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Cruciform Press

January 30, 2015

Hit ListAre some sins actually worse than others? If so, why? Sure, you can make the case that because God is infinitely holy, even the smallest sin is an abomination to him, and that’s true. But what about the impact of various types of sin in our own lives? From that perspective, some sins are clearly more harmful, and in that sense worse. 

This is where the idea of the “seven deadly sins” came from to begin with. The phrase may sound like a medieval holdover, or suspiciously Catholic. But the fact is that down through the history of the church these were the sins that came to be recognized as especially dangerous: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust. What makes them so deadly? For one thing, these particular sins have a way of embedding themselves deeply into our hearts. When that happens, they become more than mere habits. They actually change us, altering aspects of our character in ways that are not easy to reverse. 

Think about it. From time to time we can all be tempted, for example, by greed or sloth. But this is a very different matter from living as someone who is truly greedy or truly slothful. The same is true for pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, and lust. And if the habit-forming, character-altering ability of these seven sins isn’t bad enough, they have also proven themselves to be gateway sins—not merely corrupting vices in themselves but sins that, once welcomed into your heart, open the door to countless other sins. The big seven have had two thousand years to earn their infamy, and they deserve it.

Many of you will be aware that, as a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to let you know about books we have released. Interestingly, it seems that Cruciform and Desiring God recently decided, quite independently, to try to draw the church’s attention back to a helpful focus on these particular sins. Cruciform has done this by releasing, this past November, a new book from pastor Brian Hedges called Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. Desiring God has done it by planning seven “small talks” (breakout sessions) at their Pastors Conference next week, one on each of the sins. They have also just released a book on the subject, titled Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins, which itself recommends the Hedges book. Both books will be prominently featured in the Pastors Conference bookstore, so if you’re attending be sure to look them over.

One of the strengths of Hit List is that it functions as a mini-survey of what some of the greatest theologians and writers down through history have said about each of these seven sins. It’s one of those books that manages to extract rich nuggets of truth from ancient writings, add biblical insights in more modern language, assemble it all into a compelling whole, and make practical application to our lives today in a way that’s accessible to the average reader. Tedd Tripp wrote, “Hedges brings the historic framework of the seven deadly sins into the 21st century. Brian’s reading and research into historic Christian theology enriches this readable and thoroughly biblical examination and treatment of the big seven.” Another endorser even said, “with the exception of the Puritan John Owen, no other single author has helped me to understand the mortification of sin like Brian Hedges has.”

If one or more of these seven deadly gateway sins has taken up stubborn residence in your heart, I urge you to take it seriously. A careful review of Hit List would be an excellent place to start.

Corresponding to the Desiring God conference dates, Cruciform has the print edition on sale through February 4. You can also get it at Amazon

January 08, 2015

The Company We KeepAs a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news and tell you about our more recent titles. One recent release focuses on a subject we often struggle with but don’t often talk about: friendship among Christians.

One of the most fundamental truths about the Christian life is that we were created for relationship. Yet many of us, even active church members, often struggle to form and maintain true, solid friendships. Then, we can compound our problems by being afraid to admit it. We readily imagine that if we don’t have such friendships, we must be deficient or unlovable. Partly this stems from a sense that genuine friendship should “just happen” among believers, as if it were our default setting as Christians, an automatic perk of conversion.

In The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship, Jonathan Holmes wants to correct these and other false assumptions. “Deep and meaningful friendships don’t come easily—even within the church, and sometimes especially within the church. And because from time to time we all sense that things ought to be different, we can find the challenges of biblical friendship perplexing, frustrating, and discouraging.”

Church leaders are aware of this, and many have tried to fill the void. The current emphasis on small groups and accountability partners is one result. But programs can only put people together, they can’t build relationships. As the Pastor of Counseling at Parkside Church (led by Alistair Begg), Holmes even makes this telling observation: he has never once seen an accountability relationship work unless it was built on a pre-existing biblical friendship.

