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April 24, 2015

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books, and every few weeks I like to provide a round-up of what is new and particularly notable. Here’s the most recent list as we come to the end of April.

PsalmsPsalms: From Suffering to Glory by Philip Eveson. Despite their centrality to the Bible and their importance to Christian worship, the Psalms seem under-served when it comes to excellent, orthodox commentaries. This commentary is the newest volume in the excellent Welwyn Commentary Series and it looks promising. Here’s what the publisher says: “The Psalms continue to have an enormous influence on people’s lives all round the world and down the centuries they have brought comfort and encouragement to countless millions of people. In this commentary, Philip Eveson brings his skills as an Old Testament scholar, blended with a warm pastor’s heart to produce a work that will serve the student, the preacher/teacher and the devotional reader equally well.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

GenesisGenesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?, edited by Charles Halton. This is the latest volume in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series of multi-authored books, and it deals with an issue of critical importance: what exactly is the book of Genesis? “There is little doubt that in recent years the nature of the Genesis narrative has sparked much debate among Christians. This Counterpoints volume introduces three predominant interpretive genres and their implications for biblical understanding. Each contributor identifies their position on the genre of Genesis 1-11, addressing why it is appropriate to the text, and contributes examples of its application to a variety of passages. The contributors and views include: James K. Hoffmeier: Theological History, Gordon J. Wenham: Proto-History, and Kenton K. Sparks: Ancient Historiography.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

DeYoungWhat Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. This is the publisher’s description, though I think the title pretty much says what you need to know: “In this timely book, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung challenges each of us—the skeptic, the seeker, the certain, and the confused—to take a humble look at God’s Word regarding the issue of homosexuality. After examining key biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments and the Bible’s overarching teaching regarding sexuality, DeYoung responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike, making this an indispensable resource for thinking through one of the most pressing issues of our day.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Study BibleThe Reformation Study Bible. Ligonier Ministries recently released the second edition of their excellent Reformation Study Bible, and it’s bigger and better than ever. “The Reformation Study Bible (2015) has been thoroughly revised and carefully crafted under the editorial leadership of R.C. Sproul and the contributions of 75 distinguished theologians and pastors from around the world. Over 1.1 million words of new, expanded, or revised commentary represent 40% more content faithfully presented to emphasize the need for the grace of God to lead out of darkness and into the light of Scripture.” You won’t be surprised to know that it is distinctly Protestant and distinctly Reformed in its point-of-view. Be sure when you buy it that you are buying the 2015 edition. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Mormonism 101Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Revised and Expanded) by Bill McKeever & Eric Johnson. With Mormonism surging, and with some Evangelicals now minimizing the difference between Evangelicals and Mormons, it is wise to know a little bit about the Latter-Day Saints. “Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. For those who have wondered in what specific ways Mormonism differs from the Christian faith, Mormonism 101 provides definitive answers, examining the major tenets of Mormon theology and comparing them with orthodox Christian beliefs. Perfect for students of religion and anyone who wants to have answers when Mormons come calling.” Make sure you look for the new second edition. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Pastor and CounselingThe Pastor and Counselling: The Basics of Shepherding Members In Need by Jeremy Pierre & Deepak Reju. I don’t know of too many areas where pastors tend to feel they are weaker than in the area of counseling. “Pastors spend much of their time counseling people in crisis—a delicate task that requires one to carefully evaluate each situation, share relevant principles from God’s Word, and offer practical suggestions for moving forward. Too often, however, pastors feel unprepared to effectively shepherd their people through difficult circumstances such as depression, adultery, eating disorders, and suicidal thinking. Written to help pastors and church leaders understand the basics of biblical counseling, this book provides an overview of the counseling process from the initial meeting to the final session. It also includes suggestions for cultivating a culture of discipleship within a church and four appendixes featuring a quick checklist, tips for taking notes, and more.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

I will also let you in on a little secret: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of John MacArthur’s next book which is set to be released in October of this year. It is titled Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told. You can keep an eye out for that one this fall.

April 24, 2015

I have been looking for Kindle deals, but this has been rather a slow week. How to Read the Bible in Changing Times by Mark Strauss is good value at $1.99, and new from GLH Publishing is John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence ($0.99), but that’s about all I see. Pastors may want to check out some new deals from Westminster Books.

The Holiness of GodR.C. Sproul’s classic video series The Holiness of God is available now in the App Store as a free interactive course from Ligonier Connect for iPhone or iPad. (Also, here is an update on Dr. Sproul’s health after his recent stroke.)

Making the Most of Sunday - “There are three ways to get the most out of your Sundays with the church: prepare, participate, and reflect.”

Banner of Truth - Banner of Truth is rolling out a 3-part mini-documentary on their history. Check in over 3 weeks to see it all.

5 Wise Principles - Here are 5 wise principles gleaned from a too-short life of excellence. (This was posted in February, but I only spotted it today.)

How Do You Know You’re Repentant? - Jared Wilson offers 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart.

A Decade of YouTube - A decade of YouTube has changed the future of television in significant ways.

Be careful what books you read, for as water tastes of the soil it runs though, so does the soul taste of the authors that a man reads. —John Trapp

Trapp

April 23, 2015

Many times over the years I have invited readers of this blog to join me in a reading project, mostly as part of a program I’ve called Reading Classics Together. We’ve read some incredible books together—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Christianity & Liberalism by Gresham Machen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, and a whole lot more. Most recently we read through John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (for the second time!). I think it is time to read another classic.

This time around I would like to look back to the Puritan era and to read a work by John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence. While I have never read this one before, it comes highly recommended by many people I know and trust. When considering Puritan works there is no better source to turn to than Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, and here is what they say about it:

The [Banner of Truth] edition divides this book into three sections. In the first, Flavel explains the evidence of providence in the birth and upbringing of believers, in their conversion and employment, in their family affairs, and in their sanctification and preservation from evil. In the second, he instructs believers on the art of meditating on the providence of God, explaining the duty of such meditation, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. … Finally, Flavel applies the doctrine of providence by showing its practical implications for believers and the problems of wrestling with it. The book concludes with a chapter titled “The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence.”

Flavel’s book is rich with illustrations. For example, when dealing with the difference between what Flavel calls “our time” and “God’s time,” Flavel concludes that our time is not the proper season for us to receive our mercies, since God’s delay “is nothing else but the time of His preparation of mercies for you, and your heart for mercy, so that you may have it with the greatest advantage of comfort. The foolish child would pluck the apple while it is green; but when it is ripe it drops of its own accord and is more pleasant and wholesome” (p. 139).

This excellent book on providence opens avenues of spiritual knowledge and experience that few believers have probed. It is invaluable for understanding God’s purposes for our lives. Flavel teaches us how to find delight in discerning how God works all things in the world for His glory and our good.

That sounds like a book that will benefit me tremendously. My guess is that it will do the same for you. So why don’t you plan to read it with me?

How It Works

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays, visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

The Mystery of Providence is widely available. However, I have worked out a couple of good deals for you:

  • If you would like to read the paperback version from Banner of Truth, you can order it from Banner’s site and use the coupon code CHALLIES30OFF to get a 30% discount. That will take the price down to $5.60. If you shop at Westminster Books, they have it in stock as well ($6.50).
  • If you prefer electronic books, GLH Publishing was kind enough to hurry their version of the book, and to price it at just $0.99. It is available at Amazon.
  • If you prefer to read it online, Google will find you some free versions.

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on May 7, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 13 chapters, meaning the program will last for 13 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to May 7.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

April 23, 2015

The Rare Jewel of Christian Commitment - It is a rare jewel, indeed. “Scripture and experience teach us that commitment to the Lord and to His people in the church is one of the rarest and yet most precious graces.”

So Much Stuff, So Little Time - “I need things. What gets confusing is knowing the difference between the things we need and the things we don’t need.”

Ask often, “What does the Bible say?” - It is simple but sound counsel.

Does God Heal Today? - Josh Buice takes on a question that is always controversial.

How to Be Productive - Here is how to be productive according to the Bible.

DayMap - DayMap is an app that may appeal to pastors or anyone else who could benefit from “organizing your projects and tasks by visually mapping out your life.”

The opposite of love is not correction but indifference. —Anthony Thiselton

Thiselton

 

April 22, 2015

A few weeks ago I announced that I will be hosting a summer internship program for several high school students. For 8 weeks we will focus on theology and worldview while also working on improving writing and communication skills. All of this can and will be done via the Internet, which means that students from around the world were welcome to apply. In the end, nearly 100 people applied for those 3 internships, with the applications coming in from all across the globe. And let me tell you: The future of the church is looking pretty good.

