Chance, Coin Tosses, and Sovereignty

Vern Poythress, in his fascinating new book soon to be released — Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Crossway, 2014) — writes on pages 119–20:

An appeal to Chance does not explain how chance events fit coherently into the larger patterns of this world. Rain fits into patterns of seasonal weather, and coin flips fit into patterns where heads come up half of the time.

Rain is water, and conforms to the laws governing the behavior of water. Coins thrown into the air conform to the laws of gravitation and rigid-body motion. Even chance events have rationality to them.

Moreover, these events, even in their uniqueness or unpredictable character, can be described in language. Rationality and language belong to persons and the thinking of persons, not to the thinking of rocks and subpersonal creatures. We show by the way we act that we know that chance events conform to personal thinking and speech. We show that we know, deep down, that God specifies them and controls them.

We know that the unpredictability in chance events shows God’s creativity and the superiority of his greatness to our wisdom. We are suppressing what we know when we declare that these events are a result merely of Chance, the impersonal substitute.

And then he follows with this (pages 209–10):

People who do not want to acknowledge God have difficulty explaining randomness.

Consider the flip of a coin as an example. Why should it be the case that no possible pattern in previous flips allows any advantage in predictability for the next flip? The outcome of the next flip is unpredictable. That means that, as far as we know, either outcome is compatible with known physical laws. That is, an outcome of heads conforms to law, and an outcome of tails also conforms to law. It follows that an outcome of heads followed by a second outcome of heads conforms to law.

We can infer that it is lawful for the next 100 outcomes all to be heads, and then 100 tails, and then 100 heads. People who will not acknowledge God cannot explain why, in addition to the physical laws, we rightly expect no future series of outcomes to be any more probable than another. The record of the past gives us no guarantee, because the principle of randomness says that the future is not predictable from the past.

The fact that we cannot predict any particular outcome has no power to force the outcome to be what it is.The ultimate explanation goes back to God’s control. God, who is all-wise, produces what we experience as randomness, and this randomness is far above our ability to produce.

Why Gospel Cultures Are So Hard To Build

Wise pastor Ray Ortlund addresses this problem throughout his forthcoming book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway; April 30, 2014). He writes this on pages 82–83:

A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine. It requires more relational wisdom and finesse. It involves stepping into a kind of community unlike anything we’ve experienced, where we happily live together on a love we can’t create. A gospel culture requires us not to bank on our own importance or virtues, but to forsake self-assurance and exult together in Christ alone.

This mental adjustment is not easy, but living in this kind of community is wonderful. We find ourselves saying with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” — all the trophies of our self-importance, all the wounds of our self-pity, every self-invented thing that we lug around as a way of getting attention — “and count them as dung in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:8–9).

Paul did not regard the loss of his inflated self as sacrificial. Who admires his own dung? It is a relief to be rid of our distasteful egos! And when a whole church together luxuriates in Christ alone, that church embodies a gospel culture. It becomes a surprising new kind of community where sinners and sufferers come alive because the Lord is there, giving himself freely to the desperate and undeserving.

But how easy it is for a church to exist in order to puff itself up! How hard it is to forsake our own glory for a higher glory!

The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to him alone. Exalting ourselves always diminishes his visibility. That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment “unselfing” by every one of us. It is personally costly, even painful.

What I am proposing throughout this book is not glib or shallow. So much is set against us, within and without. But the triumph of the gospel in our churches is still possible, as we look to Christ alone. He will help us.


Learning Reformed Theology

John Piper, at an event Tuesday night at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounting his seminary days at Fuller (1968–71):

I didn’t learn my reformed theology mainly from John Calvin, or even from Jonathan Edwards (whom I esteem as highly as one can possibly esteem a non-divine being). I learned it from Romans 9 and Romans 1–8 and Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians with Dan Fuller pushing my nose down in the nitty-gritty of the conjunctions and the connectors [of the biblical text]. To this day, I find the theology inescapable in the Bible. . . . In my early days, Romans was the key watershed document to turn my word upside-down. And you know who it was who guided me through Romans? John Murray. That is the most beautifully written commentary on the planet.

HT: @JaredOliphint

Connecting Christ’s Victory and My Obedience

Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority (1978), 83–4:

The meaning of Christ’s self-sacrifice provides the New Testament message of reconciliation with a depth-dimension of which the church may never lose sight. To slight this dimension is to lose touch with the very mystery of the gospel.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many who live out of this mystery of salvation and who find there the only consolation for life and death view with suspicion any new ideas putting all the emphasis on what our lives ought to reveal, instead of emphasizing what Christ has done, once and for all, in our place. Is this not a radical shift in focus? And ought we not rather to count as nothing all human effort so that we focus our attention and faith exclusively on what Christ, by his death and resurrection, has fully done, once and for all, in our place?

To think that way is to run the risk of making a serious mistake.

For although we are completely correct to stress the expiatory and atoning effect of Christ’s sacrifice as the focal point of the biblical account of reconciliation, we may not restrict the power of that sacrifice to what Christ once suffered and performed in our place. We refer again to the victorious power of Christ’s death and resurrection in his battle against the powers and demons which, as God’s adversaries, chained persons to their service. But this victory not only affects Satan and his subjects; the suffering and death of Christ also exert a liberating and renewing power in the lives of all who believe in him. The effect of this sacrifice is not only that it frees us from the guilt and punishment of sin, but also that it subjects us to Christ’s regime. Reconciliation means that the world — all things, man included — is again put right with God.

Snowy Roofs and Mortification

As feet of snow continue to pile up on my Minneapolis roof, I’m reminded of one spiritual illustration from Scottish pastor James Hamilton D.D. (1814–67). In days long before attic insulation and roof gutters he observed:

On a winter’s day I have noticed a row of cottages, with a deep load of snow on their several roofs; but as the day wore on, large fragments began to tumble from the eaves of this one and that other, till, by-and-by, there was a simultaneous avalanche, and the whole heap slid over in powdery ruin on the pavement, and before the sun went down you saw each roof as clear and dry as on a summer’s eve.

But here and there you would observe one with its snow-mantle unbroken, and a ruff of stiff icicles around it.

What made the difference? The difference was to be found within.

Some of these huts were empty, or the lonely inhabitant cowered over a scanty fire; while the peopled hearth and the high-blazing fire of the rest created such inward warmth that grim winter melted and relaxed his grip, and the loosened mass folded off and tumbled over on the trampled street. It is possible by some outside process to push the main volume of snow from the frosty roof, or chip off the icicles one by one. But they will form again, and it needs an inward heat to create a total thaw.

And so, by sundry processes, you may clear off from a man’s conduct the dead weight of conspicuous sins; but it needs a hidden heat, a vital warmth within, to produce such a separation between the soul and its besetting iniquities. That vital warmth is the love of God abundantly shed abroad — the kindly glow which the Comforter diffuses in the soul which he makes his home. His genial inhabitation thaws that soul and its favorite sins asunder, and makes the indolence and self-indulgence and indevotion fall off from their old resting-place on that dissolving heart.

The easiest form of mortification is a fervent spirit.


On Reading Nonsense Satire

From the mailbag, Daniel writes to ask: Have you read Rabelais? In your reading of and about the classics, do you know of any reason why a Christian should hesitate to read him, for moral reasons or otherwise?

Good question, Daniel.

François Rabelais (1494–1553) was a contemporary of John Calvin (1509–1564) and the two Frenchmen couldn’t be more unalike. More on that in a moment. Rabelais’s two novels, Gargantua and Pantagruel are named for the central characters in each book (two giants). The works are non-sensical satire of farce, loaded with scatological humor.

I’ve read bits and pieces of the novels in the past and found his works to be so unnecessarily vulgar to lose all luster for me as a reader (there’s an entire paragraph describing how to use a live goose as toilet paper, and worse things I dare not share on this blog).

These novels raise other related questions. Here are a few things to consider regarding Rabelais (in particular) and the genre of nonsense satire (in general).

For a good start, be sure to read two G. K. Chesterton essays (both mention Rabelais).

In A Defence of Nonsense, Chesterton writes, “Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.”

