Monthly Archives: April 2009

Bruce Ware’s “Big Truths” Soaring at Amazon

wareIf you haven’t heard of theologian Bruce Ware’s latest book, Big Truths for Young Hearts, you’re one of the few.  The text is storming up the Amazon charts and has gotten as low as #500 (incredible!).

The happy little secret about this book is that, while targeted to children, it will work remarkably well for a number of different groups:

  • Children, particularly older children and especially teens
  • College discipleship groups
  • Church small-group Bible studies
  • Seminarian cramming (!)
  • Preaching and teaching
  • Much more

Buy this book.  In fact, buy several copies. Buy one for yourself and one or two for a Christian friend who is young in the faith and who will benefit greatly from Dr. Ware’s doxological theology, his unique blend of biblical reflection, theological expertise, and passionate personal engagement with the realities before him.

Praise God for teaching like this, that will serve so many different groups in the church.

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Piper-Carson Media Is Up

piperThis just in: the media for the Piper-Carson event is here.  The Desiring God blog has all the goods, and believe me, they are nice, as the event was shot in high-definition video.  If your computer can handle it, I highly recommend that you watch these talks and the Q&A through the video.

Here’s the announcement from the DG Blog:

“All the audio and video from The Pastor As Scholar and the Scholar As Pastor is now available.

The Henry Center, who hosted the event, appreciates the generosity of sponsors BibleMesh, Moody Press, Crossway, Christian Focus, and Coffee Ambassadors who helped make it happen.”

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As I said a few days ago, if you are interested in learning more about the pastor-theologian, check out these excellent resources, both of which I have read and loved:

1. He Is Not Silent by Al Mohler for three highly stimulating chapters on “The Pastor as Theologian”.

2. Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (IVP, out in July 2009).

Thanks to Eric Johnson, Lukas Naugle, David Mathis, and the DGM team for making these high-quality resources available for free.

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Atheists in the Lowcountry

From a story published today in the NYT:

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”

Purportedly, the number of atheists is rising:

“Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.”

There’s a challenge here for the Christian church.  Weneed to equip ourselves to meet the challenges of atheists in coming days more than we used to.  Atheism is not a boutique worldview.  It’s increasingly growing in cultural prominence, and our churches need to equip their members to meet the objections of atheists. 

This is not to say that we don’t still work to understand what Catholics, Jews, and Muslims believe.  We should.  But there is a definite trend toward atheism in our day, and it calls us to be prepared.

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Piper’s Pastor-Scholar Meditations

For those of you looking for the Piper-Carson video and audio, it will be here shortly.  I can’t wait for it to come!

Here’s a snippet for you while you wait.  From David Mathis at Desiring God last Thursday:

“John Piper was in Chicago this evening. He spoke at Park Community Church alongside Don Carson at an event hosted by the Henry Center called The Pastor As Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor.

John’s address was mainly autobiographical and titled “The Pastor As Scholar: A Personal Journey.” The manuscript is online, and we hope to have the audio and video soon.”

I’ll have that video and audio for you very soon, and I hope it’ll go wide and far.

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Reflections on The Gospel Coalition, Band of Bloggers, and Piper-Carson

carsonWhew.  It’s been quite a week.  Here’s my first opportunity to reflect on the three events I was involved with.

The Gospel Coalition

Ben Peays did a tremendous job with this conference.  It went off without a hitch.  The speakers all edified their audience and honored the Lord.  I personally enjoyed the panel discussion on Wednesday night the most.  I would commend that to all of you.  I love panel discussions when they’re done well.  Piper had a number of comments that cut me to the core.   I enjoyed Mark Driscoll’s very personal talk on Tuesday night.  Keller’s talk on exposing idols in preaching was first-rate.  Carson had very helpful comments on the limits of contextualization.  Piper demonstrated how to ground one’s preaching in the text.

TGC was excellent, and I am confident that many ministries were strengthened by it.  3300 people attended from all over the world. It was great to make many new friends and share fellowship with total strangers.  A number of times, I found myself connecting with total strangers who sat next to me in a session.  A little taste of heaven in the Stephens Conference Center.

