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Month: August 2018

What I Read in August

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

It’s true we are creatures who learn from story. As Butterfield recounts stories without end that demonstrate the messy, costly, rewarding ins-and-outs of what ‘Radically Ordinary Hospitality’ looks like, you will find yourself constantly convinced that hospitality is indeed the cornerstone of the Christian life. Sure, it means changing your budget to allow for extra meals for people, unexpected guests at your table, or taking care of a neighbour’s pet while they’re out of town. But it also serves to reveal Christ’s redeeming purpose in the world: making strangers into neighbours, and making neighbours into family.
This book will leave you thinking more deeply about what Christlike hospitality might look like in your home, and how you might consider making space in which hospitality can flourish.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally

Piper continually reminds me that I have no excuse for not taking the time that is necessary to read and understand the Bible. It is infintely worth my time to drop anything else in order to love God with my heart and mind in this way. I loved this book because it reminded me that the Bible is the only book in which I encounter the living God—and the primary means by which he speaks to me and answers me. If I want to hear him speak, I simply read. This book also served to remind me of my total dependance on God the Holy Spirit in order to understand what is written. While not a review, here’s a thought I posted before I had finished.

Beren and Luthien

The story of Beren and Luthien is a heroic tale mixed with unquenchable romance, danger, and noble sacrifice. But this wonderful tale was diminished in its delivery (in this book) by the endless discussions and interjections by the author (Christopher Tolkien) offering sidenotes, thoughts, and lengthy retellings of conversations that he had with the publishers, editorial decisions about the book that he made, how he poured over the combining of multiple manuscripts from his father’s work into one coherent whole. This made the book very hard to read; authors, never do this. A wonderful story, but disjointed due to real-life discussions that no reader would be seeking.

12 Faithful Men

We can all be greatly encouraged by learning more about great men of the faith. As Christians, persecution and hardship should not come as a surprise; and these men are no strangers to testing times. The faithfulness shown throughout these 12 testimonies not only points us to a God who is faithful in times of need, but also the reality of the dark times encourages us by recounting their failures right alongside their victories. We are not expected to be perfect in this life, but these 12 faithful men point with their lives to the one who is.

Mere Hope

Mere does not mean “barely”, but rather “true” or “real”. The “thicker” hope that Duesing would have us see is that inextinguishable flicker that God ignites in our souls to keep us believing in the prevailing power of his light even when we are surrounded by utter darkness. Presenting a solid biblical theology of hope, Duesing demonstrates this in four key ways: “Look down” at the good news of the gospel as our foundation, “look in” to Jesus Christ as the hope within us, “look out” to see the flourishing of hope shared among the nations, and “look up” to the focus of our hope both now and in the age to come. This book was a great encouragement, but it also served to reinforce that gospel foundation on which we stand firm in these trying times. Recommended.

See what else I read in 2018:

What Was Said Concerning Himself:
Dr. Tremper Longman III

Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture delivered by renown Old Testament scholar Dr. Tremper Longman III, where he discussed the importance of understanding how to responsibly read the Old Testament as a Christian. Understanding the theological relationship between the testaments is a crucial area for Christians to grasp today in their reading of the whole Bible as the inspired word of God. Dr. Longman demonstrated masterfully through two specific examples of biblical trajectories (the tabernacle, and God as warrior) how the contours of expectation roll through the pages of the Bible until they reach Jesus, and that the resurrection is the hermeneutical key with which to interpret all of Scripture; just as Jesus demonstrated in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus.

Probably the most valuable insight that I took away was that a responsible reading (and subsequently, responsible preaching) of the Old Testament text necessarily requires that we must first hear what Brevard Childs called the ‘discrete voice of the Old Testament’. It is so important that upon first reading an Old Testament text, we don’t move too quickly to seeing Christ in the text (a very easy danger to succumb to, as we naturally read the Old Testament with knowledge of the New Testament in front of our eyes). Rather, we should slow down and linger to see the richness of what Longman called the ‘cognitive environment’ of the original audience, in order to see how YHWH relates to his people, and the lessons to be learned therein. After this comes the time to do a second reading of the same Old Testament text, wherein we can now open our eyes to begin to see the biblical trajectories, Christological expectations, and the way in which Jesus often takes these texts and not only fulfils them, but imbues them with greater, fuller meaning and requirement.

Dr. Longman firmly believes that when it comes to preaching from the Old Testament, this is the most faithful method of study/delivery and that we should incorporate into our preaching time dedicated to drawing lessons from both the first and second reading in this manner. Further, he disagreed that allegory is an appropriate way to preach the Old Testament stories (Goliath does not represent your struggle with your broken toaster, and Daniel’s den of lions is not a picture of your difficult situation at work). He does believe that they contain moral lessons that carry forward to us today, but these are brought out through a proper treatment of their historical context first, and greater awareness through the lens of the New Testament second.

