Dr. J.D. Payne is the Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism and Director of the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting at SBTS. He was brand new when I was finishing up my Masters of Divinity in Missions and Evangelism. I took him for a church planting class knowing nothing about him.
I liked that he was doing some fresh thinking. He challenged my views of planting rather than just going through the motions. It's been a privilege to stay in touch here and there since I've left SBTS, and I jumped at the chance to get a look at his new book, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today's Questions.
I love books on evangelism, have read dozens, and frequently go back to reread or review notes and highlights in them. A huge encouragement to me. I find most every book on the subject helpful in some way, even when not good on every subject. J.D. Payne has added a completely helpful book of substance to my library with this volume.
Some evangelism books give you a particular approach or model. Some are written in a certain era and are flavored with how the church views evangelism at that time and are dated. A few stand the test of time and become a resource for a long time. JI Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is one of those. I believe Evangelism will be one of those.
It has 33 short chapters answering basic questions about evangelism moving toward more complex questions. There's a fiction dialogue at the beginning of each chapter between Roberto and Mark, to set up the chapter. For someone in my church who hasn't done much evangelism, those dialogues will be quite helpful.
The true greatness of JD's book is that it's a dialogue on evangelism. Even if you skip the Roberto and Mark discussion, it's treated as a progressive discussion where the next logical question is posed and answered. It's answered biblically and theologically, yet simply. That's a good word for this book. Simple. Or, straightforward, plain, without confusion or distraction. It's a non-flashy, to-the-point, solid book on evangelism. And I'm thankful for it.
Looking at my bookshelf with dozens of evangelistic books on it I realize that this may be the most helpful volume to give to a growing Christian in my church to lead them toward what a life of personal evangelism should be. And thankfully, as is so often absent, it has a couple of indexes in the back for easy reference.
I very much like this book and will recommend it to my church. I wish it dealt with a few things of particular interest to me (evangelistic preaching, open-air issues), but almost no books deal with those. That said, I know it will be a handy reference and refresher for me on a number of issues on evangelism in the years to come. If you are looking for something new and trendy, this book isn't it. Evangelism is as serious as the Gospel and as practical as a conversation. Pick up a copy.
I really enjoyed Total Church from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. It's biblical, theological, and practical. That was when Tim Chester really jumped on my radar and I became interested to read more from him.
I'm reviewing two books by Chester from TheGoodBook.com.
GREAT DEAL: For the next 7 days you can buy both titles for $15 total, or separately for $8.44 each. Just add both to cart and it shows up as $15. I really hope you take advantage of this. Both books are very good.
Now, to a brief review...
I'm always eager to find good books in the hands of my church and to recommend them to others. Much is written on theological issues to advance the conversation between scholars and pastors. I love those books and they are important. We also need good books for those who are growing in their faith or joining the conversation on issues they need to learn, who are not always fluent in the lingo. I believe Delighting in the Trinity (DITT) will bring "delight" to all camps.
DITT comes in three parts: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Practical Implications -- with 3-4 chapters in each. I'm not going trace the majority of Chester's argument because he isn't making any new ones. That's a good thing. Chester isn't offering a reworked doctrine of the Trinity to his personal liking. He's offers the adventure of delighting in God who wants us to know Him.
I have always found the doctrine of the Trinity exciting. Thinking it through takes us deeper into the triune God who is the foundation of all reality. This is the God who made us to know Him, and who gives meaning and joy to our lives. To explore Him is a wonderful adventure. To delight in Him is our chief end. (p 8)
I found Chester's writing to be fresh and pastoral. He isn't merely rehashing old arguments, though he does that well. He brings clarity and simplicity to what could be something cumbersome. And he quotes generously without burying the Scriptures, and from more than just basic theological stream. You'll get stuff from Owen, Calvin, Luther, N.T. Wright, T.F. Torrence, and more. In the Historical Developments section you'll hear from all sorts as the doctrine of the Trinity is considered throughout church history from heroes to heretics, from the early church fathers to contemporary theologians. But Chester doesn't end there. He says there's a continuing need to reform our theology...
Theology is a continuing project. We need to re-articulate the gospel afresh to our culture. At the same time we need to examine the influence of our culture on our thinking. The development of the doctrine of the Trinity illustrates how a slightly divergent view can turn out to be a wrong turning that will eventually lead us away from the biblical gospel. A shift of emphasis in one generation can become a dangerous heresy in the next generation. So theology is a serious task for all Christians. (p 117)
I maybe most appreciate how the book includes illustrations/diagrams and bullet points. The illustrations are both helpful and careful. Chester makes sure to explain are not complete or definitive explanations. The diagrams for historical thinkers I found very helpful to understand the differences. And the bullet points are helpful as we learn and should be helpful when we reference the book later to refresh.
I particularly like the way Chester deals with the Trinity and the Cross. This is a Gospel-centered book on the Trinity.
God is known only through revelation, but this revelation is hidden so that it shatters human pretensions. God is revealed in what is contrary. The wisdom of God is hidden in the folly of the cross. The glory of God is hidden in the shame of the cross. He power of God is hidden in the weakness of the cross. So if we want to discover the true character of God, we must look to the cross. And the God revealed in the cross is trinitarian. He is both single and plural; one united being and three distinct persons. (p 64)
We cannot understand the cross without the plurality of God. The cross shows us that there are distinctions within God. God can be forsaken by God. But neither can we understand the cross without the unity of God. If God is not one, then the cross becomes a cruel and vindictive act with an angry Father punishing an unwilling Son or a loving Son placating an unwilling Father. Only if God is one can the cross be for us reconciliation and inclusion within the divine community. (p 78)
Part 3 of the book, Practical Implications, is where it all comes together with the world around us. There is stuff on other religions, on individualism and pluralism and how this doctrine corrects cultural issue, and much more. There are pastoral considerations throughout, as well.
My only real critique is that I really wish Delighting in the Trinity had a Scripture index and a subject index. Some may complain they would like a fuller treatment, but that's not Chester's purpose. There are other great books for that. This is highly accessible for your church members, and that's firmly where it belongs.
So I highly recommend Delighting in the Trinity as a resource for your church members. It may be of particular help to Bible study teachers and/or small group leaders. And let me add that one group I hope will pick up Delighting in the Trinity: pastors. I'm always surprised to hear pastors & preachers who don't grasp the Trinity, who speak incorrectly as to who does what and when and how. Or who just default at the generic when the Bible gives us the specifics. Let's sharpen our understanding of our Triune God as we preach His Word! This is a helpful refresher, or something to give you more solid footing on this beautiful doctrine.
Go buy Delighting in the Trinity. Buy From Creation to New Creation at the same time and get both for just $15 total. You won't regret it. And check out the growing number of theologically solid resources from TheGoodBook.com.
I've been given the opportunity to follow up my review of Dr. Timothy Keller's Counterfeit Gods (buy) with a review of Generous Justice. Thanks to Dutton for the book. It's another great addition to his works: The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and the long-ago written Ministries of Mercy. Dr. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. If you haven't yet, you should check out my Tim Keller Resources page.
A lot has been said in recent years of orthodoxy & (or vs) orthopraxy. We have become a people who know the Book but don't "do" what the Book tells us to do. We aren't being changed. We are better on paper than we are in practice.
And we don't take correction well. It takes a distinct voice to speak in a way we can hear, to lift the conversation above misunderstanding and reactionary responses. I believe Tim Keller is one of those voices and has accomplished that goal. He's done it before. For example, in The Reason for God he elevates the conversation with skeptics. I've read and encouraged others to read his Introduction there a number of times because it changes the conversation, it raises it "to the level of disagreement." Brilliant stuff. I think Keller does that again here on a polarizing topic: Justice.
"Scars" from old battles are hard to overcome. Theological conservatives, like me, tend to react against issues beloved by theological liberals, like social justice. And the more justice issues are brought up, the more likely (typically) theological conservatives will be leery of an author. But, and all man-love aside, Tim Keller in Generous Justice has done something I consider remarkable. He has cut through the thicket on justice to show us a clearing. It's a breath of fresh air among stuck arguments and stuffy minds.
Here's how Keller sets up his argument from the introduction...
Elaine Scarry of Harvard has written a fascinating little book called On Beauty and Being Just. Her thesis is that the experience of beauty makes us less self-centered and more open to justice. I have observed over the decades that when people see the beauty of God's grace in Christ, it leads them powerfully toward justice.
Through dealing with several Old & New Testament passages, including word studies made simple (not just a scholarly work), Keller writes deep enough for the scholar and simple enough for the layperson. He shows himself well-read in both historic Christianity and modern cultural scholarship. Several times I found myself finding the endnotes for more info on an author or book I've never heard of and want to check out.
Some of my favorite sections are on biblical passages I'm very familiar with but Keller explains in a fresh way, such as his explanations of gleaning, tithing and Jubilee in chapter 2. Keller argues with these concepts that, "God's concern for the poor is so strong that he gave Israel a host of laws that, if practiced, would have virtually eliminated any permanent underclass" (p 27). I have not encountered a discussion on business and profit like this before (p 30). I believe it will shake the rich up and, Lord-willing, lead them toward justice. Keller reveals how profoundly American (and worldly) we are, yet he uses thoughtful, biblical argument to open our eyes.
Then Keller discusses Jesus and "your neighbor" in chapters 3 and 4. His explanation of The Good Samaritan in chapter 4 is rich. Just as he makes Luke 15 and "The Prodigal Son" come alive in The Prodigal God, he continues to surprise us at our own dullness as he reveals the *sparkle* of familiar stories. In this instance he does it both through exposition of biblical texts as well as the liberal use of the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Keller works through the objections he's received to teaching love for neighbor and the answers he's seen from Edwards. His use of Edwards is compelling. Then Keller does what too many fail to do with The Good Samaritan, which is bring Jesus directly to bear. Instead of teaching the parable merely as the great example of how to love neighbor, he goes one step further.
Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.
Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously boy someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need. (p 77)
Keller then discusses the motivation for doing justice, treasuring human beings because they are creations of the Almighty. It's how we show God respect, by seeing His image in people. He mentions our redemption as motivation. Keller says, "If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God's grace" (p 96). "If you are not just, you've not truly been justified by faith" (p 99). How can someone who has experienced justification not respond by doing justice? When you understand the gospel, you see the poor and realize you are looking into a mirror. There can be no superiority or indifference when you get God's grace toward you.
Biblical background and motivations in mind, Keller gets practical in chapter 6. He says it should be our constant thought, to look for ways to do justice. We should ponder it. We should have "sustained reflection" on issues and places of justice. He considers big justice needs and areas. He discusses education and social capital, the need for business owners to be neighbors, racial reconciliation, and more. But then he does zero in on what everyday, neighborhood Christians can do. He mentions the mission of London City Mission as "the same person, going to the same people, regularly, to become their friend for Jesus's sake" (p 143). I love that. Keller does well to bring all our efforts, individually and organizationally, to bear on a community needing justice. "While the institutional church should do relief inside and around its community, the 'organic' church should be doing development and social reform" (p 146).
