Monthly Archives: January 2008

Things Christians Overlook: The Detail of the Bible

This post isn’t as theological as the previous two. Here, I’m simply trying to point out the following idea, namely, that the Bible has a great deal of textual detail that is rich and rewarding to study. In this way, it is like a piece of rich soil just waiting for one to come and dig and unearth its treasures. Too many of us are asleep in the shade, I think, when we should be digging.

I’m not going to give a ton of examples of this point, because there are so many one could give. I’ll simply say that close study of the biblical text yields untold rewards. It is wonderfully true that a person of the simplest mind can pick up the Bible and grasp its basic ideas. Yet we must allow a right understanding of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture to undermine a doctrine of the depth of the Word of God. The Word is easily comprehensible, but it is also a storehouse of linguistic, exegetical, textual, and theological treasures. For example, I recently preached a sermon on Samson. In my study of Judges 16:21-31, I discovered a number of really cool insights about the text. For example, there is allusion to Samson’s fortunes in the geography of his trip to Philistine territory–he was “going down” to there. There is significance in Samson being forced to harvest grain in a Philistine grainery–Dagon, the Philistine god, was the god of grain. Samson was thus acting out in a physical, tangible way the defeat of his God by the Philistines. Now, I didn’t see these things myself–commentaries helped me out a great deal here. However, I have from time to time seen things in the text due to my own search for detail, as many others will also have experienced. In addition, my training in the languages has really helped in this area. It is not essential to know Greek and Hebrew in order to be a faithful preacher of the Word–not by a long stretch–but it does not hurt, either, and can only help the student of the Word. If you want to be a preacher, and you can’t take any other classes, take language classes. You can read theology, study philosophy, and search history on your own terms, but rare is the man who can teach himself an ancient language. If you don’t have linguistic training and want to pick up overlooked details in the text and thus preach the Word with a richness and depth your people will eagerly drink up, acquire commentaries that can guide in a close study of the original text.

In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked components of evangelical preaching. So much preaching that I hear is right and true and faithful and boring. Let’s just speak honestly here. Do you resonate on any level with this opinion? This is not said to denigrate evangelical preachers. Preaching is hard work, and we need to hear the plainest truths on a regular basis simply to live and sustain our faith. With this said, we should not confuse faithfulness with sleepiness. We should exegete the text, dig into the text, and leave our people fascinated by the Word of God. That is a carefully chosen word–fascinated. The Word of God isn’t simply true. It’s downright remarkable! It possesses a level of detail that has sustained centuries of scholastic inquiry, inquiry that has utterly failed to exhaust the Scripture’s riches. Think about it. There are tons of things that even the most astute scholars of God’s Word have not figured out. This is a rich book indeed that we are dealing with. Now, how about we Christians start digging into these details? Forget preaching–in our own personal study, we can obtain a commentary and use it to illuminate our study of the Word. Or think about small group studies. Why would we ever study passages of Scripture based only on our own intuition when godly, gifted men have literally given their lives to search out the riches of that text? This is a fool’s proposition–and one that we sometimes make, sadly.

Let’s make a commitment, then, to studying and unearthing the untold riches of the Bible. Let’s dig deeply into the Word, and as Christians, whether laymen or preachers, let’s bring these riches to others and think together about them. The result? A faith that is deeper, more enlightening, and way less boring than a faith dependent on the same cliches, the same maxims, that we know–and need–but that become inestimably more powerful when rooted in the detailed “soil” in which they were given.

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Things Christians Overlook: The Ministry of the Spirit in the Believer’s Life is Powerful

This series attempts to touch very briefly on a few things that many Christians overlook in their daily lives. All of these things are points that I have overlooked in my own life. This is not intended to be a nasty series, a virtual poke in the eyes, but is meant to pass along a few things others have taught me that I have found helpful.

Today we look very quickly at the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and the believer. We sometimes think that Jesus accomplished the various miracles of His ministry in His own strength. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The ministry of Christ was Spirit-powered.

John 1:32-33 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

This text shows us that Jesus received the Spirit at the beginning of His earthly ministry. In fact, it was the Spirit’s descent that marked the beginning of Christ’s work as Lord and Savior. From this point forward, Christ accomplished all that He did through the power of the Spirit. Note that I’m not saying that it was not possible for Christ to do all His work in His own power; rather, He chose to lay His power down in order that the power of the Spirit would be manifest in Him. This is a key distinction, and a subtle one, and the subtlety makes all the difference.

