You may be familiar with the provocative idea from Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) that true test of gospel preaching is whether people mistake your gospel for antinomianism. Here, for example, is the Doctor preaching from Romans 6 on the charge “shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. This is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. (The New Man, 8)
This is classic Lloyd-Jones overstatement. But it’s a provocative statement with an important point. We must share the gospel in all its scandalous grace. Lloyd-Jones does not want antinomianism preached, but he does want salvation by grace alone to be so celebrated that some people in that moment of gospel declaration might wonder if we care about good works. To which I say: preach on brother.
But that’s not all Lloyd-Jones said about law and grace, because Romans 6:1 wasn’t the only thing he ever preached on. In his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Lloyd-Jones sounded a different–though entirely biblical and entirely complementary–note:
Is it not true to say of many of us that in actual practice our view of the doctrine of grace is such that we scarcely ever take the plain teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ seriously? We have so emphasized the teaching that all is of grace and that we ought not to try to imitate His example in order to make ourselves Christians, that we are virtually in the position of ignoring His teaching altogether and of saying that it has nothing to do with us because we are under grace. Now I wonder how seriously we take the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The best way of concentrating on the question is, I think, to face the Sermon on the Mount. (p. 12)
Later, he goes even further in emphasizing the importance of the law in the Christian life.
The Christian is a man who of necessity must be concerned about keeping God’s law. I mentioned in chapter one the fatal tendency to put up law and grace as antitheses in the wrong sense. We are not ‘under the law’ but we are still meant to keep it. . . .So the Christian is a man who is always concerned about living and keeping the law of God. Here [in the Sermon on the Mount] he is reminded how that is to be done. (p. 26)
The mature Christian will say “Amen” to all three paragraphs from Lloyd-Jones. We want churches which love free grace and churches which do not put that grace in absolute opposition to the law of God. We need preachers who can preach all the good news and all the hard edges of Romans 5-8 and all the good news and all the hard edges of Matthew 5-8 with conviction and without apology.
Quick–think of eight things you wish were different about you.
Got them in your head?
What did you come up with? If you could reinvent your personality, your habits, and your character with the snap of your fingers, what would the transformation look like?
Maybe your list was something like this: I wish I could lose 25 pounds. I’d like to have more time and more money. I want to exercise more and go to bed earlier. It would be nice for my sports team to win it all just once. I want my health back. I’d like a more prestigious position.
Nothing terrible in that list, several pretty good things in fact. But if that’s all we want, we don’t know what it really means to be blessed (Matt. 5:3-12). If we are honest, we too easily buy into the Beatitudes of the World.
Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the kingdom of pleasure.
Blessed are those who feel good about themselves, for they shall be confident.
Blessed are the aggressive, for they shall control the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for recognition, for they shall be noticed.
Blessed are the demanding, for they shall receive what’s coming to them.
Blessed are the sexually liberated, for they shall be their own gods.
Blessed are the scheming, for they shall be called children of the powerful.
Blessed are those who are praised by the world, for theirs is the kingdom of now.
Isn’t that what the world considers blessing? And isn’t it a million miles from being a disciple of Christ seeking after the kingdom of heaven? Jesus expects more from us, and he promises to give us much more than we can ask or imagine. So who are you going to be and whose promises are you going to believe?
With most major colleges getting whipped into a full frenzy, I thought it would be worthwhile to dust off a few thoughts about binge drinking on our nation’s campuses. Most students won’t have to look hard for opportunities to drink over the next days and weeks (and months and semesters). They may have to go somewhere off campus to party, but the party scene comes recruiting right to them. Some students arrive at college looking to make their Party U dreams come true. Others just find themselves all alone and eager to fit in and make friends. The sad reality is that choices made in the first weeks (or even days) of college can set a trajectory that’s hard to break.
Which means churches and Christian groups must bend over backward to meet, greet, invite, and include. It also means churches must be ready to winsomely and courageously confront the university lifestyle when it is inconsistent with Christian commitment. Many professing Christians will live duplicitous lives–getting smashed on the weekends while still trying to be the good Christian boy or girl their parents and ministry friends imagine them to be. The problem is huge and anyone wishing to minister to college students needs to think about a biblical approach.