This was such a valuable lecture, and very timely given the current discussions around the importance of the Old Testament in the life of the contemporary Christian. There’s much more to say, but the reminder of the Old Testament’s utter relevance to the Christian today, and his methodology on how to faithfully apply the Old Testament were invaluable to me. I praise God for his gifting men like Dr. Longman with minds that can wrestle with these issues, and clearly communicate them in ways that I can understand.

Two Testaments, One Bible:
Responding to Andy Stanley’s call to ‘unhitch’ the Old Testament’

What is our relationship to the Old Testament? Aren’t the Jewish scriptures simply an interesting historical backstory? What was the foundation on which the New Testament church was built? It wasn’t any book. There wasn’t one. It wasn’t the Bible. There wasn’t one. And it wasn’t the Old Covenant because that didn’t tell the story of Jesus. The foundational event was the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so Moses is out, and Jesus is in. Christianity doesn’t need propping up by the Old Testament, so shouldn’t we feel free to “unhitch” it from our faith?

This declaration, preached by Pastor Andy Stanley in April 2018, should ring alarm bells for Christians everywhere. After all, Jesus and the apostles were absolutely convinced of the supreme authority of the Old Testament. Yet, Pastor Stanley would rather new Christians not leave the faith because of a struggle with the Old Testament; instead, he has encouraged them to “unhitch” it as the New Testament church did.

Join me on Monday, 20th August at 7:30pm (North Pine Baptist Church) as we explore Stanley’s comments, and seek to answer the question, “Can you retain the Christian faith while rejecting the Old Testament?”

How My Bible Reading Changed
(and why that’s a good thing)

Off the back of finishing John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally (a book which was so helpful that I listened to the audiobook and also read the Kindle edition) I have been challenged to thoroughly re-evaluate the way that I approach not only my reading of Scripture but to overhaul the way in which I structure my devotional times. Typically, we are taught to read the bible and pray. Read the bible, then pray. This has been my practice for a long time, only changed in recent years to praying both before and after reading. But Piper’s book has turned that upside down and inside out in a remarkably helpful way; it’s one of those experiences where you can’t possibly understand how you were doing things the old way now that you’ve been shown a better way. For a full treatment of this radical overhaul, you’ll need to grab the book (because chapters are dedicated to each of these things, and much more) but to summarise, I want to share the main thing I’ve learned from Piper, and mention the first amazing thing that came out of this shift in my life.

APTAT

This method of prayer and bible reading—while not as catchy or roll-off-the-tongue-ish as something like ACTS—has been nothing short of transformational for me. Here it is in brief, taking place before, during, and after reading:

Admit that without Christ I can do nothing, least of all rightly understand scripture and apply it. Reading begins with the renunciation of pride. We must be humble and realise how depraved our minds are, and how our hearts desire other things more than God. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

Pray for God’s help, whatever form of help I need. Piper says “how much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading!” Pray before. Don’t simply invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you read, cast your full dependence on him as the one without whom you can achieve nothing lasting. What is the help I need? To see the supreme desirability of all that God is for me in Christ, in all my circumstances.

Trust a specific promise of God that is tailor-made for my situation or a general promise that applies. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Act in obedience to God’s word, expecting God to act under and in and through my acting, so that the fruit is decisively from his acting. I act the miracle, but God is the decisive cause. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)

Thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory. “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)

Remember that each of these points was an entire chapter in the book (with surrounding chapters that provided additional thoughts, tools, and practical instruction. It’s well worth grabbing the book in order to dive deep into the waters of what each step holds.

Let’s Get Started

So on a quiet Saturday afternoon, while my children slept or played quietly and chores were under control, I picked up my bible to meet with the Lord in this new way. I had recently been listening to Jen Wilkin’s In His Image and was remembering the reference she’d made to a passage in the book of Nahum to support her (very good) point. I haven’t read Nahum since it rolled around in 2017’s bible reading plan, and my fingers aren’t as fast to find it as Romans or Psalms, so I thought I would break from the plan for this moment. But before I pick up my Bible, I pray. I plead with God to encounter me through the word; to reveal, to edify, to transform. Not a long prayer, but one that covered as many things from Piper’s example as came to my mind. Then I take up and read. Nahum chapter 1.

1An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. 2The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

And that’s it, I’m done. Undone might be more apt. Immediately I’m floored by all of the things that I give more time to than God. I’m flooded with thoughts of things that are looking dangerously close to being idols, considering the anticipation I have when I look forward to them, and the withdrawal I feel when it’s been too long. When I read this, I remember that God isn’t jealous the way people are jealous. We should never ascribe to God the definition of a word in the same way we ascribe it to human beings; for God is the only one for whom jealousy is perfect, true, and the complete opposite of sinful—because that’s exactly what he is. So my bible reading reaches an abrupt halt and in repentance, I pray that God would continue to remind me of his ultimate worth. That when I consider how to spend my time and where to invest my resources, that he would be my supreme treasure, and that I am never wholly satisfied until I am satisfied in him.

I didn’t read much that day, and my reading wasn’t the same.
And I know that’s a good thing.