—no parlor tricks, no loopholes, no legal fiction, no injustice to threaten or question the exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. Because the Father said no, we will forever enjoy and share the glory of Father and Son in the unending, timeless age to come.

I am so glad the Father said no.

Insightful, gospel-saturated meditations

Do you see the good news here? Anyabwile doesn’t resort to cheap parlor tricks or emotional platitudes to whoop readers up. Instead, he presents the gospel in all its glory. Over and over again, on page after page, the gospel shines through. And as you read the book, you can’t help but be caught up by its sermonic rhythm (appropriate, since it began as sermons). This makes for a captivating and fast-paced read—to some degree, almost a too fast one!

Indeed, that might be my only complaint about this book. Because it’s a series of gospel meditations, readers should not expect an in-depth treatise on any of the texts examined, which would work against Anyabwile’s purposes anyway. But this is not to say that deeper examination and application isn’t encouraged—it’s just left in your hands, thanks to the book’s reflection questions (which you really need to use—they add so much to the reading experience!).

Because we’re constantly inundated with “new,” we risk becoming a people who fail to take the time to enjoy what really matters. The gospel should never be something we move past, or shrug our shoulders at. This just won’t do. Whether you’ve struggled with familiarity or you’re consistently amazed at the cross, Captivated is a book that will be a great blessing to you.


Title: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Author: Thabiti Anyabwile
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Invest by Sutton Turner

Invest-Book_v2

In ministry, it’s easy to think of certain gifts as being more valuable than others. We look at one man’s ability to handle the Scriptures and applaud. We look at another’s ability to manage an organization and… well, often times we’re not quite sure what to do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate those abilities. It’s just we have a hard time thinking of them as having a purpose in ministry. And as a result, some Christians who want to use their gifts to bless their churches are left in a lurch.

Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission by Sutton Turner is written for people like this. People with serious business skills and a heart for the church, but struggle to see how their gifts can be used to benefit the body. Turner uses his experience as the current executive pastor of Mars Hill Church to help business-minded believers see how they can work for the glory of God, perhaps by considering taking on the role of an executive pastor.

A good reminder of the need for business savvy

The best thing about Invest is the refreshing reminder of the need for business savvy in ministry. “Ministry” should not be code for sloppy planning and procedures. But this is pretty common, sadly. Many who gravitate toward ministry roles tend to be people who want to spiritually guide people, but aren’t particularly savvy with administration or business practices. It my never occur to them to think about things like licensing for the songs we sing on Sundays, or the tax regulations that need to be followed in order to maintain charitable status.

So churches and parachurch ministries alike can greatly benefit from believers who are skilled and passionate about such things. People who care about what the organizational structure looks like and whether or not it actually works in practice, and who care about staff culture and dynamics. We need to be concerned about these things, and, thankfully, God has gifted certain individuals to be deeply passionate about them.

While I appreciate the general premise of the book, there’s a great deal about it I’m concerned about:

[Read more…]

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

evangelism sovereignty packer

The mysterious “they” say the greatest fear of many people—even more than death!—is public speaking. Standing before an audience, whether it’s a group of three or three hundred, is absolutely terrifying for some. But you know something? I think there’s something else that’s far more terrifying, especially for Christians:

Evangelism.

So many of us seem to be terrified of the idea of sharing our faith—we don’t know how to do it, we don’t want to do it “wrong.” But for some of us, our questions about evangelism aren’t simply of the “how-to” variety—they’re all about the “why”:

If God is truly sovereign over all of creation, why do we need to evangelize at all?

Does active evangelism suggest God isn’t really as sovereign as we think?

All of us at one time or another ask these questions, even if it’s only to ourselves. Many of us struggle to see how an all-sovereign God could require human beings to be involved in the work of salvation. At our worst, some fall prey to the notion that we have no need to evangelize at all, while others find themselves without any confidence that God will indeed save some.

