The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida

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My step-mother used to refer to men who were “trying to make a preacher.”  I also remember reading a book where young candidates for the ministry were said to be “tolerated” by the congregation.  There are numerous gifts that pastors need to have or that the session of elders need to have.  But whoever is standing behind the pulpit or lectern or is up front of the congregation with his mouth open  needs to be well equipped.

Lots of good men are not good preachers.  Lots of men who are capable of getting through a sermon and edifying a congregation once are not apt to be at that task every week or very often.  Bad preaching comes in lots of varieties. Church life and Christian living depend upon more than just preaching, but preaching is a vital ingredient for both the church as a body of Christ and the individual living for Christ.

Preaching depends upon certain God-given gifts.  Absent these gifts, a man is not likely to ever “make a preacher.”  But most men who have been “tolerated” by a congregation or homeletics class will have some skills that need to be honed for regular preaching and teaching.  A Charles Haddon Spurgeon breaks all the rules.  He skips Bible college and formal training; he enters the ministry at a very young age; he preaches from particular verses or even parts of verses; and he is incredible.

Message to all of us:  Look in the mirror; listen to a tape or podcast of your sermons; ask a few objective members of the congregation; and embrace this truth: You ain’t Spurgeon.  Most of us ain’t Tim Keller, Mark Dever,  John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Alistair Begg, or Sinclair Ferguson.  Feel free to fill in the name of any other great preacher.  But you probably ain’t him either.

But God never calls men to greatness.  The Apostles, as they stumble through the Gospel accounts, appear more often as buffoons, immature and jealous boys, and intellectual lightweights.  The most academic and scholarly of the New Testament writers, Paul, was not a powerful orator, by his account.  He could put people to sleep by his sermons!

God calls fallible, but transformable men to ministry.  But they have to learn.  They need mentors.  Some of their best mentors will be long-since dead men of old.  Some of them will be their teachers or previous pastors.  Some will be current authors.

Men going into ministry need to read good books on everything and every aspect of Christian life and thought.  This includes books on preaching.  The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida is at the top of my list for books for pastors at all levels to read.  This book is published by B & H Academic, which has become one of my favorite publishers. They are currently publishing the Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon series and Stewart Kelly’s book Truth Considered and Applied which I have reviewed and praised in previous posts.

One of the main thrusts of this book is that preaching need to be expository.  By that, we mean that the preacher should explain the meaning of the text he uses for the sermon.  The sermon should illuminate the text and the text should determine the content of the sermon.  Want to preach on a topic?  Don’t go and find a Bible verse that includes a slight reference to the topic and then go merrily along your way.  Don’t “use” the Scriptures, but teach them.

Quite often expository preaching will entail teaching and preaching through entire books or lengthy passages.  So be it.  That is what is needed to teach the people the Bible.  The Bible is not a set of aphorisms.  Even Proverbs is not just a random list of neat sayings.

The first half of the book, however, is not devoted to teaching the preacher how to preach or construct sermons.  The first seven chapters are in a unit titled “The Expositor’s Heart.”  There is no sermon worse than a sermon delivered by an unfaithful man.  Part of what makes ministry so hard is that the preacher has to spend all week preaching to himself before he can preach for a half-hour to hour to others.  As preachers know, if your upcoming sermon is on joy, you will experience the most joyless week ever as your prepare for it.  Same for patience.  Same for just about anything.  God’s training camp is not for sissies.  It’s not for tough men either.  Only a Christ-centered Spirit led life can enable any man to survive his own soul and preach to others.

The second half of the book is titled “The Expositor’s Message.”  If the first half needs to be read on one’s knees, the second half needs to be read with a pencil, paper, and open Bible.  God just doesn’t give messages.  Yes, I believe that I could stand up right now and preach a message.  But if the message turned out to be any good (and I know God can and does use really bad messages as well), it is because of years of study, reading, listening, and practicing.

Merida emphasizes two key parts of the sermon preparation.  The first is called the MPT.  That stands for the Main Point of the Text.  It is not the main point I want to make in my sermon, nor is it some main point my congregation needs to hear.  It is the Main Point of the Text.

Second, there is the MPS, which is the main point of the sermon.  Having three points, many subpoints, alliterative lists, and the like may or may not be useful.  But a sermon should have a main point, a main take-away.  It needs to be clear and needs to be repeated in the sermon.  I have heard many tolerable to decent sermons that seem not to have had a main point or a memorable main point. I have probably preached too many sermons where the main point either didn’t exist or was obscured along the way, or was not made perfectly clear.

Pastor Merida is well grounded in the best writing on pastoral ministry and preaching around.  He highlighted many books I read and loved along the way.  Some of these include John Stott’s Between Two Worlds and Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students and Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers.  He also quotes and recommends quite a few other books I would be lunging after if preacher were still on my job description.

Most books like this one appeal only to actual preachers or preachers-in-training.  Well grounded people in the congregation need to occasionally read a book like this.  Those (of us) who are sermon listeners, rather than sermon makers, could benefit from being better equipped to know what we are looking for.

As Helmut Thielicke said, “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon.”  I would add this:  “Sell another pair and buy The Christ-Centered Expositor.


The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre

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There is a big part of the topic of apologetics that doesn’t apply to me.  Maybe I am dimwitted, gullible, and shallow.  I don’t deny those things.  I believe the Bible.  I believe the words of Jesus.  I believe the historic and creedal teachings of the Church (in the broadest universal sense).  I have no more problem believing in the virgin birth of Christ than in the non-virgin birth of myself, my children, and others.  I believe Christ rose from the dead.  I am a creationist and pretty much in line with fundamentalists, except that I am not premillennial.

In matters where I have doubts, I simply shrug them off as a personal failing.  Like the people of Pennsylvania that former President Barack Obama, I simply cling to guns and religion.  Well, actually, I cling to coffee, books, and religion, but I basically fit alongside of those political Neanderthals as depicted by the Enlightened One.

Nevertheless, I have long loved and studied and read on Christian apologetics.  I have loved that area of study since I first discovered it many years ago.  I love it too much to take sides.  By that I mean that I love Van Til and Gordon Clark.  I love the approach by Greg Bahnsen and that of R. C. Sproul.  I love Classical Apologetics, Theistic Proofs, Evidentialists, and simple home-grown personal testimonies.  Correcting my words above, I actually do take sides:  I do favor the views of the presuppositionalists, but will still employ examples form Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  

Back in December, I started a book titled The Case for Christ:  The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ by Brant Pitre.  I was reading it as a spiritual prop to all of the non-spiritual pressures of the Christmas season.  It filled that need, but it did much more.  The reading of the book was a heart and mind exalting experience.

On the one hand, I was convinced of nothing I didn’t already believe.  But I was strengthened, confirmed, and made incredibly joyful of the “faith once delivered for all the saints” (Jude 3).  But the field of apologetics, as defenders of the faith would say, is not primarily to convince the unbeliever, but to comfort and strengthen the believer.

My initial attraction to this book was that it had an afterword written by Bishop Robert Barron. I had read and reviewed a book featuring Barron titled To Light a Fire on the Earth.  My review can be found here.

Wanting to learn more of Barron, I was interested in this book primarily for that reason.  Dr. Pitre lives in my neighboring state of Louisiana and is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.  Besides being an academic professor, he is a best selling author.

This book begins with a central issue:  Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God?  Again, I never lay awake at night wondering about that.  But it is a stumbling block for many.  And it is a contention that is raised by folks in the liberal wings of the Christian umbrella.  Granted, I have long since embraced J. Gresham Machen’s teachings in Christianity and Liberalism and have dismissed the theological liberals as being outside the pale.  But the broader religious community, which includes all varieties of Christian-adjective groups, teach, write, suggest, imply, and slip in doubts and questions about this.

Heresies are a great blessing to believers.  For by them, Christians are forced to wake up, drink stronger coffee, and pull the Bibles down from the shelves and start digging.  The result is not capitulation, defensive retreats, or fear.  Rather, the result of battling a heresy is clarification of the truth.

