Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Things I Don't Know

Of course with a title like this I could write for hours, or perhaps there is just so much that I don't know that I should change the title. I'll leave the title and assume that you know I am more ignorant than a few paragraphs in a blog entry. Thanks for understanding.

There are many things I don't know. Some are just curiosities, like is Valentine's Day a bigger deal in Valentine South Dakota than in the rest of the country? Other things are worries and exasperations, like why on earth did I take a 7 a.m. class this semester? But there are many things I don't know that are of genuine importance: theological issues, practical applications of Biblical mandates, marital difficulties, etc. At the top of my list this morning is child rearing! How on earth does a 24 year old man raise a child?

Krista continues to progress wonderfully with the pregnancy, and we are so thankful to the Lord for the gift of life that He has given us in a new child. We prayed for a long time, with many friends and family members, that God would grant us a child, and in His timing He answerd our request. What joy this has brought to us, and yet what new challenges await us. Becoming a father is such an exciting thing. I can recall the affection and admiration that I have always had for my father, and remember the time spent with him as a boy...and I pause..."soon someone will, hopefully, have those same thoughts and feelings and delights in me!" "How did my father do it?" I wonder, "How did he learn to be a father?" It is the very question I am currently wrestling with. But I know that just as God answered our prayers for a child so He will answer my prayer, "Lord, How do I raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord." Thankfully His word gives direction, and His people have counsel to give. But what a delight it is to know that I have two wonderful examples to learn from: 1) My Father, who raised two boys and a girl to love the Lord and serve Him, and 2) My Heavenly Father, who gives every good and perfect gift, discplines me for the sake of godliness, and sacrificed His beloved Son, Jesus, that I may have eternal life. What better tools than all these can I have for learning to be a godly father?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Church Libraries

The importance of a good church library cannot be overstated. Christ has given to the church, the Bible tells us, teachers. Men (and women) who are able to wrestle with theology and scripture and write wonderful works to inform the church. Christian growth and insight happens through reading the Bible mostly, but also through reading helpful clarifications from other teachers (i.e. good Christian books). Notice that I said “good” Christian books. A few years ago I was helping to clean out a church library, the reason being that most of the contents of that library were not worth saving. Churches need to acquire books that will help grow the faith, servanthood, and knowledge of its members. They do not need books that are useless, outdated, and shallow (nor heretical, which most churches would be surprised to know they possess). The fact is that churches should appoint godly and discerning individuals to oversee the stocking and purchase of books for their libraries. An individual who will know where to get not only good deals but good books. To help these individuals I have written this booklet. It is my intention to help churches build up good theological libraries for their teachers and members, and thus to help Christians everywhere grow in their faith, knowledge, love and service to the Lord.

A good Church library consists of 8 specific categories, or collections, of books: Church Life, Christian Living, Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Ministry Studies, Church History, Apologetics, and Counseling. Each should have a sufficient store of works that will span from both deep and technical to introductory and simple. This will help your congregation to not only acquire knowledge on how to be Christ-centered in a wider stream of life, but also to progress in knowledge in certain areas. A closer look at each category will help to explain why each is so important and what church librarians should be looking for when they seek to buy books for it.

Church Life This one category is almost always overlooked in the establishment of a church library. It is evidence of the “me” mindset of our culture invading the church. Most members of the church don’t realize that they have responsibilities and can partake of many joys in their church life together. They don’t usually understand the theology of church life. By supplying books for this category you can reform your church’s mentality from a “come to church, worship, go home” mentality to one of more Christ-like service, love, and fellowship with one another. Use this category to build up a theology of the Church among your members.
Things to look for: In this category you are looking for books that explain church member responsibilities, fellowship, and general spiritual growth together as a body of believers in a local congregation. Some suggested volumes for this category include: Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald S. Whitney; Life in the Body by Curtis C. Thomas; Life in My Father’s House by Wayne A. Mack; and The Disciple Making Church by Bill Hull.

Christian Living This is a common category in Church libraries, but it is also the one for which books are supplied without discernment. The supposition often is that any Christian living book is a good, but this is far from the truth. Your members don’t have time to read everything, and most barely have time to read anything. The conclusion to draw from this statement, then, is that we should offer them only the best reading material. So purchase books wisely for this category. Books in this category may approach any subject regarding living as a Christian in the day to day life. Such topics as: parenting, dating, money/finances, career/vocation, personal spiritual disciplines, devotional literature, etc. This list is quite expansive, but you get the point.
Things to look for: look for literature that is distinctly geared towards living out the gospel. Texts that use scripture as the foundation for their theses. Avoid books that tend to express achievement of goals in simple steps (i. e. “Ten Steps to Divorce Proof Your Marriage,” etc.). Look for books that give a healthy, simple, theological foundation for their topic, and avoid those that have no biblical support for their theses (i. e. “Going to the Movies is wrong because movies are made by non-Christians”). Some recommended works include: Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper; Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes; Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; and Personal Spiritual Disciplines by Donald S. Whitney.

