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April 04, 2008

Scott Lamb is both a friend and a contributor to Discerning Reader. I’m pretty sure he reads even more books than I do and we knew that sooner or later he and I would read the same title at the same time. Sure enough, that happened recently with Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. Because I had written a review of it, Scott decided to focus instead on the story behind the story, so to speak. He wrote what I found a fascinating article on just how big and how wide this movement really is. I thought you would enjoy it to, so decided to post it here. I do so primarily because I think Scott provides a good warning to us, and particularly so in the final paragraphs. From here on you’ll be reading Scott’s article.

In a nutshell, before reading the book I would have thought the movement was larger and more influential. The metaphor of “ocean” comes to mind. After reading the book, I am given to thinking that the movement is more like a pond, maybe a lake.

That is not a prediction of what the future holds. But this is a book about the present (last 10 years or so), and I am less inclined to think much of the movement after reading Hansen’s work.

I am not shooting the messenger (Hansen) in any way, shape, or form. I read the entire book while leaning on a wall about six feet from my post office box. Then I read it again a day later, again with enjoyment. I really want you to read it too.

I do think there are many recent aspects of the groundswell of Reformed theology that are entirely missed. There are also many foundations of the movement which have been vitally important, but which lack any formal attachment to the Reformed camp. I will come back to these in a later post.

Let me throw some spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

Spaghetti on the Wall

Are we overly optimistic about what is going on? Are we just having self-referential Calvinist conversations with ourselves? Perhaps you don’t think so?

Well, you are reading a book review about Calvinism…to be posted on Calvinist Tim Challies’ book review web-site…about a book that reports on the rise of young Calvinists like Tim and a bunch of our friends and mentors…and Tim wrote an endorsement for this book on the back cover…and now a review of the book…and he also wrote a book published by the same company as this one…a company that publishes a mountain of books by Calvinist authors mentioned in this book…and since you are a Calvinist you may decide to buy this book and comment on it on your own blog or on Amazon.com…and then we will link to your blog and say, “A Reformed friend of mine who is on staff at Piper’s church wrote a great review of Hansen’s new book”…then some other Calvinist will interview Hansen, himself a Calvinist…then we will all get in our cars and head to a conference where 75% of the folks mentioned in the book will either be preaching or listening (or live-blogging)…

Suddenly, a certain joke about cousins marrying cousins comes to my mind.

Am I saying there is anything wrong with friends and colleagues and pastors networking together or talking about common interests? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that we’d better not read our own press clippings and jump to the wrong conclusions. Is this “new Calvinist” pond little or big? The answer depends on who we hang out with.

On Guard

In our self-referential excitement over the movement toward Calvinism, there are two errors I am afraid we could easily make:

  1. Although we should take joy over the number of folks gaining passion for biblical truth, will we foolishly begin to believe that the majority of Evangelical Christianity is actually making a turn toward solid theological conviction.

  2. Although the numbers do represent individuals who are coming to truth, will the local church itself be changed and challenged and loved? We love our Reformed theology, but will the “young and restless” part only serve to bring out the devilish individualism characterizing so much of American Evangelicalism. We grew up in “typical” churches, and have “escaped” the poor theology, but will we now spend the rest of our lives proving that we are “not the like the church we came from”? Will our mantra be- “Give us books, conferences, audio sermons, and blog-buddies, but keep us far from messy relationships with Arminians in our local church.”

Let me provide a few illustrations of what I am thinking.

How Wide the Influence?

In our Calvinist circles, we get real excited about the 275,000 copies of Desiring God sold. But wait. Hasn’t Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life sold over 24 million copies (as of 2006)? Wow, that is a ratio of 1:100.

Warren is extremely influential (understatement of the year), and that influence is felt directly at the level of the local church - in a very widespread manner across the nation and across the denominational spectrum.

Perhaps we are actually only 1/100th as influential as Warren.

Do you wish those numbers were the opposite? Yeah, so do I. But they aren’t.

How Big Is Ground Zero?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gets a lot of attention in Hansen’s book. He calls Louisville “Ground Zero” for Calvinism. An astounding number of ministers are being trained at SBTS. Four thousand students receive theological education by 180+ total faculty. The largest Protestant seminary in the world runs on a budget of less than $40 million dollars (2006).

But consider another number - $95 million. In one year’s time, that is how much money Joyce Meyer fleeced earned through donations and conferences.

When you consider that the $40 million at SBTS comes from the tuition payments of 4,000 students and also from a portion of the offerings of 40,000 SBC churches, it absolutely boggles the mind to consider that a woman who preaches a false gospel can get her hands on twice as much money!

Think about how many individuals it must take to rake in $95 million. These are huge numbers. This is real influence.

