“It fell to be seen no more.” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (2)

He ran till he came to a small hill, at the top of which stood a cross and at the bottom of which was a tomb. I saw in my dream that when Christian walked up the hill to the cross, his burden came loose from his shoulders and fell off his back, tumbling down the hill until it came to the mouth of the tomb, where it fell in to be seen no more.1

Personal reflection

A friend once told me one of his frustrations with The Pilgrim’s Progress was the placement of the cross—we don’t find Christian relieved of his burden until chapter three, which seemed oddly placed:

He’s already on the path to the Celestial City. He’s passed through the slough of despond, although not without being trapped in it for some time. He went astray following the devilish advice of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who encouraged him to take an “easier path,” that of morality and legalism…

So why do we have the cross here?

As much as we might prefer the book begin with Christian’s burden dropping from his back, we need to stop and consider whether or not this reflects our own experience? When you first became aware of the burden you carried—the weight of your sin—did you immediately know to run to the cross? Perhaps, perhaps not.

The journey itself is reflective of Bunyan’s own walk with Christ—one which was mired with despondency and futile attempts to justify himself through legalism and moralism, things “intent to rob you of your salvation by turning you away from the way in which I directed you,” as Evangelist told Christian.

As an adult convert, I certainly resonate more with Christian’s journey—one of haphazardly walking the path to the cross, and not finding relief until I stood at its foot. But the point, arguably, is not when Christian finds relief from his burden, but where.

Relief, true relief, is found only at the foot of the cross. Run to it!

Reading with Ryken

The importance of this leg of the journey is disproportionate to the small amount of space given to it. Losing the burden of sin at the foot of the cross is one of the two most important events in the first half of Pilgrim’s Progress (the other being Christian’s entry into Heaven). Whereas the obstacles to spiritual progress that have befallen Christian up to this point have painted a picture of the life before conversion, the ones that happen now represent impediments in the spiritual progress of someone who has been converted to the Christian life.

At the level of travel story, the physical events in this episode are threats to someone who needs to reach a destination. Viewed thus, the events in this chapter resemble those that any traveler encounters—distracting characters, people who give bad advice, the physical ordeals of traveling, losing time by falling asleep, and needing to backtrack to find a lost passport. On this plane, this unit is one of Bunyan’s nightmare passages.

But of course the second level at which the journey unfolds is the spiritual. We should view all the people whom Christian meets in this unit and the physical difficulties he undergoes as pictures of the temptations that befall Christians in their spiritual walk.2

Next week

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

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:3

  1. What spiritual realities did you resonate with in reading these two chapters?
  2. How are the early days after Christian’s conversion like the experiences of other people you have known?
  3. Why did Bunyan choose the specific spiritual vices that he did, as represented by their allegorical names?
  4. What real-life experiences or observations are embodied in Bunyan’s personified vices?

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

“What shall I do?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (1)

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came to a certain place where there was a cave; and I lay down in that place to sleep. As I slept, I dreamed a dream, and in this dream I saw a man clothed in rags, standing in a place with his face turned away from his own house. He had a book in his hand and a heavy burden upon his back.

I looked and saw him open the book and begin to read; and as he read, he wept and trembled. Not being able to contain himself, he cried out in a loud voice, “What shall I do?”

It’s impossible to overstate the power of the opening words of The Pilgrim’s Progress.1 Bunyan masterfully captures the plight of man in his description of Christian—he is a man burdened, weeping, utterly destroyed by the book he carries. But he cannot turn away from its pages.

He can only read and cry out, “What shall I do?”

Personal reflection

How many of us have faced a similar crisis in our own hearts? Conviction comes—and what shall we do?

Many of us, like Christian, keep it to ourselves for as long as possible. We pretend everything is fine, even though we’re troubled to the core of our being. Sooner or later, though, we reach a breaking point and can no longer keep what’s going on hidden—”For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

And, as is so often the case, when we speak, people begin to reject us. They find our message absurd, laughable, ignorant. Family rejects us. Friends scorn us. Some come alongside us and encourage us to stay on the path; others seek to draw us away. We have moments of joy, from which we quickly slip into the slough of despond…

This is how the journey to the celestial city begins for so many of us.

Reading tips from Ryken

But the first chapter of The Pilgrim’s Progress is equally as demanding as it is captivating. As Leland Ryken puts it well in his guide to this classic book, “Part of the genius of Pilgrim’s Progress is that it requires readers to analyze the symbolic level of the story and in particular to figure out the nuances of the theological truth that is embodied in the narrative details.”2

So as we feel our way around the first chapter, we need to consider what each detail symbolizes and what it teaches us about the Christian life at the point at which Christian finds himself on the journey. But even so, we would do well to heed Ryken’s advice as he offers four tips for reading this book:3

(1) The most important prerequisite for enjoying this book as literature is the ability to abandon oneself to the travel motif and the adventure genre. At this level, the book is like Homer’s Odyssey or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a continuous series of narrow escapes and threatening ordeals. (2) Equally, we need to relish the technique of allegory in which places and characters bear the names of abstract qualities. But the word allegory does not quite do justice to what is happening, so we need to add the concept of symbolic reality, which results when we enter a realm of the imagination in which the leading ingredient is a “forest” of symbols. (3) Putting the previous two points together, Pilgrim’s Progress requires us to read at a physical level as the basis of everything else, but also to see that the two protagonists have undertaken a spiritual and psychological journey in addition to the physical journey. (4) The primacy of the spiritual governs everything that Bunyan does in the story and determines his storytelling techniques and choice of material.

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. Two points to consider:

  1. How does this chapter portray the lost state of man?
  2. How does what you’ve read in this chapter reflect or differ your own experience?

Feel free to 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

Kevin Bacon explains the ’80s to Millennials

Various Kinds of Tongues

Nathan Busenitz:

So what are we to make of the phrase “various kinds of tongues”? Is Paul differentiating between two fundamentally different categories of tongues (as Storms and other continuationists contend)? Does this verse really distinguish between earthly (human) languages on the one hand, and heavenly (non-human) languages on the other?

I certainly don’t think so.

Here are four reasons why.

If Jesus is the “Word of God” can we call the Bible the Word of God?

Derek Rishmawy:

“The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is. John says he is the Eternal Logos, the true Word spoken from all eternity, and to put such a focus on the Bible as the Word of God is to take it off their point: Jesus. In fact, it’s tantamount to bibliolatry–elevating the Bible to the 4th person of the Trinity.”

Ever heard something like that before? It’s become a truism among many of the Christian internet set, and something like it has been popular in theological circles for some time now.

Four books to encourage ministers

Westminster Books has a terrific deal on four books (two of which I can confirm are outstanding) intended to encourage those in ministry:

Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes

The Erosion of Religious Liberty at Bowdoin College

Owen Strachan’s written two excellent pieces on a major issue at Bowdoin College in Maine, the first for the American Spectator and a follow-up at his blog:

This shocking development stings me both ideologically and personally. I was a member of BCF for all four of my years at Bowdoin. I was a member of the Leadership Team in my upper-class years, and an emcee of our large-group meetings for two years. Led by Inter-Varsity staff worker Will Truesdell, a godly and kind man, BCF was a crucial and vital part of my Bowdoin experience.

3 Reasons Why a Christian Worldview Still Matters

Trevin Wax:

Some Christians shrug off any effort to study philosophies and “isms.” They say things like, “I don’t worry myself with what other people think about the world. I just read my Bible and try to do what it says.”

This line of thinking sounds humble and restrained, but it is far from the mentality of a missionary. If we are to be biblical Christians, we must read the Bible in order to read the culture. As a “sent” people, it’s important to evaluate the -isms of this world in light of God’s unchanging revelation. In other words, we read the Bible first so we know how to read world news second.

Why Every Politician Should Be a Calvinist

David Murray, who wins the award for “title most likely to set the Internet on fire”:

The President’s policies and legislation always assume the best in human nature (unless he’s talking about rich Republicans who are just to the right of the Antichrist), that people are always reasonable, rational, and logical.

If given a choice between working or not working, people will surely work. If given the choice of a healthy lifestyle or a self-destructive lifestyle, they will surely choose the former. If given the choice between living in helpless poverty or taking the opportunity to better themselves, well, of course they’ll roll up their sleeves. And when it comes to nations, surely they will know what’s in their best interests and always pursue that. They will like us if we like them more. They’ll prefer talking to us to bombing us.

The President could do with a good old-fashioned dose of old Calvinism to help him understand that we are so morally and spiritually depraved that we often have no idea what is in our interests, and even when we do we may still choose the wrong, the false, the destructive, and the insane.

Links I like

Menlo Park Leaves the PCUSA

Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving.

Menlo Park Presbyterian is based in the San Francisco Bay area and led by well-known author and pastor John Ortberg. It is the ninth-largest PCUSA church, with about 4,000 members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Root of Idolatry

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Truth be told it happened again as I, in a theater, first watched the trailer for Son of God. I could again take up my native language of Reformed sarcasm and crack wise about how very Caucasian, how very soft, how very hipster he looked. But the truth is I broke into tears. I wanted that man to be Jesus, and I wanted him to look at me the way he looked at those whom he loved in the movie. I wept.

That experience is just what the makers of this film, and its promoters, want people to have. Strangely, many Christians think it a good thing. I had a profound, deep, emotional, religious experience, fueled by a man made, false presentation of Jesus.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis—$1.99

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas—FREE

Inferior technology indeed

BOOK

Ten well-know pop stars who were all pastor’s kids

This is an interesting piece over at Relevant Magazine. You might be surprised at some of the names you see.

