New and noteworthy books

new and noteworthy books I received in March 2016

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family, is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills are waiting for me, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there (and occasionally from a not-Christian one). Here’s a look at several that have arrived over the last few weeks which are pretty all over the map:

All Authority by Joey Shaw (B&H Publishing). “On the basis of his authority, [Jesus] commissioned his people to go and make disciples among every people group on earth. This is an impossible commission if it were not for the promise that he is with them forever. The doctrine of the supreme authority of Christ not only upholds the work of the church, it is the central message that the church preaches.”

Understanding the Congregation’s Authority by Jonathan Leeman (B&H Publishing). “Congregationalism has a bad rap for well-known reason… But biblical congregationalism isn’t so much about the meetings. It’s about empowering the whole church to promote and protect the gospel.”

Tell Someone by Greg Laurie (B&H Publishing). Written not to “make you feel bad or condemn you if you have not engaged others with the gospel message,” Laurie wants to offer biblical principles for evangelism that you can apply as you seek to tell someone about Jesus.

God Dreams by Will Mancini and Warren Bird (B&H Publishing). “In this groundbreaking work, based on Will Mancini’s 15 years and over 10,000 hours of church team facilitation, God Dreams reveals a simple and powerful planning method that will bring energy and focus to your church like never before.”

A Spirituality of Listening by Keith R. Anderson (IVP). “Rather than settling for a one-sided relationship with God in which we speak but never hear back, we can learn to hear God as we go through our lives. The key is paying attention to the moments that make up our days.”

A Peculiar Glory by John Piper (Crossway). The first major release from John Piper in about five years, this one promises to be an accessible but profound defense of the truthfulness of the Scriptures.

Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan). This is a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time (though not as long as Tim and Josh). I’ve flipped through it and it’s quite beautiful (look for a review in April). (Incidentally, there’s a great pre-order special going on with this book right now—head over to VisualTheology.church for details.)

New and noteworthy books

new-noteworthy-feb

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills are waiting for me, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there (and occasionally from a not-Christian one). Here’s a look at some of the latest that have arrived, the first four of which are all on my list of books I’m looking forward to reading this year:


Batman by Ed Brubaker Vol. 1 (DC Comics). This one might be a cheat since I bought it. Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to sitting down some weekend soon and reading this. Should be loads of fun! (Amazon)


Unashamed by Lecrae (B&H Publishing). I’ve heard really good things about Unashamed from those who’ve read it thus far. Lecrae is a pretty polarizing figure among some evangelicals who either aren’t sure about the whole Christian rap thing, or are concerned about him “going soft” on Jesus for the sake of notoriety. It’ll be interesting to see what I take away from it. (Amazon)


Church in Hard Places by Mez McConnell & Mike McKinley (Crossway). Ministry among those in need is a subject that’s near and dear to me (as you can imagine), so it’s great to see theologically astute authors like McConnell and McKinley offering “biblical guidelines and practical strategies for reaching those on the margins of our society with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough by Mitch Stokes (Crossway). As I said when I mentioned it in my books to read list, this one got my attention just for the title. “Making the case for a more complete skepticism that questions the assumptions of Christians and non-Christians, this book winsomely shows how Christianity offers the best explanation for the world, humanity, and morality.”  (Amazon)


The Miracles of Jesus by Vern Poythress (Crossway). “By explaining the meaning and significance of all 26 miracles recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, New Testament scholar Vern Poythress … unpacks for us how understanding the meaning of Christ’s miracles will help us better grasp the salvation God has brought into the world.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


The Whole Christ by Sinclair B. Ferguson (Crossway). “By revisiting the Marrow Controversy—a famous but largely forgotten eighteenth–century debate related to the proper relationship between God’s grace and our works—Sinclair B. Ferguson sheds light on this central issue and why it still matters today. In doing so, he explains how our understanding of the relationship between law and gospel determines our approach to evangelism, our pursuit of sanctification, and even our understanding of God himself.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman (Lexham Press). I love church history, and I’m always on the lookout for good books related to it. This one looks really promising because its focused on why we need to care about history in our current ministry context. (Amazon | Logos)

What’s the right (journaling) Bible for you?

