I’ve had an interest in counseling ever since I took a class on biblical counseling at Word of Life. Then, I majored in psychology at Liberty University. Ever since then, I’ve come back frequently to think through issues of integrating psychology and theology and how counseling works in the local church. Along the latter lines, I was able to get a review copy of Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. This is a slightly revised and expanded version of the 2009 book by the almost same title (and different publisher). In it, Paul Tautges argues for not just biblical counseling over against integrated models of counseling, but also for the importance of one another counseling in the local church.

Helpfully, Tautges begins each chapter with a thesis about authentic biblical counseling. In his estimation it:

  • Is nothing more, and surely nothing less, than the fulfillment of the Great Command to make disciples of Jesus Christ by the delegated authority of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (23).
  • Stands in awe of the power of God’s gospel to convert thoroughly sinful men and women from thoroughly sinful thoughts, actions, motives, emotions, and desires to Spirit-generated new creations that reflect the beautiful love and holiness of Jesus Christ – the Lord we are now called to follow (41).
  • Recognizes God’s holy calling for the believer and the disciple’s personal responsibility for self-discipline, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in a manner worthy of his or her high position as a new creature in Christ (67).
  • Lives out God’s redeeming love through believers as we take initiative to restore brothers and sisters who are experiencing spiritual defeat in the battle with indwelling sin (99).
  • Chooses no other foundation to build its philosophy and practice upon than the Scriptures: the will of God faithfully revealed to man by the Spirit from the living Word, Jesus Christ (113).
  • Grips the wisdom of God embodied and revealed in Jesus Christ and refuses to surrender the higher ground of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Truth in the gospel to the inferior wisdom of man (133).
  • Requires the nurturing power of stimulating relationships with other Spirit-indwelt believers in the context of a community of living faith that pursues the beauty of God’s holiness and revolves around the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ (157).

On a positive note, I think this book is useful for giving an account of how discipleship can incorporate the one-anothers of the New Testament. As believers in the local church are better equipped to give wisdom counsel in the mundane moments of everyday life, crisis counseling might be less needed. The meat of the book (chapters 2-6) covers this and because of the follow up discussion questions in each chapter, might make a good small group resource.

On a negative note, I think too much is made in this book of the dangers of secular psychology. It is cited as a main motivation for the writing of the book (detailed in chapter 1) and then fleshed out in more detail later (chapter 7). The stance is rather combative and probably won’t convince anyone who is on the other side. I am generally sympathetic to biblical counseling models over against some integrationist accounts and I found some of the rhetoric kind of off-putting and unnecessary (not to mention philosophically problematic). I think the book could have lacked this material and still fulfilled the vision of the title and provided an excellent resource to help small groups disciple their members better.

Paul Tautges, Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, February 2016. 195 pp. Paperback, $14.95.

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Thanks to Shepherd Press for the review copy!


Earlier this year, I started doing an “On The Blog This Month” post. Today would normally be that day. However, I got behind last month on my plans and most likely won’t turn that around this month. There’s a few reasons for this.

First off, I probably went to a few too many spring training games. Six to be exact, although half of them were rained out (thanks Florida!). I had a fairly solid run during my spring break though. I saw a Braves-Phillies game (or most of one) at the Braves stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Then, I was able to get an Astros-Nationals game at the Astros complex, which has the best seats for the money (see picture). Two days late I made it to a Nationals-Braves game at the Nationals stadium, which was not entirely impressive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the last season for both the Nationals and Astros in central Florida. They’re both moving south to share a complex in Palm Beach County. Lame.

Second, this Thursday, Ali and I are headed to California to chaperon the senior trip for the school I teach at. It’s been about 15 years or so since I was in the Bay Area and even longer since I was able to go to Yosemite. The second week of April is when our school does testing for grades 1-11, so I’m normally off. Last year that meant going to TGC for free, and the year before it was T4G in Louisville and working out some details for a Ph.D program I ultimate dropped out of. I could have road tripped up to Louisville again. Or, I could go to California for a week for free. For an additional $11, Ali could go too because they needed more chaperons, she had vacation, and I had miles. Easiest decision in a long time.
In light of all that, I probably won’t be doing too much blogging the rest of this month.  I’m simultaneously anxious and looking forward to not having books, a laptop, or potentially reliable internet for just over a week. I opted not to try to draft out posts ahead and probably won’t feel a compulsion to “catch up” when I get back. I’ve got a hefty stack of read and needing to be reviewed books. Maybe I’ll post on that before I leave and whatever seems most interesting will get reviewed first when I get back.

Lastly, I’ll be focused on some other personal writing projects which may or may not terminate in blog posts. I was hoping to be able to announce what it is for in this post, but it’ll need to wait until next month’s post most likely. April will be a very busy month for a variety of reasons (travel, wife’s birthday, second Underoath show, Death Cab, etc.). Hopefully it winds down a bit in May, but then there’s graduation and feeling all the feels that go with that. I still want to maintain somewhat of blogging regimen, but it’ll be touch and go for the next 6 weeks. At least now you know why!


Around this time last month, I posted my February Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was down slightly this past month, as was blogging. That was mainly because I had spring break and took advantage of having spring training games in my backyard. That, and I’ve started watching Mad Men. Once again, I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Here’s the March reads:





(image via challies)


I have long been perplexed by Karl Barth. I had only vague ideas about anything he said before going to seminary. There, I didn’t study anything he wrote directly, and unfortunately had mostly indirect contact through Cornelius Van Til. It took a few years to recover from that and then start to figure out what do to next.

On the one hand, I’d rather just ignore Barth. He’s notoriously difficult to understand, but unlike Van Til, he has more than a few interpreters willing to help you out. He is probably the most influential and/or important 20th century theologian. Yet, he has had an uneasy relationship with evangelicals. As a case in point, Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series features three 20th century theologians, one of whom is still living and none of whom are named Karl Barth. When one thinks of solid evangelical Reformed theology, most non-scholars don’t really think of Barth.

On the other hand, I’d like to get a better handle on what’s useful and insightful from Barth. However, I don’t want to pull a Brandon Smith and read the entire 8000+ page Church Dogmatics in a year (or more). One might hope Derek Rishmawy would do a read and blog through like he did for Bavinck, but Ph.D studies are probably too time consuming. Beyond that, it could be hard to know where to start with Barth, mainly because there are so many options (Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth is waiting on my shelf)

The best bet I think at this point is to pick up Michael Allen’s Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. You probably knew I was going to say that because the picture of the book is at the top of this blog post. I’ve been able to grab coffee with Dr. Allen several times since he came to RTS Orlando and he is exactly the kind of person you’d want to explain Barth to you.

However, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. In this volume, Allen provides readers with key passages from the Church Dogmatics. Before each, Allen offers a few paragraphs of introduction and orientation and a short bibliography of further reading. In the excerpts themselves, he offers explanatory footnotes to give insight along the way. The result is an entry point into Barth’s Dogmatics that allows you to get the feel of Barth’s thought and style. If you have the Dogmatics in full you could look up the excerpts and read before and after for further context. Or, you could just read straight through Allen’s volume and then check out something like Hunsinger before trying to tackle the Dogmatics in full.

I found my own read thru to be helpful. I’ve started and stopped CD I.1 several times, and maybe one day I’ll get through them all. In the mean time, I benefited from the readings that Allen offers and would highly recommend this volume as the place to start if you want to wrestle with Barth.

R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and ReaderNew York: T&T Clark International, May 2012. 256 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

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Thanks to Bloomsbury Academic for the review copy!


Between the time I write this and you read it, I will have voted in the Florida primary. Kind of seems like an exercise in futility at this point, but since I could walk to the polling place (or drive by it on the way to gym) it also seems wrong to not exercise my civic duty before I exercise by upper body and quads. Also, since the polling place is a Unitarian Universalist church, it will be nice to see that location being used for something productive (just kidding, although not really, I’m just being ironic given what I said just a few sentences ago).

Anyway, let’s talk politics.

Recently, IVP Academic sent me a couple of books on the subject, as did Zondervan. The first I’ll mention is Francis Beckwith’s Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. It is part of the Christian Worldview Integration Series, which I’ve commended previously (here, here, here, and here). Along with J. P. Moreland, Beckwith served as a series editor, and this gave him a chance to put the vision in the series preface into practice.

Over the course of 5 chapters, Beckwith covers topics like separation of church and state, secular liberalism, natural rights and natural moral law, and the Christian’s relationship to liberal democracy. The opening chapter gives a taxonomy of the branches of study within politics. All of this takes place in about 130 or so pages. While this makes it seems like a primer on the topics addressed (and it is), Beckwith offers sophisticated analysis of the issues he discusses and I found it particularly thought provoking. This is especially so for the final chapter on natural rights and moral law and whether one can ground either of those in God’s absence (short answer is no).

I think this book should be a if not the starting point for Christians who want to think more deeply about politics. Other books may be more comprehensive, but this one is more foundational (especially the opening chapter charting the lay of the land) and sets better groundwork (especially if you value philosophy). As there is a need for Christians to be more political savvy (not just more involved), this book is the place to start.


The next place to stop off might be Zondervan’s Five Views on The Church and Politics. I’ve mentioned my fondness for multi-view books many times before. This one is no exception, although I felt that the contributors could have duked it out a bit more in the responses (especially for a book on politics). Whereas Beckwith’s book is more about thinking through the nature of political science and a Christian’s place in relationship to it, this book is focused more on the church’s relationship to political life. In other words, it is one thing for Christians to have certain expectations for private political involvement. It is another to try to dictate what the church at large should be doing in regards to political life.

Taking cues from Niebuhr’s typology in Christ and Culture, the contributors here are plotted along a similar spectrum:

  • Anabaptist (Separationist): Thomas Heilke
  • Lutheran (Paradoxical): Robert Benne
  • Black Church (Prophetic): Bruce Fields
  • Reformed (Transformationist): James K. A. Smith
  • Catholic (Synthetic): J. Brian Benestad

Each author was responsible to trace the historical development of their position. Then they were to consider their tradition’s view on the role of government, as well as also addressing the extent to which an individual Christians and churches should be involved. The goal is to lay out the theory underlying each tradition’s view, which is then applied to the practical situation of policy debates about domestic poverty (17). The authors for the most part complete their task well and in concise fashion. I found myself agreeing in part with each in one way or another, but found the most agreement with Smith’s Kuyperian vision.

What tends to emerge as you read is that each tradition is variegated such that each author is part of a spectrum within their own label. I think Smith is the most self-aware of this, but other authors either comment on themselves or others in the response sections. Speaking of the response sections, they tended to be a little more agreeable than most books like this that I’ve read. I think this might further illustrate politics can be messy. In other words, while the authors could be agreeable in their responses, they can’t all be fully on the same page regarding how involved the church should be in political life or even which kind of policies flow from “the” Christian position. For reasons why this is, one would need to jump back up and read Beckwith’s book.


Finally, for a book that is not on politics per se, but definitely details some of the influences in American political life, you should read John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. In a nutshell, here’s the argument of the book:

Exceptionalism is an aspect of American civil religion. Closed American exceptionalism entails the five theological commitments I listed above [chosen nation, divine commission, innocence, sacred land, glory], each conflicting with the Christian gospel and potentially leading to idolatry, so it must be discarded. But open American exceptionalism – while it remains a part of civil religion – serves as a benefit to the nation, to religion and to the world by fostering a civic engagement informed by freedom, equality, and justice. (20)

The first two chapters of the book explain the historical roots of American exceptionalism. It is kind of like the new patriotism and entails a web of beliefs and moods about the status of the nation (“we’re different”), it’s mission (global peacekeeper, model for others, etc), and its character (“we’re better and everyone should be like us”). Wilsey makes a distinction between open and closed exceptionalism, which is important to keep in mind:

Closed exceptionalism is unrealistic and unchristian because it locates life’s ultimate purpose and meaning in America itself as the millennial fulfillment of human experience. But open exceptionalism find its expression in the American creed of individual freedom, natural rights, justice and equality (32).

Exceptionalism is not the problem per se, but rather how it is construed in relationship to the American story can be problematic. Thinking of America as a chosen nation that has a right to the land it inhabits and is on a divine mission to save the world is closed American exceptionalism. This plays itself out when one views immigrants (who make up the nation to begin with) are problematic because they intrude and wants to build higher and higher walls to keep them out. On the other hand, one could have a view American as exceptional, but see this land as a beacon of hope to the oppressed and offering unique opportunities for the advancement of human flourishing. The question is whether your view of exceptionalism leads to a wagon circling mentality or to offer a helping hand knowing you come from a place of privilege.

With this in mind, the rest of the chapters tackle the theological commitments that go with closed exceptionalism. The roots and development of each receive their own chapter length treatment. The final chapter reiterates the point that the closed version of American exceptionalism is not compatible with Christian faith, either theologically or practically. On the other hand, a model of open exceptionalism is good for civic engagement and human flourishing.

This is an important read for anyone who has believed or was taught that America is (or was) a Christian nation. Certain strains of that teaching are highly problematic (and Wilsey examines several that appear in homeschool curricula in the final chapter) and do more harm than good when comes to our perception of our nation. To help correct our view of our nation, while still maintaining a high view of it, I’d recommend working through Wilsey’s book this political season.

In terms of modern theology, it is hard to name a more influential theologian than John Webster. I tend to find theologians named John both helpful and formative, so I’ve been trying to dip into John Webster’s catalog of writings. That had been difficult until just recently. While I could get my hands on Holiness and Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, other titles were on the pricey side and the cheaper collection of essays in the bunch were out of print. Now they’ve been reissued by Bloomsbury T&T Clark as part of the Cornerstones series. For under $30 you can now get both Word and Church and Confessing God.


Word and Church is divided into three sections of essays. They are Scripture, Christ and the Church, and Ethics. Of interest in the first section is Webster’s thoughts on reading Scripture, using the example of Barth and Bonhoeffer, and his exploration of how hermeneutics function in modern theology. The lead essay in the second section is on the Incarnation, while he introduces the final section with a discussion of God and conscience. Given the flow of thought, these essays follow the contours of a mini-systematic.


Confessing God is similar in having a tri-fold structure, but here the overall focus is more on the nature of theology. The sections are Theology, Dogmatics, and Church and Christian Life. Included in this collection is Webster’s essay Theological Theology, which is the title of the recently published festschrift in his honor. Also included are essays on the clarity of Scripture, confessions, holiness, and hope, to name a few topics.

I would say given the scope of Webster’s writings, these collections might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his thought. I’d probably recommend the second collection, since it covers themes that can be explored in more detail through the monographs I mentioned above. Bloomsbury T&T Clark was kind enough to send me PDF’s of both sets and while I would have loved physical copies, I was still able to browse enough to say these are worth picking up. While Webster is an academic theologian, he has a clarity of writing and thought that is worth paying close attention to. It might take a bit of effort to enter into the realm of the discussion, but once you’re there, you should be able to follow him further up and further in.


I know I said I don’t post about this often, but I was thinking of writing this long before I received Preston Sprinkle’s book to review. If you’re lost, “this” is a reference to the topic of homosexuality. Along these lines, I’d recommend reading Alan Chambers’ recently released memoir My Exodus: From Fear to Grace. Alan was formerly the president of Exodus International, and ex-gay ministry that he shut down in 2013. He is co-writing with his wife Leslie who gives her perspective through three chapters on how they met, fell in love, and were married.

