Friday, March 31, 2017

Speeches That Launched American Presidencies

I was recently listening to a fascinating conversation between Bill Kristol and Steven Hayward on Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement (you can watch that conversation here). In the middle of that conversation, Hayward suggests there were 4 great political speeches that launched a candidate to the White House (one failed to win the White House). Those candidates were Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Ronald Reagain, and Barack Obama. I found the idea a fascinating one and want to pass along the four speeches that launched these four men to the executive branch.

Abraham Lincoln - Cooper Union (February 27, 1860)

William Jennings Bryan - Cross of God (July 9, 1896)

Ronald Reagan - A Time for Choosing (October 27, 1964)

Barack Obama - 2004 Democratic National Convention (
July 27, 2004)

All Around the Web - March 31, 2017

Trevin Wax - Outlawing Stay-At-Home Moms?

Kevin DeYoung - Four Thoughts on Persecution in America

Evangelical History - What Would Jonathan Edwards Have Thought of Billy Graham’s Revivals? And Other Questions for the Contributors of a New Book

Denny Burk - Is the religious left really a “political force”?

Jason Allen - Three Questions for Christians on Social Media

Lee Strobel - Was Jesus’ Death on the Cross Faked?

Erik Raymond -  The Only Perfect Part of the Sunday Service

Pastor's Today - Americans’ Perception of Pastors Is a Mixed Bag

Tim Challies - Rule #2: Guard Against Worldliness (8 Rules for Growing in Godliness)

Grace to You - You Might Be Pharisee If . . .

Babylon Bee - Study: Optimal Time To Prepare Sermon Is 11:00 Saturday Night  | Satire

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mary: The Receiver of Grace

In his sermon on Luke 1:26-31, John MacArthur makes an important point regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus. Contrary to Catholic theology, Mary is not the bestorwer of grace, but the receiver of it.
That's not what the angel said. Mary was not the source of grace; Mary was the recipient of grace. "Hail, favored one, you've been favored by God.” You've been given grace by God. You see, there wasn't anything worthy about her. There's no commendation here. It doesn't say, "And the virgin's name was Mary, and Mary was righteous and godly and loved God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength, and served the Lord with all her heart," and on and on. It doesn't say that. It just says, "Mary, period, you've been chosen." Nothing about her. We don't ever know anything about her. We don't know anything about her life.

But I'll tell you one thing: She is not the bestower of grace. You cannot go to Mary and receive any grace. Let me shake you a little bit. Mary can't hear the prayers of anybody. Only God hears prayers. Mary cannot hear the prayers of anyone. Neither can any other glorified saint. And Mary has no grace to give. She is not the giver of grace; she is the receiver of grace.

All Around the Web - March 30, 2017

Trevin Wax - My Father-In-Law’s Conversion Story

Tim Challlies - The Particular Temptations of Young Men

The Gospel Coalition - 5 Christian Clich├ęs that Need to Die

Denny Burk - Did Jesus ever experience doubt?

Bill Mounce - What is Worse? Removing from Scripture or Adding to Scripture? (Matt 18:11) – Mondays with Mounce 277

Baptist Press - Assisted suicide bills faring poorly in 2017

Chuck Lawless - Churches that Only Talk about Prayer or Churches that Really Pray?

Thom Rainer - Eight Unintended Consequences of Building a Church Facility Too Big

Justin Taylor - Reading the Book Acknowledgments

60 Minutes - Chess instills new dreams in kids from rural Mississippi county

Washington Post - Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year

HT: Ben Withington

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From Lewis's Pen: Christianity And

From Screwtape Letters:
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know – Christianity and the Crisis, and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. (135)

All Around the Web - March 29, 2017

Joe Carter - China Admits to the Greatest Slaughter in Human History

Trevin Wax - A Word for Politically-Panicked Christians

Chuck Lawless - 10 Leadership Time Wasters

Ross Douthat - Break Up the Liberal City

Evangelical History - The Scopes Trial and the Political Temptation of Fundamentalists 

Crossway - 10 Things You Should Know about Teenagers

The Gospel Coalition - The Bible Commands Christians to Tithe

The Gospel Coalition - 7 Reasons Christians Are Not Required to Tithe

Justin Taylor - Simon Gathercole on the Historical Reliability of the Geography in the Gospels

Andy Naselli - The Collected Works of John Piper

Babylon Bee - Benny Hinn Carefully Applies ‘Not Of This World’ Sticker To Ferrari 458 Italia | Satire

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No King But Caesar: The Shocking Truth of that Confession

The modern sexual revolution is not new nor is it a threat that the church cannot survive or even thrive in. The world in which Christianity was born was sexually decedent. One of the best books on how Christianity navigated through the Roman world is Matthew Rueger's Sexual Morality in a Christless World. One striking section is when he zero's in on the Ceasar's to illustrate how depraved Roman culture had become. Consider the following regarding Tiberius:
Following the death of Augustus, Tiberius reigned. His sexual immorality exceeded Augustus. he is said to have created a new publicly funded office for attending to his sexual pleasures. His retreat on the isle of Capri was created to be a sexual playground for his fantasies.
In his retreat at Capri, he also contrived an apartment containing couches, and adapted to the secret practice of abominable lewdness, where he entertained companies of girls and catamites, and assembled from all quarters inventors of unnatural copulations, whom he called Spintriae, who defiled one another in his presence, to inflame by the exhibition the languid appetite. . . . He likewise contrived recesses in woods and groves for the gratification of lust, where young persons of both sexes prostituted themselves in caves and hollow rocks, in the disguise of little Pans and Nymphs.
Tiberius was known to practice pedophilia. He found pretty boys and trained them to swim with him in his pool in perverse ways. They were to swim between his thighs and 'nibble on his private parts.' Tacitus supports Suetonius's claims about the Emperor, recording that Tiberius debauched freeborn children and was guilty of sexual abominations so perverse that new names had to be invented for them. Such unspeakable behavior was not prosecuted. Tiberius was a sexual predator, a rapist, pedophile, and a bi-sexual adulterer. He does not seem to have been well-liked by the public. A neighboring king wrote him accusing him of murder, cowardice, and sexual perversity and suggested he kill himself to satisfy the hatred of his own people. Yet Tiberius's deeds stood without public trial and punishment. This was the Roman Emperor in power when Christ was crucified. When the Jews shouted at Jesus' trial that they had no king but Caesar (John 19:15), this was the Caesar whom they were willing to serve. Jesus was a greater offense to them than Tiberius. (28)
 Those last lines are simply astounding. We are walking down that same road again.

All Around the Web - Mark 28, 2017

Eric Geiger - 5 Realities About the Weight of Pastoring

Christianity Today - An Insufficient Resistance

Christianity Today - Moral Relativism Is Dead

The Federalists - Brain Scientists: ‘Learning Styles’ Like Auditory, Visual, And Kinesthetic Are Bunk

WORLD - Canada is harvesting the organs of euthanasia patients

Thom Rainer - Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die

Chuck Lawless - Why Some People Won’t Come to Church This Weekend

Tim Challies - 8 Rules for Growing in Godliness

New York Times - The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about Fasting

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Grendel" by John Gardner: A Review

"The world resists me and I resist the world," I said. "That's all there is. The mountains are what I define them as." Ah, monstrous stupidity of childhood, unreasonable hope! . . . "The world is all pointless accident," I say. (Chapter 2)

A cursory search of this website will reveal a real passion for the old English tale Beowulf. It is, by far, my favorite story and I have read several versions of the narrative over the years. The story is rich and its themes even richer (see my theology of Beowulf in the links below). One of the books that continues to appear as a must-read in my continuing research of the book is John Gardner's novel Grendel. The book is named after the first and most famous monster Beowulf battles.

The story is literally told through Grendel's eyes utilizing the first person style. Gardner doesn't tell Grendel's story. Rather, the novel is from the perspective of Grendel telling his own story. Doing so makes Grendel a more sympathetic character whose motives are more complicated than one may presume purely in Beowulf and that, in my opinion, is part of the problem.

I would agree that any serious student of Beowulf should read Gardner's work I would also contend it is also a deeply flawed volume. First, though Gardner clearly knows his Beowulf history along with a number of its themes (like fraticide), characters (like Scyld Shefing), and historical background (I enjoyed the exploration of the rise of Hrothgar), Gardner turns the story of Beowulf into something it is not. The author utilizes the Grendel character, a demonic monster who embodies murderous envy and is literally a direct descendant of Cain, as a means of exploring the philosophy of Jean-Paul Satre. Beowulf, I believe, is a theological work making an apologetic point about Christianity. It is not a philosophical one. Through the eyes of this monster, we explore the world of fatalism from the greedy dragon and the futility of religion from three priests.

Yet this is not the Grendel of the original tale. Grendel is introduced thus:
Thus Hrothgar's thanes
reveled in joys,
feasting and drinking
until their foe started
his persecutions,
a creature of hell.
Grendel, they called him,
this grimspoiler,
a demon who prowled
the dark borderlands,
moors and marshes,
a man-eating giant
who had lied in a lair
in the land of monsters
ever since God
had outlawed him
along with the rest
of the line of Cain. (8, source)
Later we see Grendel morbidly laughing while the Danes are mourning the slaughter of their own. Grendel is a demonic and animalistic monster who feeds, not because he is hungry or lonely, but because he is jealous and wicked. Yet this is not the depiction of Grendel in Gardner's take. To him, Grendel becomes a monster whereas to the anonymous writers of the ancient tale, Grendel is a monster and the difference is very significant. Thus Grendel turns to fatalism - a monster will do monstrous things. Yet the original tale was very different. The story opens and closes with a funeral and thus on the surface, the reality of death and the cycle of violence makes fatalism attractive. Yet in the narrative we discover the opposite: hope. Something (and someone) greater than Beowulf is coming.

In the end I would again say that Gardner has written a story that every Beowulf reader should tole lege but not for keen insight into the original tale. A philosophical take on Beowulf is certainly worth exploring so long as it reflects the philosophy of the original writers. That is what makes Beowulf so rich.Gardner fails o reflect that original worldview in his exploration of the hero's most famous foe.

For more:
"Beowulf" Translated by Dick Ringler: A Review
"Beowulf": A Review
A Shrewd Apologetic: Doug Wilson's Take on Beowulf
Beowulf: Resources and Links
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary

Theology Series:
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Why Beowulf Matters
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 4
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 5
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 6
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 7
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  Conclusion

All Around the Web - March 27, 2017

Gospel Coalition - How C. S. Lewis Put the Ontological Argument for God in Narnia

Russell Moore - Signposts: A Conversation with Jen Wilkin

Resurgent - Maybe Freedom From Religion Wasn’t Such a Good Idea After All

Gospel Coalition - The Intellectual in Canada Who Unmasked Political Idolatry in America

Chuck Lawless - 10 Signs That a Church Has No Clear Vision

Tim Challies - The Hidden Strength of a Weak Mother (Christian Men and Their Godly Moms)

Christianity Today - Engaging Churches in Caring for Incarcerated Persons and Their Families

WORLD - More than 20 million in Africa, Middle East at risk of starvation

Christian Post - Nigeria's Forgotten Christians

Thursday, March 23, 2017

10 Books Every Pastor Should Read

Some time ago, Brian Croft of Practical Shepherding shared a list of top 10 books every pastor should read in two categories: doing and enduring pastoral ministry. Having given it some thought, I offer my initial general ten books every pastor should read.

1. What Every Pastor Should Know by Gary L. McIntosh and Charles Arn

One of the most practical books I have ever read in ministry is this work by Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn. Most books for pastors are simple guides on preaching, pastoring, counseling, funerals, weddings, etc. The authors, however, go much deeper and guide the reader on church growth, how to welcome visitors, how to engage the community, working with staff, etc. This is an invaluable resource for pastors today.

2. The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler

The pastor is a leader and Mohler offers one of the better books on leadership. Though this volume could be applied to other leadership positions, Mohler clearly has ministers in mind. Pastors must lead convictionally for we stand on the rock of the gospel, not our feelings and opinions.

3. The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Although I don't agree with Stott on everything in this book, it remains the best book I have read on the doctrine of the cross. Every pastor should be fluent in the cross and know it well. Stott's work is an important work in that regard.

4. Between Two Worlds by John Stott

A classic work on preaching.

5. Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd-Jones

Another classical work on preaching.

6. Death by Love by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears 

The book that opened my eyes to gospel-centered and cross-centered ministry was this one by Driscoll and Breshears. I do not agree with every chapter and acknowledge the book (not to mention its primary author) has its weaknesses, the approach of the book should be mimicked in our ministry. Each chapter begins with a real ministry scenario followed by a letter from Driscoll applying the doctrine of the cross to that specific situation.

7. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

Every pastor should grow spiritually and this is the best book I've read on the subject. Learn from it and teach it to your people.

8. Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger

To say we live in a sexually perverse society is an understatement. There are countless books that seek to guide Christians through the mess of this world. The one that stands out from the rest is this volume from Rueger. The author takes us back to the Roman world which begat Christianity and showed how debauched it was. Yet in spite of its immorality, Christianity expanded. This is an excellent tool that should be devoured by pastors.

9. Preaching with Simplicity by JC Ryle

Preaching is not an academic exercise whereby we prove our intellectual smarts. It is the primary means by which we shepherd our people to greater Christlikeness. Thus we must preach with simplicity. This pamphlet is an excellent tool to guide us in that endeavor.

10. Mere Christianity/Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

One of the most influential writers in my life is Clive Staples Lewis. These two volumes are among his most influential and should be devoured by every believer. Lewis may not be for everyone, but everyone should be exposed to his writings, both fictional and non-fictional.

HT: Practical Shepherding

All Around the Web - March 23, 2017

ERLC - Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention

Kevin DeYoung - Who Are ‘The Least of These’?

Desiring God - My Pastor Uses Pre-Made Sermons — Should I Be Concerned?

The Federalists - Reza Aslan’s ‘Believer’ Is Unbelievably Condescending About Religion

Get Religion - Here we go again: Will someone please explain Christianity to the Associated Press?

IMB - Restricting Religious Freedom: Country by Country Analysis [INFOGRAPHIC]

Chuck Lawless - The Three Biggest Obstacles to Evangelistic Church Growth

LifeWay Pastors - 6 Lessons Learned Ministering in a Blue-Collar Community

The Atlantic - Beowulf is Back

The Resurgent - Wonder Woman’s Mortal Sin

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Good News of the Annunciation: Why Pro-Life Christians Should Celebrate the Annunciation

March 25 marks an important date for pro-life Christians as it marks the Annunciation of Mary regarding her pregnancy of the Christ Child.  March 25 marks the beginning of Mary's nine month pregnancy.*  Recently Christianity Today has asked the question if the Annunciation is more important that Christmas regarding its pro-life implications.  In the article, a number of Biblical scholars weighed in.  Pro-life leader Randy Alcorn remarked, for example:
It connects directly to the incarnation, while Christmas (whatever the true date) falls around nine months after the incarnation . . . It is basic Christian doctrine that Christ became flesh at the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, at the moment of fertilization. He became human at the exact point all others become human, the point of conception.
The purpose of the article is to highlight the difference of emphasis between the three main traditions within Christianity:  Roman Catholic, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodox.  The article is interesting and gets us to rethink the issue of the Annunciation.  Certainly the motivation behind the Annunciation is worth our time especially in a post-Roe vs. Wade era. 

At the heart of the celebration is not about abortion, but about the pre-incarnate Jesus leaving His throne in glory and taking upon Himself the form of a slave (Philippians 2).  Just as Christians get distracted with presents and Santa Claus during the celebration of Jesus' birth, there is a temptation to be distracted by wrong doctrine regarding Mary (especially on the more Roman Catholic side) and the implications of the sanctity of life.  Any celebration of the Annunciation should be about the gospel.  Unless we make a "bee-line to the cross" (as Charles H. Spurgeon once said), we have missed the point of the event.  Christ did not take upon human flesh to teach us love or to heal the sick; He took upon the form of a man in order to propitiation the righteous wrath of God.

When I was younger, I once wondered which was more important; Christmas or Easter?  My confusion was centered on the importance of the cross and resurrection in our theology and yet our heavier emphasis on the birth during Christmas.  It became clear to me at a young age that Christmas is a month long celebration while Easter is maybe only 3.  Fortunately I later discovered that without the cross and resurrection, the Incarnation would have been less festive.  As Christians if we fail to bring glory to the cross of death and the empty tomb of life, we are wasting our time.

However, we must admit that the Annunciation does have incredible implications in our current debate regarding abortion.  If there ever was a woman who had reason to second guess her pregnancy it was Mary.  Who would actually believe her?  Here she is pregnant and yet still a virgin engaged to be married.  The scandal could cost her life.  Let us not forget that in 1st Century Rome abortion and infanticide was common (though less among the Jews who believed all life to be sacred similar to Christians today).

