Category Archives: Theology

Godly Man’s Picture

The Godly Man’s Picture, by Thomas Watson, 1622

Summary:  After a brief introduction, Watson spends most of the book describing 26 characteristics of the godly before finishing with a few small chapters with practical advice on how to grow in godliness. Some chaA1u7xdFjQcLracteristics are given a great deal of attention and others very little. Throughout, Watson uses many word pictures (see “Best Quote” below as example), and emphasizes right doctrine, passionate affections and vigilant obedience in each of the characteristics. For example, when talking about zeal (starting on page 112), he begins by distinguishing true and false zeal. True zeal is characterized by proper knowledge and leads to dutiful obedience. Watson is particularly helpful in describing the love for God’s Word.

Critique: There seems to be little sense in the arrangement of the topics, and each topic stands by itself, without needing help from the others. In this sense, Picture may be used as a kind of reference tool or compendium to see what Watson says on a particular topic. If used this way, it can certainly be quite helpful.

Several of the topics are too long, such as 21, “A godly man does spiritual things in a spiritual manner,” and others are too short, such as 5, “A godly man is very exact and careful about the worship of God.” This judgment may well come from the difference in cultural situation.

Watson’s use of illustrations and word pictures masterfully bring the concepts alive. Overall, this is a volume well worth consulting over and over.

Application: I think I nearly wore out my highlighter on this book. There are so many various places where little illustrations and applications have stuck in my mind, or at least, I want them to do so. This book will be quite useful in the future, especially on the various topics. I used 9, “A godly man is a lover of the Word,” this week in preparing a sermon, to, I trust, great affect.

Further, Watson has challenged me personally, in two ways. First, and more importantly, he has challenged me to be more godly myself. Several of the topics were quite convicting and convincing. Second, he has challenged me to be more holistic in my ministry. That is, Watson sets a great example of truth, passion and exhortation all together. The light and heat of the gospel radiate from this book (I can only imagine meeting Watson personally), and that encourages me to follow his example in my preaching, teaching, counseling and other ministries.

Best Quote: How many knowledgeable persons are ignorant? Their knowledge has no powerful influence upon them to make them better . . . Absalom might boast of the hair of his head, but that hanged him; so these may boast of the knowledge in their head, but it will destroy them. P.25.

Knowing God

Summary: Christians must study God rigorously, for there is no higher calling. The Christian concept of God’s ability to be known is unique and should be a great resource, comfort and motivation for Christians. God is41KdLW3GkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ known chiefly in Jesus, the incarnation of God himself, which we know through the Bible and with the illumination of the Holy Spirit. God has unchanging authority. He love and tenderness are manifested at times in his wrath and anger. His wisdom guides us. Practically, all this means that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us gives us the right to be adopted into his family and have strong intimacy with the Almighty. This grace and intimacy are the resources we need to walk through life’s uncertainties, struggles, and pains.

Critique: Packer packs a punch! This dense book contains more than it seems. Packer starts with some introductory prolegomena and then launches into characteristics of God, and finishes the book with several chapters of very practical application based on the sound theology of the middle section. Each chapter, though, ends with pastoral advice on the meaning of the particular doctrine discussed, with compassion and sensitivity. There is a reason this book is so popular. Each chapter is quite separate in its thought, and they are arranged thematically, and do not necessarily flow from one to the other well. After all, they each began as separate articles in a magazine.

The section on adoption is particularly helpful, and since he wrote it, more has been written on the topic, but still not enough, I think. Some explanation and help with spiritual disciplines might make the book stronger. That is, how can we meditate on these matters? How can we feel more deeply the truths presented here?

Highly recommended.  This is a classic for good reason.  Don’t borrow it, buy it and read it over and over.

Best Quote: “But this is not to says that justification is the highest blessing of the gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves. Some textbooks on Christian doctrine – Berkhof’s for instance – treat adoption as a mere subsection of justification, but this in inadequate.” p. 207.

Advent Preparations 2014

Someone asked me about Advent, recently.  This is how I responded:

What is Advent?

Advent is a time of tension.  We are ever so hopeful . . . and also remember strongly that our hope is the future, not the present.  Things are really bad now.

