Faith for Thinkers. Sat, 18 Feb 2017 10:01:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 50456626 ScribblePreach Awards 02.18.17 Sat, 18 Feb 2017 10:01:02 +0000 From the Pub: Modernity and the Institution of the Family

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.

Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan.

But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge.” -GK CHESTERTON

Kindle Deal of the Week: Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln

“21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers”, for $1.99.

Preaching: Expositional Imposters

This is a fantastic review of the several ways “expositional” sermons can leak into something…quite different. I’d be willing to say most “expositional” preaching falls under these categories.

Apologetics: Is Christianity a White Man’s Religion?

I’ve been devouring the RAA Network’s writings after discovering them a couple of weeks ago. This is a great response to the accusation that Christianity is merely an oppressive tool for the white man.

Theology: The 2-Minute Clip on Homosexuality Every Christian Should Watch

You can’t help but admire Sam Allberry’s courage, vulnerability, and faithfulness as he makes some profound theological points about Jesus’ life, ministry, and the pursuit of purity before his denomination.

A Glimpse of Truth: What Jesus Can Teach Today’s Muslims

This is a great article in the NY Times posted by a thoughtful muslim man who has a strikingly good grasp of Jesus’ life and mission. It was helpful for me to think through ways I can bridge the gap between my Christian faith and my muslim neighbor’s.

Books and Lit: Sho Baraka Responds to Lifeway

Artist Sho Baraka’s albums have been removed from Lifeway stores because they’ve been deemed “offensive”…for using the word penis. His response is great.

Writing: When Do I Spell out Numbers?

YES! I’ve always wondered about this – this article gives great, simple guidelines.

Christians and Culture: 16 Ways to Promote Unity Amid Political Disagreement

This is a fantastic article, quote some of my favorite men on the subject, including Oxford ethics professor Oliver O’Donavan and Mark Dever – who lives this! My favorite quote: “There are many times—and surely a major election is one of them—when the most pointed political criticism imaginable is to talk about something else.”

Micro Book Review: The Whole Christ

4 out of 5 stars.

Last month, I wrote a review of Sinclair Ferguson’s “Devoted to God”, and gave it a mediocre 3 stars. I had high expectations, since a reviewer I trust called it “a modern classic”. I heartily disagreed – great points were made, but the writing was too rambling and disjointed to qualify as a classic.

This month, I’m singing a different tune.

“The Whole Christ” really IS a modern classic. Sinclair Ferguson plays to his strengths by seating us at the feet of a historical narrative concerning the “Marrow” doctrine – a conversation eerily similar to those we find in the reformed fold today.

Ferguson’s basic thesis is that antinomians (Christians against following the law), and legalists (Christians gripingly following the law, or their own law) both have the same problem: neither believe that the law is a gift, given from the bosom of God’s fatherly love. But arguing that point won’t solve the problem: what we need is to see the radical unity of Father, Son and Spirit in the gospel.

I couldn’t help but think of N.T. Wright’s critique of American evangelicalism as a form of paganism: the willing Son appeases a wrathful Father. No wonder we see the law as a curse! Wright points to the song “In Christ Alone” as apropo example: “On the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied…” It’s true, he notes: but it’s only HALF the truth. It would be equally true to say (and should, he says, be said perhaps every other verse), “On the cross where Jesus died, the LOVE of God was satisfied.”

That’s Ferguson’s point exactly: we Christians can be a fearful bunch, either grumbingly and unpleasantly following God’s laws, or abandoning them completely. The solution is the “Whole Christ” – the gospel of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we understand the radical unity of love between them for us, we are free to see the law as a great and gracious gift from a loving, heavenly Father. The gospel, and the gospel alone, is the solution to both legalists and antinomians.

A wonderful treasure.

(I did knock one star off for the footnotes, however – this is a five-star book if you completely ignore the footnotes. Crossway did a good job focusing Dr. Ferguson’s writing…but they would’ve done better to cut out those segments entirely. Every time I dropped my eyes down to them, I found myself completely lost. So – buy the book…and ignore those tantalizing pieces of rotten fruit at the bottom. Trust me.)


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ScribblePreach Awards 02.11.17 Sat, 11 Feb 2017 10:28:57 +0000 From the Pub: A Collection of Favorite Audio Quotes from Lord of the Rings

“And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” – GANDALF

Kindle Deal of the Week: Berkhof’s Systematic Theology

Berkhof’s classic systematic theology for…wait, no. That can’t be right. 99 CENTS. Great on kindle for looking up particular verses or topics.

Preaching: 5 Dynamics of the Preacher-Listener Connection

I always find myself resonating with Peter Mead’s thoughts on preaching. This is a 5-part series, and the other 4 are published on his site – please go through the whole list of 25.

Apologetics: The Problem with Postmodernism

This video essay articulates what secular philosopher/novelist David Foster Wallace saw as the achilles’ heel of postmodernism: cynicism veiled in irony. This video does drop an f-bomb toward the end, somewhat needlessly. But the analysis of postmodernism and its current developments is highly engaging. Maybe you can find it on VidAngel. Oops, nevermind.

Theology: Why Eugene Peterson Has Never Stopped Reading the Institutes

This should get you back going on Calvin’s institutes, but the greatest gift of the post is the attached daily schedule for reading through the Institutes in a year! You should do that!

A Glimpse of Truth: Socrates and the Fall of Democracy

I think this video is a bit overdrawn in its sensitivity to the Trump phenomenon (especially since we live in a Republic, not a Democracy), but it was the first I’d ever seen of secular media criticizing the liberal project of raising the banner of equality over everything…thus making us purposeless drones fit for the whims of a dictator. Well done, Socrates.

Books and Lit: 8 Ways to Read a Lot More Books This Year

I appreciated that this gives realistic ways to read more, not how to scan better, as is typical.

Writing: Prefer the Familiar

“Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.” – HENRY WATSON FOWLER

Christians and Culture: Bonhoeffer Speaks Powerfully to the Trump Age

Again, a little anti-Trump propaganda here, so be warned if you’re a fan. But if I’m going to peddle someone else’s propaganda, I suppose Bonhoeffer is my best candidate.

Micro Book Review: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. 

5 out of 5 stars.

This book is everything.

You know I don’t give my 5 stars out lightly, I am a miser of them. But this book is well deserving. Butterfield’s story feels C.S. Lewisesque or Martin Lutherish – whatever you prefer. It seems like the sort of thing God does once a century to revive his people. It is precisely the story American evangelical Christendom needs to read right now.

Butterfield pulls no punches, but never willingly entices us with her past. Her conversion from a tenured professor of literature and lesbian lifestyle to her current mold of homeschool momming and RP wifery holds all the irony, twists and turns one could hope for. It sounds almost oppressive as I type it, which is the beautiful thing: what could be more a nightmare to a queer theory professor at Syracuse?

But it’s precisely the call God had on Dr. Butterfield’s life, and her unfiltered thoughts on life before and after conversion are priceless. Everything she says is what evangelicals need to hear. In a way, she’s reserved all her biases toward evangelicals even as she lives in our midst, which is profoundly and prophetically helpful. You’ll walk away from this book breathless, challenged, entertained, illuminated, educated, handicapped, and yearning for revival.

Get this book now, and carve out an evening or morning to devour it.

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ScribblePreach Awards 02.04.17 Sat, 04 Feb 2017 10:05:11 +0000 From the Pub: C.S. Lewis Talks Lust with a Dog

“Supposing you are taking a dog on a lead through a turnstile or past a post. You know what happens (apart from his usual ceremonies in passing a post!). He tries to go to the wrong side and gets his head looped round the post. You see that he can’t do it, and therefore pull him back. You pull him back because you want to enable him to go forward. He wants exactly the same thing—namely to go forward: for that very reason he resists your pull back, or, if he is an obedient dog, yields to it reluctantly as a matter of duty which seems to him to be quite in opposition to his own will: though in fact it is only by yielding to you that he will ever succeed in getting where he wants.” – CS LEWIS, LETTERS

Kindle Deal of the Week: Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns

D.A. Carson has been traveling to secular college campuses and addressing relativism – I’d love to hear a real talk, but here’s the closest we’ll get for now, for $3.99.

Preaching: Some Common Rookie Mistakes in Preaching.

Simple and wise, this is 1.5 minutes worth your time.

Apologetics: Did Old Testament Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

Don’t read the comments section, as it’ll just ruin your day. But this was a great article countering this sort of assumed belief.

Theology: 10 Subtle Ways We Abandon the Authority of Scripture

If you read one thing this week, read this. D.A. Carson pulls no punches toward evangelicals and liberals alike, here, and articulates much of what I’ve sensed intuitively but couldn’t put into words as well as he does. Excellent, excellent stuff.

A Glimpse of Truth: The Unity of the Universe, and God

This article is written from an obviously atheistic viewpoint, but I was floored by the honesty of the Weinberg’s honesty about longing for the story of religion. He sees God as a concoction made out of our longing for beauty, aka, complex simplicity – but he fails to realize that our longing for it at all is evidence of the personability of the God which he insists must be impersonal. Some rare, raw moments of honesty I’ll be clipping and using for the future.

Books and Lit: 3 Books that Changed N.T. Wright’s Life

You’ll be surprised by them. But mostly what stuck with me was what he had to say about poetry, which I think is just spot on.

Writing: The Secret of the World

“It’s hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It’s the greatest secret of the world.” – ANDREA BARRETT

Christians and Culture: Moral Confusion and the Immigration Debate

Alastair brings tons of cultural and biblical clarity to the issue, pointing out that it’s not so clear as we all might think. I’m continually stunned and turned round by Alastair’s wonderful writing.

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ScribblePreach Awards 01.28.17 Sat, 28 Jan 2017 10:50:49 +0000 From the Pub: The Immortal Function of Poetry

“The evil which infects the immense goodness of existence does not embody itself in the fact that men are weary of woes and oppressions. It embodies itself in the shameful fact that they are often weary of joys and weary of generosities. Poetry, the highest form of literature, has here its immortal function; it is engaged continually in a desperate and divine battle against things being taken for granted. A fierce sense of the value of things lies at the heart [of literature].” – GK CHESTERTON

Kindle Deal of the Week: A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis

For $1.99, with a commendation from the biographer of Lewis himself, Walter Hooper.

Preaching: How to Have Better Political Conversations

This TEDx talk shows how we often try to persuade others without considering what they value. But since I don’t know most of you, I can’t use his tactics to persuade you to read this. I’d love strike up a conversation about how we translate this into preaching.

Apologetics: Why Sharing Fake News Harms Our Witness

A couple of great articles out there on this. This one is from Ed Stetzer.

Theology: Manipulative Repentance: 8 Flag Phrases

I found this article immensely helpful, and one I’ll probably print and revisit over the years.

A Glimpse of Truth: Justifying Violence for Ideological Reasons

I’ve recently discovered Alastair Roberts, and I’m really enjoying him. Riffing off of the viral video of Richard Spenser being ker-POWED, he artfully demonstrates the self-imploding logic of progressivism.

Books and Lit: Is Art Really All About Beauty?

I’ve been hee-hawing over how to articulate what this article is getting at from multiples perspectives. It doesn’t quite get it, but it’s reaching in the right direction.

Writing: What Professors Are Writing…No One is Reading

I’ve considered from time to time pursuing PhD studies – but this articulates what regularly puts the nail in the coffin for me. Secularized education makes us essentially useless bubbled up widgets.

Christians and Culture: Trump Turns Postmodernism on Itself

In line with the article above, I found this an incredibly helpful look at why so many have flocked to Donald Trump this election season. I told someone the other day I felt like my Trump-enthusiastic friends were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, no matter how hard I tried. This helped in a charitable way.

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ScribblePreach Awards 01.21.17 Sat, 21 Jan 2017 10:17:52 +0000 From the Pub: Imagine a Mystical Limpet

“Why are many people prepared in advance to maintain that, whatever else God may be, He is not the concrete, living, willing, and acting God of Christian theology? I think the reason is as follows. Let us suppose a mystical limpet, a sage among limpets, who (rapt in vision) catches a glimpse of what Man is like. In reporting it to his disciples, who have some vision themselves (though less than he) he will have to use many negatives. He will have to tell them that Man has no shell, is not attached to a rock, is not surrounded by water. And his disciples, having a little vision of their own to help them, do get some idea of Man.

But then there come erudite limpets, limpets who write histories of philosophy then give lectures on comparative religion, and who have never had any vision of their own. What they get out of the prophetic limpet’s words is simply and solely the negatives.

From these, uncorrected by any positive insight, they build up a picture of Man as a sort of amorphous jelly (he has no shell) existing nowhere in particular (he is not attached to a rock) and never taking nourishment (there is no water to drift it towards him).