An Open Apology to the Local Church

Katelyn Beaty:

Here’s where I need to confess my true feelings about you, Church: The romance of our earlier days has faded. The longer I have known you, the more I weary of your quirks and trying character traits. Here’s one: You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with. Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us. You insist on filling my coffee hour with idle talk of golf, the weather, and grandchildren. As much as I wax on about the value of intergenerational worship, a lot of Sundays I dodge these members like they’re lepers. (This is of course my flesh talking, to borrow a phrase from one of your earliest members.) Many Sundays I long to worship alongside likeminded Christians who really get me, with whom I can have enlightening, invigorating conversations, whom I’m not embarrassed to be seen with in public. I confess to many times lusting over one of your sexier locations, wondering if I would be happier and more fulfilled there.

Dave Kraft speaks out on the issues at Mars Hill Church

Normally I don’t link to “scandal” posts, but given the person speaking out (Dave Kraft), you may want to check this out. He’s also planning on releasing his specific charges against Driscoll soon.

Links I like

You’re Going to Die (and so might your dreams)

Jared C. Wilson:

You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?

When Your Words Cry “Wolf”

Barnabas Piper:

Every day we hear phrases like these and read headlines offering us “essential”, “incredible”, or “unbelievable” something-or-other. Upworthy has made an evil art form out of using such titles as click-bait. If a description of anything doesn’t include a superlative it’s good for nothing. But what happens when we run out of superlatives and absolutes (if we haven’t already)?

If everything is amazing nothing is. By definition, not everything can be the best or worst. If every piece of advice is essential and we can’t live without those life hacks, well we should just give up now; life is hopeless.

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

Today you can get the paperback edition of Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile (which I reviewed this week) for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (hardcover)
  • Parenting by God’s Promises by Joel Beeke (ePub)
  • Moses and the Burning Bush teaching by R.C. Sproul (DVD)

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

Believers in a Culture Increasingly Hostile to Christianity

Randy Alcorn:

Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation. I’m grateful there are organizations working to protect the rights of Christians. But I’m concerned if we view ourselves as one more special interest group, clinging to entitlements and whining when people don’t like us. God’s people have a long history of not being liked.

Gone Fishin’ – A Forgotten Model of Ministry

David Murray:

What is a minister of the Gospel? The most common answers include models like Shepherd, Servant, Preacher, Theologian, Teacher, Counselor, Leader, and so on.

But one model that’s rarely thought about or spoken about today is the first model that Jesus used – Fisherman (Matt. 4:19).

My favorite hobby probably biases me here but I believe fishing for souls is one of the most powerful models of Christian ministry and must be re-prioritized. It’s such a perfect metaphor for both the fish (sinners) and the fishermen (pastors/witnesses) that I’ll leave you to make the obvious applications.

Have the courage to apologize

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

So yesterday news broke about yet more unethical behavior from a celebrity pastor, this time buying his way onto The New York Times bestseller list.

There is so much wrong with this kind of behavior that I don’t even know where to begin. Frankly, I’m not sure I could say it any better than has been said here. But since reading about this latest in a series of life lessons on the dangers of unchecked hubris, there’s been one thing I’ve felt I’ve needed to say:

If you’ve done this, have the courage to apologize. 

Look, I know none of us are perfect. Anyone who says they’re without sin is a liar and a fool, and I am chief among them. But you know what I do expect? I expect that if we’re people who claim the name of Christ, we’re people who apologize and mean it.

What do I mean when I say we “mean it”? Simple: we’re genuinely repentant.

So a true apology is not immediately pleading Jesus, saying how thankful you are that He’s forgiven all your sins, past present and future. That’s spiritual and emotional manipulation, not asking for forgiveness. And it’s not a political non-apology, something akin to “mistakes were made.” That’s acknowledgement, not contrition.

What I mean when I say apologize is simple:

  • specifically name your action or attitude
  • own your personal error
  • explain how you are making restitution
  • ask for forgiveness

But all of this, of course, hinges on a critical truth: you have to actually think what you’ve done is wrong.

My fear for many who engage in shenanigans of this sort is they really don’t care. As much as they want to say they’re trying to boost the name of Jesus, they’re really out for themselves. They’ve traded integrity for influence. So the ends justify the means (even when the means are wrong). Their consciences may be so seared that that they’ve become blind to their own folly. They are like those leaders who sat in Moses’ seat, whom Jesus commanded the Jews to listen to but not imitate, for they do not practice what they preach.

They talk a good game, but it’s all talk.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)

Your integrity is worth more than your celebrity.

Your ministry is more important than your influence.

Your reward with Christ is better than the riches of this world.

If you are truly in Christ, you know this to be true. Now act like it. Have the courage to apologize.

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.