Keller also considers justice in the world of ideas, the public square. Keller's proposal: "Christians' work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation" (p 158). I'm particularly encouraged by Keller's understanding of being distinctly Christian even when working in cooperation with others...
Christians should identify themselves as believer as they seek justice, welcoming and treating all who work beside them as equals. Believers should let their co-workers know of how the gospel is motivating them, yet also...they should appeal to common values as much as possible. (p 161)
Keller avoids pitfalls on both liberal and conservative sides by encouraging bold Christian work for justice while embracing a cooperation with others for the good of the oppressed. Yet he says Christians should "at the same time be respectfully provocative with them, arguing that their models of justice are reductionistic and incomplete" (p 164).
I love the way Keller ends Generous Justice. A chapter on "Peace, Beauty, and Justice." He ends where he started, remember the quote from Elaine Scarry above. Here Keller focuses on "shalom" or "harmonious peace." He refers to the "interwovenness" of rightly related human beings into community. He describes shalom as "flourishing in every dimension -- physical, emotional, social, and spiritual" (p174). Keller considers shalom and justice...
In general, to 'do justice' means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to 'do justice' means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.
How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. (p 177)
But Keller doesn't paint us as the hero. We do justice "because serving the poor honors and pleases God, and honoring and pleasing God is a delight to you in and of itself" (p 183). Loving and seeking justice means hard work. It's painful and people are difficult to love. But Keller says, "Don't shrink, says the Lord, from spending yourself on the broken, the hurting, and the needy. I'm good for it" (p 185).
Keller has written the best sort of book. He deals with something that has and can divide us, and does it winsomely. He does it biblically and theologically. He does it convincingly and compellingly. I finished Generous Justice desiring to see the hurting and oppressed with new eyes, a new generosity, and a new desire for shalom.
This book is suited to many audiences. It can be read and understood by the average Christian and the more learned. I think it will be quite helpful for Christians involved in the leadership of business or government. Those responsible for much will be challenged to do it different, do it justly. And yet those with the simplest of lives and in the smallest of places will see in this book the profound, eternal purpose of God as they seek justice where they live. What a great gift a book like this is!
I highly recommend Generous Justice, though I'm sure I haven't done the book justice (pun intended). There are a few books I know will be a constant reference for the remainder of my life, and this is one of them. Go get it.
First, I don't buy or listen much to albums that I don't think I'll like. I like 98% of the albums I've purchased in 2010 because I test drive a lot of music first and hold back if it doesn't "hit me."
Second, I'm not a music critic. I don't have a point scale by which to judge music, lyrics, etc.
Third, I've never experienced a crop of albums like 2010. I feel bad leaving many I really like off this list. It's a good crop.
But I've decided that ranking them does a few things worthwhile for both you and me. (1) I do have a way of deciding what I like and don't like, what I like better and what I like less. It's less concrete, but it exists. (2) Reading ranked lists is one of my favorite ways to find music, and so it should be a helpful way to share music. The higher the album, I assume the higher chance of you checking it out. There are certainly albums I want you to check out more than others. (3) It forces me to rethink albums at the end of the year and so saves me from being merely a music consumer. I reflect on these albums as art and substance, rather than merely a sugary snack. By the way, I'm not against albums as a sugary snack just as I'm not against the art of a well-made Snickers bar. But it needs to be occasional, not my diet.
So on to the best albums of 2010. I'll give more explanation for albums higher on the list. Tell me what I've missed. Make your argument for a certain album to be higher, or even lower. Just don't be a hater. At least have an argument. Also check out my previous "best albums" lists (2009|2008|2007|2006) and the many year end lists compiled at MetaCritic.
BEYOND CATEGORY - Can't rank because they belong in their own category
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise - Songs stuck in a legal battle long ago have now been released. It's great stuff. Not that long ago I was averse to Springsteen because of a few overplayed radio hits that wrecked understanding him better (no, I don't have a "Hungry Heart"). Now I'm really appreciating his music.
Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 9) - I've only listened to this a bit, and it's remarkable. I've just started to read on Dylan a bit, and this is a nice companion to a few really important years in his catalog.
Beach House: Teen Dream | Shocked by the end-year buzz for this album, so I've been revisiting it. Liked this dream pop album a lot before and I like it now. I don't think in the top 35 of the year, but do check it out.
Villagers: Becoming A Jackal | A very creative album. Unexpected sounds and good songwriting. Bright Eyes-ish.
TOP ALBUMS OF 2010
35. The Roots: How I Got Over | Do. Do. Uh. Uh. Do do-do-do. Uh. Uh. Yeah!
34. Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues | It's what he does, and he does it better than most. I'm chewing on a weed stem but sitting on a city curb.
32. Avi Buffalo: Avi Buffalo | This is the sound Danielson should be embracing.
31. Joe Pug: Messenger | Folksy, acousticy, & just really good music.
30. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma | Lot's of fun. Dances with and teases your eardrums.
29. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening | I wanted to like it more (some rank it #1). Solid album. Sometimes bitingly funny.
28. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest | Always, always good. You can read to it even when there's vocals.
