What I Read in 2020

Better late than never. In 2020 I read five, 5-star books and eighteen 4-star books, which doesn’t mean much to you, but a lot to me. You can find the whole list here.

My book of the year was Life Under Compulsion by Anthony Esolen. My missionary teammate loaned it to me and even let me mark it up, else I wouldn’t have read it at all. Esolen writes with punch, making sure to hit the bad guys (pop culture, feminism) and applaud the good guys (children, stay-at-home moms etc.).

My surprise book of the year was The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Gregory. I first heard about it when Doug Wilson said all the teachers read it at his classical Christian school. It was published in 1886. You can buy it for $.99 on Kindle. It’s good for pastors too.

The worst book I read in 2020 was a biography on Herman Bavinck. It was about 300 pages too long. I didn’t find a quotable line in a book on a quotable man.

Honorable mention include Calvin and Commerce, a book on Reformed economics, Fortunes of Africa, a huge paperback on African history, Mathematics: Is God Silent?, more of a philosophy book than one on math, Same-sex Mirage, a sassy book on marriage and William Carey, perhaps the best missionary biography ever written.

Review: The Price of Panic

Axe, Briggs and Richards, Regnery, Oct. 2020, 287 pages, 4 of 5 stars

This post could also be called Fourteen Reasons Not to Fear Covid, or, RIP (Read if Panicked). The media wants you to think RIP will be on your tombstone this year if you don’t separate and scrub daily. The three authors of this timely and superb book on Covid are here to tell you there is no reason to panic. 

There are fourteen chapters. To help my readers, I broke them down into fourteen reasons not to panic. The authors didn’t state these items exactly this way, but out of the goodness of my heart, I’m here to make your life easier. If you should be limited with time, read chapter ten. It’s the best in the book.

This list is for pastors who think their churches should cancel services. It is for the driver that wears a mask while alone in the car. It is for those that think lockdowns and ubiquitous masks are a good idea. It is for the fearful and the desperate.

1. We’ll always live in a dangerous world.

In the US alone, 1,700 people die of heart disease every day. In 1968 the Hong Kong flu killed one million people globally, far more than Covid. In 2009 the swine flu may have killed a half million. In neither was their panic or a global lockdown. What is spreading the quickest is not Covid but panic. Nothing spreads like fear. In reality, Covid is a really bad flu strain that can be dangerous especially for the elderly because it leads to pneumonia which then leads to respiratory failure. 

Continue reading

Ten Things I Love About Tsongas

I have lived among the Tsonga-speaking people for the past fifteen years. All of our neighbors are Tsonga. All of our children’s closest friends are Tsonga. All of our church members are Tsonga. Virtually all of my ministerial experience has been among the Tsongas. All of my seven children have been born amidst them. Here are ten things I love about Tsonga culture.

