I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on what my particular call is in the blog world, and this has led me to pair down this week’s Awards. There are plenty of people doing theology, spiritual life, fun stuff – my call is to equip Christian communicators to be as effective as possible. So, I’ve trimmed the categories, and added one, toward that end. Hope you enjoy:
Kindle Deal of the Week: Aristotle’s Poetics – I mentioned Poetics in this week’s video. Grab it here for 99 cents.
Apologetics Award: Right, Wrong, and the Meaning of the Universe – When I first watched this a few weeks ago, I thought the voice was actually C.S. Lewis’s, and came away extremely disappointed…now that I know it’s not him, I enjoy it more.
Preaching Award: Cotton Mather on Preaching – Here’s a nice little sum of excerpts from Cotton Mather’s most fruitful preaching ministry.
Illustration Award: How Covenants Make Us – (This segment is not “new”, because it was originally titled, “A Glimpse of Truth”…but it was just a fancy (and more confusing) way of saying – illustrations for the secular world) David Brooks brings a load of intellectual weight to bear on the fact that we are covenant creatures.
Writing Award: Flannery O’Connor’s 10 Writing Tips – I’ve never read these before, I don’t believe. Awesome.
Books and Lit Award: The Classical Education You Never Had – Here’s a great AOM podcast making the case for classical education (for YOU).
New! Rhetoric and Persuasion Award: Have a Conversation – This whole article is full of stunningly biased language, so if you’re prickly, don’t read. But it’s a fascinating look at how the LGBT community seeks to persuade.
Christians and Culture Award – Safe Schools and Gender Non-Conformity – Kevin DeYoung sets a wonderful example of how to engage a secularized culture from a biblical perspective. Notice how he makes appeals to common ground.
In this week’s 6-minute video, you’ll learn:
- Why most “brilliant” communicators won’t attract an audience.
- How to avoid two extremes of ineffective communication.
- How great communicators keep things both clear and interesting.
- Aristotle’s simple tool that ensures you have a perfect communication style.
(If you’re an e-mail subscriber, click here to view the video).
If you enjoy, share it with a friend!
Kindle Deal of the Week: Billy Bryson’s Shakespeare – Grab this biography by possibly the best history writer of our time. $1.99 – can’t beat it.
Apologetics Award: Intelligent Design in the Mind of an Atheist – Austin has a great, brief reflection on how a presuppositionalist might think of intelligent design arguments.
Preaching Award: How a Simple Tweak Can Dramatically Change Communication – So, warning: this is a post on boosting traffic for bloggers. But stick with it, because the principle is actually very powerful when applied to ministry: “People come to have their external problems solved…but they stay when you meet their internal needs.”
Spiritual Life Award: How to Become a Theologian – This is an incredible round up of 21 theologians including Kevin VanHoozer, Jonathan Leeman, Don Whitney, and others on how lay-people can be wise theologians. Mine this one, hard.
Theology Award: Did Jesus Descend Into Hell? Absolutely he did. There’s no atonement without it.
Fun Award: Holographic Images – Check out this freaky, futuristic look at what holographs can do today.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: Why Is Friends Still the Most Popular Show on the Internet? – Yes, the next generation loves the favorite show of my generation. Why? Find out, and learn a lot about the spiritual/human longings of the current atmosphere.
Writing Award: 15 Pieces of Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis – There were a couple of fresh Lewis quotes for me in here. An overall nice roundup.
Books and Lit Award: Theodore Roosevelt’s Advice on Reading – The man was a voracious reader, sometimes gorging 3 books a day. But how?
Christians and Culture Award: I’m a Christian and I Hate Christian Movies – I always come into these articles with a bit of an attitude about the attitude. But this writer actually knows what she’s talking about.
Leadership and Productivity Award: The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers – Another TEDx talk, but a good one. You just might find it comforting.
E-mail Subscribers, click here to check out today’s video.
(New!) Kindle Deal of the Week: The Jesus Storybook Bible – For $1.99. This book is not only great for kids – it’s a wonderful help to adults who’ve never understood how the storyline of scripture points to Jesus.
Apologetics Award: 3 Reasons You Need Expository Apologetics – Voddie Baucham shows why modern preaching needs to be both expository and apologetic.
Preaching Award: The 2 Most Important Elements of Preaching – I bet you can’t guess them. But they’re in the Bible (well…one of them is, the other is inferred).
Spiritual Life Award: What Christians Just Don’t Get About LGBT Folks – I liked this. A lot. And it stings a little.
Theology Award: Did the 2nd Person of the Trinity Die? – After R.C. Sproul critiqued this statement, Mark Jones comes back with a historical defense (not to say an ahistorical defense).
Fun Award: No One Could See the Color Blue Until Modern Times – This is phenomenally interesting, and almost too much to believe. The power of language.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: Reading the Aeneid as a Christian – The Imaginative Conservative offers 7 points of relation and departure.
Writing Award: What It Means to Put Yourself Out There – Aye. There’s the rub.
Books and Lit Award: Viriginia Woolf Offers Advice on Reading a Book – Though, not on how to live to tell the tale. Okay that was a pretty dark stab. Sorry.
Christians and Culture Award: In Love with Donald Trump – I haven’t posted on Trump for a few weeks because I’m frankly tired of the conversation. But I think this post (contra Russell Moore and others) articulates the sad truth of the situation: Christians know Trump doesn’t fit their beliefs. They don’t care. He fits their true affections.
Church Leadership Award: Gospel DNA – Tim Chester has a wonderful series on the 4 marks of churches with a “Gospel DNA” (the whole series is published, so just keep clicking on).
Something strange happens when the word is preached.
I confess I’ve not always believed this. “Yes, I could go to church” I once thought. “But I could also listen to myriads of sermon podcasts, read the latest Christian best-seller, or spend some time hearing ‘Jesus calling’”. Why would I need to take the trouble to fix an early breakfast, groom my children, rile them into my car on a chilly Spring morning, and go to a building where I might spend 10 minutes minimum with people I don’t know, like, or have any organic connection to outside its walls?
Obviously, there is a lot that goes into this sort of excusing. But what’s missing from this mental clutter, first and foremost, is the clear vision of what it is we’re going to do on a Sunday morning.
See, early in my Christian life (and later than I might admit), I thought of church as more or less a social club. This is the place where the old people go because they’re running out of living friends. This is the place where the homeschoolers go because it counts for credit on this week’s Bible exam. This is the place where lonely single adults find companionship. It was not, from my perspective, the place where anyone would go to find living bread, water, and the life of Jesus.
Over the past years, however, I’ve had a change of heart. Though I wish I could say otherwise, this change was not induced by theological textbooks, the careful study of scripture, or the gentle rebuke of an elder. For me, my mind changed when I was the one stepping up to the pulpit.
Understandably, some of you will say, “Well, duh. Now you have a vested interest in being heard. Of course Sunday Morning has taken on an uber role in the Christian life for you.” Perhaps that’s true. But my change of heart hasn’t come through a personal disappointment with church attendance, since I’ve never been a Senior Pastor. It flows, rather, out of something I wouldn’t have guessed: the personal change I’ve seen wrought in my own life only after I’ve preached God’s Word.
Let me explain. During typical sermon preparation, I might spend 15 or so hours listening to sermons, reading original languages, doing word studies, scanning commentaries, breezing through the indexes of accessible theological tomes, and reading relevant articles and books on my passage. Then I write out my sermon, word for word, and read it 2-3 times. After this, I do a verbal run-through at least once.
My personal bias would have me think that by Saturday evening, God has done all the transforming work He’s going to do in me. I’m rarely surprised by a Sunday morning sermon – I’m normally well-rehearsed and ready to go. I may forget things, make a few impromptu remarks, and change the wording: but there’s relatively little that’s new to me by the time Sunday rolls around. So it seems reasonable to me, by all accounts, that Sunday morning is for the congregation. God has done His work on me: now it’s their turn for surgery.
Yet, for some reason unknown to me, this is not the way it works.
For whatever reason – perhaps you can find a theological one, I certainly can’t – God does not normally do much work in me while I prepare for my sermon. Yes, I understand the concepts, I have gathered the illustrations, and I’ve studied the text inside and out.
But normally, it’s only after I’ve preached the word to the congregation that the sermon sinks down to my bones. During the sermon, I find new emotion accompanies the preached word. Then come Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance the words preached on Sunday in a way that was not available to me the week before. To put it simply, it’s as though the word, when preached in the local gathering, comes to life in me.
Frankly, this is not what I would expect. Yet in my experience, I’ve found that it is how God, in His sovereignty, works in my life. He delights, it seems, to work most fully when His word is preached to His gathered people. It doesn’t happen through the books, nor the articles, nor the personal Bible study, nor the sermon audio. Though these resources are of great help to me during the week, they simply do not accomplish what is accomplished in me on a Sunday morning: visible, pervasive personal transformation.
