Finally: A Gospel-Centered Curriculum for Middle-School Aged Kids

Jun 10, 2015 | Justin Taylor

whats-up-packThere are outstanding gospel-centered, biblically driven resources now available for virtual every age group. But it seems like middle-schoolers still tend to fall through the cracks. They are too old for the kids’ stuff and too young for the teenage and adult stuff. The problem is compounded by writers who do not feel gifted for writing at this age level. I remember trying to read Christian materials when I was in middle school and wondering if the authors had ever even met anyone my age. They seemed to be trying too hard to be cool and clever—and the result was “a failure to communicate.”

That’s one of the reasons I am happy to see the publication of What’s Up: Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are, by Jack Klumpenhower and Deborah Harrell.

It might help to answer a few questions about it, drawn from the publisher’s description:

What’s the format?

It’s a workbook curriculum.

Is it engaging?

They use illustrations, stories, and interactive activities to help kids understand why the gospel really is good news.

What need does it meet and how might God use it to change lives??

It answers the real questions of identity and purpose that begin to unfold in middle-school hearts and minds. Revealing God’s love, forgiveness, and power to change, What’s Up? helps fourth through eighth-grade students understand that the gospel is all about God making us into who he meant us to be all along. As they learn how to lean wholly (and happily) on Jesus through these formative years, their lives are changed from the inside out.

How long does it take?

There are 15 lessons, each designed to take about 90 minutes. But you can go at a slower pace, expanded it to 27 weeks with 45-minute lessons..

How is the material broken down?

There are three parts: (1) the gospel, and (2) your heart, and (3) a changed life—with five lessons in each. Here is an overview of what is covered:

Unit 1: The Gospel


1. Oh . . . Now I See (Big Idea: Seeing Jesus)

2. That’s My Whole Life Story (Big Idea: The Gospel Story)

3. My Tongue Is Connected to My—What? (Big Idea: Sin of the Heart)

4. Hmm . . . What Grades Do I Get? (Big Idea: Justification by Faith)

5. Presents? For Me?! (Big Idea: Holiness and Fighting Sin)

Unit 2: Your Heart

6. But I’m a Good Person (Big Idea: Two Kinds of Repentance)

7. Do I Love God? Um (Big Idea: Big Forgiveness and Big Love)

8. Yes, I Worship Idols (Big Idea: Real-Life Idols)

9. Look! Shark! (Big Idea: Confronting Unbelief Lesson)

10. That’s My Dad! (Big Idea: Living as God’s Child)

Unit 3: A Changed Life

11.  Grrr . . . That Makes Me SO Mad! (Big Idea: Resolving Conflicts

12. I’m So Sorry—NOT! (Big Idea: False Repentance)

13. I’m So Sorry—Really! (Big Idea: Godly Repentance)

14. I (Gulp) Forgive You (Big Idea: Forgiving Others)

15. Let’s. Keep. Going. (Big Idea: A Lifetime of Faith)

Could I see a sample?

Go here and click on the cover where it says “Sample.”

Are there helps for teachers?

There is a corresponding guide just for teachers, filled with  instructions, notes, helps, and directions to make teaching the gospel to children clear and simple in the corresponding teacher guide. It requires little work outside of the classroom or teaching setting.

Is this just a Sunday-School curriculum?

The curriculum is flexible and can be easily adapted to a variety of settings besides Sunday School (e.g., youth group, Christian school, homeschool, family devotional supplement).

Can you hook me up with a deal?

WTS just put the materials on sale:

If you decide to pick this up, I hope  you find it helpful!
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Learn about One of the Most Spiritually Healthy Christians in Church History: Tony Reinke on John Newton’s Vision of the Christian Life

Jun 09, 2015 | Justin Taylor

9781433539718If I could spend an evening with one figure from church history, it just might be John Newton. He may not have been as brilliant as an Augustine or as theologically creative as an Edwards or as good a preacher as Whitefield—but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better counselor of souls. He has always struck me as one of the most emotionally and spiritually healthy and balanced Christians—something that is not always true of the great figures.

I could not be happier with the new book, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ, by Tony Reinke. You can read at the end of this post some testimony from others who share my enthusiasm and appreciation. As a friend recently told me, “I’m not sure there’s much we need to know about living the Christian life that isn’t found somewhere in this book.”

Here is John Piper, who wrote the book’s foreword, explaining why he is so enthusiastic about this book and why he thinks you’ll like it, too:

“Here is mastery! As the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and reigning, was the life-giving focus of the Evangelical Revival, and as George Whitefield was its supreme awakener, and John Wesley its brilliant discipler, so ex-slave trader John Newton was its peerless pastoral counselor and perhaps the greatest Christian letter writer of all time. In his 768- footnote digest of the spiritual wisdom in Newton’s thousand-plus published letters, along with his published sermons and hymns, Reinke distills a vast flow of pure honey for the Christian heart. This is a book to read over and over again.”
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology, Regent College

“Linger long here. The depths and riches within these pages are truly rare and answer what your soul most hungers for: life in Christ. I will be returning to this book many, many times over.”
—Ann Voskamp, author, New York Times bestseller, One Thousand Gifts

“Newton on the Christian Life is a magnum opus (though Tony still has plenty of time to surpass it). A bold project, beautifully done. You know about John Newton; now you can be pastored by him. You will feel known by him. You will be encouraged that your struggles are like his and his congregants. And you will discover again that huge helpings of the beauty and love of Jesus are the perfect antidote for our self-consumed lives.”
—Ed Welch, counselor and faculty, The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation

“The Christian life is Christ, as John Newton clarified so helpfully. If you are still treating Christianity as a strategy for your own self-improvement, this book will not satisfy you. But if you have despaired of yourself and are now clinging only to Christ, this book will refresh you. Newton’s practical counsel, brought vividly to life again by Tony Reinke, will lead you into the green pastures and beside the still waters that are, at this moment, awaiting you in your all-sufficient Savior. For some readers, this book may just become the most important book, outside the Bible, they will ever read.”
—Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

“Best known for the iconic hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ John Newton deserves to be equally known for his tremendous corpus of spiritual letters. In them, Newton’s gifting as a pastoral cardiologist with few peers is on full display. Many of the main struggles and joys of the human heart have not changed. And, as Reinke ably shows, Newton’s advice, given in a world somewhat different from ours, is still potent and relevant. Very highly recommended.”
—Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Newton’s pastoral letters are a unique and rich resource for Christians today, and both of us owe them a debt too great to describe. However, they constitute a notoriously difficult body of work in which to navigate. Many a time you can remember some gem you have read in these letters but now can’t locate. Here we have a guide to Newton’s main themes and topics, as well as considered treatments of many of his most valuable letters. This is a welcome tool for Christian growth and discipleship.”
—Tim and Kathy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

“This book is worth every minute of your time, whether or not you have any interest in John Newton. Reinke brings out Newton in all his cheer to minister to readers. The result is a Christ-exalting manual for growth into Christian joy, freedom, and fruitfulness. No, more than a manual, this is a work of beauty to be read again and again.”
—Michael Reeves, Director of Union and Senior Lecturer, Wales Evangelical School of Theology; author, Delighting in the Trinity, The Unquenchable Flame and Rejoicing in Christ

“John Newton mentored his young friend William Wilberforce into politics, which eventually led to the abolition of the British slave trade. To this day, Newton’s letters continue to disciple generations of Christians. This book draws together Newton’s key life lessons in a way every Christian can apply. As a state governor, a former member of Congress, and a Christian in public service, I am reminded by Newton that we are never more valuable to our society than after we have been humbled by the amazing grace of God.”
—Mike Pence

“Reinke takes us well beyond the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ to explore John Newton’s stirring pastoral ministry and soaring vision of the believer’s life in Christ. I am delighted to recommend this book.”
—Thomas S. Kidd, Professor of History, Baylor University; author, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America

“This book, by one of the brightest writers in contemporary evangelicalism, examines the life lessons of a hymn writer, a freedom fighter, and a gospel preacher. Even if you don’t think you like church history, you will love this book. Reinke ties Newton’s life and thought to practical applications for every believer. I encourage you to read and savor anew the grace that saved wretches like us.”
—Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author, Tempted and Tried

“You may think you are acquainted with John Newton: converted slave trader, pastor, writer of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace.’ Get ready to meet the man you only think you know. Reinke guides us on a tour of Newton’s theology through his life and letters. This book is pastoral theology at its finest. Newton was a man captured by Christ, exalting Christ, and caring for God’s people by pointing them to Christ and him crucified.”
—C. J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

