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A Christian Approach to “Nature vs. Nurture”

Sep 02, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Christians often times buy into the simplistic categories of “nature vs. nurture.” But if we want to be more biblical, we should recognize that there are more distinctions than this, based on creation, sin, and grace.

In an article from several years ago David Powlison has a helpful footnote where he suggests four categories:

  1. creation nature (our nature as the result of being created in God’s image)
  2. sin nature (our nature as a result of falling into sin)
  3. sin nurture (ways in which rebellion is modeled and encouraged)
  4. grace nurture (ways in which godly behavior is modeled and encouraged).

We could schematize this as follows:

Nature Nurture
Creation creation nature
Sin sin nature sin nurture
Grace grace nurture

 

Here is why this matters when analyzing our own behavior and in counseling others:

When it comes to explaining anger, biblical Christians don’t cast their vote with either “nature” or “nurture,” or even with “nature and nurture.”

The divide between good and evil runs through everything, so we discern four factors.

In sizing up the effects of “nature,” you can’t understand people without noting both creation-nature and sin-nature. . . .

Similarly, in sizing up the effects of “nurture,” we must pay attention both to sin-nurture and grace-nurture. Patterns of both sin and wisdom may be nurtured (Proverbs 13:20). Neither nature nor nurture are neutral.

This certainly doesn’t solve all of the debates, but I think these are helpful categories to keep in mind as we think about why we do what we do.

Source: David Powlison, “Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 14/1 (Fall 1995): 47 n. 23.

 

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Alan Noble: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 02, 2014 | Justin Taylor

10336758_643276737495_2075221101213230646_nI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Alan Noble (PhD, Baylor University) is an Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, Managing Editor at Christ and Pop Culture, and a Freelancer for The Atlantic. He and his family attend CityPres in OKC.


road

In 2006 Cormac McCarthy published one of his finest novels, The Road. It is a masterpiece of prose, at turns moving and terrifying, beautiful and gritty, transcendent and nihilistic. The novel tells the story of the end of the world after some unnamed cataclysmic event which blots out the sun, sets fires across the world, destroys cities, and ends society as we know it. McCarthy asks, what is left for us if we no longer have a culture to give us guidance and meaning?

To answer this, he tells the story of a nameless father and son as they travel south on a road toward warmer weather and the hope of finding other “good guys.” But this hope is irrational; the world they inhabit is violent and evil: bands of cannibals, steal, rape, and eat the weak, there is almost no food to be found, and there is no prospect of the world getting any better. In one pivotal scene, the boy’s mother tells the father that the ethical thing to do in such a world is to kill their young son before some great evil happens to him. And from a strictly secular perspective, she’s absolutely correct. When there is no future imaginable for anyone, why would you risk your son being horribly tortured? Following the logic of her own argument, the mother commits suicide.

Absurdly, the father refuses to murder his son. He retains a belief that his son has been given to him by God as a warrant of God’s existence and goodness. And by faith the father acts as if his son has a future worth living for, worth risking incredible suffering for, and the fantastic and fascinating thing is that McCarthy actually rewards that faith in the novel’s conclusion.

It’s difficult to express how remarkable this novel is. Modern readers expect a hopeless ending, an ironic ending, an ambiguous ending, or at best an ending that praises the human will to persevere in the face of a godless and hostile world, but McCarthy very intentionally validates the faith of his protagonist, a faith that is absurd from a secular perspective (for a lengthy treatment of this absurdity, see here).

One of the points made by Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor in his great work, A Secular Age, is that while religion remains popular, our society no longer assumes as a basic fact that the supernatural or transcendent is a reality which can affect us. Whether it is miracles in the Bible or God’s preserving common grace today, most modern people find it difficult to conceive of the supernatural. Ours is a largely disenchanted world, one in which we look inward for our hope and significance and direction, rather than outward toward a transcendent reality. And yet here is Cormac McCarthy, perhaps the foremost living American novelist, telling a story that acknowledges the weightiness of the secular vision (in the voice of the mother) and then denies that vision by validating a faith in the transcendent.

For those who can tolerate language, unsettling images of violence and suffering, and the even more unsettling moral questions that accompany those images, The Road is a rewarding and gripping read. And for the modern Christian reader, it is a moving reminder of the tension between secularism and faith that so strongly defines our time.

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Leland Ryken: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 01, 2014 | Justin Taylor

LRI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) served as professor of English at Wheaton College for over 43 years. He has authored or edited over three dozen books—including Dickens’s “Great Expectations” in the Christian Guides to the Classics series and the forthcoming A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible. He also served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version Bible.

Here he commends a novel he has read over thirty times.


GEA magazine editor once invited me to join other contributors in answering the question, What is the best novel originally published in English?  My answer began, The best novel originally published in English is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations was recommended to me when I was preparing to go on my first Wheaton in England program.  Through the years I have maintained that this novel is the best possible introduction to the people and places of England.

The Britishness of Great Expectations is related to my first commendation of the novel.  The first thing we want when we sit down to read a novel is to be transported. Great Expectations delivers the goods.  No fiction writer has excelled Dickens in the gift of world making.  The world to which we are transported when we read Great Expectations is quintessential Britain and Victorian England.  It is a world of nature and countryside, the small town, and London.

A second thing that we want when we commit ourselves to reading a novel is to be entertained.  The hedonistic defense of literature (defending literature on the pleasure principle) has always carried primary weight with me.  We read literature in our leisure time, and leisure is meant to be enjoyable. Great Expectations gives us the enjoyment that we want.

It is also a comic masterpiece.  Among English authors, Dickens ranks with Chaucer and Shakespeare as our greatest humorist. His comedy is divided between comedy arising from characters and comedy arising from the situations of plot (“situation comedy”).

Dickens was a stylist and wordsmith of the very highest order, and he never excelled more than in Great Expectations (his last great novel).  Dickens could make moments immortal by how he expressed them.  His sparkling style is self-rewarding.

When I teach Great Expectations, I devote modules to each of the three elements that make up a story—setting, character creation, and plot.  I stand at the board and ask my class to assemble the story qualities that the human race likes best in a story.  By the time I have filled to board, it is obvious that Great Expectations meets all the criteria.

What about the truth of Great Expectations?  One type of truth is truthfulness to human experience.  A fiction writer gets us to stare at life, and the knowledge that emerges is knowledge in the form of right seeing—seeing things accurately.  Virtually everything that Dickens portrays in Great Expectations ”gets it right” in its accurate rendition of human experience.

Where’s the edification?  I myself place literature as a whole on a continuum with three main categories:

  1. Christian literature
  2. the literature of clarification and common humanity
  3. the literature of unbelief

Great Expectations falls into the middle category.  It does not explicitly endorse the Christian faith (though it contains many biblical references), but it is readily congruent with Christianity.  In particular it raises the question of values in a helpful way.  Pip loses his soul (metaphorically speaking) when he bases his life on his “great expectations” of a life of material ease based on inherited money, and he gains his soul (in a moral but not a spiritual sense) when he abandons his great expectations and bases his life on love, personal relations, and contentment with the common life.

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What Would It Have Been Like to Attend a Puritan Worship Service?

Aug 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

InteriorOldShip

The Old Ship Meetinghouse, built in 1681 (Hingham, Massachusetts). It is the only remaining 17th c. Puritan meetinghouse in the US and the oldest church in continuous ecclesiastical use in the US (now a Unitarian Universalist church).

Princeton historian Horton Davies (1916-2005):

A stranger entering any Puritan meeting-house would first notice the bareness and simplicity of the architecture and of the furnishings.

Probably the only decoration on the walls of the building would be text from the Scriptures.

Apart from the pews, the only other articles of furniture would be the high central pulpit and the Communion-table immediately below it.

On the cushion on the ledger of the pulpit would be seen the Bible. Its dominating, central position was no accident: it testified to the authority of the Bible in the worship, doctrine and government of Puritan Churches.

The impression of unadorned simplicity would be maintained at the worship.

The minister would ascend to the pulpit, dressed in a grave black gown, its somberness relieved only by the white of the Genevan bands he wore.

The service would commence with the call to worship, consisting of sentences selected from the Scriptures.

Then the stranger would kneel or stand, according to the practice of the congregation where he was worshiping, during the prayer of confession.

He would then join in a metrical psalm of praise.

The minister with then read a chapter from the Old Testament, perhaps pausing here and there to explain some obscure verse.

The stranger might then join in another metrical psalm, or he would hear a new testament lection immediately after the previous reading.

If you were in an Independent church he would then hear the minister lead a prayer of intercession. At its conclusion the whole assembly would ascent with a vocal ‘Amen’.

If you were in a Presbyterian church, this item would be postponed until after the sermon, and it would conclude with all saying the Lord’s Prayer aloud.

