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.
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.
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 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.
There are several other helpful works as well, my next choices would Ryken and Akin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am currently preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at Fairview Baptist Church. This morning we examined the qualifications of pastors/elders and deacons from 1 Timothy 3:1-13. During this particular sermon, I argued the following:
“Based on Scripture, I do believe it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
This statement flowed from an exegetical study, and a willingness to reexamine my own assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. I am conservative in my theology. To some people, a statement like the one above is often associated with moderate or liberal Baptists.
Therefore, I would like to explain why I believe this can be the case from Scripture, and then consider how church context plays into the discussion.
The Biblical Evidence
There are basically two schools of thought. Good conservative Bible-believing scholars and pastors differ on this complex issue. Therefore, I think we should be careful by approaching it with wisdom and grace.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons. In general, I would argue that deacons provide leadership in the service-oriented and administrative matters pertaining to the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4). This is important for the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, in the sense that deacons serve in areas like finances (1 Tim. 3:8), administration (1 Tim. 3:12), visitation (1 Tim. 3:11), and meeting to the needs of the church family (Acts 6:1-4).
In reference to women serving as deacons, the debate centers around verse 11 and its surrounding context, namely, does Paul mean deacons wives, deacons along with their wives, or women serving as deacons? Consider a few translations:
“In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV).
“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (ESV).
“Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything” (CSB).
“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (NASB).
One of the first things you will notice is that the text, depending on the version, translates this verse as “their wives”, “wives too”, or “women”. First, the pronoun “their” is actually not in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Some Bible translators argue that it is implied, but it’s certainly not explicit. Therefore, we must admit there is some ambiguity here. Even still, it is very possible that the best translation for verse 11 is not “their wives”, but wives or women. It seems that Paul is referring to women in general or married women (wives).
Some have argued that Paul is referring to deacons as a married couple (male and female) serving together in this office. Both husband and wife could inevitably be involved in the deacon ministry to some extent and, therefore, needed to be of good Christian character. However, the absence of the pronoun “their” (as in “their wives”) makes this interpretation less likely.
The second thing to notice is the adverb “too” or “likewise”. This is important for the context. The argument is, Paul begins by addressing deacons in general, switches the attention to women in verse 11, and then to men in verse 12 (one woman man, the leader in the home), and back to deacons in general in verse 13. Paul used the word “too/likewise” in order to transition from talking about elders in verse 7 to talking about deacons in verse 8. Paul then used this same word “too/likewise” in verse 11 to transition into talking about wives or women. The more natural reading of the original language is first pastors/elders (men) likewise, to deacons likewise.
Third, why does Paul not give qualifications for pastor/elders wives? After giving specific responsibilities for male elder’s in the home (1 Timothy 3:1-7), why is there no mention of their wives?
Fourth, some may argue that based on Acts 6:3, deacons should only be men. That is because the text reads “select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Acts 6:1-6 records the choice of “the seven” to diaconal service. While it does not use the technical term and noun “deacon” for their status or work, it surely provides the background to and informs the content of the New Testament office of deacon. (The Greek verb from which we get the English word deacon, to serve, is used in 6:2.) The question is, should we read this passage as descriptive of the early church or prescriptive for all churches? If we read it as prescriptive, then how does one deal with Romans 16:1, where the word often translated deacon is used of Phoebe (a woman)? Phoebe is referred to as a “servant of the church” (a specific church), which would seem to point to a diaconal role. Moreover, the description of her ministry in Romans 16:2 fits well with the type of ministry associated with New Testament deacons.
Fifth, the qualifications for deacons do not require the “ability to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), which is a requirement given to men as pastor/elders. To be clear, I believe that the pattern of the New Testament presents the case pastoral ministry is limited to men (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). That is much easier to argue than the case for deacons as men only. Even the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the conservative standard of doctrine for Southern Baptist Churches makes this clear, arguing that the “…scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The Contextual Considerations
Depending on what tradition you were raised in, you’re probably already inclined to lean toward a specific position regarding women as deacons. However, this should not be decided from our preference or tradition; it’s up to the Word. Personally, I believe that God’s word is authoritative. As the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”
Yet, even while we agree that the Word is the final authority, the Word is not entirely clear or explicit in this instance. While one’s tradition may lean towards a certain understanding, conservative biblical scholars are on both sides of this issue. What is clear? The primary focus of deacon ministry is centered on the service-oriented and administrative tasks primarily related to the physical needs of the church, allowing the pastors/elders (called men) to be fully devoted to the spiritual needs of the church. This is why I argued, “…it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
Why the qualifier “some” settings? In many Southern Baptist churches, the deacons serve as quasi-elders or a board of directors. In these cases, the deacons play a significant leadership role in the church that blurs the lines between pastor/elder and deacon. In these cases, I would argue that women should probably not serve in a deacon capacity. In other cases where the men serve as pastor/elders, and the role of pastor/elder and deacon is clearly differentiated, I think women can and should serve as deacons. Even if your church holds to deacons as men only view, I would challenge you to consider how women are serving the body. I would be willing to bet (no, I don’t gamble), many of the women are already serving in a deacon-like manner.
The central issue here, and how we answer the question, should women serve as deacons, must be shaped and limited by the word of God. All of us would recognize that we approach the word of God with assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. There are Southern Baptist Churches that limit the role of deacon to men, there are other Southern Baptist Churches that have men serving as elder/pastors, and both men and women serving as deacons. This is why it is important to consider the context of the church, and why humility, openness, and community become so important in discussions like these.
Also, consider John Hammett’s “Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches” for good discussion on the textual evidence and Baptist history. Dr. Hammett comes to different conclusions but admits this is a complex issue.
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.
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.
I have a new article at For The Church exploring thoughts on pastoral counseling. Here is an excerpt.
“Pastoral counseling is both a privilege and burden. Paul Tripp has aptly reminded us that “We must not let ourselves become comfortable with the casual, where ministry is limited to offering general principles that would fit anyone’s story. The genius of personal ministry is that it is [deeply] personal…This means that effective, God-honoring, heart-changing personal ministry is dependent on a rich base of personal information. You cannot minister well to someone you do not know” (Instruments In The Redeemers Hands, 165). The nature of pastoral ministry, true biblical shepherding, means that we will know more about those in our congregations than others will. Sometimes that knowledge deeply affects us as pastors. In heavy pastoral counseling situations, we must understand that grief will often accompany us as we journey with the counselee towards healing. We need to have an intentional plan for our own health, and the counselees good. Having a plan can help forge a path to walk with a hurting church member towards hope. More importantly, we must intentionally walk them towards our only hope, the great physician, Jesus Christ. So when we weep, we weep with perspective. When we weep, we do not weep as those who have no hope. As pastors, it is important that we cast all of our pastoral burdens on God, because he cares for us, just like he cares for those under our spiritual care (1 Pet. 5:7).”
Curiosity is such a childish word, right? Not so fast. Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we should lose our wonder at the world, or the people around us. When we do, we lose so much because curious is how God made us to be.
My friend Barnabas Piper is on to something here. Without curiosity a Christian’s life is incomplete. “Without curiosity he can never discover deep things, deep connections God tucked below the banal surface of life.”
In his new book, Piper explores what curiosity is, and how it affects relationships. Here are a few good quotes!
Curiosity is more than a mere trait. It is a discipline, a skill, a habit – one that will expand your life in magnificent, if subtle, ways.
Imagination guides and shapes our use of information.
God is echoed in rhythms of music, meter of poems, strokes of brush, taps of a hammer, numbers on a pivot table, laughs with a friend, fantastical fiction, icicles, acorns, sweet tea, oak trees, walleye, alloy metals, espresso, and cirrus clouds.
You and I were created to create and discover, created for the vocation of reflecting God’s image.
Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper in relationship.
If curiosity is not increasing our joy and capacity for enjoyment then something is amiss.
Curiosity is a hunger to know more truth so that we can show people more truth so that our world will see more of God.
Curious people create more, find better solutions to problems, overcome challenges, meet needs that arise, make connections, and prepare better for the future.
Open-mindedness, at its best, is humility and grace blended with curiosity – but not without conviction.
The Christian faith should be curious, not blind. It should be full of questions, not fear questions.
True curiosity is the pursuit of truth, the exploration of God’s creation and will for the world.
Questions are the currency of curiosity. But unlike other currency there is no withdrawal limit and they multiply themselves. Spend liberally.
Well, perhaps you have heard about them. If you haven’t, they are worth your consideration.
When a parent leaves, undoubtedly the children struggle to make sense of it. While I have never experienced this personally, I have friends and family members who have. One thing is clear, nothing hurts like the abandonment of a parent.
In his book Left, Jonathan Edwards (not the puritan) writes with honesty and transparency as he reflects on his life as an abandoned child. Edwards also writes in a way that provides hope for anyone struggling with the absence of a parent. As a pastor and a Christian friend this book was important to read because it provided a window into the lives of others that have experienced the pain of parental abandonment. I am thankful for Jonathan’s contribution to the church, and his reminder that while “…abandonment always leaves scars, Jesus heals. And He will never leave you.”
My friends Derek Radney and Trevor Lawrence are unremittingly clear-headed thinkers and know what they believe and why they believe it. When I received their book on Discipleship, I know it was going to be thorough and articulate.
In Discipleship, Derek and Trevor attempt to outline a comprehensive introduction to the Christian faith in a way that is faithful to the task of passing on the truth once for all delivered to the saints. It is comprehensive not because it explains everything exhaustively but because it covers the basics of the whole expanse of what Christianity concerns, teaching the doctrine (the truth), the morality (the way), and the fellowship (the life) of the Christian faith. You will notice that the book is organized around the ancient discipleship structure “the way, the truth, and the life”. This book is a good tool to read with others and explore what it means to be a Christian and to help others learn how to do the same.