Book Review: The Next Story by Tim Challies

About a year and a half ago, work issued me my first iPhone. My wife and I to that point had been trying to avoid having a cellphone and were at a point where we couldn’t really do so much longer, simply because if I wasn’t at the office, she’d have no way to reach me (nor would anyone at work unless I was near a wi-fi connection).

Then the iPhone came home. And in some ways, it was glorious. We were able to communicate when necessary. Work could always find me when they needed me… Then we started to see the downside of this new device in that we became very, very aware of the connected-ness in a way that we hadn’t been before. Then there was the distraction. I’m naturally a fidgeter and began to find myself almost unconsciously grabbing my phone and begin fiddling with it. Before long, I found myself asking, “Who is in control here—my phone or me?”

Tim Challies gets this question. As a web developer and longtime blogger (in addition to being a pastor and author), Challies sees and interacts with digital technology on a regular basis—so much so that he’s found himself asking the same kinds of questions:

Am I giving up control of my life? Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?

These motivated him to write The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, where he seeks to help readers build not only a theoretical and experiential understanding of technology, but a theological one as well.

The first three chapters of the book are spent dealing with the theological, theoretical and experiential background of technology. On the theological side, Challies is quick to note that God’s command to the first man that he subdue the earth and have dominion over it (cf. Gen. 1:28) implicitly commands us to create technology, whether it’s a hammer or a computer, and this creative impulse is glorifying to God: [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Give Them Grace

Tullian Tchividjian shares his foreword to the new book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus:

It may come as a surprise to you, but God wants much more for your children…and you should to. God wants them to get the gospel. And this means that we’re responsible to teach them about the drastic, uncontrollable nature of amazing grace.

The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants Christian parents to buy is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be “kept it in check.” By believing this we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in the lives of our children. A “yes, grace…but” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in their hearts. And if there’s anything God hates, it’s moralism!

I understand the fear of grace. As a parent of three children (Gabe is 16, Nate is 14, and Genna is 9), one of my responsibilities is to disciple them into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say “no” to the things God hates and “yes” to the things God loves. But all too often I have (wrongly) concluded that the only way to keep licentious hearts in line is to give more rules. The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical unconditional acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s. In other words, the children who actually end up performing better are those who understand that their relationship with God doesn’t depend on their performance for Jesus, but Jesus’ performance for them.

Read the rest and order a copy of the book.

Also Worth Reading

Books: Francis Chan is writing new book, Erasing Hell. (If you’re wondering, yes, I will be reviewing the book.) Here’s a video explaining the book:

Giveaways: Tim Challies is giving away Iain Murray’s new biography on John MacArthur. Enter here.

Theology: Reading the Bible Backwards

Announcement: The winner of the Note to Self giveaway is Jesse Benack!

Ministry: Hiring Questions for Pastors

Teaching: Download Audio from All 38 TGC11 Workshops

Funny: Jon Acuff on referencing locusts whenever two or more bugs are present

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: You Need To Feed Yourself

Book Reviews: But God by Casey Lute and Note to Self by Joe Thorn

What Are You Reading this Summer?

Richard Phillips: Shall Not The Judge Of All The Earth Do What Is Just?

John Flavel on The Sincerity of Our Profession and the State of Our Hearts

What Are You Reading this Summer?

Summer’s getting frighteningly close (after all, winter ended a week or so back, right?) and that means it’s time to think about vacations! A little time off does everyone good and also gives us the opportunity to do some reading!

A few days ago, Joe Thorn offered some great recommendations for what you might want to read this summer; his focus was on fighting sin and temptation and I’d encourage you to read any number of those ones. As I’ve been looking at what I want to be reading this summer, my list is certainly not going to be quite as focused, but I’m hoping it’ll be interesting:

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Machens classic defense of orthodox Christianity established the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. Though originally published nearly seventy years ago, the book maintains its relevance today. It was named one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine and one of the top 100 books of the century by Christianity Today.

(Incidentally, this is the selection for the latest edition of “Reading the Classics Together” over at Challies.com. That might be a really helpful way for you to get into this book if you’re interested.)

Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ by Russell Moore

Although temptation is a common and well-acknowledged part of the human experience, few realize the truth behind temptation and fewer still know how to defeat it. Tempted and Tried will not reassure Christians by claiming that temptation is less powerful or less prevalent than it is; instead, it will prepare believers for battle by telling the truth about the cosmic war that is raging. Moore shows that the temptation of every Christian is part of a broader conspiracy against God, a conspiracy that confronts everyone who shares the flesh of Jesus through human birth and especially confronts those who share the Spirit of Christ through the new birth of redemption.

Moore walks readers through the Devil’s ancient strategies for temptation revealed in Jesus’ wilderness testing. Moore considers how those strategies might appear in a contemporary context and points readers to a way of escape. Tempted and Tried will remind Christians that temptation must be understood in terms of warfare, encouraging them with the truth that victory has already been secured through the triumph of Christ. [Read more...]

Book Review: Note to Self by Joe Thorn

These days a lot of folks are talking about the need to preach the gospel to yourself. This is a good and important thing indeed. We do need to be preaching the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis. But something that I’ve noticed is there aren’t a lot of folks talking about what that actually looks like. Joe Thorn’s noticed this, too. So he decided to do something about it by writing Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. Over the course of 48 chapters (don’t worry, they’re all 2-3 pages long), Thorn offers readers practical insights that challenge them to grow in grace, confront sin and serve others.

Why do we need to preach to ourselves—why is it beneficial? Because, Thorn writes:

Preaching to yourself demands asking a lot of questions, both of God’s Word and especially of yourself. You will have to ask and be honest about your motives, struggles, and needs. You will need to clarify to yourself what God’s law means in principle, but also what it requires specifically of you. You will need to ask how the gospel meets your needs and heals your brokenness. To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget. (p. 32)

There is a great deal of wisdom here. Too often it’s easy to see the wonders of the gospel and of what God has done in history and it become kind of… ordinary. We can begin to take things for granted that we might otherwise not. But I found that as I read through each chapter, I was being called out on a few of the things I’ve been overlooking of late.

A notable example is found in chapter 13, “Wait for Jesus.” Thorn opens with the question, “What is your greatest hope? Your deepest longing? Is it for Christ to return? Be honest” (p. 60).

I didn’t like the answer to this question. While there are many days where I can confidently answer, “Yes!” there are others where I don’t really give it much thought.
[Read more...]

Shall Not The Judge Of All The Earth Do What Is Just?

How can a God who loves the world permit anyone to perish this way? Jesus answers, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The key word is condemned. The God who loves the world is also a perfectly holy judge. Abraham asked, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). The answer is yes! God’s holy nature requires justice. This means that we must be judged for our sins unless they can be removed, the judgment being eternal death (see Rom. 6:23).

This is where God’s love enters, because God showed His love for the world by sending His Son to die for our sins. God made a way for us to be forgiven and escape judgment, at infinite cost to Himself. This way requires that we receive God’s Son in faith, so that our sins may be transferred to His account at the cross, where Jesus died as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). But if we spurn God’s loving offer of salvation and refuse to believe on Jesus Christ, neither we nor God can avoid our condemnation. No unbeliever will suffer in hell because God lacked love, but “because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

People resent the thought of God condemning anyone, especially them. But we have no cause to resent God. Jesus Himself revealed God’s purpose in giving His Son to die for our sins: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God is never mean-spirited, even in His awful wrath. He has extended love to a world that is wicked, rebellious, and already condemned. God did not send Jesus to cause sinners to perish; sinners were going to perish without Jesus having to die. But God lovingly sent His Son to pay with His own blood the sin-debt for all who believe. God is like a doctor who prescribes the healing medicine. But if we refuse to admit our sickness and refuse to take the pills, we condemn ourselves to death. So it is with all who refuse to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1150)

Book Review: But God by Casey Lute

“But God…”

You wouldn’t think that two little words would carry so much weight, would you? Yet, it’s on these two words that so much of the Bible—even the gospel itself—hinges. Casey Lute gets this, and in “But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel, he walks readers through the Scriptures to show us just how important these words are.

And important they are. Over and over again, we see in Scripture how “But God” serves as a turning point in God’s saving work among fallen humanity. Indeed, Lute writes, “It is the perfect phrase for highlighting the grace of God against the dark backdrop of human sin” (p. 5).

From the flood account of Genesis 6-8, to the Exodus and God’s preservation of His stiff-necked people, the promise of a better sacrifice in Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, to His saving for Himself a people from among all the nations and his preservation of them until the end, “But God” lies at the heart of all God’s work in history. These words show us how God saves, the salvation He offers and how He applies that salvation to His people.

In a word, it’s grace.

Lute does an exceptional job of illustrating this reality, particularly in the earliest chapters of the book as he delves into the flood account. Often, we hear or read the story of Noah as little more than “Noah was a good man among a sea of bad men, so God used him to build the ark.” Lute is quick to observe that this is not the case. He writes:

[T]he flood story is about God’s grace. Even the first significant statement made about Noah tells us more about God’s grace than about Noah himself: “So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:7–8). The word “favor” might not seem especially meaningful to us, but the Hebrew word translated here as “favor” can also be translated as “grace.” In fact, the King James Version translators used that very word, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (p. 15)

I’ve heard a number of preachers make this point—that “favor” can be translated as “grace.” That understanding helps bring a greater understanding of the story’s place in the scope of redemptive history. It’s not that Noah was a good guy among a bunch of bad guys, it’s that he was a bad guy to whom God showed grace—and through him, God saved for Himself a remnant. It’s an amazing illustration of God’s grace that is too easy to overlook.

