Apologetics Award: “The Art of Persuasion: Blaise Pascal on How to Change Minds” – “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others,” – this wonderful article has a whole lot more where this came from.
Platform Building Award: “Give me a Self-Published Author Over One From a Traditional Publisher Any Day.” This is one journey’s author from being an insider in the publishing world to a fully-converted indie author. Pretty fascinating.
Non-Fiction Award: “On Writing Well (5 Tips)” – Tim Challies has the best Zinnser summary I’ve seen yet.
Fiction Award: “If You Don’t Fix This Mistake in Your Story’s Climax, You’ll Hate Yourself Later” – Here’s a cheap climax gimmick to avoid, courtesy of KM Weiland.
Preaching Award: “A Sample Christ-Centered Marriage Sermon” – I’m bookmarking this one.
Christianity and Culture Award: “Why Overpaying Workers Makes Good Biblical Sense” – This is something I’ve been thinking about all semester. This article articulates where the gospel needs to depart from capitolism-in-and-of-itself.
Reading and Literature Award: “Here’s Why Famous Authors Chose Their Fake Names” – A fun little infographic.
Spiritual Life Award: “Running from a Bad Church May Hinder Your Spiritual Health” –”Many people think their church’s problems are an obstacle standing in the way of their spiritual development. Usually, the opposite is true. It’s their commitment to their church, in spite of its problems, that is making them more like Jesus.”
Theology Award: “8 Features of the Best Kind of Calvinism” – This is an awesome summary of Ian Hamilton on Calvinism.
Motivational Award: “10 Incredible Bits of Advice From Famous Writers’ Commencement Speeches” – These are pretty short, but pretty inspiring. Wade through the baggage, tread wisely.
Fun Award: “12 Old-Timey Ways of Saying Nonsense.” Balderdash. Codswallop. Bunkum. Poppycock. And many more.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “Louis C.K. is Not a Good Person” – I’m fascinated by Louis C.K. – this article has a lot to say about why. Plus the clip is pretty great.
Over the years, I’ve become increasingly convinced of the fact that the gospel is what is most needed to root sin out of our souls. We may memorize 100 principles for overcoming anxiety, pornography, anger issues, spending habits, social anxiety, food addictions, or what have you – but these principles will never permanently change our lives. They are sin band-aids, temporarily covering the gashes we carry. If we still, deep down, believe the lies of temptation, we’ll fall for temptation’s tricks every time.
What’s needed to transform our behavior isn’t “behavior management”. What’s needed is gospel truth. Over the years, I’ve found it very helpful to preach the gospel to myself, in moments of temptation, by replacing five lies I believe with these five gospel truths:
1. “I’m all alone, so I can’t do it”. No, because of INCARNATION. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15. Jesus knows what it feel like to be tempted with lust, bitterness, and despair. There’s nothing you think or feel in temptation which Jesus does not sympathize with. He feels your pain, because he knows human weakness.
2. “I’m guilty, so I might as well.” No, because of CRUCIFIXION. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5. Because Jesus took your shame on the cross, you no longer need to live out of that shame. He has healed you of your wounds. He was crushed for your transgressions. He was made guilty, so you might be free. Your slate is clean. All of the weight of your sin is heaped on him.
3. “I’m weak, so I’m going to anyway.” No, because of RESURRECTION. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesusd from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11. Through His resurrection, Jesus trampled the spiritual authorities which held you captive to sin. He won victory over death, so that you might live. The very Spirit who has power to turn death to life is using His energies to mortify sin in your life, and give you power for life and godliness.
5. “I’m in control, so I’ll take it into my own hands”. No, because of ASCENSION. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purposes” – Romans 8:28 Jesus is reigning on high. Did you hear that? Jesus is in TOTAL CONTROL of your life. Every single hair of your head is known by him – not a dust particle can alight on you without his foreknowledge. And it is all working for your good. Even tragic evil is redeemed by God for good, as Joseph says to his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20. You don’t need to take matters into your own hands, because God’s purpose for you is to be conformed into the image of Jesus (8:29) – and He will accomplish what he began.
