Monthly Archives: March 2009

Phil Ryken on James Boice: What Young Pastors Can Learn from Godly Mentors

In the latest issue of 9Marks, which I blogged a while back, Phil Ryken, one of my pastoral heroes, has written a brief but engrossing article called “What Would Jim Do?” about his early experience at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church under James Boice, the venerable minister.  Here are a few selections from the article, which I highly commend:


Over the course of 180 years, Tenth Presbyterian has been blessed with long pastorates. Five of our twelve ministers served for 25 years or more, including Dr. Boice, who preached at Tenth for 32 years. Such consistency in the pulpit is crucial for the long-term health of an urban congregation, where turnover is constant. Early in his ministry Dr. Boice made a personal commitment not to leave the church except for some extraordinary providence. No one can ever know the future, of course, but I too have prayed for a long ministry in the same church.


Anyone familiar with Dr. Boice’s ministry will know that he was exceptionally productive. He wrote or edited nearly 60 books, including many Bible commentaries. He started a Christian school, sustained a radio ministry on over 400 stations around the country, served as one of the primary architects for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, co-founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and did a good many other things besides. Needless to say, he was an extremely hard worker, as every pastor must be. He did not waste time, which is a temptation that every wise pastor learns to avoid. He was well read, not just in theology, but also in history, literature, and contemporary culture. One of Dr. Boice’s practices has been especially helpful for me to emulate: each week he revised the previous week’s sermon for publication—a regular discipline that makes a huge difference over a span of years.”


One of the things that most warms my heart is pastoral mentorship and training.  There is an increased interest in this sort of thing, but there is still a great deal of room for growth in this area in many of our churches.  I love that Dr. Boice, an eminent man, seemed not to take himself too seriously, but invested deeply in the work of God as mediated through the people he worked with.  It is especially encouraging to read of a leading pastor transferring leadership of his church to his younger charge without hostility or awkwardness.  That shows a remarkable degree of maturity.

Here’s hoping that in years to come, the pastors of many of our congregations will take time to train up a successor (and many other young pastors besides) and will then transition well out of ministry.  There is a generation growing older by the day, and we need leaders to take their place.

Beyond this, any person, and any Christian, can catch a vision for discipleship and mentoring.  One by no means needs to be a pastor to do this, and one can only help by throwing oneself into this kind of work.  In doing so, one follows a certain figure who walked this earth some 2000 years ago, and who made it a primary concern of His to train up the generation that followed.  May we do the same.

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The Link 3.27.09: State Department Faxes, Would-Be Athletes, and Hip-Hop Souls

fax1. A fun and often funny look at the fax machine from Culture 11 (great site to check often–photo is its own).  Many true points here, especially on the matter of how uncertain actual reception of a fax can be.

On this point, I remember the strange and frustrating experience of sending faxes to the Green Zone in Baghdad when I worked at the State Department.  I had to send documents to an office working nearly half a mile away from the one machine accessible to my contact.  Needless to say, it was memorable.

2. A deeply revealing and even moving story of one boy’s dream to be a pro basketball player.  In contrast to the needlessly and harmfully professional taint of much of this boy’s life, the last page has an affecting story that shows that he is just a boy, a sweet child, one who should not have to handle the things he does on a daily basis.

3. At one American high school, there are no more As and Bs, but 4s and 3s.  Hilarious and telling.

4. Some think the White House is flailing as it tries to handle its problems.  It may be, but one is reminded to pray for our president and our country–stakes are high these days.

5. Drew Dixon, a buddy of mine, recommends Trip Lee, a talented Christian rapper.  You’ve got a hipster’s style, Drew, but a hip-hop soul.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Where Writers Write: A BBC Photo Slideshow

My friend Jared Compton passed on word of this highly interesting photo collection, put together as an audio slideshow on the BBC News website (three minutes long):

“In a new exhibition, award winning photographer Eamonn McCabe, draws together a selection of works from his project illustrating the working environments of novelists, biographers and poets.

“I have always enjoyed photographing loners. When I was covering sport it was boxers in their gyms. Now I’m older, I enjoy photographing writers, poets and artists. The one thing they all have in common is that they work alone.”


I don’t know about you, but I love this sort of thing and wish that I could have gone to this show (it’s over, apparently–here’s hoping for a book!).  I love seeing where people work and what they surround themselves with.  Of course, with many young folks, I have “office daydreams” that flit through my mind, visions of my future workplace that generally involve massive picture windows and the Maine coastline (all certain to be fulfilled, I’m sure).

A great book on this subject is Where Men Hide by James Twitchell.  For the environment-curious, an absolute must-own.


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The Globalization of Cheating: The Chronicle on Essay Mills

essaymillDid that brilliant essay come from your student–or from somewhere far, far away?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an engrossing story entitled “Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply” by Thomas Bartlett.  It tackles this question, and is quite worth a read (photo: The Chronicle).

The gist of the situation:

“Everyone knows essay mills exist. What’s surprising is how sophisticated and international they’ve become, not to mention profitable.

In a previous era, you might have found an essay mill near a college bookstore, staffed by former students. Now you’ll find them online, and the actual writing is likely to be done by someone in Manila or Mumbai. Just as many American companies are outsourcing their administrative tasks, many American students are perfectly willing to outsource their academic work.”

Profile of an essay-mill writer:

“James Robbins is one of the good ones. Mr. Robbins, now 30, started working for essay mills to help pay his way through Lamar University, in Beaumont, Tex. He continued after graduation and, for a time, ran his own company under the name Mr. Essay. What he’s discovered, after writing hundreds of academic papers, is that he has a knack for the form: He’s fast, and his papers consistently earn high marks. “I can knock out 10 pages in an hour,” he says. “Ten pages is nothing.”

One student’s need for help on a paper on Christ:

“[One student] paid Essay Writers $100 to research and write a paper on the parables of Jesus Christ for his New Testament class. This senior at James Madison University majoring in philosophy and religion, defends the idea of paying someone else to do your academic work, comparing it to companies that outsource labor. “Like most people in college, you don’t have time to do research on some of these things,” he says. “I was hoping to find a guy to do some good quality writing.”

And his subsequent (and amusingly ironic) epiphany:

“The philosophy-and-religion major who bought a paper for his New Testament class still doesn’t think students should have to do their own research. But he has soured on essay mills after the paper he received from Essay Writers did not meet his expectations. He complained, and the company gave him a 30-percent refund. As a result, he had an epiphany of sorts. Says [the student]: “I was like — you know what? — I’m going to write this paper on my own.”


There are many things to discuss in this piece, but the main point that jumps out at me is the ease with which sin can be commercialized in our world.  Man possesses ingenuity and ambition, and it is scary to see what he can accomplish when he sets his mind to enfranchise evil.  In this article, one gets a glimpse of just how much hard work goes into the abhorrent and ethically disgusting practice of essay-writing by proxy.

The fact that a student paid for an essay on Christ is an act so pregnant with irony one can scarcely wrap one’s mind around it.  It is of course disheartening to see that this irony utterly escapes the student in question in this article, and that only performance and market-driven concerns could end his association with essay mills.  Morality and ethics have nothing to do with such decisions; only results and money factor in.

There’s an insight here for Christians and pastors.  Many–though certainly not all–people live with an intellectual and ethical grid that is largely scrubbed of traditional moral concern.  Many of the people we meet make decisions based on convenience and results.  It is not that Christian moral ideas matter little to them; it is that they do not matter at all.

Finally, one can only wonder how widespread this practice is in the secular academy and also the Christian institution.  I suspect that the reality is far worse than one might think.  Perhaps that flash of brilliance one saw in class as a student read his paper came not from that student, but from some poor soul pounding away on a computer in Manila.


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Pickup Basketball, Ethical Fabrics, and the “Larry Bird” Moment

My erstwhile blog partner Stanley Fish has just written a post called “My Life on the Court” for the NYT on how much he loves basketball.  I found it quite enjoyable, and you might too, especially if you enjoy pickup basketball.

Fish’s love affair with basketball:

“I have been playing basketball since I was seven years old. That’s more than 60 years, and as March Madness moves into full swing, I find myself thinking about the game and my addiction to it.

It isn’t skill. I can do two things — shoot from the outside and run. (I don’t get tired.) I dribble as little as possible. I drive to the basket once a decade; I’ve blocked two shots in my entire life, and if white men can’t jump, this white Jewish man really can’t jump. Maybe twice a year my shot is on and I feel I can’t miss. On days like that I think that I’ve finally arrived and can’t wait for the next game. But when game day rolls around again and I get out on the court, I find that I have regressed to my usual level, which is several degrees south of mediocre.”

Fish’s “Larry Bird” moment:

“In all these years I have had two triumphs. Once when I was playing on the beach-side courts in Laguna Beach, every shot went in. The other players, black and Latino, started to yell, “Larry Bird, Larry Bird.” I knew it was a joke, but I savored the moment anyway.”

The “ethical fabric” of pickup basketball:

“Why continue to do something I wasn’t any good at nine times out of ten? Well for one thing basketball players are by and large generous. (There are exceptions.) If you’re not very skilled, if you’re old and slow, they will make a place for you in the game. In his recent book “Give and Go: Basketball as a Cultural Practice,” Thomas McLaughlin speaks of the ethical practices that emerge in the course of a game even though no rules have imposed them: “Every time one of the players in our game says to a weak player as he is taking an open shot that he will likely miss ‘Good shot,’ he is weaving the ethical fabric of the game.”

I have often been the beneficiary of that ethical fabric, even when those weaving me into it are perfect strangers. For one of the great things about being a basketball player (or pretending to be one) is that no court is closed to you which is why I always have a basketball in the trunk of my car. You can just show up wherever there is a hoop and a game and you will be included. (This holds also in foreign countries where there may be a language barrier, but never a basketball barrier.)”


I resonated deeply with Fish’s basketball experience, though I would add that there are a good number of difficult moments one can have on the court.  It is nonetheless fascinating to think on a sociological level about the ethics of pickup basketball, or any other sport.  Man is an ethical creature, and anyone who plays sports will find that though it seems full of creativity, it is in fact bounded by all kinds of written and unwritten ethical and logistical rules.

With that said, it’s not the rules of the game one necessarily celebrates–it’s the “Larry Bird” moments, few and fleeting as they are.


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The Link 3.20.09: Abortion Arguments, Troubled Political Families, and Dever on Multi-Site Churches

1. Vitamin Z has a great interview on a robust pro-life way of thinking and acting with Scott Klusendorf, author of a new and important book called The Case for Life (very highly recommended by Justin Taylor).

Here’s a very moving quotation from the interview in which Klusendorf describes how he left malaise on this point and became a pro-life advocate: “Gregg’s signature quote haunts me to this day: “Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.” That’s a staggering truth. Every time I tempted to quit, I remember it.”

A glowing endorsement of Klusendorf’s book:

“The Case for Life is a veritable feast of helpful information about pro-life issues, the finest resource about these matters I have seen. It is accessible to the layperson, and it lays out a strategy for impacting the world for a culture of life.”
J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author of Kingdom Triangle

2. A British study has shown seemingly indisputable evidence that same-sex education has significantly improved the performance of girls.

3. This book on the troubled lives of political families looks very interesting.  Hope to read it soon.

4. Will Gray, a Christian and a maker of excellent hip-hop, gets a great review from a Paste Magazine writer (that’s a big deal, fyi–Paste is a musical authority).

5. Mark Dever pens a very provocative piece that touches on his view of multi-site churches, paedo-baptism, and a rubric for addressing controversial church issues. (HT: JT)

–Have a great weekend, all.

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The Sweetness of Sport: ESPN on Small-School Basketball

kentuckyball“With another 100-point night in the books, the Elliott County Lions have adjourned to the Penny Mart (“Deli-Propane-Lotto” reads the sign). Here, playing rook amid the motor oil and fishing hooks and canned goods, they are rural royalty. The chicken wings, cheeseburgers and slushies are free for the boys after every game, enthusiastically provided by proprietor Bobbie Howard.” (photo: Randy Evans)

Thus begins a terrific ESPN piece by Pat Forde called “Daring to Dream” that profiles a tiny Kentucky high school basketball team’s quest to win the state tournament.  I found it at Stones Cry Out, a very nicely done blog by Patrick Schreiner, a student at SBTS.