I deliberately made the application process just a little bit difficult in order to force the students to think carefully before applying. After answering a series of questions ranging from “What is your favorite subject at school” to “What are some ways you serve in your church?”, each of the applicants had to record a short video testimonial—an explanation of how the Lord saved them. I have watched each one of these videos now, and I don’t know when I have been more encouraged.

100 videos at a few minutes each: Do the math and you’ll see that I spent somewhere around 8 hours watching teenagers tell how they became Christians, and then I spent a few more hours reading their answers to the application questions. Now, I promised them confidentiality, so will not speak about any person in particular, but I do think it is interesting to reflect on the applicants as a group. Here are some things I observed.

Of the 100 videos I watched, nearly all of the students were able to articulate the gospel, and were able to express the difference between their life before conversion and their life after. Very few of the students used generic language or easy Christianese; instead, they were able to express how they had personally placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and they were able to explain how the gospel has turned away God’s well-deserved wrath while giving them Christ’s perfect righteousness. Time and time again I heard students express the best truths in deeply personal and soundly biblical ways.

Of the people who applied, roughly half are homeschooled and the other half are divided between public and Christian school. There was no discernible difference between the groups when it came to their understanding of the gospel and their ability to express it. The same was true when it came to church background—whether they were Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace, Evangelical Free or Reformed Presbyterian, whether they were from The Summit Church, Covenant Life Church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Harvest Bible Chapel, or the little church down the road, almost all of them expressed a similarly deep understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I am not sure why this is noteworthy, but I feel it is: The vast majority of the applicants, over 90%, were Caucasian. There were a few exceptions, though even when there were exceptions the applicants would often tell that they had been adopted into Caucasian families. Whatever else this means, I suppose it means this: If we take the readers of my web site as a kind of “core sample” of the New Calvinism, it remains largely a movement of and by middle-class white people. (I will grant, of course, that many non-Caucasian folk may be thoroughly Reformed but not able to participate in an English-based internship program.)

Another observation I made is how many young people make a profession of faith when they are very young—5 or 6 years old—but then later doubt the reality or significance of that profession. Most can articulate a time when they were a little bit older, often around 10, 12, or 14, when they either had what they now consider a true conversion experience, or when they suddenly realized that they needed to have a faith independent of their parents. Time and again I heard of the good Christian kid who said the right things when he or she was very young, but then actually began to live as a Christian in those early teenage years.

Parents and pastors ought to be encouraged. What you are teaching your children is making a difference. What you are preaching from the pulpit is making a difference. Almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at home, and almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at church. And, not surprisingly, over time the gospel did its work in them. If there was anything that concerns me, it is how few of these teens spoke of older friends or mentors (who are neither parents nor pastors) who had helped them in their journey to faith. Get involved in the lives of teens!

My final observation is this: It is going to be excruciating to trim down the list of applicants to only 3. Even after going through the applications again and again, I’ve got at least 10 times more people remaining then I can actually accept. Yet time and finances (this is, after all, a paid internship) dictate that I cannot offer the internship to all of them. In the end I am still looking for 3 normal, godly teens who are eager to learn more about theology and worldview. But I’m also trying to figure out if there is some way that I can at least double that to 6. It grieves me to have to say no to any of them.

(A final note: If you applied for the internship program, you can expect to hear from me over the next couple of days.)

April 22, 2015

These Go To 11 - Earlier this week I recorded a podcast with Greg Dutcher and we talked about all kinds of things—pornography, Reformed theology and even baseball. If you’re into podcasts you can listen in at the link. 

In Praise of Hymns - CBS News recently highlighted Keith Getty. And I don’t think they got his Irish sense of humor at all.

Dispatches From the Front - My favorite DVD series is on sale at Westminster Books. Speaking of which, check out the blog post Who Can Be Against Us?.

JBMW - The Journal for Bibilical Manhood and Womanhood has released a new issue that is free for the taking.

10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know - Just like the title says.

Present Heaven and Future Heaven - What’s the difference between present heaven and future heaven? Randy Alcorn answers.

Don’t Be Theologically Dumb - “When you love God with your heart but not your mind, you end up loving the god of your imagination, not the God of the universe.”

True joy comes only from God and He shares this joy with those who walk in fellowship with Him. —Jerry Bridges

Bridges

April 21, 2015

There is little doubt that abortion is one of the greatest horrors of our time. I am very confident that a day will come when future generations will express shock and amazement that we ever allowed such a genocide to take place. They will be amazed that so many stood idly by, and that so many others denied what is very obvious: That a pre-born child is still a child with the rights of any other human being.

I recently stumbled upon a new documentary series from PBS titled Twice Born. This series looks at the new and groundbreaking medical frontier that is fetal surgery. It gives access to the doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and who specialize in surgeries that are done on babies while they are still inside their mother’s wombs. This series is one of the greatest arguments against abortion you will ever see.

Through the three episodes of Twice Born we are introduced to four parents or sets of parents, though the vast majority of the attention goes to two of them: Lesly, a mother whose child was delivered via an EXIT procedure (where the baby is partially delivered so the doctors can perform her surgery) and Bobby and Shelly, whose daughter needed fetal surgery for Spina Bifida. I found myself especially intrigued by Bobby and Shelly since they make it clear that they are Christians and that they are filtering all they experience through a biblical lens.

As I watched the episodes unfold, there were several things that stood out to me.

The series testifies to God’s common grace. God is good and he freely and widely dispenses grace to the people he has made. In Twice Born we see that “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). We see doctors and nurses who are not Christians and who may even deny the existence of God, but we see them using the gifts and talents God has given them to do astounding things. They perform the most difficult and intricate medical procedures, accomplishing things that just a few years ago we could not even have imagined. They do their jobs with love, compassion, and amazing skill.

The series proclaims the value of life. The parents who walk into The Children’s Hospital do not talk about their blob of tissue or their little fetus. They have absolutely no doubt that they are carrying a child and they have no doubt that they want to do what is best for that child. While the subject of “termination” does come up at one point, the parents obviously cannot even tolerate the thought of ending the life of their child. Twice Born makes it plain: life in the womb is real life.

The series testifies that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). The doctors describe the intricacy of the human body and the amazing reality that they are operating on children who are just a few inches in size and still months away from being born. The cameras catch the incredible beauty and function of the human form. The parents marvel at the children given to them. God reveals himself as the ultimate artist.

Twice Born is a powerful documentary and one I commend to you. Though it makes no attempt to further the pro-life position, it cannot help but do so. It is a joy to watch as it powerfully proclaims the goodness and the greatness of the Creator.

If you are in America you should be able to watch the series for free online at PBS.org. If you are overseas you may be able to purchase the DVD, or wait and hope that it comes to Netflix.

Note: If you are squeamish you may want to be aware that the series can be a little bit graphic when it comes to the medical procedures. Also, some viewers may object to a scene in the first episode where a very pregnant mother sits through a photo shoot wearing just a bra or bikini top.

April 21, 2015

Zondervan has lots of good books on sale today, including Brian Croft’s excellent Practical Shepherding series: The Pastor’s Family; Prepare Them to Shepherd; Visit the Sick; Comfort the Grieving; Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals; Gather God’s People ($2.99 each). Also consider For the City by Darrin Patrick ($3.99).

Messy Community - It’s so true: “When life gets hard and there is no laughter to share, that’s when friendship is seen for what it truly is. When life gets messy, that’s where the rubber meets the road.”

I Pray This for my Children - Gregory Harris offers help on how to pray for your children.

Pray for Dr. Sproul - “Last Saturday, Dr. Sproul checked himself into the hospital. The doctors suspect he had a mild stroke. He remains in the hospital for further testing and observation. The Sproul family requests your prayers.”

It Will Fail - Peter Leithart says that gay marriage will fail and offers a very compelling argument to support his claim.

Religious Liberty Is Not Freedom from Ridicule - Here’s an important distinction.

Will We See God? - Now that is a deep question: Will we one day gaze directly at the full glory of God?

Church Plant Media and I are pleased to announce the winner of last week’s Free Stuff Fridays website giveaway contest. Doug Short from New River Valley Christian Fellowship was selected as the winner, and his church will receive a free responsive website, free monthly fees for the life of the site, and a free graphics package to get the site up and running. Congratulations Doug!

Anger may be handled wrongly in either one of two ways: blowing up and clamming up. —Jay Adams

Adams