5. “I’m itchy, so I need a scratch.” No, because of PENTECOST. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19). You don’t need whatever it is you think you need. If you have food and clothing and the Holy Spirit, you can be satisfied. More than satisfied – you can be “filled with all the fullness of God.” God has made you His temple, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. He dwells in you. And nothing is more satisfying than communion with His Spirit through total immersion in the love of Christ.
So, Christian – when you’re tempted to blow up at your kid; when you feel the anxiety of your boss hanging over you; when you feel the secret allure of lust – preach the gospel to yourself. Preach these five truths, when the slightest hint of sin rears its ugly head. Root it out, from the ground up – and you will experience gospel freedom.
PS – I’ve noticed that some of these truths apply more to some temptations than others. But I still go through all five truths, because they remind me of the entire story of the gospel, and I don’t know myself well enough to know, in every circumstance, which part of the gospel will most resonate with me. The Holy Spirit does, and as I preach to myself, he warms my heart to one or two, and exposes the lies I’m believing.
P.P.S. – I assume everyone reading knows this, but I am writing this as a work in progress, not a perfectionist. Actually, more like a work that sees it needs more progress every day.
Apologetics Award: “Torrey on the Trustworthiness of Scripture” – The greatest proof for scripture’s authority is, so many times, scripture itself. Just think about its brilliant and complex unity, as outlined by R.A. Torrey.
Platform Building Award: “Book Launch Tips from Two Guys Who Know.” These are some great insights from both the Indie world and the Big Boys club.
Non-Fiction Award: “10 Writing Tips from William Zinsser, in Honor of His Death” – One of the things I found most fascinating was how memorable this all was to me, even after years of reading it. That in itself shows Zinsser’s brilliance as a writer.
Fiction Award: “Don’t Overwrite” – “Don’t overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced.” – Sarah Waters
Preaching Award: “Why Sermons Often Bore” – This is a summary of Tim Keller’s teaching on preaching at TGC, and the full video is below. Don’t miss it.
Christianity and Culture Award: “3 Takeaways from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey’” – Gotta love Ed Stetzer: “Christianity in America isn’t dying. It’s being clarified.”
Reading and Literature Award: “The Children’s Stories that Got Great Writers Reading” – These are all pretty fascinating, especially given that most kids haven’t read a lot of these classics.
Spiritual Life Award: “Don’t Hold Your Hair Back When You Throw Up” – This is really well-written and is chock-full of convicting insights about being real with our faith, ala Martin Luther and other greats. Worth a read, from Parchment and Pen.
Theology Award: “Calvin Contra Contempt for Civil Authority” – A wonderful and convicting teaching on how Calvin taught Christians to respect the government…for theological reasons.
Motivational Award: “Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being“ – a simple, wonderful poem on the wonderful simplicity of life in a writer’s eyes.
Fun Award: “Van Gogh’s 1888 Painting ‘Night Cafe’ in 3D” – This will probably horrify some people, but I thought it was haunting and beautiful. This artist uses modern digital technology to bring us inside Van Gogh’s world.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “David Brooks: We Need to Start Talking About Sin and Righteousness Again” – From a NY Times columnist, this article is brilliant and revealing: “There are surveys called ‘The Narcissism Test’ that ask whether respondents agree with statements like, ‘I like to be the center of attention because I’m so extraordinary,’ or ‘Somebody should write a biography about me.’ The median narcissism score has gone up 30 percent in 20 years.”
I stepped out of college at the bright and brimming age of 21, and never looked back, except to pay the bills. The bills, that is, that had accumulated to a whopping and ludicrous $60,000+ dollars, plus change. This was my student debt.
But called to ministry I was, so I stepped into the field fully expecting that the Lord would compensate me. I began ministry at a grand $36,000 a year, until I finally pinned down some of my theology and decided the place I worked didn’t share it. I then transferred to a church that paid significantly less, we had our first child, and the “graduating payment” plan kicked in generously, asking us to donate to our local loan officer a grand $400 a month payment.
