Summer Reading List

My brother in-law and I recently had an email exchange in which I listed out some books I would recommend for summer reading.  Thought I would post my recommendations here for others in case your looking for some good books to read this summer.

1.  Displines of Grace by Jerry Bridges.  This is the best book I have read this year.  In fact it is so good that I never had to mark my page because I just had to find the last page that was highlighted.  I am planning to start reading again in the next month.


2. Prodigal God by Keller.  Not sure if you have read this but it has made the second read list for me.  It might be very helpful given your traditional culture you find yourself in as it has great insight into how to love the “older brother.”

3. Kingdom Triangle by JP Moreland.  Another great book about the culture we live in and the spirit-filled life God is calling us to.

4.  Finally Alive by John Piper.  This is the second best book I have read this year as it takes on the doctrine of Regeneration at a practical and biblical level like I have never encountered.  Sadly, many of us Christians understand how we are saved (the doctrine of Justification) but not what we are saved into (A new creation in Christ).  Read this book slowly and follow along with all the biblical references to see how regeneration is all over the Bible.

The Institutes by John Calvin.  The edition I am reading can be found here. I was told by some profs at seminary that it is the best one. and I have been deeply edified by reading The Institutes as I am now at the half point of my year long read through of the Institutes.

Enjoy,

ryan

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Grace and Gospel

Run, John, run.  The law commands

But gives neither feet nor hands.

Better news the Gospel brings;

It bids me fly and gives me wings.

“The Discipline of Grace” Jerry Bridges

ryan

Francis Schaeffer: A Theology of Silence and Solitude

” Some are saying that in the next generation, the government’s chief job will be to devise ways of keeping a growing mass of people entertained, because machines will have taken their jobs” No Little People, Schaeffer p. 85.

Schaeffer was quite prophetic as he wrote in the 1970’s, and even then he had some cautionary words about the Christian soul and entertainment/technologies effect on it.

“People today are afraid to be alone.  This fear is a dominant mark upon our society.  Many now ceaselesly sit in the cinema or read novels  about other people’s lives or watch dramas.  Why?  Simply to avoid facing their own existence.  Many of us can sit in front of the television and, except on rare occasions, not face our own private life.  Entertainment so fills every cranny of our culture we can easily escape thinking.”

Is this true?  I know it pricks my conscience as I think about my own propensity to “zone out” in front of the television rather than engage with life.  What does Schaeffer mean by saying “we are afraid to face our own existence?”

But wait he keeps going.

“So is the one who stands with the transistor radio plugged in his ear much of the day.  No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place for quiet–because when you are quiet, you have to face reality.  But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise.”

The last sentence hits hard.  Yet it might be why we live in a culture that never considers its own mortality or finitness.  Most of us go on living as if we have forever.  We forget to heed the words of James 4.

Schaeffer concludes with saying, “The Christian is supposed to be the very opposite.  There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet.  Rather we are to put everthing second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow him to speak to us and confront us.”

Please read this twice and let it sink in.  It may sound obvious but it is hard to hear and commune with God when our lives are so filled with noise, like trying to have a conversation at a Las Vegas night club.  Schaeffer begs with us to make ourselves alive to silence.  To give way to quietness for the sake of our soul.  Wrestle with your existence and now that you are finite and your life is short.

When I was in college one of my favorite verses was Isaiah 30: 15.

This is what the LORD the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentence and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

ryan

Total Church

In the middle of reading a really good book entitled Total Church.

What makes the book really interesting is that the authors are advocating for church models that combine a holistic, house church, community centered understanding of church, with strong theology.  Up to this point, house church and strong theology have gone together like an NFL wide receiver and humility.  Here is a quote from this book that pricked my conscience and has me thinking.

I was talking with a prominent evangelical church leader and asked him why more people are not open to a household model of church or to community groups meeting in homes.  The church leader was candid in his reply: ‘ Because people like me come from professional backgrounds, and we want churches that reflect our backgrounds.  I don’t want to be opening my home to people.  I don’t want to get involved in people’s lives.  I don’t want needy people in my church.  Before people like me went into Christian ministry, we were lawyers, doctors, businessmen.  And when we get involved in ministry we bring those values with us.  We want to lead growing churches with professional people, church administrators, healthy budgets.  We want church to be a well-run organization with polished presentations'”

Now I doubt many church leaders and pastors would be this forward in saying something like this, but the attitude is quite pervasive in many places.  It makes me wonder if we are really ready to count the cost that comes with being a messenger of the Gospel in our culture.

ryan

John Owen and Spiritual Growth

Spiritual formation has become as trendy as Twitter.  During seminary I had participate in a two and half year spiritual formation track.  In many ways though spiritual formation is really just good old fashioned discipleship with a dusting of mystical/monastic influences.  Sadly, one of the biggest ingredients that seems to be missing from the modern spiritual formation movement is an emphasis on sin, and repentance.  We can spend great energy trying to be in tune with God and learning breath prayers but if we are not eradicating sin in our lives we are really taking a thimble to scoop water out of a sinking ship.  I read this quote from the Puritan theologian John Owen yesterday and I am still being convicted by it.

The vigor and power of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.

Owen basically asserts that there is a direct link between our willingness to destroy the pervasive sin in our lives, and our relationship with Jesus, and experience of the Holy Spirit.  I want to be careful here and say that Owen is not saying advocating a super moralism, quite the contrary.  This mortification/eradication of sin is not done through our will, but rather our awareness of need and desperation that leads us to surrender absolutely to the work of the Holy Spirit.

ryan

The Problem of Evil

One of the most intriguing parts of the Saddleback forum last week was when pastor Rick asked the Candidates about evil, both were emphatic that it does exist and needs to be accounted for.

The idea of evil seems to have almost universal acceptance.  I can think of almost no one I have ever met that does not believe in the idea of evil.  Though there may be more who are gravitating this way, they usually change their minds after they leave their freshman philosophy class and gain some life experience.

Tim Keller’s book “The Reason For God” treats the topic at a more conversational and understandable level than just about anything I have ever read.  I know I have pushed the book numerous times on here but if you have not read it make it the next book you read.

I bring this up because its a subject that I have deeply wrestled with at times and believe can be one of the strongest emotive causes that people push away the idea of God.  Yet the problem is, without a belief in God we lack the repitore to even use such words as “good” and “evil.”  I was reading Justin Taylor’s blog this morning and there was an interview with renowned theologian John Frame about the problem of evil.  Here is one of the questions and answers Frame gave about theism being needed to use moral language.

3. People often think that the logical problem of evil is a problem primarily for theists. Would you say that it is at least equally problematic for atheists? Why?
In order to formulate the problem, atheists have to use the concepts “good” and “evil,” which make no sense in their system. If good and evil are just names for our feelings of approval or descriptions of the pleasure that comes from various events, then there is no reason to assume that God would produce only good and avoid all evil. So, as some have said, if believers have a problem with evil, unbelievers have a problem with both good and evil. For on the unbelieving view, there is neither good nor evil in an objective sense. Still, it is legitimate, I think, for atheists to question whether the Christian faith is consistent within itself. Whatever the unbeliever may think about good and evil, he has a right to ask how the Christian concept of good and evil is consistent with the Christian view of God.

So next time when we feel overwhelmed or distraught by all the “evil” we see around us, may we realize that the groaning in our spirit is a testament to the ongoing redemptive work of God in this world and the hope that he has implanted in us.  Our hope in the face of evil is actually a strong confirmation that God is with us.

ryan

A.W. Tozer And Preaching Theology

There is scarcely anything so dull and meaningless as Bible doctrine taught for its own sake. Truth divorced from life is not truth in its Biblical sense, but something else and something less…No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.

While there are a few bits in Tozer’s quote here that I would quibble with, I think he is generally right. I had two classes this last semester that taught theology. One did it in a lecture style that sought to just present theology, and the other did it with an intense purpose to be applied to life and ministry. The first class was hardly memorable, but the second will stay with me for the rest of my ministry. Theology is different from philosophy, there is no playing from the sideline. Theology must be taught, but it must also always call people unto the field to play and live it out. The truths of doctrine are like a stagnant pool of water if there is no life in them. It is through demonstration that the truths become a flowing spring.

ryan