Bart Ehrman is the prime target of this book.  Ehrman, who is–sad to say–a Wheaton graduate, is a popular writer whose claim to fame is debunking the faith he once embraced (sort of).  He is a good writer.  I read a book titled The Gospel According to Judas.  The fragment that is attributed to Judas is ridiculous, but it is a valuable piece of ancient Gnostic material.  Bart Ehrman’s essay on the Judas fragment was outstanding.  Eherman’s labors, however, are usually aimed at undermining the confidence of believers.

His books, along with contentions of professors of religion, created a crisis for Pitre when he was a student.  But there is a valuable lesson for any Christian who is troubled by “the latest discovery regarding Christianity.”  It is this:  There are no new arguments against Christianity under the sun.  For this reason,  Pitre ably assembles the teachings of Church Fathers and others from 2000 plus years of whipping heretics to pin Ehrman and others in quick knock-out matches.

A good and Christ-centered stroll among the Church Fathers is almost always a blessing.  This is especially true if you have a guide who knows the Fathers and knows the best quotes and references.  But that is not the greatest strength of this book.

We Protestants are a folk who love the Solas of the Reformation.  It all begins and even ends on Sola Scriptura.  Praise God for Church Fathers of all 2000 years of winning arguments.  But our first, primary, and actually only defense is found in Scripture.  It is here that Brant’s work was so helpful to me.  By going straight from one Bible verse, story, or teaching to another, Brant emphasizes, teaches, reinforces, and shouts aloud that Jesus Christ is God, that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, and that Scripture teaches that message clearly and forcefully.

Don’t wait until the Advent season to read this book.  For those who like spiritual reading during Lent, there is still time to delve into this work.  But best of all, it might be just the book to read on Easter and the days following when we celebrate that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Very God of Very God, rose from the dead and lives and rules forever.

Post Script:  I am obliged to confess that I received this book as a review book and am not obligated to praise it to the hilt.  The high regard is the result of my being unable to restrain myself.

Damning Words–a Biography of H. L. Mencken

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“Love him or hate him” goes a frequent saying.  But with H. L. Mencken, it is possible to do both.  He was a vicious attack dog toward Christianity and religion in all forms.  He could unleash powerful vitriol against the American South, working class people, American culture, and America in general.  But he was also capable of being incredibly funny, engagingly readable, and often right on target.

The life of Mencken is told in the book Damning Words: the Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken by Dr. D. G. Hart.  It is published by Eerdmans and is part of their Library of Religious Biography series.  (I have quite a few volumes of that series.)  Dr. Hart has previously written such fine books as Calvinism: A History and biographical studies of J. Gresham Machen and John Williamson Nevin.

Mencken was and never ceased to be a newspaper man, a journalist, a scribbler in the heat and passion of the newsroom working to get the latest edition out.  He was a cynic, a curmudgeon, a skeptic, a doubter, and a critic.  He could find the worm in every apple of pleasure.  It is apt that the cover of this book pictures him sitting in front of a typewriter.  That is where he lived so much of his life.  But it was far from being a dull or limited life.  He dwelt in the fascinating world where words live and meet, join together, reproduce, and create new sentences, paragraphs, pages, and ideas.

Maybe more than any other American, he should have received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He would have rejected it if he had won, by the way.  Worldly and brazen in many ways, Mencken spent much of his life living with his mother and taking care of her and other family members.  For a few years (after he turned fifty), he was happily married.  His wife, Sara, was ill when they married, and they knew it would be a short-lived marriage.  He was nevertheless devoted to her.

Perhaps one of the most attractive things about Mencken was his opposition to the New Deal and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was largely what we would call a libertarian.  At the same time, he was out of touch with the nation and its economic crisis in the 1930’s, so he really never grasped what was going on in the hearts and minds of the populace.  It was this same willingness to venture opinions when they went against the grain that gained him friends and foes and cast him in many battles of the times.  Mencken’s life, as the title suggests, is a study of the times in which he lived and the religious issues of that age.

The big religious conflict that Mencken was associated with was the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.  For a number of reasons, Mencken loathed William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan, a 3 time Democrat Presidential nominee and loser, was a prominent evangelical and opponent of Darwinism.  A great orator in his day, he was not on his best game at the Scopes Trial.  While he was bested by Darrow on the witness stand, Bryan grasped some of the more dire implications of Darwinian thought.  Implications is a mild term considering some of the actual statements found in the eugenics-oriented biology texts of that time.

