Review: Women of the Word

My wife Carly was kind enough to read and review a recent release from Crossway by Jen Wilkin, a Bible teacher and author from Dallas. Here are her brief thoughts on the book (and I can speak for her: she gives it five stars!).

Jen Wilkin. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. $9.94 (Amazon).

Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher who attends the Dallas mega-church The Village. In this new book intended to help women in their study of Scripture, Jen reveals her own struggle with being raised in church yet being biblically ignorant. This gives the book such a real and personable feel. No one wants to learn from someone who claims they have it all together! Her personal stories are easy to relate to and help the reader understand the information in the book. The chapters are quick and easy to read, but contain vital content for becoming more biblically literate.

In the opening pages, Jen talks about the mountain of Biblical illiteracy many Christians face (chs. 1-2). And she says that this mountain must be moved one spoonful at a time. Yes! But just by the end of the introduction, I was ready to put on my work boots and start digging!

The highlight of the book comes in chapter 6 where Jen talks about the process of study. Her very practical process does seem a bit daunting and time consuming (especially to this stay at home mom of two toddlers!) but our generation is biblically illiterate and starving for a reason. We assume we don’t have time to study the Bible in depth so we give ourselves 5 minutes a day to “read the Bible” which really just means reading the verse of the day that we have texted to us while we’re brushing our teeth. The biggest take-away for me–the one line that stood out–was when she wrote, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I think I shouted “Amen!” out loud at that point.  If we want to know and love God deeply, we must know and love his Word. You must spend time studying God’s word if you want to know and love him!

If you gain nothing else from this book (believe me, though, you will gain more than this), you will gain a hunger to know God’s word deeply, and be mastered and changed by it.

So, I highly recommend this book to new and mature believers alike. I would love to see women’s ministries in churches read this book before launching into Bible and book studies which are helpful, but may not teach women to study the Bible for themselves.  It’s easy to read and engaging even for people who don’t usually read non-fiction.

After reading only a few chapters (and hi-lighting every other line), I arranged for a friend to read it with me and we meet and talk about it weekly. It’s been helpful for us to digest together and keep each other accountable in our study of Scripture.

Thank you, Jen, for writing this very practical and helpful tool that I hope and pray will be used to bring about spiritual renewal and Biblical literacy among Christians today!

Readers for Your Reading Pleasure

A while back I compiled a few “readers.” A “reader” is a compilation of shorter works (article, essay, blog, chapters, etc.) on a particular subject. Here are all four of them in one place. If you are a pastor, ministry leader, or just a curious person, you might find this list of resources helpful.

These readers aren’t exhaustive, but if you have any other resources that you think are “must-reads,” let us know!

A Church Leadership Reader
A Gospel-Centered Reader
A Pastoral Ministry Reader
A Youth Ministry Reader

Pastoral Ministry and the Practice of Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray.” This request from the disciples (Luke 11:1) is quite puzzling. These were Jewish men–men who from the time they could speak were taught how to walk and talk with God. They knew the Psalms–the prayer book of Israel. Perhaps not all the disciples had them memorized like the religious leaders of the day. But they knew them. They loved them. They sang them. If anyone knew how to pray, it would be these Jewish men who were instructed in the way of the Hebrew scriptures.

Because of this reality, the question is also quite humble, quite profound. It was a blow to the ego to ask for help.

In my short time as a pastor in a local congregation, I have found that many people, like the disciples, are saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It makes good sense, of course. If the disciples, who spent time with the Incarnate Son of God, needed to be taught how to pray, we probably need it, too. Many people find themselves at a loss when it comes to conversation with God. It may be because they don’t know some basic things about God. It may be because they are not immersing themselves in the Scriptures. It may be because they were concerned about having “bad theology” when they pray. It may be because they don’t make time for it. The list goes on and on.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve come to see that one of my primary roles as a pastor is to be a praying man and help others pray. It’s been a grace-wrought burden for several months now. I’m still learning how to pray; yet at the same time, I want to lead like Jesus and help others pray.

I first felt the weight of this when I read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson last summer on vacation.  Peterson writes about how his perspective on helping people pray changed when he moved from seminary into the pastorate:

My secularized schooling had shaped my educational outlook into something with hardly any recognizable continuities with most of the church’s history. I had come into the parish seeing its great potential as a learning center, a kind of mini-university in which I was the resident professor.

And then one day, in a kind of shock of recognition, I saw that it was in fact a worship center. I wasn’t prepared for this. Nearly all of my preparation for being a pastor had taken place in a classroom, which chapels and sanctuaries ancillary to it. But these people I was not living with were coming, with centuries of validating precedence, not to get facts on the Philistines and Pharisees but to pray. They were hungering to grow in Christ, not bone up for an examination in dogmatics. I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language.

Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray. I did not abandon, and will not abandon, the task of teaching about the faith, teaching the content  of the gospel, the historical backgrounds of biblical writings, the history of God’s people. I have no patience with and will not knowingly give comfort to obscurantist or anti-intellectual tendencies in the church. But there is an educational task entrusted to pastors that is very different from that assigned to professors (p. 89).

Indeed, my task is much different than a seminary professor. So in the coming days/weeks, I hope to write several posts reflecting on the intersection of pastoral ministry and the practice of prayer.

In the meantime, whether you are a pastor or not, ask yourself, “How vital is prayer to my life with Christ? Am I doing as Jesus did and leading others toward a life of prayer?”

The Mystery of the Kingdom

George Ladd, in The Gospel of the Kingdomwrites about the mystery of the Kingdom of God (mystery meaning that something was hidden for a time is now revealed):

This is the mystery of the Kingdom: that the Kingdom of God has come among men and yet men can reject it. The Kingdom will not experience uniform success. Not all will receive it. This was a staggering thing to one who knew only the Old Testament. When God’s Kingdom comes, it will come with power. Who can resist it? Who can withstand God? But precisely this is the mystery of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here, but it can be rejected. One day God will indeed manifest HIs mighty power to purge the earth of wickedness, sin and evil; but not now. God’s Kingdom is working among men, but God will not compel them to bow before it. They must receive it; the response must come from a willing heart and a submissive will.

God is still dealing with us in this same way. God will not drive you into His Kingdom. It is not the business of those who are called to the ministry of the Word to speak with authoritarian compulsion. We speak as emissaries of God, but we plead and do not demand, we persuade and do not drive. We implore men to open their hearts that the Word of His Kingdom may have its fruitage in their lives. But men can reject it. They can spurn the Gospel of the Kingdom. They can scorn the preacher of the Word; and he is helpless.

- George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdompp. 56-57.

The Legacy of Martin Luther

Martin Luther helped spark a revival in the church that continues today. If you worship Jesus as a part of any Protestant community, you can thank God for using this German monk.

The son of a copper miner, Martin Luther was an exceptionally bright young man. He began studying law at the university level when he was only 13, and he completed his degree in the shortest amount of time allowed. When he was 21, Luther nearly died in a severe thunderstorm. He thought God was threatening him so in the middle of pouring rain and booming thunder, Luther vowed, “I will become a Monk if you save me!”

After becoming a Roman Catholic monk, Luther grew to be terrorized by God’s wrath because of his sin. Luther had a tremendously sensitive conscience. Sin tormented him so much so that he tried to justify himself before God by any means possible. Prayers, extreme fasting, self-flagellation, and even staying in the freezing cold were all attempts to get God on his side. Luther’s entire life was one, grand self-salvation project. He once said, “If anyone would have gained heaven as a monk, I would have been among them.”

Luther’s self-salvation project eventually waned and ultimately dissatisfied his soul. While he pursued a doctorate in Bible, he began to see how the gospel reveals justification is by faith, not works. This doctrine became the hallmark of Luther’s theology. After God revealed this to him, primarily through Psalms and Romans, Luther stated: “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” God’s salvation transformed Luther’s life and led to one of the most courageous, individual acts in Western (if not world) history: nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Because of Luther’s new birth in Christ, he grew restless with the Catholic Church’s position on a number of issues, including justification, papal authority, the authority of Scripture, and forgiveness of sin. He particularly opposed the church concerning indulgences. An indulgence was a statement made by church clergy that was believed to remove or satisfy the punishment for sin. A person could purchase an indulgence to ensure that they would spend the least amount of time possible in purgatory. This communicated that sin was excused and salvation could be purchased with money. As a matter of fact, if you read Luther’s Theses, you’ll see that this issue of indulgences was Luther’s primary concern.

On All Saint’s Eve, October 31, 1517, Luther marched to the Castle Church to nail his theses to the door. Church doors in those days doubled as community message boards. Due to the next day (All Saint’s Day) being a church holiday, nearly everyone in Wittenberg would have seen his post within 24 hours as they arrived for worship gatherings. Luther did not want to start a revolution. He intended for the discussion to be primarily an academic affair–after all, Luther was an academic theologian at the time. Posting something on the church door then was like writing a blog post today. But he did not expect it to gain much traction alongside all of the other “postings.” However, what ensued was a city-wide, public discussion of the church’s practices. Luther wrote in Latin, which only academics and other educated people would have understood. But because of the newly invented printing press, his Theses were translated to German. They didn’t spread as quickly as a viral video on YouTube, but they were distributed all over Germany within two weeks and around Europe within two months. Not bad for the sixteenth century.

Luther’s Theses called the church to repentance. Luther’s first thesis set the tone for the Reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Indulgences had become treasured in the church, but Luther pushed back with perhaps his most majestic contention of all: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62). Luther proclaimed that those who sold indulgences within the church were false prophets who declared peace, when there was no peace (Thesis 92; an allusion to Jer. 6:14). True confidence was found not in works or trying to buy salvation, but through faith in Christ (Theses 94-95). In Luther’s thought, justification by faith was the center of the gospel.

With his protest and with the independent work of other faithful people all over Europe, Luther helped sparked the greatest church movement since the end of the first century: the Protestant Reformation. Luther was called to recant of his beliefs in 1520. He did not recant, and he was excommunicated, exiled, and outlawed by Charles V in 1521. He went on to translate the Bible to German, wrote the Larger and Small Catechism, and became an accomplished hymn writer. Luther’s theology centered on Christ as the Word of God, the finished work of Christ on the cross, the relationship between law and gospel, and justification by faith.

Luther was not without flaw of course, but his legacy continues today. Any community of believers who proclaim the good news that we are justified by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus and not our works can thank God for Martin Luther. It was God, after all, who gave Luther the grace to recognize error, point to the Scriptures, repent of sin, and stand for truth. It was God who gave Luther strength and endurance and courage to stand up against man-made teaching. On this Reformation Day, we do not praise Luther. Luther’s legacy does not lie in his boldness or theology or being a revolutionary. His legacy lies in the fact that he testified to and trusted in One greater than himself, the Lord Jesus, the One on whom our salvation wholly depends.