He would then notice the shuffling of the congregation as they settle down to listen comfortably to a lengthy sermon, while the minister adjusted the hour-glass. The sermon would be an exposition of a text or a longer passage of Scripture. It would begin with a simple exposition of Scripture, it would continue by controverting any errors which the Scripture condemned, it would conclude with the statement of the advantages of the acceptance of this particular doctrine. The preacher would deliver his conclusion with passionate and perhaps even vehement pleading. The stranger’s general impression of the sermon would be that both reason and conscience had been satisfied, and that the preacher had, in the name of God, struck for a decision. The peroration of the sermon would be the climax of the whole service. The service would then end with another metrical psalm and the pronouncing of the Blessing by the minister. . . .

In each service he would clearly have understood that the way of worship was not simply the manner in which the particular assembly of Christians wished to worship God, but rather that it was the kind of worship that God himself demanded in his Word. The lengthy readings from the Scriptures, the Baptismal formula taken from the Scriptures, the words of Institution and of Delivery taken from the Scriptures, the Biblical phraseology of the prayers, the careful way in which the sermon elucidated the Scriptures, and the metrical versions of the psalms used in praise, would all have contributed to produce this impression. In fact, it was the Biblical basis of Puritan worship that accounted for the liturgical agreement amongst the Puritans.

—Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (orig., 1948; reprint: Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997), 246-47.

See also, “What Did It Looks and Sound Like in Jonathan Edwards’s New England?” by Doug Sweeney. (Davies’s description applies to both England and New England in both the 17th and 18th centuries, while Sweeney is more specifically focused on 18th century New England.)

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Louis Markos: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Aug 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Markos-Louis_4I am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Louis Markos, professor in English and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities.

His books include From Achilles to Christ (IVP), Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition (W&S), Apologetics for the 21st Century (Crossway), On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Moody), and Literature: A Student’s Guide (Crossway).


HTNot all of the novels of Charles Dickens are 800 pages long! In fact, my favorite Dickens novel, Hard Times, comes in just under 300 pages. Its relatively short length likely has to do with its simple, parable-like structure. As the titles of its three books (“Sowing,” “Reaping,” “Garnering”) make clear, Hard Times illustrates and dramatizes the biblical teaching that we reap that which we sow.

Which is not to say that the novel is schematic or overly moralistic. The characters that Dickens creates are flesh-and-blood people who make agonizing decisions, and for whom we come to care deeply. The flawed protagonist, Thomas Gradgrind, is a retired merchant who runs a model school that trains children to think only in terms of facts. Employing the same utilitarian educational system for his eldest son (Tom) and daughter (Louisa), he forbids them to read poetry or fiction and roots out of them all fanciful, romantic, or heroic notions.

Though Gradgrind is neither a bad man nor an uncaring father, his failure to nurture his children’s hearts and souls has disastrous results; both Tom and Louisa grow up to be stunted adults devoid of real human feeling. Lacking not only a moral center but the kinds of feelings that must ever accompany virtuous behavior, Tom, without suffering a stitch of remorse, first manipulates his doting sister and then robs a bank and frames the crime on an innocent worker. When his father asks him why he has done these terrible things, Tom appeals to the law of averages: given so many workers, so many are bound to be dishonest. Sadly, tragically, Gradgrind must see the bitter fruit of his utilitarian ideals.

The true heart of the novel, however, concerns Louisa’s disastrous marriage to a filthy capitalist, Bounderby, who is thirty years her senior. When Gradgrind passes on Bounderby’s proposal to Louisa, she desires to share with her father what is in her heart but neither of them knows how to communicate on an emotional level. Though they both know Louisa does not love Bounderby, Gradgrind brushes this aside, counseling her to make her decision based on facts and statistics. Her marriage is a loveless one, leaving the emotionally immature Louisa prey to an amoral rake, with whom she nearly runs off.

At the last second, she relents (this is, after all, a Victorian novel!), and, instead, runs home to her father’s house. He greets her at the door, only to have her fall, in an insensible heap, at his feet. Although Gradgrind is humbled by the experience and comes to realize that there was something missing in his educational scheme, he proves unable to mend the damage that has been done. Bounderby rejects Gradgrind’s plea to give Louisa some time apart from him and casts her aside for good. Louisa never remarries and lives as a childless, isolated spinster.