While Alan is internationally known, he’s also someone I’ve had coffee with and whose kids go to my school. Not only that, but I know Leslie because she works at the school. She oversees P.E. and so we end up watching the gym every now and then during lunch to make sure the high school boys don’t inadvertently (or advertently) nail each other in the head while sportsing too hard. In other words, Alan and Leslie may be widely known, but to me they are members of my everyday community. They are real people that I know outside of their wider acclaim.

With that in mind, I’m not necessarily saying “go read My Exodus because everything Alan Chambers says is gospel.” There is certainly gospel in there, but I do not completely agree with the way grace is explained and presented in the book. It is similar to the disagreements I might have with Tullian Tchividjian, but we still need to have a follow up lunch to hammer that out. To see more where I’m coming from, maybe you should pick up and read Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (but to explain why is another post entirely).

That’s probably enough ground clearing. Now for some background.

I grew up in East Tennessee in the late 90’s. I was homeschooled. I went from that to working at Lowe’s to a super conservative (and small) Bible college for two years. Then I started working at Starbucks, at which point I actually met and interacted with gay people for extended periods of time. I was pretty sure I knew what the Bible said about that lifestyle. But that’s different than knowing flesh and blood people who live it. And that’s different than knowing people who also claim to be Christians and seem serious about being part of their church with their lesbian partner.

Did I mention my aunt is a lesbian? Like an aggressive type and has been that way since the 60’s? I grew up thinking she was kind of manly, and even innocently commented as much at one point. Years later I found out she was gay and it was something the entire family knew but wouldn’t particularly acknowledge. Pretty typical don’t ask and don’t tell.

More recently, I’ve had a close friend from college lose his wife and become a single dad because the love of his life decided she wanted to pursue the desires for other women she’s had since she can’t remember. The dad of one of my best friends growing up left his mom for another man. One of my best friends told me last spring that he struggles with same sex attraction and we’ve been walking through ever since.

I say all this because I think it’s important for those of us that hold a traditional view of biblical sexual ethics to be aware of the complexities of real life stories. Not so we’ll change our mind, but so we’ll know that what we say about what Scripture says affects real people with real struggles.

This is the reason I think many people ought to read Alan’s memoir. There is a level of detail and vulnerability that allows you to see inside what a struggle with same sex attraction looks like (and Alan paints it as a struggle, not a celebration). Because I naturally struggle with empathy, I need stories like this to let me see and experience what someone else has gone through to get where they are. It’s not because reading about the struggle should change your mind one way or another. Rather, it’s because, to borrow Preston Sprinkle’s book title, gay people are people to be loved by the church. There’s a way to do that without affirming the lifestyle, but it requires actually knowing people to be loved. Those who hold the traditional view can often come across as not having ever had a close friend or family confide in them that they’re gay. Having someone come out to you doesn’t so much change your perspective as nuance it in a way that can’t be entirely predicted.

Alan represents an example of someone who is, in one sense gay, but in another sense straight. He is married. He is a father. He is also predominantly attracted to other men. He’s a sinner saved by grace, who lives by grace day in and day out. He is seeking to live a faithful Christian life, and is calling others to a live of purity. By reading his story, you are able to feel the weight of the pain and suffering that brought him to the place he is today. His story offers an opportunity to grow in empathy and so better participate in the conversation about how the church should relate to the gay community. It’s not designed to change your mind about what you think Scripture teaches about the topic. But it lets you inside someone’s life that is more radically affected by the biblical teaching than one who is straight.

I realize that his choice to shut down Exodus was controversial and that he can be appear to affirm same sex relationships and/or behavior in a way that those holding the traditional view cannot condone. However, I think his story is worth reading and listening to closely. And I’m not just saying that because I know him, but because it was eye-opening for me to read it and made me appreciate even more how God can work in mysterious ways.


Although I don’t blog about the topic very often, I have had a research and personal interest in the church’s relationship with the gay community for quite some time now. Notice I didn’t say “what the Bible says about homosexuality.” Despite some revisionist attempts to re-read certain passages, I think a traditional understanding of sexual ethics is correct. I realize that claim itself is open to interpretation. However, I think the intention for sexual relationships set forward in Scripture entails typical heterosexual monogamous unions.

Having said that, I still think it’s a different story when it comes to moving from what Scripture teaches to how we should apply that teaching to our contemporary situation. While homosexual behavior is soundly rejected in Scripture, certain other issues like transgender and intersex are not even mentioned. Much less is the question of how to care for and love those who either openly live a gay lifestyle, or are struggling not to do so.

Often in conversations like this, there is a divide between Biblical teaching and personal experience. What I mean by that is that some proudly proclaim what the Bible says but don’t have any experience with the gay community. Others have the experience, and so have a difficult time taking Scripture at face value. As an example, the strongest book offering a revisionist account of Scripture so that it is open to affirming homosexual relationships is James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. However, the author tells readers in the introduction that he began to re-think things when his son came out to him as gay. Once I read that, it was no surprise where he landed by the end of his reconsideration of the relevant New Testament passages.

When I was reading Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just An Issue, I could tell he was up to something different. After an opening chapter that orients readers to Sprinkle’s experience with both the people and the issue, he spends 6 chapters working through all of the main Biblical passages related to homosexuality. He is well acquainted with both the traditional arguments and revisionist accounts and is not afraid to critique either. While his tone makes you feel as if he is going to land in an affirming position toward homosexual relationships, he instead offers a well nuanced traditional understanding of sexual relationships.

This helps illustrate the two different audiences Sprinkle is writing to. On the one hand, he is writing to those who hold a traditional (non-affirming as he calls it) position on homosexuality. To them, he encourages a stance of sympathy and love that lacks the the moral hypocrisy that can creep in. He also takes away some less than sound arguments that can be used to condemn homosexuality from Scripture. On the other hand, he is writing to those who might hold an affirming position and pleads with them to reconsider what Scripture says. He gently critiques affirming arguments, while also writing as someone who is acquainted with those who live a gay lifestyle and those that affirm those who do.

While I don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, I benefited from reading Sprinkle’s book and would strongly recommend it. It is hard to imagine a more pressing discussion about what faithful Christian living and response involves. The final three chapters of this book dig more deeply into that, and Sprinkle offers some wisdom for a way forward. His style throughout is very conversational (in a way that may annoy some), and so for many may serve as a gentle corrective to their current views. For those it doesn’t convince, it still represents a viewpoint to be reckoned with. If this is something you wrestle with (either theoretically or existentially), you should pick up a copy of Sprinkle’s book.

Preston Sprinkle, People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An IssueGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


I believe I mentioned this already, but I’ve been teaching a spiritual disciplines class at church. We opted to call it Rhythms of The Christian Life, and at this point we’re 4/5 done. Because of that, I went back through my books on spiritual disciplines to prepare. Earlier this month, Habits of Grace:Enjoying Jesus Through The Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis came out and its a book I wish I had from the beginning. But, thanks to Crossway, I was able to get a PDF to read and review.

Mathis provides an excellent, yet concise, foundation for the disciplines in the introduction (which you can read in full here). He reminds us that these can be means of grace, through which God works in our lives. He then divides would could be an unruly collection of practices into three headings:

  • Hear His Voice (Word)
  • Have His Ear (Prayer)
  • Belong to His Body (Fellowship)

There is a fourth part that serves as a coda, but this three-fold division does much to simplify the topic. John Frame makes several appearances in the book so I’m wondering if there’s a latent triperspectivalism.

For the class that I’m teaching we started with a week on Sabbath and then inserted a separate week on fasting/silence/solitude after prayer. Mathis includes fasting, silence, and solitude under his section on prayer. He also includes journaling there. This certainly makes sense, given that these are the most private disciplines and taking time away for silence and solitude gives space for journaling, fasting, and prayer.

I’m glad that Mathis included the final section on fellowship and there also discussed the typical means of grace (the preached word, communion, baptism). This underscores the overall framework he has placed the disciplines within. It is also helpful for people like me who might opt to stick with the private disciplines. I need to be reminded that just as I read my Bible expectantly, I should gather for corporate worship and community with similar expectations for God to show grace.

If you’re looking for a good intro book on the spiritual disciplines, I’d highly recommend starting here. It’s what I’ll be recommending to my class as our time together closes out next week. It might also be the suggested reading on the front end for this class when I teach it again, hopefully sooner rather than later.


In a related vein, you might also want to check out Keith L. Johnson’s Theology as Discipleship. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to read this one toward the end of last year. In this book, Johnson argues that “the discipline of theology and a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ are integrally related because the practice of theology is one of the ways we participate in the life of the triune God.” He hopes to “show how the study of theology enriches Christian practice and how faithful obedience to Christ enables the learning of theology” (12).

This book arises out of an introductory course in theology Johnson teaches at Wheaton. As his argument proceeds, it is presented through close theological readings of Scripture (13). Before that, the opening chapter gives some background on how theological study fell on hard times. After talking about ways to move forward, the following chapters dig deeper into topics like union with Christ (chapters 2-3), the nature of the Word of God and our posture toward it (chapters 4-5), and the mind of Christ (chapter 6).

The final chapter lays out some principles for what “theology in Christ” looks like. Ultimately, we practice theology as disciples of Christ when:

  • We measure our thinking and speaking about God by the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture (156)
  • Our thinking stays within the limits of our faith in Jesus Christ (158)
  • We seek to live obediently in the pattern of the incarnate Jesus Christ’s obedience to God (161)
  • We do our theological work for the benefit of others (166)
  • We use our theological work to serve the church and its mission (171)
  • We pursue both truth and unity (176)
  • We display confidence while avoiding defensiveness (179)
  • We utilizing the insights of non-theological disciplines to enrich our thinking (182)
  • We pursue our theological work with joy (186)

While this is a fairly short book, it packs a punch. It is a good example of theological reading of Scripture being used to defend theology as a practice of Christian discipleship. At places, it can feel a bit dense. In terms of tone, style, and content, it’s a book for people like me primarily. But, in terms of argument, it is aimed at those who are questioning whether the study of theology is worth pursuing. That might make the book itself a hard sell, since I’m already convinced it’s worth pursuing, but I don’t think I could give this book to one of my college students who is questioning the pursuit of theology, because that usually goes hand in hand with an aversion to reading. If they liked reading, they’d already be an easy sell to do some theological reading. If they’re not, I wouldn’t see this book as convincing them, even though I think it has a strong argument. Not necessarily a reason to not check this book out, but a potential issue it might have in making an impact.


Lastly, thanks to Zondervan I was able to read Julius Kim’s Preaching The Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons. I’m not typically a fan of things with “gospel-centered” in the title or subtitle. Not because I don’t like the gospel, or want things “centered” on it (whatever that might actually mean), but rather because it can be faddish. Kim’s book however, is not.

I was interested in picking this up since I joined the preaching planning team at our church this past fall. I had been helping with research for a couple of years off and on. Recently, our church transitioned from being a campus of a larger church movement to an independent church. As that was happening, our pastor setup up a weekly preaching meeting to collaborate and plan the sermons and series. The mechanics of it all, might make for another interesting post. Here, I’ll just note that although I don’t preach often (outside of chapel at school really, and even that is not usually a “sermon”) I am interested in the design and delivery of sermons.

The first two parts of the book cover the basics of Christ-centered preaching. The final two parts of the book are devoted to the delivery and design of sermons so that they might not only be true and good, but also beautiful. This latter focus is what sets Kim’s book apart. Having sermons that are true and good are common goals among preaching books. The latter, while not ignored, is not usually as explicit as Kim makes it. In the last part specifically, Kim incorporates insights from recent studies in neuroscience in order to unpack how to design and deliver the sermon. He also deals with verbal and non-verbal communication as it pertains to the delivery.

All in all, this makes Kim’s book worth checking out if you preach regularly. It is concise (just over 220 pp), but covers quite a bit of ground. In some ways, it might be a better book for people who are already familiar with the techniques of Christ-centered preaching and have either been practicing it for a while or are well read in these kinds of books. It is introductory enough to work well as a class textbook, but maybe not as a stand alone read. Because of what Kim includes about design and delivery though, I think it definitely deserves to be in the mix of books that provide good instruction for preaching.


In our small group at church we’ve been doing a Hebrews Bible study. Not a Hebrew Bible study mind you, but a study covering the book of Hebrews. This past week, we looked at 5:11-6:12, with a bit of 6:13-20 toward the end. As we were engaged in discussion and study, I noticed a connection between 5:11 and 3:12-14 that got me thinking.

In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s Hebrews 5:11-14:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

We tend to construe “dull of hearing” as pertaining to gaining knowledge. But from context, both here and earlier in the book, I think it has more to do with obedience. Part of that is because the two words are closely related, especially in the context of Hebrews. This connection also features prominently in a recent book on listening. Ultimately, to “obey” is to “hyper-listen” or to listen deeply.

On this understanding, someone is “dull of hearing” if they are “slow to obey.” While it could be construed as not listening well on Sunday mornings, I think it has more to do with listening to God in general, specifically through his Word, and evidencing that you’ve heard by how you live. This comes out more in 5:14 as the contrasting position is called “mature” and that is defined as having “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This more or less describes the wise person in the book of Proverbs, and implies that you distinguish good from evil in order to practice the former instead of the latter. We could say then that listening closely leads to living wisely.

With this in mind, think back to 3:12-14, which again if you don’t have it memorized is:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice how important the community is for helping each other avoid sin’s deceitfulness. The word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which is the same word underlying “Paraclete”, the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit indwells believers, then they are able to function as a mouthpiece for the Spirit, doing his job (in part) in the context of Christian community. By being part of an active church body, you are “partaking of the Holy Spirit” if others are exhorting you toward living a godly life (cf. 6:4 and what this might mean in that context).

I tend to think that the way this should work is similar to an aspect of the way I teach piano. Often, I find myself listening very closely as a student plays through a song that they practiced during the previous week. It is rare that a song is played completely mistake free. However, as I’m listening closely and paying attention, I can discern the intentionality behind many of the notes. What I’m looking for is evidence of correct thinking behind the playing.

One thing that is difficult in being a piano teacher is that I’m essentially listening to someone play a song so I can point out their mistakes. I’ve had to think through how to do this well so that it’s not a drudgery to sit through lessons (for me and the student). I’m sure many of you had that teacher growing up. You know, the one that pointed out every single mistake, quickly saying “Wrong!” as soon as your finger touched that F that should have been an F# because you forget you were playing in the key of G.

What I try to do is to either wait for the student to correct the error themselves, or even wait until the end of the piece and ask, “What did you forget?” at which point they remember themselves that all the F’s were supposed to be sharp. Other times, when I wrong note is played, I’ll say “close” letting them know it wasn’t quite right, but in a way encouraging them that they’re right there and then they have the opportunity to move to the correct note on their own.

Thinking back to Hebrews 3 passage, it involves a similar kind of listening. Rather than pointing out every mistake individuals in our community make, we should listen closely to the overall melody their life is making. We should encourage them when the notes they are playing are close to the mark, and perhaps not rush to calling out every error along the way. If we are truly living in community together, we have more than passing interaction with one another and can discern patterns in others’ behavior that might need to be addressed. 

Like a piano teacher that generally sees his students for a concentrate amount of timing weekly, we should seek to spend concentrated time with close community weekly. Doing so allows us to really listen to one another and even better exhort and encourage more melodic living in harmony with the Spirit within us.