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Posts Tagged ‘Theology

J.C. Ryle on Novel, Spasmodic, and Hysterical Christianity

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Holiness by J.C. Ryle: An Absolute Classic in Christian Devotion

I came across this gem in the Introduction to his classic Holiness.

There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distated for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers.  Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.  There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings.  There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity.  The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram-drinking, and the “meek and quiet spirit” which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten (1 Pet. 3:4).  Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high flown singing, and incessant rousing of the emotions are the only things which many care for.  Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is “clever” and “earnest,” hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully “narrow and uncharitable” if you hint that he is unsound!

J.C. Ryle wrote this in 1877:  eerily prophetic, alarmingly true.  If you have not read Ryle’s Holiness, I strongly suggest you do.  In my opinion, it is the best book ever written on Christian devotion.

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Written by Michael Graham

January 14, 2010 at 10:08 am

Top 10 Books by John Piper

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Desiring God by John Piper

This list is what I think are the 10 best books that I have read from John Piper.  I haven’t read some of the more recent ones, but have heard good things about This Momentary Marriage (a book on marriage apparently).

1.  Desiring God [y, l, e, p, s]

This classic is what introduced me to a sovereign God and the doctrines of grace.  It also taught me that my pursuit of joy and my pursuit of God were one and the same pursuit.  If you cannot get through it or are intimidated by its size, try The Dangerous Duty of Delight, he essentially says the same things, just more concisely.

2.  Don’t Waste Your Life [y, l, e, p, s]

Quite simply this book needs to be read (and can be) by everyone.  The title says it all.  His passion for living a worthy life is infectious.

3.  Let the Nations Be Glad [y, l, e, p, s]

This is his book on missions.  It is excellent.  Reading this book is what compelled me to spend time overseas investing the Gospel into people.

4.  Brothers We are NOT Professionals [l, e, p, s]

Just as relevant in 2009 than it was in 2002.  I agree with my friend James W. that this book ought to be read by every seminarian before and after seminary.  Piper takes aim at the professionalization of the ministry.  We are not professionals, we are shepherds.

5.  The 5 Book Biography Set [y, l, e, p, s]

Each book has three or so vignette-length biographies.  They are all good and the link above takes you to DG’s Christmas sale.

6.  Finally Alive [l, e, p, s]

This book may prove to be one of Piper’s most important contributions.  The book concerns the rarely written on, doctrine of regeneration.  Definitely one of the best books of 2009.

7.  Battling Unbelief [y, l, e, p, s]

This book gives you tools to fight for your joy in Christ when you don’t feel it.  Also, I am told that, When I Don’t Desire God, and When the Darkness Will not Lift are both quite good and in the same vein.

8.  The Supremacy of God in Preaching [e, p, s]

One of the best books on preaching.  Period.

9.  Future Grace [l, e, p, s]

The superior pleasure of Christ and the hope of future grace are our tools in fighting against sin.

10.  God’s Passion for His Glory [y, l, e, p, s]

This books is Piper channeling Jonathan Edwards thoughts (which is much of what Piper has done his entire ministry… and that is a good thing).  We would be wise to listen to Edwards and his vision for a God who is passionate for His own glory.

Honorable Mentions:

What’s the Difference – book on Biblical manhood and womanhood.

Counted Righteous in Christ – book defending the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  A critical doctrine and a solid book on the matter.

The Justification of God – rock solid exegesis of Romans 9.  If you have ever had questions about Romans 9, this book will answer them.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

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No Place for Truth by David Wells

These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism.  This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting.  I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return.  It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads.  I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc.  The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.

1.  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [e, p, s]

How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism.  Absolute classic.

2.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll  [y, l, e, p, s]

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant.  You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.

3.  The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch  [e, p, s]

Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America.  His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.

4.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen  [e, p, s]

This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith.  86 years later it is still relevant.

5.  God in the Wasteland by David Wells  [e, p, s]

Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.

6.  The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells  [e, p, s]

The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism.  Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism.  Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism.  As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read:  in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.

7.  The New Shape of World Christianity:  How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll  [e, p, s]

I am surprised by the lack of press for this book.  Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East).  Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting.  This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail.  I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.

8.  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden  [e, p, s]

This is a must read if you seek to understand our history.  Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.

9.  Reclaiming the Center:  Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors  [y, l, e, p, s]

Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness:  Challenging the Idol of Relevance.

10.  Christless Christianity by Michael Horton  [y, l, e, p, s]

This books has caused a bit of a stir.  You can read John Frame’s book review here.  I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism.  From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.

11.  Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk.  This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.

12.  Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges  [y, l, e, p, s]

Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate:  gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.

13.  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon  [e, p, s]

Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.

14.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll  [y, l, e, p, s]

I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren.  This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.

15.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church:  In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  [y, l, e, p, s]

The first book is a solid book on the emergent church.  I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church.  Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.

What we need is always adherence to the same three things:  orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 10: Final Analysis

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Hard Work Ahead

I have stated before that there is cause for optimism in evangelicalism.  There are some solid movements, positive shifts, and creative/bold people.  Broadly speaking, I have concern for evangelical populism and am more encouraged by Reformed evangelicalism (see blog series for why).

Our world is becoming more complex and it is changing faster.  We need to be proactive in thinking about these shifts, ready to address them with the Gospel, rather than writing books about the shifts 10-20 years after they have happened.  Our thinking about our world/culture(s)/context need to be thoughtful and not intellectually sloppy.  Are we positioning ourselves to have influence in all areas of America – transcending class, ethnicity, politics, geography, technology, and social media?  Are we seeking balance in our theology, philosophy of ministry, and relationships?

I have hope for the future.  However, I think we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

Up next, there will be a series on book recommendations and online resources.

Written by Michael Graham

November 23, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 2: Doctrine

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Theology is Application!

Evangelicalism’s goal ought always to be right belief (orthodoxy), right emotion (orthopathos), and right action (orthopraxis).  The church exists to glorify God by expanding His rule, reign, and authority everywhere.

[T]heology [is] “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life…” I would define application as “teaching” in the New Testament sense (didache, didaskalia), a concept represented in some translations by doctrine.  John Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 81.

Here, John Frame is rightly defining theology as application.  Remember this, write it on your arm or whatever – theology is doctrine is application.  There ought not ever be a dichotomy between theology and application.

The problem with evangelicalism is that for a long time there has been an unchallenged belief that theology and application were two separate things.  Many have had the attitude that, ‘I am concerned with application’ and ‘those smart people and professional Christians (Pastors, Professors, and such) can be worried about all that fancy theology.’  The problem is that even the absence of a theology is a theology.  Everyone has a theology, even if it be staunchly anti-intellectual.

Moving forward, evangelicalism (whether Reformed or populist) desperately needs doctrine, sound doctrine.  Consider what the Apostle Paul says regarding doctrine in I Timothy alone [emphasis mine]:

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine

1 Timothy 1:10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine

1 Timothy 4:6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness

I hope that we have established that doctrine is necessary, but whose doctrine?  Paul exhorts Timothy AWAY from different doctrine and TOWARDS our, good, and sound doctrine that agrees with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. But every aspect of the church claims that their teaching is the Lord’s teaching, so who is more accurate?  The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that is in harmony with all of the Scripture.  The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that ultimately produces right action and right emotion.  It is important to do theology in community because when we do theology on an island it often strays to heresy.  It is important to do theology historically considering what all Christians have believe for 2000 years, namely our common creeds/councils (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, and Athanasian Creed) and confessions/catechisms (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, Westminster Standards, and London Baptist Confession of 1689).  Neither history nor tradition trump Scripture but there is great value in listening and learning from 2000 years of Christians (and this is not in violation of sola scriptura).  To ignore church history is neither wise nor safe.  Jesus did not die in a vacuum.

Evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Sorry, to all the manifest destiny Americans who think they are height of human history thus far.  Evangelicalism needs doctrine badly.  We need to rediscover afresh sola scriptura and the wonderful interpretive idea that the best interpreter of Scripture is all other Scripture.  This is how we have sound doctrine.  This is how we have sound action.  This is how we have sound emotion.

Up next we will look at the crucial centrality of a Biblical worldview to evangelicalism moving forward.

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