A quick look at some new books

Every so often, I get a really nice present in the mail—books! Here’s a look at a few that have shown up over the last few days:

In case you can’t make them all out, they are:

I’ve only had a chance to start digging into one of these books (United), there are a number I’m excited about reading, particularly Truth Matters and Everyone’s A Theologian (Sproul does a wonderful job of making systematic theology accessible and interesting to the common person).

What stands out to you on the list? What are some books you’re looking forward to reading over the next few weeks?

Links I like

Preparing Your Teen for College

Westminster Books has a great deal on Alex Chediak’s new book, Preparing Your Teen for College—pay $8 each when buying 3 or more copies. Here’s a look at the book:

Jesus and tithing

Ray Ortlund:

The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees lay in over-emphasizing easier forms of obedience while under-emphasizing harder forms of obedience.  They hid their unbelief within a self-invented form of theological disproportion, making small things look big and big things look small.  They seized upon opportunities to tithe, and they dismissed the crying needs for justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Can I Reject an Eternal Hell and Still Be Saved?

Michael Patton:

I don’t really like this question. No, let me be stronger: I hate this question. Please forgive me. I understand the question and empathize with it on just about every level, no matter what it’s source may be (philosophical, biblical, or emotional). However, when you ask me this question you put me in a difficult position. I want to be as honest as possible, yet remain aware of the pastoral nature that addressing this subject requires. In other words, it is not an impossible question, and should never be seen as such.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are some new Kindle deals for you:

The Strange Saga of ‘Jesus Calling,’ The Evangelical Bestseller You’ve Never Heard Of

Ruth Graham:

Thomas Nelson specifically requested I not use the word “channeling” to describe Young’s first-person writing in the voice of Jesus—the word has New Age connotations—but it’s hard to avoid it in describing the book’s rhetorical approach. And on the edges of evangelicalism, where alertness to “New Age” influence runs high, concern has bloomed into outrage. Writer Warren B. Smith, who calls himself an “ex-New Ager,” wrote a 2013 book called ‘Another Jesus’ Calling, devoted entirely to dismantling Young’s claims to orthodoxy. In it, he calls the book “an obvious attempt by our spiritual Adversary to get an even further foothold inside the Christian church.”

Thomas Nelson has clearly heard the complaints that Jesus Calling is heretical; the introduction to recent editions of the book includes subtle but significant changes.

Son of God Will Show Crucifixion, Not the Cross

Tim Challies:

A film cannot adequately capture the reality of what transpired between the Father and the Son while the Son hung upon the cross. If this is true, a film that displays the crucifixion but misses the cross might actually prove a hindrance rather than a help to the Christian faith. Even the best movie will still be hampered by a grave weakness.

Words and pictures are very different media, and in the history of redemption, God has used both. For example, in the Old Testament God used words to record prophecies about the coming Messiah while in the tabernacle he provided pictures of the coming Messiah and what he would accomplish—an altar for sacrifice, a lamb to be slaughtered, incense rising to God. Words can tell truth while pictures can display truth.

Links I like

On Weddings and Conscience: Are Christians Hypocrites?

Russell Moore:

Today Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt wrote an article for the Daily Beast accusing conservative Christians of hypocrisy and unchristian behavior for suggesting that some persons’ consciences won’t allow them to use their creative gifts to help celebrate same-sex weddings. Since I was a key example of this hypocrisy, I’ll respond to that charge.

At issue is a response I made, reposted this week over at The Gospel Coalition, helping a Christian wedding photographer think through whether he ought to work for a same-sex wedding. In the photographer’s question, he grapples with the question of how his conscience ought to play in this decision not only as it relates to weddings of people who, for all he knows, might be involved in all sorts of unbiblical behavior. Powers and Merritt suggest if he refuses to photograph one “unbiblical wedding,” he ought to “refuse to photograph them all.”

The Difference Between “Near” and “Far” Application in Preaching

Trevin Wax, sharing from Zack Eswine’s Preaching to a Post-Everything World:

Once near application has been addressed, the preacher then holds the rope between near and far. Picture a line of kindergarten children walking down the street for a field trip to the Sesame Street studio. A long rope connects those nearer and farther from the teachers at the head and back of the line. Each child holds on to the rope in order to stay connected with the line and not get lost from the group. Whenever preachers move from near to far application, they must help their listeners hold this rope in order to stay connected to the biblical context and not get lost from the intended meaning of the biblical passage.

