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Archive for September, 2011

See What People are Saying about McKinley’s “Am I Really a Christian?”

Here’s what reviewers are saying about Mike McKinley’s book Am I Really a Christian?:

  • “McKinley does a fine job of steering clear of both too much introspection and careless presumption. Written at a popular level, this is a balanced and biblical book that will prompt self-examination in all readers. With the Spirit’s blessing, Am I Really a Christian? will help nominal Christians take a deep and honest look at their lives and also point struggling, doubting believers to the finished and sufficient work of the crucified and risen Christ.” - Brian Hedges
  • “This is a very thought provoking book and clearly presents a biblical understanding of salvation…This book is a call to understand the biblical meaning of salvation and will serve the church well!” – Ricky Kirk
  • “McKinley backs up his assertions with Scripture. He uses illustrations, often funny and self-deprecating, to make his points. And he writes in a simple, easy-going manner that makes this book perfect for use by small groups.” – George Wood
  • “The style is clear and engaging, with hints of snark and wit sprinkled throughout. It makes McKinley seems like a real person who actually has a sense of humor as well as a heart for people and is relaying that to you in a conversational tone. This book is packed tightly with good theological exposition of the Scriptures, but in a way that is highly accessible to the average reader.” – Nate Claiborne
  • Am I Really a Christian is a really helpful, well-written and biblical treatment that touches on the issues of easy believism, nominalism, and assurance. Whether you struggle with assurance of your faith or you are wondering if you are really a Christian, I encourage you to pick up and read this book. Reading this book will challenge you, at times convict you but it will always point you back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” – Dave Jenkins
  • “McKinley does a wonderful job of walking the fine line between easy-believism and morbid introspection.  He does it with pastoral sensitivity, wit, wisdom, and engaging writing.  I highly recommend this book.” - Mike Leake
  • Am I Really a Christian? is an excellent, easy-to-read book that is greatly needed. Weaving theology, application and entertaining illustrations, McKinley has written a modern classic (in my opinion). If every pastor could get every member of his congregation to read this book, what a difference could be made!” – Dayton Hartman
  • “This book is a true gift to the true church. Pastor McKinley writes as a faithful shepherd, a gifted teacher, and a real friend. Miraculously McKinley manages to imbue these difficult and emotionally charged pages with a very winsome sense of humor and a very deep compassion. The only thing that I can say critically of this book is that I needed it earlier – as I struggled with my own doubts and as I counseled people in my ministry. If you are a pastor or Christian counselor this book is a must read and a must buy – in bulk. If you are someone struggling with doubts about your own Christianity, please read this book. It might just change your life.” – Jamie Caldwell
  • Am I Really a Christian? is an excellent warning and exhortation to those who would claim the name of Christ. The answer to that question couldn’t be more important, and therefore shouldn’t be neglected, even for a moment.” – Matt Tully

And here’s a related Q&A with Mike McKinley.

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September 30, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,News | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 12:00 pm | 0 Comments »

Issues of Race in Scripture

Nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, racial tensions still run rampant. Debates over Affirmative Action, personal responsibility, and immigration rage. Minorities, now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042, with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In light of these statistics and the ethnic hostilities that exist today, it is imperative that Christians look to Scripture for guidance on issues of race.

Jesus was forceful about the issue of ethnocentrism, the conviction or the feeling that one’s own ethnic group should be treated as superior or privileged. Jesus tells a story in Luke 4:27 from 2 Kings 5: “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” The point is: Of all the people that God might have chosen to heal of leprosy, he chose a foreign king—a Syrian, not a Jew. Faith in Jesus trumps ethnicity. Over and over in the Gospels this happens:

  • The story of the Good Samaritan: a foreigner is the hero of compassion (Luke 10:33).
  • The healing of the ten lepers, and only one returns—and what is he? A Samaritan. A foreigner shines with humble gratitude (Luke 17:16)
  • The worshiping of the wise men from the East, probably Persia or Arabia (Matt 2:1).
  • When he drove the moneychangers out of the temple, he said “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17).

Jesus bought our salvation with his blood, for both Jew and Gentile. Ephesians 2:15 reveals that the aim of Christ was “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Once there was a Jewish people, and there were Gentile peoples. Then Christ came, and by his blood united them to himself so that “in himself” there would be only one new person, namely, Christ. He is their common identity.