SBTS, a.k.a. “Ground Zero for Calvinism”, only has HALF the budget of just ONE prosperity-gospel preaching woman.

A Huge Gathering?

The 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference drew 3,000 men, and probably could have gotten 2,000 more in the door if space was available. I was there. It was great!

But Joel Osteen draws in 10,000 on any given weekend that he takes his show on the road. Speaking of Osteen, if you add up the royalties for every book authored by MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, Mahaney, Begg, Boice, Duncan, etc. - would the total come anywhere near the $12 million advance Joel received for his last book alone? Not a chance.

Does Wal-Mart carry anything by Sproul, Piper, Mahaney? Can you buy a “Chosen by God” board game?

And speaking of publishing, Crossway and a few other faithful companies serve up 80% of what young Calvinists are reading. So, does that mean sound biblical theology is going to prevail among Christian publishers too  What about the other 50-75 Evangelical Publishers Association companies? What percentage of their books can we get real excited about?


Are we reading our own press clippings, and getting worked up in the wrong way?

How ironic it would be if God-centered theology truly caught fire throughout the church, only to come crashing into the brick wall of flesh-boasting about numbers and influence.

How terrible it would be if Calvinist soteriology got branded on the hearts of young people, only to have them choose individualism over God-glorifying commitment and dedication to the local church. Christ did not die on a cross for a conference, campus Bible study, or book publisher. He laid down his life for the church.

As Calvinists who dwell on total depravity, understand that it is fully well possible to receive a rich theological treasure, only to squander it through sin.

However, as Calvinists who well on divine grace and sovereignty, understand that “He who began a good work” can and will continue to purify the bride of Christ by His grace and for His glory.

Let us make sure our passion begins and ends with Soli Deo Gloria, focusing our boast on the cross of Christ alone.

I really enjoyed reading this book and thinking through these issues. Thank you Collin.

Tim here again. I think Scott is on to something here. While we need to continue to bless and praise God for the work He is doing in drawing people to Himself, and especially in those who are young and restless, let’s realize that this movement is, in relation to the rest of those who confess Christ, very small. Let’s always remember that there is still much work to do and that we must not take pride in being part of any movement, even one as exciting as this. We are to boast only in the cross. Let our pride and our joy be in the great work of Christ.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Scott has written.

April 02, 2008

Last year some of the readers of this site began to read Christian classics together with me. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. We spent eight weeks reading through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, covering one chapter per week and posting some thoughts about the book on Thursday mornings. We then turned to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and read it over thirteen weeks. I’m not quite sure how many people took the opportunity to read along with us, but believe there were at least a couple hundred. Both titles were worthwhile reads and we learned that they have rightly earned their reputations as Christian classics. Feedback from readers assured me that this was a project we should continue as it benefited all who chose to participate.

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the CrossFor our third book I’ve decided that we will read The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur Pink. I will be reading from the edition recently published by Baker and featuring forewords by John MacArthur and Warren Wiersbe (and recommend you do the same if you do not already own a copy of the book). Here is the publisher’s description of the book: “The words Christ spoke from the cross can inform Christians of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of his death. After an introduction that discusses the nature of Christ’s death as natural, unnatural, preternatural, and supernatural, Dr. Arthur W. Pink clearly illustrates the lessons that can be drawn from Christ’s words-lessons on forgiveness, salvation, affection, anguish, suffering, victory, and contentment. This comprehensive and accessible volume is useful for both sermon preparation and personal study.”

If you would like to participate, please commit to reading the introductory chapters and Forewords by Thursday April 24. We will then read the seven chapters over the following seven weeks. All I ask of participants is that they read along and that they at least consider posting a comment each week.

You can buy it at Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books and just about anywhere else. It shouldn’t cost you much more than ten dollars.

It would be a helpful gauge of participation if you’d post a comment on this post indicating that you’d like to read this book with us. So if you are going to read along, let me know, either with a comment or a quick email. I’m looking forward to reading this next classic with you!

February 01, 2008

It’s a snow day today. We woke up to a pretty good blanket of the stuff on the ground and it’s supposed to keep up all day. It’s an absolute mess on the roads which makes me doubly glad that I am able to work from home. It’s a good day to stay in. The kids saw their schools canceled today, so I expect they’ll be heading outdoors soon to have some fun. It’s a good day for that, at least!

I am going to use this Friday, as I sometimes do, to post a few short notes that have been accumulating in my inbox or my favorites folder.