The story does get better, but before it does, I need to be honest about the fact that “ministry” during this the time felt less like changing people’s souls and more like I was a cat trying to claw its way up drywall. I was struggling to breathe, to work, to think straight – my debt was an insurmountable burden, like I was pregnant with a child who would never breach the womb.
I nearly gave up ministry, and probably should have if it weren’t for the generous program that paid my way through seminary, effectively putting my debt into the same category as most other seminarians: yes, you heard that right. The average debt for a seminary graduate is $30,000 (plus change). And the average pastoral salary is $45,000. Which means paying off debt in this lifetime, for most pastors, is about as likely as shooting a nerf-ball into outer space and hitting the moon.
Destroying the Church.
Now think about that. 20 years ago, it was considered a crisis that 30% of seminarians were graduating with $10,000 of debt. A crisis. Why? Because 50 years ago, denominations largely bore the brunt of paying for theological training, and to this day, most parishioners assume that’s just what happens: seminary gets paid for. Somehow. By someone.
But statistically speaking, that’s just not true. Instead, here are a few things that happen:
1. Churches decide theological training is unimportant. Thus, pastors become less able to defend orthodoxy with any reasonable skill, unless they are exceptionally, exceptionally talented (and 99% are not). Or,
2. Pastors are forced to view ministry as a career, climbing from one position to another, in which case college towns (the most strategic place in the country for gospel outreach), and at-risk/low-income communities are ignored for the simple fact that they can’t pay the bills. Or,
3. Pastors become embittered against the seminary/church for financial woes, and drop out. Or,
4. Pastors succumb to the pressure of “church growth”, and effectively sell their ministry out to corporate tactics, trying desperately to grow a small church into something that can at least manage the debt-beast that’s slowly avalanching toward the pastor’s family (this isn’t a rant against church growth tactics, but it KIND of is, because I have no doubt that many, many church growth practices are really about income growth, even if we won’t admit it).
Other possibilities abound, but the point is: pastoral debt is a social justice issue, it is a spiritual issue, and it is an orthodoxy issue. It is, in other words, a gospel issue.
What You Can Do.
Fortunately, a few organizations like the Lily Corporation, the ELCA and several theological institutions have worked to bring this issue to the fore. But it’s not enough. The truth is, most people are shocked to hear that seminarians are graduating with debt they’ll never pay off in their lifetime. The funding for seminary education just isn’t there (even for these great programs), and until it is, the problem will continue to persist, crippling churches, neglecting needy communities, and destroying the lives and families of pastors nationwide.
What is needed to address this issue is mass awareness, and mass response. What is needed is the local church, hearing and responding to the need. So what can you do? Here are a few ideas:
1. If you’re an employer, offer a job to a seminarian so he/she can complete their degree long-distance. In the past 5 years, a flourishing of long-distance M.Div options have cropped up, when none were available before. This will be the most viable option for most people, and has the dual benefit of giving real-world work experience before entering ministry (a requirement in some Europeans denominations!).
2. If you’re an elder/deacon or other leader in the church, encourage your church to set mission funds aside for theological education, and work with programs like Gordon Conwell’s Partnership Program or RTS’s 1/3 matching program to fund seminary completely. If your church does this, raise awareness and help financially.
3. If you are a pastor, speak with your denomination about strategic ways to help seminarians financially before, during, and after the seminary experience. Beforehand, catalyze gifted administrators in your church to help future pastors think about budgeting, exploring the options, and considering the debt/salary ratio. During, GIVE, and set students up with financial coaches from your church.
After, consider the ELCA’s matching program, which matches dollar for dollar every penny a seminarian pays back for theological education, encouraging both responsibility and offering much-needed aid (the man who put this program together reported that only 1 out of 150 pastors under his care dropped out of ministry while he was in leadership. This is remarkable, considering the most conservative estimates are a 20-30% dropout rate in the first 10 years nationwide).
Also, ensure that the minimum wages for pastors include the debt factor, especially if the denomination isn’t paying seminary costs up front.
4. Raise awareness. Share this article, for starters.
To be completely frank, I’m not sure I see any solutions for independent churches on this one. Not that I’ve investigated it much, but researchers chiefly point to denominations and seminaries as the main factors, and denominations are chiefly responsible for the funding. I would be more than happy to hear from independents on how this issue could/is being handled outside of connectionalism.
Blossom, Jay, “Making a Repayment Plan a Condition for Student Loans,” In Trust, http://www.intrust.org/Blog/entryid/66/making-a-repayment-plan-a-condition-for-student-loans
Blossom, Jay, “Student Loan Forgiveness for Employees of Religious Non-Profits? Maybe”, In Trust,
Briggs, David “The High Cost of Service: Student Debt Burdens Religious Workers”, Association of Religion Data Archives, August 6 2012 http://blogs.thearda.com/trend/featured/the-high-cost-of-service-student-debt-burdens-religious-workers/
Cortez, Marc, “Do Seminary Grads Burn Out Quickly?”, Western Seminary ‘Transformed’,
Foss, Richard “Tending to the Financial Strain of Ministry” Faith and Leadership, http://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/richard-foss-tending-the-financial-strain-ministry
Kloth, Ronnie, “Lilly Endowment Gives 12.3M to Help Theological Schools Improve the Economic Well-Being of Future Ministers,” Lilly Endowment Inc, December 2 2013, http://www.lillyendowment.org/pdf/HelpingTheologicalSchools.pdf
Mcmillan, Becky; Price, Matthew, “How Much Should We Pay the Pastor?”, Pulpit and Pew Research Reports, Winter 2013. http://www.faithandleadership.com/programs/spe/resources/ppr/salarystudy.pdf
Miller, Sharon; Early, Kim Maphis; Ruger, Anthony T. “Taming the Tempest: A Team Approach to Reducing and Managing Student Debt”, Auburn Theological Seminary, October 2014, http://www.auburnseminary.org/sites/default/files/Taming-Tempest-Final.pdf
Miller, Sharon; Early, Kim Maphis; Ruger, Anthony T. “A Call to Action: Lifting the Burden”, Auburn Theological Seminary, April 2014 http://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/current-initiatives/economic-challenges-facing-future-ministers/student-debt-strategies/auburn-lifting-the-burden.pdf
Moltz, David “No Repayment Plan, No Loan”, Inside Higher Education, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/04/14/tidewater_community_college_requiring_students_with_federal_loans_to_complete_personal_budget_and_repayment_plan
Steeber, Mary “Introduction to Coaching: Manual”, Luther Theological Seminary, http://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/current-initiatives/economic-challenges-facing-future-ministers/student-debt-strategies/Luther-financial-coaching-manual.pdf
Apologetics Award: “The Gospels, Literarily Speaking, are Not Myths.” Justin Taylor provides and incredible testimony from scholar J.B. Philips, and how his own translating of the Greek text is what converted him and convinced him of the reality of the resurrection.
Platform Building Award: “What to Do When Your Content Must Absolutely, Positively, Rock.” This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile: the truth is, nobody knows. Nobody really knows. That’s why you need to keep putting stuff out there.
Non-Fiction Award: “Times New Roman Could Ruin Your Career.” I was pretty much convinced TNR was the industry standard…but apparently, I’m way off on that.
Fiction Award: “How to Find a Literary Agent for Your Book” – This is the most helpful article I’ve read on the topic. I also bookmarked an incredibly helpful link to writing query letters.
Preaching Award: “10 Tips for Evangelistic Preaching” – These are all great, covering many different facets of the task, but this was my favorite: “Make people want it to be true before you try to convince them that it is true.”
Christianity and Culture Award: “How Disagreement Makes us Civil’” – Really appreciated this perspective on the gift that civil disagreement can be, when done in a gospel-centered manner.
Reading and Literature Award: “110 Drawings and Paintings by J.R.R. Tolkien” – Many of these are flat-out stunning. Tolkien’s vivid imagination translates into some great art. I’m encouraged by how much of the movie’s scenery was based off of Tolkien’s own conceptions.
