What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

Seriously folks, we’ve got to do better than this.

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen the list of the top 25 bestselling Christian titles of 2014. But, of course, there’s one slight problem… Virtually none of these titles are identifiably Christian.

This should greatly concern us, and I truly do mean greatly.

On this list, we have:

  • Multiple editions of a devotional book wherein the highly mystically-influenced author writes as Jesus in the first-person, listening to what he says and writing it down for the rest of us to read. Its sequel is on the list, too;
  • Two editions of a book that flat-out contradicts the Bible’s description of heaven (and whether or not we are to even speak of such things);
  • Two books on personal finance;
  • One book endorsing borderline pagan forms of prayer;
  • Four books from a reality-TV famous family;
  • Two books by prosperity preachers, and therefore not Christians at all;
  • One end-times obsessed bit of crazy, with two more prophecy-focused titles alongside it;
  • Two self-help books and a diet book;
  • One memoir-ish book by a man compelled by love to do unpredictable things;
  • One book on women’s issues; and
  • One book on the importance of being a church member.

So, by my count, at best we’ve got two Christian bestsellers that are actually Christian. A few are written by Christians and published by Christian publishers, but offer little to nothing of substance in terms of interaction with Scripture, and little to no gospel. And then there’s the bigger problem: the ones that should raise major red flags for any editorial team looking at the material biblically.

Now I get that publishing is a business, and editorial teams have to look at what will realistically sell in the market. But my concerns are two-fold:

1. That publishers that should know better than to produce silly nonsense, do anyway. Again, I get that publishers have to make money in order to keep the lights on. I also get that not every publisher will (or should) publish books that only a particular segment of Christians would agree with. But to publish material that, in some cases, flatly contradicts Scripture (and in some cases, stand behind those books even in the face of overwhelming criticism), defies reason. Seriously guys, can we do better here?

2. That we, the consumers, actually buy this garbage. The only reason publishers bring books like this to the market is because we—the consumers—shell out cash to buy this crap. When we look at a list like this, we are right to be concerned, but our criticisms should not primarily be levelled at publishers: we need to look at ourselves.

What is it about these books that appeals to us? How have we let ourselves go so far astray from the true and sure word of God that books by guys who want you to accumulate stuff in this life sell hundreds of thousands of copies? When books that purport to speak for Jesus read more frequently than the book through which we come to know him at all?

In the end, our bestsellers say more about the state of our discipleship than anything else. We read junk because we don’t see how much better God is. We read fluff because it’s easier than being challenged to conform to the image of Christ. We read nonsense because we don’t really believe that what God has for us is better than the temporary pleasures of this life.

And it’s got to stop. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

Breaking out of the reading rut (the re-read recap)

medium_5438459663

At the end of 2013, I shared about a project I was undertaking to diversify my reading a little more in 2014—reading at least one book a month that I’d read and enjoyed in the past. This week, I’m finishing up the last book of this endeavor, Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

In a lot of ways, this wasn’t a major challenge, at least when it comes to quantity of reading. The challenge came as I continued to read more recently released titles, and found myself less feeling kind of… meh.

I realized my reading habits had become a bit boring.

There wasn’t a lot of risk. Many of the books I enjoyed, I was fairly certain I’d enjoy before I finished the first chapter—and often, before I’d turned to the first page. The authors are trustworthy and reliable, and I therefore knew what to expect. But I found the same issue crop up with the books I didn’t particularly enjoy, too. Not that I was intentionally pre-judging, but that there wasn’t really anything that surprised me. The arguments were predictable in most cases, and often far too easy to refute.

But even going back a few years to Why We Love the Church, and Why We’re Not Emergent before it, I remembered reading these with a sense that there was some risk in writing and publishing these titles. Writing critique books that don’t come across as crabby or needlessly divisive is difficult, to say the least. Being willing to call a spade a spade, or in these books’ case, the trajectory of the emergent movements and churchless Christianity cuckoo for Coco Puffs… Well, that takes some guts, especially at a time when many of the major publishers were supporting and profiting from the message.

