As noted in the video, pragmatism is the quintessential American philosophy. It is also quite the punching bag for Christian thought. In particular, Richard Rorty takes the brunt of the blows, and I wouldn’t disagree that he deserves some of them. On the other hand, James K. A. Smith is optimistic that we can benefit from Rorty’s thought and wrote Who’s Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood to try to make that case. I’m still deciding what I think about his argument and need to mull it over a bit more. My gut instinct is that there is some truth to the case Smith makes, but he is more optimistic about the value of American pragmatism than I think I can be.

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Just so you know, I have self-consciously adapted this from a Lifehacker article. With that out of the way, let’s be honest. If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent way more money on books than you could ever justify. This is a safe place. You can admit it. You’ve made poor financial choices involving book purchases. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Now, if you’re ready to change, follow these steps.

Step 1: Make A List of All Your Books and De-Clutter

Take stock of all your books. If you’re advanced, just look at your spreadsheet. Add a column and in that column, categorize each book into one of the following:

  • Need
  • Sometimes Need
  • Want
  • Crap

Now, using the sort feature, alphabetize that column. All the books that just rose to the top are crap by your own assessment and you should act accordingly. No, don’t sell them so you can just buy more books. Sell them, and use the money for something else. I know. It hurts at first, but you can get through this.

As for the other three categories, focus on the “sometimes need” and “want” categories. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • When was the last time I read this?
  • When will I read or reference this again?
  • Did I legitimately enjoy reading it and plan to do again in the future?

Depending on how you answer these questions, a new category will emerge: “Don’t Really Need.” Act accordingly, and then move on to step 2.

Step 2: See How Much Money You Spent on Books

Look at all the books you just realized you don’t really need and should get rid of. How much money could you have saved had you never bought those books in the first place? I know you probably got some free as review copies. For those, think back to how long you spent reading and reviewing the book. Let’s say it’s you spent 5 hours reading and preparing the review. Had you been working a real job during that time, how much would you have made? I won’t tell you how that works out for me, but let’s just say every book I review is a loss compared to if I had actually just bought the book in the first place.

A second part of this step is to go to Amazon and pull up a list of your digital orders. Take a good look at all the Kindle purchases. Filter those books through the above grid, and note that any “cheap” eBook you bought that you don’t really plan to read any time soon was a waste of money. At $3 a pop, that can actually add up over time. What’s worse, you can’t re-sell those books. You’re just stuck with them.

This leads to the need for step 3:

Step 3: Develop a Personal Should I Buy This Test

This may look different for every person, but it’s something you should put into place sooner rather than later. The “Should I Buy This Test” is essentially several questions to ask yourself in between realizing you want a book you just discovered and actually doing anything to acquire it. Personalize the questions to your own historical book buying (or review copy requesting) habits. If you’re stuck, here’s some example questions:

  • Have I been planning to get this book?
  • Will it end up in the crap list one day?
  • Do I actually have space for it (i.e. are my current shelves running over?)
  • Did I budget for this? (also, do you have a book budget?)
  • Why do I want/need it?

Ask they explain on Lifehacker:

Custom build your test to hit all of your weaknesses. If you make a lot of impulse buys, include questions that address that. If you experience a lot of buyer’s remorse, include a lot of questions that make you think about the use of item after you buy it.

For me, the last question about is where most things can be eliminated. I’ll maybe explain more in a separate post how I make buying decisions, but let’s just say it’s something that has evolved over the years and has taken a more restrictive turn in the last 6 months or so.

Having the categories in mind from step 1, the profit and loss margins from step 2, and now the “Should I Buy This” test from step 3, you are hopefully almost re-programmed. The last step though is perhaps the most important.

Step 4: Learn To Delay Gratification and Destroy the Impulse to Buy

As far as nuts and bolts on this last step, Lifehacker gets it, and in explaining it’s ok to wait for gratification, goes on to offer this advice for doing so:

Look at whatever you’re thinking of buying, go through your personal “should I buy this?” test, and then walk away for a little while. Planning your purchases ahead is ideal, so the longer you can hold off, the better. Set yourself a reminder to check on the item a week or month down the line. When you come back to it, you may find that you don’t even want it, just the gratification that would come with it. If you’re shopping online, you can do the same thing. Walk away from your desk or put your phone in your pocket and do something else for a little while.