Spiritual Life Award: “Martin Luther on the Definition of Faith” – “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!” Plenty more where this came from in the link above.
Theology Award: “Are Science and Theology Contradictory?” Absolutely, says the author of this very well thought through/laid out article. Well done.
Motivational Award: “Following Your Dreams to the Glory of God“: – Kevin Halloran with some really, really great biblical wisdom on following your dreams.
Fun Award: “Brian Cox’s Masterclass with a 2-Year Old” – In which this award-winning shakespearian actor teaches a young man Hamlet’s soliloquy.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “When I Became A Man I Put Dark, Gritty Things Behind Me” – This is a very funny, true, and interesting Christian perspective on why “fanboys” are getting sick of the ‘dark and gritty’ spin on everything DC.
When people ask me, “Where did you learn to speak?” I typically say:
1. The Holy Spirit, and
2. My mother.
That’s why I’m really excited to have done a bit of work with my mother in the last couple of years, as she’s put together a curriculum that explores the big picture of the Bible.
The curriculum is intended for families to do once a week – the lessons are simple, Christ centered, and easy to comprehend from a child’s perspective (we’ve done them with our son, Caleb). But best of all, every lesson is jam-packed with incredibly creative ideas that are fun, illuminating, and help kids to experience the Bible stories for themselves.
If you click on this site, you can get a FREE pdf copy of her Genesis curriculum. You have the option of making the crafts/activities yourself, or ordering them pre-made from her (and they are REALLY well done. Our kids love having the “story bags“).
So, what’s inside?
In the first installment, the curriculum breaks down the creation account to help kids understand that they live to worship, under God’s kingship. There are TONS of great activities for parents and kids to do to explore God’s creation and worship together.
In the second, the curriculum explores the meaning of The Fall. The lessons deal seriously with this issue, but simplify the concepts in a way kids can understand, and relate to (aka: “hitting your sister” instead of, “prelapsarianism”).
In the third, kids explore God’s grace through the story of Noah. This one is really fun – (it’s Caleb’s favorite) – and it deals with Noah’s story better than any children’s curriculum/book I’ve come across.
Finally, the fourth installment focuses in on God’s Promises to Abraham, carefully showing how each of these point us forward to Christ. This one manages to be very theologically rich yet simple, and provides additional resources for parents to explore these explosive promises and their fulfillment in the New Testament for themselves.
I am really excited for others to take part in this. My mother has taught the Bible to children/high-schoolers for 20 years, and has nearly 30 years of teaching experience. She knows what makes kids tick, and it really shines through in these curriculums.
Besides the free Genesis pdf, you can also follow her on blog for free, so that your family can follow along online, and give feedback.
Don’t have kids at home? You could still send the link, or the curriculum to:
- Families in your church.
- Share it on Facebook or Twitter.
- OR you could enjoy it yourself!
For more information, visit the website: http://josephssong.indiemade.com/blog
PS – No – I don’t get any commission for this (HINT HINT MOM – just kidding). But I do know that this is a project that has taken years of hard work and dedication to complete, and since I had a part in editing it, I’m excited to see it come alive!
Apologetics Award: “David Foster Wallace: There is No Such Thing as Not Worshiping” – If you’ve never seen this commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, these are truly some of the most insightful words you’ll ever hear from a secular writer/philosopher. Wilkinson’s summary of Wallace is fantastic.
Platform Building Award: “A Content Marketing Strategy for Creatives” – Not so into blogging and platform building? Here is a shortcut, for creative types.
Non-Fiction Award: “David Ogilvy’s 10 Pieces of Writing Advice” – Short and sweet, this memo from 1952 is chock-full of winning advice.
Fiction Award: “5 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Story” – Thank you to my friend Deborah for sharing this wonderful article with me, on why “Unbroken” didn’t work as a film…and what we can learn.
Preaching Award: “Two Tips for Preaching.” – Years ago, I would have argued against these two pieces of advice. Today, I would scream at you to follow them.
