Entries tagged with “Bible”.

My friend Karl recently challenged me on Facebook to name ten books that have changed my life. Or, more accurately, I was to “write down ten books that have affected your life in some way and tag ten friends including me so I can see your choices as well.” Ignoring the fact that the word “affected” is “abominably vague” (as Karl also noted), here’s my list. It’s eclectic, to be sure, with fiction, poetry, theology, and more.

The books follow in no particular order.

narnia1. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

This series served, in many ways, as my gateway to both fantasy and theology. As a child, it was my favourite series of books, and I still reread them all every few years. The Christian symbolism is not something I become aware of until some years later, when my pastor explained it to me. At first I rebelled at the knowledge, but eventually the secret of it (Another story beneath! Deeper magic!) led me to read more of C.S. Lewis, including…

MereChristianity2. Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis

This. This was my first introduction to serious Christian thought. My first introduction, as it were, to theology. More detailed study into the various focuses of Christian theology came later, as did wide reading in the writings of Christians from across the centuries. But Mere Christianity was, for me, where it all began. And for that, I am truly grateful to C.S. Lewis.

man-who-was-thursday3. The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton

This book was my first introduction to Chesterton, and thus an introduction to numerous other important books in my life (like Heretics, Orthodoxy, Napoleon of Notting Hill, etc). The ability to make the ordinary strange is a particular gift of Chesterton’s and a prevailing theme in much of his other writing; but nowhere is the concept so well enfleshed as it is in The Man Who Was Thursday. This book is my favourite novel, bar none—even if (or perhaps because?) it so often confounds me.

The-Augsburg-Confession4. The Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) – Philip Melanchthon

The primary Lutheran confession of faith, important not only for articulating Lutheran theology over/against contemporary abuses, but also for stressing the theological continuity of Lutheranism with the faith of the ancient Church. “The churches among us,” Melanchthon writes, “do not dissent from the Catholic Church in any article of faith.” Indeed.

freedom-of-a-christian5. The Freedom of a Christian – Martin Luther

Too many people (including too many Lutherans) seem to think that salvation by grace through faith alone means works are excluded from the Christian’s life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this book, Luther explains the proper relationship between faith and works. While only the former justifies before God, he writes, both are nevertheless necessary in the Christian’s life. This little work, too seldom read, also introduces a number of other important Lutheran ideas, as I’ve summarized elsewhere: “Here Luther touches on the simultaneous sinner/saint state of Christians; explains Law and Gospel; argues justification by faith alone; defends the necessity of works as a fruit of faith; discusses what makes works ‘good’; expounds on the priesthood of all believers (both what it does and doesn’t mean); and delves into his theology of vocation, as well as hinting at the doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms.’”

spirituality-of-the-cross6. The Spirituality of the Cross – Gene Edward Veith

This is the quintessential introduction to Lutheranism for those wanting to know more about “the way of first evangelicals.” Veith provides a winsome case for the Evangelical Catholic (aka Lutheran) tradition, taking readers on a tour through the major points of Lutheran theology in clear and eminently readable prose. And it never descends into mere academic musings; this is a theology that is forever relevant and applicable to Christians today. Looking for a sacramental evangelicalism? A protestantism that is, at its core, nevertheless catholic? Veith explains why Lutheranism is the church you’re seeking.

poems-john-donne-16337. Poems (1633) – John Donne

Where do I begin? Donne’s poetry, whether focused on the earthly or the divine—and really, Donne would say (and I would agree), everything in creation counts under the category of “divine”—is deeply profound and deeply moving. Meaning is packed tightly into each line, each phrase, like a compressed spring waiting to be released. The Holy Sonnets have especially been important to me in my own spiritual journeys. While what I’m writing here applies to any edition of Donne’s English poetry, there’s something particularly pleasing about holding my reproduction copy of the 1633 edition, as I reflect on Donne’s Holy Sonnets. It provides a tactile experience, a weight in my hands to mirror the weight in my heart—a heart that Donne (and God) batter, for my good.

Pilgrim's_Progress_first_edition_16788. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

I know what you’re thinking: “That old book? That long-on-words and short-on-plot book? That thinly-veiled not-at-all-veiled allegory? Why that book?” I know this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s been important to me for a number of reasons, not least of all because Bunyan’s thoughts have helped me formulate my understanding of what literature is for. I also acknowledge this book for Bunyan’s theology of despair, a condition in which I have an interest both personally and academically. Christian’s encounter with Giant Despair is, for those interested, made all the more illuminating when reading it alongside Bunyan’s own spiritual battle with despair (as described in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).

Gospel-of-John9. The Gospel of John

While the Bible in its totality has had an obviously massive impact on my life, the Gospel of John is particularly dear to me. St. John’s surprisingly simple vocabulary make accessible complex theological ideas—mirroring, in a way, the enfleshing of the Divine Word in the Man Jesus. God humbles Himself that we may be brought up—He discloses Himself that we might to know Him Who made us.

odyssey10. The Odyssey – Homer

I am a lover of classical mythology and culture, and for me there is no greater story from the era than Homer’s Odyssey. This text led to my wider interest in the literature and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome—studies which have significantly impacted how I view all other literature and philosophies.

I can’t help but feel I’ve cut too many books that should also be on this list, just in order to keep it to ten. An expanded list must needs include some classic science fiction (such as the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells), children’s adventure stories (Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain), philosophy (Plato), drama (Shakespeare) fantasy (JRR Tolkien), and more from the Inklings (especially Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion and War in Heaven). I should also mention the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, as the description of Ransom learning alien language is what first kindled my interest (and subsequent degree) in Linguistics.

But there is one other book I just must mention, and that is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Now what is so important about this book you ask? Well, it’s responsible (at least in part) for my marrying Leah. Some years ago, not long after Leah and I had first met, we fell into conversation at a large-group dinner event. We began by chance to speak of Lewis, zeroing in on The Great Divorce. I made some remark about the characterization of George MacDonald in the text. But Leah promptly corrected me, telling me in no uncertain terms I was wrong. Surprised, I actually went home that night and reread the book. Leah was right: I was wrong. About that time I began to realize just how attractive Leah was….

I count it a great blessing that Leah and I can talk so easily together about big ideas, and that each of us can learn from (and correct) each other. But it’s never lost on me that The Great Divorce led, in our case, to a rather Great Marriage.


Edit (August 27): I have no idea how I forgot to put The Screwtape Letters on this list. Major oversight.


That’s the title of my column for the January-February issue of The Canadian Lutheran.  A selection follows below:

Faith comes by hearing, St. Paul tells us—specifically, by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). And “hearing” isn’t a one-time act. We constantly need to be listening to the Word of God. We need it to survive. As Moses explained, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

It’s continual feeding on the Word that enlivens faith. We constantly need to hear the Law expose our sin. We constantly need to hear the Good News that Jesus died to take away that sin. We constantly need to hear that, through His resurrection, we are raised with Him to new life, now and forevermore.

This isn’t a passive listening either. Once the Holy Spirit has called us and opened our hearts to believe, He then moves us to act. St. James encourages: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22).

Read the whole article here.

If you follow religious news at all, chances are you’ve heard about the schisms and doctrinal battles happening in denominations like the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As these church bodies and others like them continue to move in an increasingly liberal direction (theologically speaking), congregations and individual Christians who make their stand on the Word of God often find themselves to be in the minority and, as a result, often become the targets of oppression from their denominations.

Enter an article of mine entitled “Standing Firm: The Cost of Confessing the Word of God” which appears in the most recent issue of The Canadian Lutheran. The article explores some of the difficulties facing Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture, and the sacrifices they often face for doing so. But the article doesn’t focus solely on the negative side of things: it also points out new opportunities for dialogue between denominations who do affirm the authority of Scripture – highlighting, for example, recent dialogue between Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) & the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) on the one side and the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on the other. It also notes the emergence of dialogue between the newly born North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the LCMS. And it’s not just my thoughts you hear in the article: three major thinkers were kind enough to share their opinions on the subjects in question: the Rev. Dr. James I. Packer (of ACNA), Bishop John Bradosky (of NALC), and Dr. John R. Stephenson (of LCC). Their thoughts are well worth the read, I assure you. Read it for free online here.