Our society wants to rush to Christmas, to the big celebration, without thinking about a reason to celebrate.  Why is Christmas good news?  Putting off some of the celebrations until after a season of preparation (that is, Advent) helps us to live in that tension.  On the other hand, the celebration is unavoidable, because Advent is also a time of hope.  So, I think any sort of movement to remember the ugliness of the present world is good.  If the entire society was sad and mournful during this time, we would have to emphasize the hopefulness, I think.

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And, quite honestly, remembering the ugliness of the world today helps us to have more hope for the future, more longing for the future, perfect kingdom that is coming, which means our celebrations are so much more celebratory.

What Should Advent Look Like, Practically?

Quite honestly, my family is still wresting with the tension, for sure.  For a few years now, we have extremely plain breakfasts (plain oatmeal, or plain rice) for the entire time of Advent, but our diet doesn’t change much otherwise.  Then, we take the food we were going to eat (vegetables, beans, fruit, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc.) and give them to a food bank.  Then, on Christmas morning, we have a huge (I mean HUGE) spread of all kinds of wonderful foods for breakfast, which lasts the whole 12 days of Christmas.

As for decorations, we have a plan to decorate a little bit each day of Advent.  Each day we open a present (which is wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper) which is a decoration of some kind.  Then we decorate the house.  So, at the beginning, we have very few decorations (but not nothing) and as Advent progresses, the house begins to look more and more joyful and more like typical American Christmas.  Actually, about half the decorations (or more) go up the last week, one day at a time, and the Christmas tree goes up Christmas Eve.

“Seriously, how do you live like that?”

We do not have things all figured out for sure . . . but I know that Americans hate to mourn, we hate to lament, we hate to reflect on the evil in the world, hate to cry.  We want to rush to celebrate, rush to smile, rush to laugh.  And so we have tried to find ways, tangibly, to remember the tension of the season.

We try hard not to impose this on other people, because most people don’t understand, and I think most people don’t want to understand.

Maybe another way to say it is this . . . the “silly, empty traditions” of Santa, romantic sleigh rides, sweaters, baking, etc. are only silly and empty (from a spiritual, religious perspective) if you are neglecting the tension, and only experience Christmas as future hope.  Of course, the traditions are always quite meaningful as they connect us to family, friends, society, culture, etc., which can be said of fireworks on the 4th of July, costumes at Halloween, etc.

Ugly-Christmas-Sweaters

How to make Advent and Christmas Better:

But if you work hard to put tangible reminders of the present brokenness of the world into place, and you do the hard work of using those reminders to meditate and internalize the reality of the world’s brokenness all through the Advent season, I think you’ll actually find that baking, caroling, sweaters, music, decorating, movies, sleigh rides, etc. actually become far more meaningful.  They become a statement of faith.  They become actions that give the middle finger to the world, the flesh, and the devil . . . they become a way of saying, “My Jesus will rescue us!  He will come for us!  He will redeem us, no matter how horrible it looks right now!  I’m not giving up hope!  I am so sure that he will keep his promise, that I am going to celebrate it even before it happens!”  And that confidence in the face of our brokenness is what Advent is all about.

Without that perspective, I think those traditions are not nearly as meaningful as they could be.  So, don’t abandon your “traditional” celebrations . . . they connect you to family and friends, that’s wonderful . . . but if you put yourself in the place of Mary and Joseph, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Anna and Simeon, waiting, longing, desperate for his advent . . . all those celebrations could be far more meaningful than they have been in the past.  You could turn mere “warm fuzzies” into something that goes far deeper than skin, and reaches your heart, and gives life to your soul, while maintaining the warm fuzzies.

Am I the only one who thinks about this?

Taking God at His Word

Kevin DeYoung‘s most recent long pamphlet (or short book) is Taking God at His Word.  I have read several of his others in recent years, and so I was quite happy to receive an advanced copy from Crossway to review.

Taking God is the best introduction to the Evangelical doctrine of the Bible that I have read.  I read the 127 pages in one sitting.  I continue to be amazed at the way DeYoung can pack so much information into so small a space without sacrificing readability.  It’s really not hard to read.

