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May 10, 2008

A week ago I announced a giveaway of some great books. Today I want to wrap that up and announce the winners. This month’s sponsor was Reformation Heritage Books. RHB publishes and distributes Puritan and Reformed books. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, which you know as a publisher that has done more than just about any other organization to bring Puritan writings back into print is now under the direction of Reformation Heritage.

The Prizes

Reformation Heritage Books

3rd prize: the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series
Profiles in Reformed Spirituality is a series of books designed to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of particular Christians with selected passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketch and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the treated person’s contribution to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through works of those people treated in this series. Under the guidance of series editors Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality promises to provide a valuable primer to our rich Reformed heritage. The 3rd prize winner will receive all four current title available in this series:

  • A Consuming Fire”: The Piety of Alexander Whyte of Free St. George’s

  • A Sweet Flame”: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

  • Dedicated to the Service of the Temple”: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins

  • Christ Is All”: The Piety of Horatius Bonar

2nd prize: Soli Deo Gloria selections
Soli Deo Gloria Publications has done more to bring Puritan writings back in to print than any other organization. Now under the direction of Reformation Heritage Books, SDG will continue to make these gems from the past an enduring supply of gospel ministry for generations to come. The 2nd prize winner will receive the following Soli Deo Gloria titles:

  • Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards

  • Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, by Jeremiah Burroughs

  • Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel

  • Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shephard

  • Plus the books in the 3rd prize package

1st prize: new and bestselling RHB titles
The 1st prize winner will receive some of RHB’s new and bestselling titles:

  • God with Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is, by Daniel R. Hyde. Here is a captivating introduction to who Jesus really is. Admirably displaying his pastoral gifts, Daniel R. Hyde winsomely relates the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ to the people in the pew. The book is well grounded in Scripture, historically informative, and doctrinally precise. You will walk away from this book understanding the necessity of Jesus’ two natures for our salvation, and praising God for all that He is for us in the glorious person of Christ.

  • Reformation Heroes: An Illustrated Overview, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke. With this beautifully illustrated book, families will enjoy learning about the people God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation. This book is written at a level for older children and teenagers, but is equally enjoyable for adults. Its attractive 11” x 8.5” coffee table book format makes it a great gift, while the content is useful enough for a history text.

  • Meet the Puritans: with a Guide to Modern Reprints, by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans provides a biographical and theological introduction to the Puritans whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, and also gives helpful summaries and insightful analyses of those reprinted works. It contains nearly 150 biographical entries, and nearly 700 summaries of reprinted works. If you have wanted to start reading the Puritans but do not know where to begin, this is the resource for you.
  • Plus the books in the 2nd and 3rd prize packages

The Winners

The winners are:

  • First Place - Eric Ritchie
  • Second Place - Kristine Anderson
  • Third Place - Larry Delozier

The winners need only send me an email and the prizes will be on the way. Stay tuned later this month for another great giveaway.

May 01, 2008

Today those of us who have embarked on a project to read some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the first chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Last week we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book. This week we move on to the first chapter.

Summary

The first of the Savior’s words from the cross is the one we most need to hear. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is Jesus’ word of forgiveness, offered to the Father on behalf of those who had fastened Him to that cross. In these first words we see Jesus, even in His deepest agony, in an attitude of prayer, interceding for those whom He loves.

In this chapter Pink unravels all that Jesus meant in these few words. Here we see…

  1. …fulfillment of the prophetic word.
  2. …Christ identified with His people.
  3. …the Divine estimate of sin and its consequent guilt.
  4. …the blindness of the human heart.
  5. …an exemplification of Jesus’ own teaching.
  6. …man’s great and primary need.
  7. …the triumph of redeeming love.

Discussion

I had read only the first sentence before I needed to stop. “Man had done his worst.” I guess I knew this already—that what man did to Jesus was the worst thing he had ever done or could ever do. In fact, I mentioned this in a sermon just a few short weeks ago. But somehow this simple sentence just made me stop and consider that there really is nothing man could ever do, ever, in any situation, ever!, that could be worse than this. All of the horrible crimes we read about in the news and all of the disgusting events we read about in history, pale in comparison to this act of slaughtering the Son of God. No evil scheme any man could dream up could be worse than this. It is the most awful event in all of history and the most awful event that ever could be. How could man even scheme something so evil as to put to death the very Creator of the world? And what kind of God would humble Himself to suffer such humiliation and to face such pain?

I paused again on the next page when I read this, Pink’s reflection on Jesus being in prayer upon the cross: “No longer might those hands minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the cross; no longer may those feet carry Him on errands of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; no longer may He engage in instructing the apostles, for they have forsaken Him and fled—how then does He occupy Himself? In the Ministry of Prayer! What a lesson for us.” From here he encourages Christians who may be overcome by age and sickness and who may feel that their years of ministry are over. He encourages them to use these times to engage in this ministry of prayer. Who knows, but you may “perhaps accomplish more by this than by all your past active service. If you are tempted to disparage such a ministry, remember your Savior. He prayed, prayed for others, prayed for sinners, even in His last hours.” And what an encouragement this must be—and what a challenge it is—for us. Even when we feel like we have nothing to offer, we can go to our knees and plead for others before the throne. This “invisible” ministry is one that is far more powerful than we know and one whose results we may only know in eternity. But what a blessing it was that Jesus prayed even while on that cross.

And all this before even getting to the heart of the chapter. I suppose I will stop here and leave it to others to reflect on the seven points laid out by Pink. But first I’ll say just one thing. On a couple of occasions I’ve expressed my view that forgiveness is conditional—that God only expects us to forgive those who have repented of their sin. It would seem from this chapter that Pink would agree. Perhaps ironically, I am a bit less sure now than I used to be that this is always the case, but I did enjoy reading Pink’s rationale for such an understanding.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the second chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of salvation.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from even just the Introduction to the book (click here to read some comments from readers about the Introduction). Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the chapter.

April 30, 2008

The Sponsor

This month’s sponsor is Reformation Heritage Books. RHB publishes and distributes Puritan and Reformed books. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, which you know as a publisher that has done more than just about any other organization to bring Puritan writings back into print is now under the direction of Reformation Heritage.

The Prizes

Reformation Heritage Books

3rd prize: the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series
Profiles in Reformed Spirituality is a series of books designed to introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of particular Christians with selected passages from their works. This combination of biographical sketch and collected portions from primary sources gives a taste of the treated person’s contribution to our spiritual heritage and some direction as to how the reader can find further edification through works of those people treated in this series. Under the guidance of series editors Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin, Profiles in Reformed Spirituality promises to provide a valuable primer to our rich Reformed heritage. The 3rd prize winner will receive all four current title available in this series:

  • “A Consuming Fire”: The Piety of Alexander Whyte of Free St. George’s

  • “A Sweet Flame”: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

  • “Dedicated to the Service of the Temple”: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins

  • “Christ Is All”: The Piety of Horatius Bonar

2nd prize: Soli Deo Gloria selections
Soli Deo Gloria Publications has done more to bring Puritan writings back in to print than any other organization. Now under the direction of Reformation Heritage Books, SDG will continue to make these gems from the past an enduring supply of gospel ministry for generations to come. The 2nd prize winner will receive the following Soli Deo Gloria titles:

  • Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards

  • Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, by Jeremiah Burroughs

  • Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel

  • Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Thomas Shephard

  • Plus the books in the 3rd prize package

1st prize: new and bestselling RHB titles
The 1st prize winner will receive some of RHB’s new and bestselling titles:

  • God with Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is, by Daniel R. Hyde. Here is a captivating introduction to who Jesus really is. Admirably displaying his pastoral gifts, Daniel R. Hyde winsomely relates the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ to the people in the pew. The book is well grounded in Scripture, historically informative, and doctrinally precise. You will walk away from this book understanding the necessity of Jesus’ two natures for our salvation, and praising God for all that He is for us in the glorious person of Christ.

  • Reformation Heroes: An Illustrated Overview, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke. With this beautifully illustrated book, families will enjoy learning about the people God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation. This book is written at a level for older children and teenagers, but is equally enjoyable for adults. Its attractive 11” x 8.5” coffee table book format makes it a great gift, while the content is useful enough for a history text.

  • Meet the Puritans: with a Guide to Modern Reprints, by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans provides a biographical and theological introduction to the Puritans whose works have been reprinted in the last fifty years, and also gives helpful summaries and insightful analyses of those reprinted works. It contains nearly 150 biographical entries, and nearly 700 summaries of reprinted works. If you have wanted to start reading the Puritans but do not know where to begin, this is the resource for you.
  • Plus the books in the 2nd and 3rd prize packages

Small Print

As with previous giveaways, you can increase your chances of winning by referring others. Details and other smallish print is available in the contest area. I recommend you read it. There have been times that a potential winner forfeited the prize because he did not join the mailing list!

Enter the Draw

You can enter the draw here (Please read the instructions carefully!):

www.challies.com/draw.php

April 23, 2008

Some time ago, no doubt while I was awake in the middle of the night with one of the children, I saw a documentary about some weird disease that causes a patient’s skin to harden. This disease often sets in during childhood and causes the skin to become hard and shiny. I searched around today looking for the name of this condition and I think it must be “systemic sclerosis.” “Dermatology Online Journal” describes it this way: “Systemic sclerosis is a clinically heterogeneous, systemic disorder which affects the connective tissue of the skin, internal organs and the walls of blood vessels. It is characterized by alterations of the microvasculature, disturbances of the immune system and by massive deposition of collagen and other matrix substances in the connective tissue.” That doesn’t mean anything to me, but I guess it all adds up to “hard and shiny.” Though most people experience the disease only moderately (these people see hardening of the skin mostly on their hands and forearms) there are some who see the disease progress so that the skin hardens all over their bodies, leaving even their faces set in hard “masks.” Sometimes it will progress to the organs, hardening them and leading to an early death. It is a horrifying illness when it progresses past the point where it can be easily and successfully treated.

I thought of this yesterday while reading Gum, Geckos and God by James Spiegel. In this book (to borrow a line or two from Publishers Weekly) “Spiegel, philosophy professor at Indiana’s Taylor University, takes deep issues of the Christian faith and dumps them smack into real life with a little help from his children… Spiegel ponders the great issues of the faith with a light touch, thanks to the innate comedy of kids, but also to his own brand of humor.” In a chapter entitled “How Can God Fix Us” he looks at how God can overcome our sin—how He can fix what we have done to ourselves through our sinful natures. He uses The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to springboard into this conversation, explaining how his son, at only four years of age, was able to draw the connection between the death of Aslan and the death of Jesus Christ. He mentions that, when teaching a faith and culture course at Taylor University, he often asks students to raise their hands if they became Christians at the age of four or younger. Almost invariably at least a few of the hands go up. This is amazing, he says, “considering that comprehension of the gospel demands that one understand such weighty moral concepts as duty, sin, punishment, love, and forgiveness.”

I am sure,” he says, “there are many parents who are mistaken in thinking that their kids comprehend the gospel. But the point is that many do. And given their stage of cognitive development, this suggests something supernatural is going on.” And truly something supernatural must be going on for children to understand what too often escapes many adults. A child can sometimes grasp deep spiritual truths that are lost on adults who are, in any other wise, far more wise and far more intelligent. Those who hate the Christian faith and who hate religion in general will insist that children believe because they have been indoctrinated. But we know better; we know that God can work his supernatural work of regeneration even in a child.

Here is why it is more difficult for adults than for children to come to know the Lord. “Sin causes cognitive malfunction, and this is especially so when it comes to moral-spiritual matters. The older we grow without being redeemed, the more polluted we are by our sin and the more entrenched we become in our corrupt patterns of thinking. Though by no means pure, children are less corrupted in their thinking and less hardened in faulty thinking patterns simply by virtue of their being younger. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the overwhelming majority of Christians come to faith by the time they are eighteen years old.”

Of course there is a second barrier to coming to Christ and it is a spiritual one. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:14, without the Spirit’s prior work, no one can grasp the gospel. The spiritual nature of the gospel, that part of the gospel message that transcends natural cognitive abilities, must be overcome by the Holy Spirit. “So there are two major barriers when it comes to grasping and accepting the gospel,” says Spiegel. “One is the spiritual nature of the gospel, which transcends natural reason. The other is our sin, which corrupts cognitive function. The Holy Spirit must graciously overcome both of these obstacles in order to work redemption in any human heart. This implies that all Christian conversions are doubly miraculous and doubly gracious. And given that even after conversion Christians continue to struggle with sin, the Spirit must constantly work to keep us faithful. Job really nailed it when he said that God, ‘performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted’ (Job 5:9).”

And this takes us back to systemic sclerosis. A person’s spiritual condition, it seems, is much like the condition of a patient with systemic sclerosis. While all humans are born sinful, children have less of the pollution and less of the hardening of adults. While the extent of our depravity cannot change, for from the moment of conception it encompasses all that we are, the degree will and must change. Life without God progresses much like the disease. It causes increased hardening. What was once soft becomes hard; what was once supple becomes stiff and stretched. The longer a person denies God and the more his internal pollution increases, the more hardened he becomes against God and against His gracious offer of salvation. No wonder the Bible is filled with commands and exhortations that as parents we dedicate ourselves to teaching our children what God requires of them. And what impetus this should give us to obey Him! “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…”

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?

Conclusion

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 *