Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of deals to start your day:

Look for this week’s eBook deals from Crossway shortly.

Three Things to Remember When You Read the Bible

Jonathan Parnell:

You can never just read the Bible.

There is something deep happening. It’s something more glorious than the universe. Whether you open these pages before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, whenever you read the Biblesomething miraculous is happening. After all, you are not just any ordinary person, and the Bible isn’t just any old book.

How Captain America should have ended

Ten characteristics of an aspiring pastor

Brian Croft:

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive.

So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important for pastoral ministry and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life.

The 6 Ingredients of Jesus’ Bitter Cup

Nick Batzig:

When we think of the cup that was placed before Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we tend to think of it merely in terms of the wrath of God–since that is what the cup most clearly symbolizes in the writings of the OT prophets. While we would never dare reduce it to something less than this, there is certainly more intended by the sight of the cross. When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God.

A Coming Familypocalypse

Joey Cochran:

My family is important to me; I love my wife and three children dearly. I believe we are better together than apart. This should be the attitude of every father, right? Absolutely! Dads should cherish and enjoy their families. They should long to be with them and feel pain when apart. They also should fight to keep families together through thick and thin.

This conviction should be a shared conviction with all humanity. As humans, we should cherish the idea of family. Otherwise, how would we perpetuate and propagate our race?

Yet, occasionally, I get this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I observe the culture around me, that these are not shared feelings.

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of freebies for you today:

  • CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (Amazon | iTunes)
  • Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure by Daniel Hochhalter (Amazon | iTunes)

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

Today you can get Knowing Christ: The I AM Sayings of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Spirit of Revival by R.C. Sproul and Archie Parrish (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

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

Wearing Christianity on Your Sleeve

Leon Brown:

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever’s image of what it looks like to “force my religion down his throat.” That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy

Samuel Jones:

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of frustration that came over me. Walking out of a movie is not a rewarding experience. As someone who loves the cinema (even when it is totally empty and in a decrepit remodeling state, as was the case last night), I enjoy the mere experience of entering a narrative, regardless of how poorly executed a narrative it might be. Leaving Guardians of the Galaxy was an admission of defeat on my end, not the movie’s. I left because of me. I just didn’t have whatever it took to enjoy the film.

Only Two Religions: A Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Be sure to attend this Google Hangout with Peter Jones on September 30th at 4 pm (EDT), where he will be discussing his new teaching series, Only Two Religions.

Domestic Violence and a Pastor’s Response

Donna Gibbs:

I am presently working a case in which the church is providing firm intervention, loving support, godly instruction, as well as a way out if necessary. I have great confidence in the outcome of this situation. I have another unfortunate case in which the pastor and leadership are abandoning a wife whose life will clearly be jeopardized if she doesn’t leave. They are abandoning her based on their belief that the husband is to have all authority and that she is not fulfilling the role of a scriptural, submissive wife in her efforts to take a stand against the abuse. These cases represent the wide dilemma of the church at large, and the dilemma of you in particular, as a pastor.

With that said, what should your role as a pastor be regarding cases of domestic violence in your church?

Called to Speak ‘Freakish’ Truth

Ben Stevens:

What do you do when your beliefs start sounding “freakish” to people around you? That’s the dilemma of 21st-century Christian rhetoric. Like Russell Moore, I don’t think the situation is going to get easier anytime soon, so we should be thinking hard about the fundamental posture we take when presenting our convictions to the outside world.

As far as I can see, those speaking up for Christianity in the public square today usually rely on one of three approaches. The three differ from each other dramatically, and everything we say is colored by the approach we choose. Let me introduce them briefly and tell you which one seems most appropriate given the nature of the moment and our message.

Can I Really Trust the Bible?

can-i-really-trust-bible-cooper

There are a lot of really great books out there on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Some of these tend to be on the academic side, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the formation of the canon and so on. Others are more devotional in nature, designed to edify and encourage believers as they seek to have confidence in this book which is so important.

These approaches are good and helpful, but many readers want something that’s a bit more direct and to the point. This is what Barry Cooper offers in Can I Really Trust the Bible?, the latest in The Good Book Company’s Questions Christians Ask series. Over the book’s five chapters, Cooper offers compelling answers to three key questions:

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The inescapable force of circular logic

These three questions absolutely essential to any serious study of the nature of the Bible. If the Bible does not claim to be, seem to be, or prove to be God’s word—if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny—then we must reject the notion of the Bible being God’s word. If it’s a duck, we cannot call it a swan. And so we are wise to consider what the Bible says about itself in order to verify its nature.

Which, of course, leads to that common critique many Christians face—the charge of circular reasoning. But, Cooper notes, “When you think about it, it’s impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of circularity in our arguments: we all appeal to authority of one kind or another, even when we don’t realise it.” He continues:

…if I say: “The Bible is my highest authority because it can be proved rationally”, the argument would be self-defeating. I’d be appealing to an authority other than the Bible (rationalism), implying that it (and not God’s word) was the real measure of trustworthiness.”

This level of candor is refreshing to read in any book on this subject, and very much needed. We don’t need to deny that, yes, we’re use circular logic—why? Because (as Cooper notes above) appealing to anything other than the Bible implicitly places authority over the Bible in something other than the Bible.

Authority and evidence

 

This doesn’t mean, though, that appeals to outside evidence are invalid. For example, one of the most common challenges to the Bible today is whether or not we can know for certain what it said in its original manuscripts. If we can’t have any certainty on this, we can’t have any real confidence that what is found in the Bible as we know it today is what was intended by its original authors. But the embarrassment of riches we have in the form of ancient manuscripts—some dating back to within just a few decades of the events described—are a wonderful example of how God’s people have faithfully maintained the message.

…although we no longer have access to the original biblical documents, all is not lost. The truly enormous number of surviving copies enables experts to reconstruct the original with great accuracy. This process of comparing copies is called textual criticism, and as a result, scholars are able to say: “For over 99% of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”

 

It’s appropriate to mention evidence like this, not as a gotcha, but to help illustrate the point: if early Christians didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, why would they have been so meticulous in making copies, so much so that the variations that exist affect no major doctrine of the faith (and most are limited to things like typos)? Evidence of this sort doesn’t prove the point, but it does lend additional credibility to the point the Bible itself makes.

Breaks no new ground, but refreshing nonetheless

Having said all that, readers should be aware that they’re unlikely to find anything they’ve not already read in any number of other books on this subject. The arguments are as solid as what you’ll find in Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, R.C. Sproul’s Can I Trust the Bible? or Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. And while Cooper may not break new ground, Can I Really Trust the Bible? is a refreshing and encouraging read that would be excellent to share with those looking to study this important topic.


Title: Can I Really Trust the Bible?
Author: Barry Cooper
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Only a couple of new ones that I’m aware of today, both by Mark Sayers: Facing Leviathan and The Road Trip that Changed the World ($4.99 each).

Blogs Gone Cold

Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill speak on the tendency for Christian blogs written by women to go cold.

Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?

Russell Moore:

This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

A novel Jared Wilson thinks every Christian should read

The final part of Justin Taylor’s excellent series. And speaking of Justin…

Justin Taylor (sorta) interviews Dane Ortlund

If I ever get to write a book for Crossway, I’m going to insist an interview like this is part of the deal:

A Long Line of Leaving Our Comfort Zone

Ben Connelly:

My three-year-old Charlotte woke up at 4am last night. When the babysitters had put her to bed, they hadn’t flipped on her “night-night light.” A train horn in the blackness startled her to tears. When I plugged in the tiny bulb, soft yellow light engulfed the room. The darkness was gone and she cuddled back to sleep. One of the most impacting facts I’ve ever learned is that physical light always goes into darkness; scientifically, darkness never comes to light. Darkness cannot overcome a candle; it must wait for the flame to flicker out. But when you flip a light switch, beams instantly fill the blackness. If we may spiritualize the image a bit, light goes into—and pushes back—darkness.

The spin of Patriarchy

This week’s episode of the Mortification of Spin is well worth listening to.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Bryan Liftin’s trilogy is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

“Any actor who says he wasn’t influenced by Bugs Bunny is a liar… or a hack.”

This is so good:

HT: Barnabas

Christ and Pop Culture’s Precarious Reality

Richard Clark provides an update on how you can help CaPC achieve an important goal: sustainability!

The Feminist Conundrum

Chris Martin:

I ask the same question I asked before to feminists, and really just everyone generally: we cool with this? Is this the sort of empowerment we’re cool with?

Are we cool with empowerment even at the cost of self-objectification?

I’m not comfortable with the female body being flaunted as a means of power, but if the female is OK with it, am I supposed to be?

Is it sexist of me to think women are demeaning themselves when they objectify themselves?

Is Marriage “Just a Piece of Paper”?

R.C. Sproul:

In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.

Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”

Does Titus 1:15 Mean Christians Can Watch South Park?

Mike Leake:

It’s Wednesday evening and fifteen Bible college students are huddled together in a single dorm room. In a couple of years these students will be sent out into the wild world of church ministry. Some will be pastors. Some will be youth pastors. Others music ministers. And some will end up selling insurance. But on this night they are shoulder-to-shoulder in this tiny room, fixated on the television screen.

South Park is on, and these guys are following their weekly tradition of catching a new episode and laughing along.

How can guys training for the ministry watch South Park together for entertainment?

Does ISIS Represent True Islam?

This is an important conversation.

What we get wrong about church discipline

medium_8311718600

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of stories come to light about evangelical churches practicing “shunning” as part of church discipline. This typically happens as part of the final stage of church discipline, when a congregation member persists in unrepentant sin is excommunicated—and then cut off socially, with friends (and sometimes family!) actively distancing themselves socially.

And herein lies the problem.

The key passages on church discipline

There are a few key passages of the New Testament that describe church discipline, the most famous being Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

The first deals with personal sin in general, while the second deals explicitly with sexual immorality (specifically, a church member who was having [a possibly incestuous, but regardless incredibly icky] adultery with his father’s wife).

There is a simple point here: habitual, unrepentant sin in all its forms should not associated with the people of God. Whether someone is a perpetual gossip, slanderer, malcontent, fornicator or adulterer, these things should not be known of among us, at least, not if we are to be people who are above reproach.

About the gentile and the tax collector…

But notice, something else, something very important that we see in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

What Jesus says here is what is so often missed in our approach to church discipline (or more correctly, in the approaches of certain mega-churches): we forget that we have an active role to play in the offender’s restoration. We are called to pursue them with the gospel.

Before going further, I want to be 100 per cent clear: I am absolutely for church discipline, provided the way we handle it is biblical.

So consider Jesus for a moment. During His earthly ministry, we find numerous occasions where Jesus commends the Gentile’s faith, rather than the Israelite’s. Among them, the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), and the official at Capernum (John 4:46-54). And among the tax collectors, we see no less than two breathtaking examples of repentance, including the apostle Matthew (9:9-13), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). In both instances, Jesus makes it very clear: His mission is to seek and save the lost. He does not pursue the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In other words, in church discipline we are to treat unrepentant offenders as though they are not believers. Which necessarily means we are called to share the gospel with them. 

Restorative and evangelistic1

And yet, it seems we’ve forgotten this. Instead of pursuing those who have been “handed over to Satan” with the gospel, we entirely ostracize them. We are right to not permit them to serve in the church, to bar them from taking communion and no longer recognize their profession of faith as genuine until proven otherwise. But, we may go further in our application of this than Scripture does in the way many churches cut off contact.

Again, to be clear: we must be absolutely committed to the purity of the Church. All who continually besmirch the name of Christ through their ongoing, unrepentant sin should be dealt with appropriately. But we still face a tension: without compromising the purity of the body, we need to consider how we pursue these people evangelistically.

Yes, they are to be cut off from fellowship, as Paul says—but we also need to show fearful mercy to someone continues in sin, even as we carefully protect the purity of the Church—we are called to both reprove and exhort. We tear down pride with the Word and build up in humility. This is what Jude stresses in the final verses of his epistle when he writes, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Thwarting the schemes of the devil

We are not alone in our goofing on this. It seems the Corinthians fell into the same trap. Prior to writing 2 Corinthians, word came to Paul that while the church had, largely, repented of their rebellion against Paul and apostolic teaching, they had not reconciled with the one who was responsible for the rebellion. And so, Paul encouraged them to forgive and be reconciled.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

“Reaffirm your love for him,” he wrote, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” There is nothing the devil loves more than to mar the name of the church. And when we handle discipline wrongly—when we fail to pursue those who persist in unrepentant sin with the gospel and welcome those who have turned away from their sin back—we are undone. The devil “wins”.

So yes, let’s practice church discipline, biblically. Let’s also make sure our practice includes the earnest pursuit of those in sin with the gospel, so that they might come to repentance and fellowship can be restored.

 

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Silver bullet ministry

Craig Schafer:

By all accounts I am a stereotypical, standard, plain vanilla, suburban church pastor. And that’s pretty much what the ministry is like at our church: there is absolutely nothing hip or cutting-edge about us. We’re not a funky inner-city church plant. We don’t meet in a disused theatre.

We’re not close to any major tourist attraction. We haven’t started several networked extension services. We’re just a normal, suburban church. It is true that people say two of our pastors look like movie stars—but they mean Ben Stiller and Jack Black, so I’m not sure that really helps us in the attractional ministry stakes. (Having said that, they’re both better pastors than I am, so it is very handy to have them around.)

All the same, I think it’s instructive to reflect on how gospel-centred DNA drives the ministry practice in stereotypical vanilla suburban churches like mine—and quite possibly like yours.

Listening When You Shouldn’t

Leon Brown:

If you notice someone is hurting, and that person begins to share the details of the situation, you may want to consider asking that individual to refrain from sharing specifics of the circumstances, which may include names, dates, location, etc. I know it may be difficult, but many times we have no business knowing all of the details. Do not let curiosity lead you down the wrong path. Do not let your desires to be sympathetic cause you to hear details you should not. You may end up getting involved in gossip, hearing false details, and making wrong conclusions. We need to be there for each during difficulties, but even then we must be cautious.

Jesus-Juking for the Gospel

Derek Rishmawy:

Still, I wonder about the modern-day “Christ” party among us. It’s pretty easy to spot that sort of thing on the progressive wing of things: people who boast about being anti-power, anti-empire, anti-celebrity, anti-Evangelical-entertainment-industrial complex, all the while getting “I am of Boyd” and “I am of Hauerwas” tattooed on their firstborns. (You Anabaptists know I still love you, right? Well, some of you at least.) Deeper still, though, are the theological approaches that tend to relativize formal teaching structures in the name of the some vague, ‘way of Jesus’–modern-day heirs of those that Luther and Calvin deemed the “enthusiasts” during the Reformation.

The Death of Adulthood

Matthew Lee Anderson:

We’ve reached the end of adulthood in America according to AO Scott. Or at least of the patriarchal version of it, anyway, which Scott sees in three paradigmatic dramas of our era—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, whose protagonists and their downfalls allow us to “marvel at the mask of masculine incompetence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly.”  On Scott’s reading, “in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grownups.”  It’s a provocative, sweeping hypothesis of the sort that are useful for engendering conversations, even if it doesn’t stand up under analysis.

And it may not.

Are You Leeching the Local Church?

Ryan Shelton:

When I was a teen, I bought into the very fashionable assumption that the local church would only cramp my style and put a barrier to “authentic spirituality.” I stopped attending for a while until I got wind of a hip, cool church across town that was full of attractive, young, relevant people. The music was great, the preaching was edgy, and the atmosphere was exciting.

For months, I drove all the way across town, nearly an hour each way, to attend services at the church that “got it.” It was a booming place, with six fully packed services each weekend. And if I arrived late, I was turned away because the fire department was keeping a close eye on the safety capacity.

It all ended for me one week, when the pastor said something that disturbed me.

When the fear of God is dictator in the heart

cease

“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man. A reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the creature’s slavish fear, as the rain puts out the fire. To sanctify the Lord of hosts is to acknowledge the glory of His sovereign power, wisdom, and faithfulness. It includes not only a verbal confession, but internal acts of trust, confidence, and entire dependence upon Him. These are our choicest respects towards God, and give Him the greatest glory. Moreover, they are the most beneficial and comfortable acts we perform for our own peace and safety in times of danger. If we look to God in the day of trouble, fear Him as the Lord of hosts (i.e., the One who governs all creatures and commands all the armies of heaven and earth), and rely upon His care and love as a child depends upon his father’s protection, then we will know rest and peace. Who would be afraid to pass through the midst of armed troops and regiments, if he knew that the general was his own father? The more this filial fear has power over our hearts, the less we will dread the creature’s power. When the dictator ruled at Rom, then all other officers ceased. Likewise, when the fear of God is dictator in the heart, all other fears will (in great measure) cease.

John Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (5-6)

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And although it’s not on sale, you’d do well to pre-order David Murray’s upcoming book, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World.

It’s Personal. Don’t You Ever Forget it.

Erik Raymond:

When you consider this love, think also of the fact that no one truly knows what was required like Christ. Therefore, he loves most and best of all. How so? Well, no one knows the depths of God’s holiness and righteousness like Christ. He knows what is required. He knows this by virtue of his divine omniscience but also his human experience. He, after all, is the one to say, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (Jn. 17.4) In other words, “I have magnified your name Father; I have considered your holiness and not wavered a moment. Everything I have done is perfectly adorning of your holiness.”