  1. Laughter. Tsongas will laugh until their back teeth show. In general they are happy to laugh at themselves. They laugh in greetings. They laugh at funerals. They laugh at foreigners trying to speak Tsonga. An interesting phenomenon is that robust laughing sometimes makes their legs lose power, so that they begin leaning on each other or falling to the ground. Conversely, robust laughing sometimes makes their legs gain power, so that they start running to and fro. 
  2. Greetings. The ladies will often curtsy or kneel. The men will almost always greet, considering it rude if you get down to business without first exchanging pleasantries. You often must sit before greeting. You must say “How are you” to everyone individually. There are no bulk greetings. 
  3. Singing. Tsongas, like many African tribes, use a “call and respond” method of singing. One person, often a lady, will start the first line of the song and the rest will follow. Gifted male singers have a handsome deep sound that is difficult to duplicate. Churches and funerals often use over half the service for singing. 
  4. Funerals. In funerals, Tsongas live and move, and have their being. Funerals are a central part of African life. Among other things, it is a great way to reconnect with family and friends. They spare no expense at funerals, regardless of personal income. They’ll purchase niceties such as huge portions of food, tents, limos and marching bands. I love preaching at funerals. It provides an audience I would never have in church. 
  5. Ku heleketa. Tsongas almost never part ways in the home or at the doorstep. They walk you out of the gate and often down the road as you return home. Often I’ve had men walk me back to my house a km away. This makes me wonder–am I now to walk them back home? This could go on forever. I like this custom because it’s as if they’re not quite ready for you to leave. “[Jesus] acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ’Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went to stay with them.” (Lk. 24:28-29).
  6. Language. Tsonga has made this missionary’s life easier by keeping difficult sounds to a minimum. There are almost no clicks in Tsonga and only a few sounds absent in English (“sw”, “v”, “q”, rolled “r”). Sure, Tsonga is limited in some ways, but there is much it can do. For example, unlike English, each Tsonga noun is assigned a concord, making the pronoun “it” less ambiguous. Tsonga also has two Bible versions, one modern and the other archaic. 
  7. Memory. As an oral culture less dependent on the written word, Tsongas have an uncanny ability to remember things. I may say that such and such took place a few years ago. They’ll say: “Such and such happened in September 2012.” They seem to recall with precision objective facts like names, phone numbers and dates. 
  8. Colors. Formal Tsonga dress is full of bright reds, blues, yellows, purples and greens. The women often wear some kind of head covering. Their formal skirt is called a shibelana, which, when unfurled, is about 6 meters long! Uniforms are also common at churches and funerals. Tsongas like to match clothing at dances too. 
  9. Children. Though the family sizes are shrinking, Tsongas still love children. My social standing in the village grows with each child we have. They love to hear each one of the children’s names in Tsonga. Having many children is still a great honor for Tsonga men and women. It’s common for Tsongas to talk to my kids before they talk to me. Xivongo xa kula, they say. Your surname is growing.
  10. Demeanor. Tsongas are not fighters like some other South African tribes. They are humble, friendly and peaceable. They are one of the smaller tribes in South Africa and often maligned. When speaking to another language group in a neutral setting, Tsongas are much more willing to greet and speak the other person’s language.

How Paton Became a Missionary to the Cannibals

Recently I sat down with the Revived Thoughts Podcast to talk about the life of John G. Paton. RT puts great sermons of the past into audio for the modern world to enjoy.

In the interview’s first 20 minutes I overview Paton’s life. In the final 20 minutes a narrator reads Paton’s account of his surrender to the mission field. Paton’s words are a worthy listen for the whole family.

“What a waste of talent.” That’s what his church thought. Paton was a successful evangelist in Scotland. His countrymen loved him. The New Hebrides was dangerous. Someone else could go. Someone less gifted and more expendable.

But Paton had made up his mind. Buoyed by a resolute faith and a mother and father that cheered him on, Paton gave his life to the outcasts of the world.

I saw them perishing for lack of the knowledge of the true God and His Son Jesus, while my Green Street people had the open Bible and all the means of grace within easy reach, which, if they rejected, they did so wilfully, and at their own peril.

John G. Paton, Autobiography, p. 56

Review: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist

Larry Alex Taunton, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 212 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary Sentence:

A compassionate but uncompromising account of the friendship between a Christian author and Christopher Hitchens—one of the world’s most notorious atheists.

Summary Conclusion:

A surprisingly good read by Taunton. This kind of book isn’t easy to write. It could appear the author is trying to capitalize on the wickedness and death of an outspoken atheist. I was expecting Taunton to go soft on Hitchens. He’d grovel before him like so many others. Taunton didn’t. He struck a perfect balance. It’s the kind of book you could give to an atheist friend as an evangelistic tool: lots of biography, several Scriptures, a warm but firm style.

Continue reading

What’s Missing in Family Worship

Children need heavy doses of rebuke and praise. Sometimes the parent should do this one-on-one. Elsewhere he should reprove and honor publicly. I’d like to argue that this latter category is best done at the dinner table or, even better, at Family Worship.

Reams of Rebuke

We assign the word “foolish” to terms like grin, mistake, idea or decision. Scripture appoints the word to “child”. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Pr 22:15). Folly is part of a child’s nature. Foolishness fills a youngster’s heart the way stars fill the sky. The darker the sin, the easier to see the folly. But even when the child is at his cutest and best behaved, foolhardiness—though hidden—is still there, like stars on a sunny day. Adam put it there (Ps 51:5). Special grace and common grace have yet to chisel off the edges.

So parents should expect to rebuke their children often, especially when they are young and especially from the lips of Dad (Pr 13:1). It is a child’s natural inclination to say and do stupid things. I remember telling my wife that if we tallied up for the day all the actions of one of our young children, probably 90% of them would be wrong. This is why parenting is such hard work. This is why millennials are having pets instead of children. You can put newspaper down for puppies. It doesn’t work as well for kids. Continue reading

Thanks, Dad

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (Pr 29:17).

