The Promise of Covenant Love: Pt. 2

Meaning of Marriage

Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough whether you’re single, dating, married, newly-married, divorced, or an infant. Read it.

I ended the last post asking “What does love have to be if it’s something I can promise?” How is it different than the poetic love that Kierkegaard is speaking of? In this post I’ll lay out three differences between poetic and covenantal love, largely drawn from Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

1. More Action than Emotion – If poetic love is primarily an affair of the emotions that just sweeps you up in a passion, covenantal love is primarily an action. Paul assumes this when commands husbands to love their wives. (Eph 5:25) You can’t command feelings, but you can command activities. Saying “I love you” or “I do” with a covenantal love in view, is committing yourself to “BE” and “DO” certain things for a person. It is a decision to sacrificially commit yourself fully and wholly in loyalty to another person, putting their welfare, joy, and life above your own. When I promised to love my wife, I didn’t promise “I will always feel warm fuzzies towards you.” I promised, “I will be a husband to you–I will care, pray, show affection, be there when you need me, support you, cling to you, and will your good.”

Now, of course it does involve emotion, but often-times what I find is that these emotions can actually flow from the actions. For example, it might be a date night with my wife bit I’m tired and just want to stay home and watch TV to decompress after a long week. Making the decision to go through the trouble of getting ready, getting dressed, shaving (my neck–because neck beards are unnacceptable), and getting in the car when I don’t really feel like it, surprisingly can lead towards actually feeling like it. The loving action stirs up my loving emotion so by the time we’re on the road, I’m actually excited for the night out with my wife. That’s a microcosm of what can happen in marriage as a whole, when the decision to act in loving ways is made independent of a current emotional basis, the emotion often follows.

2. Other-centered not Self-centered –  The next difference is what love is centered on. Aside from the fact that it’s unstable, our culture’s understanding of love is essentially self-centered. It’s consumeristic in that it basically says, “As long as you fulfill me, please me, tickle my fancy, then I’m here. As soon as the buzz fades, I leave.” If love is primarily about an emotion felt, then you only ‘love’ the person when they are producing feelings in you. Actually, that’s why you’re loving them.  The point is, in this view, love is a potent emotion that the other person inspires in you because of what they do for you, who they are–it’s primarily a selfish experience about you, your wants, your desires.

By contrast, in the Bible love is not primarily about what I get out of the person or what I feel about the person, but about what I am willing to give to the person. Am I willing to give them time, faithfulness, exclusivity? I know how much I love someone by how much I am willing to put their needs ahead of my own, not necessarily how much I “feel” about  them. In consumer love, the self is placed before the relationship: the point is you’re in it to get something out of it. In covenant love, the relationship is placed before the self. In fact, the point is, covenant love is a union where I so identify myself with you, that your needs become my needs, your wants are my wants even when they’re not what I personally want. I am so bound to you that I desire to serve you just like I serve me. Covenant love doesn’t tally. It doesn’t keep records because when I give to you, in love I have identified your needs as my own. Now, how beautiful is this? Two people who have so placed the needstrying to sacrifice, two people trying to out-serve each other, two people out for each other’s joy instead of two people out for their own joy.

3. Vertical v. Horizontal– This brings us to the final difference. If love is primarily an emotional thing, if the reason I go to the other, serve, the other, etc. give emotion to the other is because of the way we make each other feel, then this is essentially a consumer transaction. We are paying each other in warm fuzzies. If that’s the case, then it makes sense to think about marriage as basically something that’s just happening between you and your spouse and to be honest, I don’t know if that’s going to work out for very long. Unfortunately, in most marriages there comes a time when I just can’t say, “I love you” because I don’t feel it. In the hardness of my heart, I’m going to be tempted to say, “You’re not worth it” or “I just don’t have the strength.”

This is where Kierkegaard’s “love transformed by the eternal” comes into play–what if love was not just between two people, but between two people and God? See, when we promise, when we say “I do”,  we’re promising God not our spouse. So, when I’m serving my wife, I’m serving my God. When I’m loving my wife, I’m loving God. I can’t separate the two. Of course, the inverse means that to break faith with spouse is to break faith with God at the same time. This is at the core of why God has something to say about divorce and marriage–as a covenant partner it is His business.

At first this sounds threatening, but in reality, it should be encouraging. If it’s not just me and the sinner I married, then I have a shot. When that day comes when you look at your spouse and you, in the hardness of your heart, might say, “You’re not worth this”–putting my relationship in the context of my relationship with God gives me the strength to love when it’s hard, stick it out when it’s painful, and be faithful anyways. When it’s not just me and another sinner trying to tell each other we’re worth it, it’s a lot easier: Why? Because God is always worth it. Even more than that, it’s not just me and another sinner trying to pull this off on our own strength. If you understand that love has a vertical dimension to it, it means that you can call on God to sustain your love. He has a vested interest in this because ultimately, at the core of who God is and what God has done is the reality covenantal love.

Good News, There is Love
This is something we cannot let our hearts forget: the Gospel is a story about covenantal love. Since we live our lives, and even our marriages, out of the stories we tell ourselves, we need to remind ourselves daily that there is story above all stories–a true story about one, Jesus Christ, who saw his bride and said, “It’s not about me.” He was not drawn to her because she was so awesome that she created all kinds of warm feelings in him out of her own worthiness. Instead, He decided to love her despite her unworthiness. He decided to bind himself and make a covenant with her; to put her needs ahead of His own; to serve her and not himself; to give rather than receive; to be trustworthy and faithful when she was untrustworthy and faithless;  to unite himself with her so much that her needs became his needs, and her sins became his sins, and in order to keep the covenant, her death became his death, so that His life could be her life. It is this story that needs to set the framework within which we understand love and marriage. Once again, as in all things, the Gospel of a God who proves his own covenantal love for us in the death of Christ for sinners changes everything. (Rom 5:8)

Soli Deo Gloria

3 Cruddy Reasons No Christian Should Ever Use to Deny Aid to the Poor

generous justiceThe other day I wrote a piece in which I outlined 3 ways Christians could reasonably disagree on what to do about helping the poor politically. It was essentially an explication of how someone could look at all of those Bible verses about helping the poor, believe them, want to put them into practice, and yet still find themselves voting against politicians and policies that attempt to enact long-term redistribution and aid to the poor via governmental programs. It was a plea for mutual understanding between economically left-leaning and right-leaning Christians, especially for the former not to assume bad-faith motives such as greed or heartlessness on the part of the latter in their voting patterns. Again, often-times these patterns are rooted in legitimate concern for the poor and a genuine difference of opinion on what is actually helpful to them.

Unfortunately, these good-faith reasons aren’t the only ones that people, even Christians, use to justify their voting, or even their giving patterns. Often-times there is a deeply un-Christian sensibility that informs our attitudes towards aid to the poor, rooted more in American, middle-class self-righteousness than in the Gospel or sound political theology. It’s easily spotted when the subject of taxes or charity comes up–certain platitudes and memes are tossed about having to do with “rights” and having “earned” our way of life, so on and so forth, implying that the poor simply deserve their lot and not our help. To a certain extent, I get it. There’s biblical warrant for connecting work with wages, property rights, etc.  Still, these truths often get used to justify callousness and are turned into opportunities for spiritual-economic pride that just cut plainly against the grain of Scripture.

Now, I originally planned to write a more substantial post in which I dealt with a number of these attitudes myself, but I ran across a brilliant quote by Robert Murray M’Cheyne that about sums it up:

Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving…”Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”

Objection 1 – “My money is my own.”
Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own”…then where should we have been?

Objection 2 – “The poor are undeserving”
Answer: Christ might have said, “The are wicked rebels…shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving.

Objection 3 –“The poor may abuse it.”
Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.

Oh Dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

-quoted in Generous Justice, Timothy Keller, pg. 108

Note, you may still hold that governmental redistribution of economic goods is unwise, stretches beyond the government’s actual scope of authority, and is actually unhelpful for the poor–that’s fine. But God forbid that ever bleeds into an overall attitude of disregard for the poor. Objections like these should never be at the heart of any Christian who has received and understood the Gospel. The Gospel is about a God who saves by sheer grace, giving freely of himself to the undeserving. That needs to sink down deep into our minds, our souls, and reshape the way we approach even our own heart-motives for taking the economic positions we do.

If you don’t think the government should be the main source of aid, then make sure you are giving yourself, either directly, or through a church body. If you’re arguing for what you deem to be a wiser fiscal policy, beware that any of these creeping self-righteous attitudes infect your logic and your rhetoric, especially if you’re going to talk about your Christian ethics in other areas of political concern. The bottom-line with everything is: when it comes to the poor, don’t forget the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

What Marriage Is All About


Note the emotional tenor conveyed by the underline and punctuation. My wife is an expressive writer.

