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  • The 20 Most Helpful Books I’ve Ever Read

    Top 20 Most Helpful Books

     

    It has been said that you will be in a year who you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. If this be true, then what we read is of first importance.

    The following list contains the ten most helpful books I’ve ever read. They may not be the best, the most technical, or the most scholarly, but each of these books I found to be the most HELPFUL at where I was at that particular point in time. This list is in no way comprehensive and contains only non-canonical books.

    Desiring God by John PiperChristian Hedonism – If the term Christian hedonism doesn’t mean anything to you, then you need to read this book. Aside from the Scripture, no single book has had a more profound impact on my life. Desiring God was my front door to the reformed tradition. Desiring God was my back door to the Dispensational-Fundamentalist morass of my childhood. The idea that my pursuit of pleasure and my faith were not at odds radically and fundamentally changed how I saw every aspect of the world, from the loftiest matters to the most mundane minutiae.

    Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey – Worldview – Hands down the most clear summary of both the Christian worldview and the history of philosophy. Nancy’s writing is a brilliant, clear, and winsome.

    Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray – The Atonement – Murray gives a crystal clear, text-driven, thorough, and eminently faithful play-by-play of what Jesus actually accomplished in the cross and resurrection and the precise mechanics of how that work actually gets applied to His church.

    No Place for Truth by David Wells – Evangelicalism – Wells gives a clear and excellent history of evangelicals and examines some of our weaknesses as a group.

    Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington – Foreign Policy – Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas. Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.

    The Road to Serfdom by F. A. HayekEconomics and Capitalism – If you are tired of the same old Keynesian, too big to fail, and central-planning type ideas, then Hayek’s book should come as a welcome counterpoint. Hayek presents a winsome defense of supply-side economics and capitalism.

    Let the Nations Be Glad by John PiperMissions – Piper single-handedly and radically changed how I viewed other cultures, God’s heart for the nations, and our strategic obligation as the church. A notable honorable mention would be Operation World by Jason Mandryk which provides the most helpful prayer guide for the various peoples of the world.

    Church History in Plain Language by Bruce ShelleyChurch History – Now in it’s fourth edition, Shelley has written a classic, readable, and simple, yet thorough, book on church history for everyone.

    Holiness by J. C. RyleDevotional – I’ve never read a devotional book that was so challenging to the idols of my heart. An honorable mention would be The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer which had a similar impact as Holiness at a very critical time in my life.

    Tactics by Greg KouklEvangelism – Koukl presents a very practical and helpful approach to having conversations about Jesus with the people already in your life.

    When Helping Hurts by Corbett and FikkertPoverty – Corbett and Fikkert present a more Biblical and holistic approach to poverty that avoids the over-simplistic models presented by the current political polarities. Poverty is much more than a lack of resources, a lack of education, or lack of anything – poverty is about relationships that are broken and don’t work.

    The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert ColemanDiscipleship – Coleman simply examines Jesus’ method for discipling his followers. The book is very helpful in giving categories with which to think about the disciple-making process. Justin Taylor has a solid review of the book here.

    Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John FrameTheory of Knowledge – Before you build a worldview it would be wise to understand how to lay a foundation, frame out the house, and lay the trusses. How you arrive at “knowledge” will largely determine what “knowledge” you affirm. Frame provides very helpful categories with which we might arrive at more responsible, true, and balanced beliefs.

    Baptism and Fullness – John StottHoly Spirit – Stott examines what the Scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit and in the process helps untangle a lot of untrue and dangerous views on the Holy Spirit.

    Social and Cultural Dynamics – Pitirim SorokinSociology – I am constantly amazed at how few people, scholars included, have read this book or even know who of Pitirim Sorokin. He was a Russian thinker who founded Harvard’s sociology department. No one has more thoroughly studied the historical sociology of Western civilization. In it he outlines the pendulum swings of Western civilization back and forth from periods of idea-driven culture to sensate-driven culture.

    Adopted for Life by Russell MooreAdoption – Moore’s book kind of defies categories in many ways. It was as helpful devotionally as it was helpful in either developing a theology of spiritual adoption or legal adoption. The book expanded how I saw myself in relationship to God as Father and the priority of adoption for local churches.

    Culture Making – Andy CrouchChurch and Culture – There are quite a few good books on the subject of Christ and culture and none of them are without their weaknesses. Crouch presents a fairly even-handed model for the church’s engagement with the world. Some other helpful works are Abraham Kuyper’s, Lectures on Calvinism and James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World.