J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a sharp corrective to both of these errors. God’s sovereignty is not a barrier to evangelism, Packer argues. Instead, “faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks” (10). [Read more…]

Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller

romans-for-you-Keller

Romans: it’s one of the most intimidating, confusing, and powerful books in the entirety of Scripture. In its 16 chapters, the apostle Paul casts a sweeping vision God’s redemptive purposes—”how God in the gospel makes sinners righteous, but also how this most precious gift of God is enjoyed in our lives,” writes Tim Keller in Romans 1-7 For You, “how it produces deep and massive changes in our behavior and even in our character.”

In his typical irenic fashion, Keller unpacks the message of the first seven chapters of Romans, helping us see the beauty of the gospel and our desperate need for it.

The gospel is for everyone

One of the most challenging issues we face reading Romans—and indeed, all of Scripture—is Paul’s emphatic decree that all of humanity is lost in when confronted by the justice of God.

That we are all, “without excuse,” with no hope to be found in moralism or pleas of ignorance. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Paul wrote in Romans 3:22-23. But he doesn’t leave us without hope. For while all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God, all who are saved “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Moralism doesn’t justify, nor does ignorance. Instead, it is only God’s grace, the gift of redemption found in Jesus. And this is such good news for all of us:

God does not set his justice aside; he turns it onto himself. The cross does not represent a compromise between God’s wrath and his love; it does not satisfy each halfway. Rather, it satisfies each fully and in the very same action. On the cross, the wrath and love of God were both vindicated, both demonstrated, and both expressed perfectly. They both shine out, and are utterly fulfilled. The cross is a demonstration both of God’s justice, and of his justifying love (Romans 3:25-26).

Who is the man in Romans 7—believer or unbeliever?

Although all of Keller’s examination of Romans 1-7 is sound and edifying, perhaps no portion was more helpful to me personally than reading his view of the “wretched man” of Romans 7:7-25. Paul’s exposition of the effects of sin, the desire to do what is right, but being confounded by sin, has left many scratching their heads. Was he talking about Paul the unbeliever or Paul the believer?

Keller believes—and I would be inclined to agree—that Paul was writing of his then-present experience as a Christian, and the conflicting desires we all wrestle with. He writes:

We have, in some sense, “multiple selves.” Sometimes we want to be this; sometimes we want to be that. Morally, most people feel “torn” between diverse selves as well. Freud went so far as to talk about an inner “libido” (filled with primal desires) and a “superego” (the conscience filled with social and familial standards). The great question we all face is: I have divergent desires, different “selves.” Which is my true self? What do I most want?

This is helpful for so many reasons (and not simply because of confirmation bias). The point of Paul’s writing about these truths, that he continued to struggle with sin—and if anything, as he grew older, became increasingly aware of his own sinfulness—is to push us toward deeper dependence upon the Lord Jesus.

We are not justified and then left to our own devices to grow in holiness. If, to borrow an analogy, the gospel merely reset our righteousness back to zero, instead of giving us Christ’s, we’d still be damned. We do not do the things we want to do, and we do the things we don’t want to do. Paul’s point is simple, Keller says: “The unbeliever cannot keep the law (v 7-13); but neither can the believer!”

When we read God’s law properly, and when we look at our own lives honestly, we can only conclude that we are “wretched.” Without accepting this, we will never grasp the glory of the gospel. We will never truly appreciate the gospel of received righteousness. Only if our hearts truly cry at our wretchedness can we then know the hope and liberation of looking away from ourselves and to what God has done. Who will rescue Paul, and us? “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25).

For the good of your soul

Like the other volumes in the For You series, Romans 1-7 For You is not an exhaustive study of Paul’s epistle, nor is it intended to be. As I described the recently released Judges For You, this is a devotional commentary. Use it like one.

Allow Keller’s insights in Romans 1-7 For You to inform your study. Glean helpful insights and illustrations to use in sermons or small group studies. But even as you do, read it with the good of your soul in mind, recognizing afresh all Christ has done on your behalf, and grasping anew the glory of the gospel in Romans.


Title: Romans 1-7 For You
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon