What Should I Read This Summer?


I once saw a Facebook status which confused me: “I’m sooooo bored,” it read. I wondered–with so many great books and so much to explore–how could anyone be bored?

Book Schaeffer How Then LiveBelow is my service to any who might be tempted to boredom. Here is a list of some helpful and Biblically sound literature. I compiled this list (or one closely like it) for a student of mine who asked what he should read this summer. These are not recommended as “must -reads.”  And they are not listed in any particular order. They are simply some of the books thinking Christians will want to read.

I hope this list sparks your interest in learning more. The list covers hermeneutics, apologetics, theology, pastoral ministry, productivity, and even history. I tried to offer a variety of topics. Enjoy.

  1. Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules.
    1. Dr. Stein’s book is deceptively simple. It reads as a basic introduction to reading the Bible, but it is thoroughly informed by the most important trends in hermeneutics. Dr. Stein is a gifted writer, and this book is profoundly simple in offering a few rules for how to approach the Scriptures, taking into account authorial intent, genre, text criticism, etc.
  2. Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
    1. Matt has done a great job of sorting through the latest literature on business, productivity, and efficiency. He then interprets that literature through the lens of the gospel to produce a helpful resource for making the most of our time as Christians.
  3. R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe
    1. In this classic overview of the literature related to the age-old question of God’s sovereignty vs. Free will, R. C. Sproul offers a thorough Book Willing Believe Free will sovereigntyintroduction to the best arguments for and against “Free –will.” He traces the debate from the Scripture through Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, to the present. It is amazing how succinctly and clearly he is able to cover so much ground.
  4. R. C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right
    1. In this volume, R. C. Sproul—somewhat controversially—takes aim at some of the more stalwart evangelical Christians of our day. His reason is to protect the gospel from the errors of the Reformation. Even if he might be deemed too harsh in his criticism, Sproul does a great job in this book of highlighting the importance of Reformation distinctions related to the gospel.
  5. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization
    1. Written in the late 1980’s, this book by Carl Henry proved prescient indeed. He spoke of the “drift” in culture and offered a Christian response which proved to be prophetic. His remedies are still worth considering by those wishing to remain evangelical in a world which emphatically is not. Henry is too quickly being dismissed by evangelicals today. We need to keep reading the works of this brilliant stalwart of our Christian faith.
  6. John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait
    1. For those who are pastors, or those wishing to be pastors, or even those just wishing to understand the basic nature of pastoral ministry, John Stott has written a simple little volume which offers a snapshot of the pastoral life. His style is simple and clear. This is a very helpful little volume.
  7. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
    1. Don Whitney is a gifted writer and speaker. This book—which is about to be released in an updated anniversary edition—should be required reading for every Christian. He walks through the Christian disciplines in a simple, step-by-step way. His work is as encouraging as it is enjoyable to read. For anyone who has not read this work, you should start here. Dr. Whitney is a reliable guide for the Christian faith.
  8. Ron Nash, The Meaning of History
    1. For a change of pace, I offer this intriguing read. It isn’t a long book, and it is well written, but, I will warn you, it is a work of philosophy.Book Meaning History philosophy time hebrews As philosophy books go, this one is easy to read, but the ideas are profound. Dr. Nash demonstrates how important the Christian view of history is. We take this view for granted, but such a view of history is fading as our culture reinvents itself in a non-Christian way.
  9. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
    1. Hopefully, you have already read Packer’s classic volume on the basic proposition that we are able to know God through His revelation. This book is foundational in many ways. It is, as I sad, an evangelical classic. The book has been in print for 4 decades and has sold millions of copies.
  10. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live
    1. Like Carl Henry, so, too, Francis Schaeffer’s voice was absolutely prophetic. All the dangers about which he warned us have unfolded over the last 30 years. This book by Schaeffer has been a foundational work in apologetics, particularly from the presuppositional perspective. It is still very much worth reading because of the manner in which Schaeffer traces ideas through history which have brought us to our present state of affairs. Schaeffer is an outstanding writer.

I hope at least some of these titles will interest you, as you continue to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Persecution for Every Christian: Why it is important to identify with the persecuted church


I seem to have a recurring disagreement with fellow Christians. I don’t like disagreements. I try to avoid them, but, when it comes to the persecuted church, I keep having them.

