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Best Book Deals

A Simple Christianity: Rediscover the Foundational Principles of Our Faith by John MacArthur ($2.99)

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones ($3.79)

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester ($0.99)

Ten Who Changed the World by Daniel L. Akin ($2.99)

The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian and Cara Croft ($3.79)

Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death by Brian Croft and Phil Newton ($2.99)

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A. G. Hayken ($0.99)

Fighting for Dear Life: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo and What It Means for All of Us by David Gibbs and Bob DeMoss ($4.99)

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston ($3.99)

Best Blogs

The Most Neglected Part of the Pastor’s Job Description   | TGC

6 Nuggets of Wisdom for Leaders – Eric Geiger

Preaching Earnestly | Gentle Reformation

20 Questions a Pastoral Candidate Should Ask a Search Committee –

A Beginner’s Guide to Singing the Psalms for Corporate Worship | God in the Wasteland

The Unexpected Sacrifices of the Mission Field | TGC

Theologian for the Ages: John Calvin by Steven Lawson | Ligonier Ministries Blog

Credo Magazine » Making Our Souls Happy in the Lord

If You Care About The Poor, Care About Marriage

Credo Magazine » Reflections: One Year Later (Fred G. Zaspel)

All My Children Are ‘My Own’ | Her.meneutics |

the beginning of wisdom: when dad doesn’t disciple the kids

Ten Things That Are Killing the Family

Ask RC: What’s your new podcast all about? – R.C. Sproul Jr.

Bringing Order Out of Chaos, One Dirty Job at a Time | TGC | The Gospel Coalition

Why Are So Many Middle-Aged Men Falling Into Sexual Sin?

Few Adults Know Blessing of Best Friends. Who’s Yours?

On Wanting To Not Die | Challies Dot Com

Ikea’s New Desk Goes From Sitting To Standing With The Push Of A Button | Co.Design | business + design 

Tossing and Turning: Sleeplessness in America

Best Videos

Touchable Memories
What a tremendously powerful idea.

Surfing Orphans

Ana Yang: Gazillion Bubble Show
How can bubbles be so beautiful?

Drifting Away – Behind the Scenes

Jeff Iliff: One More Reason to Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Pollination and Insuppressible Glory
Skip the evolutionary nonsense at the beginning and start from 3.15 for a journey into the wonder of creation.

Do You Know Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church?
A nicely done church welcome video with a clear and appealing message.

The Politics of Optimism

Over at Frank Donatelli analyzes why the Republicans are doing so well in swing states and how the GOP can build on this to win the White House in 2016. One of his points is the power of optimism:

Stay positive. The country faces problems at all levels, but candidates who project an optimistic attitude usually prevail. Democrats are hunkered down, ignoring Obama and seeking to deflect attention from him. In the swing states, they are spending massive amounts of money running negative ads against their opponents. The GOP must answer the charges, but not be dissuaded from their determination to offer hopeful solutions in contrast to those who now run Washington.

In The Optimistic Republican Story Everybody is Missing, Larry Kudlow anticipates the first 100 days of the expected new Republican Congress and suggests two Big Think thoughts.

First is optimism: We know what the problems are, we know what the solutions should be, and we can make these changes quickly. Second is a re-energized evangelism by the Republican party for pro-growth, market-oriented, consumer-driven, pro-family policies.

Later in the same article Kudlow again calls for an optimistic attitude and agenda:

But the key here is that the GOP regains its footing as the party of optimism and growth. A new Republican Congress should message that they’re tired of obsessing about Obama’s mistakes. Everybody knows about those. The trick now is to focus on solutions. On change. On saying, “We can do this. We can fix this.”

Fatalistic Pessimism

President Obama used optimism to great effect in his 2008 Presidential campaign. “Hope and Change” anyone? It didn’t take long, though, for him to slump into a deep fatalistic pessimism about himself, Congress, the country, and even the American people. His hope seems to have turned into despair, and most of the change has turned out for the worse.

His grim, negative, angry, and depressing demeanor has spread throughout the Democratic party, leaving a big open goal for Republicans, if they have the wit and savvy to take advantage of it. The American people are in desperate need of an injection of confident, upbeat, can-do, let’s roll leadership and policies.

Optimistic Evangelism

But optimism isn’t only a winning political strategy; it’s also compelling and persuasive evangelism. In such a negative and discouraging culture, surely the Christian church should be standing out as a beacon of real hope and lasting change. But is it?

Too often we are simply reflecting the culture rather than renewing it. Our spirits (and sermons) soar and sink with political success or failure. Our prayers seem to be driven by opinion polls more than the Holy Spirit. We hunker down in defensive mode, expecting little from God and getting even less.

I’m not for everyone buying Joel Osteen masks and teeth tomorrow, but surely the Gospel gives us far greater grounds for optimism than any political party or movement. The question is, are we projecting that? Are we communicating our solid and joyful hope in our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.

God-Centered Optimism

Our hope is not in people, in ourselves, in the church, or in the world. Our hope is in God. He is able to change the worst person, the worst situation, and the worst nation. And even when he doesn’t change what’s going on around us, He can change us so that we are not dragged down like everyone else, but rather stand out as counter-cultural evangelists. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said:

The first thing the Bible tells us is that happiness is possible. And I emphasise that because this is the most staggering, the most surprising thing of all in a world like this; but it is the great message of the Bible. It comes to us as we are, and it says, ‘Happiness, blessedness is possible (True Happiness: An Exposition of Psalm 1).

What’s the State of Theology in America?

Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research have just published the results of a survey that measured Americans’ theological knowledge. The aim was to “help to point out common gaps in theological knowledge and awareness so that Christians might be more effective in the proclamation, teaching, and defense of the essential truths of the Christian faith.”

I’m deeply grateful to these Christian organizations for funding and carrying out this research. It’s true, there are some discouraging findings; but I was surprisingly encouraged by some of the results. First, though, the bad news, in three particular areas:

The Doctrine of The Trinity

Although there was evidence of good Bible knowledge in some areas, there was also significant doctrinal confusion. For example, more than 6-in-10 Americans deny the doctrine of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. 64% say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. There’s also widespread uncertainty about the equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It could be argued that these are fairly fine points of doctrine and that we shouldn’t expect accuracy among the general public about such sophisticated doctrines. Even mature Christians can struggle to understand and articulate the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Doctrine of Salvation

For me, the most alarming findings were found in answers about the doctrine of salvation:

  • Only 16% agree with the doctrine that says “People do not have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.”
  • Instead of acknowledging depravity, the majority of Americans believe the good in people can outweigh the bad.
  • 67% agree “Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good.”
  • 4-in-10 agree “God loves me because of the good I do or have done.”
  • 71% of Americans agree that “an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation.” 
  • 64% of Americans agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”

The church clearly has much work to do in teaching more effectively about total depravity, spiritual inability, and that “salvation is [totally and completely] of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9; John 1:13).

The Doctrine of the Church

The third area of major concern was that 52% of Americans agree “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid
replacement for regularly attending church.” That’s horrifying, and perhaps reflects the historic American traits of independency and individualism. But we also have to face the possibility that it may indicate the poverty of spiritual nourishment on offer in many churches.

The Good News

But it’s not all bad news, Sure, if we’re comparing the statistics with the America of 20 and 50 years ago, then yes there’s a serious slide in biblical knowledge, faith, and practice. I don’t want to underestimate or minimize that and the work that’s needed to change this.

But if we compare the findings to almost every other country in the world, the picture suddenly looks a lot brighter. I’d be delighted if some of these statistics were true in places like Scotland or England – it would be considered a revival! I’d be surprised if most Western European countries would even make it into double figures compared to these quite stunning American statistics:

  • 60% agree that Jesus is fully God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is fully man and has a human nature.
  • 71% agree that there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • 47% agree that God is the author of Scripture.
  • 61% agree that hell is a real place, not just a concept
  • 67% agree that heaven is a real place, not just a concept.
  • 42% agree strongly that there will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all people who have lived.
  • 43% agree that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.
  • 53% agree that salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone.
  • 61% agree that God has authority over people because he created human beings.
  • 66% agree  that God continues to answer specific prayers.
  • 68% believe the biblical accounts of Christ’s resurrection

Of course, we can flip these round and highlight where the glass is half-empty, but in many cases the glass is more than half-full! So let’s not discourage and depress ourselves too much.

Yes, lots of room for concern, some strange inconsistencies, and many areas for the church to focus attention and resources on. But to me these are also massively encouraging statistics. I doubt if there are many places on earth, or even in all of history, that would have such high numbers.

Considering all that we know about human nature, about the unceasing malice of the devil, and about the fanatical anti-Christian cultural pressures over the last fifty years, these figures are remarkably strong and resilient and give much cause for thanksgiving and motivation as we continue the work of teaching, preaching, and evangelizing both the world and the church.

The Kingdom of God In The Old Testament

KOG in OT Prezi
Last Friday/Saturday I was privileged to speak at
The Bolton Conference. I gave three addresses on the Kingdom of God in The Old Testament and David Green gave three on the Kingdom of God in The New Testament.

You can view the videos of the addresses here (click on Bolton Conference 2014) and also click through the Prezi Presentation that accompanied my lectures. There are also three handouts (Lecture 1, Lecture 2, Lecture 3).

Special thanks to my research assistant, Ryan Hurd, who contributed to the initial research on this subject.

What Led You To Become An Atheist? Some Surprising Answers

What leads people away from religion and into atheism? That’s the question that fascinated Larry Taunton so much that he launched a nationwide series of interviews with hundreds of college-age atheists.

His question was simple: “What led you to become an atheist?”

The answers were surprising, creating a completely unexpected composite sketch of American college-aged atheists. Here’s a summary from his article, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for A Stronger Christianity.

1. They had attended church: Most of them had a church background and had chosen atheism in reaction to Christianity.

2. The mission and message of their churches was vague: While there were many messages about doing good in the community, “they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.”

3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions: Churches did not address questions like creation v evolution, sexuality, reliability of the Bible, purpose of life, etc. Messages were bland, shallow, irrelevant, and boring.

4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously: This is summed up in one student’s response: ”I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

5. Ages 14-17 were decisive: Most embraced unbelief in the high school years.

6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one: Although all gave rational reasons for becoming atheists, for most there were powerful emotional reasons too – usually associated with suffering.

7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism: Instead of being “converted” through the popular New Atheists, most were influenced by Youtube videos and website forums.

So, what are the lessons for a stronger Christianity? Taking the above points in order:

1. The Church has to evangelize its own as well as those outside. We can’t assume that just because kids go to church, they are saved and thus will continue to attend. Our first mission field is our own family and church. This also puts huge onus on professing Christians to believe, speak, and act consistently because many who left the church were turned off by hypocrisy within it.

2. Our messages must be clear and Gospel-centered. All doctrine, practice, service, and devotion must continually be tied to the center of the Gospel, Jesus Christ’s person and work.

3. We must tackle the hard questions: We can’t just preach nice, heart-warming, encouraging, and inspiring sermons. We have to face the reality of our current culture and its varied challenges to Christian faith. And if we do engage these questions, we must do so fairly, lovingly, and honestly.

4. Evangelize passionately and persuasively: Students were unimpressed by dispassionate presentations of the truth and a reluctance to press the claims of Christ upon them. Perhaps this is the most surprising finding of all. We’ve somehow been convinced that sermons have to be more like lectures or just conversational; cool, calculated, casual discussions that present the truth with as little feeling as possible. We mustn’t be pushy, emotional, or earnest in our witness. But according to the students, this bland approach is a complete turn-off.

5. High School years are more dangerous than college years: We can’t wait until college to equip young people with spiritual armor and arms.

6. Appeal to the heart as well as the head: As most people turned to atheism for emotional reasons, usually related to suffering, we must also appeal to their emotions to win them back. We can’t just offer cold logic and philosophy, nor even just biblical truth. We need to communicate love, joy, and peace in our witness, as well as offer them an experience of these healing Christian emotions through the Christ who purchased them through His suffering.

7. Use the internet to promote Christian truth: Many kids are in church and Christian youth groups a couple of hours a week, but are spending 20 or 30 hours a week online. Unless we give them some healthy regular alternative to the videos and forums that are overtly and covertly attacking the Christian faith, we shouldn’t be surprised if they gradually drift away.

On the whole, this research offers a lot of encouragement to churches that preach the whole Bible with evangelistic passion and sincere conviction, that apply the truth to the modern world and modern questions, and that use digital technology to engage, evangelize, and disciple their youth.

What other lessons would you draw from this research?