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Archive for November, 2013

Entertainment and the Christian Novel

This guest post is from Dr. Bryan Litfin, professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy (excerpts, trailer).

Why Do People Buy Novels?

I can only think of three reasons. Sometimes the reader expects to be elevated by classic literature. I tried reading War and Peace for such lofty reasons once. Truth be told, I didn’t finish.

Literary novels are also read by students. Most purchases of the great classics are probably intended for the classroom. For every copy of Moby Dick or To Kill a Mockingbird bought to pass the time on a plane, I imagine ten are bought by somebody in a literature class.

Most novels, however, aren’t fine literature. Few writers can expect future doctoral dissertations to be written about their works. And that brings us to the reason the vast majority of novels are published: for entertainment. People love to read stories—and any fiction writer who forgets that fundamental human motivation is in danger of becoming unemployed.

The Christian Novel

Surprisingly, though, many aspiring Christian novelists seem to think otherwise. Since Christians believe in absolute truth, they suppose novels ought to be written for didactic purposes. In such books the characters pause at critical junctures to give long sermons. Listeners sit in rapt attention while the mouthpiece character expounds his theological views. All of this lets the author convey divine dogma. But this isn’t realistic. People don’t sit quietly with bright eyes and busy little pens when somebody starts talking about doctrine. Believe me, I know – I’m a theology professor.

So does this mean the Christian novelist should “sell out”? Just write books that keep the readers turning the pages, with no intent to communicate lasting truth? Make our novels as vapid and nihilistic as secular fiction?  Surely there must be a balance.

When I wrote the Chiveis Trilogy, I had to confront these issues head on. I wanted to write a page-turner. My editor said the plot is “cinematic,” and I was glad to hear she thought so. I always felt I was writing a grand adventure that could sweep you into a swashbuckling escapade like the Indiana Jones movies I loved as a kid. However, my day job is teaching theology. Did I have to hang up my theological hat when I penned my three novels?

A Place for Theology?

I hope not. There’s a lot of theology in the Chiveis Trilogy, and my particular readership wants that. Yet you have to use subtle patterns as a writer. For example, the over-arching structure of my trilogy is Trinitarian. In the first book the characters encounter the Creator God as seen in the Old Testament. In book two they quest for God as he is known in Christ. The third book centers on the Holy Spirit in the catholic church. With this macro structure in place, various theological themes can be expressed naturally in the individual scenes—often without the readers even knowing they are imbibing theology!

One especially important theological topic is evil. The Christian novel must present sin on the page—sometimes with gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching intensity—and not gloss over it like cotton candy religious novels often do. Even so, evil must be revealed as grotesque. It always exacts a terrible cost, and in the end it does not win. My trilogy includes scenes with torture, rape, adultery, prostitution, violence. Those scenes make the reader’s heart beat faster because the terror is real. But I promise you, the depictions are not “gratuitous.” They are part of an overall narrative in which moral evil is shown as atrocious—yet the all-sovereign God still reigns on his throne. Christian novels should reflect this truth and not descend into pessimistic hopelessness.

Entertainment to the Glory of God

Some Christian novelists think they must aspire to something higher than entertainment to justify a novel. Though unbelievers might write for “mere entertainment,” Christian novels should always teach or they have little reason to exist. When this instinct leads to unpleasant sermonizing, readers see it and run.

But we’re all going to entertain ourselves with something. Much of what comes out of Hollywood or the New York publishing industry reflects an anti-Christian worldview. Believers consume these works for their excellent entertainment value while trying to filter what is objectionable. Doesn’t this indicate a crying need for works that are truly entertaining—but which glorify Christ as well?

Many readers have said the Chiveis Trilogy brought them closer to the Lord. The person who finishes the three-part cycle can only look back on it and say it elevated God’s name. However, if it doesn’t also keep you up past your bedtime, dipping into the next chapter although you promised yourself you’d quit, then I haven’t done my job. Christians need entertainment that honors Christ instead of trashing him. A novel’s first purpose must be to tell a great story—and there’s no reason it can’t be glorifying to God as well.

Bryan M. Litfin (PhD, University of Virginia) is professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy as well as Getting To Know the Church Fathers. Bryan and his wife, Carolyn, have two children.

