Today’s Kindle deals include 4 titles: Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary) by Michael Bird; The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile; Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada; and How To Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee.
“We’re all getting catfishes. … But this isn’t a modern phenomenon at all. In fact, it’s centuries old, so old in fact that the author of Proverbs exposes one of the oldest catfishing schemes in the book…”
This is a great article from Thabiti Anyabwile. “I suspect that most preachers regularly fight to put their trust in the correct place when it comes to their preaching. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m probably not alone. It seems to me it’s easy for the preacher to trust himself even when he doesn’t intend to.” He explains what that can look like.
This Day in 1901. 115 years ago today the New Testament of the American Standard Version Bible was published. This was the first major American Bible translation since the King James Version of 1611. *
I do believe that today’s entry in this series I’ve called “The Bestsellers” will be the final one for a time. “The Bestsellers,” as you know, takes a brief look at Christian books that have sold at least 1 million copies. I have now written about the majority of the books that fit the criteria and intend to circle back as more titles make the list. But before this hiatus, I want to provide an overview of one of the books that is conspicuous by its absence. After all, it is one of the very few that has exceeded not just 1 million copies sold, but 10 million (a feat matched by only 6 others, all of which I’ve covered in this series: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, Heaven Is For Real, Jesus Calling, and The Five Love Languages). It is Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic More Than a Carpenter.
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell
Joslin McDowell was born in Union City, Michigan in 1939. He had a turbulent, traumatic, and abusive childhood and departed for college a convinced agnostic. However, he was soon challenged with Christianity’s claims and, as he examined them, became convinced of the reliability and truthfulness of the Christian faith. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. While he had planned to go to law school, his conversion reoriented his life, and he attended Wheaton College and then Talbot Theological Seminary, finishing with a Master of Divinity degree.
In 1961 McDowell joined the Campus Crusade team but soon began his own Josh McDowell Ministry as a ministry under Campus Crusade. Before long he was traveling the world as an apologist, speaking primarily to college students. In 1972 he published his first book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (which would sell over 1 million copies and which Christianity Today would later place 13th in their list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”). In it he made a case for the Christian faith by accumulating evidence based on manuscripts, fulfillment of prophecy, evidence of the resurrection, and so on. He followed it in 1977 with More Than A Carpenter.
Part biography and part apologetic, More Than a Carpenter begins and ends with McDowell’s own story of going from skepticism to faith. The table of contents lays out his evangelistic technique while also displaying a classically modern approach to addressing questions of the faith: 1) My Story 2) What Makes Jesus So Different? 3) Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? 4) What About Science? 5) Are the Bible Records Reliable? 6) Who Would Die For a Lie? 7) What Good Is a Dead Messiah? 8) Did You Hear What Happened to Saul? 9) Can You Keep a Good Man Down? 10) Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up? 11) Isn’t There Some Other Way? 12) He Changed My Life. The book is short at just 128 pages and carefully prepared to appeal to a wide and general audience. It is just the kind of book many Christians eagerly handed their skeptical or unbelieving friends in the hope they would read it and be convinced.
Sales & Lasting Impact
Like Evidence That Demands a Verdict before it, More Than a Carpenter, was an immediate and long-lasting success. Unfortunately, its release predates the time when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was maintaining records, so all I have learned about sales is that in 2013 it was awarded the Diamond Book Award for exceeding 10 million copies sold. The cover of the most recent (third) edition says it has now sold more than 15 million copies while McDowell’s website claims that 30 million copies have been distributed. I take that to mean that many copies have been given away freely.
More Than a Carpenter is a classically modernist approach to apologetics and it is clear that it played a significant role in its time. Many people were persuaded by its arguments and count the book as one of the reasons they professed faith in Christ. It raised McDowell’s status in the Christian world and gave him the opportunity to travel widely and speak to millions, pleading with them to answer the simple question, “Who is Jesus?” In its success it played a key role in popularizing what is known as the “classical” or “evidentialist” approach to apologetics. It was also just the kind of work that postmodern Christians and opponents of Christianity loved to hate, mocking it for laying out so straightforward a path from evidence to profession.
The book underwent a significant revision in 2009 when, joined by his son Sean, McDowell updated some content to reflect questions raised by the New Atheists. It currently has 540 reviews on Amazon where it averages 4.5 stars.
Since the Award
McDowell continues to write and continues to focus on apologetics as indicated by the titles of some of his most recent works: Evidence for the Resurrection (2009), The Unshakable Truth (2010), and Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011). Sean, also a graduate of Talbot and later of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps in many ways and has joined him in several key writing projects.
A Personal Perspective
I first encountered McDowell through Christian music. In the 80s and 90s he was often associated with Christian acts, sometimes traveling with them to deliver a mid-concert devotional. His Why Wait? campaign (based on his 1987 book by the same title) was popularized by his association with a selection of Christian bands. In this video, for example, he introduces a song by Petra (always and forever my favorite band of the era):
At least in my life, that was how I encountered him and how I still know him—as the guy in the sweater who gets to hang out with the greatest Christian bands in the greatest (or was it the worst?) era of Christian music.
Today’s Kindle deals include: Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg, Shaped by the Gospel by Tim Keller, God and the Nations by Henry Morris, and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane.
Samuel James offers his take on a new article about Joshua Harris and his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. “It is often difficult for me to read a blog post that excoriates evangelical purity culture, and discern where the criticism of legalism ends and the criticism of the Bible’s teachings on sex begin.” That’s just so true.
I consider this an important and often-misunderstood topic. “I’ve held the position, for a while now, that there is a difference between the posture of forgiveness and actually living in reconciliation with someone.”
“Relax and be yourself, worship leader. Use your gifts, sing with your voice, and join together with your people, to glorify God together. You don’t need to worry and you don’t need to wear yourself out. Thank God!”
This Day in 1560. 456 years ago today Protestantism was formally adopted by the Church of Scotland. Scottish Parliament had earlier accepted a Calvinist confession of faith. *
There are some proverbs that practically beg for personal application. Proverbs 3:27 is one of them: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” That little maxim resonates in a hundred other passages including, of course, the Golden Rule and the second Great Commandment: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Taken together, they reinforce the Bible’s clear emphasis on doing good to others, on living in such a way that we are constantly focused on how we can be a blessing to the people in our lives.
I thought of this proverb recently as I pondered personal devotions. I had been speaking to people who were struggling with their devotions, who were sporadic at their best and plain uninterested at their worst. Some had tried and failed, tried again and failed again, tried a third time and thrown in the towel. Others (by their own assessment) had grown lazy or weary, first skipping a day here and there, then skipping a week, then a month. And it was in this context that this little proverb came to my mind: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
One of the great benefits of having access to the Bible and to private spaces is that we have all we need to engage in this time of daily devotion. We can easily find a time and space to read the Bible, to ponder it, and to pray. But maybe this individual practice has spawned an individual spirit. Maybe we see devotions as something we do first for ourselves. In that way it is easy enough to let the practice go, like skipping a meal or missing that workout at the gym. It isn’t hard to take a pass if I’m the only one bearing the consequences.
But the benefit of personal devotions goes far beyond self. The benefit of knowledge of God and intimacy with God extends to your family, to your neighbors, to your church. If you can’t or won’t do devotions for your own sake, won’t you do it for the sake of others? Won’t you do it for their good, even if not for your own?
Husband or wife, make your personal devotions an expression of love for your spouse. Do it for his or her sake. You express love for your spouse when you draw close to God because your love for God will overflow into love for your spouse. You express love for your spouse when you realize your deep sinfulness and, therefore, your deep need for divine correction and instruction. You love your spouse best when you love God best.
Mom or dad, do your personal devotions for the sake of your children. Not reading and not praying is simply not loving. It is in your power to do good to your children by spending time with the Lord, for that time will grow you in mercy and patience and respect and a hundred other parenting virtues. You fail to show your children love when you fail to do them this good.
Christian, do your personal devotions for the sake of your neighbors. Your intimacy with God will generate in you a desire to see your neighbors enjoy the same intimacy. Are you lukewarm in your evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the state of their souls? Your apathy toward God is expressing itself in apathy toward your neighbor.
Church member, do your personal devotions for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Read the Word and speak to God so you can draw closer to God, so you can grow in conformity to Christ. Grow in knowledge to help protect your church from error, grow in character to help protect your church from ungodliness, grow in holiness to help protect your church from yourself and your own sin.
One of the great dangers in the Christian life is living first for self. One of the associated dangers, then, is seeing personal devotion as a practice that goes no further than my own mind, my own heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Your intimacy with God, your knowledge of God, your time with God, works its way outward to everyone around you. The good you can do them every day is the good of spending time with God.
Today’s Kindle deals include 3 from Christian Focus: A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Papacy by Leonardo De Chirico, and A Little Bird Told Me by Timothy Cross. Then there are several from Zondervan as well: How God Became Jesus by Michael Bird, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee, Visit the Sick by Brian Croft, and more. You can find them all here.
Westminster Books has a deal on The Biggest Story, a book (and now DVD) for kids by Kevin DeYoung. They’ve got several other great kids’ books marked down as well.
