Don’t Read Fast… Read Slowly

John Pipers book Brothers We Are Not Professionals has some great wisdom. With regards to pastors and their reading he says that we should not be skimming books, or trying to keep up with Pastor Jones. This feeds pride and breeds spiritual barrenness. Piper quotes Charles Spurgeon, A student will find that his mental constitution is more effected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.

Piper then says: the point is not to read many books. The point is to stay alive in your soul, to keep the juices flowing, to fan the flame again on Monday and have it burning bright on Saturday night.

The advice Piper gives on reading is great – plan, discipline yourself to read 20 mins in the morning, twenty minutes after lunch and 20 mins before bed. If your an average reader in term so of speed this would mean you read 36 books in a year!

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God The Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole

The Atonement, according to Graham Cole, does not just bring us great spiritual benefits as Christians, but it should also have a ‘physical’ impact on us. It should bring us peace. Christ’s death and resurrection should allow us to live lives controlled by Christ’s love. It is a life, as Cole writes, which pursues mercy-showing and shalom-making as agents of peace, in evangelism and witness.

In this study of the atonement, Cole examines why there was the need for the atonement, the effects of Christ’s death and the aftermath of living post-atonement. In all of this, Cole’s underlying point is that atonement (should) bring us shalom – peace. There is no shalom with God without sacrifice. Peace is made through the blood of the cross. And ultimately the goal is God’s glory. Why did God create? Why salvation history? Why the Cross? Why a new heaven and a new earth? So that we might glorify God.

As part of this discussion Cole examines in-depth the various view of atonement, especially christus victor and of course penal substitution. This is as clear a presentation of these two models as I have read. And Cole’s conclusion acknowledges that both the christus victor and penal substitution are vital in understanding the ‘why’ Christ died and in explaining ‘what’ happened when died and rose again.
Cole writes: Any delineation of the atonement centerpiece needs to do justice not only to penal substitution but also to the christus victor motif.. .

This book gives you the framework to actually live out the atonement in everyday life. It gives you BOTH the theology and the response, which makes it a great addition to the books on the atonement which are available.

I highly recommend it. Go buy it HERE

Dr Ashley Null

This past weekend we had the pleasure of Ashley Null preaching at our Church. Ashley is a Canon Theologian and a Lecturer in Berlin in Anglican Tradition. He has written a tremendous book on Thomas Cramner’s theology, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love. He was in town for the Mere Anglicanism Conference (again, highly recommended).

It was a joy to spend a little time with him. Here is his sermon:

Sunday Sermon 24 January 2010

Gospel Powered Parenting: How The Gospel Shapes And Transforms Parenting by William Farley

Parenting is hard. It is a mixture of joy, laughter, tears, sadness, disappointment (with self and with your children), struggles, rewards, satisfaction, fear, worry, contentment, thanksgiving and a hundred other adjectives.

Parenting books and especially Christian parenting books are plentiful – all with advice, plans, schedules and more advice on how to parent `successfully’.

This is an interesting addition to the `Parenting’ library.

Farley’s main point is that there is little direct biblical instruction on parenting. And the reason for this is that the Gospel is (or at least should be) the tutorial that informs our parenting.

Farley begins with five assumptions which parents must hold – and then he unpacks these five assumptions throughout the book. The five are:

1. effective Christian parents assume that parenting will not be easy but that rewards will ultimately make it worth while
2. effective Christian parents are willing to hold God’s sovereignty and their responsibility in tension
3. effective Christian parents assume an offensive mindset. They pursue their child’s heart – they do everything possible to make the gospel attractive. The gospel is the focus and goal for the parent NOT protecting their children from worldly influence
4. effective Christian parents are shrewd about new birth. They do not assume it. They understand the nature of new birth and they carefully look for its symptoms.
5. Effective Christian parents labor to focus their families on God not their children.

There is much in this book which is not politically correct in our society today. For example he advocates the use of corporal discipline (spanking). And, he says, a spanking SHOULD hurt the child. However, once the child is spanked, you should hold them. Much of modern society and many in the Christian church would disagree with that.

Also, I found the chapter on `Gospel Fathers’, which expresses his view of headship, unbalanced. I do not think he portrayed a biblical or balanced view on headship and that was frustrating. In fact, the way he wrote the chapter suggested to me he really does not understand biblical headship. Rather than coming across as someone who advocates Biblical headship (which I advocate) he simply came across as a male chauvinist. Biblical headship has two sides of the coin – a wife IS to submit to her husband – but the husband is to love his wife AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH. Farley never mentions this side of headship in the book – the dying of the husband for his wife – he only mentions the wife submitting to the husband and when you present only ONE side of biblical headship it comes across as male domination.

Farley’s main premise; that the Gospel should shape and be at the center of our parenting is of course right. Not necessarily because it is THE right parenting model – but because as Christians the Gospel SHOULD shape EVERY aspect of our lives. So on one level this book should be redundant. Of course we should be parenting from a foundation of the gospel. The fact that there is a need for this book shows just how far the gospel can be from being the center of everything we do. The next book could be “Gospel Powered Employee”, then the “Gospel Powered Employer” or “Gospel Powered School Teacher” etc.

