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What Does It Feel Like to Fear a God Who Is For You?

Jun 24, 2015 | Justin Taylor

greenland storm

The Bible tells us again and again that “the fear of the LORD” is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10) and knowledge (Prov. 1:7).

The Bible also commands us to “hope in God” (e.g., Ps. 42:5; 42:11; 43:5).

And a passage like Psalm 147:10-11 brings both fearing God and hoping in God together:

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

John Piper, writing in The Pleasures of God, asks about the relationship between hope and fear:

Does it strike you as strange that we should be encouraged to fear and hope at the same time and in the same person? . . . Do you hope in the one you fear and fear the one you hope in? It’s usually the other way around: if we fear a person, we hope that someone else will come and help us. But here we are supposed to fear the one we hope in and hope in the one we fear. What does this mean?

Piper offers his own answer:

I think it means that we should let the experience of hope penetrate and transform the experience of fear. In other words, the kind of fear that we should have toward God is whatever is left of fear when we have a sure hope in the midst of it.

He then provides this helpful picture to explain what he means:

Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the stormyou discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.

At first there was the fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished from your heart. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.

And so it is with God. In the same Psalm we read, “He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold?” (vv. 16-17). The cold of God is a fearful thing—who can stand against it! And verses 4-5 point to the same power of God in nature: “He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”

In other words, God’s greatness is greater than the universe of stars, and his power is behind the unendurable cold of arctic storms. Yet he cups his hand around us and says, “Take refuge in my love and let the terrors of my power become the awesome fireworks of your happy night-sky.” The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it. And in that place of refuge we say, “This is amazing, this is terrible, this is incredible power; Oh, the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself! Oh, what a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God without hope, without a Savior! Better to have a millstone tied around my neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea than to offend against this God! What a wonderful privilege to know the favor of this God in the midst of his power!”

And so we get an idea of how we feel both hope and fear at the same time. Hope turns fear into a trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it earnest and profound. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense. The fireside fellowship is all the sweeter when the storm is howling outside the cottage.

Discussion of the fear of the Lord is a subject sorely lacking in evangelical circles. For a good introduction to this biblical theme, see Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God.

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A Q&A with Kevin Vanhoozer on Pastor-Theologians

Jun 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Here are four brief video clips of Kevin Vanhoozer—Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the co-author of a forthcoming book—The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision—speaking to the Center for Pastor Theologians about the concept.

Why Are Pastor-Theologians Necessary?

What’s the Harm If Pastors Are Not Also Theologians?

What Led to the Separation of Pastors and Theologians?

What Might Happen If the Church Had More Pastor Theologians?

For an excellent profile of Vanhoozer, see this recent CT profile by Wesley Hill.

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Victims’ Families Forgive the Man Who Murdered Their Loved Ones and Call for Him to Repent and Believe the Gospel

Jun 19, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Abe Greenwald, senior editor of Commentary, writes:

The late Christopher Hitchens formulated (and forever repeated) a superficially clever challenge to people of faith: “Find one good or noble thing,” he said, “which cannot be accomplished without religion.” The astonishing rejoinder to Hitchens comes now from the family members of those who were gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles C. W. Cooke, an atheist who writes for National Review, tweeted:

I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity.

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Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: The Complete Text and an Outline

Jun 18, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Recreation of Martin Luther King's cell in Birmingham Jail at the National Civil Rights Museum

Recreation of Martin Luther King’s cell in Birmingham Jail at the National Civil Rights Museum

On April 12, 1963, an open letter appeared in the Birmingham, Alabama, newspaper calling for unity and protesting the recent Civil Rights demonstrations in Birmingham. The eight white clergy members who signed the letter were not segregationists but moderates who preferred for the issue to be handled at the local level, rather than by outsiders (like Martin Luther King Jr.). They urged the use of negotiations and the legal system rather than public protests, and they questioned the timing of these actions. (For example, King and the other protesters had marched the day after Bull Connor lost a run-off election for mayor, and many wondered why they seemed to be inciting a conflict rather than waiting to seeing the policies of the new administration.)