    The Freedom of the Will – Jonathan EdwardsGod’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – This is the most difficult book to read on this list but it is the most helpful if you can slog it through. Most other books on this subject (J. I. Packer’s included) falls deeply into over-simplified understandings of the mechanics of how God orchestrates all things yet in a manner than that doesn’t assail the will or take us off the hook for our actions.

    Pensees by Blaise PascalApologetics – This is another book that defies categories as it is equal parts apologetics, cultural analysis, philosophy, and devotional. The nice thing about the Pensees (French for “thoughts”) is that it isn’t a book you read from cover to cover. It is more a book that you read one paragraph at a time and then chew on that for awhile. I recommend reading it over a couple years versus a couple weeks.

    The M’Cheyne Bible Reading PlanOne Year Bible Reading Plan – For the majority of my Christian life I have used the M’Cheyne reading plan to read the OT once and the NT twice in the year. If you’ve never read the whole Bible before or never read it through in one year, I highly recommend this method.

    There are quite a few categories that didn’t get covered here that are worth noting so I am listing for your benefit a few “Top 10” lists that I’ve written in the past:

    Top 10 Books by John Piper

    Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

    Top 10 Books on Missions, Evangelism, and Discipleship

    Top 10 Books on Church History

    Top 10 Books on Eschatology

    Top 10 Books on Culture

    Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

    Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

    Top 10 Books on The Church

    Top 10 Books on Apologetics

    Top 10 Books on Systematic Theology

    Top 10 Books on Christian Devotion

    Top 5 Books on Christian Worldview

    Top 15 Books on the Status of American Evangelicalism

    Top 40 Books to Read While in College

     

     

     

  • Mid-Term Results, the Culture War, and the Kingdom of God

    Obama

    While I am admittedly relieved to see the mid-term election results this morning, I am also reluctant to feel much more than mild relief. I think much of the mid-term results are a repudiation of the last six years of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi era. However, there are several reasons why we should not be spiking the football in the endzone.

    Politics and Culture

    Politics and Culture: which is the cart and which is the horse? I would submit to you that culture is far more the horse than the cart. Certainly there is an interplay between the two but I think in our republic the culture is probably 70% horse and 30% cart.

    Ideas or Energy

    Did people in America vote for Republican Governors, congressmen, and senators because their ideas changed or because their voting base was more energized than the last election cycle? I cannot answer this question with any real data but my highly subjective opinion would be that it had much more to deal with a more motivated and energized voting base. I don’t think that Americans have all of a sudden read the Constitution, changed their mind on abortion, embraced supply-side economics, or read John Locke or the Federalist Papers. Perhaps some of those things took place in disparate circles but I am doubtful to think anything like this took place on a grand scale. I would have more cause for hope if these election results were a result in a resurgence of a Judeo-Christian worldview that provides the ideological foundations for human dignity, justice, and order.

    The Culture War and the Christian Right

    One of the big mistakes of the Christian Right is the presupposition that if you have your party in office then most things in the world will be as they ought to be. Hence, we must put a lot of faith in top down political influence. The problem with this is twofold – 1. politics follows culture more than not  2. There is no cultural center of America that all Americans can look to and identify as our common bond (perhaps with the only exception being 9/11 [for those over age 20]). I don’t mean to say that politics is irrelevant, it is relevant, but it is one piece in an incredibly complex landscape that we call “culture.” I attempt to portray the complex forces that combine to form culture here. I think in many ways the Christian Right and the Culture War has back-fired and served to exacerbate trench warfare and discourage dialogue in the few public spaces we have left. As a result, people don’t want to talk about ideas any more because ideas divide and hence should be kept private.

    Modern Day Reformation

    I have no illusion that somehow a GOP legislative majority at the federal and state levels will somehow usher in a modern day Reformation in America. There may be some dismantling of unpopular liberal policies but there will be no ushering in of golden age of American spiritual life. I am not entirely against top-down/institutional strategies – I think things like educational institutions, denominations, service organizations, the marketplace, and even political parties can make significant contributions to cultural change. That said, in an increasingly cynical, skeptical, and snarky world, we must have equal efforts from a bottom up perspective.

    Faithful Presence

    Individual humans need other individual humans who will walk humbly, lovingly, and understandingly with them. We need to be in the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. We need to be asking good questions about what they want and listening actively to what they are saying. We need to be asking them about how are the things they want working for them. Are they deeply satisfying? Are they functional? Are they just? Are they promoting human flourishing?

