Search Results for: keller

 

Oct

26

2010

Kevin DeYoung|5:05 am CT

Interview with Tim Keller on Generous Justice

I’m reading through Tim Keller’s new book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes us Just. Keller treats his subject carefully and with the necessary nuance (be sure to read the footnotes). Just as important, his passion (and God’s passion) for the poor and vulnerable comes through in a contagious way. Both those on fire for “social justice” and those suspicious of it will benefit from Keller’s latest.

Tim was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to do an interview with me. My questions are in bold and Tim’s answers in regular type.

I’ll start with the million dollar question, what is justice and what does it mean to do justice?

Doing justice means giving people their due. On the one hand that means restraining and punishing wrongdoers. On the other hand it means giving people what we owe them as beings in the image of God. Nick Wolterstorff says that, as a creature in the image of God, each human being comes into your presence with ‘claim-rights.’ That is, they have the right to not be killed or kidnapped or raped. Of course there is plenty of room for disagreement on the specifics of these things, but that’s my basic definition. Doing justice, then, includes everything from law enforcement to being generous to the poor. (I believe Job 29 and 31 include generosity as part of a just life.)

You explain at the beginning of the book that you are writing for four kinds of people: those excited about doing justice, those suspicious, those who have expanded their mission to include social justice, and those who think religion poisons everything. In a sentence, what do you want to say to each group?

I hope that the 1st group gets a more sustained commitment to doing justice through growing in theological and spiritual maturity.

I hope that the 2nd group becomes aware that what Jonathan Edwards says is true, namely that there is “no command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms…than the command of giving to the poor.”

I hope that the 3rd group would be more patient with warnings to not let a justice emphasis undermine a church’s work of evangelism and making disciples. Careful balances have to be struck. (Whoops—that’s two sentences!)

I hope that the 4th group will be able to recognize that much of their understanding of rights and justice has come from the Bible, and even to critique the church they have to use standards borrowed from Christianity.

What is one of your favorite verses that speaks to either God’s heart for the needy or our call to generous justice?

I don’t have just one. The entire parable of the Good Samaritan has shaped my thinking profoundly.

Why are you so passionate about this issue?

I read the Bible and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of Biblical material that expresses concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. My main gifting is evangelism and I’ve never had extensive experience in a poor community or country. So I reason—if I can see all of this in the Bible, despite the fact that I’m not especially oriented to do so—it must be important to God. I’m passionate about it because I’m passionate to be shaped by the Bible.

What do you do in your own life to pursue generous justice?

At Redeemer, we have an excellent diaconate that works with those in need within our community. In addition, years ago I helped a group of people establish “Hope For New York,” a separate but closely aligned organization, that helps our church members give of their time and money to the needs of the whole city. As I say in the book, many churches who work among the poor establish a 501(c)3—often a ‘community development corporation’—to do much of the direct ministry to people in need. That way the elders of the local church can concentrate on building up the flock. That fits in with Abraham Kuyper’s insight that it is best for much of Christian work in society to happen through voluntary societies and associations, run by lay people. In the end, then, my main personal contribution to justice in New York City has been to establish and lead my church in a way that makes all this possible.

Any cautions you would give to Christians who are eager to transform the world or make the shalom of the city their church’s mission?

I believe that making disciples and doing justice relate (not exactly) but somewhat in the same way that faith and works relate to one another. We would say that faith alone is the basis for salvation, and yet true faith will always result in good works. We must not “load in” works as if they are an equal with faith as a salvation-base, but neither can we “detach” works and say that they are optional for a believer. Similarly, I would say that the first thing I need to tell people when they come to church is “believe in Jesus,” not “do justice.” Why? Because first, believing in Jesus meets a more radical need and second, because if they don’t believe in Jesus they won’t have that gospel-motivation to do justice that I talk about in the book. So there’s a priority there. On the other hand, for a church to not constantly disciple its people to “do justice” would be utterly wrong, because it is an important part of God’s will. I’m calling for an ‘asymmetrical balance’ here. It seems to me that some churches try to “load in” doing justice as if it is equally important as believing in Jesus, but others, in fear of falling into the social gospel, do not preach or disciple their people to do justice at all. Both are wrong. A Biblical church should be highly evangelistic yet known for its commitment to the poor of the city.

I think you’re at least a little familiar with some of things I’ve said and written about social justice and the mission of the church. Any cautions or corrections for me?

I must confess I don’t read your blog religiously. However, I look at it fairly often and I’m always impressed with your thoughtfulness. Here’s one thought. When you say, “the church’s mission is to make disciples, not change the culture,” on one level I’d agree with you, as you can see by my answers under #5 and #6 above. However, you have to disciple people to follow Christ not only inside the church but outside in the world. For example, when a Christian actor asks “what roles can I take as a Christian—and what roles should I turn down?” or when a hedge fund manager asks: “can a Christian do short selling?”—these are discipleship questions. If you disciple people to bring their faith to bear on all of life, you will be equipping them to do justice and also, inevitably, “do culture-making”.  I’m pretty sure you’d agree with me here. I’m only proposing that, when you say, “we must make disciples, not do justice or engage culture” you might give the impression that disciples simply do evangelism, follow-up, and recruiting people into the church. But disciples do more than that.