I’ve gotta say, this has been an incredibly productive and fruitful year so far, at least as far as my Bible reading goes. I’m currently three-quarters through Exodus, which keeps me on track for completing a full reading of the Bible by the end of the year. Doing this is really important to me, not because I’m obsessive about reading plans, but because as I came to the end of 2015, I realized just how low my tank had become.

As part of this recommitment to taking better care of myself spiritually, I’ve reincorporated journaling into my private reading. This allows me to engage with the text in a different way, to capture items of prayer and (more than a few) ideas for things to write about here. I used to do this all the time as a new Christian, usually using journals and notebooks.1 But over time, I got out of the habit. So, I thought I’d start doing it again—this time with a fancy schmancy new journaling Bible.

I went with the CSB Notetaking Bible as I started the year. But a couple weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to look at a few different ones from Crossway. Today, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on four Bibles—what I like, what I’m not keen on, and which I believe you should consider. Here’s the line-up:

Let’s see how they compare, shall we?

The CSB Notetaking Bible

hcsb-spread

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using this one in my daily Bible reading, and it’s been great from a few perspectives, particularly with ease of reading. I love the ESV, and it’s a wonderful Bible, but let’s be honest: it can be a bit clunky, at times. The CSB is much easier to read, while maintaining a commitment to accuracy with the translation, though it does lose some of the wordplay that I do appreciate about the ESV.

From a usability standpoint, this Bible is great. It’s surprisingly portable,2 light and has a decent column width for writing (roughly two inches). The single column layout for the text also keeps the page from feeling too cluttered, which is also handy.

Although some people find the space provided in the notes column to be a little small in these sorts of Bibles, I find it quite comfortable to use. It’s got just enough space for me to be able to get my thoughts out (though more isn’t a bad thing). And for those who care about such things, the paper has a nice feel to it. It’s a bit heavier than your standard Bible stock, so it’s rare when you find a bit of ink bleeding through onto the opposite side of the page.

hcsb-zoom

The one not-a-real-complaint I have about this one is the font it’s set in. The vast majority of people wouldn’t care about such a thing (heck, I only care because I’m a former graphic designer). While it’s easy enough to read (though a touch smaller than I’d like), it’s boxier and almost a bit utilitarian in feel.

The ESV Single Column Journaling Bible

esv-single-spread

This one is very similar to the CSB in most respects, being equally as portable and user-friendly. The only significant differences I’ve found (positive and negative) are pretty minor.

The first positive has to do with the typesetting, which is much more elegant than the CSB. Whomever Crossway had work on this should get a gold star. The second positive has to do with the cover. The version I looked at has a really nice leather-like cover that isn’t quite as rigid as the CSB’s. This allows the book to lay a little flatter (though neither do so perfectly).

esv-single-zoom

That said, for those who’ve got concerns about columns and line height, this is one area where the CSB wins out. The columns are about about an eighth of an inch narrower compared to the CSB, and you can feel that narrowness when you look at it. For a guy who suffers from a severe case of left-handed dude writing, this matters. A lot. I need to feel like I’ve got enough space to work, and this one doesn’t quite offer that.

However, my wife doesn’t have this problem, and immediately claimed this one as her own upon its arrival. But then, she has crazy tiny (though quite lovely) writing…

The ESV Journaling Bible, Writer’s Edition

esv-writer-spread

The Writer’s Edition was the one I was most disappointed in. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about it. The fonts are lovely. It’s designed in the style of a really nice notebook, and has the note-taking area at the bottom of the page, rather than in a column along the side. For those who love the two-column Bible reading experience, this is a huge plus.

esv-writer-zoom

That said, my first reaction to this Bible was that it feels narrow, almost cramped, and doesn’t sit nicely on a table. While the positioning of the notes area is nice, I don’t find it leaves you without a lot of space to write. As a leftie, even holding a pen over the area felt strange (I don’t enjoy the feeling of having my hand already off the page when I’m writing). Although some might feel differently, I’d probably give this one a pass.

The ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition

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Finally, there’s the ESV Interleaved Edition. This Bible is a beast, easily weighing as much as your ESV Study Bible. But there’s a good reason for that: modelled after Jonathan Edwards’ Bible, this one provides you with a full blank page between every printed page of text, giving you the maximum space for taking notes, writing personal reflections and prayers, or (if you’re the type that does this) making pretty pictures.

esv-interleave-zoom

I love love love the interleaved style. It is absolutely brilliant and allows a user to write a lot. It’s the Bible for serious thought, serious art, or just seriously large writing.

Writing in it (which I did—or more correctly, I did on a piece of paper I placed inside it) is easy enough and the size of the book did not create any major problems (this is important again, because leftie). The paper weight is also the heaviest of all the Bibles I’ve highlighted today, meaning you’re going to have the least issues with ink bleeding through.

My only real complaint is it’s not terribly portable. Because of its size, you probably don’t want to be hauling this one to church every week and taking notes in it (though you could if you’re looking to incorporate a workout into your worship). It really is for personal use only. But even having said this, the Interleaved Edition is basically the answer to most every major concern people have about these sorts of Bibles.

So, what do I recommend?

These are all really, really nice Bibles, so choosing one to recommend probably isn’t going to happen. The only one I wouldn’t recommend, as I’ve said above, is the ESV Writer’s Edition. It’s definitely the least appealing of all of them from my perspective. For the majority of Bible readers who want to take notes during their personal study and write down sermon notes, the CSB Notetaking Bible and the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible are probably the best options, and I would recommend them in a heartbeat. For those looking for the most space possible, the ESV Interleaved Edition is a dream come true—though do yourself a favor and splurge on a really nice leather one. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

  1. Some of which may still be sitting in a box somewhere in my house.[]
  2. I bring it with me to church and will jot down notes during the sermons—usually personal application points, rather than the bullets of the message[]

New and noteworthy books

new-noteworthy-january

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills are waiting for me, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there. Here’s a look at some of the latest that have arrived:


Beating the College Debt Trap by Alex Chediak (Zondervan). Alex shard some of the background on this book here on the blog a while back. For those preparing to send their kids to college, this is a book to consider for sure. (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


The HCSB Journaling Bible (B&H). I really enjoy the HCSB translation (it’s a toss-up which I prefer most between it and the ESV). Looking forward to sharing some thoughts on the presentation and usability of this particular Bible soon. (LifeWay)


We Cannot Be Silent by Albert Mohler (Thomas Nelson). “Twenty years ago, not one nation on earth had legal same-sex marriage. Now, access to same-sex marriage is increasingly seen as a basic human right. In a matter of less than a generation, western cultures have experienced a moral revolution.… Dr. Mohler helps Christians in their understanding of the underlying issues of this significant cultural shift and how to face the challenge of believing faithfully, living faithfully, and engaging the culture faithfully in light of this massive change.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


The Comeback by Louie Giglio (Thomas Nelson). “The Comeback celebrates new beginnings. It offers encouragement and perspective, and it’s for you if you feel frustrated or confused, if you’re sorrowing or in pain, if you’ve made mistakes or are grieving, if you’re disappointed or feel as though life doesn’t make sense.… Your current circumstances will not get the final say in your life. God is the God of the comeback, no matter what kind of challenge you’re facing.” (Amazon)


Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (Thomas Nelson). This is one of the few Christian-focused books my wife has enjoyed. “The book offers a unique viewpoint, challenging the idea that Christians can ever harbor ‘righteous anger’ or that there even is such a thing for believers.” (Amazon)


The Dude’s Guide to Marriage by Darrin and Amie Patrick (Thomas Nelson). “As Darrin and Amie Patrick reveal in this profoundly practical and transformational book, God designed your wife to want to need to be loved. And that design is an invitation for you to love her deeply, intentionally and passionately. Practicing ten powerful actions including listening, pursuing, and serving will transform you into your wife’s lifelong champion and have her nominating you for the Husband Hall of Fame.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


The Other Worldview by Peter Jones (Kirkdale Press). “In The Other Worldview, Jones explains the difference between what he calls ‘Oneism’ and ‘Twoism.’ He exposes the pagan roots of Oneism, and he traces its spread and influence throughout Western culture. Most importantly, he shows us why Oneism is incapable of saving anyone or truly changing the world for the better.” (Amazon)