The fates of Gradgrind, Tom, and Louisa might suggest that Hard Times is a gloomy novel, but Dickens is careful to contrast their stories with that of a troupe of circus people who, though they lack facts, are rich in love, warmth, and joy. Through them Dickens teaches us that there are aspects of our lives and ours souls that cannot be so easily weighed and measured.

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Lore Ferguson: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Aug 30, 2014 | Justin Taylor

LFI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Offering a recommendation today is Lore Ferguson, a writer and graphic designer living in Dallas, TX. She describes her life as “small, simple, and ever in an ongoing effort to make it more so.”

She writes at sayable.net and can be followed on Twitter at @loreferguson.

 


BroKIf you have anything good to say about a particular book, you ought to at least have a few good things to say about its plot as well. Whenever I recommend my favorite particular book, I’m asked: “What is it about?” The words catch—sometimes on the end of my tongue, sometimes in the back of my throat—because the truth is I don’t know.The Brothers K (not to be confused with The Brothers Karamazov, which it will be anyway) is a book about a family, and this is how I recommend it in a singular sentence. It is a book about the family Chance, as told by one of four Chance brothers, Kincaid. I heard of

The Brothers K from an author friend who had named his son after Kincade. I knew then I must have missed the great American novel as an English major while under piles of Gilgamesh and Shakespeare, for which I will never forgive my professors.

Paul says whatever is good and true and pure, to think on these things, and I know he meant it, but sometimes I wonder if that meant we were never to think of the evil, untrue, and defiled things that pass to and fro beneath the front we offer everyone else. The truth is there is evil and defilement in my heart, and I must think on those things to lead me to the kindness of God on the way to repentance. David James Duncan simmers the brokenness of family, heart, war, and world in this 645-page novel, and never boils it over. There is not gratuitous delight in brokenness, but there is neither a turning away of the things that break us all.

The tension holding the book together is the voice of Kincaid, growing into adulthood, processing and reprocessing the life he’s been born into and the life he eventually chooses. But the real tension is that the reader will see himself there in the questions Kincaid asks and the ones that are asked of him, the observations we all make but are afraid to say.

Like many a Christian before them, Mama and the Elder justified their machinations with Christ’s famous sentence: ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ And like many a Christian before them, they completely forgot that the only sword-shaped weapon Jesus ever actually used was the one He died on.

Some might see observations like these as gratuitous jabs against Christianity, and I might agree, but gratuitous jabs are the fully-grown progeny of doubts never voiced.If you read it slowly, and finish it well, you will have grown alongside the Chance family, asking existential questions and mulling on philosophical differences, but you will also have grown to love them. This is why The Brothers K is a book Christians ought to read (though I’m wary of saying must read).

We all have people in our lives who challenge and press on us in uncomfortable ways and places, but it is not by chance they are there. They are, in one very real sense, family. These bipeds we pass in grocery stores and though church doors—more than mere humans taking up space, they carry the weight of abuse, fear, doubt, hope, joy, peace, and death on their shoulders. One of the brothers K says:

I felt free to like all three of these men now, because I’d realized I didn’t have to become them.

Would that we all could say those words.

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David Powlison: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Aug 29, 2014 | Justin Taylor

DPI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

David Powlison worked for four years in psychiatric hospitals, during which time he came to faith in Christ. He teaches at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, where he is executive director, and edits The Journal of Biblical Counseling. He hold an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in the history of science and medicine (focusing on the history of psychiatry), and has been a counselor for over 30 years.

 


SGW
Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War (1991) is book every reading Christian should consider.

In making this recommendation, I am taking seriously that the verb is “should consider,” not “should read.” This novel is not for everyone. It’s long (almost 800 pages). Helprin’s style (magical realism) won’t appeal to some people. You won’t find Christian theology. This is purely a work of fiction. It tells the story of a very interesting man. It does not present opinions, views, and advice. That’s the disclaimer.

But here’s the draw. A Soldier of the Great War is beautiful. It is thought-provoking.

I know that many readers will find that Helprin’s writing gives the same deep pleasure and rich nourishment that he has given me over the years. I have read SGW four or five times. (Only Fyodor Dostoevsky and Patrick O’Brian have drawn me back so often.) Each time I have been enraptured. My copy of the book is marked up with innumerable underlinings, annotations, and cross-references. I love Helprin’s lyricism and imagination. I love his reflections on and evocations of beauty, love, joy, worship, courage, coming of age, passion, loss, and death.

Beauty, joy, and love—in the face of death—are the core. We Christians are right to take seriously “the true and the good,” those life-or-death questions dealing with epistemological convictions and ethical actions. We are not right to ignore or even deprecate “the beautiful,” those life-or-death questions dealing with aesthetic experience. But worship and God’s glory involve all three.

God is true. He is good. He is beautiful.

Sin corrupts all three; grace redeems all three. Helprin does not write as a Christian. But he awakens things that stream in the direction of whole-souled worship. Not worship abstracted and detached from God’s working in time and place and persons. But worship awakening in the midst of human experience, embedded in creation, history, and relationships. SGW traffics in immediacy, wonder, engagement, joy, attachment, awe, attentiveness, gratitude, alertness, appreciation, longing.

Of course, I love SGW in a different way than I love Scripture. But alongside Scripture, I most love novels and histories. Why? Because you learn about people.

You gain a feel for human experience.

You come to understand riches and nuances that you could never understand just from knowing the circle of people you happen to know.

You come to understand the ways that people differ from each other, and the ways we are all alike—an exceedingly valuable component of wisdom.

You become a bigger person with a wider scope of perception.

All those things you come to know illustrate and amplify the relevance and wisdom of our God. I love fiction and biography for the same reasons that an 18th century pastor would read his Bible and his Shakespeare. SGW is one those stories from which I have loved learning.

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Kathy Keller: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Aug 28, 2014 | Justin Taylor

kathykeller-2Today I am beginning a new blog series on Novels That Every Christian Should Consider Reading. Only the Bible is a “must read,” so put these in the category of “should consider reads.” Over the next couple of weeks I will post one or two entries a day.

The first contributor is Kathy Keller.

Kathy holds an MA in theological studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has worked as an editor for Great Commission Publications, and presently serves on the staff of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where her husband, Tim, is senior pastor. In Redeemer’s early years, Tim preached and Kathy was the entire staff; now she serves as assistant director of communications.

Kathy writes below about a series of books—which can also be considered one long novel—that will leave you “forever dissatisfied with poorly written fiction.”


 

POBPatrick O’Brian, the author of the 20-book series of Aubrey-Maturin stories set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars, was famously reticent about his personal life. Judging by the competing narratives that came to light shortly before and after his death, it was a complex one. Following C. S. Lewis in The Personal Heresy, I do not care a whit. The man could write a story.

If it would not be a breach of contract, I would stop writing here and re-direct any reader to David Mamet’s piece  in the New York Times along with George Will’s retrospective in the Washington Post and consider my duty done.

Mamet’s and Will’s admiration was reserved for a writer who could tell a good story, and in this they regard Patrick O’Brian as one of the masters. The long tale of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin’s friendship, adventures, marriages, successes, humiliations, strengths, and weaknesses is one that will become a part of you. The follies and glories of human nature are recorded with humor, insight, and tenderness. I often think that if I am confined to bed in my dotage, I will ask to have my favorite books, whom I think of as friends, stacked up in bed with me, just to handle and hug to myself, as Mamet said.

I stumbled across the O’Brian books one summer when I was looking for a cache of books to take on vacation. No trip could rightfully be called a vacation unless I had at least half a dozen unread books to pack among the bathing suits and sunscreen. I was particularly delighted to discover what looked like a good writer with a long tail—meaning he had already written a LOT of books, so that if I did discover that I liked his writing, there would be no waiting for the next installment to come out.

Ha!

I bought three, just to give them a fair trial, and by the middle of our second week away I was calling back to the bookstore in NYC and begging them to FedEx the next five or six in the series so I wouldn’t run out before we returned. Since then I have read all 20 four times through, and am about to embark on another marathon.

I am completely ignorant of sailing in all its incarnations (ancient, modern, recreational, naval, etc). As O’Brian has made use of historical diaries and letters, as well as mastering the sailing jargon himself, each story is liberally peppered with “loosening the foretopsail” and “shipping the capstan-bars,” and other nautical expressions. As Stephen Maturin, physician, spy, and friend of Captain Jack Aubrey, is also an unreconstructed landsman, this should not be an impediment to enjoyment of the story. If you do happen to understand sailing terms, so much the better for you.