And in A Defence of Farce, he writes: “The literature of joy is infinitely more difficult, more rare and more triumphant than the black and white literature of pain. And of all the varied forms of the literature of joy, the form most truly worthy of moral reverence and artistic ambition is the form called ‘farce.’”

Traveling back in time to Calvin’s Geneva, Rabelais’s novels were condemned as obscene and one could face church discipline (i.e. public lashings) for being found with them.

Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, draws an interesting comparison (8:266):

These two men, so totally different, reflect the opposite extremes of French character. Calvin was the most religious, Rabelais the most witty man, of his generation; the one the greatest divine, the other the greatest humorist, of France; the one a Christian stoic, the other a heathen Epicurean; the one represented discipline bordering on tyranny [??], the other liberty running into license. Calvin created the theological and polemical French style — a style which suits serious discussion, and aims at instruction and conviction. Rabelais created the secular style, which aims to entertain and to please.

But this comparison is a bit overdrawn. Calvin was widely read and appreciated more literature than he commonly gets credit for, and he certainly appreciated the value of wit and sarcasm, as B. B. Warfield explains (W, 5:10–2):

The Reformation was the greatest revolution of thought which the human spirit has wrought since the introduction of Christianity; and controversy is the very essence of revolutions. Of course Calvin’s whole life, which was passed in the thick of things, was a continuous controversy; and directly controversial treatises necessarily form a considerable part of his literary output. We have already been taught, indeed, that his fundamental aim was constructive, not destructive: he wished to rebuild the Church on its true foundations, not to destroy its edifice. But, like certain earlier rebuilders of the Holy City, he needed to work with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other. . . .

Of course he had nothing in common with the mere mockers of the time — des Périers, Marot, Rabelais — whose levity was almost as abominable to him as their coarseness. Satire to him was a weapon, not an amusement. The proper way to deal with folly, he thought, was to laugh at it. The superstitions in which the world had been so long entangled were foolish as truly as wicked; and how could it be, he demanded, that in speaking of things so ridiculous, so intrinsically funny, we should not laugh at them “with wideopen mouth”? Of course this laugh was not the laugh of pure amusement; and as it gained in earnestness it naturally lost in lightness of touch. It was a rapier in Calvin’s hands, and its use was to pierce and cut. And how well he uses it!

More recently, Kevin Vanhoozer makes a very good point about why Rabelais’s works may appeal to the postmodern mind (Is There a Meaning?, 432–3):

Nietzsche and Derrida capture the spirit of much postmodern interpretation — what I call the “spirit of carnival” [a phrase coined to describe Rabelais’s novels]. In the festivities associated with the medieval carnival, hierarchies are turned on their heads (fools become kings and kings fools) and the sacred is profaned. Everything authoritative or serious is mocked and subverted. Indeed, one critic has suggested that Derrida’s most important, though perhaps unintentional, effect has been the “carnivalesque impetus” that has taken hold of and overturned the humanities. To view the world, with Nietzsche and Derrida, as a Dionysian carnival is to celebrate its openness and indeterminacy. Yet the spirit of carnival is ultimately a rebellious spirit, one that undoes authority by mocking it: “Deconstruction subverts from within the system that liberation seeks to change from without. . . . Carnival as a social event is the mockery by the oppressed of the structures of oppression, through an ironic mimicry by the subordinate of the dominant, a reversal of roles.” Carnival is thus an apt metaphor for the postmodern condition.

Finally, I scanned through Douglas Wilson’s blog and books for mentions of Rabelais but with little to show for it. He’s a Chesterton-Calvin-Vanhoozer blended thinker, and I’m certain he could put all these thoughts together on Rabelais in a way I cannot.

There’s a lot more that can be said about the genre of nonsense satire, but for now — for my money — I’d skip Rabelais strictly on the basis of his gratuitous scatological humor and his filthy and crude joking (Eph. 5:3).

145 John Newton Tweets

In the course of writing a book on John Newton (1725–1807), I read all of his 1,000 published letters at least twice. He was a brilliant pastor, and in his pastoral letters I often discovered lines too good, too funny, too challenging, too humbling, or too Christ-centered not to be shared on Twitter instantly.

While I should probably explain my process more in the future, I can say Twitter mostly serves as a platform where I drop research fragments to be later collected for future projects. Today I trolled my Twitter archive and collected my Newton tweets from the past two years of research and organized them into an alphabetical list of quotes to give you a taste of what you’ll find in my book and what you’ll read in Newton’s letters (like those in this wonderful collection).



Newton: “A knock at the door, a turning a corner, may be events which lead to important consequences. There’s no such thing as accidents.”

Newton: “A man learns to preach by learning to acquire confidence, not in himself, but in his cause, and in him in whose name he speaks.”

Newton: “A minister full of comforts and free from failings as an angel, though he would be happy, wouldn’t be a good or useful preacher.”

Newton: “A minister’s hands are strengthened when he can point to his people as living proofs of the doctrine he preaches.”

Newton: “Abominations, like nests of vipers, lie quietly in us, til the rod of affliction rouses them; then they hiss and show their venom.”

Newton: “Alas! how difficult is it to draw the line exactly between undervaluing and overvaluing the gifts of God.”

Newton: “All my hopes and comforts may be summed up by saying, I have a rich and gracious Savior.”

Newton: “All wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and happiness, which does not spring from and center in Christ, my soul desires to renounce.”

Newton: “As desirable and precious as sanctification is, it is not, I trust it never will be, the ground of my hope.”

Newton: “As Jesus appears in your view, / As he is beloved or not; / So God is disposed to you, / And mercy or wrath are your lot.”

Newton: “Be cautious you do not degenerate into a mere hearer, so as to place your chief stress on running after preachers.”

Newton: “Blessed be my Lord and Savior, who saved me from destruction in defiance of myself.”

Newton: “Christ is not only the object, but the author, and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2).”

Newton: “Cold as I feel this heart of mine, / Yet since I feel it so, / It yields some hope of life divine.”

Newton: “Colleges can never make up for a lack of the knowledge of Christ.”

Newton: “Dangerous and inveterate diseases are seldom cured by cakes and candies.” #sanctification #trials

Newton: “Dear Lord, the idol self dethrone / And from our hearts remove / And let no zeal by us be shown / But that which springs from love”

Newton: “Deuteronomy 32:9–12 is a passage which exhibits the history of a believer in miniature, an Iliad in a nutshell.”

Newton: “Disappointment is the grumblings of self-will against the will of God.”

Newton: “Dread whatever grieves the Spirit of God.”

Newton: “Even now, while I write, and while you read, they are praising the Lamb that was slain.”

Newton: “Every drop of rain hits its appointed target.”

Newton: “Every new day is filled up with new things, new mercies on the Lord’s part, new ingratitude on mine.”

Newton: “Every semblance of religion that is not derived from Christ, by faith in his name, is, at the best, like a lamp without oil.”

Newton: “Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Newton: “Experience and observation proves that no doctrine but Jesus Christ and him crucified will withstand the stream of the world.”

Newton: “For about six weeks I have had occasion to spend several hours of almost every day with the sick and the dying.”

Newton: “Gifts are like riches: if well improved, they give a man fairer opportunities of service.”

Newton: “Gladly would I receive more of comforts, but it is more necessary for me now, both as a Christian and minister, that I be humbled.”

Newton: “God formed us for himself, and has given the human such a vastness of thirst for happiness as He alone can answer.”

Newton: “Grace cherishes the smoking flax into a flame.”

Newton: “He does all things well. It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget this plainest of truths.”

Newton: “He found us when we sought him not. Then we began to seek him, and he was pleased to be found by us.”

Newton: “He has given us a capacity and thirst for happiness which, both experience and observation demonstrate, the world cannot satisfy.”

Newton: “He who is duly sensible of the importance and difficulty of winning souls, will find but little leisure for sorting shells.”

Newton: “He will put his silver into the fire to purify it; but he sits by the furnace as a refiner, to direct the process.”

Newton: “Hearers are disposed to be pleased with the preacher if he says nothing to make them displeased with themselves.”

Newton: “How different were Christ’s sufferings from ours? There is no sting in our rod, nor wrath in our cup.”

Newton: “How happy is it to know the Lord, the Fountain of living waters! Every other acquisition without him will prove a broken cistern.”

Newton: “How seldom do we think how much we are indebted to Christ living in us!”

Newton: “I advise you by all means to keep close to the atonement. The doctrine of the cross is the sun in the system of truth.”

Newton: “I am a riddle to myself.”

Newton: “I am afraid we have been, and still are, too guilty of idolatry; and the Lord might justly blast our boasted paradise.”

Newton: “I am neither whig nor tory, but a friend to both. I am a stranger, and a pilgrim.”

Newton: “I am prone to puzzle myself over twenty things which are out of my power, and equally unnecessary, if the Lord be my Shepherd.”

Newton: “I am so totally depraved; but not discouraged.” (hint: 1 Corinthians 1:30–31)

Newton: “I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without the doctrines of grace.”

Newton: “I feel like a man who has no money, but is allowed to draw from one infinitely rich. I am at once both a beggar and rich man.”

Newton: “I have felt impatience in my spirit, utterly unsuitable to my state as a sinner and a beggar.”

Newton: “I have often wished we had more female pens employed in the service of the sanctuary.”

Newton: “I have reason to praise him for my trials, for, most probably, I should have been ruined without them.”

Newton: “I have seldom, if ever, been five minutes late for anything, unless unavoidably prevented, for the past 50 years.”

Newton: “I hope to die like the thief upon the cross. I have no hope, no comfort in myself.”

Newton: “I live by miracle.”

Newton: “I want nothing of that ‘knowledge’ that has not a tendency to make sin more hateful and Jesus more precious to my soul.”

Newton: “I want to deliver up that rebel Self in chains, but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms he slips through my fingers.”

Newton: “I’m a slow scholar, and make bungling work at my lessons to apply the gospel to the common concerns of every hour.”

Newton: “If believing and repenting are proper condition of my salvation, I can no more fulfill them than I can touch the stars.”

Newton: “If communion with God affords the greatest happiness we are capable, whatever indisposes us for this must be our great loss.”

Newton: “If I was not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men, than to horses or cows.”

Newton: “If I’m redeemed from misery by the blood of Jesus; and if he is preparing a mansion that I may drink rivers of pleasure forever!”

Newton: “If millions of millions of distressed sinners seek to Christ for relief, he has a sufficiency for them all.”

Newton: “If we could hear all that is said of us, it would not flatter us much.”

Newton: “If you walk closely with God forty years, you will have a much lower opinion of yourself than you have now.”

Newton: “In London I’m in a crowd of temptations, but in the country there is a crowd of temptations in me. My mind is a Vanity Fair.”

Newton: “It behooves us to keep a clear distinction in our minds between gifts and grace.”

Newton: “It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget the plainest of truths.”

Newton: “It is the triumph of grace to make the rich humble and the poor thankful.”

Newton: “It will be vain for ministers to declare the doctrines of grace unless our testimony is supported by the conduct of our people.”

Newton: “It will not be laid to my charge that I thought too highly of Jesus or expected too much from him. On the contrary.”

Newton: “It’s unnecessary to raise a hurricane to destroy us. Were he to withdraw his arm for a moment some unthought evil would overwhelm.”

Newton: “Let me always rejoice in him, or mourn after him. I will leave the alternative to him, who knows best how to suit my state.”

Newton: “Let me endeavor to lead you out of yourself: let me invite you to look unto Jesus.”

Newton: “Like the sun, Christ has sufficiency to fill innumerable millions of eyes with light in the same instant.”

Newton: “Look unto Jesus. The duty, privilege, safety, the unspeakable happiness, of a believer, are all comprised in that one sentence.”

Newton: “Lord, save us from our golden calves.”

Newton: “May Christ be our theme in the pulpit and in the parlor.”

Newton: “May we sit at the foot of the cross; and there learn what sin has done, what justice has done, what love has done.”

Newton: “My heart is like a country but half subdued. Mutinies and insurrections are daily happening.”

Newton: “My heart is vile, and even my prayers are sin. My soul is very sick, but my Physician is infallible.”

Newton: “My hope is built, not upon frames and feelings, but upon the atonement and mediation of Jesus.”

Newton: “My soul is very sick, but my Physician is infallible.”

Newton: “My soul, ask what thou wilt, / Thou canst not be too bold; / Since his own blood for thee he spilt, / What else can he withhold?”

Newton: “My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with, but the Lord has enabled me to give even this up.”

Newton: “‘None but Jesus’ is my motto.”

Newton: “O precious, irrecoverable time!”

Newton: “O the excellency of the knowledge of Christ! It will be growing upon us through time, yea, I believe through eternity.”

Newton: “O what a mercy to see all power in heaven and earth exercised by Him who was nailed to the cross for sinners.”

Newton: “One ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ ought to have more weight and authority with us, than a thousand arguments.”

Newton: “One view of the brazen serpent (Christ) will do you more good than poring over your own wounds for a month.”

Newton: “Opposition has hurt its thousands. Careless popularity has slain its ten thousands.”

Newton to pastors: “Our work is great; our time is short; the consequences of our labors are infinite.”

Newton: “Overlong sermons … call off the thoughts from the sermon to the pudding at home that is in danger of being overboiled.”

Newton: “People do their country more service by pleading for it in prayer than by finding fault with things they have no power to alter.”

Newton: “Prosperity may cause us to rise in the world, but affliction is needful to raise us above the world.”

Newton: “Rejoice in Christ and resist every temptation to doubt his love as you would resist a temptation to adultery or murder.”

Newton: “Reproof should be in season, in secret, and in love.”

Newton: “Satan will preach free grace when he finds people willing to believe the notion as an excuse and a cloak for idleness.”

Newton: “Self likes to do great things; but grace teaches us to do little things with a great spirit — that is, for the Lord’s sake.”

Newton: “Sin cannot be hated for itself, till we have seen the malignity of it in Christ’s sufferings.”

Newton: “Some persons are so weak, that, if their favorite minister is absent, they hardly think it worth their while to hear another.”

Newton: “Sooner shall a tender mother sit inattentive to her crying infant than Jesus be an unconcerned spectator of his suffering children.”

Newton: “Sovereignty is but another name for the unlimited exercise of wisdom and goodness.”

Newton: “Talk to children about God abstractly, and it is all in vain.”

Newton: “That monster Self has as many heads as Hydra, and as many lives as a cat.”

Newton: “The atonement, power, and grace of Christ, is a sufficient answer for all. You only lack more faith.”

Newton: “The Babe of Bethlehem, the Man who once hung dead and forsaken upon the cross, is now the Lord of glory.”

Newton: “The best advice I can give you: Look unto Jesus, beholding his beauty in the written word.”

Newton: “The cross of Christ is the tree of life and the tree of knowledge combined.”

Newton: “The cross of Jesus Christ, my Lord, / Is food and medicine, shield and sword. / Take that for your motto.”

Newton: “The doctrine of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the Sun of the intellectual world. It can only be seen by its own light.”

Newton: “The fear of man, under the name of prudence, like a chilling frost nips everything in the bud.”

Newton: “The firmament of Scripture is spangled with promises as the sky is with stars, perceptible to us only in the night of affliction.”

Newton: “The life of a Christian is a life of faith in the Son of God.”

Newton: “The Lord Christ, and the world that crucified him, are competitors for our hearts.”

Newton: “The Lord does not give us our arms and regimentals only to strut about in. We must expect blows.”

Newton: “The Lord is my strength; yet I am prone to lean on reeds.”

Newton: “The love I bear him is but a faint and feeble spark, but it is an emanation from himself; he kindled it, and he keeps it alive.”

Newton: “The more simply we commit the how, when, and where, to God’s wisdom and will, the more we shall be free from heart-eating anxiety.”

Newton: “The storms are guided by the hands which were nailed to the cross.”

Newton: “There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie quietly within, till the rod of affliction rouses them.”

Newton: “There is a peace passing understanding, of which the politicians cannot deprive us.”

Newton: “There is but one Physician / Can cure a sin-sick soul!”

Newton: “There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns.’”

Newton: “This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Newton: “This is the worst enemy we have to deal with—self-will—self-wisdom—self-righteousness—self-seeking—self-dependence—self-boasting.”

Newton: “Though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate. I have a gracious and infallible Physician.”

Newton: “To behold the glory and the love of Jesus is the only effectual way to participate of his image.”

Newton: “To see him as he is, and to be like him! This is worth dying for, and worth living for.”

Newton: “To take a glimpse within the veil, / To know that God is mine, / Are springs of joy that never fail, / Unspeakable! divine!”

Newton: “Too much of my time passes in busy idleness.”

Newton: “Trouble excites prayer, prayer brings deliverance, deliverance produces praise (Psalm 116:1–2).”

Newton: “Until we are reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus everything to which we look for satisfaction will fully disappoint us.”

Newton: “We are never more safe than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without Christ.”

Newton: “We are too much attached to our own petty concerns, and too little concerned for the glory of God.”

Newton: “We have a mighty Savior, a compassionate Friend, a prevailing Advocate.”

Newton to pastors: “We have work to do in the world, more to do in the Church and in our homes, but most of all, in our own hearts.”

Newton: “We need to bring our hard hearts into sympathy with those who suffer, lest we be too busy or too happy to attend their moans.”

Newton: “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.”

Newton: “We should never grow weary of writing and reading about Jesus.”

Newton: “What a privilege to possess God in all things while we have them, and all things in God when they are taken from us.”

Newton: “What will it profit a man if he silences his adversary and loses that humble spirit in which the Lord delights?”

Newton: “While you are unfit to die, you can have no true enjoyment of life.”

Newton: “With pleasing grief and mournful joy / My spirit now is fill’d, / That I should such a life destroy, / Yet live by him I kill’d.”

Newton: “Wonderful are the effects when a crucified, glorious Savior is presented to the eye of Faith. This sight destroys the love of sin.”


Reading Digest (January 11)

Books I’m Reading

Every January I dedicate the month to reading books about writing. Writing is my golf game, requiring (never ending) practice as I chase (always elusive) perfection. This year, I’ll be reading five titles:

Forthcoming Books

Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home (B&H; February 1, 2014). A gem to help women navigate the tricky questions of work, home, and ambition. The particular strength is the way it walks through the decisions of women and the workplace through the many changing seasons of a woman’s life. The core chapters on purpose (5), rest (6), identity (7), and ambition (8), will benefit single and married women (and even the men who read it). Early they write: “Is this a book about women working in the marketplace? Yes. Is this a book about women working at home? Yes again. What follows is our exploration of how this looks for different women at various stages of life. We believe there is much wisdom to be mined from the Bible to help us think about love and labor throughout the entire arc of a woman’s life. Therefore, we have segmented this book into three sections: the story of work, the theology of work, and the lifecycle of work.” And it delivers.

Trillia Newbell, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody; March 1, 2014). “Being black, female, and Reformed is one of those unique blends. I am a rare breed.” She is, and in her first book Trillia offers us a valuable message — a blueprint really — for building a diverse array of relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, because maybe most rare of all, this black, female, Reformed friend is also a model of racial diversity in her own life. Her blueprint is clear and realistic and hopeful and driven by one clearly defined ultimate purpose. “My hope is that in reading United, your eyes have been opened to what I believe is the heart of God for diversity. What I am after as I share the beauty of diversity in the church is one thing and one thing only: the glory of God. I don’t want the church to find yet another trendy pursuit to latch onto. The pursuit of diversity is important, yes, but not because it’s trendy, this generation’s ‘hip thing.’ It’s important because the nations fill God’s Word. Seeing the importance of diversity in Scripture should make us want to explore how we can emulate this today. Ultimately it’s all about His glory on this earth and reflecting Him to a broken world.”