Thank you for driving our family to church each Sunday,
    for staying married to mom,
    for sending us to a Christian school,
    and for taking me with you when doing errands.
Thank you for rising before the sun each day,
    for teaching me how to throw a curve,
    for laughing with me till our sides hurt,
    and for spanking me when I did wrong.
Thank you for coming to all my games,
    for teaching me how to drive stick,
    for paying all the bills,
    and for being strong physically.
Thank you for fixing the cars late in the Wisconsin winter,
    for taking us on vacations,
    for leading our family to the church pew,
    and for taking in your mother-in-law and sister-in-law even though it was tough.
Thank you for playing to win each time you laced em up,
    for showing me the difference between a forward and a guard,
    for shoveling the snow each January morning,
    and for giving up your drinking buddies.
Thank you for showing me how to bait a hook,
    for haggling till it was practically free,
    for teaching me how to bowl a 6-7-10 split,
    and for sharing Christ in every eulogy you gave.
Thank you for teaching me what a good pizza crust tastes like,
    for not moving an inch when a tough guy tried to intimidate you,
    for dancing the jitter bug with momma on the kitchen floor,
    and for reading a good bio because I recommended it.
Thank you for wearing Gravel and smelling like a man,
    for playing flag football in your forties and anchoring left tackle,
    for rebuking me publicly for disrespecting mom,
    and for teaching me to rub some dirt on it.
Thank you for trying a soul patch in your sixties and laughing at yourself when it bombed,
    for commending my sermons when they bombed,
    for pop riveting the car floors to save some money,
    and getting Brenda braces instead of me.
Thank you for rolling your eyes at guys who praise themselves,
    for teaching AWANA with a pocket full of candy,
    for not playing the victim over what your father didn’t do,
    and for singing loudly like no one was watching.
Thank you for coaching every baseball team I played on,
    for not shaving your chest hair,
    for making me drive junkers in high school,
    and for still wearing a suit when the deacons donned polos.
Thank you for opening your home to our family of nine,
    for teaching me the Boston crab,
    for showing me how to ask questions in Sunday School,
    and for supporting me in my move to Africa.
Thank you for being a man,
    for being a Christian,
    for being a model,
    for being Pap.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

Who’s to Blame for Fatherless Homes?

So you want to blame the legacy of slavery for fatherless homes? You want to ascribe guilt to your coach or political party? How about wealth inequality? Your sinful uncle or the playboy athlete? Should we blame far away jobs or the poor example of our own family?

If you’re looking to blame someone for the plague of fatherless homes today, don’t accuse your father or political leaders. Go all the way back to the source.

Blame Adam.

Sin is to blame for fatherless homes and sin came from Adam. When our human father bit into the forbidden fruit, he passed sin onto every human that followed. His sin became our sin (Rm 5:12). Adam was humanity’s best chance to score the free kick. He was humanity’s best player. If he couldn’t do it, no one could.

He failed. In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. We’re born bad, despite what your mother tells you (Jn 8:44). We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Not fair? We don’t want fair. We want mercy. Continue reading

Social Justice and Sola Scriptura

The first thing a biblical counselor does with couples facing marital problems is learn the facts. He gathers data. He doesn’t go immediately to Scripture. He doesn’t show Mr. and Mrs. Smith where and how they must clean up their lives because, at this point, he doesn’t know what the problem is.

Giving Scriptural advice on adultery and porn doesn’t help a couple struggling with poor finances and dishonesty. A priori assumptions on the supposed problem could lead to counsel far, far worse.

Ready, Fire, Aim

Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean Christians are not in need of other information. It means that Scripture is the only unfailing source for faith and practice. Everything God requires of us is given in Scripture (2Pe 1:3). We must never add or take away from the Word (Rev 22:18-19). Sola Scriptura means it carries the only hope for the Smith’s marriage problems. But without the facts, it’s of much less help.

If this inerrant Scripture is not aimed at the proper prey, disaster will follow. What good is “judge not” if aimed at an unrepentant church member? What good is “preach the Word” if pointed at a teen-aged girl? Ready, fire, aim, is not a good model for Christians.

What about Social Justice?

Apply this to Social Justice. Before we can open our Bibles to address what it says about institutionalized racism, wouldn’t it be best to determine if institutionalized racism even exists? If the answer is yes, then a little history lesson is in order. Before we lecture Joseph on the sin of rape and and before we comfort Potipher’s wife with the Psalms of lament, we better know what actually happened in the courtyard. Just because Joseph was innocent in Genesis doesn’t mean Amnon is innocent in 2 Samuel. Learn the facts. Continue reading

Voddie Baucham on Race and Black Lives Matter

This morning in a Zoom teleconference, Voddie Baucham addressed about 80 men on matters of race and the Black Lives Matter movement. Most of those in attendance were men in the ministry and residing in South Africa.

What Dr. Baucham said was wise, humble, and insightful, so I want to summarize the main ideas of his talk below. I typed as he spoke and got the crucial points. I’ll follow this with a sentence or two of my own in red. Continue reading

Covid and the Church: Nine Pastoral Conclusions

  1. Theologically, I believe diseases, plagues and epidemics are often the judgment of God upon those in rebellion against Him (Ex 7-11, Deut 28, Amos 4:10; Rm 1:27, Rev 18:8). Another judgment of God upon rebellious people is madness (Ecc 9:3), confusion (Ex. 14:24), foolishness (Jdg 7:22), fear (Lev 26:36), timidity (Pr 28:1), disarray (2Chr. 20:22), panic (1Sm. 14:15) and mental blindness (Dt. 28:28).
  2. Evangelistically, I believe our sinful world deserves this judgment and much more. Anything less than Sodom’s fall is a mercy. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can answer and heal and restore. Only Jesus gives lasting forgiveness, which he does to all those who fall before him in humble repentance (1Jn. 1:7).  

  3. Compassionately, I believe Christians should empathize with the hard work and courage of doctors, nurses and researchers as well as with those who have lost loved ones, businesses and savings accounts (Rom 12:15). 

  4. Prayerfully, I believe Christians should ask God to give great wisdom to government leaders around the world (1Tim 2:2). 

  5. Scientifically, I believe and agree with today’s science that coronaviruses are somewhat common and coexist with humans and animals worldwide, some of which result in the common cold. I also believe there is a vast difference between respecting the scientific process of determining truth and accepting the “science” of today’s majority position (Rm. 12:2). The former sees some benefit with facemasks and clean hands. The latter is often not science at all. 

  6. Politically, I believe government often answers crises with extensive alterations to a society that otherwise thoughtful people would not allow (1Sam 8:11). Socialism is alluring to fallen people and very alluring to a fearful fallen people.

    Thomas Sowell has said that all the ideological movements of intellectuals in the 20th century (such as eugenics, global warming, feminism, homosexuality or socialism) use the same game plan. They emphasize the same four things: (1) There’s a big problem most don’t know about, (2) Big action is needed to address it, (3) Government needs to do this, (4) Anyone who disagrees is careless, heartless and negligent. Because most Covid responses worldwide have followed this pattern, it ought to cause great concern to Christians.

  7. Economically, I believe the initial information about Covid was incomplete, causing wildly inaccurate predictions (e.g. half a million deaths in the UK). Instead of responding to Covid as a severe seasonal respiratory illness, global governments took ill-advised and exaggerated measures (Prov 18:13).

    The result has been societal destruction, business and school closures, millions on unemployment, and trillion dollar stimulus packages from bankrupt governments. This latter step cheapens currency, devalues savings, encourages taxation and repudiates debts.

    And yet, in spite of Covid, bad times to the economy have always come and will always come (Job 5:7). Nations like the United States, for example, have faced some form of recession every five years or so. The practical way Christians should respond to this financial downturn is frugal living and careful saving.

  8. Civilly, I believe we must obey the civil authorities over us (1Pt. 2:13-14). I also believe there are times when the government is right to close churches should there be genuine catastrophes like a great plague. Christians should gladly comply with reasonable measures to deter the spread. However, Christians also have the right to express their grievances about sins done by the magistrate (Ac. 16:37; 22:25) and should their consciences be pricked, they should obey God rather than men (Ac. 5:29).

    Moreover, the civil authorities in Paul’s day were different than in our day. Paul was a subject. We are voting citizens. Our government leaders are accountable to us. Paul’s government leaders were not. Presidents and governors are different than Caesars and tribunes. The doctrine of the lesser magistrate is crucial because the Constitution in many nations is a higher authority than governors and chiefs. Christians should take this into account when writing letters to government and considering civil disobedience. Pastors who speak out thoughtfully and biblically should be not be ashamed. They should be joyful to have such an unusual right and privilege.

  9. Pastorally, I believe great damage is done to members that are not able to meet (Heb 10:25). Since the curve has leveled out, past extreme and temporary measures are no longer needed. It’s time to relax the extreme isolation rules by allowing churches to re-gather. High-risk church members such as the elderly should be cautioned but given the freedom to make their own decisions. 

    The Covid matter requires calm, courageous analysis by pastors. Wise pastors see oncoming danger (Pr 22:3) and skillfully take dozens of details into account, such as location, calling, public opinion, the police, community viewpoint, church size, citizenship etc. For example, a missionary (on a visitor’s visa) that pastors (a small church) may be trying with all his might just to reach a culture very different than his. His practical pastoral steps in his congregation might be very different than a pastor in a big city, though their overarching conclusions are identical.

    Moreover, pastors should also remember there may be suitable alternatives to Christians meeting together in one place or sanctuary. Home churches and small groups were ubiquitous in the early church and still have great value today. The great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter was a churchman, but I bet his almost daily practice of visiting his flock would have prepared him well for Covid-19.

Virtual Communion?

Crises in the world and in the church have always forced believers to wrestle with new ethical dilemmas. These challenges have compelled God’s men to bring Scripture to bear on scenarios they had previously never considered. The Apostle Paul never addressed the finer points of homoousios in his letters, but Athanasius did. Athanasius never addressed Popish anathemas, but Luther did. And Luther never addressed transgenderism, but here we are today.

One question the Covid crisis brings to the church’s doorstep is the matter of communion in abstentia. What should happen to communion when God’s people can’t commune? Is virtual communion valid? As a missionary, I’ve wrestled with versions of this question before. Suppose your church gathers in the middle of Mozambique and only has access to porridge and orange Fanta. In a more familiar setting, what about a deacon that brings the bread and wine to an isolated mother in the cry room? Are these legitimate? Continue reading

S-P-R-E-A-D: A Family Worship Guide

“Our home doesn’t practice family devotions because we don’t have enough time.”

Well, God’s mighty hand has now given the whole world plenty of time. Corona will either expose this excuse as a lie or push Christian families into the godly habit of morning and evening Family Worship.

Start with one gathering a day. Assemble at a time when concentration is high. Aim for 15 minutes and see where it goes. Be sure all the readers in the family have access to a Bible. Get everyone involved.  Continue reading

Corona Cons

Covid-19 has exposed Prosperity preachers for what they really are: heretics not healers. They are Corona Cons.

They are proud and arrogant and tremble not before God (2Pt. 2:10). They are womanizers, thirsting insatiably for sin (2Pt. 2:14). In their greed and faulty view of suffering, they prey upon new converts (2Pt. 2:20). They hunt gullible women (2Tm. 3:6) — the King James calling these women “silly”. Is there a better word to describe TB Joshua’s message?

Void of blacks masks, they steal the truth. Free of firearms, they rape and pillage the Church. In broad daylight they expose God’s people with false words. Any rational person would think these so-called healing churches would not only stay open, but have 24-hour access. Forget trillion dollar government packages. Let’s use the money to ship the sick to Nigerian healing centers. Continue reading

One Reason the Corona Virus is Good

Though the Corona Virus has caused immeasurable pain and suffering, can it also be good? Does COVID-19 have a moral benefit? Yes. Trials are good because suffering always teaches us something about the nature of God, our sin, or the world. Thomas Brooks:

“The humble soul sees the rod in his Father’s hand; but also the honey on the top of every twig. He sees sugar at the bottom of the bitterest cup, and knows that God’s house of correction is a school of instruction.”

So if trials are a school of instruction and Corona is a trial, what is it that God wants to teach us? What is the light at the end of the Corona tunnel? What good comes from death, gutted retirement funds, and cancelled activities?

Scriptures gives us dozens of ways why suffering is good. Here is one example. Trials help us see God as sovereign over all things. Continue reading

What I Read in 2019

It is difficult to understate the value of reading books. As someone said, you need grist for your mill. The books are the grain, your mind is the mill, and your imagination bakes the bread. We need to eat the bread, so make sure it is fresh, and make sure there is plenty of honey butter.

