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June 12, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

We’ve come to another Friday and with it, another version of Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsor is Reformation Heritage Books, the mission of which is “to glorify God and strengthen His Church through the publication and distribution of Puritan and Reformed literature.” They are offering a generous prize of 5 complete sets of their Profiles in Reformed Spirituality Set. So five winners will each claim all seven volumes.

Profiles in Reformed Spirituality

Lemuel HaynesThe newest addition to this series, written by Thabiti Anyabwile, features Lemuel Haynes and is titled May We Meet in the Heavenly World. John Saillant, author of Black Puritan, Black Republican writes this of the new book: “This well chosen selection from Lemuel Haynes’s writings represents a significant part of the earliest African-American engagements with the Reformed theological tradition. In that tradition Haynes and his black contemporaries, both American and British, found a language of justice and inspiration that allowed them to criticize slavery and racial prejudice, and to offer a Christian vision of a free society. May We Meet in the Heavenly World can be recommended to students of Christian theology and of American history.”

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.


June 12, 2009

Yesterday I described the book as The Perfect Technology. There was perhaps a little bit of hyperbole involved, but I think the point was well-taken. I was actually surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Maybe as Christians we are unusual in this regard; maybe Christians are, almost by definition, readers and, thus, people who will toss away their books only with great caution. This is good, I think, as Christians tend to be too pragmatic, prone to believe that any innovation that claims to make life immediately easier or more convenient (without violating any clear teaching of Scripture) must be good.

Today I want to carry on with a few more thoughts about reading in a digital world and I want to focus in on one issue in particular.

I have witnessed recently what I consider a disturbing trend—Christians coming to church armed not with a Bible but with an iPod or an iPhone or another hand held device. With many versions of the Bible available in electronic formats and with the widespread popularity of MP3 players, cell phones and other digital devices, I guess it just makes sense to some people to bring Scripture in that electronic format. Pragmatists that we are, I believe many Christians have done this without thinking at all about the implications.

I want to encourage you not to bring an electronic Bible to church. I want to encourage you today to bring to church a Bible—an old fashioned kind of Bible, with ink printed on paper and slapped between two covers made of cardboard or leather or pleather. I also want to encourage you not to get into the habit of doing your daily Bible reading using an electronic device. I think we stand to lose far more than we gain.

In the past couple of months I have spent a fair bit of time reading the works of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman—gurus of the technological age. I tend to prefer Postman as I find him not only more accessible but also more accurate and more realistic. McLuhan is prone to hyperbole, excessive hyperbole even, and I find that this detracts from his effectiveness as a communicator (though I know that many would disagree with me on this point).

McLuhan is undoubtedly best-known for his catchy little phrase, “the medium is the message.” It sometimes helps to emphasize that little word is as if to stress that the the medium and the message carried by that medium cannot be neatly separated. This is exactly what McLuhan emphasized time and time again—we cannot afford to fall into the trap of believing that media are neutral, simple bearers of a message. “The medium is the message.” In a classic case of McLuhian hyperbole, he would say that the content of a particular medium “has about as much importance as the stencilling on the casing of an atomic bomb.” He turns the equation right around, saying that the content is nothing, the medium is everything.

I think McLuhan makes an important point and one that we discount at our folly, though he overstates his case here and elsewhere. Still, where McLuhan is so important is in understanding that every medium carries with it a message that necessarily impacts the content. We like to think that we are smart enough, holy enough, to draw complete and utter separation between medium and content. Christians do this all the time when we assume that there is no difference between singing songs from a hymn book and singing songs via a projector and Powerpoint. We do this when we listen to sermons online instead of listening while seated in a pew. But what if we are fooling ourselves? What if the medium really does radically shape our perception, our understanding, of the content it carries? What then?

This is where Neil Postman comes in. In Technopoly Postman says that, when two technologies come into competition or conflict (two technologies such as the Bible printed on paper and the Bible on an iPod), it is more than technologies that are squaring off, but rather, entire worldviews. Every medium, he says, carries with it some kind of an ideological bias, “a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing more than another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.” Thus, again, the method we use to convey information is inseparable from the content of that information. And even more so, every medium carries with it both content but also a worldview. When we read the Bible electronically, we read the very same words, but in a way that influences us toward a different worldview, a different way of understanding the reality of those words.

Postman also adds to this discussion a phrase that is so simple but so important: a technology does what it was created to do. Over time, a technology will play out its hand, to to speak, and it may do so in ways we would not expect. Had Gutenberg known what would happen through the invention of the printing press, do we believe that he still would have invented it? That printing press was instrumental in forever changing the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a faithful son). How many other technologies have played out their hands in completely unexpected ways? Should we not be on our guard, then, when considering such new innovations?

So where does this leave us? It leaves us wondering what ideological bias, what predisposition, is carried in the book and in the electronic book. It causes us to wonder what skill or attitude is amplified in the book and what skill or attitude is amplified in the iPod.

But I will have to take this up in another article. Check in next week for that.

June 11, 2009

About a year ago I wrote a review of Amazon’s Kindle reading device. At the time, I loved it. That was then. A couple of months ago I traded my Kindle to a friend for a stack of old-fashioned ink-on-paper commentaries. This is now. I think I made a good trade. He is enjoying the Kindle and I am enjoying the commentaries. Win-win. Something changed between then and now—I came to see that all of the things that frustrated me about the Kindle were things that made it not like a book. It’s book-like qualities were it’s best qualities; it’s non-book-like qualities were the ones that got to me. All of the things that annoyed me were the things that made the experience more like operating a computer and less like reading a book. Pages took too long to turn; I could not splash yellow highlighter on the pages; I could not skim through the book looking quickly for a word or phrase or note; I could not scrawl notes in the margins. Sure, there were a few advantages—the notes I did take (saved in a text file on the Kindle) could be exported to my computer simply by plugging in a USB cable; books were less expensive and instantly added to my collection; hundreds of classics were available for free. But overall, the Kindle experience paled in comparison to the happy, familiar, comforting experience of sitting down with a book. Everything I wanted the Kindle to do, a book could do better.

Books are the perfect technology. I’m convinced of it. This is why the Kindle experience failed me—it was an attempt to make the book better. And this is impossible to do. There is no technology more perfectly suited to its purpose than this one. In comparison to the book, any e-reader falters and fails.

Consider: I can take a book from my shelf—I have 1,000 or 1,500 within six feet of me, and it is immediately on and ready to go. There is no waiting for it to boot up and no questions about its compatibility or obsolescence. I open the book and it immediately does what it was created to do, without first needing an 8-hour charge of its battery. I can store within that book a full history of my interaction with it not fearing that this will be lost when a hard drive crashes or when my hardware becomes obsolete. I can see every note, every highlight I’ve ever done. I can see how I interacted with that book—the parts of the book that brought me delight and the parts that brought me to despair. The pages turn instantly and are numbered for easy reference. When I have completed the book, I can put it back on my shelf or I can lend it to another person so he, too, can read it and, if he so desires, see how I have interacted with it. Despite being printed on dead trees, there is a living quality to books that is lost on e-readers.

Though the words in each may be the same, there is more to a book than its words. A book is an experience, and the experience includes the media through which we consume those words. Reading a book printed on paper, reading a book on a reading device and listening to a recording of a book are, at least in some way, different experiences.

Since the launch and overwhelming success of the Kindle, much ink has been spilled (scratch that and replace it with “many pixels have been lit”) discussing the future of the book. For the first time, people are now turning in large numbers to a device that allows them to read books on a gizmo that is not made of dead trees (though, ironically, the manuals telling how to use said device are still printed on dead trees). With the iPod and iPhone becoming increasingly positioned as reading devices, the chorus swells. There are hundreds of books and articles struggling to understand what it means for the word to transition from print to bits, from paper to screens. The consequences, I am convinced, are profound and I think we are prone to underestimate them.

As for me? Well, I am sure I’ll take another stab at an e-reader at some point in the future; it’s probably inevitable. But I would be awfully surprised if I ever allow such a device to become a substitute for all the ink and paper surrounding me on all sides here in my office. Unless the e-book can become more perfect than an already perfect technology, I’m going to stick with paper.

May 23, 2009

Here is another roundup of a few books I have received but have chosen not to review. Also, this week I’ll list some of the books I’ve received—ones for which I’ve not yet made a decision either way.

Encouragement: How Words Change Lives by Gordon Cheng. This little book, published by Matthias Media, seeks to teach biblical wisdom on encouragement. I stumbled across it after searching for books on encouragement and realizing that this is one of only a very few in the field. Though I read it through, I have decided not to write a full review (since it is available through so few booksellers). “According to Gordon Cheng, encouragement is not only central to our church life, it belongs to one of the most powerful themes in the whole of Scripture: the power of God’s word to change lives. That powerful word not only changes us as we hear and respond to it; but through us it changes others too.” It’s a practical book and told with a really nice amount of humor—enough to add a fun element to the book but not so much that it becomes obnoxious.