Reformation Trust

At long last and after much encouragement Reformation Trust (the publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries) has given in to the inevitable and has begun listing their books on Amazon. This is good news for those of us who have grown strangely reliant upon Amazon. Most of their catalog is now listed there:

The Elisha Foundation

In the past weeks you may have seen advertising on my site for The Elisha Foundation. Over at his unpronounceable blog, Paul (my pastor) has written about the Foundation and why he does all he can to endorse and serve it. “TEF exists to serve parents of kids with special needs – and it does so in the best of ways. Every year, they hold one or two family retreats. These parents are invited to bring their families for a few days of peace as a team of volunteers cares for their special needs child and the rest of their kids. While the kids are being ably cared for, mom and dad are being ministered to. The TEF folks bring in volunteers to lead worship (imagine half an hour of uninterrupted corporate singing!), preach, provide meals, consult on educational, governmental and financial issues and even things like a relaxing manicure for mom! Three days of respite. For some parents, the first such break in many years. Yes, years.”

If you have someone in your family who has special needs, or you know a family that does, why not point them towards The Elisha Foundation? It will be a blessing to them.

Soli Deo Gloria Publications

At Reformation Heritage “Book Talk”, the blog for Reformation Heritage Books, they’ve announced that they have acquired Soli Deo Gloria Publications. “For the past few years, Soli Deo Gloria books have been produced by Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, Florida. In 2007, Ligonier asked Reformation Heritage Books for guidance on managing Soli Deo Gloria Publications and later invited Reformation Heritage Books to publish and distribute the Soli Deo Gloria titles.” This is great news to those who have enjoyed reading the resurgence of Puritan literature.

Reformation Heritage Books has received nearly 50,000 Soli Deo Gloria books that are currently in print… Plans are under way to publish numerous additional Puritan titles. Reformation Heritage Books has agreed to continue publishing a select number of titles under the Soli Deo Gloria imprint, which Ligonier will continue to advertise in its catalogs; meanwhile, most Soli Deo Gloria titles will now be reprinted with the Reformation Heritage Books imprint. Reformation Heritage Books and Ligonier Ministries look forward to collaborating in order to promote Puritan literature around the world.”

You can read more here.

Prayer for Kenya

Jon has shared an article and prayer request for a ministry in Kenya: “My uncle helped found an orphanage in Kenya on an island in Lake Victoria. There are more than 300 kids, many of which were orphaned by the HIV epidemic. Some of the kids are HIV positive. It is without a doubt the most visceral representation I know of what it means to share God’s love. And tonight it might be burned down.”

He shares an article from the director of the orphanage:

Thanks to you and to all our fellow-servants who are in USA for lifting us and our bleeding country to the Lord. After receiving perhaps the most direct and serious threats from the mainlands, to the effect that we the only operating school in our region, I decided to call off my trip to Nairobi by the MAF plane which was coming to pick me. I called all staff and told them about the threats of those who were demanding that we close down or be burnt. I then gave each one room to say what in their view we needed to do and only two people were in favor of closure, with everyone else feeling strongly that we cannot release the children to all the dangers awaiting them outside of the orphanage. We will stay with the children.

Deep inside I am reminded once more that this place is the true home many of these precious jewels of the Lord have. I asked myself, ‘Should I send them out there in the wild, or should I continue God’s work even when it is risky?’ I chose the latter and all I ask for is not sympathy but prayer that God would put his arms around these tender lives. This evening our plea to be allowed to continue serving the orphans for the sake of Christ was aired on the radio. Mention was made of us by name that we should be spared the ordeals going on throughout our country by now.

Tonight the men will be working as guards of children, women and property as a response to the night attacks. We have no weapons but wholly rely on the Lord and the guarding angels of light. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Read more here

January 04, 2008

On Wednesday, Justin Taylor posted the news that my book is now available and provided a list of the blurbs for it. This led to some interesting discussion in the comments section. It began with the entirely fair question of “Who is Tim Challies?” and soon turned to “I was just surprised that, as his website says, a web designing blogger now writes books on spiritual discernment. When did our pastors and bible teachers quit doing this and your laypeople assume the roll?” Another person replied with, “I like TC’s blog; but I guess if you live-blog at enough famous pastors Bible conferences then you can get endorsements from just about anyone.” This led to a bit of a screed penned by Steve Camp who said, among other things, that this book is my attempt to make a mark and gain my fifteen minutes of fame, that I am young, theologically immature, and untested in handling God’s Word, that I know little about discernment, that I’m insecure and lack credibility, and so on. The discussion has gone on, though some rather important comments have since been erased. All this by way of background.

Now I’m not in the habit of defending myself against specious claims. Truthfully, and thankfully, it is quite rare that these things happen, but even then I’m not often compelled to invest time and effort in my own defense. I’ve got more important things to do, and this is especially true today. But I do want to take a few moments to respond to something else Camp says about the book’s endorsements and endorsers. Here is what Camp says:

As to endorsements: very few of these guys actually sit down and read through an entire book of any author they are asked to review. Most give a thumbs up through staff recommendations or because of friendship.

In other words, Camp hints, these endorsements are utterly meaningless, or nearly so. These people endorsed the book only because they felt they needed to or because someone told them to. There are two reasons I would like to address this statement. First, because it is a common belief that endorsements are meaningless and second because it reflects negatively on the people who were kind enough to provide an endorsement for my book.

Now it is widely assumed that many of the people who write endorsements for books do so without actually reading the books. And certainly this does happen in the Christian world and beyond. More commonly, though, you would find that certain endorsers do not read a book thoroughly. They may skim through, take in the major points, and on the basis of what they know about the author, craft an endorsement. There are definitely some who have enough of an organization around them that they would have trusted men or women speaking for them, writing endorsements in their name even while they have never actually even heard of the book. But I am sure this is less common than people who simply do not read the book thoroughly. Far more common, though, are people who really do read the books and who read them carefully, knowing that an endorsement is serious business. This would be particularly true with mature, biblical Christians who truly value truth. Over the past few months I have endorsed a half a dozen books or so, and am constantly aware that adding my name to the back of a book is a reflection on the author, on me, and on God. Perhaps in time I will grow more jaded and provide endorsements with less care. I hope and pray I do not.

Enough then, on the first matter, and on to the second. My concern here, and I think the concern is validated by some of the comments following Camp’s, is that his statements will cause people to think negatively of the individuals who endorsed my book. I would not wish anyone to think that these people simply dashed off a blurb with little thought, concern or reflection. Neither do I believe that any of them accepted my request for an endorsement out of some sense of obligation that may have compelled them to rush a half-hearted endorsement.

I am not a peer to these people. With just one exception, I have spent very little time with any of them. I may have emailed back and forth with some of them a handful of times and have spent a few brief moments with them at conferences, but really I barely know them. All this to say that none of them owe me anything; none of them would be out to do me a favor out of obligation or out of a sense of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” After all, I have little to offer them by way of repayment and have done very little for them in the past! There well may be some trading of favors in the industry when it comes to endorsements, but you can rest assured that none of these people would have felt they owed me for whatever I may have done to somehow benefit them. Give them more credit than that.

Admittedly, I did not consider writing those who endorsed my book to ask, “Did you really read it?” as that would have been both rude and, I believe, unnecessary. However, several of them inadvertently furnished ample evidence that they really did read it and that they did so in some depth. For example, one of the people who endorsed the book called me several times as he read it, either to clarify certain statements or to challenge me on areas that were either overstated or that lacked clarity. He went so far as to even call other people to double check certain facts. This man takes clearly endorsements seriously. Read Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, and particularly the last few pages, and you’ll see that she is adamantly opposed to ghost writing as she finds it utterly inconsistent with a Christian worldview. Nancy has been a friend of my family’s for years and I know her well enough to understand that she would have read the book carefully and would not have written an endorsement had she not felt she could do so with clear conscience. In another case a third party told me of his discussions about the book with the person who endorsed it. In each of these cases it is clear to me that the person really did read the book. In fact, my confidence in endorsements has increased, rather than decreased, through this process.

There are some authors from whom an endorsement means very little to me. I have learned that they will endorse just about anything and after a while I feel they destroy their credibility. But in having even only brief interaction with the people who wrote a blurb for my book, I can vouch for them and am confident that an endorsement from their hand is meaningful. I look for their names on books, knowing that they take seriously the task of endorsing a book. I trust them and am grateful that they were willing to take the time to read even my book.

In a future article I’ll look at another question that has come up a few times both at Justin’s site and beyond—the question of why a person should read a book written by a lay-person or by someone with the less-than-impressive credentials I offer.

By way of update, I wanted the readers to know that Camp posted this:

*To All I want to publicly ask forgiveness for my initial comment concerning Tim and his book. My words could have been seasoned with more grace and chosen more carefully.

The main question here raised is worth discussing from a biblical worldview and should be considered with sobriety of heart and mind: What qualifies one to speak for God and His Word?

I pray that many here dedicated to biblical ministry will continue to provide helpful and biblical responses to this question as I hope to do in the coming days as well.

To those who sought to use excessive vitriol against me for sport, I hold no ought against you. You wouldn’t have been provoked to do so if my initial words were thought through more carefully.

HIs unworthy servant in His unfailing love,

Steve 2 Cor. 4:5-7 *

December 19, 2007

Rebel soldiers were starting at one end of a large room, taking women away one by one and bringing them back after they were finished with them. Helen’s first impulse was to hide and not have to bear this humiliation again. Then she thought of Jesus. He put himself forward as a substitute for us. The fellowship of his sufferings—she moved to the front, to try to protect some of the other women from undergoing a new trauma they might possibly have escaped so far.

She looked back later on this whole period and wrote: “We learned why God has given us His name as I AM (Exodus 3:14). His grace always proved itself sufficient in the moment of need, but never before the necessary time…As I anticipated suffering in my imagination and thought of what these cruel soldiers would do next, I quivered in fear…But when the moment came for action…he filled me with a peace and an assurance about what to say or do that amazed me and often defeated the immediate tactics of the enemy.”

She writes movingly of how abandoned she felt…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His answer to her was a removal of the fear as if it had been rinsed out of her—and a strong sense of his arms around her, holding her and comforting her. She felt as if he were saying, “When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my suffering. They are not attacking you. They are attacking me. I’m just using your body to show myself to the people around you.”

Those paragraphs are taken from Noel Piper’s, Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God and the chapter providing a brief biography of Helen Roseveare. It’s a portion of the book that has stayed in my mind, even a couple of years after first reading the book. It moved me when I first read it and it moves me now. The account has been meaningful to me as I’ve begged God to show me where sin has taken a hold in my life—those hidden areas that far too often are difficult to see. There is some sin in my life that is so obvious that I simply cannot deny it. But there is some sin that is buried far beneath the surface and only God can call it to my attention. A sin God has revealed to me as I consider the deliberate hardship of this faithful woman is that of valuing my own comfort. Life in North America, even as a Christan, can be far too comfortable for my own good. A comfortable faith is, I believe, a dangerous faith.

This account has also been meaningful to me as I’ve pondered what it means to give everything—to lay it all on the line for the sake of my Savior. In some ways it seems that there would be a certain heroic quality in giving my life for my faith. We reserve a quiet awe for martyrs and justifiably so. But somehow it seems that what Roseveare offered was almost more than her life. She suffered in a way that surely affected the rest of her life. She was willing to give her life, but in a sense gave even more than that when she made her way to the front of that line. What an example of faith!

How many people would be willing to lay not just their lives, but their bodies and their dignity on the line, as she did? How many would be willing to be used as she was, believing all the while that what men were doing to “the least of these” they were in fact doing to her Savior? How many would be willing to do this knowing that they would have to live forever with the consequences? How many would be willing to do this out of love for women she did not even know?

I stand amazed at this story. Really, I do.

It was only later, when Roseveare had returned to her native England, that she discovered an amazing chapter of her own story and one that had been written at the same time. “It was the very night of Helen’s attack. [A] woman had been awakened with a strong sense to pray intensely for Helen, whom she only knew of. She prayed and didn’t feel free to stop until a certain time that she named to Helen. Given the difference in time zones, that was the same time that Helen had been washed through by the peace of God and known that she wasn’t abandoned by Him.”

As Helen Roseveare abandoned herself to men, she was in reality abandoning herself to God and to His promises. She was willing and able to trust that as she gave herself to God, He would be her strength. She knew that her body was but a vessel God was using to show Himself to the people around. She knew in her heart of hearts that the anger of the men was really an anger directed at God. And unbeknownst to her, while she went through her ordeal, other believers were holding her up before the throne of Grace. He did not forget her.

In 1989, 120 young people sat cross-legged in the Piper living room and dining room, covering nearly every square inch of floor space. They had accepted our open invitation to anyone who thought missions might be in his or her future.

As Helen Roseveare stood by our fireplace and looked into their faces, she reached backward toward the mantel and eased a long-stemmed rose bud from a tall vase. As she spoke, she broke off the thorns, the leaves, the petals, the green out layer of stem—every element that makes a rose and rose. All that was left was a lithe, straight shaft. The pieces that lay on the floor were not bad things. But, she explained, they had to be removed if she were going to make an arrow. God does this to us, she said. He removes everything—even innocent, good things—that hinders us from being the arrows that he will shoot for his purposes at his intended target.

And that is a lesson we can all draw from her story. We all need to abandon ourselves to God so that He can make us arrows fit to shoot for His purposes and at His intended targets. Like so many faithful men and women that God has used for His purposes, we need to allow Him to strip away layer after layer of ourselves, that we might be wholly and completely His.

December 18, 2007

Some time ago (July of this year) I posted a link to a book and said it is the best $4.03 you’ll ever spend. I don’t know that I ever told you what happened after that. Basically, and as I understand it, it went something like this: Within a couple of hours, the book had sold out at Westminster Books. A short time after that, the publisher sent all the available copies in the warehouse, but those too sold out. Then the publisher sent all the available copies from their warehouse in the U.K. and those also sold out. And then the publisher had no choice but to order a reprint since the book was basically completely sold out. Well, six months later, the book has been reprinted and is back in stock. Some of those who ordered it have since confirmed that it was a very worthwhile book. So for those who were not able to get one of the books while they remained, here’s a copy of the original post and the original link. Enjoy!