Critics rightly regard all 20 books as one long story. So make no mistake: I am not recommending ONE novel to you, but the entire series. To my friends with whom I have waxed passionate about their joys and perfections, and who have tried to get interested and failed, I can only say “You didn’t give it long enough.” Like people who say they just can’t get into The Lord of the Rings, you just have to take it on the word of people you trust that if you get into the rhythm of the writing, the use of language, the overarching story arc, and most of all, the friendship (LOTR and PO’B) you will be drawn in, enriched, entertained, changed, and made forever dissatisfied with poorly written fiction.

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David Platt Elected President of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board

Aug 27, 2014 | Justin Taylor

David-Platt-CroppedEarlier today the trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board elected David Platt to serve as president.

This seems like a historic occasion—God putting things in place to put one of our generation’s great missions mobilizers at the helm of one of the great sending institutions for fulfilling the Great Commission.

Russell Moore comments:

I have been praying for a long, long time that he would be elected. Our IMB president must be one who can drive our missions focus in a new way for a new era. It’s not enough that Southern Baptists’ global missions leader motivates us all to give and to go (although he must do that). He must be someone who can connect from the Scriptures how the Great Commission, and especially our global Great Commission responsibilities, are the urgent concern of all of us, Most Christians know that Matthew 28 and Acts 1 command us to go, to reach the unreached with the gospel. We need though to be constantly reminded how every text, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is connected to the mission of reaching the nations.

In a rapidly shifting American culture, this means modeling a vision of why it is that cooperating together for this task is connected to everything else that we do. We need to activate and enthuse a new generation for the adventure of reaching the world with the gospel.

You can read Moore’s full comments here.

Update: Here is Platt on video talking about the transition:

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Whitefield and the Great Awakening: Two Things to Watch for This October

Aug 27, 2014 | Justin Taylor

GW

This October—two months before George Whitefield’s 300th birthday—the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies will hold a conference on George Whitefield and the Great Awakening at Southern Seminary in Louisville. Several excellent historians, including David Bebbington, Thomas Kidd, Lee Gattis, Steve Nichols, and Bruce Hindmarsh—will give presentations on Whitefield and his significance. You can find the schedule and register online.

That same month Yale University Press will publish Kidd’s George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father. Mark Noll says that ”This superb chronicle of George Whitefield’s life is now our fullest biography for the much-studied and much-debated eighteenth-century evangelist. It combines unusual empathy with unusual comprehension.” And J. I. Packer calls it ”Thoroughly researched, and rooted in an exact knowledge of Whitefield’s times; critically perceptive while remaining appreciatively sympathetic; this is the best balanced and most illuminating chronicle of the Anglo-American Awakener’s career that has yet been produced.”

If you want to read Whitefield’s sermons for yourself, this two-volume set is the thing to get.

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How Can Smaller Churches Partner with Other Churches for the Kingdom?

Aug 27, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I recently sat down with Matt Dirks, co-author with Chris Bruno of the new book, Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion (foreword by D. A. Carson).

  • 00:10 – Where do you serve?
  • 00:39 – What was the one thing that Paul dedicated much of his life to?
  • 02:16 – How do you bridge the gap between the first century and the twenty-first century in terms of church partnerships?
  • 03:37 – What is a “kingdom church partnership”?
  • 06:03 – Can you share a few concrete examples of church partnerships from your own ministry?
  • 07:33 – Why can’t this vision be handled by a denomination or parachurch ministry?
  • 09:54 – If a small church pastor picks up your book, he will get ______.

You can learn more about the book and download an excerpt.

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What Is a Good Historian?

Aug 26, 2014 | Justin Taylor

The latest edition of the excellent Credo Magazine (which is devoted to George Whitefield at 300) asks four Christian historians what makes a good historian. Here are their answers:

Thomas J. Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

A good historian must have confidence that the past can reconfigured in the present to a credible degree of accuracy.

A good historian should not be afraid of affirming that sometimes there is sufficient evidence to interpret events as manifestations of merciful as well as judgmental works of divine providence.

A good historian will let people have the place of primacy in his effort to understand the past.

A good historian must not shrink from seeking to deduce beneficial lessons, of a variety of sorts, from a faithful narrative and analysis of the past.

Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame:

A good historian must above all be curious—about the world at large, about how records reveal (and obscure) the past, and especially about the whys and wherefores of human interaction.

For public purposes, a good historian should be able to

  • write clearly,
  • organize complexity,
  • explain significance, and
  • avoid either mythologizing or debunking the past.