Christianity and Culture Award: “Twice Born’” – My good friends Bobby and Shelly Ross are starring in a PBS series highlighting their in-the-womb surgery for their daughter. This documentary is an amazing example of how Christians can impact culture, without explicitly preaching. Well done, good and faithful servants!
Reading and Literature Award: “Paul Was Inspired…Yet he Wanted Books” – This quote by Charles Spurgeon is fascinating, on the Christian duty to read.
Spiritual Life Award: “The God of Justice Hates False Reports” – Kevin DeYoung nails it on this all too common Christian practice.
Theology Award: “Truman’s Lectures on Church History…Free” – One of the best ways to study theology is to study it’s history. Andrew Wilson spends a page convincing you to listen to these new, free lectures by Carl Truman on church history. I find it convincing.
Motivational Award: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – MARK TWAIN
Fun Award: “Yoda Identified in Ancient Medieval Manuscript” – You see this is what I’ve been trying to get across on this blog all along.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “Flannery O’Connor and the Violence of Grace” – TGC with a fantastic overview of O’Connor’s moral legacy.
Although I’ve read Mere Christianity several times in the past, this particular round I focused on Lewis’s technique – an angle I’ve not taken before. Although I’d remembered vague lessons about Lewis’s writing, I was struck particularly this round with how ingenious Lewis’s pedagogy really is.
There were several new observations about Lewis’s work I made this time around.
First was Lewis’s “coming alongside” approach to his work. Although Lewis was obviously an elite academic, he doesn’t come across as a snob. He doesn’t argue with critics, he responds. He speaks from his own experience by making use of the first person “I”. He is never vitriolic or polemic, and is honest when he is out of his league. He is never combative in his tone – he also endeavors to sound as though he’s sitting down with you for a fireside chat. His goal, as it is written in one of his old prefaces to the book, was to strike a balance somewhere between “radio” and “essay” (although, he later decided the written version was TOO radio, and formalized it a bit more).
Second, Lewis’s use of metaphor – Lewis does not make a single point without grounding it in concrete reality. This, in part, is due to his theory of language found in other works. Lewis believed that words only have meaning insofar as they relate to concrete realities: things we see, and do, and touch. If words don’t connect to those realities, the words are more or less meaningless. Because of this, Lewis finds it absolutely integral to inculcate his writing not with “theory” but “reality.”
Third, how Lewis presented his metaphors interested me particularly. Unlike most modern writers, Lewis would often not explain his point until he had illustrated it. For him, explaining a point without an illustration would be like making a pot without clay. First, Lewis spins our imaginations, then, he molds them toward his point. So, rather than extrapolate his points, he might do something like this:
1. Suggest an alternative, a problem, or a thesis.
2. Use an illustration with a transitional, “Here’s what I mean,” or, “Think of it like this.”
3. Explain the original suggestion using the illustration.
I’ve noted that this is peculiar to Lewis – it is the opposite of the way most modern writers go about things. First they explicate, then they layer on the metaphor. Lewis is the opposite.
Fourth, I’ve also noticed, in Lewis’s use of metaphor, how careful he was to explain the metaphor. Many modern writers, in attempting to imitate Lewis, throw poetic-type metaphor into their writing. But Lewis doesn’t merely ‘throw it in’ – he will often spend one or two paragraphs explaining: “Now the engine of the ship is like our soul,”, and go on to show how this corresponds to the reality of which he is speaking. He ensures readers cannot take his metaphor in the wrong way. It also goes to show the poetic thoughtfulness with which he chose each analogy – they were field tested, each one, and stood up on four legs, not one.
Fifth, I’ve noted the way that Lewis thought seems to correspond with the writing process itself. I don’t imagine Lewis walking around with these ideas in his head all the time. Rather, it feels more as though he sits down with a question and asks himself, “What does this mean? What is it like? What might people say in objection to it? What is the answer?” It seems for Lewis, like others, writing was how he thought things through. As both Augustine and Calvin have said, “I think as I write, and I write as I think.” Writing was not necessarily the result of Lewis’s thinking so much as its engine.
Finally, I think the genius of Lewis is in his stretching over backward to be as simple as possible. He doesn’t talk down to his readers, but he does talk in baby language. As he mentions in one of his old prefaces to the work, “I think of my readers as sheep, who will go any which way they choose with your words so long as you let them. The key is to be sure they have no other path than the one you’ve set out for them.” This is probably the pre-eminent lesson of Lewis. Lewis always attempts in his writing to choose (as per his advice to one young writer), the simple words over the complex. Everything he does is in service of simplicity.
In the end, Lewis’s technique is an outflow of his character. He demonstrates humility by refusing to “show off” – he is always, rather, aiming to make things as clear and simple as possible. He also demonstrates a humble spirit in his “coming alongside” approach (this is a phrase I stole from my publisher, by the way – something my editor has had to drill into me for the last year. It was good to see it in practice, here). He is an amazing thinker, and an amazing poet.
And although at many times in the book I found his philosophy, theology and apologetic falling flat, I couldn’t help but feel I was in the presence of a man who really knew Christ, and was expending all his mental energy to serve him. If there’s one thing to learn from Lewis, it’s this: no matter how impressive a thinker you are, don’t aim to impress. Aim to communicate. In other words: in your writing, aim to be like Jesus.
Apologetics Award: “A Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power” – What does it take to convince people to believe in Christ? Cleverness? Miracles? Wilson takes an often misused text to prove just the opposite.
Platform Building Award: “11 Tips to Getting Your Book Published” -I appreciate the non-bias: “Remember that there are many ways to publish these days. No single route is inherently or necessarily better than another. Whether you self-publish or go with a trade or independent or academic press doesn’t necessarily mean much. It’s more important to find the best fit for your specific topic and circumstances.”
Non-Fiction Award: “Top 10 Confused Words in the English Language” – A very affective article, full of great advise.
Fiction Award: “Anne Lamott’s 17 Pieces of Advice About Fiction and Life” – You will most definitely want to soak this in.
Preaching Award: “Spurgeon Almost Quit” –”We would have it so happen that, when our life’s history is written, whoever reads it will not think of us as ‘self-made men,’ but as the handiwork of God, in whom his grace is magnified. Not in us may men see the clay, but the Potter’s hand. They said of one, ‘He is a fine preacher;’ but of another they said, ‘We never notice how he preaches, but we feel that God is great.'”
Christianity and Culture Award: “Bonhoeffer on Embracing Your Times’” –”In spite of that, I can only say that I have no wish to live in any other time than our own, even though it is so inconsiderate of our outward well-being.
Reading and Literature Award: “18 Literary Maps of the United States” – I sure hope these become T-shirts, soon.
Spiritual Life Award: “10 Principles for Christian Husbands and Fathers” – I feel very far from this, but I aspire to it.
Theology Award: “Yes, You Can Please Your Father.” –”Some of us have taken justification to mean we no longer have a dynamic relationship with our heavenly Father, as if God is indifferent to our sin and our obedience. But Scripture says we can grieve the Holy Spirit, and in Hebrews 12 we see that a father disciplines those he loves. God is not pleased when we sin. Or, as John Calvin puts it, God can be ‘wondrously angry with his children.'”
Motivational Award: “Winston Churchill’s ‘Work-Life Balance” – Once again proving there is no such thing. Although, this did inspire me to live more Hobbit-like: more naps, longer meals, better friends and longer books.
Fun Award: “The New Star Wars Trailer is Here and it is Amazing” – Yes it is. It is also very short.
The Glimpse of Truth Award: “The Christian Undergirding of David Brooks’ Moral Bucket List” – If you haven’t read Brooks’ recent NY Times article, you really should. Van Sloten shows how beautifully it reflects our inner moral compass, by providing Bible verses for each item.
I’ll be honest: I’ve lived most of my life with a pretty low view of work. Being a pastor was fine – but I’m talking about NORMAL jobs, for NORMAL people. I thought, “Why would you be making widgets when you could be transforming souls?”
