Set An Example – Tim Challies

exampleTim Challies, Set An Example Cruciform, Quick, 2017, 49 pp. $3.99

Tim Challies has established himself as a faithful Christian and writer who seeks to serve and encourage the church. For several years, Challies has made many significant contributions on his popular blog encouraged many through his writing ministry. His latest project features a series of booklets which address foundational matters of Christian living.

Set An Example is a short but powerful exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12 – “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” What makes this book especially meaningful is that the author targets Christian young people in particular.

Challies compares the Christian life to a canvas: “God means for your life to be a canvas, the setting for a beautiful work of art. And he also expects this work of art will be seen, admired, imitated.”

The booklet is arranged in six chapters that follow the basic pattern in 1 Timothy 4:12. As such, readers are encouraged to set an example in:

  • Speech
  • Conduct
  • Love
  • Faith
  • Purity

Challies admonishes young believers, “The biggest way, the best way, the primary way to serve your church is to pursue godliness, to grow in wisdom and knowledge, in character and obedience. Set an example, be an example. Make your life a beautiful work of art.” Each of the external and internal qualities that Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 4:12 are explored, explained, and illustrated in a way that young people can understand.

It is difficult in such a short review to articulate how powerful this little booklet really is. The writing is direct and challenges readers without being overbearing. A major benefit of this work is Challies’ emphasis on the local church. Young readers will quickly see the importance and benefit of plugging into their respective churches and serving with zeal and faithfulness. Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter which challenges readers to apply what they have learned.

“This is your challenge as a young person in the church today. You are to have faith, faith that is rooted and grounded in God as he reveals himself through the Word … Be a man or woman of the Word. Devote yourself to Scripture. As you do this, your faith will grow, and as your faith grows, so will your faithfulness,” writes Tim Challies. Set An Example is the kind of material that should be absorbed by youth groups and utilized by fathers who seek to disciple their children. I recommend it highly!

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The Prayer of the Lord – R.C. Sproul (2009)

Much of what passes for “prayer” these days is either geared to the heretical health and sproulwealth gospel or is drowning in neo-Gnostic babel.  Subjectivism, emotionalism, and narcissism dominate such thinking and have no place at the evangelical table.

R.C. Sproul brings clarity to the subject of prayer in his book, The Prayer of the Lord.  Dr. Sproul guides readers through the Lord’s prayer in a way that we have grown accustomed to for over 40 years.  Sprouls’ treatment is practical and deeply theological.  He counters some of the erroneous arguments that are set forth concerning prayer and sets forth the crucial principles for maintaining a vigorous prayer life.

Sproul’s work is a terrific place for new believers to start and will serve as an encouragement for seasoned Christians as well.

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards

edNathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards Wheaton: Crossway, 2017, 240 pp. $14.88

He was the greatest mind America ever produced, a theologian/philosopher extraordinaire. He was one of the most well-known pastors to stand behind the “preacher’s desk.” And he was a prolific author, missionary, and college president. Despite his impressive pedigree, this man was fired and continues to be the object of much scorn and ridicule. The man under consideration is Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758). He is the subject of Nathan Finn and Jeremy Kimble’s recent book, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards which takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the worldview of a remarkable pastor-theologian.

Drs. Finn and Kimble serve as general editors who enlist the help of several noteworthy scholars who make contributions to their project. Some of the contributors are pastors. Others are professors or publishers. Each one, however, is a proven scholar.

The various chapters cover the major works written by Jonathan Edwards. Readers will be blessed to survey key Edwardsean texts such as Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and A History of the Work of Redemption to name a few. The chapters also include sections that explore Edwards’s revival writings and his affectional ethics.

Dr. Dane Ortlund is tasked with the chapter entitled, How to Read Jonathan Edwards which stands out as a major highlight of the book. Ortlund has the pleasure of introducing Jonathan Edwards to newcomers, welcome back readers who left Edwards in the cold and nurture the faith of those currently immersed in the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

Ortlund argues, “You must be born again to read and profit spiritually from Jonathan Edwards.” This insight speaks volumes about the criticism that has been directed at Jonathan Edwards over the past two generations.

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards should be praised for its accessibility and readability. It successfully introduces the major works of Jonathan Edwards without watering down the content or overburdening the reader with unnecessary theological minutia. It is the perfect combination of scholarship and practical application which will clearly attract a diverse audience.

Dane Ortlund adds, “His writings are for tired Christians who on the one hand have tasted them sweetness of knowing Christ but on the other hand find this sweetness constantly getting fizzled out through boredom, weakness, failure, loneliness, disappointment, or weariness. There is simply no one like Jonathan Edwards when it comes to deoxygenating us back into the sweetness, the blanketing shalom, the sun-like nature of walking through life with Christ as our beautiful and beauty-nurturing friend.”

Jonathan Edwards deserves to be read and re-read. Finn and Kimble’s work acknowledges this fact on every page. Highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Finding Truth (2015)

Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey is another fine contribution thataa deserves to be read.  The author maintains with Romans 1 that all people have access to general revelation. As such:

  • We all have access to evidence for God through creation.
  • We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.
  • We all create idols to take the place of God.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols to a “debased” mind.
  • God gives us up to the consequences of our idols – to “dishonorable” behavior.

Pearcey builds upon her earlier works, both of which are best sellers.  Total Truth argued for a unified view of truth and the obliteration of sacred/secular split.   Saving Leonardo   sought to help people develop skills in critical thinking.  Finding Truth  introduces readers to five principles which help make sense of competing worldviews and make a positive case for historic Christianity.  The five strategic principles are summarized below:

  1. Identify the Idol.  Anything which is presented as eternal and unchanging is an idol.  This principle helps us get to the heart of mankind’s propensity to erect idols and bow down to them.  By way of contrast, Christianity refuses to begin with creation and an epistemological starting point.  Rather, the beginning of knowledge rests in a transcendent Creator who is sovereign over all things.
  2. Identify the Idol’s Reductionism.  Pearcey notes, “The link is that idols always lead to a lower view of human life … When one part of creation becomes deified, the other part will be denigrated.”  Reductionism, is therefore, a fool’s errand as the creation is elevated to a status that God never intends.
  3. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict What We Know About the World?  Since idols always fail to satisfy, people will begin to realize that they cannot live according to the logic of their presuppositions.  They are either forced to live in the real world – which is to oppose their worldview or they live in accordance with their worldview which contradicts reality.
  4. Test the Idol: Does it Contradict Itself?  The competing worldview, at this point becomes self-defeating.  The author notes, “Everyone who proposes a reductionist worldview must make a tacit exception for his own thinking – at least, at the moment he is stating his claims.  But that too, creates a logical inconsistency.”  Thus the worldview fails.
  5. Replace the Idol: Make a Case for Historic Christianity.  As it becomes apparent that a competing worldview fails, the apologist must make a strong case for the viability and truthfulness of the Christian worldview.  “By identifying the points where non-Christians are free-loading, we can be confident that we are addressing areas where they sense the need for something more.”

Finding Truth is an essential toolbox for thinking Christians.  Pearcey does a dual service for readers as she not only instructs them to analyze and demolish competing worldviews (2 Cor. 10:5); she encourages readers to go deeper in the Christian faith which is informed by biblical reality and rock-solid facts.   A more accurate description, however, would be a treasure chest.  This is required reading which will only enrich one’s Christian life and effectiveness in the marketplace of ideas!

5 stars

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

The Puritanical Genius of Mike Pence

A recent Washington Post article revealed some fascinating tidbits about Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen. At the top of the list, was Pence’s proclamation in 2002 that, “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.”1 The article revealed what many Americans have learned in recent months about Mike and Karen Pence, namely, that these people fear God and take their wedding vows seriously.

One would think that such a story would not draw much press or criticism. Think again, as the liberal media pounced on Pence and sought to portray his views as Puritanical and out of step with the modern milieu. Such views are better relegated to the stone age, at least in the minds of “cultured” people.

For example, Jessica Valenti writes that Pence’s position is “all a part of his deeply retrograde worldview.”2 Writing with deep sarcasm, Valenti considers the values of Pence to militate against the tenor of the times: “It’s an insulting view of men, a limiting role for women – we’re there to either entice or domesticate – and an archaic take on gender roles more generally.”3Valenti accuses Pence of being a “misogynist,” a truly bizarre accusation, especially in light of the honor that the Vice President pays to his wife. This egalitarian banter is both unfair and unproductive, putting words in Pence’s mouth and making judgments which are simply untrue. And these ridiculous accusations are light-years away from anything that resembles graciousness. So much for left-wing tolerance.

While the liberal media wastes precious time and ink, attacking the Vice President with straw man arguments, perhaps there are some lessons to learn for the rest of us. What kind of wisdom does Vice President Pence possess that other men could learn from? How can we learn from the Puritanical genius of Mike Pence?

He Understands the Power of the Flesh

The Vice President is well aware what Scripture says about the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The Bible clearly states that people of faith battle indwelling sin; this sin is smoldering in the heart of every person and will make the best of every opportunity. It will strike when we least expect it. The apostle Paul, a man who penned much of the New Testament, was aware of the diabolical nature and strategy of sin: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:18-20, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his keen awareness of the power of the flesh and the wisdom to steer clear from this ominous monster, no matter what the cost.

He Upholds the Sanctity of Marriage

The Vice President made a vow of faithfulness to his wife, Karen. Unlike some men in our culture, Mike Pence intends on making good on those vows. The standards that guide his life honor both his wife and honor his God. These standards demonstrate a rock-solid allegiance to Karen and help him love her in a sacrificial way, as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). These standards place his marriage above the expectations of the world. Such a stance will no doubt draw the ire of his detractors but his aim is to please his Savior, not the attention of worldly people (Acts 5:29).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his deep understanding of his marriage vows and commitment to keep his word.

