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December 2012

December 31, 2012

While I’ve always been an avid reader of books, in the past twelve months or so I’ve also become an avid listener. After seeing hundreds of Audible ads advertising “Download a Free Audiobook Today!” I finally went ahead and signed up and downloaded my free audiobook (and yes, you actually can join, get that free audiobook, and quit the program within fourteen days). There has been no looking back and I’ve become a bona fide lover of audiobooks. I listen while commuting, while doing dishes, and in that time when I’m too tired to read and but not tired enough to go to bed.

Here are a few of the books I’ve listened to in the past few months.

Washington by Ron Chernow

Washington ChernowOne of my long-term projects is to read (or listen to) a biography of each of the American presidents. Chernow’s Washington: A Life is a brilliant account of the life of George Washington. It represents 42 hours of listening, but it didn’t ever grow the least bit dull. There are two aspects to the life of the first President that stood out to me more than anything else. The first was the unexpected interplay between Washington’s pride and humility. Though he was a proud man—vain even—he was also motivated by higher ideals than self. So even while he was desirious of having power, he was willing to give it up. He is the one man in American history (the one man in human history, perhaps) who has had access to complete military power and complete political power and who has willingly given up both. That is remarkable. The other aspect of his life that stood out to me was the deep sadness of his wife. Both of the Washington’s wanted to live a quiet country life, and yet time and time again duty came calling, taking George away. Martha lived with constant sadness that she and her husband spent so much time apart. Her life displays just some of the sadness of life in a fallen world. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Truman by David McCullough

TrumanAs I continue to work my way through the presidents, I knew I wanted to move quickly to Truman since it collides with another of my projects—working my way through all of David McCullough’s books. McCullough’s biography is considered the definitive work and I can’t see how it will ever be equalled. Even longer than Washington, Truman clocks in at 54 hours, but is fascinating from beginning to end. To give a sense of the value of reading this biography, I’ll refer you to an article my mother wrote after she read it for the second time: My Favorite New Deal Mason. Here’s a key quote from that review: “I think Truman’s fundamental weakness was his misunderstanding of human nature. He was a committed humanist and had no category for entrenched personal evil. This influenced many of his decisions in a way that has proven counter-productive over the long term.” (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful ForeversThrough much of 2012 I had seen Behind the Beautiful Forevers on various lists of bestselling books, but it wasn’t until I returned from a week in India that I decided to pick it up. I’m glad I did. Boo spent three years in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum community. In this book she relates her experience there and tells about the lives of the people who live in that slum. I guess you might term this “narrative non-fiction” and it is very well done. She aptly highlights the despair of people who are victims of their circumstances and victims of the systemic corruption that plagues modern-day India. The contrast between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots, is stark and startling, the characters unforgettable, the stories tragic. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly

Killing KennedyKilling Kennedy is the follow-up to O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln. (Because of its narrow focus, it does not count toward my presidential biography project) Both books made their way to the New York Times list of bestsellers and are there still. Killing Kennedy is a short, punchy account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It avoids swinging into conspiracy theory territory and simply recounts the facts as the history books have recorded them. It is fast-paced and well-told. Unfortunately it also has rather a “tabloid” feel. While no account of Kennedy’s life can be told without referring to his wild, unrepentant philandering, O’Reilly dwells there for a little bit too long, especially considering that this is an account of his death more than his life. There is no good reason for it, except that it is lascivious and, therefore, captivating. This book may still be worth listening to if you want to better understand one of America’s defining moments, but do be aware of that unfortunate secondary emphasis. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine CullenI listened to Columbine this summer, long before the tragedy in Newtown. Somehow recent events have made the shootings at Columbine High School seem even more tragic. Years after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered one teacher and twelve of their fellow students, Cullen assembled the facts and did his utmost to separate truth from error and fact from fiction. The book’s editorial description says it well: “Over the course of this gripping narrative, Dave Cullen approaches his subjects with unrivaled care and insight. What emerges are shattering portraits of the killers, the victims, and the community that suffered one of the greatest—and most socially and historically important—shooting tragedies of the 20th century.” One of the greatest lessons may be that it will take years before we can really know what happened at Newtown, Connecticut. It will take that long for the reports to be gathered and filtered. In the end, much of what we think we know will be corrected. (Buy it at Amazon or Audible)

December 31, 2012

Happy New Year - Paul Tripp offers a lot of wisdom when it comes to resolutions. “Few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution.”

How Not to Read Your Bible - “When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You’re motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.” Well and good. But here is some counsel on how not to read your Bible in 2013. Meanwhile, once you’ve decided how to read the Bible well, here are some Bible-reading plans that may help.

Holland vs The Netherlands - Here’s a funny and fascinating video explaining why you should stop referring to The Netherlands as Holland. Good luck following it all the way to the end.

True Religion - “It is popular today to decry the word ‘religion.’ And I suppose the goal here is a good one: to show the futility and falseness of a ritualistic, cold, unlively, practices of religious stuff. At the same time the word religion is a biblical word, used in James 1:27. It describes the practice of godliness.”

The Danger of Theological Novelty - C. Michael Patton nails it in this article about theological novelty. “You see, in theology, for many people ‘in the know,’ once something becomes mainstream, it becomes disqualified. Once it becomes too popular or normal, it becomes naive. Once everyone thinks it is correct, it is no longer qualified to be  anything but a foil for the correct. We become theological swingers whose end is not to find the truth, but simply to swing to the next partner.”

23 Reasons to Be Joyful - Here, from the book of Philippians, are 23 reasons to be joyful.

God often comforts us, not by changing the circumstances of our lives, but by changing our attitude toward them. —S.H.B. Masterman

December 30, 2012

This is the seventeenth installment in a series on theological terms. See previous posts on the terms theology, Trinity, creation, man, Fall, common grace, sin, righteousness, faith, pride, election, revelation, atonement, adoption, sanctification and incarnation.

“For what is idolatry if not this: to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself?” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36) Calvin summarizes well what it means to commit idolatry. Idolatry may well be in full view in the days to come as so many of us make our New Year’s resolutions. Do we make these resolutions because we want to honor God? Or are we resolving to do things that make us feel better about the idols we worship? Losing weight may be a noble goal, but not if we want to lose weight for all the wrong reasons.

The clearest places we see idolatry defined in Scripture are in two similar passages from Paul’s epistles:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

In both of these passages, idolatry is used synonymously with covetousness. The Greek word behind covetousness (pleonexia) is defined as “the state of desiring to have more than one’s due,” which is to say that a covetous person is not content with what they’ve been alloted by God—including God himself—and so they are constantly looking elsewhere for their satisfaction. Does that sound at all familiar?

This means that idolatry is the same as covetousness in the sense that, as people remain (or become) discontent with who God is and what he has done for them, they look elsewhere for satisfaction. They divert their eyes from the Giver and look to his gifts for their fulfillment. This can include all sorts of physical pleasures, none of which is inherently bad—food, sex, exercise—as well as intangible things like ambition, productivity, learning, and social acceptance. As Tim Keller has taught us, anything can be, and everything has been, an idol.

The lesson for us in these, the final days of an old year, is to choose our New Year’s resolutions carefully and biblically.

December 29, 2012

When the Perfect Comes - “Another year is passing away. Thank God. Not only for the massive amounts of unquantifiable grace we have received from him, but also because we are one year closer to the passing away of this partial age and all of its incumbent sorrow and weariness.”

2013 Book Awards - Christianity Today has announced the winners of their 2013 Book Awards.

10-Point Inventory - “The following 10 point inventory is meant for personal use not for judging others. It could be used to help others examine their own hearts but I offer this word of caution because lists and tests are too often used legalistically in ways that promote sinful pride.” Cautions aside, it’s a helpful list.

Notable Anniversaries in 2013 - Here are some encouragements and challenges from the past—anniversaries we will mark this year.

Does Anyone Care About Hobby Lobby? - Denny Burk is “astonished that more Americans aren’t in an uproar about what is happening to Hobby Lobby right now.” 

The Magnificent Tyranny of the Gospel - David Murray is sharing a series of videos based on his book How Sermons Work.

Popularity has slain more prophets of God than persecution ever did. —Vance Havner

December 28, 2012

Free Stuff Fridays
This week’s Free Stuff Friday is sponsored by CBD Reformed. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of them will win the following 3 books:

  • Delighting in the TrinityDelighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves - Retail Price $15.00
  • The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung – Retail Price $17.99
  • City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner - Retail price $19.99

In addition, CBD Reformed is offering a 4-day sale (December 28 - 31) on the following three products:

You don’t have to win the prizes to take advantage of those three deals.

Giveaway Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

December 28, 2012

Where Was God’s Goodness in 2012? - Articles like this remind me why I have such respect for John Piper. “As this year ends, the question I am asking is: Where was God when so many good things happened this past year? … How can God be righteous and do so much good to us who are so unrighteous?”

