Book Look: “Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church”

Let me start off by saying I haven’t read this entire book. I’ve only X-rayed it. I’ve read a few entries to get a feel for it.

So this is not a normal book review. But, holding it in my hands and flipping through the pages I have an understanding of what it is, and I’ll evaluate it on that basis.

This is one of those book that has 366 short entries, one for every day of the year. Each chapter is an excerpt from one of the early church fathers. Looking through the pages you see some of the historical greats: John Chrysostom, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Ignatius, Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, etc. There are others included who weren’t exactly the stalwarts of orthodoxy (if my memory of church history serves me rightly): Origen, Leo the Great, and Cyprian. Besides those, there are several names I’ve never heard and certain entries that are anonymous.

I like this idea. In fact, any idea that gets the Christian to reflect on the fact that the faith he now professes is something of a family heirloom that has been handed down throughout the centuries; something that has been a matter of war and bloodshed; something that has been passionately disputed, argued, critiqued, and meticulously articulated–anything that reminds us of the long line of faithfulness is a win. Many modern believers don’t think of the faith that way. But they would be better off if they did.

I’m not sure how popular this book will be, but the fact that it got published (by Zondervan, at that) is a good sign. James Stuart Bell did some good work in making it happen and I think the church at large will be better off when it comes to learn about its heritage.

Want a year to soak biblical doctrine with the early church fathers– the ones who agonized over the “sound words” to preserve and protect the truth? Think about getting this book and using it to deepen your appreciation of the Christian tradition.

 

Thoughts on some books I’ve read this year

20121222-160302.jpgBest book so far: “The Conviction to Lead” Al Mohler

Wrote about this book here, and I’m convinced this is a book I’ll be benefiting from in years to come. I like to go back to it regularly and remind myself of what I’ve learned. It was close, but I’m calling it the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Book I’ve referred back most: “The Master Plan of Evangelism” Robert Coleman

This was a close second to Mohler’s book. I would recommend that any pastor read this book for an accessible, practical, and biblical look at Jesus’ method of reaching the world. I think the title of the book is somewhat misguiding, for the book is more about discipleship than what we think of when we hear evangelism. I’d love to read through this with a group of guys.

Biggest surprise so far:My Friend, My Hero, My Dad” Stephen Altrogge

Huge surprise. I loved this book. Probably should write a fuller review about it somewhere. As a new dad, I was blessed by the example of fatherhood presented in here and I think I might read it again someday.

Biggest disappointment so far: Tie between “The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction” by Alan Jacobs or “Passing the Baton” by Colin Marshall.

I think Jacobs’ book was disappointing because I had high, high hopes. I’m not saying it was a bad book. It was a good book. A nice book. But, as someone who loves reading, and reading about reading, my expectations weren’t met. I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Passing the Baton, coming off the same presses as one of my favorite books on ministry The Trellis and the Vine, also didn’t reach the bar. Again, it wasn’t a horrible book. But it was mostly a manual, and lacked life and zeal. There are many other books that accomplish better what this book intended to accomplish, and I’d start with The Trellis and the Vine.

Worst book so far: “Handle with Prayer” Charles Stanley

Frustrating for its bad theology.

Book I’d buy to give away: “Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart” J.D. Greear

I’m reading through this with my staff and because it’s very beneficial for ministry. Really good, really readable, and really short.

Notable Mentions:

Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema

Getting to No: How to Break a Stubborn Habit, Erwin Lutzer

On Writing, Stephen King

 

 

Book Review: “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright,” by John Piper

Get the book here, if you’re interested. The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, by John Piper.

Martin Luther once said “This doctrine [justification by faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” This is the doctrine upon which the history of the church turned, loosing the church from the bonds of Roman Catholic works righteousness. It has been held firmly by evangelicals for the past five centuries. It is considered by many, following Luther, to be the core of the gospel without which there is no gospel. And today, it is being reconsidered.