And having a traditional reverence for Man they conclude that to be a famished jelly in a dimensionless void is the supreme mode of existence, and reject as crude, materialistic superstition any doctrine which would attribute to Man a definite shape, a structure, and organs.” – C.S. LEWIS, MIRACLES

Kindle Deal of the Week: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

A classic text on persuasive speech, for $1.99.

Apologetics: Film About a PCA Pastor Earns Critical Acclaim.

I love how this film beautifully depicts the way the gospel addresses the questions America is asking right now. We need more of this. Also, if you are in the PCA, you are absolutely obligated to take 35 minutes of this weekend to watch it.

Preaching:  The Whole Christ

“When benefits are seen as abstractable from the Benefactor the issue becomes:

  1. For the preacher: “How can I offer these benefits?” and
  2. For the hearer: “How can I get these benefits into my life?”

But when it is seen that Christ and his benefits are inseparable and that the latter are not abstractable commodities, the primary question becomes:

  1. For the preacher: “How do I preach Christ himself?” and
  2. For the hearer: “How do I get into Christ?”

The difference in orientation of thought, and subsequently in our preaching, may seem incidental – after all, do we not get the same salvation at the end of the day? But this focus on benefits has a profound impact on how we understand and preach the gospel, and, almost imperceptibly, Christ himself ceases to be central and becomes a means to an end.”

Theology: Does the Apostle Paul Really Contradict Jesus?

My BOB (Best Online Buddy) Tim Fall gives us a great illustration of the way an attitude of faith can see something beautiful where an eye of criticism and doubt sees disparity.

A Glimpse of Truth: Tocqueville on How Democracy Shapes Religion.

This is a fascinating and accessible look at the way Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” predicted the destruction of liberty on the basis of equality…and how the church has exchanged its own mission in the same name.

Books and Lit: Former President Obama on What Books Mean to Him.

Whether you’re glad to see him go or not, I bet you can relate to the way books were a comfort and a guide while Obama was in office. I’ve been in a reading slump, and this got me back on track.

Writing: What Being an Editor Has Taught Me About Writing.

This is fantastic! It gave me a couple of novel tips I hadn’t read in books (get it?).

Christians and Culture: Inherited Faith is Dying. Chosen Faith is Not.

If you’re needing some positive tonic in the midst of a world telling us Christendom is dead and dying, try this.

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If You Question It, Delete It. Wed, 18 Jan 2017 10:04:08 +0000 “Kill your darlings.” – William Faulkner.

There is an editor inside you.

He doesn’t always give you answers, but he often, as you reread, highlights something. It’s the sentence that keeps catching your eye – the one you keep questioning. It’s the point you’re just not sure about.

Of course, your inner editor is passive aggressive, so he won’t say anything. He’ll just keep highlighting it, every time you read.

Until you delete it.

If you question it once, play with it. If you question it twice, delete it. I’ve never regretted it.

I Need Risk Calculators. Tue, 17 Jan 2017 10:05:36 +0000 Calculating risk is a good thing. 

You may be a risk calculator. You may err on the side of caution. Good – the church, your organization, what have you – we need you. 

Or, you may be like me: I tend toward pioneering, Han Solo style: “Never tell me the odds.” Risk? I don’t want to hear about it. The more risk, the better.

But I need risk calculators, and risk calculators need pioneers. Why?

Because risk calculators help us assess our values. Pioneers know that everything worth doing is a risk. But risk assessors know not everything risky is worth doing. 

If we’re looking to spend our church savings account on a $1 million bowling alley, that’s risky. A risk assessor will say, “Hey, that’s got all kinds of pitfalls.” That’s a good and helpful observation. 

Now the pioneer must ask: “Is this worth the risk?” In other words, “Is this at the center of our values? Are we really that passionate about a bowling alley?” 

Probably not. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of things I’d be willing to stick my neck out for: justice, mercy, community, truth. The risk assessor will rightly give us pause on those issues: “You know, pursuing justice in this particular way has a lot of potential pitfalls.”

To which the pioneer says: “True. And in this case, it’s worth it.” 

A Theology of Privilege Mon, 16 Jan 2017 10:01:11 +0000 From the first, I don’t see anything inherently wrong in privilege. But I do – as Jesus – see something inherently dangerous.

And I think we white, western protestant types are particular susceptible. Take some case studies:

  1. Relativism – A symptom of not having Assad’s bombs hovering over your head every morning and evening. Relativism is a cute idea when it is closeted into cloistered rooms for folks with a PhD in philosophy. But it simply isn’t workable when life isn’t moldable at the touch of an app. Relativism is a product of privilege (for more, see liberal reactions insisting on truth-telling now that a rogue conservative is in office).
  2. Limp-Wristed-Ness – What else do you call this? We are offended at a God of justice, a God of wrath, a God of hell. Why? Because we are privileged. Justice is assumed, for us. Of course we receive justice from our world – more than justice, privilege. So we are naturally offended at a God who dishes it out. But most of the world needs justice; a God of justice is in fact attractive to a normal person. A limp-wristed god is, too, a luxury of the privileged.
  3. Health and Wealth – It doesn’t matter how much faith you have, or how hard you work – if you live in a society with no upward mobility (most of the world), your faith simply doesn’t equate to wealth. In a privileged society of easy whiteward, upward mobility, we naturally equate blessings and faith with wealth – then we dangerously export it to the underprivileged. This, too, is less a product of thought than of circumstance.

There are hosts of other ways – equating spirituality with knowledge (a product of having access to education), scoffing at a miraculous God (a product of having all the medical resources we need), or measuring church quality by flavor (a product of having everything we do auto-customized to our whim).

The important thing is not that we eschew privilege – we have it. It won’t change.

The important thing is to engage theologically with a worldwide and historical church that doesn’t, and let them check our privilege at the door.

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ScribblePreach Awards 01.14.17 Sat, 14 Jan 2017 12:00:11 +0000 From the Pub: A New Year

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterward. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” – GK CHESTERTON

Kindle Deal of the Week: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist 

I’ve been a big fan of Karen Swallow Prior’s online presence over the last year. She’s a literary scholar and talent, and her book is on sale for 99 cents. You’re welcome.

Apologetics: What Christianity Alone Offers Transgender Persons

“Knowing these things should make us compassionate. While much of the thinking around transgender issues today is flawed, the pain experienced by those with gender dysphoria is all too real. We of all people should appreciate why, for we of all people understand the true depth of what’s wrong with this world. Our churches should be the places people feel most safe trying to articulate their own sense of not being right.”

Preaching:  Simplicity in Preaching

J.C. Ryle my man backing me up with his mad skillz.

Theology: Our Pseudo-Reformed Rhetoric

I wrote three brief posts this week on the ways we reformed folks can use the sufficiency and power of God’s word as an excuse, rather than a call to act in accordance. Here’s part 1, part 2, and part 3. 

A Glimpse of Truth: Entitlement is Optional

“Entitlement gets us nothing but heartache. It blinds us to what’s possible. It insulates us from the magic of gratitude. And most of all, it lets us off the hook, pushing us away from taking responsibility (and action) and toward apportioning blame and anger instead.”

Books and Lit: Francis Schaeffer and the Arts: A Retrospective.

This is a really epic and scholarly treatment of Schaeffer’s critiques and reflections on the arts by an excellent scholar and art historian.

Writing: Get It Out There

I needed to hear this: “If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.” – JOSS WHEDON

Christians and Culture: Os Guinness on the Church and Civilization

This is an extraordinary use of your time. Guinness did yearly lectures at Gordon Conwell while I was there, and I’d start salivating a month ahead of time. Listening to him always felt like waking up out of a cultural dream and seeing for the first time.

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Why Must Paul Preach With Clarity? Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:29:57 +0000 “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:4

How can Paul say he “ought” to speak clearly? Does it really matter? Isn’t God’s word sufficient to do the work? Doesn’t Paul trust in the “power of the word?” 

Of course he does! But unlike us in the reformed mold, he doesn’t see any tension between the power of God’s word and our ethical obligation to clarify it. 

“But doesn’t God love to work with poor communicators?” 

If by “poor”, you mean unimpressive to unbiblical Greco-Roman standards of rhetorical flourish, perhaps. 

But if by “poor” you mean unclear, then clearly the answer is “No. He does not.” 

“Well, it’s not like I’m preaching to my English congregation in Spanish! I’m contextualizing!”

Well, Paul goes further – he’s not praying that he might preach in Greek, as he ought – he’s asking for prayer that he speak greek in a way that will best enable his hearers to understand. Furthermore, he sees this as his ethical duty. 

Why? Because a failure to clarify is a failure to love. 

Maybe that’s the root of much of our pseudo-reformed rhetoric, in the end. 


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