I write this not to discourage those who are unable to attend God’s Sunday morning assembly, nor to shame those who have as many excuses as I do. I say it to encourage those who, like me, perhaps need a little motivational boost to encourage us toward all God has available: He delights to transform us. And for reasons He knows and I do not, He delights to do it on Sunday morning.
(New!) Kindle Deal of the Week: A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving’s classic available for $1.99. You can also grab the Cider House Rules for the same price.
Apologetics Award: So You Think You Know About Puritans – Weirdly, this week’s apologetics article comes from the most secular resource I read: The Paris Review. They’ve linked to a lengthy indictment of the way Puritans are portrayed in the recent horror film, “The Witch”. What’s going on?
Preaching Award: Finding Great Illustrations – I loved this short, helpful video from Hershael York on the resources he uses to dig up great illustrations.
Spiritual Life Award: Sex, Money and Power: Be Careful Who Owns You. Wisdom courtesy of Mark Jones and Nacho Libre.
Theology Award: A Theology of Creation in 12 Points – D.A. Carson wrote it, so you don’t need a compelling summary.
Fun Award: Finally, a Workout Moms Can Stick To! – This is a pretty fun, pretty dead-on article by Ms. Gallagher.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: A Conservative’s Plea: Let’s Work Together – This TEDx talk contains much wisdom that’s much needed by all of us, Christian or no.
Writing Award: 4 Lessons for Authors on the Current State of Publishing – Jane Friedmen with a really great roundup of tips and trends.
Books and Lit Award: 10 Essential Women Writers for Christians – A good roundup here, with deals to boot, but I can’t vie for all of them (because I haven’t read them all).
Christians and Culture Award: The Shame Culture – I’d consider this article by David Brooks a must-read for understanding the unique cultural changes taking place right now in the realm of ethics.
Church Leadership Award: 6 Distinguishing Marks of a Call to Gospel Ministry – A great summary of MLJ’s counsel to young would-be pastors. I think our advice should be as rigorous. When was the last time you said “I don’t think so” to a young person expressing a desire for ministry?
It’s political season in the states, and it’s evident more than ever: most of us lack the capability to think critically. By “critically” I don’t mean “mean-spirited”, but something more like “logically”, since many of us are in arguments that:
A. Don’t make any sense.
B. Talk over one another.
C. Assume too much.
D. Pit things falsely against one another.
E. Resort to name-calling, and finally…
F. Are only a guise for self-promotion.
And while politics demonstrate this best, we often have similar debates in the realm of theology, ethics, philosophy or aesthetics (aka: the study of what is beautiful). Christians, who bow to the Author of Truth, ought to be concerned foremost with how we go about these arguments.
And to that end, let me offer 7 critical questions we might ask before taking sides:
1. What do each of us have to gain by our position?
At the very least, we have our ego at stake, which results in ‘confirmation bias’ – subconsciously distorting the facts to maintain our own opinions. We also have our tribe to please, and our pleasures to fancy.
The candidate you vote for undoubtedly offers you something beneficial, even if only a sense of moral superiority (That does not, however, imply we all have a ‘hopeless bias’. The mere acknowledgment of our bias equips us to move past it).
2. Are we defining terms the same way?
We may argue until the cows come home about the viability of ‘free will’, but most of us are at cross-purposes in defining it. I came around to Reformed theology, in part, because of a realization that my definition of free will (the capacity to choose what I desired) was uncontested by any camp. To return to the early fathers, my definition fell under the heading ‘free choice’, not ‘free will.’
3. Have we examined our assumptions?
One could never hope to win a debate on biblical ethics if each party differs in respect to biblical authority. So, the debate to be had, in that case, is over epistemology (how we know what we know), not ethics (and probably over the lordship of Christ, before that!). As I’ve said to congregants before, “It’s time to climb down the question tree.”
4. Are there only two options?
Someone I deeply admire for their willingness to listen and combine the best of both sides is pastor/author Tim Keller. He has a knack for finding a “third way”, which affirms all of the above.
As I’ve been reading on Paul and the New Perspective on justification, I see both sides polarizing over issues which are, for the most part, perfectly compatible. For an example of a brilliant synthesizer, see Vern Poythress’s work on…anything. He carefully examines all sides, and plucks up the best.
