What Comes Into Your Mind?

One of my favorite twentieth-century writers is A.W. Tozer. This May will mark fifty years since Aiden Wilson Tozer went to be with his Lord and Savior. Tozer was born on April 21, 1897. He grew up in a small farming community in Pennsylvania. Tozer was converted as a teenager, and at the age of 22, having no theological education, he took his first pastoral position. This was the beginning of over forty years of faithful ministry. In the course of his life, Tozer wrote dozens of books. Perhaps my favorite one is a little work entitled The Knowledge of the Holy. In this book, Tozer discusses the attributes of God: God’s holiness, His love, His wisdom, etc. Tozer wrote this book because, as he looked at the Church of his day, he felt that Christians had surrendered their once lofty concept of God. The Church, he said, had lost sight of the greatness of God. As a result, the worship of the Church was cold and the witness of the church was weak. Here are a few powerful lines from the opening chapter of the book:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech… Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

The Pastorals for Pastors – Part 2

Having previously commented on my top five commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles, I would like now to introduce two more. These fall into the category of “honorable mention,” because they are specifically written for pastors (and so are user-friendly and ministry-sensitive) and because they take a very unique approach (and so offer something that no other commentary on the Pastorals offers).

Paul Trebilco and Simon Rae. 1 Timothy. Asia Bible Commentary; Paul Trebilco, Chris Caradus, and Simon Rae, 2 Timothy and Titus, Asia Bible Commentary. Trebilco is Professor of New Testament at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. This series of commentaries is designed to enable Asian readers to understand the Scriptures in their own context and to interpret and apply them to the plurality of Asian cultures in which they live and work. The series is designed for use by pastors in their expository ministry of preaching, teaching, and counseling, by teachers and students in their theological studies, and by men and women who lead small groups in churches and homes.

Samuel Ngewa, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Africa Bible Commentary. Ngewa is Professor of New Testament Studies at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Kenya. This series grew out of the one volume Africa Bible Commentary. The contributors are Anglophone or Francophone African scholars, all of whom adhere to the statement of faith of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. The series targets pastors and focuses on sermon preparation with more technical issues handled in footnotes. It is aimed at the African context: illustrations are drawn from life there and the current concerns of churches in Africa are addressed. Study questions at the end of each section raise specific issues current in African churches.

For believers stationed in North America or Europe, these two commentaries offer the opportunity to hear from the church in Asia and Africa, and to see how they are wrestling with the interpretation and application of scripture in their contexts. Therefore, these are invaluable tools.



Give the Gift of Augustine

Attention parents and grandparents: there’s still time to pick up a few more Christmas presents for the kids, so let me recommend two great gifts that require no assembly, no grooming, and that make no noise!

If you have time, go here and read my final article for Christian Today Australia. It’s entitled, “Augustine, the Hippo: Theological Tools for the Tots.” The article tells you about a couple of fantastic books for your children.

You can find both books for a decent price at amazon.

The Pastorals for Pastors – Part 1

Most pastors are on a pretty tight budget, and commentaries can be quite expensive. Plus, there are hundreds of commentaries to choose from, so pastors with a limited book budget need to know which commentaries are the best. I’m in the process of writing a thesis on 1 and 2 Timothy, and over the course of the last year or so I’ve read a lot of commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. Some have been good. Some bad. Some just ugly. Here are the current top five commentaries I would recommend for pastors.

#5  William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC. Mounce is a New Testament scholar who is best known for his Greek textbooks and tools. I’m not particularly fond of the format of the WBC series, but it’s worth working through this one. Mounce is a Conservative Evangelical who definitely knows his Greek (a lot better than I do!). This is a good commentary.

#4  Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, AB. Johnson is a former Benedictine monk. He currently serves as Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology. He knows the Greco-Roman world extremely well, does a great job in explaining why we must be careful about referring to Timothy and Titus as “pastors” (they were actually apostolic delegates), and his defense of Pauline authorship is one of the best I’ve come across.

#3  Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBC. Fee is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA) and an excellent biblical scholar. His commentary on the Pastorals is very user-friendly. If you’re looking for a short but substantial commentary then this is the one for you. Fee has a pastoral tone, and he is usually quite helpful theologically.   

#2  I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, ICC. Marshall is an Evangelical Methodist and a first-rate scholar. This is probably the most thorough commentary on the Pastorals, written by a man who has dedicated his life to studying and teaching the New Testament. Marshall definitely does the best job of explaining the tough grammatical and syntactical issues. Unfortunately, Marshall’s position on authorship is a bit thorny for me; he tries to navigate a via media between pseudonymity and authenticity. Still, this is one stout work.

#1  Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT. Towner is a biblical and translation scholar with extensive translation experience as a translation consultant in SE Asia and the Americas. Overall, I find his to be the best commentary on the Pastorals. Towner has been studying these letters for over two decades, and he has written more on the Pastoral Epistles than anyone else (with the exception of Marshall, who was Towner’s doctoral supervisor). It is well-written and well-organized. He makes a solid case for Pauline authorship. He works with the Greek text, but transliterates in the body of the commentary, so no worries if your Greek isn’t stellar. Towner is strong on word studies and grammatical complexities. And he is very strong theologically. If you’re going to be preaching through the Pastorals sometime soon, I hope you’ll buy at least three of these commentaries. But if you can only buy one, this is the most bang for your buck.

Afterlife Travel Journals

Here is an excellent post from Tim Challies. Please read it before you go out and buy one of the heaven books. An excerpt:

Travelling to heaven and back is where it’s at today. Don Piper spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing—a genre that is selling like hotcakes, or Amish fiction, for that.

I’ll grant that the cost of this type of journey is rather steep (you’ve got to die, though only for just a few minutes), but it’s a sound investment when you factor in the sales figures. I can think of quite a few authors who would trade a few minutes of life for 50+ weeks on the bestseller lists and a few appearances on TBN.

Historians’ Fallacies

I spent the day reading David Hackett Fischer’s excellent work, Historians’ Fallacies. He’s a fantastic writer, and he makes some great methodological points. Here are a few gems from the introduction. I found them funny and freeing:

“In the republic of scholarship, every citizen has a constitutional right to get himself as thoroughly lost as he pleases” (xviii).

“Many mindless monographs call to mind Davy Crockett’s critique of an effusion by Andrew Jackson—‘It don’t even make good nonsense” (xx).

“Questions are the engines of intellect, the cerebral machines which convert energy to motion, and curiosity to controlled inquiry. There can be no thinking without questioning—no purposeful study of the past, nor any serious planning for the future” (3).

“The impossible object is a quest for the whole truth—a quest which characteristically takes one of three forms. Occasionally, it consists in an attempt to know everything about everything. Sometimes it seeks to learn something about everything. Most often it is a search for everything about something. None of these purposes is remotely realizable. A historian can only hope to know something about something” (5).

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

All Desiring God Books Are $5

I’m back from a brief hiatus with great news of cheap books!  The Desiring God store will be completely renovated in the days ahead and Piper’s books will no longer be sold on the site.  To help DG get rid of all their inventory, all books are on sale right now for just $5.  Go here to stock up!  You can also go here to read Piper’s explanation of the changes to DG ministry.

Real Marriage: To Read or Not to Read?

As per usual, Mark Driscoll has people talking.  I’m not even going to take the time to read Real Marriage and write a review of it.  I’ve read and heard enough of Driscoll’s stuff to know what’s coming.  He’s a broken record.  If you haven’t read the book yet, I would urge you not to–not if you are looking for a great book that will help you have a godly marriage.  I’m not saying the book is terrible (again, I haven’t bothered to read it).  I’m not even saying the book isn’t decent (which it might be).  I’m just saying that life is too short to read a bunch of substandard stuff, so go with something like Kostenberger’s God, Marriage, and Family, Piper’s This Momentary Marriage, or Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage if you want a truly great book on marriage.

But, if you feel you must read Real Marriage, then at least be aware of some of the problems with the book.  I’ve listed some notable reviews/opinions for you.  If you have the e-book version of Real Marriage, pay special attention to the review by Challies.


Books and Culture

Doug Wilson

Phil Johnson

Tim Challies


Wordsmithy: Brief Mention

You may want to do some theological fencing with him, but Douglas Wilson is an excellent writer–the best in the Evangelical world, in my view.  I just picked up his newest book, Wordsmithy:  Hot Tips for the Writing Life.  The book offers seven major suggestions for writers:

1.  Know something about the world.

2.  Read.

3.  Read mechanical helps.

4.  Stretch before your routines.

5.  Be at peace with being lousy for a while.

6.  Learn other languages.

7.  Keep a commonplace book.

Here’s an excerpt.  It’s one of my favorites:

If you “write by rule” only, then, as Quintilian once put it, you will come up with something that is equally free of both vice and virtue, like a verbal tapioca pudding made with skim milk.  Our world already has too much verbiage in it that comes off like it was written by a committee or a computer–or maybe a committee of computers.

Classic Wilson!

If you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, then drop whatever you’re doing and go buy this book–right now.

The Pastor’s Toolbox: 15 Books Every Pastor Should Possess (And Use!)

We all work with certain tools, tools that are appropriate for our craft.  A mechanic needs his wrench, a doctor needs his stethoscope, and a pastor needs his books.  Here are fifteen reference books that, in my view, every pastor should have in his toolbox (Side note:  a great knowledge of the original languages is not required to use these works).

1.  Longman and Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament

2.  Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament

3.  House, Old Testament Theology

4.  Thielman, Theology of the New Testament

5.  Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology

6.  Rosner, Alexander, Goldsworthy, and Carson, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

7.  Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

8.  Beale and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

9.  VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (5 volumes)

10.  Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (4 volumes)

11.  Grudem, Systematic Theology

12.  Allison, Historical Theology

13.  Bray, Biblical Interpretation:  Past and Present

14.  Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral

15.  Carson, Exegetical Fallacies

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I would say it is at least a good place to start.