Praying The Bible

September 13, 2015 — 1 Comment


How many of you all would say you have a dynamic, enjoyable prayer life? If you’re like me, it’s not really either one of those adjectives. Instead, it’s something you feel like you should do, but it’s not necessarily something you’re excited about. If you know me well, you know I’m not exactly an extrovert. I can do well in conversation, but I can’t carry a conversation if you’re more introverted than I am. So, when it comes to prayer, it can feel like I’m carrying the conversation, and so I tend to not pursue it as much as I know I should.

In family gatherings, I tend to sit and listen. When it comes to my relationship with God, I tend to do the same. Bible study comes easy because reading comes easy. Talking, not so much. Also, I feel like a lot of times I say the same old things about the same old things when I pray. When I was younger, and prayed way more consistently, my prayers were pretty rote. By that I mean I prayed every night but I basically prayed the same prayer every night. Being older, doing that feels, well, boring. This is a problem since prayer is essentially “talking to the most fascinating Person in the universe about the most important things in our lives,” as Donald Whitney puts it in Praying The Bible.

He goes on to say,

Indeed, why would people become bored when talking with God, especially when talking about that which is most important to them? Is it because we don’t love God? Is it because, deep down, we really care nothing for the people or matters we pray about? No. Rather, if this mind-wandering boredom describes your experience in prayer, I would argue that if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit— if you are born again— then the problem is not you; it is your method (Kindle Loc. 102-105).

Whitney’s book then is offering readers a new method for praying. Well, it’s not really new. It basically comes down to using the words of Scripture to shape the language of your prayers. Whitney observes that we all tend to pray about the same half dozen things: our family, future, finances, work, Christian concerns, and current crises. Praying about these things isn’t bad or problematic in the least. But, because that’s what we tend to always pray about, we tend to often say the same things about these same things.

By praying through a passage of Scripture, specifically psalms and prayers of Paul, we are “taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God” (Kindle Loc., 299-300). To put this into action, “you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text. See how easy that is? Anyone can do that” (Kindle Loc. 305-306).

Praying The Bible is ultimately a pretty quick read. But, it’s probably the most important “short” book I’ve read in a long time. I immediately used the material in a chapel message at school and then put it into practice when we take prayer requests in class on Friday. I am implementing it into my devotional life and so far am enjoying Whitney’s approach to Psalms of the day. He suggests taking the Psalm that matches the day (so Psalm 11 on the 11th) and then add 30 (so Psalm 41), and repeat until you have 5 Psalms. You quickly scan each and then pray using those Psalms for however much time you have. It could be 5 minutes or 50. Regardless, you won’t exhaust the text of Scripture and you’ll avoid needless repetition in your prayer life. If you’re like me, this is something you’ll want to take, read, and implement sooner rather than later.

Donald S. Whitney, Praying The BibleWheaton: Crossway, July 2015. 112 pp. Hardcover, $13.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!


If you look closely at the background of the book cover, you can see all seven intellectual virtues. I’ve already talked about carefulness and intend to hit on all of them. After the last post, a friend corresponded with me offline about how it might not have been as clear as it could be. Specifically, I don’t think I laid out how to distinguish well between intellectual carefulness and intellectual honesty. Or, on the flipside, intellectual carelessness and intellectual dishonesty. Since I was strongly critiquing assumptions made on a lack of information, it could look as if I’m suggesting dishonesty on Carl Trueman’s part.

First, it might help to clarify what intellectual honesty looks like. Philip Dow makes an important distinction in the way intellectual honesty relates to the other virtues:

Unlike the other intellectual character traits, intellectual honesty is not primarily about the process of getting knowledge but rather about how we choose to use or present the knowledge we already have. In that sense, intellectual honesty is the link between the rest of our thinking and our actions (61).

He then describes the intellectually honest person this way:

[T]he aim of intellectually honest people is to communicate what they know with integrity. Because their main objective is to help others get at the truth, they are consistently careful not to use information taken out of context, to distort the truth by describing it with loaded language or to otherwise mislead through the manipulation of statistics or any other type of supporting evidence (61).

