Recent Sample Downloads On My Kindle

Here is a sample of the samples I have recently downloaded for reviewing. It would be a mistake to conclude any theological position I hold from my current reading list. In some cases I am chasing rabbits. In others I am pursuing longer term interests. In still others I am trying to keep in touch with those who would oppose a position I hold. I do hold an interest in the thought of NT Wight. He is on to something when he observes that Evangelicals find it difficult to find the Gospel in the Gospels, a fact that should cause us to take another look at what we believe the Gospels are all about. I have long been concerned about how little role the Gospels play in Evangelical thought as anything other than a backdrop for Pauline theology. This should automatically be of some disturbance to us. How is it that we find so little in Jesus’ teaching that seems to fit with our supposed very clear ideas of the Gospel according to Paul? NT Wright is opening up that door. Some are afraid to go in, afraid perhaps that this would force us to rethink too much.

How God Became King (bought this one)  NT Wright

Is God a Moral Monster?  Paul Coppan (bought this one)

Jesus, Paul and the People of God, Nicholas Perrin

Athanasius, Peter Leithart

Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the Church That Lead to Bondage and Abuse, Cynthia McClaskey

Evangellyfish, Douglas Wilson

Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed, Alan Spence

Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation, Jerry Walls

Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism, Robert Plummer

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miroslav Volf

The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer, Frederica Matthewes-Green

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, Peter Leithart

Four Views on Divine Providence, Dennis Jowers, William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield, Gregory Boyd, Paul Helseth, Stanley Gundry

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith, James Hoffmeier

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles Murray

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, DA Carson

Creed, Winfield Bevins

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, Joseph Lelyveld

The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, Thant Myint-U

Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath

Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction, Mark Noll

The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal, Adam Harwood

Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bruce Epperly

For those who have to listen to sermons and for those who preach them

Ira Glass is a wonderful story teller on “This American Life.” He’s a can’t miss phenomenon.

In this video he describes the process of becoming a wonderful story teller. It ain’t easy. Takes years. Takes patience. Takes the ability to tolerate your own bad stuff until you get to the other side. A lot of people don’t make it. They get too discouraged. They don’t want to work that hard. They can’t take the self-criticism.

And for those of you who listen to sermons, appreciate what the person who is doing the preaching is going through. Charles Spurgeon wrote about going to the pulpit and the last person he met before he stepped onto the platform was the Devil and the first person he met on the way off the platform was the Devil. It’s not easy having to wrestle him every Sunday and take all his stinging criticisms.

I Am of that Age

Older, shall we say!!!

Much of my reading now, at least with regard to contemporary works, is written by those younger than me. I am not sure when I began to recognize this. But it did dawn on me, I think, when I began to notice words like “new”, “innovative”, “imginative”, “bold”, etc. when describing the author.  And after reading them, I couldn’t find the new, the innovative, the imaginative or the bold. It all sounded like what I had heard before.

This is particularly true when it comes to church. I came to a self-conscious participation in church and ministry in the 1960s. Knowing what I know about culture, if I could pick a time to go to college out of all times, it would be the 1960s. This was the great “luck” of my life. I was made for that time. While generally conservative there was a large part of me that enjoyed everything being up for grabs. I loved philosophy classes combined with New England colonial intellectual history and studies in Robert Frost. On any given day I could move from Sartre and existentialism to political theory to poetry to campus demonstrations and the Beatles. By the early 70s it was all gone. In a moment the campus went from bell bottoms to briefcases and short haircuts.

It was time when church as we knew it was being challenged at every turn. It needed to be. It will always need to be. As I have often heard, one is not really useful to the church unless at some point in life he or she has thought that for the sake of Christ they must leave it. I was not exactly an empty vessel on the subject but re-engineering the church was a common theme.

40 years later it is becoming more and more difficult to introduce me to a new paradigm that I haven’t seen before. The only one who thinks it is new is the person writing the new book on it or developing a new conference.

I still have skin in the game. I still listen. I think that I am a learner. Those near me would agree, I think, that I haven’t become a deadhead in ministry. But I have spent a lot of time on rabbit trails. And I see the same ones popping up time and again. “THIS will change the church.” “THAT will change the church.”  ‘THE OTHER will change the church.” And they say it without blinking an eye, almost as if they really believe the keys of the kingdom have been put into their hands.

There are some genuine developments that demand my attention:

1. The Evangelical church has grown old and the old rallying cries do not work anymore. It is more aware of the complexities of our once easy formulas. It must be reborn.

2. The cultural dialog has shifted to the syncretism that has much in common with Roman period of the Cynics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, etc. In the West we are in stalemate in which a common world view is illusive and threatens the ability of society to cohere and make critical decisions together.

3. The absolute breakdown of the family has created conditions that make ministry more difficult. The breakdown of the family within churches is a scandal. Church people are trading partners and children in such rapid succession that doing a church directory is a major feat.

4. Pluralism has come home to roost. The church has to learn how to do culture and political theory as one of increasingly many world views here in the US. I think the church must learn the value of Natural Law Theory, something that Protestants are uniquely unsuited for but which the Roman Catholic Church brings in spades to the table.

5. Cultural optimism has been drained. Most Americans are convinced that the best days are behind us and that our problems are unsolvable. We are facing the end game moment Alexis de Tocqueville spoke of in his Democracy in America. Many of our ways of doing ministry have been buoyed by a cultural optimism that produced an energy level all its own. What does ministry look like in a period of slide? I think we need some fresh insights on this. And this might be one thing the church in other places needs to bring to the Western church.

6. The shift of spiritual energy of the church shifting to places such as Nigeria. The American church is finding itself having to partner in new ways and with a more self-conscious stance of humility and awareness that having had its chance for sustained cultural renewal lost its way and was a part of producing a society dependent upon licentiousness, unrestrained appetites, consumption as a competitive sport, etc., that has resulted in epidemics of pornography, drug use, inability to do family, debt addiction, and an inability to be satisfied – wanting, wanting, wanting.

7. In biblical scholarship the increasing depth of insight into the Ancient Near East is both a major help in biblical interpretation but at the same time the camel’s nose is in the tent. ANE studies can end up “flattening out” the uniqueness of the Old Testament narratives.

8. The increasing sense on the part of many that the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century are losing their sway on conservative biblical scholarship. Justification through faith alone by grace alone is increasingly not seen as the be all and end all of the biblical message. The Neo-Puritans are doing their best to damn the tide by their “Gospel this” and their “Gospel that” conferences. But the church is demanding, not a different doctrine, but a fuller vision. I agree. And I think the Neo-Puritans are on the losing side of that project. NT Wright’s contribution is only one of the peaks in a ridge of others that are rising up on the horizon. Scott McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel is the best summary expression of the concern. I believe in justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone. I think it is central. I think it should be shouted from the rooftops. But it is not the only topic on my agenda. And I think the Neo-Puritan movement, for all its insight into this central formulation, is overstating its case and will find that it doesn’t have enough fuel to lift very far off the launching pad, falling back to earth before it reaches orbit. Thinking people, and there are more of them than some suppose, will not be satisfied with a church consisting essentially of one doctrine that is the beginning and ending point of every sermon.

These are some of the areas I am looking for counsel on. But the “our new way of church is going to change church forever” genre is a yawn for me. I am not a cynic jaded toward the young. I am more concerned that the absence of  solid academic mentoring might be produces a whole bushel of books, conferences and movements that are all ignition and no fire.

And by the way, if you want to talk to me about how contemporary forms of worship are essential for a new church for a new day, step back and watch me spontaneously combust right there. The number of pastors who have destroyed churches with this piece of pop psychology have killed more churches and drained more spiritual energy than any set of false doctrines I can think of. I am a contemporary Christian music fan. It is what I listen to. And I have no agenda to enthrone the old hymns as the peak of expression. It is all just a useless discussion to me. Speak to the hand!!!

A letter from InterVarsity President on the trend to derecognize campus Christian groups because they “discriminate”

Alec Hill, President of IVCF, posted this response in a letter to IV Alum.

In June, 2010, the legal framework within which we operate was altered. In a five to four decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that public universities may enforce “all comers” policies that require recognized student groups to be open to student leaders of any persuasion. This means, for example, that sororities can be required to accept male leaders and socialist clubs to accept republicans. While the ruling was adverse, many of us hoped that the narrowness of the facts would limit its damage.

Over the past twenty months, however, 41 colleges and universities have used the Supreme Court’s decision to challenge our chapters’ status. And at this moment, the two hottest spots are Vanderbilt and the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York (SUNY).

The rest of the letter is here.

This circumstance reminds me how wrong headed the intellectual elite can be. I never cease to be amazed by how people in my profession in academia can cater to cultural trends without rigorous analysis. The same is often true, of course, for the church. The two groupings of people that one would expect to have the vigor to oppose fads and dangerous drifts are the academy and the church. A lesson that wafts out of Europe in the first part of the 20th century is that it was the academy and the church that were the first to cave into National Socialism. How could this be? How could this be?

