Books and Reviews

 

Apr

14

2014

Tim Keller|12:02 AM CT

Cultural Engagement that Avoids Triumphalism and Accommodation

Greg Forster's important and practical new book helps Christians think out how to engage culture. Many would say this is not a proper goal for believers, but that is a mistake.

51mjgUdKvBLActs 17 records Paul's famous visit to Athens, the academic center of the Roman Empire of the day. One commenter likened the intellectual power of Athens at the time to all the Ivy League schools as well as Oxford and Cambridge universities all rolled into one. Though Paul was repulsed by the idolatry he saw there, he did not turn away from the city in disgust. Instead, he plunged into the marketplace, the agora, where we are told he daily "reasoned" with those he found there about the gospel. Now when you or I think of a "marketplace," we think of shopping and retail. Of course the agoras of ancient cities contained that, but they were much more. The agora was the media center—the only place to learn the news at a time before newspapers and other technological media. It was also the financial center where investors connected with businesses. It was the art center as well, the place where so much art was performed. It was the place where new political and philosophical ideas were debated. In short, the agora was the cultural center of any city. And since this was Athens—which along with Rome had the most influence of all cities—it could be said to be part of the cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. The ideas forged and accepted here flowed out and shaped the way the rest of society thought and lived.

It is instructive, then, to see that Paul takes the gospel literally into the public square. It means that he did not see the Christian faith as only able to change individual hearts. He believed that the gospel had what it took to engage the thinking public, the cultural elites, and to challenge the dominant cultural ideas of the day. He was after converts of course—he was first and foremost a church planter, not a theologian or Christian philosopher. But he wouldn't have been able to engage the hearts of cultural leaders unless he also engaged the ideas of the culture itself. He did not shrink from that challenge. He did not merely try to find individual philosophers to evangelize in a corner. He addressed them as a culture, a public community.

It is often missed that, although later Paul was invited to give an address, he did not start by preaching in the agora. He did not get up on a soapbox and merely declare what the Bible said. It says Paul "reasoned" (Acts 17:17) in the marketplace, using a word—dialegomai—that sounds like "dialogue." However, as John Stott says in his commentary on Acts, this term probably denoted something more specific than we would think of today when we hear it. Stott says it was something closer to what we might call the Socratic method. This was not a "debate" as we see debates today, where two parties read off talking points at one another. It required lots of careful listening, and in particular it meant asking questions that showed that your opponents were self-contradictory, that is, they were wrong on the basis of their own premises. And indeed, when we actually hear Paul's address to the philosophers in Acts 17:22-31, we can't help but notice that he does the Socratic method even here. He does not expound or even quote Scripture, but rather quotes their own thinkers (v. 28) and then shows them that, on the basis of their own intuitions and statements about God, idolatry is absolutely wrong (v. 29). Many have pointed out how Paul's address lays the foundation for a doctrine of God, contrasting the contemporary culture's beliefs in multiple, fallible, powerful beings who must be appeased with the idea of one supreme Creator, sovereign God who is worthy of awe-filled adoration and worship. Every part of what Paul says is deeply biblical, but he never quotes the Bible; instead he shows them the weakness and inadequacies of their own views of the divine and lifts up the true God for their admiration. He appeals as much to their rationality and their imaginations as to their will and hearts.

What It Is and It Not

The term "cultural engagement" is so often used by Christians today without a great deal of definition. This account of Paul and Athens gets us a bit closer to understanding what it is by showing us what it is not. Christians are to enter the various public spheres—working in finance, the media, the arts. But there we are neither to simply preach at people nor are we to hide our faith, keeping it private and safe from contradiction. Rather, we are as believers to both listen to and also challenge dominant cultural ideas, respectfully yet pointedly, in both our speech and our example.

When Paul addresses the Areopagus, a body of the elite philosophers and aristocrats of Athens, he was, quite literally, speaking to the cultural elites. Their response to him was cool to say the least. They "mocked" him (Acts 17:32) and called him a "babbler" (v. 18), and only one member of that august body converted (v. 34). The elites laughed at him, wondering how Paul expected anyone to believe such rubbish. The irony of the situation is evident as we look back at this incident from the vantage point of the present day. We know that a couple of centuries later the older pagan consensus was falling apart and Christianity was growing rapidly. All the ideas that the philosophers thought so incredible were adopted by growing masses of people. Finally those sneering cultural elites were gone, and many Christian truths became dominant cultural ideas.

Why? Historians look back and perceive that the seemingly impregnable ancient pagan consensus had a soft underbelly. For example, the approach to suffering taken by the Stoics—its call to detach your heart from things here and thereby control your emotions—was harsh and did not work for much of the populace. The Epicureans' call to live life for pleasure and happiness left people empty and lonely. The Stoics' insistence that the Logos—the order of meaning behind the universe—could be perceived through philosophic contemplation was elitist, only for the highly educated. The revolutionary Christian teaching was, however, that there was indeed a meaning and moral order behind the universe that must be discovered, but this Logos was not a set of abstract principles. Rather it was a person, the Creator and Savior Jesus Christ, who could be known personally. This salvation and consolation was available to all, and it was available in a way that did not just engage the reason but also the heart and the whole person. The crazy Christian gospel, so sneered at by the cultural elites that day, eventually showed forth its spiritual power to change lives and its cultural power to shape societies. Christianity met the populace's needs and answered their questions. The dominant culture could not. And so the gospel multiplied.