Instead of seeking relief from her present struggles, she remained firm in her convictions (and innocence) and went ahead with the pregnancy.  Was Mary ready to be a mother?  She likely had her doubts since she remained unmarried at the time of her conception.  Let us also not forget that how young she likely was.  Could she afford the Child?  Not on Joseph's salary.  What would Joseph think?, she must have wondered.  And yet Mary knew immediately that the Child in her womb was not an accident to be discarded but a gift to be celebrated.  She did not see in her unborn Child a mass of tissue, but an answer to her people's many prayers for salvation.

Furthermore, the Annunciation says a lot about how God views life.  Jesus came to Earth by first being conceived.  Admittedly He could have come a number of other ways free from Original Sin, and yet He didn't.  The significance of conception, birth, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood seem incredibly important to God.  If it wasn't, then He would have never had Jesus go through the many stages of man.  Also, what I find interesting in all of this is the fact that the Gospels treat the Child immediately upon its conception just as Divine or sanctified as they do when He is born.  If Jesus was not the God-man at conception then why all of the fuss?  If Jesus was not worthy of life and part of God's divine plan until His birth then the Gospel writers (especially Matthew and Luke) wasted a lot of ink.  It is interesting how the many psalms found in the Birth Narratives took places prior to Jesus' birth.

So is the Annunciation worth celebrating even for Protestants?  I certainly see why not under correct doctrine.  And as Christians living in a world obsessed with murder and death, how can we ignore this important moment.  The birth we celebrate in just nine short months is just as Divine as He is now.  And the Child that was destined for the cross on that first Christmas morning was equally destined at His annunciation.

There is no such thing as accidents when God is involved.  Jesus was conceived in a home and in a relationship that by today's standards made Him more acceptable for abortion.  His parents were poor, His town was insignificant, His government was ruthless, and the rumors surrounding His birth would have made Him unwanted.  And yet God still had His purposes and let us celebrate and praise our Father for giving us His Son on that wonderful day when Gabriel shared the good news.

Happy Annunciation Day!

*Admittedly, Mary likely did not give birth to Christ on December 25.  I am not implying that Jesus was conceived exactly on March 25 or that He was born on December 25.  But since December 25 is the day we universally celebrate the Incarnation, it makes sense to back track nine full months and celebrate Christ's annunciation.

For more:
Christianity Today - More Improtant Than Christmas?
Christian History Blog - From Jesus to Mary and Back Again: The History of the Annunciation

All Around the Web - March 21, 2017

Owen Strachan - Scandalized by the Substitute: A Response to Young and Gungor

John Stonestreet - CNN religion quiz needs to take Christianity seriously

Trevin Wax - The Benedict Option: Good Strategy, Bad Posture

The Gospel Coalition - How John Piper’s Seashells Swept Over a Generation

Tim Challies - Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church

Erik Raymond - We Can’t Microwave People Into Maturity

Thom Rainer - Five Things the Traditional Church Is Doing Well

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about the Postmillennial View of the Kingdom of God

Chuck Lawless - 10 Thoughts Church Leaders Should Think this Saturday

Babylon Bee - Christian Woman Spends 10% Of Paycheck At Hobby Lobby In Lieu Of Tithing

Monday, March 20, 2017

"John Knox" by Jane Dawson: A Review

This particular day in his life has been reconstructed to challenge many of the traditional assumptions made about John Knox. he has been regarded, especially within Scotland, as the personification of the puritanical kill-joy who championed the strictest Presbyterian tenets on all issues and delighted in haranguing Mary, Queen of Scots. Having been claimed as the country's Protestant Reformer, Knox's activities in Scotland have taken centre stage, downgrading or even excluding other periods of his life. The concentration upon his famous tract with its eye-catching title, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, has given rise to the view that Knox was a misogynist or a woman-hater and has distorted understandings of Knox's political thought and his other writings. The reconstruction of the happy day in 1557 when Nathaniel Knox was baptized in the English-speaking exile church in Geneva offers a sharp contrast to that conventional image. The relaxed and happy John Knox was not preaching or prophesying doom, but behaving as an ordinary father and family man. He was not expounding misogynist ideas but was surrounded by female friends and about to return to his dear wife. He was not in Scotland bringing in the Protestant Reformation, but was part of an English congregation located in a Swiss city. He was not behaving as a puritanical Calvinist, but was laughing, joking and looking forward to a celebration. This biography also acknowledges, and even emphasizes, the darker side to Knox with his 'holy hatred', increasing intransigence, bouts of depression and gloomy predictions about the future of Protestantism. By challenging the monochrome portrait of the dour Scottish Reformer that has dominated popular perceptions, it shows the many different shades within Knox's character that make this complex man such a fascinating subject. This fresh and more nuanced account of Knox's life reveals new aspects of the interconnected and many-layered story of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. The biography also provides a re-assessment of the worlds through which Knox moved as he lived during the age of Reformations in Scotland, Britain and Europe. (3-4)

One of my favorite pastor-theologians from history is the Scottish Reformer John Knox who is often overlooked among the great 16th century Protestant Reformers but is certainly one of the great giants of that era behind Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwinglii. In 2015 Yale published a new biography written by Jane Dawson which promised to unveil new information on Knox that shed new light on him. As such it has been on my reading list. In short, the biography, simply entitled John Knox serves as one, if not the, standard bearer of John Knox biographies.

First, Dawson is a gifted writer of history. I have always believed that history well-written is better than fiction and books like Dawson's is a reminder of that truism. The art of writing history requires thorough research, familiarity with the world of the subject, and an expertise with storytelling that does not compromise the historians responsibility to history itself. Dawson does an excellent job balancing all of these.

Secondly, the author reveals the significance of the new material. I will let her discuss it herself, but the discovery of six previously unknown letters from Knox fills in significant gaps in the Knox narrative and Dawson navigates those gaps and how the new material helps historians and scholars alike.