In Mencken’s eyes, Bryan could do nothing right.  Bryan’s death almost immediately after the trial ended did not elicit any sympathy or kind words from Mencken.  Along with the attacks on Bryan, Mencken went after various forms of the Christian faith of his time. Granted, there were aspects of Victorian moralism that were held up as Christian, but were not really defining of the Faith.

Mencken was a street fighter in many of his literary battles.  He railed against enemies high and low, in general and in particular. His forte was the newspaper column.  In fact, he is the prototype of many today who write columns bewailing various cultural and political issues.

But Mencken was also a largely self-taught scholar.  At several points, Hart reminds us that Mencken had only a high school education, and the school he attended was vocationally based.  From his youth, he read.  All of his life, he cultivated a rich harvest with words.  His book The American Language was and still is a major linguistic source.  He wrote several volumes that were loosely constructed as memoirs of his life.  He also published many of his columns in book form.

At a time when few Americans were reading Friedrich Nietzsche (okay, few have ever read Nietzsche), Mencken wrote a book analyzing the German philosopher.  Prior to that, he had written a book about the plays of George Bernard Shaw.  One wonders what Mencken would have done if he had pursued a higher education and landed a safe position in academia.  (Translate that as “he would be forgotten today.”)

Any reading of the life of Mencken is bound to give moments of joy alongside of some very sad thoughts.  Mencken’s last years–particularly 1948 to 1956–were quite depressing.  A stroke had impaired his ability to read and write, but he lived on.  His literary and newspaper careers had faded along the way.  The Great Depression and World War II changed the world and his reading public.  Making matters worse, Mencken was German by heritage and disposition.  While no defender of the Third Reich, he was out of step with the times.

Lots of writers, particularly journalists, enjoy their day in the sun. Later, they are forgotten.  Who still reads William Allen White, Richard Harding Davis, or Edward R. Murrow?  But Mencken is still read, loved, and quoted.  He is often good for a quote.  There is no way I would teach on Puritanism without referencing his quip:  “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

I don’t agree with it, but I always get a chuckle out of it.

A year or so ago, I wrote two article for PorterBriggs The Voice of the South titled “The Skeptic and the Theologian” that can be found here and here.  

In these two articles, I dealt with Mencken and a fellow citizen from Baltimore, theologian J. Gresham Machen.  I wish I could have read Hart’s book before I wrote the articles.  I don’t think it would change any content, but it would have enhanced my love for Mencken’s gifts and sorrow over his views and life.



The Bible Unfiltered by Michael Heiser

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The Bible Unfiltered by Michael S. Heiser is published by Lexham Press.  Never heard of Lexham Press?  Then you are in for a treat.  They are publishing a wide range of top notch Christian books, including works by such pillars of the Reformed faith as Abraham Kuyper and Gerhardus Vos.  They are also publishing works by contemporary authors and theologians on Biblical and worldview issues.

Never heard of Michael S. Heiser?  Then you are in for another treat.  Dr. Heiser’s website features articles, resources, and podcasts on his Bible research and teachings.  This past year I read The Unseen Realm, a best seller work also published by Lexham Press.

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The Unseen Realm was highly recommended by several people I know, so I got the book and read it.  It is challenging, often convincing, and always fresh and Scriptured-centered.  By Scripture-centered what I mean is that Heiser is very honestly and directly trying to uncover what the Bible says.  Does he always succeed? No need to answer that, but he always tries.

Our problem as Bible readers, sermon preparers and sermon listeners, and Bible students is that we can never approach the Bible objectively.  We are finite, and we live (in most cases of those reading this) in the United States in 2018.  We are culturally conditioned.  We are not just conditioned by the culture around us.  In fact, we are often alert to the perils of modern society, Hollywood, secular humanism in the recent forms, and the like.  But we are conditioned by Western Culture, by the last 2000 years of Greeks, Romans, Carolingians, Catholics, Protestants, Puritans, Colonists, English speaking peoples, Enlightenment thinkers, converts during the Great Awakening, Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, Post-millennialists, Dutch theologians, and all sorts of others  tweaking and touching our way of thinking, processing information, and coming to settled opinions.

That is not all bad.  I wish I some of those listed above influenced me more.  But what we all have to do is to keep going back to the Bible, ad fontes, and seeking out what it is saying to those to whom it was written and when it was written.  Research into the ancient languages and cultures (Greek and Hebrew, but also the neighboring tribes) is a growing and expanding field.  Don’t forget that Medieval people often knew of Homer and his epics, but the actual texts went underground for centuries. The same has happened with other realms of languages and knowledge.

This detective work is Heiser’s specialty.  He digs, discovers, and offers new interpretations.  That is the strength and enjoyment of his work.

Concerning the book at hand–The Bible Unfiltered–let me make some observations.

First, I read the book last year in November.  I read it dutifully as a book reviewer and enjoyed it, but delayed getting a review together.  This past week, I started re-reading the book and am enjoying it as more than a book-reviewing duty. It can be read and re-read with enjoyment and profit.

Second, it is unusual in a few respects.  The Unseen Realm calls for the reader to gear up and do some heavy lifting, but The Bible Unfiltered is much lighter and easily read.  It would be great as a prelude to reading Heiser’s more challenging work or as a follow up.

The chapters are all short–usually 3 to 4 pages.  It could be read as a morning devotional, but unlike most devotionals, this one would feed that part of us that fits under “loving God with all our minds.”  Don’t assume that mental growth is not connected to spiritual growth.

This makes the book a delight for the “I’m too busy to read theology” person.  This book is good, sharp punches rather than a long drawn out match.

Here are the topics for the first long section of the book:

  • Part One: Interpreting the Bible Responsibly
    • Serious Bible Study Isn’t for Sissies
    • Getting Serious—and Being Honest—about Interpreting the Bible in Context
    • Sincerity and the Supernatural
    • Let the Bible Be What It Is
    • Bad Bible Interpretation Really Can Hurt People
    • Unyielding Literalism: You Reap What You Sow
    • Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus
    • Bible Reading and Bible Memorization Are Not Bible Study
    • Marxism and Biblical Theology Aren’t Synonyms
    • How to (Mis)Interpret Prophecy

In my re-reading, these are the ones that are freshest in my mind.  My thought on the first one, which is on serious Bible study, is that I need to read that to my theology students and to myself often.  In these short chapters, Heiser knocks the props out from under many false or unthought-out ideas.  The chapter on bad Bible interpretation discusses past bad uses of the Bible to justify race-based slavery (sons of Ham).  “Unyielding Literalism” lays flat an overly simplistic approach we often fall prey to.  The portion on Marxism and theology struck me as a bit dated.  Does anyone still see Marxism as an application of Christian community?  But it never hurts to chop the head off of a dead snake.

I did not readily agree with “Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus.”  I mention that as a selling point, not a turn off.  It just so happens that I am currently reading a book titled The Christ-Centered Expositor  by Tony Merida.  He is teaching pastors how to make preach with Christ as the message, no matter what the text.  Is he right or is Heiser? Well, it is not that simple.  Both men point out ways that well-intentioned expositors can make connections that just aren’t there in the text.  So, even the chapter I question still provides me some cautions in my own Bible readings.

On the one hand, I would love to jump right in and finish reading number two of The Unfiltered Bible during this coming week.  With sixty chapters and 230 plus pages, it can be read quickly.  But I prefer to keep it handy, to use it as the book to carry to an appointment, to read in short snatches, to use for nutritious snacking.  However, one read it, it is a fine work.


By the Dawn’s Early Light–Morning Readings

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I changed.  It wasn’t sudden or even deliberate, but it happened.  Once I was the proverbial Night Owl. It was the stroke of midnight that fired up my mind and witnessed the most intense reading.  The stillness and quiet of the hours after ten p.m. were golden.  Whether sitting at a desk or reclining in bed, that was my favorite time to read.  But I changed.  Maybe it was work.  Maybe it was marriage and family.  Maybe it was the racking up of mileage on the biological odometer.  Or maybe it was the guilt of the old timers who scorned the late night person and assumed that any real man would be up before the dawn.