So make sure you find the best books, turn off the TV, get up an hour earlier and read, read, read.

I’m thankful for my books. These are some of my best friends. Their truths keep me going.

My 2019 book reviews can be found here. If you want to skip ahead to just the five-star books, you can look here.

A fuller list of some of the books I read in 2019 and beyond can be found here. My Book of the Year was The Father of Faith Missions by Robert Dann. My Surprise Book of the Year was Passions of the Heart by John Street.

Review: Flags Out Front

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2018, 2016 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: a satirical novel mocking the worst of evangelicalism to show all things rest beneath Christ’s feet

This book brims with current and vital themes in the church: courage under fire; weaponized apologies; strong, chivalrous masculinity; talented, clever femininity; the leprous effects of spineless Christianity; vapid feminism; Islam and her fruit; theological liberalism.

Wilson packages all this in a funny little novel, sprinkles in some romance, rebukes us for our fear and urges us to fight! The Christian flag story is just a platform for Wilson to show that Christ should reign at home, at school, and in the public square.

Pros: Wilson picks the right people to be the heroes. Hollywood loves carrying Jezebel and Ahab away on their shoulders. Not Wilson. I want my sons to be like the college kid Trevor (tough, competitive, and engaged to be married) and my wife to stay like Maria (savvy, beautiful, manager extraordinaire). And I want to be like Dr. Tom: humble and courageous. Wilson knows who the good guys are. These are the ones we’re to imitate (1Cor. 11:1). Continue reading

Review: The New Pastor’s Handbook

Jason Helopoulos, 2015, Baker, 208 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: forty-eight brief chapters of warning and encouragement for new pastors

The genius of this book by Helopoulos (current pastor of University Reformed in Michigan) isn’t necessarily the insight or profundity but the short, direct, biblical, and practical chapters. One can imagine a busy pastor having a young pastor-to-be that needs mentoring. What resource could he turn to?

He grabs the Handbook along with the young intern, bows in prayer, reads the Scripture heading, and then studies the 2-4 page chapter together. Once the parson provides the necessary explanations and fillers on calling, leadership, sermon prep, candidating, hospital visits or whatever the topic may be, an hour and a half has flown by and the meeting is over. Continue reading

Review: Do More Better

Tim Challies, 2015, Cruciform Press, 120 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: a brief, contemporary, biblical, and practical guide to productivity

A couple years ago I reviewed a book on productivity by Kevin DeYoung. This paperback by Challies is about half the size, more practical and just as good. Tim Challies is a family man and pastor that writes a lot. He posts daily on one of the most well-known Christian blogs in the world. He gets a lot done. He writes here to give some tips.

Overview and Strengths: The book contains twelve concise and helpful chapters. Chapter one lays the foundation by giving the readers a six-question catechism on productivity. For example, “What is productivity? Answer: productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I like Challies’ format here. Chapter two describes three productivity thieves. I struggle most with the second.  Continue reading

Review: Marriage as a Covenant

Gordon Hugenberger, Baker, 1998, 340 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: Malachi 2:10-16 teaches conclusively that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.

Years ago I wrote my seminary thesis on polygamy. I thought the most difficult question would be: “What should I do with polygamists wanting to join my church?” I instead walked away from that paper scratching my head and asking: “What exactly is marriage?”

That is, at what moment does it officially begin?  Does marriage start when the bride price is paid, or when there are vows? What if a couple of four decades never exchanged vows? Is marriage an agreement between families, as many today in Africa espouse? What consummates a marriage, the vows or the sexual union? Do answers to these questions differ within various cultures?

Hugenberger–former longtime prof at Gordon-Conwell and pastor of the historic Park Street Church–has been an invaluable aid in helping me unravel these conundrums, especially in the African culture I reside in where the parameters of marriage are often unclear. Though he writes primarily to Westerners, the insights remain indispensable to my setting. Continue reading

Review: Friends of Calvin

Summary: Twenty-four biographical sketches of Calvin’s closest friendships
This wasn’t a page turner but I’d still recommend the book because the chapters are short and the topic of friendship is sparse today in Christian literature. I should say books on godly masculine friendship are rare, not this.
Friends are often best at pointing out another’s weaknesses. Calvin knew he didn’t always have an easy personality. His friends undoubtedly noticed as well. But Calvin also seemed to value friendship more than most because his marriage was short and he had no children. Friends filled in the gaps.
Strengths: There were a number of interesting points about Calvin’s friendships. For example, most of his friends were not from Geneva where he ministered most of his life. Many Genevans were his enemies. His bond with Viret (over four hundred surviving letters between them) was built on trust—Calvin confiding in him some of his most embarrassing sins.

