9 Ways to Ruin Confrontation

FistConfrontation.

Try doing that at a time when confrontation is considered a bad thing (“don’t judge”), you’re not allowed to say someone else is wrong, and the 11th Commandment (“Thou shalt be nice“) is the law of the land. Add all that to an already non-confrontational culture, and you’ve got a challenge ahead of you.

I appreciate how balanced and observant Paul David Tripp is. He talks about confrontation, and why we don’t like it. He asks, “why is confrontation so scary?” Sure, we like to hide and don’t like to be under inspection, but that’s not all. Confrontation is often done in an unbiblical way. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of confrontation gone bad will appreciate this recognition.

Yes, we dread confrontation because we don’t like to look at our sin, but we also dread confrontation because of the troublesome and unbiblical way we’ve seen it handled. There are legitimate reasons for our dread of rebuke.

Let me suggest several ways in which our agenda for confrontation gets confused with the Lords.

—Paul David Tripp, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles pg. 136

I’ll merely provide the heads from his list (pg. 136-138), along with my own reflection on them:

1. Confrontation often confuses personal irritation and anger with biblical perspectives and purposes.

On one level, confrontation is inconvenient. Confrontation usually happens when someone has gotten hurt or offended, so the personal anger and frustration can easily be all that the confrontation is about. “You have irritated me.” The biblical priorities get set aside, perhaps unconsciously, and it just becomes a smack down on this person who has sinned against someone else. It’s easy to let the hurt and anger cloud the situation.

2. Poor data gathering can lead to incorrect assumptions about the facts, which derails confrontation.

THIS. This, right here. There’s a reason Scripture commands 2-3 witnesses, with proper finding of the facts before discipline is executed (in both Testaments, actually). Yet how many times does someone go into confrontation, guns blazing with accusation, only to find out he had the facts wrong? “Shoot first, ask questions later” is not the way to do it. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

3. Confrontation is often marred by a judgment of motives.

There’s nothing like impugned motives to ruin a perfectly good confrontation. What you may have had right is not overshadowed by your false accusation. It was going so well, until you went and pretended to know why.

4. Inflammatory language, condemning words, and emotional tones often stain confrontation.

Tone it down. But, I have the suspicion that we are tempted to use inflammatory language and strong tones to strengthen our (otherwise weak) case, and make it seem more certain than it is. Like a politician. Strong emotions don’t build a case. In fact, we are to be gentle even as we are firm, according to Scripture.

5. Confrontations are often adversarial rather than moments of loving concern for the person who needs your rebuke.

It’s a “versus” situation rather than a “with” situation. It’s easy to view the person as the enemy who needs to be dealt with. It’s also easy for the confronter to be detached, feeling superior. Especially if the one confronting already has a “I’ve got it together” attitude, and majors on moralism. The grace of God goes out the window. No coming alongside the offender in grace, at that point.

6. In confrontation, Scripture is often used more as a club than as a mirror of self-awareness and a guide to change.

Punitive, as opposed to restorative. Indeed, it’s easy for us to decide ahead of time that the person won’t change, so we quit believing in the power of the Word. So naturally we don’t use it to that end. Just as a paddle to spank whoever needs it. The point is not to threaten judgement, but lead to confession (pg. 138).

7. Confrontation often confuses human expectations with God’s will.

Shoot, how many times has the purpose of confrontation been to correct someone for violating personal preferences? Such as: You’re not “towing the party line.” You disagree with me on matters of conscience. Therefore, you need to be corrected. Like that mandatory re-education they do. How about Scripture, please, instead of the laws of men. Whenever,and wherever that is the case, God’s will has been supplanted. Confrontation is not to realign people with yourself (making clones), but to bring them back to alignment with God’s Word.

8. Confrontation often takes place in the context of a broken relationship.

Most confrontation starts off on the wrong foot. If there’s been hurt and offense between two parties, it’s likely they’re already coming to the table with a negative attitude. And it really doesn’t help when the one doing the confronting actually says these things out loud, and goes on and on about how wounded and irritated he is, and how much you’ve hurt these other people, and you’re just so terrible. When that’s what confrontation is, why wouldn’t you dread it?

