A Different Approach to Reading Through the Bible

There are numerous Bible reading plans available at numerous internet sites. Most of these are organized around reading the Bible in small sections every day with the goal of reading it all in a year. Over at the Gospel Coalition blog, Peter Krol suggests a different approach, reading the Bible as quickly as possible. I can attest to the value of this approach. For most of us, the Old Testament is heavy going when we read it. My own experience with reading as Krol suggests is that reading large sections helps focus attention on the big themes in each book. As he notes, this is particularly helpful with books like Leviticus and the books of Kings and Chronicles.

Although we’ve missed the last couple of years, there will be a recommended reading list for 2014 published here soon. In addition to that list, make sure the Bible is on your list to read this year. Whether you try Krol’s approach or another plan, get started and stick to it. Happy reading in 2014!

A New Blog I’m Following

You will see that I have added a new blog to our Blogroll: Preaching Barefoot. This blog is written by my cousin Zack Eswine who pastors the Riverside Church in the St. Louis area. The title comes from his story of the first time he preached at his church, but it also is representative of his view of pastoring. His most recent book is about this, and though I have only read an excerpt here (click the Google Preview button just below the cover image), the book is ordered and I look forward to reading it before the year ends. I think you will appreciate his heart for pastoring that permeates the words he writes. Reading this blog is not so much about enjoyment as it is meditation on what Zack says, especially for those of us in pastoring roles, whether vocationally or as lay elders and leaders.

New blog added to our Blogroll

We recently have gotten to know Kyle Owenby and have added his blog to our Blogroll (see the list on the right). Kyle is a Reformation historian and instructor in history at a small college in North Georgia, and you can learn more about him on his blog site. Kyle has recently been reviewing some interesting books and has given us permission to link to them here. As we see reviews that may be of interest, we will add notices for you. Maybe we can even get Kyle to write some pieces for this site in the future. Hope you enjoy getting to know his work as much as we have.

Happy reading!

Thinking About the Church

I started the year intending to post at least once a month in 2011. So much for that resolution! Life just happens and over-runs our intentions so often. As I take a break from work at the office on this day before Easter I am thinking about a discussion I had recently in a meeting with my fellow elders at my local church about a new focus in ministry we are preparing to announce.

One of the realizations to which we have come is that many of the issues we face and frustrations we hear about, and experience ourselves, as we serve in leadership can be summed up in a simple lack of understanding of biblical ecclesiology. Once again, God’s timing is right on target since the seminary class I am taking this semester is a systematic theology course covering Spirit, Church, and Last Things. The assigned text for the ecclesiology segment of the course is Edmund Clowney’s The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission. Having read it and in the context of our discussions at my local church, I would recommend it as a resource for assessing both your own personal understanding of what the Church is, should be doing, and how it should be and do those things. If you’re in church leadership I would say it’s a mandatory read with the goal of evaluating what, or maybe more accurately whether, you are devoting enough time to these questions in the teaching cycle of your classes and sermons.

What struck me about this book the most is the contrast between the individualism of our church membership today versus the family, community context the Bible presents as normative. Certainly there are lots of differences between our culture today and that of the first century that mean we must do specifics differently, but it’s the attitude about what the church is that needs to be thought through critically and ruthlessly in our day.

I’m reminded of a statement I made once as I was teaching on this that I think sums up what the Bible says about it. “He is more important than we. ‘We’ is more important than me.” Wonder what church would look like if we thought and acted from that attitude?

Reading List for 2011

This year’s reading list begins with two books that will challenge readers to re-evaluate their understanding of what Christian faith demands of them. Platt’s and Chan’s books are hard-hitting looks at what Christianity has come to be in American culture and the implications for our lives individually and in the church of getting it right. Wright’s book is an opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of who Jesus Christ is from the perspective of the Scriptures that were available to the early church. (See my review of the book here.) Piper challenges us to think about thinking, arguing against the anti-intellectualism that has become a part of our culture, particularly in evangelical Christianity. The shelves of bookstores are full of how to books arguing for techniques for improving our prayer lives, but Packer and Nystrom’s book points to the why, which is so much more important and if understood in light of some the earlier readings will naturally help us with the how. Finally, Stott’s classic work will help clarify the significance of the cross to our lives, faith, and ministry.

  • Jan-Feb: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt
  • Mar-Apr: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
  • May-Jun: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright
  • Jul-Aug: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
  • Sep-Oct: Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by Packer & Nystrom
  • Nov-Dec: The Cross of Christ by John Stott.

Hope you enjoy these recommended books and that reading them will help you take the next step in becoming disciple-making disciples.

Some comments on The Shack

Although it has been out for some time now, I have not yet read William Young’s book The Shack.  A friend of mine, Chris Terry, was recently prompted to read it by two different people, one who liked the book and another who did not.  His response to these folks after reading it is, I think, a good example for us of how we as Christians ought to engage with all forms popular culture.  We need to first appreciate the artistic merit of the work, then look at things we speak positively about before we offer criticism.  I hope you will enjoy reading Chris’ reaction to the book and that it will prompt you to want to read it thoughtfully.

“Fluffy” is the word…even for The Shack.

I really enjoyed reading the book, and found myself reading aloud to [my wife] some segments of the author’s thoughts.  BUT…this book, as a whole is not something that I can wholly agree with or wholly disagree with.  We have a big God, and The Shack only shares a limited view of one dimension…unconditional love.  This book downplays important concepts like Sin and Justice, but more importantly, it pulls most of its imagery from the author’s imagination and little of its content from the Bible.  God is simply too big to be crammed in this little book.  Although the author gives Mack new eyes before revealing a small piece of God, and clearly explains that this image is a small and limited picture of what is to come for the faithful, it still seems very presumptuous to put human limitations on Mack’s experience in the presence of God (although it is all the author could possibly have to work with).

There are some parts of this book that I can dismiss entirely, but my fear is that many people will not be able to discern the bad theology from the good message or from the good fiction.  There are also some points made in this book, that speak to having an intimate relationship with God that could help expose a whole new group of people who are seeking…and that is good.  It is also leading people to confront their anger, their fear, and their broken relationships in ways that could lead toward forgiveness and renewal, while steering people away from an Oprah religion that encourages them to look inside themselves for all the answers…and that is also good.  My hope is that people who are seeking answers do not stop searching for answers after reading The Shack, and that their quest for answers takes them beyond other “fluffy” published materials.

People are the reason this book is so popular.  We need to understand, but not be mired in, the crazy society in which we live (this includes our own Church Families).  It is my observation that our society is intellectually lazy and overly emotional about things that have little impact on our lives.  We, as people, are either seeking further skepticism or seeking God, we are seeking fear and anxiety or we are seeking peace and joy, but either way, most of us are not turning to deep or heady reading for our answers because we are lazy…I know because I’ve been there.  Look at the most popular books and media to see where we invest most of our time, and you will see that on a good day some of us are turning to books like Wild Goose Chase, and The Shack because these books, while better than TV shows and movies, will provide some answers, but will never take us deep enough to fully address our laziness and indifference…they won’t hold us accountable…they are just books consumed in the privacy of our living rooms.  They offer us nothing more than a good inspirational message that makes us feel warm and emotionally “fluffy” for a few days before the message fades.  Sadly, most of us will not find the drive or effort in ourselves or in our leaders to work smartly toward questioning, studying, and proving the truths that are evident in the infallible word of God.  We will turn everything upside down and on its head in order to remain in control of what is easy.  We prove to each other every day that most of our valiant efforts are misguided and misused.  That said, at least William P. Young’s valiant efforts resulted in a best-selling and entertaining book that makes you go hmmmmm.  In summary:

  • We need to move people from just reading best-selling books in the privacy of their living rooms and into His Church.    Hebrews 10: 25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
  • William P. Young’s intentions are noble and are leading us into good discussions, questions, and debates for God’s purposes.  Philippians 1: 15-18 – It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely…   But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.
  • We the people…are crazy…and it is worth spending just a little time understanding this…but not judging it.  Ephesians 4: 29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
  • Finally…after reading The Shack…and enjoying many parts of it…I am off to do some heady reading so God can transform and renew my mind for the purposes of discipleship and equipping…a couple of key things on which The Shack will fall short.  Romans 12:2 – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what  God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Another Book List for Growing Your Library

Our friend Jeffrey Breshears has compiled a list of books to enrich your personal library and add depth to your reading.  He has organized his list into seven categories.

  1. Biblical Studies
  2. Christian History
  3. Christian Apologetics
  4. Christian Spirituality
  5. Christian Life and Discipleship
  6. Church Life, and
  7. Eschatology

The books in the Christian Spirituality category reflect his interest in the contemplative aspects of Christian Spirituality.  There is a brief abstract of each book’s content that will guide you in prioritizing your acquisitions.  The list can be viewed at theAreopagus.org at this link.  Note that he also includes some classic non-Christian works so that we can be familiar with what those who do not share our worldview are using as foundations for their ideas.

These would be a great addition to your Christmas gift list or as gifts for someone who is, or should be, an avid reader.  We think that should apply to every Christian!

A Book Recomendation

One of the purposes we envisioned for this site was making recommendations for building a good library of resources.  Our reading lists have been the main way we have made suggestions for your acquisitions.  Last spring I read a book as a part of a course on the Life and Teachings of Jesus that I highly recommend.  The book is Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  My review of this book can be viewed here.  Though I have not read them, there are two companion volumes that are I expect are equally good, Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament and Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament.  Get all three and dive into the Old Testament.

Never More Necessary …

Well, it’s been awhile since anyone has posted anything, so I thought I’d put up a thought-provoking passage I read recently. To be honest, I haven’t been reading all that much lately; this is actually something I read more than a month ago. We’re in the middle of trying to move in to a house that’s been all but completely renovated, but we’re currently staying with my parents-in-law and it’s left us feeling a little displaced (even though her parents are great). I realize I seem to have a penchant for longer quotes, but I promise if you read the whole passage it will make sense why I have to include it all.  🙂

Anyway, the quote is from Aldous Huxley’s Huxley and God: Essays on Religious Experience. I picked it up off the bargain rack in a bookstore across from Yale University (I was only there on business) and although Mr. Huxley is anything but Christian, he is a deep thinker and careful observer. The following was written in 1941:

… it is upon fashions, cars, and gadgets, upon news and the advertising upon which news exists, that our present industrial and economic system depends for its proper functioning. For, as ex-President Hoover pointed out not long ago, this system cannot work unless the demand for non-necessaries is not merely kept up, but continually expanded; and of course it cannot be kept up and expanded except by incessant appeals to greed, competitiveness, and love of aimless stimulation. Men have always been a prey to distractions, which are the original sin of the mind; but never before today has an attempt been made to organize and exploit distractions, to make of them, because of their economic importance, the core and vital center of human life, to idealize them as the highest manifestations of mental activity. Ours is an age of systematized irrelevances, and the imbecile within us has become one of the Titans, upon whose shoulders rests the weight of the social and economic system. Recollectedness, or the overcoming of distractions, has never been more necessary than now; it has also, we may guess, never been so difficult.