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Edit Your Work Over and Over

Nothing makes me happier than for a student, especially one of my PhD students, to ask how he can improve his writing. It shows humility. It shows awareness of imperfection. And it promises that what I read from his screen might be, well, less painful than it would have been. I hope the PhD students under my supervision surpass me in their usefulness, output, and standing, so I hope they all write, write a lot, and become far more widely read than I could ever hope to be, all in the task of making disciples of all nations for the glory of God in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit.

How to become that kind of writer?

Edit your work over and over. That’s my favorite of the ten tips to better writing from Michael Munger at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here are the others, and I like numbers 4 and 7 almost as much:

1. Writing is an exercise.

2. Set goals based on output, not input.

3. Find a voice; don’t just “get published.”

4. Give yourself time.

5. Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant.

6. Pick a puzzle.

7. Write, then squeeze the other things in.

8. Not all of your thoughts are profound.

9. Your most profound thoughts are often wrong.

10. Edit your work, over and over.

The whole. HT: Dane Ortlund

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We Love Homeschooling

I am so thankful that our kids are enrolled in Hamilton Classical Academy, and here’s just one reason. The other day their history book from Veritas Press (Pages of History by Bruce Etter and Alexia Detweiler) introduced this acorn to oak-tree concept of the growth of the promises in the OT from the acorn of Genesis 3:15 to the oak-tree of fulfillment in Christ. After she read the section to them, my sweet wife encouraged the kids to draw what they had learned, and here’s our oldest son’s reproduction of the chart from the book.


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What Helps Me Most As I Prepare to Preach

This post is a quick response to a question in a comment on my post on Jane Austen and Jeremiah 20:7. The question was what commentaries have helped me most as I’ve worked through Jeremiah.

My answer is along the lines of what I recently said about what seminaries are for, because what has helped me most as I’ve preached through Jeremiah has been reading the text in Hebrew.

I’m not boasting about being able to read Hebrew, here. It took me a long time to learn it. In fact, I had 8 Hebrew related classes as a Th.M. student at DTS, and when I got to SBTS I was served up a nice big slice of humble pie when Peter Gentry and Russell Fuller proved to me that I needed to re-take elementary Hebrew. I was humbled, ashamed, offended, but I knew they were right. They served me well, and I went back through elementary Hebrew as a PhD student. My pride made it difficult to accept, but I wanted to be able to read Hebrew more than I wanted to preserve the appearance of being a big smart PhD student.

God mercifully gave me the opportunity to study. He mercifully gave me patient teachers willing to tell me what I needed to do. He mercifully allowed me to have the time as a PhD student to re-take those courses.

And being able to read the Hebrew text of Jeremiah as I prepare to preach that book is the most useful part of my sermon prep.

I’m not dogging people who can’t read Hebrew. We all have different gifts and different opportunities and different privileges.

I am saying to people starting seminary or Bible college, or people in process at such schools thinking about where best to invest their time: an education is more important than a diploma. Get yourself an education, whether that amounts to a degree or not. Ideally the degree will come along with the education, but if you’re picking between the two, the education is the more important.

That is to say, I think it’s more important for you to learn the biblical languages than for you to get your credential. So I recommend that you take the biblical languages early and often. You can get other advice from other people with other concerns. That’s fine.

God has spoken in his word. His word is better than the commentaries upon it. His word is better than biblical and systematic theologies written about it. His word is the tool that he will use to change lives. If you have the chance, why wouldn’t you give yourself to his word in its original languages?

I think a valid reason for pursuing a PhD is developing what Peter Gentry refers to as “sovereign command of the biblical languages.” Obviously that’s a high goal, but we’re talking about the very word of God and the eternal souls of men, right?

So I’m not saying that I make no recourse to commentaries. When I need help, I make use of what I have available, and in God’s kindness I have access to a few books. Often, though, if I’ve done my work in the Hebrew text, I’m pretty clear on what’s going on and just glance through a few relevant books to make sure I’m not missing some juicy inter-textual connection or bit of background or historical information. Many commentaries are just rearranging one another’s footnotes.

