Links I like

Preventing technology from becoming an unnecessary barrier

Aaron Earls:

here have been numerous studies and research done on the effect the internet and smartphones are having on our brains. In many ways, they are clearly rewiring them and having an impact on our physical health.

I know this temptation full well. It would be extremely difficult for me to go through a complete digital detox, not only because it is part of my job, but because it is part of the way I live my life now.

But that does not mean, I should not take steps to foster a more healthy use of technology. While it may be a part of everyday life, it does not have to be part of your life every day (not to mention every minute).

Does God view your labors as ‘filthy rags’?

Michael J. Kruger:

When it comes to our justification—our legal standing before God—our own good works are in no way the grounds of God’s declaration that we are “righteous.” Indeed, the gospel is good news because we are saved not by what we have done, but by what Christ has done. We are accepted by God not because of our works, but in spite of them.

So what does God think of our good works after we are saved? Here, unfortunately, Christians often receive mixed messages. Somewhere along the way we have begun to believe that our pride is best held in check, and God’s grace is most magnified, when we denigrate all our efforts and all our labors as merely “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Is. 64:6).

But does God really view the Spirit-wrought works of his own children in such a fashion? Is God pleased only with Christ’s work, and always displeased with our own?

If the Beastie Boys were Muppets…

Muppets rapping “So What’cha Want”

HT: Aaron Earls (via Jonathan Howe)

Preach the Gospel to Yourself?

Nick Batzig:

10 or so years ago, it was exceedingly common to hear people in the broader Reformed and Evangelical circles saying things like, “You’ve got to learn to preach the Gospel to yourself!” Usually it came in the context of one friend counseling another during a period of struggle with sin, or during a period of painful trial. Occasionally you would hear the phrase surface in pulpits as well. But then there was pushback from certain theologically conservative corners. I remember hearing a well known biblical counsellor emphatically say that the idea of “preaching the Gospel to yourself” is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Others rightly suggested that it all depends on what you mean by “the Gospel.” If, by the Gospel, you mean merely justification so that it’s ok that you continue in sinful practices because you’ve been justified, then this is terribly wrongheaded. So, are we to “preach the Gospel to ourselves,” or is that idea foreign to the biblical teaching on sanctification and the Christian life? I’ve heard the phrase less and less over the years, but I’ve also appropriated it more and more into my life since then. In order to give due consideration to this subject, we first have to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” Then we can scan the pages of Scripture to see if we have any descriptive or prescriptive grounds for preaching such a Gospel to ourselves.

We Reproduce what We Know

JD Payne offers wise counsel.

Why We Love to Read

Tim Challies:

Sometimes you need to do a lot of reading to come away with one really good idea. Some books yield nothing but nonsense; some yield nothing but ideas you have come across a thousands times before. But then, at last, you find that one that delivers. There is such joy in it. Such reward.

New and noteworthy books

new-books-july-2014

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch (along with a few that aren’t so new, but I’m glad to have in the library):

The Wonder-Working God by Jared C. Wilson. The thematic sequel to his also recently released (and excellent) book, The Storytelling God:

Do you believe in miracles?

Walking on water. Multiplying the fish and the loaves. Raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracles of Jesus may be well known, but they’re often misunderstood. In The Wonder-Working God, pastor Jared Wilson wants to help us see that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the miraculous events recorded in the Gospels.

From the humble wonder of the incarnation to the blinding glory of the transfiguration, this book shows how Jesus’s miracles reveal his divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. “Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.”

The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights by J. V. Fesko:

Church historian John Fesko walks readers through the background and theology of the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism, helpfully situating them within their original context. Organized according to the major categories of systematic theology, this book utilizes quotations from other key works from the same time period to shed light on the history and significance of these influential documents.

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. I loaned it out to a friend some time ago, and I’m not sure I’ll be getting it back. So I got another copy:

This book presents the case for loving the local church. It paints a picture of the local church in all its biblical and real life guts, gaffes, and glory in an effort to edify local congregations and entice the disaffected back to the fold. It also provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be part of the body of Christ and counteract the “leave church” books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs.

Encounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller. “In Encounters With Jesus, New York Times bestselling author and renowned pastor Timothy Keller shows how people were changed when they met Jesus personally—and how we can be changed today through our own encounter with him.”

The Gospel in Genesis by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m really looking forward to reading Lloyd-Jones’ insights into the early chapters of Genesis:

Along the way Lloyd-Jones talks of serpents and sin, of the Word of God and the Babel of man. But the destination of The Gospel in Genesis is clear: readers will be moved from fig leaves in the garden to faith in the gospel.…These nine sermons will snap nonbelievers out of their apathy toward God and will embolden believers to share the only gospel that offers answers to life’s biggest questions.

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis:

The first book written by C. S. Lewis after his conversion, The Pilgrim’s Regress is, in a sense, the record of Lewis’s own search for meaning and spiritual satisfaction — a search that eventually led him to Christianity.…Though the dragons and giants here are different from those in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis’s allegory performs the same function of enabling the author to say simply and through fantasy what would otherwise have demanded a full-length philosophy of religion.

And finally, after many months of saving my plum reward points from Chapters, I finally added this beauty to our family library:

What library is complete without The Complete Calvin and Hobbes?

None. The correct answer is none.

What stands out to you on this list of more notable than new books? What are some books you’re looking forward to reading over the next few weeks?

Links I like

7 Different Ways to Read a Book

Tim Challies:

Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

New Kindle deals for you:

6 Critical Truths To Understand About Anger

Mark Altrogge:

The Bible has a lot to say about anger.

I don’t mean righteous anger, the kind of anger we can experience toward injustice or evil but sinful anger. Many times we may feel we are “righteous” in our anger, because someone wronged us. Anger often involves our sense of justice.  But it’s very easy to slide into sinful anger, hatred and bitterness. Here are some Biblical truths and principles that God has used to help me make progress in conquering my own sinful anger.

How Do Sinners Help Sinners Stop Sinning?

David Murray:

Christians are not only called to repentance but are also called to call others to repentance. This is often one of the hardest tasks in the Christian life. How do we approach someone who is sinning in a way that will help lead them to repentance?

The solution to “Peter Pan” syndrome

Chris Martin:

Over the last few years, young pastors have followed the lead of guys like Mark Driscoll, yelling at college guys to grow up, move out of their parents’ basement, provide for themselves, get a wife, and otherwise. Driscoll often refers to guys who live with their parents as, “boys who can shave,” citing the common name for the phenomenon, “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

It frustrates me when pastors like Driscoll and others make passing comments in sermons or blog posts about how young men who live with their parents are less-manly or less-Christian than other men. As if it is somehow more Christlike to pay for your own meals and apartment the second you graduate from college.

Raising kids to be readers

medium_5696572388

When I read that Aaron and Emily are going to be homeschooling their children, I was excited for them, and little envious. I was excited because I think homeschooling is a great educational choice, and envious because they are going to have the fun of teaching kids to read. Teaching reading was one of my favourite parts of homeschooling. Teaching a child to read is like giving him them the keys to the kingdom.

This post does not presume to suggest that only children who are homeschooled can become good readers. My oldest daughter was taught to read—and read well—in public school. That being said, the flexibility of the homeschool environment is a great way to raise children who are readers. And we want them to read, don’t we?

The flexibility offered by homeschooling helps meet the individual needs of children while they learn. The student who learns quickly can move ahead at his own pace, and a child who needs more time can have it. It is frustrating to be the child always waiting, or the child for whom everyone must wait. Or worse, to be the child who is totally lost. I spoke to a homeschool mom whose children had reading challenges, and she said the freedom of the homeschool environment prevented her children from hating school. In those first few years of reading, a child who has success has incentive to read. If it’s frustrating or difficult, it might be something he hates.

There is also flexibility with regard to content. In addition to being able to use books that will challenge and develop a reader, there is a lot of room for a child pursuing her own particular interests. If she wants to read ten books about spiders, she can do that. If she wants to read about the Amazon rain forest for an entire month, she can. Homeschool days are generally shorter than public school, and there is more time to pursue independent interests after the required work is done. It’s an opportunity for a child to pursue the things he is really excited about, and that makes reading fun. Our daughter went through a phase where she read historical fiction extensively, and today, she has a very solid grasp of English history she may have not had otherwise.