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

Today you can get Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation by Anthony Carter (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Believing God teaching series by R.C. Sproul Jr (DVD)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God (ePub)

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

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On The Church

Barnabas Piper:

Many people like me, who grew up immersed in church, have given up on it. Church is archaic, domineering, impersonal, hypocritical, irrelevant, contentious, petty, boring, and stale. It’s institutional instead of authentic and religious but not relational they say. I have seen all this in church and can agree that each accusation is true in instances. A PK sees all this up close and far too personally and feels each fault even more intensely. It really is enough to make one want to bail on church.

And I had my chance. Despite growing up steeped in sound Bible teaching and a loving context, I grew up empty in my soul. I believed but didn’t fully believe. I obeyed but kept parts of my life for myself, bits of dishonesty and secrecy. I knew Jesus and knew He was the only way to be saved from my sin, but I didn’t give my life to Him. In the end it blew up in my face and I was faced with the decision: stay in church and work through my mess or leave and be free. I stayed.

A bad reason to review a book

Nate is bang on.

When You’re Truly Broken Over Sin

Vermon Pierre:

Repentance is hard because pridefulness is easy. We don’t want to admit when we have sinned, and thus we have trouble truly confessing and then repenting of sin. How often have the words Yes, but . . . entered your thoughts when you have been confronted over sin?

Sin, however, cannot be dealt with in any other way but head on, without any self-justifying excuses. We need to address it directly, with full honesty and little reservation, if we are to truly kill it.

The Company We Keep

COMPANY-COLOR-BIG-300

“…What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films—these things matter.” With this one sentence, Rob, the grumpy, and broke protagonist of the Nick Hornby novel (and, later, John Cusack film), High Fidelity, perfectly captures the shallowness of our world’s understanding of friendship, a problem exacerbated by Facebook and other forms of social media. We are “friends” with people we don’t know, telling them details about our lives they have no business knowing… simply because we like some of the same stuff.

We know of people, but we don’t really know one another.

But friendship is meant to be something more than this. Books, records, films might start a conversation, but they can’t sustain a relationship. Nor is awareness the same as a relationship. We need something deeper, something richer. Something that will hold against more than the gentlest of life’s storms. Jonathan Holmes wants to help us in his new book, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship.

Why we prefer emaciated friendships over the real thing

“Deep and meaningful friendships don’t come easily—even within the church, and sometimes especially within the church,” Holmes writes. “[We] can find the challenges of biblical friendship perplexing, frustrating, and discouraging.”

Forging friendships has never been terribly easy for me. I am reasonably social (despite my introverted tendencies), but I have few people I would consider friends, and even fewer are close ones. While there are many reasons for this, it most significantly comes down to one thing: real friendship is hard. 

“Deep and meaningful friendships don’t come easily—even within the church, and sometimes especially within the church,” Holmes writes. “[We] can find the challenges of biblical friendship perplexing, frustrating, and discouraging.”

This is why, honestly, our currently emaciated form of friendship is so easy—it requires so little of us and those with whom we claim to be friends. But true friendship is costly. It requires us to give of ourselves, to be vulnerable, to—gasp!—actually trust people to know us.

And yet, our acceptance of the form over the substance runs completely contrary to how God has made us—we are inherently relational beings, meant to be known by others. And as believers, we are “bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ,” making the primary purpose of our friendships “to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father.” This, Holmes writes, “is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for.”

You’re squirming now, aren’t you?

Why constancy, candor, carefulness and counsel really matters in biblical friendship

So what does this kind of friendship look like? Drawing from the wisdom of Proverbs (and a little help from Tim Keller), Holmes describes four marks of biblical friendship—constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel. “All of these marks…empowered by the Holy Spirit, help separate and distinguish biblical friendship from a crowd of counterfeits.”

What’s particularly helpful about Holmes’ description of these four aspects of friendship is how they all work together. A true, biblical friend is not merely candid or constant, careful or offering wise counsel. He or she is all of these things (albeit imperfectly).

This is where the rubber meets the road with friendship. “A biblical friend is willing to wound us, and those wounds are actually for our good,” Holmes writes. “Silence in the face of a brother or sister’s folly is no act of love, but the wounds of correction are, however uncomfortable it may be to inflict them.”

