Four and a half books I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian

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Last week, I shared five books I would encourage every new Christian read. In that post, I mentioned that in my first years as a believer, I read a lot of books I simply should not have. At all. Which ones were they? Here are five… well, four and a half:

1. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I picked this up because Bell was the hip teacher at the time. Lots of folks at our church were into the NOOMA videos, and we were all gaga over them. And kinda dumb for it. This book really messed with my head at a time when I was trying to begin figuring out what it meant to be a Christian. In the end, it seems I’ve come out better for it. But would I recommend anyone follow my path? Gosh no.

2. Just like Jesus by Max Lucado. This was the beginning of my life-long whatever the opposite of a bromance is with Lucado. As a new believer, I found this book to be sappy, sentimental pap, an opinion that’s carried over into pretty much anything I’ve read of his. While I’m sure he’s a lovely man, I can’t help but hate myself a little when I read something by him.

2.5. Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. This one’s the half book because I never finished reading it. I made it about halfway before I gave up. Terrible writing combined with a weird “frontier man meets mystic” idea of what it means to be a Christian man.

3. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. This, again, was one of the super-hot books of 2006, and easily one of the most pretentious. For a book advocating a “simple way,” it came across incredibly arrogant and condescending. Basically it read like, “If you’re not driving a van running on vegetable oil, living in a monastic community and not bathing, you’re doing it wrong.” It also didn’t help my wife with her ongoing issue of mocking authors in a sing-songy voice.

4. The Future of Justification by John Piper. This was actually the first John Piper book I ever read, and it’s a really good one. So why’d it make this list? Because I understood it and, as a believer for only a couple of years at the time, I didn’t have the emotional and theological maturity to handle that well. I already had some pretty serious pride issues by that point, and that only served to make them worse.

There were others, of course. I read a Brian McLaren book around the time I was gaining doctrinal convictions and threw it against a wall (it was either The Story We Find Ourselves In or The Last Word and the Word After That) because of its irritating hypothetical anecdotes about hypothetical people becoming hypothetical Christians. I read  memoirs by Mark Driscoll and Craig Groeschel that did nothing to help me get a clear picture of the challenges of pastoral ministry (or, in hindsight, the character of an elder for that matter). I remember really enjoying a lot of Don Miller’s books, but failed to see some of the significant theological problems in them (particularly Searching for God Knows What).

But you get the idea. Reading books is good for new Christians, but our reading is only as profitable as the books we’re reading are helpful. When the content is beneficial and we’ve got the maturity to embrace it humbly, it’s a good thing. When the content is awful and we have the acumen to critique it thoughtfully, it’s a blessed thing. But when we’re reading anything and lack either the maturity or discernment to appropriately process it, it can lead to disaster.

Your turn: What are a few books you shouldn’t have read as a new Christian?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

Freebie Friday: Preparing Your Teens for College

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and today, I’ve got a copy of Alex Chediak’s excellent new book, Preparing Your Teens for College, to give to one reader.

Preparing Your Teens for College

As I said in my review, Preparing Your Teens for College is one of those books that you don’t know you need to read until you read it. It’s packed with practical wisdom, sound theology, necessary challenges and much-needed encouragement for parents and students alike.

Along with Alex’s terrific book, I’m also including a copy of my book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World.

To enter, sign up using the handy-dandy PunchTab app and answer the following question:

If you could tell your teenage self one important thing you wish you’d known in college, what would it be?

The contest closes tonight at midnight. Please note: due to shipping restrictions, this contest is open to residents of the United States only.

Enjoy!

5 books every new Christian should read

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While the most important book any Christian should be reading is the Bible, it’s beneficial for us to read books in addition to it. We grow in our faith not only through the Holy Spirit’s work in revealing the Scriptures to us, but God also uses the encouragement and gifts of other believers to do so.

Most of us get this, but when it comes to actually getting down to brass tacks and picking books, we’re not so sure where to start. At least, this was my experience as a brand-new Christian. When I came to faith, I wound up reading a whole pile of garbage very early on. I really needed was some guidance from another believer, a little help being pointed in the right direction.

