Leading Your Leaders Retreat

Aug 28, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

After noting in passing on Monday that we were about to begin our annual staff retreat, I’ve had a surprising number of people ask about the why, what, and how of these retreats. I don’t pretend to have stumbled upon any magical formula when it comes to leadership getaways, but they are an important part of what we do at University Reformed Church, so perhaps something in our practice may be helpful for others.

I am entering the twelfth year of pastoral ministry at the church, and in almost every one of those years I’ve helped to lead two retreats: a staff retreat and an elders retreat. They aren’t elaborate. They aren’t groundbreaking. They aren’t terribly long. But they are definitely worth it. The most important reason to do a leaders retreat–and every church no matter the size has some group (or groups) of formal or informal leaders–is to spend time with those leaders. Yes, the size of retreat, the structure, and the location all matter, but what matters most is simply being together to share, laugh, eat, and pray. If you never get away with your key leaders (whether staff, elders, trustees, fellow pastors, small group leaders, whatever), you are missing out on an extremely valuable opportunity to strengthen relational bonds and build up relationship collateral.

So what do we do on our retreats? Here’s a snapshot.

Staff Retreat

Who: As our staff has grown over the years, so has the staff retreat. We’ve had as many as eleven; this past week we had eight people on the retreat (senior pastor, associate pastor, youth/children’s director, counseling director, director of community, director of international ministry, campus director, campus staff). Normally, we have two or three women staff members on the retreat, but this year (sadly) only the men could make it.

When: End of August. This is a busy time, but a good time for our staff to get together. The summer programs and summer vacations have ended and the fall kickoff is a week or two away. We are able to reconnect after being scattered for a few months and talk through any important issues that need to be addressed before the whirlwind comes.

Where: We try to find a cottage (or two) up north somewhere, preferably on a body of water. We usually end up driving for 2-3 hours.

How long: We left around lunch time on Monday and were home by noon on Wednesday. We’ve done two days instead of three before, but it’s better to have at least one full day without coming or going.

Why: I have three aims for our staff retreat. 1) I want us to spend time sharing and praying together. 2) I want us to have fun. 3) I want the schedule to be relaxed enough so that people can read their Bibles, get enough sleep, and get outside. I’d rather this retreat be under-planned than so packed with activities and information that people come home needing to recover from their “relaxing” getaway.

What: The “what” in planning is driven by the “why” of the retreat. This is not a planning retreat or vision retreat. We don’t normally try to tackle big issues or plan for the coming year. I’ve scheduled retreats like that (when they are necessary), but the purpose of this annual retreat is different. And that difference is reflected in what we do. We usually have plenty of down time for running, swimming, going to the beach, playing board games, reading, walking, and just enjoying leisurely conversation. We do have some structured time. In past years, we’ve had everyone share for 20 minutes and then receive prayer for 10 minutes. We’ve gone around the circle with everyone being asked a question (silly or serious) by every other person in the group. We’ve used a book to guide our time too. This past week I led us in two sessions (2-3 hours each) where we reflected on the categories “I am needy” and “I am needed” from Ed Welch’s book Side By Side.

Elders Retreat

Who: The pastors and elders. For us, that means two pastors (teaching elders) and twelve elders (ruling elders). Several of us on the staff retreat will also be on the elders retreat (because in addition to the pastors on staff, some of the directors are ruling elders).

When: September or October. Our elders serve (repeatable) three year terms. The new term starts in June, so ideally we would have our retreat at the beginning of the summer, but trying to get us all together during the summer is a futile exercise. So we aim for sometime early fall.

Where: If we can find a nice place within a couple hours that can accommodate all of us, that’s preferable. We’ve also met at church or someone’s home in town, which feels less like a getaway but does allow the men to sleep in their own beds (which they appreciate).

How long: Since most of the elders have jobs outside the church, the time away is shorter. Typically, we leave around 5:00pm on Friday and get home around the same time the next day.

Why: The purpose is similar, but not identical to the staff retreat. The average age of our staff is probably mid-30s, where most of our elders are 55-65 years old. This means we probably won’t try to go tubing (sorry guys!) and sleeping on air mattresses is frowned upon. The elders also do more in our polity to set the overall vision and direction for the church. So while we definitely still want to have fun, hang out, and maybe even play a game or two, our time is more focused. We only have 24 hours, so there is little opportunity for an outing or extended downtime.

What: We’ve done different things over the years. We’ve worked our way through a book. We’ve tackled one big issue (e.g., should we leave the denomination?). We’ve engaged in a time of brainstorming about the future. We’ve spent the whole time praying through the church directory. Normally, I think of three main sessions, one on Friday night and two on Saturday. One will be for prayer and sharing, one will be for visioning or problem solving, and one for teaching, singing, or more time in one of the first two categories.

