Archives For Recommended Reading

Growth in the Christian life must be by grace.Is growth as a Christian a matter of God graciously changing us through His power?

Or, is it that we discipline ourselves?

The answer is that it’s not one or the other. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But it is God who is at work within us. (Philippians 2:12-13).

It is not an easy concept to understand. Many people try and grow by their own force of will. Others “let go and let God.” Either error ends in failure. We must grow in grace. We need to quit paddling the water with our hands and hoist our sails into the warm breeze of God’s grace.

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges is one of the first 10 books I would recommend to any Christian. The reason that it is such an important book is because Bridges offers an extended meditation on the relationship between our effort and God’s empowerment / grace. In the below paragraph, Bridges summarizes the subject of this book.

We try to change ourselves. We take what we think are the tools of spiritual transformation into our own hands and try to sculpt ourselves into robust Christlike specimens. But spiritual transformation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Master Sculptor . . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Colorado Springs (NavPress, 1994), 11,13).

Below is an excerpt from Unpacking Forgiveness in which I consider the relationship between our effort and God’s grace:

Think again of the invitation of Jesus.  This time, read the following two verses.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Just for a moment now, block out all your concerns about whatever fight you may face at home or church or in the world. Consider Christ even more deeply.  Even as I have reminded you that he is the Wonderful Counselor and Almighty God, notice that when Jesus invites you to come to him, he describes himself as gentle and lowly in heart.  Though he is supremely exalted, Christ is not a vindictive taskmaster who would rub your face in your mistakes and beat you down over your failures.  Such a combination isn’t possible in the Savior of the Bible!  He stands at the ready to help. He is gentle and humble in heart.  Why would you not accept his invitation to unload the weight of your burdens?

How to Accept Jesus’ Invitation

But, wait.  Before you accept Jesus’ offer to find rest, read the invitation closely.  Jesus does not invite worn-out people to take a nap.  Nor does He does he suggest that if we will chant a one-time prayer, refreshment will be granted automatically.  No; Jesus says to assume his yoke and learn from him.  Jesus invites those who need rest to come work with him.

Jesus’ offer of discovering rest by means of a yoke is a paradox.  A yoke is a harness used for labor. You might legitimately ask, “How is that in taking on Jesus’ equipment I would find rest?”  The answer is that, as we follow Jesus and learn from him, the Holy Spirit graciously operates in our lives. This is how we who are weak can move forward—not in our strength, but in his.  This is the kind of thing that Paul pointed to in Philippians 2:12-13 when he said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  The reason Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling is that when they do, God will graciously work in and through them.  God works in and through us as we cooperate with his gracious work in our lives.

A sailing illustration might help make this point.  Suppose you are in a boat and you have to travel an incredible distance.  And, to further complicate things, you don’t even know there is such a thing as sailing.

So, what would you do?  You would try and propel the boat in all kinds of futile ways.  You might lie on your stomach and paddle over the side.  If you were a little more creative, you might use a stick as an oar and row in circles.  But, soon enough, you would be worn out and frustrated.

But, then imagine that someone stepped onto your boat and said, “I see that you are exhausted.  How about I teach you how to get somewhere?”  He would then show you how to raise a sail and catch the wind.

You get the picture.  Sailing is still hard work. There is a reason that sailors – – like Popeye – – have big forearms.  But, it is not futile hard work.  Hoist a sail into the breeze and soon enough you are gliding forward in a strength that is beyond yourself.

This is the invitation that Jesus gives.  Are you tired of trying to work your way through forgiveness with one oar?  Are you worn out from trying to paddle with your hands?  Come and sail in the wind of his strength.  Soon you will be gliding forward in the breeze of his grace.

Of course, that begs the question, how do I work in such a way that God gives me strength and grace?  How specifically do I assume the yoke of Jesus and learn from him?  How do I raise a sail into the breeze of God’s strength?”  The answer to how is that God works in our lives through certain appointed means.  Sometimes theologians call these “means of grace.”  Means of grace are how God pours out his grace into the life of a Christian.  These means of grace include his Word, prayer, fellowship with other believes, and worship.[1]  When you participate in any of these means of grace, you hoist your sail into the wind of God’grace.  If you have been trying to work through forgiveness without consistent involvement in the means of grace then you are only paddling with your hands.

The way to accept Christ’s invitation to find rest is to be in his Word, to listen to biblical preaching, to pray, and to be sharpened by other Christians.  While at first, it may seem that you are moving only a bit, before long you will be sailing forward—ridding yourself of the baggage that weighs you down.

You may object at this point! “I have already tried unpacking the Christian way of unpacking my burdens,” you may say. “And it didn’t really work.  I tried Jesus!  He didn’t give me rest.”

Did you really?  Did you really assume Jesus’ yoke, his instrument of work, and learn from him?

  • Have you been involved consistently in a local church where the Bible is preached?  Have you participated in Sunday School or small groups or whatever Christian education opportunities your church offers?
  • Do you pray consistently in a disciplined way?  Not just talking about praying in the car on the way to work.  Have you really gotten down on your knees and earnestly prayed?
  • Are you involved in a Christian community or fellowship?  Are you sharing your life with other Christians?
  • Do you worship Christ on a regular basis?  Do you listen to Christ centered worship?  Have you identified with Christ in baptism?  Do you faithfully participate in observing the Lord’s Supper at your church?

These means of grace are how we take Christ’s yoke upon us and learn from him.  Christ’s way of unpacking forgiveness is not three easy steps.  It is about a way of life, about following Jesus, learning from him, being involved in his Church, hearing his Word preached.  Apart from consistent involvement in these disciplines, you are trying to paddle with a stick.  It won’t work.[2]

[1] The idea of “means of grace” may be new to you.  But I assure you it is not something I invented.  Berkhof writes, “Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer and association with other believers.  L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Fourth ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 534.

Grudem adds, “The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means for Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:3; Matt. 4:4, 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8).  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 755.

[2] If you would like to learn more about this area, I highly recommend Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace.  It was an ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award.  In it, Bridges wrote, “Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another.  In fact, they go hand in hand.  An understanding of how grace and personal vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.”  This is what Bridges will help you understand: how grace and vigorous effort work together.  Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994), 13.

Reading to children is one of the most important things parents do.If you are a parent or grandparent of young children, at the very least watch the below video of Max Lucado reading aloud.

My younger sister’s children are the perfect age for Max Lucado’s new book, The Boy and the Ocean. I hope she reads it to them soon. While my sister doesn’t need me to tell her how to snuggle with her children and read a beautiful book. Still, as a pastor and author, and older brother, it’s fun to point out several aspects of Lucado’s beautiful story:

    1. Most important, the little boy isn’t named. By not naming the child, Lucado makes this a story for for all children. He invites children to insert themselves into the story, and they will. As sure as little boys and girls knew they were the run-a-way bunny, children who hear The Little Boy and the Ocean read aloud will picture themselves as the ones looking out their windows at the mountains.
    2. The descriptions of the beauty of God’s creation will invite more discussion with little boys and girls. God reveals himself in creation (Psalm 19:1-7). My nephews and nieces don’t have oceans and mountains outside their windows, but they have vast fields and the open sky. They know about big rivers and beautiful birds. So they can follow Lucado’s lead and write their own poetry about the greatness of God.
    3. The beautiful pictures will inspire children to “read” the book on their own. In a previous post, I shared why our family needs the below picture of my nephew: it’s good for the soul to know beauty is possible and real. Children love books with pictures. Their minds absorb the words of the story and when they put on their Elmo slippers and read them on their own, they will hear the story read aloud.

My nephew Graham loves books!

Enough from me. Maybe to start, show this excerpt to your children or grandchildren.  But finish by reading The Boy and the Ocean to them yourself!

“The Boy and the Ocean” – A reading by author, Max Lucado from Crossway on Vimeo.

God's Wisdom on Proverbs by Dan Phillips is well worth reading.If you love God’s Word, take advantage of the resources available. For instance, Dan Phillips book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, is a wonderful introduction to Proverbs. You can read my endorsement here.

I am preparing to preach on Proverbs over the Memorial Day Weekend at Camp Forest Springs. Tonight, I was in my study at my home with a stack of books (not necessarily related to one another) nearby . . . and it struck me that for all the particular challenges of our day, we enjoy unprecedented opportunities to study God’s Word.

When I was in seminary, there were relatively few books available on Proverbs. Derek Kidner’s pithy commentary was on the market. And there were a few others. Toy’s oft frustrating commentary was recommended by many.

But it is a new day. Twenty plus years later, there are a wealth of new resources highlighted by Bruce Waltke’s two volumes published by Eerdmans. Waltke’s commentary is technical and more than most will want to invest. For anyone who wants a wonderful introduction to Proverbs, buy Kidner’s Tyndale Old Testament commentary, along with Dan Phillips’s book, and you will be off to a great start.


ProverbsbooksThe introduction to God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, “Essentials for Understanding Proverbs,” is worth the price of the book. Phillips has a wonderful regard for the Word of God. His writing style is clear and memorable. For instance, Phillips gives this helpful definition of a proverb:

A proverb is a compressed statement of wisdom, artfully crafted to be striking, thought-provoking,, memorable, and practical.

Or this important thought:

Proverbs convey pithy points and principles, not precious particular promises.

Finally, a beautiful definition of wisdom:

Wisdom: skill for living in the fear of Yahweh


At Camp Forest Springs this weekend, two of my goals will be to encourage family campers to: (1) Read the day’s chapter of Proverbs and (2) Memorize Proverbs. Most of you can’t be at camp this weekend, but those are a couple of great ideas in any case.

Andy Naselli:

edenTim Keller calls this book “the most accessible, readable, and yet theologically robust work on Christianity and the arts that you will be able to find”:

Jerram Barrs. Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. (14-page sample PDF)

Chapter 8 is a gem: “Harry Potter and the Triumph of Self-Sacrificing Love” (pp. 125–46). It’s the best treatment I’ve read that (1) responds to Christians who think that the Harry Potter series is evil and (2) exults in its dominant (Christian) theme—self-sacrificing love.

A few years ago I appreciated watching this 7-minute video of Jerram Barrs reflecting on the last book of the Harry Potter series:

Read the rest here.

The Reason for God by Tim KellerRead Keller’s outline for Part I of The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. The chapter titles alone may motivate you to start reading:

  1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity is a Straitjacket
  4. The Church is responsible for So Much Injustice
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

While reading The Reason for God I found myself thinking that I would easily recommend it over C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. On the one hand, that is not surprising. Mere Christianity was the edited publication of lectures given during World War II. Whereas, The Reason for God was published in 2008. Lewis’s work is dated. On the other hand, it’s quite surprising given Lewis’s stature.

But a comparison of Mere Christianity with The Reason for God is silly in any case because Keller repeatedly acknowledges Lewis’s influence on his writings. Keller shares that it was a combination of three people who shaped his thought:

I also owe a deeper sort of acknowledgement to the three people to whom I am most indebted for the fundamental shape of my Christian faith. They are, in order, my wife, Kathy, the British author C.S. Lewis, and the American theologian Jonathan Edwards.

Lewis’s words appear in nearly every chapter. It would be wrong not to admit how much of what I think about faith comes from him.

Keller isn’t in competition with Lewis. He is standing on his shoulders and taking the discussion forward in the new millennium. If it’s true that Tim Keller advances C.S. Lewis’s thinking, and I think he clearly does, then The Reason for God is must reading.

Having said that, the best way to motivate you to read Keller’s book is to read the chapter titles.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some tips for reading The Reason for God with profit.

C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetOne of the final steps in C.S. Lewis’s conversion was for him to accept the truth that Christians can truly be united or “Bound Together” with Christ.

In his excellent new biography of C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath does more than any other author to help us understand how C.S. Lewis came to faith in Christ. McGrath takes us a step forward in scholarship about Lewis by more accurately dating key events in Lewis’s life. McGrath goes so far as to point out where Lewis himself was wrong about some of the dates. You will have to read the book yourself to see if McGrath persuades you of his chronology. He convinced me.

In any case, McGrath shows that by 1931 C.S. Lewis was close to becoming a believer. Lewis had determined he was no longer an atheist. But he still had not given his life to Christ. Through interaction with Lewis’s letters, McGrath summarizes why Lewis still had reservations about becoming a Christian.

Lewis explained that his difficulty had been that he could not see “how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago could help us here and now.” An inability to make sense of this had been holding Lewis back “for the last year or so.” He could admit that Christ might provide us with a good example, but that was about as far as it went. Lewis realised that the New Testament took a very different view, using terms such as propitiation or sacrifice to refer to the true meaning of this event. But these expressions, Lewis declared, seemed to him to be “either silly or shocking.”

In the end, it was an evening with J.R.R. Tolkien that God used to tip the balance and for Lewis to finally put his trust in Christ. Lewis soon confessed faith in Christ and was united together with Him.

But how was it that Lewis accepted that Christ can help us here and now? Lewis gives his answer in The Problem of Pain published 9 years after Lewis’s conversion in 1940. Lewis explained how Scripture helped him come to understand that we are not so individual as we think.

Everyone will have noticed how the Old Testament seems at times to ignore our conception of the individual. When God promises Jacob that ‘He will go down with him into Egypt and will also surely bring him up again’, this is fulfilled either by the burial of Jacob’s body in Palestine or by the exodus of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. It is quite right to connect this notion with the social structure of early communities in which the individual is constantly overlooked in favour of the tribe or family: but we ought to express this connection by two propositions of equal importance – – firstly that their social experience blinded the ancients to some truths we perceive, and secondly that it made them sensible of some truths to which we are blind. Legal fiction, adoption, and transference or imputation of merit and guilt, could never have played the part they did in theology if they had always be felt to be so artificial as we now feel them to be.

. . . the separateness – – which we discern between individuals, is balanced, in absolute reality, by some kind of ‘interanimation’ of which we have no conception at all. It may be that the acts and sufferings of great archetypal individuals such as Adam and Christ are ours, not by legal fiction, metaphor, or casuality, but in some much deeper fashion. There is no question, of course, of individuals melting down into a kind of spiritual continuum such as Pantheistic systems believe in; that is excluded by the whole tenor of our faith. But there may be a tension between individuality and some other principle. C.S. Lewis, emphasis added (page 83).

Lewis accepted that we are not isolated individuals. Rather, we are “bound together.” In my book, Bound Together, I call this, “the principle of the rope“: that is, we are not islands unto ourselves. The ultimate negative example of the principle of the rope is the doctrine of original sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, their sin was imputed to all their descendents. And all inherited a corrupt nature from them. But the ultimate positive example of the principle of the rope is union in Christ. Those who believe in Christ are united together with Him as branches to a vine or bricks to a building.

As for McGrath’s biography of Lewis, in my mind it is now the best single resource on the life of C.S. Lewis. McGrath’s book and Alan Jacob’s wonderful book, The Narnian, are now the first two books to read on C.S. Lewis.

But first read C.S. Lewis himself!

Feel weak?

Chris —  April 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

Feel weak? Watch J.I. Packer on his forthcoming book.

Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer from Crossway on Vimeo.

A Literary Quiz

Chris —  March 25, 2013 — 8 Comments

Literature is part of the “great conversation” in which authors interact with central questions. If you want a wonderful introduction to literature, then I recommend Tony Reinke’s book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading. You can read more about Tony’s book on his web site.

The below is not a definitive list of quotes. Some of my selection had to do with what was handy on my shelves.

You can check your answers here.

Feel free to humbly brag in the comments below.

Russell Moore:

I’ve found that most people who tell me that fiction is a waste of time are folks who seem to hold to a kind of sola cerebra vision of the Christian life that just doesn’t square with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe. Fiction helps to shape and hone what Russell Kirk called the moral imagination.

Read the whole thing here.

Twenty Two words shares the statement President Nixon was prepared to read if the moon expedition failed and the astronauts died. See here.

HT: Thom Rainer