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September 28, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include just 3: All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon, A History of Israel by Walter Kaiser, Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Croteau. 

Westminster Books has ESVs on sale this week, with the compact versions taking the leading role. 

Distinguishing Among the Three Persons of the Trinity within the Reformed Tradition

Kevin DeYoung offers his take on the recent controversy about the Trinity. “Twitter demands to ‘say something!’ mean little to me. Honest theological questions from my church family mean a lot.”

You Are What You Sing

Marcos Ortega asks, “If the content of the songs we sing in worship matters, shouldn’t we expect more from the songwriters serving the church?” (Speaking of music, wouldn’t you love to be there to witness this worship in Malawi?)

The History of Bible Software (Infographic)

Here’s a neat little graphic tracing the history of Bible software.

The State of Theology

“What do Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research partnered to find out. These are the fundamental convictions that shape our society.” Great information beautifully presented.

Portraits of Superstition

Jess Pickowicz is writing an interesting series on superstitions we may just import into our lives and even into our faith.

The Soldier Who Wouldn’t Surrender

Here’s the abbreviated story of a Japanese soldier who kept fighting the Second World War until 1974.

This Day in 1833. 183 years ago today Lemuel Haynes, the first African-American to pastor a Caucasian church and to be awarded an advanced degree, died. *

The Church Needs the Bible

“Note the words: equipping, building up, mature, maturity, unity, grow, and so on. The means by which the church does this is the Bible. If the church is not working together to see people grow in Christ, then they are leaving off a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a church. In other words, without the ministry of the Word the church is not being a church.”

How God Used a Hailstorm (in September)

You’ll be encouraged by reading this one!

Flashback: How an Affair Really Begins

One of the great misconceptions about affairs is that they begin with sex. Affairs do not begin with sex. Falling into bed with a man who is not your husband or a woman who is not your wife is never a sudden, unplanned event.

God’s wrath is the hope of his children and the despair of his enemies. —David Powlison

ESV Readers Bible Six Volume Set
September 27, 2016

I like a clean desk. I like to begin my day with nothing on it other than my computer and keyboard. I don’t want to see stacks of paper, bundles of cables, piles of books, or anything else that might distract or offer an alternative to the task at hand. So I try to begin each morning with the desk neat, clean, ready to go. Over the course of the day, though, stuff just magically accumulates so that by mid-afternoon it’s often littered with paper and pens, books and magazines. I have a sudden moment of awareness and am surprised at how cluttered my minimalist workspace has become. “How did that happen?”

Our Bibles can be like this, can’t they? At heart, the Bible is words, the text given by God to and through his people. Anything beyond the inspired text has been added to it. It has been added for good reason, but over time it has accumulated to such a degree that maybe we can’t really imagine our Bibles without it. There are chapter and verse markings, cross-references, footnotes, textual variants, and alternative translations. There are explanatory headings, study notes, indexes, concordances, pictures, maps, and illustrations. Each of these features can be tremendously helpful. But not one of them is original and not one of them is necessary. (See A Short History of Bible Clutter.)

Bible publishers are beginning to identify a need and a desire to emphasize the simplicity and centrality of the text. The Kickstarter project Bibliotheca led the way with 15,000 backers contributing $1.4 million toward a 4-volume set that promised to strip away all of the extraneous details while emphasizing the highest quality of typography, printing, paper, and binding. It offered simplicity and beauty over against clutter and utility. It looks like the project will deliver on its promises, though it has been hampered by long production delays and an unpopular, inelegant translation. Beating it to market, and in a much superior translation to boot, is the ESV Reader’s Bible.

The ESV Reader’s Bible is available in two variations: cloth over board and cowhide leather over board (the variation I received from the publisher for review purposes). Both have smyth-sewn bindings (the highest quality binding available, allowing the books to lie flat when open), measure 5.25 x 7.75 inches, and come as a six-volume set: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Epistles and Revelation. The paper is high quality with a subtle cream tone (uncoated 80GSM Munken Premier Cream). It prevents most bleed-through while providing a good surface for marking in pen or pencil. The text is set in a 12 point Roman font and produces the 2016 ESV Permanent Text. The leather over board variation comes in a handcrafted walnut slipcase while the cloth over board variation comes in a handsome board case.

Each volume is a beautiful book in its own right—a book that strips away nearly everything that might threaten to displace the text. The text is printed in a single, paragraphed column free of all verse numbers, chapter numbers, footnotes, or annotations. It displays the title of the book (flush left at the top of even-numbered pages), the current heading (flush right on the top of odd-numbered pages), and page numbers (centered on the bottom of each page). And that is all, apart from titles at the beginning of each book, occasional headings, and an index at the end of each volume that lists the standard chapters and the page they correlate to. There is nothing else—no other numbers and no other words. 

Reading the ESV Reader’s Bible is a joy. Yes, there is joy to be had in reading God’s Word at any time and in any variation—it is, after all, God’s word. But there is added joy in reading it in so beautiful a form. But there’s more to this set than beauty. There is also simplicity. Reading the Bible in so simple a form reminds us that it is first a book, first literature, first words from God to humanity. When left with only the text we are encouraged, maybe even forced, to read it as a text, as a book. After all, without chapter and verse markings it is difficult to zoom to a single chapter or verse. It would be nearly impossible to use this set to follow a reading plan like Mc’Cheyne’s which demands short, daily readings from multiple books. This Bible wants to be read it in bigger swaths, a book at a time or at least a section at a time. As we read we have to look for internal clues as to where thoughts begin and end, where sections start and close. We engage it in a different way, perhaps even a purer way. It’s rather a foreign experience to those who have known nothing but clutter. But what may at first be alarming soon becomes comforting.

The ESV Reader’s Bible is an outstanding product, one to treasure, perhaps even for a lifetime. In its text it is the words of God. In its form it is very nearly a work of art. It is beautiful. It is simple. It is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

You can purchase the cowhide over board set exclusively at EvangelicalBible.com. It is expected to ship around October 14. You can purchase the cloth over board edition there, though it will be also available elsewhere.

Readers Bible

Readers Bible 2

Readers Bible 3

September 27, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: A new one from GLH Publishing, Essentials of Prayer by E.M. Bounds (50% off for the first week). Also consider Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen, Reading God’s Story by George Guthrie, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Greg Koukl, The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeffrey Johnson as well as the many volumes of the Christ-Centered Commentary series that are on sale. Get it all here.

What Is Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play?

Go ahead and guess. You’ll probably be wrong.

Cross Ways

A Pastor in Corpus Christi has determined he’ll build the tallest cross in the US. Here’s the story from Texas Monthly.

Yes, You Should Say Something

Nancy Guthrie talks about overcoming the awkwardness with grieving people. “When someone you love has died, it’s as if a hurdle has been placed between you and every person you know, and that hurdle stays in place until your loss has been acknowledged in some way.”

Toward a Better Reading

I’m interesting to read this series from Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson. They’ll be discussing the ESV’s decision to modify Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

You Cannot Vote Your Conscience

Bryce Young talks about the role of the conscience and why it’s not quite right to say “Vote your conscience.”

This Day in 1805. 211 years ago today George Mueller was born. Best known for his orphan ministry, Mueller built five orphan houses and cared for 10,024 orphans during his lifetime while pastoring a church. *

Only Our God Speaks

“Because Christians worship a speaking God, we approach worship differently than any religious sect or worshiping community.”

Love Lives On

Don’t we all love these stories? “When the minister said, ‘For better or for worse, or rich or for poor, in sickness and in health,’ I meant it. And she meant it,” he said.

How To Be a Writer

There are some good tips in this list from Rebecca Solnit. “If you’re not passionate about writing and about the world and the things in it you’re writing about, then why are you writing? It starts with passion even before it starts with words.”

Flashback: The Days I Need the Gospel Least

I have heard many people say that there is value in preaching the gospel to myself every day, whether or not I find myself carrying the guilt and shame of sin. I’ve always thought of preaching the gospel to myself as a reactive thing, but Jerry Bridges has helped me to see it as proactive. Here’s why…

If prayer actually changed God’s mind, I would stop praying. —Burk Parsons

Christian Men and Their Video Games
September 26, 2016

If you’re a gamer, or a Christian gamer at least, you’ve rolled your eyes through a hundred articles by now, each one telling you why your gaming is sad, wasteful, pathetic. You’re immature, you’re addicted to pleasure, you’re a dopamine junkie. You might even have found yourself compared to a porn addict since in many minds porn and PlayStations go hand in hand. That’s not what the articles actually say, of course, but it can sure feel like it. Gamers are an easy target and a lot of people line up to take their swings.

It’s not that gaming isn’t without its downsides, of course. It’s not like gamers haven’t earned at least some of that reputation. Gaming exists in this world, after all, and is enjoyed by imperfect people. But it’s not beyond redemption, not beyond what we can enjoy. Today I want to offer a few simple points about gaming and gamers.

Before I do that, a confession: I love video games. At least, I love some video games. I loved them as a kid, I loved them as a teen, and I love them today. That’s not to say I play them much. I rarely have those extended gaps when there isn’t a long list of higher priorities. But when I do find those times—usually in that slow week between Christmas and New Years or one of those lazy Monday afternoons of a long weekend—I often take advantage. I have fun. I might join my son in some strategic world-conquering. I might sit with Aileen as we work through an adventure or mystery together. Or I might just find something to play on my own. I do it without shame and without regret.

With that confession made, let me speak to other enthusiasts about the highs and lows of gaming.

Enjoy the entertainment. Let’s be honest: There is little intrinsic value in gaming. For most of us it is merely entertainment. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Entertainment is a perfectly legitimate way to expend time, money, and energy—within reason, of course—, and gaming is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. This is true when it takes its proper place in life, well behind the more important concerns of family, work, neighboring, church. Well-earned entertainment is a gift we are free to enjoy and I see no substantial difference between playing a game and watching a movie or between playing a game and reading a novel. It’s not substantially different from fishing, for that, or crocheting, or playing a bit of golf. Like all of these, it’s restful, it’s entertaining, it’s neither right nor wrong on the face of it. So enjoy the entertainment that games provide.

Skip the bad ones. We cannot deny that some games are unsuitable to anyone, much less a Christian. Today more than ever there is an abundance of games that revel in gore and bloodletting, that feature sexual violence, that are full of porn or profanity. Those of us who remember the scandal of Leisure Suit Larry or Phantasmagoria a generation ago will know that such games are practically quaint by today’s standards. We need to be okay with skipping the bad ones and we ought to do so out of conviction and conscience. Thankfully, we’ve got access to a thorough rating system and a massive collection of review sites that can steer us away from the ugly ones. Look past the bad ones and we will find many that are harmless, fun, beautiful, and at times even brilliant.

Play in freedom. Many games engage the reward system within the human brain—the same system that can lead to addiction. Even when games don’t lead to full-blown addiction, they can lead to compulsive use, late nights, or neglecting more important responsibilities. This quality of games is both their strength and weakness. Without it they would be boring. The “just one more turn” or “just one more mission” effect is part of the draw and the thrill of playing a great game. But we need to be careful that we assuage the potential of addiction or out-of-control gaming with integrity, priorities, and self-control—the stuff of Christian character. Play your games in freedom, the freedom of moderation that comes through character, maturity, and a clean conscience.

Play in community. Part of the joy of gaming has always been gaming with others and today more than ever games are created with multiplayer capabilities in mind. Sometimes this involves playing together on the same device and other times it involves playing on separate devices connected through the Internet. Either way, playing in community can be a great shared activity, especially between family members. My son and I love to challenge one another or take on the world together. We enjoy this as a father-son experience. As I said earlier, Aileen and I will sometimes settle onto the couch together for an adventure or mystery game, or we’ll join the girls for some Lego The Hobbit. We’ve even been known to get the whole family playing along with The Beatles in Rock Band. These are good times and good memories.

Embrace the challenge. I know it can seem silly to build an imaginary army to invade an imaginary nation, or to serve as fictional mayor of a town that exists only on a screen. And sure, there’s something a bit silly about it all. But each of these scenarios represents a challenge, and challenge is at the very heart of gaming. Whether the game is about solving puzzles, conquering worlds, or completing an adventure, great games face us with difficult situations and challenge us to overcome them. That’s fun! When our lives are mundane, these challenges can trigger a sense of adventure and accomplishment. When our lives are complex, they can provide a welcome respite. The challenge is the point. The challenge is the joy.

So I say go ahead and play your games. Enjoy your games. Play them for the fun of exploring, conquering, experiencing, winning. Just play them like a Christian and you’ll be fine.

September 26, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include several from Crossway on the Trinity: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (a personal favorite), Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (edited by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic), Experiencing the Trinity by Joe Thorn, and more. Matthis Media also has several: God’s Good Design by Claire Smith, Born This Way by Steve Morrison, and Women, Sermons, and the Bible by Tony Payne. Then consider One Perfect Life by John MacArthur and The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. Get them here.

Also, on the subject of Amazon, their deal of the day includes DVDs of many great BBC natural science series: Planet Earth, Life, etc.

Appreciate Your Spouse

This is a good read courtesy of Melissa. “The truth is that there are a million different things about Chad that I fail to appreciate on a daily basis. I get in terrible ruts where I focus only on what he isn’t doing that I wish he would do. Or I wish that he would say no to a few things. Or that he would quit answering his phone. Or that he would write me daily love letters.”

Singing Man: Behind the Viral Video

“The students and faculty poured out of the buses and onto his lawn, and sang worship songs. With his window open, Ben leaned forward into view and sang along.” The video went viral. Russ Ramsey tells the story.

What Is God Doing in My Pain?

J.D. Greear uses the stories of Naaman and a little girl to illustrate some of what God may be doing in times of pain.

Trello Inspiration

Trello is really neat software that’s good for planning and organization. I use it for my blog’s editorial calendar. Here’s a great list of sample uses for it.

The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis

This column in the New York Times takes a look at some of what C.S. Lewis had to say about politics.

Accusations of Sexual Abuse

Randy Alcorn offers some important cautionary words for when we hear accusations of sexual abuse.

This Day in 1861. 155 years ago today Abraham Lincoln issued a national day of prayer and fasting “in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for his mercy” *

The Less Than Romantic Realities of Village Life

Dave Hare writes from his home in a village in Cameroon to dispel some of the romantic notions about village life.

3 Questions to Ask Before Long-Term Missions

David Sills writing for SBTS: “An old saying goes, ‘Marry in haste, repent in leisure,’ which assumes that the unhappy married person will not divorce but will quietly regret his or her decision for life. That same dynamic is true in missions…”

Flashback: The Excitement and the Anticipation

Why do we anticipate great things when we go to a conference but anticipate small things when we go to church?

All death can do to Christians is make their lives infinitely better. —Tim Keller 

Fall From Grace
September 25, 2016

You’ve heard of people who have experienced a fall from grace. The celebrity said something foolish, the media ran with it, and she never quite recovered. “You like me. You really like me.” The athlete was found to have used substances that enhanced his performance, earning him stolen medals, records, and victories. He lied about it, the truth came out, he became a punchline. “I have been on my deathbed, and I’m not stupid. I can emphatically say I am not on drugs.” We’ve all seen these dramatic plunges, these falls from grace.

The Expression

To experience a fall from grace is to undergo a great loss of prestige, a loss of reputation. It is to become an object of scorn and derision. A recent article in The Fiscal Times describes “Chris Christie’s Long, Slow Fall From Grace.” This decline “from brash tell-it-like-it-is frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination to designated liar for the man who ultimately deprived him of that honor, may be nearing its end.” And the expression is not only used of people. A piece in Entrepreneur tells “What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Theranos’s Fall From Grace” after “a Wall Street Journal exposé claimed Theranos exaggerated its services.” It’s a common phrase, a poignant one, always an unhappy one.

The Origin

Like so many of our English idioms, “fall from grace” originates in the Bible and is a direct quote from the King James Version. In his letter to the Galatian church, the Apostle Paul warns “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Or, in a more modern translation, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

Of course that fall is a consequence of the very first fall from grace, the one where Adam and Eve chose to sin against God, plunging themselves and all of humanity into a state of sin, of disorder, of chaos. The whole of the Christian faith is concerned with this fall from grace and how those who have fallen can be restored. Now Paul is warning this church against legalism, against thinking they can be restored to favor with God on the basis of their adherence to the law. He knows better. He knows that the law brings only captivity. “For freedom Christ has set us free;” he says. “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (1). If they reject righteousness by a gift of grace to pursue righteousness by works of the law, they will fall—fall from any hope of experiencing God’s grace.

The Application

Deep within the sinful human heart is the knowledge that we have fallen from grace, and with it the conviction that if the fault is ours, so too is the remedy. We naturally believe we can and must be made right with God by our often efforts. Grace is too good, too foreign, too unbelievable for our minds and hearts to receive. And yet the Christian gospel calls us to abandon our own efforts and instead to embrace the work of Christ. The restoration can’t originate from within so it must originate from without. John Stott explains it well: “You cannot add circumcision [as the ultimate sign of law-keeping] (or anything else, for that matter) to Christ as necessary to salvation, because Christ is sufficient for salvation in Himself. If you add anything to Christ, you lose Christ. Salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone.

