I’m giving away a personal library!

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and this week, I have the privilege of giving away a ridiculous pile of books and resources in partnership with my friends at Crossway, B&H Publishing, P&R Publishing, Logos Bible Software and Moody Publishers!

Here’s what you can win so far:

  1. Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (added 8/19)
  2. A Reasonable Response by William Lane Craig (added 8/19)
  3. Life on Mission by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe (added 8/19)
  4. Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers (added 8/19)
  5. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
  6. The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper
  7. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
  8. Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up by Ian and Larissa Murphy
  9. The HCSB Study Bible
  10. Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler
  11. Beat God to the Punch by Eric Mason
  12. Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t) by Douglas Bond
  13. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine
  14. Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney
  15. The 11-volume 9Marks series for Logos Bible Software, which includes:
    • Am I Really a Christian? by Mike McKinley
    • Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence
    • The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman
    • Church Planting Is for Wimps by Mike McKinley
    • Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
    • The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever
    • It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence
    • What Does God Want of Us Anyway?: A Quick Overview of the Whole Book by Mark Dever
    • What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
    • What Is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever
    • What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

And don’t be surprised if you see a few extra titles added before this giveaway is done.

Enter using the handy-dandy Punchtab tool below (RSS readers, you’ll need to click through to enter).

The contest closes on August 22nd at midnight. Enjoy!

Links I like

Confessing Our Sins Together

Ryan Griffith:

I’m sure that most of us agree with Bonhoeffer that the confession of sin, grounded in the gospel, is a vital component of our personal spirituality. But we get a little uncomfortable when it comes to corporate dimensions of confession. It’s not too threatening to engage in silent confession when the liturgy calls us to do so in the weekend service, but when it comes to times of confession in small-group settings, we often settle for less-indicting statements like “I’m struggling with . . .” Even then, we have the gnawing sense that our vague, toothless non-confessions aren’t fulfilling the exhortation of James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In case you missed these late additions to yesterday’s list, here are a few really great Kindle deals:

How to Be Content But Not Complacent

Hugh Whelchel and Anne Rathbone Bradley:

In a recent sermon I heard about money, the pastor tell his congregation, “You need to learn to be content.” But this command can actually encourage complacency instead of true biblical contentment.

Being content usually means you should be satisfied with your current situation. It is often supported by quotes from Scripture, like Philippians 4:11-13.

Does Paul mean you should not try to improve your current situation, find a better job, earn more money, or further your education? Are we supposed to passively sit back and watch life go by? What about our call to be “salt and light of the earth”?

So how can we be content without becoming complacent and lazy?

Crossway hosting “Women of the Word” month in July

During the busy summer month of July, Crossway wants to help you get in the Word and stay in the Word! Join us for Women of the Word Month, a 31-day campaign to encourage and equip you for Bible study aimed at both your head and your heart. Sign up today to receive helpful content sent directly to your email inbox, including:

1. A DAILY DEVOTIONAL guiding you through the story of the Old Testament, including suggestions for reflection and prayer

2. PRACTICAL ARTICLES written by some of your favorite authors to encourage and equip you for personal or small group Bible study

3. VIDEO INTERVIEWS with well-known Christian women related to the life-changing power of God’s Word Includes contributions from Jen Wilkin, Kathy Keller, Kristyn Getty, Nancy Guthrie, Gloria Furman, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and more!

For more information or to sign up, go to Crossway.org/women.

“They’re back”

David Murray shares a disheartening health update. Please keep him in your prayers, friends.

Holy Relics: A Church Softball League Softball

Martyn Wendell Jones:

The sun hangs low and orange in the sky and casts long shadows off trees, telephone poles, and the associate pastor, whose severe lean toward home plate has locked his sweat-dampened butt in place six inches above his fold-up canvas chair. “Come on, Josephus,” he says, hands on knees, “let them have it!” He falls back into his seat like a keeling ship and jabs his hand into the sledge of an adjacent cooler. Sweat glitters on his scalp under thin hair formed into diaphanous spikes.

The “Josephus” in question is actually Joe Schmale, Pastor of Adult Ministries at Cable Road Church of the Nazarene, and he is presently narrowing his eyes at the figure about to lob a ball at him. He wears a skintight batting glove on one hand and has brought his own bat from home, where he has six bats. He wears a brace on one knee.

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

delighting-law

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me’” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

Evangelism by J Mack Stiles

Our church has always been very clear on stressing the need for evangelism. Whenever our local missions pastor preaches, it almost always turns into a sermon on evangelism (especially when he’s trying not to). We have a local missions team that goes out every week to open-air preach and interact with individuals on the streets of our city, sharing the gospel at every opportunity.

But then, about a year ago, we did something really bold: we took all of our small groups through a personal evangelism workshop. And the response?

*crickets•

I was a small group leader at the time, taking my group through the course. It was really challenging material, but presented in a way that took a lot of the fear out of evangelism. But despite its initial “failure,” the impetus behind offering this training is a good one—a desire to create a healthy culture of evangelism, one where it’s seen as a normal part of the Christian life.

I have a hunch Mack Stiles would stand up and cheer if he knew this was something our church attempted (and continues to nurture). Why? Because that’s exactly what his latest book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, is all about.

Evangelism: it’s not about the results

If there’s one thing Stiles wants you to understand, it’s this: evangelism is not about programs or events. It’s not a technique or a specific kind of response. Many of our problems creating a healthy culture of evangelism stem from a lack of a biblical foundation. We count declarations of faith, hands raised, cards put in a bag, people walking down aisles… but do these things really mean anything? Maybe, but maybe not.

Regardless, if we’re going to see a culture of evangelism take root, “we must be very careful to conform our evangelistic practices to the Bible, because this honors God,” he writes (24).

And so, he begins by defining his terms—specifically, what evangelism means.

“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade,” Stiles writes. “This definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal” (26-27).

…the definition does not require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is.

Those four elements in Stiles’ definition are key: teach, gospel, aim, persuade. Without those, you don’t really have evangelism. Our goal in evangelism is to communicate the gospel with the purpose of persuading our hearers that it is true. That doesn’t mean browbeating or extorting a profession of faith out of them. It just means speaking with conviction about the truth of the gospel.

This, I think, is one of the places we all get tripped up. We tend to speak almost apologetically about the gospel, or we wring our hands, break out into a sweat, and worry about saying the wrong thing. But this is also where it’s helpful to remember something crucial: “conversion is required, but conversion is a function of genuine faith, which is given by the Spirit” (37). In other words, you’re not responsible for the result. You’re only called to be faithful and speak.

What a culture of evangelism looks like

So what does a healthy culture of evangelism look like? Stiles is pretty honest that it’s impossible to instruct people on everything that goes into it, but he can describe the yearnings that surround it. He breaks these down into 11 points:

  1. A culture motivated by love for Jesus and His gospel
  2. A culture that is confident in the gospel
  3. A culture that understands the danger of entertainment
  4. A culture that sees people clearly
  5. A culture that pulls together as one
  6. A culture in which people teach one another
  7. A culture that models evangelism
  8. A culture in which people who are sharing their faith are celebrated
  9. A culture that knows how to affirm and celebrate new life
  10. A culture doing ministry that feels risky and is dangerous
  11. A culture that understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism

There’s so much that could be said about each of these, but notice how they all work together. You can’t have a culture of evangelism without any of these points. If the people attending week in and week out aren’t passionate about sharing their faith, then no amount of encouragement from the pulpit is going to change that. It’s something that builds from within the body, and something that needs to be celebrated.

Simple, but not.

Create and cultivate the culture you want to see

Creating a culture of evangelism isn’t a one-and-done thing. You can’t preach a series on evangelism or offer an occasional course, pat yourself on the back and say, “nailed it.” You have to be intentional about creating and cultivating the culture you want to see, but there’s only so much control any church leader really has.

Why? Because “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”

In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church.… The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism. (65-66)

Do you feel the tension there? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to force the change from the top or programmatize evangelism. But it doesn’t work that way. A church only becomes more evangelistic as its members become more evangelistic. And this is big, scary stuff. Church leaders can and should model it, but the members have to own it.

Thankfully, it’s a vision that I believe every faithful Christian can own. We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism. It’s what I want to see in my own life and in the lives of all the members of my church. How about you?


Title: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus
Author: J. Mack Stiles
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

The Storytelling God by Jared C. Wilson

Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s still remember the intensity of Zack’s confronting Jessie about her popping caffeine pills,1 or the time he got drunk at a party and totalled his dad’s car. The “very special episode” of our favorite sitcoms always served to drive home a moral lesson that would have made most later Star Trek writers cringe.

