We have just finished a 5 part series of sermons at GRBC directed at the young people that attend our worship gathering each week. The goal of the series was to cover basic concepts that are part of Biblical Christianity. I decided to end the sermon series by making an appeal to become intentional learners (to use Donald Whitney’s terminology). There is no doubt that the primary way to learn intentionally is to read. This is obvious to most, yet practiced by few. So to help the folks at GRBC and anyone else who may need some direction toward helpful Christian literature, I will recommend 3 books that I was privileged to read within the last few months.
1. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
First published in 1630 by Puritan Richard Sibbes (commonly known as The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes because of his way of healing with words), this book has become a classic example of rich Puritan literature. The central theme of Sibbes’ writing is taken from Isaiah 42:1-3 and Matthew 12:18-20. Without a doubt, this was the most helpful book I read this past year. This book offers a message of hope to every Christian who is feeling overcome by his own sinfulness. Sibbes brought the overcoming power of God’s grace to the forefront of my mind again and again. This was useful to me because it seems that my own failures most often occupy the prominent places in my mind. I offer just a taste of The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes:
In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flames. In smoking flax there is but a little light, and that weak, as being unable to flame, and that little mixed with smoke. The observations from this are that, in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little mixed with much corruption, which, as smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.
Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as elected to be “holy and without blame”(Ephesians 1:4). Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in low opinion of ourselves.
Since the fall, God will not trust us with our own salvation, but it is both purchased and kept by Christ for us, and we for it through faith, wrought by the power of God, which we lay hold of.
2. Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter
The subtitle of Clotfelter’s work is Reconciling Divine Judgment and Mercy. The author does a wonderful job of addressing the more difficult questions of orthodoxy. His treatment of the doctrine of eternal judgment was useful for my own pastoral ministry and preaching. Clotfelter also offers a sound defense of the reformed view of salvation by carefully explaining the 5 points of Calvinism in terms that any diligent laymen can appreciate. Every pastor who desires to preach evangelistically, yet struggles with the “altar call” (decisional regeneration) approach will gain insight from Clotfelter’s appendix entitled, A Letter to Seekers. And every layman who desires clarification on difficult doctrines will benefit from this book. One example…
(Writing about George MacDonald’s misunderstanding of God) He was confident that he knew what a good God ought to do, and he was not greatly disturbed by the existence of biblical passages that contradicted his theories. Confronting such passages, his usual response was to insist that whatever they might mean, they obviously could not mean what they appeared to mean!
(Writing about Jonathan Edwards understanding of God) Edwards’ approach was quite different (than MacDonald’s)…Edwards sought always to subordinate human reasoning and feeling to the teaching of Scripture. MacDonald taught me to trust my instincts about God; Edwards told me to distrust those instincts and cast myself on the Bible.
3. Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson
Doug Wilson has quickly become one of my favorite authors and preachers. Wilson pastors Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. I do not agree with all that Wilson says or writes, but I find myself drawn to him because as a Presbyterian pastor with a great love for the covenants revealed in Scripture, he emphasizes (perhaps even over-emphasizes) aspects of Scripture that were almost completely neglected in my spiritual upbringing and theological education. Federal Husband brings a clearer concept of covenant into our marriages and provides a healthy approach to building marriages that honor God. This was probably the most challenging book I read in the past few months and I’m sure that in time, it will prove one of the most helpful.
One of the most difficult things for modern men to understand is how they are responsible for their wives. Men come into a marriage pastoral counseling session with the assumption that “She has her problems,” and “I have mine,” and the counselor is here to help us split the difference. But the husband is responsible for all the problems. This is the case for no other reason than that he is the husband.
Obviously, sins can be committed in marriage by both men and women. But all such sinning occurs in the context of a covenant and within the realm of the federal head’s responsibility. The responsibility for all such sins therefore lies with the husband. A woman can and should recognize her sins before the Lord; her husbands overarching responsibility should in no way lessen her sense of personal and individual responsibility. Properly understood, it should have precisely the opposite effect. When a wife understands that her husband is responsible and knows that he assumes this responsibility willingly, she will be more responsible as an individual, not less.
Let me know how the reading goes,
Help for Learning the Basics
We have begun our journey through the Gospel of John during our Sunday worship gatherings. Last Lord’s Day, we encountered the Trinity in John 1:1-18. In last Wednesday’s Family Bible Study, we studied the biblical doctrines of justification, sanctification and glorification. Both Sunday’s sermon and Wednesday’s Bible Study should have been a review of essential biblical teachings. These should have been a glorious revisiting of doctrines learned early in our Christian experience. But I fear that was not the case for many who attended our gatherings. For too many of us who have been converted for many years, we still do not understand the most basic bible doctrines which form the very foundations of our faith. We see this same dilemma in the Christians of the New Testament. 11Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
I think that there are a number of reasons why so many of us have never learned the basic teachings of Christianity. First of all, many churches we attended in the early years of our discipleship did not teach these doctrines clearly. They didn’t talk about justification or conversion; they talked about “asking Jesus into your heart”. Therefore, we simply did not hear these biblical terms and now when a pastor actually talks like the Bible talks, it seems as if we are hearing a foreign
language. Secondly, many of us do not read any substantial theological literature. This is an indictment against pastors as well as those who occupy the pews. Check out any 10 church web-sites and look at the pastor’s recommended reading list, if there is one. What is commonly seen is that pastors spend a lot of time reading books that improve leadership skills, organizational skills and most often, church growth skills, but seem to neglect reading theology. Perhaps this is why so many pastors don’t have two theological dimes to rub together (which may not matter to them if they believe preaching doctrine hinders church growth anyway). All of this leads to an inability to think clearly about the Bible and what it teaches us.
So what’s the cure for our ignorance? It has to begin with a commitment to renew our minds daily. Somebody once said, “If you want to change yourself, change something you do every day”. That is a sound principle to live by. So what should a person do daily if she wants to begin to think clearly about Scripture? Here are my suggestions:
· Read through the Bible every year or so, repeatedly asking the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read. The pace of reading will be different for different people. So find a pace that suits you and stick with it. Read slowly enough to meditate on what you are reading and use a good Study Bible to assist you. (2 recommendations for Study Bibles: The Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul, General Editor & The MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur, General Editor).
· Study some portion of the Bible daily. Reading is good, studying is better. The mind moves in the direction of what it thinks about on a regular basis. To study is not only to read, but to think about something so that you are changed by what you study. There are numerous plans out there to assist you in Bible study, but I recommend Tabletalk from Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul as the most useful tool I have found for daily Bible study. Subscriptions can be purchased here.
Tabletalk is a monthly publication that helps you study through various portions of Scripture by providing a daily Bible reading and then a few paragraphs of commentary on the assigned passage. Many other Bible study helps use this format, but what sets Tabletalk apart is that (1) it moves systematically through the Bible so that you study the Bible as it was meant to be studied. Recently, by using Tabletalk, I have studied through James, 1 & 2 Peter and now I am presently in 1 John. This method should always be preferred above random readings and topics; (2) the commentary is solid theological information that is designed to be applied to daily living. It is substantial theological reading which any lay-person can handle because the terms are explained and reviewed often and the readings are very short; (3) Tabletalk contains additional articles which help us see how these basic doctrines have developed throughout the history of the Church and how they impact the Church today. In other words, Tabletalk is not Our Daily Bread. (As a sample, this month’s edition of Tabletalk is entitledRedemption Accomplished, The Doctrine of the Atonement. For October, Tabletalk deals with Cults, Disguised as Angels of Light while continuing a study of 1 John.)