Dow adds an additional point about intellectually honest people citing their sources so as to not take credit for ideas not their own. From this, we could then say that intellectual dishonesty would come down to:

  • Intentionally taking information out of context in order to exaggerate or distort
  • Intentionally using information in a biased way
  • Intentionally taking credit for evidence or ideas not your own

The key word in the list is “intentionally.” In the Trueman situation, I’d have to know for sure that he knew all the relevant information related to the situation and then chose to only use the information that was helpful to the point he was trying to make. Suggesting he over-looked accessible information is pointing to a lack of carefulness. Suggesting he intentionally ignored information he already had would be pointing to a lack of honesty. While the latter is possible, I doubt that’s the case, and if it were, I don’t think I’d be able to know.

I realize looking at it now that my post could be read as suggesting that Trueman was being biased in the way he approached the situation. He does have a history of criticism when it comes to Tchividjian, so that is entirely possible. However, I specifically focused on his overlook of available evidence rather than misuse of the evidence he had. He made a judgment about the situation on an improper basis. One could still argue that it was unwise to hire Tchividjian, but not necessarily for the reasons Trueman cited. Rather than suggesting Trueman went about things in a biased manner and took things out of context, I just want to suggest he rushed to judgment and did a lot of assuming instead of researching. After the research, I imagine he’d come to similar conclusions, but at least they would be well grounded at that point.

In this light, to suggest that assuming a lack of carefulness when someone gets their facts wrong is giving them the benefit of the doubt. It is a way of practicing a charitable interpretation of their mistake. To directly suggest that they misused evidence is to charge them with dishonesty and in most cases goes beyond what you can know. In a culture that encourages a hermeneutics of suspicion it may be hard to go against the grain. I don’t always find it easy to do myself (see the comments on the last post). But learning to practice charity in interpreting other people’s mistakes is a discipline worth investing in.

As a recent example, I was listening to a sermon where the pastor made three pretty elementary mistakes in setting up the background of the passage he was going to preach. It would have been easy for me to mentally assume rather negative things and to discount or tune out the rest of the sermon. I fought against it and tried to just assume that in this instance, the pastor didn’t have enough time to study the passage well and so made some assumptions that were entirely reasonable, but factually inaccurate. He was either hasty or lazy, and I chose to assume the former since the latter is going beyond what I could actually know for sure. I assumed he overlooked the available correct information about the passage, or overlooked the correct information in his notes while he was speaking. Had he been more careful, he wouldn’t have made the mistake.

If I had assumed some level dishonesty on his part, it would have cast a long shadow over the rest of the sermon. It is particularly easy to think that if I can’t trust someone to get basic background details right, that I shouldn’t trust them with the rest of what they have to say. On the one hand, that can be reasonable. But on the other, it could be an assumption of dishonesty coming into play. At the very least, you may doubt that they are using the information reliably even they are not intentionally trying to deceive. Or, you could assume that in getting some background details wrong early in the sermon, that means more time was spent crafting and developing the latter part, which was the case in my recent experience. Those early background details could have gone unmentioned and it wouldn’t have affected the remainder of the sermon. In fact, for me, it would have strengthened it.

At the end of the day, there is much overlap in the virtues as well as the vices. It can seem that charging someone with intellectual hastiness may also suggest dishonesty, or even laziness. In some cases, they may coalesce. In the previous case I discussed, I think it just simply a matter of hastiness to pass judgment on the matter. That is someone a result of the age we live in and the culture the internet encourages. But, it is much better to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger as someone once said. And like all things, that is easier said than done.


In terms of a theology of the Christian life, I’m not particularly a fan of Tullian Tchividjian. I don’t think he articulates well how grace and obedience relate under the new covenant and wouldn’t recommend his books as resources. I don’t think he’s a heretic, or that he teaches full blown antinomianism. I am however a fan of his preaching, and after he preached one weekend when we were at The Village, I completely understand why he has such a following.

I am going to assume you’re loosely familiar with the ways he has made the news in the last few months. He resigned from Coral Ridge because of adultery, both on his and his wife’s part, the sequence of events not being relevant (for what I’m writing about). Then you probably saw a few weeks back that he is getting divorced. There is much more to the whole story, especially when you throw Paul Tripp’s involvement into the mix. But again, details are not relevant for the point I’d like to make.

I’m more interested in the response to Tchividjian being hired by Willow Creek PCA. This happens to be a local church for us (in good old Winter Springs), and we have friends that go there. I know the associate pastor (via Starbucks) and even applied for a youth pastor position there a while back. It’s a decent sized church. Not a mega church by American standards, but not necessarily a small church either.

Somewhat predictably, within the Reformed evangelical neck of the woods there was not a positive response to Tchividjian’s hiring. As a representative sample, consider the posts at Mortification of Spin by Todd Pruitt and my favorite, by Carl Trueman. Tullian has been a favorite whipping boy of Carl’s for a while, so like I said, I could almost guess the response before reading it.

While there is wisdom in warning against restoring a pastor to ministry too soon, there are also a clear lack of intellectual carefulness in assessing the situation and then passing judgment. I think I noticed this because of teaching a new class I’m teaching at school called Creative Problem Solving. Really, it’s a class on critical thinking and as part of our foundational section, we’ve been covering the intellectual virtues. I’ve found Philip Dow’s book Virtuous Minds to be particularly helpful. There, he defines intellectual carefulness as follows:

Those who are intellectually careful earnestly want to know the truth and so consistently make sure not to rush to hasty conclusions based on limited evidence. They are patient and diligent in their thinking, careful that they do not overlook important details (34).

Given this definition, the opposing vice would be intellectual hastiness. Returning back to Trueman, here is the first part of his final paragraph:

No one begrudges a man the chance to earn a living.  Further, I doubt that WillowCreek PCA has done anything wrong at a technical level with regard to the PCA’s Book of Church Order.  Tchividjian has been defrocked and has not been restored to ordained office.  Morally, however, the situation is this: a man deemed unfit to hold teaching office just three weeks ago is now occupying a position of teaching influence in the same denomination.  Maybe not illegal, but certainly irresponsible towards both him and those he will influence.  At the very minimum it is also most discourteous towards the Presbytery which acted to remove him and whose informed judgment in the matter has been for all practical purposes rejected.

His points here would be valid, if his underlying information were accurate. However, it’s not.

For one, he does not now hold a position of teaching influence within the PCA. One might guess that’s what his job entails simply from the title on the church’s website, but then again, that’s just guessing. The title “Director of Ministry Development” is ambiguous for sure, but an intellectual careful response wouldn’t assume what the job description is in absence of more details. If you were curious what exactly this job title entailed, you might do well to ask the pastor of the church.

In addition, Trueman presumes to know that this hiring was either circumventing the South Florida Presbytery’s censure, or directly flaunting it. Rather, it seems that there was a clear transfer of Tchividjian’s care at work (see previous link). Trueman might be assuming, based on his previous erroneous assumption of the nature of the job, that a church couldn’t possibly hire Tchividjian without rejecting the South Florida Prebytery’s decision. But then again, that is the lack of carefulness compounding itself.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people have either directly lament Tchividjian being restored to ministry too soon, or indirectly pointing out how unwise such a thing would be. However, this rests on the wrong assumption that this constitutes restoration to ministry. Likewise, it may be assuming that this hiring is celebrity driven. It overlooks the fact that this was Tchividjian’s old church home during his time at RTS Orlando and that he has had an on-going relationship with members there during his pastorate at Coral Ridge. It also confuses a church staff position with being a minister, and again, assumes too much about what the job entails (again, see previous link).

Speaking too soon and too authoritatively without enough information also fails to display intellectual humility. Many people don’t really need to comment on this situation one way or the other. Many people also aren’t making much of an effort to understand all the information. Many people do not have intellectual virtues when it comes to how they analyze a situation like this, and so once again, we have a lot of sound and noise on Twitter, but most of it signifying nothing.

In the past, I’ve certainly been guilty of contributing to the noise. But, as I’m studying the intellectual virtues more, I’m finding myself drawn to recommitting myself to not only thinking critically, but thinking carefully. It’s easy to rush to judgment. It’s much harder to hold a tentative opinion until you’ve gather the necessary facts to draw sound conclusions. I’d like to pursue more growth in this area myself and I hope you’re interested in doing the same.


Long ago, in many times and many ways, I spoke to you about the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. As volume as have been released, I’ve posted about each one:

Then I was able to review how two of the volumes worked in Logos. Now, I’m letting you know about the remaining volumes in the set. The actual full available set can be found here, but I’m commenting on a slightly earlier version of the bundle.

Because you can read my reviews of the individual volumes by following the links above, I won’t be commenting as much about the contents. Instead, I’m focusing on the usability in Logos. However, one thing to note content-wise is that if you get the Acts volume in Logos, it is an expanded digital edition. As the author, Eckhard Schnabel explains:

I thank Clint Arnold and the members of the editorial team for their invitation to write the commentary on Acts, for their comments on the manuscript, and for their willingness to work out a solution when the submitted manuscript was twice as long as contracted. While allowing the print edition of the commentary to be longer than originally anticipated, they arranged with Zondervan that the electronic version of the commentary will contain the full manuscript, with a large number of In Depth sections that had to be omitted from the print edition and with fuller documentation of and interaction with the work of other Acts scholars.

The print edition runs 1168 pages, so I’m not sure if that means Schnabel submitted a manuscript closer to 2500 pages, or if he contracted for a lesser amount and the 1168 was the max for the print and you’re getting a few hundred (or less) bonus pages in the digital edition. In any case, the only downside in this is that the Acts volume doesn’t have page numbers in the Logos edition like the other ZECNT volumes do.

While we’re talking about those “In Depth” sections that are in the Acts volume, I like how they cease to be sidebars in the digital edition. It would be helpful if they were indexed so they could be more easily accessed, but I like how they integrate into the flow of the main text more easily reading scrolling through the digital edition. On the downside, when it comes to scrolling through these volumes, say on your iPhone (even a 6), the The Translation and Structural Layout sections get cut off and can’t be fully seen. In the previous review I showed you what they look like on an iPad. Usually those are fine, but they’re almost worthless when accessing the titles on your phone.

Luckily, I don’t primarily use Logos on my phone. Instead, I do my main reading and highlight on the iPad, but then do more serious study and cross-referencing on the computer. As you can see in this screenshot, I have several commentary series in the New Testament and I’ve integrated the ZECNT volumes into my New Testament studies layout (click to enlarge):

Logos Screen Grab

(see full size)

Within the left panel, you can see, from left to right, TNTC, ZECNT, PNTC, BECNT, and NICNT. If you notice also, there is a small “A” next to the book cover icon. That means I’ve linked the panels so if I change the reference in one, it adjusts the other. So right now it’s set for Acts. But if I change the ESV to Ephesians 4, all the linked commentary panels will also change. With a few clicks I can not only read a section of Scripture, I can toggle over to see what a half dozen different commentaries offer. Also, as a sidenote, you’ll notice I have both the ESV Study Bible and NIV Zondervan Study Bible notes under the biblical text.

When it comes to actually studying the text, I like to read through it a few times and with several translations (you can see which in the enlarged version). Then, the translation/layout in the ZECNT is the next thing I’ll look at. One thing I really appreciate with the ZECNT is the commentary proper breaks down by verse and offers both the Greek and English before comments. From there, I’ll compare comments between commentaries, and ZECNT is a valuable series to be able to use in this regard. While it only has 10 volumes, it’s a good split between Gospels, Paul, and General Letters at the moment. I’m looking forward to more volumes being released and will plan to add them to my Logos library once that becomes an option. As you build your own Logos commentary library, you ought to take advantage of the Zondervan/Thomas Nelson sale and get this bundle today!

Visit the product page

Thanks to Logos for the review copy!


Discipleship isn’t easy. It’s not rocket science either, but teaching people to observe everything Jesus commanded is no small task. It can be intimidating, even when both people are committed to the process. In other words, it takes commitment, and we live in a culture that chafes at the idea of signing a 2 year contract for cell phone service.

Jeff Vanderstelt doesn’t shy away from these realities but presses into them in Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus In The Everyday Stuff of Life. In a little over 250 pages he casts a vision for discipleship that is more mindset than method. He begins with his own story before presenting the story of Jesus’ life and ministry as the basis for why we try to make disciples. Jesus is better than anything this life has to offer and the goal of our discipleship is Jesus saturation first in our own lives and then in the lives of those we are ministering with and to.

After these two parts of the book, Vanderstelt turns to unpacking discipleship a bit further. He explains what he understands life on life discipleship to entail and illustrates it with numerous stories from his own ministry. This part serves as a bridge between the Christology of the second part of the book and the ecclesiology and vision for sanctification that comes in the fourth part of the book. He takes a Trinitarian approach here, explain in successive chapters what our baptism into each person of the Trinity entails. From this vantage point, the final part of the book gets more practical in explaining how this vision of discipleship can be enacted in the everyday stuff of life. A couple of helpful appendices serve leaders wanting to implement ideas and principles from the book into their own small group or missional contexts.

For me, this book wasn’t eye opening or mind blowing. Most books of this type aren’t anymore. I appreciate what Vanderstelt is doing, but you could more or less sum up the book by saying discipleship is about being grounded in the gospel yourself and then being intentional about spending time with other people. As you understand the gospel better yourself and see the glory of God in the face of Christ, you will naturally and organically share that with others if you’re intentional about fostering relationships and community.

So while there is a place for sitting down and doing one on one Bible studies as means of discipleship, that really isn’t life on life and really isn’t enough when it comes to really teaching others the ways of Christ. People need models to show them the ways of Christ. That means teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded requires you seeking to do the same in your own life. As you do that, and invite others into your life, discipleship becomes less of something added into your schedule or more something that just flows out of your everyday rhythms of life. Saturate expands on this and captures the imagination better than pure didactic teaching will. But, if you’re already on-board with this vision, you probably don’t need to read the book.

Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus In The Everyday Stuff of LifeWheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!


I have a fairly long interest in apologetics. I’m not actually sure when it started, but the skeleton was taking shape by the time I left Bible school and was put to the test while I worked at Starbucks. The bones got meat put on them while I was in seminary, and I would eventually win the apologetics award for my Th.M thesis. All during this time I was reading books on the subject, either content or method. But, in all that reading I never really came across a book quite like this one.

I’ve read a few Os Guinness books in the past, one at the direct recommendation of Chuck Swindoll when I talked to him after chapel (he enthusiastically told me to read The Call). Neither was directly about apologetics though. This book, is not directly about it either, at least in the sense that most people would think of a book being about apologetics. There is a chapter explain why we shouldn’t be after the latest and greatest techniques (chapter 2), but that’s often a feature of works on apologetics. There is no extended presentation of the viable evidence for Christianity, yet that doesn’t mean arguments aren’t made for its validity. And while technique is eschewed, there are two chapters on general approaches to persuasively interacting with nonbelievers (chapters 6 and 7).

In a word, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian Persuasion re-frames the motive and aims of the apologist slash evangelist. In an age where most everyone says “I post, therefore I am” (15) Guinness seeks to remedy “a central and serious shortcoming in Christian communication today” (16). Specifically, “we have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it” (17). “Persuasion” in this sense being “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say” (18).

This leads to the heart of the problem, which Guinness explains as a problem of the heart (18): “The fact is that much contemporary advocacy ignores the deeper understandings of the spiritual and philosophical ways in which people think through their faiths, change their faiths, and the impact of their cultures and their ways of life on their thinking and beliefs” (18). We won’t understand unbelief and so have difficulty persuasively explaining our beliefs. We also mistakenly assume people are open to what we have to say when increasingly that is not the case.

In the first two chapters, Guinness makes a case for creativity in our persuasion while also avoiding a reliance on techniques. In regards to the former, Guinness argues that our discourse must be cross-centered and cross-shaped. For the latter, Guinness suggests that “Technique is the devil’s bait for the Christian persuader today” (30). Because there is no such thing as “McApologetics” (32) we mustn’t offer a one-size fits all approach to our persuasion. Ultimately, persuasion is an art, not a science and in its creative form “is the art of truth, the art that truth inspires” (34). We need more cross talk than clever talk (39). Because creative presentation is spiritual and moral, in addition to being intellectual (43), we must avoid simple reliance on technique which is never neutral and “essentially soulless” (44).

Chapters 3 and 4 make a case for defending our faith and being willing to be seen as foolish in doing so. In this regard, Guinness states,

Apologetics (from apologia in Greek) is a “word back,” a reasoned defense mounted on behalf of the one we love who is innocent but has been falsely and unfairly accused. Faith desires to let God be God. Sin has framed God, whether by the ultimate insults that he, the creator of all things, does not exist, or that he, the white-hot holy One, is responsible for the evil and suffering that humans have introduced into his good creation. So God’s name must be cleared and his existence and character brought to the fore beyond question (54-55, emphasis original).

Because of this, “so long as sin frames God, those who love God have a job to do in the world” (55). In the course of making our defense, we may appear foolish, but this is the way of the “third fool.” There are fools proper (see Proverbs) and fools for Christ (see 1 Corinthians). Then there are fool-makers, those willing to be seen as foolish in order to “bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes” (72).

Chapter 5 presents an erudite explanation of unbelief. In biblical perspective, “the central core of the anatomy of unbelief stems from its willful abuse of truth” (85). It does this through suppression, exploitation, inversion, and ultimately self-deception (86-89). This all leads to a tension that will not quite go away. Because the truth is, well, the truth, a worldview that reacts the way unbelief does will always sit uneasily in a person’s conscience. Guinness explains this the “dilemma pole” and the “diversion pole”:

The dilemma pole expresses the logic of the fact that the more consistent people are to their own view of reality, the less close they are to God’s reality and the more likely they are to feel their dilemma. The diversion pole expresses the fact that the less consistent people are to their own view of reality, the closer they are to God’s reality so the more they must find a diversion. Neither pole is necessarily closer to God, because unbelief as unbelief will not bow to God either way, but the people at either pole are relating to God and to their own claims to truth in entirely different ways (96, emphasis original).

In our culture, people more often gravitate toward the diversion pole as a our technological society proliferates. However, the dilemma pole is more consistent and leads to biblical themes like becoming like what your worship and reaping what you sow (98).

Given this understanding of unbelief, Guinness offers two strategies for persuasion in chapters 6 and 7 respectively. The former discusses “turning the tables,” which is more suited to those near the dilemma pole while the latter discusses “triggering the signals,” which is more suited to the diversion pole. For those more consistent in rejecting God (dilemma), the tables being turned pushes their own argument back against them in a variety of ways. For those less consistent, but just as disinterested (diversion), the signals triggered point to something beyond their current belief system that can only make sense in God’s reality. It is a way of sometimes waking our conservation partner from their agnostic slumbers.

In the final chapters, touches on using questions well in conversation and other ways to spring load our persuasion (chapter 8). He also discusses how to not shy away but embrace the accusation of hypocrisy (chapter 10), while not claiming to always be right (chapter 9). He closes chapter about those in the church who have left and how they become formidable challengers to the Christian faith because of their inside perspective (chapter 11), and a general overview of the apologist’s journey (chapter 12).

While I could probably continue on for another 500-1000 words about how excellent this book is, I think you get the idea. Guinness helps readers go a long way toward recovering the art of persuasion which often fails to be on many would be apologist’s radar. He takes elements from many schools of thought and threads them together in a way that will help readers integrate the best insights those schools have to offer. What might have been helpful is to chart some of this more clearly in the endnotes (which are unfortunately not footnotes). Having read widely in apologetics, I’m aware when he is being presuppositional, but that’s not always clear. The target audience might be why this kind of conceptual architecture wasn’t laid bare. It seems geared toward a general audience (this isn’t IVP Academic), but it is a very sophisticated read, and so may shoot over many lay reader’s heads. Needless to say, this all points to the challenge involved in writing this sort of book. At the end of the day, I think Guinness did a fine job and you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of this book.

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering The Art of Christian PersuasionDowners Grove, IL: IVP Books, July 2015. 270 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

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Thanks to IVP Books for the review copy!


I’m a big ESV guy. Or at least that’s been the case since the mid-2000’s. My first actual Bible was probably NIV. My first real study Bible was MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV that my mom got me during my first year of college. The next study Bible was a Reformation Study Bible in ESV, although during my time in seminary it didn’t figure prominently into my reading. My most recent study Bible has been a leather ESV, but that was until Zondervan sent along their newest offering.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is kind of a big deal. It’s been in the works for quite a while and none other than D. A. Carson is the general editor. As a rule of thumb, if he edits something, either a book, or a series of books, it is probably worth checking out. Up until recently I hadn’t been very high on the NIV, but I’ve come around. Since being sent this earlier this month, I’ve been using it for daily devotions. So far, I’ve enjoyed switching first back to print instead of Logos on my iPad, and second to reading the NIV instead of ESV. Right now I’m in 1 Samuel, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Romans, so I’m getting a good feel for the different feel of the NIV.

On the website for the study Bible, you can find out about the contributors, as well as an overview of what makes this study Bible distinctive. In many respects, it is very similar to the ESV Study Bible. It has fairly extensive articles introducing each section of Scripture as well as each book. It also has numerous articles in the back matter. The key difference is that these articles in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible are covering the main biblical-theological themes in Scripture. The goal is to give readers some basic tools in order to be better equipped to read the story of Scripture. While the ESV seemed to be going for comprehensive resourcing in its articles, the focus here is biblical theology, both in the articles and study notes.

Because of that, it is a nice compliment to an ESV Study Bible. You’ll get a different focus in the study notes, but you’ll also be reading a different translation (and it is actually a translation, not a paraphrase as some suggest). While you may not need a multiplicity of study Bibles, having two or three really solid ones is a good idea. If you only have an ESV, this is the next one you need to get. I round out my trio with a new Reformation Study Bible, but I’ll talk more about that later.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with this study Bible and would recommend you check it out, whether you’re an NIV fan or are looking to understand biblical theology better. If you’re looking to do both then this study Bible was basically made just for you. I may have more to say later, but for now, you might want to jump on pre-order deals with Amazon, or you could wait and see if somewhere like Westminster runs a release special in the next few weeks.


In my one of my classes this year, I’m planning on working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). It’s 11th grade Bible, and it has been a systematic theology class since I started teaching it. I’ve used a variety of textbooks, just trying to find what works well. Last year, I settled on utilizing Grudem’s Bible Doctrine as a textbook since it had good review questions built in, and thanks to one of my TA’s, I have now have answer keys.

As far as the structure of the lectures go, while I have PowerPoints keyed to Grudem (thanks to Zondervan’s Textbooks Plus program), I didn’t particularly like them. Also, it seemed a bit redundant asking students to read the book and then sit through a PowerPoint that was built on the headings of what they had already read. I decided I wanted to do something different this year, and so settled on using the weekly lectures as an opportunity to go through the WCF.

To help with that, I’m reading along through Chad Van Dixhoorn’s Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of FaithThe 33 chapters of the book follow the 33 sections of the WCF. However, each chapter is split into smaller readable portions, suitable for a daily read through. These sections each reproduce the historic text of the WCF, as well as a modern version for each section.

As an example, here’s the historic text of WCF 2.1:

There is but one only, living, and true God: who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

And here is in the modern version:

There is only one living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection. He is a most pure spirit, invisible, with neither body, parts, nor passive properties. He is unchangeable, boundless, eternal, and incomprehensible. He is almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, and most absolute. He works all things according to the counsel of his own unchangeable and most righteous will, for his own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. He is also most just and terrifying in his judgments, hating all sin, and will by no means acquit the guilty.

Stylistically, I find modern a bit smoother, but it is helpful to be able to compare it against the historic text. Along with each section’s statement, Van Dixhoorn includes the necessary Scriptural proofs, keyed to the historic text via alphabetic footnotes. Then, he offers brief commentary on the particular section. Sometimes he groups several sections together, since the goal is to have the sections on commentary comprise what could be a single day’s reading for 10 minutes or so.

All in all, from what I’ve read it has been a helpful exposition. I got through about the first 6 sections before pausing back in the spring. Now, I’m starting up a reading plan to go along with my lecture schedule. As questions arise, I’m hopeful that having read Van Dixhoorn’s analysis, I’ll be better prepared to clarify. Even you’re not in the position of teaching theology like I am, I imagine you’d find this resource useful for understanding this important historic confession of faith better.

Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, August 2014. 512 pp. Hardcover, $30.00.

Buy it: Amazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to The Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!



For the sixth time, I saw mewithoutYou live last night. It was actually full circle last time I saw them because it was in St. Pete were I saw them for the first time on the Tooth & Nail tour in 2004. Last time I saw them was at the last ever Underoath show, but that was a couple of years ago, so I was due for another. They played songs from their latest an album as well as songs from 4 of their older ones, including classics like Torches Together, A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains, and Four Word Letter (Pt. 2). They also played the spider trio from Brother, Sister.

Over at Christ and Pop Culture I wrote an article last week on the band, and frontman Aaron Weiss specifically:

The band’s most recent album, Pale Horses, continues the evolution. In some ways, Pale Horses represents mewithoutYou come full circle, which is fitting for band that once sang “all circles begin with an end, they come back around, they come back around again.” Lyrically, this is their most biblical album, as far as imagery goes. Musically, it’s a nice blend of all previous mewithoutYou incarnations. Spiritually, it draws from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but without a commitment to any one of them. Instead, the commitment is to a worldview of a different sort.

In addition to seeing them live last night, I was able to interview frontman Weiss before their set. I think we could have kept talking for a few more hours, but he had a show to put on. We talked about a wide range of ideas and experiences (speech act theory, perichoresis, spirit animals, marriage, to name a few), and I hope we’ll be able to have another conversation in the future. As for the one last night, I’ll tell you more about it in an upcoming article for Christ and Pop Culture, hopefully by the end of the month.


A couple of months ago, I wrote about how Carl Trueman changed my mind about Martin Luther. It is only fitting since he was partially responsible for my original disinterest in Luther. Although I might have been aware before I read Histories and Fallacies, that was the first extended discussion I came across related to Luther’s anti-Semitism.