Another thing this book (and other parenting books) do not develop (although I guess its partially covered under #2 of his assumptions) is what happens when you follow ALL of this and still your child does not respond. The mantra is too often “My child was rebellious but now they are a perfect son / daughter.” Perhaps we need a book which is written by a godly parent who parented in a gospel powered fashion, and it did not work – that the child rebelled and continued to rebel. For the danger of these type of books is they can subconsciously suggest that if you follow this path your child WILL be fine. Sometimes children are not fine. And many a good parent loses their child to a life of rebellion through no fault of the parent, but because we are steeped in sin and sometimes people do not respond to the gospel. And that is hard.

Having said all that – I would still encourage parents to read this book. There is much to be gleaned from its pages.

Why We Love The Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

This is the second book from DeYoung and Kluck (although both have authored other books individually). Their first joint book was Why We’re Not Emergent, which was a critical look at the emergent movement.

This book continues the offensive against ‘emergent’ or post-modern Christian thinking regarding the church. The authors say that the book is for the committed, the disgruntled, the waffling and the disconnected. And their aim is to try and show that the emerging approach to ‘church’ and especially it’s extreme negativity and even outright rejection to the traditional mode of church is damaging, unhelpful and more importantly unbiblical. As they write, church is not…

….three guys drinking  pumpkin spiced lattes at Starbucks talking about the spirituality of the  Violent Femmes and why Sex and the City is really profound. I mean the  local church that meets-wherever you want it to meet-but exults in the  cross of Christ; sings songs to a holy and loving God; has church officers,  good preaching, celebrates the sacraments, exercises discipline; and takes  an offering. This is the church that combines freedom and form in corporate  worship, has old people and young, artsy types and NASCAR junkies….

They acknowledge that the church is flawed and messed up but that is not reason enough to simply dump it, not to constantly rip it apart. Also, they decry much of the statistics which proclaim the ‘death’ or ‘demise’ of the church. As they write, when over a hundred million people in this country attend church  at least once a month, it seems a bit of a hyperbole to suggest that the church  in America is about to disappear into thin air.

There is value in the traditional, (that is program oriented, structured, pastor led) church…

….I’m also glad that my church is “organized.” I’m glad I know where to  put my toddler on Sunday morning. I’m glad somebody was institutional  enough to think through topics for a Sunday school class or two. I’m glad my  pastor, rather than just freewheeling it, cares enough to study Scripture and  a bookshelf full of dead authors to give me real spiritual food each Sunday.  I’m glad somebody leads a social outreach ministry to those less fortunate  in our area. I’m glad somebody (not me) makes sure the kids are learning  something biblical in their classes. It is, at its most basic, organized religion.  And I love it….

DeYoung and Kluck equate a dissatisfaction with the church with a relaxing of  orthodox theology; “substitutionary atonement,” “justification  by faith alone,” “the necessity of faith and repentance,” “the utter inability  of man to save himself,” and “the centrality of the cross and resurrection” and their concern is for such people five or ten years down the road. For the authors, while the ‘traditional’ church  has problems there are the checks and balances, especially theologically, which can stop a descent into heresy or error.

This is not a polemic against fresh expressions of church or house churches. They can be valuable. What the authors emphasize is that “house  church” in America often means anticlergy, antiauthority, antiliturgy, anti-sermon,   antibuilding, anti-most ways of doing church over the past 1,700  years. And that is not right.

One area where I think DeYoung and Kluck get wrong in the book  is they under estimate, to the point of dismissal, the influence of Constantine and his legacy in the modern church. One of their final attacks is against the notion that the influence of Constantine may have to some extent derailed the early church, and left a legacy which we feel even today. They write…

Not only does it strain credulity past the breaking point to think that  buildings caused the wheels to fall off the unstoppable church bus, it’s also  unhelpfully idealistic. No wonder so many people are disillusioned with the  church today. They think it was nigh unto perfect back in the good old days.  And then came institutionalism, or Constantine, or Christendom, or Greek  thinking, or the Enlightenment, or modernism, or systematic theology, or  Old Princeton, or whatever your boogeyman looks like. The church used to  be a rockin,’ sweet place, and then, bam!, it all fell apart, and now we are  finally enlightened enough to start picking up the pieces.

Ironically the authors say this directly after quoting ME. They quote me from an article I wrote (The Paradox Of A Divided Church Called To Be Reconcilers To The World) which was published in a book by Spencer Burke. Without defending my article (which I am sure is both flawed and inadequate) my aim was not to try and defend the emerging church approach but rather to show that the effects of Constantine’s influence on the church was to legalize Christianity. The legalization of Christianity meant there was no cost to conversion, and in many cases probably little repentance – the Emperor is a Christian and therefore so are we. The church became wealthy and landowners from this time forth and now today, buildings have become more important than the Gospel. I do not advocate that we should return to a ‘house’ church model, nor that we should get rid of buildings for meeting places. But when a building and it’s up keep becomes more important than the ministry the building contains there is a problem.

Their dismissal of this point, without reference to scholars such as Alan Krieder, Rudi Heinze, Alistair Kee (Constantine Versus Christ), A Jones (Constantine And The Conversion Of Europe) and John Eadie (The Conversion of Constantine) was a little too shabby.

But then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I.

But having said all that, this is a vigorous and mostly useful defense of ‘traditional’ church although I do think Jim Belcher’s chapter on Ecclesiology in his book, Deep Church (I reviewed it HERE) does as good a job in upholding the traditional church alongside the need for change as Why We Love The Church.