February Book of the Month: The World-Tilting Gospel

The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips ($12.23, Kindle Edition $9.99)

Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight

The first generation of Christians were not popular. They were ridiculed, persecuted, yet according to Acts 17:6-7, they “turned the world upside down.” As a result, their message was communicated louder and clearer than any message before or since. Even with today’s social medias, big-name celebrities, and shiny evangelism techniques that add glitz and glamour to the gospel, today’s Christians fail to communicate as effectively as the first followers of Christ. Simply put, the early church turned the world upside down, but today’s church has been turned upside down by the world.

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Finding Time and Fighting Flesh

While I certainly appreciate technology and its benefits, there are also many downsides. Technology is not neutral! One of the most significant negative influences of incorporating the current technological milieu into our daily diet of information intake is the speed at which we are almost instinctively drawn to consume it. Checking e-mails, reading blogs, reading articles, watching YouTube videos, checking Facebook and Twitter… and then when the cycle is over, doing it all over again. I am of the opinion that 21st Century Americans live in a culture of information overload, and we’ve become addicted. Therefore, sitting down with a book for more than a few minutes is a fight with the flesh – a fight we must win if we’re going to be growing, disciplined Christians. Reinke offers some good insight to the flesh war involved in book reading:

“Book reading is not just a matter of time management; it’s a matter of warfare. Wherever sinful self-indulgence dominates our free time, we can be certain that personal idols are at work in our flesh, seeking to divide and conquer the soul (1 Pet. 2:11). Idols of entertainment and pleasure make the discipline of book reading a battle with our flesh. We’d rather avoid discipline and be occupied with easier tasks like e-mail, Internet browsing, and movies. We neglect books because our hearts reject the discipline required to read them. And that is a spiritual problem, a lack of personal discipline, not a lack of time. And until we apply the sin-freeing gospel to our own hearts—and the idols therein—we may never cultivate the self-discipline required to read books. Our flesh wars within us. If we don’t kill the idols of laziness and self-indulgence, these idols will kill our literacy. So expect a fight from your flesh.”

Reinke, Tony. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). Kindle Edition, 131.

You Can Read 70 Books per Year…

“First, most people can find sixty minutes each day to read. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t: fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes at lunchtime, and another thirty minutes in the evening. No problem. At this pace, you can devote seven hours to reading each week (or 420 minutes). The average reader moves through a book at a pace of about 250 words per minute. So 420 minutes of reading per week translates into 105,000 words per week. This book is roughly 55,000 words. Assuming that you can read for one hour each day, and that you read at around 250 words per minute, you can complete more than one book per week, or about seventy books per year.”

Reinke, Tony. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), Kindle Edition, 130.

Women and Theologically Weighty Reading

I have always had a goal of encouraging Christians to read substantive Christian books. As was mentioned in a previous blog post, reading fiction and/or non-Christian books isn’t wrong (and most certainly can have value), but Christian people are only hurting themselves when they do not pick up and read good Christian works. The Lord has blessed His people with many generations of theological gold, and it would be a shame to ignore it. Many wise Christian men and women have penned some excellent words to help us know and love God more. Let us not neglect this kind of reading!

I found Reinke’s quote about reading theological weighty books among women to be interesting. I think the challenge/encouragement to women he offers through a quote by Elyse Fitzpatrick is fitting and helpful:

Theologically weighty books about Christ are essential for the soul—for men and women. And although women purchase the majority of books released by Christian publishers, women are far less likely to read theological books, writes counselor and author Elyse Fitzpatrick. In her 2003 evaluation of the Christian publishing industry, she writes, “Many women are intimidated by the thought of studying something that is ‘theological’ in nature. They are afraid of being bored, looking foolish, becoming unattractive to men, or becoming divisive.” And she confronts women who would rather read only novels as a way to escape personal disappointments, and who read these books to “build fantasy castles filled with knights on white steeds who will come to rescue her from her mundane, stressful, empty, or disappointing life.” Rather, she offers this challenge: “Let’s become known as a generation of women who delight in, tremble before, receive counsel from, drink, devour, digest, muse upon, and absolutely cherish God and the truth that He’s revealed about Himself and about ourselves. Let’s not worry about whether we look dumb or too smart.”

Reinke, Tony. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2011). Kindle Edition, 96-7.

Christian Reading Priority

The bottom line is that no single book should receive more attention in our lives than Scripture. The Bible is the greatest book and our highest priority—it ignites us with spiritual light and life, it fuels us with eternal hope and grace, and it stokes us with inexhaustible pleasure and delight.

Reinke, Tony. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2011). Kindle Edition, 95.

