Disordered Loves, Reordered Lives: A Famous Theologian and the Modern Self

8019267629_7307636cfc_z-600x400-4 It’s time for “Name That Messed Up Theologian!” (cue cheesy music).

Which famous theologian:

  • had a dysfunctional family;
  • had an unhappy childhood;
  • was a thief;
  • was dishonest;
  • despised formal education;
  • was addicted to sex and food;
  • enjoyed the life of theatre and cabaret;
  • studied diverse philosophies and religions;
  • was (for a time) a single parent.

Which theologian’s life was “unquestionably disordered, and like many of our contemporaries…found himself on a relentless course in search of healing and happiness”?

None other than St. Augustine, with whom we share his “disordered loves” (albeit not necessarily his specific sins) more than we realize or admit.

For more on Augustine’s take on disordered loves, read David Naugle’s paper “St. Augustine’s Concept of Disordered Loves and its Contemporary Application” which I was delighted to find referenced in Tim Keller’s recent book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God (in chapter 12, “Awe: Praising His Glory”).

Sin: An Essential 15 Minute Primer

What is sin?

Why is it such a big deal?

Who’s to blame?

What can be done about it?

Neal Plantinga answers these questions about sin in this brief video, which warrants repeat viewings:

Read Plantinga’s excellent essay about sin here.

Also read Plantinga’s devastatingly sublime book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

J.I. Packer Isn’t a Christian Hedonist. Here’s Why.

Why isn’t J.I. Packer a Christian hedonist?

Packer explains:

Recently the phrase ‘Christian hedonism’ has gained prominence as a tag for the truth that the God who promises his people joy and delight in their relationship with him, both here and hereafter, does in fact fulfill his promise here and now. [Here Packer footnotes John Piper’s watershed book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist]

…’Christian hedonism’ is not a good phrase for its purpose; for it seems to say that rating pleasure as life’s supreme value is something that Christianity itself teaches us to do, and that is not so. Biblical Christianity does not teach that any pleasure or good feelings, or any form of present ease and contentment, should be sought as life’s highest good.

What it teaches, rather, is that glorifying God by our worship and service is the true human goal, that rejoicing and delighting in God is central to worship, and that the firstfruits of our heritage of pleasures forevermore will be given us as we set ourselves to do this. But should we start to seek pleasure rather than God, we would be in danger in losing both.

It is apparent that this is what the exponents of Christian hedonism do themselves think; so my difficulty is limited to their choice of words.

J.I. PackerGod’s Plans for You, pp. 76-77. Reformatted for readability.

Help for a Grieving Spouse

Recently, a friend of mine who’s a pastor in New England lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. Now a widower with two small children under age seven, I wanted to give him something to help him process his grief. I sent him A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope by J.I. Packer.

9781581344400Here’s the publisher’s description:

Their love story is not one of fairy tales. It is one of faithfulness from the beginning through to its tragic ending.

Richard and Margaret Baxter had been married only nineteen years before she died at age forty-five. A prominent pastor and prolific author, Baxter sought consolation and relief the only true way he knew- in Scripture with his discipline of writing. Within days he produced a lover’s tribute to his mate and a pastor’s celebration of God’s grace. It is spiritual storytelling at its best, made all the more poignant by the author’s unveiling of his grief.

J. I. Packer has added his own astute reflections along with his edited version of this exquisite memoir that considers six of life’s realities-love, faith, death, grief, hope, and patience. He guides you in comparing and contrasting the world’s and the Bible’s ideals on coping with these tides of life. The powerful combination of Packer’s insights and Baxter’s grief gives you a beacon if you are searching for God, a pathfinder for your relationships, and a lifeline if you are grieving.

Whatever the circumstances of the reader, the book is a beautiful love story.

Learn more about Packer’s A Grief Sanctified here.

Tips and Tools for Evaluating Sermons (For Pastors and Everyone Else)

Critiquing your (or your pastor’s) preaching could take a bad turn in a hurry. But does this possibility mean sermon evaluation shouldn’t happen?

