Quoteworthy: Insults from the Pews


I’m trying to pass along things I find interesting, funny, or challenging in what I’m reading. In that spirit, here’s a humorous anecdote passed on by John Stott in Basic Christian Leadership:

“A story is told of Joseph Parker, who occupied the pulpit of the City Temple in London when C. H. Spurgeon was preaching in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. One day, when Parker was climbing the steps to his pulpit, a lady in the gallery threw a piece of paper at him. He picked it up and read it. It contained only one word: ‘Fool!’ Parker began his sermon with these words: ‘I have received many anonymous letters in my life. Previously they have been a text without a signature. Today for the first time I have received a signature without a text!'”

 

What about you? Ever seen something like this happen or heard something similar?

Review: “A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3” by Allen P. Ross


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I previously reviewed the volume on 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Kregel Exegetical Library and found it to be a volume very much to my liking that would make a solid addition to any pastor or student’s library. But 1 & 2 Chronicles is a relatively neglected area when it comes to good, rigorous academic work and commentaries. In contrast, there is no shortage of resources on the Psalms, which Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of Jesus Christ” and which have given the saints throughout the ages words of comfort, solace, hope, and encouragement. How does this volume on the Psalms hold up?

In brief, it holds up excellently. If you are looking for a commentary that will serve as a one-stop-shop for your exegetical, homiletical, and devotional needs in the Psalms, this commentary would be a superb choice.

First things first: this is part of a 3-volume set on the Psalms and covers from Psalm 90 to 150. The advantage of these multi-volume commentaries is that they can go into much more detail on each Psalm. The main disadvantage is price. The three together currently cost $124.99 on Kregel’s website (though you can chop about $20 off of that by getting them individually on Amazon). So it’s a serious investment to grab them all, but I believe it could be worth it.

You see, the commentary on each Psalm contains a section with extensive notes on the Psalm’s text-critical issues, comparing the history of the Hebrew (MT) versions with the LXX, Qumran, and other extant copies. This is followed by an overview of the Psalm’s content and composition, a section-by-section and verse-by-verse exegetical analysis, and a final message and application section. There is something here for the scholar, the layman, and the preacher (though perhaps *slightly* more for the scholar and pastor).

Of course, this may be simply too much if you are looking for a commentary that only focuses on unpacking the Psalm for personal devotions or for a more thorough translation of the Psalm to a sermon or teaching form with examples that are relevant to a contemporary audience.

But unless you have a very narrow purpose you are looking for a commentary on the Psalms to assist you in achieving, this commentary functions marvelously in a variety of functions. I highly recommend it and am excited to have this in my personal library: can’t wait to use it!

5 stars out of 5


Allen P. Ross. A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3: (90-150). Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2016. 1018 pp. Hardcover. $49.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

C.S. Lewis on the Value of History


All cultures at all times have had central tenets or values they hold to be fundamentally true and that are so integral to the culture’s beliefs and systems that most people in said culture are not even aware that they are holding these “beliefs that seem to not be beliefs but unchallengable, self-evident common sense” (Keller, Preaching, 125).

Our culture is no different. One such example is our culture’s general acceptance that “we are products of an impersonal universe yet [must] be committed to human rights” (Ibid.). These are not two assumptions that naturally stand side-by-side, yet our Western society has lashed them together with the dual cords of “scientific” and “enlightened” thought.

How do we become aware of such patterns of thought in our own worldview and even begin to evaluate whether or not they are indeed true? The first step is to become aware of them, and an excellent place to begin here is to be an avid student of the past. As C.S. Lewis explains:

…we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in  many places in not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

-C.S. Lewis, from “Learning in War-Time”

Study the past, then, because of its value in helping to illuminate the blind spots we have today in the present.

Top 7 Books I Read in 2015


As of yesterday I’m all finished with my final exams and papers for the semester, so what better way to celebrate then look back on the best books I read this year?

As the title suggests, these are not books published in 2015 but rather the best that I personally read this year. So without any further ado…..The Top 7 Books of 2015!

_240_360_Book.1491.cover1. Scary Close by Donald Miller

From my earlier review of the book: “Scary Close is a book of truth spoken in grace. It’s refreshing and encouraging and a must-read for any fan of Don’s, anyone seeking insight on intimacy, or anyone simply hungry for authenticity in a world where it’s far too uncommon.”

2. Home by Marilynne Robinsonhome

The central theme of this novel may very well be summed up with the following quote from the book: “It expresses the will of God to sustain us in this flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” p. 102.

Marilynne Robinson has been a favorite author of mine ever since I read Gilead and this follow-up was a treat start to finish. Can’t wait to dig into Lila (her latest novel set in the same town as Gilead and Home) soon!

 

s_abrams

3. S. (Or Ship of Theseus) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

An incredibly ambitious meta-novel that works on every level. The book within the book, “The Ship of Theseus,” is a novel in the style and tradition of Coleridges’ “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and would be an excellent work in its own right. The history of its fictional author, V.M. Straka, and the question of his identity and potential involvement with a shadowy cadre of writer/secret agents is similarly intriguing and well-conceived. And the story of Jen and Eric’s in-the-margins relationship adds yet another compelling and exciting layer to it all.

S. is a one-of-a-kind story of identity, change, struggle, and love. The most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time.

4. Preaching by Timothy Kellerpreaching

It wouldn’t be a list of Josh Ray’s favorite books if there wasn’t a book by Keller on it, right?

Tim Keller’s Preaching is another home-run. While perhaps not as life-changing or spectacular as Prayer, this volume is filled with insights and wisdom from cover to cover. The chapter on “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind” and the bibliography of the best other books on preaching are each worth the price of the book alone!