    As we listen to the answers to these kinds of questions, facets of the Gospel will speak to the things that are broken and in need of healing and redemption.

    Do your civic duty and vote your conscience… but…

    The kingdom of God is not ushered in through an election. The kingdom of God is ushered in as Christ’s church does her job being faithfully on mission to the corners of the Earth.

  • Evangelicals: Now is Not the Time to Spike the Football

    David Green, Hobby Lobby CEO, David Green with Bible in warehouse, Culture Wars, Abortifacients, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act

    I was as happy as you were that the Supreme Court upheld the closely held corporation, Hobby Lobby’s, right to not provide coverage for the 4 abortifacients in the Affordable Care Act.  While in no way do I pretend to understand the field of law, the argumentation that closely held corporations appear, function, and act more like individuals than they do corporations made common sense to me – and hence, applying the Constitutional right to dissent to the mandatory coverage of the 4 abortifacients in Affordable Care Act seemed appropriate.

    All of that said, now is not the time to spike the football.  Evangelicals cannot rely on the Supreme Court, Congress, the Senate, nor the Executive branches to make America a “Christian nation” once again.  I am pretty confident that I love America as much as you do, but the reality is that we are a post-Christian nation that is growing increasingly undiscerning.  The people/culture(s) of America lack the worldview needed to understand the logical consequences of the breakdown of gender, marriage, and the family (the most fundamental unit of society).  The people/culture(s) of America have created a Swiss cheese patchwork quilt from a variety of different worldviews to piecemeal together sets of ideas that justify their behaviors, lifestyles, sin patterns, and addictions.

    In other words, we cannot rely on the federal government to be a positive agent of cultural change in America.  Cultural change happens at a wide variety of levels but politicians and bureaucrats are chameleons which change their skin color based on the popular opinion – this is why politics is more of a reflection of the culture(s) rather than the driver of the culture(s).   Evangelicals have a Herculean task ahead of them to engage the drifting, aimless, and anesthetized conglomeration of sub-cultures that comprise this thing we call the United States of America.

    Culture flows out of people’s wants and desires.  People’s wants and desires flow out of their hearts.  If you want cultural change then you have to see changed hearts.  If you want changed hearts then you must see the Holy Spirit remove the heart of stone and replace it with the heart of flesh.  If you want the Spirit to move then you must pray for Him to move and you must be faithful to share the Gospel winsomely, clearly, and boldly.  I am not saying don’t vote, or don’t engage politically; however, we cannot lobby or legislate people into the Kingdom of God.

     

  • Secular Worship Services, Part Two: The Superbowl

    Seattle Seahawks Russell Willson lifts Superbowl Trophy with Confetti

    Sorry to all the Denver Broncos fans out there – that was pretty rough.  The Seahawks out executed in every phase of the game.  Hats off to a humble, classy, and non-flashy Russell Wilson for his quiet leadership and on-field play.

    There are two very distinct kinds of liturgies at work in the Superbowl:  The Superbowl the Game (and half-time show), and The Superbowl the Commercials.  The game and the commercials overlap at points and in many ways are inextricably linked but also diverge at points as well.  This post will cover the topic of the Superbowl the game and the next post will analyze the Superbowl the commercials.  After analyzing a number of various forms of secular worship we will then discuss what these secular liturgies mean on a cultural level, a religious level, and an individual level. 

    The Superbowl the Game

    In many ways sports provides for men (and women also) a pressure relief valve on their bottled up, suppressed, repressed, or unexpressed emotions.  Sports can function as a kind of surrogate intimacy to other failed or stunted intimacies – this is why some men who are entirely dispassionate in other spheres (marriage, vocation, parenthood…) all of a sudden come alive in the arena or in front of the flatscreen.

    Liturgies follow formats and rhythms of expected time, space, color, and aesthetics.  In many ways, most sports liturgies follow the same liturgy:

    The Pregame (Welcome, Greeting, and Sacrament)

    The pregame is filled several elements that invite the sports worshiper into the liturgy to follow.  Elements of the pregame involve storylines of the forthcoming game, analysis of the players and teams involved, and perhaps also preliminary indulgence into the sacramental table of the expected food and drink (tailgating, BBQ… etc.).

    The Grove at Ole Miss

    The Grove at Ole Miss

    There are obvious corollaries between the tailgate and the Lord’s Supper (or eucharist); both are inviting the worshiper deeper into the liturgy (game and camaraderie)  to follow as well as serve to unite the participants into community with one another.