In chapter one of his book, Holmes clarifies what biblical friendship is and is not. He offers this working definition: 

Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability. Rather than serving as an end in itself, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for. 

Central to the entire book is this contention that friendships, however enjoyable and desirable, are never intended by God to be the end goal. This also means that The Company We Keep is not some baptized version of Dale Carnegie’s lessons in “how to win friends and influence people.” Rather, the book is all about how to glorify God in and through our friendships and, as a byproduct of that uniquely Christian pursuit, find a depth and quality of friendship not available by any other means.  

After clarifying our understanding of biblical friendship, Holmes exposes the counterfeits, things we mistake for true biblical friendship. These include similar-stage-of-life or common-interest friendships, social-media “friendships,” and selfish friendships, the kind we pursue because of what we can gain personally. These are the sorts of things upon which the world bases its friendships. While some of these can be positive and enjoyable in a common-grace kind of way, Holmes’ burden is to give us a vision for friendship that is higher, better, truer, and explicitly God-centered; friendship that brings us joy and draws us close to others because it’s  main focus is the kingdom of God. 

In an especially helpful chapter, Holmes then explores what he calls the four marks of biblical friendship: constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel. One chapter each is then devoted to the forging and protection of biblical friendships. Finally, the author delves into the purpose of biblical friendship, with an emphasis on the cultivation and display of unity among believers.

As Ed Welch asks in the Foreword, “Could there be anything more important [than friendship]? When we reflect on our lives, they are measured not by our incomes or good works, but by our relationships—by our friendships. This is true for everyone.” 

If friendship seems harder to you than you think it should be, Jonathan Holmes offers valuable help. His book will make you think about friendship in ways you may not have considered before. This is an encouraging, practical, helpful treatment of an important subject, and should bear much fruit in its readers and in the church.

The Company We Keep is available at Amazon and directly from Cruciform Press.

September 25, 2014

Knowable WordMaybe you have noticed it, too. In the sector of evangelicalism that I try to pay most attention to, there is evidence of a growing Bible-revival—a fresh surge of interest in personal Bible study and an increasing appreciation of the utterly unique place of Scripture in the Christian life. As evidence, I offer the recent publication (just a few days apart) of two books: from Crossway, Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at his Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me; and from Cruciform Press, Peter Krol’s Knowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible.

While I could cite other examples, perhaps the most unique will happen later this week when Desiring God will hold its final National Conference, titled Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself. Among other things, the conference will focus primarily on a new series of online videos by John Piper in which he will walk viewers step-by-step through a technique he has used for decades to interact directly with Scripture. (If you’re going to the conference, stop into the bookstore to get a look at Knowable Word.)

Nobody planned this unusual confluence of events, and I doubt that the teams that came up with these similar book and conference titles had anyone in common. I’m hoping this is an indication that God is on the move to exalt his Word even higher within the Church. That’s a revival I can get behind 100%.

As a co-founder of Cruciform Press, I wanted to maybe help this revival along a little by sharing with you some information about Knowable Word. Perhaps Exhibit A should be what Jerry Bridges wrote about it: “I look forward to using this book to improve my own Bible study.” But there’s also Tedd Tripp’s Foreword, which is worth reproducing in full, for it begins with an inspiring paean to Scripture and ends by offering several good reasons why you should consider taking a look at Krol’s short but powerful book. So I hope you enjoy the Foreword, and the book. But especially the Book of Books.

* * *

The Bible is a treasure. The infinite God has communicated truth to finite creatures, and he has done so in human language, not celestial. In the Bible we have truth in a fixed form, in words that read the same from day to day. God has revealed all the truth we must understand to live in his world; we are not left to our own devices.