Rev.-Ralph-Abernathy-left-and-Rev.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-are-removed-by-a-policeman-as-they-led-a-line-of-demonstrators-into-the-business-section-of-Birmingham-Alabama-on-April-12-1963.-AP-Photo-650x430

When Martin Luther King Jr. read the letter from a small prison cell at the Birmingham Jail, he began composing notes of a response in the margins of the newspaper. The response was eventually composed and stitched together to form what is now known as the 6,921-word “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” dated April 16, 1963.

In a future post, I may try to tell the story of the eight clergymen—two Episcopalians and two Methodists, along with a Roman Catholic, a Jew, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist, ranging in age from 44 to 70. (For more, see S. Jonathan Bass, Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the “Letters from Birmingham Jail” [LSU Press, 2001].)

But for now, I thought it might be helpful for readers if I reprinted the letter in its entirety below, along with some headings that can serve as an outline as you read along. It’s an important and relevant work that speaks powerfully to the need for justice, love, and action, under a natural-law theory that recognizes the divine basis of moral law.


My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

King’s circumstances, and the white clergy’s charges that led to this response 

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”

Why he does not usually answer criticism

Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.

Why he is making an exception here

But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

Why he’s in Birmingham

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.”

Organizational reason

I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

Religious reason

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Communal reason

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

There were no alternative options but to protest

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

A review of the process of the protest and the history behind it

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham.

Collection of facts to determine if injustice exists

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.

Negotiation

On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.

Self-purification and direct action

We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Theophilus Eugene

Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor (1897-1973) was the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety (1957-1963), responsible for overseeing both the Birmingham Fire Department and the Birmingham Police Department.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

Answer to the charge that they should have negotiated instead of engaging in direct action

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

Answer to the charge that their actions were untimely

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?”

boutwell

Albert Boutwell (1904-1978) defeated “Bull” Connor to become mayor of Birmingham from 1963-1968.

The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;

when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;

when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;

when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”;

Martin Luther King removing a burnt cross from his front lawn as his 5-year-old son looks on.

Martin Luther King removing a burnt cross from his front lawn as his 5-year-old son looks on.

when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;

segregation_water_fountain

when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”;

when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;

when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Answer to the charge that they are willing to break the law

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws.

Two types of law

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?”

The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

The difference between the two types of law 

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.

An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

Any law that uplifts human personality is just.

Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Example #1

All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Example #2

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws.

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.

By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Example #3

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Predecessors to this type of civil disobedience

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

Two honest confessions

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.

1. Disappointment with the white moderate

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

Answer to the charge that their actions, though peaceful, precipitate violence

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.

But is this a logical assertion?

Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery?

Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?

Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?

We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

Answer to the myth that time will inevitably cure all social ills

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom.

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.”

Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Answer to the charge that their activity is extreme

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme.

At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community.

Force of complacency in the Negro community

One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses.

Force of bitterness and hatred in the Negro community

The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

A more excellent (third) way

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.

And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides—and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

Were not these men extremists too?

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”

And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”

And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”

And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

The question is: what kind of extremist will be be?

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Gratitude for those white brothers in the South who have helped

I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some—such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

2. Disappointment with the white church and its leadership

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings [one of the signers of “A Call to Unity”], for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

Earl Stallings, pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., welcomed black worshipers following an Easter service in 1963. (SBHLA photo)

Earl Stallings, pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham and one of the signers of the “Call to Unity.”, welcomed black worshipers following an Easter service in 1963. (SBHLA photo)

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies.

Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

Coming to Birmingham with hope, only to be disappointed

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.”

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”

And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Tears of love over the body of Christ

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Remembering a time when the church was powerful

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

Gratitude for those in the church who have helped

But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

No despair for the future

But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.

Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here.

Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here.

For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation—and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Concern about the clergy commending the actions of the Birmingham police

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.”

