Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: December 2010

Friday

31

December 2010

3

COMMENTS

My Favorite Reads in 2010

Written by , Posted in Books, Conferences, Culture, History, Ministry, Missions, SBC, Theology

What follows is a list of my favorite books I read during 2010. The books are listed in no particular order, with the exception of the first title. Please note that some of these books weren’t published in 2010, but I did read them this year. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider reading any of these books that might pique your interest—maybe you will enjoy them as much as I have.

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010). Hunter’s book, a collection of three inter-related essays, is hands-down the best work I’ve read on the relationship between faith and culture. His call for “faithful presence” in every sphere of culture strikes a good balance between keeping first things first and seeking to bring the gospel to bear on every sphere of life. I hope Hunter writes a follow-up work providing more examples of individuals, churches, and other ministries embodying faithful presence.

Hunter Baker, The End of Secularism (Crossway, 2009). Baker argues that secularism is a failed project that lacks the intellectual and moral capital to guide American culture. I predict his book could influence my generation in a similar way to how Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984) influenced my parents’ generation. Baker’s excellent book is a fine complement to Hunter’s aforementioned masterpiece.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010). This is one of the best biographies I’ve read in years. For me, one sign of a good biography is that it is researched like a dissertation but reads like a novel—Bonhoeffer passes the test. One quibble: while Metaxas does a fine job of rescuing Bonhoeffer from the radical theologians, he arguably overstates his case by at least implicitly casting Bonhoeffer as a conservative evangelical. The truth lies somewhere in between—Bonhoeffer was a confessional Lutheran with Neo-Orthodox theological inclinations.

David W. Bebbington, Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People (Baylor University Press, 2010). Bebbington is an imminent historian of English-speaking evangelicalism and a committed Baptist churchman to boot. Unlike most Baptist history textbooks, Bebbington covers the full scope of Baptist history and does so in a way that doesn’t make for torturous reading. His combining of a general chronology with a thematic treatment is a unique and mostly helpful contribution. Bebbington gets bonus points for his sane assessment of (and lack of obsession with) recent Southern Baptist controversies, a facet that can no doubt be attributed to his British context.

 Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (Kregel, 2010). I reviewed this book for Between the Times this past summer, so I’ll just say here what I said there:

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible is the best introductory book I’ve ever read about hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). It is well-researched and covers all the major topics that need to be addressed. But it is also written at a level that can be understood by undergrads, seminarians, pastors and other church staff, and even (praise the Lord!) most “normal” Christians. In other words, this is a book that is not only appropriate for the classroom, but it is appropriate for the church. Rob’s use of humor, illustrations, and practical application, along with the format of the book itself, make 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible a joy to read.

Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway, 2010). I’m not going to say much here because I plan on reviewing this book in the next few weeks. For now, let me just say Green’s book emphasizes the right themes, dialogs with the right partners, and casts the right vision. As an added bonus, for the most part it is written at a level accessible to students. Highly recommended.

George W. Bush, Decision Points (Crown, 2010). Despite efforts by some in the media to paint President Bush’s autobiography as mere propaganda, I found it to be an engaging and insightful read. My personal favorite chapters—Mr. Bush’s opening chapter about licking alcohol abuse and his thoughts on Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s aftermath. I hope history will judge President Bush better than so many of his contemporaries.

Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace from Its Rise to Consummation (1768). This is a classic work by a prominent eighteenth-century Particular Baptist pastor-theologian defending evangelical Calvinism. Booth was a London pastor who navigated a balanced middle between hyper-Calvinistic antinomianism on the right and neo-Arian Arminianism on the left. I read the version available for free on Google Books after converting it for use on my Kindle.

Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress, 2007). I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Jerry Bridges, and Respectable Sins is no exception. Each of us have besetting sins that we tolerate to varying degrees because they are super-secret and often taboo-free—this book will help you to use the gospel to root them out day-by-day. Highly recommended.