The Bible is objective. We need not derive truth through subjective spiritual impressions. God has revealed truth in an objective form. He has revealed Himself with words; words written down by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and kept from error as they wrote. (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Bible is a revelation of absolute truth. The only way finite humans can have absolute truth is by revelation. All human knowledge is subject to constant revision. More study, additional information, and new discoveries must be collated and incorporated to continually reshape what is known. Human knowledge always has a tentative quality. Thus, there is a non-permanence to human knowledge. Not so with the Bible. God has infinite knowledge. He knows all things real, all things possible, and all things potential. Since God has infinite knowledge he can, and has, revealed absolute truth. In the Scripture we have a limited revelation of truth (we don’t know everything that could be known), truth that will always be true (it will never prove false or unreliable), and truth that is sufficient (it is all the truth we will ever need). What a treasure!

Since God used words to give us a book of absolute truth, truth we need to know and understand—what could be more important than understanding this book? Sadly, many Christian people see the Bible as a confusing book shrouded in mystery and requiring some secret insight if it is to be understood. No wonder so few really study it. No wonder it is sometimes read as a religious exercise rather than as the life-giving treasure it truly is.

That’s what Knowable Word is all about. The Word of God is knowable. Christians can learn simple steps that will enable them to understand and inwardly digest the Word of God and be transformed by its truth.

In Knowable Word, Krol introduces and develops three methods for unlocking the meaning of any passage of Scripture. 1) Observation – what does it say? 2) Interpretation – what does it mean? 3) Application – how should I change? Throughout the book Krol opens and expands on this straightforward and memorable method for knowing God’s Word. He tells us what to observe, how to find the right interpretation, and suggests ways in which we must make application. In each of these steps the reader is given an easy-to-remember framework for keeping all the pieces in order.

Knowable Word is valuable because it is field-tested. Peter Krol has been teaching this approach to Bible study for years. He teaches these things to university students as a DiscipleMakers staff and to ordinary people in the pew as an elder in Christ’s church. Each audience, though diverse in life-stage, education, and age, is able to track with this teaching. Krol brings clarity and ease of communication to understanding the Bible. This book possesses the rare quality of being simple without being shallow. It is at once accessible and yet profound and challenging.

I had the joy of seeing Peter teach this material in the church I served as pastor for 29 years. The illustrations used in teaching were from the Proverbs, but the same method was employed—observation, interpretation, and application. In reading this book I was struck with how clearly the methods of understanding the text worked even though the passage under consideration was different.

When Krol taught this method of Bible study to our congregation, people came alive as each step unfolded. They found themselves able to make observations, which they would not have made without these categories, from which to frame their observations. I witnessed their excitement as they made observations that made sense of the text under consideration. I saw the smiles that said, “Hey, I can do this.” The reader of Knowable Word will have the same experience.

The same was true with interpreting. Krol provides neat, accessible ways of asking questions that aid in the process of interpretation. These questions lead to interpretive conclusions. Again the class was abuzz with the excitement of more ideas than could be adequately entertained during the limited class time.

The time spent in observation and interpretation led seamlessly to application for our Sunday school class. The class was given simple, memorable ways of thinking about how Scripture maps on to life. It was practical application that impacted our thinking; what we should think, how we should feel, and what we should do.

Woven through Knowable Word, Krol has placed timely “Your Turn” exercises to enable the reader to practice what is being learned. These exercises take the content of the book out of the theoretical and into the practical.

It is hard to over-estimate the value of this tidy volume. It is clear and uncomplicated. No one will be off-put by this book. It will engage the novice and the serious student of Scripture. It works as a solid read for individuals or as an exciting study for a small group, whether old or young.

Since “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) , it is my prayer that this little volume will be richly blessed by God to the edification of his saints.

—Tedd Tripp

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You can buy Knowable Word at Amazon or direct from Cruciform Press.

September 04, 2014

Grace Is FreeAs a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news and tell you about our most recent titles. I want to mention a book that came out earlier this year, Grace Is Free: One Woman’s Journey From Fundamentalism to Failure to Faith by Marci Preheim.

It’s natural to want to emulate those we look up to. This can be done biblically, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The danger comes when we lose sight of Christ and focus instead on outward actions.