In closing, let me reiterate that the when, where, how long, and what are not nearly as important as simply getting away and spending time together. Ministry is hard work. Inevitably, there will be stressful moments. There will be conflict. There will be sad and painful experiences. Every retreat is an investment in getting through those times. You’re building memories. You’re eating together. You’re talking about families. You’re praying and sharing and hearing each other snore. Find a way to spend unhurried time with your leaders. You won’t regret it.


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15 Ways to Fight Lust with the Sword of the Spirit

Aug 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It is almost impossible in the Western world to escape sensuality. Sex is on the television, in the movies and in our music, on the side of buses, during halftime shows, in our books and in glossy close-ups at supermarket check-out. Sex is all around us in the mall, dripping off every beer commercial, and two stories high on our billboards. Sexual sin is walking around our high schools, flaunted across our universities, and hiding in our churches.

And of course, sex is on the internet. Pornography and sex-related sites make up 60 percent of daily web traffic. Of internet users in the U.S., 40 percent visit porn sites at least once a month, and that number increases to 70 percent when the audience is 18-34 year old males. Half of hotel room patrons purchase pornography from their rooms. 90 percent of 8-16 year olds with internet access have viewed pornography online, and the average age of exposure is eleven.

The seventh commandment is not just broken in this country; it’s being smashed to pieces.

And sexual sin is not just an “out there” problem. Any pastor will tell you stories about how sexual sin has destroyed people in his congregation. None of us are immune from the dangers of sexual immorality. In a Christianity Today study from several years ago, 40 percent of clergy acknowledged visiting pornographic websites. Another survey found that 21 percent visit regularly. Yet another survey at found that 50 percent of pastors reported to viewing pornography in the previous year. And then there’s the underlying issue of the heart. The seventh commandment doesn’t just forbid adultery and pornography. It forbids every action, look, conversation, thought, or desire that incites lust and uncleanness.

So how in the world, in this world we live in, and with our sex-saturated hearts, can we obey the seventh commandment?

Let me suggest fifteen passages of Scripture that can help us fight lust and the temptation to sexual immorality.

1) Proverbs 5:18-19 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” This may seem a strange text for fighting sexual temptation, but married couples need to know they have delight at their lawful disposal. We need to know that sex is good, intimacy is good, bodies together in marriage are good. Good, glorious sex is spiritual warfare for the married couple.

2) Lamentations 3:25-27 “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” This a verse is for singles. Granted, this passage isn’t talking about waiting for a spouse. It’s about waiting on the Lord. But that’s the point: the Lord is good to those who wait for him. He knows what you need. The preceding verses tell us “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” Don’t think “How can I live without sex for another year or decade or two decades.” Think about today. The Lord has given you grace for this day and he will give you grace for the every subsequent day in which you follow God in the midst of unmet desires.

3) 1 Peter 3:15 “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Before you take a second look or dress yourself so that others will, think: “Will this make me more ready to talk to someone about Jesus?” Sensuality deadens the spiritual senses and makes us less courageous and effective witnesses for Christ.

4) 2 Peter 3:10-14 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…Therefore…be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Do you want to be cheating on your husband, masturbating, or watching Game of Thrones when Christ returns?

5) James 1:14-15 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This passage helps us understand how temptation works and reminds us that feeling tempted is not necessarily the same as sinning. Temptation beckons us to do what we should not do. That’s not sin. When the desire is nurtured it conceives and gives birth to sin (sin in the flesh or sin in the mind). Sin then grows and matures and leads to death. It is not lust to be attracted to someone or notice he or she is good looking. It is not lust to have a strong desire for sex. It is not lust to be excited about sex in marriage. It is not lust to inadvertently notice a woman bathing on the roof. It is sin to keep noticing and start scheming. Stoke the fires of this lustful passion and it will bring forth death. Just ask King David.

6) Hebrews 2:17-18 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus was tempted, not as we are from a sinful nature. But there were external voices calling him to sin. Let us not underestimate the real nature of his temptations and undercut his sympathy and his ability to help. Jesus was hungry in the wilderness. He had a desire, a want. He was enticed to make the stones bread so he could enjoy the pleasure of food. But he told the devil, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Matt. 4:1-3). In our moments of sexual temptation, we need to think, “Flesh does not sustain me. Jesus does.”

7) Romans 14:21 “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” As Christians, we want to help each other avoid sin, not lead one another into it with flirting, coarse joking, and immodest dress.