 
 

Mar

18

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:07 am CT

9 Thoughts on Celebrity Pastors, Controversy, the New Calvinism, Etc.

1. The term “celebrity pastor” is decidedly pejorative. I don’t know anyone who would be happy to own the phrase. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it. But it means we should not attach it to pastors in a knee jerk way. A Christian with some combination of influence, social media followers, books, a large church, and speaking engagements may be a public Christian or a well known individual, but let’s not use “celebrity pastor” unless we mean to say he relishes the spotlight, has schemed his way into the spotlight, and carries himself as being above mere mortals. Does this fit some popular preachers? Probably. Does it fit all of them? By no means.

2. Having said that, let us beware of the many devilish dangers that can beset us in this internet age. Have there always been Christians mired in controversy? Have there always been popular preachers? Have there always been charlatans in the church? Yes, yes, and yes. These things are not new. What is new is the myriad of ways we can channel our pride, feed our pride, and keep numerical count of our pride. I don’t think I’ve read a negative post on celebrity pastors or the evangelical industrial complex that doesn’t touch on legitimate issues and very real dangers. This is not a throwaway point. We need warnings. I need them too.

3. Let us also acknowledge that one can become something of a “celebrity” critiquing celebrity pastors. This doesn’t make the critiques wrong or inappropriate. But it does mean we aren’t out of the Woods of Pride just because we’ve aligned ourselves against the proud. Besides, are pastors the only Christians susceptible to these pitfalls? What about celebrity professors or celebrity pollsters or celebrity social justice advocates?

4. The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.

5. When we criticize others for their faults (real or perceived) let us broadcast the news just as widely when they repent of their faults and correct them. The same is even more true when it turns out we were wrong in our information or accusations. Of all people, Christians should not put the bad news in bold face and the good news in a footnote.

6. Discernment is hard work. On the one hand, journalists or bloggers have every right to dig into the facts of some brewing controversy. When the smoke leads you to a fire, let’s not be afraid to sound the alarm. Done in the right spirit, public accountability for public figures is good and right. On the other hand, let’s not fall foul of 1 Corinthians 13 by believing nothing, overlooking nothing, bearing nothing, and hoping for nothing except to find more dirt. How sad it is when a love for the truth becomes a love for exposing thy neighbor.

7. Associations are tricky. It does matter with whom you share a platform. Convictions and courage are often compromised by a casual approach to movement building. If you were big buddies with Arius in the fourth century and blurbed all his books, people would be right to ask a few questions. And yet, to throw a movement under the bus for a couple bad bus drivers is not right. The logic which says “John Piper is the father of the New Calvinism, and John Piper did conferences with Mark Driscoll several years ago, and Mark Driscoll is friends with Steven Furtick, therefore the New Calvinism and everyone and everything associated with it is complicit in the worst of evangelical megachurchdom” is reasoning equal parts fallacious and lazy.

8. There are many possible reasons for silence in the midst of controversy. Some of them are cowardly. Some are wise. It’s not always easy to know when to speak and when to shut your mouth, especially when the former can get you accused of acting too churchly and the latter can land you in hot water for enabling the problem. Along these lines, it may be worth pointing out that TGC blogs commented on the Elephant Room here, here, here, and here; on plagiarism, ghost writing, and buying your way on to the best sellers list here, here, here, and here. And this is simply what I found after searching for 15 minutes, and excluding articles linked to on twitter and commentary from other TGC council members (e.g., Piper’s strong denunciations of ghostwriting here and here).

9. Is the New Calvinism dead or dying? In a couple ways yes. In most ways no. “Yes” in so far as we are seeing that some of the networks in the movement probably don’t actually belong in the same movement and some of the popular voices in the movement may not really be singing from the same sheet of music. But a resounding “no” in so far as the commitment to and interest in these twelve features seems to me to be growing rather than receding. Where the New Calvinism is about propping up our puny empires and making pastors rich and famous let it die a thousand deaths and die quickly. Where the New Calvinism leads people to the Bible, points to good books, produces good resources, promotes a winsome evangelical Calvinism, strengthens the local church, exults in Christ, proclaims the gospel, and  magnifies the glory of God, let it grow ten thousand fold. And if it grows and in some quarters becomes potent and popular, let us not have a whiff of triumphalism for its success, nor a hint of rooting for its demise.

 
 

Dec

21

2013

Kevin DeYoung|5:57 am CT

Staff Book Recommendations for Christmas

We have a tremendous staff at URC. They like reading almost as much as I do. So I asked them to suggest some books people might want to consider for Christmas reading or Christmas gifts. I told them to pick whatever they like–Christian, non-Christian, fiction, young adult, whatever. Here are the responses I received.

Nick Setterington, Director of International Ministries

Christmas is a great time to break from my usual reading diet (which tends to be theology), so I’m aiming outside this genre to books I’ve found fun, fast-moving, or riveting while at the same time being historical, mind-stirring, or biographical. Along those lines, here are a few books worth considering, each of which could be read in a day or two.

