On Sunday we began a new series on the Parables of Luke at Fairview Baptist Church.
I just finished preaching through Ecclesiastes. It was difficult but rewarding. When venturing into a complex and debated book like Ecclesiastes, it is always helpful to be in dialogue with others who have gone before you. Here are three accessible companions I found helpful on my journey.
Living Life Backward by David Gibson
Gibson has provided us with a lively popular exposition on Ecclesiastes. Not only is his exegesis compelling, so is Gibson’s ability to apply the text to our context. This book is a gift to the church and a great resource for teachers and preacher who venture into the wild world of Ecclesiastes.
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes by Sidney Greidanus
This book is a must-have for any preacher or teacher working through Ecclesiastes. Greidanus walks teachers and preachers step-by-step from “passage to proclamation” for every single passage in Ecclesiastes. Greidanus also explores various ways to move from this often difficult Old Testament book to Jesus Christ and its New Testament application.
Recovering Eden by Zach Eswine
Recovering Eden is a pastorally sensitive and poetic guide written on a popular level. Eswine explores the main themes of Ecclesiastes in a reflective and engaging way. One note, this book does not move through the text chapter by chapter, however, there is a helpful index in the back if you plan to use it as a reference for teaching or preaching.
This is not a list of books published in 2017 (though some were), it is a list of books that I read in 2017.
As a pastor, I usually read 3-4 commentaries for each sermon series I preach (6 series in 2017). In order to narrow the list, I will set the commentaries aside.
This is a list of (somewhat) recently published books that had a profound impact on my own spiritual formation and philosophy of ministry. It’s also a list of books that I would recommend to my pastor friends. Click on the title to view it on Amazon.com.
Eswine helped us see that pastoral work keeps requiring our surrender to small, mostly overlooked things over long periods of time. As a pastor, I was never meant to know everything, fix everything, and be everywhere at once. That’s Jesus’ job, not yours.
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith
Smith has long argued, in the tradition of Augustine, that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. Too often we do not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith not only argues that worshiping in a local church is central to the heart of Christian formation and discipleship, he also suggests several practices for shaping the Christian life. This book is a popularized version of the arguments Smith made in his 2009 book Desiring the Kingdom.
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
Have you ever wondered how much the herd mentality affects your thought life? Perhaps, our hostility toward one another is not based on facts, but on a desire to be included in a particular group. Professor Jacobs digs into the nuts and bolts of the cognitive process, offering hope that each of us can reclaim our mental lives from the impediments that plague us all.
The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
In this work, Peterson traces his journey of discovering of what it really means to be a pastor. As always, Peterson challenges conventional wisdom regarding church marketing, CEO pastors, and American Christian consumerism by presenting a simple, faith-based description of what being a minister means today. He urges us to pay attention to God, and to one another.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Tim Keller
We live in the age of skepticism, where so much faith is placed in reason, progress, and emotion that one might wonder: why should anyone believe in Christianity? In this follow up The Reason for God (2009), Keller explores what role can faith and religion play in our modern lives.
Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer
In this book, Vanhoozer argues that theology is not merely a set of cognitive beliefs, but is also something we do that involves speech and action alike. In order to illustrate his point, he uses a theatrical model to explain the ways in which doctrine shapes Christian understanding and forms disciples. According to Vanhoozer, disciples need doctrinal direction as they walk onto the social stage in the great theater of the world.
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
Why do so many pastors implode under the spotlight? Why do modern-day churches become so entangled in growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? Because, according to Goggin and Strobel, Christians have succumbed to the temptations of power and forgotten Jesus’ seemingly contradictory path to power – giving it up. This book paints a richly biblical vision of power through weakness.
Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne
The gospel answers life’s most foundational questions about identity, destiny, and purpose. Union with Christ is a central gospel metaphor for understanding what it means to live in Christ and actually become like Him. According to Wilbourne, nothing is more practical for living the Christian life than grasping this reality!
The recent publication of The Nashville Statement has provoked a lot of cultural criticism for the traditional evangelical Christian doctrine of sexuality and marriage. In a world where Christian doctrine is often confused, ignored, or even adjusted, such a statement attempts to define a set of beliefs that are consistent with what has been widely accepted as historic Christian teaching.
It has been interesting to read news articles responding to The Nashville Statment. I have not found many that allow for charitable disagreement or meaningful dialogue. Most of them seem to disparage this distinct Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage and those who hold to it. Sadly, this is no surprise. Many within the larger Protestant community have also lodged their criticisms as well.
First, the statement has been criticised because of the timing of its release. I understand the sentiment of this criticism.
Second, the statement has been criticised because of its tone. Written words are what they are. How you hear them, and whether or not you accept them as loving, depends on how you perceive the motivation of those who write them.
Third, one pastor commented: “When we issue statements rather than build relationships we are more like Pharisees and less like Jesus.” However, I do not think statements of belief and relationships are mutually exclusive. Jesus himself demonstrated a deep love for sinners while calling them to turn from their sin. The religious leaders in the New Testament met a different outcome than those who heeded Jesus’ truthful and loving words to “go and sin no more.”
Granted, Christians have not always been charitable or tactful in articulating our beliefs towards non-Christians in a loving way, especially when it comes to controversial matters. Tone and tact aside, we all have beliefs that guide and guard our communities. Tim Keller has a helpful analogy on the role of creeds in a community. (HT Tony Reinke)
“Imagine that one of the board members of the local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center announces, ‘I’ve had a religious experience and now I believe homosexuality is a sin.’ As the weeks go by, he persists in making that assertion. Imagine that a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage announces, ‘I discovered that my son is gay and I think he has the right to marry his partner.’ No matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are, the day will come when each group will have to say, ‘You must step off the board because you don’t share a common commitment with us.’ The first of these communities has the reputation for being inclusive and the second for being exclusive, but, in practice, both of them operate in almost the very same way. Each is based on common beliefs that act as boundaries, including some and excluding others. Neither community is being ‘narrow’ — they are just being communities. Any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all.” (The Reason for God (2008), 39–40).
With these points made, I’d like to aim my reflections in a different direction.
We live in a pluralistic society. In our culture, the word pluralism has become much more than a religious mix. Pluralism has become an ideology, a type of political correctness. This kind of pluralism also calls for a specific kind of tolerance.
By tolerance, our culture does not mean, “to respect another’s view point, even if we disagree.” I could agree to that definition, I can respect someone I disagree with. Respect is the basis for honest dialogue even in the midst of disagreement.
Our culture seems to define tolerance as the “acceptance of different views.” The shift from “respect” to “acceptance” is notable. It communicates that you and I cannot bear to contradict one another.
Admittedly, The Nashville Statement draws a line in the sand, something Jesus himself often did on matters of Christian ethics. One of the things we must face is the reality that no follower of Christ can possibly embrace the full acceptance of different views, especially if they believe one is true and the other is false. This is true regardless of how you feel about the intent or tone of the statement. When it comes to matters of faith, we can discuss and disagree. It is ok. This is the hallmark of religious freedom.
Enter Sam Allberry. I do not know Sam personally, but he is known to many people because of his voice on the issue at hand.
In a society where much hatred and confusion is aroused by clear delineations on sexuality and marriage, Sam needs to be heard. Allberry is a Christian who experiences same sex attraction but chooses not give himself to such relationships because of his personal faith. He is single. Moreover, he affirms and defends the biblical view of sexuality and marriage. He also signed this controversial Nashville Statment.
When it comes to Christians struggling with same sex attraction and yet remain faithful to Scripture’s teaching, I would imagine that he is not unique. He is not alone. However, God has allowed Allberry a public platform to speak to these issues.
I am grateful for Sam’s courageous conviction, and how he has modeled his humble but confident faith, even in the midst of struggle. I think we as the Church need to learn from Sam. We need to listen. We need to be aware of others around us who may find themselves in a similar position.
All of us would affirm that the gospel is good news for all people, regardless of how our human brokenness manifests itself in our individual lives.
One of the reasons that The Nashville Statment is controversial is because it outlines what many evangelical Christians believe the Bible teaches regarding sexuality and marriage. It is controversial because it calls for repentance and faith.
Repentance is controversial because it presupposes that there is something wrong with us. Faith is controversial because it presupposes that we need to be saved from our sinfulness.
All of us have struggles related to sin. Sam struggles with same-sex attraction and other things, I am sure. I may not struggle with same sex attraction, but I struggle with 10,000 other things. Therefore, Sam and I are essentially the same. Broken sinners at the foot of the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
For this reason, Sam and I are also beloved children of God, covered by God’s grace through repentance and faith in Christ alone. This is the good news of the gospel.
The both of us desire to pursue holiness. Both of us war with our own sinfulness by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, with the weapon of the Word, and in the midst of an army of fellow saints.
By the grace of God, we are what we are, simultaneously sinners and saints. We know dear Christian brothers and sisters, that we are all great sinners. We also know that Christ is a great savior.
If you are wrestling with this issue as one who struggles with same sex attraction, or as one who wants to better understand this issue, I encourage you to read Sam’s book “Is God Anti-Gay?”.
I am thankful to be one of the speakers at the 2017 Together for Adoption National Conference in Atlanta, GA (September 29th-30th). The focus of the conference is “the image of God, the gospel, and the orphan”. During the conference, we will explore what the implications of being made in the image of God have on adoption, fostercare, and orphancare.
I recently joined a podcast called “The Front Pew” with Chris Griggs and Ben Rudolph. The podcast is a conversation between three pastors in North Carolina about life, ministry, church and mission as they see it…from the front pew.
This past episode, we discussed the importance of reading and offered a list of books to read over the summer. Here is our list.
The Christian Life
- Matt – You Can Change, Tim Chester: http://amzn.to/2raPZle
- Ben – Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace: http://amzn.to/2r6syOT
- Chris – Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller: http://amzn.to/2sHRklk
- Matt – Progressive Covenentalism, Wellum and Walker: http://amzn.to/2sHKcFP
- Ben – The Cross of Christ, John Stott: http://amzn.to/2s8tOBb
- Chris – Delighting in the Trinity: http://amzn.to/2sIeKqQ
- Matt – The Trellis and the Vine: http://amzn.to/2rG0aSk
- Ben – The Church as Movement, Woodward: http://amzn.to/2sHBNC7
- Chris – The Prodigal Church, Wilson: http://amzn.to/2rav8hJ
- Matt – The Pastor, Peterson: http://amzn.to/2rarogk
- Ben – The Starfish and the Spider: http://amzn.to/2rFNB9p
- Chris – The Reformed Pastor: http://amzn.to/2s0FyEH
- Matt – Decisions Points, Bush: http://amzn.to/2sI0xdl
- Ben – Undaunted Courage, Ambrose: http://amzn.to/2s8AqPW
- Chris – Dual with the Devil, Collins: http://amzn.to/2rFRECI
- Matt – The Pickwick Papers, Dickens: http://amzn.to/2sjISvi
- Ben – The Cave and the Light: http://amzn.to/2sHXcuQ
- Chris – Man Hunt, Swanson: http://amzn.to/2rFRZ8s
Take up and read!
I have always found C.S. Lewis’s short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” from a collection of his essays helpful (Present Concerns, pp. 9-10).
There are three kinds of people in the world.
The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.
In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade,” “in school” and “out of school.”
But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.
And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.
The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.