27. Jonsi: Go | His music never lets me do anything but soar. He wears feathers in concert for a reason.
26. These New Puritans: Hidden | Marching music for dancing soldiers with laser guns who take the dancing soldiers from Janet Jackson videos and stomp on them.
25. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: The Social Network Soundtrack | Better than I could have ever expected. Good study music.
24. Sarah Jaffe: Suburban Nature | A fine album with an interesting kind of emotion, and at times spit. Vulnerable yet not defeated. Mopey. Lots of pain musicified. That could be overdone easily, but this is pretty genius, like Sia: Colour the Small One dealing-with-pain kind of genius.
23. Caribou: Swim | Boop, boop, beep, boop. Dance! Dance! - It's a foot tapper! So cool.
22. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (Also see in 2010 All Delighted People EP) | Hard to find too many critical words for someone I see as of the greatest living indie artists. This isn't Illinois, but that's not bad. It's a work of art and probably more creative than many albums on my list. But it makes me uneasy in a way that I'm not sure it's the masterpiece some think it is. I wonder if Suf tried too hard to be different than the last few. Nonetheless, I wouldn't want to be without it.
21. Vampire Weekend: Contra | (debut was my #12 of 2008) These guys make some of the most upbeat, fun, hoppy music around. The music is clever and interesting. I don't have much to say but you should listen to all their stuff.
20. Damien Jurado: Saint Bartlett | Such an interesting voice. Folksy Americana. Flavorful. Melancholy. Tender. Injured. Despairingly hopeful. If the song has a depressing bassline and his voice, it's gotta be great. Sings from the dusty streets of a ghost town near a dead cowboy.
19. Lost In The Trees: All Alone In An Empty House | Swelling sounds with indie pop, emotive vocals and music, plus some classical instrumentation. Ranges from simpler ditties to complex harmonies. There are roaring yet almost front-porchish anthems as well. One of the great discoveries of the year.
18. Pearly Gate Music: Pearly Gate Music | Minimal singer-songwriter. More minimal than you think. And probably more minimal than you think after I tell you more minimal than you think. Quiet. Contemplative. Hushed angelic. Twisty, bendy ends to sung notes. Rarely unhooked or let loose.
17. Melanie Penn: Wake Up Love (my review) | Lyrical. Playful but serious. Airy but substantial. Hopeful. Anticipatory. Theatrical. Few albums will make you feel this happy. legitimately happy, even when it's touching on sadness and pain.
16. The Tallest Man On Earth: The Wild Hunt | I'd be happy if he sung the alphabet song over and over. Got some Dylan style, sound, and substance. A seriously interesting voice. The music rarely surprises, but it's consistently great.
15. Menomena: Mines | I hear some Black Keys in this. And I hear a whole bunch else. I'm not sure what to call it but great. It has some of the most interesting twists and turns and silences of the list. All I know is I dig it. A lot.
14. Drew Grow & The Pastors' Wives: Drew Grow & The Pastors' Wives | Hope this album gets some recognition soon. Few have even reviewed it. Harmonies, melodies, curious arrangements, and several moments in songs that catch me off guard. A fine album.
13. Broken Bells: Broken Bells | Some of the best indie pop I've ever heard. Masterfully constructed songs that are way "bigger" than I expected. Groovy. Hook heavy. Hip but completely accessible.
12. Sleigh Bells: Treats | May destroy your speakers, and your ears. You aren't man enough for this, and the singer is a chick with a sweetheart of a voice. It's thick. "Fuzz" isn't adequate. It's the most interesting mix of sounds on any album I've heard this year.
11. The Besnard Lakes: Are The Roaring Night | Slow haze with an soothing epic hum. Fuller than full. Textured air. But not without melody. These are songs that blend and then gather in themselves, only to reblend again. Serious rock-cred as well. Meant to be loud.
10. The Black Keys: Brothers | These brothers can do little wrong. Love, love their bluesy music. This is more rock & roll than some previous albums, and it's just a bunch of fun. Worth playing loud. One of the best bands out there, and one I really need to see live.
9. Free Energy: Stuck On Nothing | Poppiest album on my list. Not syrupy, but it's "sweet!" Theme music for a night of go carts, cruising Hardee's, and sticking your head out the passenger-side window at 55mph. Order some fries and crank it up.
8. Her Name Is Calla: The Quiet Lamb | Epic. Dark. Moody. Wonderfully timid. A slo-mo walk through the dark forest where the big, bad wolf is no cartoon. Executed with remarkable patience. Haunted & haunting. From single layers to smothering blankets of sound.
7. Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More | Easy to love. Demands your involvement because it's about you. Heart-on-sleeve. Rollicking. Passionate. Banjo-loving. Look at me! I'm dancing along and singing along and feeling the music! Let's feel this way forever!
6. Doug Burr: O Ye Devastator | Well-harnessed simplicity and storytelling. It's hesitant but not lacking in confidence. Darkness & redemption throughout, though it hangs at the edge of darkness. It's redemption in the distance but struggle now. There's a harsh gentleness here that's almost magical.
5. Titus Andronicus: Monitor | I'm happier with them when they sound angrier at the world. Edgy, rough, aggressive, ripping vocals while still making great music & melody. What Mumford does with feathers & hearts these guys do with guts & grit. Angsty when softer. Anthemic, divey bar awesomeness.
4. Delta Spirit: History From Below | From songwriting to rock-your-face-off concerts to stylistic flex, these guys may have the most potential for true greatness among the lesser known bands on my list. This album moves from cranking it up songs to where-are-my-liner-notes moments, often both at the same time.
3. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs | I want to put it lower because it's so beloved (my inner indie snob), but it's really, really, super-really this good. Soaring, full, heady, heart-y, timely, anthemic goodness. Everyone does or should love this album. Arcade Fire is not just legit, they define legit for others. Easily could have been #1.
2. The National: High Violet (Expanded Edition) | Some just can't get into the vocal style, but this album is hard to ignore. It makes the vocals, more than on previous albums, the perfect instrument. It's remarkable, moodiest of moody, darkly soaring, and massively emotive. And it's a rock album. Never get sick of it. Easily could have been #1. It was hard for me to give #1 to anything else. But I did.
1. Four Tet: There Is Love In You | Beats, in cool arrayed. Smooth. Hip. Clubbing &/or walking through a club in super slo-mo, while carefully sharing that twinkle in your eye with curious dancers. Walking in rhythm. Never panicked. You are confident, and you look good, and you dance especially well while being confident and looking good and having an incredible sense of rhythm. It's not heavy-handed. It's subtle and thoughtful, which was unexpected. It feels smart. I love to read to it and tap my foot. And while I LOVE High Violet & The Suburbs, There Is Love In You gets the edge. Outstanding.
I first heard about and met Jim Elliff at a Founder's Conference years ago. I've emailed him a time or two over the last several years about an evangelism project I've worked on that came from a lecture I heard him give. His articles have often been a source of inspiration (like "A Different Style of Evangelist: Laborers on the Loose"), as had the first edition of Pursuing God. So when I heard Pursuing God: A Seeker's Guide was being reworked, I couldn't wait to check it out. Jim & Christian Communicators Worldwide were kind enough to send me a handful of copies to give away & one I could review.
PHYSICAL: The book is compact. At 86 pages (75 of main content) it's a quick read: Introduction, 11 chapters, "Twenty-one days with God" (10 pages for reading/reflecting in Gospel of John) and finally two pages on reading through the New Testament. That's a lot for a very small book. It could be easily divided into tiny, chapter chunks for daily reading, or consumed fairly quickly in one sitting. The cover is just great, black with a barely visible floral design. Really attractive. Better than I would expect from a small publisher. Well done.
CONTENT: This isn't a your-life-could-be-even-better-with-Jesus sort-of book. It's a hard-hitting, direct spiritual challenge intended for the seeker. Elliff writes in the introduction, "This book is for the person who knows God is there, and believes that somehow he must relate to him." Then a page-turn later Elliff says, "What does God think of me? The answer to this question might surprise you--and disappoint you. But the disappointment is necessary." Pulls no punches.
While the content is strong and biblical, that doesn't mean Elliff runs you over. He doesn't. He walks you through the struggle with ample illustration and in a conversational tone.
The first several chapters or so deals with sin: Who we are because of sin, our broken relationship with God, the coming judgment. Then Pursuing God leads toward an understanding of the power of the Gospel, the need & call to repent (not merely an explanation of repentance), trying vs trusting, and then a final challenge to not only believe, but to then go in faithfulness. In just a few paragraphs I think Elliff does well to explain the life of the Christian from conversion on. And again, there is a guide to 21 days reading in John to help with next steps.
MY TAKE: I really like this little book. Elliff doesn't say everything the way I would, but I'm not unhappy with that. It's solid theology, very practical and personal, and convicting. It takes you down a path toward a knowledge of Christ but isn't written as if it has to do everything or it has failed. It stays simple. I also really like how the first chapter can be used on its own: there's a problem and here's how God solves it.
I don't recommend giving this book to a skeptic, an active doubter. It's not rich on evidence or argument for "defeater beliefs." It's not supposed to be. Keller's The Reason for God is good for them. Pursuing God book is for the nearly convinced and open. And I think it's better than most books written for that category of folks.
One thing that stood out to me is it lacks one chapter on the Cross. I thought that was odd. I knew reading through the book that the Cross was there, but I figured it would be a full chapter right in the center. So I thumbed through again and noticed the Cross is everywhere. I actually sent a direct message on Twitter to Jim today and asked about why no one chapter on the Cross and he said, "My idea was to put the cross in many of the chs all the way through." Exactly what I observed, and I'm good with that. While it might be helpful in some ways to have one chapter giving the Cross full focus, it's not a weakness of the book. The Cross is there in full and clear throughout the book.
USE: As I said, this is written for and truly meant for the seeker. But I've already found it useful in two other ways. First, I used it as a chapter by chapter devotional with my kids. Be careful when you get to the chapter on sex. I was reading to a 7 year old and had to creatively edit on the fly. :) Second, I'm using it with new guys I'm discipling. I think it's helpful to have something this brief as a starting point for discipleship. Plus, it keeps me from discipling someone who may think they have understood the Gospel but hasn't yet.
BONUS: Don't miss the online, free, downloadable study guide for the book.
I highly recommend Pursuing God by Jim Elliff for yourself, family discipleship, church discipleship and, of course, for anyone considering Christ. You can even buy them in bulk.
1. Ads: You can see that I'm gearing up for some advertising on the right sidebar. I've thought about it for a long time & had some advertisers express some interest. I'm going to give it a go. It would be financially helpful for my family during tight times. If you are interested, click on an "Advertise Here" link.
2. Links: I also want to add that whenever you see a link of mine to a book or music on Amazon with the Reformissiona-20 tag on it, that means I get a small cut for recommending it. It adds nothing to your cost. It's the same as if you went straight to Amazon. Essentially by buying products with my link you get same good price and help supply my book budget. I have no other book budget than this. Thanks for supporting it. And I work very hard not to just point you to anything in the hope of making some cash. I skip over recommending many deals that I don't personally want to recommended.
4. Writing Projects: I have several blog articles in the works that have been fermenting for a while and that I'm excited about. I want to get a regular schedule for posting articles in the next couple of weeks. Look for that. I'm saying it publicly so I feel guilty if I don't get it started. :)
5. Phriday is for Photos: I haven't been very active in photography lately, but I'm also planning on getting it kicking again.
6. Molly: I know it doesn't seem like a very cool "coming attraction," but expect more soon about my wife's battle with Chiari I Malformation. The blog has helped her to connect and minister to many women who are suffering the same things and scared.
7. Tim Keller Resources: It's been a while since I seriously worked on my TK Resource page. Without doing anything a few things there look broken. I hope to get it back in shape for your resourcing pleasure.
I first heard of Matthew Smith (Facebook and Twitter) as one voice in the Indelible Grace group of artists. His songs quickly became some of our favorites. There's something confident & encouraging in his voice. I got the pleasure of serving alongside him when Michael Spencer (iMonk) invited me to speak and Matthew to sing at his school in Kentucky a few years back. Matthew asked me to review his new album, Watch The Rising Day, and it was an easy "yes."
Most of the album is Matthew reworking hymns long forgotten. And they are wonderful. He also includes his acoustic version of "In Christ Alone," a familiar hymn featuring Sandra McCracken and another mixed by Derek Webb. The song with Webb, "You Are The Light (Glitchy Sonar Mix)" is the opening song featuring Smith's voice and a, well, glitchy sound mix. :) It's fun. It's different. I dig it.
I'll be honest, I have a hard time making it through the album because I keep going back to re-listen to a song as it hits me and I'm meditating on the lyrics. Culprits: "I Have Seen The Lord" (listen here) and "Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven" (listen below).
Smith has done well to create songs that can be used for public worship as well as private. There are songs that plumb the depths of our sinfulness & look to the cross and others that soar in view of our Savior. A good mix.
"Lord Jesus, Comfort Me (Communion Hymn) - slow & meditative
All the pain You have endured
All Your wounds, Your crown of thorn
Hands and feet with nails through bored
The reproach which You have borne
Your back, ploughed with deep furrows
Cross and grave and all Your sorrows
Your blood-sweat and agony
Oh Lord Jesus, comfort me
"I Need Thee Today" - upbeat, rocking
I need Thee, precious Jesus
For I am full of sin
My soul is dark and guilty
My heart is dead within
I need the cleansing fountain
Where I can always flee
The blood of Christ most precious
The sinner’s perfect plea
The album is wonderfully rich with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can listen to Watch The Rising Day streaming in full. I highly recommend you buy it and Matthew's other albums. His music is a staple in my devotional life, in our home and in our church. His music is so solid, with a wonderful mix of ancient and current, that I can't see why anyone wouldn't love it.
Matthew created discount codes for Reformissionary readers...
steve = 25% off the Deluxe Edition CD + Download
steveLP = 10% off the Limited Edition Vinyl + Download
(Codes expire Monday, August 23rd)
Download Matthew's two previous full-length albums (All I Owe and The Road Sessions Collection) for $6.99 at http://matthewsmith.bandcamp.com.
Also check out Bob Kauflin's review at WorshipMatters.com.
Listen to a new favorite of mine off the album, "Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven." I can't stop myself from singing (shouting!) the chorus. Turn it up!
Redeemed, restored, forgiven
Through Jesus' precious blood
Heirs of His home in heaven
Oh, praise our pardoning God
Miranda Dodson is an Austin, TX singer/songwriter. I know of her music because she is the sister-in-law of Jonathan Dodson, pastor/planter of Austin City Life Church. I almost turned down the chance of getting a review copy of Change A Thing because I didn't want to risk not liking what Jonathan pointed me to. But I took a chance. And here we go.
I like a lot of music of various sorts. Plenty of it is by people with so-so voices. A lot of the best music out there is by singers that are pretty good but not great. I rarely hear a new album or artist and say, "Dude, that chick can sing!" This is one of those albums and one of those artists. But she also sets that voice in place and works the message. She doesn't show off. It's a tool.
Miranda's voice is really interesting. She has power, range and control. It can sound full and rich. It can also sizzle a bit. In an email to her I said her voice has a "Miranda's great cover of "Up To The Mountain."I hear some of my favorite sirens like Neko Case and Jenny Lewis too. No question about Patty Griffin as well, as you can see from
Miranda writes her own stuff, but the songs aren't overly lyrical or streams of consciousness. So while I hear hints of Joanna Newsom in her voice, I find nothing of her vast storytelling. This isn't wordy. This isn't really story. This is snapshot. As I hear it, it's life meets God and captured in a moment. And the argument is brief, to the point. Someone like Newsom adds a million brush strokes. Dodson is taking pictures and tweaking how we feel about them through adding some musical black and white tones, or upping the saturation, or cropping in to less-noticed detail.
Track list & brief commentToo Late - (video, video2) - Love it. Catchy, but not in typical ways. When the chorus soars a bit, I'm riding it.