5. Is this a matter of place, definition, fact, or quality?
These are four ancient Greco-Roman categories that help determining what it is, exactly, we’re arguing over. In a culture where “That’s only your opinion” is used to trump – well, anything – we would do well to define what sort of opinion we’re offering or critiquing. Is it a fact? Then it’s an opinion that ought to be weighed, not dismissed. Is it a subjective, sensory statement? Then the weighing is more difficult.
See this article for definitions.
6. Can I clearly articulate my own stance?
Little kids like destroying LEGOs. Big kids like constructing them. There’s virtually no argument I know of which can’t have holes poked in it – so the fact that one can polk holes doesn’t disprove anything. You need to offer a clearly articulated alternative that fills the holes better.
Otherwise, you’re just a bully.
7. Have I heard it from the horse’s mouth?
Finally, we need to ask ourselves: “Could I stand on the other side and make this person’s argument for them?” Not the way the media portrayed it, and not the way your own camp might characterize it. Have you sat down and read, watched, or listened to the other opinion in context? If not, you’re not ready to critique.
Now go, and polarize no more.
(New!) Kindle Deal of the Week: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – This is a classic by Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart, available for $3.99
Apologetics Award: The Importance of Story – Talking story is all the rage, now, but I think EL Bates does it particularly well, here.
Preaching Award: Qualifications of the Preacher – This little article on how the Puritans saw a man as fit for teaching is a good supplement to my article yesterday.
Spiritual Life Award: 10 Marks of an Immature Believer – This article hit me right where I’ve been at.
Theology Award: Did the Reformers Get Paul Wrong? – Yes! I’ve been studying the New Perspective in class during my (final!) semester, and I’ve constantly thought: “Wow, these guys know Jewish history, but they’re clueless about reformation history.”
Fun Award: 11 Mind-Bending Christian Book Covers You Can’t Unsee – Nor can you make these things up, people.
A Glimpse of Truth Award: NY Times Article on Redeemer – This was an encouraging look at how New Yorkers see Tim Keller’s ministry in the city.
Writing Award: Perfect Imperfection – This article really resonated with me. There’s no reason we need to make our preaching, writing, or anything perfect – that’s part of the charm.
Books and Lit Award: Al Mohler’s Top 10 Books for Preachers – Mohler does this list each year. I want to read all of these…6. Week. Count. Down. (To. Graduation.)
Christians and Culture Award: Brooks and Volf on Character – Two brilliant minds discuss what it means to be “good” in a world that overlooks the question.
Church Leadership Award: On Saying No – Seth Godin on how and why to just say “No.”
It’s sometimes said in reformed circles that our skill is irrelevant to conversion.
“The power of the pulpit is not in the skill of the preacher.”
“If God is sovereign, evangelism doesn’t depend on my eloquence.”
“God uses broken pots!”
While it is indeed true, and gloriously true, that conversion is not ultimately of us, the fact is these sentiments – while comforting – are patently false when taken at face value.
A brief look at biblical precedent and church history will demonstrate this.
God chose skilled men to build his tabernacle (Exodus 36:8). He did not take men of ordinary skill and demonstrate his glory “in spite” of them. He chose men to whom he had granted the skill necessary to do the work. This makes sense: God’s glory is perfect, and skill entails producing something closer to perfection, which means God is glorified more with skill than non-skill.
When Jesus sent out the disciples, he did not promise that he would work and speak through them “in spite” of their words, but rather that he would give them the words to say (Matt 10:19).
Paul, though rejecting the worldly standards of wisdom, does not in any way reject the necessity of skill in converting others. In fact, Paul invokes Timothy to raise up men to teach who are (literally) “competent” to handle the scriptures (2 Timothy 2:2).
Church history shows the same.
Do we honestly believe St. Augustine’s genius had nothing to do with his worldwide impact?
Do we really believe Spurgeon’s conversions are a non-sequitur from his ingenious skill at the pulpit?
Are the number of conversions produced from C.S. Lewis’ work merely incidental to his incisive skill?
Is it a coincidence that the Great Awakening came through Jonathan Edwards – one of America’s greatest minds?
Looked at this way, I think these common sentiments look rather ridiculous. Yes, God is ultimately responsible for salvation. No, he does not normally use unskilled people to bring it about. And while it is true that God can use anyone, the truth is He normally uses men and women of great skill to produce great revival.
We ought not to pray that God would work in spite of our skill – this is presumption, like asking that when we jump off a cliff he might catch us. Rather, we ought to pray that he might work through us, and equip us to be skilled in the good work to which we are called.
And, I might add, we ought to get up off our knees afterward and put in the hours, read the books, and do the work necessary to make it so.