At this point, I’ve read or reviewed nearly every title that’s been released from Cruciform Press. In doing so, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern that is perhaps best evidenced in “But God…”.

That is the strength of brevity.

Because “But God…” and all of the publisher’s titles are held to a strict word count, their authors are not afforded room to meander. They have to get to the point, which (I know from experience) can prove difficult. But in this book’s case, the result is a refreshingly concise, yet comprehensive biblical theology of grace that left this reader more in awe of the grace of God. I’d highly encourage any reader to get a copy of this book and discover for yourselves the importance of the words “But God.”


Title: “But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel
Author: Casey Lute
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)

An advanced electronic copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

Around the Interweb

On Being Better Bereans

Kevin DeYoung:

How can we be better Bereans? Most Christians are eager to receive the word, especially when we get new insights and background information, but how many go the extra step and examine the Scripture to see if the new nugget is actually true (Acts 17:11)? Here are a few things to keep in mind when we hear an exciting new teaching or connection…

Read the whole thing.

Also Worth Reading:

Books: Douglas Phillips reviews ‘Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins’

Life: Seeking Earnestly

Ministry: Advice For Aspiring Christ-Centered Preachers

Parenting: Diane Bucknell offers some thoughts on Spurgeon’s mother’s prayer for her children

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Richard Phillips: Give Your Amen to Jesus

Book Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Do You Journal?

Michael Horton: Did Jesus and Paul Preach the Same Gospel?

J.C. Ryle: Who Are The Saducees?

John Flavel: Heart-Work is the Hardest Work

Book Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

There are some books you really look forward to reviewing and others you approach with trepidation. Mere Churchianity is the latter. The reason has less to do with the content and more with the fact that the book’s author, Michael Spencer—better known around the interwebs as the Internet Monk—passed away in April, 2010. So now, there’s no opportunity to interact with him over it. And reading the book left me wanting to sit and hang out with him and just talk about it. Here’s why:

American Christianity, in Spencer’s mind, has succumbed to a false religion: churchianity. Instead of being people who are transformed by Jesus, shaped to be like Him, we’ve settled for playing church. We’ve replaced relationship with religion.

And this has forced him to ask, “When millions of people walk away from the church that has a sign out front saying Jesus is inside, what are they walking away from?” (p. 21). Are they walking away from God or from empty religion? Are they abandoning Jesus, or are they “walking away from a church that has become disconnected from Jesus and all he stands for?”

Perhaps the leavers and quitters are sending a message about Jesus that Christians need to take to heart. Perhaps churchianity has done more to alienate people from Christianity than all the best-selling books written by angry atheists. It is clear that the church has overadvertised something it has lost, and it’s time to answer some questions about the Jesus who doesn’t live behind the church signs. (p. 21)

The big idea behind Mere Churchianity is provocative—yet not. It’s provocative in the sense that it’s a very bold statement about the way things are in the church in North America. Yet, the claim itself has been made by so many (usually in a way that lacks charity and humility) that it’s become very easy to ignore. How did I respond? My reaction was… mixed. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Fearful Might, Majestic Love

My first article for The Gospel Coalition Voices blog:

When a natural disaster strikes, whether last week’s tornadoes or last month’s earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Japan, we are confronted by a terrible truth: Despite our best efforts, this idea that we have mastered creation is just an illusion.

We cannot tame the weather any more than we can make the sun shine in Seattle or make it stop snowing in Canada. And when the illusion is shattered, we are left horrified.

Then there’s this awe that comes from witnessing the power of the whirlwind as I am forced to stop and consider the unfathomable power of God. And I fear that many of us, myself included, have taken for granted the Lord’s might.

Read the rest at TGC

Also Worth Reading

Ministry: Matt Chandler asks “Is Church Membership Biblical?”

Life: My friend Amber shares the woes of prenatal consumption

Technology: The Christian Email Signoffs Debate

Books: Have you heard about Crossway Impact yet? Check out the video:

In Case You Missed It

The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

John Flavel: Self is the Poise of the Unrenewed Heart

My Memory Moleskine: Wash, Rinse, Repeat…

Tim Keller: The Death of the Mushy Middle (video)

Book Reviews:

  1. The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms
  2. Voices of the True Woman Movement

Matt Chandler: Following God May End Badly (video)

D.A. Carson: Genuine Love is Odd

Book Review: Voices of the True Woman Movement

I must admit that I took Voices of the True Woman Movement to be polite. I was at the Moody table at The Gospel Coalition and was asked if I’d like a free book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I was afraid of what the reaction would be if I said “No, I heard she’s kinda OUT THERE,” so I just said “sure” and took the book and stuck it in my growing bag of free nerd-swag.