From This Life to the Next - Steve Kryger has a fantastic article on New Year’s resolutions in this mainstream publication. He introduces Jonathan Edwards subtley and then full force. Well done!

Invisible Animals - “Whether they are hunters or the hunted, these cunning animals are all masters of disguise who can fool even the most beady-eyed passer by into believing they are not there.” There are some amazing pictures here.

The Hypostatic Union - Shai Linne shares a new track from a forthcoming album titled, appropriately, “Lyrical Theology.” You can listen to it for free.

The Quiet Place - Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ new daily devotional for women, The Quiet Place, is down to $5.99 on the Kindle. Also, a new ebook from Desiring God titled Still Not Professionals is available to download for free at Desiring God’s site.

2012 in Numbers - Joe Carter compiles a long list of numbers related to the year that was.

The more light that is given, the harder the human heart must become to reject it. —Erwin Lutzer

December 27, 2012

Let me allow you in to a little secret of the blogosphere: The week between Christmas and New Years is the slowest week of the year for site visits. We are all busy and distracted and otherwise out of our routines, so traffic to blogs plummets to a mere forty or fifty percent of the usual. For that reason you’ll find many bloggers treading water, so to speak. Instead of investing a whole lot of effort in articles and series that will be missed by so many readers, they create lists and other lesser forms of content. For example, they might provide a round-up of the top stories at their blog from the previous year.

Speaking of which, I recently looked at the top articles of 2012 and was really surprised by what bubbled to the top. So here they are, as rated by the simple metric of page views, a measure of how many people pulled up the various pages in their browsers.

Heaven Is For Real - Heaven Is For Real continues to sell, though two or three of the competing “I went to heaven” books have given it some stiff competition in the genre.

Jesus Calling - Though my review of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling was written in mid-2011, it continued to be read in 2012.

In Which I Ask Ann Voskamp’s Forgiveness - My review of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (#5 on this list) provides the context for this follow-up article.

Smilingly Leading You to Hell - Here’s one that I chewed over for months before finally posting it. It suggests that the attribute of “niceness” is a-biblical and massively over-rated.

Competitive Mothering - This article from May struck a nerve, though I can’t remember if it was a good or bad one.

One Thousand Gifts - My review of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts takes the #5 spot for the year.

I Looked For Love In Your Eyes - This is an older article, a sad poem looking at the effects of pornography, that received some attention last year.

Visual Theology - My series of Visual Theology infographics caught on. I will group several of them together here, though they were the #3, #4 and #5 pages: The Order of Salvation, The Books of the Bible, The Attributes of God.

Real Marriage - I considered Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll a very disappointing book on marriage and critiqued it for much of what it teaches about sex.

Created To Be His Helpmeet - As I pulled up the list of this year’s most-read articles, I was very surprised to see this as the most-read. This review of Debi Pearl’s book on being a wife—an offensive and mean-spirited book that goes far beyond what Scripture teaches—must have resonated with others.

I guess the big takeaway here is that book reviews continue to lead the way. More specifically, critical reviews of popular books continue to lead the way. Not only that, but even the articles that were not book reviews, were in some way related to controversy (with the exception of Visual Theology). Clearly controversy sells, and people look to the blogosphere to help them sort through the compelling issues.

December 27, 2012

There are a few Kindle deals from Christian Focus that may interest you: Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner is at $2.99, while Planting for the Gospel by Graham Beynon is $0.99. William Still’s The Work of the Pastor is supposed to drop today as well (to $2.99), though I don’t see the change yet.

Top Theology Stories of 2012 - Collin Hansen looks back at the year that was and digs up what he considers the top theology stories of 2012. I tend to agree with most of his picks. Meanwhile, you can visit Gene Veith’s blog to see the top news stories as chosen by Associated Press. 

The Offended Brother - Dave Kraft: “Good leadership is about maintaining healthy relationships in all directions. Here are a few examples of my own experience with people who have been offended.”

Sworn Virgins of Albania - I had never heard of this odd cultural tradition: “For her project Sworn Virgins of Albania, photographer Jill Peters visited to the mountain villages of northern Albania to capture portraits of ‘burneshas,’ or females who have lived their lives as men for reasons related to their culture and society.”

The Largest Mass Execution - “It was the day after Christmas, 1862, in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, that 38 Dakota warriors were hanged at the order of president Abraham Lincoln. After 150 years, it is still the largest mass execution in American history.”

Evil and the Purposes of God - Joey Newton takes a look at evil and the purposes of God, a much-discussed and always-relevant topic.

The best use of one’s life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. —Oswald Sanders