8) Matthew 5:27-30 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” We are not good fighters.  We make excuses. We don’t get radical. We pray a few prayers, feel bad all the time, tell a friend to ask how we’re doing once in awhile and that’s it. We need more decisive action than that. Avoid the movies, get rid of your internet connection, don’t kiss before marriage, throw out your t.v., tear out your eye—whatever it takes to battle lust. There are too many whole-bodied people going to hell and not enough spiritual amputees going to heaven.

9) Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” There are often temporal consequences for disobedience. It could be STDs, baggage in marriage, a guilty conscience, getting mired in a deeper addiction, distraction at work, a pornography fetish you pass on to your children, destroying your family, your marriage, or your ministry. There are also eternal consequences if you give yourself over to this sin. Galatians 6:8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

10) 1 Cor 6:15-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!…Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We need a theology of the body: the body is good, but it’s not yours. Jesus didn’t just die to ransom our souls. He also died for your body. It belongs to God. It is a member of Christ’s body now. Surely, we don’t want to employ Christ’s body in some sexual escapade or his eyes in viewing pornography or his mind in sensual fantasy.

11) 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Cultural liberalism says, “Just be yourself.” Self-help doctrine says, “You can find a better you if you just dig deep enough.” Moralism says, “Be a better person.” The Bible says, “You are a new person by God’s grace, now live like it.” “Be who you are” is the gospel motivation for holiness.

12) Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” No one fights a war by himself, and no one will have victory over sexual sin on his own. You need to talk to others about your struggles and listen just as well. Be honest. Ask good questions. Don’t just confess and feel better. Repent and change. Don’t just sympathize; admonish. Follow up with your brothers and sisters. Pray and remind each other of the gospel.

13) James 4:6 “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God always gives more grace. So keep coming to him with your sin and all your commandment violations. Confess like David in Psalm 51 that you have sinned against God. Confess that God is the most offended party as a result of your sin. And then believe like David in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” We will never experience growing victory over sin unless we are quick to turn to Christ all the times we fail.

14) Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This has been the most helpful verse for me in fighting lust and the temptation to sexual immorality. We need to fight desire with desire. Satan tempts us by holding out something that will be pleasurable to us. We aren’t tempted to gorge ourselves on liverwurst, because for most of us, it doesn’t hold out the promise of great pleasure. But sex does. Pornography does. A second look does. The Bible gives us many weapons to fight temptation. We can tell ourselves it is wrong, it is sinful, it will lead to bad things, it isn’t what I should do as a Christian. All of those are helpful. But the one weapon we rarely use is more pleasure. We need to fight the fleeting pleasure of sexual sin with the far greater, more abiding pleasure of knowing God. The fight for sexual purity is the fight of faith. It may sound like nothing but hard work and gritting your teeth–the very opposite of faith. But faith is at the heart of this struggle. Do we believe that a glimpse of God is better than a glimpse of skin? Do we believe that God’s steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3)? We’d probably sin less if we spent less time thinking about our sins, sexual or otherwise, and more time meditating on the love and holiness of God.

15) Ephesians 1:19-21 “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The great power that created the world, and saved us, and raised Jesus from the dead–that same power is now at work in you. We must believe that God is stronger than sexual temptation, sin, and addiction. If you believe that God brought a dead man back to life, you should believe that you can change. Not over night usually, but from one degree of glory to the next. Work out your salvation from sexual sin with fear and trembling, for God’s power is already at work within you.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Today we head north for our annual staff retreat. It’s pretty much chubby bunny and trust falls for three straight days.

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Christian Unity without Doctrinal Indifferentism

Aug 21, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

john_witherspoon_smToday is the last day of my summer study leave. I didn’t make as much progress on my doctoral work as I would have liked, but I did get a draft of a chapter written and a good working start on another chapter. I don’t suspect much of what goes into a dissertation is interesting to the average reader (or almost any reader!), but perhaps these few paragraphs on John Witherspoon’s passion for church unity (1723-94) will tickle one or two fancies. If not, chalk this post up to my version of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”


For all his polemical instincts, there was a deeply ecumenical side to Witherspoon, but it was an ecumenicity with a definite center and with defined boundaries.

On the one hand, Witherspoon was happy to profit from and commend a wide array of Christian authors outside the circles of strict Presbyterianism—from evangelical favorites like the Dissenter Phillip Doddridge[1] and the Nonconformist Richard Baxter,[2] to theologically middle-of-the-road bishops like Gilbert Burnet[3] and John Tillotson,[4] to the English scholar William Warburton,[5] to the Catholic (and strongly Augustinian) Port Royal Jansenists.[6] Witherspoon believed that men “often differ[ed] more in words than in substance.”[7] He adopted Doddridge’s words as his own: “If this doctrine, in one form or another, be generally taught by my brethren in the ministry, I rejoice in it for their own sakes, as well as for that of the people who are under their care.”[8] Truth was truth whether it came from Anglicans, Catholics, or Dissenters.