A Family Guide to the Bible by Christin Ditchfield. From the publisher: “All Christian parents want their children to gain a better understanding of God’s Word, but many of them are still searching to completely understand the Bible themselves. How can they confidently share what they believe with their families? A Family Guide to the Bible takes readers on a fun and exciting tour through all sixty-six books of the Bible and offers parents, grandparents, and teachers a better understanding of the Scriptures so they can help the children in their lives know what is in the Bible, where to find it, and how it all fits together. As Christians become more familiar with God’s Word, they will gain greater confidence as they share what they believe with their family and friends, help answer questions concerning the Bible, and encourage others to grow deeper in their walks of faith.”

Books Received

Here are some of the books that showed up this week:

The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by Albert Mohler.

Punic Wars & Culture Wars: Christian Essays on History and Teaching by Ben House.

50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from the Spiritual Giants of the Faith by Warren Wiersbe.

Do You Want a Friend? by Noel Piper.

Courage to Flee: Living a Moral Life in an Immoral World by Jeffery Klick.

Corinthian Elders by Jack Fortenberry.

The Ever-Loving Truth: Can Faith Thrive in a Post-Christian Culture? by Voddie Baucham.

The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word on Lasting Commitment by John MacArthur.

I received a few DVDs as well:

A Question of Mercy

The Late Great Planet Church: The Rise of Dispensationalism

13 Letters (This is actually a combination CD/DVD/Study kit.

May 22, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s Friday and that means I’ve got another Free Stuff Fridays for you. This week’s sponsor is Ligonier Ministries which I’m sure you know primarily as the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul. Everyone knows that Dr. Sproul has written many, many books over his career (60 titles and counting). What you may not know is that he was written several books targeted at children. And today we are giving out all four of the ones he has written. They are:

  • The Prince’s Poison Cup - In this work, Sproul focuses on the atonement to show that Jesus had to endure the curse of sin in order to redeem His people from their spiritual death.
  • The Lightlings - Sproul weaves an allegorical tale that captures the essence of the biblical story of redemption in a manner that will fascinate and delight children. A race of tiny beings known as lightlings are a picture of humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama - creation, fall, and redemption.
  • The Priest with Dirty Clothes - This book tells the story of a mud-covered priest who can only find cleansing from the Great Prince who offers “new clothes for the heart.”
  • The King Without A Shadow - A book for children highlighting through a simple story of a boy and his dog, the holiness of God.

Four winners will receive each of these four books.

Sproul Books

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 10 AM.


May 15, 2009

With books arriving at my door on a near-daily basis, I cannot hope to read and review them all. I’ll admit that quite a few of these books meet an immediately and untimely end in the trash. But many others, even though they are perfectly good, I’m simply unable to read and review. I want to draw your attention to a few of those titles today. These are books I’ve looked through and perhaps read in-part; but for one reason or another I have not read in full. They’re perfectly good books but ones that didn’t fit my review schedule.

True story: no sooner had I written this paragraph than a heard the thump of a box hitting the front step. In the box were nine new books.

In each case I’ll provide a bit of information about the book as it is provided by the publisher. I may toss in a personal note as well. And so, with apologies to the authors, here they are:

Precious BloodPrecious Blood by Richard D. Phillips
At the very heart of Christian faith is the blood of Jesus. His sin-atoning death is the divine work on which the entire structure of salvation rests and the truth on which the Christian doctrine of salvation must be built. Yet recent years have seen a pastoral neglect of the cross and a doctrinal assault from the academy. With these concerns in mind, R. C. Sproul, Philip Ryken, Joel Beeke, Derek Thomas, Carl Trueman, and Robert Godfrey have joined editor Richard Phillips in exploring the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. These noted pastors proclaim the (1) necessary, (2) redeeming, (3) cleansing, (4) atoning, (5) offensive, and (6) precious blood of our Savior in a series of essays that set the cross in its rightful place—at the forefront of salvation.