The best thing is to hunker down over the Hebrew text, ask the Lord to give illumination by his Spirit, and then let the prophet speak.

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A Really Cool Math Fact About the Squares

My kids are in Classical Conversations (CC), which we love. This year they learned the squares (a number times itself) to 15, and they learned them to a song. The information in CC is wonderful. I wish I knew all this stuff. But apparently when I was in elementary school the “educational experts” had decided that it was cruel to kids (or something) to make them memorize “useless information.” Harumph!

Anyway, I mentioned to my wife that I wish I could learn this stuff, so she asked me at dinner what I wanted to learn. I said, “the squares.” So they taught me the song. You can get it here, and here are the numbers:

1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100, 121, 144, 169, 196, 225

As I was thinking about these numbers and trying to learn the song, I remembered something I read in a Princeton Review book when I was studying for the GRE (this is one of the things that makes me grateful that I had to take the GRE, by the way, and one of the reasons I encourage students to study for it and really try to learn!).

Look at those numbers. Do you notice the space between them?

Between 1 and 4 are 3 points on the number line, then between 4 and 9 there are 5, between 9 and 16 there are 7, and it continues up by odd numbers as follows:

3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29

That is cool. God made the world in an orderly fashion, and he built elegance and beauty into it, as though he expected people to come along and search out all his wisdom to marvel at his glory.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

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Jonathan Edwards as a Missionary

Insightful article by Jonathan Gibson in the latest issue of Themelios, looking at how Edwards viewed his mission to the American Indians, how he adapted his preaching to the new context, and how he pursued “social justice”!

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Fall Sale at Canon Press

Canon Press is having their annual 5 day sale this week, October 17–21, 2011.

Much of their stuff will go for 60% off or more.

There’s a lot of good stuff for homeschooling, and those who teach and preach the Scriptures will be particularly interested in Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1–2 Samuel and the new Rhetoric Companion from Doug and N. D. Wilson (more on this really helpful book shortly).

If you’re looking for a gift for someone who has little ones (or hopes to soon), my wife read excerpts of Loving the Little Years aloud to me – she loved this book.

I enjoyed reading Peter Leithart’s new book on Fyodor Dostoevsky – I don’t know what’s in the water up there in Moscow, but these are creative, productive writers.

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Lit! Let Tony Reinke Help You Read

I love books. I love literature. I’m really grateful for the way the Lord has used books in my own life, and I’m really confident that those who deal in words, people who preach and teach, have much to gain from the best put thoughts of the clearest thinkers the world has known. Add to these realities my deep appreciation for Tony Reinke, and it’s not hard to guess that I’m pre-disposed to be really excited about his new book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books.

Predisposed to like it, and having read it, I’m thrilled to commend it. Walt Harrington says this about the reading habits of George W. Bush:

“I was struck by his many references to history. In the back of my mind was an article that Karl Rove had written for The Wall Street Journal in 2008, which revealed (much to the consternation of the president’s derisive critics) that Bush had read 186 books for pleasure in the preceding three years, consisting mostly of serious historical nonfiction.”

“He also invited me to his house, where I found books by John Fowles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Gore Vidal lying about, as well as biographies of Willa Cather and Queen Victoria. A few years later, I might even have thought they had been purposely left there for the eyes of a reporter, but not on that unstaged evening. Laura would eventually write that even then, George read every night in bed.”

“I also found an open Bible in the house. “I’ve read it cover to cover, and it wouldn’t hurt you, Walt, to do the same,” Bush said, laughing. Within the last year, W. had begun a new lifetime regimen of daily Bible readings, as I and all of America would later learn.”””He certainly enjoys reading and talking about books. And his friends know it. On his desk is a stack of books that have come as gifts: All Things Are Possible Through Prayer;Basho: The Complete Haiku;Children of Jihad; and Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children. To the pile, I add my own gift, Cleopatra by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Stacy Schiff. Right now, Bush is reading Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life, a biography of the first president. “Chernow’s a great historian,” Bush says excitedly. “I think one of the great history books I read was on Alexander Hamilton by Chernow. But I also read House of Morgan,Titan, and now I’m reading Washington.””

“He mentions David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter, a book about the Korean War that he read before a visit last year to Korea, to give a speech to evangelicals. “I stand up in front of 65,000 Christians to give a speech in South Korea … ,” he says, “and I’m thinking about the bloody [battles] fought in the Korean War.” Halberstam’s book—coupled with earlier readings of David McCullough’s Truman and Robert Beisner’s Dean Acheson, a biography of Truman’s secretary of state presented to him by Bush’s own secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice—gave the event deeper resonance. The decisions of the unpopular President Harry S Truman, he realized, made it possible for a former U. S. president to speak before freely worshipping Koreans 60 years later. “So history, in this case, gave me a better understanding of the moment, and … put it all into context—the wonder of the moment.””

“I tick off a partial list of people Bush has read books about in recent years in addition to Washington, Truman, and Acheson: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Huey Long, Lyndon Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Mellon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ulysses S. Grant, John Quincy Adams, Genghis Khan.”

““Genghis Khan?” I ask incredulously.”

““I didn’t know much about him. I was fascinated by him. I guess I’ve always been fascinated by larger-than-life figures. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading Cleopatra. I know nothing about her. … But you can sit there and be absorbed by TV, let the news of the moment consume you. You can just do nothing. I choose to read as a form of relaxation. … Laura used to say, ‘Reading is taking a journey,’ and she’s right.””

“He remembers Richard Carwardine’s Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (one of 14 Lincoln biographies Bush read while he was president), . . .”

And this is just a sampling. There’s more about the reading Bush has done. Fascinating. Inspiring.

Do you want to read more?

Tony can tell you how to get it done. You won’t regret learning from him, and you won’t regret getting this book.

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In Houston This Weekend

Lord willing, I’ll be at Bethel Church Houston (formerly Bethel Independent Presbyterian Church) this Sunday, November 7, 2010. I’ll be preaching from Revelation 5 in their two morning services, and then at 5pm leading a Sunday Night Seminar on “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.”

If you’re in the Houston area, it would be a delight to see you again.

Amazon says that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology has not yet been released. But, praise God, attendees of the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference received copies earlier this week, and Bethel Church has boxes of the book available.

I still don’t have a print copy myself! So if you want a copy of the book, it appears that right now Bethel Church in Houston is the only place in the world where you can get it.

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Andy Naselli on Organizing Your Library

I love Zotero. If you write essays, articles, papers, or books, you’ll want to know about this program. Andy Naselli taught me how to use it, and now he has written a piece that will help you, too.

This is a must read.

On his site he’s posted an overview of an article that is now at Reformation21.

If you’re looking for ways to streamline your use of the tools and opportunities you have, be a good steward and read this essay.

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Baptists and the Cross Conference, and a bit on Michael Haykin

This looks like a great conference put on by the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS: Baptists and the Cross.

Date: August 30-31, 2010.

Speakers: Akin, Bebbington, Schreiner, Dowling, Fuller, Thompson, Wellum.

Discounted rates.

Here’s a brief podcast on it with the director of the Andrew Fuller Center, Michael Haykin.

A brief testimony about Michael Haykin: this brother is committed to personal discipleship. I asked him about reading the Apostolic Fathers in Greek, and he has graciously shared his time with me by meeting regularly to read these texts and allow me to benefit from his deep learning on these matters. What a blessing to have an older brother take me under his wing, share his expertise, and give life on life time in this way. How Christian of him! I know of no better way to recommend him, his blog, and the Andrew Fuller Center, which is putting on this conference.

Check out Dr. Haykin’s writings here, and some audio here. Much more audio, including many excellent historical lectures, here.

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That the Generations to Come Might Praise the Lord

On January 31 it was my privilege to preach at Kemp Road Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.

I attempted to set the role of the family in the wider context of God’s purposes in Old Testament theology, moving from the father’s role in Deuteronomy 6 to the king’s role as a father to his people in Deuteronomy 17 to some brief thoughts on Proverbs 3, where we see Solomon acting as a father obediently teaching his son (and by extension the nation) as he teaches Torah in the book of Proverbs.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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Christian Audio Free Download of Dante’s Divine Comedy

In my opinion Dante’s Infermo is one of those works of literature that should be relished by every human being. Now you can listen to it for free from Christian Audio . com. I recommend you also buy a print edition with really good study notes. It will repay your attention!

One of the greatest works in literature, Dante’s story-poem is an allegory that represents mankind as it exposes itself, by its merits or demerits, to the rewards or the punishments of justice. A single listening will reveal Dante’s visual imagination and uncanny power to make the spiritual visible.

Add the download format of The Divine Comedy to your cart and enter the coupon code AUG2009 when prompted during checkout.

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Greg Wills’ History of Southern Seminary

It’s out: Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009

It is my understanding that today is its first day being sold at the Lifeway Store on the SBTS campus.

I was browsing the book and was surprised to see Scott Hafemann’s name. I won’t type up the whole story surrounding his name, but it is absolutely fascinating. Riveting. What has happened at this school is a work of God. It’s a miracle that I teach here. Praise the Lord!

Between this book on the history of Southern, Nettles’ biography of Boyce, and several other things that have come out, it’s quite a year for Baptist history.

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Greg Wills on “Southern Seminary, Southern Baptists, and the Two Religions”

Dr. Greg Wills gave his Faculty Address here at SBTS last week, and it was a fascinating analysis of the “realist” policy pursued by liberals who knew they had to hide what they really thought from the people in the churches who funded their livelihoods.

So, those liberals happily took money given to train pastors, knowing full well that they did not believe what they were being paid to teach. Rather than teach what the people funding them wanted taught–the faith once for all entrusted to the saints–the liberals tried to win converts to their enlightened revisionism.

This is well worth a careful listen:

Dr. Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Seminary, Southern Baptists & the Two Religions,” Faculty Address, March 11, 2009.
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Interview with Thabiti on Being a Healthy Church Member (particularly as a seminarian)

Thabiti Anyabwile was kind enough to interact with me on topics related to his new book, What Is A Healthy Church Member? Our exchange is below. Enjoy!

[JMH = me; TMA = Thabiti M. Anyabwile]


JMH: Dear Thabiti,

Thanks for your service to us, brother. If I may, I’d like to ask you for some advice that applies to my particular situation, and then I’d like to put it on my blog that it might benefit others.

Moving from one seminary to another takes me out of a role at Baptist Church of the Redeemer, where I have been serving as pastor of preaching, to a new city (Louisville) where we’ll be looking for a church for our family to join. This is going to be a radical change for us in terms of church life. In addition to the ways I’ve been involved (preaching, worship planning, song selection, involvement in pastoral conversations and situations, etc.) my wife has been heavily involved in ministering to the ladies at our church. Redeemer is a church that was planted only three years ago, so, we’re accustomed to seeking the Lord, consulting with a relatively small group of people, and then doing what we think will most honor the Lord (whether that pertains to nursery furniture, a ladies’ Bible study or book club, or even a place to meet!). We certainly have our preferences on music style, preaching style, and ministry style, and we’re leaving a congregation we love that sings songs we love and does ministry, we think, in a healthy way.

I suspect that for various reasons there are others like me, who go from being involved in shepherding a congregation to looking for a new church to join. How would you advise us? What kinds of things would you suggest we look for as we seek a new church home, and how can we be healthy church members?


TMA: Jim, that’s an excellent question.  Actually I can identify with you quite a lot.  When my family moved from N.C. to Washington, D.C., we moved from a 3-year old church plant into a situation where we knew next to nothing about the church scene.  We loved that church and we set about the task of finding something like it in many ways.  Actually, that’s the first piece of advice I’d have for someone in this situation.  Don’t look for a church that is “like” your previous church, particularly if the likeness you have in mind involves a host of secondary matters.  Our preferences can be the death of a good church search.  Hold them up to the light of Scripture and be sure to cultivate an accepting heart for other believers who do things differently in secondary matters (Rom. 14).  Look for the essentials first: a church holding a sound doctrinal stance, that preaches the gospel faithfully, that preaches the Scripture expositionally, and that at least encourages a strong “one anothering” culture.  With the word and a strong membership culture, so many other things have fertile soil in which to grow.  That would be my short list, I think.

As for being healthy members, overall it’s probably helpful to find a place where you think you can grow spiritually.  When the Lord moved us from NC to DC and Capitol Hill Baptist Church, I went from being one of three elders backing up the senior pastor in preaching and teaching duties to being #49 on the depth chart at CHBC.  It was clear to me that I knew less than most everyone there, and more important than how much I knew or they knew, they were living so much better than me it seemed.  I felt like the entire family would grow spiritually in ways that really mattered—holiness, humility, love, joy, righteousness and so on in Christ.  So, search for a place where you’ll grow spiritually, even if it’s a place where you’re one of the smartest guys there.

I think there are some temptations and sensitivities you can bring to a church given your labor as a pastor and professor.  The temptation would be to either try to influence the church in pride (“I’ve been a pastor and professor and you should do it this way”) or to assume that you should have more access to the pastors than other members (“I’m a pastor; I can help.  Why don’t they ask?”)  Either attitude, left unexamined or unidentified, could create strain and difficulty in a new church situation.  Be careful of the temptation to say, “I wouldn’t do it that way.”  There may be pride and a judgmental attitude there.  Instead, pray and look for the mindset that says, “I want to support and follow the leaders in any way I can.”  As a member, we’re called to that attitude without regard to our history as pastors.  Support the leaders the Lord has called to that place, and perhaps go out of your way to let them know of your support and that you’re not judging them.  Be a good leader to the other sheep by modeling the kind of submission you perhaps experienced or longed for in your previous church situation.  And that’s one of the unique sensitivities a former pastor brings to a new church.  He knows what it’s like to be the shepherd and for the sheep to misunderstand.  With that sensitivity, you can model so much of what nearly every pastor wishes his people understood.

Beyond that, be healthy church members by attending regularly, giving your life to the people there, sitting joyfully, humbly and eagerly under the leadership and teaching of others.  Pray fervently and without ceasing for the leaders, the members, and the ministries of the church.  Give generously and so on.


JMH: Following up on that question, do you have thoughts on how seminary professors in particular can be healthy church members?


TMA: Again, you bring perspectives and resources that most members will not have.  You can be helpful in your area of expertise, or connect the church to seminary-based resources.  When the elders or the church is working through a particularly knotty problem, you may be in a position to deliver some expertise.  Only be careful.  Remember you’re not in a classroom but in a living breathing church where histories and cultures are always at play.  Be sensitive to who those people are.

Another way you can be a healthy member is help the church leaders fight the mistaken impression that “the seminary is where it’s at.”  Your participation in the church will help with that.  But talk often of the seminary’s parachurch support role for the church.  Encourage seminarians to cultivate that understanding.  Encourage more young men with gifting to consider the pulpit rather than the academy.


JMH: And lastly, how can seminary students be healthy church members?


TMA: Seminarians should think of themselves primarily as church members, not “seminarians.”  I think a lot of men see themselves as ‘tweeners levitating somewhere between their previous church and the church or mission field they’re headed towards.  They’re in a kind of suspended animation.  And often a seminarian can suffer spiritually as they float out their in academic space somewhere.  The church suffers too without their gifting and service.

It will be tempting to think of their studies as a special status that obviates their relationship to and responsibilities in the local church.  But they are primarily Christians, and as such should be active in a local church body as members not seminarians.  We don’t excuse other college students from the expectation that they should be active in a local fellowship; and we shouldn’t do it with seminarians either.  So, they should join a local church and plant roots.  They may be leaving in a few years but learning to love a church quickly will help them learn to love new members quickly when they’re pastors or when serving in highly transient areas.

And like seminary professors, students should be humble and patient, avoid judging others and asserting unimportant preferences.  They should see the church as the main classroom of Christ, and the classroom as an auxiliary.  Given that, they should seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  And by God’s grace, they will as they humbly receive the word (Jam. 1:21), receive grace through the various administrations of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), and are equipped for service until they reach maturity in Christ, the Head (Eph. 4:11-16).


JMH: Thabiti, hearty thanks for these helpful and edifying thoughts. I am particularly grateful for the way you have applied the truth of the Scripture to the situation we face. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry!

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