Though there are others involved in the debate, perhaps the biggest names representing both sides are John Piper and N.T. Wright. John Piper stands to protect the traditional understanding of justification—that God declares righteous those who by faith trust Jesus for salvation. Wright thinks this understanding is wrong—or as he likes to put it: “saying a substantially right thing in a substantially wrong wBay.” He, rather, proposes that the church has been on the wrong foot “certainly since Augustine” (p. 61). Those in Piper’s camp are uneasy about Wright. Many in Wright’s camp claim that the traditionalists either don’t understand the “New Perspective” or are simply too buried in their theological system to see it.

The reason why John Piper stands in as the representative of the “Old Perspective” is because of his book The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. Already a leading voice in American evangelicalism, this book landed him smack in the center of the debate. He has the credentials for the task: not only a pastor for three decades but an accomplished scholar and an established exegete. Before penning this rejoinder, he had already written and preached extensively on the topic of justification, along with scholarly book-length treatises on important sections of Romans that deal with the pertinent issues. Before stepping down from the pastorate, Piper was also the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

The book begins with two introductions. The first, which is actually titled Introduction, lays out the issues at hand. He introduces eight problems with Wright’s view and shares his initial concerns. The second is titled On Controversy and he begins it with the sentence: “I am a pastor first.” In it he lays the ground rules for conducting the argument. These two opening segments build trust with the reader.

The following chapters (there are eleven in all) proceed through various issues Piper has with Wright’s portrayal of Paul. Chapter one cautions against doing biblical theology through certain historical lenses. Chapters two through four address the issue of the “law-court” imagery; chapters five and six discuss the inner workings of justification and Piper’s problems with Wright’s views; in chapter seven he attempts to nail down Wright’s teachings on the role of works in the final justification; chapter eight wrestles through Wright’s teachings on imputed righteousness. Since much of Wright’s perspectives come from his understanding of certain first century documents, especially 4QMMT, Piper examines the document and asks whether Paul would have actually subscribed to such teaching. Chapter nine deals with Wright’s understanding of typical Jews in Second Temple Judaism, especially the “agitators” in Galatians. Chapter ten identifies implications of his teaching and compares it with Scripture. In the last chapter Piper presents his case that certain texts are clear in their teaching about justification and imputed righteousness. The work ends with a conclusion and six appendices for further study.

There are multiple levels of disagreement between Piper and Wright, and to navigate them and provide a defense of the traditional view is difficult. Piper says it’s “almost impossible” (pg. 17). But there are a few reasons I think that Piper did well.

First, Piper offered the soft answer that turns away wrath. His charity toward Wright earns himself a listening ear. Piper didn’t let his strong love for the traditional doctrine turn his tone to anger or condescension. He treated Wright honorably. Some critics forget about winning person while they’re winning the argument. Piper has both in mind. In several places, Piper gives Wright the benefit of the doubt, asking Wright for further explanation. Charity flavors every chapter.

Second, he offered his best understanding of Wright’s view. Rather than setting up the typical straw man just to smack him down, Piper did his best to let Wright speak for himself. This gives the reader greater insight into Wright. There are several instances where Piper quotes Wright at length to provide context for the citation he’s using. This makes the book seem fair and trustworthy– Piper is dealing with the real N.T. Wright, not a caricature.

Thirdly, and most substantially, Piper’s meticulous attention to the text is convincing. Many of Piper’s points are exegetical, drawn straight from the text. On the other hand, it seems that many of Wright’s views are drawn from the system of biblical theology that he uses to interpret Scripture. There are several passages of Scripture that, as Piper convinced me, do not fit with Wright’s views.

To critique a system like Wright’s is a difficult task because disagreement is found on several levels. First, there are hermeneutical and historical disagreements. These presuppositions are carried into the text are utterly foundational. There are lexical issues. Word-meanings. Arguments approach absurdity when old terms are loaded with new meanings, and to navigate through these things is an immense task. Finally there are exegetical issues, where there is disagreement as to how particular verses should be understood. These are the least foundational but are still important.

