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Gospel Relevance by David Qaoud - 5d ago

It’s that time again — time for me to give you the list of my favorite books of the year.

Before we get to the list, however, let me give my super subjective ranking system. The books below made the list based on four questions:

1. How well was the book written?

2. How great of an immediate impact did the book have on my life?

3. How much of an impact do I think this book will have on my future?

4. How readily would I recommend this book to others?

Maybe I didn’t read every word of a few of the books. But I read enough to consider it one of the top reads. Here are my top books of 2018.

My Top 10 Books of 2018

10. Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith by Holly Ordway

Before reading this book I did not know about the author or the publisher. I’m glad I do now. Ordway is brilliant with words. I had the privilege of hearing her speak on the subject of this book at an apologetics conference back in September and both her lectures and this book were helpful. (Related: The Top 10 Best Apologetics Books)

9. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan

Didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing, but what I read was gold. Copan and I share a birthday so it makes me like him even more. This is a good apologetic book for anyone who struggles with the idea of God allowing so many harsh things to happen in the Old Testament.

8. Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship by Leonard Vander Zee

While I disagree with Vanderzee’s conclusions on baptism, I think his work on the Lord’s Supper is exceptional. This book will make you long to partake in the Eucharist.

7. Karen Jobes’ Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles by Karen Jobes

I put Karen Jobes’ name in the title since there are a lot of books with the same name. Jobes is one of my favorite female Christian writers, and her work in this book shines through. It’s a book that covers Hebrews and the general epistles. The book is bulkier than a study Bible but easier to read than, say, a commentary. Especially helpful for students of theology.

6. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology by J. Richard Midelton

Heaven is not the eternal dwelling place for believers; the New Heavens and New Earth are. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from this book. This is an important subject that clears up some misunderstandings of the afterlife (Related: 5 Common Misconceptions about Heaven and the Afterlife).

5. Acts (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)by I. Howard Marshall

Marshall is always worth reading. In this commentary, he helped clarify some confusing questions I had on the Holy Spirit. This book also gave me a deeper love for God’s church, which is a high praise.

4. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson

Read this one back in January. It’s one of the only few non-academic books I got a chance to read this year, and it is also one of fastest books I read all year (because it’s really good and, when you read a lot of academic books, non-academic work becomes much easier to read). This book is a breath of fresh air, one that will be particularly helpful for those of you who constantly feel like you’re not measuring up.

3. When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression by Richard Winter

The word “depression” found its way into the subtitle but this is far more than just a book on depression. Yes, Winter covers depression. But Winter also writes on an array of emotions that plagues us when life is hard. A good book written by a great man.

2. On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

It’s a pure joy to eavesdrop on one of the best writers of his generation as he gives advice on a subject he has mastered. While I still think On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is still my favorite book on writing, and while parts of this book were not relevant to me (his work on fiction, for example) simply paying attention to King’s syntax was a thrill. The man can write.

1. Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life

This book is a bunch of letters. They are letters from Schaeffer’s own pen as he tackled questions on homosexuality, spiritual formation, doubt, and many other subjects. Pens have eyes, as John Piper likes to say, and reading Schaeffer’s pen gave my eyes a deeper look into his heart. Over and over again I was impressed not just by his answers, but that he would simply respond to people he barely met. This book made me love people better and taught me a lot about pastoring. It’s the best book I read this year. (Related: 4 Lessons I Learned about Pastoral Ministry from Francis Schaeffer)

Previous Years

The post My Top 10 Books of 2018 appeared first on Gospel Relevance.

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I’ve been thinking more about my time in seminary now that I’m nearing the end. I am not the same person today as that guy who started Greek on that anxious Monday morning over two years ago. Indeed, the more I reflect on my time in seminary, the more I realize just how much I’ve grown spiritually. But it hasn’t come without a cost. Spiritual growth is always costly.

What has it cost me?

Here are a few things that come to mind.

Spiritual Growth is CostlyIt cost me money.

I haven’t been able to work full-time since I started seminary because my seminary studies take around 40-45 hours of my week. Before seminary, I had a career and a decent amount of money entered into my bank account every two weeks. I gave that up to go to seminary to grow and learn and to be better equipped to serve the church. But it’s come at a price— literally. It cost me money.

It cost me time.

Three years. That’s how long it’ll take to finish when it’s all said and done. I’ve given three years of my life to study, write, listen, and learn to better serve the church. I often study on Saturdays and miss out on events with friends. I often have to read and write when I get home and sacrifice my evenings. Seminary work is never quite done until the semester is over, so it’s basically on my mind all day for four months at a time. It has cost me lots of my time — time that I could have spent doing something else.