Biblical Studies Study of the Bible is so key to the Christian life that a church should be willing to purchase materials to help and encourage its members to do just that. By offering commentaries, book studies, Testament surveys, and hermeneutical texts for its members a church can facilitate deeper knowledge of the scriptures among its members. Members who have never read Ezekiel will suddenly find themselves raptured in its content, theological meaning, and practical application as they read from the wisdom and research of Old Testament scholars.
Things to Look for: Remember that not all Biblical studies are conservative and orthodox. A major part of acquiring good literature in this field will mean becoming familiar with top scholars from theological institutions across the globe, and also conservative publishers. When you find one or two theologically conservative Biblical scholar see who they recommend, or e-mail them and ask them for recommendations. Look for books that will give basic introductions to whole books of the Bible, as well as surveys of the entirety of Scripture. Surveys are good for getting the big picture but it is harder to find a good one. Individual book studies will narrow the scope of study and make it more specific, but try to find texts that also keep in mind the larger context of the entire cannon of Scripture. Avoid too many heady academic works and zero in on simple commentaries (try those that are basically the expositional sermons of preachers re-formatted in the shape of a commentary, see John MacArthur, R. Kent Hughes, James Montgomery Boice, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones for examples). Recommended texts include: An Introduction to the New Testament ed. D.A. Carson, Doug Moo, and Leon Morris; According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy; and The Word Speaks Today Commentary Series edited by John Stott.

Systematic Theology The modern church has made a large scale abandonment of formal doctrinal study. It is all too often asserted that since doctrine divides we must not broach the subject. Theology, however, is something we all have, regardless of what we say. Theology comes from a compound words the word “Theos” which is Greek for “God” and “ology” which we know means the “study of”. Thus Theology is the Study of God. This is a must for all Christians and should be a desire. Paul’s letters were highly doctrinal, read through Ephesians and see the doctrines of election and redemption clearly defined. His letter to the Romans has often been compared to a Systematic Theology texts which, while not exactly true, reveals the apostle’s own conviction about doctrinal study. No one has it all figured out and theology must be pursued with humility, but it must be pursued in order that we might think rightly about our God. While Scripture is not to be regarded as a text book of systematic theological subjects, as we read it we find that it does speak on various theological subjects. Theologians who have taken what the Bible says as a whole on various subjects and set them into categories offer us a help to better understanding these doctrines through the lens of Scripture.
Things to Look for: There is no perfect Systematic Theology text. I can’t imagine that anyone agrees with the entirety of a theologians book as it covers so many subjects and some of a very highly sensitive nature. Thus it is good to collect a wide range of works from various denominational backgrounds. That being said it is important to check out a theologians writing on the central issues to the faith. Any theologian who denies the essentials of Christian faith (divinity of Jesus, trinity, resurrection in the flesh, second coming, etc.) will not be beneficial purchase for the lay members of your congregation. Along with finding orthodox systematics , collect also both introductory studies, single issue books, and more detailed investigatory pieces. This will provide a wide range of topics, as well as depth levels for your congregation. Recommended texts include: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem; Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie; The Doctrine of God by John M. Frame; The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul; The Cross of Christ by John Stott; The Glory of Christ by John Owen; The Message of Salvation by Philip Ryken; and The Doctrine of the Work of Christ by Robert Letham.

Ministry Studies For those both in the ministry currently and those who are considering pursuing the ministry it is important for churches to train them up and continue educating them. It has been said, and wisely I might add, “Seminaries do not make pastors, churches do.” We might add that seminaries do not make missionaries, Sunday school teachers, or lay theologians either. God uses the church to make all His ministers and it is there that they should begin their education. To that end we should attempt to offer them introductions to various aspects as well as theological overviews of their various roles. This is key both to training up new leaders in the church as well as fueling your current leadership on to Biblical fulfillment of their duties.
Things to Look for: Avoid purely pragmatic works. Methodology is not all that matters in the ministry, Biblicalism is King! If a method works but is contrary to Scripture than it is to be abandoned. Books that move the church away from preaching, doctrinal education, Biblio-centrism are not part of any “Good” church library. Look for texts that combine both the theological motivations with the theological foundations. Look for books that will be helpful training tools for young pastors, those considering the pastorate, and or those with long-term experience who desire to train up younger men. Seek tools that will help grow leadership within the church in other areas as well, such as deacons, Sunday school teachers, and various ministry leaders. Examine works that will incorporate men and women at various levels of church life. Finding commendable works on women’s ministry in the church will be harder but see what godly men you trust are recommending. I list one that will get you started here: Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan III & Susan Hunt; Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch; The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever & Paul Alexander; Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever; The New Testament Deacon by Alexander Strauch; and The Crisis of Caring by Jerry Bridges.

Church History This may seem like a rather useless category but it is just such thinking that urges me to promote it. The ignorance of the last 2,000 years of our heritage has led to repeated mistakes and frustrations in the church. When we learn that our forefathers encountered many of the criticisms of the faith that we do today we take hope and strength from the works they wrote concerning them. When we see the way God has worked to preserve His church throughout the centuries we are reminded of His faithfulness. When we read of the suffering of those who have gone before us we are humbled and encouraged to do greater works for God’s glory. Church history does much for us today, it not only explains how we got to where we are, but it gives us hope, encouragement, and testimony of God’s power and grace.
Things to Look for: “History Twisting” is uncommon to no age, and church librarians will have to take this into consideration as they search for works to add to the collection. It becomes important to seek out historians who have credibility with other historians. Few men will give credence to a collegue who is does poor research and bears false facts. Also stick close to Christian historians from conservative institutions who will rightly interpret the theological implications and intentions of events and individuals from history. Again it is necessary to find both a good Christian and a good historian, this is not always easy but here are a few good names: Tom Nettles; Timothy George; Michael A.G. Haykin; Mark A. Noll; Roland H. Bainton; Iain H. Murray; and Arnold Dallimore. A few other comments are worthy of mention here. Don’t stray from the high points of church history. Your members cannot appreciate the “Open Communion Debate” between 17th Century Baptists until they have a wider vision of their heritage. Furthermore avoid too many surveys, most are too generic and will only re-hash the same things that the other texts you purchase will too. Key areas to focus on include: The Protestant Reformation; The Great Awakenings in America; 17th Century Puritan England; Christian missions; and Battle Against Liberalism in the 19th and 20th Century. Key figures might include: C.H. Spurgeon; Jonathan Edwards; George Whitefield; John Wesley; Francis Asbury; William Carey; Adoniram Judson; John Owen; Oliver Cromwell; Augustine; and Martin Luther. Recommended works include: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton; The Story of Christianity 2 volumes by Justo Gonzalez; The Baptists 3 volumes by Tom Nettles; Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray; A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot; and A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer.

Apologetics Christians have, since their birth, been under attack by the world. On both the physical and the intellectual level Christians have been assaulted. In our own present world of modernism, postmodernism, and Darwinian materialism it is essential that we acquire the tools to combat and represent the faith as logically sound. To this end books on defense of the faith, or apologetics, can help. Thus the church should aim to acquire a number of intellectually engaging books that will better equip all members to give a reason for the hope that is in them. Ranging from heavily philosophical to introductory the church can equip its members to both stand firm for the faith and assure themselves that what they believe is truth.
Things to Look for: Target the essential doctrines in search for apologetics texts. A book defending certain methods over another will hardly be interesting to the average church member. A Book on defending the Bible as the word of God, however, may. Also aim to start with foundational works before jumping to the more precise. Defense of the doctrine of God should precede defense of the Kalam argument for the existence of God. Recommended texts: Defending the Faith by R.C. Sproul; Faith & Reason by Ronald H. Nash; I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek; The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F.F. Bruce; Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells; and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.

Counseling For the sake of our pastors and in hopes that members will take an interest in helping one another our church libraries should also include sections on counseling. That is not only texts on the issues surrounding counseling but books on pertinent issues requiring counseling. Issues requiring counselingthat are common in most churches today are eating disorders, sexual sin, depression, anxiety, and child loss. These topics need counsel that most of the church is ill prepared to give. Futhermore the issues surrounding secular psychology compel the church to take an interest in this area for the sake of one another’s souls. Offering counsel is one thing, but offering Bible saturated, Christ-focused, and God-empowered counsel to change a person is another thing.
Things to Look for: Target books that deal not just with symptoms but with the heart issues at the center of problems. Look for books that do not make light of the difficulty of change (i.e no “ten steps to success” books). Look for books whose author uses Scripture as the foundation of their approach, and who acknowledge both the sin issues while not ignoring the possible biological ones. Recommended texts: Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch; Seeing With New Eyes by David Powlison; Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison; Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick; and How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson.