And although I can’t go back in time and give this guidance to myself, I can pass it along to new believers today. So, here are five books I think every new Christian should read:

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul. There are a lot of really great books on the key teachings of the faith, but this is my top-choice for an entry level introduction to Christian theology. It’s greatest strength? Each doctrine is explained in bit-sized chunks using plain language.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. One of the big challenges new believers have is relearning to read. Specifically, how do you read Christianly. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean turning our brains off—it means reading even more intently than you may have in the past. (For more on this book, check out my review.)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. In what I hope will be the last recent(ish) release on this list, Kevin DeYoung’s book answers a big, important question: how do I know God’s will for my life? This is a question that came to the forefront very early on for me, and the answers provided were (and are) astoundingly helpful. (And if you’re interested, here [and here] are a few more thoughts on this book.)

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. Prayer is a strange and awkward thing for new believers (actually, it’s strange and awkward for a lot of us who aren’t so new in the faith, too), but it’s one of the most essential things we can do as Christians. This little book offers great encouragement in pursuing prayer with vigor.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Not every book needs to be about teaching you how to do something in the Christian life—sometimes you just need some great encouragement. These daily readings from Charles Spurgeon have encouraged Christians for more than 100 years, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to for many years to come.

There are more books that Christians should read, but these are the ones I would strongly encourage giving to new believers who are just starting out. What books would you encourage new believers to read?

The tools for courageous conversations with your teens: A conversation with Alex Chediak

The transition to college from high school can be as intimidating as it is exciting—for both teens and parents. Looking back on my college years, I needed a lot more help than I realized. There was a TON I was just completely unprepared for, things I absolutely want my kids to be ready for if and when they take that step.

Not too long ago, I shared a few thoughts on Alex Chediak’s latest book on this subject, Preparing Your Teens for College, a book I described as one you didn’t know you needed to read until you read it. And just recently, Alex kindly took some time to answer a few questions about the book, the challenges teens face as they head to post-secondary education, and the conversation he wishes he’d had when he was 15:

AA: What motivated you to write this book?

AC: Three factors: College has never been more expensive, more students than ever are going, and a disturbingly large percentage of those students are stumbling along the way. In the U.S., we have the highest college drop-out rate in the industrialized world. The stakes are high–having a degree or credential of some kind is increasingly important in the job market–and too many students aren’t making it. Preparation is crucial.

I had already written a book for students (Thriving at College). It seemed strategic to write a companion book for parents of 12-18 year olds—those getting their teens ready not just for college but for the totality of their lives.

Why do you think so many teens are unprepared for the realities of college and adult life?

Simply put, they haven’t had enough modeling and training in what it means to take on adult responsibilities. Many parents have bought into the prevailing view that teens are inherently impetuous, reckless, and irresponsible. Why train someone when they aren’t ready to learn? But when we have low expectations for our teens, we get little in return. Adolescence gets extended.

I think the opposite error is more common among Christians: Helicopter parenting. A lot of the students I’ve seen struggle in college came from very loving families where they were treated like children all the way through high school. These teens were controlled instead of coached. In the interest of protecting them from failure or hardship, Mom and Dad stunted their development.

Here’s a quote from my book about this: “Don’t minimize your teens’ trials, but don’t solve their problems for them either. The former will make them feel weak. The latter will ensure they stay weak.”

In the book, you write about the importance of quality friendships—why does this matter so much? How have you seen this at work in the lives of your students?

Our closest friends shape our trajectory in life, particularly in the teen years as we’re entering adulthood. Proverbs 13:20 reads, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” It’s also true that “birds of a feather flock together.” In my experience, students that are serious about learning tend to find each other. Ditto for those more interested in partying.

That’s why it’s important for our teens to assess what character qualities, what virtues, they value, and to pursue friendships with others who share those values. In high school, it’s sometimes easier because of supportive circumstances (loving parents, a strong church, a vibrant youth group). But at college, it’s tougher, particularly at secular colleges, because now you have to go out of your way to find “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17) relationships. The easiest friendships to form aren’t necessarily the best ones. Since we ought to prepare for a test before (not during) a test, the ideal time to learn intentionality in friendships is before college.

