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Tim Challies

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christian living

4 years 8 months ago
Is it bad form to review a book I was involved in publishing? Perhaps so. Either way, I intend to do just that this morning. Many months ago I read a draft of Grieving, Hope, and Solace by Albert Martin, a book that was subsequently published by Cruciform Press (of which I am a co-founder). It wasn’t until this weekend that I thought to read the final product that had emerged after the editing process. I was so blessed by this little book that I just had to let you know about it.

Grieving, Hope, and Solace, as you probably surmised from the title, is a book about death. More particularly, it is a book about Christians and death. The book arose from a question Albert Martin grappled with following the death of  Marilyn, his wife of 48 years: “Although in many ways she had been taken from me incrementally during her battle with that wretched disease, the reality of the finality of death and the radical separation it effects swept over me. A few moments later, as I picked up her lifeless body, I found myself asking the question—What precisely has just happened to Marilyn? What has she experienced, and what is she experiencing now? Immediately I knew that if I would grieve as I ought, I had to be able to answer that question out of the Scriptures with absolute certainty.” 

He knew that one whole chapter of his life had closed and that the Lord was now calling him to something new. Whatever that new thing was, he wanted to glorify God in it. “I felt very keenly the pressure of 1 Corinthians 10:31, ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [including grieving the loss of a godly wife], do all to the glory of God.’” Even in his grief he wanted to honor the Lord.

As a lifelong preacher he set himself to the task of preparing sermons that would search out and explain what the Bible teaches about death, about what his wife was experiencing and about how he was to react in his grief. The sermons formed the basis for this book, though I am glad to say that it does not read like a sermon series. It is, in fact, a wonderful little book that is packed full of hope and faith and gospel.

In a broad sense the book deals with two big themes: The first theme, which is the subject of four chapters, is the intermediate state, which is to say the state his wife enjoys in death. What happened to his wife at the moment she died and what is she currently experiencing? Martin teaches that she has been endowed with Christ’s perfection, that she has entered Christ’s presence, that she has entered the company of the saints, and that she has entered the promised rest. One of the sweetest things he teaches here is this lesson:

In those first days after Marilyn’s home-going, in my effort to handle the deep and crushing grief of my loss, I sought to frame into little maxims the various aspects of the biblical principles with which I wrestled. I would repeat these words to myself and they helped me greatly: Albert, think more of what Marilyn has gained than of what you have lost. I reminded myself again and again that she had gained that which is the burning desire of every true believer, even her complete and final release from all sin.

What sweet comfort there is in knowing that your loss, deep and crushing though it may be, pales in comparison to what has been gained by the person who died in Christ.

The second theme, which is the subject of five short chapters, is the focal points for biblical grieving. The big lesson for me in this section is laid out right away: “If truth will discipline even our grieving (Philippians 4:8), we must think more frequently of what Jesus has gained by this death than upon what we have lost. This is because, at the moment the soul of a Christian is separated from his or her body, Jesus Christ our Savior partially fulfills at least three things: the divine purpose for his own sacrifice, the desire of God’s heart, and holy joy.” That axiom, that we are to think more of what Jesus has gained than what we have lost, is transformative in grief. As deep as our loss is, just imagine the joy of Christ who now sees the person he died for made perfect.

In the rest of this part of the book Martin looks at what our loved one has gained, the shared hope of Christians, God’s purposes in us through this death, and what we have gained. The book closes with calls to encouragement in the gospel for the believer, and to turn to and believe the gospel for the unbeliever. 

Grieving, Hope, and Solace was a great source of encouragement to me. It shares a wealth of wisdom gained in a lifetime of studying Scripture and put to the test in a deep loss. Let me leave you with an endorsement written by Joseph Pipa who, I think, says it really well:

Occasionally, serendipitously, we stumble upon a rare finding: turning the corner and being met by a glorious moonrise, discovering a painter or musician who touches us in the deepest recesses of our being, or reading a special book. This little book by Pastor Al Martin has been such an experience for me; written from profound biblical insight, tested by experience, Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ is a delightful, edifying book, which you will want to read and re-read. Whether you are a pastor or counselor, one who is experiencing the pangs of grief, or a member of the church who wants to useful to others, you need to read this book. Of particular use to me, is how the book helps one to train his mind and emotions for the ‘rough door of death.’

4 years 9 months ago
It is unlikely that I am the only father who is more than a little bit intimidated at the thought of raising daughters. Terrified and overwhelmed is more like it. If I didn’t have strong, Christian role models to emulate (my own parents among them), I might just despair. One of the early lessons I have learned (I’m still relatively new to this—my girls are just 9 and 5) is the value of daddy dates, which is to say, taking out my daughters and spending time alone with them.

Greg Wright is a motivational speaker and executive coach whose challenge is twice as tough as mine; he has 4 daughters. Wright is the author of a new book titled Daddy Dates: Four Daughters, One Clueless Dad, and His Quest to Win Their Hearts. The book showed up in my mailbox the other day and I just had to read it. This wasn’t a tough thing to do since a) it’s only 210 pages long, b) those 210 pages are quite small with a lot of them being blank, c) the book is meant to be easy-to-read and d) I know that I need help in this very subject.

What this book is not is yet another parenting book on how to lead your children from the cradle to the wedding day. The focus is narrower than that. Wright seeks to help fathers pursue the hearts of their daughters. He does this primarily by pointing to his own example; the book is a memoir of sorts in which he shares lessons—the good and bad—from 18 years of raising girls.

And this, where he points to his own example, is where the book shines. Where it lags a slittle bit is where he goes along on brief forays into some kind of personality profiling. He has great advice on pursuing daughters, from asking them on a date (He just calls them and asks if they’d like to go on a date with daddy that night), to what not to do on those dates (Hint: leave your cell phone muted and in your pocket), to specific suggestions for activities and special events, to teaching how to understand the ways in which girls communicate. It’s all quite helpful, hopeful and, perhaps best of all, doable.

I know that it can be unfair to criticize a book for what it is not, but you’ll have to indulge me for just a moment. As much as this book contains a lot of practical advice and sound wisdom, what it does not contain is gospel. There is not a Bible verse to be found. There is not a single mention of the role the local church can provide in raising daughters. And, in fact, the only way you could guess that Wright is a Christian is by his publisher (Thomas Nelson) and the fact that he mentions a brief time of prayer the family enjoys each morning. As much as the book is useful and practical, it could have been much more so had Wright explicitly grounded what he teaches in the words of the Bible. While that is not a fatal flaw in the book, it is a noteworthy one.

I suppose I see this book as being like a recipe—the kind of recipe that looks good, but not quite delicious. Yet you look at that recipe and know exactly what you need to add to really make it a masterpiece. If you take Daddy Dates and add to it the gospel and spiritual conversation—perhaps by also reading Jay Younts’ Everyday Talk or another book like it, you will have the makings of what I hope can be some beautiful, meaningful, memorable times with the girls the Lord has entrusted to you. And for that reason and in that context I gladly commend Daddy Dates.

5 years 1 month ago
One of my favorite conference moments to date has been an interaction between John MacArthur and John Piper. The details are a bit hazy, but if memory serves me correct, they were participating in a panel discussion and the moderator asked them about depression. Piper described some of the darkest hours of his life and ministry, saying that for a long period of time—months or years—he wept every day. Then it was MacArthur’s turn to speak and he said, “I’ve never been depressed for a day in my life.” It was a practical statement, I think, devoid of any kind of judgment. It was simply the truth. I may not remember it perfectly, but it happened something like that. And it set in stark contrast how two men, both used mightily by the Lord, can have such different experiences and such different dispositions.

Christians get depressed too. This statement may seem a wee bit trite, but it’s an important message and one Christians need to hear. Too many people have been taught that Christians—true Christians, good Christians, real Christians—don’t get depressed or that depression is always the outworking of serious sin. This heaps guilt and anguish upon those who are already suffering mental or emotional pain. Is my depression a result of a sin I’ve committed against God? Is there a sin I need to confess to make it all go away? Am I even a Christian? With the anguish comes stigma so that those who suffer so often suffer in silence, afraid and ashamed to admit what they are going through. Many Christians sympathize with physical pain but roll their eyes at emotional pain.