Blain Harden, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West (Penguin)

The author writes, “North Korea’s labor camps have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps” (p4). What would it be like to grow up in a labor camp with no knowledge of the outside world? This account should make us weep while giving us a greater urgency to pray for the North Korean people.

Adam Makos, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II (Berkley)

I am amazed what our grandparent’s generation experienced during the horrors of WWII. Reading about chivalry, courage and honor—not merely from Allied pilots but from German fighters as well—makes you pause to consider the presence of virtue in the midst of unspeakable evil.

James Doolittle, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography (Bantam)

The life of General James Doolittle is remarkable because he actually lived to write about it. From his early days as a stunt pilot with experimental aviation technology to his invading flight over Tokyo during WWII to the jet and space era after the war, this autobiography gives you a personal account of one of the greatest, most technologically evolved generations in American history.

N. D. Wilson, Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World (Thomas Nelson)

I don’t have a poetic or artistic mind, so it’s fascinating to climb inside one’s head to see what goes on in there. This book will do just that. It helped me to think about my daily routine with new wonder and to see the world with different eyes.

 

Rachel Schultz, Volunteer Coordinator

Katie Quinn Davies, What Katie Ate (Studio)

This recommendation comes from one who finds flesh and blood (um, spine and pages?) cookbooks needless in a world of blogs and Pinterest. And yet, I am compelled to suggest it to you. Katie Quinn Davie’s photography and food styling is second to none, making this book equally function and art. It will be at home in a kitchen cupboard or displayed on your coffee table.

Rose Marie Miller, From Fear to Freedom (Shaw)

Rose’s writing has brought tremendous growth and healing to my soul. From Fear to Freedom centers around our need to understand God’s love for us is based only on Christ. Although much of the book is about her life, I appreciate Rose’s care to make the focus God-exalting rather herself or her experiences-exalting. This is easily in my top five of all time favorites.

 

Jenny Olson, Administrative Assistant to Kevin DeYoung

Veronica Roth, Divergent (Katherine Tegen)

Let me explain–I have an adult daughter that is very involved with the Young Adult fiction publishing world and I get most of my book recommendations from her. Divergent is from the now-ever-popular dystopia genre but I found it to be quite gripping and enjoyable. It is the first in a trilogy (don’t all YA books come in a series!). I can’t recommend the second and third books (as a matter of fact, the third book I did not like at all). My daughter tells me the first books are always superior.

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Dutton)

One of my favorite authors, Tim Keller, puts suffering in perspective. This is a good, readable book that I will be recommending to others.

 

Andrew Chesebro, Campus Ministry

John Piper, Desiring God (Multnomah)

I remember reading this book after my freshman year in college and having my world turned upside down. A God who loves himself more than me is the only possible God who can secure my eternal joy.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Crossway)

College was the first time I was ever challenged to share my faith, and quickly realized I didn’t know how! This short book is clear, insightful, and immensely practical.

 

Jon Saunders, Campus Ministry Director

John Piper, Desiring God , The Pleasures of God and Future Grace (Multnomah)

These 3 foundational books were immensely helpful to me when I was in college. They are modern day classics that I believe will stand the test of time.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness (Create Space)

A classic that has already stood the test of time. This is a go to book that I use with college students on a regular basis. It is the perfect combination of theological precision and heart stirring devotion. I wish more people were aware of this hidden treasure.

Seth Davis, When March Went Mad (St. Martin’s Griffin)

This is the story of the most influential basketball game in history. It is the story of Michigan State vs Indiana State, which began the rivalry/friendship of Magic vs Bird. This is my one shot to hype Michigan State so I had to include this book.

 

Jason Helopoulos, Assistant Pastor   

Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World (Nabu)

This work is not the lightest reading, but it is well worth your time. This book literally changed my life (John Piper relays the same). It sets before the reader a true working theology for all of life and puts all things in a right perspective.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (P&R)

I have used this book to train multiple congregations and small groups in how to minister to one another. It is easy to say, “minister to one another.” Many understand the charge, but struggle with the “how.” Tripp’s rubric of “love, know, speak, do” is encouraging, practical, simple, and exceedingly helpful.

 

David Hinkley, Children’s Ministry Director

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (Dover Thrift)

An incredibly painful and relevant apologetic about the universality of moral absolutes.

J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Create Space)

This book connected the dots for me between justification and my desire to live for Christ better than anything else.

 

 
 

Nov

27

2013

Kevin DeYoung|6:00 am CT

God in The Whirlwind: A Response to James K. A. Smith

Whether I agree with him or not–sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t–I’ve always found James K. A. Smith to be a provocative thinker. He’s sharp, creative, and not afraid to mix it up with all sorts of people. I like that. And I suppose he displayed all those characteristics in his recent CT review of David Wells’s new book, God in the Whirlwind.

Unfortunately, I think he doth protest too much.

In an overwhelmingly negative review in Christianity Today, Smith likens Wells to a harrumphing theological grandfather embarrassed by the 1960′s and pining for the good old days where the church was the church (daggummit!). Smith has no problem with the contention that “the holy-love of God reorients our world” (the book’s subtitle). Smith argues, however, that God in the Whirlwind is severely limited by two problems: a faulty analysis of our cultural situation and a faulty prescription for what ails us.