Why is this significant beyond mere theological quibbling? As my father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Ware, explained in introducing me and others to this foundational idea, it shows us that in possessing the same Spirit that Christ did, we have access to the same power that Christ did. This is a dynamic truth, a life-changing truth. Do you see it? You do not live your life through a kind of vague divinity that occasionally trickles down from on high. No, you live your life as a Christian through access to the same Spirit who enabled Christ to raise men from the dead, heal the sick, walk on the waters. You do not have access to a trickle–you have access to a flood of spiritual power that will enable you to walk in godliness and truth all your days, and to be a channel of blessing to all who surround you in your daily life. As you carry the gospel to the lost, as you carry out your daily responsibilities, as you fight for holiness each hour of the day, you can call upon the Father to move in a powerful way in your life through the Holy Spirit. This is a prayer that God will answer. He will take joy in your recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit, and just as He did for Christ, He will move in your life in marvelous ways to bring His will and plan to pass in your life. Clearly, this is a truth we need to recognize. Have you realized that you don’t have to live in your own strength as a Christian? Are you calling on God to work in you through the Spirit? Or are you out there fighting your own battles, waging your own wars, struggling to grow in godliness and live a gospel-centered life?

If so, read the gospel of John, observe how John highlights the Spirit’s work in Christ’s life, and claim this same Spirit dynamism in your own life. This is one matter we cannot afford to overlook.

Further reading: Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2005.

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Things Christians Overlook: The Ministry of the Spirit in the Believer’s Life is Powerful

This series attempts to touch very briefly on a few things that many Christians overlook in their daily lives. All of these things are points that I have overlooked in my own life. This is not intended to be a nasty series, a virtual poke in the eyes, but is meant to pass along a few things others have taught me that I have found helpful.

Today we look very quickly at the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and the believer. We sometimes think that Jesus accomplished the various miracles of His ministry in His own strength. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The ministry of Christ was Spirit-powered.

John 1:32-33 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

This text shows us that Jesus received the Spirit at the beginning of His earthly ministry. In fact, it was the Spirit’s descent that marked the beginning of Christ’s work as Lord and Savior. From this point forward, Christ accomplished all that He did through the power of the Spirit. Note that I’m not saying that it was not possible for Christ to do all His work in His own power; rather, He chose to lay His power down in order that the power of the Spirit would be manifest in Him. This is a key distinction, and a subtle one, and the subtlety makes all the difference.

Why is this significant beyond mere theological quibbling? As my father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Ware, explained in introducing me and others to this foundational idea, it shows us that in possessing the same Spirit that Christ did, we have access to the same power that Christ did. This is a dynamic truth, a life-changing truth. Do you see it? You do not live your life through a kind of vague divinity that occasionally trickles down from on high. No, you live your life as a Christian through access to the same Spirit who enabled Christ to raise men from the dead, heal the sick, walk on the waters. You do not have access to a trickle–you have access to a flood of spiritual power that will enable you to walk in godliness and truth all your days, and to be a channel of blessing to all who surround you in your daily life. As you carry the gospel to the lost, as you carry out your daily responsibilities, as you fight for holiness each hour of the day, you can call upon the Father to move in a powerful way in your life through the Holy Spirit. This is a prayer that God will answer. He will take joy in your recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit, and just as He did for Christ, He will move in your life in marvelous ways to bring His will and plan to pass in your life. Clearly, this is a truth we need to recognize. Have you realized that you don’t have to live in your own strength as a Christian? Are you calling on God to work in you through the Spirit? Or are you out there fighting your own battles, waging your own wars, struggling to grow in godliness and live a gospel-centered life?

If so, read the gospel of John, observe how John highlights the Spirit’s work in Christ’s life, and claim this same Spirit dynamism in your own life. This is one matter we cannot afford to overlook.

Further reading: Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2005.

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Things Christians Overlook: The Ministry of the Spirit in the Believer’s Life is Powerful

This series attempts to touch very briefly on a few things that many Christians overlook in their daily lives. All of these things are points that I have overlooked in my own life. This is not intended to be a nasty series, a virtual poke in the eyes, but is meant to pass along a few things others have taught me that I have found helpful.

Today we look very quickly at the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and the believer. We sometimes think that Jesus accomplished the various miracles of His ministry in His own strength. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The ministry of Christ was Spirit-powered.