Preparing Your Teens for College

Preparing Your Teens for College is available now. Buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.

Think back to yourself at 15. Which of these conversations did you most need to have with your parents? Why?

In the book I describe how I failed to see any connection between my budding Christian faith and my academic work. That made it hard for me to be motivated at school. As I came to see God as the Author of all truth, to appreciate my responsibility for developing whatever God-given abilities with which I was entrusted (Matthew 25:14-30), as I came to understand that loving my neighbor required having something useful to offer, and that usefulness presupposes competence, I came to love learning.

Your kids still fairly young, so college is a fair ways off (although looming!). How are you already applying what you’ve thought through and taught in this book with your family?

The faith component is crucial. I hope, pray, and labor that my kids will experience the twin miracles of regeneration and faith, which is the best foundation for developing the character and maturity necessary for success not just in college but in life. A good tree bears good fruit. True faith necessarily leads to good works.

I’m also striving to teach them to love learning—to really enjoy the exercise of their mental faculties, as they gain mastery over subjects they didn’t previously understand. Similarly, I want them to see that while learning can be difficult, it can be done. Kids are prone to give up on a task they can’t figure out in 20 seconds. What I want them to learn in those moments is to push themselves through that initial difficulty—to assess and categorize the task, to develop strategies, to call upon fundamentals previously learned, and to (if necessary) ask for a hint instead of an answer. I try to regularly encourage them with how much they’ve already learned. I pray that all my children experience the thrill of learning.

If you can offer one encouragement to the parents who will read your book, what would it be?

The evidence is clear that a mom and dad’s involvement in a teen’s life influences them in meaningful ways. Parents, you have the potential to make an overwhelmingly positive difference in the lives of your teens. Even when they don’t seem to care, they are watching what you do and listening to what you say. And even in your stumbling you have the opportunity to model repentance, humility, and the fact that we relate to our Father on the basis of grace, not our imperfect works (which will help your teens do likewise).

I wrote Preparing Your Teens for College to give you the courage and the tools to have crucial conversations with your teens about the issues that will shape the trajectory of their lives. Even if your teens are halfway out the door, it’s not too late to make an impact. And it’s never too early to start.


Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a speaker and professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. He is the bestselling author of Thriving at College, the recently released prequel, Preparing Your Teens for College (both with Tyndale House Publishers), and numerous articles for Christian College Guide, Boundless, and other publications. He has appeared on programs such as Focus on the Family and Family Life Today. Alex and his wife, Marni, and their three children reside in Riverside, CA. Learn more at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

Links I like

Can We Trade Sexual Morality for Church Growth?

Russell Moore:

Sexual morality didn’t become difficult with the onset of the sexual revolution. It always has been. Walking away from our own lordship, or from the tyranny of our desires, has always been a narrow way. The rich young ruler wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh. He came to give us something else, to join us to his own life.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts free

Reformation Trust’s free book of the month is The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. Get it for free for the Kindle at Amazon, the ePub edition at Ligonier.org or for iBooks at iTunes.

Constitutional Wisdom and Common Sense on Ceremonial Prayer

Albert Mohler:

The Court’s ruling yesterday is important at every level — even as the controversy over the ruling is very illuminating. Some people argue that the problem is prayer in any form, and would simply prohibit public prayers at any governmental occasion. Others, like the women who brought this case against Greece, New York, would argue that prayers may be allowed, but only if they are sufficiently nonsectarian prayers offered to a generic deity. Others, including Justice Kennedy and a majority of the Court, argue that the nation has clearly allowed explicitly “sectarian” prayers to be offered at government occasions, and that the nation’s commitment to pluralism then depends on the invitation to pray being extended to all, regardless of creed.