A Few Questions to Ask While You Read Your Bible…

When you read your Bible, are you asking questions of the text to develop a greater understanding of what the writers are conveying? Remember, our goal is to know what the text means, not “what does it mean to me?” Quite frankly, what it means to you is of no value. When reading the Bible, we must know what the text is communicating to us because we are learning what God is communicating to us. One of the most effective ways to understand the Bible is by asking questions while you read. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Who is involved? Who is speaking? Who is acting?
  • When did this event take place (what day of week, what hour of the day, relationship to some other event)?
  • Where did the action take place (what city, what specific location such as a home or on a mountain, etc.)?
  • What took place?
  • What sin is presented that I should forsake?
  • What command is given that I should obey?
  • What promise has God made?
  • Why did this event take place?
  • How did the event occur?
  • How do I put the principles taught in the passage into practice?

If you like to journal, or would like to start journaling through your Bible reading, why not use these questions to get started? I guarantee you’ll immediately find yourself enjoying and understanding the Scriptures more than you ever have before.

Reading Priorities

I hope you’ve decided to take on the 2012 reading challenge – if you haven’t done so yet, why not jump on board? We’re only a few days into 2012, so there’s plenty of time!

If you’re currently reading our first challenge book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Kindle edition here), you are no doubt benefiting from some sound, biblical wisdom as it pertains to the things we read. Perhaps it’s obvious, but I wanted to start with this book to give us a good framework for the rest of our reading, and to help you develop a framework for your own reading priorities.

In Chapter 7, Reinke shares his reading priorities and how he groups them. This is a practice I have engaged in for several years and find it tremendously helpful in weeding through the millions of options that are available to read. Reinke has 6 categories (which I assume means he has all 6 types of reading going on consistently/simultaneously – this is also how I read):

1. Reading Scripture

2. Reading to know and delight in Christ

3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection

4. Reading to initiate personal change

5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence

6. Reading to enjoy a good story

I like his categories and think they offer good diversity. My personal categories are as follows:

1. Reading Scripture – This year (and probably into next year) I am reading individual books of the Bible entirely, 20 times each, until moving onto the next one (to include a chapter of Proverbs every day).

2. Reading devotionally – (Tabletalk Magazine, Valley of Vision, Morning and Evening, etc.) – probably similar to Reinke’s #2

3. Reading for study – books related to what I’m teaching/preaching now or in the future.

4. Reading to counsel and be counseled – (Books on marriage, parenting, depression, relationships, etc.) I always want to know how to better counsel my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I want to grow in my sanctification. Reading a wide range of books related to the hearts/minds of sinful people has proven helpful to me and has given me much to recommend to others when they have specific needs. Books in this category have proven helpful in identifying specific areas of sin in my life, and the Lord has used these books for my sanctification.

5. Reading theology and ecclesiology –  (Books on God’s nature, attributes, works, etc. and books about God’s Church) All Christian reading is inherently theological, but this category is for specific works that relate to systematic theology, biblical theology, and ecclesiology.

6. Reading biography and autobiography – I think it’s important for Christians to regularly read about the lives of other Christians and non-Christians. I like biographies and autobiographies and always have 1 going.

7. Reading to learn something new – I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I like to learn new things. In this category I read about all sorts of different things: Beekeeping, gold/silver investments, politics, golf, running, music, education, business – it’s a catch all category that doesn’t specifically relate to Christianity/theology.

8. Reading fiction – I don’t spend much time in this category, but I’ve increased my fiction reading a bit. I resonate 100% with Reinke’s statement: “In all honesty, it has taken me many years to simply delight myself in beautiful books. Now they provide me with relaxation, pleasure, and a delightful weapon to foil the devil.” I have mostly found fiction to be a waste of time, but there is good fiction and, if nothing else, I like to read good writing no matter what it’s about, so there are some gems of fiction worth reading. The last fiction book I really enjoyed was Peace Like a River (Kindle edition here) by Leif Enger.

Of these 8 categories, I usually have 5-6 of them going at one time. But, I realize that’s not going to work for everyone! Some people need to read one book to completion before picking up another. Others read a lot of different books, but perhaps haven’t discovered the joy and importance of categorizing and prioritizing them. So, let’s look at Reinke’s challenge:

“Now make your own list of reading priorities. First, look at the books you have read over the last twenty-four months that have benefitted your life. Create categories for those books. Second, include any category that you don’t currently read but would like to add, perhaps something mentioned in [chapter 7]. By now you should have a list of two to five categories. Start small and be realistic. Third, begin making book selections informed by your reading priorities. Invest the time you need to define a purpose to why you want to read books. Once you have an answer to this question, you will find it much easier to choose your next book from the twenty-eight million attractive options.”

 

So, what are your reading categories/priorities?

Devotional Reading

Second only to Bible reading plans at the beginning of each year, I am asked about devotionals that can be read in conjunction with the Scriptures. Devotionals are very helpful, and give us good things to think on throughout each day in addition to the Scripture we’ve read. Admittedly, many devotionals are shallow at best, but there are some that I have found to be helpful, meaty, and worth my reading time.  Here are a few of my suggestions:

Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn ($8.66, Kindle Edition $7.99)

While not necessarily written as a devotional, I have read Note to Self as a devotional and found it to be full of good thoughts to ponder throughout the day in small chunks. In other words, I would typically read a shorter book like this one in a sitting or two – this book is better consumed a chapter per day. And they are only a few pages each, making this an excellent choice for devotional reading.

Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts by Octavius Winslow (Kindle Only, $0.99 each)

Winslow was a very well known reformed pastor in the 1800s. His writings are deeply devotional and have proven to be a wonderful balm to my soul on countless occasions. At 99 cents each, these morning and evening thoughts are hard to beat!

Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon ($12.17, Kindle Edition, $0.95)

Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening is a classic devotional read. As with all of Spurgeon’s works, it is highly readable and enjoyable, just as much today as it was in the 1800s. This is also available free online.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin ($26.28, Kindle Edition $0.99 or Free for download)

Two years ago I followed a daily reading schedule to get through Calvin’s Institutes. It was highly rewarding, and I think something every Christian should do at some point. Many people talk about Calvinism or claim to have an understanding of what Calvin taught without ever actually reading him. Here’s a great way to get through his magnum opus in one year.

Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul Tripp ($10.28, Kindle Edition $7.69)

Tripp wrote 52 short chapters, mainly working through Psalm 51, to address our sin and God’s mercy. Whiter Than Snow is a very rewarding read, and each chapter comes in at 3 pages or less, making it perfect for a devotional.

Tabletalk Magazine by Ligonier Ministries (1 Year subscription, $23)

Ligonier Ministries has published Tabletalk Magazine for many years, and has proven to be an excellent daily devotional for Christians. Tabletalk provides 5, 1-page readings for each week, and lengthy articles on a specific monthly topic to read on the weekends. It is well worth the subscription price.

Operation World by Jason Mandryk ($14.86, also available on the book table at Ephesus Church)

I’ve said many times, I believe Operation World should be in every Christian home. While this isn’t devotional reading, it is the most helpful guide available to walk Christians through praying for every country in the world every year. We have a mandate to pray for the nations and to do all that we can to see the advance of the gospel to the nations. Operation World will be very helpful to you and your family to accomplish that great task.

What devotional would you recommend? Leave your comments below!

Bible Reading Plans

One of the questions I get every year around this time is about Bible reading plans for the new year. I want to offer a few thoughts on reading plans, and then provide a list of different plans that might be of use to you and your family.

Bible reading plans are great – I highly recommend them, especially for Christians who struggle with organization and/or memory. A reading plan is a wonderful way to maintain structure throughout the year as you seek to meet your Bible reading goals, whatever they may be. I would recommend reading a 1984 article by John Piper about the importance of a Bible reading plan. But, there are a few things to keep in mind when using a structured reading plan:

1. More important than successfully completing your plan is actually reading the Bible. If you find that the plan you’ve picked is too ambitious, try another one, or ditch it all together. While I think it’s important to systematically work through books of the Bible and to work through different sections of the Bible throughout the year as to get a full picture of the Bible’s story line, this can be accomplished without a structured plan. The goal is to be changed by Scripture, not simply to finish working through a reading plan.

2. I recommend changing your reading goals each year. One year, plan on reading through the Bible from cover to cover. The next year, plan on reading through the New Testament 6 times. After that, perhaps through the Old Testament twice. There are countless ways in which to read the Bible – mix it up, it will make you more well rounded in your biblical understanding and will help you remember the text. This is, in my experience, one of the cures to “I know it’s in the Bible somewhere…” To know the Bible you must read the Bible widely.

3. You are justified by grace, through faith, apart from works of the Law. Jesus doesn’t love you more if you read the entire Bible 5 times in 2012, nor does He love you less if you miss a day or two and fall short of your goal at the end of the year. Your standing before God is based upon the righteousness imputed to you through Christ, not upon your ability to maintain a strict schedule of spiritual disciplines. Of course, these things are important and necessary for our spiritual growth (sanctification), but they are not the means of our salvation. Let us not confuse justification and sanctification.

Here are several reading plans for you to choose from – this list was mostly generated by Justin Taylor and posted on the Gospel Coalition blog:

  • Stephen Witmer’s two-year plan to get through the entire Bible.
  • The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. In one year, you will read through the New Testament twice, the Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.
  • George Guthrie’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Guthrie has also made a a booklet version of the Read the Bible for Life 4+1 Reading Plan. In this plan, you read four different places in the Scriptures and a psalm a day, thus cycling through the psalms twice in the year. This plan is semi-chronological, placing the prophets and the NT letters in rough chronological order.
  • Don Whitney has a simple but surprisingly effective tool: A Bible Reading Record. It’s a list of every chapter in the Bible, and you can check them off as you read them at whatever pace you want.
  • For the highly motivated and disciplined, Grant Horner’s plan has you reading each day a chapter from ten different places in the Bible.
  • There are 10 Reading Plans for ESV Editions, and the nice things is the way in which Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats (web, RSS, Podcast, iCal, Mobile, pdf).

Is that enough to get you going? If you have another idea in mind of how you’d like to read the Bible this year, let me know and I will help you develop a reading plan.

Leave a comment below and let us know how you’re going to read your Bible this year! I am going to work through the Mastering the English Bible ideas of James Gray.