Coffee helped.  Helped is a weak description.  Coffee was the bridge, the fix, or the possibility.  But now it is the call to get up.  Often I awake and simply cannot wait until I can turn on the coffee maker, begin the Bible reading, and then the reading begins. All too soon–about an hour and a half later–it ends.

Choices for morning books are determined as follows:  1.  Is the book written by and for and about Christians?  2.  Will it fill a spiritual need or deficit in my life? 3.  Is it readable?  The last question relates to whether the book is on a level I can understand and be challenged by and not lost by reading.  If it is too difficult theologically, it gets a either put aside or is read in very small segments.

Now for some of my recent morning reads.

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Speak The Truth in Love: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation by Carmen LaBerge is published by Regnery Faith.  Carmen LaBerge’s website is found HERE.

One of the main and recurring things I learn from books is how wrong I so often am.  I have to admit to being a bit shy about reading a book by a woman who is talking about conversations.  Yes, I lean toward books by men talking about war and politics or theological battles.  No, I am not against women and have the highest admiration for Margaret Thatcher, Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, Jane Austen, Louise Cowan, Jan Karon, Barbara Tuchman, and many other women.

I recognize that different writers write for different audiences.  I don’t mind being an outlier in the audience.  I had the suspicion that this would be a really good book for “the women at church.”  By that I meant that I thought this book would be like Edith Schaeffer’s books from the past or Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth’s books now.

Stop throwing things at me.  I admit I was wrong.  I was corrected, rebuked, and even slapped before I got even a few pages into this book.   And yes “the women at church” need to read this book and discuss it, but so do the men.  Knowing the dedication of the two groups, I would bet more money on the first group than the second.

This book has earned a place on my apologetics shelf.  Apologetics is defined as “the defense of the faith.”  The reader wanting to know the particular battle ground issues dividing followers of Van Til from Clarkians and both of those groups from Classical Apologetics need to looks elsewhere.  This book is the real, in-the-street, sitting together for coffee or a meal, elbow rubbing apologetics.  Francis Schaeffer would have loved this book.

Or rip the book in half and place it on both the apologetics shelf and the evangelism shelf.  NO DON’T TAKE THAT LITERALLY.  DON’T RIP BOOKS.  There is a strong connection between the roles of the apologist and the evangelist, and this is not the book to see the comparisons and contrasts.  This book is self-help.  But it is the flotation device that is to keep you from drowning while you reach someone else who is going under.

Talking to unbelievers is difficult work.  The old door-to-door evangelism may be effective for some, but it has largely been weighed in the scales and found wanting.  The two week long mission trip to outer–who knows where–maybe some far off largely pagan land like Vermont–may result in “57 people making decisions for Christ” but I have concerns about that method.  (I am not against it.  My younger son went to Ireland this past summer for beach missions work.)

How do we talk to, share with, listen to, minister to, show compassion to, and share the Gospel with people who are outside the faith.  Typically, I describe the mission to three types of people:  Lost people (those who are “professing” non-Christians), un-churched people (for all kinds of reasons), and under-churched people (people who are part of a church but are not being fed, or being fed the wrong stuff, or not taking what feeding there is).  The last two categories fit most people I run into.  Here in the deep Bible-belt South, most people have some sort of loose connection to Christianity and church.

How do we reach people?  Some well-meaning Christians load their FaceBook accounts with blistering rants against all the unbelievers in range.  For some, unbelievers include all Catholics, every Protestant who doesn’t adhere to every jot and tittle of “right doctrine,” and a lot of other semi-innocent bystanders.  I love the opportunities that FB provides to share the Faith and to be encouraged by other believers, but it is no substitute for actually facing our neighbors.

On the opposite and even worse extreme than our beloved zealots are the namby-pamby of every age.  “Maybe if I could soften some of the rough edges of Christ’s message, then more people will respond.”  Many people create evangelism that presupposes that God in Heaven is saying, “Wow.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  We have to be uncompromising on the truths of who God is, what Jesus came here for, and what changes Christianity brings into our lives.

We have to talk.  We have to listen.  We have to respond.  And we have to respond faithfully to the Bible.  That is what this book is about.  It is vital stuff.  Worse than my prejudging the author and content is my failure to apply what this book is saying.  The men at church–any church, every church–really need to read and discuss and implement this book.

Let me end with some good quotes from Speak the Truth:

“Jesus spoke with people; He didn’t speak to issues.  Why is that? Because for Jesus the issue is always the same: the issue is redemption.  We can learn a lot from the way He reframed conversations to help others see the supernatural and eternal perspective on temporal realities.”

“Whether the issue is pancakes, porcupines, politics, or parenting, the issue is God.  ‘What?’ you ask.  Yes, really. From the subject of pancakes, you can talk about manna, bread of heaven, and from there the bread of life, Jesus Christ….”

“We must not reduce the Gospel to anything less than its comprehensive nature. People living in deep darkness need the fullness of the Light of Christ, nothing less.”

“Being a Christian is an identity; it is a calling, it is a way of life, it is a mission, and it is a post.  It informs and influences every part of life: how we think, what we watch, what we buy, how we work, who we date/marry, how we relate to others, how we parent, how we vote, what we expect from government, how we serve, how we spend our money, and what we say in conversation.”

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Intentional Christian by Daniel Ryan Day

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One should not complain about being a book reviewer.  Often books show up that both sound really good and turn out to be great reads.  But some books, like stray animals, show up that we never asked for and are not sure what to do with.  Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will be overwhelmed at the number of titles.  Many I skip right on past after assuming that the book is likely merely okay at best.  After all, on a given Sunday morning, there are thousands of Sunday school lessons and sermons being given across the land.  But how many are really worth going to extra trouble to hear? They are likely helpful for the congregation at hand, but not “keepers.”  (That is true of many of my sermons and lessons over the years.)

Discovery House (no relation to me) sent me a copy of Intentional Christian:  What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Daniel Ryan Day.  Here is a book to help a believer discover the will of God for their life.  At this point in time, perhaps due to age and other circumstances, I don’t think much about the will of God for my life. It is a more frequent concern for younger Christians.  And it is a topic full of dangerous, although well intentioned, advice.

Day discusses in this book his own concerns in his younger years (and he is still a young man).  An interest in Christian music and serving God left him often wondering what the will of God was calling him to do.  In this book, he weaves in lots of autobiographical and anecdotal stories to make his point.  Knowing lots of Christians who are young and facing life decisions and others who are confused about where they are, I was sympathetic but skeptical.

Then came the good part, the sudden shift in the book and topic, and the blinding-light moment of truth.  Neither the Bible nor signs or angelic appearances are going to tell you where to work and live, where and in what areas to educated, whom to marry, or any of those matters.  The will of God is “your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3a).  That passage makes the point even more pointed by adding this politically incorrect exhortation “That you abstain from sexual immorality.”

Then there is 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18:

 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In other words, the Bible reveals lots of “secrets” about the will of God for our lives.  We are to be growing in grace, living in faithful community with fellow believers, forgiving, doing good, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.  Basic good old Christian living 101.  That, and not whether you get to record your Christian rock song, is what God’s will is for your life.

Day uses the term Common Calling to elaborate on this topic.  A chapter is devoted to worship, another to loving others, another to living intentionally, and yet another to overcoming fear and loving our enemies.  We have a calling, but that calling is common to all of us and revealed in the commands and exhortations of Scripture.

This book is short, easy to read, anecdotal, and useful for a morning devotional study or a group or family study.  I am thankful that I got past my initial apprehension and read the book.

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Sometime last year, I read a book on a similar topic titled Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung.  My interest in that book was simply because I have enjoyed and profited from everything I have read by DeYoung.  Notice the bit of sarcasm and wit in the sub-title:  How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.  

DeYoung’s book, which was published in 2009, gives a tighter Biblical case for using the Bible correctly and not mystically. It is a warning about many shaky and outright wrong ways Christian people go about deciding what to do.  This book is a great companion volume for the Daniel Ryan Day’s book.  The same topic generally with different approaches.  I believe the two authors would find each other in much accord.

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Young, restless, and Anglican, Daniel Ryan Day–author of a helpful book on finding the will of God.

Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

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There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.