It’s February now, so thoughts of romance and love are in the air. As I think about my sweet McKenna, I’ve realized that great moments have not been lacking in our marriage. She’s kinda the best for all sorts of reasons–one of which is her ability to constantly surprise me.

This was easily one of my favorites so far.

Admittedly I’ve only been at it a year and a half, but waking up to find this lovely little note on a Sunday morning (right before I had to get ready for church) was a humorous chance to be what I’m supposed to be as a husband–a sacrificial servant who dies to himself for the sake of his wife. (Eph. 5) And there was joy in that.

Obviously, killing one cockroach in the morning before work isn’t an extreme “death to self” moment. Yes, it was a truly GINORMOUS beast and put up a serious fight. At most though, I had to simply swallow the inconvenience of time wasted on a busy Sunday morning. Still, most of the time love looks like the little things. Yes, the dates, the romance, the big decisions, and all of the normal things that we focus on in a marriage are key, important, and foundational. And so is taking out the trash when she asks you the first time and cleaning up beard trimmings in the sink, even when you’d rather just sit down and watch TV, or read a book–without whining.

In the end, it’s through the little acts of daily faithfulness and service that we honor God in our marriages.

As we look towards Valentine’s Day this month, a word to husbands: yeah, plan out the big date. Make it romantic–you know, put on nice clothes and stuff. Buy the flowers–make ’em classy. Try going to a restaurant that doesn’t wrap its food in foil. And while you’re at it, kill a bug or two, make sure your towel isn’t on the floor, vaccum something–seek out the joy of serving her. I’m not great at this, but by the grace of God, I want to get better.

Soli Deo Gloria

Your Preaching Ministry is Only As Good As Your Praying Ministry

Another awesome beard.

Another awesome beard.

Young ministry-types like myself, especially in the Reformed tradition, are usually pretty concerned about the quality of their preaching. We study, we prep, we exegete, we outline, and practice, making sure that our sermons are sharp, sound, and culturally-relevant (well, some of us on that last one). There’s one key piece that’s often lacking in our zealous preparation–an area that God’s been convicting me about recently–the prayer prep.

J.C. Ryle has some convicting comments on that oversight. Commenting on Mark 6:30-34, here writes:

These words are deeply instructive. They are a bright example to all ministers of the Gospel, and to all laborers in the great work of doing good to souls. All such people should daily do as the apostles did on this occasion. They should tell all their work before Christ, and ask him for advice, guidance, strength, and help.

Prayer is the main secret of success in spiritual business. It moves him who can move heaven and earth. It brings down the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, without whom the finest sermons, the clearest teaching and hardest work are all alike in vain. It is not always those who have the most eminent gifts who are most successful laborers for God. It is generally those who keep closest communion with Christ and are most constant in prayer. It is those who cry with the prophet Ezekiel, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9). It is those  who follow most exactly the apostolic model, and give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Happy is the church that has a praying as well as a preaching ministry! The question we should ask about new ministers is not merely “Can they preach well?” but “Do they pray much for their people?” –The Gospel of Mark, pg. 90

Pastors, preachers, laborers for the Gospel in all forms, the message is clear: pray. Study, prep, practice, and strive as best you can to develop yourself as a minister and counselor of the Gospel. Don’t abandon the very necessary disciplines it takes to grow into the call God has placed on your life, but realize that without prayer, you’re trying to accomplish a spiritual work by purely human effort, trying to minister the Word in a way that effectively denies the Gospel of grace you’re supposed to be preaching. Let’s be blunt and say that this is folly. Remember, salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”(Rom. 9:16) Instead, pray and seek to “move him who can move heaven and earth”, and wait expectantly with faith, looking for God to breath life into dry bones. He’s done it before.

I mean, you’re here aren’t you?

Soli Deo Gloria

The Unbearable Burden of Uniqueness

Life can be lonely and painful at times. It’s even worse when you’re ‘unique’. Paul David Tripp explains the way feeling like that special snowflake can go bad and keep our relationships perennially casual; impotent as sources of comfort and change:

Another reason we keep things casual is that we buy the lie that we are unique and struggle in ways that no one else does. We get tricked by people’s public personas and forget that behind closed doors they live real lives just like us. We forget that life for everyone is fraught with disappointment and difficulty, suffering and struggle, trials and temptation. No one is from a perfect family, no one has a perfect job, no one has perfect relationships, and no one does the right thing all the time. Yet we are reluctant to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, let alone to others. We don’t want to face what our struggles reveal about the true condition of our hearts. —Instruments in The Redeemer’s Hands, pg. 164

unique2While it’s true that your story is specifically your story, it’s also true that it’s a human story, an Adam and Eve story. Your hopes, fears, scars, emotional paralysis, history of hurt, sin, betrayals, judgments, anxieties, and pains have quirks and twists peculiar to you, but they also participate in the general character of life east of Eden. You are not fundamentally alone in your experiences and it is only very human narcissism that tells us that our burdens are essentially unshareable, and our woes unredeemable.

The Pride of Unique Despair

I remember when this point flooded my mind with light in college. It was a particularly angsty time for me; school, girls, church, and the looming question “What am I going to do with my life?” I think that’s a given for most 20-year-old guys. In any case, I had just met my future, life-long friend, Kierkegaard and was reading through The Sickness Unto Death–probably my favorite of the pseudonymous works–and he was tracing the labyrinthine ways sin can distort our understanding of ourselves. In a particularly eye-opening section, he points out that pride can take many forms, even the devious negative pride of thinking you’re beyond God’s help. It’s not that you’re so great you don’t need it, it’s that you’re so miserable you can’t receive it. It’s the narcissism of thinking that no one understands–not even God. I had been trapped in a form of pride so subtle it took a long-dead Dane using abstruse, post-Hegelian language to expose my folly–to prise open my eyes and reveal the dark comfort I took in being uniquely pained, beyond God’s comfort and the understanding of my fellow man. Oh, to be twenty again (shudders).

Contrary to my youthful, turmoil-filled estimation, the basic theological and practical reality is that, in fact, people do understand. Maybe not each particular person knows your particular pain–the multifarious permutations of human tragedy and depravity are endless. Still, someone does. Someone else has wept as you’ve wept, struggled as you’ve struggled, and failed as spectacularly, maybe even more so, as you. The good news is that you’re not unique. You don’t have to grieve alone or heal alone.  

Jesus, the High Priest and Our Brother

The author of Hebrews points out two ways this is particularly true for the Christian:

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering…Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to  to make a sacrifice of atonement for all the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

(2:10, 14-18)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15)

1. Jesus has gone through it alongside of us. In the Incarnation, the Son became our brother, our high priest, by taking on flesh and enduring all that we’ve endured, except without sin. (And even then, that doesn’t mean he didn’t know the weight of temptation–in order to resist it, he had to bear it’s full weight.) Jesus knows our pain. Jesus knows our suffering. He knows our struggles. He took it on by becoming our brother, being human alongside of us, tasting the full range of human experiences and loss, even to the point of death, so that he could overcome it. Bottom-line is the Son of God knows what it’s like. He understands. You’re not alone. What’s more, he went through it all to fix it. Whatever shame, guilt, or fear you have, Jesus took it to the cross and rose again, leaving your sins in the tomb never to be seen again.

2. Jesus gave us brothers and sisters. Jesus became our brother in order to “bring many sons to glory.” He didn’t just save you from your sin and misery, but a company, a whole world-wide family of fallen, feeble, being-redeemed people for you to walk alongside of in the church. Your local church is full of ‘unique’ people just like you. People with deep scars that Jesus is healing, broken hearts that Jesus is mending, histories of slavery that Jesus is redeeming, and lonely silences that Jesus is speaking into. It’s kind of like I told one of my students the other day, “Everybody here has a story just like yours. It’s just the details that are different.” And the miracle of grace is that God wants to use those stories, all the broken twists and turns, to speak grace into the lives of his children by His Spirit.

Break the Silence

Coming back Tripp’s quote, the point is you have every reason to break the silence. Don’t believe the narcissistic lie that you’re alone in your pain and sin–you’re not. Take courage, humble yourself, and transform a merely casual relationship into a truly personal one by reaching out to somebody. Let someone in on your anger issue. Talk to someone about the family trauma that’s tearing you up inside. Share your work troubles. Finally admit to the absolute terror you experience whenever you think about your future. Invite someone to know where you’re really at. It’s only when we confess what’s truly going on in our hearts and lives that someone can speak a word of grace and comfort and the healing can truly begin.

The long and the short of it is you don’t have to carry the unbearable burden of uniqueness. The Gospel means that you can be saved just like everyone else.

Soli Deo Gloria

4 Reasons God Isn’t Obvious — Some Kierkegaardian Observations

kierkegaard 2At some point in life, most of us have wondered why God isn’t more obvious. Why doesn’t he clearly reveal himself to all people in a clear and distinct manner? Why all this business about an incarnation, and a book, or an internal word of the Holy Spirit? Why doesn’t he just make it so everybody gets it?