9. Confrontation often demands that change be an immediate event rather than a process.

This is me, right here. Let’s get it done! But, that’s unrealistic. Nobody does an immediate reversal. Scripture simply doesn’t promise it. Sanctification is a process. The Spirit’s work takes time. It’s easy to grow impatient, once you forget that you yourself require much patience. To enter confrontation with this immediate expectation puts unbiblical pressure on the person. We need to remember that we can’t change them, and change is gradual.

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The Grind: Reading and Listening in 2017

LibraryIt’s the beginning of a new year! For me, that means mapping out a curriculum. Not for others, but for myself. At the beginning of a new year, while most talk is about planning a diet or some other “resolution,” I figure out what I will study that year. I learned right after graduation that if I didn’t take initiative, I would never learn another thing. I know too many who have done just that, not so much as picking up a book after their “education” ended. And I’m talking about people in “ministry.”

Ever learning should we be. Can’t afford to continue my education, academically? Not going to let that stop me. There’s no excuse for stagnation. So one thing I do is plan what to study throughout the year.

Last year was unique, as far as my regimen goes. I kept having to change it up! I didn’t read as much as I usually do. Part of that was because of my new teaching responsibilities. Then once second semester rolled around I read quite a bit out of necessity on something I didn’t plan for. Overall, I didn’t get through everything I wanted. But I usually aim high, anyway. I think it helps.

As you read on, if you find yourself asking me “why do all that?” then go read why I study so much.

Of course, any period of time is not perfectly predictable. One thing that likely will change up my study plan will be what classes I’ll be teaching next school year. But, until something comes up, here’s what I plan to get through in 2017.

Happy New Year. Let the grind begin.

Reading Together

The wifey and I read together. I could probably write about that discipline, some other time. What we are into right now:

Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism (4th Edition — Revised, Updated, and Expanded) by Edward Dalcour

Oneness theology has a real presence in our context, and I don’t understand it very well. So, this is one way we prepare ourselves. It’s a great book and has already proven useful. We read this in the morning, over coffee.

Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by J. Gary Millar

We like reading volumes of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, together. They are great books. When we saw this one that traces the development of prayer from Genesis to Revelation, we knew this was our next read. So far it’s good. We read this at night.

Now to what I’m doing.

Books to Finish

18 Minutes by Peter Bregman. That’s ironic. I would probably be done with it already if I gave it 18 minutes.

I will continue reading J.C. Ryle. No matter what. Once you start, you’ll never want to stop.

I am determined to finish An Introduction to Systematic Theology by Cornelius Van Til, as soon as possible. That book keeps haunting me. After that, I can breath.

Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams. I just need to buckle down and do it. I could probably finish it tonight, if I wanted.

I will pick up again in The Church of Christ by James Bannerman. Great book, and necessary.

J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned B. Stonehouse (free).

Worship

First, How Then Shall We Worship? by R.C. Sproul (I finished it, already). I have begun to dabble in Calvin’s Treatises on the Sacraments. Calvin is always a delight.

Westminster Standards

One of my habits is to continue studying a topic even after finishing considerable preparation and am teaching that subject. I’ve decided to call it “binge study.” My current binge study: the Westminster Standards. Some of it made my Best of 2016 list.

I will be listening through William Still’s exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. So far, it’s good.

I’ll also read Unity and Continuity in Covenantal Thought: A Study in the Reformed Tradition to the Westminster Assembly by Andrew Woolsey. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches: A Global History by James McGoldrick would be most interesting, as well as The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian (free). And I may read the History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines by William Hetherington. Robert Shaw’s exposition of the Confession, The Reformed Faith, would probably be a good idea, as well. (*As of 1/9/17, available online as daily readings)

Update: Received them 5/11/17!

But, I don’t want to stop there! God willing (because I don’t own these books, yet) I really would like to continue my study of the Standards through reading R.C. Sproul’s 3 volume commentary on the Confession, Truths We Confess, and the 3 volumes of The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, edited by Ligon Duncan (see all three here). Since they are not ebooks, they might take quite a while for me to acquire. Why they are not ebooks yet is beyond me.

I have also added a book to my re-read list, this year: Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark. I’m looking forward to reading it again. It was excellent the first time. The difference now is how much I have learned since. Hopefully, I can appreciate this work more.