Marci Preheim kept noticing this phenomenon among Christian women. She saw that in many churches, even those that are otherwise biblically faithful, the idea of a godly woman was a list of tasks rather than a heart attitude.

My whole life I’ve watched women fall into the same quagmire of conformity. I’m not talking about biblical conformity to the image of Christ, but conformity to
an unwritten code of some elusive “godly woman” that doesn’t exist. Her dress, behavior, personality, and hobbies are subtly different in each church. But if her behavior becomes a code to live by, then she is a false gospel. This nonexistent woman robs us of intimacy with each other, condemns us as mothers and wives, and holds us in a prison of law that none of us can live up to. She is a form of godliness that denies the power of the true gospel in women’s lives. But she is widely preached as the standard of righteousness, which is why the godly woman must be redefined in our generation.

As the title indicates, this book draws from Preheim’s own story. As a young girl, her idea of a “good Christian” had nothing to do with grace and everything to do with appearances. But as a teen, she lost her desire to be seen as a good girl. She quit trying to keep up the charade and rejected Christianity completely. It wasn’t until her young adult years that she finally embraced the gift of grace.

But though Preheim chronicles much of her own spiritual journey, it’s more than just a memoir. Her experience in women’s ministry, both in the church and a women’s prison, gives her a deep well to draw from. It also helps her show how God’s grace is sufficient for all people from all walks of life.

Preheim then goes back to the basics. In other words, she starts with the gospel definition of a godly woman (a woman saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ), and explores how that affects every area of a woman’s life. The gospel changes how she will handle sin, work, trials, friendship, marriage, and motherhood.

It’s sometimes hard for this type of book not to confuse celebrating grace with celebrating sin. Preheim does a good job emphasizing that though grace alone saves us, it also changes us: “Obedience is not the debate—we all agree that we must obey the Lord. But what exactly should we obey? This has become confusing because people have added their own rules—things God does not require—to the gospel.”

Preheim has a heart for women and a heart for the gospel. She found freedom in Christ, and she wants other women to experience that as well. This isn’t a new message, but a fresh celebration of an old one. 

You can buy Grace Is Free at Amazon or direct from Cruciform Press.

June 16, 2014

Most Encouraging Book on HellHell and humor between the same two book covers. Seriously? As a co-founder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news and tell you about our books. Our recent release, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, by Thor Ramsey, is as unusual and compelling as its title.

In recent years, some very famous books have claimed that the hell described in Scripture doesn’t actually exist. These books have gotten a lot of attention and generated a ton of controversy. Bible-believing Christians understand that we can’t deny this doctrine (it’s taught plainly in Scripture), but we tend to be uneasy about it just the same. As Ramsey says, “In today’s age of peace, love, and misinformation, the subject of hell seems to make church leaders sweat even when they’re not trying to be ironic.”

Ramsey doesn’t think this attitude is wise or ultimately helpful. He even goes so far as to say that he’s learned to delight in the doctrine of eternal punishment. As he shares his delight, you will see how he managed to write a book on hell that actually does turn out to be encouraging.

This might seem shocking to you, but I delight in the doctrine of hell. Let me explain myself before you tell me to go there. I didn’t arrive at this mindset overnight, but now I delight in everything that God has revealed to us about himself. Any glimpse into the workings of the mind of God should delight a Christian.

Ramsey starts with the question, “What do we really lose if hell freezes over?” As he works through this, we see that the answer is…everything. The orthodox doctrine of hell is closely tied to the fear of God, the holiness of God, the gospel of God, and the love of God. Ramsey unpacks each of these four points in separate chapters that make up the heart of the book.

Ramsey is an unusual guy. Besides being a pastor and teacher, he spent 20 years as a Christian stand-up comic, and it shows in this book. Some have wondered whether a book about hell from a comedian could truly work. It does work, though. Ramsey’s sense of humor comes through, and the book is entertaining and even funny in places, but he’s not flippant or disrespectful. Sometimes the humor catches the reader by surprise, but isn’t that the nature of humor?  