For those that aren’t aware, the key writing is Luther’s 1543 treatise, On The Jews and Their Lies. There, he says things like this:

God has struck [the Jews] with “madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite all their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming…. (in Luther’s Works, vol. 47, ed. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 267).

When he mentions “the blood of the children they have shed,” he is referencing the so called “blood libel.” Trueman explains, that, “This was the claim that Jews kidnapped Christian children and offered them in ritual sacrifice, and it is clearly part of a culture that treated Jews with deep suspicion and fear” (Histories and Fallacies, 133). As Trueman goes on to explain Luther’s anti-Semitism, it clearly emerges that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the fact that Luther hated the Jews. That was fairly common in medieval Europe.

What is more interesting is the reason why the Jews were so hated. We tend to infer, based in large part on the Holocaust, that the motivations were primarily racial. Trueman says not so fast, and explains that our categories of race applied to the medieval context are anachronistic. If we remember that this was the height of Christendom, you can see how the Jews would be ostracized for primarily religious reasons rather than racial ones. So long as the Jews remained outside the church, they would arouse suspicion and fear. 1

While this was the case for most people, it was surprisingly not Luther’s original position. The historically remarkable thing is not that Luther hated the Jews. Rather, it’s that in 1523 he would write a book called Jesus Was Born A Jew and say things like this:

If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either (from vol. 45 of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962, 229).

Go back and read the first quote again. Granted, these quotes are 20 years apart, but one could hardly imagine a more complete 180. As Trueman explains in Histories and Fallacies, and I think reinforces indirectly in Luther on The Christian Life, the reason Luther changed his mind about the Jews is because they didn’t convert like he expected them to. As he points out,

Luther thinks that the Reformation will carry all before it; and, like many Christian before and since, he thinks he is living at the end of time where the return of Christ will be heralded by a mass conversion of the Jews. Indeed, there can be no doubt that Luther desired to see the Jews converted to Christianity because he was convinced that he was living at the end of time when the eschatological conversion was imminent” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).

In a similar way, Luther would eventually realize that you couldn’t just preach the gospel and call it a day. When there wasn’t a mass influx of Jews in the wake of the Reformation, Luther not only resorted to traditional anti-Semitic writing, he kicked it up a notch. The reception and use of his writings by later Germans would prove disastrous to say the least. This is the Luther that no one wants to be. We might want to emulate his commitment to the gospel in the face of rivals, but wouldn’t admire his condemnation of the Jews when they didn’t come to Christ.

Though not exact, I see a parallel with those today who are ministering in, with, and to the gay community. It is perhaps tempting to think that all one needs to do is preach the gospel and the converts will come. Or, to think that once converted, one can simply “pray the gay away.” In reality, neither of these things are guaranteed. This is not to say neither happens, but unrealized expectation can lead one to re-think the viability of the power of God to change lives. Or, cause one to categorize a group of people as hostile to the gospel in a way that forecloses future ministry. I would imagine that some of the animosity from Christians toward the gay community could be traced to attempts at ministry that didn’t go so well. That’s not true in each and every case, but it is easy to write off and stereotype a group of people when representatives of that group aren’t responsive.

When our involvement in Christian ministry doesn’t lead to the results we were expecting, it is certainly frustrating. But, that frustration can quickly turn dangerous and in Luther’s case proved deadly. What we say and do in the wake of our frustrations can have a lasting impact. And while we want to have a lasting impact if we’re involved in ministry in the first place, this isn’t the kind we’d want to be remembered for. Luther helps serve as a reminder to be faithful to our calling over the long haul even if doesn’t prove to be as fruitful as we might have liked.


  1. Here’s the quote from Trueman: “For Luther, the problem with Jews is a fundamentally religious one, as it was for all western European societies during the late Middle Ages. Luther had no real concept of race in the way that we do today. His world was one of religious categories, not biological or pseudo-biological ones. For him the problem was thus one of ideological commitment, connected to the issue of social assimilation. To put it bluntly: how does a society where the state and the church are essentially two sides of the same coin assimilate those who, by their very definition, are not members of the latter? The answer is simple: either it does not assimilate them and instead persecutes them, or it tries to convert them (either by persuasion or by force) and thus make them part of the church. Once converted, the problem ceases because it is an issue of religious conviction, not one of race. A Jew who becomes a Christian is easy to fit into a society, all good members of which are baptized and respect the church” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).