Do we have Paul's courage, wisdom, skill, balance, and love to do the same thing today in the face of many sneering cultural leaders? It won't be the same journey, because we live in a post-Christian Western society that has smuggled in many values gotten from the Bible but now unacknowledged as such. Late modern culture is not nearly as brutal as pagan culture. So the challenges are different, but we must still, I think, plunge into the agora as Paul did.

Greg Forster's new book does a marvelous job of showing us a way forward that fits in with Paul's basic stance—not just preaching at people, but not hiding or withdrawing either. Within these pages, believers will get lots of ideas about how to "reason" with people in the public square about the faith and how to engage culture in a way that avoids triumphalism, accommodation, or withdrawal. Paul felt real revulsion at the idolatry of Athens—yet that didn't prevent him from responding to the pagan philosophers with love and respect, plus a steely insistence on being heard. This book will help you respond to our cultural moment in the same way.

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This article was adapted from the foreword to Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (Crossway, 2014), by Greg Forster. This book is the second installment of the Cultural Renewal series edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen.

 
 

Apr

10

2014

Christina Fox|12:01 AM CT

Mama's Hands Are Full: Gloria Furman on Treasuring Christ in the Trenches

It was 8:00 a.m., and I already longed for bedtime. I'd refereed two conflicts over toys. I attempted to tackle the mountain of laundry that seemed to quadruple overnight. I repeated instructions multiple times to easily distracted minds. "It's time to brush your teeth." "Keep your finger out of your nose." "Only use kind words." My head and throat hurt, and I could feel a fever brewing.

Motherhood is a life that stretches you both inside and out. It's a daily practice of laying down your will and desires for the care of others. It's an energy-sapping life where you start each day with less energy than you had the day before. Nothing belongs to you anymore—not your space, not your time, not your sleep. Some days feel like a bad version of Groundhog Day, a repeat of the day before.

As a mom, I usually get caught up in the details of my days. I get wrapped up and consumed by the chaos and unexpected situations that come my way. I struggle in my weakness against the current of life's challenges, only to make no headway at all. And most of the time I end up spent, weary, discouraged, and alone.

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On that day, when I felt sick and sapped of all strength, physical and otherwise, Gloria Furman's new book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway) [video trailer], arrived in the mail. It was the perfect word of truth and encouragement my weary heart needed. The title alone spoke to me because my hands are always full. But too often I focus on everything I'm carrying in those hands rather than on my treasure, Jesus Christ.

Gloria's book is filled with gospel wisdom from cover to cover. She reminds us that Christ is with us in every situation we encounter as mothers. Not only that, but we can treasure him amid every chaos, every sibling spat, every sickness, and every cup of spilled milk. These meditations cover situations to which every mom can relate. Filled with examples from her own life, Gloria weaves gospel encouragement into every page, bringing hope to the daily challenges of motherhood.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full reminded me that the gospel is for all of life—including motherhood. Our theology of the cross and the redemption purchased by Christ's blood intersect with bedtime battles, fatigue, and easily distracted children. What Jesus accomplished can be applied to every moment of our lives. Even when our head throbs from the resounding echoes of little voices calling our name all day, gospel peace is always available through Jesus Christ.

I asked Gloria a few questions about her new book to learn how moms can find quiet times, why she doesn't offer more "how-to" advice, and what passages of Scripture have encouraged her lately.

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What inspired you to write this book, and what do you hope women take away from it?

Busy moms have their hands full, and I want them to revel in the hope that comes from the gospel and see how their hands are full of blessings in Christ.

I appreciated your honesty in sharing the challenges you faced in early motherhood with having regular quiet times with the Lord. I remember this struggle myself. Finding quiet and solitude with God is hard. But, as you point out, the Lord is just as near to us in the chaos of our day as he is in the alone times. Do you think that moms can have a tendency to just give up on communing with God because of their season of life?

Sometimes we think that if only we could have peace and quiet in the house then we will have peace and quiet in our heart. How easy it is for us to relegate Jesus' presence to an easy chair in a picture-perfect living room (with an accompanying cup of hot coffee)! For the mom facing that challenge of finding quiet time, I'd want her to know that, solitude or circus, it makes no difference in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to give you everything you need for life and godliness.

In a day where mom blogs saturate the internet with "how-to" counsel and "5 steps to getting your kid to _______," it seems we often clamor after quick fixes and step-by-step advice. Do readers ever complain that your writing is "just too much gospel" and not enough practical "how-to" advice? 

There's no shortage of resources and practical tips for helping moms navigate the challenges they face; I surf these websites for tips all the time. I hesitate to share my practical advice because it really only works for my set of unique circumstances a pitifully tiny fraction of the time, and whenever I give other moms "how-to" advice I have to preface it with that disclaimer.

But I can, however, share the gospel confidently without reservation because the cross teaches us what to expect when we're expecting challenging situations in motherhood—"mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Of course, solid practical advice is a mercy and a grace, but the cross addresses our deepest and most urgent need, which is to behold our God. In short, we can gain great benefit from practical how-tos, yet the implications of the help and hope we receive from the gospel are inexhaustible.

Is there one passage of Scripture, or a few passages, that have given you particular hope and peace during the often chaotic and busy season of motherhood?

Yes! In this particular season I have been particularly encouraged by Isaiah 40:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Matthew 28:18-20, and the book of Ephesians.

 
 

Apr

07

2014

Joe Carter|6:00 AM CT

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

The end of March marked the sixty-fifth anniversary of C.S. Lewis completing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Here are nine things you should know about the Lewis' beloved novels:

narniachronicles1. The name 'Narnia' is a Latin word, referring to a town in ancient Italy called 'Narni'.

2. Lewis first thought of Narnia in 1939, but didn't finish writing the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, until a decade later in 1949. Lewis said of the idea for the book, "The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it."

3. Lewis believed the series should be read in the chronological order of the events covered in the books. But most readers, critics, and scholars believe they should be read in the order the books were published: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), The Last Battle (1956).

4. Lewis Scholar Michael Ward has proposed a theory that that Lewis deliberately constructed the Chronicles of Narnia out of the imagery of the seven heavens. According to astronomers before Copernicus in the sixteenth century, the seven heavens contained the seven planets which revolved around Earth and exerted influences over people and events and even the metals in the Earth's crust. In his book, Ward says, "In The Lion [the child protagonists] become monarchs under sovereign Jove; in Prince Caspian they harden under strong Mars; in The "Dawn Treader" they drink light under searching Sol; inThe Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna; in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury; in The Magician's Nephew they gain life-giving fruit under fertile Venus; and in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn."

5. 'Aslan', the name of the central Lion character in the Narnia Chronicles, is the Turkish word for 'lion'. Although Aslan is the only character to appear in all seven books, he never appeared in the first draft of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even though it was published a year later.

6. The character of Puddleglum, who appears as a principal character in The Silver Chair, was based on Fred Paxford, who served as a handyman, gardener, and occasional cook for over 30 years at Lewis' home (the Kilns) in Oxford. Douglas Gresham described him as "a simple and earthy man who might be called a cheerful, eternal pessimist." If someone said "good morning" to Paxford, he might respond by saying "Ah, looks like rain before lunch though if it doesn't snow or hail that is."

7. The series of books took Lewis more than eight years to complete, though he spent only three months of that time writing the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

8. Although there are several maps of the Narnian universe available, the one considered the "official" version was published in 1972 by the books' illustrator, Pauline Baynes. (Illustration copyright © C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.)

narnia

9. In a letter to a fifth-grade class, Lewis explained that Aslan is not meant simply to "represent" Jesus: "Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen."

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

 
 

Apr

07

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

20 Quotes from DeYoung's Taking God at His Word

The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Kevin DeYoung's tremendous forthcoming book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway), now available for pre-order. Thanks to Tony Reinke for inspiring the 20 quotes idea.

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"Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem—the longest in the Bible—is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself. . . . Psalm 119 is the explosion of praise made possible by an orthodox and evangelical doctrine of Scripture." (10, 14)

"As the people of God, we believe the word of God can be trusted in every way to speak what is true, command what is right, and provide us with what is good." (16)

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"No one who truly delights in God's word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it." (18)

"There is no calamity like the silence of God." (19)

"The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. . . . May God give us ears, for we all need to hear the word of God more than God needs any of us to defend it." (22-23)

"The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Savior must have sinned." (35)

"Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool's errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God's word is to commit the sin of unbelief. . . . Finding a halfway house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible's own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet." (37-38)

"You can think too highly of your interpretations of Scripture, but you cannot think too highly of Scripture's interpretation of itself. You can exaggerate your authority in handling the Scriptures, but you cannot exaggerate the Scriptures' authority to handle you. You can use the word of God to come to wrong conclusions, but you cannot find any wrong conclusions in the word of God." (39-40)

"Of the four attributes of Scripture, [sufficiency] may be the one that evangelicals forget first. If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians." (43)

"The finality of Christ's redemption for us is intimately tied to the finality of his revelation to us. . . . If we say revelation is not complete, we must admit that somehow the work of redemption also remains unfinished. . . . Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together." (44, 48-49)

"If we learn to read the Bible down (into our hearts), across (the plot line of Scripture), out (to the end of the story), and up (to the glory of God in the face of Christ), we will find that every bit of Scripture is profitable for us." (52)

"Nowhere do Jesus or the apostles ever treat the Old Testament as human reflections on the divine. It is instead the voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25; Heb. 3:7) and God's own breath (2 Tim. 3:16)." (64)

"Counselors can counsel meaningfully because Scripture is sufficient. Bible study leaders can lead confidently because Scripture is clear. Preachers can preach with boldness because their biblical text is authoritative. And evangelists can evangelize with urgency because Scripture is necessary." (90)

"Our Messiah sees himself as an expositor of Scripture, but never a corrector of Scripture. He fulfills it, but never falsifies it. He turns away wrong interpretations of Scripture, but insists there is nothing wrong with Scripture, down to the crossing of t's and dotting of i's." (100)

"In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zerephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history." (102)

"Jesus may have seen himself as the focal point of Scripture, but never as a judge of it. The only Jesus who stands above Scripture is the Jesus of our own invention. . . . It is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did." (105)

"The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this 'red letter' nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important words in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. . . . If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus." (116-17)

"No one succeeds at the highest level in sports without working out. No one makes it in music without lots of practice. No one excels in scholarship without years of study. And no one makes it far in the school of holiness without hours and days and years in the word." (119)

"In a world that prizes the new, the progressive, and the evolved, we need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And since he remains the same, so does his truth. Which means sometimes consistency is the better part of valor." (120)

"Ultimately we believe the Bible because we believe in the power and wisdom and goodness and truthfulness of the God whose authority and veracity cannot be separated from the Bible. We trust the Bible because it is God's Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word." (122)

 
 

Apr

01

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

How to Prepare Your Teen for College

College can be a significant fork in the road of life. For some, it's where their Christian life commences or catches speed. For others, however, college is where their faith fizzles.

In his new book, Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More (Tyndale), Alex Chediak aims to help parents equip their teens for the college challenge. Structured around six general categories (character, faith, relationships, finances, academics, the college decision) and 11 specific conversations parents should have with their kids before they arrive at college, Preparing Your Teens for College wisely and practically spotlights the inescapable truth the "thriving at college begins in the home."

I corresponded with Chediak, professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University and author of Thriving at College, about how to address sexual purity with your teen, whether to go to a Christian college, financial barriers, and more.

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You're convinced that "thriving at college begins in the home." What's the hardest thing about preparing teens for college today?

Though every teen is unique, I think protracted adolescence and narcissism (pervasive in young adult culture) represent the most difficult hurdles for godly parents and pastors to overcome. Too many teens prefer to linger in the no-man's-land of adolescence rather than complete the journey to full-orbed adulthood. And while a very low self-esteem is often unhealthy (certainty of failure easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), too many teens have the opposite problem: they think they're great, but haven't yet done anything great. If you think you're better at something than you really are, you expect it to come easily. This view makes you less likely to work hard, less likely to succeed, and more likely to be surprised and disappointed when you don't. But college is harder than high school, so teens need to go in with the right mentality.

In short, to succeed in college our kids need to assume responsibility for their lives, embrace a realistic assessment of themselves (see Romans 12:3), delay gratification when necessary, and work hard to achieve a clear set of goals. These things need to be happening progressively during their teen years—before they get to college.

You argue that moral purity is essential to spiritual flourishing. How can parents broach this potentially awkward subject with their teens in a constructive manner?

I think it's a series of conversations beginning around puberty where we help them see that their new desires for romantic and sexual intimacy can either lead them into sin or lead them to greater fellowship with Christ and (probably) to a future spouse. The self-control we hope our children learn before puberty will play a huge role here. Moral purity is about delaying gratification—it's about saying no to a lesser pleasure now for the sake of a greater pleasure later.

We err if we deny the lesser pleasure is real. And we also err if we fail to warn them that this lesser pleasure is followed by pain, because God wired us to experience physical intimacy in the context of a lifetime commitment. God wants us to be happy. Therefore, he forbids that we express ourselves sexually outside the context of marriage. And the Holy Spirit can empower obedience in this area.

Parents want their kids to grow up into the high expectations they have for them, but how can they avoid becoming "helicopter parents" or "tiger moms"? 

It's appropriate to acknowledge that high expectations drive high performance; teens usually rise only as high as the expectations of those who most strongly influence them. Therefore, we must help our teens avoid excuse making and instead apply themselves diligently to honor God with excellence in their activities.

But faithfulness to Christ is a greater and broader goal than a perfect GPA, performing in Carnegie Hall, or getting into an Ivy League college. We should exhort our teens to develop their talents from within the larger context of Christian discipleship. This approach means helping our kids resist the idolatrous tendency to define themselves by their accomplishments—and modeling this resistance in our own lives. We pursue excellence not to impress others but to glorify God and more effectively serve others. And we do so from the firm foundation of having already received God's favor because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

What advice do you have for a parent whose teenager wants to attend a different church or simply stop attending altogether?

Parents should choose a church home with full consideration of their children's spiritual needs. If teens aren't feeling engaged at church, that problem should be discussed. Legitimate issues should be brought to the attention of church leaders. Could more be done to engage teens? Alternatively, could your teen use some help finding ways to serve, meeting more people, and feeling better connected? If another biblically oriented church in town has midweek youth activities and yours doesn't, I see no problem with allowing your teens to join those activities.

Teens who want to stop attending church altogether are a larger problem. I would thank those teens for being honest about their preference and request an ongoing dialogue about their spiritual status. (For example, do they profess faith? If so, why don't they see church involvement as necessary? If not, what intellectual or moral obstacles are preventing them from following Christ?) But I would require church attendance while "living under our roof" as a subset of obedience/submission—the same way I'd require that they come and be polite if the family is invited to Grandma's house for dinner.

How do today's economic conditions make preparing our kids for college more crucial than ever before?

College is more expensive than ever. But with regard to future earnings prospects, it's also more significant than ever. In June 2013, the unemployment rate for non-college grads was 7.6 percent, but for college grads it was about half of that (3.9 percent). You'll see this pattern, in good times and bad, over the last few decades. And the "earnings premium"—the additional money that a college graduate earns relative to a non-college graduate—has been steadily increasing. In 1979, high school graduates were paid 77 percent of what college graduates made; today they make about 62 percent.

This doesn't mean every high school graduate should immediately pursue a bachelor's degree. Associate degrees in health care and technology-related disciplines lead to high-paying jobs (and require less educational expense to access). Moreover, economists expect "middle skill" job openings—those requiring more than a high school degree but less than a bachelor's degree—to increase. The skilled trades are also in demand (think welders, electricians, heavy equipment technicians, and so on). So it's not a matter of "four-year college for all," but having some kind of advanced degree or certification is increasingly important.

How should one go about deciding whether to attend a Christian college?

Christian colleges offer distinct advantages: a greater commitment to cultivating the whole person, to teaching subjects from a distinctively Christian perspective, and to providing a supportive community in which students can better understand and more deeply own the Christian faith for themselves. Socially, there are advantages to being mostly (or entirely) surrounded by those who profess Christian faith.

That said, while every Christian student should consider the opportunities for Christian community afforded by a particular college—the local churches in the area, the Christian organizations that meet on the campus, and so forth—not every Christian student must attend a Christian college. A non-Christian college may be less expensive, offer a specific academic program, have better instructional resources, or allow a student to live at home (saving money) while remaining connected to his or her family and church. Whether to attend a Christian or secular college is an area in which Christian liberty should be respected among families.

 
 

Mar

27

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

Chuck the Flannelgraph: Jared Wilson on the Gripping Glory of Jesus' Parables

The Good Samaritan. The Prodigal Son. The sower. The talents. The sheep and the goats. Of all the things that come to mind when people think of Jesus, chances are that most would cite a parable.

"Throw away your Flannelgraphs," Jared Wilson tells readers in his new book, The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables (Crossway). "They are flat and soft, and the story of Jesus is neither." Drilling through icy layers of familiarity, Wilson takes us on a fresh journey of discovery among the stories of the Galilean God-man.

"When Jesus teaches a parable, he is not opening up Chicken Soup for the Soul or a fortune cookie but a window into the hidden heavenlies," Wilson explains. "He is revealing a glimpse of eternity crashing into time, a flash photo of his own wisdom brought to bear."

I talked with Wilson, pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Vermont, about whether we should teach like Jesus, popular misinterpretations, Jesus vs. Paul, and more.

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Why did Jesus teach in parables? Is it a practice we ought to emulate in our preaching and evangelism? 

Jared-Wilson-2

The most common answers to this first question are that Jesus taught in parables to make his teaching easier to understand—to serve as "sermon illustrations," in other words—or to draw people in with well-spun stories and the like. There are shades of truth in both of those answers, but they don't quite get at what Jesus was really doing teaching in parables. In Matthew 13, Jesus himself explains that he teaches in parables in some way to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that "seeing they will not see, and hearing they will not hear." This means the parables of Jesus work in a parallel way to the gospel itself—they open eyes and ears to see and hear the truth, or they further harden people against the truth. The parables reveal or conceal Christ's glory, depending on the quality of the spiritual senses of those hearing them.

I don't believe we can emulate the practice of Christ's parables in our preaching and evangelism, as we are not Christ and don't have the same ministry as he did. We do not preach ourselves; we preach him. So we ought to make that contrast as plain as possible. But that doesn't mean we should never use illustrations that are parable- or story-like in our preaching and evangelism.

What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted parable among evangelicals?

Nearly all of them? We tend to make every parable a sort of moralistic tale, something that ends up more about behavior modification than spiritual beholding of Jesus. Not that the parables don't urge changes in behavior. The parable of the Good Samaritan, for instance, is perhaps the most popular among evangelicals today, especially among those of us with concern for social justice issues.

Yet if we make that parable simply about "being nice to those different from us," we aren't mis-reading the parable exactly, but we aren't getting out of it all that is really there. I find it interesting that the hero of the story is the Samaritan. This is a scandalous move by Jesus. Because if he only wanted to convey the message that we should be nice to people who are "untouchable," he would have made the Samaritan the victim and had the heroic savior be a Jew who was willing to touch the untouchable to do the right thing. Instead, Jesus makes what the Jew would consider a "half-breed heretic" the hero of the story.

We have to ask why. Certainly Jesus had problems with Samaritan theology. But perhaps he's making the point that all of us are, because of sin, "untouchable." He's making the point that Jews are just as sinful as Samaritans. And ultimately because he's making the point that he himself will identify with the sinners—will in fact become the curse—to rescue those who trust in him. But there are lots of other parables we keep misinterpreting too, particularly the ones dealing with money.

What is the "gospel of the kingdom" Jesus preached? Did Paul preach this gospel?

The gospel of the kingdom Jesus preached is that the sovereign presence of God is breaking into the world, signaling the reversal of the curse given after the fall. This gospel announces all the other entailments of God's reign coming to bear in the world—the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father, restoration of creation, and so on. This gospel is coming in and through the rightful king, the Messiah, Jesus himself. Paul preaches this gospel too, but it sounds different in a variety of places, mainly because Jesus isn't just announcing the kingdom but actualizing it and preaching "me!" while Paul is heralding the kingdom by preaching "him!"

What specific counsel would you offer a person who is preparing to preach the parables? 

I would advise him not to avoid the imperatives present in them, but not mistake the imperatives for the primary purpose of the parables, which is to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ. In many ways, this is the kind of advice I'd give anyone preaching any text of Scripture, but it is especially important with parables because studious preachers sometimes seek to find things in them that aren't really there—codes and allegories, for example. Not every detail of the parables always corresponds to some special meaning.

Is there a parable that's historically been confusing to you that has recently opened up with new insights?

I'd say the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16 has always bugged me. It seems on the surface (in v. 9) that Jesus is telling us to use money to win friends and influence people. And in a way, he is. But I couldn't figure out how the parable and the concluding point didn't commend things that Jesus himself elsewhere discourages or outright forbids. This is one of those cases where the parable is just what it is—a story. We aren't always meant to make one-to-one connections or analogical allegories out of them.

With plenty of help in my studies, I read the parable now to be heading toward the larger point(s) Jesus is making: be shrewd in your use of material/earthly resources ("unrighteous wealth") so that you may have an influence for eternal riches. He's not commending dishonesty or greed or materialism as evangelistic tools! He's in a broader way reminding us to treat temporary riches as temporary, and to be wise and discerning about our handling of them, so we don't attach our heart to them or lead others astray in our dealing with them.

 
 

Mar

18

2014

Josh Blount|12:01 AM CT

Jared Wilson on Writing and Pastoral Ministry

It's no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.

But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? I sought answers from Jared Wilson, pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown, Vermont, and the author of many books, such as Gospel WakefulnessGospel DeepsThe Pastor's Justification, and Otherworld, a supernatural thriller.

You can also read our interviews in this series with Timothy Keller and Anthony Carter.