And moving back further in time, to a book like The Screwtape Letters, there’s risk involved in the book’s concept itself. For C.S. Lewis to write from the perspective of a senior demon to a junior one, as those plotting to cause a Christian to stumble… It’s a clever idea that, in the hands of a lesser writer, would have completely and utterly failed.

Many of the other books I read had much the same kind of feel to them—there was a freshness that comes from an author trying to do something interesting or different (though rarely coming across as trying to be s0). I didn’t get that same sense from many of the more recent books I read, which is a shame. And when that’s missing, after a while, it’s easy to get bored. Going back to older books is helping me shake off my reading rut—and more importantly, reminding me why I love about reading good books.

11 books I want to read 2015

This year, I have a feeling my reading is going to look a lot different. I’ll be doing a bunch of reading for my courses at Covenant Seminary, and I’m spending a good chunk of the year reading time-tested works of theology. But even so, there are some new books coming out I’m genuinely excited about. Here are a few of the ones I’m most looking forward to reading in 2015:

Good News About Satan by Bob Bevington (Cruciform Press).

Most books on Satan are pretty… well, crazy. But, this one “walks the reader through the plain teachings of Scripture regarding Satan, demons, and spiritual warfare, at all times from an explicitly gospel-centered perspective that exalts the sovereignty of God and the finished work of Christ as paramount. Because of this focus, the book, while treating our enemy soberly and seriously, is devoid of the unfruitful speculations and illegitimate extrapolations so common to this topic.”

Can’t go wrong with a book that’s sticking strictly to Scripture, huh?


The ISIS Crisis by Charles Dyer and Mark Tobey (Moody Publishers)

I’m hopeful this book will be helpful for many seeking to make sense of what’s going on in the Middle East (and increasingly touching us here in the West):

ISIS—a name that inspires fear, a group that is gaining momentum. Horrors unheard of are plaguing the Middle East, and ISIS may be the responsible for the worst among them. And yet there is so much we don’t know about ISIS.… Drawing from history, current events, and biblical prophecy, they guide readers through the matrix of conflicts in the Middle East. Then they explore the role of ISIS in all of these matters. Finally, they encourage Christians to look to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.


Fear and Faith by Trillia Newbell (Moody Publishers)

Trillia’s tackling a subject that hits close to home with many people I know in this one:

In Fear and Faith, we will look our fears in the face, name their root cause, and learn together how to lean on the One who we can and should trust. Fear has a way of whispering lies to our souls about who God is. But the Lord is better and through exploring what the Word says about our sovereign, good, and loving God, we can learn to rest in His ever-open arms. Ultimately we fight fear by trusting in the Lord and fearing Him.


Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida (B&H Publishing Group)

I’m glad there are more books coming out like this:

Ordinary is not a call to be more radical. If anything, it is a call to the contrary. The kingdom of God isn’t coming with light shows, and shock and awe, but with lowly acts of service. Tony Merida wants to push back against sensationalism and “rock star Christianity,” and help people understand that they can make a powerful impact by practicing ordinary Christianity.

Through things such as humble acts of service, neighbor love, and hospitality, Christians can shake the foundations of the culture. In order to see things happen that have never happened before, Christians must to do what Christians have always done­. Christians need to become more ordinary.


The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson (David C. Cook)

I’m looking forward to seeing how this differs from the hyper-sexualized approach of his contemporaries:

The Song of Solomon offers strikingly candid—and timeless—insights on romance, dating, marriage, and sex. We need it. Because emotions rise and fall with a single glance, touch, kiss, or word. And we are inundated with songs, movies, and advice that contradicts God’s design for love and intimacy.

Matt Chandler helps navigate these issues for both singles and marrieds by revealing the process Solomon himself followed: Attraction, Courtship, Marriage … even Arguing. The Mingling of Souls will forever change how you view and approach love.


Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send by J.D. Greear (Zondervan)

If this is as good as it sounds from the description, it might be the best book on ministry in ages:

Though many churches focus time and energy on attracting people and counting numbers, the real mission of the church isn’t how many people you can gather. It’s about training up disciples and then sending them out. The true measure of success for a church should be its sending capacity, not its seating capacity.… In Gaining By Losing, J.D. Greear unpacks ten plumb lines that you can use to reorient your church’s priorities around God’s mission to reach a lost world. The good news is that you don’t need to choose between gathering or sending. Effective churches can, and must, do both.