Lastly, I will finish the 3rd and final volume of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer.

(After I finish Thomas Watson, I will definitely pick up another Puritan to read. There are too many to choose from, so I don’t know which one. Owen’s 2 volumes on the Holy Spirit, Pneumatologia, has my eye. Or perhaps the unabridged Communion with God. We’ll see.)

That sums up my continuing study of the Westminster Standards that I would like to accomplish this year.

Education

Educational Ministry of the Church, taught by John Muether at Reformed Theological Seminary. Finding myself in the role of an educator, in 4 different environments, I need all the help I can get. I’m aware of my need to learn more and improve in educating. Hopefully this class can help.

To that end, I’ll also read Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together by Paul R. House.

Productivity

My consistency and productivity went through the wringer last year, to my great dissatisfaction. I need to read What’s Best Next by Matt Perman and Focus by Daniel Goleman. If I could just focus.

Pastoral Theology

Later this year I’ll probably read more pastoral theology. It’s a subject I tend to read consistently no matter what else is going on. I have a few books that are interesting. The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine, On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner, and The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. Preaching? by Alec Motyer would make a nice addition.

Biographies

I need some biographies in my life, so I want to finally read John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist by D. G. Hart and Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat by James Bratt.

Misc.

I’m going to read Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment by Brian Godawa, when I need a rest. That will be a “fun read” for me.

I should finally read Salvation by Grace by Matthew Barrett.

Historical Theology by Gregg Allison would be a good one to regularly read from throughout the year, little by little.

New Focus: Doctrine of God

A new study for me: the doctrine of God and the Trinity. Naturally, I’ve covered this doctrine before. But I haven’t studied it intensely, as I have other subjects.

I started reviewing the doctrine of the Trinity in Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton, which I have read several times already (it’s on my annual read list). Then, I decided to just read the more full treatment in his The Christian Faith. So, instead of Pilgrim Theology, I’ll just finally read that larger systematic theology all the way through, throughout this year.

The thing is, I’m a bit lacking in material on the doctrine of God and the Trinity. I was looking at my library the other day. I see a lot of Christian worldview, apologetics, hermeneutics, pastoral theology, but not many systematic theologies, or any books on the doctrine of God or the Trinity. I hadn’t notice that, before.

To help remedy this void in my studies, I will finally listen to The Doctrine of God class taught by K. Scott Oliphint at Westminster Seminary. Also, ST: Scripture, Theology Proper, Anthropology taught by Douglas Kelly at Reformed Theological Seminary (since I don’t have his book, below). This class seems to have quite an emphasis (6 lectures) on Trinitarian doctrine. If I still want more (and can dedicate the time), there’s God & His Word taught by Michael Williams at Covenant Seminary.

My library is lacking in this department, so should the Lord provide, I hope to acquire some new books on the subject, specifically:

The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham. Apparently the best overall treatment of the Trinity.

Systematic Theology: The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity by Douglas Kelly. Michael Horton recommended this for the “marvelous integration of covenant theology and the doctrine of the Trinity.” So that’s good enough for me.

Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Andreas J. Kostenberger & Scott R. Swain. Unfortunately, not available in Kindle edition.

Reformed Dogmatics: Theology Proper by Geerhardus J. Vos, edited by Richard B. Gaffin.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for sales.

2017 is going to be a full year.

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Omission is no small part of the reigning sin

In my reading this morning, Richard Baxter hit upon one of the most common temptations that I still hear, today.51Y0493E93L._SX333_BO1204203200_

Tempt. V. But, saith the tempter, they are but sins of omission, and such are not reigning sins.