The Chiveis Trilogy is currently on sale for 40% off.


November 29, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Culture,Life / Doctrine,The Arts,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »

Midweek Roundup – 11/27/13

Every Wednesday we like to share some recent links that we found informative, insightful, or helpful. These links will often be related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting break for the middle of your week, encouraging your faith and equipping you for life and ministry.

1. Kevin DeYoung responds to Christianity Today’s review of God in the Whirlwind by David Wells

[James K. A. Smith] thinks Wells’s prescription for our cultural predicament is too cerebral, too didactic, too intellectual and the expense of the imagination. Anyone familiar with Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom, will see those earlier concerns surfacing in this review. And I think Smith is on to something: we are feeling, worshiping, embodied, liturgical creatures, not just thinking brains in a vat. Change doesn’t come just from a new framework of our ideas. We need new patterns, new desires, a new rhythm. But again, I’m not sure that God in the Whirlwind is opposed to all that. It’s a different book than Smith would have written. It doesn’t hit on his themes. But, then, Wells is hitting on a biblical theme. The world does press us into its mold, and we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Knowing the truth is not an insignificant concern in Scripture.

2. Anthony Bradley reflects on evangelicals’ tribal myopia

One of the profound realities of theology and ecclesiastical enclaves in which American Christians live is each tribal subculture views the world as if Christianity begins and ends with their tribe. Evangelicals are a great example of this trend. Some evangelicals write as if they are the only Christians doing God’s work in the world.

3.  Russell Moore offers some tips for dealing with family tensions during the holidays

God will allow you to be tested. He’ll refine you, bring you to the fullness of maturity in Christ. He probably won’t do it by your fighting lions before the emperor or standing with a John 3:16 sign before a tank in the streets of Beijing. More likely, it will be through those seemingly little places of temptation—like whether you’ll love the belching brother-in-law at the other end of the table who wants to talk about how the Cubans killed JFK and how to make $100,000 a year selling herbal laxatives on the Internet.

4. Marshall Segal encourages us to read John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God

The book was written for the broken, but not for some elite group of the sad and discouraged. It was written to help us all live the truth we had fallen in love with in Desiring God. I can’t imagine anything better than knowing that the one who created the world and everything in it wants what my soul wants — that what pleases him in all his wisdom, power, and authority will also make me most happy forever. But how does that happen for me?

5. Video: Liberating prostitutes in Italy with the power of the gospel

Vite Trasformate (transformed lives) is a gospel-centered ministry to reach those trapped in prostitution in Italy. Many thousands of women are on the sidewalks each night. Most of them are victims of human trafficking and exploitation, and they are all without hope. The primary objective of Vite Trasformate, which operates under the leadership and partnership of local churches, is to see lives transformed by Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

November 27, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Midweek Roundup,News | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:31 am | 0 Comments »

A Message from Crossway’s President

This is a special message recently sent to our friends and supporters from Dr. Lane Dennis, president and publisher of Crossway. For more information related to Crossway’s 75th anniversary celebration, please visit Crossway.org/75th.

Dear Friend of Crossway,

On this 75th anniversary of our ministry, we are overflowing with thanks to the Lord for His great faithfulness.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies…are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness”! (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Likewise, I want to thank you in particular for your partnership, prayers, and gracious support – all of which is an integral part of what the Lord has accomplished over these last seven decades.

Crossway, as you may know, was founded originally as Good News Publishers in 1938.  It was founded with a $20 tithe, saved up by Clyde and Muriel Dennis (my parents), that they dedicated to the Lord for the publication of the first gospel tracts.

It is amazing to see how the Lord has multiplied that first twenty-dollar gift – and the faithful gifts of untold thousands – over these last 75 years:

  • To distribute over 2 billion pieces of gospel-centered literature worldwide,
  • To publish tens of millions of Crossway books (with 800 titles by 350 authors currently in print),
  • To distribute 80 million ESV Bibles worldwide since 2001,
  • And to reach untold numbers of people around the world who have come to know Christ as their Savior.