I found myself with a new perspective on it and other events like it.  It’s very important not to attend to listen to superstar preaching or something like that.  It’s best to go, seek to learn from wise pastors, and keep God clearly in your sights.  I was reminded while at the conference how easy it is to get carried away by the excitement of such an event.  Better to be grateful for it (as I am) and keep a solid perspective.  The work of the local church is the engine of the kingdom.  It’s not high-profile, it’s often not appreciated or celebrated, but it is the foundation of our work for our Savior on this earth.

Praise God for raising up Don Carson, Tim Keller and others and allowing them to lead many churches in a gospel-centered, theologically robust, doctrinally reformed, culturally savvy direction.  May the work go far to the greater glory of our God.

Band of Bloggers

On Wednesday, I stood in for Timmy Brister as the host of the third annual Band of Bloggers gathering.  I was sorry that Timmy couldn’t attend, but family obligations necessitated that he care for his family.  Timmy’s cutting-edge vision drove this event.  Though he planned the conference from thousands of miles away (with the help of Ben Peays), he did a tremendous job.  He secured excellent speakers, a good lunch, and a bunch of books for all attendees.  Thank you, Timmy, for letting me be a part of the event–I look forward to seeing what the Lord does in and through you in days to come, brother.

I won’t go into the event details, but seven leading bloggers spoke on the theme of “Servants and Stewards”.  Each of them made a unique contribution.  I liked all of them, from my buddy Mike Anderson’s encouragement to “not be a hater”, to Steve McCoy’s entertaining thoughts on the arts and blogging, to Tony Reinke’s excellent and moving words on stewarding the wisdom of the ages.  After the seven guys spoke for seven minutes apiece, we had a panel discussion that was fun and funny.  Check the site for the audio–it’s well worth a download and a listen.

Piper-Carson at Park Community Church

The photo above is from last night’s Henry Center-sponsored event at Park Community Church in Chicago, IL.  With our title sponsor BibleMesh, we were grateful to be able to bring John Piper and Don Carson to speak on the topics “The Pastor as Scholar” and “The Scholar as Pastor”.  The high-definition video will be up ASAP at Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and the Henry Center–check there in the next few days.

Praise God for how this event played out.  A huge thank-you to our speakers, John Piper and Don Carson, who despite being tired put in absolutely excellent, God-glorifying work.  Thanks to my friend David Mathis for making this whole happen.  Thanks to the Park staff (senior pastor Jackson Crum, Joe Riccardi, JR Kerr, Jason Widney, Joseph Tenney, the talented Tim Schraeder, and the amazing Whitney Anderson) for making everything go so well.  By the grace of God, the crowd maxed out Park’s seating capacity (roughly 1600 people).  Make sure you watch the videos when they come out; here are Twitter comments from the event, many of them very encouraging.

I was so thankful for Desiring God’s Lukas Naugle and his exceptional team.  They do everything well.  Thank you, Lukas.  Ben Peays provided friendship and excellent counsel to me.  Tommy Lee helped set things up.  Andy Naselli did a great job, as always, with the live-blog. Thanks to Justin Taylor and Zach Nielsen, among others, for getting the word out through blogs.  Ryan Fields, Josh Gregersen, and Seth Richarson, Henry Center interns, worked tirelessly the whole week and did an incredible job.  Jeff DeGracia, Dave Dewit, James Kinnard and Barnabas Piper, and Willie Mackenzie all partnered with us as sponsors.  Please check out the list of books featured at the event at the end of this event to honor our sponsors, to whom we are grateful.

Most of all, thanks to Doug Sweeney for providing the vision of the pastor-theologian that drove this event.  Doug not only teaches this vision, he models it.  Thank you, Doug.  I am grateful to you for all that you do for the church of our Lord, and I look forward to seeing how He uses Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (IVP, out in July 2009) to raise up a generation of pastor-theologians whose hearts are set ablaze to bring the riches of theology to the ministry of His glorious gospel.

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And with that, the summary is concluded.  Thanks for reading, and may the Lord be pleased with the work of our hands.  Thank you, Lord, for letting dust like us do things for your renown.

Check out these links from our intrepid sponsors:

BibleMesh–online discipleship tool, full site coming very soon.

Moody Press–excellent publishing house currently putting out a ton of great books for the younger crowd; check out He Is Not Silent for three highly stimulating chapters on “The Pastor as Theologian”.  Al Mohler is a superb guide on these issues, and this book will help pastors to preach the Word faithfully.

CrosswayAdopted for Life is a must-read by one of our most provocative and influential theologians, Russ Moore.