All Christians Face Persecution The conversation typically goes something like this: We are engaged in talking about some current event related to Christian persecution. The brother or sister in Christ then says, “they have it so bad over there. It really costs them to be a Christian.” –Which of course is true.

Then I usually say, well, we are all persecuted if we follow Christ. We share the same kind of persecution—even if it is not to the same degree. That line—we share the same kind of persecution—usually provokes an almost hostile response, and I am not sure why (feel free to explain below). Rather than attempting to probe deeply into the spiritual psyche of those who revile my position, I think I’d rather lay out 5 reasons it is important to understand persecution as something which impacts all Christians–including American Christians.

First, the plain teaching of Jesus and the New Testament favors (a) calling all persecution by the same name, and (b) expects all Christians to suffer it. In other words, the New Testament promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Granted, this little promise does not make its way into the “The Book of Bible Promises” available at your local Wal-Mart, but it is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Christians in the New Testament are promised persecution. Jesus explains the reason for this persecution in Matthew 5:10-12. Basically, the persecution happens because Christ is present with His people (“on account of me” in Matthew 5:11). Just as the world hated Christ then, the world will hate him (via his people) even now (see also John 15). Whether the persecution is imprisonment (as in Acts 5) or being falsely accused (Matthew 5) or being mocked (Acts 17) or being executed by the sword (Acts 12)—in each instance, there is Christian persecution—a hostile, retaliatory action against the presence of Christ. Both Jesus and the New Testament make this point clearly.

Second, those who wish to make a distinction between torture and name-calling are correct in so doing with regard to the severity of the crime. Who could doubt that it is worse to be lacerated with an electrical cable than to be laughed at during a family meal? Nevertheless, as was just pointed out above, the difference is in degree of persecution–not in whether or not persecution was suffered.

Many, hoping to maintain the distance between “real” persecution and the “light” afflictions we suffer in America, sadly end up injecting an artificial distance between Christians in America and Christians in the rest of the world. The priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 works against such a bifurcation within the body of Christ. It is our Lord’s desire for us to be one—even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

In trying to maintain the distance between the suffering of American Christians and the suffering of brothers and sisters in Nigeria, for example, some leaders speak of persecution as though it is worthy of the name only if it is of a particularly fantastic variety: prison, torture, beatings, death.  Persecution ends up being a pertinent category only for “those” Christians over “there” in other parts of the world. This, it seems to me, artificially divides the body of Christ. Indeed, we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted as though we are in prison with them since we ourselves are one in body with them. The New Testament calls for us to close the gap in the body of Christ by identifying in united fashion with the persecuted. We can’t do that if we separate ourselves into “those over there” who suffer persecution and “us over here” who do not. That is an artificial, unbiblical distinction.

… There are 3 more reasons to go… stay tuned

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

God and Money


English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when a theologian crosses paths with an economist? It sounds like a bad joke. But the question is pertinent, considering that a new book is on the horizon which combines clear theology with sound economic principles.

One of the benefits of attending ETS in Milwaukee was hearing Wayne Grudem defend this thesis: “God does not require or even authorize the state to redistribute wealth–except for a welfare safety net.”  Dr. Grudem offered the session as a preview to an upcoming book. He has already sent the manuscript to the publishers so watch for the book in 2013.

Grudem’s basic outline is so practical that it is difficult to see how anyone can miss the point, but, of course, our last election is Exhibit 1A in the evidence room against such practicality in economics. Grudem asserts first that the power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. The government bears the power of the sword and can coerce its will on its citizens.

Second, Grudem explains that the government is expected to fulfill several functions, but wealth distribution is not among them.  Punishing evil, promoting good order, and establishing justice (not fairness) is among the important tasks of government, while equalizing income and property have no place in government function.

Third, Grudem shows that the Bible expects private property ownership, not communal government property. Individuals are to own the land and thus possess the wealth of a nation. Governments must be held in check so that the “king” does not exact the wealth from his people.

Fourth, Grudem demonstrates how justice is concerned with a standard of righteousness–not with counting coins to make sure everyone has the same amount. The government should prevent crime and enforce contracts, but it should not take money from some to buy votes from others and thus to keep all in subjection.

Grudem’s work is timely (as always). The book should be a very helpful resource when it arrives. In the meantime, Grudem suggests a book by Jay Richards: Money, Greed, and God.

Justice and Vengeance


Folks often confuse the concepts of justice and vengeance, but God is not confused. He makes a clear distinction.  Justice concerns dealing with someone according to a fixed law or standard—particularly a standard by which all are governed equally.  Vengeance, on the other hand, concerns an individual or group who perceive a wrong against them and seek revenge in response.  They forego justice for revenge.

Clint Eastwood’s famous film The Outlaw Josey Wales was an exercise in blurring the distinction between the two concepts of justice and vengeance.  Josey went after a band of murderers who had killed his family.  In taking on the mission personally and seeking revenge for the wrong done against him, Josey Wales enacted vengeance.  He subverted the law.  However, the men who were killed genuinely were guilty of murder and, thus, should have been punished.  So, in that sense, there was ultimately justice.  We call this kind of justice a vigilante justice.  All of Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing after Rawhide were directed towards the gray areas just off the edge of justice (think Dirty Harry).

No matter how Eastwood and others attempt to murky up the water’s edge, there is a pool of clear water out of which the Lord has established justice.  Deuteronomy 19 makes the point plain.  As the people of God were entering the Promised Land, they needed a system of justice to maintain order against the chaos of vengeance.  The Lord established for them cities of refuge in order to maintain the distinction between justice and vengeance.  His justice was displayed in several ways.

First, the Lord commanded that there be 3 cities of refuge, evenly spaced throughout the land.  The proportional spacing meant there would be refuge within the reach of all citizens, justice for all, not just for the privileged few.  In the event that Israel increased her land and population, she could add 3 more cities of refuge, again, ensuring justice for all.

Second, the cities of refuge were designed to promote justice and diffuse vengeance.  Whenever someone was killed, the family of the victim understood that they had the right to kill the killer in return (life for life).  However, the cities of refuge offered protection for the killer.  If he fled to the city of refuge, no one could kill him, thus providing protection for him against vengeance.

Third, the city of refuge offered justice.  If the person killing another actually were guilty of murder, he would not be allowed to stay in the city of refuge.  The elders of the city of refuge would have to apprehend the suspect and hand him over to those seeking justice.  I use the word justice here rather than vengeance because the family allowed the system of justice to work.  The family allowed the killer to reach the city of refuge.  They allowed the city of refuge to pronounce judgment as to guilt or innocence.  And they were right in their judgment against the man.  Because the killer was guilty of murder, he deserved to die for murder.  This is justice, not vengeance.

Fourth, the system of justice displayed by the cities of refuge is a remarkable manifestation of the justice of God.  In reality, there are no innocent people in the eyes of God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And yet, God makes a refuge for the innocent.  Though in an ultimate sense, all men are guilty of crimes against God, in a lesser sense, not all men are guilty of all crimes evenly.  If a man kills another man by accident, he is not guilty of murder.  The Lord Himself knows this and accounts for this reality in His great justice and mercy. God is perfectly just, and His justice and mercy are displayed in all His ways—even in the way that he maintains the distinction between justice and vengeance.

Something Different


If you are in the mood for something a little different, check out this blog on John Calvin, called Calvin500.  Calvin is celebrating his birthday, or, actually, we are celebrating his birthday.  Interesting links on this blog.  Enjoy.

Um… That’s Not the 1st Command


 

Read this article, and you will know why the evangelical embrace of the Green movement is worrisome to me.  Specifically, the Green movement is a fusion of bad theology with bad science.  Call it a “Con-fusion.”  This article, unfortunately, illustrates some of the muddle-headed thinking of Christians when it comes to the Green movement.  Recycling is fine, of course, but it isn’t a spiritual exercise.  In addition, the first commandment is not, “Take care of the earth,” as this pastor says.  In fact, the command he cites is, “You shall not eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For in the day that you eat, you shall surely die.” 

 

Equating this command with environmental injunctions against SUV’s and plastic grocery sacks is about as sensible as saying World War II was a little misunderstanding.  Do we really think the command against eating the forbidden fruit is a statement on climatology?  Really?

The Al Gore Green science is not science (see here or here).

The “God Is Green” movement is not godly, or biblical.