You can also avoid online impulse purchases by making it harder to do. Block shopping web sites during time periods you know you’re at your weakest, or remove all of your saved credit card or Paypal information. You can also practice the “HALT” method when you’re shopping online or in a store. Try not to buy things when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired because you’re at your weakest state mentally. Last, but not least, the “stranger test” can help you weed out bad purchases too.

While at the end of the day you may realize that books don’t really make you happy, it’s more important to get your book lust itself under control. This may involve taking a reading sabbatical, which is, lest there be confusion, not a sabbatical to read but a sabbatical from reading. The horror! But at the end of the day, some of us need it.

Learning to delay gratification is important, and even though it might feel like you need this book because hey, it’s about theology, you probably don’t need it as much as you want it. And though wanting things is fine, being unable to delay gratification is not. A little self-discipline is actually much better in the long run. We should be good stewards of our time and money, and often, buying books makes us neither.

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Way back when, you might remember a brief blog series called What Are We Up To In Ministry:

  1. My Ministry Internship
  2. High School Boys Bible Study: Ephesians
  3. Church at The YMCA
  4. SHIFT One Day: Apologetics Seminar
  5. Baptisms in the Swimming Pool
  6. Leading a Small Group
  7. ?????

That was the Table of Contents, which as you can see, didn’t come to full fruition. A couple of things happened.

First, the ministry internship explained in the first post more or less stalled out and died over the summer. There were a variety of factors involved, and it is probably safe to just leave it at that. The Bible study lasted for the duration of the semester and was profitable, and the One Day seminar proved to be the first of many trips to teach at SHIFT.

Second, I decided to not announce or frequently post about what we were doing in ministry. Initially, as you might be able to tell, the impulse to start talking about our activities was an extension of trying to raise support and putting everything out there that I would be doing. Once I wasn’t trying to raise support, I didn’t feel the need to post about everything. More than that though, I thought it would be better to not mention many things because I believe it is better to do much of the work of the ministry in relative obscurity. This isn’t to say that everyone telling you about their latest ministry initiative is wrong to do so. I just decided that I would rather work quietly for the most part.

Ironically, many of the activities listed in the internship are things I have been doing more frequently at our church, perhaps more so than during the actual formal internship. I haven’t felt the need to discuss that and don’t plan to go into much detail here, but much of it is the result of running without a title for a while. I am more comfortable now with my role at church and there may be some expansions to it on the horizon.

Along with that, I’ve become a much more frequent visitor to SHIFT, so much so that I’m joining staff as a teacher and curriculum developer. I’d love to tell you more about it, but rather than go into detail here, I’d like to add you to our ministry newsletter. You can receive it either in print or e-mail. Right now, I’m looking to raise support for the summer since I won’t be teaching for two months at school, but would like to devote the time to some classes and curriculum development for SHIFT and our local church. You can donate to that cause here if you’d like.

In the fall, I’d like to expand my current role more and so I’ll be looking for people to not only support what we are doing by regularly praying for us, but by also joining to support us financially on a month-to-month basis. To get an idea what that would look like and what we’ll be doing, you’ll need to be on our newsletter list. Though I may post occasional updates here, I won’t go into as much detail or share as much outside of the newsletter. So even if you’re not able to support us financially but just want to know what God is up to in our neck of the woods in central Florida, email me at nate @ shiftorlando.com and I can add you to the list!

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The last actual class I took as part of my Th.M was an independent study on how to review books. The fruit of that class was these four reviews:

The professor for that study (which was done after I had moved to Florida) was Dr. Glenn Kreider. Because of that, it feels kind of weird to now review his book God With Us.

While I don’t want to engage in hagiography, I really enjoyed this book and do not have any major criticism of it. The book is a clear and engaging biblical theology of how God condescends to relate to his people throughout the Bible.  It has a conversational feel to it which I think reflects its genesis as material in a Baptist Sunday School class (aptly titled “Theology for the Rest of Us).

As a sidenote, one of the things I appreciated about my profs at Dallas was that many of them taught Sunday School. I think it helped refine and sharpen their communication since there are obscurities you can get away with in front of a group of seminary students that won’t fly with normal people (as I’ve been learning since graduation). This book reflects that sharpening. In other words, it is not quite the same biblical theology you’d find in a series like New Studies in Biblical Theology. Substantially, it’s in the same neighborhood, but this is biblical theology for normal people.