Faulty Analysis?

As to the first critique, Smith finds Wells’s insistence that “The shaping of our life is to come from Scripture and not from culture” to be a false dichotomy of the worst sort:

But isn’t Scripture itself the product of a culture (many cultures), and doesn’t the gospel invite us into the alternative culture of the body of Christ? Our goal is not a biblical viewpoint bereft of culture, but a cultural formation that’s biblically infused.

I find this criticism puzzling for several reasons. First, because I found this book to be much less focused on cultural critique than Wells’s earlier volumes (see p. 13-14). No doubt, many of the same themes are here that first gained traction in No Place for Truth, but on the whole I thought this was–in accordance with the author’s own design–a largely constructive book. Second, I wonder if Smith has missed what Wells is trying to say. I don’t find anything in Wells’s statement that contradicts Smith’s assertion that the Bible comes from a culture, can help us shape culture, and invites us into an alternative culture. In fact, one of the final sections in the last chapter is how the church should be a “counterculture” in the world–a common theme throughout Wells’  books.

Smith is also troubled by Wells’s emphasis on the objective versus the subjective. This would confuse Augustine, Smith argues, because Augustine was often probing his interior self in an effort to find truth. Just consider this famous section from Augustine’s Confessions:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within me and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.

Instead of using the old objective versus subjective dichotomy, Smith avers, we should follow Augustine’s lead and invite people to turn inward that they might see their emptiness and learn to feel the Creator calling them.

I can’t speak for Wells, but I doubt he would reject that sort of inward turn. What he objects to is plumbing the inward depths of our consciousness and expecting to find God in our own sense of self-worth and self-congratulation. He insists instead that “we must start with God himself if we are to learn about the nature of his love. We must start above, not below” (85). We can know God only as he has chosen to reveal himself, which is in the world of creation, more fully and more clearly, in the Word of God (both infleshed and inscripturated).

One last point: I doubt Augustine meant by the inward turn what Smith takes him to mean. Earlier in Chapter 10 of the Confessions, Augustine reflects on the nature of his memory and his knowledge of God.

Behold how great a territory I have explored in my memory seeking thee, O Lord! And in it all I have still not found thee. Nor have I found anything about thee, except what I had already retained in my memory from the time I learned of thee. For where I found Truth, there found I my God, who is the Truth. From the time I learned this I have not forgotten. And thus since the time I learned of thee, thou hast dwelt in my memory, and it is there that I find thee whenever I call thee to remembrance, and delight in thee.

Take this together with the “Late, have I loved thee” passage and it seems that Augustine is not finding God in his deeply plumbed self as much as he has found God in the memories he carries with him of the truth he once was taught.

Faulty Prescription?

Which brings me briefly to Smith’s second critique. He thinks Wells’s prescription for our cultural predicament is too cerebral, too didactic, too intellectual and the expense of the imagination. Anyone familiar with Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom, will see those earlier concerns surfacing in this review. And I think Smith is on to something: we are feeling, worshiping, embodied, liturgical creatures, not just thinking brains in a vat. Change doesn’t come just from a new framework of our ideas. We need new patterns, new desires, a new rhythm. But again, I’m not sure that God in the Whirlwind is opposed to all that. It’s a different book than Smith would have written. It doesn’t hit on his themes. But, then, Wells is hitting on a biblical theme. The world does press us into its mold, and we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Knowing the truth is not an insignificant concern in Scripture.

And I read Wells’s prescription to be broader than that anyway. At the close of the second to last chapter he focuses on worship, and in the last chapter he focuses on service. In fact, the last sentence is an exhortation to be a faithful messenger of the gospel and a practitioner of godly service (242). I thought Wells hit on many of the “embodied” themes Smith appreciates.

Conclusion

In the end, my concern is not so much to rebut another review as to encourage readers that this is a book worth reading–precisely because it is so countercultural and it is so steeped in biblical truth. As Tim Keller put it in his endorsement, “Here we have a ‘practical theology’ for conducting the church’s life based on the reality of a God of ‘Holy-Love.’” That’s what I found in this book. Pick up the book for yourself and see what you find.

 
 

Nov

14

2013

Kevin DeYoung|5:25 am CT

Book Review: Systematic Theology by John Frame

When a longtime theologian finally publishes his systematic theology, it is bound to be a significant occasion. When a professor as widely read and engaging as John Frame does so, it deserves even more attention. This is a serious, yet accessible, theological textbook that can be used profitably by the young seminarian and the old pastor alike. It is rich, honest, careful, and faithful to Scripture.

Like all of Frame’s works, the strength of this one is that it is biblical and readable. From the outset, Frame makes no apology about writing a systematic theology that is based on what the Bible says. Frame is a biblicist in the best sense of the word. He is not first of all trying to survey the historical landscape, let alone to produce an “up to date” theology that interacts with all the latest philosophy and criticism. Consequently, there are many more Bible verses and fewer historical rabbit trails than in many systematic texts. Frame wants to understand what the Bible teaches, always with an aim to worship and application.

And always with an aim himself to be understood, Frame never writes with turgid prose. His style his conversational, almost to a fault at times (so many paragraphs begin with “Now” that I assume the chapters started out as transcribed lectures). Still, in a work this size, it’s no small feat not to come across as workmanlike. The secret to the success of Grudem was his organizational clarity and eminent readability. Frame has the latter.

As for the former—organizational clarity—this book is not quite as good as Grudem’s Systematic Theology, but it’s in the ball park. Each chapter includes study questions, terms, Bible verses to memorize, and a short bibliography for further study. For my taste, I would have used more subheadings, but Frame still uses plenty. The Table of Contents is clear and intuitive; the comprehensive Analytical Outline very useful. A book like this desperately needs a lengthy Scripture Index and a robust Subject/Name Index. Thankfully P&R included both. The font is attractive and easy to read, though the text goes too close to the edge of the page.

The content of the book is reliably evangelical, orthodox, and Reformed. When it comes to recent controversies like inerrancy, New Perspective, feminist language for God, or open theism, Frame consistently turns to the Scriptures and makes a convincing case for the “old paths.” His section on sanctification, in particular, could cut through a lot of current confusion (cf. 994, “Certainly it is a good spiritual exercise to remind ourselves of our justification, or of the cross; certainly it is good to ‘preach the gospel to ourselves’ and to repent of our idolatries. . . .But none of these exercises replaces the act of obedience itself”). I also appreciated Frame’s humility on certain issues (e.g., science and Genesis) and unwillingness to speculate on others (e.g., infralapsarian v. supralapsarian). Frame is not beholden to any party line and has no problem admitting what he does not know or what cannot be known.

There are also a couple weaknesses and a few oddities that can creep in with Frame. I find his thinking deeper and stronger on the doctrine of God, knowledge of God, and word of God (topics on which he’s already written at length), then on, say, soteriology or ecclesiology. Frame takes around 400 pages to cover the doctrine of God, with close to another 100 on the knowledge of God, and almost 200 on the word of God, while his sections on the person and work of Christ are only 20 pages respectively, the ordo salutis around 75 pages, ecclesiology about 60, and eschatology 25 pages. The 20 pages on the person of Christ are very good–clear and to the point–but they just aren’t as developed as some material earlier in the book.

And I confess to having the occasional head scratching moment while reading Frame. From time to time, I wondered if Frame needed to let go of old debates with Kline and the “Escondido Theology.” I also wish he could see more merit in classic impassibility (412-419), and I wondered if he tried too hard to defend Norman Shepherd’s views on justification (974-975). I was surprised that the only two books mentioned as “Resources” at the end of his chapter on “The Task of the Church” were by Tim Keller and Jim Belcher (1046). And finally, while I love the idea of including a chapter on “How Then Shall We Live,” it seemed anticlimactic for the last part of this magnum opus to be a summary of God’s commands to us and for the last word to be “tenth” in parentheses (referencing the tenth commandment).

One final note: whether you think this is a really good systematic theology or one of the most important in the last generation or two, probably depends on how much you get into tri-perspectivalism. I have friends who find Frame’s triads of Normative-Situational-Existential to be extremely enlightening. Try as I might, I find them extremely tenuous. Maybe it’s me. We aren’t all helped by the same pedagogical devices. I admit I’ve always considered discourse analysis a waste of time and I hope to never arc a sentence. I didn’t consider it revolutionary, or all that helpful, when one of my seminary professors summarized almost everything about ministry as a series of threes (head-heart-hands, prophet-priest-king, Father-Son-Spirit, faith-hope-love, speak-feel-do, etc.). I thought, “Okay. That’s kind of cool—everything fits in that chart. Now what?” I confess to having the same reaction with Frame’s triads. Why, for example, is a “good argument” defined as valid (normative), sound (situational), and persuasive (existential)? It’s not immediately clear that the categories have to line up the way they do. And why not four characteristics of a good argument, or two, or five, or ten? Why are the ministries of the church “Word,” “rule,” and “mercy”? Why not add fellowship? Why not simply Word and Sacrament? Or evangelism, edification, exultation, and equipping? I’m just not convinced that everything comes down to the normative, situational, and the existential perspective, nor am I personally helped by the 104 triads sprinkled throughout the book.

But these oddities notwithstanding—and you may not even think them odd—this is a tremendous book. It is careful, heartfelt, wise, accessible, and manifestly steeped in Scripture—the harvest of a lifetime of critical, curious, and submissive reflection on the Bible.

It remains to be seen where Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, will prove to be another Hodge, Berkhof, or Bavinck, but what is clear is that John Frame has written a faithful, doxological theology that will be read by many pastors, many students, and many Christians for many years to come.

 
 

May

01

2013

Kevin DeYoung|6:33 am CT

Book Briefs

Arthur Herman. How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It (Three Rivers Press, 2001). Written in the same vein as How The Irish Saved Civilization, this book focuses on 18th century Scotland and the influence of those Scots in the Western world. From Hume to Hutcheson to Lord Kames to Adam Smith, the Scottish Enlightenment shaped our world more than most people realize. Herman has written an accessible and well told narrative of the most important events and most important Scots in the early modern period. I especially enjoyed the two chapters on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Rebellion of 1745–fascinating history that most Americans know nothing about.