Holman Christian Standard Study Bible (B&H, 2010). I’m a pretty big fan of the ESV Study Bible, so I was admittedly less-than-enthused about the HCSB Study Bible, even though it was published by my own denomination’s publishing house. I admit here and now, before the entire world, that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The HCSB Study Bible is a fantastic resource. The translation is sound (it reminds me some of the NASB), the notes are great, and I’m a huge fan of the topical information boxes. I know this makes me very uncool and no doubt kills what little street-cred I have among the soul patch-sporting, Sufjan Stevens-loving, missional-church-planting, hipster 30-somethings of the world, but I actually like the HCSB Study Bible just as much as I do the ESV Study Bible.

Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, 5 vols. (Hyerion, 2006-2010). OK, imagine if you found out that the ancient Greek gods were real and that you were actually a demigod, the offspring of a divine father and a human mother, possessing many superpowers because of your unique heredity. A stretch, I know. Nevertheless, these delightful books, written for young adults, provided loads of reading fun during the first half of 2010. Don’t waste your time with the crummy movie based on book one, The Lightning Thief—read the books instead.

David Sills, Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience (Moody, 2010). Sills challenges the dominant missions paradigm among many evangelicals, including Southern Baptists—overemphasizing church planting in unreached areas to the exclusion of discipleship and theological education. Sills wholeheartedly affirms the former, but not at the expense of the latter; as with so many quandaries, the answer to this one is a robust both/and strategy. This provocative book is dead-on, in my opinion, and worth a very close read.

Donald D. Schmeltekopf and Dianna M. Vitanza, eds., The Future of Baptist Higher Education (Baylor University Press, 2006). I’m very interested in Christian higher education, particularly in a Baptist context. This collection of essays is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of Baptist-related colleges and universities. The first section, which includes essays articulating four models of Baptist higher education, is in my estimation worth the price of the whole book.

Tuesday

28

December 2010

6

COMMENTS

My Devotional Plans for 2011

Written by , Posted in Books, Ministry

Several of my friends are blogging about their Bible reading plans for 2011. I think this is a very edifying use of a blog, so I’ve decided to do the same. I hope you find it helpful. Here are my plans:

  • Unlike many of my friends, I don’t read the Bible through every year. This is mostly attributed to my tendencies toward ADD–I have to mix up my reading strategy year-by-year to keep from going insane. But I’ve decided that I want to read the whole Bible again in 2011. In the past, I’ve read through the Bible using the NASB and ESV. In 2011, I’ll read through the HCSB, specifically the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible, which I highly recommend.
  • I’ve used several Bible-reading plans in the past, including The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan, the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan, and a “canonical plan” I developed for Between the Times back in 2008. This year, I’ll be working through the plan developed by Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, which is very similar to my own aforementioned plan (TCC calls their plan “compositional” rather than “canonical”).
  • The elders at the First Baptist Church of Durham are encouraging all members to pray through our church membership role each month. I hope to do this. They’ve made available a small directory that can easily be prayed through page-by-page during the course of the month, with a handful of “catch-up” days built in so that you aren’t totally thrown off if you miss a day or two.
  • I’m taking up my friend Tim Brister’s challenge to memorize the book of Philippians before Easter Sunday 2010. Leah and I have ordered our moleskins, downloaded Tim’s guide, and are ready to go. I’ll be encouraging my Bible for Life class at FBC Durham to do the same thing. I hope this challenge will help encourage me on those mornings when infant-induced semi-sleepless nights tempt me to stay in bed rather than get up and meet with the Lord through the Scriptures and prayer.
  • I also though of a new discipline to try and cultivate this year. Like many Baptist churches, FBC Durham has a church covenant. Unlike many Baptist churches, the covenant actually means something. All prospective members must affirm the church covenant as a condition of church membership. The covenant guides us as we walk together, especially when it becomes regrettably necessary to exercise church discipline against an incorrigibly sinful member. I have printed out a small copy of our covenant that I keep in the same place I keep my Bible reading plan. I hope to spend the week prior to our monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper praying through the covenant and using it as an aid in “examining myself” before participating in communion (see 1 Cor. 11:17-34).

This is how I hope to spend my devotional time this year. Lord willing, I’ll also be able to work through three or four devotionally helpful books; I find such books particularly helpful Lord’s Day reading. First up will be finishing Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Then I hope to work through Don Carson’s The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.

Thursday

23

December 2010

4

COMMENTS

My All-Time Favorite Christmas Hymn, Plus a Bonus Song

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry

I suppose everybody has a favorite Christmas hymn. I like many of them, especially those that may find themselves sung in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. But my all-time favorite Christmas hymn is Charles Wesley’s “Come Though Long Expected Jesus.” If you aren’t familiar with it, the lyrics are as follows:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art:
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally pretty suspect of new worship songs. But one newer Christmas hymn I love is Stuart Townend’s “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable.” Since I know some of you don’t know this one, the lyrics are below:

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own belovèd
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

If you want to listen to either of these hymns, there are loads of videos available on YouTube—just search for the title.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday

22

December 2010

2

COMMENTS

I Deserve the Coal

Written by , Posted in Culture, Theology

I’m not opposed to Santa Claus. I understand why many Christians are uncomfortable with Santa and respect their decision. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the tradition inherently detracts from the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation. But there are problematic elements in the Santa Claus tradition, at least the one that seems to dominate American popular culture.

Many parents teach their children that Santa keeps a record of which kids are good and which are bad. As we sing, “He’s making a list and checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Good kids receive presents for Christmas. Bad kids either receive no presents at all or they receive lumps of coal in their stockings.

There are good reasons Christians should steer clear of this aspect of Santa Claus mythology. For starters, it makes a claim it doesn’t follow up on—does anyone know a kid who didn’t receive any presents because she was naughty that year? Have you ever met a child who received coal in his stocking in lieu of real presents? It’s an empty threat, which as a rule makes for poor parenting.

But far more troublesome is the sub-gospel message this tradition sends. Santa is cast as the judge of all children, the keeper of the scales, the one who determines which kids are worthy of reward and which deserve punishment. But every kid deserves the coal. Every parent deserves the coal. I deserve the coal.

Scripture teaches that we are all sinners who fall short of God’s perfect standard of obedience (Rom. 3:23). We are all naughty, deserving of eternal punishment (Gen. 2:16-17; Rom. 6:23a). We have been this way since Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21). There is nothing we can do to change our circumstances and move ourselves from the naughty list to the nice list—even the nice things we do are really naughty because we don’t do them always and perfectly and for the right reasons (Isa. 64:6; Matt. 22:36-40).

This is where the real message of Christmas comes in. Jesus Christ, the one who became Emmanuel in the little town of Bethlehem, perfectly obeyed all of God’s commands for every moment of his life. He died a criminal’s death upon a cross, bearing God’s just wrath against human sin. After three days in the tomb, he came back to life and dealt death the death blow. And He did all of this on our behalf.

This is the good news of Christmas—God became a man so that men can be reconciled with God. Whoever turns from their sin and trusts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will be saved. We are moved from the naughty list to the nice list, not because of something we do, but because of what Jesus had done for us. We escape a punishment worse than coal. We receive a reward better than the best Christmas present.

I deserve the coal. But Christ changed everything. And it all started when the eternal Son of God became a real son of Adam.

Not even Santa Claus can do that.

Tuesday

21

December 2010

1

COMMENTS

The Spiritual Disciplines of a Book Release

Written by , Posted in Books, Ministry

George Guthrie has written a lot of books. Guthrie serves as the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University. He is among the leading evangelical scholars of the Epistle to the Hebrews (check out his great commentary on Hebrews in an otherwise so-so series). He is also a champion of biblical literacy and sound hermeneutics among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals. Check out his forthcoming Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word (B&H, 2011) and the companion website. He’s also a genuinely humble brother, which is why his most recent blog post, “The Spiritual Disciples of a Book Release,” is so  good.

His suggested spiritual disciplines for would-be Christian authors include:

First, go deep with God each day in the Word and in prayer, remembering who you are and who you are not and why you are doing what you are doing.

Second, in the activities related to your book, gaze at the Lord and refuse the incessant checking of the numbers to “see how we are doing.”  Be clear on the difference between sales and success.

Third, remember that the only reason for the book is to advance the Kingdom in the lives of individuals and churches.  Glory in the gospel and not in your own “good news” about your project.

Finally, live with integrity the things you have taught in your book, not getting so busy with the work that you destroy the work of God in your own life.

As a younger scholar who is trying to be a diligent writer and grow in personal sanctification, I find this advice convicting and encouraging. I hope it blesses you as well.

HT: Gene Fant at Evangel