The reason I delineate these layers is because they give a way forward for dealing with the issue. It makes no sense to quibble over the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21 until we’ve established what righteousness means. And yet we cannot understand righteousness until we see what the flow of Scripture teaches about it. And yet we cannot discuss Scripture’s teachings about it until we understand our foundational and hermeneutical disagreements, which are often very hard to pin down. So, like building a house, it makes sense to begins by digging a deep hole and developing foundations.

My one critique for Piper has nothing to do with the content but more for the arrangement of the content. Piper would have been more effective in his debate by starting with the foundation and moving toward the specifics. Perhaps setting chapters nine and ten earlier in the book, right there with chapter one warning against misleading biblical-theological categories would have been helpful. Piper’s arguments against Wright’s understanding of justification, though convincing, could have proved more weighty had they followed a thorough critique of the lens Wright had been using to read Scripture.

As much as Piper works hard to present Wright’s case fairly, he cannot and does not present Wright like Wright would present Wright. This is the difficult nature of a book-length response—it lacks context. It’s like walking into an argument among friends as one is finishing and the other is beginning. Everything you hear will be from one perspective. But for someone who is immersed in the debate and has been present for the points and counterpoints, this rejoinder is a great resource and help.

To summarize, Piper was the right person to write this book, not only because of his academic credentials but also for his gentle approach and his charity. His honesty in presenting Wright made the book more accessible—Piper did as well as anyone would have done describing Wright’s complex views. It would have been much easier to misunderstand and condemn, but he did well communicating the opposing side. My only critique would have been to rearrange the information, but this is not so big a deal as to denounce the book.

Who should read this book? Those embroiled in the justification debate need to read it; it’s an important voice in the conversation. Those who are interested in the New Perspective and what it teaches about justification, righteousness, and imputation should could start elsewhere (articles, blogs, etc) and make their way to Piper if they’re determined to go deeper. Pastors who don’t have time to read Wright but want an overview of his doctrine and a helpful critique would benefit from this book as well. I don’t think this would be a good place to start for someone who has no context, no idea who Wright is, or who has never come into contact with the “New Perspective.”

Book Highlight: “Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ” by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley

prepared by grace

I got this book about a week ago. The simple titled made me curious, and after reading the introduction (by Sinclair Ferguson) I was sold. The back has endorsements from Derek Thomas and Maurice Roberts (whose book “The Thought of God” was perhaps one of the best books I’ve read devotionally). The topic is preparatory grace. While we believe that salvation happens in an instant, we also know that God usually is slow to draw sinners to himself. Sometimes the process is so slow that the convert can’t really point to a moment of conversion. I, for one, can’t remember when I was saved. It could have been as early as five, and as late as twenty. All I know now is that at some point along the line, I got saved. Preparatory grace is exactly what it sounds like: grace that prepares sinners for salvation.

The theology behind preparatory grace attempts to understand how sinners get converted. Delving into the wisdom of the Puritans is helpful for this issue, as it has implications for how we preach the gospel and shepherd the flock. For example, should we always expect God’s work to be dramatic and clear? Sometimes it is, but most of us who labor in the ministry of the Word know that this is usually not the case. Often, it seems like a long, slow, arduous, and painful process. This book aims to understand this theologically.

I like Beeke’s approach because he does something only few are able to do well: wed history and theology. Here you have something biographical and something theological. You learn about great men from the past the great ideas they’ve wrestled with. Nothing is new under the sun, and we’d all do ourselves a favor to read what others have written on pressing topics.

This book fills a void, as Ferguson makes clear in the introduction. There’s not much written on the subject. In fact, I’ve just finished a class on soteriology in seminary, and we only briefly mentioned preparatory grace. A whole book on the subject, analyzed through the lens of the Puritans, is a great tool not only to go deeper with the subject but also to get into the minds of the towering pillars who came before.