 

Willem J. Van Asselt. Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011). Get this book, especially if you are Reformed, and especially if you are a Reformed pastor. At 250 pages, you won’t find a better introduction to the subject–a subject about which most Reformed Christians and pastors are largely ignorant. The important thesis of this book–and it is very much in the Richard Muller school of thought–is that “scholastic refers above all to method, without direct implications for content” (8). So Reformed Scholasticism is about orthodox Reformed theology (i.e., that which coheres with the Reformed confessions) explained and defended using the particular form scholastic method. For my money, the most important chapters were the ones tracing the development of Early Orthodoxy (1560-1620), High Orthodoxy (1620-1700), and Late Orthodoxy (1700-1790), with representative examples from each time period (Franciscus Junius, Francis Turretin, and Benedict Pictet respectively).

 

William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, eds. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Zondervan 1990). It’s hard to find a competent critique of theonomy. This out of print book–with chapters from the likes of Waltke, Frame, Poythress, Gaffin, and Keller–is one of the few resources worth getting. I found Tremper Longman’s chapter on penology, Godfrey’s chapter on Calvin, and Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter on the Westminster Assembly especially helpful.

 

Jack C. Whytock. An Educated Clergy: Scottish Theological Education and Training in the Kirk and Secession, 1560-1850 (Wipf and Stock, 2008). The title tells you what you need to know. If you are not particularly interested in Scottish theological education from 1560-1850 this book ain’t gonna float your boat. But if you need to know something in this subject area, you’ll be mighty thankful for the excellent research and documentation Whytock has provided. A critical piece of scholarship for specialists in the field.

 

Jon D. Payne and Sebastian Heck, eds. A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism’s Enduring Heritage (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013). This new release is a handsome hardcover with an excellent line up of scholars, including Lyle Bierma, Mark Jones, Danny Hyde, Cornelis Venema, Mike Horton, and Joel Beeke. Here’s my blurb: “This is a wonderful collection of articles, both practical and scholarly. There is much here to help us understand the history, the theology, and the continuing relevance of the Heidelberg Catechism. As we preach through the Heidelberg in our church, I will certainly consult this book often. It prompted me to think again and again, ‘Isn’t the Catechism remarkable!’ and, more importantly, ‘Isn’t the gospel amazing!’”

 

Sam Storms. Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Mentor, 2013). I’m really excited about this book and grateful to Sam for the years he put in to this significant volume. Here’s what I say on the back cover: “This is a remarkable book which will surely become the standard bearer for Amillennialism for years to some. This is a book I will return to many times in my personal study and in pastoral ministry. Storms has given us a model for accessible, relevant, warm-hearted scholarship in service of the church.”

 

Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney. After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology (Oxford University Press, 2012). Yes, I know, another meaty book on Jonathan Edwards. But this one, like many other recent volumes, is a good one. Three chapters stood out to me. I continue to find Mark Noll’s insistence that Edwards was the good guy that later Presbyterian bad guys ignored or dismissed to be overwrought. I found Darryl Hart’s chapter on Edwards and the Young, Restless, and Reformed to be more balanced than I might have expected, with a healthy does of caution that Edward’s soaring theology tends not to mesh well with popular forms of evangelicalism. And finally, I found Paul Helm’s chapter comparing Edwardsianism with older forms of Reformed thought to be a much needed essay for those who only know Reformed theology through the lens of the great, and sometimes peculiar, theologian from Northampton.

 
 

Feb

14

2013

Kevin DeYoung|5:54 am CT

Put a Ring On It

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller warns against becoming “a faux spouse for someone who won’t commit to you” (215). While some relationships move too quickly, many others drag on for years with no signs of deepening or progressing toward marriage.  Keller observes that some people (usually men, I’d say) are content to experience a relationship with the opposite sex that yields many of the benefits of marriage (companionship, someone to talk to, someone to bring to social functions) without any of the commitment.

Tim poignantly, and humorously, explains how this very phenomenon was occurring in his relationship with Kathy at one point.

[T]here came a time in our relationship, after we had known each other for several years, when Kathy saw that this was exactly what had happened, and so she gave what has come too be known in our family as the “pearls before swine” speech.

Though we were best friends and kindred spirits, I was still hurting from a previous relationship that had ended badly. Kathy was patient and understanding, up to a point, but the day came when she said, “Look, I can’t take this anymore. I have been expecting to be promoted from friend to girlfriend. I know you don’t mean to be saying this, but every day you don’t choose me to be more than a friend, it feels as if I’ve been weighed and found wanting–I feel it as rejection. So I just can’t keep going on the same way, hoping that someday you’ll want me to be more than a friend. I’m not calling myself a pearl, and I’m not calling you a pig, but one of the reasons Jesus told his disciples not to cast pearls before swine was because a pig can’t recognize the value of a pearl. It would seem like just a pebble. If you can’t see me as valuable to you, then I’m not going to keep throwing myself into your company, hoping and hoping. I can’t do it. The rejection that I perceive, whether you intend it or not, is just too painful.”