Strangely, this is what we seem to do with the parables of Jesus:

  • We look at the parable of the good Samaritan and we see a moral impetus to love our neighbors…
  • We read the parable of the foolish builder and are told to always be sure to “count the cost” of our choices…
  • We hear the parable of the wise and foolish stewards and are reminded to use our gifts wisely…

…but if this is all we’re getting out of Jesus’ parables, we may need to look a little harder.

“When these oft-repeated stories from Jesus strike us as sweet, heartwarming, or inspiring in the sentimental sense rather than the Spiritual sense, we can be sure we’ve misread them,” Jared Wilson writes in his latest, The Storytelling God:

A generation of churchgoers grew up hearing the parables taught more along the lines of moralistic fables—illustrations of how to do the right things God would have us do. And they are that. But they are more than that. Some of these narratives are only a few lines long, but every parable, long or short, is fathoms deep and designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship. When we treat them as “inspiring tales,” we make superficially insipid what ought to be Spiritually incisive.

Wilson’s point throughout this book is simple: the parables are not the “very special episodes” of Jesus’ teaching ministry—instead, they are tales designed see the glory of Jesus.

Defining parables beyond morality

Our difficulty, though, begins as one of definitions—what is a parable, exactly? In a nutshell, Wilson suggests that rather than simply seeing as short stories or sketches, we should understand Jesus’ parables as “wisdom scenes,” illustrations running alongside their points and meant to “reveal them in rather immediate ways.”

Viewing the parables in this way allows us to embrace the multi-faceted approach Jesus often took in telling them, while at the same time forcing us to let go of our tendency to moralize them (or even relegate them to mere illustrations). Ultimately, this view drives home the purpose of the parables, which is to give us glimpses into what the kingdom of God (and God’s reign) looks like. And what that looks like is, for many, something wholly offensive.

Coming to the end of ourselves in Jesus’ parables

The most offensive aspect of Jesus’ parables is that, again and again, they point to Himself as the point of the story. He doesn’t simply tell the story of the Good Samaritan for us to “go and do likewise” (although this is certainly a necessary application), but to reveal to us how He is the true Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of His enemies at the cost of His own life. He tells us the parable of the prodigal son so that we might recognize the Father in the father, whose extravagant (or seemingly reckless) generosity in restoring His sons cannot be matched. He tells us of the man who sold all he had to purchase a field where he’d found a treasure because He is the treasure worth sacrificing all for.

In fact, as Wilson convincingly argues, Jesus Himself can be seen as a living parable—

He is a living parable because he is the inscrutable, eternal, ineffable God become a man, dwelling among men, tempted like men, sacrificed for men. As the parables contain the Spiritual power of awakening or deadening within stories of the human experience, Christ is the Spirit-conceived power of God undergoing the human experience.

Read that again. It makes sense, doesn’t it? At a minimum, it certainly fits with the tenor of Scripture, feeling right at home with the constant call to turn away from ourselves. It attacks our tendency (or desire) to view these stories as being about us and what we do, reorienting us to their true purpose—not to provide a moral imperative (although one can easily see those in the parables), but to point us to the Storyteller.

“Blessed are those who hear him and believe,” Wilson writes. “Condemned are those who are offended by him and disbelieve.”

No more “very special episodes” needed

If The Storytelling God succeeds at anything, it’s putting to death the parables as “very special episodes” mindset. And this is exactly what we all need to get out of our heads. We can do more all we want, trying to earn our way into the Father’s good books—but it’s not going to earn us the brownie points we’re hoping to get. What Jesus offers us in the parables is so much more valuable than “do more betterer”—He offers us the better He’s done for us in His life, death and resurrection.

He is the treasure we seek. He is the pearl of great price. He is the Shepherd who searches for His sheep and brings them home. Why would we want to settle for anything else?


Title: The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Links I like

What’s Wrong With Buying Your Way Onto the Bestseller List?

Jared Wilson gives five reasons:

  1. It’s dishonest.
  2. It’s egocentric and lazy.
  3. It may eventually harm your reputation and will bug you in the long run.
  4. It’s poor stewardship and bad strategy.
  5. It disadvantages those actually gifted.