The book itself begins with theological foundations related to humility and condescension. The incarnation is a focal point, as well as the general condescesion that is involved where God reveals himself to us. Kreider ties both of these focal point together in the peron and work of Jesus Christ. He ultimately concludes:

In short, the behavior of the incarnate Son is consitent with the behavior of the God who is revealed prior to the incarnation. We see continuity between the two testaments in the character and practice of God. If the incarnation of the Son of God is a demonstration of humility and condescension, and if he did only what he saw his Father do, then reading the Old Testament should provide numerous examples of God’s condescension. (46)

Tracing those examples is the focus of chapters 3-5. Chapter interacts with the relevant stories from creation to Abraham. Chapter 4 starts with Isaac and carries through to the conquet in Joshua. Chapter 5 picks up with the monarchy, continues through the Psalms, and on to the Prophets.

Starting in chapter 6, the focus moves to the New Testament. Specifically, Kreider unpacks the birth narratives, geneaologies, and Jesus’ early life pre-public ministry. Then, in chapter 7, he focuses on Jesus’ teaching on greatness. Here we see how greatness is through humility and condescension, rather than seeking one’s own interests first. This theme resonates throughout the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus’ miracles, parables, and teachings on the kingdom.

Though the apostles didn’t seem to get it while Jesus was around, everything seemed to click post-Resurrection. We know this because we can see the themes of Jesus’ teaching on humility and condescension reverberate through the apostles teaching as Kreider points the way through chapter 8. In chapter 9, we move to the end of the biblical story in Revelation. Here, Kreider’s eschatological distinctives emerge, but it is not a major focal point. Rather, we see how the new creation is the ultimate condescension as God permanently makes his dwelling place with us on earth.

On the whole, I thought this was an excellent book. The material is well developed and Kreider draws from a deep well of theological reflection, particularly within the Reformed tradition (Bavinck shows up often). Further, many of the chapters open with poignant stories that bring the upcoming material into relevant focus. Coupled with Kreider’s clear style, this makes the book accesible to a broad audience. Additionally, the study questions in the end would aid in making this book a good candidate for small group discussion, or in my case, classrrom material for a senior Bible class. All in all, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of the book, and I’m not just saying that because the author practices well the attributes he explains in this book.

Glenn Kreider, God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the BiblePhillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, November 2014. 240 pp. Paperback, $14.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to P&R Publishing for the review copy!

A while back, you might remember the article I wrote for Christ and Pop Culture about Tim Lambesis from As I Lay Dying. After that, Tom from Victory Records got in touch with me about writing about some releases. One of those was Darkness Divided and their first album Written in Blood (stream it here). As you might be able to tell from either the lyrics, imagery, or both, these guys are a Christian metalcore band. Also, if you’re curious, “metalcore” is the correct sub-genre to describe this music. Even more specifically, I’d almost call this “inspirational metalcore” because of the melodic passages and lyrical content. Usually this is a branch of metal specific to bands on Facedown Records, so I was surprised to run into in a release from Victory. They haven’t gotten much exposure from what I can tell, but maybe they just need another album under their belt. At the end of the day, like most metalcore, I’ve found the album a good gym companion, or on a day like this, writing music.

I watch quite a few YouTube and/or Vimeo videos. You might have picked up on this recently with the addition of Music Monday and Philosophy Friday which are primarily video based. Now, I’m going to start sharing my favorite three interesting/humorous videos from the week on Saturdays. This week, I’ve got a timelapse video of Kilauea, a volcano in Hawaii that is probably the most currently active, as well as a look around Austria and some optical illusions. Enjoy!

To be honest, Nietzsche makes some good points. However, the version of Christianity he mostly reacts against is not the best. Some of what Nietzsche found unpalatable was simply the offense of the gospel, but some of it was simply offensive.

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It seems like every few months or so, another title is released in IVP Academic’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Even as I work on this review, I’ve already started a more recent work in the series and just noticed that another title is coming this summer.

None of this should be construed as complaining however since it is one of my favorite theological series. Granted, it doesn’t have a ton of competition in its particular niche. But still, the titles in this series are consistent in expanding theological horizons while drawing you deeper into the text of Scripture.

Bradley Green’s Covenant and Commandment is no different. Green is associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you might remember The Gospel and The Mind, an earlier book of his, was one of my first reviews.

In this book, Green is exploring the connection between works, obedience, and faithfulness in the Christian life (hence the subtitle). As he explains, “My argument is that in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person, a constant theme in the New Testament.” He adds, “In short, ‘works’ are ‘necessary’ for salvation because part of the ‘newness’ of the new covenant is actual, grace-induced and grace-elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant” (17).

Exactly how this fits together and work with sola fide has been a struggle going back to at least the Reformation. How can works be necessary if salvation is by grace through faith alone? It is a tension even in the New Testament where there is a constant expectation of actual obedience, yet also a strong emphasis on faith (and often the two are together). Green’s book begins there and eeks to answer the issue.

In the first chapter, Green surveys the key NT texts related to works, obedience, and the Christian life, summarized into several categories (24-37):

  • Loving or knowing God linked with obedience
  • The “conditional” nature of our future salvation
  • Christians must “overcome” if they are ultimately to be saved
  • The necessity of a great righteousness
  • The requirement of the law being met “in us”
  • God will efficaciously work “in” us, moving us to obey him
  • The necessity of putting to death the old man, by the power of the Spirit
  • “Faith” and “obedience/works” used as virtual synonyms
  • We are truly judged, or justified, by our works
  • The “obedience of faith”
  • We were created and redeemed for good works
  • Faith working through love
  • The law affirmed; the law of Christ
  • Persons do the works of their Father

From here, Green goes back to the Old Testament in chapter 2 and looks at passages that promised the new covenant obedience, and then back again to the New at the passages where that is described as reality.

With this biblical foundation in place, Green discusses the canonical issues in chapter 3.  This of course brings up the issue of the relationship between law and gospel. Rather than affirm a radical law-gospel antithesis, Green follows John Frame on affirming that “across the canon God saves people by his grace. Then, once persons are in covenant relationship with the Lord, he then gives his people commands, statutes, laws, and so on. And he expects his people to obey what he communicates to them” (65).

From here, Green adds insights from Richard Gaffin and Geerhardus Vos before hitting Galatians 3 head on. In his discussion he notes perceptively that “There is no place in Scripture where the primary way of acceptance with God is law-keeping” (71). The law, where it has been present is approached in the context of faith, which is the basis of acceptance. Ultimately Green says, “If one chooses to approach the law apart from faith, or one believes one can obey all of God’s law in an autonomous way, then one has completely missed the place of the law and has misunderstood the priority and centrality of faith in approaching God” (72).

After finishing the previous chapter with an excursus on John Owen’s view of the covenant, Green turns to the relationship of the atonement to our works, obedience, and faithfulness. “It is crucial to link one’s ongoing relationship with the Lord, one’s ongoing quest for holiness, to the gospel,” (77) Green says. After wrestling with key texts and discussing imputation of Christ’s obedience he concludes, “Our works, obedience and faithfulness flow from his work on our behalf; so we remain in need of our perfect and faithful high priest. But at the same time, what Christ has done for us leads to a change in us, which includes the manifestation of works, obedience, and faithfulness” (91).

In chapter 5, Green returns again to Richard Gaffin, though the main focus is on the key texts relating union with Christ to works, obedience, and faithfulness. It is union with Christ which helps us to understand the latter’s nature, purpose, and reality (103).

In chapter 6, Green gives a similar New Testament theology treatment to the relationship of justification and the future judgment. He also includes a historical theological treatment by surveying Calvin, Owen, Edwards, and Vos. He shows continuity in the present tense by including Gaffin, Gathercole, and Beale. He closes with an excursus on N. T. Wright which is where there is a noticeable lack of continuity. As Green notes, “One can have all that Wright and others say about the importance and grandeur of human and cosmic transformation within what is called (perhaps unfortunately) the ‘old perspective.’ Additionally, there is a long tradition of such interpretation and affirmation within the Protestant tradition itself” (139). The difference then, it not that Wright affirms a relationship between justification, our obedience, and the final judgment. It is rather, how he puts the three together, and how it can come across as though we are justified (for real) in the final judgment which is ultimately based on works. One need not take that path in order to affirm the importance of work as well as the legitimacy of our present justified state.

The final chapter ties everything together, while also drawing in the relevance of Adam and the covenant in Eden. Here Green also relates Christ’s obedience to our own. He notes “it is only because of Christ’s obedience and because believers are united to him by faith that believers obey. And our obedience in no way impinges upon or diminishes Christ’s obedience. Rather, we obey because we are in Christ – the ultimate obeying one” (158).

Green’s epilogue summarizes his argument and conclusions much as I have hopefully done. In the end, this is definitely a book to pick up if you’re concerned about either of the following:

  • Challenges presented by the New Perspective on Paul (particularly Wright) regarding the necessity of works in the Christian life
  • Challenges presented by advocates of either free grace or “antinomians” in the Reformed world

Green effectively answers both by surveying the key texts of Scripture as well as notable Reformed theologians and exegetes. The book isn’t a long read, but it is a rich exploration of the importance of works, obedience, and faithfulness in the Christian life.


 

Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience, and Faithfulness in the Christian Life (NSBT). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2014. 208 pp. Paperback, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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One of my on-going interests in Christian theology is the nature of sanctification. Some of it is no doubt stemming from interest in how to personally grow in grace. A larger part of it though is learning how to best shepherd and disciple others in their personal growth in holiness.

Helpfully, I was able to read through the collection of essays growing out of the Edinburgh Dogmatics conference. Edited by Kelly Kapic, Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice offers perspective from a wide range of scholars. As the subtitle indicates, it is more exploration than unified perspective or presentation of a new school of thought. It is split into three main parts, the first of which is focused on how we are sanctified by grace through faith.

This part of the book is opened by a homily by Derek Tidball on Colossians 3:5-17. From here, what I thought was the most interesting essay follows. In it, Richard Lints explains antinomianism through the relationship of sanctification and faith. Just as we are justified by faith, we are also sanctified by it. In his view, Christianity is less about moral progress and more about having our desires and worship restored to their proper form. In the end, I’m not sure there is a substantial difference between the two. Perhaps we could say sanctification is primarily about having our desires and worship restored to their proper form, but if that is happening, it would seem to also be a kind of moral progress. Maybe the issue is thinking of sanctification as first a heart orientation and second a hand co-ordination. If you aim for coordinating the hands first, the heart doesn’t necessarily have to be in-line.

Similar to Lints but moving in a different direction, Henri Blocher’s followup essay digs into the relationship of law and obedience in the Christian life. Here, he unpacks more of what is actually entailed by “sanctification by faith.”

Continuing on from here, the two following essays by Brannon Ellis and Bruce McCormack explore the importance of union with Christ and the relationship of Barth and Wesley on Christian perfection. The latter is more historical than the preceding essay, but was both interesting and approachable for those not steeped in Barth like McCormack is.

The next essay, by Michael Horton, begins the second part of the book which focuses on the relationship of sanctification and ethics. In particular, Horton’s focus is on the relationship of the Spirit and human agency in our growth in holiness. This section is rounded out by essays by Oliver O’Donovan and James Eglinton. The former gives an overview of the relationship in focus in this part of the book and the latter offers a discussion of Bavinck’s theology of sanctification and his unfinished Reformed Ethics that was to be a companion volume to the Reformed Dogmatics.

The final part of the book i theological and pastoral meditations on the subject of sanctification. Here, Ivor Davidson offers some dogmatic reflections on gospel holiness. Kelly Kapic offers a theological meditation on suffering and sanctification, particularly poignant in light of his opening note about his wife’s battle with cancer and subsequent neurological disorder resulting in debilitating pain and fatigue. His essay is follow by Julie Canlis’s offering on our sonship and identity in Christ before Peter Moore’s essay on sanctification through the preached Word (with a particularly focus on John Chrysostom) closes the book.

Overall, I think this is a valuable collection of essays, particularly the first part, if you’re attentive to recent discussions in the evangelical/Reformed blogosphere. If you’ve wondered whether making a big deal of grace makes you an antinomian, Lints essay is here for you. Further, if you’ve wondered just how obedience and the Christian life cohere in light of grace, food for thought is to be found between the covers of this book. I found it a stimulating read and consider a valuable resource for future study. If you’re on the ground with discipleship there is much to be gleaned from the occasional lofty heights the author here attain. In the end, you’ll find helpful explorations into the theology and practice of growing in grace in the Christian life.


Kelly M. Kapic, ed., Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice. Downers Grove: IL: IVP Academic, October 2014.  300 pp. Paperback, $28.00

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read the press kit

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

One of my favorite bands is Porcupine Tree. Yes, that’s right, Porcupine Tree. The conceptual and sonic architect of the band is artist and producer Steven Wilson. These days, he is more focused on putting out solo albums, but they more or less still sound like Porcupine Tree so it’s all good. The above video contains a playlist to stream his most recent album Hand. Cannot. Erase. Below is the live version of the opening track from his previous album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories). If you’re curious about Porcupine Tree, try In Absentia, Deadwing, and The Incident.

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