John 3:16

Dougal Michie:

If the Bible’s all-time favourite passages were ranked, I suspect this verse would make the top three. From t-shirts to sandwich boards to The Simpsons, “John 3:16” has appeared almost everywhere. That John 3:16 is famous seems beyond doubt. Whether the awesome implications of this passage are appreciated, however, is perhaps harder to gauge.

Is the Preaching Any Good?

Jonathan Parnell:

One of the most fundamental truths to understand about the church’s corporate gathering is that Jesus is a giver.

Jesus, our Savior and salvation — the one to whom we are united by faith — gave himself to us by becoming like us. He then gave himself to us by dying in our place. And still today, every week when the church meets, he gives himself to us through the preaching of his word and the sharing of his Supper.

This matters because, as surely as we have received him as the God-man and trusted in his finished work, we should anticipate that there is yet more of him to experience in weekend worship.

Keeping it real

Neat infographic on the top reasons to stick to analogue books:

Links I like

links i like

The Evangelical War on Contraception

Matthew Lee Anderson:

If you haven’t heard, evangelicals are currently campaigning against contraception.

Oh, you haven’t? Well, I can’t blame you. After all, it was only two years ago when a evangelical theologian seriously proposed that churches should give out contraception to single Christians because that supposedly reduces abortions and evangelical attendees responded with a collective, “Um, sure, why not?!”

Desiring God Conference for Pastors

The Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors starts today. If, like me, you’re at home instead of in Minneapolis, you can watch live online at desiringgod.org/live.

Legalistic Relativists

R.C. Sproul Jr:

The appeal of ethical relativism is rather plain to see. If there is no right and wrong then I can’t be convicted of any wrong. Ethical relativism allows me to write my own law, to edit on the fly, to finish “I may do this . . .” with an unassailable “. . . because I want to.” Desire becomes its own justification. My will becomes my law.

This appeal, however, soon enough begins to dissipate if we have any interest at all in being coherent, consistent in our thinking. We quickly turn, “I may do this, because I want to” into “You may not do that, because I want to do this.” Consider, just as an example, sexual perversion. The problem, morally speaking, with sexual perversion is that it is an abomination to God. Ethical relativism, of course, bars God from the conversation. Therefore there is no reason by which we might condemn the practice. There is, to these folks, no transcendent moral standard by which we are all bound. We can do what we want, no matter how perverse. Which means, doesn’t it, that I can call sexual perversion an abomination to God? What, after all, is to stop me?

Free stuff for book lovers

Christian Audio’s free audiobook of the month is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This is well worth the free. Ligonier has also made The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul free until Feb. 28. Finally, the Logos edition of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence is free until the end of February. Enjoy!

This looks fun!

In April, the next big superhero movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will be released. Here’s a look:

Beware of Backdoor Legalism

Dan Darling:

Last week, during an apparent display of debauchery at the Grammy’s (I don’t usually watch award shows. It’s just not my thing. Other folks feel that way about NFL football, which I love). This caused award-winning singer, Natalie Grant to walk out. She was, from all accounts, not self-righteous or judgmental about it, but just posted a simple explanation about it on her Facebook page.

Of course, this action provoked conversation online, on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps the most prominent reaction is Laura Turner, who clearly disagreed, writing in her blog for Religion News: “But reading about her decision to leave early and then publicize that decision sounded to me just like the self-righteousness of those people who couldn’t hear a swear word without their faith being threatened.” Now I respect Turner’s instincts here and I have those same ones myself. Christians have, at times, developed an isolationist bent, a sort of fundamentalism that rejects any thoughtful engagement with the world. This inward inpulse has often put us on the same side as the Pharisees who couldn’t entertain a Savior who hung out with the very people he came to save: the sinners, the needy, the sick.

10 Hot Tips For The Christian Life

Jeff Medders:

There is no secret to Christian growth. Paul actually despises any idea of some hidden, underhanded way of Christianity.… The gospel is an open statement of the truth: We need Jesus and Jesus gives us all that he is by faith in his person and work. No more hot tips, only more of Jesus. “Tips must decrease, he must increase.” The Christian life isn’t that complicated.

7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher

fortune-cookie

They’re big, bold and beautiful—or at least wearing beautifully tailored suits. Prosperity preachers, selling you the finest in positive attitudes, living your dreams and making every day a Friday.

Not too long ago, my wife was feeling a bit down, and a super-nice lady whose kids go to the same school as our daughter gave her some books to encourage her. Funnily enough, they all happened to be prosperity theology books (which has led to some entertaining and positive discussion around the house).

Every so often we all stumble into prosperity theology, usually unwittingly. While occasionally you’ll get a nugget of helpful truth (in the same way that you’ll find some helpful things in your average self-help book), there’s a lot of goofiness which can make for a fun night of “Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie.” So, how do you know if you’re reading a book written by a prosperity preacher? Here are seven signs:

1. A bright shiny smile that looks like it belongs on a poster for a dentist office. For example:

The only exception? TD Jakes, but that’s only because he seems incapable of smiling in a photograph (although he does smirk).

2. The title makes it clear someone is really important—and that someone is you.

God is Not Mad at You, Reposition Yourself, Your Best Life Now, Become a Better You, It’s Your Time… I’m noticing a trend here. Someone’s a pretty big deal, and apparently that someone is me.

I feel so much better now.

3. It’s advice that could easily be confused with the message from a fortune cookie. Taste the highly processed encouragement:

“You may think there is a lot wrong with you, but there is also a lot right with you.”1

“Unhappiness does not come from the way things are, but from the difference between how things are and how we think they should be”2

“Never make a permanent decision about a temporary situation.”3

“Sometimes you can tell what something is by what is isn’t.”4

I have no idea what that last one even means.

4. There’s a proverb on the cover. Often something like Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it”—but you’re not likely to find Proverbs 18:11, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.”

5. Someone’s caps lock got stuck. For example:

God has said to us, just as surely as He said to Isaac, “I WILL PERFORM in your life THE BLESSING of Abraham. I heal you! I prosper you! I create the conditions of Eden around you, and you will carry THE BLESSING to people everywhere you go!”5

I’m pretty sure Kenneth Copeland needs a new keyboard, he may have broken his in his excitement, what do you think? Also, what does that even mean?

6. It may or may not be trying to cast wicked spells. Remember, “It’s our faith that activates the power of God.”6

7. Seven is always the magic number. You can learn the seven steps to living your full potential, the seven keys to improving your life every day, and how to be happier seven days a week. Seven really is the magic number, isn’t it?

So there you have it. The seven signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher. Wait—seven signs??

Links I like

Are Millennials Joining High Church Traditions?

Jake Meador:

There have always been magisterial Protestants in the United States as well, but there is a perpetual tendency for these traditions to slide toward radicalism as they adopt more characteristically American tendencies toward individualism and separating oneself from the past. As a result, traditions that ought to embrace the more liturgical, sacramental spirituality of the high church tradition will struggle to do so consistently. This is how, to take the most extreme example, an ostensibly Reformed pastor like Robert Schuller ends up creating the Crystal Cathedral and the Hour of Power. For magisterial Protestants there is a constant tug of war between certain hallmark attributes of the American political identity and the guiding principles of the magisterial tradition.

The Dark-Tinted, Truth-Filled Reading List We Owe Our Kids

N.D. Wilson:

In the Christian world, stories laced with dark content—especially for children—will always spook whole flocks of eyebrows into concerned flight. The “content” of a book or film is parsed out, every bit of shadow flagged and sniffed at by mothers like they’ve discovered a malicious growth hormone in a suspicious chicken nugget.

Get When Worlds Collide in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

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

  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)
  • A Blueprint for Thinking teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

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

Mortifying the Fear of Academic Books

Jared Oliphint:

But the trudge is an illusion, a feeling, an attitude, and a state of mind. You created it, and you can exercise a surprising amount of control over it in the long run. The skills that built and stacked internal walls meant to protect your own ego against the barrage of heavy, theological terms are the same skills that can sack those walls and command those technical terms for your spiritual benefit.