Continue reading

Review: God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel

Costi Hinn, Zondervan, 2019, 224 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an autobiography of Benny Hinn’s nephew and how he finally left the prosperity gospel and found Christ.

You want a history of the prosperity gospel (PG) in America? Read Bowler. A theological treatise against the PG movement? Read Strange Fire. But suppose you have a buddy at work with anointing oil in his cubicle and bumper stickers flashing Isaiah 53:5 (“with his wounds we are healed”). He loves TBN. He reads everything Crefloe Dollar and Joyce Meyer put out. He’ll never pick up a hardcover by Justin Peters or Johnny Mac.

This might be the book to give him. Sometimes stories that put you in the moment (“I carried cash–a lot of cash”, p. 57) can be more convincing than assertions. Benny Hinn is perhaps the world’s most well-known prosperity evangelist. Benny grooming his nephew to be his successor, only for Costi to abandon this teaching and move to orthodox Christianity would be like the brother of the infamous atheist Christopher Hitchens coming to faith in Christ. This happened by the way. God has a sense of humor. Continue reading

(10) Family Worship Creates Good Habits

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” Nonetheless, in this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The tenth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it builds good habits.


Last week we learned the father should always lead in family worship, even if he’s not regularly the primary teacher. This will create family customs worth keeping.

Though the truths from Fiddler on the Roof came from “tradition”, they ultimately come from the Bible. It’s OK if a child says: “This is just they way we do things.” Later he’ll connect it to the Scriptures.

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of consistent family devotions is that it makes the worship of God normal. It’s not unusual or forced. Parents must raise their children to feel a kind of uneasy grief (but not surprise) when they visit a Christian home where family worship is not present. Continue reading

(9) Family Worship Distinguishes Gender Roles

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” Nonetheless, in this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The ninth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it distinguishes gender roles.

Why doesn’t mama preach?

A child may ask his father why women shouldn’t preach from the pulpit or pastor a church. He replies: “Because Scripture forbids it” (1Tm. 2:11-12; 1Cor. 14:34). Then he asks why mother or his older sisters sometimes teach the Bible story in family worship. He says: “Because the Bible encourages it” (Titus 2:4).

Family worship vividly applies the many Scriptural passages that speak about the roles of men and women.

The woman’s role in family worship

Scripture encourages women to help teach the family at home. Timothy was taught the Bible from his youth (2Tm. 3:15). These lessons didn’t come from his father, who was an unbeliever (Ac. 16:1), but from his godly mother and grandmother (2Tm. 1:5). The command to “train up a child” in the Scriptures is for both parents (Pr. 22:6).

Though women should not formally teach the Bible to an assembled group of Christian men, they may teach anyone in informal settings. Priscilla sat down with her husband at the kitchen table and helped teach Apollos in Acts 18:26. The woman at the well taught the whole town in John 4:28-30. Even there, however, she wasn’t leading. Women shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions or make comments at Bible studies. The family will see this at home worship. Continue reading

Review: African Christian Theology

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, Hippo Books, 2012, 250 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a simplified and abridged theology covering the major themes of systematics and applied to African life today

Samuel Waje Kunhiyop (SWK) wants to be true to Scripture and writes African Christian Theology (ACT) in an effort to take the African situation seriously. This is a thoughtful yet rare contribution to the African church and deserves to be read carefully.

Strengths: (1) ACT interprets theology contextually. Why an African Theology? SWK is correct that “Scripture is always interpreted within a context” (p. xiii). Thus, John MacArthur’s Biblical Doctrine written in 21st century America gives significant attention to doctrines like cessationism and gender roles when John Calvin’s Institutes does neither because it was written in 16th century France. SWK scratches where the African itches. He doesn’t waste time on proofs for God’s existence since rare is the African atheist. Continue reading

(8) Family Worship Improves the Nation

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” Nonetheless, in this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The eighth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it Improves the nation.