The message at the heart of David Murray’s little book about depression is all in the title—Christians Get Depressed Too. This message is remarkably liberating. Immediately it clears away so many of the dangerous and unhelpful misconceptions. We wouldn’t want this to give license to wallow in depression, but we would want it to allow us to see and believe and understand that for many people depression is to the fallen mind what illness is to the fallen body. The book follows a simple six-chapter structure:

  • The Crisis - A list of eight reasons that we ought to study this topic.
  • The Complexity - The attitude and the spirit Christians should maintain when they study this topic. Here Murray asks Christians to avoid extremes and to pursue balance while also avoiding dogmatism and seeking humility.
  • The Condition - In this chapter Murray defines depression and offers a list of ways in which it may work itself out in life.
  • The Causes - In what may be the most important chapter in the book, Murray discusses the varying causes of depression.
  • The Cures - There are many ways to cure depression. To answer the question everyone is asking, Murray recommends the careful and measured use of medication in some circumstances.
  • The Caregivers - How friends and family members and pastors are to care for those who are depressed.

I believe this book’s greatest strength is its liberating message that depression does not need to be a source of shame and that it should not carry a taboo that causes those who suffer from it to hide away in shame. At the same time, it should not cause other people to respond with shock or scolding or judgment. Murray does a good job of aligning depression—mental or emotion suffering—with the physical suffering we all encounter in life. Though it may be caused by sin or aggravated by sin, we must not allow ourselves to assume that this is always the case.

Another strength is the book’s measured, pastoral tone. Too much writing on this subject falls prey to broad strokes and sweeping judgments. Murray makes it clear that he is no stranger to depression; he has faced it in his ministry and “among friends and some of those I love most in this world.” This leads him to speak carefully, to speak sensitively, and to use nuance where nuance is warranted. The person who is dealing with depression, with anxiety or with panic attacks will find sympathy and hope in the words of this book and in the gospel message it depends upon.

Weighing in at just 100 pages, Christians Get Depressed Too is short enough that it can be read by those who are suffering; where a 200 or 300 page book may be too much, this one is short and accessible and urgent. It is also a valuable read for those who are trying to help friends or family members who are dealing with depression. It’s just the kind of book that is the right size and the right price to purchase a few to keep on hand, ready to give away—and I pretty much guarantee the opportunity will present itself before long. It will prove a valuable resource for the pastor or counselor or pretty much everyone else. I highly recommend it.

5 years 5 months ago
I have a love-hate relationship with money. I think most people do. On the one hand money is a necessity—a resource we depend upon, a resource we need if we are to live and thrive in this world. On the other hand money is spiritually captivating, a resource that offers a particularly insightful look into our hearts. Money is the topic of Randy Alcorn’s new book Managing God’s Money. This is a biblical guide to managing our money with an eye to eternity.

Many of you know that this is not Alcorn’s first book on money. I believe it is actually his third, so let me tell you how it fits into the Alcorn canon. While I haven’t read Money, Possessions, and Eternity or The Treasure Principle, my perception is that this book fits right between the two. In the book’s final pages Alcorn writes, “I wrote Managing God’s Money to serve as a small and inexpensive resource that covers a lot of ground in addressing financial stewardship with an eternal perspective.” More ground than The Treasure Principle but less than Money, Possessions, and Eternity. To that end it is printed as a mass market paperback and priced at just $5.99 (or $3.99 for Kindle).

Let me tell you how Alcorn goes about addressing this issue. He does so in six sections: Money and Possessions, Perspectives that Impede Faithful Money Management, Our Stewardship in Eternity’s Light, Giving and Sharing God’s Money and Possessions, Wisely Handling God’s Money and Possessions, and Passing the Baton of Wise Stewardship. As you would expect, he progresses from biblical teaching on the foundations of money to the way we use our money to the way we teach others how to use their money.

A few principles underly much of what Alcorn teaches.

  • Ownership: all of our money belongs to God.
  • Stewardship: we are to be faithful managers of God’s money.
  • Morality: money is not evil; however, it can be used to expose the evil that inhabits our hearts.
  • Materialism: we are drawn toward desiring and idolizing money and possessions.
  • The Treasure Principle: you cannot take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

These are a few of the most important big-picture principles that bind the book together. Working in his trademark question and answer format, Alcorn teaches how we can (and must) handle our money and possessions in a way that honors God. This is no-holds-barred stuff; he teaches that most of us have neglected our responsibility to give deeply, consistently and generously. He rebukes the materialism that inhabits the church to almost the same extent that it inhabits the world. He calls for a radical rethinking of the way most of us relate to our money.

Speaking personally, I found the book very convicting. I read it in the run-up to a series I am building on this very topic, and this book has given me a lot to think about. There may be times in which Alcorn overstates the case just a little bit, but even then, I need to do more study to really determine if this is the case. My impulse as I finished the book was to empty my bank account and give it all away. If only it were that easy. A couple of days later my thoughts have (thankfully) moderated a little bit. But I don’t think I’ll lose the heart of what Alcorn teaches here. The primary takeaway for me is a simple one, but one I needed to ponder: All I have belongs to God; he is the owner and I am merely the manager. My house, my car, my bank account—all of these belong to him. it is my responsibility to ensure that I am seeing them not as my possessions but as his. This then puts me in the proper context of a manager. That is a critical difference that is already changing the way I think about all that he has entrusted to me.

Managing God’s Money is a powerful little book and a very helpful one. It’s priced low enough that just about anyone can afford to buy it and read it. And if you read it, I’m sure you’ll benefit from it.

5 years 10 months ago
I do not generally consider myself a worrier. I am more the easy-going type—the kind who is generally carefree and and does not succumb to fear. Or so I like to think. But even then I have to admit that I can be fearful—I can give in to the temptation to worry. Even if I worry about the things I consider “big,” I prove to myself that I am still a worrier at heart. And to tell the truth, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t worry about something at sometime. We all tend to feel fear at one time or another; we all tend to be afraid of life, of what it brings, or of what we think it might bring in the future.

Running Scared is a book for fearful people, which is to say that it is a book for everybody. It is notable not only for its subject matter, but for its author—Edward Welch who has written, among other highly regarded titles When People Are Big and God Is Small. The book is divided into thirty chapters and Welch encourages the reader to tackle one chapter per day and to not return to the next until he has taken the time to discuss each one with another person. The chapters fall into two uneven parts, one with four and the other with twenty six chapters.

Welch begins with some initial observations, perhaps the most important of which is in the third chapter. It is here that he reveals that “fear speaks.” This is to say that fear tells us about…us. It tells us about how we understand ourselves, about how we understand God and how we understand the world around. Fear is “a door to spiritual reality.” “There is a close connection,” Welch says, “between what we fear and what we think we need. … Whatever you need is a mere stone’s throw from what you fear.” That statement is profound and well worth further consideration. It is little wonder that Welch suggests pausing often to ponder. Another point that I found worth of extra attention was this one: “Worriers live in the future.” Worriers are constantly looking into the future and using their imaginations to construct their own version of what the future will look like—what it must look like based on their understanding of what has happened, what will happen, and how God works.

Here is where adult imaginations show their mettle. Imaginations are our ability to consider things that don’t presently exist. Sometimes we call it vision. A visionary is one who looks ahead and envisions the trajectory of a church, business, or individual life. A talented visionary is one who can see future possibilities and persuade others of that future. Visionaries are rarely right (at least in the details), tend to be optimistic, and are always confident.

What does this have to do with worry? “Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.” Ouch. Worriers construct worse case scenario futures for themselves and begin to believe that these futures must be theirs. In this way they take on the role of prophets, but only of false prophets. And we all know what the Bible prescribes for false prophets…

Having shared his initial observations, Welch turns to the voice of God, providing a series of chapters in which “God speaks.” God first speaks about some general principles related to fear and worry and then to more specific matters—money and possessions; people and their judgments; death, pain and punishment; and then peace. Each chapter turns to Scripture for its authority and each concludes with a point or two of a personal response of application or reflection.

With surprise I admit that this is my first foray into the books of Edward Welch (though it certainly will not be my last). He has quite a unique writing style, one that made me think of Mark Buchanan with maybe a few shades of Max Lucado or Phillip Yancey (which in this case I mean to be a compliment). He writes conversationally, almost poetically, but also exegetically, drawing what he teaches primarily from the Bible. It is clear that he relies on Scripture as his authority and his source.

For someone who does not consider himself much of a worrier, I was surprised to find that this book offered me a lot to think about; it offered me a challenge to see where (not if) I worry. And as it offered the biblical diagnosis, it offered also the biblical cure. It showed me that worry, though usually a hidden sin and perhaps even a sin that most often seems harmless, is a sin that impacts my life and serves to distance me from the God who says time and time again, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. The Lord give you peace.” It showed me most clearly of all that the way I feel about fear and worry is a sure indication of what I believe about God.

Running Scared is a book I highly recommend. I think you’ll want to add it to your library as well.

5 years 11 months ago
The issue of homosexuality is one in which the church has not done so well over the years. The majority of Christians have long held fast to the clear teaching of Scripture—that homosexuality is against God’s plan for the people he created and that homosexuality is a serious sin, one that manifests a particular hardness of heart. In all of this Christians have honored God, I am convinced. But where Christians have been less than exemplary is in a commitment to engage the very difficult issues. I am beginning to see a lot of growth here, but the fact remains—Christians tend to engage the issue of homosexuality on only a surface level. We have easy answers that, to those who demand them, are not at all satisfying.

Wesley Hill has had to engage this issue in a far more serious way. Hill is a Christian and he is gay. Now I know many will get no further than this phrase: gay Christian. Hill uses that phrase as a kind of shorthand to express that he is a Christian—an evangelical who holds to the tenets of the Chrisitan faith, but he is also a man who is homosexual in what seems to be his natural orientation or inclination. He has always been attracted to men and only men. He has remained celibate through all his life, convicted and enabled by the Holy Spirit not to act out his sexuality. But hope and pray as he might, he cannot change his inability to be attracted to women. I am not crazy about the phrase gay Christian, but will use it in this review while adding it to my growing list of things to think about in the future.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is his attempt to answer some of the most difficult questions, and to answer them not in an abstract sense, but from the perpsective of someone who has labored over them and shed many tears along the way. What does it mean for gay Christians to be faithful to God while struggling with the challenge of their homosexuality? What is God’s will for believers who experience same-sex desires? How can gay Christians experience God’s favor and blessing in the midst of a struggle that for many brings a crippling sense of shame and guilt? These are the questions the church needs to be willing and equipped to answer. We have to be able to do better than “Homosexuality is wrong.” And that’s what this book is all about.

Hill maintains throughout the book that homosexuality is a result of the Fall. Never does he soften this or backpedal on it. Never does he seek to excuse his inclination to homosexuality anymore than he’d downplay any other sin. What I most appreciate about Washed and Waiting is his ability to take us inside his struggle. We all have sins we struggle with; we all have what seem to be besetting sins. Why should we read a book about those who naturally tend toward homosexuality instead of those who naturally tend toward lying or cheating or some other sin? I would answer that in two ways. In the first place, issues of sexuality and sexual identity strike very, very close to the core of a person. A person who is drawn to shoplifting does not self-identify as a thief. That is not his identity. But a person who is homosexual truly does identify that way. It is a major part of who he is. And hence it is a very difficult sin to deal with. In the second place I would say that society is feeding all of us, those who go to church and those who do not, all kinds of false messages about homosexuality and we need to be equipped to respond in a robust way—in a way that shows we truly understand the issue on more than a surface level. This isn’t about yucky sexual deeds—the “yuck factor” (a term that I believe was first coined by C. Gerald Fraser in the early 80’s). It is about people made in God’s image who seem to have a part of their core identity that through the reality of sin is just plain miswired.

Let me share just a few poignant parts of the book:

To say no over and over again to some of my deepest, strongest, most recurring longings often seems, by turns, impossible and completely undesirable. If a gay Christian’s sexual orientation is so fixed and ingrained that there seems to be little hope of changing it, should he or she really be expected to resist it for a lifetime?

What other group in contemporary society does the church confront as directly and sharply as it does homosexual people? Heterosexuals are at least given the option of marriage and thus the possibility of having their sexual urges satisfied. For homosexual Christians, there is no such possibility.

When we homosexual Christians bring our sexuality before God, we begin or continue a long, costly process of having it transformed. From God’s perspective, our homoerotic inclinations are like the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst. Yet when God begins to try to change the craving and give us the living water that will ultimately quench our thirst, we scream in pain, protesting that we were made for salt. The change hurts.

While those in the grip of Christ’s love will never experience ultimate defeat, there is a profound sense in which we must face our struggles now knowing there may be no real relief this side of God’s new creation. We may wrestle with a particular weakness all our lives. But the call remains: Go into battle.

I particularly appreciated Hill’s comparisons of homosexuality and singleness. After all, for the homosexual who is a Christian seeking to live in a God-honoring way, he has been called to a life of singleness. This puts him in a category with many Christians who desire relational intimacy, who desire sexual intimacy, and yet who have to deny themselves these things simply because it seems that God’s plans do not include them. And in that way, his struggle may be quite similar to another single person—one who does not necessarily feel called to a life of celibate singleness, but one whom God has not blessed with a spouse. Of course there are still differences; a heterosexual may hold out hope that he will meet a member of the opposite sex with whom he will fall in love; the homosexual, unless his desires are changed, will never have that opportunity. This brings about a deep loneliness and a deep lack of fulfillment. Just recently I was speaking to a pastor who has a man attending his church who appears to have been saved, and yet this man, homosexual but celibate, continues to live with his “husband.” While he is able to forego sex for the sake of his commitment to Christ, he cannot bear to part with the man he has shared his life with. I trust that eventually God will allow him to sever this relationship, painful though it may be. But once more, it points to one of the deep and difficult issues that we tend to ignore when we think about homosexuality.

While Hill does not deny the reality that God does at times choose to change a homosexual’s orientation, in many cases, and in his case, God has not done so. He longs to be attracted to women and some of his desires here are nearly heart-rending to read. And yet the fact remains that he simply is not attracted to women and has been unable to remedy that.

In this book Hill offers deep reflections from three people—himself, Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Both of those other men were apparently homosexual and both wrestled deeply with their sexuality, eventually choosing not to practice homosexuality. Of course the other thing that is true of those men is that they were Roman Catholic. Hill, then, necessarily draws upon people, mentors of sorts, whose understanding of the gospel would be far different than what evangelicals would hold to. I was a little disappointed to see his reliance upon these men and yet it made me think that this may be one more way in which evangelicals have probably been less than exemplary: there are few who have been willing to reveal their deep-rooted struggles with their sexuality. I could be wrong here, but it seems that a man seeking to reconcile Scripture and a homosexual orientation may find few other mentors.

It may be that this book’s greatest strength is its ability to take us deep inside the struggle. Those of us who have never struggled with this sin have probably never considered all of the difficulties that come with it—all of the feelings of guilt and shame, remorse and hopelessness. 1 Corinthians tells us that when one member of Christ’s body suffers, all suffer together. This book invites us into the suffering experienced by some of our brothers and sisters. There are things I wish Hill had done better, times I think he could have addressed issues differently, but his book remains powerful, always looking to Scripture, always seeking God’s will.

At the end of it all (160 pages or so) we are left with Hill calling on gay Christians to remain committed to celibacy and to find fulfillment not in pursuing their bodily desires, but in pursuing Christ. I was glad to see him point to the power of the local church in finding the kind of relational fulfillment that so many homosexuals are simply unable to find in other ways. He points to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and working through the church, he points to the tough reality that life on this side of eternity may offer no transformation of desire. And yet he declares the truth that any of us, including gay Christians, live in this world washed and waiting—free from the guilt of sin, from the stain of sin, while eagerly awaiting the day when all is made new.

Washed and Waiting is by no means the final word on this topic and it is marked by a few weaknesses. But I do consider it quite a valuable read, predominantly for the diagnosis and to a lesser extent for the suggested cure. It speaks of an issue that Christians just can’t afford to ignore.

6 years 6 months ago
I have been a Christian for two decades now and cannot deny it—the Bible is a difficult book to understand. Sure there are parts of it that are so simple that even a child can explain them. But to know the Bible well, to know how it all fits together, to know how it applies to me all these years after it was written, requires dedication, hard work and skill. Though there are many books that teach how to dig into the Word and to learn from it, many do so in a way that is difficult to understand for new Christians or young Christians. Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach steps nicely into that void.

“This is a book to help you understand the Bible correctly. … We want to help you to dig deeper and find hidden riches in the Bible. We hope that parts of the Bible that previously seemed like gobbledygook will begin to make sense, and that bits that were clear already will become even more vivid and gripping.” They go on to say, “Most of all, we want to help you do all this for yourself.” While acknowledging the place of pastors and Bible experts, they want individual Christians to know that God has equipped them to understand the Bible on their own. And in this book they give them the tools they will need to begin to dig into the Bible on their own, mining its infinite riches.

The format is very straightforward. The book is to be understood as a kind of toolkit with each chapter adding another tool to the set. Each chapter has many examples and illustrations from the Bible. And, of course, there are exercises that give the reader a chance to practice using these tools on his own.

Among the tools are:

  • The author’s purpose tool
  • The context tool
  • The structure tool
  • The linking words tool
  • The vocabulary tool
  • The translations tool
  • The repetition tool
  • The genre tool
  • The Bible time line tool

Though no passage will require all of these tools, the reader will soon find that he can apply several of them to any passage and in that way begin to build his knowledge of it.

Ideal for young Christians or Christians who are eager to begin a new depth of Bible study, Dig Deeper does just what it promises—it provides tools for understanding the Word of God. In his praise for the book Kent R. Hughes says that he will keep a few copies handy to give to others and even to refresh his own preaching. And Jay Thomas, who serves as College Pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, says that he would be glad to put it into the hands of any of his students. This exactly that kind of book—one to read and one to keep on-hand, ready to give away. I recommend it for both purposes.


6 years 7 months ago
Blogs often have a living quality to them, where an author picks up older content, improves it, and posts it again. I’ve been known to do this and have seen plenty of other bloggers do the same. And why not, really. The medium lends itself well to that kind of change and growth and evolution. Occasionally those who write books have the opportunity to do the same thing, to take an older book, improve it, add to it, and print it again. Such is the case with R.C. Sproul’s Surprised by Suffering. First released by Tyndale House in 1988, it has subsequently be expanded and re-released by Reformation Trust, typically a sign that the rights to the book had reverted back to the author.

Surprised by Suffering deals with “The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life” (according to the subtitle). And it deals with it well. Sproul wants the reader to know that, though death is a foreign state to humanity, one that came about only by the fall into sin, it is nonetheless inevitable and something that God expects us to do well. “Death is unnatural. It may be natural to fallen man, but it was not natural to man as he was created. Man was not created to die. He was created with the possibility of death, but not with the necessity of death. Death was introduced as a consequence of sin. If there had been no sin, there would be no death. But when sin entered, the curse of the fall was added. All suffering and death flow out of the complex of sin.”

Here Sproul writes about a wide variety of topics relating to suffering and death, with the first half of the book looking at life leading up to death and the second half looking at life after death. A book that is pastoral in its tone, Sproul offers hope to the Christian as he faces the inevitability of suffering and dying.

There is a sense in which death is a calling, a vocation, that God demands each of us to face. “Death is a divine appointment. It is part of God’s purpose for our lives. God calls each person to die. He is sovereign over all of life, including the final experience of life.” And when God talks to us of death, he emphasizes not where or why or when we will die, but how. “When Scripture speaks of the how of death, the focus is on the spiritual state of the person at the time of his death. Here we see the ‘how’ of death reduced to only two options. We either die in faith or we die in our sins.” This leads us, of course, to the gospel which offers us the only hope we can have as our eyes close in death.

If there is a chapter that stood out to me above all the others, it is the one titled “Speculations on Life after Death.” Here I see an example of what Sproul does so well—of what sets him apart as an author. Almost without reference to Scripture, depending simply upon force of logic and common sense and Christian worldview, he undoes the arguments of some great philosophers. He writes about “oughts” and the need for judgment handed out by a perfect judge. And only in the next chapter does he turn to the Bible to show what Scripture says. Some Christians balk at this, demanding a certain number of references to Scripture as if the simple number of references correlates to the author’s faithfulness to it.

But what we see with Sproul is that his whole way of thinking has been shaped by Scripture. He can go through a chapter with little reference to the Bible because the whole way he thinks is formed by the Bible. Eventually he gets to chapter and verse in order to claim the authority of God through his Word. But first he undoes secular arguments without and yet in a way completely consistent with the Bible.

A book that is eminently quotable, full of pithy phrases to stir the heart and give hope to the suffering and dying, Surprised by Suffering has found new life in this new edition. I highly recommend it.


6 years 11 months ago
Tim Keller knows how to tell a Bible story. Like The Prodigal God before it, his latest book, Counterfeit Gods is built around them. And every time I read one of those stories, I feel like I am hearing it for the first time. I find myself lost in the story, anticipating how it could, how it might, end. In the back of my mind I know exactly how it will turn out, but somehow Keller takes me along for a ride as he tells these stories in such a fresh way. In Counterfeit Gods he tells of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jonah and Zacchaeus. Each one of these characters and the stories of their lives are used to teach the reader about the prevalence of idolatry in the Bible and in the human heart.

“The human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.” Thus anything can be an idol and, really, everything has been an idol to one person or another. The great deception of idols is we are prone to think that idols are only bad things. But evil is far more subtle than this. “We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”

What then is an idol? “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” If anything in all the world is more fundamental than God to your happiness, to your meaning in life, then that thing has become an idol. It has supplanted God in your heart and in your affections. You will pursue that thing with an abandon and intensity that should be reserved for God alone.

Having introduced idolatry and its effects in the Introduction and first chapter, Keller uses chapters two through five to discuss idols that have a particularly strong grasp on people today, though perhaps they are idols that have always drawn the hearts of men. He discusses love (and sex), money, success and power (focusing particularly on political power). Having discussed such personal idols, he spends a chapter looking at some cultural and societal idols—ones that tend to be hidden from us because they are so prevalent, so normal. Finally, he looks to “The End of Counterfeit Gods” and here he offers hope for the idolatrous. “Is there any hope? Yes, if we begin to realize that idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. … What we need is a living encounter with God.” He wraps things up in an Epilogue where he offers words that so helpfully answer the “now what?” questions. The trouble with exposing idols is that we realize that most of our idols really are good things that we’ve allowed to take on undue importance. We do not want to cast away these good things! “If we have made idols of work and family, we do not want to stop loving our work and family. Rather, we want to love Christ so much more that we are not enslaved by our attachments.” The solution is not to love good things less, but to love the best thing more!

As always, Keller is eminently quotable and is a very skilled writer. The book is excellent not only in its big picture, but also in its component parts. More importantly, it turns always to the gospel. It never leaves the reader in despair but instead points him away from his idols and toward the idol-breaker, toward the one who demands and deserves the first place in our hearts. “The way forward, out of despair, is to discern the idols of our hearts and our culture. But that will not be enough. The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one. The living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you.”

Truly, the human heart is an idol factory. Counterfeit Gods points to Scripture to help root them out, turns to the Cross to find forgiveness and points to the gospel as the power to find ultimate freedom from them. This is an excellent book and one I hope to read again, perhaps in a group setting. It is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and I commend it to you.

7 years 1 week ago
I have always found it difficult to think about sports in a distinctly Christian way. I love sports (mostly watching, occasionally playing) and want to be able to enjoy fandom guilt-free. But every now and then, when I look at another of the sports scandals or when I hear of the lives of athletes, I wonder if professional sports really is a worthwhile pastime for the Christian. By our participation as fans are we contributing to the sometimes-shocking lack of morality, to the building of massive egos, to the idolatry of the athlete? How should we, as Christians, think about these things? Christians tend toward two extremes, I think, either writing off professional athletics altogether or embracing them with unblinking acceptance. Yet I’m convinced that neither extreme is helpful. It was with interest, then, that I picked up Ted Kluck’s The Reason for Sports (you may know Kluck from his books co-written with Kevin DeYoung, Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church).

The Reason for Sports is “A Christian Fanifesto,” according to the subtitle, a series of essays on the subject. So it is not a cohesive A-Z kind of look at the topic and neither is it an apologetic for professional sports. Instead, it is a book that moves from one topic to the next, often based around articles that have been expanded from ones first printed at ESPN or elsewhere. Thus the strength of the book is not so much in the book as a whole, but in the scope of the topics it covers. Those topics include apologies (something athletes seem to have endless opportunities to practice, though few get it right), steroids and performance enhancing drugs, honest and dishonesty, pride and humility, the emptiness that the most popular athletes may feel even when at the top of their game, sports in popular film and the often perilous link between sports and sexuality. Like I said, this is a book with a broad scope!

Kluck writes from a near-insider’s perspective, having played semipro football (Arena League), having trained with pro athletes and having spent many years as a journalist in the field. The back cover says the book offers an “irreverent and contrarian look at the world of sports.” And I guess that about says it. It’s not that he is irreverent in his view toward God, but more toward sports in general. He tries to forgo easy answers in favor of thoughtful ones. And often his answers cut across the grain, so to speak.

If there is such thing as a theology of sports (and I’m sure there must be) this book is a good place to at least begin developing one. Its nature as a book of essays means that the reader will not walk away with a thorough theology, but he will still have a lot to think about as he attempts to integrate sports and faith. I can’t imagine the book will appeal much to those who care little for sports, but for the fan, this book will prove a light and enjoyable read.