How the Lego Movie should have ended

HT: Zach

Church Is For Messy People

Stephen Altrogge:

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.” Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

10 Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids

David Murray summarizes ten lessons he’s learned from Dave Ramsey’s new book, Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money.

Get The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes for $5

Westminster Books has a killer sale on Zack Eswine’s new book, The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. This week only, you can get this book for $5 per copy. Here’s the description:

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that life under the sun does not play out according to neat and tidy rules. He asks us to see the world around us in all its messiness and explores what that messiness reveals about us, our world, and God. The Preacher is plainspoken, because people live in the midst of this mess and we have to talk about it. Zack Eswine gives us a meditation that engages people where they are and invites them to draw near to God who enters their world to redeem it and them.

Is anyone really surprised?

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This past week, rumors surfaced of Oprah joining the cast of a new faith-focused film—playing the role of God.

The film? The Shack, based on Wm. Paul Young’s dangerously stupid book. If the rumors turn out to be true, this would be perfect casting.

I read the book in the summer of 2008 right around the time it was first attracting serious attention. Tons of people were talking about this book—it was a topic of conversation online, at our church and in my office. Lots of folks were raving about how amazing the book was, and how they felt like they better understood God and the reasons for suffering…

But the god they were connecting with wasn’t the God of the Bible.

It was the god of Oprah.

The god presented in the book is a bizarre combination of new age spirituality and conflicting first century heresies. It’s a god who appears as (a bizarre stereotype of) an African-American woman, a flighty Asian Spirit, and a Middle Eastern man. It a god who has a preference for uncertainty, rather than a God who is confident in His knowledge of all things. A god who speaks to you subjectively, in and through your own thoughts, rather than with clarity in the Bible.

It is a god of our own imagining, and the kind of god, if we’re honest, many of us actually want.

It’s a god who doesn’t offer us any challenges or pushback (not really); a god who has no desire or ability to hold us accountable for our actions. A god who is all about relationship, and not about rules.

A god who wants us to have the life we want, but not the Life we need.

And really, who better to portray such a god than one who is so adept at perpetuating the myth of its existence?

No doubt there will be many who flock to see this film when it eventually sees the light of day. And make no mistake, it will be made. Some professing Christian leaders—the same ones who encouraged reading the book—will no doubt encourage their congregations to see it.

But rather than present a pretty picture of a pretend god, and encourage people to connect with a god who doesn’t exist, how about we give a grander picture of the God who does?


photo credit: Barack Obama via photopin cc

3 reasons I’m reading more fiction

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When I was a boy, I loved reading (and obviously I still do). I remember going to the mall in St. Albert, Alberta, with my mom and sister one Saturday morning, and as soon as I was able, I beelined for the bookstore and spent all the money I had on a paperback novel. If I remember correctly, it was A Rock and a Hard Place, one of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels.

(Don’t judge me.)

When we got home from the mall, I went up to my room and I started reading. I didn’t finish until the entire book was done. Incidentally, this may have been the most peaceful day of my mother’s entire life as a parent.

All through high school and college, I read tons of fiction and dabbled in non-fiction as I got older (provided the topic was interesting enough). My reasonably eclectic (and sometimes pretentious) tastes always made for interesting late night reading on bus rides home from my college job at a bookstore here in London (Coles in White Oaks Mall, for those interested—it’s now a Bath and Body Works, I believe).

And then, for some reason, I just stopped reading fiction and began almost exclusively reading non-fiction. The genres were, again, pretty varied—business, social commentary, theology, biography—but for nearly a decade, I lived on a steady diet of non-fiction.

A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine challenged me to change that. So, I did. I spent most of that summer reading fiction, including the Hunger Games series. And I’m really glad I did, because it reminded me how unbalanced my reading had become.