I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes.

I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail;

if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls;

if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys;

if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together.

I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

Where is the commendation for the peaceful protester? 

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation.

One day the South will recognize its real heroes.

They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer.

James Meredith (b. 1933).

James Meredith (b. 1933).

 

They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama [Mother Pollard], who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.”

They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake.

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Reflections on this letter and how it will be received

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

Hopes for the future

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Clementa C. Pinckney (1973-2015), Pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, SC

Jun 18, 2015 | Justin Taylor

revpinckneyClementa Carlos Pinckney (1973-2015)—a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate and the senior pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. [African Methodist Episcopal] Church—was martyred last night, along with eight other church members, while leading a Bible study and prayer meeting within his church in Charleston, S.C.

Pinckney (age 41) is survived by his wife, Jennifer (whom he married in 1999), and their two children, Eliana and Malana.

At the age of 23, he was the youngest African-American in South Carolina history to be elected to the legislature. He began preaching when he was 13 years old and was first appointed to preach at the age of 18.

After earning a degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration, he enrolled in Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (ELCA) in Columbia, S.C., graduating with an MDiv in 2008.

In 2010 he was named pastor of Mother Emanuel AME. He was a fourth-generation pastor.

In the video below—filmed in 2013 within the church where he would later be murdered—Rev. Pinckney gives a short history of his historic church:

ema2NewsOne has pulled together several things you should know about the history of this historical church:

1) In 1816 Black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew over disputed burial grounds and under the leadership of Morris Brown, formed a circuit of 3 churches of people of color affiliated with the newly established African Methodist Episcopal Church. Emanuel’s congregation grew out of the Hampstead Church, located at Reid and Hanover Streets.

2) In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, had organized plans for a major slave uprising in Charleston. The plot was foiled by an informant, and Vesey was hanged, along with 36 enslaved people.

3) As a result of the revolt plot, Emanuel AME Church was burned, and laws were passed in a number of southern states restricting the movement of Black people.

4) Parishioners rebuilt the church after the fire and worshipped there until 1834, when South Carolina outlawed all-Black churches.

5) The congregation had to continue worshipping underground until 1865, when the church formally reorganized. It was then that the name “Emanuel” ( meaning “God is with us”) was adopted.

6) Richard Harvey Cain, who served South Carolina as a Republican representative to Congress from 1873-1875 and 1877-1879, had led Emanuel after the Civil War. During his tenure the church was “one of the strongest political organizations in the state.”

7) Today Emanuel A.M.E. is the oldest AME church in the South.

8) It houses the oldest Black congregation south of Baltimore.

9) The current church building is a Gothic Revival-style structure built in 1891.

Here is a picture from 1963 of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other associates within Mother Emanuel:

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The murderer—identified by police as 21-year-old Dylann Roof—has now been apprehended by the authorities.

Let us pray for both the justice of God upon his enemies and for his healing comfort to be upon his people.

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One Reason to Go Back to the Primary Sources

Jun 16, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Old_books_by_bionicteaching

C. S. Lewis:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.

Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. he feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him.

But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism.

It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

C. S. Lewis, ”On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 217-25. Lewis notes: “This paper was originally written and published as an Introduction to St Athanasius’ The Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. by A Religious of C.S.M.V. (London, 1944).”

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We Believe

Jun 15, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

Jun 15, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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Elisabeth Elliot (née Howard; born December 21, 1926) died this morning (June 15, 2015) at the age of 88.

She was a beautiful woman of whom the world was not worthy.

Here is her brief testimony, told in her typically understated way:

My parents were missionaries in Belgium where I was born. When I was a few months old, we came to the U.S. and lived in Germantown, not far from Philadelphia, where my father became an editor of the Sunday School Times. . . .

Our family continued to live in Philadelphia and then in New Jersey until I left home to attend Wheaton College. By that time, the family had increased to four brothers and one sister. My studies in classical Greek would one day enable me to work in the area of unwritten languages to develop a form of writing.