The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray (Thomas Nelson)

This could be really great:

Hopelessness has invaded much of our culture, even reaching deep into the church. But while the world is awash in negativity, Christians have resources to live differently.

In The Happy Christian, professor and pastor David Murray blends the best of modern science and psychology with the timeless truths of Scripture to create a solid, credible guide to positivity. The author of the acclaimed Christians Get Depressed Too, Murray exposes modern negativity’s insidious roots and presents ten perspective-changing ways to remain optimistic in a world that keeps trying to drag us down.


The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway)

Whenever Wilson writes on church ministry, I pay attention. So should you:

Pastors want to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus. However, we’ve too often assumed this requires loud music, flashy lights, and skinny jeans. In this gentle manifesto, Jared Wilson—a pastor who knows what it’s like to serve in a large attractional church—challenges pastors to reconsider their priorities when it comes to how they “do church” and reach people in their communities. Writing with the grace and kindness of a trusted friend, Wilson encourages pastors to reexamine the Bible’s teaching, not simply return to a traditional model for tradition’s sake. He then sets forth an alternative to both the attractional and the traditional models: an explicitly biblical approach that is gospel focused, grace based, and fruit oriented.


What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway)

There have been a lot of really great books out on this subject, but I’m looking forward to seeing what DeYoung adds:

In just a few short years, massive shifts in public opinion have radically reshaped society’s views on homosexuality. Feeling the pressure to forsake long-held beliefs about sex and marriage, some argue that Christians have historically misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on this issue. But does this approach do justice to what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality? … Examining key biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments and the Bible’s overarching teaching regarding sexuality, DeYoung responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike—offering readers an indispensable resource for thinking through one of the most pressing issues of our day.


Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate,and Commissioned Church by Collin Hansen (Crossway)

Christians talk a lot about church unity. Unfortunately, however, God’s people are often better known for their divisions and disagreements than for a common commitment to the gospel. At the root of this disunity are the blind spots that prevent us from seeing other points of view and reevaluating our own perspectives. In this provocative book, Collin Hansen challenges Christians from various “camps” to view their differences as opportunities to more effectively engage a needy world with the love of Christ. Highlighting the diversity of thought, experience, and personality that God has given to his people, this book lays the foundation for a new generation of Christians eager to cultivate a courageous, compassionate, and commissioned church.


Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn (Crossway)

This might be the book I’m most looking forward to of all:

For Christians, there is only one simple yet profound answer: turn to the triune God. Born out of lessons learned during one of the most spiritually challenging periods of his life, Experiencing the Trinity by pastor Joe Thorn contains 50 down-to-earth meditations on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Overflowing with scriptural truth, pastoral wisdom, and personal honesty, this book reflects on common experiences of doubt, fear, and temptation—pointing readers to the grace that God provides and the strength that he promises.


Those are a few of the titles I’m looking forward to in 2015. What about you?

A year of time-tested theology

time-tested-theology

It’s easy to get stuck in a reading rut. When you read the same kind of stuff, over and over, year after year… you get a bit worn out, y’know? That’s why, each year, I put together a new project to keep my reading from becoming stale. In 2014, I had the re-reading project, going back to a book I’d read in the past—some Christian, some non—to add a little more variety.

In 2015, one of the new projects I’m taking on is a fairly big one:

A year of time-tested theology. 

Beginning January 1, 2015, I’ll be reading (and in some cases, re-reading) a number of time-tested, trustworthy works of theology. My goal is to read four major works in the year, the first two being:

The remaining two I’m still deciding on, but I’m open to recommendations. One I’m considering, though, is Augustine’s Confessions.

This is going to be a fun project for a few reasons:

1. 2014 was a pretty dry reading year for me. There were a lot of really good books, but I felt pretty “meh” about the year overall. But old books are a lot of fun. I like seeing how people used language in the past and seeing how it’s evolved over time.

2. I really need to reconnect with theology that predates the Internet. I’ve been spending a lot of time with books written in the last 60 years or so, to some degree at the expense of far too many older, time-tested works. It’s time to correct that, lest I become guilty of chronological snobbery.