Since then I’ve tried to keep a pretty decent balance of fiction and non-fiction in my literary diet. Here are three reasons why I think it’s a good idea—especially for us yahoos who are really into theology and such—to be reading fiction regularly:

1. It exercises my imagination. One author I really enjoy is Greg Rucka. He’s a genius when it comes to placing you in a real world. Exceptionally well-researched work that gives you all you need to properly picture the scene—whether it’s a Disney-esque theme park, Middle Eastern streets so crammed with people you almost feel claustrophobic, or a small apartment filled with the scent of pancakes and orange juice. When I read his stuff, I get very excited as my mind starts to build the world he describes. It’s the same with series like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings—good authors know how to make their fictional worlds feel real by giving your imagination enough room to work.

2. Balance is really important. Imagine you only get your news from CNN or FoxNews. You won’t actually be getting the news, you’ll be getting a sensationalized interpretation of said news from one perspective or another. But when you watch or read multiple perspectives on the same story, you begin to get a better picture of the reality of the situation. Our reading habits are like that. When we only read one genre, or a very limited range of genres, we become unbalanced. We start thinking too small, and overlook different possibilities, and kind of bore people when we talk about what we’re reading (because, honestly, it’s a rare person who actually wants to talk with me about a biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones or a book on heretics).

3. It makes me a better writer. I’ve gotta be honest: too many non-fiction writers seem to lack any sort of artistic passion in what they write. They write technically well, but it’s not terribly exciting stuff to read. But good fiction—keep in mind, there’s a bunch of poorly written gobbledygook out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight)—is great art. And good writing—great art—makes me want to write better.

How varied is your reading? What’s one fiction book you want to read?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

What’s on your to-read pile?

Every so often I like to share a few titles on my reading pile. Here’s a quick look at what’s currently on tap:

new-books-spring

If you can’t see all the titles, they are:

  • Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb (Amazon)
  • Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb (Amazon)
  • Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer (Amazon)
  • Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones (Westminster | Amazon)
  • What’s Best Next by Matt Perman (Westminster | Amazon)
  • The Last Run: A Queen and Country Novel by Greg Rucka (Amazon)

What’s on your to-read pile?

Links I like

China on Course to Become ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’

Joe Carter:

Christians in America often find reasons to be pessimistic about our religion’s waning influence on our country. But we should remember that our land is not the last bastion of hope for the faith. The remarkable growth in global Christianity — particularly in Asia and Africa — should give us reason to be optimistic. The Holy Spirit is changing hearts and minds around the globe in a way that has not been seen since the first century after Christ’s Ascension. For this we should be eternally grateful.

Homosexuality Isn’t Like Other Sins

Jonathan Parnell:

Adultery is still frowned upon by many. Accusations of greed will still smear a candidate’s political campaign. Thievery is still not openly embraced, and there are no official initiatives saying it’s okay to go steal things that don’t belong to you. There’s no such thing as a drunk agenda yet. Most aren’t proud to choose a beverage over stability, and there aren’t any petitions that the government should abolish the driving restrictions of inebriated individuals. Reviling others still isn’t seen as the best way to win friends and influence people. Swindling, especially on a corporate level, usually gets someone thrown into jail. In fact, the infrastructure of the American economy depends upon, in some measure, our shared disdain for conniving scammers.

Perhaps excepting fornication, these sins are still seen in a pretty negative light. But not homosexual practice, not by those who are now speaking loudest and holding positions of prominence. According to the emerging consensus, homosexuality is different.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few new and still running Kindle deals

How Sinful Is Man?

R.C. Sproul:

Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If other sins occur, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sins continue to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. But have things reached that point? Human character is clearly tainted by sin, but the debate is about the extent of that taint. The Roman Catholic Church holds the position that man’s character is not completely tainted, but that he retains a little island of righteousness. However, the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century affirmed that the sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt.

To Retweet or not to Retweet

Nathan Bingham and Matthew Sims offer some great insights into the topic that generated the most discussion at Band of Bloggers this year.

Every Christian’s Second Most Important Book

Garrett Kell:

For Christians, the Bible is the most precious and important book we possess. In its pages are the divinely inspired words that guide us to know and love our God.

After the Bible there are a few books that every believer should probably read, reread, and apply. On this short list would be works likeFoxe’s Book of MartyrsPilgrim’s Progress,Augustine’s ConfessionsMere ChristianityKnowing God, and Operation World. But even these great works fall behind what I consider the second most important book for every Christian.