“Although he authored what would become America’s best-loved hymn, John Newton’s contemporaries thought his best gift was letter writing. Rarely, if ever, has so much wisdom, love, sanity, balance, genuine affection, and wonderfully down-to-earth-because-full-of-heaven practical counsel been expressed in letters written in the English language. Underneath them all runs knowledge of the Word of God, a devotion to the Son of God, and a love for the people of God. Newton makes us feel, even two centuries later, that he was writing for us, and that he knew us well. Reinke has done the whole church a service by recovering Newton’s letters from obscurity. Newton on the Christian Life is a taste of spiritual manna that will make us want to read the letters of Newton for ourselves.”
—Sinclair B. Ferguson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Redeemer Seminary, Dallas, Texas

“This book presents valuable lessons from the ministry of John Newton. His perception of grace permeated his theology, his thinking, his experience, his hopes, his ministry, and even his dying. As Reinke writes, grace was ‘the air he breathed.’ Here we catch glimpses into the workings of Newton’s heart as he focused unreservedly on living for and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
—Marylynn Rouse, Director, The John Newton Project


Here are the books published so far in Crossways’ Theologians on the Christian Life series:

Here are the volumes coming later this year:

And here are volumes coming after that:

  • Michael Reeves, Spurgeon on the Christian Life
  • Jason Meyer, Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life
  • Derek Thomas, Bunyan on the Christian Life
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Jonathan Edwards Would Like to Ask a Few Questions of Your Troubled Soul

Jun 09, 2015 | Justin Taylor

If you only know the Jonathan Edwards of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” you need to read his sermon on “The Excellencies of Christ.” There he celebrates the “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies” found in Jesus Christ.

At one point in this sermon to his flock at Northampton, he directly addresses “the poor, burdened, distressed soul.” He would like to ask you a few questions if you are hesitant to close with Christ:

What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ?

Are you afraid that he can’t save you, that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than “the mighty God”? as Christ is called (Isaiah 9:6).

Is there need of greater than infinite strength?

Are you afraid that he won’t be willing to stoop so low, as to take any gracious notice of you? But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be buffeted and spit upon, by them!

Behold him bound, with his back uncovered to those that smote him! And behold him hanging on the cross! Do you think that he that had condescension enough to stoop to these things, and that for his crucifiers, will be unwilling to accept of you if you come to him?

Or, are you afraid that if he does accept of you, that God the Father won’t accept of him for you?

But consider, will God reject his own Son, in whom his infinite delight is, and has been, from all eternity, and that is so united to him, that if he should reject him he would reject himself?

Edwards continues:

What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior, that is not in Christ?

Or, where in should you desire a Savior should be otherwise than Christ is?

What excellency is there wanting?

What is there that is great or good?

What is there that is venerable or winning?

What is there that is adorable or endearing?

Or, what can you think of that would be encouraging, that is not to be found in the person of Christ?

Would you have your Savior to be great and honorable, because you are not willing to be beholden to a mean person?

And, is not Christ a person honorable enough to be worthy that you should be dependent on him?

Is he not a person high enough to be worthy to be appointed to so honorable a work as your salvation?

Would you not only have a Savior of high degree, but would you have him notwithstanding his exaltation and dignity, to be made also of low degree, that he might have experience of afflictions and trials, that he might learn by the things that he has suffered, to pity them that suffer and are tempted?

And has not Christ been made low enough for you?

And has he not suffered enough?

Would you not only have him have experience of the afflictions you now suffer, but also of that amazing wrath that you fear hereafter, that he may know how to pity those that are in danger of it, and afraid of it? This Christ has had experience of, which experience gave him a greater sense of it, a thousand times, than you have, or any man living has.

Would you have your Savior to be one that is near to God, that so his mediation might be prevalent with him?

And can you desire him to be nearer to God than Christ is, who is his only begotten Son, of the same essence with the Father?

And would you not have him near to God, but also near to you, that you may have free access to him?

And would you have him nearer to you than to be in the same nature, and not only so, but united to you by a spiritual union, so close as to be fitly represented by the union of the wife to the husband, of the branch to the vine, of the member to the head, yea, so as to be looked upon as one, and called one spirit? For so he will be united to you, if you accept of him.

Would you have a Savior that has given some great and extraordinary testimony of mercy and love to sinners, by something that he has done, as well as by what he says?

And can you think, or conceive of greater things than Christ has done?

Was it not a great thing for him, who was God, to take upon him human nature, to be not only God, but man thenceforward to all eternity?

But would you look upon suffering for sinners to be a yet greater testimony of love to sinners, than merely doing, though it be never so extraordinary a thing that he has done?

And would you desire that a Savior should suffer more than Christ has suffered for sinners?

What is there wanting, or what would you add if you could, to make him more fit to be your Savior?


Jonathan Edwards [1734], Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738 (WJE Online Vol. 19), ed. M. X. Lesser, 584-86.

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An Interview with Sam Storms and Leland Ryken on the Life and Legacy of J. I. Packer

Jun 08, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.38.39 AM
Timothy George says that Sam Storms’ new book, Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit (Crossway, 2015), “is one of the best books on J. I. Packer I have read. It gets to the heart of this great theologian’s central concern, what Henry Scougal called ‘the life of God in the soul of man.’ For those of us who have sat at Packer’s feet for many years, this is a delightful reprise and refresher. For new Christians just getting to know Packer, fasten your seat belts!”

And Michael Reeves writes of Leland Ryken’s forthcoming J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (Crossway, October 2015): ”Without a doubt, this is now the definitive, most up-to-date biography of J. I. Packer, and it deserves high praise. With the sensitivity, wisdom, and sheer humanity that a fine biographer needs, Leland Ryken allows us to see the life, mind, and heart of this quiet but highly influential man. Traversing the notoriously complex and hazardous terrain of UK and US evangelicalism with impressive sure-footedness, Ryken not only helps us to understand the man and his context, but ourselves as evangelicals.”

Here’s a 20-minute conversation I had with the two authors about this giant of modern evangelical history:

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The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: Tim Keller’s Review Article of Books by Matthew Vines and Ken Wilson

Jun 04, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In a new review article, Tim Keller suggests that Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Relationships (Convergent Books, 2014) and Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation (David Crum Media, 2014) seem to be two of the most widely read books today affirming the compatibility of monogamous homosexuality and biblical Christianity.

Keller identifies five basic arguments made by these authors and others in their camp, having to do with:

  1. Knowing gay people personally.
  2. Consulting historical scholarship.
  3. Re-categorizing same sex relations.
  4. Revising biblical authority.
  5. Being on the wrong side of history.

Keller responds to each of these points, and then argues that the authors have sadly missed the biblical vision of sexuality and marriage.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

For more on this issue from Keller, see his review of Wes Hill’s Washed and Waiting and Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay?, along with his post responding to the revisionists’ charge that Christians are inconsistent in rejecting laws of the Old Testament when maintaining prohibitions of same-sex behavior.

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Did Darwin Refute the Argument from Design?

Jun 04, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Stephen Meyer (PhD, University of Cambridge), the director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the author of two big books on intelligent design:

On July 14, 2002, he gave a talk to the Philosophy of Religion section at the Tyndale Fellowship in Cambridge, England, which you can watch below. (The talk begins at 4:05 and goes to 54:27, followed by interaction with an audience of theologians, scientists, and philosophers.)

Dr. Meyer argues that Darwin did not refute the design argument (nor did Hume), but that Darwin did make two significant contributions to the debate: (1) he established the legitimacy of the question of design (real or apparent), and (2) he formulated of a powerful method of scientific explanation (namely, inference to the best explanation). Meyer uses this standard scientific form of investigation and explanation in order to argue that the specified complexity we see in biology is best accounted for by an intelligent mind.

For Meyer’s more introductory presentation on intelligent design, delivered to a church, try this.

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Christian: Are You Ready for Stage-2 Exile?

Jun 03, 2015 | Justin Taylor


Steve McAlpine, writing at TGC Australia, has the post of the day.

Here’s how he begins:

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time. Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and pored over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1 Peter. After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along, right? It was simply the Great War.

So too with exile. Cafes were taken over for morning conversations between up and coming exilic leaders; pubs were used for exilic church; MacBooks were bought in bulk; and emerging/missional trailblazers employed coffee quality as a spiritual boundary marker, with a zeal that would have made any adherent of Second Temple Judaism weep with recognition.

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world. We were all about “ad fontes“, a second Reformation getting back to the ecclesiastical source—hopefully utilising the Bible—or at the very least the Early Church Fathers and a bunch of candles (now-now – Sarcastic Ed).