Although he remained staunchly committed to and invested in Presbyterianism his whole life, Witherspoon was not a man of narrow party spirit. In his Treatise on Regeneration (1764), Witherspoon noted, “I am fully convinced, that many of very different parties and denominations are building upon the one ‘foundation laid in Zion’ for a sinner’s hope, and that their distance and alienation from one another in affection, is very much to be regretted.”[9] In his farewell sermon in Paisley, Witherspoon warned against “going too much into controversy” and developing “a litigious and wrangling disposition” that would lead Christians—and here he is quick to add the qualification “I mean real Christians”—into “innumerable little parties and factions.”[10] He longed for the day when the “unhappy divisions” among “protestants in general” would be “abolished” and those truly centered on Christ crucified would “be no longer ranked in parties and marshaled under names” but only strive with each other to see “who shall love our Redeemer most, and who shall serve him with the greatest zeal.”[11]

This ecumenical streak in Witherspoon was not borne out of doctrinal indifferentism. His desire for unity, for example, did not encompass Socinians, Pelagians, Catholics or any other group holding religious views he deemed antithetical to true biblical Christianity.[12] Witherspoon had no patience for the latitudinarian kind of unity he found among his colleagues in the Moderate Party.[13] In conjunction with the publication of his St. Giles’ sermon before the SSPCK (1758), Witherspoon penned a robust defense for pointing out error entitled “An Inquiry into the Scripture Meaning of Charity.”[14] With characteristic verve, Witherspoon attacked the increasingly popular notion among enlightened clergy that “charity was a far more important and valuable bond among Christians than exact agreement on particular points of doctrine.”[15] For Witherspoon, Christian unity was not rooted in downplaying doctrinal distinctives (least of all among those who could not be counted true believers), but in stressing the theological similarities that existed among born again Christians from a variety of denominations. “No man, indeed,” Witherspoon wrote, “deny it to be just, that every one should endeavor to support that plan of the discipline and government of the church of Christ, and even the minutest parts of it, which appear to him to be founded upon the word of God. But still sound doctrine is more to be esteemed than any form.”[16]

Living in an era of evangelical awakening across the English speaking world and rank hypocrisy (as he saw it) in the Scottish Kirk, Witherspoon wanted Christians of a “truly catholic disposition” to “discover a greater attachment to those even of different denominations, who seem to bear the image of God, than to profane persons, be their apparent or pretended principles what they will.”[17] This was Witherspoon’s way of simultaneously distancing himself from the half-hearted confessional subscription of the Moderate Party and from the Scottish ministers (inside and outside the established church) who railed against any cooperation with George Whitefield.[18] In an address before the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr (October 9, 1759), Witherspoon urged his ministerial colleagues to turn their “zeal from parties to persons,” that is, to be on the look out for “the wolf in sheep’s clothing” and to be eager to embrace those from any party who know “the power of true religion.” Given the many spiritual dangers in the world and the spiritual degradation in the church, it was time for “the sincere lovers of Christ, of every denomination” to “join together in opposition to his open enemies and treacherous friends.”[19] Witherspoon’s vision was not for the end of separate ecclesiastical bodies, but for true believers—which, for him, was roughly equivalent to sincere Reformation-rooted evangelicals—to be united around the core tenets of the Christian faith.


[1] Works, 1:98, 451.

[2] Works, 2:255, 422, 433; 3:275-276.

[3] Works, 2:548.

[4] Works, 2:431.

[5] Works, 1:85; 2:348.

[6] Works, 3:152, 276.

[7] Works, 1:226.

[8] Works, 1:98-99. The Doddridge quotation comes from his Practical Discourses Regeneration in Ten Sermons Preached at Northampton (London: M. Fenner and J. Hodges, 1742), x. For more on Doddridge’s important role in reflecting and shaping theological and philosophical thought in the eighteenth century see Richard A. Muller, “Philip Doddridge and the Formulation of Calvinistic Theology in an Era of Rationalism and Deconfessionalization,” in Religion, Politics, and Dissent, 1660-1832: Essays in Honor of James E. Bradley, eds. Robert D. Conwall and William Gibson (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), 65-84; Robert Strivens, “The Thought of Philip Doddridge in the Context of Early Eighteenth-Century Dissent” PhD dissertation: University of Stirling, 2011.

[9] Works, 1:199.

[10] Works, 2:547.

[11] Works, 2:474-475.