3. The reading is spread out. I’m not trying to set myself a crazy goal of reading one of these every couple of weeks or anything like that. These works take time to digest. My schedule for this project means I’ll be reading each work over the course of three months, on average. In some cases, this will still be fairly aggressive, but in others, it’ll lots of space. And with school coming up, I’ll need to make sure I have that space.

Some of my reading will inevitably be discussed here over the course of the year (but I’m not committing myself to a strict weekly series or anything like that). I really want this to be an enjoyable project for me—and if you’d like to join me in it, let me know what you’re planning on reading!

My favorite books of 2014

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

Prayer by Timothy Keller. From my review:

Keller’s message challenges us, but reminds us of the grace of God. … It is rich in its theology, winsome in its approach and wise in its application. There may be few good modern books on prayer, but Prayer is one of them—and among the finest I’ve read of any era.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. From my review:

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.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


United by Trillia Newbell.

This is a wonderfully encouraging and challenging book on a really big problem: racism and the need for ethnic diversity. In it, Trillia presents a compelling argument for the necessity of reclaiming a sense of diversity within the church from a perspective one doesn’t see often enough: that of someone who has experienced racism firsthand. Learn more about this book from my conversation with Trillia.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


Evangelism by Mack Stiles. From my review:

We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert. From my review:

The Gospel at Work may not be a theology of work proper, but make no mistake: it is as intensely theological as it is practical. Idleness and idolatry in work are theological problems and they’ve got serious practical implications. One makes work a burden, the other makes you work’s slave. But the gospel frees us from both idleness and idolatry.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novack.

Funny story: My daughter, Abigail, and I were in Chapters a while back enjoying a post-dance class hot chocolate, and we picked up this book to read together. As I told her, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read,” her eyes lit up. As I read the entire book, a big smile never left her face. When I put it down, I asked her, “So, did you like it?”

She looked me right in the eye, and said, “Not really.”

Liar.

Buy it at: Amazon


Is it My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. From my review:

What I hope [this book] does is remind us all that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse of all kinds. To humbly, earnestly and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance, and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and allow them to begin to experience some form of healing, while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when He comes to wipe every tear from every eye. This is what victims of abuse need, and by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer, if we’re willing.

Buy it at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


The Gospel by Ray Ortlund. From my review:

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. … Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior.

I love good biographies, and Karen Swallow Prior has produced an excellent one in this volume on Hannah More, the most important social reformer you’ve probably never heard of.

Buy it at: Amazon


PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. From my review:

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey.

Two things that never (usually) go together: Hell and humor. But Thor Ramsey makes it work, and rarely goes over the top. Instead, he presents a clear case for what we lose when we lose Hell and why it matters. If you’re looking for a good entry level book on the subject, this is the one for you.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The best of what wasn’t released in 2014

Not everything I read (thankfully) was released this year, nor were all my favorites. So, as a bonus, here are my top three vintage (ish) books read in 2014:

How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer.

This should be required reading for every Christian.

Every.

Single.

One.

You can tell I feel strongly about this, huh?

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. From my review:

I can imagine some reading this book as though it were an authoritative treatise—that this is the way that demons act in our world and act against us, in the same way some treat Left Behind as gospel truth on the end times. But this would only do injustice to what Lewis is doing here.

Lewis doesn’t want his readers to be looking for the devil behind every corner after reading this book. Nor does he wish for them to be shouting, “the devil made me do it!” whenever they go astray.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. This is probably my favorite work by Adams (I know, heresy!). I’ve read it multiple times over the year, and I never tire of it.

Buy it at: Amazon

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

See what made the cut in years past:

The worst books I read in 2014

large_3981364314

Yeah, I’m going there.

Usually at the end of the year, us blogger types only talk about the books and articles and moments and cookies we really loved. The ones that really mattered to us (at least for a few minutes).

I’ve got lots of that coming up, have no fear. But what I want to do today is I want to kick off the “best of” season with a bit of a twist, and share a few of the really bad books I read in 2014. Some (most?) were released this year. Some were crazy popular. But none of them were particularly good. Ready? Let’s go!