It costs me emotional energy.

Lots of it. Seminary is brutal. And exhausting. Much harder than I thought it would be. But it’s supposed to be this way. I never knew how much worry and anxiety was in me until these three years. When you are in difficult seasons of life, sins and issues rise to the surface that you otherwise did not know were there. It’s a blessing because it helps you identify areas in which you can grow, but it’s painful nevertheless.

It cost me comfort.

It’s been uncomfortable. Starting over two years ago and hardly knowing a soul. Taking over a year to make friends. Constantly being pressured and pushed with Greek and Hebrew Quizzes, tests, exegetical notebooks, writing mini-commentaries, and a sermon — and often all on the same day! I haven’t felt comfortable in life for a long time. But that’s a good place to be. Being uncomfortable forces you to grow.

On and on I can go. It cost me a lot.

But you know what?

I have grown more spiritually over these past few years than any other time in my life.

While it’s been hard and at times I’ve wanted to quit, it’s been a huge aid to my sanctification.

Spiritual growth is costly. In order to gain more of Christ, you have to give up other things. There’s always a tradeoff. You have to take action. You have to make changes and sacrifices. Nobody who goes to the gym once every six weeks gets stronger. It’s a regular commitment, but the payoff is huge.

D.A. Carson on Spiritual Growth

D.A. Carson writes:

“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

Yes, it’s the Holy Spirit that sanctifies you and does the work. But it’s not like you don’t have a part to play. We must never separate God’s sovereignty and human responsibility — they always go together.

What does this look like for you?

It may mean you sacrifice money to buy two new books to read a month. It may mean you sacrifice comfort and wake up early every morning to spend time praying and reading your Bible. It may be you sacrifice your Wednesday night every week and make small group a priority. Either way, if you’re going to grow, it’s going to be costly. Spiritual growth is always costly. But the tradeoff of receiving more of Christ is worth it.

The post Spiritual Growth is Costly appeared first on Gospel Relevance.

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Wednesday, October 31st marks the 501st anniversary of Reformation Day. The Christian blogosphere and social media accounts will be packed with references about Martin Luther and his involvement in the Reformation. I’m glad this will happen. But I want to take a different direction. I want to talk about his marriage.

Martin Luther didn’t marry until age 42. But when he did, his marriage changed the way the western world thought about marriage.

What’s Luther known for? He’s known for good and bad things. On the good side, he’s known for his passionate views on the doctrine of justification and for his writings — he was a deep thinker and gifted with words. But perhaps his biggest known contribution is his bravery in helping spark the Reformation. 1

What Sparked the Reformation

There are many factors that contributed to the birth of the Protestant Reformation. Big movements (good) don’t happen on accident, and they’re often a response to something (bad) else.

Here are some of the things that helped spark it:

-Nationalism – There was increasingly a desire to reject papal authority for the sake of allegiance to one’s home country and the rules and power that came with it rather than submitting to the Roman Catholic Church.

Ad Fontes– This is a Latin expression which means, “Back to the sources.” As opposed to merely trusting what others say, like the berenas (Acts 17:10-12), there was an increased desire for one to discover truth on his or her own terms.

The Printing Press – The guy who invented the printing press died thinking he was a failure. Little did he know he changed the world. With the invention of the Printing press, books and other resources spread much more rapidly.

Black Plague – People were dying quickly from it. The fear of hell and death haunted people. This made room for the gospel and a safe and secure eternity to shine, as opposed to legalism and self-righteousness, which the Roman Catholic Church advocated, adding to the problem.

The corruption of the Catholic church —There was much corruption within the church, but perhaps what was most hurtful — both then and now — is the sexual corruption. Priests were taking advantage of others, and many were giving into bigamy.

And herein lies what helped Luther’s marriage to stand out. Because of the sexual corruption in the Catholic church, the biblical idea of marriage — one man and one woman, who stay faithful to one another for life — created so much interest. In fact, it too helped start the Protestant Reformation.

Chief among protestant marriages was the marriage of Martin Luther. Little did he know that God would use his marriage to change the world.

It’s amazing how much good you can do just by being faithful. Your faithfulness will be even more prominent when the bar is set low.

Martin Luther and Katie von Bora

Luther was the one who proposed marriage for clergy, and this idea passed in 1520. But Luther himself did not want to marry. At least not at first.

“I will never take a wife,” Luther said. He continued, “Not that I am insensible to my flesh . . ., but my mind is averse to wedlock because I daily expect the death of a heretic.”

Luther was obsessed with the idea of dying as a martyr. “Why get married if I’m just going to die for the Lord anyway,” he may have thought to himself. But that would change when he met his eventual wife — Katie von Bora.

Katharina von Bora (1499-1552) was a nun. Born of an esteemed family, she was set on being a nun for life, until she secretly read Luther’s book, On Monastic Vows in 1522, which denied clerical celibacy. Inspired by Luther’s book and the prospect of getting hitched, she (and other nuns) abandoned her life as a nun, seeking perhaps to get married.

The other nuns who left this lifestyle either returned to relatives or had success in finding a spouse. But not Katie, who was rejected by one potential spouse as being too old. I suspect she got sick of waiting around, so she took matters upon herself. She herself suggested that she should marry Luther. And whaddya know? It worked. Reluctantly, Luther gave in.

Luther married Katie to “take pity” on her. When they first married, he was not in love with her. He said, “I feel neither passionate love nor burning for my spouse.” Worse, the main reason why Luther married Katie was to “spite the pope.” Nevertheless, they got married in the summer of 1525.

But something amazing happened after they married: Luther fell in love with his wife. He said, “I love my Katie; yes, I love her more dearly than myself.” They were married for 21 years and had six children together.

In a book on Church History, we are told that “ . . . perhaps most significant is the fact that because it was such a public event, it became the paradigm for a new Protestant understanding of marriage. Indeed, many scholars contend that Luther inaugurated a cultural paradigm shift in the very concept of marriage . . . Luther and Katie changed the way the western world thought about marriage.”

For so long, in that day, marriage was about social status, not mutual affection and love. Sex was even looked poorly upon, even by Augustine who wrongly argued that sex, even in marriage between one man and woman, was still slightly stained by sin. But Luther and Katie changed the way people viewed sex and love and marriage and romance. Indeed, their faithfulness to one another for over two decades changed the way the western world thought about marriage.

Martin Luther was not a perfect man. But the Lord used him in great ways. As you reflect on Reformation Day this year, do think about the doctrine of justification. But also think about his marriage. After all, it changed the world.


  1. Some of the quotes and ideas of this post were derived from Church History (see pages 140-141).

The post Martin Luther’s Marriage Changed the Western World appeared first on Gospel Relevance.

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I recently read a list of recommended books on pastoral ministry from someone whom I greatly admire. While I have not read many of these books myself, I hope to be able to read them in the future. If you’re a pastor (or a prospective pastor) and you’re looking for a good book to read on your craft, I am sure you will be able to find one below, along with a brief blurb about the book from Amazon.

Also, please note that this list is not exhaustive. I am sure there are tons of other books on pastoring that could have made this list. The books here tend to be a little more theological in nature and are simply 10 books of a genre that is, by God’s grace, packed with many great options.  Enjoy the books.

Recommended Books on Pastoral Ministry

1. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter

“Richard Baxter was vicar of Kidderminster from 1647 to 1661. In an introduction to this reprint, Dr. J.I. Packer describes him as ‘the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced.’ His ministry transformed the people of Kidderminster from ‘an ignorant, rude and revelling people’ to a godly, worshipping community. These pages, first prepared for a Worcestershire association of ministers in 1656, deal with the means by which such changes are ever to be accomplished. In his fervent plea for the discharge of the spiritual obligations of the ministry, Baxter, in the words of his contemporary, Thomas Manton, ‘came nearer the apostolic writings than any man in the age.’ A century later Philip Doddridge wrote, ‘The Reformed Pastor is a most extraordinary book…many good men are but shadows of what (by the blessing of God) they might be, if the maxims and measures laid down in that incomparable Treatise were strenuously pursued’.

2. Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition by Andrew Purves

“Too often pastoral care is uninformed by historical practice and is overly influenced by psychological theory and practice, according to Andrew Purves. At least one consequence of this is that it is often disaffiliated from the church’s theological heritage. Purves examines Christian writers from the past who represent the classical tradition in pastoral theology–classical in the sense that they and their texts have shaped the minds and practices of pastors in enduring ways. He reflects on texts from Gregory Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Martin Bucer, and Richard Baxter. He includes a brief biography of each author, introduces the major themes in the writer’s theology, and discusses the issues arising for pastoral work.”

3. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D.A. Carson

“D. A. Carson’s father was a pioneering church-planter and pastor in Quebec. But still, an ordinary pastor-except that he ministered during the decades that brought French Canada from the brutal challenges of persecution and imprisonment for Baptist ministers to spectacular growth and revival in the 1970s.

It is a story, and an era, that few in the English-speaking world know anything about. But through Tom Carson’s journals and written prayers, and the narrative and historical background supplied by his son, readers will be given a firsthand account of not only this trying time in North American church history, but of one pastor’s life and times, dreams and disappointments. With words that will ring true for every person who has devoted themselves to the Lord’s work, this unique book serves to remind readers that though the sacrifices of serving God are great, the sweetness of living a faithful, obedient life is greater still.”

4. Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar

“FRANCIS SCHAEFFER was one of the most influential apologists of the 20th century. Through his speaking, writing, and filmmaking, Schaeffer successfully transformed the way people thought of the Christian faith, from a rather private kind of piety to a worldview that addressed every sphere of life. This volume—written by a man converted from agnosticism within days of meeting Schaeffer—is the first book devoted to exploring the heart and soul of Schaeffer’s approach to the Christian life, and will help readers strive after the same kind of marriage of thought and life, of orthodoxy and love.”

5. The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers by David Hansen

“Named one of the Top Ten Books of 1994 by the Academy of Parish Clergy! Hundreds of books, tapes, workshops and seminars promise to answer these impossible questions. Some offer a set of practical guidelines; others suggest a system or pattern to follow. Some stress various ministry functions; others feature case studies as models of success or failure. Some are helpful. Others are not. But in The Art of Pastoring, David Hansen turns pastoral self-help programs on their heads. He tackles the perennial questions from within his own experience.”

6. Church Government: A Treatise (Classic Reprint) by Alexander T. McGill

“God’s word is my text-book, and its lines referred to are quoted, for the most part, in full on these pages to save the reader time and trouble in pondering citations.i Certain words and phrases must be capital in such a book as this; they are used as keys continually to indicate the scope, design and distinctive nature of such a work. These are, in this case, representation, organization, private judgment, spiritual des potism, and the like. So, also, there must be some repetition of idea in the application of the same thought to another side of the main subject or a subsequent step in the same movement. Yet redundancy in this way will hardly be Observed when the reader’s mind is fairly occupied with the consecutive drift of an argument.”

7. Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry by Thomas C. Oden

“Reconciling classical tradition with practice, Pastoral Theology will be a standard resource and reference in the field. Oden distills the best ideas of the two millennia of ecumenical Christian thinking concerning what pastors are and do. Pastoral Theology provides the foundational knowledge of the pastoral office requisite to the practice of ministry. It will be of interest to persons preparing for ordination in its review of key issues; at the same time, Pastoral Theology will appeal to all those who have considered entering the ministry, those who want to know more about what clergy do and why, and those ministers who want to review their ongoing work in the light of a systematic reflection on the pastoral gifts and tasks.”

8. The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson

“In The Pastor, author Eugene Peterson, translator of the multimillion-selling The Message, tells the story of how he started Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland and his gradual discovery of what it really means to be a pastor. Steering away from abstractions, Peterson challenges conventional wisdom regarding church marketing, mega pastors, and the church’s too-cozy relationship to American glitz and consumerism to present a simple, faith-based description of what being a minister means today. In the end, Peterson discovers that being a pastor boils down to “paying attention and calling attention to ‘what is going on now’ between men and women, with each other and with God.”

9. Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation by Andrew Purves

“In Pastoral Care in the Classical Tradition, Andrew Purves argued that pastoral care and theology has long ignored Scripture and Christian doctrine, and pastoral practice has become secularized in both method and goal, the fiefdom of psychology and the social sciences. He builds further on this idea here, presenting a christological basis for ministry and pastoral theology.”

10. Pastor: Revised Edition: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry by William Willimon

“Ordained ministry, says Will Willimon, is a gift of God to the church—but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Always a difficult vocation, changes in society and the church in recent years have made the ordained life all the more complex and challenging. Is the pastor primarily a preacher, a professional caregiver, an administrator? Given the call of all Christians to be ministers to the world, what is the distinctive ministry of the ordained? When does one’s ministry take on the character of prophet, and when does it become that of priest? What are the special ethical obligations and disciplines of the ordained?”

Other Book Lists

If you’re looking for some more good books, here are a few links that will point you in the right direction.

The Christian Reader’s Resource Guide

2017 Summer Reading List for Christians

The Top 10 Best Books on Christian Apologetics

15 Books that Have Formed Me As a Christian

Book Recommendations for Christians

The post Recommended Books on Pastoral Ministry appeared first on Gospel Relevance.

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