[12] “As to Socinians and Pelagians. . . .I never did esteem them to be Christians at all” (Works, 1:88). “I do freely acknowledge, as I have formerly done, that I never did esteem the Socinians to be Christians” (Works, 2:377). Speaking of Catholic missionaries among the North American Indians, he remarked, “But being once converted, not the Christian faith, but to the Romish superstition, they are inviolably attached to the French interest” (Works, 2:364). Witherspoon’s strong, and at times harsh, anti-Catholicism cannot be separated from geo-political concerns. He had no qualms about praying for the Protestant cause throughout Europe and entreating God’s favor in defeating the Catholic imperial power that he considered (and virtually every Protestant considered) a threat to religious and political liberty (Works 2:429; 474). In a fast day sermon from February 16, 1758, Witherspoon enthused with thanksgiving for the surprising victories recently won by Frederick the Great at Rossbach and Leuthen during the Seven Years War (Works, 2:461). If British Protestants were agreed on anything in the second half of the eighteenth century it was that the Catholic Church, and those states aligned with it, were enemies of British freedom, British prosperity, British religion, and the British crown (See Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 49; Kidd, George Whitefield, 263).

[13] Works, 3:257.

[14] Works, 2:369-384.

[15] This summary statement comes from Anhert, The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment, 38; for more on the importance of “charity” during the Scottish Enlightenment in contrast to the Orthodox insistence on right doctrine, including Witherspoon’s role in that insistence, see 37-45, 81, 106-108.

[16] Works, 1:253. What Witherspoon meant by “sound doctrine” is clear from the rest of the paragraph where he speaks of the gospel work of convicting and converting sinners.

[17] Works, 1:253-254. The reference to the image of God in this context is likely not a general comment about all human being, but an aspect of Witherspoon’s conviction that the “doctrines only come from God, which tend to form us after the divine image” (Works, 2:390).

[18] For a discussion on confessional subscription see Collin Kidd, “Scotland’s Invisible Enlightenment: Subscription and Heterodoxy in the Eighteenth Century Kirk” RSCHS (2000), 28-59. Fawcett provides a useful overview of Whitefield’s falling out with the Erskines and how this influenced the Secession churches and the national Kirk (The Cambuslang Revival, 182-201). See also the pamphlet A Fair and Impartial Account of the Debate in the Synod of Glasgow and Air (1748), where a complaint is brought against two ministers from the Presbytery of Glasgow for giving “considerable countenance to the ministrations of a celebrated stranger” (i.e., they opened their pulpits to Whitefield). Special thanks for Dr. David Gibson of Trinity Church (Aberdeen) for tracking down this pamphlet at the University of Aberdeen and sharing with me his notes.

[19] Works, 2:412-413.

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Ten Things to Remember as the Presidential Campaign Season Gets Into Full Swing

Aug 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I’m not telling you whom to vote for. I’m not predicting who will win their party’s nomination. I’m not giving you a primer on which issues to consider as you vote in a caucus or primary (several months from now) or as you vote (over a year from now) in the presidential election. Before you think through any of that, keep these ten things in mind.

1. We’re not electing a king. It always amazes me how many Americans, even those who ostensibly believe in checks and balances and limited government, are eager to believe the wildest promises our politicians make. More than that, we almost demand that they make them. But really, is the president responsible for creating jobs, restoring the family, and defeating every bad guy? Even if we want him or her to do those things, we aren’t voting for Dictator of the United States. The president doesn’t make the laws. He (or she) shouldn’t have vast control over the economy. He (or she) cannot unilaterally fix the environment or schools or roads, let alone your marriage or your sense of being underappreciated in life. Let’s be realistic.

2. Elections matter. Lest you think the first point was too cynical, I believe elections do make a difference. Sometimes a big difference. Besides signing (or vetoing) legislation and besides being the Commander in Chief, the president has a huge bully pulpit. Surely, Obama’s evolution on gay marriage was not insignificant in pushing public opinion swiftly in that direction. More than that, the president appoints thousands of judges, justices, and bureaucrats who will make really important decisions for the next decades.

3. Character matters. Yes, all our leaders have clay feet. And to be sure, presidents can be decisive leaders and skilled politicians even if they are dubious individuals. But as Christians, surely we know better than to discount character. Of course, we aren’t voting for pastor of the United States. And yet, those who are not faithful with little will not be faithful with much. If you lie, cheat, bully, and break promises in your private life, why should we expect better with your public life? If at all possible, we should vote for a president whose moral compass is trustworthy and whose personal integrity is exemplary.

4. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Politicians make promises. Lots of promises. They also morph to fit in with the electorate they need at the moment (e.g., Iowa, New Hampshire, the South, Independents, moderates). So don’t make a decision based on the best debate moment. Look at what the candidate has stood for and how they have conducted themselves over the years. No doubt, people can change and can change their minds. But who they have been is still the best indication of who they are and more accurate than who they promise to be.

5. You almost certainly will not have a beer with the next president. The candidate who passes the “I’d rather have a beer with this person” test almost always wins. We like to vote for people we’d like to hang out with. Fair enough, but 99.9% of us won’t hang out with the next president. So figure out who people are, what they believe, and how they would govern.

6. The big picture matters more than all the details. Presidents are not omniscient. Candidates even less so. Do you know everything about how to do your job before you have it? Of course not, and I bet your job is far less complicated than being President of the United States. So don’t except the candidates to know everything about everything. A thousand things will happen from 2017-2021 that no president can anticipate. Again, figure out who people are, what they believe, and how they would govern. Many of the details can’t yet be known.

7. The candidates will say something stupid. They all will. Even your favorite. How could they not? They will be on t.v. every single day from now until the inauguration (or until they drop out of the race). They will be in dozens of debates (at least the Republicans will), give hundreds of speeches and interviews, and meet thousands of people. All of this with a camera in their face at all times (well, for most of them). It’s really amazing they don’t make more mistakes than they do. Let’s discern between an honest slip up, gotcha questions, and actual revealing comments.

8. The media will do very little to help you understand the issues and what each candidate believes. I thought the first debate was one of the best I’ve seen in terms of specific, hard-hitting questions. But overall, no matter the network, the media is going to overwhelmingly report on the horse race not the difference between the horses. It’s a big reality t.v. drama where Iowans vote losers off the island. Getting to substance is your responsibility. The media won’t do it for you.

9. It is extremely unlikely that either party will nominate someone with no political experience. Not a wish, just a prediction I can make with almost complete certainty. Do you know how many presidents we’ve elected without a high military rank or experience in electoral politics? Two. And both of these men had previous political experience (even if they hadn’t been elected to anything): William Howard Taft was a judge and the Solicitor General before becoming President, and Herbert Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Do you know the last time either party nominated someone who had never been a governor, senator, representative, or vice president? The year was 1952 and that man had recently saved all free peoples of the world from totalitarian tyranny. So, yeah, Eisenhower is kind of the exception that proves the rule. Besides Ike, you have to go back to Wendell Willkie–the dark horse candidate who won the Republican nomination in 1940 and lost 85% of the electoral college vote to Roosevelt–to find a major nominee who had not held elected office. And Willkie, who was third on the first ballot at the Republican convention, could never pull off such an upset with the way the nominating process works today. Long story short: candidates with zero political experience are almost never nominated, and nominees without a military record or electoral experience virtually never win.

10. The system could be much worse. Sure, there is plenty to complain about. The presidential campaign seems interminably long. It takes a boatload of money to stay in the race. We are all stupider because of Twitter and the 24-hours news cycle. And even the best debates are hardly Lincoln-Douglas material. But we do get a say. We do get a vote. We basically get the presidents we deserve. I’d rather have candidates pandering for our votes than dictating the terms of our surrender. Yes, if you want to be president it helps to be rich and famous, but you also have to hang out in New Hampshire all winter and shake the hand of every farmer in Iowa. I like that. There are good reasons to be frustrated with both parties. But with only two major parties, it’s hard to completely ignore most viewpoints. You can’t build a coalition without trying to appeal to a lot of diverse groups of people. So is the system broken? I’m sure it is, but I’m also sure there are more ways than we can imagine to fix it even worse.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 17, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Sometimes it’s hard to think on your feet.

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Book Briefs

Aug 14, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s been a good summer–some down time, fun with the family, lots of PhD work, and some extra book reading along the way.

Barton Swaim, The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics (Simon and Schuster, 2015). I read the book in one sitting. Swaim’s narrative about working for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is revealing, insightful, hilarious, and makes me glad I never went into politics. Unlike other my-time-in-politics memoirs, Swaim does not go out of his way to trash his former boss or make everyone around look like idiots. If you are at all interested in politics, the crafting of words, and the absurdities of human nature, you’ll enjoy this book.


Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015). Short, simple, straight forward, edifying. I don’t know anyone in today’s evangelical world more effective at teaching about spiritual disciplines than Whitney. This readable, conversational book will help you pray the Bible in a way that is edifying, easier, and more enjoyable than you might think. Like the best books on prayer, this one makes you want to go somewhere quiet and pray.


Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan, 2015). My vision for ministry has always been something akin to the pastor-theologian, so I resonated with the vision laid out by Hiestand and Wilson. It probably says something about where I fall on the pastor-theologian scale that I cringe at lines that speak of “the vocational Sitz im Leben of the pastorate,” but despite a few paragraphs here and there that I might have expressed differently, I found the overall message of the book recalibrating in a very healthy way. Chapter 8 “On Being an Ecclesial Theologian in a Local Church” was especially helpful in thinking through, “Okay, what do I do to make this vision a reality?” I’m grateful to Hiestand and Wilson–both pastors at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois–for reminding me of what I’m striving to be, and that the goal is appropriate.


Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective (RHB, 2014). A solid, accessible, exegetical walk through Ephesians 6:10-18. There’s not a lot of flash, but these seasoned pastors provide good substance on an easily misunderstood and sensationalized portion of Scripture.



Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People (P&R Publishing, 2013). I’m always looking for good introductions to covenant theology, the kind I can recommend to my congregation without fear that they will get lost in a maze of Hittite treaties. I think I may have just found my go-to book. Rhodes–that rarest of creatures, a Presbyterian minister in England–has written a non-technical, well organized, relatively brief book on a topic that usually invites undue complexification. Depending on your point of view, it is either a big plus or small minus that Rhodes’ view of the covenants is thoroughly Reformed (translation: he talks about predestination, limited atonement, presbyterian polity, and infant baptism). I consider this a good thing. Those committed to congregationalism and believer’s only baptism can still read the book with great profit.


W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus (IVP, 2012). I slowly worked through this book over the summer in preparation for a lengthy sermon series in Exodus I hope to begin this fall. Blackburn’s thesis–that the burden in Exodus is that God might be known in all his unsurpassed glory–makes intuitive (and exegetical) sense to me. I’ve even been able to bring out some of the points of the book as we read through Exodus for family devotions. I’ve yet to read a book in this D.A. Carson edited series (New Studies in Biblical Theology) that hasn’t been rich and illuminating.


Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). If you love Rushdoony, read this book. If you can’t stand him, read this book. McVicar has painted a provocative picture of a man who could be brilliant and grandfatherly as well as petty, recalcitrant, and academically slipshod. The strength of the book is not theological (at one point McVicar says the Augsburg Confession was essential to Reformed Christianity), but social, political, and personal. I’ve thought for many years that there needs to be more scholarly work done on Rushdoony and Reconstructionism. This (re-purposed) doctoral dissertation is a significant and welcome contribution toward that end.

BONUS: I don’t normally mention any PhD related books, since they are typically too obscure and too expensive, but a few from this summer’s study may be worth mentioning. Thomas Anhert’s The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment 1690-1805 (Yale, 2014) offers a revisionist account of the Scottish Enlightenment, arguing that it was the orthodox party who gave a large role to reason (for apologetic purposes) while the enlightened clergy were less interested in natural theology. Every minister in a confessionally Reformed or Presbyterian church should have The Practice of Confessional Subscription (edited by David W. Hall) on his shelf. Likewise, if you have a substantial book budget, preachers would benefit from many of the essays in The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901 (Oxford, 2012). And finally, in a book that will be of little interest to almost everyone but was of surpassing interest to me: Rondald Crawford’s The Lost World of John Witherspoon: Unravelling the Snodgrass Affair, 1762 to 1776 (Aberdeen, 2014) is hugely impressive. I didn’t agree with every interpretive decision, but this book is still the most significant work of original historical research on Witherspoon in the last 40 years.

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The Biggest Story

Aug 12, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

A number of years ago I did something different for my evening sermon. It was the week before Christmas and instead of preaching through the next verses of whatever book I was in, I wrote a story. I read the sermon that Sunday night like I was reading to my kids. I told them to imagine it was Christmas Eve and they were nestled in front of the fireplace listening to the good news about the baby Jesus. I did my best to make that sermon a beautiful story about the Greatest Story ever told.

I didn’t have any pictures.

It was a dream of mine that someday the story would find its way in a book and find itself decorated with stunning illustrations. To tell you the truth, the reality is better than the dream.

Normally, when I have a new book coming out I try to be pretty nonchalant about it: “Here’s the book. Here’s the information. Here’s how you can get it if you’re interested. Talk to you later.” But I feel like I can be a bit more unguarded with this book, because it’s not just my book. I could not be more pleased with the job Don Clark did illustrating The Biggest Story. The process was longer than you might think. First, Crossway asked me write a bit more and give the rest of the biblical storyline after Christmas. Good idea. Then we massaged the words and made new edits. And then some more. Up until the last minute. When you write a children’s book you don’t use many words, so you feel much more of the weight of getting them right.