That time R.C. Sproul wrote a bad children’s book

The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul. Okay, this might be a shocker to some. But if I’ve got my timeline right, this is Sproul’s first children’s book, and it shows. My wife and I read it to our kids and it was

so

very

loooooooong.

It’s so long that Emily lost focus while reading it. I may or may not have feel asleep while reading it, too. We love Sproul’s other children’s books (although none of them are really all that short), yeah, this is one we’re not planning on going back to any time soon.

The one that put a cramp in my soul

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. You may have seen my review over at TGC a while back. (And if you haven’t read it, will you please? I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.) That review, incidentally, took ages to write as I had to try really hard to not go all ad hominem on Furtick. Its false premise, defensiveness and hopeless help isn’t worth your time.

The other one that put a cramp in my soul

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldridge. There’s a review coming. The first line: “I don’t even know where to start with this book.” True story.

The one that didn’t really say anything

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. I know this book is a business classic and all, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I can figure out why. So many pages, so little content. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just read the opening and final pages of each chapter; you’ll get everything you need from those. Then go read something by Patrick Lencioni, because he’s way more fun.

The one that is sincere, but sincerely wrong

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This is another one I’ve been struggling to review, not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I want to be as thoughtful as possible in doing so. My central point of contention is that while Vines relies on the standard—and largely disproven—arguments for homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity, he bases his arguments in experientialism and emotionalism disguised as “fruit.”

Bonus: The one that was too obviously ridiculous to even bother reading

The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell. C’mon, like you didn’t know this book wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time from the title alone. When a supposed Christian ex-pastor starts spouting pagan1 nonsense about increasing the energy flow between you and your spouse, and the displacement of God’s omnipresence (something that, by definition, is not even possible), you know you’re going to crazy town.


Photo credit: cesarastudillo via photopin cc

Links I like

Book deals for Christian readers

This week there have been some pretty phenomenal deals on eBooks at Amazon. You can check out the big lists here and here. Today, I’ve got just a few more for you to check out:

Also in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org, you’ll find several terrific resources like:

  • Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback)
  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology edited by Burk Parsons (ePub)
  • When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Kevin DeYoung:

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

Quarantine in the Age of Ebola

Robert Cutillo:

The current Ebola crisis is the most recent iteration of contagious disease, following SARS in 2003 and swine flu in 2009. It is uncanny how the same themes return as we deal with the largest outbreak of Ebola since it first emerged in 1976. Facing the fear of fatal disease, it is not surprising that our base reactions remain the same. But each time our collective souls are bared by these moments of vulnerability, we have the opportunity to respond with truth and compassion. What are we doing with what we know—which is quite a bit, thanks to the understanding of current science—combined with a significant truth about life revealed to us by God?

When Fear Haunts Us

Erin Straza:

Our susceptibility to fear has many contributing factors: bent of personality, past trauma, current drama, and so on. Although everyone faces fear, we each face it in our own unique way, making it a rather isolating experience. The situations and trials that stir up my anxiety may do little to stir up yours, and vice versa. Because we share the susceptibility to fear, however, it should increase our ability to empathize and offer support when it knocks one of our own down for the count. At the very least, we should, by now, be well aware of the ways it attacks us personally.

 Looking for Love in all the Right Places

Lore Ferguson:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

A Debate I Would Watch

Tim Challies:

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

Five books to read near Christmas

origin_6895872661

Yeah, I know. You probably don’t want to think about that word any more than I do right now. I mean, Christmas has so much baggage surrounding it that it’s hard to have much fun. But it’s coming (just a few weeks away, friends).

Despite how we might feel about travel, awkward conversations, and the risk of really loud toys entering our homes, there is so much for us to be thankful for in the season, particularly as we remember the significance of the birth of Christ.