Thirdly, and most notable to me, Dawson presents a unique side of Knox. Most biographies of Knox either present him as a violent monster who hated women and advocated rebellion or borders hagiography that emphasizes the softer side of Knox the pastor and letter writer. Dawson, however, while pointing out both extremes of Knox's personality, repeatedly directs us to note the Reformer who struggled with depression.

It is no secret that ministers frequently struggle with depression. Knox was no different. Dawson's biography reveals the frequency of his melancholy. For example:
Overwhelmed, Knox burst into tears and rushed out to hide in his own chamber. For many days he was miserable, his heart full of 'grief and trouble'. Normally gregarious and ready with a joke, he shunned company and could not even raise a smile, let alone a laugh. Teaching his pupils in the chapel would only remind him of the painful experience of that public call. When backed into a corner Knox's instinct was to come out fighting, but in this situation the only person with whom he could fight was himself. (43)
On the next page, Dawson notes Knox "sat weeping and praying in his room in the castle in St. Andrews, Knox was not sure if the Holy Spirit would speak though his mouth when he stood in the pulpit." (44). Again, looking at Knox the pastor, Dawson notes that "Knox remained vulnerable to inner doubts about his performance as a pastor of his flocks." (90) Before long, in a moment of deep despair, Knox "was searching for a way to leave this ministry and possibly the city." (95) And then there is the death of his first wife Marjorie which wounded him deeply. One of the best sections exploring this aspect of Knox's life is as follows:
In the Order of the General Fast one rvealing phrase summed up the paralysing effect of doubt upon a Christian's life: 'the murtherer of all godly exercise is desperation'. Although Knox appeared to have few doubts about his personal salvation, he was deeply afflicted by what had happened in Scotland since the return of the Queen. his withdrawal in 1565 from his previous style of political engagement placed much greater stress upon the spiritual weapons of preaching, pentience and prayer. His own inner spiritual strength was tested when he was banned from preaching and the first period of ministry at St. Giles' came to an end. As one disaster followed another during that year, Knox lost his decisiveness and slide into doubt and desperation. In his characteristically dramatic fashion, he described his mood swings in a deeply gloomy letter written on 12 March 1566 and concluded that he had learned little from the experiences of his long life and many troubles. 'In youth, myd age, and now, after many battelles, I find nothing into me bot vanitie and corruption. For, in quyetnes i am negligent, in trouble impatient, tending to disperation; and in the meane state, I am so caryed away with vane fantasizes, that (allace), O Lord, they withdraw me from the presence of thy Majestie." (247-248)

To a minister like myself, there is much comfort to gain from such giants. We are not alone today. Dawson reminds the reader that in such despairing moments, Knox "was sustained by the conviction that he was 'cald by my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowfull, confirme the weak and rebuke the proud by tong and livelye voyce'." (38) When life became difficult and he felt all alone, Knox returned to that divine calling and moved on. This was a side of Knox that I enjoyed exploring with Dawson in this volume.

The author also explored an aspect of Knox's life regarded his almost-ministry in Ireland. Knox ultimately turned his good friend Goodman down in joining his work there. Yet Dawson contemplates the great "what-if." One can only imagine what would have happened if Knox and Goodman, along with the other Protestants already there, had the opportunity to spread Protestantism more fully in Ireland. No doubt, Dawson suggests, the history of Ireland would have been very different.

Overall, Dawson has written one of the most important works on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation. It is neither critical nor hagiographical. Instead, she tells the story of Knox and his world. The discovery of new sources is vital to telling the full story of Knox and Dawson does an excellent job showing its significance. In the end, anyone serious about Knox or the Scottish Reformation must read Dawson.

Books on Knox:
"John Knox: Fearless Faith" by Steven Lawson - A Review
"John Knox: An Introduction to His Life and Works" - A Review
"John Knox" by Rosalind Marshall: A Review
"The Mighty Weakness of John Knox" by Douglas Bond: A Review
"John Knox & the Reformation" by M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain Murray: A Review
"John Knox For Armchair Theologians" by Suzanne McDonald: A Review

For more on Knox:
"Scottish Theology" by T. F. Torrance: A Review
A Nestorian Heresy?: John Knox & His Rejection of Particular Redemption
Douglas Bond on the Legacy of John Knox
"The School of Faith" by Thomas F. Torrance: A Review
John Knox on the Threefold Office of Christ
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
John Knox on the Importance of the Ascension 

All Aroun the Web - March 20, 2017

Thomas Sowell - The Real Lessons of Middlebury College

The Gospel Coalition - The Phoney War is Over

Evangelical History - What’s Really Behind the Russell Moore Controversy

Ross Douthat -  Resist the Internet

The Gospel Coalition - Rumors of Adam’s Demise: One More and Counting

Chuck Lawless - 12 Things Older People Bring to a Young Church

Eric Geiger - 5 Misconceptions About Pastors

WORLD Magazine - Iraq’s grisly liberation

Tim Challies - Christian Men and their Godly Moms

Babylon Bee - 8 Steps To Finding The Right Church

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Best Sermons on the Web for Pastors

Every week I sit in my office and prepare to feed my flock from God's Word. I am always looking for resources to help me in my exegetical work. Thanks to the Internet, today's preachers have a countless number of great sermons past and present by which they can grow as a preacher and get help with each sermon. Below are a number of the resources I turn to each week in my search for sermons.

John MacArthur - When the good folks at Grace to You made every MacArthur sermon downloadable for free, we all in one voice praised the Lord who answers prayer. If you are preaching from the New Testament, MacArthur has preached from it himself. For me, this is where every preacher should begin.

The Gospel Coalition - Although TGC has removed a large number of their sermon archive, this still remains an invaluable tool. Some of the pastors featured here include DA Carson, Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Ligon Duncan, Russell Moore, and others.

Kevin DeYoung - DeYoung is one of the brightest young evangelicals today. His sermons are always insightful.