I started reading it later that day while waiting for Aaron, and was intrigued. Still apprehensive, but intrigued. Voices of the True Woman Movement is basically a transcript of the first True Woman conference, held in October 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. There are multiple contributors, including John Piper, Mary Kassian, and Joni Eareckson Tada.

The book offers a broad overview of the vision that adherents of conservative, complementarian Christianity have for Christian women today and into the future. It’s a good read, and I especially enjoyed the contributions by John Piper, Mary A. Kassian, and Fern Nichols. I did appreciate the chapter by Nancy Leigh DeMoss as well, to my surprise. DeMoss provides a solid exposition of the story of Esther, and reminds us that living for God’s glory, and not our own, is the only kind of life worth living.

I wasn’t really a fan of the chapter by Karen Loritts – too much of a tough talking football coach vibe for my taste.

The end of the book has a “true woman manifesto” for the reader to review, and there is opportunity to affirm the manifesto by “signing” in online at truewoman.com. I have not signed the manifesto, and probably won’t, but a cursory look at the site seems to indicate it’s a good resource for Christian women.

I think that the best thing I got out of this book was that the True Woman Movement is not something to be afraid of. There’s no push to have 27 children, or burn all your shoes, or wear a veil to church. What the authors do assert that the model of womanhood given to us by the world is a stinking pile, and that Christian woman need to immerse themselves in the word of God and submit to his will for their lives.

I would encourage women especially to read Voices of the True Woman Movement, if for no other reason than to get a sense of complementarianism from a female perspective. I hope you find the book as helpful as I have.


Title: Voices of the True Woman Movement: A Call to the Counter-Revolution
Author: Nancy Leigh DeMoss (editor)
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)

Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

Urban Legends: Preacher’s Edition

Trevin Wax:

Those of us who are entrusted with the task of expositing the Scriptures in a local church must take care to verify our sources, illustrations, and stories. No matter how helpful an illustration may be, it is dishonoring to God if it is untrue.

Here are a number of urban legends that get repeated in sermons. Some are more pervasive than others, even appearing in commentaries and scholarly works.

Here’s one example he shares:

The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway.

Read the rest.

Also Worth Reading:

Preaching: Practical Tips for Expository Preachers

Faith, Life & Ministry: Some Potential Solutions to the Celebrity Pastor Critique

Blogging: Do You Have to Respond to Every Blog Comment?

John Piper: What Happens When You Turn 65

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Luther on the children of the Law vs the children of the Gospel

The Books I’m Not Proposing

J.C. Ryle: What Was Once Narrow and Deep Has Become Wide and Shallow

Gun Collectors, Not Soldiers

Book Reviews:

Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney

The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

 

(Audio)Book Review: Worldliness by C.J. Mahaney

 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

Are those words in your Bible? While (I hope) we would all say yes, if we carefully examined our lives, we’d probably have to admit that we don’t live in light of them. Yet we can’t afford not to. Our lives are not to be characterized by the pursuit of “the things in the world,” lest we hinder our witness to the greatness of God.

And while we know this… again, if we had to be honest, what would we say our lives are marked by?

Concerns over the creeping influence of worldliness motivated C.J. Mahaney, along with Dave Harvey, Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell and Craig Cabaniss, to write Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.

Mahaney kicks off the book with a strong opening, dealing with what John means when he writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” It’s not that he’s saying “don’t love creation” or “don’t love the godless heathens with their MTV and Cinnabon.” Instead, he means that we are not to love “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.” This is a critical (and biblical) distinction that Mahaney is wise to bring to address because when you talk about avoiding “worldliness,” it’s really easy to jump to all sorts of peculiar legalisms. Without this foundation, the remainder of the book could almost certainly come off as exactly that. [Read more...]

What Was Once Narrow and Deep Has Become Wide and Shallow

It has long been my sorrowful conviction that the standard of daily life among professing Christians in this country has been gradually falling. I am afraid that Christ-like charity, kindness, good-temper, unselfishness, meekness, gentleness, good-nature, self-denial, zeal to do good, and separation from the world, are far less appreciated than they ought to be, and than they used to be in the days of our fathers.

Into the causes of this state of things I cannot pretend to enter fully, and can only suggest conjectures for consideration. It may be that a certain profession of religion has become so fashionable and comparatively easy in the present age, that the streams which were once narrow and deep have become wide and shallow, and what we have gained in outward show we have lost in quality. It may be that the vast increase of wealth in the last twenty-five years have insensibly introduced a plague of worldiness, and self-indulgence, and love of ease into social life. What were once called luxuries are now comforts and necessaries, and self-denial and “enduring hardness” are consequently little known. It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy, and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness. Be the causes what they may, I must declare my own belief that the result remains. There has been of late years a lower standard of personal holiness among believers than there used to be in the days of our fathers. The whole result is that the Spirit is grieved! And the matter calls for much humiliation and searching of heart.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, as published in Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 117