In light of this, we’ve been working to develop traditions in our family to help us be mindful of this truth. And, because it’s us, many of those traditions happen to revolve around books. Here are a few recommendations for books worth reading as we lead up to Christmas, both for personal enjoyment and family use:

Peace by Steven J. Nichols

This is a stunningly beautiful devotional that Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust released last year. Peace offers readings for the Advent season (four Sundays and Christmas Eve), as well as hymns and carols, readings from Christian theologians throughout history (such as this one from Augustine), and most importantly reminds us of the “earth-shaking implications of Christ’s appearance.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson (read a review here)

Okay, yes, Wilson is not for everyone. Some find his writing style pretty off-putting (he’s clever and he knows it). But in this volume, Wilson deconstructs the many false reasons for the season, provides an answer to the all important question, “how then shall we shop,” and shares how Santa Claus may or may not have slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicaea.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul

An Armstrong family favorite, The Lightlings weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

This is the latest Advent devotional written by John Piper (the 2013 edition, Good News of Great Joy, is also well worth revisiting). Piper offers short daily readings (25 in all), intended to guide us in experiencing the joy of Christ in this season. I particularly enjoy the fact that Piper doesn’t stick to traditional Christmas passages, leading off with Luke 19:10, and Jesus’ declaration that He came to seek and save the lost:

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent

Buy it at: Amazon | iBooksDesiring God (free PDF download)


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of the stories we’ve been waiting for a loooong time to share with the kids, and probably need to wait a while longer yet. I’ve long been a fan of Dickens, and am eager to share this classic tale of transformation with the kids as they get older.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

What are a few books you’d recommend reading for personal reflection or family enjoyment as we prepare for Christmas?


Photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc

Seven books Christian women should read

medium_3306684806

I love recommending books (clearly, since I seem to do it a lot). The books we read shape so much of who we are, and so we ought to think carefully about what we read. Recently, I was encouraged to share a list of books every Christian woman should read. I loved the idea… but I also realized pretty quickly that me making recommendations for ladies might not be the best idea. At least, not if I’m doing it alone. In light of that, I’ve called in some help in the form of my friends, Kim Shay and Staci Eastin. So, here are our recommendations:


Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung (recommended by Aaron)

Although it wasn’t one of my all-time favorites by DeYoung, there’s a lot of wisdom in the book that all of us would do well to heed (especially busy stay-at-home-homeschooling moms). While not all busyness is bad (after all, God made us to work), we need to be careful in learning how to rest well, even as we strive to work well.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The God Who is There by D.A. Carson (recommended by Kim)

Kim says, “I think this should be read because it gives a good overview of the biblical narrative and redemptive history. I have found that having a big picture understanding of Christianity has helped me approach the more specific areas with more thought.”

In this basic introduction to faith, D. A. Carson takes seekers, new Christians, and small groups through the big story of Scripture. He helps readers to know what they believe and why they believe it. The companion leader’s guide helps evangelistic study groups, small groups, and Sunday school classes make the best use of this book in group settings.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Alsup (recommended by Staci)

In Practical Theology for Women, Alsup uses the power of theology to address practical issues in women’s lives. Her book opens with a general discussion of theology and addresses the most fundamental and practical issue of theology: faith. Then sheexplores the attributes of God the Father, Son, and Spirit fromScripture, concluding with a look at our means of communicating with God-prayer and the Word.Throughout the book Alsup exhorts women to apply what they believe about God in their everyday lives. As they do this, their husbands, homes, and churches will benefit.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


God’s Good Design by Claire Smith (recommended by Aaron)

Feminism is part of “the cultural air we breathe”—it’s so ingrained into our society that it’s just a given. It’s the status quo, and no longer something to be questioned. But Claire Smith wants us to see that, despite arguments to the contrary, men and women really are different—and that’s exactly the way God intended it. In God’s Good DesignSmith examines the critical texts surrounding gender roles, offering valuable insights into the debate over the responsibilities of men and women within the church and home.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Bound Together by Chris Brauns (recommended by Kim)

Kim says, “As women, we balance a lot of ‘stuff,’ like motherhood, work, marriage, family, church, and sometimes, we don’t see how our actions affect others. We can get caught up in ‘life’ and act more in reaction than decisively, not realizing how something now could affect someone a couple of years down the road. It left me thinking for a long time after.”

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Made for More by Hannah Anderson (recommended by Staci)

Is your identity based on a role? Is it linked to a relationship? Do your achievements influence how you view yourself? What does your family say about you? Who are you as a woman?