During this past year, the Lord has continued to work through our ministry in a special way.  In only 12 months, God has enabled Crossway to distribute 23 million gospel tracts (the most in over 30 years); to publish over 1.9 million gospel-centered books (many of which are available in over 50 languages); to launch the new ESV Gospel Transformation Bible; and before the end of this year, to distribute more than 1 million ESV Study Bibles worldwide, since its first printing in 2008.

In addition to these evidences of the Lord’s hand, we have also seen his gracious provision for us in two significant ways:

1.  The Crossway Flood: After a major flood swept though our offices last April, the Lord moved the hearts of people from 35 countries to help us recover.  Through an outpouring of generous gifts – from more than 2,000 of his people worldwide – we were able to maintain funding for critical Bible projects in China, and still meet the unexpected costs of damage recovery and flood-proofing our building. It has been remarkable indeed to see God’s gracious provision, in almost exactly the amount that He alone knew we would need.

2.  Strategic Bible Projects in China:  Perhaps most significantly this last year, we have seen the Lord’s hand of provision in three ministry projects in China.  These include:

  • Chinese Translation of ESV Study Bible Notes – This major effort, to produce a Chinese Study Bible for distribution throughout Mainland China, has been fully funded for the New Testament.  God willing, we anticipate publication of a Chinese Study Bible New Testament in 2014 (followed by the Old Testament).
  • Chinese-English Gospels of John – 1 million Chinese-English Gospels of John are being distributed in China (in partnership with the Pocket Testament League).  Each copy includes a clear presentation of the gospel in English and Chinese.
  • Chinese-English Bilingual Bibles – The total number of full Chinese-English (ESV) Bibles distributed in China has now reached 250,000 copies this year, through funding provided by Crossway and its supporters.

The Lord has indeed done far beyond anything we could ask or think during this last year – and certainly throughout the last 75 years of our ministry. He is our Lord and Savior, and His grace is always sufficient.  With this confidence in the Lord, all of us at Crossway are deeply grateful to you, as we look forward to seeing the Lord’s continued provision for our ministry – to share the truth of God’s Word and the riches of the gospel with a world that is desperately lost apart from Christ our Savior.

With my great appreciation for your partnership in the gospel,

In Christ,



Lane T. Dennis

Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is president and publisher of Crossway. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former Chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dr. Dennis serves as the Chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the Executive Editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.


November 26, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Company Updates,News | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | (5) Comments »

Christ in All of Scripture – Job 1:20-22


Job 1:20-22

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

The question for Christians here is this: Where is God in our suffering? Not in conceptual suffering, nor in the suffering of people over there; but in actual, personal, experienced suffering. Where is God when our lives are dismantled by inconsolable grief or crushing disappointment? The book of Job does not deny the reality of our sufferings. Indeed, at one level this book complicates our perception of God by making us aware that God may permit suffering. But the reality that Job will ultimately perceive through his suffering also makes us aware that our lives are not beyond God’s attention and our difficulties are not beyond his purposes.

The ultimate answer to questions about God’s nature and love in the midst of suffering will not come until the New Testament points us to the cross of Christ. Where is God when suffering is great and all seems lost? The gospel says God is there, in that man. Since God is there in that man’s unfair suffering, when we suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” we are close to God, drawing comfort from his presence (2 Cor. 1:5). And because there was purpose beyond the fathoming of those who witnessed Christ’s suffering—despite its horrific unfairness—we can believe there is purpose in our difficulties, and eternal care beyond them, even if there is no fairness evident in them.

This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.


November 25, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Biblical Studies,Gospel Transformation Bible,Life / Doctrine,Old Testament | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:00 am | 1 Comment »

The Gospel: An “It” or a “He”?

This guest post was written by Dr. Marcus Johnson, assistant professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (excerpt).

Can “the Gospel” Do All that We Say it Can?

The gospel saves. The gospel transforms. The gospel heals. The gospel renews. The gospel liberates.   Such are the familiar refrains that issue forth from our faithful preachers and teachers. But are they right? Can the gospel do all this?

The answer is, of course . . . no, it cannot. Only Jesus himself can.

Wait a Second…

But, it seems right to ask, isn’t the gospel “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes …” (Romans 1:16)? Yes, of course it is.  But surely it makes all the difference what we mean when we so echo the Apostle Paul, especially given that his own experience of salvation was an encounter with the crucified, resurrected Lord himself (Acts 9).  So, which would be more accurate to say: that Paul was saved by the gospel (it), or by Jesus Christ (he)?

