Read But Read Well

Books are among God’s good gifts to us. In my last post, I shared my own reading preferences. But what’s a girl to do if she enjoys reading and is drawn to the “Christian” best seller list more than old theologians? She can choose by reading carefully and cautiously. Simply put, read but read well. 

When choosing a title, consider its author above all. It is sad that reputable publishers often promote authors in the Christian genre whose work reads with a disconnect — Engaging personalities are marketable. Nevertheless, if we are being taught through the writer’s own words, they should be held to a biblical standard. The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for verifying his teaching. We should do no less.

Best known for her book Housewife Theologian, Aimee Byrd simplifies tools for honing and testing authors in four easy questions. I’ve pulled a copy of them from my desk drawer:

  • What does the author say about God’s Word? 

Is the Word authoritative or optional? Can we trust the Bible, or does the author instill doubts? Are verses taken within context and interpreted properly or misused?

  • What does the author say about who man is?

And related, what does the author say about sin? Do we need a Savior to save us from sin and the wrath of God or a life coach to help us reach our full potential? Is there a ladder we need to climb or a formula we need to follow to achieve the desired end apart from the gospel?

  • What does the author say about God?

It’s sad that this question even needs to be asked, but just because someone uses the word God or Jesus does not necessarily mean they are accurately teaching the Triune God of the Bible.

  • What does the author say about what God has done and is doing?

What is the author’s worldview and his/her stance on creation, fall, redemption, and restoration? Is he/she offering our best life now or our best life then?

Finally, Let us make use of the good books God has provided! For further help on discernment, I recommend No Little Women by Aimee Byrd.


She Reads

The weekend took me away from my desk to moments of solitude: a gentle breeze, a striking view, and the brilliance of springtime foliage. So, what does a lifelong learner do while on the front porch of a hilltop cabin tucked away in the mountains of Van Buren County? She reads. 

Unashamedly and unapologetically, I am Baptist. Yet, because of my studies, I’ve gained discernment to reach beyond denominational lines in my reading. Clear and accurate exposition of the Scriptures honors God and, I believe, of utmost importance in reading choices. Hence, application of that exposition is the purpose of the reading. My interests typically fall within the writings of theologians and seminary professors (who’ve spent the bulk of their lives studying and teaching the Bible). With God’s help, it is out of my own studying and reading, I am best able to live and to serve in the body of Christ. 

Maturity – Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life is authored by Sinclair Ferguson. Ferguson is Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS, a teaching fellow of Ligonier Ministries, and has served congregations in his native Scotland, and the U.S.A. In this book he shares the concern of New Testament writers to see Christians grow to spiritual maturity. He believes (as do I) if that was the concern of the first believers, then it should also be our concern. Ferguson’s book is steeped in scripture showing what Christian maturity is, and how it is to be obtained. 

In his introduction, the author notes this to be a renewed and recalibrated book on an old subject. Originally published in the U.K. in 1980 as Add to Your Faith, it was published again in the U.S. in 1981 as Taking the Christian Life Seriously.This 2018 publishing has been revised. Personally, I found Maturity to be perfect follow up to a conversation I had early Friday morning. The author’s words came with impeccable timing and my highlighter worked overtime. Quotes from Maturity worth reflection:

Ability to focus our gaze, fill our minds, and devote our hearts to Jesus Christ is a basic element in real Christian growth. Inability to do so is a sign of immaturity.

Some Christians never appear to make much spiritual progress. Spiritual focus and concentration are beyond them. They seem to be dominated by their feelings, rather than by the gospel. 

Our lives are shaped in part by our ability to persevere in the important but unspectacular exercises that build Christian character – the ministry and study of the word, worship and fellowship, prayer, and serving the Lord day by day in all the ordinariness of life. This is what forms Christian character.

When we live on the basis of feelings that have never been trained and disciplined by God’s word, we grow spiritually weak. True, we may feel strong; but if our lifestyle choices depend on what we ‘feel’ we are in fact weak. We then begin to confuse our own feelings, desires, and aspirations with God’s will.

God employs the very powers that seek to destroy his purposes for us in order to further them in us. We need to learn to look through the divine lenses. Then we will discover what is hidden from the naked eye – the invisible hand of God directing all the details of history, including our personal history, to do us eternal good. When this dawns on us assurance is born and begins to grow. For this is the kind of God who in Christ has become our Father.

As Christians we need constantly to remind ourselves that God’s word teaches us to see through our ears, but what we hear in God’s word – not through our eyes and what we see.

So here is a very simple litmus test: when I ask questions about God’s will for my life, where do I look? At my mind, or at God’s mind – inwardly for some kind of revelation that comes immediately into my mind from God? Or outwardly, to the mind of God revealed in Scripture, praying that I will be given the Spirit of illumination and wisdom to be able to apply it?

The teaching of Scripture needs to be imbibed in the spirit of Scripture and with the balance of Scripture and within the context of a life of obedience to, and fellowship with, God.

The growing Christian therefore is not dominated by subjective impulses and needs. He or she views life through lenses crafted according to a biblical prescription. A hallmark therefore of growing in our ability to know and do the will of God is a healthy biblical objectivity.