Abortion Meets a New Generation

Dan Darling and Andrew Walker:

And that leads us to the pro-life movement, dating back to the 1970s. Being pro-life was missional, incarnational, and radical way before those terms became evangelical buzzwords. And yet, caring for and advocating on behalf of the unborn remains controversial.

Thankfully, its controversial status may be a thing of the past if trend lines continue. Younger generations are markedly more pro-life than their parents. We’re observing a rising generation of pro-life Americans, many of whom (though not all) identify as Christian.

But sadly, among progressive evangelicals, there’s a reflexive hesitancy to tout or raise the banner of human life as a preeminent justice issue. You’ll hear individuals in this camp dance around the sanctity of life—writing it off as “political” or “complicated.”

Links I like

A Report Card For Humanity

David Murray:

Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Crossway Kindle deals

Also on sale, although not all are from Crossway:

All The Dying Megachurches

Matt Svoboda:

“Are there not megachurches full of church members whose personal preferences are greater than their passion for the gospel?” Of course there are, they just prefer loud, dynamic music accompanied by smoke and a laser show. Thom Rainer is absolutely correct, when that happens a churches spiritual vitality and vibrancy begins to die. This is happening all over in America, in churches numerically small and large that vary in all different types of worship, styles, and philosophies.

There Will Be No Sea in the New Heaven and New Earth

R.C. Sproul:

Scripture often speaks of the entire creation awaiting the final act of redemption. To destroy something completely and to replace it with something utterly new is not an act of redemption. To redeem something is to save that which is in imminent danger of being lost. The renovation may be radical. It may involve a violent conflagration of purging, but the purifying act ultimately redeems rather than annihilates. The new heaven and the new earth will be purified. There will be no room for evil in the new order.

Print is not dead

book-not-dead-560x2313

HT: Justin Taylor

Links I like

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

Andrea Palpant Dilley:

For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

For some reason, no one has written a best-selling book about the real-life 19th-century missionary John Mackenzie. When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives’ land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie and his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact a land protection agreement. Without it, the nation of Botswana would likely not exist today.

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

Joe Thorn:

Anger, sorrow, apathy and hundred other feelings leave us in state of mind where the idea of gathering with the church for worship or community group simply isn’t appealing. Sometimes we wake up on Sunday morning and secretly (hopefully) wonder, “Is my kid sick today? If so I guess we’ll have to stay home.” It’s shameful, but common among all of us. Sometimes we don’t went to do what we are created for. And in that moment we make a common mistake. We think since our heart isn’t in it we shouldn’t do it. I’ve felt this way before. I have heard it a lot as well. “I didn’t come to worship this Sunday because my heart wasn’t in it, and if I came and sang those songs I would feel like a hypocrite.” This is a deadly conclusion.

Untamable God

My pal Stephen Altrogge has just released a brand new book, Untamable God: Encountering the One Who Is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine. I read this a few weeks back and had this to say:

“He is not safe, but he is good.” C.S. Lewis’ words permeate every page of Stephen Altrogge’s new book, Untameable God, as he confronts and corrects our constant attempts to reimagine the God of the Bible into some damnably “safe” cheap substitute. Jesus isn’t safe—but he is good, and that is such good news for weary sinners. Read this book and rejoice!

Check out the book and be sure to grab a copy for your Kindle while it’s 99¢!

My wife also made a nifty t-shirt for the book, which you can get here.

Get Living for God’s Glory in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Living for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke (ePub) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Fear and Tremblin teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Standing Firm: 2012 West Coast Conference (DVD)
  • The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond (hardcover)

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

So Dad, How Much Do You Earn?

David Murray:

In ways subtle and not so subtle they’ve tried to find out my salary through the years, and I’ve always gone to great lengths to conceal it from them. Shona and I never do our budgeting within earshot of the kids, and I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to hide and shred wage slips, bank statements, mortgage statements, etc. That’s right, I wouldn’t even tell them how much my mortgage was.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stopped and asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point in being so secretive?” I suppose I didn’t want them blabbing about it to their friends, but they’re “big boys” now.

The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest To Be a Christian

Katherine Burgess:

The top 10 nations “where Christians faced the most pressure and violence,” according to the WWL, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran. and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.