If it is the former – that Paul was indeed saved by his experience of the risen Lord – then how shall we think of his assertion that the gospel is the “power of God” for salvation?  Are we to think of the gospel as intrinsically able to save us, that is, apart from the presence of the Savior himself?

Although questions such as these might strike some as mere theological semantics, I submit that the way we conceive of the relationship between Jesus Christ himself, and the good news regarding him, is crucial for how we understand salvation.  In our faithful insistence that the gospel (it) is the power of God for salvation we must be careful never to lose sight of the One who alone can save us (he).

In other words, there may be a danger in how we speak which suggests that something rather than someone is the proper subject of our salvation.

The Gospel and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ

The danger for many Christians – who no longer think of salvation as constituted by a union with the crucified, resurrected, incarnate Son of God – is that the living presence of the Savior becomes unnecessary to the good news about him. In such a case, the gospel about Jesus Christ may begin to assume a role in our language and thought that only Christ can and should bear.  As our evangelical forefathers knew well, we must be able to distinguish between the gospel, which bears witness to Christ, and Christ who is the living reality of that gospel.  “To preach the gospel,” Martin Luther once wrote, “is nothing else than Christ’s coming to us or bringing us to him.”  Similarly, John Calvin noted that God ordained the preaching of his Word “as the instrument by which Jesus Christ, and all his benefits, is dispensed to us.”  Thus, while the preaching of the gospel is never less than revelation about Christ and his saving work, it always involved much more. 

That much more was the self-giving of Christ in and through his gospel; his real presence mediated through the proclamation of the good news. The Reformers knew that unless Christ was truly present through the gospel, preaching would be but an exercise in spiritual reflection or religious instruction, as opposed to the medium of his saving presence. Given our present cultural milieu, in which knowledge is essentially reducible to information—suffering as we do from the hangover of post-enlightenment rationalism—the distinction between knowledge about Christ in his gospel (mental appropriation or assent) and knowing Christ himself through the gospel (experiential intimacy) seems well worth marking.

In the Bible, “knowledge” is characterized by personal and life-giving union, not informational data (though it certainly includes the latter).  Think here of Adam’s knowledge of his wife, Eve; or, more importantly, the Son’s knowledge of his Father. So too, to have saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is to experience intimate union with him, not merely to know about him. Thus, knowledge about the gospel, imperative as it is, can no more save us than can its preacher, unless Jesus Christ is himself present to be experienced as the living reality of that very good news.

The Confusion of Means and Ends

The failure to emphasize the real presence of Christ in his gospel is often characterized by a resultant confusion of means and ends. The gospel is a divinely-ordained means for which Jesus Christ, and union with him, is the end (or goal).  Thus, the gospel can only be called “saving” because it functions as a means through which the Savior is present to bring us into his existence as the crucified, resurrected Lord (e.g., Colossians 1:24-29; Galatians 2:20).

To make the gospel an end rather than a means would be to lose the significance (literally, “the signifying purpose”) of that gospel: to bring us to partake of the One whose gospel it is.  As the Apostle Paul proclaimed it, the gospel ushers us into mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), the mystery of Christ’s union with his Bride (Ephesians 5:32).

The gospel is the gloriously good news about what Jesus Christ has accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension to reconcile us to God and recreate the world.  The offer of the gospel, however, is not enlightened data about what he has done.  The offer of the gospel is none other than Jesus Christ himself, who (through faith and by the Spirit) brings us into his very life as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Savior.  To say or suggest otherwise leaves the sinner (and the church!) without her only comfort.

By all means, then, let us proclaim the saving significance of the gospel, but may we never forget that “it” is not very good news at all unless “he” is truly present to save.

Marcus Peter Johnson (PhD, University of Toronto) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute. Along with writing his doctoral dissertation on union with Christ in the theology of John Calvin, he is also the author of One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. He and his wife, Stacie, live in Chicago with their son, Peter, and are members of Grace Lutheran Church.

One with Christ is currently on sale for 40% at Crossway.org.


November 22, 2013 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Jesus Christ,Life / Doctrine,The Gospel,Theology | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »