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Tim Challies

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May 20, 2015

Commentary Sale - Westminster Books is having a fantastic commentary sale, offering paperback volumes in the solid Tyndale Commentary series for just $10 each (which is very, very low). Stay tuned and I’ll post an article suggesting which are the best in the series.

Does R.C. Sproul Believe in Miracles? - “If you want me to give the simple answer, the answer is no. [I]f you expect a miracle—if miracles are expectable—there’s nothing miraculous about them.” However…

The Well-Gifted Grad - Here are some solid ideas for books to gift to grads.

Rome, Her Saints, and the Gospel - “What is a saint? How does one become a saint? And what is Rome doing when they canonize someone?”

4 Principles for Finishing Well - This one is for students who can just about smell the summer coming.

Five Things Every Christian Should be Doing with God’s Word - In Psalm 119 we find “David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers…”

Ten Unforgettable Lessons - Ray Ortlund shares 10 unforgettable lessons on fatherhood that he learned from his own father.

Maybe the reason we’re not humbled by the holiness of God is we’ve fashioned a God who is just like us. —Ryan Huguley

Huguley

 

May 19, 2015

When I was a kid I loved to collect things, though, in retrospect, rarely for very long. For a while it was stamps, then coins, then model airplanes, then this, then that, then the other thing. Somehow, though, I always had some little collection on the go.

I have long since given up collecting much of anything except for this: quotes. I am a collector of quotes. I am not as organized as I would like to be, and not as committed as I ought to be, but I am still building a pretty good collection. Every week I send a batch of favorites to a graphic designer so that 6 days a week I can share one of them through various social channels. (You can find the definitive collection of these quote graphics at Pinterest.)

Now it all sounds very simple, and it really should be. But I have found, rather to my surprise, that many people do not know how to enjoy a quote. To the contrary, too many people ruin a perfectly good quote because they just don’t know how to make the most of it. Within 10 minutes of posting a quote, no matter what it says or who said it, someone will object. It is inevitable. No sooner do I post the quote than someone replies to tell me why they disagree with it (and, very possibly, why I am a rank heretic for ever sharing it in the first place).

The most common objection is that the quote does not contain the entire truth. The quote may be true, but not always true or not wholly true. John Flavel says, “A twig is brought to any form, but grown trees will not bow. How few are converted in old age!” But someone objects to say that his grandmother was saved at the age of 72. “The true test of our worldview is what we find entertaining,” says Al Mohler. But that person’s conscience is clear and she says she can thank God for the entertainment another person might find objectionable.

The very thing these people are objecting to is the beauty and value of the quotes: They provide a dimension of truth and give us the opportunity to reflect on what is true. Few single sentences contain exhaustive truth—that is too great a burden for 20 words or 140 characters. I can say, “Christ died for our sins and was raised” as a summary of the gospel, or I can write a 10-volume series exploring every nuance of the gospel. Both are true, but one far more completely true. In that way the quotes I share are much like Solomon’s Proverbs—rarely exhaustively true, but always true to at least some degree. This is why Solomon could share contradictory proverbs, because neither one is true all the time and in every situation (see Proverbs 26:4-5). The benefit of a good quote is in pondering it, in considering the extent to which it is true and the situations in which it is true. The joy of a quote is in thinking about it, yet without over-thinking it.

Quotes are like lozenges, great for savoring but terrible for just straight-out swallowing. Learn how to savor good quotes.

Havner

Spurgeon

Gembola

Ryle

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 19, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Rise by Trip Lee ($1.99); The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts ($0.99); Seven Men by Eric Metaxas ($1.99); Coffee with Calvin by Donald McKim ($1.99); The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle ($0.99); Mere Apologetics by Alistair McGrath ($2.51); A City Upon a Hill by Larry Witham ($1.99); 

Adding Stars - Don’t miss this one! “So, we send off the ones we love and we go forth ourselves—over oceans and just across the street, into hostile regions of foreign countries and into the familiar comfort of a culturally Christian Bible Belt. Each is as full of wandering and wondering souls as the other.”

Students! Seize the Summer! - Here’s some good counsel for students.

What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials? - “The one promise I make to my students at the beginning of the course is that they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive. That promise used to be easier to keep.”

A Goodbye to Youth Ministry - As Mike Leake says farewell to youth ministry, he lays out a simple, helpful philosophy of youth ministry.

The Benefits of an Annual Study Group - I’ve always loved what Darryl models here: An annual study group with a bunch of like-minded people.

Family Ministry - Writing primarily to pastors, Timothy Paul Jones offers three truths and three tips to engage with families in your church.

Wolf Hall and the Protestant Reformation - [Especially] If you watched the PBS series Wolf Hall, you may be interested in this article on the main characters and what became of them.

We must meditate, brothers. These grapes will yield no wine till we tread upon them. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

 

May 18, 2015

Zinner
We learned last week that William Zinnser has died. He was known primarily as the author of On Writing Well, a classic guide to composing non-fiction. It is a book that has meant a lot to me as I have attempted to mature as a writer. This weekend I breezed back through all my notes and highlights and found that the ideas that most impacted me can be distilled into 5 simple headings. I also found that the ideas are applicable not only to professional writers like Zinnser, but to anyone who wants to grow in communication skills. Here are 5 things Zinnser taught me:

Be Diligent

There is really no such thing as that fabled “natural writer.” What actually distinguishes the good authors from the great ones is simply their diligence. Good authors humble themselves with the knowledge of how poor they are, and then they commit themselves to endless practice.

  • “Few people realize how badly they write.”
  • “The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.”
  • “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”
  • “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
  • “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”

Be Ruthless

While Zinsser believes that writing is an act of ego (see below), he also calls for a kind of humility that manifests itself in ruthless editing. If he is known for anything, it is for his constant calls to cut the clutter that marks too much writing (my own included).

  • “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.”
  • “Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.”
  • “Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.”
  • “Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away.”

Be Yourself

Zinsser hates writing that sounds unnatural and cannot tolerate people who have a writing voice that is completely separate from their speaking voice. His advice to the writer is simple: Be yourself. His basic assumption is that if your writing appeals to you, it will appeal to others. If you wouldn’t read it, then don’t write it!

  • “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for. If you lose the dullards back in the dust, you don’t want them anyway.”
  • “You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience—every reader is a different person.”
  • “Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.”
  • “Never say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. If you’re not a person who says ‘indeed’ or ‘moreover,’ or who calls someone an individual (‘he’s a fine individual’), please don’t write it.”
  • “The way to warm up any institution is to locate the missing ‘I.’ Remember: ‘I’ is the most interesting element in any story.”
  • “My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me. And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone: breeziness and condescension and clichés.”

Be Good

He also advocates a growing knowledge of the form and craft of writing.

  • “Readers want to know—very soon—what’s in it for them.”
  • “Good usage, to me, consists of using good words if they already exist—as they almost always do—to express myself clearly and simply to someone else.”
  • “The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original.”
  • “Quality is its own reward.”
  • “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter–a reminder of all the choices–and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.”

Be Practical

Then, of course, he also provides a lot of very practical advice.

  • “If you want to write long sentences, be a genius. Or at least make sure that the sentence is under control from beginning to end, in syntax and punctuation, so that the reader knows where he is at every step of the winding trail.” (This is a particularly brilliant sentence that perfectly models his instruction.)
  • “The adjective that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader.”
  • E.B. White makes the case cogently in The Elements of Style, a book every writer should read once a year…”
  • “Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with ‘but.’ If that’s what you learned, unlearn it—there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.”
  • “You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.”

Much more could be said, of course. Zinner’s book remains a classic and one that bears repeated readings. I will be reading it again this summer with my interns, and am already looking forward to it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 18, 2015

The excellent 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series is on sale today: The Gospel by Ray Ortlund; Evangelism by Mack Stiles; Expositional Preaching by David Helm; Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson; Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne; Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman; Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman ($4.99 each). The Confessions of St. Augustine in modern English ($0.99); The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible by William Marty ($2.99).

#AskAlcorn - Here are the results of Randy Alcorn’s recent Twitter chat. He answered a whole host of questions.

The Best Idioms in the World - This is an amusing list of some of the best (and weirdest) idioms from across the world.

The Pastor and Social Media - Pastors (and others) may do well to read these comments by Nicholas Batzig. “I have to insist that to write off this medium wholesale … is shortsighted at best. Similarly, judging others for their use of social media is shortsighted at best as well.”

In Flight - If you’re at all interesting in air travel you will probably enjoy this article in which you’ll gain a pilot’s-eye view of a flight from London to Tokyo.

The Gathering Storm - Al Mohler borrows a line from Winston Churchill and warns of a different kind of battle that is fast approaching.

That Little Word - Andrew Wilson discovers the final question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism, and it is worthy of reflection.

The Power of False Memory - The recent attacks in Manhattan show how quickly we can develop false memories.

A twig is brought to any form, but grown trees will not bow. How few are converted in old age! —John Flavel

Flavel

 

May 17, 2015

I was interested to read through a new little booklet written by Ian Hamilton, pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, England. In this work he means to show that Calvinism is both deeper and richer than the well-known 5 Points (a.k.a. TULIP). Calvinism at its best is also experiential, a word which Tom Nettles once helpfully described in this way: “An experiential theology, or experimental Calvinism, pursues the purposeful application of every doctrine to some area of life that needs further conformity to Christ’s perfect humanity.” Hamilton explains further:

Calvinism is natively experiential. Before it is a theological system, Calvinism is deeply affectional, God-centered, cross-magnifying religion. A man may loudly trumpet his adherence to the distinctive tenets of Calvinism, but if his life is not marked by delight in God and His gospel, his professed Calvinism is a sham. In other words, there is no such thing as “dead Calvinism.” Such is a theological oxymoron for one simple reason: Calvinism claims to be biblical religion, and biblical religion is not only profoundly theological, it is deeply experiential and engagingly affectional! Wherever men and women claim to be Calvinists, their lives and their ministries will pulse with life—the life of living, Spirit-inspired, Christ-glorifying, God-centered truth.