Honestly, these are not the right questions. The real question is, who are you as a person created in God’s image? Until we see our identity in His, we’re settling for seconds. And we were made for so much more…

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Pleasing People by Lou Priolo (recommended by Staci)

Staci says, “Everybody struggles with fear of man and anxiety, but I do think they are particular stumbling blocks for women.”

Full of Scripture and challenging to the reader, Pleasing People takes aim at a problem common in all of us: the desire to be liked by others. But the book also wisely delineates when pleasing people is biblical. The penetrating exercises throughout the text will help readers see how this sin manifests itself in their lives. Pleasing People will be useful for both personal reading and group study.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Anything you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments!


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

What should I review?

medium_3306684806

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

“Stop feeling that way” doesn’t work

large_126441045

Last night, Emily and I had an interesting discussion about a little booklet we’d been reading, Help! My Teen Struggles with Same Sex Attractions. Although the booklet had some good points throughout, and presents a solid (albeit extremely brief) rebuttal of common redefinitions of the so-called “hammer” verses on homosexuality, there was something just not quite right about it. In fact, if I had to sum it up in a couple of words, it would be this: naïvely simplistic.

Unless I’m completely misreading it (which I hope I’m not), the approach seems to be, more or less, “repent or you’ll keep being gay.” Keep contemplation and confession logs. Have Bible verses around the house to remind you of what God’s Word has to say on the issue. If your teen does these things, then they won’t succumb to temptation.1

Now, obviously, repentance is right when sin is committed either in the heart or in the body. If a Christian who deals with same-sex attraction entertains immoral thoughts, he or she should repent of that (just as a heterosexual Christian should). If he or she commits an act of sexual immorality with a member of the same sex, then repentance is required, just as it would be for Christian doing so with a member of the opposite sex. The response on the part of the one committing sexual sin, whether in the heart or in the body, is the same whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, absolutely. And likewise, those temptations can only be resisted with a new heart, one inclined toward Christ, and a new identity, that of being a child of God in Christ.

But the booklet does not seem to make a distinction between temptation and action itself. Based on some of its language, it seems to view the issue of inclination (which may or may not be welcomed by the one dealing with it) as an act of rebellion itself. But the reality may be more complicated than this.

We should not forget that sin wreaks havoc on every aspect of creation. This is why some of us are predisposed to be overweight, even when we have healthy eating habits, or why healthy people’s bodies suddenly turn on themselves as cancerous cells develop, or why hard working people live in poverty. It’s not that these people have necessarily done anything to cause these things: they simply are as a result of living in a fallen world.

Sin represents a disruption in God’s good creation that affects everything.

So, too, it is with our affections. We are naturally designed a certain way; and I believe God’s design is for men and women to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. But the fall disrupts even this aspect of God’s good design, in effect inverting our orientation for some of us. While this does not excuse acting upon these inclinations, it should serve as an important reminder: we should not treat a teenage or adult Christian as though they rebelling against God simply because of these inclinations. If we fail to recognize this, we may do far more damage to Christians—including our own children—than we realize.

This is not to say we should be soft on sin. Far from it. It is simply a recognition that we can’t expect “stop feeling that way” to work, no matter how many memory verses we post around the house.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

large_5145995754

There are a whole bunch of new Kindle deals this week. Here are a few definitely worth checking out:

$1.99 and under:

$2.99:

Christ-Centered Exposition Commentaries ($2.99 each):

$3.99 and over:

Links I like

The Expulsive Power of New Affection

Dan Kassis, a voice-over artist in Spring Hill, TN, recently recorded Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of New Affection, as a birthday gift for his pastor. He’s since made it available for $3 to raise funds for The Bridge’s relocation efforts. I’d highly encourage grabbing a copy of this, as well as keeping your eyes open for more recordings of great sermons and essays from Dan in the future.

God Is in the Grocery Aisle

Lindsey Carlson:

It’s sad, but sometimes I allow the food in my cart cart to label me. If I walk down the organic aisle with its pesticide-free, non-GMO, “real” food, I feel good about myself and my mothering. My pride gladly wears the labels “informed”, “wise”, and “caring”. But if my shadow darkens the aisle of the processed, chemically-bathed “non-food,” my fearful heart wants to hide in shame.

