December 30, 2012

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #12 - Biblical Studies

This is the final day of the giveaway and the last set of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #12
The Bible is our charter and our guide as Christians, written as a testimony for us, inspired and sealed by the Spirit, and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Today's books are centered around helping Christians study and apply God's Word. Take and read.

The MacArthur Study Bible (ESV)
"For years, the spiritual lives of countless men and women all over the world have been strengthened with the help of The MacArthur Study Bible. This all-in-one spiritual library contains Dr. MacArthur’s personal study notes below the full-length Bible text. Virtually every Scripture has a matching study note with detailed information, explanation, and helpful insight. The notes are based on Dr. MacArthur’s verse-by-verse approach to the Bible and nearly forty years of careful study. His goal is to let the Bible speak for itself—nothing more, nothing less."



Life Application from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan
"A chapter-by-chapter study of key life applications. 1169 developed thoughts that lift and personalize Bible study or spark creativity in sermon preparation. For each chapter of the Bible Morgan presents a brief exposition of one thought, rather than a developed sermon or a lesson outline. This book is pure gold for preachers and teachers, especially in passages that seem irrelevant or unedifying."




December 29, 2012

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #11 - Marriage and Ministry

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #11
Since marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and ministry is the building up of the Church, the body of Christ, why not put them together?

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper
It's John Piper, doing what he does best - expositing the Bible. From the description: "The chasm between the biblical vision of marriage and the common human conception is—and has always been—gargantuan. Reflecting on over forty years of matrimony, John Piper exalts the biblical meaning of marriage over its emotion, exhorting couples to keep their covenant as a display of Christ’s covenant-keeping love for the church. He aims to lift the church’s low view of marriage to something infinitely greater, namely, a vision of Jesus’s unswerving allegiance to and affection for his bride. This Momentary Marriage unpacks the biblical vision, its unexpected contours, and its weighty implications for married, single, divorced, and remarried alike."


Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper
A book written for pastors, but beneficial for all to read and/or give to your pastors. "John Piper pleads through a series of thoughtful essays with fellow pastors to abandon the professionalization of the pastorate and pursue the prophetic call of the Bible for radical ministry."






Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp
This is an penetrating and practical book on counseling and helping other people. Not just for pastors or full-time ministers but for all Christians who want to love their brothers and sisters in Christ. From the description: "In many ways, the church today has more consumers than committed participants. We see church merely as an event we attend or an organization we belong to, rather than as a calling that shapes our entire life. Many of us would be relieved if God had place dour sanctification in the hands of trained professionals, but that simply is not the biblical model. God’s plan is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to maturity in Christ.Tripp explains how his work follows an "all of my people, all of the time" model. If you followed the Lord for a thousand years, you would still need the ministry of the body of Christ as much as you did the day you first believed. This need will remain until our sanctification is complete in Glory. This is a comprehensive treatment of how God uses people as tools of change in the lives of others, people who themselves are in need of change."


December 28, 2012

Random Links (12/28)

Scandal of Evangelical Dishonesty

Randy Alcorn discusses the shame broil upon the name of Christ by dishonest preachers, celebrity culture, and the deceit of Christian ghostwriting.

The Internet and Children's Brains

"One of Britain's leading inventors has warned that a 'Google generation' who rely on the internet for everything are in danger of becoming 'brain-dead'."

A Black Swan Revival

An excellent reminder by Doug Wilson that our God brings us to the point of no other options so that we might not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.

12 Horrible Gobbledygook words we reluctantly accepted

"Just as there is nothing certain in this world but death and taxes, there is nothing certain in language but that it will change, and that people will react badly. One of the changes people find most offensive is the spread of professional jargon that has been coined to replace simpler, clearer words we already have. Anyone up for some collaborative incentivizing going forward? No? Well, maybe one day your great-grandchildren will be. Here are 12 words that people once thought were horrible gobbledygook that nobody flinches at anymore."

Russia Set to Ban All US Adoptions

This is a tragic development coming out of Russia.



12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #10 - Perspectives on the Good News

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #10
These three books, two modern and one classic, offer 3 edifying perspectives on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
This is a short book, but very well done. From the description: "What is the gospel? It seems like a simple question, yet it has been known to incite some heated responses, even in the church. How are we to formulate a clear, biblical understanding of the gospel? Tradition, reason, and experience all leave us ultimately disappointed. If we want answers, we must turn to the Word of God. Greg Gilbert does so in What Is the Gospel? Beginning with Paul's systematic presentation of the gospel in Romans and moving through the sermons in Acts, Gilbert argues that the central structure of the gospel consists of four main subjects: God, man, Christ, and a response. The book carefully examines each and then explores the effects the gospel can have in individuals, churches, and the world. Both Christian and non-Christian readers will gain a clearer understanding of the gospel in this valuable resource."


Beginning at Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament
Read and begin to perceive that the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is about Jesus Christ. "Although not in every line and perhaps not on every page, the message of Christ overshadows the entire Old Testament. Finding Christ is the key that both unlocks and locks in the message of the whole Word of God. Jesus Christ is God's final, perfect, incomparable Word. Beginning at Moses seeks to follow the example of Christ Himself Who, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets," expounded from all the Scripture the things concerning Himself."




The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love by Augustine
This classic by Augustine seeks to lay out the basics of Christianity for a young believer. "Written as a favor for a friend, this little work is a wonderful explanation of the Christian faith: a true catechism from which, throughout the history of the church, other catechisms have drawn and learned. Augustine first works his way through the creed and then the Lords Prayer as recorded by Matthew, ending with the sacraments. This is a colossal work in one small volume."






December 27, 2012

An Undesirable God?

Over on Scot McKnight's blog, Jeff Cook argues that one of the fundamental flaws in our apologetic encounters with non-Christians is that we're playing completely different games - the Christian is attempting to argue for the reasonableness, probability, even certainty of Christianity, while the non-Christian is primarily dealing in categories of emotion and preference. In the example debate provided, the Christian wins on logic and argumentation, but ends up losing because the non-Christian excels at arguing from desire and preference, ridiculing God as distasteful and altogether unworthy of respect and admiration.

This is a worthwhile observation. It's not very persuasive to exhort someone to believe in a God who is altogether undesirable. As it was said of the Greeks and Romans of the first century, "It was not that men became so depraved that they abandoned the gods, but that the gods became so depraved that they were abandoned by men." If you look at many Christians today, there is not much in their actions or demeanor that would commend their God. An non-believer looking in from the outside may very well conclude, "if that's what their God is like, no thank you." When the joy, the love, and the freedom that comes in Christ is missing in a Christian's life and example, it detracts greatly from the power of their message. When the God they preach is abstract, or impersonal, or other than the God who came down and took the sin of the world upon himself on the Cross, it detracts greatly from the power of their message.

But could there be more to the question of why non-Christians often find our God unappealing other than that we make him appear so? In his book, the Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs identifies several things that people find unworthy about Christianity and use to judge it immoral and our God unworthy of worship:

  1. The Problem of Truth - the fact that Christianity makes a claim to be the truth - objectively, for everyone - is considered arrogant and offensive.
  2. The Problem of Christ - Jesus' claim to be the way, the truth, and the life, the only means of reaching God the Father is inherently exclusive, and is therefore to be considered intolerant and unloving. It is disrespectful to even imply that someone else might be wrong in their beliefs and need to change them (ironic, to be sure).
  3. The Problem of Moral Law - it is considered immoral and offensive to claim that a moral law applies to others. "My values" is just fine, but when it becomes "you ought" then a line has been crossed.
  4. The Problem of Judgment - that God should be the judge of human behavior is seen as outrageous and an affront to the idol of freedom to do as we wish.
  5. The Problem of Authority - the notion that there is an authority that is binding on all us is foreign. That Christianity should claim to speak on God's authority through his word is unacceptable.
What should be our response to these challenges? Ruling out fear, judgment, retreat, and separation, Barrs commends three responses:

  1. Prayer for the Spirit's conviction, for laborers to be sent, for open doors to speak the gospel, and for courage and clarity to speak.
  2. Love our neighbors and count it as a blessing to receive their ridicule, turning the other cheek and serving through giving of ourselves to them.
  3. Be prepared to speak his word with "grace," "respect," and "gentleness" (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15-16)


12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #9 - History and War

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #9
These are three excellent books that are very different from one another, covering a wide range of historical topics. Combined they consist of over 2000 pages of literature.


The Gulag Archipelago Volume 1: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
A riveting, if terrifying, account of the experience of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Stalin's Soviet Union. This is a masterpiece of a book, which Time magazine called “Best Nonfiction Book of the Twentieth Century."







War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars
The first thing that struck me reading this book is that in a generation of e-mail and social media, we have lost something significant when it comes to communicating with one another. This collection of letters provides a first person experience into life during America's wars. From the description: "Here are letters from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war, Somalia, and Bosnia -- dramatic eyewitness accounts from the front lines, poignant expressions of love for family and country, insightful reflections on the nature of warfare. Amid the voices of common soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors, nurses, journalists, spies, and chaplains are letters by such legendary figures as Gen. William T. Sherman, Clara Barton, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernie Pyle, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Julia Child, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, and Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. Collected in War Letters, they are an astonishing historical record, a powerful tribute to those who fought, and a celebration of the enduring power of letters."


Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age by Peter Paret (ed.)
A mammoth book, clocking in at 941 pages. From the description: "The essays in this volume analyze war, its strategic characterisitics and its political and social functions, over the past five centuries. The diversity of its themes and the broad perspectives applied to them make the book a work of general history as much as a history of the theory and practice of war from the Renaissance to the present...The subjects addressed range from major theorists and political and military leaders to impersonal forces. Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Marx and Engels are discussed, as are Napoleon, Churchill, and Mao. Other essays trace the interaction of theory and experience over generations--the evolution of American strategy, for instance, or the emergence of revolutionary war in the modern world. Still others analyze the strategy of particular conflicts--the First and Second World Wars--or the relationship between technology, policy, and war in the nuclear age. Whatever its theme, each essay places the specifics of military thought and action in their political, social, and economic environment. Together the contributors have produced a book that reinterprets and illuminates war, one of the most powerful forces in history and one that cannot be controlled in the future without an understanding of its past.




December 26, 2012

Why Live Simply?

Channeling Randy Alcorn

In a previous post I wrote about the "rich" verses of the Bible and how pretty much everyone living in America ought to be applying these passages to themselves first and foremost. Today, I read the following in Randy Alcorn's excellent book Money, Possessions, and Eternity:
"There's no room for making wealth a source of security, or for lacking generosity or hospitality, or for an unwillingness to share. Still, Paul leaves a door open for Christian to be "rich in this present world" - but only if they carefully follow the accompanying guidelines related to their open-handed use of that wealth. The rich are not told they must take a vow of poverty. They are told essentially to take a vow of generosity. They are to be rich in good deeds, quick to share, and quick to part with their assets for kingdom causes. In doing so, they will lay up treasures in heaven.
"Who are these "rich," and how rich are they? Nearly everyone reading this book is rich, both by first-century standards and by global standards today. As of 2002, two-thirds of all countries had a per capita income less than 10 percent of America's.
"If you made only $1,500 last year, that's more than 80 percent of the people on the earth. Statistically, if you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15 percent of of the world's wealthy. If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, and live in your own home, you are in the top 5 percent of the world's wealthy.
"A youth pastor told me, "You can't really talk to kids about giving, because they don't have any money." One look at their cars, clothes, video games, concerts, movies, fast foot, visits to Starbucks, and so on clearly says otherwise. In fact, even without counting the possessions that Mom and Dad buy for them, the average Christian teenager in America has $1,500 disposable cash income - far more than most adults in the world.
"We must lay aside our illusions and realize that when Scripture speaks of the rich it is not talking about "them" but "us.""

Living Simply

Following this, Alcorn exhorts us that there are numerous ways to live more simply and provides some compelling reasons why we should:
  1. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because heaven is our home. This is our temporary residence and we shouldn't dedicate most of our time, energy, and money on things that don't last.
  2. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because it frees us up and shifts our center of gravity. Our life would begin to center on God and not our possessions, breaking the grip of materialism.
  3. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because we're God's pipeline. We are the vehicle that God uses to bring blessing to a needy world. God gives us more than we need so that we may be generous.
  4. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because of the reward we'll receive in heaven. Jesus provides this motivator (Matt. 6:20). If you're seeking to make an investment, consider what has the greatest and longest lasting returns.
  5. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because of the dire spiritual need of the world. Alcorn quotes John Piper: "Three billion people today are outside Jesus Christ. Two-thirds of them have no viable Christian witness in their culture. If they are to hear - and Christ commands that they hear - then cross-cultural missionaries will have to be sent and paid for. All the wealth needed to send this new army of good news ambassadors is already in the church..."
  6. We should live more simply - and give more generously - because of the world's dire physical needs. The biblical pattern is to see a need and give to meet it. If God has entrusted with more than we need (which he has) then we should live on less in order to give to those in need. This means keeping our income above our means, but consuming less of it and giving more of it.

Random Links (12/26)

The Power of Les Miserables
"The power of Victor Hugo’s classic Les Misérables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the merciless. The merciful have faced their sin guilt and been broken like glass. The merciless have faced their sin guilt and hardened themselves like steel. The merciful have first received Mercy (God) and then aim to show mercy to others. The legalist adamantly rejects mercy, and in rejecting mercy has rejected Mercy."

Why Atheists Bring Their Children to Church
"The formula seems simple: parents pass down what they believe to their children. Atheist parents don’t believe in God or go to church, therefore…. Yet, a surprisingly large number of atheist scientists from elite universities raise their children in a religious community such as a church."

Why Men Should Read More Fiction
"There are a lot of reasons thrown around as to why many men today don’t read fiction. Perhaps they had a bad experience with it in high school and swore they’d never read a novel again as long as they lived. It’s possible that the male brain is just naturally more drawn to the straightforward, fact-driven nature of non-fiction. And some have suggested that men are getting their storytelling fix from the many excellent narrative non-fiction books that have come out in the past decade…Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show that men might be short-shrifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library.  Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in awhile and pick up a copy of  Hemingway."

Proverbs 22:6 - A Positive Promise, or a Threat?
"Proverbs 22:6 in all English translations (at least all the major and not so major ones I’ve checked), conveys a different meaning from the original Hebrew…As Phillips points out, that verse has come to be seen as a promise for Christian parents, a verse cherished by many believers.  If the parents bring up the child in the right way, in a good Christian home, the child will grow up in that good way and become a believer.  Some parents even take this as a promise and thus a guarantee; others at least recognize that the Proverbs, including this one, are general principles and not guarantees, but they still interpret the verse in a positive way as expressed in English Bibles."

My Daughter's Beauty
"How do I raise my daughter to know the true definition of beauty in a culture such as ours? How do I cultivate an image in her that is rooted in the beauty of Jesus and not the allure of a distorted sexuality?"

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #8 - Parenting to the Glory of God

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #8
I don't think any parent could read a book about parenting and agree 100% with the author's recommendations. The same must be true of these books as well, but there is still much good to be gained from them.

How to Raise Your Children for Christ by Andrew Murray
This is an older book but contains a lot of good biblical guidance. From the description: "Children are gifts from the Lord. In this practical guide to parenting, Andrew Murray shows the essential qualities of being a parent who loves the Lord. He also shows you how to build your family in the Lord, alleviate stressful family situations, direct your children's steps, and see the needs of your family met. Christians desire that their children grow up and live as followers of Christ. In this book, you will find biblical advice and God's promises on how you can shape and mold the lives of your children for eternity!"



Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing by Doug Wilson
From the description: "God has designed each family to be a culture—with a language, customs, traditions, and countless unspoken assumptions. The culture of the family intimately shapes the children who grow up in it. It is the duty of the father to ensure that the shaping takes place according to biblical wisdom. Some fathers establish a rebellious culture for their children and bring upon their children the wrath of God, sometimes for generations. Other fathers fail to establish any distinct culture, and outside cultures rush to fill the void. Through the Messiah, God promised blessings to His people, "their children, and their children's children forever." The norm for faithful members of the covenant is that their children will follow them in faithfulness. The oddity should be children who fall away. Unless we reestablish faithful Christian culture in countless homes, we will never reestablish it anywhere else.


December 25, 2012

Random Links (12/25)


""I will never forget what came next," she said. "She looked at me, and without skipping a beat said, 'Don't tell your brother and sister.' I was devastated. … A huge bomb was dropped on me and as silly as it sounds, it really changed my life."

"As you know, for ten years Richard Dawkins has been publicly insisting that it would be better to sexually or physically abuse a child than to raise the child as a Catholic. And for ten years, Dawkins has been supporting this offensive and outrageous claim with some letter he supposedly received from some woman in America. During all this time, no journalist and no “accomodationist” has ever challenged Dawkins on this. In fact, after ten years, we still have no evidence that this letter actually exists, and if it does, that the account is true. So after ten years, his signature argument amounts to nothing more than hearsay. But this has changed thanks to one single Muslim journalist who posed the most obvious challenge to Dawkins..."
Also from this site, Sneaky Scientism.

"Is Christmas also for those who grieve? Such a question would perplex those who experienced the events that night in humble Bethlehem and those who followed Christ throughout his earthly ministry. Christmas is especially for those who grieve."

"When a new technology arrives we tend to focus on what new things it makes possible, but a recent trip to Taco Cabana and another to an Apple store reminded me that of equal importance are the things technology makes impossible, or at least extremely uncommon. Below are five formerly everyday human experiences that modern technology tends to hide."


12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #7 - Applying a Christian Worldview

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #7

Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
Schaeffer's book ought to be read in the context of his life and early ground-setting works. You can get a little glimpse of that here. When done so, it is a helpful book. From the description: "In this explosive book, Francis Schaeffer shows why morality and freedom have crumbled in our society. He calls for a massive movement-in government, law, and all of life-to reestablish our Judeo-Christian foundation and turn the tide of moral decadence and loss of freedom. A Christian Manifesto is literally a call for Christians to change the course of history-by returning to biblical Truth and by allowing Christ to be Lord in all of life."



Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton is simply a joy to read. Though we come from two very different theological traditions, I feel him to be a kindred spirit. From the description: "Chesterton's classic explanation of the essentials of the Christian faith and of his pilgrimage to belief. Written in 1908, it displays all the intellectual clarity and literary skill of one of this century's greatest and most thoughtful authors."






December 24, 2012

Random Links (12/24)


A Festivus for the Rest of Us
"When inundated with the pressures and relentless commercializing of the Christmas season, one memorable personality on the sitcom Seinfeld abandoned Christmas altogether and up and created his own holiday, or anti-holiday...Maybe Frank’s exasperation over the holiday season resonates with you, not because you’re a curmudgeon like he, but because you’re an earnest Christian who would rather celebrate the unparalleled significance of Jesus’s incarnation — God becoming man — without all the frills of endless sales and endless Santa."

God Became Man: Do You Believe This?
"Infinite and yet an infant.

Eternal and yet born of a woman.
Almighty, and yet nursing at a woman’s breast.
Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms.
Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son."


"I want to take time once again to clarify, from another angle, that there is a difference between a ‘literal’ hermeneutic (method of interpretation) and what I’m calling an ‘idiot-literal’ hermeneutic."

A spicy cookie? I think it's genius! It would never pass the test in our house where black pepper makes people sweat.

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #6 - Mission

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #6

The Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor by Howard Taylor
A very powerful account of the life and work Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission (now OMF International). From the description: "A spiritual biography of the "father of modern missions," Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret poses the question: What empowered Hudson Taylor's ministry in China?  The answer: a fierce faith that believed God truly would fulfill the promises in His Word. Written by the missionary statesman's son and daughter-in-law, this book is intended for Christians who "need and long for just the inward joy and power that Hudson Taylor found." Hudson Taylor's secret, it turns out, is available to any who call on Christ's name. "An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power," Taylor said. "Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christs--an easygoing one for easygoing Christians, and a suffering, toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in Him, and thus to bear much fruit?""


Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan
An passionate, somewhat controversial, argument for supporting indigenous missionary work. From the description: "Do you long to let go of self-centeredness and be more eternally minded? Do you desire to make a difference in the lost world but aren’t sure how to go about it? Based on the testimony of thousands who have read Revolution in World Missions, this gripping message can radically change your life.In this exciting and fast-moving narrative, K.P. Yohannan shares how God brought him from his remote Indian village to become the founder of Gospel for Asia. Drawing from fascinating true stories and eye-opening statistics, K.P. challenges Christians to examine and change their lifestyles in view of millions who have never heard the Gospel."


 Tortured For Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
From the description: "This classic story of amazing faith in shocking circumstances has been updated for a new generation. Its message remains urgent and relevant: thousands of Christians are still persecuted and tortured around the world today, suffering solely for their belief in Jesus Christ. Richard Wurmbrand endured months of solitary confinement, years of periodic physical torture, constant suffering from hunger and cold, the anguish of brainwashing and mental cruelty. His captors lied to his wife, saying he was dead. Yet he went on to tell the West the truth about Christianity behind the Iron Curtain."


December 23, 2012

Was Jesus born in a barn? Probably not...

Questioning the Tradition

This time of year we get to reflect on the glorious message of our Savior's birth, sent into the world to save us from our sins and to take his place as creation's rightful King. The basic contours of the traditional Christmas story are commonly known, even among those who are not Christians. Three wise men, shepherds in mid-winter, baby Jesus in a barn with animals, and of course, that crusty old innkeeper who wouldn't give Joseph and his laboring wife a place to stay (or in some accounts offered up his stable out of generosity!). But is the traditional story an accurate portrayal of the biblical story and is realistic given the historical and cultural setting?

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes says no, and offers a compelling argument that our understanding of the Christmas story depends more on later embellishments and tradition than on the biblical accounts themselves. He suggests 5 critical flaws in the traditional story:

  1. Joseph was returning to the village of his origin. In the Middle East, historical memories are long, and the extended family, with its connection to its village of origin, is important. In such a world a man like Joseph could have appeared in Bethlehem, and told people, "I am Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, the son of Levi" and most homes in town would have been open to him.
  2. Joseph was from the family of King David, a family so famous in Bethlehem that the town was apparently known by locals as "the city of David." Being of that famous family, Joseph would have been welcome anywhere in town.
  3. In every culture a woman about to give birth is given special attention. Simple rural communities the world over always assist one of their own women in childbirth regardless of the circumstances. Are we to imagine that Bethlehem was an exception? Was there no sense of honor in Bethlehem?
  4. Mary had relatives in a nearby village. A few months prior to the birth of Jesus, Mary had visited her cousin Elizabeth "in the hill country of Judea" and was welcomed by her. Bethlehem was located in the center of Judea, meaning that they would have been but a short distance from Zechariah and Elizabeth. If Joseph had failed to find shelter in Bethlehem he would naturally have turned to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
  5. Joseph had adequate time to make arrangements. Luke 2:4 says that Joseph and Mary "went up from Galilee to Judea," and verse 6 states, "while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered." The average Christian thinks that Jesus was born the same night the holy family arrived, hence Joseph's haste and willingness to accept any shelter, even the shelter of a stable. Traditional Christmas pageants reinforce this idea year after year.
He then proceeds to document how many of our traditional understandings actually originate with 3rd century expansion of the gospel accounts known as The Protoevangelium of James. So what about the manger and the inn?

Where was the manger?

In the Middle East, traditional village homes would often only have two rooms. One room would serve as the guest room, and the other was the main living area where the family ate, slept, and lived. Except for the homes of the wealthy, most animals would be kept inside the houses of their owners. They would be brought in at night for warmth and protection and then taken outside in the morning. In the main living room near the door, there would be an area blocked off and designated for the animals, including mangers dug into the floor where the animals could eat. This type of setup is seen in the Middle East even to the current century and is consistent with other biblical passages (such as Judges 11:29-40; Luke 13:10-17). It has been understood by Middle Eastern scholars for more than a century that Luke 2:7 is referring to a family living room with mangers cut into the floor at one end.

What about the Inn?

So, if Jesus was born in the living room of a typical middle Easter village home, how do we account for the language of an "inn" used in Luke 2:7? Bailey writes:

"There is a trap in the traditional language. 'No room in the inn' has taken on the meaning of 'the inn had a number of rooms and all were occupied.'...But the Greek word does not refer to 'a room at the inn' but rather to 'space' as in 'there is no space on my desk for my new computer.'...
The Greek word in Luke 2:7 that is commonly translated 'inn' is katalyma. This is not the ordinary word for a commercial inn... [The word pandocheion (to receive all), as used in Luke 10:25-37, is the common Greek term for commercial inn and] was so widely known across the Middle East that over the centuries it was absorbed as a Greek loan word into Armenian, Coptic, Arabic and Turkish with the same meaning - a commercial inn...
Literally, katalyma is simply 'a place to stay' and can refer to many types of shelters. The three that are options for this story are inn (the English translation tradition), house (the Arabic biblical tradition of more than one thousand years), and guest room (Luke's choice). Indeed, Luke used this key term on one other occasion in his gospel, where it is defined in the text itself...[c.f. Luke 22:10-12] Here, the key word, katalyma, is defined; it is "an upper room," which is clearly a guest room in a private home. This precise meaning makes perfect sense when applied to the birth story. In Luke 2:7 Luke tells his readers that Jesus was placed in a manger (in the family room) because in that hoome the guest room was already full." (32)
This account is confirmed by the account of the shepherds. The lowest of the social classes were the first to be informed of the Savior's birth. They were told that the King of the Jews would be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. In other words, he was in lowly conditions just like theirs, in a typical peasant village home. Bailey poses an interesting question - if the Shepherds had encountered Mary and Joseph in a filthy stable, desperate and scared, would they have left "praising God for all they had heard and seen" or would they more likely have taken them and moved them into their own homes? Later, when the wise men arrived, Matthew reports that they "entered the house" which is consistent with a birth in a private home.



12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #5 - Wit and Wisdom

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #5
These are the first two books I read by Alan Jacobs, happening upon them in the local Half Price Books store. I was immediately hooked by the thought provoking topics and the writing which was able to grab and keep my attention.

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age by Alan Jacobs
From the inside flap: "In A Visit to Vanity Fair, Alan Jacobs reminds us that "our ordinariness and our finitude do not sanction moral indifference or the refusal to practice, publicly when necessary, moral discernment."
If indeed we were created to "look at this world with a happy eye, but from a sober perspective," as W. H. Auden suggests, then Alan Jacob shows us exactly how to do so. These perceptive moral essays crackle with wit, intelligence, and a wide range of knowledge. Jacobs, a cultural hawkeye, delivers literary finesse in relevant, down-to-earth meditations on "the way we live now."



Original Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs
From the Back Cover: "Essayist and biographer Alan Jacobs introduces us into the world of original sin, which he describes as not only a profound idea but a necessary one. As G.K. Chesterton explains, “Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.” Ever since Augustine, the church has taught the doctrine of original sin, which is the idea that we are not born innocent, but as babes we are corrupt, guilty, and worthy of condemnation. Thus started a debate that has raged at the heart of Western civilization for centuries. Perhaps no Christian doctrine is more controversial; perhaps none is more consequential. For whether or not we believe in original sin, the idea has shaped our most fundamental institutions--our political structures, how we teach and raise our young, and, perhaps most pervasively of all, how we understand ourselves. In Original Sin, Alan Jacobs takes readers on a sweeping tour of the idea of original sin, its origins, its history, its proponents and opponents. And he leaves us better prepared to answer one of the most important questions of all: Are we really, all of us, bad to the bone?"



December 22, 2012

Random Links (12/22)


Being Rahab
"Okay, I know what you’re thinking; “you mean the prostitute?” Yeah, I mean the prostitute. I’m certainly not suggesting we should be like Rahab in that sense (God forbid!) any more than I think we should be like Rebekah in the sense that she deceived her husband. Nevertheless the story of Rahab is a powerful story of faith. It was through faith in the God of the Israelites that Rahab was saved, much like our faith saves us today. It is worth noting that although Rahab had prostitution in her past; the Bible seems to indicate that she did not in fact remain a prostitute. That is a powerful testimony to the goodness and mercy of the Lord and the transformation possible when we come to know Him!"

The end of men?
"Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences"

25 Ways to make sure you enjoy your life
Interesting. #8:"Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card."

Why I left atheism
"Of all the lessons that I present concerning the existence of God and of all the material that I try to make available to people to learn about God's existence, the present lesson, “Why I Left Atheism,” is the lesson in the series that I frankly do not like to present. I guess none of us like to look back in our lives to a time when we made poor judgments and foolish mistakes — when we took rather really idiotic positions — and admit this, especially to people we are not well acquainted with. I present this lesson, however, because it is my fervent hope and prayer that perhaps by exposing my mistakes and by pointing out the things that were a part of my early life, some who might be following the same paths (to a greater or lesser extent) might not make those same mistakes. Someone once said that nobody is totally useless; if we cannot do anything else, we can at least serve as a bad example. That is sort of my situation. I am hoping that by presenting these materials and telling you something about my early life, some of you may be able to recognize the lack of wisdom and perhaps the poor judgment that is involved in rejecting God and living a life that demonstrates such a rejection."

Jesus from Genesis to Revelation
This is great!

English Pronunciation
"If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud."

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #4 - Thinking Christianly

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #4
This pair of books is meant to encourage sound thinking as a staple of the Christian life.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
This is a very solid book by John Piper on the relationship between loving God and our thinking and reasoning. "Do you ever wish you could feel more deeply about things you know are true? Has it been a while since you were moved to tears at the thought of Christ’s death for your sins? It’s not mysterious: those who feel deeply about the gospel are those who think deeply about the gospel. In these pages John Piper will convince you that thinking is the sturdy foundation for our easily misguided affections. If you want to feel profoundly, learn to think carefully. And start by reading this book!" - C. J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries



The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?
"In this now classic book, noted scholar and author Harry Blamires perceptively diagnoses some of the weaknesses besetting the church with insights as fresh and relevant today as they were in the 1960s. Arguing that a distinctively Christian reasoning has been swept away by secular modes of thought and politically correct assumptions, the author calls for the recovery of the authentically Christian mind."







December 21, 2012

Psalm 111

In Hebrew, Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem in which the first letter of each line proceeds sequentially through the alphabet. I've attempted to reproduce that in English verse.

Praise the Lord!
All of my heart, with joy it will sing
Bless the LORD with praise and thanksgiving
Come with me to bless, all you upright
Dramatic works reveal his great might
Enticing us to joyful study
Filled with great splendor and majesty
God’s righteousness endures for all time
He brings his works to renew our mind
In him, our God, is grace and mercy
Joy fills with fear, and he meets our need
Kindness and love he will always keep
Let all see his power, high and deep
Made known as we receive the nations
Now see him faithful, just, and patient
On his precepts, as on solid ground
Powerfully established and sound
Quietly in faith to be obeyed
Redemption’s coming – be not dismayed
Salvation by an unchanging oath
Truly holy, awesome - he is both
Under fear of him, wisdom begins
Viewing life rightly, his Word within
Walking in knowledge with him as first
Xeric without him, he quenches thirst
Yes, in the LORD alone is our life
Zealously bringing an end to strife
Praise the LORD, forever and ever!

Biblical Training: Learning Romans with Douglas Moo

From BiblicalTraining.org:
We are proud to announce a new class: Romans, by Prof. Douglas Moo. I have known Doug by reputation for many years, and it has been good to get to know him better on the NIV translation team; he is the chair. He is the author of The Epistle to the Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament; if you can only get one commentary Romans, this is it. You can see his academic credentials here. Doug is also a very good photographer, and you can see his work on his personal site.
I highly recommend that you consider watching or listening to these lectures and taking the time to follow along with the related reading. The rewards will be great. I concur with the remarks about Moo's NICNT commentary on Romans, and would go further to say that this is perhaps the best commentary on a book of the Bible. It is big at times quite advanced, but don't let that deter you. The lectures in combination with the other recommended reading (which are very accessible books) will open up whole new vistas into your understanding of the Bible and, more importantly, your understanding of what God has done and is doing in this world.

You can access the course here.

If you're not familiar with BiblicalTraining.org, this is a ministry devoted to providing high-quality, freely available, courses to lay Christians and future leaders taught by some of the leading evangelical seminary professors. They have programs on every level from foundational new believer classes all the way up to seminary-level courses. You can see the details here. If you're interested in growing in your understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith, this is an invaluable resource.

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #3 - Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #3

A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley by Kenneth Collins
"A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley fills a void in available books in Wesleyan studies by providing a brief, solid biography that focuses on Wesley himself. While exploring Wesley's ancestry, birth, death, and every major biographical and theological event between, Collins also explores the theme of John Wesley's spiritual growth and maturation. Wesley came to the conclusion that real Christians are those whose inward (and outward) lives have been transformed by the bountiful sanctifying grace of God -- what he termed real Christianity--and this he strove to obtain for himself. Real Christianity, as Wesley understood it, embraces both works of piety and mercy, the person and the social."


Growing in Grace by John Wesley, edited by Judith Couchman
"In the 1700s, John Wesley's anointed preaching set hearts afire and ignited a revival in the church. Today his words are still spiritually flammable, and you will find your spirit enkindled as you read them in these forty selections from his works. John Wesley: Growing in Grace not only introduces readers to the breadth and depth of Wesley's inspirational works, but it also focuses them on the Christian's personal response to Christ as the key to the coming of revival. Charles Wesley's hymns are interspersed with the devotions."




Words of Wisdom for Daily Life by Charles Spurgeon
"If the Lord has called you by His grace, all the men on earth and all the fiends in hell cannot reverse the calling. You belong to Him! This is just one of the many truths that Charles Spurgeon presents in this thirty-one-day devotional guide. Spurgeon's anecdotes and biblical principles will inspire your daily walk with the Lord."






Seven Wonders of Grace by Charles Spurgeon
A collection of devotionals based on sermons by Charles Spurgeon. "If divine grace has kindled a fire in you it is that your fellow men may burn with the same flame. If the eternal fount has filled you with living water it is that out of the midst of you should flow rivers of living water. You are blessed that you may bless ; whom have you blessed yet ? Let the question go round. Do not avoid it."






December 20, 2012

My favorite books of 2012

Of all the books I read this year, these are my top 11. They may or may not be the best books, but they are the ones I enjoyed reading the most.
  1. Reformed Dogmatics (Volumes I & II) by Herman Bavinck - an outstandingly clear, historically aware, and thought-provokingly deep systematic theology. I'm looking forward to reading Volumes III and IV in 2013.
  2. Surprised By Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber - a delight to read.
  3. From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer - an eye-opening look at how technology changes us. Backed by strong knowledge of media ecology.
  4. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction by John Frame - The best concise introduction to Christian apologetics.
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - I can't believe I waited so long to read this.
  6. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller - The best book on marriage out there. I dare you to find a better one.
  7. Kingdom through Covenant by Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum - a brilliant work of Biblical Theology.
  8. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson - still working on applying it.
  9. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright - I always enjoy reading Wright and this was no exception.
  10. Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis - a penetrating analysis and critique of the prevalent ideologies including dismantling some of my own.
  11. Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning by Nancey Pearcey - carrying forward the torch of Francis Schaeffer, this is a must read.

Got Margin?


When I was a couple chapters into Richard Swenson's book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, I was already convinced that both his diagnosis and prescription were on target. It is self-evidently true in my own life and in the lives of those I observe around me. The modern world, with all of the benefits of progress and its great comforts, has brought us to the brink of overload and then kicked us over.





He begins by painting a picture of "marginless" vs margin:
  • Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor's office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the care ran out of gas two block from the gas station - and you forgot your wallet.
  • Margin on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
  • Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon.
  • Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden.
  • Marginless is not having time to finish the book you're reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.
  • Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy. 
  • Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.
  • Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.
  • Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.
  • Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.
  • Marginless is the disease of the new millennium; margin is its cure.
Progress
This generation has seen an unparalleled exponential growth in progress. It has helped us to eliminate many problems that plagued former generations - access to food, health, warmth, education, affluence, leisure, entertainment, convenience, and comfort. Despite enjoying unprecedented wealth and progress in our society, we are generally unfulfilled, overwhelmed, and discontent. The symptoms vary from person to person, but the problem is pervasive. Swenson argues that the lack of margin in our lives is the natural consequence of progress:
  1. Progress differentiates our environment, bringing more and more of everything faster and faster. It is impossible for progress to give us less and less slower and slower.
  2. The spontaneous flow of progress is toward increasing stress, change, complexity, speed, intensity, and overload.
  3. All humans have physical, mental, emotional, and financial limits that are relatively fixed.
  4. The profusion of progress is on a collision course with human limits.
  5. On the unsaturated side of their limits, humans can be open and expansive. On the saturated side of these limits, the rules of life totally change.
He goes on to emphasize that progress is not inherently bad, but that there is a fundamental flaw in the way we've defined and approached progress. Humans have needs in five environments (1) Physical - the material world, (2) Cognitive - the intellectual world, (3) Social - the societal world, (4) Emotional - the psychological world, (5) Spiritual - God. Our modern progress has centered on 1 and 2, while causing pain to 3-5. We need to redefine the measure of true progress to include all 5 environments, reorienting our priorities around the most important foundations - healthy relationships with others, with ourselves, and with God. 

Stress and Overload
Stress is an important part of life and is the normal result of change. Stress spurs action and creativity. However, it also takes a toll on us mentally and physically, and too much of it can lead to health problems and burnout. Our society faces a daunting number of stressors at an intensity that no other generation has faced. Some of the contemporary stressors are high amounts of change, greater mobility, increased and increasingly unmet expectations, time pressure, work, fear, lack of supportive relationships, increased competition, and consistent frustration. The effects of this stress are numerous and varied:

  • Psychological: Depression, withdrawal, apathy, mental fatique, anxiety, negative thinking, difficulty deciding, worry, impatience, forgetfulness, confusion.
  • Physical: Rapid pulse, palpitations, blood pressure, hyperacidity, ulcers, irritable bowel, tightening muscles, headaches, weight changes, immune system effects, fatigue, rashes, insomnia, shortness of breath.
  • Behavioral: Irritation, temper, changes in eating and sleeping, accidents, shopping, drug use, alcohol, cigarettes.
When we have reached our limits, burnout occurs.

Overload is simply the taking on of more than we can bear. We all have physical, performance, emotional, and mental limits. The physical ones are usually acknowledged because they are obvious, but the others are less often recognized. Overload happens when we exceed those limits, whether it be by pushing our performance too far, taking on too many burdens in our desire to help others, or becoming overloaded with information and mentally short-circuiting. Since our limits are not always obvious, overload can sneak up on us, and just like the straw on the camel's back, the thing that breaks us may not be all that significant on its own.

Some examples of overload that we face:
  • Activity - trying to do too much, and losing the pleasure of anticipation and reminiscence.
  • Change
  • Choice
  • Commitment - overbooked and unable to say no.
  • Debt
  • Expectations
  • Hurry
  • Information - buried by data. "A single edition of the New York Times contains more information than a seventeenth century Britisher would encounter in a lifetime."
  • Media - 24/7 news, television that is watched 55 hrs/week, and more books per capita than ever before.
  • Noise
  • People - Crowding vs. true community
  • Possessions - More "things per person" than any other time in history
  • Technology - Devices to learn and maintain
  • Traffic - More cars per family than drivers
  • Work - Total family work hours often exceeding 80 hrs/week
Restoring Margin and Health
After laying out the problem, Swenson spends the remaining 10 chapters giving immensely practical advice for restoring margin to four areas: Emotional health, Physical health, Time, and Finances. The goal of this margin is to find health through contentment, simplicity, balance and rest. Our purpose is not just to have time or money to spend on ourselves, but the reverse - to be free, available, and equipped to give of ourselves in loving service to others. It is to restore the prior of the transcendent over the trivial, to foster our relationships with God and other people. Essentially, restoring margin is an exhortation that we crucify to ourselves the idols and slave masters of wealth and progress, and return to living our creaturely life within the guidelines set by our loving Creator. 

12 Day Book Giveaway - Day #2 - Challenging the Faith

Each day until the end of the year, I'll be giving away a group of books from my library. These are all used but in generally readable condition. Some may contain underlining. I don't necessarily endorse the content in any of these books, but they have all been useful in one way or another.

How to Win

Fill out the form below to enter the drawing. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day today. I'll select one person at random to be the winner and they will receive all of the books listed for the day. If no one wants them they will be donated. The drawing is only open to US residents.

Day #2
Today's books are an interesting lot, especially for this site. Much of my time is spent reading and writing on topics that expound upon or defend biblical Christianity. However, all of today's books seek, in one way or another, to undermine the testimony of the Bible. What gives? Well, as the saying goes, "you keep your friends close and you buy up all your enemies books so no one else can read them." Some may disagree, but I believe the best way to effectively engage and counter arguments against Christianity is to understand those arguments and get down to the truth of the matter. If Christianity is true, then we need not fear arguments that oppose it. For conscience sake, and to avoid potentially leading anyone astray, I have also included links below to Christian responses and interactions with these books.

The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor
This is an interesting exercise in historical reconstruction, and gives you an idea of how pliable history can sometimes be. From the Wikipedia description: The book "develops the hypothesis that the original Jesus movement was a dynastic one, with the intention of overthrowing the rule of Herod Antipas; that Jesus of Nazareth was a royal messiah, while his cousin John the Baptist planned to be a priestly messiah."

New Testament scholar Darrell Bock interacted with Tabor's book in his Christianity Today article The Jesus Dynasty: How to Explain Away the New Testament.


Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman
From the description: "In this compelling and fascinating book, Ehrman shows where and why changes were made in our earliest surviving manuscripts, explaining for the first time how the many variations of our cherished biblical stories came to be, and why only certain versions of the stories qualify for publication in the Bibles we read today. Ehrman frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Greek manuscripts made him abandon his once ultra–conservative views of the Bible."

Bart Ehrman has become somewhat of an celebrity in critical circles (famous or infamous depending on who you ask). As one of the leading New Testament textual critics in the world, he seems to carry some credibility. However, when you get down to listening to and reading him, you get the feeling that he has a big chip on his shoulder. Ehrman has one thing going for him - he does understand textual criticism and most unsuspecting Christians (or non-Christians for that matter) do not. The first part of this book is actually a pretty good overview of the art of textual criticism.

Another well-respected (yet still Christian) textual critic, New Testament scholar Dan Wallace, interacts with Ehrman's book in this review.


The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot by Bart Ehrman
This is Ehrman's intro to the Gnostic gospel of Judas. From the description: "Ehrman, a featured commentator in the National Geographic special, describes how he first saw the Gospel of Judas--surprisingly, in a small room above a pizza parlor in a Swiss town near Lake Geneva--and he recounts the fascinating story of where and how this ancient papyrus document was discovered, how it moved around among antiquities dealers in Egypt, the United States, and Switzerland, and how it came to be restored and translated. More important, Ehrman gives the reader a complete and clear account of what the book teaches and he shows how it relates to other Gospel texts--both those inside the New Testament and those outside of it, most notably, the Gnostic texts of early Christianity. Finally, he describes what we now can say about the historical Judas himself as well as his relationship with Jesus, suggesting that one needs to read between the lines of the early Gospels to see exactly what Judas did and why he did it." Here is another overview and perspective on the Gospel of Judas from Jeff Volkmer.


God's Problem by Bart Ehrman
The subtitle is "How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer" but the content is more along the lines of "How the Bible's Answers to Our Most Important Question Fails to Satisfy Bart Ehrman." Here is a brief interaction and review  as well as a more thorough discussion.