Hamilton goes on provide 8 fundamental features of the experiential Calvinist, and looks at the subject from a confessionally Reformed perspective. I would disagree with some of the finer points, such as his insistence that Reformed worship necessarily adheres to the regulative principle. Still, I found each of his points is very helpful.

  1. The experiential Calvinist honors God’s unconditional sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is never seen in Scripture as an excuse for believers to become passive. God’s sovereignty does not suspend human responsibility but rather embraces it. [This] is shown chiefly in God’s people giving themselves to consistent, faithful, heartfelt prayer. Nothing more honors God’s unconditional sovereignty than prayer.
  2. The experiential Calvinist cherishes God’s grace. Calvinism supremely rejoices in and placards the grace of God. … Experiential Calvinists are jealous to magnify the grace of God because it opens to us the heart of the God of grace.
  3. The experiential Calvinist has a deep sense of the sinfulness of sin. It is the greatest tragedy of our age that the supreme focus in much of the Christian church today is man, not God! Man and his needs, not God and His glory, is the organizing principle and central concern of much that passes for evangelical Christianity. Perhaps the greatest difference between us and our Reformation and Puritan forefathers is that they had high views of the glory of God and therefore deep views of the sinfulness of sin.
  4. The experiential Calvinist lives before God’s face. Experiential Calvinism has one preeminent concern: to glorify God. He recognizes that the only verdict that counts is God’s.
  5. The experiential Calvinist shapes all of life by the revelation of God’s unimpeachable holiness. The experiential Calvinist is … an obedience-loving believer. God’s commandments are his happy choice. … This piety is rooted in a love for God’s law. The experiential Calvinist loves God’s law. Experiential Calvinism seeks to give God’s holy law the place in the believer’s and church’s life that God’s holy Word gives it.
  6. The experiential Calvinist is content and satisfied with scriptural worship. Submission to the unconditional sovereignty of God is seen practically in submission to the authority and sufficiency of his holy Word. This means that the experiential Calvinist seeks to have his life and the church’s life contoured by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). This means that our worship can (and must) never be shaped and informed by the fads and fashions of the moment, but by the abiding precepts and principles of God’s Word. Historically, this has come to be known as the regulative principle.
  7. The experiential Calvinist pursues godly catholicity. From its inception, the Reformed faith was a multifaceted faith. To be sure it had a well-defined core of nonnegotiable doctrines. But it did not have and has never had one public face or particular theological expression. The Continental Reformed tradition, centered upon the Three Forms of Unity—the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort—is no less Reformed than its British and American Reformed counterpart within the tradition of the Westminster Standards.
  8. The experiential Calvinist cultivates communion with God. … Experiential Calvinism cherishes communion with God and understands that this communion requires two things: that we “receive” His love and that we “make suitable returns unto him.” The Father’s love is received “by faith” through Christ. “The soul being thus, by faith through Christ, and by him brought into the bosom of God, into a comfortable persuasion and spiritual perception and sense of his love, there reposes and rests itself.” But there is more: “God loves, that he may be loved.” So, we are to make “returns” of love to the Father. (Note: The quotes are from John Owen.)

Excerpted from What Is Experiential Calvinism? by Iain Hamilton.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 16, 2015

Nick writes about The Pastor’s Dilemma, the fact that an awful lot of seminary students are carrying an awful lot of debt.

Today’s flash deal from Zondervan is PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones.

It’s always fun to meet a quirky person who simply loves what he does. That’s the case in this short film titled Conrad and The Steamplant.

“Go to the ant,” said Solomon. You’ll enjoy seeing how trap-jaw ants have evolved been created. “Their spring-loaded jaws are capable of snapping shut as fast as 60 meters/second (134 miles/hr) and can generate forces over 300 times their body weight.”

It was fun to read The Gospel Coalition profiling Betty McPhee, a dear family friend: Helping Deaf Students to Flourish.

Here are 5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 Years. “We’re seeing more and more recruiters use the web as a place to search for talent and conduct employment background searches.”

Thanks to MereChurch for sponsoring the blog this week. They are exactly right: Your Church Needs a Great Website.

The process of history is not haphazard. There is a purpose in it all. And the purpose is the purpose of God. —Leon Morris

Morris