The biggest problem the church had, according to Exile Stage One thinking, was that no one was talking about us anymore. And as Oscar Wilde wryly observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So in Exile Stage One the conferences and front-room conversations were busy talking about what it was like not being talked about. We’d been marginalised; locked out of interesting rooms; been abandoned at a rate of knots; discarded. Only a few perceptive people had seen it happening. How many? Well probably no more than in this front room with us, and perhaps a few others who meet at pub church every third Sunday.

And oh, everyone was quoting Lesslie Newbigin, or at least the only line of his they knew about the congregation being the hermeneutic of the gospel or some such. Everyone was discussing what it meant to have Christian convictions, but be post-foundational. Christendom was collapsing, and isn’t that a good thing, given all the fighting and crusades and bad stuff priests did? Were we not sick of simply being chaplains to the culture? Time to refresh. Time to do organic/total/on-the-other-side/radical church. For Exile Stage One adherents there was a kind of glee that Christendom was falling. And if it was holding out in some areas such as North America, so what? Who wants to be a Southern Baptist anyway, what with single malt and cigars being so tasty and all?

Of course, I am being a little facetious, and in a way I have a right to be. I got involved in this Exile Stage One process and it has informed much of my thinking and that won’t change. I also met amazing people, creative thinkers and theologians who deserve a hearing and a reading.

But here’s the problem. Exile Stage One thinking has left Christians completely unprepared for Exile Stage Two reality. There were a set of assumptions made by Exile Stage One-rs that have not lined up with what is going to pan out over the coming three or so decades if the last five years are any indication.

McAlpine identifies two mistaken assumptions and one mistaken tactic: (1) we assumed Athens, not Babylon; (2) we assumed a neutral culture, not a hostile world; (3) we loosened our language, just when cultural elites were tightening theirs.

Here is his conclusion:

Second Stage exiles do not place their hope in a city here, be it Athens or Babylon, but seek a city that is to come (Hebrews 13).

Second Stage Exiles do not need the approval of the culture, neither do they need to provoke the culture in order to feel good about themselves.

No, true exiles can live out their time in exile with confidence, love and hope because they trust in him “who is able to keep [them] from stumbling and to present [them] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

I encourage you to read the entire thing. It’s worth your time.

HT: @znielsen

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How Caitlyn Jenner Reaffirms Traditional Gender Norms, Even As He Attempts to Flee from Them

Jun 03, 2015 | Justin Taylor


Daniel Davis:

For years, a major aim of the sexual revolution has been to deconstruct gender differences as being “social constructs,” mere cultural projections of what maleness and femaleness are and mean. This critique evacuated gender of any physical meaning and reduced it to an existential feeling—a feeling of being male or female, regardless of one’s sexual biology.

The effect of this critique has been to relativize gender, and thus to abolish it as a meaningful category. Because you can no longer tie “femaleness” to a normative set of traits or acts (for example, wearing dresses or marrying men), the category itself cannot help but lose its meaning. To call any particular act a “male” or “female” act would be to revert back to antiquated, repressive, patriarchal norms—norms that only serve to foster social inequality.

This is the ideology that governs liberal sexual philosophy, and it collides head-on with major aspects of the transgender movement. Transgenderism is unavoidably based on a kind of gender essentialism. It recognizes gender identities as being associated with certain socially accepted norms. What does it mean, for example, that Jenner’s “gender” is female? It means that he gets a sex change. It means that he poses in traditionally female attire for the cover of Vanity Fair. It means that he reaffirms traditional gender norms, even as he attempts to flee from them.

In fact, he cannot help but reaffirm them, for they are the only tangible way of expressing gender. Inner feelings must inevitably take on flesh, and gender—understood as a mere feeling—must inevitably express itself in material form.

This is a problem for the broader liberal sexual movement. It wants to celebrate transgenderism, but it cannot do so without referring to—and thus, at least tacitly affirming—gender norms. To celebrate Jenner’s femininity is actually to commit a liberal heresy: to revert back to a form of gender essentialism.

There’s a flip side to this coin. As we noted, liberal sexual philosophy strips the term “gender” of all normative meaning. It reduces gender to a cultural phenomenon. In doing this, it robs transgenderism of its key claims to gender authenticity, and therefore of its right to moral affirmation. Consider it this way: If gender has no real connection to biology and certain social traits, then someone’s claim to a gender identity is virtually meaningless. And if it is meaningless, how can we be morally obliged to recognize it—let alone even understand it?

Read the whole thing.

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Andy Crouch on the Connection between Human Flourishing and Religious Liberty

Jun 03, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Andy Crouch, speaking at QIdeas in Nashville (April 24, 2015):

All of us have been very young.

Most of us will be very old.

Almost all of us at some point will be frail.

And in those moments of our lives, we will desperately hope we live in a society that is characterized by the pursuit of the common good.

Crouch’s argument is that “If you care about the flourishing of persons—especially the vulnerable in community—you will care about freedom of religion.”

Religious freedom, Crouch argued, “is not easy, it is not natural for human societies, and that is why it never flourishes unless it is actively protected.”

You can watch the whole thing below:

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Your Salvation: The Gift of God

Jun 01, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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God Never Grows Tired of Doing Us Good

Jun 01, 2015 | Justin Taylor


John Piper:

God is never irritable or edgy.

He is never fatigued or depressed or blue or moody or stressed out.

His anger never has a short fuse.

He is not easily annoyed.

He is above any possibility of being touchy or cranky or temperamental.

Instead he is infinitely energetic with absolutely unbounded and unending enthusiasm for the fulfillment of his delights.

This is hard for us to comprehend, because we have to sleep every day just to cope, not to mention thrive.

We go up and down in our enjoyments.

We get bored and discouraged one day and feel hopeful and excited another.

We are like little geysers that gurgle and sputter and pop erratically.

But God is like a great Niagara—you look at it and think: surely this can’t keep going at this force for year after year after year. It seems like it would have to rest. Or it seems like some place up stream it would run dry. But, no, it just keeps surging and crashing and making honeymooners happy century after century.

That’s the way God is about doing us good. He never grows weary of it. It never gets boring to him.

Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” (Psalm 35:27)

—John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, rev. ed. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), 185.

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The Moral of C. S. Lewis’s Story? Don’t Be Like a Dog

May 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

dog_treat_ingredientsC. S. Lewis:

You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning.

And in a period when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind.

A man who has experienced love from within will deliberately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience.

The extreme limit of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about to study the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious.

As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism.

The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.

C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory, 114-15.

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Behind the Bow Tie: A Profile of a Professor with a Missionary Heart

May 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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The Concept of Self-Deception: A Philosophical Analysis, Everyday Illustration, and Application to Romans 1

May 26, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In a philosophical-theological essay from 1995, Greg Bahnsen looks at the concept of self-deception. He starts with some philosophical work, illustrates this from an everyday example, and finally looks at how this analysis applies to Romans 1 (where unbelievers know God but unrighteously suppress that knowledge).


1. Self-Deception in Philosophical Analysis

Bahnsen explains what is going on when a person is self-deceived about a belief, analyzing the concept in terms of iterated beliefs, corrigible disavowals, motivated rationalization of evidence, and self-covering intentions.

The analysis of self-deception fostered here maintains that when S deceives himself:


  1. S believes that p,
  2. S is motivated to ignore, hide, deny (etc.) his belief that p, and
  3. By misconstruing or rationalizing the evidence, S brings himself to believe falsely that “S does not believe that p.”

In order to preserve something about his own self-conception, S engages in motivated rationalization of the evidence so that he relies in his theoretical and practical inferences on the proposition that he is not relying in his theoretical and practical inferences on p.

He is morally culpable for this lie about himself because it is engaged intentionally, and yet he may not be aware of his intention since it has become habitual or, being self-covering, has become something he no longer thinks about (like falling asleep).

S obscures his dreaded belief that p, as well as his intention to obscure it by rationalizing the evidence.

Self-deception involves deception of the self, by the self, about the self, and for the sake of the self.

2. An Everyday Illustration of Self-Deception

Bahnsen then provides an example to illustration common forms of self-deception, using Mrs. Jones:

The principal calls her to say that her son Johnny (her pride and joy, her only child) has been caught stealing lunch money out of students’ desks.

The evidence is plain that Johnny is a thief, and this is the third time she has received such a call from the school.

She has also noticed money missing out of her own purse at home, and Johnny has been coming home with expensive items from the store.