A basic mark of spiritual maturity is a healthy objectivity – seeing the world through biblical lenses, conforming our lives to God’s revealed will, his wisdom and his glory, not being driven by inner needs or compulsions.

We need to learn that God’s word does God’s work in God’s people by the power of God’s Spirit. We must avoid the trap of thinking his word tells us what to do and then leaves us to our own devices to accomplish it. The spirit transforms (sanctifies) us by the power of the word itself.

The sheer power of the word expounded and applied leaves its holy imprint on us. It illumines our minds; it enflames our affections; it draws our will to bow to it. God wonderfully sends out shafts of light into our hearts; the sword of the Spirit exposes our sin and cuts us loose from its fetters.

Temptation also works by deception. Believers need to learn to see everything through their ears – that is to view things in terms of what God’s word says about them…The first deceptive work of Satan is to deceive us into imagining we will not be deceived.

The armour of God is no protection against the wiles of the devil if our faith is not real and active in our basic relationships and private life. For what good is armour if the enemy has already found his way behind it?

The ploughing of our souls makes them fruitful soil for ministry to others.

The same principle that guides a husband in his marriage, guides the Christian in relation to the bride of Christ. ‘The Jesus Principle’ is also the church’s principle: we are to be willing to lay down our life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). This makes our service Jesus-like.

Gifts always need to be accompanied by graces…True service is always marked by a recognition that we live for and serve others, not ourselves…Self-forgetfulness and service go together in the employment of the gifts the Lord gives us…Gifts are given to be used by us as stewards, not as personal possessions to be employed according to our own whims. 

Faith under trial produces perseverance, while perseverance in turn produces maturity.

Our responsibility where sin is concerned is not to reduce its guild and shame to dimensions our consciences can handle, but to kill it.

We are called to yield to the will of God, even when – indeed especially when – life is difficult and things seem to go wrong…When the going gets tough we need to remember that he knows where we are and how we are doing. He knows what is coming next and prepares us for it. He has the power to get us to the finishing line.

If we concentrate our attention on the problems we face instead of on the Savior we have, we will lose perspective.

So when we realize we are being chastised we learn to look up to him to see that his face is turned towards us and he is watching us, but also to look forward to ‘later’ when there will be a harvest of blessing from his ploughing of our hearts. 

We grow as Christians as we are well fed on Scripture…A  milk diet is for infants, or for the sick or weak and elderly.

Contentment is a spiritual grace not merely a natural personality trait…Contentment with God’s ways is not dependent on outward circumstances…Contentment is tested by loss…When we suffer loss, pain is inevitable. But it is the way of God’s grace to use that sense of loss to bring us to a new contentment with his love, and a new stability and maturity in serving him.

If we have to take our eyes off him in order to see our own ambitions that is the moment we know our ambitions are misplaced…The eyes that are tempted to drift away from Christ must be brought back to focus upon him.

This, then, is the path to maturity: Lay aside your own ambitions. Lay aside your own wisdom. Lay aside your own self-assurance. Make the Lord your ambition. Make the Lord himself your hope and your only wisdom.

Reading, Reading List

Like a Box of Chocolates

Following last week’s intro, I am writing to clarify the blog I’ve created: You won’t see a lot of fluff or creativity but if you desire to peer behind the desk of a lifelong learner, you will likely be entertained. A hodgepodge of postings the reader will find excerpts from class notes, insights from Bible reading and study, or studies I’ve put together (requiring scripture reading). To use the analogy of Forrest Gump, My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

There will be no particular routine to the posts so your best way to catch them will be the email subscription. New posts will appear on Facebook and will be shareable. For time’s sake, I’m keeping things simple and I ask that you give a little grace with editing. If you missed the intro, you can find it here:

If you’re curious about what’s on my desk today, I’m filing away class notes from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. (Another class is finished and the next is not yet released.) I’ve also been compiling my summer reading and reference list. I am cautious and careful in my reading choices, many of which spill over into ministry.  Some titles I will voraciously read from cover to cover; others I will skim. In no particular order, these are my choices: 

God’s Word, Our Story – Learning From the Book of Nehemiah by D.A. Carson and Kathleen B. Nielson

Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life by Sam Allberry

Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson 

Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson

Knowing Christianity by J.I. Packer

Believing God – 12 Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept by R.C. Sproul, Jr.

Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith by Joel Beeke

The Religious Life of Theological Students by Benjamin B. Warfield

Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Andreas Kostenberger and Scott Swain

The Deep Things of God – How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders

None Greater – The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett

Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger

Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love by Erik Thoennes

All That is in God by James E. Dolezal

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves

God the Son Incarnate – The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen J. Wellum

The Sanctity of Moral Law by John Murray

Principles of Biblical Interpretation by Louis Berkhof

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology by James Hamilton

The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls – Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective by Matthew Barrett

Delighting in the Law of the Lord by Jerram Barrs

A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible by Tim Challies and Josh Byers

Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul

How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Gordon Fee