Links I like

Preparing Your Teen for College

Westminster Books has a great deal on Alex Chediak’s new book, Preparing Your Teen for College—pay $8 each when buying 3 or more copies. Here’s a look at the book:

Jesus and tithing

Ray Ortlund:

The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees lay in over-emphasizing easier forms of obedience while under-emphasizing harder forms of obedience.  They hid their unbelief within a self-invented form of theological disproportion, making small things look big and big things look small.  They seized upon opportunities to tithe, and they dismissed the crying needs for justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Can I Reject an Eternal Hell and Still Be Saved?

Michael Patton:

I don’t really like this question. No, let me be stronger: I hate this question. Please forgive me. I understand the question and empathize with it on just about every level, no matter what it’s source may be (philosophical, biblical, or emotional). However, when you ask me this question you put me in a difficult position. I want to be as honest as possible, yet remain aware of the pastoral nature that addressing this subject requires. In other words, it is not an impossible question, and should never be seen as such.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are some new Kindle deals for you:

The Strange Saga of ‘Jesus Calling,’ The Evangelical Bestseller You’ve Never Heard Of

Ruth Graham:

Thomas Nelson specifically requested I not use the word “channeling” to describe Young’s first-person writing in the voice of Jesus—the word has New Age connotations—but it’s hard to avoid it in describing the book’s rhetorical approach. And on the edges of evangelicalism, where alertness to “New Age” influence runs high, concern has bloomed into outrage. Writer Warren B. Smith, who calls himself an “ex-New Ager,” wrote a 2013 book called ‘Another Jesus’ Calling, devoted entirely to dismantling Young’s claims to orthodoxy. In it, he calls the book “an obvious attempt by our spiritual Adversary to get an even further foothold inside the Christian church.”

Thomas Nelson has clearly heard the complaints that Jesus Calling is heretical; the introduction to recent editions of the book includes subtle but significant changes.

Son of God Will Show Crucifixion, Not the Cross

Tim Challies:

A film cannot adequately capture the reality of what transpired between the Father and the Son while the Son hung upon the cross. If this is true, a film that displays the crucifixion but misses the cross might actually prove a hindrance rather than a help to the Christian faith. Even the best movie will still be hampered by a grave weakness.

Words and pictures are very different media, and in the history of redemption, God has used both. For example, in the Old Testament God used words to record prophecies about the coming Messiah while in the tabernacle he provided pictures of the coming Messiah and what he would accomplish—an altar for sacrifice, a lamb to be slaughtered, incense rising to God. Words can tell truth while pictures can display truth.

That awkward moment in kids ministry when…

children-in-a-circle

We all have them—awkward moments in children’s ministry:

  • Maybe it’s when you realize none of the kids have been paying attention to what you’ve been saying for the last ten minutes; or
  • when you realize how awful your rhyming scheme for your points truly is (and not just because you came up with it the night before); or
  • you realize, as you’re teaching, that this is probably the first time any of the kids in the room have ever heard the concept of God’s wrath.

That was my Sunday last weekend. I was teaching a lesson on Zephaniah, an Old Testament book where the wrath of God being poured out plays heavily in its message.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth… I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” the book begins (Zephaniah 1:2-3). And the temperature only turns up from there as oracle after oracle is spoken to the people of Judah, warning them to watch for the day of the Lord, and to repent of their sins.

I’ll admit, teaching this was awkward. Not because I don’t believe it—in fact, I think we’ve failed to adequately do the subject justice, especially in the last 20 or so years—but because it seemed pretty clear that this was one of the first times the kids had heard much of anything about God’s wrath.

Many of the kids knew sin is bad and that it separates us from God… but it was in an abstract way. The way that suggests God doesn’t really have feelings toward sin. And then I had to go and shatter the glass.

Or rather, the Bible did. I was just the one teaching it.

As we talked about this, that God’s wrath would be poured out, and that God was warning his people to give them an opportunity to repent, one of the kids said something very interesting.

“God knew if he did this, he’d be doing something bad, so maybe that’s why he was warning them…”

Out of the mouth of babes, as the saying goes.

What’s fascinating is how quickly we try to start rationalizing, or make excuses, even making up ideas about why God would punish sin and tell people he’s going to to it. No matter how old we are, we naturally squirm at the idea of God’s wrath—mostly because we think of God’s feelings as being the same as our own.1 So when we think of God’s anger, we see it in light of our own, or our parents’. We know that we overreact, or go a bit too far sometimes. We know our anger doesn’t always produce good results, and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around God being righteously angry.

So I asked this nine-year-old, “But is anything God does bad?”

“No,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because everything God does is good.”

“So… is God being angry and punishing sin a good thing or a bad thing?”

And then he started to get it.

Teaching awkward subjects is just that. Awkward. It’s hard to teach our kids about God’s wrath, about how only people who love and worship Jesus will be in heaven, and an eternity in Hell awaits all who refuse to recognize him for who he is. We want to shave off these hard edges. But if we’re going to be faithful Sunday school teachers, or faithful parents for that matter, we can’t avoid the awkward for our own comfort. Someone stepped out and warned us to flee from the wrath to come. Perhaps our kids need us to do the same.

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?

Around the Interweb

John Piper interviews Rick Warren on Doctrine

Piper’s remarks from the DG blog:

The nature of the interview is mainly doctrinal. I read Rick’s The Purpose Driven Life with great care. I brought 20 pages of quotes and questions to the interview. You will hear me quote the book dozens of times. With these quotes as a starting point I dig into Rick’s mind and heart on all the issues listed below (with the times that they begin on the video).