In a brilliant article on Kierkegaard’s (K) conception of God, Paul Moser and Mark L. McCreary draw our attention to 4 Kierkegaardian considerations on the elusiveness of God. Note though I have numbered, labeled, and removed footnotes, what follows is a direct quote:

  1. Merely Objective Knowledge Isn’t Enough First, K maintains that those who seek God merely by means of objective information will be frustrated. Although K does not disapprove of objective knowledge as such, he strongly warns against approaching God as an impersonal object to be studied. In his words, ‘God is not like something one buys in a shop, or like a piece of property’. Instead, God is a personal agent, a subject with definite redemptive purposes for humans. Human knowledge of God, therefore, ought to be characterized by subjectivity and relationality, not by impersonal or detached forms of objective knowledge. Merely objective knowledge about God does not entail personally knowing God via a God-relationship. Moreover, obtaining merely objective knowledge may also promote complacency or a false sense of superiority. As K puts it, the ‘most terrible thing of all is’ to be ‘deceived by much knowledge’. In the end, some people who pursue only objective knowledge or evidence of God miss the fact that God is a subject and they therefore fail to encounter God as a personal agent, as person to person in an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. In this respect, knowledge of God is not available in a purely objective approach
  2. Presumptuous Approaches Are Inappropriate Second, K expects that God will remain hidden from presumptuous individuals. In Christian Discourses, K devotes an entire discourse to the theme of presumptuousness. Presumptuousness might manifest itself when someone ignores God, explicitly denies God’s existence, or demands particular services from God. All of these manifestations stem from a position of selfishness and cognitive arrogance wherein one desires to live ‘as if he were his own master, himself the architect of his fortune’. However, a presumptuous stance demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of who human beings are and who God is. Human beings are not ultimately their own masters, just as God is not a genie in a lamp who exists to cater to their wishes. As K points out elsewhere, an attitude of presumptuousness begins and ends in despair. Therefore, such an approach is likely to leave one without illumination regarding God’s existence and character.
  3. Denial of Sin The third reason why God may remain hidden from many people brings us back to the crucial issue of self-knowledge. According to K, to know and relate to God properly (as a morally perfect agent), one must break through to a consciousness of one’s sin. Sin and moral imperfection separate, or alienate, human beings from the holy and morally perfect God. To lead people to such an awareness, according to K, God creates each human being with an inner conscience, i.e., a personal ‘preacher of repentance’. However, the truth of one’s sinfulness is difficult to confront for a human. Many humans are afraid of this truth and prefer to retain a posture of self-sufficiency and an attitude of selfishness. Therefore, owing to selfish choices, actions, or fears, God’s call to many humans via conscience is ignored or avoided. As a result, such people fail to hear God’s voice.
  4. The Offense Finally, K explains that Jesus’ life is the possibility of offense and, as such, prevents many people from enjoying a God-relationship. K emphasizes sin to discuss forgiveness. After one’s confession of sin, the claims of Jesus should be of interest to one. K notes that Jesus offers rest to each individual through reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of sins. However, many people do not accept this offer because Jesus is also the possibility of offense. First of all, it is potentially offensive that Jesus, a human being, claims to have divine authority. Next, it is highly offensive that Jesus ‘declared himself to be God’. K describes in detail the various ways in which this claim can be offensive. The very concept of the ‘God–man’ is also problematic for some. K describes this ‘composite’ as the absolute paradox, as a ‘sign of contradiction’, and as something that brings the understanding to a standstill. There is no irrationalism here, but rather an insistence that profane reason and profane history can never directly demonstrate (i.e., deductively prove) that Jesus is also God. K maintains that this situation is the result of Jesus’ free choice to hide his divinity in what he calls ‘the most profound incognito’. The significance of the incognito is that it forces the issue of needed human faith to the forefront. K likens the possibility of offense to ‘standing at the crossroad’, where ‘one turns either to offense or to faith’. Those who are offended at Jesus turn away from faith and hence also from forgiveness and a personal God-relationship.

So why is God elusive according to Kierkegaard? Once again Moser and McCreary:

All of the aforementioned issues are inseparable from K’s conception of God. When individuals think or act in ways that prevent them from recognizing God, it is often because of a misunderstanding of the character of God. To search for or demand merely objective knowledge of God is to miss the fact that God is a subject, a personal agent with definite redemptive purposes for humans. To approach God presumptuously ignores that the fact that God, if God exists, has the wisdom, power, and authority to be God, that is, one who is worthy of worship. Those who drown out their conscience sometimes deny a contrast between God’s moral perfection and their selfishness and moral deficiencies. In addition, those who are offended at Jesus might misunderstand God’s humble, compassionate, and self-sacrificing love for God’s lost and dying creatures.

In other words, God doesn’t want to meet you as anyone other than himself. He wants you to know the real God—to reveal himself in ways that are consistent with his own character.

Would we want anything less?

Soli Deo Gloria

Three Important Tips on Reading

One day I hope to look like this.

One day I hope to look like this.

I read. A lot. Well, it doesn’t feel like I read enough, but compared to normal people, yes, it’s a bit obsessive. (What can I say? I’m Reformed.) In any case, while there have been a number of pieces of advice on reading that I’ve found, received, or formulated over the years, three in particular have shaped my reading habits and formed me for the better as a reader and a thinker.

1. Read Your Favorites’ Favorites – The first bit of explicit reading wisdom I remember getting was from one of my future groomsmen, Scott Buttes. We were both at the gym and I was telling him how I excited I was about listening to podcast sermons by my pastor because I learned so much from them. I was particularly ecstatic because he had brilliantly gone into the 1st Century history to show how the Roman Imperial theology was behind so much of the NT proclamation of Christ as Lord, and so on and so forth, and even more excited that his new book was coming out. At that point, Scott stopped me and said, “Derek, what you need to be doing is reading the guys that he reads and going to the source.” He pointed out that Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher, but the commentator he read was J.B. Lightfoot. In the same way, I should look for the people that my favorite preachers read, and read them. So that’s what I started doing and it’s been crucial for my intellectual development since.

What does that look like? Well, maybe you’re a Tim Keller fan. I know I am. Do you like Keller’s philosophical acuity? Check out Alvin Plantinga. How about his Christ-centered exposition of the Scriptures? Read some Edmund Clowney. His sensitivity to how preaching should affect the heart? Jonathan Edwards is helpful there. How about his knowledge of early Christianity? Look up Rodney Stark. The list goes on. Basically, his book’s footnotes are a treasure-trove. It works even for heavier theological dudes. Fan of Michael Horton? Go actually read John Calvin. How about Kevin Vanhoozer? Check out Karl Barth or H.U. Von Balthasar. Again, footnotes are important.

2. Read Stuff That’s Too Hard For You – The second bit of advice that follows is to try and read stuff that’s too hard for you. Sometimes your favorites’ favorites are not easy. They’re not always quick reads. But if you’re always looking for easy reads, even if you consume a lot, you’ll never fully work your intellectual muscles to stretch and grow. Right after I finished college, I asked one of my professors which good history of theology I should check out. She recommended Jaroslav Pelikan’s 5-volume classic, even though she knew I was clearly not up on the subject. I love that she did that. She knew I was just arrogant enough at the tender age of 21 to tackle them anyways. Now, I definitely missed a lot of what was going on. Nevertheless, the impression it left on my mind of the breadth and depth of Christian orthodoxy and tradition throughout the centuries has never left me, and, on top of that, prepared me for later theological engagement. (Not to mention humbled me a bit. Just a bit.) This holds true in almost any area of knowledge or literature. Honestly, it’s okay if you have to pull out a dictionary or constantly Google new terms you encounter. That’s about the only way to get through anything by David Bentley Hart. I’m not saying you should only read hard books, just some more than you might naturally attempt.

3. Read What Interests You – I can’t remember where he says it, but C.S. Lewis has a marvelous comment about reading the books that interested him instead of the books he “ought” to read. I think my dad understood this intuitively. He used to take us to the library when we were kids and he’d pick out one book we had to read before we returned, but he then let us pick the rest based on our own interests. Yes, it’s important to read broadly, even those books that aren’t initially appealing. And yet, when in doubt, read what’s interesting to you. If you pick books on subjects you’re interested in instead of ones you think you should be interested in, you’re more likely to read even the hard books. This is why I have more books on the Trinity and the atonement than on ecclesiology in my theological library. I happen to think they are theologically prior to ecclesiology, so it makes sense for me to read about them first, but I’ll just say that I initially preferred them because they were more interesting to me. Now, realize, I am interested in ecclesiology, even more than I used to be. But really, it’s only because of the training I’ve had disciplining my mind in the areas that interest me, that I’m able to approach the thicker material in subject matter that wasn’t initially appealing. Bottom-line is: when in doubt, choose what’s interesting.

Hopefully these tips serve you as well as they’ve served me over the last few years.

Soli Deo Gloria