Along the way, I worked with Crossway to find the right illustrator. The folks at Crossway were fantastic, always patient, always creative, always coming up with new options. I had in my mind an idea of what I wanted the book to look like, and more than that I had a good sense of what I didn’t want the book to look like. So we kept looking and looking. Eventually we came to Don. Amazing. His illustrations are bright and captivating for a child, yet full of theological care and artistic sophistication for an adult to enjoy.

Take a look at a few sample pages below. The colors are vibrant without being gawdy. The people look like ancient people–not so abstract as to be unrecognizable, and not so cartoonish as to look silly. My favorite illustration may be the greenish-gray one with the tiny grace-soaked ark floating in an angry flood of God’s wrath. I’d hang that one up on the wall just as a conversation piece. Even the chapter title pages are exquisite. If you look carefully through the whole book, you’ll pick up on a number of recurring themes and images. You may also notice that the face of Christ is not depicted (except a few eyeballs as a baby). This is owing both to Presbyterian convictions and to an aesthetic sense that the story is told more powerfully, more dramatically, and more effectively when the artist depicts God in evocative images (ala Revelation) rather than in a concrete rendering.







It really is a tremendous book, not because of me but because of Don’s great work and because of the effort from a lot of folks at Crossway. I already gave away my one copy, so I can’t wait to get my hands on some more. WTS Books is running a special sale on the book today and tomorrow. You may also pre-order a copy from Amazon.

Finally, check out the promo video below. I had nothing to do with it, which is probably why it is so cool.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 10, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I hope your Monday goes better than this.

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The Smell of Babies Burning

Aug 07, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

245491-fetus-ultrasoundBefore David Daleiden founded the Center for Medical Progress and gained national attention for releasing a series of videos exposing the barbarity of Planned Parenthood, he wrote a jarring piece with Jon Shields entitled “Mugged by Ultrasound: Why So Many Abortion Workers Have Turned Pro-Life.”

The brief article is a gut-wrenching, disturbing, graphic account of the emotional trauma abortion wrecks on those who perform them. For example, in 2008, Dr. Lisa Harris explained what happened while she, 18-weeks pregnant at the time, performed an abortion on an 18-week-old fetus. She felt her own baby kick at the same time she ripped off a fetal leg with her forceps. This prompted a visceral response.

Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes—without me—meaning my conscious brain—even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling—a brutally visceral response—heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.

Tragically, Dr. Harris is still in the abortion business, or at least she was five years ago when the article was first published.

Paul Jarret is not. He quit after 23 abortions. “As I brought out the rib cage, I looked and saw a tiny, beating heart,” he would recall, reflecting on aborting a 14-week-old fetus. “And when I found the head of the baby, I looked squarely in the face of another human being—a human being that I just killed.”

Judith Fetrow and Kathy Spark, both former abortion workers, converted to the pro-life cause after seeing the disposal of fetal remains as medical waste. Daleiden and Shields explain:

Handling fetal remains can be especially difficult in late-term clinics. Until George Tiller was assassinated by a pro-life radical last summer, his clinic in Wichita specialized in third-trimester abortions. To handle the large volume of biological waste Tiller had a crematorium on the premises. One day when hauling a heavy container of fetal waste, Tiller asked his secretary, Luhra Tivis, to assist him. She found the experience devastating. The “most horrible thing,” Tivis later recounted, was that she “could smell those babies burning.” Tivis, a former NOW activist, soon left her secretarial position at the clinic to volunteer for Operation Rescue, a radical pro-life organization.

Many abortion providers have been converted by ultrasound technology. The most famous example is Bernard Nathanson, cofounder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, the original NARAL. By his own reckoning Nathanson performed more than 60,000 abortions, including one on his own child. But over time he began to fear he was involved in a great evil. Ultrasound images pushed him over the edge. “When he finally left his profession for pro-life activism, he produced The Silent Scream (1984), a documentary of an ultrasound abortion that showed the fetus scrambling vainly to escape dismemberment.”

Sadly, countless abortion workers keep on perpetuating the great evil, even if it means suppressing the truth they literally feel in their bones:

Pro-choice advocates like to point out that abortion has existed in all times and places. Yet that observation tends to obscure the radicalism of the present abortion regime in the United States. Until very recently, no one in the history of the world has had the routine job of killing well-developed fetuses quite so up close and personal. It is an experiment that was bound to stir pro-life sentiments even in the hearts of those staunchly devoted to abortion rights.  Ultrasound and D&E [dilation and evacuation] bring workers closer to the beings they destroy. Hern and Corrigan concluded their study by noting that D&E leaves “no possibility of denying an act of destruction.” As they wrote, “It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment run through the forceps like an electric current.”

Read the whole thing and pray for abortion workers.

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