New Books

Stephen Altrogge, Untamable God: Encountering the One Who Is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine (self published; 2013). “In order to truly love and follow God, I must come to terms with the fact that I am a spiritual beggar. I am flat-out broke and desperately thirsty. I’ve got nothing to offer God. I must take advantage of him. I don’t have a two-way relationship with God, in which we both give and take. No, he does all the giving and I do all the taking. The reason it is more blessed to give than receive is because it is a model of my relationship with God. God does all the giving and I do all the receiving. There is no bartering with God. I don’t offer him two weeks of prayer and obedience in exchange for two weeks of blessing. I come to God a dirty beggar with empty hands. I leave a son loaded down with blessing. I come to God thirsty and spiritually dehydrated and leave refreshed and overflowing.” Classic Altrogge. The Kindle edition is currently 99-cents.

Reading Digest (January 4)

In 2014 I hope to bring back my frequent reading digests (likely on Saturdays). So, well, here we go!

Books I’m Reading

Books I’ve Read

The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits by Darrin Patrick (Thomas Nelson; Jan. 7, 2014).

I read the manuscript before the foreword by Willie Robertson was attached. It’s a very good one that will prove to be a useful evangelistic tool among men, at least among men who still read books. Eric Mason has recently written a similar book to this same end, addressing men on manhood and working up to the gospel (Manhood Restored). As an aside, I talked with Mason about how discussions over masculinity are opening new avenues to reach Muslim men in his community (listen here).

Needless to say, there’s a growing strategic need for books like Dude’s Guide and Manhood Restored both inside and outside the church.

In Dude’s Guide, Patrick spends the first 10 chapters addressing struggles faced by modern men (absent fathers, finding purpose in the world, work issues, laziness, porn, marriage, and conflict in the home, etc.). He then turns to the truly “heroic man,” Christ (ch 11), and then concludes with a chapter on Christian manhood, or how manhood is live out in Christ (ch 12). Most of the theological substance of the book is reserved for these final two chapters and the flow of the book works really good to this evangelistic end.

Irrespective of the cover, the common cultural tokens of masculinity (like beards) play little role in the book.

Choice quotes:

“Jesus is the true man, but he’s also the true God. And when we trust in him, we are given the gift of salvation. We are also given real power to change our lives because we have been given a divine power source — the Holy Spirit. In giving us himself, God gives us new life. And that gives us hope that we can be different as men. We don’t have to be trapped in the same patterns of rejecting our responsibility, of laziness and sloth, of anger, fear, and frustration. The life Jesus gives us is true life, eternal life, but also just life. It’s freedom, joy, peace, love, courage, and whatever we need to be like him.”

“Men consumed with filling their own emptiness rather than acknowledging it cannot be taught. If we spend our time and energy posing and posturing, we’ll only hear the criticism and not the constructiveness. Instead of craving help, we reject it because it feels like a threat to our manhood. The very thing we need most to enter into true manhood is the very thing we can’t stand.”

A breakdown of some common terms and phrases in the book (by word count):

  • 208  work
  • 78  God
  • 75  Jesus, Christ, Lord (chs 11, 12 = 71x)
  • 74  wife, spouse
  • 51  lust, porn
  • 50  children
  • 49  sex
  • 45  joy, happy, rejoice (ch 11 or 12 = 6x)
  • 41  pride
  • 41  fight
  • 39  control
  • 26  (biblical citations; ch 11 or 12 = 21x)
  • 19  church
  • 16  mentor
  • 7   gospel OR cross
  • 3   guilt
  • 1   beard

Marriage Makes a Poor Idol

Tim Keller, in a 2009 sermon:

Kathy and I, before we were married, had really good prayer lives. Neither of us really thought we were going to get married to anybody. We got married, and without our knowing it, our prayer life kind of went into the toilet.


Well, why do you have to pray to God when all you could do is just call on the phone?

John Newton said the worst thing about a good marriage is the problem of idolatry. For many years, we had no idea how poor our prayer life was because we had made idols out of each other. We didn’t see it that way. We didn’t understand that. But when bad sickness came to both of us we realized our prayer life was nothing like it should have been. The best thing that happened to us was our idols were in jeopardy. It gave us a prayer life back.

Awakening to a false sense of security in a spouse is often gauged by the erosion of the personal prayer life. It’s a hard lesson, but a good one.


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