Free Audiobook of the Month: John Piper’s Advent Readings

Dec 01, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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A Holiday Guide to Good Books for 3 to 7 Year Olds

Dec 01, 2014 | Justin Taylor

booksRobert Tracinski at the Federalist:

Children’s books are a field my wife and I have gotten to know pretty well over the past few years, and it has turned out to be far more important, interesting, and enjoyable than I ever would have guessed.

We haven’t quite made a comprehensive survey of the field, but we have been on the lookout for—and have been the recipient of—a constant stream of books for two very inquisitive young boys. Sherri and I have had the opportunity to sift through a lot of clunkers and to find some books that we truly love, which we love reading to our kids. The best part is that eventually they start reading them back to you.

I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned by offering a list of holiday gift ideas. These recommendations are mostly targeted at kids in the 3- to 7-year-old age range, because that’s what we have, though our oldest is a bit precocious so some of these recommendations might stretch up a few extra years. These selections have been extensively road-tested. They are the stories that have proven their ability to keep the attention of the kids and also be enjoyable for the adults, even the 37th time around. A good story is an end in itself, but many of these books also serve an educational purpose or offer wholesome themes and good values.

There is something else which we regard as just as important as a good story: good illustrations. By the end of the 20th Century, children’s book publishers somehow adopted the premise that books written for 5-year-olds should look as if they were drawn by five-year-olds. I blame Modern art, with its contempt for the technical skill of realistic rendering. We obviously disagree with this approach and think that raising a child on good, realistic illustrations is as important as teaching him to speak proper English.

You can read the rest here.

HT: Brian Auten

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How to Get an Extra 30% Off Amazon Books Until Midnight of November 30

Nov 29, 2014 | Justin Taylor


Amazon is running a deal you may want to check out.

And if you’re in the market for a Kindle, here are the best deals.

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5 Quotes from G. K. Chesterton on Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Nov 27, 2014 | Justin Taylor

chesterton“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton

“The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”—G. K. Chesterton

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”—G. K. Chesterton

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”—G. K. Chesterton

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”—G. K. Chesterton

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Brief Book Review: “Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott”

Nov 26, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Gordon, James M. Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott. London: SPCK, 1991. 340 pp.

James Gordon (part-time lecturer in church history and systematic theology at Scottish Baptist Church in Paisley, Scotland, where he formerly served as principal) is focused on Christian spirituality as seen through transatlantic evangelicalism. His aim is “to provide an appreciative exposition of Evangelical spirituality, with some evaluative comment” (viii). Gordon laments that when it comes to the evangelical tradition, it remains “largely unexplored, its riches often unused and perhaps undervalued” (vii). In particular, he focuses upon “new life through grace,” which he rightly understands to be a central theme of evangelical spirituality, despite all of its variations.

Gordon’s strategy is to pair, compare, and contrast twenty-two leaders—two of them women—from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Grouping contemporary figures through a combination of date, theology, denomination, interaction, or geography, Gordon provides narrative summary and theological analysis of the following figures:

  • John (1703-91) and Charles Wesley (1707-88);
  • Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) and George Whitefield (1714-70);
  • John Newton (1725-1807) and William Cowper (1731-1800);
  • Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and Hannah More (1745-1833);
  • Horatius Bonar (1808-89) and Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-43);
  • Robert W. Dale (1829-95) and Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-92);
  • Dwight L. Moody (1837-99) and Frances R. Havergal (1836-79);
  • Handley C. G. Moule (1841-1920) and J. C. Ryle (1816-1900);
  • P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921) and Alexander Whyte (1836-1921);
  • Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) and G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945);
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and John R. W. Stott (1921-2011).

Gordon demonstrates both unity and diversity within this Anglo-American evangelical tradition. For all of them, he claims, “the cardinal verities of Evangelicalism have exerted decisive control” (329). In particular he points to “the experience of conversion in response to the divine grace, the centrality of the cross, the primary authority of the Bible, and the imperative to service for Christ’s sake” (329). He also highlights some of the broad intra-evangelical differences—or in some cases, difference of emphasis—on issues such as conversion, the theory of the atonement, the nature of biblical authority, sanctification, the relationship of historical context and spiritual tradition, the issues of individualism, subjectivism, and guilt, the Lord’s Supper, and the relationship between church and culture. It is a testimony to Gordon’s care and skill that his approach does not leave one with a despairing feeling of relativism by highlighting evangelicalism’s “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (to use Christian Smith’s charge). Rather, each chapter is a defined unit, where the comparisons and contrasts are contained and illuminating.

Gordon suggests that an exploration of the lives, ministry, and theological emphases of these exemplars leads to several broad conclusions: (1) there is considerable diversity within evangelical unity; (2) this diversity can be accounted for by different historical and cultural contexts, individual temperaments, and literary expressions preferred; (3) there are both strengths and weaknesses within the evangelical tradition; and (4) the evangelical tradition offers emphases that can be useful to the wider Christian tradition.

By choosing and pairing these figures, and by wisely limiting the geography and timeframe covered, Gordon has provided us with an ingenious and fruitful entry into the heart of the evangelical tradition of spirituality. He has an enviable gift for summarizing the heart of a matter, skillfully constructing a narrative, and choosing the emphases to highlight in a way that is helpful. He also does the reader a service by copious quotations from original sources. As Harold Rowdon notes, “The strength of the book lies in its close engagement with the sources, coupled with the ability to quote the apt and striking phrase—and to coin others in large numbers.” As an introduction to the key figures of evangelical spirituality, I know no other resource quite like this.

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Tony Reinke’s Top 14 Books of 2014

Nov 26, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Each year I look forward to Tony Reinke’s end-of-year list.

Here are the books he chose for 2014:

1. Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton).

2. ESV Reader’s Bible (Crossway).

3. Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway).

4. Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme (Eerdmans).

5. John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis(Crossway).

6. Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (WJK).

7. Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying (Thomas Nelson).

8. C. S. Lewis and David C. Downing, editor, The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition(Eerdmans).

9. Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson).

10. Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross(Crossway).

11. Michael Reeves, Christ Our Life (Paternoster, UK), or, Rejoicing in Christ (IVP, US).

12. Hannah Anderson, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody).

13. Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale).

14. Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones,PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace (Zondervan)

Go here to read his explanation of why he chose each book, along with his runner-ups.

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A New Film on Selma, Alabama (1965), and the Best Thing to Read

Nov 15, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I am really looking forward to this new film, Selma, coming out in January 2015:

If you want to do some historical background reading before seeing the movie, you can read the first 200 pages in final volume of Taylor Branch’s fantastic triology, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (currently at bargain price at Amazon—while supplies last, I assume).

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A Theology of Healing in Six Questions

Nov 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

In Andrew Wilson’s latest article in Christianity Today he shares that his two children have regressive autism and he helps us process through a theology of divine healing. Here is an excerpt that concisely summarizes the issue:

Why doesn’t God always heal?

He does, eventually.

Does God always heal us if we are certain he will?

Not necessarily.

Why not?

The effects of Christ’s victory over death aren’t fully realized yet.

Should we assume sickness is a gift from God?

No, unless, we’re prepared to stop taking medicine or visiting doctors.

How can we see more healing?

Pray, fast, believe, and persevere.

How should we pray?

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).


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Paul Tripp, “New Morning Mercies” (A 365-Day Gospel Devotional)

Nov 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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David Platt: “Marriage and Missions: How Singleness and Marriage Connect to the Great Commission”

Nov 06, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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John Piper on 5 Ways Christians Should Vote As If They Are Not Voting

Nov 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Hawaii VotesJohn Piper uses 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 to help us think through the paradoxical mindset of Christians when it comes to voting.

Paul says that we are

  • to mourn as if we are not mourning,
  • to rejoice as though we are not rejoicing,
  • to buy as those who have no goods, and
  • to deal with the world as those who have no dealings with the world.

If this is so, then we can have a paradigm of of voting as those who do not vote.

  1. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it. Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t. Political life is for making much of Christ whether the world falls apart or holds together.
  2. There are losses. We mourn. But not as those who have no hope. We vote and we lose, or we vote and we win. In either case, we win or lose as if we were not winning or losing. Our expectations and frustrations are modest. The best this world can offer is short and small. The worst it can offer has been predicted in the book of Revelation. And no vote will hold it back. In the short run, Christians lose (Revelation 13:7). In the long run, we win (Revelation 21:4).
  3. There are joys. The very act of voting is a joyful statement that we are not under a tyrant. And there may be happy victories. But the best government we get is a foreshadowing. Peace and justice are approximated now. They will be perfect when Christ comes. So our joy is modest. Our triumphs are short-lived—and shot through with imperfection. So we vote as though not voting.
  4. We do not withdraw. We are involved—but as if not involved. Politics does not have ultimate weight for us. It is one more stage for acting out the truth that Christ, and not politics, is supreme.
  5. We deal with the system. We deal with the news. We deal with the candidates. We deal with the issues. But we deal with it all as if not dealing with it. It does not have our fullest attention. It is not the great thing in our lives. Christ is. And Christ will be ruling over his people with perfect supremacy no matter who is elected and no matter what government stands or falls. So we vote as though not voting.

You can read the whole thing, with further explanation of Paul’s paradigm, here.

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Why Writing Style Matters

Nov 03, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Stephen Pyne:

Style is not merely decorative or ornamental, any more than are feathers on a bird. Style performs work. Whatever its loveliness or ostentation, it is what allows the creatures to fly, to attract mates, to hide from predators, to be what it is. Those feathers, moreover, are only as good as the wings they fit to, and the beak and claws to which they are indirectly joined, and all the rest. The parts have to connect; they have to work as a whole. Getting them together is what makes good writing.

—Stephen J. Pyne, Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction (Harvard University Press, 2009), 10.

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An Interview with Karen Prior on Her New Biography of Hannah More

Nov 03, 2014 | Justin Taylor

fierce-convictions-hardbackKaren Swallow Prior’s new biography of Hannah More (1745-1833) is now available: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014).

As Mark Noll explains:

Hannah More was an educational pioneer and a best-selling evangelical author of “cheap tracts” for England’s poor in the tumultuous years of the American and French Revolutions. As educator, writer, reformer, and public Christian she was much lauded, but also much lampooned, during her own lifetime. With careful research, balanced judgments, accessible prose, and unusual insight, Karen Swallow Prior’s biography shows clearly why Hannah More made such an important impact in her own age, and also why her life can speak in significant ways to readers today.

Dr. Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University, recently answered a few questions about Mrs. More and the new biography:

How did you first become interested in Hannah More?

I was researching another eighteenth century writer for my doctoral dissertation when I stumbled across Hannah More after a day of prayer and fasting over my floundering research efforts. I had never heard of her before, and neither had my dissertation chair. But I instantly knew that this was who I needed to write about in my dissertation. Once I convinced my dissertation chair of that, I did. When I finished, one of my academic advisors (a professed agnostic) urged me to write a biography of More for a general reading audience.

Painting by H.W. Pickersgill in 1821, when Hannah More was 76 years old.

Painting by H.W. Pickersgill in 1821, when Hannah More was 76 years old.

Eighteenth-century English society seems to be marked by a series of chasms separating people—socially, economically, religiously, and culturally. How did God use More to begin bridging some of those separations?

Crossing so many divides is one of the most fascinating aspects of More’s life. More was born in a rapidly changing society, and her life embodies many of those changes. She was born to laboring class parents but became an early example of social mobility by rising well above her station by the end of her life. But having both lower class origins and upper class attainments gave More an opportunity to effectively reach both rich and poor (and in between) through her writing and her reform efforts. Another bridge she offered was between high and low church: she was a committed member of the Church of England her entire life, but she was influenced by and had sympathies with the Evangelical movement and the (much frowned upon) Methodists. Furthermore, as a woman leader among men, More also achieved a greater cultural influence than she would have had she remained within the private, domestic sphere. In sum, as a devout, socially mobile woman, More was uniquely positioned to bridge a number of chasms in a highly divided society. I can’t help but see the hand of Providence in creating More for such a time as this.

Some have suggested that More was a sort of proto-feminist and others consider her an anti-feminist. How do you think?

That question really functions as a sort of Rorschach Test!

Many feminist critics today would bristle to hear More referred to as a feminist. They would point to More’s biblical faith as well as her renunciation of the rights for women advocated by her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, in refusing her the title of “feminist.”