Comforts from the CrossComforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Daily comforts from the gospel of Christ provide busy Christian women with brief but deep reminders of how his truths powerfully connect to their daily lives. That’s where Elyse Fitzpatrick’s latest book comes in. Comforts from the Cross provides those well-intentioned women with bite-sized readings to remind them of their place in Christ and of his love and ministry in their busy lives. It also dusts off the facts of the gospel to show how ancient truths such as justification, sanctification, and redemption can free and enliven their souls every day. Even more, these five-minute celebrations of the gospel relieve readers of legalistic condemnation and empower them for joyful obedience by engendering fresh love for the Savior.


Divorce and RemarriageDivorce & Remarriage: A Permanence View by Jim Elliff
During these stressful days, divorce will seem like the easy way out for many. Be prepared. We are already seeing a positive affect from this comprehensive but readable book. It is very important that church leaders think through this together. Also, pastoral fraternals may ask for free copies if it will be read by participants and will be the topic of discussion for at least one fraternal meeting. This may also be just the right book for couples contemplating divorce. [Tim] I tend not to agree with Elliff’s view of remarriage. At some point I’ll read this one as I try to put more Scriptural authority behind my understanding.


From Age to AgeFrom Age to Age by Keith Mathison
sing the narrative method of biblical theology, From Age to Age traces the eschatological themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, emphasizing how each book of the Bible develops these themes that culminate in the coming of Christ and showing how individual texts fit into the overarching picture. [Tim] This looks like a great book but, because it is so thorough and because it falls within an area about which I have so little knowledge, I’ve decided to take a pass on it for now. I’m sure I’ll be turning to it in the future.


Start Your FamilyStart Your Family by Steve and Candice Watters
Starting a family is a soul-shaping, world-altering experience. Unfortunately, in a culture of competing values and protracted timelines, couples are increasingly backing their way into parenting or missing it altogether. By the time the average couple tries to have kids, they are often beyond their late twenties and surprised to learn they’re sliding past the peak of their fertile years. In Start Your Family, Steve and Candice Watters encourage couples to be intentional about their timeline in the early years of marriage and to trust God to help them boldly launch their families. Responding to the most common doubts and hurdles, they offer biblical inspiration for the questions, “Why have kids?”, “When is the best time to start?”, and “How can we fit kids into our lives?”


Believing GodBelieving God by R.C. Sproul Jr.
In his latest book, Believing God: 12 Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. challenges Christians to take a second glance at the promises of God in the Bible in order to see anew the grandeur of what God has committed Himself to do for His people. Sproul explores twelve of the most significant promises in Scripture, methodically unpacking each divine pledge. He shows that while Christians may express trust in God s words, they refuse, in numerous ways, to stake their lives on what He says. Sproul goes on to present the clear biblical meaning of each promise and strives to help his readers grasp the sheer wonder and glory of it. Biblical passages on which Sproul focuses include God s promises to forgive the sins of those who confess their transgressions to Him (1 John 1:9); to give wisdom to those who ask it of Him (James 1:5); and to give His people the desires of their hearts (Ps. 37:4). In the final analysis, the book functions as a mirror in which every reader with a teachable heart will see how he or she can more fully believe God. All Christians who appreciate careful biblical teaching and heartfelt passion for God will appreciate and benefit from this book.


Jesus on TrialJesus on Trial by James Boice and Philip Ryken
Providing crucial details about the law in Jesus’ time and how it compares to our own legal system, two respected pastors give careful attention to each stage of the judicial process Jesus endured. As you hear the evidence and weigh the testimony against him, you will find yourself drawn into the role of a juror. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of Jesus and what it meant for him to claim that he was “Christ, the Son of the Blessed One.” And as you are riveted by the hows and whys of the jury findings, you will develop a new perspective on how and why Christ died for you. [Tim] I’ve read extensively on this topic in the past couple of years. Hence I chose not to read another book on the subject. For those who are new to the subject, this is undoubtedly a good choice.


Living for God's GloryLiving for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke
The theological system known as Calvinism is often caricatured or simply dismissed as a relic of the past. But as Dr. Joel R. Beeke shows in this comprehensive treatment, Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is “biblical, God-centered, heartfelt, winsome, and practical.” As such, it is uniquely suited to help Christians fulfill the purpose for which they were created—to live to the glory of God. With the gifted help of eight contributors, Dr. Beeke traces the roots of Calvinism and sets forth its doctrinal distinctives, then explores how Calvinists live out their beliefs in every sphere of life, from their private devotions to their service in the church, from their marriages to their careers, from politics to ethics. Through the examples of John Calvin himself, the Puritans, and other Calvinists of the past, this God-exalting belief system emerges as a timeless guide for Christian living. [Tim] I’m sure this volume is excellent and next time I read an introduction to Calvinism, this is going to be it. For now, though, it didn’t fit my reading schedule.


Proverbs Driven LifeA Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio
This is a book about the wisdom God has given us in the Book of Proverbs. By this wisdom, we can learn how to live in light of what is really true about ourselves, one another, and this wonderful yet deeply flawed world. Ultimately, therefore, this is a book about life lived for God in the light of divine truth. It’s about life as God intends for us to live it. Proverbs does offer an infallible guarantee that a Proverbs-driven life will result in spiritual and practical blessings. But it is vitally important to remember that the goal of Proverbs is not finding earthly prosperity or even wisdom itself. The goal of Proverbs is to grow ever closer to the God who is Wisdom. [Tim] I love Proverbs and love books by Shepherd Press. Put the two together and I’m not quite sure why I haven’t read this one yet. I suspect it may have something to do with the title.


Rethinking RetirementRethinking Retirement by John Piper
John Piper challenges fellow baby boomers to forego the American dream of retirement and live out their golden years with a far greater purpose in mind. [Tim] Based on its size (29 pages) this only just qualifies as a book in the first place. It’s a great essay, though, and I think this is a good booklet to put on a table at the back of the church.

May 08, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

With a new Friday comes a new edition of Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsors are White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation. This week five winners will each be sent a prize package that contains:

  • Too Good to Be True by Michael Horton (Signed by the author)
  • Christless Christianity DVD
  • A one-year subscription to Modern Reformation magazine.

Michael Horton

Here is what the publisher says about Too Good to Be True: “In a world of hype, we may buy into the idea that through Jesus, we’ll be healthier and wealthier as well as wiser. So what happens when we become ill, or depressed, or bankrupt? Did we do something wrong? Has God abandoned us? As a child, Michael Horton would run up the down escalator, trying to beat it to the top. As Christians, he notes, we sometimes seek God the same way, believing we can climb to him under our own steam. But we can’t, which is why we are blessed that Jesus descends to us, especially during times of trial. In Too Good to Be True, Horton exposes the pop culture that sells Jesus like a product for health and happiness and reminds us that our lives often lead us on difficult routes we must follow by faith. This book offers a series of powerful readings that demonstrate how, through every type of earthly difficulty, our Father keeps his promises from Scripture and works all things together for our good.”

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 tonight at midnight.

May 01, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

A new Friday brings us another occasion to celebrate Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsor is Crossway. They have put together a package of books ideal for a recent (or forthcoming) graduate. But, of course, the draw is open to anyone and ought to benefit whoever reads the books. Five winners will take home a prize package consisting of:

  • ESV Study Bible
  • Crossroads: Navigating Your Calling and Career by Colin Creel
  • The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies
  • No Little People by Francis Schaeffer
  • Things That Cannot Be Shaken: Holding Fast to Your Faith in a Relativistic World by K. Scott Oliphint and Rod Mays
  • Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper

Free Stuff Fridays

There are some great books there!

Please note that this week’s giveaway is open only to people who can have the prize shipped to a North American address.

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 tonight at midnight.

April 17, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

With a new Friday comes a new Free Stuff Fridays giveaway. This week’s sponsor is Moody Publishers. They are offering a package of some of their most popular new releases. There will be five winners, each of whom will receive:

  1. Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies by Steve and Candice Watters
  2. Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen by Candice Watters
  3. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley
  4. The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently About Your Relationship Can Change Everything by Mitch Temple
  5. Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung

moody.jpg

All you need to do to have a chance at winning is to add your name and email address to the form below.

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 tonight at midnight.

March 26, 2009

The Cross He BoreEaster is fast approaching and, as you may remember, I thought it would be both fun and worthwhile to read a book together as we prepare to remember the Lord’s death and to celebrate his resurrection. The book that always come to mind this time of year is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. This is a series of thirteen meditations on the sufferings of the Redeemer, beginning with Gethsemane and ending in the outer darkness. In his Foreword to the book, Edward Donnelly says, “in rereading these chapters, I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop - and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”

A few weeks ago I announced that I’d like to read the book with you and I know that a lot of you bought the book so you can read along (enough of you bought it, I believe, that it pretty well sold out. This is the second time we’ve bought up all of the copies of this book!). This is your reminder that we will begin to read it, one chapter per day, beginning this Sunday. So check back here Sunday morning for just a brief reflection on the first chapter.

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