What book is that? Your local church’s membership directory.

Links I like

When Jesus Said Farewell

Collin Hansen:

We Christians sometimes buy into a lie. We assume that if we’re not like those hateful, judgmental people who call themselves Christians, then the world will see that we’re actually pretty reasonable folks and want to follow Jesus. We believe that if Christians just cleaned up our act, then Jesus could finally captivate the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

The only problem with this view is that it has no basis in the example or teaching of Jesus. Nice Christians don’t always finish first. Even though Jesus loved perfectly to the end, his closest friends and disciples abandoned him when the political and religious authorities pinned him to the cross. Peter rebounded from his shameful denial of Jesus and vowed to love Jesus by loving his people. His reward? Jesus told him to expect that he, too, would stretch out his hands in unwanted death that would nevertheless glorify God (John 21:15-19).

You Can’t Claim a Promise

Barnabas Piper:

To claim something is to take ownership, to say “it’s mine.” When we lay claim to property we gain certain rights and privileges. Litigants are awarded claims or denied them, claims of monetary value. Promises don’t work like that.

Often people “claim” a promise when life is hard or they’re afraid. They might even claim a promise for someone else, a child who has walked away from the Lord perhaps. When people do this, though, they are taking the Word of God and attempting to “own” it like a talisman or mantra. They’re treating an utterance breathed out by God as a silver bullet or a security blanket, a quick solution or a comfort to carry around. Sadly, some preachers even express these ideas from the pulpit.

Easter Kindle deals

Also on sale:

 How Frozen should have ended

Get Defending Your Faith in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Defending Your Faith by RC Sproul for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)
  • Light and Heat conference messages (audio & video download)
  • The Cross of Christ teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)

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

Dubious Depictions of Faithfulness in ‘God’s Not Dead’

Marybeth Davis Baggett:

Here’s the thing: the cross Christians are called to take up by God’s Not Dead is more akin to a merit badge, a gold star on a class assignment, a “smile put on God’s face,” as Willie Robertson describes Josh’s achievement at the film’s culminating concert. A brand of Christianity is depicted in the film, but largely through emblem—a Newsboys t-shirt here, a cross necklace there. Evangelism reduced to mass communication, texting “God’s Not Dead” to all concertgoers’ contacts.

Links I like

Be Bold Enough to Follow the Truth As Far as It Takes You

Jared Wilson:

Given what is taking place in the world today, do we have any indications that to follow Christ will become more and more comfortable? The Bible Belt, long the cultural bastion of “biblical values,” has long been heading toward the spiritual ruins of post-Christendom. Cultural Christianity is wasting away. And the outside world is becoming more and more hostile to the things of faith. Even some professing Christians are becoming hostile to those who will not move according to the shifting winds of the culture. And if God is doing anything in ordaining these cultural shifts to come to pass, it may be this: We are finding out who the real Christians are. (Even today, some are announcing in anger and embarrassment that they will never again call themselves evangelical, to which we must respond with all sincerity and soberness, “Thank you.”)

My shelves are full of mentors

Kyle Worley:

We live in a day where there is greater access to Christian resources than ever before. Long gone are the days where monks would hand copy a single book that was reserved for the wealthiest landowner in the county. Websites will deliver books at low cost right to your door. You can immediately download sermons from preachers across the globe, and seminaries have made excellent content freely available online.

If you have been struggling with finding a mentor, let me give you three suggestions.

The Truth of the Cross 

Ligonier Ministries’ free book of the month is the audio edition ofR.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Go get it!

Pretty much the only funny April Fool’s joke this year

Well done, Westjet:

Great books to encourage weary moms

Westminster Books has some terrific deals on books for moms, including the latest from Gloria Furman. Go check it out!