As it turns out, that attitude toward work is infectious. We pastors generally communicate in myriad ways that church is where the real work happens…we demand large hours invested within the church building, and do very little, if anything, to equip our parishioners to think through work specific issues.
This attitude has left many in the workforce feeling that the only justification for their work is their piggy bank. Recent studies have shown that very few Christians work any differently from their co-workers (see Amy Sherman’s Book, “Kingdom Calling” for the stats). That, of course, ought to be true in a sense. The way to be a good mechanic, after all, isn’t to plant tracts in the engine. It’s to FIX THE CAR.
But in another sense, the way a Christian works is radically different from those around him or her. The gospel ought to transform the way a Christian works from the inside out. How?
Here are five principles, taken from Tim Keller’s lecture at Redeemer Church to businessmen and women:
1. Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work could destroy you.
There are two potentially destructive outcomes in our work. We can succeed, in which case our work goes to our head. We start feeling as though our competence in one specific area of life entitles us to expertise in all areas of life, and look down on others without similar success.
Or, we can fail, and be devastated.
The reason for both of these is simple: without the gospel, our work is often our identity. Keller quotes from NY Times writer Benjamin Nugent, speaking of his transition into a writing career: “When I made writing who I was, it was warping,” he says, “It was conducive to depravity, and I mean the old Calvinist kind. When good writing was my only goal, I made the quality of my work the measure of my work…I couldn’t tell whether something I wrote was good or bad because I needed it to be good to be sane.”
The gospel frees us from work-as-identity syndrome.
2. Faith gives you a concept of the worth and dignity of all work without which work could bore you.
In past generations, work was seen as a necessary evil. For millennials and beyond, however, work is romanticized. If we’re not “saving the world”, using our gifts, and experiencing the mythological bliss of a thornless calling, we feel entitled to move on.
But the gospel dignifies all types of work, not just the visible jobs. Martin Luther famously pointed out that when God provides milk for us, it doesn’t appear out of thin air – He provides through the milkmaid. The milkmaid, then, is doing the work of God. The same is true for anyone doing real service for others, no matter how small or thankless.
3. Faith gives you a moral compass without which work could corrupt you.
We live in a funny culture. On the one hand, we teach our kids that there is no right or wrong. But when they cross the line (which we said didn’t exist), we punish them. We decry Enron executives, even though we taught them that morals are institution and culture specific. As C.S. Lewis has written in his Abolition of Man, “We castrate them, then bid the geldings be fruitful.”
The gospel teaches us that there really are moral standards which go beyond what we can “get away with” legally. We are competitive, but not ruthless. We increase wealth, but not without genuine service toward others. We seek the success of our company, but not by cutting corners. Christians go beyond the law at work – we seek to model Christ.
4. Faith gives you a new world and life view that shapes the character of your work, without which work could use you and master you.
One of the lies we’re told in society is that we can somehow bifurcate our religious beliefs from our workplace. On the one hand, this ought to be true for Christians: a good pilot doesn’t pronounce John 3:16 during an inflight passenger announcement. A good pilot lands the plane.
On the other hand, many professions require a deep understanding of human nature – a foundation which can’t be found outside of scripture. How do we educate children? How do we tell stories? How do we decided what is just? Without a biblical anthropology, we can’t think through these issues properly. The gospel allows us to escape the false narrative created by the idols of our workplace, by replacing it with the true narrative of human flourishing found in Christ.
5. Faith gives you a hope in the frustration of work without which work could harden you or crush your spirit.
Finally, the gospel assures us that there is something beyond our work. We will never accomplish all we want in this life. Those in law will never see the full vision of justice they strive toward. Those in art will never quite create the masterpiece they envision. Those in city planning will never see the city they dream about.
But there is a new city coming – God is renovating heaven and earth, and He will take our unaccomplished works, and accomplish them. He will see them through to completion. When we stand before him in a renovated heaven and earth, we will see the justice, the masterpiece, the city we had always envisioned. And, despite our frail and flawed efforts here, God will say to each of us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. Now I will give you charge of many.”