Is Joy a Pipe Dream?

The Yale Center for Faith and Culture recently launched an ambitious initiative about joy.

Theology of Joy gathers various theologians and academians “to build a transformative movement driven by a Christian articulation of the joy that attends a flourishing human life.”

One of the more interesting interviews is Miroslav Volf and N.T. Wright discussing a theology of joy:

City-Loving, Suburb-Hating? Read This.

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“Whoa. When we grow up will we get that big too?”

I’m planting a church near the University of Minnesota, just two miles from downtown Minneapolis. I’ve read a lot of the arguments for why the city is so great, notably espoused by Tim Keller’s article “A New Kind of Urban Christian.” I’m drinking the “cities are more strategic than the suburbs, and although I know the suburbs are still important (ahem) I really can’t understand why anyone would choose to live there” Kool-Aid™. (Burp.)

But a new article in The Economist says we’ve got it all wrong. Or at least we need to seriously rethink how cities and suburbs need each other:

Romantic notions of sociable, high-density living—notions pushed, for the most part, by people who themselves occupy rather spacious residences—ignore the squalor and lack of privacy to be found in Kinshasa, Mumbai or the other crowded cities of the poor world. Many of them are far too dense for dignified living, and need to spread out.

The solution?

…plan for huge expansion. Acquire strips of land for roads and railways, and chunks for parks, before the city sprawls into them.

Read “A Suburban World” here.

When The Heidelberg Hits Home: An Update

I wrote and posted this a year ago. Since then, my now departed friend’s wife’s (now a widow) cancer has gone in complete remission. The Heidelberg’s truths are sweeter and truer now, even through tears, than a year ago.

Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.

He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.

Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.

They have three children.

My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children to do the same.

So when I heard of his death yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the Heidelberg’s famous first question:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1 but belong—body and soul, in life and in death2—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

Herein lies rock solid and comforting truth that will sustain his wife and children in the uncertain days ahead:

In life—and death—their bodies and souls belong to Jesus Christ. They are set free from the devil’s tyranny. Not a hair can fall from their heads without the Father’s will. All things work together for their salvation. Eternity is real. Jesus is watching over them. They wholly belong to him. He is faithful. (Repeat)

It’s times like this when a supposedly dry, erudite, 450 year old theological teaching aid becomes something more: moving us from mere knowledge about the Triune God and ourselves in light of who he is to remembering, and perhaps experiencing, beautiful and glorious communion with him. Even (especially?) in times of unexpected suffering and loss.

The Heidelberg—a musty, outdated and irrelevant catechism?

I don’t think so.

As for my now departed friend? His need for the Heidelberg is obsolete, as he is now joyfully basking in the eternal presence of the Triune God to which it speaks.

God in the Wasteland

Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.

He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.

Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.

They have three children.

My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children…

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New: Tim Keller Video Lectures on Preaching at RTS

Tim Keller recently gave a series of lectures on preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary (my alma mater). If you want a crash course in good preaching or simply need a refresher, it’s four hours well spent. The lectures are progressive, so it’s best to carve out the time and watch all four. However, if you can watch only one, watch the fourth, i.e. “Preaching to the Heart.”

The videos contain only the lectures. If you want the lecture and subsequent Q and A’s, it’s only available (for now) in audio here.

Lecture 1: What Is Good Preaching?

Lecture 2: Preaching to Secular People and Secularized Believers

Lecture 3: Preaching the Gospel Every Time

Lecture 4: Preaching to the Heart

Top Advent Music, Books and Daily Devotional

Advent, the prime time to fix our hearts on Christ’s birth, began yesterday. Here are some suggestions to get you started as we prepare for the Christmas season.

 Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the YearPhilip Reinders

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Following the church calendar seasons of Advent and Lent (as well as “ordinary time,” i.e. most of the year) the brief daily devotionals, which include daily readings from the Psalms, another brief Scripture passage, and a daily prayer that specifically references Reformed creeds and confessions (i.e. Heidelberg, Westminster, Belgic, etc.) in an unobtrusive and winsome way, this book–far from being arid or erudite– will greatly help orient you for the Christmas season (even though it’s not exclusively a Christmas book). If you’re already using a daily devotional, you can still use it with this one. Download a free Advent PDF sampler here.

On the IncarnationSt. Athanasius, with a Preface by C.S. Lewis41QQ3xAgoQL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_

I owned this small book for over a decade before finally reading it two years ago. Why did I wait so long? I can’t think of a better book to help fix your mind on Christ’s Incarnation. And Lewis sets the table as only he can do.

   

A Christmas Carolers’ Book in Song and StoryTorstein Kvamme

I extensively examined a myriad of Christmas carol 51thahYV3GL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_-2books, and this is the clear winner. Originally published in 1935, it was written by a Danish man named Torstein Kvamme. (With a name like that, he was simply predestined to write this book.) Containing 49 songs with lyrics and music, this is a straight up old-school (and predominantly sacred) Christmas caroling book, replete with readable brief song introductions and minimalist illustrations. It’s also highly portable, kid friendly, and cheap (yet not cheaply made). This year I’m buying multiple copies, for our family and guests. And if you plan on caroling, this is the book to use.

                                     

                                                  ChristmasBruce Cockburn

  Although originally released in 1992 by Canadian singer-songwriter 51CkXgFB5XL._AA160_Bruce  Cockburn, this album is in our family’s top three Christmas favorites. Containing stripped down acoustic music and harmonies with hints of French, Creole, and Mexican stylings, there’s not a dud on the album. Twenty years later, it’s one of the few modern Christmas albums that sounds as good as when it was released. At times joyful, at other times somber and pensive, it’s a beauty.

                           

                                 ChristmasHarry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte’s collection of Christmas tunes is unparalleled. I first51X-Q2ZQ96L._AA160_ heard it in the mid-1990’s on our local classical music radio station (although it’s not classical music). I was immediately smitten. Now it’s in our top three Christmas albums. Whenever we have guests during the Christmas season, they inevitably ask about it. And his song “Goin Down Jordan”? It’s strangely out-of-place, but a huge highlight (especially if you’re a Baptist).

              

41kjaDnRv+L._SL500_-2 The Holly and the Ivy: Carols from Clare CollegeJohn Rutter

This was esteemed choral composer John Rutter’s big splash into Christmas music in 1979. If you love classical choral music, you probably already own it. If you think you hate choral music, buy this, listen to it several times through, and get back to me. If you still hate it, lunch is on me. Or maybe some homemade eggnog.

61KasVMcH0L._SY355_ChristmasSufjan Stevens

Weird, quirky, occasionally haunting and mostly played with friends in his home on children’s toy instruments, Sufjan’s Christmas might take a bit getting used to, but once it clicks you’re hooked. One of a few of our family’s desert island Christmas discs.

—And what’s largely considered the definitive version of Handel’s Messiah? This one.

—Want a daily or weekly Advent devotional that strikes a nice balance of Scripture, song, and commentary—and it’s free? Read this.

What are your Christmas favorites? Let me know in the comments below.

Finally on Kindle: Best Edition of Calvin’s Institutes

The definitive version of Calvin’s Institutes is finally available on Kindle.41HJYeQt-FL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_-1

In 2012 I asked the publisher if there were plans to make it available on Kindle, and they weren’t hopeful. They quietly released it on Kindle this Spring.

I recently wrote how Tim Keller read Calvin’s Institutes and loved it, as well as mentioning a workable plan to read it in a year.

Keller: “Sproul Was Driscoll Before Mark Driscoll”

Tim Keller gave a series of lectures on preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary (my alma mater). After the first session, “What Is Good Preaching?” Keller followed up with a Q and A. Someone asked who were Keller’s influences on how to be a good preacher. Along with George Whitefield, Martin Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Dick Lucas and Sinclair Ferguson, Keller mentioned R.C. Sproul, saying he was the “Driscoll before Mark Driscoll.”

I’ll never think of R.C. Sproul (or Mark Driscoll) the same way again.

The Benefits of Christian Meditation

J.I. Packer—

Richard Baxter lived a century after Calvin. He was a chronically sick Puritan, tubercular from his teens and suffering constantly from dyspepsia, kidney stones, headaches, toothaches, swollen limbs, intermittent bleeding at his extremities, and other troubles—all before the days of pain-killing drugs. Yet he was always energetic, outgoing, uncomplaining, and utterly healthy-minded, even though sometimes (and who can wonder?) a trifle short-tempered….

What kept this frail invalid going so single-mindedly and even spectacularly through the years? In The Saints’ Everlasting Rest Baxter tells the secret. From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit that he first formed when he thought he was on his deathbed: for something like half an hour each day he would meditate on the life to come, thereby escalating his sense of the glory that awaited him and reinforcing his motivation to use every ounce of energy and zeal that he found within himself to hasten up the path of worship, service, and holiness toward his goal. This cultivation of hope gave him daily doggedness in hard work for God, despite his debilitating effect of his sick body.

God’s Plans for You, pp. 69-70.

How A Repressive, Dour, Wig-Wearing Puritan Liberated Marilynne Robinson

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Do I Look Like a Liberator of 21st Century Humankind? (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In the latest issue of Humanities, the magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nobel Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson discusses how Jonathan Edwards, that repressive, dour, powder wig-wearing killjoy Puritan, popularly known for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” liberated her.

The essay, titled (brace yourself), “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light: Remembered for Preaching Fire and Brimstone, He Was Actually One of the Great Intellectuals of His Era,” is striking most notably because Robinson is known as an unashamed Calvinist who actually reads, loves, and frequently writes about Calvin, while she’s been relatively silent about Jonathan Edwards. This essay demonstrates she’s more than a one-note, albeit highly literate, Calvinist.

Here’s some excerpts:

I know this sounds improbable on its face. We are told that it is modernity that liberates, and Puritanism, with its famous defense of predestination and its all-devouring work ethic, that we ought to be, and perhaps never are, liberated from. I have always been unperturbed by these criticisms.

And:

Jonathan Edwards provided me with a metaphysics that made the phenomenal world come alive for me again and that seemed to me to undercut every version of determinism, including even predestination, without obliging me to accept an alternative.

Robinson concludes the essay:

Edwards’s vision….taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.

Read Robinson’s essay on Jonathan Edwards here.