Direct. V. Sins of omission are always accompanied with some positive, sensual affection to the creature, which diverteth the soul, and causeth the omission. And so omission is no small part of the reigning sin. The not using of reason and the will for God, and for the mastering of sensuality, is much of the state of ungodliness in man. Denying God the heart and life, is no small sin. God made you to do good, and not only to do no harm: else a stone or corpse were as good a christian as you; for they do less harm than you. If sin have a negative voice in your religion, whether God shall be worshipped and obeyed or not, it is your king: it may show its power as well by commanding you not to pray, and not to consider, and not to read, as in commanding you to be drunk or swear. The wicked are described by omissions: such as “will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts,” Psal. x. 4. Such as “know not God, and call not on his name,” Jer. x. 25. That have “no truth, or mercy, or knowledge of God,” Hos. iv. 1. That “feed not, clothe not, visit not” Christ in his members, Matt. xxv.; that hide their talents, Matt. xxv. Indeed, if God have not your heart, the creature hath it; and so it is omission and commission that go together in your reigning sin.

—Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory loc. 2710

What is that common temptation? Thinking you’re good enough simply because you’re not harming anyone. How often have I heard that? “I’m not harming anyone.” I’m a good person. I do no harm.

Baxter rightly recognizes this as, what is commonly called, “sin of omission.” This comes from the fact that God has not merely given prohibitions. God has not merely given a list of “don’ts.” God has also told us what to do.

We are not merely sinners on account that we do what we are not supposed to do (sins of commission), we transgress or break God’s law. “Doing harm.” But we are also sinners on account that we do not do what we are supposed to do. We omit. We fail to do our duty.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism helpfully defines sin for us:

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

We get too comfortable because so often the focus is on transgressions. Avoid transgressing, and we’ll be alright. Such is the temptation.

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (WSC 1). To not do that, to deny God heart and life, is a great sin. “God made you to do good, and not only to do no harm: else a stone or corpse were as good a christian as you; for they do less harm than you.”

To think sin doesn’t rule you simply because it’s not “positive” sin is to deceive oneself. Yet, how often in the church do we reinforce that erroneous thinking? What are the stereotypical sins that are targeted from the evangelical pulpit? Sins of commission, most certainly. Drunkenness. Fornication. Doing this or that which God forbids.

And so, it would be easy to believe that as long as I am not doing these things, not committing these things, that I am okay, and need not repent of anything. As long as I don’t commit, I’m fine. All the while what I omit is never addressed.

But as Baxter points out, omission is sin. That’s bad enough, as it is.

But, Baxter further points out the double-edged nature of sin: “Sins of omission are always accompanied with some positive, sensual affection to the creature.” And, “omission and commission that go together in your reigning sin.”

Omission occurs because we are pursuing something other than God. To simply not pursue God is to be ungodly, as we are pursuing something else.

Since we so often focus on the outside appearance, we mistake being “conservative” for being godly. “Ah, that one is a Christian, because he is not living a scandalous lifestyle. Sin does not rule them.” Perhaps, perhaps not. Baxter astutely says, “If sin have a negative voice in your religion, whether God shall be worshipped and obeyed or not, it is your king: it may show its power as well by commanding you not to pray, and not to consider, and not to read, as in commanding you to be drunk or swear.”

We must be careful. Especially in a religious context such as ours, where being religious comes with the culture. We confuse conservative living, not drinking or swearing, with godliness. Yet, is that the only way sin is active? What about omission? As well as not living scandalously, do you also pray, consider, and read? Sin may not command you to get blasted every night, or swear. But do you worship God and obey him, positively? Then it is in fact your king, and you it’s slave.

Quite frankly, much preaching today fails to confront this. What exactly is the call to repentance, anyway? Can we preach repentance to everyone, even those who are conservative? Many imagine themselves to live a “clean life.” How are they to be cut to be the heart, if we characterize the dominion of sin as merely transgressions of God’s law? “Ah, that’s not me,” they could easily respond. And they would be right. If the law was truly preached, then it would cut with both edges. In fact, they would be exposed as not living cleanly enough. Christ, in the fullest preaching of the law, revealed that it’s at the heart level. Sure, you may not have killed someone. But have you hated anyone, recently? Then you have already transgressed.

In our context many succumb to this temptation: because I am conservative, I am right with God. I am a good person. Sin doesn’t control me. I need not repent. I’m not like the cursing, drunken fornicators down the street. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

Yet, those transgressions are not the only way to describe the wicked. Are you characterized by omissions? Such as, “will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” What exactly do you pursue, with all your heart? What do you meditate on, day and night? You’re seeking after something. Something is in all your thoughts. If it’s not God, it’s an idol.