Sitting In Limbo - A Jimmy Cliff cover. Fun. Hammocks. Sweet tea. Still saying something.
change isn’t gonna change a thing;
sold our souls a long time ago
tryin’ to get back, tryin’ to get back
where do we come from, and where
will we go from here where, along this road, did we lose our souls?
This lump in my throat grows larger and larger
It’s my pride, I know, and it’s getting harder,
I must have swallowed…I will wallow
It seems as though I’ve reached my destination,
no need to make your reservation
The seats are taken, save for one at the bottom
King - "This is no kingdom." Immediately appealing and enjoyable.
I Will Be Free - Love the Brandi Carlile flavor I hear in this one. Positive. Driving. Moving. Hopeful.
Fly - One of the most interesting tracks on the album. Structure harder to discern for me. Interesting sounds, strings. The melody follows the flight of the butterfly in the song. Beautiful.
you carry the rainbow on your wings,
you dance so I can hear your wings
you carry me like you carry thieves,
you carry hope like the Prince of Peace
Never Be The Same - Short. Contemplative. Simple. Not simplistic.
I highly recommend and have been thoroughly enjoying Change A Thing. I hope you'll pick it up.
Thanks to Lifeway and Jared Wilson for the opportunity to review the Threads by Lifeway study Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture. I've seen a couple of Threads products and it's a sharp-looking line of materials for young adults and college students. It seems like a nice step-up for Lifeway products. Here's a video teaser for Abide that I think is well-done...
There's no shortage of books on spiritual disciplines as a whole or certain disciplines on their own. I have dozens of them. What I love, just love, about Abide is that it uses the word/idea of "rhythms." Disciplines seem like work to me. Rhythms feel like life. There's just something freeing, at least to me, about that simple shift. If want to live Kingdom life, I don't want to live Kingdom discipline.
Maybe that's just a generational thing. To be "disciplined" seems honorable and even heroic. But maybe that's the problem. Maybe when I try to be more involved in disciplines I want to be seen as spiritually honorable. Sounds like the Pharisees, who prayed and fasted to be seen by others and not God. I long to be seen by God, and to have rhythms in my life that develop a knowledge and relationship with Him.
There is no biblical language that has been more helpful in this longing for me than the language of abiding in Christ (John 15). My pastor in Denver used to talk from the pulpit about how in his early ministry he was working in his own energy and crashed hard physically and ended up in the hospital. The passage that saved him was John 15, and learning that if we don't abide in Christ we can do nothing. That story stuck with me, and 6+ years into my first pastorate I've myself in numerous struggles both personally and ministerially. Along comes an opportunity to review Abide. I needed it. I hope some who read this review will realize they need it too.
Abide is 5 studies: feeling Scripture, intentional prayer, purposeful fasting, joyful service and genuine community. The format is new to me. It reads much like a book. Often in "Bible study" books you get leading questions, a lot of going to read Scripture, and a lot of questions to answer. Wilson gives us a lot of content with helpful questions occasionally breaking it up. I like the content-focused approach better than most studies I've seen. Especially for younger folks who could use a bit more pastor-leadership.
I really like the questions in the chapters. They are truly thought-provoking and require creative thinking that is both personal and theological. No one is phoning-in the questions. They are well constructed. For example...
Take some time to write out what some beatitudes of suburbia might sound like. What or who is considered blessed in a consumerist culture? p17
Jared uses plenty of humor along the way that fits right in with the crowd he is writing to. I think the format and approach will work well with the intended crowd.
I don't if I've seen it before, but the illustration of how being filled with the spirit is like sailing was just great. Rhythms hoist sails to catch the blowing of the Ghost. Without sails up, the wind won't take us far. This picture colors Wilson's approach to every rhythm.
Abide is Gospel-centered. If you have young adults around, this is a solid resource that doesn't just say to do things to please God. Wilson draws from many sources including some new, solid ones (like Skye Jethani, John Piper) and very old, good ones (like Bonhoeffer, Calvin).
My only criticism is I occasionally felt chapters were meandering. I like when things are point-point-point, and in a logical and obvious flow. I'm not saying Wilson was illogical or had no flow to his arguments. Not at all. But for me it seemed more woven together than systematically argued. I think some of the style elements may have distracted from the flow too. So maybe it's just my age showing. It is, after all, written for someone about 1/2 my age. (Wow, just realized that I'm old.) I say all that to say that this really isn't much of a criticism. Just an observation. And it's meant for further discussion among friends and not just individual consumption, which is what I did.
The Leader's Guide kit has a number of helpful materials including articles for preparation, questions, etc through an enhanced CD. Articles and audio devotions are emailable to the group, video shorts are provided to spark discussion. I have yet to encounter a study with so much material! It's well done. There are even songs to coincide with the study. Everything is very user friendly and they make it clear what to do and when. I printed out some stuff just to see how it looks and it looked beautiful with color and artwork. As with any leader material for any study, you will likely find some stuff more helpful than others and be able to tweak the study as you find it helpful.
I've found Abide helpful to the point I've built my current sermon series around some of the ideas, points and illustrations. Last Sunday was on Scripture and the Abide chapter was quite useful during prep. I highly recommend this study for the young adults it's intended for. I think it will also be helpful for any adult who needs solid teaching on kingdom rhythms. I'm considering going through it with my daughter (13) next. It might still be a little beyond her, but I think she'll dig it. I think you will too.
Few books really change me deeply. Directly. Powerfully. Never to look back. I didn't expect it, but this one had me spinning for days and still eager to consider the implications more and more. I'll be honest. I was in a rut. I still am trying to turn my way out. I need refreshment. I need recharging. I need renewal. And God has used Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh to show me how I put myself in the rut and how to get out. And that was just after the first 2 chapters.
What is realized is that I've been working hard for years at being more extroverted. After all, the more extroverted I could be the better I could function in ministry. I'd be a better evangelist and preacher and counselor and networker and so on. Imagine the hunger to be in constant interaction with the people around you in pastoral ministry. I romanticized that idea, but struggled to follow through. I have been streaky at best. And the more I felt guilty about it, the more drained I became and harder I worked to be something that didn't *click*. McHugh explained a picture of me in the book that opened my eyes.
McHugh helped explain my introversion in super-helpful recognizable attributes (p 42). I recharge best alone or with close friends or family. I need rest after outside activities and interaction with people. I'm territorial with private & family space and treat my home like a sanctuary. Small talk drives me batty. My brain is bubbling with activity no matter what else is going on around me. And so on. I think while reading this chapter I giggled with delight at the things I learned about myself that I knew but didn't know, if you know what I mean. Ok, I didn't "giggle." I'm a dude, after all. But I grinned big and in a giggle-y way.
Introverts in the Church gave me glasses to see myself more clearly as well as the introverts around me. And, by the way, it ends up being very helpful to understand extroverts since comparisons are so often made. Then McHugh weaves them together to show how we individually a mixture of the two since none of us are pure introvert or extrovert, and the church is also a mixture of the two having people of all variations. In many ways this book is really about the varied gifts in the body of Christ and how we need them all.
I think I've been duped into believing that the best gift I could give my church is to become more like someone else. I knew better than to want to be John Piper. But I overlooked the problem of not wanting to be an introvert. Books and blogs and Twitter and the rest are perfect places to develop extroversion envy. Through a number of things over the past year, culminating with this book, God has put me in my place. And for the first time in a while being an introvert the place I want to be. Now I'm working to relearn the rhythms that make sense for me to be me when I pray, work, rest, serve and enjoy the life and calling God gave me. For that work McHugh gives helpful chapters on introverted spirituality, community & relationship. leadership, evangelism and more. These chapters will be helpful friends to revisit along that pathway.
I think what I learned most as I reflected on Introverts in the Church, and what is changing most about me because of it, is that my best work for the church as a pastor is deep work. It's reading deep. Praying. Contemplating. Being silent. Enjoying the refreshing presence of God.
Introverts in the Church is one of the most important books I've read in years. It's not perfect. I may have written things a bit differently here and there. I might have used different examples and stories in places. And my journey is different than yours, so you may not have the same experience as me. But I believe it will help free people in similar situations as me to be who God made them to be. For that reason it's highly recommended for introverts and church leaders. I can't help but to think this will also be helpful for parents, coaches, teachers and to people working with people in numerous avenues of life.
Coram Deo Church has added it's name to the growing list of churches and artists who love the richness of older hymns and long to make them more accessible to our culture: Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Page CXVI, Sojourn, and so on. This one is getting a lot of play for us and it should be a staple in your house and church. It's beautiful. From the website...
Our hope as we send this out is that the beauty of the music and the truths of the gospel, that are the lyrics of this album, might be a conduit of God’s grace resulting in worship of Him. This was the driving purpose behind the making of this album. Hymns are powerful for many reasons, two of which are: their theological depth resulting in rich gospel meditation, and their ability to unite people across all ages, demographics, denominations, and musical styles (this is especially true in the past 5 years). In light of this, we believe Doxology has the potential to have great influence for the gospel here in Omaha and God’s kingdom at large.
Doxology includes several of my absolute favorite hymns. Here's the track list...
I very much enjoy the instrument and sound choices in these songs. "All Creatures" includes and autoharp and ends in a blast of power. You need to hear it. "Holy, Holy, Holy" starts simple and carefully climbs through organ, violins and a trumpet. Beautiful. "Great is Thy Faithfulness" has a growing ambient quality through vocals. "Doxology" is mostly arranged vocal harmony through some verses you may not have heard before. The use of drums and violin on "Be Thou My Vision" adds the Irish flavor to this ancient Irish poem. The djembe & guitar on "It Is Well With My Soul" offers a unique sound to this very traditional hymn. "How Great Thou Art"...well...you need to hear this one. The first half almost bare & solemn. The second half breaks out for the words "When Christ shall come..." with something of a hoedown. Ok, maybe not a hoedown. But Kendal Haug does play the harmonica. I'm not sure how they got away with not playing a banjo on this one!
The only original is "This Darkness," written by Bob Thune, Jared Strock and Kendal Haug. I'll just let the lyrics draw you in to a song for difficult times...
To you I cry for help
But you are silent still
You block my prayer, you shut me out
My soul is weary
How long this darkness
How long my grief
How long your anger
As with others with hymn updates, Coram Deo adds not only music/arrangement tweaks, but also a few lyrical ones like simple choruses and repeated lines. I'll not go into detail, but I'll say they keep them simple. These songs aren't radically different than what you know, but different enough to be like hearing it new again. It's a good mix of the tradition we treasure and creative arts we love.
I'm looking forward to where Coram Deo goes next. While this first offering may be mostly well-known worship staples, they are thoughtfully recreated and will be a great blessing for personal and gathered worship. We use this CD in our home and have been playing it before and after Sunday worship and we plan on using several of these arrangements in our worship time. Highly recommended.