Christian FocusFinally Alive by John Piper and Faith on Trial by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones are must-reads.

Coffee Ambassadorsdelicious coffee with a kingdom focus.

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At The Gospel Coalition

For the next three days, I’ll be at The Gospel Coalition.  I’ll try to do some updates from the conference, but I’m not sure how much posting I’ll be able to do.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months, and I’m excited for Band of Bloggers and the Piper-Carson event this Thursday night.  Blessings to all!

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What Men Should Be, and What They Often Are Not

bauchamVoddie Baucham’s new What He Must Be (Crossway, 2009) is a sound, pastoral, fatherly look at what boys must become to be leaders, husbands, and fathers.  I would like to commend it to you.

Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church of Spring, TX, and author of Family-Driven Faith, a book I liked very much, offers personal testimony to the importance of a father.  He speaks honestly and directly to the epidemic of fatherlessness in the African-American community.  For example, of the first cousins in his own family, “only eight of the twenty-three (35 percent) ever married.  Five of the eight (63 percent) who married have been divorced.  However, that number is a bit deceiving since one is deceased, one was widowed, and another is currently separated.  Thus, only one of my twenty-three first cousins is currently married and living with her spouse.  That represents less than one half of 1 percent!”

In light of such tragedy, Baucham commends the biblical model of the patriarch, the man of God whose personal strength extends to his family, his church, and his community.  His call is gospel-centered; the text never devolves into moralizing.  Throughout the book, Baucham mixes cultural commentary with biblical exegesis, offering the reader a clear, helpful, biblical guide on how we can train boys to be men of God.  He seems a fun, kind, warm, strong, courageous man, just the kind we need.

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Not all texts are so encouraging.  Joel Schwartzberg, author of “The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad”, shows us what we are up against in confronting the culture’s diminished, weightless, narcissistic version of masculinity.  Schwartzberg has published a version of this piece in the April 13 print version of Newsweek–it’s online here and is called “Slouching Toward Fatherhood”.

Having had my first child born not too long ago, I’m well positioned to review the piece as the author reminisces about his experience as a first-time dad.  Being a father or a mother for the first time is overwhelming, as most anyone can attest.  Parenthood fundamentally reorients life and focus in a 180-degree direction.  One no longer can focus on oneself; one now must focus on the child.

Schwartzberg covers what this is like:

“Nearly every night of the first few weeks of my son’s life, I’d click him into the back seat of our minivan and drive him around until he fell asleep. Like so many babies lulled by the humming of tires on pavement, the kid conked out in 10 minutes, but I’d continue on to the closest Dunkin’ Donuts with an all-night drive-thru window, nearly an hour away.

My wife and I made this arrangement to allow her some precious sleep, but as I volunteered for chauffeur duty again and again—each time coming home later and later—we both knew there was more going on than her exhaustion and my craving for doughnuts.  In the parking lot, I would pray my son would stay asleep and not set my already-frayed nerves on fire. I’d cram those doughnuts into my mouth as if they were the last delicious things on earth.”

Soon, depression set in:

I fell into a well of depression so deep I wasn’t even aware of it. It was only years later, after I spoke to a psychotherapist, that I learned I was experiencing male postpartum depression….This was not what I expected from fatherhood. I was 31 and thought I’d slide into it easily. “What’s a little sleep deprivation?” parents-to-be tell themselves. We got through college, after all. But not 48 hours after we returned home with our boy, a truth dawned on me with shocking force: my life was gone. Movies, sleeping, long showers—all gone. We became slaves to this tiny new thing living in our home, and there was no going back.”

Here’s how his poor wife responded:

“I ceded nearly complete authority to my wife, then blamed both her and my son for my feelings of loss and insignificance. I took on every parental responsibility with sucked-up reluctance on the outside and contempt on the inside. My wife seemed to consider me selfish and irresponsible. She was tired, she’d say, of parenting both of us. Even when the bickering ended, the wounds never healed. Our marriage took a fatal hit.”

The author hit a breaking point:

“One day, I sat on the hardwood floor next to my son, both of us exhausted. My son started crying. Then I did, too. Actually, we bawled. I don’t know why he was crying, but I was mourning the loss of my life as I knew it. As messy as it was, that shared sob was our first moment of bonding, and it helped steer me toward responsibility.”