Are you as ignorant of God and his Word as those “sinners” down the street? Do you also posses “no truth, or mercy, or knowledge of God.”

It is not satisfactory that you drink not, swear not, fornicate not, because you also “feed not, clothe not, visit not” Christ in his members.

Not doing harm cannot save anyone. You remain under the reign of sin and guilty before God, as the servant who hid his talents instead of serve his Master. “Wicked” was the word used to describe him. Wicked and lazy. Cast out into the darkness, because of omission.

Do not yield to the temptation that you are not in sin, simply because you do no harm. Omission is no small part of reigning sin. Do not be deceived.

“Indeed, if God have not your heart, the creature hath it.”

The law cuts both ways. Such is the genius of the exposition of the Law of God in the Shorter and especially the Larger Catechisms. For every negative prohibition, there is a positive command. To not do what God says not to do is only half of it. We must also do what God requires.

To those who do not think they need to repent: realize that you do. Your only hope is in Jesus Christ. He not only never transgressed God’s law, but fully obeyed it. No commission or omission. Both are required to be accepted by God. You may have felt comfortable in avoiding transgression, felt comfortable in your conservative lifestyle. But you are just as guilty for denying God your heart and life, which is no small sin. You need that debt remedied. Christ is the only One with a perfect record. You can’t, it’s already too late. Repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, for his account to be made yours.

To the professing Christian: the transgressions may not describe you, but do the omission? Don’t get comfortable because you are physically in a church building on most Sundays. Examine yourself in light of God’s Word, shown above. May not you be declared a “wicked, lazy servant”?

To the believer: thank God for his grace in the Gospel. We so often fall short in both ways. Transgressions are easier to see. They’re easier to preach at. Let us not be deluded. Let us examine ourselves: what have we omitted? Repent. And remember that God works in us to will and to do his good pleasure. Be confident, knowing that we don’t have to satisfy God’s requirement. Christ satisfied it already. In light of that wonderful news, strive not only to avoid transgression, but to obey.

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Devotional Reading

Sleepy BibleI have found devotional material to be a bit difficult, and I don’t think I’m alone, so I’ll reveal my little pattern that I have.

First off, I prefer to listen rather than read, in the morning. I’m a zombie when I get up. I force myself to get up anyway because I need the extra hours in the day. I do not wake up early because it is “more holy” to read the Bible and pray when it’s still dark out. Because it’s not. I say this qualification because I have known too many churches and people that talk like it is. However, it is purely a tradition. No part of the day is more sanctified than another. Do your Bible reading at night, if that’s when you can. It doesn’t matter.

Anyway…

While it is difficult to keep my eyes open early in the morning, my ears have no problem. So I listen. From the Bible reading to the books, I have it read to me. It’s just easier at that time of day.

Bible

For quite a while now, I have used the M’Cheyne reading plan podcast. It uploads the Scripture selections in ESV so you can listen (I’m interested in D.A. Carson’s “For the Love of God” devotional that follows this plan, so I might follow that. Free PDFS are here).

Me, being me, I’ve got to do more. Since it’s the beginning of a new year, all the “read the Bible this year” blog posts resurfaced. I saw all these options for Bible reading plans from Crossway that are available as podcasts (like the one above). One caught my eye: Chronological. “Read the events of the Bible as they occurred chronologically. For example, the Book of Job is integrated with Genesis because Job lived before Abraham.” I have two chronological study Bibles already, so this plan appeals to me. I thought, “hey, I’ll do two reading plans.”

I guess I’ll be reading through the whole Bible twice this year (NT and Psalms three times). We’ll see how it goes.

See the rest of the Bible reading podcasts here, and many other year-long Bible reading plans. I encourage everyone to attempt to read the whole Bible, this year. I have found that if one does not commit to reading the whole Word of God within a set time, they may never read the whole Bible for years.

Books

After Bible reading, I read a sermon, either from the sermons of Charles Spurgeon (free) or the The Works of Jonathan Edwards, or I read a chunk from A Christian Directory by Richard Baxter. I alternate Spurgeon, Edwards, and Baxter daily. I find them very helpful. If you weren’t awake earlier, you will be. These authors will always give you something to think about. It’s all I can do to keep myself from tweeting throughout my reading, because they have such great one-liners. If you see my tweets in the morning, this is where they come from.