Young, Restless, and Reformed Homeboys on Lenten Fasting

Keith Miller:

Here’s the thing. Evangelicalism has been around for centuries and its practice is strongly rooted in the past. In the churches I’ve attended over the past decade (sometimes called Young, Restless, and Reformed), most worship songs are rearrangements of lyrics penned by eighteenth-century figures Isaac Watts, Augustus Toplady, and Charles Wesley. And what’s true of the songs is true of the theology, long-dead folks like John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon are revered, a phenomenon summed-up by the famousJonathan Edwards is my Homeboy t-shirt on the cover for Colin Hansen’s article describing this movement. In their sermons and theological treatises, these YRR Homeboys said quite a lot about keeping the season of Lent. Here’s a sampling of takes from the sixteenth (John Calvin), seventeenth (John Owen), eighteenth (Jonathan Edwards), nineteenth (Charles Spurgeon), and twentieth centuries (Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s been a big one for Kindle deals—in addition to Monday and Tuesday‘s lists:

B&H’s Perspectives series is on sale for $3.99 each: 

Taking God at His Word pre-order special

Crossway’s put together a great pre-order special for Impact members on Kevin DeYoung’s upcoming book:

Be one of the first 250 people to pre-order a printed copy of Taking God At His Word via Crossway Impact and we’ll also send you:

  • Taking God At His Word t-shirt (one per order)
  • a copy of the Taking God At His Word e-book
  • the official Taking God At His Word printed study guide (one per book)

A Question I Don’t Ask Myself: Am I Successful? 

Mark Altrogge:

Success is elusive, unpredictable and difficult to measure. We can have seasons of blessing followed by seasons of affliction. A business can boom one day then crumble the next. Some churches explode with phenomenal growth while others plod along, happy to see one visitor a month, if that. We can be “successful” and a “failure” at the same time, e.g. we may be making a huge salary at work, yet struggling in our marriage.

Sometimes we do all we know to do to “succeed” with little or no results. Parents can share the gospel with their children, love, train and discipline them, and try to cultivate a relationship with them, yet sometimes those children reject their parents and all they tried to implant in them. Sometimes we can pray about something for years and see little outward results. Does this mean we have been unsuccessful?

5 Questions To Ask Before You Join The Ministry

Jeff Medders:

Do you like to teach the Bible? Do you enjoy serving others? Do you have a knack helping the hurting? Have you thought about being a pastor? Maybe you never thought you could be a children’s minster at a church, but maybe Jesus is calling you into something that you never dreamed would be for you—or maybe you were born in a baptistery, your first words were sola scriptura, and you day dream about being a preacher.

We are all ministers (1 Peter 2:9). But not all of us are called into vocational ministry. Wherever you are on the “call to ministry” spectrum, here are five questions you need to answer.

A quick look at some new books

Every so often, I get a really nice present in the mail—books! Here’s a look at a few that have shown up over the last few days:

In case you can’t make them all out, they are:

I’ve only had a chance to start digging into one of these books (United), there are a number I’m excited about reading, particularly Truth Matters and Everyone’s A Theologian (Sproul does a wonderful job of making systematic theology accessible and interesting to the common person).

What stands out to you on the list? What are some books you’re looking forward to reading over the next few weeks?

Leland Ryken wants to help you study The Pilgrim’s Progress

Last week I invited you all to read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me starting in March. Today, in partnership with my friends at Crossway, I’m giving away two copies of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from their Christian Guides to the Classics series by Leland Ryken (which, incidentally, officially releases today!).

CGtC-Pilgrims_Progress_Ryken

In each book in this series, literary expert Ryken takes readers through some of history’s greatest literature while answering anticipated questions along the way. Each book:1

  • Includes an introduction to the author and work
  • Explains the cultural context
  • Incorporates published criticism
  • Defines key literary terms
  • Contains discussion questions at the end of each unit of the text
  • Lists resources for further study
  • Evaluates the classic text from a Christian worldview

In this volume, Ryken leads readers through John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, offering insights into the nature of faith, the reality of temptation, and the glory of salvation.

Ryken’s volume is sure to be an excellent resource to all of us during our community reading project. To enter, sign up using the handy-dandy PunchTab app. The contest closes tonight at midnight. Enjoy!

What’s Your Worldview by James Anderson

whats-your-worldview-anderson

When I was a boy, I loved “choose-your-own-adventure” novels. There was one I especially loved in my school library, a Star Trek one if I recall correctly. Depending on how you answered a question, Captain Kirk could be romancing a lady with green-skin and low standards, or a Klingon warship could de-cloak and blow up the Enterprise.

In hindsight, the book was pretty cheesy, but there was something really exciting about discovering the outcome of a particular choice. What I chose drastically impacted the story.

Who’d have thought this would make a great template for a book on worldviews? Inspired by “choose-your-own-adventure” novels, James Anderson set out to write a book allowing readers to see how their answers reveal what they believe about life, the universe, and everything. And this is exactly what you’ll find in What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions.

By up to 21 questions—dealing with freedom, truth and knowledge, unity, matter and mind, and pretty much everything in between—Anderson takes readers on a journey to discover their worldview. Depending on how you answer, you may discover you’re a Deist, Christian, Relativist, Skeptic or any one of a number of alternatives.

This is extremely helpful for readers to see, as I’ve no doubt there are many who don’t give any thought to the idea of worldview at all. After all, “worldviews are like belly buttons,” he writes. “Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often. Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one” (12).

He continues:

A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted: you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. Much the same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.

If our worldview is this important, then we ought to be more aware of it. We should wrestle with the beliefs undergirding all our other thoughts and beliefs because it truly changes everything. Take the issue of abortion, for example. What we believe about its validity  as a practice is necessarily tied up in what we believe about the nature of humanity, when life begins, its value… The same can be said of same-sex marriage, poverty alleviation or any number of hot-button issues.

What we believe drastically affects our response, so we should seek to be more aware of the framework undergirding our thinking.

But readers should also be quick to understand this is not an in-depth analysis of any particular worldview. What Anderson offers readers is a basic sketch covering the major points of each of worldview mentioned (21 in all). Although there’s part of me that would love to have seen more, Anderson’s approach is a welcome one since it’s clearly meant as a launch pad for further study, rather than a one-and-done experience.

When I read through What’s Your Worldview?, I immediately began thinking of the different applications for it. I believe there are two distinct uses for it. First, the book would be an excellent tool to use with newer believers or those who are looking for a basic primer on what a worldview is, and what some of the major ones out there look like.

Second, and most importantly, this seems to be an ideal book with which to engage non-believers to open the door to the gospel. The style of the book itself is extremely non-threatening, eschewing editorializing and the temptation to persuade to a specific way of thinking (at least as much as any of us are capable).

In fact, if there’s anything he’s attempting to persuade readers of at all, it’s this: worldviews really, really matter. “Your basic view of the world shapes how you feel about the world and how you engage with the world” (102).  What you believe drastically impacts what you do. What’s Your Worldview? is a wonderful tool to help us understand this truth, and I trust it will be a blessing to all who engage with it.


Title: What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions
Author: James N. Anderson
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at Westminster Book | Amazon

A look at The Gospel Transformation Bible

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The Bible market is a peculiar one, and not just because there’s such a thing as a Bible market. There are hundreds of different variations available today:

Metal-ensconced Bibles. Kids’ Bibles. Women’s Bibles. Bibles showing you how to be a prosperity preacher. Interlinear Bibles. Klingon Bibles… I’m pretty sure there may even be a scratch-n-sniff version coming out soon (if not, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, you’re welcome)!

We ESV fans have plenty to choose from, too. The ESV Study Bible is certainly the best known by far, but there are a few others. And now they’ve added a new (and much-hyped) version to the family: the Gospel Transformation Bible. In this study Bible, readers are shown how the gospel permeates the entire text of Scripture, beginning in the first verse of Genesis and culminating in Revelation with explanatory notes written by the likes of Scotty Smith (John), Jared Wilson (Jude), Justin Holcomb (Acts), Ray Ortlund (Proverbs), Jim Hamilton (Hosea), and dozens more.

There’s a lot that I could say about this, but let’s get down to the most important, and most obvious, question: What makes the Gospel Transformation Bible different from other study Bibles?

The answer really comes down to purpose. This is a study Bible intended to go after the hearts of readers, to aid in their worship of the Lord. While the notes included definitely explain the text, they’re less technical than those of the ESV Study Bible and geared toward application in light of the gospel. The goal of the authors is not to simply give readers more information, but to encourage heart transformation.

One of my favorite sections comes from Holcomb’s notes on Acts 7:1-73, Stephen’s speech before he is stoned to death. Commenting on this passage, he writes: [Read more...]

14 books I want to read in 2014 (and think you should too)

Every so often, I wonder whether or not we really need more Christian books being published. After all, if we were honest, we’d admit that much of what’s being released is either entirely forgettable at best and trash at worst.

But even so there’s a glut of books that are the equivalent of cotton candy, there’s a lot of really, really good stuff being put out there. Here’s a look at a few I’m excited to read in 2014:

The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey (Cruciform Press)

This one had me at the title, and it comes out soon (like, this week!). What excites me most about this book (aside from the title) is its approach to the question of Hell itself, asking: “What if Hell itself is good news about God?”


The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables +

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles by Jared Wilson (Crossway)

These two are so closely connected I have to include them together. In the first, “discarding the notion that Jesus’s parables are nothing more than moralistic fables, Jared Wilson shows how each one is designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship.” And in the second, “Wilson shows readers how the amazing miracles described in the Gospels attest to Christ’s divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.”


Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles (Crossway)

This is one of several books coming out in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series from Crossway. I’m particularly excited about this one because Mack Stiles is both a, a gifted evangelist, and b, incredibly passionate and articulate on the subject. If you heard him speak on this subject at TGC’s 2013 pre-conference, you know what I mean.


The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund (Crossway)

Another entry in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series, “this short book helps readers experience the power of God as they are encouraged to trust in Christ and allow him to transform their beliefs, perspectives, and practices. For everyone who wants to be true to the Bible and honest with themselves, this book offers a practical guide to the fundamental teachings of the gospel and how they affect our relationships with others.”


The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper (David C. Cook)

I’m not a PK, but I know a number of them, and I know enough to know they’ve got a bit of a rougher go than the average Christian—largely because everyone is watching what they’re doing. Instead of venting about all the problems that come with being a PK, Barnabas “shares the one thing a PK needs above all else (as do their pastor/father and church) to live in true freedom and wholeness. With empathy, humor and passion, this book courageously addresses one of the most under-the-radar issues affecting almost every church and pastor, and their children.”


The Social Church by Justin Wise (Moody)

“This book is for Christians who are advocates of social media and who want to learn better about how to use these new technologies to further the Kingdom of God. Justin Wise speaks about social media as this generation’s printing press-a revolutionary technology that can spread the gospel further and faster than we can imagine.” I’ve heard Justin speak on this topic in the past and his insights are guaranteed to be worth your time.


Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (Moody)

The Holcombs’ Rid of My Disgrace is one of the most significant recent books on the issue of sexual abuse, and I have no doubt this will be equally as beneficial as it “addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption.”


The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters by J.P. Moreland (Moody)

This looks fascinating. “Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings.… [and] shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another.”


Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb (Zondervan)

Part of Zondervan’s KNOW series, this one by Holcomb looks particularly interesting, especially for use in a small group setting, because when it comes to the subject of heresy, we need “a strong dose of humility and restraint, and also a clear and informed definition of orthodoxy and heresy. Know the Heretics provides an accessible ‘travel guide’ to the most significant heresies throughout Christian history.”


The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing by Jonathan Dodson (Zondervan)

Dodson can always be counted on for an insightful and thought-provoking read. “Showing readers how to utilize the rich gospel metaphors found in Scripture and how to communicate a gospel worth believing—one that speaks to the heart-felt needs of diverse individuals—Dodson connects the gospel to the real issues people face each day by speaking to both the head and the heart.”


Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway)

With the Bible’s authority under almost constant attack, this is a much-needed book. “With his characteristic wit and clarity, Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians alike.… Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage men and women to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s word.”


Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? by Mark Jones (P&R Publishing)

This one came out in 2013, but didn’t show up on my radar until fairly recently (and now sits on my Kindle waiting to be read). “This book is the first to examine antinomianism from a historical, exegetical, and systematic perspective. More than that, in it Mark Jones offers a key—a robust Reformed Christology with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit—and chapter by chapter uses it to unlock nine questions raised by the debates.”


Against the Church by Douglas Wilson (Canon Press)

This, again, is a late 2013 release that slipped by me (not surprising since it’s official release date was December 19th!). Wilson is always worth a read, if for no other reason than the way he writes. “Alongside a critique of philosophical assumptions about human nature, dualism, and grace, Wilson stresses the unavoidable and absolute necessity of individual hearts being born again.”


So those are a few books I’m excited to check out in 2014. What are some on your list?

My favorite books of 2013

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading well over 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I’m not sure how they were even published… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year:

Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

From my review:

One thing is clear as you read Jesus on Every Page: Murray’s excitement for the subject matter is palpable, particularly when he shares 10 ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus can be found in creation, in the characters we meet, in the Law itself, in the history of God’s people, in the OT prophets, in the work of Israel’s poets… Christ is everywhere—even showing up in person on occasion.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

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From my review:

N.D. Wilson’s writing is an acquired taste. His writing isn’t entirely linear. He follows the rabbit trails of his mind wherever they lead. He leads you to conclusions in a way that’s sometimes so subtle it’s easy to miss. But, if you follow him where he leads as he celebrates lives lived well, you’ll see this important truth: our lives are meant to be spent. As much as we lament time passing us by, as much as we loathe the idea of death, we can see even death as a gift.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Boring by Michael Kelley

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From my review:

For years, a number of authors keep saying they want to write about why it’s okay to be “ordinary.” I’m glad one finally did. Boring is a much-needed book, one that is sure to be a relief for many weary Christians who are exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the radical, even as it calls us to a greater demonstration of faith: being obedient right where we are.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

From my review:

Too many of us struggle to understand how to ask questions well or even understand the purpose of a question. But Anderson gives us a framework for asking the right questions in the right way that I’m sure will be valuable for years to come. This book is a wonderful gift to readers of all stripes; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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This book, written for kids five and older, is a wonderful love letter to reading, and a fantastic reminder that regardless of how you read, it’s story that really matters.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson

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From my review:

Jamieson’s book is thoughtful, helpful, and packed full of wisdom. It succeeds in reminding us that sound doctrine truly is for all of life—and it’s a book you can’t easily walk away from without feeling at least a touch of conviction. Indeed, we all too easily take the implications of our doctrine for granted.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Five Points by John Piper

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From my review:

Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people.Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

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From my review:

…the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover even the worst of sins. Homosexuals aren’t a special class of sinner outside the reach of the grace of God. In Is God Anti-Gay?, Allberry does a tremendous job of equipping Christians to think biblically about homosexuality and, Lord willing, to use what they know to reach the homosexual community with the love of God and see them, like all sinners, “repent and believe.”

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

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The second non-traditional entry on this list (scary, isn’t it?). If you were proto-emo in the 90s, you were a fan of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy comic, The Sandman. This book is not The Sandman. Instead, this is a fun, quirky story for kids 8–11 where the only angst comes from wondering when Dad’s going to get home with the milk. I really enjoyed it (even if my daughter didn’t).

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

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From my review:

Sensing Jesus, by the author’s own admission, is meant to be a slow burn. If you blast through this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. “Apprenticeship needs meditation and time,” as he puts it (27). Readers would do well to take Eswine at his word. Read slowly and thoughtfully. Make lots of notes. Be willing to recognize where you see yourself in its pages, and consider how God might challenge you through it to recover the humanity of your ministry.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


And just for fun, here are a couple of honorable mentions:

  • Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris (my review)
  • The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson (my review)
  • Crucifying Morality by R W Glenn (my review)

See what made the cut in years past:

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?

I’m giving you a whole pile of books for Christmas!

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and this Christmas, I have the privilege of giving some of you a ridiculous pile of great books! In partnership with the fine folks at Crossway Books, David C. Cook, Thomas Nelson, B&H Books, and Cruciform Press, I’m giving away a whole pile of books (keep reading for the complete list). But there’s more than books this time around—Logos Bible Software has generously included three copies of the Logos 5 starter base package, featuring nearly 200 books! You’ll need to sign up for a free Logos account in order to win (which you can do here); you can also download free apps to read your books on any device here. Here’s a look at all the books in this year’s prize pack:1

… and don’t be surprised if you see some more items added to the list before the giveaway is through! Best of all, three of you will be receiving this fantastic collection of books! You read that right—there are three sets to win. To enter, all you need to do is use the PunchTab widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2013?

This contest ends on Friday, December 20th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!

One final note: Logos Bible Software would like to send a special thank you to all participants who enter using the email entry option in the Punch Tab app (nothing spammy, I promise!). As a thank you from Logos, you’ll receive a discount on the purchase of several titles, including To Live is Christ To Die is Gain for $14.95 (regular $16.95), and 15 percent off both The Pursuit of God and Spiritual Waypoints.