Monergism - Like TGC, this is a great resource to discover a host of great sermons and preachers. As the name suggests, all speakers and articles are exclusively from a hard Reformed position. One advantage, however, of this resource is that it includes classic sermons from the likes of Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and others.

Russell Moore - Dr. Moore is one of my favorite preachers today.

Albert Mohler -Mohler is one of the best thinkers of our time. Though he does not preach weekly, he preaches regularly in a variety of pulpits. In addition, he teaches a weekly Sunday School class that is recorded.

Alister Begg - Begg is a preacher and not just because he has a Scottish accent.

Ligonier - Though this is primarily the home of all things RC Sproul, it isn't just that. Here you'll find great resources from others like Steve Lawson and Sinclair Ferguson.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones - Although I don't listen to MLJ much, he certainly remains a very influential voice.

Mark Dever - Great exposition. Dever exposits both individual passages and even entire books.

Hershael York - The head preaching professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Matt Chandler - a popular pastor in Texas that I frequent.

JD Greear - Like Matt Chandler, JD Greear is a popular pastor who is gaining in popularity. He is more than likely the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

No doubt more could be added and I will likely add to this list in the future. But certainly this is more than enough. Use these sermons and resources as a means of improving your exegesis. God has blessed us with this great tool, let us utilize it (without plagiarizing of course) in order to serve his people.

All Around the Web - March 16, 2017

Kevin DeYoung - Why Pastors Should Work Hard to Write Well

Joe Carter - Why Opinion Polls Can Make Us Smug and Dumb

Timothy Paul Jones -  The True Story of St. Patrick

Thom Rainer - Six Reasons Pastoral Tenure May Be Increasing

The Gospel Coalition - 4 Reasons Archaeology Cannot Prove the Bible

Chuck Lawless - 10 Fears of Young Church Leaders

The Gospel Coalition - What’s the Best Way for a Pastor to Negotiate His Salary?

Managing Your Church - Reducing Taxes Through Adjustments and Deductions

Jason K. Allen - Celebrating & Strengthening the Cooperative Program

Tim Challies - A Little Book on the Christian Life

Babylon Bee - Sad: Joel Osteen Keeps Getting Picked Last For ‘Bible Trivia’

Crossway - John MacArthur's Story: A Passion for Doctrine

John MacArthur's Story: A Passion for Doctrine from Crossway on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Correcting the Record on a Common Lewis Misquote and Why it Matters

The Internet is great for many things. Accuracy is not one of them. Misinformation abounds in cyberspace. The old adage is true:

 "A lie can spread halfway around the world before the truth has time to get its pants on" -Winston Churchhill (or was it Mark Twain or someone else?)
In this vein, one quote often attributed to CS Lewis is in the above image: "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." No reference. No context. Just a quote. Falsely attributed.

Lewis never said it. Even more, it fails to reflect both Christian orthodoxy and Lewis's mere Christianity. Here is why.

First, the quotation is Docetic.This predominantly Gnostic doctrine taught that Jesus was not embodied but only appeared to be physical. The motive behind this early heresy reflects Greek philosophy which believed the spiritual world was good and the physical world was bad. Thus in order for Jesus to be perfectly good, He cannot be an embodied being.This type of dualism is contrary to the Christian.

The suggestion that each of us are souls trapped inside of a body reflects this. The Gnostics took such spiritualism and either landed on the extremes of asceticism or moral libertarianism. If we are trapped in our bodies, then we must either be liberated from the physical world (which leads to asceticism) or indulge the flesh (which leads to moral libertarism). Docetism is not the gospel.

Christians affirm both the body and the soul. We are embodied beings and this is good. God made all things - the spiritual and the physical - good. Though the Fall and its introduction of sin distorts God's good creation, the physical and spiritual world remain good (but easily abused and used for evil). Therefore, sex remains good even though it is too-often distorted. Food is good even though it is too-often abused.We do not bifurcate the physical and the spiritual.

Furthermore, we shall one day be raised bodily. We will not be spiritual cupids floating on clouds, but embodied beings dwelling with Christ forever. So no, we are not souls trapped in a body. We are both body and soul.

Secondly, Lewis never portrayed the world as exclusively spiritual. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes heaven's gate in such a way as to suggest that the future world is more real than our present one. Likewise, there is no evidence in any of his other writings that reflects this worldview. Throughout Narnia Aslan is physical with a mane that can be touched. Ransom experiences physical worlds in Perelandra, Earth (the Silent Planet), and Malacandra.

Thirdly, in Mere Christianity, Lewis himself seemed to have repudiated this Gnostic doctrine. He wrote:
There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this is rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.
This is not the language of a Docetic, but of a Christian.

Finally, the origin of the quote has been discovered. The full quote is "You don't have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily." It was written by Walter M. Miller, Jr. in his 1960 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. Miller was anything but orthodox.[1]

What should concern us most is how pervasive this quote (regardless of who it is attribute to) continues to spread among people who should know better. I am rarely surprised by what I find on Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterests, and Twitter, but when leading Christians promote it a red flag should be raised. Hannah Peckham chronicles that both John Piper has tweeted the quote and Ravi Zacharias has included it in at least one of his books and tweeted it.


This should alarm us. Such leaders ought to know better. On the surface, this quote sounds good and right but is dangerous. It leaves out the ultimate victory of Christ. He defeats death, decay, disease, pain, suffering, and violence. It repudiates the whole gospel and thus it ought to be repudiated by gospel people.

For more on this dubious quote see the following:
Mere Orthodoxy - “You Don’t Have a Soul”: C.S. Lewis Never Said It
First Things - The Spiritualist Origins of “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.” 
Thomas T. Human - C.S. Lewis did not say "You don't have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body."
Justin Taylor - Apocryphal Quote from C.S. Lewis on the Soul and the Body

[1] The origin of the quote really predates Miller. For more see both the Mere Orthodoxy and First Things articles.