That’s exactly what she said. It got my attention. It sent me into a time of deep self-examination. A couple weeks later, I made the choice. (216)

Now listen, don’t do anything rash on Valentine’s Day. The emotions may be running just a bit too hot. But there is probably someone reading this blog who needs to make their “pearls before swine” speech. And just as likely there are probably more than a few folks who need to make up their minds. Think about it. If you’ve found a pearl, don’t lose it.

 
 

Dec

18

2012

Kevin DeYoung|5:48 am CT

Top Ten Books of 2012

This was a very good year for books. I’ve made several Top Ten lists, and some years I can’t think of ten really strong books to include. This year, however, I had a hard time figuring out which books to bump off.

It should go without saying that this list is not meant to assess the whole gamut of Christian publishing, let alone every interesting book published in 2012. I read a lot of books, but there are plenty of worthy titles that I never touch (and never heard of). This is simply a list of the books (Christian and non-Christian, but all non-fiction) that I thought were the best ones published in the past year.

When I say “best” I have several questions in mind:

•    Was this book well written and enjoyable to read?
•    Did I find it personally challenging, illuminating, edifying, or entertaining?
•    Is it a book I am likely to reread or consult often?
•    Do I see myself frequently recommending this book to others?

The books that score well in all categories are “best” and make their way on Top Ten lists.

10 (tie). Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Crossway).
10 (tie). Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Crossway)

Both books are convicting, challenging, and freeing. Both are very personal too. Tripp’s book is full of cautionary tales and arresting illustrations. I can’t imagine a pastor not being helped by this volume (though, my one quibble is that I think Tripp is too hard on seminaries). I also agree with Tony Reinke that the design and physical feel of this book are terrific.

I got Eswine’s very recently so I wasn’t able to finish it. But I love what I’ve read, and the endorsements are unusually laudatory. Of the two, Tripp’s is more hortatory and Eswine’s more contemplative. A lot of wisdom, experience, and honesty in both volumes.

9. Rob Lister, God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Crossway). Ah yes, the book I always thought I might write, but am glad someone else did first. No doubt, Lister’s scholarship is better than mine would have been. We really are in his debt for doing the heavy lifting through the Church Fathers, the Reformers, Moltmann, and the relevant academic literature on the massively important question “Does God suffer?” Lister says no: God is impassible, but that does not mean he is passionless. I hope Lister will consider a popular level volume on the same topic so that more of the church can benefit from his research and reasoning.

8. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum).  A much talked about book that will continued to be referenced in the broader culture, especially among conservatives. This book “is about an evolution in American society that has taken place since November 21, 1963, leading to the formation of classes that are different in kind and in their degree of separation from anything that the nation has ever known. I will argue that the divergence into these separate classes, if it continues, will end what has made America America” (11). Whether you agree every jot of his analysis and every tittle of his prescription, you will be challenged to think more deeply about virtue, vice, segregation, culture, the elite, the working class, happiness, and the uniqueness of the American project.

7. Jay Nordlinger, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World (Encounter). This book reads like a survey of 20th century history and a series of mini-biographies. Nordlinger writes with a good pace and a light touch. He has a good sense for keeping things interesting and a keen eye for the inspiring and the ironic. He had my attention after his opening chapters on Alfred Nobel and “Norway the Peaceful.”

6. Timothy Keller (with Kathy Keller), The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton). This is Keller being Keller (both of them!). Their writing is culturally informed, sensitive to skeptics, and full of biblical wisdom. We’ve been reading this book in our small group for the several months. The conversation has been great and everyone has loved the book. There’s a lot in this book for singles too. With a plethora of sound marriage books to choose from, I’m sure I will be recommending this one often.

5. Alistair Chapman, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford University Press). Although the book, being a handsome OUP print, is a bit pricey, it’s worth your investment. If only all dissertations-turned-into-books were as fascinating as this one. Chapman understands Stott both as a seminal figure in the growth of global evangelicalism and as a man born into privilege in a certain kind of Britain that no longer exists. Of particular importance is the insight Chapman gives into Stott’s shift on social issues.

4. Carl Trueman, Creedal Imperative (Crossway). Not long ago one of my friends asked what’s one book I wish everyone in my church would read. Many suggestions came to mind. In the future, this will be one of them. With this book, confessional churches will better understand what they are and why they exist. Non-confessional churches may developing a hankering for catechisms and confessions. Trueman argues cogently and persuasively for the importance of doctrine, definition, and delineation in the life of the church.

3. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (Simon and Schuster). Having read their book on Billy Graham and the presidents, I was eager to read another Gibbs/Duffy book on the highest office in the land. They avoid covering the same ground as many other presidential books by looking at the post-WWII presidents as they have related to each other. This unique angle makes for unique history. You’ll find out who was better than you thought (Hoover), which president went rogue (Carter), and which two are surprisingly good friends (Bush 41 and Clinton). This is popular history at its best—accessible, interesting, and with a knack for the untold story.