Mrs. Jones shows the affective symptoms of believing the proposition that Johnny is a thief. She tries to avoid situations where she is likely to be reminded of his dishonesty. She moves to a new neighborhood, transferring Johnny into a new school, and refusing to put a phone in her new home. She keeps an unusually attentive eye on her boy, but will not admit that she does so, etc.

Yet on the other hand, since nobody in the Jones family has ever stooped to dishonesty, and Johnny is her one reason left for living in the cruel world, she persuades herself that Johnny could not have done the dishonest deeds reported by the principal.

She forgets the past evidence and supplies “more credible” explanations of present evidence (e.g., money is missing from her purse because she is so careless or forgetful).

She goes out of her way to express confidence in her son to others, makes a show of giving him mature responsibilities, and tries to do only what one who believed in Johnny’s virtue would do.

She avers that she has a fine boy who is a joy to her, a regular paragon of virtue. Nevertheless, she flies off the handle at him over trifling matters (in a way unlike the way she related to him prior to the principal’s phone calls).

She astonishes and embarrasses others by seizing on every oblique innuendo to defend Johnny’s honesty.

When neighbors get curious over her missing cash and Johnny’s new acquisitions, Mrs. Jones fidgets, blushes, looks away, answers in halting fashion or changes the subject.

She treats the evidence broached in an unusual and distorted way, all the while apparently satisfying herself that her interpretations are quite plausible.

In this situation we find it very natural to express the view that Mrs. Jones is self-deceived. The affective symptoms justify us in attributing to her the belief that Johnny is a thief. Because she cannot stand that thought with its attendant psychic discomfort, she is motivated to hide this information from herself and direct her attention to the evidence in odd ways.

She dissents from believing her son is dishonest.

She claims the school officials had a vendetta against Johnny and were framing the poor boy.

She leans on implausible interpretations of facts, ignores the best and most obvious indicators, and brings herself to believe that she does not believe in Johnny’s dishonesty. (She is not the mother of a crook!)

She fools herself about her awareness of the truth.

The symptoms of this false second-order belief are nearly identical with believing that it is not the case that Johnny is a thief. She conceives of herself as trusting this untrustworthy son, and while guarding herself against his untrustworthiness she enthusiastically affirms her belief in him to others. She meets all the criteria of self-deception as proposed above, and we are able to describe what she is doing without resorting to paradox.

3. Application to Romans 1

Finally, Bahnsen argues that this analysis of self-deception provides us with categories to explain the self-deception Paul unpacks in Romans 1, where unbelievers know God but suppress that knowledge:

All men know and hence believe that God exists. The revelational evidence is so plain that nobody can avoid holding the conviction that God exists, even though they may never explicitly assent to this belief.

We are justified in ascribing such a belief to men on the basis of their observed behavior in reasoning (e.g., relying on the uniformity of nature), in morals (e.g., holding to ethical absolutes in some fashion), and in emotion (e.g., fearing death).

Nevertheless, all men are motivated in unrighteousness and by fear of judgment to ignore, hide, and disavow any belief in the living and true God (either through atheism or false religiosity).

By misconstruing and rationalizing the relevant, inescapable evidence around them (“suppressing it”), men bring themselves to believe about themselves that they do not believe in God, even though that second-order belief is false.

Sinners can purposely engage in this kind of activity, for they also deceive themselves about their motivation in handling the evidence as they do and about their real intentions, which are not noble or rational at all. Thereby they “go to sleep” (as it were), forgetting their God.

Because the evidence is clear, and because the suppression of the truth is intentional, we can properly conclude that all men are “without excuse” and bear full responsibility for their sins of mind, speech, and conduct.

Given the elaboration of self-deception offered here, we can better appreciate what Paul says in Romans 1, namely, that “knowing God,” all men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” And we can assert non-paradoxically that unbelievers culpably deceive themselves about their Maker.

—Greg Bahnsen’s article, “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics” [Westminster Theological Journal LVII (1995): 1-31.

This essay is an application of his 1978 doctoral dissertation at the University of Southern California, entitled “A Conditional Resolution of the Apparent Paradox of Self-Deception.”

The dissertation has been published online as a free ebook under the title, “The Apologetical Implications of Self-Deception.”

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Joseph Fiennes to Play a Roman Centurion Who Investigates the Resurrection of Christ

May 25, 2015 | Justin Taylor

A new movie coming in January 2016:

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