With the reality of hell still actively under attack, this accessible, winsome book on a difficult subject is truly needed. If you’re halfway familiar with the debate about hell, you’ll know whose ideas Ramsey is dismantling. Ramsey, however, does not focus on the teachers, but on the doctrine. As he says, “The person is not the point. The bad theology is.”

So while this book does correct recent false teaching, it does more than shore up a besieged doctrine. It logically and theologically integrates an orthodox view of hell into the gospel, thus reminding the reader to delight in the beauty and cohesiveness of the whole of God’s Word. With endorsements from author Eric Metaxas, actor Stephen Baldwin, and Drew Dyck of Leadership Journal, I doubt you have read anything quite like it. You will come away from this book with a better understanding of a doctrine that many reject, while growing in appreciation for God’s love and holiness. Along the way, you will probably even chuckle, and more than once. Now that’s no small trick.

You can buy The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever at Amazon (Kindle; Softcover) or direct from Cruciform Press (all formats).

January 15, 2014

Torn to HealAs a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates, including thoughts on our recent releases. I try to mention titles shortly after they appear, so this one is a bit tardy. It’s a good book, though, and one I didn’t want to let pass by.

In Torn to Heal: God’s Good Purpose in Suffering, Mike Leake offers a “bare bones theology of suffering.” He does this by reflecting on the idea that “God uses the tearing of suffering to provide healing—a healing that goes far beyond the wound that is claiming our immediate attention.”

He begins with examples from the lives of Abraham, Hosea, Gideon, Joseph, and Job. He shows that God fulfills his promises, but does so in ways that seem (to us, anyway) counterintuitive. Then, in the heart of the book, he shows two ways Christians can get things seriously wrong: dualism and stoicism.

Both ways of thinking are faulty, both are partly correct, and both come in semi-Christian versions that run rampant in the church and do great harm. The dualistic Christian acknowledges that evil is something to strive against, but neglects the truth that God is sovereign over all things, even our suffering. The stoic Christian, on the other hand, may understand that God is sovereign, but will take a “grin and bear it” attitude toward suffering, without recognizing that God has a purpose for every trial.

After explaining the dangers of “deadly dualism” and “shallow stoicism,” Leake then offers the gospel view of suffering:

So the gospel agrees with the stoic in that God is sovereign and that we ought to humble ourselves under his mighty hand. And it agrees with the dualist in that there is real evil which God is in the business of eradicating. Yet at the end of the day the gospel proclaims (over against the dualist) an absolutely sovereign God and (over against the stoic) a God who incarnates himself and weeps for man’s suffering.

By uncovering the errors of dualism and stoicism, and then showing us the correct view of suffering, Leake equips us to spot faulty thinking in ourselves and others. And because he lays out everything so simply, we can remember and apply these truths long after we’ve finished the book.

December 05, 2013

Does God Listen to RapAs a cofounder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news and tell you about our most recent titles. Our November release, Does God Listen to Rap? Christians and the World’s Most Controversial Music, seems to have come at a good time. As many of you know, a panel at a conference of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches was recently asked to share their thoughts on Christian rap. They were highly disapproving, igniting an Internet firestorm of sorts.

What’s interesting is that Curtis Allen wrote this book in part to respond to a similar frenzy. A rapper before he became a Christian, Curt continued to use his gifts for the church after his conversion. As Reformed rap started to gain a foothold several years ago, some well-known preachers began to endorse it. In the Foreword, Owen Strachan even recounts a public rap battle between Curt and him that didn’t end too well for Owen. But after becoming the first rapper to perform during a worship service at John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist, Curt found himself in the position of defending Christian rap, and he wasn’t sure if his superficial reasons were biblical enough.