I was poking around a little bit today and found what I consider to be just a great deal. I’m posting for no other reason than to tell you that this represents what I’m sure you’ll agree is the best $4.03 you’ll ever spend. It’s one of my all-time favorites and a book worth reading at least once per year.

If you disagree and are absolutely convinced that another item worth $4.03 would have been a better buy, well, tell me what it is because I don’t believe it’s possible.

That is all.

December 13, 2007

A few days ago Tullian Tchividjian published his list of his favorite books of 2007 and asked me if I’d do the same. I had, in fact, already worked up a list, and thought that, now that the year is drawing to a close, I’d publish it. So these are my 7 favorite books that were published in 2007 and which I read in 2007. So this is the top 7 in 07 of 07. Or something like that. Why seven? Well, because it’s catchy to say “the top 7 in 07 of 07,” but also because keeping a small list makes it more meaningful, I think.

Do note that these are the “favorite” books I read in 2007, not necessarily the “best” books I read in 2007. Hence this list is a bit more subjective than objective and looks more to the joy of reading a book than the quantity of what I learned from it. Often they go hand-in-hand, but not always.

So here they are. The top 7 in 07 of 07. In each case I’ve linked to my review of the title. With the exception of the final title, they are in no particular order.

When Sinners Say I Do by Dave HarveyWhen Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey is probably the best book I’ve read on marriage. It’s a book I’d unhesitatingly recommend to any engaged or married couple because of the way it deals so well with matters of the heart and because of the way it points always to the message of the gospel.

running_scared.jpgRunning Scared by Edward Welch deals with the universal problem of fear. A book that is filled with great quotes and impactful teaching, it is one worth reading and worth reading slowly. Because I do not know anyone who is immune from fear, I do not know of anyone who would not benefit from reading it.

A Journey Worth Taking by Charles DrewA Journey Worth Taking by Charles Drew is the only book I read twice this year. It is a book that deals superbly with the notion of calling and finding our place in this world. Written by a pastor who is in the thick of things, planting a church in New York City, it provides a biblical perspective on the “self-help” genre.

Respectable Sins by Jerry BridgesRespectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is Bridges at his best. He deals harshly but biblically with the kinds of sins we too often overlook. This is exactly the kind of book I love to see coming from the pen of one of Christian publishing’s elder statesmen.

Pierced for Our TransgressionsPierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach is an important contribution in the area of theology. This book is a line in the sand, so to speak, and one that has served to shine a biblical light on the doctrine of atonement, standing for the orthodox view in opposition to the many alternate and unbiblical views.

Amazing Grace - Eric MetaxasAmazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. This is a biography of William Wilberforce that coincided with the 200th bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave-trade—a movement tirelessly headed by Wilberforce. I gave this book a slight edge to John Newton by Jonathan Aitken. But you may well wish to read both, especially since the men were friends and co-laborers in this work.

Jim Andrews - Polishing Gods MonumentsPolishing God’s Monuments by Jim Andrews gets the nod as my favorite book of 2007. I was drawn by the author’s ability to seamlessly blend biography with theology. Andrews models the kind of grace I hope I could display in a similar situation of pain and suffering. I’ve recommended it to more people this year than any other title. I’m going to make sure I read it again in 2008.

There are many other titles that could have made the list. There were plenty of books published this year that look excellent but which I have not yet read. While I admit that this list is no doubt imperfect, it does represent the books I most enjoyed reading this year.

December 12, 2007

Culture Shift by Albert MohlerYesterday I received a long list of emails with announcements for books that will be published early next year. Most of these I had already heard of or found entirely uninspiring. There was one exception. I was absolutely thrilled (honestly—I’m that big of a book geek) to see that we are going to see the first book from the pen of Dr. Mohler. Yes, it is hard to believe, but this is his first “real” book. He has edited and contributed to other titles, but this is his first solo effort. The book, set to hit store shelves in mid-January, is called Culture Shift and will deal with the challenging cultural issues of our day. I cannot think of anyone who is more qualified to answer these issues.

There are few people I would rather learn from than Dr. Mohler. He is such an asset to the church and particularly so in his ability to see into the culture in which we find ourselves. I can hardly wait to read his book! Here is what the publisher says about it:

Are you prepared to address the most challenging cultural issues of your time?

Mass media and technology are exploding. Popular entertainment relentlessly pushes the envelope. Biomedicine stretches ethical boundaries. Political issues shift with the polls.