Help publish the next book from Michael and Hayley DiMarco

Michael and Hayley DiMarco are preparing to publish their next book and curriculum, House of Grace: Big sinners raising little sinners, but they’re taking a different approach: instead of going through traditional publishers, they’re publishing it themselves. The manuscript is written, and they’re trying to raise enough funds to edit, design and print the book. Take a look, and if it’s something that appeals to you, I hope you’ll contribute.

Working on Learning to Rest

Nick Batzig:

If you’re anything like me, you know that you have to be intentional about learning how to rest. It’s hard for some of us to downshift. Some have a bent toward laziness and others a tendency to overwork. Phil Ryken has made the helpful observation that busyness stems from the same sinful root as laziness. Both are sinful manifestations of an idol of control. When we overwork, we try to control of our own lives and guide it to a selfishly motivated outcome. We are trying to secure what makes us feel good in life. Those who are lazy do exactly the same thing as those who overwork. If Satan can’t get us to try to do so by the vehicle of laziness, he will do so by tempting us to burn the candle at both ends. There is a sense in which just as those who are lazy need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to work, so those of us who are inclined to overwork need to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith and work hard at learning to rest. In order to grow in our ability to rest, we must know ourselves. We must be able to examine the patterns of our thoughts and actions. After all, the Proverbs tell us that “the prudent considers well his steps” (Prov. 14:15).

Some Uncomfortable Questions

Kevin DeYoung asks some uncomfortable—but important—questions.

Does 1 John 2:27 Mean I Don’t Need My Sunday School Teacher?

Mike Leake:

In 1 John 2:27 the apostle tells his readers, “you have no need that anyone should teach you.” He says this because they have been “anointed by the Holy One”. As a result of this anointing they don’t need anyone to teach them.

What about us?

Is this an affirmation that if I have the “anointing of the Holy One” that I’m fine missing Sunday School? After all, if I’ve got God Almighty teaching my heart then, I don’t need nobody teachin’ me nuthin’.

The weird and the witty: A choose your own autobiography

I walked into my local Chapters, making my usual bee-line for the Starbucks, when it caught my eye.

No, not Joel Osteen’s beautiful (and likely very expensive) smile…

osteen-book

(Although…)

No, something much more amazing. This:

NPH-autobiography

Autobiographies are weird animals. Most of us don’t have a life stories interesting enough to fill a book (or at least, one people would want to read). The same goes for celebrities, who also don’t really have lives that could fill a book you’d want to read, either.

And yet, here we are.

And here this is.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography may well be the most clever addition to the ever expanding line of celebrity life stories, simply because of the schtick of putting the reader in the driver’s seat of Harris’ life. For example:

You, Neil Patrick Harris, are born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 15, 1973, at what you’re pretty sure is St. Joseph’s Hospital, although it’s hard to be certain as the whole experience leaves you a little blurry.

The first person you encounter is, not surprisingly, your mother, Sheila Scott Harris. As the years go by you will come to learn she is a truly remarkable woman filled with love, kindness, fragility, selflessness, intelligence, wisdom, and humor. The kind of mom who will talk to you like a person and treat you with respect from the age of two. The kind of mom who will hold you in her lap for an entire four-hour car ride, lightly scratching your back. The kind of mom who teaches you the rules of Twenty Questions and then lets you guess the “right” answer even though it wasn’t what she was thinking, but does it subtly enough to keep you from realizing that’s what she’s doing. The kind of mom traditional enough to sing in the Episcopal church choir every week but hip enough to improvise a horrific death for a character in the bedtime story she’s reading you just to make sure you’re paying attention. The kind of mom who sews your Halloween costumes and plays the flute and loves to laugh and encourages you to pursue your passions and at one point trains to become a Jazzercise instructor and at another decides to go back to law school in her thirties and commute four hours each way every weekend for three solid years to make sure she spends enough time with you.

This is a pretty clever approach to an autobiography, one that shows a certain willingness to poke fun at oneself too rarely found in celebrities. But then again, Harris did start something of a career comeback mocking himself in the early 2000s, so…