Put your phone down and read

If you haven’t read Tony Reinke’s new book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You here are three reasons to grab a copy and get to it:

  1. Wise perspective — Reinke has clearly spent some time thinking through the effects our smartphones have on us and yet he somehow manages to avoid the harangues that many of us fall into. Instead, Reinke endeavors to answer a very reasonable question: “What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?”
  2. Self-examination — A flourishing life comes by keeping a diligent watch over our hearts (Prov 4:23) and this book spends more time addressing motivations rather than mechanics. Whether you’re a technophile or a technophobe you’re still wielding a powerful tool. Wield wisely.
  3. Parental help12 Ways isn’t for parents per se but this book will equip parents to teach their kids how to walk wisely in a smartphone age. Several times I found myself thinking “My kids need to know/hear this” or “That’s a much clearer explanation of what I’ve been trying to get across to the boys.”

If you read the book and find nothing to glean then, as the Yardbirds sang, you’re a better man than I.

Repentance in Hamlet

Outside of Scripture, this passage strikes me as one of the most poignant depictions of man’s bondage to sin.

This semester saw Boy #1 and Boy #2 in a course on Great Books of the Western World that included a reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As expected, Shakespeare required a little bit of work on the front end–it takes some effort to re-calibrate the mind’s ear for old English written in verse–but in the end the labor was not in vain. That Bill Shakespeare will give you something to talk about.

The tragedy is best known for Prince Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy and rightfully so. But on this reading I found my mind more occupied with King Claudius’ failed attempt at repentance for the murder of his brother (King Hamlet) that enabled him to steal his brother’s throne and his wife. Outside of Scripture, this passage strikes me as one of the most poignant depictions of man’s bondage to sin.

O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t —
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not:
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood —
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offense?
And what’s in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardoned being down? Then I’ll look up.
My fault is past; but O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be, since I am still possessed
Of those effects for which I did the murder:
My crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen.
May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offense’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above:
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature, and we ourselves compelled
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults
To give in evidence. What then? What rests?
Try what repentance can. What can it not?
Yet what can it, when one cannot repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels: make assay.
Bow, stubborn knees; and heart, with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe
All may be well.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

(Act 3, Scene 3)

‘For us’ first, last, and always(?)

For several weeks now I’ve been unable to continue my reading in Rutledge’s The Crucifixion and when I picked it up today I came across these lines:

Even as he is the Judge, he is first and last “for us.” He was for us before he was against us, and for us even as he was against us — pro nobis first, last, and always. (515)

At the risk of having my house pounded with a box of Grade-A’s from Arminian Farms, an unequivocal statement like that seems to require far more than our free will or else universalism.

What am I missing?

Mini-musings: parenting books

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Here are some random thoughts.

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Some random thoughts:

  1. No one book has the corner on parenting wisdom. The only Father who could provide the definitive parenting manual didn’t and I doubt anyone else can.
  2. I’ve yet to find a “rosetta stone” in print for even one of my kids let alone all six. No one has kids just like mine so how could they have all the answers I’m looking for? 
  3. I can’t remember any specific tips or actionable intelligence from the books I’ve read. What I do remember is much more broad–a general perspective or overall philosophy which may/may not be helpful.
  4. What my wife and I learn outside of the books is greater than what we’ve learned inside of the books. For better or worse, our parents and our own experience have been the richest parenting guides.
  5. A renewed emphasis on the centrality of gospel & grace, while helpful, sometimes leaves the impression that law & discipline aren’t essential for Christ-like parenting. The only perfect father on record gave his children laws for their benefit (Psa 19:7ff; Gal 3:24).

Greg Laurie, Mortimer Adler, and the gospel

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it.

As a powerful member of the clergy class I receive promos for new books and Bible studies from various publishers. True, the hoi polloi could get all the previews that I receive but they would need to ask for it. I get mine unsolicited. #blessed

005776124Tell Someone is a new book on personal evangelism from which Lifeway has developed a small group Bible study. The author is Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship (CA) and founder of Harvest Crusades. According to the back of his book, “more than 439,900 have registered professions of faith” at his crusades so he’s an experienced coach. From the Lifeway email blast:

 

Sharing your faith can be terrifying. But starting just takes one courageous step. In this new six-session Bible study, Greg Laurie will show you how to share your faith—simply by using your personal testimony. Once you begin telling the story of your own faith journey, you might find that you actually enjoy evangelism.

Laurie doesn’t really break any new ground unless you’ve never been exposed to the casual/conversational/relational/testimonial model of evangelism touted by previous authors here, here, here, and here. On the plus side the book–I haven’t seen the small group version–articulates the gospel clearly and accurately. And that brings me to my point.

In both the book (10 chapters) and small group curriculum (six sessions) “What Is the Gospel?” comes as the penultimate chapter/session which means the reader/participant hears why,

Tell-Someone-Sample_CONTENTS
Tell Someone table of contents (small group curriculum)

where, when, and how to share the gospel before they’re even told what the gospel is. What is the rationale behind this ordering? I imagine the forthcoming companion study, Marry Someone, in which the unwitting man-child is snookered (by the female author) into marrying his long-time girlfriend:

  • Session 1: Why Propose Marriage?
  • Session 2: When & Where to Propose Marriage
  • Session 3: How to Propose Marriage
  • Session 4: The Power of Romance
  • Session 5: What Is Marriage?
  • Session 6: Close the Deal

What then? Are we overreacting to the table of contents? May it never be! For it is written:

Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip. It is astonishing how many people never even glance at a book’s table of contents unless they wish to look something up in it. In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad to think their efforts are often wasted. . . a table of contents can be valuable, and you should read it carefully before going on to the rest of the book. -Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, 33.

And if the table of contents is by design then certain authorial implications follow. In the case of Tell Someone I take it that Laurie (et al) believes the enthusiasm gap in evangelism can be addressed by better methodology. For my part I think prioritizing methodology will, in most cases, end up perpetuating that gap. Lewis once said “just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it.”

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it. I don’t know how that changes when the gospel is relegated to one chapter near the end of the book.

Devotional books

Following up on the previous post, if you’re looking for some devotional material to go along with you Bible reading I have two recommendations:

  • The Valley of Vision (Arthur Bennett) is a collection of prayers drawn from Puritan writings. The prayers have no dates assigned to them (i.e. no reading plan) & you won’t find any Scripture references–they supplement your Bible reading. The entries are brief but unbelievably rich. I’ve found these readings very profitable when I’m feeling dry or in need of a spiritual jump-start.

 

  • For the Love of God (D. A. Carson, 2 vols) offers a systematic reading plan through the Bible. The reading schedule is more ambitious than the all too common verse-a-day devotionals. If you keep to the reading plan you would read through the NT and Psalms twice and the rest of OT once–you can do it in one year (2chpt/day) or two (4chpts/day). Each day’s reading has one page of “commentary” from Carson that seeks to provide “a framework for what the Bible says.” [This content is also offered free online as a blog.]

Hope you find this helpful. Feel free to comment with your own recommendations.

‘Tis the season to buy some children’s books

If you’re in the market to buy your (grand)kids a book or two for Christmas, you might be interested in some of the suggestions offered in this Mortification of Spin podcast.

It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) should be at the top of every list for young children. [If you have no intention to purchase any of these books or are otherwise indifferent to their availability in your home, please report yourself to DFACS now]

On the lighter end, I’ll go ahead and recommend The Wingfeather Saga (Andrew Peterson) although our family is still only in book 2. Not exactly on par with the Narnia books but an entertaining read with more action. Short chapters make the reading seem more manageable and the characters and creatures are unique (the Igiby kids, Fangs of Dang, cave blats, toothy cows, etc).

Feel free to make your own recommendations by responding to this post.

The Circle Maker: an early read

I just started reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. The book was prominently displayed in a group of bestsellers at our local LifeWay store and, needing another entry for a book review series, I decided to pick up a copy.

No need to get into specifics but let’s just say that this quote from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness was running through my head as I read:

It is vain to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a vast quantity of so-called Christianity nowadays which you cannot declare positively unsound, but which, nevertheless, is not full measure, good weight and sixteen ounces to the pound. It is a Christianity in which there is undeniably ‘something about Christ and something about grace and something about faith and something about repentance and something about holiness’, but it is not the real ‘thing as it is’ in the Bible. Things are out of place and out of proportion.

I’m only four chapters in but at this point I’d place the book securely between “out of proportion” and “unsound.”

Religion, philosophy, & the problem of death

I suggest that we accept a different approach to the question ‘What is philosophy?’ and start from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal or, to speak like the philosophers, is a ‘finite being’, limited in space and time. As distinct from animals, moreover, a human being is the only creature who is aware of his limits. He knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, almost unimaginable. And, naturally enough, he is inclined to turn first of all to those religions which promise ‘salvation’ . . . .

But for those who are not convinced, and who doubt the truth of [religion’s] promises of immortality, the problem of death remains unresolved. Which is where philosophy comes in . . . .

Unable to bring himself to believe in a God who offers salvation, the philosopher is above all one who believes that by understanding the world, by understanding ourselves and others as far as our intelligence permits, we shall succeed in overcoming fear, through clear-sightedness rather than blind faith.

In other words, if religions can be defined as ‘doctrines of salvation’, the great philosophies can also be defined as doctrines of salvation (but without the help of a God).

-Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought

Suitable temptations abound

Satan will come on with new temptations when old ones are too weak. In a calm prepare for a storm. The tempter is restless, impudent, and subtle; he will suit his temptations to your constitutions and inclinations. . . If your knowledge is weak–he will tempt you to error. If your conscience is tender–he will tempt you to scrupulosity and too much preciseness, as to do nothing but hear, pray, and read. If your consciences be wide and large–he will tempt you to carnal security. If you are bold-spirited–he will tempt you to presumption; if timorous, to desperation; if flexible, to inconstancy; if proud and stiff, to gross folly. Therefore still fit for fresh assaults, make one victory a step to another. When you have overcome a temptation, take heed of unbending your bow, and look well to it, that your bow is always bent, and that it remains in strength. When you have overcome one temptation, you must be ready to enter the battle with another.

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices