The weird and the witty: The annotating Spurgeon

People who know me and my reading habits know that I love to mark up, mess up and beat up my books. I write a LOT of notes, and have little conversations with authors in the margins of my hardcopy books. Sometimes these are pretty funny (at least for me), but other times, they’re expressing my deep frustration with what I’m reading—at least when it’s wrong.

And all who’ve seen my now-lost ARC of Love Wins said, “Amen.”

One of my favorite books to mark up was the first edition of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (which remains one of my least favorite books, but that’s another story).

At the time, I happened to be reading with a red pen in hand and as I did, I found myself fully crossing out entire pages, and writing a simple and direct response:

No. Read your Bible.

I should also mention that I’d been a Christian for all of a year at the time.

But thankfully, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it turns out I’m in good company, as Adrian Warnock reminded those who follow him on Twitter yesterday when he shared a masterful bit of annotating by Charles “Oh, snap!” Spurgeon:

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Spurgeon, never one to let his opinion remain hidden, certainly gave us a clear picture of what he thought of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s work, didn’t he?

Do you mark up your books? What’s the funniest margin conversation you’ve had with an author?

Seven books I abandoned

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When the teacher warned his son, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), he wasn’t kidding. There are so many books out there to read—and even more that may make you feel ashamed for ever having read them.

I’ve shared a number of book lists over the last few months—on books new Christians should and shouldn’t read, on homosexuality, and prayer, among others—and today, I wanted to shake things up a bit: instead of telling you about books I think you should read, I want to share a bit about a few books I’ve abandoned.

Some of these are good books that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into. Some are terrible ones that were simply too awful to finish. And some might be on your bookshelf right now. Here’s a look:

Moby Dick by Herman Mellville. I know this is a classic work, but oh my gosh, it is one of the most awful books I’ve ever read. Or tried to read. I think I got through about 100 pages and wound up watching the movie instead.

Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It’s Too Late by James MacDonald. I know some people love his books, and there’s probably an unspoken rule that I’m supposed to because I go to a Harvest church, but I’ve never enjoyed any book I’ve read by MacDonald. I’ve tried several and gave up each time within a couple of chapters (in fact, there’s only one I ever managed to finish). They are consistently terribly written and painful to read.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. This one is probably a surprise since I really enjoy Keller’s work. He is always thoughtful and well-written (which itself is a wonderful contrast to so many books written by pastors). This one, I think, is a victim of timing: I was just in the wrong headspace when I was trying to read it, so it was abandoned. Perhaps I’ll try again someday.

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur. This, again, might be a shocker to some. There’s much that I agree with in the book, but dang, MacArthur’s tone makes it difficult to finish most of what he writes. This is one of those that I came really close to completing, but it took me a couple of years of picking it up and putting it down. It’s since left my personal library.

Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House. My first thought as I started reading it: small groups, the Mars Hill way. That’s probably not giving House’s work a fair shake, but that combined with its dull (though technically correct) writing didn’t inspire me to finish it.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink. Pink’s work is actually pretty well-written, and the research he presents is always fascinating (I especially enjoyed Drive). But this one just didn’t grab me. So, I never finished it (though my son did destroy the dust jacket).

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Again, another well-written book, but it just didn’t grab me. It’s on my “try again sometime” list, so we’ll see.

So those are a few of the books I’ve abandoned. What are some of yours?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of Kindle deals for you today:

Three books on leadership from Crossway:

Also on sale:

Finally, four books by Hank Hanegraaff:

A Failure of Worship

Tim Challies:

I find addiction, and the bondage of addiction, to be very difficult to understand. It seems like overcoming addiction should be so simple, and especially for the Christian: Instead of doing that thing, how about next time you just don’t do that thing? Instead of opening that bottle, keep it closed. Instead of buying those pills, buy some groceries. Instead of typing in that web site, type in a different web site. Instead of walking through the doors of the casino, choose not to even go near the casino. If only it was so simple.

A Little Greek Can Be a Big Distraction

Peter Krol:

You don’t have to reference Greek or Hebrew to study the Bible. You can observe, interpret, and apply using a decent English translation (such as the ESV or NET). In fact, knowing a bit of Greek can actually distract you from careful study of a passage.

The Blessings and Curses of Being an Introverted Pastor

Eric McKiddie:

The stakes are high when it comes to being an introverted pastor because our job ispeople. The very nature of our role requires us to engage with our congregation relationally, but the nature of our personality inclines us toward alone time. To the extent that we avoid people, or outsource shepherding to staff pastors or interns, we short-circuit our leadership potential.

But there are strengths to being an introverted pastor, too. It seems to me that people think there are only curses to being an introverted pastor. Maybe it’s just me being a sensitive introvert, but I’ve never heard someone being referred to as an introvert as a compliment, nor have I heard someone identified as an extrovert negatively. The word extrovert, it seems, is synonymous with entrepreneurial, charismatic, and being a people person. Even the negative sides of being an extrovert are given a positive spin, like the gift of gab.

 The Books Boomers Will Never Read

John Piper:

Not all boomers are readers. They will feel their losses coming at their dented, shaky, leaky space ship in different ways. But millions are.

We love to read. We wish we could read so much more. I had lunch recently with a 93-year old man, full of alertness and mental energy. He told me that in his wife’s last years he read 22 novels out loud to her.

For the boomers who read, the thought of so many books never being read brings a sense of great loss. The loss is felt in proportion to our love of reading.

Why do we love to read?

The Problem with Others

Chad Thornhill:

If we require the other to be like us before we open our arms to them, we undercut the entire thrust of the Gospel, which is that God loved humanity in its complete and utter otherness from him, and yet embraced them through his son anyway. We are called to offer the same response to both outsiders (those outside of the faith) and others (those who are different from us). That is the call with which those who claim the name of Christ have been entrusted. Yes, governments exist to enforce laws and prosecute criminals. But the Church does not. This does not mean the Church should withdraw from public engagement. But our engagement must be driven by biblical and theological convictions and attitudes, and not political ideologies and legal inquiries.

The day I made my daughter cry

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Tears started streaming down her cheeks and drool dribbled down her chin. Her hands rose close to her eyes, fingers prepared to poke. And then, between sobs, she spoke: “But (hic) I really (hic) wa-wanted to win…”

And with that, I claimed the title of history’s greatest monster.

All because I made my daughter cry.

A few months ago, I shared a summer reading challenge for my daughter. Her mission: to read ten books over the summer and write a short summary of each as a comprehension check. We asked often about how her reading was going. She her typical answer: “I forgot; I’ll read some tomorrow.” As the summer progressed, we could see her starting to get a little anxious. We reminded her that it wouldn’t be a big deal if she didn’t meet her goal.

On August 31st, she had five books left to read, and declared she would finish them all before Labor Day was done. When I told her that she wouldn’t be able to do it and actually understand what she was reading, the tears began.

Now, we’re not strangers to experiencing consequences at the Armstrong home. Timeouts are fairly common, we’ve had to ground our oldest at least once already, among other things… but this time was different. This wasn’t a disciplinary issue. This was just the result of failing to do what was necessary.

This was a good learning opportunity for us, too, though. All the way through the reading challenge, we created the environment for her to do her reading, but we didn’t force her to do it because that would have been counterproductive. Our goal is to help her develop a love of reading, not see it as a chore.

As she cried though, a temptation came over me, just for a moment: to give in and let her have the prize anyway. As soon as the thought came into my head, I had to acknowledge it as wrong. If we’re trying to teach her to be responsible for her own actions, then it’s wrong to reward her for not doing what was necessary. Instead, we’re giving her the opportunity to try again with five books in September. Will she succeed this time? I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.


Photo credit: iacob via photopin cc

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?