The world in which you live is in the midst of a major cultural transformation–one leading to a widespread lack of faith, an increase in moral relativism, and a rejection of absolute truth. How are we to remain faithful followers of Christ as we live in this ever-shifting culture? How should we think about–and respond to–the crucial moral questions of our day? How can we stand up for the truth?

In Culture Shift, Dr. R. Albert Mohler–one of today’s leading Christian thinkers and spokespersons–addresses these tough topics clearly, biblically and passionately:

  • Christian faith and politics
  • The Supreme Court and religion
  • The truth about terrorism
  • Christian parents and public schools
  • The abortion debate
  • Christian response to global tragedies
  • And many more

Here is trustworthy help for developing a comprehensive Christian worldview. It’s timely information powerfully connected to timeless truth that will equip you to stand strong and speak out.

As you’d expect, the book comes with some great endorsements.

“From grade inflation to global calamities, Albert Mohler is a steady guide. From the psychological coddling of the American ego to the hollowing of the American conscience, Mohler is unremittingly clear-headed. From Nineveh to New Orleans, Mohler holds the mirror at a blazing fortyfive-degree angle between heaven and earth. The burning light of divine wisdom illumines a hundred shadows of our human folly. And at the center of the blaze is the mighty cross of Jesus Christ defining the final meaning of everything. I thank God for Albert Mohler.” —JOHN PIPER, pastor for preaching and vision,Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN

“Al Mohler is a unique gift to the church. His writing combines penetrating theological discernment and insightful cultural analysis with a passion to faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m delighted that Al’s wisdom is now available in this book. May it be the first of many.” —C. J. MAHANEY, Sovereign Grace Ministries

“We all know, as Dorothy said to Toto, that ‘we are not in Kansas anymore.’ But how to apply the deep truths of our Christian faith to a culture that seems to be transmogrifying before our very eyes, well, that’s perhaps the most difficult question facing the church today. In this well-written book, Al Mohler surveys the landscape and offers insight and wisdom that helps us do just this. A manifesto for responsible Christian engagement!” —TIMOTHY GEORGE, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and senior editor of Christianity Today

“Thoughtful Christians seeking to engage the culture from a well-informed and thoroughly bibilical perspective will find an impressive resource in this new work by R. Albert Mohler. Culture Shift is an outstanding contribution, which I heartily recommend.” —DAVID S. DOCKERY, president, Union University

“Dr. Albert Mohler brings his intellectual brilliance, moral wisdom, and theological insight together in a book that belongs on the shelf of anyone who is interested in both understanding the shifting sands of morality in our culture and how to deal with it. If you are in that category this is a must read.” —JAMES MERRITT, pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, GA, and host of Touching Lives media ministry

“Understanding our culture is a matter of Christian responsibility. Culture Shift helps us to do that and do it well.” —DANIEL L. AKIN, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC

I am looking forward to getting a copy of this one and will have a review completed in the near future. In the meantime, you may wish to pre-order a copy from Amazon.

December 11, 2007

PrudeI almost gave up reading Prude. I have read other books like this and have found they follow a fairly consistent pattern. The first few chapters are always the hardest to get through. Where my interest in this kind of book is in its cultural commentary and analysis, the initial chapters seem always to be filled with examples of sexual transgression. I suppose this is necessary to build the author’s case that “our sex-obsessed cultural damages girls (and America too).” And so the first half of the book tells story after story and provides example after example of the moral decline of America. The author moves through web sites, magazines, television shows, popular music and fashion, showing how in each of these areas, girls are receiving damaging messages about their bodies and about sexuality. Television shows model sexual perversion as freedom and popular music objectifies both sex and sexuality. Web sites provide lurid details of base sexuality and consider it normal while the latest fashions seek to bare bodies for all to see. We know all of this, though there is still room to be shocked and disgusted. This continues for nearly 150 pages and by the end of the seventh chapter I had just about had enough. I put the book down.

But I picked it up again after seeing advertising for this book in Christian magazines and publications. It seems clear that, though this book is not published by a Christian imprint or by a Christian author (as far as I know), it is being marketed to Christians. And for that reason I thought I would read the second part and seek to understand how the author, Carol Liebau, analyzes all of these forces—what they mean and how they are affecting American girls.

Liebau does this over about 100 pages. In chapter 8 she discusses “Paying the Piper: The Toll on Young Girls and the Cost to America.” Strangely, for a book being marketed to Christians, though she covers the physical toll, the economic toll and the emotional toll, she neglects the spiritual. While certainly the factors she outlines in this book may have serious consequences to girls emotions and bodies and to the nation’s economy, they also impact a person’s ability to know and to honor God and the way a person understands God. This is a serious consequence of our culture’s perverse view of sexuality but one that is, unfortunately, neglected in this book.

In subsequent chapters she proposes a new sexual feminism that will once again celebrate sexual restraint rather than promiscuity, suggesting that this will allow women to reclaim their true power—“the power to hold men to standards of behavior that honor the differences between the sexes, even as it recognizes their intrinsic equality.” She writes of the rise of moral relativism and the dire consequences of that major transformation and then of examples of hope—organizations that have arisen to challenge the status quo. And finally, she seeks to reclaim the concept and the word “Prude” so it is no longer a mark of shame, but of pride.

In a sense the book’s power is not in the analysis but in the descriptions; not in the latter half of the book, but in the first half. Reading the awful details of moral decline is not easy, but it does allow us to get a glimpse into the unique challenges girls face today. Gone are the days when fathers would protect their daughters and when mothers would seek to ensure their daughters were chaste. Gone are the days when sexual restraint was a virtue. Instead, girls, often from their earliest days, are sexualized—taught that they are little more than the sum of their [private] parts. This hypersexualization harms girls and, as the author shows, harms nations. I would argue, though, that the harm to America goes far beyond economics and outbreaks of new and ugly sexually transmitted diseases. The harm goes as deep as the soul, scarring girls who will soon be women, searing consciences and keeping women (and men!) from understanding the true power and beauty of sexuality.

If we wish to get sexuality right and if we wish to temper the decline of sexual morals, we’ll need more than prudes. We’ll need men who act like real men, protecting women rather than taking advantage of them; we’ll need fathers who love their daughters enough to protect them; we’ll need mothers who are deeply involved in their daughter’s lives; but mostly we’ll need to return to the Source, to the One who created sex, who gave it to us as a gift, and who desires that we use it for His glory.

Notable Quotes

Sometimes it seems that sexiness has become the most important measuring stick for determining what is worthy of public interest; being ‘sexy,’ as most celebrities would attest, has become the ultimate accolade.”

Ironically, many of the [dating] customs that today are dismissed as limiting were actually empowering, because they offered young women a way to resist unwelcome sexual activity without themselves being labeled as cruel, frigid, or uninviting.”

Every time looser standards for dress or behavior become socially sanctioned, it becomes more difficult to retrench—and twice as difficult to resist the next step toward the vulgar or extreme on the cultural continuum.”

December 05, 2007

A few notes of varying interest and importance:

Prime Time America

During the week of December 31 - January 4 I’m scheduled to guest on Moody Radio’s Prime Time America with Greg Wheatley. We’ll be discussing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and all things related to spiritual discernment. We’ll be carrying on the discussion for a few minutes each of those days. So if you listen to Prime Time America, well, hopefully you’ll enjoy that.

Win A Gift Certificate Again

This is the final pre-order bonus offer! The last one went well and people seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I’d give it one more shot. If you pre-order my book between now and December 10 you’ll automatically qualify to win a $100 gift certificate from Westminster Books. You will receive one ballot for each copy you purchase. If interested, you can pre-order the book by clicking here.

Christmas Book Bargains

My wife has pretty well finished her Christmas shopping. Though I am well advanced in my shopping, I still have a ways to go. You may well be like me—still looking for that final perfect gift or two. I’ve been keeping an eye out for some deals and thought I’d pass along a few of them.

Westminster Books seems to be the first to have Sinclair Ferguson’s new book in stock: In Christ Alone. I have not had time to read much of it yet, but have progressed far enough to think it looks excellent and well worth the read (would we expect anything else?).

Westminster also seems to be the first to have the new Indelible Grace CD available: Wake Thy Slumbering Children. This is a favorite series of mine and I can’t wait to get ahold of that album.

Monergism Books has some good deals, such as 1 Timothy in the Reformed Expository Commentary set for $18.99 and the Calvin Commentary set for $169. Rummage through their Sale category for some bargains.

Christian Book Distributors, as they often do, has great deals on sets of books. They have sets of Spurgeon’s sermons and Luther’s sermons, church history, commentaries, and so on. I find it’s the best place to begin when looking to buy a complete set of books.

I also keep tabs on what’s happening at Amazon but don’t often find anything worth mentioning there. If you know how to dig up the great deals at Amazon, post a comment as I’m always eager to learn how to beat their system! It seems to me that they have great prices on most items (but prices that are routinely bettered by Westminster and Monergism Books), but don’t often offer sales on the books or items that interest me.

Happy shopping! Make sure you check shipping schedules this time of year to ensure that your items make it to you before stores and couriers close down for the holidays.

If you know of other good deals online that we should be aware of, feel free to post a comment below…