    National Anthem (Call to Worship)

    This is a moment of civil religiosity where we find unity in our commonality as residents (or citizens) of the United States of America.  This can also function as a kind of call to worship for the events that are about to happen on field.  It provides a very least common denominator unity to all in attendance regardless of their team allegiance.

    The Game Itself (Worship in Song, Creed Recitation, Iconography, Benediction)

    The game itself is participatory in many ways.  Most teams have some sort of team song(s) – this is common also among other sports – particularly college football, soccer, and rugby.  The songs serve to unite, provide camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.  Most teams also have at least one, often more than one creed, chant, or rally cry.  It could be as simple as an idea – Seattle Seahawk’s (aka. TAMU) Twelfth Man or longer form chants or cheers like University of Florida’s We are the Boys from Old FloridaAlabama’s Rammer Jammer Cheer, or Ole Miss’ Hotty Toddy.  Many of these serve to make great the dynasty of one’s own tribe to the detriment of the rivals.  There is also highly developed iconography associated with sport.  The icons serve far more than to merely brand but serve to identify allegiance to the particular tribe.  Most teams will also have some form of a victory cheer or chant as well.  These chants function in many ways similar to a benediction to a worship service (provided your team wins).

    Peyton Manning - Sad Face - Superbowl - Denver Broncos

    Sports can provide great elation and crushing agony (just ask Peyton Manning).  These ranges of emotions are natural because we worship with the heart – hence, success is met with great joy and defeat brings frustration, anger, and a whole host of other emotions.  We cheer when our team scores a touchdown or wins the big game and we get ticked and want a new coach when our team goes 4-8 (#Muschamp).

    Sports as Evangelism (Mission)

    Sports fans want other people to be a part of their tribe.  Sports is inherently evangelistic.  It is by nature evangelistic because it is human nature to want other people to enjoy the things that we enjoy.  Hence, there is a significant missional component that is hard wired into sports, particularly the Superbowl in America.

    This post is the second in a series of post on Secular Worship Services, the first analyzed The Grammys.  Up next, we will take a look at The Superbowl with respect to the commercials.  

    February 3, 2014 • Creed, Culture, Evangelism, Sports, Worship • Views: 503

  • Best Links of the Week

    Ronnie Smith

    Anita Smith, widow of Ronnie Smith, wrote a brief yet beautiful letter to the people of Libya

    Brilliant, snarky, and scathing OP-ED from David Brooks in NYT entitled, “The Thought Leader

    Barna research supports evangelism on dramatic rise among millennials and in decline among boomers and busters.  If true this flies in the face of a lot of the sound bites regarding “millennials.”

    Dalrock on the economic fallout of a culture that is hostile to husbands and fathers, “Progress

    Washington Times – “Half of America Strips Religion From Christmas

    Apparently researchers in the Pacific Northwest have figured out how to quasi-efficiently produce crude oil from algae

    Some really helpful infographics on the state of religions in the U.S.

    Francis Chan in a brutally honest piece, “Why It’s So Easy for Leaders to Fake It

    Camille Paglia’s piece, “It’s a Man’s World, and it Always Will Be

    Interesting interview with Ethan Hawke in Esquire, “What I’ve Learned

    I am a sucker for amazing time-lapse:

    [vimeo http://vimeo.com/81616727]

     

    December 20, 2013 • Culture, Culture Wars, Evangelism, Infographic, Interesting Article • Views: 317

  • Best Links of the Week

    Daily Stormtroopers 365

    Religion May Become Extinct in Nine Countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland)

    In March, U.S. Government spent 8x more than it had coming in

    Some interesting rhetoric between Dmitry Medvedez and Vladimir Putin.

    Two sets of excellent photographs from the Japanese devastation:  BBC and Boston Globe

    Libyans using Western journalists as human shields

    Cash for Clunkers 2

    Paul Allen takes some shots at Bill Gates and gives some revisionist accounts of the history of Microsoft

    Massive publisher Conde Nast got scammed for $8 million by one email

    Interesting article in WSJ about feminism and provocative clothing among teenage girls (HT:  Lisi)

    The 10 Most Profitable Movies of All-Time

    Worthwhile video (HT: Jutty):

    [vimeo http://vimeo.com/20960385]

  • My Two Caveats for the Missional Church

    I recently attended the Advance 2010 conference on Contextualizing the Gospel in the New Urban South.  The content of the conference was excellent and the speakers were Gospel-centered and Christ-saturated.  In the interest of full self-disclosure, I would willfully self-identify as being a part of the missional church movement.  While steeping some of the teaching receieved, I am left with two potential pitfalls for the missional church movement.