John 1:32-33 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

This text shows us that Jesus received the Spirit at the beginning of His earthly ministry. In fact, it was the Spirit’s descent that marked the beginning of Christ’s work as Lord and Savior. From this point forward, Christ accomplished all that He did through the power of the Spirit. Note that I’m not saying that it was not possible for Christ to do all His work in His own power; rather, He chose to lay His power down in order that the power of the Spirit would be manifest in Him. This is a key distinction, and a subtle one, and the subtlety makes all the difference.

Why is this significant beyond mere theological quibbling? As my father-in-law, Dr. Bruce Ware, explained in introducing me and others to this foundational idea, it shows us that in possessing the same Spirit that Christ did, we have access to the same power that Christ did. This is a dynamic truth, a life-changing truth. Do you see it? You do not live your life through a kind of vague divinity that occasionally trickles down from on high. No, you live your life as a Christian through access to the same Spirit who enabled Christ to raise men from the dead, heal the sick, walk on the waters. You do not have access to a trickle–you have access to a flood of spiritual power that will enable you to walk in godliness and truth all your days, and to be a channel of blessing to all who surround you in your daily life. As you carry the gospel to the lost, as you carry out your daily responsibilities, as you fight for holiness each hour of the day, you can call upon the Father to move in a powerful way in your life through the Holy Spirit. This is a prayer that God will answer. He will take joy in your recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit, and just as He did for Christ, He will move in your life in marvelous ways to bring His will and plan to pass in your life. Clearly, this is a truth we need to recognize. Have you realized that you don’t have to live in your own strength as a Christian? Are you calling on God to work in you through the Spirit? Or are you out there fighting your own battles, waging your own wars, struggling to grow in godliness and live a gospel-centered life?

If so, read the gospel of John, observe how John highlights the Spirit’s work in Christ’s life, and claim this same Spirit dynamism in your own life. This is one matter we cannot afford to overlook.

Further reading: Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2005.

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Things Christians Overlook: The Bible Has a Thesis (Hint: Christ)

I want to do a brief series on some key biblical things that I and other Christians have overlooked and do overlook. Today’s topic is on a pretty simple but incredibly under-recognized idea, that the Bible has a thesis, and that this thesis is Jesus Christ.

I have talked about this before on this blog, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again, because it is incredibly important. I think that many Christians of the past century were taught to read the Bible rather flatly. That is, there is no peak in the canon which all preceding materials foretells and all following material explores. But there is such a peak: it is none other than Jesus Christ.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:44-46″These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…

John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…

These are some of the texts that point us to find the Bible’s thesis in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Preachers are not being fanciful when they attempt to connect their sermon text to the person and work of Jesus Christ; they are being faithful. One can pick up a book of Scripture and read it in its context and take away lots of important information and context and content. This is, in fact, how many Christians read the Bible. They read a given text–say, Esther–and they come away encouraged by it, understanding more of God and man and how the two interact and what ancient Judaism looked like and how God triumphs over evil and things like this. Let me be clear: these are immensely important things. However, this Christian is missing the Bible’s thesis, the richness of a thesis-driven reading of Scripture, and is in some way disobeying Christ and His explicit command to read the Bible in terms of a theological argument. I once read the Bible in this way, and though I am sure that I and others who did (and do) are not seeking to disobey Christ’s direct teaching, it is clear that we are.

This post is not okaying any and all interpretations of Scripture so long as they purport to point to Christ (as if I can okay anything). No. We must be responsible Christocentricists. We can acknowledge that some texts foreshadow and disclose Christ’s coming and work more clearly and fully than others. We can at times confess, both to ourselves and to our congregations, that the Christocentric connection is rather abstract due to a lack of clarity on our part (thus emphasizing our exegetical weakness and the Bible’s mystery more than its lack of anything). With these caveats stated, whether you are a preacher or a politician, a teacher or a tradesman, a homemaker or a teenager, you are called to read the Bible as if it has a thesis, namely, the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament foreshadows Christ, the New Testament discloses His person and work in fullness (see the above texts). Thus, every text of the Bible in some way relates to the gospel of Christ, and every Christian must learn to the read the Bible with this rich, invigorating, glorious thesis. God in His wisdom wrote the Bible through men, and He did so with a distinct thesis in mind: He wrote the Scripture to tell of Himself, to illuminate the character of men, to record a history of His dealings with men, and most significantly, to point to Christ and His work as the center, the apex, the pinnacle, of the Word.

