Category Archives: spurgeon

Books of the Year 2014: The Contenders

I plan to select a list of my favorite books of 2014. My last list covered 2012.

Unlike 2013, during those years when I do have time to stay current on the non-fiction releases from Christian publishers, I usually take some time in July to begin writing out a list of contenders. At this point the list is quite incomplete, but a rough list at this stage will help inventory the books that have caught my attention so far. So here is the early stages of my list of books that will be seriously considered as I develop my final list in November.

As always, I would love to hear from you. What books (released in 2014) should I add?

My list (* newly added titles):

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

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.


Halloween: Mocking the Darkness

On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.

Personal Update (Newtcation Ends)

Today Newtcation ends. It’s been a wonderful several days spent mostly off-line and with a lot of time with the family at the local pool and lakes, and bowling, and attending little league softball and baseball games.

Two weeks steeped in Newton’s letters have been a tremendous blessing to my own soul. On most mornings I awoke to make new discoveries in the pages of the rarest published letters of Newton, many of them made available by the generosity and ingenuity of friends who volunteered university library credentials and iPad cameras to the cause. A lot of my Newtcation mornings looked something like this:


I’m now emerging out of the 18th century and find myself playing catch-up on DOMA, Tsarnaev, Randy Travis, Metta World Peace, Trayvon, Chris Weidman, Sharknadoes, plane crashes in Alaska and SFO, unrest in Egypt, and wildfires in Arizona. So much has happened in the last two weeks.

Going off-line has been worth it. Yesterday I finished the first draft of the Newton book, which I began writing 9 months, 25 days ago. Over these past two weeks I’ve had time to write the final 20% of the book. At 87,606 words, the draft is far too long and will need to be trimmed in the next phase of re-writing (and re-re-writing) that begins now. In the coming months I will be trimming content, tightening sentences, and sharpening the language of the book. From my experience, this is the most enjoyable stage in the writing process.


The manuscript, in its present form, has been passed along to Pastor John, who has kindly offered to read it (gulp) and pen the foreword. Piper’s enthusiasm over the years for Newton, and his popular biographical sketch, have all become significant factors in the enduring legacy of Newton and his works in the Church today. Irrespective of whether my book is any good, to have a foreword from him is not only an honor, but will also provide a push behind Newton’s legacy to extend its life for at least one more generation.

And of course Newtcation has reminded me of the amazing blessing I have been given in my wife. She was up before the kids to edit chapters, kept the kids busy after they awoke so I could write, and then served us all afternoon as we enjoyed family time together. The back of our minivan is a drink and snack taxi, stocked for whatever adventure we filled our afternoons with. I would post a picture of my precious wife here, but, in her words, “Your pictures of me are always so horrible.”

Alas, a lot of great memories will stay with me from Newtcation, but I look forward to getting back to work tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me over these past two weeks as I completed research and writing the first draft of Newton on the Christian Life. I was sustained by God’s amazing grace all along.


A History of the Church in 60 Minutes

Michael Reeves (UK) is a friend and the author of some really outstanding books like Delighting in the Trinity (2012) and The Unquenchable Flame (2010). I love chatting theology with him. Today he released a new message: “A Complete Church History,” which you can download here, or listen to here:

‘Death is dead! Death is dead!’

This morning in my Bible reading I read again the crazy plot to kill Lazarus (John 12:9-11):

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

Threats of death to the resurrected?!

The story reminds me of a Ravi Zacharias sermon jam I found many years ago:

Have you ever wondered what you would do to frighten Lazarus after he’d been raised from the dead? What would you do to threaten him? “Lazarus, I’m gonna’ kill you?” Caligula says, “I’m going to kill you.” He says, “Ha, ha, ha.” He says “Stop ha, ha, ha-ing. I’m going to kill you as I’m killing all the Christians.” He doubles over in uncontrollable laughter, comes up for air and says, “Caligula haven’t you heard? Death is dead! Death is dead!”

How do you frighten somebody who has already been there and knows the one who’s going to let him out? …

Behind the debris of the fallings of our solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists lies the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom, mankind may still survive. The person of Jesus Christ.

The Pastor and His Reading

Monday afternoon in Minneapolis I led a seminar at DG’s 2013 conference for pastors. My topic: The Pastor and His Reading: Why You Are the Key to Building a Church That Loves Books.

This seminar provided me the opportunity to review a basic theology of literacy (as I understand it), and to press a little deeper into the message of Lit! in three new areas.

First, I was able to press a little deeper into why I think literary pleasure is connected to Christ’s glory. There’s still much more work that needs to be done here, but I hope to have advanced the conversation by suggesting the revelation of Christ in the gospel brings with it a reorientation of all our affections around his truth, goodness, and beauty. Which means the glory of Christ brings with it a recalibration of the literary palate.

Second, I was able to look more closely at why and how Bible-centered pastors already inherently provide counter-cultural models of literacy for the men and women in their own churches. That’s not something I’ve pointed out very well in the past but hoped to accomplish in this seminar (with the goal of encouraging these faithful pastors).

Third, I was able to press deeper, think harder, and expand my list of practical suggestions for pastors to a list of 14. So many other things can be done to encourage literacy in our local churches. You’ll find this expanded list in the final pages of my notes.

I was honored to lead the session, enjoyed the questions and answer time, and came away deeply grateful for all the friends who attended. Anyone interested can download the seminar manuscript here (PDF).

Taxes and the Soul

Speaking of taxes, John Piper writes this in his book What Jesus Demands from the World:

It is risky for Jesus to say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” That puts a high premium on obedience to the demands of Caesar. One of the realities that warrants this risk is that the heart of rebellion is more dangerous in us than the demands of Caesar outside of us. Jesus wants us to see that the danger to our soul from unjust, secular governments is nowhere near as great as the danger to our soul from the pride that kicks against submission. No mistreatment from Caesar or unjust law from Rome has ever sent anyone to hell. But pride and rebellion is what sends everyone to hell who doesn’t have a Savior. Therefore, the subordinate authorities of the world are warranted by God’s will in two senses. On the one hand, he wills that we recognize that these authorities are indeed subordinate and that we glorify him as the only supreme sovereign. On the other hand, he wills that we recognize these authorities as God-ordained and that we not proudly kick against what he has put in place.

My Favorite Books of 2012 on Writing

Each year I set aside the month of January to read (and re-read) great books on writing. And each year I discover one or two worthy new titles to add to my bowed shelf of books on the topic.

I suppose the thrill of discovering a new great book on writing is a feeling shared only by fellow wordsmiths. But it is sweet, no? I distinctly remember the bookstore where in 2006 I discovered Virginia Tufte’s magnificent book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. I return to her book every year to be inspired in the delicate art of sentence crafting. And I still remember the smell of the bookstore where I discovered Stanley Fish’s, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, in 2011. Like I said, finding great books on writing is memorable.

This past year I added four new impressive titles to my shelf, so I guess I’ll call them my favorite books of 2012 on writing:

  1. Jack Hart, Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (University of Chicago)
  2. Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon)
  3. Constance Hale, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing (W. W. Norton)
  4. Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing (Knopf)

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