IVCF is just the kind of Christian group a university should want on the campus. They bring to campuses all across America the spiritual world view which should be in dialog with the other options on campus, and they bring just those kinds of students who are ready for the intellectual engagement that enriches the college world. These are not mindless fundamentalists shouting slogans and burning books.  Because their world view is a spiritual world view it, out of its own nature, does present exclusive claims. To demand that those who represent that world view actually believe it is rationally consistent and logically necessary to the organization’s existence. This would make a great debate in the philosophy class I am now teaching. I just might do that in the next couple of weeks. Would be interesting.

I am still trying to get my head around why the Supreme Court will not review the lower court judgment. It now appears the movement to disenfranchise campus religious groups by demanding that to be on campus they must give up claims to exclusivity is picking up steam.

Of course, this does not mean that religious students must register as campus organizations. At least it hasn’t gone this far. But that would deny them the right to reserve rooms, sponsor public meetings, etc.

In many ways I am inclined not to react too quickly. Universities experiment with all kinds of wacky social experimentation. At some point human nature itself by the common grace of God is self-correcting before it tips too far. But at other times God does restrain common grace so that there is for a moment of time a tipping point, if only to scare us by seeing the stuff we are capable of doing to one another.

Consider the ministry of IVCF and pray for God to pave a way for the continuation of its ministry at those particular schools where there seems the most immediate possibility of the loss of recognition. And pray for IVCF students. Many of them will be societal, business, and educational leaders in the not too distant future. They are seeing something now that will stay with them when the time comes for them to themselves set cultural trends.

Let’s Die This Way

Tim Challies tells this story:
Reading Michael Wittmer’s excellent new book The Last Enemy, I came across a powerful little story that I wanted to share with you. I trust you will enjoy it as I did.

My friend Jeff stopped by the hospital to visit one of his dearest senior saints. Charlotte was in her eighties, but she had been young enough in heart to blossom under Jeff’s ministry. She had paid close attention as Jeff proclaimed the story of God—how the world began with God’s good creation, suffered a cataclysmic fall that ruined us and everything else, is being redeemed by Jesus’ cross and resurrection, and will be consummated when Jesus returns and delivers this world to His Father.

Charlotte said learning God’s story had changed her life. “I get it now,” she told anyone who would listen. “The parts of the Bible make sense when you read them in light of the whole. For the first time in my life, I understand how my salvation fits into the larger picture.”

Now Charlotte was dying. She chatted with her pastor about family, church, and the general quality of hospital food, and then Jeff said a prayer and promised to come see her again.

Jeff was minutes from home when his cell phone rang. It was the floor nurse calling from the hospital.

“Charlotte told me to contact you,” she began. “She said that it’s time for her to die. She told me to tell you not to hurry; she’ll wait until you get here.”



Jeff turned his car around and drove slightly faster than Charlotte had recommended. He feared she would die before he returned, and he prayed God would grant her sufficient stamina to hold on. He need not have worried. When he entered her room, panting from his swift jog from the parking garage, Charlotte called him over to her bed. She took his hand, looked into his eyes, and said, “Pastor, tell me the story one more time.”

For the next twenty minutes, with a heavy but grateful heart, Jeff reviewed the story that had saved their lives. He told Charlotte about their gracious, triune God who created our world from love and for His glory. He reminded her that God put us here as His “image bearers” to take care of this world on His behalf (see Genesis 1:26-28). God intended us to flourish in all of our relationships—with Him, one another, and creation—and we would as long as we rested in His care and obeyed His loving will.

Jeff then described the destruction of the fall and how our rebellion against the one, true, and living God had shat- tered everything we were meant to be. We rejected God’s love, fought with each other, and brought a curse upon the entire creation. We were doomed, unwilling and unable to take the first step toward reconciliation. We were “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Jeff and Charlotte remembered how God refused to let the world end this way, and He sent His Son to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus offered His sinless life in our place, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved so we could be adopted as the righteous children of God. Our loving Lord was crucified, dead, and buried, but three days later He shocked the world by rising from the dead.

Jesus ascended to heaven where He rules the world and intercedes for us before our merciful Father. He will soon return to make all things new. He will restore our humanity, repairing our relationships with God, each other, and creation. And He will bring joy to the world, far as the curse is found, by abolishing sin, disease, and death. No more tearful goodbyes! Because Jesus lives, we too shall live—with Him, here, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever!

Jeff’s voice cracked and Charlotte’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s true,” she whispered. “I know it’s true.” She smiled, and then cleared her throat and asked, “Pastor, will you call for the nurse?”

When the nurse entered the room, Charlotte said with resolute voice, “Nurse, I’d like a clean robe and I’d like my teeth.” She turned to Jeff and patted his arm, “It’s time. It’s going to be okay.”

Jeff left the room while the nurse dressed Charlotte in a white robe and put her teeth in, and when she was ready, Jeff returned, took her hand, and kissed her on the forehead. As Jeff prayed beside her, Charlotte raised her eyes toward heaven, and with a serenity that comes from knowing how the story ends, she repeated the words “thank you, thank you, thank you.” By the third “thank you” she had fallen asleep, and on the fourth she was waking up in heaven.

Taken from The Last Enemy: Preparing to Win the Fight of Your Life, 2012 by Michael E. Wittmer. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

Tim Keller as example of how to talk about homosexuality

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, is exemplary in how to bring the Christian worldview to bear on highly secularized and urbanized culture. There is hardly a hotter flash point in our cultural dialogue than sexuality, and in particular homosexuality. I think Keller represents a “best practice” approach as a model for the church.

He does avoid the highly charged “disgust” issue that Martha Nussbaum, law professor of the University of Chicago, deals with in her book From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law, a book I have spent some time with. In this book she is dealing with arguments from those such as Leon Kass, former head of President Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics, who argue that this repugnance has an inherent “wisdom,” steering us away from destructive choices. Nussbaum’s project is to examine the “disgust factor” underpinnings as justification for legal restrictions applied to the homosexual community. The Apostle Paul might have just this factor in mind in Romans 1.

I think for Keller to have dealt with the topic in a thorough manner, he would have to deal with this. But in broad outline he presents the essential Christian response. And while doing so clearly expresses a healthy temperament for inviting conversation rather than war.

The Reformed as Luddites

I have always been of the opinion that the Reformed communities which I have encountered have much more in common with Southern fundamentalist culture than is commonly recognized. This is surprising and counter intuitive. The level of scholarship demonstrated in the Reformed wing of the hallway of faith is impressive. And when it comes to the exposition of the text of Holy Scripture, the amount of intellectual firepower the Reformed bring to the text can be overwhelming.

But in spite of it all, they essentially move in the direction of “Christ against culture,” even in spite of their firm belief in the cultural mandate and much of the postmillenialism in the camp.

The recent Ligonier Conference is a case in point. I watched a bit of it online. In a panel discussion RC Sproul, Michael Horton, and others were quite critical of technological sophistication in online communications, such as twitter, texting, email. They seemed to rejoice that they were out of touch in this way. One of the panelists seemed quite pleased that he did not ever answer emails in a timely fashion. I think they were making the case that this enabled them to hear God better or something of the sort since they are not subject to the rush of instant communication.

Of course, what was surprising about this is the level of technology that both Horton’s and Sproul’s ministries bring to the table. They serve it up in heaping bundles of technology. And here they are as if they eschew the very thing that their very ministries are doing. Are these things being done behind their backs?

It’s a pose. Their niche is “contra culture.” Believe me, there is plenty to be concerned about in modern cultural development. But that’s different than the Reformed spiel. They seem to tap into the same kind of cultural fears I was used to from the Bob Jones branch of Southern religion. For all their criticism of Baptists, they often sound like Baptists to me.

Tim Keller is a Reformed guy who has distanced himself from this isolationism, it seems to me. He offers sophisticated critiques of culture without descending into paranoia. Note his recent work on idols, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. This is a sophisticated culture critique that demands the intellect without pandering to the thrill of world view collisions. His thoughtful engagement with evolution theory, the historical existence of Adam and Eve as first parents, etc., are exemplary in style even if the conclusions might not be mine.

Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship does the best job I know of both cultural openness and cultural critique. They look for signs of Christ’s presence in the fallen world. In other words, even though our race is fallen, we continue to bear the image of God and inevitably live and work and play in ways that affirm God is yet among us, leaving His calling cards in all sorts of places in the culture building enterprise. Identifying these allows us to build bridges as the Christian community to culture builders in the arts, sciences, humanities, government, and politics. I have observed, however, that some of the most popular of Reformed writers and speakers–John Piper, Al Mohler, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, Mark Dever–do not speak at IV events. I am not sure who is excluding whom. Perhaps these speakers’ public position excluding women from pastoral ministry is the ultimate factor. But I suspect it goes deeper than that to a more visceral conflict of world views. I am an IVCF guy and after 45 years of involvement with the movement have a sense that they have more of a balance. Of course, they are not a church and skirt a lot of the issues the church cannot avoid. It is much more self-limiting and therefore less susceptible to firestorms of clashing views.

Cultural isolation is easy. Cultural accommodation is easy. Aristotle taught us that the Golden Mean is the better, though harder, way.