Wednesday, December 17, 2014

best of 2014

Here is my very own modest contribution to the best new Christian books of 2014. Caveat: I do not read many just-published books, so it's not a long list.  And one of these books was published in 2013 (Thornbury); one is a new translation of Calvin's Institutes from 1541; and one, The Sense of Style, is not a Christian book.  So there are three new Christian books from 2014 I can recommend.  I have enjoyed all these books, though, and have included snippets of the publishers' blurbs with the titles. 

In God in the Whirlwind, Wells explores the depths of the paradox that God is both holy and loving, showing how his holy-love provides the foundation for our understanding of the cross, sanctification, the nature of worship, and our life of service in the world. What’s more, a renewed vision of God's character is the cure for evangelicalism’s shallow theology, with its weightless God and sentimental gospel.

How does the church portray the beauty of Christ?  The gospel is a theological message. But this message also creates human beauty—beautiful relationships in our churches, making the glory of Christ visible in the world today.  In this timely book, Pastor Ray Ortlund makes the case that gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. In too many of our churches, it is the beauty of a gospel culture that is the missing piece of the puzzle. But when the gospel is allowed to exert its full power, a church becomes radiant with the glory of Christ.

Can we trust the Bible completely? Is it sufficient for our complicated lives? Can we really know what it teaches?  With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.  Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.

The Reformer’s 1541 French edition of his Institutes really ought to be better known than it is because it offers the reader a clear yet comprehensive account of the teaching of the Bible—of the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, revelation and redemption, in the life of the individual Christian and in the worship and witness of the church. Here is doctrine but here too is life–shaping application, for the practical use of Christian doctrine is always Calvin’s abiding concern. The author of the Institutes invites us both to know and to live the truth, and thus allow God’s Spirit to transform us.  Robert White’s new 
translation of the 1541 French edition of the Institutes makes Calvin live once again, and the reader will be truly amazed at both the power and the relevance of the Reformer’s doctrine and application for Christian living in the 21st century.

Once upon a time, evangelicalism was a countercultural upstart movement. Positioned in between mainline denominational liberalism and reactionary fundamentalism, evangelicals saw themselves as evangelists to all of culture. Billy Graham was reaching the masses with his Crusades, Francis Schaeffer was reaching artists and university students at L’Abri, Larry Norman was recording Jesus music on secular record labels and touring with Janis Joplin and the Doors, and Carl F. H. Henry was reaching the intellectuals through Christianity Today. It was the dawn of “classic evangelicalism.” Surveying the current evangelical landscape, however, one gets the feeling that we’re backpedaling quickly. We are more theologically diffuse, culturally gun-shy, and fragmented than ever before. What has happened? And how do we find our way back? Using the life and work of Carl F. H. Henry as a key to evangelicalism’s past and a cipher for its future, this book provides crucial insights for a renewed vision of the church’s place in modern society and charts a refreshing course toward unity under the banner of “classic evangelicalism.”

In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century. Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.  In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical know-how, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

the headline above all headlines

"For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Psalm 95:7-8 ESV)

"If the living God should address mankind in any fleet moment at any point in space with but a simple sentence, with even one single Thus saith the Lord! what intelligent person would not stop, look and listen?  Yet in his revelation God has published news incomparably important to every generation, past and present, of momentous value to each of us who lives in this present opportunity for decision.  God's disclosure for us involves not simply a definitive word about the past and a remarkable declaration about the climactic future but has superscribed a decisive now.  Its dateline included today (this very day); God's disclosure is not exhausted by the revelation given once upon a time and then and there.  God has your and my personal benefit in view as present-moment objects of his address.  The plea 'Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts' (Heb. 4:7 ASV; cf. Ps. 95:7-8) carries no less urgency than the banner headlines of this morning's New York Times or of some television documentary on momentous world events.  God's revelation is the headline above all headlines, directed to us from the world beyond all worlds, from God himself."  (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, II:31)

[Italics in the original.]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

authority but not oppression

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.'" (John 13:12-14)

"There is no compromise to the hierarchic superiority of Jesus.  He is Lord and Teacher, and they are right to call him so.  But, as such, he washes the feet of his disciples. Compare also Jesus' words about himself as the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep (John 10:1-18).

"I conclude that the honor of the fifth commandment ["Honor your father and mother..."] is a complex honor.  Certainly the inferior must show honor to the superior, in all spheres of legitimate authority.  There is a hierarchy, an authority structure.  But in the overall relationship, the superior must care most, not for himself, but for his inferiors.  Like Jesus, the Lord who came to die, the ruler (in any sphere) must lay down his life for his subjects.

"This is the basic principle of government in Scripture.  It rejects both egalitarianism and authoritarianism. It does not regard authority as demeaning, as in some feminist thought, but as a blessing.  It does not claim that everybody is the same, in gifts or status.  But neither does it allow authority to become oppression." 

(John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, "The Fifth Commandment: Honoring Authorities", p 589.) 

Photo above:  "Divine Servant,” sculpture by Max Greiner, Jr., at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Friday, December 5, 2014

blessed among women

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (Luke 1:39-45 ESV)

"We must therefore be quite clear about why Elizabeth calls Mary blessed.  It is because of the grace of God's Son whom she bore; and grace is something we all have in common with her.  So what this passage reveals is that, while God was pleased to exalt the Virgin, having chosen her for the precious and noble task of bearing the Saviour of the world, he nevertheless wished to show how, in her person, we are all of us blessed.

"No-one denies that Mary was unique in being the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet as he himself declared, if we are joined to him by faith, he owns and acknowledges us as father, mother and brother (Matthew 12:49-50).  What he means is that we have a relationship which is sufficient in itself.  We do not need to be related to him in the way nephews, cousins, uncles, father, or mothers are.  In order to receive us as members of his body, he asks only that we believe in him.  There is no better union that that, which is why it ought to satisfy us.  Indeed, the promise is made to all who receive Christ, that they are joined to him.  Thus, because in him is fullness of blessing, we are freed from the curse which in Adam came upon the whole human race."  

(John Calvin, Songs of the Nativity, translated by Robert White, Banner of Truth Trust, 2008, p. 13)

Painting above is The Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne (ca. 1643), oil on canvas, on display at the Seattle Art Museum. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nice use of glass and steel at the Carilion NRV Hospital.