    I think the obituaries have already been written and the eulogies given for both the church growth movement and the emergent church.  Hence, my first concern for the missional church movement is that it will just be another fad within evangelicalism.  I’ve chronicled before the very fickle fadish-ness nature of American evangelicalism.  We have the strong inclination to let our pendulums swing wildly, rarely finding any semblance of balance.  If history is any predictor of the future, the missional church movement will gain steam, others will jump on the bandwagon, then the movement dies because many identified with the movement not for its intrinsic principles, but rather for its pragmatic ends.  Nothing will kill a movement like the evil trinity of inauthenticity, superficiality, and pragmatism.

    My second concern for the missional church movement is actually legalism.  This may actually come as a surprise of anyone who saw/listened to any of the Advance 2010 material.  Rightly so, Tyler Jones, Tullian Tchvidjian, Ed Stetzer and others railed against the quaint moralism (or think of Michael Horton’s, moralistic therapeutic deism) of the South.  Here is how legalism could creep into the missional church movement… and it is really subtle and nasty.  In your call to missional movement and mindset, create an implicit caste system within your church.  In this caste system reward those who are ‘more on mission’ vs. those who are ‘less on mission.’  In this caste system the way to earn God’s favor is by doing the works of the mission of God.  I don’t know if this kind of legalism is better/worse than any other form of self-salvation.  Remember that legalism is one of those nasty sins like pride, that can literally manifest themselves in even the most counter-intuitive or even contradictory places (ie. one can be proud in one’s humility).  We must be careful to still remind ourselves and others that our standing with God is not changed by even our greatest Gospel efforts or lack thereof.

    In my view, we must guard the missional church movement from those who would see it as the next “it” way to grow your church (after shaving their soul patch and ceased showing movie clips).   We must also guard against guilting people into being on mission.  They must desire to be the church because of the Gospel not because it is the new way to rise in the legalistic caste system in your church.

    Your thoughts?

  • Best Links of the Week

    World Magazine has a piece entitled, “Farewell Emerging Church, 1989-2010.”

    NPR Podcast analyzing assets acquired by the Federal Reserve. (HT:  Phill Graham)

    Companion piece to an NPR, All Things Considered program on a Hedge Fund called Magnetar.  Explains how this Hedge Fund made tons of money on credit default options by perpetuating the housing bubble.  (HT:  Phill Graham)

    Big Hollywood piece on the U.S. 2010 Census challenging the wisdom of giving out race information, as well as, questioning the meaning of the word ‘race’.

    Non-Government personal income fallen 3.2% under Obama presidency.

    WSJ article on the shortage of medical doctors already problematic.  A lack of Biblical warrant, innovation, quality control, expediency, and a lack of fiscal incentives for the brightest students are my five major concerns of Obamacare.

    In a rather strange story, retail store Hobby Lobby evangelized in their Easter ads.

    April 16, 2010 • Contextualization, Culture, Culture Wars, Economics, Evangelism, Obama, Politics • Views: 292

  • Brit Hume Responds on O’Reilly to People’s Reactions to his Tiger Woods Comments

    This was worth watching.  Hume is correct on hitting a nerve in our culture.  The divisive reaction speaks both to the explosiveness of the culture war in America, as well as, the reality of opposition to the Gospel of Christ.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_dCB-XUwoc&feature=player_embedded]

    Update:  Justin Taylor has a few brief insights into Hume’s own conversion to Christianity that are worth reading.

    Also, here is an interview with Christianity Today.

    Your thoughts?

    January 6, 2010 • Anthropology, Culture, Culture Wars, Evangelism, Sports, Video • Views: 341

  • 3 Month Introspective

    Introspective

    So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

    Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

    Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

    Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

    Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

    Top ~10 Books by Topic:

    Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

    Top 10 Devotional Classics

    Top 10 Books on the Church

    Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

    Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

    Top 10 Books on Culture

    Top 10 Books on Eschatology

    Top 5 Books on Worldview

    Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

    Top 10 Books on Church History

    Top 40 Books to Read While in College

    Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

    The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

    Top 10 Apologetic Works

    Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

    Top 10 Books by John Piper

    Top 5 Children’s Books

    Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

    A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

    Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…