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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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?

Book Review: “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines


Back in June, Tim Keller published a review of two books that each argue that the Bible does not disapprove of same-sex relationships: A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson and God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Rather quickly, Matthew Vines wrote back, alleging that Keller unfairly misrepresented his views at several critical points and questioning if Keller had even read his book.

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This exchange fascinated me and I decided to read God and the Gay Christian in order to see just what was going on and also to try to further educate myself on the issue. Here’s what I found.

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10 Quotes Worth Sharing from “Preaching” by Tim Keller


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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”


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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).

10 Books Every College Christian Absolutely Needs to Read


If someone were to ask me for a book recommendation, there are several factors that I would take into consideration. But if that person was a college student (or college-aged even if they weren’t currently attending a specific school), there would be an even more specific set of criteria that I would apply. You see, college is an incredibly important and formative time in any person’s life. The decisions that you make during this time have the potential to impact the rest of your life and shape your future in very tangible ways. And what you read influences-at least to some extent-how you go about making those decisions.

the ten

So I’ve complied a list of ten books that I would immediately recommend to any and all college students. Wait a second, you might say. TEN books? Isn’t that a bit much? My answer is no: if you just read one book a semester and one during your summer breaks you’d still have to come back for more recommendations from me before you finished your degree! But I’ll limit myself to ten here for now. Before actually getting to the list, a disclaimer and then the set of criteria I applied to this particular listing.

The DISCLAIMER is that I personally did not read most of these books until after completing my four years as a student at CSULB. But I wish I had! So if you are reading this and have already graduated, keep reading! Although the list is aimed at college-age students, it’s still a great list no matter who you are if there are some you haven’t read.

The set of QUALIFICATIONS that I used in selecting the books were as follows. The books had to be:

  • Short/Accessible. No overly technical or academic volumes here. Why recommend something that people might read 10 pages of and lose interest in just because of the form or style of the book and not the content?
  • Comprehensive as a group. The ten books couldn’t all be on one subject. Instead, I tried to compile a list that included fiction, personal finance, theology, and a whole host of other subjects/focuses.
  • Rereadable. A test of how valuable I consider a book’s contents to be is whether or not I would spend time rereading it. There are books that are just worth reading once and there are books worth reading a half dozen or more times. Each of these books on the list I have already reread or plan to reread.
  • Sharable. If you came over to my home and I found out you hadn’t read any one of these books, it’s almost certain that you’d leave with my personal copy in your hand to borrow OR to keep! These are books to buy multiple copies of so you can give them away and bless others with!

So what books made the list? Here they are (ordered alphabetically by author):

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Keller’s Excellent Article on the Bible and Same-Sex Relationships


[Update 06/06 2:15 pm: A friend pointed me to Matthew Vines’ response to Keller’s review that I linked to in this post. It’s important to read this too as it seems that Keller has incorrectly ascribed the presence or absence of several arguments/topics to Vines. Both articles make great points and I commend their gracious tone. We’ll see if Keller has any sort of clarifying response.]

Tim Keller recently reviewed Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Relationships (Convergent Books, 2014) and Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation (David Crum Media, 2014) on both his website and the gospel coalition website.

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Keller identifies five main arguments that come from both books and from the larger cultural discussion about homosexuality and the church. These arguments are:

  1. Knowing gay people personally.
  2. Consulting historical scholarship.
  3. Re-categorizing same sex relations.
  4. Revising biblical authority.
  5. Being on the wrong side of history.

In his typical erudite, graceful, and piercingly insightful fashion, Keller deconstructs each argument and shows why they just don’t hold water. Especially astute are his arguments that those who would eisegetically seek to use the Bible to defend homosexuality actually have more in common with those who read the Bible as sanctioning slavery than they might like (neither are supportable by the Scripture and both were universally rejected save for a highly controversial historical moment that never had anything close to consensus) and that the Western narratives of individual human worth and complete freedom of self expression that undergird our culture’s rapidly shifting sexual values are “not self-evident to most societies and they carry no more empirical proof than any other religious beliefs”-that is, they are just as much beliefs as any other system of beliefs.

But don’t take my word for it: it’s worth a slow and careful read. It’s the best article I’ve read all week, and I read a lot of articles (maybe too many…just ask my wife!). Head over to his church’s website to check it out.