This is where things are currently:

“Eventually, my wife and I divorced, but our split actually enhanced my relationship with my kids. (We had twin girls after my son.) It forced me to locate my inner parent, the one who tells me when it’s OK to let my son stay up late, when it’s appropriate to be interrupted on the phone by a whining daughter and whether a tense situation calls for stern rules or just an all-out, friendly family wrestling match.”

The unbridled narcissism of this piece takes one’s breath away like a tackle from a 300-pound linebacker.  Those in search of the purest self-focus need look no longer.  We have found it: 100% pure, undiluted selfishness.  The perfect specimen of irresponsibility, childishness, and excuse-making.

I understand, of course, what Schwartzberg means by this little article.  I commend him for his honesty, and I’m quite aware that many who would not confess their immaturity this baldly nevertheless live by the same socially destructive creed.  Children are tiring.  They altogether change one’s life.  They make it very hard to have fun at times.  There’s truth to what the author says.

But manhood as traditionally understood–no, adulthood–is all about maturity and responsibility.  It is about sacrifice.  It is about hard work.  One need not be a Christian to see this.  Adulthood, with men leading the way, is about exchanging a self-directed life for an others-directed one.  It involves trading small, easy pleasures for hard but hugely rewarding ones.

Schwartzberg and many others like him seem to have no concept of these basic facts.  One pities his poor, suffering wife and his children.  In the face of his “depression”, they lose.  He wins.  He gets to move out and do whatever he wants, while his wife raises three children, cooks their meals, cleans the house, and does the million other things a mom has to do.  Quite a bargain for our liberated author!

Schwartzberg began a family, and he destroyed it.  He is totally and completely to blame for this situation.  It is all of his fault.  Even apart from the Spirit, he is to be shamed for what he has done to his ex-wife and children.  His actions are deplorable, and nothing can excuse them.

Even as we tremble with anger at examples like his–and they are legion today–we are reminded to pray for him and countless other men.  Schwartzberg does not have the Holy Spirit.  He does not know Jesus Christ.  He desperately needs to, as we all do.  We must pray for the Lord to rescue our society and reverse the crisis of fatherless and male abdication of traditional roles.

Above all, we must pray and work for the spread of the gospel so that sorrowful men like this one–and like all of us sinners, whatever our chief transgression against God may be–may find the only hope of the race: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Unfashionable: Making a Difference By Being Different

tullian1Tullian Tchividjian’s brand new Unfashionable by Multnomah publishers is a bold text with a clear point to Christians: stop trying to win people to Christ by your coolness.  Do so by your godliness, your unfashionable Christlikeness, that stands out in this fallen world like a Yankees cap at a Red Sox game.

I flat-out recommend the book (available Tuesday, April 21, 2009).  I read most of it in one sitting because I so enjoyed Tullian’s mix of clear, punchy writing, his citation of key cultural thinkers, his handling of scriptural texts and themes, and his strong pastoral counsel.  Tullian is now the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, the former church of deceased pastor D. James Kennedy.  He is a leader, a Christian man who thinks deeply and lives passionately, and his book transmits these qualities.  His message, in the end, sticks–don’t concern yourself with coolness, but godliness.

The book is readable, short, but stimulating.  Tullian, like the present author, loves thinking, reading, and talking about the relationship of Christ to culture.  He’s read, well, everything, and he’s got a developed position on how the biblical theme of the kingdom fits into the life of the ordinary Christian.  I came away profoundly challenged to heed the Bible’s simple call to live differently in the world as an agent of Christ and His gospel.   You–and your small group, or pack of friends, or whomever–will hear the same bold and invigorating call in this text.

Unfashionable shows us why we need pastors to write theology–they so often write it with an imperatival thrust.  Tullian clearly gets the high-level discussion on Christ and culture, and he doesn’t shortchange it, but he does distill it and make it sensible to the reader.  He doesn’t merely teach, though–he preaches.  He gets to your soul, and makes you want to get out of your box and live as salt and light in the world.

In closing, I highly commend the book, as with Tullian’s ministry.  See a CBN interview with him here (wouldn’t normally recommend CBN stuff, but this is a solid, helpful interview on what conversion does to a sinner).  If I could make a few small critiques, I would have liked a bit more focus on the content of the gospel and the workings and significance of special grace.  Common grace is important and underemphasized, but it must take a backseat to special grace, I think.

These very brief words aside, I urge you to buy and soak up this book, and to pray for Tullian in his new and exciting pastoral charge.  He is a gracious, kind man of God, and I look forward to much more from him in days to come.  Live differently and passionately, Christian–but don’t even think about wearing a Yankees cap to a Red Sox game.

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The Link 4.17.09: God’s Will, Ware’s Teaching, and CEO Salaries

1. Kevin DeYoung has just written a really fun and helpful book called Just Do Something about God’s will.  I highly recommend it.  Very quick read, and dispels a lot of confusion about this most agonizing of subjects.  I liked it so much, I picked up my copy of DeYoung’s Why We’re Not Emergent and am loving that, too.  Pick them both up–Moody Publishers hit a home run with each.

2. Bruce Ware, theologian and churchman, has just written a terrific mini-systematic theology for children called Big Truths for Young Hearts.  It’s coming on market in two weeks.  I would recommend it for all people, not just children and the parents who raise them.

While I love Dr. Ware’s writing and teaching, though, I personally enjoyed the foreword most.  My wife, Bethany, daughter of Dr. Ware, wrote it with her lovely sister, Rachel.  Sorry to everyone out there–Bethany’s my favorite author by a long shot!

Here’s what theologian Russ Moore said about the book in his glowing review:

“My favorite part, though, is the foreword. The foreword is written by Bethany Strachan and Rachel Ware, the daughters of Bruce and Jodi Ware. I teared up as I read their words about their Dad. They talked about how Bruce would teach them as they grew up, sometimes by singing hymns, sometimes as they drove along on trips, sometimes on one-on-one dinners together. They write: “Dad really believes the things that are in this book.”

They further write: “To parents: it may sound cliche, but we followed our father’s teaching in part because he practiced what he preached.”

Moments after I read those words, I said, through tears, to a friend in a similar context: “Oh, how I pray one day our children could write words about loving and following the same gospel we’ve preached and taught. I can think of no greater blessing in this life.”

Dr. Ware is an exceptional teacher and thinker, but he is a better father, as I have seen firsthand.  He deserves the foreword his daughters wrote, and his book will help countless parents train up their children in the things that matter most in this world.

3. What CEOs make.  Just thought you might want to know.

4. See you next week at the Piper-Carson event, sponsored by BibleMesh.  If you can’t come, make sure you check back for the recorded material.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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De-Baptism? Another Crunching Blow to State Religion in England

debaptism_0414A story just posted at Time.com, “De-Baptism Gains a Following in Britain”, details a new practice in Great Britain: buying a “de-baptism” certificate.  The story author, William Lee Adams, reports on the story:

“More than 100,000 former Christians have downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” in a bid to publicly renounce the faith, according to the London-based National Secular Society (NSS).

The campaign has become so popular — with nearly 1,000 certificates downloaded each week — that the NSS has started taking orders for certificates printed on parchment, at $4.50 each; they’ve sold nearly 2,000 in just three weeks. “Every time the Pope says something outrageous we get another rush on the certificate,” Sanderson says, noting that traffic to the site skyrocketed last month following Pope Benedict XVI’s comment that condoms could worsen the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.”

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I read the piece with a mixture of feelings.  I’m sad to see many people distance themselves from any link to Christianity.  From an evangelical perspective, Britain is not faring well, though renewal movements do seem to be exerting an influence in this and many other countries.

On the other hand, I am glad to see a reaction against nominal Christianity, which may even be worse as an enemy of true Christianity than outright paganism.  When one is far from Christianity and knows it, one is perhaps more likely to come to some point of spiritual crisis.  It seems much more difficult for a nominal Christian who fears no spiritual crisis due to the assurance given them by their baptism to reach a crisis point that leads to faith.

Whatever one’s ultimate opinion about de-baptism and its significance, one is reminded by this story to pray for English Christians, who are living in the kind of society that we might see one day.  America is different from Britain in many ways, but it too has a strong tradition of nominal Christianity and weakening historic denominations.

We are also reminded to seek a faith for the people of our churches that invests the sacred rites of the church with all the importance Christ Himself gave to them.  Baptism is not meant to be a mere ritual, but is a mark of the church, a symbol of personal faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the One whose majesty shatters both outright atheism and lukewarm faith.

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