Transforming Homosexuality by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert (P&R). This one is no doubt going to be thought-provoking, as the authors seek to “challenge misconceptions on all sides as they present biblical answers on sexual orientation and change.”  (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


Hebrews: A 12-Week Study by Matthew Z. Capps (Crossway). I’ve enjoyed the Knowing the Bible study series Crossway’s been producing. I’m really looking forward to digging into Matt’s study of Hebrews. (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


God’s Glory Alone by David VanDrunen (Zondervan). “…renowned scholar David VanDrunen looks at the historical and biblical roots of the idea that all glory belongs to God alone. He examines the development of this theme in the Reformation, in subsequent Reformed theology and confessions, and in contemporary theologians who continue to be inspired by the conviction that all glory belongs to God. Then he turns to the biblical story of God’s glory, beginning with the pillar of cloud and fire revealed to Israel, continuing through the incarnation, death, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and culminating in Christ’s Second Coming and the glorification of his people. In light of these wonderful biblical themes he concludes by addressing several of today’s great cultural challenges and temptations—such as distraction and narcissism—and reflecting on how commitment to God’s glory alone fortifies us to live godly lives in this present evil age.” (Amazon | Westminster Bookstore)


The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord (IVP). I have no idea if it’s going to be good or not, but this book purports to offer a “clear and powerful response to one of the perennial challenges to Christian faith” by offering a “novel theology of providence… that emphasizes God’s inherently noncoercive love in relation to creation.” (Amazon)

New and noteworthy books (the Crossway edition)

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I woke up from my nap yesterday afternoon (I’m getting over a cold) to a knock on the door. It was Abigail, my oldest.

“Daddy, you got a present,” she said. “Can I show you?”

I expected a picture or a craft, made with care. Instead, she opens the door carrying a box from my friends at Crossway with some of their latest and greatest titles. Here’s a look:


The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung (illustrated by Don Clark)

I actually read all yesterday, and it’s excellent. We’re taking a quick break from our regular Bible study material to share it with the kids.

In The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung—a best-selling author and father of six—leads kids and parents alike on an exciting journey through the Bible, connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross to the new heaven and new earth.

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore


The Story of Everything by Jared C. Wilson

This book might automatically be my favorite of the year based on its subtitle alone—”How you, your pets and the Swiss Alps fit into God’s plan for the world”:

We’re all searching for significance—something deeper, richer, and bigger than what we can see in our unremarkable, everyday routines. The greatest news we can hear is that God has a very real purpose for everything in this life. In The Story of Everything, Jared Wilson explores the redemptive story that God is telling in and through the world, helping us see God at work in everything from cultures to creatures to commutes and play our part in his ultimate plan to make all things new.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine

According to Eswine’s introduction to the book, this is a reimagining—rewriting and updating—of his earlier work, Sensing Jesus (which I gushed about in my review). Looking forward to seeing how this compares to the original:

Dear Pastor,

Desire burns within you. You’ve trained and dreamt of doing large things in famous ways as fast as you can for God’s glory. But pastoral work keeps requiring your surrender to small, mostly overlooked things over long periods of time.

You stand at a crossroads. Jesus stands with you. You were never meant to know everything, fix everything, and be everywhere at once. That’s his job, not yours.

So what now? Let the apprenticeship begin.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham Jr.

The Bible is clear that all believers are called to defend their faith. However, if apologetics is the formal process that we have come to expect, this sounds like an impossible task. But what if apologetics could be part of natural, normal conversation–both from the pulpit and in everyday life?

Aimed at preparing you to clearly and confidently defend your faith, Expository Apologetics sets forth an approach to apologetics that is rooted in Scripture and eminently accessible. Filled with real-world examples and practical advice, this book will equip you with the tools you need to think biblically and converse persuasively–offering unbelievers “a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


True Worshipers by Bob Kauflin

I’ve loved reading Bob’s thoughts on corporate worship on his blog over the last number of years, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this book relates to what he’s been doing there:

In True Worshipers, Bob Kauflin, a seasoned pastor and musician, opens our eyes to the massive significance of being the type of worshiper God is seeking. Rooted in the gospel of grace and filled with practical application, this book aims to connect Sunday morning to the rest of your life–helping you fulfill your calling to be a true worshiper each and every day.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Don’t confuse sin with negative thinking

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[A] misunderstanding of sin is to say that it’s just a matter of negative thinking.… Get rid of your old wineskins! Think bigger! God wants to show you his incredible favor, if you’ll just get rid of all those negative mind-sets that hold you back!

Now that’s a compelling message to self-reliant people who want to believe they can take care of their sin all by themselves. That’s probably why men who proclaim that message have managed to build some of the largest churches in the world. The formula is pretty easy, really. Just tell people that their sin is no deeper than negative thinking and that it’s holding them back from health, wealth, and happiness. Then tell them that if they’ll just think more positively about themselves (with God’s help, of course), they’ll be rid of their sin and get rich, to boot. Bingo! Instant megachurch!

Sometimes the promised goal is money, sometimes health, sometimes something else entirely. But however you spin it, to say that Jesus Christ died to save us from negative thoughts about ourselves is reprehensibly unbiblical. In fact, the Bible teaches that a big part of our problem is that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly. Stop and think about it for a moment. How did the Serpent tempt Adam and Eve? He told them they were thinking too negatively about themselves. He told them they needed to think more positively, to extend their grasp, to reach toward their full potential, to be like God! In a word, he told them to think bigger.

Now how’d that work out for them?

Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 53

New and noteworthy books

New-Noteworthy-09-2014

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I super-love receiving bills in the mail, but because I’m in the position where a number of Christian publishers regularly send me copies of many of the latest Christian books. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most interesting in the latest batch:


You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan

In his latest book, Francis Chan joins together with his wife Lisa to address the question many couples wonder at the altar: How do I have a great marriage? Setting aside typical topics on marriage, Francis and Lisa dive into Scripture to understand what it means to have a relationship that satisfies the deepest parts of our souls.

100% of the net profits from You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity will go towards providing food, shelter and rehabilitation for thousands of orphaned children and exploited women in partnership with global charities.

And if you needed an additional reason to pick this one up…

You’re welcome.

Buy it at: Amazon


ESV Women’s Devotional Bible

The latest edition to the ESV Bible family:

Applicable for women in any stage of life, the Women’s Devotional Bible is theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and practical. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and equipped to understand and apply the Bible to every aspect of life.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper

From horror flicks to rom-coms, the tales we tell and the myths we weave inevitably echo the narrative underlying all of history: the story of humanity’s tragic sin and God’s triumphant salvation. This entertaining book connects the dots between the stories we tell and the one great Story—helping us better understand the longings of the human heart and thoughtfully engage with the movies and TV shows that capture our imaginations.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund invites us to explore the great eighteenth-century pastor’s central passion: God’s resplendent beauty. Whether the topic was the nature of love, the preeminence of Scripture, or the glory of the natural world, the concept of beauty stood at the heart of Edwards’s theology and permeated his portrait of the Christian life. Clear and engaging, this accessible volume will inspire you to embrace Edwards’s magnificent vision of what it means to be a Christian: enjoying and reflecting of the beauty of God in all things.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw

Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes a closer look at the key arguments skeptical scholars such as Ehrman keep repeating in radio interviews, debates, and in his their popular writings. If you are looking for insightful responses to critical arguments from a biblical perspective, easily accessible and thoughtfully presented, this book is for you. This is the first book to provide a comprehensive response to Ehrman’s popular works. It is presented in such a way that readers can either read straight through the book or use it as a reference when particular questions arise. Responding to skeptical scholars such as Ehrman, Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes readers on a journey to explain topics such as the Bible’s origins, the copying of the Bible, alleged contradictions in Scripture, and the relationship between God and evil. Written for all serious students of Scripture, this book will enable you to know how to respond to a wide variety of critical arguments raised against the reliability of Scripture and the truthfulness of Christianity.

Buy it at: Amazon


God’s Design for Man and Woman by Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger

This thorough study of the Bible’s teaching on men and women aims to help a new generation of Christians live for Christ in today’s world. Moving beyond other treatments that primarily focus on select passages, this winsome volume traces Scripture’s overarching pattern related to male-female relationships in both the Old and New Testaments. Those interested in careful discussion rather than caustic debate will discover that God’s design is not confining or discriminatory but beautiful, wise, liberating, and good.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Tom Jones by Fielding

This one’s a bit of a cheat since it’s about 200 years old and I bought it. But I bought it on the recommendation of Karen Swallow Prior.

Tom, a foundling, is discovered one evening by the benevolent Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget and brought up as a son in their household; when his sexual escapades and general misbehavior lead them to banish him, he sets out in search of both his fortune and his true identity. Amorous, high-spirited, and filled with what Fielding called “the glorious lust of doing good,” but with a tendency toward dissolution, Tom Jones is one of the first characters in English fiction whose human virtues and vices are realistically depicted. This edition is set from the text of the Wesleyan Edition of the Works of Henry Fielding.

Buy it at: Amazon

Delighting in the Law of the Lord

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“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). David wrote those words to describe the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These, he said, are “perfect.” These “revive” the soul.

Do we see the Law the way David did?

I’m guessing, probably not.

We tend to view the Law in one of two ways. The first is, we treat the Law merely as commands to be scrupulously obeyed in order to earn favor with God. We are trying to be “good,” which is moralism (or, legalism). The second option treats the Law as something to be rejected altogether; we are free in Christ and thus we become a law unto ourselves. This is licentiousness (which, arguably, is another form of legalism).

Neither view respects the Law. Neither exhibits a love for the “perfect” Law. Neither revives the soul, as David says the Law does.

But there is another option left to us, one that is better than anything moralism and licentiousness have to offer—delighting in the Law. This is the option available to all faithful Christians, the way the Lord wants us to see His Law, and what what Jerram Barrs wants us to see in his recent book of the same name.

Barr’s background teaching apologetics and outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary plays a significant role in the tone of Delighting in the Law of the Lord. Barr writes not as a typical academic, but one who is convicted that what he writes is true. He, like a good evangelist, wants to persuade us to see the goodness of the Law over the course of 24 chapters (which is, sadly, where he does become more of a traditional academic).

So how’d he do?

Well, here are a couple of the standout items from my perspective:

The law is the definition of true humanness. Barr’s connection of the Law to our being created as image bearers of God is perhaps the most helpful thing he describes in the entire book. The Law represents the character of God—and is therefore beautiful by virtue of this fact—which means it also shows us the nature of true humanity. With each commandment given, “It’s as if God is saying, ‘This is my character: I am just; I am merciful; I am kind; I am faithful; I am generous. You are to be like me'” (99). If humanity was intended to reflect God, it makes sense that the Law would show us what we were intended to be—and more importantly, that Christ would show us what it meant to be truly human in His perfect keeping of the Law.

Legalism is the enemy of outreach. Where legalism—whether in rigorous rule keeping or in defiant rule-breaking—reigns, the gospel is not preached. Barr writes:

We must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that all legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life or outreach of our churches.… Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that legalists impose upon them.… This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world. (210)

These are a couple of points from the book that, in hindsight are tremendously helpful, and if they’re all you walk away with from the book, you will be very blessed indeed.

However, I’ve got to be honest: I wasn’t terribly enamored with this book while I read it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s well written, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a lot I agree with… but you know how sometimes the best way to describe a book is simply long? That’s Delighting in the Law of the Lord. It took me five months to read—not because I’m a slow reader, but because it couldn’t hold my attention. As harsh as it is it say, for a book on delighting in the Law, I didn’t find myself terribly excited about what I was reading.

Maybe the problem is me. In fact, it’s a safe bet that at least some of the blame belongs there. But as much as I wanted to be riveted by the book, I just wasn’t. I love the Law, I love seeing God’s grace in the Law and recognizing how Christ came to fulfill the Law for me while also working it in me… But my time with this book didn’t help with that. Having had a fairly significant amount of time away from the book (I finished reading it about two months ago), there’s more that I appreciate from it, but it’s definitely not a book that’s for everyone.


Title: Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God’s Alternative to Legalism and Moralism
Author: Jerram Barrs
Publisher: Crossway (2013)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Evangelism by Mack Stiles

Evangelism by J Mack Stiles

Our church has always been very clear on stressing the need for evangelism. Whenever our local missions pastor preaches, it almost always turns into a sermon on evangelism (especially when he’s trying not to). We have a local missions team that goes out every week to open-air preach and interact with individuals on the streets of our city, sharing the gospel at every opportunity.