A lot has been written about rap in the last several days, much of it quite good. But if you like this music—or are interested in the much larger question of Christian involvement in cultural expression and the arts—there are still many good reasons to check out the book. Here are just a few unexpected questions that this book addresses:

  • How did the CIA and Martin Luther King’s assassination contribute to the formation of Hip Hop culture?
  • Why do many blacks believe that entertainment has done more for race relations than the church?
  • What is the surprising evidence for the claim that Augustine of Hippo basically rapped some of his most popular messages?
  • Is Lecrae’s current musical direction valid?
  • What are the three biblically sanctioned ways that rap contributes to the mission of the church?

The book also goes into depth on several subjects that all those recent blog posts simply couldn’t:

  • The pagan origins of the first Israelite worship song and of music itself.
  • God’s establishment of multiculturalism at the Tower of Babel in order to produce a fuller and more varied expression of worship.
  • The biblical requirement of cultural accommodation for the sake of the gospel.
  • The far-reaching implications of God’s refusal to specify anything about the sound or style of worship music.

Because rap is a relatively new art form, it’s hard for many to separate it from the culture of violence and crime from which it arose. Curt readily acknowledges the sinful roots of hip-hop. But in the heart of the book he looks at the formation of culture and how it fits into God’s redemptive plan. It makes for an interesting read and helps you think through how we can be in the world but not of the world, especially when it comes to creative endeavors like music and art.

A lot of people have already formed an opinion on rap music, but too often those opinions—pro or con—have more to do with personal preference than any biblical principle. Even though Curt was definitely “pro rap” when he started the book, he sincerely wanted a real answer to the question, one that went deeper than “rap is okay because I like rap.” The result is a thoughtful examination of the creative process and how believers can use their gifts to bring glory to God.

The book is available at Amazon and at Cruciform Press (where you can get any of three ebook formats for as little as $3.99). Today through Saturday, however, the Kindle version is just $1.99.

September 20, 2013

Broken VowsAs a co-founder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news, and tell you about our most recent titles. Our featured title for September is Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God by John Greco.

Broken Vows is a very personal book that opens with a bit of the author’s story. Greco was getting ready to start a new job as an associate pastor when he learned his wife had committed adultery and was not interested in saving the marriage. Shortly after his wife left, the job offer was rescinded. Nearly every worldly thing he based his identity on was lost, and he had to rebuild his life and look to Christ.

This book may speak primarily to those who have experienced divorce, but it is also a good resource for pastors and other Christians who want to think biblically about divorce so they can counsel others who have been impacted by it. Greco states that his reason for writing the book was “to stand alongside people who know the sting of divorce and other heartbreak, and at the same time, to inform those who’ve never known the pain personally.” But this book is more than just a divorce book, it’s a book about suffering, grief, forgiveness, and remaining hopeful in the wake of lost dreams. Everyone can in some way relate to those things, so everyone can in some way be encouraged by it.

At one time or another every one of us—whether we’ve walked through the pain of divorce or not—has wanted life to be “fixed” in some way. It’s what Jesus prayed next that is difficult: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). This is what it sounds like when a hope is yielded to God—when the greatest desire of a heart is to know God above everything else.

When this is the order of our priorities, we are freed from bondage to our circumstances. Like Jesus, like Stephen, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can respond to an uncertain future with unwavering resolve—regardless of our current struggles or what the future may hold. And we can be content without denying the reality that things aren’t where we might like them to be. We can say with the Psalmist: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

Throughout the book, Greco continually emphasizes the hope of the gospel, not as a means to get through the bad times, but as the only hope any of us have. Greco’s perspective is that of the spouse who was left, but he also points to the necessity of the gospel for the spouse who may bear the bulk of the blame for the end of the marriage. The abandoned spouse may fall into the trap of bitterness and self-righteousness. The other spouse may be under enormous guilt. But both sides, he says, need Christ.

Everyone knows someone who has been affected by divorce. Every church at some point has to deal with this issue. It’s sad that we need a book like this, but I’m grateful that Greco has provided the church with a resource to help us think biblically about such an important topic.

You can find Broken Vows at Amazon or direct from Cruciform Press.