We have all fallen from grace. Paul says elsewhere “For the wages of sin is death.” Our fall has taken us from grace to alienation, death to life. Thankfully, wondrously, he goes on: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Grace is there for those who will surrender their own efforts at righteousness and instead grab hold of the righteousness of Christ. No wonder, then, that so many Christian songs celebrate the beauty of grace, for grace is all we have. Why not listen to a couple of them.

“Grace Alone” by The Modern Post (or Dustin Kensrue, if you prefer) declares “By your blood I have redemption and salvation / Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown / And you rose that I might be a new creation / I am born again by grace and grace alone.” Here’s their acoustic version.

The old hymn “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” ends with a question: “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, / Freely bestowed on all who believe! / You that are longing to see His face, / Will you this moment His grace receive?” Here is Matthew Smith’s Nashville-inspired rendering:

Here are some other popular English idioms and their biblical origins: A Drop in a BucketGive Up the GhostBy the Skin of My Teeth!

 

Is Seminary Really Necessary
September 24, 2016

The church has been well-served by pastors who ministered without formal seminary training. John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are standout examples of men who had impactful and long-lasting ministries even though they never attended seminary. No wonder, then, that the question often arises: Is seminary really necessary? Might it be better to get straight into ministry instead of expending so much time and effort in preparing for ministry?

Jason Allen provides an answer in his book Discerning Your Call to Ministry, but he doesn’t do so without admitting his bias. He is, after all, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution that exists to train men for ministry. But he provides a helpful answer nonetheless: Seminary is not necessary, but it is advisable. Let’s track with him and see how he expands on this answer.

In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Allen says “Paul’s exhortation to Timothy rings through the ages, challenging every generation of gospel ministers to be maximally prepared for ministerial service.” The church has little use for ministerial amateurs. Amateurs are not necessarily those who lack academic degrees or formal training, but men who lack “the knowledge base, skill set, and experience for a particular task—in this case, Christian ministry.” A man with a fistful of degrees can be a rank amateur while a man without a single credential can be a faithful minister of the gospel. Yet in almost every case a man will benefit tremendously from receiving a formal theological education. Allen draws out four reasons why this remains true, and may even be especially true, in today’s climate.

The complexity of our times. While every generation of Christians faces challenges unique to their time, “our generation comes with unique baggage. It is not that the twenty-first century is more fallen or more secular than previous ones, but it may be more complex.” There are new questions of ethics and morality, there are “torturously complex ramifications of sin,” and a cultural elite doggedly committed to undermining Christians and their worldview. In the face of such challenges, “the lost need more than shallow answers from ill-equipped ministers. They need minsters prepared to bring the full complement of Christian truth to bear in a winsome, thoughtful, and compelling way.” This full complement of Christian truth is the core curriculum of any worthwhile seminary.

The centrality of teaching the Scriptures. The church has no greater need than the skillful teaching of the Bible and, for that reason, the minister has no greater responsibility than teaching God’s Word. This task requires “a renewed and informed mind. There is simply no place in ministry for sloppy exegesis, shoddy interpretation, or shallow sermons. One can be a faithful minister without a seminary degree, but one cannot be a faithful minister without knowing the Bible well.” Is seminary the only means of learning how to “rightly handle the Word?” No, but it is certainly an effective and time-tested one.

The consequences of ministry. “There is an alarming inverse correlation between the seriousness of the ministerial task and the casualness with which it is often approached.” We insist on trained professionals when caring for our children, our bodies, our dogs, and even our cars. Yet we content ourselves with very low levels of preparation when it comes to the care of our souls. No minister should be content to remain amateurish in his ministry. “Satan is serious about his calling; ministers must be serious about theirs. The ministry is too consequential to be taken casually.” Does this necessitate seminary? No, of course not. Does it make it advisable? Perhaps so.

The priority of the Great Commission. All ministers are to proclaim the gospel in furtherance of the Great Commission, and this requires “a great burden for the lost, a passion for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, and an equipped mind to reason, teach, and persuasively present the gospel.” Though we often think of evangelism as first requiring zeal, it also requires knowledge. This is the very knowledge gained through a seminary education—knowledge that can set that zeal on fire.

Our times are complex, the church is in desperate need of men who can skillfully teach the Word, the ministry is too consequential to admit amateurs, and carrying out the Great Commission requires men who have zeal supported by deep knowledge. Is seminary necessary for a man called to the ministry? No, says Allen, but it is advisable. I cannot disagree, and if I had to live my life over again, I would certainly pursue such an education. I often feel and lament its lack.