Here are some questions, followed by a simple tool, to point you in the right direction.

If you’re a pastor:

  • Do you know how to evaluate if you preached a good sermon?
  • Does anyone regularly critique your preaching?
  • Does the thought of someone critiquing your preaching seem wrong or make you uncomfortable?

If you’re not a pastor:

  • How do you know if your pastor preached a good sermon?
  • What makes a sermon good or bad?
  • Is God speaking through your pastor’s preaching, or do your pastor’s personality, communication skills and other giftings make it hard to tell the difference?

For answers to these questions, and how to be a better preacher, read Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. It includes a helpful appendix containing a simple yet effective sermon evaluation form in PDF format.

So how might you best use the sermon evaluation form?


  • Elders/Leaders—Regularly give the evaluation form to the elders and other leaders in your church. Hopefully they already know how to evaluate sermons, but if not this form will help them know what to look for.
  • Leaders-in-waiting—Give the evaluation form to people in your congregation who aren’t in leadership, but may have leadership potential.
  • Ordinary People—Give the form to average, ordinary people in your church (i.e. most people!). You’ll benefit from their perspective more than you know.
  • Wife—If you’re married, please, please, please don’t give it to your wife. She doesn’t need it, and you don’t need to arm her with more artillery! Seriously, she’s not the one you should be looking to to evaluate your sermons on a regular basis. She’s your wife, not your sermon critic. Leave that job to someone else. Trust me, your marriage will be happier. (And yes, I’m well aware that Tim Keller regularly leans on his wife Kathy for sermon evaluation. But a. you’re not Tim Keller, and b. your wife isn’t Kathy. And if you’re a pastor whose wife is a great help in your sermon evaluation, I’d love to hear from you.)

If you’re not a pastor:

  • Don’t!—Don’t surprise your pastor on Sunday or Monday morning with an unsolicited sermon evaluation! Although your motives may be well and good, you’ll likely come across as judgmental and overbearing. Subsequently, don’t be surprised if your pastor seems more than a bit stand-offish. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
  • Do!—If you want to really help your pastor become a better preacher, pray for him regularly, both before, during and after the sermon. If, after spending some time praying for him and his preaching ministry, you still think you might have some valuable feedback on his preaching, first find out if there’s already an evaluation process in place. If so, offer to be a part of that process. If there isn’t an evaluation process, consider forwarding this sermon evaluation form to your elders and let them take the lead. Whatever you do, don’t go rogue on them and become The Master Sermon Evaluator™. (Again, don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

Download the sermon evaluation form here.

For more tools on how to become a better preacher, visit savingeutychus.com.

Charlie Hebdo and the Problem of Forgiving Terrorists

Nearly a week since the Paris terrorist attacks, tomorrow Charlie Hebdo will release their weekly satirical magazine. Here’s the cover:


Depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed shedding a tear while holding a sign saying “We are Charlie,” the top caption states “all is forgiven.”

Five questions:

  1. Who’s doing the forgiving: Mohammed, Hebdo, or a combination of the two?
  2. How does Hebdo define forgiveness? What are the categories?
  3. Is true forgiveness possible without repentance? In other words, is forgiveness unconditional or conditional?
  4. Since most if not all of Hebdo’s past and current employees are not affiliated with any religion, and many are self-professing atheists, what is their process of forgiveness?
  5. How might Christians respond to the Hebdo cover in a posture of humble yet unflinching critique?

What are your responses to any of the above questions? Please share your comments.

Charlie Hebdo, Blasphemy and Modern Civilization

Ross Douthat of The New York Times:

…the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.

Douthat concludes:

Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun — or, as in the darker chapters of my own faith’s history, the rack or the stake — both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended.

Read Ross Douthat’s “The Blasphemy We Need” here.

Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Reading the Bible

Tis the season for figuring out which Bible reading plan to use¹.

But have you considered how to read the Bible?

Puritan Richard Baxter, in his encyclopedic Christian Directory, gives ten “Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures.” I’ve modernized Baxter’s 17th century prose for the modern ear while attempting to be faithful to his overall intent. I’ve also retitled Baxter’s “directions” as Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Reading the Bible:

  1. Read It Reverently — When you come to the Bible, don’t have an evil, unbelieving heart. Instead, open the Bible with holy reverence, since it is God’s special book. Don’t read it as a common book, with a common and irreverent heart. Rather, read it with both the fear and love of God, who is the Bible’s author.
  2. Read It Obediently — Remember that the Bible is God’s very laws which you must both live and be judged by. Therefore, read it resolved to obey whatever it commands, even though your own sinful self, all of humanity, and the devil himself contradict it.
  3. Read It Lovingly — Remember that the Bible is the Lord’s will and testament, his own special covenant containing his full and gracious promises. Therefore, read it with love and great delight! Value it a thousand times more than the best letter or e-mail you’ve ever received! Value it more than the most expensive thing you own! If the law was sweeter than honey for David, better to him than countless riches, and was his delight and meditation throughout the day, how much more precious and sweeter should the Gospel be to us!
  4. Read It Humbly — Remember that the Bible contains unseen things and the greatest mysteries. Therefore, don’t come to it like an arrogant judge! Instead, come to the Bible humbly, as a learner or disciple. And if anything in the Bible seems difficult or improbable, suspect your limited, finite understanding, and not God’s sacred Word.
  5. Read It Wisely — Remember that the Bible is a universal law and doctrine written for all different types of people, from the smartest intellect to those more mentally challenged. Therefore, the Bible speaks in both plain and simple language as well as lofty and difficult language. Sometimes it will seem rude and offensive. Sometimes it will seem rather plain and boring. Sometimes it will read like an unsolvable mystery. Either way, adore God’s wisdom that he would bring the Bible to us as his creatures in such diverse language.
  6. Don’t Read It Carnally  Don’t read the Bible with a carnal, worldly mind.
  7. Let Scripture Interpret Scripture — Compare one part of Scripture with another part. Expound the darkest, most confusing portions of the Bible with the plainest parts. When in doubt, interpret Scripture with Scripture.
  8. Read It Prayerfully — Your understanding of the Bible isn’t as strong as you think! Humble yourself, asking God for light. Before and after you read the Bible, pray that the Holy Spirit (the Bible’s author), would expound it to you, keeping you from unbelief and error, leading you into its truths.
  9. Read It With Guides  Read the Bible with the best guides and expositors. They will keep you from error.
  10. Read It Engagingly — When you read the Bible and get tripped up over any difficulty, write it down. Perhaps bring it to your pastor or to a trusted brother or sister in Christ who has a solid grasp of the Bible. If some things in the Bible still remain dark and difficult, remember your imperfections and limitations. And don’t stay stuck! Instead, wait on God for more light to better understand the Bible. With a thankful heart, make use of all the rest of Scripture that you do plainly understand.

—Richard Baxter, The Christian Directory, Part II “Christian Economics,” chapter XX “Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures.”

¹For years I’ve used D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, which is based on M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan. I have the regular fits and starts, but keep trudging along.

What Is the Gospel? N.T. Wright Explains In New Book

N.T. Wright:

jpeg-3So how might we in turn summarize the good news…? The good news is that the one and true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

The ancient hopes have indeed been fulfilled, but in a way nobody imagined. God’s plan to put the world right has finally been launched. He has grasped the world in a new way, to sort it out and fill it with his glory and justice, as he always promised. But he has done so in a way beyond the wildest dreams of prophecy. The ancient sickness that had crippled the whole world, and humans with it, has been cured at last, so that new life can rise up in its place. Life has come to life and is pouring out like a mighty river into the world, in the form of a new power, the power of love.

The good news was, and is, that all this has happened in and through Jesus; that one day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now.

This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything less.

   —Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good, p. 55. (Book forthcoming. Stay tuned for review. Italics original, line breaks mine.)