Do you find his counterarguments compelling? What about his tone: is it respectful? Does this make you respect him more or less? Sound off in the comments!

Collin Hansen Helps You See “Blind Spots” You Didn’t Know You Have


blind spots

What is the biggest problem facing the Church today? And how should we as Christians respond to that challenge? While we all have different answers to that question, odds are that your answers place you roughly within several streams of Christians: the courageous, the compassionate, or the commissioned. As Hansen says on page 18, “You and I have been conditioned by our various cultures and experiences to hear certain aspects of the gospel more clearly than others.”

Hansen sees these differing emphases as a good thing: the body is made up of many members with different roles and gifts, after all, and these three groups roughly correspond to Christ’s heart (compassion), head (courageous), and hands (commissioned). But they stop being a good thing when we isolate ourselves from each other. That’s where the blind spots come in. Every group has a tendency to ignore or not see as clearly certain aspects of the gospel without help and encouragement from others.

The compassionate struggle to empathize with their critics.
The courageous don’t like truth that makes them look bad.
And commissioned Christians don’t always enjoy the mission when it jeopardizes their lifestyle and preconceived notions about the way of the world. (p. 35)

blind spots
The three groups, their strengths (in yellow), and blind spots (in green).

Blind Spots is a short but powerful reminder that the important thing is not focusing on how other Christians are getting it “wrong” but on focusing on how we can better follow Jesus together. It is not overly academic or technical and is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive look at the issues. Rather, it is a short appeal to examine ourselves instead of tearing apart or ignoring others. “I wrote this book,” Hansen explains, “so you might learn to compare yourself more to Christ than to other Christians. When you and I compare ourselves to Christ, we get unity because we see our sin and forgive one another as God forgave us…[and] your differences will primarily help me test whether I’m missing anything about the character of Jesus.”

I was encouraged and challenged by this book and thankful for the reminder that, as Tim Keller says in his foreword to the book, “it becomes clear that these [courage, compassion, and commission] should be strands in a single cord. Each group goes bad to the degree it distances itself from the others.” Amen. May we bind ourselves closer together and help each other avoid our blind spots instead of distancing ourselves and struggling alone.


Collin Hansen, Blind Spots: Becoming A Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned ChurchWheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $12.99.

Read a FREE excerpt

Buy it: Amazon

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

Book Review: NIV Proclamation Bible


I love study Bibles. I cut my teeth on the NIV New Adventure Bible-a Study Bible for kids-in elementary school. Since then I’ve had an NASB Life Application Study Bible, which set the standard all future Study Bibles I have owned or used, and also an ESV Study Bible. All have been incredibly useful tools in personal Bible study, preparing to lead Bible studies, and doing research for teaching the Word to others.

remember me?

As some of you might have picked up by now, I am a big fan of Tim Keller. So when I read a quote by him saying “There are many Study Bibles, but none better,” I needed to find out which Bible he was referring to.

Said quote

Turns out that Keller’s quote was in reference to the NIV Proclamation Bible. Thanks to Zondervan I got my hands on a review copy. So is it the best study Bible ever???

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In a word, no. Now, I do think that it’s a very good resource for accomplishing its stated purpose. But that purpose is a bit different than most Study Bibles. More specific thoughts after the break. Continue reading

Recommendation Roundup (March 4)


I’m toying with adding a recurring feature where I share some of the more interesting things that I’ve recently read online. In the past I would share them directly to Facebook but I’m exploring ways to host more content here. So the following are some interesting articles I read in the past day or so that-for one reason or another-I think you might enjoy!

What Scares the New Atheists-a long, interesting read from The Guardian on what the author terms “Evangelical Atheists” and the problems with universal morality or values without the systems that gave them to the world (namely monotheism).

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“Why Our Children Don’t Think There are Moral Facts”-Is the information that George Washington was America’s First President a fact or opinion? If you said “fact” you’d better be prepared to personally prove/verify that. A great NYTimes piece on the importance of not just teaching children either/or thinking but allowing for nuance.

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Tim Keller-What is Tim Keller currently reading and what does he come back to again and again? A short piece from The Gospel Coalition where Keller answers a few similar questions.

Watch Colbert Discuss the Bible, Faith and Hymns with Fr. James Martin-Steven Colbert discusses his Catholic faith, favorite Bible verses, and more in this funny interview.