In conclusion I recognize that it is not possible for all churches to acquire texts for every category. Some do not have either the finances or the space to do so. If this is you then I recommend narrowing the field to Christian Living, Systematic Theology, and Biblical Studies. Of course it would be quite easy to take texts from any of the other categories and apply them to one of these three. If you can only buy for one category it must be Biblical Studies, for it is through a better understanding of God’s word that we can come to fill up our knowledge the other categories. Furthermore I know there are other possible categories that could be listed: Denominational Interests, Christian Missions, and fiction. I have not mentioned those here because they are not necessary. Christian Missions falls under the category of Ministry Studies, and essential components to a “Good” church library do not require the addition of the either two. If you insist on supplying fiction I urge you to choose works whose theological overtone is clearly seen in the texts. Works like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan; Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; and Lord Foulgrin’s Letters by Randy Alcorn. Also denominational interests should focus on subjects significant to your denomination, so Baptists might include Adoniram Judson’s On Christian Baptism, or Stan Norman’s More than Just A Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity.

Church libraries are not necessities. They are never included in the marks of a healthy church , no matter who the composer of the list or the time in which it was composed. However a “Good” church library can help bring churches to a place of better health. To this end may churches appoint a godly individual to oversee the purchase and stocking of good books for their library. Someone with time, patience, discernment, and a wide basic knowledge of all the categories will be a real asset to this job. And may it all be done to the glory of God!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Joy of Membership

This weekend Krista and I will be taking a trip back up to our favorite state, Ohio, and some of our favorite people (her family and former church). The reason for this short weekend vacation is that my sister-in-law and her husband are getting baptized and joining the church. This has been some exciting news in our household since we heard about it.

We love to see our friends and family join godly/Biblical churches and become partakers in the blessings of church membership. There is a real joy in being a church member that we want for all those we love. And to be able to share in that this weekend as we both witness their professions of faith in baptism, and the church's testimony to that faith in accepting them into the membership is a joy to us. There is, so to speak, joy for all involved this weekend.

Thank You Lord for saving Josh and Jayme.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Changes to the Dunham Family Vision

A while back Krista and I spent date night reviewing our family vision and discussing both evaluations of ourselves and of the document itself. Encouraged by the testimony and example of our friends Jeremy and Melony we decided to add an article to the document concerning Christian hospitality. We also elaborated on point six of the document, clarifying that we were to serve in the church regardless of position. We are not only to serve if I am a pastor or if we are missionaries, but to serve in any capacity possible. These changes I, believe, are helpful clarifications to how we are to achieve our vision for the glory of God. As leader in the home I am responsible for not only directing the family vision, with the help of Krista, but for keeping us focused on fulfilling it. So regular evaluation and consideration of the document is required. Here I have posted the revised family vision, may it encourage godly men to craft their own for the sake of their families spiritual lives.

The Dunham Family Vision and Direction:

To glorify God: in the expression of an Ephesians 5 marriage, individual holiness, redemptive parenting (including the reflection of the unity of all races in Christ by means of inter-racial adoption), in happy-hearted obedient children, and in faithful ministry to the local church.

By means of:

1) Humble, sacrificial male headship in the home.
2) Faithful and helpful female submission.
3) Redemptive discipline of children (including firm corrective discipline, humbling praise, and continuous encouragement when each is needed).
4) Directing the family’s focus continually to the cross through a careful guarding of the number of hours and the content of television watched, internet web-pages viewed, and the type of books read, through daily/weekly family worship, and through mandatory service as occasions rise.
5) Weekly date night between husband and wife, and monthly date night between father/mother and child/children.
6) Serving in the pastorate or mission field as God calls us, and serving regularly in our church regardless of position.
7) A resistance to affluence, including a celebration of Christmas that is Christ centered instead of present-centered.
8) Educating our children on the need for missionaries, and encouraging such a goal for each of them.
9) A weekly, monthly, and annual spiritual check-up.
10) A confession of faults to one another, and prayer for one another.
11) A proper management of money, and a consistent and sacrificial giving to the Lord of our finances.
12) The repeated commendation of sexual purity outside of marriage, and fidelity within.
13) Glorifying God in our body, which means a wariness towards self-indulgence and apathy in both eating and exercise.
14) Persistent Parental involvement in the education of our children, either through home schooling or simply a knowledge of what is being taught at the public school.
15) Personal piety, and daily private prayer and Bible study.
16) Christian Hospitality expressed through opening our home to others at least once a week.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Evangelism and Sports?