But then, about a year ago, we did something really bold: we took all of our small groups through a personal evangelism workshop. And the response?

*crickets•

I was a small group leader at the time, taking my group through the course. It was really challenging material, but presented in a way that took a lot of the fear out of evangelism. But despite its initial “failure,” the impetus behind offering this training is a good one—a desire to create a healthy culture of evangelism, one where it’s seen as a normal part of the Christian life.

I have a hunch Mack Stiles would stand up and cheer if he knew this was something our church attempted (and continues to nurture). Why? Because that’s exactly what his latest book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, is all about.

Evangelism: it’s not about the results

If there’s one thing Stiles wants you to understand, it’s this: evangelism is not about programs or events. It’s not a technique or a specific kind of response. Many of our problems creating a healthy culture of evangelism stem from a lack of a biblical foundation. We count declarations of faith, hands raised, cards put in a bag, people walking down aisles… but do these things really mean anything? Maybe, but maybe not.

Regardless, if we’re going to see a culture of evangelism take root, “we must be very careful to conform our evangelistic practices to the Bible, because this honors God,” he writes (24).

And so, he begins by defining his terms—specifically, what evangelism means.

“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade,” Stiles writes. “This definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal” (26-27).

…the definition does not require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is.

Those four elements in Stiles’ definition are key: teach, gospel, aim, persuade. Without those, you don’t really have evangelism. Our goal in evangelism is to communicate the gospel with the purpose of persuading our hearers that it is true. That doesn’t mean browbeating or extorting a profession of faith out of them. It just means speaking with conviction about the truth of the gospel.

This, I think, is one of the places we all get tripped up. We tend to speak almost apologetically about the gospel, or we wring our hands, break out into a sweat, and worry about saying the wrong thing. But this is also where it’s helpful to remember something crucial: “conversion is required, but conversion is a function of genuine faith, which is given by the Spirit” (37). In other words, you’re not responsible for the result. You’re only called to be faithful and speak.

What a culture of evangelism looks like

So what does a healthy culture of evangelism look like? Stiles is pretty honest that it’s impossible to instruct people on everything that goes into it, but he can describe the yearnings that surround it. He breaks these down into 11 points:

  1. A culture motivated by love for Jesus and His gospel
  2. A culture that is confident in the gospel
  3. A culture that understands the danger of entertainment
  4. A culture that sees people clearly
  5. A culture that pulls together as one
  6. A culture in which people teach one another
  7. A culture that models evangelism
  8. A culture in which people who are sharing their faith are celebrated
  9. A culture that knows how to affirm and celebrate new life
  10. A culture doing ministry that feels risky and is dangerous
  11. A culture that understands that the church is the chosen and best method of evangelism

There’s so much that could be said about each of these, but notice how they all work together. You can’t have a culture of evangelism without any of these points. If the people attending week in and week out aren’t passionate about sharing their faith, then no amount of encouragement from the pulpit is going to change that. It’s something that builds from within the body, and something that needs to be celebrated.

Simple, but not.

Create and cultivate the culture you want to see

Creating a culture of evangelism isn’t a one-and-done thing. You can’t preach a series on evangelism or offer an occasional course, pat yourself on the back and say, “nailed it.” You have to be intentional about creating and cultivating the culture you want to see, but there’s only so much control any church leader really has.

Why? Because “a culture of evangelism is grassroots, not top-down.”

In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church.… The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism. (65-66)

Do you feel the tension there? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to force the change from the top or programmatize evangelism. But it doesn’t work that way. A church only becomes more evangelistic as its members become more evangelistic. And this is big, scary stuff. Church leaders can and should model it, but the members have to own it.

Thankfully, it’s a vision that I believe every faithful Christian can own. We should want this for our churches. We should want to be the kind of people who take risks in order to share the gospel with others, who understand that entertainment doesn’t equal ministry, that God truly rejoices when one lost sheep is found. This is the vision Mack Stiles presents in Evangelism. It’s what I want to see in my own life and in the lives of all the members of my church. How about you?


Title: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus
Author: J. Mack Stiles
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon