I’m probably the least-qualified to write this post, because I haven’t read MOST of these books. But I compiled a list for our church blog of ten noteworthy new (ish) books to check out in 2019. Since I love to read, and am really looking forward to a great year of growing-through-reading, I’m excited to embark on some of these books along with our church family. Check ’em out here!
I’m not a big Reformation nerd or anything; I don’t have a “Happy Reformation Day” t shirt, I’ve never dressed up as Martin Luther, and I haven’t read The Institutes. I’m like…the king of reading selections.
But I’ve read enough to be acquainted with these guys, and with what they did. For me, initially discovering and reading the Reformers came at a time when I really needed someone to speak to what they spoke to. So really, my love for the Reformers is largely an autobiographical thing, and I wanted to just pay a small tribute to how much they have helped and encouraged me. And whenever I recommend reading this stuff, it’s with a hope for this to happen to others.
I first started reading Luther and Calvin in about 2003, because I had started to wrestle with some deeper theological questions: the problem of evil, God’s sovereignty VS man’s will (and how “free” our will is), how does someone actually get saved from their sin…a lot of the typical toughies. And I was on a trajectory at the beginning of all this, toward a rejection of anything Reformed in nature, and to an embrace of an Arminian soteriology.
I had a good friend at the time, a newer believer, who had been wrestling with the same questions, and had been directed by someone else to read Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and some others (Van Til, Bahnsen…some of the newer guys too) right away. We worked together too at the time, and he started coming in, asking things like, “Have you read Luther?? He talks about this…” and he’d have a printout of the excerpt.*
So if it wasn’t for that friend, and if it wasn’t for the Reformers he brought in for us to read, I really don’t feel like I would’ve been able to answer those questions at that critical time. Luther, Calvin, and others came in at the clutch moment, with voices very much alive from five hundred years ago, to build on our faith. And they helped us see new depth in Scripture – that was the best thing. Truly, I think of Luther and Calvin and I think of what they point out in Scripture, not of what they themselves were all about.
And as I read these guys along with a freshly ignited study of Scripture in my college years, I loved the sense of theology happening in the midst of, and as a necessary part of real life and real struggles. You read Luther’s Commentary on Galations or Calvin’s Institutes, and you have deep theological study that really, really matters to the lives of the writers. They have real stakes in the game. It’s not just heady scholasticism for them; they’re writing pastorally and with urgency, because their study of God and Scripture matter for everything. It’s life or death for them. And that helps me love studying God and Scripture too, because this study is always life or death.
Lastly, on an even more personal note. Luther and Calvin let me to read Knox, whose writing is aflame with Gospel-urgency and joy as much as the others. And these all brought me later to Spurgeon, who is probably the pastor/writer from the past who is most dear to me. We named our son Haddon, after Charles Haddon Spurgeon, which I hope stands as a testimony to the line of God’s good providence running through our family’s story. God has used these reformed writers to drive my wife and me to Scripture, and whom, in spite of prominent imperfections, edify in their example of adoring and trusting Christ. We talk about “always reforming,” or “semper Reformanda,” which, if done in a truly helpful way, simply means calling each other to return over and over again to the pure Gospel. The Reformers, read rightly, really only care about this.
But anyway, enough for now. Listen to Luther bringing us to Christ in his Galations commentary:
“On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.
“Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance, patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and hell. It is the Gospel’s business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.”
*I have to credit Monergism.com here, without which in 2003 my buddy and I wouldn’t have had a place to find so many grand works from the Reformers all collected in one place. There will be a special reward in Heaven, I think, for whoever started that website.
“…the Lord Christ fulfilled the whole law for us; He did not only undergo the penalty of it due unto our sins, but also yielded that perfect obedience which it did require… Christ’s fulfilling of the law, in obedience unto its commands, is no less imputed unto us for our justification than His undergoing the penalty of it is.”
John Owen (from a list of quotes on the subject of Christ’s active obedience as part of the Gospel)
Almost a year ago, I took my 2 year old son (he’s 3 now), out one night to walk through the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights. We made our way around a horseshoe street – a round trip – and found some great houses. My son loved it, and does even more this year; he actually has to point out year round any lights he sees that resemble Christmas ones. It might be needless to say that his excitement is extremely contagious.
Looking at the lights that night on our walk through the neighborhood, something hit me about what Christmas does to the world. Two thousand years ago, the Son of God came into the world to save God’s people, an event that impacted the earth and mankind in such a way that sent reverberations, ripples, tremors forward through history. Though Christ ascended, his presence amongst us, Emmanuel, lit up a dark and dreadful world. And a funny thing about it is that we’ve come to string lights on our homes, bring lighted trees into our living rooms and put light everywhere on display. It might sound strange, but the light of Christ affects even those who don’t know him, but who string their homes and trees with lights in commemoration of him still. All of us Christmas-merrymakers proclaim the incarnation of the Word, in whom was light and life, Light of lights descending. The One in Whom all things hold together became flesh and dwelt among us, so that “the race of Adam’s children, doomed by law and endless woe may not henceforth die and perish in the dreadful gulf below.”
The Morning Star that dawned on the groaning creation at the first advent affected us all, though we’re often unaware of it. Our Maker, our Life, our Light, the “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing” left his created sons proclaiming that profound and intimate moment in history when He dwelt among us to bear our sin. We proclaim it with lights. Christmas, in a sense, proves itself true if you think about it. What are we doing still finding new ways each year to proclaim the advent of the Light of the world? Jesus our Emmanuel, is the Light that has shone in the darkness, “and the darkness has not overcome it.” We see his victorious life even in our Christmas lights.
We can’t help but tell of Christ’s advent with the lights we put up. And if we have the eyes to see it, they can help us wait with joy for Christ’s second advent. Our King is coming again; and though we wait in the dark, we light our lights of hope and expectation. Let’s hope with the strength that the Holy Spirit supplies, and proclaim the grace of our King to those who haven’t come to know him, so they also might have light and hope and salvation.
Thank you Father, for giving us your Son. Come thou long-expected Jesus.
*The following is the main part of a post I wrote for our church blog, to help folks prepare for Sunday morning worship through December and the Christmas season.
“Each of us know that the Christmas season should be filled with gratitude and expectancy, yet what most of us feel is dread and anxiety. As our hearts race around trying to find the right gifts, we forget the True Gift that we have already been given.”
Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica L. Thompson
You might’ve noticed this coming Sunday is the first time we’ll gather as a church for worship in December. Which you hopefully know means Christmas worship. The Christmas, or Advent, season is one of the richest of the year for the church, and we want to make sure we don’t take it for granted or miss out on the opportunity to make the most of this season of celebration. So here are a few things to think through, and that we’ll talk through on Sunday mornings in the coming weeks, to help us all enjoy God and the Gospel more deeply during Christmastime.
Read the Gospels
God has given us his Word, and when we read it we hear him speaking to us. The Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and is always sufficient to encourage, train and teach, and correct us (2 Tim. 3:16). And the crazy thing we often miss is this – God is a storyteller, and he’s told us the story of his Son coming into the world to save his people. God has given us 4 accounts of Christ’s coming as a means of grace for us to know our Savior, and know God’s saving plan that was revealed in Christ. So if we don’t take the opportunity in the Christmas season to read and re-fresh our experience of Jesus in the Gospels, we’re missing out. Let’s know the story, and know our Savior.
Long for Christ’s Return
One of the great things about the historic church’s celebration of Advent, was a cultivation of longing for the Lord’s return. Extending the Christmas celebration to the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas, with the lighting of candles, etc., helped form a deeper sense of our pilgrim status as God’s people, in this world the way it is now. The church would recognize that we live now between 2 advents, or comings, of the Lord. He has come to pay for sin, and has promised to come back for his people; and we wait now in a broken world, for our King to come back a 2nd time to put the world right.
