Sabbath Reading: A Peculiar Glory

John-Piper-A-Peculiar-Glory-Book-review

In A Peculiar Glory, I learned some interesting facts about extant manuscripts of the Bible. Popular opinion gives the impression that there is some question about how accurate the Bible is textually because it was copied so often by hand (and other similar arguments). However, I was fascinated to learn that there are actually 5,801 Biblical texts in Greek alone (to say nothing of other languages ancient and modern). We have, in fact, more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the New Testament than for the average Greco-Roman author. For example, there are only eight copies of Thucydides, and the oldest is dated to 1300 years after Thucydides died. By contrast, many New Testament texts are less than a generation removed from the events described.

Although that was an interesting topic, I didn’t need to read about it to believe that Scripture is true. Likewise, most skeptics are not really worried about textual analysis either–they have other reasons for not believing the veracity of Biblical texts. That’s why I’m not sure who the target audience for A Peculiar Glory is–I feel like other books do a better job of addressing common objections to the existence of God or the truth of the Bible, and people who are believers probably believe the Bible without needing to know about the 5,801 texts.

John Piper is an incredibly dynamic speaker in person, and I’ve enjoyed some of his other books, so I was surprised to feel so-so about A Peculiar Glory. The book is an apologetic of sorts for the veracity of the Bible, and I feel like it perhaps belabored the point for the casual reader, while not being detailed enough for a skeptic or scholar. The result was not broadly readable. That said, I could have misread the book, not be the target audience, or have come to it at the wrong time. If you read the book and have a different opinion, I’d be interested to hear it!

 

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Sabbath Reading: In Search of Ancient Roots

In-Search-of-Ancient-Roots-201x300In Search of Ancient Roots presents an interesting analysis of the perception that the protestant church is anti-intellectual, anti-historical, and unmoored from the longer tradition of the lowercase-c-catholic church. The book addresses the protestant church in relation to history and presents some ideas for how the church could appeal to the disaffected.

As someone who is attracted to liturgical worship (in a thoughtful, historical, James K.A. Smith sense, not in an empty formalism way), and someone who cringes at the “lite” parts of Christian sub-culture, I found this book very interesting. The author (who calls people like me “the liturgical fringe” which made me laugh) takes on evangelical tendencies to chase culture rather than making it, and calls the church to reclaim historical, gospel-focused worship.

The section on music was particularly helpful. Josh and I had a good talk about this quote:

And what do you sing? …our sung praises to God should include hymns and songs of the church at all times and places…What is called blended worship can easily incorporate elements both ancient and modern, provided that we are determined to identify with believers of all ages [and worldwide] when we worship God.

A few weeks ago, a family who serves as missionaries in Tokyo visited our church. They noted that one of the songs we sang was one they sing in Japan, so this family sang it in Japanese. Isn’t it amazing to think of believers all over the world worshipping in different ways? I would love to see our worship reflect “the church at all times and places.”

I hope that the evangelical church becomes more rooted and grounded in the historical church rather than whiplashed by pop culture, while preserving the theological distinctions that brought about the Reformation. I enjoyed considering the different wings of protestant church culture–it’s far from monolithic in many ways–and found a lot to think about while reading In Search of Ancient Roots. I wouldn’t call it a must-read, but if you like considering church culture, or if you’re involved in setting it in any way, I’d recommend this book.

 

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Sabbath Reading: The Songs of Jesus

songs of jesusI realized in my recent post on Kidner’s Psalms books that I had forgotten to review Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. That’s unfortunate, because I loved the book and would highly recommend it.

Keller writes in a very accessible and yet deep way, and the short expositions in this book are uniformly thought-provoking while still being easy to read in a short sitting. Designed as a daily devotional, the book covers a passage from the Psalms each day, with many Psalms taking more than one day to fill the year.

I got so much from this volume, and felt like it really jump started my practice of reading/praying through the Psalms each year. The book makes a particularly great companion to Keller’s book on prayer, in which he goes into more detail about how and why to pray with the Psalms. In fact, I think you’d get more out of either book by reading them together.

If you’re looking for a great daily devotional, I’d recommend The Songs of Jesus. It has a great balance of depth and readability that make it a solid choice for all sorts of readers.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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Sabbath Reading: Acts for Everyone

ActsN.T. Wright had so much to say about the book of Acts that it required two volumes. And both are well worth reading.

I thought volume one was great, but the real strength in the books lies in the whole picture. Wright’s combination of cultural and historical knowledge combined with theological insight make these books a really insightful way to study the book of Acts.

The books are broken down for small chunks of reading, with one Scripture passage and then Wright’s thoughts on it following another. I read these as daily study helps, but you could easily space them out differently if you were so inclined.

The best insights from the book are Wright’s explanations of what certain words and concepts would have meant to first century audiences. Having grown up in the Christian sub-culture, I have fixed ideas about terms like “eternal life” and “heaven” that Wright shows as being somewhat lacking. I found my viewpoints expanding toward finding those ideas even more exciting and challenging as I read Wright’s explanations.

I also loved the way Wright put Jesus and the early Christians into context. What did it actually look like and mean for them to act as they did? What sort of impact did this really have on their culture? And how could we/should we have that same sort of impact in our culture today? You’ll find a lot of challenging food for thought in these books.

Wright’s style is elegant and persuasive–deep yet so compellingly written that it feels easier than it is. While I have some reservations about certain areas of his theology, his commentaries on the gospels and Acts did not strike me as problematic (and my husband has read one and agrees, as does our pastor, who we talked to about it as well).

I’d recommend Acts for Everyone: Part One and Part Two, and would be interested to know your thoughts if you read them.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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Sabbath Reading: Psalms

Kidner 2If you’re looking for a fruitful book to study, you can’t go wrong with the Psalms. Pretty much anything you’re going through is probably a topic, and there is so much depth and richness and insight for who God is and what He’s like, how to worship, and how to live. This is probably my favorite book of the Bible, and I study it on repeat every year.

In 2017 and the first part of January 2018, I used Derek Kidner’s commentaries on the Psalms (Volume 1 and Volume 2to aid my study. I got a lot from the two-volume set. Although at times the style is a bit more academic than some people like (I don’t mind, and didn’t find it dry), Kidner’s insights are so piercing and insightful that I would recommend them to anyone.

The books are best read in small portions, which made them ideal for daily reading and study. I initially planned to do one Psalm per day, and then launch into another book on the Psalms, but so many of the Psalms wound up taking me more than one day to work through that I wound up going over the year a bit. You could easily space this out even more with Kidner–the entries for each Psalm are meaty. Or you could study one Psalm per Sunday if you have other devotional reading going throughout the week.

If you’re new to studying the Psalms, I’d recommend you read Songs of Jesus first, as it’s a lighter (albeit still excellent) overview, but then you could transition easily to Kidner’s books.

I’d highly recommend Kidner’s two-volume commentary on the Psalms, and plan to check out some of this other books.

Do you have a favorite book about the Psalms?

 

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Sabbath Reading: Living in the Light

living in the lightJohn Piper’s Living in the Light is a short but punchy treatise on how to keep God at the center of your life so that you can enjoy money, sex, and power as blessings rather than being enslaved to or worshipping them.

“The bottom of sin, the root of all sins, is a heart that prefers anything above God, a heart that does not treasure God over everything else, and everyone else.”

It’s a good distinction. As Christians, we’re not called to eschew any of these three things, just to keep them in their proper places. You see people (and by people I mean all of us, probably) fall off the horse on both sides with these issues–it’s just as easy to deny Christ centrality in your life in a more internal, subtle, religiously/socially acceptable way as it is to sin visibly in these areas. Piper wisely points out that whenever we’re looking to money, sex, or power for security or value or fulfillment or meaning or identity…and the list goes on…that is a problem. The book is geared toward Christians, and Piper spends time unpacking these areas for that audience.

“We fight as forgiven people trying, in the power of God’s spirit, to become what we are.”

I enjoyed Living in the Light’s hopeful tone and insight, and think it would be a quick, helpful book for a Sabbath read.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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Sabbath Reading: Against the Gods

against the godsThis year I decided to set my Sunday reading time aside for books of theology and spiritual matters. The first book I picked up was John Currid’s Against the Gods.

The book considers the question of whether or not the Old Testament was written in response to or by borrowing from the myths and religions of ancient pagan civilizations. I thought the topic sounded fascinating.

Unfortunately, I think I was not exactly the target audience. I was hoping for lots of depth and cultural analysis, as well as deeper theology. The author, however, states up front that he’s writing on a more casual level, so the book stays pretty light. That’s an interesting choice for the topic, as I wonder how many people would be interested in polemical theology but NOT want detail and depth. However, if you’re casually interested and looking for a quick and not-too-demanding treatment of the topic, Against the Gods could be for you. I didn’t disagree with the author, just wish he had given us more.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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Hidden Christmas

hidden christmasOne thing I really love to do this time of year is get up early, turn on the Christmas lights, and read for the sweet few moments before the children activate their “Mama is awake and trying to accomplish things without us” radars. You, too?

If you have Prime, a Kindle, or a nearby library, I highly recommend that you pick up Tim Keller’s excellent little book Hidden Christmas to read in those moments over the long weekend. It’s short, so it’s easy to read in small pockets of time in between your obligations.

Like Keller’s other books, this one accessible, yet profound and compelling. The book looks at how Christmas fits into apologetics, particularly for our culture–a very thought-provoking challenge to reach out to others with the Gospel this time of year, but also to preach the Gospel to ourselves in a fresh way.

I found the book helpful and encouraging, and plan to have my older kids read it during Advent next year.

What have you been reading in your brief twinkle light moments this Advent?

 

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The Yes Effect

yes effectI’ve looked forward to reading The Yes Effect for several years now, because the co-author, Darcy Wiley, is a real life friend of mine. Hearing about powerful interviews with missionaries from around the world, the writing process, and how the book took shape made me eager to read the final product.

And I was not disappointed. The idea for the book came from Luis Bush’s work in the 10/40 movement, a missions strategy that sought to bring the Gospel to the most unreached people groups. The Yes Effect tells the story of Bush’s lifetime of missions work, but also pulls in the stories of many other missionaries who have served around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds. Structured around particular challenges to live and pray in a way that makes us open to doing God’s work wherever we’re called, the chapters are not only a fascinating look at modern missions history, but also a call for all of us–missionaries or not–to look for where God is working and make sure we are saying yes to the work He has for us to do.

As I mentioned in a newsletter earlier this month, one thing I really liked about this book was the way Darcy and Luis highlighted the ordinary sides of the missionaries, many of whose stories are amazing and totally outside the experience of someone living in comfortable suburbia. While not being prescriptive–how could it be, since predicting what the Holy Spirit is about to do would be foolhardy–The Yes Effect is a thoughtful invitation to pray a bit differently, think about the world a bit differently, and look for opportunities in a different way than we may be used to doing.

The Yes Effect is thought-provoking, compelling, and full of interesting stories of modern missions. I’d recommend it for believers as inspiring regardless of your current level of missions focus.

 

Disclosure: The author of this book is a friend, and I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Book links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Starting the day on the right foot

IMG_6950Convocation is, very simply, everyone showing up at the table to start the day together. It’s the sort of thing I would still do even if we sent the kids away to school, but since we homeschool, it’s also the beginning of the school day. This has evolved over the years, as I (characteristically) started out trying to cram too much in or be more free form, but ultimately I have found that in school and life the more I can make something a system and routine, the more likely it is to get done. And the more I can hone in on what is actually important, the more likely we are to continue.

This year, convocation only includes a few things, all spiritual, for a number of reasons.

1) It makes sure those things don’t fall off the table.

In years when I’ve put Bible, scripture memory, singing, and catechism at bedtime or during other reading time, I’ve been tempted to let it slide. We get tired, we have math to do, my voice is giving out… For the past couple of years, we’ve done spiritual things first, and it makes a good habit.

2) It keeps things simple and short.

My clipboard is set up to show me what I have to do for the school day from start to finish. Convocation is at the top and only has a handful of items. If people are dragging or we have places to be, that’s ok. Convocation doesn’t stretch on forever. Other important things like poetry and art and whatnot fit into other parts of our day. And because I know convocation only takes 20 minutes or so, I’m not inwardly panicked that we won’t get to everything else.

I will say that the only thing on my list before convocation is inspection, to remind me to check up that everyone actually handled personal hygiene, did their morning jobs, made beds, etc. Inspection is pretty fast, and maybe someday it will dawn on these people that tooth brushing is a daily requirement and then I will not have to ask. I’m not holding my breath. 🙂 At any rate, in case it’s of interest, here is our convocation list this fall:

Prayer – Sometimes one of the kids prays, sometimes all of them pray popcorn-style, sometimes it’s just me. We pray for teachable hearts and good focus, thank God for the day and opportunity to learn, and pray for missionaries or people we know who are sick or in trouble as those things come up.

Song – We sing a hymn or song a cappella. I have each of our songs printed out and on my clipboard. A sticky note pokes out the side to mark the song for that day, and we just rotate through. The edge of the sticky note that hangs out says, “Lift up your hearts” to remind me to say that. In the past, some of us have had a hard time remembering that we sing to worship, not to be noisy or annoy our siblings or practice our beat-boxing, so this reminds us to put aside any grumpiness or fuss to tune our hearts. After I say “Lift up your hearts” the kids respond, “We lift them up to the Lord” and then I start singing and they join in. Our song rotation includes:

  • How Firm a Foundation
  • All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
  • Come, Thou Almighty King
  • May the Mind of Christ My Savior
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • Lead On, O King Eternal
  • Praise Ye the Lord, The Almighty
  • Holy Holy Holy
  • Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
  • Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
  • All Creatures of Our God and King
  • Psalm 1
  • Rejoice, the Lord is King

Review Passage – We review one Bible passage per day. I read along with the kids reciting, and I don’t require perfection or put them on the spot. I figure there is value to repeating Scripture over and over again and in the long run this puts more of it in their hearts. Our passages currently include:

  • 1 Peter 5: 1-11
  • Romans 8: 1-17
  • 1 Corinthians 13
  • Psalm 19
  • John 1: 1-18
  • Philippians 2
  • 1 Chronicles 16: 8-36
  • Psalm 16

Bible Chapter – On alternating days, I read a chapter from either the Old Testament, New Testament, or Proverbs. We’re reading through 1 Chronicles and Luke currently, and for Proverbs we just do the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month. Often, I will ask one or more of the kids to narrate (tell back) what happened in the chapter, unless someone has a question or observation.

Catechism Review – Each day, we review five of the questions and answers we’ve already covered. I keep a bookmark in Training Hearts, Teaching Minds to remind me of where we are, and when we get to the end of what we’ve learned, we start over with question one.

Catechism Biblestudy – Using the book linked above, we review the week’s new question and answer, and read the short Biblestudy for that day. In the book, Starr Meade helpfully has six short devotions written around the Scripture proofs for that question. So it gives us a chance to see where the Bible talks about that answer (ie, Why do we believe this? Because it’s in the Bible, not because someone else said so) and understand the idea from different angles. We often spin off into a short discussion here, too.

And that’s it. It looks like a lot in a blog post, but it’s only four check boxes on the list, and it’s done within half an hour. Then I send Hannah off to do independent work, Sarah to computer lessons, and Jack collects his things for teaching time, as I mentioned in my school day overview post. I sometimes use the transition to put Margaret down for a nap or switch a load of laundry, but usually we just proceed pretty smoothly to the next thing on the list.

How do you start your school day?

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