Faith for Thinkers. Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:00:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 50456626 Here Are the Top 10 Oreo Flavors. Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:00:22 +0000 Happy Friday everyone. Now, to make you smile, brought to you by my favorite food bloggers here are the top ten special Oreo flavors.

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A Follow-Up About Sermon Templates. Thu, 27 Jul 2017 09:00:50 +0000 Several of you asked about my sermon template after I mentioned it a couple of weeks back. If there’s enough interest, I might make a few videos or an ebook, but for now let me try to give the broad strokes. I hesitate to dish it out without my justification of each part, but I don’t have space for that here. Warning, this is going to feel like reading lecture notes, not an essay:
First 9 minutes – Set the textual tension. I like this phrase better than Fallen Condition Focus. The vast majority of texts have some sort of tension – this is how you decide what’s relevant as you study. Anything that explains the tension is relevant historical/exegetical information. Be concrete. Preachers are horrible at using tension in sermons – the Bible is brilliant at it. Understand the tension of your book as a whole, and you’ll get the tension in your text. But what about an introduction? No. If you understand your text, your introduction is captivating people with the story of the text itself. Everything else is a gimmick. It also sets up the true authority moving forward – if I start with, “Listen because this is relevant to your gospel of self-fulfillment”, I’m already off base. Show people that the Bible itself is captivating, take them into that strange world before anything else. Heretic though he was, Rob Bell was BRILLIANT at this (even if his exegesis is incredibly sloppy). Check out a youtube video. He spends the first half of his sermon on this, and people are glued.
Second 9 minutes – Show the tension in our cultural situation. Bridge the gap. After they’ve seen the problem from afar, bring it near, Nathan the Prophet style. Show them the tension in the words of their own prophets, ala Paul in Acts 17. Keep building tension. Don’t give into a solution. You’re stepping away from the text momentarily before you return to the textual solution, so make sure you cut it off at the right point.
Third 9 minutes – Offer the theological solution. This is a return to the text. God is the protagonist. This doesn’t mean doing scatter-brained proof-texting – it means returning to the text and being concrete. Give the solution as it’s presented in the text. After you show God’s response, show how this points us to the gospel. It’s time to PREACH, brother. This is where heart transformation takes place. Be concrete. Use illustrations. Celebrate Jesus. Be a man on fire.
Fourth 9 minutes – I differ with Keller here, and side with Paul. I think the hortatory comes after the proclamation of the gospel. If we instruct people before the proclamation of the gospel, we’re being a bit neo-Lutheran in our theology, and I don’t like that. But how do we do it? People don’t like being told what to do, but they also like concrete guidance. Answer? Stories. My favorite kind of personal stories are “Almost fail” stories. Paul Tripp uses these to great effect – he is vulnerable about his temptations, but also shows how he wrestled with and overcame them through the gospel. It’s not self glorifying, because it show sour weakness, but it’s also not throwing up our hands and saying “No one gets this right”. Stories of faithful church members – biblical, historical, contemporary. TEACH PEOPLE TO EXERCISE THEIR MORAL IMAGINATION.
On transitions: Be more didactical, Pauline. Listen to Martin Lloyd Jones – terrible illustrator, but brilliant at being didactic, which was part of what captivated people. “Now, you say this…and here is my response”. The didactical transition is your go-to tool.

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The Whole Eugene Peterson Dealio. Wed, 26 Jul 2017 09:00:16 +0000 I don’t want to get into the politics of this, and I’m not a Eugene Peterson fan in the first place, since I think his writing is mucky. But I’m a little dismayed by the way the reformed evangelical world so easily and summarily dismisses a particular personality type, and that’s the type that leans right-brained and mercy-brained, as Peterson does. Is it a coincidence that we keep losing artists? No. We’ve not learned to make creative types part of the conversation.
I think we’d do well to remember that the church in the Old and New Testaments is called apostate for two equal and opposite errors: 1. Leaning away from sound doctrine (2 Timothy 2-3, 1 John 5) AND 2. Neglecting mercy and justice (any of the minor prophets).
When we leave right-brainer compassionate types out of the conversation, we end up in category 2. When right-brainers leave us, they end up in category 1.
We’d both do well to remember God doesn’t elevate one personality type as more spiritual, so if our circles are becoming more homogenous, that’s on US.
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To Thesaurus, or No? Tue, 25 Jul 2017 09:00:03 +0000 David Foster Wallace says every writer needs a Thesaurus, Dictionary and Usage Dictionary by his side:

I urge my students to get a usage dictionary… To recognize that you need a usage dictionary, you have to be paying a level of attention to your own writing that very few people are doing… A usage dictionary is [like] a linguistic hard drive… For me the big trio is a big dictionary, a usage dictionary, a thesaurus — only because I cannot retain and move nimbly around in enough of the language not to need these extra sources….

…As a teacher, about 90% of my job is getting the students to understand why they might need one.

Strunk and White in “The Elements of Style” agree on having the same tools handy, and White is probably the best essayist I know (here’s a hilarious obituary he did of his dog, which highlights his superpowers).

But Stephen King goes rogue on this one:

“You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

So who’s right? I try to go in between on this one. If a word is rummaging around in my brain, I lean on my thesaurus. If not, I avoid it. I tend to think the right word is the natural one, and words I look up in a thesaurus make me embarrassed to read my stuff aloud, which is a telltale sign that the style is off. But sometimes I know the perfect word, and I need some help to find it. Those are the golden sentences.

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Two Books for Getting Things Done Mon, 24 Jul 2017 09:00:29 +0000 As the school year creeps on me, I’ve been reviewing some books for getting things done. My favorite simple source is Tim Challies, “Do More Better“.  The second is a new one for me called “The Organized Pastor“. Not an all-inclusive-stay on the organizational principles beach, but it was hugely helpful in pointing me to a half-dozen amazing contemporary apps and pithy articles I’d never heard about, specific to a pastor’s life.

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The Last ScribblePreach Award Tue, 16 May 2017 09:41:54 +0000 Dear Readers,

As many of you know by now, I’ve recently received a call to RUF ministry at the University of Missouri.

Over the weekend, several conversations and other acute circumstances have conspired together to make up my mind on something I’ve questioned: If campus ministry is going to take 50-60 hours of my week during the semester, do I have time to continue the work I’m doing at ScribblePreach?

The clear and definitive answer to that question is: Not without compromising my marriage, family, and ministry.

Providing the ScribblePreach Awards has been an absolute joy to me. But as one wise mentor said to me this weekend, “I regret all the good things I did rather than spend time with my family.” I felt the ache of that this weekend as I tried to rouse myself to prepare the awards, and finding I had to choose between this blog and my two boys and lovely wife.

So, I didn’t do it.

I feel good about that decision. I realize many of you have supported me monetarily to keep up costs here at the site at my Patreon site. THANK YOU so very much for believing in my work, and supporting it. Please consider this my clearance to either A. Transfer your support over to my ministry at Mizzou ( and type in “Nick McDonald”), or B. Give to another great cause that aligns with your mission and passions.

And finally, I want to say to all who’ve read, commented, e-mailed and enjoyed ScribblePreach: The very last ScribblePreach Award goes to you. Thank you for sharing with me a passion for Christ in our world. This has been enjoyable to me because we have done it together. Thank you.

And what of writing, you ask?

A few things:

  1. Feel free to follow me on twitter, where I’ll start channeling any resources I find around the web: @NicholasMcD
  2. I’m praying about beginning a video blog sometime next year, taking the apologetic portions of my weekly sermons to students and condensing them into a shareable format on Youtube. Stay tuned on the blog for more.
  3. I will continue to pursue my more at-length fiction and non-fiction work, as well as any guest posting opportunities when asked, and if it’s summer, and if it’s based on something I’ve already written…so not much of that guest posting stuff really.
  4. The bulk of my writing efforts will now be channeled into producing weekly sermons for students during the semester – I do invite you to partner with me in prayer for that. I want to spend myself doing this work, and I can’t let anything detract from it. I really do believe RUF is the most important ministry in the world.

And with that, I leave you with a farewell of our mutual friend:

I regret to announce – this is the end. I am going now. Goodbye.

*Disappears into the abyss*

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The ScribblePreach Awards 05.09.2017 Tue, 09 May 2017 10:00:33 +0000 From the Pub: All Marriages are Beautiful Mistakes

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the “real soul-mate” is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). – JRR TOLKIEN, LETTERS

Kindle Deal of the Week: Wordcatcher: An Odyssey Into 150 Weird and Wonderful Words

This looks like a ton of fun for my fellow word nerds, for $1.99

Preaching: Tim Keller on Teaching Skeptics

The latest in the “How to Teach the Bible” podcast has been a slew of excellence.

Apologetics: Does the Earliest Gospel Claim Christ’s Deity?

This is the critique leveled by the Bart Ehrman’s of the world: Mark doesn’t claim Jesus is divine; this was added later. I thought this a good, clear, simple rejoinder.

Theology: Responding to Open Theism in 14 Words

A wonderful, concise response to this ever prevalent theological error.

A Glimpse of Truth: The Handmaid’s Tale: A Longing for Peace and Justice

Christ and Pop Culture takes a look at Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a longing for the gospel.

Books and Lit: James Durham on Reading

Some Puritan Principles for Provocatively Pure Perusing of Paperbacks.

Writing: Stop Thinking

“It’s funny, I teach writing, and before I taught I never would guessed the thing I say most often is: “Please stop thinking.” But people really write better without thinking, by which I mean without self-consciousness. I’m not calculating about what I write, which means I have very little control over it. It’s not that I decide what to write and carry it out. It’s more that I grope my way towards something—not even knowing what it is until I’ve arrived. I’ve gotten better over the years at accepting this. Of course, the intellect wants to kick in—and, in the later drafts, it should. But in the early stages of a book, I deal with potential self-consciousness by literally hushing the critical voices in my head. The voices that tell you: “Oh, those aren’t the words you want,” or “you shouldn’t be working on this part now,” or “why not use the present tense?”—on and on. Anyone who’s ever written anything is familiar with that chorus.” – KATHRYN HARRISON

Christians and Culture: Quiz: What Political Theology Are You?

This is fun.

7 Things to Know About Conversational Prayer Tue, 09 May 2017 09:00:58 +0000 I know I’ll get flack for this, being as I am in the Reformed world, but I regularly practice something known as “conversational prayer”: I speak to God, I listen for God, and no – I’m not necessarily listening for scriptures to come to mind (as Paul Miller recommends in his “A Praying Life”).

This brings fair questions from my reformed friends like: How do I square this with the sufficiency of scripture?

To help clarify, let me make 7 quick points about conversational prayer.

  1. Conversational Prayer is Nothing New. St Augustine recorded a collection of what he called “Soliloquies”, through which he searched his own spirit through inner dialogue. It’s been an extraordinarily useful tool throughout the ages, applying what Martin Lloyd Jones called the principle of “speaking to oneself, rather than listening.” Conversational prayer is the only way I can discipline my soul to this practice.
  2. Conversational Prayer is Not Infallible. Like preaching, when I type out what I think God would say to me, I don’t take my words as infallible. God is not speaking to me in the the exact same way He does in scripture. Yet I’m not ready to say God doesn’t speak to me through conversational prayer, just as He speaks to me through the preached word. That leads me to point 3:
  3. Conversational Prayer is not Prophecy. At one time, I thought my conversations with God were equivalent to Wayne Grudem’s definition of “prophecy.” I’ve since changed my views: prophecy is infallible, unlike my attempts to apply scripture to myself through soliloquy.
  4. Conversational Prayer IS God’s voice…Insofar as it is an application of scripture. This is straight from the Westminster Confession of Faith: all scripture is authoritative, but so is whatever can be derived from “good and necessary consequence” of the scriptures. Soliloquies are the way I meditate on scripture – going from the plain statements of scripture to the “good and necessary consequence” in my own life.
  5. Conversational Prayer is not Alone – For conversational prayer to be effective, the one practicing must regularly search the scriptures and seek the council of others.  The more we know scripture, the more accurately we can judge how God would speak to us in given situations. So scripture and conversational prayer go hand-in-hand: they each resource the other in profound ways. We must also be careful not to be so arrogant as to leave the voice of the church out of our conversation with God: my pastors and fellow believers are also tools through which God speaks to me. It would be foolish for me to abandon them for conversational prayer alone.
  6. It is Never Right to Say “God Spoke to Me”…unless you’re referring to God’s authoritative word in scripture. While I do believe God uses conversational prayer to speak personally to me, it would always be wrong for me to use any portion of my conversational prayer as authoritative in the life of another. Saying “God spoke to me” in reference to conversational prayer is equivalent to “thus says the Lord” of the prophets, meaning the word is authoritative. When a preacher speaks God’s truth and applies it rightly, we are not accustomed to saying, “God spoke ____ to me” – we may say, “God spoke to me through the sermon today”, but that is not quite the same claim. As a rule, I never make reference to my conversational prayer with others in order to stay far clear of sounding anything like a modern prophet.
  7. Conversational Prayer isn’t for Everyone. I don’t believe that conversational prayer is something everyone should or could have access to – other disciplines will be more helpful to others. For me, it richly blesses me, convicts me, encourages me, and allows me to raise my affections toward Jesus. God wired this to work for me, but I realize it may not work for everyone.


10 Reasons I’m Thrilled to Join RUF @ Mizzou Tue, 02 May 2017 14:00:11 +0000 Hey Everyone,

A life update: two weeks ago, Brenna and I drove out to St. Louis, where we were commissioned as missionaries to the University of Missouri through Reformed University Fellowship. Yay! We’ve been waiting for a call to college campus pastoral ministry for 8 years, and it’s surreal to see the Lord giving us the desire of our hearts.

Here are ten reasons I’m so excited by this opportunity:

1. RUF is a natural outflow of my story.

During college, I dug deeper into the questions every human being asks. My brother’s death two weeks before my departure led me to question all of the classic theological answers to my questions about God, evil, eternity, etc. At the time, I didn’t have anyone on campus to draw me to rich theological resources for answers, so I left the church for 4 years.

By God’s grace I was hired back into the church, but obviously that won’t be most students’ story. When I look at the sea of students at RUF Mizzou, I see stories that can take a different course than mine.

2. The university is a strategic place for world missions.

Imagine one central location where people from every tribe, tongue and nation flocked with the express purpose of learning truth. That’s the university – I get the opportunity to speak the gospel to over 35,000 students at Mizzou who come from countries all over the world. During our visits to RUF Mizzou, we met students from Russia, Asia, and all over the United States. How exciting to think of the ways God will use them to reach the nations for His glory!

3. The university is a strategic setting for hearing truth.

I’ve been encouraged by the sheer number of believers who’ve told me they came to Christ through a college ministry, and, it makes sense: you’re uprooted from patterns that have established your worldview, and you’re seeking truth on your own. Statistics support this as well: People are 15x more likely to become Christians in their college years than afterward (of course, God loves to beat the odds).

4. RUF prepares students for the long haul.

I love that RUF’s gauge for success is not how many students we have in our weekly large group, but rather how many of our students are faithfully attending a local church 10 years afterward. Having been in youth ministry the past 8 years, I’ve seen way too many youth and college ministries blow their numbers by sacrificing the content of the gospel…only to be stunned by their attrition rate afterward.

5. RUF is both deep and wide.

Despite the fraternizing and partying, I’ve found deep down most college students are looking for someone to tell them the truth. RUF emphasizes on commissioning men with theological training (an M.Div is required) for this very reason: they want people equipped to answer student’s hard questions with rich theological content.

6. RUF is a clear pathway to diversity in the reformed world.

The group at Mizzou is notably more diverse than the PCA churches I’ve been in, and that’s the future of the reformed church. College is an opportunity for students to step out of their comfort zone, and thus a most excellent opportunity to pursue God’s plan for diversity in His church.

7. RUF trains students for cultural transformation.

RUF purposefully avoids stacking the schedule for students with events. It also avoids spiritualizing being a missionary/campus minister/pastor over and against other callings. RUF emphasizes that doing your homework is an act of worship itself, not merely something to get out of the way to do “real” ministry. That’s a recipe for bright young minds filling workplaces with excellence, truth, mercy and justice.

8. RUF is the biggest highway into reformed theology.

To paraphrase Tim Keller, RUF is currently the biggest inroad to the PCA that exists right now. Why? See reasons 2-7!

9. RUF provides world-class leadership development.

As my area coordinator likes to say, RUF is the “Special Ops” of campus ministry. As campus ministers, we receive world-class training multiple times per year (last summer’s intensive was done by Tim Keller), and we invest that training into our interns and student leaders. As one member of a nearby church told me, just about every clear, thriving, disciple-making spiritual leader in his (large) church is a product of campus ministry.

10. We are perfectly wired for RUF Ministry at Mizzou!

As we’ve pursued our call to RUF, the journey has been tough. But each time the road ended, we’ve looked each-other in the eyes and said: “What can we do with our gifts that will allow us to look back and say, ‘We haven’t wasted one second of what God has given us?’ The answer is always the same: RUF.

I whole-heartedly believe this is the most important ministry going on in the world right now, and I’m beyond honored to join the ranks.


Of course, if we’re going to make this journey, we’ll need to partner with YOU to see it happen. As our first RUF partner family said: “This is our way of going along with you.” Exactly!

So this is my personal invitation to set up a skype/lunch/coffee/google chat/phone-call/e-mail exchange with me to talk about RUF:

And here’s my invitation to partner now, and ask questions later!

(Type in Nick McDonald in the search field – I’m considered an “intern” right now).

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ScribblePreach Awards 04.29.2017 Sat, 29 Apr 2017 09:52:38 +0000 From the Pub: The Church Through the Dark Ages

“If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever reemerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch, and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.” – GK CHESTERTON

Kindle Deal of the Week: The Pursuit of God

A.W. Tozer’s classic, with a study guide, for $3.79.

Preaching: Should We Preach Like the Puritans?

This article is a goldmine of quotes and analysis, and it’s spot on.

Apologetics: Bill Nye, Ideology, and Science

I don’t think an argument from nature will ever get anyone anywhere. But I do think Alastair has a great insight into the way ideology is directing the current debate over gender. He has some shall-we-say obvious but awkward reasons for doing so.

Theology: Calvin on the Duties of Political Leaders

“Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Prov. 29:18).” – JOHN CALVIN, INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION

A Glimpse of Truth: Save the Mainline

With the NY Times taking jabs at both “atheists” and mainliners, who could resist, really?

Books and Lit: The Importance of Reading Black and Brown Authors

I’ve been very convicted by this topic lately – have a read, from a professor at SBTS.

Writing: Writing the Music in Your Head

“I strongly believe that writing is an act of courage. It’s almost an act of physical courage. You get up and you have this great idea. Maybe you were hanging out with your friends—you guys were having beers and you were talking about something. You had this idea and they said, “Wow, that’s brilliant! Someone should go write it.” And you sit down to write it and almost always what was brilliant before, when you were sitting around talking, is somehow not so brilliant when you go to write. It’s as though you have a certain music in your head, and trying to get that music out on a page is absolute hell. And so you fail. If you’re doing it correctly, what happens is, the translation of what you hear in your head, what your idea is in your head, will almost always come out really badly on the page when you first write, okay? But what you have to do is you have to give yourself a day, go back, revise over and over and over again until you get something that is at least maybe 70 percent of what you wanted to do. You try to go from really bad to okay to acceptable. Then you know you’ve done your job. I never really get to that perfect thing that was in my head, so I always consider the entire process about failure. I think that’s the main reason why more people don’t write. It’s very depressing in that way.”     – TA-NEHISI COATES

Christians and Culture: Tweeting Yourself Into an Identity

Derek Rishmawy writes on something I’ve been wrestling with the last year. Not a big tweeter, but it applies to all social media.