Links I like (weekend edition)

The four Ps of faithful Bible reading

Michael Krahn:

Yes, reading the Bible can be an exercise in legalism, but approaching it with discipline and commitment is not legalism. And why should we do this? Is it just so we can pump our heads full of knowledge? Is knowledge the end goal? No. Knowledge is the first goal, but knowledge is not the end goal.

A certain kind of revival among evangelicals

Interesting piece Mark Oppenheimer:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

But in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism, and at churches that used to worry little about theology.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a recap of the deals that’ve come up during the last week (plus a few others):

B&H’s New American Commentary Studies ($4.99 each):

Dealing with Alcoholism

Ed Stetzer:

So, I recently was in a conversation with an old friend of mine. We’ve known one another for a long time, and I knew of his journey.

Over the years, he changed his view on alcohol, moving from an abstentionist position to a more moderationist one. But, he found that, like a consistent percentage of people who intend to drink in moderation, he could not. He would later call that “alcoholism.”

Some studies show that 30% of Americans will struggle with alcohol in some way. That does not mean they are all alcoholics, but there are real issues to be addressed. And, if more evangelicals are going to accept beverage alcohol, we are going to need to have this conversation more frequently. (Even if the views don’t change, there are still many secret alcoholics—so let’s have the conversation either way.)

So, here is an interview with an anonymous evangelical pastor who is a recovering alcoholic. I’m hoping it might help someone see a problem that they might be ignoring, in themselves or in a friend.

Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Albert Mohler:

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

The re-reading project: diversifying our reading in 2014

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

One of the difficulties that can arise when you read a lot is you sometimes forget to re-read the really great books you’ve enjoyed from years past. This has been my problem for the last couple of years—I’ve been reading so many new books that I’ve been missing out on the really great books I read years ago and actually want to read again.

So, this year, I’m doing something about it by sharing with a plan I’m calling “the re-reading project.”

(Super clever, I know. Can you tell I’m a writer and stuff?)

Here’s how it works: every month, I’ll be re-reading one book from my library and sharing a few thoughts on each here. These books will almost certainly be pretty broad—there will be a mix of books by Christians and non-Christians, as well as (I hope!) a bit of variety in terms of genre. Here are some of the first books I’ll be re-reading as part of this project:

So far, there’s nothing on the list less than 20 years, old, although that could change. The point of the whole project isn’t simply to read “more,” or to read older books instead of newer ones—it’s just to read (and re-read) better. When all we take in is first-time reading, we miss out on what we can discover about a book that we might’ve missed the first time around.

I’m pretty excited about this little project—wanna join me?

My favorite books to review in 2013

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

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

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

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

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

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

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

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

Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau

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

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

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

Does God Listen to Rap? by Curtis Allen

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

God’s Good Design by Claire Smith

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

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado

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

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

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

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

My favorite books of 2013

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

Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

death-by-living

From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Boring by Michael Kelley

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From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


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

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

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson

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From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Five Points by John Piper

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From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

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From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

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

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

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From my review:

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

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


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

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

See what made the cut in years past:

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

3 gift ideas to share Christ with your kids

I have a confession: I’m woefully behind on my Christmas shopping this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been this far behind since before Hannah, our second child, was born. And, of course, it’s her we’re struggling to find the right gift for.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. If so, I hope today’s post can be a help. Here are three gift ideas to share Christ with your kids:

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The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul.

Ligonier Ministries has a number of resources available for children, but this is one of our favorites in the Armstrong house. This book 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.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier Ministries, Westminster Books or Amazon).


Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt.

This book, a child-friendly exploration of Psalm 23, helps children “grow in their understanding of the metaphors the psalmist used in composing this beloved poem. But more important, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the one who is the subject of the psalm: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier MinistriesWestminster Books or Amazon).

(Incidentally, Westminster Books has these two titles along with The Prince’s Poison Cup available as a set.)


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Buck Denver Asks: What’s in the Bible?

Phil Vischer began producing this DVD series a number of years ago, walking children through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. While obviously there are going to be a few quibbles here and there due to your particular theological emphases, the series itself presents a very good—even excellent—look at the core truths of the Christian faith in a way that’s highly engaging for kids.

(Learn more or buy it at Amazon or What’s in the Bible)


So those are three gifts I’d encourage parents to check out for their kids. What are a few ideas you’ve got?

Critical thinking is good for your soul

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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