He starts Psalm 119 and calls us to love the Bible as much as the psalmist.  That kind of passion is rarely the starting point of most theology books, but it should be.  For seasoned pastors and theologians, this book will serve as a useful resource for explanation and illustration, there is nothing radical or “new” about DeYoung’s doctrine, for sure.  For budding theologians, every page will be insightful and delightfully helpful.

Speaking of the various attributes of the Bible, DeYoung writes (p.43):

If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians.

With footnotes including John Frame, John Calvin, B.B. Warfield, J. I. Packer, Herman Bavinck, Matthew Henry and Jonathan Edwards, we all know where DeYoung stands.  He is not making waves doctrinally.  On the other hand, I know of no other book that so helpfully, clearly and persuasively deals with the basic doctrine of the Bible, which is so fundamental to all Christians.  Another strong base hit for DeYoung.

Don’t look here for nuancing or serious interaction with other Christian traditions on the doctrine of the Bible.  Some will probably unfairly accuse DeYoung of skirting these issues when they are clearly not the aim of this book.  For that purpose, consult the annotated bibliography in the appendix, which I found to be a terrific list for Reformed/Evangelical authors who deal with much more nuanced and complex issues on this topic.

For those looking for a good introduction to the doctrine of the Bible . . . highly recommended!

Prodigal God

The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, by Timothy Keller.  Dutton, 2008.

imagephpThis book is an expansion of his best and most popular sermon.  It contains more explanation, more illustrations and more applications, but not much new.  It is all his best illustrations, quite valuable for a preacher and learner alike (I am both).  It is 140 small pages with (fairly) large print and lots of white space on each page.  Easy to read, even for non-readers, I would think . . . though Keller’s style will appeal more to people well-read.

What can I say?  I’m a huge fan of Keller, and this is one of the best books available in print right now.  I might buy a pile of them to give away at Christmas.

How People Change

How People Change, Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2006

What a terrific and challenging book!

The structure was (and still is) hard for me to understand, but this is the best I’ve ever read on the practical working of the gospel to change people’s lives . . . with so many examples of real stories to illustrate the points already well-made, and clearly demonstrated from the Bible.  Great work, brothers.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It will be the one I talk about for a while, and maybe I’ll make my staff read it.  It will certainly fuel my teaching and preaching for a long time to come.

From page 99,

I had an epiphany one Wednesday evening in the middle of our small group meeting.  People were sharing prayer requests, but it was the same old grocery list of situational, self-protective prayer requests masquerading as openness and self-disclosure.  I found myself thinking, Why did we all feel the need to clean up our prayer requests before giving them?  Why were we all so skilled at editing ourselves out of our prayer requests?  Why were we so good at sharing the difficult circumstances we faced, yet so afraid of talking about our struggles in the middle of them? Did we really care more abou what people thought than we did about getting help?  Did we really think that God would be repulsed by our sins and weakness? I wondered who we thought we were fooling.  It was as if we had all agreed upon an unspoken set of rules, a conspiracy of silence.  I looked around the room.  These were people I thought I knew well.  I did know what many of them were facing, yet I knew little of the wars going on inside them.

Breaking the Idols of Your Heart

Breaking the Idols of Your Heart, by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, IVP, 1998.

A non-traditional Bible Study of the book of Ecclesiastes.  The OT Duo team up again for this non-traditional Bible Study of the book of Ecclesiastes.  About a third of each chapter is a story which illustrates the idol featured in that chapter.  The stories from each chapter read well together . . . it is one long story, actually.  Then, each chapter provides traditional exposition of a portion of Ecclesiastes, with a very little gospel application near the end of each chapter.  This should better be titled, “Seeing the Idols of Your Heart.”  Helpful questions at the end of each chapter.  With my new title, this is a much better book, but it wouldn’t sell.  If you (or someone you know) is struggling to see the concept of idolatry as metaphor for sin, this is a great book.  A great balance between real-world application and the good grounding of biblical exegesis.

For those interested, the authors take the view that the book is a dialogue between the Teacher and a younger more godly man, who mostly agrees with the Teacher, but would like to supplement his view on life.

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