Here are a few suggestions on how to begin formulating a Christian response to drinking on our college campuses.
1. Know what you’re up against. Like a good AA course, the first step is admitting we have a problem. Binge drinking is so bad that when researches tried using Breathalyzers at parties and bars it only encouraged students to drink more. No matter how many bad consequences are put in front of students–drunk driving, addictions, unwanted sexual intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, decreased performance in school–they don’t offset the two perceived benefits of drinking: it’s liberating and a good excuse.
Students thinking of alcohol as “liquid courage.” It makes them more fun, more adventurous, less tied to inhibitions. On the latter, drinking is seen as a convenient way of avoiding personal responsibility. The sober girl who hooks up with a complete stranger might be considered a slut. But if she’s drunk, then it’s not really a mark on her character; she just had a few too many. Likewise, many students feel justified if they miss class or perform poorly because of a hangover. No matter what people tell them about the possible dangers of drinking, getting drunk for many college students, is the best way to have fun. And whatever negative consequences may come, these are thought to reflect on the alcohol not on the individual.
Take almost any college in the country, especially the big state schools, and I can just about guarantee that the biggest obstacle to Christian discipleship is not Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman or all the heady objections to Christianity that our apologetics are meant to counter. We need apologetics. I’m 100% for taking every thought captive to Christ. But for most 17-22 year-olds the most common temptations to sin are alcohol and sex. Even when there are intellectual objections to Christianity, these are often just cover for a debauched lifestyle. Tens of thousands of college students will walk away from the church this year, or never give it a chance, because their main goal each week is to get smashed and hook up. Rare is the campus ministry that needs to talk about Derrida more than drunkenness.
2. Demonstrate a mature attitude toward alcohol. Some Christians go farther than Scripture in condemning alcohol. The Bible celebrates wine as a gift from God (Isa. 55:1; John 2:9) and good for your stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). I’m not convinced that the Lord’s Supper was strictly the unfermented stuff (1 Cor. 11:21). But let’s not trade one overreach for another. Christians who enjoy good gift of wine or beer need to grow up at times. Christian upperclassmen (and other adults) who can drink legally should be careful with alcohol consumption around underage believers. They should not talk about beer like it’s the coolest thing since Don Draper. If you think not drinking gets you closer to God, get a better reading of Scripture. If you think drinking gets you closer to relevance, get a better understanding of ministry. Christian liberty is no reason for social life and conversation to revolve around the conspicuous consumption of alcohol.
3. Be boldly biblical. There is good wisdom in admonishing sinners by presenting the negative consequences of sin. “You reap what you sow” is how the Bible puts it. So it’s appropriate to warn binge drinkers of STD’s and addictions and DUI’s and scrambling your brains on a car antenna (I won’t go into details, but it was the most disturbing story I heard while I was in college). And yet, the Bible doesn’t just say, “Stop getting drunk because it will hurt you.” It also says, “Stop getting drunk because God hates it.” Drunkards do not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:10). Drunkards do not belong in the church’s fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11). Of course, there is forgiveness for the sin of drunkenness. But the Bible repeatedly rebukes those who seek after this sin. Woe to those who run after strong drink, Isaiah says (5:11). Do not get drunk, is Paul’s command (Eph. 5:18). This is what God has to say about the tradition of partying every weekend while in college: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14).
4. Show tough love. There’s a fine line between caring for your drunken friend (who may legitimately hurt himself or others) and enabling sin. Don’t let friends drink and drive and don’t let friends crack their skulls open (I saw people come close in college). But don’t feel sorry for the weekend warriors. Don’t pick up all their messes or remove all their consequences. This line from a 2011 USA Today article has stuck with me: “The campus environment provides so much social support that even when students have bad experiences drinking, the help they get from friends afterward is seen as a positive.” If you are interested in real community, take a risk and show some tough love.
5. Remind the Christians who they are. I realize that many of the binge drinkers have nothing to do with Christianity. But in many parts of the country, the average college student claims some Christian affiliation. Press home their profession of Christ. Tell them what it means to be a new creation. Help them see who they are in Christ. Show them that because they are joined to Christ they take Christ with them to get hammered and get in bed with someone. Teach them again all the good news of Christ crucified for sinners and Christ raised for newness of life. Then implore them to live as if they actually believed what they say they believe.
The summer is almost done and so is this interview series. Thanks all to the busy folks who took time to answer 18 questions about themselves, their books, and a few other interesting tidbits. I thought I’d finish this series by answering my own questions, not because there is anything special about my answers, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that jazz.
1. Where were you born? Chicago, Illinois
2. When did you become a Christian? I had the immense privilege of growing up in a Christian home, so I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know of Christ. I made profession of faith and joined the church when I was 9 years old.
3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? There are three pastor-authors who have been especially influential. I think I’ve read most everything they’ve published: John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper.
4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? I’ve learned a lot from my pastoral colleagues at URC, Ben Falconer and Jason Helopoulous, and from my predecessor at the church, Tom Stark.
5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? My Song Is Love Unknown, the way Fernando Ortega sings it.
6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Political Science and Economics
7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, for its remarkable influence on the Reformed tradition, for clarity of thought, and for comprehensive coverage of of almost every conceivable theological question.
9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Paul Johnson’s little biography of Churchill is marvelous. Allen Guelzo’s book on Lincoln was also excellent. Do you like how I’m not sticking to the rules of my own questions by mentioning multiple books?
10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers
11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church
12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Ben Patterson, Deepening Your Conversation with God
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? Brian Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. It’s not Christian in anyway, but provocative and full of good sense. For a good gospel-centered book on parenting I was helped by 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)? Like most people, I have eclectic tastes, anything from oldies and contemporary Christian music to bluegrass and classical.
17. Favorite food? Chicago style deep dish pizza.
18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? The Heidelberg Catechism
The news last week of Robin Williams’ death was painful for millions of people, not only because he was a beloved entertainer (count me a fan of his clean stuff) but because suicide is not a topic which lands on us lightly. This is especially true for the countless number of Christians who are still grieving for loved ones or who have struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves. Not surprisingly, in the wake of such big national news, the internet lit up with commentary and critique, point and counterpoint. Some of it helpful, some of it not so much.
Without trying to sift through all that has been said, and without pretending to say everything that needs to be said about such a difficult subject, I thought it might be helpful to try to cut through some of the fog and look at four brief theses. Perhaps these can help us think theologically and pastorally about suicide.
1. The subject of suicide should be approached sensitively and compassionately.
We need to know the time and the place. This is a blog post addressed to a general audience, so I don’t believe it’s insensitive to step back and parse out “four theses” on suicide. But I would not present four points like this to someone mourning the death of a friend or to someone contemplating suicide. Those situations call for hugs, tears, questions, listening, personal contact, and prayer–all things that are impossible or nearly impossible in a general blog post. Having said that, even in a general piece to no one in particular, we must keep in mind that anyone may be reading. The wise Christian is always aware that people are listening with different ears. For some this topic is an interesting theological question. For others, they are thinking about how to minister effectively when the need arises. And for others, the mere mention of suicide summons from within them a pain too deep for words.
2. Suicide is complicated and happens for different reasons.
I think many people were angry at the critical responses to Robin Williams’ death because the critiques failed to grasp–or at least landed on people as failing to grasp–the moral differences surrounding the different contexts for suicide. Surely someone struggling with depression on and off for twenty years who takes his own life deserves more sympathy than the man who loses everything on the stock market and jumps off the 75th floor in a moment of monetary loss. There is a moral difference between the person who gets caught in adultery and–full of embarrasment and an unwillingness to face his sin–commits suicide, as opposed to the person who finds out she was cheated on and, feeling her life cannot go on, decides to end it. The person who guns down children and then kills himself is selfish and evil and a hundred other things. The person who takes his own life while in the throes of a depression that is unwanted, unbidden, and seemingly unending will be appraised much differently. Our last action–even a sinful one–does not define the totality of our existence. We are right to remember all that was good and true in those who succumb to the temptation to self-destruction.
3. Suicide is a sin.
Of course, this is not what I would lead with in pastoral counseling or in pastoral care or in conducting a funeral, but it is one aspect of this difficult topic we cannot avoid. While there may be extreme cases where a suicidal person has clearly lost control of all his faculties (i.e., dementia, closed head injuries), in the vast majority of cases we are right to see suicide as a morally culpable and morally blameworthy choice. For centuries, the church has consistently viewed suicide as a violation of the sixth commandment. Self-murder is still murder. As John Frame points out in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, there are five instances of suicide in Scripture (Judges 9:52-54; 1 Sam. 31:3-5; 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18-19; Matt. 27:3-5) and all of them are in a context of shame and defeat (p. 738). Likewise, when more noble characters ask God to take their lives, God never obliges (Num. 11:12-15; 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:1-11). In the cases of Jonah and Job, God clearly views their self-destructive requests unfavorably.
While we want to empathize with those who suffer–from regret or depression or disease or any other unrelenting malady–surely it is poor ethical reasoning to think that suffering is the means which justifies any end. As we saw yesterday, our choices should be deemed “free” so long as they are not subject to external coercion and compulsion. Julie Gossack–a wife and mother who has five times had to suffer through the suicide of a family member–sums up the matter well: “Suicide is not a genetic trait nor is it a family curse. Suicide is a sinful choice made by an individual. This statement is neither unloving nor disrespectful. It is the truth. I dearly loved my family members that committed suicide, but their choices were sinful and not righteous” (JBC Winter: 2006, 22). Suicide may feel like the only way out, but Scripture tell us God will never lead us into a situation where violating his commands is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13). We do not help struggling saints by refusing to tell them that suicide is displeasing to God; lovingly spoken that may be one of the means by which God jolts the suicidal soul back to better, more godly thinking.
4. Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.
We do not have a system of penance and last rites. While it is particularly sad for a Christian to die in this way–confused and without hope–this loss of perspective does not necessarily mean the person was not a born again, justified Christian. John Frame, who argues that suicide is sinful, also tells the story of a missionary friend who drew closer to Jesus as he battled depression, but in the end killed himself. Frame doesn’t hesitate to say confidently that this man was a genuine Christian (p. 39). We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by whether our last moment was triumphant or tragic. Suicide should not be lightly dismissed. It is unimaginably painful and displeasing to God. But for the truly repentant, truly believing, truly justified child of God, God is greater than our sins, even ones that grip is in our dying breaths.
For more resources on suicide, check out the list of articles at CCEF. They are worth the few dollars it may cost to access them.
I told you last week about my summer sabbatical. I also warned you that I might use one or two excerpts from my doctoral studies as blog posts. Here’s excerpt number two. It’s from a section where I try to demonstrate Witherspoon’s connections with the High/Late Reformed Orthodoxy of Pictet and Turretin.
The scholastic distinction Witherspoon employed most robustly is one with a long and convoluted history. The debate surrounding the nature of the human will–is it bound or is it free?–goes back to at least the time of Augustine (354-430). In order to make sense of this perennial question, medieval scholastics like Peter Lombard (1096-1164) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) made distinctions among different types of necessity, distinctions Calvin used to explain how man could be enslaved to sin and at the same time responsible for his sin. Our sin, which the fallen will chooses by necessity, is also voluntary because the choice is owing to our own corruption. There is no external coercion, no outside compulsion which makes us sin. The will, however bound to wickedness it may be, is still self determined.
Turretin argued to the same effect by postulating six different types of necessity. The will can be said to be free even if it is bound by a moral necessity (along with the necessity of dependence upon God, rational necessity, and necessity of event) so long as it is free from physical necessity and the necessity of coaction. That is to say, if the intellect has the power of choice (freedom from physical necessity) and the will can be exercised without external compulsion (freedom from the necessity of coaction) then our sins can be called voluntary and we can be held responsible for them.
Not surprisingly, Witherspoon held to the same basic distinction, though with far less scholastic nuance. On several occasions Witherspoon defended the necessary yet voluntary nature of our sin by explaining the difference between natural and moral inability. Here, for example, is Witherspoon discussing the matter at some length in his Treatise on Regeneration:
Again the sinner will perhaps say, “But why should the sentence by so severe? The law may be right in itself, but it is hard, or even impossible for me. I have no strength: I cannot love the Lord with all my heart. I am altogether insufficient for that which is good.” Oh that you would but consider what sort of inability you are under to keep the commandments of God. Is it natural, or is it moral? Is it really want of ability, or is it only want of will? Is it anything more than the depravity and corruption of your hearts, which is itself criminal, and the source of all actual transgressions? Have you not natural faculties, and understanding, will, and affections, a wonderful frame of body, and a variety of members? What is it that hinders them all from being consecrated to God?
In using this simpler distinction between natural and moral inability, Witherspoon was in line with Pictet who argued that the “impotence of the sinner does not excuse him in sinning, since it is not involuntary and merely physical, arising from a defect of natural power, but voluntary and moral, arising from a depraved nature.”
The distinction has been controversial in the Reformed tradition, with some theologians defining natural ability in such a way as to give unregenerate man the power within himself to repent and believe. This is what the Swiss triumvirate heard in the doctrine coming out of Saumur and why the Consensus Formula Helvetica argued for an inability that was moral and natural (Canon XXI-XXII). The Consensus was not rejecting the distinction outright—after all, the Formula was Turretin’s idea and Pictet supported it. The Swiss theologians wanted to guard against the notion that faith was in some way self-originated (Canon XXII).
This seventeenth century European controversy is not unlike the controversy that embroiled Reformed theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America. In Witherspoon’s time, the most famous theologian to speak of natural versus moral inability was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who used the familiar distinction as an important part of his attack on Arminianism in Freedom of the Will (1754). In the years that would follow, New Divinity theologians inspired by Edwards would make the notion of natural ability the centerpiece of their thought, arguing for greater volitional power in unregenerate man and, in some cases, arguing against the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin. This was a step Edwards did not take and would not have encouraged. So great was the controversy throughout the next century that in 1863 Lyman Atwater took to the pages of Charles Hodge’s Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review to explain that when Witherspoon spoke of natural ability and moral inability he did so in the old school, orthodox, Turretin sense of the terms.
 Calvin quotes Bernard—in concert with Augustine but in opposition to Lombard—to this end in Inst. II.iii.5 Cf. Inst. II.v.1; Bondage and Liberation, 143-44; Comm. Rom. 7:14.
 Calvin makes this point tirelessly. Cf. Bondage and Liberation, 67-70, 103, 115, 118, 122, 182, 200, 204; Inst. II.iii.14, II.v.7,14-15; Comm. Phil. 2:13. Moreover, Calvin’s vehement rejection of any necessity which might imply coercion or compulsion is entirely unoriginal. Cf. Augustine, City of God, V.x (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff [Peabody: MA: Hendriksen, 2004], 2:92-93); Aquinas, Summa Theologica I q.82 a. 1; D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke (WA), (Weimar, 1883-),18:634.
 Elenctic Theology, X.xii.3-12; cf. Van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, 160-163.
 Works, 1:215; cp. 1:142. Witherspoon also uses the distinction in the Essay on Justification (Works, 1:53) and in his 1758 sermon before the SSPCK (Works, 2:357).
 Christian Theology, 200 (Theologia Christiana V.x.12). The italics are in the original Latin and in the English translation. The distinction can be found in others from the Reformed tradition, including William Twisse (1578-1646), the presiding officer at the Westminster Assembly, and Thomas Manton (1620-1677), a clerk at the Assembly (William Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessells of Mercy [Oxford: Printed by L.L. and H.H. for Tho. Robinson, 1653], 1.1.72; Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton [London: James Nisbet and Co., 1873], 21:332).
 See Part I, Section 4 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1: Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). There is no indication that Witherspoon was borrowing from Edwards in using the distinction. Although Witherspoon’s Popular Party colleague John Erskine was close to Edwards, the latter is never mentioned by Witherspoon and the only Edwards’ volume recorded in his library is the devotional work The Life of David Brainerd (1749 [Witherspoon's edition, 1765]).
 See E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 127-156.
 Lyman Hotchkiss Atwater, “Witherspoon’s Theology,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review (1863), 598-599. Ashbel Green dealt with the same issue in his biography of Witherspoon, responding to the claim “publickly asserted in print, that Dr. W. favoured the idea, that unsanctified men possess natural ability to love God and keep his commandments.” Green argued that Witherspoon’s statements on natural ability and moral inability did not differ “from the creed of any well informed Calvinistic divine of the Old School, namely; that in regeneration no new faculties are imported, but only that there is a renewal and sanctification of those which are possessed from nature; and also, that every unregenerate man is justly answerable for any act of disobedience to the divine requisitions, and every omission of commanded duty, because, in all, he acts voluntarily and of choice” (Life of the Rev. John Witherspoon, 265-266).
During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays. 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.
1. Where were you born? Madison, South Dakota
2. When did you become a Christian? Age 15 in 1997. I attended a retreat with a youth ministry and for the first time saw peers who loved Jesus and wanted to tell others about him.
3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Ranging from how I teach and evangelize to how I love God and fight sin, I have learned the most from Tim Keller. He’s a big reason why I serve with The Gospel Coalition.
4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Two men were used by God during a crucial time of my life. I’m eternally grateful for Chris Sarver, the man who led my Cru ministry in college, and Ben Gildner, our preacher during that time and the man who officiated our wedding.
5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral?
6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? I never get tired of reading history. And you could exhaust multiple lifetimes trying to keep up with publishing on the American Civil War. But I enjoy learning the stories of these citizen-soldiers making decisions under unfathomable pressure as they changed history in untold ways. I’m usually also reading a book about place-making in our transient age.
7. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? No doubt Fyodor Dostoevsky would top that list for his penetrating insight into the human psyche and a world that denies God. But I also appreciate Marilynne Robinson’s touch for revealing the profound in the mundane.
8. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? I’m cheating, because this is a biography about a Christian. But it’s not written by a Christian, and it doesn’t focus on his Christian faith. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken might be the best story I’ve read outside the Bible. By the time you finish the book, however, you’ll understand why the title is so misguided.
9. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? I don’t preach as often as I’d like, but the best book I know about forming the preacher himself is Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus.
10. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? I haven’t yet read anything that surpasses J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
11. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Oddly enough I learned more about apologetics by reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion than I have reading most books by Christians that assume good arguments will carry the day.
12. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? I need books that reveal my need for prayer as a means of grace more than I need books that teach me how to pray. So in that regard Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God exposes my older brother heart and need to humble my judgmental, critical self before my Savior.
13. What is one of your favorite books on marriage?
14. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? My list of favorites playing in the background now includes “Canon in D Minor,” “Live and Die” by the Avett Brothers, “Adagio in G minor for Organ and Strings,” the arrangement of John Newton’s “I Asked the Lord” by Indelible Grace, “Alabama Pines” by Jason Isbell, and “May Your Power Rest on Me” from Sojourn.
16. Favorite food? When I left Chicago I abandoned my two favorite foods: deep-dish pepperoni from Lou Malnati’s and steak kabobs from Naf Naf Grill. Thankfully in Birmingham I can walk to Saw’s Juke Joint, and you’ll never surpass their flash-fried chicken wings or pork and greens over grits.
17. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Louis Zamperini actually survived being stranded in the Pacific, so I might learn a thing or two from Unbroken.