Let us read the Scripture accordingly–not as a book of sixty-six fascinating but loosely connected books, but as a collection of diverse authors and subjects who nonetheless speak a single central theme: the glory of God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us not ignore this matter; if we do so, after all, we’re not disobeying a bunch of fanciful theologians who comment on the Bible. No, we’re disobeying Christ, the One who wrote it.

Further reading: Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Proclaiming Christ from All of Scripture, P & R, 2007.

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The Week-est Link, January 25 2008

1. Thanks so much to all the bloggers out there who have linked to consumed. I really appreciate it, and thanks to all who left very kind comments last week about my blog. I was very encouraged as I always am by the commenters on this blog.

2. Here’s what looks like a perceptive and beneficial lecture on Islam and the claims of radical Islam. It was held at Capitol Hill Baptist last spring and has received very good feedback.

3. A well-rounded and persuasive piece on limited atonement, written by an SBTS student and friend named Bradley Cochrane. What’s nice is that the post is readable and relatively brief, unlike some of the stuff you see out there on the subject. (HT: Said at Southern)

4. Griffin House makes good, soulful music. I don’t think you’ve heard of him–I certainly hadn’t–but my buddy Ben Peays hipped me to him. Check out this song for sure–very melancholy and moving: “Tell Me a Lie.” Sort of country, folk, alt-rock. If you like the video snippet, buy the mp3. I can’t stop listening to it.

5. Excellent Collin Hansen piece on Barack Obama’s abortion views. Obama is the most pro-abortion candidate ever, according to some. Some may sneer at single-issue voting, but Christians should not, when that issue relates to the death of millions of babies. Hansen’s a fellow TEDS student and a very good writer. More on his work in the future. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Have a great weekend. It’s supposed to warm up here in Deerfield, which means that regular existence–characterized by such activities as moving and breathing–should resume soon.

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"There Will Be Blood" Makes Good on Its Promise, and Startles in its Depiction of Evil Manhood

Some of you who read this blog will know that I do not style myself a reviewer of movies. I do not have the credentials to do so, and I seek to avoid presenting myself as an expert regarding things for which I have no credentials or training. However, I do think it useful and fun to study cinema, as cinema is one of the primary ways our culture thinks about itself and its world. Movies are not just about entertaining–they are ways in which the culture tells its story, represents and thinks about itself, and thus it is worthy to think about them.

I will not attempt, then, to exhaustively review the film and its details but will instead make a few notes about things that interested me about There Will Be Blood. Made by Paul Thomas Anderson, a director of talent and varied focus, the film is, well, startling. It is directed with a bold hand, and it makes a strong impact on the viewer. It contains some objectionable content and is in itself disturbing, and thus some Christians will not wish to view it, and that is fine–we all have different levels of tolerance and stomach for negative content. The film, in my humble estimation, is primarily about men. This will surprise no one, as I’m constantly looking to discover how the culture thinks about gender, but I think I’m right here. The film is a study of manhood as it relates to temptation. The plot follows an oil prospector named Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) who comes to a small Texas town and attempts to build his own impenetrable oil empire. Along the way, he runs up against a fervent country preacher named Eli Sunday (the name smacks of Billy Sunday; the actor is Paul Dano) who wishes to reap some of the oil money for himself and his congregation. The story also involves Plainview’s adopted son H.W., who wrestles as he grows up with an obviously difficult father and the life this father gives him. I won’t reveal much about the plot, but suffice it to say that it provides a platform by which to watch the strong personalities of the prospector and the preacher clash and display much ugliness.

The manhood evident in the film is raw and unadorned. Plainview is a hard, sharp-edged, calculating man–the only trait that occasionally supercedes his calculation is his explosive temper. This is a man who lives to compete and to win. He loads the odds against himself and then finds his greatest life pleasure in taking those odds on headfirst and defeating them. He shows flashes of humanity, most often toward his son, but in watching Plainview, we are watching a man consumed by himself and his lust for money. He is the antitype to the model of manhood set out by Christ. Christ was unfailingly others-centered; Plainview is unfailingly self-centered. A man at his best is a man living for the gospel-focused good of others–family, church, society, broader world. A man at his worst is a man living for the good of himself–his pockets, his reputation, his selfish dreams. A Christ-following man lives with an open hand, for he has been freed by the gospel to live generously and joyfully for the benefit of others. God smiles upon him, and he may smile upon others, and so he does, and all around bask in his goodness and kindness. A self-centered man lives with a clenched fist, his selfish interests running like slippery thread between his fingers. He is so consumed by himself that he cannot live for others; he is so driven by his own interests that he cannot even glimpse those borne by the people around him. Plainview shows very brief snatches of caring for others, but his masculinity, his psyche, is so dominated by himself that such snatches are quickly drowned out by a flood of selfish action or vicious anger directed at his competitors, whether real or imagined. As we watch this man play his depravity, we recoil, even as we study his character in all its complexity. Somehow, Day-Lewis manages to avoid an unnuanced character. He plays Plainview with such depth and subtlety that the word “masterful” does not suffice. When Day-Lewis discovers a great character, he burrows into it, until we cannot be sure if we are watching an actor or a man. Somehow, Plainview is both ogre and man, repulsive and endearing. This is the mark of great acting, and represents sinful humanity in its unredeemed essence.

Eli, for his part, cares not so much for his church as he cares for his reputation as a well-financed preacher. Eli wants to be around money, wishes desperately to distance himself from impoverished ministry, and so is willing to go to great lengths to do so. Eli’s character is interpreted and played rather harshly by Paul Dano, a strange and somehow affecting actor. Nonetheless, there is something for us to pick up from Sunday’s character. Do we crave cultural respectability and–forget the other urges–money so much that we sell our soul and our families and churches up the river? Do we lust after the world’s things so much that we forget that we have every treasure already in Christ? Eli Sunday does, and as a result, we are presented with a man who lives for himself just as Plainview does, although Sunday’s greed is disguised and covered up with showy piety where Plainview’s is naked and plainly malevolent. In the end, we’re not sure who to like more. I think I ended up liking Plainview more, which tells us something about how much damage a false godliness can do.

Paul Thomas Anderson often explores themes of manhood and fatherhood, and he does so eloquently here, though his is a rough eloquence. His characters are unvarnished, his relationships unpretty, his view of life rough and tumble. There Will Be Blood is beautifully shot, well-paced (and long, which allows for character and plot development), and ultimately quite revealing about the hearts of men. We are strange and powerful creatures, us men. We are capable of such good, as seen magnificently in the person of Christ, and we are capable of almost limitless evil. In the end, it is Plainview’s malevolence that most sticks with us. Though no Christian, Anderson understands that men are naturally evil, and his film plays out the evil self-centredness of one man. We are left repulsed, fascinated, and startled by what Plainview is able to do. Armed with masculine energy, ambition, and strength, he is able to do incredible things, to in effect attack the ground and wrest its fruit for himself. This is a triumph of masculine agency, and it is not evil in itself. And yet even as we affirm Plainview’s sense of masculine agency, at his strong hand, we recoil at his consuming greed, his tight-fisted grasp on all he has. We walk out of the theater startled by what man can do with his wit and his hands, and frightened by what he can do with his heart. We leave the theater thankful that though the world is filled with real-life Plainviews, flesh-and-blood men who live for themselves and wreak havoc upon their world, it is ruled by a Man who so lived for others that He bought them back from damnation by the very blood of His veins. That is a startling reality indeed.

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The CBMW Website: An Essential Resource in a Gender-Confused Age

I want to encourage you to go to a new resource on the Internet: the CBMW Gender Blog. This site, which debuted just a little while ago, is already one of Technorati’s top-rated blogs. This blog, published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, provides excellent, pithy material on the matter of gender. If you have not already, bookmark this site, tell your friends about it, and check it regularly. Led by President Randy Stinson, a man known for his robustly scriptural home, and directed by a godly, gifted man named David Kotter, it is fun to read, passionate about biblical truth regarding gender, and destined to educate its regular readers on things that matter.

Gender (by which I mean sex) is a matter of great importance. If you do not presently think this, I would challenge you to rethink your understanding of this topic. Gender is the fundamental earthly reality of the human race. Whether you are a man or woman determines almost innumerable things about the way you live, though you may not even recognize this. What’s more, the Bible has a great deal of things to teach us about gender. The Bible is not a gender-blind book written to a sexless audience. There are many texts that apply equally to all people, but the Bible sketches from beginning to end a portrait of biblical manhood and biblical womanhood. There is of course no one book that touches exhaustively on this subject, but this is not the way the Bible constructs doctrine, is it? No, the biblical theology movement has taught us that doctrines and ideas are developed progressively through the Bible–there’s a bit given here, a bit given there, and by the end of it, we’ve got a textured, many-colored understanding of a certain doctrine composed of the work of varied authors writing in varied times. Do not commit the easy fallacy of thinking that the Bible does not have much to say about gender roles simply because there is no one extended section on the matter. To repeat, this is not the way the Bible teaches us about most any important matter. All our major doctrines–salvation, the person of God, the afterlife, to name just a few–are developed over many years and through the writing of many authors.

With this apology for a clear biblical theology of gender thus stated, it is also true as I have said above that gender is the fundamental earthly reality of our existence. God’s creation of Adam and Eve–each of a different gender–was not some divine afterthought in a creative jag. No, God was saying something to us when He created two people of distinct genders. He was saying that gender is hugely important, and He went on to show us that He gave distinct roles to men and women. All this to say that the CBMW website and blog reflects this reality and promises to educate a confused world–and, sadly, a confused church–about biblical manhood and womanhood.

Also, the Gender Blog is currently featuring a blog I wrote a few weeks ago on the “Goof on the Roof.” If you have not read this piece, I would encourage you to visit the site. Read the piece. Then, read other pieces. There is a ton of good stuff on this blog. Join with me in supporting this important resource in an age when biblical gender roles are debased, forgotten, or just plain ignored, whether by the man in the street or the Christian in the pew.

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A Short List of Important History Biographies: 1-3

In the spirit of the lists posted by historians Sean Lucas and Michael Haykin, I offer my own humble little list of my favorite history biographies.

1. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards–If you haven’t read this, you are missing out on a masterpiece of readable, richly textured history. Marsden sets Edwards’s context as well as one can. He brings you into the world of Edwards, even as he brings the character and theology of Edwards to life. A masterpiece, and my favorite book, period (excepting, of course, the Good one). Works on both the popular and academic levels, which is a feat in its own right.

2. D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America–Again, a great historical work. This is a more tightly focused argument than you will find in some biographies, as it is clearly academic history, but there is rich material for all students of historical theology to discover here. Though Hart sympathizes with much of Machen’s theology, he writes in a remarkably balanced, non-hagiographic manner. There are points to quibble with here and there, but this is an excellent critical biography of a great man.

3. Rudolph Nelson, The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind–This is a sensational biography of a fascinating and tragic evangelical figure, E. J. Carnell. Nelson is a former evangelical who still manages to approach his subject with fairness, though his work is decidedly slanted toward psychology. I couldn’t agree with significant parts of his analysis of Carnell, but I found his biography engrossing and filled with rich detail from the life and thought of this neo-evangelical. If you are interested in the neo-evangelicals, as I very much am, I would encourage you to buy this book and read it. I could not put it down.

More of this tomorrow. What are some of your favorites?

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MLK: A Figure of Controversy and Great Importance

Not a long post today, but I think it is right to focus if only for a moment on a holiday on the actual reason for the holiday. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I always feel a bit sheepish about having a day off from work and school and all that and yet doing absolutely nothing in relation to the holiday itself.

With that confession out of the way, I give you a link to a blog listing a number of important resources related to MLK. Harold has done an excellent job of compiling some of the key documents from King’s life, and I think it is a good thing to link them here. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a figure of great historical importance, after all. He was not perfect, and he was in fact a deeply flawed man, but it is clear that he was used to change the whole course of American history. He is not solely responsible for positive racial developments, and he should not be portrayed as such. However, he was a figure of great importance, and he was used to bring good, great good, to this country. Though we might have significant disagreements with his theology, and grave concerns about his womanizing lifestyle, we are right to honor him for his achievements in the realm of civil rights. We evangelicals are also chastened by his example, for in so emphasizing right doctrinal and exegetical theology, we can forget to construct and advocate a scriptural political theology. Surely, the Scripture has more to say about the way life is lived in our country than we often give it credit. In a small, insignificant, and virtually unnoticed way, then, I attempt to honor MLK on this blog, even as I privately thank God for making this country more just, fair and safe by the efforts of Dr. King.

On an unrelated note, thanks to all of you who gave me your blog links. I have updated my list, and I am glad to be using whatever very small degree of attention I get here to direct people elsewhere to good content that may or may not be receiving the readership it deserves. I know what it’s like to dwell in the world of Small and Insignificant blogs, and while I’m quite happy to occupy this terrain, I’ll do what I can for fellow bloggers of this realm. Thanks for linking to me, and thanks for reading this humble little webpage.

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