*        *        *        *

Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we're called to care for?

jaredwilsonEvery pastor should write, even if he does not pursue publication, because besides the weekly exercise of composing a sermon, writing in a journal, writing letters, writing pieces for a church blog or newsletter or other internal resources helps a pastor develop his own voice for the sermon and other teaching. Writing is a great impetus for learning and research, as well as critical thinking and creativity. It would be helpful for pastors to exercise those muscles regularly, even if they don't think of themselves as "writers" per se.

A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer like you are. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?

I try not to be too cynical. But I think many younger pastors want to be published today not as a way of working out creative giftings or love of writing but mainly to achieve a platform or a certain level of notoriety. It appears to be the "next step" in the pastoral career trajectory. This kind of thinking, which pastors themselves are not entirely responsible for, has done great harm to the literary culture within the church.

But if a pastor is a gifted writer and interested in the craft and feels called to pursue wider readership, I would want to make sure this is something he's been doing for a while, that he's put real work over a period of years into it. There are very few overnight successes. So I would encourage endurance and perseverance. I would coach him on how to receive criticism. And of course I'd give him practical tips on pursuing publication.

Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?

It's imperative to have people close to you—fellow pastors/elders, but anyone a pastor would consider a trusted friend—who are authorized to speak the truth into your life, who can tell you when you're being an idiot. It's also good to trust those who "knew you when." One reason I have committed to stay at my rural church in Vermont for as long as God will give them the grace to keep me is because they wanted me before I had any books published or any speaking engagements booked. This history means I know they wanted me. I can trust them. They love the unpublished me, the "unknown" me. The temptation to pride is succumbed to and humility is lost when a pastor building a platform begins surrounding himself only with "yes men" and begins only listening to the "important" people.

What caused you to pursue writing as a part of your ministry?

I've never known a time when I didn't write. And I've wanted to be a published author since the first grade. I've loved books since before I could read, and I've just grown up with this impulse to put words together to say interesting or engaging or creative or meaningful things. I was writing little books in grade school, adventure stories and the like, and binding them and making copies to hand out. I wanted to be a writer before God called me into vocational ministry, so when that call came—in my junior high years—I just assumed writing would go along with it. I can't not write.

In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, "Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it." Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?

My routine is not very disciplined, but only because I don't usually have to make myself write. Every week, throughout the week, I'm writing something. Of course, this process becomes problematic for me when I have deadlines from publishers or editors, so when I have something big due, I am usually scheduling time closer to the deadline to get that specific project finished. But week to week, my only day set aside primarily for writing is Wednesday, which is actually when I am mostly working on my Sunday sermon. But that day also gets used for working on bits of books that are due or going over edits. When I'm in full-on "get the book done" mode, I also tend to use up several evenings during the week and Friday and Sunday afternoons. But in terms of a disciplined routine week to week for writing, I'm a pretty poor example.

Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?

The best practice is reading and reading widely. I've listened to all kinds of people say they'd like to write a book, but it becomes apparent that they don't really know how a book is organized, which just confuses me, because if you've read enough books, you know how they're structured and organized. I don't trust published writers who don't read—or who don't read good books. And pastors who want to write non-fiction should nevertheless read lots of fiction. They should read good fiction, literary fiction. And they should read non-fiction written by writers with a literary sensibility. We don't get much of that sensibility in modern books, but lots of the old theological works have it, because those old dead guys could flat-out write. We don't need any more Christian living books that sound like fortune cookies or theological books that sound like toaster manuals.

So read, read, read. Lots of little things have helped me along the way. I had great English and creative writing teachers, and I had great professors in college who pushed me to pursue publication and reviewed my work for me, and I've read lots of books on the craft of writing. I think blogging for the last 11 years has helped me keep the writing muscle developing and improving, but the absolutely most helpful practice I've engaged in to help my writing is having been a reader of books nearly all my life.

 
 

Mar

05

2014

Thabiti Anyabwile|12:01 AM CT

When Darkness Smothered Daytime

Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Matthew 27:46

"Leave no man behind" is part of the creed armed services men and women swear to one another and their country. This commitment drives ordinary men and women to extreme lengths in loyalty to their fellow soldiers. In southern Afghanistan, British Royal Marines went to extreme lengths to rescue one of their own, displaying their heroism on January 15, 2007.

After 200 marines assaulted a Taliban stronghold, they discovered that, upon leaving the area, one of their men had been left behind. Since there might still be Taliban in the area, the Marines needed to act speedily to rescue their fellow soldier. So they utilized the only helicopters available—three AH-64 gunships—to carry Marines back to the area. Since AH-64s have room inside for only a two-man crew, the other Marines harnessed themselves on the helicopters' two stubby wings, usually used to carry rockets and missiles. The three helicopters quickly reached the scene of the battle. The four Marines dismounted from the wings of the helicopters and found their fellow soldier, who had been killed in battle. They tied his body to the wing of the third helicopter, and all three gunships returned to their base. That is taking "leave no man behind" seriously.

Many of us have seen the moving picture of five U.S. soldiers planting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima. Perhaps few of us know that the soldier who took the photo was killed in battle nine days later, and his body was not recovered. In 2007, 62 years after Sergeant William H. Genaust was killed, an effort was made to retrieve his body. Sixty-two years later! Why a search after such a long time? Their effort was driven by the commitment to "leave no man behind"—not even his remains.

Such a commitment represents loyalty to the highest degree, just as intentionally leaving a man behind represents betrayal to the highest degree. Soldiers cannot justify forsaking their comrades in battle. We call that cowardice. Such a man is a "Benedict Arnold" to his comrades. Such abandonment cannot be redeemed, nor does it redeem others.

We've all been let down, disappointed, and even abandoned at one time or another. Most of our betrayals have been minor: the way friends casually make promises they fail to keep or the way coworkers and employers play politics in the office. Occasionally people experience much harsher abandonments—stabbings in the back—such as a spouse breaking a marriage vow or a parent abandoning them. In those situations we've been left behind in the worst of ways. We can barely cope.

And so we look in wonder at the greatest abandonment ever, when God the Father abandoned God the Son on Calvary's cross. When we consider the separation of Father and Son at Calvary, we stare into the deep mystery and meaning of cross and resurrection. But the Father's abandonment of Jesus leads to the sinner's adoption. God abandons one perfect Son in order to adopt millions of sinful sons. It's the only abandonment with any honor and redemption.

Day of Judgment

Before this abandonment, our Savior lay facedown in agony in Gethsemane, pleading in prayer, "Is there any way other than drinking this cup?" But heaven's silent answer came: "No, there is no other way." Jesus had to drink the cup.

Now we come to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. The crowds of Jewish faithful make the pilgrimage to the Holy City with songs and rejoicing. The entire city is festive—except one nearby place.

We leave the singing crowds of Jerusalem and go to Golgotha (Matt. 27:33), the place of the skull. We find Jesus on a hill called Calvary outside the city—drinking the cup he could not avoid, the cup the Father would not remove. It seems all the people were there when they crucified our Lord: soldiers (v. 36), thieves (v. 38), blaspheming crowds (v. 39), and religious leaders (v. 41). And God was there, too.

We know God was there because darkness smothered daytime: "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (v. 45). The sixth hour refers to noon. From 12:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, when the sun normally blasts at full strength, darkness came over all the land. Luke 23:45 simply states the sun stopped shining. This was no eclipse. At Passover the moon is full, and it's impossible to have an eclipse with a full moon. Besides, when is the last time you heard of an eclipse lasting three hours? There is nothing natural about this scene. This is supernatural. God was there.

The darkness represents judgment. Do you remember the first Passover, when God told Moses to stretch out his hand toward heaven "that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt" (Exod. 10:21-23)? With the ninth plague, darkness covered the whole land before God killed Egypt's firstborn.

Egypt lay in darkness for three days, Jerusalem for three hours. After the darkness, Egypt's firstborn sons were killed; in Jerusalem the only begotten Son of God was slain.

In Egypt, a lamb's blood covered the doorposts of homes. In Jerusalem, the Lamb of God's blood covered the sins of the world.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Thabiti Anyabwile's new book Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection (Reformation Heritage, 2014).

 
 

Feb

03

2014

Stephen Witmer|12:01 AM CT

How Eternity Changes Everything in Our Restlessness

Whatever else you're doing today, you're waiting—waiting for your future with God in glory. But how are you waiting? Paul says Christians "wait eagerly" for the new creation (Romans 8:23). We "groan inwardly" because we're not there yet. That means being excited but groaning, positive yet dissatisfied, optimistic while restless.

Eternity Changes EverythingBut hold on. Dissatisfied? Restless? Doesn't the Bible tell us to be content? After all, Paul said: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11).

How does restlessness fit with contentment? Do they fit at all? They must—because one of the great Bible passages on restlessness comes just before Paul's testimony that he has learned contentment in all circumstances. Paul himself saw no contradiction between feeling restless for the future and content in the present . . . at the same time. Here's how he spoke of his future resurrection life:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me . . . one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

What is going on here? How do these things fit together?

What Restlessness Is (and Isn't)

Restlessness is a passion for our future in the new creation. Restlessness is aligning our identities, thoughts, actions, and goals with that future. Restlessness is the attitude of not settling for now.

Forgetting what lies behind, Paul is "straining toward" what lies ahead. That phrase is drawn from the Greek athletic games. If you've ever watched a 100-meter sprint, you know the all-out effort and intense forward-focus Paul describes. When a great sprinter comes racing down the track, leaning to dip for the line, he's not thinking about how well he came out of the blocks, or what a great first ten meters he ran. Every fiber is focused forward. This is the way Paul lived.

The end of his race is the return of Jesus, final salvation, the resurrection of his body. That's what Paul strained forward to reach. He sometimes thought of his past (see 1 Corinthians 15:9), but he refused to rest on past accomplishments or wallow in past defeats. His future in the new creation defined and oriented his life. That's what he meant by saying he does "one thing." Of course he doesn't stop working, eating, reading, praying, preaching, laughing, and so on. "One thing" means the North Star orienting his present is his future. Paul undertook daily tasks with a view to accomplishing his aim of reaching the finish line.

In other words, Paul didn't settle for now. Paul lived in the present, but he didn't live for the present. He worked hard in the present, but he lived for the future.

This was the secret of Paul's contentment. Biblical restlessness does not undermine contentment: it undergirds contentment. Because Paul didn't settle for the present, because his eggs weren't in that basket, the present could not control him or determine his inner attitude or well-being. His circumstances neither destroyed nor propped up his contentment.

Living for Today or Tomorrow?

This way of life isn't just for Paul: "All of us . . . who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you" (Philippians 3:15). So what do we live for? Past, present, or future? What might God make clear to you—even as you read these words?

Most of us find it all too easy to live focused on the past. Perhaps we linger on past defeats (mistakes made, wrongs suffered, opportunities missed) and become bitter. Or perhaps we lean on past victories (degrees earned, relationships enjoyed, accomplishments achieved) and become boring.

Or we live for the present. If things are going well at work or home, we feel good about ourselves and happy with the world. If things are going poorly—the sink clogs again, the child throws a tantrum in public again, we fail to meet the sales quota again—we feel bad about ourselves and angry with the world. Either way, we're settling for now, letting it define us, for good or for bad.

This problem prompts us to ask ourselves some challenging questions.

Here's the first: "Have I settled for now at my job?" Are all my eggs (self-worth, happiness, feelings of success) in the "now" basket? When we forget the future, we may begin to compete in an unhealthy way with co-workers, forgetting that our worth isn't at stake in how well we succeed on the job. If work goes poorly, or if work goes away altogether due to a job loss, forgetters of the future will complain and eventually despair. Christian restlessness as we move through our workday changes the way we work. We're content even when work is frustrating, our boss unfair, and our co-workers annoying.

Here is the second challenging question: "Have I settled for now in parenting?" Do we despair that God hasn't given us the perfect kids we'd imagined parenting? Do we despair that God hasn't given us any children at all? If I'm honest, I have to admit that my parenting of my three young children is too often focused exclusively on the present, as I respond in the moment to my children's behavior (whether good or bad). If you plotted my happiness/contentment levels and my children's behavior on the same graph, they'd often correspond closely! It's difficult to keep the bigger picture of their eternal future (not just their present behavior) in view. But as a vision of biblical restlessness has gripped me, I've begun to pray differently for my children. In addition to praying for their daily needs and struggles, I now ask God to prepare them to live forever in the new creation. Everything else I do as a parent is to be oriented around that goal.

You will know what other challenging questions you must ask yourself. We are all different, with different characters and enjoying or enduring different circumstances. So the temptation to locate our contentment in an aspect of our life right now will look different for all of us; but it will be there. There may well be a question you need to ask yourself, where you complete this sentence: "Have I settled for now in . . . ?" The way you and I finish that sentence shows us the part of our life where we need to let our future begin to affect our present; where our place in the new creation should transform our view of our life right now.

 
 

Jan

15

2014

Jared Oliphint|12:01 AM CT

Mortifying the Fear of Academic Books

Academic books filled with silver-dollar words can come across as literary bullies, taunting you, sitting there perched on your desk, nightstand, and bookshelves. These books wear a costume, posing in the same square form as your favorite reads—the novels, the uplifting devotionals, the Pulitzer biographies. They share the outward look and texture as a can't-put-it-down story, but they are not the same. If some books are a stroll in the park wrapped in a summery cool breeze, academic treatises can be a ponderous trudge through a bog, uphill, at night, in the rain, alone.

divinity-libraryBut the trudge is an illusion, a feeling, an attitude, and a state of mind. You created it, and you can exercise a surprising amount of control over it in the long run. The skills that built and stacked internal walls meant to protect your own ego against the barrage of heavy, theological terms are the same skills that can sack those walls and command those technical terms for your spiritual benefit.

Tackle the Tomes

It takes a fresh look at theology and an intentional shift in your reading style to tackle thick tomes. For the shift to be effective, you'll need to put your favorite novels on Mars and your academic, theological books on Venus. They're not the same thing, though their similar appearance tries to tell you otherwise.

Stories are meant to be read at page one and continued until you see "THE END," followed by tears, laughs, or a sigh. (Tears, laughs, and sighs can also accompany academic works, but for different reasons.) There are plot points, irony, foreshadowing, and other things you learned in high school English class. Academic works, on the other hand, are meant to be used and abused. Don't worry about hurting the author's feelings. He used and abused other books when he was researching, because he had a goal to achieve, namely, this book you are now attempting to crack.

Your Choice

Most of us are under no official orders to read. Reading is voluntary, chosen with either helpful motives or less-than-helpful motives. Picking up a book because you think you should won't fill up your motivation tank. Duty alone rarely spurs us on. At times dutiful reading is necessary, but for non-students the choice of which book to pick up is yours and yours alone. You can opt in any time and opt out just as quickly, and a big part of your mind knows this as you sit—judge, jury, and at times executioner for your current read.

The decision to read or not to read creates a sense of freedom, which is a good thing, but eventually you'll need to land on a particular book. Reading heavy theology calls for a purpose if it is to last, a map of sorts before making the intellectual climb. Maybe your pastor mentioned swirling debates over which books of the Bible should be included in the canon, and you want to follow the conversation. Pick up Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger. Maybe someone at work threw a leading scientist's resume' at you, championing his atheism. Check out Redeeming Science (for free here) by Vern Poythress. What if your college Bible study is studying Ephesians, and within the first five verses of the first chapter when "predestined" is mentioned, someone says, "I don't believe in predestination"? (This happened to me.) Travel back a few centuries and pick up John Owen's The Gospel Defended. Or a dozen other works I could mention for each of these scenarios. The immediate goal is a reasonable, working knowledge of a topic you want to know more about, and the ultimate goal is simply to know more about the God you worship and his world.

Wet Blankets?

There is a persistent, parasitic myth buzzing around that academic theological books are wet blankets for your devotional life, or your relationship with Jesus, or something. The source of these myths is typically those who out of principle do not lift books that require cerebral weight training. You won't hear the same anti-theology myth coming from someone who has popped out on the other side of a dense library. If I'm looking for advice on whether a particular mountain is worth the climb, I'll ask someone who has already been there, not someone who has never packed for the hike, whose opinion rests on hearsay and speculation. The same principle applies to just about anything that requires effort, including dense theological works.

If you can clear the fog of fear and hesitation hovering over academic books, you might find an unexpected depth and richness between the pages. Heavy theological reading will never take the place of a heart-gripping novel or a devotional full of soaring words of worship. But a rich read can often add color, dimension, and vibrancy to your Christian walk and give those devotionals a few more volts.