10 Lessons I Learned From My Mistakes in Preaching

Kevin DeYoung shares 10 lessons he’s learned in a lecture at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary:

  1. Beware of preaching all your battles from seminary.
  2. Be careful with offhanded comments.
  3. Be yourself.
  4. Remember there are different kinds of people listening.
  5. Don’t let personal conflict creep into your message.
  6. Make sure your best stuff is from the text.
  7. Be a pastor for the whole church, not just part of it.
  8. Don’t give them the whole elephant.
  9. Root for others and don’t compare.
  10. Tell your congregation you love them and are glad to be their pastor.

HT: Justin Taylor

“All this is true, and much more.” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (3)

Apollyon accused, “You almost fainted when you first set out, when you almost choked in the Swamp of Despond. You also attempted to get rid of your burden in the wrong way, instead of patiently waiting for the Prince to take it off. You sinfully slept and lost your scroll, you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions, and when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say.”

“All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention,” Christian agreed. “But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these infirmities possessed me while I was in your country, for there I allowed them to come in. But I have groaned under them, have been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my Prince.”1

Personal reflection

If I ever flirted with the idea of the Christian life being one of health, wealth and happy relationships, God effectively ripped such notions out of my head and heart very quickly. My earliest weeks as a believer were filled with strife and conflict.

  • Sins I’d committed (all related to speech) were levelled against me.
  • Conflict with family over lifestyle changes created tension.
  • Trying to untangle the mess of Emily’s and my pre-Christian life together into something pleasing to God nagged at us.

This was a time of intense accusation mixed with serious conviction.

I wonder if this is the case for more of us than we think—and I wonder if it’s part of the reason so many get frustrated in their walk with the Lord? There seems to be an assumption that everything should be coming up Milhouse once we put our faith in Jesus. And as soon as anything remotely bad (or mildly inconvenient) comes up, we start shouting, “Why isn’t this working? Where are you, God?”

We forget that the Christian life is a war. It’s a war that’s already one, to be sure, but a war nonetheless. Our enemy is constantly accusing us, and yet we do not need to despair. We win the battle when say with Christian, “All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention… But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.”

Reading with Ryken

At a purely narrative level, the two episodes are among Bunyan’s most inspired creations. They take their place among the best of epic and romance adventures and are triumphs of the literary genre known as “fantasy.” Doubtless the book of Revelation was an influence on Bunyan’s imagination when he composed this chapter. The journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is equally heightened, replete with such archetypal details as a place “as dark as pitch” and a narrow path with “a very deep ditch” on one side and “a very dangerous” bog or quagmire on the other. Adventures such as the two in this chapter require a childlike willingness to be terrified by monsters and dangers. C. S. Lewis’s comment on Edmund Spenser’s allegorical poem The Faerie Queene applies equally to Pilgrim’s Progress: it requires a dual response, one childlike and the other sophisticated and able to figure out the allegorical meanings of the details.

On the allegorical level, then, we are given pictures of the power of evil in the form of what the Bible calls “principalities and powers.” Compared to these giant threats, the more subtle obstacles to the Christian faith represented by people named Talkative and Timorous seem rather tame. The dangers through which Christian passes in this chapter are more than human.2

Next week

Next week’s discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters six and seven.

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. A few questions and points to consider:

  1. How does Christian’s battle with Apollyon reflect your own experiences as a believer?
  2. What similarities do you see between the physical details of Christian’s adventures to this point and the dangers we face in our spiritual lives?
  3. What means has God given us to overcome these dangers?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

Links I like

5 Strategies for Ministering in a Cretan Context

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Recently I read through Titus in my morning meetings with the Lord. As we met together, the Lord gave me fresh appreciation for the letter. Perhaps it’s owing to our upcoming move to DC to plant a church in what some think is a tough community. But as I read the letter, I saw more clearly the Cretan context into which the Lord sent Titus. It’s a context in which many Christians around the world labor, and a context many other Christians needlessly avoid.

The True North Luncheon @ T4G

This is something my fellow Canucks will want to attend in Louisville.

Found: God’s Will—Free for the Kindle

John MacArthur’s book is still one of the best on the subject. This deal ends today, so get it now.