I read Experiencing the Trinity by Joe Thorn the other day, and it was so good that I have added a daily reading from that, also.

Anyway, that’s what I try to do.

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Best Books and Classes of 2016

Books and eBooks

My favorites of what I read and listened to this year.

Best Books:

The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms by Francis R. Beattie. My favorite book this year, maybe. Partly because it was such a providential find. So unique. The thing is: it’s out of print, no longer being published. It’s public domain. I don’t think that speaks well for the Presbyterian church, today. How is this book not in its nth edition?

It’s so good because it is a concise exposition of not just one of our creedal documents, but all three. A book like that is hard to find. Commentaries or expositions of the Confession are abundant (see below) and so are those of the Shorter Catechism. It’s more difficult to find an exposition of all three. It’s one of my textbooks for the Westminster Standards class. Available for free.

Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith by David Dickson. The second textbook. This book is a gem. The first commentary of the Confession of Faith, written just three years after the Confession itself. It’s a confessional apologetic. And all those heresies and errors? We are still fighting them today. This book will never get old. I’m glad it’s recognized, still being published by Banner of Truth in a very nice edition. Chapters 1-22 can be read here.

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. I finally finished this monster of a book. Well worth it. Full of my highlights. This will consistently be a reference.

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. The first of three volumes of sermons, following the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Thomas Watson has such a way with words. An excellent introduction to the Christian faith. Available for free, as well as the other two volumes, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer.

Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J.G. Vos, edited by G.I. Williamson. I loved this so much. I love the Larger Catechism. This is truly a neglected treasure of a neglected part of Presbyterian heritage. However old Vos is, it still packs relevance. A new edition of this would certainly be of great benefit to the church.

Essays on Christian Education by Cornelius Van Til. Education, from a distinctly Reformed perspective. Education must be built on a Christian foundation. Only then is it truly education, and truly Christian. As in everything, there is no neutrality. This is a good advanced read for Christian educators.

The Professor’s Puzzle: Teaching in Christian Academics by Michael S. Lawson. So helpful. I would not have been able to write my syllabi from scratch without this book. Oh, and the part about testing! I’ll be reading this book every year. It’s that useful and that full. I couldn’t possibly absorb all of the new things the first time. And his style is so easy to read. I recommend it for every Christian teacher.

Holiness by J.C. Ryle. It’s Ryle, period. Consequently, I am now always reading something by Ryle. An essential part of a healthy diet. Available for free.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. So great. A lot was familiar from his D.Min class on preaching from RTS.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to share and read this book with others. See my little recommendation. Available for free.

Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham. I was so looking forward to this book after watching Voddie Baucham’s lectures at DTS. This book is every bit as funny and powerful. It’s the textbook for our apologetics class, making a very nice introduction to the discipline.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. “For what we think God is like must shape our godliness, and what we think godliness is reveals what we think of God.” An easy to read introduction to the most important doctrine of the Christian faith.

The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White. Living in a culturally Roman Catholic country, I really needed this one. I learned a lot. Honorable mention: The King James Only Controversy, also by James White.

Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem. This book was fun, as in entertaining. It was really helpful. The various arguments are given and responded to. It’s methodical. I learned from this book and was even corrected by it. I needed it because evangelical feminism is very healthy here in our context, even within “Reformed” denominations.

Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel by Mbugua, Maura, Mbewe, Grudem, & Piper. The prosperity “gospel” is the bane of the church’s existence in our part of the world. Not a week goes by that I don’t detect its influence. This book is written by pastors in Africa to answer that false gospel spread throughout that continent. I hope it gets put to use in Southeast Asia as well.

What is the prosperity gospel? It is a ‘gospel’ claiming freedom from sickness, poverty, and all suffering on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross. Promising material, physical, and visible blessings for all who would embrace it, the prosperity gospel insists that God’s will is for all his children to prosper here and now. But this prosperity gospel contains four crucial distortions that are four differences from the biblical gospel. It proclaims a small God; it fails to identify man’s greatest need; it empties the gospel of its power; and it robs God of his glory.

—Kenneth Mbugua, pg. 3

If ever a group would be formed at church for reading books together, I would make this book the first. Available for free. Read it. Share it.

Best Classes:

This year was unique. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do, and instead invested more time in classes. These are all available for free.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, taught by Dr. John Gerstner. Hands down my favorite class on the Westminster Confession. He was such a great teacher, and it was obvious that he loved what he was teaching, and that was contagious. His way of explaining was so clear. This class was a delight. I wish I had watched it years ago when I first got it.

Educational Foundations, taught by Dr. Donald Guthrie & Dr. Tasha Chapman, Covenant Seminary. So great. I listened through this twice. Everything from the learning theories, to the classroom assessment techniques (CAT), all of it was so helpful and directly influenced how we teach. This is our role, now. So we had better prepare. This class helped do that.

History & Philosophy of Christian Education by Mike Lawson, Dallas Theological Seminary. I was loving his book so much, that I wanted to see if any of his classes were available for free, to listen to simultaneously. They are actually video recordings. That was great. He’s such a great teacher to watch. An emphasis of the class was that our theology must determine our philosophy of education. Having already read Van Til’s Essays, I really liked hearing that. Solid. I really enjoyed these lectures.

Christ-Centered Preaching: Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, taught by Bryan Chappell, Covenant. Really challenging. I learned so much.

Theology of Ministry taught by Joel Hunter, Reformed Theological Seminary. The sessions on spiritual gifts, and consequently what your staff dynamic will be like, definitely made this class.

 

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FREE eBook Recommendations

There’s almost no excuse to not be reading as part of your Christian discipleship. Here are some excellent books that I recommend to you for your edification and growth in Christ, that happen to be free.

I have finished all of these except for the sermons of Spurgeon (which is a routine of mine), Hodge’s Systematic, and Ursinus’ commentary. Enjoy.

The Sin of Man-Pleasing by Richard Baxter

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks

A Treatise of the Fear of God by John Bunyan

Covenant Theology: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of God’s Covenants by J. Ligon Duncan

A Treatise on Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper

Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge

The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink

Basics of the Reformed Faith by Kim Riddlebarger

Lectures to My Students by C.H. Spurgeon

On Calvinism by C.H. Spurgeon

The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon, volume 1 and volume 2

The Three Forms of Unity

Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Zacharias Ursinus

The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by B.B. Warfield

Defending the Faith by Cornelius Van Til

NOTE: If you’re looking for recommendations to start reading Christian books for the first time, or at the very beginning of intentionally developing a Christian worldview, or have read a lot of junk until now and you want to know where to start with solid work, then go to our recommended reading page, instead. That’s the place to begin.

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(Almost) No Excuse

Dear, ChristianDear Kitten

I write this to you out of concern for your maturity. You say you love Jesus. But I’m wondering how well you know him? Tell me, what have you learned of him, recently? Are you growing in Christianity? What lengths have you gone to in order to learn more?

There’s not many excuses left to not be continuously learning through reading.

Perhaps you would do well to visit, maybe for the first time, the letter to the Hebrews. He rebuked the congregation, calling them “too lazy to understand”and saying that by this time they should be teachers (Hebrews 5:11-12).

How long have you professed to follow the Lord Jesus? Should you be a teacher, by now? But you already know that you have much to learn.

Indeed, none of us never stop learning. All Christians are forever students. But there is something to be said about the proportion. It seems natural to expect more from someone who has been a Christian for 10 years, than someone of 5 years.

On top of that, you may claim a position of service in the church, or have some teaching responsibility, or have association with fellow believers that could teach you so much.

Indeed, to whom much is given, much is required.

Take this example, if you will:

Some time ago I lost one of my best friends, a woman eighty-six years old, the most exciting lay teacher I’ve ever been exposed to.

The last time I saw her on planet Earth was at one of those aseptic Christian parties. We were sitting there on eggshells, looking pious, when she walked in and said, “Well, Hendricks, I haven’t seen you for a long time. What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?”

She had a way of changing a group’s dynamics. Her philosophy was, Let’s not bore each other with each other; let’s get into a discussion, and if we can’t find anything to discuss, let’s get into an argument. . . .

She died in her sleep at her daughter’s home in Dallas. Her daughter told me that just before she died, she had written out her goals for the next ten years.

May her tribe increase!

—Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives pg. 23

Seriously now, how would you respond to that question: “What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?” Honestly, should I instead ask how many years has it taken for you to read five books? Let alone reading enough so you could choose the best five out of all of them?

What’s that you say? You don’t need to read? Au contraire.

Charles Spurgeon, who himself did not attend seminary, begs to differ on this point.

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

There is no escaping the written word. Even seminary classes assign books to read. When you were in school, there were books (perhaps that was the last time you read one). No amount of Youtube videos will replace the great books. No blog will, either. There’s no getting around it: you must read books.

Oh, but it is inconvenient, you say? It’s a particularly busy time of year. You have too much going on. Later this year would be better. After this period, you’ll do it. You are just waiting for this and that to get over with, and then you will get down to more diligent study. Yes, well,

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

—C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” in The Weight of Glory

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. C.S. Lewis smoked a pipe. You would probably know that if you read. Anyway, once again Spurgeon has said something similar to the Oxford Don. Spurgeon notes how the Apostle Paul did not let his unfavorable conditions stop him:

Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: what will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gone out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class—if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry.

—C. H. Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books

What do you do, dear Christian, when you are not busy with your occupation?

We should be learning. That is obvious. And God in his grace has not designed us to be alone. He has blessed his church through the ages with faithful teachers as gifts to us. We can and must take advantage of that resource.

But, money. Ah yes. Finances most certainly can be a real obstacle. Most people, however, simply need to spend wiser. They can’t afford a small book because they spend on other things that they can easily do without. It’s a matter of value. Many Christians, if they simply changed priorities, and quit spending on trifles, and seriously examined how they steward the money God has given to them, could easily begin investing in solid reading material.

 

With the amount of good books being published, and the best old ones being made available, there has been no better time to be reading. But as soon as you start building that wishlist on Amazon, you see the price start to climb. Bummer. Unless you have people who will surprise you with a gift (one reader actually did, and made my day with an excellent book), and you are financially insecure, you won’t get very far. I understand. Especially for hardcopies. Amazon doesn’t exist, where I am. If it isn’t electronic, it’s going to be a long while, indeed. For the multitude of Christians living in the less affluent parts of the world, solid books are not being sold and it would be even more expensive to try to order online, from another country.

Perhaps that then, is a legitimate excuse to not be reading? Not so fast.

Behold, a great mercy of God: free digital resources

And this is why there is little excuse for not continuing to study and learn. No matter where you are, so long as you have 1) an internet connection, and 2) some device to read ebooks, you have access to an overwhelming amount of solid wisdom from the Church. For free. You don’t even need to own that internet connection or screen you’ll be reading on. But seriously, free wifi is everywhere now. And I am surprised at how many smartphones are walking around town. It seems to be not unreasonable to expect someone to download an ebook and read it, anymore.

There is so much available electronically, that it’s not for lack of resources that Christians stop learning. The truth is, the proverbial (and nonsensical) trapped-on-a-desert-island-alone-with-my-Bible situation is not a reality. Even if you are outside of the first world, there is still plenty available for free.

From Monergism:

We believe the Church should have open access to Scripturally/Theologically sound edifying Christian literature and that one need not be held back from having a significant Christian library because of cost.

I feel the same way. For those of you who desire to learn more but think that it’s impossible, be encouraged. So much has been made available to you. Many obstacles have been removed. You can amass a rich library for yourself.

For everyone else who may take comfort in the perceived impossibility of getting good books, realize the lack of excuses left. Maybe the only thing holding you back is discipline. Are you not so much a victim of circumstances as “too lazy to understand”?

I just recently read Holiness by J.C. Ryle. And I was able to because it is available for free in Kindle format. And I praise God for it! I’ll be reading that book every year.

Since I enjoyed his writing so much, I just stocked up on a bunch more books by J. C. Ryle. For free.

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Ryle library

That will take awhile. And all free. You can do this. There’s little excuse not to.

As Spurgeon said, you need to read. As C.S. Lewis said, don’t wait until it’s convenient, for it never will be.

 

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