Here’s more:

“And they’ve made believers out of less-famous hoops fanatics like Jim McGuire, who drives 254 miles round-trip from Bryantsville, Ky., for every game — not because the grocery store owner and retired Army man has a relative on the team, or any other connection to Elliott County. Just because of the way the Lions play — leading the state in scoring (86.3 points per game) and victory margin (31.4 points). The Lions have maxed out at 132 points in a game and have topped 100 five times.

“I started watching them last year and fell in love with them,” McGuire said, red slushie in his hand at the Penny Mart after watching Elliott County crush Fleming County 105-60 on Feb. 12. “They’re more fun than any team I’ve ever watched.”

A slice of life in the team’s hometown (sounds familiar):

“Life for Dale Ferguson includes operating Ralph’s Market #2 in Isonville — the second of his father’s two grocery/convenience/anything-and-everything stores in the area. As the sign on the roof reads, “If we don’t have it, we’ll get it.” (The unwritten subtitle, according to Dale: “If we can’t get it, you don’t need it.”)

A copy of the Ten Commandments is posted outside, above the front door. To the right of that is a sign saying the store is “an official wildlife check station.” Two old, non-digital gas pumps sit out front.”

The article closes with this:

“The postgame party is breaking up at the Penny Mart. Because of the Senior Night festivities and a doubleheader with the girls’ team, the game against Fleming County ran late and now it’s after midnight. Jim McGuire needs to make the 127-mile drive back to Bryantsville, and the boys need to be in school in the morning.

The Faulkners are handed some maroon and white balloons to take home, trappings of the party. They hug Bobbie Howard and thank her, for the umpteenth time, for her generosity.”


This piece takes me back to my high-school days, playing ball in Maine, with hundreds of people coming out to games against cross-town rivals.  There is something special and elusive about high school basketball.  Such a rush of promise that sweeps over a community when a team is clicking along.  Sports really do possess communal power.  (Watch this video of the team for proof).

And, of course, it’s extremely fun to hear about a tiny school beating the biggest schools in the state.  I’m rooting for this little team, and I would encourage you to read about them.  They seem to play with joy, something that’s missing from so many sports teams out there.  Sport is a gift of God, an opportunity to revel in pure fun and teamwork, and it’s exceedingly pleasant to see that lived out, however unacknowledged the gift may be.

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The Danger of Identifying with Ambient Culture

obamaFrom a provocative piece on President Obama called “Showered with Praise” from The Weekly Standard:

“Obama is the candidate for those who believe that the New York Times Book Review defines civilization, and Obama will be their revenge. He is Metro, not Retro. He is not from Texas, and doesn’t talk southern. He does not have a ranch, which he does not cut brush on. He has never run anything, but they haven’t either. He does talk and write, which are their professions. He doesn’t look like the men on Mount Rushmore, but then, they don’t either. (Instead, he looks like a catalogue model, or someone in the window of Barney’s or Saks.) He was endorsed, not by the NRA, but by the fashion industry, whose members designed whole collections around him. Not only the Times, but Condé Nast, loves him. He is Woody Allen’s Manhattan to Gary Cooper’s High Noon.”

We all votes for candidates we like, of course, but there’s something in this piece that chills my blood when I think about the Christian church.  Many people who keep their eye on the American cultural elite and avant-garde voted for Obama because, well, the elite and avant-garde were doing it.  I expect this voting method of people with little philosophical and theological orientation.

But it occurred to me in reading this piece that many Christians–people, ostensibly, with a profoundly philosophical and theological orientation–voted for Obama because the elite and avant-garde were.  This does not chill my blood merely because of Obama’s views on abortion, stem cells, and the like.  It would alarm me if the candidate were conservative as well.

In a celebrity, media-driven, personality-celebrating culture, many of us care more about whether someone has an iMac, drives a flex-fuel car, and likes our favorite magazines and cult blogs than whether they stand for life and truth.  This seems true of many Christians.  We’re voting and living based more on mood, on feeling, on impressions, on personality, than we are on lasting, durable, rock-solid things, things that have shape and form and character.

Are we doing the same thing in our churches?  Are we bowing to ambient culture and letting “the cool” or “the impressive” lead us simply because they are cool or impressive (or whatever else)?  If so, we are in danger.  We’re not to identify with passing things, but eternal things; not shifting sands, but foundations that stand all of time’s tests.

Furthermore, it is not the cool who need us (indeed, we should not and do not need them, by definition of our calling), but the poor, helpless, defenseless, and lost.  These people should draw our attention, not the cool.


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Dude, You’re Not Mark Driscoll, and Other Ways to Find a Pastoral Identity


9Marks just released its new eJournal on helping young pastors. I highly commend it to you–it looks very, very helpful.

I had a thought on this topic.  It strikes me that young pastors, which I hope will one day include me, need to emulate our leaders and heroes, but only to a point.  We need to proceed with care and caution in a way that men with outsize personalities and gifts do not, in many cases.

If you don’t have Mark Dever’s pastoral gifts, don’t purge your church rolls right away.  Be careful.  Build goodwill and trust.  Don’t think that just because Capitol Hill Baptist or Bethlehem Baptist or Mars Hill did something one way, that that is the only way to make change and growth happen.  The Lord works, but He generally works through personalities, all of which are different.  Knowing that might save a lot of us young guys a lot of needless heartbreak.

Everyone rightly fears the intramural basketball player who has the self-conception of Michael Jordan but the talent level of the waterboy.  So too do lay Christians rightly have concerns about the guy who thinks he’s John MacArthur but who, in God’s providence, is not.

There is tremendous and way underappreciated good in self-awareness.  Self-awareness is not in style right now.  Self-promotion is.  Self-deception, painfully, seems to be as well.  In a highly modifiable world, we’re all celebrities, we’re all noteworthy, we’re all talented, we’re all beautiful, we’re all deep thinkers, and we’re all worthy of lots of attention.  Most of this is not true, and this pattern of thinking harms us greatly as we prepare for our callings.

So we need to ground our identities not in Facebook profiles or Myspace images, but in Jesus Christ, who has made us new beings, who has literally redefined every atom of our metaphysical and existential existence.  Then, we need to take a good long look at ourselves, an honest, humble look, and assess where our gifts and strengths lie.  How much do people naturally follow us?  What is our best style of leadership given our personalities?  How can we contribute to kingdom work?

This kind of sober self-analysis, which comprehends the best of our strengths and the worst of our flaws, will set us up well to live, firstly, and to minister, secondly.  It will help us to realize what we should set out to accomplish, even as we remember that our God can do far, far more than we might initially think.

So that would help, I think, a lot of young guns who set out to be the next big thing.  That, and not talking like their hero.  How many guys do you run across who actually adopt the speech patterns of their heroes, and never realize it?  Yikes.  For such folks, copious amounts of self-awareness are recommended.

Don’t talk like someone else.  Be yourself.  Young would-be pastor, look yourself in the mirror in the morning before you start the day and gently intone these words: Dude, you’re not Mark Driscoll.


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The Link 3.13.09: New Calvinism and Facebook Flaming

new-calv1. Neo-Calvinists, restless young theologians, we have been discovered by the secular media.  Time magazine just included “The New Calvinism” as one of its ten world-changing ideas (HT: JT).  This makes sense.  We are a weirdly fascinating bunch.  We defy a lot of the stereotypes held by non-Christians.  We’re thoughtful, culturally attuned, fun, and even cool (gasp).  Sure, we’ve got the whole Draconian predestination thing going on, but hey, we were predestined to believe it, right?

In all seriousness, someone should do a tv series on a neo-Reformed church plant.  How fun would that be?  Churches have all kinds of drama.  Secular producers do not know this because they do not like us.  But they’re sitting on a gold mine.  Seriously, someone should do a show based on Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.  It would be insanely popular.  You heard it here.

2. Has anyone ever considered that the ultimate irony of the website/book Stuff White People Like is that, well, white people like it?  I find that really, really funny.  Lady Irony cuts sharp!

3. Because, when it comes to new media criticism, I have a brand going and I can’t disappoint, here’s a funny and cutting Weekly Standard piece on Facebook.

4. Southern Seminary PhD student Dave Schrock reviews NT scholar Simon Gathercole’s new book.  Very thorough.

–Have a great weekend, all.

(Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni for TIME)


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