2. D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Eerdmans). I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people in my circles talking about this book. They should be. Carson tackles the subject of tolerance with his usual verve, careful analysis, theological probing, and well-timed expressions of exasperation. Our staff is just finishing a semester together in this volume. Christian leaders and teachers need to read this book.

 

1. Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Reformation Heritage Books). This is a remarkable achievement: a systematic theology which synthesizes the best of Puritan thought. Here you’ll find the best of head and heart, of praise and praxis, of careful thinking toward the goal of a godly life. Beeke and Jones are to be commended for a groundbreaking volume that will benefit the church for generations. I know I will mine its riches often. A truly great book in a year of great books.

Honorable Mentions

Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo House)

Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters (Bethany House)

Michael J. McClymond and Gerald M. McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press)

George Whitefield (Lee Gatiss, editor), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway)

Greek-English New Testament: Nestle-Aland 28th Edition and English Standard Version (Crossway)

 
 

Nov

20

2012

Jason Helopoulos|5:00 am CT

Preachers for Preachers

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Every preacher should be growing in their preaching ability. It is a gift that is to be nurtured. And there are able teachers available. One of the great benefits we have in our age, which did not exist in previous ages, is our ability to hear men from far away at the touch of a button. A good preacher will willing listen to other preachers and seek to nurture the gift given to him.

I have no doubt that some of the most gifted preachers in our time, as in every other age, are unknown outside their local congregations and immediate context. And because I don’t know them, I can’t point to them. Therefore, when I think of some of the gifted expository preachers of our day, the men below are those who come to mind. They all preach according to their own personality and makeup. And this is part of what makes them effective, so preachers don’t try to imitate some of the things they do. However, there are things that a preacher, who is always trying to grow in preaching can learn from them. (And every Christian seeking to grow in the faith would benefit from having these preachers on their iPods and iPads for regular listening).

Their sermons are all marked by the following qualities: attention to the text, it is clearly drawn from the passage they are proclaiming,  hard theological wrestling in the background, they do not shy away from hard teachings, are Christ focused, God-exalting, and usually excellent in application. I appreciate all of them as preachers for these reasons. These are qualities that we should all seek in our preaching. And yet what sets these preachers apart is not only these qualities, but what they each uniquely excel in. And it is these qualities that I want to draw our attention to. What they uniquely excel at are areas that all preachers would benefit from encouraging in their own preaching:

Derek Thomas–Dr. Thomas’ sermons do that which is seemingly difficult, but essential–his sermons tend to send the listener walking away contemplating God and focused upon Him(Thomas sermons)

John Piper–When one thinks of Piper’s preaching, passion and sincerity have to be two of the first thoughts. His biblical preaching is always filled with energy and you know he believes what he is preaching. (Piper sermons)

Tim Keller–His sermons excel at clarity and engaging people in our current western culture. Many preachers are good exegetes of culture. Many are good exegetes of the text. It is not easy to be both, but Keller makes it look easy. (Keller sermons)

CJ Mahaney–There are few better at having sermons anchored with affection-stirring illustrations and pleading that is appropriate in calling lost sinners. (Mahaney sermons)

Sinclair Ferguson–The Scottish accent helps. Who doesn’t like a good Scottish accent? But a few minutes into the sermon you won’t find yourself thinking about Scotland. Ferguson’s sermons drip with theological richness, are always profound, and yet are simple to understand. That is a rare gift indeed! (Ferguson sermons)

Load up your iPod, take a walk, learn, and be blessed. And be a blessing to your people.

 
 

Nov

15

2012

Kevin DeYoung|5:51 am CT

Sex as a Commitment Apparatus

Tim Keller reflects on why sex before marriage is wrong and unwise:

The modern sexual revolution find the idea of abstinence till marriage to be so unrealistic as to be ludicrous. In fact, many people believe it is psychologically unhealthy and harmful. Yet despite the contemporary incredulity, this has been the unquestioned uniform teaching of not only one but all of the Christian churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.

The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because it has such a low view of sex but because it has such a lofty one. The Biblical view implies that sex outside of marriage is not just morally wrong but also personally harmful. If sex is designed to be part of making a covenant and experiencing that covenant’s renewal, then we should think of sex as an emotional “commitment apparatus.”

If sex is a method that God invented to do “whole life entrustment” and self-giving, it should not surprise us that sex makes us feel deeply connected to the other person, even when used wrongly. Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined. In the midst of sexual passion, you naturally want to say extravagant things such as, “I’ll always love you.”

Even if you are not legally married, you may find yourself quickly feeling marriage-like ties, feeling that the other person has obligations to you. But that other person has no legal, social, or moral responsibility to even call you back in the morning. This incongruity leads to jealousy and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex but are not married. It makes breaking up vastly harder than it should be. It leads many people to stay trapped in relationships that are not good because of a feeling of having (somehow) connected themselves.

Therefore, if you have sex outside marriage, you will have to steel yourself against sex’s power to soften your hear toward another person and make you more trusting. The problem is that, eventually, sex will lose its covenant-making power for you, even if you one day do get married. Ironically, then, sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person. (The Meaning of Marriage, 225-27)