As I’m working pretty much all the time on my thesis at current, I can’t take much of a break for blogging. But I want to share, for your edification, a favourite passage from the sermons I’m working on. In my opinion, the thoughts expressed below are as relevant today as they were when the book was first printed in 1547. The first version has been slightly updated by myself (in case reading 16th century English is not your favourite pastime); the second is the selection as it was originally published.

A Modern Adaptation

If we profess Christ, why are we not ashamed to be ignorant of His doctrine? Any man is ashamed to be ignorant of the knowledge of his profession. A man is ashamed to be called a philosopher if he does not read books of philosophy. Likewise, men are ashamed to be called lawyers, astronomers, or physicians if they are ignorant of the books of law, astronomy, and medicine. How can any man then say that he professes Christ and His religion, but will not apply himself to read and hear and know the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences are good, and no man can deny  that to be well-educated in them is also good, but this – our faith – is the chief thing and passes all others studies incomparably. What excuse shall we give at the last day before Christ if we delight to hear men’s fantasies and creations more than His most holy Gospel? What excuse can we give if we never make time to do the very thing we should do above all other things? What shall we say in our defense if we choose to read everything except Scripture, the very thing we ought to make time for before all other readings? Let us therefore apply ourselves, as much as we are able, to know God’s word by diligently hearing and reading it – as we must, if we truly profess to know God and have faith and trust in Him.

The Original

If we professe Christe why be we not ashamed to be ignoraunte in his doctrine? Seyng that euery man is ashamed to be ignoraunt in that learning, which he professeth. That man is ashamed, to be called a Philosophier, whiche readeth not the bookes of Philosophie, and to be called a lawyer and Astronomier, or a phisicion, that is ignoraunt in the bokes of law, Astronomie, and Phisicke. Howe can any man then saie, that he professeth Christ, and his religion, if he will not applye hymself, (as farfurther as he can or may conueniently) to reade and hear, & to knowe the bokes of Christes Gospel & doctrine. Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny, but this is the chiefe, and passeth al other incomparably. What excuse shal we therfore make (at the last daie before Christ) that delight to reade, or heare mennes phantasies and inuencions, more then his moste holy Gospell, and will fynd no tyme to doo that, whiche chiefly (aboue all thynges) wee should do and wil rather reade other thynges, then that, for the whiche, we oughte rather to leaue readyng of all other thyngs. Let us therefore apply our selfes, as farfuth as we can haue tyme and leasure, to knowe Gods worde, by diligent hearing and readyng therof, as many as professe God, and haue faithe and trust in him.


Selected from Thomas Cranmer’s “A fruitfull exhortation, to the readyng and knowledge of holy scripture.” Certayne Sermons, or Homelies. 1547.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)[1] begins their convention tomorrow. Among the more contentious (and rightly so) issues on the table are two relating to the church’s stance on homosexuality. Specifically, one revision intends to allow individual congregations to employ homosexual people in committed relationships to serve as clergy. The second is a broad statement on human sexuality which intends to craft a framework for differing views on homosexuality. (See the Associated Press news story).

Like most denominations that are being dragged in an overtly anti-Scriptural direction, there is still a sizable faction within the church who are desperately trying to remain faithful to the historic faith. Specifically in this case, the Coalition for Reform (CORE), a group committed to preserving Biblical authority in the ELCA, is pushing for the new measures to be defeated. (See CAN’s news story).

Let’s add our prayers to their attempts to re-form ELCA into a Bible-centered church. But if the measures should instead pass, let’s pray that God would make His will known to CORE and like-minded Lutherans as they contemplate splitting from the ever-more-liberal ELCA.

Christ-centered Bible-believing Lutherans in ELCA would do well to take a page from evangelical Anglicans who recently have split from the liberal Episcopal Church (USA) and Anglican Church of Canada. Their difficult decision to undergo Reformation as they reaffirm the authority of Scripture is worthy of praise.

[1] I think it’s highly debatable whether the ELCA as a unified whole can continue in good faith to use the terms “Evangelical” or “Lutheran” without drastically changing the meanings of the two words. An abandoning of Scripture-based Gospel-centric teaching doesn’t seem to match up with a denomination originally known for its fealty to Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone.

Ever wonder what youth in the Lutheran church are thinking? Wonder no more. Back in June, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod released the results of a survey they took at their 2007 National Youth Gathering. I’ve gathered a bit of the more interesting results below to consider. Some of it is encouraging. Some is simply concerning.

Personal Faith Life
When asked how much time they spent per week in personal Bible study and devotion, the largest response by far was “very little/almost never.” In fact, 47.6% of 18 year olds, 48.2% of 15 year olds, 51.4% of 16 year olds, 55.5% of 17 year olds and a disheartening 55.5% of 19 year olds checked that category. Another 29.7% to 40.5% chose the next lowest option: 30-60 minutes per week. 6.1% to 10% chose 61-120 minutes while only 1.7% to 4.4% checked more than 2 hours.

25.6% to 33.3% of teens responded they speak to parents/family about God and spiritual matters ‘often’. 41% to 46.8% said ‘sometimes’. 13.3 to 22.7% said ‘rarely’ while 5% to 7% said ‘never’.

Only 52.1% to 58.3% of teens agreed pre-marital sex was always wrong. An encouraging 77% of 15 year olds said they never engaged in sexual intercourse, but that number progressively drops to a dismal 48.3% among 19 year olds.

Only 58.7% to 67.2% were certain that homosexuality was a sin according to God’s Word and therefore wrong.

An encouraging 86.5% to 91.4% responded that they never do drugs. 64.2% to 79.3% insisted they had not once been drunk in the past 12 months.

69.1% to 70.3% believed abortion was definitely wrong and identified themselves as ‘pro-life’. 16.9 to 21.4% believed a woman should have the right to choose and identified themselves as ‘pro-choice’. 

17.3% to 24.9% preferred “traditional, liturgical worship, using hymns pretty much out of a hymnal.” 24.9% to 31.9% preferred “contemporary music with praise band usually singing praise choruses. Never out of a hymnal.” The largest category at 39.9% to 43.4% preferred “a mixture of old and new” while 8.3% to 11% were unsure what they preferred.

On the subject of church fellowship, a disappointing 18.3% to 23.3% believed “all religions are pretty much alike.” 15.3% to 22.3% believed Lutherans should associate only with other Lutherans. 47.8% to 58.3% affirmed belief in a larger catholic understanding of Christian unity.

Church Workers
On the issue of female ordination, 39.8% to 50% believed it was contrary to God’s Word. 21.1% to 30.6% believed the issue should continue to be studied and held up to God’s Word. 8.3% to 14.9% suggested the official LCMS position was definitely wrong, while 15% to 24.2% admitted they just didn’t know.

41.5% to 47.9% were “really not interested” in considering a career in professional church work. Another 18.3% to 23.4% had “never really thought about it.”

Home Congregation
Most teens considered their home congregation generally unwilling to consider any change even if “a good, new idea comes along.” 15.7% to 23.1% felt their home church “wouldn’t change a light bulb if they didn’t have to” while an additional 35.3% to 42.2% felt their home congregation was unsympathetic towards change but that “sometimes they can be convinced.”

Only 17.1% to 23.3% and 5% to 12.1% thought their home congregation was either “good or “excellent, respectively, involving youth in congregational decision making.

That’s just some of the numbers that caught my eye. It’s time to consider results like this to discern where we’re succeeding and where we’re failing, to re-evaluate methods which my be flawed and support methods which may be working.

Plenty to think about and plenty to pray about in any event. Read the full results of the survey at LCMS’ website.

Monday began much like any other day. My alarm clock went off, I rose from my slumber, and then began the typical morning routine. By the time my alarm clock displayed 7:30 a.m., I was grabbing my leather satchel and bustling out the door to catch the bus. I happened to check the time on my cell-phone as I was nearing my office. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it read 6:45 a.m. I was more than an hour early for work. Immediately, I knew I must have mis-set the normal time on my clock the night before when I set the alarm time.

All I can say is thank goodness for coffee shops that open at 6:30 a.m.! A mocha, a muffin, and a few pages into my pocket Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord later, I was feeling a little less tired and a little more insightful. [Check out Concordia Publishing House here for the pocket edition I’m referring to. Small and sleek, it’s a very portable Book of Concord that can go with you just about anywhere.]

As I sat, my mind began to consider how I had been so duped. I was certain it was 7:30 a.m. when I left. The clock in my room told me as much. The reality, of course, was far different. What you see and what you get are frequently two very dissimilar things.

The same is true in spiritual matters as well as in earthly. Jesus warns us in Matthew to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). The old adage “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck” often misses the mark. If it looks like a sheep and acts like a sheep, it may well still be a wolf. So how then do we distinguish one from the other? Jesus tells us that we shall recognize them “by their fruits” (7:20). It seems simple enough. A true prophet will do good things; a bad will do bad.

But the next passage seems to slightly muddle such an easy interpretation. Jesus continues, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). The surprising thing for us to consider is that those Jesus rejects seem to have truly thought themselves Christian, and have even borne some measure of fruit, at least by their own account. “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” they ask (7:22). But Jesus declares he never knew them (7:23).

So what – to borrow a rather famous line of Luther’s – does this mean? What fruits does Christ here refer to? What does it mean to do the will of the Father?

There is a dangerous tendency in world Christianity today where people attempt to interpret passages while ignoring the context surrounding them. Each passage must be interpreted in relation to the rest of the book it appears in, as each book was written as a whole book. The Gospels are not just random snippets. No, they were thoughtfully planned and written (see, for example, Luke 1:1-4). As such, we must never forget the context of a passage. Neither should we forget that the books of Scripture exist in context to each other. Each interprets and explains the other.

Turning our attention back to the passages under discussion, then, what does the context tell us? The section immediately following is the parable of building houses on rocks and sand. The wise man “built his house on the rock” (7:24); the foolish man “built his house on the sand” (7:26). The wise man’s home survives the storm, but the foolish man’s does not. The point is clear: Build your house upon the rock.

Let us therefore trace the train of thought presented thus far. We must bear fruit. Those who bear fruit will do the Father’s will. Those who do the Father’s will hear Jesus’ words and obey them (7:24), which is what building the house upon the rock is equated with. But we see now that we have not actually yet answered our own question. Rather, we have simply deferred the question for we still do not know what the rock upon which we build is nor what “building” actually entails.

Chapter 8 is a fascinating collection of events where Jesus heals the sick, exorcises the demon-possessed, and commands the winds and waters to obey him. The section is clearly about demonstrating Christ’s authority and power. He commands the bodily realm as he makes the ill well. He commands the spiritual realm as he drives out demons. He commands the physical realm as he calms the storm. His unshakable, unassailable self thus becomes the Rock upon which we must build. In fact, it is Christ that prevents the disciples from being swallowed up by the wind and rain. He saves them from the storm, just as the rock foundation saves the wise man’s house from the storm. And so we see that it is he that is the solid rock on which we build. He prevents us from being swept away in the flood.

So we have discovered what – or rather who – the firm rock is to which Jesus refers. But what about building? What does that mean? It is interesting to note that chapter 8 is as much about faith as it is about authority. We see the faith of the Leper, who professes without doubt, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (8:2). We see the faith of the Centurion who proclaims, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (8:8). Christ marvels at this, telling those around him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (8:10). Indeed, his very own disciples fail to show such trust in Christ. Later on the boat, Christ not only rebukes the storm but also the disciples saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26).

This then is what it means to build upon Christ our Rock. This then is what it means to do the will of the Father and bear fruit. It means above all to have faith. As it is written in John, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (6:29). It is faith in Christ that identifies the true Christian from the false prophet. It is faith in Christ that identifies those who do mere good works from those who do the will of the Father. For it is through faith that grace is imputed unto us. We see that grace in these passages as Christ heals the sick, exorcises the possessed, and calms the storm. His is a grace that saves, that transforms the old into something new. His is a grace that acts through faith, strengthens faith, even creates faith among the faithless. And this state of grace and faith provide us with the tools necessary to live the lives the Spirit calls us to live. We may do the will of the Father by grace through faith in Christ