Want to get to know the Puritans? First I’d recommend A Quest for Godliness, by Packer. Second I’d give you Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. Third, I’d introduce you to Joel Beeke, whose life work has been with the Puritans. Anything you read by him will be soaking with Puritan wisdom, and this book is no different.

Book Review: “The Prince’s Poison Cup” by R.C. Sproul

The Prince’s Poison Cup, by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008. 35 pages.princespoisoncup

Stories shape. As the father of a two-year-old who loves a good story, I am beginning to see how powerful a well-woven tale can be. God’s Word is mostly narrative, and the whole of revelation can be described as the Great Story. Stories help us experience the world. The best ones help us experience God.

The Story

The story begins with a sick little girl who can’t understand why her medicine tastes so bad. When she asks her dad, he tells her that she should ask grandpa the question later. When grandpa arrives she blurts out her question which reminds the grandpa of a story. He sits her down and begins the story of The Prince’s Poison Cup.

It is an allegory of the Bible’s story of redemption. It starts with the King of Life as Creator, his subjects in a beautiful park, and the subsequent rebellion instigated by “the man in the dark cloak.” After the Fall, all the King’s subject leave the park and set up a new city, the City of Man. The prince, representing Jesus, goes to the City of Man rescue the people by drinking the cup of the King’s wrath. The story climaxes as the prince takes his cup and drinks from the poison fountain in the middle of the city, and falls down dead.

Now, it’s one thing if I like the book; it’s another thing if my two-year old does. And let me say, she does. When I got my PDF copy I pulled it up on my iPad after breakfast one morning and started reading. She was gripped first by the pictures, and then eventually by the story. We’ve read it multiple times after meals in the last few weeks.

So yes, the story engages my two-year-old. I think it’s one of her favorites. The story is so engaging there have been a couple times when she wants to sit on mommy’s lap when the “man in the dark cloak” appears. Since we usually read it when we’re sitting around the table, I’ll grab a cup and pretend it’s the poison cup, but Emma doesn’t want me to do that anymore; it’s too realistic.

The Theology

R.C. Sproul is a respected and notable theologian. One of the reasons why he’s so popular is because he can take complex subjects and reduce them into simple and understandable concepts. When I first listened to a series of sermons by him a few years back, I thought (and I told this to my wife) that he sounded like an old fun grandpa who loved to tell stories to his grandchildren. I think I was dead on– for the two children’s books I have written by him (the other is The Priest with Dirty Clothes) begin with a grandpa telling his grandchildren a story. It’s obvious he has a vested interest in making important doctrinal truths not only understandable for children, but wonderful.

The Priest with Dirty Clothes focused on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness toward sinners; The Prince’s Poison Cup deals with the doctrine of Christ’s propitiation of our sin. For parents who aren’t sure that they’d be able to explain the theology in the story, there’s an appendix in the back for parents. It gives all the symbolism and helps the reader to communicate the biblical truths in the book. There are Scripture verses included there too, which could make a great resource for family devotions.

The Illustrations

photo
Here’s a screenshot of my favorite illustration from the book, when the King of Life (representing God) comes down to save the prince.

I think a good children’s book must be well illustrated. Sometimes a good story is, in my opinion, ruined by abstract, impressionistic illustrations that don’t portrayed the scene well. This is especially true when you’re reading to a two-year-old, who needs some concrete imagery to help her fill in for all the words she doesn’t know. Also, good illustrations will enhance the vocabulary. I point to the cloak when I read cloak; I show her the fountain when I’m describing it. The best illustrations are able to strike a balance where they portray things from the real world but do so in such a way that invokes wonder.

Justin Gerard, the artist who illustrated this book is phenomenal. This is part of the reason I love the book so much. Bad artistry can make wondrous things feel common, and so when the King of Life appears to raise the prince from the dead (pictured to the right) the imagery is amazing, complementing the text perfectly, and invoking awe.