Others would call her a conservative feminist, because despite some of her conservative positions, More sought significant changes for women’s education that would allow them to use their intellectual abilities much better than was expected of them at the time. She was part of a circle of learned literary women called the Bluestockings. And many of her closest friends were men. Additionally, she was one of the first English writers to make as much income as she did from the writing profession, so she certainly was a pioneer for women in that respect.

Of course, the term “feminist” was not even in common usage at the time, so trying to fit her into a current day category is nearly fruitless. I think it is safe to say that More was a strong woman and a strong Christian who provided an excellent example of using all of one’s gifts for the glory of God and breaking down a number of social barriers to do so.

Did she ever come close to being married? How did her singleness affect her life and activism?

Again, the hand of God is evident here. More was engaged to a wealthy gentleman. But his continual refusal to actually marry resulted in her breaking off the engagement and his settling an annuity on her as compensation (which was common in that time). It was that modest source of income that allowed More to leave teaching and head to London where she made her way as a writer. She would never have been able to invest in the kind of reform efforts she did had she married and had children. God used her mightily in a different path. Truth be told, as someone who has been unable to have children myself but who has found blessings in the other work God has brought me, I am really encouraged and inspired by More’s life in this particular aspect.

Wait—I thought people called her “Mrs. More”?

The title of “Mrs.” was customarily used at the time for adult women regardless of marital status. The titles “Miss” and “Mrs.” at that time distinguished one’s age in the same way that their male corollaries “Master” and “Mister” did.

How did suffering shape her work and the way she went about it?

More did suffer: she suffered from the broken engagement that left her single, from bouts of illness (including what we would recognize now as depression) throughout her life, from the mockery and persecution of those who opposed her efforts, and finally, as the last, bereaved sister among five who lived her last years alone. More’s suffering turned her increasingly toward God. This fact is reflected in her letters and books, which she continued to write as an elderly woman. I’m not going to give it away, but the scene of her last months, days, and hours in the book—drawn from eyewitness accounts—actually brings me to tears, tears of mourning and joy over a life lived to the glory of God despite—or perhaps because of—obstacles and pain.

Tell us about More’s relationship to evangelical leaders like William Wilberforce and John Newton.

Newton_jJohn Newton was key in More’s embrace of evangelical faith. She read his collection of letters, titled Cardiphonia and published anonymously, and was tremendously moved by his spiritual insights. Shortly thereafter, she travelled to Newton’s church to hear him preach. She stayed after the service to speak with him in person, and returned home with her “pockets full of sermons.” Newton became a key underwriter and supporter in More’s efforts to open Sunday Schools in the West of England where she lived.

In 1787, More met William Wilberforce, who would work with More on a number of reform efforts through the decades. More had actually opposed the slave trade long before meeting Wilberforce, but as soon as the young Parliamentarian had been recruited into the abolitionist movement shortly after his conversion in 1786, the two formed a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives (indeed, they died months apart from one another). One of many touching aspects of their friendship is how Wilberforce developed a better understanding of the hidden powers that can be found in the private sphere, as expressed in one of his journal entries:

Individuals who are not in parliament seldom have an opportunity of doing good to considerable numbers. Even while I was writing the sentence I became conscious of the falsehood of the position; witness Mrs. Hannah More, and all those who labour with the pen.

These friends sharpened one another as iron sharpens iron. And in such sharpening, the world was transformed.

What role did More play in the abolishment of the British slave trade?

While Newton’s role was spiritual, Wilberforce’s political, others’ financial, More’s role was literary and social. She wrote anti-slavery poetry, led a boycott of sugar made from slave labor, and wrote voluminous letters to pro-slave trade friends. In all these efforts, she appealed to her fellow citizens’ consciences and emotions, primarily by the power of her pen. Her most acclaimed work today, the one included once again in numerous literature anthologies, is her poem, Slavery, which she wrote to coincide with one of Wilberforce’s parliamentary measures. The abolitionists really knew how to work as a team and to make the most of their individual gifts. It took years for them to win success, but they did.

If readers read your biography of Hannah More, they will, Lord willing, _____________.

… be mindful of our own cultural blind spots today and be encouraged to see past these in order to do the work God has set before us in this time and this place by embracing the gifts, opportunities, and challenges He has given us.

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Carl Trueman, “Martin Luther, Troubled Prophet”

Oct 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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