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?

Links I like

How it’s all going to end

Sam Storms (it’s an oldie, but a goodie):

This work of the Spirit in restraining human sin is called “grace” because no one deserves it. That God inhibits their sin is an expression of mercy to those who deserve judgment. It is called “common” because it is universal. Both saved and unsaved, regenerate and unregenerate, are the recipients of this divine favor. It is not restricted to any one group of people and it does not necessarily lead to salvation.

When the Bible Is Hard to Understand

John Knight:

Like most of you, I’m just a guy in the pews. I have no formal theological education. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew. I have a full life with my family, my job, my church, and several other activities scattered within. But I wasn’t content to end with whatever I “thought” the passage meant. I wanted to understand what God meant by these hard texts and therefore, I pulled out study Bibles and commentaries and looked over sermons preached by my pastor and other trusted expositors.

Why you should never self-diagnose using the Internet

HT: 22 words (via Z)

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Greg Thornbury:

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you’re thinking, I’m with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.

4 Reasons I Still Prefer Books Over eBooks and A Note to Blogger Review Programs

Mike Leake:

Using my Kindle on my iPad is growing on me, I must confess. I’m reading more and more books that way. But I’m finding that these are mostly books that I read for sheer entertainment value. If I really want to chew on a book then reading it in electronic format is pretty much useless.

Today I am sharing four reasons why I still prefer actual hold-in-my-hand-and- smell-the-pages books over their computerized version. I also will add a note to publishers and blogger review programs.

Links I like

If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel

Paul Rezkalla:

“All roads lead to the same destination.”

While I can understand the sentiment of inclusivity, this idea pictures an evil God. Religious pluralists often reject exclusivist positions for positing a cruel God who only made one way to reach him. But if all religions are true, then God is cruel. And not just cruel—God is an incompetent, cosmic child-abuser. If religious pluralism is true, then God is the father in the second scenario. He saw the train coming, yet he decided to pull the first lever and kill his son, rather than pull the second lever.

I Lost My Dad in a Plane Crash, Too

Grant Castleberry:

Perhaps one of the most difficult things the grievers face is the lack of a body. An airplane crash makes it even more dramatic, too, since the loved one is seen by friends and family one moment only to take off on a plane the next and never be seen again. A body provides closure. A vast ocean with fathomless depths fills the mind with ungraspable questions. Did my loved one suffer? Was it traumatic? Did they have time for any last thoughts? Did they survive the crash only to die in the open ocean? Is their body sitting in the plane at the bottom of the ocean? Or is it floating on the surface? Then there are the deeper questions. Why did this happen to them? What if they’d taken an earlier or later flight? If only. The “what if” scenarios can play out in your mind forever.

Books at a Glance

This looks like a pretty neat new service, spearheaded by Fred Zaspel.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Yesterday I shared a bunch of great Kindle deals. Here are a few more:

I Want To Be The Biblical Version of Joel Osteen

Stephen Altrogge:

Because life is so hard and exhausting, every day is a battle. Every day I must fight to believe in the goodness and kindess of God. Everyday I must fight to believe that God is working all things for my good and his glory. Every day I must fight to believe that I serve a God who turns mourning into dancing. What I, and everyone else, desperately need every day, is encouragement. I need fresh hope, fresh faith, fresh strength.

There are enough critics, watch bloggers, angry prophets, protesters, and trolls in the church and in the world. We need more encouragers. We need more people like Barnabas.

Westminster book sale

Westminster Bookstore has a number of terrific books on sale to help Christians

A Common Grace Defense of Disgust

Joe Carter:

Unfortunately, Christians have helped contribute to this callous disregard by undermining the role of disgust in helping to recognize and restrain sinful behavior. While we should never be disgusted by people there a broad range of human behaviors that we should find inherently disgusting. Yet while disgust was once considered a guide (albeit a fallible one) to God’s natural law, we now chastise Christians for even implying that any sinful behavior can be disgusting.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Kindle3_1

Every week there are tons of great eBook deals. Here are some of the latest:

Under $2

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

The Bible’s Promises for Life—99¢

The Bible’s Promises for Women—99¢

The Essential Works of E.M. Bounds—99¢

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by JD Greear—$1.79

Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message by Ravi Zacharias—$1.79

What Every Christian Ought to Know: Solid Grounding for a Growing Faith by Adrian Rogers—$1.79

The King James Version Debate by D.A. Carson—$1.99

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper—$1.99

Contentment by Lydia Brownback—$1.99

Otherworld: A Novel by Jared C. Wilson—$1.99

Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything by Adrian Warnock—$1.99

Under $4

Selected works of A.W. Tozer:

The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense out of Life by Justin Buzzard—$2.99

Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace—$2.89

Introducing Covenant Theology by Michael Horton—$2.99

The Life of A.W. Tozer by James Snyder—$2.99

3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare by Clinton E. Arnold—$2.69

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller—$2.99

Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ by Robert Peterson—$2.99

Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching by Walter Kaiser—$3.44

True Friendship by Vaughn Roberts—$3.59

The Kingdom of the Occult by Walter Martin—$3.59

Original Jesus: What he really did and why it really matters by Carl Laferton—$2.69

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Thoughts On Following Jesus, Amish Romance, the Daniel Plan, the Tebow Effect, and the Odds of Finding Your Soul Mate by Stephen Altrogge—$2.99

Supernatural Living for Natural People by Ray Ortlund—$3.99 (general rule of thumb: when there’s a deal on a Ray Ortlund book, take advantage of it)

The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre—$3.99

He Gave Us a Valley by Hellen Roseveare—$3.99

Under $6

Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J.I. Packer—$4.84

Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian—$5.99

“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.