Rod Dreher comments on “an extraordinarily important column laying out the future for Christians who reject the Sexual Revolution in its latest form.” He links to an article by Denny Burk that is also worth reading.
I think we understand humanity best when we understand that human beings are born with our middle finger extended toward God. We grow up with our middle finger extended toward God. We die with our middle finger extended toward God. At least we do unless God intervenes and lowers it by his grace.
We do not love to learn that we can do nothing without Christ. —J.C. Ryle
This fall I am going to be taking a course taught by R.C. Sproul—a brand new course based on his most recent teaching series, “Justified by Faith Alone.” Even better, I’ll be moderating the course so you can take it with me, for free! With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation fast approaching, there is no better time to ensure you have a solid understanding of this key doctrine. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is no better guide to it than Dr. Sproul. To be clear, this is not vintage R.C. Sproul, but a brand new course he recently created and recorded. In it he explores the biblical, theological, and historical significance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
How It Works
The course will run for 8 weeks, beginning September 6 and continuing until November 1 (which, of course, ties in nicely with Reformation Day). The format is ultra simple: Each week you will watch a video, take a brief quiz to test your learning, and, if you like, engage in discussions with other people who are taking the course. You’ll also be able to ask questions and vote on other people’s questions to determine which will be addressed during the optional Google Hangouts.
Let me tell you about these video-based Hangouts. I will be hosting them weekly on Tuesdays from 5:30–6:00 pm ET. You’ll be able to watch and then jump in to ask questions. This will be a time to talk about what we’ve learned and to answer questions about it. Even better, every other week I will be joined by an expert on theology or church history to answer your questions and to dive deeper into that week’s topic.
Want to know a little bit more about the course? Here goes:
Faith alone is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The doctrine of justification by faith alone is at the center of Reformation theology, and remains critical for all believers today. This doctrine is continually under assault, yet without it, there is no gospel. In this course, Dr. Sproul explores the doctrine of justification historically, theologically, and biblically. He carefully defines each term in the phrase “justification by faith alone” while pointing to the imputation of a perfect righteousness found only in Jesus Christ.
And here is the course schedule:
Preview Week (Aug. 29–Sep. 4): “A Doctrine for Today”
Week 1 (Sep. 5–11): “Martin Luther”
Week 2 (Sep. 12–18): “The Ninety-Five Theses”
Week 3 (Sep. 19–25): “The Roman Catholic View”
Week 4 (Sep. 26–Oct. 2): “Defining Our Terms”
Week 5 (Oct. 3–9): “By Faith Alone”
Week 6 (Oct. 10–16): “Paul’s Letter to the Romans”
Week 7 (Oct. 17–23): “The Consequences of Justification”
Week 8 (Oct. 24–30): “Paul vs. James?”
Enrollment is open right now at connect.ligonier.org. You can access the course, preview the learning path, and, of course, register. Access to the course material will open on August 29 with a preview week titled “A Doctrine for Today.” The course will officially begin on Tuesday, September 6 when I host the first Hangout.
We have even arranged a nice little bonus for you: Everyone who completes the course will receive a hard copy of R.C. Sproul’s excellent book The Truth of the Cross. That will be sent your way once the course is complete.
I’d love for you to join in and take “Justified by Faith Alone” with me. Again, it is completely free and requires just an hour or two per week between now and November 1. I think you will find it both challenging and edifying. Why not take it with your spouse, with your family, with your small group? Get creative and get learning!
Today’s Kindle deals include: God’s Love by R.C. Sproul; 7 Truths that Changed the World by Kenneth Samples; Preparing Evangelistic Sermons by Ramesh Richard; and In Defense of the Bible by Terry Wilder.
I mentioned yesterday that Logos 7 has released. This article by Morris Proctor (a Logos guru) jumps into one of the 7 major new features. (Also, Andy Naselli shares a brief expression of confidence in the software and the people behind it.)
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that they get nearly everything wrong. “A major new report, published today in the journal The New Atlantis, challenges the leading narratives that the media has pushed regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.”
I think most pastors have dealt with this fear before. “I won’t feign humility by falsely degrading my own abilities (though to be honest, in my weaker and more insecure moments I have), but in a comparison of intellectual horsepower, I don’t measure up to the academic achievements of many of my parishioners.”
Here’s a strange story: “The internet makes everything easier. Sit down at your computer for half an hour, and you can pay your bills, order dinner—and, now, leave the Lutheran Church of Norway, all in just a few clicks.”
Randy Alcorn: “Barbara Brown Taylor phrased it, ‘What kind of God allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked pop their champagne corks and sing loud songs?’ We may say, ‘Yes, Lord, we accept your wisdom in permitting evil and suffering for a season—but enough is enough. Why do you let it continue?’”
If you’ve been in church ministry for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that one of the persistent challenges of your role is the apparent need to treat it like ten roles. While nearly every pastor is exceptionally gifted in one particular area or another, it is rare that our ministry context allows us to camp out in that one area. As churches grow in scale, it may become more necessary for pastors to serve as specialists, but in most churches, the pastor as “general practitioner” is still the order of the day.
In some evangelical corners, the pastor as generalist may not seem like a particularly cool concept, or even a particularly efficient one, but it certainly has biblical precedent. We have, of course, the various qualifications listed (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4). These passages show us what every elder must be, but they shouldn’t be taken as a description of the ideal pastoral personality. Instead, they may show us, alongside the requisite gifting, the requisite pastoral persona—or personas, plural. For instance, in Paul’s letters, we learn that the pastor should be a faithful family man, a gracious host, a disciplined student, and a respected community member. Peter’s list adds the more general descriptor of shepherd. Both apostles of course emphasize that the pastor must be a faithful preacher of the word of truth.
But there’s more. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul holds himself up as an example of pastoral versatility in reaching the lost for Christ. As our own cultural landscape continues to change, the faithful local church pastor will also find himself continually renewing his foundational commitment to the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ while at the same time reevaluating his missional strategy for preaching and applying that gospel. Doing the work of an evangelist, Paul tells the young pastor in 2 Timothy 4:5, is one way to “fulfill your ministry.” In 1 Corinthians 9, then, he’s fleshing out what that might look like. It would seem that even in evangelism and mission, the pastor must “wear many hats.”
Of course, there is a fleshly way many pastors go about trying to “be all things to all people.” This is why the Mayo Clinic warns that those in “helping professions” are at high risk for burnout, because they “identify so strongly with their work that they lack a reasonable balance between work life and personal life and try to be everything to everyone.” Biblically speaking, we’d call this idolatry.
And yet, there is a healthy, God-honoring way for ministers to embrace the call to be “all things to all people.” We could call this more formally the inter-disciplinary work of pastoral ministry. Or we could call it being a renaissance man! A renaissance man is of course, a man of multiple talents. He accesses a wider breadth of knowledge. The pastoral renaissance man, then, is one who gives his whole self to the whole word that he may be of whole use to the whole church.
Not to be confused with a dilettante, who simply dabbles in this and that according to personal whim and cultural fancy, the pastoral renaissance man is a committed exegete, a prayerful missiologist, and a longsuffering shepherd. While the dilettante is outsourcing his study, the renaissance man is a theologian. While the dilettante is scouring the blogs for the latest church growth techniques, the renaissance man is having coffee with his lost neighbor. While the dilettante is delegating away messy ministry to focus more on “vision,” the renaissance man is feeding the sheep.
Pastoral ministry is not theoretical. It’s not even something you can halfway do.
How in the world can we pull all this off? Well, we can’t really. That’s one of the other lessons you learn from spending any length of time in ministry. None of us are Prophet, Priest, and King enough to “be Jesus” to our church and our neighborhood. The challenges of ministry are many and the bar is set high, but our capacities are limited and our reach is short..
All the more reason to lean into the fullness of Christ. Pursuit of him will improve our gifts, adoration of him will increase our holiness, and preaching of him will mitigate our weakness. It is a good to know as we fail constantly at “pastoral versatility” just how versatile the gospel of Jesus really is.
With this in mind, Midwestern Seminary has been laboring to meet the growing need for pastoral versatility. To this end, we have reevaluated and restructured our Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree to better equip church leaders for our rapidly changing ministry landscape. We’ve made the M.Div degree program leaner (81 hours), competitive in cost, and – with both residential and online options – more accessible than ever. M.Div students at Midwestern receive excellent equipping in courses like:
Pastoral Care and Counseling taught by Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen
History of Christianity taught by Christian George
Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards taught by Owen Strachan
Principles of Leadership taught by Midwestern Seminary Vice President Charles Smith
Cross-Cultural Communication taught by missiologist Robin Hadaway
Our M.Div program also offers multiple concentrations to suit your particular calling and context, including Preaching and Pastoral Ministry, Biblical Languages, Counseling, Church Planting, Leadership, Worship Ministries, and more.
We take our vision to be For The Church seriously, and it’s this vision that drives our commitment to training the next generation of ministers in the robust truth of the gospel. Get more details about the M.Div program and discover more about the fastest-growing seminary in North America at mbts.edu/mdiv.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press.