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Archive for December, 2010


Lots of people have their best of 2010 lists.  Why should I be any different?

But I will do it a bit differently.  Instead of books released in 2010, I will recommend some of the books I read in 2010.  Unlike some guys, I am not always on top of the new releases.  Additionally, sometimes this can mean we forget great books from the past.  I will include 2 books that I re-read this year as well.  Great books hold up over time, even if you suffer from ADD.  Lastly there will be a few books I read this year (or at least tried to) that I do not recommend.

Great Books I Read in 2010

  1. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes You Just by Tim Keller.  I just finished this book, so it is fresher in my mind.  In typical Keller fashion he challenges conservative Christians, “progressive” Christians and unbelievers to think more biblically.  The timing for this book was great as the conservative-liberal divide on the issues of social justice seem far more pronounced and polarizing.  He brings a wealth of information into the discussion, but is far from wishy-washy.  Keller has biblical boundaries for this discussion.  Some just want to talk.  I believe Keller does a great job of keeping the gospel central to this discussion.  Even better, it was released in 2010!
  2. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  This was a very good book that encourages pastors and elders to have a different understanding of ministry.  Too often our view of ministry limits our ministry in an unhealthy way.  I’m struggling with how to implement some of this in an existing church.  Not the fault of the book.  On second thought, perhaps that would have made a great additional chapter.
  3. The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. (most likely Edward Fisher) with notes by Thomas Boston.  Yes, this is a few centuries old.  But it is an important book that I’d been meaning to read for a few years.  I’d been providentially hindered from reading it.  It is written in the style of a dialogue between 4 different characters.  E.F. (and Boston in his notes) brings in the work of a number of even older theologians, and their own contemporaries.  It deals with the Christian’s relationship with the law both before and after conversion.
  4. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach.  This book is a few years old, but I think it is an important book for pastors and elders.  Church Discipline is a much neglected subject and Lauterbach does a great job of keeping the gospel central to how a church practices discipline.
  5. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul Tripp.  Tripp applies a sound biblical, gospel-centered theology to communication. It goes far beyond “how to”, to unearthing our sin and idolatry.  Unlike some of the other books, this is appropriate, and aimed at, all of us who confess Christ.  Some great biblical wisdom that often brought me to repentance.
  6. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and and Transforms Parenting by William Farley.  There is no dearth of parenting books.  This is one of the best precisely because he focuses on how the gospel is applied in parenting.  If you’re a parent, it might be wise to pick this up.  If you know a parent, give it as a gift (like I did).  I think you might catch the common thread thus far: the gospel.
  7. By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair Ferguson.  Continuing that thread is one of my favorite authors.  This is yet another great mind-transforming, heart-warming book.  It has both heat and light.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Buy this book!
  8. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russel Moore.  Again, the gospel as revealed in adoption this time.  Moore writes, as the subtitle makes clear, not just for families but for the church family.  It is a great book, though at times a tad clumsy as it shifts back and forth between his family’s story of adoption and the biblical theology of adoption.
  9. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier.  There have been any number of attempts to justify various immigration positions from the Scriptures.  Hoffmeier uses this expertise in the OT and archeology to dig into the appropriate texts rather than just read his position into them as is common practice.  It is not a very long book, but is a very helpful book that is worth reading by anyone who cares what the Bible may have to say about this important subject in our day.

Great Books I Re-read in 2010

  1. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters by Tim Keller.  I didn’t read it all that long ago, but a great book holds up.  This is one of those books that holds up.  Another timely book by Keller.  As a great preacher, he is able to shape the books so they are bringing biblical truth to current issues.  But these are not “fad” books, but topics he’s been preaching about for years.
  2. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp.  I read this again for community group after reading it during the “lost years” of transition.  It is a great book for understanding personal ministry to one another.  It helps me as a pastor, and it should be helpful for ordinary church goers.  He brings a good biblical theology to the task.  Some material is also found in War of Words, but I found that to reinforce the message since I was reading them at the same time.

Books I’m Not Excited to Have Read (or at least tried)

  1. Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet by Jason Stellman.  I had high hopes for this book.  I struggled with how he applied his 2 kingdom theology.  It sounded too much like let the world go to hell in a handbasket except for those who embrace the gospel.  The church and Christians appear to have no real function in society aside from evangelism.
  2. Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers by Will Davis Jr.  I did not make it very far in this book.  It was basically an attempt to proof text his views instead of developing a solid, applicable theology of prayer.  This is why I usually don’t read broadly evangelical books.

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Talking about justice in practice takes us into the complexity of politics (broadly used).  We must inevitably work with people in a pluralistic culture.  Sometimes we will share the same views, but for different reasons.  Other times we will have divergent views.  In his 7th chapter of Generous Justice, Tim Keller risks entering the dark room to switch the light on for us.

The Justice Card

Keller shares a story of staff members for a nonprofit deciding who should represent the agency at a conference.  Some lobbied for a senior staff member who was a female.  Others a younger man who had less experience but was particularly gifted in such situations.  Somehow, those who thought the woman should go claimed it was “a justice issue.”  It brought dialogue to an abrupt end.  The woman was chosen, but reluctantly by those who didn’t want to be called unjust.  They weren’t unjust, but this story reveals that “justice” can be person relative.

By that Keller means that people often have very different understandings of justice.  Often people on both sides of debates (abortion, tax rates, war etc.) claim they are being just and the other side unjust.  Presuppositions are at work to support these very different understandings of justice in that situation.

“Democrats think of it more in collective terms. … Republicans think of justice more individualistically.”

Our debates on issues exist because fundamentally we can’t agree on what justice is.  Many of the terms used to define justice, like “freedom” and “equality”, are equally vague.  We go chasing shadows.  Think about “harm” regarding abortion.  Pro-choice people don’t want harm to come to the woman.  This is their concern, forgetting there are other people involved in this (yes, people!).  Pro-life people don’t want harm to come to the child, the mother, the father and other people.

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I posted on this topic a few years ago.  But recent studies have brought this topic back to the surface.  The Gospel Coalition has a number of posts about this issue of integrity.

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen notes the professional price to be paid for plagiarism.  Sadly, politicians seem to pay no such price.  But as pastors, getting fired should not be what motivates our heart in anything.  He doesn’t suggest this should be our motive by the way.  But after learning a prominent evangelical pastor used Collin’s work without credit, he learned that evangelicalism has a different approach.  I guess it would be similar to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Steve Brown used to tell us that a borrowed illustration should be noted the first time, “then it’s yours.”  He was speaking tongue in check of course.  Surely we aren’t expected to footnote our sermons for influential ideas.  But, if we are quoting someone we should not that with a simple “As Jonathan Edwards noted…”.  We can credit people for their important ideas, and should.  It is about integrity, not fanning the ego of the one whose work benefited us (see the interesting comments on Collin’s post).

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Much of Generous Justice to this point has been theological- why we should pursue justice as Christians.  Keller moves into the more practical with the 6th chapter of his book.  Taking Job 29 & Psalm 4 as a starting point- we are to give sustained, concentrated attention to the hows of justice.  We won’t accidentally become just (or mature in Christ).  Often it requires analyzing a situation and using wisdom to determine the best goals and means.

Here Keller brings us some examples.  One is of a car dealer who realized that haggling for prices tended to benefit the rich, men, and whites (who were more persistent negotiators).  The people who most needed a good deal weren’t getting it because the business practice exacerbated inequalities and cultural differences.  So he set fair prices without negotiation (I have negotiating, and always feel ripped off when done.  I am thankful for the Christian businessmen who sold me car at fair prices.)  Businesses sometimes choose the short-term over the long-term.  This car dealer was choosing the long-term.  He knew he was building a loyal base of customers who appreciated his more equitable system.  But he also disadvantaged himself, reducing his profit per car.  Justice cost him.

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Whenever you read an insanely popular book, there are some traps and snares along the way.  The first of which is the insane popularity of the book.  That can create enormous expectations of the book.  As a result, your expectations are unrealistic.  The other side of that coin is really annoying those who love the book.  It could be as simple as not buying into the hype, or as serious as recognizing huge theological problems (like in Velvet Elvis or The Shack).  Either way, those who have been (rightly or wrongly) impacted by the book will be mad at you.

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God is one of those insanely popular books.  Francis Chan became a well-known pastor as a result of this book.  As a result, I had very high expectations for this book.  It didn’t meet those expectations (that does not mean it is a bad book).  On the positive side, it was not dripping with heresy like either Velvet Elvis or The Shack.

Books of this sort are to be both practical and theological.  John Frame rightly, I think, notes that you haven’t really understood a doctrine until you apply it (or at least begin to).  Each book has its own blend of them.  Some are heavy on the practical, and some are heavy on the theological.  Sadly, some are so far skewed as to be no good to the soul.

Chan’s book, which I suspect is adapted from a sermon series, is skewed toward the practical.  There is theology in the book, but it leans toward the practical.  This is part of its appeal to many.  But I prefer to have my heart warmed and stirred by theological truth so I am pursuing a sound lifestyle (see 1 Timothy 1).  I felt more manipulated than instructed.  I don’t mean it to sound that terrible, really.  Francis is very passionate about his topic, and says many things we American Christians need to hear.  My issue was more with the presentation, if that makes sense.

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In the 5th chapter of his book Generous Justice, Keller takes up the topic of motivations for justice.  As those who seek to encourage others to act justly, we have to recognize that some attempts to motivate others just don’t work (I know that sounds pragmatic, but it is not the intention).  They are not satisfying and truly motivating.

Ignorance regarding our responsibility to pursue justice can happen (though I would argue that like the knowledge of God we tend to suppress it in our unrighteousness).  But people need more than information.  Motivation, like for the actor, is all-important.  He notes that appeals to reason, love and mercy just don’t provide the necessary motivation to change behavior.  Keller draws on the work of people like Authur Leff.  Sad, sentimental stories don’t really change anything.  They don’t move people to act beyond perhaps an impulsive decision to call in a donation.  It didn’t break the back of any injustice.

The Bible gives believers two basic motivations- joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.

Some might say, “Wait a minute!  John talked about love as the motivation in his first letter.”  Yeah, but as you examine the context you also see that it is connected to God’s redemptive love for us which provided propitiation for our sins.  But back to Keller’s argument.

Apart from a belief in creation, there really is no good reason to treat anyone or anything as having dignity or purpose.  This is one of the problems of atheism and agnosticism.  They act like they have logical beliefs, but confess a world that is purely accidental and without purpose.  All meaning is therefore created meaning- created by us and therefore relativized.

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In the 4th chapter of Generous Justice, Tim Keller talks about identifying our neighbor.  The frustrating single mom from the previous chapter was literally the neighbor of the church.  Sometimes we rarely notice when our neighbors are in trouble.  My wife notices, but usually sends me to help.  That is quite annoying when you’re trying to enjoy a morning off.

“We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves.”

Our self-righteous little souls keep trying to evade the reality of this call.  Clearly the man on the Jericho Road was injured by no fault of his own (unless we might surmise he should have known better).  We seem to be very good at finding excuses like that to avoid helping people.

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