And you don’t need to be a preacher to read it. “This book,” says Keller in the introduction, “aims to be a resource for all those who communicate their Christian faith in any way.” (P.S. Here’s a post I did with some of my favorite quotes from it!)

baxter reformed5. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

An indispensable guide and exhortation to not just preach to the crowd but teach to the individuals and families. It’s earned a place on my reference shelf for the future!

Baxter has written a book that doesn’t shy away from leaving you like you just got punched in the teeth with some good old gospel truth but that also leaves you encouraged and exhorted to minister faithfully. A keeper for sure.

imitation

6. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

There’s a reason that this book is perhaps the most widely-read book aside from the Bible in history. A collection of insights and meditations on Christ’s example and our proper response to it, the Imitation has much to teach us today about the Way of Christ.

orthodoxy7. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I was blown away by how relevant and insightful Chesterton’s testimony of how and why he found Christianity convincing was over 100 years after he wrote it. It seems our world is not so different than it was then. Orthodoxy is a refreshing and revealing diagnosis of some of the ills of modernity and powerfully communicated defense of the faith. (It’s also intriguing for a fan of C.S. Lewis to see the ways he was influenced by and came to resemble Chesteron).

 

What about you? What were the highlights of your reading this year? Any on this list that you read too? Or any that now have piqued your interest?

10 Quotes Worth Sharing from “Preaching” by Tim Keller


preaching

Tim Keller’s Preaching is another home-run. While perhaps not as life-changing or spectacular as Prayer, this volume is filled with insights and wisdom from cover to cover. The chapter on “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind” and the bibliography of the best other books on preaching are each worth the price of the book alone! 

And you don’t need to be a preacher to read it. “This book,” says Keller in the introduction, “aims to be a resource for all those who communicate their Christian faith in any way” (p. 4).

Here are ten quotes to give you a taste of Keller’s manifesto on preaching.

1. The Holy Spirit is critical in preaching

…while the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener as well as the preacher (11).

2. True and effective preaching must center on Christ.

To preach the text truly and the gospel every time, to engage the culture and reach the heart, to cooperate with the Spirit’s mission in the world—we must preach Christ from all of Scripture (23).

3. To leave Christ out of a sermon is to not finish the task of preaching.

Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can (48).

4. You cannot preach the gospel without preaching Christ.

To preach the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, from every passage (57).

(sensing a theme, here?)

5. Culture shapes us more than we would care to admit.

It is a mistake to think that faithful believers in our time are not profoundly shaped by the narratives of modernity. We certainly are, and so when you unveil these narratives and interact with them in the ordinary course of preaching the Word, you help them see where they themselves may be more influenced by their society than by the Scripture, and you give them important ways of communicating their faith to others (118).

6. We find our true selves in Christ.

The process of sanctification, of growth into the likeness of Christ, is also, then, the process of becoming the true self God created us to be (139).

7. The gospel is “the right side of history.”

Such will always be the case. The philosophies of the world will come and go, rise and fall, but the wisdom we preach—The Word of God—will still be here (156).

8. Preaching must reach and capture the heart.

What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable. It is all-important, then, that preaching move the heart to stop trusting and loving other things more than God….People, therefore, change not by merely changing their thinking but by changing what they love most (159-emphasis added).

9. Preaching can do so much more than just convey information.

A sermon that just informs the mind can give people things to do after they go home, but a sermon that moves the heart from loving career or acclaim or one’s own independence to loving God and his Son changes listeners on the spot (165).

10. End every sermon pointing the listeners to worship Christ

Resist ending your sermon with “live like this,” and rather end with some form of “You can’t live like this. Oh, but there’s one who did! And through faith with him you can begin to live like this too.” The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from primarily being about them to being about Jesus. They will have shifted from learning to worship (179).

Martin Luther’s Oscar-winning Hymn: “Let It Go”


ml snow
I bet Luther and Olaf would get along splendidly.

Martin Luther stood before the Holy Roman Emperor. He had been asked the day before whether he recanted of his teachings that he had expressed in his published works. Trembling at the prospect of opposing not just the entire church but the empire as well, Luther asked for a day to consider his reply.

The following day he again appeared before the Imperial Diet at Worms. He was eventually asked the same question: Did he recant or not?

Summoning his courage, Luther is reported to have replied[1]:

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.

In a footnote in his newest book Preaching, Tim Keller contrasts this statement to the popular (and infectiously catchy…) song from Disney’s Frozen.

It is both interesting and ironic to compare the sung speech of the character Elsa in Frozen with that of Martin Luther before the Holy Roman Emperor. Both say, “Here I stand.” But Luther meant he was free from fear and from other authorities because he was bound by the Word of God and its norms. Elsa speaks for the contemporary culture by saying she can be free only if there are no boundaries at all.
(p. 283, emphasis mine)

Here then we find two completely different ideas of freedom—two opposing worldviews—represented by the same exact three words: Here I stand.

I have two thoughts to briefly share. The first is the importance of clarifying vocabulary in any discussion of importance with those who do not share your views. Do those we are communicating with really understand what we are saying? And is the same true when it’s our turn to listen?

The second thought is really just a few questions about the nature and meaning of freedom. What does freedom look like for you and I? Is our freedom found in and centered around Christ or is it found in and centered around ourselves? Where do we stand? These are crucial questions and deserve our time and attention, especially as we celebrate our nation’s beginnings this coming weekend.

Here we stand. God help us indeed!


[1] Though I am no expert in what Luther actually said, Justo Gonzalez includes this version of Luther’s response in The Story of Christianity Volume II: “My conscience is a prisoner of God’s Word. I cannot and will not recant, for to disobey one’s conscience is neither just nor safe. God help me. Amen” (p. 35).