Conclusion

If you’re into reading to your children (and you should be), and you want to teach them solid biblical truth (and you should want that), and you have a few extra bucks (and you may not have this), get this book. Read to it your kids. It’s a great story, with solid theology, and stunning illustrations. And I think it will increase in value as they get older and more able to understand the depths of the truths inside. I am very happy about it, and am looking forward to any other children’s books Dr. Sproul might release.

Book Review: “Acts Journible: The 17:18 series”

romans journible
A Romans Journible

This is a Journible.

Is it a journal? Yes.

Is it is Bible? Yes.

It’s a Journible.

What is It?

Let me explain. Basically, the Journible is a hardback journal meant for writing out the text of Scripture. The top of the pages have the section of Scripture meant to be written out, and  verse numbers to guide the writer along.

I’d seen this before and always thought it’d be a neat thing to use–but I actually was totally wrong about what it was. I thought it was the complete text of the book–I thought that the Acts Journible was the complete text of Acts–just with extra space on the sides for writing, commenting, drawing, doodling, or whatever. I was wrong. The book does not supply the text, you supply the text. This is the journal aspect of the idea: you journal the actual text of Scripture.

On the left side of the page there are questions related to the text you’re supposed to be writing. They’re meant to take the reader deeper into the Scriptures through cross references or questions for further study.

What’s it for?

The publisher writes on the inside cover:

Why the 17:18 series? In Deuteronomy 17, Moses is leaving final instructions concerning the future of Israel. As a prophet of God, Moses foretells of when Israel will place a king over the nation (v. 14). In verse 18, the king is commanded to not simply acquire a copy of the law (the entire book of Deuteronomy) from the “scroll publishing house,” but to hand write his own copy of the law. Thirty-four hundred years later, educators are “discovering” that students that physically write out their notes by hand have a much greater retention rate than simply hearing or visually reading the information. Apparently, God knew this to be true of the kings of Israel also.

Essentially, the Journible is aimed at bringing Christians back to the text of Scripture, and encouraging readers to slow down and and write it out.

Evaluation

You must understand that I was totally surprised by what it actually was, and for that reason was, at first, a bit disappointed. I thought it was going to be the complete text of Acts and when it didn’t have any text of Scripture in it I was a little bummed. But as I read the inside cover and learned what the thing actually is, I started to like to idea. So that night, I started writing.

I’ve been doing it regularly for almost a week, and I like it. In a world that pushes efficiency and rush, I appreciate the push to get people in the habit of being a “scribe” of Scripture. The process of physically writing–not typing–is slow. It forces one to think about what’s there. It is a form of meditation, where you linger over each word, each letter. In the process, you see things you haven’t seen before, and it stays with you.

Now, having said that I like the process, I like the idea, and I would wholly recommend it to anyone interested, I have a few suggestions to make it a better product. Here’s what I would do:

  1. I’d eliminate the questions on the left hand page and use it for more scribing space. This would make the book half as thick. Also, the questions take away from the journal-ness of the product. When I’m journaling, it’s me, my thoughts, and God. I don’t want any other voices to be asking me questions or distracting in any way.
  2. I add the entire text of the book the end. This would make it duly functional. Not only would you be able to scribe without carrying around both the Journible and your Bible around, but you’d be able to mark up the text like a mad-man.

Conclusion

I highly endorse the process of “scribing,” though I don’t think I’d ever purchase one of these, unless they made the two changes I listed above. Really, you’re actually just buying a journal with a light study guide and a few directions for where to write.

As someone to teaches and preaches the Bible every week, I’d be very interested in purchasing Journibles if they made them like I described: with the text of the book I’m preaching through, enough space to doodle and mark and write, space to scribe it out, and no study questions.

Book Review: “Bitesize Biographies: John Newton” by John Crotts

john newtonFirst of all, thank you Cross Focused Reviews for sending me a paperback copy of this book to read and review.

Bitzesize Biographies: John NewtonJohn Crotts, EP Books, 2013, $10.79. 137 pages.

The Story Well-Told

One of the reasons why I like a good biography is that it reads like a story. Every person’s life is a story interwoven into the Great Story, and biographies of great men are Providence writ large. Newton’s story in particular contains several reminders of the sovereign hand of God, especially early in his life when God spared him in many ways. It’s a fascinating story, which reminded me that Newton is remembered for reasons greater than “Amazing Grace.”

Crotts tells Newton’s story well. He moves at a good pace– what you’d expect in a biography meant to be “bitesize.” He uses some color, often inserts explanatory comments, and carries the reader along quite well. His writing goes unnoticed, meaning that it wasn’t so great that it grabbed my attention but it wasn’t so bad that it distracted me.

There were a few places I wished for primary sources. Early on there’s a section talking about how he fell in love with Polly (his future wife) that discusses some of the things he wrote about her in his diary. These writings were the firstfruits of his poetic impulse, and I would have liked to see some of the things he wrote as an unconverted lovesick seaman. Anyway, I made it without them.

The Theology Sound

Sometimes biographies can be tainted by the narrator’s insertion of his bad theology, or bad interpretation of events. Crotts doesn’t make this mistake. Although he does draw conclusions through a theological lens (regarding when Newton actually got saved, for instance), he does so with sound theology backing him. He got his M. Div. at The Master’s Seminary, which in my opinion is the best one out there.

The Picture Mostly Filled In

Newton’s life is an amazing story, and this small biography tells it well. The picture is mostly filled in. I could have asked for more information and detail in certain areas, but then it wouldn’t have been “bitesize.” The last two chapters come after Newton’s story is complete, and they tell of his hymn writing and letter writing. Both are interesting subjects, especially his unceasing letter writing. This chapter gives insight into the kind of pastor Newton was, and the excerpts are good samples of how he did pastoral counseling.

If you want a sufficient picture of the man, with good but not overwhelming detail, grab Crotts’ bitesize biography of the man behind Amazing Grace. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

 

What is a Healthy Church Member?

Thabiti Anyabwile’s little book What Is a Healthy Church Member? is helpful. It does no more than the title suggests, which keeps it short. Lands exactly at 120 (small) pages. When I first got it I was looking through the table of contents and doing an x-ray and before I knew it I was 57 pages in. Simple, practical, and readable.

The best books always include practical suggestions, and there are some good ones here, which is great for new-ish believers asking the “how-to” questions. Here are some of those sections:

How can church members cultivate the habit of expositional listening?

  1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time
  2. Invest in a good set of commentaries
  3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church
  4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week
  5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself
  6. Cultivate humility

What does a committed church member look like?

  1. Attends regularly
  2. Seeks peace
  3. Edifies others
  4. Warns and admonishes others
  5. Pursues reconciliation
  6. Bears with others
  7. Prepares for the ordinances
  8. Supports the work of the ministry

I’m going to keep a few of these on hand to give away.

Book Notes: “The Conviction to Lead” by Al Mohler

Albert Mohler. Conviction to Lead, The: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, Bethany House, 2012

20121222-160302.jpg

Mohler aims high: “Let me warn you right up front—my goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one more voice to the conversation; I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is practiced.” In this work, Mohler describes how firm, unflinching conviction in the truth is the one non-negotiable in leadership. Each chapter details how it manifests itself in a variety of ways.

Here’s a few ways I benefited from the book:

A different foundation. There’s a fundamental difference between Mohler’s “convictional” leadership and normal leadership as popularly understood, and it has to do with the foundation of leadership. Modern leadership is built around technique;  convictional leadership is built upon truth. According the Mohler, leadership doesn’t exist until someone is absolutely convinced of truth and draws in others around and toward his cause.

A clear definition. I like his definition of leadership: “Remember that leadership is conviction transformed into united action” (201). What you believe drives what you do, and how you bring people along with you, and what you call them to.

Hope for everyone. At several points in the book he tells his readers not to assume that leadership is something only the lucky few are born with. Conviction is something that can be developed. And it’s simple. Disappointingly simple, to those who are looking for a quicker way to do it. The ordinary means of grace build conviction. “Convictional intelligence comes by what we rightly call the ordinary means of grace” (36).

The concept of convictional intelligence. Convictional intelligence comes from developing habits that are aligned with the truth. They are established when one  girds himself in God’s truth and is trained to function accordingly. There are no short cuts to develop this; they grow in the soil of committed study and everyday faithfulness.

Realistic about social media. Has an entire chapter devoting to the digital world, which, he contends, is very much a part of our real world. Leaders are encouraged to blog, tweet, and be on Facebook.

Insight into an interesting man. In the middle of this book I told my brother-in-law that Al Mohler is the real deal. And that was before I got to the section where he describes his fascination with cemeteries (not seminaries!), his love for the ticking of clocks, and how his writing desk has nothing on it except a life-like replica of a human skull.

It’s the best leadership book I’ve ever read, and from the reviews it’s getting, many others feel the same. I recommend it for any Christian who is compelled to lead in any kind of organization or ministry.

 

Wordsmithy, by Douglas Wilson

wordsmithy

Doug Wilson gave us a real gift when he banged out Wordsmithy on his blog June 2010. The writing has been captured and set to print in a fine little 120 pager. It was excellent, and here are a few reasons why:

First, the tips are for the writing lifeEmphasize life. A plumber could benefit from many of them. Wilson rightfully connects your life and your writing, clearing up the false idea that you can write an interesting book without living an interesting life. He sees the mundane responsibilities of being human as essential to the writer’s development. And so I quote:

My point is that the time in between was not wasted–submarine service, marriage, college, bring up three kids, starting a school for them, and so forth. This kind of life experience is not distracting you from your appointed task of writing. It is, rather, the roundabout blessing of giving you something to say.

He likes rules, and breaking them too. This strikes the balance between the literary legalists and libertines. Quote:

Oscare Wilde once defined a gentleman as one who never insulted somebody else accidentally. In a similar spirit, a competent writer wants to be the kind of person who is never guilty of a solecism accidentally. If you do it, do it with your eyes open.

This approach creates a sense of spontaneity and surprise, which gives way to punch and wit. That’s why he recommends reading books on writing mechanics and books on slang. His rule is “Master the rules before you assume that you have the right to break them.” Mastering the comma usage will prevent grandpa from being dinner (Let’s eat, grandpa!). Though mistakes of this nature can be quite funny:

Justin Taylor, editor of Crossway, cites the example of one writer who wanted to thank “my parents, Jesus and Ayn Rand.”

So we listen to grammarians and libertines. And we make sure we’re able to communicate who our real parents are.

These things can be learned and developed. Yes, genetics are a thing. And they have something to do with your make-up and how you play with words. But discipline is a thing too, and hard work and time and practice can make a writer. Chestertons exists, but they are anomalies and don’t offer the best help to become a writer. Most writers, like 99.99% of them, became writers because they worked hard and practiced a lot. Is writing hard to you? Good, you’re human. Writing is hard, wake up.

Does this lesson really need repeating? Yes, it does. You became good at basketball because you shot hoops after school every day until the sun went down. You learned piano because mom made you take lessons every Tuesday for three years. Malcolm Gladwell was on to something when he wrote about the 10,000 hour rule. I’m not sure one can be so precise, but the point is clear: becoming an expert on anything takes time. Yes, even writer. So,

Be at peace with being lousy for a while. Chesterton once said that anything worth doing was worth doing badly. He was right. Only an insufferable egoist expects to be brilliant the first time out.

There are seven main tips, each with seven sub-tips. They read quickly, so if you want a plunge into an icy pond to shock the writing senses, this seems like a good place to jump. I could see myself picking this book up again in a year to revisit some of the things I’ve been taught. I highly recommend it.