I was spending some time in Leland Ryken's biography of J.I. Packer, recently, and ran across a section where Ryken highlights Packer's ministry-long emphasis on the value of God's Word. I love this - may it remind us all to not neglect the Bible, but to give it our attention both as individuals and in churches.
Everything in the section below comes straight from J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken, pp. 255-56. Section headings are Ryken's; quotes are Packer's:
The Bible has fallen into great neglect among Christians:
"Once, most Westerners knew something of what was in the 'Good Book' to guide us in our lives; nowadays, however, very few know or care what the Bible teaches.”
This is not a minor issue but a major one:
"Ignorance of the Bible remains tragic, for it virtually guarantees ignorance of God.”
Restoring the Bible to the center of life is urgent:
"To reestablish in people’s minds the truth and wisdom of the biblical message…is perhaps the church’s most urgent task today.”
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A few days ago, Brookside's co-lead pastor, Jeff Dart, preached a sermon championing the value of spiritual discipline in the life of believers. (I encourage you to check it out - click here and scroll down to the sermon preached on Sept 25, 2016, titled "Be Disciplined with Purpose.")
The spiritual disciplines are important enough that the Brookside Institute has devoted one of our classes to this topic - "Grow: An Important Class about Spiritual Formation." This class spends 8 sessions digging into the goal of spiritual formation (godliness) and specific disciplines, practices, or habits that will cultivate godliness in our lives. (Check out what others are saying about the "Grow" class here.)
All that to say: Spiritual disciplines are important. We don't drift into godliness as followers of Jesus Christ; rather, we need to take intentional steps to pursue a lifetime of growth.
Yesterday I was reading a section from Steven D. Boyer's and Christopher A. Hall's Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable, and found this excerpt that further reinforces and explains this value of spiritual discipline.
(This is an updated version of a post I initially composed on July 22, 2014.)
I've recently gotten a few questions from people asking very specifically how they can get emails with updated posts from the Brookside Institute blog, without having to remember to check in periodically on their own. They want to stay in the loop, but they won't always remember to go looking for new content. And when they do remember, they may not be near a computer or it may not be a convenient time.
I love this question. I love it that people want to stay in the loop, and that we're providing valuable enough content that people want to stay engaged.
Here's how I respond to this question:
There's no way that I know of to get emails specifically from the Brookside Institute, providing updated content as new posts are published. (If I'm missing something on this, someone please let me know!) However that doesn't mean there's no way to conveniently stay in the loop. The solution is to subscribe to something called a "feed reader" that will collect the content (the "RSS Feed") you want from sites you subscribe to. Then, you simply monitor your feed reader and can conveniently stay up to date on the content you've chosen to subscribe to.
Below I've included some detailed steps on how to subscribe to an RSS Feed and have it collected into a feed reader. Before I get into that, though, let me briefly share WHAT an RSS Feed is and WHY subscribing to the RSS Feed can be helpful.
A few good goals in reading books are (1) how can this book expand my horizons in certain areas? (2) how can I understand the author, such that I can articulate what he or she thinks about this subject? and (3) how can this book be a resource for me? Or, more succinctly stated, good goals for reading books are expanded horizons, understanding others, and accumulating (re)usable resources.
If these are some of my primary goals for reading, that shapes HOW I read books. For example, with some books, I can identify how this book can be a continuing resource for me without reading every word on every page. Or I can mine a particular chapter in a book to have my horizons expanded in that specific area, without having to read every other chapter. And then there are those books I spend LOTS of time in - reading and re-reading them, underlining and making notes in margins, and discussing with others.
I've created the acronym R.E.A.D. as a helpful way for me to consider HOW I want to work through a book, such that it meets one or more of these goals stated above. In case this is helpful for you as well, here's what R.E.A.D. stands for and how I try to use it. (As you read, keep in mind this acronym is a device used to aid reading well - don't look for overly technical precision or force some of the analogies too far!)
In his thought-provoking (and very often insightful!) book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, author James K.A. Smith reminds us that Christian discipleship isn't only about what you know; it's also about what you love. (That right there is a statement we should marinate in and meditate on, by the way.) The book teases out what this can mean for the Christian and in the life of the local church. Is desire really that big of a deal? How are our loves shaped? What role does the local church play in this?
Smith then goes on towards the end of his book to apply the concepts he's developed to other specific contexts (family, education, vocation). I want to BRIEFLY highlight a small slice of what Smith says about Christian education, since it overlaps with so much of what we want to be about at the Brookside Institute.
D.A. Carson begins his book How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil with these words:
One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If by that point our beliefs - not well thought out but deeply ingrained - are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed himself in the Bible and supremely in Jesus, then the pain from the personal tragedy may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundations of our faith" (p. 11).
In other words, there is tremendous value in thinking about suffering and evil even when our lives aren't directly touched at the current moment by these things. But let's be honest: For most of us, thinking about suffering and evil isn't an abstract thought-exercise. Thinking about suffering and evil brings real feelings to the surface, it revisits personal tragedy we've experienced or are experiencing, and it brings sin and the brokenness of our world to the center of our attention.
For all of these reasons, then, reflecting on a distinctly Christian perspective of suffering and evil is vital. Whether suffering "feels" distant or near, there's value in both embedding ourselves in Christian truth and surrounding ourselves with voices who can relate and speak to our struggles. As D.A . Carson goes on to say, "The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough, and we will suffer" (p. 16).
Certainly, the Bible should always take pride of place in providing perspective and coming alongside of us as we experience pain and suffering. Books like Job and Lamentations can be precious here. And learning that Jesus relates to our pain and suffering - that He himself experienced injustice, loss, tragedy, grief, and more - teaches us that Jesus is our ally and a shoulder to lean on as we endure and address our own suffering.
Other Christian books can also play a role here - at articulating biblical truth in a helpful way, and sharing personal experiences of suffering, grief, and pain. With this last comment in mind, then, below are six books that I suggest to those who are looking for resources to help them reflect on a distinctly Christian perspective on and approach to the reality of pain, suffering, and evil.
(One more quick, but really important, comment: Working through issues like suffering, pain, and evil should never be done with just you and a book - as helpful as books can be. Remember to also surround yourself with Christian community and consider the value of pastoral and/or professional counseling if appropriate.)
All right, on with the book recommendations:
As of yesterday, it's officially summer. I laughed when I saw this tweet from @ChrchCurmudgeon:
And since it's summer, I figured I'd post a few books I'm wanting to read and spend time in this summer. No guarantees, but here's to hope! :)
If you've got some extra time over the next couple of months - maybe you're traveling a bit, or your summer schedule allows you more time to read for other reasons, or you just want some book recommendations as you maintain a habit of reading - here are a few books you may want to consider. I encourage you to explore these books a bit (each is looked to their Amazon page where you can learn more) and jump in - the water's fine!
What Did the Early Church Include in their Training of Believers? 9 Categories of Catechetical Content
From the earliest days of the church in the centuries following the death of the apostles, an intentional "training program" (or catechesis) was developed to form and shape believers in the Christian community. Why was this track of catechesis important? Alan Kreider points out a key reason in his The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire: "...believers knew that their practices [i.e., their noticeable, distinctive Christian lifestyles] were not acquired genetically or absorbed from pagan society. As Tertullian puts it around AD 200, 'Christians are made, not born'" (p. 134).
Those following Jesus took intentional steps to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2); they took intentional steps to be made new in the attitude of their minds and to put on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24); they took intentional steps to make sure they were strengthened and encouraged in their Christian faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2). A key part of these "intentional steps" was a value placed on catechizing (i.e., intentionally training) those in the Christian faith.
It's important to note that a number of different components were included in catechesis. Catechetical practices developed over time in the first few centuries. And no single approach seems to be have been adopted everywhere as the early church grew. We need to acknowledge the numerous layers and the diversity that characterized catechesis.
Nevertheless, catechesis was valued. As Kreider points out in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, by the fourth century we have enough samples of catechetical priorities that we can present a composite picture of what the early church included in their catechetical content.
So (more simply), what did the early church teach?
Assuming I've been keeping tally of things correctly, you're officially reading Post #200 on this Brookside Institute site! Over the course of the last 12 months, we've had 16,600+ unique visitors to this site, and over 87,500 total page views. Whether this is your first intro to who we are or you've been tagging along for a while, thanks for joining in!
As the posts continue accumulating, I don't want that to keep us from looking back every now and then - to review what the Brookside Institute is all about, and for me to mention posts that are either some of my personal favorites or that have gotten lots of traction. These sorts of "review posts" also serve as a sort of index (or Table of Contents?), organizing the material and helping orient you to who we are and what we're about at the Brookside Institute.
What I've done with this post, then, is organized some links under the following categories:
Underneath each category, I've included a short list of links to pages on this site where you can learn more about who we are and what we're up to.
My recommendation? Scroll through the index that's below, and find 3-4 posts you want to check out. This is a great way to see what we're doing and get to know the Institute a bit better!
I try to champion biblical meditation every way that I can.
If you're new to this idea of "biblical meditation," here's a brief summary: Biblical meditation is choosing to intentionally direct our focus. Specifically, we focus ON God's Word - the Bible - and what we learn there about who God is and what He's doing. We focus FOR Christ-like transformation - so that we slowly and increasingly think and act in a Christ-like way. For a whole post I wrote on biblical meditation, click here.
And before we write this off as a spiritual discipline for the "super saints," I want to quickly point out that we all choose to direct our focus somewhere. (In other words, this habit of meditation is very doable, because most of us are already doing it often. The variable is WHAT we are meditating upon.)
In his very worthwhile book, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation, author Robert L. Saucy suggests that "If you know how to worry...then you know how to meditate" (p. 155). I, for one, agree. For all of us who have ever re-played scenarios over and over in our mind, or focused intently on some puzzle that needed to be solved, we have practiced "meditation," i.e. the art of focusing our thinking on something.
What followers of Jesus Christ need to do is learn to direct our focus towards the Bible and its Author, rather than being slaves to stray thoughts. We need to fill our minds with small chunks of the Bible - specific verses and short passages - that we choose to think about (i.e., meditate upon) as we're stopped at a red light, performing a mundane task, waiting in line somewhere, or going for a walk.
Looking for some verses and short passages you can start meditating on?
Below I've included a small handful of suggestions. I encourage you to write 2 or 3 of these down on an index card or input them into your phone so they're handy, and then keep returning to these and filling your mind with biblical truth:
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.