It is important to remember that the hostility between Jews and Gentiles was hugely complex. It was as harsh and painful as any ethnic divides we experience today. It was deeply religious, ethnic, and racial. If one of the designs of the cross was to reconcile hostile ethnic groups and races, then will we not display and magnify the cross of Christ better by more and deeper and sweeter ethnic diversity and harmony in our corporate and personal lives?

Modified from John Piper’s new book Bloodlines.

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Culture,Current Issues,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Staff @ 6:00 am | 1 Comment »

What is the Goal of Community Groups?

by Brad House

In order to have a vision for community, we need to understand the purpose of community. In my experience with community group ministry, I have heard many purposes for joining community groups, including but not limited to: belonging, making big church feel small, learning the Bible, pastoral care, fellowship, friends, closing the back door of the church, evangelism, and so on. Each of these purposes has merit and can be argued as essential to the church. I would suggest, however, that these “purposes” are in fact the product of community rather than its ultimate goal.

Why is this significant? Let me give you an example. When I was playing basketball in junior high, I went into the game off the bench as we were inbounding the ball. As I came off a screen, I found myself wide open under the basket. My teammate passed me the ball and I made an easy layup. The only problem: we were lined up under our opponent’s basket. The point: it is increasingly difficult to score points for your team when you are aiming at the wrong basket. In the case of the church, our goal is to produce disciples of Jesus who worship him and exalt his name. If we aim at a product (such as belonging) as the purpose of community, we can achieve that goal without pointing to Jesus.

When retaining people becomes our goal, we inadvertently communicate that our purpose is to grow the church rather than glorify God. We become more interested in building the church rather than advancing the kingdom. We lift up the church rather than the name of Jesus. When fellowship, care, or belonging becomes the focus of our communities, we elevate people and their needs over the kingdom. In doing so, we create people who begin to believe the purpose of the church is to meet their needs. In essence, we create consumers.

Jesus tells us that we know a tree by its fruit and that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. If we produce disciples who are navel-gazers or are obsessed with the growth of the church at the expense of the gospel, then the tree is bad. Trying harder won’t make it produce fruit. We need a healthy tree. Every time we elevate the fruit of ministry above the purpose to glorify God, we turn the fruit into an idol. The fruit becomes our focus and we settle for less than Christ glorified.

At the end of the day, our purpose in community is to receive the grace of God and respond by imaging him and lifting up the name of Jesus. If community is about imaging God for his renown and his worship, then community groups must be in the business of creating disciples. In Pastor Bill Clem’s book Disciple, he rightly describes Jesus as the prototypical image bearer living a life devoted to the Father’s work and accomplishing that work through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was more than an example, securing our redemption through his death and resurrection, yet he provides a picture of what we could be as disciples who walk in the Spirit. Additionally, by building a disciple-making movement, Jesus becomes not just our example of being a disciple, but he is also our example for being a disciple maker. Jesus left a legacy of people transformed by his presence even centuries after he ascended. In this way he provides a picture of a church that is committed to being disciples who make disciples.

Modified from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House

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September 29, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Ministry,Community,Life / Doctrine | Author: Crossway Staff @ 10:54 am | 1 Comment »

Four Temptations: How Internet Habits Can Cripple Book Reading

Fragmented Browsing vs. Sustained Comprehension
The Internet is designed to encourage us to browse information, not to slowly read and digest it. We jump from link to link and are driven by distraction. Book reading, on the other hand, can’t happen without disciplined and sustained linear concentration. Instead of browsing for fragments of information, we must learn to become deep thinkers who work hard to comprehend (2 Tim. 2:7).

If we fill our lives with fragments of information, our brains will adapt and our concentration will weaken. We will begin to find articles, chapters, and books increasingly demanding as our attention spans shrivel. Eventually we will find it difficult to stroll through long stretches of prose. Book readers must work to sharpen their attention. Like marathon runners who train daily to stretch their endurance, book readers must discipline themselves to read one book for thirty to sixty or ninety minutes at a time, struggling to increase their mental concentration.

Reacting vs. Thinking

Traditionally, a reader selected one book and sat alone in a reading chair. When great ideas were encountered, the reader internalized those ideas and reflected on them. If the reader encountered points of disagreement, the reader also stopped to reflect on what made the point disagreeable. Traditional readers engaged with a book and engaged their thinking.

This has changed with online social interaction. Now, when we come across an idea that we like, we are tempted to quickly react, to share the idea with friends in an e-mail, on Facebook, or on a blog. When we disagree, our initial response is to ask for the input of others. With online access to so many friends, the temptation is to react, not to ponder. Acting upon what we’ve just read, rather than stopping to meditate and think, is an impulse that we bring to reading books. I am quick to Tweet and slow to think. I am quick to Google and slow to ponder.

So ask yourself the next time you read: When you come across a provoking or perplexing portion of a book, what are you more likely to do: react or think? When you are tempted to react, stop, and simply think and meditate about what you are reading.

Ready Access to Information vs. Slowly Digested Life Wisdom

Valuable life wisdom flows out of meditation and deep thought. It’s easy to skim around for information online or to bounce from one fragmented detail to another. But the labor gets heavy when we determine to study a book for the purpose of gaining life wisdom. True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. Of all the people surrounded by data in the information age, Christians should be especially protective of the time required to slowly meditate (Proverbs 4).

Skimming with the Head vs. Delighting with the Heart

Lest we put all the blame on the Internet, however, the hasty reading of books appears to be a problem that predates Google. Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) faced this problem in seventeenth- century England. Brooks wrote,

Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.

Slow meditation on what we read is not only essential for gaining wisdom, it is also essential for experiencing delight.

In order to feel deeply about spiritual truths we must think deeply. And to think deeply we must read deeply. And to read deeply we must read attentively, not hastily. If we discipline ourselves to read attentively and to think deeply about our reading, we will position our souls to delight. But our souls cannot delight in what our minds merely skim.

Modified from Lit! by Tony Reinke.

September 28, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Culture,Life / Doctrine,The Arts,The Christian Life | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 8:58 am | (6) Comments »

How Do You Prioritize What You Read?

There are millions of books on the market. How do you decide which ones to read or which ten thousand books to not read? Tony Reinke, author of Lit!:A Christian Guide to Reading Books, gives six priorities that helps him determine which books to invest his time in. “As with most areas of life, success requires planning,” Reinke explains. “Having a clear purpose for why you read will ensure that the few books you choose will be the books most likely to benefit your life.”

6 Priorities that Decide What Books I Read:

  1. Reading Scripture: If we neglect Scripture in order to read only other books, we not only cut ourselves from the divine umbilical cord that feeds our souls, we also cut ourselves from the truth that makes it possible for us to benefit from the truth, goodness, and beauty in the books that we read.
  2. Reading to know and delight in Christ: The largest topical section in my personal library features books on the person and work of Christ. This is my second highest ranked priority, just after my direct reading of Scripture. If we commit to reading books of solid theology, our knowledge of Christ will grow, because theology (of the right sort) is about knowing God and His Son intimately. Knowledge of Him (not just about Him) feeds, transforms, and vivifies the soul. This is the most delightful pursuit we could ever know.
  3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection: The Christian life is about training the mind, kindling the affections, and learning the vocabulary of the faith (1 Cor. 14:20; Rom. 12:2). This requires deep spiritual reflection on topics like faith, grace, sin, death, and eternal life. The Christian literature that fuels my spiritual reflection comes in a variety of sizes, formats, and genres. (including novels, poetry, and biography).
  4. Reading to initiate personal change: These are the books for battle, the sharp weapons for putting off sin and putting on righteousness. These books help me confront and defeat personal sin and unbelief. They help me to honor God in my role as a husband and as a parent. Our growing knowledge of God must lead to growth in conformity to Christlikeness (2 Pet. 1:5–8). This reading category forces me to think proactively about personal growth and to determine where in my life I need to focus my attention. Carefully selected books will set the pace for focused and long-term change. The church is blessed by a wealth of books on marriage, parenting, sex, depression, discontentment, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, and many others.
  5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence: Christians are to work as though their boss is the Lord himself (Col 3:23), meaning we are called to pursue vocational excellence. And working with skill requires laboring wisely and thoughtfully. I read for vision, to discover and leverage my God-given strengths, to communicate clearly, to organize, to improve my decision making and problem solving,
  6. Reading to enjoy a good story: I read for leisure: non-Christian literature, novels, biographies, humor, and fantasy. Christians should not blush when they read for pleasure, for escape, or “just for fun.” Provided that this is not a form of escapism—and assuming the book does not glorify sin—the practice is enjoyable and honors God.

Learn more about Lit! or read a sample chapter.

Tony Reinke is a former journalist who serves as a theological researcher and blogs at Miscellanies.

September 27, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,The Arts,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 6:00 am | (2) Comments »