Now I’m not advocating that we start up a high church liturgy for Advent that spans those 4 weeks, but I do really believe the more we can get into the Christmas story in the Gospels, and grapple with the great, glorious meaning of Christ’s incarnation, and extend that out beyond just a Christmas Eve service with our churches, the Christmas season will be very rich for us.
Let’s really feel the longing we should have for Christ’s return, and for the goodness of his kingdom that he’ll bring.
Thanks to Tony Reinke for sharing this. Visit the link below.
“The future is futile for forces of evil;
And so they did scorn them in times Medieval.
For this is the nature of shadow and gloom;
In the gleaming of glory there can be no room.
What force is resourced by the echoing black?
When the brightness ignites can the shadow push back?
These ‘powers’ of darkness, if such can be called,
Are banished by brilliance, by blazing enthralled.”
So I think we all have an understanding that social media poses some unique challenges for us today. We’re socially connected with each other in ways we’ve never been before in history. And for the Church especially, we have some definite things to consider as we think through these connections, and how we engage our culture and one another with our digital, or “post-digital” social media. You might’ve read some things on this topic before, and I don’t want to just say what’s already been said. What I especially have in mind here, is how those in a leadership role in a local church family, and specifically on a worship team, should consider using, or sometimes not using, their pins, tweets, Facebook posts, Instagrams, and whatever other social networks I’ve left out of the mix, or that may be brand new by the time you read this.
1. Our of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (or tweets).
We have to remember that, as Christ tells us in Matthew 12:34, our mouths let loose what’s already taken up residence in our hearts. Do our hearts and mouths produce stuff that worships Christ, seasoned with beauty and kindness; or do they produce the polluted stuff of sin? Since we often let our thumbs type what our mouths would otherwise speak, what do our Facebook status updates and tweets say about the condition of our heart? As members of a worship team specifically, are we modeling what it looks like to have a heart full of living water, or not? And we don’t want to do it for the show – we should want our social networks to be flavored with Christ because our hearts are close to Him, and because we see the world as He sees it. And hopefully others would get a taste of the grace of God and the Gospel through even our social media presence.
2. Dead bodies float with the current. Living people can swim against it.
And we should swim against it if the stream’s current is going to wash us over a precipice. Just because the social currents flow with narcissistic posts and selfies, or with retweets and repins promoting immorality or bitterness, doesn’t mean it’s ok for a Christian to retweet stuff like that. We need to bear in mind that every little retweet or share on Facebook adds to our overall online presence, and how others perceive us. Again, a lot of little posts that seem insignificant might just create a bigger picture, and we should hope that picture is one that glorifies Christ. As believers, we have new life in Christ, and a resulting ability to resist and move differently than the course of the world (Ephesians 2:1-2).
3. Just because it’s not wrong doesn’t mean it’s best.
Ultimately, there’s a lot on social networking that could be posted or shared, watched or read, that isn’t really wrong at all. But again my question comes back to this: does our social media presence have a flavor of Christ and the Gospel? Or does our presence there have more of a flavor of the silly, meaningless, banal, self-centered, materialistic popular culture? For leaders in the church, the call seems pretty clear to me. Philippians 4:8 tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Leaders in the church should, first of all, be doing this; then, because we think and dwell on the best things, we lead others to do it by example. Do our posts and pins, memes and Instagrams, show a pattern of dwelling on truth, and on things that are honorable and excellent?
Now again, this isn’t all to advocate simply good, moral behavior. But Scripture is pretty clear that if we’ve come to know Christ as Lord and have been saved from our sins, the Spirit of Christ actually lives inside of us. And that Spirit produces effects in how we think and act, that will ultimately lead to joyful living in Christ. God saved us to enjoy Him, and we often settle for silly, unsatisfying joys instead. Social media is here to stay, but if too much involvement with it leads us to settle for halfhearted joy, and not joy in God alone, I say let it be hanged. I want real joy, which is only found in God, through Jesus Christ. And as we gather as a church each week and sing about God being our highest treasure, and boasting only in Jesus, may that be true of our lives right down to the minutiae of our social networking.