He Undermines Any Attempts to Question His Character

When the Vice President chooses to live above reproach, as we have recently learned, he short-circuits anyone who would seek to destroy him or cast a dark shadow on his life and reputation. Of course, anyone can cast stones and make spurious claims. But the wisdom of Pence helps protect him from any unsubstantiated claims. Such wise living is consistent with biblical principles and sound judgment, for “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16, ESV).

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence is his wisdom to avoid any situations that might do harm to his personal life or marriage.

He Underscores the Value of Integrity

The former congressman, J.C. Watts once opined, “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.” Vice President Pence understands the importance of integrity and demonstrates this valuable virtue in the way he lives his daily life and in the way he leads. He understands that integrity takes a lifetime to build but can be destroyed in a moment.

The Bible unveils the importance of integrity which supports the values that Mr. Pence embraces:

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” (Psalm 25:21, ESV)

“He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,” (Proverbs 2:7, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9, ESV)

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” (Proverbs 11:3, ESV)

“Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” (Proverbs 28:18, ESV)

The Puritanical genius of Mike Pence involves living a life that is marked by integrity.

Final Thoughts

We have seen that some people consider the worldview of Mike Pence to be “retrograde.” Such criticism argues that his values are a negative influence on our culture and that his views move us in the wrong direction. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The worldview that Pence promotes helps advance a cause that all Americans should cherish – one that values faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.

J.I. Packer compares the New England Puritans to “California’s Redwoods”4 which tower above the earth and demand the attention of onlookers. Packer says, “The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God.”5Mike Pence is not a Puritan in the strict sense and never claimed to be one. Yet the Puritans would be proud of the his values he cherishes. They would commend Pence for his influence on people in the executive branch. And they would compliment him for the example he sets forth for the American people

God made a promise to Solomon that we would do well to remember: “And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules …” (1 Kings 9:4, ESV).

The wisdom that the Vice President displays in maintaining proper relationships and boundaries is consistent with 1 Kings 9:4. This kind of wisdom is desperately needed at the highest levels of the federal government. But it is also needed across America – in our classrooms, boardrooms, courtrooms, sanctuaries, and media outlets.

When the dust settles, the Vice President may be battered and bruised by the liberal press.  He may bear the marks of unjust persecution.  But his strong values and commitment to purity will help preserve a strong marriage.  He will stand side-by-side with his treasured bride and enjoy the benefits of a clean conscience.

Americans should pray for Mr. Pence and ask God to enable him to walk with integrity before his God. We should pray that God protects his marriage and family. We should pray for God to grant much wisdom as he serves our nation in the days ahead. We as Americans should be thankful for the Puritanical genius of Vice President Mike Pence.

  1. See Ashley Parker, Karen Pence is the Vice President’s “Prayer Warrior,” Gut Check and Shield (Washington Post, 28 March, 2017).
  2. Jessica Valenti, The Real Reason Mike Pence Refuses to Dine Alone with Women (Alternet, 31 March, 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. J.I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life(Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 11.
  5. Ibid, 15.

The Remarkable Ordinary – Frederick Buechner (2017)

bbFrederick Buechner, The Remarkable Ordinary Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017, 121 pp. $11.59

Frederick Buechner is a popular author whose writing style gravitates with many people. He has an ability to be witty and irenic and as a result, he draws readers in from a variety of theological persuasions.

The Remarkable Ordinary is a series of unpublished articles that address faith, doubt, anxiety, and meaning. There is an existential tone that sweeps through the book which compels readers to listen and learn.

Buechner writes transparently about some of the painful events of his life and invites readers to join him in his march of authenticity. This transparent side of Buechner is refreshing and is a rarity among contemporary writers.

Despite some of these positive takeaways, The Remarkable Ordinary lacks the gospel punch that people need. The author nibbles around the edges of faith, hope, and meaning but fails to invite his readers into the most meaningful relationship in the universe – a relationship with God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth In Our Common Life

wolrdMarvin Olasky, Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, 200 pp. $17.55

“Fight or flight? Ride or hide?  Sometimes, it’s beneficial to be a Benedict, creating a community in which Christians can grow stronger and prepare to venture forth when the tide seems ready to turn.  Sometimes, we should dare to be Daniels, risking our lives in the centers of power by speaking and living truth before those who probably won’t listen.”

This is how Marvin Olasky begins his new book, Worldview: Seeking Grace and Truth In Our Common Time.

Olasky’s work is a series of articles that originally appeared in World Magazine. Readers of World will be familiar with the author’s pithy writing that is biblically informed and culturally sensitive. My hope is that a new batch of truth seekers will be introduced to this man who is driven by biblical conviction and captivated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.