You can’t straighten oaks

Individuals compose a nation. Godly individuals make good countrymen. Because family worship helps form godly individuals, it also improves the nation. A tree cannot be straightened 20 years out. So raise your saplings early at home with God’s word.

It infuses character in her citizens

Will a country not benefit when its citizens are learning daily character in the home like promptness, obedience, focus, and empathy. Won’t the streets be safer at night if the young men are at home being shaped by their fathers in prayer and Bible study? If children never learn to obey their fathers, they will struggle to submit to police, bosses and other authorities. Continue reading

(7) Family Worship Strengthens the Church

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” In this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The seventh benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it strengthens the church.

Five ways family worship strengthens the church

First, she’ll receive countless prayers to God on her behalf. J.W. Alexander wrote: “It is not a small thing for any congregation to have daily cries for God’s blessing on it ascending from a hundred firesides.” Matthew Henry encouraged his flock to turn their homes into little churches. This was not to replace the church but rather to fortify it.

Second, interested congregants will fill her pews. Daily family worship has whet their appetite for the main course of public worship. They say: “I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments” (Ps. 119:131). Daily home worship is the appetizer for the main course of Sunday corporate worship. Continue reading

(6) Family Worship Edifies Visitors

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” In this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The sixth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it edifies visitors.

Family Worship has vanished

Don Whitney once asked a class of 115 seminary students: “How many of you grew up in homes where family worship was practiced?” Seven raised their hands. Again: “How many have visited in homes where you have seen family worship taking place?” No one raised a hand.

Motivate your guests toward imitation

Family worship is rare even in Christian homes. So when guests come over, don’t put your lamp under a basket. Show them the beauty of this sacred gathering. Most have never been a part of such a thing. Many will leave earnest and motivated to establish such a practice in their own home. Continue reading

Review: A Company of Heroes

Tim Keesee, Crossway, 2019, 288 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: poetic journal entries of known and unknown missionaries and their stories

Below is my endorsement of Tim Keesee’s excellent recent work:

“Peopling that great heavenly choir is among the missionary’s greatest motivations. Tim Keesee compels us to sit at the feet of this great cloud of witnesses by presenting a kaleidoscope of missionary lives. From mosques to Mormons―from first world to third―he urges us to lock shields with the great soldiers and choristers of the past and present. In A Company of Heroes, Keesee writes brilliantly as a reporter and lover of gospel advance.”

Keesee is the founder of Frontline Missions International, an organization which works to spread the gospel to the least reached places in the world. He also produces the missionary documentary series Dispatches from the Front. While traveling around the world, he doesn’t fly at tree top level. He lives and breathes with the people–retelling their stories of trial and triumph.

Keesee is not only a gifted writer but seems to put great value on friendship and building relationships. He esteems what the St. Andrews Seven called “earnest conversation.” Much of what he chronicles are intimate and lively conversations.

Company covers twenty different countries and explores missionaries both time-worn (Georgi Vins, William Carey ) and modern (JD Crowley), well-known (Amy Carmichael) and obscure (Mei Li). I was edified by each chapter, especially chapter 15 “The Broken Sword.” It covers missionaries in Indonesia and explores the nature of risk and the aspect of taking handicapped children to the mission field.

(5) Family Worship Teaches Empathy in Trial

The Puritans said the benefits of family worship are so great they are “impossible to describe.” Nonetheless, in this series I’ll be attempting to highlight ten of its advantages.

The fifth benefit of homes gathering daily to read Scripture, sing and pray is that it teaches empathy in trial.

Godly homes aren’t naive

A wise pastor has said that to make a child love his home is to secure him against a thousand temptations.

Good parents should use family worship as a tool to make the home attractive to their children. But this doesn’t mean covering them in bubble wrap or shielding them from the pain and suffering in the world. On the contrary, godly homes talk about suffering a lot and use family worship to create concern for those who are experiences trials.

Four ways family worship teaches empathy

First, it quickly points the family to prayer. The first reaction to those in trial should be intercession. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (Jms. 5:13). The Lord says: “Call upon me in the day of trouble” (Ps. 50:15). Those in the home who are suffering learn to ask for prayer. Paul did it (2Th. 3:1) but this isn’t easy for most people. In family worship, petitioning for prayer should be effortless. “In my distress I called upon the Lord” (Ps. 18:6). Continue reading