Good Christian historians, in addition, should cultivate

  • empathy for their subjects (since all humans are made in the image of God),
  • charity toward the judgments of other historians (since believers recognize their own fallibility),
  • trust in divine providence (since God in the end controls all things), and
  • humility about their own humanity (since only the authors of Scripture are infallible)

Herman Selderhuis, Professor of Church History, Theological University Apeldoorn (The Netherlands), and Director of Refo500:

A good historian is a good listener who listens carefully to facts and words, especially the small ones.

A good historian is also a good composer who puts these facts and words harmoniously together to make history a profitable pleasure to hear and read.

A good historian must be a good colleague who is willing to learn from and share with other historians.

A good historian must have some good self-knowledge to understand how people from the past were human beings just as historians are.

Doug Sweeney, Chair of Church History & History of Christian Thought Department, and Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

A good historian is someone with

enough patience, love, and diligence to develop a fine-grained and sympathetic understanding of the lives of people in other times and places;

enough insight, artistry, and attention to detail to recreate those lives (in context) for contemporary audiences; and

enough passion, cogency, and analytical skill to interpret the significance of those lives in relation to contemporary realities.

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Race, Power, and Innocence in America

Aug 25, 2014 | Justin Taylor

The-Content-of-Our-Character-Steele-Shelby-9780060974152I do not hear much from or about Shelby Steele these days—perhaps because his last book constituted a colossal failure of prediction.

But his first book, The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America (1990) remains provocative reading that repays visitation.

Steele is especially eloquent and insightful about the psychology of race in America. I have long wished for someone to take his insights on guilt, power, and innocence and apply them to our context with a thoroughgoing gospel perspective. Such analysis must await the work of someone more gifted and skilled than I, but let me offer a few quotes from his opening chapter—the original version of which can be read for free here—in order to whet your appetite:

I think the racial struggle in American has always been primarily a struggle for innocence. White racism from the beginning has been a claim of white innocence and therefore of white entitlement to subjugate blacks. And in the sixties, as went innocence so went power. Blacks used the innocence that grew out of their long subjugation to seize more power, while whites lost some of their innocence and so lost a degree of power over blacks.

Both races instinctively understand that to lose innocence is to lose power (in relation to each other). Now to be innocent someone else must be guilty, a natural law that leads the races to forge their innocence on each other’s backs. The inferiority of the black always makes the white man superior; the evil might of whites makes blacks good. This pattern means that both races have a hidden investment in racism and racial disharmony, despite their good intentions to the contrary. Power defines their relations, and power requires innocence, which, in turn, requires racism and racial division. (p. 6)

Further:

Historically, blacks have handled white society’s presumption of innocence in two ways: they have bargained with it, granting white society its innocence in exchange for entry into the mainstream; or they have challenged it, holding that innocence hostage until their demand for entry (or other concessions) was met. A bargainer says, I already believe you are innocent (good, fair-minded) and have faith that you will prove it. A challenger says, If you are innocent, then prove it. Bargainers give in hope of receiving; challengers withhold until they receive. Of course, there is risk in both approaches, but in each case the black is negotiating his own self-interest against the presumed racial innocence of the larger society. (pp. 10-11)

Finally:

 I believe that . . . what divides [the races] in the nation can only be bridged by an adherence to those moral principles that disallow race as a source of power, privilege, status, or entitlement of any kind. In our age, principles like fairness and equality are ill-defined and all but drowned in relativity. But this is the fault of people, not principles. We keep them muddied because they are the greatest threat to our presumed innocence and our selective ignorance. Moral principles, even when somewhat ambiguous, have the power to assign responsibility and therefore to provide us with knowledge. . . .

What both black and white Americans fear are the sacrifices and risks that true racial harmony demands. This fear is the measure of our racial chasm. And though fear always seeks a thousand justifications, none is ever good enough, and the problems we run from only remain to haunt us. It would be right to suggest courage as an antidote to fear, but the glory of the word might only intimidate us into more fear. I prefer the word effort—relentless effort, moral effort. What I like most about this word are its connotations of everydayness, earnestness, and practical sacrifice. No matter how badly it might have gone for us that warm summer night, we should have talked. We should have made the effort. (p. 20)

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Chesterton: Nothing Can Be Irrelevant to the Proposition that Christianity Is True

Aug 25, 2014 | Justin Taylor

“You cannot evade the issue of God . . . if Christianity should happen to be true—then defending it may mean talking about anything or everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true.”

—G.K. Chesterton, Daily News (December 12, 1903)

HT: Jonathan Morrow, whose new book is Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority.

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