A year after I went to Ecuador, Jim Elliot, whom I had met at Wheaton, also entered tribal areas with the Quichua Indians. In nineteen fifty three we were married in the city of Quito and continued our work together. Jim had always hoped to have the opportunity to enter the territory of an unreached tribe. The Aucas were in that category—a fierce group whom no one had succeeded in meeting without being killed. After the discovery of their whereabouts, Jim and four other missionaries entered Auca territory. After a friendly contact with three of the tribe, they were speared to death.

Our daughter Valerie was 10 months old when Jim was killed. I continued working with the Quichua Indians when, through a remarkable providence, I met two Auca women who lived with me for one year. They were the key to my going in to live with the tribe that had killed the five missionaries. I remained there for two years.

After having worked for two years with the Aucas, I returned to the Quichua work and remained there until 1963 when Valerie and I returned to the U.S.

Since then, my life has been one of writing and speaking. It also included, in 1969, a marriage to Addison Leitch, professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. He died in 1973. After his death I had two lodgers in my home. One of them married my daughter, the other one, Lars Gren, married me. Since then we have worked together.

She was the author of several books, many dealing with themes of suffering, loneliness, singleness, manhood and womanhood, and family.

Among her best-known books are those that told the story of her first husband, Jim Elliot, and their mission together in Ecuador: Through Gates of Splendor (1957), Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958), The Savage My Kinsman (1961), and The Journals of Jim Elliot (1978).

She also wrote a biography of Amy Carmichael (A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael) and an influential book on purity (Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under God’s Control).

As a college student, Elisabeth dabbled in poetry, and one day wrote a poem that should would look back upon as prophetic:

Perhaps some future day, Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to the place
Where I must stand utterly alone;
Alone, Oh gracious Lover, but for Thee.

I shall be satisfied if I can see Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plan for years to come.
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home: sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now.
Lead on no matter where, no matter how,
I trust in Thee.

She made famous an anonymous poem that seems to describe her own life of perseverance, as two of her three husbands preceded her in death:

At an old English parsonage down by the sea,
there came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that,
as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.

And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
like a low inspiration, ‘Do the next thing.’
Many a questioning, many a fear,
many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,
trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
working or suffering be thy demeanor,
in His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing.

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World Magazine’s Books of the Year

Jun 12, 2015 | Justin Taylor

books_61World Magazine has published their list of Books of the Year.

They have four categories:

  • Fiction
  • Accessible Theology
  • Current Events/Public Affairs
  • History/Biography

They choose a winner for each category (published between May 1, 2014, and April 30, 2015), along with runner-ups.

Here’s how they introduce it:

Francis Bacon died almost 400 years ago, but his famous description of words on pages still animates our selection process: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

We—our committee of five WORLD writers—throughout the year looked for books that tempt us to delay writing projects. . . . We look for books that are thoughtful and capable of planting among our readers new ideas consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Below are their selections. You’ll have to go to the article to see a description of each book and why it was chosen.

1. Fiction Book of the Year

Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel (Hogarth, 2014)

A. Runner-Up

Mo Yan, Frog: A Novel (Viking, 2015)

B. Runner-Up

Marilynne Robinson, Lila: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

2. Accessible Theology Book of the Year

Sam A. Andreades, enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship (Weaver, 2015)

A. Runner-Up

Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway, 2014)

B. Runner-Up

Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves, eds., Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives (Baker Academic, 2014)

C. Runner-Up

Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway, 2014)

3. Current Events/Public Affairs Book of the Year

Bret Stephens, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder (Sentinel, 2014)

A. Runner-Up

J. Paul Nyquist, Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture (Moody, 2015)

B. Runner-Up

Jason Riley, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed (Encounter Books, 2014)

4. History/Biography

Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (Crown, 2015)

A. Runner-Up

Blaine Harden, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom (Viking, 2015)

B. Runner-Up

Mary Sarott, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall (Basic Books, 2014)

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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

TCL

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

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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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