My aim in this interview is to bring out and clarify what Rick Warren believes about these biblical doctrines. In doing this my hope is that the thousands of pastors and lay people who look to Rick for inspiration and wisdom will see the profound place that doctrine has in his mind and heart. . . . Rick and I are very different in methodological instincts and inclinations. . . . We both have chosen risky ways. There are pitfalls of short- and long-term unfruitfulness. But in the end we do not govern the impact of our lives. God does. We do what the Bible and our hearts call us to do. I believe Rick’s is a faithful heart. Listen to the clarity of his doctrinal commitments and hear the heartbeat of his love for Christ and those perishing without him.

Also Worth Reading:

Music: Steve McCoy reviews Sojourn’s new album, The Water & The Blood

Books: Advice for Slow Readers

Theology: Loopholes for Hell: A Response to Jeff Cook’s Response to Francis Chan

Missing Persons: Pray for Matt Hill, a Christian brother from D.C. who has gone missing. Update: Matt has been found, alive and unharmed!

Bible: How Should the Books of the OT Be Ordered?

Contest Winner: The winner of a copy of The Next Story by Tim Challies is Mark Koiro! Congratulations, Mark!

In Case You Missed It

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

What Will It Take?

Book Review: The Next Story by Tim Challies

Are You Studying or Skimming?

A Few Lessons I’m Learning

Spurgeon: A Constant, Delighting and Enduring Love

Flavel: The Snare of Prosperity

Around the Interweb

Give Them Grace

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest and order a copy of the book.

Also Worth Reading

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

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

Theology: Reading the Bible Backwards

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

Ministry: Hiring Questions for Pastors

Teaching: Download Audio from All 38 TGC11 Workshops

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

In Case You Missed It

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

Everyday Theology: You Need To Feed Yourself

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

What Are You Reading this Summer?

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

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

So, What is Universalism, Anyway?

In all the discussion of the eternality of hell ignited by a certain book,  the term universalism has been thrown around a lot, as has another question:

What exactly is universalism, anyway?

I’m reading (and listening to) John Piper’s Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved; there, Piper provides a very thoughtful description of universalism from his personal experience reading the works of George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle:

Since my college days, I had read three novels by George MacDonald: Phantastes, Lilith, and Sir Gibbie. I enjoyed them. I had also read a lot of C. S. Lewis and benefited immeasurably from the way he experienced the world and put that experience into writing.

I knew that Lewis loved MacDonald and commended him highly… Largely because of this remarkable advocacy by Lewis, I think, George MacDonald continues to have a significant following among American evangelicals. I certainly was among the number who was drawn to him. Then I picked up Rolland Hein’s edition of Creation in Christ, a collection of MacDonald’s sermons. To my great sorrow, I read these words: “From all the copies of Jonathan Edwards’ portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing.”

Those are strong words spoken about the God I had come to see in the Bible and to love. I read further and saw a profound rejection of the substitutionary atonement of Christ: “There must be an atonement, a making up, a bringing together—an atonement which, I say, cannot be made except by the man who has sinned.” And since only the man who has sinned can atone for his own sin (without a substitute), that is what hell is for.

MacDonald is a universalist not in denying the existence of hell, but in believing that the purpose of hell is to bring people to repentance and purity no matter how long it takes. “I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem His children.” And all humans are his children. If hell went on forever, he says, God would be defeated. “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”

I mention George MacDonald as an example of a universalist not only because of my personal encounter with him but also because he represents the popular, thoughtful, artistic side of Christianity which continues to shape the way so many people think. [Read more...]

Is God’s Victory Over Sin Thwarted?

From Sam Storms’ booklet, The Restoration of All Things:

Our sin is deserving of infinite punishment because of the infinite glory of the one against whom it is perpetrated.

To suggest, as some do, that eternal suffering means that God does not achieve consummate victory over sin and evil fails to realize that only sin that goes unpunished would indicate a lapse in justice and a defeat of God’s purpose. The ongoing existence of hell and its occupants would more readily reflect on the glory of God’s holiness and his righteous opposition to evil than it would any supposed cosmological dualism.

Perhaps the idea of endless punishing is less offensive when the idea of endless sinning is considered. If those in hell never cease to sin, why should they ever cease to suffer? If one should argue that people pay fully for their sins in hell and at some point cease to sin, why can’t they then be brought into heaven (thereby turning hell into purgatory)? If their sins have not been fully paid for in hell, on what grounds does justice permit them to be annihilated?

Crossway has made this booklet available as a free download.

You can get your copy here.

This resource is extremely timely, especially in light of the questions surrounding Rob Bell’s new book. I hope you’ll download and find it’s content beneficial.

Rob Bell + Universalism = Fireworks

Update: My review of Love Wins was posted 03/09/2011.

This weekend a big stink was kicked up about the trailer and marketing copy of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Indeed, the brouhaha led to Bell’s name trending on Twitter!

So as you can imagine, this thing is causing quite the commotion among Christians on the interwebs.

The issue came onto my radar yesterday when I saw Emily had been reading this post from Justin Taylor. I read the marketing copy, which after some fairly heavy-handed selling of Bell’s credentials, we get to the heart of the controversy:

Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

The accompanying video doesn’t help much:

In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?

With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretence of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.

However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:

  1. He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
  2. The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel

My hope would be the former. But if I had to be honest, my expectation is the latter. And  this is not something I find delightful or comforting.

Here’s what I would hate to see: If it turns out that he has indeed abandoned the gospel and embraced universalism (“Christian” or otherwise), that is cause to weep. Rob Bell’s influence is enormous and, if he does indeed advocate for universalism, then he will be preaching people straight into hell.

We can’t get away from the reality of hell. The Bible is clear that there will be eternal punishment for those who do not repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.

And love doesn’t win unless there’s something from which to flee.

(Thanks to Erik from J.C. Ryle Quotes for the title of the post.)