For a first year Ohio Sports enthusiast it has been a tough one. My Bengals failed to make it to the playoffs after a heartbreaking season of missed oppurtunities. And, to top it off, in one of the most suprising and embarrassing games this whole college football season the Buckeyes got blown out in the BSC Championship game to a team I will not even mention! It would be easy for me to walk away from this Ohio football season with nothing more than a bad taste in my mouth, but I am a Christian and see in this miserable season God's sovereign hand.

How can a man whose football teams have done so poorly still be content and wear a smile, even as he parades his OSU apparrell on the day after defeat? He can do so because he knows that football counts for nothing in the kingdom of God. He can smile because even after heartbreak he still possess the love of God and the salvation won Him by Christ. He can rejoice because He has the greatest prize. Its not the BSC Championship Bowl Tropy, nor a Superbowl Ring...but eternal life with God. In giving my teams a losing season God has given me oppurtunity to share the gospel!

So I rejoice through Ohio's bad football season because God has saved me...and because the Buckeyes have a good basketball team.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Goal of Christian Education in the Church

The role of Sunday School teachers in the local church is often overlooked. The job is usually assigned to anyone available, without any thought as to either giftedness to teach, or (more commonly) without any thought to spiritual maturity. But the duty is, however, a very important one.

The importance of the Sunday School Teacher centers in the goal of Christian Education in the Church. What is this goal? To grow a congregations knowledge of the Bible and of God, and to increase love for God. It is to our shame that most church see Sunday School as a social hour, as babysitting for little ones, or as a time to wake up before the real service. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Sunday School teacher who does not desire to increase his hearers in the knowledge of God. Why else teach?

The responsibility lies with the church as a whole. The church, and particularly those put in positions of authority, are to appoint Sunday school teachers with this mindset, and furthermore to train them in how to do this. A Yearly Sunday school teachers seminar might be a good thing. But the other option is to give teachers something meaningful to do. Don't just stress their responsibilities to increase knowledge of God among members, but give them the best tools to do so.

Often materials used for Sunday School reflect a shallow, surface level Bible Study. Rarely do you see deep meaningful doctrinal study, book study, or application from the text of Scripture associated with Sunday School Material. There are, however, exceptions. I encourage all pastors to check out the Adult Education material developed by Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and the children's material developed by Desiring God Ministries. Each of these resources provide meaningful, deeply theological, and Biblically accurate studies of the faith.

From New and Old TEstament Surveys, Systematic Theology, Church History, and other areas the Capitol Hill Baptist Church Adul Education material is superbly developed and while most definately increasing a congergations knowledge of the things of God will be accessible to them. It is neither simplistic nor overly academic! It is just what the church needs.

The Desiring God Children's materials will help both teachers and children learn greatly about the Lord. The materials require the teachers to invest in the study of the Word of God themselves as they, with help from the curriculum, write each weeks lesson themselves. Furthermore the studies are amazingly clear and inviting for children, while also being a bridge to thinking God's thoughts after Him. Pastor John Piper and his church staff are proving to the church across the world that kids can understand deeper theology if we are only willing to teach it to them.

Let's reform our Sunday school by remembering that the goal of all Christian Education is to increase our knowledge of and love for God. Pastors, it begins with you!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Best Book of 2006

At the end of each year I like to recommend books. There have been a number of wonderful works printed this last year that are notable mentions. So Richard Phillips' commentary on Hebrews has proved to be a clarifying and thorough read (though I haven't even approached finishing it). Also noteworthy are Wayne Grudem's Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism; John Piper and Justin Taylor's edited volume Suffering and the Sovereingty of God; and Curtis C. Thomas's Life in the Body. But none of these books stand as my favorite read of 2006.

While I didn't actually finish reading it until the New Year was already upon us my favorite book of 2006 is Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower. This rivetting biography, and historical analysis of the pilgrims and early colonial America from 1620 to 1676 blew me away. Philbrick is a nationally acclaimed history author, winning both the National Book Award, and the Roosevelt Naval History Award. This particular volume only adds to his oustanding collection of praiseworthy works.

Mayflower is the conclusion to Philbrick's personal dive into the history of the Native American Sachem known as "King Philip". The book wresltes with the issues surrounding the changes in the relationships between colonialists and Indians between their initial landing at Plymouth Rock and the conclusion of "King Philips' War," where thousands of Native Americans were slaughtered, along with numerous colonialists. It is the authors conclusion that the Pilgrims and the Natives were simply too "human" to fit into either the traditional Thanksgiving Myth or the Evil White-European Opressor Myth. They were both equally generous, kind, and good, as well as greedy, violent, merciless.

The book recounts both the sad trajedies of the establishment of the United Colonies, and eventually America, and the amazing feats of stellar individuals from our nation's past. It is worth reading not only for pleasure, but for information.

Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower is my pick for best book of 2006!