Do you have friends like this? Are you a friend like this?

The first time I knew I had friends like this was when we first considered leaving the only other church we attended. I had a lot of conversations with two men (both of whom still attend that church) about what I was seeing and the thinking behind leaving. They gave me some fairly significant pushback, not because they believed that church was the best place for me, but because they wanted to make sure I was making a wise decision. Would I have greater opportunities to use my gifts? Would our family be able to serve more effectively? I’ve experienced this a few other times since with a few men at our current church when important decisions have come up—selling our house a few years ago being chief among them.

Yes, it’s hard to develop these relationships. Yes, it’s uncomfortable being challenged on your thinking. But those are the sort of “wounds” we should welcome.

A taste of something greater

While The Company We Keep is extraordinarily helpful, I finished the book feeling unsatisfied. Consider it this way: imagine you’re given a tiny morsel of a perfectly seasoned, finely cooked steak. As you put it in your mouth, you relish the flavor… and then it’s over. There was only enough for a taste.

This book has a similar effect. Holmes gives readers just enough to get a taste of something greater, a type of friendship that “gives us a way of experiencing and living out the fundamental drama of all creation.” This is far more powerful than the form of friendship we accept in our culture and in the church at large. And I trust it’s the kind of friendship that, after reading this book, you will want to pursue.


Title: The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship
Author: Jonathan Holmes
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Cruciform Press

Don’t confuse sin with negative thinking

think too highly

[A] misunderstanding of sin is to say that it’s just a matter of negative thinking.… Get rid of your old wineskins! Think bigger! God wants to show you his incredible favor, if you’ll just get rid of all those negative mind-sets that hold you back!

Now that’s a compelling message to self-reliant people who want to believe they can take care of their sin all by themselves. That’s probably why men who proclaim that message have managed to build some of the largest churches in the world. The formula is pretty easy, really. Just tell people that their sin is no deeper than negative thinking and that it’s holding them back from health, wealth, and happiness. Then tell them that if they’ll just think more positively about themselves (with God’s help, of course), they’ll be rid of their sin and get rich, to boot. Bingo! Instant megachurch!

Sometimes the promised goal is money, sometimes health, sometimes something else entirely. But however you spin it, to say that Jesus Christ died to save us from negative thoughts about ourselves is reprehensibly unbiblical. In fact, the Bible teaches that a big part of our problem is that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly. Stop and think about it for a moment. How did the Serpent tempt Adam and Eve? He told them they were thinking too negatively about themselves. He told them they needed to think more positively, to extend their grasp, to reach toward their full potential, to be like God! In a word, he told them to think bigger.

Now how’d that work out for them?

Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 53

Links I like

Leaders Must Have Conviction and Courage

Erik Raymond:

Leaders must lead with conviction and courage, speaking clearly about what they are going to do. This is true at any level, whether leading two people or two million, because there will always be opposition and a need to make a decision. At the end of the day the leader must lead.

Get The Expository Genius of John Calvin in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson (ePub), for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Crucial Questions bundle by R.C. Sproul (paperback)
  • Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation (paperback)
  • Developing Christian Character teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)

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

The Drama of Preaching

Murray Campbell:

We need to understand what is driving some peoples’ preference for dialogue. Dialogue is code for a theological concept: divine conversation. Divine conversation says God has not spoken authoritatively, sufficiently, and finally in his Word. Rather, God invites us to converse with him and each other. Thus, God speaks in the Bible, but he speaks in many other ways and places, and the meaning of any given text is not fixed but dependent upon the community of believers who interpret it.

This Too Is The Day the Lord Has Made

Derek Rishmawy:

Thirteen years ago 19 men hijacked a few airplanes a blew a hole in the psyche of the Western world. We may not think of it this way, but in a sense, they claimed the day. For 13 years we have marked this day as the day we were attacked. It is a day when loved ones were taken from us. It is a day when a dark design was executed to great destruction and a historic, culture-shaping aftermath. It is a day, much like December 7th, that will live in infamy.

It’s also a day that still inspires fear. Many of us around the nation grow anxious at its approach. We wonder whether other men will choose to mark the occasion with similar violence, or an even worse attack that will eclipse the original. We avoid public places, possibly keeping our children at home, or simply go about our daily business with dark thoughts and breathe sighs of relief when the tense day closes.

How to Prepare Leaders of Integrity for Public Influence

Michael Lindsay and Mark Mellinger discuss:

Timing Isn’t Everything

Brian Tabb:

We focus a great deal of attention on the clock and the calendar, from the time our alarm clocks go off —When is the report due? When are we meeting the Smiths for dinner?

We are easily frustrated by delays, when our appointment is late, when the kids are slow to get ready. We see this focus on timing and frustration with delays in our spiritual lives as well, as we wait for God to answer prayers and wait for Jesus to return.

Jesus Did More to Save Us than Die

Gavin Ortlund:

How do we maintain the centrality of the cross without displacing the empty tomb, the manger story, the final trumpet call? To what extend is our gospel Good Friday, and to what extent is it also Easter and Christmas? On the one hand, we don’t want to focus on Christ’s crucifixion so much that we simply have nothing to say about his temptation or his transfiguration, his representation or his return. On the other hand, we don’t want to so flatten out the narrative so much that Christ’s crucifixion loses its central, dramatic significance.

What does accountability look like for Christian bloggers?

word-balloons

One of the great dangers of the Internet is also one of its great strengths: the ability to communicate to a (potentially) large group of people with few (if any) barriers. While much good can come from this, it also represents a great risk to those who write if we don’t have any sort of accountability.

As Christians, we understand that we don’t live our lives in isolation. We live in mutual submission to one another. So, what does this look like for Christian bloggers—or at least, this one? Here are three forms of accountability I have in place:

1. The elders of our church. I believe one of the most dangerous places for a Christian to be is outside of the authority of their local church (insomuch as they are modelling Christlikeness in exercising it). So, when we joined our church, one of the first requests I made of our elders was for them to have oversight over this blog.

This doesn’t mean they spend all their time reading this blog since they have much more important things to do. But it does mean they’re aware of what’s going on. So, if they see something they’re concerned about in a post, they can ask me to clarify or remove it, depending on the degree of concern. If they are see an unhealthy pattern in my writing (for example, unnecessarily chasing controversy or using words sinfully), they can ask me to either take a hiatus or stop altogether. And to date, I can count the number of times I’ve had a concern raised on one hand.

2. My wife. Emily actually reads or hears almost every post I write. She’s a good gauge for whether or not the content is actually helpful, and because she is slightly more in touch with people’s feelings, she can give me a better sense of a reader’s response. The number of times she’s asked me to rewrite something or not publish cannot be counted; the number is far too great.

3. Trusted fellow bloggers. There are a few fellow bloggers I seek out feedback from on a semi-regular basis, particularly when writing on a sensitive subject. If, for example, I’m writing a critical review (such as this one), or addressing a controversial topic or person, a number of people will almost certainly have read the post before it ever gets published. This group of writers has given me a great deal of sharpening critique, pushed me to drop certain arguments or add new ones, and, every so often, let me know when something’s not worth writing about at all.

That, in a nutshell is what accountability looks like for me. Mind blowing? Probably not. Helpful? You bet.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Profiles of Reformed Spirituality series is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

Why Peter’s Idiocy Is So Helpful

Jeff Medders:

But here’s what I love about Peter, he always came back around. He never let shame rest on him. He always turned, repented, rethought his thoughts, and came back to following Jesus. What patience Jesus has for his sheep!

How to pray for and support persecuted Christians

Good thoughts here from Dave Jenkins.

I Want A “Do-Over”

Tullian Tchividjian:

In many ways, all of our striving under this performance idol is a grown-up re-creation of the adolescent playground cry: “I want a do-over!” Have you ever heard that? Watch children playing a game at a park like football or basketball. Maybe somebody messed up the opening kick. Maybe they weren’t sure the ball stayed in bounds or not. So somebody proclaims, “Do-over!” And they start over. They have to get it right. They want the bad play erased and replaced by the good play.

We’re still doing this into our adult years, trying to manage our lives in some bizarre system of spiritual checks and balances, trying to outweigh our bad plays with our “do-overs.”

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

Jared Totten:

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

Loyal To My Faults

Aaron Earls:

Often times, I will stick with something or someone long after they have proven they should not longer have my loyalty. The pain of giving up and changing is harder for me than dealing with the disappointment that comes from being loyal when you shouldn’t.

Maybe I fit the phrase “loyal to a fault,” but I know that I, along with many others, absolutely fit the phrase “loyal to my faults.”

Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry

I don’t know hardly anything about football, but this article from Kevin DeYoung is still helpful.