All Around the Web - March 14, 2017

National Review - Let Us Now Praise Homemakers

Denny Burk - A remarkable display of self-unaware inconsistency

Justin Taylor - Fred Sanders on the Trinity and The Shack

Adrian Warnack - Would preaching like Jesus be welcome in your church?

Thom Rainer - Five Reasons Growth May Be More Difficult in Your Church

Chuck Lawless - 10 More Enemy Attacks on Pastors and Church Leaders

Christianity Today - Farewell, Jesus Junk? Christian Retail Finds a Deeper Purpose

Sam Storms - 10 Things You Should Know about Marijuana and the Christian 

Denny Burk - Where does happiness come from?

Evangelical History - A Tribute to Mark Noll, by Nathan Hatch

Babylon Bee - Local Child Gently Informed That Bible Characters Were Not Anthropomorphic Vegetables

Monday, March 13, 2017

"In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon: A Review

So he went on. "The stranger's appearance and words in church last Sunday made a very powerful impression on me. I am not able to conceal from you or myself the fact that what he said has compelled me to ask as I never asked before, 'What does following Jesus mean?'" (11)
I confess I am a product of the 1990s and was involved in the "What Would Jesus Do" craze that began with simple bracelet's and spread to countless other products and campaigns. I not only owned a number of bracelets of various colors, but also sported a book bag, notepads, t-shirts, books, and CDs with the four-word slogan "What Would Jesus Do?"[1] I knew then that the slogan was based on the late 19th century book In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon and even tried to read it, but it, frankly, was not my cup of tea at the time. I have since grown in age and, hopefully, wisdom with a different appreciation for Sheldon and the book that a hundred years later sparked a Christian industry craze.

The book tells a simple story of a local pastor named Rev. Henry Maxwell who serves at the First Church of Raymond which is described as a financially stable congregation populated by the communities respectable members. One afternoon, Maxwell is interrupted by a "tramp" (Sheldon's word) who asks for help finding a job. Maxwell refuses and begs him to move along. The following Sunday after his sermon from 1 Peter 2:21ff, that same beggar walked to the front of the service and complained about the hypocrisy among the Christians. Most notable is the following paragraph:
"What would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me the people in the big churches have good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin." (9)
This monologue convicted Maxwell greatly. He vows to dedicate an entire year to radically live like Jesus and inviting a group from his church to do the same. That decision dominates the rest of the story. One man who makes the same vow, Edward Norman, is the chief editor of the local newspaper and decides to radically change the stories they cover and the ads they carry. This has serious financial consequences that leads to much derision and fear from his employees. Rachel Winslow, who takes the same pledge, sacrifices a promising singing career to serve the people of the Rectangle (the name of the local community within Raymond). Others, likewise, take the same pledge and make similar sacrifices to faithfully ask "What Would Jesus Do?" Eventually their vow brings major changes to the local community and spreads to Chicago when Rev. Calvin Bruce and Bishop Edward Hampton both step down from their church in order to follow the same pledge.

The story ends with a hopeful tone. The author clearly prays that the reader will make the same pledge and what happens in the fictional world he created will spread across America. At this point, the reader should celebrate Sheldon's dream and pray for the same. He has a genuine belief that the gospel should transform the believer and, as a result, their community. For that, we should celebrate this work.

The problem for me, however, is Sheldon's understanding of what the gospel actually is. Unfortunately, the author was an early pioneer of the social gospel (which is all social and no gospel) and this work reflects that.

Sheldon's connection to the social gospel is well-documented. In the book, Sheldon's application of what Jesus would do is social in nature. The pledge takers become very socially active. One character utilizes her inheritance to build a safe space for those in the Rectangle. Furthermore, the main characters get involved in local politics and vow to fight against the salons and alcohol (Sheldon was a advocate of prohibition). Through his characters, Sheldon says:
"Do you think anyone can ever remove this great curse of drink?" asked Jasper.

"I have thought lately as never before what Christian people might do to remove the curse of the saloon. Why don't we all act together against it? What would Jesus do? Would He keep silent? Would He vote to license these causes of crime and death?

He talked to himself more than to the others. He remembered that he had always voted for license, and so had nearly all his church members. What would Jesus do? Would the maser preach and act against the saloon if He lived today? Supposed it was not popular to preach against license? Suppose the Christian people thought it was all that could be done to license the evil and so get revenue from the necessary sin? Or suppose the church members themselves owned the property where the saloons stood - what then? (37)
Clearly for Sheldon WWJD personal sanctification is best demonstrated through political and social engagement. This is articulated by Rev. Maxwell when he confesses that all his parish work, trials, self-sacrifices "are as nothing to me compared with the breaking into my scholarly, intellectual, self-contained habits of this open, coarse, public fight for a clean city life. The answer to the question, 'What would Jesus do?' in this case leaves me no peace except when I say Jesus would have me act the part of a Christian citizen. We can do no less than take up this cross and follow Him." (50) This is well and good, yet one must wonder if the right reverend would first use that intellectual work of holiness to better contemplate what WWJD actually means before picking up empty water buckets and trying to put out the fires of Hell. Did Jesus not say more of gospel-citizenship more than earthly citizenship?

Finally (and other examples could be given), there is the example of Edward Norman, the paper editor. He refuses to advertise worldly business and turns the paper into a Christian paper. At one point, he asks, "Are there enough genuine Christian people in Raymond who will rally to the support of a paper such as Jesus would probably edit?" (59). Later, he recites a number "of the things that it has seemed to me Jesus would do" (74) at the paper. Some are interesting for our purposes here. Number two is that Jesus "would conduct the political part of the paper from the standpoint of the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth." (74) Number six is that "Jesus would give large space to the work of the Christian world - devoting space to the facts of reform, sociological problems, institutional church work, and similar movements." (74-75). Finally, Number eight suggests "Jesus would not issue a Sunday edition." (75)

Add to this social gospel motive throughout the narrative, there are hints of a liberal hermeneutic throughout the text. When asked how they will know what Jesus would do, the local pastor does point them to the work of the Holy Spirit but in the subjective sense. Maxwell says:
"There is no way that I know of," replied the pastor, "except as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit. You remember what Chris said speaking to His disciples about the Holy Spirit in John 16:13: 'Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.' There is no other test that I know of. We shall all have to decide what Jesus would do after going to that source of knowledge." (13)
Though pious on the surface, this methodology should concern us. The passage Maxwell points his listeners to lacks context and is misapplied. Furthermore, one should note the subjective nature that the Holy Spirit is being used. The primary means by which the Holy Spirit speaks is through the Spirit-inspired Word of God which Sheldon, through the voice of the spiritual leader of the narrative, so easily overlooks in favor of a Schleiermacher-hermeneutic. One should note throughout the book that when the characters decide WWJD they do not open their Bible in search for God's Word, but inside their own hearts for it. At best they seek counsel from one another but even that is faulty.

Take for example the following when Virginia tells Rachel "You mustn't ask me to decide for you . . . Mr. Maxwell was right when he said we must each one of us decide according to the judgment we feel for ourselves to be Christlike." (26) This is nothing short of theological, ecclesiological, and soteriological disaster and lies at the root of liberal theology that drives the social gospel.

What would be more beneficial for the reader (and for Sheldon) would be an exploration of what the Bible teaches on social engagement, vocation, citizenship, poverty, holiness, the role of the local church, evangelism, and missions. Yet all of that is lacking even though Jesus directly speaks to each of them throughout Scripture. What would Jesus do is an excellent question to ask, but it must be asked with the right motivates and with a desire to obey the Jesus of Scripture. Sheldon fails to accomplish that.

Finally, there is a hint of Sheldon's Christian socialism sympathies and anti-capitalism in the text. Near the end of the book, Sheldon's gives voice to a character named Carlsen who is described as "the Socialist leader" who reports:
"The whole of our system is at fault. What we call civilization is rotten to the core. There is no use trying to hide it or cover it up. We live in an age of trusts and combines and capitalistic greed that means simply death to thousands of innocent men, women and children. I thank God, if there is a God, which I very much doubt, that I, for one, have never dared to marry and try to have a home. Home! Talk of hell! Is there any bigger one than this man with his three children has on his hands right this minute? And he's only one out of thousands. And yet this city, and every other big city in this country, has its thousands of professed Christians who have all the luxuries and comforts, and who go to church Sundays and sing their hymns about giving all to Jesus and bearing the cross and following Him all the way and being saved! I don't say that there aren't good men and women among them, but let the minister who has spoken to us here to-night go into any one of a dozen aristocratic churches I could name and propose to the members to take any such pledge as the one he's mentioned here to-night, and see how quick the people would laugh at him for a fool or a crank or a fanatic. Oh, no! That's not the remedy. That can't ever amount to anything. We've got to have a new start in the way of government. The whole thing needs reconstructing. I don't look for any reform worth anything to come out of the churches. They are not with the people. They are with the aristocrats, with the men of money. The trusts and monopolies have their greatest men in the churches. The ministers as a class are their slaves. What we need is a system that shall start from the common basis of socialism founded on the rights of the common people-" (128)
In the end, this work was influential in the work of Walter Rauschenbusch who is recognized as the primary leader of the social gospel movement of the 20th century. By the time Rauschenbusch rose to prominence, many like Sheldon had already laid the necessary foundation. Later, Sheldon praised Rauschenbusch's book Prayers of the Social Awakening writing on January 30, 1914, "We have been strengthened at morning and evening worship in this home by the prayers which voice our longing and our need, as we were not able to voice them."[2]

Yet what is most troubling about the book isn't its content, for it does not take much work to discover that Sheldon's theology is suspect. What is troubling is the wide audience that continues to receive it without any discernment. The copy I read was put out by the Billy Graham library selection. Does the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association not understand the dangerous theology that lies behind its narrative? On the copyright page it notes, "Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses" and then includes the classic Billy Graham message of salvation at the end which runs contrary to the book's author and the narrative. Graham's traditional gospel call does not compute with Sheldon's understanding of the same.

In conclusion, In His Steps is significant in the historical sense but I trust it will soon fade into insignificance due to its weak and dangerous theology which lies behind it. There is no gospel here and if you looking to discover what Jesus would do in today's world, don't turn here. The Bible is sufficient for that.

[1] It wasn't long before manufacturers added to the craze trying to profit from it. Another slogan I remember, and there were many, was the acronym "F.R.O.G." which stood for "Fully Rely on God."
[2] See Gary Scott Smith, The Search for Social Salvation: Social Christianity and America, 1880-1925, 125 note 76. See also Christopher Evans, The Kingdom is Always But Coming, 218.

All Around the Web - March 13, 2017

Russell Moore - Signposts: A Conversation With Rod Dreher

Denny Burk - Cheap grace is no grace at all

Joe Carter - The Role of Christian Journalism—and Its Place at TGC

Resurgent - President Trump Exposes Planned Parenthood

Weekly Standard - Scare Mongering about Home Schooling

LifeWay Pastors - How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Sermon

Fred Sanders - Divine Affections Yes; Divine Passions No

Justin Taylor - An Analysis of One of the Greatest Sentences Ever Written

Chuck Lawless - Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter in Church Revitalization

Evangelical History - Why Are Academic Books So Expensive?

Babylon Bee - 7 Fashion Tips To Help Your Pastor Stay Relevant | Satire