The flexibility of homeschooling feeds into family time, through reading aloud. I cannot endorse reading aloud enough. Not only does it show the kids that mom and dad like reading, but it promotes discussion. Being able to talk about a book is a good way to make sure children understand what they’re hearing. Reading out loud provides a safe environment to read that book everyone’s talking about, but that you’re not really sure about. Parents can also introduce classic literature through reading aloud, and acquaint them with books they may meet again in the future. When we studied ancient history, we read a lot of Greek mythology. My son, in a first year university course in Classical Studies, knew those stories intimately already.

Often, the most closely held habits in life begin in the home. Make reading one of those habits you foster, regardless of your schooling choice. We don’t have to homeschool to read aloud with our family. Building kids who are readers actually starts right from the time they are old enough to sit in your lap with a chubby board book for a few minutes.

Of course, homeschooling is not a guarantee that every child will grow to be a voracious reader. Of our three children, one is not as much of a reader as the other two. However, he is a good reader, and reads with discernment. Ultimately, that is the goal: to read well, and with discernment. There are many benefits to homeschooling. If you’re going to do it, use the time to encourage good reading habits. You will be encouraging something that will benefit them their entire lives.


Kim Shay lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She has been married to Neil for 27 years, and has three adult children and is a former homeschool mom. Now an empty nester, she fills her time teaching ladies the Bible, reading, blogging, and taking pictures. She blogs regularly at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary.

Photo credit: horrigans via photopin cc

Links I like

I am Ryland

This is so, so good:

I have been shying away from highly controversial topics on this blog recently because I just couldn’t take the drama that naturally associates with it. But I keep hearing the story of Ryland, a child who was born a female, whose parents have transitioned her to male at 5 years old. You can see the full story HERE, but in short, because their daughter identified herself as a boy, and liked “boy” things as opposed to “girl” things, they cut off her hair, bought her “boy” clothes, and have begun telling her, and others, that she is a boy.

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

Evangelicals who aren’t evangelicals

Thomas Kidd:

I agree with Swaim [who reviewed Steven Miller’s The Age of Evangelicalism in the Wall Street Journal] that the term evangelical, as used in the media, obscures fundamental differences between those lumped together as people who “feel strongly about their faith.” There are at least four types of Christians who often get cast as evangelicals who really are not evangelicals, if that term has any meaning.

How long does it take to read each book of the Bible?

Helpful chart from Desiring God. Be sure to read the rest of the article, too.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The latest Hollywood Bible movie, this time starring Batman as Moses:

Should be interesting, at a minimum.

The click-baitiest click bait you ever did click

Mike Leake reminds us of the power of a good title.

8 Witnesses to Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah

Richard Phillips:

Witnesses are essential in establishing any claim to fact. When a news station wants to report an amazing event, it interviews eyewitnesses. We accept the reports of credible witnesses, especially when there are a number of them who agree. The same principle guides our legal system. When credible witnesses testify to an event, we are morally bound to accept what they say as true. In like manner, John’s Gospel presents us with such witnesses to Christ. Leon Morris writes, “[John] is insistent that there is good evidence for the things he sets down. Witness establishes truth.” This emphasis on the validity of witnesses ought to inform our own presentation of the gospel.

What witnesses does John present? Let me list eight of them.

In Praise of the Quiet Time

Megan Hill:

Recently I read “Why I Don’t Pray or Study the Bible (Much),” a Patheos blog post by Ellen Painter Dollar. She recounts how her time in an evangelical college fellowship was her first exposure to the discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer.… Some of Dollar’s skepticism about prayer and Scripture-study comes from her underlying assumptions about the nature of both. I believe the Bible is complete truth, God’s perfect revelation of himself, and essential for a Christian’s life and godliness. Likewise, I have a high view of prayer as one of God’s primary means for communion with his children, for glorifying himself, and for accomplishing his purposes.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also, New Growth Press has made A Quest for More by Paul Tripp available for free at their online store (today’s the last day, so grab it now!).

Letters from Dad

Richard Phillips:

The year 1972 was big for me, for two reasons. That year I turned 12 and entered sixth grade. More importantly, though, my father spent the entire year in Vietnam. He had often been away for maneuvers or short deployments of up to a month or so. He had even done an earlier long tour in Vietnam, although I was much younger then and hadn’t noticed his absence too deeply. But this time, my dad would be at war for one of my most formative years.

What is your reading level?

Aimee Byrd:

Did you know that the average adult reads between a 7th and 9th grade level? And studies show that we like to read two grades below our reading level for entertainment. Well I have a daughter going into the 7th grade, and one going into the 10th this fall. They are intelligent girls and all, but my 38-year-old self would be insulted if I had to stop at their reading level.

And yet there are plenty of intelligent people who do not have the stamina to read a popular level book on the basics of theology.

Is Charismastic teaching breeding spiritual havoc?

Conrad Mbewe offers a challenging look at what’s happening in his nation. (This is one of those “trigger warning” posts.)

Gospel-Shaped Gentleness

Mike Riccardi:

This passage of Scripture [Phil. 4:5] comes in a list of brief commands that Paul means to demonstrate as the means of remaining spiritually steadfast (cf. Phil 4:1). That list is usually read through very quickly, and this command to be gentle often doesn’t enjoy the extended meditation that it deserves.

But the word is packed with meaning, so much so that the translators have always had a hard time translating the Greek word, epieikes. The verse at the top is the New American Standard Update. The older NAS has, “Let your forbearance,” or “your forbearing spirit be made known to all men.” The ESV says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The HCSB has, “Let your graciousness be known to everyone.”

The commentators don’t help either, as their lists are even longer: gentleness, graciousness, forbearance, patience, sweet reasonableness, mildness, leniency, yieldedness, kindness, charitableness, considerateness, magnanimity, bigheartedness, generosity. In some measure, all of these concepts are at play in this one word. I thought it would be beneficial to select a number of them and amplify them a bit, so that we can gain a firm grasp on the nature of this duty to which we are called, but which is often easy to overlook. So here are five characteristics of the gentleness that is to dominate our demeanor as followers of Christ.

Think about what you read

medium_5438459663

Reading lots (and lots) of books has its advantages, but also comes with some very real challenges. When you read a lot, a great deal of content winds up washing over you, and it’s challenging to engage critically. That’s fine (sometimes) when you’re re-reading a book, or when you’re reading something light (ish). If you’re reading Amish vampire romance books, for example… (Okay, bad example. That definitely requires discussion.)

But if you’re not careful, if you don’t think about what you read, it can be disastrous.

It’s really easy to scan read a book, and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” I have to make the time for application. This is one of the reasons I love discussion questions. They encourage me to dwell on the content and chew on its implications (even if they’re not particularly well written questions). This is what I want when I read.

Some books do a great job of encouraging this kind of reflection, even if they don’t have discussion questions included. Francis Chan’s immediately come to mind as a great example. Every so often, he’ll stop midstream and write something like, “Okay, stop reading this book, read this passage of Scripture (or watch this video) and look at what it says about XYZ.” And even when a book doesn’t include discussion questions, I have a series of them already set:

  1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
  2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
  3. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture?
  4. If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?

Asking even basic questions like these helps me get past a surface level understanding of the content and discern the application for my life. And every book has application for us:

  • A book like The Holiness of God‘s most natural application is grounding our faith in an accurate picture of the God of the Bible because what we think about God shapes how we live for God.
  • Rescuing Ambition (which I reviewed several years ago) challenged me to consider the source of my ambition and how it can be a fuel for godly purposes.
  • Even A Year of Biblical Womanhood, for all its considerable faults, gave me a chance look at how to look at how I approach male/female relationships and ask how I can better serve my wife out of love for her and for the Lord.

Maybe these don’t seem terribly revolutionary, but they’re helpful for me. In the end, though, my point is simple: A good reading experience shouldn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think. Regardless of it’s purpose, if it’s important enough for you to spend time reading a book, it’s important enough for you to think carefully about. Because if we don’t, what’s the point?


An earlier version of this post was first published in August, 2010.

Seven books I’m planning to read this summer

medium_5438459663

Summer’s nearly hear—a fact revealed by the sudden propagation of reading lists! Yesterday, I shared how we’re encouraging reading over the summer for my oldest daughter (we’re also doing something similar for our middle daughter—her goal is to master most or all of the first set of the Bob books). Emily is currently starting to read The Robe by Lloyd Douglas, which, while unlikely to take her all summer, will certainly play a key role in her summer reading.

And then there’s me. I’m pretty regularly setting reading goals for myself, whether it’s a few books that I hope to read sometime over the course of the year, or looking at ways to dig back into my library (this last one I’ve gotten a bit behind on, but it’s recoverable!). So today, I wanted to share a few books I’m planning to read (or have already started) during this summer:

The World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. I’m already a little less than half done this one, and it is outstanding. It’s very encouraging to read a book related to my first one that doesn’t make me feel like I’m going nuts for what I wrote in Awaiting a Savior!

Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. It’s been about five years since I read this, and I’ve been looking forward to doing so again. (I might also revisit Why We’re Not Emergent, but we’ll see.)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien. It’s been 25 years since I last read this book. I’m pretty sure I’m due.

Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s not left my Spring to-read pile yet. It will get done. (Another re-read.)

What is Biblical Theology? by James Hamilton Jr. This looks like it’ll be a short, punchy read. Plus, I love the subject of the book.

Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers. I received this book at Band of Bloggers this past April and it looks compelling—good leadership books are hard to find (hopefully this is one!).

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This is another re-read for me, a compelling fairy tale for adults (with minimal shady content, which is always appreciated).

So that’s a few of the books I’m hoping to read this summer. What’s on your list? 

Links I like

What do those with disabilities owe those without?

Cody Dolinsek:

One of the questions I have asked and have tried to answer in general terms is: “What do those with disabilities owe to those without disabilities and vice versa?  Asking this question might seem wrongheaded in a society, not unlike others, that tends to focus attention on the question: “how shall we best help those with disabilities?  While this question is not out of place in all circumstances, it is tilted to one group’s responsibility without taking into account the other group’s need also to do its ethical duty.

Pastors, You Make Your Own Sandwich

Nick Nye:

Maybe we aren’t trying to complain, pastors, but I imagine the church members who read these articles perceive a subtle (or not-so-subtle) air of grievances: “My job is miserable. No one understands me!” Or even worse they hear, “You all really suck the life out of me with your problems and sin.”

I would be the first to amen the confession blogs, as I am overworked, often discouraged, and take everything in the church personally. But the reality is, I make my own sandwich. My church isn’t to blame, I am. My schedule isn’t to blame, I am. It’s a sandwich I made, and instead of complaining and chomping through it, I want to find joy in it.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In physical book deals, Westminster Bookstore has a terrific deal going on right now—buy a copy of Crossway’s anniversary edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress for $15, and get a copy of Leland Ryken’s readers guide free. This deal ends June 11th.

Pastoral Care, Confidentiality, and Sexual Abuse

Matt Capps:

As the spiritual shepherds of congregations, pastors are viewed as trustworthy authorities and granted the privilege of caregiving in various life situations. Yet many pastors are unprepared to properly counsel or care for people going through the most difficult of life circumstances.

What should a pastor do when a congregant confides that he or she has been or is being abused sexually?

Get Are We Together? in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Reformation Profiles teaching series (audio and video download)
  • Silencing the Devil teaching series (audio and video download)
  • Romans by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

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

Should adults be embarrassed to read young adult fiction?

Ruth Graham writes a pretty thought-provoking piece at Slate:

Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.” These are the books, like The Fault in Our Stars,that are about real teens doing real things, and that rise and fall not only on the strength of their stories but, theoretically, on the quality of their writing. These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.

5 books every new Christian should read

medium_5438459663

While the most important book any Christian should be reading is the Bible, it’s beneficial for us to read books in addition to it. We grow in our faith not only through the Holy Spirit’s work in revealing the Scriptures to us, but God also uses the encouragement and gifts of other believers to do so.

Most of us get this, but when it comes to actually getting down to brass tacks and picking books, we’re not so sure where to start. At least, this was my experience as a brand-new Christian. When I came to faith, I wound up reading a whole pile of garbage very early on. I really needed was some guidance from another believer, a little help being pointed in the right direction.

And although I can’t go back in time and give this guidance to myself, I can pass it along to new believers today. So, here are five books I think every new Christian should read:

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul. There are a lot of really great books on the key teachings of the faith, but this is my top-choice for an entry level introduction to Christian theology. It’s greatest strength? Each doctrine is explained in bit-sized chunks using plain language.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. One of the big challenges new believers have is relearning to read. Specifically, how do you read Christianly. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean turning our brains off—it means reading even more intently than you may have in the past. (For more on this book, check out my review.)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. In what I hope will be the last recent(ish) release on this list, Kevin DeYoung’s book answers a big, important question: how do I know God’s will for my life? This is a question that came to the forefront very early on for me, and the answers provided were (and are) astoundingly helpful. (And if you’re interested, here [and here] are a few more thoughts on this book.)

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. Prayer is a strange and awkward thing for new believers (actually, it’s strange and awkward for a lot of us who aren’t so new in the faith, too), but it’s one of the most essential things we can do as Christians. This little book offers great encouragement in pursuing prayer with vigor.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Not every book needs to be about teaching you how to do something in the Christian life—sometimes you just need some great encouragement. These daily readings from Charles Spurgeon have encouraged Christians for more than 100 years, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to for many years to come.

There are more books that Christians should read, but these are the ones I would strongly encourage giving to new believers who are just starting out. What books would you encourage new believers to read?

3 reasons I’m reading more fiction

medium_5438459663

When I was a boy, I loved reading (and obviously I still do). I remember going to the mall in St. Albert, Alberta, with my mom and sister one Saturday morning, and as soon as I was able, I beelined for the bookstore and spent all the money I had on a paperback novel. If I remember correctly, it was A Rock and a Hard Place, one of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels.

(Don’t judge me.)

When we got home from the mall, I went up to my room and I started reading. I didn’t finish until the entire book was done. Incidentally, this may have been the most peaceful day of my mother’s entire life as a parent.

All through high school and college, I read tons of fiction and dabbled in non-fiction as I got older (provided the topic was interesting enough). My reasonably eclectic (and sometimes pretentious) tastes always made for interesting late night reading on bus rides home from my college job at a bookstore here in London (Coles in White Oaks Mall, for those interested—it’s now a Bath and Body Works, I believe).

And then, for some reason, I just stopped reading fiction and began almost exclusively reading non-fiction. The genres were, again, pretty varied—business, social commentary, theology, biography—but for nearly a decade, I lived on a steady diet of non-fiction.

A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine challenged me to change that. So, I did. I spent most of that summer reading fiction, including the Hunger Games series. And I’m really glad I did, because it reminded me how unbalanced my reading had become.

Since then I’ve tried to keep a pretty decent balance of fiction and non-fiction in my literary diet. Here are three reasons why I think it’s a good idea—especially for us yahoos who are really into theology and such—to be reading fiction regularly:

1. It exercises my imagination. One author I really enjoy is Greg Rucka. He’s a genius when it comes to placing you in a real world. Exceptionally well-researched work that gives you all you need to properly picture the scene—whether it’s a Disney-esque theme park, Middle Eastern streets so crammed with people you almost feel claustrophobic, or a small apartment filled with the scent of pancakes and orange juice. When I read his stuff, I get very excited as my mind starts to build the world he describes. It’s the same with series like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings—good authors know how to make their fictional worlds feel real by giving your imagination enough room to work.

2. Balance is really important. Imagine you only get your news from CNN or FoxNews. You won’t actually be getting the news, you’ll be getting a sensationalized interpretation of said news from one perspective or another. But when you watch or read multiple perspectives on the same story, you begin to get a better picture of the reality of the situation. Our reading habits are like that. When we only read one genre, or a very limited range of genres, we become unbalanced. We start thinking too small, and overlook different possibilities, and kind of bore people when we talk about what we’re reading (because, honestly, it’s a rare person who actually wants to talk with me about a biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones or a book on heretics).

3. It makes me a better writer. I’ve gotta be honest: too many non-fiction writers seem to lack any sort of artistic passion in what they write. They write technically well, but it’s not terribly exciting stuff to read. But good fiction—keep in mind, there’s a bunch of poorly written gobbledygook out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight)—is great art. And good writing—great art—makes me want to write better.

How varied is your reading? What’s one fiction book you want to read?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

“What shall I do?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (1)

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came to a certain place where there was a cave; and I lay down in that place to sleep. As I slept, I dreamed a dream, and in this dream I saw a man clothed in rags, standing in a place with his face turned away from his own house. He had a book in his hand and a heavy burden upon his back.

I looked and saw him open the book and begin to read; and as he read, he wept and trembled. Not being able to contain himself, he cried out in a loud voice, “What shall I do?”

It’s impossible to overstate the power of the opening words of The Pilgrim’s Progress.1 Bunyan masterfully captures the plight of man in his description of Christian—he is a man burdened, weeping, utterly destroyed by the book he carries. But he cannot turn away from its pages.

He can only read and cry out, “What shall I do?”

Personal reflection

How many of us have faced a similar crisis in our own hearts? Conviction comes—and what shall we do?

Many of us, like Christian, keep it to ourselves for as long as possible. We pretend everything is fine, even though we’re troubled to the core of our being. Sooner or later, though, we reach a breaking point and can no longer keep what’s going on hidden—”For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

And, as is so often the case, when we speak, people begin to reject us. They find our message absurd, laughable, ignorant. Family rejects us. Friends scorn us. Some come alongside us and encourage us to stay on the path; others seek to draw us away. We have moments of joy, from which we quickly slip into the slough of despond…

This is how the journey to the celestial city begins for so many of us.

Reading tips from Ryken

But the first chapter of The Pilgrim’s Progress is equally as demanding as it is captivating. As Leland Ryken puts it well in his guide to this classic book, “Part of the genius of Pilgrim’s Progress is that it requires readers to analyze the symbolic level of the story and in particular to figure out the nuances of the theological truth that is embodied in the narrative details.”2

So as we feel our way around the first chapter, we need to consider what each detail symbolizes and what it teaches us about the Christian life at the point at which Christian finds himself on the journey. But even so, we would do well to heed Ryken’s advice as he offers four tips for reading this book:3

(1) The most important prerequisite for enjoying this book as literature is the ability to abandon oneself to the travel motif and the adventure genre. At this level, the book is like Homer’s Odyssey or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a continuous series of narrow escapes and threatening ordeals. (2) Equally, we need to relish the technique of allegory in which places and characters bear the names of abstract qualities. But the word allegory does not quite do justice to what is happening, so we need to add the concept of symbolic reality, which results when we enter a realm of the imagination in which the leading ingredient is a “forest” of symbols. (3) Putting the previous two points together, Pilgrim’s Progress requires us to read at a physical level as the basis of everything else, but also to see that the two protagonists have undertaken a spiritual and psychological journey in addition to the physical journey. (4) The primacy of the spiritual governs everything that Bunyan does in the story and determines his storytelling techniques and choice of material.

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Two points to consider:

  1. How does this chapter portray the lost state of man?
  2. How does what you’ve read in this chapter reflect or differ your own experience?

Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

Being disciplined about disciplines

holding-bible-lr

At the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a couple of different ideas on how to read my Bible this year. All of these have revolved around short, attainable goals (something my friend Steve McCoy has been strongly advocating of late).

The whole purpose of this isn’t to make life easier when it comes to disciplining oneself, but to create momentum. So many of us set goals planning to read the Bible in a year and wind up throwing in the towel within three to six months for one reason: the long-term goal doesn’t create check-points along the way. So if you miss a day, it’s harder to adjust. If you miss a week, it’s a lost cause. It’s hard to keep up any sort of momentum without having somewhere to stop, catch your breath and say, “Yep, I accomplished this thing.”

This has been really helpful for me since it’s allowed me to be a little more focused and intentional with my reading of Scripture. So, I fired up Logos and started making a couple of different plans:

In January, I did an overview of the Bible’s big story, hitting key points from Genesis through Revelation. Although the plan’s choices of passages weren’t always my favorite (I think it missed a few key ones, like most of Isaiah), it was still super-helpful, not because I don’t know the big story, but because it’s so necessary to keep it fresh in my thinking. All of us can become so consumed with minutiae or on a particular cause that we forget that the Bible really is a story about God’s redemption of His people.

Take the issue of poverty, for example. When we’re focused on the cause—caring for the poor—we tend to read passages in isolation. But if we don’t read Isaiah 58 in light of Israel’s idolatry problem and the economic aspects of the Mosaic Law, or Isaiah 61 as being explicitly Messianic, or the Beatitudes without the backdrop of Genesis 3, what do we have? Moralism. We wind up putting ourselves at the center of the story, and determine that it’s our job to fix the world . In other words, we have a thoroughly gospel-less—and therefore thoroughly anti-Christian—approach to the subject.

But putting the issue of poverty into the context of the redemptive story changes how we approach it—we see ourselves as being poor, and Christ being extravagantly generous, pouring Himself out on our behalf. We begin to have less concern for trying to save the world (for the world is not ours to save), and greater concern for how caring for the poor is a matter of worship, something we do in response to how great and wonderful Christ is.

(And for more on that, I’ll direct you to this book over here.)

In February, I started a pretty aggressive reading goal: to read the entire New Testament in 31 days. (I’m a couple of days behind, but hey, 33 days is pretty darn good, I think…) This has been a really great exercise, not because I’m trying to retain anything in major—when you’re reading between up to 16 chapters in a day, you’re not really shooting for comprehension—but because it allows you to see the consistency of the New Testament.

By reading Paul’s epistles in big chunks, you get to see patterns and particular emphases you might miss when reading in isolation. You get a better sense of the challenges he faced as a minister of the gospel, and the delicate balance he strikes on so many issues that we find offensive in our day. Just as importantly, you get to see how consistent Paul is with Jesus in the gospels. If you want to put silly notions of pitting Jesus against Paul, all you have to do is read the New Testament. It’s seamless in what it presents. And this is a very good thing indeed.

I haven’t settled on what I’m going to do after I finish my read through of the New Testament (I’m guessing I’ll wrap it up by Friday)—I’m currently leaning toward reading through Isaiah or Jeremiah in four weeks. But wherever I wind up, it’s going to be fun. Setting short, attainable goals has been incredibly helpful and rewarding for me, even at this early point in the year. Being disciplined about spiritual disciplines really matters, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go as the year continues.

Read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me

One of my favorite parts of the day is reading books with my kids, especially with Abigail (our eldest). While I love reading with the younger two, Abigail’s old enough that I get to start reading cool stuff with her.

Last year, we read through The Chronicles of Narnia in its entirety (it took about three or four months). I’ve just introduced her to Calvin and Hobbes (and soon the complete collection will become part of our family library). More recently, we’ve been working our way through John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

pilgrims-progress

And I’ve been having such a good time reading it with her, I wanted to invite you to read it with me, as well.

Why this book?

One of the major reasons is this is one of the few books outside the Bible all Christians should read. In fact, historically, it’s been the most widely-read book outside the Bible, although this is not the case today. It’s a book that was instrumental in the faith of Charles Spurgeon and countless other believers. And it’s one of which’s influence is in danger of being lost. J.I. Packer wrote:

For two centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book, after the Bible, in all Christendom, but sadly it is not so today.

When I ask my classes of young and youngish evangelicals, as I often do, who has read Pilgrim’s Progress, not a quarter of the hands go up.

Yet our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again.

Certainly, it would be great gain for modern Christians if Bunyan’s masterpiece came back into its own in our day.

Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet? 1

The way this reading project will work is pretty simple:

  • We’ll read one chapter a week, starting the first week of March.
  • I’ll be sharing some reflections on the chapter in a new post, along with some additional questions for discussion.

Like I said, pretty straightforward, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

So how about it? Will you read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me?