And in case you missed them earlier in the week, be sure to check out these Kindle deals:

The Danger of ‘What This Really Means’

Derek Rishmawy:

When we are constantly straining to “see through” the arguments of our neighbors, we run the risk of never actually seeing them. If we’re constantly tuning our ears to the background hum of power-plays and manipulation, we’ll soon find we’re deaf to anything else. If we’re only ever listening to unmask, we’re never actually listening to understand.

How, then, can we have anything like meaningful dialogue?

Division Begins with Departure

Jared Wilson:

Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t.

It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters the division has begun with them (1 Corinthians 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer calling after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive.

Get Abortion in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of Abortion by R.C. Sproul for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Acts by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • A Survey of Church History (vol 2) teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (audio & video download)
  • Believing God by R.C. Sproul Jr. (ePub)

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

Paper vs pixels revisited

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As y’all know, I tend to get a lot of books in the mail. You know this, in part, because I mention it here and on Twitter (which I hope is not seen as bragging—I’m just genuinely excited when I get mail!). While I love reading a good physical book… but I’m also pretty comfortable reading eBooks, too. In fact, more often than not, when I purchase a book it’s a digital copy (at least initially). I also research using my Logos library, which is super-convenient.

And, a lot of review programs—such as Crossway’s Beyond the Page and Cruciform Press’ review program—are shifting to digital offerings in lieu of physical books. This makes complete sense, especially from a business perspective, because:

  1. Mailing costs are super-expensive (especially when you’re sending books to places like Canada)
  2. It reduces risk, since you can’t always guarantee a reviewer is going to actually read or write about the book being sent (as many who have sent me books know).

My Internet friend Mike Leake (who I look forward to hanging out with at T4G in a couple weeks) reminded me of all this yesterday when he shared four reasons why he still prefers paper to digital. And since it’s been a couple of years since I last shared anything about my personal experience with pixels vs. paper, I thought I’d revisit the subject. So here are four things I’ve found in my experience:

My engagement level is generally about the same. Whether it’s paper or pixels, I tend to give the same consideration to the content—which is to say, careful. I make lots of notes in both formats, underline and highlight many passages, occasionally cross out redundant (or flat-out wrong) passages… How I do it just looks a bit different.

Writing notes is easier in a paper book, definitely (all I need is a pen!). Writing notes in a digital edition sometimes helps me think through my response a little more carefully, in part because of the familiarity of the environment. It comes closer to engaging the way I would in a blog post than when I just scribble in the margins.

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

My retention is different. At the same time, I have noticed that I don’t retain the content I read in an eBook quite the same way I do with a physical one. This is due to “landmarks”—when I’m reading a paper book, I tend to keep an eye on the page number and the paragraph position. I don’t really have those firm landmarks in an eBook, though. The paragraph breaks always remain static, but their position depends on the font size and orientation of my iPad. As a result, I tend to remember where something is, as well as why I thought it was important a little easier with a paper book.

My wife is happier with my digital books. Now, to be clear: my wife actually prefers reading physical books in general. But she prefers me having more digital ones. The reason? It keeps the clutter to a minimum. Our poor bookshelves tend to be double-stacked most of the time, which isn’t terribly helpful to me since I can’t see what’s all there. Now, I know the solution is buy more bookshelves,  but we don’t have space. As a result, I tend to take a lot of books to my office to give away. In the last couple of months alone, I’ve brought in over 50, which my coworkers seem to appreciate. My wife does, too. But with my digital books, there’s nothing to stack or give away. The files are sitting in the cloud or on my iPad, and this is a good thing for my wife’s stress levels.

Physical books feels more special. Now, receiving a book is always great, but I’ll be honest: it feels more special when I receive a physical book. When I come home from work and see Janni or another publicist have sent me something they think I’m going to like, it’s exciting. I realize that’s probably silly, but there you go.

So in the end, where do I find myself in the ongoing paper vs pixels saga?

Paper is more fun, but pixels are more convenient. But in the end end, as long as the content is great, the format doesn’t bother me too much. How about you?