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The Eight Steps of Sin

Jul 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Sin nibbles at our soul in small steps.

Eight steps, to be precise, according to John Witherspoon in his sermon on Hebrews 3:13 entitled “The Deceitfulness of Sin”:

1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by small sins.

2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something great and more daring; his courage grows with his experience; and he gives himself more liberty to walk in the ways of his own heart, and the sight of his own eyes.

3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions.

4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom.

5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame; and sin openly and boldly.

6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far, as to sin without remorse of conscience.

7. Improved sinners often come to boast and glory of their wickedness. It is something to be above shame; but it is more still to glory in wickedness and esteem it honorable.

8. Not to be content with being wicked themselves, but to use all their art and influence to make others so too. This is to be zealous in sinning, and industriously to promote the interest of the infernal cause. How often do we find those who have no fear of God before their own eyes, use their utmost endeavors to extinguish it before others, to laugh down qualms of their consciences, and break any reluctance they may seem to have at running to same excess of riot with themselves? (Works, 2:61-69)

From small sins to bigger sins, to bad friends and bad habits, to loss of shame and loss of conscience, to boasting in what is evil and being zealous for others to do the same–that is the devilish nature of sin’s grip on the human heart.

Was true in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Is true in America now. And everywhere else for that matter.

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Keep Singing the Doxology

Jul 15, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Let me say from the beginning of this post, I am in favor of new Christian music. I have the Gettys on my Iphone. I regularly hum RUF hymns. I came to saving faith listening to Vineyard music. My kids love to blast Matt Redmon’s 10,000 Reasons. I am not opposed to new Christian music. In fact, I like much of it (don’t tell my Presbyterian friends). However, I am concerned that we are losing some of our old, tried, tested, and true music. And that is not good.

This hit me with force this past December. URC co-sponsored a conference in Lansing called Sola. This was a conference that focused on the five Solas of the Reformation and it was filled with 3,000 people, most under the age of thirty!

As someone who was helping to coordinate the event, I was sitting in the sectioned off speakers’ area. Two young men came in underneath the rope and sheepishly sat at the end of the row. They weren’t supposed to be there and they knew it. What was I to do? After a moment of debating whether to apply the law or grace, I saw the excitement upon their faces and extended grace through my silence. They just wanted to be close to the podium while the night’s final speaker, John Piper, preached. I couldn’t help but watch them. I watched as they sang the new songs leading up to the sermon with great enthusiasm. I watched as they sat upon the literal edge of their seat as John Piper delivered a masterful sermon. Their heads nodded in agreement and they would often look at each other with a smile of delight as they heard biblical truth proclaimed. I confess to being distracted. I couldn’t help it. I was just so encouraged to see young people this engaged with our God and His Word. I thoroughly loved watching this young, zealous, joy-filled, heart-delighting, focused faith. It warmed my soul.

After John Piper finished preaching, Kevin DeYoung came upon the platform and said, “Let’s sing the Doxology to close our conference.” And the room began to be filled with, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” I stole a glance over to the two young men again. And I watched as they turned to each other, shrugged their shoulders, and gave one another a dumbfounded glance. They didn’t know the doxology. They had never heard it.

Now, let’s be clear. The Doxology is not necessary for our Christian faith. It is not an essential component of Christian worship. It is not indispensable to the Christian church. But it is old. It is good. It is true. The people of God have been singing it for close to 500 years for a reason. And we lose something when we lose it.

I pray that the Church keeps creating new, musically beautiful, theologically rich, biblically sound music. However, I also hope we don’t lose the old tried and tested music of the Church. It can happen. Who would have guessed two hundred years ago that very few churches would be singing the Psalms today? It is the song-book of the Bible for goodness sakes! And yet, it has been mostly lost in our churches. As it has happened with the Psalms (though I hope they will make a comeback), so it could happen with the great hymns and songs of our faith.

How sad it would be if this new generation of the church didn’t know the profound simplicity of the Gloria Patri, which has been sung since the second century. We lose something if we can’t comfort ourselves with Horatio Spafford’s It is Well with My Soul, can’t find strength in Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God, or lose the ability to ruminate upon the rich theology of Wesley’s And Can It Be.

There are hymns and songs that we need to keep singing for the good of our souls. There is a benefit to joining our voices with the saints that have preceded us. There is a blessing in keeping alive the rich theology, pastoral wisdom, and comforting truths that many of our old hymns, psalms, and songs convey. By God’s grace let’s keep creating new and good Christian songs and hymns. However, let’s not throw out the old for the new. New friends don’t require us to jettison old friends. I don’t want to be the generation that loses the hymnal as the previous generation lost the Psalter. We don’t have to be. Sing the new and sing the old. There are benefits that accompany both.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Amen and amen.

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Books, Bio, and Such: Michael Horton

Jul 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation (MR) magazine, and President and host of the The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.

1. Where were you born? Los Angeles, California

2. When did you become a Christian? I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? James M. Boice

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Kim Riddlebarger

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Psalm 23—or, if by then there are no Psalters in the Western world, How Sweet And Awful

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Various histories (of technology, the role of hermeticism in the founding of modernity, etc.) and books on secularization theory (pro and con).

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? It’s a toss-up between Bavinck, Berkhof and Hodge. But since Berkhof’s ST is a summary of Bavinck’s work, I’ll go with Bavinck.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? John Updike (especially the Rabbit series) and Umberto Eco (especially Foucault’s Pendulum)

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim. Another colleague, Julius Kim, has just written one for Zondervan that I’m excited about.

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Bruce Milne, Know the Truth

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge (not a Christian, much less an apologist, but essential reading for apologetics). Also, Esther Lightcap Meek does a good job of summarizing the book and showing its apologetic significance in Longing to Know.

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? John Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms and the Book of Common Prayer (1662 ed.)

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? I deeply resent the gramophone remark. I squandered my youth on 8-tracks. Like everyone, I’m eclectic (with an aversion to Country). Mainly classical and anything in the Mumford and Sons vein.

17. Favorite food? Tandoori. And ice cream, of course.

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Some book on positive self-talk to manage my self-loathing at having lost control of the ship.

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What Makes for a Good Elder?

Jul 10, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

This past week one of the best elders I ever served with went home to glory. I lost a dear friend. This has led me to reflect on what makes for a good elder. Of course, a good elder will fulfill the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is foundational. He must be a man of character, the Word, and prayer. He should be hospitable, not a lover of money, rule his own household well, and the husband of one wife. These are just some of the biblical qualifications. However, there are also qualities that make for a good elder beyond the actual biblical requirements for service. Here are some that I have noticed over the years:

Theological, but Fiercely Practical: He will know the scriptures and revel in the doctrine and theology of God’s holy Word. And at the same time, he will know how to apply those truths of Scripture to the lives he is privileged to serve. As this man ministers, those under his care do not receive platitudes. Neither do they need to have a PhD in theology to sort through his advice and counsel. He is theologically minded and fiercely practical in applying that theology.

Leader, but a Willing Follower: People look to him. He doesn’t wear a sign that announces he is a leader. He isn’t loud and demands that people follow, they just do. His character and life in Christ almost demand it. However, he is also willing to follow the pastors and his fellow elders in the church. He does not always need to be in the front. It is not a matter ego with him. It is not a necessity.

Dignified, but Wonderfully Approachable: An elder should have an air of dignity about him. He is serious about the Christian faith. He knows that life is short and he does not waste it. However, this air of dignity does not drive people from him, but rather compels people to him. All find him approachable. He is the type of man that one naturally feels as though they should sit at his feet, look up, and say, “Talk to me about the things of God.”

Listener, but Wisely Vocal: He is slow to speak and quick to listen. He has a discerning ear that can sort the important from the mundane. Others are encouraged by his careful listening. However, he is also willing to voice an opinion if it is needed. He is not silent. And when he speaks, men listen. When his voice is exercised, he does not dominate by force. Rather, he persuades through wisdom.

Courageous, but Pastorally Winsome: The pastors of the church know that this elder will “have their backs.” Every elder in the church knows that this is “a brother in arms.” He does not shy away from the hard discussions, the difficult conflicts, or the trying personalities of the church. He is a man that stands in the gap. But not with bravado. He is not a reluctant engager, but he is winsome. He isn’t looking for conflict, but he also won’t run from it.

Dogmatic, but Flexible: He is a rock on the non-negotiables. He will not be moved from the teaching of the Scriptures. However, he is flexible and able to concede points to others when he is proven wrong or the issue is not of extreme importance. He does not always demand or insist upon his own way. He is willing to compromise and even happy to do so if the subject is not central.

Gifted, but Knowingly Humble: His gifts are readily used to serve the body. He is aware of how the Lord has gifted him for service in the church. In turn, he is also keenly aware of the gifts which he does not possess. He happily yields to other pastors and elders more gifted than him in whatever realm of service that may be.

Officer, but Servant First: He recognizes that the office of elder is an office. He has a mantle upon his shoulders. There is responsibility and privilege. However, this is not a position by which he seeks to lord over others. He recognizes that the office of elder is first and foremost an office of service.

Churchly, but a Lover of Men: He loves the church as a body. This leads him to weigh-in on big decisions and think through methodological and practical issues in the church. They concern him. However, this is always driven by a love for men. He loves the church, because he loves its people. He is able to echo the sentiment of Paul when he said to the Philippian church, “my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” (Phil. 4:1).

Loyal, but a Thoughtful Exhorter: There is a natural willingness to lend support to his pastors. He is inclined that way. He does not have a gate checker mentality. He is not a fault finder. However, when it is necessary, he is willing to challenge his pastors and fellow elders appropriately. He does not follow blindly.

Thank God for the elders he has called to serve in the church. I have had the distinct privilege of laboring alongside of some of the best men I have ever known. They have challenged, exhorted, encouraged, and shaped me. My friend was one of the best at doing so. Let us treasure them while we have them.

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Was Hobby Lobby All Wrong About Emergency Contraceptives?

Jul 09, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Pills-570x433The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby had nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of contraceptives. The morality of abortion and abortifacient drugs was not the issue. Neither was the scientific debate about how emergency contraceptives prevent pregnancy. The Supreme Court came down in support of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mandel because it concluded they were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The Greens could be mistaken in their beliefs about emergency contraceptives and still have the legal right not to be forced to violate their consciences and give up their religious liberty.

But, of course, the debate about contraception–what it does and how it works–matters a great deal in the court public opinion. So it’s not surprising that many media outlets are suggesting Hobby Lobby had its “facts” all wrong about how emergency contraceptives actually prevent pregnancy.

In the New Republic piece “The Medical Facts About Birth Control and Hobby Lobby–From an OB/GYN”, Dr. Jen Gunter argues, “There is no evidence that Plan B, Ella, or the Mirena cause abortion by any definition.” She acknowledges that under a “religious” definition of pregnancy, anything that prevents implantation or terminates an implanted embryo constitutes a form of abortion. But in her “summary of the best available medical evidence” she concludes that of the four contraceptives objected to by Hobby Lobby, three (Plan B, Ella, Mirena) definitely do not prevent implantation and the fourth (Copper IUD) most likely does not. Thus, if conservatives would only look at the scientific facts, they would see that there is no “rational basis for refusing to pay for these contraceptives.”

But what do the contraceptives say about themselves? Each of the four pills or devices in question have their own websites full of medical information provided by the manufacturer and/or the Food and Drug Administration.

Plan B

Although Plan B is the most widespread of the four contraceptives, its website provides the least amount of precise medical information. In the “About” section, we find that Plan B “is a backup plan that helps prevent pregnancy,” but is not an abortion pill like RU-486 and will not affect an existing pregnancy. There is no detailed scientific information on the website about how Plan B works. Instead, there are links to several external websites for further information.

The paucity of information is probably intentional. In 2012, the New York Times ran an extensive article about the efforts of the maker of Plan B to have the FDA remove from the Plan B label the implantation effect as one of the possible means of preventing pregnancy. To be fair, the article presents several pieces of evidence suggesting that Plan B may not adversely affect the chances of implantation. But it also notes the FDA’s continuing refusal to remove the implantation language from Plan B’s label, which reads in section 12.1 “Mechanism of Action”:

Emergency contraceptive pills are not effective if a woman is already pregnant.Plan B One-Step is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by preventing ovulation or fertilization (by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova). In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium). It is not effective once the process of implantation has begun. (emphasis added).

Some have argued that the implantation language is based on inferior science and should be removed. But considering the maker of Plan B has been lobbying since the drug’s approval in 1999 to have the language removed, it’s not too hard to imagine that at least part of the effort to change the label is to boost sales and remove possible objections religious persons may have about using Plan B. There’s a reason the Plan B website does not link to its own label.

Ella

Ulipristal acetate (or Ella, actually ella with a lowercase “e”) is a progesterone receptor modulator, which means it fools the women’s body into thinking its pregnant. It works differently than Plan B and has been shown (section 8.1) to cause “embryofetal loss” in pregnant rats and pregnant rabbits. In 12.1 of the Ella label, in the section entitled “Mechanism of Action,” we read:

When taken immediately before ovulation is to occur, ella postpones follicular rupture. The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy. (emphasis added)

According to its own information, Ella should not be used by nursing or pregnant women and it may prevent pregnancy by adversely affecting the implantation of a fertilized egg (see also “Does the Drug ‘ella’ Cause Abortions?”).

Mirena

Mirena is an intrauterine device (IUD) designed to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. According to its own website, Mirena “prevents pregnancy, most likely in several ways:”

  • Thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering your uterus
  • Inhibits sperm from reaching or fertilizing your egg
  • Thins the lining of your uterus

Immediately following these bullet points, we read:

Mirena may stop the release of your egg from your ovary, but this is not the way it works in most cases. While there’s no single explanation for how Mirena works, most likely, the above actions work together to prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years. (emphasis added)

By its own admission, Mirena does not normally work by preventing ovulation, but from a combination of three factors, one of which is making the uterus inhospitable for a fertilized egg.

Paragard (Copper IUD)

Paragard is a copper intrauterine device designed to prevent pregnancy for up to ten years. On the Paragard website, the first sentence under “How Does It Work?” reads:

The copper in Paragard® (intrauterine copper contraceptive) interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard® may prevent implantation. (emphasis added)

Again, the implantation language is up front and explicit.

Conclusion

Some may argue that the FDA labels should be changed, or that recent tests suggest none of these pills/devices work as abortifacients. And yet, that’s not what the contraceptives say about themselves. At best, the way in which these pills and devices work is disputed and uncertain. But if all four contraceptives, in their official information, are explicitly said to adversely affect implantation, how can Hobby Lobby’s objections to providing these contraceptives be considered unscientific or irrational? If one has a moral objection to providing pills and devices which may terminate nascent life, the contraceptives themselves do nothing to allay these fears. In fact, a careful reading of their medical information suggests the concerns are well founded.

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Evangelicals and Cities: A Discussion in Need of Clarity

Jul 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I love cities. I’ve spent time in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Chicago this summer. I love the energy, the opportunities, and the history of our nation’s big cities. I have no desire to discourage any Christian from moving to the city for ministry. Our cities have lots of people, and so they need lots of Christians, lots of churches, and lots of evangelical institutions. I’m all for evangelicals and cities coming together.

But what does that mean?

The evangelical advocacy for the city is a discussion in dire need of clarity. Case in point is yesterday’s First Things article by Gene Fant, This Time Narnia is a City. Fant argues that “something is afoot in Christian higher education,” and that something is “urbanization.” In explaining why he recently joined the administration at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Fant notes that he was “following a very specific sense of God’s leading to serve in an urban context.” He then lists several other examples of evangelicals moving to cities.

I have dear friends who have recently joined other urban campuses, notably David S. Dockery, the new president at Trinity International University / Evangelical Divinity School and Gregory Alan Thornbury, president at The King’s College in New York City (19.9M in metro area; began serving in 2013). In Chicago, Dockery joins Philip Ryken at Wheaton (started in 2010) and others who are serving a population of some 9.5M. Pres. Michael Lindsay (started in 2011) is poised to take Gordon in the Boston area (4.6M residents) to new heights. In 2012, Pres. Daniel Martin began serving at Seattle-Pacific, with a metro area of 3.6M.

Fant is careful not to denigrate suburban or rural ministry, but he believes the movement of Aslan in our day is a move to urban settings. Fant’s final exhortation is a summons to the city: “The moment we face as American Christianity is whether or not we will shed our suburban comforts for the challenges of urban life.”

Let me say it again, I am thankful for people who feel called to an urban context. Whether it’s to alleviate poverty or embrace diversity or influence cultural elites or simply to be where lost people are, I have no problem with evangelical appeals to be involved in cities. In fact, I am entirely for it! But if this ongoing discussion about evangelicals and cities is to be profitable, we have to figure out what we actually mean by cities.

What makes one’s setting “urban”? On the one hand, Fant exhorts evangelicals to leave the comfortable suburbs behind, but then he mentions a number of “urban” evangelical colleges and seminaries which can only be considered urban in as much as they belong to a large metropolitan statistical area. I love Trinity and Wheaton, but both institutions are in the suburbs. Gordon College (my wife’s alma mater) may be a part of the Boston metro area, but the campus is 45 minutes away on the North Shore, nestled with woods and water in one of the most idyllic, non-urban setting you can imagine.

What constitutes city ministry or an urban setting? Is it population density? Is it being within the city limits of a municipality with more than, say, half a million people? Or is it a million? Is it being in one of the country’s major metropolitan areas? Is it being in a center city environment? Depending on your definition of city, most of us are already in one. According to the U.S. Census bureau, 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Most of us don’t have to go anywhere to become urban. But if urban really means “center city,” then Moody Bible Institute qualifies, while Trinity, Wheaton, and Gordon do not. Most people would not consider Covenant College in a city setting. It is, after all, literally on top of a mountain. But Lookout Mountain, GA (pop. 1,617) is counted in the census as part of a metropolitan statistical area (Chattanooga) with 541,000 people. So depending on your definition, Covenant is urban.

I’m not trying to be pedantic. Defining our terms and using them consistently is critical to this whole discussion. Either Americans are already overwhelmingly urban (which includes suburbs like Deerfield, IL and little hamlets like Wenham, MA), in which case the call to leave the suburbs is self-defeating. Or, if what we really mean is that Christians should move to our nation’s urban cores, then most of the institutions mentioned in Fant’s article do not fit the bill.

On a related note, we should also think more carefully about whether “population in proximity” is the best way to assess possible strategic influence. Is Princeton less influential for being located in what amounts to little more than a nice village? Is working at School A with 1500 students in a metropolitan area of 7 million more strategic than working at School B with 50,000 students in small city of a couple hundred thousand? And does this skip over the exegetical question of whether there is any discernible city strategy to the mission of the early church?

We need Christians wherever there are people, and so it stands to reason we need more Christians where there are more people. Please, please, please, do not take anything in this post as a deterrent for serving in cities, moving to cities, or caring about cities.  This is only meant to be a genuine and friendly appeal to clarify what all of that means.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Bonus MMH!

This is what happens from watching too much soccer.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I should have known the Imperial headquarters would be in Germany.

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Bio, Books, and Such: Andy Naselli

Jul 05, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly–today is Saturday). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Andy Naselli who serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary.

1. Where were you born? San Jose, CA

2. When did you become a Christian? Probably when I was 8 or 12 years old

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Don Carson

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Mark Minnick

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Before the Throne of God Above

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Biographies

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Grudem, Systematic Theology

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? (a) The Chronicles of Narnia; (b) Harry Potter

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Unbroken (though it’s not entirely non-Christian)

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Richard L. Mayhue, ed., Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics?  John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Timothyand Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Bunmi Laditan, The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Bach, especially this and this

17. Favorite food? Chipotle chicken burrito bowl with guacamole

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? BDAG

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